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Sunday grace

The ongoing oppressive heat of September mirrors the fire of tribulation I have felt. A lack of rain and a parched landscape reflects the stress of my soul, and even nature bears its own burden.

I am blindsided by heartbreak in a month I usually happily anticipate. It is the crisp coolness of autumn I crave as relief but a sweltering heat remains. Minds reel in the aftermath of death, me trying to make sense of what is beyond my understanding.

In some ways, life goes on as usual while nothing will ever be the same again. People I love are gone from this world, we have been broken and left to cope, to assimilate what cannot be grasped. A friend, a close family member, both gone from this world within a matter of weeks, will not smile at me, laugh with me, do life together with me, and my existence is changed forever.

I’ve been pondering last words and final moments. I vividly recall the last time I spoke to my friend and the last morning I saw my cousin. We always think we have more time than we do.

Memories can settle like comfort or regret.

I don’t often think about what might be my last words to someone: a quick good-bye to Sweet William as I rush out the door; a phone conversation with my son on his way to a job site; a text to the grandchildren, keeping in touch; the message sent to a friend, for information or connection.

Words can haunt or they can heal.

Words carry weight. They impress and imprint on our hearts in ways we can’t explain. We carry words spoken to us as children into adulthood. They encourage or they tear down. Words are powerful. Yet we throw them around carelessly, caution to the wind, using the same breath to wound as well as to bless.

What I say to people matters. I recall God saying life and death reside in the power of the tongue. It is a small fire that can warm us or it can break its boundaries and burn recklessly.

I preach to myself about the careless use of my voice, how it begins in my heart, thoughts that form sound and roll easily off my tongue.

It is time to examine myself.

I understand that sometimes we must have the difficult conversation. Conflict needs to be resolved. Personalities clash, but words don’t have to be weapons. Jesus never shied away from challenging encounters, but His aim was love. His intention was relationship.

In the days following the death of two dear people, I’ve caught myself in hurried and harried speech. Those words could be the last ones spoken.

I seek encouragement from Scripture: Set a guard before my mouth, O Lord (Psalm 141:3); May my words be those that help other people and build them up (Ephesians 2:29).

Let every word be a gift.

This is a tall order for me. I seek the very Word Himself, the One who speaks and worlds form and miracles appear. When He says, “Let there be,” it is. When He speaks peace, it settles like dew.

I need more than determination, more than turning over another dry leaf. So I pray: Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, my Strength and my Redeemer.

His strength in me, His power doing what I can’t, His Spirit mingling with mine like refreshing rain on my parched, broken heart. He is my hope, my comfort, my life.

Contemplation

It’s been quiet on the blog for over a month. I’m not sure why I haven’t written any posts. I could offer several insights but none of them really resonate. Suffice it to say, I took a little break, because there were no words.

Contemplation seems my path in this present season. And I’m quite glad I am able to think and ponder. At my age, the ability to reason and understand is not to be taken lightly.

In the nearly two months of blogging quietude, Sweet William and I have not sat idle. We celebrated recitals, graduations and birthdays. We traveled far and came home again. We watched the seasons change from spring to summer, counting the raindrops and measuring the height of the weeds growing in the gardens.

We had the opportunity to witness one current and one former piano students’ accomplishments, finishing high school and college. I spent many hours at the piano bench and around the table with the two of them, talking, laughing, crying, and praying. It is an extraordinary privilege to be part of their lives as they have matured into young adults.

Sweet William and I drove the many miles and long hours to celebrate our second granddaughter’s graduation. It was worth every minute of time and effort to be there as people gathered on party day. I was comforted to witness the support system of friends surrounding my family in this city, answers to prayers. And our granddaughter was glowing.

Mother’s and Father’s days came and went, and we endured. With neither chick nor child close by, nor living parents to honor, it becomes challenging to observe those days with gladness. I tend to seclude and surrender to my introversion, practicing self-care and allowing my emotions to be present instead of pretending something I don’t feel. It’s the way I cope. When the day is over, I move on, recognizing it is one day in the year, that my life is full of valued relationships, that I am loved by my family, and that life goes on.

Early this month, I sent a card to a friend whose birthday is one month before mine. It’s a reminder that the day of my birth is 30 days away. Birthdays have not been bothersome except when I turned twenty, leaving my teens behind. That was hard.

However, I am giving this birthday, my seventh decade, considerable thought, evaluating my health and my mental state, wondering about my work and the retirement years where Sweet William and I find ourselves.

Recently I pulled my 2009 journal from its upstairs shelf and read what life was like ten years ago. There were joys and sorrows mingled then as now. I understood the year as one who looks at the past. Events that occurred then had profound influence on what would come later.

The coming decade I enter presents me with quandaries that are different than ten years ago. When I entered my 60s, the aches and pains were less; my hair was darker; my figure was not as lumpy; my eyeglasses were not so strong.

