Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


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Our starter house, 22 years later (theology of place)

I had no intentions of staying in this house for very long. In my mind, it was the guys’ place, where they had set up a weight room in the dining room and taped posters of pro athletes on the walls. My future husband, John, rented his living space in this house from his friend Mark. It was the stereotypical but legit bachelor pad.

But Mark received an amazing job opportunity in Costa Rica just as John and I were looking for a place to live. So, Mark sold the 1970’s-era ranch on Ironkettle Road to us, and after our honeymoon I moved in, temporarily I thought.

Almost 23 years later, the “starter house” on Ironkettle is still our home.

We put it on the market once, thinking that it was time for us to move onto a bigger and better place. There was this house I longed for, which was for sale on Porch Swing Lane, with brick, two stories, a front porch, a garage even! But nothing happened with our own house, not a hint of interest. I couldn’t blame the potential buyers who made an appointment for a showing but then decided that they didn’t even want to walk in. John and I didn’t know much about curb appeal, especially since I wasn’t emotionally invested in this space. And there was no HGTV back then.

So, we took down the “for sale” sign, and we’ve never considered trying that again. Although years later, we could probably sell easily. Our little home has a new roof, new siding, new windows, new shutters, established perennials and trees, new kitchen, expanded master bed & bath, and is a neighborhood school for the highest-rated schools in our city.  With my parents’ assistance and my brother’s talents for building and carpentry, our “fixer-upper” looks pretty good for a 1970’s house.

But still, I have struggled with mixed sentiments about this place for 22 years. Somehow, we landed in a section of our city where the average income is high. Our humble and older street, which exists without a neighborhood association or a pool or clubhouse, shares a zip code with country club neighborhoods and million-dollar homes. When we visit the homes of friends we’ve made through church or our daughter’s school, I just struggle. As Theodore Roosevelt wisely said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Those houses, after all, have the space and the shine which we lack. I return home, and the house feels tiny and worn and dated. For all our efforts to fix her up inside and out, she is what she is.

These feelings are relative, of course, and cause a messy tension between contentment and longing and guilt within. Because we have also returned to the house on Ironkettle from our travels to some of the poorest places on earth, and we understand that our family possesses abundance well beyond our needs. We have what we have, and it is very good.

Even if we could afford to move, we’ve decided that our starter house is our keeper home, Lord willing. This little home on Ironkettle houses our most cherished memories. Our daughter took her first steps here. Sometimes when I look out at the backyard, I can still picture her little feet stomping in the mud at the bottom of the slide. Every first-day-of-school photo is taken where the sidewalk meets the driveway, in front of the lantana. Daddy’s knack for fixing anything is evident throughout these rooms. We planted the crepe myrtle which now stretches far above the roofline. Inside and outside, my brother crafted all the trim by hand. Somewhere between the carpet and the baseboard, I’m sure you could find pine needles from 22 Christmas trees. We have celebrated and cried hard within these walls.

For all the joys we’ve experienced within our little home, we’re increasingly aware that God is up to something on the outside too. Our pastor calls it “theology of place,” based on Paul’s sermon recorded in Acts 17: From one man God made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’

This Scripture assures us that the house on Ironkettle is our divinely appointed home. Of course, we can’t presume that He will always keep us here, but for now we see “the boundary of our land” as an opportunity gifted by God. Through our current circumstances and in our hearts, we sense Him telling us to stay and let these roots grow deeper. We are called where we are, until God moves us.

It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching. (2)

Except for the first 6 years of my life and 4 years of college, I have lived in two homes – my parent’s home and my present home. Both addresses are one street off of Providence Road. I think this is sweetly providential and reminds me that “theology of place” ordains each context with divine purpose and ministry.

Looking beyond this “starter home,” as I did for so many years, diminishes the sacred importance of what’s happening on Ironkettle. I started to realize this, not long ago, when my next-door neighbor mistakenly thought that we placed a “for sale” sign in the yard.  Turns out that her vision is not so good, and it was just a garden flag.

