Category Archives: Following Christ

Commencement

In April, we celebrate new things.

Like our new baby birds :)

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Last week

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This week. Hello world! What’s for dinner?

And new flowers – 20140424_101018

New shoots on our lantana. Love to see these come back year after year!

New shoots on our lantana. Love to see these come back year after year!

New babies

Elisabeth Grace

Aww … Elisabeth Grace – my great-niece. Isn’t she precious?

Since this is a season of new things, I’m excitedly introducing a new blog today. From now on, I’ll be writing here – @ Eternity in Our Hearts.

If you’ve subscribed to Dimly Burning, I would be thrilled and grateful for your support of the new blog. You have been dear, patient friends to me as I’ve journeyed through seasons of grief, parenthood (with a tween!), marriage, and faith. These seasons have taught me that in the midst of heartbreak, life continues because – as a responsible adult – I  have to show up everyday whether I want to or not. But in my heart of hearts, I know that this is not all there is. God has placed eternity in our hearts.

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away. A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.

God has made everything beautiful for its own time and has set eternity in our hearts, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:1 – 11).”

 April is what we longed for during the long, cold days of January. But sometimes new seasons, with their closures and beginnings, are messy.

For instance:

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“Helicopters” or “whirligigs”

These little maple seed pods are covering our yard, sidewalk, driveway, flower beds, and our lazy dog (no, just kidding).  As a kid, I used to love to throw these things up in the air and watch them twirl to the ground. But now, I have to sweep them or pluck them out of the beds before this happens:

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A tree where I don’t need a tree

Often, when we think of “new” we think of things shiny and efficient. But “new” in life is not like a new car. Many times, “new” blows in with a storm, a crisis. New creates a mess. A new divorcee or the new widow knows this. Anyone with a new diagnosis knows this.

Today I’m celebrating a blog with a new title and a new look. I kinda like it and I hope you do too.

And yet, friend, the sufferings and experiences that I’ve witnessed this week tell me that it may be spring outside, but it’s not necessarily spring in your soul.

My husband and I were recently eating outside at a deli on a beautiful day, and a couple walked past us. Because both of them were formally dressed in black, I instantly thought “funeral.” And I remembered how I wore a black dress not so long ago on a day when lots of other people were stringing Christmas lights.

We live in this tension between merriment and mourning. Those who have trusted in Christ live in the now and the now yet. More than ever, I believe that eternal life in Christ begins the moment we say “yes” to Jesus. Living as if we believe this can change everything about the “now.”

We’re entering the season of graduation. At some schools, this final ceremony is known as “commencement.” It’s the end. Yet the beginning. Life will continue as a series of conclusions and commencements. Some people will be ready for these adventures while others are riddled with anxiety. I’ve been both. I suppose it depends in part upon the season but more fully upon my measure of trust in the Timeless One.

I wrote the following words on a January day when the year was young and my heart felt old. I read these words now and I can’t come up with any different words to close one chapter (one blog) and begin another:

“The cyclical nature of seasons, even in the bleak midwinter, serves a preparatory purpose. Growth awaits. New life. Hope.

Duke Cancer Center, where I’ll be spending the day tomorrow with Daddy, is newly refurbished. It’s pretty and shiny, and no one wants to be there … You go there and realize that while the seasons of climate are relatively predictable, the seasons of physical life are sometimes not.

And so, when we think we know what to expect, we really don’t. In a mortal world, we see through lenses that are scratched and dulled by the jagged edges of sin, brokenness, and grief.

Even still, in seasons we couldn’t and didn’t predict, there are preparatory purposes. Even here, growth awaits. New life. And Hope. The truth, as told in Ecclesiastes, is that we were created for an eternal world. A different set of eyes are needed.

The season of Hope is not contained to Christmas or Easter morning. It’s not boxed in the attic or hauled to the curb.

Because ultimately each of us needs Someone who created the seasons and knows the scope of time from beginning to end. We need His eyes to see beyond the exterior and into the eternal. To see beyond the mess and into the meaning of it all.

The eternal cannot be boxed or packed or managed. One day everything that once looked messy will have meaning. We will see. For now – in whatever season we find ourselves – let us live with anticipation, fully and with purpose.

The seasons, those present or those that have passed away, hold for us purposes unfolding and promises coming.”

I hope you’ll join me for new seasons at Eternity in Our Hearts.

