Sunday grace – on Mother’s Day

I wake and move into this day slowly. It’s Mother’s Day, the one day of the year I determine to treat myself with kindness, moving at my own pace, choosing the activities and the lunch Sweet William will pick up at a local restaurant. He knows it can be a challenging day for me, that I meet it with mixed emotions, and He is tender with my heart.

The Spirit draws me to Lamentations 3, a chapter that contains cherished verses, ones I turn to often. The center of it declares the compassionate and faithful Lord I serve. It is He who sustains me in all the seasons of life. He is stability in changing circumstances. He alone can speak peace to my storm. He gives joy unspeakable and showers me with blessings, daily being the Presence with me and in me.

3:19-20 “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast with me.”

When I look at the sadness of life, missing my mother since 1983, missing my dear ones since 2011, and now missing my cousin, Candi, since December, my soul is downcast indeed.

3:22-23 “Yet this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope; Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Ah, these verses remind me to look at the goodness of the Living God in my life. His love surrounds me every day, all day. His compassion is His glory revealed to Moses. His lovingkindness took on flesh and walked among us, showing us the love of the Father.

Calling to mind the faithfulness of my Father turns my attention away from loss and toward Him who fills the hungry with good things and satisfies my longing soul. I need that reminder today.

I received texts from friends who love me, younger and older and in-between. I am greatly blessed. God has filled me full with the love of precious people. I texted a friend whose son died from covid last year, her first Mother’s Day without him, and I cannot imagine how hard that must be. My son is alive and texted me early, and he will call sometime today. What a blessing that is.

3:24 “I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion [inheritance]; therefore, I will wait [hopeful expectation] for Him.‘”

Hope has been my word for two years now. Not a pie-in-the-sky hope but an expectation that God will do what is best and provide what I need. He has done that in so many ways. So Many Ways.

3:25-26 “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

Hoping and waiting, in quiet expectation for His salvation, that is what I do today. And therefore, my soul is at rest and finds peace.

In some ways I have less angst this Mother’s Day, though my heart is still a roller coaster of feelings. The losses are evident, and things are different again this year. Different is hard, until it doesn’t feel so different anymore. Until it becomes the new normal, until I adjust yet again.

Later Sweet WIlliam and I will watch “Mom’s Night Out” and I will laugh and tears will spill from my eyes. It’s my go-to Mother’s Day movie, giving release to all the sentiments of this day. Mothering is challenging and difficult and sometimes heart-breaking. It’s also glorious and beautiful and has filled me to overflowing in ways I could not have anticipated. Motherhood is worth all of the effort.

I think of the women who mothered me, the ones who nurtured and cared, who asked hard questions and encouraged me to be strong, the ones who believed in me when I didn’t believe I had what it takes. I stand because they held me up and cheered me on.

I will count my blessings on this exceptional day in the year. I will remember the goodness of my heavenly Father. I will hope expectantly for God to do what God does best. Be the Captain of Hosts. Be the Redeemer. Be Mighty God. Be the Good Shepherd and the Running Father. Be Salvation. Be Peace and Provider. Be a Strong Tower of Defense.

He is all and in all, and all things hold together because of Him. He is holding me together. I will wait for Him. I will rejoice and be glad for He has been faithful to me.

Sunday grace – taste your life

Years ago, I learned the value of slowing down when I ate. I was watching my weight. Food was limited. I wanted to enjoy every bite.

I am also a sipper of coffee. I don’t gulp it down in the mornings just to absorb the caffein. I like to hold the warmth, savor the first sips, taste the depth of its bold flavor and the richness of the cream.

I’ve been a journaler, a record keeper, a saver of memories for many years. My stack of notebooks fill one shelf and overflow to another. I look through them for reference. I re-read them occasionally to remember. I need to remember my life.

“I wanted to look at the words, savor the experience, feel the joy, and live every moment.  I was so afraid I would forget what had happened to me.” — Nicole Johnson, Fresh Brewed Life

I write, partly, so I won’t forget what happened to me.  At this age it is important to recall what I did yesterday, what I ate, who I spent time with, what words we shared with each other.  I want to remember. And I want to taste and savor this life I’ve been given.

And isn’t that exactly the thing? Life is a journey. Enjoy the ride.  As I hear of another death, and then another, I am reminded again that Life is Short.

How often I’ve zipped through my day, crossing off items on my list, getting the job done, finishing that task so I move to the next one and feel like I accomplished something at day’s end?

But did I taste my life? Did I savor the conversation? Did I notice the blue sky, the bloom of flowers? Did I take in the fresh smell of cut grass? Did Maisie’s antics amuse me or aggravate me? Did I enjoy the process of living today?

