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Sunday grace

I was determined to start the fire in spite of rain predictions. Sweet William kept telling me, “It’s going to rain.” I know, but I intended to make the effort and burn what I could.

A couple of years ago, we constructed a fire pit at the side yard, with a salvaged stainless steel container and garden bricks from the hardware store; it was not bad looking for a do-it-ourselves project.

We intended to build fires, roast hot dogs and marshmallows and invite the neighbors. Years went by as I piled cut branches near the wood pile knowing they would be good for kindling. But eventually, the area became an eyesore, unused and unkempt. Wild things grew among the stacked wood. Weeds were tall around the small pit. And it became a project on my garden to-do list.

I was ready to start a fire, get rid of the rotting wood, and clear away the brush. I gathered matches and old paper, piled on dry stick and soon there was smoke and eventually flames. The rubble burned and the unsightly mess grew smaller.

It’s a funny thing about fire. It draws people to it. My cousins drove by, noticed us siting around the fledgling blaze, and pulled into our driveway. We invited them to come sit with us, properly distanced of course. Soon my other cousin who lives on our lane walked down to our house, and the five of us sat in yard chairs around burning embers under overcast skies.

I brought bottled water for us all and we talked, like we did before the world was crazy.

Eventually raindrops began and we scattered to cars and houses, back to sheltering in our homes. But for an hour or two, we were together again, drawn by the attraction of burning wood.

As I think of the re-entry process after two months of cocooning, I am considering my own responsibility and response to rules and changes and a new normal and especially the people I will meet face-mask to face-mask, or perhaps as our unmasked selves.

For years I’ve been discovering I cannot change others. I can only change myself. The lesson is hard learned, me with the constructive criticism, for your own good, mind you.

The powers that be can enforce rules, but it cannot change a heart. We may coerce people to do what we want, but we will not remake a life or an attitude or a mindset. Only God can light that fire.

How will I respond to rudeness? It should be with a gentle answer. What should I do if people get angry and shout their opinions? I could express myself with calm control. I can check my facts and know the truth before I dare to differ. I can stand for my God-given rights in peaceful protest.

Jesus’ example was humble strength. He did not back down, nor did He run over. He responded with wisdom, shrewd yet innocent of ulterior motives. He always spoke truth and He always acted in love. He was fervent splendor, ignited with the Spirit of God, and people were drawn to the heat.

As we move into our small corners of the world again, what if our lives were on fire with the light and love of Jesus? What if we walked without fear, clothed in compassion? Would people notice the difference? Would it catch their attention? Would they want to investigate and come closer, longing to be warmed by the passion of Christ burning in the lives of His children?

I pray it will be so in my own life, the one and only life I can change through the power of the Holy Spirit. I want His zeal and intensity burning in me.

And like the unconsumed bush that captured Moses’ attention, the fire of God will draw people to Himself. Then hearts will be transformed.

photo from pixels.com

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.

Sunday grace

Sweet William and I cocooned ourselves early, and it is day 38 of social distancing, sheltering at home, being confined, not going anywhere or seeing people. It’s cabin fever in the spring time. Thankfully, the gardens beg for attention. Maisie still wants to walk, and I collect the mail each day while soaking in a little vitamin D.

We are eating well. The toilet paper continues in a manner like loaves and fishes. People call when they are heading to the grocery to check if we need something. Texts ping that someone is thinking of us. Mail order packages arrive on the front porch, and I’m Zooming lessons with my piano students.

The library books I checked out pre-caronavirus are in limbo, and I get to keep them for an undetermined time with no late fees. I listen to books on Hoopla for free, and podcasts are my friends.

While life is different, we are blessed. And so go our days.

On a recent podcast, Susie Davis talked with K. J. Ramsey. K. J. said we want the knowledge of good and evil, just like Eve when she was tempted with the fruit in Eden.

And it’s true. I want to know why the suffering. I want to understand the purpose in the pain. If Someone would explain the reason for sickness and death and job loss and family trauma, then I could come to some acceptance and move on. I would be able to deal with it better.

