grace · rest · Spirituality

Rhythms of Grace

I spent a few days last week in the woods near Blairsville, Georgia, helping put up a fence. I was there with a group from my church on a mission trip. Sometimes mission trips are for others and sometimes they are for us. This one was for me.

Carrie and Nathan Dean live with their four children, ages twelve to two, in a three-room cabin in the North Georgia mountains. They are building a church/house where they will live and also use as a place to minister to those who may not feel comfortable in a traditional church setting. I wrote about the lessons I learned about being a follower when I helped to erect the building last summer. In the last year Carrie and Nathan have been working on the nine acres surrounding their home, with a vision to make it a place for folks to come and experience God in the beauty of His nature.  

 I started out this trip as an assistant — I held posts and handed tools to those doing the actual work. At first, I felt frustrated that I was not doing more. After all, I was there to work!

But slowly the calm and quiet of the setting began to infiltrate my being. I stood by the gently flowing creek waiting to hand metal clips to my friends Debby and Cheryl, who had become experts at attaching a wire fence to metal poles. I listened to the birds and a distant owl, and to the voices of our team as they called to each other. I breathed in the smells of pine trees, moss, and leaves composting on the ground.

Cheryl and I attaching fence posts.

I prayed in the quiet of the woods, lifting up several friends going through difficult times, for my family, for our team and for myself.  Like the fern fronds that were spread throughout the trees, my consciousness opened to receive peace and grace. I let go of the shoulds and should haves that run through my mind on a regular basis and felt my daily stresses fall away.

During my devotion time the next morning, I read the familiar passage in Matthew when Jesus is telling us to come to him when we are weary. This time I read it from the modern translation, The Message. The words jumped out at me:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

(Matt. 11:28-30)

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. God’s rhythm and our rhythms are often not in sync. Jobs, our families, paying the bills, cutting the grass, cooking dinner, going to meetings— all these demands of life cause us to be on the go, even for those of us in the retired stage of life.

God’s rhythm is a slower pace.  When I match his pace, I walk with Jesus, instead of running ahead of him with my own agenda. I listen, instead of telling him what I think he needs to know or do. I share my fears and anger with him and let him take them over so that I don’t have to carry them by myself. Instead of being tired from working so hard, I come away from my time with him feeling refreshed— walking more freely and lightly.

Notice that Jesus is asking us to learn these unforced rhythms and how to rest from him. Did you ever think you needed to learn to rest? Many of us do and learning takes time.

We all need a break occasionally from our daily rhythms so that we can sync back up with God. I found that time in the woods last week. You may find it by getting away to listen to the ocean waves, taking a walk in the park, or sitting in a chair in your backyard. God is waiting on you.

For more information on Blue Mountain Church, visit their website.

#Hope · Farmers Market · Gardening · grace · Spirituality

Abundance

My kitchen window is lined with bright red tomatoes, a bowl of peaches sits on the dining room table and purple bell peppers fill a shelf in my refrigerator. The freezer holds bags of squash, green beans, crowder peas and okra.  Each evening Keith and I sit down to salads topped with cucumbers, peppers, and home-grown tomatoes. We feast on tomato-bacon sandwiches, slathered with good mayonnaise. I like mine with cheese toast.

 Earlier in the summer we were overrun with cucumbers and squash from my little garden. They have played out, but I’m still getting handfuls of little round salad tomatoes from my bushes, which I pop into my mouth like candy. My peppers are finally growing, and I’m waiting until they reach a rich red color before they are picked and packed away in the freezer for this fall’s chili.

We have been in a time of abundance.

As much as I love this summer eating time, I’m thankful that I don’t have to depend on what I grow to last me all winter. I can’t imagine what it was like when farmers knew that if the frost came late or the rains didn’t fall, they faced the prospect of going hungry.

I think that’s why the theme of abundance is so prevalent in the Bible. People in Biblical days lived close to the earth without a grocery store around the corner. They survived through lean years and fat years and appreciated having a bountiful supply of food. They recognized that they could not control the rains, so they put their trust in God to supply their needs.

I’ve been studying about grace lately, and I am struck by how often God’s abundance is mentioned in the New Testament, especially in relation to His provision for us:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance. (I Peter 1:2)

            I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)

            Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us. (Ephesians 3:20)

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)

When I read these verses, I’m reminded of how lavishly God wants to give me love, peace and grace. My cup runneth over with all the mercies He pours out. All I have to do is open my heart and accept His good gifts.

I’m learning to enjoy and embrace the blessings of today and not worry about tomorrow.

Abundance doesn’t last in the garden. The hot summer days are getting shorter, and the crops are starting to die back. I found out this weekend that my favorite vegetable stand, Ricney Farms, is closing for the summer. Our days of fresh tomatoes are coming to an end.

