Monday grace

The peak autumn colors have come and gone. Our hummingbird feeder hangs vacant. The grey days preview a coming change as frost touches tender annuals and golden leaves swirl to the ground. I recognize the feeling that can accompany overcast skies, and I fight the gloomy inclination. Seasons come, and seasons go.

Determined to choose joy, I turn on lights to dispel potential dreariness, light fragrant candles to engage the senses, and begin my Christmas list for friends and family. I try to imagine how I can enjoy the holidays while making them simpler.

As I turn the calendar day each morning, the passing of time mystifies me. Where are the days of October going? I heard someone say the last quarter of each year is about food, glorious food. I baked a pecan pie for Sweet William’s birthday and the Thanksgiving menu is already a vision dancing in my head.

I cut and cooked a cushaw, purchased at the farmers’ market, scraping pulp for pies and saving the seeds for next year’s planting. I make plans for the vining of the melon and cucurbita families. The weekend’s frost took out the unknown melon vine I planted too late. The morning glories that were glorious this summer also succumbed, leaving seeds for me to gather.

Last winter I made a list of smaller, doable jobs in the yard, and it proved to be productive. Instead of fighting my age, I’m learning to accept limitations and do tasks differently. I managed to pare down the gardens last year, making the yard not just manageable but enjoyable.

We celebrated Sweet William’s birthday three consecutive days last week, enjoying time with family and friends who brightened his days and make him feel loved. I’m a couple of years older than my dear husband, a fact that kept us apart while he dated the younger girls. He eventually got up the nerve to approach me, the “older woman,” and the rest is fifty years of history. I advised him to enjoy the last year of his sixties, because as a friend told me, they are not like the seventies. True, very true.

With only two weeks until the Presidential election, we watch the latest news developments. We voted last week, in person, and were proud to be Americans, gladly wearing our “I Voted” stickers. What an amazing country this is where God indeed shed His abundant grace.

I refuse the threatening anxiety about our country’s future. Studying Daniel for the last two months, the message is loud and clear that God is in charge. He knows the future because He planned it according to His perfect will and for His divine purpose. Daniel 2:21 says, “He changes the times and seasons; he removes kings and establishes kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding,” (CSB)

I want that kind of wisdom and knowledge, the ability to understand the words of this King of kings and Lord of lords. With determination, I rest in what He sustains, a firm foundation, proven again and again. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

His is the only direction and pathway. He is authentic reality. And He is the One and only who offers life everlasting, a gift through Jesus Christ.

I will take His way, believe His truth, and receive His life.

Monday grace

Death takes no holidays. It comes when we don’t expect it, though we may be anticipating its knock at the door, listening, yet not wanting to hear.

Another family member left this world on Saturday evening. She is the last of my parents’ generation, married to my mother’s only brother. It seems sudden, though my aunt tabernacled in her body for more than ninety years. Last November she drove to our Thanksgiving dinner, very much the determined, lively woman she always was.

She was a role model for me when I was still swinging my legs underneath the church pews. Though petite in stature, she seemed a giant sitting on the organ bench, playing beautifully, enhancing the worship experience. I was just a budding piano student, never imagining that one day I would take my place on the benches of organs and pianos in churches just like she did.

When my mother was dying, she came to watch through the night with me, in the living room of my parents’ home, while the household slept. We were more or less on level ground then, I also a married woman, both of us mothers of sons. Still I knew I was not her equal in any form or fashion. We shared similar interests and talked through the dark night hours of sewing projects, decorating, and music, waiting for the dawning of the day.

When my mother died, she and I got closer. She knew that kind of loss. We met for lunch sometimes. I stayed the night at her house, located closer to the hospital, when Sweet William had surgery, making it easier for me to come and go. I still remember the beautiful room she offered me.

She made muffins one morning and shared the recipe with me. It became a staple of mine on many a morning brunch or coffee with friends. I tweaked the original, calling it my Slightly-Famous-Somewhat-Healthy-Oatmeal Muffins, but I always remembered from whence it came and the day at her house where I first tasted the goodness.

