Sew it Begins…Different Tools – Different Tasks

Hmmm… Let’s take a peek into my sewing box as I pull out the tools needed to make BJ’s DWR quilt.

 

Scissors. Will probably need them.

Rotary cutters? Yes, will definitely need them…and tin foil.

Rotary Cutters and tinfoil
Tinfoil helps sharpen the cutters until you can get a replacement blade.

Needles, needle threaders, thimbles, thread and snippers…yep. Got to have them. Oops, almost forgot the baking scrapper.

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The basics for my sewing corner.

The wooden tube needle holder piqued my interest. See it beside the yellow thimble? It was in the things inherited with my mom’s collection of sewing supplies. Printed on it is Boye Needle Company, Chicago, Illinois. “BUY NEW SHUTTLE if machine skips stitches or breaks thread.”  I wondered just how old it may be. So, I went down a few rabbit holes on the web searching for information. Well, come to find out it’s circa 1909-1929… aaannnddd…I just happen to have the treadle sewing machine that it belonged to sitting in my living room. There’s still thread on some of the shuttles in its tool drawer. Grandma's sewing machine.This discovery brought some sweet memories. The machine belonged to my great grandmother and was passed down to my grandmother. I remember “riding” the treadle as a little girl at grandma’s house. She never scolded me for playing on it. It was inherited by one of my mom’s 5 sisters when grandma died. Aunt M gave it to me when I got married. My children used to play on the treadle too. Remembering how I played on it and was never scolded, I couldn’t scold them when they broke the fly arm on it. They deserved the same grace I had received.

Back to my sewing box…

Will probably need a tailor’s cloth measuring tape and yard stick. Most definitely an acrylic ruler and several cutting mats.

Straight pins and quilter’s safety pins for sure. 

Seam ripper? Wish I could say I wouldn’t need it. But, you know that old saying don’t you?

Seam ripper
“As ye sew, so shall ye rip.”

 

Brushes for cleaning out the bobbin case, and teeny tiny screwdrivers for adjusting its tension. Let’s see now. What else? Oh yeah, a utility knife, cardboard sheet cake mats,

Utility Knife & sheet cake mat
I’m always seeking ways to repurpose items and save money. Instead of buying quilt templates, I make my own with inexpensive cardboard sheet cake mats.

a carpenter’s measuring tape, freezer paper, masking and painters tape, and bandaids.

Bandaid thimble
Again my repurposing. Instead of buying an expensive leather thimble, I wrap two bandaids around my thumb and ring fingers. I can still feel the needle to help guide it and my fingers don’t become sore from the constant pressure. See the worn spot? That would have been my finger. Ouch!

I didn’t think I had many sewing tools until I began listing them. Were you surprised when I pulled out the baking scraper, tin foil, sheet cake mats and bandaids?

God has many different tools in His toolbox (the Church). Each is special and has a special purpose. We expect to find scissors, needle and thread in a sewing basket. But not the baking scraper, sheet cake mat and tin foil. In the same way, many times we only expect God to use our pastors, priests, elders, or Sunday school teachers for sharing His grace and love. But really, God wants to use each of us, you and me. He has created us unique and different. Different tools for different tasks. He wants us to use our gifts for Him.

“Different tools for different tasks.”

Now think about how each of the items taken out of my sewing box could be used by God and who might use such a tool. For example: the basic sewing supplies, needle, thread, scissors… may be used by a missionary in teaching a sewing class or a seamstress making tops to be shipped to underprivileged children; the baking scraper may be used in preparing desserts for a homeless shelter; the carpenter’s measuring tape could be used by a construction worker to help build houses for Homes for Habitat; the freezer paper used to wrap meals for hurricane victims or teaching preschool children a fun craft. 

Now also think of other tools, gifts or abilities God has given them, or you and me, that can be used for His glory and to share His grace with others. Can you sing? Can you play a musical instrument? Do you have a gift for writing? Do you enjoy drawing or gardening? What about sports? Ever thought about volunteering in a soup kitchen or perhaps painting a little ladies’ fingernails in a nursing home? Perhaps you could take an elderly friend to shop, or just take them out for a scenic drive.

