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Sunday grace

There is tension in the world and I’m very uncomfortable with it all.

My enneagram number is Nine, categorized as the peacemaker, the one who avoids conflict at all costs, who just wants everyone to get along. If Nine were symbolized as an animal, it would be a golden retriever, wagging its tail and wanting to be friends with everyone.

I’ve distanced myself from the news and social media after days of too much information, dark threatening words, and anger that morphs into hatred. I want everyone to get along.

But that is not the world where I live. It never has been. Conflict existed the day Cain met his brother Able in a field. There were wars and rumors of wars since people groups settled into their own communities and discovered that their neighbors were not like them.

I’ve listened to podcasts and read blog posts about the racial divide. I’ve heard sermons and people of all colors give opinions about the direction we need to go. No one has the answer, though some think they do.

I was a child when I first became aware of integration in my small corner of the world. I remember the first time I saw a black couple sitting in our family’s favorite restaurant. They were dressed in their Sunday best, like we were, and I thought they must have been to church, like us.

I once worked for a company whose staff were mostly white. Phyllis and I were at opposite ends of the building, but we found each other and built a relationship. We met early in the morning and in the break room for coffee, talking about our lives, our children, our faith.

I remember the difference in our hair texture and the contrast of her skin next to mine. It didn’t matter to either of us. We shared a kinship and we were friends.

The one and only son of ours went to college. He roomed with a young man named Michael. He was our son’s best man at his wedding. He stayed at our house and with great delight rode Sweet William’s lawn tractor. He calls me his other mother. Michael is African American.

We used to visit the church where my son and his family attended when they still lived in our city. The first time there, I noticed the diverse races, how they shared in ministry and worship responsibilities. We were welcomed, and I loved the atmosphere of acceptance and the brother/sister-hood of the family of God.

The people who live in the house next door combine four different cultures in their veins. I feel sure they were hand-picked by Jesus to be our neighbors. We’ve adopted each other and they call us Aunt Peggy and Uncle Bill. They are a gift to Sweet William and me.

A woman younger than me lives nearby. She was born in another country; she is bi-lingual. She came to the United States, studied for citizenship, and is currently working to complete her college degree. She is a daughter of my heart, and I love spending time with her. When I ask her to pray, she does so in her native language, and I listen for words I recognize.

People I love are different from me.

I’ve checked on my friends during the chaos of demonstrations and riots. I’ve also message people who have police officers in their families. I’m concerned. Society can turn on the winds of public opinion, naming and blaming, dividing rather than healing.

I want to listen to people’s stories, try to understand what it’s like to live as a minority. I’ve checked out books from my library by black authors, reading to see and hear and be sensitive to the pain.

I pray for our president and leaders. They have an unspeakably difficult task. They will never be able to please all the people. There is no simple solution.

When Adam and Eve chose to ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they got what they desired – the knowledge to create good and to destroy viciously. Pandora’s box opened, and they were no longer led by a peaceful and loving spirit. Thy exhaled the breath of God and inhaled something else. We still breathe the same air.

As I walk among my gardens, I see weeds popping up. It is a continual fight to keep them from taking over what I’ve worked so hard to make beautiful. I deal daily with the curse of the fall of man. It is a fight to keep peace and love in the world when sin is always present.

There is One who gives peace in the conflict, One who calms the storm of our inner turmoil. On the night of Jesus’ birth into our world, the angel army proclaimed peace on earth and good will to men. I think the angels knew it was full out war in the heavenlies.

As Christ’s ambassadors, we are called to be peacemakers and to love people. We are called to be comforters and encouragers. This is our battle cry.

Jesus compels us to love our neighbors, to go the extra mile, to show kindness and compassion, to love justice and show mercy.

We need love to invade our hearts, our homes, our city streets, our nation’s capital. This is a costly love emanating from God the Father who sacrificed Himself for the hearts of the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. This love is active. It takes risks.

God’s love changes hearts. Jesus is the way of peace. Let us pray to walk with Him, invite others on the journey and breathe in the life-giving breath of His Spirit.

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.

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

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

Following Thursday afternoon piano lessons, I sensed the changes coming. By Friday, schools were closing for two weeks, the SEC basketball tournament was canceled ending March Madness. The mega church in our area, with its multiple campuses, suspended weekend services. My supervisor sent an email to all music instructors to forego lessons the next two weeks. I’m paying attention now.

I’d already stocked up on essentials and knew we had food in the pantry and freezer. We would be ok. Watching the news Friday evening, I got a picture of how the coronavirus is affecting us globally. I refused to give in to fear.

But on Saturday morning, I awoke with a niggling concern. Did we really have enough milk and bread, enough cream for our coffee? Was there food aplenty on our shelves as shelves emptied in grocery stores? What if the self-quarantine lasted longer than two or three weeks? When and what will be the end of this pandemic?

I wondered why this new anxiety was surfacing. I questioned myself, my faith in a God who constantly tells me to “fear not.”

