How to Cradle the World

I fell apart with a five-year-old boy in the middle of a classroom. And by “fell apart,” I mean I maintained that calm exterior that is necessary in a room full of preschoolers, but my heart completely ripped in two.

He said he was hungry, and maybe he was, but it wasn’t the kind of hunger a handful of Cheese Nips could solve. And I wish that it was because it’s so much easier to conjure up a handful of Cheese Nips than to piece together the splintered remains of a broken heart.

So there I am, with my box of unwanted snacks, simply staring at this boy with his thick, long lashes that are laced with tears and longing.

“He wants his mommy,” one of my students sagely observes.

I’ll bet he does. I’ll bet he does. And it would be so much easier to see him cry if I knew he had a mommy to go home to. But he doesn’t. Because he was transferred to my school at the same time he was transferred to a new foster family.

He’s five years old and he has nothing to cling to in life.

He mentioned a brother, but I didn’t dare ask if they were placed in the same home. I was afraid of what the answer might be.

Can I confess something to you?

Sometimes I feel so small.

Sometimes I feel helpless and useless and completely overwhelmed by the world around me.

And while I’ve never been one to doubt that one life can make a difference, sometimes I wonder if we make difference enough.

Because my arms aren’t quite big enough to rock the whole world close to my heart.

And I realize that my presence in the life of this child is temporary. Just a few, short weeks until school is out and he passes from my life forever—gone just as quickly as he came.

It’s almost enough to make me question the purpose of giving him all I’ve got.

Almost.

There’s a reason Rebekah means “Devoted.” I don’t know how to love with anything less than all I’ve got.

So I’m sitting there looking at this child, asking God why. Why would He give me something so fragile to hold for such a short time? Why would He give me the desire to nurture and mend and create wings for this child when such a task cannot possibly be done in a mere handful of weeks?

And what does one do with an untouched pile of Cheese Nips on her table and a steady stream of tears creating a puddle on her floor?

You let them stay just as they are, and you draw that child close to your heart, and you make him your world for a moment.

Yes, you make him your world, and you’ll see…

The world fits quite nicely in the curve of your arms.

You’re big enough to cradle the world, after all.

Yes, that’s how you cradle the world.

How to Cradle the World

Keeper of the World

“I have a horrible habit of wanting to keep people,” I confessed to a new friend. “But this time Mom actually said yes, we should keep you… so you should feel special.”

And while he laughed about how awesome it is to get the “mom seal of approval,” he also shared this little gem with me:

“Continue to ask your mom if you can keep people! There’s a lot of people who need to be kept.”

There’s a lot of people who need to be kept.

I think that phrase has echoed in my mind at least twenty times since I read it just last night.

There’s a lot of people who need to be kept.

It reminds me of that story in Genesis where God asks Cain where Abel is, and Cain replies, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

And I think maybe—just maybe—that question wasn’t deserving of such a sarcastic response.

Because maybe Cain was his brother’s keeper.

Maybe we all are.

And maybe that’s why the question has always tumbled from my lips so freely. “Mommy, can we keep him?”

Because it has always been my duty:

To keep you from stumbling.
To keep you out of harm’s way.
To keep you close to my heart.

Because we all need to be kept. Every one of us.

And maybe some of us don’t even know what that means. Because we’ve never been kept before. Maybe you don’t know what it is to be cherished so deeply that someone would have a hard time saying goodbye—letting you go.

I don’t think I need my mom’s permission to ask if I can keep you. To ask if I can be that person who would ascribe worth to you.

I want to keep you, friend. I want to be the one who would hold you close to my heart and never let you go.

Because you’ve always needed to be held this way.

And if I have but one purpose, one calling, one way to summarize the rest of my life, I hope it would be this:

To be a Keeper of the World.

Let’s all be Keepers of the World.

Keeper of the World

Your Gift to the World

Every single one of us was born with an innate desire to leave a mark on the world. Like footprints stamped in concrete or initials carved into trees, we need a way of saying to the world, “I was here.”

But what do those things tell us about the person who left them behind? Very little, actually.

The other night, I watched Lincoln for the first time and I couldn’t help wondering, as Daniel Day-Lewis filled the screen, “Is that what Lincoln was really like?”  How much of that story was fiction and how much was fact? I’m willing to bet the director made most of it up. Why?

Because as famous as Abraham Lincoln was, we have no way of truly knowing him. We have the written accounts of what he said or how others perceived him, but while that gives us a glimpse into his life, it doesn’t tell us the heart and soul of him. It doesn’t tell us who Abraham Lincoln really was.

Here’s my rather morbid confession: I. Love. Graveyards.

I love wandering through them in my spare time and considering each headstone—the final mark each person left on the world. It doesn’t tell us much. Just a name and two dates. Just a single slab a granite that says, “Yes, I was here.”

