Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: An Imperfect-Made-Perfect Grace

{Many apologies for the late posting. Let's just say I could have flown to Bangladesh yesterday in the amount of time it took me to get back home from the Relevant conference! Also, I should mention: this post is not based on a Bible reading or sermon, as I spent 12 hours in three airports yesterday. Jeepers!}

Up until about a year ago we didn’t pray together as a family before meals. I still remember the time we invited Pastor Sara over for dinner, and I realized in a panic that I needed to institute an eleventh-hour Grace 101.

You can probably guess what happened the night of the dinner. As we all bowed our heads to pray, Noah blurted, “Oh! We’re praying! Mommy always forgets to do that!”

Commence awkward moment when the pastor realizes our grace is a farce.

For the last year or so we have prayed each night before dinner. Actually, let me rephrase that. I haven’t actually succeeded in getting the kids to pray before they put food into their mouths. They usually manage to scarf down a French fry or a slice of red pepper or yeah, let’s be honest here, sometimes half their meal, before I remind them that we haven’t yet prayed. Still working on that part.

It’s not perfect, this grace. At least once a week a child slides off his chair and lands in a pile of twisted limbs on the floor {Seriously, what is it about boys and sitting?}. And very regularly they have the giggles, or a kid snorts or knocks his silverware to the floor with a clatter.

But just when I think, “Really? Is it really doing anything, this grace? Am I really teaching my kids anything at all?", Rowan volunteers to pray. And this is what he said last week as we bowed our heads over our plates:

“Dear God, thank you for pumpkins with faces. Because I really like pumpkins with faces. And thank you for the Wii. And thank you for this food that Daddy made tonight. And please take good care of our friends in Africa and Pedro, too, in…where’s Pedro live again, oh yeah, Bolivia, Pedro in Bolivia. And….yeah, I think that’s it. Amen.”

And I say Amen, too -- to an imperfect-made-perfect grace.


"So keep my words in your hearts and minds. Write them down and tie them on your hands as a reminder. Also tie them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home. Talk about them when you walk along the road. Speak about them when you go to bed. And speak about them when you get up." (Deuteronomy 11:18-19)
Linking with Jen...


And Ann's Walk with Him Wednesday:

 
 


Welcome to the "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" community! If you're here for the first time, click here for details and instructions on how to link up.

Or you can simply copy the code for the "Hear It, Use It" button in the sidebar to the right, and paste it into your own post. [Please include the button or a link in your post, so your readers know where to find the community if they want to join in! Thank you!].

I love hearing what you have to reveal each week about how God is speaking to you through his word, and I am so very grateful for your participation here!

Don't forget to come back Thursday for the Hear It, Use It Round-Up.



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Sweet Autumn Acorns


I'm departing from the typical theme here today because I'm at the Relevant conference in Pennsylvania (and hopefully meeting some of you online friends in person!). I saw this quick and easy recipe at Six in the Suburbs (I found the link at Ann Voskamp's Weekend links -- she finds such great stuff!), and it was simply too fun not to try. Plus I'm hoping that with enough time in the kitchen, my kids will grow up to be phenomenal cooks, just like their dad!

Rowan and I whipped together these cute acorns last week when the boys had a day off from school. They'd make the perfect autumn or Halloween party snack (just make sure no one has a peanut allergy if you plan to bring them to school).




Here's the recipe (if you can even call it that!):

1. Melt 1/2 bag mini chocolate chips in a bowl.

2. Dip flat end of Hershey Kiss into melted chocolate and top with a bite-sized half of Nutter Butter.

3. Dip flat end of mini-chip into melted chocolate and stick onto other side of Nutter Butter.

4. Pop into mouth! (Rowan will gladly demonstrate how it's done)

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God in the Yard {week five}: Openings


You may wonder what became of my sitting program, the contemplative study based on L.L. Barkat’s  God in the Yard that I began earlier this summer. I finished it, actually. I sat in my backyard nearly every day for almost six weeks.

In some ways it's not finished at all, though. I might say it could, or will, go on forever. I am still sitting as much as I can, even though it’s less often now that it’s grown darker and colder. I am not a dark-sitter. Nor am I a cold-sitter. Perhaps that's a deeper study for another year.

I didn’t write about the study much, but I am still making my way through the book. On warm days I take God in the Yard outside, pull my metal motel chair, the one I spray-painted Granny Smith green, into a sunny patch on the lawn and read another chapter. Sometimes I jot notes in the margins. Sometimes I simply stare at the ground or the sky and think to the steady hum of my industrious neighbor’s lawnmower. Sometimes, like today, I run into the house and grab my laptop off the desk.

The grass is dying. Crumpled brown leaves, limp from the morning’s lingering frost, lay mixed with stiff pine needles and withered daylily stalks. A few crinkled leaves hang from the river birch branches like abandoned cicada husks.

I want it to look pretty, but it doesn’t. I want it to look resplendent, shimmering and golden in a last burst of autumnal glory. But apparently I have missed that phase. Instead it just looks worn and messy and a little bit like death.

On second thought, I decide, it really doesn’t look like death at all. I see now that the air is alive with movement. 

Tiny bugs float like dust particles in a band of sunlight.

Six sparrows startle from the yellowing lilac shrub when I cough.

A chickadee perches on the birdbath, dips her delicate beak and finds only dried scum left over from summer water. She flies to the bare-branched locust tree, its leaves always the first to drop. They are already ground to dust along the street gutter.

