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Tuesday thoughts

My head spins thinking about the coming weeks.

It’s the end of the month and we head into summer. Heat is calling for lighter clothing, swimming pools, and cold sweet tea.

Churches opened Sunday, but Sweet William and I watched from the kitchen table. Vulnerable health issues make me cautious. We Zoomed with our Sunday class in the evening. We all come as we are, comfy and at home. There’s not the same concern about carefully chosen outfits with matching jewelry. We are real and simply glad to see familiar faces.

I’m planning in-person piano lessons with my students after weeks of struggling with on-line instruction. After a day of internet lessons, I was worn out like I had plowed a field. Yet my students thrived, learning new songs in spite of the hardship. They are troopers, all of them, from my second grader to my high school seniors.

With resuming face-to-face interaction comes responsibility for our health and safety. Protocol is in place for handling doors and piano keys, for washing hands and keeping a safe distance. It will be different. It is the new normal, at least for this time in our history.

I’ve had three months to work in the gardens, and chunks of uninterrupted time is bringing it under control. I enjoy its beauty now compared to last year when the yard felt completely overwhelming, and I went inside to escape the work that required too much of me.

We’ve eaten strawberries and lettuce from our raised bed, and tomato plants are healthy and strong. The peonies bloomed despite the late frost I thought would kill the buds. I’ve planted flower seeds of all varieties and am excited at the sight of a sprout pushing through dirt.

We’ve had a few deck chats with friends willing to come, and while we longed to give parting hugs, we have refrained with the consolation that love knows nothing of safe distancing. It reaches across all barriers, to the heart of each of us.

Life feels like its making a corner turn, back to a world open for business. Suddenly, I’m busy making preparations for returning to a semblance of three months ago. And yet it is not the same. We will handled it individually, with our own sense of care and well being. We need to respect each other and the choices we make, being cognizant of each other’s concerns.

Now is an excellent time to consider the one another’s in the Bible.

Be at peace with each other.
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.
Honor one another above yourselves.
Live in harmony with one another and stop passing judgment on one another.
Accept one another, just as Christ has accepted you.
Have equal concern for one another and serve one another with love.
Carry each other’s burdens.
Be patient, kind, and compassionate to one another.
Encourage each other, pray for each other, and love one another.

As hustle and bustle try to woo us into our previous frantic pace, I hope we’ve learned to slow down, value the ones closest to us, lend a helping hand, enjoy the simple things, take time to listen closely, share our resources, celebrate people in creative ways, connect indirectly, offer comfort when we can’t be there, be grateful for all the gifts from a loving Father, and worship wherever we find ourselves.

We may look back on our time of quarantine with a different eye, seeing purpose in it after all.

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.

Tuesday thoughts

Sunday slipped right by this week. Sweet William and I are accustomed to church in our pajamas, having learned to live-stream and worship at the kitchen table.

Sunday is my sabbath rest. I put aside garden gloves and housecleaning tasks, determined to relax and remember that God is the one who provides for us. If you know me well, you understand the discipline this requires.

As we watch the news and latest updates on the pandemic each morning, I have mixed feelings as the country makes an effort to open and get the economy running upward again. I know we need to. Businesses and real people are suffering.

We’ve been confined almost long enough to make it habit forming. Experts say it takes 90 consecutive days, but by day 47 of doing the same thing, it begins to feel normal.

Sweet William and I cocooned thoughtfully, emerging for necessities only. Friends brought groceries and fresh eggs several times, bless them. We visited with neighbors in the yard at a safe distance. We ordered on line and were careful handling packages and the daily mail.

Now we wonder how and when to venture further into society. We have our masks, and I wear mine while many around me don’t. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

As I lay in bed last night, I could see the sliver of the moon from the window. The sight of it was comforting, hung in the sky by the Creator in the beginning. And there it is, stable in its monthly rotation, moving tides, marking seasons, and lighting the darkness with its delicate glow.

I began to pray in the stillness, talking to my Father, and wondering what He is doing. As I sometimes do, I told Him that I don’t understand His ways. He is patient with my struggles, my wrestling questions. He simply holds me close and whispers, “Trust me.”

Tears filled my eyes, and my will responded, “I will trust You. I will trust You. I will trust You.”

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

In my human frailty, my uncertain fears, the confusion and doubtfulness that plague me sometimes, my Father remains compassionate, kind, tender toward His child. His love is everlasting and unconditional.

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.
— Psalm 103:13, 14

I’m not sure how we will re-enter a world interrupted. I don’t know when I will be comfortable giving random hugs and sitting next to my piano students during a lesson. I long for what was before, when greeting people with a handshake, talking face to face, and touching people and things was natural and we did it without thinking, without fear.

The world is changed, and we are changed with it. This new decade we entered with anticipation will be one for the history books. We will remember it in our own narratives in the the days ahead.

And yet . . . in all that alters and shifts like the sand, our Eternal God remains the same. Stop and breathe in that truth.

The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.
— Psalm 103: 19

As we walk into a different world, we are not alone in our wanderings. We hold to the unchanging hand of our Savior who has overcome. There is nothing to fear. Abundant life is just ahead.

When the world flips upside down

My parents were young during the Great Depression. It marked them. They learned to save for a rainy day and conserve their resources. They were the original recyclers. My dad threw away little, keeping unusual items in case he might need them some day, like a single flip-flop stored in a cabinet in his garage. And what do you know, one day he did need it.