“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but they all come from the same Spirit. There are different ways to serve the same Lord, and we can each do different things. Yet the same God works in all of us and helps us in everything we do. The Spirit has given each of us a special way of serving others.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 (CEV)

All are great tools. However, God’s word is the most powerful tool that has been given to us. We must make sure we have it in our toolbox for everyday life. It provides guidance, promises of peace and assurance in times of troubles.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic that’s causing fear to arise in many folks, I find comfort from God’s word in today’s meditative message. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Phil.4:6 (ESV)

Sometimes it’s not easy to “not be anxious,” not to worry and be fearful. That’s our natural tendencies when something comes into our lives and disrupts it’s normal flow. But, trusting in my God who loves me with an everlasting love and allowing my faith in His sovereignty to uphold me, I’m not panicking. I’m carrying on in my daily fashion. I continue to purchase a two week supply of groceries, as I always have. I don’t rush out an hoard items that I already have on hand. There are others who may need it. I wash my hands often and practice good hygiene, as I always have.  I pray daily and thank God for my blessings and lift others up in need, as I always have. And since starting on BJ’s quilt, I work on it daily without fail. 

Do you have any tools that you use for different purposes? Are there sewing tips to help save your fingers? Do you have a favorite scripture verse that whispers to you? I’d love to hear about them.

The quilt is coming along nicely. Come back later to see how it’s progressed. It’s really starting to take shape.

Until then…praying you have a blessed week and stay well. 

(Remember to wash your hands often!)

A Tapestry of Life

Life is woven by a mysterious tapestry that we often don’t see until its end approaches for ourselves or a loved one.  

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As we go through life many of us only see the ugly tangled threads running in seemingly disarrayed directions. Some are short stitches, others are knotted together with ends loosely dangling. God revealed to me over this past week just how He has been weaving a beautiful tapestry in my life.

My mom passed from this world into the next this past Thursday. I was not by her side when she took her last breath. It came much sooner than we had expected. When we arranged for Hospice care, we thought she had several weeks, perhaps months before the congestive heart failure and pulmonary fibrosis would take her from us. 

As this was the first week of Hospice care, I had yet to meet the whole Hospice team.

When I met with the Hospice nurse I discovered that she is married to one of my husband’s 2nd cousins. This had to be in God’s divine plan. I had never met her. Nurse Jessica is a very sweet and compassionate person. I think perhaps by she discovering that she would be ministering to a family member, her care became more compassionate. (Is that even a proper sentence? Forgive me if I seem to be rambling. I am still finding it difficult to put together coherent thoughts.)

I discovered the Hospice chaplain was a childhood friend of ours. His brothers and I and my brother rode bikes together when we visited my  grandparents. Even his parent’s and mine were friends in the neighborhood where my dad grew up. I had not seen Chaplain Jarrell since he was about nine years old. His middle brother, Elbert, would give me rides to school when we were in high school together. I did not see Elbert for many years afterwards, until he and I would carpool our own children. Our families lost touch with each other after we moved from that city over 15 years ago. We connected again through FaceBook in recent years.

Mom’s baby sister came by to visitor her the day before mom passed and offered to give me a break from sitting with mom the next day, after she discovered that I had had no relief for over a week, since my brother had been sitting with his 39 year old son who had just suffered two heart attacks and was going through a triple by-pass surgery. It was difficult for both my brother and myself to be torn between two loved ones in life crisis situations. (Oops. Another lengthy, perhaps incoherent sentence.) So it was Aunt Maggie and the Hospice chaplain that was by mom’s side and witnessed a peaceful passing as she succumbed to death. It gave my brother and me much comfort knowing that mom was not alone.

It brought such joy to my heart when I saw a row of bikes lined up in the parking lot and I walked into the chapel and saw the CMA colors ministering as mom’s pall bearers at her celebration of life ceremony yesterday.

One may think they served out of their CMA love for me and my husband and because CMA is “there when you need us”.  But as I look back over the years of my family’s life I can see how it was orchestrated by God in His divine plan for our lives, and it too was part of the beautiful tapestry.

When my brother and I were meeting with the funeral director this past Friday and trying to pull together the details of mom’s service, we came to an impasse. We could not think of a single family member or friend of mom’s who would be available or physically capable of being a pall bearer. After all, she would have been 88 years old this December and was the oldest of eleven siblings. After some thought, my husband and I suggested our CMA family. My brother was in total agreement. We placed a call to our chapter president and his reply was, “Absolutely.” 

Since mom had been in failing health for many years and unable to attend church, she had lost contact with any minister who now knew her personally. I did not want a stranger officiating her service and I wanted someone who also knew the family. We sat again mulling over possibilities, when a voice seemed to whisper to me “Milton.” So, I mentioned his name and how he fit into the equation of our lives and the CMA life. Again, my brother was in agreement. 

A phone call was made and even though Milton already had other time commitments for the afternoon of the service, he said absolutely he would be honored to minister, and rearranged his schedule. 

Needle

We knew nothing of the needle being threaded over 65 years ago that would fashion a CMA blanket of comfort for us.

Milton’s parents and my mom’s family became friends before he, my brother or I were even a glimmer in our parent’s eyes. 