A ladybug hovers, then lands on the arm of my sweater. I like the way her ruddy wings look against the celery-green cashmere, like Christmas.

I think that’s what I love most about this sitting. It squashes my expectations and opens new possibilities. I venture out to sit in late October, expecting to find death in season’s end, and instead see life still buzzing on as always. I bet if I ventured into black night or the aching cold of January I’d find the same. I just might dare do that once or twice.

I think this is what Barkat means when she quotes Gertrud Nelson near the beginning of Chapter Five:

“…our remaining ‘open to the Spirit’ means allowing for the spontaneous and unexpected to enter. We…leave openings.”

That’s what this sitting is – an opening, an invitation to the unexpected. I don’t do that often, you know – invite the unexpected. I’m not spontaneous. I like control. But this sitting has been gentle to me, a quiet joy seeping into an opened soul.

If you'd like to read other posts about my off-and-on God in the Yard sitting study, click here.

And a reminder: there won't be a Hear It, Use It Round-Up here tomorrow, but do come back Friday for a fun little post and a yummy, easy recipe.

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The Hole in Our Gospel: Hunger is Not a Luxury



I’ve never tried a fast as a spiritual discipline. I think part of me is afraid I’ll fail. As a “grazer,” I can’t imagine not eating every couple of hours or so.

Nonetheless, what strikes me about the spiritual discipline of fasting is that we in America have the luxury to try it if we so wish. We can choose to go without food in order to strengthen our faith or deepen our relationship with God.

But for 854 million people across the globe, “fasting” isn’t a choice at all but a brutal daily existence. For these people who cannot choose whether to eat or not, “fasting” is simply starvation – and it’s not a luxury, or a spiritual discipline, but a matter of life and death.

If I were to fast, I suspect I’d feel pretty good about myself. I suspect I’d consider my one-day fast a significant sacrifice. I might even pat myself on the back when my fast was done and thank God for the opportunity to grow closer to him. What I might not realize, though, is that my self-imposed hunger is barely a glimpse of what millions of people endure every day, week after week, month after month.

How terribly ironic: what I might choose to impose temporarily on myself is an unavoidable fact for so many.

Lord, help me broaden my approach to the spiritual discipline of fasting. Help me focus my gaze away from my own sacrifice and toward the millions who suffer from hunger, not by their own choice but because of unavoidable circumstances. Help me understand that for many, hunger is not a luxury.

Have you ever fasted? What was the experience like for you?

::

This post is part of the ongoing series on The Hole in Our Gospelby Richard Stearns. Six other writers and I are writing a post a day for six weeks as part of my church's small group study. Want to read other reflections? Click here. I post my reflections here on Tuesdays.

Would you kindly consider "liking" my Writer Facebook page by clicking here? Thank you, thank you for helping me build this platform brick by brick! [or should I say click by click?]

Or if you would prefer, you can get a dollop of "Graceful" in your email in-box every day (or however many days a week I post) or via the reader of your choice, by clicking here. Easy-peasy!

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Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: See and Act


I interviewed another donor last week for an article I am writing for my job. I sat poised on MarySue’s couch in her elegant, formal living with the late-afternoon sun streaming through the sheers as she talked about her late husband, her love of music, her career as a piano teacher and her family history, which has allowed her to support a number of local and national charities. She recently made a very generous gift to Nebraska public television, which is why I was interviewing her for our magazine.

Toward the end of our conversation MarySue also mentioned Mozart, a young boy she mentored several years ago at one of Lincoln’s less privileged elementary schools. Mozart came from a troubled family, and he didn’t have many positive role models in his life. “When I found out his name was Mozart and that he wanted to play the piano, I just knew it was a connection that was meant to happen,” said MarySue.

Mozart is grown now and married. He works for Campus Crusade for Christ (I suspect MarySue, a devout Christian Scientist, had a hand in that as well). He and MarySue are still in touch. And although MarySue didn’t take credit for it, I know she had a profound and positive influence on his life.

One piano teacher. One boy in need of attention. One life changed forever.

I was reminded of MarySue and Mozart this morning. As I listened to the reading and to Pastor Sara preach on the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), I realized this: the Samaritan doesn’t help a nation of sufferers. He doesn’t travel thousands of miles to offer his services. He doesn’t strategize a long-term service project. He simply reacts swiftly and thoughtfully to the one person right in front of him who needs help.

One traveler. One man in need of attention. One life changed forever.

I think sometimes I overanalyze and overthink the message of the Gospels. I make it much more complicated than it needs to be. In reality, though, it’s not complicated. In fact, all those hundreds of parables and lessons and commandments contained in those translucent, onion-skin Bible pages boil down to this: Love God and love your neighbor, which is exactly what Jesus tells the lawyer.

“But who is my neighbor?” the lawyer presses Jesus for details. “How do I know which neighbor to love?” is what I think he's really asking Jesus.

“The person right in front of you, the one you might be inclined to walk right past -- that’s your neighbor,” Jesus answers through the parable of the Good Samaritan.

The reality is that you don’t have to look long, and you don’t have to look far. But you do have to open your eyes and look. And when you see a person, any person, in need, Jesus says, you must act. You must show compassion.

That’s exactly what MarySue did with Mozart. She saw a child in need right in front of her. She saw a suffering neighbor – and she acted, immediately, thoughtfully and with compassion.

