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Live in Harmony

ginkgo quote 3.jpg‘Live in harmony with one another’

Words spoken every Sunday –

part of a blessing as we leave, but not always heard or taken to heart.

Today I hear those words loud and clear, as though spoken with a megaphone. These words meant to bless and encourage, this morning they convict.

The last 48-hours have been far from harmonious for me.

A trip to Chicago with my husband and youngest son brought out my Mrs. Hyde. Who is this crazy, uninvited woman in the car with us who lashes with the tongue, cuts with ugly words, who absorbs the stress of traffic, running late, and wrong turns, and spits out arrows of blame and accusations only to fuel an exchange of heated words and hurt feelings?

Far from my finest moment.

Far from a life of grace.

And that’s only one example that I’m brave enough to share with you.

Then these gentle words spoken directly to me as I sit in the pew, God speaking right in my ear, a holy arrow bypassing my conscience and going straight to my heart:

‘Live in harmony’.

What exactly does that mean – to live in harmony? Is it all of us standing in a circle, holding hands and singing “Kum-ba-Yah” or “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” with coke in hand? Of course not. Rather a harmonious life is one filled with peace instead of drama, patience instead of quick tempers, understanding instead of assumptions, and forgiveness instead of grudges.

We are all far from living a life like that.

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As I dwell on this more, I think about what harmony means in music – this combination of simultaneously sounded notes that produces a pleasing effect. Translation – living lives that support and compliment each other. When someone in my life has the melody – melancholy or joyful – I must willingly step back to be supporting harmony, and hopefully vice versa. Sometimes I need to put my own wants, needs, and opinions aside to make way for someone else’s.  And a lesson well-learned on the road to Chicago – sometimes the best harmony is the one unheard – when the tongue is kept silent so the ears can hear the melody of others. Saint Paul says:

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4

Could humility be essential to living in harmony? Putting others first. Sacrificing self. Counting others more significant than self. Humility. Yes, I see it’s importance, but it’s not so easy for the ‘me first-ers’, ‘I know best-ers’, and ‘it’s not my fault-ers’. Somehow being humble has a negative connotation, but perhaps humility is misunderstood.

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” C.S Lewis

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Love is the other key ingredient. Letting love lead and fuel conversations, rather than anger and self-righteous thoughts. Remembering that I am loved by a God who is patient, understanding, and offers forgiveness and peace, should spur me on to show the same for those in my life.

Daily I fail like on that road trip. The tongue often speaks before the mind can tell it not to. Apologies and forgiveness are part of the music woven in a life, and the weekly encouragement to live harmoniously becomes a necessary reminder. There is blessing in humility, whether we have the melody or the harmony of a moment. In God’s eyes, being humble and letting love lead our actions and reactions, it’s all sweet melody.

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Blessings,

Tracy

Mustering Courage

bare-trees-quote

Some days I would rather stay home.

Today is one of them.

Chilly winds whip through the trees stripping leaves clean off, rain relentlessly pounds the earth – much needed, but far from pleasant at the moment.

Courage flees at the thought of leaving my warm home and stepping out into this blustery, miserable day. I try to justify leaving – do I really need to go? Do those things have to be done today? Yes, and yes, so step out, I must. I muster up, bundle up, and step out into the cold, dreariness that quickly engulfs me.

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As I stare out my window and cower at the thought of leaving my warm sanctuary, I see how God sometimes calls us to step out into unpleasant, blustery moments – even seasons. Hard situations that are way out of our comfort zone make us want to withdraw and retreat into the safe and the familiar. We wrap ourselves in the security of what we know, but it’s really fear that holds us tight, trying to ignore what we know we must face. It takes courage to step into the winds of change that whip around us, and bear the pounding rains and cold winds that chill us to the core. But step out, we must.

God doesn’t call us to go into the unknown alone – he walks close beside us. When we need to muster up courage, He bundles us up with the strength to take that first brave step and then another and another. Warmed with his love and constant presence, we take each day as it comes. We wear it brave and do the day, remembering his promise that this storm and these pounding rains will be for our good. That though unpleasant, they may be much needed. Rain can cleanse, rain can restore, and rain makes all things grow. There are blessings in the midst of storms and he is the calm amidst it all.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

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Blessings

Tracy

 

Grace Under Pressure

grace-gateSome things are so beautiful, I can’t help but stop and admire.

The other night it was the huge crescent moon hanging low, glowing harvest orange. Almost home, I drove past my driveway, in a race with time, to reach the clearing and capture it before it was gone.

Moon.

Blossom.

Sunset.

Usually it’s things of nature that catch the eye and steal the breath with unnatural beauty.

Last fall, this wrought iron gate (shown above) had the same affect – caught the eye, pulled off the road, had to get closer to take it all in. Graceful curves, white aged to yellow, chipped and rusted, but to me it was awesome. What struck me most was the contrast – strong iron shaped into gentle curves. How many years had it stood here? How many storms had it endured? Strong yet so graceful. How hot was the fire that softened hard iron to form swooshes and swirls?

I see the same beauty in someone close who battled the ugliness of cancer with such grace. Keeping her eyes focused on the ultimate Grace-giver was reflected in her response to  what life had handed her. Through the firestorm, her strong faith unwaivering was beautiful. Grace under pressure.

Long seasons of testing and trials are made up of small moments that define us. Like fire, they can refine making us stronger or they can consume weakening our faith.

How do we respond when in the midst of everyday fires?

to the heated moments of a stressful day?

to personal attacks on faith or political  views?

to gossip that surrounds, or pain that hounds?

to words that sting and tempers that flare?

It’s in our nature to react to these pressures of fire with more fire: to be unkind when treated unkindly, to give anger when shown anger, to lash out when lashed at, to break under pressure. But what if we respond with what’s unexpected: kindness. What if we respond with what is undeserved: grace. What if our response is to find one small thing to be grateful for whatever situation we are in.

Each small moment fire is an opportunity to reflect the undeserved love and grace God has shown us. When we react to moments of pressure or a season of trials with a bit of that grace, our unexpected response could stop fire’s fury, catch the eye, and in a small way, be unexpectedly beautiful.

Grace under pressure.

Amazing grace hung on a cross so long ago – arms stretched wide, hands pierced with hateful nail, beaten body weighted with malice of a sin-filled world. Yet Jesus spoke words of love: ‘Father, forgive them.’ Ultimate grace under pressure shown by ultimate Love. That catches the eye, steals the breath, and humbles the heart.

May God use whatever fire is in our moments to make us stronger and be a reflection of his grace.

‘Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus’.  2 Timothy 2:1

blessings,

Tracy

stillness-lake-quote

‘Mama, I don’t feel good’.

I look at her pale face, thin body lying in bed. It had been four months of this unknown illness wreaking havoc and robbing her of youthful joy. Four months since she had been in school, missing friends and fun of seventh grade.

As her days filled with pain and loneliness, my days filled with frustration and helplessness of a mama who would do anything for her daughter, but powerlessly could do nothing. Endless doctor visits, each adding only more questions to this enigma. What else could I do to make her better?  Myself sick with worry and stress. Daily pleas turned into constant state of prayer: ‘Please, God, heal her.’ ‘Heavenly Father, please lead us to the answer’.

Nothing.

Only silence.

Or so it is seemed at the time.

Standing in the now, I see with faith-filled eyes that God was not silent during those anxious days eleven years ago.

But wrapped up, consumed in those moments when time stood still, it sure seemed like he was.

Silence can be deceptive.

Unanswered prayer baffles – does God really care? Day after day waiting for an answer – is God really listening? Does he hear? Why doesn’t he show some sign that he is there? Why doesn’t he make this better? Why is this happening? Why? Why? Always the why.

Silence can be deafening.

It deafens so all we hear are our own thoughts, drowning in doubt and confusion. It limits his greatness and goodness, and it masks what he’s really trying to tell us:

Be still, and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10

When God seems silent, he’s actually calling us into stillness.

But how to be still when the world spins upside down?

Where is stillness when the heart sobs in brokenness?

How to find stillness in the tumult of mind’s questioning?

Yet with those words, be still, he calls us into a quiet calm.

How did he come to Elijah on the mountain? Not in wind or quake or fire, but in a gentle whisper. And how can we hear the whisper if we are not still?

In the stillness he whispers:

I love you. I will never leave you.  Joshua 1:5

I have plans for you, so trust me. Jeremiah 29:11

I need you to wait, because the time isn’t right yet. I have something better in store. Psalm 37:7, 104:27, Eccl 3:11

In the stillness he calls us to wait and to wait patiently.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him. Psalm 37:7

So we wait.

In the waiting, he is at work. Earthly eyes cannot see or understand his mysterious ways. But with eyes of faith, we trust. His ‘no’s’ may be ‘not yets’. His ‘no’s’ may be a lesson in the now here, teaching us to rely only on him, to lean into him and his promises.

For his love endures forever. Psalm 136:1

So with whatever strength the soul can muster in the midst of the storm, be still and cling to him.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. Psalm 130:5

blessings,

Tracy

Wind Chaser

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The wind blows strong today.

Leaves rustle and dance.

Wind’s elusiveness stirs my mind.

I see it as it moves through limb and leaf;

feel it as it blows across skin

yet, if I tried, I could not catch it or contain it

no matter how I’d strive, run, and chase

it would escape me.

So I sit and the mind sees how life is wind –

 what we strive for is often just out of grasp:

happiness, success, stability,

the way things were, the way we wish things would be.

Prayers seem to go unanswered and life doesn’t feel good.

We stop chasing because what’s the point?

Even day’s routine: work. eat. sleep. repeat. can begin to look bleak and meaningless.

King Solomon wrote, “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” – Eccl. 1:14

That pretty much sums it up. No wonder depression is real and prevalent.

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What IS the point, then?

What IS the reason for all this chasing after?

Even as believers we grapple with these questions.

Part of the answer is in the eyes.

Do we look only with eyes focused on life under the sun?

Or through the eyes’ lens of faith, can we see that meaning lies beyond the sun?

Are eyes fixed on the mirror? Yes, too often self is pretty important. It’s hard not to drown in a sea of selfisms: selfies, selfishness, self-pity, self-blame.

Or is the gaze on the only One who gives meaning to all things meaningless?

Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus

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It’s also the practice of contentment.

If I could stop chasing after the winds of what I want, and just be still long enough to see that this moment holds enough blessings – that’s the first step toward contentment.

Yes,  I have enough.

We ALL have enough.

And deserve none of it.

It’s all a gift. Like leaves dancing in that wind, undeserved gifts swirl and land at our feet. And if we stand still long enough, we’d find ourselves buried in piles of abundance.

Work. eat. sleep. repeat. now becomes an act of gratitude:

I’m thankful for work

I’m thankful for food on the table

I’m thankful for a bed to sleep in

and I’m thankful for a new day to do it all again.

It’s easy to forget that each moment has meaning, each moment has purpose, and each is part of God’s perfect plan. But if we practice being grace seekers instead of wind chasers, life goes from meaningless to meaning-FULL.

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And what does that life look like?

It’s striving to please the Life Giver rather than pleasing self.

It’s knowing that my life has a purpose, and your’s has a purpose, and God has a plan for each of us, and He is at work even if we can’t see it right now.

It’s running the race steadily toward the eternal goal that He has put into our hearts. That is what truly gives life meaning. It’s encouraging each other along the way, and bringing as many others along with us.

That’s the whole point.

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blessings, 

Tracy

 

Beauty Before Me

Tune My Senses

It’s happening again.

I’m doing what I said I wasn’t going to do:

let life get way out of balance –

I mean – WAY out of balance.

I love what I do

I don’t consider it a job because I enjoy it so much,

but usually I let it consume me and my time –

especially at this time of year.

It’s something I’ve struggled with for what seems too long.

 I even started this year with a new resolve:

to balance family, home, work, church

but, sigh . . .

*

About a month ago, a friend asked me if I had seen my hellebores blooming.

Oh my gosh, had I missed the first blossoms of spring?

As a self-proclaimed beauty-seeker, I was mad at myself.

How had my schedule become so full of to do’s that I had forgotten how to just be?

How had my focus become so narrow that I had forgotten to really see?

I ran out with camera in hand

hunting for beauty

and found it –

there on the hillside covered in lovely blossoms

dangling downward

Lenten roses

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Such a good reminder to live life slow

not as if life is an emergency;

to take the time to seek and see the beauty that’s right before me

and to thank God for each gift

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Time is one of those gifts

and though it seems there is never enough of it,

every morning I need a reminder

that God has given me enough time

it’s all how I use it,

not how it uses me.

So a new resolve stirs to slow and be in the moment,

to balance, but always seek Him first,

and to be tuned in to the grace-shower that follows.

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‘Plant the good seeds of righteousness,
    and you will harvest a crop of love.
Plow up the hard ground of your hearts,
    for now is the time to seek the Lord,
that He may come and shower righteousness upon you.’

– Hosea 10:12

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Blessings,

Tracy

Unwelcome Gifts

snow psalm

Another snowfall.

This one not welcome.

Pretty, but not wanted.

It’s March.

Yesterday the air was warm.

Spring will come early this year, and I am anxious for it.

Instead, this white falling from above.

I know there is a reason for it,

this delay of season’s change,

and I know Spring will come in God’s timing, not mine.

So I sigh, murmur thanks, and get out the shovel.

*

There’s been a lot of unwanted snowfalls lately,

unwelcome gifts –

a dear friend loses her battle with cancer;

another struggles with depression – wandering in what seems like life’s desert -trying desperately to find direction;

another gives up everything he knows to figure out what went wrong though he followed God’s call.

 Snow may fall quiet but at times it’s a blizzard.

*

We all have tasted disappointment,

 felt the sadness of heart break

when life doesn’t go the way we wish it would.

We look at what has been placed in our hand and say

‘What is this?’

Like the Israelites in the desert, we look at this manna –

white falling from above

and ask

‘What is this?’

“What is this that God wants me to walk through?

I don’t understand.

This is grace?

This is what God thinks is best for me?”

*

And though we don’t understand,

He asks us to trust Him.

He asks us to gather up this manna every morning,

this big, heavy thing that doesn’t make sense,

and receive it as a gift –

as grace.

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 And instead of asking ‘why’,

He asks us to simply say

‘thank you’.

Wait, what?

Be thankful for this?

Be thankful that my friend is no longer here?

Be thankful that I’m stuck in a place where I don’t want to be?

Be thankful that life is not turning out how I thought it would?

Turn my pleas into praise?

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It isn’t easy,

it’s a trust thing –

and we can trust our heavenly Father with everything.

He knows the manna-gift is not welcome –

He hears the heart’s cry,

But He knows what’s best for us and this manna is meant to nourish.

*

So hang in there, the snow won’t last forever –

it’s already beginning to melt.

There is hope.

There is comfort –

God is in control.

As you hold this manna in your hand,

He holds you in His.

*

– blessings,

Tracy

 

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