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Sunday grace

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We take our evening stroll, and the temperature is more bearable than it’s been in days. Still Maisie pants and I look toward the shady places where trees offer respite.

I pass by my neighbors and think of Jesus’ command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Hard stuff sometimes.

It’s easy to love the young couple who has been kind to us, coming to our rescue, inviting us into their lives. They made a place in our hearts soon after their move into the neighborhood. And they loved us freely.

Didn’t Jesus tell me the reward for loving those who love me is small compared to loving those who don’t like me, mistreat me, even despise me? The rubber meets the road right there under the blazing sun.

I’ve prayed to love this week, even this very day. It isn’t always easy because I can’t manufacture the feeling. I know love is supposed to be an action word, but a little emotion to accompany would be nice.

Of course, loving God comes first. How can I love my neighbor if I’m not fully committed to loving God? Because love comes from God and God is love. Without His invasion into my heart, my life, my entire being, I can’t expect to get it right.

I perceive this loving business is primary. Opportunities abound. People are everywhere. Some are lovable. Some are not.

Dear Father,
Infuse me with Your love. Plant me deep in it, like the trees, rooted and established, being able to grasp how wide, how long, how high, and how deep the love of Christ is, the love He freely gives to me. I want to know this love that surpasses knowledge. Fill me to the measure of all the fullness of God. And then teach me to love my neighbor as myself.  (Ephesians 3:16-19 and Mark 12:31)

It’s a tall order, a mountain-size request for me to love like that. But my God specializes in the miraculous.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.    — Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV

Sunday grace.

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Finding treasures

I guess I’m a treasure hunter by nature. I like old things, and exploring is part of the fun.

One of the first pieces of furniture Sweet William and I bought as a couple was a rugged looking, six legged table he found in someone’s garage.  We gave it the tender loving care it needed, and it sits in the bay window of the living room.

I’ve enjoyed scouring antique and junk establishments, garage sales and thrift stores. Unique things are the reward.

We ventured to our first official yard sale this week, a rite of spring, at an ancient little church not far from home. The women of the church host a sale twice a year in their modern multi-purpose room, and it’s always a good place to search out something of interest.

This year I spied an item that was a close duplicate of what I have at home, a small china hand that I’m sure was originally meant as an ash tray, the gold-plated indention at its wrist just the size of a cigarette. Mine rests on my kitchen counter, near the coffee pot, as the holder of a cream-stirring spoon.

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The small hand used to sit on my mother’s gas stove where she placed the burnt match she used each time she lit a burner or the oven. Because the gas did not run continually in her stove, Mother pushed the burner knob and held a lighted match where the gas escaped to light the fire that would get the cooking started. I’m sure that is against all safety regulations now, but that’s the way it was done in mother’s kitchen.

When she died, that little hand was one of the first things I wanted to take to my kitchen. It held years of memories of good food and my mother’s daily activity. Feeding her family and anyone else who happened to sit at her table was primary, and she did it well.

At the yard sale I snatched that little hand and carried it to where Sweet William was now sitting with a plate of chips and a hot dog. “Look what I found” I said, and we took it home with us, the treasure of the day.

Last week, I decided to go through the contents of the cedar chest that doubles as a window seat in the upstairs office. I had not looked deeply into that space in a number of years.

I pulled all the memories out of the chest and laid them around me on the floor. There were items from our son’s childhood: a baby blanket, high school ribbons and awards; a child’s hand print on burlap and colorful boy scout patches; a green frog costume I made for his elemenatry school play; a couple of baby spoons and a small wallet housing his name and “F.B.I Agent” written on notebook paper.

There was Sweet William’s high school choir sweater, my girlhood autograph book and one belonging to my mother with wooden covers; baby shoes worn by the grandchildren and a faded picture of my dad in military uniform on cloth emblazoned with the United States flag, American Eagle and the Liberty Bell. There are a slew of stick pins, awards for piano auditions, safe driving, school clubs, and employment. An old Bible was wrapped carefully with no one’s name in it. I have not idea whose it was.

I found a stack of 3 by 5 inch recipe cards, the ones we used to keep in boxes before Pinterest boards and on-line organizational tools. They were in my mother’s handwriting, and I thought they had been tossed in the trash years ago for lack of thinking. I looked at each one of them, some written neatly, some scrawled quickly, no doubt in a hurry to get a friend’s delicious dish written down for future meals.

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When I held the items from the ancient cedar chest, nostalgia rose, memories came and tears welled in my eyes. They hold a treasure of experiences, remembrances of days gone by and the people who made those days important.  All of them, even the unknown owner of the Bible, left their imprint on my life.

This week I had opportunity to talk to family members I don’t get to see as often as I like. Those few minutes on the phone are precious, the laughter and love expressed in words and intonation are held close in my heart.

