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Sunday grace – the body of Christ

 

How wonderful it is, how pleasant, for God’s people to live together in harmony! Psalm 133:1

Arriving home late afternoon yesterday, my body felt drained from a long day, but my heart had been filled. 

Sweet William and I attended the visitation and funeral of a long-time friend. Our lives intertwined with his family when we were teens, and while we’ve not frequented the same circles regularly, the friendship remained precious. He and his wife married the same year as us. Their first born arrived the same year as ours. She is an only child, like me. We were intermingled by in-laws, church community, and a long history of loving Jesus. 

His service was beautiful, touching, bringing tears to my eyes as three ministers spoke of his life, his joy, and his faith. I hummed the old songs along with the soloists. 

As anticipated, there were people from the home church where I basically grew up. I was only about 13 years old when I was first asked to play the organ for services, my knees literally knocking at times, the anxiety of wanting to play perfectly without really knowing what I was doing. Several people at the visitation reminded me I had played for their weddings five decades past. I smiled, remembering what a novice I was and what confidence they put in me for their momentous day.  

I saw many of the church family who grew up with me. It was there we matured into young adults, married and had babies. The year our son was born, it seemed there was a baby shower every three months. I reminisced about the spirit-filled services, the powerful sermons, the youth choir that grew into an adult choir because no one wanted to leave. I remember the difficult musical arrangements that forced me to practice and become a better musician. The hours of music Sweet William and I played to prepare and serve added to good years and good memories. 

These are the people who saw me, knew when I messed up, heard the words that should have been inside thoughts, and they still love me.  

We are the older generation now, the ones with grey/balding/dyed heads, wrinkled and sometimes a bit wobbly, talking about our surgeries and the pills we take each morning to get us moving. We have pictures of grandchildren and a few great-grandchildren on our cell phones. We have buried parents and siblings. We have known joy and grief.   

This is the church, the body of Christ, the family of God. It is imperfect and flawed because the people in it are imperfect and flawed, sinners who were saved by grace and are still learning to walk as faithful pilgims. We have lived and experienced life. We made mistakes, fell down and got up again, often with the aid of a fellow sojourner. We’ve grown wiser and deeper in our faith because we have seen God in the living and the dying, in the pain and in the celebration, in answered prayers and those we still wait and hope for. We know in Whom we believe as we wait for our imperfection to be made perfect one heavenly day by the grace of God. 

It seems the church is suffering from bad PR these days. No doubt, people have suffered at the hands of individual church people. That does not make the Church of Jesus Christ a sham or fake. It is made up of broken people, redeemed by the blood of Christ, walking by faith and limping our way Home.  

As I rested on this lazy Sunday afternoon, I began to clean up old text messages on my phone. The process stalled as I read texts from the ending of 2021, when Sweet William and I had covid, when my cousin died in December, when I fractured my ankle on Christmas Day. Contained in those typed missives were comforting words, promised prayers, and love that came through the key strokes. It was the church ministering to us and we were strengthened by their devotion and concern. 

Countless times the church has come to our aid, bringing food, helping with household tasks, visiting and praying, even cleaning refrigerators and an overgrown yard. The church I know is going about the Father’s work, being the hands and feet of Jesus to such as I, again and again. 

The church will one day bury me, as it did our friend yesterday, transferring his church membership to Heaven. They will bring food and their presence, sing the songs and speak the Word. They will offer comfort to family left to grieve and remember. They will be at my ending like they were at my earliest childhood. 

In His closing remarks to His disciples, Jesus prayed that they might be one as He and the Father are one. It is a lofty goal among all of us who are so different and opinionated and sometimes even a little contrary. But the love Jesus gives, the love that fills us and binds us together, will make the prayer a little more of a reality.  

On days like yesterday, we are one. 

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Life is beautiful

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. — Psalm 139:16

In light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding Roe v. Wade,
my thoughts return to the year 1973

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It was summer, and I’ve never been so hot in my life. I was full with child and due to deliver in July. Weekly visits with my OB/GYN were mostly reassuring, but her concern that I might not be able to deliver this first pregnancy naturally weighed heavily on my mind.

On the 18th of the month, her concerns were confirmed as she hastily scheduled a C-section, while Sweet William willingly signed permission, overwhelming concern for both mother and child, sex still unknown. Because it was 1973.

In a surgical suite instead of a birthing room, surrounded by masked medical professionals, I heard the first lusty cries and saw the beautiful round head of my baby boy. He was perfect, and I was in love with this fair-haired child. But then I’d been loving him from his beginning inside of me.

From the first, people said he was cut from the mold of his father. Except for his blond hair and blue eyes – Sweet William was the tall, dark and handsome type – the resemblance was striking. This son was the image of his father.

