Finding Something In Nothing

This is the second part of a blog series on the promised new Earth to come.  Read the intro to the series here.

To begin my adventure on discovering what is worthy of the label ‘eternal’, in this promised new Earth Jesus speaks of, I think the best place to start is to hallow out some space.  In order to know what fits, and what doesn’t belong, we must give ourselves the time to decide such things.

As long as I can remember I have desired to honor a Sabbath day.  If there are working parents out there who are able to do this, I applaud you, but for me taking a continuous 24 hour period to do nothing other than “be” simply doesn’t work.  So each time I would dream about the possibility I would end it with a defeated feeling, a shrug of my shoulders, and the thought ‘Someday, maybe’.  When I started to dig into what aspects of our Earth fit into this coming ‘Earth 2.0’ I came to the realization that, in regards to setting reflection time aside, something is better than nothing.  So my plan is to dedicate just one full hour each day to free my soul.

For each person this hour, or Sabbath, will look different, but I believe some of the substance can be universal.  I envision Sabbath as a time where we allow God to pour into us the validity of who we are in Him, by completely ridding ourselves of the notion that we are capable of anything apart from Him.  It is a time to spend with your family, with yourself, and with God.  It is a time you don’t clean, don’t fold laundry, don’t cook, and don’t look (or even think) about your to-do list.  It is a time to reflect on His grace and take time to enjoy His love.  An hour a day with your phone off, without emails, or texts.  An hour that you don’t write, create, or produce anything.  An hour that you don’t waste with convenient fillers, but rather with the TV off, the radio down, and your book closed.  An hour that is truly just about you being alive in this moment.

This time we give over to our Creator, as fully immersed in life and still completely emptied of ourselves, could be the key to seeing what we need to on our journey.  This will not be easy for me, I imagine it won’t be easy for you either.  To spend a full hour without any of my day-to-day, minute-to-minute picking up, getting done, and ‘wishing to do more’ will be a challenge.  I hope it will be worth it.

I would love to hear if you already spend time in self-reflection each day, or for a longer period on a weekly basis.  If creating this space/time was difficult, and if it continues to push you outside your comfort zone?  Does it gives you direction, a renewed sense of being, or peace?  What has worked, and what hasn’t?

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So you’ve made it to heaven, now what?

I’ve heard it asked before, “What will heaven be like?”.  I’ve actually experienced this question first hand when my 5 year old asked me this week what daddy was doing in heaven all day.  Within the context of tradition, we might imagine angels singing, clouds passing by, loved ones we’ve lost back in our presence, and constant worship to God.  All of these things sound … well heavenly, but then what? If these fluffy imaginations are the sum total of eternity one could reason this could get slightly boring given enough time (or lack of time).  If the ‘age to come’ is truly at hand, as Christ told us it was, are our lines being crossed on the envisioned after-life and our role here on Earth now?

Although, I am fully grounded in the reality that living life for the mere suggestion of ‘what is to come’ is no way to enjoy the gift of life God has given us, I do believe that ‘what is to come’ has great implications for our life now.  That these implications, should and do, have weight in our lives, and they are worthy of our time and discussion.  I have recently found myself driving down a highway erasing those things surrounding me that won’t be present in the new Earth Jesus has promised to us.  The feeling that comes along with that is exciting and extremely startling.  What, if anything, in our lives is worthy of this renewed Earth … this Earth 2.0?

This question has been following me for weeks now, settling itself in my heart as a formation of words.  I hope I can form these words in some sensible nature in order to share with all of you.

It starts with a simple deduction in reasoning – Christ made it clear to us that God’s vision for His coming Kingdom was not entirely future.  Jesus, more often than not, delivered his message in a tense that suggested He was speaking of things in the present.  He told us that the Kingdom of God was at hand, that it was here among us, and that we could take part in that kingdom right now.  Given this truth, we must then be able to see some of what the new heaven and new earth will encompass.  We must have some things in our lives worthy of that thing we hope to be part of ‘some day’.