And if you are in a place where it’s not spring in your soul, I’d like to pray for you … If you want to leave a comment with a request, it’s truly my honor to lift your concerns to our Father.

Holy and eternal Father,

Thank You for being the God of all seasons. I praise You for being the same yesterday, today, and forever. You are before all things and in You all things hold together. I pray today with thanksgiving for the community I’ve come to know through Dimly Burning. I lift these dear ones up to you and ask that You would hold their hearts, especially those who are in a season when circumstances and hope seem dark. Lord, would You open their eyes to Your Word, Your faithful and good character, and Your promises? Give them grace to trust that You are the Guide who makes a stream in the desert and a path in the wilderness. Where they feel weak, rekindle a new dependence upon You that makes a dimly burning wick shine as a lantern for Your glory. When storms blow in, may Your hope be the anchor of their souls. Allow their hearts to rest in the love of the cross and the promise of the empty tomb. May they stand on the truth that any suffering on this side of heaven is nothing compared to everlasting joys that await believers in Christ. May we give all new opportunities and circumstances to You – whether we rejoice or grieve – in the faith that Your unfailing purpose is to make beautiful, eternal things.

Amen.

Hope Wins

Daddy lived his entire life in a town known for its abundance of trees. As a lumberman, he was well-learned in the characteristics of maple, oak, and pine. Yet dogwoods – flowering trees which are valued for landscaping but not for lumber – were Daddy’s favorite.

I ask my daughter to walk with me in the neighborhood so that I can show her the dogwoods up close. As we step up to a tree and hold the blossoms in our fingers, I show her the shape of the cross, the pure white interior, the pointy crown in the center, and the crimson edges on each petal. At Easter, Daddy’s favorite tree presents a picture of our Savior’s shed blood, a hopeful reminder that love is stronger than death.

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As I sit on the damp ground days later, I notice anew that Daddy’s grave marker is outlined with dogwood blossoms.

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And I cling to the promise. Hope wins.

Driving from the cemetery, I find comfort in these words:

Stripes of blood that stain its frame; Shed to wash away our shame;

From the scars pure love released; Salvation by the Mercy Tree.

Death has died. Love has won! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Jesus Christ has overcome. He has risen from the dead.

One day soon we’ll see His face; Every tear, He’ll wipe away;

No more pain or suffering; Praise Him for the mercy tree.

More days pass, and my daughter doodles pictures of dogwood blossoms. I smile, knowing that she’s thinking about it.

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She asks more questions now. In the past few months, she’s witnessed a lot of heartache. Our home feels more broken and yet all the more sacred. Real life is happening here.

My girl is old enough to absorb the truth that it’s hard. And crazy. And joyful. Because authentic life in Christ means that we worship Jesus the same at home as we do at church. We’ll praise Him whether our hearts are content or they are cracked into pieces. Following Him is something we do when life is happy and full and when life is hard and fragile. And we can’t shy away from sharing with our daughter the paradoxes in this life of faith:

Joy comes through suffering.

You must lose your life to find it.

Blessings come through insults.

The greatest in the Kingdom is the least.

The meek will inherit the earth.

God chooses the foolish over the wise.

Strength comes through weakness.

“It must have been fascinating and frightening,” she says. We’re talking about what it was like for me, at her age, to visit the Holy Land and stand at Golgotha – the “Place of the Skull,” the site of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Alternative Crucifiction Location

Photo credit – Wikimedia Commons

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Picture of the Place of the Skull. Taken by my Dad in 1983.

“Like disturbing and wonderful all at the same time.”

My girl is getting it. Only Jesus can take the most disturbing, horrific event in human history and make it … wonderful.

Only Jesus can look upon the very ones who mangled His body and see them with mercy.

Only Jesus can receive an offering and deem it beautiful when others judge it as either too extravagant or too meager.

Only Jesus’ torn body could tear the veil.

Only Jesus can roll away the fear and shame that entomb me.

Only Jesus can transform loss into gain and “light and momentary troubles” into eternal glory.

One day this little girl of mine will suffer a broken heart. Maybe one day a doctor will answer her most fearful questions with a shake of the head and a solemn voice. A friend will walk away. Her faith will be met with sneers.  The door will slam shut on her dream. She’ll sit at a grave.

But maybe she’ll remember the time we held the dogwood blossoms and she’ll think about how those little red stains add beauty and meaning to the flower.

Maybe she’ll think upon the tree; and how her Savior’s blood turned it from a method of murder into a means of mercy.

