Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


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Listening to Winter

When we look back upon 2016, we’ll remember the ones we collectively lost – those whose artistry is etched into culture as we know it.

Looking back, perhaps we’ll recall the stock market’s wild ride when seemingly every day brought news of another plunge in investments.

We’ll think of how unsettled we felt when snow and ice storms suspended our regular and convenient ways of life.

We’ll recall the resolutions that stuck. And those that didn’t.

Perhaps we’ll remember our bewilderment as pundits interpreted every little shift in political polls. We’ll grow weary of the bickering and posturing as disillusionment creeps ever wider over the state of the union.

Maybe we’ll laugh at the Powerball hysteria when long lines wrapped around convenience stores and clutched people in a slim promise of instant windfall.

Memories from 2016. As I write, it’s only January.

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These first 4 weeks of 2016 are marked with loss, uncertainty, regret, and disappointment.

Isn’t January hard enough as it is?

Looking out my kitchen window, I see outlines of houses on neighboring streets. I can’t see these homes in the prime of summer when the trees are clothed with leaves.  But January, in its stark barrenness, helps me to observe what I didn’t notice before. I find it beautiful in a surprising sort of way.

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But as a southern girl, I could do without winter, except for the week of Christmas. And metaphorically speaking, I was once not terribly fond of winter in the soul either, when loss strips life of love and abundance.

Although we generally know what to expect from January, most of us have lived enough to realize that while the cycles of climate are relatively predictable, the seasons of life are sometimes not so. Even if the calendar says May, the soul may be experiencing the starkness of winter.

Each soul-season arrives by way of the inevitable passages of time, losses or gains, or circumstances that can’t be predicted or controlled. We tend to think of “new” as bright and shiny, like a streak-free, stainless steel refrigerator. But new doesn’t always arrive in a pretty package or with a party at midnight. The recent divorcee, widow, empty nester, or anyone with an unexpected diagnosis understands this. Either way, whether change causes rejoicing or sorrow, all of us must navigate the stresses and uncertainties of seasons where life looks different than it has before. I find this impossible without faith to anchor the soul.

It was almost winter when my father died, and the change of seasons reflected my grieving heart. As the shock and immediacy of crisis faded, I settled into winter, and almost welcomed it as a contemplative, comforting friend. My faith that Daddy was freed from suffering and the hope that I will see him again allowed me to stay in the season. Winter of the soul can be stark yet sweet. Everything can be stripped away but as Jesus remains, we find that He has always been enough. I finally understood the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 3 which begins: “For everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.” It was the first time I saw winter in a new way, when I saw everything in new way.

In The Listening Life, Adam McHugh describes the Creator’s wisdom behind the inward and outward cycles of life:

“The seasons relieve us from the pressure to put on the same face and act the same way all year round. It’s not always summer, and we don’t need to live like it is. Just as our wardrobe changes for the seasons, so do our emotional and spiritual lives. We can cycle through our own seasons of dormancy and new life, activity and quietness, celebration and sadness, blossom and harvest, openness and being closed, austerity and abundance.”

And so, if January helps us to observe things we haven’t perceived before, we have a response to make. We can choose to grow numb. We can clinch our fists. Or we can listen to what January 2016 has to say. Is this all there is? In a world where the exemplars of earthly strength, security, and success are lost before our eyes, there has to be more.

Jesus articulated this with a succinct and piercing question: “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world and forfeit their soul?

These four short weeks in January teach us that in the barest parts of our beings, our souls know that our outward selves will eventually lose their grip on everything that mortal hands can grab. We need another anchor. It’s as if January, with its disillusionment, regret, and loss, has handed us a lenses through which eternity is unquestionably in focus. I see it as I look out my kitchen window at the houses I once couldn’t see in the heart of summer. I see it as I donate, divide, and discard my father’s earthly possessions. I see it as I read further in Ecclesiastes 3 and land on verse 11:

God has made everything beautiful in its time and has set eternity in the human heart.

The holy-inspired wisdom of Ecclesiastes teaches us that we are ever passing and repassing through seasons. There are times to dance and times to mourn, times to rejoice and times to weep. Yet we are constantly moving through this world, with its continual changes, toward an eternal existence. Now is the time to heed the inner stirring. It’s a sacred invitation to choose Christ who knew and loved and chose you before your first breath. He wants you to be with Him upon your last.

I look out my window, and through the bare trees, my heart sees Home.

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Psalm 90

A prayer of Moses the man of God.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn people back to dust,
    saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
A thousand years in your sight
    are like a day that has just gone by,
    or like a watch in the night.
Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
    they are like the new grass of the morning:
In the morning it springs up new,
    but by evening it is dry and withered.