But would I? Could I handle the knowledge of good and evil, the vast expanse of wisdom that encompasses the plan of the cosmos?

No, I cannot.

We are created for fellowship with the Divine. We are invited to receive the indwelling of the Holy. We are given access to the throne of grace through Jesus. But we are not made to contain the knowledge of good and evil.

This brings a quiet peace to my soul. The things that keep me awake at night, what causes my anxiety, the questions that have no answers are too weighty for me to carry in my being. I was never meant to know the end from the beginning or to comprehend the secrets of the Godhead.

The questions the Almighty asked Job in the last chapters of his book certainly put Job in his place, silencing his questions and his complaints aimed at Yahweh. The answers Job wanted were too much for him. And they are too much for me.

And these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?”
— Job 26:14 NIV

When my “why” and my “how long” and my “what in the world” questions begin to crowd my thoughts until I can’t think straight, I need to remember this wise counsel. I am not capable of knowing the answers. Nor was I meant to know.

My purpose is different. I am granted the privilege of knowing the One who created me, the One who came for me, the One who was willing to die for me. I am designed to seek Him,not the unknowable mysteries.

I am created to breathe in the breath of the Spirit, to grow within the body of Christ, to be a vital instrument of love in the world.

I am given a measure of faith so I learn to believe Him who is invisible, growing in my trust and dependence.

I am invited to walk with Jesus, not alone, in the light and dark places of my journey. I can be confident He is with me at every step.

The Lord has entrusted treasures to us earthlings. We have minds to discover and invent and create art. We problem solve, build, organize, and imagine. We love and receive love, establish families and raise our young.

We are intricately designed, fearfully and wonderfully made, an amazing fusion of body, soul and spirit. We are specifically purposed by the Master Designer.

But that does not include the knowledge of good and evil. This knowledge is too great, beyond me, and not necessary for my existence.

In the days of our cocooning, I’m learning things, simple and profound. I pray the experience is not wasted on me. When this strange season of virus and pandemic are over, and it will be over eventually, wouldn’t it be astounding if we emerged from our homes changed for the better? Wouldn’t it be something if our friends saw us in person again and said, “There’s something different about you.”

What if we began as caterpillars, cocooned for a while, and became butterflies?

Sunday grace

According to Webster’s dictionary, normal is defined as:  the usual, average, or typical state or condition.

It certainly does not describe what I’m living now. As I think of it, how often has my “normal” changed?

When I left my parents’ home to marry Sweet William, I learned a new normal. When I became a mother, life was never the same again. That role evolved many times and always into a completely new normal. When life took turns in an unexpected direction and I was faced with impossible uphill climbs,  I stretched and prayed to learn normal once again.

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I am here once more. While my days of confinement have become somewhat predictable, the world outside is morphing almost daily. I’m trying to learn new ways of doing things, adapting to my situation, while trying to keep a positive outlook that this self-distancing, COVID-19, uncommon spring season will eventually become a memory.

One thing we can count on as a constant. There will always be change.

But there is more I count on. In fact, I build my life and future on the truth I read in Scripture. God is in control when the world is spinning unrestrained. He is good even when life is not. He is strong and able to meet every need of every person who calls on Him. He has not forsaken us.

The Father is compassionate and gracious, sending fresh mercies at every sunrise. He has set the universe in order, and time continues according to His plan.

He shares His love with humans and gives them supernatural Holy Spirit power to love when we are wounded, to forgive when we are mistreated, to bend the knee and serve the least to the greatest.

As we enter the weeks before Palm Sunday, Passover, and Resurrection Day, the story that is ancient becomes relevant and contemporary. The gospel message is unchanging. God loved all people and Jesus came to die and pay the debt of sin. Those who believe and accept the gift of salvation inherit eternal life.

It is a changeless message of hope. God is love. Jesus Christ came to earth. He lived. He died. He arose to immortality and offers it to me.

Some things just don’t change.

Sunday grace

In our confinement, I reach out to friends through text and email. I’m learning to use Zoom and Google Hangout, anticipating doing virtual piano lessons with my students. It will be teaching an old dog a new trick, but I’m game to try it if they are willing.

