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Monday grace

I remember being a fearful child.

Afraid to sleep by myself. Afraid for my mother to be out of my sight. Afraid to be left alone. Afraid of the dark. Afraid of strangers. Afraid of failure. Afraid of what others thought of me.

Life experiences force us to face some of our fears.

I cried on the first day of school, unable to comprehend being away from my mother all day. But I overcame, finished the day, finished first grade and the next eleven years to graduation without my mother holding my hand.

When I was old enough to stay at home by myself, I kept my bouffant hair dryer turned on, it covering the mass of pink curlers like a balloon. The noise of the dryer kept me from hearing any unusual sounds in the house while there all alone. I learned it was OK to be by myself.

When mother sent me next door to the neighbors’ house in the dark, I quoted Bible verses memorized in children’s church all the way there and back to keep the demons away. I learned to enjoy the night seasons.

Somehow I managed to stand and giver a report in school, though my stomach ached with anxiety while I waited my turn. I’m still learning I can “do it afraid” when I speak to a crowd.

Life made me face some of my fears and overcome them.

Still, fear hunts me down, hides in unexpected places, rises up without warning, and screams unspeakable things. Other times, fear comes like a whisper, planting doubt and uncertainty in my unsuspecting mind. “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

And I hear a question proposed to me, like it was proposed to twelve men two thousand years ago, a voice familiar and beloved:

“Why are you so afraid?”

If I try to formulate a reason, the words flounder and fail in the explaining. I must be in a similar fearful company since Holy God pronounced so many “fear nots” throughout Scripture, enough for every day in the year.

I ask myself, why are you so afraid? What is there to be afraid of? Is not He who holds all creation holding me?

Fear not because God is with me.

Fear not because He will never leave me.

Fear not because my times are in His hands.

Fear not because He hears my prayers.

Fear not because He is working all things for my good and His glory.

Fear not because darkness is as light to Him.

Fear not because He will give me strength for the task.

Fear not because He will help me.

Fear not because He takes away my shame, disgrace, and humiliation.

Fear not because He is God and there is none like Him.

Fear not because no one can snatch me out of His hand.

Fear not because He has a hope and a future for me.

Fear not because He loves me with an everlasting love.

I hear the power of His voice, His commanding strength, His gentle entreaty, “Why are you so afraid, my dear one?”

I respond in faith, humbly bowing, “Lord, with You there is nothing to fear.”

Monday grace.

December ending

December ends and so does another year, and my mind runs amok with a multitude of thoughts.

The month ended in a frenzy of unexpected stress, unplanned events, things I didn’t see coming. In a way, it felt as if I were blindsided.

As I opened the Scripture this morning, seeking a word of comfort, my ribbon marker opened to Psalm 100, a short chapter I memorized as a child.

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

The familiar words of the King James Version came easily to my mind. I was refreshed with their ancient newness, words of assurance and love, reminding me to praise no matter what the day produces. I kept them in my heart throughout the day, believing that God is who He says He is and He meant every word that He preserved for me to read.

December was joyously spent with friends and family. Tables filled to the brim with few and many, shared meals or simply a cup of hot cocoa. Conversation was always the prime ingredient. It was beautiful, and I’m grateful for the gift of relationship that lasts all year long.

The holiday season was busy with a recital, a craft fair and birthdays added to the hustle of gift buying, cooking/baking, and opening our home every chance we got. I’m always down to the last wire getting the Christmas boxes to the post office in time for delivery to our dear ones. I have settled it in my head that I’m a late gift-wrapper. I can’t seem to do it ahead of time in spite of the wrapping paraphernalia setting out in readiness since the first of the month.

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In contrast, there were quiet days for contemplation, shared devotionals with Sweet William, time to sit by the fire and sip slowly of life. I appreciate days like that. Too much, my younger self spent all her days in frenzied activity. I’ve learned that slow is a good speed for me.

I re-read an old book, Two From Galilee by Marjorie Holmes. It’s a fictional account of Mary and Joseph in the days of their betrothal through the birth of Jesus. While much of the story was imagined, the Biblical details were accurate. I enjoyed thinking about the young couple, the love they might have shared, the criticism they endured from Mary’s unique pregnancy, and the hardships of a long trip to Bethlehem ending with birthing in a stable.

The drama came alive to me, a real story with real people living out an unusual calling. I was reminded that God’s ways are different, to say the least. His ways are higher, too profound and deep for me to completely understand. And yet, He is so near, so involved in history and our daily lives. He came to be with us so that we could know Him. Amazing.

And so we begin a new year. In an odd sort of way, I like endings and beginnings, the closing of a book cover only to open another, finishing a project with the satisfaction that I can move on to something else. It is the anticipation of starting fresh and new, like the untouched page of a new journal or notebook. It awaits the imprint of inked words.

As I reviewed my bullet journal and prepared the new one, I saw that I didn’t complete many of the major projects I’d planned to do this year.  Which presents me with a conundrum. If they were not a real priority, what shall I do with them in the coming year?

I haven’t decided yet. Perhaps I’ll just go like a butterfly, take each day as it comes, feel  for the wind of the Spirit and go where He is moving.

I kind of like thought.

Happy New Year 2019! 

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Immanuel

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

Immanuel – 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 the 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.See the source image

 

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 Immanuel.

Nativity

He 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.

Immanuel. 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.

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Sunday grace

The sun sets early and darkness settles over us. We are safe and warm inside.

As a child I was afraid of the dark. I wanted a nightlight on. I didn’t want to be alone at night.

I learned to overcome my fear by quoting Bible verses when mother sent me next door to borrow a cup of sugar, or whatever it was she needed. I ran as fast as I could, saying the 23rd Psalm all the way there and all the way back.

Working a third shift job for a few months out of sheer necessity, I parked my car in a dark lot. Only thirty minutes ago I had tucked my young son into bed for the night. I felt alone waiting for my shift to begin. It was more than the physical darkness that threatened me then. It was a gloom over my soul.

Each night in the few minutes before I exited my car to walk to the plant, I read the same chapter from the small Bible I carried with me. Psalm 139. And this verse particularly comforted me:

12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

God is with us whether it is day or night. He shines the light of His love around us showing the way, the next step, the places of resting. In the shadow of death He walks beside us. No place on this earth, not a depth of sadness or the height of joy, can keep us from Him.

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

I am never separated from His love. Never. I don’t have to be afraid any more.

Sunday grace.

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A week after

After last weekend’s celebration of a risen Lord, a joyful afternoon spent with extended family, and counting multiplied gifts from the bounty of God’s blessings, the week after is fraught with things difficult. My mind whirls and tilts like an amusement park ride. But I am not amused.

I hear of an untimely death and sorrowing parents. Sweet William underwent a minor surgery, but nothing is minor when one has been in too many hospitals to bother counting. News about a dear one’s jarring diagnoses leaves us in shock and questions. Yet another one close to our hearts battles dreaded disease and the pain that accompanies.

And we pray. What else is there to do?

We ask in faith, believing God already knows and nothing takes Him by surprise. We trust in His goodness and His strength because He is a good and strong Savior. We know we are His children and will not be given a stone when we ask for bread and fish. We petition a Mighty Warrior who fights our battles with a powerful arm.

We pray and wait to see what will be His answer.

“And we know with great confidence that God, who is deeply concerned about us, causes all things to work together as a plan for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose.” — Romans 8:28 Amp.

I have recognized this week that trials bring people together. Texts and phone calls run to and fro through space, keeping us updated, friends and family expressing their love and offering help in some way. As a result, prayer is our connection to those we care about and to the Father who loves us with an everlasting love.

If trials bring people together, then prayer binds us to one another, brothers and sisters reaching heavenward as the family of God and the body of Christ. One one hurts, we all feel the pain.

Jesus offered reassuring words just before He disappeared into the sky as astonished followers watched:

” . . .  and lo, I am with you always, remaining with you perpetually—regardless of circumstance, and on every occasion, even to the end of the age.” — Matthew 28:20 Amp.

In all of our trouble, trials, testing, there is only one consideration:  Jesus.

Jesus with us, in pain, in uncertainty, even in death.

Jesus, the man of sorrows who is familiar with suffering and runs to our cry.

Jesus, the One and only who came from the Father’s loving hand to open the way into His presence.

Jesus, dying for us so that we might live free and abundant.

Jesus, showing us how to love one another by His own extreme love and servant hood.

Jesus, holding onto us when the rope we cling to frays at the end and we lose our grip.

Jesus with us at all times, “regardless of circumstance and on every occasion,” giving us His strength and comfort and answers we cannot even imagine.

Pain and suffering draws people together. Sometimes we sing the song of heartbreak, disappointment and confusion in the minor key. As God’s family, we sing united.

Prayer binds us as brothers and sisters. And our chorus, ascending upward, is heard and is answered. We sing the song of the redeemed. And the world will hear the melody.

Perhaps that is part of the plan.

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Christmas grace

I remember becoming engaged. The excitement of it. Showing off the ring. Gathering my trousseau. Conversations with my mother that only women understand. The look on Sweet William’s face.

It was a time of anticipation, and my dream of becoming a wife and then later a mother was coming true. And that is what I had wanted since I was a little girl playing with my dolls and setting up my pretend house.

Did Mary feel the same?

Matthew 1:13 tell us Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph.

Her situation was similar yet different. In first century A.D. marriages were arranged by the parents. Mary didn’t get to “fall in love” or “find her soul mate.”  A contract was drawn up and covenant confirmed by both families. It was done.

Marriage was the hoped for dream of a young Jewish woman, to have a husband to take care of her and provide a home for her. And they would pray for children. Mary would expect to bear a child.

Neither Mary nor I had any idea what the future would bring.

None of us ever do. We dream, make plans, follow through with our promises, and begin walking out the life we hoped for, the perfect little white cottage with the picket fence and a life of happiness.

The unfolding of our days never plays out exactly like that.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways.”
This is the Lord’s declaration. “For as heaven is higher than earth,
so My ways are higher than your ways, “

God’s plan is so much loftier, elevated, immense, huge. It is deeper than we can fathom. It is wider than our minds can comprehend

Mary expected a normal Jewish life, the way she had seen it lived out in her mother, her aunts, and the women of her community.

But God had grander things in His infinite mind. Plans that would take Mary on a journey she never could have imagined. Plans that would embrace a world in need of a Savior.

God’s plans for me have been surprising, unexpected, even unwelcome by my limited viewpoint. While I hoped for a flower-strewn pathway, the road has often been rough and rocky, an uphill climb, a test of endurance.

I am comforted by the promises made to Mary by the angel Gabriel.

Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. . . . 
The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.

Like Mary, God tells me not to be afraid. He says I am loved and cherished. He promises the Holy Spirit will be with me and in me, to comfort, guide, and teach. I have assurance that nothing is impossible with God and that He is faithful to His promises.

Can I respond to the mystery of the unknown like Mary did?

“Behold,I am the servant of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.”

I want to. I bow my face before a Holy God in surrender to His will and His plan for the rest of my wild and wonderful life.

And this is my assurance and consolation, that we will walk together.

Image result for mary and the angel, the nativity movie

Sunday grace

This morning when I rise, the house is colder than it’s been in many a month. I flip the switch to turn on gas logs and am thankful for the wonderful invention that warms us so easily.

As I grab the leash and head outdoors with Maisie, I reach for a coat and gloves. It’s chilly today.

We walk and I notice frost on the grass. I didn’t hear that prediction on the news. I reach to touch it, surprised, and wonder if my tender outdoor plants will survive this first indication of a coming winter.

I think back over this year as it heads toward its ending. In some ways my heart has been frosted and cold, even during spring and summer.

I am thankful for God’s unfailing love that melted away the frozen from my heart and gave it reason to beat warm again. He is determined to fulfill His purpose in me. He will not let me go. He will not!

I find joy in His presence again. The joy that was always there for me. I had forgotten, or chosen not to look for it.

His joy is my strength for uncertain days, challenging days. His love is the light I need when darkness falls. His peace is certain when storm clouds gather.

In His presence I am safe. I am complete. I find joy.

“Surely you have granted [her] unending blessings and made [her] glad with the joy of your presence.” Psalm 21:6

Sunday grace.

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