Monday, October 6, 2014

Grace in the Nooks and Crannies


"But just as you excel in everything --
in faith, in speech, in knowledge,
in complete earnestness and in your love for us --
see that you also excel in this grace of giving."
2 Corinthians 8:7

One English muffin was remaining in the package. 

Two kids.  One English muffin. 

Joshua was in the basement family room completely unaware that there weren't enough muffins to go around should everyone want an English muffin for breakfast that morning.  Gabrielle came to me and said, "Mom, there is only one English muffin left and I really, really want it for breakfast.  But Joshua might want it, too.  And I have had more than my share already from this package.  I am going to ask Joshua if he would like to have it."

Feeling hopeful that she might get to have the last English muffin, but really wanting to do the honorable thing, Gabrielle went to Joshua and asked, "Joshua, do you want this last English muffin for your breakfast today?  There is only one left, and I wanted to see if you would like to have it."

Enthusiastically concentrating on his PlayStation Madden Football game more than realizing the love and honesty demonstrated to him by this invitation from his sister, he said, "Sure, I'll have it! Thanks!"  Gabrielle turned and made her way back up the stairs from the basement family room to the kitchen.  Seeing the disappointment on her face, I saw her put the package back on the kitchen counter.  

First Day of School 2014

As I sat in the dining room finishing my devotion time, I felt a twinge of sadness for my sweet girl who wanted that last English muffin.  Making a mental note to pick up more muffins the next time I was the store, I wondered what Gabrielle might choose for breakfast instead of the English muffin. Yogurt and fruit? Toast? Oatmeal? Cereal? 

Then I smelled the comforting aroma of something being toasted in the toaster.  Walking into the kitchen with curiosity, I asked Gabrielle what she was toasting.

"I am toasting the English muffin for Joshua, and I am going to serve it to him.  I am putting butter and grape jelly on it.  I know he likes it that way."

Wow.  

Not only did Gabrielle maturely handle the disappointment of not having the last English muffin, she prepared the English muffin for her brother just the way he likes it. She sincerely wanted him to have it and be blessed by a toasted English muffin.

Something she wanted for herself, Gabrielle lovingly prepared for her brother.

Wow.  Double wow.    


Excellence in the grace of giving.

"Josh-uuu-aaaa", she called to him from the kitchen, "Your English muffin is ready!"

Joshua bolted up the stairs.  As Gabrielle handed him his plate, he said, "Wow, thanks, Brie!"

Wanting to be sure he appreciated the significance of her sacrifice and love, I said, "Joshua, do you realize there was only one English muffin left and, even though Gabrielle was really hoping to have it for breakfast, she prepared it for you because you wanted to have it, too?"

"Really?  Thanks, Gabrielle.  Do you want half?  We can split it!"

"It's alright", Gabrielle responded.  "I really want you to enjoy the whole thing."

Grace and love in the nooks and crannies.

Our children teach me more about God's love than anyone else. 

I have thought about that English muffin a lot since that morning a few weeks ago.  The humility, the surrender, the love, the giving, the grace, the selflessness, the bittersweet sacrifice, the sincerity, the honesty, the sweetness, the kindness. And I want to capture, remember and be changed by these beautiful moments. (Lord knows so many moments are not like that!)

I want to show grace and love in the nooks and crannies of life.  In the small places where little blessings go a long way.  In the hard places where grace is spread out in the bittersweet sacrifice of surrendering and is perhaps only seen by God.  In the sweet places where God's grace toward me allows me to prepare a blessing for another who needs grace. 

So I am looking for those nooks and crannies where His love and grace are spread are like butter and grape jelly on a freshly toasted English muffin. Nooks and crannies that serve up an opportunity to bless another person with His refreshing and satisfying grace. Grace that soaks our hearts with His generous love.

Grace upon grace...for each nook and cranny of my heart and yours.


