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An end not yet in sight.

Anxiety catches me unaware as I turn the page to a new month.

My plan was to retreat during spring break at a cabin in the treetops somewhere in Tennessee. Away from home responsibilities and work. I would breathe fresh air, contemplate my life direction, write in my journal, read good books, visit a few thrift stores, eat out, and generally relax.

That changed a few weeks ago as I canceled one thing after another, marking out time with friends, church, band practice, piano lessons, doctor appointments, and trips to the grocery. Two weeks of confinement looked doable. Thirty more days feels daunting.

I walked with Maisie after watching the morning news, talking myself down from the ledge of worry and fear, speaking Bible verses I’ve learned, hoping to change my thought process. “What time I am afraid, I will trust in You.” “The Lord is my refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.”

Even the glass-half-full people are dealing with the angst of world crises. Anyone watching the news is susceptible to uneasy concern. Change happens daily as I try to keep up. Am I allowed to leave my house? Can I work in the garden? Is it OK to walk my lane and wave to my neighbors? Do I need a mask to visit the grocery or will a scarf protect me?

And what is really happening to my dear ones who are miles away from me? How can I support them when I’m in confinement?

I read tips for coping with the pandemic. I wash my hands until they are beginning to crack. Authorities say dark days are ahead.

On the positive side of my coin, I work hard in the garden. Minimizing and making them more manageable is a way to use my hyper energy.

I plan virtual piano lessons with my students, looking forward to a sort of normalcy with them. This challenges me technologically, but I know seeing their faces will boost my mood.

At this point, there is little I can do except stay home, self-distance as directed, reach out to people any way I can. And pray. Praying focuses me on mighty God who is stronger than any virus.

I remember a story in 1 Samuel 30:6.

And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.

David encouraged himself in the Lord. I can do the same. I look backward, remembering the days of my life, how God was with me, how He brought me through difficult pathways, how He taught me to depend on Him, how He is the strong God and my Savior.

I encourage myself in the Lord.

Proverbs 3:5-6 became a song my mother sang when she was alive. I can almost hear her powerful voice, filled with faith, eyes closed in a prayer of worship. In the great cloud of witnesses in Heaven, I wonder if she is singing to us right now. I will join the chorus.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.

If you are fighting anxiety, join the multitude. Admitting and naming a thing takes away some of its power. But then encourage yourself in the Lord. He is here, as near as your next breath.

A friend sent me a verse after we talked by phone, 3 John 14. It seems an appropriate closing to my friends, wherever you are.

I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. Peace to you. The friends here [Sweet William and Maisie] send their greetings.

Don’t be afraid. God is near.


Sunday grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen and amen.

Sunday grace.

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.

Monday grace

When the temperatures rise higher, making everything harder, and the pavement is hot on Maisie’s paws and the grass crunches under my feet from lack of rain;

When I go to bed with prayer concerns on my heart and wake to them the next morning;

When family and friends suffer and I can’t be there to do anything;

When life just feels grueling and impossible to figure out;

When trouble knocks on my own door and intrudes without a welcome;

When my questions mount up quicker than my answers;

Then I press in to look for simple graces.

Like a pink balloon on the neighbor’s mailbox announcing the birth of their baby girl.

Like the small wren with the big voice greeting me each morning on the deck.

Like fans blowing air across the bed at night.

Like the cooling shade offered by trees growing strong and full in the yard.

Like the evening shadows playing against furniture;

Like the aroma of a newly opened bag of coffee beans, a promise for the morning.

Like zinnias blooming by the walkway and a sudden appearance of pink ladies.

Like an hour spent with a friend in honest conversation.

Like brown-eyed susans and peppermint in a vintage canning jar.

Like the comfort of Scripture and the relief of laying my burdens on Jesus.

Life can be hard. But I know God has not forgotten us. He has His reasons. His throne room is filled with mercy and grace for times like these. He bids me come.

Tears run down my face and I run to Him.

Monday grace.

Monday grace

Maisie and I walk a half lap of the lane. The temperature is cool, the sky overcast.

The make-shift wooden bench, salvaged from the neighbor’s garbage last year, sits at the edge of the yard. Maisie wants to wander still, but I stop, not needing to rest, but needing to be still.

I gaze at the lake across the road, the geese as they swim and waddle ashore. The gander follows her goose as he leads her to the nibbles in the grass.

I begin to breathe deeper, something I don’t do enough. More often my breaths come in quick succession, enough to keep oxygen flowing through lungs and heart, blood carrying it where it is needed.

The deep breaths are cleansing and I feel myself relax in the quiet. Birds sing their evening song, a last hallelujah for this day, to the Creator who has provided for their needs.

As I turn loose of responsibilities and things on my list for tomorrow, my head clears and I listen for the voice of God. He speaks in the still, smallness of my awakened sense to Him.

