Eternity in our hearts
September 13, 2008 | My Jottings
I remember getting up to go to the bathroom right before dawn about a year ago. The reason I remember this particular morning is because as I was sitting there in the dark, looking out of the bathroom window toward the eastern sky, I saw a very bright light. Everything is a blur without my glasses, so I thought it was a large plane, close to flying over my house on its way to the airport. I waited for the plane to come closer so I could hear it go by, but it stayed put and I never heard a sound. The light was huge and low in the sky, so I retrieved my glasses and went again to the bathroom window, where I could then clearly see that it was a star or a planet like I’d never observed before. I went downstairs to look up online what I was seeing, and learned it was the planet Venus, at least 26 million miles from us. Standing there at five in the morning and gazing at this heavenly sphere, my thoughts turned to God. And I felt something I’ve been experiencing more often as I get older: a longing, a difficult-to-describe yearning, an intangible ache that comes in an instant, like a stab, and then it’s gone.
There are other things that have brought on this longing, and I wonder if any of you will relate.
Certain music, with haunting melodies, brings a subtle yearning. Wind chimes barely touching in the breeze. The way some authors can put words together has made me feel that pang. Brilliant autumn leaves. God’s Word, prayerfully and humbly read. Looking at the night sky and meditating on its vastness, and knowing God is so much bigger.
My grandchildren often evoke an indescribable sweet ache in my heart. It feels like wonderful joy, and it feels like pain.
When my husband and I visited Scotland a while back, the ancient heather hills and the lonely sound of bagpipes seemed to call to something deep inside me; I wanted to fall to my knees and weep, but I didn’t know why.
One characteristic about the fleeting sense of these longings, is that you can’t duplicate them if you try. Maybe tomorrow the same drive up the shore of Lake Superior or the same view of Venus won’t bring that same feeling back.
Have you ever longed for something, for someone at times, and you can’t quite put your finger on what you’re yearning for, and then it’s gone? Do you sometimes grow restless even when everything is going well? Do you ever get the sense that something you’re hearing, something you’re observing, has a meaning much bigger than the moment, but you can’t say exactly what it is? You’re not alone. And if you’re a Christian – if you have surrendered your life to Jesus – I believe that ache, that longing, has been put there by God. It’s a reminder from Him to us, that this earthly life isn’t all there is.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
My Bible notes on this say “this verse means we can never be completely satisfied with earthly pleasures or pursuits”.
He has set eternity in our hearts. There’s something always there, something that feels like we’re being strummed by a huge, unseen hand, some sort of chord that’s being struck in our souls. Like a distant bell is being sounded, and a tiny bell in our own soul answers. At times it’s a thrill, and often it’s a little painful.
Sometimes it’s the passage of time that makes us aware of this pang. We run into an old acquaintance after ten years and are shocked that her children are ten years older and that her hair has begun to turn grey. How did this happen? Why are we surprised at time and why do we feel that longing as the years go quickly by? Could it be because we are eternal beings temporarily confined by time?
C.S. Lewis describes this phenomenon in one of my favorite quotes:
“If you are really a product of a materialistic universe, how is it you don’t feel at home there? Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? Or if they did, would that fact itself not strongly suggest that they had not always, or would not always be, purely aquatic creatures? Notice how we are perpetually surprised at Time. (‘How time flies! Fancy John being grown up and married! I can hardly believe it!’) In heaven’s name, why? Unless, indeed, there is something about us that is not temporal.”
I’m convinced that some people feel this longing deeply, but try to quiet it or squash it because it can be uncomfortable. I think I’ve tried to silence this vague yearning or to fill it in ways that have not served me well. Some might choose alcohol or busyness or spending money or control to silence this longing we all feel. Or we might pressure our friends or spouses to fill that yearning in us, which of course is futile, because a human or a substance or an activity can’t ease a yearning that God has put in us to remind us that we’re pilgrims here, only passing through.
