Give Yourself Permission to Hunker Down {day twenty-nine}

I got the idea for this 29 Days of Quiet series back in mid-December, just after my father-in-law was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. It started as a survival mechanism. I simply had to shut down, to be quiet, to survive.
I felt guilty about it at first. Friends would call or email, graciously offering to come by with dinner or with suggestions for activities we could do together with the kids. But I couldn’t bring myself to say yes. The pre-Christmas frenzy, with its garish lights and perky music and glittering decorations made me angry and sad. All that joy was too much. I simply wanted to hunker down.
And so that’s exactly what I did. I let myself off the hook entirely, politely said “no” to many of the offers that came my way, and spent most evenings sitting on the couch, in the dark, with only the Christmas lights lit and candles flickering on the coffee table.
What I need to tell you is this: sometimes it’s okay to hunker down. Sometimes it’s okay to say no thank you, I can’t right now. Sometimes it’s okay, even imperative, to opt out…even in the midst of Christmas, even during a time when we are supposed to be joyful. Sometimes God tells us when it’s time to stop and rest, and it’s our job to listen and heed.
I was reminded of this last week when I read the February 16 devotion from Jesus Calling:
Thank me for the conditions that are requiring you to be still. Do not spoil these quiet hours by wishing them away, waiting impatiently to be active again. Limitations can be liberating when your strongest desire is living close to me.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I’m glad that my father-in-law’s illness allowed this opportunity for quiet. And I certainly did wish those quiet hours away, praying that my father-in-law would miraculously be healed. Yet I also acknowledge that there was a gift hidden deep under all the extraneous that I stripped from my life – the gift of quietly sitting with Him.
Thank you for accompanying me on this much-needed journey into quiet. I really do hope you found some benefit in it as well.
Click here to read all the posts in the series.

And linking with Ann Voskamp today, in her Lenten series on fasting...because saying no to activity and yes to quiet has been a journey in fasting for me.


Nothing {day twenty-eight}

Early Saturday morning, the day after Jon’s memorial service, I snuggled into the couch with my cup of coffee and Jesus Calling and read this:
"Rest in My presence, allowing Me to take charge of this day. Do not bolt into the day like a racehorse suddenly released. Instead walk purposefully with Me, letting Me direct your course one step at a time."
Huh. What exactly would that look like, I wondered – to let God direct the entire course of the day, one step at a time? I realized I’d probably never done that before. I’d never relinquished an entire day to God.
So I did. I let God take my entire day. I sat back and said, “It’s yours. Do as you wish.” And you know what he had me do?
Absolutely nothing.
I contemplated hopping on the treadmill for a couple of miles or heading out for a brisk walk around the lake in the crisp Minnesota air. But God said no.
God definitely said no when I considered a quick jaunt over to Anthropologie to rummage through the sale rack.
He even said no when I thought about helping Brad sort random items in his dad’s bedroom closet, dividing a lifetime of accumulated stuff into the “keep,” “Goodwill” and “trash” piles on the floor.
Later, as I ruminated guiltily over the fact that the kids were zoned out in front of the television, God said no when I considered taking them for a hike in the woods. 
No matter what activity I considered, God insisted that I stay put. So that’s exactly what I did.
Sprawled on Jon and Janice’s bed, I pulled a fleece blanket over my shoulder and gazed out the French doors onto the snowy, wooded hill in the backyard. I watched Brad sort and debated with him over which treasures to keep and which to let go (he’s a keeper; I’m a tosser).  I read a bit of Jeremiah and took a long nap.
On Saturday I let God take my day. He gave me absolutely nothing to do, which, as it turned out, was exactly right.
Do you ever listen when God tells you to do nothing?


Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: Through the Wilderness

I’ve spent some time in the wilderness lately, wandering aimlessly as I wonder why God isn’t paving the road more smoothly. And I’ve had more than one Israelite moment as I’ve complained to God, “Why are you doing this? Why are you letting us suffer so much? Why is this taking so long?”

I’m realizing, though, that like the Israelites, I’m so distracted by my suffering and doubts that I can’t see the bigger picture.

