ETERNITY IN OUR HEARTS

I’ve had several unexpected and random conversations lately around the topics of death, dying and heaven. One began with my little granddaughter asking, “Do you have a mom?” I’m not sure where she thought I came from; I did confirm I had a mother and informed her that my mother was in heaven.  This four-year-old proceeded to tell me she didn’t want to go to heaven because she would be dead and her eyes would be shut all the time. She was pleased to hear me share the good news.  We are going to be alive in heaven and we will see all the people that are already there, like my mom. (She later told her mom, “Grammy told me we’re alive when we go to heaven,” setting the record straight.)

In a second conversation, experiencing the death of someone we love entered the discussion and we agreed among the most painful experiences in life. Separation doesn’t fit with how we’re made.  In Ecclesiastes 3:11, where it is said that God “set eternity in the human heart,” touches on aspirations that go beyond this life and the material world.

These dialogues gave me, again, a sharp awareness of the value of relationships— meaningful and fulfilling in the hear-and-now, but of eternal significance. This past weekend I was blessed to spend a few days with my daughters on the New England coast.  We were able to fully relax—especially needed for these moms with busy schedules and unending responsibilities. We ate great food, laughed a lot, played games, and talked about life. In a strange way, there was a sense of newness for me. My mom was gone before I was married or had children and I also never knew my grandparents. Subsequently, enjoying grandchildren and watching my girls be moms are extraordinary blessings for me.

Someday I’ll meet my grandmother and my mother will meet my children, and then their children, and so on. Our relational investments are worth every ounce of effort in the here and now, but how glorious that what awaits us on the other side is eternity—no more separation, the missing of those we love with our whole hearts.  Can you imagine?

I am excited to announce a new venture!

I have always had a passion for helping women grow into all that God has called us to be. Life is certainly an event-filled journey, interspersed with a multitude of ups and downs! Identifying a strategic life plan and overcoming obstacles that might hinder our steps, is what I believe lays the foundation for successfully moving forward throughout our entire lifespan.

To facilitate that effort, I would love to offer direction, insight, or share words of encouragement at your upcoming women’s retreat, conference, or gathering. Together I believe we can support one another toward personal growth that will also contribute in leaving a legacy for the next generation!

Please visit my website: amywildmanwhite.com, to learn more and consider ‘liking’ me on Facebook, following me on Twitter or LinkedIn.  Thanks you for your support, I appreciate it!

FACING THE GIANTS

My little granddaughter is a big girl this year. She started Pre-K.  It’s an all-day, everyday affair, not just those few hours in the morning like when she was a kid.  After the first day she told her mom and dad it was good, but she just “missed everyone way too much.”  Yet, she returned in the days that followed and seemed to be doing well.  Then it happened.  It hit her one morning and as she stood in the hallway outside of her classroom about to say good-bye to her mom, a few tears rolled down her cheeks.  Then came the deluge.  Her mom comforted her and suggested she take a deep breath, which she did.  She calmed down and then a repeat.  Her emotions got the best of her.  After several more deep breaths, her mom asked her if she was ready to go into her room and this little girl said she was, but first she had to wipe her tears off her face.  Her shirt did the job and she turned, walked into her room, and sat down on the floor.  She didn’t look back.  What a big girl!

Like this precious little one, so many times in life we come face-to-face with a challenge that calls us to step out of our comfort zone. Ugh.  It’s scary.  We can’t do it.  Who thought we could? This little 4 ½ year old was a star.  She was in touch with and had the freedom to share her emotions (thank you wonderful daughter of mine), she was open to receiving the support she needed, and then she made a decision to courageously step forth to confront her fears.  She’s got the recipe down pat!  She doesn’t know it yet, but she’ll follow these steps many times over her life span, and that’s just fine with me.  Feeling insecure, afraid, and maybe even alone, can sneak up on all of us from time to time.  We just have to remember to let it all out with people we trust, hold a strong hand, take a deep breath, and make a decision to move forward!  These experiences all contribute toward making us people of strong character and the folks that others turn to when they need to confront their own giants—suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope in a God that is worthy of our trust.  

