The author, Anne Lamott, has been noted to say; “I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”
On Sunday as I sat in awe and witnessed the ordination of a dear friend, I was transported back to the very first time I met her. She came to my office, rather wide-eyed, seeking help and needing a guide as she navigated a path toward ministry. I was immediately drawn to her, not sure why, but maybe we were just kindred spirits. Nonetheless, that day began a now twelve-year friendship.
Sonna has taught me so much about life, and love, and grace. You see our lives by no means parallel one another. We are quite different. Sonna was born in a place where violence was rampant. Her parents were absent, her father eventually went to prison…her future was by no means bright. Had it not been for the initiative of an aunt and uncle to remove her from such an environment, she may not even be alive today. Sonna tells the story of looking out the back window as they drove away from such a desperate place. Even at four years old she was astute enough to recognize the situation for what it was.
So, as I watched with tears rolling down my face, the evidence of grace was so real. It was grace that took Sonna out of a no-win situation. It was grace that provided opportunities for Sonna to grow-up in an environment that encouraged faith and learning and that anything is possible. It was grace that was the gentle guiding hand when life seemed overwhelming and too much to handle. It was grace that lit a fire in Sonna to be passionate about how through relationships anything can be overcome. It was grace that opened doors when so many seemed to be closed. And it was grace that never left Sonna where she was…but through the healing power of a God who loves with a reckless love…Sonna reached a new mountaintop full of hope and promise.
It is God’s grace that swoops in and rescues us in our darkest moments. Through grace we find the confidence to trust God with our truest self and with God’s help live into the person we are intended to be. Had Sonna not been given the chance to break the cycle of oppression in her young life, the holy moment I witnessed would have never come to be. Praise God from whom all blessing flow!
There is a real art to moving! In 25 years of marriage I can count 10 different moves, and prior to that there were at least 5 more…not even counting my college days. I will never forget the day my aunt taught me the art of wrapping and packing. Over the years I have honed the skill of making the best use of space in any box. I have learned the value of packing like things with like things, and last but not least the need to let somethings go.
As we prepare for this next move, I have been practicing the power of downsizing. It’s funny because there are so many out there now who are making serious bank by helping people minimize their belongings. Especially in a new year, we seem to get inundated with drive to start a new year organized and streamlined. The task of “keep”, “donate”, or “trash” can provide for us a huge sense of accomplishment. But the one I love the most is how you should ask yourself, “does this bring me joy?”as you sort through to determine what goes and what stays.
At this point in my life, I feel the need to have less. With both of our girls at college, the things I always thought I needed don’t seem to be as important. The hand-me-down furniture that we have hauled from house to house has served its purpose. And the many knick-knacks that seem to have accumulated due to my decorating hobby can find a new home as well. Asking yourself if these things bring you joy is a good practice.
But what I’ve observed the most is how we just seem to have a lot of stuff. We all seem to acquire and collect things that can weigh us down. We spend countless dollars buying more storage boxes, or building more shelves…or paying monthly rent on a storage facility. I’m guilty of all those things. And the truth is it’s exhausting to keep it up.
It is so easy for us to let our stuff, both physical and emotional, get in the way of our relationship with God and others. And yet, all of God’s story is a plea to us to let go and give it to Christ…who will carry it for us. It seems that our ego can somehow consume us and we give more value to our belongings instead of being vulnerable with God with our brokenness. And our pride can keep us from allowing ourselves in finding true, authentic relationships that can be for us the very presence of Christ in our lives.
And all the while Jesus stands in the gap inviting us; “come to me, all who are weary and burdened…and I will give you rest.” How freeing it is to be released from all that holds us back, learning to live with less, and having more of Jesus.
For five years now we have traveled to Eureka Springs, Arkansas to celebrate New Year’s. This all started because the suggestion was made, and the rest of us jumped at the chance. We rent a house for a couple nights, we pile in with our kids in tow…we play games, we sing, we dance, we laugh, we even cry. We toast the New Year and make merry for the friendship we share. Our time together has become a hallmark of great memories and a special bond we share.
An interesting fact about five of us is that we all graduated high school together. Some of us even attended grade school together, and two of us are married to each other (that would be John and me). As adults, these four couples have witnessed a lot of life and living, the twist and turns of each year passing. We have stood by each other when our marriages were rocky, we have supported one another when the challenge of being a parent seemed overwhelming, and we have laughed uncontrollably for the crazy, stupid predicaments we find ourselves.
