Tag Archives: Perspective

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?

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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.

You Have Messages Waiting

So I’m thinking of something I learned yesterday from my phone (of all things). While waiting for cycle class at the Y, I tried to check my email. I’ve only had a smart phone for a few months, and the constant accessibility is something that I see as both blessing and curse. (Anyone with me?)

Sometimes I’m amused by my feeble attempts to wrap my mind around the ways of God when I cannot understand all of the features of this phone. It’s very likely that the settings aren’t set correctly. I had 3 new email notifications, but none of them were showing up in my inbox. So I refreshed and refreshed and refreshed again. No new messages.

Now something like this drives me crazy. I mean, I need to know immediately what those 3 messages are. What if I am missing something life-changing?

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I tell you, the Holy Spirit is sharp (duh) and does not miss an opportunity. Because while I was fretting about my unread email, He whispered to my spirit that I had rushed away from home, leaving fresh messages from His Word unread . 

God had messages for me yesterday. Life-changing messages. Words that could refresh, renew, and transform me if I would take time to open and read.

 Oh, that my heart, mind, and soul would be constantly accessible to the Words of the Spirit. God wired us for connection. When my phone alerts me to a new message, I enjoy the thought that someone wants to communicate with me. I’m disappointed when it turns out to be some lame, impersonal notice like my library book is overdue.

But God is eager to communicate with me. And you. Every day. Every moment. His Word is living, active, relevant, and always personal.

Lately my heart is heavy just thinking about my birthday next week. Yes, my birthday. Not because of my age, but because of the memories. On my last birthday, my Daddy and I sat together for hours on end while my Mom was in emergency surgery for an aortic aneurysm. It was a grueling day. Daddy taught me how to play Free Cell on my tablet to pass the time. We watched the breaking news about the Boston Marathon bombing until Daddy said, “I can’t watch anymore.” We ate lunch and dinner and sat and waited and said nothing and said everything. When we finally saw Mom, looking in very grave condition, I remember how Daddy said, “What will I do without her?”

Oh, Daddy, I can barely believe that a year later, here we are, doing life without you. How I long just to sit in your presence. I didn’t know then.

How desperately I need to be in a Father’s presence and say nothing and say everything. And the Founder of the universe allows me to come to Him as child comes to a Father. What extraordinary mercy! What an incomprehensible gift! He has messages that my heart needs to hear. How can I leave them unread?

Today, I have a choice. I can rehearse my problems or I can refresh myself in Jesus’ presence. My problems tell me that life is stressful. Jesus’ presence tells me that He is sufficient. Which message will I choose to receive?

As I walked from the hallway into my cycle class, I checked my phone again. 3 new messages in my inbox! All it took was a change in my position (and yeah, the messages weren’t all that important).

Sometimes my soul requires a change in position. When my heart and my mind and my willfulness are rushing ahead, I must pause and make a u-turn. And wait. And admit my needfulness. When I open God’s Word and allow it to permeate my soul, the Holy Spirit can send the notification that the message is there – whatever the need is and whenever it arises.

  • Humility helps me to hear.
  • Dependence draws me to His Word.
  • Obedience opens my eyes to His vision.

Life-changing messages are waiting.

May we pause and position ourselves so that the Holy Spirit will refresh us to receive them.

Psalm 119: 35 – 37.

Direct me in the path of Your commands,
    for there I find delight.
36 Turn my heart toward Your statutes
    and not toward selfish gain.
37 Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
    preserve my life according to Your Word.

 

 

 

 

 

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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12 Things I Learned in February

Usually I’m not a big fan of February, except for my daughter’s birthday and Chocolate Day, oops I mean Valentine’s Day. And when you’re in a season of grief, it’s a relief to get through one more day, and especially a string of long, winter days. But as we are halfway between Christmas and Easter, I’ve come to realize that February days are generally void of merriment but they’re not without meaning. These are the days when intentionality is essential to my soul. My lawn is dormant (no grass mowing = bonus!) but my soul can’t be. I must choose to embrace hope in the in-between.

So when writer, speaker, and artist Emily Freeman (Chatting at the Sky) asked her followers to consider what they’ve learned in February, I started thinking that this February, probably more than any other, has touched a barren place in my heart with the limitless bounty of God’s grace.