But she told me that she had a moment of panic, thinking that we were leaving. And it occurred to me that perhaps we really do matter, in this house, on this street. These neighborly relationships are where, by His grace, God is teaching us to see Scott, not just as the guy who mows his grass every Sunday but as a soul, an image-bearer of God who is created for His saving love and redemption. Just as freshly-strewn seeds of grass occasionally take flight on the wind and land amongst our neighbors’ yards, we believe that God has entrusted our family with grace to spread.

It takes courage to go and talk to Scott. We’ve been to China, the Dominican Republic, and Albania to share the Gospel and yet we pause over the prompting to cross the street. This is where our faith is most stretched. Yet God is stirring up our love for Scott and his family. We know that Jesus loves them and can use any person and any means He wishes to bring Scott to Himself. But what an incredible faith-building blessing we could miss if we choose to look the other way, grab the mail and retreat, and not say yes to the opportunity to be God’s messenger.  And we don’t know … tonight could be the night that Scott’s car doesn’t ever return to his driveway.

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And so, our starter home is the place where God is starting His new work in my heart, that I might seek what He is doing in my ordinary, ordained mission field. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I march across the street and whip out my carefully-scripted Gospel presentation on Scott. But it starts with valuing and engaging my neighbors. It begins as I stop making excuses about the stains and the square footage and I choose a spirit of hospitality, opening my home in an effort to serve and to love. As my pastor likes to say, “The Gospel moves at the speed of relationship.” To me, this means that in the daily rhythms of life we look for ways to talk with people, to prayerfully discern where the Holy Spirit is moving in this context, and humbly display a life of dependence on Christ, being ready and obedient when He tells us to move –

– as we stay, on Ironkettle Road.

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image courtesy of Holley Gerth

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Need a pick-up? Holley is writing today on “gratitude when you’ve got an attitude” (like I have sometimes about my house!) She’s also hosting a link-up for writers who are sharing words of encouragement, Coffee for your Heart {here}.


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About Halloween:: what’s a Christian family to do?

Our daughter was invited to her first Halloween party when she was 8 months old, where she was, no doubt, the cutest ladybug ever.

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Before we had a child, my husband and I were pretty unenthusiastic about Halloween. As Christians, we were leery of anything that celebrated or even resembled what we perceived as spiritual darkness. But another young mom from “Books and Babies” at our community library surprised us with an invitation to their Halloween party. It was a prime opportunity to get to know our new friends, and what harm could there be in a party for babies after all?

So we went, and the evening was filled with laughter, friendship, and over-the-top cuteness. For the first time, we experienced Halloween in a really positive and personal way.

Since our daughter’s Halloween debut, October 31 has become a “commercial juggernaut” – second only to Christmas in retail sales. “It’s a legitimate industry now,” says the president of the Haunted Attraction Association, “Now we’re a season.” As a Christian family, it’s difficult to be neutral about a “season” which can present itself in disturbing ways.

In these fourteen years of parenting, we’ve had increasing opportunities to participate in Halloween observances which are decreasingly innocent. The days of ladybug babies are over, and our daughter is invited to parties where the themes and activities are scary, gory, and everything that made us leery in the first place.

Several years ago, our daughter caught onto our conflicted feelings about Halloween. Local fall festivals and “trunk-or-treat” events were once popular options, but they seemingly vaporized like a ghost. Our church decided not to continue its October 31st event. This was during our daughter’s princess phase. All she knew of Halloween was the opportunity to receive free candy while becoming Belle or Cinderella (with plastic, sparkly heels!) for the night.

What’s a Christian parent to do?

I understand that most people take Halloween as silly fun. When summer is past, daylight is waning, and cold weather approaches, Halloween offers an opportunity for creativity (and candy). And community (and candy). But I digress…

More than creativity and chocolate, there are psychological and biological reasons why people are drawn to Halloween:

The haunted-attraction industry (haunted houses and theme parks) generate 300 – 500 million dollars in ticket sales.  And morbidly supernatural themes, once limited to movie screens, are spilling over into television series. This sort of entertainment is successful because audiences are looking for the adrenaline rush that comes through being “scared to death.” The human brain craves the hormonal energy that’s produced when danger is simulated in an intentional, contained, and safe setting.

Also, Halloween costumes offer the opportunity for an imaginary, uninhibited, and temporary experience. According to Tom Harris, author of The Love of Halloween, “People in costumes often say and do things they probably wouldn’t say or do in their everyday life. It’s very satisfying to step into another character for a while, even (or especially) for a grown-up.”