Did I truly listen to Sweet William with whom I share my days? Or was I multi-tasking and only processing the gist of what he said, while I was busy with lesser things? Did I seek to understand?

Did I text or call the person who’s been on my mind? Did I send the card I’d been meaning to mail? Did I say “yes” to someone needing to talk? Did I accept the interruption in my day as an invitation from the Father?

Did I spend time with the Living God? Did I pray?

100_3204

I’ve gobbled down on-the-run meals when I just needed sustenance. I didn’t enjoy my food. The pleasure of the taste was lost in my hurry.

I’ve lived some days the same way. Survival mode. Get through it. Hope the strength will last until I fall into bed at night.

Savoring life has to be intentional. I have to think about it. I must look for the joy. Sometimes it is a fight to count grace, to actively seek contentment. When I stumble into the pitfalls, I must put on a hard hat, stepping carefully through the rubble, and hope I don’t get hit with a two by four. Even there, I can find something beautiful.

I believe joy is present if I look for it. Maybe I will catch a glimpse through tears. Perhaps I will fall on my knees, face to the ground in surrender to the in-control-God who works good out of devastation and brings beauty from the ashes.  It could be that walking by faith in the thunderstorm, searching for the rainbow, is my modus operandi for today.

It becomes the necessary goal, to taste life, the sweet and the bitter, the salty and the bland. It’s the mixture of all the flavors that gives it zest. This is what teaches me to endure, what helps me learn compassion for others, and what gives me reason for joyful celebration.

Smell the aroma. Anticipate the pleasure. Taste your life. It is full of grace, and it’s amazing.

Sunday grace.

It was a Good Friday, it was a Holy Friday

Good Friday.  Why do we call it good?  From all appearances, that day looked like anything but good.

The Passion of Christ

A false arrest in the wee hours of the morning.  Friends who ran in fear.  One denies he even knew Him.  One betrays Him for a pittance.

Accusations that fly in the face where slaps and spit follow.  Soldiers who had any compassion trained out of them, beating Him to near death.

Mocking words that contradict all He ever said.  A crowd jeering, crying out for death.  Religious leaders leading the rabble-rousers.  Political leaders afraid to do what is right.

A heavy, splintered cross laid on a back where the flesh was already torn away.  Crown of thorns piercing the brow with its poison.  A long and hard Via Dolorosa.  Golgotha in view.

Sound of nails in flesh and sinew.  Thud of crosses in deep holes.  Cries of pain and agony that only the crucified know.

A few lone followers, women and John, deep in the throes of grief and grasping for some understanding behind all this suffering and finality to a ministry that flourished only a week ago.

Alone. Forsaken. Separated.   Darkness. Earthquake. Storm. Death.

Sin exposed to the judgment of a Holy God.

Nothing of this day looked good.  This was a day gone horribly wrong.

Or was it?

“The King of the Jews” was written in three languages, a foretaste of the Gospel preached to all nations.

A thief on another cross entered into Paradise, giving us hope that salvation is still offered at the very last hour for those who believe.

Two secret disciples, Joseph of Arametha and Nicodemus, come out of hiding to do the right thing and acknowledge the One who came from God.

Forgiveness offered from a heart only understood by a loving Heavenly Father.

Words spoken from parched and bleeding lips that shout the victory battle cry, “It is finished!”

A veil torn in two so that all people will know they are welcomed into The Presence.

The penalty paid in full, judgment recompensed.

A Redeemer revealed

Blood of The Lamb poured out to take away the sin of the world.

The Plan, laid foundationally eons before by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, brought to completion.

And I see it.  And it is good!

Remembering the cross of Christ I recall my sins and His suffering.  My debt and His payment.  My hopelessness and His free gift.  My searching and His seeking love.  My past and now my future.

Jesus paid it all.  All to Him I owe. 
Sin had left a crimson stain.  He washed it white as snow.

Good Friday.  It was a good day – for me and for the world.

And remember, Sunday is on the way.

Reposted from 2013

Sunday grace

Sometimes I cannot get something out of my head. As I read the Gospel account of the Passover preparations, this thing stays with me.

Jesus sent Peter and John to look for a man carrying a water jar. He told them to ask him about the guest room and to follow him and make preparations for their Passover celebration.

There’s a lot going on here that would seem to be women’s work in first century Judea. Carrying water. Making a room ready. Preparing a Passover meal.

It was no small task to clean and cook. There were details the Jewish people knew from Scripture that needed to be exacting. There were traditions they had gathered around tables for hundreds of years, foods and added activities that helped the people to remember and provided a means to teach their children.

