Stumbling Upon Grace

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Life can sometimes find us in a stumbling mess of confusion. But God’s blessing is that we are stumbling upon varying degrees of grace in every moment. It is grace that empowers us. It is grace that gives us strength to move forward. It is grace that saves us from ourselves. It is grace that helps us deal with discouragement. John R. W. Scott wrote that “grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.”

I have lived a great many years, struggling through parts of life, racing like the wind through others. Something made the difference in my ability to run with the wind during times when I was weary and weak. I believe that the difference was grace, grace that always has the final word, grace that calls out to us and nudges us onward when we’re afraid to move, grace that is an overwhelming and undeserved gift from God that enables us to live, change and grow.

Living on daily dialysis, waiting for a possible kidney transplant, living a long way from my child and my grandchildren, struggling with medical expenses, dealing with failing health, becoming aware of my mortality . . . The list could go on and on. Yet, I am okay. I enjoy my life. As the beloved hymn says, “it is well with my soul.” That’s because grace lights my darkened world and fills my soul with eternal hope.

I rest on this timeless quote by Thomas Adams (1612-1653):

β€œGrace comes into the soul, as the morning sun into the world; first a dawning, then a light; and at last the sun in its full and excellent brightness.”

So I am continuing to stumble through life, but I am stumbling upon grace.

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Tiny Miracles!

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They are tiny miracles. And they have delightfully taken over my yard. The hummingbirds are back, and they are so welcome here. Three of them tussled over one feeder yesterday afternoon, even though there are four feeders in our yard. They are truly delightful to watch. They really are tiny feathered miracles with the rapid, dynamic beating of their wings during hovering and their quick fast forward flight.

I read today that hummingbirds consume more than their own weight in nectar each day, and to do so they must visit hundreds of flowers. Hummingbirds are continuously hours away from starving to death and are able to store just enough energy to survive overnight.

Enough hummingbird trivia. For me, the beauty of a hummingbird is in its unusual markings and in its elegant flight. Watching them helps me forget myself, delighting in their movement, letting go of my daily worries, enjoying the sight of their whirring wings.

When the hummingbirds come, I always think of the poetry of Sanober Khan.

may my faith always be
at the end of the day

like a hummingbird . . . returning
to its favorite flower.

― Sanober Khan, Turquoise Silence

It’s a good word about faith, reminding me to return to my faith every day, through sunshine and shadow . . . reminding me that no matter what assails me, at the end of the day, faith is still within me. It’s another miracle!

Tethered

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I am tethered by several feet of tubing attached to a dialysis machine for eight hours every day. I am also facing the possibility of a kidney transplant. That should be wonderful news. Instead, it’s causing great fear in me.

What do I fear? Pain, weakness, difficult recovery, taking powerful anti-rejection drugs . . . and probably a few unspoken fears. My doctor says that a transplant will mean a longer life and a better quality of life. And yet, I seem to be content with a steady life marked with daily dialysis, remaining tethered to tubing and a dialysis machine.

Preparing myself for a transplant feels like taking a chance on a better life in spite of the risks. It feels like daring to try for a future that is better than the present. It feels like trying a mighty thing, moving forward and calling up all the courage I can muster.

Theodore Roosevelt spoke of daring mighty things one of his speechesΒ – “The Strenuous Life” – given in 1899 in Chicago.

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Perhaps a kidney transplant does not really qualify as a mighty thing. Yet the quote speaks to me about not being content to “live in the gray twilight” and instead daring to take a risk. It encourages me to move forward, to try for a greater quality of life, to take a chance for a longer life, and to get rid of my safe tether.

I Am Free!

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In times like these when all the news is bad or lewd, I tend to be focused on the tragedy of the day. My heart hurts to hear about violence, the rampage of suicide bombers, the lives of homeless refugees and various stories of relentless details of pain and loss. It is in these times that I seek out the comforting words of Wendell Berry.

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

– From The Peace of Wild Things

Contemplation, prayer, focus on positive words of hope combine to help me “rest in the grace of the world.” Then I can proclaim with joy-filled optimism, “I am free!”

Alleluia!

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Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!

This is the most glorious day of the Christian year, the day of resurrection, the day of celebrating a living Christ.

There is a contemporary hymn in most hymnals these days that sings of abiding hope.

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.
Because He lives, all fear is gone,
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Holy Saturday

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On Holy Saturday, we keep vigil at the Lord’s tomb, meditating on his passion and death, and on his descent into hell, awaiting his resurrection and ours.

it is a time of silence, because there is no plausible explanation of what has become of Jesus. It is a time of confusion and sorrow. It is a time of suffering in a place of unknowing. It is a time of wondering.

On Holy Saturday, the earth waits in stillness for the miracle of resurrection. There is not much we can say, so we wait.

It’s Friday. But Sunday’s Coming!

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From Isaiah 53

He was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid our faces from him . . . and we esteemed him not.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and he opened not his mouth.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to our own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

It happened on Friday — the betrayal, the arrest, the passion, the crucifixion of Jesus. It happened on Friday. But Sunday’s coming! There are Friday’s in every life, Fridays filled with grief, loss and shame. But remember it’s only Friday, Sunday’s coming!

