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The glory of today

It is a practically perfect day in my old Kentucky home.

Late last night I sat on the deck, the blustery wind blowing in what is today’s low 60 degree temperatures. Humidity moved out and gentle breezes are left this morning. The sky is blue with puffs of cotton ball clouds.

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I sit long this morning, the second pot of coffee brewed and in my cup. The yard could use some attention, but it is a practically perfect day. I will “waste” the morning in quietude, contemplation, writing in my journal, and pondering life.

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But my heart hurts today. A cousin died this week. Sweet William and I will attend a funeral tomorrow, and a young husband feels like half his body has been torn away from him. Two children are left behind, and they are too young to be without a mamma. I know that feeling.

The young woman who died was born the same year as my son. And how does a mother deal with that kind of loss?

My cousin’s struggle with cancer was hard-fought and faith filled. Yet she is gone and we are left with our grief. And our questions.

Life is hard.

I talked with a friend last night, one who is closer to my age. She also battles cancer. I listened as she expressed concern for her husband and for the grandchildren she loves. She fears she will not see them grow into adults. She faces the uncertainty of her life with courage. I admire her for that, for her openness as we talk about the days ahead.

She probably does not see the strength that is in her right now. It is the strength that is made perfect in weakness, when the power of God rests on a life He holds in the palm of His hands.

I visited another friend yesterday. She is dealing with a different grief and struggle. We drank coffee and tea, chatting as tears filled our eyes. I shared my own battles and my crises of faith, hoping it might help. She texted later that it had.

This morning, as I recall painful experiences in my life, I see opportunities God has given me, just this year alone, to offer an understanding heart. My heartaches identify with someone else’s heartache. And I wonder if this is part of the redemptive process?

The comfort I was given from the God of all comfort is tenderly held out to another through shared experiences, the sweetness of His Word, and the promise of hope.

And do I see some sort of beauty rising from my ashes? Is this a way God redeems the hard places that tested my endurance, when I felt like there was nothing in me to go one step further? Is this the chance to give my testimony that the strong arm of the Savior was holding onto to me all along, when the rope I tied a knot in to hang on for dear life frayed to its very end?

I recently read again the story of Lazarus, his sickness and then him dying while Jesus waited days, not responding to Mary and Martha’s appeal to come heal their brother. His actions seemed callous, uncaring. Haven’t I felt that way about Him myself?

” . . . it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it,” Jesus told the disciples (John 11:4).

How often I am self-focused, centering on my pain and my problem, left wondering why this is happening to me. After all, isn’t it all about me, even sometimes?

What if the road, strewn with rocks and entangled with thorns, where we are led to walk is for the glory of God? What if these times are meant to point to a higher power, an omnipotent, all-knowing God who has a plan so enormous that we cannot possibly comprehend? What if these things we wish had not  happened or would go away are like arrows pointing us to a Savior who took on our flesh and blood and walked the hard places Himself and says to us, “I know. I know how you feel,”?

What if this life I live is about the glory of God?

Jesus preached an upside down gospel, after all. He said things like the first shall be last. Love your enemies and do good to those who hurt you. If you want to be great, then serve. Give to others without expecting anything in return. Forgive. Love. Believe.

He was the Master who stooped low to wash dirty feet of those who would betray, deny, run away, and lose their faith. Jesus lived a contrary-to-what-we-think kind of life.

If I could begin to see with spirit-eyes, beyond the present suffering and into another dimension where death becomes life everlasting and tears are wiped away for good, perhaps it would change things for me.

If I could grasp the finite-ness of my earthly days and compare them to what comes afterwards, perhaps I would be less concerned about the cares of life and the problems here that trouble me so.

Perhaps I would arise each morning with the hope of seeing God’s glory in the daily events of an ordinary day.

My cousin seemed too young to die. There was too much living yet to do. Yet this very day, she lives in a way I can’t even fathom. She sees what I long to see. She knows things I want to know. She understands what I wrestle to understand. Her faith has become sight and the questions, they don’t matter any more.

And I am envious of that.

I want to see the glory, to perceive beyond the surface and into the deep things of God, things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined. These are the things God has prepared for those who love him.

I pray to see His glory, to endure with faith today and live with hope for tomorrow.

Lord, show us Your glory!

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Long hot days

I’m a morning person, but I’m having difficulty rising while it is still dark.

