The Gift of Grace

The dictionary definition of Christian grace is “the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.” That’s as close as words can come to the heart of grace, but God’s gift of grace is beyond words. Like love, grace must be felt on a deep level before the heart and mind can wrap themselves around it. The way to know if I understand grace is to see how it is extended in my own life.

God’s grace is taken for granted, ignored, expected, and sometimes demanded, but humble acceptance is the only appropriate response when offered the gift of grace. It is the time of year when gifts are given and received. Awkwardness comes when I don’t receive a gift from a loved one or when an unexpected gift catches me off guard. I’m learning to give and receive grace, and that means not worrying about a response at all.

God grace is given with love and without expectation. He loves our attempts at giving, just as I adore each little gift Lillyann and Mylah fashion for me. The notes, drawings, and special treasures they give bless me, but they don’t compare to a heartfelt embrace or a sweet “I love you Gigi.” Those are true treasures! God feels the same way about me. My meager offerings bless His heart, but time spent in His presence means more.

I was reminded vividly yesterday of the importance of sweet intimate moments. They won’t satisfy a selfish soul, but they always delight a selfless spirit, especially when they come unexpectedly. Having my mind set on a particular gift or time with a loved one will always disappoint, but accepting the beautiful gifts God places in my path always amazes me. Letting go of what I want leads to more than I could ever imagine on my own. Tyler learned quickly not to ask Santa for a long list of specifics. He always got the best gifts when he asked Santa to surprise him. I’m learning to tell God the same thing.

Healing Hurts

Plants flourish under the right conditions, and the same is true for love. God provides the perfect environment for the fruit of His Spirit to grow unhindered when I open my heart to His ways and stop trying to do what only He can.

Proper light is essential for growth. If I insist on the spotlight,  love will shrink and die in the glare of my selfishness. If I hide in a cave, it will whither and die in the darkness.

Knowing the right amount of moisture to keep a plant healthy is important. God is the Master Gardener and knows that His Word is water when it comes to growing His love. I can drown His love in license or allow it to dry up in the law, but it’s best to let His Holy Spirit guide me through the water so I get the nourishment I need.

Warmth brings life out of the ground and love out of the heart. The frost of isolation kills any chance of love making it to the surface, and fiery lust leaves only ashes in its wake. Christ’s precious love cools lust and warms loneliness leaving the perfect temperature for God’s love to yield a bountiful crop.

Galatians 5:22-23 is a familiar verse that many have memorized. Love is the fruit of the Spirit, and it leads my heart to a bountiful harvest when I let God do the gardening.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (NASB)

Bearing fruit is painful. Loving is painful. Growth is painful. Change is painful. All involve healing and growth, and that means pain. God’s powerful lesson this morning was that all healing involves hurt, but the hurt is worth the wellness that comes when I allow God’s love to take my heart in a new direction that pleases Him. A new direction isn’t possible without a new mindset and a change of heart. God made that painfully clear this morning as He did some therapy on my heart. The signs at the gym say, “No Pain, No Gain,” and nothing hurts more than the physical therapy necessary for proper healing. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the same applies to my heart.

Healing Hurts

 

Resting Without Rusting

Sir Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton

I wasn’t expecting a lesson in physics this week, but God knew I needed one. Sir Isaac Newton helped me break away from static force and get back into motion. His First Law of Motion states, “An object in motion stays in motion until acted upon by an outside force. An object at rest stays at rest until acted upon by an outside force.”  Static force must be overcome before motion is possible. I fought that static force at dance class on Monday morning. I hurt my knee a month ago, and my body and spirit have been at odds ever since.

I forget I have arthritis until I stop moving. Stiffness quickly takes up residence in my joints, and movement takes more and more effort. I carried a banner in our local Christmas parade last Saturday. The rain and cold temperatures added to the effort, so I ended up reinjuring my knee. Static force’s grip got tighter, and I relaxed right into it.

