Still getting accustomed to the weather patterns here, the thunderstorm last night surprised me, and I must admit, scared me a little. As I laid in bed trying to sleep, the lightening flashed and the thunder crashed . . .loudly and very close!
Trying to find some calm in the midst of the storm, I settled myself into prayer while the booming and cracking continued. And in my prayer I was reminded of another time when there was thunder in my life.
I was tired and confused and teetering on new decisions and new directions. As I drove home one evening I cried in exasperation “Oh, Lord, if only I had a sign that I’m doing the right thing!” Just as the thought had become a cry in my mind, there was a huge thunder clap! Just one thunder clap, mind you. And you must understand, this was in the Pacific Northwest where thunder and lightening are rare to non-existent!
Remembering that event last night in the midst of this long and active thunderstorm, I roused myself to a new level of wakefulness. I opened the ears of my heart and listened intently. “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening,” I prayed with some intensity.
When did you last hear the grace of God speaking? When did you last listen?
Fall is coming to DC, but oh so gradually! I can’t help noticing how gracefully the trees are turning this year. First I notice a little tip of yellow or red, then with the passage of days it deepens and moves toward all the edges. Each morning I notice that gradually the color has seeped toward the the center, while the brilliance of the greens still dominate each leaf.
I can’t help but think that there is a message for us in this gradual grace of changing colors. When we are faced with difficulties or decisions or new avenues in life, we shouldn’t think that we must make some change all at once! Not even Nature requires that the landscape change in an instant.
So, if we want change in our lives, if we want to make a decision to do something differently, we must be kind to ourselves and allow the change to take place gradually. Love, forgiveness, compassion, altruism, new job, retirement – or any change we may want to make in our lives – does not happen in an instant. It gradually grows. Perhaps we must be like the fall leaves and let the graceful change of colors and attitudes, decisions and life’s choices paint their beauty gradually on the palette of our souls.
The best learning from history allows us to make decisions and live more positively in the present because we can see the outcome of whatever the issue was in the past. And, with reflection, hindsight is always 20/20. I was thinking about this after reading an article in this month’s Smithsonian Magazine titled Unmasking Thomas Jefferson by Henry Wiencek. Wiencek states that while we credit Jefferson with the noble ideals that founded our country – such as “all men are created equal,” Jefferson himself did not live his life true to that belief. There has been much documentation of Jefferson’s slave holdings. Now there is new evidence that was buried during research in the 1950’s that documents Jefferson’s harsh treatment of his slaves. Jefferson himself didn’t do the punishing but certainly allowed, if not encouraged it, to take place through hired overseers who kept production lucrative at Monticello with slave labor.
Quoted in the article is the statement of a Virginia abolitionist, Moncure Conway, who said “Never did a man achieve more fame for what he did not do.”
Not to discredit the great contributions of Thomas Jefferson, as he lived in an era I can hardly imagine, but the words that stay with me are ” . . . what he did not do.” Obviously others in his time believed in equality enough to actually make changes in their lives and work places to see that their actions were consistent with what they believed. Take for instance George Washington. He made provisions in his will to free all his slaves, where Jefferson did nothing of the kind. I’m sure Jefferson’s beliefs were strong – they have been the building blocks of this great nation. But, how could he live inconsistent with such noble beliefs?
As I reflect on this my mind wanders to our time and issues we face today in the church. How can so many believe in equality of genders while so few are willing to make whatever changes they can to see that actually come to fruition? Obviously we still have a very difficult time learning from history. For any progress to occur many things need to change, and we need to do much more than merely talk or write about those changes. We might actually need to accept the gift of grace and make our actions consistent with our beliefs. Or else history may look upon us in our time as having achieved some kind of fame for what we did not do.
The old adage “Actions speak louder than words” is pertinent here. Jesus was not afraid to act on what he believed. As his disciples, why are we?
One of my secret joys during these days of my retreat – along with reading, praying and walking – is catching occasional episodes of TV shows from the 80’s and 90’s that I never saw when they were first aired. I didn’t watch much TV during those two decades because I was working full time and going to school and keeping the children and the house in order; being wife and mother.
So, yesterday I caught a scene from a show that touched me deeply. Just to give the context: the wife had gone to meet an old friend without her husband’s knowledge. On her return home she is mugged and ends up in the hospital. The husband is at her bedside and stroking her hair asking “Why didn’t you ask me to take you there?” She responds: “This has nothing to do with you.” To which the husband replies: “Every breath you take in your entire life has something to do with me.”