Yesterday was the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Actually, it still had only 24 hours but daylight lingers more than any other day and it seems longer.

The sun has beaten down on us lately. Yard work must be done early. The heat melts me and weighs me down, sweat trickling into my eyes. Even walks with Maisie feel hard, the humidity of a Kentucky summer making the air thick.

Sweet William and I have a list of serious prayer concerns we remember daily. I consider those who must feel the heat of blazing trial, draining their strength and sapping their energy. When all one can do is sit and wait beside a loved one in a hospital bed, the day stretches long and tiresome. Medical professionals busy themselves tending the patient. But families often sit. And pray. And wonder how long.

Heavy hearts endure what feels like an endless season. We long for a break, a change, some news that it soon will be better. Sooner not later. Where is the cool breeze that relieves the burning frustration, the what-if questions, the whys of this situation?

We need a cool drink of water for the parched spirit.

The seasons sometimes seem endless, but they come and they go, changing in diminutive increments. We must believe that relief will come.

We must believe that God is near, that He has a plan, that He is working.

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   *     *     *     *     *     *     *

This morning the clouds moved in. Soothing winds started to blow in the tops of the trees. A gentle rain began to fall. Temperatures cooled. And the earth is watered.

Even so, may it be for those who long for their thirst to be quenched.

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Sunday grace

The heat bears down on me, almost unbearable. I search the sky for a cloud, for rain, for a reprieve. But the sky is clear and blue and cloudless.

Sometimes a cloud is what I crave.

Summer stretches long. It is the season of play and fun and lasting daylight. Darkness brings short bursts of cooling and rest. Rain showers water the earth and leave the air damp, the skin sticky.

This year I long for relief.

Summer can be long burning days, and I can forget that this too shall pass. The autumn season awaits its entrance, its signaled appearance, its glory and grace.  But it seems far away.

The oppressive trial sunburns my heart, and I look for respite.

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“Let us cross over to the other side,” Jesus told His disciples. A terrible storm disrupted their voyage, and they thought death was imminent. They forgot their Rabbi’s assurance of certain arrival on the other shore.

Sometimes I forget too. Oh me of little faith.

Endure with patience, oh my soul. Look to the Light, the One whose radiance burns away chaff, leaving the wheat to be planted, to be fruitful.

Summer is the season of breaking up fallow ground, of laying in the seed that must die in order to live and grow. Then comes the harvest. It takes the summer heat to produce the bounty of reaping.

May it be so. In me.

Sunday grace.

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In the desert for a few days

Sweet William and I have been in the desert for almost five days. Here in mid August, our central air conditioner gave up the ghost.

It happened on a Thursday evening while I was in the midst of piano lessons. I fanned vigorously and apologized to students coming into the house. The prognosis: We need a new unit which will cost a lot, and it cannot be installed until Monday.

My students where glad to be going home.

The heat rose in our normally climate-controlled house, rising to 85 degrees quickly. Even the August picture on our wall calendar looks hot.

By Friday, Sweet William and I were sweltering. And I wonder why air conditioners break down in the middle of summer? We kept looking at the thermometers placed throughout the house as the temperatures went higher. Fans were running everywhere and especially in our faces.

And for once it was too hot for coffee.Wendys

By the afternoon, with outdoor temperature soaring to 91 degrees and not much better indoors, we had enough. We got in the car where the air conditioner worked great, turning it down to 65 degrees and letting the cold winds blow. A cheeseburger at Wendy’s was our destination because if you can’t stand the heat, you get out of the kitchen.

We ate our burger in the car with the air running full blast. Then we went to Dairy Queen for Blizzards because we deserved it.

I don’t know when ice cream tasted so good. I ate until chill bumps formed on my arms.

One small window unit upstairs and a portable unit left by the heating/air company were our only means of survival. At night we closed the bedroom door, the portable unit blowing cold air into the room. We slept like it was winter, pulling a quilt over us. But upon waking and opening the door to the rest of the house, the heat hit me, and I really wondered whether morning coffee was worth it.

On Saturday, the cloud cover lowered the house temperature a small bit. We experimented with blankets and quilts in doorways hoping to keep the coolness in a smaller area of the house where it could be manageable and somewhat livable.

I was glad we had not invited anyone for brunch or dinner. They would not have wanted to come.

