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Grace for the new year

Sitting in my rocker by the fireplace, window open to the every-changing Kentucky weather, I listen to rain drops and the chirping of birds in the little woods. A few hours in the comfort of home are not taken lightly.

Sweet William and I spent the closing holidays of 2020 in the hospital. Like many, this is a year of remembrance, its strangeness not ceasing even to the final day.

I recognized the seriousness of his health in the months leading up to a sudden doctor’s visit that began a roller coaster of emergency activities and a surgery we didn’t expect. We were on a ride controlled by something other than ourselves and our plans were laid waste.

Christmas presents sit unopened.

It’s interesting how schedules, lists, to do’s and obligations stagnate when life takes a sudden turn and all one can do is take the next step. It was survival mode for days, texting family and friends for prayer, weeping and leaning hard into Jesus. I kiss Sweet William’s cheek and tell him, “You are a warrior.”

Scripture is a promise to hold. Praise music permeates my atmosphere, driving out the darkness and turning my eyes to the One who is strong when I am weak. And I feel so weak, like a child needing to be held in her mother’s arms.

Great is His faithfulness.

In a year where we were distanced from each other, we were comforted from afar by ones we hold dear. Reassuring texts promised prayer and told us we are loved. Sounds of familiar voices, a little laughter and stories were a balm in Gilead. An actual visit in the hospital entrance found me sitting with two who were determined to feed me potato and ham soup that nourished body and soul. Another friend brought two bags of goodies: real tissues, gum, snacks galore, socks, and sanitizer, surprises I needed but didn’t know how to ask.

Hospital staff are kind, behind masks of protection, caring for Sweet William tenderly and competently. The attendant at the cafeteria gave me a cup of coffee yesterday, at first me not understanding when he said, “Just take it.” It was a welcome gift.

And I am awed at the love of God shown us through people. It is His way, His hands extended through His church, which is not a building or a denomination but flesh and blood, in the marketplace and in the corridors of everyday life. The body of Christ is active, living out His commandments to love God and love people. I have seen His glory, shining brightly in the moments of our days.

This morning I write in my joy journal because the gifts are many.

Friends who take care of Maisie while I’m away from home, loving her, feeding her, letting her out as needed, assuring me she is OK.
Music to lift my spirit heavenward, reminding me of God’s everlasting love and faithfulness.
Caregivers in hospitals who work with diligence, even on holidays and weekends, with a cheerful heart.
Sweet William’s doctor, his expertise and skill, his determination to do what was needed.
Greeters at the hospital who recognize me and speak kindly.
Security guard who walked me to to my car late one night.
The newlyweds who brought me a Christmas dinner plate on a frigid night.

The ancient recliner in Sweet William’s room where I slept somehow.
The little black Honda that gets me where I need to be.
The comfort of a good dog.

Neighbors who watch over the house while we’re gone.
Family who are a treasure to this only child, who took us in to the circle of love many, many years ago.

Our dear ones, miles away, brought near by their tenderness and love, and a cell phone with video chat.
Ongoing texts from the multitude who promise to pray, who assure us of their love, who are life-giving to us in these hard days.
The often written promise, “If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to ask. We are here for you.”
Those who come, show up, do what I don’t even know what to ask for.
Learning to love better through the actions of these good people.

It is a new year to remember. I take time to reflect on the past and look toward the future. I have no idea what is to come. What I do know with certainty is my Lord and Savior holds all things in His hands. His is trustworthy and faithful. I have seen it with my own eyes.

I’ve reminded myself of God’s message in the night hours before the frantic days of this last week. “Hope in God.” My good Father prepared the way before me, sent me His Word of invitation. I reach for Him and rest in His promises.

He is strong and He is good. And I am His child.


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


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

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.

Sunday grace

Before the household awakens, I awake. It is a special time of day for me, to sit quietly while it is yet dark, to contemplate my God and my life, and await first light of the new day. I love first light.

It’s a few days before Thanksgiving Day, so I start my annual list of blessings. It is my very own tradition, one I keep while many of my beloved traditions have fallen away like autumn  leaves.

I number gifts. Nothing is too small or insignificant. Some are manna in the wilderness. Some are as brilliant and beautiful as spring flowers. Others are like a star in the night sky, a beacon pointing the way through a dark and sorrowful season. But they are gifts, all of them, from a loving God who uses all things to work out good, bringing life from death and beauty from ashes. 

I look around this old house; it holds memories a plenty. I am grateful for the dear ones who have graced us with their presence, who have shared themselves with us. My people are treasures, young, older, and in-between, unique like snowflakes, and I marvel at their warmth and tenderness, that they want to come, to be with us.

I count the ordinary – strong, hot coffee; comforty bed with warm blankets; indoor plumbing; food enough; squirrels that play in our little woods; good neighbors; sunny days and rain to water the earth.

