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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.

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2013 Christmas (9)

2013 Christmas (7)

Sunday grace

The stillness of early morning comforts me. The moon is brilliant in its fullness as Christmas morning slowly approaches. The coffee in my cup is hot and strong, and the fireplace warms away the chill. I sit in my rocker and breathe.

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I didn’t expect last week to be so busy, but it became that way. Sometimes I create my own busy, me with the lists and projects. We shared time and space with ones we hold dear, and the gift of presence was more than refreshing and a thing of beauty.

My thoughts have been frenzied with things still to do and with the pondering of Christmas present and Christmas past. Sweet William and I talked about years before, when our parents were alive, when our son was small, when the grandchildren lived in the house next door.

Memories are sweet. Longings are undeniable.

We’ve received prayer requests by text and phone in the last several days, these in addition to the names of people we pray for regularly. Those spending this year with one less person at their family gatherings have been on my heart. I feel their pain.

At breakfast on Thursday, the burden of empathy overwhelmed me so that I wept at the table. I reminded myself that I was not meant to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. I am meant to carry our needs to Jesus who is fully capable of bearing the burden, strong enough to hold each one in His hand. He is the fullness of God’s love come to earth for each of us, offering Himself to any who will receive.

And this is Christmas. Not whether I got the perfect present for everyone. Not whether the cards were mailed in time. Not whether we have an elaborate tree. Not whether my decorations are enough.

Christmas is Jesus. God’s love wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger for the world to behold, for the outcast and the kingly. God of all creation loved us so much that He made Himself small, vulnerable, and helpless, so that He would be accessible to all of us who are small, vulnerable, and helpless.

Jesus. He came to carry the weight of the world on His shoulders, to carry our sins to the cross, to carry us in our joys and our sorrows. He is Christmas.

O come let us adore Him.

Sunday grace.

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We gather and we pray

How quickly a ride in the park can turn on its heels and take you in another direction, down a dark tunnel where you cannot see the light.

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After a companionable family gathering on Thursday, I got a call while still out on Black Friday. “A mass in her brain . . . being admitted to the hospital . . . it’s very serious.”

Entering my house, I tell what I know while I fumble about with the insignificant, still trying to assimilate in my own mind what I’ve just learned. When unexpected trauma appears I ask the same question, “How can this be happening?”

I put on my coat and scarf, gathered Maisie’s collar and leash to go walk. I aimed for the end of our lane where an old cedar post used to stand. It was a place my dad went to pray when trouble blindsided our family.

As I reached that spot, I paused to remember.

My cousins’ parents and mine moved to this piece of undeveloped property in the 1960s. We grew into adults on this lane. We added spouses and then houses sprung up, all of us living in proximity to one another. As our children were birthed, one by one, the sounds of childish play roamed these 40 acres, all the neighbors being our kin. It was unusual for sure, and it was beautiful beyond description.

I think of all the prayers our parents prayed for us, sometimes when we knew it, but more often when we had no idea.

The family leaned on my dad as our prayer warrior, his habits and customs unusually disciplined and structured. It was  his agreement between him and his God. He called all our names in prayer daily, nightly, and he interceded when we were in trouble. He stood at that cedar post at the end of our lane on several occasions that I can remember to speak to the One who knew us well.

Dad had a list with family names on it. It grew longer through the years as we increased in number. After mother’s death and his remarriage, he moved away from this lane into the house of  my step-mother. Though miles away, he had a nightly ritual of going outside and turning toward the south, where we still lived, to pray for each of us one by one.

I returned from my reverie of memories to the present. The old cedar post that stood as a memorial is gone. I looked about my surroundings. The fields that used to surround our homes are filled with subdivisions, privacy fences and apartment complexes. Other people live in the houses that used to be home to my family members. Things are different now.

While standing where my father stood, I reminded myself that my God is the same, never altering from His awareness of us, not any less compassionate and kind. Though our parents are gone, their prayers are not. The Lord stores them and remembers the faith of our fathers and mothers.  All of those words of petition did not vanish into thin air. Instead they are treasured in heavenly vessels.

As tears rolled down my cheeks, I prayed too. The words that came were simple: “Lord Jesus help!” I knew He heard me just as He heard my ancestors years ago.

He is a God who leans down to listen. He was not surprised by a devastating diagnoses like we were. His intention and purpose are already in place.

Our family has a traditional day-after-Thanksgiving evening meal of Hot Browns to finish the leftover turkey. I asked my cousin, who hosts us, if she still wanted to do this. She answered “I think we are better together than apart.” I agreed.

Sweet William and I entered the house and the atmosphere was somber, so unlike the day before when cheerful noises greeted us at the door. This night we are quiet, faces solemn. The axiom, “when one hurts, we all hurt,” is true.

Before the meal we were not really hungry for, we joined hands and lifted our praise to our God who has been faithful to us through the years; who has seen us through troubles great and small; who has shown Himself huge and performed miracles we didn’t deserve; who has given grace to walk the hard places; who has never left us alone to ride out the stormy gales.

We asked Him for mercy, for healing, for strength, for wisdom, for His comforting presence. Our hearts are assured He will answer our cries.

This is what my family does in times of crises. We gather and we pray.

Today I turn on music to soothe my heavy heart. This is the song I wait for:

 I Love the Lord

And pitied every groan.
Long as I live, and troubles rise,
I hasten to His throne.

When trouble comes, family gathers. We are better side by side than trying to stand alone  We hasten to God’s throne with full of assurance of His loving welcome.

We will trust, believe, and wait to see what God will do.

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Sunday grace

With just a few days until Thanksgiving day, my mind turns to the tasks at hand.

I wrote my list of food to prepare, grocery items needed, and made a plan. Wednesday is marked “Cooking Day” in my bullet journal.

Sweet William and I visited Wal-Mart yesterday, filling our baskart with staples for the pantry, while maneuvering around other shoppers with the same agenda.  The perishables are on the list for next week so they will be fresh, meaning another day in the food isles.

I anticipate the short trip to my cousin’s house on Thursday where tables will be beautifully set and aromas will greet us at the door. I can’t help but think of those who will not be at the table this year, and my heart longs for them as always.

In the pre-dawn, I sit in my rocker and read the Psalms and other verses, struck anew at the generosity of God through Jesus Christ. Such lavish love poured into my heart. Such amazing grace reconciling me to become a member of God’s family. Such hope that does not disappoint because the Holy Spirit within me is a deposit and a guarantee of more to come.

How can I not give thanks?

For God has done great things for me, from the small to the gigantic, from the simple cup of strong coffee in the morning to the very breath I take without thought; for shelter, food, and clothing to precious relationships of friends and family that  enrich my life; from eyes to see and ears to hear to the beauty of a world created for my enjoyment and comfort; from the privilege of making requests in the very presence of the Holy to miraculous answers to my prayers.

From being an outcast with no hope to being adopted and accepted, blessed and delivered, the promise of a future with Christ forever.

So I will praise my Lord with all that I have. I will sing and make melody. I will write my thanksgiving list, making it thoughtful and lenghty. I will rejoice in answered prayers with my prayer partner on an early morning phone call. I will remember the goodness of God.

And astonishingly, my thanksgiving will please the Father’s heart.

I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord . . . “

Sunday grace.

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