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Sunday grace

It is a day for palm waving and shouts of joy. The crowds gather with prophesied words, “Hosannah, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Praises roar as excitement builds to fever pitch.

The hope of Israel comes riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, humbly yet with the air of royalty. This man is different, unlike others before. He holds crowds sway with His words of authority. He speaks and dead men live again, the lame walk and the blind see.

He confounds the wise with His stories and calls out the motives of the powerful. He walks on water and calms the wind like a restless child.

He keeps company with an unlikely and rowdy bunch, parties with publicans and tax collectors, and has intimate conversations with outcasts.

As he rides into the city amid proclamations of Messiah, knowing that their honor will be short lived, He sees the heart of the matter. He perceives the thoughts and intentions of those giving Him praise now.

While the parade proceeds, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of year-old sheep are being chosen and affirmed Passover lambs. One lamb for each family, it is marked for death in just a few days. As households gather for their annual celebration meal of roasted lamb, bitter herbs and unleavened bread, they will tell the story of their deliverance from Egypt and hope for another Deliverer.

Do the people fully comprehend that here He comes, riding on a donkey? This One was proclaimed Lamb of God by John at the river Jordan. He is the One Abraham prophesied, “God Himself will provide the lamb.” On this Sunday, designated now as Palm Sunday, He is marked for death in just a few days. Crowds will gather at the foot of the cross as His blood pours out for whosoever will.

He is Jesus, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. He has come to set us free.

Sunday grace.

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Changing seasons

I gladly admit that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

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That does not negate the fact that Christmas is designated as the date for the birth of Jesus, and Easter is the day I celebrate His resurrection. But those holidays have morphed into something different, something other than the sacredness of the original. Thanksgiving, however,  still calls us to give thanks, to gather with our family and friends, to enjoy the bounty of a God who gives good gifts.

As the day approaches, I ponder how we will celebrate this year. Our menu remains relatively the same, each of us cooking our special recipes, but there will be differences in us. Because families change.

When I was young I celebrated with my parents and extended family. Me being an only child and my mother and aunt being sisters/best friends, the family units combined to make one big happy one.  As my cousins and I became adults and added spouses and children to the mix, place settings were added and the house got a little louder.

I recall the first emotional change for me. It was the year of my mother’s death. Thanksgiving approached and I could not wrap my mind around doing it without her. She had been a vital part of the day, cooking with my aunt, her voice and laughter ringing in the kitchen where steam rose from the stove and aromas led us to ask, “Is it time to eat?”

I asked Sweet William to take me away that year. I could not act like everything was the same, because it wasn’t.

Through the decades, members of our family have been added and subtracted. More often our circle grew, but sometimes it diminished due to death, divorce, travel or a move.

An open invitation policy meant we might have new neighbors, a pastor’s family, or friends needing a place of welcome. It was interesting to see who was at our Thanksgiving table.

This year, once again, I long for my dear ones in a distant state. I miss my dad, gone from us five years now, and remember how his birthday often fell on Thanksgiving day. I miss others who have not been at our table for many years. We have adjusted to their absence. But we don’t forget their faces, their laughter, and the richness they brought to our lives.

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Friends come to mind who face the struggle of a loved one gone this year. My heart hurts with them. The first year is the hardest people say. But grief is not on a timetable. We must give place to the heartache, allow the tears to come and vent the sorrow. We need to be patient with ourselves as we work our way through the loss. Because joy will come in the morning.

Thanksgiving will always be my best family holiday. There will be hugs and laughter, deep discussions and funny stories, memories and questions.  After dinner, the older men will meander to the couch to watch football and maybe take a nap. The women will browse Black Friday ads, whether we intend to go out or not. We’ll talk, circling around one subject and then another, never missing a beat. The young parents will discuss politics, careers, home, and children. The kids will be on an adventure of fun.

We will look around and be glad for those near. We will give thanks for those who have come and gone, remembering how they impacted our lives.  We will wish for days when the entire family will be together once more.100_2694

We will remember God’s faithfulness through all the years of our lives. And we will give thanks to the One who blessed us with all of this.

