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Sunday grace

This day.  It’s Sweet William’s birthday, and I think of the grace of God.

I’ve lived with this man longer than I lived without him. We’ve been through so much together. There have been hard roads and there have been joyful celebrations. It is the way of a life.

How is it that we have come to this place in time? We have been shaped and molded by our experiences. We have weathered storms, and though battered and bruised, we have come through victorious. By grace.

We have celebrated life together, cried at death together, and intend to walk together for as many days as the Lord gives us.

What to do for a birthday at this age when we have celebrated so many times? We have given the gifts and signed the Hallmark cards. God has blessed us beyond what we deserve.

And it is all grace.

If not for God’s grace, we would not be celebrating a birthday today. I am convinced of it.

So we will celebrate. Celebrate life. Celebrate goodness and mercy. Celebrate the boundless generosity of a Savior who gave us all so that we could join the family.

By grace alone, we were given life to live to the full. Thanks be to God for His amazing gift of life, Sweet William’s life.

Sunday grace.

 

 

 

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Showing up

It’s was a week. Actually it was a couple of weeks, maybe three. Really, it seems to be this whole year thus far.

The days swiftly roll by, one after the other, and I find myself shocked at the date on the calendar. How can it be nearing the middle of October, and Sweet William’s birthday is upon me, and I don’t know what to get him?

Tempus fugit.

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We traveled to see our dear ones last week, a long hard drive, there and back.  It was our first opportunity this year. Seeing the faces of my son and his family was reward enough. I don’t get to be with them as much as my heart desires. Time spent in their presence is cherished.

The visit with those I hold most precious was filled with laughter, shared experiences that will fill our memory banks in the days to come when we are miles apart. The conversation, the touch, the hug will be held close in my heart.

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I heard of two deaths while we were away, friends with whom I had only recently talked. Gone from this world. And I cried. I wanted to see them both just one more time.

The brevity of life occupies my thoughts the week after our travel. We are only here on earth for a short season, no matter how many years we live. It’s a reminder that interactions with people are always full of purpose, full of meaning. Not to be taken lightly.

As I remember my two friends, I was glad for the times recently when I showed up in their lives. That morning I picked her up from her apartment and we went for coffee and I paid the tab. That day I drove into the hospital to see her and we shared a vanilla milk shake her son brought to the room.

Thinking of what I’ve accomplished in my life, job titles that brought fleeting pride in the moment, the myriad of projects I thought I finished well, I realize it was when I reached out to a fellow human being that was most valuable.

The telephone call made to check on someone. The card written to say “I’m thinking of you.” The coffee date shared for a couple of hours. The quiet listening without trying to fix anything. The tears rolling down our cheeks over shared struggles. The long hard drives to be where they are on a special occasion.  The minutes, hours, days given away.

It is the giving of myself that has counted more than anything. I see it now. Because those who have given themselves to me have marked me and given meaning to my life.

I’ve missed a lot of opportunities to make a difference, to give my support, to be an encouragement, to be a good friend. To show up. I regret the many lost chances for connection.

I attended the funeral today of my 93-year-old friend. It was a glorious celebration of her life. Her family filled the front row. Another row was filled with women who had sat under her teaching at Sunday school years ago.  All those faces reflected the investment she made into their lives, a legacy of her life, her love and her belief in a Savior named Jesus.

She showed up again and again. She showed up in my life.

Time ticks away too quickly. The moments we have today will be gone tomorrow. Will they be wasted on the unimportant or invested in the eternal?

Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current.  — Marcus Aurelius

I don’t want to forget what I am learning this week, this art of showing up and giving the gift of myself. Busy-ness will try to side-track this wisdom. Voices pretending to be urgent will reach out to grab for my attention. Distractions will always be there to pull me aside. Hopefully, I will remember that life is uncertain and brief at best. This day is the present I have to offer.

I hope I can be more aware and quick to evaluate the importance of my life in someone else’s life. I only get one chance at this life. Let me live it well.

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September ending

September brought hurricanes. They dominated the news and much of our thoughts as we watched them whirl into populated areas and then saw the devastation left behind from Harvey and Irma. As we texted about family and friends, what could we do hundreds of miles away except watch and pray and offer charitable contributions in one form or another?

Such disasters cause us to evaluate our lives and what we strive to achieve. More than once I heard people be grateful for loved ones being safe over the loss of house and property. Things can be swiftly swept away. It is our people who are most valuable.