I think once again of how valuable people are, the ones who come for a while and the ones who stay a lifetime, how they all leave a mark in one way or another. They are the true treasures of a life.

I heard somewhere that we have “the precious present” to hold and give our attention. Tomorrow is not a guarantee. Today is a gift to be enjoyed.

I think how time goes by swiftly, children grow up before we are ready, parents die, and I am getting older by the minute. I pray that I can be aware of these days of my life, not only capturing them in my memory but taking the opportunity to express love to people on a daily basis.

There are still words I want to say, encouragement to be offered, prayers to send heavenward. I have life to share and hope to extend.

Time is always moving. I have the precious present and I know that people are my greatest treasure. I don’t want to miss a single one.

be present

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February ending 2018

While Valentine’s Day is what I think of in February, spring has been on the move.  There were record-breaking high temperatures and heavy rainfall that threatened flooding . We watched the news and watched the waters rise. We prayed for peace and prayed for neighbors who were severely affected. We renewed our trust in a God who controls wind and wave, heat and cold, rain and sunshine.

The birds started singing in the early mornings this month and my daffodils began to bloom today. I anticipate spring with joy. In the morning I open the window where I sit with coffee and Scripture, listening for the first chirp, and soon the sound of other birds echo in our little woods.

Rabbits are hoping in the yard again. Which means Maisie will want to chase them again.

The geese on the lake across our road are pairing up. There’s a lot of honking and posturing among the males. I spied a couple of blue birds flitting about the bird house in the back yard. It’s nesting time. I savour the sights and sounds of the coming season.

I heard the cranes flying overhead twice in February. It is always a surprise gift to be outdoors at just the right time. When I hear their call, I stop what I’m doing, and scan the sky for the flock overhead.

It’s one of those sounds that makes me smile and takes me back to a Sunday afternoon when the grandchildren were small and living in the house next door. The three of them were with Sweet William and me for a few hours that day, and it was warm enough to be outside. We heard an unfamiliar noise overhead and began to look for its source. On that day years ago, there were hundreds of crane flying so high we could barely see them. But we heard them. Flocks of them flew over and we watched and listened. It was one of those moments of discovery imprinted on my mind.

I am pursuing depth this year and a book by Cal Newport fell into my hands in February. I don’t always pick a word for a year but this time I chose “Deeper.” At times I’ve felt like I had mile-wide commitments with inch-deep results. I’ve lived busy for many years. Now I want to live deep in many areas of my life.

It was easy, then, for me to latch onto Newport’s book from the library called Deep Work. He offers an intriguing proposition that we are a distracted culture, multi-tasking, constantly online and connected via smart phones, attached to our social media accounts, and in many ways alway available to most everyone on our friend list.

I am evaluating how I spend my days, how often I check my laptop for posts and messages when it really is not time-sensitive. I’ve tried to make changes in the way I use technology in February so that technology does not control me. It should be a tool I use, not one that directs my day.

I also read a book of poetry, A Garden in Kentucky by Jane Gentry. Gentry’s poems were lovely and I enjoyed her way of writing about her home state and mine.

I’m not the biggest fan of poetry though I would like to be. I have often found it hard to understand. Perhaps I can blame it on my high school experience when we were forced to read an epic poem, Evangeline, which was long and made no sense to me at all.

My creative juices flowed freely this month. My cousin and I took an introductory weaving class at the library, making a simple loom from a piece of cardboard. I learned the basics, then took my project home to finish into something quite pleasing.

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I visited the  Paint Spot for the very first time. Actually it was a Christmas gift from a friend who decided that giving me a shared experience was better than another scarf. And she was so right. I relaxed while I painted my coffee cup, and it was twice as nice with my friend.

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This month, I decided I feel better when I change into real clothes even on the days when I don’t have to go anywhere. One of the perks of being part-time retired is that I can stay in my pajamas all day if I want. And some days I have. But I feel better prepared for the day if I put on decent clothes, wash my face, add a little mascara, and comb the bed head out of my hair. I’m not sure if I am more productive or not. That remains to be seen.

I finally had time to get acquainted with the newest neighbor on our quiet lane. The couple moved in before Christmas and we briefly met, but cold weather and short days kept us all indoors. As the days warmed and lengthened in February, it was the right time for coffee and muffins. My neighbor who lives in the house next door joined us at the table, and the two young women found common ground as they chatted. It was lovely to behold.

Sweet William and I visited my friend at her farm in the next county. She has created a beautiful home, and we find the miles to get there worth the trip. She fixed us eggs from her own chickens, gave us carrots to feed the horses, and showed us her latest projects. We stayed so long that she brought out lunch meat for sandwiches. And we ate again.