We are consumed by your anger
    and terrified by your indignation.
You have set our iniquities before you,
    our secret sins in the light of your presence.
All our days pass away under your wrath;
    we finish our years with a moan.
10 Our days may come to seventy years,
    or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
    for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
11 If only we knew the power of your anger!
    Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
12 Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

 eternity


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November Teaches Us to Have Open Hands

“Did you know that fall exists because of the Fall?”

My daughter asks me this as we talk about what she learned in Chapel.

“I haven’t thought of it that way but I know the leaves, so beautiful in all their colors, are in the process of dying.”

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We watch leaves fall to earth and reflect on autumn as a season of beauty and death, letting go and giving thanks. The crimson and golden leaves express the truth that beauty and death exist harmoniously, and can we accept this?

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The cycles of sowing, harvesting, degeneration, and rebirth are a natural, rhythmical part of our landscapes. Genesis tells us, however, that God created the Garden to be a place of continual abundance. Ever since the first sin, our sustenance from the land requires labor and vulnerability to drought, storms, and decay.

Our hearts know the vulnerability too. Emotionally we pass through seasons of abundance, seasons of loss. Past Novembers have found me in a cancer clinic, a funeral home, and a mental health hospital.

In such places, how do I give thanks?

As I remember these things and think about the conversation with my daughter, I ponder the thought that God made autumn, the dying season, beautiful anyway. I see myself in the letting-go, one leaf after another releasing from the limbs. The hope of redemption is the only thing that roots me. While November reminds me of pain, it also offers me a picture of the Gospel. Although death and devastation of the heart entered the human story, God married the gut-wrenching and the glorious at the Cross. 

November, the dying season, teaches me that these shriveled and decaying leaves produce rich soil for new life to grow.

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In moments of seeking life out of loss, I read reflective thoughts on the season, and I’m drawn to this:

Fall is a season for accepting the impermanence of things.

My heart says yes. This is way my soul has learned to live. How else can I open my fist and accept hope – except for the truth that only eternity is permanent?

And how else can I find purpose in this life – except to open my fist and say yes to generosity because nothing I possess is mine for keeps?

On this day when the gold and crimson fall like rain, my heart whispers a prayer of Moses: “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

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About Thanksgiving, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Let us give thanks and walk into Advent knowing that time is manufactured for eternity and the breath of humanity for the glory of God.”

November portrays the wisdom of open hands, of trusting that I am deeply rooted in grace and I will be okay when it’s time to release. When it comes to things most important, most significant, and most enduring, I’ve received all that I need, and no matter what happens, it is well. When the winds blow and the seasons change, my soul is held fast in permanence.

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And so, all that I have and all that I am on this side of heaven are gifts to me but not mine to hold. As I am a receiver, I am also a releaser. Whatever is impermanent – my possessions, my time – can be lifted from my hands on the winds of God’s will to higher purposes, if He chooses.

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Those with open hands, who let the leaves fall and who watch for spring, are the ones who learn to say “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

The process of releasing our thanks, with our very lives, is no easy fix, no recipe for blunting our pain, no emotional escapism. Sometimes my hands ball up into fists and I want to fight. Yet grace reminds me that Jesus renounced His will and opened His hands on the Cross out of love. And as the recipient of such love, I can always be grateful even when I cannot be happy.

“God is good” is not some trite quip for the good days but a radical defiant cry for the terrible days “God is good” is not a stale one-liner when all’s happy but a saving lifeline when all’s hard…. Thanksgiving in all things accepts the deep mystery of God through everything. ~ Ann Voskamp

And so, November, this time of impermanence – for me, this time of hard things, is my reminder that only God can intermingle hope with death, gain with loss, suffering with redemption, and eternity with humanity.

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“Did you know that fall exists because of the Fall?”

Yes, and God made autumn beautiful anyway.


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Lean Into Jesus

The sunny, February day compels me outside into the unusual warmth. While this rare opportunity beckons me to rake out the flower beds, I’d rather set aside yard work until spring. These days, I set aside things I used to enjoy like getting dirt under my nails.

But as I kneel beside the Lenten roses and scrape the dead leaves away with my fingers, I notice that tiny blooms are rising like a fist against winter.  Suddenly invigorated, I rake and rake and rake away the decaying leaves. My plants need to breathe.

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Something like hope rides on the fresh air, so I lean upon the rake to take it in.  And I remember:

“The best advice I can give you is to lean into your grief.”

