Love and Grace, Joy and Laughter

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“Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine .  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”-John 15:4

Love and Grace, Joy and Laughter.  These are simple words to bandy about during the Christmas season. We could all use a little more love and grace,  and joy and laughter.

My husband and I have had a lovely time during our Christmas vacation.  We have recharged our batteries, and I have used some of that time for some introspection.  I am not proud of where my thoughts  lead me sometimes.  I am far too independent for my own good. I profess to let God be in control of my life, yet I struggle with relinquishing control to Him at the same time.

When I read the Old Testament of the Bible, I shake my head. The lying and cheating and war and sex and dysfunction that went on is difficult to comprehend. It’s just as twisted as our society is today, I suppose.  Sometimes I catch myself wondering how I can relinquish control to a God who lets all that stuff happen. Other times I am reminded that God loves us. He gives us gifts to help each other, despite our pride and lying and cheating and dysfunction. In our modern world, when Christians are scoffed at for various reasons, I have hope that my faith in Him,  and in those He has placed in my life, is enough for each new day.

Often, I find  it is difficult for me to break through and keep up with my blogging and writing as often as I want to.  Writing is a charge, and a gift that I take seriously.  If I write something and put it out there, I want it to be worthy of my readers’ time.  I do not want to fill space on my blog just for the sake of posting something on a regular basis.  That being said, I wish I had the inspiration or the energy to write on a regular basis. Life gets in the way, and I do as well.

Sometimes I think very highly of myself and when I do, I find I will fail every time.  I think this happened to Peter when he stepped off a boat to walk on the water’s surface. Jesus called him by name and said, “Peter, come out of the boat and walk towards me.” Peter listened to this strange request and actually walked out of the boat and towards Jesus on top of the water. After a little while, he began to sink, so Jesus reached out, grabbed him by his hand and lifted him up; he kept him from sinking into the sea and drowning.  ( Matthew 14:22-23)

I have wondered why Peter began to sink before reaching Jesus.  I am not a Biblical theologian and I have not formally studied the Bible, but I think perhaps Peter was like, “WOW!  Look at ME! I am walking ON THE WATER! How cool is THAT? NO one has ever done this before…I am SO incredibly AWESOME!” At least, that’s how I would have felt, so this rendition works for me.

I think that, as soon as Peter thought he was doing this on his own, because he was so awesome, not because Jesus was giving him the ability to do it,  he began to sink. Of course Jesus reached out and saved the day, or at least, saved Peter from drowning.

This happens to me. Every. Day. I am just like Peter. (I think I am awesome, even though I am not, at least not always.) When I let myself get in the way, I am useless at what He asks me to do.  I am unable to use my words effectively, and I am unable to demonstrate kindness, or love, or grace, to anybody.

I had a situation at work that dragged on for months.  I started a new position at work, in another clinic within the same company. I love my job and was excited because my new job was only 4 minutes from home.  Who wouldn’t love that? My excruciating commute in Atlanta traffic was over.

I was excited to meet my new coworkers, and for the most part, most of them were wonderful. Strangely enough, however, a couple of people were a little disenchanted with me and with the fact that I had been transferred over to their clinic. They had some incorrect pre-conceived notions about me, and  did not welcome me with open arms. I didn’t understand why, and tried to correct the situation, but however I tried, I could not make things right. My work environment felt hostile, and  of course, I started to feel rather ugly myself. I could not summon up any good or warm feelings towards these other staff members.  I prayed for the ability to forgive these people, and still, I could not. Again, I confronted them and explained how I felt. I thought for certain that this would rectify things.  I learned that their preconceived ideas were due to lies that were told by other individuals, but still, they refused to show me any grace.  I was at my wits’ end, and couldn’t stop ruminating about this situation.  It was causing me a great deal of stress and anxiety.

Finally, one day , after many days of praying for change, I had an epiphany.  These people had not apologized or asked for my forgiveness, so why was I so intent on doling out forgiveness?  I realized that I was only required to love these people, not forgive them, at least in this situation.  Yet, how could I feel any warmth towards these individuals, let alone LOVE, after I felt I had been wronged?

However, I felt a wonderful freedom when I let things go and stopped looking for an apology.  I concentrated on getting myself in order, in doing my job well, and treating those around me fairly. I spent some time nurturing my relationship with the One who calls me to be me. Going forward, I hoped my situation would improve and it has.  For that I am grateful. Pharisees asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. Jesus replied, “Love God with all your heart and soul, and then love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:34-40)

To  me, this was my miracle of the Christmas Season, this act of Blessed Release. I released something that I could never control, and it was replaced with Love and Grace. A special Love and Grace that I am incapable of conjuring up on my own. A Love and Grace towards others that can nurture Joy and Laughter in its wake.

”But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show us that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”-2 Corinthians 4:7

Be Blessed

IMG_4059.JPGMy eyes are dry
My faith is old
My heart is hard
My prayers are cold
And I know how I ought to be
Alive to You and dead to me

But what can be done
For an old heart like mine
Soften it up
With oil and wine
The oil is You, Your Spirit of love
Please wash me anew
With the wine of Your Blood  ~Keith Green

It was my last day of work before my Christmas break, and I was walking my dogs in the cool, crisp, Georgia air. The windows of the cars parked along the road, and the mailboxes standing at the end  of each driveway, were covered in a thin layer of frost that sparkled in the moonlight. The air was so cold I could see my breath, and I was reminded of another “last workday” before my holiday week, a long time ago.

We lived in the Niagara Peninsula, in Canada, and I was driving home from Hamilton, Ontario, where I worked. I had had an especially long day and was extremely tired. I was anxious to get home to my husband and our four year old twins.   I was also thinking of the turkey I had yet to defrost,  turnips that needed squashing, and potatoes that needed mashing. My husband’s family was joining us for Christmas Eve, and it was my turn to cook. I remember wondering how I would accomplish everything I needed to.

It was dark,  snow was drifting across the road, and I could barely make out the taillights of the car in front of me. Suddenly, I heard an angelic sound of jingle bells, and in my mind for a fraction of a second, I saw a dazzling , glittering light. It was just an instant of time, but it was enough to wake me before I veered my car out onto the ice of Lake Ontario. I don’t know how long I was out, but I had fallen asleep  at the wheel,  while driving in icy, wintery conditions. I have often wondered what that was, that brilliant light, that jingle bell sound, that little Christmas miracle, that woke me just at the right moment. It has been a long time since I have sensed that feeling of comfort and safety, as if Heaven’s angels were watching out for me.

As I was driving to work this year, I was listening to Christmas songs on the radio. It  was the local Christian station I was listening to, because they always have the best Christmas music.  In between songs,  the DJ  was taking calls from listeners. A lady called into the station, and told her Christmas story.  She wanted to thank the people of this station for the work they do in the community. She explained that she had been an atheist, and had come to faith simply by listening to this radio station 2 years ago. She mentioned that now her husband and children were followers of Jesus as well.

I found myself considering this lady’s story for the rest of  my day. The fact that God would care so much for this woman and her family, that he would reach out to them through none other than a radio station, blew my mind. I was unnerved, because I was so surprised by this story. When had I changed?  In the past,  this story would not have impressed me so;  I would have easily believed it could happen.

Later that day, a coworker of mine left me a Christmas card, taped to the doorway of the room I work out of. I opened the card, and saw she had written, “Be Blessed.” The glitter on the picture of the beautiful card reminded me of the frost I saw on the ground that morning.  Consequently, I was reminded  of the night I fell asleep while driving  so many years ago.

“Be Blessed,”  is a common phrase amongst people here in the South, I have noticed. Be blessed, they say, or I am blessed.  It warms my heart, and it reminds me of the church I attended in my youth. We spoke Finnish in that church, and fellow worshippers would greet each other with the word “rauha”,  which means peace.  Their version of the saying, “Be Blessed,” I suppose.

This year, as I have baked and cooked, and tried to make Christmas nice for my family, I have considered this salutation of blessing, and my cynicism towards life.  I know that over time, “my heart has grown hard, and my faith has grown old. ”

This New Year’s Day morning, I was up early, once again, walking  my puppies. The air was damp and chilly; it was not cold enough to see my breath in the air. The sky was grey, and it was raining steadily. A stark contrast to my pretty Christmas frost of a few days ago. The sadness of it all made me feel empty inside, and I asked God what  it all means. I expected to hear His voice or admonition;  instead I felt only silence.

Despite my impassivity today, I decided to post a favorite verse on Facebook: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!”  I thought this was a great verse to encourage my friends this New Year. It is a passage in the Bible that both my husband and I are very familiar with. He proved this when  he pointed out the fact that I had neglected to post the reference to the verse. ” Why didn’t you let everyone know it’s from Isaiah?” he asked. I let him know I was too lazy  to look up the reference. He is ever so helpful, so of course he looked it up for me. It is found in Isaiah 43:18, and the first part of verse 19.

He also pointed out that the rest of verse 19, and the following verses, were wonderful also. “Here,” he said, ” let me read them out loud to you:”

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen…”

This. My husband’s voice, reading this . I realized, my eyes are not dry, my prayers are not cold, and I am blessed.