Here’s a little of what I learned, with touches of superficial, significant, and in-between:

1. I really prefer the summer Olympics over the winter Olympics. By the second week of the Sochi games, my interest had grown, well, cold.

But I was struck by 2 things about the Olympics: I really liked Proctor & Gamble commercial about moms who are dedicated to the aspirations of their kids who turn out to be Olympians. But I liked even better the AT&T commercial about the mom who is taking care of her kids and, oh by the way, training to be an Olympian.

And while watching the Olympics, it occurred to me that many of the events are focused upon an individual athlete – the figure skater, the skeleton racer, the snowboarder. But in the shadows of the spotlight are hundreds of people who give the Olympians their moment to shine. And success and failure best happen in community. Bronze medalist Erin Hamlin returned to an “Olympic-sized celebration” thrown by her NY village of 600 people who enthusiastically supported her through many years of training. In the 15-K skiathon, Swiss cross country skier Dario Cologna waited 28 minutes after his gold medal victory to congratulate Peruvian Roberto Carcelen who competed with a broken rib and finished in last place. And when Russian Anton Gafarov fell in the cross-country race and broke his ski, Canadian cross country coach Justin Wadsworth jumped into the moment to replace it.

These examples remind me that, in my successes and my failures, I’m not alone. Yes, there’s personal effort and accountability, but for the most part I’m intertwined with people that I call spouse, family, friends, neighbors, church, and community. On my best day, gold-medal moments come only with lots of support and encouragement from the people who pour grace into my life. And on my worst day, these people remind me that this is a race for the long-haul, and it’s time to persevere.

2. There’s something about being creative that is so good for the soul. I think it has to do with the image of God. Because God is the Creator, and when I use my hands I remember and celebrate and reflect His creativity. I used to be a crafty person with a little cake-decorating business, but those days are sadly past. One of the happiest, most fulfilling days that I’ve had in a long, long time was the day of preparing for my daughter’s birthday. It reminded me of how my soul craves creativity and art and celebration. As image-bearers, I believe that creativity will be one of those eternal characteristics that we carry into Heaven. I can’t wait to see what that looks like!

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3. Flexibility is a component of fitness, physically and spiritually speaking. Stretching involves going beyond the usual range of motion. Maybe it’s trying something new. And perhaps it feels awkward. But flexibility is a learned characteristic that makes my spiritual muscles more pliable. Sometimes I need to set aside my usual routine and range of motion and allow God to move me as He wills and where He wants.

4. Speaking of exercise, faith benefits from a work-out. On February 18 came a question from the daily devotion by Charles Spurgeon, “For how can you know that you have faith until your faith is exercised?” Just a few minutes after reading that, I called my husband to let him know that I really wanted to attend a writer’s conference but I was anxious about the cost. His reply? “Sounds like a time to exercise some faith.” Yeah, he’s a good guy like that.

5. Not a lesson I wanted to learn, but it’s true — girl drama is alive and well among grown women. At least my most recent rejection helps me be more sensitive to my preteen daughter’s fears. So now I’m doing some reading about women in relationships, and I have more studying and writing to do. But for now, let me say one thing – Just Be Nice.

6. The recent epic snowstorm in the South made me realize how easily dissatisfied we are. Within 2 days on social media, the same people who had been pining for the first snowflake were posting status updates along the lines of Get.Me.Out.Of.This.House. Another classic example of the old adage – be careful what you wish for (ahem, preaching to myself).

7. Speaking of snow, I am so glad to be a Southern girl who somehow got hitched to a Massachusetts-raised (ok, Yankee) husband who is not afraid to drive in the stuff.

8. From the Gideon Bible study by Priscilla Shirer, I’ve learned many things, but one thing that has really struck me is the realization that I am simultaneously in the younger and older generation. There are wise women in front of me who are sharing beautiful examples of discipleship, marriage, and motherhood while I am setting a path for women who come behind me. I need to be intentional about creating and maintaining mentoring relationships. This place in life is a gift, and I want to be a faithful steward.

9. It’s a glorious thing when the Body of Christ functions as it is meant to. When tragedy hits someone in my community, my merciful heart serves best when joined with a brain and hands and feet. It’s amazing to see how God provides through the gifts of His people when they operate as one. We are better together.