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October ending 2018

October is two days gone and I’m already behind. It’s like being on a speeding locomotive, the months of this year moving so quickly. Before I twirl around a couple of times I will have whizzed through Thanksgiving and Christmas, and it will be next year. Stop! Slow down, please.

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Kentucky weather is interesting if nothing else. I had to grab my corduroy coat, complete with scarf, hat, and gloves for my morning walk in October. Maisie wore her purple “Woof” sweater. It was way too soon for both of us.

woof sweaterThe few days that were warm enough for me to sit on the deck with a cup of coffee were especially enjoyable, maybe because they were rare. Isn’t it like us to finally appreciate  what we’ve had a-plenty but now long for? We become satiated and lose the enjoyment of the abundance we possess.

Having dismissed the yard work for the season, I did plant a couple of tiny trees in my cousin’s yard. It’s what I can do for her and her husband after a summer of dealing with illness and recovery. I’m praying those little saplings dig their roots deep into the earth and flourish next spring. New life speaks the language of hope.

Sometimes in our enthusiasm, we want to do great things for God, large and far-reaching. With the wisdom only living gives, I perceive it is in doing the simple and ordinary that we descern the pleasure of God. “Do what is in front of you.” “Do what you can with the gifts you have.” “Do the small things well with love.” Yes, that is the guidance presented to me.

I got to visit my younger friend in an adjoining county. Going alone this time, I was quite confident with my trusty Gypsy (GPS) telling me where to turn. Even at her directions, I passed the drive to my friend’s house, which happens every single time. The trees and telephone poles all look the same along that stretch of highway.

Arriving at her house, she showed me her latest project. She’s always got one in progress. Her home is comfortable and beautifully decorated. We ate and chatted about family, faith and things familiar to us until it was time for me to go. I’m so thankful she reached out to me a couple of years ago, just a message on Facebook that lead to a connection and friendship. God does amazing things when we are open to His leading and then open our hearts.

The book most impacting me this month was Hiding in the Light , autobiography by Rifqa Bary. Her story was in the news in 2009, a Muslim teenager who found Jesus as her Savior, with the resulting conflict in her family. It was a gripping story, a glimpse into a different faith and a young woman’s courage, and a striking contrast of God’s grace. Highly recommended.

Sweet William and I played old hymns at a dinner for the widows at church. It was an elegant and detailed event to bless the women and show them love and support. The songs stirred up memories for all of us, I think.

It was satisfying to be at the keyboard and guitar once again. There were years Sweet William and I joined the band every single Sunday, playing loud, playing long, worshiping God with the gifts He gave us. We reminisce about those good years of serving, how our hearts were tuned in to the worship, how the Lord showed up in our praise and blessed as the Spirit moved among us.

There’s one song I’ve been remembering and singing. My favorite version of “Ain’t No Grave” is by Russ Taff. His excitement is contagious, and I want to celebrate with him. I notice that when I talk of my age I’m speaking in decades now. My years are adding up swiftly, and I’m trying to come to grips with its brevity.

My body feels the affect of living long in a broken world. I move slower. I am concerned about balance and the risk of falling. I pray to stay strong and for my knees to last. I do things I hope will keep my mind sharp. I don’t want to forget what I’ve learned through books and experience.

If Jesus tarries coming for His bride, one day my life here will be over and I will go by way of the grave. There’s no fear or concern in that. I’ve rested my hope in a risen Savior who defeated death and handed that victory to me. It will be glory. And there “ain’t no grave gonna hold my body down!”

Bible study has been a major part of the last two months.  The women who gathered at our table each week, have no idea how they bless me. We are hungry to know God, stretching our faith to Believe Him. I’m coming out of this study richer for the fellowship as we journeyed together. We bond as we open God’s Word and share our hearts with each other.

The month of October has been busier than usual. I’m still trying to figure out why, hoping to plan a quieter, less stressed November. I think it is possible, even in a culture that presses me to believe enough is not really enough.

Time has limits, the same as my body, my finances, my resources, my years.  Autumn reminds me to slow, to observe, to turn loose, to draw upon the blessedness of my existence and believe my Creator has it all in His hands. Contentment continues to call me with an alluring voice. “Come, be filled with joy in the abundance of God’s bountiful gifts.”

He is good. He is strong. He is enough.

