Speak Grace

With Thanksgiving only days away, I am thinking about gratitude, grace, and the state of my heart.

Many of us were taught to ‘say grace’ at the dinner table. Something like:

Thank you, God, for the world so sweet
Thank you, God, for the food we eat
Thank you, God, for the birds that sing
Thank you, God, for everything!
Amen

Photo by Simon Maage on Unsplash

Still, it breaks my heart every time I realize that so many of us have not learned to speak grace to those who need it: all of us.

At about the same age we learn to say grace before dinner, we also learn to judge. Who is in and who is out? Who is a friend and who is not? Who can I trust, and from whom should I run? Obviously, we need to make sound judgments. We shouldn’t trust the wrong people. Stranger Danger is all too real.

But that’s not what I’m talking about.

As we get older, our judgments become more sophisticated—and hurtful. We all recognize the popular kids, the mean kids, and the outcast kids in the middle school lunch room. Sadly, it doesn’t stop at middle school. We decide who is like us, who we like, and we love them—because they deserve it. Others deserve sympathy, compassion, pity, or even contempt. Of course, we don’t like to think of it this way, but it’s true.

James warns: “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (1:19). Similarly, Jesus exhorts: “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged…why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?” (Matt 7:1, 3).

Unfortunately, we aren’t quick to listen—we are quick to judge! We decide in advance that what that person did was wrong, not up to our standards, was something we would never do…so we don’t listen to their story, we don’t hear their heart.

With anger bubbling around our heart and head, blocking our ears, we speak out of hurt or disdain, and never get around to listening. Often we speak the judgmental words only to ourselves, or worse, in gossip; we don’t take them to the source of our frustration, because that would require a vulnerable conversation, which might be uncomfortable for both of us and necessarily involve listening. We cut people out rather than allow them to be human, to make mistakes. We cut people out rather than get real, with them and with ourselves.

Gracious speech can be an antidote to judgment. Paul encourages: “Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone” (Col. 4:6). To speak graciously isn’t just good etiquette. It flows from believing in our God of grace, believing that He loves us no matter what, believing that there is nothing we can do—for good or ill—that will ever change His love for us. When you know you are loved, love will flow through you. When you know you have received grace, you are able to share it.

Notice, I wrote “we” all through this post, because of course I am guilty. I can be quick to judge. I need to be quick to listen to the loving whispers of God, and quick to listen to your stories. I need to speak grace to you, and not just say grace before dinner.

Advertisements

Care Packages

Our church has a tradition of sending care packages to college students as a way of continuing to share love with them even when they cannot be with us. Over the years I have enjoyed writing notes to kids I know, encouraging them to hang in there and that, yes, we do notice you’re not here and we care.

This year, just as my kid would be on the receiving end, the project almost fell by the wayside. I stepped up to save it since I knew just how much real mail could mean to kids weathering tough transitions. Truly, any college kid.

When I attended college, I got mail from my mom and my church. The church sent postcards for events I couldn’t attend because I was out of town, which felt insulting: did they not notice my address? And if they did, why not write a quick note? Or at least take me off the list? My experience fueled my desire to encourage other college students.

I’ve written previously that I have never before been to the Post Office so regularly as I have been since the Big Kid started college out of state. And while I am great at writing notes, and encouraging others to write notes, or cheerleading people acting as encouragers, I stink at administering details.

The project became one more stressor in an already stressful season. I often said, “I could use a care package!”

A few weeks ago, I went to visit my college kid. Minutes after we arrived at his dorm room he said, “Oh, Mom, I wanted to show you this…” He held up a reusable plastic envelope filled with cards. He explained, “It’s every card I’ve received since I arrived at college.” The notes from his dad and me, his grandparents, friends, church members and Scout leaders, the cards I was sure were being skimmed and recycled… No, they were being read and reread, treasured.

I should mention: he didn’t know I’d taken up this project. He shared because he knew it would touch me to know how much those cards meant to him. I took his picture, better that than welling up with tears.

Eventually it came together. We gathered 75 college addresses for kids who grew up in our church, or whose parents/grandparents attend our church. We collected donations of microwave popcorn and Halloween candy, and lots and lots of encouraging notes: many written to kids people knew and others written generically to kids no one knew well enough. We also collected dozens of home-baked cookies to send study break packages to small groups organized by our church’s mission partners working on college campuses—and included plenty of hand-written notes to those kids, most of whom we will never meet.

On a Saturday morning, about fifteen volunteers came together to assemble USPS flat-rate boxes, to write yet more notes, to stuff popcorn and candy and cookies into boxes. My morning had not gone according to plan (of course not, because life), and I arrived late and frazzled. Yet there they were, faithful helpers already on task loving on kids away from home.