Perhaps most importantly, Halloween is an occasion for cultures to make light of death, bringing the unknown realm into the open to be parodied with other people. Movies editor Steven Casey Murray says, “Horror movies cause us to ask the eternal question ‘what if,’ and allow us to safely delve into our primal fears.”

As parents with a Christian worldview, my husband and I believe that there are spiritual reasons for the life and death tension in our culture. I don’t believe that a demon is hiding under every rock, but I believe that God’s Word is true when it says that the enemy of our souls is real and active (Ephesians 6:12; 1 Peter 5:8). The ruler of the kingdom of darkness wants to keep people separated from God, in a grip of evil and fear.

Therefore, we want our daughter to learn how to think about the culture in which she lives in an examined way, with discernment. I set out to learn about the origins of Halloween, as a way to begin conversation. It seemed important to explore the question – is this a season, an observance, a celebration, something we ignore, or what?

Hundreds of years ago, a people group called the Celts lived on the British Isles. They believed that the souls of dead people visited earth on October 31. Fearful that evil spirits would destroy their crops, they built bonfires and wore scary costumes to frighten them away.

The Celts also carved frightful faces into turnips or gourds, put burning coal inside to turn them into lanterns, and set them outside their homes. And by leaving food (treats) on the outskirts of their towns, they hoped that evil spirits would not enter their villages (and perform tricks).

 In the 8th century, the Catholic Church declared November 1 as a day to remember honorable Catholics who had passed away. It was commonly called “All Hallows’ Day,” and the night before (October 31) became known as Allhallowe’en.

Somewhere along the way, as a mix of European settlers came to America, their customs blended into what we now know as Halloween.

For our family, it was important to understand that the traditions of Halloween are rooted in fear and superstition. But it was also essential to communicate to our daughter that the day itself, October 31, is NOT an evil day. Like every other day, it is a day that the Lord has made.

Followers of Christ are a part of the Kingdom of Light (Colossians 1: 12 – 14). 1 John 4 says that GREATER is HE (Christ) who is in us than he (satan) who is in the world and that perfect love (the love of Christ) drives out fear (verses 4 & 18). Jesus is victorious every single day of the year!

So while our family gained some head knowledge – and spiritual reassurance – through our examination of Halloween, we still needed to figure out how to respond.

Around this season in our parenting, our pastor and church leaders started to challenge our church family to examine how we engage with our community. Our pastor encouraged us to investigate the question What are you for? It’s a relevant inquiry as Christians are increasingly known for what we’re against.

What are you for?” speaks of the redemptive power of relationships, of not simply turning our backs on this world but by finding intentional ways to shine light in the darkness.

We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” ~ Madeline L’Engle

Around the same time that we were thinking of all these things, and as leaves turned yellow and red, I picked up Paul David Tripp’s book, Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens. We were still far from the teen years, but we had (still have) so much to learn.

In his chapter, Life in the Real World, Tripp illustrates 2 common Christian responses to culture: rejection and assimilation. I think my husband and I, in our early parenting philosophy, would have chosen rejection of the culture, when it comes to all things Halloween: no parties, trick-or-treating only at fall festivals (churches), nothing spooky, lights off at our house, etc, etc … But we caught a glimpse, eight months into parenting, that Halloween can be one of the most neighborly days of the year.

Yet, we’re not comfortable with throwing ourselves head-long into Halloween either. The Bible also tells us to think on things that are pure and honorable to God, and it’s our personal conviction that the creepy side of Halloween puts our thoughts elsewhere.

While we believe that families are free to decide for themselves, neither rejection or assimilation is entirely appealing to us. The Bible tells us that although we are not of this world, we are still in it (see Jesus’ words in John 17: 14 – 15).

Paul David Tripp suggests that if isolation from the culture (rejection) is on one end of the spectrum, and immersion in the culture (assimilation) is on the other end, then Christians can find a biblically-appropriate place between the two. He calls this place, “redemption interaction.”