Milton’s family and mine would become neighbors when I was only 6 years old. He & his siblings and my brother & I would spend many hours playing together and helping with each other’s farm chores. He would share many meals with us. He enjoyed my mom’s homemade buttermilk biscuits and southern cooking as much as we did. I have a picture of him and his sister gathered around the table at one of my birthday parties.

Later in life, Milton surrendered his life to Christ and served as pastor at one of the many fine C.O.G pastorates in the area where he ministered to many of my mom’s siblings.

Even though I had heard his name mentioned by my several of my aunts and uncles over the years, I had not personally seen Milton since my family moved from the neighborhood of our childhood farms while I was in elementary school. Then one night, at a Henderson, NC chapter CMA meeting, our paths crossed again. I learned that he was part of CMA and even road his bike quite frequently with my Uncle Hank, who was also once an active CMA member. Later, I had the pleasure of visiting the church he was the pastor of during a CMA event.

Three years ago, God moved on the heart of CMA leaders to begin a new chapter in Youngsville, NC. We moved our CMA membership there and they all became our loving brothers and sisters in Christ and are closer to us than our church family or our physical family.

Sitting with my family gathered in one of my uncles homes after the service yesterday, I had a sweet conversation with my mom’s oldest sister, who is now 86 years old. She made this comment to me, “D, several years ago Ellen and I were discussing the probably of death soon approaching for us. I asked her who she thought she would like to preach her funeral. She told me Milton Abbott. He brought such a beautiful service. You did good. 

Mom had prearranged most of her funeral details over 20 years ago after the death of my stepfather, but had left that information blank. Mom had never shared that bit of information with either of us. Aunt Martha’s statement confirmed that my brother and I had made the correct decision.

God weaves a beautiful tapestry of life we can hardly comprehend and orchestrates our  comings and goings in mysterious and wonderful ways. 

“A man’s heart deviseth his way: but Lord directeth his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9 KJV)

A dear CMA sister reminded me today of this today. I received a sweet email from her that said:

“It’s so like our God to have the provisions for our every need in place long before we ever could know how one day, they would take center stage when great need arises, and so it was with your mother’s “home going”. 

Though we should never be surprised at God’s forethought concerning our needs, we always seem to be so shocked to see that He’s been long at work putting into place all the details of our lives and those of our loved ones. Truly…He knows our needs long before we ever pray.

Even you readers are woven into this tapestry as you allow me to share bits of my life as God continues to whisper words of Grace and Mercy into it. I hope you are able to find bits of encouragement and inspiration through them as well.

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Words cannot begin to express the love and appreciation I have for each person in this tapestry formed by the Masters had.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, your peace that passes all understanding is for each of us. I cannot begin to fathom the depths of your love for us. In times when we think we are forsaken, we have to but turn to your word to find comfort and hope and promise. When we allow others to minister to us in your name, there we find you in then midst. When in faith we surrender our hearts to you and your son, there we find life of abundant Grace.

You know I have yet to allow myself to grieve as I have many logistics to navigate in legalities of estate execution. When the time comes for the healing release I know that You will be there beside me, beginning to weave a new tapestry for my life. Praise God from whom all blessings flow! – In Christ name I pray, Amen.

A New Day Dawning

Nightfall. For most folks, it’s generally a time of rest. Then there are those who long for rest in the evening, yet it escapes them. The mind just won’t shut down. Fears, worry, concerns, conversations, guilt, hopes and plans swirl around and around dancing with what-ifs. It becomes a long dark night until a breaking point is reached. It’s in that darkest part before the dawn when the body becomes so weary until it finally succumbs to rest . . and for a short while the mind quiets.

pre-dawn-harbour-glow

Then a new day dawns. In the faint glow of predawn, the chaotic jitterbug in the mind quietens. One begins a slow waltz of sifting through the what-ifs, of changing partners from worry and guilt to healing and acceptance. That’s how it is in the long dark night of the soul too.

“Joy Comes With the Morning” by William Kinnaird has helped me discover the predawn glow in the dark night of my soul. In the book’s second section titled Encouraging Others, chapters 12 – 28 cover a myriad of topics: Caring; An Invitation to Live; The Seeds of Love; Altruism; A Key to Mental Health; Make My Garden Grow; Affirming Gifts; Warts and All; Support; Acceptance; We Need Each Other; Hand in Hand; If I Were You; Special Glue; Friendship; Priesthood of All Believers; and Charity Begins at Home.

