A Lenten Meditation dripping with Kindness and Grace

By Robynn – Follow Robynn on Twitter @RobynnBliss

Holy Cross

Along with thousands of Jesus followers around the world, I began my Lenten pilgrimage yesterday. To me, Lent speaks of journeying toward the Cross. I look forward to it every year. We, the church universal, are invited to participate in His sufferings, to enter into a deeper fellowship with Christ.  We are asked to approach slowly, deliberately. Holding hands we travel together –weak, broken, tired—toward the Cross, the Burial, the Victory of Resurrection.

It’s a humbling opportunity. It’s a sober season.

But this morning I was reminded that it’s a commute covered in joy and we come out of it completely soaked!

The first century God-followers in Ephesus received a letter from St Paul ages ago. The first part of that letter is dedicated to Paul trying to convince them how very intentional God was about loving them.  Paul didn’t want there to be any doubt. He writes sincerely and passionately. He longs for them to understand these things deeply in the quiet corners of their souls.

God….has blessed us with every spiritual blessing…

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us…to be holy and without fault in His eyes.

God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.

Just as soon as Paul tells them that God loves them and chose them and wanted them to be in his family so much that he went the extra mile and pursued their adoption. Just as soon as Paul is done with that delicious truth, he launches into another spiritual delicacy!

It seems the Heavenly pitcher is full and God is overflowing. He is so rich in kindness and grace that when God starts ladling it out it spills all over the place. He pours out his glorious grace on us! He showers his kindness on us, with all wisdom and understanding. We are left dripping and drenched; wet through with the kindness and generous grace of God! It’s a messy wonder. It’s a wet moment. We stand soggy and sodden, saturated with it all. Soaked to the bone, vulnerable as our own stuff, now waterlogged and redeemed, washes away. We may feel naked and exposed but for the clinging garments of praise and the clean coat of Christ’s righteousness that now clothes us. The holy ground is now mercy mud.

And it’s that kind of mud that Jesus swoops up and uses to bring sight to the Blind! Now we have eyes to see.

This journey to the cross climbs along the wet earthed path. He has rained down on us his grace and his kindness. Put away your umbrella. There’s no sense in trying to protect yourself. As wild as it weathers, he gently washes our faces, our wounded souls, our broken hearts. Kick off your boots. Splash a little. This wet dirt is a holy tromping ground, a soil suited for planting, a spot for seeds, a space for unending possibilities!

“A truly Eucharistic life means always saying thanks to God, always praising God, and always being more surprised by the abundance of God’s goodness and love. How can such a life not also be a joyful life? It is the truly converted life in which God has become the center of all. There gratitude is joy and joy is gratitude and everything becomes a surprising sign of God’s presence.” (Henri Nouwen, Show me the Way: Readings for Each Day of Lent)

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“But Grace Entered the Space Between”

On my walk from the subway to home I pass by some lovely (and some not so lovely) houses. A Victorian mansion with white picket fence on one side, a worn brick apartment building on the other — such is the property in a city. Last week as I walked this well-worn route I stopped in happy wonder to look at roses that were growing around and through a rusty, chain-link fence.

Coral-yellow petals with drops of rain peeked through the chain-links. The roses were like grace entering the space between. And I remembered in a recent article I wrote for another blog I used those same words:

“But Grace entered the space between…”

The phrase is on repeat in my mind.

Because those words have become powerful words in my life. I desperately need grace for the space between.

The space between blood test or biopsy and diagnosis; between engagement and marriage; between car accident and car repair; between angry words and reconciliation; between starting our studies and graduating with a diploma; between interview and job offer (or not); between making a decision and seeing the outcome; between marriage crisis and marriage repair; between pregnancy and delivery; between birth of the baby and graduation from high school; between arrival at a new place and feeling settled.

This Grace between is waiting grace.

Much of life is lived in the space between. When Grace enters that space I don’t have to worry about the outcome of the blood test, or the biopsy, or the car, or the degree, or the marriage. I rest in Grace. I recognize the things that are beyond my control, and the things that I’m being asked to address. Grace between is never static, always moving, always working.

I just don’t always see it, feel it.

Between the blood spattered cross and the empty tomb there lives glorious Grace. When all of life stands still, Grace continues to work.

So let there forever be Grace that enters the space between; Grace that gathers in, builds up, and gives away.


When My Anxious Thoughts Multiply Within…..

I woke with a headache. It started at the base of my neck and before long wound its way up to my temples. I was acutely aware that it was a headache born of anxiety.

“When my anxious thoughts multiply within….”

Policeman are out in full force here in the city. Army men parade the streets. All the surrounding towns have loaned their safety units to Boston. Random checks are occurring in the subway and people clutch their arms to their bodies a bit tighter.

It’s part of the terrorist process. For the bombs don’t just terrorize for the moment, although their worst physical impact is felt then. Bombs and attacks terrorize far longer than the actual event. It’s like dominoes. The terrorist domino effect – where one thing happens and pretty soon you have a world spinning to try to keep the dominoes from crashing down.