Regardless of Halloween’s origins, we believe that our family can give a redemptive meaning to October 31. Instead of isolating from or immersing into culture, we want to interact with it. Matthew 5:14 – 16 tells us how:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5: 14 – 16

Our family believes that God has purposefully placed us in this city, in this neighborhood, and on this street to care about our neighbors. How can we effectively do that if we don’t take opportunities to see them face to face? If we keep our lamp under a bowl? We began to understand the purpose behind our church’s decision to end the fall festival, thereby encouraging the congregation to return to our neighbors around our city instead.

In his book, Celebration of Discipline (1978), Richard Foster says, “Why allow Halloween to be a pagan holiday in commemoration of the powers of darkness? Fill the house or church with light; sing and celebrate the victory of Christ over darkness.”

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While we wavered about Halloween, our neighbors did something which helped us to participate in a meaningful way. As trick-or-treaters filled the street, our neighbors brought huge stockpots of jambalaya outside, and a tradition began. Each year, the crowd grows, and Halloween has become THE gathering event of the year.

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We’re grateful that someone took the initiative and we enjoy the benefits. And we’re inspired and challenged to forward the neighborly momentum down the street. I think this year, instead of waiting for little ones to come to our door, we’ll set up a table in the front yard with cider and cookies and greet the parents. On Halloween, acquaintances, even strangers, expectantly come to our house, and we can take advantage of the occasion to initiate and advance relationships. We’re excited about neighbors being part of one another’s lives beyond October 31.

As Tim Challies says, “One night does not a neighbor make (and one night does not a pagan make), but Halloween is the one night of the year where the good neighborliness that flows from being in Christ is communicated and reinforced. We are citizens of another Kingdom where The Light is always on.”

So, we’ll treat Halloween not as a holiday, but as an event. We’ll see this event as an opportunity to be for community. We’ll concentrate less on being against the darkness and focus more on being for the light. The light always wins!

As our family scoops out our pumpkin, we’ll talk about how great it is that Jesus has cleaned us up on the inside and put His light there. And we’ll put that light on display.

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Join us, wherever God has placed you, and let it shine!

 


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Dear parents of boys

Dear parents of boys,

My husband and I are raising our only child, a teenage daughter. So I don’t know what it’s like to have a young man in my home, but I deeply appreciate the responsibility that you, parents of boys, have. 

Obviously parents of girls have significant responsibilities too, and at home, we’re trying to keep lines of communication open, even when – especially when – the conversations get a little uncomfortable. We know that it’s essential to give our daughter a safe place to talk about guys, sex, and purity.  At the same time, current events remind me of the mixed and confusing messages about masculinity, so we have to talk about that too. I don’t buy the cultural assumption that men are just this way. I don’t want my daughter to grow up believing that either. And so, parents of boys, I highly value your influence in your son’s life.

Like most girls her age, my daughter dreams of the future – of finding THE one who will love her for her soul and her mind and who will treat her with tenderness and honor. I’m grateful that she can still believe such a man might be in God’s plans for her. I credit her father for that, because he is the primary man who models what a gentleman looks like, who recognizes her inner beauty, and who encourages her to be the gifted, strong, intelligent, creative, honorable woman that God has created her to be.

Of course, my husband and I don’t know if God’s plans for our daughter’s life include marriage, but we naturally wish for her to step into her school, her church, her job, her everyday-coming-and-going and be valued for who she is on the inside.

My husband and I pray for men – classmates, mentors, co-workers, neighbors, friends, potential suitors – to enter our daughter’s life and model what gentlemen look like, who recognize her inner beauty, and who encourage her to be the gifted, strong, intelligent, creative, honorable woman that God has created her to be.

Your son could be one of those men.

So, despite all the societal, highly-sexualized mess that surrounds us and our children, I believe in the best for you as parents and for your son. I know that there are dads and moms who are raising boys to be difference-makers in their generation. We believe that the enemy distorts what the Father created for good, so we intentionally seek out His original design and give thanks for a community of parents who do the same.

To you, I express gratitude –

        For teaching your son that “boys will be boys” is a lie that undermines their ability to rise above the objectification and harassment of women.

        For intentionally connecting with him and knowing his influences, his friends, his concerns, and his dreams.

        For expecting him to treat his mother with the utmost respect.