When I got the news of my aunt’s death, I thought of her entrance to Heaven, the first sighting of her husband, her mother and father, her sister, the ones dearest to her. I thought of her greeting my mother and dad, my aunt and uncle, my grandparents, and saints gone before. And I know she saw Jesus, her Savior and Lord. What must that have been like for her? I can only imagine.

The passing of my aunt means my cousins and I are now the oldest generation of our close-knit family. That weights heavy on me today. Even one of us, my cousin’s husband, died last year, another anticipated but unexpected loss. We have walked a road of grief with one another all year, and I spend too much time in funeral homes.

In my seventh decade now, I feel the effects of living in a broken world, though I count the joys of my life more than the aches and pains. I have experienced much in the time of my sojourn. I look forward to living out the masterpiece of my destiny. Still, life is brief at its longest.

I’m convinced we were meant for more, eternity planted in our hearts by the One who made us and wants to share that eternity with us. I know in the depth of my being that there is something else, something beyond, something so glorious my mind cannot conceive it. I am longing for that place more these days.

As I watch the transformation autumn brings to the world, I sense the seasons of my life. The yard is peppered with fallen leaves, and I want them to hold to the tress a little longer so I can enjoy their changing colors. I hope the warm days stay awhile so the plants outside keep growing. I’d like to see the single tomato on the vine turn red. Yet I know cold and winter will come this year as it always does, sooner than I would like.

I talked with a friend today, expressing my heart, my concerns, my longing to stay strong in body and mind. If I allowed it, I could worry myself into distress. But I have a Father who is in control of all of me and much more. He has claimed me as His own. I have given Him my life to do with as He pleases. My days are His.

I rest in the truth of Psalm 62:11 and 12:

God has spoken once, twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God. Also to You, O Lord, belong mercy and loving-kindness . . . (Amp.)

God is strong and God is good. That is enough for me.

Monday grace.

Sunday grace

I never want to wish my life away, but I wanted the week to be over.

Come the morning, and I waken to newness. It is fresh, untainted. Even my journal pages are still neat without the scribbles of changed plans, check offs, and scratch-through tasks I deem unnecessary.

Just for today then . . .

I simply want to know I am loved.

I need to hear I am accepted as I am.

I long to be called, “My child.”

I must believe I am forgiven.

I hunger for the comfort of the Kinsmen Redeemer.

Hurriedly dressing for early band practice at church, I grab my music bag and purse. In the car I turn on the radio and hear love songs on the Christian station I’m tuned to. I take them as a gift, an embrace from my Savior who hears the prayers from such as I.

I am assured . . . that I am lavishly loved, accepted in the Beloved, called to be part of the family, forgiven of all my sins, redeemed with shed blood, and rescued with an outstretched arm.

Thank you, Father.

Sunday grace.

Sunday grace

I remember a song recorded by Kathy Troccoli in 1997, and I’ve been singing it to myself.

My life is in Your hands. My heart is in Your keeping.
I’m never without hope, not when my future is in You.
My life is in Your hands, and though I may not see clearly,
I will lift my voice and sing, ’cause Your love does amazing things.
Lord, I know my life is in Your hands.

I’m comforted by these words, a reminder that, from beginning to designated end, I am kept by the strength of the Almighty. My body is fragile in a broken world. But my spirit was made for eternity, the longing for it stirring me, looking toward it with eyes of faith. I know there is something more, something better, something glorious.

Some weeks are a wild ride, and like any roller coaster fan, I hold on for dear life with the ups and downs, unanticipated twists and turns. It speeds up on its descent, and I try to catch my breath.

I’ve carried burdens for friends and family, sensitive to the weight of pain, grief, sorrow, and the unexpected. Bearing one another’s burdens fulfills the law of Christ in me, making my heart tender and more loving, teaching me compassion and empathy.

I’ve asked for prayer too, which is sometimes hard for me. Perhaps it’s my introversion, my stubborn independence or the very real place of responsibility the Lord has placed me for many years. Admitting my own need is a practice in humility, and that is good, necessary even. If I am to be a member of the body of Christ and not just a bystander, I confess I cannot do this own my own. Prayers and loving concern from my people are soothing balm in my weariness.

My Bible reading reminded me in Psalm 55:22 to cast all my cares, throw them upon the Lord, releasing the weight to stronger shoulders than mine. And He will sustain me, provide for me, nourish me, not letting me be shaken, totter or slip away from His care. What comfort!

As another week begins fresh and new, in its first hours, I hear the birds waken with their morning song. I hear their rejoicing and want to join in. This is the day the Lord has made.

A prayer from Every Holy Moment by Douglas Kaine McKalvey seems apt.

Heavenly Father,
Prepare our souls for those sorrows and joys and celebrations and disappointments we will encounter, that every circumstance would serve only to draws us nearer to you.”

May every circumstance serve to draw me closer to Him who loves me most.

And I say ‘Amen.’

Sunday grace.

Monday grace

I read this from Emily P. Freeman, and wrote it down for my quote book:

“To control, coerce, and manipulate is not our job . . . Instead, we adapt, accept and acknowledge what we need to let go, and continue to do the next right thing.”

I thought a lot about this. Trying to control is something I’m familiar with. I am well practiced in planning outcomes, managing my environment, and sometimes gently persuading people (an honest confession). Often my efforts are futile.

In the early months of the year I lost control of many things, so I set out to control the wild gardens in the yard, a suitable substitute I suppose. As days stretch long and calendar months change, I find myself still dealing with the uncontrollable. It’s time to change my thinking.

Adapt. Accept. Acknowledge. That requires some serious thought. Instead of struggling, I can learn to accept what I cannot change and move forward to live my one wonderful life with joy.

I can acknowledge the struggle and the strain, try to adapt to the present situation, and move forward with a positive attitude rather than kicking and screaming as I’m dragged along.

My bullet journal has a page titled, What Gives Me Life? Monthly I listed what was good for me, what brought peace and comfort to my soul and a presence of grace in my spirit.

Reviewing the eight months of 2020, I see some recurring themes.

Nature nurtures. Walking outside, enjoying the changing seasons, meandering and noticing the small.
I need people. Honest conversations with friends and family, listening well and opening my own heart with honesty.
Accomplish something. Breaking large projects into small bites and seeing progress little by little is satisfying.
Music soothes. My piano students even when Zoom was challenging, playing with the band on Sunday morning at church, working hard on a new song myself, and CDs filling the house with melody.
Moving slow. Fast is sometimes needed, but slow lets me enjoy the process.
Making art. Crafting something with my mind and hands engaged, whether that is sewing, gardening, arranging flowers on the mantel above the fireplace.
Books. Bible studies and commentaries, fiction and non-fiction, memoir and biography, they keep me learning and growing.
Giving and receiving love. Checking on my neighbors, waving to the mail person and the Amazon driver, texting with my people, and having love returned by the bushel.
Counting grace. I’ve made the effort to list the blessings of God, even on the hard days. Once I get started, I think of many things He gives as daily gifts.
Quiet. Introverts will identify. I need some solitude, reflection time, a chance to process what’s going on in my brain to make sense of it.

I cannot dictate the coming days or wish away what disturbs me. I can choose to focus on what is good and holy about this world, to love and be kind at every opportunity, and to nourish myself with what gives me life in a year that has pulled and stretched the muscles of us all. The world has changed. May I learn contentment as I live out of my days.

Monday grace.

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
— Philippians 4


As August ends

The month of August signals the end of summer, and it brought a mixture of emotions. Its ending marks eight months of 2020 in past tense, over half of it spent in quarantine, covered faces, and rising discord.

It will not be so different tomorrow when September begins new and fresh. Still, I will greet the new month with gladness, anticipating grace from a loving Savior and His peace in the midst of this storm.

The gardens flourish and bring me pleasure, unlike 2019. Last year’s journal records the yard out of control, driving me to despair. While I categorize my gardening style as somewhat wild and slightly unruly, like my messy hairstyle, it is agreeable enough and satisfying this year.

“It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.”The Nester, Myquillyn Smith

Surprisingly, all my zinnias bloomed pink until yesterday when an orange one opened. It stands out different, reaffirming the uniqueness of all God’s creations. The variety and colors on the deck, by the sidewalk, and on the front porch remind me why I wear myself out with yard work.

For eight months I’ve listened to Daily Audio Bible, beginning January 1, a year-long program taking me through the entire Bible. I’ve made progress by simply tuning in each day. The rewards are more than I expected, hearing the ancient words read to me, noticing details I’ve skimmed over in years past.

A week ago, the reading was in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul expounding on the resurrection. I listened to the comparison of a body to a seed buried in the ground that will rise from the earth amazingly transformed. I pictured a small sunflower seed changed into the grandest of flowers, an astonishing transfiguration. As a sower of seeds, I witness the change every summer, the death of the seeds resulting in extraordinary arrays of color and shape in my garden. How much more remarkable will our glorified bodies be?

I’ve read a lot of books this year, because, well, that’s one thing we’ve not been advised to stop doing. This month I finished Brain Wash by David and Austin Perlmutter, father and son and both medical doctors. The message seeks to direct us toward good brain health through “clearer thinking, deeper relationships, and lasting happiness.”

The chapters encouraged disconnecting from so much technology, practicing gratitude, spending time in nature, eating natural food versus processed, getting exercise, being mindful, and strengthening relational bonds. All of this with the goal of a healthier brain.

I read with rapt interest, since keeping my brain strong and vital is a real concern. One concept worth mentioning is the isolation and loneliness we experience in a society so easily and quickly connected through technology. Apparently, this is not sufficient for the human need for relationship.

The 2020 pandemic has divided us further from personal encounters. As I enter the grocery store, masked for protection, I avoid people and don’t make much eye contact. I self-check out so I am the one handling my purchases.

As I slowly began mingling with people again, piano students, friends, church, there is the hesitation to shake hands or give a hug, what was natural as rain last year and done without a second thought. Now, seeing someone to our door after a visit, we stand awkwardly, wondering if it’s safe to wrap an arm around each other. This is heartbreaking to me.

We are missing the “power of interpersonal relationships and all the benefits they confer. . . . [T]hese ties to our friends, families, and society as a whole are essential for everything,” according the Drs. Perlmutter.

It makes me wonder if the greatest threat to our world is not coronavirus, but the separateness we are experiencing because of fear, anxiety and anger. Those things register high on our emotional thermometer these days.

Our Creator is relational to the core of His being. He created us for relationship, first with Himself and then with each other. Sin brought disconnection, brokenness, and we are lost with our wounded hearts.

Jesus offers us Himself completely, openly, without reservations. He invites us to come. No reservations. No pretense. No mask. We are welcomed just like we are. He restores the fragmented pieces. He puts His love inside and we are made whole again. Whole to live and love like Him.

I am weary of the world as it is. I long for something else, for the transformation of my earthly seed into the extravagance of the incorruptible.

Until then, I am called to live my one wonderful life on this earth following God where He leads me, loving the people He puts in my path, and pointing them to Jesus, the healer of broken hearts.

Tuesday thoughts

The day begins earlier than usual, presenting its uncertainty and troubling prospects. I feel the angst within me.

Listening to the latest news does not calm me; rather it fuels the fire already smoldering.

I glance at social media. It does nothing but stir a boiling pot.

Texting multiple times, I check on my people. I want them to be safe, careful.

I consider this strange year. I pray for justice, for wrongs to be made right, for truth to prevail, for a peaceful end to ongoing conflict. But is there any peace in this dark world?

