Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


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Speaking Life in the Small

Last week my husband and I received an email we didn’t expect. Our daughter is entering high school next year, and the college placement team reached out to say it is time to meet. I am not prepared for such preparations. What is expected, of course, is to say that just yesterday I was brushing her hair into a Pebbles-style ponytail right on top of her sweet little head. But it’s true.

What seems especially ironic or painful or some emotion I can’t articulate is that all this transition and looking forward for her comes on the cusp of a mid-life birthday for me. Here I am, looking backward and wondering where life veered from what I expected. It’s not necessarily cliché, nor is it crisis; it’s just real-life awareness that I am not really in control of anything.

I can’t stop my girl from growing up, and for all my own attempts to move upward, including a post-grad degree that took 11 years to complete, I’m in a place where I can choose to be disillusioned or to accept that life happens and circumstances sometimes collide with dreams and I feel as small as ever.

The complicating thing is that I have a really beautiful life. My blessings are abundant, and I know that the lines have fallen for me in very pleasant places (Psalm 16:6).

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Here, I am learning that my questions don’t mean that I am ungrateful; they mean that I am human.

Usually when I write, the editor in me gets in the way. Because I am actually employed as a writing editor. It is hard to write without evaluating every.single.word. (Is it grammatically correct to begin a sentence with because? Ugh.) But when I do, I am surprised at what revelation comes out. And so perhaps I need to pay attention to the above paragraph, where I off-the-cuff wrote that I have invested years and money in moving “upward.”

Is upward what I have wanted?

In itself, I see nothing wrong with this. I am for education and hard work and dreaming (and even college placement meetings *sigh*). I want this path for my daughter. My parents and my husband provided every opportunity for me to develop my potential and chase my desires, and how could I not look at this place in her life without dreamy (yet misty) eyes?

But as I grow deeper in relationship with Christ, I’m increasingly moving toward acceptance, even comfort, with a small life.

As an American, I live in a culture where small and upward are seemingly incongruent. But I am firstly a citizen of another Kingdom, where the highest goal is to go small. I think of John the Baptist who, when his followers left to pursue Jesus, said “He must become greater and I must become less” (John 3:30). And of him, Jesus said, “Among those born of women is none greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).

I also think of the widow who gave the smallest offering, a mere two coins, and Jesus esteemed her offering – all that she possessed – as the greatest (Luke 21:1 – 4).  Even the apostle Paul, who had once relished the utmost in accolades and accomplishment, surrendered everything – counted it as garbage even – in order to move forward with Christ (Philippians 3).

Some of my lifelong goals are yet unrealized. When I set my perspective on God’s grace, sovereignty, wisdom, and the call of discipleship, I’m really okay with this.

I am learning that I never needed those accomplishments to validate me, because who I am in Christ is enough. Perhaps small fits best. (Hey, I always wanted to be a size small).

I should clarify what I mean by “small.” Part of my life mission statement is that I will “speak life.” By this I mean that I want my words and actions to be a voice for the dignity of life, in every stage and status.  I am inspired when I see other people doing this in “big” ways, crusading on platforms for justice and equality. I have sat in forums and movies where I was deeply moved by Christ-followers who have, in large-scale ways, been champions for the outcast. I’ve wanted to do that too.

And as I went to special events and heard the stories of young women who were forced into sex slavery or child marriage, I was inspired by the heroes who rescued them. I’d say, however, that I always had one reaction more urgent than any other. As much as I appreciated the message, I couldn’t wait to bolt from those events and go home and wrap my daughter in my arms. It was an expression of my motherly-gut-level calling to speak life to her.

Most victims of human trafficking are deceived into believing that they aren’t worthy of anything else. But they are created by God to bear His image, and that makes them beautiful and worthy. Every person needs to know this about themselves. My daughter needs to know this about herself, and God has gifted her to me for a season. I am telling her that she is God’s hand-crafted, priceless possession.

My calling may be very small-scale. But I am realizing that it is no less significant.

Perhaps you are like me, living a seemingly small-scale life that feels more ordinary than extraordinary. But Christ-follower, it is significant. This day is one ordained by God to move you into His will and His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). You have a God-given design and purpose to influence your people and your community as no one else can.

You wipe noses and pick up toys all day …

You crunch numbers in a cubicle …

You sit with the lonely …

You spend out of your own salary to supply your classroom …

You write words that you think no one reads …

You stroke the hand of your frail loved one …

You serve in the church nursery …

You take in a child without a home …

You go to your prayer closet where no one sees …

You choose integrity in your job day in and day out …

You are speaking life. You are living your sacred responsibility to help others realize that they are God’s beloved.

