Sunday grace

The world trembles. Men’s hearts fail them for fear. Uncertainty settles like a thick fog.

My thoughts turn repeatedly to people being thrust from their homes, families fleeing with the bare necessities. I wonder what I would pack in one suitcase in a frantic escape. I have no idea if this is the end, the culmination of time as we know it.

Trouble threatens, envelopes, and strangles. Oh Lord, have mercy!

As I sit with the Scriptures, I recall a much younger version of myself, many years ago, when Lamentations 3:22 and 23 became important and real to me.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Great is Thy Faithfulness. It is a favorite song. The ancient words have taken on modern melodies, while its truth is proclaimed by trusting voices, mine included. I remember how my Father was faithful to me. I call to mind, like Jeremiah, and I have hope.

While the world totters in wars and rumors of wars, people closer to me, friends and family, fight their own battles. I have mine. The enemy laser focuses his array of ammunition, not only on nations but on individuals, their minds and bodies. He uses his arsenal of pain, depression, and heartache. Is there dialog in Heaven, reminiscent of Job, about how far he is allowed to go with his unrelenting oppression?

I pray for people on the other side of the globe. I ask for God’s mercy, for His care over them. I pray for peace, knowing true peace is only found in the Prince of Peace. I pray for those near to me whose struggles I know more intimately. Those who endure long, who wait for a light in their tunnel, who hope for an answer, who pray without ceasing.

“In the world you shall have tribulation; . . . ” John 16:33

I don’t understand God’s ways. I often ask Him questions, and He is patient with me. Silent but patient. I wish I understood. But I don’t, because I am finite, and my capacity to comprehend is miniscule. I occupy a small place in history. It is temporary, my candle burning shorter. How can I expect to grasp the greater scheme, the blueprint of all eternity, the foundational plan?

. . . “but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

I take a breath, inhale the very Words of life, gasping as one pulled from drowning. These Words, exhaled into existence by the Eternal, were given so I could know the fullness of grace in the Beloved.

Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” John 11:40

I’m so glad the story of a desperate father seeking help for his diseased son was recorded in the gospel of Mark. In his honesty he replies to Jesus, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” The man pleads with Jesus, “If you can . . . .” Did Jesus chuckle at that? I wonder.

I do know Jesus can. I believe it with all of my being. How and when and in what way He will move toward His greater purpose, those things remain unclear to me. The mystery of Living God who answers to no man or woman, who lives in unapproachable light, whose full glory has not been seen by mortals, He alone knows His ways and His whys.

Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith and confidence in Me?” Mark 4:40

Fear is a weapon used against the children of God. Fear is tormenting and grabs my focus from the One who saves with His mighty arm. Fear asks too many questions: “What will happen next? How will I cope? Is this the end? Why me?” If I’m living in fear, I am not abiding in Christ.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” John 15:9

Abide, dwell, remain in the love of Christ. Take shelter in the secret place, under the watchful care of the Father who knows the hairs of my head, counts my tears, watches over my coming and going now and forevermore, and loves me with an everlasting love. Where else could I go but to Him?

I listen for His voice in the stillness of the morning while the birds wake and sing their sleepy refrains. I listen as I read His words written and preserved for me. I listen to songs of praise in the wearisome days of walking earth’s road. I listen. I sing along.

 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.” John14:1

As usual, I have no simple answers for the world’s unrest, for rising gas and food prices, for one friend’s family problems and another’s ongoing health struggles. Many of my inner conversations end with “I just don’t know.” What I do know is that God is faithful, just as Jeremiah confessed. I make the same confession. I’ve experienced it during my seven decades. I know His peace that passes understanding, even while I weep. I know His love that is beyond comprehending. I’ve been in His care since before I took my first breath.

The world with all of its pleasures and troubles will one day fade. The place we call home now will be made new and better, more beautifully perfect that I can dream of. My anticipation rises for something beyond my imagining. Until then, I will trust Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Their presence resides in this lowly, aging temple. There is nothing else to compare and no place else to go and no one who has the power to save.

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

Sunday grace.

