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Sunday grace – thoughts on my birthday

At the change of the calendar month, thoughts turned to my birthday and an assessment of my life. Last year, 2020, Sweet William and I were in quarantine due to the Covid 19 virus that virtually shut down the world. This year, he is still recovering from a major surgery in December. It is a long road of rehab and physical therapy that continues weekly. In essence, we are somewhat confined, though in a different way. The question becomes how to celebrate and acknowledge another year where we are right now.

It can be easy to slip into the downward spiral of dwelling on suffering, naming them one by one, leading to a dark hole of loneliness and depression. I’ve been there. All who live to the seventh decade and beyond have experieced both gain and loss. I had my share.

I recall summer birthday parties when I was young. It was hot and there were lawn sprinklers, swimming pools, ice cream and watermelon. Never mind that the juices ran down my arm. It would wash off in the pool water. When our son was born in July, I recreated some of those fun times in the outdoors with his cousins and friends. I thought a summer birthday was the best.

As the day approached, I was tempted to feel sorry for myself, and I cried a little. But I confessed to a friend that I was determined to count my blessings and not my hardships on this day.

Birthday week was busy, and when Friday came Sweet William knew I needed some quite, some down time. After a breakfast of pancakes with strawberries and pure maple syrup – because it’s my birthday! – I went to the deck with my Bible, journal and pens, a birthday book from a friend and a fresh cup of coffee. It is never too hot for coffee.

I read Psalm 139 slowly, a birthday practice, its poetry reassuring me I am known and loved, that I can never, no never, go away from the Father’s presence.

Texts pinged my phone throughout the day, family and friends sending their birthday wishes. Our son called and sang to me, his baritone voice music to this mother’s ears. Cards came in the mail. Sweet William prayed for me, saying I was the best thing that ever happened to him, next to Jesus.

In the evening, a friend in another city called to chat like she has on so many birthdays, and my cousin came with a present and ate birthday cake with us.

I listened to Cythinia Clawson sing You Were There, composed by Dan Burgess, inspired by Psalm 139. It brings me to tears. The passing of another year is worth marking and remembering in order to gain wisdom for the future.

At this age I know the years still left are less than what I have lived. I often wonder what I will leave behind, not the house and furniture and stuff, but what I deposited into another heart. Did I give enough time? Did I really listen? Were my words encouraging? In my brokeness did Jesus shine through? Did I love well? I hope so.

“Love never ages, even when we do. So I tell myself if you want to hold on to your youth, hold on to love.”
— Edward Ginnon

There will be days dark and light, times of joy and sorrow, beauty to enjoy and rocks in my shoes. I will laugh and I will cry. But there is no reason to fear. There will be grace for the journey. Always there is grace enough.

Time will tell my path on this earth. I will keep pressing on, keep moving forward toward the hope of life everlasting when a last struggling breath here only means my next will be a breath of heavenly air and the face of my savior.

I will rejoice in the goodness of God. I will remember His faithfulness to me. When it gets hard, I will remind myself He is there.

God the Father has allowed me to be here. May I live fully and gain a heart of wisdom. And let me love.

I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me.” — Psalm 13:5, 6

Sunday grace.

Sunday grace

Fornado Ortega’s lyrics sing in my head as my good day begins.

This Good Day

Fernando Ortega

Morning sun, morning glories pouring down the hill
Through my window I can feel the ocean breeze

Noisy sparrows fill the oak trees, swallows can’t stay still
And in the glad commotion, Lord, You speak to me

If rain clouds come or the cold winds blow
You’re the one who goes before me and in my heart I know

That this good day, it is a gift from You. The world is turning in its place
Because You made it to
I lift my voice to sing a song of praise on this good day

On this July 4, the day the United State celebrates her independence, I am thankful for the blessings of being an American citizen and for this good day. I have been endowed with God-given inalienable rights. He is the One who gives life and liberty.

I count these gifts:

For waking in my own house on my own little piece of land where I live in peace.