So what do I say to my daughter? These years are pivotal, a time for her to dream big.  I want that for her. And I want her to be small too, in the way that Christ is greater and she is lesser, and every ordinary day is ordained by Him and for Him.

I want my child to speak life, whether from a platform or a pick-up game with kids from the other side of town. They may seem big; they may seem small; what matters is that there are God-sized plans awaiting her.

And you too.

Every small way is no small thing in the Kingdom.

The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus. (2)

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Such a good word from Jennifer Dukes Lee:

Could we, artists and writers and mothers and fathers and preachers and teachers and ordinary, everyday pilgrims — could we willingly lay down our lives for a life separated with Christ — a life hid in Christ with God?

And there, we would find the only approval that matters. 

And we would know it with certainty:

that it’s the approval we always had.

Writers are speaking life with Jennifer Dukes Lee and #TellHisStory.

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Connecting with other speakers of life @ Missional Women and Faith Filled Friday.

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Read this insightful post about a Christ-follower’s perspective on ambition at Purposeful Faith with Kelly Balarie.

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I’m having Coffee for Your Heart with my friend Holley Gerth

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Linking today with Thought Provoking Thursday @3dlessonsforlife

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Sacred September (because you are an artist and your art matters)

“We’re in a lull right now,” and I knew what the radio announcer meant — it’s the in-between of seasons. School & football have started and daylight is waning but I’m not ready for raking leaves and buying pumpkin-everything.

I’m wearing long-sleeves & jeans while my daughter is in shorts because we can’t figure out what to wear. Sandals or boots today?

Seems to early to plant pansies, but my flower beds that bloomed heartily in the heart of summer are tired and done.

September lulls me back into a reluctant place of fixing lunches and checking homework and making lists and running errands. The beginning of September, like a second January of sorts, was filled with newness and expectancy, but now our days feel stalled in the “in-between.”

Flickr - mcamcamca. CC2.0

Photo credit, mcamcamca. CC2.0

Gone are the carefree days of summer and yet to come are the cozy comforts of fall. It’s just an ordinary day.

These are the days when my creativity is as drained as my flowers, or so I think. I’d like to be inspired by the autumn reds, yellows, and oranges but those colors have yet to burst on the scene. Maybe I could compose inspirational words about Thanksgiving but it’s not the giving-thanks season.

Hmm.

Perhaps you feel this way? Could you be in an in-between place too? Life feels kind of uninspiring, maybe small. There’s nothing especially spectacular about you or your world at the moment. Maybe a season of productivity has wilted like tired flowers. Do you have anything to offer? You wonder if God is able to use you in this place, this lull.

But even if you don’t claim “art” as a profession or hobby, you’re an artist. Did you know that?  Every day you’re given opportunities to tell a story, weave words into conversation, create environments for your professional and personal relationships, and reflect the image of our creative and caring God.

God can use you in the lull. This ordinary place can be a meaningful offering, and perhaps an eye-opener to the million little ways that God is showing up in your life, ready to be expressed in your world.

I believe this because I’m reading A Million Little Ways by Emily Freeman.

“When we resist living within our ordinary days, we are in danger of losing a sense of ourselves. We don’t need to walk away from our routines and daily rhythms to find something more interesting. More often we need to wake up to them” (page 118).

Sacred happens between the church aisles, but may God give us eyes to see Him in the grocery aisle, the hallways of home, the neighborhood sidewalks, and all the ordinary, ordained paths that make up life.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, Kate Ter Haar. CC2.0

Flickr, Kate Ter Haar. CC2.0

I recently traveled a painful journey through sickness and loss, with crisis moments along the way. And just months ago, I experienced the kind of poverty that wrecked my insulated, North American existence.

Why, why, why would I feel dulled by ordinary days?

Perhaps in managing life, I’m missing life being beautiful.

To me, this ordinary day finds me not at the hospital or responding to an emergency or wondering where my child’s next meal will come from. In my context, ordinary is quite a gift. But I’m not entitled to ordinary. I never know when life will bottom out or go roller-coaster on me again, so each ordinary moment offers me a choice about my perspective. Will boredom or blessing set the tone of this day?

Ordinary days – September days – consist of life-giving moments. Instead of waiting for the next big thing, I want to settle into the small beauty of packing lunches and checking homework (except math).  Little moments of intimacy can matter for eternity while grandiose moments of importance might last as long as the wood, hay, and stubble.

My soul craves a giving-thanks day every day. A lull can be a holy space to simply breathe and receive grace; to stop controlling and allow Him to design the canvas; to step back and be yielded to the vision of the Artist; to pause and behold what He calls beautiful.

Ordinary is where our most God-glorifying art comes from. As we search for God’s purpose for our lives, He’s beckoning us to just pay attention to where He is working.