 Gabrielle in her cousin Stephanie's wedding ~ August 11, 2012



"And God is able to make all grace abound to you,
so that in all things at all times,
having all that you need,
you will abound in every good work."
2 Corinthians 9:8

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition
or vain conceit,
but in humility
consider others better than yourselves."
Philippians 2:3

[originally published 9/3/12]

Sunday, August 31, 2014

He Got Pearls For My Mom

"The righteous will still bear fruit in old age,
they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, 
'The Lord is upright; He is my rock...'"
Psalm 92:14-15

Me, Mom (80) and Jim - June 2013


My husband arrived home late a few Friday nights ago after having been across the globe in India on business for two weeks. Weary from lengthy travel but excited to share his stories with us about his first trip to India, Jim dropped his heaver-than-when-he-left suitcases on the living room floor. We gathered around him, wanting to be close and quite eager to listen to his tales of adventure in an interesting country with beautiful people of a different culture. 

But before telling us his stories, he zipped open his bags with a wide smile and began pulling out gifts for me and the kids. I had insisted when he left that he just bring something home for our children. His safe and healthy arrival home would truly be gift enough for me. But enthusiasm and love got the better of his heart, and he brought us each a few carefully-chosen gifts. We were delighted.

When Jim was done showering us with treasures from India, he showed me two felt-covered jewelry boxes. "I got pearl necklaces for each of our moms. I thought they would really like them."

He got pearls. For my mom.

You see, my mom is now in her 80s, is courageously facing age-related illnesses everyday and has lived in the skilled nursing unit of a retirement care facility since September 2013. Though she is content there and faces each new day with anchored hope and bright smiles, my sweet mom doesn't leave the facility unless she is being transported by an ambulance to a doctor's appointment or to the hospital. She doesn't get dressed up any more, rather she wears comfortable clothing that facilitates easy transfers from bed to toilet to wheelchair. My mom can't attend fancy social celebrations, and her calendar only offers her the daily geriatric activities her new home provides. She has nowhere special to go for dinner...she eats in the same dining room every evening, at the same table, looking out the same window. 

And my husband got her pearls.

He got her pearls.

Oh how this touches my heart so deeply.

It matters not to Jim that my mom is an aging octogenarian or that she has no place fancy to wear the pretty pearl necklace.

He values my mom. He got her pearls.

He doesn't see age or illness. He sees the beauty of a mature woman who has abode in the Lord for decades and whose zest for life is unceasing.

He values my mom. He got her pearls.

He doesn't care that she has nowhere fancy to go. He cared enough to know her still-sparkly blue eyes would light up even more when she received the carefully-strung fresh-water pearls.

He values my mom. He got her pearls.

Jim's intrinsic love for my mom reflects the heart of God. The Pearl of Great Price loves precious people of every age who are seeking Him.

God knows the value of the aged.

"They still bear fruit in old age..."
Psalm 92:14

God knows the value of a life that has persevered in the faith.

"Gray hair is a crown of glory;
it is attained in a righteous life."
Proverbs 16:3

God values the wisdom and understanding that reside in the hearts of the aged.

"Wisdom is with the aged,
and understanding in length of days."
Job 12:12

God knows the value of old age and cares perfectly for the aged.

"Even to your old age and gray hairs,
I am He, I am He who will sustain you.
I have made you, and I will carry you;
I will sustain you, and I will rescue you."
Isaiah 46:4


Jim bought my mom pearls. 

So she will put those pretty pearls on her beautifully-weathered neck. And she will wear them to Sunday chapel, to Monday bingo, to Tuesday hair salon appointment, to Wednesday wheelchair exercise class, to Thursday crossword puzzles, to Friday hymn histories and to Saturday sing-a-long. And she will wear them to dinner every evening in the same dining room, at the same table, looking out the same window. 

And she will remember she is valued. By Jim. By her family. By God.