It didn’t take long until we wanted to add to our family. I’d been an only child, and while it was a wonderful life, partly because I had the cousins almost always next door as an integral part of my growing up, I wanted siblings for our son.

In 1976, I was pregnant and we were excited again, making plans for this second baby. But our plans were interrupted one night in June when pains began that were all too familiar. After a call from my doctor, we went to the hospital where I was put in a room, all alone, to wait for the inevitable. I was about 22 weeks along, and as the pains of childbirth bore down, the pain in my heart hurt more.

At the end of the miscarriage, I asked the attending nurse if I could see my baby. He fit in the palm of her hand, so tiny and so perfectly formed. I noticed his fingers and toes. And I saw that he too looked like his father. I could see the resemblence in the small features of this one born out of time, not nurtured long enough in the womb to sustain life on his own. Not in 1976.

I think of this child often. I wonder what he would have been like, his personality, his talents, his hair and eye color. I wonder how it would have been to have two boys running the halls of the house, sharing the bunk beds, playing and building, imagining and testing their limits, keeping each other’s secrets and standing up for one another. I like to think they would have been close, even with the sibling rivalry that comes with the territory.

Every time I hear of a woman miscarrying, my memory is fresh. I cry with her because I know what it is like to have life and love growing within, and I know what it feels like when that life is cut short.

But the connection of love goes on even when the child is not there to hold.

The abortion issue touches me because life is precious from its very beginning. In the 21st century, tests reveal pregnancy so quickly. I had to wait weeks to know for sure. Ultra sounds show a beating heart, arms and legs growing, a thumb in the mouth, creative beauty I never could have imagined in the ’70s. Couples have reveal parties of blue or pink to announce the sex of their baby months before birth because now they know. Technology gives real pictures of life in the womb. Life in the womb. We see it with our eyes. We know it. We cannot deny it.

It was 1973 when Roe v. Wade gave women the right to end the life of their unborn children. Did they understand the scope of the decisions they made? Did they know they would think of that life, cut short, for the rest of their days? Did they think about the tears they would cry at the sight of another’s baby or calculate the age of their child as the years go by? Did they have any idea the impact their decision would make on themselves and others? Do they wonder who that child might have been if only he/she had been given a chance to live? Do they wish they had made a different decision?

I ere if I think my actions only affect me, that it should not concern anyone else. Have we not learned that no man or woman is an island unto themselves? My decisions will impact generations. As a stone cast into the lake ripples outward, my choices and actions have consequences on humanity. Dare we compare our actions toward the most vulnerable to the butterfly effect? It bears examination.

The breath of God resides in a human soul, and who are we to decide when that happens? It is our right and responsibility to care about life, to nurture it, to do all within our power to protect and provide. We are made in the image of our Creator and yet we are dust, fragile and vulnerable with the power to create and also to destroy.

Life has potential, if given a chance to be born, to bloom and grow. Entrusted with this marvelous gift, let us not waste it, cast it aside, or consider it less than the marvelous wonder it is. Life is worth the cost.

I feel a call to stand for truth and to show compassion at the same time. There are questions to this issue. How do we care for the women who find themselves in difficult, what may seem impossible circumstances? How can we serve children, families, and individuals? How can we love the least of these, the ones Jesus saw and stopped to hear their stories. How can we offer hope and healing?

We are called to walk as Jesus walked, to pay attention, to listen and see. We are called to love. We are called to do something.

Bob Russel, former pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY wrote a compassionate and wise response to the Supreme Court decision. Read it here.

I post this on my birthday, giving thanks for my mother who chose life for me. So I offer this prayer:

Father in Heaven,

That Your ways have been written into the human body and soul
there to be read and reverenced, thanks be to You.

Let me be attentive to the truths of these living texts.
Let me learn of the law etched into the whole of creation

that gave birth to the mystery of life
and feeds and renews it day by day.

Let me discern the law of love in my own heart and, in knowing it, obey it.

from Celtic Benedictions by J. Phillip Newell

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Sunday grace – for the fathers

Abba Father,

I am blessed to call you Father, to be welcomed into Your presence, the holy place of Your essence. You called my name and claimed me for your very own child. I am loved. This is a high privilege and I give You thanks.

I thank you for the men who influenced my life and showed me what You are like, especially my grandfather and my dear dad. I am grateful for patriarchs of my family and for men in my life who walked in the faith, were strong and gentle, treated me with respect and honor, protected and provided for me, bent low to serve and held me up with their prayers. I am blessed to know Your sons. I married one of them, and he is my life’s companion.