CHAMPIONS

Watching the Olympians is more than entertaining. It’s awe-inspiring, nerve wracking, breath taking and more. The commitment and skill level of these athletes is almost inconceivable.  There’s no question that each one is ‘all in’.  That’s probably why we respond so strongly to their successes and failures. When they falter we feel their pain.  Their tears, expressions of agony, awareness of disappointed parents, siblings, coaches and communities, are all too apparent. We also share in their victories, watching proudly when they stand on the podium to receive their medals. Winning is certainly more fun than losing, but the truth is that both are an equally important part of the journey.  For these folks, and for the rest of us, what is difficult to see when in the midst of it all, is that an experience, even one of this magnitude, is only one chapter—an important one, but only one.

One evening in between events a gentleman by the name of Paul Norton “Pete” McCloskey Jr. was interviewed because he had fought in Korea where the Olympics are being held. Notable accomplishments of Pete: he graduated from Stanford with a law degree; served in the Korean War as a member of the United States Marine Corps. and was awarded the Navy Cross and the Silver Star; won the election to the House of Representatives in 1967, defeating Shirley Temple in the Republican primary; challenged President Richard Nixon in the 1972 Republican primaries; continually won re-election until 1982; in 1989 co-founded the Council for the National Interest; and has written two books.  These are only some of the many chapters in Pete’s life, all of which—successes and failures—worked together to define and mold him into whom he would become and continue to be.  Pete, now ninety, works everyday on his vineyard in California.

I think there is a lesson here for us all. While we often can’t help getting caught up in the moment, whether good or bad, that moment is not the sum total of who we are or who we will become.  We are much more than a single victory or defeat and neither should ever totally define us.  Perhaps keeping this perspective is the secret of a real champion, no matter what the wins and losses have been.

A Great Life

My daughter’s family was getting ready for newborn baby Will’s big trip out into the world, leaving the hospital for destination home. Will’s older brother, soon to be six, put his small hands on each side of the car seat and leaned close to the baby’s face. He said in a somewhat hushed tone, “Will, you’re going to have a great life.” Our hearts melt as we reflect on the love and care contained in these few words.  We exhale a bit, believing this positive message just may indicate that our family has done a few thing right. Then we pray, because we so want this blessing to come to fruition.

We’re also realistic. We know that a great life for baby Will, his brother, sister, and cousins, does not mean have a perfect life.  Henri Nouwen may have said it best, “Our life is a short time in expectation, a time in which sadness and joy kiss each other at every moment.” What we do confidently hope for, and will work fervently to achieve, is that Will and all of these dear children, will have people in their lives to love and support them; to celebrate with them in times of success; cry with them in times of sorrow; show up for them in times of need; and that whatever the number of their days, that they will learn, give, grow; that in this troubled world where all of us have struggled to find our way and make a difference, that they will too and not yield to all the things that could take them off track.  Blessings to Will as Act One of his contribution to of all of eternity unfolds.

My daughter’s family was getting ready for newborn baby Will’s big trip out into the world, leaving the hospital for destination home. Will’s older brother, soon to be six, put his small hands on each side of the car seat and leaned close to the baby’s face. He said in a somewhat hushed tone, “Will, you’re going to have a great life.” Our hearts melt as we reflect on the love and care contained in these few words.  We exhale a bit, believing this positive message just may indicate that our family has done a few thing right. Then we pray, because we so want this blessing to come to fruition.

We’re also realistic. We know that a great life for baby Will, his brother, sister, and cousins, does not mean have a perfect life.  Henri Nouwen may have said it best, “Our life is a short time in expectation, a time in which sadness and joy kiss each other at every moment.” What we do confidently hope for, and will work fervently to achieve, is that Will and all of these dear children, will have people in their lives to love and support them; to celebrate with them in times of success; cry with them in times of sorrow; show up for them in times of need; and that whatever the number of their days, that they will learn, give, grow; that in this troubled world where all of us have struggled to find our way and make a difference, that they will too and not yield to all the things that could take them off track.  Blessings to Will as Act One of his contribution to of all of eternity unfolds.