What is exciting about Jesus’ declaration is that for those of you not walking with Christ I hope you will still see this as applicable to your life – I believe this message is true for everyone.  The future kingdom of God is described as a place with no more sickness, no more tears, and no more pain.  When described in this way I venture to say it is a place that each Earthly inhabitant has a desire to be in the midst of, to discover, to even help create.  Each of us can ask ourselves how it is that we can become the type of people that contribute to bringing about a world that looks more like this one Jesus describes, instead of a person who is inflicting the opposite (sometimes unknowingly or possibly ignorantly).

My mind wanders to the useless things we fill up our time with, the shades we draw over oppression we impose on others, and the good things we create in this daily life that will be needed in the age to come.  This will be a series of posts – an Earth 2.0 Exposed.  My hope is to stir in you what has been stirred in me … new eyes.  Eyes to look at the world around us and evaluate what we take part in as a means to discover what He is preparing us for.  And that preparation is part of the process.

I don’t imagine that, upon my death, I will awake in heaven a completely different Stephanie.  No, rather I imagine (and hope …) I will still be me.  But how could I enter into heaven when my inclination to stumble is so great?  I believe we are here to prepare ourselves, and we cannot do this when we are stagnant.  Life must not become mundane or routine.  Our perspective must continuously be re-evaluated.  We have to let our hearts be stirred when love is seen.  Our emotions to overcome us when pain is felt.  It can be easy to lose our spirit in the propaganda that is our every waking second.  But to become the person you desire to be we all must work at it.

Which brings me back to my beloved readers who aren’t Christ followers.  Followers of Christ or not, we all long to be better.  We all long to make our lives something worthy.  This application of evaluation, elimination, and preparation is universal.  Be courageous – dare to identify those things we allow in our lives that might be causing pain, might be to blame for suffering, and has the capacity to bring a person to tears.  And beyond that, there is joy in this self discovery – identify the things He will need us to carry on, the things that we are doing that bring hope, new life, and joy to those around us.  I have no doubt heaven is not a boring place, but I do greatly doubt that we will all be sitting on a cloud singing How Great Is Our God for all eternity.  No, we were created by the Creator for a purpose. Each person slightly different, but we are here to fill the Earth, to cultivate, to create, and to enjoy what He has given us.  I do not believe this will change in the kingdom to come.

So for now, I would ask – and only because I am too – for you to look around the next time you are outside … scan the skyline the next time you drive over a bridge.  Take an inventory of what you see that glorifies God, of the things that have the power to eliminate pain and suffering, and those things that may be causing it.  What do we have among us right now that is worthy of the title ‘Eternal’.  And then, do the same within your own life.

I’m going on a journey, my destination is Earth renewed, and I’m inclined to think Christ needs me to armor up to get there.  I’m hoping you’ll join me on my path.

Grace and Peace.

The More We Love, The More God Exists

“The more we love, the more God exists” Peter Rollins

For those who may be uncomfortable with the above quote, I apologize.  Not because it makes you uncomfortable, but rather that it does so at all.  Understanding the depths of what it means to love each other here on this Earth, and how much that love will impact the will of God, takes courage.  Over the last year of my life I have had a chance to experience what Pete meant by this quote and I’m overjoyed to share this with all of you.

Last Saturday my boyfriend, Brad, proposed to me.  I said yes.  I am so very blessed.  God is so very good.

And so, it is worth looking at why I attribute goodness to God.  It is not because over the last year He has appeared to me – cash in hand – when financial relief was needed, or because He sent an angel to hold me close when I was certain death was my only option in the face of Matt’s own.  Rather, God aroused the Spirit within each of you.    In the people at my church, at my work … my family and friends … and, at times, even in strangers.  He even aroused the Spirit within those in my life who wouldn’t attribute their acts of love to Christ.

God aroused the Spirit in Brad.  Brad has listened, been patient, been faithful, and been a true Christ follower in his venture to follow his heart and capture mine.  There were moments when we first started dating, and my own wounds were still so fresh, that just his presence brought me the kind of comfort I’ve only ever felt in the presence of Jesus.  He was walking as Christ was calling him to.

There have been moments in my life where God has physically shown up, relieved me, held me, and comforted me.  If the people given to me in my life over the last year, including Brad, had been absent I don’t doubt the power of God to provide the same blessings we have received.  I am, however, fully convinced that the Spirit that dwells within each of us is a vital lifeline to those around us.  Do not shy away from the prompting to love one another, even in the most difficult of circumstances, because we simply cannot know our part in God’s will for others.

I am so excited to marry Brad.  I am so excited to continue to heal and grow as a family, with him by our side.  And I am continually and forever grateful for those of you who have reached out, in love, to my family and me.  We love you.

Gummy Worms and Serving Each Other

I had some moments collide this week, in a way only the Spirit can direct them to, and I’m feeling called to share.  About a week before the anniversary of Matt’s death, some friends from church asked what they could do to help ease this time for me.  I initially declined the offer to be part of a meal train since I felt it was too much of a burden on those delivering meals in light of my situation.  After some prompting I agreed, but I still felt some guilt over the service.

So last week a wonderful woman, I feel honored to call a friend, brought over tacos.  Since it takes the three of us a good amount of time to eat all the food brought over; we had our last round of Mexican last night.  As I was bringing out all the containers of toppings thinking of what a blessing the meal was upon my week. I noticed the container that was holding the chopped tomatoes.  It was a container that once carried gummy worms from a local grocery store.  I thought for a moment and then become just a bit teary.

It was about six months ago that I was feeling completely swamped down with life in the midst of grief, when I was asked by a friend to be part of a meal train for a couple at church.  At the time the couple was still in the beginning stages of grief and hadn’t shared their story with others yet, so they requested to not have their name shared.  They simply requested we bring them sweets.

There I was that day at the grocery store.  I was running late to pick up Evie and feeling rushed.  The store was filled with people and the lines were long.  I picked up a basket, instead of choosing a cart, and my arm was loaded down and becoming sore.  I was on the phone, although I can not remember with who, I do remember the conversation being stressful.  All at once I felt annoyed by serving someone I didn’t know, at a time in life that wasn’t easy on me, in the midst of a troublesome day.  I pulled myself together that day; I found my heart for serving, and followed through.  I was glad I did.  I was even more grateful when I later learned who I was serving and why.

So here I was, feeling grateful and guilty, because of those who had made the decision to take time out of their busy lives to serve my family when I caught a glimpse at the Spirit’s work.  In a fleeting moment of clarity I saw into the Spirit-lead, circle-of-favor we get to take part of on this Earth.  I had felt led by the Spirit to serve this couple friend, and despite myself, I did so.  And here I was witnessing the very source of where my service for them began, their service for me was handed back.

It was a small reminder of the huge impact the Spirit can have in our lives if we so allow Him to.  I am so grateful to be part of a community that respects and honors that impact the best we know how.  My encouragement for you is to follow the promptings of your heart.  Do not doubt.  Do not quit when your own shortcomings try to hold you back from that calling.  And when offered service?  Take it with grace and humility.

Keep Calm And Parade On

I had the opportunity of experiencing my first New Orlean’s Mardi Gras this last week.  I went to visit my brother, his wife, and their beautiful new baby girl.  Prior to the actual parades we went shopping and found a multitude of gear that ‘needed’ to be purchased for the occasion.  During our trip around town we spotted a shirt with the slogan, “Keep Calm and Parade On”.  And it was at that very moment the slogan for our upcoming holiday was decided.

Now, this wasn’t just my first Mardi Gras, this was also my first glimpse into what makes up this Southern holiday.  Up until this week I had no idea what was all included in the cities age old traditions behind these parades, which make up the two weeks prior to Mardi Gras Tuesday.  All I ever knew of Mardi Gras was the typical depiction of Bourbon Street on Fat Tuesday.  I was surprised to find out this holiday is actually a family centered party.  There were drinks, of course, but what is a parade without drinks?  The people lining the streets waiting to watch the marching bands and floats pass by were older NOLA folk watching these parades for the umpteenth time, families with children on ladders poised and ready to catch arm loads of beads, and young couples spending the day people watching and enjoying the atmosphere.