Some of the chapters reinforced what I already know and attempt to practice. To care for another I must be able to understand the person and their world as if I am inside it. (That’s why, as a Stephen Minister, it is so important to be a good listener.) Seeing with their eyes, having empathy, whether caring for a significant other, family, friend or co-worker. Doing so doesn’t mean I have to react the same. But it may be possible that I would if the same circumstance was mine. I agree with Mr. Kinnaird, “Caring is love in action. It is God at work in our lives.”

I think that of all the chapters in that section, the Altruism chapter struck a chord the most. I thought I was an altruistic person, that is until I read the chapter. Mr. Kinnaird tells the story of  the Apostle Peter in the New Testament book of John. Peter’s denial of Christ caused him to be so depressed that he felt no joy in Christ’s resurrection. His guilt deterred his mission works of altruism and compassion he had been commanded to do. But, when Christ reassured him of His continuing Love, Peter’s depression changed. He felt empowered to carry out the mission he was called to do. I had never read the story in the light of altruism before.

Kinnaird says love and kindness are the keys of altruism in the lives of our families and others, “We can use those keys to open up lives to altruism or imprison them in a dungeon of unforgiveness and lack of love. The choice is ours!” I felt like he was speaking directly to me. I had been withholding those keys from a very important person. That has since changed and it is making a difference in our relationship, so far.

Warts and All; Support; Acceptance; We Need Each Other; Hand in Hand; If I Were You; Special Glue; Friendship; Priesthood of All Believers . . . I have been the benefactor of each of these. I have some very, very special friends who accepted me warts-and-all and walked hand in hand with me this summer supporting me as I worked through a deep emotional pain. They have been the special glue that helped me “keep it together” between the hours of 8am-5pm. With our common bond in a belief of a “priesthood of all believers” the healing process is almost complete. It will take some time for the physical side-effects to heal, if ever. But I’m working on those too. (Ulcers seem to have a way of reasserting themselves. Ugh!)  I’m getting pretty good at pain management. What was that I quoted a while back? Oh yeah, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Proverbs 23:7 (KJV)

Indeed a new day is breaking and joy will come with the morning!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I praise you. You have blessed me with special friends who echo the Apostle Paul, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.”   2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (NASB) – AMEN!

Twilight Zone of Soul’s Dark Night

Cue the guitar, a repetitive 3-4- 3-root lick in the key of E (G#-A-G#-E) topped with a b5 (Bb) pedal tone .. “do DO-do-do-do, DO-do-do ….”

You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas; you’ve just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.”

-Rod Sterling, 1963 Twilight Zone, season 4

Somewhere between the level headed, keep a smile on your face, don’t let them see you break, perky perfectionist from 8am-5pm and the drop your guard, remove the mask, falling apart, I can’t put coherent thoughts together insomniac from 8pm-5am, I had entered a Twilight Zone of my dark night of the soul during these past six months.

As I began reading, “Joy Comes With the Morning” I could feel Grace whispering encouragement, nudging me to write about this dark part of my faith journey. It’s difficult. However, I know in doing so, Grace will continue to guide, comfort and give a peace that passes all understanding to me and perhaps to another who may be seeking.

In the previous post, Dusk-The Dark Night Begins, I only mentioned the first of ten chapters in the first section Encouraging Ourselves from “Joy Comes With the Morning.” The remaining chapters, 2-An Experiment in Self Love, 3-The Computer of Our Mind, 4-A Human Filtering System, 5-Heterosuggestion, 6-Take Off the Mask, 7-Vulnerability, 8-No-Knock Policy, 9-Family Communication, 10-Don’t Judge Yourself and 11-Dying to Self, helped me label some of the thoughts and behaviors that took place as I begin to balance the scales of those dimensions within the twilight zone.

Chapter 2 called remembrance to the passage in Matthew 22:36-39.

Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (KJV)

Mr. Kinnaird shared how he began an experiment in self-love, that is loving himself unconditionally as God loves him. He said,

Suppose I dwelled on my good points and tried not to condemn myself for my faults. Suppose I forgave myself my mistakes…There is nothing narcissistic or self-indulgent about this kind of love. Rather, it means that I look at myself objectively as another child of God.

How can we discriminate against ourselves? How can we refuse to love any child of God, even our self? Jesus told us to love our enemies, and with so many of us our greatest enemy is our self. Think about that for a minute. How many times have you been your own worst enemy? How many times have you been almost totally self-destructive?”

I thought about what he said. I guess, in a way I had begun an experiment in self-love. Like Mr. Kinnaird, I’m coming to love some of my qualities and saying “so what” to others. Not that I’m unwilling to change them. (I’ve discovered I have more Type A personality traits than I care to admit.) I’ll not get upset if I can’t change a lifetime habit over night by self willpower. Only by God’s power and His will and in His time will some changes come about. I just have to choose to change.