Along with twenty or so piano students, I still worked part-time away from home at a job that challenged me and gave me a creative outlet. I loved the people with whom I worked.

My aunt, dad and step-mother were still living, though their growing frailty was apparent, requiring more attention and help.

My family lived next door then, and I was involved with their lives. I saw them weekly, sometimes daily, and enjoyed watching the grandchildren grow. In the old journal I wrote how I felt called to invest in those dear children, filling them with the assurance of my love, so that it would be a reservoir to draw from. I didn’t know then that in two years the family would pack up a big yellow truck and move west permanently. I hope I filled them full enough.

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An old clipping I saved starts with “Grab Your Purple Hat!” as it describes how a woman sees herself through the years. Age 70 says this: “She looks at herself and sees wisdom, laughter, ability. She goes out and enjoys life.”

I believe there are still things for me to accomplished, meaningful work, projects to complete, art to create and music to play. I know there are people for me love and point to Jesus. I have questions to ask and I want to be the person who leans in and listens well.

I expect sorrows because that is the stuff of life. But I also anticipate joy, celebration and miracles.

The Bible is a familiar companion for my journey. The years of reading and study brought insight, confidence, and hope. The promises I hold close are more precious than ever.

Thankfully, life has taught me wisdom, a reward of growing older. I adapt more easily to things I might have taken too seriously years ago. I’ve learned to laugh at myself and am continually entertained.

God has been good these many years. I have no reason to doubt His faithfulness in my future. His plan is working its way in me. Sometimes it’s difficult, painful even, and goes against my grain. But I’m realizing His way is best. He knows more than I ever will. He does all things well.

The future is now. I can face it because I know the One who guided my past, who holds my present, and who will be there in the days to come.

Tuesday thoughts

“Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? . . . Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so we may feel again their majesty and power?” — The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

I love the written word. I love reading the written word.

When I was a child, I was not such a vivacious reader. Reading assignments in school left me feeling anxious about finishing the book. Sadly, I often laid aside the volume with pages left unread.

Somewhere in my life, I developed a love for the printed page, and I cannot imagine not having a book in progress. Often there are several.

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The written word is powerful. Being able to read is power also. To keep people enslaved, do not let them learn to read.

Words themselves carry power. The Bible says the tongue has the power of life and death. I bear witness to that truth. Haven’t we all experienced the encouraging word or the ones that crushed our spirit?

Consider the might and authority that brought forth the earth by the spoken word of God. “And God said, let there be . . .” And it was.

That the very Word of God was made flesh and lived among people is astounding. Jesus carried with Him the might and authority of the Father, yet he walked humbly as a human, being obedient even unto death.

His glory was on full display. Some saw it and recognized the glory. Some did not. Some read the signs and saw deity. Others closed the book because they didn’t like the way the story was going.

And so the writing continues in the lives of those who believe. Written on our hearts for the world to see and read is the splendor of the gospel.

May it be a story of beauty and hope, one that illuminates and inspires with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness. May it display the deepest mysteries of the majesty of God.

And these are my Tuesday thoughts.

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Sunday grace

I’m reading the book of Proverbs during January, a chapter for each day of the month.

The book is occupied with wisdom for daily living, for planning for the future, for viewing the world, for living a full and blessed life. It has much to say about words and the mouth I use to speak them.

How easily phrases and sentences leave the gateway of my mouth, and how quickly they make a mark on those who hear them. My words carry weight. They can pierce like a sword, wound and cause pain.

My words can lift the spirit of the down trodden and bring healing to the sick in spirit.

I choose the expressions and intonation, though sometimes I excuse myself when the utterances fly off the tongue too quickly without thought or consideration. And the damage is done.

If I desire to do good and show mercy, what of the thoughts and meditations of my heart? It is from the heart the mouth speaks.

So search me thoroughly, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!

 And see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24 AMP)

The wise woman builds her house with the fruit of her lips from a heart that has been purified by grace.

Sunday grace.

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Let our words be sweet

Only a few more days of stitches and a big, bulky, awkward bandage to contend with. I am really ready to be relieved of them.

Meanwhile, here is a bit of wise counsel to those of us who speak words and those of us who listen to them. And that’s pretty much all of us.

The Lazy Genius Collective has something to say about stupid words.

I don’t agree with calling people stupid. I do affirm that humans can speak some stupid things. Again, that is pretty much all of us. But the idea offered at this blog is how words affect us and the potential power they have.

Perhaps it will make us evaluate how we communicate with each other. Let our words be full of grace.

THE LAZY GENIUS COLLECTIVE

 

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Monday grace

I missed “Sunday grace” yesterday but isn’t grace an everyday thing?

