Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


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questions while sitting in the fog

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Questions fill my days, looming like a murky and stubborn fog, without sudden breakthroughs. I don’t know that they’re good questions. They’re just …. questions, those uncertainties which accompany me when I don’t see the next step ahead. Clarity is quite appealing, I think. I mean, the questions, good or not, are keeping me awake at night. A direct answer would make a nice pillow after all. Then, when I rise to a bright and clear morning, I’ll do what God tells me to do.

All I’m looking for is a “yes” or a “no.”

This morning, after another night of wondering, of wrestling, a memory came to mind. (I knew it was a thought not my own, seeing that I was pre-caffeinated.) I remembered how, just days before, in a training session on small group leadership, I described the skill of asking good questions, the kind which are open-ended, which can’t be answered with the simple “yes” or “no.”

Good questions are those which invite group members to process and think and reflect, even to struggle a bit, if that’s what it takes to move information from the head to the heart. As Jim Branch says, “A good question creates dialogue and interaction and life … A good question invites us to go inward, to the very core of our being, and seek something deep within ourselves.”

As a mom of a teenager, one question in particular haunts me: Who am I going to be when she leaves?

It’s not a question that can be answered with a “yes” or a “no.” Perhaps more than any question I’ve ever asked, it’s this one that invites me to go inward.

Jesus wants the core of my being. And He is so committed to developing faith in me that He might not give pat answers, for those answers make trust unnecessary. Instead, He leads me to the open-ends, which usually means waiting and mystery and longing. The open-ends create space for grace where I slowly learn that the way of faith is not something I achieve. The Way of faith is a Person I receive.

This kind of faith transforms my questions.  I am prone to pray, “What do You want me to do?” But the Holy Spirit leads me to pray, “Who do You want me to become?”

It’s a tremendous shift, one that says “yes” to relationship, which involves more than simply following directives. It invites the Spirit to do tough, tender transformation within my soul. It is the work of grace and not the work of works. It is open-handedness, requiring all of me, nothing closed off, everything made plain to see, all surrendered.

“Who do You want me to become?” is a question that acknowledges that life is not a linear experience from one simple task to another. Rather, it’s a layered story, with subplots and loose ends and mystery. And I might be tempted to think my story is all about me, but God is writing the pages, crafting each chapter in due season. It’s His story.

It’s not that I have an answer for “Who I am going to be when she leaves?” as much as I have an Author who will guide me through that chapter when it comes.  And in the fog, faith says that’s all I need to see for now.

What questions are you asking today?

Of course, we all know, don’t we, that there are other kinds of questions. These are cries of a heart that is broken and grieving. Maybe we aren’t necessary looking for answers, for sometimes an explanation for “Why?” can’t change the situation anyway.

King David expressed this kind of heart’s cry: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” (Psalm 22:1–2)

In our small group training, we discussed the value of silence. Anyone who’s led a small group knows the awkwardness of asking a question that’s met with silence. And we are tempted to fill that uncomfortable void with our voices, perhaps cutting off the opportunity for deeper reflection and movement from head to heart. As an introvert, I need time and quietness to process my thoughts inwardly before jumping to quick answers. But when the Lord seems to reply with silence, I feel frustrated, confused, even rejected. Obviously, my pain hasn’t caught Him off-guard, as if He needs time to formulate solutions.

God is never truly silent; the truth is that He speaks all the time in creation and in His Word. But sometimes we perceive His silence in ways that seem almost palpable, like a wilderness where we hunger and thirst without relief. But could it be that, only in the ways of God, silence is still a conversation, deeply inward? It can be a space where we learn to trust His promises and not our perceptions, where we come to discover Him in ways we missed when we walked by sight, where we seek Him not for the fixing but for His face.

Here, perhaps once again, the good question isn’t “what?” or even “why?” but “Who?” When we haven’t received the answers, when we can’t perceive His voice, let us lean in to knowing Him more, the Author who knows all mysteries and holds grace in their midst.