10. In times of crisis, a cell phone just doesn’t do. Recently, as my mother and I were coming out of a restaurant, I noticed a lady in front of us who seemed disoriented. When she turned to face us, she immediately blurted, “My sister just told me that she has stage-4 cancer.” Without missing a beat, my mother enveloped her, gave me a subtle elbow in the side, and said “We’re going to pray. Right now.” And we did. Sacred moments happen in person. Even with strangers.

11. I have a tremendous appreciation for people who know math, from 6th grade calculations to taxes.

12. The Word of God is alive and rich and unending in its applicability to life. I love to read a familiar verse but see it in a new light. One of my favorites is Isaiah 49:16 – “I have engraved you on the palms of My hands; your walls are ever before Me.” Until just a few days ago, I thought of “walls” in the way of obstacles, frustrations, and figurative mountains in my way. And that made sense to me; of course God gets it when I keep banging my head against sins or hang-ups that hinder me from moving forward in faith. My name is written on His hands, and He remains faithful and compassionate. But then I learned that the “walls” in this verse refer to the rubble of destroyed Jerusalem. And I got a brand new picture – God sees my brokenness. My ruined dreams. My weak places and failures. But God’s purpose is not destroyed. In fact, the very next verse tells me that a plan to rebuild is in place.

God is a redeemer and a restorer. And that’s the most valuable lesson I will carry out of these February days….

“Leave Something on Someone’s Heart”

While going through Daddy’s things, we’ve discovered some gems of family & social history. Daddy was adventurous and nostalgic, and his possessions speak of his glory days in drag racing, travels around the world, and his heritage. We’ve stumbled upon some photographs of our ancestors, and this family looks like a real lively bunch. In comparison with today’s photography norms, one might guess that this crew is highly bored, maybe even irritated.

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You’ve probably seen older photographs like this, and have you ever wondered why everyone’s so formal and somber? Were those days that dull and bothersome? Perhaps in some cases, but a little research into these expressionless faces offered a few explanations:

Early film required long exposure times to capture an image (perhaps several minutes). It was difficult to hold a smile for this length of time, so people avoided smiling all together.

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Having a photograph taken was unusual and special, so people who might be remembered by only one picture took the occasion very seriously. When cameras became more portable, amateur photographers increased in number and captured more casual, animated images.

A broad smile captured in a photo was often thought to be unwise and reckless. A closed smile was acceptable, but showing teeth? Definitely not. Consider the opinion of funny guy Mark Twain who wrote, “A photograph is a most important document, and there is nothing more (unfavorable) to go down to posterity than a silly, foolish smile caught and fixed forever.”

(What would he think now?? Yikes. Perhaps such photographic prudence should be a lesson we take to heart.)

Apparently image was important then too, but in terms of visible representation, it was much simpler to handle. Image management, once an industry primarily for famous people, is now relevant to anyone with a social media account.

Lately I think a lot about teaching my 12 year old daughter the differences between image, identity, and influence. She’s discovering who she is while learning to navigate an increasingly ‘image is everything’ world, and that’s complicated.

Image management can be enhanced or comprised by media but it isn’t limited to media. As a confessed people-pleaser, I’ve been overly concerned with what others think of me, long before the days of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WordPress, or Snapchat. My hope for my daughter is that she will find security and affirmation in the eyes of Jesus rather the eyes of people.

I googled “image management,” and learned that, yes, it is truly serious business. Take into account this definition:

“Image Management is the ongoing, pro-active process of evaluating and controlling the impact of your appearance on you, on others, and the achievement of your goals. It is a science and an art that provides a framework, addressing all the elements – clothing, grooming practices, body language and etiquette and vocal communication – that help create the right image for each role that a person undertakes at different occasions. Given that each person is unique, image management takes into account the person’s personal style, enhances strengths and downplays weaknesses while making optimal use of resources.”

Does anyone else think this sounds exhausting??

Yet we do this every day. It’s how we learn to navigate multiple roles and cultural norms. It’s okay to be concerned with how we present ourselves at job interviews. It’s okay to present ourselves differently at football games (while keeping some common sense, of course!)

Perhaps it’s because I recently lost my father that I think more these days about influence and less about image. In our digital world, image has a fleeting quality, because unlike our ancestors who may have had one literal shot to capture their likeness, we can present ourselves in hundreds of ways. When you lose someone you love, the pictures are precious, but it’s their character and lasting influence that stays with you.