A waiting season

Lent began yesterday, March 2, with Ash Wednesday. It is a 40-day journey to the cross of Jesus Christ. It can be a time of preparation, a time to search my heart, and a time of surrender.

My childhood church did not participate in Lent, or even mention it, as I recall. I learned about Lent when I was hired as pianist by a small Methodist congregation. They met in a beautiful sanctuary where the rising sun on Easter morning shone through stained glass windows. My first experience of Lent was one of observation, listening, and learning the importance of this particular season. Since then, I pay more attention.

As the earth begins its rebirth after the cold, grey starkness of winter, the looking for life to emerge, it is appropriate that we should contemplate Jesus’ road to Calvary. Death to Life. The Gospel writers record in detail Jesus’ last days on earth. It was paramount to them. And it is to me.

Lent is the in-between time, an arrow pointing us to Jesus’ determined journey toward Jerusalem, knowing His death was imminent. It was the reason He came, the reason He took on flesh, born a helpless babe, to be cared for and nurtured by His very own creation.

These days are worth my consideration.

Remembering in the Scripture is more action than just brain activity. When the Bible records “God remembered,” it was usually a precursor to Him preparing to act. When Scripture tells me to remember, I am to pause and reflect, relive the event so that it has renewed importance.

And he [Jesus] took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” — Luke 22:19

At the start of the Lenten season, I ponder how to focus on Jesus’ Via Dolorosa. During the weeks leading us to Resurrection Sunday, I want to be intentional in opening my heart to the message that God was willing to pay my debt of sin, all because of love.

A thought comes from "40 Days, a Lenten Journey with Liz Curtis Higgs’ and The Women of Easter,” via Facebook.

What if I offered God my whole self, nothing held back?”

What if I decide to open my heart completely so my Father can heal and make whole? What if I give Him free reign to examine my thoughts? What if I surrender my actions, my plans and activities to His control? What if I really did offer my whole self to Him?

These questions call me to prayer.

Holy Spirit, help me offer my whole self to Thee, withholding nothing.
Amen. So be it.

A season of wintering

I’ve been asking myself the same question in these cold winter days: “Lord, what do you want to do in me?”

I’m not hearing any trumpet sounds or voices from the sky. I don’t know the answer to the question I ask. More often, I pause to wonder at the Living God’s plan and how He may be working through a situation I’d rather avoid. At least it gives me a change of perspective, and I need a new focus.

The three months since Thanksgiving 2021 were a semi-quarantine. Sweet William and I endured covid, then the death of my cousin, then a fractured ankle that kept me in an orthopedic boot for weeks. Activities were limited, and I resigned myself to be a homebody until I could move about freely. It’s been a season of wintering.

Weeks of confinement made me ponder my life, my schedule (or non-schedule), my time. I wondered what the lesson was. What was God trying to teach me in all of this?

As soon as the boot on my foot came off, I set about to resume activities, to fill my days with piano students, church, friends and family. Dental and doctor visits took another portion of days. It was time to catch up. When I looked at my bullet journal, I wondered why I’d packed so much into a week. Where is the blank space, the margin, the illusive “free day” I want and need?

As an introvert, I require blocks of solitude. I get up early each day to sit quietly, with coffee and the Scriptures in hand. My brain fires slowly in the morning. In the pre-dawn stillness, I read and write to process. Some days my processing has looked a little too much like a pity party. I don’t like that, but apparently, I’m working through my random, swirling thoughts, trying to make sense of them.

Lately, I’ve felt the strain of a full calendar. I noticed stress building. A week of appointments, necessary commitments, present and future responsibilities, and I feel my gut tightening. I blow out a heavy breath occasionally. My thoughts drift as I wander the house trying to do the next thing.

A friend texted recently, asked how I was doing with my cousin Candi’s death. As I typed my response, putting words to the state of my heart, I realized I’m not doing so good. I’ve thrown myself into activity, trying to resume a normal life after months of upheaval. Life has changed dramatically, and I’m trying to adjust. It leaves me with a pain I can’t simply ignore.