I wonder, did Peter and John have any help? Did they feel this was demeaning, this task of preparing a meal? Or did they feel special, being appointed for this assignment, because, well, they were the “important disciples?” I don’t know, but I’ve been considering these questions.

When I’m required to do lowly work, what are my first thoughts and attitude? If I’m asked to do something that will bring me public acclaim or at least a pat on the back, how do I respond, knowing it will surely be noticed? When the job is unseen, maybe even unappreciated, are my thoughts pure or disgruntled? Am I simply glad to serve or am I annoyed that I have to?

I don’t need to tell you the answer. My pride may be showing up more than what humility I think I possess. I’ve been faced with both kinds of responsibilities this week, and there’s been some heart examination going on.

In the upper room, with all preparations completed, dinner table discussion ensued among the twelve about who was the greatest. It was not their first time on this topic. And it was not the first time Jesus tried to explain and show them that the least in the kingdom will be the greatest. A little child is of utmost importance to Him, He told them, and should be to those who want to be a disciple. They were dull of hearing. Sometimes I am too.

Jesus took a towel and a basin, knelt before one man, removed a shoe and began to wash one dirty foot at a time, all the way around the table. They were shocked, dismayed. Peter protested. What kind of common posture was their Lord and Master taking, Him on the floor before the likes of them?

 “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.” –John 13:12-17 NLT

I wonder how often those men talked of that night and remembered the time their Savior washed their feet? I believe the message finally got through to them: after they saw their risen Lord, after they were filled with the Holy Spirit, after their eyes were opened to the plan God had been working out all along.

The disciples and those under their teaching would write of servanthood, of doing as Christ had done.

“God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.” –1 Peter 4:10 NLT

“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” — 1 John 3:18 NLT

“Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another.” –Romans 12:10 NLT

The early church’s lesson is my lesson to learn. To serve in love. To serve without complaining. To serve when no one is watching. To serve with a heart of joy. Because in serving I reflect the heart of Christ. He made the role of Servant a high calling.

Beth Moore says, “. . . we may have no idea as to the significance of the work God has called us to do.”

The work He calls us to do might be to speak before thousands. It could be to nurture a child’s heart. It could be in the public eye where many will notice. Or it might be an obscure room where we kneel down and wash another’s feet.

The work of Christ is worthy, no matter what He calls me to do. There is a blessing in store when I do whatever He asks. And so I pray:

Search me, O God my Savior, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious and self-centered thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends You. Lead me in the path You took, the path of righteousness, the path of servanthood. I want to follow You by serving others.

Sunday grace.

Walking toward Passover

The moon tonight will be at her full. I’ve been watching it for days, early mornings as it illuminates still darkened rooms, anticipating. Recently I heard someone say he did not rise until the sun was up. I thought, “Oh, you don’t know what you are missing.” The pre-dawn is my favorite time of day. Perhaps it is my introverted self who enjoys the stillness, with only the flicker of gas logs and perking coffee while all else is quiet. My mind is at rest before an active day begins.

I notice the moon before I’m out of bed, shining through the blinds. It is a sign, a sign of the coming Passover celebration, only a month away. Because Passover always begins on a full-moon evening.

Passover tells the story of the nation of Israel being released from the bondage of Egypt. The traditional meal will be eaten as the events of the exodus are recounted in detail. It is a time of teaching the young, a time to remember past slavery, a time to give thanks for God’s deliverance, and a time to celebrate redemption with family and friends.

I love to think of and celebrate Passover for it has deep significance for me as a Christ follower. Jesus’ last meal with his friends in an upper room was the event of Passover. It was the occasion of Him giving them His last words of encouragement and instruction. It was there He told them to love one another just like He had loved them. That last dinner was a tender time of communion with those who had been with Him through victories and miracles and hopes for the coming kingdom of God.

During Passover, Jesus washed the dirty feet of a dozen men, took a towel and served them on His knees to their astonishment and protests. He was Lord and Master. How could He be doing this lowly, slave-like task? They could not grasp it as He told them they would be blessed if they did the same.

At the Passover table Jesus revealed that one would betray Him, stirring up confusion, suspicion, and self-doubt. Who could possibly do such a thing? And for what reason? Besides, these were able-bodied, strong men who would surround and protect their Teacher? No, that could not happen.

Jesus implored His friends to abide in Him, to dwell in, find their home and comfort in His presence and love like a branch receives life from the vine. Little did they realize that He would soon be taken forcefully from them, with the worst days of their lives on the heels of Jesus’ arrest. They would need a place to go, a shelter under the shadow of the Almighty, as their world reeled and shook with the events during a Passover weekend.

