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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.

Grace for the new year

Sitting in my rocker by the fireplace, window open to the every-changing Kentucky weather, I listen to rain drops and the chirping of birds in the little woods. A few hours in the comfort of home are not taken lightly.

Sweet William and I spent the closing holidays of 2020 in the hospital. Like many, this is a year of remembrance, its strangeness not ceasing even to the final day.

I recognized the seriousness of his health in the months leading up to a sudden doctor’s visit that began a roller coaster of emergency activities and a surgery we didn’t expect. We were on a ride controlled by something other than ourselves and our plans were laid waste.

Christmas presents sit unopened.

It’s interesting how schedules, lists, to do’s and obligations stagnate when life takes a sudden turn and all one can do is take the next step. It was survival mode for days, texting family and friends for prayer, weeping and leaning hard into Jesus. I kiss Sweet William’s cheek and tell him, “You are a warrior.”

Scripture is a promise to hold. Praise music permeates my atmosphere, driving out the darkness and turning my eyes to the One who is strong when I am weak. And I feel so weak, like a child needing to be held in her mother’s arms.

Great is His faithfulness.

In a year where we were distanced from each other, we were comforted from afar by ones we hold dear. Reassuring texts promised prayer and told us we are loved. Sounds of familiar voices, a little laughter and stories were a balm in Gilead. An actual visit in the hospital entrance found me sitting with two who were determined to feed me potato and ham soup that nourished body and soul. Another friend brought two bags of goodies: real tissues, gum, snacks galore, socks, and sanitizer, surprises I needed but didn’t know how to ask.

Hospital staff are kind, behind masks of protection, caring for Sweet William tenderly and competently. The attendant at the cafeteria gave me a cup of coffee yesterday, at first me not understanding when he said, “Just take it.” It was a welcome gift.

And I am awed at the love of God shown us through people. It is His way, His hands extended through His church, which is not a building or a denomination but flesh and blood, in the marketplace and in the corridors of everyday life. The body of Christ is active, living out His commandments to love God and love people. I have seen His glory, shining brightly in the moments of our days.

This morning I write in my joy journal because the gifts are many.

Friends who take care of Maisie while I’m away from home, loving her, feeding her, letting her out as needed, assuring me she is OK.
Music to lift my spirit heavenward, reminding me of God’s everlasting love and faithfulness.
Caregivers in hospitals who work with diligence, even on holidays and weekends, with a cheerful heart.
Sweet William’s doctor, his expertise and skill, his determination to do what was needed.
Greeters at the hospital who recognize me and speak kindly.
Security guard who walked me to to my car late one night.
The newlyweds who brought me a Christmas dinner plate on a frigid night.

The ancient recliner in Sweet William’s room where I slept somehow.
The little black Honda that gets me where I need to be.
The comfort of a good dog.

Neighbors who watch over the house while we’re gone.
Family who are a treasure to this only child, who took us in to the circle of love many, many years ago.

Our dear ones, miles away, brought near by their tenderness and love, and a cell phone with video chat.
Ongoing texts from the multitude who promise to pray, who assure us of their love, who are life-giving to us in these hard days.
The often written promise, “If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to ask. We are here for you.”
Those who come, show up, do what I don’t even know what to ask for.
Learning to love better through the actions of these good people.

It is a new year to remember. I take time to reflect on the past and look toward the future. I have no idea what is to come. What I do know with certainty is my Lord and Savior holds all things in His hands. His is trustworthy and faithful. I have seen it with my own eyes.

I’ve reminded myself of God’s message in the night hours before the frantic days of this last week. “Hope in God.” My good Father prepared the way before me, sent me His Word of invitation. I reach for Him and rest in His promises.

He is strong and He is good. And I am His child.


Christmas grace

On the first day of winter, the wren sings loud and defiant at the dawning of day. I hear him and smile.

Today marks the longest night of the year, 14 hours of darkness. It also brings the sure hope that tomorrow the daylight hours will increase incrementally, pointing me in the direction of spring.

There were the days (the years?) I fought for joy. Because joy is worth the struggle. I counted gifts with determination, sometimes words of “breathing in and breathing out” were all I could write. I set JOY before my eyes, hanging from window latches, resting on tables, reminders to battle on.

Christmas is joy, and cards in the mail reiterate the songs, their sparkly designs a visual rejoicing. I receive them and I mail them, thankful for people we call friends. They are gifts.

Joy and sorrow are parallel tracks of a train.