Each morning we emerged from the igloo of our bedroom only to be faced with the heat wave in the rest of the house. The blanketed-off living area had to cool down again by opening up the bedroom door. We lived in the desert of hot air blowing around us during the day.

We went to the deck because sometimes it felt better in fresh air. We watched dark clouds roll in a few times and hoped for rain to change the weather. Maisie lay stretched out on the cool floor more often than curled up in her bed.

We drank cold drinks and fixed sandwiches. I didn’t dare turn on the oven. The goal was to stay calm, cool, and collected as possible.

It seemed each time I went outside and returned to the house, the same words came out of my mouth. “It’s cooler outside than it is in here.”

I’m sure if we had asked friends, someone would have let us come stay with them. But when you have a dog, the equation gets complicated. And Maisie was in this with us.

As the days went by, the outdoor temperature cooled a little, and I think we began adjusting to our situation. We were going to tough this one out while we counted down the days until the new unit could be installed.

Sweet William and I prayed that we would not let our tempers flare with the flare of our heated conditions. We found ways to entertain ourselves because TV was in the hot rooms of the house. We talked more, and we laughed. I read a book aloud.

We have come through this experience with much thanksgiving and hopefully some wisdom.

While we were hot and miserable physically, what we lacked were only creature comforts. There are others on our prayer list who are suffering more. Ours was a temporary discomfort lasting a few days. It is not so for some we know and love.

Life is complicated. Minor irritations and major trauma are assured to come along in this life. We are destined for tribulation. Sometimes we have to walk through a desert, and sometimes we must weather a storm.

But we also look with hope toward an end of the trial. We want to understand the lesson to be learned and grow in endurance. We come through the trouble with a few more of our rough places sanded smooth. The chisel and hammer are brutal to the marble. But what begins to take shape is the image the creator planned.

We are like the marble. God is the artist who continues to do His good work in us, though it be painful, until the image of His Son is revealed more and more.

This short desert trip was not on my schedule; I would not have chosen it. But having made the journey, the oasis is deliciously refreshing.

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Thou O Lord

The engines roared into our quiet close-knit community, sirens blaring and lights flashing.  The dark night was ablaze with fire coming from our neighbors house, people who are more than neighbors.  They are my family.  My near kin.

“Oh Jesus!” was all I could say, all I could pray.  Over and over, it was a moan of desperation in a desperate situation.

Neighbors and friends came out of warm cozy houses and family celebrations, not knowing what to do, only lending their presence.  And when the sky falls what is there to do but huddle close, be there to hold onto and cry with, to pray for grace and mercy in a night of horror?

Our thankful prayer was that all souls were safe, unharmed, spared the smoke inhalation and burning.

Christmas Day suddenly became something different for us.

 “Lord, how are they increased that trouble me! many are they that rise up against me.   Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. Selah.”

We watched from a distance, as firefighters risked life and limb to try to salvage what was so far gone, to put out flames that burned hot and ferocious.  They did what they were trained to do.  All we could do was stand back and let them.

Gathered at the closest house, we sat on the deck in the cold night, tears streaming down wondering how and why and what to do next.  Silent prayers echoed in our hearts.

But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.  I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. Selah.”

 And yet, underneath are the everlasting arms of a God who knows all.  I don’t understand His ways, but I know that He is wise beyond me.  We know that His mercy is plentiful and His grace is sufficient.  His love endures when nothing else will.

Late into the night people part, go to their own places of sleep.  I tell Sweet William that I almost feel guilty for having a home and bed tonight.  What we count as treasures, what we invest our time and money and very lives into can be gone in a breath.  And what do we have left?  What can we count on?

” I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.  I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about.”

We lock our doors and feel secure.  We set our house alarms and expect safety.  We drive on the highway observing the traffic laws and don’t know for sure if we will return home whole.

There is no security in this life.  None.  Zero.

God is all we have.  God is all we need.

“Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God: for thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly. Salvation belongeth unto the Lord: thy blessing is upon thy people. Selah.”

When there is faith in a God who cares enough to send a Savior, there is hope.  Hope for tomorrow.  Hope for a future.

My family/neighbors have much ahead of them, decisions to be made, grief to work through, loss to accept.  They will because their hope is built on nothing less than Jesus Christ and His righteousness.  They will move forward, rebuild, though they will be forever changed.  They will continue to trust in their God because there is nothing else.

Dare we set our dreams on things of this earth when it is so quickly gone?  Dare we trust anything except a mighty God who saves?