Image management gets thorny, I think, where it is used to promote oneself above respect and relationships. We live in a world of entitlement and self-promotion. Discerning the motives behind our manner of presentation is more important than ever. It’s okay to encourage my daughter to dress nicely and speak politely at a future job interview in order to demonstrate that she respects the organization, the opportunity, and the person who is considering her. I want her to intentionally look people in the eyes because face-to-face connection is becoming a lost skill. And politeness still communicates respect for others.

It says more about a person when her first concern, above promoting her own image, is to honor the image of God in other people.

Everyone presents an image. Everyone makes impressions. I want my daughter to be an influencer. I pray that she will value respect and honor relationships; and that instead of promoting herself, she will demonstrate a preference for others (Philippians 2: 3 – 4).

When I asked Caroline what it means to be an influence, she replied, “Well, a person can be a good influence or a bad influence.” True. So assuming that I mean good influence, what does that look like?

“I think it means to leave something on someone’s heart.”

I couldn’t say it any better.

So, how do we do this? Here are some things that I want my daughter (and myself) to think about …

* God created us with needs for affirmation and acceptance. So often we look to the world to meet these needs, but the world is fickle, especially with failures. It’s inevitable – we’re going to mess up, fall, and fail. Only God can love us perfectly and unconditionally. It’s an amazing mystery that we are so human and yet we bear the image of God. We must learn to define and ground ourselves in this truth. Finding our worth in the eyes of Jesus and securing our identity in His image frees us from the futility of promoting and managing our image in the world’s eyes.

* Along with respect and relationships, integrity is a key that opens the opportunity for influence. When our church was getting to know our new pastor, someone said of him: “He is the same person on stage as he is in ordinary moments.” I consider that to be a very high compliment.

Think about this: “Integrity not only calls us to live inside-out, it keeps the outside from coming in. Consistency in our walk and in our talk becomes a transportable cloak of protection around us, going anywhere we go. Life becomes so much simpler when there aren’t so many costume changes” (Beth Moore, Daniel Bible study).

* Understand that everyone is wired differently. For me, finally understanding and owning the qualities of an introvert helped me to accept that I will never be the life of the party. And it’s okay. We don’t need to try so hard. God has given you and me unique ways to be an influence. Be true to the personality that God has given you.

* Don’t find it so important to capture memories with a device. Sure, it provides a visual reminder of the moment, but can you capture it with your other senses (while zooming and focusing?) If there’s always a phone in the middle of memory-making moments, consider the impact upon your relationships.

In an increasingly visual world, appreciate all of your senses when it comes to making and persevering memories. While I enjoy looking at pictures of Daddy, it’s the recordings of his voice and the clothing with his smell that bring his memory to life. While your loved ones are still with you, notice and appreciate those qualities.

So, be present. Technology is meant to make life easier, but if we allow it, it can make life more shallow. Our communication devices often interrupt the natural flow of conversation.  “The cognitive challenge children and youth will face (as we are beginning to face now) is integrity, the state of being whole and undivided. There will be a premium on the skill of maintaining presence, of mindfulness, of awareness in the face of persistent and pervasive tool extensions and incursions into our lives.” *

* Find out who your true friends are. When I was my daughter’s age, I found friends who are still among the closest people in my life. I was painfully shy and awkward, and in those crucial middle-school days my image couldn’t possibly enhance theirs. They didn’t care about that. They took time to get to know me. Their investment in and their influence upon my life are priceless. True connectedness is an intentional choice to remove our masks, look up from our screens, and engage people authentically.

* Forget comparison. Remember this quote: “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel” (Pastor Steven Furtick).

* Release your expectations of people who, for whatever reason – perhaps it’s simply something about the way that they are wired – don’t pat you on the back. Find your satisfaction in a job done well and faithfully, working as for God, not the praises of people (Colossians 3:23). Sometimes while we are busy trying to look important in front of important people, we bypass opportunities to serve the least of these – the very work that is most important in the eyes of God.