Take Jesus’ baptism, for instance. After John baptizes him in the Jordan River and the Spirit descends like a dove, the Bible says this:

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1)

I get the fact that Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness fending off the devil’s lure. But until recently, I hadn’t considered one important detail in that verse: that he was led into the wilderness
by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus was led by God toward suffering and temptation, toward a period of loneliness and vulnerability.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus just moments after his baptism. Likewise, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that soon after that, the Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness. The timing is not a fluke. God went to be with his son while he endured suffering and temptation, and God comes to be with me, too, as I endure the trials of life.

I’m not suggesting that God causes suffering to teach me a lesson. But I do believe that God leads me by the hand through life’s obstacles, always with me, never forsaking me.

God didn’t abandon Jesus in the desert. And he doesn’t abandon me. The Holy Spirit may lead me into the wilderness, but he will also lead me out the other side.

{A repost from the archives as we make our way back from Minnesota this weekend}

Welcome to the "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" community, a place where we share what we are hearing from God and his Word. 
If you're here for the first time, click here for more information. And if you are a new participant, would you leave me a comment or send me an email to tell me it's your first time here, so I can be sure to stop by and say hello at your place?
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Thank you -- I am so grateful to have you here!


Sunday Meditation {day twenty-six}

For he knows how we are made; he remembers that we are dust. As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place is no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children's children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.
Psalm 103:14-18


Unraveling Yarn {day twenty-five}

My bedroom is conveniently located two steps from the bathroom, which allows me the luxury of snatching a few minutes of rest in the evening while Rowan sloshes in the tub. I flop onto the bed, pull up Nana’s crocheted afghan, close my eyes and listen to my son humming as he soaps. I could be tidying the boys’ rooms or stuffing clean laundry into drawers, and some nights I do exactly that. But most nights I try to sneak in a bit of quiet.
The blanket is unraveling. One long piece of light blue yarn trails off the edge of the bed. "Daddy needs to fix that," Rowan reminds me often when we read Harry Potter beneath the afghan (and now you know the truth about who wields the needle and thread in our house). 

The afghan used to have a tag in one corner, hand-stitched, that read, “Made especially for Michelle by Nana,” but it’s long-since torn off and lost. Still, all the elements of comfort remain – the scratchy yarn under my chin, the gaudy rainbow blocks, the memory of Nana, a love that never unravels.
As the water pours into the tub and the ceiling fan rattles away the humidity and a little boy hums, I lie on my bed across the hall, Nana’s afghan stretched the length of me. And I rest. 


Out of the Wind {day twenty-four}

We took a trip to the Como Conservatory in St. Paul when we were in Minnesota over the Christmas holiday. It was the last real outing we enjoyed with my father-in-law, although we didn’t know it as such at the time. I remember that as the boys dashed ahead into the tropical lush, giddy to be out of Minnesota’s biting wind, Jon walked a few steps behind us, breathing in the damp, warm air, hands in his jacket pockets as he gazed at the enormous fronds swaying  above our heads.
We rested a bit on a concrete bench near a trickling foundation. The boys emptied my wallet, tossing pennies into the water and wishing for Mario Bros. Wii games. I wished for much more as I flung my penny into the copper basin burnished green. Turns out, wishes don't always come true, and prayers aren't always answered exactly the way we want them to be. And now I wish I’d snapped a couple pictures of Jon that day, but I was too enamored with the foliage and the flowers to aim my camera at the people by my side. We think they'll always be there, right there at our sides.
Still, I feel some comfort scrolling through these images, remembering the afternoon we spent strolling through the greenhouses, surrounded by verdant life, protected from the blustering wind for a while.

We are celebrating Jon's life today with a beautiful memorial service filled with his family, friends and colleagues and giving thanks for the tremendous blessing he was in our lives.


