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Tuesday thoughts

The day begins earlier than usual, presenting its uncertainty and troubling prospects. I feel the angst within me.

Listening to the latest news does not calm me; rather it fuels the fire already smoldering.

I glance at social media. It does nothing but stir a boiling pot.

Texting multiple times, I check on my people. I want them to be safe, careful.

I consider this strange year. I pray for justice, for wrongs to be made right, for truth to prevail, for a peaceful end to ongoing conflict. But is there any peace in this dark world?

I listen to both sides of political rhetoric. Promises are easy to make, harder to fulfill. Ask any married couple.

My prayer partner calls and I confess my worried mind, my actions and words, opening my heart to her who knows my secrets and still loves me. She prays and I breathe deeply of the presence of the Holy.

Putting on my work clothes, I head outside to pull weeds, clear brush, cut stray saplings in the azaleas until the sweat pours from my face. I hope the exertion will soothe my mind, rolling like thunder before a coming storm.

My determined purpose is to pray today and not to fret. To pray and not scan the myriad of posts and opinions publicly shared. To pray and cast all my cares upon the only One who can carry them faithfully.

My life is in His hands. My heart is in His keeping.

He never promised an easy road or that we would be well-liked by everyone or that trouble would never cross our thresholds.

What He promised was His presence in and through it all. For it is in Him we live and move and have our being. He is above and below all, covering the earth with His glory. His eyes are upon the whole earth and He sees.

I will myself, with all the spiritual strength I muster, to rest in His unchanging, unchallenged, inexhaustible grace where I am safe forever.

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
— 1 Timothy 1:17

Tuesday thoughts

The past Sunday I lingered long in my rocking chair in the early morning. There was nowhere to go.

The candle flame twinkled in the glass votive on the kitchen table. An open window let in the breeze and the sound of birds waking the morning. I never tire of their first songs of the day, and I count them as gifts, those sparrows and wrens cared for by their Father.

There was no rushing about for breakfast or ironing Sweet William’s shirt for church. No band practice, sanctuary service or class gathering for donuts and coffee. For almost two months, Sundays are different. I have plenty of time to sit, to pray and to ponder the Word I read.

I began to wonder what God wants to do in me in this unusual season of the world. What instruction can I take into the days ahead?

Oddly enough, the word purify came to mind. Purification is the process of making impurities evident so they can be removed. It occurs in water, air and metals, and it certainly happens to a life God wants to refine. During my sheltering at home, the Holy Spirit has gently urged me to pay attention to heart issues rising to the surface.

I needed grace during our confinement, and I’ve needed to give grace to others. It’s easy to forget that God expects me to give what I have lavishly received, grace upon grace, day after day and week after week.

It was necessary to count gifts in my journal, remembering all the good surrounding me while news reports were dark and foreboding. Gratitude makes a difference in the way I think, putting a positive spin on a negative and difficult situation.

Trust trumps fear. I wondered if the food would last, how long we would be confined, would there be enough toilet paper, was my family going to be alright? Again the Lord reminds me to trust and not fear, believing He is good and strong and has a plan in all this.

Love is still the highest goal. We have been loved by texts and phone calls, shopping done for us, yard projects, properly-distanced outdoor visits, and surprise gifts. God wants the same from me, loving others in tangible ways, by word and deed, the way Christ loved me.

Life does not consist in the things we possess, Jesus said. Things are nice, but what I miss is human contact. Family and friends matter. At the end of life, when everything is stripped away, what I will cherish are the ones I held dear in my heart.

Lessons learned the hard way seem to make the most impact on me. I don’t know why it has to be so. Maybe I’m thick-headed and need vigorous tutorials. The Holy Spirit, my teacher and guide, patiently works in me to bring out the best. The best will look a lot like Jesus.

The weeks have been challenging and more will be required of us for a while. I notice people’s kindness, their thoughtfulness as we shelter apart yet we shelter together. God is in our midst. He is here, and He has some things to teach us. Let’s listen up.

Tuesday thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Monday grace

Waiting. I’m not a fan.

I usually run tight with my schedule, doing last minute tasks before I leave for an appointment. Consequently, sometimes I make others wait for me. That’s a problem.

Sweet William often threatens to break into song with “Waitin’ On a Woman.

Waiting rooms are on my list of least favorite places. I always bring something, a book, a magazine. I can update my planner or return text messages. Don’t waste the minutes. Never let it be said that I sat with nothing but my thoughts.

And perhaps herein lies my issue, listening to my own internal talk.

Waiting is a necessary part of life, common to all humanity. I waited for Christmas as a child, waited for the birthday when I’d turn 16, then 20. I waited to get married, to get pregnant. Then waited nine months for that sweet baby boy to be born.

I wait for the cake to bake, the soup to simmer, them needing time for flavors to mingle and textures to form that please the taste. In the waiting, the recipe becomes what it was meant to be.

Soul, are you listening? In the waiting, you become who you were meant to be.

In the quieting of my frantic soul and the calming of my fretful mind, I learn to wait with hope. I remember I am not alone on this journey.

