Father forgive us

Father forgive us. Too much we don’t know what we are doing.

Forgive us for putting politics above people.

Forgive us for bashing our politicians, government officials, police officers, the media, the really odd relative, and our neighbor close by.

Forgive us when we pass by the homeless person, looking the other way lest we make eye contact.

Forgive us when we are impatient with other drivers who do the unexpected or drive too slow or cut us off in traffic.

Forgive us when we react angrily rather than thinking first and responding appropriately.

Forgive us when we lash out at the ones we love most because we feel safest with them.

Forgive us for wanting things so much that we push people aside.

Forgive us for our pride, thinking we can manage on our own, that we don’t need anyone else, that we can do life by ourselves.

Forgive us for passing judgment on another’s heart when only You can see what’s really there.

Forgive us for holding on to hurts and grudges so long that they become heavy burdens we carry and bars that imprison us.

Forgive us when we wound others out of our own woundedness.

Forgive us for turning to idols of wealth, fame, addictions, and even people when our first devotion belongs to You.

Forgive us when we take for granted all Your good gifts and do not give You thanks all circumstances.

Forgive us for our hatred and our prejudice, failing to remember that you made each of us precious in Your sight and we are equally loved by You.

Forgive us for disregarding the unborn, the elderly, the disabled, the less than perfect.

Forgive us for turning our eyes away from You, for making any and everything our first love, giving away our devotion and worship.

Forgive us for not loving each other the way we love ourselves.

Forgive us . . .

Hanging on the cross, His life blood dripping on the ground, Jesus’ accusers and His executioners railed against Him. His friends were gone, running scared. The miracles and love He gave freely were forgotten by the crowds.

The blameless One was dying like the two criminals on either side of Him. He took all our shame and guilt and transgression, every misdeed and violation and offence. He bore it all Himself.

So He lifted His eyes toward heaven and said,

Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.

It is a holy week

We call it Holy Week, the days between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. The time was set apart for a special purpose, eternally designed by God. It is His plan of redemption.

As Maisie and I took our final walk last night in the twilight, the moon began to rise over our neighbor’s house. It was strikingly beautiful and full. It’s the Passover moon, signaling the beginning of the festival tonight at sunset.

Jewish families will celebrate separately this year.

One of my piano student turns eighteen this week, and she will celebrate separately too. We are affected by self distancing, making adjustments for weddings, funerals, birthdays, and holidays. We do what we can to show we care, that we remember, that life is precious even when we are isolated.

I reassure myself that God knows the beginning from the end. He knew this day in history would come. He is not surprised nor caught off guard. He supplies my needs during the pandemic the same as He always supplies my needs.

The moon reminds me of the events recorded in the Gospels during holy week.

  • Passover draws large crowds from surrounding cities to Jerusalem. The people will witness an unprecedented festival of freedom.
  • Jesus plainly tells His disciples that His hour has come, that He is about to be killed. They still don’t understand.
  • In acknowledgment and preparation for his burial, a woman anoints Jesus’ feet with precious ointment. She is criticized for her extravagance, but she is also remembered.
  • The Pharisees plot Jesus’ arrest, though they do not want to make a scene during the festival.
  • Judas becomes the avenue to betray his Master and suggests he will, for a price.
  • Final words are spoken as Jesus shares the last Passover meal with his friends. He shows the depth of His love by washing their dirty feet.
  • Jesus’ message that He will be lifted up becomes clear as His body is nailed and raised up on a cross.

The stage was set eons ago. The will of the Lord is written in heavenly stone and He will accomplish it.

Our times are in God’s hand. He is ever the great timekeeper. If we belong to Him, we need not fear. He has a heavenly plan and He will accomplish it.

In the fullness of time, Jesus came to be the Passover sacrifice

It was a holy week.

And so it begins

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, and it was different. Perhaps years later we will talk about it, beginning our dialog with “Remember the year we couldn’t attend church on Palm Sunday? Remember that virus that kept us sheltered inside, distanced from everyone?”

The story is familiar to me, having heard it since I was a tot in Sunday school.  The flannel graph figure of Jesus sitting on a donkey moves through the streets of Jerusalem while people wave palm branches and lay down their outer clothes.  They shout “Hosanna” and “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” He accepts their praise, even welcomes it and says the rocks will cry out if the people are silenced.

It is His day.

In their final chapters, all four Gospel writers narrow their lenses on the last days of Jesus’ earthly life. The week is full of activity.  Each writer has his own slant, his own perspective. The details and consistency shout for us to sit up and pay attention.