A Quiet Gesture...and a Not-So-Quiet (in) Real Life Invitation! {day twenty-three}

"Who in the world's at the door at this hour?" I wonder aloud when the doorbell rings at 7:30 p.m., because, after all, 7:30 is late for doorbell ringing at our house.
I'm in my pajamas, because it is 7:30 on a Friday night, so I crack the door just an inch or so and peer into the cold darkness. The Hyvee Florist van rumbles in the driveway, and on my doorstep stands the delivery lady, a box bursting pink and green in her hands.
I hold the glass door open wider, and that's when I smell the lush scent of spring wafting up from the cardboard box.

At the kitchen counter I take the card from its tiny envelope and read it aloud to Brad: "Love you, praying with you -- Deidra and Harry." Tears spring to my eyes, and I bury my nose deep into delicate petals spread open wide.
All week long the house breathes the essence of spring. When I push open the front door and stumble into the foyer, arms laden with backpacks and lunch bags, a grocery sack and the mail, the heady scent of hyacinth hits me, and my heart beats with hope.

: :

(in) Real Life...Nebraska-Style!

Some of you might know that I first met met Deidra online. Even though her house is less than two miles from mine, I came across her blog, Jumping Tandem first, and then, miraculously ran into her in a Lincoln coffee shop one cold winter night two years ago. We recognized each other from our tiny profile pictures on our blogs. I just love, love, love that we have become real-life friends, and am so grateful for the encouragement and support she lavishes on me, not just during this time of grief for my family, but always!

You know what's even more amazing? Deidra's not the only woman I've come to know and love in these two years I've been blogging. It's been the most beautiful and unexpected blessing -- that these online relationships and friendships are real and rich and fulfilling…just like in “real life.”
So…maybe some of you are familiar with the (in) courage community and have heard about the upcoming (in) Real Life meet-ups that are taking place in cities and towns around the nation and the world?

Well I have good news for you – Deidra, our Lincoln super cute blogger friend Erin (who is 39 weeks pregnant and still super cute!)  from Home with the Boys and I are hosting a real live meet-up right here in Lincoln, Nebraska – at my house, I might add! {maybe I should mention this to my husband sometime soon?! Ah, honey...are you reading this?!}
That’s right! And we are inviting YOU to attend. Come hang out with us and eat scones (because you know there will be scones if I’m hosting) on Saturday, April 28, at 11 a.m. here in Lincoln, Nebraska! [click here to see who's signed up for the Lincoln meet-up so far].
To R.S.V.P. to the Lincoln meet-up, please register here or click the button at the bottom of this post. Or, leave me a comment with your email (or send me an email directly: if you need more details or want to come, and I will try to answer any questions you may have. By officially registering, not only will you get the chance to meet Deidra, Erin and me in person (tee hee hee!), and eat the best scones ever (homemade by my husband, who does not know he will be doing this yet!), you'll also get a really cool t-shirt from (in) courage and the opportunity to connect with super cool, fun, wonderful women in our community! {and we'll have some fab door prizes!}

Also, hop over to Deidra’s and Erin’s today, too – all three of us are writing about the Lincoln (in) RL meet-up. This is so fun! Come on, totally know you want to! And stay tuned for more...


Five Minutes {day twenty-two}

I recently left a comment on a blog post by my friend Amy. She wrote about rest and where and how we find it, and I realized as I read her post [and I'm sorry I can't find the exact post to link to!] that although I don’t have large expanses of quality “rest time” in my life, I have learned to snatch snippets of it when I can.
I used to leave my office at the very last second before racing across town to pick up my kids from school. It was always about dashing off one more email, or writing two more lines of ad copy or running the proof back down to the graphics department on my way out the door. Then I’d speed across town and arrive at the school doors breathless and frenzied and sweating in my parka.
Now I leave my office five minutes earlier. Just five minutes. I pull the mini-van to the curb in front of the school, shift into park and then sit with the engine idling and the heat blasting.
I don’t listen to the radio or text or chat on the phone or write a grocery list. I just sit. Sometimes I close my eyes. Occasionally I pray. Mostly I gaze out the window and breathe.
It’s just five minutes. But it’s amazing what a difference those minutes make.
Where do you snatch your five minutes of rest?