For neighbors who do acts of kindness for us out of the goodness of their hearts.

For a house full of appliances making my life easier (especially after a day without electricity, land land and internet).

For bird song waking the morning, their unique beauty giving Sweet William and me simple pleasure.

For flowers growing in the gardens, simple offerings from packets of seed.

For the grandness of trees offering shade, blowing with the winds, speaking to me of resilience and strength.

For children playing in the yard next door, their innocence, trust, gladness and joy.

For church and fellowship, for the people who care, pray, and welcome us with glad hearts and smiles.

For music and singing and books and the Holy Word, and for a mind to understand and a voice to praise.

For freedom, the gift God gave first to Adam and Eve, and for His forgiveness when we abuse that liberty.

May I see with clarity the responsibility of freedom.

May I choose righteousness over unrighteousness.

May I serve with a willing heart.

May I give honor where honor is due and treat others with respect.

May I love like Christ loved all peoples.

May I walk worthy to be called a Christian and an American.

Sunday grace.

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. This is a high privilege and I am loved.

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 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 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.

Amen

Sunday grace.

Monday grace

A PRAYER

My Dear Heavenly Father,

Your name is holy. I stand in awe of You. You are the Living Word who spoke all that I know into existence. Everlasting to everlasting, You are the I AM who was, is and is to come.

You are good, kind, strong, full of compassion and forgiving. You blot out my transgressions, casting them into the sea.

You remember that I am dust, weak and prone to wander. Yet, You called my name, chose and blessed me with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus. I am yours, amazed at Your grace.

When I am troubled, You tell me to release anxiety and to present my requests to You, with a thankful heart, knowing You are able to do beyond what I ask or even think.

You are always with me. I am never alone.

You see my heart, my concerns and longings, the burdens that weigh on me, the distress that brings me to tears. You know what I need before I ask, and still You invite me to ask, to seek, to knock and bring my petitions to the throne of mercy, behind the veil, opened through the blood of Jesus. You invite me to come near.

You are Yahweh and there is none like you. Wisdom and power are Yours alone. Ah Sovereign Lord, You have made the heavens and the earth, and nothing is too hard for You. You are the faithful One, the Truth and the Way of salvation.

Jesus and Holy Spirit intercede on my behalf, according to Your perfect will. I rest in such great assurance.

Your Word declares that you will hear when I call to You. O Lord, You are not far off; my Strength, come quickly to help me. You Who hear prayer, to You all flesh comes.

You care for all creation. You feed the birds. You say I am more valuable then they. I am astounded at Your care for me.

I know You, I believe You, and I am convinced that You are able to guard what I have entrusted to You, those I hold dearest and love most. You are the Good Shepherd, leaving the ninety-nine safe in the fold, to search for the wandering one. You see wherever they are. Your arm is strong to save.

I love You Lord for you hear my prayers, You bend down to listen. You hear my cry for mercy when I called to you for help. For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to You. Your love, O Lord, never fails.

All of Your promises are Yes and Amen in Christ Jesus. Your plan for me is good, and I have a hope and a future. You will fulfill Your purpose in me, the work You began long ago from eternity. Those who know Your name put their trust in You.

Oh Lord, I have heard of your fame. I stand in awe of Your deeds. Renew them in our day. In our time, make them known.

Father, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, in the name of Your one and only son, Jesus,

With a grateful heart,

Your daughter

Sunday grace

I noticed the envelope in the mailbox, all bright and cheery, and it made me smile.

Young enough to be my daughter, she is a long-time friend, since a teenager, her with the enthusiasm for life that has not dwindled through the years. Together we shared Bible study, birthday parties, yard-sale treasure hunting, and cups of tea at the kitchen table. When she moved away, we kept in touch by letters. Hers were always so much fun, brimming with cute drawings, punctuated with her funny sayings, and filled with colorful stickers fitting her purpose. It was like a visit on stationery.

She is a mature young woman now with a husband, a daughter, and farm animals occupying her life. Letters are fewer between us. Finding one in my mailbox from this esteemed friend was a delight.

