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Life in Small Spaces

Renee Ann Smith —  October 12, 2015 — 20 Comments

The school where I teach is a pretty small place.

My students experience the benefits of being a tight-knit family. They have people who love them, help them, hurt when they’re hurting.

They never walk through their days without others by their side—even when they’d rather be alone.

By second period, they’ve passed each other in the hallway, bumped elbows at the bathroom mirror, heard the whispered gossip at their lockers . . .

And they know, just as we all can see their trendy outfits and hairdos, we can often see the things they’d rather hide.

It can be hot under that spotlight when people know so much about you—especially on the days when you feel you barely know yourself.

Just like in a family, sometimes that very closeness that’s meant to be a comfort is what makes us guard ourselves all the more,

lest the ugly inner stuff—the anger, pettiness, jealousy, insecurity, fear—

spill out all over for everyone to see.

When the ugliness spills, it smudges our friendships and our reputations,

and the judgment that’s sure to follow breaks our hearts. 

We wonder if the folks who know us best ever will ever let us forget who we’ve become in their eyes.

At those moments, it takes a stout heart to believe God loves us in spite of our inner mess.

That He sees deep inside us and yet never feels the need to lift Himself up by exposing us to others.

That He desires only that we see it—clearly and without excuse—for ourselves so that we might accept His provision.

Then God invites us to hold out our arms and let Him clothe us with Christ’s righteousness . . . 

a one-size-fits-all covering that becomes a Veil of Grace.

And the magic is that if we view others through Christ’s Veil of Grace—

even when their pettiness, weakness, and failings are on display—

His breathtaking image, His lovely righteousness, overshadows anything else

and makes them beautiful in our sight.

Here’s the verse I’m claiming this week for life in small spaces. May God bless as I share it with my students as well.

“I delight greatly in the Lord. My soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
& arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest &
as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
Isaiah 61:10

clothed in righteousness

And a bonus quote for when you need a fresh start . . .

Second chances George Elliot

Let’s look for glimpses of His glory today. Blessings, friends!

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For every time that God answers my prayers, there’s a contrasting time when He does not. Sometimes He gives healing and strength before I even ask.

Other times, I call out to Him as one crying in the wilderness and hear nothing back but the echo of my own voice.

I have experienced this barrenness at the bedside of the dying, in the wake of a betrayal, in the face of a setback or tragedy. 

And for a time it felt like there was no end to the terror in sight. No answers to the problem in sight. And, seemingly, no God in sight.

Perhaps this is how it seemed for Mary and Martha so long ago. (see their story in John 11)

These sisters knew Jesus well. They often served Him and sat at His feet. He considered their home, His home.

But when their darkest hour came—the death of their brother Lazarus, their provider and protector—they called for Jesus, and He did not come.

When this happened, perhaps Mary and Martha felt they deserved better.

After all, they were hardworking, upright, good people. They were friends of Jesus and had given Him a prominent place in their lives.

But right living doesn’t ward off heartache and knowing Jesus doesn’t doesn’t give us a get-out-of-tragedy-free card.

When Jesus Doesn't Come (Feel free to download or share!)

When we call and Jesus doesn’t come right away, it doesn’t mean He isn’t hurting with us, working for us, loving us.

What it does mean is that His delay is part of the answer to our prayer.

According to Merriam-Webster, a delay is “the amount of time you must wait for something that is late.”  Late means “something that is past the expected time.

So there’s the problem: expecting life—and God—to follow my time frame.

For the Bible tells me, “With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day.

God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost.

He’s giving everyone space and time to change.” II Peter 3:8&9, MSG

I think sometimes when I call & God delays to answer, He’s encouraging me to live out I Peter 1:8. He’s allowing me to get to the place where I can say . . . 

“Even though I have not seen Him, I love Him. And even though I do not see Him answering my prayer right now, I BELIEVE in Him and am filled with Joy.”

Yes, Jesus delayed in coming to Mary and Martha. That delay challenged them, changed them, and eventually brought great glory to God.

When all was said & done, perhaps the sisters of Lazarus could have attested with Job, I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You.”

We may not see the miracle on the horizon, but we can be confident our Heavenly Father cherishes us and has our best in mind—always.

 Let’s look for glimpses of His glory today. Blessings, friends!

Martha Mary Lazarus John 11 Job 42(Feel free to download & share!)

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If you’ve stopped in here often enough, you know that I’m an enthusiastic bookworm! One of my favorite aspects of being a teacher is sharing books and stories with my class.

Recently, I assigned my junior high students an older short story called The House Guest by Paul Darcy Boles.

The story focuses on Bridgie, a 9-year-old girl growing up in Ireland during the troubled years, when the IRA and the British troops faced off in the streets.

In the story, an international organization brings Bridgie to America for a few weeks. This gives her a respite from her day-to-day existence, where kids go hungry and live their lives to the background sounds of gunfire and grief.

Bridgie never gets enough to eat and jumps when cars backfire and still misses the dog her family was too poor to keep as a pet. She is quiet and gentle and brave.

Bridgie spends her few days in America, not gathering up material things to take home with her, but in making life better for others. After being gifted a leather craft kit, she makes pet collars and chases down the stray dogs in the neighborhood to give each of them one.

She tells the dogs, “You can hold your head up, now. And don’t be trying to scrape [the collar] off or lose it. It’s your ticket to some fine homes. They’ll feed you up. They’ll think you’ve been a pet and believe you’re valuable.”

That’s the part I choose to read aloud the day we discuss the story. The poignancy touches our hearts. My students are silent thinking of that sweet, brave girl who wants to make sure that even the lowliest of creatures—the stray dogs—feel valued and find homes.

Solemn-eyed and serious, they contemplate a world where too often kids end up being less valued than lost dogs.

They wonder what life is like for kids in North Korea and China and Syria and the places they’ve heard adults mention. What are those other kids going through? How do they find reasons for hope and the courage to face another day?

My students are no strangers to sorrow themselves. In our little class, students have lost mothers to cancer and mental illness. They’ve lost fathers to addictions and imprisonment.

My class remembers the devastation of Hurricane Sandy a few years back and the tragedy that happened an hour south of us at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

They’ve learned that the world can be a scary place and have wrestled with feeling . . .

  • Hurt
  • Fearful
  • Insignificant
  • Powerless

My heart aches to see the awareness in their young faces.

And I find myself asking, how do we show them . . .

That God is with us
That His heart is loving
That when everything around them quakes, He is our ROCK
That—no matter the evidence to the contrary—HE IS GOOD

We have a great calling—to show our young ones that though the world is not always kind or just, God is both!

Lord, give us heart renewal that we might be equal to the task.

And guard our next generation from the fiery darts that would steal their joy and shipwreck their future. 

“Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society.
Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God.
Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause
to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns.
You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing.”
Philippians 2:15&16, The Message

God Is With Us(Feel free to share this graphic!)

“I’m asking God for one thing, only one thing:
to live with him in his house my whole life long.
I’ll contemplate His beauty; I’ll study at His feet.
That’s the only quiet, secure place in a noisy world,
the perfect getaway, far from the buzz of traffic.
God holds me head and shoulders above
all who try to pull me down.”
Psalm 27:3-6, The Message

God is our very present help in times of trouble

(Feel free to share this graphic!)

 Let’s look for glimpses of His glory today. Blessings, friends!

**Photo Backstory: I create my graphics from iPhone pics or free images from sites like Unsplash & Death to Stock Photo plus the effects at PicMonkey. Feel free to Pin, Tweet, download & share. Pass them on!
**Find me on Facebook at this link & follow!
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The Big Three

Renee Ann Smith —  September 14, 2015 — 10 Comments

I love the start of a new school year and all that comes with it!

A shopping cart filled with notebooks, book covers, and sharpies.

The smell of new books.

Lesson plans and imagining how my class will react to the new movie or book or project I discovered.

The first sight of my students faces when they walk through my classroom door.

The sounds of soccer practice drifting through my windows while I work at my desk.

The picnic tables under our tall trees filled with kids doing homework and shouting good-bye as I walk to my car at the end of the day.

In August, our building is strangely empty and lifeless. I avoid it and mostly prepare for the school year from home.

Then September comes and with it our students.

They pour through the doors, crowd the hallways, mess up our carefully organized classrooms, frustrate us, delight us, teach us. 

Our building hums with drama, laughter, life.

And even as I lament the too-short, flew-by-too-quickly summer, I know that the school year will pass in much the same way. 

And once again our building will be empty . . .

Last week in British literature, I shared with my class an excerpt from The Ecclesiastical History of the English People by Bede. In our reading, the king’s counselor describes life this way.

“The present life of man upon earth, O king, seems to me . . . like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the house wherein you sit at supper in winter, while the fire blazes in the midst, and the hall is warmed, but the wintry storms of rain or snow are raging abroad.

The sparrow . . . is safe from the wintry tempest; but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, passing from winter into winter again.

So this life of man appears for a little while, but of what is to follow or what went before we know nothing at all.”

He’s saying that to him, life is like a bird taking refuge from a storm.

The bird comes out of nowhere, somehow managing to escape the storm. For a time, he is warm and protected in the shelter. All too soon, he leaves and returns to the dangers of the tempest. 

Under His Wings(Feel free to share this graphic I made for my author friend!)

It’s a great metaphor, and one that touches on the Three Big Questions:

  • Where do we come from?
  • Why are we here?
  • Where are we going?

Finding the answers to those questions is the stuff life is made of. 

But every time I read that metaphor, I think of my students—pouring into our building in the fall, spending a few short months under our tutelage, and flying off again at the end of the year.

Their conditions vary. They may be wounded and disheartened or open and searching or on the verge of blossoming into full bloom. But all find their way to my classroom by the same Hand.

Why are they here? Because God’s purpose for my life is to be used in their lives . . . 

To turn their eyes to the One who made them,

To teach and bind up, 

To lead them in the way everlasting, 

And all to the praise of His Glory.

God has brought you your little flock—whether it be your own children, the women or girls you are mentoring, your co-workers, your Sunday school class, your youth group, your grown up family, or your class—for the same reason. 

After they have spent their appointed span with you and fly away, will they have been blessed by your time together? Will they look more like their Savoir? Will they be closer to His heart? Will they be headed down whatever path God has called them to? 

All that and more is what I pray for my students. May it be so for all those who take shelter with us!

Let’s look for glimpses of glory today. Blessings, friends!

Wings like Eagles (Fee free to share this graphic I made for my author friend!)

**Photo Backstory: I create my graphics from iPhone pics or free images from sites like Unsplash & Death to Stock Photo plus the effects at PicMonkey. Feel free to Pin, Tweet, download & share. Pass them on!
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Remind Me Who I Am

Renee Ann Smith —  August 31, 2015 — 12 Comments

Sometimes I forget who I am.

I might be sitting in a meeting, enjoying a meal with family, browsing through a store, and I hear the voice of a stranger speaking and realize . . . that’s me.

Am I sick, over-tired, losing it? Or is this just another season of life when women go temporarily crazy—like the teen years or menopause?

I decided to expose my vulnerability and ask my friends, “Do you ever feel like you’ve forgotten who you are?”

Every woman I asked answered without hesitation, “Of course.”

My 70 year old friend said, “I look in the mirror at the gray hair, wrinkles, age spots and wonder who that woman is. I feel the same as I did 30 years ago . . . or 40 years ago.”

But even my younger friends, ones with little children clinging to their skirts, have felt the disconnect, that odd feeling of being outside themselves, watching themselves tend babies and cook dinners.

Why does that happen? Have we lost touch with reality? 

I think during those moments, we’ve lost touch with the “real world” around us, the things we can touch and see, and are aware of a different world, a deeper world, a world of the spirit—and we get a little lost. 

Eternity C. S. Lewis

Those surreal moments bring home to me that we’re built for eternity, but we inhabit time—and sometimes that’s not a comfortable fit.

But we have an advantage when the One who lived that best, the One who seamlessly brought the worlds together—Jesus, an eternal spirit housed in a finite body—lives in us.

He navigated the worlds with grace and enables us to do the same.

Keeping in close touch with Him is what reminds us who we are—that we’re more than the duties we perform and the labels we give ourselves.

And that we will not reach our full potential until we’re home with Him in glory.

Because, no matter how anyone else sees us or how we see ourselves, who we am to Jesus is who we will be for all eternity. 

Selah! That’s amazing stuff!

Someday I’ll shed this outer shell that contains my soul and receive the body designed to last forever.

(At times I’m really happy that what I see in the mirror will not leave this world with me!)

In that eternal, incorruptible body, I’ll see as I was meant to see, relate to the true world as I was designed to, and fit like a glove into my new surroundings.

What a day that will be!

Remind Me Who I Am

Let’s look for glimpses of glory today. Blessings, friends!

**Photo Backstory: I create my graphics from iPhone pics or free images from sites like Unsplash & Death to Stock Photo plus the effects at PicMonkey. Feel free to Pin, Tweet, download & share. Pass them on!
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Making It Home

Renee Ann Smith —  August 24, 2015 — 11 Comments

EMILY WIERENGA MAKING IT HOME

This post is part of Emily Wierenga’s Making It Home series, leading up to the release of her next memoir on September 8th. You can check out Emily’s new book by clicking here: Making It Home: Finding My Way to Peace, Identity, and Purpose.

I grew up a daydreamer, spending many lonely hours imagining how different I would be in another place or at another time or with another family.

Not because home was bad. Our house was a comfortable, busy place. But I was a timid, fearful child and viewed home more as a safe little cage than a launching pad.

I wished for the courage to break free and spread my wings but never found it in real life—only in my dreams.

Then I came to know Jesus, and He showed me something better than wishing away my life.

For He had dreamed me before I was even born.

“My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place,
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
Psalm 139:15&16

At the touch of the Spirit, gifts, talents, abilities I didn’t even know lay within me blossomed. I focused on Jesus, knowing Him, serving Him, putting Him first, and found peace, purpose, identity—and even some courage. Courage enough to leave home, move states away to attend college, move again for various short-term jobs, and finish a teaching degree.

Finally the day came when I stepped into a classroom of my own, and everything clicked. Teaching at a small Christian high school, mentoring students, ministering to families seemed the fulfillment of what God had dreamed for me. Over the years, my co-workers, my students, and their parents became my extended family.

I was happy with who I was and where I was.

I was home.

But life goes on and difficulties arise and dreams fray . . . To continue reading this post & to pick up today’s graphic, follow this link to Emily’s blog!

**Photo Backstory: I create my graphics from iPhone pics or free images from sites like Unsplash & Death to Stock Photo plus the effects at PicMonkey. Feel free to Pin, Tweet, download & share. Pass them on!
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Live To The Hilt

Renee Ann Smith —  August 10, 2015 — 15 Comments

Sometimes it feels like life has grown complicated.

My daily tasks are simple enough. Once I’ve done some planning, I could walk through my days without thinking or feeling much.

And that’s the problem.

I don’t want to just  go through the motions and mark time from now until Jesus calls me home.

Jim Elliot said, “Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

Jim Elliot Wherever you are be all there

But this world is a messy place. Experiencing all the highs & lows, allowing our feelings to be touched by the heartaches & hurts of those around us, can be painful and exhausting.

Many people end up doing whatever it takes to avoid feeling the guilt, loneliness, despair, rejection, fear, and regret that seem to characterize life. Whether it’s drowning their sorrows or closing their hearts off in a safe, little bubble.

It’s tough to be in the world but not of it.

On one hand, God put eternity in our hearts and we long for . . . 

Beauty that will never fade

Love that will never die

Peace and hope and happy

Enough to fill every empty place inside us.

Yet we live in this transitory world, and just like fall turns to winter, people disappoint us, pleasures come and go, kids grow up and move on . . .

Sometimes the good-byes to be said at the end discourage us from even beginning.

We yearn to freeze our best moments and hold them close. We yearn for joys that last. 

Yet we feel them slipping through our fingers.

Fortunately, God has made a way for us to straddle both words.

Because in Jesus, time and eternity meet.

He is 100 percent God, made the world, knew us before we were born, and even appeared in the Old Testament.

Yet He came as a man. He lived in this world as an eternal being limited by a human body. He ate, slept, hungered, wept, laughed, grew weary, felt pain . . . just as we do.

And this God-Man, who knows our frames and guards our hearts, helps us embrace life without fear.

In Him, we find balance, a soothing balm, a buoy to reach for when we’re sinking.

He saturates our days with eternal value as we navigate this world

And afterwards receives us into glory.

Amen.

Heaven Peter Kreeft

Let’s look for glimpses of glory today. Blessings, friends!

**Photo Backstory: I create my graphics from iPhone pics or free images from sites like Unsplash & Death to Stock Photo plus the effects at PicMonkey. Feel free to Pin, Tweet, download & share. Pass them on!
**Find me on Facebook at this link & follow!
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Corrie Ten Boom Prayer

Corrie Ten Boom had a way of getting right to the heart of a matter and making folks re-evaluate their priorities. Her quotes never fail to bear fruit in my heart.

These insights by C. S. Lewis follow a similar theme . . . 

“We regard God as an airman regards his parachute.

It’s there for emergencies but he hopes he’ll never have to use it.”

“If God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms: but He is not proud, He stoops to conquer.

He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him,

And come to Him because there is ‘nothing better’ now to be had.”

Their words bring to mind how God gives grace after grace in response to my heart’s fickle yearnings.

And I am grateful.

“For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.” John 1:16

Thanks for stopping by today. Blessings, friends!

**Photo Backstory: I create my graphics from iPhone pics or free images from sites like Unsplash & Death to Stock Photo plus the effects at PicMonkey. Feel free to Pin, Tweet, download & share. Pass them on!
**Find me on Facebook at this link & follow!
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If you’re on Twitter, I’ll follow you—if I’m not already. Just let me know in the comments. You can find me here.
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