I pray for the fathers of this generation. How we need them to be steadfast and sure, standing true in the battle for souls, leading with firm resolve and gentle grace. They need guidance from the Holy Spirit and the power of love. Clothe them in Your righteousness and Your holy armor, for the battle is hard. Infuse Your Word into their minds to remind them what is at stake. Speak to them as You did to the warriors of old, “Be strong and very courageous.” Remind them this is Your battle and You are always with them.

I ask that You purify their hearts. Turn them from evil, the deceitfulness of riches, and the cares of life. Give them eyes to see the beauty of a precious child, the tenderness of a woman’s heart, the reward of being a servant to those in their keeping. Remind them that words can wound or words can heal and build up. Help them choose their words wisely.

Abba Father, I ask that they look to You as their only source, that the unwavering Truth is etched into their minds, that they seek to be more like Jesus every day, that they live to please You above all and be filled continually with the Holy Spirit. May You shine in them and through them as Image Bearers of God the Father.

I ask these things in the name of Your Son and my Savior Jesus Christ.

Amen

Sunday grace.

Reposted from June 2021

Sunday graces

I wander the gardens, admiring the beauty of flowers blooming in spite of me. I’m a wanna-be gardener who sows with hope. Hope the plant will live and thrive though I don’t prepare the soil well or provide enough fertilizer. Hope that I won’t kill it by neglect or accidently chop it with the weed eater.

Photo by Lyndsey Craven

It’s June and summer peaks around the corner, while spring lingers like a ballerina doing a finale on stage. I applaud her. Much rain brings grass that cannot be contained by the lawn mower, as insects enjoy both flowers and weeds growing in the midst of Kentucky fescue.

Early spring I wrapped tiny twinkle lights around posts on the back deck. They greet me in the pre-dawn morning, and I smile. Sweet William spotted a young dear near the edge of the little woods this week, and regularly we hear the jungle sounds of Pileated Woodpeckers whose young inhabit near us. Song of birds waking the day never fails to delight. It’s the little things, the simple gifts God gives to lighten the load of a world weighed down with heaviness and grief.

A friend just started chemo, another faces the anniversary of her husband’s death, and another just buried her son-in-law. I hear from my young companions dealing with anxiety, too much for those who should be savoring this adventurous time in their lives. Faces of family linger in my mind all day long, me breathing prayers to the Father who knows what they need. The world is not an easy place to live. Heartache and sorrow are nightly news and as close as the front porch.

This week I’m reading the Psalms. Again. They are my Go-To for all the emotions. Verses are marked in my Bible, dates written, and memories surface when I revisit this ancient hymn book.

Psalm 121 is my resting place this morning, familiar as my childhood. I regularly exercise these verses by memory. I recommit them to my heart today. The Holman Christian Standard version speaks beautifully.

I lift my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

It is easy to look for help from other people and places. Friends, counselors, Google. It’s just as easy to wonder where the help is and when is it coming. Fact is, where can I go for what I need but to Jesus? He is the One who speaks Words of Life. He alone is Truth in changing values and ideologies.

He will not allow your foot to slip; your Protector will not slumber.
Indeed, the Protector of Israel does not slumber or sleep.

Protector is such a beautiful description. When I turn off my light at bedtime, punch my pillow and pull up the quilt, I give myself permission to rest in peace, because my Protector does not close His eyes or become weary like me. He is watchful. He knows I am flesh, growing older, my earthly tent wearing a little thin. He was there at my beginning and is my promised Protector to the end. I need fear no evil.

The Lord protects you; the Lord is a shelter right by your side.
The sun will not strike you by day or the moon by night.

I am often thankful for this old house where Sweet William and I take refuge from storms, cold and burning heat. At bedtime, I double check doors and locks, yet I know it is the Father who is our Mighty Warrior of defense. “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” And I sing a familiar refrain, “under His wings I am safely abiding.”

The Lord will protect you from all harm; He will protect your life.
The Lord will protect your coming and going both now and forever.

I know enough by living long, that trouble comes to all. We get hurt and we get sick. We suffer the blows of living in a broken world. So what do I do with these verses? I believe there is a spiritual harm from which I am protected when I am sheltered in the cross of Christ Jesus. Paul said it rightly, ” . . . we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

Renewed day by day. I am hoping in that promise, a sure expectation that God will do more than I can expect or imagine. He is good and He is strong. He will be with my coming and my going, from my beginning to my earthly ending, into the forever with Him. Hallelujah!

As I walked the yard yesterday, I see flowers growing in the rocks. I remember last year when a marigold pushed through the blacktop driveway and flourished with blooms and gladness. Seeds are scattered by the wind, and with determination of the Creator’s design, they sprout in spite of the harshness of their environment. I stand amazed and gaze at their resiliency.