I sit in front of a computer all day. You know the term “GIGO” don’t you, “garbage in-garbage out?” Without proper filters, that’s what happens to our systems, the information becomes garbage, or worst yet the PC becomes corrupted with virus’s and malware. Sometimes we have to do a system restore to get the PC operating correctly. Our minds really are like a computer. If we let negative thoughts in, then negativity is what will come out. If we don’t have correct filters in place, then our perception of people, places and things become skewed. That’s what happened in my twilight zone. I had to distance myself from the negativity in my life in order to do a “system restore.” Grace affirmed that I had made the right decision to limit my visits to Henderson and its negativity to once a month, instead of weekly. I felt guilty about it. I felt I was not upholding my responsibilities. However, I knew it was best for everyone for awhile and doing what is best is upholding the responsibilities I have been asked to do.

The “taking off the mask” and allowing others to see my brokenness has been a bit challenging. The first time was when I had to ask an acquaintance’s forgiveness for a negative outburst I directed towards her back in April. (I think that’s probably when I crossed over into the twilight zone. I kept trying to justify my actions. Even though, deep down, I knew I was in the wrong. Why, I wouldn’t even speak to her after that.) It took two weeks for me to work up enough willpower (again not my desire, but God’s prompting) to invite her to lunch and share with her what I had been going through since Thanksgiving. The mask slipped off a little during lunch. After discussing our different yet similar personalities, she realized that she was partially at fault for the outburst and asked forgiveness also. The lunch became a little like a counseling meeting. She too had some family matters that were heavy on her heart that she needed to share. So, there I was, a Stephen Minister. What was I to do but offer an unbiased listening ear? (Isn’t it amazing how God places people in our lives at just the right time?) It turned out to be a positive lunch. I think it strengthened our relationship somewhat. We agreed that we could disagree on opinions. Personal opinions were just that, personal. She is more considerate of mine and I hers.

The masked slipped a bit more the following month. Friends of mine and hubby invited us to go with them to Gatlinburg, Tennessee for the Memorial Day weekend. We ladies discussed several prayer concerns that were on our hearts. In the course of the conversation, I let my guard down and shared all that I had been experiencing. I knew I could trust her. I didn’t feel quite so vulnerable with her as a confidant. It felt good to finally tell someone else the whole story.

As the months rolled on, my brother kept his promise to give me rest. He protected me by implementing a no-knock policy with mom. Whenever she began her negative comments, insults, complaining and put-downs, he reminded her why he was her caregiver this year. He only calls me when needing advice on handling certain situations, or wants affirmation on a decision. We’ve kept the family communications open.

In order for a new apple tree to grow, a seed has to die first. Then it is re-birthed, producing a new tree and a multitude of more apples, more seeds, more trees. Mr. Kinnaird states it this way, “It may have to be buried for a time while the roots are taking hold, but eventually it will sprout into something better than ever.” Perhaps this twilight zone was just a way for me to “die to self” in order for God to use me in more ways, better ways in the future to share encouragement and His grace with others.

A new dawn is breaking. I can see morning coming. More on that next time.

door-into-the-unknown-13303398429tsPrayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for this twilight zone, another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. A place of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. Perceptions and growth. Perceptions can change and growth can be multiplied, especially when you bring joy with the morning. In Christ – Amen

Dusk – The Dark Night Begins

Mountain sunset

For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he. – Proverbs 23:7 (KJV)

The “dark night of the soul” is such a cold, lonesome place to find oneself. In his book, “Joy Comes With the Morning,” William Kinnaird titles the first section Encouraging Ourselves. The title for the first chapter is The Surest Ego Builder. As I read that I said to myself, “ I don’t need to build my ego.”

I thought about that title for a while. I continued reading. Kinnaird said, “Unless we feel good about ourselves, unless our ego is healthy, we can’t help anybody else. We don’t have anything to offer.”

Surely, not I. I don’t need encouragement. After all, wasn’t I the one who always offered the listening ear. Didn’t I pray with and for others who shared their stories and concerns with me. I always greeted everyone with a smile. When anyone asked, “How are you doing?” I gave a quick reply, “Fine. I’m fine.”

The more I thought about it though, the more Kinnaird’s comment got my attention. Especially the last sentence, “We don’t have anything to offer.” Again, it was as if he had ripped me open and was peering deep into my soul. I felt I didn’t have anything to offer. But why? I began looking back over the past eight months to search out the reason. Just when did the dark night of the soul began for me? I thought, “a night fall begins at dusk. I needed to discover my “dusk.””

Dusk sets in as the dark night of my soul begins.

