Category Archives: Patience

Grace Isn’t Always As It Seems

Grace /ɡrās/ noun 1.) free and unmerited favor

It’s a word known and familiar.  Regardless of one’s personal convictions, its highly likely that nearly every American and countless many abroad hear the words “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound” whenever its familiar melody begins to play.

We are deeply touched, even unsettled, whenever we recognize its been given to us. At times, the role of “grace giver” can feel deeply satisfying. This lovely notion that has spurred on artworks and anthems, namesakes worldwide and notoriety to iconic figures through history: A tiny nun who spent her years giving orphans a home. A friendly cardigan-zipping neighbor elevating the dignity of a fellow human being above society’s dividing lines. A Babylonian king extending his scepter at the unbeckoned approach of an unlikely queen. A carpenter’s son who found greatest worth among the least of these. Hymns and homilies and hashtags have waxed poetic of grace in action while traditions and fairytales have shown glimpses of its worth.

Grace.

We all need it.  

We’d like to think we freely give it.  

And I’ll bet my bottom dollar, in one form or another, we all crave it.  Desperately.

At least, I know I do. 

Sometimes I recognize it when given.  Obvious signs of favor I neither deserve nor deny.  Evidence of mercy’s bestowing opposite twin; where mercy withholds deserved consequences without leverage, grace bestows favor without merit.  I see its evidence and feel its weight, warm as a cloak wrapped round the shivering shoulders of a helpless child.  It floods my heart with gratitude and fills my sight with awe.

But sometimes, there are other times when its evidence hides in plain sight, when the cloak is not warm but absolute as a deathly hallow, hiding the enclosed contents completely from searching eyes. In times like these, my mind runs rampant. I’ll recall those hymns and homilies, declarations of grace amazing and sweet, their comfort felt sharp as a knife and bitter on my tongue.

If I’m honest (and can’t we all just be honest), I quickly arrive at conclusions on my worth and the grace-giver’s intentions and all the reasons why this gift, by nature undeservable, has deliberately been withheld. Shaming conclusions and deliberate rejections. I look for grace and find shadows instead. And I determine my perspective accurate, informed, right.

You too?

It’s unnervingly easy to come to such conclusions. At least, I find it so. I look for grace like a river while sorrows like sea billows roll.

But maybe, just maybe, circumstances aren’t always as they first seem.

What if the shadows are not vacancies but evidence of a stronger light?

What if the pain is not a punishment but a provision to expose and spark rescue from a subversive deadly woe?

What if felt silence is not absence but rather the quiet nearness of a gentle embrace?

What if when we wrestle through the night, as Jacob did in times of old, what if the resulting limp IS the blessing?

What if hope is not in fact hollow but firmly rooted in a foundation eyes cannot currently see?

It’s a lesson lifelong for this girl named for what she must relearn again and again. A gift often wrapped in peculiar packaging.

Sometimes grace is a shelter and sometimes grace is the rain.

Sometimes grace is a placeholder, holding off the good as it keeps place for something greater on its way.

Sometimes grace is a cradle and sometimes grace is a crucifixion.

May my eyes behold this gift when wrapped within various forms and remember at all times, it bestows favor, unmerited and free.

3 Comments

Filed under Faith, God, Patience, Struggles, Suffering, Thoughts

A Year’s Reflection: Word Edition

As 2018 draws near its close, I’m often found in a reflective state of late, taking stock of twelve months come and gone.  It’s a humbling practice, this looking back on experienced highs and lows to find the redemptive thread woven through it all.

The year began with a friend’s question, “What is your word for 2018?”  I had observed this practice in loved ones’ lives before: asking God for a word for the next year and prayerfully waiting until a word resonated deep in their spirit.  For some, it was a virtue to aspire in growth towards.  For others, a promise to cling to through a season of waiting or trial.

My previous several years had been admittedly hard, enduring circumstances I’d sworn never to walk through and finding my faith stripped down to sure studs of grace.  Something about the nearing new year struck a fresh chord, a distant tune that perhaps this year might be different.  So, when I observed surveys circling during 2017’s final days, asking what my word would for 2018 might be, the question stirred curiosity of whether God perhaps held one for me.