And linking with Laura, because rest is a form of playing, too:


Mama Zen, you are the winner of yesterday's drawing for Sarah Young's Jesus Calling children's devotional! I need your mailing address so I can send out the book. Congratulations!!


Medieval Dining...and a {Quiet} Giveaway {day twenty-one}

I don't know about you, but dinner at my house can be a less than savory experience. My boys are now 7 and 10...need I say more? Think cutlery clattering to the floor, inane conversation mostly centering around Mario Bros. with a frequent foray into bodily functions, raucous noise, flailing limbs, and the occasional body tumbling from the chair. I suspect a medieval peasant and perhaps even a caveman would be quite at home at our table.

In an attempt to create a less barbaric, slightly quieter dinner hour, I decided recently to begin reading a daily devotion each night while we ate. In the past, we've done this during both Advent and Lent, and while every night wasn't always perfect, the devotions did occasionally spark a few minutes of calm, meaningful conversation.

I've been reading Sarah Young's devotional Jesus Calling every day since the beginning of January (which I absolutely love), so when I saw a version for kids on Amazon, I snapped it up.

All went well. For two weeks.

And then the mutiny began.

"It says the same exact thing every day," Noah complained. "'I am with you, I am with you. I go before you, I come behind you.' I'm tired of the same message."

Rowan nodded, eager to agree with whatever his older brother said.
Noah had a point. Both the kid's and the adult version of Young's devotional do repeat similar themes, but I, for one, am a slow learner, especially when it comes to all things related to faith. Repetition works for me.

"Well, honey, I think that's because God knows we need to hear the same message repeated over and over," I said to Noah. "We need to be reminded because sometimes we forget that God is with us."

"Well I don't forget," said Noah matter-of-factly, fork poised in the air.

"Me either," echoed Rowan.

It seemed I'd been outvoted, and for once, I decided not to push issue. Medieval dining has resumed at my house once again.

The good news for you in this failed quiet project of mine is that I am giving away my nearly brand-new copy of Sarah Young's Jesus Calling devotional for kids. Don't let my persnickety kids dissuade you -- I love this devotional, and I think it might be the perfect fit...for another family! If you'd like to be considered for the drawing, leave me a comment by midnight tonight. I'll randomly choose one commenter and mail out the book this week.
So what’s the dinner hour like at your house? Any tips for creating a quieter, more civilized mealtime around here?

Want to read other posts in the 29 Days of Quiet series? Click here.


Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: Is a Glimpse Enough?

My first thought when I heard yesterday’s reading (Deuteronomy 34:1-12) was this: Moses got ripped off.
We all know what a tremendous leader Moses was, right? He bravely confronted Pharaoh, leading his people out of plague-ridden Egypt, across the Red Sea and through 40 long years in the wilderness, never once losing faith, always serving as an inspiration and source of strength for his whiney, discouraged people, consistently buoying their spirits and setting them on a straight path.
Yet when he finally gets to the edge of the long-sought promised land, what happens? God leads him to the top of Pisgah Peak and allows Moses just a glimpse of the land. Moses, after all his travails, is not allowed to enter. In fact, he comes all that way to die on the very cusp of the promised land: 
Then the Lord said to Moses, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.” I have allowed you to see it with your own eyes, but you will not enter the land.”  So Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, just as the Lord had said. (Deuteronomy 34:4-5).
Like I said: a major rip-off.
The text doesn’t indicate that Moses was disappointed, but I certainly know how I’d feel if I faithfully led my people all that way, only to miss out on the final reward. It seems like an awful lot of hardship for nothing.
Since the reading on Sunday, though, I’ve been thinking about this. I wonder, are Moses circumstances at the end of his life much different than ours? And is that glimpse of what’s to come after we're gone necessarily a disappointment, a failure, or can we understand it, instead, as a gift?
At the end of our lives God offers each one of us such a gift: a glimpse of all that we have accomplished on our journey, reflected in the lives of those who will go on ahead without us. I’m thinking of my father-in-law as I write this – the joy and satisfaction he had in the last months and weeks of his life as he considered his two devoted, successful sons; his four beautiful, thriving grandchildren and the hundreds of relatives, friends and colleagues that walked alongside him in his lifetime. What an incredible gift to know that these loved ones will continue forward, fortified by his blessings and buoyed by his love and the example of his leadership.
We don't get to continue onward with our loved ones forever, but like Moses, we get a glimpse of the good things to come. I’d say that glimpse of the promised land is a gift. And that glimpse is more than enough indeed.
What about you? How have you interpreted the story of Moses’ death and the fact that he didn’t travel into the promised land in his lifetime?