At this point in life, all of our children are grown and have flown the coop, for the most part. Two will graduate college in 2019, one will be a junior. Three are now married, one just got engaged, and two have children of their own. That circle of seven now equals eleven…plus two grand babies and one on the way! And we have even adopted two others who we equally claim as our kids…and their sweet baby boy named Dierks. It’s a motley crew for sure.
I say all this because there really is something to how we feel about the “family we choose.” Those who stand in this circle with me are those who have stood the test of time, we speak truth into each other’s life, we love each offspring as our own, we encourage each other when we are down, give space to fumble and fall, and lend a hand to help us up. In a world where so many seem preoccupied with self, these people remind me daily the value of never going it alone. To speak up when I need something and allow them to help, especially when life is hard.
Scripture teaches us that we are not created to be alone…we are knit together to be in relationship with God and with others. When we give place and space for these relationships to form and grow in our lives, our world is far more meaningful. We are reminded of our purpose and place when we realize that the best we can offer one another is simply love and grace, acceptance and welcome. It makes all the difference!
December is always a whirlwind of planning, prepping, and sometimes puzzled as to what gifts to buy. Fortunately I don’t have an extremely long list, but I do try to buy gifts that have purpose and meaning. And, no, I’m not one of those who buy gifts early and store them away. I would inevitably spend far more money than I should because I would forget those stowed away purchases.
Our gift giving at Christmas is in direct relation to the gifts that the Wise Men brought Jesus upon his birth. For centuries now people all over the world have held this time honored tradition of gift giving. But have you ever considered the gifts you are born with, or the gifts given to us from God.
Far too often the gifts we unwrap on Christmas morning are long forgotten by the time the New Year rolls around. So what are some lasting gifts that can make a difference?
The best gifts we can give are learning to use the spiritual gifts that are born within us. The blessings we can share with others with these special gifts are abundant. But we have to use these gifts for them to mean anything. If we don’t learn to use them, then we have nothing to share. Maybe the best gift we can give this year is to discover these God-given gifts and use them to honor the Christ Child.
Linda Douty in her book, Rhythms of Growth has some great thoughts on cultivating our gifts during this holy season.
- Kindness — We can shower others with affirmation, encouraging the flickering candle of their best selves to burn more brightly.
- Patience — We can be more tolerant when things go awry.
- Peace — We can fill the atmosphere with our own sense of peace, a calm amid the chaos, so that it summons the peace of others.
- Goodness — We can focus on the positives, rather than the faults, of those around us.
- Generosity — We can give our full attention to each person, one at a time, not omitting even the most troublesome.
- Self-control — We can commit ourselves to no outbursts, no irritating reports.
- Faithfulness — We can be true to the blessed values of the Christmas season.
- Joy — We can be the source of smiles, laughter, and appreciation.
- Love — We can sift every thought, word, and action through the filter of “Is it loving?”
Merry Christmas to you and yours…and may all your Christmas wishes come to life!
God, here we are caught up in the midst of this season we call Advent…a season of hope, peace, love and joy.
A season that is high and holy…a season steeped in expectation and promise…a season where we mark our days and remember how God sends to us a Savior, a baby nonetheless…to unite us and free us from that which keeps us from being what God intended.
It’s a season that reminds us to lay down our fluffed-up selves and humble ourselves before the Savior of the World..born in a stable…where the animals moved over to make room for this divine moment to happen.
This Advent season is a time for us to not only remember but to also journey with Mary and Jospeh, to wake-up with the Shepherds and hear the Angels sing…to consider once more what this gift, this baby born in a manger means to us…today, tomorrow…for a lifetime.
May this Advent season be filled with a peace that passes all understanding…may our hearts be filled with joy that overflows to those around us…may we know that hope is possible…and may we become the very essence of love that God so sweetly gave to each of us in the gift of God’s Son.
Bless us in our gathering with friends and family…guide us in our travels to and fro…and lead us to those unexpected places…equip us to push past our own comfort to seek and find all of those we are called to love. Empower us with a supernatural strength to be your people, who look east and west, north and south…sharing the message of the Angels; glory to God in the highest…and may we know peace and goodwill to all people.
Bring us to our knees, as we bow before this newborn King. As we sing our songs and share our gifts, stir in us a newness of life. And on Christmas morning may we rejoice with world; Joy to the World…the Lord has come! Let it be so…amen.