Grace is an Island (Unforced Rhythms Link-up)

digital art by nienor
island in a storm by nienor

I am pulled by the tides. Battered by the waves. Tossed about by circumstance. Worn down by the struggle.

Like Paul I cry out, “I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.” (Romans 7:19-20, The Message)

I forget all that I have learned about floating. And I surrender to the flailing. The attempted saving of myself from what feels like drowning in a sea of stress. Never considering to check if my feet could touch the bottom of what might simply turn out to be only a momentary pool of pressure.

Gasping for breath. Thrashing my body from side to side. Reaching for an anchor. Settling instead for sugar.

And what I already knew about myself and my drug of choice was proven true again. It only takes a little to make me want a lot.

I allowed it for a day or two. It’s Christmas, I reasoned. Nothing more than I can handle, I pretended.

Knowing with each and every bite that I had awakened my addict persona. And that she would not go down easily.

So I braced for the storm. For the onslaught of shame and guilt. To be knocked back and forth against the stones of “shouldn’t have” and “how could you” and “you’ll never change.”

I set my jaw, tensed my muscles, and lowered my head for the coming punch.

But the punch did not come. The winds did not howl. The sea did not swallow me.

Because Grace came instead.

And where I expected to be pushed face-first into the sand, Grace lifted me.

Where my lungs had filled with salt-water, Grace replaced it with the Breath of Life.

Where Shame wanted to scream obscenities at my mistakes, Grace simply said, “Let’s start again.”

With a gentle hand, Grace set me on an island. A solid rock in the middle of the sea.

Here the tides only ebb and flow at the shore. The waves do not overtake me.

Here the breezes sing this song.

Grace. Grace. God’s Grace. Grace that will pardon and cleanse within.
Grace. Grace. God’s Grace. Grace that is greater than all my sin.

p.s. I did not intentionally plan for my last post of 2014 to be focused on my Word of the Year: Grace. But it’s a fitting finale, indeed. I have found nothing anything close to comparable to selecting One Word each year to keep me focused. Partner it with a scripture, and the power multiplies. I’ll be announcing my 2015 Word soon, but I am spending these days praying that YOU would meet with The Spirit to come to agreement on One Word for the new year. And that you would have the courage to embrace it, then allow Him to unfold it in you over the coming days.

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The wonderful Kelli Woodford (Chronicles of Grace) is taking a well-deserved blogging break in December, but she has graciously let me borrow the Unforced Rhythm link-up community for the next few weeks. Your words are welcome here. So very welcome.

If you stopped by here for the link-up, would you consider to connecting with me as well. On the right of this page you’ll find lots of ways to keep in touch. Just pick your favorite method of communication, and I’ll see you again soon!



For When a Flicker Lights a Way for Hope to Come (Word of the Week)

isaiah 9-2Longing for a word from The Word to guide me through the week, I come before Him expectantly.

He leads me through a labyrinth of anticipation. Of yearning. Of hopefulness. Of waiting.

Of Advent. The Coming of all our hearts long for. Both those things of which we are quite aware. And the fullness of abundantly more that He promises as our inheritance.

We long for a Messiah — our salvation. We long for Emmanuel — God with us.

We long for an experience of His love. A taste of His grace. A promise of His peace.

We long for the days of no more tears and no more pain.

Because the world, so often, is dark and cold. I have heard its stories on the news. I have listened to its echoes in the aching words of those I hold dear. I have read its reports across the blogosphere. I have harbored its weariness in my own soul.

We long. We are restless. We wait.

In the waiting, I am at a loss for words.

And maybe silence is the only proper response. The only appropriate action for the anxious anticipation. The only prayer that makes any sense in the lighting of Advent’s first bit of light in a world full of darkness.

The candle of Hope. advent

Those who walked in the dark     have seen a bright light. And it shines upon everyone who lives in the land     of darkest shadows.  (Isaiah 9:2)

Just one light in the blackness. Just a flicker of hope. It is enough to push back against despair.

It is enough to awaken our hearts. It is enough for us, the waiters — the Advent people, to declare the coming King.

And by its light, may we find our way to all the corners of darkness, until the Light of the World, shines fully on us all.

If you have 10 more minutes, please watch this message about Hope from Ann Voskamp. It’s powerful, darkness-shattering stuff.

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I return each Sabbath for a fresh Word of the Week. For the God-breathed pages to come alive in a phrase or two on which to spend a 7-day feast. To meditate upon. To use as a jumping off point for whatever other words God would have me hear during the week. I would love for you to join the Word of the Week (WOW) discussion by adding your selected verse to the comments … or reflections on any scripture reading. 