I work in state government and we have received email upon email giving us resources, recognizing that even those not directly involved feel the ripple effect of the sadness and terror that reigned on Monday. Articles on grief and post traumatic stress flood my inbox. And I am grateful for the attention that the Department of Public Health is finally giving to what people around are experiencing.

But for me it’s not enough. For there has to be a faith element that wraps around all these resources. A recognition that the God who sustains and heals will continue and work through and beyond man-made resources.

And I find the answer in an age-old Psalm, sung for generations, sung to those in captivity, those in exile, those in war, those fleeing their enemies.

“When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Thy consolations delight my soul”.* This is the missing ingredient to all the other resources.

*Psalm 94:19 “A text of this kind shows us forcibly the power of Divine grace in the human heart: how much it can do to sustain and cheer the heart. The world may afflict a believer, and pain him; but if the grace which God has given him is in active exercise in his soul, the world cannot make him unhappy. It rather adds by its ill-treatment to his happiness; for it brings God and his soul nearer together — God the fountain of all happiness, the rest and satisfaction of his soul.”~Charles Bradley, 1845

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When Home is Hard

I shut my eyes willing the bright sunlight to soak into me, willing myself to never leave. I was in seventy degrees and sunny. I was in peace and quiet. My backpack full of burdens was unloaded and I rested easy.

But I knew I was going home. And right now home is hard.

Home is ice, snow, and hard earth. Home is question marks and unknowns. Home is unopened mail, dishes in the sink that should be in the dishwasher, potential for conflict.

Home is hard.

I felt myself tensing up – how could I go back to hard? I had tasted easy – I didn’t want hard. I had tasted peace – I didn’t want chaos. I had tasted rest – I didn’t want frenzy. I had walked the clean, cold tiles of my friend’s home, and sat in the warmth of a park while looking on mountains in the distance. I had stopped to take in palm tree silhouettes at twilight and sunsets across an expansive sky. I had slept with no neighbors above me yelling at their dog and pounding across the floor at midnight.

What do you do when home, the place you look forward to, the space where you belong, is hard?

I take a deep breath, hold out my hands, and ask for grace. I breathe in Grace. Grace to enter hard. Grace to enter chaos. Grace to enter frenzy. Grace to enter with gratitude. I can’t do this on my own – I’m desperately in need of intervention.

Because right now? Home is hard and hard needs the transformation that comes through gratitude and grace. 

Phoenix, sunsets, palm trees

When They Need a Martha, and You’re a Mary

“You need a Martha!” I declared emphatically “and I? I am a Mary!” I plopped blueberry muffins and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee on my mom’s dining table.

I had come to help my parents pack for a major move — Only I was the wrong person for the job!

Disorganized, easily distracted, given to rambling and reminiscing, I was working out of my weak place. How could I help? How could I be the support that they needed? How would we ever get the work done?

There are those life moments when you don’t just feel, you know beyond doubt, that you are not the right person for the job. There are so many others, all so much more qualified that you can’t even list all of them, but you can sure list your flaws, faults, and lack of ability.

But it was me who was there. There was no Martha – just me.

I did what Mary would have done. I began with muffins and coffee, and then I was ready — ready to channel Martha with her no-nonsense organization and “get things done” attitude.

Remarkably it worked. In what could only have been grace I packed and labeled boxes, organized spaces, and threw away trash. I became Martha. I had grace for the job at hand.

There have been many times in life when I’ve been convinced that I am not the right person for the job. Others with their skills and confidence – they are the ones who should do these jobs. Me? I’m at best under qualified, at worst a complete impostor.

Except that to God I’m not. When he brings about the job, he’s got the grace for me to complete it. Qualifications matter not to him – in those moments he transforms our ability and we sit back in amazement. He goes abundantly beyond, and we respond with open-mouthed awe and humility.

If we feel unqualified, we’re in good company. Our Biblical models are quite the folks. We’ve got a prostitute with a past in Rahab; a teenage mom in Mary; a minority queen in Esther; a pregnant woman your grandma’s age in Elizabeth…..they were all completely unsuited for the jobs at hand. And in their unsuitability God’s grace was given to them in mighty measure, poured out, shaken together and running over.

Today I will be filling out paper work that could take me in a different direction career-wise. Everything in me screams “I’m not qualified!” With every word I type I’ll be tempted to hit delete, tempted to shout “I’m a Mary and you need a Martha!” But there’s a compelling voice inside that says move forward and until doors slam shut in my face, I will move – even if it be ever so slowly. I’ll sip my coffee, eat my muffin, and beg for grace.

So when they need a Martha and you’re a Mary; or they need a David and you’re a Jonathan – take a deep breath, step back, and move forward with coffee, muffins, and Grace.