I had nodded at the kind lady as if I understood. But I didn’t understand.

In the middle of my yard, propped against my rake, I wonder –

What does that mean?

Although “lean into grief” sounds a bit cliché, I know this lady has experienced this kind of heartache. So I abandon my rake and decide to see for myself.

Underneath my soiled nails, fingers tap out a search “Lean into grief.”

Many stories, blogs, and articles appear, articulating a similar theme:

The process of grief can be long and bleak, like winter, but it’s necessary to let the grief take its course. Instead of pushing it away, patiently work through the pain. Eventually another season will come.

Ok, I get that.

Is that all?

As I dig a little deeper, I discover that the metaphor, “leaning in,” originates in athletic activities – which doesn’t relate at all to suffering, I think.

But perhaps it can.

In sports like snowboarding, skiing, or speed skating, athletes learn to “lean into the turn.”

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The general principle (I think, because I’m no physicist) is that leaning in drives an athlete’s energy forward by acting as a counter-balance against forces that would drag the athlete down. It also suggests embracing risk and not shying away from obstacles.

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I had visualized “leaning into grief” as if it were a crutch. And there are moments when the urge to wallow in sadness is greater than the longing to move through it. Sometimes that’s okay. I’ve been there.

But if “leaning in” is a metaphor for onward and forward, it changes the way I think about leaning into heartache.

Loss unearths emotions which are complicated and unique to every person. Scripture says that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12). In this world, we are constantly confronted with the sting of bad news, disappointment with ourselves and loved ones, fading of health and vitality, media reports that disgust or frighten us, and stalled dreams. When we’re heart-sick, human nature (my human nature, at least) wants to push away and hide.

But a spiritual perspective of “leaning into grief” expects that any kind of suffering, although difficult, can be redemptive because there is hope, and His Spirit is the fresh air on which it rides. This means that when we want to run away from suffering, we actually do the opposite and allow it to teach and transform us.

So I get what’s meant by “lean into grief,” but ultimately I’ll fall flat if I lean into my unreliable feelings. I need to lean into something – Someone – unchanging, immoveable, and steadfast.

The times when I’ve tried to lean upon my own strength have left me at the brink of despair. But Jesus comes to my pain with a gentle reminder: Cast your burden upon the Lord [release it] and He will sustain and uphold you. He will never allow the righteous to be shaken (slip, fall, fail) (Psalm 55:22, Amplified).

Grief shows me what it means to live with eternity in my heart. I’m not just moving through … I’m moving toward.  At times I’m still struggling in the dirt yet I’m persisting in the hope that life in Jesus goes on.

I lean through the heartache until I’m leaning with all my might on Jesus.

When we feel that downward tug of heartache or discouragement, we can throw our weight fully upon the Overcomer, and by His power, we press forward.

I encourage you to cast your burdens – those nagging doubts or restless worries or stabs in the heart – on to Jesus. He can take them because He has already shouldered the weight of a dying world. Go ahead and embrace the hard and lean with your grief, your troubles, your failures into His everlasting arms. Sometimes leaning, like me with my rake, means pausing. Sometimes leaning, like a downhill skier, means movement. Let’s lean into the One who, with perfect timing and tenderness, knows what is best for our healing in this moment.

What will “leaning in” look like for you today?

The eternal God is our refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. Deuteronomy 33:27

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3: 14

… let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him … so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12: 1 – 3

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The Physics Classroom – http://www.physicsclassroom.com/class/circles/u6l2c.cfm

Photo credits:

Skier – aLindquist @ http://www.flickr.com/photos/alindquist_/3529374910/

Speed Skater @ http://scienceblogs.com/dotphysics/2010/02/17/apolo-ohno-physics/

Snowboarder @ http://wakpaper.com/id49666/snowboard-slide-sports-snowboard-full-hd-desktop-wallpaper-3000×2000-pixel.html


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Unexpected Answers to Prayers for My Mother

It was one of those awkward situations that you want to politely ignore but things are playing out right under your nose. This past weekend, we were in Disney World, standing in line for the monorail to take us into the Magic Kingdom. The mother in front of us was trying to take a picture of her toddler son.

This was obviously important to her, as she implored her son to stand still for a photo in his current clothing in case they happened to get separated. And it was equally urgent to the little boy to evade her every attempt to capture a decent image. The other family members were standing around being generally unhelpful. This poor woman had a very long day ahead of her.

Exasperated, she yanked her son out of line to a private spot to “work things out” and snapped: “Yes, this IS the happiest place on earth.”