They did not understand, those faithful followers, men and women alike, what Jesus was about to accomplish. Though He tried to tell them on other occasions, they were dull of hearing, listening to their own thoughts of triumphing over their enemies, of securing an earthly kingdom where they would sit at Jesus’ left and right, ruling and reigning with Him. Victory and conquest, that is what they were expecting.

Instead, there would be soldiers, an arrest, a fleeing for their very lives. Denial and forsaking their Master. Darkness and chaos. A mock trial with rabble rousers calling for the release of a criminal instead of the innocent Lamb of God. They could not see Redemption sitting at the Passover table with them, truth unfolding before their eyes.

Before they left the upper room of this Passover finale, Jesus gave them unleavened bread and fruit of the vine, and He called it His body and His blood. He told them to eat and drink it. As they remembered their slavery and emancipation from Egypt, they were now to remember Him. They did not comprehend then, but later they would, and thereafter they would think of Jesus life and death, the salvation He provided, each time they ate and drink in His name.

It happened on a Passover. The Lamb of God slain for the sake of the world. His death would mean deliverance and freedom, the like they had never known.

It is time to remember and prepare for the celebration.

Sunday grace

The world trembles. Men’s hearts fail them for fear. Uncertainty settles like a thick fog.

My thoughts turn repeatedly to people being thrust from their homes, families fleeing with the bare necessities. I wonder what I would pack in one suitcase in a frantic escape. I have no idea if this is the end, the culmination of time as we know it.

Trouble threatens, envelopes, and strangles. Oh Lord, have mercy!

As I sit with the Scriptures, I recall a much younger version of myself, many years ago, when Lamentations 3:22 and 23 became important and real to me.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Great is Thy Faithfulness. It is a favorite song. The ancient words have taken on modern melodies, while its truth is proclaimed by trusting voices, mine included. I remember how my Father was faithful to me. I call to mind, like Jeremiah, and I have hope.

While the world totters in wars and rumors of wars, people closer to me, friends and family, fight their own battles. I have mine. The enemy laser focuses his array of ammunition, not only on nations but on individuals, their minds and bodies. He uses his arsenal of pain, depression, and heartache. Is there dialog in Heaven, reminiscent of Job, about how far he is allowed to go with his unrelenting oppression?

I pray for people on the other side of the globe. I ask for God’s mercy, for His care over them. I pray for peace, knowing true peace is only found in the Prince of Peace. I pray for those near to me whose struggles I know more intimately. Those who endure long, who wait for a light in their tunnel, who hope for an answer, who pray without ceasing.

“In the world you shall have tribulation; . . . ” John 16:33

I don’t understand God’s ways. I often ask Him questions, and He is patient with me. Silent but patient. I wish I understood. But I don’t, because I am finite, and my capacity to comprehend is miniscule. I occupy a small place in history. It is temporary, my candle burning shorter. How can I expect to grasp the greater scheme, the blueprint of all eternity, the foundational plan?

. . . “but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

I take a breath, inhale the very Words of life, gasping as one pulled from drowning. These Words, exhaled into existence by the Eternal, were given so I could know the fullness of grace in the Beloved.

Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” John 11:40

I’m so glad the story of a desperate father seeking help for his diseased son was recorded in the gospel of Mark. In his honesty he replies to Jesus, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” The man pleads with Jesus, “If you can . . . .” Did Jesus chuckle at that? I wonder.

I do know Jesus can. I believe it with all of my being. How and when and in what way He will move toward His greater purpose, those things remain unclear to me. The mystery of Living God who answers to no man or woman, who lives in unapproachable light, whose full glory has not been seen by mortals, He alone knows His ways and His whys.

Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith and confidence in Me?” Mark 4:40

Fear is a weapon used against the children of God. Fear is tormenting and grabs my focus from the One who saves with His mighty arm. Fear asks too many questions: “What will happen next? How will I cope? Is this the end? Why me?” If I’m living in fear, I am not abiding in Christ.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” John 15:9

Abide, dwell, remain in the love of Christ. Take shelter in the secret place, under the watchful care of the Father who knows the hairs of my head, counts my tears, watches over my coming and going now and forevermore, and loves me with an everlasting love. Where else could I go but to Him?

I listen for His voice in the stillness of the morning while the birds wake and sing their sleepy refrains. I listen as I read His words written and preserved for me. I listen to songs of praise in the wearisome days of walking earth’s road. I listen. I sing along.

