When You’re Just Shy of Feeling Fulfilled

urban mirrorI don’t love looking in the mirror.  When I’m walking down the sidewalk and pass a full-length window, I take a deep breath and focus my gaze forward.  Every time.  I know I have partners in this.

But I’d much rather look at myself in the mirror than see my heart in one.

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Proverbs 4:23

I grew up hearing preachers equate our check book ledgers as proof of what’s important to us.  I agree — my bank statements show I love food and modern utilities and traveling and education and clothes and random bits of home decor.  I’d be a tad embarrassed if you saw my spending, but not really ashamed.

But put a mirror in front of my heart and mind — in front of my deepest privacy masked by a smile — and I don’t think I could bear it.

What you’re longing for — what you spend time thinking and dreaming about, planning and hoping for — radically impacts your fulfillment.

Sometimes I look around at my blessings and still find myself just shy of feeling fulfilled, wondering if what I do or accomplish or have will ever be enough.  Put a mirror in front of my heart and you may just have to look away.  I certainly would.  The discontentment might be too much for you to bear… especially if you can relate.

What do we repeatedly find weaving itself into our thoughts?  These quick moments — over and over — eventually turn into daydreams.  And then into plans.  And when those plans remain but a dream, they command center-stage of our thoughts, becoming all too important.

Oh, how unmet expectations can be so dangerous.

Just across the sea from Greece, in the ancient town of Colosse, broken Christ-followers wrestled with the same mess.  If you have been raised up with Christ, Paul wrote, keep seeking the things above… Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth. Colossians 3:1-3

Keep seeking.  I’ll try to grab the on-going choice, for when I forget there’s a battle waging for my heart, the daydreams creep in again.  And turn to plans.  And become unfulfilled dreams.  And on and on and on.

And the silent whining and bitterness could cause almost any looking glass to crack.

When You Want to Reconcile the Drama

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I remember the struggle during my first pregnancy.  September 11, 2001.  The due date of my son was just three months away.

What are we thinking bringing a child into this world?  Into this brokenness? I pondered, feeling inadequate.  Foolish.  Fearful.

But he came, and his sister followed two years later.  And brokenness still rages outside our home.  It rages inside our own walls sometimes.  But redemption is big.  And my babies are a part of it.  Already.

Thousands of years ago, Christ’s ancestor carried twin boys.  Rebekah was no fool.  She had heard stories of pregnancies, but she knew — she knew — something bigger was going on within her womb.

She didn’t run to the midwife.  Or to her friends who’d tell her what she wanted to hear.  Or to the wisdom of the ancient world.

No, she knocked on the Door of Wisdom.  And, oh my goodness, He answered her and trusted her with news of Israel’s future.  Trusted her, a woman, a pregnant woman living in the ancient Middle East.

My God — He’s so counter-cultural.  Even back then.

But the children she carried struggled and fought with each other until, in great pain, she exclaimed, “What is going on? Why is this happening to me?”  In frustration she inquired of the Eternal One why this civil war was occurring inside of her.  Two nations are growing inside of your womb, and the two peoples will be divided in the future.  One will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.  Genesis 25:22, 23

Heavy stuff for a pregnant woman to ponder — two children, struggling against each other already.  And the future looked all the more complicated.

Bless her.  Bless Rebekah’s little hormonal, emotional, nesting heart.  Her present struggle foreshadowed even greater drama and family tension and messiness.

(Take a moment to consider: the Eternal Rescuer came from this family line.  From this shame.)

And I want to escape the drama of today, but He pulls me back to it.  I was made in His image.  I was made to redeem.  I was made to restore.  Made to know Him who calls me His own.

Yet I run again to idols to help make sense of it all.  I grab books off the shelf and read man’s self-help wisdom.  I scan social media for tips on creating, and restoring, and making beauty in the world.  I try to fix the messiness by seeking that which isn’t so threatening.  But really, I’m just disengaging with what should truly hold my attention.

I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be liberated, will go in and go out, and will find pastures. The thief approaches with malicious intent, looking to steal, slaughter, and destroy;I came to give life with joy and abundance.”  John 10:9,10

So I follow Rebekah to the Door.  To the Giver of Answers.  To the Giver of Peace when there are no answers.

I don’t even have to knock.

How Picking Up Pennies in the Projects Became Meaningful

20090328_pennies_0010fb1(All children’s names in this post have been changed.)

It was a simple farewell gift, but I held it close to my heart after opening it — literally.  A penny in a frame.  Just one penny in a teeny, tiny frame.  All meaningful gifts have stories behind them.  And so, of course, this one had a story, too.

Years ago I was a director for a drug and crime prevention program.  While our agency also worked with school-aged children, my program was similar to Head Start, targeting three to five year-olds.  On paper we were a “Kindergarten Readiness Program” for at-risk children living in government-housing.  But in real life, well, we did all sorts of things.

