Monday, March 17, 2014

An Offering

  Lent. A time of reflection. Waiting upon God. Practicing the gift of sacrificial love which knows no bounds. I view Lent as a communal grace offering to the One who has no need of gifts yet bids us come with all that we are and all that we have. This year more than ever I come seeking renewal. I have become all too aware that my vision of life and faith are so easily corrupted by the flawed level of consciousness I bring to each and every day. I humbly seek and desire the very mind of Christ.
Cross at sunset

   These are a few of my Lenten gifts I seek to lay at His feet:
          The gift of a letter. To write a note of acknowledgement to someone whom I have witnessed extending a particular kindness or gentleness when none was required.
          The gift of friendship. To reach out to embrace and encourage someone to whom I am not easily drawn. I have been the recipient of much in the way of friendship and love. How can I continue to remain within my own selfishly comfortable boundaries, to withhold myself when Christ calls me to pour myself out on His behalf?
          To surrender my secretly superior attitude whereby I judge and condemn the actions of others. May I renounce, confess, and let go of this secret sin and the others that so readily grow alongside it.
          To allow the wounds and suffering of others to pierce my heart. I find it easy to grow callused and hard-hearted, particularly when confronted with suffering on a global scale. I earnestly desire to be faithful in prayer for those whom the Lord would put on my heart.
          To seek out the way of unexpected service, however small or seemingly insignificant it might be. I would do well to remember that a cup of cold water offered in the name of Jesus can be a precious and life-giving gift.
          To daily seek Him and to offer up to Him the praise of my lips. To turn my conscious thoughts toward Him and to meditate upon His word, then to joyfully come into His presence with songs of thanksgiving.
          To laugh more with those I love. 
          To find joy in the ordinary and happiness in the simple.
          To desire less.
          To need less. 
          To buy less.
          To give away more.
          And then to give even more.
          To practice kindness to those who have wounded me.
          To seek to forgive quickly.
          To be willing to readily forgive everything from the slightest hurt to the gravest offense. 
          To let go of old wounds and to seek the grace of healing that only He can bring.
          To speak freedom.
          To renounce all lies and to fall in love with the truth.
          To be willing to speak the truth even when it is not easy or easily understood.
          To risk reputation for the way of Christ.
          To love the unlovely. 
          To listen more and to speak less.
          To quit interrupting.
          To value another's story more than my own.
          To be willing to walk to the end of the road with someone. With anyone.
          To be a better listener.
          To be a giver of joy.
          To rest in His presence.
          To celebrate His beauty I see in others.
          To celebrate His beauty in my surroundings.
          To greet each new day with anticipation.
          To end each day with heartfelt gratitude and prayer.
          To share the story of all that He has done for me, in me, and with me.
          To embrace the reality of Easter in a deeper way.

lily of valley

Friday, March 14, 2014

Grace, Grace, and More Grace

Wishful thinking at my house...

   Consistency with daily tasks is not one of my better traits. I will leave the unfolded laundry on the kitchen table until the surface is all but obscured before I will get around to dealing with it; I hate hanging up clothes I have just taken off so I end up piling them up in a chair where they eventually collect dust and the ever-present dog-hair; and I avoid the grocery store like the plague. Yet I have somehow managed to function as a daughter, woman, wife, mother, grandmother, college counselor, friend, sister, and domestic goddess (insert a smile here, this is supposed to be funny) for one reason and only one: the grace of God. You might think, as I once did, that the grace of God is reserved for the hard things one encounters in life or as a covering for the sin that so easily besets us; but I have come to believe something very different: the grace of God is at once for everything and for all of life: the mundane as well as the sacramental; the boring as well as the glorious, and the burdensome along with the transcendent.  I don't know about you, but I have just as great a need for the everyday circumstances of my life to be bathed in grace as I do the struggles that seem destined to impact my soul.
   A while back I encountered this tiny little verse that probably comes close to rivaling the ubiquitous "Jesus wept" as one of the all time shortest verses in the Bible, but despite its brevity, it has had a profound and lasting effect upon me and the way that I view my life. It is also found in one of the books of the New Testament that I have continually struggled for many years to understand and apprehend, the Book of James. I offer these words up to you today as a gift. A gift that I want to share. I also want to challenge you to meditate upon these six little words, this logos from the heart of God to you and to me to see if they will not change your perspective on living as much as they have altered mine. Without further ado, here they are:

     "But He gives us more grace..."James 4:6a

   Think about it. Never less. ALWAYS MORE. ALWAYS MORE. I cried the first time I comprehended these words. I had seen the words before, even read them before, but for some reason they were never able to penetrate through my grey matter to traverse the distance to my heart and they certainly seemingly never traveled that mysterious and incalculable distance to my soul. Yet somehow, in a manner I don't fully understand, this logos finally made that God-inspired, God-breathed journey to the place where bone meets marrow and heart meets soul. I got it.
    And for that I am so very thankful this Lord's day...that despite all that I am, He is all that He is and so it is that He gives us more grace. 

