Monday grace

The easy-breezy summer days I enjoyed in June and July morphed into August schedules, appointments and an effort to be on time, always a struggle for me. September arrived without the flourish I might have wished to give it.

I anticipated changing a few things in the house to reflect the season of Autumn, the mat on the front porch, the door wreath, a spicy candle on the hall table.  But responsibility takes precedence over such thoughtful tasks. People come first, or at least they should. Those who come and those who live with me, aka Sweet William, do not care about the current décor of the house. They care about the love they feel within it. They notice if they are being heard. If I fill their tummies with good food and welcome them with an open heart, that is what really matters.

The gardens became a jungle in the summer heat and rain. And yet there are flowers blooming continually. The sunflowers growing in view of the kitchen window attracted butterflies and goldfinches. The Texas Star hibiscus came up randomly near the back sidewalk. The bloom only lasts a day, and I will take its short-lived extravagance. In the front garden, the tall wispy stems of tiny yellow flowers whisper fall, drawing my eye to the swing where my cousin Candi and I sat often last year, talking about anything and nothing at all.

I feel her absence from my life. Her house on my lane, a short walk away, is changing, little things I notice, evidence she is not living there any longer. Sometimes I want to tell her something that only she would understand, discussions we had that made us think or laugh. It leaves a lump in my throat and a heaviness in my heart. Who else would understand what I’m talking about. Who else would care?

Death leaves a hole that is never truly filled. I attended too many funerals this year, heard of too many deaths. It is the age and stage of life where I am, I suppose. My generation is moving on. I think about it without being morbid. It is a fact of life, and I experience the loss, the changes, and the adjusting it takes to keep walking forward. I’m thankful for the life and health I have, but I know it is temporary. My body is a tent on earth, and it’s becoming a little more tattered each year, the laugh lines on my face deepening.

On a day of musings, I heard the whisper of the Holy Spirit. How do I know it was the Holy Spirit? Because I don’t say the kind of things to myself that He does. His message was one of ancient wisdom: Count it all joy.

They are familiar words, and I let them linger through the day, acknowledging I do not count the hard and hurtful things as joy.

What does that really mean, then? I went to the letter of James and studied its original text, feebly I might add. I am no Greek scholar, only relying on others’ studies instead. The word ‘count’ or ‘consider’ as it is in NIV is an accounting term. In essence, it means to evaluate, let it lead to a thought. I begin to get a picture.

Counting it joy means to consider how the temptations and trials in my life are having an effect on the outcome of my daily living. Are they reenforcing truth or a lesson? Are they turning me where I need to change direction? Are they teaching me compassion for someone in a similar situation? Are they showing me my weakness, leading me to my Savior’s strength? Are they sending me running to the Father’s arms? Are they maturing me and preparing me for what is next?

In my Bible I wrote a quote from Nancy Demoss Wolgemuth: “Anything that makes you need God is a blessing.”

Selah – I pause and think about that.

As a child of the Living God, I have to believe these hard places are not random or without purpose for me. Is anything of God ever wasted? He means to bring good from the experiences that come my way. While it may be harsh, intense, long, even painful, yet in the hands of a loving Father, it can be useful, even beautiful for someone else or for me in a way I could never imagine.

I am the woman who still deeply loves Jesus and wants to follow where He leads in this season, with my slowing gait and aching bones. Whatever comes, I want to learn to consider that my experiences will bring joy eventually, all of them. They are common to all people and lessons God is using to teach me, to grow me and make me stronger,

This counting it all joy is a work in progress for me, as is my entire existence. I believe I am held close to a loving Father’s heart, that He understands my hurts and struggles, and most importantly, that He is with me through each one.

His presence is promised in and through all of my days. I hold to that like an anchor when the water is choppy and my boat is tossed about in a stormy sea. He reminds me, “Don’t be afraid. I am with you.”

Peace be still. Open your eyes and see. Count every blessing. Consider how all things lead to the Savior. Joy is all around.

Monday grace.

Tuesday thoughts on giving thanks

The call comes at 6 am, but I’m not startled by it. I expect it on this frosty morning, sitting by my laughing, gas-log fire, snuggled in a handmade quilt, a second cup of coffee in my hand.

She and I have been doing this thing, calling each week for prayer, for over fifteen years now, and who even does that? It is a gift we do not take for granted and for which we are entirely grateful. The Father of compassion, the One who gives daily mercies like the first rays of sunlight, the living God who supplies grace sufficient, it is He who gave us prayer.

