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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

November ending 2018

As autumn marks her days, we propel toward the end of another year. Can there only be one month left?

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Ten weeks of Bible study concluded the first week of November, and it was a blessed journey.  My study-sisters and I bonded through shared experiences, open hearts and vulnerability. We will keep declaring our commitment to Believe God from this day forward. The end of a study is bittersweet, the triumph of the finish line coupled with the poignancy of its ending.

Some of my piano students participated in a fall recital, and I was proud as a peacock. These three have been playing for a few years and shone like stars. As I listened to their skill, I marveled that I get to be part of this, the gift of sharing music with a child. Teaching came late to me, after years of administrative/management work. I believe I was meant to be a teacher right now, in this season of my life.

Sweet William and I watched God’s Not Dead:  Light in Darkness, third in the series. It presented a balanced view of Christians who seek to follow God and yet we stumble. Sometimes we make wrong decisions and hurt people. But we hope in a forgiving God who gives second chances, who tells us to seek reconciliation, to make amends with those we wound, and to start fresh from a clean slate again. God helps us learn from our errors and grow in grace.

I’ve had a number of doctor visits this month, unusual for me. But I’m trying to take full advantage of my paid deductible. I often find I’m the only one in the waiting room with a book to read. This month I re-read  For Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn, a must read for every woman who wants to understand the men in her life.

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The appointment with my primary care physician revealed I’m in pretty good shape for the years I’ve spent in this body. My doctor, who is the same age as my son, said she wanted to be like me when she grew up. Then she took x-rays of my knees. They show their age, and I certainly feel it.

Thanksgiving gave us food, glorious food. Our family knows how to put together a meal. I enjoyed the day with loved ones who are dear to me.  My favorite comment of the day came from one of our youngest. This five-year-old was eating a piece of my sour cream cake and said, “This is the best cake I’ve ever tasted in my life! What is the secret ingredient?” I leaned down close to his ear and said, “Butter.”

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The very next day, however, caught us off guard when one of own was diagnosed with a mass in her brain.  Again we are faced with the fragility of life, the uncertainty of tomorrow, and the immediacy of prayer in times of trouble.  We find comfort in knowing our God is sovereign. He is not caught off guard by troubling news, and He is very much in control when situations seem overwhelming.

The last days of November for this teen were spent in the hospital, being poked and prodded, having procedures and tests. The outpouring of love and concern, as witnessed through social media, texting and calls was heartwarming. People are our greatest resource and wealth. We don’t always realize how rich we are until something arises that saps our reserves of strength. We look around to see love being poured into us.

I began thinking about Christmas even before November began, purchasing gifts ahead of the frenzy as much as I could. Sweet William and I talked about paring down this year. It seems like that has become my theme. Do less and enjoy it more.

Years ago I had a friend who was a retired school teacher. She put Christmas in every nook and cranny of her modest home, and I loved going to her house. As she grew older, she used to say it was foolish to keep doing all of it, yet she did. And I delighted to visit her for a cup of Chrismtas tea, my eyes wandering to all the spaces filled with ornaments, elves, Santas and festivity.

There were years I tried to duplicate her holiday spirit at our house with red and green in every corner, on every surface high and low. But now I’m choosing to be content with enough. Temptations to add something else crop up when I view TV, Pinterest, and magazine covers. But I am determined to be satisfied so I can focus on what is more important.  For me, less is indeed more.

I’m enjoying podcasts these days, and the ones about holiday stress are what has my ears perked up. One woman said she makes an “I Won’t List” of things she will not do that  would only add to her anxiety. If I made such a list, first would be “Do not put out every single thing in those multiple Christmas boxes.”

What would I put on a “To Do List for December?” Share a Christmas devotional each morning with Sweet William. Respond to serendipitous opportunities with a friend. Attend a Christmas musical. Watch some classic Christmas movies in the comfort of home (The Bishop’s Wife,The Preacher’s Wife, and The Nativity are some favorites from my library). Read a novel set in the season. Relax and enjoy the holiday.

Perspective is everything, and it was crystal clear as we sat in the hospital waiting room. I heard my 12-year-old cousin, twice removed (or something like that; I never know) talking about something that happened “a long time ago.” How long ago, someone asked? “About a year,” he said. A year is more like a sprint to me.