Yes, we tried hard to uncover their pre-reading skills and their God-given ability to learn.  We welcomed their curiosity and praised every single effort.  We sang songs and showed them how to hold crayons for the first time.  We taught them how to function in a classroom environment.

But we taught them life skills, too.  We wooed good manners out of them and explained the importance of using them well into adulthood.  We gave them a safe place to make mistakes.  We extended natural consequences followed by unconditional love and acceptance.  We modeled how to love others.  And we taught them how to receive love.  (That’s the one that often broke my heart.)

I had ringworm for nearly two years straight.  It’s a skin fungus that’s highly contagious but really harmless.  Our kids often had it growing on their scalps, and it always surfaced on the front of my neck, my collarbone, my chest.  My boss finally had me fill out workman’s comp papers to fund my medicated cream.  I loved holding these forgotten kids, and their heads would rest upon my neck as we snuggled together.  I’m sure I was breaking the law by embracing kids who weren’t my own in an educational setting.

I loved them.

I remember walking Crystal home and hearing her mom moaning in the back room because she was high.

I remember hearing Jasmine’s sexual abuse story for the first time.  Her intense shyness made perfect sense after that.

I remember having conversations about Johnny with my brand new husband.  Could we adopt a boy our first year of marriage if abuse finally ripped him away from his mom?

On Mother’s Day I gave cards to my female employees — all college girls with no children of their own.  They played the role of mom at our Center way more than the role of teacher.  They had ringworm, too.

After two years, I was forever changed at the young age of twenty-five.  Walking into this small, unknown housing community made my world bigger.  It made my heart bigger, too.  But God provided a new job for my husband two states away, and so we packed what little we owned and hugged our friends good-bye.

Leaving the kids, as you can imagine, was incredibly hard.  I had to trust my co-workers would take care of them.  On my last day at the Center, one of my employees held out a tiny gift.  It was a framed penny.

You see, we walked our kids to their apartments each day after our program.  Bits of random trash and discarded coins were always under our feet along with the potholes and weeds.  I could never walk by pennies without picking them up… it just felt weird to ignore them.  From the asphalt into my pocket would go these beat-up, dirty pennies.  My co-workers laughed at me.

Heather first planned to frame a new, perfect penny.  You see, her gift was merely going to be a reminder of the hours we’d spent together.  But it didn’t look right to her resting there in all its shine.  Her heart was too deep.

So she removed beauty and inserted a penny from the neighborhood instead.  It was filthy, discolored, scratched.  It was so bad you’d be embarrassed to buy something with it.

“It’s our kids,” she said.  “They’re neglected and thrown away and forgotten.  But their Maker sees them and picks them up… just like you could never pass up a coin on the ground.  This is to help you not forget.”

Fifteen years later, I have compassion on their moms now, too.  They were probably thrown-away children before they had their own babies.  I wish I would have shared coffee with them each morning before I started loving on their kids.  I’m sure I could have learned a lot from them.

And, well, I finally see how desperately I’m the one who really needs the Great Rescue.  I’m the one who needs to be pulled out of life’s forgotten neighborhood, out of the struggle, out of eternal hopelessness.

Time sort of has a way of revealing your need for grace.  Falling short in relationships.  Losing sight of our purpose.  Living consumed by smaller chapters and forgetting God’s Great Love Story.

He pulls us out of it all.  Out of the filth.  Out of the brokenness.  And He gives us value, transforming us by His own beat-up and wounded Son.

When You Forget What It’s All About

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God said.  And there was light.  Promise born from void.  Hope rising over fear.

God said.  And there was sky and water —  reminding us  the world is much, much bigger than ourselves.

God said.  And there was land, dirt, earth — the very canvas on which His Love Story would unfold.

God said.  And there were trees and plants — forever fostering life.

God said.  And there were sun, moon, stars — the eternal promise of morning for those that weep.

God said.  And there fish, birds, animals — reminding us we are more complex, more cherished.

But with man, and with woman, the Master Orator becomes the Master Potter.

Up close and personal, He fashions man from dust and breathes life into him.  Breathes purpose.  Breathes hope.  Breathes the Love Story right into him.

He gives him rest — deep rest — and then intentionally forms another one in His image.  Woman.  With bone, He creates and opens her eyes, beaming into her face.

The first image she saw was her Maker, not Adam.  God planned to be alone with her.  Eve’s first page in her story was the Redeemer she did not yet know she would need, the Rescuer that would save her from her own mess.

The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you.  He will quiet you with His love.  He will rejoice over you with singing.  Zephaniah 3:17 esv

Go back there.  Go to the One who wants to be with you.  Go to your Rescuer.  Go to the One who delights in you.  Go to His peace, His quiet, His rest.  Go to the one who  celebrates over you.

Return to the sacred relationship when life seems to get the best of you.

Return to intimacy with your Maker when the drama becomes too much.

Return to that place when all you can see is your Rescuer, your Redeemer, your God who delights in you.

Believe the truth of the One who got up close and personal, forming a Love Story with His hands after a week of speaking Creation.