I inherited my love for Disney from my parents. Over the past few days, I’ve remembered taking Daddy’s hand to ride the “big rides.” I heard his laugh through the dips and sharp turns of Space Mountain and the Rockin’ Roller Coaster.  I can’t count the times that Mom and Daddy took me to Disney and then carried on the tradition with my husband and daughter along.

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While Daddy was sick I prayed for a long time for one more Disney vacation.

The travel agent must have thought that I was nuts, welling up with tears in front of her as she booked our latest trip for four – me, my husband, daughter, and Mom.

Despite our aching hearts, we wanted to affirm to Mom that we will continue because she matters and memories matter.

A few nights ago, as we watched the “Wishes” fireworks show, I was especially aware of the narration through the innocent wistfulness of Jiminy Cricket:

When you wish, upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires will come…to…you.

Like a bolt out of the blue,
fate steps in and sees you through.
When you wish upon a star,  your dreams…come…true

Puppets become real boys. Cinderella goes to the ball. Snow White’s prince comes.

But … like a bolt out of the blue came a cruel thought, “Your wish didn’t come true.”

For a moment, it really jolted me, I have to admit it.

I’ve been an adult long enough to know better when it comes to Disney’s wish-upon-a-star optimism. Just ask the mother with the toddler – If the happiest place on earth can be maddening, how do we cope beyond its borders? You can call me a pessimist, and I probably have a natural bent that way, but the reality is that every person who walks into Disney World has to eventually exit into the real world where the credit card bills come due and wishes don’t always come true. As a party of 4 on this trip, we experienced it.

And during that blasted fireworks show (ha, the pun wasn’t intended, but I’ll leave it), I realized that I was, even with teary eyes, more hopeful than I had ever been.

Like smoke after a fireworks show, wishful thinking drifts with the wind. But hope is anchored into the solid foundation of God’s wise and loving character.  It’s not based upon my mood or upon magic. It’s an eternal reality, purchased with sacrifice and sealed in my soul.

As an adopted child of the Most High, I belong to another Kingdom. I don’t need to believe in fate, thank you, I (still) have a Father. With infinite wisdom and compassion, He works all things in my life for His good purposes. I have enough experience with my Father to understand that He is too wise and loving to give me everything I wish for. While He doesn’t always grant the desires of my heart, He has placed eternity in my heart. This truth tells me, whether I am in the happiest or the saddest place, that I have everything to hope for.

And so now that we’re home, my attention turns to Mother’s Day.  Today, I thought about my most-read post: “A Prayer for My Mother on Her 80th Birthday.” And I recall those requests made on August 8, 2013 –

“Lord, would this day – her birthday – be the beginning of a year in which my mother knows the deepest peace and richest joy?  I pray with thanksgiving for the promise that You are the strength of her heart and her portion forever. May she be sustained daily by the comfort that You are the eternal refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

And Lord, I pray for the simplest but most meaningful joys to come her way – such as sweet times with Daddy and with her family.

For laughter. And more opportunities to explore an open road.

For days to enjoy good meals with good friends. For many more victories on the court or on the field for her favorite teams (Your help is especially needed here, Lord!).

I pray for precious memories made with the little ones. For weekends to watch swimming practice or go shopping or eat ice cream with her granddaughter. For the satisfaction of knowing that these shared experiences are creating a lasting legacy.”

In August 2013 we knew that Daddy’s cancer wasn’t responding well to treatment but we really had no idea.

Yet, in May 2014, I hold hope in my heart. Daddy is experiencing more delights than a trip to Disney could ever offer. And my prayers for my mother have been answered.

Dear Mom –

Even in your deep grief and darkest days, you have been a testimony of God’s enduring joy and strength. You have demonstrated the peace of being comforted and carried by everlasting arms. Because He is your refuge and strength, you are still laughing and loving well. Our family finds perseverance through your example of courage and resiliency.

You are brave enough to accept and explore the unknown adventures of an open road. As you share life with us, your days are rich with meaning and purpose. We understand more fully the sweetness of simple moments. In these past few months, we’ve eaten well and cheered hard and watched swim practice and shared ice cream with the dog. Our family is growing with great-grandchildren whose lives will be enriched by your legacy. We will live and experience togetherness to the fullest because you and Daddy taught us to love God and love each other with all our might.

My prayers for you are still being answered in God’s most loving wisdom. Perhaps His answers have not come as I wished, but because of your faith, I know that hope always remains. And so I will keep praying. Thank you, Mom, I love you.

Hope tells me that these unexpected answers come from an unchanging God whose promise of eternal life is unwavering.

I’d rather have that sure foundation than a wish in the sky any day.

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