Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


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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

 

 


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What I learned this summer {random + reflective}

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Thanks to Emily, I’ve thought about what I’ve learned this summer for, well, all summer. Emily’s Let’s Share What We Learned in (fill in the month or season) is my favorite online place to gather with fellow writers who are looking for God on the move in little and large ways. It’s not only fun, it’s good for the soul.

The worlds of politics and culture are increasingly audacious and frightening, but a curious life – one that looks for God on the move, even in ordinary places – is able to move as well, stepping forward toward hope, trusting that God is still actively working toward redemption.

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The ordinary places of our lives hold extraordinary potential when we take a break from the hustle, open our hands, and receive simple moments as reminders that God has always been in charge and finishes what He begins.

God is on the move. (2)

As I consider what I’ve learned this summer, I remember people who have inspired me, writers who have challenged me, and random things that invited me to try something new. There may or may not be pictures, as in # 1 –

1) I learned how to boogie-board. In the ocean y’all. Those who know me well may find this a little surprising because I’m not very adventurous when it comes to water and sand in unintended places. But the opportunity to laugh & play with my girl was worth every bit of awkward. I actually “rode” a few waves successfully, but let’s all be thankful that our best moments can happen without a camera. Just trust me in this.

2) As I wrote last time, I learned the importance of traveling light as we ventured out internationally. Since then, I’ve been introduced to the idea of rideable suitcases. Have you seen this?

Anyhow, the current version of rideable suitcase has less packing room than a carry-on, so perhaps it fits within my pursuit of simplicity after all (that’s what I tell myself because I think this looks fun in a ridiculous kind of way).

No matter the type of suitcase, I’m still hopeful that traveling light is possible in everyday life, even in a culture where more is seemingly better. Which leads us to #3 …

3) Did you know that there are now at least 20 varieties of Oreos, from classic to cinnamon bun to Swedish Fish? My daughter and I counted. We took pictures.

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Yet, as you know, simplicity isn’t about Oreos. If you have a passion for blueberry pie Oreos, there’s no judgment here. (Full disclosure  – I caved to the Key Lime Pie Oreo. It’s pretty tasty.) I can’t see our culture backing away from the pursuit of more, but I can think about how I respond.

Earlier in the summer, I heard a pastor speak on the “tyranny of choice,” a phrase which intrigued me. So I googled “tyranny of choice” and discovered 13,300,000 results (which, in itself, is kinda ironic). Anyway, research studies consistently conclude that the “more is better” assumption actually increases the potential for disappointment and regret.

The “tyranny of choice” theory makes sense to me. Even more, it confirms that the Holy Spirit knows our hearts and understands the temptation as old as Eden to experience more, be more, own more.

There is Spirit-inspired, and counter-cultural, wisdom in the Apostle Paul’s teaching to be content in all things.

Philippians 4: 12 – 13 ~ I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do this through Him who gives me strength.

1 Timothy 6: 6 – 7 ~ But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.

Now I don’t think that traveling light requires me to shun unique flavors of Oreos. I can enjoy a Caramel Apple Oreo (doubtful) without throwing the weight of happiness-expectations upon it. I know it’s a silly example, but perhaps we do the same with clothes, cars, houses?

There’s a balance here somewhere. I want to be a little wiser, a little more aware about my response to “stuff” in general. I long for the peace of fully trusting that God provides my portion (see Psalm 16:5), and that’s joyfully enough for me.

4) While waiting in a doctor’s office, I flipped through a Martha Stewart magazine where I spotted these ideas for DIY jewelry organizers. I love repurposing things, so I painted a spool rack, and now I have a new way to keep my necklaces and bracelets in one, neat place.

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5) Early in the summer, our family enjoyed a beach trip, a mission trip to Albania, and then a side trip to Austria and Germany within one month. Then we stayed home for the rest of the summer, for obvious reasons! So, to keep the spirit of learning and curiosity going, we became hometown tourists. In Davidson, a small town nearby, we visited the old-timey Soda Shop and the South Main Sweet Shop where my daughter entered one of those guess-the-number-of-candies-in-the-jar contests.

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In this case, the candies were those teeny cinnamon red-hots. And about a week later, my daughter received a phone call to let her know that she was the undisputed winner of the contest because she guessed the number exactly at 282 red hots!