But why is the Sunday of palm waving important, other than that it fulfills one more prophecy about Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah?.  Zechariah said the king would come riding on a donkey.  He would be righteous, victorious and humble.  Jesus was all of that.

There is something else.

Hundreds of years before, Moses instructed the people to take a lamb in preparation for their Passover celebration. On the tenth day of the first month of a new year. Set it apart. Examine it for imperfections. Keep it until the fourteenth day. Then kill it. It is the Passover lamb.

Jesus made His grand entrance into Jerusalem on the tenth day of the month.  He was chosen for this. He was about to set the people free and make all things new for those who believed.  And so on Palm Sunday, He was proclaimed, examined for imperfections, presented to the people on the tenth day as the sacrificial Lamb. And on the fourteenth day of the month, just days later, He was killed.

God’s Passover Lamb. The promise to Abraham fulfilled. “God will provide for Himself a lamb.” — Genesis 22:8

Jesus. He is the One we waited for. Give Him praise. Shout Hosanna.

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!

Sunday grace

Sweet William and I ventured out in his big red truck yesterday to do a few errands not requiring physical contact, like drive-through banking and a mail drop at the post office. We are careful to wash our hands.

Waiting in the bank lane, an unknown woman waited in the other lane. We made eye contact and then waved. She commented about the crazy world and I agreed. As she drove off, she said, “Stay safe.”

It was a meaningful interaction between strangers, a little thing that connected us in our days of being distant.

We drove to my friend’s house to pick up hand-made safety masks. The masks were bagged and waiting in a box at the end of her drive. She included a container of disinfectant wipes for safety sake. It was thoughtful of her to think of that.

It’s the little things that mean a lot.

We were in the neighborhood, so we drove by the house of a couple in our Sunday school class. Sweet William honked the horn a couple of times before they opened the front door. We had a gentle conversation from afar, us in the truck and them on their porch. It was good to see their faces. She texted and said we had made their day.

The little things.

My friend texted early yesterday morning on her way to work, saying she left a package on our porch. Her job is considered essential, and I pray for her.

In the bag were fresh farm eggs, homemade sausage, and a jar of her mango preserves. I was thrilled. After work, she brought me a few needed items from the grocery story and left them on the steps.

It was more than a little thing, and I appreciate her love for us.

Last week, another friend texted that her husband was on his way to deliver a Merry Monday treat. The doorbell and Maisie’s bark alerted us, and two pieces of cinnamon streusel cake awaited us at the front door. Sweet William and I ate it immediately with our coffee.

Our friends inspired me to send my neighbors a small surprise.

While we wait out our confinement, acts of kindness are life giving.

Mid week a young couple set a potted ready-to-bloom amaryllis on the front porch. Her mother remembered how I admired her plant and shared this beautiful flower with me.

The little things and the bigger things are making our lives not only bearable but beautiful. Human contact is vital however we manage it. We need each other.

Jesus told his disciples repeatedly to love one another. It is imperative for humanity. Love shows up in unlimited ways. We are being creative in our reaching out and joining hearts without touching hands.

We shelter at home and we find ways to shelter hearts.

It is necessary to love and be loved. We stay healthier, we are happier, we can endure if we are loved.

God initiates love. He was the first to offer His. His face is recognized most in the world when we love each other in tangible and thoughtful ways.

As we celebrate Palm Sunday in the confines of our homes, streaming church services while we lounge in our pajamas, we remember how much we are loved. Jesus the Passover Lamb was proclaimed in the city streets of Jerusalem. He choose to love us by giving His life completely and fully for us.

It’s a new day, a new opportunity to practice what Jesus preached.

He loved us first. Now it’s our turn.

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

According to Webster’s dictionary, normal is defined as:  the usual, average, or typical state or condition.

It certainly does not describe what I’m living now. As I think of it, how often has my “normal” changed?

When I left my parents’ home to marry Sweet William, I learned a new normal. When I became a mother, life was never the same again. That role evolved many times and always into a completely new normal. When life took turns in an unexpected direction and I was faced with impossible uphill climbs,  I stretched and prayed to learn normal once again.

See the source image

 

I am here once more. While my days of confinement have become somewhat predictable, the world outside is morphing almost daily. I’m trying to learn new ways of doing things, adapting to my situation, while trying to keep a positive outlook that this self-distancing, COVID-19, uncommon spring season will eventually become a memory.