Maisie completed her first obedience class this month, and it was well worth our efforts. We learned the beauty of gentle training with lots of love and treats. Thankfully, she didn’t have to pass a test. All dogs and owners went outside for the last class, and Maisie got a little crazy. She just wanted to play with the other dogs.

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I had lunch with three of my high school girl friends. We don’t get together often enough. I recalled us being teenagers, where we were 50 years ago and the roads we have traveled to get where we are now. We’ve all had our hardships, and we’ve grown stronger for it. Our faith has held us, and we’ve learned to trust the strong arm of God who sustains us.

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I read Pursuing the Intentional Life and was joined by my friend. We read a chapter a day and then texted to each other the passages that spoke to us. It made the book twice as meaningful. The author, Jean Fleming, wrote to prepare for the rest of her life. In her 70s, she wanted to live out her years with intention. While it might sound depressing initially, her words were thought-provoking and challenging. How do I want to live the rest of my days? No matter the age I am, there is a determined ending.

What time is left should be lived, with purpose and on purpose. Retirement can lull me into thinking my best days are behind me. I don’t believe that is the case. Activities and ministry may take on different forms, but both can still be vital and alive. I want the kind of life that bears much fruit to the Father’s glory all the way to the end. And that takes intention.

My favorite movie this month was The Case for Christ about Lee Strobel, journalist and proclaimed atheist. When his wife became a Christian, Storbel set out to investigate and prove wrong the Bible and the resurrection of Christ. Lest I spoil the ending, I will tell no more. Watch the movie. It’s good.

I started leading a Bible study this month, All Things New by Kelly Minter. Gathering with women each week to explore God’s Word is one of my favorite things to do. I’ve met a lot of women during Bible study. Some of them have deepened into treasured relationships. I’m always excited to see what sweet things the Lord will do as we give Him time and listen to His voice. And I’m looking for that new friend.

The gardens have taken on a wildness as fall begins. I’ve weeded,  transplanted, bought bags of mulch on sale at Lowes, and still, it has a mind of its own right now. I planted some little willow trees, put mums on the front porch, and watered everything as summer-like heat remained.

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I sat on the deck and listened to the first leaves began to fall. I walked in my little woods and crunched the brown leaves already covering the ground in the dark of the forest. I am watching for the flash of color in trees and bushes, and observing the squirrels run feverishly to plant their acorns.

As the months ends, the coolness I love about this season has finally returned to us, letting me leave the windows open during the day and snuggle under the quilt at night.

The birds’ songs change this time of year. Some have already departed to warmer climes. I still open the window next to my rocker each morning and wait to hear the little wren with the big voice waken the day. As nights are longer, his song is coming later and later.

My neighbors, who lived on this lane as long as we have, removed their mailbox. The depression in the soil marks the place, and I notice it as Maisie and I walk. It reminds me how everything changes. The fire that took their house on a shocking Christmas night altered life for them. They moved to a lovely home in a different location, and I am happy for them. But I  miss them being close, being my neighbors.

I wrote down a quote I especially liked from Maria Goff:

“We buy the plates but love sets the table.”

I love that. Gathering at the table is not about paper or china, gourmet or take out. It is about the love we give and receive to those there with us. The ministry of the table has become dear to me.  These days I find my most precious moments are when we sit with friends and family and feast on being together. It nourishes my soul like nothing else.

Sweet William and I have visited too many funerals this year, and loss begins to wear down my heart. In the last couple of months two people died who were born the same year as my own son. Recently two others have been closer to my age. It feels personal and painful.

While we mourn, we grieve with hope. Jesus went ahead of us to prepare a place for those who receive Him and His gift of salvation. This is not the last good-bye, but more of an “I’ll see you later.” I look forward to the later.

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This season of autumn is one of my favorites. The colors refresh me and the cooling temperatures bring on my flannel shirt. But it also marks a winding down of the year, the beginning of the ending. We put away the garden tools and bring in the tender plants lest they die from frost. It will not be long before the leaves will be gone from trees and the barren landscape will look lifeless.

Yet, I know that after the winter, spring will come just like it does each year.

I feel that same way about the people I love who have died. It seems wintry without them, lost and alone. But there is an eternal spring awaiting us when we know Jesus as Savior. It is what I hold close.

A new season brings a different  perspective as I watch the former fade and anticipate the next. Nothing in this world stays the same. People I’ve loved have died, and I’ve had to adjust to living without them. Bodies age and wear down, and what I was able to do in my 20s is only a memory in my 60s. People move away and life changes colors and the hues are so different. And sometimes I smile and sometimes I cry.