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In Davidson’s Rumor Mill Market of local artisans, we stumbled upon a desk that fit what my daughter has had in mind for a while now. Bonus – the price finally fit what I had in mind🙂

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To match the white/gold theme in her room, we learned how to paint furniture, thanks to The Nester’s How to Paint Furniture Like a Real Pro. (It’s not as difficult as I thought, though we may or may not have taken some short-cuts).

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In Waxhaw, another small town outside of Charlotte, we visited Jolly Rolls ice cream where they make your custom flavor while you watch. I picked Key Lime Pie (obviously), so my server chopped up a piece of pie, poured cream over it, spread the mixture out over a cold slab, and scraped it up into yummy rolls.

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We took Mom to see Sister Act at our hometown theatre (Central Piedmont Community College) where we enjoyed a great evening filled with talent and laughter – and prayer🙂

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I believe anything can be a spiritual discipline when we recognize the presence of God with us in it. So whether you moved here just last month or if you were born in the hospital down the street – this place is part of who you are now. This place holds your story, at least a piece of it. This is the place where God wants to meet you, for better or worse.

One way to honor the place where you are is to tour it on purpose.” ~ Emily P. Freeman

6) One of my favorite stories in Scripture is that of Jesus’ visit to the home of Mary and Martha. I’ve long identified with Martha, who grew frustrated with her frenzied meal preparations while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, absorbing his teaching. As I reread the passage in Luke 10, I noticed some wording that I hadn’t noticed before … Verse 38 says, “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.”

Because I struggle with hospitality, it struck me that Martha opened her home to Jesus but not her heart (in this moment). Like Martha, I push myself to make everything just so when I open my home. I thought this is what hospitality looked like. But sometimes I wonder if just so is more about my need for approval and less about my guests. Distractedness and perfection prevent me from opening my heart to them (and this isn’t what love looks like). This summer, I’ve discovered GraceTable, an online community that reassures me that hospitality isn’t perfection but presence:

“We believe that the hospitality Christ calls us to is one of brave surrender–a willingness to open our hearts and homes to people who may or may not fit neatly into our personal categories. (Romans 12:13) … This table is for the expert chefs and the microwave queens. Hospitality isn’t about what or how you eat–it’s about setting the table with love.”

7) You know that notification symbol at the top of your Facebook feed – the one that looks like a (flat) globe?

I learned that when you travel to another part of the world, it changes with you. When we were in Austria, I noticed that the continent switched from the Americas to Europe. I found this surprising, then – duh – obvious, and then sorta creepy.

8) One of my favorite summer-reads was Ian Morgan Cron’s Chasing Francis, a novel about a pastor who loses all the “answers.”

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During a pilgrimage to Italy, Pastor Chase explores the spiritual legacy of Saint Francis of Assisi who was a humble yet powerful, enduring voice for peace and justice. Francis sought to follow the Savior’s way of sacrifice at a time when the Church was consumed with self-serving opulence and power. In Cron’s novel, the disillusioned pastor’s faith is invigorated through Saint Francis’ passion to see Christ-followers serving as His hands and feet to the least of these.

Francis’ words still challenge the living Church today –

A Franciscan Benediction

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor. Amen.

8) I love inspiring quotes, so I conclude (finally, I know; it’s what-I-learned-this-summer after all) with new (to me) favorites:

“Sometimes our journeys need airplanes and sometimes they are quiet, 30-minute walks in our neighborhood so we can clear our heads and figure out what it means to be rooted — wherever we are.” Ashley Hales

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

“Hope has two beautiful daughters. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see to it that they don’t remain the way they are.” Saint Augustine

“Here’s Francis’ strategy–if you want to critique something, just do it better. Don’t go off at the mouth criticizing everything that’s wrong with the Church. Just do it better. Let the excellence of your life be your highest form of protest.” Ian Morgan Cron

“Faith is the only way of knowing that is also patient with not knowing.” Richard Rohr

It’s the differences between us that make us a Body and not a uniform.” Ann Voskamp

We position ourselves to be better listeners–we more easily set aside our assumptions and anger and start to ask questions with an intent to understand what is unfamiliar to us … We can only start the process here…real change has to happen in our communities and neighborhoods. As I heard Pastor Derwin Gray say once, “Proximity brings empathy.” Trillia Newbell

Thanks for reading, my friends. I’d love to hear what you’ve learned this summer. What did you read, discover, or see with new eyes? Let me know in the comments below!