Rest is healing, but it leads to rust if I give in to the temptation to stay at rest. I wonder if Sir Isaac Newton based his laws of motion on the movements of his own body as well as his observations of the world around him. He suffered from several ailments related to high levels of mercury and lead. He suffered from depression, so I’m sure he understood the difficulty of breaking free of the force that keeps us from moving.

The saying, “Motion is lotion” is true and applies to the body, mind, heart, and soul. God used Newton’s First Law of Motion to help me see the Holy Spirit as the outside force necessary to act upon the static force that keeps my heart from moving forward as He desires. When God bid me to go into a time of rest in October, He didn’t mean for me to snuggle into inactivity and allow rust to set in.

Nothing is more static than excuses, and I don’t plan to let them keep me from doing what my body needs to do. God is an amazing teacher who knows just what I need, just when I need it. Aerobics wasn’t easy last night, but I was determined to get through the whole class. When it was over, I noticed the pain in my knee was much better, and the pain in my hip was completely gone! I slept like a baby and plan to enjoy dancing this morning.

I’m glad God allowed a little rust to enter into my rest so I could appreciate the return of movement. I visited a dear friend who is recovering from a horrific traffic accident that broke her body to pieces. She was filled with joy yesterday because she was finally going to be able to get into a shower with the help of several health care workers. That gave me a new perspective on movement and the motivation I needed to get up and get going with a new attitude!

Rest in Peace

Change is never easy, but pliability brings peace to the process. When mama died five years ago, my heart was a pile of shattered clay that I tried, in vain, to put back together. Mama’s death was an expected one, but that didn’t make it any easier. We longed for her pain to end and even questioned her lingering for so long. My heart hung on to her even though I knew she longed to be with her beloved Lord. Part of the problem was that I wanted to go with her. Mama and I shared a special bond that began at my birth and continued after her death. I still feel her loving presence, and I’ve learned to rest in it.

Lillyann was born the day before mama’s last birthday. Mama thought she was born on her birthday because that’s when she saw the first pictures of her. She also believed she was named after her mother Lillie Belle. We all let her believe both. Three months after Lillyann entered the world, mama left it. She never saw her sweet great-grandbaby in person, but she loved her all the same. Mama loved with her whole heart, and that caused her a great deal of grief. She told me over and over that other people weren’t like us and that would break my heart one day. I carried her fear of being hurt into all of my relationships. As a result, I connected to those who could not, would not, or did not love me the way my heart needed to be loved. Over the past five years, love has entered into my life in new and beautiful ways that have allowed my heart to rest in love. I know I am loved and see myself as God’s beloved daughter.

The powerful lessons this week have been about trusting God to change the desires of my heart and then resting in His love. I’ve never been one to rest or trust, so it has been a challenging week. I’ve prayed fervently for God to make the desires of His heart the desires of my own, but I realized this week that I have to trust and rest before that can happen.  I’m not sure when or how it happened this week, but my heart rested into a pliable peace that was very much like the feeling you get when you notice a terrible headache is gone.  I knew in October that resting and relaxing were going to be an important part of the learning this winter, but I wasn’t sure how God would get me to do either. I was thinking hibernation, but that isn’t at all what God had in mind.

Resting in peace is associated with death. I prayed fervently for mama to find such rest when she left this world. One rarely finds peace in this world; but just as we can walk in God’s Kingdom now, we can also rest in His peace before dying. It never occurred to me that rest was related to obedience until a friend reminded me that relaxing into obedience is part of the journey toward holiness. I learned this week that I can rest in obedience, rest in hope, rest in peace, rest in grace, and rest in love. In fact, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I can rest in all things. Once I allowed my heart to rest, I felt the pliable peace of Philippians 4:7, and it changed everything.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (NASB)

Christmas is the season of peace on earth, and there is still nothing that brings peace into our hearts like the pure unconditional love of a child. God knew that when He devised His plan for peace on earth. His Son’s precious love captivates our hearts as we remember His birth. May the pure love of Immanuel bring pliable peace to all our hearts this season.