As I turn the page of the 2018 calendar for the last time, it seems obvious that my year’s goals are a done deal. December is not the month to catch up on the big projects I had planned. If I deem them important enough, I’ll transfer them to next year and try again. The last month has a conclusive feeling. We are coming to the end.

Just as I view January as a new beginning, I’m seeing December as closure. The question I ask myself is this: How shall I spend these final days of 2018?

Some of my illusive, intangible objectives at the beginning of this year were to go deeper, keep trying, be creative, keep learning, listen more, enjoy this life.

This is where I shall focus time and energy as the next thirty-one days are checked off.

I pulled out the Christmas CDs from the back of the cabinet and put five of them on to play as I busy myself with the mundane today. Life is a beautiful thing and we have this day to live fully or to waste with unhealthy emotions. It’s my choice.

So let the music play. Advent begins. Sing Gloria!

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. Make us Your own.

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We gather and we pray

How quickly a ride in the park can turn on its heels and take you in another direction, down a dark tunnel where you cannot see the light.

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After a companionable family gathering on Thursday, I got a call while still out on Black Friday. “A mass in her brain . . . being admitted to the hospital . . . it’s very serious.”

Entering my house, I tell what I know while I fumble about with the insignificant, still trying to assimilate in my own mind what I’ve just learned. When unexpected trauma appears I ask the same question, “How can this be happening?”

I put on my coat and scarf, gathered Maisie’s collar and leash to go walk. I aimed for the end of our lane where an old cedar post used to stand. It was a place my dad went to pray when trouble blindsided our family.

As I reached that spot, I paused to remember.

My cousins’ parents and mine moved to this piece of undeveloped property in the 1960s. We grew into adults on this lane. We added spouses and then houses sprung up, all of us living in proximity to one another. As our children were birthed, one by one, the sounds of childish play roamed these 40 acres, all the neighbors being our kin. It was unusual for sure, and it was beautiful beyond description.

I think of all the prayers our parents prayed for us, sometimes when we knew it, but more often when we had no idea.

The family leaned on my dad as our prayer warrior, his habits and customs unusually disciplined and structured. It was  his agreement between him and his God. He called all our names in prayer daily, nightly, and he interceded when we were in trouble. He stood at that cedar post at the end of our lane on several occasions that I can remember to speak to the One who knew us well.

Dad had a list with family names on it. It grew longer through the years as we increased in number. After mother’s death and his remarriage, he moved away from this lane into the house of  my step-mother. Though miles away, he had a nightly ritual of going outside and turning toward the south, where we still lived, to pray for each of us one by one.

I returned from my reverie of memories to the present. The old cedar post that stood as a memorial is gone. I looked about my surroundings. The fields that used to surround our homes are filled with subdivisions, privacy fences and apartment complexes. Other people live in the houses that used to be home to my family members. Things are different now.

While standing where my father stood, I reminded myself that my God is the same, never altering from His awareness of us, not any less compassionate and kind. Though our parents are gone, their prayers are not. The Lord stores them and remembers the faith of our fathers and mothers.  All of those words of petition did not vanish into thin air. Instead they are treasured in heavenly vessels.

As tears rolled down my cheeks, I prayed too. The words that came were simple: “Lord Jesus help!” I knew He heard me just as He heard my ancestors years ago.

He is a God who leans down to listen. He was not surprised by a devastating diagnoses like we were. His intention and purpose are already in place.

Our family has a traditional day-after-Thanksgiving evening meal of Hot Browns to finish the leftover turkey. I asked my cousin, who hosts us, if she still wanted to do this. She answered “I think we are better together than apart.” I agreed.

Sweet William and I entered the house and the atmosphere was somber, so unlike the day before when cheerful noises greeted us at the door. This night we are quiet, faces solemn. The axiom, “when one hurts, we all hurt,” is true.

Before the meal we were not really hungry for, we joined hands and lifted our praise to our God who has been faithful to us through the years; who has seen us through troubles great and small; who has shown Himself huge and performed miracles we didn’t deserve; who has given grace to walk the hard places; who has never left us alone to ride out the stormy gales.

We asked Him for mercy, for healing, for strength, for wisdom, for His comforting presence. Our hearts are assured He will answer our cries.

This is what my family does in times of crises. We gather and we pray.

