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Sunday grace

 

101_1664It was a free day, nothing scheduled, a rare treat. So I filled it.

  • Wrote a note to a friend experiencing depression to assure her of my care and devotion.
  • Mailed a gift to a young couple who just moved to a new area, them trying to find their place and settle into home.
  • Baked cookies and took them to a teenager who is recovering from a serious accident.
  • Delivered dinner to a family in crises.
  • Visited a friend and brought a small mum as a love offering.

Turned out, it was a busy day with an added trip to the grocery store and library, And there are always meals to prepare and cleaned up at the Wright House.

By evening, I was tired but exhilarated. It was one of the best days I’ve had in a long time.

There were those years not so long ago when we were the ones in need, and people gave and gave. Back then I looked forward to the day when we could be the givers. Yesterday was one of those days. And it was joyous.

Grace we have received. Grace we will offer.

Sunday grace.

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How then shall we give?

Please welcome my friend Debbie Moore to Strengthened by Grace once again.  Her son’s mission experience is a story worth telling.  Take time to savor this narrative.  And maybe grab a tissue.  Most of all, expect your heart to be touched.

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” Acts 20:35

Unshaven and eighteen pounds lighter, our son Jonathan met us with a smile at the airport in Nashville, Tennessee, after having spent four months serving the poorest of the poor in Sierra Leone, a small, war-torn country in West Africa.

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It was December 17, 2011, and our family had planned our annual outing to the Opryland Hotel to enjoy its iconic Christmas lights and to do Christmas shopping together. At Jonathan’s request, our first stop was to shop for children and fellow servants in Kroo Bay, a shanty town in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, where he had served and learned so much about the privilege of abundance.

It was an afternoon our family shall never forget as we learned about the abject poverty in Sierra Leone. In Kroo Bay one in four children dies before the age of five. While there, Jonathan had participated in a funeral for a precious five-year-old boy, one who had befriended him while he was there.

The life expectancy in Kroo Bay is 37 years due to poor sanitation and disease, and 100 percent of the adults are unemployed. Every Saturday a Mercy Ship comes into port to give each child one hard-boiled egg and a tablespoon of peanut butter paste, which may be the only nutritional food he or she receives for the week.

We were deeply humbled at the thought of purchasing gifts from our abundance to help meet needs of God’s children across the world, people our son had so grown to love.

Our next stop was the Opryland Hotel in the land of affluence and indulgence.

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As we walked through the crowds of tourists and visitors, Jonathan suddenly became quiet and introspective.

Just imagine catching contaminated rainwater with which to bathe one day and viewing free-flowing waterfalls and dancing fountains the next; eating a hard-boiled egg for breakfast one morning and having the privilege to order a mouth-watering steak for the price a family of six sustains itself for a month; rubbing shoulders with families dressed in designer fashions who live in Pottery Barn houses after leaving families clad in tattered and mismatched clothing who have no home.

Our family began to see Christmas through the eyes of the poor and felt shame for our glamoured lives of waste and pursuit of more. As we replaced our traditional family gift-giving with those for poverty-imprisoned children, we experienced an unspeakable joy in our hearts that Christmas season.

What would hinder us from giving sacrificially instead of receiving this Christmas season?  Like the wise men who presented gifts to the Christ Child, could we offer gifts to the less fortunate in His name?  

Poverty abounds even in our own country. Let us teach our children through example that it is indeed more blessed to give than to receive – a priceless lesson that could be passed from generation to generation, that we may truly exalt the Giver of life and all good gifts through every blessing we enjoy.

 

Drummer boy

Back in October I heard the familiar sound, far across the way, the tap-tap tapping of the drum corps in perfect synchronization as they marched onto the football field of a local high school.  It brought back fond memories of my own little drummer boy who grew up to become a percussionist.  He can still handle a mean pair of sticks.

While Scripture does not record an appearance of a drummer who shows up at Jesus birth, I think there is truth conveyed in the song, Little Drummer Boy.

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In a variation done by Prestonwood Baptist Church Choir, a child sings, “I’ll play for you,” and the choir echoes the same promise.  The phrase holds meaning for me, perhaps because I am a musician who spent many years in service to the Lord by giving the gift I’d been given and playing for Him. It gets even better since I married a musician, birthed a musician, and now have the privilege of teaching others to be musicians.