The Psalmist breaks into his own song as he waits:

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
(27:13-14)

Waiting in confident faith, waiting to see the good things of God, here is where my endurance increases and courage rises for the days before me. I learn to trust the One who knows the end from the beginning, who patiently waits for me to become who He meant me to be.

Waiting can be a good thing. Maybe I could even become a fan of it.

Monday grace.

Monday grace

This week I’ve been practicing some remembering.

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The Bible study I’m doing with sweet sisters has led me to a point of recall. Events from my childhood and young adulthood have surfaced. Like every human on the planet, some of my memories were painful. But so many were amazing.

We’ve been looking for the hand of God in the places of our lives, sensing Him in the darkness, witnessing Him in the light, recognizing that He was there each and every time.

It’s a healthy exercise for my brain to remember 60 plus years past. What I perceive in the remembering is a loving, dependable Father who was redeeming the events of my life, conforming me ever so slightly into the image of His Son, causing all things to work together for my good and for His glory.

On Sunday morning, sitting next to Sweet William at church, it was not surprising that a song about the faithfulness of God resonated with the things I’d been studying, the events I’ve been summoning to the forefront of my mind.

And then, a few pews away from us, I saw an elderly woman lift her small wrinkled hand in praise, acknowledging the same faithful God. My eyes unexpectedly teared up thinking of the years she has lived. Perhaps a decade or more my senior, her experience with God exceeds mine. I wondered what she might tell me, how she saw Him active in her years, what hard places she walked with His hand leading hers, the victories they won together, how beauty arose from the ashes of her grief and tribulation.

We are different but we are the same. Both children of the living God who loves us and cares individually for us, always at work on our behalf, ever watchful of the journey we take, never leaving, never forsaking.

Later that evening, Sweet William and I accompanied a roomful of people singing hymns from days gone by. He and I had practiced the songs for weeks, their melodies etched in our minds. The words were old, familiar and true.

Voices echoed ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus and testified of its certainty. Our God is strong. Our God is good. And our God is trustworthy.

It is well worth remembering that.

Monday grace.

 

 

Sunday grace

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”       — Psalm 20:7 NIV

My Bible study sisters and I are Believing God is who He says He is. At last week’s class, we did an exercise that has become one of my power tools. I say it often when I need a boost of faith, when I need to turn my eyes off my problems and onto my Lord. It changes my focus and makes a believer out of me.

I call it the ABCs of God’s name. He is:

 

A – Alpha

B – Benefactor

C – Comforter and Counselor

D – Deliverer

E – Eternal

F – Faithful

G – Good and Gracious

H – Holy

I – Immanuel

J – Just

K – King of kings

L – Love

M – Majestic

N – Name above all names

O – Omnipotent

P – Peace

Q – Qualified 

R – Righteous

S – Savior and Son of God

T – Trustworthy

U – Unmatched

V – Victor and Victorious

W – Wonderful

X – eXcellent

Y – Yahweh

Z – Zealous

 

There are many ways I could describe Him. Saying God’s character names reminds me once again that He is more that I can imagine, more than I will ever comprehend, more than I need for every situation.

He is greater than anything. He fills the universe. He comes to fill me.

I will trust and not fear. His name is the hiding place where I am safe.

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; The righteous run to it and are safe. ”   — Proverbs 18:10

Sunday grace.

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Sunday grace

 

Lord, we thank You for all of Your good gifts.

Scripture says You satisfy the thirsty and fill the hungry with good things.  I believe this is true, though sometimes your good gifts are shrouded in mystery, dressed in darkness, and accompanied by confusion and pain.

Yet, in Your wise and wonderful way, you plan to redeem each difficulty and bring beauty out of the ash heap. You teach us through our hardships, things like compassion, patience, kindness, endurance, and trust.

You hold us in the cold reality of calamity. When winds of adversity threaten to sink our fragile vessel, You ride the waves with us.

Sometimes you calm the storm. But mostly You offer Yourself as our Peace in the middle of the squall.

As Your child, I believe Your love for me is everlasting. You are sovereign over all my life and what you allow to come into it. I am not a victim of my circumstances. You are watching over all my comings and goings.

You plan good for me, a hope and a future. Your love for me is strong and determined. You have purpose for my pain.

And so I, the sometimes doubter longing to be a faithful believer, once again reaffirm my trust in You, the great God of Heaven and Earth.

Lord, I thank You for all your good gifts.

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

This song, this morning. It’s what my heart sings. My fingers touch the keyboard. I open my mouth to voice words that lift my eyes to Jesus. He alone is worthy of my trust.

‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, 
and to take him at his word; 
just to rest upon his promise, 
and to know, “Thus saith the Lord.” 

O how sweet to trust in Jesus, 
just to trust his cleansing blood; 
and in simple faith to plunge me 
‘neath the healing, cleansing flood!

Yes, ’tis sweet to trust in Jesus, 
just from sin and self to cease; 
just from Jesus simply taking 
life and rest, and joy and peace.

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust him! 
How I’ve proved him o’er and o’er! 
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus! 
O for grace to trust him more! 

              — words by Louisa Stead

I’m so glad I learned to trust Him these many years. O for grace to trust Him more.

Sunday grace.

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