We cannot get away from the stress of an earthly existence. Life is hard, and I am of the opinion it is meant to be. The Sovereign God has not given us an easy-peasy life without conquests and challenges, hardships and adversity. We suffer pain, sorrow, and grief. We struggle to build a life, to achieve a goal, and to finish the work. I don’t believe He means it to damage or crush us. I trust His intention and promise to walk with me, to strengthen me on the journey, to build endurance into me, and to teach me compassion and understanding. I believe He means to be my One unshakable source of stability while the ground beneath me trembles. On days that are anything but easy, I learn to run to Him.

In the last three months, my body was sick and in recovery for longer than I wanted. My heart was/is broken by the death of one so dear, and I’m still walking that road. The fractured bone put limitations on me, making me think about this season of life, the aging process and how my body is changing with each passing year.

I think just asking the question, “Lord, what do you want to do in me?” is a prayer of sorts, a surrender to what He wants to do with my one wonderful life. Too often I’ve come kicking and screaming to His plan when it drastically changed my own. I’m a slow learner sometimes when it comes to submitting to His will.

Yet, in the deepest part of my heart, His will is exactly what I desire. I don’t want to go my own blind way, stumbling and fumbling along. I want His guiding hand, the gentle Shepherd’s leadership. I need the still waters, the restoring of my soul. I need to be made to lie down in green pastures when the captivity of activity drives me to distraction.

The Lord Jesus knows the way when I don’t see the next step. He calls me to rest when I’m too weary to think straight. He holds me together when the seams of my life begin to fray. He reminds me that the weight of the world rests on His shoulders, not on mine. He provides daily bread to sustain me. He gives sleep every night while He keeps watch.

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair . . . “
— 2 Corinthians 4:8

This season of wintering will pass, and spring will come again. The world will continue as God ordained it until He comes to make all things new. Until then hard days, challenges, troubles, and tears will be part of this life. The Lord Jesus came to earth as a man to share my humanity and to experience life as I know it. He lived with the hope of a coming victory. Thus, I can live with the same victory, the hope of a promise fulfilled and a glorious future.

On a warm day this week, I walked with Maisie and looked for signs of life in the garden. I found tiny beginnings of peonies shared from a good friend last fall. The birds are singing louder in the little woods these days, as if they know something. I saw a couple of robins, and the purple and white crocuses are blooming beside the front porch. New life emerges as the season begins to change. Nature whispers to me, “Our God is in control.”

I read the Psalms at the beginning of this year. They become words to pray. The ancient letters speak for me and speak to me. They are a balm to my weariness. I need their voice of lament and understanding and hope and praise. They point me to the One and only who holds the world and all creation and will complete the purpose He has planned.

He is the same One who holds me, and He will do what is best in me, through me and for me.

Sunday grace

I wander through the house, wondering what I’m supposed to be doing. It feels like slow motion. I lose focus quickly, moving on without completing the current task. My planner has “to do’s” but I don’t always get them done. And it doesn’t seem to matter.

Life has changed forever with the death of one so dear. It’s not the first time I experienced this lostness, this drifting, this weeping, and it will not be the last. But in this moment of time, with my heart and mind fragmented, God speaks to the woundedness of my soul.

I don’t consider prerusing stores for gifts. I look to Amazon for help or the gift box upstairs that holds previous purchases with friends and family in mind. I hope my people will not be disappointed. I hope they will understand and say “It’s OK.”

Still, I call to mind that this season in December is for celebrating the Living God coming to a broken world to heal and make whole. I lean into His declaration that He Is With Me Always. Sweet relief. Indescribable comfort. I will turn my thoughts to this truth again and again in the days ahead.

On the Sunday before Christmas Day, I retrieve and repeat another year’s post that shouts the unchanging message: Jesus is Emmanuel.

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See the source image

December 2017
I’ve written it in notes and Christmas cards this December, these words I am holding close this season.

Emmanuel God with us.