        For teaching your son that he is not defined by his appearance, athletic prowess, grades, or ability to win the attention of girls.

        For teaching him that girls are not defined by externals either.

        For communicating that “locker room banter” isn’t a normal indicator of masculinity.

        For monitoring his screen time.

        For teaching your son that he is capable of respecting other people’s bodies and personal space and he is capable of controlling his emotions and passions.

        For communicating that sexting isn’t just harmless goofing around.

        For teaching him to avoid aggressive girls because he deserves better than their manipulative ways.

        For modeling the traits of God’s design for masculinity, including courage, humility, personal responsibility, servanthood, provision, and protection.

        For being a safe place when your son has questions about something he has heard about sex from peers or the media that runs contrary to God’s standards.

        For teaching him to be FOR the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical purity of every girl he encounters.

        For emulating a heart after God and for living out sermons at your kitchen tables, in your living rooms, and on the ballfields. For putting flesh and bone on the concepts of integrity, faithfulness, repentance, forgiveness, and submission to God.

        For affirming your son and imparting words of blessing to him, including appropriate physical affection, so that he doesn’t seek intimacy in false or harmful ways.

        For imparting vision for his future so that he can expect the best of himself in every situation.

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I know that your son, as a person designed after God’s image, is created to be gifted, strong, intelligent, creative, and honorable. With you, I grieve the fact that there are such tainted ideas about what it means to be a real man. But parents, we can still pursue God’s principles and pray His promises for the generations that follow us. God’s honor and His purposes far exceed any political platform or candidate or societal trend. We can stand against the objectification and harassment of women AND men. Together, we can strive FOR kindness, considerateness, graciousness, and charity toward our fellow image bearers. I want you to know that my husband and I are trying to teach these lessons to our daughter too, so that she and your son can treat one another, in whatever setting they find themselves, with dignity and respect.

We know that we can’t own our children’s successes or failings, and there will likely be mistakes along the way, but God’s grace is sufficient and His wisdom is promised when we ask. God’s Word assures us that the Holy Spirit equips those who follow Jesus with everything they need for life and purity.  Let’s reject the cultural cynicism and embrace this very high calling with confidence, not in our parenting skills or in our children, but in God who has created our sons and daughters with purpose and with joy. In them, He is able to do more than we could ask or imagine.

In an uncertain world, He is unchanging.

Gratefully,

Renee

More encouragement, such good, truth-filled words here:

Kristen Welch, Raising Sons in a World that Disrespects Women.

Russell Moore, Rescuing Men from Fake Love and Fake War

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Linking today with Holley Gerth’s Coffee for Your Heart where writers share words of encouragement.

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From Charlotte …

I’d like to tell you about events that happened in my hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina this past week:

My neighbor helped a motorist with a flat tire.

A teacher gave her struggling student a fist bump and a “you got this.”

Friends invited the “new kid” to sit with them in the cafeteria.

A young woman took a lonely widow out to lunch.

After filling her prescription, a pharmacist at Walgreens walked an elderly lady through the store and to the parking lot where her ride waited.

A Sunday School teacher went to the hospital every day to visit a sick child.

In Subway, a customer entered line behind a police officer and stepped forward to pay for his sandwich.

A teenager, who recently entered the foster care system with no possessions, was clothed with new outfits, shoes, accessories, and the love of Christ.

A hospice chaplain took on extra hours to offer her prayerful presence to a heart-broken family.

These events weren’t sensational enough to make the news, of course. Most likely, you didn’t hear positive reports broadcast this week from my hometown. I don’t mean to minimize the circumstances that prompt important and necessary discussions about race issues in our country. But I think we can agree that when it comes to the media-driven culture, negativity and drama are predominant, from the playing field to protests to politics. And sometimes my soul needs the kind of care which comes not from escapism or denial but from recognizing that God is still sovereign and still at work near and far. While I appreciate the American freedom of expression, these recent days remind me to intentionally look for other forms of expression – those ordinary actions which express God’s love for and through the people of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Perhaps you are like me, living a seemingly small-scale life that feels more ordinary than extraordinary. But this ordinary day is ordained by God to move you into a place where you can express His love as no one else can. When you help a person on crutches with her grocery bags, when you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a hungry person, or when you trim the widow’s shrubs, you are giving expression to the God-given dignity of every individual.