A Prayer for Those Sitting in the Fog ~

We confess our love of cloudless days, bright mornings, clearly marked pathways. We confess our discomfort in the fog but recognize a longing we discover there too. Even as we confess our desire for answers, may we learn to walk humbly with questions. Help us to find your company beside us as we crouch in the darkness and wait for the first light of dawn. Help us to know Your presence in ways we may have overlooked if not for our inability to see.  Emily P. Freeman, Simply Tuesday.

 

 

 

 


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What I learned this summer {random + reflective}

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Thanks to Emily, I’ve thought about what I’ve learned this summer for, well, all summer. Emily’s Let’s Share What We Learned in (fill in the month or season) is my favorite online place to gather with fellow writers who are looking for God on the move in little and large ways. It’s not only fun, it’s good for the soul.

The worlds of politics and culture are increasingly audacious and frightening, but a curious life – one that looks for God on the move, even in ordinary places – is able to move as well, stepping forward toward hope, trusting that God is still actively working toward redemption.

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The ordinary places of our lives hold extraordinary potential when we take a break from the hustle, open our hands, and receive simple moments as reminders that God has always been in charge and finishes what He begins.

God is on the move. (2)

As I consider what I’ve learned this summer, I remember people who have inspired me, writers who have challenged me, and random things that invited me to try something new. There may or may not be pictures, as in # 1 –

1) I learned how to boogie-board. In the ocean y’all. Those who know me well may find this a little surprising because I’m not very adventurous when it comes to water and sand in unintended places. But the opportunity to laugh & play with my girl was worth every bit of awkward. I actually “rode” a few waves successfully, but let’s all be thankful that our best moments can happen without a camera. Just trust me in this.

2) As I wrote last time, I learned the importance of traveling light as we ventured out internationally. Since then, I’ve been introduced to the idea of rideable suitcases. Have you seen this?

Anyhow, the current version of rideable suitcase has less packing room than a carry-on, so perhaps it fits within my pursuit of simplicity after all (that’s what I tell myself because I think this looks fun in a ridiculous kind of way).

No matter the type of suitcase, I’m still hopeful that traveling light is possible in everyday life, even in a culture where more is seemingly better. Which leads us to #3 …

3) Did you know that there are now at least 20 varieties of Oreos, from classic to cinnamon bun to Swedish Fish? My daughter and I counted. We took pictures.

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Yet, as you know, simplicity isn’t about Oreos. If you have a passion for blueberry pie Oreos, there’s no judgment here. (Full disclosure  – I caved to the Key Lime Pie Oreo. It’s pretty tasty.) I can’t see our culture backing away from the pursuit of more, but I can think about how I respond.

Earlier in the summer, I heard a pastor speak on the “tyranny of choice,” a phrase which intrigued me. So I googled “tyranny of choice” and discovered 13,300,000 results (which, in itself, is kinda ironic). Anyway, research studies consistently conclude that the “more is better” assumption actually increases the potential for disappointment and regret.

The “tyranny of choice” theory makes sense to me. Even more, it confirms that the Holy Spirit knows our hearts and understands the temptation as old as Eden to experience more, be more, own more.

There is Spirit-inspired, and counter-cultural, wisdom in the Apostle Paul’s teaching to be content in all things.

Philippians 4: 12 – 13 ~ I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do this through Him who gives me strength.

1 Timothy 6: 6 – 7 ~ But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.

Now I don’t think that traveling light requires me to shun unique flavors of Oreos. I can enjoy a Caramel Apple Oreo (doubtful) without throwing the weight of happiness-expectations upon it. I know it’s a silly example, but perhaps we do the same with clothes, cars, houses?

There’s a balance here somewhere. I want to be a little wiser, a little more aware about my response to “stuff” in general. I long for the peace of fully trusting that God provides my portion (see Psalm 16:5), and that’s joyfully enough for me.

4) While waiting in a doctor’s office, I flipped through a Martha Stewart magazine where I spotted these ideas for DIY jewelry organizers. I love repurposing things, so I painted a spool rack, and now I have a new way to keep my necklaces and bracelets in one, neat place.