The hurry and flurry of the holidays keeps us hopping. Our homes are decorated with reds and greens, the twinkling lights gracing shrubbery, windows and trees in our living rooms. Packages appear in brightly wrapped paper and gift bags. We wear our Christmas sweaters with pride.

Friends and family fill the spaces. We drink eggnog and eat too many Christmas cookies. Laughter rings through the house, and we are thankful for these people who gather at the table.

Yet, there are grieving hearts, longing souls, functions that are a little dysfunctional because we all have our own problems to deal with. Sometimes we put on a happy face so no one sees the pain, so we don’t rain on the parade as it marches down the street.

We get irritated with crazy drivers and clogged traffic, long shopping lines and the out-of-stock item we wanted under the tree. Checking accounts are running a little low, and there’s still a week of bills to pay. Our patience is in short supply when demands are made on us that feel more like obligations than celebration. We wonder if our Christmas spirit has gone into hiding.

December is much like every other month on the calendar, fraught with challenges and opportunities. We have a choice on where we will focus.

Emmanuel – In Hebrew: With us is God.

It was the prophecy of Messiah from the pen of Isaiah, re-written in Matthew as a reminder of its fulfilling.

These words, spoken to us by God over and over through our history, as if we are hard of hearing.

Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.    — Genesis 28:15

And He said, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.”   — Exodus 33:14

The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.   — Psalm 46:7

Once more with a pronouncement from the angel Gabriel, God came to us wrapped in humanity, He whose name is Emmanuel.

Nativity

Very God grew and experienced life as I do, with all of its ups and downs, with vigor and weariness, with smiles and tears, with joyful celebrations and heartbreak of separation. He came as the “with us God” and demonstrated to us that we are not alone.

As He left this earth in a burst of clouded glory, He gave one final reminder to those who believed:

 “. . . And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”   — Matthew 28:20

Then sending the promised Holy Spirit, He remains with us in a way we could not have imagined.

Emmanuel. God is with us.

Do not fret or be afraid. Walk in the power of His presence. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad.

Our God is with us. His name is Jesus.

Sunday grace – This was Candi

I remember the day she was born. I was seven years old, sitting on a bed in an upstairs room of my Gramps Lockard’s house, with my cousin Vicki who was five. Someone brought a phone to our ears and we heard Vicki’s mother say, “It’s a girl” from her hospital room somewhere in Louisville. Vicki and I were excited to have another girl in our close-knit family. Her brother Danny, at nine years old, would be the only boy in our band of four.

Somehow, we kids got to help pick the baby’s name, Candi Hope. What kind of parents do that? We were a different family people told us. We only realized it years later. Our mothers were sisters and our fathers brothers, making us double first cousins. As a child, it was hard to understand or explain, but the bond I had with these cousins was strong. Being an only child, they were my substitute siblings, my pals and playmates, my confidantes and comrades. For most of our growing up years, our houses were next door to each other. We kept a path busy between us. We grew up together, went to church together, took family vacations together, spent our holidays together. We became adults, and we built our own houses on the family road.

When my aunt brought Candi came home from the hospital, I thought she was my baby. I wanted to take care of her, and when she was old enough to sit on my hip, I took every opportunity to keep her close. She was adorable, round-faced and happy, eye lashes that would rival a movie star’s fake ones.

As the baby of the family, Candi bore the title well. She was outgoing and fun, almost always smiling, her laughter coming easy. She made friends quickly and kept them for a lifetime. She was popular at school, a cheerleader, member of the choir and debate teams. She peppered her mother with questions and was told she should become a lawyer because she could relentlessly argue her point.

She’s second from the left, with no front teeth.

She had style early on. I sewed clothes for her when she was growing up, and she picked patterns with specifics. She asked me to make her wedding dress because she found two dresses and wanted their features combined. I labored long and prayed to get it just right for her. On the night I finished the dress, I cried from relief. And she looked beautiful on her wedding day.

Sweet William and I gave up our apartment to her and her new husband, Flavius. We moved in with my parents until our under-construction house was livable. I thought on that recently, wondering why I would do that. The only answer could be that she was like my baby sister, and I was willing if I could make her happy.

