Opening Wide Your Heart

This afternoon, I think of the curious phrase in scripture to “open wide [our] hearts” (2 Corinthians 6:12-14). I think, too, of the expression throughout Deuteronomy in particular that we are to love God “with all [our] heart.”

Open wide my heart? All of my heart?

Might I turn from a closed, half-hearted life? Might I go ahead and fling open the shutters?

Today felt like an opening-wide-my-heart kind of day. It’s a day to open my heart to the stories of students–their grieving, their fears, their issues. It’s a day to sit at the table with a cup of tea and wait, with a wide open heart, to sift through the days of my teen daughters. It’s a day to inhabit the new dreams of my husband, a day to carry the burden of a neighbor, and a day to not withhold myself from people.

I withhold myself when I’m tired or stressed out or when my tasks matter more than people. I withhold myself when I don’t perceive benefits to myself in certain interactions. If I’m fearful or suspicious, you get nothing from me. I withhold myself when I’m not honest about what I’m thinking and feeling.

But what about the other me, the one with a wide open heart who so bursts with love that what you offer me back doesn’t matter? This me stays open to insult, ridicule, and misunderstanding. It’s a risky kind of me.

I walk around the neighborhood with a wide open heart. I’ll love the dogs and the cats, the children and the elderly. I’ll love the one who calls on the phone.

I’ll open wide my heart. I’ll live a life generous in love.

And all along, I’m opening wide my heart to God. I’m giving all of me there is to give, in any way I know how.

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Coming Right Along

This year, our girls didn’t want to take the hayride out to the pumpkin patch. They’d rather grab a pumpkin near the warm building and be on with their lives. Still, I wanted the picture. In a moment, I remembered that, long before these girls came into my life, my husband and I enjoyed a life together. We’ll enjoy a life together long after they depart from our home.

So I had my daughter take a picture of him and me in the pumpkin patch.

Later, I realized how I’m no longer tracking the growth of these teens who stand nearly as tall as I with each passing season. They’ve matured already in so many ways. It feels like a new kind of autumn where family means older children who take the photo and plan the day.

What a wonderful new season! Some growth, however, I do still track; my Baby Ginkgo Tree stands sturdy and healthy. Today, I mark the beginnings of golden color. The new tree that will grow each year reminds me of the passage of time and the beauty of each changing season.

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Three Things I Learned

Today I learned three new things I never knew before:

  1. After finishing News of the World and reading a note from the author, I learned that children kidnapped by Native Americans on the Texas frontier who were then adopted by the tribes never wanted to return to their families. They quickly assimilated and, even when reunited with their original families, never readjusted back to their lives. I began to wonder what life was like for these adopted Native American children, and I spent time reading about how, most notably, life was all a spiritual experience for Native Americans. How different from our own childhoods. Every moment was spiritual and meant something spiritual. Everything in experience related to spiritual activity. This made me wonder about my own training to see all of life from the lens of divine activity and what a lost manner of living this quickly becomes.
  2. I learned that the crow and the owl are some of nature’s oldest rivals. I mention to a birding expert that I strangely saw an owl swooping down from the trees in the afternoon in my neighborhood. You feel chosen when you see an owl like this. The whole day becomes enchanted. “Well,” she asked, “Was it being chased?” I said, “Who would chase an owl?” and she said, “Crows.” I learn how they fight for nesting territory and how the sweet and majestic owl eats the crows’ babies. Horrified, I realized I cannot view owls the same. And I think of how sometimes the beautiful thing I’m seeing in nature might carry its own dark story. Beware!
  3. Finally, I read Spurgeon’s sermon “Hands Full of Honey.” With great delight I follow his teaching on Samson killing a lion and later finding honey in the carcass. Spurgeon encourages his congregation that sometimes we will find a lion on the path–some unexpected and overwhelming trial. With the power of the Holy Spirit, we will fight this lion. Later, we’ll find that in that very place of trail–within that carcass of pain–bees have come to make us the sweetest honey. And like Samson who gave the honey to his mother and father, we give of our sweet wisdom and joy to those around us.

Native Americans, owls, and honey. Living with flair means learning new things but then connecting them. If I realize that, like the Native Americans, every moment relates to something spiritual, I understand to take caution with those things that tempt me with their beauty or power–like the owl. And I consider how the trials of life will yield sweet honey that I can share with others.

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An Encouraging Quote from C.S. Lewis

I come across a quote from C.S. Lewis that I haven’t heard before. Lewis writes in a letter to the priest who marries him and Joy about her cancer diagnosis with the following words in the spring of 1959:

“We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”

This statement reminds me that God’s love often comes disguised as something painful.

(Written April 29, 1959 to Father Peter Bide, found in Letters of C.S. Lewis, edited by W.H. Lewis and Walter Hooper)

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This One Message

On the recommendation of a friend, I pick up News of the World, a novel by Paulette Jiles and finalist for the 2017 National Book Award set during the aftermath of the Civil War. As I follow a character who made a career of bringing newspapers to various communities and reading aloud the news of the world to live audiences who paid to hear whatever message he had to bring, I find myself mulling over a few lines.

The news reader, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, says this:

Maybe life is just carrying news. Surviving to carry the news. Maybe we have just one message, and it is delivered to us when we are born and we are never sure what it says; it may have nothing to do with us personally but it must be carried by hand through a life, all the way, and at the end handed over, sealed.

The idea captures my heart: Imagine if God sent you here with a message and that your whole life is this message from Him to the world. Imagine that you don’t know exactly what God is writing through the story of your life, but you know it’s in your heart, always forming and becoming more and more clear with each passing season. Imagine delivering this message. Imagine your mission is to live as honestly and faithfully as you can to carry this one message. More likely than not, this message will ring true across the generations–across time and place. And what is this news? This one message: God has loved you more than you could ever articulate. Through every joy and sorrow, He was writing a message of love.

Kidd’s idea that this message has nothing to do with you personally helps me think that this message extends far beyond our own little life or sense of self. God’s love is bigger than my world and my time in history. It’s a message that the messenger cannot fully contain. It’s a message that, like the message post-Civil War riders carried at any cost, matters more than the messenger. The message was the point. The rider just carried it.

The message is about Jesus, and I carry it as I can.

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Old, Old Books

At the Penn State library, I request this book on the life and works of Charles Spurgeon. It’s an old book from 1890, and I love it.

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Better Than Expected

This morning in our prayer journal, my daughter asks for something that seems like a true flair moment. She says, “Mom, pray that this day is better than I’m expecting.”

I remind her of the verse that adorned my own wedding program from Ephesians 3:20-21: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

Driving in the car to school, I proclaim the truth:

God is able to do immeasurably more than you are even able to imagine today!

Whatever we’re expecting today, God can overcome our doom and gloom and do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. My daughter asked for a day that was better than her expectations, and I pray that for us all, too.

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Keep Pressing On

Today I remember that God invites us to persevere–to stay under the weight of difficult things–by providing His Holy Spirit as our strength. If we’re in a season of persevering, certain rituals matter deeply. We stay in God’s word; we ask for the Holy Spirit to control and direct our lives; we die to self; we keep our minds on things above; we nourish our bodies with good food and exercise to stay healthy; we sleep; and we gather with loved ones who don’t mind the weather in our particular season of life.

God isn’t making a mistake or ignoring you. He’s inviting you to persevere. And remember this beautiful promise:

Allow perseverance to finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. ~James 1:4

Soon, you’ll feel begin to feel differently; you’ll find you’re further down the trail:  more mature, more complete, almost not lacking anything.

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When Nothing’s Happening

These last few days, I’ve taken comfort in a simple declaration of Jesus in John 5:17. He writes, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” The notion that the “Father is always at work” and that Jesus, too, is working allows me to rest when I don’t see any growth or change in areas where I feel stuck or confused.

I might not see the work of God, but He is always working. God is working here. 

When nothing’s happening, I remember God is working.

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