When my husband returned from his day of work I recounted the scene and told him how much it touched me. He responded within a heartbeat: “That’s what I would say! That would be my line. I wish I’d thought of that.”
How wonderful to be so loved and cherished. It is a grace I do not take lightly.
And now, all I can think about is that line. “Every breath you take in your entire life has something to do with me.”
Just image God saying that to each of us. What grace!!! Every breath we take is of concern to God. Every breath is graced. And with each breath we take we are loved and cherished beyond what we can even imagine.
On a wonderful Fall day here (or make that the most beautiful of summer days in Seattle – the weather is just beginning to be bearable!) we set out for another Civil War Battlefield and Catoctin Mountain Park.
Where parks in the NW are pristine, never before settled lands that have been protected, there are a couple of national parks on this side of the country, Catoctin and Prince William Parks specifically, that have been reclaimed and returned to nature. After settlers logged, mined, farmed and hunted the grounds almost to depletion, the National Parks took over in the 1930’s and began a reclamation project to return the lands to their natural environment. It was done to preserve the land and see if the natural wildlife and the lush forests would return. Eighty years later there are beautiful parks that invite city dwellers to return to nature and take advantage of the quiet and the beauty.
We could just appreciate the beauty and the wonder of nature without destroying it first! But thanks to the National Parks system, we do have lovely lands to explore and places where we can go back to nature. We have to start thinking about how to preserve the beauty of our land for future generations and not wait for someone else to demand it of us.
Find that place of beauty that you love and are willing to protect and recover a quiet and peaceful moment! Our days would be filled with grace if we could visit that place more often.
Ever since enjoying the weekend at my brother’s farm in Pennsylvania, I can’t get this little poem out of my head. I learned it somewhere, sometime in my youth, and for some reason, have never forgotten it.
In youth because I could not be a singer, I did not even try to write a song. I planted no small trees along the roadside because I knew their growth would take too long. But now, with wisdom that the years have taught me, I’ve found that it may be a blessed thing, to plant a tree for someone else to water; to write a song for someone else to sing.
This all comes to mind because my brother has spent the last few years planting small nut trees along the perimeter of his property. He guided us along a walk that included a little history and the names he has given to each tree. No tree was more than three or four feet high and each one was many years (sometimes 8 to 10) away from seeing the fullness of fruit production.
So, why put so much effort into something he may never see to fruition, or may see come to life only partially? Because it may be a blessed thing. Someone else, in some future time will be there to enjoy what he has labored to plant and make beautiful on this already lovely property. Someone else will be there to water it and enjoy it, even if we are not. Everything we do cannot be just for ourselves alone. In fact, most things we do will have some lasting affect – for good or for bad – on future generations.
Take inspiration from my brother and start something good you may not see to completion. It may be a graced and blessed thing!
Yesterday, amid my normal quiet retreat I received three phone calls! That is the mother load of phone calls for me in one day. Each call brought a grace and a lovely connection with friends and family that I didn’t know I needed.
At noon I received a surprise call from a long-time friend whom I had known when our babies were being born. Our kids grew up together and we have stayed in touch all this time despite the fact that they moved to Portland in the early ’90’s. She had so many wonderful things to tell me, not the least of which was news of her first grand-baby! What a joy it was to talk with her, to reconnect, and to share her excitement.
Not long after I received a call from my dear friend who had grown up in this area, but whom I met while in Seattle. She and I went to school together while working on our doctorates and we have enjoyed a deep and rewarding relationship. It was such a joy to receive her call and to be able to talk and laugh about the little and inconsequential things of life! She also keeps me up to date on other mutual friends in the Seattle area and I always feel renewed and cherished after spending time on the phone with her.
As I was preparing for dinner a third call came through. It was our oldest son who just wanted to talk! What a joy to know that our children still want to be connected to us and don’t mind calling to talk and tell of their lives and their concerns. He is always reaching out to his wandering parents and it is with a deep love that I appreciate his calls and his efforts to stay connected.
Interspersed throughout the day were also three calls from my husband, hard at work at his office. I look forward to these calls with great joy because they keep us connected with a feeling of closeness through the ups and downs of the day.
Each call was a joy; each call a grace. And each call allowed me to see how God showers me with so much love and concern through my friends and family!