She was a fashion icon, with a special storage place, build by her Flay, for all her shoes. So many shoes. Her outfits coordinated from the dangling earrings to the bows on her stilettos. Her best feature, when she dressed for success, was her smile, the kind that makes every picture taken of her a keeper.

As adults, we worked together in church, on children’s programs, youth drama groups, Christmas and Easter musicals and plays. We were both planners and into the details. For a couple of amateurs, we coordinated some major productions and high-fived every time it was over.

She loved to sing and became a soloist as a teenager in our church youth choir. The song I remember best is My Tribute. “To God be the glory, for the things He has done.” A song she learned in children’s church became her theme and motto: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” She turned to this truth many times when life didn’t make sense, when sorrow threatened to overwhelm, when God’s ways were hard to accept.

As a young wife and mother, she gathered children around her, teaching them the Word through song and joining her husband in directing children’s church. Many of those children grew to be adults and became her friends.

She welcomed her son’s friends with open heart and open home, providing loads of snacks and a place to spread out and be kids. I remember one video recording made at her house when one of the boys said, “Do not try this in your own home.” Candi and Flavius were gracious with the antics of teenagers, while looking out for their safety and not missing a chance to point them to Jesus.

Candi’s house was party central for family and friends. Any excuse for a gathering was joy to her, never happier than when surrounded by a crowd. She loved it when people filled her home, she and Flavius working side by side to prepare food and make sure everyone had a place at the table. It didn’t matter the mess that was made or the clean-up required later, her door was open.

She became a mother-in-law and welcomed a daughter into her arms. When she became a grandmother, she delighted in having Mamaw day once a week, cherishing special time with her grandboys. She invited their cousins to her house, the third generation of our interconnected families, where they swam in the pool, jumped on the trampoline, created videos, explored the bank to the river, and enjoyed being children under her watchful eye.

She trusted Christ as a child and lived her faith. She testified to her friends who were atheist and non-believers, asking questions, listening and respectfully presenting her argument for Jesus being the only way. After her beloved husband died, she dug into Scripture and studied Heaven, wondering what Flay was doing there, wanting to know the intricacies of the Home the Father has prepared for us. She led our family Bible study for a year, digging into the Word, wanting to know what it truly says, and presenting it to us while giving us room to discuss and think deeply.

In the year leading up to her husband’s death, she and I spent more time together. We were the only ones left on what had been our family lane. I walked to her house many days for what we called “porch chats.” Sitting on her front porch in the early morning, we talked. Mostly I listened as she processed Flavius’ declining health and then his death. Sometimes tears came, and it was OK. We wondered at the ways of God, the hard places of life, what it looks like to trust Him in the dark. In the two years after Flay’s death, our topics spread to politics, theology, business, family, Bible interpretation, the mysteries of life. Nothing was off limits. Mostly we concluded that we just didn’t know all the answers.

On Tuesday, she died too soon for me and our family, and I cannot imagine what the days ahead will be like without her. She was full of fun and laughter and lived life well, even in her widowhood. Her grief did not keep her from participating in the living world around her, in loving and being with people. I cannot imagine another Thanksgiving, Hot Brown Friday, or Christmas morning breakfast. I cannot imagine still being here on this lane and her not being at her house when I walk there. I cannot imagine not ever getting her text again asking, “Do you have time for a chat?” I look at her beautiful home and can’t imagine not ever gathering there with family, with friends, her lighting up the atmosphere with her welcome and smile. I looked at her jewelry collection and can’t imagine not seeing her fashion glam when she dressed up. I cannot imagine not seeing her on the stage of church, leading in worship with the team. I can’t imagine not hearing her voice again sing praises to God.

It’s December and Christmas is near. It will be different this year. I just can’t muster the strength for the holiday flurry. I’ve managed a few decorations for the house, the small fiber optic tree that Sweet WIlliam loves so much, a nativity set and some angels. Somehow I find comfort in the Christmas songs on the radio and I sing along. “Joy to the world the Lord has come” holds me together when I feel like I’m coming apart at the seams. I know there is Truth in the message of Christ’s birth when there are no answers to life’s hard questions. He is Immanuel, the with us God, who gives us the gift of His presence in our deepest despair.

