Sunday grace

According to Webster’s dictionary, normal is defined as:  the usual, average, or typical state or condition.

It certainly does not describe what I’m living now. As I think of it, how often has my “normal” changed?

When I left my parents’ home to marry Sweet William, I learned a new normal. When I became a mother, life was never the same again. That role evolved many times and always into a completely new normal. When life took turns in an unexpected direction and I was faced with impossible uphill climbs,  I stretched and prayed to learn normal once again.

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I am here once more. While my days of confinement have become somewhat predictable, the world outside is morphing almost daily. I’m trying to learn new ways of doing things, adapting to my situation, while trying to keep a positive outlook that this self-distancing, COVID-19, uncommon spring season will eventually become a memory.

One thing we can count on as a constant. There will always be change.

But there is more I count on. In fact, I build my life and future on the truth I read in Scripture. God is in control when the world is spinning unrestrained. He is good even when life is not. He is strong and able to meet every need of every person who calls on Him. He has not forsaken us.

The Father is compassionate and gracious, sending fresh mercies at every sunrise. He has set the universe in order, and time continues according to His plan.

He shares His love with humans and gives them supernatural Holy Spirit power to love when we are wounded, to forgive when we are mistreated, to bend the knee and serve the least to the greatest.

As we enter the weeks before Palm Sunday, Passover, and Resurrection Day, the story that is ancient becomes relevant and contemporary. The gospel message is unchanging. God loved all people and Jesus came to die and pay the debt of sin. Those who believe and accept the gift of salvation inherit eternal life.

It is a changeless message of hope. God is love. Jesus Christ came to earth. He lived. He died. He arose to immortality and offers it to me.

Some things just don’t change.

When the world flips upside down

My parents were young during the Great Depression. It marked them. They learned to save for a rainy day and conserve their resources. They were the original recyclers. My dad threw away little, keeping unusual items in case he might need them some day, like a single flip-flop stored in a cabinet in his garage. And what do you know, one day he did need it.

My step-mother washed and stored fast food containers. She had a stash of unused paper napkins and straws in a drawer in her kitchen. Their generation embodied the motto, “Use it up, wear it out, make it last, or do without.”

It is day twelve of our confinement. The days run together, today looking very much like yesterday. I try to remember what day of the week it is.

I’m realizing I don’t need as much to survive as I may have thought. My breakfast prayer includes thanks for food, shelter, and basic necessities. How often have I taken them for granted because I wanted something shiny and new?

My life is slower. Simple things are a gift, like the young man’s friendly greeting at Kroger as he loaded my groceries in the car’s trunk, and the person who handed me two deliciously prepared blizzards through the take-out window at the oddly-dark Dairy Queen. A blizzard and a refrigerator re-stocked with food are luxuries.

Sweet William helped me sharpen my garden tools yesterday. He knows his way around a file better than I do. It felt good to accomplish something on my list. I need to see some check marks in my bullet journal, some task completed.

The world seems a bit crazy. When we expectantly wrote the year 2020 for the first time in January, who could have predicted this, confinement and uncertainty that would drive us indoors for an undetermined period.

It is interesting that we have been thrust into a time of stillness in a culture that thrives on busy. Being busy is our mantra, the badge we wear. Busy makes us feel necessary. Busy is how we function best. Or maybe not.

I wonder how we will be marked by our days of confinement. Will we look back and recall how strange it was for a while, how toilet paper became a valued commodity, and the time encased in our homes with family was a blessing in disguise?

Will we be changed by our experience in 2020, imprinted like my parents were in 1929?

I believe we will learn things about ourselves, like how we focus on lesser things when what is most valuable is right before us.

When the world returns to a normal status, I hope it won’t be business as usual. I hope we remember what matters. People are the most important treasure. Small irritations are not worth the upset. We really can invent new ways of doing things. Sharing what we have blesses the giver and receiver. Prayers are to be prayed for our leaders. Church is not the building where we gather. Loving one another is still the second greatest commandment.

Maybe we will even keep one flip-flop, just in case we might need it.

Sunday grace

In our confinement, I reach out to friends through text and email. I’m learning to use Zoom and Google Hangout, anticipating doing virtual piano lessons with my students. It will be teaching an old dog a new trick, but I’m game to try it if they are willing.