There are lonely souls in crowds and broken bodies in hospital beds bearing the weight of heartache even while the world hangs ornaments and lights on a tree. The homeless in my home town scuffle toward a back alley on the cold night. People suffer while the music blasts Have a Holly Jolly Christmas.

As I read the Advent devotionals aloud to Sweet William, I am confronted with truth. Jesus came in the harsh reality of a people sad, sick, scratching out a living. They were looking for consolation, the hope of Israel, a redeemer and savior to take away all the suffering and oppression.

Mary and Joseph felt the heaviness too. The babe bearing down in Mary’s womb. The responsibility bearing down on Joseph’s shoulders. Hurrying to Bethlehem, they hoped for a warm room with a bit privacy for the coming of a child.

Instead, there was a cave, a stable for animals, smelly, dark, damp. Maybe they wondered if they’d taken a wrong turn, wondered if they’d understood the angel’s message, wondered what in the world God was doing?

I have wondered the same.

In a night of deep slumber, I awaken to words spoken to my spirit, “Hope in God.” Through my sleepiness, I recall the verse and in the morning I turn to Psalm 42 and 43 where the composer repeats this: “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.

The Word is familiar, words I learned as a child, rehearsed in my growing, and cling to now. I encourage myself in the Lord like David, the sweet singer of Israel.

At the little thrift store I frequent, there on the top shelf, is the sign for sale in large letters, “HOPE.” I pick it up, hold it to me, purchase it, and set it before me as a reminder. It is an Ebenezer stone.

The hope written in the book of Hebrews is not a penny thrown in the wishing well. It is an anchor for my soul, a sure proclamation cast into the Holy of holies where Jesus, my High Priest, intercedes for me.

” . . . we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever . . . ” Hebrews 6:18-20 NIV

Hope is my memorial stone in this season, though the darkness stays long. I set it and mark it. I repeat it to myself. I cling to its message. Hope in God.

Luke tells us of that an old man named Simeon went to the temple, as was his custom, and he saw the common young couple with the newborn baby. He knew, felt the quickening of his spirit – this child was the promise, the Consolation of Israel. He took the infant Jesus in his arms and blessed the God who is our hope, whose promises are true and will come to us, even when in the waiting.

Though the night lengthens, though the heart is heavy, though the body weakens and trembles, though our prayers appear unanswered, there is a hope, an anchor. There is a Savior who came to us. He came for us.

We put our hope in Him. Jesus, the Hope of the world.

Tuesday thoughts

The first snow of the season welcomed the last month of an incredible year. Its beauty made our little part of the world look clean and pure, hopeful even.

Driving home in the early darkness the last several weeks, I notice houses decorated well before December 1. A week before Thanksgiving, one of my piano students excitedly told me that her family was decorating the Christmas tree that very night. Lights shine from windows and brightly decorated living rooms are showcased on social media.

Is it possible we all need a little Christmas, right this very minute, candles in the window and carols at the spinet?

We’ve endured difficult confinements, weekly changing regulations of how we live, do business and attend church and family gatherings. Teachers had to learn new ways to reach their students through computer screens while parents act as surrogate instructors and work from home too.

It has been challenging to say the least. I need peace on earth and goodwill toward all people. I need Christmas.

And then I think of the first Christmas, the very beginning of the reason for this season.

In a small village, a young girl found herself pregnant, and the angel-visited-and-now-I’m–with-child-story she told is outlandish. A virgin birth? Who can believe such a tale? Certainly not her parents, her neighbors or her betrothed. Her life was in danger since the man to whom she was pledged prepared to divorce her privately, taking no responsibility for this so-called miraculous conception. His honor was at stake, the reputation he had built and protected.

The place and the time of this old story were fraught with problems for the people of the living God in the land of Judah. Regulations changed without warning, harsh rulers cared little for man, woman or child. Taxes were unreasonable and only got worse. Scratching out a living just to survive was their way of life.

When Joseph took Mary as his wife, they traveled a long, hard journey on foot. They found no lodging upon arriving at Bethlehem. A dark, damp cave provided shelter. Possibly no midwife attended Mary, with Joseph her only help in birthing her first born.

Perhaps like me, these thousands of years later, they needed a little Christmas. And He came, tiny and helpless, crying for comfort and a mother’s milk. It seemed a strange way to save the world.

It still does. And yet it is the way of a loving God, come to the wanderers, the lost and dying, the confused and tired. He came to turn an upside down world right side up.