So it was at my first parade I noticed a similarity between people from NOLA and people from Minnesota – it was one of the few similarities in tradition and culture I saw, so it sparked my interest almost immediately.  So here we were, Evelyn and I, lined up along a city street with mothers and children on both sides of me.  I was sporting my slogan slashed t-shirt, as I caught a glimpse of the first float heading our way.  From blocks away you can see the ‘throws’ (as they are called) being tossed way into the air, landing in the hands of the screaming children in the street below.  Beads of all sorts of colors, stuffed animals, toys, and more.

As the float inched closer I, along with every mother around me, began to tense just a little.  Our children standing down at our feet are wearing huge smiles and bouncing around from the sugar high, induced by all the traditional King Cake they had been eating all week.  The float now starts to pass in front of us and as the children stretch, reach, and scream the mothers all stiffen in defense mode.

Each mother protecting their children’s prized possessions from other children and mothers.  Each mother widening their stance, just slightly, with each passing second as to give their child a better chance to catch the best throw.  Each mother glancing quickly over the ground around them so as to not miss their chance at grabbing just one more trinket for their child.  I could have just as well been at the Halloween Parade in my hometown of Anoka, MN – reaching around on the pavement for just one more piece of Dubble Bubble; scrambling, as if it was Evelyn’s last chance in the world to taste that sweet bubble gum.

The more parades I went to the more our slogan started to strike me as fitting, not just for Mardi Gras, but for everyday life.  As a mother, I want so deeply for my children to have so many different things and I’m striving to help them achieve these things, far too often simultaneously.  I want them to be safe, so I widen my stance everywhere we go, in hopes that I won’t need to see them get hurt.  I want them to have the best there is to offer in this world, so I harden – ever so slightly – in order to ensure they end up with the best.  I want them to have joy, so I do what I need to do to make sure they are happy, even if it is at my own expense.  I praise them when they get a ‘throw’, I give them mine when they don’t, and when there is no catch I reassure them that the necklaces the boy standing in front of us caught were actually meant for them and we’ll get more the next time around.

I don’t think any of this is wrong … well, as women we could certainly take a step back and allow our children to handle parade ‘throw’ gathering to themselves.  What I mean is I don’t think it is wrong to do everything in our power to help our children achieve their worth.  To make sure that they have the best chance, the best opportunity, and the best possible outcome …. either when watching a parade or in other – more important – life events.  What I liked though, was the slogan.

Keep Calm and Parade On

Most likely, the children will forget within seconds what was caught and what was missed on that float.  Within days, possibly even hours, the luster of the cheaply made toys will dull and they will move on to the next thing.  It is the mother’s heart that remains tied so tightly to the emotion invoked by the event.  In part, it has to do with motherly instincts, and there is no better God-given gift in the world.  We do what we need to do for our children … and without that motherly love I imagine the Earth would look like a far emptier place.  We should, however, remember our own hearts.  I should try to remember that I have a heart of a mother, but I am also very much a daughter of God, as well.

We don’t need to stop listening or acting on our motherly instincts to protect and work hard for our children, but I think we could take some advice from the shirt.  I know my anxieties tip on the heavier end of the scale, but I imagine I would be a much better mother – a much better Christian – if I was able to put these words into action on a daily basis.  I find that I act in ways I wouldn’t in order to protect my child, but we are called to remain humble.  We are called to give it to God in prayer.  We are called to be slow to speak and slow to anger.

This slogan works for me when I think of times I am alone with my children teaching them how to grow in grace or how to live life on this Earth.  This slogan works for when I think of attending Kindergarten registration or planning the perfect birthday party.  This slogan works when I am having a playdate and my child is the one who refuses to share.

So just maybe … the next time I’m faced with anxieties of parenthood, or those inevitable moments when innocence collides with real life, or when taking on the exhausting task of daily discipline … I can remember to remain in Christ’s peace.   I can remind myself to move forward from that moment and onto the next.  I can assure myself the importance of the simple words …. Keep Calm and Parade On.