I always take my time, examining the envelope first, slowly opening it, and sitting down to read her missive. The contents are newsy and the words conversational, almost as if she were sitting across from me.

She and her husband feel the Lord’s leading in a new direction. I read of their journey thus far, anticipating a road of endurance requiring trust in the face of obstacles, one with an uncertain future. They believe this is their calling.

I breath prayers after I lay down the pages. This path will be hard, not for the faint of heart, but the faithful of heart. There will be mountains to climb, rocky and steep. There will be days when it seems their efforts are not enough. Knowing her, I expect she is fully aware, trusting in the God who leads us through uncharted waters with only Himself as the light. When the storms come, and they will come, she will learn to hold to an unchanging hand.

I send a message to her that I am just a phone call away and will be here if she sends out an SOS. I determine to begin a letter to my friend in the coming days, and I write their names on my prayer list.

The next morning Steven Curtis Chapman sings on the CD player, music lifting the atmosphere and turning our hearts heavenward and away from the burdens of life. As I help Sweet William prepare for the day, Steven is singing our song, I Will Be Here,” and the words ring true: “When the mirror tells us we’re older, I will hold you, and I will be here . . . I will be true to the promise I have made, to you and to the One who gave you to me. I will be here.

I remember the vows made, me in a white dress and him in a black tuxedo, making promises before God and the company gathered, not knowing what they would require of us. We both had on rose-colored glasses standing there in the church and for many months after. But eventually the rose fades and we see clearly that life is hard. God never turned loose of either of us, determined to pour out His grace and complete the work He planned.

Almost fifty years later, Sweet William and I cherish the vows we made to one another, knowing they have tested us, tried us, and kept us committed to one another in spite of ourselves. We were called to a hard obedience, a faithfulness only made possible by a faithful God infusing His strength in us by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I think of my friend starting a new journey into the unknown, and I recognize obedience will be required, when things are going well and when they are not. God will be there in it all, calling forth His strength in them when the task is beyond their own.

As Steven Curtis Chapman continues to sing, I hear a different song now, “A Moment Made for Worshipping.

When I’m feeling loved and happy, when I’m feeling all alone
When I’m failing to remember all the love that I’ve been shown
Every beat of my heart is another new place to start to know
This is a moment made for worshipping

And I wonder if the hard obedience, the moving forward when God calls us to follow, the days we press on by sheer grit, tenaciously believing God is with us in this . . . can this be counted as worship?

When we keep trying though we are weary . . .

When we get up after falling down yet again . . .

When we love by our actions because the feeling is faint . . .

When the tears flow down because we don’t understand the plan . . .

When we follow not knowing where He leads . . .

When we’re tempted to give up but know that only Christ Jesus has the words of Life . . .

The hard obedience, counted as worship. May it be so.

Sunday grace.

Monday grace

Spring presses herself onward while winter clings with a tight-fisted hold.

I walk the yard and notice the signs of beginnings. The crocuses by the front porch surprise me every year. Buds on branches are full. The forsythia bush opens tender flowers despite the cold. And daffodils by the side of the house bloom enough for a bouquet on the kitchen table

I listen to the sounds of the season, early bird choruses, frogs croaking in puddles, geese fluttering as a pair, abandoning the flock, preparing to nest.

The trees in my yard are winter bare, awaiting the surge to bring forth life again, except for one oak by the drive. It clings to last year’s leaf collection, all dry and brown, unwilling to turn loose.

Like the oak tree, I sometimes cling to an old and lifeless past. I bear scars, but wounds are meant to heal. What happened cannot be undone, only forgiven. I may wish I’d made a wiser choice, used better words, walked a path less traveled, treasured a relationship, opened my heart, but I cannot ask for a do-over.

Sometimes I long for what was but is no more, binding me to yesterday, unable to move forward or rejoice in today. Or I simply crave another’s perceived Facebook life, assuming it is better and easier, seen though my lens of discontent.

I’m clinging to dead leaves.