Today I turn on music to soothe my heavy heart. This is the song I wait for:

 I Love the Lord

And pitied every groan.
Long as I live, and troubles rise,
I hasten to His throne.

When trouble comes, family gathers. We are better side by side than trying to stand alone  We hasten to God’s throne with full of assurance of His loving welcome.

We will trust, believe, and wait to see what God will do.

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Changing seasons

I gladly admit that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

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That does not negate the fact that Christmas is designated as the date for the birth of Jesus, and Easter is the day I celebrate His resurrection. But those holidays have morphed into something different, something other than the sacredness of the original. Thanksgiving, however,  still calls us to give thanks, to gather with our family and friends, to enjoy the bounty of a God who gives good gifts.

As the day approaches, I ponder how we will celebrate this year. Our menu remains relatively the same, each of us cooking our special recipes, but there will be differences in us. Because families change.

When I was young I celebrated with my parents and extended family. Me being an only child and my mother and aunt being sisters/best friends, the family units combined to make one big happy one.  As my cousins and I became adults and added spouses and children to the mix, place settings were added and the house got a little louder.

I recall the first emotional change for me. It was the year of my mother’s death. Thanksgiving approached and I could not wrap my mind around doing it without her. She had been a vital part of the day, cooking with my aunt, her voice and laughter ringing in the kitchen where steam rose from the stove and aromas led us to ask, “Is it time to eat?”

I asked Sweet William to take me away that year. I could not act like everything was the same, because it wasn’t.

Through the decades, members of our family have been added and subtracted. More often our circle grew, but sometimes it diminished due to death, divorce, travel or a move.

An open invitation policy meant we might have new neighbors, a pastor’s family, or friends needing a place of welcome. It was interesting to see who was at our Thanksgiving table.

This year, once again, I long for my dear ones in a distant state. I miss my dad, gone from us five years now, and remember how his birthday often fell on Thanksgiving day. I miss others who have not been at our table for many years. We have adjusted to their absence. But we don’t forget their faces, their laughter, and the richness they brought to our lives.

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Friends come to mind who face the struggle of a loved one gone this year. My heart hurts with them. The first year is the hardest people say. But grief is not on a timetable. We must give place to the heartache, allow the tears to come and vent the sorrow. We need to be patient with ourselves as we work our way through the loss. Because joy will come in the morning.

Thanksgiving will always be my best family holiday. There will be hugs and laughter, deep discussions and funny stories, memories and questions.  After dinner, the older men will meander to the couch to watch football and maybe take a nap. The women will browse Black Friday ads, whether we intend to go out or not. We’ll talk, circling around one subject and then another, never missing a beat. The young parents will discuss politics, careers, home, and children. The kids will be on an adventure of fun.

We will look around and be glad for those near. We will give thanks for those who have come and gone, remembering how they impacted our lives.  We will wish for days when the entire family will be together once more.100_2694

We will remember God’s faithfulness through all the years of our lives. And we will give thanks to the One who blessed us with all of this.

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Sunday grace

With just a few days until Thanksgiving day, my mind turns to the tasks at hand.

I wrote my list of food to prepare, grocery items needed, and made a plan. Wednesday is marked “Cooking Day” in my bullet journal.

Sweet William and I visited Wal-Mart yesterday, filling our baskart with staples for the pantry, while maneuvering around other shoppers with the same agenda.  The perishables are on the list for next week so they will be fresh, meaning another day in the food isles.

I anticipate the short trip to my cousin’s house on Thursday where tables will be beautifully set and aromas will greet us at the door. I can’t help but think of those who will not be at the table this year, and my heart longs for them as always.

In the pre-dawn, I sit in my rocker and read the Psalms and other verses, struck anew at the generosity of God through Jesus Christ. Such lavish love poured into my heart. Such amazing grace reconciling me to become a member of God’s family. Such hope that does not disappoint because the Holy Spirit within me is a deposit and a guarantee of more to come.

How can I not give thanks?

For God has done great things for me, from the small to the gigantic, from the simple cup of strong coffee in the morning to the very breath I take without thought; for shelter, food, and clothing to precious relationships of friends and family that  enrich my life; from eyes to see and ears to hear to the beauty of a world created for my enjoyment and comfort; from the privilege of making requests in the very presence of the Holy to miraculous answers to my prayers.