Be the Good Samaritan. Be the MarySue. “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37).

This week: Together, you and me: Let's look and really see. Let's act and show compassion to one neighbor. Sure it’s only one. It may not seem like much. But it may, in fact, be more than enough.  

Sharing with Jen:




Welcome to the "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" community! If you're here for the first time, click here for details and instructions on how to link up.

Or you can simply copy the code for the "Hear It, Use It" button in the sidebar to the right, and paste it into your own post. [Please include the button or a link in your post, so your readers know where to find the community if they want to join in! Thank you!].

I love hearing what you have to reveal each week about how God is speaking to you through his word, and I am so very grateful for your participation here!

NOTE: This week I will not be posting a Hear It, Use It Round-Up on Thursday {I will be out of town at the Relevant conference, hopefully getting to meet some of you in person!}



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Own Your Art


Once or twice a year we’d head to The Plaster Fun House on Shaker Road, select an albino figurine from the metal shelves, pick a palette and settle in to paint at a long, newspaper-covered table. One time I chose a stately Indian chief, painted a regal scarlet and emerald headdress, a mustard robe and tawny moccasins over the white plaster and then watched warily as the lady behind the counter slid the proud warrior into the kiln. He still stands in the cellar window well in my parents’ home, presiding over my dad’s workbench.
Aside from those rare outings to The Plaster Fun House, we mostly did household projects together, my parents, my sister and I.
We stained the floor of the screened porch and hammered nails into sweet-smelling two-by-fours on the back deck...
...I'm grateful to be continuing this story over with Emily at Imperfect Prose today. Will you join me over there to read my story about embracing art?

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The Hear It, Use It Weekly Round-Up


It was a banner week for the Hear It, Use It community -- 52 posts...I think that's a record! Thank you all so much for sharing your lives, your passions and the power of God's word here in this community.

You know, I'd been writing "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" posts on my own for more than a year when my friend Kim suggested I make it a link-up community. I balked at first. Honestly, I don't like to try new things, and everything from the technological hurdles to the fear of no one showing up to participate gave me pause.

In the end, though, I decided I wanted to share the rich benefits I had experienced from writing about the sermon or Sunday's Scripture reading -- I loved how writing about it made me think more deeply about God's word and helped me live it more authentically during the week. I can clearly see from your posts that it's happening for you, too, and that is the best gift of all!

: :

Post picks for this week:

"How to Find Extraordinary in the Everday" at Redemption's Beauty -- Shelly writes so eloquently about a topic so close to my heart. And this, from a Rwandan archbishop: "the holy revealed in the sacrament of presence" -- simply stopped me in my tracks. Stop by Shelly's place and stay a while -- her words and pictures are stunning.

"Soul Food" at Life in a Glass House -- Gaby's questions -- "How does a soul starving manifest itself?" and "Can you tell when your soul is starving?" grabbed my attention, but it's her answer -- "I can tell because when I look in the mirror I see me transforming back to the person I used to be before grace picked me up and set me down the right road" -- that kept me thinking long after I finished reading her post. 

"Working on Perfection" at Diane W. Bailey -- Now here's a topic I could write a book about! I love how Diane honestly digs into Scripture and herself as she journeys from one conclusion -- "It's okay to be a perfectionist!" -- to an altogether different one.

"Which Jesus" at Flickers of a Faithful Firefly -- Karin isn't afraid to delve into Jesus' more complicated side: the Jesus we see in the temple scene, as he overturns tables and throws out the moneychangers. I especially appreciate this question she asks: "Can we love all aspects of Who He Is?"

"The Right to Be Silent" at Edward's Granddaughter -- I am a talker, big-time -- I've even been known to interrupt my boss; I just bowl right over him from time to time. Not a great quality. In light of that, I appreciate Eileen's walk through several verses that preach specifically about the virtues of quiet, silence and holding one's tongue. Lots for me to learn here!

Stop by and share a word of encouragement or thanks with these writers, if you haven't already. And come back tomorrow for a post about art and why it's so gosh-darn hard for me to get into it!


Would you kindly consider "liking" my Writer Facebook page by clicking here? Thank you, thank you for helping me build this platform brick by brick! [or should I say click by click?]

Or if you would prefer, you can get a dollop of "Graceful" in your email in-box five days a week or so, or via the reader of your choice, by clicking here. Easy-peasy!





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Telling the Truth


So I had a difficult chat with my agent last week. Not bad – she was encouraging and supportive and generally optimistic – just difficult. We talked about the market for spiritual memoirs, and let’s just say it’s not great. In fact, it's bordering on abyssmal.

“I don’t get that,” I told Rachelle. “It seems like there are tons of memoirs out there right now. Memoirs are popular. So what’s the problem?” The problem, she explained, is that for every memoir published and on the market, there are hundreds and hundreds being pitched to editors and publishing houses – there is simply a deluge of memoirs.

Apparently everyone has a story.

Combine that fact with this problem: my memoir doesn’t exactly have a “knock ‘em down” hook. “Describe your book to me in a sentence or two,” Rachelle said. “What’s the hook?”

“Well…it’s about a girl who’s estranged from God, a girl who perhaps never knew or believed in God to begin with, and her journey from that desolate place, through wrestling and questioning, eventually into a real relationship with and faith in God.”

See what I mean? No hook.