Sure enough, whispers of a word rose to the surface of my mind, resonating as true to my wondering heart below.

On January 2, 2018, a group of girlfriends gathered around my table to celebrate and set the tone for this new year.  After indulging in scrumptious offerings of cookie butter, waffle biscuits, flavorful pies and toasts to our collective health, we spent hours exploring enneagram wisdom and related spiritual formation tools.  We dove deep into our stories, asking provoking questions and offering honest answers to trusted friends.  What Scriptures did each of us need to cling to in the new year?  What practices would fuel our faith and direct us closer towards the heart of our loving God?  And, of course, what word spoke to our souls for 2018?  Chalk in hand, 2018 took shape in colors and phrases before our eyes and together, we felt seen, sought, significant before our Maker.

Being an Enneagram Six, the verses 1 John 4:18 and 1 Peter 5:6-7 stood out as timely, passages on the perfect love of God dispelling fear and calling me to cast my worries upon the One who cares most.  Disciplines of Scripture memorization and fasting would promote further growth while grounding practices of singing, journaling, and meditating on God’s Word would stir faith where fear often tried to reign.

As for my word, it started stirring my spirit days earlier.  First heard as a whisper, it echoed in reverse, growing stronger with each refrain.  A notion of new life springing forth from ashes.  Phoenix.

Time passed, turning that evening’s events to memory as life for this solo working mama bustled by with ferocity. Those first few months of this new year seemed circumstantially contrary to the practices and promises scribed in chalk.  Had I misheard?  While “new life” remained elusive, ashes continued to abound.

In time, phoenix fell forgotten.

Now with another year nearly gone, December ushered in a new season of listening for a word.  Once work deadlines and scheduled festive mania subsided, I began reflecting once again.  What had transpired over the course of 2018?  Did the year’s end find me any closer to those elements shared with friends back at it’s beginning?

Thankfully, the chalkboard’s goals and guiding practices had been captured that January night.  I pulled out the photograph to refresh my memory.  In taking stock of the twelve months past through this renewed lens, a remarkable truth emerged:

Every item listed that night had occurred in 2018.

Scriptures memorized.  Seasons of fasting with prayer transpired.  Fears and anxieties brought to the mind’s forefront for purposes of growth and healing.  Songs sung in secret and on stage.  Journaling proven essential in processing the year’s highs and lows and elements between.  Lessons in casting cares onto the loving heart of God, learning to believe His love instead of loud fears (though admittedly this is still very much in process).

As for phoenix, evidence of new life springing from ashes covered the year.  Signs of fresh beginnings and revived dreams: personally, professionally, and in the lives of my children and loved ones.  Encouragement received and distributed in the telling of broken stories redeemed and past pain woven into provision.  Though it had not taken the form I anticipated on that January evening, elements of renewed rising had indeed come to fruition by the mighty hand of God. And it proclaimed grace – all of it.

Today finds me in a familiar space, reflecting on a year gone by while holding hopes for the coming year with open hands.  The new year’s word came in a moment, tucked within a conversation with my dearest friend and sister.

“Remember being brave doesn’t mean feeling brave and you are stepping into bravery with every part of this.  Trusting Jesus when it feels so close yet so far.  And maybe part of this is just abiding.  Not doing but abiding in the present season.”

It jumped from the screen straight into my heart, echoing affirmation all the way down.

Abide (verb): to bear patiently, tolerate; to endure without yielding, withstand; to wait for; to accept without objection

I know not what this new year may hold nor how this word will take shape as days turn to weeks, to months, to another year lived.  Indeed, for an impatient ginger named Patience, this call to deeper resting in my Author’s pen rather than scrambling to take control from my limited perspective feels daunting, unsettling, yet divine.  Looking back to find fingerprints of God’s faithfulness has fueled my faith today to trust Him as the unknown soon unfolds.

Phoenix rising
Now abiding
Beneath the shadow of Thy wings

Sovereign timing
Author scribing
Mine now Yours, an offering

What word might He hold in store for you this next year?