A confessed introvert, I thought staying at home for two weeks would be easier than it is. I love my people and cherish gathering at the table over coffee, tea, or lunch. Jean Fleming writes, “(T)he human face is a transmitter and a receiver, always sending and picking up messages.” I’m missing those vital signals.

Sweet William and I are reading Max Lucado’s How Happiness Happens in the morning hours, an appropriate title when watching the news too much can suck the happiness right out of me.

We are eating well here at the Wright House, though it seems I spend much of a day cooking and cleaning up. I can get a bit grumbly about it. I caught myself doing it yesterday, a gentle reminder from the Holy Spirit perhaps. I should be thankful for food, plates and pots, dish soap and hot water fresh from the faucet. And Sweet William is here to share a meal with me.

Counting my gifts is a necessary discipline for me, especially now, turning my thoughts away from a perceived lack toward the bounty surrounding me.

While I live in this separateness, this self-distancing, I remember the plan of salvation, how the Creator always wanted to be with His creation. In Eden He walked with the Adam and Eve. His yearning words came through prophets and psalms singers. He tabernacled in the wilderness with twelve tribes of Israel camped around. His glory manifested in a majestic temple in Jerusalem.

His ultimate coming to us was when he wrapped up in humanity, encasing His glory in soft baby skin, a confinement I can’t even imagine. He walked among us, sharing food, intense conversation, long journeys, and voyages on the sea. He touched people and was touched by them.

In the closing chapters of John’s gospel, Jesus promised another, one who would be with us and in us. It must have seemed incomprehensible to the twelve sitting at table with Jesus. Yet, it happened just as He said.

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit roared like fierce wind, like He was rushing to get here to indwell the believers.

And so it is, He is with us in an unexplainable, truly mystifying, and completely unreasonable way. Because God wants to be with His people.

We are like clay jars in which this treasure is stored. The real power comes from God and not from us.
2 Corinthians 4:7

He is truly God with us, and that is immeasurable comfort to me. I can endure this seclusion while I remember He is always with me and in me. No one is closer than that.

Sunday grace.

Growing fruit

Recently, I began thinking about  the Fruit of the Spirit, wondering what would happen if I focused on one of the nine components each day. I had to get creative to divide them into seven days a week. Here’s what I came up with.

Sunday – Faithfulness
Monday – Gentleness
Tuesday – Self-Control
Wednesday – Joy
Thursday – Peace
Friday – Patience
Saturday – Goodness and Kindness

And Love over all.

In the early morning quiet time, I look at my categories and write the word in my journal to help me focus on it during the day.

I understand that it is the Spirit in me working His beauty and grace causing His fruit to grow in me. I cannot conjure up these attributes myself, all by myself, in my own strength. I am aware that it is God working in me, giving me the desire as well as the power to do what pleases Him (Philippians 2:13).

I think of it like crocuses in my yard. They lie invisible and sleeping under ground all winter. Then the weather begins to warm and sunshine lasts a little longer each day. Suddenly the crocuses beside my front steps appear, surprising me every time. They are there under the ground, and so they grow.

There is a volunteer apple tree in the yard, noticed by my dad many years ago, marked and protected from the mower. It grew and eventually produced fruit. It’s an apple tree so it brings forth apples.

Perhaps the fruit God wants to produce is something like that, lying dormant in me but still pulsing with His life. As He works in me and I cooperate with Him, the fruit grows and I’m hardly aware of the process.

As I focus on the characteristics of the Spirit’s fruit, I pray to be fertile soil, a willing vessel. I become more conscious of what the Lord is doing in me. The Spirit quickens my spirit to awaken me when I have wrong attitudes and sinful actions.

When I bear fruit, I resemble the One who created me, the One who gave His life for me. And I want to be like Jesus. Oh Lord help! I don’t always know how to do that, but I do know I need His help.

I trust that He is working in all things, tilling the ground, removing weeds, pruning and feeding, watering with the Word, encouraging new growth.  

He is God over the growing season of my days, determined to produce fruit, more fruit, and much fruit. On the day of Christ Jesus, I hope for a bountiful harvest knowing the apple does not fall far from the tree.

