Just A Jacket

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It arrived many years ago in a brown grocery paper bag with a string tied around the bulky package. My mom had found the winter jacket at a garage sale and thought of me. It was an extravagant gift. My mom didn’t have much money during that period in her life and had stopped buying gifts.

The jacket is worn out now with a tattered lining. I was at least the second owner and it is obvious that the jacket was loved and worn, even before my time. The jacket has outlived its purpose, yet it hangs in my closet taking up valuable space.

I know the reason why I keep it. It was unique. Whenever I wore that jacket, I could count on at least one stranger complimenting it. As soon as I arrived home from running errands, I would tell my husband that another person liked the jacket. It was a long-running joke between us because I loved everything about the jacket, the fabric, design and color, whereas my husband never cared for it.

I know the real reason why I keep it. It is a jacket that my mom lovingly picked out, touched, and sent to me as a surprise of her love. My mom has been gone for four years now. That jacket is still a connection to my mom in the flesh. I imagine my mom spying the jacket at a garage sale and remarking, “I know my daughter will love this!”

As we downsized houses and sorted through too much stuff, the subject of getting rid of the jacket came up over and over. I would put it in the donate pile one day and take it out the next day. My husband finally told me to keep it. We would make room for the jacket. Something as ordinary as a coat captured my heart.

The prophet Isaiah speaks of the ordinary and then reminds us of the extraordinary beauty of Jesus Christ that captures our hearts.

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him (Isaiah 53:2). But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5).

The ordinary became the eternal definition of love expressed. The unique gift from our Father in heaven is a garment of salvation that always looks beautiful and never becomes tattered in the hearts of His children.

I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels (Isaiah 61:10.)

Jesus cloaks us with God’s extravagant love that transforms the ordinary and changes hearts with the extraordinary. We wear God’s love as a garment that holds us in His loving arms and never lets go. Make room. You are loved!

 

 

 

 

Who Are The Sinners In Your Life?

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“You don’t live in the real world.” It was a comment that stung. I have to share the context in order to explain the personal meaning behind that comment. My son and I made a trip to the grocery store in a metropolitan area. As we stepped out of the car, a panhandler asked us for money. My son politely declined, which prompted a tirade of cuss words as the panhandler walked away.

As we checked out with our groceries, the bagger got upset and scolded me with a cuss word. I had simply moved the cart to allow our cashier to help the cashier one row over. Trying to make the best of an awkward situation, I smiled and wished the bagger a good evening when we walked away.

In the car, my son remarked that my smile for the bagger was backed by an attitude. I had to admit that there was some truth to his observation. The entire grocery shopping trip made me uncomfortable and left me feeling offended. Hence, my son gave his opinion that I don’t live in the real world.

Maybe he is right. I live in the suburbs, and I haven’t worked a full-time job outside the home in 24 years. My circle of influence includes family, friends, and as the leader of a cancer ministry, volunteers with similar goals for cancer survivors. I know “my people.”

My shopping trip experience came to mind again when I studied Jesus’ calling of Levi (Matthew) to be His disciple and the subsequent dinner with “sinners” and tax collectors.

Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” were eating with him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the “sinners” and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:13-17)

We are called to follow Jesus into new territory: Territory that is outside our comfort zone. Territory that increases our spheres of influence. Territory that might scare us for an array of reasons. As Christians, we are redeemed sinners who are called to reach out to other sinners.

While I wait for God’s direction, I’m praying that God fills my heart with compassion for people that offend me or make me feel uncomfortable. I pray that my smile and well wishes will reflect Jesus and not an attitude of judgment or rejection. Before I go for God, I recognize first that I am a sinner in need of God for my life. To be genuine, I have to be genuinely touched by the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

Who are the “sinners” in our lives? Who do we need to bring to Jesus? More importantly, who do we need to go to in order to bring the good news of Jesus Christ? Each one of us is a sinner who God reached out to when Jesus died on the cross. Now it is our turn to pray it forward. The real world with real people awaits us!

Celebrations on Earth and In Heaven!

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The weekend began with much anticipation after months of planning. The day was surprisingly beautiful for mid-November. Eyes were drawn upwards as the sunshine highlighted the stained-glass depictions of Jesus’ life. There was a smile and hug at every turn in the church. My younger son said, “I do!” to the most important woman in his life. The marriage between my son and new daughter-in-law became official.

The celebrations continued and held the promise of memories that would last a lifetime. Those special moments were captured from every angle and the perspective of old and young alike with tweets, cell-phone video, Facebook postings and pictures galore. I will be able to savor the many details that made this wedding day perfect.

The wedding festivities didn’t disappoint. Joy and unity were themes for the entire weekend. I recognized pure joy in the bride’s and groom’s faces. I felt unity as family and friends came from near and far to be a part of the celebration. Two people became one in marriage and now two families are linked together for what the future holds.

At least for one weekend, all was right with the world! In life, we long to go from milestone to milestone with many reasons to celebrate in-between. In reality, we know that this world is more a mix of rejoicing and sadness, hopes and disappointments, successes and failures, and ultimately, life and death.

Examples of these juxtapositions can be found even at a wedding. We rejoiced with those who were present while intercessions were made for deceased loved ones who couldn’t be there. In-memory-of-pictures and votive candles were placed alongside wedding pictures of the newlyweds’ parents and grandparents.

Although I was unplugged from technology and the world for the weekend, life and death didn’t take a break. I was reminded of this fact as I returned to my normal routine and responsibilities for a cancer ministry. One of our cancer survivor’s family made the difficult decision to place their loved one in hospice. Three other survivors and a leader’s stepmom passed away. I enrolled two new survivors recently diagnosed with cancer. All in the same week.

The wedding weekend was a mountain peak followed by a valley of unexpected sorrow. Revelation 19 connects the themes of weddings, eternal life, and death:

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:6-7)

John’s words in Revelation evoke the same emotions in me that I felt at my son’s wedding. The wedding was even more special because I had a genuine relationship with and closeness to the groom. Joy united the guests invited to the wedding banquet. The bride was beautiful in her dress. I knew I was blessed by God to be an intimate part of the wedding festivities.

The wedding is over. My two sons are married to women that I am pleased and excited to call my daughters-in-law. There are no more weddings to plan or prepare for in our immediate family. The excitement of wedding festivities will gradually fade as the memories take root in my heart.

The Bible reminds me that there is one more wedding in my future that I can look forward to as an honored guest. My faith in Jesus Christ guarantees that I am invited to the wedding of the Lamb and His bride, the church. I will join people from every tribe, language, and nation united with one heart for our Lord.

There will be no last song as the marriage celebration will never end in heaven. Memories will not be necessary as we will have all of eternity to soak in the wedding joy. God’s people will be overwhelmed by the love the Bridegroom has for His bride. We will see that love in His eyes and feel it in His hugs. We will dance with Jesus and never let go.

Hallelujah for celebrations on earth and in heaven!

 

 

 

Sharing Burdens One Card At A Time

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Death leaves tangible voids in life. It hurts to see others hurt. We long to keep the tears from falling, but it doesn’t work. The grief of loss overwhelms and we join in with the tears. We use euphemisms to convince ourselves and others. “Time heals everything.” “It gets easier with time.” We know it is a lie as the pain still feels raw and grief erupts from deep inside.

We feel helpless so we pray. We feel powerless, so we pray some more. We want to comfort in the moment. We listen with hugs and empathize with silence. Words would betray us, if we think we can truly understand the intensity of their loss. We feel inadequate and long to do more, to just do something. But what?

At first it stirred in my heart and later was confirmed with the young widow. It was the comfort I could extend that perfectly suited my personality. I committed to sending a card once a week for a year. I have two more cards to send out as we are almost to the one year anniversary of her husband’s death.

The cards are not meant to be a reminder of her loss. Instead, the cards are a reminder that I remember her loss, I am thinking of her, I prayed for her, and I love her. Some cards were long as one would expect from a writer, others were one-sentence short, some funny, and others simply sweet. God answered my prayers and used these cards at just the right time in the widow’s week. Her burdens were shared one card at a time.

My sister-in-law, and really our entire family, will make it through the year. Sending cards helped me to work through my own grief, one card at a time. The gift of comfort I could share was a box full of love expressed through those cards. God’s gift will always be the comfort that fills the voids of our lives. His joy and His hope carries our burdens and ushers in our healing.

 

Proverbs 14:13

Even in laughter the heart may ache, and joy may end in grief.

 

Psalm 56:8

Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll—are they not in your record?

 

 

Just A Plate Of Cookies?

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Thumbprint Cookies

As a brand-new wife, I was eager to please my husband with my cooking abilities. I had big shoes to fill since my mother-in-law was an excellent cook. In early December that year, I decided to make my husband’s favorite cookie: thumbprint cookies with buttercream frosting.

Before I started, I called my mother-in-law to make sure I did everything the way she did. I used the right combination of butter, margarine, and shortening. A sample batch helped me to determine the perfect baking time. I bought the flavor of frosting that my husband said “made the cookies.” If effort and care ensured success, I knew these cookies would be a hit with my husband.

Frosted cookies covered the counters and the kitchen table. They looked just like my mother-in-law’s cookies. My husband was the willing taste-tester. He sat down with cookies and milk. I anticipated the kudos he would heap on his bride. I eagerly watched as he took the first bite.

That’s when my perfect scenario of wedded bliss fell apart. “What did you do to these cookies?” I didn’t hear the expected confirmation, but rather an accusation. It didn’t take long to figure out where I went wrong. I bought the wrong flavor of frosting! To this day, I swear my husband said his favorite cookies were thumbprint cookies with sour cream frosting. My husband would have never said sour cream frosting as his mom always used buttercream frosting.

This distinction was noted on the recipe for future reference. I have not made that mistake again since my very first batch of thumbprint cookies twenty-seven years ago. It was a good lesson for us as newlyweds: communication is more than just words. It is making sure that the other person  heard and truly understood what was said. Good advice for our marriage and especially for the thumbprint cookie recipe passed down in our family!

It was an easy fix for the thumbprint cookies, but it is not always so easy to fix other things in our lives. We can follow directions, consult with others, do our best, and still fail epically. In God’s eyes, this often describes the efforts we employ to fix our spiritual condition. It doesn’t work and it will fail every time because it is dependent on us.

Ephesians 2:8-9 explains the reason for our failure: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. The best paraphrase I have heard for these verses is: Saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. No amount of striving, competency, or resources apart from God will save us. The part we are responsible for is faith in Jesus Christ. Genuine faith puts us on the path of salvation and guarantees our place in heaven.

We celebrate Christmas because God’s hope for us became flesh and blood. The Christ child grew up to be the Son of Man who died on the cross as the Son of God to save us. As Christians, may we share this sweet victory and include generous servings of love!

Psalm 34:8

Taste and see that the LORD is good, blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

I Hope Everyone Has An Uncle Cliff!

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I hope everyone has an “Uncle Cliff.” My Uncle Cliff is 99 years old and a storyteller. His memory is still sharp and he can recall experiences from World War II to current baseball statistics. Every time we visit him, I am reminded that he has more stories we need to hear.

I am thankful that he has recorded over 158 stories in a binder that he keeps close to his side. The stories are pulled out to bless visitors and I love to read Uncle Cliff’s stories out loud to him. I even shared two of Uncle Cliff’s stories with our younger son when he graduated from college. The stories warned that a “young engineer’s” degree doesn’t mean much if he doesn’t care about the people he supervises. Of course, Uncle Cliff said it much better than I ever could have: life experiences were interspersed with humor to make the lessons stick.

Since we live out-of-state, we only see Uncle Cliff twice in a good year. What always touches my heart is that Uncle Cliff remembers our stories. The first thing Uncle Cliff does is to grasp my hand and ask, “How many years has it been now?” He always knows the answer and then follows up with, “How are you doing?” Uncle Cliff never stopped celebrating the fact that I am a cancer survivor.

I like to think that as we held each other’s hands tightly, strength was flowing between us: the wiser to the younger and the younger to the older. In reality, it was Uncle Cliff’s strength of spirit that infused me. I tend to think Uncle Cliff will be with us forever. We don’t want to let go of a man that can still captivate us with his words.

But Uncle Cliff is not doing well. His body is worn out. At age 99 with failing health, I know there aren’t many stories left in him. I am comforted that his last story will be his very best story: the glory of heaven. Someday, our stories will merge and become one for all of eternity. Through faith in Jesus Christ, our lives have the same ending. Only God could write such a beautiful story!

Prologue: This post was written after we visited Uncle Cliff for the last time. He experienced heaven’s story firsthand in late October.

 

John 17:24

Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

 

1 Corinthians 2:9

However, it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

 

 

Moments of Grace

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Growing up in a small town, there weren’t many ways to get into trouble. Nonetheless, my best friend and I could always find a little “trouble.” Late on a weekend night, we returned to my house after galavanting about town. We talked and giggled as we clanged around the kitchen to fix a snack. The night was young for two high school girls as my parents slept.

We didn’t hear him pad barefoot into the kitchen, wiping sleep out of his eyes. My dad stood in the doorway and glared at us. His only comment was, “Home a little late, aren’t you?” I knew I was in big trouble. Morning dawned and my punishment loomed. It never came. Nothing more was ever said. I experienced a moment of grace that I can remember to this day.

That was not the last moment of grace I needed in my life. Over many years of seeking God, or more accurately put, God seeking me, I experienced God’s grace. It wasn’t until I knew Jesus Christ as my Savior that I realized the extent of that grace. The difference now was that I didn’t want to waste the grace. Getting into trouble was no longer fun for God had placed a desire deep inside of me to serve Him.

Today, as I make wiser choices in my life, I recognize that I still need God’s flood of grace. Every day my heart yearns for more grace. And my Father in heaven still delights to bestow His grace upon me.

Ephesians 2:8-9

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. 

1 Timothy 1:14

The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.