In my experience, its proven worth the asking.

4 Comments

Filed under Faith, God, Patience, Poetry, Words

A Lesson In Laughter

Every December, a beautiful book comes off the shelf and into my family’s hands. Covered in patchwork colors, it weaves the ancient tail of Christmas from a Garden to a Promise fulfilled, wrapped warm within a manager. Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping The Greatest Gift: A Family Christmas Celebration has become a treasured tradition for this mama. I earnestly hope it’s precious truths sink deeper year after year in my children’s minds and hearts. Only time will tell.

img_8481Tonight found us home for the first time this week with a few unrushed hours before bed. Tis’ the season when stressful….I mean “festive”…merriment abounds around every nook of the calendar. First world problems, I know. Regardless, my little brood and I found ourselves with time to spare, time enough for a timeless story. I grabbed this beautiful book from the shelf and turned to December 6th’s reading.

The Gift of Laughter – the story of Isaac

This story, both fresh and familiar, speaks of a promised child to a couple, barren and nearing triple-digit years. A covenant that could only be measured by an immeasurably starry sky. A long-offered prayer answered with a laughable word of hope. Could it be, after all this time, this dream deep and tender might come true? It was utterly absurd, rationally speaking.

“…She laughed too – but Sarah laughed sad…the way you do when you think someone is teasing you, and you laugh brave so you don’t cry hard.”

Even the clinical, doubtful dismissal by a waiting-worn woman would turn to joyful laughter as Isaac eventually entered the world by her womb.

God always answers prayers; He keeps His promises.

As I sat beside my admittedly distracted children, the heart captured afresh was my own. How many times had I heard this story? How often had it impacted my life already? Indeed – enough to name my firstborn after Sarah’s promised son. But tonight’s reading of familiar words and Ann’s poetic prose exposed a needed truth.

At times, I am Sarah who, upon hearing a good promise from a good God, responds with lacking belief or worst yet – interprets it as cruel. The words jumped off the colored page, straight into my exposed heart.

“Sometimes you use laughter like a shield to protect your heart. Could Sarah let down her guard and believe that God would be gentle with her dream to hold a child of her own?”

Could she?

Could I?

We all hold something deep and tender as Sarah did. Perhaps it’s for a struggle relieved, a relationship revealed or restored, a recognition long denied or a dream brought to reality. While our details may vary, we all can relate to Sarah’s angst in some way, understand her disbelief that her most precious hope might actually, finally, be brought to fruition. To a weathered soul, it feels an awful risk.

As this Sunday school story revived with tonight’s reading, I was struck afresh not only by the reluctant recipient of a promise but by the resilient generosity of the Promise Keeper. Sarah’s struggle to believe did not sway God’s bequeathing Hand. Rather He, in His perfect way, replaced her bared-teeth grimace with the purest laughter of a blessing made manifest, clenched fists now spread wide as they embraced the embodiment of laughter – in fact, it was his very name – Isaac.

As the story ended and my children dashed off to their next endeavor, I sensed that familiar whisper near while I closed the quilted cover.

“You’ve been like Sarah. And I am the God of Isaac. Trust me to turn waiting into wonder. After all – I always fulfill my Promise.”

Tonight finds me yet again beneath a warmly lit tree, struck in awe at the message of Christmas cast in new light. Like Sarah, I’m prone to doubt His kindness, to laugh dismissively over long-awaited prayers. But He – He is the God of Isaac, from whose line came the Ultimate Long-awaited One – Jesus, the Messiah. It has ignited my faith with renewed hope, not in outcomes, but in the One who came, who will surely come again. He who was faithful to Sarah will surely be faithful to you and me.

May the laughter of this season remind us all that hope placed in Him is never in vain.

Leave a comment

Filed under Faith, God, Isaac, Patience, Struggles

Reflections Of A Summer Gone By

It’s been a gift, these past 3 months, wrapped in various packaging.

Near & far.

Brief & lengthy.

Joy & sorrow.