At 6 am each week we call and talk and share our praises and our prayer concerns. The list can get long, containing the simple, the profound, the life-and-death request, the daily needs we have. Names of family and friends become familiar to us though we don’t travel in the same circles.

I marvel at the plan that brought us together in 2005. We attended a four-day retreat, unacquainted then to each other. I don’t even remember her being there. It was a follow-up Bible study where we met and were paired, for just a week, to call and pray together.

She was a young home-school momma and I was a grandmother of three littles. She was not a morning person by her own admission while I liked to rise before the sun. Yet she got up early, while her household slept, to talk to me and pray for me. Much younger than I and in a different phase of life, her words were laced with wisdom and a faith that carried across the miles of the land line telephone wires. I loved hearing her pray. I still do.

She had no idea what a mess I was as we began our weekly calls. She stuck with me through troubled waters, tearful petitions, and unsurmontable problems. When she took her turn to pray for me and mine, I felt my burdens becoming lighter as she helped me carry them to the throne of God.

We live in different cities and don’t see each other often. It’s been almost two years since we looked at each other face to face. Yet this morning, her voice is familiar and comforting, her laughter makes me smile. It is the sound of a deep, enduring friendship traveling through ear buds attached to my cell phone.

For fifteen years, we’ve heard the good, the bad, and the struggles of each other’s lives. We’ve been painfully honest in bearing our souls about our own heart’s condition and the problems in our families. I listened from a distance as her children grew into young adults, then married. They are having babies of their own, and I shared afar off her becoming a grandmother, rejoicing with her in this precious and unique relationship. She endured my tears when dear ones moved, when family members died, and surgeries just would not come to an end.

She is a safe place for my heart to rest. I don’t have to mince words with her. I know her love for me will be understanding and kind. This morning she called me her life raft, and I love the metaphore. We are together on life’s rolling seas. Sometimes the water is calm and sometimes it’s a raging storm.

The prayer journals where I list our concerns are filled with scribbles and notes to help me remember. As our custom is on the week before Thanksgiving, we look back through a year’s pages of prayer requests. We see the answers to simple and life-altering petitions. We accept that some remain unanswered, that others turned out diffeently than we hoped and prayed. We renew our trust in a Sovereign God who does what He plans and knows what is best. We pause this one day a year to give God praise for all of it.

One thing I’m sure to thank my Heavenly Father for is this unique relationship with my prayer partner. I wish every believer in Jesus had such a powerful blessing. It was not somethng I asked of Him; He simply gave it. I marvel at His ways, His kindness in blessing me with this good thing on my life journey.

It is good to give thanks to the LORD and to sing praises to Your name, Most High; to declre Your goodness in the morning and Your faithfulness by night.
— Psalm 92:1, 2 NASB

The Living God gives and gives because He is a good and loving Father, causing His goodness to fall on all of us, undeserving as we are. At this time of year, our hearts are reminded to be thankful. This year, I consider the priviledge of prayer, the way God made a way for us to come to Him through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is the Great High Priest who intercedes for me.

I read recently that the cure for whining is to be grateful. I’ve tested this theory and found it to be true. It turns my mind from myself to the Living God. And that is a much better view. What would it look like if thankfulness was a daily practice for the people who call themselves children of God?

He is worthy of praise and honor and glory, the offering of our lips. Today remember and give thanks. Tomorrow let’s do it again.

Sunday grace

My spiral note cards, sitting on the small table beside my morning rocker, are filled with Scripture verses, written through the years when I wanted to remember a word from the Lord. I’ve been reading them again and contemplating their significance to me in seasons of joy and sorrow.

As I think of people through the day, breathe a prayer for them, a verse keeps coming to mind.

For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. Psalm 84:11 KJV

I ponder, what is the good thing the Lord will not withhold? Those I pray for are suffering, by sickness, pain, distress, anxiety, loss and grief. Where are the good things in all of it?

I have walked the hard road, dealt with my own anxiety, endured the grief, cried the tears, and I asked the questions. Lord, where are you in my pain?

My note cards speak to me.

