Close Up and Far Away

My husband always reminds me to “take the long view.” Everything eventually works out. I think about this when I’m particularly worried about the here and now. I see what’s in front of me, and I forget to take the long view. Things change. Things develop. I don’t need to rush my life or anyone else’s.

My eye doctor gave me some sample bifocal contact lenses. What a miracle! They allow you to see near just like bifocal lenses or reading glasses, but you can also focus far away. Having both near and far sight options keeps me attuned to this spiritual principle. Sure, I can focus close up and fret or get bogged down in details. But I can also lift my gaze and see far with an eternal perspective.

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The Thing They Think You Wasted

I love the account of Mary breaking the pound of expensive perfume to anoint the feet of Jesus. People try to shame her and exclaim, “Why this waste?” (Matt 26:8; Mark 14:4). I imagine the scene: Mary’s brother Lazarus is now alive; Jesus raised him to life. There’s a dinner in Jesus’ honor. Imagine it! If Jesus brought back a dead brother, what would you give? What would ever be enough? A dinner party? Some expensive perfume? I think of how Mary scurried around the house trying to consider her most precious, most valuable item.

In our day now, think of the miracle that we were “dead in our transgressions and sins. . . but because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ. . . ” (Ephesians 2). A miracle has also come to your household. Spiritual resurrection! What would you give in return for your own soul’s rescuing? Would you say to Jesus that you would give, say, and do anything? When you do, expect the rebuke from people who do not understand your zeal.

As you follow Jesus (perhaps onto the mission field; perhaps in surrender of your wealth; perhaps in surrender of your safety and comfort) you’ll hear it all: you’ve wasted your potential; you’ve wasted your degree, your money, your sanity. You’ve wasted your potential for fame and influence as you live a more hidden life. People will tell you how you could have been more or how you might have done great things. They’ll tell you how you’ve wasted something the culture values. They might even tell you that you might have served Jesus in another, more useful way. 

Jesus says, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me” (Mark 14:6). In fact, if you think about the wasted potential of the perfume’s financial impact, consider Jesus’ gift to the woman. He says, “Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” What better impact than this?

Romans 12 exhorts us not to follow the pattern of the world but to “be transformed by the renewing of our mind.” We’re told to “offer our bodies as living sacrifices.” What others see as waste, we see as holy sacrifice. What others see as waste, we see as worship.

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Too Harsh for You

We bring our potted plum indoors for a few days. With icy conditions and temperatures in the teens, we know the plum tree wouldn’t survive.

Each time I pass the plum tree, I remember that sometimes we must temporarily remove ourselves from situations we cannot withstand. Not every environment suits us. Not every opportunity matches what we need for growth. We can decline and say, “That wouldn’t be good for my soul!”

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Reentry

After four days of travel away from home, I attend to the task of reentry. I always feel better once I unpack my suitcase, start a load of laundry, eat a nice meal with my family, and start to catch up, little by little, on missed work. It takes a few days to feel rested and oriented back to home and work life.

During reentry periods, it matters to stay available to family members who want to have a long conversation, to resting, and to thinking carefully about what you can put off another day so you’re more refreshed. It’s a time to hydrate, eat vegetables and cleansing foods, and take brisk walks. It’s a time to prioritize unpacking and finishing laundry because it closes the door on the travel and opens the door back to your regular life.

Travel can be hard on the body. A reentry plan helps you transition back home and keeps you healthy.

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The Blessing at the Center

A dear friend sends me a quote about blessing from Johannes Pederson in Israel: Its life and Culture as quoted in Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. As I read the quote below, I remembered the Old Testament professor who said to our class, “Nothing matter more than the blessing of God. Everything was about securing the blessing.” We read this:

Blessing is not something external or ephemeral. Not a matter of having a good day, not an occasional run of luck. It is an “inner strength of the soul — and the happiness it creates. . .  the vital power, without which no living being can exist. Happiness cannot be given to a person as something lying outside him. . . The action of God does not fall outside but at the very center of the soul; that which it gives us is not something external, but the energy, the power of creating it. . . The blessing thus comprises the power to live in its deepest and most comprehensive sense. Nothing which belongs to action and making life real can fill outside the blessing… Blessing is the vital power, without which no living being can exist.” It is this that fills and surrounds the person who is on the way of faith.

My friend asked, “What about this connects with you?” (I love having friends who ask me questions like this!) I love that God’s blessing means we are living life “in its deepest and most comprehensive sense.” God’s blessing means we enter into abundant life that’s not external to us but in the “very center of our soul.”

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An Old Favorite: Keep a Quiet Heart

I’m reading a book by Elisabeth Elliot I’ve never read before, and it’s a perfect fit for where I am in life right now. It’s called Keep a Quiet Heart. 

This book is ultimately about surrender and what it means to fully trust in God in all circumstances. She writes this prayer for herself:

“Teach me to treat all that comes to me with peace of soul and with a firm conviction that Your will governs all.”

As I grow older, I’m learning to “keep a quiet heart” when external things start raging, going all wrong, or causing pain. It’s wonderful that God puts us on a path in life to help our heart learn this quiet, confident trust. His will governs all. When we truly believe this, we can see God’s provision and goodness covering our lives.

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On the Road in North Carolina

Last night I spoke to 400 Cru students at NC State. They are reading the book Sent, and I came to speak at their weekly meeting on the book. Afterwards, I connected with so many girls who wanted to meet and share about their lives. I love this part of writing and speaking: I love seeing real people and hearing their stories. What a joyful time of fellowship! Tonight I speak to professors who are gathering for a conference. I have loved seeing God at work as I follow Him on this adventure!

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So You’ll Know the Secret

Today I woke up thinking about Paul’s words in Philippians 4 about the secret to being content in all circumstances. He writes: I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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 all this through him who gives me strength.”

I considered how Paul learned this secret precisely because God put him in situations that required absolute dependence on God’s strength alone. How else would he, or we, learn the secret? Is it possible that our present need leads us to this secret?

I’m learning to thank God for every situation because of how it teaches me the secret of true contentment.

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And I Saw Their Faces

Today felt surreal but profoundly joyful. Penn State lifted their masking requirement in classrooms. For the first time in 2 years, I taught without a mask and could see my students’ beautiful faces. And they could see mine. The difference is hard to describe in words. We were fully present, seeing one another, and engaging with our full face in this authentic and delightful way. We heard each other more clearly as well.

My energy for teaching returned. Their energy for learning kicked in in fresh ways. We laughed. We listened to music. We celebrated with scones. The discussion flourished.

I think that teaching in a mask required more energy than I realized. I think my brain was trying to interpret so many things and worked too hard to evaluate a student’s emotions or responses to my teaching without enough data. When you see the whole face, you know immediately how a student is feeling and whether they are tracking with your lesson. For the first time in two years, I didn’t feel tired leaving class.

Today is a new day! (While some students chose to remain in masks, everyone was respectful and kind to one another.)

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Speaking of Risk

I’m learning about prosocial and positive risk. Consider the risk it requires to start a conversation with a potential new friend, to join a new club, to step into a new church? You might feel awkward or rejected, so the risk is real. That’s what makes these behaviors a risk. But it’s positive risk—risk with the potential for great reward.

Without risk taking, nothing changes. We don’t form new friendships. We don’t experience new things. We don’t ever turn the kaleidoscope of our lives. Take a positive risk. Risk every day.

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