I believe Candi knew something we didn’t. When she got sick, she seemed to settle the life and death issue quickly, while the rest of us wrestled with it and prayed for healing and relief. Just a few days before she died, she texted me her funeral requests, songs she wanted, verses of Scripture that were important to her, especially Psalm 139:18.

. . . all my days were written in Your book and ordained for me before one of them came to be.

She was at peace with God being in charge of her death, the way He appointed her birth and guided her life. I was amazed at her quiet confidence in the One who saved her and the One she followed in simple faith all her years.

We are left with a gaping hole in our hearts. People loved her, cherished her as a friend and mentor. She probably didn’t realize the impact she had on so many. It is the way of a child of God who simply serves and loves and lives to the praise of His glory.

She knows what Heaven is like now. It is wonderful, beyond description. All light, no darkness or pain or tears or separation. Better than any travel destination. Yes. The mortal has been replaced with immortality, and life has never been as real, as wonderful and fair.

She called me “Cuz,” and that cousin relationship will always be our bond. But she was like my baby sister. Until we meet again in our Heavenly home, I’ll miss her always. Yet I grieve with the hope of another Time and another Place. Life without end. Seeing Jesus my Savior. Rejoicing with family and friends who will welcome me. Never separated again. Joy evermore. A continual Christmas celebration. All will be glory and praise to the One who made it possible.

Sunday grace.

Christmas grace

I turned the calendar to December and thought to myself, “I’m not sure Christmas is coming this year.”

As the season of lights and trees, buying frenzies and parties unending approaches, my heart is heavy as one of our own lies in a hospital bed. Daily reports are up and down, back and forth. We rejoice in good news and then are cast to the ground in despair when the doctor gives his latest prognosis. It is a roller coaster of emotions and I can’t get my breath.

I cry and speak all the words I know to pray until I have nothing else to say. The Father knows what we need before we ask. Still, He invites me to come into His very presence and make my requests known. I have done that as much as I know how. I don’t know what else to do.

We pray. Friends and family pray with us. They help us carry this burden that is too weighty for us to bear alone. It is so far reaching I could not even count the miles as word spreads to pray for our dear one. I am amazed as the body of Christ comes together as one to agree in our petitions, for strength, for healing, for wholeness. It is as if we are really one, like Jesus prayed we would be.

I believe God is who He says He is and that He can do what He says He can do. I read that Jesus told His disciples to pray and not give up. I remember the story of a man with leprosy who came and knelt, saying “LORD, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” And Jesus said, “I am willing.”

I want to see this mountain cast into the sea. I want this storm quieted by Jesus own words of “peace, be still.” I want Him to say to me, to all who are praying for a miraculous healing, “I am willing.”

That is what I want.

He holds life and death in His hands. He breathes and we live. He determines our birth and our life’s ending. He rules the kingdoms of this earth and the kingdoms of our hearts. He is God and there is no other. He will do what He will do according to His own purpose and plan. There is nothing to do but bow the knee to the King of kings.

I call to mind the prayer of Habakkuk:

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

All that is left is to praise Him.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and was and is to come–the Almighty.”

While it may seem the world goes its merry way to celebrate with the excesses we human’s lean toward, I ponder what Christmas is: the Holy One who made Himself small enough to come and be like us, to be with us, to suffer along side us, to be in us. He came in the muck and mire of humanity, took on our feeble flesh and pointed us to Salvation. Because He is Salvation, the One and only who can save us from ourselves. This is the reason we celebrate.

Though the outward shell of this body wastes away, because of Jesus it is well with my soul. It is well with my dear one’s soul. She is His child. He loves her more than I do, and He will do all things well.

Behold, He makes all things new.

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

At my age and well into my seventh decade, I should expect it. But I’m still shaken to the depths at another good friend leaving this world for a one better.