Sunday grace

I’m a small girl, swinging my legs back and forth under the pew at the big church. My mother and father are on either side of me.  Familiar faces surround me.  The organ plays strong and the piano accompanies as the leader at the front sings,

I surrender all.  I surrender all.  All to Jesus I surrender, I surrender all.

And my tender child-heart surrendered what I knew of myself to Jesus. I didn’t understand theology and complicated doctrines. I only understood that Jesus loved me, for the Bible told me so.

I grew older.  My feet touched the floor as I sat up straight and listened to the sermon.  Again, I heard the invitation, “Surrender.  All.”  I left my comfortable place on the pew and went forward to kneel at the altar.  I wept and surrendered.  I thought it was my all.

It seems I’ve surrendered a lot to the Father’s entreating, and each time I think it is everything.

It is the gentle way of our Lord to call for another surrender and another as He reveals my heart to me and says, “Do you love me more than these?”

I don’t always understand the ways of the Spirit.  He is mysterious.  He is patient and persistent.  He is full of grace.  He is tenacious and unrelenting, unwilling to let me stay the way I am when there is so much more.  There is abundant life in Him, fullness of joy, and He wants that for me.  He invites to me to come further still into the place of His perfect will. That requires my surrender.

I want that too. The full-to-overflowing life where I abide in Jesus and His words abide in me and communion is sweet. The place where He walks with me and talks with me and tells me I am His own. Ah, the joys we’ll share.

But sometimes this alludes me. I am caught up with the cares of life, busy schedules, lots to do and time feels fleeting. I think I have to do it all and that it all depends on me, and what would happen if I lost control?

I hear it once more, the call to surrender.
Turn loose.
Quiet frantic thoughts.
Fear not.
Follow Me.
Be still.
Rest.

Once more, I bow to His will and relinquish.

I consider the life Jesus lived in complete submission to the Father’s will. The way to the cross would be horrendous, yet He walked it with purpose and acceptance. He yielded, even as He took His final breath, “Father, into Your hands I comment my spirit.” 

And so today, I surrender again.  I surrender all that is in my hand and all my hand reaches for, all my heart’s longings, all my hopes and dreams, my today and my tomorrow.  I surrender all.

Tomorrow I will do it again.

Monday grace

What do I really want? I think about that often.

What do I want to fix for supper? What do I want to wear today? What tasks do I want to accomplish this week?

Looking farther down the road than today or next week, I am searching my heart. This journey I am on spans some decades. What do I really want to do with the rest of my wild, wonderful life?

I’m exploring my inner landscape, and I’m looking for arrows.

I’ve never heard God speak audibly, but He does speak if I listen. Sometimes it’s through my longings. Sometimes it’s through a person. Often it’s through His Word in my morning quiet.

When decisions stand before me, my perception intensifies, like raising the antenna. I don’t want to miss what God might be wanting to tell me.

He invites to me to ask, to seek, to knock. He encourages me to come with all my wonders, my what-ifs, my quandaries, my questions.

So I am looking for the arrows He may send, pointing me in a direction to show me the way.

This verse sits on my kitchen counter now. I study it, making the effort to commit it to memory. It is the guiding principle as I look for the arrows.

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

I’m keeping my eyes open. I’m listening for His voice. I’m trusting God’s timing.

I’ll raise the sails, anticipating the breath of the Spirit as it begins to move. I want to go where He leads. Let the winds blow.

Sunday grace

Do you know what’s under your house?

Sweet William and I had work done in the dark recesses under our old Kentucky home recently. It was quite costly and a bit stressful, I might add.

We knew there was a problem a year ago. But sometimes I prefer to live in an imaginary happy place resembling Oz with it’s yellow-brick roads, dancing Munchkins, and poppy fields. Let me pretend all is right with my world, if only for a little while.

It’s easy to ignore what is concealed in the shadows under the house.

Ignoring a problem will not make it disappear. After our contractor worked for days, finding more issues than we imagined, and me writing checks while I breathed heavily, the situation is resolved, and the air in the house smells fresh when I walk in the door.

