Archives

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

Tuesday thoughts

A text on a Sunday morning, read between band practice and the beginning of service, sets my head to spinning. Someone is in the hospital. It’s serious.

Sweet William and I go as soon as we can. We see the grave faces of the family, observe the mechanics of the ICU room, and gaze upon the stillness of our friend.

There is nothing we can do but offer love and prayer and our presence.

By the next morning, I hear of his passing. Another death in so few months. And I am broken open by a broken world where death comes without warning and life feels too short. I wonder how I am to live with the reality that all of us face the same end?

What is life about here on an earth that groans with its own longing as if in the pains of childbirth? I groan with it, eagerly waiting for the perfection of all things when tears will be wiped away forever.

I experience what is common to all. Birth. Death. And in between are a multitude of experiences, joyous as well as heart-rending. What is the purpose?

I’m full of questions without answers.

I remember Paul’s words how the resurrection of Christ is our hope in a world of hurt. If we do not know that reality, we live in misery, without expecting anything better. We live futilely looking for meaning when there is sickness, pain, and death all around.

While living is radiant, joyous, abounding in good things, gifts from a benevolent God, there is the harsh reality of suffering and we are left wondering. In our hearts we know it isn’t supposed to be this way. We feel the call to the flawless Eden when God made everything and called it good, very good.

So we exist in the in-between of Eden and Heaven, with eternity set in our hearts drawing us to a higher and better place, where beauty exceeds our imaginations, where music is more splendid than we’ve ever heard, where suffering no longer exists and love permeates everything with an eternal light.

We wait for that glorious appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. We wait for all things to be fulfilled as God has ordained. The plan is beyond me. I cannot fathom in my finite mind what He is doing. But I know without a doubt He is working all things according to His excellent plan, and I rejoice and find comfort that I am part of His plan.

Until I understand more, I am told to trust. Believe. See His glory. Even when it is shrouded by a cloud of darkness and I tremble to approach. God dwells in light but He is also in our darkest nights. He never leaves us in our heartbroken estate. He is with us even then.

Yes, even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, again and again, I know my Good Shepherd will be with me. I do not need to be afraid.

I look upward to the heavens, watch the clouds begin to mist away as blue sky appears. Even the blackest of night gives way to dawn’s radiance.

The morning will come. And it will be magnificently triumphant.

Photo by MaRanda Green

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

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.

Sunday grace

Reading Exodus 33 once again, I am struck by the audacity of Moses’ request of God Almighty:

Show me Your glory.”

Oh God, we need Your presence more than Your good gifts.

We work for the stuff of this earthly life, houses, cars, trinkets, bank accounts, travel. We seek education, careers, and climb ladders to who knows where, hoping for a taste of fulfillment, to find happiness, to experience contentment.

We look for fun in the funniest of places, wanting something long-lasting, expecting it to satisfy, while it floats to the ground like dry leaves.

We spend our strength on things short-lived and temporal, that which passes away, leaving us searching for the next thing.

And all the time it is You, Lord, that we need. More than comfort, more than healing, more than gifts, more than answers. We. Need. You.

Give us hungry hearts. Give us ears to hear You and eyes to see You in our everyday moments. Show us how needy we are for Your Presence, Your Voice, Your Holiness.

Your Glory.

For this I pray.

Sunday grace.

Monday grace

As the month of September meanders to its end, I glance backward to what lies behind me.

Those days have been hard, dry and cracked open with suffering. And how do we go on from here?

Three times in my seventy years I count the most sorrowful of seasons. All involved death, real and symbolic. As if something were being ripped from my grasp, my heart was left crushed, my soul whimpering.

I spent time wandering the wilderness of my own confusion, my questions were without answers as I watered my path with weeping.

Looking backward with the perspective of time and wisdom, I see lessons I was meant to learn. Though I felt alone, I perceive that God’s presence surrounded me. My tears were noticed, my groaning was heard, and the Father of all comfort drew nearer to me in my brokenness.

I bear the scars still. The wounds have healed but their evidence remains, a reminder that no one gets a reprieve from suffering in this fractured world.

As I walk beside others in their wilderness journey, I identify with their pain, remembering the aloneness and the desperation. I feel their longing for relief from the angst of this affliction. We enter into the fellowship of human suffering.

With thanksgiving, I recall the bright and beautiful days, the gentle meanders through green meadows, the soft breezes on my face, the sweet communion of friends in joyful song.

But it is in the dark, thunderous storms that my heart is tendered by my tribulation. Those were the times I ran to the gentle and strong Shepherd while wolves surrounded and I trembled in the unknown. His comfort and protection were what I needed.

While questions without answers raged in my mind and I couldn’t see farther than the next step, He who is the Way opened the door to Himself, and I ran to His arms.

While I learned to trust Jesus at my mother’s knee and from my father’s example, it was in the dark night of my soul that I comprehended a dimension of God I could not have known any other way.

“The Lord has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud.”

If I could have chosen, I may have taken the gentle way, the easy path, but that would not have been the best for me. I would not learn endurance. I would not know peace in the storm. I would not experience a comforting Presence in my pain. I would not have empathy for my fellow sojourners. I would not see hope in a hopeless situation. I would not stand in awe of the brilliant stars in the blackness of night.

I would not know Jesus the way I do.

So I will walk where my Savior calls me, the road where He promises to walk with me. And though it be through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. He makes a way in the wilderness and rivers in my wasteland.

He turns my Valley of Baca into a spring of refreshing.

He sends a sunrise after the night, and mercy awaits me for the new day.