Old journals and picture albums stir memories and the emotions of life events: birthday celebrations and holidays, vacations and family gatherings. Remembering is good. The past shows where God led me. I was there. Now I am here by His grace. There’s no turning back or retracing of steps. The road leads forward, and I must press on, laying aside weights and sins, regrets and longings, that are heavy like a burdensome backpack.

” . . . when I hold on to the wrong things, the wrong things hold on to me.” — Emily P. Freeman

I’ll be observing my oak tree, watching as it swells with spring’s energy, laying bare its branches in readiness for the new and fresh. It will release winter’s hold and open to creation’s beauty.

I pray to release what cleaves to and hinders me as I walk with Christ in what still feels like a winter season. I ask the Father to refill me with the Holy Spirit’s renewing life force, the energy and power of a God who knows no boundaries or limitations. His grace is strength for the journey.

Let Spring bring forth.

Monday grace.

Sunday grace

This is the day the Lord has made .. . and I have some choices to make.

I can speak harshly without thinking or I can use words that build up.

I can criticize or I can look for the best in others.

I can complain or I can give thanks for the good gifts all around me.

I can feel sorry for myself or I can be glad I’m alive to serve another day.

I can count all I’m missing or I can count the abundance I’m given.

I can wallow in despair of my present situation or I can consider it all joy.

I can call my life too hard or I can call on the Lord for His strength.

I can weep alone or I can remember God sees my tears and is near the brokenhearted.

I can wonder if my body is going to hold up under the strain or I can pray for His strength made perfect in me.

I can feel powerless to change this situation or I can ask for the power of the Holy Spirit to work mightily in me.

I can believe the lies whispered in the dark or I can trust the Word of Jesus that lights the path ahead.

I can think I’ve drained all my human resources or I can recall words learned as a child, “my cup runneth over.”

I can give up or I can rest assured that His grace is sufficient for my every need.

I can remain in the cold winter of this trial or I can look toward the hope of spring.

This is the day the Lord has made, and I have some choices to make.

I will rejoice in the One who calls me to this journey, who promises His presence and power, who remains faithful even when I am not.

He is worthy of my worship.

Sunday grace.

Sunday grace

Precious in the sight of God is the death of His saints.
— Psalm 116: 15

I awaken to the thought, another sweet friend left this earth and made her way to the eternal home, the place Jesus promised He was preparing for us.

We make many acquaintances during a lifetime. Some deepen into friendships, kindred spirits and companions. There is the rare blessing when friends become family.

We met at church, our children small, and the relationship developed over years of gathering in the house of the Lord. Bonds of love grew as we united in worship, in learning the Bible together, and in experiencing the Holy Spirit in all His mystery. We played music together for hours upon end. No wonder Scripture admonishes us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. Friendship blossomed.

Many years ago, I worked with a group of teens, and my friend’s youngest was part of the group. He was a character, funny, unpredictable, a challenge to the structure I was trying to provide. It was like herding cats, and I loved him. He became more than his teachers expected. We wrote letters while he was in the military. He is a strong and capable man today, and I’m proud to know him. He was my friend’s baby boy.

She and I talked about our children, our grandchildren, music lessons, weight watchers, and anything else that came to our minds. She was quiet and reserved in a group, but she laughed easily and opened up with a few close friends. This morning I remember her laughter and the happy expression on her face.

Friends who become family, these are the ones who come for the celebrations, pitch in when there is work to be done and stay until it’s finished. Friends who are family show up when tragedy strikes – the sudden hospitalization and unexpected diagnosis, the house fire that devastates, the illness that lingers long, and the news from across the world of a young life suddenly snuffed out. They come when only silent prayers are prayed, and they remain, their presence a comfort that needs no words.

My heart hurts this morning for the sister/friend missing from my life, for the richness of her loyalty, for the love she showed me. I grieve for her husband who faithfully walked with her and sat beside her bed until the final breath. I ache for her three strong sons, for their wives and for the grandchildren she dearly loved and delighted to talk about.