It had felt to me like details enough to drown me, yet one dear gal said, “We’re like water, settling in to our well-worn spots.” Yes. My spot is encouraging, not organizing. But I stuck it out, I told the story, and people filled in their places in a beautiful whole.

When we finished in less time than we’d allotted, we gathered around the boxes to pray. And there it was: my care package. These friends and servants prayed for our kids, for strength and perseverance and guidance. They prayed for professors and mentors to come around them. They prayed for roommates and suitemates and hallmates, boyfriends and girlfriends, all of whom might wonder why a church would send care packages to college kids. They prayed God’s love and peace would shower over these precious young people. This time, I couldn’t hide my tears.

I couldn’t have imagined the impact on our postal workers. It took two of us making multiple trips with arms full to carry in all the boxes: their eyes went wide. I sensed their initial shock, then overwhelm, then deep breaths as they settled into a rhythm of typing in zip codes and printing labels, restacking boxes along the way. Eventually, they began to laugh, thanking us for supporting the US Postal Service.

They asked what we could possibly be mailing to individuals all over the country; when we explained, they grew visibly happier to have a role to play in this big act of encouragement. When after almost an hour we were done, they were also done for the day. One postal worker declared, “Since everyone should have a little something for joy, here you go!” He reached under the counter and pulled out two Dove chocolates for Guy and me.

Last night I received another care package: my kid, home for the first time, three months to the day since college move-in. Happy Thanksgiving indeed!

Proof of God’s Existence

I stand in awe of people with the kind of artistic ability you’ll see in today’s guest post. In fact, creative talent of this caliber, in any form–painting, drawing, making music, dancing, writing–seems to me proof enough of a Creator in whose image people were created to create.

re:create recess #21: Jae Moon Lee

Coincidently, during one of my walks, I found a stone that caught my eye likely because its formation looked so similar to one I remember from the place where l spent most of my time in childhood.

Probably not only me but many people must have had a similar experience, that somehow you have seen something before or you have been somewhere before though you might not have, actually.

In China the very first word people learn is “chun.” It means “the whole universe,” no matter where you are, since we all live under the same sky.

The second word is “ji,” meaning, “mother of earth,” like the stone and the dust. No one invented these words specifically. They just spread out among the people for many, many years.

The sky and earth.

The Bible, on the very first page of the Old Testament, also clearly proclaims that God Himself created the universe and the mother earth. I think this similarity between the eastern and western hemisphere is not a coincidence. Am I silly enough to think about it this way? But I like to believe that we are all connected in inexplicable ways.

An atheist skateboarder, mistakenly missing his momentum while showing his flipping technique for nothing, went straight into the bushes like a falling kite. Of course we can easily hear that first word coming out of his mouth: “Oh My God! It hurts!”

And then we say, “Thank God he was wearing a helmet!”

Why is it we mention God so often without giving it a second thought?

In my mind this is proof that someone already controls us from a long, long time ago in secret—or maybe in plain sight. We are all unconsciously programmed in our minds by someone very powerful. We cannot live even one day away from Him or escape Him as long as we are living on Earth.

No matter what we do, our future is already planned, decided by one God who is the pure artist himself.

Lately I paint stones, or rocks, even pebbles that might know the secret of the ancient times. I observe first the color and the lighting carefully, then I will put again and again on the same piece of rock a lot of details here and there, over its own universe and time.

Thanks, God. You are giving me strength and the Spirit to finish more paintings for an exhibition.

Jae Lee is a native of Seoul and has made the Bay Area his home for the last 30+ years. Having earned a BFA in Painting and Printmaking, Jae has made a living in the Film, TV, and Theater industry as a Scenic Painter.

I Can Imagine…

Holy hell!

Twenty-seven people were killed today during a Sunday morning worship service inside a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. About half of their congregation’s average attendance is dead, among them a two-year-old; four children are among those hospitalized. The shooter is one of the dead.

I can’t even imagine…we say. Yet that’s not true.

By power of imagination and regular practice, I can mentally seat myself in a church, with my loved ones and friends, my church family. We are singing, or praying, or jotting down salient points from the sermon. Though we each bring our assorted baggage, in this time and place we are unified in spirit. All is calm.

I can hear the Sanctuary door jarred open, the bang and squeak disrupting the quiet moment. I can see heads turning in confusion, wondering at the interruption. I can hear the pop pop pop shattering the worshipful hush, the fearful screams, the shouts to “Get down!” I can see those who would sacrifice themselves leaping from the pews, rushing the gunman, the thud of bullet meeting muscle, the shudder, and the gunman stepping over fallen bodies to continue his bloody rampage.

How long does it last–minutes feel like years–and how would it end? At what point does the gunman decide to turn his weapon on himself? Because that’s how it happens, usually (what hell do we live in that I can write, “usually”?), unless police arrive to stop him with their own bullets.

