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hands4th

“What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life–to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?” ~ George Eliot, Adam Bede.

The oldest son walked in first, into the hospital room that Saturday in late February. I’d been admitted just long enough to have IVs placed. The antibiotics hadn’t even been started yet. I was septic with double pneumonia. My husband had gone home to bring back what I’d need for a stay. The second son and his wife came with my two youngest about 30 minutes later, followed by the 3rd son. I couldn’t talk; it wasn’t worth the effort, but, like any time all the boys gather, there is more entertainment to be found in the listening than by trying to add my 2 cents worth. It was an unanticipated gathering where love doesn’t need to invite, love just comes.

2016 was a year of unanticipated gatherings. I call them grace gatherings.

Gatherings: fellowship, belonging, inside the circle, storytelling, listening, laughter, tears, highs and lows, memory-making, engaging authentic caring, maybe just a just-holding-hands, sharing, quiet or loud, praying, believing, forgiving, hoping, choosing love, a just-being-there kind of gathering.

You see, there are the on-the-calendar gatherings with cakes and candles and a year added to someone’s count. There are holiday gatherings with feasting, thanksgiving, sparklers and fireworks. There are Soli Deo Gloria gatherings reminding us of God’s love and faithfulness in the birth, crucifixion and resurrection of His son. There are back porch gatherings, kitchen counter gatherings, breaking bread or sharing a cup of tea gatherings. People arrive either through formal invites or the casual, southern-styled, the-door’s-always-open invitation to stop by, sit long and talk much over a glass of sweet tea or lemonade.

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Ben and Katrina’s June, 2015 Wedding

Then there are the big-moment, still-planned gatherings like weddings and graduations with suits, ties and starched shirts. Or planned family gatherings in flip-flops, sand with a dab of beach soccer. Last summer,  35+ members of my husband’s family gathered at the beach. We’ve done this since 2009. This was the first year all my boys (with their family) have been together like this since 2008. It was a memory-making gathering.

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Family, June 2016

. . . and then there are the unwanted gatherings where grace just brings you to stand with others in the hard moments when illness threatens or death comes . . . . unwanted gatherings redeemed by grace.

Grace:
1. 
Favor; good will; kindness; disposition to oblige another; as a grant made as an act of grace
2. Appropriately, the free unmerited love and favor of God, the spring and source of all the benefits men receive from him. ~ 1828 Noah Webster Dictionary

Twice this year, Grace gathered and lined up, gave hugs, shared stories that touched our hearts and brought smiles.

Grace always makes time to love.

Those memories we’d all gathered?  Memory stories overflowed with more than enough grace to pour on aching, loss-sore hearts. Nanny had sowed enough love to bring grace to every one of our hearts when she went home to heaven in November. Those memories we’d gathered? Whether 6 or 66, we each had within us a lifetime of memories gathered to pull out when we miss her, to pull out to comfort in her absence.

It’s hard when a beloved character in your story leaves your story. It’s like when Beth dies in Little Women. The gatherings are never the same kind of sweet as when she was there, and it leaves the reader poignantly homesick for earlier chapters, even though the story continues on, fulfilling the designed hope for each character remaining in the story.

Yes, I would have preferred only the birthday sparkle and back-porch kind of gatherings in 2016. Who wouldn’t? But I find myself humbled by a loving God who instills in the hard gatherings grace that redeems through His unfailing love, a love so big that not only does he seek a one-on-one gathering with each of us, but manages to give each of us what we need in the table-packed, porch-packed, house-packed, beach-packed easy or hard gatherings.

2016 was a Grace-in-the-Gatherings kind of year. I don’t know God’s design for 2017. I do know there will be birthday gatherings with cakes and sparkle. When Spring comes, the back porch will open up again and sweet tea and lemonade will taste mighty fine with those who come to sit long and talk much. My 4th son graduates in May, a new grandchild will come in July. The one thing I can rely on is my reliable  Father-God who always shows up, whether I’m alone or in an easy or hard gathering – and brings His abundant grace to share with all who come.

Praying grace in your gatherings in 2017!

“Remember: He WANTS your fellowship, and He has done everything possible to make it a reality. He has forgiven your sins, at the cost of His own dear Son. He has given you His Word, and the priceless privilege of prayer and worship” ~Billy Graham, Hope for Each Day: Words of Wisdom and Faith.