 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.” John14:1

As usual, I have no simple answers for the world’s unrest, for rising gas and food prices, for one friend’s family problems and another’s ongoing health struggles. Many of my inner conversations end with “I just don’t know.” What I do know is that God is faithful, just as Jeremiah confessed. I make the same confession. I’ve experienced it during my seven decades. I know His peace that passes understanding, even while I weep. I know His love that is beyond comprehending. I’ve been in His care since before I took my first breath.

The world with all of its pleasures and troubles will one day fade. The place we call home now will be made new and better, more beautifully perfect that I can dream of. My anticipation rises for something beyond my imagining. Until then, I will trust Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Their presence resides in this lowly, aging temple. There is nothing else to compare and no place else to go and no one who has the power to save.

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

Sunday grace.

A waiting season

Lent began yesterday, March 2, with Ash Wednesday. It is a 40-day journey to the cross of Jesus Christ. It can be a time of preparation, a time to search my heart, and a time of surrender.

My childhood church did not participate in Lent, or even mention it, as I recall. I learned about Lent when I was hired as pianist by a small Methodist congregation. They met in a beautiful sanctuary where the rising sun on Easter morning shone through stained glass windows. My first experience of Lent was one of observation, listening, and learning the importance of this particular season. Since then, I pay more attention.

As the earth begins its rebirth after the cold, grey starkness of winter, the looking for life to emerge, it is appropriate that we should contemplate Jesus’ road to Calvary. Death to Life. The Gospel writers record in detail Jesus’ last days on earth. It was paramount to them. And it is to me.

Lent is the in-between time, an arrow pointing us to Jesus’ determined journey toward Jerusalem, knowing His death was imminent. It was the reason He came, the reason He took on flesh, born a helpless babe, to be cared for and nurtured by His very own creation.

These days are worth my consideration.

Remembering in the Scripture is more action than just brain activity. When the Bible records “God remembered,” it was usually a precursor to Him preparing to act. When Scripture tells me to remember, I am to pause and reflect, relive the event so that it has renewed importance.

And he [Jesus] took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” — Luke 22:19

At the start of the Lenten season, I ponder how to focus on Jesus’ Via Dolorosa. During the weeks leading us to Resurrection Sunday, I want to be intentional in opening my heart to the message that God was willing to pay my debt of sin, all because of love.

A thought comes from "40 Days, a Lenten Journey with Liz Curtis Higgs’ and The Women of Easter,” via Facebook.

What if I offered God my whole self, nothing held back?”

What if I decide to open my heart completely so my Father can heal and make whole? What if I give Him free reign to examine my thoughts? What if I surrender my actions, my plans and activities to His control? What if I really did offer my whole self to Him?

These questions call me to prayer.

Holy Spirit, help me offer my whole self to Thee, withholding nothing.
Amen. So be it.

A season of wintering

I’ve been asking myself the same question in these cold winter days: “Lord, what do you want to do in me?”

I’m not hearing any trumpet sounds or voices from the sky. I don’t know the answer to the question I ask. More often, I pause to wonder at the Living God’s plan and how He may be working through a situation I’d rather avoid. At least it gives me a change of perspective, and I need a new focus.

The three months since Thanksgiving 2021 were a semi-quarantine. Sweet William and I endured covid, then the death of my cousin, then a fractured ankle that kept me in an orthopedic boot for weeks. Activities were limited, and I resigned myself to be a homebody until I could move about freely. It’s been a season of wintering.

Weeks of confinement made me ponder my life, my schedule (or non-schedule), my time. I wondered what the lesson was. What was God trying to teach me in all of this?

As soon as the boot on my foot came off, I set about to resume activities, to fill my days with piano students, church, friends and family. Dental and doctor visits took another portion of days. It was time to catch up. When I looked at my bullet journal, I wondered why I’d packed so much into a week. Where is the blank space, the margin, the illusive “free day” I want and need?

As an introvert, I require blocks of solitude. I get up early each day to sit quietly, with coffee and the Scriptures in hand. My brain fires slowly in the morning. In the pre-dawn stillness, I read and write to process. Some days my processing has looked a little too much like a pity party. I don’t like that, but apparently, I’m working through my random, swirling thoughts, trying to make sense of them.

Lately, I’ve felt the strain of a full calendar. I noticed stress building. A week of appointments, necessary commitments, present and future responsibilities, and I feel my gut tightening. I blow out a heavy breath occasionally. My thoughts drift as I wander the house trying to do the next thing.

A friend texted recently, asked how I was doing with my cousin Candi’s death. As I typed my response, putting words to the state of my heart, I realized I’m not doing so good. I’ve thrown myself into activity, trying to resume a normal life after months of upheaval. Life has changed dramatically, and I’m trying to adjust. It leaves me with a pain I can’t simply ignore.

