Lifting hearts to God in thanks and praise.

Posts tagged ‘grace’

Brokenhearted

I’m finally starting Ann Voskamp’s book The Way of Abundance, a 60 Day Journey into a Deeply Meaningful Life, which I bought before Easter, but hadn’t started. I haven’t finished her earlier book The Broken Way either, but might read both concurrently. Her introduction starts with this quote:

Men of the breaking hearts had a quality about them not known to or understood by common men. They habitually spoke with spiritual authority. They had been in the Presence of God and they reported what they saw there. —A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

So I stop there a moment because I remember 2007 when I walked the streets of Medford, MA with a broken heart because my mom had died on Nov. 10, 2006 and strangers were kind to me, one encouraging me to go light a candle in church (I’m not catholic, but I was grateful), and yes, God spoke to me now and then in the quietest of whispers and once in my mom’s own voice in my head. I don’t deny Tozer’s words but I want to add that my experience of walking around broken hearted and thankful for the mom I’d had showed me the kindness of others, even their faith.

Ann talks about watching stars with her kids and explaining that stars are “made from a breaking at their center. Which allows for a process called nuclear fusion, a process that releases an enormous amount of energy, of light.”

Weak is the real strong.

Brokenness is the real abundance.

Breaking—then blazing.

Dying—then rising.

Trust the abundant ways of the universe, the ways of Almighty God.

When my mom died and grief welled up to overtake me, I was given the grace of the idea of thanking God for the mom I had and not regretting her going or grieving the past. I was weak, yes, and dependent and thankful. It was a good way to live, and Ann’s first book, 1000 Gifts affirmed that thankfulness is healing, strong, a right response always. She said, “Thanksgiving precedes the miracle,” and then in The Broken Way, realized that after Jesus gave thanks he broke the bread…the miracle comes in the breaking.

Breaking can feel like dying. Dying to dreams, dying to expectations, dying to self in order to live rightly. But the story doesn’t end there…dreams sometimes come true after all, in ways not foreseen, expectations can change, and self-correction is mature. So thanks be for broken things! (That’s almost a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem!)

All thanks and praise to God!

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Stand Forever

A voice says, “Cry!”

And I said, “What shall I cry?”

All flesh is grass,

and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.

The grass withers, the flower fades

when the breath of the Lord blows on it;

surely the people are grass.

The grass withers, the flower fades,

but the word of our God will stand forever.

Isaiah 40:6-8

I wake up sometimes and ask God, what shall I write? Lately this verse has been coming to mind. I’m a bit strange, I suppose, in always having liked this image, that people are like grass. It is God’s image, and oddly enough, I find comfort in it. Why?

Grass is beautiful. A field of grass, with perhaps wildflowers in it, is alive. It responds to the breeze, and invites us to wander in it, to pick the flowers, to imagine cattle feeding. I drive through hills that most of the year look pretty brown (the cows still eat the brown) but currently are green for a few months. The rains came late this year, and when the hills finally did get the rain they needed, it was such a joy to drive between them on my way to work or church.

Grass is a non-count noun. It’s plural in its concept so that to count it you need to add the word blade (a blade of grass) and people are so plural to God. He gives us a reframing perspective here: you aren’t alone. You are part of the mass of humanity, and taken as a whole it’s a fleeting mass. But as a whole it works together, sustains a field by its presence.

Grass is responsive to the wind. “The wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place  knows it no more,” another passage (Ps. 103:16) says of the flowers of the field. The image of the wind bending the grass, blowing away the dandelion puff perhaps, is bittersweet when linked to the length of life. But we know seed is spread by the wind. Wind is the Spirit of God in biblical metaphors, and this leads me to a favorite verse about the Spirit: John 3:8, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Responding to the wind in this verse carries the idea of obeying and not fully comprehending…following where led by God. Yes, responding includes following into death. But always the grass metaphors end positively.

Unlike grass, the Word of the Lord stands forever. The passage in Psalm 103 follows with “But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.” Lives are short here on earth, but God’s word is eternal. His word is his everlasting love given in covenant and commandment, and is full of the grace of forgiveness and restoration. Peter, when quoting our Isaiah passage in I Peter 1:24&25, ends, “And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” The good news preached is the final Word of God: Jesus. This week we celebrate his grassy life: his beautiful love, his life among men, his responsiveness to the Father even unto death, and his standing forever.

The Word of God will last, because he who knows our lives to be short, although beautiful, communal, and responsive has promised that it will stand forever. If the Word of God will stand forever, he’s what we need to tie our lives to, his the wind to turn us, to lift and transplant us, to receive our seeds, and in the end, to carry us home.

All thanks and praise to God!

A Friend and a Book

My college friend came to visit us Friday with her family: watching The Wrinkle in Time movie with us, having a corned beef dinner, sleeping over, exploring Lompoc in the morning and Avila Beach for a late lunch on their way home. It was a good time. As we drove out to Avila, she in the car with me and the kids together in the car with her husband, she said that it was good to see me sitting with Maurice late at night on the couch; it reminded her of our college days, and she was happy to see her old friends as they used to be.