The trouble is, my book isn’t dramatic. Frankly, my story isn’t dramatic. I haven’t suffered abuse or illness or a major life-altering event. I haven’t traveled the world or served in the Peace Corps or founded a mission in Africa or a homeless shelter in downtown Chicago. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful that I haven’t suffered. I don’t think I would make a good sufferer, actually; I’m too wimpy. But it’s not like I can say, “My book is about how I found God while I was held hostage for six years in a Turkish prison." That would be a hook.

On the other hand, what a two-sentence hook about my book can’t describe is this: that it’s a universal story. Sure the words on the pages are mine, and they describe my personal faith journey, but the truths embedded in those stories – truths about joy, pain, fear, doubt, hope – are woven into your life, too. These are the truths that connect us. These are the truths that comprise the fabric of life, your life and mine.

A good story can do that.

A good story can inspire you to think, “Hey, yeah, I get that. I’ve been there. I am there. That’s me!”

A good story can bond you to someone you’ve never met and introduce you to your own unique place in this world.

A good story can make you think about your own faith, ask questions you might not have otherwise, discover truths you didn’t even know existed.

Last week I tried to convey all this to Rachelle, but since I’m a writer and most definitely not a speaker, I’m not sure I succeeded. In fact, I’m quite sure I bumbled and stuttered and perspired rivers while I paced around the living room with the phone pressed to my sweaty ear.

And then, once I was off the phone, I promptly announced to Brad that I was going to quit this whole writing business.

“That’s it. It’s hopeless. I’m done,” I told him (I do tend toward the melodramatic, you know). “It’s useless. I’m pathetic. I don’t have a story. I can’t hook a reader. I can’t even describe my own book. Thank God I didn’t quit my day job.” (I also enjoy a good pity party from time to time).

Then Brad hugged me and talked me off the ledge (how many times do you think he’s done that already?), and we laughed a little when he mentioned that I can’t quit now because really, I’m right in the middle of this thing. Which is true. Brad is really good about pointing out details like that.

And besides, as I told my sister later on the phone, “I can’t imagine quitting for real. This whole writing thing is completely woven into who I am now. What am I gonna to do? Go back to watching HGTV and organizing my spice rack?”

“Actually that works pretty well for me,” she said. And then we laughed about it together, because that’s what sisters do.

So tell me: What do you think? Can a hookless book sell? And have you ever read a book that helped you understand something about yourself, even though it wasn’t exactly about you? [An example, I feel that way about Martha Beck’s Expecting Adam. While I don’t have a child with Down Syndrome, there was so much in that memoir that I could relate to on a very personal level].

Sharing at Emily's place today...


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The Hole in Our Gospel: Cross Walkers


My friend Deidra once mentioned to me that when she arrives at her office each morning, she takes a moment to walk around the cubicles, placing her hands on each of her coworkers’ chairs as she prays for each of them. Deidra takes a “cross walk” each morning to pray peace and love onto her coworkers before they arrive to begin their workday.

I admit, I’m not apt to pray for my coworkers. But Deidra’s “cross walk” got me thinking. I do pray for people – I keep a list of names in a notebook, and I pray for these individuals each morning after my Bible study. While some are people you’d expect to find on a prayer list: loved ones and friends – people I love and know well who are ill, grieving or suffering – others on my prayer list are people I’ve never actually met in person, bloggers I’ve gotten to know online or friends of friends who I know are suffering. I don’t know them, but I pray for them every day.

This comforts me, because I know that others do the same for me. I’m guessing that every day, someone I don’t expect is praying for me. I may not be aware of it, but they are praying just the same.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)

Who are these strangers and acquaintances who pray for us? Who are these “cross walkers,” walking with us as we navigate the peaks and valleys of life? They are God in each of us – His rod, His staff, His love, His Spirit, embodied in each of us so that we may shine His light onto others.

Dear God, help me discern who in my life – friend, loved one, acquaintance, stranger – needs me to “cross walk” with them through the valley. Shine Your light through me so that I may offer Your comfort, love and peace.

Question for you: Tell me about a time a "cross walker" made a difference in your life.

::

This post is part of the ongoing series on The Hole in Our Gospel. Six other writers and I are writing a post a day for six weeks as part of my church's small group study. Want to read other reflections? Click here. I post my reflections here on Tuesdays.


Would you kindly consider "liking" my Writer Facebook page by clicking here? Thank you, thank you for helping me build this platform brick by brick! [or should I say click by click?]

Or if you would prefer, you can get a dollop of "Graceful" in your email in-box every day (or however many days a week I post) or via the reader of your choice, by clicking here. Easy-peasy!


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Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: The Cheerful Givers


On Saturday our family participated in a serving activity with our church, and lest you be misled by false visions of exuberant children eager to further God's kingdom on Earth, let me set the record straight: there was significant resistance, followed by significant lecturing.

On Friday evening we mentioned to the kids that we’d be attending a worship service in the morning, followed by a few hours of cleaning at the local soup kitchen as part of Southwood Serves, our church's annual community service day.

You’d have thought we’d signed them up for six weeks of forced labor.

“What? Seriously? Church on Saturday? And cleaning?” Rowan wailed. “Oh come on…I hate cleaning. It’s so boring. Saturdays are supposed to be about fun stuff. Not church and cleaning!”

Commence the lecturing portion of the conversation, in which I unsuccessfully tried to convince Rowan that while serving others is important, it can also be enjoyable and that it's simply a matter of attitude. (I also may or may not have used the word ingrate.)

“Yeah well, I’m only doing this because you make me,” Rowan assured me.

So much for a cheerful giver.

On Sunday when we read the parable of the three servants (Matthew 15:14-30), I thought about the exchange I’d had with Rowan on Friday night and the results of our serving experience on Saturday morning.

On Saturday morning eight of us from our small group worked together, wiping stained woodwork and walls, Windexing dirt-streaked windows, bleaching tables and chairs, sweeping floors, repairing doors and iron gates and dusting heating grates and ceiling fans. As I worked, I watched a young girl named Chloe take Rowan under her wing and gently guide him through a whole morning of chores.

“Come on!” Chloe said to Rowan as they climbed the creaking wooden stairs to the dining room, rags and cleaning fluid in hand. “I know how to make a game of this!”

Together they sprayed baseboards with Pledge and wiped them clean. Together they washed table after table and chair after chair. Together they unloaded the bookcase, cleaned its shelves, Windexed its glass doors and then placed the books back one by one again. The two of them worked for more than two hours without stopping.



While I had tried to convince Rowan to serve because “it’s the right thing to do,” and “because it’s what Jesus wants us to do,” Chloe used a far better approach. Just like the two servants in the parable who multiplied the resources they were given for their master, Chloe used her God-given resources – her creativity and enthusiasm – to reap even more resources for God. Sure, she served the people of Lincoln who eat at the soup kitchen each day, but she also accomplished nothing short of a miracle: she made a cheerful giver out of Rowan.



I doubt Rowan even noticed how much he personally benefitted from his service on Saturday morning (although he did admit later that the experience “wasn’t as bad” as he’d thought it would be). But I noticed. Because of one girl’s generosity, Rowan reaped abundant blessings.

And so did I.
"To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance." (Matthew 25:29).

Sharing with Jen and her Soli Deo Gloria community:



 

And with Laura for Playdates with God:






Welcome to the "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" community! If you're here for the first time, click here for details and instructions on how to link up.

Or you can simply copy the code for the "Hear It, Use It" button in the sidebar to the right, and paste it into your own post. [Please include the button or a link in your post, so your readers know where to find the community if they want to join in! Thank you!].

Be sure to come back on Thursday for the Hear It, Use It Round-Up, where I highlight a handful of posts each week and encourage you to visit, soak up the lessons and leave a postive comment.

I love hearing what you have to reveal each week about how God is speaking to you through his word, and I am so very grateful for your participation here!

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The Mosquito


“Mom, do you like mosquitoes?” he asks from the backseat.

“No, of course I don’t like mosquitoes,” I answer. “Who in the world actually likes mosquitoes?”

“Well, you should,” Noah says. “Mosquitoes are important, you know.”

“Mosquitoes are annoying pests,” I tell him. “They bite, they cause itchiness and ugly, red bumps, they spread disease. I think it would be just fine if they disappeared altogether.”

Turns out, Noah has a much broader view of mosquitoes. Birds and bats eat mosquitoes, he explains matter-of-factly. And if mosquitoes disappeared, small birds and bats might be forced to eat other bugs, like bees, which would in turn diminish those bugs for the larger birds and animals that rely on them, as well as the abundance of flowers and plants which rely on the bees for pollination. Fewer flowers and plants would diminish the food supply for other animals, like deer, and fewer animals like deer would diminish the food supply for larger predators like grizzly bears.

My head spins. Really? All this chaos from the loss of the lowly mosquito?

“So you see,” explains Noah, “if the mosquitoes disappeared, it could eventually affect even an animal like a bear. Even a small change like that could change the whole world.”

“So it seems like God might have an important purpose for even an annoying mosquito?” I ask Noah.

“Exactly,” he answers.

Has someone taught you how to see the world a little differently lately?

Would you kindly consider "liking" my Writer Facebook page by clicking here? Thank you, thank you for helping me build this platform brick by brick! [or should I say click by click?]

Or if you would prefer, you can get a dollop of "Graceful" in your email in-box every day (or however many days a week I post) or via the reader of your choice, by clicking here. Easy-peasy!

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The Hear It, Use It Weekly Round-Up


Hi friends. Just back from an invigorating run (actually jog -- there's a difference, you know!), and I'm happily and sweatily sitting in my writing chair, ready to share some great posts with you this week. As always, thank you for participating in the Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday community -- both you linkers and readers. You are all a treasure!

And this week's picks...

"What's Wrong" at From Here to There -- Karrie offered me a fresh outlook on the parable of the paralytic man in Mark 2 when she writes this, "I need to carry someone to Jesus so that I can be forgiven, so that my faith can be restored." Sometimes when we think we are bringing someone else to God we end up seeing the miracle ourselves.

"On Sneaking away to Mass" at Amy Sullivan -- As a former Catholic, I could really relate to Amy's story of sneaking off to Mass and allowing herself to be immersed in the familiar rituals and prayers. When I attend Mass back home with my parents, I relish the comfort that familiarity brings.

"Day 10: Prayer and Providence" at Jumping Tandem -- Deidra and her husband downsized recently from 2,800 square feet to an 1,100 square foot home. She's writing "31 Days to Smaller Living" this month, and you must check out this series. In this post she writes about when God invites us to join him in dreaming - beautiful!