I can see the aftermath: the scared and crying congregation, some shirking from the bloodied bodies, retreating into themselves; some wailing; some jumping into immediate action, whether from well-worn servanthood or numbness; many running from the Sanctuary-scene to the courtyard, falling into hugs and prayer, clinging to one another in desperation. I can see (I pray I never see) fellow worshipers—children, teens, adults—those with whom I have prayed and served for years, gone in a gun’s flash.

Carrie Matula embraces a woman after a fatal shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017. Matula said she heard the shooting from the gas station where she works a block away. (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

How will we recover? Through faith, with prayer (and a healthy dose of talk therapy), with the strange togetherness that results from shared experience no matter how awful. Some will fall away, unable to fathom a God who would allow this to happen in His house. Some will take their fear and anger to God, and some will take it out on Him.

I can imagine the horror. I wish I couldn’t. Mass shootings in the U.S. have become such a terribly regular occurrence that even as we are horrified we also aren’t surprised.

Can we please, please, pretty please (because the reality is the antithesis to pretty) end the madness?

Thankful Thursday – Puppy Joy

Our neighbors moved away, and of course they took their darling black lab with them. But as we more or less co-parented our dogs, it felt like losing not just our friends but also our pet.

Izzy, who had never known life without her next door bestie, became depressed. Her appetite dropped off. Several times a day she’d walk outside and look toward the fence to see if her friend was coming. No matter how much we walked her and loved on her, it still wasn’t the same as having the love of two families.

So we began puppy discussions. Maybe spring, perhaps (definitely?) by summer, when life is more flexible.

But then Tween and I spent a weekend visiting Teen in college. During breakfast in the hotel, a woman holding a puppy walked through the lobby. Teen looked at me and ran. I looked at Tween and ran. Tween followed us both. In an instant all three of us had ditched breakfast in favor of sprawling across a lobby floor to let an eleven-week old dachshund/terrier mix jump and lick and love all over us.

Lowrider had the body of a dachshund and the chocolate-brindle coloring of a terrier. To sit, he scooted backward and did a funny twist-flop with his hindquarters. He was sweet and loveable–and we loved him. A “foster fail,” his mom arrived pregnant to foster care and she and all his siblings had been adopted, leaving him behind in his now-forever home.

Both my boys lit up with puppy joy. Teen’s had (so we’ve all had) a stressful, difficult college transition. Not enough joy in his life, which is so not what you want for your kid in their first semester of college. I thought, maybe puppy-time is now, for the boys, for Izzy, for all of us…

Petfinder.com is my go-to. Other than our four snakes, all our pets are adopted–from neighbors whose kids ‘outgrew’ their pet companions or from shelters. Just over eight years ago, Petfinder found us our darling Izzy.

Izzy was our dog from the moment we saw her sweet picture. Even when I had a middle-of-the-night panic attack, waking Guy to say I wasn’t sure I could do this, that I was afraid I’d be banished to the back deck, outside forevermore with a puppy who would otherwise stain our beautiful hardwood floors. He said, “Too late. We’re going to meet her in the morning. We’ll figure it out,” and we both went back to sleep.

He was right. We fell head-over-heels immediately. So I checked Petfinder, and found a chocolate-brindle version of Izzy. By the time we got home and discussed her with Guy, she’d been adopted. A few days later, I found another sweet face; and again, she was gone by that evening.

The puppy-hunt felt discouraging on top of a discouraging season. I couldn’t do it for long.

I didn’t have to.

After a quick Saturday conversation with our new neighbors, they texted us a puppy picture on Sunday. Within an hour, they had adopted a six-month old puppy and we had adopted a ten-week old puppy.

Meet Jasper, our boxer-shepherd.

He’s a big dog in the making who believes he’s a lap dog. The moment I took him in my arms, he snuggled into my arm pit and fell asleep–well, hello there! With a towel over his (cat carrier) crate, he sleeps through the night; and he’s learning to potty appropriately, though at ten weeks, it will take time.

He wants to play with Izzy, the cats (chasing is so much fun!), the rabbit (more chasing!). Initially, Izzy looked annoyed at Jasper, turning her head sideways with an I could step on him expression. Slowly, she is learning to play with him. The cats mostly hide in our bedroom, although even they, having grown up with two big dogs in the house, recognize he doesn’t pose too much of a threat. Our animal rescue will eventually again achieve equilibrium.

And when Jasper’s had all his shots, when Izzy has grown accustomed to another pet-love under our roof, we’ll re-open the fence and see if our old lady dog won’t mind teaching some younger pups how to be besties.

Meatless Monday – Plant-Based YUM!

Some years ago I heard about UC Davis Integrative Medicine, and I am so grateful!

Integrative Medicine takes a whole person approach to health. UC Davis Integrative Medicine’s mission is “to help prevent chronic disease by educating people about how to make positive changes in their lifestyle habits.”

