Melted Chocolate Blanket

Melted

Gentle Reader,

I feel quiet.

There has to be a better way of describing the sense that pervades my body. Usually, all cells are on high alert, every neuron firing quickly, every chemical either too abundant or to scarce for equilibrium. Though one who despises feeling and has moments of wishing she could actually become a robot, I feel deeply, constantly and unendingly. Changes in environment give me headaches. A furtive glance from someone, anyone, makes my mind whir, attempting to discern the meaning. One stress-point away from panic. Code Red, all the time, always.

But today: not.

No hum in my brain, no throb in my veins, no ache in my stomach. It’s like I’m cocooned in a blanket made of melted chocolate. Not too hot, not to cold. Just right. (And, if such a thing existed, delicious).

It’s a wonder to feel this way. The husband and I were talking the other night about how we both have a niggling wondering in the back of our minds every moment of each day – Is this it? Will the world break out into war right now? Is someone pressing the button to launch the nuke? Those questions are not unique to our generation, of course. But they sure are exhausting.

Because we all want peace. We all want safety.

At least, I think we do. I hope we do. The screaming heads that make their way to the television screens and the Twitter streams can’t be representative of the majority – can they?

I sip my iced coffee as I look at the screen and wonder where this post is coming from and where it is going. That’s the thing with writing; the author doesn’t always know. My desire is to communicate…something to you today, something that I’m not sure I can find the words for.

The Psalmist says it best:

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

– Psalm 46:10 (NKJV)

We’ve heard this verse a million times. People love to quote it at those who feel stressed out. Be still, man. God has you. That’s true. That’s not what I want to talk about.

Rûm: to rise, rise up, be high, be lofty, be exalted

StudyLight

Exalt: to elevate by praise or in estimation

Merriam-Webster

So many people clamor for our attention. So many people want to convince us that they, and they alone, have all the answers. Pundits and lobbyists and advertisers and celebrities. People who, more often than not, have no actual expertise in the area about which they are pontificating. But they catch our attention. Because they’re loud and flashy and popular and we all want to be part of what’s popular.

Meanwhile, God doesn’t scream. He doesn’t strive. He doesn’t bully or push us. He doesn’t jump on bandwagons, make false promises or have to “walk back” anything He says. The lesson in confidence and identity is not learned in studying the biggest Instagram influencer or reading yet another self-help article (like we have time or attention for books these days. Yes, that’s me throwing shade. Go get a library card). It’s learned by looking at God.

He is who He is. He will do what He says He will do.

Period.

Let Christ Himself be your example as to what your attitude should be. For He, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to His prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped Himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, He humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death He died was the death of a common criminal. That is why God has now lifted Him so high, and has given Him the name beyond all names, so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, whether in Heaven or earth or under the earth. And that is why, in the end, every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

– Philippians 2:5-11 (Phillips)

I’ve read, quoted and written about these verses more times than I can recall. Can’t help but dwell on them again as I consider God’s exaltation guarantee. It’s going to happen. The time will come when He will be lifted up. He will be praised. There will be no more debate or questions. Everyone who was, is and has yet to be will hit the deck in adoration.

Isn’t it interesting that He waits? That He doesn’t go on a cable infotainment show to try to prove how great He is? God is utterly, completely, secure in Himself. Human opinion doesn’t rattle Him in the slightest. He’s just not…bothered by whatever the theological equivalent of internet trolls are. He keeps on loving, keeps on tirelessly working to draw people to Himself, keeps on unfolding the plan set in motion since before time began.

Meditating on this reality is, I think, where the melted chocolate blanket feeling comes from. If God is secure and I am in Him, then I am secure. My identity, value, reputation, gifts, talents, all of it. None of it rests on any person who is just as flawed, fragile and feeble as me. I do not have to attempt to dredge up a sense of well-being in this stupid, chaotic world by clinging to a brand or a place or a political party. People don’t like what I write, okay. My name gets dragged through the mud, all right. Someone does hit that bomb button, hello nuclear winter and Heaven.

Someone said to me recently, “What people want is peace. They think they want solutions to this or that problem, but the driving thing is the longing for peace. Only God can bring that.” 

Only God can bring the peace because only He is peace. In knowing and loving Him is found the strength, the iron will, the sheer cussed stubbornness to keep going. Preaching the words that glorify Him. Working for the things that please Him. Loving as He loves. Even when someone whips those words back at you like a cat o’ nine tails. Even when the job never gets done. Even when hate would be easier than love.

We have a chance to be truly different when we follow Christ. In fact, that’s kind of a big part of the point. Transformation isn’t just about Eternity. It’s about the here and now. No screaming, scrabbling or stabbing for us. Instead, let’s walk through this world with quiet dignity and grace, leaving footprints of mercy and justice wherever we go. Let’s embrace and live out our status as culturally dissident residents of an alien nation, illegal spiritual immigrants who won’t assimilate into the larger society. Not because we are reactive and hostile, but because we hold onto the peace of the melted chocolate blanket.

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The Wednesday Writers: Stephanie Thompson (Again)

Back Door

Gentle Reader,

It’s The Wednesday Writers!

No idea what I’m talking about? Read this.

Today I’m happy to welcome back my friend Stephanie Thompson.

A Place of Unexpected Hospitality

Last year, something exciting happened around here. After living here for nineteen years, we bought a new back door! It is a beautiful white door with a small window. No scratches or marks of age. New.

As a child, I could have never expected a door to be a source of fulfillment. But once you reach adulthood, you set your eyes on different “toys.” A new dishwasher? Yippee!

Our home is small and quaint. Originally we bought it as a “starter” home but due to a lot of factors since then, we are still here. And truthfully, we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. This is the place our stories have unfolded. We have hosted Bible Studies, birthday parties, dinner parties, brought new babies home. These walls have witnessed despair, sorrow, hope, celebration. God has weaved our lives together here.

The distance between the back door and the front door is fairly short. Yet, as you know, there exists a cultural nuance about house entrances. Typically, the front door is used formally and the back door for more intimate relationships. Things like:

The neighbor coming over to ask to borrow a cup of sugar (yes, we are fortunate to have those interactions in 2016!)

My kids’ friends looking for a playmate

The dogs, coming in refreshed and a bit calmer after some time in the backyard.

The Summer Parade of kids going back and forth between the inside for refreshment and the outside for watersports (hopefully not dripping). The glorious breeze and the waft of grass coming in with them.

Because our home is small, there is not a lot of space for storage. Coats and shoes find their place on hooks and a shoe bench immediately after entering the back door. And it opens right into my kitchen. Let’s just say there is always something “cooking” in there.

I’d like to say that the “mudroom” was always organized but it wasn’t.

Once I even lost a bike helmet there in plain sight!

In the summer, flip flops, packages of sparklers left over from fourth of July and swimming goggles are stored (loosely!) in this space.

In the winter, it becomes cluttered with boots. Not just our boots. The boots of those who grace us with their presence. Whose interactions are woven into our life stories. Which brings me to what I have learned from my back door.

You see, I used to be embarrassed for guests to use it. Even if I tried to cue visitors to use the front entrance, which is so much more elegant and clean, people still chose to use the back door.

Sometimes, my father-in-law would pop over on a Saturday morning to have coffee. There would be a knock on the back door. Yikes! Pancake batter adorned my counters. Dirty breakfast dishes stacked in the sink waiting to be bathed in the dishwasher. I tried to be gracious but inside I was swallowing my pride. He was seeking relationship with his son. I was focused on logistical details.

And then there was the next door neighbor girl, seeking a place of refuge from the insecurity in her own home. There would be a knock on the back door. I saw the door opening to the array of boots and coats strewn about. She didn’t focus on that. Our back entrance provided affirmation that she had value and was loved unconditionally.

So last year, when we bought a new door, there was a feeling of accomplishment on our part. Everyone likes to make their home more appealing and welcoming.We saved and bought a door that added aesthetic value as well as heat efficiency. It was nice to have something new.

But nothing else about the “back door” has changed. Except my perception of it and what it means for us.

I have learned that when people use that door, they feel comfortable. Intimate. Our front door is for people like the UPS carrier, a girl scout selling cookies, trick or treaters, or guests with whom we haven’t developed much of a relationship.

The back door crowd sees us in all our “nakedness”, and still choose to enter our home. And I need to let down my guard and accept it.

For, despite what my door may look like, it represents something beautiful.

What area of your home has become your unexpected place of hospitality?

********

mudphotoStephanie is a graduate of North Park Theological Seminary and an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church. She writes about sensing the voice of God and encountering the Holy Spirit in the midst of our everyday routines. Her pieces have appeared at Mudroom, The Mighty, Altarwork, as well as other sites. She is a writer for the Redbud Guild. In addition, her passion for those affected by mental illness finds itself woven into her writing. Stephanie lives in Mokena, Illinois with her husband and three teens.   .

A speaker as well as an author, you can connect with Stephanie at her blog and on social media (Twitter  /  Facebook).

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The Wednesday Writers: Carol Graft

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

It’s The Wednesday Writers!

No idea what I’m talking about? Read this.

Today we hear from my friend and fitness accountability group member, Carol Graft.

The Gift and Fruit of Grace and Mercy

Grace is receiving what we don’t deserve.
Mercy is not receiving what we do deserve.

– Author Unknown

We are familiar with Galatians 5, the chapter that includes the Fruit of the Spirit passage:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

– vs. 22-23 (NKJV)

Notice that “fruit” is singular. It’s all the same value. We are to have all of the attributes. All the fruit of the Spirit should be manifest in our lives as believers in and followers after Christ. But if we are honest, we have our strengths and weaknesses in this area just as we have in any area of our life. We can get down about this.

We forget about grace.

We forget that it’s a gift. Instead, we focus on passages like this:

…for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

– 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 (NKJV)

I know some don’t think these words are relevant; the time for passages such as this is long gone. Given that the Word of God is living and active, not just pages of wood pulp with typeface on it, I beg to differ. (But that’s another post).

Those gifts listed above are plural, meaning multiple gifts.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone has them all, though most have several, just in varying degrees. We get wrapped up in that. We focus on what we are able to do.

What about grace? Mercy? The ability to rest in Him, instead of striving and fretting?

These two things fall into both the “gift” and the “fruit” category.  Straight from the heart of God, we simply must have grace and mercy flowing in and out of our lives.

Grace: unmerited favor. Favor that we didn’t earn.

Ihis book Grace: More Than We Deserve Greater Than We Imagine, Max Lucado talks about a night in an upper room.

The grace of God.

Hours before Jesus is to be killed, to take the sin of the world then and now upon His shoulders, He shows grace, compassion and unconditional love.

John 13: the Last Supper, that last Passover remembrance.  After the meal, Jesus grabs a basin and a towel and proceeds to do what would normally be done by a slave. Wash the feet.  

Jesus didn’t exclude anyone from what He was doing.  Not the doubter Philip, not James and John who always wanted to be first.

Not Peter, who turns his back on Jesus,

We see Jesus is so full of grace that He washes the feet of Judas himself. The man who very shortly will sell Him.

Could you do that? Could you wash the feet of your betrayer? Could you wash the feet of your boss who fired you?  Could you wash the feet of _______ (fill in the blank)?

To be gracious women and men, we need to walk in Christ. To walk as if Christ’s love is surrounding us and in us.

If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do.

– John 13:14-15 (CEB)

To accept grace is to accept the vow to give it.

Mercy: withheld punishment.

Scripture says we are redeemed by mercy.

In His love and mercy He redeemed them…

Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.

– Isaiah 63:9 (NIV); Romans 11:21 (NKJV)

Because we have been granted mercy by God, we need to be merciful to those we meet every day. Those in our lives that try our patience. Those who don’t know the Lord.  If we only remember where we were and what we were brought out of, maybe that would soften the attitudes, the hearts of us and our judgments to others, especially those who don’t know yet the wonderful cleansing of God and His love for us.

The gifts of grace and mercy enable us to live as He wants us to. The fruit grows when we are planted deep in the soil of His love. We are changed, for:

What shall we say [to all this]? Are we to remain in sin in order that God’s grace (favor and mercy) may multiply and overflow? Certainly not! How can we who died to sin live in it any longer?

– Romans 6:1-2 (AMP)

 

Remember today that God’s mercy and grace is so very, very rich.

“In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.”

– Ephesians 1:7 (NIV)

********

blog profile


Carol lives in West Michigan, close enough to the beach to chase the sunsets when she can. Married 33 years and counting. Mom to 7, mostly grown, children. 3 daughters in love, and blessed with grands. Loves hot beverages, prayer and worship. Love to teach and encourage others in this Journey with Jesus. While I think my writing is rather rusty, I am learning to lean in and follow the call, stepping out on the water.  Keeping my eyes on Jesus.

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The Wednesday Writers: Stephanie Thompson

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (4)

Gentle Reader,

It’s The Wednesday Writers!

No idea what I’m talking about? Read this.

Today we hear from my friend Stephanie Thompson.

Why Scraping Your Life’s Windshield Affects Your View of the Road

Every January, my husband and I ask each other the same question: “Why do we live here?”

The air stings. Grey skies hover without a slight peek at the sun. The trees bare their nakedness. Sometimes snow; despite it’s nuisance as it mounts, adds a texture of beauty to this somewhat drab palette. This is Winter in the midwest; Chicago to be specific.

Several years ago, my husband worked temporarily in San Diego. On a weekend whim, I flew out to visit. You can eat outside in January? Who knew? And the scenery…..hello ocean and hills!

Though we considered the prospect of God perhaps moving us out there (ok wishing), it was apparent that Chicago is our home.

Scraping the ice off the windshield after the night temperatures have plunged below zero is not my favorite activity. It requires early preparation in the midst of a hectic school morning routine. Even with the defroster at work, the ice hardens and resists the effort of my chilled to the bone fingers.

In my rush and frustration, the temptation to simply scrape off enough ice to provide a small “window” of visibility seduces me. Yet despite the increasing windchill whipping my face, I know that taking the shortcut increases my chances of an accident. If the back window is not clear, I cannot see what’s approaching behind me. Despite my kids thinking that I do indeed possess eyes in the back of my head, it’s simply not true. If my rear vision is incomplete, my abilities to prevent certain collisions is impaired. If the side windows are still frosty, I may not see the car next to me as I attempt to change lanes. And even a small circle of transparency in the front windshield does not allow me to gauge the elements of all that lie in front of me.

How similar I find the act of scraping a windshield to approaching sinful areas of my life.

What is blocking your view?

Fear? At times, it floods the senses; resulting in anxiety as we take in the implications of the journey ahead. The heartbeat escalates, eyes grow big, and hands quiver. Is God really big enough to keep us on track despite detours, pot holes?

Pride? The ever seducing voice in our head lulls us into a false reality. Our wisdom, though faulty and biased to self, rules the world. We know better. Especially when time constraints beckon. But as the sun bears it’s light onto the foggy windshield, we are blinded. As navigation continues, we find ourselves suddenly braking to prevent colliding with a car which was hidden by the glare. Why am I afraid to “trust in the Lord with all my heart? (prov. 3:5)”

Discouragement? Perhaps staggering to the car, while feeling the sting of the air seems like the best you can do. Scraping off the windshield? The task seems too daunting. Confronting the dawn of a new day while deceitful voices whisper words devoid of hope keep us from preparing early. The defroster’s warmth cannot melt the iciness of the morning’s frost quickly. What thoughts can I surrender to God so that the warmth of His light thaws the frost surrounding it?

How are you enlarging your “window” of visibility? Little chisels at a time or engaging in the more arduous process of scraping the covering all at once?

Sin, when not scraped off immediately, becomes a harden base upon which more layers mount. The longer it sits, the more overwhelming the task becomes. The temptation, then, becomes avoiding the removal. Little chisels may provide brief glimpses of the road in front but we find ourselves impaired by the lack of visibility.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

– Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

Or, In this case, “scrape off” everything that hinders.

Fear, pride, discouragement. Satan wants nothing more than to block our view of the light going before us as we travel. With nothing impeding the view, we can aim clearly toward the destination.

What is hindering yours?

********

mudphotoStephanie is a graduate of North Park Theological Seminary and an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church. She writes about sensing the voice of God and encountering the Holy Spirit in the midst of our everyday routines. Her pieces have appeared at Mudroom, The Mighty, Altarwork, as well as other sites. She is a writer for the Redbud Guild. In addition, her passion for those affected by mental illness finds itself woven into her writing. Stephanie lives in Mokena, Illinois with her husband and three teens.   .

A speaker as well as an author, you can connect with Stephanie at her blog and on social media (Twitter  /  Facebook).

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