Regardless of developmental stage or ethnic/economic status, every person is the Imago Dei, created in God’s image. Persons who in faith receive His Son as Savior are also in a process of being transformed into the image of Christ, or the Imago Christi. If you are a Christ-follower, the fact that you can give expression to the Imago Dei and the Imago Christi is the most sacred, significant thing about you. If there were a heavenly news-reel, your simple, heart-felt actions would make the highlights. More than ever, cities like Charlotte need the hands-and-feet expressions of the Gospel, the good news.

Politicians can make speeches, players can refuse to stand, protestors can voice their perspectives, but the only form of expression which will truly heal originates and overflows from God’s heart –

Every person has worth, created by God with purpose. (Psalm 139)

Jesus paid the ultimate price so that every person can be free. (Galatians 5)

Every person is loved regardless of status or performance or human standards. (2 Corinthians 5: 14 – 16)

This love also bridges separations, breaks down barriers, and calls each one of us to unity. (Ephesians 2:14)

The Cross radically transforms how we see and treat life – whether young or old; rich or poor; able-bodied or impaired; slave or free; white or black; weak or strong. The healing begins as we choose to follow the example of Jesus who gave His all for all.

Expressions of healing happen when we choose humility and kindness, when we direct our eyes from our gadgets to another human, when we give our time as a free gift, and when we listen more than we speak.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

The Gospel reconciles sinners to God and also person to person, community to community. Imagine our symphony of voices, each uniquely gifted, rising in reverence for Imago Dei in every person. God created you with something sacred to express, and your encouraging word, smile, prayer, open door, or gesture of forgiveness add to a chorus which can change cities like Charlotte one life at a time.

(Thank you, Pastor Alex, for influencing me and my family so deeply in our appreciation for the Imago Dei in every person and for encouraging us to create ripples across the waters.)

I alone cannot change the world but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples. (2)

 


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questions while sitting in the fog

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Questions fill my days, looming like a murky and stubborn fog, without sudden breakthroughs. I don’t know that they’re good questions. They’re just …. questions, those uncertainties which accompany me when I don’t see the next step ahead. Clarity is quite appealing, I think.  I mean, the questions, good or not, are keeping me awake at night. Am I searching too desperately? Probably, though a direct answer would make a nice pillow after all. Then, when I rise to a bright and clear morning, I’ll do what God tells me to do.

All I’m looking for is a “yes” or a “no.”

This morning, after another night of wondering, of wrestling, a memory suddenly came to mind. (I knew it was a thought not my own, seeing that I was pre-caffeinated and not thinking sharply.) I remembered how I spoke, just days before, in a training session on small group leadership. I described the skill of asking good questions, the kind which are open-ended, which can’t be answered with the simple “yes” or “no.”

Good questions are those which invite group members to process and think and reflect, even to struggle a bit, if that’s what it takes to move information from the head to the heart. As Jim Branch says, “A good question creates dialogue and interaction and life … A good question invites us to go inward, to the very core of our being, and seek something deep within ourselves.”

As I pray, I seek a compass, arrow pointing north, east, south, or west. A simple “yes” or “no” will do. But Jesus wants the core of my being. And He is so committed to developing faith in me that He might not give pat answers, for those answers make trust unnecessary. Instead, He leads me to the open-ends, which usually means waiting and mystery and longing. The open-ends create space for grace where I slowly learn that the way of faith is not something I achieve. The Way of faith is a Person I receive.

This kind of faith transforms my questions.  I am prone to pray, “What do You want me to do?” But the Holy Spirit leads me to pray, “Who do You want me to become?” It’s a tremendous shift, one that says “yes” to relationship, which involves more than simply following directives. It invites the Spirit to do tough, tender transformation within my soul. It is the work of grace and not the work of works. It is open-handedness, requiring all of me, nothing closed off, everything made plain to see, all surrendered.

What questions are you asking today?

Of course, we all know, don’t we, that there are other kinds of questions. These are cries of a heart that is broken and grieving. Maybe we aren’t necessary looking for answers, for sometimes an explanation for “Why?” can’t change the situation anyway.