"...until I proclaim Your might 
to another generation..."
Psalm 71:18


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Heart More Beautiful

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” 
Psalm 51:17 (NIV)



The condition of my heart matched the weather conditions outside as I drove my children home from school through the steady rain and dreary clouds. Bringing my children to and from school each day was precious, sacred time to me as we enjoyed captured moments together to talk, listen, sing and pray. This day, however, my heart ached with fresh wounds. I silently cried out to the Lord while Joshua and Gabrielle munched on a snack and conversed contently between themselves.

Years ago God had taught me a valuable lesson: if someone says something critical to me in a harsh spirit, and not in love, still take that to Him and ask Him if there is any truth in what was said.  “Is there something offensive in my heart You want to change, Lord?”, I wondered after receiving harsh words from an unexpected place. My heart lay bare and broken before the Lord. 

As we pulled into the garage, my sweet then-five-year-old daughter, Gabrielle, asked if she could put her rain boots on and go jump in the puddles. As my heart admired her enthusiasm, we worked together to dress her in her rainy weather finery. She gave me an extra tight squeeze declaring her appreciation. 

I went about my regular after-school-unloading-and-reorganizing tasks as my silent conversation with God continued. “Lord, the pain from this person's words seems unreasonable and unnecessary, and the criticism seems unfounded in truth. I am sorry for any way I have caused an offense. Show me any way I have not honored You. You know I want to serve You and show Your mighty works for Your glory. Please let me see Your faithfulness and purpose in this pain.”

A few minutes later, Gabrielle was in the kitchen excitedly handing me a paper heart she had stopped to make and surprise me with before going outside to jump in puddles. Gabrielle’s caring ways and artistic gifts are always a delight. On this rainy day, this hand-made gift served an even greater purpose.

As her precious hand lifted the paper heart up to mine, I noticed the heart had scissor cuts all through it, and I thought privately to myself that it didn’t look very pretty that way. Graciously taking the heart from her and kissing her head in thanks, I met my eyes with hers and she said, “Mommy, I made this heart for you. I put cuts in the heart because I thought the heart would be more beautiful that way.” 

Immediately, tears rolled down my face. I felt the Lord quiet my heart with His love and say to me, “Sharon, I am making your heart more beautiful through the wounds I am allowing you to experience. Be still, be quiet and wait on Me. You will have a heart more beautiful.”

Noticing my tears of amazement, Gabrielle asked why I started to cry, and I told her that, through the paper heart she had made me, God reminded me how much He loves me and how faithful He is, especially when our hearts are broken before Him.

My child’s delight in the promise of fresh rain and the beauty of a broken heart had ministered His love to me.

Dear Lord, through  Your grace let my heart abide in You always. Keep my heart teachable and humble before You. Give me the willingness to trust You through the pain, knowing that  You are doing a beautiful work in my heart. Hold fast to me, My refuge and strength. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 “But on this one will I look:
On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit,
And who trembles at My word."
Isaiah 66:2

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there Is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Psalm 139:23-24

“I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.”  
Isaiah 57:15


Friday, June 6, 2014

Delicate Cycle or A Heavy-Duty Wash?


"Wash away all my iniquity 
and cleanse me from my sin."
Psalm 51:2

I often wash our children's sneakers and footwear on the gentle cycle of our washing machine. It cleans and freshens up the shoes, and they look like new. We don't have to replace their shoes as often."Shoe Stewardship" as we call it.

After a day at the park (after a full day of rain the day before) with Gabrielle's class for an end-of-the-school-year picnic, our flip flops and sandals were filthy. The mud and wet playground mulch had seeped deep into the porous material of our footwear. When we got home, I put our footwear in the washing machine on the delicate cycle with some other delicate items. 

When the delicate load of laundry was complete, I opened up the washer to hang the clothes and to put the shoes out in the sun for drying. As I pulled out our footwear, I was surprised that much of the dirt was still there. The delicate cycle was not strong enough to do the deep cleaning they needed. I put the shoes back in the washer (in a laundry bag) with a heavy-duty load, which included high agitation, high spin and an extra rinse. After the heavy-duty load was complete, our footwear came out clean!