A confessed introvert, I thought staying at home for two weeks would be easier than it is. I love my people and cherish gathering at the table over coffee, tea, or lunch. Jean Fleming writes, “(T)he human face is a transmitter and a receiver, always sending and picking up messages.” I’m missing those vital signals.

Sweet William and I are reading Max Lucado’s How Happiness Happens in the morning hours, an appropriate title when watching the news too much can suck the happiness right out of me.

We are eating well here at the Wright House, though it seems I spend much of a day cooking and cleaning up. I can get a bit grumbly about it. I caught myself doing it yesterday, a gentle reminder from the Holy Spirit perhaps. I should be thankful for food, plates and pots, dish soap and hot water fresh from the faucet. And Sweet William is here to share a meal with me.

Counting my gifts is a necessary discipline for me, especially now, turning my thoughts away from a perceived lack toward the bounty surrounding me.

While I live in this separateness, this self-distancing, I remember the plan of salvation, how the Creator always wanted to be with His creation. In Eden He walked with the Adam and Eve. His yearning words came through prophets and psalms singers. He tabernacled in the wilderness with twelve tribes of Israel camped around. His glory manifested in a majestic temple in Jerusalem.

His ultimate coming to us was when he wrapped up in humanity, encasing His glory in soft baby skin, a confinement I can’t even imagine. He walked among us, sharing food, intense conversation, long journeys, and voyages on the sea. He touched people and was touched by them.

In the closing chapters of John’s gospel, Jesus promised another, one who would be with us and in us. It must have seemed incomprehensible to the twelve sitting at table with Jesus. Yet, it happened just as He said.

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit roared like fierce wind, like He was rushing to get here to indwell the believers.

And so it is, He is with us in an unexplainable, truly mystifying, and completely unreasonable way. Because God wants to be with His people.

We are like clay jars in which this treasure is stored. The real power comes from God and not from us.
2 Corinthians 4:7

He is truly God with us, and that is immeasurable comfort to me. I can endure this seclusion while I remember He is always with me and in me. No one is closer than that.

Sunday grace.

While we wait

I’m in a waiting period. I think a lot of you are too.

The small wipe-off board I used to list our weekly activities is uncommonly blank, except for the dates. It’s never like that. 

It is strange, this social distancing, a word now unique to 2020 and one we will remember, I bet. Each day presents challenges, news updates and directives from our government. Every blog that presents in my in-box has something to say about coronavirus. I question how to do this life while we confine ourselves for an undetermined period.

Everyone isn’t confined, and I’m thankful for healthcare workers and first responders and the UPS employees who keep delivering our packages. Mail is deposited in my box each day, and I count it a gift.

I count the gifts of people who text to check on us, asking if we need anything. We are in the high-risk category of over 60 years old and determined to stay where we are. Younger friends asked if we are OK, can they do something, offering to bring supplies to our front door and leave them on the porch. We are touched by such kindness, and we feel loved.

Each day I talk with two of my cousins, one by phone, and one at her house down our lane, careful to keep at least three feet between us. I check on my neighbors, and they are much like me, home bound. I text my family members to see how they are faring during complex days. We try to be hopeful, cheerful, look for the bright side.

While this is a serious situation that I don’t discount, I appreciate humor where I can get it. Sometimes I really do LOL, laugh out loud, at something on Facebook or TV, and it does me good, like medicine.

I have a stack of good books and time to read them now. I hope the temperature rises. I could use a little sunshine so I can work in the garden and feel productive. The fresh air will be good for me.

A friend who is working her job remotely texted a request for some recipes. She is home with her husband and children and wants to make something good to eat. I sent her four tested recipes, with options to make them her own, according to her family’s tastes. Good food is satisfying to body and soul.

A couple of days ago I fed my sour dough starter and baked whole wheat bread. Sweet William and I ate it hot with butter melting in its crevices.

My neighbor who lives in the house next door texted that she was venturing to the grocery and did we need anything. I love her even more for asking. Her little guy, almost six, delivered some fruit and cream for our coffee, and I sent him home with a loaf of still-warm bread, a little thank you for caring about us.

Sweet William and I are practicing a song together on piano and guitar. We played it years ago at a friend’s wedding. It’s a difficult piece, and we struggle with it. But we have the time to re-learn it in these days of waiting.

The season of lent continues, and my early morning quiet time draws me to truth as I read of Jesus’s last days on this earth. I am reassured, knowing this was planned before galaxies were constructed, before I was born, before 2020 presented us with COVID-19.

As the trees bloom white in our little woods and I gather daffodils from the yard to cheer to the house, the earth moves in its designed path toward spring. If the clouds clear away, I will see the moon waning as she makes her  circular path toward hiding. Daylight appears each morning even when the sun is overcast. Birds sing and frogs croak, and the month of March is much like each one I’ve known and yet it isn’t.

This I know, there is a God in heaven who is watching His world and His children. He is aware and involved and working His good will in and among us. Kindness and love are His evidence.

In our waiting, let’s keep the faith. Be humble and kind. Look for the good and count blessings. Laugh out loud. Say “I love you” every chance you get. Stay in touch with those who are socially distanced from you. Pray for our leaders as they try to do their best for our country.

Trust the One who knows exactly what He is about in our world. Believe He will care for us like the sparrow. He loves us more than we know.

Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?    — Luke 12:6

Sunday grace

Following Thursday afternoon piano lessons, I sensed the changes coming. By Friday, schools were closing for two weeks, the SEC basketball tournament was canceled ending March Madness. The mega church in our area, with its multiple campuses, suspended weekend services. My supervisor sent an email to all music instructors to forego lessons the next two weeks. I’m paying attention now.

I’d already stocked up on essentials and knew we had food in the pantry and freezer. We would be ok. Watching the news Friday evening, I got a picture of how the coronavirus is affecting us globally. I refused to give in to fear.

But on Saturday morning, I awoke with a niggling concern. Did we really have enough milk and bread, enough cream for our coffee? Was there food aplenty on our shelves as shelves emptied in grocery stores? What if the self-quarantine lasted longer than two or three weeks? When and what will be the end of this pandemic?

I wondered why this new anxiety was surfacing. I questioned myself, my faith in a God who constantly tells me to “fear not.”

As I opened an old journal to the page where I’d last bookmarked, my eyes feel to the place where I had written Psalm 31:1 – In you, LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.

I read more of this ten-year-old entry. Psalm 32:7 – You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.

Is it an interesting coincidence, this reading of old writings this morning? Is anything ever an accident when God is running the show? I think not. God will speak if I will listen.

As I’ve done many times before, I put aside my fears and and put my trust in the One who was and is and will be. No matter what comes, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, God will be with us. That is His promised assurance. His grace will be enough. He is Jehovah-jireh, my provider. He is Christ the solid Rock, the shelter under whose shadow I rest.

He is the Creator who gives food to the birds of the air and beasts of the field. He clothes the earth with beauty, lilies of the field, crocuses and purple-blooming trees. He is the everlasting Word sharing His words with us and allowing us to make sense of our own words.

I decide to mark the hours of 9 am, 12 noon, 3 pm and 6 pm on my phone to pray. Since I won’t be going anywhere with no chance of disturbing anyone, let technology sound its sweet alarm as an opportunity to give thanks for all our gifts, to petition the Almighty for help, to be mindful of others, and to seek His face.

I open to this, from the Book of Common Prayer:

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves. Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thought which may assault and hurt the soul. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Amen and amen.

Sunday grace.

Signs in the heavens

Wednesday, March 11, marks a month before the festival of Passover. The moon is at its fullest, and even though clouds cover it, I know it is there. It has significance for me, this full moon marking time, making its way through the cycle of large to small, then hiding itself, only to emerge little by little again.

There is scientific reason for it all. I simply want to experience the mystery.

I notice the moon this time of year as it announces Passover is coming. It prompts anticipation. I remember and relive the stories I first heard as a child, the Exodus account of God’s people leaving the slavery of Egypt.

The first day of Passover is always a full moon. My mind wanders back thousands of years to the first time the Israelites were told to prepare lambs for supper and brushed blood on their doorposts, following instructions they didn’t fully understand.

A scene from the classic movie, The Ten Commandments, staring Charlton Heston as Moses, comes to mind. It is the night of Passover and the moon glows full and bright. What appears to be the shadow of death begins to move slowly toward Egypt. In this particular scene, the shadow blocks the moon for a few seconds as it pushes toward its deadly task.