She’ll remember that He said, “It is finished” and she’ll trust that life in Him has no end.

Joy comes through suffering.

You must lose your life to find it.

Blessings come through insults.

The greatest in the Kingdom is the least.

The meek will inherit the earth.

God chooses the foolish over the wise.

Strength comes through weakness.

Love is stronger than death.

Hope wins.

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This is a picture of me stepping out of the empty tomb beside Golgotha (1983, I think).

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Song – “Mercy Tree” written by Krissy Nordhoff & Michael William Neale, sung by Lacey Sturm, and featured in “My Hope with Billy Graham.”

The Bible doesn’t specify what kind of tree was used for Jesus’ cross. The “legend of the dogwood” isn’t taken from Scripture. It’s merely a symbolic depiction of Jesus’ sacrifice seen in a dogwood blossom – http://www.visualforces.com/christian/photography/nature/the-dogwood/

 

 

 

 

Things I Learned in March

Seems like I just wrote about what I learned in February. But Emily Freeman @ Chatting at the Sky has asked her readers to again share pieces of life lessons, so here’s my take on life at the moment from random to relevant to reflective …

1. I like alliteration.

2. God speaks, and the prompting of the Holy Spirit is real. I recently felt led to find and send a Bible verse to a friend about “confidence.” While searching, I discovered Jeremiah 17:7 ~ “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.” I wasn’t familiar with that verse, but it seemed fitting. After I shared it with my friend, she replied: “Love that verse!  I actually have a necklace based on that verse and wear it often.” God is amazing like that! If He places someone on your heart, do something about it. I am so grateful for friends who have listened to the Holy Spirit and encouraged me with just the right words and timing.

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3. Although I’m part of a congregation that doesn’t formally observe Ash Wednesday, I’m drawn to its significance. This past Ash Wednesday, I shared my recovery story with a class of high school students, and the timing was not lost on me. Everyone bears a mark of sin, frailty, and mortality. It’s good to be reminded that we need a Savior who exchanges our shameful ashes for His beautiful mercy.

4. The best foot warmer is a furry doggie.

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5. Frederick Buechner said so well, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I’m learning that deep gladness arises from those places where I once knew the deepest fear and regret. It is a place touched and transformed by God’s compassion. This junction between my deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger isn’t confined to one place. I may find it located within my family circle, down the street, on the other side of my city, and across the world. This place is likely outside of my comfort zone, yet God would not beckon me a place where He is not already present. He’s calling, and that’s all I need to take the first step.

6. Can we just let go of “Let It Go” already? The song from Frozen was everywhere in March.

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As the mom of a preteen, I became concerned with its lyrics; for example, “It’s time to see what I can do; to test the limits and break through; no right; no wrong; no rules for me – I’m free!” Uh oh, red flags. But I eventually considered that the mass appeal of “Let It Go” has less to do with its lyrics and more to do with its compelling tune. We covet (oops, admire) Idina Menzel’s soaring voice. In the context of “Let It Go,” Princess Elsa finally owns up to her long-hidden secret. When she casts off restraint, however, her actions have damaging consequences. Eventually, a plot twist leads to a redemptive act of love. I exercise “parental guidance” over my daughter’s entertainment choices, but if there is a questionable agenda in Frozen, it floated right over her head like a snowflake. One of the challenges of being a preteen parent, I’m finding, is discerning when to step in and when to – uh – let it go.

7. Just because something is attractive on the outside doesn’t mean that all its attributes are beautiful.

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Have you walked under a pear tree lately? Eew – that smell! Reminds me of a birthday cake that my mother purchased for me from an upscale bakery. It was gorgeous, but as my mother lifted the cake out of the box, she sniffed and said, “Something is wrong.” The repulsive mold on the inside became an object lesson that I’ve never forgotten — a rotten interior will eventually be exposed.

8. Thanks to one of the leaders in my grief support group, I’ve learned to think of “comfort” as “common-fortitude.” We are stronger together.

9. I’m learning amazing new things about the intentional foreshadows in the biblical events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion. Our church commemorated a version of a Jewish seder, the Passover meal that Jesus observed with His disciples on the evening before Calvary. As we passed the elements of the seder, we learned how specifically they point to Jesus, the promised Messiah. Read more here @ the Word of Messiah Ministries Passover page.