As I opened an old journal to the page where I’d last bookmarked, my eyes feel to the place where I had written Psalm 31:1 – In you, LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.

I read more of this ten-year-old entry. Psalm 32:7 – You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.

Is it an interesting coincidence, this reading of old writings this morning? Is anything ever an accident when God is running the show? I think not. God will speak if I will listen.

As I’ve done many times before, I put aside my fears and and put my trust in the One who was and is and will be. No matter what comes, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, God will be with us. That is His promised assurance. His grace will be enough. He is Jehovah-jireh, my provider. He is Christ the solid Rock, the shelter under whose shadow I rest.

He is the Creator who gives food to the birds of the air and beasts of the field. He clothes the earth with beauty, lilies of the field, crocuses and purple-blooming trees. He is the everlasting Word sharing His words with us and allowing us to make sense of our own words.

I decide to mark the hours of 9 am, 12 noon, 3 pm and 6 pm on my phone to pray. Since I won’t be going anywhere with no chance of disturbing anyone, let technology sound its sweet alarm as an opportunity to give thanks for all our gifts, to petition the Almighty for help, to be mindful of others, and to seek His face.

I open to this, from the Book of Common Prayer:

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves. Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thought which may assault and hurt the soul. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Amen and amen.

Sunday grace.

Sunday grace

I’ve long been partial to the verses in Lamentations 3:22-23

Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end.
They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness!

Admittedly, sometimes I trust sparingly, and I don’t recognize God’s faithfulness in the middle of my mess. When I view life in hindsight, I see His ways written all over my story, His creative working in and through it all. My faith grows at the looking back, His love and mercy in full view.

His faithfulness is great, stunning, ever constant and certain, unlike me, who is sometimes faithless in spite of my best effort. I learn to trust by trusting when I can’t understand my circumstances. I learn to walk with God by walking with Him in the dark as well as the light. I learn He is faithful when the road is hard and I can’t see my way. I learn His word is true and He means what He says every single time.

It seems simple enough. Why do I make it hard?

The supply of new mercies each morning allures me, perhaps because the best part of my day is morning. The next twenty-four hours offer a do-over, potential and opportunity.

I enjoy starting slowing, the way I sip my coffee. Life is meant to be savored, but often we gulp it, swallowing hard to get done with this so we can move on to that.

I wonder why Jeremiah expressed the verse like he did. Why are mercies new every morning instead of having a storehouse full? Is mercy like manna, meant to be sought daily, gathering enough to sustain me a day at a time? If I considered that I had plenty, would I seek my Savior when morning rolls around again?

The Scripture assures me, that just like the manna, there will be enough compassion, kindness, forgiveness, generosity and favor from a bountiful Father who offers mercy to me today.

He is the source of all I need, no matter what shape it takes. He daily loads me with benefits. He gives more than enough.

God’s promise of His presence with His people, His ultimate mercy, weaves beautiful strands through the story of human history. He came and lived among us for awhile, in the form of a Son, a physical reality of a promised covenant.

It is an amazing grace and a beautiful declaration.

His mercies are new every morning.

Sunday grace.





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

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

Sunday grace

It’s about love. That is it. That is all.

Francis Chan said this: “We are here to love. Not much else matters.”

My best intentions are pointless unless they are birthed from love. My sound advice may not be well received unless it is clothed in love. My wise words will be sounding brass and tinkling cymbal unless guided by love.

Why do we think we have the answers for other people’s situations, and why do we feel the need to pour it on them like a dose of needed medicine? How can I possibly understand someone else’s journey when I have not walked it or even listened enough to picture where they are?

Wait. Let me examine the mote in my own eye before I try to remove the speck in yours.

Love is patient when frustrations run high and people don’t do what I want.
Love is kind even in difficult circumstances, when others are unkind to me.
Love is not envious of another’s gifts, beauty, talent, possessions or success.
Love is not boastful but remembers that all things come from God’s hand.
Love is not proud of accomplishments but rather humbly serves from a heart of gratitude.
Love does not dishonor others by words or actions.
Love is not self-seeking but wants what is best for the other person.
Love is not easily angered and is therefore self-controlled.
Love does not keep a record of wrongs; it keeps forgiving and forgiving.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth and justice.
Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always endures, even when, and especially when, it is hard.
Love does not fail. Love is primary. *

Dear Father in Heaven,
I’m convicted as I write the words about love. I fail often and I falter too much in loving well.

Your kindness leads to repentance. You draw us to Yourself by loving the unlovable.
May my words be kind, always. May I be patient even in my tribulation.

May I offer grace in the abundant way I have been given grace.
May I be quick to forgive and keep no record of offenses.
May Your perfect love touch the deep places of my heart and cast out fear.
May Your mighty power work in me so I can comprehend and acknowledge how wide, long, high and deep Christ’s love is.
May I come to know this love, though it surpasses knowledge, and be filled with the fullness of God, so that I live according to love’s direction.
I pray this in Jesus’ name, the One who loved us with His life and with His death. *

Amen

* From 1 Corinthians 13 and Ephesians 3