Filled up & poured out.

Lessons taught & wisdom received.

Laughter & lament.

Camps, car rides, & cookouts.

Memories. Oh the memories, new & re-remembered.

Summer break brought a welcome respite from our family’s frenetic school year schedule. While lunches still needed packing, this working mama reveled in the reprieve from early carlines & driving east simply to commute further west. Most glorious of all – NO homework! Praise be.

Of my many summers in motherhood thus far, this one stands out unique. A summer of healing, maturing, of digging deep & mending hearts, thoughts, lives.

I witnessed confidence return to a worn child.

I saw faces alight with fresh fun & freckles from days soaking up sea & sun.

I rocked sleeping giants & whispered Truths constant & prayed over dreamers whose hearts I now carried surely as once had my womb.

I learned to listen a bit quicker, to respond a bit slower, to relinquish control a bit less begrudgingly.

I offered broken hallelujahs with bittersweet celebrations, holding more tightly to things lovely while more willingly laying down arms.

I cried honest admissions & harrowing realizations & humbled celebrations of grace freely given.

I watched a daughter rise after a hard, hard season to shine her inherent light again.

I watched a son wrestle life lessons with resilient kindness & curious wonder.

I watched the woman in my mirror start smiling in reflection once more, beginning to dream, to dare for days brighter ahead.

I witnessed grace falling like monsoon rains, undeserved, unrelenting, free.

Three months come & gone. As tonight falls soft, this house quiet with sleeping babes & a mother reminiscing, a wise king’s words resound amidst the silence:

“To everything there is a season; a time for every purpose under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

Summer draws to its close as a new elementary academic year begins. When a new season dawns with tomorrow’s rising sun, may it find me grateful. It’s certainly been a summer to remember.

Leave a comment

Filed under Motherhood, Patience, Photography, Thoughts

So God Made A Sister

As God looked upon the world He’d made, upon the family unit He established, He saw a heart cry for a specific life companion.

So God made a sister.

IMG_0588.JPG
He saw children’s desire to explore and dreams of adventures far and near.  He knew princesses would twirl, delighting in each other’s beauty as they wore dresses five times their size.  He knew outfits held more fun when worn in tandem with a close friend.  He created them to nurture and be nurtured, to inspire and to be adored.  Before they could even walk, kindness lavished was needed.

So God made a sister.

IMG_0590

IMG_0591.JPG
He created daughters filled with joy, brimming over and longing to be shared with others.  Laughter needing sharing, victories (even the smallest ones) needing celebrating, and griefs needing carrying by strong, sympathetic hearts.  Secrets bubbled for entrusting as songs echoed in hearts craving harmony.  Joys to share and burdens to bear.

IMG_0587-0.JPG

So God made a sister.

IMG_0580.JPG

He knew this fallen world could be cruel, whispering lies stripping value and beauty from rightful beholders.  He knew a woman’s worst critic would often be herself and how desperately she’d need her vision readjusted by another seeing more clearly.  As valleys low loomed and high mountains called for climbing, He desired entrusted history and friendship to never leave her side.

IMG_0589.JPG
So God made a sister.

IMG_0582.JPG
From sidewalks to school halls, down aisles and through delivery wards, He desired she not be alone.  From Nana’s shoe closet to dress-up trunks, from prom dresses to wedding gowns, He desired her beauty be shared and celebrated.  From little league to Varsity, from summer camps near to excursions abroad, He longed that His daughters experience adventures, make memories, transform from girls to women together.

So God made a sister.

IMG_0586.JPG
In 1986, the world changed as a beautiful curly-headed ginger entered the scene.  Her bright green eyes and dimpled smile sparked inspiration as her contagious joy filled every darkened space.  Strangers became new-found friends and the insecure found encouragement.  She shone light as though she’d soaked up the sun.  Dance partner, adventure companion, sleepover snuggle bug, and persistent friend.

IMG_0592.JPG
Through life’s darkest valleys, she would inspire strength and resilience among her family, often giving them cause to keep going when it seemed easier to give in to cynicism.  Infectious joy, she would grow to hold wisdom beyond her years and compassion beyond reason.  Love for the broken, kindness for the downtrodden, and enduring hope through it all.