 

THE REAL MEANING OF ‘LEANING IN’

April 1st is notorious for practical jokes.  This year I was grateful when my daughter called me and said “I decided to tell you what we were thinking of doing because I was afraid if I really did it you might have a heart attack.” We laughed as we thought about all the possible reactions I might have had. I thanked her for sparing me the emotional exhaustion that could have ensued had the practical joke been played out. Wouldn’t it be nice if we always had a head’s up on what was coming? I’d much rather talk about the what if’s rather than live them out.  Most of us know what it feels like when we are blindsided by an unexpected hi t.  Our world is turned upside down, the wind gets knocked out of us and what follows is often a long and arduous period of recovery.  There are folks I know right now who are going through some of the most challenging experiences life has to offer.  I wish I could just take them somewhere, anywhere but where they are, and make it all right.  I ponder how long it will be before they are okay again, if ever.  But here’s what I know.  Just as I have been there and survived, most likely they will too.  I also know they have a better chance if those who love them show up, help them, stand beside them, and catch them when they begin to fall.  (None of us fare well if we try and go it alone).  There is an overused expression these days, “lean in”.  I think this does, however, aptly describe what we are called to do when someone we love is struggling, seemingly walking through a small corner of hell.  They’re survival just may depend on whether or not we lean in and hold them tight.  Investing in others can be uncomfortable and even costly.  We may be tempted to stand back because we don’t know what to say, or because it may be emotionally draining, or we fear that our own world might be disturbed.  We must resist the urge to hold back.  Throughout history, God has used his people to help those who are suffering until they are able to return to the land of the living and once again invest in all he has called them to do.  So, when we are given the privilege to be an agent of God’s healing hand, may we be willing to be a life line for someone who just might be drowning, to ‘lean in,’ in the most positive of ways.

The Why Behind the How

One of the greatest blessings in life, and yet one of the greatest challenges, is that nothing stays the same. Change, both positive and negative, can  be stressful, but we usually experience them quite differently.  When change is rewarding, exciting, results in our tanks being filled, spirits being lifted, an area of our life moving forward . . . all is right with the world.  We’ve caught the wave and wish we could endlessly ride the surf.  How different it is when we encounter change that disappoints, brings sadness or grief, deflates a dream, hurts us inside or out.  We don’t want it to continue.  We want the waters to level off before we are overcome by the swell.  We breath in deeply, exhale slowly.  We find ourselves yearning for the discomfort or worse yet, the debilitating pain to end.  We struggle to get our bearings, to once again feel sure-footed, to be secure and safe.  We reflect on days gone by when we complained about the mundaneness of it all, and promise ourselves that never again will we take everyday life for granted.  We make a deal to be forever grateful for the simple things, if only life will return to normal.  Our anxiety escalates as we consider if we have what it takes to overcome what lies ahead.

Victor Frankl, holocaust survivor, once said: “He who has a why can bear any how.”  Not having any grasp on the rationale behind the creation of the death camp, did not impede Frankl from living through the most horrendous of experiences. Surviving occurred because of his love of family and fellow humankind.  Like Victor Frankl, the ‘how’ of getting through life’s difficult chapters is determined by the ‘why’ that drives us.  The single mom who works two jobs, is exhausted, and is still barely able to pay the monthly bills, perseveres because she wants a better future for her children. The why of what she does makes the how of what she does tolerable.  The stage four cancer survivor fights with every ounce of his being to live at least until his son’s high school graduation.  The why of what he does makes the how of what he does endurable.  The believer strives to know and live out God’s calling on her life, does so because of her love for her heavenly father.  The why of what she does makes the how of what he does sustainable.

We all need to know the ‘why’. It’s hard to make it unless we do.  We must write it on our hearts but keep it within easy reach when we need a reminder.  ‘How’ we get through it is only possible if we know the ‘why’ it is important for us to get through it.  So, do you know your ‘why’?

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

“Does anybody really know what time it is, does anybody really care?” Remember this classic song from Chicago? I had occasion to ponder a bit on the concept of time lately.  We tend to think of time in a linear fashion.  We plan our day from morning to night, set goals for the week, then the month, the year, a five-year plan, and so on.  Once we have kids, we establish a time line for how their lives should go. We end it all by planning our retirement and then the steps to be followed when we die.  That’s not bad, but I think we miss an important perspective if we leave it there.

We recently had a family gathering – a celebration. It felt like a microcosm of life.  There was a new baby and several folks in their nineties; some young married couples and those who had lost a beloved spouse; teenagers getting ready for high school or those entering their college years; folks who were in the job market and those who had found their dream position; individuals who were healthy, those recovering, and those who actually couldn’t make it due to a severe illness or disability.  I interacted with new people and those I see all the time.  I delighted in reacquainting with friends I had not seen for over 30 years.