But one does not have to be a musician or a singer or in a marching band to find meaning in the phrase, “I’ll play for you.”

When God called Moses to lead the Israelites our the bondage of Egypt, He asked him, “What is that in your hand?”  To which Moses acknowledged it was only a rod, a staff, a piece of wood.  Nothing special or unusual.  Until it was put into the service of the Lord, and it became the rod of God.

What is in your hand today?  Culinary expertise?  Organizational skills?  A patient listening ear?  An ability to explain the difficult so even the simple can understand?  Do you teach, help, pray, give from your resources, show mercy?  Do you clean up other peoples’ messes?  Do you have patience to work with children or the mentally and physically challenged?  Can you lead a group of people?  Are you nurturing little ones in your home? Caring for an elderly relative?

The thing that is in your hand is the instrument on which you can play for the King.  It is your gift.

Come they told me, Pa rum pum pum pum, a new born King to see, Pa rum pum pum pum

Our finest gifts we bring, Pa rum pum pum pum, to lay before the king,  Pa rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum

So to honor Him, Pa rum pum pum pum, when we come.

No matter what “drum” you are playing for the Savior this Christmas season, play it loud.  Play it clear.  Play it so all the world will hear.  Christ the Lord is born!  And He is worthy of what we offer.

And so we honor Him.  Then He smiles at us.

A revised post from 2011

What to do with Valentine’s Day

100_1774February.  The month of Love.  Soon after January the first the stores fill with red and white temptations, decorations, cards of endearment.  All of it shouting “buy me, buy me and show someone how much you love!”

I recall working with a young woman who was a newly wed.  It was Valentine’s Day.  Her newly wed husband took her to lunch and handed her a card.  She happened to see the sales receipt for the card and found he had only purchased it just before lunch.  She threw the card at him, angry for his lack of planning because to her that meant he didn’t put enough thought into his efforts at love and romance.

I had been married for all of 15 or so years, and I knew that young woman had a lot to learn about love and marriage.  Sadly, the couple divorced after just a year or two.

So what do we do with Valentine’s Day, a day that seems to be made for couples who are madly in love and can’t wait to shower one another with flowers, candy, jewelry, and romantic dinner dates?

Saint Valentine didn’t invent love.  It started in the beginning when the Word was with God and the Word was God and nothing was made without Him being there, His hand forming each and every molecule of life.

Love has to be more than a fancy card or Godiva chocolates  or candles glowing.

I think of the single woman in my Bible study class who longs for a husband and feels like her time is running out and how does she even find a good man in a society where giving up herself is expected after a few dates.

I think of my divorced friend who has settled into her singleness and will not get a romantic love note.

I think of a widow and a widower who lost their spouses of 50 plus years to death last year and will face a Valentine’s Day with no sweetheart.

I think of my precious almost 17-year-old granddaughter who has the same dreams I did at that age of finding that someone special and making a life with him.  But where is he?

And I want to know about this thing called Love.

Valentine’s Day can build up expectations of what we want, hope for, and maybe think we deserve.  Those expectations can be dashed to the dingy dirt too quickly.

Is it about getting the Love I expect from another human being who is equally flawed like me and unable to completely satisfy?

It has to be different.  It must be as it was meant to be in the beginning, when Love was given freely, leaving the glories of the heavenlies to put on flesh and blood and pour Himself out freely without demanding equal treatment and never asking “what’s in it for  me?”

I’ve seen what Love looks like in the faces of the caregiver who is worn out from giving care.  From the mom or dad sacrificing themselves to make a home for children who haven’t a clue the toll it takes on them.  From my sweet missionary friends stationed in Peru, Malaysia, and Middle Earth joyfully submitting to the higher call.  From those serving at local missions offering a cup of coffee and a warm place to stay the night.

Sweet William and I are still learning about Love, how it is done perfect and holy.  We’ve come such a great distance, and yet we have a long way to go.  I still want my own way too much, get cranky and frustrated too often, ask myself when is it gonna be about me?

I’m reminded that Love was completely given to me and I am called to be doing the same.

When Bill endured so many surgeries and long recoveries only a short while back, I often helped him with his bath rituals.  There were many days when I put the small plastic washing tub on the floor and washed his size 12 triple E feet.  And when I bent over to the soap and water, I felt the Lord’s pleasure.  I cannot explain it, but the lowly task of washing my husband’s feet became an offering of love and was pleasing to the Lord.

Is that what Love is?  Bending low to do the lowly when no one is watching?  Is it the act of kindness that will not be announced on the 6:00 news?  Is it the service to the unlovely, the forgotten, the broken?  Is it the love shown to those in our homes, our own neighborhoods, our circles of influence?

Yes!  Oh yes, I believe this is Love, the beauty that was my Savior’s sacrifice.  His life was laid low, bled out and totally spent on me.  On you.  All because of love.

The call is to live a life of Love not just one day for a Valentine card, the moments that offer a chance to sacrifice ourselves.

When Jesus bent low and washed his disciples feet on the night He was to be betrayed, He told them afterwards, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

Someone said, that we cannot pour perfume on another without some of it splashing back on us.  Love’s return is the bouquet of words from the only One who matters, “Well done my faithful friend.”

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The Lord gives and the Lord takes away

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.

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Even as I write those words my eyes mist with tears.

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I am well acquainted with the givings and the takings of life.  I am sure you are too.  We don’t get very far in our journey without experiencing both.

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Recently, I had another “the Lord takes away” event that has left me with a hole in my heart about the size of three precious grandchildren.

I had 12 terrific years of living across the field from Elyse who is now 14 years old, Celeste who is on the verge of 11, and Ethan who is 9 and a half.  I was close enough to see them in their yard, hear them playing or taking the dogs out for breaks.  They were close enough to hear me whistle at them, and they scanned the horizon looking for me.  We both would wave a great big “hi” and talk loudly to each other.

The “Lord gives” part of this experience filled me to capcity.   How often I felt sad for grandparents who didn’t get to see their grandchildren like I did.  I was allowed the precious privilege of watching them grow from babies to teen, preteen, and big boy status.  I was a “Grammy close by” for many wonderful years and adventures.  Recently, the grandchildren and their parents moved almost 700 miles away.

But I was on the receiving end of the Lord’s giving for 12 wonderful years.

I rocked the babies, cuddled the toddlers, cheered when they learned to walk and talk and use the potty.

I attended soccer games and piano recitals, school talent shows and awards day.  I visited their church when they sang solos on Sunday mornings and Christmas programs.

They put on aprons and helped me prepare food.  We baked cookies and their very first batch of homemade Rice Krispy Treats.  They learned to set the table at my house where we had family birthday and holiday celebrations.

They drank my special blend of Hot Cocoa Mix from the Saturday-morning-after-spending-the-night mugs.  There were always plenty of marshmallows.  They sat on the three stools at our kitchen counter to stir and mix, to pat biscuits, to nibble or eat lunch.  The conversations we had were priceless.  They are my Three Amigos full of smiles and chatter and hugs and “I love you, Grammy.”

I’ve carried their tired bodies to bed.  I’ve bandaged their boo-boos.  I’ve washed their dirty feet after playing outside barefoot, calling it a “foot washing.”  I’ve tucked in their sleepy heads.  I’ve listened to some of the sweetest and funniest prayers at bedtime and at meals.  I’ve prayed prayers of blessing over them, naming their gifts and talents, and asking God to use them for His glory.

I answered questions and helped explain math and told stories about my life when I was a girl.  I rocked them by the fireplace until their legs grew so long that they touched the floor.

I took them to plays, to church, to work.  They accompanied me to the mall, the grocery store, yard sales and Goodwill.

We hit croquet balls, softballs, wiffle balls, basketballs and badminton birdies  in our yard.   I’ve seen chalk drawings all the way down my driveway, art that was too quickly washed away by the rain.  Sweet William and I watched them play the very life out of an appliance box in one afternoon.

They learned to win and be good losers at regular checkers, Chinese checkers, and Jack Straws.   I taught them to play The Game of Life on the same board on which my mother taught my son.

I told them Bible stories and challenged them to live obedient  to God.  We’ve sung praise songs in the car on road trips.  We’ve boogied to the beat of Steven Curtis Chapman or the final song at movie’s end as the credits rolled.  They listened to my classical and worship CDs and learned to appreciate different styles of music.  They were offered musical instruments to play and experiment.

We’ve eaten popcorn while we watched a movie they had seen so many times they could recite the words.  And they did.