Each time we answer that ring tone, know that there is grace not far behind! Or, make your cell phone an instrument of grace and give someone you know a call.
I can’t help it, but I can’t stop thinking about our weekend in Pennsylvania. This morning on my walk to the grocery store I kept thinking about being out in the mountains in Pennsylvania and how in the 1800’s if you didn’t have the onion, potato, beef, bread – or whatever – you simply didn’t have it. The people who settled our country had to work for their food; had to work to make whatever they needed; had to work to clothe and feed themselves. It was another time.
In many cases, we have forgotten so much of our pioneer roots. Just the simple work of canning a pot of tomatoes over the weekend brought all this back to me. My sister-in-law had never canned before and didn’t have all the particular implements to do the job . . . so, she took a trip to the neighbor’s and borrowed what we needed. As I walk the urban streets to the grocery, I realize that in many ways we have forgotten what it means to be a neighbor. We have forgotten how to rely on the land and how to interact with each other – how to borrow and lend, or how to share our wisdom and our bounty.
There is something to be learned from remembering and honoring the work and hardships our ancestors had to endure to make a place where we could live without such difficulties. They offered us grace. Perhaps we need to remember more often and offer grace to others in our own age in the form of buying seasonally and locally. Perhaps we need to think about supporting family farms, doing the work of our own canning and preserving, and appreciating what our local produce has to offer us during this harvest season. Doing so might be an exercise in grace.
Last week we received an invitation from one of my brothers. He lives in Maryland, and although we have been in the area a year, schedules and commitments and the chaos of daily life prevented us from connecting. He called last week and invited us for the weekend to his farm in Western Pennsylvania. How could we refuse?
In order to maximize the experience and catch a few sights along the way, my husband took off Friday afternoon and we packed the car for Pennsylvania. We arrived along the Allegheny ridge as the sun was beginning to set and without knowing it, I actually captured a picture of his farm house (the brick one to the left of the silos) without being aware that we had almost arrived at our destination! It was such a beautiful scene, I had to stop and take a picture!
Some years ago my brother and his wife purchased 16 acres with an old farm house built in the 1840’s. It was known as the Burns Manor House and is a four story brick, 12 room house with additional full basement and attic, and came complete with its own colorful history. Needless to say, after visiting so many historical houses and walking through rooms filled with stories I could only imagine, it was a thrill to be able to stay in one with my brother and sister-in-law.
We visited and toured some of the surrounding countryside; canned tomatoes and antiqued; told stories and shared meals. It was pure grace to share memories and reconnect with my brother and we were profoundly grateful for the invitation to do so.
One of my lasting memories of the weekend will be waking up in the southeast bedroom with the autumn sun pouring in through the window sheers. I could actually feel the warmth of grace in the country morning air.
The weather was breathtakingly beautiful and over the course of the weekend, as impossible as it sounds, we could practically see the trees around his farm changing color as the hours passed!
Never pass up an opportunity to accept an invitation. It could be grace! And, don’t forget to extend an invitation . . . it could be grace for someone else.
This is an anniversary for me. On this date in 1997 I stood in the pulpit for the first time and preached the Word of God. I will never forget it! It all happened by accident and no one planned for the circumstances that allowed this unusual occurrence to take place.
The pastor was away on retreat. A substitute was arranged. The substitute called me with less than 20 hours notice that he could not make it . . . and a faithful community expected to celebrate the next day at 5:30. I made several calls trying to get another replacement. There were none to be had. I began to pray! And, I realized, with some shock, that if there was going to be any gathering of the faithful, I was going to be leading it!!!
I look back on this incident now as nothing but grace. Then, however, I was filled with terror and uncertainty, doubt and not just a little anger! But sometimes grace comes to us in unusual packages and we have to take the time to respond and unpack it with care – sometimes over a lifetime. Such was my first experience with preaching.
And, I remember the date so well because today celebrates the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross. And, don’t we all have crosses that we are asked to bear? Or, crosses that are thrust upon us? Or, crosses that we willingly take up to help relieve another’s burdens? As disciples, crosses are a part of life and we will never be without them. Jesus said “Take up your cross and follow me.” And, that’s what we are all trying to do. The cross is essential to the journey – and on this day we celebrate that.
What crosses do you carry? And, what experiences have challenged you to see the grace in the difficult and uncertain times? Let them unfold – there is more grace to be found.