And check out Emily’s link-up to explore what other writers are sharing about their random & reflective lessons from the summer.

 


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Simply curious and curiously simple

When summer began, I didn’t think about simplicity and curiosity like I do now, as summer nears its end. Sure, every time I rummaged deep through my closet, I thought about the need to clean out. But simplicity as an overall priority wasn’t in the summer plans.

And why would I think about curiosity? I guess it crossed my mind occasionally when my daughter was little and asked “Why?” probably a million times, as all curious children do. I suppose that many people think of curiosity as generally nosy and potentially irritating (not to mention dangerous for cats).

But when I consider what I’ve learned this summer, simplicity and curiosity are the recurring themes – which seems odd, given that I conceptualize the two as almost opposites. Simplicity, to me, seems a minimalistic quality, while curiosity is expansive. If simplicity is focused like a microscope, then curiosity is exploratory like a telescope.

Yet, I’ve discovered that these qualities, in tandem, are lenses through which I see more of God.

One of the more important lessons showed up on the summer curriculum when my husband, daughter, and I told our friends how much luggage we were planning to carry around Europe for 2 weeks. My heart sunk when they told us that, basically, we were nuts.

I’ve never traveled lightly. As I pack, my mind creates a plan for every “what if” I can think of.

If only I had been a Boy Scout, I could take the “Be Prepared” motto to a new level. Travel with me, and I’m willing to lug all the snacks, hair gel, Tide-To-Go, first-aid supplies, and ponchos that we could ever need.

Pack lighter, our friends said.

You won’t be able to walk quickly between train, bus, and subway stations.

You need to limit yourselves to a carry-on each.

Quite reluctantly we went home to unpack all the things we wanted and repack only the things we needed. This required a wrestling match between what could go and what must stay home.

During our trip, I discovered a lesson that traveling writer Tsh Oxenreider has known for a while: “There’s a beauty to curating our life’s needs to the basic essentials. There’s a step of faith involved when you decide to leave behind those socks in order to make room for that swimsuit” (In my case, room would be made for snacks). You can read the rest of Tsh’s post on traveling light {here}.

The Febreeze fabric refresher made the cut, thankfully, so I doused my outfits in Linen Fresh every time I wore them (repeatedly). We ate unfamiliar but delicious food, and the packed nibbles weren’t necessary after all. And we managed the buses, trains, and subways while looking as little like tourists as possible (well, that’s not completely accurate but, hey, we tried).

Lesson learned. I really can simplify and survive. I wanted to come home and streamline.

As I considered what to release, I decided that my newly acquired spirit of curiosity was worth keeping. For two weeks, in the midst of Austrian Alps, German rolling hills, and Albanian countryside, I marveled at the Creator’s glorious touch upon the amazing people, stories, and sights we encountered on our journey.

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Before Salzburg, I didn’t think I’d be all that interested in Mozart’s birthplace, his life, or his classical works. But I realized there that Mozart’s musical masterpieces bear witness to the One who composed heavenly melodies before violins and pianos existed.

My awareness of God’s glory was undoubtedly influenced by my surroundings. But could it be that wonder arises less from place and more from perspective?

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I’ve started to think of curiosity as a posture of open-handedness in which we release our grasp on the urgent things in order to freely receive the essential things. Traveling light increases our capacity for exploration, and simplicity creates space for curiosity to fill.  I long to live open-handed, in hopeful expectancy as I release and receive as God wills. Then He stretches my faith in His limitless possibility. Open-handed anticipation seems, to me, the essence of worship.

Even though, years ago, my little girl’s bevy of questions irritated me at times, they endeared me to her childlike spirit. I remember her delight in discovery, her ability to be awed. This is the sort of faith which children of God aren’t meant to outgrow.

We’re born with an innate curiosity that compels us to explore, marvel, and believe there is more to life … I don’t want us to just be curious about God; I want us to be curious for more of Him. I believe that the goodness and wonders of God can amaze us, but it’s our curiosity for more of Him that propels us forward to experience more of His presence in our lives (Logan Wolfram, Curious Faith).

