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Tuesday thoughts

The past Sunday I lingered long in my rocking chair in the early morning. There was nowhere to go.

The candle flame twinkled in the glass votive on the kitchen table. An open window let in the breeze and the sound of birds waking the morning. I never tire of their first songs of the day, and I count them as gifts, those sparrows and wrens cared for by their Father.

There was no rushing about for breakfast or ironing Sweet William’s shirt for church. No band practice, sanctuary service or class gathering for donuts and coffee. For almost two months, Sundays are different. I have plenty of time to sit, to pray and to ponder the Word I read.

I began to wonder what God wants to do in me in this unusual season of the world. What instruction can I take into the days ahead?

Oddly enough, the word purify came to mind. Purification is the process of making impurities evident so they can be removed. It occurs in water, air and metals, and it certainly happens to a life God wants to refine. During my sheltering at home, the Holy Spirit has gently urged me to pay attention to heart issues rising to the surface.

I needed grace during our confinement, and I’ve needed to give grace to others. It’s easy to forget that God expects me to give what I have lavishly received, grace upon grace, day after day and week after week.

It was necessary to count gifts in my journal, remembering all the good surrounding me while news reports were dark and foreboding. Gratitude makes a difference in the way I think, putting a positive spin on a negative and difficult situation.

Trust trumps fear. I wondered if the food would last, how long we would be confined, would there be enough toilet paper, was my family going to be alright? Again the Lord reminds me to trust and not fear, believing He is good and strong and has a plan in all this.

Love is still the highest goal. We have been loved by texts and phone calls, shopping done for us, yard projects, properly-distanced outdoor visits, and surprise gifts. God wants the same from me, loving others in tangible ways, by word and deed, the way Christ loved me.

Life does not consist in the things we possess, Jesus said. Things are nice, but what I miss is human contact. Family and friends matter. At the end of life, when everything is stripped away, what I will cherish are the ones I held dear in my heart.

Lessons learned the hard way seem to make the most impact on me. I don’t know why it has to be so. Maybe I’m thick-headed and need vigorous tutorials. The Holy Spirit, my teacher and guide, patiently works in me to bring out the best. The best will look a lot like Jesus.

The weeks have been challenging and more will be required of us for a while. I notice people’s kindness, their thoughtfulness as we shelter apart yet we shelter together. God is in our midst. He is here, and He has some things to teach us. Let’s listen up.

Grace for Christmas Eve

As I sat by the warmth of gas logs this morning, I counted gifts in my gratitude journal. How can I not? I have been blessed. An unusual contentment enveloped me as I soaked in the sweetness of the moment.

I began to think of family and friends who are dealing with loss, grief, health concerns, situations that cannot be fixed with a wrapped present or a holiday celebration. I prayed for them, and I thought of other Christmases when I sank in my own gloom and despair. I understand.

Whether we purchased all the asked-for gifts or money was tight; whether everyone comes home this year or we have an empty chair at the table; whether the family gathers happily or conflict erupts; whether life feels full or we experience an emptiness that cannot be filled;

There is Jesus.

He is Lord.  Lord over all.  Lord of my sunny days and my dark nights.  Lord of my laughter and my tears.  Lord and King benevolent, always bestowing the grace of Himself.  He is the greatest present.  He is the closest presence.

He is God with us.

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 the law.

The breath of God, very Word, became flesh, dwelling with us. We see His glory.

The unutterable name of YHVH was called Yeshua.  Jesus.

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 and 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.

Those thousands of years ago in Bethlehem, it was a holy night.

This day, this time in history, this moment, it is holy still.

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

Monday grace

We sat across from each other in the restaurant, cups steaming with our hot beverages. We talked as friends, sharing the details of life, catching up months of intricacies and essentials. It had been too long since we communed like this.

She told me about opening her home to neighbors, friends, people in general, and I listened, wondering how she did this so easily, so lovingly, so Christ-like. I’ve benefited from her gift of hospitality on many occasions, how she does it with ease, an open heart and an open home.

I pulled out of the parking lot with those thoughts lingering, asking myself if I could do that. Could I throw open the doors and invite the needy in?

It’s much easier to welcome friends, companions, those who share common ground. It’s not as threatening when I am familiar with the faces around my table and we chit chat. But what about the stranger, the alien, the widow and orphans, those less like me? What about those who are too troubled for me to offer an easy remedy?

Yet, aren’t they the ones God bids me to love? Isn’t that the way He loves me?

The call came late in the evening, from one with whom communication is mainly via text and cell phone. She asked if she could come spend the weekend, and the intonation of the words told me there was something more to the phrases she used.

In a vulnerability I don’t often have myself, she said she needed a place to stay for a couple of days, a safe place. After asking more questions and seeking Sweet William’s insight, knowing his perception is often better than mine, I said, “Yes. Come.”

She arrived with her baggage and burdens, her tears and her hurts. We opened the door when she knocked and said, “Welcome.”

That night as I lay in bed, I prayed for the peace that passes understanding to fill this house and fill our hearts, the very Presence of peace who brings comfort in chaos and provides shelter in storms. The Host who embodies the glad welcome and complete acceptance, was abiding with us.

My own heart opened a little bit wider. And it was all grace.

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.

Sunday grace

There is always grace.

When the message on the phone is not good news.

When the day turns drastically in the wrong direction.

When the diagnosis is not what we’d hoped for.

There is always grace.

When the sun shines or the rain pours down.

When the pantry is full or when we wonder how to pay the bills.

When there is birth and when there is death.

There is always grace.

Grace sufficient.

Grace for every need.

Grace giving strength.

Grace to save, to forgive, to heal, to provide peace and rest.

There is always grace. Because there is always Jesus.

Sunday grace.

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