Plus, I never knew, until a few days ago, that the name “Gethsemane” originates from a Hebrew term meaning “oil press.” The garden where Jesus went to pray before His crucifixion was a grove of olive trees. The “gethsemane” was a press that crushed the olives until they extracted the highly-valued oil. When we feel hard-pressed on every side, may we remember that the Lord Jesus, who has already withstood the crushing weight of sin and death, invites us to exchange our yoke for His.

10. “Target haze” has been coined to describe the experience of going to Target for a specific something and leaving the store with a cart of goods except for that one item. Apparently, I am not the only person who succumbs to this phenomenon.

11. “Remembering” between generations is something that my husband and I want to prioritize.  Now that one of us has lost a parent, we appreciate even more the opportunities to speak words of honor and gratitude to the generation before us, to cherish past memories, to prioritize occasions to create new ones, and to hold fast to this treasure called legacy. Some may call us the “sandwich generation,” but we choose to see this season as a tremendous privilege to create remembrances with the generation before and behind us.

Our church’s Generations Ministry equips parents to commemorate milestones with our children as they mature in Christ, and at this weekend’s Blessing Retreat my husband and I had an opportunity to intentionally speak words of affirmation and blessing over our 12-year-old daughter. As John and I wrote letters of blessing to her, he wanted to write about “remembering.” His written words encourage our young lady to remember for years to come that her identity, worth, and purpose are established in the love of Christ.

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After the Lord and Israel won a victory over the Philistines, the prophet Samuel set up a stone and named it Ebenezer or “stone of help” for “Thus far the LORD has helped us” (1 Samuel 7:12). Whenever the Israelites would pass by the stone, they would remember what the Lord accomplished on their behalf.

Now, an “Ebenezer” (as in “here I raise my Ebenezer“…) refers to the remembrance of a spiritual principle or an important life event.  This weekend, we gave gifts to our daughter to help her remember our words of blessing. We hope and pray that she will commit to memory this occasion as a marker of maturity, developmentally and spiritually. And for us as parents, we will remember this milestone event as a “stone of help.” While it’s probably normal to be a little nervous about the years ahead, we’re reassured by God’s guidance and the wise people who walk before and beside us along this journey of milestones.

12. This year, “March Madness” could refer to the weather as much as basketball. Equally unpredictable, both have thwarted our best efforts to nail them down. Maybe a little perspective can be gained here; life usually doesn’t go as forecast.  So we’ll roll with the messy days, but we’ll take every warm & sunny day we get here in North Carolina as an opportunity to stock up on the allergy meds, open the windows, and enjoy the ride!

Happy Spring!

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It’s Okay to Choose Starburst in a Hershey’s World – A letter to my daughter

Dear C,

So you don’t like chocolate. Big deal, right? You’ve been a pretty good sport when faced with a lot of light-hearted teasing about this; and true, some of it has come from your own mother.

– I mean, how is it that we share DNA?

But seriously, honey, I really am sorry. For a long time, I thought that you didn’t like chocolate the same way that people refuse Brussels sprouts (having never actually tasted Brussels sprouts). And I thought when you eventually realized the error of your ways that, along with chocolate, a whole new world of green beans, spinach, and cauliflower would open up to you.

Yeah. Right.

But as you’re growing up, I’m starting to realize that your dislike of chocolate has become something that makes you, you. Perhaps, you’re learning, in a small way, that your choices become a part of who you are, and it’s okay to own your differences. Sometimes your choices are based on your preferences (like Starburst instead of Hershey’s kisses), and that’s fine, but as you grow up, you’ll find that the most important choices are based upon your convictions and your standards. In a world that follows the masses, these choices might be the ones that single you out.

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It’s one thing to know what you like in a dessert and another thing to know what you like in a friend.

Choose well, honey.

There are few decisions in life that will influence you as much as your choice of friends. The preteen years, especially for girls, are known for all sorts of relational drama, and you can choose to play the parts or not.

As you’re growing up, you’re making more of your own choices, and that’s the way it should be. But for now, your Dad and I are going to keep a close watch on your choice of friends. It’s our God-given authority and responsibility as your parents to steer you in the direction of positive peer pressure.

