Little Graces and God Winks

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Wreaths, sleds, holly, candles, angels, and all the trappings of Christmas have replaced turkey decorations. It happened before the last bite of pumpkin pie. With the shift, our words, thoughts, and reflections turn from gratefulness to joy. Perhaps it is a good thing to highlight certain words representing gifts and values during different seasons throughout the year. I do wonder if there are ones we miss along the way. I don’t recall seeing longsuffering highlighted.


Thanksgiving this year was a time of transition for our family. Our grandchildren are getting older and their college or work schedules impact travel plans and traditions. (It will be so at Christmas as well.) Our recent tradition has meant that we travel one year to one of our children’s homes in Tennessee and the opposite year we travel to the other child’s home in Maryland. But this year was one that nudged us to travel to both.


It was our Tennessee year and everyone was planning for that, but the timing of that needed to be a little different since our oldest granddaughter is a new BSN, R.N. and was working Thanksgiving Eve and Thanksgiving night as well. We wanted to spend as much time as we could with her and her brother who was returning from college so we traveled to TN five days before Thanksgiving in order to do so.


But there was another desire in play as well. Our oldest grandson was returning from a semester abroad in Chile and we had not seen him for almost five months. He was to arrive home in Maryland late Saturday night of Thanksgiving weekend. He had his 21st birthday while he was away and we saw more than one reason to celebrate him and his youngest sister who had just celebrated her fifteenth birthday.


The challenge was the distance between their homes. It impacts how often our two children and their children can see each other. To be with either of our children means we are farther from the other. Times when we can all be together happen infrequently. It also means my husband and I spend a more than a few days out of the year traveling in one direction or another. Now that we are both retired, we can be more flexible with our travel days and time and this year so far shows that, but relationships are precious to us and none are more so than those with our family.


To make the trek between the two homes, we made reservations to stop at a hotel a bit past the halfway point of the trip. We had the confirmation in hand when we arrived mid-evening eager to relax and rest. When my husband came out to the car after checking in with the desk clerk, he informed me that he had good news and bad news. Yikes! Now what?


My husband shared that the place we had arrived using our trusty GPS with the address on the confirmed reservation was not where the reservation was. The reservation was for the same name hotel on the other side of town, BUT just as we had arrived someone had cancelled at the hotel we were at and someone had the other hotel had arrived needing a room so they simply swapped them. We not only had a room, but the rate was cheaper at this hotel. Only the Lord could have managed those little details and blessed us in the process. It felt like He was indeed winking and reminding us once again that He had us and His provision was even better than we had planned ourselves.


Transitions can be a challenge oftentimes even if they represent movement that is normal, developmental, or something positive. How we respond to them is key.


Our hotel experience reminded us that we indeed have much to be grateful for and likely miss how many small details of our lives the Lord’s hand arranges. He had not only granted us safe travel over the many miles we had driven, but also arranged for a better price on lodging even though we had followed our GPS to a different location.


It reminds me of Paul’s words in Philippians 4:4:

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”



To Share or Not to Share



The scene gets repeated hundreds of thousands of times each day. Two people meet over lunch, coffee, or some other relaxed venue to catch up with each other on what has been happening in each of their lives. If the relationship is one that has stood the test of time and trustworthiness, conversations flow easily from one topic to another, from deeply personal concerns or beliefs to the latest fads or headlines. Each feels pretty safe as a result of previous conversations and confidences that were not betrayed.


It would be wonderful if that were common for our times with one another; but more often than any of us would like to admit or recall, we discover the person we entrusted found it too tempting to keep our conversation only between the two of us. Most of the time we learn about the breach. If the tidbit shared was relatively inconsequential, we are fortunate. We DO make a mental note, however, and find ourselves reflecting on what else we might have shared that could be more significant.


Within the Christian community, information can often be repeated or shared under the guise of a prayer request. Certainly there are times when the motives are pure. We know someone is facing a cancer diagnosis and we want anyone and everyone to be praying and we skip the request to not share with anyone else.


Early in our walk with Christ when we look at fellow believers as mature and trustworthy without question, we can be naïve and openly share information with those who may not be safe for us. For some who hear, they are tempted to share or use our information to in some way make them feel more important or special for being “in the know” and passing it along to others.


Others of us tend to be very closed to share much of anything about ourselves. The result is usually that we have very few relationships and despite our fears about sharing, we may feel lonely and unfulfilled by the relationships that we do have.


What is the answer?


We need to grow in our discernment, learning from our observations of the person we are sharing with and also from our past experiences. That can also mean getting beyond our adolescent desires to have one “best friend” we can share everything with. Each of us is a complex, unique creation, and no other person can hear, understand, or relate to every aspect of who we are. That will not usually be the case except with “the” best friend we can have who will never betray us and understands every aspect of us more than we do.


The snare the enemy sets for us is to let our feelings at the moment dictate what, how much, and to whom we share.


Even before hearing there is any betrayal, in those cases we can often regret how much we let roll out of our mouths. That nudge to spill out guts is even stronger when we have not first done so in our time alone with the Lord. We all can often benefit from talking through something or processing something with another person, but it is key to remember to not neglect sharing it first with the One who hears us best and loves us most.


If we fail to grow in discernment, we fall into another enemy snare and close ourselves off. Liz Curtis Higgs notes, “Discernment is needed. But for most of us, the greater danger is being close minded instead of open hearted, staying home rather than venturing forth, playing it safe instead of taking a risk.”


ALL relationships involve some level of risk, but God designed us as relational beings.


Perhaps the key is once again to learn to hear His voice, trust His leading, and know He will be there even when we mess up.

African violet, TN
African violet in Main House at Blackberry Farm, TN




A Time to Remember


As we prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, there is much preparation for the feasting and family this holiday brings to mind and heart. Grocery store lines are long and so are lines in traffic and at airports, bus stations, and train depots. Media is full of new recipes to try and stories about gratitude, but I am reminded that it is good to remember this will not be a joy-filled celebration for many others.


It can be easy when life is going relatively smoothly and we are blessed with close family and friends to share these days, but there will be many others for whom these days will be long and difficult. Yes, there will be some of us who will help serve meals in homeless shelters and other places offering free hot meals for those who have no table or no food, but there is another group that may not come to mind that we should remember as well.


This celebration (along with others) will be difficult for those who are alone or are experiencing this Thanksgiving without a person who has been dear to them at the table. Who are they?


There is the widow or widower who cannot imagine this day without their companion at their side. They feel unsure of how to handle the day or what they want to do. Often they just want it to be over and to slide through December and into January with more ordinary days to deal with their loss and grief. Some may have children who share their sorrow and will likely also be sorting out how to handle the day, but others may not have children or children who are absent from their lives so the day will feel especially heavy.


PPP 013There is the single whose parents are no longer living and who feels like ‘odd man out’ with a celebration involving family. There is also the man or woman who once had a family whose lives have been broken by divorce. Family memories can be especially painful if the sense of what was once tradition and family time is no longer possible. It makes Thanksgiving a very hard day despite their best efforts to be grateful for the Lord’s blessings.


There are the children of all ages who are facing their first Thanksgiving without a parent. For their entire lives that parent has been there and their memories are full of those family times that are now changed. An ache that does not go away even in the company of other family or friends can be hard to navigate.


Anyone who is in the midst of grief and loss is trying to determine how to walk through these days.


If we are not, the question is whether or not we will remember them, be sensitive to their hurting hearts, and what may be helpful for them.


It is key to remember none of us can know their loss even if we have had a similar one. We cannot know what the relationship they have lost was like for them. It may have been a hurtful one that left open wounds unhealed before death or it may have been a rich one leaving a space that seems as vast as the ocean now.


Because of all that we also cannot know what might be helpful. For some an invitation to join our own family table may be a great blessing, but for others it will only remind them of their family loss. Be sensitive and gracious if you offer an invitation whether it is accepted or not.


In the profoundly moving movie, Shadowlands, C.S. Lewis’s wife, Joy, speaks very powerful words to him as they speak about the reality of facing her death from cancer:


“We can’t have the happiness of yesterday without the pain of today. That’s the deal.”

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And later she adds:



“The pain then is part of the happiness now. That’s the deal.”


The pain of loss we experience is an echo from the Garden of Eden when death entered the world. God knows and understands it well. Isaiah 53 speaks of the Lord being a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”.


As believers, we often wrestle with our response to loss depending on our theology and view of the Lord. I think that makes the pithy words of the grief and loss C.S. Lewis expresses in A Grief Observed, about the death of his beloved wife, Joy, precious indeed.


“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.” C.S. Lewis


 Let each of us remember those among us who are in a season of loss and grief as they face an empty chair at their table this Thanksgiving. Let us give them the gift of respect, the gift of a discerning heart and ear, the gift of either words or silence depending on their choice, but let us seek to let them know we are present and that we know this day will not be the same for them.

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Evening sunset


Give Thanks in Everything

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Today I am honored to have a guest post by Natalie Finch. To learn a little more about her, I will give a bit more introduction at the end of this post.


November is here and Thanksgiving break is just a few days away. All over the U.S.A., people prepare to celebrate one of the biggest feasts of the year. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 provides a simple, broader perspective on thankfulness. It says,


Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.


From this, we can see that people should cultivate gratitude–and not just in November and the holiday season. Giving thanks “in all circumstances” implies that there are circumstances that do not initially lead us towards gratitude. Sometimes this can be the blindness of prosperity. When one has three meals a day, clothes, a home, a family, and opportunities for education, he or she can forget that these common gifts are not actually common world-wide. When one is tainted by trial or loss, it is not generally thankfulness which is keenly felt.


This verse can be difficult to live by when difficulties or loss come, whether we live with “first world” blessings or not. How can one give thanks in every circumstance, no matter what? After all, the initial audience for this command was under heavy persecution from the Romans, slaughtered by the sword, tortured, imprisoned, and even a source of brutal entertainment to the Romans in the Colosseum. How could God have put these seemingly impossible expectations on His children in the early and modern church?


This question can be answered by taking a look at the first Thanksgiving. In 1621, the first Thanksgiving brought the Native Americans and the Pilgrims at Plymouth to a harvest feast. The Pilgrims had just left their homes and all that they owned in England. Many had left family members behind or lost them on the Mayflower; they had left the church and were trying to start fresh in a foreboding new land. Many of them didn’t know how to farm or build houses or survive the winter. What could they possibly have to be thankful for? How could God expect them to give thanks in such circumstances?


Despite the Pilgrims’ situation, God watched over them. The natives in the area taught them how to plant corn, helped them build houses, and kept them safe from other hostile tribes. In a way, the feast showed the Pilgrims’ gratefulness to their new friends. The Mayflower could have landed anywhere; the Native Americans the Pilgrims met could have fought against them; they may have landed somewhere barren; but instead, God ordained that they land at Plymouth. God always watches over his children, even when He seems distant.


He does sometimes allow the Devil and forces of evil to test us, as in the book of Job. God allowed Satan to take away Job’s children, crops, herds, servants, and everything he had. Why? In order to test Job’s faith. However, Job worshipped God even after he lost everything, and eventually God blessed His servant as He blesses all his children. Will you be a Job of this generation? Will you honor the name of the Most High through anything He allows in your life?


Although His blessings aren’t always in material form, they are always present. It is important to realize that trial and evil do not come from God, and that He always provides a way of escape for His children—Jesus! We never have to face a circumstance alone, something to be infinitely grateful for. We see this in the second half of the verse. If a circumstance is God’s will, then it is known by Him and has boundary lines set by Him. This is also something we see in Job’s story, but God’s preparation for an event goes beyond His omniscient knowledge of it. Being subject to God’s will also means to be availed of His grace, since He has the final word over all. Therefore, if God knows our cares and provides grace, it no longer seems like an unfair expectation to give thanks in all circumstances.


No matter the circumstance, God calls His children to give thanks and to show gratitude, and He always provides reasons to be grateful. The chief reasons for gratitude are His presence, His omniscience, and His grace in the midst of every circumstance. When God blesses you, thank Him, and when in trial, look for evidences of His grace and thank Him for them. When they’re hidden from view, thank Him for His presence, in which we can be confident because of Jesus Christ.

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Natalie Finch, 16, first published this article in The Potter’s School Clay Magazine, an online magazine of commentary, news, essays, satire, interviews, cartoons, and discussion, earlier this month. She writes a column for the magazine once a month. Writing is a passion for this high school junior honors student, but she also loves singing, musical theater, reading, piano, coffee, and hanging out with her family. She and her three siblings have all been homeschooled and enjoy a rich relational connection. I have watched her spiritual growth expand over the course of her life and love going for coffee with her. She is one of my granddaughters and she hopes to pursue a career in writing after college.













Reflections on Maturity


If I were to survey a group of people of varying ages and cultures about what maturity looks like, I think I would get a wide range of answers. Maturity is one of those nebulous words we all believe we understand, but have difficulty defining succinctly. There can be a lot of subjectivity involved and our own age and maturity can affect our response as well.


One thing we would all likely agree on is that it is a quality that is considered an asset. I say that with assurance because when we hear someone say, “She/he is so immature” it has a negative connotation. Most of us would also agree that chronological age is not necessarily a corollary with maturity.


From my corner of the universe, one quality that identifies maturity for me is when a person is able to be honest without being rude, crude, or obnoxious with someone. It means that person can look at life, a circumstance, or a problem for what it is rather than what she or he wants to believe it is or isn’t.


John Eldredge succinctly states: “Maturity means living without denial.”


One of the joys of a healthy childhood is how unrestricted imagination can be. Pretending is great fun. We can be the hero or the villain, the rescued or the rescuer. We can pretend to be any age we wish. It doesn’t work out so well if we continue that habit as we get older. It can appear that someone who tries can get away with it for a short time, but the truth, the reality, catches up with him or her at some point.


3985f4641a22a192e235c90048686429--charles-spurgeon-quotes-the-giftWe may fall prey to the habit for many reasons, but I think that one of them is that we really want to be better than we believe we are, stronger than we are, more clever than we are, more knowledgeable than we are, and so on. Somewhere inside we see the deficits and consciously or subconsciously try to wallpaper over the marks we see against us. We also don’t want you to see those things so we might try to work very hard to make you believe in the press we are trying to sell ourselves.


Those tendencies sometimes get in the way of our relationship with the Lord. The secret guilt of knowing we aren’t all we are cracked up to be heaps shame on us that causes us to be much like Adam and Eve and look for fig leaves to cover over our condition. We try to hide.


This tendency is as old as time. Over and over scripture admonishes us to become mature, put away childish things, or grow up. Here are some examples:


“Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.  And this we will do if God permits.” Hebrews 6:1-4 (ESV)


“Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.” 1 Corinthians 14:20 (ESV)


“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Hebrews 5:12-14 (ESV)


Many situations and circumstances can serve to help us “grow up”, but one of the most images (2)direct paths toward the goal might be to admit the truth to the Lord about what we think and believe and ask Him to correct and align those beliefs with the truth. Yes, that might be painful, but what He shares with us will always be spoken with grace and love.


Owning the truth is one of the best qualities we can attain. It will not only develop maturity, but integrity will be a companion of that maturity.


We will gain freedom in our daily lives because we are not trying to keep up the masks and pretense.


We will also begin to experience the richness of authentic relationships with others. Our relationship with the Lord will deepen and we will be congruent in the depths of who we are.