But we will still have abundance, just in other forms. We look forward to cooler weather, apples from Ellijay and pumpkin pie. God’s grace will still be there, in all its forms. The face of abundance changes depending on our season of life.

Living close to God is like eating summer tomatoes all year long!

What is abundant in your life right now?

#seeingclearly · grace · Spirituality

Seeing clearly

Life is looking brighter for me these days—literally! I had a cataract removed two weeks ago and a new lens implanted into my left eye. The results have been amazing—and I still have the other eye to go!

Since I was a child I could barely see past my nose without glasses or contacs. With my ‘new’ eye, I currently only need readers. Colors are more vibrant, and everything has a crisp edge, like the sky after a storm has passed. Through my right eye the world has a yellow tint, like an old, faded photograph. I’m excited to get both eyes finished and really be able to see!

I feel like the blind man that Jesus healed in Mark 8:22-26. Jesus spits on the man’s eyes (Holy Spit!) and asks him if he can see anything. The man responds that he can see people walking around, but they look like trees— I can relate! Jesus places his hands on the man’s eyes again and when the man opens them, he can see clearly. My new eye feels as miraculous as the ones healed by Jesus.

Jesus had a lot to say about sight, usually in the figurative sense. In the verses right before Jesus heals the blind man, he has a conversation with his disciples about what it means to see.

The disciples were sometimes comically literal with Jesus’ teachings. In Mark 8:14, someone has forgotten to get bread for the group, which is ironic, considering Jesus just fed 4000 people on the hillside with only seven loaves of bread.

Jesus overhears them and warns, “Be careful. Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” The men scratch their heads and say to themselves, “Is he saying this because we forgot the bread?”

Really guys? At this point Jesus loses patience with his slow-witted disciples:

“Why are you talking about the fact that you don’t have any bread? Don’t you grasp what has happened? Don’t you understand? Are your hearts so resistant to what God is doing? Don’t you have eyes? Why can’t you see? Don’t you have ears? Why can’t you hear?” (Mark 8:17-18)

Have you ever had this exchange with your children? Don’t you have eyes? Can’t you see the dirty clothes lying everywhere? But Jesus always has a deeper meaning. Here he is talking about our perception of what we see. Just as my eyes have had a film over them caused by the cataracts, our spiritual vision can be distorted.

Years ago when I was studying to be a hospital chaplain, each week I had to write up a conversation that I had with a patient or family member and present it in front of my group of supervisors and fellow students. It was a harrowing experience because the supervisors were not looking for how accurately I could recount the exchange, but for how my stuff got in the way of ministering to the person. Did I let personal prejudice keep me from reaching out? Did anger and grief from my past get in the way of hearing what the patient was saying? How did my emotions interfere or enhance my ability to be present in the room?

Peeling away these layers of yellow film from my spiritual eyes was, and is, painful.  It is much easier to let my biases and assumptions about others keep me from seeing them clearly. But then I am missing out on seeing them through God’s eyes.

One of the lessons I learned through those difficult chaplaincy training years was that often when someone causes a strong negative reaction in me, it is more about me than them. Have you ever found yourself irritated by someone that everyone else seems to love? This happened to me recently and I had to pray about the situation and ask God what was going on with me —was I jealous? Feeling threatened? Or were there legitimate issues that needed to be addressed?

I’ve found that when I bring this type of problem to the Lord, I find clarity. God helps me see the other person through his eyes of love and the scales fall from my eyes. Sometimes I need additional prayer treatments since the film tends to grow back over my heart. Getting rid of my ingrained ways of viewing others can be a slow process.

My daily prayer is for discernment, so that I can see others through God’s eyes and understand his calling in my life. Like Paul’s prayer in Ephesians, I want clear and focused eyes that allow me to see what God’s desires are for me.

#shelterathome · #shelteringinplace · grace · Spirituality

Continue in Grace

I love these crisp mornings we are having now when I can take my coffee, Bible and study book and do my devotional time in the rocking chair on my side porch. I relax in the quiet, listening to the birds and enjoying the beauty of the flowers.

My morning view.

I share my porch space with a mother bird who built her nest in the eave. Barn swallows love our protected porches for their homes and although I know they eat tons of insects, I don’t always love them. They are very territorial and have literally dive-bombed my head when I’ve been anywhere close to their babies.

But this swallow must be a different variety, because so far she has not tried to attack me. She flies off when I sit down and I can feel her watching me from a distance. When I leave she comes back to tend to her eggs. I don’t bother her and she doesn’t bother me and the relationship works out well.

I sometimes wonder who actually owns this house and yard. Does it belong to Keith and me or the birds, squirrels and other critters? In the mornings when I stay inside to read my Bible, the front porch swallows will perch on the transom windows and peer in at me. I imagine them saying, “Oh, I got a good sighting of one of the humans in their natural habitat today.”