“Yes,” I replied, “We’ve had our hard times in almost 30 years of marriage, but it feels like we’re winning our way back, and circling round to where we started from.” Only deeper, I thought, our love made sure by the hard times we’ve come through, by the grace of God.

I had bought a new book this week and haven’t gotten as far in it as I would have liked to be in order to write a review, but I think already it is giving me rich food for thought, and help in living well. The book is Reframing the Soul: How Words Transform Our Faith, by Greg Spencer. I was interested in it for several reasons: it is written by someone I know; it deals with words and may be useful for my work as an adjunct professor of English (composition) at Westmont College; and it seems to have the goal of faith transformation…which I hope means renewal or encouragement or betterment in some way. I’m only in chapter 2, but the events of the weekend connect to this lovely book.

The reflection, both the picture my friend connected of my sitting on a couch with Maurice as I used to do when our love was young and vibrant, and now when our love is old and growing full again, was a gift. My acceptance and acknowledgment was a reframing of those hard times, for surely all marriages have their hard times?

Reframing, as I am starting to understand it from Dr. Greg Spencer’s book, is choosing how to tell a story of my life that maybe used to be told one way (where things hurt me) but can be told from a vantage point of truth and grace. I’m not far along, remember, so I look forward to learning more and applying it.

But I made one more connection with the book on Friday when I wasn’t even reading it, that I’d like to share here: we went to see Wrinkle in Time, and Reframing made me remember an incident in one of the sequels where the main character, Meg, must choose the real Mr. Jenkins (the principal with whom she has a difficult relationship). She is shown several carbon copies, and is distracted until she remembers that her friend Calvin told her of Mr. Jenkins offering him a new pair of shoes that were scuffed up on purpose to look old so that he would accept them. She shut her eyes and named the real Mr. Jenkins on that story, not on the conflicts and confusion she felt with him in her own relationship. She reframed who he was to her, I think Dr. Spencer would say.

I like that every chapter ends with a poem. I think Dr. Spencer was brave to include poetry but also encouraging, because poetry should be something that all of us write, not just the best, paid poets. But he’s amazing in that the poems connect with and summarize (so far, I’m only in chapter 2, remember) what he has said in the chapter they conclude.

Perhaps this quote gives the best taste of the book I can offer here:

Years ago, astronomer Johannes Kepler inspired scientific work by calling it “thinking God’s thoughts after him,” encouraging researchers to follow the logic of God’s mind. Perhaps the inspired goal of good framing is “speaking God’s words after him,” encouraging communicators to pattern their language decisions after God’s choices. Both can lead to restoration or reformation, even resurrection. (p. 30)

Thanking and praising God tonight for friends and books!

Chasing Grace

OneWord2014

This is the year I look for God’s grace abounding to me.

And I meant to write about it much more than I have.

Have I not been looking?

Or seeing and not thanking?

Thanking and not writing?

Wasting my time?

There have been so many ways God has poured out grace to me. What kind of work is better than writing it down? What other kind of work keeps my perspective clear, my heart light, my mind engaged? What have I been thinking? What has distracted me?

I have a long list (of graces, not distractions!).

Since I cannot go back in time, I can only walk forward.

The son who said, “No,” to his father but then obeyed, that’s the one the Father commends. So talking about what we did wrong is fine but turning around to do right is what is important. I will thank and praise the Lord while I have time, while I have breath.

One distraction came up rather suddenly. I was asked to teach a Composition course at Westmont, and had only one week to get things ready. I’ve been busy with that, more than you can imagine. But it doesn’t completely take over my days.

I still teach middle school homeschoolers, American Literature and History this year. Our history is more of a history club; a chance for watching related movies, for making food, drawing art, learning about each others’ historical reading and about paintings by major American artists. I enjoy the kids and enjoy the things we do together but there again the planning is what takes time and where I fret.

Oh to count it a grace instead.

My dad is doing fairly well. He is packing his own pills for his Parkinson’s, usually has three meals a day, one of which I cook and the first I contribute to by preparing a yogurt/banana shake and the granola he will eat with it, whenever he is awake enough to do so. It is so encouraging to see Dad up and active again. I thank God for his improved health and his good routine. He has a project too, changing his Greek primer into an interactive, online program. But he doesn’t get to work on it very often because of the irregularity of his sleep needs.

Recently I was reading Genesis 3 again, in a Bible study (I think) and the supplemental text was pointing out God’s grace to Adam and Eve after the fall. It was God’s grace to forbid them to eat from the tree of life since they’d already sinned: if they ate would they not have been able to be redeemed? I had been familiar with that thought, but as I read, “I will put enmity between” the seed of the woman and the serpent, I thought, this too is grace. Not that there was enmity between the singular seed (Jesus) but in the plural of seed (all of us) and the serpent (Satan). Can you imagine if there were no enmity between us and Satan? If there were no restlessness which caused us to yearn for something better? Our true home? Our loving wise Father? Thank you, God, for the dissatisfaction that comes when I sin!

I’ve kept a gratitude list, and I’m working on a grace journal.

Where have you seen God’s grace in your life?

Thank and praise the Lord with me!