 

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April ending 2018

Spring has finally sprung at my old Kentucky home. The trees have filled out and I no longer have a clear view through the little woods. One day last week, I saw two young deer wandering through. Maisie barked, of course, and the young buck began to stomp his feet at her. It was humorous to see them face-off each other. Never mind that a chain link fence divides their territory.

If I was going to talk about the weather it would be that in April we experienced a little of everything: sunshine and warm days, rain, sleet, snow, that kept me in my corduroy coat and a scarf. I saw Facebook pictures of men dressed in winter wear cutting their grass as snowflakes fell. Even this morning there was frost. After finally moving the plants from the garage to the outdoors this weekend, I had to cover them to prevent frostbite. It’s been a bit crazy.

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With all the growth going on, the yard calls to me. I’ve worked a few days doing the clean up required after winter. I dig, hoe, gather, pull, clip, and hope the fruit of my labor is rewarded. I know my body sure aches at end of day.

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We had some girls visit during the week of spring break, and the house rang with chatter, laughter, singing, and musical instruments. We craft and we eat and we sit at the table and enjoy the fellowship of the young who help us feel a little more alive.

We got to spend some time with our Mississippi relatives who came for a few days visit. Sweet William’s nieces, with their families, are real southerners, their accents delightful. We don’t get to see them often enough.

We celebrated the 16th birthday of our youngest grandchild in the way we can. I packed a birthday box to mail with surprises I hoped would please him. This year I sent vintage ties. Yes, the boy likes to wear a tie and has practiced different knots. Two of them had belonged to his great-grandfather and one was worn by his dad in high school. When we talked to him on the phone, our grandson was thrilled. And I told myself this is why I save things.

Family means so much, it is heritage and memory, our past and our future. We can neglect a lot of things in this life, but family should never be one of them.

Sweet William and I visited our first official yard sale of the year, and now I see them popping up everywhere. I’ve already had a talk with myself about stopping too often and buying things I don’t need. After my semi-annual garage clean-out last weekend and the things I threw away or put in the give-away box, I need to be more discriminating.

One of the books I finished in April was Almost Amish by Nancy Sleeth. Its theme is simplicity, family and faith. I can testify that a simple life is better We can complicate it with too much stuff, too many commitments and too much doing rather than being. Having been there and done that, I don’t intend to buy the T-shirt from that yard sale. The message of the book was a good reminder.

I’ve been reading memoirs lately and how-to-write-memoir books, as if I think I might. But the ones I’ve read recently are about people with very disturbed lives. I’m sure there are other reasons to write about one’s life then to tell how horrible it was. My life has not been that disturbing, so I probably won’t be writing my memoir.

I don’t often recommend movies, but we watched one worth mentioning this month. (And let me say we’ve “kissed a lot of frogs” in the form of movies which is why I prefer to borrow from my library. If I don’t want to finish it, it’s no big deal, and if Sweet William falls asleep during, that’s OK too.). Same Kind of Different as Me is taken from true events and contains an uplifting  message.

After a day digging in the dirt today (my fingernails are proof), the sun is beginning to set, and I hear the birds from my rocker by the window. They sing at end of day as well as at its beginning. These musical creatures have a rhythm to their simple lives. Nests in bushes are tended by hovering parents gathering worms, with the robin being the fussy one, until the young are old enough to be on their own.

There are four goslings on the lake across the road, their parents swimming before and behind them in single file. One goose sat for weeks through all kinds of weather, faithfully tending her eggs. I watched her, admiring her tenacity. Then last week she was off the nest and gone, the eggs broken and scattered by some critter, I assume. It made me sad as I stood and looked at the remains, and I wonder if she grieved the loss of her young the way we do.

Loss has been part of this month, us visiting the funeral home too often this entire year. Is it the stage of life we are in, where those we know are aging? I’m not sure. It never gets easier no matter how many times we stand at a casket, hoping our presence offers some little comfort.

April has spoken of life, newness, and Easter resurrection. And though we have bundled up against the cold, we expected the sun to shine warm.  We find hope in this place, in this time, casting off the bleak bareness of winter to enjoy rebirth.

And this is life. Birth. Living. Death. It comes full circle whether we plan and prepare or if we just skip along unconscious and unaware of how precious each day is.

While the days grow longer, the warmth of the sun boosts my mood and gives me energy. I read in John 1 how Jesus came as the Light giving Life to all who would receive Him.

Life. Light. It is what I crave. I choose it gladly.

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Sunday grace

This morning I wept.

Over the death of my friend’s husband, her blog recording their three-year journey from devastating diagnosis to final farewell. Though they had prepared for this day, how can a heart get ready for this?

Over a different friend whose husband only had weeks from his knowing to barely saying his good-byes. Who tells us how to be equipped for such things?

Over known and worried-about diseases that threaten our peace, the wondering that gives no answers; the tests, therapy, surgeries that may provide some relief but cannot put us back together all new again.

Over things like time and space, differences and disagreements that separate families when family is the place we belong, where we find ourselves and become.

Over a world gone terribly wrong with hatred and anger, where seething erupts against the innocent and helpless.

Over those who cannot or will not believe that there is something better than this, that God sent His one and only Son for relationship, for the sake of love.

And my heart longs for Eden. For the beauty of the earth God had in mind in the beginning. This world does not feel like home, not in the shape it is in.

Then I turn to behold Christ alone, the fullness of God who came to live awhile among us. He showed us the Father, and it was glorious. His beauty out-shined the darkness, breaking the night with a dazzling light. His love was overwhelming, completely pure, unconditional and freely given.

Though broken, the earth still reflects God’s magnificence in mountains and rivers, giant oaks and tiny wildflowers, in birds and bees and babies’ faces. I recognize Him in each kindness and smile, in the tender words and a loving heart.

Though broken, the world will be renovated, renewed, redeemed.

One day the weak will be made strong. The restless will find peace. The sick will be made whole. The broken will be mended. The forgiven will receive a glad welcome. The questions will be answered. The tears will be wiped away. And we will be home.

Sunday grace.

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A Holy weekend

It is the last day of March, time for my March ending post, but the day seems too holy to be casual or frivolous about weather and a slow spring emerging.

Sweet William and I shared a Good Friday service last night with people of our congregation. It was solemn, quiet, thoughtful. We ate the bread and drank the cup, and I left the building with remembrance etched in my mind.

At home as we prepared for bed, I spied the Passover moon out the window, brilliant in a darkening sky. I’ve missed it during the grey days of March, it hiding behind layers of cloud. The moon beckoned me into a season of the holy.

This morning I searched for a hymnal with the song sung a capella at the end of the service. O Sacred Head Now Wounded is mournful, an appropriate ending to last night’s reverent gathering.

Two millennial ago, those who loved Jesus and watched Him die were been grief-striken on the Saturday following. Death in the most cruel and painful form was pressed upon One who’s only crime was doing good on the Sabbath and claiming equality with God.

Did they huddle in homes, no words spoken, for what could be said that would relieve their hearts, broken with the sadness of finality.

We call it Good Friday, not because of any earthly good that transpired but because an eternal good was at work, what would only be apparent in days to come.

There is hope today because of that Good Friday. Death is not the end of life. For those in Christ Jesus, it is only the beginning.

Take time to think of the reality of Jesus death and resurrection. It changed the world. It changed me. It can change you.

If you want to read a post about Good Friday from 2013, you may find it here.

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Remembering February 11

I started looking through the photos this week as I do whenever I think about organizing the boxes of pictures. I get a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of bringing order to a hundred years worth of family images.

When I come to the old black and whites, I linger long. There is one of my maternal grandparents looking young and sassy, and then years later they are with their three young children at the beach. I gaze at faces in sepia, my newly-wed parents, in the flower of their youth, and it’s hard to imagine them that way.

There are pictures of my dad in his army uniform and small portraits of mother that she regularly sent to dad when he was overseas during World War 2. I think how handsome he was, how beautiful she was. I only know those young people by photograph, and I wonder what life was like for them with their dreams and plans still ahead of them.

 

With those faces in the back of my mind, it’s not surprising to me that I walked down another memory lane this morning.

I’ve been reading the Psalms during February, and today I landed in chapter 56. I love the songs of David, Asaph, and the sons of Korah. In deeply troubling times, I have lived in the Psalms, the words reflecting my anxious heart and my dark emotions. Always, the writer points me heavenward, encouraging me to praise the God of mercy who is full of compassion and loving kindness.

