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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.

 

 

 

 

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Sunday grace

Life is brief, even at its longest. Even with the accumulation of many years, it seems not nearly enough.

We are a vapor, spending our minutes, hours, days, and years, then wondering where they went so quickly.

The breath of the Creator blew life into clay and we became eternal, the longing for true vitality and essence imbedded in our DNA. We are connected to Him who gave of Himself to bring us into existence. Is it a wonder, then, that eternity is set in our hearts?

How then shall we live?

In self-seeking pursuits? In pride of accomplishments? In looking out for number one?

In gathering to ourselves houses, lands, stuff that we think will satisfy?

Knowing there is an end to our beginning, how do we live to pursue the worth of a life?

Love God. Love one another.

Be honest. Be fair. Be trustworthy.

Share your wealth, your belongings, your heart.

Be real. Don’t hide your true self. You are fearfully and wonderfully made to be unique and precious in God’s sight. Live out your true potential, exercising the gifts within you.

Show kindness at every turn, to every person. Practice patience just as you hope to receive it. Learn to be content in this present situation.

Forgive. Give mercy. Let your heart be moved with compassion.

Seek the Creator who gave you breath. Accept the love He freely gives, the grace that is a gift through Jesus Christ.

He gives us value and worth because He loved us first.

Sunday grace.

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Photos by Elena Walls

Sunday grace

Year ends and year begins in the splitting of a second. Night sky turns to sunrise and we begin again.  The evening and the morning are a new day.

God breathes. We are given life. How then shall we occupy our place on the planet? What legacy will we leave to those who come after us?

For we have this moment. Today.

Bill Gaither penned these words:

Hold tight to the sound of the music of living,
Happy songs from the laughter of children at play;
Hold my hand as we run through the sweet fragrant meadows,
Making mem’ries of what was today.

We have this moment to hold in our hands
and to touch as it slips through our fingers like sand;
Yesterday’s gone and tomorrow may never come,
But we have this moment today.

Don’t just exist. Live abundantly.

Don’t just work. Create art.

Don’t just tap your foot. Make music.

Don’t just stand there. Love your neighbor.

Be a blessing. Make a difference. Give grace.

We have this moment today.

Sunday grace.

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A Christmas prayer

Reading the first few chapters of the gospels of Matthew and Luke are a yearly tradition for me in December. The words are ancient and familiar, yet like a drink of pure spring water they quench my thirst. And this morning I was parched.

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I opened the Book to the story of Zachariah the aged priest who just so happened to be chosen on this particular day for a special assignment. He entered the Holy Place of the temple to offer incense on an altar that represented prayer and petition to God. The people were praying outside while the priest prayed inside.

I wonder if Zacharia thought of that one prayer he had prayed again and again, the one for a child, a son from his loins.

Yet here he stood, an old man whose wife was equally well along in years, childless the two of them. Because Elizabeth was barren.

God’s timing for answering prayers are so often out of sync with what I envision.

The angel’s appearance was awesome, causing fear, but his announcement must have been confusing to Zachariah. “Your prayer has been heard.”

What prayer? You mean the one I stopped praying years ago? The one I quit hoping to be answered in the way I was expecting? The prayer that would have been in a timetable right for me? That prayer?

Zachariah and I, we have things in common.

The prayers I am grappling with sometimes grip my heart with their urgency. I cry out to my Father, my eyes filling with tears, longing for an answer. And please, can it be today?

How many times have I read that God’s ways are not my ways, that His time is not my time? And yet, I want Him to do it by my prescription and on my schedule.

Faithful Zachariah and Elizabeth had lived blameless lives, following the commands God gave to His people. Surely their prayers would be answered. Undoubtedly their desire for a child would not go unheeded.

After so many years they became resigned. Head shakes and whispers behind their backs must have been hurtful. People can wonder when trouble beats us up and we are not being blessed in the conventional sort of way.