We cannot get away from the stress of an earthly existence. Life is hard, and I am of the opinion it is meant to be. The Sovereign God has not given us an easy-peasy life without conquests and challenges, hardships and adversity. We suffer pain, sorrow, and grief. We struggle to build a life, to achieve a goal, and to finish the work. I don’t believe He means it to damage or crush us. I trust His intention and promise to walk with me, to strengthen me on the journey, to build endurance into me, and to teach me compassion and understanding. I believe He means to be my One unshakable source of stability while the ground beneath me trembles. On days that are anything but easy, I learn to run to Him.

In the last three months, my body was sick and in recovery for longer than I wanted. My heart was/is broken by the death of one so dear, and I’m still walking that road. The fractured bone put limitations on me, making me think about this season of life, the aging process and how my body is changing with each passing year.

I think just asking the question, “Lord, what do you want to do in me?” is a prayer of sorts, a surrender to what He wants to do with my one wonderful life. Too often I’ve come kicking and screaming to His plan when it drastically changed my own. I’m a slow learner sometimes when it comes to submitting to His will.

Yet, in the deepest part of my heart, His will is exactly what I desire. I don’t want to go my own blind way, stumbling and fumbling along. I want His guiding hand, the gentle Shepherd’s leadership. I need the still waters, the restoring of my soul. I need to be made to lie down in green pastures when the captivity of activity drives me to distraction.

The Lord Jesus knows the way when I don’t see the next step. He calls me to rest when I’m too weary to think straight. He holds me together when the seams of my life begin to fray. He reminds me that the weight of the world rests on His shoulders, not on mine. He provides daily bread to sustain me. He gives sleep every night while He keeps watch.

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair . . . “
— 2 Corinthians 4:8

This season of wintering will pass, and spring will come again. The world will continue as God ordained it until He comes to make all things new. Until then hard days, challenges, troubles, and tears will be part of this life. The Lord Jesus came to earth as a man to share my humanity and to experience life as I know it. He lived with the hope of a coming victory. Thus, I can live with the same victory, the hope of a promise fulfilled and a glorious future.

On a warm day this week, I walked with Maisie and looked for signs of life in the garden. I found tiny beginnings of peonies shared from a good friend last fall. The birds are singing louder in the little woods these days, as if they know something. I saw a couple of robins, and the purple and white crocuses are blooming beside the front porch. New life emerges as the season begins to change. Nature whispers to me, “Our God is in control.”

I read the Psalms at the beginning of this year. They become words to pray. The ancient letters speak for me and speak to me. They are a balm to my weariness. I need their voice of lament and understanding and hope and praise. They point me to the One and only who holds the world and all creation and will complete the purpose He has planned.

He is the same One who holds me, and He will do what is best in me, through me and for me.

Sunday grace

I wander through the house, wondering what I’m supposed to be doing. It feels like slow motion. I lose focus quickly, moving on without completing the current task. My planner has “to do’s” but I don’t always get them done. And it doesn’t seem to matter.

Life has changed forever with the death of one so dear. It’s not the first time I experienced this lostness, this drifting, this weeping, and it will not be the last. But in this moment of time, with my heart and mind fragmented, God speaks to the woundedness of my soul.

I don’t consider prerusing stores for gifts. I look to Amazon for help or the gift box upstairs that holds previous purchases with friends and family in mind. I hope my people will not be disappointed. I hope they will understand and say “It’s OK.”

Still, I call to mind that this season in December is for celebrating the Living God coming to a broken world to heal and make whole. I lean into His declaration that He Is With Me Always. Sweet relief. Indescribable comfort. I will turn my thoughts to this truth again and again in the days ahead.

On the Sunday before Christmas Day, I retrieve and repeat another year’s post that shouts the unchanging message: Jesus is Emmanuel.

______________________________________________

See the source image

December 2017
I’ve written it in notes and Christmas cards this December, these words I am holding close this season.

Emmanuel God with us.

The hurry and flurry of the holidays keeps us hopping. Our homes are decorated with reds and greens, the twinkling lights gracing shrubbery, windows and trees in our living rooms. Packages appear in brightly wrapped paper and gift bags. We wear our Christmas sweaters with pride.

Friends and family fill the spaces. We drink eggnog and eat too many Christmas cookies. Laughter rings through the house, and we are thankful for these people who gather at the table.

Yet, there are grieving hearts, longing souls, functions that are a little dysfunctional because we all have our own problems to deal with. Sometimes we put on a happy face so no one sees the pain, so we don’t rain on the parade as it marches down the street.