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5) Early in the summer, our family enjoyed a beach trip, a mission trip to Albania, and then a side trip to Austria and Germany within one month. Then we stayed home for the rest of the summer, for obvious reasons! So, to keep the spirit of learning and curiosity going, we became hometown tourists. In Davidson, a small town nearby, we visited the old-timey Soda Shop and the South Main Sweet Shop where my daughter entered one of those guess-the-number-of-candies-in-the-jar contests.

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In this case, the candies were those teeny cinnamon red-hots. And about a week later, my daughter received a phone call to let her know that she was the undisputed winner of the contest because she guessed the number exactly at 282 red hots!

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In Davidson’s Rumor Mill Market of local artisans, we stumbled upon a desk that fit what my daughter has had in mind for a while now. Bonus – the price finally fit what I had in mind 🙂

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To match the white/gold theme in her room, we learned how to paint furniture, thanks to The Nester’s How to Paint Furniture Like a Real Pro. (It’s not as difficult as I thought, though we may or may not have taken some short-cuts).

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In Waxhaw, another small town outside of Charlotte, we visited Jolly Rolls ice cream where they make your custom flavor while you watch. I picked Key Lime Pie (obviously), so my server chopped up a piece of pie, poured cream over it, spread the mixture out over a cold slab, and scraped it up into yummy rolls.

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We took Mom to see Sister Act at our hometown theatre (Central Piedmont Community College) where we enjoyed a great evening filled with talent and laughter – and prayer 🙂

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I believe anything can be a spiritual discipline when we recognize the presence of God with us in it. So whether you moved here just last month or if you were born in the hospital down the street – this place is part of who you are now. This place holds your story, at least a piece of it. This is the place where God wants to meet you, for better or worse.

One way to honor the place where you are is to tour it on purpose.” ~ Emily P. Freeman

6) One of my favorite stories in Scripture is that of Jesus’ visit to the home of Mary and Martha. I’ve long identified with Martha, who grew frustrated with her frenzied meal preparations while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, absorbing his teaching. As I reread the passage in Luke 10, I noticed some wording that I hadn’t noticed before … Verse 38 says, “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.”

Because I struggle with hospitality, it struck me that Martha opened her home to Jesus but not her heart (in this moment). Like Martha, I push myself to make everything just so when I open my home. I thought this is what hospitality looked like. But sometimes I wonder if just so is more about my need for approval and less about my guests. Distractedness and perfection prevent me from opening my heart to them (and this isn’t what love looks like). This summer, I’ve discovered GraceTable, an online community that reassures me that hospitality isn’t perfection but presence:

“We believe that the hospitality Christ calls us to is one of brave surrender–a willingness to open our hearts and homes to people who may or may not fit neatly into our personal categories. (Romans 12:13) … This table is for the expert chefs and the microwave queens. Hospitality isn’t about what or how you eat–it’s about setting the table with love.”

7) You know that notification symbol at the top of your Facebook feed – the one that looks like a (flat) globe?

I learned that when you travel to another part of the world, it changes with you. When we were in Austria, I noticed that the continent switched from the Americas to Europe. I found this surprising, then – duh – obvious, and then sorta creepy.

8) One of my favorite summer-reads was Ian Morgan Cron’s Chasing Francis, a novel about a pastor who loses all the “answers.”

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During a pilgrimage to Italy, Pastor Chase explores the spiritual legacy of Saint Francis of Assisi who was a humble yet powerful, enduring voice for peace and justice. Francis sought to follow the Savior’s way of sacrifice at a time when the Church was consumed with self-serving opulence and power. In Cron’s novel, the disillusioned pastor’s faith is invigorated through Saint Francis’ passion to see Christ-followers serving as His hands and feet to the least of these.

Francis’ words still challenge the living Church today –

A Franciscan Benediction

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor. Amen.

8) I love inspiring quotes, so I conclude (finally, I know; it’s what-I-learned-this-summer after all) with new (to me) favorites:

“Sometimes our journeys need airplanes and sometimes they are quiet, 30-minute walks in our neighborhood so we can clear our heads and figure out what it means to be rooted — wherever we are.” Ashley Hales

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

“Hope has two beautiful daughters. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see to it that they don’t remain the way they are.” Saint Augustine

“Here’s Francis’ strategy–if you want to critique something, just do it better. Don’t go off at the mouth criticizing everything that’s wrong with the Church. Just do it better. Let the excellence of your life be your highest form of protest.” Ian Morgan Cron

“Faith is the only way of knowing that is also patient with not knowing.” Richard Rohr

It’s the differences between us that make us a Body and not a uniform.” Ann Voskamp

We position ourselves to be better listeners–we more easily set aside our assumptions and anger and start to ask questions with an intent to understand what is unfamiliar to us … We can only start the process here…real change has to happen in our communities and neighborhoods. As I heard Pastor Derwin Gray say once, “Proximity brings empathy.” Trillia Newbell

Thanks for reading, my friends. I’d love to hear what you’ve learned this summer. What did you read, discover, or see with new eyes? Let me know in the comments below!

And check out Emily’s link-up to explore what other writers are sharing about their random & reflective lessons from the summer.

 


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Simply curious and curiously simple

When summer began, I didn’t think about simplicity and curiosity like I do now, as summer nears its end. Sure, every time I rummaged deep through my closet, I thought about the need to clean out. But simplicity as an overall priority wasn’t in the summer plans.

And why would I think about curiosity? I guess it crossed my mind occasionally when my daughter was little and asked “Why?” probably a million times, as all curious children do. I suppose that many people think of curiosity as generally nosy and potentially irritating (not to mention dangerous for cats).

But when I consider what I’ve learned this summer, simplicity and curiosity are the recurring themes – which seems odd, given that I conceptualize the two as almost opposites. Simplicity, to me, seems a minimalistic quality, while curiosity is expansive. If simplicity is focused like a microscope, then curiosity is exploratory like a telescope.

Yet, I’ve discovered that these qualities, in tandem, are lenses through which I see more of God.

One of the more important lessons showed up on the summer curriculum when my husband, daughter, and I told our friends how much luggage we were planning to carry around Europe for 2 weeks. My heart sunk when they told us that, basically, we were nuts.

I’ve never traveled lightly. As I pack, my mind creates a plan for every “what if” I can think of.

If only I had been a Boy Scout, I could take the “Be Prepared” motto to a new level. Travel with me, and I’m willing to lug all the snacks, hair gel, Tide-To-Go, first-aid supplies, and ponchos that we could ever need.

Pack lighter, our friends said.

You won’t be able to walk quickly between train, bus, and subway stations.

You need to limit yourselves to a carry-on each.

Quite reluctantly we went home to unpack all the things we wanted and repack only the things we needed. This required a wrestling match between what could go and what must stay home.

During our trip, I discovered a lesson that traveling writer Tsh Oxenreider has known for a while: “There’s a beauty to curating our life’s needs to the basic essentials. There’s a step of faith involved when you decide to leave behind those socks in order to make room for that swimsuit” (In my case, room would be made for snacks). You can read the rest of Tsh’s post on traveling light {here}.

The Febreeze fabric refresher made the cut, thankfully, so I doused my outfits in Linen Fresh every time I wore them (repeatedly). We ate unfamiliar but delicious food, and the packed nibbles weren’t necessary after all. And we managed the buses, trains, and subways while looking as little like tourists as possible (well, that’s not completely accurate but, hey, we tried).

Lesson learned. I really can simplify and survive. I wanted to come home and streamline.

As I considered what to release, I decided that my newly acquired spirit of curiosity was worth keeping. For two weeks, in the midst of Austrian Alps, German rolling hills, and Albanian countryside, I marveled at the Creator’s glorious touch upon the amazing people, stories, and sights we encountered on our journey.

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Before Salzburg, I didn’t think I’d be all that interested in Mozart’s birthplace, his life, or his classical works. But I realized there that Mozart’s musical masterpieces bear witness to the One who composed heavenly melodies before violins and pianos existed.

My awareness of God’s glory was undoubtedly influenced by my surroundings. But could it be that wonder arises less from place and more from perspective?

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I’ve started to think of curiosity as a posture of open-handedness in which we release our grasp on the urgent things in order to freely receive the essential things. Traveling light increases our capacity for exploration, and simplicity creates space for curiosity to fill.  I long to live open-handed, in hopeful expectancy as I release and receive as God wills. Then He stretches my faith in His limitless possibility. Open-handed anticipation seems, to me, the essence of worship.