Grace. Undeserved, beautiful, and bounteous. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Searching for Easter

   I go looking for Easter in Walgreen's. Even though one might be fooled, it is not there among the Peeps, the plastic baskets, and the fake green grass.

   I wander down the aisles of the Hallmark store replete with their perfectly aligned cards and matching envelopes. Scattered everywhere throughout the shop are pink, blue and yellow bunnies nestled alongside hand-painted eggs. This is not my Easter either.

   I join the throngs in the grocery store, filling my cart with treasures for a meal that I will serve to cousins and sisters and husband and children at Sunday lunch. The cash register goes ching, ching, ching, and I am out of there with a laden car and a tired back. This, too, is not my Easter.

   Once home, I set the table, arrange flowers, and slice mountains of squash and onions, grease casserole dishes, tear lettuces, and chop herbs. I am working ahead. It is special, this beauty I seek to create, but it is not Easter.

   I walk outside to bask in the warmth of the late afternoon sunshine. The silver maples are showering their helicopter seeds all over me. I wink at the sky and smile. But Easter? No, this is a compelling beauty from a Divine hand, but it is not Easter.

   I climb back into my Bible, suddenly thirsty for the Holy cup and the bread. I want to linger there at the meal shared with My Beloved, but I am called onward toward a hill outside the city of Jerusalem. It is here that I find a story played out that shakes my soul to the core. It is a tale, oft told, of a suffering and a sacrifice so wretched and so raw that it is at once almost unbearable and unbelievable. I am suddenly there. I smell the blood. I see the heavy splintered form of the cross and the broken God-man upon it. I look into the faces of the betrayers and know that their shame and their guilt mirrors my own. I know what I deserve. But the God-man hanging there will have the final word. "Forgive them," he cries as he shudders and gasps for air. Then He cries out to the Father.

   In a little while, the sky grows dark. The earth shakes. The bolts of lightening accelerate as they penetrate the darkness with a terrible light. I quake inside as I turn back to the cross. It is finished. The God-man breathes no more.

    I want to run from the scene. I am a betrayer and a rebel of the first-order. I don't even have to wait until the cock crows. I know my own heart. I feel the crushing weight of my own sin and my paralyzing grief. And yet. And yet.

    I limp through the days bereft. The morning of the third day dawns bright and beautiful. The women have been busy with their preparations. Their faces are worn with grief and exhaustion but they are filled with a sense of mission and purpose. They have come to anoint the body of the Beloved One. I have tagged along.

   One of the women runs ahead, spurred and driven by a need deep within her. Yet something is amiss. The guards have disappeared, and the giant stone is no longer blocking the darkened entrance to the cave-like tomb. A deep and powerful voice pierces the quiet surrounding the tomb. It is coming from an unusual creature standing vigil by the tomb, "Why is it that you seek the living among the dead?" The air seems to quiver at the sound of his words.

  The angel looks with something akin to incredulity at the mounting disbelief in the face of the stumbling weeping woman. Like her, my human mind struggles to apprehend the words and all that they imply.

   She runs to look inside. Her voice trembles as she announces that the tomb is empty. My vision grows blurry. How can it be? THE TOMB IS EMPTY. I fall to my knees, and something inside me begins to take on a life of its own.

   What is this glorious hope, this unspeakable joy rising up within me? Can the terrible suffering of the God-man on the cross find its completion and its consummation in an vacant tomb with its empty ledge and neatly folded linen?

   Yes, yes, my soul cries. Yes. This, this is my Easter. It is an empty tomb. It is here in the dust of the dimly lit cave that I have come to find life. And hope. And victory over an ancient sin and despair that have held my soul in their clutch. This tomb, this place of burial where the body of the Messiah was laid to rest is the Easter I have sought. And it is not just mine. It is for all who dare to believe.
    My heart leaps within me at the truth and the glory of it all.

Christ the Lord is Risen. 
Indeed, He is Risen! 

Let the earth and the heavens rejoice...

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Woodland Theme Baby

    My daughter-in-law is doing a woodland themed baby nursery. The inspiration for her design came from a fabric she found with trees and tiny little animals poking their heads up and around a forest. It was love at first sight for her. Then she happened upon this adorable stuffed fox and everything began to come together organically. This daughter-in-law of mine is especially creative and loves to "up-cycle," finding creative uses for vintage items that were originally designed for an altogether different function. I can't wait to see what the nursery will look like when she's finished. Maybe she will let me share a picture or two before the grandboy arrives in May!
    In the meantime, I have been seeing all manner of woodland things popping up everywhere. I couldn't resist sharing some adorable baby shower ideas that give homage to the woodland theme!