I listen to both sides of political rhetoric. Promises are easy to make, harder to fulfill. Ask any married couple.

My prayer partner calls and I confess my worried mind, my actions and words, opening my heart to her who knows my secrets and still loves me. She prays and I breathe deeply of the presence of the Holy.

Putting on my work clothes, I head outside to pull weeds, clear brush, cut stray saplings in the azaleas until the sweat pours from my face. I hope the exertion will soothe my mind, rolling like thunder before a coming storm.

My determined purpose is to pray today and not to fret. To pray and not scan the myriad of posts and opinions publicly shared. To pray and cast all my cares upon the only One who can carry them faithfully.

My life is in His hands. My heart is in His keeping.

He never promised an easy road or that we would be well-liked by everyone or that trouble would never cross our thresholds.

What He promised was His presence in and through it all. For it is in Him we live and move and have our being. He is above and below all, covering the earth with His glory. His eyes are upon the whole earth and He sees.

I will myself, with all the spiritual strength I muster, to rest in His unchanging, unchallenged, inexhaustible grace where I am safe forever.

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
— 1 Timothy 1:17

Tuesday thoughts

This picture is in the monthly publication of Kentucky Living, an advertisement for the state fair.

I can’t decide if this is funny or sad. I have determined that some things so odd in April this year are now the prevailing situation, a standard by which we are being asked to live. And that, I’m sure, is sad.

As I consider how the latest changes and the completely different are the new normal, I count things in my life that are anchored and familiar.

The blue sky and white puffy clouds have been especially beautiful this August. I’ve notice them more, perhaps, looking for lovely where I can find it. And lovely is everywhere if we have eyes to see.

Morning glories wind their way around deck posts. The purples come up with abandon, and I must pull some to keep them controlled. Yet, their beauty wakens the day for me.

This year I have two other varieties. Tie Dye morning glory seeds were given to me by a good friend and fellow gardener a few years ago. They flourish and are blooming furiously. I think of my friend when I see them, her good and honest friendship.

The simple flowers of summer’s end, zinnias, cocks comb, morning glory, signal the coming fall. I reflect on the seasons’ unbroken constancy, and it brings comfort.

Schools are in session, and though it is nothing like 2019 for staff, teachers and students, the routine of buying supplies, making preparation and digging into studies is part of family life. Seeing the racks of folders, markers and pencils at Walmart bring a nostalgia, and I want to buy a new notebook.

This morning I talked on the phone with my long-time prayer partner at 6:30 am. It is our weekly practice. We both marvel at God’s plan to give us this partnership and the tenacity to hang on for so many years. We admit it is a God thing and grace for sure. This weekly blessing is not affected by quarantines, and we count it pure joy.

My six-year old neighbor visited us yesterday. He is full of conversation and has the busy energy of boyhood. He is sunshine to Sweet William and me. I watched him come and remembered how our grandchildren used to meander through the same field, stopping to examine a flower or insect, how they waved their hello and good-bye. His presence in our lives and in the house next door is an exceptional gift.

While life seems to change weekly, so much of it strange, uncomfortable, even fearful, there remains an unchanging quality in the presence of God through the beauty of nature, the kindness of friends, the love we share with others, family bonds, an honest conversation, and a trusted companion.

God is still on the throne of all creation. He has not abdicated His sovereignty. He works in the quiet places of hearts. He hears our prayers, and He answers according to His perfect will.

The constancy of my Father in Heaven holds me together when I think I may be falling apart or losing my ability to cope with this crazy world. He is the Faithful One, the same yesterday, today, forever.

Always and forever beyond any normal.

Tuesday thoughts

I’ve struggled to write for weeks, not wanting the subject to be coronavirus, pandemic, social distancing, riots in cities, and daily news leaving me anxious. But here I am. My communication to friends via technology usually includes, “How are you doing in this crazy world?”