King David expressed this kind of heart’s cry: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” (Psalm 22:1–2)

In our small group training, we also spoke on the value of silence. Anyone who’s led a small group knows the awkwardness of asking a question that’s met only with the sound of crickets. And we are tempted to fill that uncomfortable void with our voices, perhaps cutting off the opportunity for deeper reflection and movement from head to heart. As an introvert, I need time and quietness to process my thoughts inwardly before jumping to quick answers. But when the Lord seems to reply with silence, I feel frustrated, confused, even rejected. Obviously, my pain hasn’t caught Him off-guard, as if He needs time to formulate solutions.

God is never truly silent; the truth is that He speaks all the time in creation and in His Word. But sometimes we perceive His silence in ways that seem almost palpable, like a wilderness where we hunger and thirst without relief. But could it be that, only in the ways of God, silence is still a conversation, deeply inward? It can be a space where we learn to trust His promises and not our perceptions, where we come to discover Him in ways we missed when we walked by sight, where we seek Him not for the fixing but for His face.

Here, perhaps once again, the good question isn’t “what?” or even “why?” but “Who?” When we haven’t received the answers, when we can’t perceive His voice, let us lean in to knowing Him more, the God who knows all mysteries and holds grace in their midst.

A Prayer for Those Sitting in the Fog ~

We confess our love of cloudless days, bright mornings, clearly marked pathways. We confess our discomfort in the fog but recognize a longing we discover there too. Even as we confess our desire for answers, may we learn to walk humbly with questions. Help us to find your company beside us as we crouch in the darkness and wait for the first light of dawn. Help us to know Your presence in ways we may have overlooked if not for our inability to see.  Emily P. Freeman, Simply Tuesday.

 

 

 

 


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Five Minute Friday :: path

Trust in the Lord with all our heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5 – 6

Father, in my understanding, I’m prone to think that a straight path is linear and predictable, progressing in neat and timely fashion from Point A to Point B to Point C. I confess that I’ve often expected the path of a Christ-follower to look like this.

But Lord, nothing seems straightforward these days. How long will I wander? Here I am, humbled and needful and seeking.

How I need Your grace to move forward in faith, not in my own plans but in Your wiser ways. I think You are asking me to release what I thought “straight” was meant to be. Could it be that I have sought a clear path more than I have sought You, Yourself? Forgive me, Lord, for seeking clarity more than Your company.

In the midst of these interruptions, delays, and detours, I want to bury hope in the ground, but Lord, I ask for a seed of faith to sow instead. As my heart aches with disappointment, I long to believe that You have appointed something lovely to rise from the soil of my need. If the fruit is a deeper dependence upon You, I will taste and see that You are good.

And when this path is steep and strewn with obstacles, strengthen me to surrender my inclination for the easy roads. May I step forward bravely because You are a true and trustworthy guide.

Father, I pray for the grace to keep my eyes on the path you have chosen for me uniquely, and not the path of another. Sometimes I stumble through a fog of comparison. I look around instead of looking ahead. In those moments, Father, I need You to fix my gaze straight to Christ.

Help me, Lord, to remember that Your upward calling on my life is firstly to You, not to a job or a role or an accomplishment or whatever I think makes me significant.

Gracious Father, I know that as long as You’re with me, there is more joy in this journey than a direct route to Point C could ever offer.  Walk with me, and I with You, and that is enough.  Amen.

________

Five Minute Friday is a weekly link-up where we write for five minutes on a specific word of the week. Click [here] to head to Kate Motaung’s site for more thoughts on the word “path.”

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The value of one divine appointment

On Thursday, I enjoyed posting and scrolling through back-to-school pictures on Facebook. But between the images of kids with fresh clothes and big smiles, I saw a picture of a young boy unknown to me. I did a double-take, then I squinted to figure out what I was seeing.  Because what in the world??

What is he covered in? Dust, ashes? Why is blood smeared over half his little face, matted in his hair and eyelashes? The child sits alone with little hands folded in his lap and with face expressionless. Doctors who treated the boy said that he never cried.

Mahmoud Raslan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Mahmoud Raslan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Numbly, he looks as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened.

