Personal Development

The Dash Between the Years

Blog_TombstonesI once saw a beautiful online photo tribute a man made for his wife. It was a series of black and white pictures chronicling their relationship, her battle with cancer, and her eventual death. In the first picture, they’re sitting side by side on the front stairs, soda bottles in hand, full of life. The final pictures are haunting. One looks through a car windshield on a rainy day to the hearse up ahead. The other is of a tombstone.

What haunted me most was the name on the tombstone. It’s mine. And the years on either side of the dash. She was young. Not much older than me.

We never really know how old we are. An eighteen year old might be older than an eighty year old, depending on how much time is gifted to them on this earth. My husband’s dear grandma lived to be 107 years old.  I met her when she was 84 and still going strong, dancing up a storm and smoking her cigarettes backward. (She since gave up smoking, proving it’s never too late to quit!). She was younger when I met her than some of my peers who’ve since moved on from this life.

The question that remains is this: what will I do with that small dash between the years? However short or long it may be, I want to do something meaningful. I want to live fully, to love deeply. I want to give my life for something that matters. Something that will outlast me. I can’t be satisfied to go through the motions one more day.

The woman in the pictures clearly lived a beautiful life, short as it was. She left behind people who love her and feel the pain of the gap she’s left behind. I don’t want to leave this world unnoticed. I don’t want to leave the world unaffected by my being here. But I know it’s not always the big things that matter. More often, it’s the little things that add up to the dash between the years.

“Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is. You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath. We are merely moving shadows, and all our busy rushing ends in nothing. We heap up wealth, not knowing who will spend it. And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in you.” (Psalm 39:4-7)

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The Other Side of Pain

Blog_MorningSo often we take the sun for granted, only to complain when it doesn’t shine.  What we forget is that the sun never fails to shine—there are just days when we can’t see it because it’s hidden behind the clouds.  If you’ve ever been in an airplane on a cloudy day, you know that once you’re above the clouds, the sun is still there—faithfully shining, as always.

In life, we tend to take the good for granted, only to complain when trials come.  We think that God has stopped working in our lives simply because we can’t see Him clearly.  He is hidden behind our trials; shrouded by our circumstances.  But if we lift up our eyes, we will see that He is always there, faithfully laboring in love to bring forth good from our suffering.

There is always another side to our pain.  There is always a place where we will break through the clouds and see the sun—if only we will lift up our eyes.  There will always be a time when we come out the other side of our dark tunnel and find it was leading us somewhere far greater than we ever imagined.

Maybe there’s a purpose for all that you’ve lost—that in searching to find it again, you’ll discover something of far greater value.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

(Originally posted by Jen on “Tears of Joy” Blog)

Weather Wimps, Beware

Weather Report from Bing Images If you live somewhere close to the equator, you may think you have it made. You don’t have to worry about blizzards, shoveling, snow days, or sub-zero temperatures. The weather reports are so boring where you live, it’s a wonder the meteorologist doesn’t fall asleep on the job. Eighty degrees and sunny all week, every week is not all that interesting. You may even have become a bit snobby about your warm weather location, boasting without reservation on social media while the rest of us suffer chronic hypothermia and mid-winter depression.

Maybe I’ve become bitter about the weather situation where I live. Literally. Because I’ve not-so-affectionately coined a phrase for all the warm-climate snobs out there. Weather Wimps.

Yes, Weather Wimps. You may never have to scrape ten-inch thick ice sheets from your car windows while icicles form in your nostrils and your long johns freeze to your thighs, but you don’t know what it is to endure the harsh reality of inclement winter weather. We in the Midwest are durable. We know how to survive the breath-choking heat of summer and the bone-chilling cold of winter, all in the same year—sometimes in the same month. We know how to layer up, and we know how to cool down. And our city infrastructure doesn’t shut down over a light dusting of snow.

You Weather Wimps will never know the rewards of our great suffering. Out here, we appreciate spring. We don’t take the sun for granted. The first green tree buds of the year are enough to make us pause and breathe thanks. A fragrant flower is not to be ignored. After a few months of frostbite-inducing cold, we wear a spring breeze like a royal garment. The heat of summer soon scorches relentlessly, but we get to witness an explosion of fall colors and treasure the crisp autumn air in the months to follow.