In the evenings I can sit very still outside and the birds flitter around and don’t seem to know I’m there. I hear them rustling and chasing each other in the limbs of the magnolia tree and think about the whole world that is above my head.

For the most part, as long as they don’t eat my garden, we live peacefully with the birds and other animals in our yard. Right now I wish our human world felt more peaceful.

Ever since Adam and Eve ate the proverbial apple and started sin on its path, we have had divisions between us. Just when we think we have evolved and are coming closer to breaking down barriers, the horrific killings against Black men occur. And instead of bringing us together, the pandemic has cast light on more “underground” prejudices in our society- those against the elderly, the working class, minimum wage earners, Latino, Asian and other “non-white” Americans, the poor and those living on the edge.

I’ve been studying the life of Paul and I love reading about the early church. Just as we struggle with lack of understanding among each other, they had their prejudices and misconceptions.

For them it was the divide between Jew and Gentile. The Jewish Christians had been raised to believe that just being around a Gentile was unclean. After waiting for thousands of years for the Messiah to come, they did not want to share Jesus. The Gentiles who became interested in what Jesus represented did not want to become circumcised and go by the strict Judaic law to become a Christian. But Peter, Paul and some of the other disciples heard God telling them very clearly that Jesus had come for all people, no matter their color, religious background, social status or nationality.

One day Paul gave a sermon outside the Synagogue emphasizing that although Jesus came first to save the Jews, his forgiveness was for everyone (Acts. 13:38-39). The people in the audience were followers who were sincerely trying to understand all that he had said. They asked Paul and Barnabas for more clarity:

After the synagogue was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.

Acts 13:43

Did you hear what Paul and Barnabas told the perplexed people to do? Continue in the grace of God. Those words jumped out at me this morning.

Right now we may feel discouraged and not sure where God fits into what is going on in our world. Continue in the grace of God. We may be confused about what our next move should be. Continue in the grace of God. We may feel angry and worn out from the struggle. Continue in the grace of God. We may be on our knees praying for our family members and our leaders. Continue in the grace of God. We may be aware of our own inadequacies and bias. Continue in the grace of God. That’s what we as God’s people have to do now.

Continuing in God’s grace will look different for each of us. It may involve a peaceful protest, sending a note to a friend, helping with a food drive, thanking a fast food worker, or spending time in prayer. It may mean sharing a porch with someone.

We may not have all the answers or be in a position to change the anger and injustice we see, but as we continue in grace, God will reveal Himself to us.

Christianity · grace · New Year · Uncategorized

A Light in the Corner

We finally took down our Christmas tree on Saturday, halfway through January. I’ve always taken it down before I go back to school after Christmas break, but my timing got a little thrown off this year with New Year’s falling on the week-end.  

The plan was to take it down after church on New Year’s Day, but it was cold and gloomy outside and I was tired. Keith said, “Where is it written that it has to come down today?”, so I gladly took a nap instead.

I shared this on Facebook and several friends assured me I was okay until January 6, which is Epiphany, the official end to the Christmas season. But that week-end was when we had our cold snap and the temperatures didn’t go above the 20’s for several days. I took off the ornaments, but didn’t want to open up the attic door and let in the cold air, so we enjoyed the lights one more week. 

I was reminded of the year when Adam was little and I was putting up the Christmas things. In his sweet child’s faith, he asked, “Why do we have to put up the Nativity Scene? Don’t we need to remember them all year?” I couldn’t argue with his logic, so we kept the little porcelain Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus and the cows, shepherds and wise men out on the table that whole year. They were a reminder of the story that is ingrained in us and defines us as followers of Christ – our mighty King, born in a stable.

But the Christmas tree takes up more room than a small nativity scene, so I ran out of excuses this week-end and Keith and I took off the lights, dismantled the tree and hauled everything to the attic.  The den seemed awfully dark without the glow from the tree, so I dug out an angel light that had belonged to my mother-in-law and plugged it in on the bookshelf. She gave out just enough  to brighten up the corner of the room. 

 

During the beautiful  Christmas season we have lots of lights around us and lots of reminders of our faith and opportunities to share with others. But then we pack all the decorations up and come into the sometimes gloomy days of winter. We need to still shine. We need to continue to be a light to those in darkness. We need to remember who we are as followers of Christ:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16

I don’t always know what “letting my light shine” means, but I know that I need to be constantly seeking God’s leading in my life and when I’m doing that, the way opens up. And the beauty of God’s grace is that I don’t have to struggle beyond that. When I’m praying for His leading in my life, opportunities to shine His light become evident and all I have to do is follow through. 

I want to be like that little angel on the shelf, putting out her light in one corner of the world.  All of our lights shining together can push away the gloom and shadows that often threaten to take over.