So you’re probably wondering what’s positive about peer pressure. Am I right? It’s okay, if I am :)

Peer pressure is basically the desire to fit in with others, which is not necessarily a bad thing. God designed us to be in relationships and community with people. Kids, teens, and adults learn interpersonal skills in order to navigate the world of relationships. We learn how and why to be polite and conform to basic societal norms; for example, people wear regular clothes (not pajamas) and cover up their underwear when they go to the store. Because we are living in an anything-goes culture, however, such societal norms are breaking down as people communicate a lack of respect for community in general. (Oh, pardon me – I’ve stumbled upon a soapbox, haven’t I?)

Anyway, Daddy and I want you to be a friend and to have friends who positively influence one another. Healthy peer pressure motivates a person to engage other people in respectful and meaningful ways. It can bring out the best in yourself and your friends. Positive friendships are established through authenticity, acceptance, and intention.

What does this mean? It means that you be yourself and spend enough face-to-face time with your friends to know and value them for who they truly are. Face-to-face time means looking at each other instead of just being together and looking at your tech gadgets. In positive friendships, you commit to also looking out for one another. You actively look for ways to support and cheer for each other. There’s no competition or jealousy or pressure to conform to any behavior or standard that goes against the truths and values that each of you stand for.

Your relationships are going to change during these years as you seek out the girls with whom you want to identify. During this time, you need to remember your identity. You are a child of God, set apart, completely loved, and chosen by Him for a beautiful purpose. Daddy and I pray that you will identify with other girls who are grounded in the same identity and that together you will love Jesus and determine to honor Him in every way. Does this sound too spiritual for a group of preteen girls? Not at all! I trust that my Starburst-loving girl has the character and courage to be different and live out the pure and purposeful calling that God has placed on your life.

The enemy wants to distract you from this high calling; he wants you to conform to anything apart from Christ, and one of his favorite strategies is to preoccupy girls with their outward appearance.  It’s becoming increasingly true in our culture that image is everything and integrity is nothing. But remember that God’s purpose in conformity is that you will become (and you will influence others to become) who you are truly created to be – an image bearer of God. His is the only image that truly matters. It is purity and goodness, grace and truth, joy and gentleness, justice and mercy, strength and patience. When girls help one another bind these traits upon the heart, their bonds of friendship don’t break.

And yes, we do want you to have relationships with people aren’t Christ-followers. That’s how you learn to be salt and light in your world. Forming those relationships is the first step to making disciples. But your closest friends will be those girls who share your values, goals, and principles, who sharpen you, who speak truth into your life, and who walk closely alongside in life’s milestones, deepest joys, and darkest moments.

I don’t mean to say that your friends should be exactly like you. Remember that the Bible tells us that differences are good – especially because God has fashioned each one of us uniquely. Our Creator could have made us exactly the same. But a world filled with only Starburst would be too tart and totally boring!

You know that Priscilla Shirer is one of my favorite teachers, so let me share with you some of her wisdom:
Unity does not mean sameness. It means oneness of purpose.

My dream for you, sweet one, is that you will choose friends who are one with you in purpose. Friends who help you grow up to be like Jesus.

It’s cool if they like chocolate. It’s all right if their clothing style is different (as long as it’s modest). It’s okay if they have a different skin color or body type. Maybe you have friends who are on the honor roll and friends who can’t deal with geometry. Or friends who attend a different church. It’s cool to have friends who are into sports and friends who can’t stand P.E. class. It’s good to have friends who have way bigger or way smaller houses. That’s all okay.

What matters, remember, is that your choice of friends is based not on sameness but on godly standards.

If you choose friends based on sameness, it’s pretty likely that you’re going to get caught up in a clique. A clique is a distortion of community; it’s an exclusive place where girls (and guys, but mostly girls) jockey for position and power. This means that there will be gossip, jealousy, competition, and teasing. But – whether in a family, church, or a group of friends – communities as God intends are places of mutual respect, acceptance, humility, honorable accountability, and love. This seems like a really big goal, but sweetheart, you and your friends can live up to it.

And in the inevitable times when you are hurting or lonely, remember that Jesus is truly your best friend. I really mean it – He will never fail you. Your Mom and Dad can’t love you as perfectly as He does, but we will do our best to fill our home with love, support, guidance, discipline (yes), and encouragement.

We are so proud of the lovely young woman that you are becoming. Keep choosing well, honey.

Love,
Mom

Have Second Thoughts about Marriage

I noticed in Walmart on Tuesday, before the snowstorm that has paralyzed the South arrived, that just as many (well, almost as many) people were hunting the greeting card aisle as the bread aisle. Because no one, especially a Southerner, wants to be unprepared when the first flakes fall and the forecaster predicts that this is going to be a BIG one, right before the BIG day. Yet I imagine, especially if we’re still stuck indoors today, that there will be many homes in which the cards, roses, jewelry, and chocolate don’t arrive by Valentine’s Day.