The beauty of our lives is drawn out of our response to God, and He meets us, not just on Sundays, but in the seeking heart.

Prixel Creative @ Lightstock

Prixel Creative @ Lightstock

Friend, your ordinary matters.

“Ministering in everyday opportunities that surround us does not mean that we select our own surroundings— it means being God’s very special choice to be available for use in any of the seemingly random surroundings which He has engineered for us. The very character we exhibit in our present surroundings is an indication of what we will be like in other surroundings.

The things Jesus did were the most menial of everyday tasks, and this is an indication that it takes all of God’s power in me to accomplish even the most common tasks in His way. Can I use a towel as He did? Towels, dishes, sandals, and all the other ordinary things in our lives reveal what we are made of more quickly than anything else. It takes God Almighty Incarnate in us to do the most menial duty as it ought to be done.” Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, entry for September 11.

Your art is made of whatever opportunity you have to sanctify life and glorify God. Whatever your art is – your parenting, your listening, your befriending, your mastery with numbers, your teaching, your writing, your praying, your building, your homemaking, your giving – it matters.

You are God’s workmanship, and any given day holds holy, if unexpected, moments in which He can orchestrate experiences where His glory blows your blinders off.

Fellow artist, let’s show up to the page.  Let’s be who we are and offer our ordinary without concerning ourselves with the outcomes. Sacred things happen in September.

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The meaning of our lives is not dependent upon what we make of it but of what he is making of us … What makes us come alive goes deeper that what we choose to do in our professions and our free time. What makes us come alive is life, and this life is Jesus. Painting, cooking, parenting, calculating, and conversation all have the potential to hold within them a mystery and an expression of our life in Christ.  Emily Freeman, A Million Little Ways, page 30.

“It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God – but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people – and this is not learned in five minutes.” Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest.

“The discovery of God lies in the daily and the ordinary, not in the spectacular and the heroic. If we cannot find God in the routines of home and shop, then we will not find Him at all.” Richard Foster, Prayer.

I found the Oswald Chambers and Richard Foster quotes in Emily Freeman’s Simply Tuesday, her latest book on the grace & beauty of small-moment living.


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The Disguise of the Divine

It’s been a delightfully ordinary day so far. Walmart trip – check. Grocery store – been there. Bank – did that. Laundry – in progress (always in progress, right?). Unloading dishwasher – done.

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I don’t usually find delight in ordinary tasks, but Gideon’s story challenges me to adopt a new perspective. In Judges 6, we find that Gideon was threshing wheat when the angel of the Lord appeared. Hiding in a winepress (not the usual place for threshing wheat), Gideon didn’t want any sort of encounter, much less a divine assignment. However, Gideon learned that ordinary is often the disguise of the divine, a lesson seen elsewhere in Scripture.

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I think of Moses’ calling in Exodus 3:

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush….”

And the calling of David in 1 Samuel 16:

“Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, ‘The Lord has not chosen these.’ So he asked Jesse, ‘Are these all the sons you have?’

‘There is still the youngest,’ Jesse answered. ‘He is tending the sheep.’

Samuel said, ‘Send for him….’

Then the Lord said, ‘Rise and anoint him; this is the one.’”

Consider that Jesus called Peter, James and John while they were in their boats: “‘… from now on you will fish for people,’ He said. So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5: 10 – 11).

Gideon was farming, Moses and David were tending animals, and the disciples were working their daily tasks when  miraculous movements of God interrupted their monotony.

Today’s tasks, even the most mundane of them – are often preparation for tomorrow’s calling.” ~ Priscilla Shirer.

God calls you and me to be faithful with the assignments that He’s entrusted to us. And here is the place where the simple is sacred, if we will choose a perspective of thankfulness. Gideon’s wheat, Moses’ flock, and Peter’s boat were evidences of God’s blessing.

The load of laundry? That’s evidence that we have ample clothing.

The full dishwasher? That’s proof that a meal was prepared and enjoyed last night.

From turbulent 17th century France rises the testimony of Brother Lawrence, a monk who gave his faithful attention to God’s presence in any activity. Assigned to the mundane tasks of peeling potatoes and cleaning the monastery kitchen, Brother Lawrence developed a holy perspective of common work.  Because he didn’t compartmentalize his communion with God to “spiritual” endeavors, Brother Lawrence worshipped in the midst of his very ordinary business.

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“We can do little things for God,” said Brother Lawrence. “I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of Him.”

Likewise, I want to search out the grace of my everyday tasks (even laundry) and cultivate a grateful, worshipping heart. Perhaps tomorrow’s calling will require some extraordinary preparation, and if so, it begins today – in the midst of my ordinary life.

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“We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”
― Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

“It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God— but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people— and this is not learned in five minutes.” – Oswald Chambers

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