Psalm 63:1: O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
I think our whole beings long for what only He can give us. Even when God has lavished us with kindness and blessings untold, deep inside we know there’s more. And we long for it. Even those who haven’t acknowledged God, have felt this yearning and can’t identify what, exactly, they’re aching for.
My husband and I bought a new house recently, and I have endeavored to pick just the right paint colors for the kitchen, three of the bathrooms, five of the bedrooms, the living room, the garage door, the laundry area, the office and even the outside shutters. Many times I spread out the entire fan of several hundreds of paint chip colors and still thought to myself, “This can’t be all the colors there are – there have to be more colors than this! I just can’t find the colors I want.” And then this verse from 1 Corinthians 2:9 came to mind:
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.”
I believe there are colors in heaven that we don’t have here – colors no eye has yet seen. I think there will be musical notes and sounds in heaven that we don’t have here – songs no ear has yet heard.
And once in a while, God seems to part a veil to give us a momentary glimpse of those beauties and joys that await. And then in a flash it’s gone. And we feel that longing, that yearning, that deep ache.
He’s a loving and generous God, and when we consider His creation and His Son, we can know this about Him: He loves beauty, and He is generous and patient and merciful. But in His wisdom, I don’t believe He allows us to be completely satisfied here on earth. He gives us just enough of what we need to learn to love Him and depend on Him while we’re here, but He often gives us those transient glimpses of eternity to help us to set our hearts on minds on Him, not on the things of this earth.
While He’s pouring out His abundance and help and correction and grace and instruction on us here, He frequently reminds us of what is yet to come. While we can have His peace through Jesus now, deeper peace is coming, and while we can know His joy today, more joy is around that eternal corner. We live in mere shadows of what will someday be true and glorious substance.
So even though I still sometimes sob when that veil is pulled back and I sense that horribly wonderful and ephemeral ache, I’m beginning to rest more in what I believe it is. I will never be truly at home here. My Lord is good to remind me of that. He helps me to live in this very beautiful and painful place, and lifts my chin now and then and whispers to me of the Place where all boredom, confusion and pain will forever cease, and my longings and yearnings will be completely fulfilled.
September 12, 2008 | My Jottings
Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.
Psalm 42:11 (NIV)
Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—
soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
He’s my God.
Psalm 42:11 (The Message)
Let him eat cake!
September 10, 2008 | My Jottings
Today my friend Carey took me out to lunch. And gave me some beautiful, elegant earrings that she made herself. And gave me a book she loved, which means I will love it. And a card that made me laugh, which assured me that if Carey ever got caught at the dry cleaners wearing a giant chicken costume and had to run into someone she knew there, she would want it to be me. That’s how close she feels to me. And since one of Carey’s many gifts is baking, she brought me an entire Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cake with a ganache frosting. With fresh raspberries on top, and mint leaves picked from her own garden.
When I brought home my whole Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cake with a ganache frosting and raspberries and mint leaves, my husband Michael took one look and started salivating. So I decided to let him have the first piece. I sliced it for him and watched him enjoy it with a glass of cold milk and half closed eyes.
After dinner we each had a piece, and there were moans all around.
A Cardinal Story
September 9, 2008 | My Jottings
Once upon a time there was a family who lived in the woods. They were the Buehler family. Herr Buehler was a woodsman, and he worked hard from sunup until sundown cutting down trees in the thick forest and then lovingly and painstakingly fashioning the lumber into beautiful pieces of furniture for the village people to buy.
Frau Buehler liked to be at home, and she kept busy baking bread for her family and knitting wool mittens and socks to sell, to help keep broth and bread on the table. Herr Buehler was responsible for keeping meat on the table – sometimes while working in the woods he would shoot a large buck and thank God for the provision to feed his family.
