Here I Raise My Ebenezer: “Like Sand Through an Hourglass…”

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“Like sands through an hour glass, so are the days of our lives….” The signature words and distinctive tune flowed from the TV. It was one o’clock and I sat comfortable and warm on my aunt’s couch.  With a bright smile, my aunt came over to serve me lunch, a turkey sandwich and a cup of Folgers instant coffee. She sat down beside me like she had done on so many other weekdays.

Over the next hour, we allowed ourselves to be swept up into the drama of Salem and followed the unfolding of the Horton family’s stories. We watched the trials and triumphs of Bo and Hope’s love. We laughed over ridiculous storylines and plots, and debated which characters the writers would bring back from the dead. This was our shared guilty pleasure and this time turned into one of my fondest memories. Memories that had little to do with the soap opera and everything to do with the time we spent.

I didn’t have the years or the perspective to appreciate it then. I knew my aunt was a busy woman- a wife, mom, personal trainer and volunteer- but I didn’t know what it really meant to choose people over to-do lists.

My aunt made it seem like there was nowhere else more important than serving me lunch and spending time with me. She made me a priority. She gave me her full attention and time. How much I wish I could go back and thank her. Thank her for providing me a safe place. Thank her for her hospitality and presence. Thank her for her gentle guidance and inspiration. Thank her for taking time to stop, look, listen and linger.

I can’t go back or even tell her now. My aunt was stolen away from us twelve years ago from complications due to cancer treatments. Even when she was in her hospital bed, weak and in pain, she still managed to smile and made you feel as if you were the only person that she wanted to be with. Her presence offered hospitality. She wanted to hear how you were doing and made sure you knew your situations were just as pressing as what she was going though.

Although I can’t go back, I can move forward. I can be thankful for the time I had with my aunt and put into practice what she modeled. I can be thankful for every day, and what it brings, the good and the disappointing. With intention and sacrifice, I can see each person as an opportunity to encourage and build up, to make them feel valued and special. And make them feel like there is no other place I would rather be than with them in that moment.

Like so many of us, my schedule is busy, expectations are high, the demands and distractions seem unlimited. It’s hard to stop. But time seems to be slipping through my hands more quickly than ever and I’m more of aware of this than ever before. Time and people are precious gifts and to treasure them is wise.

So with these realizations, I’ve been making difficult and intentional choices to stop, look, listen and linger. I’m making space in my schedule by saying no to things and saying yes to people. I’m trying not to be swept up into ridiculous dramas or the fantasies my imagination writes so well. I’m debating over things that need to be let go of, handing them over to God to overcome, and not letting the destructive ones make a reappearance from the dead. I’m always, always, continuing to work at presence with people- with littles and bigs.

It is here I raise my Ebenezer. Thanking the Lord for His help so far. Thanking Him for the strength, energy and grace to get through my days and the reminder that time and people are special gifts. It is here I thank the Lord for the people in my life, like my aunt, who took time for me and modeled what it looks like to stop, look, listen and linger; and what it means to use our precious days wisely before they slip away.

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Be a Grace Giver…

graceWhat if we turned things upside down today? What if we gave people what they didn’t deserve and didn’t give them what they did deserve? What if our words and actions were so infused with grace, they were able to disarm negativity, counteract conflict, and give courage and boldness to others when received?

Grace is unmerited love and mercy. It’s an undeserving gift and it’s not easy to give. It’s difficult to bite your tongue in response to a bitter comment or biting criticism. It’s hard to think beyond hurt feelings and bruised emotions and offer forgiveness. It’s tough to be a presence of grace with an offensive person. The message of the world says, “Give ’em what they deserve!” ”You deserve better than that!”

I am not promoting we go around acting like feeble, push-overs, or passive, fake happy people throwing grace around like magical, rainbow fairy dust. Giving grace is a bold, brave, intentional choice. It means choosing to respond instead of react. It means pausing, getting our thoughts together, and then speaking truth in a loving, respectful way. There are many situations that need to be further addressed, processed through, and worked on; but grace is the invitation to a pathway of respectful discussions. Grace can be a gateway to a journey of healing and restoration.