Through their weekly blog posts, recipes, webinars, and 21-day plant-based food challenges, they have helped me learn how to cook and eat healthier, for myself and for my family.

They are not my only resource, of course, but they sure lend credibility to my pursuit of health through eating primarily plants. And they have been a HUGE resource!

For three years, they have held an annual 21-day challenge. At no charge, they provide three weeks’ worth of recipes and nutrition information + a Facebook group to encourage mutual support. The first year I dabbled, but mostly felt overwhelmed; last year I petered out through too much life noise; this year, I’m going for it.

Today is Day 1, which means it’s not too late to SIGN UP! And tonight I will tell you–after a day’s worth of delicious plant-based eating–it’s worth it.

Today I ate…
Breakfast: apple pie oatmeal
Lunch: “fried” brown rice
Dinner: Tuscan vegetable soup + rainbow pasta salad (recipes UCDavis, sign up to receive the full 21-day recipe guide)

This wasn’t the prescribed Day 1 menu, but that’s part of why I enjoy this format. I can pick and choose from their menu; improvise based on what I have, what I want, what I already know how to do well; and eat healthy food to satisfaction.

In the plan, a Berries and Seeds Breakfast Bowl is a breakfast option for Week 2; Thai Fried Rice is Week 2‘s Monday lunch. I did my variation on those recipes, though based on their recipe, I omitted the oil from my rice and added instead more garlic and chili-garlic paste (and I will forever make these changes, as today’s rice was tastier).

I also have a solid minestronehow different can Tuscan veggie be from minestrone?–but thought I’d do dinner on their terms. So glad! Using an immersion blender to pulse it until pureed but for some chunks, this soup might have looked less appealing than some broth-based soups, but it smelled and tasted delicious and, to be honest, required less cook time. Of course I could also whip up a pasta salad without even thinking about it but this combination, with their oil-free Italian dressing (fresh basil, hummus, stone-ground mustard, red wine vinegar, and water to dilute), was a delicious change.

If you’re interested in healthy eating…
If you’re a carnivore who can’t believe plants taste good
If you’re looking for some new recipe suggestions

Sign up for the UC Davis Integrative Medicine 21-Day Food Challenge now!

Thankful Thursday – Growing Happy

Where did I read it? Magazine, blog, online news article…?

Anyway, last weekend I read, somewhere, that those who study these things have shown three significant factors that affect brain chemistry to increase the feelings of happiness:

Gratitude
Laughter
Good people

Gratitude: find three unique things for which you can be grateful each day.

I unearthed my misplaced gratitude journal beneath a stack of mislaid papers on my too-messy desk. What an inconsistent adventure this year of gratitude has been… I started out strong, but I easily let life get out of control and let other things get in the way. I miss a few days, write for a few days; miss a week, write for three, miss a month, and so on. Well, I’m back at it, and I will say I look forward to recording my three thanksgivings each day and I do feel happier for having done it. It helps me remember life’s little moments, the funny things my kiddo says, the flower I noticed on my walk, the simple evening ritual of tea and book and a solid bedtime.

Laughter: always the best medicine

Way back when toward the beginning of our relationship, the Indigo Girls sang a line that rang true of one of the gifts Guy has given me: “And the best thing you’ve ever done for me is to help me take my life less seriously…”

I tend to be a wee bit dramatic. I lead from my heart. I can be impulsive and feel easily overwhelmed. And early on we recognized that my inclination to take life too seriously could be balanced by Guy’s easy-going, life-embracing stability. Like his bouncy hero, Tigger, he makes me laugh. 

I need to intentionally seek out cheerful people and opportunities to laugh. Silly sitcoms and light-and-fluffy books scattered in-and-between educational and moving programming.

Yesterday, just before I was to lead a meeting, I caught the giggles and it spread to my co-workers on either side. I’d gain control, and one or the other of them would burst out laughing again. It took a while for us to calm down. I am grateful for those minutes of gut-clenching hilarity.

Good people: “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” (Helen Keller)

In this season of life, I notice that I am just not in a party mood. I don’t want to make small talk (I never want to make small talk, but on occasion I am grudgingly willing). But I still need my friends, connection, good people.

Before this school year began, I decided to clear space once a week to share intentional conversation with someone. And, for the last two months, I have had coffee or tea or a walk or lunch with someone who would not have appeared across the table or shoulder-to-shoulder if I hadn’t scheduled it. In practicality, it’s been an easier decision than I’d anticipated. And it has deepened friendships and added so much joy to my life, and hopefully to theirs as well.

Today over lunch with a friend with whom I haven’t talked in far too long, I took it one step further. I decided to share these happiness points, and to ask what she would include on her gratitude list. Not surprisingly, it took the conversation in even deeper, more vulnerable and lovely directions.

Gratitude + Laughter + Good people = Happiness. Easy enough.