* Embrace your weaknesses. The professional definition of image management would disagree, of course, because our world would rather “downplay” weaknesses. Unflattering pictures should be deleted. Life is not a snapshot, however; it’s a full album of the good, the bad, and the ugly. My moments of greatest failure have taught me that life is meant to be received rather than achieved. It’s all about a gift of grace. I don’t have to be a “good girl” in the world’s eyes. I can’t be, not all the time.

Trying to achieve that image is inauthentic. But Jesus has taken this heart and made it good.

Sweet daughter, what He has done is your heart is the most important, influential thing about you. If you share anything with this world, share that and leave it on someone else’s heart.

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“Integrity is not a conditional word. It doesn’t blow in the wind or change with the weather. It is your inner image of yourself, and if you look in there and see a man who won’t cheat, then you know he never will.” ~ John D. McDonald

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Resources:

Michael Zhang – http://petapixel.com/2013/09/23/didnt-people-smile-old-photos/

Robinson Meyer – http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/09/why-didnt-people-smile-in-old-portraits/279880/

Nicholas Jeeves – http://publicdomainreview.org/2013/09/18/the-serious-and-the-smirk-the-smile-in-portraiture/#sthash.87vIitKw.dpuf

Ohio Historical Society – http://ohiohistory.wordpress.com/2011/09/22/why-dont-people-smile-in-old-photographs/

Image Consulting Institute – http://www.imageconsultinginstitute.com/image-management/

* Quote by Barry Chudakov from the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto. http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/02/doomed-or-lucky-predicting-the-future-of-the-internet-generation/

You Are Important – A Letter to My Daughter

Dear C:

Do you remember that conversation we had the other night, right before you went to sleep? It went something like this:

You (in a sleepy little whisper): “Mommy has a new job – Mommy is important!”

Me (trying to sound casually curious): “So … I’m important now that I have a job?”

You: “Well … yeah.”

Me: “Honey, it’s not a job that makes a person important.”

You: “Oh, okay …” zzzzz

I know you were only half-awake and I think I know what you meant. But I haven’t been able to let this conversation go. I want to know what you really think about this. But more importantly, you need to know for yourself –

What makes a person important? Is it a job? Your parents? Friends? Talents? Accomplishments? Possessions?

Who decides whether a person is important – or not?

Because I like words and I like to know where words come from, I looked up the word “important” in the dictionary.

Important(adjective): of great significance or value; likely to have a profound effect on success, survival, or well-being

This adjective stems from the verb “import” which was first recorded around the early 15th century. Materials that a country could not produce with its own resources were “imported” (brought into port) from another country. Because these imported goods typically became vital to a country’s well-being, they were considered “important.”

Interesting, huh? The underlying concept of importance comes from one’s ability to produce something for someone else. If you are able to bring happiness, success, security, or value to someone else, you are important.

In my head I hear “What Have You Done for Me Lately?” (oh, it’s one of those classic 80’s songs). But the question is widespread in various forms –

Can you make this company more profitable?
Can you help this team win?
If I hang out with you, can you make me popular?
Can you cook, do laundry, keep the house clean?
Can you get a scholarship?

In today’s language, the word “important” has synonyms like “valuable” and “worthy.” We tend to think of these words in the context of what our world considers to be significant.

BUT, as followers of Jesus, we must live in the context of the WORD and not the world.

The world says “What you are worth (your importance) is based upon what you do (your performance).”

The WORD says “What you are worth (your importance) is based upon what Jesus did (His peace, achieved for you).” (Romans 5:1).

Sweetheart, the WORD says that you are valuable and significant.

Who you are is based upon what Jesus did. You don’t have to do anything else.

Ultimately, our worth doesn’t come from our ability to bring security or happiness to other people. Our worth comes from what Jesus has brought to us. He has brought us peace with God and freedom from self-righteousness, from the performance-trap, and from the opinions of this world.

But if being important originates from bringing something, that’s okay. Because you bring something to your Heavenly Father. It doesn’t come from your “doing;” it comes from your “being.”

Your being His –

As the object of His love, you bring Him tremendous delight and joy – Zephaniah 3:17.

As someone who is chosen and adopted into His family, you bring Him great pleasure – Ephesians 1:4.

As a child who is being transformed into your Father’s image, you bring Him glory – 2 Corinthians 3:18.

My child, You ARE important. And as the Father’s child you always will be.
I love you,
Mommy

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