I felt God whisper to my heart as I stood in the laundry room finishing up the day's laundry. "Sometimes, Sharon, I need to run the heavy duty cycle on your heart to get out the yuck that has seeped in." Sometimes we go through "heavy-duty cycles with high agitation, high spin and an extra rinse" of our hearts. The heavy-duty agitation we experience and the high spin and extra rinse are just what our hearts need sometimes
. It is not comfortable; it is downright painful at times. But when the heavy-duty cycle is what works best, God uses it and faithfully does a necessary work in our hearts. 

Who knew the laundry room could become a sanctuary? God met me personally in our laundry room that day. The powerful wash and extra rinse by the Living Water through the water of His Word was just what I needed. While I'd often prefer to keep my heart on the delicate cycle for cleansing, I fully realize that any significant growth in my walk with the Lord would not occur without the deep cleaning my heart needs at times. And as only our amazing God can do, He is gentle with us even during the heavy-duty cycles of life. After all, He rules over the surging seas.  


[originally posted June 2009]

"O, LORD God Almighty, who is like You? 
You are mighty, O LORD, 
and Your faithfulness surrounds you. 
You rule over the surging sea; 
when its waves mount up, You still them."
Psalm 89:8-9

"I am gentle and humble in heart, 
and you will find rest for your souls."
Matthew 11:29

"He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; 
He will purify them and refine them like gold and silver."
Malachi 3:3

"And after the fire came a gentle whisper." 
1 Kings 19:12 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Hope Peeks Out To See Love

Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue
but with actions and in truth.
1 John 3:18


His fragile frame and stumbling steps caught our eyes and grabbed our hearts.  Slowing traipsing across his front yard near the busy street, each stepped seemed laborious and purposeful.  Using a walker as support, his eyes were fixed on his goal:  the Sunday newspapers that were tossed and left at the edge of his property.  With no sidewalk in front of his home and a foreshortened shoulder on the side of the road, he seemed dangerously close to the street as he stooped down and reached for the newspapers. 

This precious elderly man's imbalanced cadence impelled our hearts synchronously. "Let's stop and bring up his newspapers for him whenever we can."




Our little family of four has passed this house thousands of times and never took notice.  But that Sunday morning on our way to church, our hearts were moved.  Moved by an aged man determined to reach his goal.  Moved by a neglected home that reflected endurance. 

Withered and seemingly unkempt, the house and the man seemed content together.

Several worn American flags hang in windows across the front of his house, causing us to wonder if he is a war veteran.  Through cracked glass, dangling shudders and faded paint, you feel the man's sense of pride in his homeland.

Though broken and neglected, we see strength in this house.  We imagine the same strength in the precious man.  The determination to weather the storms of life.  The character to fight through trials.  The endurance to reach goals.  The pride to hang a banner of identity even through blurred windows.

We see hope peeking out from behind the withered exterior.

So, as hope looks for love, we stop and quietly bring his papers up to his porch a few times a week, hoping that we are unnoticed and praying he feels loved. The children write him notes sometimes and we put them in bags and hang them on his door knob.  Praying for him every morning as we pass, and having only seen him that one Sunday morning, we excitedly hope to get another glimpse of him.

He is a stranger to us, but known completely and loved perfectly by Jesus.  And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ ~ Matthew 25:40

An elderly man.  A tired home.  God's compassion beckons us to love in action and in truth.  Our daily drive to school and church took on a new measure of meaning.

Though we have never met, this man moved our hearts in the most beautiful of ways.  His house is building love in our hearts.  Our broken, hopeful, needful hearts.

So, as hope peeks out through dimmed windows and neglected walls, Love waits.  Love comes.  Love came.
Christ Jesus came into the world to save us...
1 Timothy 1:15

By wisdom a house is built,
and through understanding it is established; 
through knowledge its rooms are filled
with rare and beautiful treasures.
Proverbs 24:3-4

And so we know and rely
on the love God has for us.
God is love.
Whoever lives in love lives in God,
and God in him.
1 John 4:16

{originally posted February 2012}