And yet, on this day in an old man’s life, the angel Gabriel, who stands in the presence of the Almighty, was on a mission to proclaim wonderful news to Zachariah. “Your prayer has been heard.”

 

God declares in His word that my requests, petitions, prayers are heard. He says He answers when He gets good and ready, because He alone knows when the time is right and all things are in place.

So, my fellow traveler, don’t let discouragement weigh you down. Don’t give in to doubt and unbelief. Throw off the lie that you are forgotten and forsaken. Keep being faithful. Keep going on your knees. Keep trusting that your God hears your every plea and preserves your tears in a bottle.

Believe that your prayer has been heard. In the fullness of time, and according to the perfect plan of God who does all things well, there will be an answer.

And it will be spectacular.

See the source image

 

Tuesday thoughts

I left the cool of the house and went outside to do a little weed eating; the gas tank ran out before I was finished. The heat was undoing me, and I needed to stop anyway.

I roamed the yard, clipping away dead things, overgrown branches and pulling weeds. This time of year the flowers and the weeds mingle. It’s just going to be that way. The end of the season is near and we are done with it all.

Tie-dye morning glories mix with a wild vine next to the garage. Two young sunflowers – all that came up of the package of seeds I sowed – tilt their heads and look for the sun.

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I discovered a volunteer cock’s comb as I leaned over the deck’s railing. If I’d been a more careful weeder, I might have plucked it right out. Now it grows among the d’oro lilies, its red feather just beginning.  An interesting hibiscus variety is growing in the same general area with two buds ready to bloom. I only noticed it recently. It was a gift from my gardening friend two years ago. I thought I had lost it.

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The greens of the garden are giving way to golds, and I can feel the change coming.  I saw a few leaves flutter to the ground on our early morning walk. Heading upstairs earlier today while the windows were still open, I caught a whiff of summer. It smelled good. I think each season has its own aroma.

Forecasts are predicting thunder storms and cooler days tomorrow. I’ll take that. It will be the hint of fall I’m looking for. Summer is coming to an end, flowers fading, and I’m ready to pull up and trim back the rubble of what’s already had its day in the sun.

Let me buy mums at Lowes for the front porch.

There are things I want plucked up from my life.  They’re not pretty. They feel uncomfortable, even painful at times. I think they don’t belong, that they are my thorns among the roses. God has not seen fit to uproot yet. He knows the seasons’ beginnings and endings. He plans with a purpose. He redeems all that looks like failure.

He is the master gardener, the one who planted Eden in perfection. He patiently waits for growth and expects His fruit will be produced in His children. He is restoring what looks hopeless and lost. And He will make all things new again.

And those are my Tuesday thoughts.

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On being happy

{This is my monthly book review.  Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts.}

I understand that the personality one is born with affects the way we view the world. Some naturally view the glass half full while others see it half empty.

I’ve been one who tends toward the half full while wearing rose-colored spectacles.

That does not mean I’ve never dealt with depression or days upon end when I felt lonely and sad. There have been long seasons of grief and even despair. Life has its ups and downs, and each of us must learn to walk through the shadows as well as the sunshine.

At times Christians have been presumed to be serious, stoic, even grim and rigid in lifestyle so that the idea of being happy seems frivolous, even worldly.

I remember when artists’ renderings of a laughing Jesus began to appear during the 1970s. He was appealing and approachable and had a joy-of-living look on his face. I liked it.

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by Francis Hook

So what about being happy? Is it spiritual?

Lisa Harper’s latest book, The Sacrament of Happy, says “yes.” The few times I saw Lisa speak, she was obviously one of those half-full kind of people. Her joy is infectious and her ability to make her audience see the funny side of life comes naturally to her.

The by-line of The Sacrament of Happy is this: What a Smiling God Brings to a Wounded World. And couldn’t we all use a smile from God?

Lisa points out that the word “blessed” in Scripture can often be translated as “happy.” That puts a different connotation on the beatitudes, doesn’t it? And how about if 1 Timothy 1:11 read like this:

“. . . in accordance with the good news of the glory of the happy God with which I have been entrusted.”