And since we're talking about gifts...with Ann Voskamp today:

900 Sun-dazzled icicles
901 Reading quietly with Noah and Meme in the evening
902 Rowan's tooth on the pillow
903 Valentine from Wendi
904 Finding my lost wedding ring!
905 WOF finalist
906 Best Valentine's dinner ever
907 Writing a tribute to Jon
908 Cotton candy sunset
909 Cardinal singing to me from the elm tree on the morning Jon died
910 Meme helping out
Welcome to the "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" community, a place where we share what we are hearing from God and his Word. 
If you're here for the first time, click here for more information. And if you are a new participant, would you leave me a comment or send me an email to tell me it's your first time here, so I can be sure to stop by and say hello at your place?
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Thank you -- I am so grateful to have you here!


Sunday Meditation: At Rest {day nineteen}

I love this quiet space...have you visited Deidra's Sunday community yet?


Painting {day eighteen}

I spent the last month or so painting crisp white over dark wood. Nothing fancy – just the trim in the bathroom and the hallway upstairs.
After the boys were in bed and the house was quiet I’d glide the  roller up and down the bathroom door, the sound of paint sticking wet against wood blending with the rhythm of little boys breathing. Bedroom doors cracked, the glare of the work lamp cast a sliver of light like a motionless lighthouse strobe across their wood floors.
When Brad was home for a few days he peeked around the bathroom door, watching as I inched along the baseboard, paintbrush in hand.
“I’m not sure this is the best time for this project,” he observed. It was true. He was gone most of January and early February, sitting hour after hour next to his dad’s bed in the hospice. Yet, there was also something exactly right about painting right then, even after a long day of work and kid-shuttling, dinner dishes and laundry and errands.
“Well,” I answered, straightening to my knees and gesturing to the can of paint, the half-finished baseboard, “all I know is that this I can control. I know exactly how this will turn out.”
And so I painted, late into the quiet night.
Do you have an unusual activity that brings you solace and the opportunity for contemplation?


The Storyteller

Anyone who met my father-in-law, Jon Johnson, even briefly knew almost immediately that he loved to tell a good story. Those of us who knew Jon well probably heard most of his stories – many of us heard his favorites multiple times. After a while we didn’t bother trying to interrupt him to mention that we’d heard a particular one before. We learned: If Jon wanted to tell a story, the story would be told.
No one loved Jon’s stories more than his grandkids, and they never tired of them, not even the repeats. From the time they could talk, Noah and Rowan would plant themselves in Papa’s lap – one boy on the left knee, one boy on the right – lean against his chest and beg for a story, sometimes even two or three times a day. I don’t know how he did it, one fantastical yarn after another, but Papa never declined the opportunity to spin a tale. Snuggled into the wing chair or piled onto the hammock, the boys would listen with rapt attention, oblivious to everything else around them.
Eager for a few minutes of free time, I usually didn’t linger to catch more than a snippet or two, so I can’t tell you exactly what Jon’s stories were about. I do recall a frequent mention of pirates and the occasional mummy, and once or twice we did suggest he go a little easy at bedtime, even if the boys begged for the “scariest one ever.”
The last time the boys and I saw Jon in late December, he was too ill to participate in most of his typical shenanigans: chase games and tickling, couch pillow forts, '50s dance parties and root beer floats. At one point, though, when neither Papa nor the boys could be found, we finally discovered them tucked into the walk-in closet.
 “Shhhh! Go away!” Rowan admonished when I peered into the dark.
“Just wondering what you guys are doing in here,” I said, stepping one foot into the closet.  In the dimness I glimpsed three bodies buried beneath a mound of pillows and blankets near the back.
“We’re fine, Mommy, we’re fine,” Noah said. “Papa’s just telling us a story.”

We’ll sure miss you and your stories, Jon, even the ones we’ve heard before…. especially the ones we’ve heard before. Most of all, we are so very grateful to have been a part of your story.

{29 Days of Quiet will resume tomorrow. Thank you for grace...and prayers. Jon passed away yesterday. We will miss him dearly - he was the light of my kids' lives.}


Grace Changes Everything: A Lenten Gift for You {day sixteen}

Lent offers us a period of quiet during the six-week journey to Easter. The past couple of years I've begun each of the 47 days of Lent with a few minutes of reflection and prayer and a reading from a devotional booklet.

 If you, too, are looking for a quiet, contemplative way to connect with God on a daily basis during this coming Lent, may I offer you Grace Changes Everything?

I collaborated with my church and with Lincoln artist Deb Paden to create this devotional booklet, and I'm so glad to be able to offer it here at Graceful, too, as a small gift in gratitude for you. Will you join me in walking together through Lent this year?

The booklet includes:
  • A short Bible reading, with suggestions for a longer Scripture reading if you have the time.
  • One short devotional for each day of the six weeks of Lent, beginning on Ash Wednesday and concluding on Easter Sunday.
  • A prayer or action item for the day that may help you live out God's word in your everyday.
To Receive the Link for the Free Lenten Devotional:

If you already subscribe to Graceful via e-mail or via RSS feed in a reader (and if you do, thank you!), the link to the Lenten Devotional is included in the footer of each post. Just look at the very bottom of this post, and you should see the link right there (and each day from now until the end of Lent). If you don't see it, email me and I will send it to you (I am not a high-tech queen, so I can't guarantee I've done this correctly!).

If you are not already a subscriber, I invite you to become one! You can sign up to receive posts via email or via an RSS feed to your reader, and in each post, you will see the link to the free Lenten Devotional (down at the bottom, in the footer).

If you wish to subscribe via email, simply type your email address into the box below and hit "Subscribe," and Graceful posts as well as the link to the Lenten Devotional will be delivered directly to your email in-box. It's a beautiful thing!

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Or, if you prefer to receive the free link to the Lenten Devotional via your favorite reader, you can sign up to receive RSS updates via the reader of your choice simply by clicking here: Subscribe to Graceful.

Feel free to share the link to this post with anyone else who might perhaps benefit from a daily Lenten devotional this year (or on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere). The gift is ours to share, and I am just so happy to be able to do that.

Thank you for your readership, your loving comments, emails, prayers and thoughts all year long, and the gift of you! This is just one small way I hope to be able to share my appreciation for you, because you are a gift to me, every day. It's an absolute joy to walk this journey with you.


Jesus Said {day fifteen}

A slight departure from the typical Quiet post today, as I am guest blogging over at Michael Perkins' place. You'll see that Michael has a unique and compelling approach to blogging -- few words, loud and clear message. I discovered his blog a few weeks ago and was completely hooked from the get-go -- I spent the greater part of an evening reading posts and enjoying his non-traditional approach. And then I decided to try my hand at it, too (which was a real technological challenge for me, if you must know!).

Will you join me over at Michael's place for the shortest post this wordy girl has ever written? And while you're there, please do spend some time browsing around. You'll like what you find.


If you haven't done so already, would you kindly consider "liking" my Writer Facebook page by clicking here? Thank you! You can also  receive "Graceful" free in your email in-box or via the reader of your choice, by clicking here.


Morning Has Broken {day fourteen}

My favorite moment of the day is the two seconds it takes every morning to raise each of my two bedroom shades. I stand at the window, blinds cords in one hand, silky sheers held back with the other, and draw the matchstick blinds to the world.

I greet blue dawn as owls call final greetings from the white pines and the rising sun washes brushstrokes on the slate horizon.

Our neighborhood sleeps still. The feeder sways tranquil in the breeze, early birds not yet unwrapped from cozy nests. A hum buzzes from the boulevard, muffled by golf course green draped in bridal tulle white. A morning dove perches plump on the bough.

Morning glory amazes. New dawn births fresh hope. The day begins.

A repost from last January, but fitting for this Quiet series and still my favoite ritual of the day.

Do you have a favorite moment of the day?
We get so preoccupied with ourselves, the words we speak, the plans and projects we conceive, that we become immune to the glory of creation. We barely notice the cloud passing over the moon or the dewdrops clinging to the rose petals. The ice on the pond comes and goes. The wild blackberries ripen and wither. The blackbird nests outside our bedroom window, but we don't se her. We avoid the cold and heat. We refrigerate ourselves in summer and entomb ourselves in winter. We rake up every leaf as fast as it falls. We are so accustomed to buying prepackaged meats and fish and fowl in supermarkets, we never thank and blink about the bounty of God's creation. We grow complacent and lead practical lives. We miss the experience of awe, reverence and wonder. -- Brennan Manning, Ragamuffin Gospel

If you haven't done so already, would you kindly consider "liking" my Writer Facebook page by clicking here? Thank you! You can also  receive "Graceful" free in your email in-box or via the reader of your choice, by clicking here.


Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: Do You Accept Grace?

I stole a necklance whenI I was in the third grade. It glinted from the inside corner of Kim's desk across the aisle – an exotic choker with a black velvet strap an a single, brilliant faux sapphire. While Mrs. Chase bent over Kim's shoulder, I quickly reached over and slid my fingers into the open desk, grabbed the velvet strand and balled it into the front pocket of my corduroys.

According to my Catholic faith, stealing was a mortal sin – the worst kind, made especially egregious because I knew when I stole the necklace that it was wrong. Stealing was a ticket straight to Hell, unless I chose to confess the theft to my priest.

The problem was, I couldn’t bring myself to confess the sin. I tried, believe me.

I’d slip behind the red, velvet curtain of the confessional box and crouch on the plush kneeler, but when the window slid open and the quiet voice of the priest on the other side urged me to begin my confession, I froze. I’d rattle off my standard list of sins – disobeying my parents, antagonizing my sister – but I always swallowed any mention of the big one.

I lived with that sin hanging over my head for years, convinced and terrified that I would burn in Hell, yet even more terrified to confess the sin. After all, I was a good girl – someone who got good grades, delivered newspapers after school, always did her chores and visited Aunt Belle in the nursing home without complaint. I was polite and had polite, good girl friends. I wasn’t the type of girl who stole. That kind of sin, the hellacious mortal sin, didn’t fit into my good girl world. That kind of sin was too bad; it was the kind of sin committed by “other people,” very bad people.

It took me a couple of decades, but I finally got over the guilt of the stolen necklace. Yet I didn’t quite dismiss the notion that some sins are worse than others, and that the people who commit those worse sins are worse off than me. I couldn’t shake the assumption that some people – say those imprisoned for theft or murder or pedophilia – seemed more sinful than me…and less deserving of forgiveness. I had a whole hierarchy of sins worked out, and I figured if I stayed ahead of most of those sinners on the bottom rungs, then hey, I was doing okay, right?

That formula worked perfectly until I read Romans 3:23:

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

It seems God doesn’t have the same hierarchy I do. According to God, all of us sin, and all of us fall short of the glory of God. God doesn’t say that the murderer falls further; he simply lumps all of together as sinners.

This means, of course, that if the murderer repents his sin, he gets the same grace I get. Part of me protests, “No fair! How can the murderer get the same grace as me? Shouldn’t the murderer get at least a little less grace?” But that’s the whole point, of course. It’s not fair, because none of us, no matter how egregious or inconsequential we consider our sins, deserves grace.

God doesn’t choose one repentant sinner over another. In fact, he chooses all of us, time and time again. In the end, the question is whether we choose to accept that grace.

With Jen and Soli Deo Gloria:

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Sunday Meditation {day twelve}

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel says:
"Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved.
In quietness and confidence is your strength."
(Isaiah: 30:15) 

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