September 6, 2011 – The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace. Psalm 29:11

October 20, 2011 – Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Psalm 68:19

April 16, 2012 – . . . but our power and ability and sufficiency are from God. 2 Corinthians 3:5b

April 30, 2012 – You have made known to me the paths of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence. Psalm 16:11

March 4, 2013 – The Lord is good, a refuge in time of trouble. He cares fot those who trust in Him. Nahum 1:7

May 11, 2013 – For You, O Lord, are my lamp; the Lord lightens my darkness. 2 Samuel 22:29

July 19, 2013 – God is my helper, the sustainer of my life. Psalm 54:4

April 2, 2014 – Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion . . . Isaiah 30:18

December 17, 2015 – My flesh and my heart may fail, bu God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26

June 27, 2016 – 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. Romans 15:13

October 1, 2016 – Surely You have granted [her] eternal blessings and made [her] glad with the joy of Your presence. Psalm 21:6

January 2, 2017 – The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Psalm 9:9

September 13, 2019 – And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all you need, you will abound in every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:8

November 1, 2019 – The Lord says, I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. Psalm 32:8

January 2, 2020 – My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest. Exodus 33:14

November 10, 2020 – And you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. Colossians 2:10

December 30, 2020 – The Name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe. Proverbs 18:10

July 21, 2021 – Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 *

As I reviewed my circle of versus, I see a theme, a thread of hope coming from Heaven and reaching my heart. The good things God does not withhold are His presence, His peace, His strength, His unfailing love, His grace, His comfort, His guidance, His heart. He does not and will not withhold the One Good Thing – Himself.

While I wonder at what He does, I am called to surrender to His will instead of fighting for my own. I continue to pray for healing and health and for earthly blessings for friends and family. I intercede for souls knowing this carries eternal consequences. I weep with those who weep and help bear the unchanging burdens of others. I remember present grace and future glory, and I know there is a good God who gives good gifts to His children. In His wisdom, providence and sovereignty, He sees the bigger picture, one I cannot comprehend.

I look toward the exceeding weight of glory while enduring the light and momentary troubles, though it seems a painful process. I run to the mercy seat of Jesus as He is working all things for good and for His purpose, though I can’t understand it.

The Father of Compassions calls me to be compassionate too. My wounds and scars are testimony of His sustaining grace in the dark valleys and shadows of death. My joy should be full and my heart overflowing with praise to Christ my Savior for taking my sin, covering my shame with His righteousness, lifting me up and keeping me for an eternal home with Him.

I don’t understand God’s ways. But I know He is good and He will not withhold Himself from me. This is my strength and my song.

Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. Psalm 116:7

Sunday grace.

*Various translations

Sunday grace

I ponder life, its intricacies and complexities. It is beautiful and yet painful. It surprises me with great joy and sometimes plummets me into the depths of sorrow.

Having lived my many years, I’ve learned from the everyday of routine, the unexpected turn in direction, and the sudden stop of grief. Wisdom came not through the study of books but from experience, the waking to a new day and putting one foot in front of the other because that is what I must do. While so much is mystery, I see some things with unquestioned clarity.

Yahweh the Lord is sovereign. He is strong and He is good. He is over all, in all and through all, and nothing is beyond His grasp of knowledge and care. Love is His essence, justice and righteousness are like garments. He is tender and He is a warrior.

He is I AM. He will be who He will be.

When life begins and when it ends.

When I am full or when I am empty.

When dear ones are close or when they are far away.

When relationships are rich or when confusion and hurt separate.

When I am strong and full of vigor or when I am racked with pain.

When the fog lifts so I see clearly or when darkness blinds me to the next step.

When I understand His plan or when I lay in the dust of confusion.

When the way opens up or the door closes to me.

When friends surround me or when I am left alone.

When the gifts and talents He gave lay dormant on the shelf.

When I question but get no answer.

When I cry until no tears are left.

When I cannot perceive what He is doing.

When I don’t know which way to go.

This I know. He is Yahweh. I AM.

He has a plan for me and He loves me with an unreasonable, everlasting love. His grace reaches to the lowest depths and captures me, drawing me to Himself, telling me I am precious to Him. He forgives again and again. He has prepared a place for me so I can be with Him forever. He has completed His plan of redemption and all I have to do is respond to His invitation.

He is Yahweh. I AM.

He is Faithful and True and I will trust Him.

Sunday grace.

Monday grace

Spring presses herself onward while winter clings with a tight-fisted hold.