It doesn’t look like the world is right side up. The work is not completed. The children of the living God still struggle but with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Life is hard but not without hope. Death comes but with the promise of resurrection.

Jesus said there would be troubled times until He comes the second time. When He returns it will not be as helpless infant but as King of kings, Lord of lords. The Lion of the tribe of Judah will roar with power and authority. He will make all things right.

And we will sing Joy to the World, the Lord has come!

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

As I read the first chapters of Matthew and Luke, the ancient story becomes new again. I live in it, wondering about the details between the lines.

Were Mary and Joseph in love or was it strictly an arranged marriage? What was it like visiting Elizabeth and Zechariah? Did anyone in the community of Nazareth, any family member, believe the wild tale of an angel’s announcement and a virgin conception? Did a midwife attend Mary or was Joseph on his own? Was it a stable or a cave where Jesus was born? What was the reaction when a bunch of grubby shepherds showed up?

To fuel my imagination, I read Two From Galilee, by Marjorie Holmes, and I watched The Nativity on DVD, both of them making Biblical characters come alive to me, creating a story line that just might have had some truth to it.

Of one thing I can be fairly certain, the players in this extraordinary chain of events didn’t have any idea of their future. They got a teacup full of information for a tsunami narrative.

And with that I can identify.

Thinking of my life, I had no idea where the road would lead. In some ways, I’m glad. I might have hidden in the closet, refusing to move forward. God in His infinite wisdom does not give us much of a preview of how our lives will twist and turn, how we will be challenged to climb impossible mountains and travel deep, dark valleys, how joy and sorrow will intermingle.

However, He does say He will go with us. In fact, He offers to take the lead.

Christmas day draws near and we are a flurry of activity, making preparation for celebrations with family and friends. It is right that we should be joyful, for Christ the Lord is born to us. Let us sing, give gifts, enjoy choice food, and lavish love on those dear ones in our presence.

After Christmas, we look toward the new year, a time of reflection and goal setting. We really don’t know what is ahead, though we make lists and plan our actions. It is the Lord alone who guides our way.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; He’s the one who will keep you on track.
Proverbs 3:5-6, The Message

The year winds down, like the 31-day clock on the wall, and this I know for sure: I want to walk where Jesus goes, to know He is leading me, holding my hand. He says “Fear not,” even when the path looks very scary. He says “Take courage,” and I cling to Him for strength. He says “Follow,” and I draw near not seeing but one step ahead.

In the first chapters of Matthew and Luke, I read about the Creator of all who came to us as a helpless infant, God in flesh and bone, glory contained so the created can hold and behold.

His name is called Immanuel which is God with us. God with us.

God. With. Us.

Oh, come let us adore Him. He is Christ the Lord.

A Christmas story

Ever felt like asking the question, what in the ever-lovin’ world is going on? Disappointment. Heartache. Broken relationships. Death and grief. Wounds that won’t heal or scars so deep they constantly remind.

What do we do when no answers come? Where do you turn when there’s no place to go? Who can offer comfort when we all are hurting?

Go with me to another time, another land, and understand from those who have gone before us.

For hundreds of years, no prophets proclaimed, “Thus saith the Lord.” The Jews scattered, wandered and wondered where God was, a nation scarred by their rebellion. The kingdom that once shone like a brilliant star had darkened, and the people were lost without a shepherd.

As the Hebrews lived daily with promises still waiting, perhaps there was excitement in the heavenlies, preparation for the Word of the Lord soon to be delivered.

Heaven’s attention turned toward a small blue and green planet in the universe and a temple standing in Jerusalem, the city of David, where Israel’s long history was venerated.

A grey-haired man had served there faithfully all his days, more years than he cared to count. Mundane tasks were ingrained in him, receiving and preparing sacrifices, the continual ritual washing of pots, pans and himself, necessary duties that kept order as people came day in and day out.

This day was different from the routine, as the choosing of clan, of family, of a man privileged to serve in the holy place was about to take place.

Was Zachariah surprised when his name was called? He was aged by now, and his bones ached. He moved slower than the young priests eager and ready to assume responsibilities. But it was his name he heard. What stirred in him at the recognition? At long last he would be the one to present sweet incense on the table of God, offering prayers of intercession for himself and for his people.

On the appointed day, he prepared himself, dressed in pure white garments, and gathered the special spices and fire as he approached the place where God had once dwelt as visible cloud. Those days were but a memory now, the Presence departing as Ichabod was pronounced.