She called me her ‘forever friend’ because of our early attachement to each other. In the basement of our childhood church, we often twirled to see whose skirt was the prettiest and the fullest. It was in this basement where we attended weekly children’s church, and the foundation of our mutual faith was built strong. We sang in a little-girls trio and made pretty good harmony. We were baptized at the same service. Years later we talked about the early years, how we first learned to grow in grace and the knowledge of Jesus our Savior.

My heart hurt yesterday after hearing the news of her death. Tears came freely and I gave in to the weeping, remembering Psalm 56:8 tells me my tears are acknowledged by my heavenly Father.

Lying in bed and ready for sleep, memories of our long-time friendship played in my mind. She and I were born the same year, and we both took piano lessons. As young pals, she often came home with me on a Sunday night to spend the days of summer until we returned to church again on Wednesday. She ate tuna fish sandwiches with me because that was my lunch of choice most days. She played with my dogs and rode my horse and entered into my life in a way that etched a permant mark.

As adults and mothers of growing children, we again shared church and life experiences. She and I played music for worship, her on the piano and me on the organ, and we could almost read each other’s expressions across the podium as we flowed with the leading of the Spirit.

Judy was an expert planner of events, whether a choir reunion, a women’s weekend meeting, Christmas tea parties, or our son’s wedding. I helped serve at a couple of the tea parties she hosted at her house where every detail was meticuolous and the house was rearranged to accommodate a crowd. The women who were seated at tables and served delicacies were astonshed at the preparations and felt loved that this was just for them.

She loved children in the way of Jesus who said “Let the little children come.” She talked and listened like they were real people. She catered to their special tastes and had the best treats tucked away in her tall kitchen cabinet. She made my grandchildren feel as special as I tried to. She was a pied piper of sorts, calling them to come and get some of her unique love.

Judy was a gift-giver at heart, the presentations always lavish with an extra amount of effort. Each birthday and Christmas, there was a lovely bag filled with surprises particular to me. Always there was something blue, like a teapot or tiny box, wrapped in tissue paper because she remembered my favorite color.

My friend offered me a safe harbor in 2003 when I was desperately in need. I recall with tears her gentle ways of welcome, the small gifts of kindness, the listening ear and non-judgment of the hard place where I found myself.

When a group of adults took a passel of teenagers to Michigan to do drama ministry, she saved us from a torturous trip home by offering air freshner and a clean t-shirt when one of the kids threw up in the car, spattering Sweet William in the process. It was anything but funny at the time, but we laughed about it years after the fact.

Soon after the death of my mother in February 1983, Judy asked me to teach a lesson on faith to her class. It was an incredulous request, I thought, since I was wrestling with my own faith in the throes of grief, and I was in a bit of a crisis. For some reason I said yes to her. In my Bible I wrote a notation at Hebrews 10:19-23, “my first sermon,” the date 3-18-83.

She asked me again and again through the years to speak, to teach, calling forth a gift in me I did not know I had. While music was my comfort zone of ministry, the Lord used her to lead me into an area of teaching. She was an instrument of His grace, iron sharpening iron.

This morning I think of the hole left in lives of her husband, her children and grandchildren, family and friends. Her influence was deep and wide, loving people in simple and profound ways. At this moment I can only think of her bright smile and laughter, not the way sickness ravaged her body in the closing years of her life.

People say, “She’s in a better place.” And I know it is true. The glories of her Heavenly Home do not compare to the beauties surrounding us on this earth. The Jesus she proclaimed to others as the only way of salvation is the Jesus she now sees face to face, beholding the glory of all His goodness.

I wonder how the heavenly reunion happens when a saint of God enters the eternal portals. Does word spread throughout the Celestial City that she’s coming? Do they get excited with the anticpated reunion, like I look forward to a visit from my dear ones? Do family and friends, the great crowd of witnesses, gather to greet and welcome? I wonder about such things.

If they do, then I picture faces of saints gone before. Judy’s parents and grandparents will be there. Friends she loved here will be among the crowd. My mother and dad might be on the sidelines waiting their turn to joyously embrace another soilder who has come home.