Linking with Unforced Rhythms — a wonderful community of writers who gather each Monday to share with you HERE.

Grace that Presses In

His body is fighting sleep. Head turning one way, then the other. Restless feet. Arms trying to find their place.

What I know, as his Mom, is that stillness will serve him best.

When he finally surrenders, his head on my heartbeat, I feel every muscle in him relax. Sleep comes hard and fast now. We press into each other, matching breathing rhythms.

The aged and cracking leather couch — Holy Ground. And we surrender ourselves on the altar of grace. A grace that invites me to press in, too. To stop my thrashing about trying to make myself comfortable. To end the movement towards my own desired end done my own way.

What He knows, as my Father, is that stillness will serve me best.

In the quiet of that Saturday morning, with the manifestation of a promise dozing at my side, my Jesus whispers His peace to me again. His banner over me is Love. And it’s under me, too. And wrapped all around me. It presses in from all sides in the tenderest of ways.

My mental jukebox selects an old hymn and I hear it complete with organ and harmony: “My Jesus, I love thee. I know thou art mine. For thee all the follies of sin I resign; My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art thou; If ever I loved thee, my Jesus tis now.” 

Because Love Ripples (and sometimes you get caught in its waves)

Heart shaped splashI had never met the man being mourned today. But I love people who love him, and so I made my way to the country church where the celebration of his life was being held.

The kind of church where its steeple is the tallest thing for miles around and the overflow parking is a recently harvested onion field, easily distinguished by the scent still wafting from its soil.

The kind of gathering that causes the pastor to delay the start of the service while deacons carry in folding chairs from the fellowship hall to accommodate the number of people wishing to envelop a beloved family feeling the loss of their husband, father, grandfather, brother, and friend.

The kind of event where a college-aged boy becomes a man before your eyes as he steps literally into his grandfather’s suit and figuratively into his shoes as he leads the family into the sanctuary, guiding his grandmother’s every step. And later stands before the congregation to both laugh and cry his way through a beautiful tribute.

The kind of moments where strangers become friends as they scoot closer to make room for more, then share a hymnal and the harmonies of “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.”

Where gray-haired men blow their noses into their handkerchiefs, but teenaged boys use their rarely worn neckties to wipe their eyes. Because all generations in this room have been changed by the life of this man.

This man I never met, but whose funeral tells me everything I need to know about him. Because his ripple effect clearly reaches far and wide. Not because he was perfect — but because he was perfectly content to be who God had uniquely created him to be.

Because being with those who knew him best and love him most stirs in me again the refrain God has been singing into my soul these days.

People matter. Their stories matter. Their sorrows matter. Their smiles matter.

And I pray I might spend the rest of my days listening to the stories. Appreciating the stories. Honoring the stories. Telling the stories.

Including my own.

Faith beyond a Flannelgraph

In all of my nearly 40 years, there has never been a span of more than a couple of months where I didn’t make my way to church at least once a week.

I guess I thought that meant I knew a lot about God. And prayer. And the Bible.

But maybe it just means I can sing about the wee Zacchaeus, and find Psalms by flipping to the middle of my Bible, and illustrate David & Goliath on a flannelgraph. Maybe it makes my prayers as stale as communion wafers and my Bible so familiar I turn first to other authors before reading from the author of life.

Maybe it makes me spiritually overconfident.

Because there is more than one way to go to church. And just getting my body across the threshold isn’t the way I want to do it.

I want to find myself in the Scriptures — get inside the heads and hearts of the heroes of the faith. I want communion — the real coming together with God in a way that invites him to sit, and examine, and challenge. I want prayer to be a chat with a dear friend — and tears on the shoulder of the one who loves me most.

I want the Sunday morning songs to stick not just in my head but also in my soul — and to repeat themselves over and over through my words and actions.

I want to stop GOING to church and start BEING the church. And I want The Holy Spirit to reveal to me what the heck that even means for me in each and every moment.

I want to speak Grace — not just speak about Grace.

I want Sundays to be a coming together of the wounded and weary soldiers of the faith who love on each other and spur one another on, not the only time I make for God. Or prayer. Or the Bible.

I want to be nearer. And nearer. Ever closer. Then closer still. Until I’m so buried in the heart of Jesus that I might really know what it is to know Him.

And there I will sing:
I am thine, O Lord, I have heard thy voice, And it told thy love to me. But I long to rise in the arms of faith, And be closer drawn to thee. Draw me nearer, nearer blessed Lord to the cross where thou hast died. Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer blessed Lord to thy precious bleeding side. (I Am Thine, O Lord by Fanny J. Crosby, 1875)

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