But when I walk through cemeteries, I ask other questions. What did this person look like? What were her dreams? And did she ever succeed in bringing those dreams to life? To me, each headstone marks a story known only to those who knew the person and knew them well.

And I realize that in the grand scope of things—when you consider how many others have lived and died and given their all in this world—you and I will only touch a mere handful of lives. That may sound frightfully discouraging until you realize one, important fact.

It’s not about the number of people we touch, but how deeply we touch them.

I think sometimes we’re so concerned with trying to touch the whole world that we run frantically about, brushing elbows with hundreds of strangers. “There,”  we think. “Now I’ve touched them.”  But if we want to be truthful, we must realize that those people at the supermarket are going to forget our faces the moment we pass from view.

You have been given a precious few lives to impact on this earth. And if you do it right, they will carry your legacy on to future generations. And maybe somewhere along the line they will have forgotten your name and face, but someone will know your heartbeat. And perhaps long after you’re gone, someone else will have a heart that beats to that same rhythm.

And you will have touched the world, my friend.

That heartbeat is your gift to the world.

touching the world

Love Lettering the World

Earlier this year, I fell in love with Hannah Brencher’s heart. I fell in love with her desire to spread love into the dark corners of the world because, in my own heart of hearts, it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. But the thing that amazes me most is that Hannah’s ministry stemmed from a very selfish desire. In her own words:

“Anyone who knows me–knows the heart of me, and the bone of me, and the bends of my smile–knows why I really started writing love letters. It was not some strange aficionado for stationery. Never a day in my life have I ached to bring the art form of letter writing back to her fullness. It wasn’t a racing heart for cursive & curves on a page. It was a fear that I was very much alone in this world. It was a fear that I might never feel whole again. It was fear that not a single soul needed my footprints, my input, my laughter. It was a crippling belief that I would live and die and I would never have made noise in this world.”

And so the girl who was rather desperately in need of a love letter started leaving the kinds of words she yearned to hear for strangers to read. She lit up New York City one heart at a time and, in the process, healed her own. That’s what happens when you take your eyes off of yourself and start writing for other people.

I started writing for me. Because I had words bottled up in my heart that needed somewhere to go. Sometimes I still write for myself. Sometimes there’s a message God is pounding into my heart so fervently that it is all I can write. And the beautiful thing about those blog posts is that I get comments from all of you saying how badly you needed to hear those words, too.

When I set out to love letter the world, it started writing letters back to me. Letters that said, “I needed your words. You’ve given me permission to dream.” Letters that said, “Thank you for the reminder. It set my heart back on the right track again.” Letters that said, “Your voice, your words, your heart—they matter. They matter.”

Maybe I was more like Hannah Brencher than I thought—maybe I wrote out of my own fear that I would live and die having never made noise in this world—because your words mean the world to me.

Today I am ever so thankful for you, my readers, who believe that the words that flow from my heart through my fingertips are worth your time. I’m grateful that you make me feel as though my efforts matter. You’ve helped me realize that the world isn’t as big as it once appeared, and that I am changing it…

one love letter at a time

Stand With Them

I’m not sure how much you know about the plight of Christians around the world. If you’re the typical American, it’s probably not much. After all, we’ve lived pretty sheltered lives here in the States. And it’s easy to get caught up in the here and now. Unless we are looking for something else, we only see what is happening around us. I don’t fault you for that. I’m often the same way. And I spent two years of my life working at a missions organization.

There are so many things I could have written today. My journals are littered with scattered thoughts of a hundred blog posts. I could have picked any one of them. But yesterday I learned that Christians in Nigeria are being murdered for their faith. Today I read that Egypt’s new president is pushing Shari’a law. And now, I can’t focus on anything other than my brothers and sisters around the world who are suffering in the midst of these circumstances… and other circumstances that have yet to reach my ears.

These people aren’t just an idea to me. Not a general, “Someone around the world is suffering.” They have names and faces. I’ve met them. Carried on conversations with them long into the night. And though they live in different countries and speak different languages and lead different lives, they are no different than you and me. Some of these people suffering are my friends. And even if they weren’t, they are fellow Christians. My brothers and sisters in the family of God.

It is my job, my honor, my pleasure to stand with them. To hurt because they hurt and to fear because they fear. But also to hope when they find it hard to hope and to pray with their same desperate cries as if I were suffering alongside them. Because I am suffering alongside them. And if you had the privilege of calling these precious people your friends, you’d be suffering too.

And I don’t usually do this, but since it is the singular cry of my heart this morning, I’m going to ask you to take a moment and pray. Pray for Egypt. Pray for Nigeria. Pray for every country in which someone is being persecuted today. Stand with your brothers and sisters around the world who are suffering for the sake of the Gospel. Cry their tears, taste their fears, and join your voices with theirs in a glorious song of hope and deliverance.