I gathered with a group of beautiful women early in the month for Table Life, the first of four sessions, where we are learning to do life at the table with the awareness that Jesus wants to be there with us. It coordinates beautifully with my “Deeper” work of building relationships, of savoring the moments with dear friends and family, of investing in lives and eternity rather than in things that fade quickly.

Jesus left us an example of spending time with people over a meal, demonstrating to us that the table is important. I am finding that amazing things happen when I take time to sit awhile, pour another cup of coffee, eat a muffin or scrambled eggs, and enjoy the fellowship of one another. We are able to share our lives with one another and listen to what the heart is saying.

Love  happens at the table and Christ is in our midst.

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It’s all about love

Valentine’s Day 2018 may be a memory, but February makes me think about love like November reminds me to be thankful. If it could only last longer than a month, I’d be a better person.

Sweet William and I celebrated Valentine’s Day a couple days before the event. We knew the 14th would be filled with appointments and obligations. We’ve been together long enough to know a number on the calendar is not as important as what is in our hearts.

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On the morning of the 14th I woke with thoughts of love on my mind. I put Steven Curtis Chapman’s All About Love on the CD player and hummed familiar tunes as I prepared whole grain pancakes with bananas for our breakfast.

 

I sent messages to my precious ones who are miles away, the texts a meager substitute for the hugs I want to give them on Valentine’s Day.  But it was what I had to give. I received a quick loving response from our son that made me cry. His words were like sweet oil on my heart, soothing and tender.

In a minute or so “I Will Be Here” began to play, a song that means a lot to Sweet William and me, the musical message of commitment that weathers storms and holds fast, no matter what. And I cried some more.

As I stood at the back door looking out the window while tears fell freely, I thanked God for His love that makes our love possible. For love is from God. If we would see God, we should look for love where it flows freely from hearts who know love, who have been loved and have learned to give love in return.

I think how God’s love has covered a multitude of sins, the ones that would have drowned me and sucked the life from my lungs. Because of His love, grace has taught me to love and forgive others, those sins covered as well. I stagger at something so amazing and struggle to grasp its enormity.

It is easy for me to see God in the world that often denies His existence. I look for love where it is being acted out. It isn’t just the romantic kind that made my stomach flutter at a glimpse of my special someone, though that love has a place.

Love shines brightly when it is hard to walk out, when it is an act of will that requires all we have to give. I see it in the mother who prays and belives for a prodigal to return. In the father who takes care of and provides for his family by working a job he dislikes. In the adult child who gives patient and tender care to an aging and sometimes forgetful parent. In the spouse who lives the promise of for better or worse. In the couple who leave all that is familiar to show Jesus to the world. In the family who opens their home to a troubled teen.

As I ponder the kind of love that comes from the heart of a loving God, the last song of All About Love CD plays and Chapman sings:

“A song of living sacrifice
For every moment that I live and breathe,

This is a moment made for worshipping.

Love is from God. He gives it to us lavishly through Jesus Christ, holding nothing back, like a rushing river flowing out of its banks. As I stand in His presence and refresh myself with a deep drink of it, I know I am loved.  It’s only through Him I am able to love in return.

This love, this day is a moment made for worshipping.

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Sunday grace

For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations. Psalm 100:5

If it had not been for the Lord’s mercy, where would we be?

When we faced each other 46 years ago, me dressed in ruffled white and you, so handsome in your dark tux and ruffled shirt, we made promises and could not anticipate how they would be tested, how we would be tested.

We climbed high mountains and crossed troubled waters, wondering if we would come out alive. We did, but we bear the scars.

We tread the daily, the mundane, the getting up each morning to work and take care, to build and repair, and then the next day we did it again.

We have lived years as the two made one. More than two-thirds of my span of days has been spent with you. We are intertwined, you and I, like vines on a trellis.

We are different in so many ways, me the quiet reserved one, you the friendly talker. You are punctual and I am not, and you quote Brad Paisley’s “Waitin’ on a Woman” with a patient smile on your face.

We have loved and lost. We fought for faith when the Lord gave and when He took away. We have shared experiences that are ours alone. We have come far and learned life lessons on the journey together.

I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without you beside me these years. You are still the one, my only one, Sweet William.

For the Lord is good, His mercey is everlasting. He has been faithful and full of compassion to us.

And today is full of grace.

Sunday grace.

 

 

Say good-bye to Thanksgiving and hello to Christmas

Let the Christmas music begin! Sounds of carols on the radio echo through the rooms this morning. I pulled no less than three dozen Christmas CDs and cassettes (remember cassettes in their chunky little plastic boxes?) from their hiding place deep in the large old radio cabinet turned music center, and I’m ready for the next season to begin. Music is prime at the Wright House.

Thanksgiving is complete, a two-day event for me and mine. Having extended family with which to gather makes Thanksgiving my all-time favorite holiday event. When you are an only child and neither parent is alive, there is a feeling of being an orphan that only another only child could understand. Surrounded by my cousins and their young comforts me. So I do not rush the season of Thanks in all its togetherness and food, glorious food.

Perhaps you are among those who want the house fully decorated in red and green with trees blinking twinkle lights before the guests arrive for turkey and dressing. Go for it. We can still be friends. But not me. There are pumpkins and autumn hues still gracing the mantel and front door this morning. There are a few leftovers in the frig waiting to be enjoyed one more time, attesting to our Thanksgiving meal.

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Just because I’m not decorating yet doesn’t mean I’m not thinking Christmas thoughts. I did a little Black Friday shopping yesterday from the comfort of my kitchen table, my favorite way to shop. While I’m only now listening to Christmas music through the sound system, my piano students and I have been playing carols since October because that’s what musicians do. As we prepare for a December recital, notes of Silent Night and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen are dancing in our heads and through our fingers.

Red and green may not be my primary colors yet, but I’ve been on the lookout for bargains and making a gift list. Last week I stopped for a little browsing turned shopping. I was really looking for half-off sales of fall pumpkins, which I found by the way. As I was waiting in an unusually long check-out line, with one lone checker, the woman ahead of me looked as though she were on a shopping spree with her baskart full and overflowing. The line grew longer behind me as I watched the baskart being emptied of its contents.

Another employee finally came to open a second register and announced, “I can take someone here.” The woman who was last in my line quickly scooted her cart right over there to be first in this new line. I was a little steamed since I’d been standing there a bit longer than she had. Maybe several minutes longer.

Other people moved to the faster moving check-out line, and a couple of them asked me if I wanted to go ahead of them. Bless their courteous hearts. I stayed where I was, figuring if I moved behind all the others who used to be behind me, it would take me as long.

By the time it was my turn to lay my purchases on the counter, the young woman checking and bagging was a bit frazzled. And I was too, feeling cheated of my rightful place in the process and frustrated at those who think of themselves more than others.

At that moment I realized I had a simple choice, to continue in my exasperation or to attempt to be patient. It wasn’t the checker’s fault that someone had a hundred or so items to purchase (slightly exaggerating here), nor was it her fault this person was trying to use a summer coupon for one of her items. None of the events were her doing as she was just doing her job to the best of her ability.

As I was finishing my purchases, the Holy Spirit reminded me this is the season to practice patience and kindness, especially with retail workers. I was in retail once, and I recall dealing with an unhappy public. It’s my turn to give those who are waiting on me a little slack, to understand they may have been on their feet a really long time today, to appreciate the fact that they would like to be home with their families also in the season of holiday rush.

It is not only those in retail who need a gentle approach, but also fellow shoppers, drivers on the road (though some be crazy!), and with my regular people. After all, the proclamation of “peace and goodwill” is no less important in 2017 than when it was first told to a group of shepherds.

As we close the Thanksgiving celebration, let’s not forget how much we have, how blessed we are, how good God is.

Take the challenge with me to practice patience, kindness, and gentleness with those we meet during a busy and stressful season. Spread some joy and share lots of love. Smile at everyone. We never know what someone else is enduring right now. Let compassion and understanding be our motivation to show the world that the peace of God really is available in a world filled with bad news.

I believe it will increase our enjoyment of the Christmas season. Jesus came in the midst of a troubled culture, a world in strife, a people distressed, offering Himself in the most vulnerable way. He asks us to serve one another as He served while on the earth.

It was for love that Christ came. We can be His love extended if we really want to.
  

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P.S.  For those who are just thinking about getting ready to decorate, like me, here are some helpful thoughts before you begin from the Lazy Genius Collective.

 

Sunday grace

Sweet William and I attended a wedding last night, the lovely fairly-land like atmosphere setting the mood for a special occasion.

I listened as the officiant read familiar verses from 1 Corinthians 13 during the ceremony:

Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy,
is not boastful, is not conceited,
does not act improperly,
is not selfish, is not provoked,
and does not keep a record of wrongs.

These familiar words are easy to read and easy to promise. But they are challenging to put into practice. I thought of how long it has taken me to learn what love really is.

Thus, the importance of the covenant of marriage, the “until death parts us” portion that assures we will not bail out when I lose patience, when the spouse is unkind, when we become selfish and easily provoked and keep all sorts of records of offences and can recite them in the heat of an argument.

While God’s love is perfect, it takes a lifetime to perfect love in us.

I’ve learned to love better over the decades of marriage to my Sweet William. And he has learned also. I’m thankful we kept trying to get it right when it was hard, that by grace alone we did not give up and give in when it seemed an easier way out.

Allowing God to love us, accepting His love, and letting Him love others through us is the way to 1 Corinthians 13 kind of love. It is what we need to endure.

Sunday grace.

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