Home. Judy loved her home, making it beautiful and comfortable for all to enter and enjoy, touches of herself showing up in every room. Now she is Home in a way I can only dream about and look forward to when it is my turn to go.

My heart aches in the remembering today, but there is a sweetness present too. The love and encouragement she gave me, the welcome and smile that were as big as her hug and her heart, the way we walked the path of salvation together through many years, how she loved Jesus and wanted others to know Him.

My time of departure from earth’s hold will come one day. The years are mounting up faster than I can grasp, making me conscious of the frailty of life. I hope my story is one that points to Jesus, like Judy’s did.

I know there is something more than this life. Though it offers beauty and joy, it is mixed with the pain of sorrow and loss. There is another place, a place where the living God dwells in glorious unaproachable light, and He invites me to make my citizenship there, to be where He is. He has paid the price for me through Jesus’ death and resurrection, and He bids me come. Come home.

My forever friend will be among the heavenly throng welcoming me when it’s my turn to leave here. And she’ll be smiling with open arms as we share stories of amazing grace.

Sunday grace.

Sunday grace

Standing at the check-out desk of the library, a former piano student turned library employee scanned my selections.

“Minimalism?” she queried, seeing several books on the topic. She’d been to my house and knew it was not my style. I told her I was always looking for ways to lighten my load, to clear the clutter, and to open up spaces. I try.

As I glanced through one of the books showing blank walls and table tops devoid of anything, I tossed it into the return-to-library stack. A different book by another author was more promising, motivating me to evaluate what is needed, what is beautiful, what brings memories, and discard the rest. Ah, I can do this.

Looking at the rooms where Sweet William and I have lived for well over 40 years, we have collected plenty. Books line shelves and sit in stacks on tables. Mementos adorn surfaces and shelter behind glass and in closed cabinets. Nested Corning Ware pans I got when we were newly married are still used regularly, and pots I inherited when my mother died are my go-to cookware.

I glance around and remember. The small birdhouses were painted by the grandchildren when they were small. Collected cookbooks hold treasured recipes from church ladies. A small desk lamp belonged to my dear Aunt Dottie. Delicate cups with saucers behind glass enclosures call to mind tea parties for grown ups and children alike. The figurines I call George and Martha Washington had their place in my parents’ home. Brass candlesticks on the coffee table were a gift from my uncle who liked exotic things.

Sweet William has his own collections of guitars and musical odds and ends, build and repair tools, and those semi-important miscellany to keep just in case we might need them someday.

The extra bedroom houses some dolls our grands used to play with. I keep them because friends have grandgirls who visit. The neighbors who live in the house next door have two little guys who look forward to the old matchbox cars that belonged to our son.

These are things remembered with multiplied memories attached. How can I toss them out? What if I forget what unfolded in my life?

Perhaps an unacknowled blessing is my ability to still remember the places, events, and people peppering our lives. Random things in this old house are triggers, promts that jog my brain and take me back to places visited, celebrations, and most importantly the people who have enriched me in ways I cannot even describe.

Reading the Holy Word I see it oft repeated by the Lord God, “remember.” Remember what the Lord did. Remember how He delivered. Remember that He provided. Remember His faithfulness. Remember He is your Redeemer.

On the night Jesus shared His last Passover with friends, He told them to remember. Drink the cup and eat the bread and remember. And we still share communion with brothers and sisters in Christ in order that we remember the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord.

I need reminders of my spiritual journey, like my spiral note cards filled with Scripture verses, like hand-written notations in my Bible, like art work hanging on the walls of our home, like sharing with a friend how good God has been to me. I need reminders lest I forget.

Very slowly I’m looking in closets and drawers, trying to determine what can stay, what should go. I think about the when and where, the memory attached, the people who were part of it. I’m sure I will never be a true minimalist. It isn’t my nature. This old house is a museum of artifacts and our history, interesting finds, plunder from the journey, a story of who we are and where we’ve been.

In the process, let me hold to the good and true, the beauty of walking with Jesus through valleys and mountains, and recall the goodness of our God. It is well worth remembering.

Sunday grace.

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