Midwestern weather patterns more realistically resemble human relationships. In every relationship, there’s the newness of spring, the scorching heat of summer, the beautiful yet mournful death of fall, and the frigid winds of winter. Weather Wimps, beware. If you approach relationships the way you approach your weather reports, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. No relationship is as perfect as a Southern California day. Relationships are rough-hewn and rugged. More like…a typical Chicago forecast.

True love is unfailing. It doesn’t cave when storms rush in. It doesn’t hibernate when emotions run cold. It’s as steadfast as a Midwesterner trapped in a polar vortex. Weather Wimps, take heed. You may be gloating over there, in your heated outdoor pool while we shovel our walks for the thousandth time. But you have something to learn from us Midwesterners. And it’s not just about the weather.

True Love…is UNFAILING (Day 27, #50ShadesOfTrueLove)

Decaffeinated

Coffee Heart from Bing Images There are those who like coffee, and those who are obsessed. My friend was among the obsessed. For her, coffee was not just one of life’s perks, it was life. Her friends and I would fuel her caffeine addiction by making sure she had her daily doses before a meltdown ensued. Why? Because we loved her, of course.

Her habit persisted until a doctor ruled her beloved beverage a detriment to her health. She had a certain condition that didn’t mix well with coffee, so it was off-limits for the time being—much to her dismay. Saying goodbye to her daily cups-o’-joe would not be easy on her. Or her friends.

Each day, she came up with her list of reasons why she needed her coffee to survive, and we had to remind her what the doctor said. It would seem so loving just to give her what would make her happy. But with her diagnosis, the caring thing to do was to be honest about the potential negative side effects.

Now, coffee is not bad for everyone, and—to the joy of caffeine lovers everywhere, doctors have more recently noted some positive effects. But at the time, for the good of our friend, as much as we wanted to shower her with gift cards to her favorite coffee shop, the loving thing to do was to help her make changes that would benefit her health.

In our closest relationships, we may come to know someone well enough that we see habits that could potentially hurt them. And it’s likely they will see the same in us. We may be tempted to keep quiet, thinking the loving thing is to let them go on doing whatever makes them happy, even if it leads to the edge of a dangerous cliff. But true love is honest. If we really love someone, we’ll speak up—not in judgment, but in gentle concern for their well-being.

True Love…is HONEST (Day 18, #50ShadesOfTrueLove)

Holding Out for a Hero

Superhero from Google ImagesConfession. I’m an 80’s child, and I watched Footloose. The original version. More than once. And just tonight it hit me how ironic it is that they would play “Holding Out for a Hero” as the background song for a chicken race with tractors. Note that the “hero” in question wins only because his shoelace is stuck around the gas pedal. And he nearly kills his opponent in the process. Nevertheless, Wren’s crush eventually sees this victory as proof that he is the hero she’s been waiting for all along. Who needs a knight in shining armor when you can get the guy who risks his life for chicken race glory?

The song begs the question…what is a hero? Is it someone who will do foolish, even dangerous, things? Is it someone who can prove himself under pressure? Is it someone who will trample over every obstacle in his way to get what he wants?

True love is heroic. It will sacrifice its very life for the sake of others. As for the guy in the movie, his motives were pretty self-serving. Get the friends, get the girl, get the glory. He tried to overcome peer pressure by succumbing it, which is really pretty wimpy. And it almost cost his life and that of his opponent. Not too heroic.

And since we’re on the theme 50 Shades of Love this month, let me just say this: Christian Grey is a wimp. There, I said it. No, I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, but I don’t live in a cave. I’ve heard the buzz. And I can’t figure out why women are swooning over a guy who would be so un-heroic as to brutally beat a girl while attempting to buy her love in return. The guy’s backstory is no excuse—it’s just there to give the reader some sympathy for a guy who’s truly a villain. No hero would torture his beloved, no matter how tortured his past.