A happy God. I’m not sure I’ve thought of Him like that. But I am excited about the idea of a Father who enjoys His creation and delights in what He has made – me.

It puts me in the mind of my own father who enjoyed people fully and telling a funny story was his forte. He could laugh the biggest and loudest, while still being one of the most spiritually-minded men I’ve ever known. It was a beautiful combination of character traits.

Lisa weaves in stories of the adoption of her daughter Missy, who was born in Haiti, and how the two of them are enjoying a happy life. Lisa’s sorrow over two failed attempts at adoption and Missy’s unfortunate early years in a poverty and disease stricken country testify that everything is not always easy.

But she proposes that we can continue to be happy even in the very middle of trials and heartaches.  She tackles this issue in the chapters entitled “Is Happiness the Absence of Sadness?” and “What about When Happy Takes a Hike?”

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from Lisa in her book:

” . . . true, biblical happiness doesn’t have a personality type!”

“Genuine, God-given happiness is not the absence of sadness . . . it is the overriding presence of His sovereign mercy. The firm belief that He is good and He does good no matter what our current circumstances are.”

And some familiar verses with a twist of happy:

[Jesus said] “How happy are those who have no doubts about me!”  Matthew 11:6 GNT

“Happy are those whose wrongs are forgiven, whose sins are pardoned! Happy is the person whose sins the Lord will not keep account of!” Romans 4:7-8 GNT

Quoted within the book:

“Happiness isn’t something that depends on our surroundings–it’s something we make inside ourselves.” Corrie Ten Boom”

“Where others see but the dawn coming over the hill, I see the soul of God shouting for joy.” William Blake

I especially like the chapter near the end, “Can Happy Change the World?” In it Lisa describes her trip to Greece where they encountered the refugees’ crisis there. She and her companions did what they could to give aid. When they were transferred to the children’s tent, they enticed them into round after round of an animated version of the Hokey Pokey. The children “began singing and dancing their little hearts out, too.”

Lisa saw first-hand the redemptive effect “this glorious good news of the happy God (1 Tim. 1:11) of which we’ve been entrusted has on those who have every reason to be joyless.”

I am fascinated to think of a happy God, one who delights in me, who enjoys giving good gifts, and who has my best interest in His heart. It also challenges me to be unrestrained in my joy and happiness. It has the potential to point others to my happy God and Savior.

The Sacrament of Happy was a good read the first time. I may start it over again and get another good dose of joy.

It makes me want to lift my head heavenward and smile.

B&H blogger icon

NOTE:   I received a copy of The Sacrament of Happy, provided by B&H Publishing, for an honest review.  The book was free.  The words are my very own. 

Sunday grace

{Click Here if you would like to listen to Fernando Ortega as you read.}

In the mornings, I’ve taken to opening the hymn book that normally resides on my piano. It contains artful poetry proclaiming the glory and majesty of God.

My voice is not at it’s best in the wee hours of the morning, a little gravely, and the pitch misses the mark. I sing softly when Sweet William sleeps longer.

As I voice words of such poets as Henry Van Dyke, Charles Wesley, Reginald Herber, Francis of Assisi, Folliot Pierpoint, Fanny Crosby, Andrae Crouch, my thoughts turn to the triune God who is holy, worthy, great and glorious.

Today the melody of Doxology becomes a prayer. I can add nothing more that what has been said.

Awake, my soul, and with the sun,
Thy daily stage of duty run,
Shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise,
To pay thy morning sacrifice.

Wake, and lift up thyself, my heart,
And with the angels bear thy part,
Who all night long unwearied sing
High praise to the eternal King.

Lord, I my vows to Thee renew;
Disperse my sins as morning dew.
Guard my first springs of thought and will,
And with Thyself my spirit fill.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise him all creatures here below,
Praise him above, ye heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Sunday grace.

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