Under the Grace

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“Grace is free only because the Giver himself has borne the cost” Philip Yancey

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” Frederick Buechner

Sometimes grace slips in unannounced, quietly without fanfare. The thing about Grace is, it’s always there, just like God is always there.  As believers we know we are steeped in God’s grace through Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross. It can also be hard to get a handle on. How can we really fathom the grace that showers down on us even while we are sleeping. Grace is active and living. It’s an offshoot of God’s great love and mercy. Sometimes it’s so big it’s hard to get a handle on.

Years ago I used to listen to a radio commentator named Barry Farber. He had some sayings, one I never forget: “It’s like trying to hit a phantom with a cream pie.” Grace is kind of like that to me sometimes. It’s invisible but always there. And as soon as I take it for granted, it slips away again. Yet it’s still there waiting in the wings, waiting for me to actively acknowledge it.

When we say about someone, “There but for the grace of God go I” we are acknowledging that we could at any given time, find ourselves in circumstances like whoever we were talking about. While we are correct in that assumption, we are also a little misguided because we are kind of implying that person must not have grace in their life, or they must not have as much as we have. See what I am saying?

God made it possible to never lose sight of the grace we are standing under by looking to Calvary. Then it all makes perfect sense.

On my playlist is a song called, “Under the Grace” by Phil Keaggy. I had heard it first about 25 years ago and I scoured the internet until I found it. Certain music just brings you back from the brink, and his was one of the recordings that did it for me long ago. He is known as a brilliant guitarist but it was his voice and the words to this song that brought grace home to me again this morning. (You can find it on YouTube)

I am humbled by Grace this morning. How about you?

“For it is by grace you have been saved through faith–and this is not from yourselves , it is the gift of God –not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

Evening Falls

 

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Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul……..Thomas Merton

I am trying to learn this: When words are few, there is a reason and a purpose for it. At least that’s what I am telling myself. There was a time not so long ago that my words poured out almost effortlessly. Not anymore. I know it’s a season I am going through and I don’t know if it will last for another month or a year or even more. I am resting in His timing, trying not to force words that aren’t there.

This evening I told myself I would come out here and write whatever came, whatever sounds I heard. Just now, the sun is slipping away to another part of the world giving way to a cool evening and a colder night. I am drinking Tazo Zen tea, the kind I used to drink on my work afternoons with a drop of honey and milk. I thought that might spark something creative.

The Mockingbird has stopped singing and now I hear the drowsy growl of a small plane overhead. That makes me think of fishing when I was a kid, and BBQ potato chips and a rocking boat and water lapping against the side. I didn’t really fish I just went along. I remember the sky being so very blue.

It’s beautiful here now, like living inside a Haiku poem. California in Spring, especially in the foothills is very close to Tolkien’s Hobbiton. On our drive there the other day it wouldn’t have surprised me to see Bilbo and Gandalf on a stroll or sitting on the side of a hill blowing smoke rings as they puffed their pipe-weed.

Green hills

And the other day I found a perfect nest. I was walking up from the river and I saw a big dark object laying at the foot of the trees. I looked all over and didn’t see any baby birds or eggs, thankfully. I carried it like a trophy, it was such a marvel I didn’t know what to do with it. I wanted to preserve the miracle, for that’s what it was (is) to me. How a bird could design something so incredible and engineer something from nothing is beyond me. It’s just God, that’s all.

Nest

So, my friends if you are still reading, “Good on ya!” I am thankful for anyone and everyone who has been keeping up with me on this blog. It’s a Grace journey we are all on. Along with Thomas Merton, I believe that everything we go through here serves some kind of purpose.

My tea has gone cold in the mug and the mosquito’s are out. I wish the bats would come and eat them all. It’s about time for them to come out. The birds have gone quiet now, all tucked away on their secure boughs. Time to go for now.

Evening falls once again…….It is well with my soul even when words don’t come.

Redeeming the Time

 

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“Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray………” Luke 5:16

“Our conditioning as members of a consumer society prevents us from abandoning hope that, with sufficient planning, we might yet be able to see and do everything. To move slowly and deliberately through the world, attending to one thing at a time, strikes us as radically subversive, even un-American. We cringe from the idea of relinquishing, in any moment, all but one of the infinite possibilities offered us by our culture. Plagued by a highly diffused attention, we give ourselves to everything lightly. That is our poverty. In saying yes to everything, we attend to nothing. One only can love what one stops to observe. “Nothing is more essential to prayer,” said Evagrius, “than attentiveness.”
― Belden C. Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert

I read this wonderful book years ago and it has remained with me ever since. I believe it holds a very important message for our times as the world and the people in it seem to be moving at a faster and noisier pace than ever before. What does it mean to be fully in the moment of our lives? Do we skim over our days not fully touching down until we collapse in bed and wonder where the time went?