So let me present the truest of true heroes. His name is Jesus, and He gave everything to show his love to the world. He once intervened on behalf of an adulterous woman whom the town was set to execute—rescuing her life and setting her free. His self-proclaimed mission in life was to bring good news to the poor, free prisoners, heal the blind, and empower the oppressed. Though he was innocent of wrongdoing, he suffered and died to win our hearts. Now THAT’S what I call heroic. And THAT’S what I call true love.

True Love…is HEROIC (Day 4, #50ShadesOfTrueLove)

A Love that Satisfies

AJ_Hearts

Lonely Heart from Google Images

There was a woman so despised and rejected that she lived in the shadows of her own world. When she needed water from the well, she went only when everyone else was gone. She didn’t want to interact with anyone, because those interactions left her feeling branded, guilty, shameful and worthless.

Most of her life, she searched for love in empty wells—in human relationships destined to run dry. Her source of significance was her beauty and the acceptance of the men she attracted because of it. But it was a trap. After several broken relationships, she had become the scorn of society. And still, she hadn’t found the water she was looking for—the kind of love that could quench her thirst and replenish her soul.

One day at the well, she met a man who knew everything about her, yet loved her with a love that was different from any man she’d met. He wasn’t pursuing her for what she could offer him, and he wasn’t condemning her for what she’d given away to others. This man was offering a love that could transform her completely and eternally, that would change her appetites and restore her dignity.

His name was Jesus. And His love is a well that never runs dry.

We often spend our lives in futility, running after things that only leave us weary and dry. Exhausted from empty pursuits, we collapse before the well meant to quench our thirst. Yet we keep digging, pursuing and laboring in vain—never realizing that our hearts are waiting for love…a love that completes us and satisfies eternally.

God alone can fill that empty void in our hearts. He alone can bring purpose and meaning to our lives. The world may leave us dry, but God’s love is a well springing up to eternal life. When we find it, we find our purpose. We find our healing and our deliverance. We find what we’ve truly been waiting for.

“Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ ” (John 4:13-14)

True Love…INFINITELY SATISFIES (Day 2, #50ShadesOfTrueLove)

(Originally Posted by Jen on the Tears of Joy Blog as “Waiting for Love”)

The Gift of Love

It’s tempting to succumb to feelings of inadequacy and insignificance when I compare my life with those who are considered successful according to cultural standards.  The world is filled with talented singers, musicians, athletes, authors and superstars, and overflowing with doctors, lawyers, philanthropists, politicians and leaders.  My life just doesn’t seem to measure up in the light of those who are recognized for their great abilities and accomplishments.

Yet there is a gift of greater value that supersedes all of the most coveted abilities, talents and positions.  It’s a gift that anyone can pursue, and the only gift that has lasting significance.  This gift is called “love,” and God’s Word elevates its status to the greatest of all gifts.  Without it, our abilities and accomplishments are inadequate and insignificant.

Love is to be desired above all things.  A life of love is greater than anything the world defines as a worthy pursuit.  And that which is done in the spirit of love has eternal value.

I’ve always desired to be really good at something, only to find I’m just “average.”  But love has the power to make the average extraordinary.  I may not be the greatest writer or singer.  I may not be the smartest or most athletic.  And I may not be a well-known philanthropist or leader.  Still, I can endeavor to love with all my heart, soul and strength.

The world has enough “successful” people, but too few who know how to love.  Imagine the difference we’d make if we chose to fully love all of those within our sphere of influence.  Such love would be a greater contribution to our world than any of the greatest missions in history.

God says “we love because He first loved us.”  It’s impossible for us to love perfectly.  But the God who loves us with supernatural, sacrificial and unfailing love, can enable us to love completely.

Lord, Your love is to be desired above all gifts, because it is the only thing that makes all other gifts of any worth. If You must, strip me of my gifts and talents…only enable me to love and endow me with the capacity to demonstrate that love in practical ways to everyone within my sphere of influence. Amen

(Originally posted by Jen on Eternal Encounter as “The Greatest Endeavor” & Tears of Joy as “Gift of Love”)