Jesus is dead. He is in the tomb that feels so excruciatingly final. It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!*
* From a sermon preached by Tony Campolo, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!”

What Language Shall I Borrow

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Carmelite Monastery of Nottinghill, UK

How do we make it holy, this special time of the Church year we call Holy Week? We continue with our daily activities. We listen to the news, read books, cook meals and clean our houses. Everything is painfully normal in this Holy Week. What might be the pause in our lives that prompts us to remember the passion of Christ, the betrayal, the arrest, the crucifixion?

How do we remember in an intentional way, so that when the holiest day of the year brings resurrection, we can experience resurrection too?

I know that remembering requires effort. It requires our undivided attention and our most reverent worship. But it’s worth our effort and our devotion, because at the end of the woundedness, there is resurrected life!

I plan to try to walk with Jesus through this week in my mind and in my spirit. For me, music leads me on this path. I recall the hymn “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” translated by Paul Gerhardt from the medieval Latin poem, Salve mundi salutare. The hymn has eleven stanzas addressing the various parts of Christ’s body hanging on the Cross.

I am going to commit a blogger’s faux pas regarding length and print all eleven stanzas here. I invite you to consider the words of this hymn as a devotional path through Holy Week:

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
How pale Thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish, which once was bright as morn!

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee, Thou noble countenance,
Though mighty worlds shall fear Thee and flee before Thy glance.
How art thou pale with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How doth Thy visage languish that once was bright as morn!

Now from Thy cheeks has vanished their color once so fair;
From Thy red lips is banished the splendor that was there.
Grim death, with cruel rigor, hath robbed Thee of Thy life;

Thus Thou hast lost Thy vigor, Thy strength in this sad strife.

My burden in Thy Passion, Lord, Thou hast borne for me,
For it was my transgression which brought this woe on Thee.
I cast me down before Thee, wrath were my rightful lot;
Have mercy, I implore Thee; Redeemer, spurn me not!

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

My Shepherd, now receive me; my Guardian, own me Thine.
Great blessings Thou didst give me, O source of gifts divine.

Thy lips have often fed me with words of truth and love;
Thy Spirit oft hath led me to heavenly joys above.

Here I will stand beside Thee, from Thee I will not part;
O Savior, do not chide me! When breaks Thy loving heart,
When soul and body languish in death’s cold, cruel grasp,
Then, in Thy deepest anguish, Thee in mine arms I’ll clasp.

The joy can never be spoken, above all joys beside,
When in Thy body broken I thus with safety hide.
O Lord of Life, desiring Thy glory now to see,
Beside Thy cross expiring, I’d breathe my soul to Thee.

My Savior, be Thou near me when death is at my door;
Then let Thy presence cheer me, forsake me nevermore!
When soul and body languish, oh, leave me not alone,
But take away mine anguish by virtue of Thine own!

Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfolds Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.

 

Suddenly More Beautiful

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A brilliant star peeking over the ridge of Petit Jean Mountain in Arkansas as seen from Sunrise Point at Mount Nebo, Photo by Jason Garabey

Like most people, I have taken blows in this life. Some of them were pretty serious, serious enough to knock me to the ground. C. JoyBell C. writes of blows that “burst us open” to the point that we believe we are dying. Life is full of these lethal blows, and they hurt. Whether illness, abuse, or other life griefs, we do sometimes feel like we have “burst open.” Our inner strength is spent. Our courage is damaged. Our soul is torn. We may even believe we might die.

But we have the kind of strength and courage that simply does not give in. We have a soul that has been placed in us by our Creator, and that soul is made strong by God’s grace and constant presence. In the deepest darkness, we still shine with a light that cannot be extinguished and with a resilience that cannot be broken. I love the words of C. JoyBell C. that compares us to stars.

I think that we are like stars. Something happens to burst us open; but when we burst open and think we are dying; we’re actually turning into a supernova. And then when we look at ourselves again, we see that we’re suddenly more beautiful than we ever were before!”

Missing Home

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“Home is where your heart is.” That’s a popular common quote. It is also a true one. Fred and I have lived in Macon, Georgia for a full year. We like it here. We love having extended family near us. But my heart is in Little a Rock, the place we called home for thirty-three years.

My only son and my grandchildren are in Little Rock. My best friends are in Little Rock. The doctors and the dentist that took care of me are in Little Rock. My favorite pastor is in Little Rock. My very special church family is in Little Rock.

As I look into the melancholy skies over the Arkansas River, I know that the lyrics Wayland Holyfield wrote is true of me. “Arkansas, you run deep in me.”

I have learned that moving furniture and boxes filled with things does not make a home. I have learned that lovely home decor does not make a home. I have learned that the heart makes a home where it will, and that it’s hard to leave that kind of home. I have learned that I will survive the separation. I have learned that I will perhaps make a heart-home again. I have also learned that if I don’t, it’s okay. I can miss home and still go on with my life. These have been important lessons for me.

Perhaps the most important lesson of all is that the incredibly strong bond I have with Fred creates home, our safe and comfortable space, even in Macon. In a very real sense, when we are together, we are home.