IMG_0581.JPG
God knew a family would need reminding over and again of His goodness, His faithfulness, His love through dark seasons to come.  As darkness sought to tear apart, He desired they be knit close together.  Someone to pray, someone to encourage, someone to inspire and trust. Confidant and best friend.

And when He looked upon this beauty, He smiled knowing His creation was indeed very good.

For God made my sister.

IMG_0593.JPG

 

1 Comment

Filed under Family, Friends, God, Patience, Photography

Lessons From The Blueberry Patch

imageSummer finds me bent low often, stooped in search of something sweet. Tiny treasures hidden in foliage green. Gathering bites of blue has become a welcomed habit, gleaning far more than berries in a bowl. The yield of lessons has surprised me.

My mom, or Maima as my children call her, is an avid gardener. Since childhood, she has nurtured life and beauty all around her, creating lovely homes and providing for those within. Lining her backyard is a delicious hedge of blueberry bushes, three gleaning berries through June and three bearing fruit through the end of July. What a scrumptious sight! Her estimate of thousands of berries adorning the branches was no overstatement. Nearly a gallon-sized basket fills every few days with plump blues. Every year since their planting, these bushes have produced exponentially more berries than the year prior. Their first harvest was sparse, the berries somewhat sour. But rains came, Maima pruned and nurtured, God brought the growth.blueberry

While gathering today’s harvest, I sensed the Lord near. He who breathed life into creation, who began all things within a garden, dealt truth to me through my simple task: picking ripe blueberries. His voice came inaudibly, more as a stirring within, nudging my heart by truth reflected consistent in Scripture.

“You see,” I sensed Him say, “these bushes did not stop growing nor producing fruit based on comparison. They did not grow discouraged when their first berries weren’t just right. They simply kept doing what I created them to do: be fruitful. They’ve grown sweeter with time, more plentiful each passing year. Had they ceased to bear fruit, they would have been pruned, cut off, disposed of. But they bore down – against winds, through rain, enduring snow, standing against heat. They simply persevered.”

Another handful of dark delectable dropped into the bucket. I wedged through the densely fruitful branches, not wanting to miss a berry. Again He nudged.

“Do you see these? Shriveled and hard? They once were ripe, sweet and plump. But they were never harvested so their sweetness was wasted. Some remain stuck in place while others fall to the ground, slowly rotting away. Had the gardener come in time, they too could have been enjoyed.”

image

A still breeze blew through the air and my soul, quieting all around.

“My child, you are this blueberry patch. I have planted you with intention, creating you with purpose. Your job is not to pull back based on a less-than-perfect outcome nor grow discouraged with early sparse harvests. Your job is to keep on, to grow deep roots, to do what I’ve created you for and trust the outcome to Me. Maturing comes with time. Be fruitful with what you’ve got now. It will grow sweeter, more plentiful as you endure.”

“My child, you are the gardener. Realizing the berries at their ripe potential keeps the bushes strong, feeds your family and provides enjoyment to those you share your harvest with. But when you neglect to gather what I have brought forth – your talents, your gifts, the opportunities I bring – then they shrivel like these hardened berries, once plump with potential now dropped to the ground. Don’t miss what I have for you nor neglect the harvest for fear of failure, of imperfection. If you never picked a berry from worrying that it may not be the sweetest, you’d miss out terribly and the bush would go to ruin.”

image

“But oh my child, how great is My grace! Even those berries fallen to the ground can nourish the soil. Be not discouraged. Learn. Grow. Reap the harvest I have planted and TRUST ME with the outcome. I am the Great Gardener.”