And, you know, that’s okay … Makes me wonder why we buy in (literally) to the idea that love has to be expressed in these particular ways on one particular day anyway?

Last night, while the clinking of sleet against the window kept me awake, my thoughts wandered to things like love and Valentine’s Day, and how marriage to the man sleeping next to me has been a more unexpected journey than I could have ever imagined.

This April, it will be twenty years since the day we stood before God and spoke words from the second chapter of Philippians to each other.

And while it’s been a struggle sometimes, our vows to God and to one another are still intact even as the initial dreams that we had for our marriage are not.

So, I would advise any starry-eyed couple who is nearly married to have second thoughts.

I know, without a doubt, that my husband did.

Like on the days into the second year of marriage when he had to pick me up off of the floor because my legs (and my soul) were too weakened to stand. Who could blame a young man for having second thoughts when his wife is buried under failure, depression, and shame?

In the midst of this mess, when our marriage was severely tested, my husband made up his mind. Or perhaps I should say that he chose the mind of Christ:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus …”

My husband committed himself to the promises that he made, based upon the second chapter of Philippians. And he purposed in his heart that his personal ambitions, needs, and desires would be second.

And twenty years later, he and I know that enduring marriages are based upon second thoughts.

Our union is not perfect now. We still live in the consequences of that most painful time, but we don’t regret it – not for a single second. Because we had to learn early that not every day is Valentine’s Day. Yes, there are moments of romance, but the days of roses are limited. Real love is expressed in the ordinariness of taking out the trash, getting the kids in the bath, clearing the toilet, and paying the bills.

And the truest love – agape love – finds and expresses itself in the laying down of one’s very life, as Jesus did. Yes, it means (in the human experience) that there is morning breath, dirty laundry, harsh words, misunderstanding, and disappointment. But (in the eternal experience) there is a picture of Christ’s devotion for His Church – His unconditional love for His people who are utterly unlovable.

In her advice to young men considering marriage, Elisabeth Elliot writes this:

“Christ is the supreme example … His sole aim in life was to be obedient to the Father. His very obedience made Him the most manly – responsible, committed, courageous, courteous, and full of love. A Christian man’s obedience to God will make him more of a man than anything else in the world.”

“A Christian’s rule of life should be, My life for yours. He is concerned about the comfort and happiness of others, not of himself. He does not seek to have his own needs met, his own image enhanced, but to love God, to make Him loved, and to lay down his life to that end. In small ways as well as great, he shows the love of the Lord.” (Keep A Quiet Heart, page 162).

If God’s plan for my daughter includes marriage, I ask Him to bring this kind of man into her life – the kind of man who has second thoughts. A man whose commitment to her is second only to his steadfastness to the Father. A man whose aspirations and wishes come in second place to whatever gives glory to God in his relationship with his wife and children.

And lest I advise my daughter that second place is for the husbands, I remember that honor and respect is my calling as a wife. Placing myself second may require the setting aside of my pride and my preferences, but to follow God’s intention for my marriage is to lose nothing in the eternal realm. I must believe Jesus when He tells me that those who lose their lives for His sake will find them back again, fuller and richer and better than anything they could have expected. When a wife puts herself second in her marriage, she finds the grit and grace to do so for Jesus’ sake. And the immeasurable gift that she receives in return is way better than perishable roses and chocolate could ever be.

Marriage is not for us. It is for God’s glory, designed in His mind to be the picture of sacrifice and selflessness. Husbands and wives who give Jesus first place in their marriages live in a way such that romance comes second to redemption. There are occasional opportunities for husbands and wives to be flush with romantic feelings. But there are daily opportunities for our marriages to reflect God’s redemptive love for us through continual giving of forgiveness and grace.

Let us have second thoughts about marriage and follow hard after the example of the One who loves us first.

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Let Christ himself be your example as to what your attitude should be. For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal. That is why God has now lifted him so high, and has given him the name beyond all names, so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, whether in Heaven or earth or under the earth. And that is why, in the end, every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2: 5 -11, J.B. Phillips New Testament).

 

What Does it Mean to Speak Life?