He plants a question, His way of turning my awareness to my heart, to search out the deep recesses of my soul, to open doors that I often close and latch from the seeing world.

As I rise from my bench, Maisie restless to move on, the question lingers. I will ponder it in days ahead. I will come again to this place and sit to rest from my weariness, to hear and discern the voice of God, to gain understanding and insight.

For this is my Father’s desire: to draw me away from bustling to the place of quiet rest; to speak tender words of love to the tenderest parts of me; to reveal Himself once more so I can know Him even more.

Monday grace.

Sunday grace

As the fog clears from my brain early this morning, I remember her. It’s her birthday.

I plug in the coffee pot and turn the numbers on my perpetual calendar to November 4. And I think of that day 18 years ago when she entered this world.

I missed being at the hospital, thinking we had plenty of time to get there. Her three-and-a-half-year old sister was brought to us in the night while mommy, daddy, and the second set of grandparents hurried to labor and delivery.

I carried a pager in those days, and that was the thing that alerted me to the news. I listened to the message of “we have a baby girl,” with a mixture of joy at her arrival and disappointment at missing this important moment.

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I suppose I made up for that one time not being there by being here in the house next door to hers. For ten years she lived close enough for me to hear her playing in their yard, to see her wave and shout, “Hi Grammy.”

I found two pictures recently of the lane in front of our house, and I wondered why I had taken them with no apparent reason. Then I spied three tiny figures walking toward our house. With a magnifying glass I could see them, my three grandchildren, ages three, four and seven on their way to Grammy and Papaw’s for who knows what kind of adventures. Hot cocoa, dress up, games, books – these were possibilities. She was the one out front, skipping along while her older sister held the youngest by the hand. Sweet remembrance.

They always brought the sunshine when the door opened to them, whether they came by one or by three.

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We two are miles apart now. I miss getting to celebrate with this special young woman today. Our connection is the Birthday Box I priority mailed to arrive in time. It contains items I hope will please her, and a sealed zip bag of my special hot cocoa mix, because that is a memory we hold and my Happy Birthday wish across the miles.

She’s a busy girl now, with school, choir, friends and family activities.  She’s beautiful and graceful, funny and creative, loving and her own unique self. I’m happy that she is happy, flourishing, and becoming.

But I miss her. Especially today. On her birthday.

So I pray a blessing to the Father who knows no distance. Whose hand reaches mine and touches hers. The One who holds her life in His strong hand and knows the way He plans for her to go.

I trust and believe that He hears my prayers for her. His heart is tender towards mine and the longing I feel. He sees the tears that gather in my eyes even as I write.

My Father’s heart is tender towards her too, His love far greater than mine can ever be. He has a future for her, and He will guide her to it.

“I love the Lord because He hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. 
Because He bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have Breath.”
Psalm 116:1-2, NLT

Sunday grace.

Celeste, tulsa oct 2018 (2)

 

 

Sunday grace

The trees in the little woods are greening and absorbing spaces. It’s becoming harder to see through the spiky saplings as I scan the depth for a deer sighting.

The small tree attached at its root to the larger Ash is blooming full and brightens my view out the kitchen window.

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The weather warmed and dried out enough that I donned my garden clothes and bush hat to start a little clean up in Maisie’s fence and around the side of the house.  Sweet William helped me sharpen my tools, making my work easier by far.

The bushy hedge behind the house and along the sidewalk to the outbuilding always gets a shave and haircut each spring. Between raindrops, I went at it until I discovered nests tucked into branches on either end. Blue eggs belong to a robin, and she flew out and fussed at me each time I came near. A mourning dove nested on the white eggs on the other end, her calm sitting undisturbed by my pruning.

My cutting stopped short to leave concealing  foliage for each of the tender mothers who are protecting their precious progeny.

On a walk-about at the lake, Maisie and I were nearly attacked by a male goose this week, him rising up in the air waving feathers and clawed feet in our direction. Apparently we were getting too close to his gander who sat faithfully on her nest of eggs at the water’s edge.

The few days of warmth and sunshine this week were encouraging and enticed me outdoors. It is spring, even when grey days appear again and I concern myself for apple tree blossoms with forecasts predicting freezing temperatures once more. Yet I will not lose hope.

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God is in his heaven and all is right with the world.

Not that the world is all right. It certainly is not. Nightly news would fill me with dread. But my hope is not in this world and its treasures or its future. My hope is in God alone who is sovereign ruler over all.

And He is my Father. He loves me and has His eye on me. He watches my every breath and has planned for my future.

While I wait for spring to fully flourish, I know what to expect. The fullness of its beauty lies ahead.

The beauty and glory of God’s completed plan draws ever nearer for me. He designed and arranged it, and His intention is to redeem. Until that day comes, I will wait for Him.

Sunday grace.

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