Today I came to the blueberry patch to gather fruit but left with so much more. Oh how sweet the harvest!

image

2 Comments

Filed under Faith, God, Lessons from the Garden, Patience, Thoughts

Parenthood

No experience has made me more aware of my sinful human frailty and desperate need for a Redeemer than parenthood.  It frazzles me quicker than I’d like to admit, stretching my patience and compassion.  This is NOT a reflection on my children.  After all, they are only 1 and 3 years old!  Every struggle they face is an opportunity to learn and my responsibility to lead them in the way they should go.  Wasn’t I in their place but a few short decades ago?!  Parenthood ought be cherished as it is a gift not given to all.  It is an unmerited blessing and a privilege.  But oh, how it shows the weaknesses in myself!

When raising small children, ample opportunities abound to grow impatient, to respond out of frustration, to frazzle and fray.  Whether giving an answer for the umpteenth time or teaching a life lesson again, perspective can shift in a nanosecond off of the big picture of their developing lives to how inconvenienced I am by the whole thing.  To respond in anger gives momentary satisfaction and long-lasting regret.  I have given in to my frustrations far more often than I’d like to admit and had to ask my children’s forgiveness more than I ever dreamed necessary.  *sigh*

Yesterday was one such day.  Certainly not a mom-of-the-year worthy day…at all!  Once the kids were finally napping, I lay in bed – exhausted and reeling in regret over my responses to them.  “Come on, Patience!  You’re 30!  You’re the PARENT!  You set the example!  Good grief.  How do you expect them to learn and feel loved if you act like that?!”  The shame fell thick on my heart.

Hours later, the Lord worked through story time with the kids to speak His love and grace over my heart.  We read The Good Shepherd chapter out of The Jesus Storybook Bible and though the words were about David, it felt like the Lord was speaking straight to me.

“David was a shepherd, but when God looked at him, He saw a king.  He had a heart like God’s heart – full of love.  Now, that didn’t mean he was perfect, because he did some terrible things – he even murdered a man.  No, David made a big mess of his life.  But God can take even the biggest mess and make it work in His plan.  ‘I need a new heart, Lord,’ David prayed, ‘because mine is full of sin.  Make me clean inside.’  God heard David’s prayer.  He forgave David…”

In reading those words, the Lord spoke gently.  “Yes, you do terrible things some times.  But I can redeem those things.  You’re not perfect but I AM.  Come to me with your mess.  I love you.”  Later that same day, I was reading 1000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  Once again, the Lord spoke from heavens high to my fallen, weary heart as I read Ann’s words:

“The parent must always self-parent first, self-preach before child-teach, because who can bring peace unless they’ve held their own peace?  Christ incarnated in the parent is the only hope of incarnating Christ in the child….Do I really smother my own joy because I believe that anger achieves more than love?  That Satan’s way is more powerful, more practical, more fulfilling in my daily life than Jesus’ way?  Why else get angry?  Isn’t it because I think complaining, exasperation, resentment will pound me into the full life I really want?  Give THANKS to keep your gaze on heaven.”

In all this, I felt overwhelmed by God’s goodness.  After all, He is my Heavenly Father.  How often I act the part of child, tantrumed and defiant and selfish.  Yet never once has He responded in anger towards me.  Never once has He failed to show love and grace, even on my most deplorable days.  When I honor Him, His grace remains.  When I go against all He has ever taught me, His grace remains.  When conviction fills my heart and I run to Him, never once has He held His arms crossed, still too mad from my behavior to reconcile.  No.  His arms are ALWAYS open wide for the wayward child to come.  His love is ALWAYS lavishing, even when we least deserve it.  God, the ever-faithful, ever-patient, ever-enduring Father.

Parenthood.  It stretches, it tests, it can refine.  When my little ones act out, may I focus not on their indiscretions towards my inconvenienced heart, but on the One who never grows impatient with me.  May I remember His grace that is ever extended and show the same to my children.  In the moments of meltdowns, may my mind remember the many I’ve been forgiven of by my Heavenly Father and show the same kindness to Eliana and Evan.  May I be grateful for their very lives, that I even have kids to love and train.  Lord, keep me grateful and mindful of Your great love towards me.  On my own, I will surely fail as a parent.  May I rest in Him and simply pass along to my sweet ones that which He has poured out on me.

1 Comment

Filed under Family, God, Parenting, Patience, Struggles