Can I be the same? Can I go where the wind of the Spirit blows, bear fruit in a harsh place because the Creator of my Salvation calls it forth in me?

I believe it is possible, because the power in me is not my own making. The Holy Spirit lives and breathes, abides and speaks, teaches and guides always. He is the voice of Yahweh to me. Mostly He whispers. I have to listen carefully, push away the yelling and arguments of a culture that would drown out His tender voice.

When I rest the Scriptures in my lap in the morning, I posture myself to listen, open my heart to hear, quiet my soul of its own clamering and complaints. It takes purpose, planning, time. It is important, and I must do it. It takes priority over all other tasks in my day.

The Lord who brings forth food and flowers from the earth for my sustenance and joy, He who is the Word from the beginning, He who is guide and strength for my journey – He is my constant Companion, my Protector, the Keeper of my soul.

My help comes from the Lord.

Sunday grace.

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?

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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.

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.

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.

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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

At my age and well into my seventh decade, I should expect it. But I’m still shaken to the depths at another good friend leaving this world for a one better.

She called me her ‘forever friend’ because of our early attachement to each other. In the basement of our childhood church, we often twirled to see whose skirt was the prettiest and the fullest. It was in this basement where we attended weekly children’s church, and the foundation of our mutual faith was built strong. We sang in a little-girls trio and made pretty good harmony. We were baptized at the same service. Years later we talked about the early years, how we first learned to grow in grace and the knowledge of Jesus our Savior.

My heart hurt yesterday after hearing the news of her death. Tears came freely and I gave in to the weeping, remembering Psalm 56:8 tells me my tears are acknowledged by my heavenly Father.

Lying in bed and ready for sleep, memories of our long-time friendship played in my mind. She and I were born the same year, and we both took piano lessons. As young pals, she often came home with me on a Sunday night to spend the days of summer until we returned to church again on Wednesday. She ate tuna fish sandwiches with me because that was my lunch of choice most days. She played with my dogs and rode my horse and entered into my life in a way that etched a permant mark.

As adults and mothers of growing children, we again shared church and life experiences. She and I played music for worship, her on the piano and me on the organ, and we could almost read each other’s expressions across the podium as we flowed with the leading of the Spirit.

Judy was an expert planner of events, whether a choir reunion, a women’s weekend meeting, Christmas tea parties, or our son’s wedding. I helped serve at a couple of the tea parties she hosted at her house where every detail was meticuolous and the house was rearranged to accommodate a crowd. The women who were seated at tables and served delicacies were astonshed at the preparations and felt loved that this was just for them.

She loved children in the way of Jesus who said “Let the little children come.” She talked and listened like they were real people. She catered to their special tastes and had the best treats tucked away in her tall kitchen cabinet. She made my grandchildren feel as special as I tried to. She was a pied piper of sorts, calling them to come and get some of her unique love.

Judy was a gift-giver at heart, the presentations always lavish with an extra amount of effort. Each birthday and Christmas, there was a lovely bag filled with surprises particular to me. Always there was something blue, like a teapot or tiny box, wrapped in tissue paper because she remembered my favorite color.

My friend offered me a safe harbor in 2003 when I was desperately in need. I recall with tears her gentle ways of welcome, the small gifts of kindness, the listening ear and non-judgment of the hard place where I found myself.

When a group of adults took a passel of teenagers to Michigan to do drama ministry, she saved us from a torturous trip home by offering air freshner and a clean t-shirt when one of the kids threw up in the car, spattering Sweet William in the process. It was anything but funny at the time, but we laughed about it years after the fact.

Soon after the death of my mother in February 1983, Judy asked me to teach a lesson on faith to her class. It was an incredulous request, I thought, since I was wrestling with my own faith in the throes of grief, and I was in a bit of a crisis. For some reason I said yes to her. In my Bible I wrote a notation at Hebrews 10:19-23, “my first sermon,” the date 3-18-83.

She asked me again and again through the years to speak, to teach, calling forth a gift in me I did not know I had. While music was my comfort zone of ministry, the Lord used her to lead me into an area of teaching. She was an instrument of His grace, iron sharpening iron.

This morning I think of the hole left in lives of her husband, her children and grandchildren, family and friends. Her influence was deep and wide, loving people in simple and profound ways. At this moment I can only think of her bright smile and laughter, not the way sickness ravaged her body in the closing years of her life.

People say, “She’s in a better place.” And I know it is true. The glories of her Heavenly Home do not compare to the beauties surrounding us on this earth. The Jesus she proclaimed to others as the only way of salvation is the Jesus she now sees face to face, beholding the glory of all His goodness.

I wonder how the heavenly reunion happens when a saint of God enters the eternal portals. Does word spread throughout the Celestial City that she’s coming? Do they get excited with the anticpated reunion, like I look forward to a visit from my dear ones? Do family and friends, the great crowd of witnesses, gather to greet and welcome? I wonder about such things.

If they do, then I picture faces of saints gone before. Judy’s parents and grandparents will be there. Friends she loved here will be among the crowd. My mother and dad might be on the sidelines waiting their turn to joyously embrace another soilder who has come home.

Home. Judy loved her home, making it beautiful and comfortable for all to enter and enjoy, touches of herself showing up in every room. Now she is Home in a way I can only dream about and look forward to when it is my turn to go.

My heart aches in the remembering today, but there is a sweetness present too. The love and encouragement she gave me, the welcome and smile that were as big as her hug and her heart, the way we walked the path of salvation together through many years, how she loved Jesus and wanted others to know Him.

My time of departure from earth’s hold will come one day. The years are mounting up faster than I can grasp, making me conscious of the frailty of life. I hope my story is one that points to Jesus, like Judy’s did.

I know there is something more than this life. Though it offers beauty and joy, it is mixed with the pain of sorrow and loss. There is another place, a place where the living God dwells in glorious unaproachable light, and He invites me to make my citizenship there, to be where He is. He has paid the price for me through Jesus’ death and resurrection, and He bids me come. Come home.

My forever friend will be among the heavenly throng welcoming me when it’s my turn to leave here. And she’ll be smiling with open arms as we share stories of amazing grace.

Sunday grace.

Sunday grace

Standing at the check-out desk of the library, a former piano student turned library employee scanned my selections.

“Minimalism?” she queried, seeing several books on the topic. She’d been to my house and knew it was not my style. I told her I was always looking for ways to lighten my load, to clear the clutter, and to open up spaces. I try.

As I glanced through one of the books showing blank walls and table tops devoid of anything, I tossed it into the return-to-library stack. A different book by another author was more promising, motivating me to evaluate what is needed, what is beautiful, what brings memories, and discard the rest. Ah, I can do this.

Looking at the rooms where Sweet William and I have lived for well over 40 years, we have collected plenty. Books line shelves and sit in stacks on tables. Mementos adorn surfaces and shelter behind glass and in closed cabinets. Nested Corning Ware pans I got when we were newly married are still used regularly, and pots I inherited when my mother died are my go-to cookware.

I glance around and remember. The small birdhouses were painted by the grandchildren when they were small. Collected cookbooks hold treasured recipes from church ladies. A small desk lamp belonged to my dear Aunt Dottie. Delicate cups with saucers behind glass enclosures call to mind tea parties for grown ups and children alike. The figurines I call George and Martha Washington had their place in my parents’ home. Brass candlesticks on the coffee table were a gift from my uncle who liked exotic things.

Sweet William has his own collections of guitars and musical odds and ends, build and repair tools, and those semi-important miscellany to keep just in case we might need them someday.

The extra bedroom houses some dolls our grands used to play with. I keep them because friends have grandgirls who visit. The neighbors who live in the house next door have two little guys who look forward to the old matchbox cars that belonged to our son.

These are things remembered with multiplied memories attached. How can I toss them out? What if I forget what unfolded in my life?

Perhaps an unacknowled blessing is my ability to still remember the places, events, and people peppering our lives. Random things in this old house are triggers, promts that jog my brain and take me back to places visited, celebrations, and most importantly the people who have enriched me in ways I cannot even describe.

Reading the Holy Word I see it oft repeated by the Lord God, “remember.” Remember what the Lord did. Remember how He delivered. Remember that He provided. Remember His faithfulness. Remember He is your Redeemer.

On the night Jesus shared His last Passover with friends, He told them to remember. Drink the cup and eat the bread and remember. And we still share communion with brothers and sisters in Christ in order that we remember the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord.

I need reminders of my spiritual journey, like my spiral note cards filled with Scripture verses, like hand-written notations in my Bible, like art work hanging on the walls of our home, like sharing with a friend how good God has been to me. I need reminders lest I forget.

Very slowly I’m looking in closets and drawers, trying to determine what can stay, what should go. I think about the when and where, the memory attached, the people who were part of it. I’m sure I will never be a true minimalist. It isn’t my nature. This old house is a museum of artifacts and our history, interesting finds, plunder from the journey, a story of who we are and where we’ve been.

In the process, let me hold to the good and true, the beauty of walking with Jesus through valleys and mountains, and recall the goodness of our God. It is well worth remembering.

Sunday grace.