So I have begun to see curiosity as the anticipation of God’s movement. This can happen as I wash dishes at my sink and watch the butterflies dance with the flowers and the hummingbirds hover and dart, jockeying for position at the feeder.

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As these miniature wonders capture my attention, the Holy Spirit reminds me that the Heavenly Father is mindful of the tiniest of creatures and He’s promised to be all the more trustworthy for His children. And He never grows weary or irritable with our pursuit of Him.

God’s patience toward our curiosity remains constant even when our childlike faith is obscured with hard questions. Even as I long to travel lightly, I can’t dismiss the heaviness in our world – in my own soul.

I started blogging after my father was diagnosed with cancer. Although I had followed Christ for most of my life, I was never awed in anticipation of Heaven, to be honest. Maybe it’s kinda boring, I thought … Maybe things of this world have more excitement to offer.

But Daddy died, and to have any comfort at all, I started reading and writing about eternity.  I was curious for eternity. And curiosity offered forward movement.

Grief was my companion but powerless to keep me stuck in despair.  As I learn to be awed by the Lord of eternity in the here and now, this moving forward with hope cannot fail.

When I take time to really seek and consider the greatness of our God as He shows Himself on earth, I am increasingly certain that His eternal presence is anything but boring.

In A Hunger for God, John Piper writes: “If we don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because we have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because we have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Our soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”

Curiosity, in my mind, is the drinking deeply, and simplicity is the making room for the great. Together, they satisfy a thirsty pilgrim who learns to travel lightly.

May we not stuff our souls, like we stuff suitcases, with so many small things that we become distracted and burdened and miss the great things. Margins built into each day allow us to pause and breathe and seek God in the marvelous and in the mundane. This requires some unpacking of what we want and repacking of what we need (which I suspect is what we want most of all.)

Maybe this means that we unload unnecessary material possessions or a people-pleasing mentality or a tendency toward comparison or a reluctance to forgive.

And we repack a curiosity that turns us toward one another. If we become more genuinely curious about our neighbors and their perspectives, strengths, wounds, and needs, perhaps that curiosity will birth compassion in our souls, rather than competition or criticism. It gives us a lenses through which we see God’s glorious image in His children. May we hunger to observe and to listen and to understand and to love and to experience the manifestation of God’s glory in this way.

God’s table is offered here for all of us, here and now. Let’s meet one another in this spacious place to be simply curious and curiously simple for Him, and our brothers and sisters, together.

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Here are my favorite resources for traveling light and staying curious:

The Art of Simple by Tsh Oxenreider and a community of people who define “simple living” this way: living holistically with your life’s purpose.

Curious Faith: Rediscovering Hope in the God of Possibility by Logan Wolfram ~

“Sometimes we may not be able to fix what’s broken. But we can’t lose the capacity to walk curiously after the Lord just because we can’t make sense of everything that happens in a broken world. Hope and curiosity are still for us. And when we carry heavy things we have to believe that the redemptive work of the cross can and will be redemption enough. In the end, God always ends. He always restores. He always redeems.”

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Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World by Emily P. Freeman ~

“What if, instead of thinking we have to choose between our ordinary life and an extraordinary life, we began to realize they’re the same thing?”

“Let me hear Jesus whisper to me the lesson he taught the disciples, the one about praying for this day our daily bread, not bread to last the week. Let me believe him when he tells me the most important work I’ll do today is to receive the love he wants to give and then hand it out to others.”

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A prayer when we feel powerless

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

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This post is a prayer in response to the tragedy in Orlando and to words I wrote last week:

Lord Jesus, You tell us to speak on behalf of the powerless: the orphan, the widow, the outcast. We look to You, our Advocate, for the courage and conviction to go to the margins and open our arms. Jesus, You are our example and our guide when we need to speak against injustice and speak for the Imago Dei, every person created in the image of God.

But it’s increasingly and frighteningly clear that even the places where those of us in the prime of life go to learn, to worship, to gather with friends are no longer secure from just one person filled with hatred and bigotry.  God, this leaves us feeling powerless too. We need You. When we feel scattered and confused, we run to Your safe arms. Remind us that nothing happens apart from your power to redeem and rescue.