We get irritated with crazy drivers and clogged traffic, long shopping lines and the out-of-stock item we wanted under the tree. Checking accounts are running a little low, and there’s still a week of bills to pay. Our patience is in short supply when demands are made on us that feel more like obligations than celebration. We wonder if our Christmas spirit has gone into hiding.

December is much like every other month on the calendar, fraught with challenges and opportunities. We have a choice on where we will focus.

Emmanuel – In Hebrew: With us is God.

It was the prophecy of Messiah from the pen of Isaiah, re-written in Matthew as a reminder of its fulfilling.

These words, spoken to us by God over and over through our history, as if we are hard of hearing.

Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.    — Genesis 28:15

And He said, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.”   — Exodus 33:14

The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.   — Psalm 46:7

Once more with a pronouncement from the angel Gabriel, God came to us wrapped in humanity, He whose name is Emmanuel.

Nativity

Very God grew and experienced life as I do, with all of its ups and downs, with vigor and weariness, with smiles and tears, with joyful celebrations and heartbreak of separation. He came as the “with us God” and demonstrated to us that we are not alone.

As He left this earth in a burst of clouded glory, He gave one final reminder to those who believed:

 “. . . And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”   — Matthew 28:20

Then sending the promised Holy Spirit, He remains with us in a way we could not have imagined.

Emmanuel. God is with us.

Do not fret or be afraid. Walk in the power of His presence. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad.

Our God is with us. His name is Jesus.

Sunday grace – This was Candi

I remember the day she was born. I was seven years old, sitting on a bed in an upstairs room of my Gramps Lockard’s house, with my cousin Vicki who was five. Someone brought a phone to our ears and we heard Vicki’s mother say, “It’s a girl” from her hospital room somewhere in Louisville. Vicki and I were excited to have another girl in our close-knit family. Her brother Danny, at nine years old, would be the only boy in our band of four.

Somehow, we kids got to help pick the baby’s name, Candi Hope. What kind of parents do that? We were a different family people told us. We only realized it years later. Our mothers were sisters and our fathers brothers, making us double first cousins. As a child, it was hard to understand or explain, but the bond I had with these cousins was strong. Being an only child, they were my substitute siblings, my pals and playmates, my confidantes and comrades. For most of our growing up years, our houses were next door to each other. We kept a path busy between us. We grew up together, went to church together, took family vacations together, spent our holidays together. We became adults, and we built our own houses on the family road.

When my aunt brought Candi came home from the hospital, I thought she was my baby. I wanted to take care of her, and when she was old enough to sit on my hip, I took every opportunity to keep her close. She was adorable, round-faced and happy, eye lashes that would rival a movie star’s fake ones.

As the baby of the family, Candi bore the title well. She was outgoing and fun, almost always smiling, her laughter coming easy. She made friends quickly and kept them for a lifetime. She was popular at school, a cheerleader, member of the choir and debate teams. She peppered her mother with questions and was told she should become a lawyer because she could relentlessly argue her point.

She’s second from the left, with no front teeth.

She had style early on. I sewed clothes for her when she was growing up, and she picked patterns with specifics. She asked me to make her wedding dress because she found two dresses and wanted their features combined. I labored long and prayed to get it just right for her. On the night I finished the dress, I cried from relief. And she looked beautiful on her wedding day.

Sweet William and I gave up our apartment to her and her new husband, Flavius. We moved in with my parents until our under-construction house was livable. I thought on that recently, wondering why I would do that. The only answer could be that she was like my baby sister, and I was willing if I could make her happy.

She was a fashion icon, with a special storage place, build by her Flay, for all her shoes. So many shoes. Her outfits coordinated from the dangling earrings to the bows on her stilettos. Her best feature, when she dressed for success, was her smile, the kind that makes every picture taken of her a keeper.

As adults, we worked together in church, on children’s programs, youth drama groups, Christmas and Easter musicals and plays. We were both planners and into the details. For a couple of amateurs, we coordinated some major productions and high-fived every time it was over.

She loved to sing and became a soloist as a teenager in our church youth choir. The song I remember best is My Tribute. “To God be the glory, for the things He has done.” A song she learned in children’s church became her theme and motto: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” She turned to this truth many times when life didn’t make sense, when sorrow threatened to overwhelm, when God’s ways were hard to accept.

As a young wife and mother, she gathered children around her, teaching them the Word through song and joining her husband in directing children’s church. Many of those children grew to be adults and became her friends.