Why did we wait so long? Who knows. Money factored into it, and I didn’t want to deal with the discomfort. But putting it off possibly made the problem worse.

This is not just a home-ownership issue. My inner life suffers in a similar way.

Becoming aware of an interior dilemma, sometimes I chose to bury it. In the words of Scarlet O’Hara, I prefer to “think about it tomorrow.” I struggle with choices, delaying the inevitable.

And so I wait. Until a more convenient time, when circumstances my be better, while hoping it might disappear altogether.

But usually a problem does not go away quietly.

It has a way of hounding me, resurfacing in my thoughts, looking for a chink to slip through and shout, “I’m still here. Do something.”

I don’t want to be ignorant and call it bliss.

Thankfully, the Holy Spirit will not allow me to bury, hide, or sidestep what needs to be brought into the light. He keeps reminding me, whispering that He can help with what troubles me. It is His specialty.

And so I pray:

Come Holy Spirit.
Shine Your love in the hidden places where sin and fear hide.
Open the windows of my heart.
Let the fresh breezes of the breath of God flow freely.
Cleanse me of dark secrets that fester.
Pour your healing balm on what hurts.
Let me walk in freedom where joy is my companion.
In Jesus sweet name.

December ending

December ends and so does another year, and my mind runs amok with a multitude of thoughts.

The month ended in a frenzy of unexpected stress, unplanned events, things I didn’t see coming. In a way, it felt as if I were blindsided.

As I opened the Scripture this morning, seeking a word of comfort, my ribbon marker opened to Psalm 100, a short chapter I memorized as a child.

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

The familiar words of the King James Version came easily to my mind. I was refreshed with their ancient newness, words of assurance and love, reminding me to praise no matter what the day produces. I kept them in my heart throughout the day, believing that God is who He says He is and He meant every word that He preserved for me to read.

December was joyously spent with friends and family. Tables filled to the brim with few and many, shared meals or simply a cup of hot cocoa. Conversation was always the prime ingredient. It was beautiful, and I’m grateful for the gift of relationship that lasts all year long.

The holiday season was busy with a recital, a craft fair and birthdays added to the hustle of gift buying, cooking/baking, and opening our home every chance we got. I’m always down to the last wire getting the Christmas boxes to the post office in time for delivery to our dear ones. I have settled it in my head that I’m a late gift-wrapper. I can’t seem to do it ahead of time in spite of the wrapping paraphernalia setting out in readiness since the first of the month.

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In contrast, there were quiet days for contemplation, shared devotionals with Sweet William, time to sit by the fire and sip slowly of life. I appreciate days like that. Too much, my younger self spent all her days in frenzied activity. I’ve learned that slow is a good speed for me.

I re-read an old book, Two From Galilee by Marjorie Holmes. It’s a fictional account of Mary and Joseph in the days of their betrothal through the birth of Jesus. While much of the story was imagined, the Biblical details were accurate. I enjoyed thinking about the young couple, the love they might have shared, the criticism they endured from Mary’s unique pregnancy, and the hardships of a long trip to Bethlehem ending with birthing in a stable.

The drama came alive to me, a real story with real people living out an unusual calling. I was reminded that God’s ways are different, to say the least. His ways are higher, too profound and deep for me to completely understand. And yet, He is so near, so involved in history and our daily lives. He came to be with us so that we could know Him. Amazing.

And so we begin a new year. In an odd sort of way, I like endings and beginnings, the closing of a book cover only to open another, finishing a project with the satisfaction that I can move on to something else. It is the anticipation of starting fresh and new, like the untouched page of a new journal or notebook. It awaits the imprint of inked words.

As I reviewed my bullet journal and prepared the new one, I saw that I didn’t complete many of the major projects I’d planned to do this year.  Which presents me with a conundrum. If they were not a real priority, what shall I do with them in the coming year?

I haven’t decided yet. Perhaps I’ll just go like a butterfly, take each day as it comes, feel  for the wind of the Spirit and go where He is moving.

I kind of like thought.

Happy New Year 2019! 

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