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To Know that We Are Loved


Ken Gire quote

All of us at some time or another have wandered away from our best self, gotten disoriented, become lost, and found ourselves on the outside. Our greatest need as humans is to know that we are loved, even out there, regardless of how we got there. …

By leaving the host of heaven and coming to earth that one holy night, the Good Shepherd was saying to each of us: “You are loved. You are worthy of my pursuit. Worthy to be rescued. Worthy to be carried on my shoulders, to be rejoiced over all the way home.” – Ken Gire, “Relentless Pursuit”

Maybe we didn’t even feel that we wandered away. Or didn’t want to wander. Or didn’t realize that is what we had done with our decisions and steps. Life had gotten the better of us, as it does. With a life to earn and a family to deserve. With deadlines and emergencies and unexpected expenses. Expensive to the heart and soul often more than to the pocketbook or budget. And one day we wake up and wonder, “How did I get here?” Or maybe even, “Where is here?”

And we feel alone. At work. At the dinner table. In church. At a party. It doesn’t matter. There is the world and everyone in it. And there is you. Stuck on the outside, somehow. Unable to find your way back in. Unsure that inside is where you even want to be.

And so many questions filter through your mind. You are more concerned about whether they are even worth asking to determine whether they are ultimately answerable. Sometimes you wonder, even if you were found, would you want to be? Or would you want to remain hidden, where it’s safer? Where no light shines on the questions in your heart, illuminating the confusion of life and all that is in it.

And without realizing it, you are crying out into the cold and storm of the darkest night.

And before knowing it, you are picked up and wrapped in warmth against the bleeding cold.

You are told that you are loved.

That there is a place you can not only call home, but feel home. Know that you are home. In your heart, no matter where you find yourself. In the love of the one who sought you out, heard your silent call, swept you into His heart that bled for you. And loved you … loves you … just as you are.

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2016 in Love, Thoughts on Thoughts

 

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Hope … He Will Come at Last


Frederick Buechner on Hope

I think it is hope that lies at our hearts and hope that finally brings us all here. Hope that in spite of all the devastating evidence to the contrary, the ground we stand on is holy ground because Christ walked here and walks here still. Hope that we are known, each one of us, by name, and that out of the burning moments of our lives he will call us by our names to the lives he would have us live and the selves he would have us become. Hope that into the secret grief and pain and bewilderment of each of us and of our world he will come at last to heal and to save. – Frederick Buechner

He will come, yes, and He has come. and that is why that ground on which we stand is holy. Why the people to whom we speak and with whom we interact every day are sacred. For all are made in His image, in the image of the one who did not give up on a fallen creation. In the image of the one who sacrificed the purest and sweetest and most wondrous thing — Himself — to redeem all things to Himself once more. To bring new life and joy by His love and promise to make all things new.

We are called on by hope. Not a nebulous, vague, and random hope. Not a hope that is mere wishful thinking. But hope that fires the imagination and fires the purpose. Hope that rests in the truth of a perfect Love that descended into the dark forests of this world to seek and save. To bring us Home again.

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2016 in Heartache & Hope, Quotes, Thoughts on Thoughts

 

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A Story Worth Telling


Frederick Buechner quote

The Christian faith … is not a theological idea or a religious system. It is a series of largely flesh-and-blood events that happened, are happening, will happen in time and space. For better or worse, it is a story.

It is well to remember because it keeps our eyes on the central fact that The Christian faith always has to do with flesh and blood, time and space, more specifically with your flesh and blood and mine, with the time and space that day by day we are all of us involved with, stub our toes on, flounder around in trying to look as if we have good sense. In other words, the truth that Christianity claims to be true is ultimately to be found … not in the Bible, or the church, or theology — the best they can do is point to the truth—but in our own stories.

If the God you believe in as an idea doesn’t start showing up in what happens to you in your own life, you have as much cause for concern as if the God you don’t believe in as an idea does start showing up.

It is absolutely crucial, therefore, to keep in constant touch with what is going on in your own life’s story and to pay close attention to what is going on in the stories of others’ lives. If God is present anywhere, it is in those stories that God is present. If God is not present in those stories, then they are scarcely worth telling. ~ Frederick Buechner

What we all hope, I think, is that eventually … somehow … we have a story worth telling. We create a story worth telling. But so often what we fail to see is that the story is being created, written, today. This moment. In the meeting that lasts far too long or in the child who wakes up far too early on a weekend (and wakes everyone else in the household). In the perfect job that downsizes unexpectedly or the perfect relationship that is suddenly far from perfect. In the gray-eyed man holding a cardboard sign on a wintry day.

All part of a story. Your story. My story. What is being told? What is being written down?

What am I writing? Do I even recognize it as a story? Or a random jumble of experiences? Sorrows and joys. Meaningless and coincidental. It takes no skill to let the days fly past, turn the pages of the calendar, switch off the alarm and stumble into the morning without recognizing the story unfolding.