The Buehlers had three sons: Wilhelm, Dietmar and Jakob. Frau Buehler taught her sons how to read, and when winter came to the forest many nights found the family sitting in front of the blazing hearth reading books aloud, including the Good Book. Wilhelm grew into a tall young man, married a village girl and they started a family of their own in a city three days’ journey from their home in the woods. Dietmar loved music and had spent many hours yodeling to the sky as he did his chores and dreamed of singing in the Munich opera. Young Jakob had a tender heart and loved to stay close to his mother’s apron as she baked and knitted and read aloud. Jakob also loved animals and happily tended the Buehlers’ two sheep, milk cow and dog, whom he considered his dearest friends. He often confided in them after his brothers had grown up and moved away.
Years passed, and all the sons grew up and lived their own lives away from the cottage in the woods. Herr and Frau Buehler were content, but lonesome for their children. They did see their young men and their families once or twice a year, but they both longed for the days when things had been simpler and all five of them had lived under one roof.
No longer vigorous and spry, the Buehlers spent quiet times reading by the fire, lifting their sons in prayer before the Author of the Good Book, and watching the life and beauty of the woods outside their windows. Herr Buehler spent less time in the woods and began whittling to keep Frau Buehler company as she knitted.
Frau Buehler began to see that the worries of the world were pressing down upon her beloved children, and her times of knitting were often spent talking to the Author of the Good Book, asking for His help and blessing on her sons. Sometimes she could feel the weight of the oppression on her children so deeply she would sit by the parlor window, looking out on the snowy woods, and weep for her sons. Jakob, in particular, was on Frau Buehler’s heart. Jakob had experienced deep pain and disappointment in his young life and the guardedness and suspicion Frau Buehler saw on his face deeply troubled her soul. Jakob had been a sensitive and trusting little boy, but now the big city and the snares of the enemy had changed him. He had a dark and sad look to his eyes, and he often moved and spoke as if all hope had departed from him.
Sometimes at night as Herr Buehler snored under the coverlet beside her, Frau Buehler would look out of the window from her down-filled pillow, and count the stars. She was reminded how immense the Maker of those stars must be in order to hold them in the palm of His hand, and when she would cry out to Him, her heart would be calmed.
But sometimes peace and calm wouldn’t come to Frau Buehler’s soul. She didn’t understand why this was. She would sit by the parlor window and knit. She and Herr Buehler would look deep into each others’ eyes and know what the other was thinking. She could almost hear her dear husband say through that gaze, “Ahh, mein Greta, look to your Maker – He will help you to know that all will be well. The One who spoke and named the stars also made our sons.” She took comfort from her husband’s strength.
One clear morning Frau Buehler timidly asked the Maker of her sons for a sign. She wanted Him to reassure her that Herr Buehler was right, that all would someday be well with her sons Wilhelm, Dietmar, and especially Jakob. Jakob had wandered far from the path his parents had set for him. She felt foolish asking for such a thing, but after thinking a long while about what kind of a sign to ask for, Frau Buehler asked the Creator of the woods and wildlife to send a bright red cardinal to her, to let her know that He was at work in her children. In all the years the Buehlers had lived in the Black Forest, they had seen many forms of wildlife and dozens of different feathered creatures, but never had they seen a cardinal. She humbly bowed her head and said, “Good Father in heaven, bring a cardinal to my window as I’m knitting here, to show me all will be well with my Jakob. And I will thank you for caring for us and our boys.”
Day after day Frau Buehler knitted away, tending to her home, baking their bread, mending their clothes, writing letters to her sons, happily chasing her grandbabies when they came for their occasional visits. Day after day she would look out of her parlor window at the trees outside, at the snowy ground or the soft green needle-packed floor of the forest, and she would watch. Many birds came, as they always did, but never a cardinal. Orioles, chickadees, sparrows, came. Wrens, juncos, and even crows. Herr Buehler enjoyed the birds himself, and would sit at the close of a day and whittle as Frau Buehler’s knitting needles clicked and the fire crackled. Frau Buehler had told no one of her prayer to the Creator for a cardinal. Not even her good husband.
