Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


8 Comments

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.”

DSCF4710

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?

DSCF4706

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.

20151102_152408

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.”

20161027_102719

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.

Untitled design (6)

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.

Untitled design (23)

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.

Untitled design (5)

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

Yes, and God made autumn beautiful anyway.


16 Comments

Saving Thanksgiving

A few weeks ago, I wrote about 2 small words: what and if. When put together, these little words can steal peace in a big way.

Like you, I wrestle with the hard things of loss and brokenness.  I hurt when relationships are messy; I struggle when hopes fall apart; and I cry out when my weaknesses persist.  Even still, I find comfort in trusting that God sympathizes with my difficult questions because He knows my fragile heart and finite understanding.

What if I make the wrong decision?

What if there’s not enough at the end of the month?

Often I find that ‘what-if’ works in tandem with its counterpart ‘if-only.’

While what-if robs my peace, if-only has a greedy eye on my contentment.

If only we could afford everything on the Christmas list.

If only I didn’t have to deal with this difficult person.

If only I could overcome this habit that drags me down.

Something about this time of year evokes in me a sentimental desire to have everything just right (and Pinterest doesn’t help). My mind is prone to wander toward the what-ifs and if-onlys (What if I burn the casserole again? If only Daddy was here…). 

But here – this place with its unmet longings and dried-out turkey – is where I learn thankfulness in circumstances, not necessarily for circumstances.

The spirit of true thanksgiving chooses to focus on what is given:

Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will triumph in Yahweh; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation! Yahweh my Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like those of a deer and enables me to walk on mountain heights! (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

Habakkuk, the prophet, doesn’t say “if only the fig tree would budWhat if the fields remain barren? If only there were fruit on the vines and sheep in the pen.”  His gratitude rises from his experience of “what-is” – the salvation and strength of his Lord.

When I live with a “what-if” and “if-only” frame of mind, gratitude comes if I think things are right. But true thankfulness is a “what-IS” perspective.

20140924_161101

Gratitude claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy. ~ Henri J. M. Nouwen

When I hold fast to “what-is” – the things I know to be true of God and who He is – the what-ifs and if-onlys lose power to irritate, worry, or depress me.

What if I make the wrong decision?

  • I will instruct you and show you the way to go; with My eye on you, I will give counsel (Psalm 32:8).

What if there’s not enough at the end of the month?

  • My God shall supply all your needs through His riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

If only I could overcome this habit that drags me down…

  • In all these things we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us (Romans 8:37).

In the midst of uncertainty, knowing more of Jesus transforms the what-ifs into faith, for I find that He is my true security.

And in the midst of disappointment, knowing more of Jesus transforms the if-onlys into contentment, for I find that He is my true satisfaction.

20140924_161019

Dear friends, as we enter the holidays, may you receive grace to protect your soul from the weariness of what-if and if-only. May your heart find rest in “what-is” realities, knowing that God is With Us. May you truly rejoice in the God of salvation. And may your Thanksgiving be rich in gratitude for the eternal givens.

W (2)

“Our circumstances may sometimes be hard, our experiences painful, and we may see nothing in them to make us glad. But faith teaches us that God is always good and always kind, whatever the present events may be. We may be thankful, therefore, even when we cannot be glad. Our hearts may be grateful, knowing that good will come to us even out of pain and loss.

“Every day of our years should be a thanksgiving day. He who has learned the Thanksgiving lesson well has found the secret of a beautiful life.

“Christian thanksgiving is the life of Christ in the heart, transforming the disposition and the whole character. Thanksgiving must be wrought into the life as a habit—before it can become a fixed and permanent quality. An occasional burst of praise, in the midst of years of complaining, is not what is required.

“Songs on rare, sunshiny days; and no songs when skies are cloudy—will not make a life of gratitude. The heart must learn to sing always. This lesson is learned only when it becomes a habit which nothing can weaken. We must persist in being thankful.

“When we can see no reason for praise—we must believe in the divine love and goodness, and sing in the darkness. Thanksgiving has attained its rightful place in us, only when it is part of all our days and dominates all our experiences.”

~ From “The Thanksgiving Lesson” by J.R. Miller, 1912

*******************

Now humanly speaking, it makes no sense to rejoice when things are going badly. But Christians are not always “humanly speaking,” are they? We’re speaking divinely. We are using the words of God on which to found our faith. We stand on a rock that never moves. The world passes away, the grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God shall stand forever. So trust is the ground for our thanksgiving, no matter what happens. ~ Elisabeth Elliot – Trusting is the Ground For Thanksgiving

*******************

We won’t stop confessing He is good and we won’t stop thanking Him for grace and we won’t stop holding out our hands — and taking His hand. We won’t stop believing that “God is good” is not some trite quip for the good days but a radical defiant cry for the terrible days.

That “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, When the Holidays Just Seem Hard

 


Leave a comment

A Different Thanksgiving

The church sign says “For blue skies and fall colors, we give thanks.” Yes, that’s true – I am blessed to live in a place where a full array of seasons shows up beautifully in our trees against a Carolina blue sky.  But as I drive by the sign, I look up and notice that the skies are gray. And the trees are past peak color, and their withered leaves blanket the ground.

With cynical thoughts and a heavy heart, I murmur “So what now?” I don’t feel like giving thanks for clouds and dead leaves.

This year, more than any other, I must choose thanksgiving. Yes, gratitude is a choice.

As I walk around the store, I grimace while “Holly Jolly Christmas” is playing in the background. I’m not festive; I’m floundering because I’m shopping for waterproof mascara and a dress suitable for a funeral.

In the midst of this sadness, it suddenly occurs to me that surely I must not be the only person in this store who has a broken heart.

Earlier that day, I frowned at the Christmas tree in the hospital. The sight seemed so contradictory with my circumstance that I muttered, “how cruel….” But softly the Spirit whispered, “What better place for a Christmas tree?” In a place which remains fully in business throughout the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, I will take this as a sign, not necessarily of merriment, but of the Messiah. God Is With Us.

And so back at the store, I have patience for the overwhelmed cashier and the person in front of me who writes a check. And I realize that while my heart is heavy, it’s not hardened. The Holy Spirit helps me to choose a response that’s naturally inconsistent with my feelings and my circumstances. That’s how the Spirit works sometimes.

And so, I will choose to see. There are many, many things for which I can give thanks. Many of them wouldn’t be of my own choosing right now but they are gifts nonetheless.

I’m thinking of how I might prepare my 12-year-old daughter for a different Christmas this year. The thought of a different Christmas simultaneously saddens and relieves me. The holidays are complicated, wouldn’t you agree? I suppose that the average person, no matter his or her circumstances, will experience some sort of holiday let-down.

I’m choosing to get ahead of the holiday let-down by laying down my expectations. I yearn for a Christmas that is filled with comfort instead of chaos. This year I’m not concerned about impressing others with my decorating, baking, and shopping skills; I need Someone to impress His name into my soul.

Immanuel – God With Us (Matthew 1:23).

Wonderful Counselor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

This laying-down is possible, I think, in the midst of these feelings and these circumstances. It’s not natural; it’s supernatural, and I need the help of the One who chose to lay aside His advantages to give us Advent.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

But here I am, even now, considering Christmas when it’s not yet Thanksgiving. I can’t tell you where Scripture commands us to observe Christ’s birthday but I could find numerous commands to give thanks (and, in all circumstances – 1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Giving thanks is the way to choose comfort over chaos. Giving thanks puts our hearts at rest with the things we have. God sent His Son into the world to be all that I will ever need. I will choose contentment. And comfort. And Advent it is truly meant to be.

Thanksgiving this year will be different. Dear Lord, let that begin in my heart.

********************

“Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it.” ~ A. W. Tozer

********************

“The deeper we grow in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the poorer we become – the more we realize that everything in life is a gift. The tenor of our lives becomes one of humble and joyful thanksgiving. Awareness of our poverty and ineptitude causes us to rejoice in the gift of being called out of darkness into wondrous light and translated into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son.” ~ Brennan Manning – The Ragamuffin Gospel

********************

“In the poor man who knocks at my door, in my ailing mother, in the young man who seeks my advice, the Lord Himself is present: therefore let us wash His feet. Let us give thanks and walk into Advent knowing that time is manufactured for eternity, the breath of humanity for the glory of God, our love of neighbor for the sake of the eternal Godhead Itself.” ~ C.S. Lewis – The Collected Letters Volume II

