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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.

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.

Sunday grace

Sweet William and I ventured out in his big red truck yesterday to do a few errands not requiring physical contact, like drive-through banking and a mail drop at the post office. We are careful to wash our hands.

Waiting in the bank lane, an unknown woman waited in the other lane. We made eye contact and then waved. She commented about the crazy world and I agreed. As she drove off, she said, “Stay safe.”

It was a meaningful interaction between strangers, a little thing that connected us in our days of being distant.

We drove to my friend’s house to pick up hand-made safety masks. The masks were bagged and waiting in a box at the end of her drive. She included a container of disinfectant wipes for safety sake. It was thoughtful of her to think of that.

It’s the little things that mean a lot.

We were in the neighborhood, so we drove by the house of a couple in our Sunday school class. Sweet William honked the horn a couple of times before they opened the front door. We had a gentle conversation from afar, us in the truck and them on their porch. It was good to see their faces. She texted and said we had made their day.

The little things.

My friend texted early yesterday morning on her way to work, saying she left a package on our porch. Her job is considered essential, and I pray for her.

In the bag were fresh farm eggs, homemade sausage, and a jar of her mango preserves. I was thrilled. After work, she brought me a few needed items from the grocery story and left them on the steps.

It was more than a little thing, and I appreciate her love for us.

Last week, another friend texted that her husband was on his way to deliver a Merry Monday treat. The doorbell and Maisie’s bark alerted us, and two pieces of cinnamon streusel cake awaited us at the front door. Sweet William and I ate it immediately with our coffee.

Our friends inspired me to send my neighbors a small surprise.

While we wait out our confinement, acts of kindness are life giving.

Mid week a young couple set a potted ready-to-bloom amaryllis on the front porch. Her mother remembered how I admired her plant and shared this beautiful flower with me.

The little things and the bigger things are making our lives not only bearable but beautiful. Human contact is vital however we manage it. We need each other.

Jesus told his disciples repeatedly to love one another. It is imperative for humanity. Love shows up in unlimited ways. We are being creative in our reaching out and joining hearts without touching hands.

We shelter at home and we find ways to shelter hearts.

It is necessary to love and be loved. We stay healthier, we are happier, we can endure if we are loved.

God initiates love. He was the first to offer His. His face is recognized most in the world when we love each other in tangible and thoughtful ways.

As we celebrate Palm Sunday in the confines of our homes, streaming church services while we lounge in our pajamas, we remember how much we are loved. Jesus the Passover Lamb was proclaimed in the city streets of Jerusalem. He choose to love us by giving His life completely and fully for us.

It’s a new day, a new opportunity to practice what Jesus preached.

He loved us first. Now it’s our turn.

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.

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.