One thing we can count on as a constant. There will always be change.

But there is more I count on. In fact, I build my life and future on the truth I read in Scripture. God is in control when the world is spinning unrestrained. He is good even when life is not. He is strong and able to meet every need of every person who calls on Him. He has not forsaken us.

The Father is compassionate and gracious, sending fresh mercies at every sunrise. He has set the universe in order, and time continues according to His plan.

He shares His love with humans and gives them supernatural Holy Spirit power to love when we are wounded, to forgive when we are mistreated, to bend the knee and serve the least to the greatest.

As we enter the weeks before Palm Sunday, Passover, and Resurrection Day, the story that is ancient becomes relevant and contemporary. The gospel message is unchanging. God loved all people and Jesus came to die and pay the debt of sin. Those who believe and accept the gift of salvation inherit eternal life.

It is a changeless message of hope. God is love. Jesus Christ came to earth. He lived. He died. He arose to immortality and offers it to me.

Some things just don’t change.

When the world flips upside down

My parents were young during the Great Depression. It marked them. They learned to save for a rainy day and conserve their resources. They were the original recyclers. My dad threw away little, keeping unusual items in case he might need them some day, like a single flip-flop stored in a cabinet in his garage. And what do you know, one day he did need it.

My step-mother washed and stored fast food containers. She had a stash of unused paper napkins and straws in a drawer in her kitchen. Their generation embodied the motto, “Use it up, wear it out, make it last, or do without.”

It is day twelve of our confinement. The days run together, today looking very much like yesterday. I try to remember what day of the week it is.

I’m realizing I don’t need as much to survive as I may have thought. My breakfast prayer includes thanks for food, shelter, and basic necessities. How often have I taken them for granted because I wanted something shiny and new?

My life is slower. Simple things are a gift, like the young man’s friendly greeting at Kroger as he loaded my groceries in the car’s trunk, and the person who handed me two deliciously prepared blizzards through the take-out window at the oddly-dark Dairy Queen. A blizzard and a refrigerator re-stocked with food are luxuries.

Sweet William helped me sharpen my garden tools yesterday. He knows his way around a file better than I do. It felt good to accomplish something on my list. I need to see some check marks in my bullet journal, some task completed.

The world seems a bit crazy. When we expectantly wrote the year 2020 for the first time in January, who could have predicted this, confinement and uncertainty that would drive us indoors for an undetermined period.

It is interesting that we have been thrust into a time of stillness in a culture that thrives on busy. Being busy is our mantra, the badge we wear. Busy makes us feel necessary. Busy is how we function best. Or maybe not.

I wonder how we will be marked by our days of confinement. Will we look back and recall how strange it was for a while, how toilet paper became a valued commodity, and the time encased in our homes with family was a blessing in disguise?

Will we be changed by our experience in 2020, imprinted like my parents were in 1929?

I believe we will learn things about ourselves, like how we focus on lesser things when what is most valuable is right before us.

When the world returns to a normal status, I hope it won’t be business as usual. I hope we remember what matters. People are the most important treasure. Small irritations are not worth the upset. We really can invent new ways of doing things. Sharing what we have blesses the giver and receiver. Prayers are to be prayed for our leaders. Church is not the building where we gather. Loving one another is still the second greatest commandment.

Maybe we will even keep one flip-flop, just in case we might need it.

Sunday grace

In our confinement, I reach out to friends through text and email. I’m learning to use Zoom and Google Hangout, anticipating doing virtual piano lessons with my students. It will be teaching an old dog a new trick, but I’m game to try it if they are willing.

A confessed introvert, I thought staying at home for two weeks would be easier than it is. I love my people and cherish gathering at the table over coffee, tea, or lunch. Jean Fleming writes, “(T)he human face is a transmitter and a receiver, always sending and picking up messages.” I’m missing those vital signals.

Sweet William and I are reading Max Lucado’s How Happiness Happens in the morning hours, an appropriate title when watching the news too much can suck the happiness right out of me.

We are eating well here at the Wright House, though it seems I spend much of a day cooking and cleaning up. I can get a bit grumbly about it. I caught myself doing it yesterday, a gentle reminder from the Holy Spirit perhaps. I should be thankful for food, plates and pots, dish soap and hot water fresh from the faucet. And Sweet William is here to share a meal with me.

Counting my gifts is a necessary discipline for me, especially now, turning my thoughts away from a perceived lack toward the bounty surrounding me.