Many months after she made her request, Frau Buehler looked up one day to see her husband outside the parlor window, hanging something on one of the low-hanging branches of the huge, ancient pines outside their forest cottage. When he stepped away from the tree, she saw it was a wooden bird-feeder he had made himself. Her heart beat a little faster. “Why is my Peter hanging a bird-feeder outside our parlor window?” She knew it must have been the Author of the Good Book speaking to her husband’s heart, even though he wasn’t aware of the prayer his wife had prayed. Frau Buehler’s eyes filled with tears and she whispered, “O Good Father – you are moving the hands and feet of my husband and he is not even aware. But I am, and I thank you.
Time passed, and the Buehlers enjoyed their quiet life in the woods, and day by day their bodies grew slower and their movements more intentional. One snowy afternoon as Frau Buehler sat knitting by the window, a brilliant blue jay swooped down to the feeder. She watched delightedly as it cocked its head and jerkily ate the seed that Herr Buehler placed there each time the feeder needed replenishing. “That is a beautiful little fellow, Good Father, but he is the wrong color! I’m waiting for my red cardinal.”
A few months later Frau Buehler turned from the stove after stirring the soup and her eye caught movement outside the parlor window. There was her dear husband again, this time hanging another bird-feeder in the lower branches of a massive pine next to the tree from which the first feeder still hung. Two bird-feeders now, and Frau Buehler still hadn’t told anyone of her unusual request to the Creator. When Herr Buehler came inside, stomping the snow from his boots, she asked him “Peter, why have you hung another bird-feeder outside our parlor window?” Herr Buehler shrugged and answered, “I so enjoy these little feathered creatures, Greta”. And that was that.
Once again Frau Buehler thought to herself, “Heavenly Father, I do not know if you will ever bring a cardinal to my window, but I can see that you do move in the hearts of men. Help me to trust you with my Jakob.”
It is not certain how much time passed, but it was a good long time. Perhaps it was even years. Day after day many varieties of birds visited those two bird-feeders outside the parlor window of the Buehler cottage in the Black Forest of Bavaria. Blue, black, brown, yellow, orange, and grey birds. But so far never a red bird.
One morning when the sun was not completely up and the light from the sky was still a deep periwinkle, Frau Buehler got out of bed and went to the window, still in her nightdress. She sighed and lowered herself into her chair, and a tiny flash of red caught her eye. As she gazed out of the window with her knitting in her lap, she saw him. A bright, cheerful, red cardinal, all alone, perched on one of the bird-feeders, cocking his head this way and that. Frau Buehler didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, or fall down on her knees. She kept very still, and watched the cardinal, the first cardinal ever to come to their woods, much less to their home. Mr. Cardinal lightly dropped to the ground and ate some of the fallen seed there. He bounced along, sampling the black seeds Herr Buehler had faithfully placed there for years, not knowing he was being moved upon by the Author of the Good Book and the Creator of all life to do so. The little bird then flew to the low branches of another tree, and seemed to watch Frau Buehler as she sat very still in the parlor window. He was in full view for about five minutes, and then with one look over his little bird shoulder he chirped his friendly cardinal song and flew off into the forest.
Frau Buehler sat still in her rocking chair for quite some time, hands motionless on her yarn and needles. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she thanked the Good Father for the gift of the cardinal, and pondered what a kind and compassionate God He must be to cause a little red bird to fly from unknown parts of the forest to her parlor window, just to encourage her heart and give her hope.
She thought of Jakob, and somehow knew that this gift from the Good Father didn’t necessarily mean that all of Jakob’s troubles would be over in a moment, but Frau Buehler felt calmly reassured that the Lord of Life would keep His strong, tender, reliable right hand on her son, to draw him to Himself and bring him through whatever would come in the future.
When she heard the bed creak and knew her dear husband would soon be joining her for their morning coffee at the window, she prepared her words for the story she would tell Peter about the prayer she had prayed, and the cardinal that was the answer to that prayer. She knew her tender-hearted husband would cry when he heard it, not because he too had been filled with care and tossed by worry, but because he trusted the Good Father and was always overwhelmed and thankful when he witnessed others learning to trust Him too.