"About the Stuff" at Sandra Heska King -- Well most of you know that I grapple with the issue of "stuff" from time to time. And reading The Hole in Our Gospel again has got me going down that road all over again. I appreciate Sandy's willingness to ask the hard questions in this post. She got me thinking, "What stuff am I putting between myself and God lately?"

"Why We Go to Church" at A Work in Progress -- Courtney writes about an old, unfamiliar Presbyterian hymn and how it captures exactly why she loves her church. I can sure relate -- I feel completely unmoored when I miss church -- being there in community each Sunday grounds me (I'd like to say it grounds me for the whole week, but that would be an overstatement. Sometimes I'm grateful for a grounded day...or hour!).

That's it for now...come back tomorrow for a post about why we should be grateful for mosquitoes...seriously!

Would you kindly consider "liking" my Writer Facebook page by clicking here? Thank you, thank you for helping me build this platform brick by brick! [or should I say click by click?]

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"There is Beauty in Every Place"



I interviewed a local entrepreneur and philanthropist for more than an hour on the phone last week for a magazine article I am writing for work. By the end of our conversation, I had six pages of scrawled notes on the desk in front of me. This is a man who has accomplished a lot in his 80-plus years.

Paul worked construction until he had an epiphany one day about how he wanted to spend his life. Soon after he hitchhiked from his small, rural town to the university, where he earned a scholarship, attended science classes by day and worked an eight-shift at the cement factory by night -- and two eight-hour shifts every Saturday.

After serving in the military, Paul launched a fertilizer business, forging ahead when his five partners dropped out one by one. Over the years his business expanded into a well-known enterprise and eventually earned him a small fortune, a large portion of which he and his wife have donated to organizations in their small Nebraska town. Their names are emblazoned on the side of a brand-new building at the community college, a testament to their generosity.

By the end of our conversation, though, it wasn’t the business enterprise or the fortune or even his philanthropy that stood out in Paul’s long list of accomplishments. Instead, it was the comments he made in passing, in between our discussions of his major milestones.

“If you just get wrapped up in yourself, it’s a pretty small package,” said Paul. “I don’t know that there’s anything you can do that’s going to influence everybody, but maybe you just influence one person at a time and in little ways that aren’t noticed by anybody else.”

Paul doesn’t just believe this philosophy. He lives it.

This is a man who stops by the local veterans' home every day to chat for an hour or so with the retired servicemen there, something he’s been doing since 1989, simply because he drove by there every day and realized his visits "made a difference in their lives.”

This is a man who picks a bouquet of wildflowers from fields and along roadside ditches near his home every week for his wife, something he’s done for nearly their entire marriage, 66 years this month. [He even sent me two images from his Blackberry of a sunflower and prairie grass bouquet he’d picked the day we spoke]

“Eleanor loves flowers and I love giving them to her,” said Paul. “I am absolutely intrigued by the beauty, delicacy and intricacy of wildflowers. You would not believe the diversity, even as early as March. People need to understand that there is beauty in every place.”

This is a man who appreciates everyday beauty.

This is a man who lives gratitude.

Paul didn’t mention God or faith or religion to me during the hour that we spoke on the phone. I only know that faith is important to him because of an earlier article I'd read in preparation for my interview. But I didn’t need to hear him say it to believe it. It’s clear that Paul lives out his faith every day, in quiet conversations, in wildflower bouquets and in glimpses of beauty in every place. 

Do you have any habits like Paul's where you do one small thing for someone every day or every week?

Ann asks us this week how we practice faith in the everyday. I think Paul is a living role model for all of us. 


And may I ask a favor of you? This recent post by Rachelle Gardner offered some benchmark numbers for facebook pages and blog page views. In light of that, I am working toward 500 "Likes" on my facebook Writer page...so would you consider "Liking" me? You can do so by clicking here or by clicking on the facebook badge in the sidebar. Thank you for helping me along on this writing journey!

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The Hole in Our Gospel: It's My Problem, Too


I admit, there have been times when I’ve blamed poor people for being poor. Part of me has secretly believed that if someone is poor, they must have done something – or not done something – to get there. Maybe they didn’t try hard enough to find work. Perhaps they are simply unmotivated. Maybe they aren’t smart enough or aren’t using their intelligence well. Whatever the reason, I tell myself that the poor are at least partially to blame for their own dire circumstances.

What I often forget, and what Richard Stearns points out, is that poverty actually results from a lack of real choices. While I am often able to see a direct correlation between how hard I work and the results that hard work produces, most of the world’s population reap no such reward for their labor.

“Think about your own life,” Stearns suggests. “How successful would you or your family have been if you had lived in a place where there was no clean water and one-quarter of all children died before their fifth birthday?”

Honestly, I hadn’t really thought about the big picture of poverty before. It’s been easier for me to blame the individual, because when I look at the big picture, I am confronted by this fact:

I play a big role in the existence of global poverty.

When God says this in Isaiah 10:1-2, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,” he’s talking directly to me. My narrow-mindedness toward the poor is a form of oppression. In making generalized assumptions about the poor, I am, in fact, withholding justice from them.

And God won’t let me get away with that; he holds me accountable. He tells me that I, too, am responsible for global poverty, because I allow it to exist.

God, please open my eyes and my mind to my role in global poverty. Help me understand that it’s not simply “someone else’s problem.” Give me the tools and the courage to make it my problem, too, and the will to do something about it.

Question for you: Have you ever blamed an individual for his or her circumstances?