When it seems that we cannot relate in lifestyle or choice with those who have been targeted, Lord may we draw together in humanity. Forgive us for making distinctions, and give us courage and conviction to go beyond the safe lines we draw around where we feel comfortable. For all of us can relate with the experience of being human, being afraid, being needful of comfort and grace and someone to stand with us.

And in this world, sometimes we also feel powerless to do anything against the encroaching darkness. May we remember that the dark only exists in the absence of light.

Give us courage to be Your light in any way and any place where You lead us. Today that can happen in our homes, our workplaces, our grocery stores. We can shine for You in simple, small ways that will never make the news but can give someone a glimmer of hope that kindness, honor, and respect still exist in our world. For You are still here, You are still in control, and Your love always overcomes.

In You, Jesus, Love is the most powerful force in our world, and we will choose and live it to the full this day.

May Jesus Christ be praised. Amen.

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

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing. attributed to Edmund Burke

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Powerless

I wouldn’t call it “outrage,” but deep within I’m down, restless, antsy, tired. I think maybe you are too.

I visited mom today, and I struggle with this role reversal, this constant wondering if I am serving her well. Since mom fell, we hired home health care to assist with her personal needs. The quality of care, I’ve discovered, depends on the person working with her and varies greatly, as this particular agency has difficulty in finding a consistent caregiver. This morning, I was saddened and concerned with what I observed.  When I left, the word “powerless” came to my mind.

I’m not one to complain. If I order a salad without mushrooms, and it arrives with mushrooms, I will pick through my salad rather than send it back (I see this as a tendency to shrink back, something I’m not proud of).

But when competent care for a loved one is what’s not being delivered, it’s a much different matter, and I have to speak. And so, I am learning – slowly, reluctantly – to “complain,” to make the phone calls, to be that client, to give words to something that isn’t right.

Sometimes, I admit, this feels like an imposition – it cramps my style, it goes against the grain of who I am. Speaking up, for me, is uncomfortable. But today, I realized afresh that this situation isn’t about me at all. It’s about my mother, and her right to be treated with kindness and dignity. If I have to speak up, I need to remember that I am giving words for her as much as I am speaking words against someone else’s lack of care.

The ladies at the place where mom lives always say things like, “Oh, you have such a good daughter.” And I wince, because really, I can very much be that clanging gong in 1 Corinthians 13 who goes through the acts of service without the purity of love in my heart. And every day, I must ask Jesus to make my heart a receptacle into which He pours His love. I am a needful soul who deeply wants to get over herself and learn what it looks like to reflect the One who was our advocate when we were powerless.

For at just the right time, while we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Romans 5:6

And I am not alone. Especially today, I see it in us, a common and visceral reaction when people are stripped of dignity and are left to wonder if they have any worth, in the eyes of a society that is most interested in applauding and preserving the attractive, self-reliant, young, and strong. I see this very evidently as I scroll through my Facebook feed. You are using your voice to speak against a despicable crime against an incapacitated (at the time, powerless) woman and against the lack of accountability toward the perpetrator. And you should be. I join you in this.

Please, please understand that I am in no way comparing my mother’s situation to a sexual assault. My mother is not a victim of a crime.

But I am sad when I observe, in many ways and degrees, how the world sees human worth in conjunction with externals. Those who are capable of contributing to society enjoy an elevated degree of status, according to the world’s standards, while the weaker members are marginalized.

When this attitude seemingly crosses into the courts, where fairness and justice are expected to be upheld, we are rightfully angry.

From the incarnation to the Cross, Jesus identified with the vulnerable. The outcasts are the very people that Jesus, Himself a refugee child, sought out when He walked on earth and ushered in an upside-down Kingdom.

Like Jesus, we must resist the cultural way of preferring the powerful and pushing aside the powerless. Only the Gospel of Christ rightly defines human dignity. Our natural attraction to power is reframed at the Cross where Christ submitted Himself to weakness and death so that we may be reconciled to Him and our brothers and sisters as well.

And we must speak up. I want to be part of the response to the inequities. Like you, I want to speak against a cultural perspective that places people along a spectrum of power and worth.

Not everyone is powerless but it’s obvious in our society than some have less power than others. What would our world be like if this were not so?

Perhaps it would look like neighbor being for neighbor, regardless of zip-code or ethnicity. Men treating women like vessels of honor instead of pawns for pleasure. Women building each other up rather than backstabbing. Elderly persons participating in community rather than being cast to the margins. Refugees receiving welcome. A child who feels safe in a home.