I read this commentary on Psalm 116:15: “ . . . the death of saints is an object of value; that God regards it as of importance; that it is connected with his great plans, and that there are great purposes to be accomplished by it. . . the death of a good man [or woman] is in itself of so much importance, and so connected with the glory of God and the accomplishment of his purposes, that he will not cause it to take place except in circumstances, at times, and in a manner, which will best secure those ends.”

God’s ways are not my ways. His thoughts are higher than my thoughts. I struggle to understand what He does. I cannot fathom the greatness of His plan that encompasses the whole of creation, of which I am a small part. I experience the goodness of His grace as well as the pain and suffering of a world marred and broken by sin.

I feel the loss this morning, the long days ahead of missing one so dear, the empty place she leaves in the hearts and lives of those she loved and who loved her.

Today we weep. Our Father knows our aching hearts. He sees the tears and does not disregard them. He offers Himself as Comforter. One day He will wipe away tears. Until then, He promises a hope, a future, a Home with Him that will outshine the stars. We wait for it.

Home. That’s where my friend is today. She will be waiting for us.


Grace for the journey

I never would have chosen this frozen road.

Life is a journey, and years ago I chose to make it my aim to enjoy the ride, wherever that takes me. I believe that even on the roughest roads, I might notice some wildflowers. Don’t call me an optimist, only one who fought for joy when the way was especially wearisome.

Sometimes the path is hard. And it is winter.

Sweet William and I have been in a season of difficulty. It is common to every person to weather the experience of winter, spring, summer and fall again and again through life. Spring brings hope of newness and refreshing while summer is hard work, planting and cultivation. We enjoy the abundant fruitfulness of an autumn only to find ourselves shivering in the icy winds of winter as the cycle repeats.

And it is winter. On some cold nights, I sat at the kitchen table alone and wept, my only prayer, “Jesus help.” There were no other words. The ever-pinging texts from friends and family, declaring their promise to pray, were lifelines of hope. Competent nursing staff and doctors coupled with kindness made the days a little brighter. Time was irrelevant as days slipped into weeks, leaving us asking, “How long, oh Lord?”

In the deep mid-winter, Sweet William and I found ourselves wandering and wondering. Important days of Christmas, then New Year, and our 49th wedding anniversary were not what we planned at all. Celebrations wait for warmer days.

Winter life can be lonely, dreary, and somber. Night falls too quickly and a chill penetrates the bones. We long for the sunshine, birds building nests, and waving at neighbors in the greening yard. I tell myself to keep moving through it, and look for the signs of spring.

There are lessons in a winter journey we cannot learn any other way. There’s a Presence in the wilderness we often overlook in the lush valleys of our busy lives when planting or harvesting are the focus. In the barren landscape when the quiet chill settles, the Voice I long to hear speaks, and I hear His whispers. He speaks hope, peace, love, and I’m assured of His faithfulness.

I would not have chosen this winter travel, but it gave me perspective. When we have no one, there is Someone with us. He, the One and only, knows the hurt of the heart, the confusion of the mind, the ache of the body. When darkness settles on the soul, He is the Light. When questions have no answers, He is Wisdom.

The days of January near the end, and I notice how the sun rises a little sooner. Sometimes the birds sing a little more fervently. Though winter seems long, there is beauty if I have eyes to see it. The snow came and made everything clean and bright. The frost sparkles on the deck railing in the pre-dawn. Ice on the lake across the road shimmers in sunlight.

I pray this:

Father of all I see and what is yet unknown to me, be Thou my vision. Give us grace for this journey. Infuse us with courage and strength to endure like good soldiers. As You are ever faithful to us, provide Your power through the Holy Spirit to be faithful to You. Teach us lessons of compassion, patience, kindness, and love over all. Warm us in Your Presence during this season, and let us not forget Your wonders of mercy when the weather changes and warm breezes blow. To everything there is a season, and You are everything we need in each of them. As your beloved child, I ask these things in the Name above all names, Jesus my Savior and Lord. Amen.