She welcomed her son’s friends with open heart and open home, providing loads of snacks and a place to spread out and be kids. I remember one video recording made at her house when one of the boys said, “Do not try this in your own home.” Candi and Flavius were gracious with the antics of teenagers, while looking out for their safety and not missing a chance to point them to Jesus.

Candi’s house was party central for family and friends. Any excuse for a gathering was joy to her, never happier than when surrounded by a crowd. She loved it when people filled her home, she and Flavius working side by side to prepare food and make sure everyone had a place at the table. It didn’t matter the mess that was made or the clean-up required later, her door was open.

She became a mother-in-law and welcomed a daughter into her arms. When she became a grandmother, she delighted in having Mamaw day once a week, cherishing special time with her grandboys. She invited their cousins to her house, the third generation of our interconnected families, where they swam in the pool, jumped on the trampoline, created videos, explored the bank to the river, and enjoyed being children under her watchful eye.

She trusted Christ as a child and lived her faith. She testified to her friends who were atheist and non-believers, asking questions, listening and respectfully presenting her argument for Jesus being the only way. After her beloved husband died, she dug into Scripture and studied Heaven, wondering what Flay was doing there, wanting to know the intricacies of the Home the Father has prepared for us. She led our family Bible study for a year, digging into the Word, wanting to know what it truly says, and presenting it to us while giving us room to discuss and think deeply.

In the year leading up to her husband’s death, she and I spent more time together. We were the only ones left on what had been our family lane. I walked to her house many days for what we called “porch chats.” Sitting on her front porch in the early morning, we talked. Mostly I listened as she processed Flavius’ declining health and then his death. Sometimes tears came, and it was OK. We wondered at the ways of God, the hard places of life, what it looks like to trust Him in the dark. In the two years after Flay’s death, our topics spread to politics, theology, business, family, Bible interpretation, the mysteries of life. Nothing was off limits. Mostly we concluded that we just didn’t know all the answers.

On Tuesday, she died too soon for me and our family, and I cannot imagine what the days ahead will be like without her. She was full of fun and laughter and lived life well, even in her widowhood. Her grief did not keep her from participating in the living world around her, in loving and being with people. I cannot imagine another Thanksgiving, Hot Brown Friday, or Christmas morning breakfast. I cannot imagine still being here on this lane and her not being at her house when I walk there. I cannot imagine not ever getting her text again asking, “Do you have time for a chat?” I look at her beautiful home and can’t imagine not ever gathering there with family, with friends, her lighting up the atmosphere with her welcome and smile. I looked at her jewelry collection and can’t imagine not seeing her fashion glam when she dressed up. I cannot imagine not seeing her on the stage of church, leading in worship with the team. I can’t imagine not hearing her voice again sing praises to God.

It’s December and Christmas is near. It will be different this year. I just can’t muster the strength for the holiday flurry. I’ve managed a few decorations for the house, the small fiber optic tree that Sweet WIlliam loves so much, a nativity set and some angels. Somehow I find comfort in the Christmas songs on the radio and I sing along. “Joy to the world the Lord has come” holds me together when I feel like I’m coming apart at the seams. I know there is Truth in the message of Christ’s birth when there are no answers to life’s hard questions. He is Immanuel, the with us God, who gives us the gift of His presence in our deepest despair.

I believe Candi knew something we didn’t. When she got sick, she seemed to settle the life and death issue quickly, while the rest of us wrestled with it and prayed for healing and relief. Just a few days before she died, she texted me her funeral requests, songs she wanted, verses of Scripture that were important to her, especially Psalm 139:18.

. . . all my days were written in Your book and ordained for me before one of them came to be.

She was at peace with God being in charge of her death, the way He appointed her birth and guided her life. I was amazed at her quiet confidence in the One who saved her and the One she followed in simple faith all her years.

We are left with a gaping hole in our hearts. People loved her, cherished her as a friend and mentor. She probably didn’t realize the impact she had on so many. It is the way of a child of God who simply serves and loves and lives to the praise of His glory.

She knows what Heaven is like now. It is wonderful, beyond description. All light, no darkness or pain or tears or separation. Better than any travel destination. Yes. The mortal has been replaced with immortality, and life has never been as real, as wonderful and fair.

She called me “Cuz,” and that cousin relationship will always be our bond. But she was like my baby sister. Until we meet again in our Heavenly home, I’ll miss her always. Yet I grieve with the hope of another Time and another Place. Life without end. Seeing Jesus my Savior. Rejoicing with family and friends who will welcome me. Never separated again. Joy evermore. A continual Christmas celebration. All will be glory and praise to the One who made it possible.

Sunday grace.