::

This post is part of the ongoing series on The Hole in Our Gospel. Six other writers and I are writing a post a day for six weeks as part of my church's small group study. Want to read other reflections? Click here. I post my reflections here on Tuesdays.



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Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: The Fair-Weather Gift-Lister


{Just getting back from Massachusetts after a surprise birthday party for my mom and dad, so today I’m posting thoughts from some recent Bible reading, rather than from an actual sermon, since I was in the airport instead of in front of an altar yesterday!}

Counting through the 700s on my way toward 1,000 gifts, a la Ann Voskamp, and on good days, on days when the sun slants golden on dewy grass and the kids clear their cereal bowls and wash the toothpaste gobs down the drain and don’t screech like baboons before 7 a.m., the gifts pour one after the other from pencil to paper.

On days when work projects flow smoothly and the team gets along and deadlines are met, and on days when dinner sits steaming on the table at 5:30 sharp and we don’t forget about soccer practice until four minutes before it starts, the gifts flow easily like sparkling water in a mountain stream.

On those days I’m really good at recording the gifts.

But I am a fair-weather gift-lister. Because on some days, no gifts are listed at all.

The days when the youngest tries on six pairs of pants in dim morning light and rejects each one, tossing them rumpled onto his bedroom floor, howling with indignation that none of them, absolutely none of them feel good. Days when the oldest sits slumped in the wing chair pouting about choir practice and refusing to eat breakfast. Days when the printer calls and there’s a typo on the magazine cover but they’ve already run 20,000 copies. Days when I’ve got my head buried in the recycling dumpster outdoors in search of the missing field trip permission slip.

On those days -- the ugly, chaotic, crabby, frenetic days -- I forget to count gifts. Or worse, I assume there are none. I don’t look.

The journal sits on the kitchen counter untouched, save a sprinkle of bagel crumbs scattered across its pages. The pencil has rolled onto the floor, where it’s wedged under the cabinet amongst the spilled lentils from last night’s dinner.

I believe Ann Voskamp when she states in One Thousand Gifts that God creates good out of bad. I believe this is true. But the reality, at least for me, is that this belief is much easier to live out in theory, on the pages that slide through my fingers, on the pages between the front and back covers of her book.

The reality is that I fail, more often than I would like to admit, to count blessings when they don’t come easily.

I’m not the first one to make this mistake. The Israelites did the same thing during their wilderness wandering. So focused were they on what they lacked, on their suffering and pain, they neglected to notice that God sustained them with food and water and shelter all along. They were blind to the miracles in their midst.

“They, our forefathers, became arrogant and stiff-necked and did not obey your commands. They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them.” (Nehemiah 9:16)

How easily I forget about God’s miracles when I am faced with difficulty. How often I forget to listen. How quick I am to close my eyes to the gifts that are presented just for me, even in the midst of chaos.

"The secret to joy is to keep seeking God where we doubt He is,”  writes Ann.

It's difficult, this hard eucharisteo.

“We don’t have to change what we see,” Ann says to her angry, discouraged son. “Only the way we see it.”

So I keep practicing, day in and day out. And I pray to God to help me seek and find him where I doubt he exists and to change not what, but the way I see.  

I suspect I may be counting to 1,000 and beyond.

Still counting...

700. Sunflowers on the table
701. Sweet scent of cut grass
702. Rowan waving from the top of the school stairs
703. Bee with pollen legs
704. Bike rider bellowing, "Hello!"
705. Tylenol
706. Single pine needle glistening in morning sun
708. The man who picks a bouquet of flowers for his wife every week
709. Blue sky glimpsed through skylight
710. 72 degrees


Welcome to the "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" community! If you're here for the first time, click here for details and instructions on how to link up.

Or you can simply copy the code for the "Hear It, Use It" button in the sidebar to the right, and paste it into your own post. [Please include the button or a link in your post, so your readers know where to find the community if they want to join in!].

Be sure to come back on Thursday for the Hear It, Use It Round-Up, where I highlight a handful of posts each week and encourage you to visit, soak up the lessons and leave a postive comment.

I love hearing what you have to reveal each week about how God is speaking to you through his word, and I am so very grateful for your participation here!









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So I Bought Boots Instead of a Camera

I’ve been saving money bit by bit to buy a new camera. You know, a fancy camera – a DSLR – because I love to take pictures. In fact, I spend a lot of time taking pictures, mostly in my own backyard and neighborhood. Taking pictures helps me slow down and focus on God’s intricate handiwork. Peering through the viewfinder, I spot beauty I would ordinarily brush by in a flurry of haste and multi-tasking.

So why then did I take the money I’d saved for a camera, money given to me by my parents and sister this past July for my birthday plus some I'd saved on my own, and spend it on a pair of boots? [super cute boots, but boots, not a camera, nonetheless]

It wasn’t a rash decision, believe me. Over the last month or so I realized that I can’t pursue my love of photography and my dream of becoming a published writer. And I can’t do both (or at least do both well), because both require a lot of time and dedication.

The truth is, to do both means that one will suffer. And I know myself well: I know I would snap pictures to procrastinate writing.

This isn’t to say I won’t ever take another photograph. I’ll continue to take photos in my backyard with my perfectly good point-and-shoot camera. But I won’t spend hours and hours reviewing a complicated manual and learning every facet of a sophisticated DSLR camera. And I won’t diminish writing time by pursuing photography.