Silent Images is a non-profit organization with a mission to educate and inspire Christ-followers to get involved and make a difference in the areas of human trafficking, high school dropouts, homeless children, abortion, prisoner re-entry, refugees, and the elderly. Silent Images produced the GOOD (Get Off Our Donkey) series to encourage the Body of Christ to follow the good Samaritan’s example when he got off his donkey to tend to the wounds of a hurting soul. Jesus told His followers to “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).

It’s the testimonies from the GOOD series that mess with me. Lord, have mercy.

Brave, very brave, women share their experiences with human trafficking and abortion. Their stories are graphic and heart-breaking. And yet redemptive. These women can speak now because someone reached past the comfort zone and allowed everyday life to be interrupted so that time & effort could be taken to shine light into their darkness, extend mercy into their shame, defend them from injustice, and speak life into their pain.

I picked up on a common thread woven in the onset of several of these stories:

“I didn’t feel like I was worth anything …”
“I didn’t feel that I was fearfully or wonderfully made …”
“I didn’t feel that I had any worth or value …”
“I thought I was unworthy, unlovable, not beautiful …”

After the GOOD premiere, I experienced a renewed compassion and conviction to get off my donkey and be Christ’s love in action.

And something else –

I could. not. wait.
to get home and love on my daughter. And tell her that she is beautiful inside and out. And desperately loved by her mommy and daddy and her God.

Our children need us to speak life into them. Now. Our community needs us to speak life. Today.

“What does it mean to “speak life?” Here’s what I’ve been thinking …

A “pro-life” position is usually, and unfortunately, staked in political and divisive stances these days. For many years, I aligned myself with an anti-abortion stance. And one day I realized that it wasn’t enough. I had just finished an internship at the local crisis pregnancy center. The next internship brought me to a nursing home – which was not at all my preference. But I grew to LOVE those people.

And it struck me that God had tenderized my spirit and revealed to me the preciousness of life at both ends of the spectrum; in the pre-born child and in the aged I saw the imago Dei – the image of God. I finally got what it really means for me to be “pro-life.”

Whether the skin is bathed in amniotic fluid or covered with wrinkles of many years, the person is one whom God loves. Fearfully and wonderfully made. Unhidden from his or her Creator.

The Scripture says –
“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.”
(2 Corinthians 5:14 – 16)

Christ died for my life. Your life. Your neighbor’s life. The sex slave’s life. The refugee’s life. The unborn baby’s life. As a Christian, that truth has to radically transform how I see and treat life – whether young or old; rich or poor; able-bodied or impaired; slave or free; weak or strong.

According to Proverbs 18:21, the tongue has the power of life and death. We “speak life” when our words are life-giving – when they reflect and honor the inherent value in every single person who has been created out of God’s plan for His purposes. More than ever, people need to hear that they are fearfully and wonderfully made by a God who loves them. More than ever, there are young, old, and in-between people who need someone to speak up for the free and hope-filled life that God meant for them to live.

What would happen if we were more intentional about speaking life? If we stopped playing with our gadgets and looked one another in the eye? If we stopped asking “how are you?” while pretending to care? If we told our daughters that they are beautiful? If we told our sons that they are honorable?

If we took off our masks? If we decided to store up treasures in heaven rather than stuff on earth? If we got serious about advocating for the orphan and the widow? If we became an undeniable voice for the 27 million men, women, and children trapped in slavery today? If we took the blinders off of our eyes about the injustice in the world? If we took time to wrap another’s wound?

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There are times and ways, even when you’re sitting in your own darkness, to carry the light to someone else. Image-Bearer, even if your circumstances are dark, the light within is not extinguished. Lift the flicker up to God and give it a chance to shine even brighter against the backdrop of your life, however dim at the time it may be. The Holy Spirit, the breath of Heaven, will kindle hope within you. You will be ignited with a compassion that is compelled to shine into a hurting soul.

So now I’m on a “pro-life” mission. I’m re-reading some books on Sacred Marriage and Sacred Parenting. I’m re-energized to intentionally love on my 95-year-old friend. I will express to my daughter that she is valued, not for what she does but for who she is. I’m exploring ways to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. I’ll speak up for those who have been pushed to the margins of our society. I’m thinking about ways to affirm the true beauty and purpose of people in my community – preborn to old to in-between.

Join me in choosing and speaking life!