Even though, years ago, my little girl’s bevy of questions irritated me at times, they endeared me to her childlike spirit. I remember her delight in discovery, her ability to be awed. This is the sort of faith which children of God aren’t meant to outgrow.

We’re born with an innate curiosity that compels us to explore, marvel, and believe there is more to life … I don’t want us to just be curious about God; I want us to be curious for more of Him. I believe that the goodness and wonders of God can amaze us, but it’s our curiosity for more of Him that propels us forward to experience more of His presence in our lives (Logan Wolfram, Curious Faith).

So I have begun to see curiosity as the anticipation of God’s movement. This can happen as I wash dishes at my sink and watch the butterflies dance with the flowers and the hummingbirds hover and dart, jockeying for position at the feeder.

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As these miniature wonders capture my attention, the Holy Spirit reminds me that the Heavenly Father is mindful of the tiniest of creatures and He’s promised to be all the more trustworthy for His children. And He never grows weary or irritable with our pursuit of Him.

God’s patience toward our curiosity remains constant even when our childlike faith is obscured with hard questions. Even as I long to travel lightly, I can’t dismiss the heaviness in our world – in my own soul.

I started blogging after my father was diagnosed with cancer. Although I had followed Christ for most of my life, I was never awed in anticipation of Heaven, to be honest. Maybe it’s kinda boring, I thought … Maybe things of this world have more excitement to offer.

But Daddy died, and to have any comfort at all, I started reading and writing about eternity.  I was curious for eternity. And curiosity offered forward movement.

Grief was my companion but powerless to keep me stuck in despair.  As I learn to be awed by the Lord of eternity in the here and now, this moving forward with hope cannot fail.

When I take time to really seek and consider the greatness of our God as He shows Himself on earth, I am increasingly certain that His eternal presence is anything but boring.

In A Hunger for God, John Piper writes: “If we don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because we have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because we have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Our soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”

Curiosity, in my mind, is the drinking deeply, and simplicity is the making room for the great. Together, they satisfy a thirsty pilgrim who learns to travel lightly.

May we not stuff our souls, like we stuff suitcases, with so many small things that we become distracted and burdened and miss the great things. Margins built into each day allow us to pause and breathe and seek God in the marvelous and in the mundane. This requires some unpacking of what we want and repacking of what we need (which I suspect is what we want most of all.)

Maybe this means that we unload unnecessary material possessions or a people-pleasing mentality or a tendency toward comparison or a reluctance to forgive.

And we repack a curiosity that turns us toward one another. If we become more genuinely curious about our neighbors and their perspectives, strengths, wounds, and needs, perhaps that curiosity will birth compassion in our souls, rather than competition or criticism. It gives us a lenses through which we see God’s glorious image in His children. May we hunger to observe and to listen and to understand and to love and to experience the manifestation of God’s glory in this way.

God’s table is offered here for all of us, here and now. Let’s meet one another in this spacious place to be simply curious and curiously simple for Him, and our brothers and sisters, together.

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Here are my favorite resources for traveling light and staying curious:

The Art of Simple by Tsh Oxenreider and a community of people who define “simple living” this way: living holistically with your life’s purpose.

Curious Faith: Rediscovering Hope in the God of Possibility by Logan Wolfram ~

“Sometimes we may not be able to fix what’s broken. But we can’t lose the capacity to walk curiously after the Lord just because we can’t make sense of everything that happens in a broken world. Hope and curiosity are still for us. And when we carry heavy things we have to believe that the redemptive work of the cross can and will be redemption enough. In the end, God always ends. He always restores. He always redeems.”

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Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World by Emily P. Freeman ~

“What if, instead of thinking we have to choose between our ordinary life and an extraordinary life, we began to realize they’re the same thing?”

“Let me hear Jesus whisper to me the lesson he taught the disciples, the one about praying for this day our daily bread, not bread to last the week. Let me believe him when he tells me the most important work I’ll do today is to receive the love he wants to give and then hand it out to others.”

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