From being an outcast with no hope to being adopted and accepted, blessed and delivered, the promise of a future with Christ forever.

So I will praise my Lord with all that I have. I will sing and make melody. I will write my thanksgiving list, making it thoughtful and lenghty. I will rejoice in answered prayers with my prayer partner on an early morning phone call. I will remember the goodness of God.

And astonishingly, my thanksgiving will please the Father’s heart.

I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord . . . “

Sunday grace.

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Sunday grace

The cold crispy morning compels Maisie and me to dress in our warmest. The sun is barely rising, and frost covers the ground. Fallen lives crunch louder under Maisie’s feet and blades of grass look sugar-coated.

Taking our normal route on the lane, I spy the flag. How can I miss its enormity? My neighbor, a veteran, hung it from an upper deck of his house, it all unfurled in the glory of a freedom it represents.

How can I know the cost of what is free?

I recall the stories my dad told of his time in Europe for 25 months. He knew exactly how long he was gone from home and loved ones. He told the funny tales and the times when God intervened for him. I don’t remember so much him telling the dark side of war.

War has a dark side, and every veteran in combat experiences it to some degree. I sit in my warm house and walk freely on my lane because some put on the uniform and gave their best.

I want to thank them all, thank them for their service and their sacrifice. I want them to know that I value the price paid when giving themselves costs more that I’ll ever understand. I want them to feel my appreciation for every effort they made to secure the life I have.

Is saying, “Thank you for your service,” when I see a soldier even enough? Does that convey my gratitude sufficiently? I doubt it does. But at least it’s something I can do.

And so I say it with a heart of thanksgiving. Thank you for your service. May God shed His grace on thee.

Sunday grace.

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Go gently

The calendar tells me I’ve entered the second week of November already. Time flies when we are having fun. And life is a blast, this I know.

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With the final session of a ten-week Bible study completed this week, something that consumed much of my thoughts, I am setting myself a goal to go gently into the remainder of 2018. We’ll see how that goes.

Endings always bookend with beginnings. I anticipate God has something else in store. I can’t wait to see what it is.

As I consider the last two months of this year, I hear the siren song to enter into a season of frantic activity. It’s grasping fingers began reaching out as school supplies were replaced with Christmas decorations on store shelves, and my eyes wandered to the embellishments of the holiday, stirring desire.

But do I really need another ornament?

I recall the years I was crazy with activity. Not this year. This year will be different. I will be different.

Sweet William and I have already talked about celebrating with less stress, less of an agenda, less on the To-Do-List. Contrary to popular opinion, Thanksgiving and Christmas are founded in faith. They are deeply spiritual times for me.

In my effort to stay focused on the important thing, I’ve renewed my daily discipline to list gifts in my Joy Journal. The more I focus on the goodness of God, the more I see His presence all over my existence. His blessings abound. Thankfulness and contentment permeate the atmosphere.

I’m committed to keep the fall russets and burgundies, along with the mantel arrangement, through Thanksgiving. It deserves its on ceremony. I won’t rush it out the door, only to replace it with glittery reds and greens. I take the challenge to give thanks in all circumstances.

I want to be aware that these year-end holidays can be the most difficult for some who will deal with an empty place at the table. Loss and grief cannot be stored in the closet with old decorations. It will be hard, remembering past years and wondering how to make new traditions with a loved one missing. While bliss may be filling some hearts, may I be sensitive to those whose eyes fill with tears.

Weighing how I can honor the year-end holidays, I evaluate what I can let go, what I want to keep. I desire to focus on what is truly important. To fret less, to love more.

One suggestion I intend to honor is rest. “Schedule a rest day each week during the busy holidays.” This is not an option. When every day includes appointments and activities, with no down time for family to relax and refresh, stress levels rise and the enjoyment of said activities decreases. This year, I will choose carefully when to say “yes” and when to politely say “no.”

I will choose my people over my scheduled projects. How easily I can lose sight of those around me when I have lots to do. When all is said and done, what I want to remember, and what I want others to remember of me, is that we had time for each other. That we looked at faces when we talked. That we listened with the heart. That love was the main thing.

Go gently into the days and weeks ahead. Mark what is eternally valuable. Then do that.

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