Still Zachariah was ready and willing. Entering behind the first curtain into the holy place, he went about his duties, memorizing his special day. He would share the details with Elizabeth, the love of his life, when he returned home.

See the source image
from “The Nativity

He heard a rustling, the dividing curtains shifted as if moved by a gust of wind. Light appeared on the right side of this somber room revealing a being like none he had ever seen.

Zachariah trembled in fear, his aged bones shaking as he looked and listened, trying to grasp everything this angelic being was saying.

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. There will be joy and delight for you, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord and will never drink wine or beer. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb. He will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God.

And he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to make ready for the Lord a prepared people.”

The old man was barely able to stand, astonished and trembling. The admonition not to fear didn’t help. “Your prayer has been answered,” and he wondered which prayer? He’d offered thousands of supplications in his lifetime.

The words sounded jumbled, confusing. A son? Elizabeth, his equally old wife, had resigned herself to being childless decades ago, carrying with her the shame and disgrace of it.

Name him John? Who in his linage was ever called John? A son from his loins would be great, like Elijah the prophet? To prepare the way for the Lord? The messiah was coming? Now?

Who could believe such a wild tale?

And so Zachariah asked, “How?

The angel was given the right to see into Zachariah’s doubting heart. What were his doubts? Doubt that he was worthy of such a visitation? Doubt in the message and the messenger? Doubt that Elizabeth was physically capable to conceive and birth a child?  Doubt in the God who can do whatever He chooses?

It had been a very long time since anyone heard anything from God. And Zachariah was doubtful.

Zachariah’s doubt resulted in his silence. He was speechless. He could not explain this marvelous experience to anyone with words. He could gesture, or perhaps write words on a parchment, but otherwise, he was left with his own thoughts and memories of the most momentous event of his long life. In his silent days, he remembered the years of God’s silence to Israel. He soon realized that God decided to speak up.

When God speaks, we would do well to listen.

When Zachariah went home after his service in Jerusalem, he took his dear wife in his arms like days when he was young and viral. She conceived. And the words of Gabriel sang to him for months, “Make ready for the Lord a prepared people.” With his own eyes he watched Elizabeth’s belly grow round and beautiful, exactly as the angel said, the sure message coming to pass.

God will do what God will do. He will use whom He will to accomplish His purpose. His promises are sure though we wait long for them, though fear and doubt creep into our hearts. God is long-suffering and patient with His children, and when He speaks, the words are true.

What promises are you holding in your heart? Have you lost faith that God will accomplish it? Do you sometimes wonder if He remembers where you are? Do you feel He has forgotten you?

Tell Him all that is in your heart. He will not turn away from an honest confession. He will draw you near and whisper His love to you.

The days of her confinement ended and Elizabeth delivered a beautiful baby boy. She called his name John. And Zachariah believed.

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.

As October ends

Each ending is a new beginning. I’m learning it evermore.

October felt strained, and I’ve been occupied, mind and body, with a flurry of matters. Reviewing my calendar page, I reflect as I examine it.

Journal pages record the stress of an expensive house project, days that were rushed as I went where I was needed and called, and our family’s effort at learning a new normal after death dealt a hard blow. It’s been emotional and turbulent, a difficult month.

While temperatures turned toward a fall climate, I made some small progress in the gardens that were neglected most of the summer. The tasks overwhelm. My body ached after a few hours, and I paid for it with restless nights.

I needed margin, and margins were thin. I felt the old tension of overcommitment, me running at a rabbit’s run. These days I prefer a slower tempo. An overly-full schedule does not equal the abundant life Jesus offered.

In spite of this, I was more diligent to write in my gratitude journal. Perhaps it is loss that makes us thankful for grace. I found myself looking for beauty in the midst of busy. I focused on the gift of relationships. I basked in the Presence of Jesus at a pause in my day.

As October ends with cold rain and winds that whisper winter’s chill, I am purposely evaluating my November. Each month gives me a chance to start fresh.

We enter the holiday rush, the press of activities, the pull to fill calendars to overflowing. Holy days meant for giving thanks for harvest and rejoicing over the long-expected Messiah have turned us toward excess, stress, and burdened hearts.

I want something different for the last of 2019.

Psalm 90:12 in essence offers a prayer: Teach us to reflect on the brevity of life so that we may grow in wisdom.

Brevity of life I know about. Growing in wisdom is what I long for.

As the day dawns tomorrow, I will begin it with the Lord’s promise, a whispered petition, and a meditation for my heart.

The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
    I will advise you and watch over you.

— Psalm 32:8 NLT