Clear and bright…
September 7, 2008 | My Joys
All the baby name books say that Clara means “clear and bright”, and here are some of the definitions of those words from Merriam-Webster: Clear: luminous, cloudless, serene, transparent, unmistakable, keen, innocent, pure. Bright: shining, sunny, lively, cheerful, intelligent, promising.
She is my oldest grandchild, firstborn of our daughter Carolyn and her husband Jeremy. Clara is six years old and is in the first grade. She loves to read (“Grandma, I guess you could say I’m a bookworm!”) and she’s very content to spend hours drawing, creating and imagining. While she was at our house yesterday, she read Charlotte’s Web, made an 18-inch tall weather vane out of felt, construction paper, tape and pipe cleaner (making sure I knew which were the North/South/West/East arrows), built a small room out of Legos with an “emergency exit window”, demonstrated the difference between the calls of the chickadees and nuthatches at our deck feeder, and told me she loved me about seven times.
One of the things I love most about Clara is her very real devotion for her three younger siblings. She and her brother Elijah are sixteen months apart and are true friends. There is a deep bond between them and it’s beautiful to see. She thinks the antics of her little sister Vivienne are adorable and says, “Grandma, isn’t Vivie so sweet?” And Clara is genuinely delighted when baby Audrey smiles or accomplishes something for the first time (“Grandma, Audrey can crawl and sit up now!”).
I grew up loving books, and remember the first time that excitement for reading began in me: in the second grade at Workman Avenue Elementary School in West Covina, when my teacher Mrs. Lokken read aloud the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books to our class. We would sit resting with our heads down on our desks after a hard-playing recess in furnace-like Southern California weather. I remember thinking that I was going to read those books to my children when I became a mother someday. And I did. What never entered my seven year-old mind was that I might eventually be a grandmother as well, and perhaps I would read them to my grandchildren.
So when the children’s play “The Magic Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle” came to The Children’s Theater in Minneapolis earlier this year, we began a tradition that I hope to continue for many years: a Grandma Date. Clara and I drove to the Twin Cities and saw the wonderful production, stayed at a nice hotel, ate at restaurants, and made some memories. Elijah knows that next year when he is six, he and I will do the same together.
Clara is tall and long-legged, has golden hair and skin, and expressive blue eyes. She can be shy around new people, but her conversation with those she’s comfortable with is constant, full of hypothesizing and frequent words of love. She is obedient to her parents, helpful and peaceful. She’s an amazing example for her younger brother and sisters.
Clara loves to watch reruns of The Lawrence Welk Show on Saturday nights. When she happens to be spending the night at Grandpa and Grandma’s on a Saturday, she’ll often look at me with wide eyes and say, “Grandma! Remember what’s on TV tonight!” And when I say, “Lawrence Welk?”, she smiles and nods emphatically, knowing in a little while we’ll be watching together, swaying to Guy and Ralna or Bobby and Cissy doing their thing.
She likes to hear about life “back in the old days” when I was a child, or about poignant memories I have of her when she was younger. Recently she asked me to tell her some things I remembered about her when she was a baby. One vivid memory came to mind. I told her that when she was about a year old, we had a high chair in our kitchen that we used just for her visits. I told her how she would sit in this high chair and tentatively try some of the new finger foods her mama gave her. Even at a year old, Clara was watchful and quiet, and as I moved around the kitchen her eyes followed me, and when I spoke to her in Grandma-like coos and smiled at her, she grinned back hugely, breaking my heart into pieces. I told Clara that as long as I was in the room, she was content. But if I left the kitchen and moved out of her eyesight, she would burst into tears. After hearing all of this, six-year old Clara looked into my eyes and placed her hand on mine and said, “Grandma, it’s still pretty much like that now.”