We had tea parties and dress up games.  They pretended to be ballerinas, pirates, doctors, mothers and daddies, puppy dogs, kittens, heroes, and damsels in distress.

I could probably go on, but I think you see the picture.  My life has been full and overflowing for 12 years.  The Lord gave.

Now it is time for the rest of the phrase to be my life.  How can I complain when I’ve been blessed with so much, with more than most grandparents have in a lifetime?

At the moment I realize I am very much at the center of my own universe.  It’s all about me right now, my loss, my pain, my loneliness, my tears and how I am going to handle it.

As the leaves begin to die and loosen their connection from the tree, making their way to the ground, I identify and feel myself in an Autumn season.  The fullness and ripeness of summer has given way to the endings of fall.  Winter will come soon this year.

But winter will end, as it always does.  And Spring will break forth in all her glory.  I have to believe in the hope of a spring season.  As one dear friend wrote to me, “I whisper a prayer for you often that God  would . . . comfort your heart and reveal His glory through it all.”

Comfort.  Revelation.  God’s glory through it all.  That’s what I want.  I will wait with hopeful expectation, endure the winter and look toward the spring.

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Blessed are they who give and receive

 

Walking beside my Sweet William during his open-heart surgery experience has been an interesting ride, running the gamut of emotions from anxious to joyful.

In the midst of it all, we have been on the receiving end of lavish love, care, prayers, and the comfort of the physical presence of friends and family.  I truly believe all of that has contributed to Bill’s healing process.  For me, it has been like a balm to my soul.

Now that we are home from the hospital, and I am back to a partial work schedule, people are offering to bring us meals, to run errands, to come help us in some way.

My nature is to say, “Oh that’s OK.  We will manage.” It’s not that I don’t want what friends have to offer.  It is that I don’t want to put them to any trouble on our account.

I learned to be a giver a long time ago.  My dad taught me to tithe when, as a child, all I had was a dime.  I watched  mother and dad give time and money to missionaries, ministers, and people in need.

But I learned a valuable lesson about receiving a number of years ago.

Bill had been out of work for months.  There was no income coming in except a meager amount I was making from housecleaning other people’s homes.  We were regularly dipping into what reserve we had to pay bills despite the fact that we had eliminated all but the necessities.

At that time, we attended a church with a small congregation.  One Wednesday night after service, the pastor of the church came to our house with an envelope full of money.  It had been collected as an offering for us, given by the people of the church.  They were not rich people, just plain folk like us.

I immediately protested to the pastor saying “no” we could not accept that kind of charity.  I don’t recall his exact words, but his message was clear.  If we didn’t accept the gift, we would be cheating these dear people of the blessing of giving.

That made me halt my verbal protest.

Scripture says the Lord loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7).  I guess I needed to know how He deals with a humble receiver.

It came from the story of the great prophet Elijah.  The Bible tells how God withheld rain from the land of Israel because of the idolatry in the land.  After Elijah delivered this message to the people, the Lord told him to go to Zarephath where a widow would provide for him.

What if Elijah had argued with God and said, “What?  A widow woman is to take care of me?  Why, I am your prophet, Lord. I should be taking care of her.”

But Elijah didn’t even twitch a muscle.  He just obeyed.  He found that widow and her son.  She cooked bread for him out of her own need.  Through her act of giving and Elijah’s act of receiving, they had oil and meal enough to last until the rains returned (I Kings 17).

Being on the receiving end is a humbling experience.  It sort of purges the “I can take care of myself, thank you very much” stuffing right out of a person.

An independent spirit can be a good thing.  But the truth of the matter is we are all one body as Paul the Apostle said. When one of us hurts, the whole body hurts.  When I hurt even the smallest toe or finger, the rest of my body responds quickly to relieve the pain.

So it is with the Body of Christ.  Its members come to the aid of one of the least of these when they are hurting.  Members like me, like Bill.

We then are blessed to be on the receiving end of such kindness.

And what about the givers?  They have an eternal reward awaiting them for giving just a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name (Mark 9:41).  Imagine what the reward is for home-made chicken noodle soup and cornbread!

So when someone asks to bring a meal or to help in some way, I’ve learned it is OK to say, “That would be nice.  Thank you so very much.”

And it is an incredibly pleasant experience.