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Sunday grace

Life is a conundrum. When I assume I might be figuring things out, it all changes and I think I haven’t got a clue.

Aware that half of 2020 is now in the past is weighty. What a strange year thus far, and the bizarre train is full throttle.

July is my birth month, and wisdom of the years comes from the hardest places. Memories of joy-filled celebrations gave way to take-out food, simple gifts, and texts from friends and family. Knowing I am loved and remembered is enough this year.

We arranged a retreat only to cancel. We planned events and celebrations but rescheduled more than once. The goals written in January lie somewhat dormant on the page of my bullet journal.

The gardens I labored over in spring battle for space while Kentucky fescue invades like a bully. More delicate flowers will lose if I don’t step in with Round-Up. My tomato plants wilt daily from the heat as I watch for green to turn to red.

This has become the year when taking it one day at a time is a mantra. Sweet William and I routine through our days. Mornings on the deck are a reprieve while the air is bearable, birds serenading from the little woods like they don’t know any better.

Perhaps they understand more than we do. They rejoice with song each new day, depending on food from the earth, a provision of their Creator. They build nests and raise young until little ones grow too big and must learn to fly.

Why should I worry about tomorrow or the next half of 2020? Does God feed the sparrows in my back yard, clothe the lilies in my field, send me sunshine and rain, marking seasons with moon and stars? He does.

Worry is futile, projecting into a future not yet here. The Lord made this day, preparing fresh mercies. He is more than enough for my concerns, sorrows, and burdens. He is my Good Shepherd and the God who sees me, right here, right now. He is my peace and my righteousness. His love will never ever fail me.

That’s really all I need today.

Sunday grace.

Sunday grace

This morning I paused at 2 Thessalonians 3:16.

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.

After surviving months of quarantine, hopeful of better days, we witness rioting in the streets of our country. Tensions run strong as people express their hurt, anger, and fear. We break and wound because we are broken and wounded.

We want justice to prevail. We want people to be treated right. We want things to change rather than be like they’ve always been. Divided we are falling.

While laws are written and imposed, we cannot force hearts to love one another. Only God can do that. Only God can bring peace to a tormented soul. Only God is the lasting answer for our hurt and anger and fear.

And so I pray,

Dear Father of Love and Reconciliation,
You alone can heal our troubled hearts. Our iniquities were laid upon Jesus. He took our punishment and brought us peace by His atoning sacrifice. We have peace with You through Jesus.

Yet we don’t receive it. Instead, we try to fix things ourselves, as if we could make it all right. We are helpless and hopeless without Your love permeating the essence of our being, changing us to be more like Christ.

Jesus Christ Himself is our peace, tearing down the walls that separate us. He made peace possible through His blood, freely giving Himself for us.

Why can’t we love each other? Why can’t we be kind, forgiving, gracious to one another? Because we have not received the gift of Your love. Your love changes us. Your love bears righteous fruit in our lives. Your love shows us how to give and forgive, how to accept as You have accepted us.

Help us, O God! Help us see the light in the grace You offer. It is a grace that flows to the lowest depths, covers a multitude of sins, and lifts us from the mire of our selfishness and pride.

You are Jehovah Shalom, God of Peace. The road to peace is paved with the blood of the Son of God.

In the name of the One who said, “My peace I give to you. . . . In Me you may have peace.”

His name is Jesus. Amen.

Sunday grace.

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

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?

Father forgive us

Father forgive us. Too much we don’t know what we are doing.

Forgive us for putting politics above people.

Forgive us for bashing our politicians, government officials, police officers, the media, the really odd relative, and our neighbor close by.

Forgive us when we pass by the homeless person, looking the other way lest we make eye contact.

Forgive us when we are impatient with other drivers who do the unexpected or drive too slow or cut us off in traffic.

Forgive us when we react angrily rather than thinking first and responding appropriately.

Forgive us when we lash out at the ones we love most because we feel safest with them.

Forgive us for wanting things so much that we push people aside.

Forgive us for our pride, thinking we can manage on our own, that we don’t need anyone else, that we can do life by ourselves.

Forgive us for passing judgment on another’s heart when only You can see what’s really there.

Forgive us for holding on to hurts and grudges so long that they become heavy burdens we carry and bars that imprison us.

Forgive us when we wound others out of our own woundedness.

Forgive us for turning to idols of wealth, fame, addictions, and even people when our first devotion belongs to You.

Forgive us when we take for granted all Your good gifts and do not give You thanks all circumstances.

Forgive us for our hatred and our prejudice, failing to remember that you made each of us precious in Your sight and we are equally loved by You.

Forgive us for disregarding the unborn, the elderly, the disabled, the less than perfect.

Forgive us for turning our eyes away from You, for making any and everything our first love, giving away our devotion and worship.

Forgive us for not loving each other the way we love ourselves.

Forgive us . . .

Hanging on the cross, His life blood dripping on the ground, Jesus’ accusers and His executioners railed against Him. His friends were gone, running scared. The miracles and love He gave freely were forgotten by the crowds.

The blameless One was dying like the two criminals on either side of Him. He took all our shame and guilt and transgression, every misdeed and violation and offence. He bore it all Himself.

So He lifted His eyes toward heaven and said,

Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.

It is a holy week

We call it Holy Week, the days between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. The time was set apart for a special purpose, eternally designed by God. It is His plan of redemption.

As Maisie and I took our final walk last night in the twilight, the moon began to rise over our neighbor’s house. It was strikingly beautiful and full. It’s the Passover moon, signaling the beginning of the festival tonight at sunset.

Jewish families will celebrate separately this year.

One of my piano student turns eighteen this week, and she will celebrate separately too. We are affected by self distancing, making adjustments for weddings, funerals, birthdays, and holidays. We do what we can to show we care, that we remember, that life is precious even when we are isolated.

I reassure myself that God knows the beginning from the end. He knew this day in history would come. He is not surprised nor caught off guard. He supplies my needs during the pandemic the same as He always supplies my needs.

The moon reminds me of the events recorded in the Gospels during holy week.

  • Passover draws large crowds from surrounding cities to Jerusalem. The people will witness an unprecedented festival of freedom.
  • Jesus plainly tells His disciples that His hour has come, that He is about to be killed. They still don’t understand.
  • In acknowledgment and preparation for his burial, a woman anoints Jesus’ feet with precious ointment. She is criticized for her extravagance, but she is also remembered.
  • The Pharisees plot Jesus’ arrest, though they do not want to make a scene during the festival.
  • Judas becomes the avenue to betray his Master and suggests he will, for a price.
  • Final words are spoken as Jesus shares the last Passover meal with his friends. He shows the depth of His love by washing their dirty feet.
  • Jesus’ message that He will be lifted up becomes clear as His body is nailed and raised up on a cross.

The stage was set eons ago. The will of the Lord is written in heavenly stone and He will accomplish it.

Our times are in God’s hand. He is ever the great timekeeper. If we belong to Him, we need not fear. He has a heavenly plan and He will accomplish it.

In the fullness of time, Jesus came to be the Passover sacrifice

It was a holy week.

And so it begins

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, and it was different. Perhaps years later we will talk about it, beginning our dialog with “Remember the year we couldn’t attend church on Palm Sunday? Remember that virus that kept us sheltered inside, distanced from everyone?”

The story is familiar to me, having heard it since I was a tot in Sunday school.  The flannel graph figure of Jesus sitting on a donkey moves through the streets of Jerusalem while people wave palm branches and lay down their outer clothes.  They shout “Hosanna” and “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” He accepts their praise, even welcomes it and says the rocks will cry out if the people are silenced.

It is His day.

In their final chapters, all four Gospel writers narrow their lenses on the last days of Jesus’ earthly life. The week is full of activity.  Each writer has his own slant, his own perspective. The details and consistency shout for us to sit up and pay attention.

But why is the Sunday of palm waving important, other than that it fulfills one more prophecy about Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah?.  Zechariah said the king would come riding on a donkey.  He would be righteous, victorious and humble.  Jesus was all of that.

There is something else.

Hundreds of years before, Moses instructed the people to take a lamb in preparation for their Passover celebration. On the tenth day of the first month of a new year. Set it apart. Examine it for imperfections. Keep it until the fourteenth day. Then kill it. It is the Passover lamb.

Jesus made His grand entrance into Jerusalem on the tenth day of the month.  He was chosen for this. He was about to set the people free and make all things new for those who believed.  And so on Palm Sunday, He was proclaimed, examined for imperfections, presented to the people on the tenth day as the sacrificial Lamb. And on the fourteenth day of the month, just days later, He was killed.

God’s Passover Lamb. The promise to Abraham fulfilled. “God will provide for Himself a lamb.” — Genesis 22:8

Jesus. He is the One we waited for. Give Him praise. Shout Hosanna.

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!

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.

See the source image

 

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.

While we wait

I’m in a waiting period. I think a lot of you are too.

The small wipe-off board I used to list our weekly activities is uncommonly blank, except for the dates. It’s never like that. 

It is strange, this social distancing, a word now unique to 2020 and one we will remember, I bet. Each day presents challenges, news updates and directives from our government. Every blog that presents in my in-box has something to say about coronavirus. I question how to do this life while we confine ourselves for an undetermined period.

Everyone isn’t confined, and I’m thankful for healthcare workers and first responders and the UPS employees who keep delivering our packages. Mail is deposited in my box each day, and I count it a gift.

I count the gifts of people who text to check on us, asking if we need anything. We are in the high-risk category of over 60 years old and determined to stay where we are. Younger friends asked if we are OK, can they do something, offering to bring supplies to our front door and leave them on the porch. We are touched by such kindness, and we feel loved.

Each day I talk with two of my cousins, one by phone, and one at her house down our lane, careful to keep at least three feet between us. I check on my neighbors, and they are much like me, home bound. I text my family members to see how they are faring during complex days. We try to be hopeful, cheerful, look for the bright side.

While this is a serious situation that I don’t discount, I appreciate humor where I can get it. Sometimes I really do LOL, laugh out loud, at something on Facebook or TV, and it does me good, like medicine.

I have a stack of good books and time to read them now. I hope the temperature rises. I could use a little sunshine so I can work in the garden and feel productive. The fresh air will be good for me.

A friend who is working her job remotely texted a request for some recipes. She is home with her husband and children and wants to make something good to eat. I sent her four tested recipes, with options to make them her own, according to her family’s tastes. Good food is satisfying to body and soul.

A couple of days ago I fed my sour dough starter and baked whole wheat bread. Sweet William and I ate it hot with butter melting in its crevices.

My neighbor who lives in the house next door texted that she was venturing to the grocery and did we need anything. I love her even more for asking. Her little guy, almost six, delivered some fruit and cream for our coffee, and I sent him home with a loaf of still-warm bread, a little thank you for caring about us.

Sweet William and I are practicing a song together on piano and guitar. We played it years ago at a friend’s wedding. It’s a difficult piece, and we struggle with it. But we have the time to re-learn it in these days of waiting.

The season of lent continues, and my early morning quiet time draws me to truth as I read of Jesus’s last days on this earth. I am reassured, knowing this was planned before galaxies were constructed, before I was born, before 2020 presented us with COVID-19.

As the trees bloom white in our little woods and I gather daffodils from the yard to cheer to the house, the earth moves in its designed path toward spring. If the clouds clear away, I will see the moon waning as she makes her  circular path toward hiding. Daylight appears each morning even when the sun is overcast. Birds sing and frogs croak, and the month of March is much like each one I’ve known and yet it isn’t.

This I know, there is a God in heaven who is watching His world and His children. He is aware and involved and working His good will in and among us. Kindness and love are His evidence.

In our waiting, let’s keep the faith. Be humble and kind. Look for the good and count blessings. Laugh out loud. Say “I love you” every chance you get. Stay in touch with those who are socially distanced from you. Pray for our leaders as they try to do their best for our country.

Trust the One who knows exactly what He is about in our world. Believe He will care for us like the sparrow. He loves us more than we know.

Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?    — Luke 12:6