As a follow of Christ, we do not have to rely on our power to be a grace-giver. We shouldn’t. We have access to power, life-supporting love and strength through the Holy Spirit. By excepting and receiving God’s grace, we in turn can extend grace to others with God’s help.

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. -1 Corinthians 15:10 NIV 

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. -Hebrews 4:16

So today, join with me in the practice of grace giving– and keep in mind, there will be a time when we are in need of grace too. ❤


How Instagram Helped Improve My Day

New PerspectiveSo we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,as we look not to things that are seen but to things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient but the things that are unseen are eternal.  ~2 Corinthians 4:16-18

My deep sleep was abruptly cut short by a loud call from the other room, “MAMA, MAMMMA!!” Hazy and groggy, my bare feet hit the cold floor and walked the familiar path to where my warm, fuzzy robe hung. I pulled the robe off the hook, slowly wrapping its comfort around me and headed toward my son’s room.

For almost three years, day after day, this has been my morning routine. No alarm clocks needed in my house. When my son gets up, I get up. I normally do not mind an early start to the day. But today, with a dreary, grey sky and a ground coated with snow, I just wanted to curl under the heavy, down comforter that warms my bed.

I brought my son downstairs hoping that his cries did not wake his two big sisters. I started to think how nice it would be to have a few quiet minutes to myself once I got my son settled with breakfast and some toys. A very happy vision of me sitting at the kitchen table with my Bible and a HOT cup of coffee (not one that had been reheated in the microwave) started to perk up my senses and improve my mood. My thoughts were short lived.

Seconds after my son’s breakfast was served, the kitchen door flew open and two very sleepy-eyed girls walked in complaining that they had heard their brother and could no longer sleep.  The girls took their spots at the kitchen counter silently indicating that they were ready for breakfast. Some grumpy words and unspoken exchanges took place among us. I joylessly toasted the bread, rudely slathered on butter, smeared the jam, and pushed the breakfast plates towards my children.  Besides my son, who was happily playing, it would seem that us girls woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

I needed to a “redo,” a restart of my day. Some fresh air would do me some good. My husband was up so I grabbed my camera, threw on some snow boots, and shut my bad mood in the door behind me.  The temperature was warmer than I expected and I breathed in the moist air. A couple of inches of snow had fallen overnight and a thin layer of ice crusted over the top. The snow crunched as I stepped through it. Each step seemed to lighten my mood. I lifted my camera and started to explore through its lens.  My bad mood dissipated with each click and shutter sound.

I am no expert photographer but I enjoy taking pictures. Since joining Instagram, I love photography even more. I often find myself looking at an ordinarily objects with a new fascination and with a different perspective. Pictures have turned into more than an just an image. Emotions and words come alive in them.

My kids were quiet and occupied when I got back to the house. I was finally able to sit down at the kitchen table with my Bible and a reheated-cup of coffee. I previewed my pictures and was captivated by this flower. The image led me to words and thoughts that brought my mood full circle.  I posted the following in an Instagram post.

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“This flower reminds me of the verses from 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. It has long lost its petals and brilliant color. An icy glaze coats its memory. But within it, a seed remains. A seed with the possibility of growing into a more beautiful flower than before. A seed that will take root in the nutrient-rich earth that was renewed by a long, hard winter. A seed that will birth a flower of more vibrant color, graced with bolder petals and a stronger stem. 

We are like this flower. Enduring trials, experiencing difficulties, surviving with God’s grace and strength. These are good things. Things that lead us to growth, a more beautiful self, and prepares us for greater service with eternal results for the glory of God. #deepthoughts #winter #growth #nature #flower #donotloseheart#2Corinthians #noticinggoodness”

One picture, one post, God’s voice heard, a changed heart and mind. My day started over then. Joy seeped back in. I hugged my kids. They hugged me back. I threw out my agenda. I surrendered and was blessed.

When I popped back on Instagram later that day, a comment was left under the picture, thanking me for the words that were posted. I thought how easily we can influence each other in our bad moods and in good moods, encouraging each other or tearing each other down. Social media can fuel many hurtful, unkind things. But it can also be used for the good. A tool that can foster creativity and community. A place where inspiring and encouraging words can be shared and perspectives changed.