Monday grace

As it has been my habit to write a Thanksgiving Joy List in November, I wonder why I’ve not started sooner.

Making note of what we have to be grateful for isn’t my original idea. Ann Voscamp made it a mantra and a Bible study. I see Facebook posts doing the same. People give thanks in different ways. I like paper.

I drew a notebook from the shelf, took pen in hand, and I began to write:

This has been a crazy year, “wonky” as a friend says. The word seems appropriate. Coranvirus invaded the USA in March and the country shut down. I assumed a few weeks of being at home would not be hard. But it is mid November and the strangeness of social distance and restrictions on nearly everything is not my normal. Masks covering faces are common, a fashion statement even, and I want to see all of the smile, not half of it.

Politics got real ugly. Cities became volatile, chaos and destruction gone too far. Businesses run by real people are hurting. Riots took the focus off the point of protesters. People are divided. I doubt what I hear on the news because truth is relative to what someone wants me to believe. I don’t know what is true anymore.

Here at the Wright House, Sweet William is on a walker most of the time. His brother is very ill. I feel all of my 70 years. And my dear ones will not be coming home for Thanksgiving.

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 His Faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21-23)

Then I began to number the page and count.

  1. God is on His throne, high and lifted up, the train of His robe filling the temple.
  2. Kings rise and fall, but God remains, yesterday, today, and the forever of my tomorrows.
  3. Jesus, my Savior, came to bring His peace to the world, this household and my heart.
  4. The Holy Spirit indwells me, is my constant companion, comforter, teacher and guide. I am never alone.
  5. Sweet William, my husband of almost 49 years, with all our wounds and battle scars from all the storms and all the wars we’ve weathered, we are still together.
  6. – 10. Dear ones, though miles away . . . . . .

11. – 14 Extended family, cousins, their children and their children’s children . . . . . .
15. Piano students, music, the years of lessons that gave me the gift of playing the piano.
. . . . . . .
18. – 20. Friends: close in age who understand what it’s like; younger ones who are like daughters and sons of my heart; still younger ones who bring vigor and freshness and fun to us old folks, and for some reason want to spend time with us.
. . . . . . .
23. The little woods, its seasonal beauty, how it calms and refreshes me.
. . . . . . .
28. Maisie who makes us laugh, her gentle personality and liveliness, the way she loves us unconditionally with trusting eyes.
. . . . . . .
35. For toilet paper, hand sanitizer, alcohol, soap and water.
. . . . . . .
46. The gently used kitchen chairs bought at a yard sale.
. . . . . . .
51. White out.
. . . . . . .
54. The Farmers Market, fresh vegis, free-range eggs.
. . . . . . .
59. The library, so many books, friendly staff, curbside delivery, and Hoopla so I can listen while I work.
. . . . . . .
68. Surprise flowers growing where I did not plant them.
. . . . . . .
75. Next door neighbors who call us Aunt Peggy and Uncle Bill, and their two boys, our littlest neighbors who bring a smile and sunshine on any cloudy day.
. . . . . . .
83. The light of a New Day, another beginning, fresh mercies.
84. Breathing in – deep breaths – and breathing out.
85. Indoor plumbing, hot showers, flushing toilets.
86. A new blue-grey roof.

The list goes on as I call to remembrance the mercy and grace of a God who gives good gifts even in a pandemic. The daily blessings remind me He has not left me, my loved ones, or this world unattended. He is working, always working.

I will keep writing this week, counting the big and small, the major and what seems insignificant. Because nothing is insignificant for a child of the most High God. He is involved in my life, the seconds, the days, the years.

He gives a full measure, pressed down, running over, not because I deserve it but because He is good. His love and kindness draw me to Him. I run to the mercy seat where He is enthroned and reigns eternal. His arms are open to me. I am welcomed into His embrace.

He is the life-giving fountain for this thirsty soul. He deserves my highest praise.

Give thanks with a grateful heart. Bless the Lord O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.

Monday grace.