Guest Post at Tamara Out Loud – Unfair Grace

Today I have the privilege of guest-posting at Tamara Out Loud: Thoughts on Real Life and Real Faith. I am honored for a couple of reasons. The first is that Tamara is one of the best writers I know. At times she puts together words and thoughts in ways that go straight to your heart and work their way into your soul; at other times she is laugh out loud funny with an irreverent humor. The second is that Tamara is editor of the upcoming book What a Woman is Worth. This is a book that will be released sometime this summer and I have the honor of being a contributor to the book. I’ll be writing more on that in a future post but right now take a look at the beginning of the post and wander over to Tamara’s blog to read the rest!

Unfair Grace

“I read Ann Voskamp’s book” pause “And I was thankful for a few days”

This came from my friend as we recently sat together drinking free coffee from an inn on the rocky coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The inn thought we were guests – they offered us both the coffee and cookies embossed with a cursive E, (“Signature cookies!” we were told with a smile) free with no questions asked.  A good lesson that there is free lunch if you walk with confidence.

We both laughed at her statement about the well-read and loved book “One Thousand Gifts”, for reading a book is one thing and working out the details of the challenges presented within is completely different.

Whenever I get together with this friend we go for the jugular vein of faith conversation. We don’t waste time or words. Both of us are in something of a waste land when it comes to friends who share our faith so we go deep. Quickly. The conversation was like rapid gun fire going from head to heart, from  gratitude to grace. And there is where we stopped and struggled. You can read the rest of this post at http://tamaraoutloud.com/2012/06/07/guest-post-unfair-grace/

Recorded Rhythms of Grace

English: The rhythm on the TUBS page, in tradi...

While living overseas there were many times when I listened to scripture read in a language where I had minimal understanding. It was always a good exercise – scripture that was familiar to me in English became new and fresh, affecting me in ways I couldn’t anticipate.

It was this that I remembered as I recently read the words to Matthew 11, verses 28 to 30 in The Message. I don’t traditionally read The Message, a paraphrased version of the Bible, but as I heard these verses it was like hearing them in a language I was unfamiliar with, a language that I had to pay attention to and think about, a language that offered me the familiar in a dramatically different way.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

And that was it – I was tired and burned out, I needed to recover my life, I needed to watch how Jesus did it. I needed to find out what the “unforced rhythms of grace” were and what living this way looked like. My life had become a cliché of do’s and don’ts; must do’s and should do’s; regrets and wishful thinking.

Unforced Rhythms of Grace – How can I discover them? I want my senses to be alive to the rhythms of grace. How could I begin? Perhaps beginning was as simple as beginning to record grace in action. When we record, we remember. That’s what One Thousand Gifts is all about.

So I began.  Here are a few of my recent unforced rhythms of grace, recorded so I’ll remember:

  • Waiting at the subway station and having a guitar player strum “How Great Thou Art” with skilled hands
  • Hearing that my son has found a job
  • Curling up in a warm house with fresh-baked oatmeal bread, blackberry jam spread over it, reading
  • Learning to read words of truth, not to dissect or study, but to soak in and remember….

And this is just the beginning.

How do you learn the unforced rhythms of grace? Would love to hear in the comment section.

A Thousand Hearts

They met back to back at an Indian restaurant in Chicago. He had come from an Anti-Reagan demonstration that was to have ended with Thai food, but at the last-minute it became Indian. She, having arrived unexpectedly from Pakistan just two weeks earlier, had come from signing the lease of a new apartment north of the city. Between saag and naan, ignoring their respective dinner company, they began to talk and realized they had met earlier in the year.

He: A cute grad student at the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, majoring in Applied Linguistics with a heart for the world. She: A young nurse, new to the field of nursing and trying to forge her way in a strange country with strange customs. In a week they were old friends. In a month they could not stop thinking about each other. In a year they were in Pakistan for an engagement ceremony that included Muslims – Sunnis, Shias, Ahmadiyyas, and Ismaili; Hindus, and Christians from ethnic groups and areas throughout Pakistan. 200 cups of tea were served along with sweets and savouries amidst the sweet scent of rose garlands and the sentiment of a thousand hearts.

Marriage, Five children, limited cash flow, sleep deprivation, hard work, hard lessons, airline trips, visas, more airline trips, crises, more crises, many moves, even more houses, grace, and humor seemed to follow them wherever they went. As did a thousand hearts.

They celebrated Valentine’s day with Iranian food because ethnic restaurants seem to always have plenty of space and far better service on this day. And because they love Iranian food. It was food fit for a king and queen – kebabs and rice, mast-o-khiar (cucumber yogurt salad) and special tea . Roses came earlier in the day along with the card “At one glance I love you with a thousand hearts”. Later in the evening came her gift to him: “Awkward Family Photos” – it was more than appropriate.

And one thing they knew and continually hold to is this: That every step, every breath, and every heart is a result of God’s love, God’s mercy, and God’s grace. They can love with a thousand hearts only because He loves with a million.