There are days now when life seems a little overwhelming to me. Years ago I couldn’t have looked in my mind to the horizon of our future and seen there the things that make up our life now. We have things I never thought we’d have, and are missing things I never thought would be lost. Sometimes it feels like we are muddling around in the dark, trying hard to hold on to our Savior’s hand. Theologically, I know that He is holding us in His hands, but I forget that much too often. How thankful I am for our grandchildren and the riches and perspective they bring to our lives. They cause us to lift our chins, roll up our sleeves and set our hearts and minds on what’s truly important. They help us to pray and to dream and to hope.
My oldest grandchild Clara brings me joy. She is just plain good company. Her very presence can make things seem clearer and brighter, although at age six she has no idea that she exemplifies the meaning of her name. It is my prayer that as she grows, she will learn to walk closely with the Lord and that she will look to Jesus as the Protector of her heart.
I’m so proud and thankful to share about my granddaughter Clara. I love her so.
September 5, 2008 | My Joys
You see her enter a massive room full of dozens of tables and hundreds of chairs, and you are immediately struck by her gorgeous auburn hair, cut very stylishly. Next you notice how perfectly dressed she is, and you realize she knows what colors a redhead looks good in. You watch as she (and possibly an assistant or two) methodically but creatively transform the plain room into an enchanting place that will hold a wedding reception that fulfills a young bride’s dreams. You note how efficient and particular this beautiful woman is as she expertly drapes each seat with a shimmery white fabric chair cover that she designed and made herself, and ties it off with a fancy, elegant bow for a final flourish. A once nondescript room is now something that would evoke “ooohs” or “aaahs” from anyone entering, and would quickly draw them in.
I want you to meet Lana. Really, what Lana does with her started-from-scratch chair cover business is very similar to what she does in her life. She does it with her family, her home, and her friends. This creative and generous woman can take the ordinary, and quite simply, make it better. She brings a sense of refreshment with her wherever she goes.
A little over two years ago, Lana introduced herself to me at Community Bible Study and lovingly told me she would pray for my husband, who had been recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Last year she became a core leader at CBS and our friendship really took off. Lana is one of those rare women who is immediately so easy to be with, to converse with, to get to know, that she has made me feel like we’ve been friends for decades instead of a relatively short couple of years. Everyone who calls Lana friend knows her attentive, compassionate way of listening. She has a tender heart that translates into everything she does. When I need comfort and encouragement, she’s one of the first people I think of.
Lana is a prayerful, devoted wife, and mom to three grown and fabulously talented children, yet she prays for my husband and children. Her faith in Jesus permeates her life in a humble and attractive manner. She’s a great decorator who brings peace and harmony to her home, not only with her creativity, but with her personality. She helped paint my newly remodeled kitchen and offered her service to us many other times. A year ago she heard that we had an undetected leak in a kitchen pipe which ruined floors, and she showed up at our door with a delicious dinner, to lighten my load. She’s just there, with a smile and a prayer and a soft way about her that really does make me feel better.
Lana is a true mixture of elegance and grace. Like the transformation that occurs when she works her magic on ordinary, utilitarian chairs, she probably doesn’t even realize she does the same with the people in her life. She quietly changes any atmosphere into something a little more beautiful, a little softer and more inviting, with her gentle, sincerely compassionate ways.
She is a woman of many friends, yet she takes time to regularly communicate with me. I am thankful for the richness and love Lana has brought into my life. I count her friendship among my most cherished blessings.
What does September mean to you?
September 4, 2008 | My Jottings
1. Golden light coming in our windows.
2. Seeing if we can wait until October 1st to turn the furnace on.
3. Leaf color that rivals New England.
4. My son-in-law’s birthday and my friend’s birthday and my birthday.
5. Back to Community Bible Study – yay.
6. More energy.
7. Oven on, more baking, good kitchen smells.
8. Getting up in the dark each morning.
9. Pots of homemade soup.
10. Turtlenecks and blazers.
Okay, now I want to hear from you. What are ten things or five things or even three things that September brings to your life?