Gifts

My friend Sandy taught last week at our church’s women’s Gathering service. We are studying a few of Jesus’s I Am statements this winter term, and though she was teaching on “I am the Light of the World,” she began with some background on all the I Am pronouncements. She pointed out that when Jesus’s audience heard his statements beginning with “I Am,” they knew what he meant: he was identifying himself as God!

So, as WE study the I Am statements, we can understand that they reveal to us great truths about God Himself: Father, Son, and Spirit. Sandy reminded us that Jesus doesn’t finish these “I Am” statements with abstract ideas but rather “link(s) every I AM with a tangible, material thing—something of this world, part of Jesus’ humanity—a light, a grapevine, a shepherd, a door, a gate. Each of these things is Jesus’ way to help us understand and believe this great God who loves us with a great love. Jesus describes the love of God in ways we can understand, so we can believe and love him back!”

Then Sandy shared this beautiful quote from St. Ignatius: “All the things in this world are also created because of God’s love, and they become a context of gifts, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily.”

I loved what she said, and I thought that today I would just share a few pictures of the “God gifts” I’ve noticed and taken pictures of in the last couple weeks. May you notice many God gifts today.

sunset

I love to walk in the woods. I don’t know why this red tanker car has been left on the tracks so long, but I love seeing it against the dark woods–with a brilliant pink sky blazing above and shimmering below in its reflection on the pond ice.

sunset 2

a wider view of the same sunset

it is well

one of my daughters gave me this sign. It sits next to a bird, another gift, this one from a dear friend.

pj the secret agent

They (my children) are all four of them gifts, but I had to take a picture of my youngest dressed up as a Secret Service agent! Those glasses barely stayed on for the picture!

red train tanker in snow

ANOTHER view of that train, but this time in the very early morning light–almost blue!

blurry pond

I have no idea how I blurred this picture so badly, and I almost deleted it, but then I thought it looked like an impressionist painting–so soft. Look close and you can see the red train.

chai, you coming?

According to her, there is no point in stopping and taking pictures. “Come on!”

 

 

 

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A straightforward love

Daughter Em took this picture of Chai.

Daughter Em took this picture of Chai.

Chai dog and I walked in Lincoln Marsh last week. As we meandered slow, with many sniff stops, I saw an older woman and a large dog approaching us. When there was still some distance between us, they turned off onto a side path. I noticed a younger woman, in her early thirties perhaps, ambling along several yards behind the woman with the dog. She and I met as we reached the spot where the path split. Her face lit up with a bright smile when she saw Chai. “Can I pet her?” she asked. She knelt down in her pink patterned pajama pants next to my dog, putting her face close, allowing Chai to give it a gentle lick. “She’s very pretty,” she said.

“Why, thank you,” I answered her.

I noticed the woman with the other dog had stopped and was watching us. I guessed she was the mother of this child-woman who looked up at me with eyes clear of any guile. She chattered a little more before getting to her feet and bouncing like a happy puppy down the path. Her mother and I waved at each other and then continued on our separate ways.

“Oh, Lord, how you must love her!” The words sprang into my mind unbidden, surprising me. She had been so straightforward, so lacking in self-awareness, receiving joy so freely from Chai, from me. A strange longing rose up in me.

What next popped up in my mind surprised me even more than my earlier thought. “I love you as much as I love her.”

Really, Lord? I have such a hard time believing that. I feel so complicated and double-minded, devoted one moment, self-focused the next, every motive mixed.

A couple days after that walk, I attended a women’s retreat led by the very gifted writer and speaker Jen Pollock Michel. At one point in the weekend, she taught on the parable of the prodigal son and asked, “How do you see yourself, as undeserving of grace and goodness or as having earned them?”

Her point was that both come from a “wage mentality,” of thinking we are capable of working for God’s love.

I vacillate between the two attitudes, but most often I think of myself as undeserving. I won’t actually say it, even to myself, but deep down I feel others can be objects of God’s free grace, but I have to earn it and I have fallen so very short (this is such a strange form of pride). He’ll still love me, I think, but I know He’s shaking His head with disappointment, that who/what I am is not what I should be.

This is my second blog post in two weeks on this topic; clearly it is something I need to hear. So, once again, I preach the Gospel to myself. Based on the number of other women at the retreat who shared that they, too, struggle with this, I remind you to preach it to yourself as well.

“God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. … So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.” Romans 5:8 and 11, NLT

We can’t earn it.

We don’t have to try.

He loves us.

The same day as the retreat, Leaf and Twig posted an incredibly applicable photo and poem. Please check out “Look of Love.”

The Exultation of an Easter life

This is PJ (my youngest) exulting in the bubble pool at the Birmingham, AL, zoo last week!

This is PJ (my youngest) exulting in the foam bubble pool at the Birmingham, AL, zoo last week!

“Through Him also we have [our] access (entrance, introduction) by faith into this grace (state of God’s favor) in which we [firmly and safely] stand. And let us rejoice and exult in our hope of experiencing and enjoying the glory of God.” Romans 5:2 AMP (emphasis mine)

Here are some synonyms I found for “rejoicing”: elation, delight, jubilation, exuberance, celebration, revelry, merrymaking, euphoria.

This past Sunday we celebrated the Resurrection of Christ. In my church, we sang, we clapped, we rang bells, we danced. Many joined hands and skipped up and down the aisles. It was wonderful.

And it shouldn’t be a once-a-year event.

Our senior pastor often reminds us that every Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection. Each and every one.

And while we often may arrive at church needing encouragement, needing prayer, needing to weep and confess and be healed…

we ALSO need to rejoice, to engage in elation, delight, jubilation, and exuberance.

It’s a necessity for our souls. It’s a reminder that the troubles and sorrows of this life will not last forever.

This past Sunday, I grinned from ear to ear as I sang “Oh happy day/o happy day/when you washed my sin away” and watched the children—who often lead us into joyous abandon—skip down the aisles, tugging adults along with them. My mouth stretched wider (if possible) as I saw a woman in a motorized wheelchair join their line. She zoomed (carefully, of course) around the corners, small children bouncing behind her. Her joy was infectious.

It was a foretaste of heaven, when we will rejoice in the glory of God.

Except she won’t be in a wheelchair there.

After the service, one of my children whispered to me, “Mom, I wish I’d joined the other kids in skipping through the aisles.”

“Why didn’t you?” I asked.

“I don’t know. A little embarrassed, maybe?”

“Do you regret it now?”

The child nodded.

pj bubbles 3“Whenever you’re faced with something like that, you need to think ahead. Ask yourself, ‘Will I regret it if I don’t do this?’ If the answer is yes, do it.”

Some of us rejoice more quietly than others. That’s okay. We’re not all dancers. But we still NEED to rejoice fully, without embarrassment. Our souls require rejoicing like our bodies require water. We must join with other believers in this foretaste of heaven, in our understanding that the awful-beautiful sacrifice of our God for us has set us free to love and enjoy Him, to love and enjoy others. We must let our voices belt out, no matter how out of tune they are. We must sing of our redemption.

In public, here on earth, I may never dance like David—or like my insanely rhythmic youngest child. I’m introverted—and awkward. I am, still, a product of my particular culture, my particular upbringing.

But I can rejoice with my full voice, with my whole heart, with the brothers and sisters surrounding me. I can spread my arms high and wide. I can kneel. I can cry. I can clap. I can tap my toes and shuffle my hips in the only dancing I know how to do.

Let’s celebrate Easter again—

Every Sunday!