November 14, 2015 . . . The beloved 3P Women’s ministry, a ministry of prayer, praise and fellowship for the women in my Sunday School class, came to a close. I had been blessed with co-leading the ministry for two years. 12 precious women met monthly for Bible study, life enrichment discussions, encouragement, developing and deepening relationships with others and deepening their faith in Christ. My co-leader, whom I speak of in the “about” page of Whisperings of Grace, a missionary serving in the local area, would be leaving our church to attend one in her mission field. Oh how I would miss her! Both she and I needed to take a sabbatical and was hoping someone else would take-over. However, no one felt equipped to continue the ministry. Thus, that last fellowship would be our last time together as a group. It was a bittersweet day. Perhaps it was for the best. Our church would be changing its scheduling in the new year. Many of us would begin attending different services and Sunday School classes. It would give us the opportunity to expand our relationships beyond the fellowship that we had grown accustomed to over the past six or seven years. I could only hope the individual prayer and accountability teams that had developed in 3P would continue to meet for prayer and to offer each other encouragement. Letting go was hard to do. Dusk sets in as the dark night of my soul begins.

The dusk deepened on the following Saturday. It was a dark valley for me that day. I am my mother’s only daughter and have been her primary caregiver since my father died in 1980. Her harsh angry words to me and my husband, along with an attempt at striking me with an object, cut me deeply emotionally. So deeply that on the 30 mile drive home I tearfully commented to my husband, “Don’t be surprised if you come home one day and find your gun missing and me laying in the woods out back.”

So, I did as mom asked. I stayed away. Thanksgiving came and went. No visit. No turkey and dressing. No family reunion. She didn’t call me. I didn’t call her. A trip to my daughter’s house in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains did little to lift my spirits. I developed a case of herpes zoster, adult chicken pox, “the shingles” while there. (Oh what a nasty disease.)

December came with all its trappings. There were office parties and church fellowships to attend. Waking up together Christmas morning with the grandchildren. But there was no Christmas visit with mom. Again, not even a phone call. I tried to appear cheerful for everyone. I refused to let the painful shingles interrupt my life. Yet on the inside, emotionally, I was swiveling up. Joy was ebbing away and I didn’t even realize it.

Perhaps my ego did need rebuilding.

Hmmm. Perhaps Mr. Kinnaird was correct. Perhaps the shingles were the result of an unhealthy ego. I was no longer teaching. Teacher identified “me.” The identity of “care-giver” for my mom had been rejected. The next several months would tell the tale. Perhaps my ego did need rebuilding. Indeed.

2016 revealed more than I wanted to admit.

The shadows of dusk deepened

In January, I packed up all mom’s belongings that I had been storing for her since she broke up house-keeping and moved into the independent living facility. I gathered together all of her records, files and financial reports I have been accumulating as her Power of Attorney. I loaded it all in my car and carted it the 30 some miles and deposited it at my brother’s house, who only lives five miles from our mom. He attempted to refuse the delivery. But after the private conversation which my quiet spoken husband insisted on having with him, he agreed to step in and take on the responsibility as mom’s care-giver and give me a year to heal…emotionally, physically and spiritually. Yet, the shadows of dusk deepened.

As chapter one came to a close in Mr. Kinnaird’s book, he commented that for a long time he wasn’t able to minister to anybody else. He was to consumed with his own hurts. As I read his comments I empathized with him. I knew exactly what he was talking about. Then what he wrote next seemed to leap off the page at me. I KNEW Grace was whispering to me, reminding me of His promises. Mr. Kinnaird stated that his favorite scripture verse is Romans 8:28. I consider it my life verse. It has been since I accepted Christ as my personal Lord and savior at the age of 17. It’s the verse I go to when I’m hurting or when I don’t understand why things happen the way they do. It’s the promise I cling to.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”-Romans 8:28 (NIV)

Even though the dusk was deepening. I can now see how Grace was and is healing me. An old song from my youth came to mind that reminds me of this. The lyrics to it are:

Are you discouraged and are you blue?
Are clouds obscuring the sun from view?
Keep trusting Jesus, though storms assail.
You have His promise He will not fail.

CHORUS
It’s always darkest before the dawn.
Don’t be discouraged but carry on.
He’ll not forsake you, the sun will break through.
It’s always darkest before the dawn.

He knows your heartache, He understands,
Just put your problems in His great hands,
No trouble meets you but in His will,
He’s not forgotten, He loves you still.

I can hardly wait to see what else Grace has to say as I continue reading “Joy Comes With the Morning.” I hope you will join me again.

Prayer: Father God, your Word also tells us in Romans 8:26-27 “…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” Lord God, thank you for the one who intercedes on our behalf. In Chris name. Amen

Quick to Listen…Slow to Speak

It is said that when God’s word goes out it does not return void. I have found that to be true. Each time I begin a study, the Scriptures supported in some area of my day or week. It’s as if Grace is saying, “See? My Word is true.”

I was blessed when two friends knelt at the altar with me in prayer today. Each had shared a trial or crisis that had recently occurred in their lives. I had no words of wisdom for them, at least none of my own. However, Grace spoke… not through my words, but actions. Well what did I do, you may ask. I simply offered a listening ear and offer to pray with them. I think that alone gave each of them the comfort to share and receive counsel from each other in a way that I knew I would not be able to do. We sat on the steps of the altar for nearly two hours. Them talking and encouraging each other while I merely listened with an occasional nod of my head or a quiet affirmation of their statements.

Grace reminded me later of these words I had read in the first chapter of James during my early morning study and mediation:

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:19-25)

I love these two friends dearly and my heart broke for each of them. I knew that they could glean something from each other’s story and I had to be “quick to listen and slow to speak” this time.

Sometimes, oft times, what our friends need most from us, when they are experiencing troubles, is a listening ear and a compassionate heart.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, thank you for bringing your word to mind when we need it. Thank you for our friends who willing to be quick to listen and slow to speak when we need to talk. Above all, thank you for always listening to us. In Christ, amen.

What Trials and Tribulations?

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a doubled minded man, unstable in all he does. – James 1:2-8 (NIV

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During the season of Lent I followed morning readings of short sentences that challenged the reader to acknowledge and consider surrendering things (behaviors, attitudes, actions, etc.) that hindered one from living with grace in their life.

It seemed that each day, the reading was targeted at an area of something in my life that I had been holding. Each day learned to release a little more. Still I felt empty. I couldn’t hear Grace whispering.

During this same time, I was doing a required Stephen Ministry reading in the book “Sacred Pathways” by Gary Thomas. The book unfolds nine distinct spiritual temperaments…Naturalists, loving God outdoors; Sensates, loving God with the senses; Traditionalists, loving God through ritual and symbol; Ascetics, loving God in solitude and simplicity; Activists, loving God through confrontation; Caregivers, loving God by loving and caring for others; Enthusiasts, loving God with mystery and celebration; Contemplative, loving God through adoration; and Intellectuals, loving God with the mind, digging deeper into scripture, asking questions.

There is a series of questions at the end of each chapter that scores ones strength in each area.
I learned that I have some of all the temperaments, the strongest being Caregiver. I was surprised that the next strongest temperament is Intellectual.

As I sat quietly meditating and praying this morning, I thought “no way” am I an intellectual. But as I reflected back over the past several months of not teaching or participating in a group study, I had to admit I was happiest when I was doing in-depth studying as I prepared lessons. I knew right away that I needed to get back deeper into the Word. I admitted my lackadaisical approach to study since the first of the year. And Grace whispered “read James.” I balked, “are you sure?” Again I heard in the recesses of my heart and mind, “read James.”

I should have read those scriptures several weeks ago. The sadness, hurts and frustrations would have been easier had I heeded the Word. I could have said, “What trials and temptations?!”

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, I have to admit that I don’t find it pure joy when faced with trials. But Father God, I thank you that I am able to persevere through the trials and that you will give wisdom to overcome those trials. In Christ’s name – amen.

Encouragement on an index card

“Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up.” Proverbs 12:25 (ESV)

Index cards were given out to each student in the class. Their homework exercise was to write one affirmation statement about each name on the card. Sounds easy enough. But, how about the person you just recently met. What do you say? How about the person whom you have developed a friendship?

At the next class, students stood in a circle, cards in hand, and read the statements written one by one; each time facing the person whose name was on the card in front of them. The students being read to, had to respond with a thankful statement. One could see apprehension on the faces of the students. Some students confessed to struggling with the exercise. It caused them to dig deeper and really see the person of whom the statement was being made. As the statements were being read, the student’s faces softened. Their countenance changed. For some, the statements affirmed gifts they didn’t see themselves having. For others, it was an affirmation that they were where God wanted them. The warmth was contagious.

I once had a Sunday School teacher who taught a class about encouragement. I remember her commenting that if one look hard enough, one could find something good about everyone. She lived her teachings as well. She was known as the “license plate” lady in my hometown. So, of course she met just about everyone in that town. One day, I was working in her office when an unkempt gentleman approached the window. Being much younger, I didn’t always keep my tongue the way I should have. After the gentleman was served and left, I made a comment about his appearance. Her comment to me was, “Yes, but didn’t he have beautiful eyes.”

What about you? What do your words and actions say to or about others?