I want to move into the remainder of this year without unrest, rules that change weekly, word-wars between political parties and regular people. I don’t want to worry if I’ve been exposed to the virus and if I washed my hands before I just touched my face.

I’m tired of mob rule, authorities telling me where I can and cannot go, quarantines, and rising covid numbers. I’m tired of wearing a mask.

And yet, when I begin to count my blessings . . .

I’m eating my fill of tomatoes from my own plants. The respite of these cool August mornings are a summer surprise. Fresh herbs from my garden enhance the flavors of everyday food.

There is ink in my pen when I journal, vegetables and a note from a friend left on our front porch, and a driveway chat with a family moving their oldest to college. Friendship bread with a cinnamon-sugar topping is delicious with a cup of hot coffee.

I have my good weed eater, tools to dig and trim plants, and pots of blooming delight on the deck and front porch. I have clean water to drink.

My anticipation for bird song each morning at daybreak does not disappoint, and the little wren has the loudest voice. Squirrels perform gymnastics on the branches of trees, and I smile. Maisie greets me at the door like I’m the best thing in her world.

Sweet William and I are blessed with friends and family who check on us and pray when we need courage, those who help carry our burdens and sit with us when there’s nothing else to do.

I tune into on-line Bible studies and listen to encouraging podcasts. The ancient Scriptures refresh my spirit. Familiar songs fill my head and I sing out loud.

I laugh and I cry, and both relieve my stress. I walk on the lane feeling the sun on my skin and I sit under the shade of trees. I work my body, and it feels good to be active at my age.

I settle into a bed of clean sheets with a good book from the thrift store or my library. The fan gently hums, relaxing me for sleep. Sweet William smiles at me and we are at peace in this old house.

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We shelter at home. In the middle of strangeness and uncertainty, this is our safe place. It is solace and consolation and a reassuring comfort with memories hung like art in every room.

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In this world there will always be trouble, sometimes at greater degrees than others. Jesus said it would be. He said He would not leave us alone, that one like Him, an Advocate, would come to be with us, to live in us, to lead and teach and intercede for us.

While there are moments of feeling alone, stranded, and despairing, it is just that – a feeling. It is not truth. The truth remains like a rock foundation, unchanging, immovable. It will not be shaken.

The rock Christ Jesus is a shelter for me.

[Jesus said,] “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” –John 16:33 NIV

Sunday grace

Life is a conundrum. When I assume I might be figuring things out, it all changes and I think I haven’t got a clue.

Aware that half of 2020 is now in the past is weighty. What a strange year thus far, and the bizarre train is full throttle.

July is my birth month, and wisdom of the years comes from the hardest places. Memories of joy-filled celebrations gave way to take-out food, simple gifts, and texts from friends and family. Knowing I am loved and remembered is enough this year.

We arranged a retreat only to cancel. We planned events and celebrations but rescheduled more than once. The goals written in January lie somewhat dormant on the page of my bullet journal.

The gardens I labored over in spring battle for space while Kentucky fescue invades like a bully. More delicate flowers will lose if I don’t step in with Round-Up. My tomato plants wilt daily from the heat as I watch for green to turn to red.

This has become the year when taking it one day at a time is a mantra. Sweet William and I routine through our days. Mornings on the deck are a reprieve while the air is bearable, birds serenading from the little woods like they don’t know any better.

Perhaps they understand more than we do. They rejoice with song each new day, depending on food from the earth, a provision of their Creator. They build nests and raise young until little ones grow too big and must learn to fly.

Why should I worry about tomorrow or the next half of 2020? Does God feed the sparrows in my back yard, clothe the lilies in my field, send me sunshine and rain, marking seasons with moon and stars? He does.

Worry is futile, projecting into a future not yet here. The Lord made this day, preparing fresh mercies. He is more than enough for my concerns, sorrows, and burdens. He is my Good Shepherd and the God who sees me, right here, right now. He is my peace and my righteousness. His love will never ever fail me.

That’s really all I need today.

Sunday grace.