I count the extraordinary – my prayer partner who still prays with me every week, us enduring more than a decade; playing in the band at church with those young enough to be my children and grandchildren; sharing music with piano students and hearing their joyful sounds; money to pay for unexpected and unplanned home repairs; God’s Spirit communicating with my spirit in ways that challenge me to change for the better and then giving grace to do it.

I ponder experiences that broke me open as I cried buckets of tears, running to the throne of grace for help in my time of need. Change and healing do come, the balm of Gilead, and compassion and empathy make their abode in me with a better understanding of my brothers and sisters.

I am astounded by God’s love, displayed through Jesus, how it moves me to surrender to His way of loving others. That kind of love transforms me.

Over the next few days I will add to my Joy List. As I consider what to record, I  will look at the world with eyes of gratefulness and a heart of thanksgiving. I will see grace and beauty, faith and kindness, and I will know each comes from God whose essence is love.

Showers of blessings, like so many falling leaves, are all around.

. . . whatever is good and perfect comes to us from God, the Creator of all light, and He shines forever without change or shadow.”
                                            — James 1:17 Living Bible

Sunday grace

Grace upon grace. God gives lavishly, elaborately, beyond measure.

The gift of a new day and strength to get up, get moving, and go forward.

The gift of comfort; clothes to stave off the chill; warm oatmeal with butter and sugar.

The gift of music, blending with other musicians in rhythm and harmony.

The gift of caring evidenced by smiles and hellos, a quick “How are you?” and a hug.

The gift of God’s Word, my familiar leather-bound book clutched in my hand.

The gift of coming home to leftover chili and fresh-baked flatbread.

The gift of snow falling outside the window, sprinkling our little woods in white.

The gift of communication in sundry modes, texts, emails, blog posts, phone calls, easily connecting me to the world.

The gift of rest, a sacred Sabbath to refresh and recharge.

The gift of Christ, offered to me, His life for mine.

Grace upon grace. Blessing upon blessing. Beyond counting.

Sunday grace.

Go gently

The calendar tells me I’ve entered the second week of November already. Time flies when we are having fun. And life is a blast, this I know.

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With the final session of a ten-week Bible study completed this week, something that consumed much of my thoughts, I am setting myself a goal to go gently into the remainder of 2018. We’ll see how that goes.

Endings always bookend with beginnings. I anticipate God has something else in store. I can’t wait to see what it is.

As I consider the last two months of this year, I hear the siren song to enter into a season of frantic activity. It’s grasping fingers began reaching out as school supplies were replaced with Christmas decorations on store shelves, and my eyes wandered to the embellishments of the holiday, stirring desire.

But do I really need another ornament?

I recall the years I was crazy with activity. Not this year. This year will be different. I will be different.

Sweet William and I have already talked about celebrating with less stress, less of an agenda, less on the To-Do-List. Contrary to popular opinion, Thanksgiving and Christmas are founded in faith. They are deeply spiritual times for me.

In my effort to stay focused on the important thing, I’ve renewed my daily discipline to list gifts in my Joy Journal. The more I focus on the goodness of God, the more I see His presence all over my existence. His blessings abound. Thankfulness and contentment permeate the atmosphere.

I’m committed to keep the fall russets and burgundies, along with the mantel arrangement, through Thanksgiving. It deserves its on ceremony. I won’t rush it out the door, only to replace it with glittery reds and greens. I take the challenge to give thanks in all circumstances.

I want to be aware that these year-end holidays can be the most difficult for some who will deal with an empty place at the table. Loss and grief cannot be stored in the closet with old decorations. It will be hard, remembering past years and wondering how to make new traditions with a loved one missing. While bliss may be filling some hearts, may I be sensitive to those whose eyes fill with tears.

Weighing how I can honor the year-end holidays, I evaluate what I can let go, what I want to keep. I desire to focus on what is truly important. To fret less, to love more.

One suggestion I intend to honor is rest. “Schedule a rest day each week during the busy holidays.” This is not an option. When every day includes appointments and activities, with no down time for family to relax and refresh, stress levels rise and the enjoyment of said activities decreases. This year, I will choose carefully when to say “yes” and when to politely say “no.”

I will choose my people over my scheduled projects. How easily I can lose sight of those around me when I have lots to do. When all is said and done, what I want to remember, and what I want others to remember of me, is that we had time for each other. That we looked at faces when we talked. That we listened with the heart. That love was the main thing.

Go gently into the days and weeks ahead. Mark what is eternally valuable. Then do that.

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As we come to the table

Just a few days left before we celebrate Thanksgiving in all of our varied and crazy ways. Relatives and friends of all shapes and sizes will gather with food dishes that range from vintage recipes to gluten-free concoctions.

101_1203 I’ve been making my efforts at having a thankful heart during the month. I’ve tried to be disciplined to write three things that brought me joy at the end of each day. At least I’ve tried.

I started my annual Joy List this morning, counting God’s graces one by one on paper. There are so many, I could write forever. I had to stop for breakfast with the promise of “to be continued.” Tomorrow my prayer partner of many years will call on the phone, and we will look back at the prayers prayed and how God answered them this year. Our voices will be full of “thank you’s.”

From Old to New Testaments, we read instructions to remember how God has been  faithful. It’s easy to forget sometimes when we are in the throes of difficulty, tragedy, or grief. And honestly, sometimes it can be simple neglect or a lack of contentment.

Just as our menus will be different, not everyone will do Thanksgiving the same way. I read one blogger who thought making a daily count of grace was too regimented, and she was definitely not putting kernels of corn beside each place settings for a round robin of being grateful. She preferred more spontaneity and daily mindfulness. She did her thankfulness in a different way.

There isn’t a prescription for how to have a grateful heart, but we are told to practice it regularly. And in the same way God’s commands are good for us, being thankful brings joy to our lives.

The method is not as important as the message. It’s the heart of the matter that matters. Be thankful in your own sweet way, dear friends.

This year has brought much loss to my friends and family. I feel it in my own heart, the tears flowing unexpectedly this morning. At many holiday tables this year, there will be an empty place.

Life can be hard during the holidays. Especially during the holidays.

And yet God is good even in this present circumstance. His grace is still sufficient. He remains the God of all comfort who gives us comfort in all our troubles. His presence in our days continues as a promise.  He still walks with us in the valley of the shadow of death. And we are never, ever alone.

If there is nothing else today or this year, there is Jesus who is God’s love demonstrated in tangible, relatable, identifiable form. He wrapped himself in skin and bone and showed us the glory.

Give thanks with a grateful heart. And have a blessed Thanksgiving.

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A thankful journey

The nightly news is full of heartbreak, calamity, death, confusion. Sweet William and I feel the weight of tragedy in the world, in our communities, and among our own friends.

Digging a hole and burying our heads sometimes seems a viable option.

On the other hand, this is November, and I remind myself during this month especially to look for the light in the darkness. And so, I write out my blessings.

  • My piano students practicing to play difficult Christmas pieces and sounding good.
  • Attending Joy Group for the mature in body/young at heart and being welcomed by many.
  • Sitting at lunch with Karen and us chatting up a storm.
  • A meet-up with Amy at Panera Bread for coffee and a cranberry-orange muffin.
  • Lunch with Shirley, her flavorful potato soup, and the encouraging conversation.
  • Recital where my students were awesome!
  • Laughing and having fun with Helen as we visited a local craft fair.
  • Sweet William being sassy and fun, causing me to chuckle.
  • Time change and falling forward, enjoying that extra hour I’ve been waiting for since spring.
  • My granddaughter’s 17th birthday, pictures on Facebook of her opening the birthday box we sent, and her saying it was just what she wanted.
  • Grace to endure the distance and the miles between us.
  • K and M coming on their day off from school, talking, playing piano, making crafts, listening to music, them shedding their light all around.
  • Early prayer time with Julie who knows the highs and the lows of me like none other and loves me still.
  • Sweet Anna here to help me, her bringing her own brand of joy to us.

Life is hard, no doubt. There will always be trouble and problems. I could focus on that while despondency begins to wrap its bone-chilling arms around me.

Or I could pray for those in need, giving them to the God who is strong enough to carry the weight of the world on His shoulders, who knows what each person needs before I try to tell Him, who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all I can ask for or imagine.

Then I am free to count blessings and look for His gifts. Then I can rejoice and be very glad.

Guy Penrod sings Count Your Blessings.

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Sunday grace

I am in need of grace this morning.

And so I count gifts as Maisie and I walk the familiar lane of our home, because grace is recognized in the numbering of blessings.

  • The beauty of the fall trees even as their colors fade.
  • The red leaves reflected in the lake.
  • This warm day in November.
  • Pictures from a distance where I see smiles and happiness.
  • The reassuring Word of God this morning and the Holy Spirit giving me strength.

I glance out the window, watching as golden leaves gently fall from the giant maple at the edge of the little woods. I had no hand in planting this one. Creator God did that through his birds. It has grown tall in a few short years.

I want to be like the tree, releasing the leaves in proper season without fighting the process. The wind blows and its branches sway and turn loose. Yet it remains strong and steadfast in the changing. It remains a strong maple.

Can I allow the days of my life to reflect what God is doing in me even through the changing, even when sometimes it is hard, even when I have to turn loose and let go? I long to.

Solomon said it wisely. To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under Heaven. There are periods of beauty and new growth, of flourishing. It is followed by the season of letting and bareness. It is a circle of life.

There are days of victory and rejoicing. There are days when my heart hurts and I wonder what and why. It will be easy to count my blessings sometimes, and other times it will be a hard eucharisteo, looking for the beauty in the ashes.

I can learn to be content in plenty and in want. I can do all things through Christ who strengths me. He lives in me and works through me, showering grace upon grace.

I am in need of grace today. And He gives it abundantly.

Sunday grace.

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