Isaiah 58: 9 – 11 ~

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

“How I treat a brother or sister from day to day, how I react to the sin-scarred wino on the street, how I respond to interruptions from people I dislike, how I deal with normal people in their normal confusion on a normal day may be a better indication of my reverence for life than the antiabortion sticker on the bumper of my car.” Brennan Manning ~ The Ragamuffin Gospel

Shine a light on slavery – http://enditmovement.com/

Find out more about Silent Images at http://silentimages.org/

Sacred Parenting and Sacred Marriage books are written by Gary Thomas.

Songs – “Speak Life” by Toby Mac and “Words” by Hawk Nelson

A Letter to my Sixth-Grade Daughter

Dear C,

I recognized that expression in your eyes yesterday as you watched the other girls decorate their lockers. Over the summer we had a lot of fun finding girly stuff for your locker – a mirror, dry-erase board, pencil cups, and picture frame magnets. And yes, of course, a motion-activated miniature chandelier.  But we didn’t purchase wallpaper. Or carpet. And I watched you as you watched the girls and moms cutting and fitting their wallpaper.  We didn’t have anything to measure. You stuck the mirror on this side, the dry-erase board on that side, the cups underneath. Done.

“They have wallpaper,” you said. You didn’t say it in a whining sort of way. That’s not your style. It was just an observation.  And part of me wanted to drive you straight to Target and get that wallpaper. But, as you know, I didn’t offer. Because another, perhaps wiser, part of me wants you to understand as you begin middle school that other kids will have other things. Pretty things. Expensive things. Desirable things. And relatively speaking, you truly have an abundance of those things yourself.  But I understand that middle school students do a lot of looking around to see who has what.

Adults do it too. I do. And when I find myself watching other people with their other things, I have to remind myself of something very important:

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Okay, you say ….but what does that mean? If you did a Google search on this quote, you’d find that it’s commonly attributed to President Theodore Roosevelt (and lots of bloggers like your mom write about it. Seems that comparison is a pretty common experience….) But I can’t find where or when or under what circumstances President Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s interesting to me that one of the most powerful and legendary men of his time would make such a remark. Did he often compare himself to other people? Why would he? Was he lacking joy? I don’t know. But I’ve lived plenty of years beyond middle school, and this is what I’m (still) learning about comparison…

Don’t do it!

(Seriously) Caroline, you are truly one of a kind. Beautifully unique and original. Of course I think so, and your dad and your grandparents and aunts and uncles think so, but you know what?

God says so.

He says that you are wonderfully made.  (Psalm 139:14) He says that you are HIS workmanship. (Ephesians 2:10) He says that He chooses you. (Ephesians 1:4) He says that He has plans specifically for you. (Jeremiah 29:11) That means that God had you in His mind LONG before Daddy and I ever did. He designed you just as He knew best and set your life into motion in this place for this time. You are going to influence lives in your family, in your school, in your church and neighborhood and city in a way that no one else can. There will be things that you do really well and things that you can’t do so well. Some things will come naturally to you (like art and writing and being kind) and some things will require extra practice or effort. These years of middle school are all about discovering these things. So, as you and your classmates are making these discoveries, you’ll look at them, and they’ll look at you. It’s natural. People say it’s part of finding your place in this world. But you know what? As we follow Jesus Christ, we come to realize that our place is not really in THIS world. God has created us for eternity, sweetheart.  He has made us to worship Him, and that’s something that will last forever. Because Jesus is in your heart, you can have true joy. It’s important for you to know that joy and happiness are not the same. True joy doesn’t depend on what you possess or what you can do or whether you’re chosen by a friend, coach, club, or boy. There will be times when you won’t be happy. You already know that. There will come many moments of sadness and disappointment in this life. But joy comes from knowing that, no matter what, Jesus loves you and chooses you and keeps you.  There is no thing, no person, no pain, no mistake, no rejection, and no failure that can steal Jesus’ joy from you. So comparison can’t really steal your joy. But comparison can rob you of a joyful perspective. What does that mean? Perspective is a way of looking at life. It’s keeping your focus on what is most important to you. When we measure ourselves against other people and their other things, we tend to take our eyes off of what really matters. So, let’s try together, Caroline, to keep a joyful perspective. We are really rich, you know? In the things that matter. Jesus. Joy. Love.  Family. Laughter. By the way, my heart did a little cheer when you noticed the locker carpet and you said, “Why do I need carpet in my locker? My books don’t sleep!” That, sweetheart, is perspective! I’m proud of you. I love you. ~ Mommy