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Sunday grace

They first met at our house, these two who became one in holy matrimony only yesterday. The beautiful wedding was sprinkled with grace and truth, and those who know their story marvel at the narrative.

I first met him when he was in fourth grade with my oldest granddaughter, sitting at the lunch table with her. I remember his cute round face and the way his eyes crinkled when he smiled.

Not by chance, Sweet William and I became friends of his family, spending time at the breakfast table, hours talking over coffee, sharing Bible studies, and those evenings when he came to talk guy stuff with Sweet William. Relationships deepened.

I met her through our neighbors who live in the house next door, the one  where my dear ones onced lived. These neighbors were a balm to my aching heart, me missing those I love, who now lived many miles away. These neighbors were her relatives.

She had a lovely smile and a gentle way about her. We became acquainted with her family, sometimes celebrating birthdays and holidays. I noticed her godly character.

Add the years, and I hosted Bible study at our house, a room full of women who love God and want to know His Word, including my neighbor, her sister-in-law, and my friend, his mother. At the end of the evening, I casually mentioned his name and her name, how maybe they should meet.

Maybe electricity was in the air, maybe the moon was full, maybe the angels were listening, as minds conceived possibilities, and my neighbor and my friend planned to introduce him and her. In a couple of weeks,  the boy met the girl, and sitting at our kitchen table they got acquainted. During Bible study, while the rest of the women in the other room listened to Beth Moore talking about Believing God on DVD, he asked for her phone number.

That was about a year and a half ago. Yesterday they married.

I marvel at how this all came to be, how God orchestrated the plan, how He uses people to accomplish His purposes.

We offered our home, a place of gathering, a time to share the good gifts God gave us.

Some people hinted at giving us credit for this union of husband and wife, but we had nothing to do with the couple’s attraction to one another, to their budding relationship, their eventual falling in love and promise of commitment, or the hand of God all over it.

We simply opened the door to our house and said “Come in. You are welcome here.” It is that simple and simply that. When we offer what we have in the name of Jesus, He takes it as fish and bread and multiplies it to meet the need, to feed the hungry, and to bring people together in ways we cannot imagine.

The gifts God lavishes on us are not meant to be hoarded and kept to ourselves. They are meant to be shared. We give what we’ve been given, opening our hands and our hearts, allowing Him to perform wonders of His love.

What is in your hand? It may appear insignificant or small. You may wonder what good it can be. You may not think what you do is having an impact. But it could be you are an instrument in God’s hand, a pencil He is using to write His story.

What is in your hand? Give that. Leave the rest to Him to create the masterpiece.

Sunday grace.

Winter thoughts

The first month of 2020 ends, and maybe we feel a little let down because we haven’t moved into the infant year like we intended. Typically we expect January 1 to offer hope and opportunity. For some it does. For others, it is the same old routine, the same hurts, the same struggles, following us into the next thirty days.

I recall years, attested in my journals, when January 1 was exactly like December 31, me wondering if I had the strength to persevere. How often I prayed, “O God of new beginnings and fresh starts, it’s me again.” 

Still, I am a fan of new months and weeks, a brand new day, a new adventure. There is expectancy in an unfolding promise.

The grey days of winter have worn a bit thin. I eagerly awaited the first glow of dawn. I noticed blue sky breaking through clouds and looked for sunsets.

I lit candles early morning waiting for darkness to vanish. I turned on lamps throughout the house to brighten the atmosphere as evening descended.

Already I weary of a winter without one really good snow. I tried to notice the lengthening days, incremental though they are, anticipating spring, warmth, and sunshine. I hoped the purple crocuses beside the front walk would surprise me one day.

I hosted a bridal tea party in January, celebrating the freshness of two lives soon to become one. This young couple met at our house one evening at Bible study, and it’s a story I love to tell. In just a few weeks they will vow their forever covenant of love.

I pulled out the pretty dishes, platters and cake plates hidden in closets and cupboards, dusty from non use. Preparation for the event reminded me of days when the grand girls were young children and welcomed any excuse for a tea party. They disappeared into the back bedroom where the box of dress-up clothes were stored and emerged like butterflies. They picked out tea cups from my collection. We spread the table with cheese and crackers, store bought cookies, hot cocoa, or whatever was handy. It wasn’t about the food, it was about the event of a tea party, of being together and enjoying the experience.

I began listening to the Daily Audio Bible with Brian Hardin, joining my cousin to journey through the Bible in a year. I enjoy the daily interchange as Brian expressively reads and I hear something new in old familiar stories. It is a spiritual discipline enriching my life.

I spent time with friends this month. Some are suffering in different ways. It presses hard on them as they walk paths not of their choosing. My heart aches for people I love. I want to ease their pain. I know I cannot. My only offering is a gift of time, a listening ear without judgment, and prayers for the awareness of the the God of all comfort. 

January 2020 is a memory, and in a way I don’t understand, it seemed slow, unlike my usual fleeting days, me barely aware until the months’ end appears on my planner. But not this month.

I’m pondering what made the difference. I said “no” to a couple of opportunities, trying to listen to my heart and set boundaries for myself, a skill I’m not very good at. I made and effort to work on projects, reckoning with my time and energy.

February begins, offering another new month, another opportunity, a promise unfolding. I want to live it well.

Sunday grace

From my window, I watch the rosey glow appear at the edge of trees, a new morning heralding its coming.

It is early for a walk, still I get my coat and scarf. This day calls me. I grab the pink leash and invite Maisie to join me.

Light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it.
(John 1:5 NET)

Outside, I hope for a world yet to awaken, a stillness unbroken. I hear the faint call of a bird in the little woods and the tinkling of Maisie’s collar as we move along. The lake is like unbroken glass.

But soon I hear the noise of traffic on a nearby roadway. Already humanity is up and about their business, heading to myriad destinations, the rhythm of tires on pavement breaking the tranquil moments I crave.

Listening is my objective. Learning to do it better is the goal in this new year. Listen to my heart. Listen to the voice of the Spirit. Listen and learn.

Much of my life I’ve been a head listener, doing what seemed appropriate, what was asked of me, what was necessary. I don’t regret being a dependable person. It has served me and others.

Life made choices for me, I think, events and circumstances beyond my control, prescribing my decisions and the next step. Though not of my choosing, I walked forward in what I had to do.

I may have ignored my heart sometimes, quieting its gentle voice amidst a roar of responsibility. I want to know what my heart has to say. It speaks softly, like the trill of the bird in the little woods. The clamor of a harried world, a busy schedule, and a distracted mind can drown out the inner prompting that tries to be heard above the noisy din.

I’ve repeated this to myself: Do what you’re called to do, and don’t do what someone else is called to do. In my efficient super-power suit, I may have taken on someone else’s role a time or two, only to regret it later.

It’s about time I listened to my own heart, recognize my passion and walk in my calling. I am not to compare it to another. It shall not be considered bigger or smaller, overly important or inconsequential.

Life can feel like a desert wander or a directed path. It is both. The journey is steep bluffs, rocky paths, uphill climbs, and it is green fields, restful streams, surprising rainbows.

The path God has purposed for me is unique. He planned it and tenderly draws me back to it should I stray. He intends that I walk it with Him. He is the light that shines in the darkness. His voice will be heard above all others, though it be still and small. My heart will hear it.

What lies ahead could be my biggest adventure, my best learning curve, and my greatest miracle.

A person’s steps are established by the LORD, and He takes pleasure in his way.
(Psalm 37:23)

Photo by Elena Walls

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.

ew

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.

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