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Sunday grace

It is a new year with all the looking backward and looking forward. We evaluate, resolve, set goals, plan projects. What worked? What didn’t? What needs to change? How can I improve? The fact that it’s a new decade means the pressure is on.

I’ve heard enough in the few days of 2020, how to make the best of the next 12 months, and I’m already tired.

There’s no judgment, because I am a planner and a goal setter with the best of them. I’m just trying to look toward this year differently.

Having lived seven decades, I know myself better than twenty years before. I acknowledge my strengths. I grimace at my weaknesses. I want to be the best me possible with the time remaining. I want to be authentic and genuine. I want to be the person God made me to be.

I’m a work in progress, an ongoing transition of being transformed. I am becoming.

Time looks different to me now, limited in a way I had no concept of when I turned eighteen. Sweet William and I attended too many funerals last year, reaffirming the truth that life on this earth, in this form, is not permanent.

How can I make the most of what is left of this one beautiful life I’ve been given? This I ponder. I want to say ‘yes’ to what I’m called to do. I need to say ‘no’ to what I’m not. My candle burns short. I want the flame to burn bright.

I fear sleepwalking through the rest of my life, barely aware of the path I’m on, moving in autopilot, doing what I’ve always done.

I hear the call to live life fully, no matter the circumstances. I ache to do something significant, though it be small.

Challenges await me. Hills and valleys will be part and parcel of my journey. There will be sunshine, and there will be rain. I will experience great joy, and I will cry.

The God I serve has a plan I cannot comprehend. He knows the way, charts the path. He orders my steps, and sometimes makes me stop in my tracks.

As I contemplate Jesus’ life, His three years of ministry, I marvel at His focus to stay the course despite opposition, in spite of friends and enemies who wanted Him to dance to another tune. He would not. He marched to the beat of a heavenly drum. He knew His mission. He listened for His Father’s voice. He followed the plan calculated before earth had a foundation.

Sometimes we make it too complicated with our rules and regulations, our action plans and resolutions. Jesus made it simple. Love God. Love others. Do the right thing. Hold to the truth.

The prophet Amos spoke words to the people centuries before me. They seem profound and yet simple. They seem appropriate.

This is what the Lord says to Israel: “Seek me and live . . . “

Perhaps this is the map I’ve been looking for. This is the way to life.

Sunday grace.

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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.

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