Sunday grace

Trying to read with fresh eyes, I ponder the first stories told by Matthew and Luke. I see ordinary people doing ordinary things.

A priest performing his regular duties at the temple in Jerusalem.

His wife back in Judea keeping the home fires burning.

A young woman minding her own business while preparing for her pending nuptials.

A carpenter building a home to make ready for his bride.

A band of shepherds working the night shift, watching for predators of the smelly sheep  in their charge, them just trying to stay awake.

The Magi, men whose assignment was to study the sky at evening’s blackness, hoping for some new discovery.

People doing everyday tasks, much like me.

But then their regular lives were touched by the holy. Angels appeared. Dreams intruded. A star blazed as a wondrous sign. Life is not normal anymore. Suddenly everything is changed.

There is holiness around us, trying to get our attention, inviting us to slow and see it. Holiness wanting to break in to the mundane so we can experience the extraordinary measure of grace.

The story of Christmas has a beauty all its own. It needs no trappings of glitter or gifts, no decked halls or tables laden with delicacies , no spinning activities or full-to-the-brim schedules.

The story of Christmas is the Holy come down to earth to be with the ordinary. The Holy made single-cell small in order to enter into my world. The Holy, whose glory cannot be contained in a thousand universes, putting on flesh to be swaddled and held by a mere human. The Holy initiating a tender and astounding love that can make all things new.

This is Christmas. May we look for the holy in each moment of it, experience it fresh, slow to hear angels sing.

Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests. Luke 2:14

Sunday grace.

100_3294

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

The prayer

I do enjoy the re-reading of a good book. This morning, it is the account in Luke of a couple of old folks with whom I can identify. The words are anciently familiar, yet they are fresh like a sip of pure spring water on a parched tongue.

100_3204

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.

As he offered up prayers, the smokey fragrance of incense encircling him, I wonder if Zacharia thought of that one prayer he had prayed again and again through his many years? That one prayer for blessing, 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.”

Which prayer was that? You mean the one I stopped praying years ago? The one I stopped expecting to be answered because I’m old now? The prayer that would have been on a timetable more suitable 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 according to 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 have been answered. Undoubtedly their desire for a child would not have gone unheeded.

After so many years they must have become resigned. Head shakes and whispers behind their backs would 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.”

Praying Hands Image
Praying Hands by Albrecht Dürer

God declares in His word that my requests, petitions, prayers are heard. He answers when He gets good and ready, in His own sweet time, because He alone knows when all the pieces 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 believing God. Keep bowing the knee. Keep trusting in a faithful God who 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

Revised and reposted from December 2018

Breathe

It’s been a full-plate kind of week, me reminding myself to breathe. We’ve had places to go and people to see, things to do and plans to finish. I’ve been up and down the stairs of our house too many times to count.

My morning devotion reminds me I am blessed. Blessed to be a blessing.  I know this in my head. Sometimes my heart forgets.

In the season of holiday frenzy, we tend to pour out, giving gifts of time and energy, until we are depleted and empty of soul.

“You must feel the fullness of your own pitcher before you trust the pouring out of yourself,” says Ann Voskamp.

Running on fumes, I call it. Sweet William reminds me to fill the gas tank in the little black Honda before it gets to a quarter tank. It’s not good for the engine, he says.

Running on fumes is not good for me either. I need to refill, refuel, reignite with the passion of love that is true Christmas.

I cannot face the day well if I have not first faced my Savior. He came to bless me with His presence.

Immanuel, God with us.

And His presence is the present I most need, the gift I want more,  the one thing I cannot live without.

In the still dark of early dawn, I quietly rest and inhale Him who is life. I absorb the Holy Word and breathe in His truth. His peace, beyond all understanding, fills my lungs. Before the day’s agenda unfolds, I am assured that I am adored and redeemed, chosen and called. I am blessed beyond counting. Blessed to be a blessing.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  — John 20:21-22

The Creator breathed into Adam’s lungs and he became a living soul. Jesus breathed on the disciples and said “Receive.” The Holy Spirit, the very breath of God, has come to me, to be with me, to live in me, to give me power to serve and be a blessing.

I remind myself to breathe.

Christmas grace.

 

101_1846.JPG

Seeking for Him

In the stillness of the early morning, I turned on the lights where my ceramic carolers sit on the piano. I made them for my mother one year for Christmas. The small village that nestles behind the carolers were a gift from my son when he was a teenager. The vignette holds memories as I watch the lights twinkle.

I read today’s devotional to Sweet William. God came searching for Adam and Eve, calling “Where are you?” while they hid away, afraid of Him who came to walk in the garden for fellowship.

All the time I was seeking, He was seekIng for me. The song title stirs a melody in my mind. I’ve known His seeking.

In a season of looking for just the right gift, for browsing the internet for a better price, for looking to see if I can add another something to the calendar, Jesus is seeking.

“Where are you?”

Where is  my mind on a frantic day of appointments and meetings? Where is my heart when I’m flooded with thoughts and emotions? Where is the center of my Christmas plans, the focus that points me clearly to what is true?

Where am I today?

I know where I want to be. At His feet, like Mary of Bethany, listening to the words that give life. Soaking in a love that is like no other. Worshipping His majesty. Amazed that grace came looking for me.

Where are you today?

Christmas grace.

 

2013 Christmas (5)

Sunday grace

December entered with grace, Sweet William and I having been invited to spend a gloomy, rainy afternoon with friends who feel like family. We have history together. We remember the years ago when their children and our grandchildren were young, when we worshiped together at another church, when this important relationship first began.

Their home was warm and inviting. The atmosphere of Christmas had arrived, and I pleasured looking about at her lovely decorations, especially the exquisite Nativity set taking a prominent position in this house.

We ate a simple yet delicious lunch. Dessert was chocolate cake from her grandmother’s recipe. The men moved to the living room to finish watching the basketball game, while she and I remained at the table, sweet tea glasses refilled. We talked as long-time friends will, remembering the past and catching up with the present.

We’ve shared prayer requests, she and I, us wondering at God’s ways, marveling at His answers. She has encouraged me to trust when the way was dark. I’ve confided some deep secrets and struggles, and she does not judge or condemn. We continue to pray for one another and our families, because this is the law of Christ. To love one another.

Whether I finish my Christmas decorations or not, of this I am sure: the people with whom God has graced my life are the true adornment.  I am a wealthy woman because of the friends who choose to love me. And I get to love them back. What joy!

“The ornament of a house is the people who frequent it.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson.

This is grace indeed. That Love came down to be with us, to be in us. The gift of Christmas.

Sunday grace.

Christmas-Ribbon-Tree

 

November ending 2018

As autumn marks her days, we propel toward the end of another year. Can there only be one month left?

101_1252

Ten weeks of Bible study concluded the first week of November, and it was a blessed journey.  My study-sisters and I bonded through shared experiences, open hearts and vulnerability. We will keep declaring our commitment to Believe God from this day forward. The end of a study is bittersweet, the triumph of the finish line coupled with the poignancy of its ending.

Some of my piano students participated in a fall recital, and I was proud as a peacock. These three have been playing for a few years and shone like stars. As I listened to their skill, I marveled that I get to be part of this, the gift of sharing music with a child. Teaching came late to me, after years of administrative/management work. I believe I was meant to be a teacher right now, in this season of my life.

Sweet William and I watched God’s Not Dead:  Light in Darkness, third in the series. It presented a balanced view of Christians who seek to follow God and yet we stumble. Sometimes we make wrong decisions and hurt people. But we hope in a forgiving God who gives second chances, who tells us to seek reconciliation, to make amends with those we wound, and to start fresh from a clean slate again. God helps us learn from our errors and grow in grace.

I’ve had a number of doctor visits this month, unusual for me. But I’m trying to take full advantage of my paid deductible. I often find I’m the only one in the waiting room with a book to read. This month I re-read  For Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn, a must read for every woman who wants to understand the men in her life.

for women only

 

The appointment with my primary care physician revealed I’m in pretty good shape for the years I’ve spent in this body. My doctor, who is the same age as my son, said she wanted to be like me when she grew up. Then she took x-rays of my knees. They show their age, and I certainly feel it.

Thanksgiving gave us food, glorious food. Our family knows how to put together a meal. I enjoyed the day with loved ones who are dear to me.  My favorite comment of the day came from one of our youngest. This five-year-old was eating a piece of my sour cream cake and said, “This is the best cake I’ve ever tasted in my life! What is the secret ingredient?” I leaned down close to his ear and said, “Butter.”

100_0287

The very next day, however, caught us off guard when one of own was diagnosed with a mass in her brain.  Again we are faced with the fragility of life, the uncertainty of tomorrow, and the immediacy of prayer in times of trouble.  We find comfort in knowing our God is sovereign. He is not caught off guard by troubling news, and He is very much in control when situations seem overwhelming.

The last days of November for this teen were spent in the hospital, being poked and prodded, having procedures and tests. The outpouring of love and concern, as witnessed through social media, texting and calls was heartwarming. People are our greatest resource and wealth. We don’t always realize how rich we are until something arises that saps our reserves of strength. We look around to see love being poured into us.

I began thinking about Christmas even before November began, purchasing gifts ahead of the frenzy as much as I could. Sweet William and I talked about paring down this year. It seems like that has become my theme. Do less and enjoy it more.

Years ago I had a friend who was a retired school teacher. She put Christmas in every nook and cranny of her modest home, and I loved going to her house. As she grew older, she used to say it was foolish to keep doing all of it, yet she did. And I delighted to visit her for a cup of Chrismtas tea, my eyes wandering to all the spaces filled with ornaments, elves, Santas and festivity.

There were years I tried to duplicate her holiday spirit at our house with red and green in every corner, on every surface high and low. But now I’m choosing to be content with enough. Temptations to add something else crop up when I view TV, Pinterest, and magazine covers. But I am determined to be satisfied so I can focus on what is more important.  For me, less is indeed more.

I’m enjoying podcasts these days, and the ones about holiday stress are what has my ears perked up. One woman said she makes an “I Won’t List” of things she will not do that  would only add to her anxiety. If I made such a list, first would be “Do not put out every single thing in those multiple Christmas boxes.”

What would I put on a “To Do List for December?” Share a Christmas devotional each morning with Sweet William. Respond to serendipitous opportunities with a friend. Attend a Christmas musical. Watch some classic Christmas movies in the comfort of home (The Bishop’s Wife,The Preacher’s Wife, and The Nativity are some favorites from my library). Read a novel set in the season. Relax and enjoy the holiday.

Perspective is everything, and it was crystal clear as we sat in the hospital waiting room. I heard my 12-year-old cousin, twice removed (or something like that; I never know) talking about something that happened “a long time ago.” How long ago, someone asked? “About a year,” he said. A year is more like a sprint to me.

As I turn the page of the 2018 calendar for the last time, it seems obvious that my year’s goals are a done deal. December is not the month to catch up on the big projects I had planned. If I deem them important enough, I’ll transfer them to next year and try again. The last month has a conclusive feeling. We are coming to the end.

Just as I view January as a new beginning, I’m seeing December as closure. The question I ask myself is this: How shall I spend these final days of 2018?

Some of my illusive, intangible objectives at the beginning of this year were to go deeper, keep trying, be creative, keep learning, listen more, enjoy this life.

This is where I shall focus time and energy as the next thirty-one days are checked off.

I pulled out the Christmas CDs from the back of the cabinet and put five of them on to play as I busy myself with the mundane today. Life is a beautiful thing and we have this day to live fully or to waste with unhealthy emotions. It’s my choice.

So let the music play. Advent begins. Sing Gloria!

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. Make us Your own.

christmas-ornaments.jpg

We gather and we pray

How quickly a ride in the park can turn on its heels and take you in another direction, down a dark tunnel where you cannot see the light.

101_2139

After a companionable family gathering on Thursday, I got a call while still out on Black Friday. “A mass in her brain . . . being admitted to the hospital . . . it’s very serious.”

Entering my house, I tell what I know while I fumble about with the insignificant, still trying to assimilate in my own mind what I’ve just learned. When unexpected trauma appears I ask the same question, “How can this be happening?”

I put on my coat and scarf, gathered Maisie’s collar and leash to go walk. I aimed for the end of our lane where an old cedar post used to stand. It was a place my dad went to pray when trouble blindsided our family.

As I reached that spot, I paused to remember.

My cousins’ parents and mine moved to this piece of undeveloped property in the 1960s. We grew into adults on this lane. We added spouses and then houses sprung up, all of us living in proximity to one another. As our children were birthed, one by one, the sounds of childish play roamed these 40 acres, all the neighbors being our kin. It was unusual for sure, and it was beautiful beyond description.

I think of all the prayers our parents prayed for us, sometimes when we knew it, but more often when we had no idea.

The family leaned on my dad as our prayer warrior, his habits and customs unusually disciplined and structured. It was  his agreement between him and his God. He called all our names in prayer daily, nightly, and he interceded when we were in trouble. He stood at that cedar post at the end of our lane on several occasions that I can remember to speak to the One who knew us well.

Dad had a list with family names on it. It grew longer through the years as we increased in number. After mother’s death and his remarriage, he moved away from this lane into the house of  my step-mother. Though miles away, he had a nightly ritual of going outside and turning toward the south, where we still lived, to pray for each of us one by one.

I returned from my reverie of memories to the present. The old cedar post that stood as a memorial is gone. I looked about my surroundings. The fields that used to surround our homes are filled with subdivisions, privacy fences and apartment complexes. Other people live in the houses that used to be home to my family members. Things are different now.

While standing where my father stood, I reminded myself that my God is the same, never altering from His awareness of us, not any less compassionate and kind. Though our parents are gone, their prayers are not. The Lord stores them and remembers the faith of our fathers and mothers.  All of those words of petition did not vanish into thin air. Instead they are treasured in heavenly vessels.

As tears rolled down my cheeks, I prayed too. The words that came were simple: “Lord Jesus help!” I knew He heard me just as He heard my ancestors years ago.

He is a God who leans down to listen. He was not surprised by a devastating diagnoses like we were. His intention and purpose are already in place.

Our family has a traditional day-after-Thanksgiving evening meal of Hot Browns to finish the leftover turkey. I asked my cousin, who hosts us, if she still wanted to do this. She answered “I think we are better together than apart.” I agreed.

Sweet William and I entered the house and the atmosphere was somber, so unlike the day before when cheerful noises greeted us at the door. This night we are quiet, faces solemn. The axiom, “when one hurts, we all hurt,” is true.

Before the meal we were not really hungry for, we joined hands and lifted our praise to our God who has been faithful to us through the years; who has seen us through troubles great and small; who has shown Himself huge and performed miracles we didn’t deserve; who has given grace to walk the hard places; who has never left us alone to ride out the stormy gales.

We asked Him for mercy, for healing, for strength, for wisdom, for His comforting presence. Our hearts are assured He will answer our cries.

This is what my family does in times of crises. We gather and we pray.

Today I turn on music to soothe my heavy heart. This is the song I wait for:

 I Love the Lord

And pitied every groan.
Long as I live, and troubles rise,
I hasten to His throne.

When trouble comes, family gathers. We are better side by side than trying to stand alone  We hasten to God’s throne with full of assurance of His loving welcome.

We will trust, believe, and wait to see what God will do.

101_2150.JPG