“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” ~Hebrews 13:3

Significance

I just returned from the top of the world. Okay, so it wasn’t the very top. In fact, it wasn’t even close. My brother who lives in the Himalayan Mountains tells me that the Blue Ridge Mountains are “just hills.” If that’s a fact, I don’t think I could handle the view he sees every day, because as far as I’m concerned, there is nothing more breathtaking than the Blue Ridge Mountains in October. I think the words of my friend and coworker summed it up quite perfectly: “How can anyone think there is not a God?”

How can anyone possibly look out over the splendor of creation and think that this world “just happened”? Jesus said that if we failed to praise Him, the rocks would cry out. I think they are already crying out. Those enormous chunks of granite were screaming at me this weekend. Most days, I fail to notice the glory of God’s creation, but looking out over the world from the peak of a mountain, I couldn’t help but find myself struggling for breath. It was truly that amazing. I think I know how David felt when he penned the words,

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?

That’s how small I felt. I’m just a tiny piece of a colossal universe. So insignificant. And yet so loved by God. He’s so concerned about my quickly passing life that He counted the number of hairs on my head. And He keeps track of the ones that I shed, and the new ones that keep growing. So insignificant. Yet, oh so important to Him. He sees the leaves that fall from the trees every autumn, and the tiny buds that bloom every spring. He catches shooting stars in the palm of His hand, and breathes the wind into motion. The ocean echoes the beating of His heart as the waves rush in and out, in and out. He controls the big things, and still finds time for the small, seemingly insignificant things like me. That just blows my mind.

I don’t understand it. I won’t try to understand it because I’ll only end up with a splitting headache. In a world of sunshine and mountains, oceans and planets – a world where more than six billion people live and breathe, God still cares about the itty-bitty details concerning my life. What is man that God is mindful of us? I wonder if David ever received an answer to that question.

Once upon a time, God said, “Let us make man in our image.” And that is where our story began. God wrote our story, and He became a part of our story. In a world so big, He is still concerned about us. He is still actively involved in our stories. And when I stand on top of a mountain, looking down at my world, I feel so very small, and yet so very big all at the same time. Because no matter how insignificant my life may seem, God is mindful of me. And that gives my life great significance.

Part of that World

Maybe it’s because I’ve been at the ocean for the past week, but lately, I’ve been having these Little Mermaid flashbacks. There’s something super mysterious about the sea. When I try to imagine what lies beneath the cresting waves, I get a headache. It’s that mind-boggling. That must be how the Little Mermaid felt about dry land. There was so much world waiting to be explored – so many things that needed to be discovered… And she discovered it, all right. According to Disney, she left everything, sacrificed her voice, and landed the prince. Life is good for the Little Mermaid, right? Not the way Hans Christian Andersen tells it. But since you can’t tell a little kid that the fairytale heroine sacrificed greatly, felt tremendous pain, and eventually died without ever achieving her intended goal, Disney decided to give “Ariel” a happy ending. And while I have a few things to say about Hans Christian Andersen’s version, I’ll save that for a later date. Today, we are talking about Ariel and the way she took the wrong approach to love.

Ariel pops up to the surface, takes a look around, and sees something she likes: Prince Eric. That, in itself, is not bad. The bad stuff happens when she starts obsessing over it. As Sebastian would say, “Ariel thinks the seaweed is greener in somebody else’s lake.” Her entire mind becomes wrapped around the fantasy of what it would be like to become a “part of that world.” Then she does the unthinkable. She contacts the sea witch, sacrifices her voice and risks everything for one chance at becoming “part of that world.” Luckily for her, it worked out in the end. Not only did she land the prince (pardon the pun), but she frees the merpeople from the influence of the evil sea witch by vanquishing her forever. But what if she hadn’t fared so well? What if her story had kept the ending of Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid? What would she have gained for all her sacrifice? Would the sacrifice have been worth it?

I can hear you now: “Heck no!” Why? Because the Little Mermaid had an entire ocean to explore. Surely she hadn’t ventured to every single corner of it, just as you and I have never covered every single square inch of the earth (and the ocean is twice as large as the land, just saying). The chances of her making a prince fall in love with her when she couldn’t even communicate the depths of her heart with him are slim to none. Had she failed, she probably would have spent the rest of her life thinking about how wrong she had been.

I feel like we are doing the same thing the Little Mermaid did. Here we are, swimming in the sea of singleness and not seeing how vast and beautiful it is. We are prematurely thrusting ourselves onto the shore of marriage and relationships. And we are more closely resembling the Hans Christian Andersen story than the Disney version we all long for. We deeply desire to become a “part of that world” when we were meant for the world we are swimming in here and now. Whether you were meant for the ocean or the shore is not for me to decide, but I want to leave you with this final question:

Is your final destination worth the sacrifice you are making? And would the pain be worth it if you didn’t get what you are seeking in the end?