He is Omran Daqneesh, a five year old victim of an airstrike in his hometown of Aleppo, Syria. His rescuers leave him in an ambulance, where this picture was taken, so that they can save additional children. Relieved, I learn that Omran was treated and released from the hospital with no signs of brain injury.  His parents and 3 siblings reportedly survived as well, pulled from the rubble of their apartment building before it collapsed completely.

The Syrian Civil Defense, a volunteer lifesaving organization, saved the family’s life.

Bibars Halabi is the volunteer who carried Omran to the ambulance.

“My heart breaks for Omran but people need to know this happens everyday,” said Halabi, “This time it was just caught on camera.”

As I search for articles about Omran and his family, I learn that Aleppo, their hometown, has been in the news for years. Part of the Syrian city has been held by rebel groups since 2012 with the recent government siege, backed by Russian air power, cutting off many supply routes. As vital necessities diminish, humanitarian aid is blocked.

More than 6,000 people, mainly civilians, have been killed or injured in 80 consecutive days of fighting in Aleppo.

I have never heard of Aleppo. I’m grieved by this. I didn’t know that just last week, the remaining 15 doctors in the city of 300,000 sent a letter to President Obama to appeal for intervention so that medical supplies and food can offer relief to the suffering civilians.

Honestly, I can’t understand or explain the Syrian civil war, although I know that millions have fled for their lives, but for most of them and for those still in Syria, there is nowhere to go.

I remember it’s been almost a year since the world was shocked by the image of Aylan, a Syrian boy whose drowned body was recovered off the shores of Turkey.

But then, well, I forgot …

“I hope the world will learn something from it,” said Aylan’s father who also lost his wife and another son when their dinghy capsized as they tried to flee Syria. “I hope this people will be helped, that these massacres are stopped. We are human beings, just like Westerners.”

Every child is a divine appointment ~ Wess Stafford

Aylan and Omran – yes, you are human beings, divine appointments, made in the image of God, held in His heart and precious in His sight. So much more than another victim caught on camera. My heart is filled with remorse and regret for the way I forgot you. I didn’t pray. I guess I reasoned that the situation in your home country is “complicated” and “political” and I didn’t know how to pray. That’s garbage for an excuse.

I am so sorry. Omran, if your precious little face looks numb to suffering, perhaps it’s because my heart has been numb to your suffering. May this day conclusively close the door on my ignorance, apathy, forgetting.

Reader and friend, if you are like me, perhaps you also find it overwhelming to articulate the tremendous needs in our hurting world as you try to pray. May we remember that the power of prayer is in the One who hears it and not in the one who says it.

May we simply and humbly and faithfully come and choose to not forget.

Together, let us hold every Aylan and Omran in our hearts and trust that God receives our prayers for

– peace and for protection over the innocents caught in the crossfire

– a ceasefire so that aid can be delivered to the suffering

– safe places for the vulnerable

– material support to flow abundantly

– courageous volunteers like Halabi and the 15 doctors who are risking their lives for every Omran.

– the Christ-followers to stand firm in their faith and serve as the hands and feet of Jesus to their neighbors in Syria and refugee camps

– their suffering to be redeemed by His goodness and glory

– all of us, a call to action in giving and praying and remembering.

We can all do something. Thank you for reading and remembering with me.

“Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the One who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.” Max Lucado

If you can share any additional prayer points or ways to help, please include in the comments.

“I believe that now more than ever, Jesus is leading His church into the margins of our world, where the suffering is greatest and expressions of His love are most needed.” Richard Stearns, President of World Vision

Where is the Church? by Steve Haas of World Vision. In this article, you can find and download the free guide, “Understanding the Syria Crisis and the Role of the Church”

World Vision International

Open Doors

World Relief Disaster Response

The (Bloody) Face of Violence in Syria

Compassion International –

Aylan Kurdi: The Power of One Child

Doctors Without Borders

News sources:

http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/17/world/syria-little-boy-airstrike-victim/

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37125400

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/08/18/490461992/a-wounded-child-in-aleppo-silent-and-still-shocks-the-world

http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2015/09/05/437486484/a-viral-syrian-moment-will-it-be-different-this-time

Also – from Ann Voskamp, September 2015 – Dear Alyan