********************

“Thanksgiving or complaining — these words express two contrastive attitudes of the souls of God’s children in regard to His dealings with them; and they are more powerful than we are inclined to believe in furthering or frustrating His purposes of comfort and peace toward us. The soul that gives thanks can find comfort in everything; the soul that complains can find comfort in nothing.” ~ Hannah Whitall Smith, God of All Comfort

********************

“Thanking Me for adversity requires a deep level of trust: in My goodness, My mercy, My love. People who are leaning on their own understanding cannot achieve this depth of trust. So, handling difficulties courageously involves relinquishing your demand to understand.” ~ Sarah Young, Jesus Lives

********************

“In Psalm 33:21 we read, “Our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name.” Trust is the ground for our thanksgiving. I talked a little bit yesterday about thanking God for the bad things that happen, as Habakkuk did. Even when there was no cattle in the stall, no figs on the tree, he said, “Yet will I rejoice in God my Savior.”

Now humanly speaking, it makes no sense to rejoice when things are going badly. But Christians are not always “humanly speaking,” are they? We’re speaking divinely. We are using the words of God on which to found our faith. We stand on a rock that never moves. The world passes away, the grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God shall stand forever. So trust is the ground for our thanksgiving, no matter what happens.” ~ Elisabeth Elliot – Trusting is the Ground For Thanksgiving

*******************

“We won’t stop confessing He is good and we won’t stop thanking Him for grace and we won’t stop holding out our hands — and taking His hand. We won’t stop believing that “God is good” is not some trite quip for the good days but a radical defiant cry for the terrible days.

That “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, When the Holidays Just Seem Hard

********************

“I find this truth about the power of thanksgiving over and over in Scripture. What was the prayer Daniel prayed right before being thrown in the lion’s den and witnessing God miraculously shutting the lion’s mouths? Thanksgiving.

After three days in the belly of a fish, what was the cry of Jonah’s heart right before he was finally delivered onto dry land? Thanksgiving.

How are we instructed to pray in Philippians 4:6 when we feel anxious? With thanksgiving. And what is the outcome of each of these situations where thanksgiving is proclaimed? Peace.

Powerful, unexplainable, uncontainable peace.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 NIV).” ~ Lysa TerKeurst – The Treasure of Thrown-Away Food


Leave a comment

The Present is the Gift

It’s a very different Thanksgiving for my family this year as we celebrating in south Florida instead of our North Carolina home. We’re with my husband’s siblings and their families, and our days have been filled with swimming and playing on the beach with cousins. We’ve discovered live starfish and sanddollars and even happened upon an alligator this morning! This is the first Thanksgiving we’ve ever spent away from our parents, and we’ll go to a buffet instead of cooking.

Even though it doesn’t seem like a traditional Thanksgiving, I realize that we don’t need the aroma of roasting turkey or the sounds of the Macy’s parade on TV to remember thanksgiving in our hearts. We have many, many reasons to thank God for the abundance that He has provided.

And when I think about Thanksgiving this year, I am trying to stay anchored in the present – with all the gifts that this day offers. Two things often rob me of a grateful heart. They are “ifs” – as in “what if?” and “if only…” The “what ifs?” put my focus – and worries – on the unknowns of the future. As the daughter of aging parents – one with cancer – my thoughts trend this way quite often. What if there will not be any more Thanksgivings together?

And the “if onlys” put my focus on the unchangeable realities and regrets of the past. If only I had not wasted the promising years of my young marriage and early career, bound by an eating disorder….

When these big “ifs” steal my peace and joy, I have to make a choice to stay right here in today. The past can’t be changed and the future can’t be controlled. I have to fix my mind on the one “IF” that brings my heart and mind back into the right focus:

IF God is for us, who can be against us?” ~ Romans 8:31.

God is for me, and neither the if onlys of the past or the what ifs of the future can take that away. That truth anchors my heart in gratitude for today. Gratitude that my regrets and shame are wiped away in Christ. Gratitude that He promises His sufficient grace for whatever lies in the future.

My heart is free and thankful today. I like the expression “Today is a gift – that’s why it’s called the present.” May we sincerely lift up our thanks today to the Giver all of good gifts – to the One who has redeemed our past and secured our future in Christ.

I truly hope that your heart will be free and thankful in Him too.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~ Romans 8: 38 – 39