Let's start with some invitations!
How cute are these?!
 I love how the envelope mimics a woodgrain pattern on the one below!

 Now let's move on to the party decor
 I love the use of rustic and natural elements
 And the charm goes on
and on...
And it wouldn't be a party without a cake...
or two...
How 'bout these cupcake toppers!
 gift bags anyone?
 Now this is some serious hedgehog love!
But you better watch out for those foxes, they just might steal the show!

And since we live in Music City, what could be better than a very special 
Woodland Mix for guests to take home
Be creative and have fun!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Book-a-Month Club

   It's not your normal Book-of-the-Month Book Club, but rather my personal spin on it and one that has quickly become a much appreciated and anticipated tradition in our family. As a library/media specialist's daughter, my house, like my Momma's and her mother's before her, is filled with books. There are bookshelves in nearly every room filled to overflowing, there are books in cabinets, and books stacked under beds. There are books in the attic and books in the playroom. I guess you could say that books are somewhat of an obsession of mine.
   One of the best things about being a grandmother is digging out old favorites. I am thankful that in one of those many cabinets filled with books are all the oldies, but goodies, my own children loved.  Some are missing pages. Some are so dog-eared and so faded that they bear little resemblance to the original. As do many of you, I delight in reading these timeless treasures to my grandchildren. There is nothing sweeter than the joy of exploration and discovery as seen through the eyes of a child.
   Thus when my daughter became pregnant with her first child, I began a tradition of giving her a book for every month of her pregnancy. And not just any book, but a book she had loved and read as a child. The major criteria for my purchase was that it must have been a book that I remembered seeing her return to over and over again. daughter. I have continued the tradition with both of my daughters-in-law, selecting books that their husbands, my sons, had counted among their favorites.
   Everyone thus far has been gifted with a copy of the perennial touch-and-feel book for babies and toddlers: Pat the Bunny. Who can't win with this little book? It never fails to enchant with it's simplistic and 50's style illustrations!
   Don't ask me why, but Daddy's beard was everybody's favorite page and the first to disintegrate. We must have gone through five or six copies of this little treasure. Each child had his or her own copy and then I purchased a few extra for emergencies.

Next up for everyone was another classic: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Who would think that children would love a book about monsters, but there is just something so glorious about these monsters. They are just so....loveable. And every child in our family wore this book out. I don't know about you, but who doesn't want to "let the wild rumpus begin"!!!

    A few years back when we made a family trip to Boston, each adult child made it a point to stop by to see the ducklings, i.e., the brass ducklings erected in the Boston Public Gardens in honor of the wonderful Momma Duckling and her babies made famous in "Make Way for Ducklings" by Robert McCloskey. And here they are in all their glory: Jack, Mack, Kack, Lack, Nack, Oack, Pack, and Quack. We were on first name basis with these little guys for a long time!

This book is multi-generational in our family: it is one that I also loved as a child!

And here's another favorite that everybody gets because it reminds us all about the
 power of love and how important it is to become "real."
The Velveteen Rabbit, Or How Toys Became Real by Margery Williams
I'm always amazed when I stop to consider the wisdom found in this little book.
Here's a little snippet for you to enjoy.
"What is REAL?" asked the rabbit one day. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
   "Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long,long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
     "Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
    "Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are REAL you don't mind being hurt."
   "Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?" 
   "It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real, you can't be ugly except to people who don't understand. 

I really believe I learned more about life philosophy from children's books than any course I took in college. It's another reason why I love giving these books to my grandbabies.

Two of my four children were also enamored with the book about the
 little bear who lives in a department store, waiting for someone to take him home.
And while my daughter loved anything illustrated by the inimitable Tasha Tudor...

the boys, on the other hand were completely besotted with any
 and everything written and illustrated by Richard L. Scarry
Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things that Go Image
These books were so "busy" that they drove me crazy at times, 
but everybody loved looking for goldbug!

See if you can guess the name of this famous book...??

Yes, that's the Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, Who wouldn't love a caterpillar who eats Swiss cheese, cupcakes, sausages, lollipops and watermelons, among other things!

Next up is a series of books that make me smile. They weren't around when my children were little, but I am giving them to the grandchildren for one major reason.
Baby Llama has lots of drama...and so did all of mine!

My children were also great friends of the Man in the Yellow Hat and his famous sidekick, George.
Somehow, George's antics seemed all too familiar!

And for some reason, Babar was a much beloved read-aloud for everyone. There is something magical about an elephant in a green suit and the little old lady from Paris who takes him in. I am certain
that De Brunhoff may now be viewed as being politically incorrect, but I will not be teaching
Babar as a purveyor of truth...he is the product of a vivid and and incredible imagination ...
something I hope to inspire in my grandchildren, as well!

Happy Reading!