Do I treat people like things to check off my to-do list or do I give them my undivided attention?  I don’t know much but there are certain things I am absolutely sure of. I know that one day, I will give absolutely anything to hear a story I have heard a million times before and the voice I love telling it. I will hear the silence where they used to be and maybe my heart won’t be able to take it.

Listen to the stories, look into their eyes. Hear what they are saying, the desperation and earnestness behind it. Slow down long enough to honor them as individuals the way we would like someone to do for us. We don’t get to decide who’s worthy, God says we all are. That’s what real love looks like.

What makes a good day for you? For me it means that I was able to keep my finger firmly on the pulse of the day most of the time. I felt it from the time the sun came up until it went down. It made for a happy day, a fulfilled day. I rode my bike over ground I covered in childhood. I felt the bumps in the streets, I saw things, beautiful things. I took pictures so I wouldn’t forget.

I took care of Elaine who is recovering from carpal tunnel surgery. It was a joy to return a gift she has given to me many times. I got to go to the store with Mom and Dad both, one to the grocery and one to the pharmacy. I went to Lowe’s to look at flowers with my Aunt.

I was in the moment most of the day. I  wish I  could say I have this  down, but too many times I  fail miserably.  But that’s why God knew we needed  days.  They are strung out like pearls until this life ends and eternity begins. The thing is, we can  never be sure when one ends and the other starts.

I like how the King James Bible puts it here:

Walk  in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming  the time.  Colossians 4:5

And this one:

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due when it is within your power to do it. Proverbs 3:27

And just maybe I can try to repeat today what I did yesterday.

 

A New Season

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For behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. Song of Solomon 2:11,12

The last time I wrote (if I remember correctly) I was in a bit of a funk. I was missing the doves that were a regular background noise of my prayer/meditation times in Arizona.  I had seen them in the area and wondered why I never heard them. I discounted it as part of a necessary season I was going through along with everything else. Now, it seems I hear one several times a day. God has given them back to me, along with Spring and flowers everywhere. The sun has touched down and the earth is truly full of His glory. As I write a Mockingbird is singing its heart out, so loud it almost comical.

I am happy to say, my heart feels lighter. Maybe it’s as simple as the weather. We walked to the lake today. That even sounds amazing doesn’t it? As much as I have whined and groused about all the things that bugged me about my home state since moving back, to be surrounded by all this beauty (and of course being close to my family) balances things out quite nicely. When weather permits I go down to the little river shack to pray. My old faithful LL Bean robe gave up the ghost and I had to throw it out. That’s what I would bundle up and walk down in, but my friend found another online and surprised me with it. I think it must have cost her a bundle, it weighs 5 pounds!

Now that the weather is warming up, I will go down more mornings before work. We have had some BBQs here lately and that is a very welcome change, to be able to cook outdoors is something we missed so much. Here is what Elaine made for my Aunt, her old sink washstand was rotting so she rebuild a frame and added a little cooking space which works great. The old wood is in the wheelbarrow!

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There is something Holy about creating something, isn’t there? It is truly a blessing to be able to work with your hands and make something better, give it a new life. After all, we are created in His image and God is the ultimate Creator. During Lent, we remember God’s great work of redemption, His greatest and most awful gift. Awful because it cost Him everything, great because it was the greatest act of Love He ever did and will ever do again.

He is our hope, our joy…..now and for all eternity. Nature reflects this, especially at the turn of the Seasons.

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Henry David Thoreau

Life is grace. Sleep is forgiveness. The night absolves. Darkness wipes the slate clean, not spotless to be sure, but clean enough for another day’s chalking. Frederick Buechner

 

 

Longing for peace in a fractured world

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“I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” John 14:27

I am afraid I don’t have much in the way of encouragement today. I can’t give you the peace I don’t have. I seem to have lost it. Maybe I left it in Arizona. Or the beach. My soul feels like someone scoured it out with a scruffy pad. My joy has been elusive and I have not posted nearly as much because I have followed the old “if you can’t say anything nice don’t say it at all” adage.

I can however, give you Jesus peace. Jesus peace transcends feelings and that is what I offer you today. There are hard times in life when you have to lean on what you know, not on what you feel. Too many times I have looked at peace like an equation. “If I do thus and so and pray enough, read my Bible enough, make the right decisions, then I will have peace.”

“Then my anxiety will go away.”

“Then I will have joy”

“Then my fears will melt away”

“Then everything will fall into place”

I think maybe Jesus is trying to get me to let go and simply take Him at His word. To stop trying so hard. I feel like I have been spiritually wrestling with God and I am very tired. Tired of wondering if I made the right decision to move. Tired of wondering where my peace went. My peace is found in Jesus and nothing else. Like my old Pastor used to say, “It’s Jesus plus nothing”

So I give you Jesus today. At these words only, tears which have also been elusive come forth like Lazarus from the tomb. Lent is coming and it is with renewed joy that I write these words. I am relieved. Sometimes I just need to write myself out of the box I’ve stuffed myself in.

Maybe you are on the same kind of journey I am. Or maybe your life is going just the way you want it to. Maybe you, like me are tired of the second guessing about everything and you just want to let go and enjoy the peace of right here and right now.

Today, you can. Whatever decision you have made in life you can believe God led you there. I know that all steps have led me here, because I am here. Maybe it’s just as simple as that.

We’ll rest together you and I. And Jesus.

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:20

 

The Gift of a Good Day

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I may not always be able to find joy but I can always find gratitude and that makes me grateful.

Yesterday was a good day. Elaine’s brother Bobby came with his truck and trailer and we got to clear a path down by the little Art Gallery/Prayer Closet. The downed tree made such a mess, and it is still laying there like the dead tree it is but at least now with some of the wood hauled off and branches cleaned up we can sit in our chairs and enjoy the fire pit (which the tree also managed to miss except for a small dent in the screen which E pounded out). It was a very generous thing he did and we all had fun working together. Aunt Mayvis and I worked on the hill and Bobby and Elaine worked down below with chainsaws. Then we went to the Dump which is always an adventure. Afterward we went to Der Weinerschnitzel and put back all the calories we burned off I’m sure. (Maybe not)

At around 4:30 I rushed to the library before it closed and got the next two books in the “Time Quintet” by Madeleine L’Engle. They have provided me with just the escape I have needed the past week. A nice kid let me right to them. Afterwards I went to the new little neighborhood grocery we found and I got some Blue Moon beer, because sometimes you just need a beer after a good day’s work. They have a little of everything in that store and the clerks are friendly.

At around 12:30 this morning my mind was running like a Superhighway. All the tasks for the coming week were on parade, and all my fears and anxieties marched right along behind them. I got up to read “A Wind in the Door” awhile until I could get back to sleep.

Shortly after 6:00 am I crept out in the cold and dark to pray and just sit in the silence. I sat and listened to the hiss of the little heater with the sound of the river as the background. I have found that when you don’t know how to start praying, the best place to start is gratitude. So I listed my thanks. The challenge of the past year has made a dent in my joy but to my relief I still can always manage to find my gratitude.

On the way back up, the neighbor cat waited and watched for me and I paused on the step and listened to a beautiful bird call I have never heard before. I wish I knew what kind of bird it was. Maybe there is a phone App for that, like Shazam for birdcalls.

Now the sky is coloring like those plastic play balls you see at the grocery store in the bins. Briggs is sleeping contentedly at my side. He has rolled right along with us the past year and adjusted very well. We have asked a lot of him.

My coffee has gone cold. Time for a reheat and then it’s a new day.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Looking Up in 2017

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Hope in Me, and you will be protected from depression and self-pity. Hope is like a golden cord connecting you to Heaven. The more you cling to this cord, the more I bear the weight of your burdens; thus you are lightened. Heaviness is not of My Kingdom. Cling to hope, and My rays of Light will reach you through the darkness.” Sarah Young, Jesus Calling

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

As Jesus and His disciples were walking by the temple one day, one of them remarked on how beautiful it was. I can see Jesus glancing at it, maybe nodding in agreement, then saying (Message version) “All this you’re admiring so much–the time is coming when every stone in that building will end up in a heap of rubble.” Then He goes on to explain just how bad things will get before He comes back and sets everything to rights. At first glance that might seem like a real joy-killer, but then He says at the end of Luke 21, “Look up, for your redemption draws near.”

It’s easy to despair looking at the events of the world around us. And I’m only thinking of the things that happened this past week! It’s easy to forget how to look at the world through the lens of  wonder, filtering out all the anxiety and dread about what will happen next. But Jesus doesn’t just tell us to buck up, or think beautiful thoughts. He points us to Himself. He is our ultimate hope and the hope of the world.

Sometimes He reminds us of this in the simplest of ways. The other morning I took a walk down by the river and the neighbor cat decided to tag along. I watched as she sprang ahead, leaping with a wild joy as she chased blowing leaves. She high-stepped it, and shaking her feet at the wet grass she almost tripped me by running across my feet. I have to admit, I got caught up in her playfulness.

Why do we humans complicate everything so much? Why do we eat ourselves up with worry? On Friday night I lamented that I was worried about finding a new stop on my route. My wise friend said, “You’re not driving it today.” Then I said something else and she repeated, “You’re not driving it tomorrow either, or Sunday.” I was robbing my moments of peace which I do repeatedly.

As I continued my walk, camera in hand, I got several cute shots of the cat comedienne. I laughed and caught the wonder again through my camera lens. I looked up at the sky peeking through the trees. I need to do more of this, I thought. I walked back up and then smiled all over again when I downloaded the pictures to the computer.

This quote by Frederick Buechner kind of sums up my thoughts today:

Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and the pain of it, no less than the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments and life itself is grace. Frederick Buechner, Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation

I plan on re-doubling my efforts to keep looking up during the course of the coming year. I plan to remember how to live in wonder at the world around me, and letting Jesus be my filter. I will fail sometimes, of that I have no doubt. But sometimes I will succeed.