But then something happens. A sunburst of sorrow. Or a moonlit moment of magic. And suddenly the words are clear. And the Voice Who speaks them.

But only for an instant. As if a veil was lifted … just for your eyes to see. Just for that moment to experience.

But something about it lingers. A thread hemming the days that continue to fly past. They’re not meaningless, the sorrows and the joys. It is a story. A thousand stories. A million. And yet one. Overarching and underwriting every moment. Every experience.

And in them all, God is present. Or seeks to be. And that presence makes every story worth the telling.

 

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When the Heart Skips a Beat


Howard Macy quote

All the while we have been pursuing God he has been rushing toward us with reckless love, arms flung wide to hug us home. God aches for every person, for every creature, indeed, for every scrap of life in all creation to be joined again in the unity that was its first destiny. So while we are crying out, “Where are you, God?” the divine voice echoes through our hiding places, “Where are you?” … God’s initiating presence may be ever so subtle–an inward tug of desire, a more-than-coincidence meeting of words and events, a glimpse of the beyond in a storm or in a flower–but it is enough to make the heart skip a beat and to make us want to know more.

“Where are you?”

Such an odd question for an omnipresent God to ask. In all places at all times.

Such an odd question for an omniscient God to ask. All-knowing.

“Where are you?”

Almost as though, as He walked in the cool of the day with His beloved creation, He let go of the knowledge and power for a moment in time and allowed Himself to experience life to the full beneath the setting sun. Or perhaps, as many parents would do when they know exactly what their children have been up to but choose to ask a question instead, He was giving Adam and Eve the chance to reveal themselves. To tell the truth. To come out of hiding.

They did, in a way. In part, at best. But nothing was ever the same again after that day. A day one of my kids’ devotionals refers to as “the very sad day.”

“Where are you?”

And so often, we continue to hide. Within our houses or workplaces or even churches. Behind others, or our culture or accomplishments. It’s so hard to stand straight before the Voice in the wind calling through history and beyond time, beckoning and chasing with sure step.

As we continue to hide, He continues to call. Perhaps He did not, in the Garden so long ago, let go of His knowledge and power to see the evening through the eyes of His creation. But He did one day, one silent night. Shedding robes of Heaven’s royalty, donning the torn garment of mankind. Stepping into the pressing confines of time and space to truly seek and find that which was lost.

“Where are you?”

So that in so many things we may hear His voice, by His grace choose to answer, and through His love find our way Home again.

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2016 in Thoughts on Thoughts

 

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When the Powerful is the Powerless


Frederick Buechner quote

How can something be the most powerful … and yet the most powerless? Strange dichotomy. It would make no sense in philosophies or perspectives or a political stance on life. It would sound wishy-washy or archaic or plain old stupid. But it makes sense if the strange dichotomy is a person.

And it is.

The most powerful. Creator who spoke the universe into existence with words of life. Who blew breath into the lungs of a man and a woman, and of every man and woman, boy and girl, baby … who has entered the world since that time.

Who then entered the world as one of those babies. With breath and flesh and blood and bones. And little more than a fool’s promise and a few hundred prophecies to fulfill.

The most powerful calming storms of the seas and storms of the heart. Calling a girl to rise from the dead and a woman to rise from her shame. Speaking words of truth mingled with the strangest blend of grace.

The most powerless strung on a cross between two other crosses, grasping for every tortured breath until he breathed his last.

And then, upon rising, once again the most powerful … yet still the most powerless. For He waits on the consent of every human heart.

Such mystifying polarity. Such majestic poetry. The love of the Son of God. The Son of Man. The one called Jesus.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2016 in Thoughts on Thoughts

 

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Hide and Seek with God


Ralph Waldo Emerson quote

 

I love reading stories. I love writing them. Stories reveal so much about people. So much about ourselves. It’s why we read, why we engage in a page-turner, why we stay up far past bedtime to finish a riveting book. Because of the characters. What choices are they going to make? Will they transform because of the challenges they face? Will they make the right decisions? Will he finally reveal his love? Will she confess that she loves him too?

What motivates these characters, we ask, as if in realizing it we can somehow, hopefully, understand what motivates us. We love the characters we read about on the page. We love the characters we carefully craft in our minds, and that come to life and develop personalities of their own as we write about them.

But in doing so, in reading and writing, we must be careful of one thing. The poet Emerson hints at it in the quote above: “God hides things by putting them near us.”

Author Ken Gire reflects on it more clearly in his book, Seeing What is Sacred:

To better love God and other people is the goal of the reflective life. But before we can love them, we must see them. And we must see them not as we would like to see them or as they would like to be soon. We must see them as they are. … Jesus looked beyond appearances. He saw the hurt inside. And He touched it, ever so gently, to bring healing and wholeness.

What is that one thing we must be careful of? We writers? We readers? Me? That I do not admire and align our hearts with characters on paper so completely that I fail to see with eyes of wonder the beautiful characters God has “hidden” in plain sight.

My husband, who always responds with heart and hands and mind whenever a problem presents itself, so willing to take on more to lessen the burden of others.

My daughter, whose eagerness to tell me about everything in her day can reveal to me so much of who she is and what she cares about … but only if I listen.

My older son, who listens and observes rather than rushes and speaks. He reminds me of myself when I was young in that sense. And I know how deep those “still” waters run. But how often do I draw them out?

My younger son, who responds with passion so many times throughout the day. Excitement. Indignation. Anger. Jumping-up-and-down joy. So what if his exuberance in facing a weekend morning gets him (and me) up far earlier than I would have hoped?

My siblings, near and far, living their lives and fighting their set of battles. My parents, still as dedicated to their family and faith as ever. My friends, my classmates, my students, my coworkers.

Not characters on a page, but breathing, dreaming, hurting … living creations of God. Souls He loves and fashioned in His image. Walking and interacting in this world we all call home for so short a time … but for so long in that it is all we see and know and all that so many believe in.

So easily hidden by their very proximity. So easy to overlook or forget about or fail to love.

But He gives us reminders. In His own story of stopping for one.

  • A widow who had also lost her son. Just one. But Jesus brought the son back to life.
  • A woman caught in sin and slandered. Just one. But Jesus spoke words that set her free.
  • A rash follower who denied Him at His lowest moment. Just one. But Jesus called him to His side again and set him on an unparalleled path of service and ministry.

He gives us hints in those moments we feel, for an instant, that we are looking at someone with new eyes. With wonder. With grace. As though some veil is lifted or shifted aside and we see the essence of an immortal, God-created soul. Scholar Abraham Heschel wrote, “The awe that we sense or ought to sense when standing in the presence of a human being is a moment of intuition for the likeness of God which is concealed in his essence.”

The likeness of God. Surrounding us. Walking beside us. Sleeping next to us. (Sometimes crawling into bed because of a bad dream and then tossing and turning most of the night.) Sitting in class. (Sometimes making side comments rather loudly when we’re trying to hear the instructor.) In the car behind us at a stop light. (Or ahead of us because they swerved right in front of us without using their turning signals.)

Many times throughout the day, these little inconveniences caused by “other people” get to me. I grow frustrated and impatient far more quickly than I should. I imagine I’m not alone in these reactions. But they’re not characters. They’re immortal beings, cased in frail flesh, loved passionately by a God who died so that every soul might be transformed by His sacrifice.

What a wonder that you and I are given the privilege to walk the world with people created in the very image of God. What a wonder that we, too, are fashioned and loved and called His own.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2016 in Thoughts on Thoughts

 

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Searching for a Hidden Aroma


Frederick Buechner quoteMy photography class, a few semesters ago, was on the far side of the college campus, a quieter spot with trees scattered nearby and outside benches. I rarely had time to sit down outside though, because I was often running late from the previous class. I always sat in the back of the classroom, on the right side. It was a normal classroom, with normal sights and smells, but in every class, I caught a whiff of pine. Not a single pine, but like a pine forest. A single pine tree doesn’t have that rich smell.

It wasn’t a pine-tree scented car decoration. Those don’t have a natural smell. This was the real thing, an aroma of pine. Because pine forests are one of my favorite scents, I wanted to search out that smell, find out where it was coming from. A window letting in air from the roof where a carpet of pine needles had fallen? Why would such a pungent, lovely aroma be in the middle of an every classroom?

Frederick Buechner said we are like that … or should be. An unexpected whiff of a pine forest in the middle of a city. Or as he put it, “…the fragrance of a rose on the other side of the street with all the world in between.” But still, it is a scent of the real thing. Not a sample. Not a man-made concoction that smells somewhat like it, but the real thing. That makes someone sit up and say, “Hey, I know that smell. I know that fragrance. I need to find it.”

All of us know that fragrance deep inside even if we have never seen it before, never heard it, barely felt it. Still, deep inside, we desire the real thing that only one thing can fill. Just like we catch glimpses of that great and overarching Story in the myriad of stories we see lived around us. Stories that we ourselves live or try to live as best we can.

And maybe even the greatest story we write will only serve as a parody … just as the greatest words we speak or greatest life we live is still only nothing more than a moment’s glance, a fleeting touch, an aroma in the air one second and gone the next. Yet still, those who sense that transitory essence will seek, by God’s grace. They will catch that scent of wonder and search for the real thing.

And they will find it. They will find Him. He will be waiting with arms wide open.

“Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:14-17).

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2016 in Thoughts on Thoughts

 

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