Life Is a Gift

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Today I read an inspiring blog post written by my long-time friend, Guy Sayles. He recalls his medical diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma three years ago and describes the experience of β€œvivid remembering of hard days of treatment.”

Around the same time, I entered a time of serious and unexpected illness which led to a diagnosis of end stage kidney disease. I spent most of 2014 in the hospital, literally fighting for my life on at least three occasions. My husband was terrified. Mercifully, I knew nothing of the urgency of what was happening to me.

Guy Sayles writes of a reality that I completely understand when he says, β€œThe first two years of my having Multiple Myeloma were so challenging that I didn’t expect to be alive now. That I am is sheer and surprising gift to me.” (http://www.fromtheintersection.org/blog/2017/8/8/its-all-gift)

For me, it was not so much that I expected imminent death, but throughout my long period of recovery and rehabilitation, I never expected to be able to care for myself again. That I now am able to live a relatively normal life is most certainly a gift of grace I never expected. Healing and recuperating was much like a resurrection for me. I got my life back.

So my constant question to myself is what will I do with this gift of life? I am inspired by the way Mary Oliver asks this question in her poem, The Summer Day.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

I am compelled to answer that question, to use the gift of my life as a gift to others. To care for people with compassion. To do justice where oppression reigns. To make peace in the face of violence. To scatter hope in the places where despair has taken hold.

I hope you will truly hear the way Guy Sayles expresses this.

The awareness which gently and repeatedly washed over me was, β€œLife is gift and my response may, can, and should be gift-giving.”

And my calling is to lavish gift-givingβ€”to share freely and fully whatever I manage to harvest. There’s no need now for barns and bins, for storing up for another day, or for worrying about markets and prices. β€œFreely you have received,” Paul said, β€œfreely give.”

These days, I aspire, in every dimension of life, to this the wisdom Annie Dillard offered to writers:

β€œOne of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now . . . something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water . . . The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is shameful, it is destructive. Β Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”Β (The Writing Life, pp. 78-79)

Amen and amen. May God make it so.

Grace Upon Grace

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In many ways, I am thankful for my hardest, darkest days. There were lessons in them, important catalysts for growth. And always, there was grace a plenty, more than enough to make it through. People have knocked me down. Circumstances have thrown me for a loop. I made it. I grew. I learned. I received God’s grace for the trial.

As you know if you read my blog very much, I love the writing of Bishop Steven Charleston. Once again, he nailed it on enduring hard days.

Do not count the days lost that were the hardest for you, for even in the most difficult times there are small graces present. We are shaped by what makes us bend, created as much by fire as by water. The lessons we learn are not always freely given, but extracted from hard ground, brought to surface only through sweat and pain. Wisdom is earned. We are what we experience. We cannot cleanse our lives of every memory, even if we wanted, but we can celebrate the courage it took to come this far, and honor the spirit that helped us not only survive, but learn.

I am thankful to have survived, more thankful to have learned, and most thankful of all to have received grace upon grace.

Grace! Amazing!

 

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The grace of God . . . I receive it continuously, but even after all these years, I don’t understand it. I am on the beach today, one of my favorite places in the world. The gentle surf, the vast sky, the sunrise over the ocean is grace to me, given by a God who deeply cares about times of re- creation and spiritual refreshment.

We who are Christians sing about grace often, and one of our most beloved hymns is “Amazing Grace” written by John Newton and published in 1779.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

The words of the hymn touch me beyond words, reminding me that, though I am undeserving, I receive the gift of God’s grace every moment of my life, through the calm and through the storm. It has always been enough to get me through. I love the words of Anne Lamott about grace:

I do not at all understand all of the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.

My gift to you today is a YouTube link to a gorgeous arrangement of “Amazing Grace” performed by Noteworthy of Brigham Young University. Let it lift your spirits at: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=X6Mtpk4jeVA

Mountaintop Moments

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Mountaintop experiences . . . so few and far between. They are the special times we long for, those times when we experience God in fresh, new ways. We travel along life’s dusty roads hoping for just one mountaintop moment. And on occasion, we do find ourselves with God on a high mountain. It’s worth the long wait.

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.

(Matthew 17:1-2, New International Version)
We meet you on the mountaintop, O God, hoping for a glimpse of your glory. Hoping for a moment sacred and holy. We meet you, having ascended from a mundane existence. We meet you, hoping that your usual silence with us will turn into hearing you speak to us of greater times. We meet you hoping to transcend the ordinary and to find, in your presence, a holier moment of grace.

We linger on the holy mountain, O God, waiting for your transfigured presence, and hoping beyond hope that you will change us, if only for this moment in time. And then we descend into our world, the ordinary place we live, but we are not the same. We are no longer ordinary, because we have experienced you, heart and soul, in a fresh, new way.

We give you thanks, O God, for mountaintop moments.

Amen.

The Coming of the Dawn

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It’s a brand new morning filled with possibility. It’s also the day we leave our Little Rock home to go back home to Macon. So there is emotion involved, bittersweet feelings that remind me that we are once again leaving behind our son, our grandchildren, and a host of lifelong friends. We cannot straddle two states very well. We cannot cure the sadness of distance with FaceTime or Skype. This situation simply is what it is, and we will have to navigate the emotions of having family far from us.

I have no doubt that when night falls on us tonight in Georgia, we will feel at home and content. We will nurse a little sadness, yes. We will work with melancholy feelings for a while. But we will be in our home, our safe place and our place of rest and peace. I will be glad to see my garden and marvel at how it has grown in a week. I will be very glad for my own bed. Night will find me in my place.

Once again, Bishop Steven Charleston describes my emotions in his eloquent writing.

“It is quiet now. All the cares of this long day are drifting away. There is peace in the house, and in the garden, and over the fence into the wide world beyond, a peace that passes beneath the trees and through the fences, circling the moon in a spiral of silver light, following the night air, going into places where lonely hearts hide, searching for the wounded among us, comforting the dreams of the innocent. It is quiet now, for the love of God walks this night, as every night, gently seeking, seeking those who need love the most, as they wait, wait for the coming of the dawn.”

Missing my grandchildren, I will “need love the most.” But I know that the words are real and true: “. . . the love of God walks this night, as every night, gently seeking, seeking those who need love the most, as they wait, wait for the coming of the dawn.”

Stones in the Road

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When we are experiencing trials, God is faithful. When circumstances in life become unbearable, God is faithful. When sadness takes over our spirits, God is faithful.

Our life journey is filled with obstacles, stones in the road, a pathway strewn with stumbling blocks. No one gets through life on an easy, clear path, at least no one that I have ever known. All of us face challenges that have the power to stop us in our tracks.

But the miracle remains. We get through. We overcome the obstacles. We navigate the rocky path. We climb the most treacherous mountains. We continue the journey and we don’t give up. The reason can be found in the tenth chapter of 1 Corinthians.

God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it.

  • 1 Corinthians 10:13-14 New English Translation

So I plan to move forward on the journey, slow and steady steps, avoiding the stones in the road. I can do that because God is faithful to not let me endure more than I can handle.

“Great Is Thy Faithfulness” is a beloved hymn that has provided comfort through the ages:

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God, my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee.
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not.
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness; Great is Thy faithfulness;
Morning by morning, new mercies I see.
All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided.
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

I hope you will take a moment to listen to this comforting hymn at this YouTube link:
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=1nmKHfjp8WE&autoplay=1

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.