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Christmas grace

The last months of the year are like arrows pointing toward the finish line.

I get thoughtful as I make lists, and my lists abound. Returning to this year’s goals page in my bullet journal, I see what seemed important in January must not have been, since I didn’t prioritize my time and energy to accomplish them.

As I enter the last 30 days of this year, it feels brief, like my life, moving toward the unknown. What shall I do with the days of December. What shall I do with the days of my one wonderful life?

These are important questions to ponder.

What if I moved toward Christmas keeping Jesus foremost in all I plan and do? It almost seems a novel concept while advertisers try to plant desire for whatever is flashy and bright. Scenes of cheerful families, perfect gifts, decorations to die for, expensive jewelry appeal to my visual senses, and for the moment I want that.

But is that really Christmas?

The Christmas into which Jesus entered was fraught with family conflicts, unanswered questions, and long hard journeys. Sound familiar?

At the same time hope and faith encircle stories, heavenly visitors bring heavenly message, and miracles astonish priests and shepherds alike.

Could Christmas be full of wonder again instead of making us frazzled and frustrated? Could I celebrate the Christ child with simplicity while cherishing what is truly important about the season?

The message of Christmas is love. God’s love was demonstrated to us when He sent His only Son. Jesus came for us and rescued us. He showed us how to live with purpose, valuing people above rules and regulations. He went against the flow, touching the untouchable, reaching for the outcast and remembering the forgotten . While He knew what lay ahead for Him, He lived in the moment with those at table with Him.

This year, this Christmas season, what if I lived it like Jesus, considering Him at every turn?

Let love be my guide. Allow joy to invade. Pay attention to the present and the people. Look for miracles. Expect wonder.

Because Christmas is Jesus.

Sunday grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday grace

It’s about love. That is it. That is all.

Francis Chan said this: “We are here to love. Not much else matters.”

My best intentions are pointless unless they are birthed from love. My sound advice may not be well received unless it is clothed in love. My wise words will be sounding brass and tinkling cymbal unless guided by love.

Why do we think we have the answers for other people’s situations, and why do we feel the need to pour it on them like a dose of needed medicine? How can I possibly understand someone else’s journey when I have not walked it or even listened enough to picture where they are?

Wait. Let me examine the mote in my own eye before I try to remove the speck in yours.

Love is patient when frustrations run high and people don’t do what I want.
Love is kind even in difficult circumstances, when others are unkind to me.
Love is not envious of another’s gifts, beauty, talent, possessions or success.
Love is not boastful but remembers that all things come from God’s hand.
Love is not proud of accomplishments but rather humbly serves from a heart of gratitude.
Love does not dishonor others by words or actions.
Love is not self-seeking but wants what is best for the other person.
Love is not easily angered and is therefore self-controlled.
Love does not keep a record of wrongs; it keeps forgiving and forgiving.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth and justice.
Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always endures, even when, and especially when, it is hard.
Love does not fail. Love is primary. *

Dear Father in Heaven,
I’m convicted as I write the words about love. I fail often and I falter too much in loving well.

Your kindness leads to repentance. You draw us to Yourself by loving the unlovable.
May my words be kind, always. May I be patient even in my tribulation.

May I offer grace in the abundant way I have been given grace.
May I be quick to forgive and keep no record of offenses.
May Your perfect love touch the deep places of my heart and cast out fear.
May Your mighty power work in me so I can comprehend and acknowledge how wide, long, high and deep Christ’s love is.
May I come to know this love, though it surpasses knowledge, and be filled with the fullness of God, so that I live according to love’s direction.
I pray this in Jesus’ name, the One who loved us with His life and with His death. *

Amen

* From 1 Corinthians 13 and Ephesians 3

Sunday grace

The ongoing oppressive heat of September mirrors the fire of tribulation I have felt. A lack of rain and a parched landscape reflects the stress of my soul, and even nature bears its own burden.

I am blindsided by heartbreak in a month I usually happily anticipate. It is the crisp coolness of autumn I crave as relief but a sweltering heat remains. Minds reel in the aftermath of death, me trying to make sense of what is beyond my understanding.

In some ways, life goes on as usual while nothing will ever be the same again. People I love are gone from this world, we have been broken and left to cope, to assimilate what cannot be grasped. A friend, a close family member, both gone from this world within a matter of weeks, will not smile at me, laugh with me, do life together with me, and my existence is changed forever.

I’ve been pondering last words and final moments. I vividly recall the last time I spoke to my friend and the last morning I saw my cousin. We always think we have more time than we do.

Memories can settle like comfort or regret.

I don’t often think about what might be my last words to someone: a quick good-bye to Sweet William as I rush out the door; a phone conversation with my son on his way to a job site; a text to the grandchildren, keeping in touch; the message sent to a friend, for information or connection.

Words can haunt or they can heal.

Words carry weight. They impress and imprint on our hearts in ways we can’t explain. We carry words spoken to us as children into adulthood. They encourage or they tear down. Words are powerful. Yet we throw them around carelessly, caution to the wind, using the same breath to wound as well as to bless.

What I say to people matters. I recall God saying life and death reside in the power of the tongue. It is a small fire that can warm us or it can break its boundaries and burn recklessly.

I preach to myself about the careless use of my voice, how it begins in my heart, thoughts that form sound and roll easily off my tongue.

It is time to examine myself.

I understand that sometimes we must have the difficult conversation. Conflict needs to be resolved. Personalities clash, but words don’t have to be weapons. Jesus never shied away from challenging encounters, but His aim was love. His intention was relationship.

In the days following the death of two dear people, I’ve caught myself in hurried and harried speech. Those words could be the last ones spoken.

I seek encouragement from Scripture: Set a guard before my mouth, O Lord (Psalm 141:3); May my words be those that help other people and build them up (Ephesians 2:29).

Let every word be a gift.

This is a tall order for me. I seek the very Word Himself, the One who speaks and worlds form and miracles appear. When He says, “Let there be,” it is. When He speaks peace, it settles like dew.

I need more than determination, more than turning over another dry leaf. So I pray: Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, my Strength and my Redeemer.

His strength in me, His power doing what I can’t, His Spirit mingling with mine like refreshing rain on my parched, broken heart. He is my hope, my comfort, my life.

Monday grace

As I turn over the calendar blocks to July 1, I’m stunned that half the year is over. Is life moving at warp speed or is it my own illusion?

What do the next six months have in store? Only God knows.

What have I accomplished since January 1? Lists marked with completed check-offs attest to busy days, tasks and projects completed. The journal reflects daily activity and moods, the inner rumblings of a mind distracted some days and focused on other days.

My good sense tells me the moments spent with friends and family were the most valuable and enriched my life in ways not measurable. I expect that will be true of the next six months. How does one calculate the intrinsic worth?

So what do I want? From this day forward, what should I pursue? What shall I choose for 182 days left in this year?

Working through a new Bible study, I see how the Scriptures are full of questions. In a way, I knew that. God asks:

“Where are you?” “Who told you that?” “Where have you come from and where are you going?” He knows all the answers.

Somewhere, sometime, I heard I should not question God. Yet through my study I’m being made aware that God initiates relationship through questions. Maybe they aren’t harmful after all but rather a way to dialogue. Don’t I practice Q and A to get acquainted with a new friend? I often ask and dig deeper to understand, to comprehend, to get beyond a surface response?

Jesus invited inquiry. “What are you seeking?” “Why are you afraid?” “How much more will the heavenly Father give . . . ?”

Psalm 38:9 says, “All my longings lie open before You, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from You.

I wrote it on my spiral index cards, and I’ve looked at it many times during the last weeks. Sometimes what I want seems an impossible request. Sometimes it is difficult to put it into words, this longing too deep to be demystified. Sometimes it is too hard to say it out loud.

And so I offer it up to my Father who knows my heart and the thoughts yet to be formed in my head. He is completely cognizant of my soul and spirit, their inner workings, their conflicts, and the questions I have.

He welcomes my questions, the wrestling I occasionally do with Him. He tells me to ask, seek, knock. It is His invitation to bring all my quandaries to Him. He is not put off by them, is not stunned that I would be so bold, is not offended at all.

He offers the appeal: Come boldly to the throne of grace. Come with your questions, your struggles, your pain. Come with your proposed plans and decisions. Bring your “what if? and “what shall I do?”

God has answers to questions I don’t even know how to put into words.

Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Jeremiah 33:3

This is Q and A at its utmost.

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.

It was a holy night

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The small fiber optic tree on the corner table, a loan because I could not make the effort this year, twinkles its changing colors.  All is calm, all is bright.

Friends have graced table, us sharing joys and sorrows, memories and hopes mingled.  Learning to be content with less takes time. Learning that Jesus is enough is my calling.

In the season of giving gifts, I receive what God gives for it is alway perfectly suited, though sometimes it melts me. The molding and pressing and changing of a life into something more akin to the Son, it can be a painful process.  Yet there is no other way to reflect His light, His love.

Jesus is Lord.  Lord over all.  Lord of my days and my years.  Lord when I laugh and when I cry.  Lord and King, benevolent and gracious, always bestowing the gift of Himself.  The greatest present.  His presence.

He is the with us God, Immanuel.

The mystery was revealed and angels gazed in wonder.

The prophecy foretold was fulfilled.

 The Promise became living, breathing Infant.  Child.  Savior.

The Creator surrendered to the constraints of creation.

The Lawgiver fulfilled His own law.

The breath of God, His very Word was formed into flesh and tabernacled among us.

The unutterable name of YHVH was wrapped in a blanket and called Yeshua.  Jesus.

The 400 years of silence was broken by a newborn baby’s cry.

And thus . . .

The lost is found.

 The prodigal gets to go home.

The impure is cleansed.

 The sinner is called righteous.

The ugly is redeemed, clothed in beauty.

The war-torn is offered peace and a place of rest.

The needy receives grace.

The orphan is welcomed into the Father’s house and invited to call Him Abba.

It was a holy night.

This moment, it is holy still.

2013 Christmas (8)

2013 Christmas (9)

2013 Christmas (7)