I walk the yard and notice the signs of beginnings. The crocuses by the front porch surprise me every year. Buds on branches are full. The forsythia bush opens tender flowers despite the cold. And daffodils by the side of the house bloom enough for a bouquet on the kitchen table

I listen to the sounds of the season, early bird choruses, frogs croaking in puddles, geese fluttering as a pair, abandoning the flock, preparing to nest.

The trees in my yard are winter bare, awaiting the surge to bring forth life again, except for one oak by the drive. It clings to last year’s leaf collection, all dry and brown, unwilling to turn loose.

Like the oak tree, I sometimes cling to an old and lifeless past. I bear scars, but wounds are meant to heal. What happened cannot be undone, only forgiven. I may wish I’d made a wiser choice, used better words, walked a path less traveled, treasured a relationship, opened my heart, but I cannot ask for a do-over.

Sometimes I long for what was but is no more, binding me to yesterday, unable to move forward or rejoice in today. Or I simply crave another’s perceived Facebook life, assuming it is better and easier, seen though my lens of discontent.

I’m clinging to dead leaves.

Old journals and picture albums stir memories and the emotions of life events: birthday celebrations and holidays, vacations and family gatherings. Remembering is good. The past shows where God led me. I was there. Now I am here by His grace. There’s no turning back or retracing of steps. The road leads forward, and I must press on, laying aside weights and sins, regrets and longings, that are heavy like a burdensome backpack.

” . . . when I hold on to the wrong things, the wrong things hold on to me.” — Emily P. Freeman

I’ll be observing my oak tree, watching as it swells with spring’s energy, laying bare its branches in readiness for the new and fresh. It will release winter’s hold and open to creation’s beauty.

I pray to release what cleaves to and hinders me as I walk with Christ in what still feels like a winter season. I ask the Father to refill me with the Holy Spirit’s renewing life force, the energy and power of a God who knows no boundaries or limitations. His grace is strength for the journey.

Let Spring bring forth.

Monday grace.

Sunday grace

What if it isn’t about religion but about relationship?

What if isn’t about our effort, our work, sweat, and tears but about receiving the grace of the Person of Christ Jesus?

What if it isn’t about trying to keep all the rules but about keeping company with Him?

What if knowing Jesus personally, not just knowing about Him, is the main thing?

Would life be simpler? Would trust be easier? Would praying be as natural as talking to a friend? Would the Word of God become more of a love letter than a letter of law?

What if we knew every life is valuable and eternal? Would we treat each other and ourselves with more gentleness and kindness?

What if we understood that we are known intimately and loved completely. Would it be easier to receive love and to love others?

What if tribulations really produced endurance, perseverance, compassion, and understanding? Would it be easier to count it all joy and give thanks in all circumstances?

What if life in the here and now is meant to prepare us for the everafter? Would hard experiences make more sense? Would we be more heavenly minded and more earthly good?

What if the Bible is true? What if there is a God who planned and created all we see? What if we are important enough for Him to die for us?

What if He truly offered a life more abundant? Would it make a difference to you?

It makes a difference to me.

Sunday grace.

Sunday grace

“To whom much is given, much is required.”

Unsought words penetrate my thoughts. And what have I been given?

Life. Parents who loved me. Extended family who helped mold me. A sheltering home. An opportunity to learn to read, write, explore.

A husband, and then a son. A daughter-in-love, and then three grandchildren.

Long-time friends and new friends who know me and accept me as I am. Neighbors who share my lane and look out for me

Meaningful work. Music and a gateway to share it with students and in ministry.

God the Father, the Word, the Holy Spirit desiring relationship with me, seeking me, forgiving me, living in me to be guide, comfort, teach, and help.

Strength to engage in life. A mind to think and reason and create.

Much has been given. What is required?

To act justly, to do kindness, to walk humbly with God.
To love God and love others.
To give thanks.

Sunday grace.

Monday grace

I’m reading a book about the ageless soul, written by someone well past my years, who talks about aging vs being old.

It is the perfect time of life to think about aging. I see the signs in the mirror and feel it when I walk up the steps, when I kneel down and then try to get up.

This body of mine bears the marks of the life I’ve lived. I can hardly wrap my mind around the nearness of the next decade. Only five months away from what seemed ancient when I was a teenager. And now it is on my doorstep.

The decade markers are weighty, and my candle burns.

“Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty.
Psalm 90

Seventy years. Maybe eighty. My dad lived past ninety. Will I? I’ve been here a pretty long time already. What is before me? How much time is left on this earth?

Aging happens to all of us, even my four-month-old littlest neighbor is growing, changing, becoming something different. He is aging.

Old is not the same as aging.

Aging brings experience, knowledge, wisdom. It is life-giving. My true self emerges and continues to grow strong even while my body, which is the tent, lacks its former vigor.

” . . . we emerge in our older years with the beauty and wings of a butterfly.”
— Thomas Moore

I love butterflies, the way they float with the gentlest breeze, stop to nibble a flower and sip the lifegiving nectar. They move unhurried, enjoying the brief life they are allotted.

In the quiet of the early morning I looked backward, into the years gone before. I muse on the hard places, events that changed life as I knew it. I observed how God used the tests and trials, the joys and victories to teach and mold and conform me. I have aged. My soul has been nurtured. I have participated and found purpose in my life.

I considered my years, the number of them left on this earth in a body that is temporary. I will not be afraid of my tomorrows, however they come. There is a loving hand, a true heart, a purposeful Father who guides my years, my days, who gives my every breath. He was always there. He is here now. He will be where I am going.

So I will watch the days of the calendar tick off one by one. I will live in the newness of life in Christ Jesus my Lord. I will love life and sip the nectar it offers.

And I will go and be like the butterfly.

Monday grace.

Sunday grace

I am yet to comprehend God’s mercy.

Even when someone tries to explain it. Even when a story attempts to portray it. Even when I read about it in the Bible, I still struggle to understand the depth to which it flows.

How could God love the world so much? How could He love me? How can I fathom the lengths of love He extended to have a relationship with me?

Why in the world did He who was without sin not cast the first stone at the sinner? He could have. He was the only One who had the right. But He didn’t. Instead He gave mercy.

Neither do I condemn you.

But after the words of forgiveness come the challenge.

“Go and sin no more.

Who can even do that? Go and sin no more? I only wish. In fact, I try. And I fail. Then I feel the shame of not measuring up to the high standard of holiness.

“Be holy for I am holy.”

Woe is me, I am left undone and without hope.

“My power is made perfect in weakness.”

In my weakness, Christ’s power rests on me. His greatness is shown through my frailty. For when I am weak, then I am strong through Him.

“My grace is sufficient for you.”

I am yet to comprehend God’s grace.

Sunday grace.

Sunday grace

I have needed a little sunshine.

The grey days of a Kentucky winter are getting to me. It’s the same each year, the rain, the clouds, the cold. Days are short. Darkness lasts long.

Yesterday’s prediction of snow greeted me early morning. I saw the moon out my kitchen window, a lovely surprise. I hadn’t seen it in days, weeks maybe. Then there was a real sunrise and blue skies, and despite the cold, it was beautiful outside, the world brightened.

January has been different, my usual organizing frenzy delayed. Family matters were priority, and Sweet William and I spent long hours on the road to give comfort. Really, we were the ones needing solace, the balm which comes from being with those we hold dearest to our hearts.

I become more contemplative at the beginning of a year. I seek out quiet to think; write my heart in a journal; read in hopes something will dazzle me; look to God’s Word for inspiration. Silently pray.

I’ve slowed myself these weeks since coming back home. Familiar routines guide my days. I resolve to eat from the freezer and the pantry, not running to the grocery unnecessarily.

I turned on lights throughout the house to cheer us on the sunless days, lit candles for fragrance. I cut evergreens from the yard and put in vases, a breath of nature. The book I read about Hygge (pronounced HOO-GA) told me to find pleasure in the simple things.

Finishing a book about mercy today, I determine to give mercy to others more quickly. I see that I need to give mercy to myself.

On this coldest day of winter, we have been warm, well fed, protected. I numbered my blessings in the pink spiral journal, because I must. There is much for which to give thanks.

This from Stacy J. Edwards gives me pause, dazzles me:

Our hope comes from what we know. Not what we feel. Not what we see. Not what someone else has said.”

My perspective changes. The grey days of a Kentucky winter that are getting to me are not my end. The low-grade sadness I feel is not who I am. My hope is not in the realization that the days are getting longer and thus spring is coming.

My hope comes from what I know. And this one thing I know above all. God is love and He loves me.

Sunday grace.