While I live in this separateness, this self-distancing, I remember the plan of salvation, how the Creator always wanted to be with His creation. In Eden He walked with the Adam and Eve. His yearning words came through prophets and psalms singers. He tabernacled in the wilderness with twelve tribes of Israel camped around. His glory manifested in a majestic temple in Jerusalem.

His ultimate coming to us was when he wrapped up in humanity, encasing His glory in soft baby skin, a confinement I can’t even imagine. He walked among us, sharing food, intense conversation, long journeys, and voyages on the sea. He touched people and was touched by them.

In the closing chapters of John’s gospel, Jesus promised another, one who would be with us and in us. It must have seemed incomprehensible to the twelve sitting at table with Jesus. Yet, it happened just as He said.

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit roared like fierce wind, like He was rushing to get here to indwell the believers.

And so it is, He is with us in an unexplainable, truly mystifying, and completely unreasonable way. Because God wants to be with His people.

We are like clay jars in which this treasure is stored. The real power comes from God and not from us.
2 Corinthians 4:7

He is truly God with us, and that is immeasurable comfort to me. I can endure this seclusion while I remember He is always with me and in me. No one is closer than that.

Sunday grace.

While we wait

I’m in a waiting period. I think a lot of you are too.

The small wipe-off board I used to list our weekly activities is uncommonly blank, except for the dates. It’s never like that. 

It is strange, this social distancing, a word now unique to 2020 and one we will remember, I bet. Each day presents challenges, news updates and directives from our government. Every blog that presents in my in-box has something to say about coronavirus. I question how to do this life while we confine ourselves for an undetermined period.

Everyone isn’t confined, and I’m thankful for healthcare workers and first responders and the UPS employees who keep delivering our packages. Mail is deposited in my box each day, and I count it a gift.

I count the gifts of people who text to check on us, asking if we need anything. We are in the high-risk category of over 60 years old and determined to stay where we are. Younger friends asked if we are OK, can they do something, offering to bring supplies to our front door and leave them on the porch. We are touched by such kindness, and we feel loved.

Each day I talk with two of my cousins, one by phone, and one at her house down our lane, careful to keep at least three feet between us. I check on my neighbors, and they are much like me, home bound. I text my family members to see how they are faring during complex days. We try to be hopeful, cheerful, look for the bright side.

While this is a serious situation that I don’t discount, I appreciate humor where I can get it. Sometimes I really do LOL, laugh out loud, at something on Facebook or TV, and it does me good, like medicine.

I have a stack of good books and time to read them now. I hope the temperature rises. I could use a little sunshine so I can work in the garden and feel productive. The fresh air will be good for me.

A friend who is working her job remotely texted a request for some recipes. She is home with her husband and children and wants to make something good to eat. I sent her four tested recipes, with options to make them her own, according to her family’s tastes. Good food is satisfying to body and soul.

A couple of days ago I fed my sour dough starter and baked whole wheat bread. Sweet William and I ate it hot with butter melting in its crevices.

My neighbor who lives in the house next door texted that she was venturing to the grocery and did we need anything. I love her even more for asking. Her little guy, almost six, delivered some fruit and cream for our coffee, and I sent him home with a loaf of still-warm bread, a little thank you for caring about us.

Sweet William and I are practicing a song together on piano and guitar. We played it years ago at a friend’s wedding. It’s a difficult piece, and we struggle with it. But we have the time to re-learn it in these days of waiting.

The season of lent continues, and my early morning quiet time draws me to truth as I read of Jesus’s last days on this earth. I am reassured, knowing this was planned before galaxies were constructed, before I was born, before 2020 presented us with COVID-19.

As the trees bloom white in our little woods and I gather daffodils from the yard to cheer to the house, the earth moves in its designed path toward spring. If the clouds clear away, I will see the moon waning as she makes her  circular path toward hiding. Daylight appears each morning even when the sun is overcast. Birds sing and frogs croak, and the month of March is much like each one I’ve known and yet it isn’t.

This I know, there is a God in heaven who is watching His world and His children. He is aware and involved and working His good will in and among us. Kindness and love are His evidence.

In our waiting, let’s keep the faith. Be humble and kind. Look for the good and count blessings. Laugh out loud. Say “I love you” every chance you get. Stay in touch with those who are socially distanced from you. Pray for our leaders as they try to do their best for our country.

Trust the One who knows exactly what He is about in our world. Believe He will care for us like the sparrow. He loves us more than we know.

Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?    — Luke 12:6

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.