I wonder what it was like that fateful night, the people of God shut in their humble slave dwellings, marked by blood, eating lamb, bitter herbs and unleavened bread while they waited for something unknown. Did they know this was the night of their deliverance?

Passover was God’s object lesson of a coming redemption. It was the shadow of the real and tangible Savior of the world, Jesus. The people waited long for their promised Messiah. He arrived on the scene at the appointed time, but not as they expected. Did they know their Deliverer had come?

The anticipation of Passover carries me toward a season of remembrance.  I remember the promise made to Abraham on Mt. Moriah of a Lamb that God alone would provide for the redemption of the world. I remember the upper room where Jesus met with his disciples for His last Passover celebration with them. I remember how He washed their dirty feet, them arguing who was greatest among the twelve.

I remember how He began a new tradition after the supper ended, giving them bread and wine, symbols of his flesh and blood, how He showed them His love to the very end.

Did they understand He was the Savior of the world?

This unblemished Passover Lamb bought our freedom.

Do you know this truth? Do you recognize Him? Do you remember all He did for you?

Have you accepted Him as your own Deliverer?

For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”

                — 1 Corinthians 5:7

Sunday grace

Reading my Christ Chronological book, I’m following Jesus through His last weeks on earth, as the Gospels record them. It is my Lenten practice.

I pause at Luke 10, and how many times have I read the story of Martha and her sister Mary?

Verse 38 begins, “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.”

I’ve often thought Martha was unduly criticized in this story. The very first thing we know about her is that she opened her home to Jesus. For all the women who ever opened their homes to me, your hospitality and grace was a blessing.

In a day when HGTV broadcasts the finished reveal of newly remodeled homes, I can feel undone and old fashioned in my outdated kitchen and rooms that are not an open floor plan with wide views of the whole house.

We have real people living in real homes, resulting in piles of clothes to fold, scattered toys where children play, dirty dishes on the stove and in the sink, and dust bunnies under chairs and tables. Let’s not even talk about Maisie’s dog hairs that gather at out-of-the-way places.

Opening one’s home is no small matter, especially when we think we will be judged because of perceived imperfections. Comparison kills relationships. So can the desire for perfection.

So I applaud Martha for her hospitality to a baker’s dozen of hungry men.

But my focus in this day’s reading is not on Martha. It’s on Mary. Isn’t she the ideal by which we measure ourselves? Mary is the contemplative who ignores the distractions of much preparation to sit at Jesus feet. Again, I never think I measure up to her undivided attention to her Lord

Reading this familiar story, I simply love both of these women for their different personalities, their ways of relating, and how their gifts serve.

Coming to the end of the short narrative, I pause at Jesus’ words in verse 42: “but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better . . . “

Only one thing is needed. I stop to ponder. Only one thing. This is what has been troubling me for weeks. What is my one thing?

While I moved slowly into January and the new year, February pushed more like a steam roller, days full and body aching. Responsibility and ministry required a lot of me. Cares of the world and concern for people weighed heavy. And my heart searched for direction. I felt drained, wondering about my one thing.

Now it is March, with the hope it offers. Birds sing their springy chorus early mornings. The forsythia bush unfolds yellow blooms one at time. Our little woods is greening after a grey winter landscape. Life is pulsing in the earth and narrow green daffodil leaves break through frozen ground. Change is in the wind.

It is fitting that I finally get clarity to ask the right question. In this present season of my life, what is my one thing? The one thing I am designed to do, the very place I am called to served God right now?

I know I’m not to be all over the place, scattered and thin, trying to be all things to all people. Saying yes to God’s best and the place of His calling means saying no to some good things.

The goal is to grow deep, to flourish like the trees in my yard. They give beauty, shade, shelter, and fruit. Trees grow where they were planted, content to do their one thing well.

Scripture records Jesus asking, “What do you want me to do for you?” He gave credence to people’s desires and longings, the one thing they wanted most. Our dreams often point us in the direction of our callings.

After Jesus visited with Martha and Mary, I read further in Luke 11, and hear  Him say, “Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you.”

My questions don’t go unnoticed. My yearnings can be an arrow pointing me in my direction. My Father wants to be found, wants to show me the way, even if it is just one step at a time.

My one thing may be to open my home like Martha. It might be to sit quietly with Jesus like Mary. As I seek Him, I expect to find Him.

One thing for sure, I will be in His presence, and that will be enough.