We stand firm on the Truth that God is good, God is strong, God is loving, and He will bring beauty from ashes.

And no matter what the enemy means for evil, God will use it for good.  Our adversary does not have the last word.

The last word is:  But Thou o Lord.

The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir sings But Thou O Lord

Scripture from Psalm 3, KJV

This week’s musing

Truth is revealed to me, even when my skull is thick.

 I cried unto God with my voice, even unto God with my voice; and he gave ear unto me.”  Psalm 77:1

I read the whole of Psalm 77 and think how Asaph, the author, expressed similar feelings and asked the same questions I have asked.  Perhaps that puts me in good company, the company of mankind.

Do we all question the goodness of God when our lives seem very hard?  I’ve done my share of asking only to be met with a hushed quiet that I now recognize as loving concern rather than silent neglect.

After this last season of Sweet William’s health issues, I am trying not to question so much but rather to fall upon grace and pray, “The will of the Lord be done.”  It is the prayer that never fails.

“Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done,” Jesus prayed and gave us the example.  It does bring me more peace, just to rest it all in His hands rather than flail like a fretful child.  Trying to figure it all out is exhausting.

I’m still learning along this journey, not having reached perfection yet.  I have a long way to go.

Yesterday morning as I was finishing my Bible study lesson for the day, I wrote in the margin of the book these words,

“I’ve gotten to know Him [God] in great victories, but even more I think in great trials.”

 I almost gasped at the revelation of it as I wrote the words.  They are truth I know in my head but suddenly they seemed to take root in my heart.

Is it possible, probable that hard places reveal Jesus the most?  Paul’s words ring in my ears:

That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;

I do want to know Him, my God, my Father, my Savior, my Lord.  If it takes the hard roads, the rough seas, the jagged edges of life, to know Him most and know Him best, then I pray those sweet words, “The will of the Lord be done.”

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Stillness in trials

A young friend is dealing with harsh realities and the changing of her normal.  She is learning stillness in this trial.  Her email revealed her pain but it could not hide her faith.

As I consider her place, my thoughts go back to the year 1982, the Thanksgiving when my mother’s cancer diagnosis tookMother in 1982 over our lives.  She sat at the table that year barely eating anything because she had trouble breathing, but she didn’t want us to know it.  She didn’t want to spoil our holiday.  That was my mother.

Before the weekend was over, she was in the hospital having fluid drained from her lungs, the first of several times during the coming holidays.  It was the beginning of the end of her earthly life.  And it was the beginning of the changing of my normal. The changing of my world.

I could not imagine my life without my mother.  I was 32, and he was still my best friend.

That Thanksgiving ushered in a change in me, and it sent me on a search. I had to face all the things I thought I knew about prayer and faith and believing.  My mother was dying, and I could not change that no matter how hard I tried.

It was a journey of several months that took me to God’s words about faith, about trusting Him even when I don’t get what I desperately want.  I learned in that process that the greatest faith is trusting Him even though.  Even though the fig tree is bare.  Even though the cattle stall is empty.  Even though the fields do not produce a crop. Even then, He is God and He is good and He is deserves my worship.

It was one of the hardest trials of my life and a lesson of stillness, resting the results with the Father who loves me and knows what is best for me and for those I love.

I try to figure out what others need and pray that for them.  I ask for my needs when I pray.  I am specific and sometimes I am vague.  I often feel like my prayers are feeble.  Yet I find peace in this: God knows what I need before I ask; the Holy Spirit intercedes for me according to the will of God; and Jesus my Great High Priest, has gone beyond the veil of the Holiest place to provide mercy and grace for every need.

One of my favorite authors, Jan Karon who writes about a small town called Mitford, often quotes in her book about “the prayer that never fails.”  She is referencing these simple words, “The will of the Lord be done.”

Some may disagree, that instead we should utter commanding prayers and believe to receive what we want.  I think the pathway to stillness is trusting a mighty God who can do the impossible and who will do what is best for me, for Sweet William, for my Tulsa family too-far-away, and for other family and friends.

I still get specific when I pray.  More often these days, I finish with “Your will be done in all of it.”  In my feeble way of expressing myself, God sees the deeper needs and knows how to accomplish His purpose in it all.

Your will be done, Father.  If it was good enough for Jesus, then it must be good enough for me.

Today  I am listening to this: