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

Mother’s Day

Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime; it is the Lord who makes the storm clouds. He gives showers of rain to men, and plants of the field to everyone.” – Zechariah 10:1

This verse in Zechariah has been resonating with me since the beginning of the New Year. I have felt that I have been living under the shadows of many storm clouds for a very long time. I have prayed for the strength and wisdom to shine through them with His strength. He has whispered to me softly over the years, and I have not always been in tune enough to listen. Some of my angst and turmoil has been caused by the fact that I am a mother and a daughter, and as many of you know, sometimes that carries with it some heartbreak.

Today is Mothers Day, and my children live  out of state, and my own mother is no longer with us here on earth. I know that Mothers Day is for some a day of celebration of family and love, and for others it can be a day of heartbreak and tears. Many women are not mothers, and would like to be, and many  have lost their mothers or their children, and are missing them today. Many mothers  have had wonderful dreams for their children that were altered by life circumstances and poor decisions.   As I was taking my dogs out for our early morning walk, I couldn’t help but think about what this day is for so many of us.

On Mothers Day when my children were young, I would often awake to sounds of rummaging in the kitchen. I pretended to  be “sleeping in” as I heard my daughter’s very loud whispers of, “Shhh! Mom is sleeping–don’t wake her yet!” She was admonishing her brother and father as they were clattering away in the kitchen. When they finally burst into the room carrying my breakfast tray, I would rub my eyes sleepily, and they would proudly sing their  happy Mothers Day wishes. I am quite sure the coffee was always brewed and poured before the toast was made, because it was always cold by the time they brought it up to me. As a matter of course, the dog and everybody jumped on the bed and watched me as I drank my coffee, and nibbled on the scorched toast and the boiled egg that always had bits of shell still attached to it. Later, as my children grew, the breakfasts they made became more sophisticated and sometimes we went out to eat. The whole family (minus the dog) was treated to a special meal to celebrate.

I wouldn’t change those breakfasts for the world; they were breakfasts fit for a queen, and I always loved it.  How I miss those days; I always knew where my children were and I knew they were safe.

Eventually, as the teenage and young adult years came upon us, Mothers Day wasn’t always a day of celebration for me. Rebellion and resentment took root in the lives of our kids, and suffice to say, that was difficult. However, these are not my stories to tell. I know someday my children will share their stories if they choose to, and others will be blessed.

I have often grieved about my circumstances with a dear friend who has experienced similar storm clouds to mine. She has always encouraged me with her wisdom, and by reminding me that we are privileged to be the mothers of our children. Specifically; we were chosen to be their moms, and we could choose to grieve and cry, or we could choose to rise up, embrace the storm, and shine through the clouds in His strength. It is with this thought that I cry tears of gladness, because I can feel the springtime rain coming down on our lives.  The fields are being planted. My children are grown; they have survived the storms also, and I am very glad, and very proud.

While my mother was still alive, I neglected to be perfectly honest with her regarding the trials our family was experiencing. I am not sure why I chose to keep things from her. I guess I felt she wouldn’t understand, would be disappointed, or she would judge me too harshly. One day earlier this spring, my husband had just finished a phone call with our son.  They had had an enjoyable conversation, and my husband was in a very good mood. That simple thing made my heart sing. I felt joyful, and I felt blessed. I also wanted to call my mom right away and tell her about it, and then of course I remembered that I could not. It made me realize how wrong I was to keep the sad things from her while she was here with us. In hindsight, I realized that she would have understood, and helped me. After all, she had her own experiences with the rebellion and stubbornness of her own children (present company included) to draw from.

Mothers’ Day has become a day of quiet enjoyment for me now that my husband and I are empty nesters.  He is lovely; he jokes that he is no longer an amateur and can make a decent breakfast and serve our coffee hot. Our children stay in touch, and we celebrate our moments with them, whether they are here in person, or whether we just have a chance to speak with them by telephone. We enjoy the day and take time to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. We are grateful for today and hopeful for tomorrow.

Happy Mothers Day. Be blessed.

“Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man….he will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” – Psalm 112:4,7

 

 

Good Pasture

“As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?
imageTherefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. ” ~ Ezekiel 34:17-22

Last Sunday, I read a funny status on a friend’s Facebook wall. She mentioned that her pastor had related a story about one of the first international missions conferences, where missionaries from around the world had gathered: “Apparently, at this conference, the Dutch missionaries were so shocked and offended by the heavy make-up worn by the female American missionaries that their cigarettes fell right out of their mouths…” Of course, I liked that status, as did many others, because it was chuckle- worthy.  I even went so far as to comment on it, quite radically, I thought, because my comment was something along the lines of ” I  have often wondered who decided smoking was a sin.”

I meant my comment to be  funny, but I admit I was trying to be a bit of rabble-rouser.  I think in the “family of God” as we so often like to call ourselves, we are very quick to judge and point out the mistakes of others. I was not present for the sermon my friend listened to last Sunday, but I  suspect it may have embraced the lack of grace we often exhibit towards those we meet daily.

Literally, seconds after posting my comment on my friend’s wall, I received a private message from someone who was very concerned about me. He wanted to make sure that I knew for sure that smoking was indeed a sin, along with other things that    would “desecrate our bodies which are God’s temple.” I was exasperated by this private admonition because I felt misunderstood, but  I care for this person, and because I did not wish to offend anyone else, I quickly deleted my comment from my friends wall.  And so…the musing of these thoughts in my own head began…

I know smoking will lead to an early grave. So can gluttony and slothfulness, so, rest assured, my rather careless commentary did not mean that I am  on my way out to the nearest gas station to buy a pack of smokes.  I might add, that some “sins” like gluttony, slothfulness, and slander, are not given equal time in today’s church as some other “unpardonable” offenses.

When I read “The Cost of Discipleship,” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, and an upstanding Christian leader during the Nazi-era, I learned that he was a chain-smoker. I guess this was a time in history before smoking was considered sinful. The Bible doesn’t mention smoking either. So, as an aside, since reading this book, I have wondered who decided smoking was a sin, and when it “became” a sin, and why we as a church love to condemn people if they engage in what we think is sinful or inappropriate behavior. My intention is not to spend too much time on the debates of the particular sins or offenses; I only wish to remind all of us that we need less judgement and more love and grace.

Reading this passage from Ezekiel this morning made me weep, because it so perfectly put into words how I  often feel when I think about the church today. I see  many people who are hurting, and tired, and they may be pushed aside or ignored by the self-righteous. We as a church, are quick to drink all that Christ offers us, and then we muddy the waters with our own pious rules and regulations. When someone we might find disreputable is in our midst, we trample them with our words and over bearing ways, and before you know it, they will not ever cross the thresholds of our churches again. We forget that judgement is reserved for God; our only mandate is to love as He loves us; to offer to others the same grace that we received from Him.  That’s all. It’s so simple  that it escapes us.

“When I lose my way, And I forget my name, Remind me who I am. In the mirror all I see, Is who I don’t wanna be, Remind me who I am. In the loneliest places, When I can’t remember what grace is.”

~ “Remind Me Who I Am” Jason Gray