One thing remains true. On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.

When all else is said and done, there is still Jesus.

 

 

 

Home to stay

Things on my to-do list were moved to another day. There are book reviews I need to write that will wait. I canceled a lunch this week and rescheduled piano lessons.

Some days are like that.

My friend died the first of this week, her battle with a dreaded disease now over. But for those who loved her, it is not over. We are left with a gaping hole in our hearts. Her husband, children and grands are wondering how in the world they will live without her.

I remember that aching feeling when my mother died, me in my early 30s. How could I go on living without her not there to talk with me, to pray for and counsel me, to laugh with me and pour me a cup of coffee at her table?

This week my heart has been raw and my memories tender.

My friend was just a year older than me. She and her husband were married just a few years more than Sweet William and me. She had grandchildren close in age to mine who lived states away, just like me.

Sometimes when a friend grows more dear, I try to remember when the first spark appeared between us. When was it we connected, when we learned we shared interests and had things common in our lives? At what moment does friendship take root and begin to grow?

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It was not so long ago when it happened with her.  Sweet William and I were struggling with health issues and decisions that would be life-altering. I called her to talk because I knew she would understand. She and her husband came to our house, sat at our table, drank our coffee, and shared their experiences. They opened their hearts to us.

And I think that was the moment. That’s when our friendship ignited and began to burn brightly, and it warmed us both.

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You know how it is when someone finds a place in your heart. You want to spend more time with her, to know her better. She and I had those opportunities in a few short years as the Lord gave moments of communion.

In the days of her sickness, we talked honestly about life and death. She was not afraid of dying. She was concerned about her husband and her family left behind, how they would cope. Her heart was wrapped around those dear ones.

She told me she wanted to finish well. And she did. She loved to the end. Her countenance reflected the glory of her Savior. She witnessed to those around her that Jesus is indeed Lord of all.

Her funeral was a testimony of a life well lived, though her years seemed too short for all of us who her knew and loved her.

The Heavenly Father alone appoints our days, and when our work is over, He will call us Home. My friend got to go Home this week. I can only imagine the glories she is enjoying now in the presence of the One who gave His life for her and stretched out His hand to escort her Home.

My friend loved home. Hers reflected her art, her creativity, her nurturing care for those who entered. Today she no longer resides in the temporary earthly dwelling; she is really Home to stay, the place prepared for all eternity.

I miss her already, her bright smile, her twinkling eyes, her kindness, the way she laughed. I can’t imagine living without her.

There are days of great joy during this earthly life, and there are days of heaviness, pain and sorrow.  We all experience both. Hopefully, I remember to be grateful for days full of sunshine and flowers. Equally, I want to grow stronger in my faith, develop endurance when the days are hard, and know even more that all things do indeed work for my good. In all of my days and years I want to reflect the beauty of Jesus, to spread the fragrance of His love, like my friend did.

One day I will see her again when my work here on earth is over. I’ll hear my Savior call my name, and He will escort me to glory.

Then it will be my turn to go Home to stay.

Sunrise by MaRanda Green

 

 

Sunday grace

This week I have pondered a question. How do I live a beautiful life in a fallen world to the glory of God? Because it is always about the glory of God.

I hear news reports of devastation for residents in Texas, the aftermath of hurricane Harvey. At the same time, I see people stirred by an inner kindness and compassion to serve any way they can. They come from neighboring counties or other parts of the country to help with clean up. They purchase bottled water, shoes and supplies to fill a truck that will soon head in the direction of loss. They donate money to the Salvation Army. They pray.

So often our human response is to blame God for disaster and tragedy and wonder what kind of being He is to allow such things. Funny how we are quick to blame Him when we hardly notice Him or give Him credit when things are going well.

When I see humanity at its finest, giving, serving, loving, I see God. It is His goodness coming to the surface of each person reaching a hand to help.

If we want to see God, then look for mercy extended, marvel at compassion in action, be amazed when forgiveness is offered for the unthinkable. Everything that is good and decent and loving in this world originates with the Creator of all things good.

When Jesus lived on this earth, He showed the world who God was, what He was like, how He loved the world so much that He gave everything. Everything.

Scripture tells us He is love, His essence, His being. Anything that looks remotely like love is God moving through human hearts and lives.

How do I live a beautiful life in a fallen world? By being Christ’s hand extended to someone else.  By sharing my goods, my time, myself with a a longing soul. By forgiving when I have been hurt. By loving when it is hard. By serving faithfully with joy when I am bone weary. By bowing the knee in prayer for someone who is suffering. By random acts of kindness to the one God brings into my path.