My step-mother washed and stored fast food containers. She had a stash of unused paper napkins and straws in a drawer in her kitchen. Their generation embodied the motto, “Use it up, wear it out, make it last, or do without.”

It is day twelve of our confinement. The days run together, today looking very much like yesterday. I try to remember what day of the week it is.

I’m realizing I don’t need as much to survive as I may have thought. My breakfast prayer includes thanks for food, shelter, and basic necessities. How often have I taken them for granted because I wanted something shiny and new?

My life is slower. Simple things are a gift, like the young man’s friendly greeting at Kroger as he loaded my groceries in the car’s trunk, and the person who handed me two deliciously prepared blizzards through the take-out window at the oddly-dark Dairy Queen. A blizzard and a refrigerator re-stocked with food are luxuries.

Sweet William helped me sharpen my garden tools yesterday. He knows his way around a file better than I do. It felt good to accomplish something on my list. I need to see some check marks in my bullet journal, some task completed.

The world seems a bit crazy. When we expectantly wrote the year 2020 for the first time in January, who could have predicted this, confinement and uncertainty that would drive us indoors for an undetermined period.

It is interesting that we have been thrust into a time of stillness in a culture that thrives on busy. Being busy is our mantra, the badge we wear. Busy makes us feel necessary. Busy is how we function best. Or maybe not.

I wonder how we will be marked by our days of confinement. Will we look back and recall how strange it was for a while, how toilet paper became a valued commodity, and the time encased in our homes with family was a blessing in disguise?

Will we be changed by our experience in 2020, imprinted like my parents were in 1929?

I believe we will learn things about ourselves, like how we focus on lesser things when what is most valuable is right before us.

When the world returns to a normal status, I hope it won’t be business as usual. I hope we remember what matters. People are the most important treasure. Small irritations are not worth the upset. We really can invent new ways of doing things. Sharing what we have blesses the giver and receiver. Prayers are to be prayed for our leaders. Church is not the building where we gather. Loving one another is still the second greatest commandment.

Maybe we will even keep one flip-flop, just in case we might need it.

Sunday grace

Reading my Christ Chronological book, I’m following Jesus through His last weeks on earth, as the Gospels record them. It is my Lenten practice.

I pause at Luke 10, and how many times have I read the story of Martha and her sister Mary?

Verse 38 begins, “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.”

I’ve often thought Martha was unduly criticized in this story. The very first thing we know about her is that she opened her home to Jesus. For all the women who ever opened their homes to me, your hospitality and grace was a blessing.

In a day when HGTV broadcasts the finished reveal of newly remodeled homes, I can feel undone and old fashioned in my outdated kitchen and rooms that are not an open floor plan with wide views of the whole house.

We have real people living in real homes, resulting in piles of clothes to fold, scattered toys where children play, dirty dishes on the stove and in the sink, and dust bunnies under chairs and tables. Let’s not even talk about Maisie’s dog hairs that gather at out-of-the-way places.

Opening one’s home is no small matter, especially when we think we will be judged because of perceived imperfections. Comparison kills relationships. So can the desire for perfection.

So I applaud Martha for her hospitality to a baker’s dozen of hungry men.

But my focus in this day’s reading is not on Martha. It’s on Mary. Isn’t she the ideal by which we measure ourselves? Mary is the contemplative who ignores the distractions of much preparation to sit at Jesus feet. Again, I never think I measure up to her undivided attention to her Lord

Reading this familiar story, I simply love both of these women for their different personalities, their ways of relating, and how their gifts serve.

Coming to the end of the short narrative, I pause at Jesus’ words in verse 42: “but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better . . . “

Only one thing is needed. I stop to ponder. Only one thing. This is what has been troubling me for weeks. What is my one thing?

While I moved slowly into January and the new year, February pushed more like a steam roller, days full and body aching. Responsibility and ministry required a lot of me. Cares of the world and concern for people weighed heavy. And my heart searched for direction. I felt drained, wondering about my one thing.

Now it is March, with the hope it offers. Birds sing their springy chorus early mornings. The forsythia bush unfolds yellow blooms one at time. Our little woods is greening after a grey winter landscape. Life is pulsing in the earth and narrow green daffodil leaves break through frozen ground. Change is in the wind.

It is fitting that I finally get clarity to ask the right question. In this present season of my life, what is my one thing? The one thing I am designed to do, the very place I am called to served God right now?

I know I’m not to be all over the place, scattered and thin, trying to be all things to all people. Saying yes to God’s best and the place of His calling means saying no to some good things.

The goal is to grow deep, to flourish like the trees in my yard. They give beauty, shade, shelter, and fruit. Trees grow where they were planted, content to do their one thing well.

Scripture records Jesus asking, “What do you want me to do for you?” He gave credence to people’s desires and longings, the one thing they wanted most. Our dreams often point us in the direction of our callings.

After Jesus visited with Martha and Mary, I read further in Luke 11, and hear  Him say, “Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you.”

My questions don’t go unnoticed. My yearnings can be an arrow pointing me in my direction. My Father wants to be found, wants to show me the way, even if it is just one step at a time.

My one thing may be to open my home like Martha. It might be to sit quietly with Jesus like Mary. As I seek Him, I expect to find Him.

One thing for sure, I will be in His presence, and that will be enough. 

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.