This morning, this verse made me pause – Selah – and think:

What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.   — Psalm 56:3

The lyrical King James language is so familiar and how I quote the verse to myself. It is the language of the Scriptures I grew up with and learned to love. Since then I have expanded my library to include lots of versions and paraphrases, all with the aim of understanding what God is wanting to say to me.

What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.” I’ve been afraid, more times than I care to admit. One particular year comes to the forefront this morning. It was 1983, the year my mother took to a hospital bed in the living room of her and dad’s home, the one with red carpet on the floor. Mother loved red, and she had her way with this house.

Dad was a builder and over the years of their marriage, he built and sold our house four times that I remember. The red-carpeted-living-room house was to be the final home, and mother was a happy homemaker in it.

My mother, who had never been seriously sick, became gravely ill. When there was nothing else to do but make sure she was comfortable, we did all we could to see that she was, surrounding her with our presence. Friends and family filled the house during the early months of 1983, bearing food and fellowship, prayers and support.

My dad made gallons of coffee all throughout the day, standing at the gas stove stirring grounds into almost-boiling water. It was his old-fashioned way of brewing, and I suppose it gave him something to do. Coffee was our drink of comfort and he doled it out generously.

My mother loved to laugh and have fun. She was a warm and welcoming kind of person, inviting people into her life, loving them like they belonged. She was a woman full of faith in her Savior, and she had a voice that could “bring the Spirit down” as we used to say in our church. People loved to hear her sing, and everyone had their favorite song request.

As her life ebbed away, and that strong, vibrant voice became a whisper, she never seemed to waiver in her confidence in the God who was the subject of her songs. The words she sang so often were still true for her.

Sometimes when my faith would falter, and no sunlight I can see
I just lift my eyes to Jesus, and I whisper “Pilot me.”
“Fear thou not for I’ll be with thee.  I will still thy Pilot be.
Never mind the tossing billows.  Take my hand and trust in Me.”

Like those who experience heartbreak, I struggled with questions and doubts, not understanding why all this was happening. Why weren’t my prayers being answered in the way I wanted? I was grappling with my own faith, and fear was a companion.

When mother died on February 11 , dad and I were devastated, as were family members and those who felt like family. We wandered like zombies through many days and weeks, wondering how to live without the person who brought joy, laughter and love to our lives. But time passed as we tried to learn how to exist without her.

One day, I happened upon mother’s wallet. I opened it and saw her driver’s license. Those pictures are never good, but this time it was precious to me. Upon further looking, I found a strip of paper folded inside the wallet. There in mother’s familiar script were the words of Psalm 56:3, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee.” Then I remembered that she has written that verse on paper and tucked it into the strap of her bra, wearing it like a badge of courage during the days of uncertainty.

She had faced fear too. In her love for us, she tried to be brave, but she had been afraid. It was astonishing to me at first, but I recognized my mother’s humanity in that moment. She had been my rock, unwavering, unfaltering, always there for me with a listening ear and words of wisdom. Looking at her handwriting on a scrape of paper I saw that she was much like me, me with my with questions and struggles and my grasping for faith when it is hard.

What made the moment profound was the understanding that she had taken hold of the only One who could calm her fears, and she learned to trust even in her fear. And here was an answer for me in my own weakness.

My heavenly Father knows I am prone to frailty and fear. He speaks “Fear not” to me and asks me to trust Him when I can’t see what He is doing. His provision of grace through Jesus gives strength when I have none.  He runs to my cry of Abba Father.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of mother’s death. That day long ago is forever etched in my mind. Grief overwhelmed me then, and I didn’t think I could go on. But I was strengthened by grace, the same grace that strengthened my mother as she walked out her calling on this earth, the same grace available to each of God’s children.

I’ve learned a lot in the years since that heart-wrenching day, learned that God is trustworthy in the darkness; that He has a bigger plan than I can comprehend; that He is good and showers us with daily blessings; that He fills the hungry with good things; that He loves the unloveable and watches for the prodigal to come home; that He gives a second chance, again and again and again.

I have found God to be faithful through my years, every single time. And when I am afraid, I can trust in Him.