God is moving in the world. He is connected and concerned with us here on planet earth. And we will see Him if we look.

Sunday grace.

When it doesn’t turn out like we planned

Life can be funny. At least we have to laugh sometimes to keep from crying.

Laughter is good medicine the wise Book tells us. It’s so true. When tension is high or stress wraps me tight, laughter can release sometime in me and lighten the load.

I love it when the one and only son calls, and his laughter is music to my ears. And Sweet William’s deep laugh can cause me to join in from pure enjoyment.

And don’t we need a little laughter on any given day? Today would be a good day for a chuckle.

Things are not turning out like I planned. The unexpected arises and I’m caught off guard. Other people do their own scheduling, and it does not line up with mine.

Sometimes life just doesn’t cooperate with me.

It has happened on any given day, the path I’ve laid out takes a wild twist and turn. Before I can catch my breath, a new agenda lies before me.

And so it is. Life is full of the unpredictable, the unforeseen. The road I’m on leads to a heavenly home, but there will be many a side street detour, a busy thoroughfare, even a rest stop I had not anticipated.

I’m ever learning to deal with the interruptions in my own blueprint for life. I’m really not wise enough to make all the decisions and chose the right answer every single time.

Thankfully, I trust in One who laid out His pattern for me. My Father’s ways are higher than mine; His thoughts are so far above mine. He knows what is best.

So today I will make a decision, a decision to smile and be happy, to expect joy in the most unexpected places. I know there are fresh mercies in store for this day.

Grace will abound, and it will be amazing.

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The journals

 

101_1647My old journals were stored in matching boxes, tucked in a shelf upstairs. I thought I needed to keep them out of sight, for privacy perhaps. But seldom are visitors in the upstairs room anymore.

I decided to unload the boxes. The journals lay around the room, their various sizes and designs an analogy of the years, each one different.

When I was a child, I often started a daily diary in January. The book had dated pages and I wrote regularly for a few weeks or a month. Then I’d skip a day or more. Being the perfectionist I am (and continue to try to overcome), blank pages meant I had failed. I soon abandoned the book altogether.

Tiny books record events from my teens when life seemed so challenging. I was navigating the road to becoming an adult. My latest crush was a common topic.

Journaling was sporadic at best when being a wife and mother was all-consuming; recording my life’s events didn’t seem important.

I would love to look back at those years now, see them from the perspective of the younger me.

My more consistant journaling began in 1997 in a simple spiral book with lined pages. Pen went to paper and took on a life of its own.

I began recording my thoughts as well as the events of my days, and I wrote when I wanted to. I was not compelled to do it every day. It was the niche I needed.

Sometimes I wonder if anyone will read all those books. My handwriting gets messy and illegible as I scribble the things in my head and my heart. The volumes hold the thankful days and the grumbling days, the sweet moments and the times I cried.

Perhaps they just need to be buried with me. Because in those pages are the honest version of myself, the view I try to keep hidden from public scrutiny. The words on the pages reveal more of what God sees than anyone else.

The journal was a listening friend, a safe place to vent, with no contradicting voices or interruptions. It was therapy as I worked out a problem, rambling on as I needed. Other times, it was an altar where I repented and where prayers were lifted to the Savior who understands me in a way no one else does.

I counted blessings on the pages. I wrote about friends and family, the treasures they are to me. I recorded the everyday and the extraordinary.

I suppose I will keep writing as long as I have pen and paper and a mind to do it. It matters not if anyone reads them. I do not write for others. I write for me. I write to remember.

When I am old and more confined in place, perhaps I will leaf through the pages of my journals and remember what a full and blessed life I lived. The ups and the downs, the sideways and crooked will be there. I will read and be grateful for all the days I was given.

The sweet singer of Israel wrote these words:

“Your eyes saw my unformed substance, and in Your book all the days of my life were written before ever they took shape, when as yet there was none of them.” — Psalm 139:16 AMPC

While I was writing about the days of my life as they passed, my heavenly Father recorded them before my birth. What a beautiful thought, that He knew me then, that He has been watchful to carry out His purpose in me for all my years.

I take a breath and consider the wonder of that kind of love.

I set all the journals up on the open shelves in chronological order. They are interesting to look at, their variety of color, shape, and size. For each year has been unique.

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In some way, my life is there on the shelf. But the plans for me are guided by an unseen hand, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

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