Yes, sometimes we must speak against, but let us actively look for ways to speak for.  This doesn’t have to involve words at all. Sometimes it looks like listening. Sometimes it means looking away from a phone to meet one another eye to eye.

But may we remember that our tongues possess power, like a ship’s tiny rudder. Let us not give in to the lie of insignificance, for simple, heartfelt words or actions can steer a fellow traveler in the path of hope where she is no less than fully valued by Jesus, the all-powerful Lord of all.

Compassion


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A grateful prayer for teachers

 

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God, we thank You for the seed planters, those who hold kernels of knowledge with open hands and release them to the soil of the future.

Dedication spurs them to greet each early morning and prepare the ground for growth. The seed planters approach the learning fields, not knowing if the soil will be dusty and unyielding that day, or tender and willing. But faithfully they plant and wait for harvest. You supply vision and strength to press on, and we reap the benefits of their perseverance.

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The seeds are unique, and equally important. Some carry the fundamentals of letters or numbers or respect for authority or the discipline of waiting one’s turn. Other seeds bear the blueprints of equations or critical thinking or elements of composition.

Heavenly Creator, You are the source of all intricacies, patterns, origins and foundations of life. We thank You for the planters who bear Your image as they delight in design, pursue creativity, and inspire discovery.

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Every seed develops slowly, first downward before upward. We thank You for the planters who understand the importance of deep roots. We are grateful for the planters who understand that knowledge without character is a lacking goal. As they wait and as they invest in success beyond externals, we ask You, God, to supply wisdom, perspective, and patience.

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Some seeds will sprout for a time, until they are tested, and the soil will let them wither away. But other seeds will slowly reach down and then branch out – one word, one lesson at a time – until a life purpose rises from the soil and unfolds.

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We release our culturally-imposed pressures and we trust that growth progresses in Your time and in Your way. May the planters trust You with the fruits of their labors. And may the fruit-bearers hold kernels of knowledge with open hands and release them to the soil of the future.

Let us join You in speaking hope and purpose into the seed planters. The offering of the seed is difficult and sacred work. Let us, the parents and fellow investors and co-laborers, offer life-giving water, to sustain and refresh both the sowers and the soil. Into our fields – our children and our communities – spur us to cultivate Christ-like love and honor and respect.

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With grateful hearts, we thank You, God, for the teachers, the seed planters. Their every effort matters as an act of hope, an investment into a field that we may never see with earth-bound eyes. Yet, we trust and rejoice in the future harvest – for every seed, every enduring act of hope, every eternal harvest finds its source and sustenance in You.

May Jesus Christ be praised. Amen.

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a grateful prayer for teachers (2)

 


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Nothing to do with algebraic formulas (or what I learned in May)

Every May, students demonstrate what they’ve learned over the course of their classes. Our daughter just completed middle school with final exams, projects, and papers. And although I wouldn’t call it a “test,” May has been a time to examine what I’ve learned too (let’s just say that, unlike my daughter, it has absolutely nothing to do with algebraic formulas).

As I wrote in my what-I-learned-in-April post, spring is usually my favorite season of the year, but it’s been far from usual – meaning down in my soul. And May has been even more difficult.

But thanks to Emily (who asks us to share what we learn each month) and Candace Payne (aka Chewbacca lady), I’m learning to look for light-hearted, simple pleasures that might seem quite ordinary but which hold the potential to infuse gratitude, laughter, creativity, and beauty into daily life.

As Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” So here are a few random, creative, and soul-good things – with a couple of more serious reflections mixed in – that I’ve learned in May …

1 – Brian Hull is an amazing talent. Love, love this! I can’t decide which Disney/Pixar character in this version of Hello is my favorite. Watch and let me know which one you like the best …

2 – From the Disney Style website, you can download printable templates to decorate graduation caps (on the top of the mortar board). The designs feature The Incredibles, UP, The Lion King, and Tangled. Since the templates were introduced, creative grads from the class of 2016 have been sending in their own designs, including caps inspired by Peter Pan and Finding Nemo. You can see them {here.}

I’m thinking a Star Wars inspired cap would be far, far away the coolest.