Sunday’s Grace:  My fellow Sunday school classmates showed me an immeasurable amount of love yesterday.  Their words of affirmation and love filled me full and running over.  I think I must have been glowing the rest of the day.

Sweet William and I witnessed the renewing of wedding vows from a couple who had been married fifty years.  The looks on their faces were priceless.  As the pastor asked them to repeat vows to one another, they pledged, once again, to love each other until death shall part them.  And isn’t that what love really is?  A pledge, a commitment, a covenant?  It’s not a fluffy emotion that rises and falls like a thermometer reflecting the conditions around it.  Love is something we do, something we promise when the feelings fluctuate.

As I reached for Sweet William’s hand during the ceremony, I was thankful for his commitment to me, for my commitment to him.  Where would we be if not for that?  What would we have done if God had not given us the grace to endure the rough waters and fiery trials?

Monday’s Grace:  I got a long-awaited letter from a far-away friend.  Our ages are decades apart, but she is dear to me.  Her words made me laugh out loud.  I read them with care, taking in all the inflections she shared, smiling at the funny pictures she drew, and hearing her heart.

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I love snail mail.  I think we miss something in this quick-message life we live.  While it is a convenience to send and receive texts, emails, tweets (what is that anyway?), I enjoy going to the mailbox at the end of my drive, shuffling through the ads, bills, requests for donations, and spying a return address sticker at the left top corner of an envelope from someone I love.  It’s like candy from the postman (woman).  I open it when I have time to sit and relish every word and sentiment.

Most texts and messages seem more like something to read, respond to, and check off the list.  Not all of them, mind you.  I do get some really endearing letter-like messages from friends, and I try to treat them like a hand-written note.  Reading slowing.  Savoring the message.  Taking my time to write a response.  I would not want to lose that kind of communication.

I must admit that while my young friend hand writes her letters, I usually type mine.  It’s faster for me which may put me back in the category of quick-messaging.  I’ll have to think about that.

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Words.  They have impact.  They are important.  It used to be the highest compliment to say a person was true to his word.  If he said it, he meant it no matter what.

We throw our words around casually these days.  Promises are made all day long.  I see it at every TV commercial break.  During a political campaign it’s hard to believe whose words are true.

It makes me examine my own words, my easy responses, my commitments to do something or be somewhere.  I really want to be a woman of my word, someone who can be counted on to do what she says.

Seeing that Jesus was called the very WORD of God shows me that God values His own words, His own commitments.  He sent His Son to fulfill His promise, long-awaited and far away.  The Word was God’s way of communicating with a world that needed to know Who He really is.  It was His way of inviting us into a relationship with Himself.

The Word made flesh.  Dwelling among us.  God coming down to speak in a language we could understand.

That is amazing.  And that, my friends, is Monday grace for sure.

 

 

 

Speaking life

Day 4 of 40 days to Resurrection Day

Today’s suggestion:

Give up critical words for an entire week.  Even better, do it for the remaining 40 days.

Today my sweet sister-friend, Robin Howe, is guest posting here.  Will join me and receive her gift of words?

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My Momma always said, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”  My sweet husband has to remind me at times to “be nice.”

Society reminds me that once a word is spoken, it cannot be taken back.

With all of these reminders I would think it should be easy to speak kind words, yet more often than I care to admit, my words are critical, judgmental, hurtful . . . for those who hear those thoughtless words fall from my lips, those who are the recipient of my misplaced judgment, and for myself.

I dare to say that our critical words are rarely intentional.  We are not speaking them with the intent of tearing down the person we are talking about, hurting our witness to the one we are speaking to, or planting roots of bitterness in our hearts.  I dare to say that if we thought about our words before we spoke them, and the ramifications they have on so many, we would more carefully chose the words that we give a voice.

Let’s not think of this as a challenge, but rather think of it as gift.   The gift of life.  Because the tongue has the power of life or death. 

Let us pause and think before we speak.  We don’t know the situations behind a person’s actions or words, so we must be careful to speak life, speak blessings.  Our words may be what someone needs to hear.  Our words may encourage them to turn their hearts from pain to Jesus.

Maybe she has gained a few pounds while worrying over a health problem or is dealing with a broken relationship.

Maybe the worn out pants he wears all the time are the nicest ones he has.

Maybe she doesn’t know how to reach out to her daughter but is doing her best.

Maybe he isn’t as shallow as you think, he is putting up a front to hide a broken heart.

Maybe your heart needs to hear how beautiful you are, not another daily reminder of your “flaws.”

My prayer is that we will use our gifts of life beyond the next 7 days, or even through the remainder of the 40 days, but that we would spend our lives intentionally speaking life.

So I leave you with my prayers and a song . . .  SPEAK LIFE by TobyMac

Robin blogs at I Get Up Too Early.