Sometimes pursuing a passion requires tough decisions. I’ve made more than one lately. In addition to the camera decision, I also resigned from a freelance writing job. Over the last year I wrote devotionals for Tandem, which is a part of Back to the Bible, an organization based here in Lincoln. I loved working with my editor there, and my writing improved through the process of learning to write short pieces (350 words for this wordy girl is a challenge!). Plus I got paid – and believe me when I say I don’t get paid for many writing gigs. In fact, the money I saved from writing for Tandem paid for my conference fee and airline ticket to attend the Relevant conference at the end of this month.

But the hard truth is that writing anonymous devotionals on deadline twice a month took time away from my primary goals: building readership for this blog (and hopefully someday an audience for my book) and finding the time to begin a second book. And so after much contemplation and angst, I emailed my editor to say that I needed to step down.

I’ll be honest: part of me resents the fact that I have to make these decisions. Part of me resents that I have a day job that takes time away from my passion. I bemoan the fact that I can't build a blog, write a book and earn money in the process, too.

But for now I tell myself that it’s all okay. I tell myself that there will be time for other pursuits later. For today, and maybe tomorrow, I am keeping my eyes focused firmly on my passion.

Have you ever had to put something on the chopping block to make room for pursuing a passion in your life?

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The Hear It, Use It Weekly Round-Up


Finally -- a Hear It, Use It Weekly Round-Up on its regularly scheduled day! I love being out and about and guest posting at new places, but sometimes it's nice to stay home and in once place for a while, too. So thanks for hopping and skipping after me these last couple of weeks -- I'm going to stick around my own backyard for a bit now!

And the Round-Up picks for this week:

"Am I Totally Blind" at In Him We Live and Move and Have Our Being -- Sue tells the story of waking up in utter pitch blackness and wondering for a moment if she has actually gone blind. This is a story of growing trust, and as a chronic worrier, I take comfort in Sue's progress.

"Me a Princess" at HeARTworks -- Have you seen Patsy's God-inspired art? I love visiting her each week to soak up her creativity and to see how she has artfully interpreted God's word. This week her writing and art are based on the book of Jonah, one of my personal favorites (maybe because I can relate to stubborn Jonah so darn much!).

"The Pop Quiz" at Godspotting with Sheila -- Oh boy I can relate to this post about struggling with humility. Sheila talks about the public nature of blog-writing, and her conclusions about who she gives credit to made me squirm...I suspect because they hit a little too close to home!

"Hunger for Heaven" at If Meadows Speak -- I think we've all slogged through spiritually dry periods, and this post by Tammy so beautifully captures the feeling of recovering from that difficult period and emerging out the other side. I felt like shouting, "Hurrah!!" by the end of this post!

"Sometimes You Gotta Knock" at Heartprints for God -- Stacy's post reminds me of a revelation I had recently: that I can't expect to hear God's answer if I don't even bother to ask. I  love this especially: "We try this and we try that. Then, we try this and that again. Over and over. One idea, one notion, one strategy after another. But, knock? Nope. We seldom think to do that. And yet, this is exactly what Jesus invites us to do. Could it be any simpler than that?!"  

"In Which Twiz Find Herself Martha" at Twixt Downs and Sea -- So much raw honesty and truth here. Twiz gets at the heart of our fear, and then presents this miraculous solution: that Jesus sees our needs...without our even asking.  

...And come back tomorrow to find out why I bought a pair of boots instead of a new camera!


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Thundering Jet, Wafting Butterfly



{A few of you may have caught a glimpse of this piece when I posted it early by accident last week. I apologize for that...here is the real deal!}

I stand knee-deep in prairie grass, face tilted toward sky.

I stand, watching for the spectacle, waiting for the awe. And I hold my breath as airplanes summersault and spin, plummet and twirl, exhaling cotton plumes across vibrant blue. I hold my breath as sleek jets scream, plunging toward the horizon, streaking heavenward to graze the sun. They are just six tiny dots next to a white-hot blaze before they dive toward Earth, a waterfall of white ribbons.

We clap and cheer and the kids jump exuberant in scratchy stalks. And then, necks craned, eyes on sky, we wait to be dazzled once more.

Thousands of us have turned out for this display of aeronautical acrobatics. Thousands of us dot the hilltops overlooking the runway today. We’ve set up our camp chairs and blankets, distributed sandwiches and juice boxes, and we wait.

The routine feels all too familiar to me.

It seems I spend a lot of time waiting for the great spectacle. I wait for God to demonstrate his grandness, to astound me with something big, something miraculous. Sometimes I expect God to perform, like he’s a magician or superhero.

And when it doesn’t happen, at least according to my expectations, I am disappointed. I feel let down by God.

The thing I am beginning to realize, though, is that in waiting for God to arrive in a grandiose spectacle, I miss him today, this minute, in the here and now.

I keep my eyes on the sky, looking for the big miracle, the splashy performance, and I miss the ordinary majestic unfolding all around me.

I search for the thunder and lightning, the pillar of fire on the horizon, and I miss the bush flaming right at my own feet.











 “We may ignore, but we can’t evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.”   C.S. Lewis

Are you waiting for the someday-miracle, only to miss the wooing in the here and now?

...Thinking about what gives me hope and how I practice faith in the everyday with Ann and her Walk with Him Wednesday series:

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All material and photographs copyrighted Michelle DeRusha 2012

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