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3 – There are 915,103,765 ways to combine a mere six, eight-stud LEGO bricks. What? This cannot be right. I simply can’t wrap my wee brain around this fact, but I read it on a visit to a Lego-inspired sculpture garden. I googled to confirm, and sure enough, a professor from the University of Copenhagen took 21 days to come up with all the formations. He estimates that it would take hundreds of years to determine all the combinations using nine or ten bricks.

So if you need an inexpensive idea to occupy your kids this summer, there you go.

4 – Brookgreen Gardens, where the Lego sculptures are on display, is a beautiful place to visit, if you’re ever in the Myrtle Beach, SC area. The hydrangea gardens are in full bloom in May. We met some barn animals too, including my favorite – a bashful little lamb.

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5 – A new study finds that engaging in the arts actively (writing, painting, cooking, singing) or receptively (listening to music, visiting a museum) for 2 hours per week improves overall mental health. I believe that the creator God wired us, in His image, with creative natures that find deep joy in reflecting and enjoying the processes of making things new.

There is always something to be thankful for. (2)

 

6 – March 17, 2017 is.the.day. My daughter and I have many feelings about the release of Disney’s live action version of Beauty and the Beast.  The dark and mysterious trailer is minimally perfect.  Out of darkness Lumiere asks, “What if she’s the one?” All the chills.

 

7 – “Appointment” is a part of disappointment. Faced with a circumstance that turned the opposite of what I had hoped, my initial reaction was to feel bitter and sorry for myself. But this time, gently – because He speaks truth with love – the Holy Spirit showed me that this response, an unwillingness to open my eyes and hands to His sovereignty in every delay and unmet desire, clenches my soul into a fist. But when I turn to Jesus with weary but open hands and confess, “I need you,” He appoints peace. He supplies patience.

This is not a one-time doing. It’s my daily choice to release what I thought was better and trust in God’s best.

When I’m disappointed by another person, an open-handed response says that I trust Jesus as unchanging, sufficient, and steadfast. When I’m disappointed by unfulfilled expectations, an open-handed response says that I trust that God supplies everything I truly need. When I’m disappointed in myself, an open-handed response says that I trust that I am no higher judge than Jesus who never condemns. And when I’m disappointed in God, an open-handed response acknowledges that He is God and I am not. Each of these disappointments hold in them an appointment through which I may grow in grace, if I will choose that response.

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For Mother’s Day, my daughter made me a sugar scrub with coconut oil, sugar, and vanilla extract. I enjoy and highly recommend it. But if you use such a scrub in the shower, be aware that it makes the floor quite slippery. I may or may not have learned this the hard way.

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Our brokenness is a better bridgefor people (2)

I had lunch for the first time with an acquaintance that I’ve known for a while. Through tears, she revealed painful secrets that I would have never suspected. As my heart ached for her, she said, “I feel funny telling you these things because you seem to have it all together.”

This stung. I’m not a person who has it all together and I don’t want to be. But I confess that I wrestle with the temptation to turn what I share on social media into a selective, filtered highlight reel. To know and be known without editing is scary. My daily life is one of hard and honest questions, weaknesses, frustrations, and sin. I don’t believe it’s always necessary to showcase these struggles on media outlets either, but somewhere there’s a delicate, discerning balance in what we reveal to the public eye.

Our time together was a reminder to reconnect with real life, face-to-face relationships. Through the rest of lunch, we had a deep-friend-level conversation about pain, community, and healing. I told my friend that I was more like her than she may have ever realized.

Sheila Walsh says, “My brokenness is a better bridge for people than my pretend wholeness ever was.” We need to build better bridges for one another. I recently wrote a post that made me queasy and twitchy with its vulnerability. I second-guessed it a hundred times, but it became by far my most-read post, and to be honest I’m not sure how I feel about that, other than raw.

But I’m learning that pretending that we have it all together prevents us from coming together.

Together, we need Jesus and we need to see how He chooses to heal our brokenness or He chooses to use it to draw us, and a needful world, to Him.

May, you have taught me well. Somewhere deep inside, there’s a Chewbacca lady who wants to laugh out loud and linger with your lessons (no mask required).

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I’m joining the “Let’s Share What We Learned in May” discussion at Emily’s site {emilypfreeman.com} today …

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