Honeysuckle

I passed by this honeysuckle bush growing over the limits a dilapidated unpainted fence tried to set around a sad-looking house. I snapped a photo with my phone and thought about the contrast.

Sometimes the flowers that bloom in overgrown, untended yards surrounded by broken fences and derelict vehicles are all the more beautiful for their powers of endurance.

It amazes me that some of the sweetest, most beautiful, most caring people I know have grown up in foul, ugly, uncaring environments.

The grace they exude defies all predictions of perpetual victimhood. Like the garden flowers in the back alley, they are givers because they know how to receive from God when others have let them down.

Against Such Things There Is No Law

“I hear it all day, Grandma,” my grandson said with the same tone of exasperation I’ve heard in my own voice. “Tommy*, don’t run. Don’t run. Don’t run!” He rolled his eyes. “I hear it at school. I hear it at daycare. I hear it at the pool. I hear it at the mall. I hear it everywhere. Tommy, don’t run!” He put his hand on my arm and looked deeply into my eyes. “It haunts my dreams, Grandma.”

He was so cute, I wanted to smile, but I chose instead to treat him with the same respect all people deserve and listen.

Oh, honey, I hear you. I know God created you to be a runner. You just have to move. It’s hard for you, I know.

I’m on the other end of the age scale, but my dreams are haunted by admonishment and reminders of restrictions other people want to put on me too. Don’t sing. Don’t dance. Don’t laugh loudly. Don’t think for yourself. Do as you’re told. Don’t associate with the wrong people. Be aware of every possible thing that could offend or disturb anyone, anywhere and don’t offend them. Oh, and remember that those who have no problem giving offense are often the most easily offended. Keep your opinions –and especially your odd sense of humour– to yourself. Be quiet, be quiet, be quiet!

I hear you, my boy, because there is never an end to people who want to place restrictions on your desire to run, to dance, to sing, to laugh, to talk and to just be free. But here’s the thing: Their rules and regulations and protocols have holes. Big holes. They can’t keep out the light. They are defenseless against goodness and peace. Kindness leaks across property lines. Gentleness dismantles barbed wire. Joy makes them jealous. Peace irritates them no end, and love, well love elevates restrictions to a higher court where the judge is the one who made you. All of this equipment is available to you if you follow Jesus. He’s gone ahead of you and will show you where he stashed them, if you ask.

So you shine, boy. Run the race that is set before you and eventually the critics and accusers will either have to join you or be left behind.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22, 23 NIV)

*Not his real name

Let the Healing Streams Abound

Plenteous grace with Thee is found,
Grace to cover all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound;
Make and keep me pure within.
Thou of life the fountain art,
Freely let me take of Thee;
Spring Thou up within my heart,
Rise to all eternity.

-From “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” by Charles Wesley

One of the most painful moments in my life was when a person I admired announced they had no more grace for me. An annoying trait, that no doubt needed correction, inspired them to dump a load of dis-grace on me instead. I was devastated.

Trauma has roots like weeds that crop up in a garden bed far from the original invasive plant. I felt shame and ran when the flight option in the flight/fight/freeze trio of survival actions seemed most attractive. It took a while to realize that the original painful weed of rejection had spread to this corner of my life, its subconscious presence undetected for many years. I heard it sing a minor key lament from long ago, “Jesus is disappointed with you.”

Growing up in a competitive world where only the best smiled for the camera while the rest slunk out the door for the eliminated, harsh words felt like familiar shameful judgments of disgrace. I wept bitterly. The “NOT GOOD ENOUGH” stamp of disapproval showed up again on the bottom of my application for acceptance.

It was a horrible time and a good time. God can use anything and this time he used a person who also struggled with shame to point out that I was knocking on the wrong door. You can’t give what you have not received or received only in measured installments. I wanted another struggling sojourner to give me what only God could supply. That wasn’t going to work. I needed to find the source.

“Ask me,” he said.

“Ask you for what?” I mumbled, head hanging low.

“Ask me about my grace.”

“I don’t deserve your grace.”

“True. No one does. That’s the beauty. You can’t earn it. Failures only need apply.”

I did ask, and since then I’ve learned that my response to God’s empowering grace can be greater than a grudging, “Thanks for not hitting me when I deserved a good smiting.” It’s now “Thanks for showing me the way you see me and giving me the resources to become that person.”

Thank you, Lord, for grace that is plenteous and greater than barely sufficient grace, or scratch and dent grace for the less deserving, or grace that offers anonymity as a cover for permanent stains on the soul. Thanks for accepting me just as I am. Thanks for grace that heals and purifies and rises up to all eternity.

Refine

Jesus leads us into a place of radical grace where we are able to celebrate the hope of experiencing God’s glory.  

And that’s not all. We also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance,  which shapes our characters. When our characters are refined, we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness. 

And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts with God’s love.” (Romans 5:2-5 The Voice)

One of my photo editing programs has a “kaleidoscope” feature. A photo processed through this app seldom resembles the original, but it’s fun to play with. I tried processing a photo I took of rubble from a building leveled by fire. The result caught my attention because I could see what looked like areas of engraved gold and silver set in a polished stone tile. That would be a luxury on the floor of any palace.

How precious are the foundations laid for us by saints of the past whose lives were refined by the fires of tribulation.  It’s a lot easier to appreciate the refining process in the after picture than in the middle-of-the-disaster picture. It’s easier to sing, “Refiner’s fire, my heart’s one desire is to be holy,” than it is to recognize a refining process, let alone cooperate with it. Yet suffering leads to endurance and to character. The ability to hope and anticipate God’s goodness lays a precious foundation for the next generation – especially in the middle of what looks like a disastrous mess.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Word prompt: Refine

Dig Deep

How enriched are they who find their strength in the Lord;
    within their hearts are the highways of holiness!
Even when their paths wind through the dark valley of tears,
    they dig deep to find a pleasant pool where others find only pain.
    He gives to them a brook of blessing
    filled from the rain of an outpouring.
They grow stronger and stronger with every step forward,
    and the God of all gods will appear before them in Zion.

Psalm 84:5-7 TPT

Valley experiences are common to all of us who draw breath in this world. Some valleys are deeper than others. I’ve watched people who impress me walk through tough times as if they have a secret resource that allows them to remain at peace in spite of everything. When I ask them how they do it they tell me, “It’s in the dark places and stressful times that God’s grace is most plentiful. It’s not as easy as it was before. You have to dig. But that’s where profound silence invites you to come closer. That’s when you can feel his heart of love for you.”

Look

I will say to the prisoners, ‘Come out in freedom,’

    and to those in darkness, ‘Come into the light.’

They will be my sheep, grazing in green pastures

    and on hills that were previously bare.

(Isaiah 49:9 NLB)

Sometimes we are not aware of how dark things have become until the light breaks through. Just as our eyes adjust to the darkness, our souls can start to accept a dim view of things as normal life. “It is what it is,” some say. When the light first shines we turn our heads because it hurts. We no longer have the capacity to accept the brightness of Jesus’ face. It frightens us. It requires adjustment.

God sent his Son to set the captives free. Dare to lift your eyes. There is abundant life and freedom in the light of his glory and grace.

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!

Refrain:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
O’er us sin no more hath dominion—
For more than conqu’rors we are!

His Word shall not fail you—He promised;
Believe Him, and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!

-Helen H Lemmel

Work in Progress

I often help my granddaughter with her online school assignments via Skype. Today, her assignment included a discussion of the poem, “Work in Progress*,” by Jon Jorgenson. We had an delightfully enlightening chat, but I think the work may have spoken to me more than to a pre-adolescent girl. She accepts that she is a student and her vocation right now is study (which one cannot do until they accept both a state of ignorance and the capability of changing that state. Some call the trait meekness.)

I often feel frustrated because I think I should be further along in spiritual maturity by now. The poem helped me remember I am also a work in progress. I’m still changing. Sometimes grace comes in the form of an overheard lesson.

*Link in comments.

Kissing a Guilty World

On the mount of crucifixion

Fountains opened deep and wide

Through the floodgates of God’s mercy

Flowed a vast a gracious tide

Grace and love, like mighty rivers

Poured incessant from above

And Heav’n’s peace and perfect justice

Kissed a guilty world in love

From “Here is Love” by William Rees and Robert Lowry

This verse from the hymn that became the theme of the Welsh Revival in 1904 has been going through my head lately. As light shines in dark places there is an increasing awareness of systemic injustice and corruption that has dragged us into a dark place where hopeless compassion offers only a cruel kindness. Death dresses up as relief and the very young, the very old, and the poor and disabled are victims of the lie.

We cry out for justice, and we long for peace, acknowledging everyone’s guilt but our own.

I had a dream in which I was told that change doesn’t come about by making the same apologies over and over again. Change comes about in the heart first, and only God’s love can heal a heart because only God can be both just and loving. He has provided a way that is truth and life. The way, the only way, is Jesus. God’s kind of justice meant sending his son to set the captives free, not condemn them. He offers life, not death.

Jesus explained, “I am the Way, I am the Truth, and I am the Life. No one comes next to the Father except through union with me. To know me is to know my Father too.” (John 14:6 TPT)

Invaluable

The power to endure is greatly undervalued. In a culture where rapid solutions win the rat race we have little appreciation for the seasons in which God’s grace is empowering us to endure all things while keeping hope and faith alive. We want the comfortable stuff and the fun stuff — now! God sometimes has other plans. Endurance, like patience, cannot be developed in a hurry.

We’re heading into another winter season with so many unknowns battering our feeble understanding of peace and progress. Although the gap between striving to up our faith and leaning on his faithfulness is painfully evident, his grace is still abundant.

This morning I woke with song of encouragement playing in my head.

I know Your thoughts
Your plans for me are good
And I know You hold
My future and my hope
Your promises never fail
Your promises never fail

(from Your Promises Never Fail by Jason Ingram and Ben Fielding)

The Hebrew word for peace, Shalom, means, in part, nothing missing and nothing lacking. Even when we can’t see it the Holy Spirit is working in us to transform us into his image.

My fellow believers, when it seems as though you are facing nothing but difficulties see it as an invaluable opportunity to experience the greatest joy that you can! For you know that when your faith is tested it stirs up power within you to endure all things. And then as your endurance grows even stronger it will release perfection into every part of your being until there is nothing missing and nothing lacking. (James 1:1-4 TPT)