I had the strangest sensation that I was looking at life from above, seeing the whole picture rather than the chapters unfold. It was as if I had seen the play and loved it, rather than singling out or remembering each act.  The feeling was similar to funerals I have attended when a life is summed up in a five-minute power point presentation of historical slides and then it ends.  That’s it folks.  That was the story of his life.

I think that’s how God must see our lives—the pieces are moving, the puzzle is coming together, and the whole picture will be revealed when our story ends. We might do well to not get too distressed when we don’t reach everything according to our time line.  I’m not sure it matters all that much.

Freedom is not Autonomous

It was bath time for my 2 ½ year old granddaughter and she thought it would be fun to put water in her mouth and spit it at her mother. When she was corrected and told she did not have the freedom to express her desires in that way, she made a mad face that would rival a scary Halloween poster.  It was pretty funny.  She was, in her childlike way, expressing what we all feel when we can’t do what we want to do.  None of us like to be told ‘no’ when it comes to pursuing the fulfillment of our desires.  We all prefer to have the freedom to do what we want to do. While we fight for and guard our freedom, however, freedom is not autonomous.  We have only to look at the increase in gang-related shootings, terrorism, and school tragedies to understand the concept that some expressions of freedom cause harm and are not acceptable. The concept of limitations is easy to understand in these circumstances.  What about other situations?

Mark Cuban recently commented that he would stand behind his team if they chose to protest during the national anthem.  His rationale is that we never want to squelch our right to protest or be heard.  But aren’t there better and more effective means through which protests can be made?  What about using our energy and resources to make a difference rather than bringing attention to ourselves?  We never want to be a nation that fosters oppression, where people are bullied or denied the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.   Do we want to be a nation in which a national identity, pride for our country, valuing character and integrity, are nothing more than a mere option?  Have we moved to the place where ‘freedom’—that is, autonomous freedom—is our ideal? Dignity is inherent because we are created in the image of God.   We are to love others and express that love with compassion and understanding, but that does not mean that anything goes.  The pendulum has swung too far.  Perhaps we need to grapple a bit more with getting rid of those things which have caused harm while holding on to those things which keep us a stable, loving, prosperous and cohesive nation.

The Backstory

Have you ever watched someone’s behavior and wondered, “What were you thinking?”  Consider an example in the life of the great patriarch, Jacob.  While Jacob had many attributes and successes, there was one area where he may have fallen short. Jacob had twelve sons and one daughter. In Genesis 37, we read that Jacob had a favorite.  He loved his son, Joseph, more than any of the others. If he could have kept this hidden, it might have been all right, but Jacob did not.  His overt expressions of affection reached their peak when Jacob made Joseph an expensive, beautiful coat. When the siblings saw Joseph in the coat, their response spoke volumes: “When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.” Tragedy followed.  While other factors most likely contributed to the animosity between brothers, we do wonder how Jacob could have been so unwise in the unequal expression of his love toward them.  There’s a backstory here that might help to explain.

Back in Genesis 29, we read that Jacob traveled to an eastern land to visit his Uncle Laban. After a time, Laban determined that Jacob should be paid for the work he was doing. Laban asked Jacob what his wages should be.  Well, Jacob had fallen in love with Laban’s daughter, Rachel, and therefore replied, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”  And so it was.

Unbeknownst to Jacob, Laban pulled a fast one. On their wedding night, Rachel’s older sister, Leah, was given to Jacob instead of his beloved Rachel.  The next morning, upon realizing the con, Jacob was furious.  “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”

Laban was not apologetic. “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”

Jacob loved Rachel so much that he did work seven more years for her.  While they rejoiced in their marriage, sadness came when they realized Rachel was barren.  Life goes on and Jacob had ten sons and a daughter to Leah and the maidservants of Rachel and Leah.  Then, after many years passed, Rachel was blessed with a child. His name was Joseph.  He and Rachel must have been ecstatic.  We can see why Jacob had a great fondness for this very special child. That helps us to understand, but as the saying goes, understanding does not justify.  So, what about us?

What behaviors in our lives would others see that would make them scratch their head but might be understandable if they knew our backstory? But we don’t want to be unwise like Jacob.  While the backstory may be interesting and informative, we don’t want it to create distorted thinking or counterproductive behaviors.  We don’t want our backstory to negatively write the end of our story.  Got anything back there that needs adjusting?