Encouragement card

Dear Heavenly Father, through your Word, we find encouragement. Thank you for the people you place in our lives to share your Word and offer us encouragement, even in the times we don’t know we need them. In Christ name we pray. AMEN

Surrender

 

You’re having lunch with coworkers and notice the chocoholic passed over the decadent chocolate lava cake. What gives? Oh yeah. It’s the middle of Lent!

Lent, the period of 40 days that precedes the celebration of Easter. The time Christians recall and renew their commitment to God. A time to acknowledge the ways we have turned away from God in our lives and focus on turning our hearts and minds back toward Him.

Some denominations practice fasting, giving up something pleasurable for 40 days as a sacrifice to God. To others the Lenten season is a time of prayer and surrendering bad habits as a way of turning back towards a life that God wants for us.

The church I attend does not practice the season of Lent. However, it does teach and encourages surrender, prayer and alms-giving as part of our daily walk with Christ, 365 days a year.

The church I work at does practice the season of Lent and has been posting daily reminders of things to reflect on as one surrenders bad habits and attitudes to God.

I have discovered that I have been holding on to way too many attitudes that are not pleasing. Slowly, I’m releasing them. I have a long way to go yet. Healing from hurts and learning to forgive is a hard one. The season of Lent has 26 days remaining. I wonder what other habits and attitudes will be revealed.

However temporary, these changes can help us to appreciate the true abundance in our lives. And perhaps, just perhaps these small positive changes can have a big impact that lasts beyond the 40 days of Lent.

Year 2016 is going to be a year of change; I just know it!

Surrender Your Heart to God

13 Surrender your heart to God, turn to him in prayer,
14 and give up your sins— even those you do in secret.
15 Then you won’t be ashamed; you will be confident and fearless. – Job 11:13-15 (CEV)

Heavenly Father, we can never out give the sacrifice you gave for us. Help us to reflect on not only the fasting during this Lenten season, but the changes we can incorporate into our walk with you every day of our lives. In Christ name, amen.

 

 

 

 

More of His Grace

 

“More about Jesus I would know, more of His grace to others show; More of His saving fullness see, more of His love, who died for me. More, more about Jesus, More, more about Jesus; More of His saving fullness see, more of His love, who died for me.”

An old time favorite hymn of mine is titled “More about Jesus” written by Eliza Hewitt. It was first published in 1887. It speaks of the major theme of the Christian faith…GRACE.

The word “grace” has numerous definitions.  Google “grace” and it will return over 54,000,000 results. Grace is more than a brief prayer offered up before a meal. Grace can be defined as having or giving favor or goodwill; such as showing kindness, forgiveness, charity, and mercifulness. It can be defined as mercy, clemency or pardon. It’s an unmerited favor one doesn’t deserve it.

One of the lines in that hymn brought to mind a story shared with me by a friend returning from a mission trip and a lesson about grace while there.

It seems one group of youth and adults didn’t understand the purpose of a mission trip and it sounded as if this group had less than servant hearts. The staff was confused by what they had observed and frustrated that they seemed to have had no impact on the attitude or heart of the group.

After listening to their stories the leader of the group said, “Remember, EGR.”  My friend thought, EGR?  She knew EEG, EKG and even EOG’s but EGR… what’s EGR? So she asked. The response was “Extra Grace Required.” The leader was reminding staff that some people and situations require extra Grace.

We all need to practice “EGR”, don’t we? If someone cut’s us off at the traffic light, think “EGR.” If there’s an empty grocery cart in that choice parking space at the grocers, think “EGR.” If our spouse has a bad day and snaps at us unintentionally, think “EGR.” If our child gets frustrated trying to learn a new skill, think “EGR.” The list could go on and on about when we could practice “EGR.”

But wait! That’s a lot of finger pointing. We must remember the old adage…”When you point your finger at someone, four of your fingers are pointing back at you.” Just as we have the opportunity to practice “EGR,” we probably are giving others a reason to practice it with us. Oh, no, not when we roll our eyes at a spouse’s comment; not when we raise our voice at our children before, we allow them to complete their explanation; not when we become impatient with a new cashier; not when…. fill in the blank.

There are many times when our actions don’t reflect the grace that we have received.

Instead of only looking for times to practice “EGR” with others, perhaps we should be hoping others will understand the mistakes we make and send a little EGR our way. God certainly has and does every single day.

I’m thankful for grace.

That old hymn is a reminder to practice “EGR.” Perhaps, just perhaps … This Is Your Song too. I hope so.

Hebrews 12:15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.

 

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, forgive us for those times when we behave in an ungracious manner. Help us Lord to be a reflection of Your grace in all that we say and do. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen