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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

Sweet William and I cocooned ourselves early, and it is day 38 of social distancing, sheltering at home, being confined, not going anywhere or seeing people. It’s cabin fever in the spring time. Thankfully, the gardens beg for attention. Maisie still wants to walk, and I collect the mail each day while soaking in a little vitamin D.

We are eating well. The toilet paper continues in a manner like loaves and fishes. People call when they are heading to the grocery to check if we need something. Texts ping that someone is thinking of us. Mail order packages arrive on the front porch, and I’m Zooming lessons with my piano students.

The library books I checked out pre-caronavirus are in limbo, and I get to keep them for an undetermined time with no late fees. I listen to books on Hoopla for free, and podcasts are my friends.

While life is different, we are blessed. And so go our days.

On a recent podcast, Susie Davis talked with K. J. Ramsey. K. J. said we want the knowledge of good and evil, just like Eve when she was tempted with the fruit in Eden.

And it’s true. I want to know why the suffering. I want to understand the purpose in the pain. If Someone would explain the reason for sickness and death and job loss and family trauma, then I could come to some acceptance and move on. I would be able to deal with it better.

But would I? Could I handle the knowledge of good and evil, the vast expanse of wisdom that encompasses the plan of the cosmos?

No, I cannot.

We are created for fellowship with the Divine. We are invited to receive the indwelling of the Holy. We are given access to the throne of grace through Jesus. But we are not made to contain the knowledge of good and evil.

This brings a quiet peace to my soul. The things that keep me awake at night, what causes my anxiety, the questions that have no answers are too weighty for me to carry in my being. I was never meant to know the end from the beginning or to comprehend the secrets of the Godhead.

The questions the Almighty asked Job in the last chapters of his book certainly put Job in his place, silencing his questions and his complaints aimed at Yahweh. The answers Job wanted were too much for him. And they are too much for me.

And these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?”
— Job 26:14 NIV

When my “why” and my “how long” and my “what in the world” questions begin to crowd my thoughts until I can’t think straight, I need to remember this wise counsel. I am not capable of knowing the answers. Nor was I meant to know.

My purpose is different. I am granted the privilege of knowing the One who created me, the One who came for me, the One who was willing to die for me. I am designed to seek Him,not the unknowable mysteries.

I am created to breathe in the breath of the Spirit, to grow within the body of Christ, to be a vital instrument of love in the world.

I am given a measure of faith so I learn to believe Him who is invisible, growing in my trust and dependence.

I am invited to walk with Jesus, not alone, in the light and dark places of my journey. I can be confident He is with me at every step.

The Lord has entrusted treasures to us earthlings. We have minds to discover and invent and create art. We problem solve, build, organize, and imagine. We love and receive love, establish families and raise our young.

We are intricately designed, fearfully and wonderfully made, an amazing fusion of body, soul and spirit. We are specifically purposed by the Master Designer.

But that does not include the knowledge of good and evil. This knowledge is too great, beyond me, and not necessary for my existence.

In the days of our cocooning, I’m learning things, simple and profound. I pray the experience is not wasted on me. When this strange season of virus and pandemic are over, and it will be over eventually, wouldn’t it be astounding if we emerged from our homes changed for the better? Wouldn’t it be something if our friends saw us in person again and said, “There’s something different about you.”

What if we began as caterpillars, cocooned for a while, and became butterflies?

An end not yet in sight.

Anxiety catches me unaware as I turn the page to a new month.

My plan was to retreat during spring break at a cabin in the treetops somewhere in Tennessee. Away from home responsibilities and work. I would breathe fresh air, contemplate my life direction, write in my journal, read good books, visit a few thrift stores, eat out, and generally relax.

That changed a few weeks ago as I canceled one thing after another, marking out time with friends, church, band practice, piano lessons, doctor appointments, and trips to the grocery. Two weeks of confinement looked doable. Thirty more days feels daunting.

I walked with Maisie after watching the morning news, talking myself down from the ledge of worry and fear, speaking Bible verses I’ve learned, hoping to change my thought process. “What time I am afraid, I will trust in You.” “The Lord is my refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.”

Even the glass-half-full people are dealing with the angst of world crises. Anyone watching the news is susceptible to uneasy concern. Change happens daily as I try to keep up. Am I allowed to leave my house? Can I work in the garden? Is it OK to walk my lane and wave to my neighbors? Do I need a mask to visit the grocery or will a scarf protect me?

And what is really happening to my dear ones who are miles away from me? How can I support them when I’m in confinement?

I read tips for coping with the pandemic. I wash my hands until they are beginning to crack. Authorities say dark days are ahead.

On the positive side of my coin, I work hard in the garden. Minimizing and making them more manageable is a way to use my hyper energy.

I plan virtual piano lessons with my students, looking forward to a sort of normalcy with them. This challenges me technologically, but I know seeing their faces will boost my mood.

At this point, there is little I can do except stay home, self-distance as directed, reach out to people any way I can. And pray. Praying focuses me on mighty God who is stronger than any virus.

I remember a story in 1 Samuel 30:6.

And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.

David encouraged himself in the Lord. I can do the same. I look backward, remembering the days of my life, how God was with me, how He brought me through difficult pathways, how He taught me to depend on Him, how He is the strong God and my Savior.

I encourage myself in the Lord.

Proverbs 3:5-6 became a song my mother sang when she was alive. I can almost hear her powerful voice, filled with faith, eyes closed in a prayer of worship. In the great cloud of witnesses in Heaven, I wonder if she is singing to us right now. I will join the chorus.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.

If you are fighting anxiety, join the multitude. Admitting and naming a thing takes away some of its power. But then encourage yourself in the Lord. He is here, as near as your next breath.

A friend sent me a verse after we talked by phone, 3 John 14. It seems an appropriate closing to my friends, wherever you are.

I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. Peace to you. The friends here [Sweet William and Maisie] send their greetings.

Don’t be afraid. God is near.


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 made a couple trips down our lane to pray last week. I stopped at the place where a fence post used to stand, a place where my father prayed when he was alive. I felt anguished for God to hear me and there is something about that spot of earth that called me.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

The old post is long gone so I stopped where I could remember it standing. Then I took off my shoes for this was holy ground. God hallows any place where He meets us, and this was my rendezvous with Him.

Before long I was on my knees, face toward the ground, tears streaming down, words uttered out loud. And I wondered what my neighbors might think if they saw me. It didn’t matter.

After a time of pouring out my heart, I arose and knew I was heard. God was near and gave me peace for a simple act of obedience.

I ponder prayer. Is it about me while at the same time being very much about God? Is the mere act of praying a way of Him drawing me to Himself? Does He encourage me to pray so I will seek Him and find Him because He is always seeking me? Do problems come our way to draw our attention away from things that matter little to focus on things eternal? Does prayer bring me to a point of total surrender when I’ve run out of my own options and have no strength left?

After years of praying, I’m still figuring out prayer, its diamond-like facets bringing color and beauty to my life. Just when I think I might have it figured out, the light changes, and I’m left in wonder again.

Like a parent who sees her child in distress and says, “Come tell me what’s wrong,” my Father bids me come and pour out my heart. I know He hears and I know He cares about what weighs me down. I lay my burdens on Him because they are too heavy for me. I trust Him to do what is right. I trust Him to love me and to love those I pray for. I trust Him to be strong and good. And that is enough.

At the place of the old post, I rose from my knees, put on my shoes and walked home, feeling lighter. I gave my concerns to the One who knows what to do with them. I prayed. My God heard. I know He is working whether I can see the intricate details of His plan or not. He is always working on behalf of His children.

Sunday grace.

Monday grace

Exhaustion seeped into my bones after a week of busy tasks, one after the other checked off the list, my effort to keep myself on track.

Recitals, piano students, celebration, music that thrills me proves holy in the deep part of my soul. And how is it that I get to be part of these young growing musicians? It is too wonderful to express.

Remembering almost twenty years ago to the position that was eliminated due to budget cuts, how the shock of loosing my job, my career, sent me packing boxes from the nice office and title on the door. My staff and I were numb as I tried to keep smiling for morale sake.

Holding back the tears, the sounds I heard were dissonant and without reason or rhythm.

Yet, I see it was good for me to be released, set free to fly and sing a new song.

The desire of my heart, surely put there by my Creator, began small. I put up a poster and paid for an ad in the local paper: “Piano lessons.”

Today, this weekend, these many years later, my students flourish, and I rejoice in what God has done.

What was meant to hinder my progress became a new path, and I found a calling I had faintly heard as a whisper.

God takes the difficult, the painful, the broken and remakes, reforms, and restores to bring forth beauty from the heap.

It’s what He does most excellently. And He does it beautifully in perfect timing, creating a song of praise.

Monday grace.

Sunday grace

Rising earlier than usual, the stillness envelopes me. The house is warm with the season of spring, needing no furnace or gas logs. I open the window next to my chair, and the distant sound of birdsong filters in. It’s too soon for the winged creatures to begin their pre-dawn chorus. And yet, there is one, out in the little woods, and he sings to me.

Sweet William breathes the heaviness of sleep in the back bedroom. Maisie checks that I am OK, then trots back to bed, her sleep-in habit.

The morning quiet is mine alone.

After awhile, I hear a sound, in the wind, in the trees. It’s the sound of rain in the distance. Did I miss that weather prediction? I listen carefully because I know the music of raindrops.

Memory takes me to decades before when I sat on the upper deck of my parents’ house, us facing the west, watching as the dark clouds hung low and rain moved toward us, over the hills into the field beyond until the spattered drops were heard on the tin roof above us.

It’s a sweet remembrance, me a young mom sitting with my mother and dad talking about whatever was on our minds. I shared a lot with them in those days, but I still kept a certain part of me hidden. Things that seemed unsolvable were closed off from everyone, kept under lock and key lest anyone might know what really troubled my heart.

Those hidden parts would be the death of me.

Another memory invades my thoughts. This time in a room other than my own, displaced and fearful of the future. An open window near a borrowed bed and somewhere a bird sang through the night. Its melody brought comfort to a weary mind, me with the uncertain days ahead, with a taunting fear rearing its ugly head.

In the middle of that torment, my Heavenly Father sent a bird to sing me to sleep.

Eventually, the doors of my secrets were pried open. Brought into the light, a gentle Savior would reach for all of it with a promise of restoration. “Believe and see the glory of God,” He whispered into my tears.

It took time for healing, for broken things to be repaired, for beauty to come from ashes. It took hard work, confession and forgiveness, a path turned in a different direction.

The sound of bird and patter of rain remind me that God is always near, always working, always has a plan.

And His glory is revealed in the song of a bird and the sound of the rain.

Sunday grace.

Sunday grace

Sometimes the heart is heavy.

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Sometimes it’s caused by the same burden I’ve carried before, the same one I’ve laid at the feet of Jesus again and again. I go back and pick it up too many times. I finger it and examine it, wondering if I will be able to figure it out this time, will be able to  make some sense of it.

But I don’t. My mind won’t wrap around this thing that weighs down my heart, makes me sad and weary, brings me to tears.

It is like that thorn in the flesh Paul talked about, that one thing he prayed three times to be removed. Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ, the one whose faith amazes me, who learned to be content in the most horrendous of circumstances, who had one focus and only one; this Paul could not get a “yes” answer to that one prayer he prayed three times.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

That was the answer to Paul’s prayer. Grace.

Grace is always the answer. Always sufficient. The undeserved mercy from a merciful and compassionate God who knows the beginning and the end of my life and all the days in between. He planned me, planned for me, and has a plan for this day and all my days to come.

He invites me, compels me to come, me who is weary and heavy laden.  Me who often is faithless, doubting My God is who He says He is. Me who wonders who I am and can I really do all things through Christ?

He offers rest. His admonishment is this:

“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me.”

There are lessons to be learned here at the feet of Jesus. Lessons I seem to want to skip over. Things like surrender. Things like trust.

“For I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul.”

My Savior is gentle with me. His call is tender and sweet. He sings over me with words that soothe the ache inside, calling me to come and find rest for my weary soul.

At the feet of Jesus I will lay my burden down.
Once more, I will lay my heavy burden down. *

Sunday grace.

* [Click on the link above to hear Steven Curtis Chapman sing “At the Fee of Jesus.”]

 

Sunday grace

The rain falling outside does not offer comfort to me this time. The sound of the sump pump running under the house does.

See the source imageUnknown picture source

The Salt River rises and I can see it from my front window. Maisie and I walk our quiet lane and there is water, so much water. It is ominous, it is powerful, and we are helplessness to stop its ascent.

The geese and one pair of Mallards swim happily in the lake across the road, unconcerned of pending danger, as if their Heavenly Father takes care of them.

Sweet William and I went to the store to stock up, wondering if shelves would be vacant as fear mongers whisper in our ears. Our angst is palpable.

We’ve watched the river grow deep and wide before, it threatening to steal, kill and destroy. We have neighbors and friends who are already being affected, moving animals to higher ground, wondering when it will be the family who needs to find shelter.

We offer beds. We will share what we have until the threat comes to our own door.

After watching the morning news of reported flooding and more to come, I turn off the TV. I won’t live with the fear of it all day. Instead I put on music.

I’ve saved old cassette tapes in boxes that haven’t seen the light of day for years. In my effort to simplify and pare down, just this week I began going through five boxes of them. Discard seemed the reasonable option. Who listens to cassettes anymore?

But then I decided to put a couple of them in our radio/CD/cassette player before I disposed of them. I expected they would be scratchy and sounding old. Instead what came from the speakers were beauty and memories of days when this music was current and “hip.” I remember when our son was a teenager drummer who played his kit in his bedroom with headphones, beating out the rhythm to upbeat Christian music that was cutting edge then.

As Sweet William and I listened to those old cassettes, familiar songs lifted my spirit. I hummed along as I fixed lunch. My heart turned from the anxiety of rising rivers to a Savior who rises to save. He is the mighty One who calms storms and calms my heart. He parted waters with His breath and brought water from the rock for the thirsty.

He is not surprised by our crises. His eyes see His children and makes a way in the wilderness, whether it be soaked with rain or parched by the blazing heat.

He is with us when the sun shines and the rain falls. He walks with us in the light or in the dark. He knows what we have need of before we ask. He does not leave us when trouble threatens. He is near, always near.

What time I am afraid, I will trust in Him. And so we will sing His praises, trust His promises and look for the rainbow.

Sunday grace.

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Sunday grace

The grace of a new day, ’tis sweet. Day follows night and the world keeps on turning.

The wind blows the tall branches of naked trees, them in waiting for newness and life to rebirth.

I wait with them.

The faithfulness of God astounds me. Words on a page from One too awesome for words, speaking love in the loneliness, peace in distress, assurance in faintness, and strength in the struggle. Praise exhales as breath.

Words that aim at my heart like an arrow sent from a sure bow, my spirit latching on to eternal certainty.

Cold winds threaten and taunt me  with, “You are hopelessly lost in winter.” But the Word that spilled into fertile heart soil heart says otherwise. The promise of spring and renewal casts down the imaginations of my enemy; anticipation, faith energizes me.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday grace.

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