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http://arabahjoy.com/ Arabah Joy
http://www.janiscox.com/ Sunday Stillness
http://www.spiritualsundays.com/ Spiritual Sundays
Giving Up on Perfect, A Little R & R Wednesdays, Mondays @ Soul Survival, Coffee and Conversation, Coffee for Your Heart, Sitting Among Friends, Nanahood, Moments of Hope, Family, Friendship and Faith, DanceWithJesusFriday and Wholehearted Wednesday, http://seespeakhearmama.com/ Give Me Grace

http://afieldofwildflowers.blogspot.com/     Small Wonder (formerly Unforced Rhythms)
http://www.thebeautyinhisgrip.com/    Sharing His Beauty
http://donnareidland.com   Mondays @ Soul Survival
http://www.richfaithrising.com/    Unite the Bloggosphere
http://purposefulfaith.com/     Cheerleading #RaRaLinkUp
http://hollybarrett.org/     Testimony Tuesday
http://www.messymarriage.com/  Messy Marriage
http://www.w2wministries.org/     Word-Filled Wednesdays
http://holleygerth.com/     Coffee for Your Heart
http://3dlessons4life.com/ Thought-Provoking Thursday

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“The more one judges, the less one loves” ~Honore de Balzac (1799-1850)
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them” ~ Mother Teresa 

(I’ve worked on this since the azaleas bloomed. It was wanting finishing before the snow trees come. So the zinnias and tomatoj plants are pulled up and the burning bushes trimmed back, and the morning glories are untangled and summertime is pulled out of the gardens, I sat down to finish my rambling azalea story poem.).

shadows on an azalea blossom

Innocent azaleas dressed in white sidle
next to antebellum snowballs,
whose only job is to separate its charges
from a soldierly column of raucous
purple-bearded irises.
blue African daisies daintily sway
to a cool wind in the shadow of grandmother’s
Spider’s Wort and evening primroses that daily close
their shops after afternoon tea time.

from my porch all I see
are the best of themselves
wearing the prettiest colors
basking leisurely in a spring
sun

from my porch, I sit tangled
in spider webs and outside dust,
disorganized leavings of boys
in a rush, and the mess
of my own imperfection.
the view from this mess I’m sitting in,
is of all those living in my garden looking like
they’ve got it made, looking like
they’re living a garden variety
dream.

from my porch, I could think
how unjust
their advantage
a free privilege
to be created so effortlessly
lovely, so effortlessly
graceful, so effortlessly
blessed.

I could think it
unseemly
to be given more
abundant beauty
than others.
I could think it
unsporting
my toiling
the weeding, the feeding, the loosening
of soil for optimum growth,
for they don’t appear
to really do anything
except live their daily in
a fairy tale existience
while I live a messy chaos
and cobwebs existence on my
porch.

I could think simmering thoughts
that whistle and steam
hot enough to burn
others if not handled with care,
releasing it’s-not-fair mosquita rants that reach
to my fingertips that itch
to tear my garden neighbors
out – all root, stem and purple,
yellow, and pink petals of them.
I sat there, watching,
all the while whistling, steaming, itching
Until one morning, I stepped
off
my porch

I moved, drawing close
close, close enough to capture
their garden glamour with
my camera.
closer, closer, close I moved
near to know,
really know them
better
to know them better.

I drew close and saw
petal skins creased
and shadows that marred.
I drew close and found
truth conflicting with
my self-inflicted
myopic perception
I saw because I spent
time seeking intentional
truth
where they live.
I saw that my porch view
gulled me into unfair
judgement
or had my own jealousy
seduced me there.

All the garden flowers, not just
the azaleas,
had their own shadows to deal
with, marring their daily with heated
challenges, potentially spoiling
the impact of their God-designed
story.
I wondered whether other
flowers talked among themselves,
if when the winds blew them
close enough, they saw
the shadows, too.

Did they come close, close
closer to betray confidence for
morning glory
spreading knowledge gleaned
of secret sufferings throughout
the garden like pollen
on a blustery day
or did they keep confidences safe
in comforting friendship
protecting, lifting up in a hard wind
or a down pour?

I thought back to
earlier on my porch
to the envious song humming from
my mind to my heart,
a deceptive humming of an envy song
an envy song that spread like morning glories
that creep up vining around unwary branches until bursting
into conquering purple blossoms, declaring victory
while destroying those who extetnded
hopsitality

I didn’t realize. . .
I didn’t know
until I drew close
close, closer still
not only to know my garden neighbors better
but to love not for glory but for love’s sake.
it was there my envy song changed into a
a redemption song of salvation, of blessing,
of a soul saving love song

“In judging of others, a man laboreth in vain, often erreth and easily sinneth; but in judging and examining himself, he always laboreth fruitfully” ~ Thomas a Kempis     

http://arabahjoy.com/ Arabah Joy
http://www.janiscox.com/ Sunday Stillness
http://www.spiritualsundays.com/ Spiritual Sundays
Giving Up on Perfect, A Little R & R Wednesdays, Mondays @ Soul Survival, Coffee and Conversation, Coffee for Your Heart, Sitting Among Friends, Nanahood, Moments of Hope, Family, Friendship and Faith, DanceWithJesusFriday and Wholehearted Wednesday, http://seespeakhearmama.com/ Give Me Grace

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(I am still tying up loose ends in this upside-down season I’m in, but the words came and now is a good time for them)

There are a lot of things I disagree with right now, especially the intolerance and condescension for differing opinions – in the communities we walk in, on college campuses, in movies, news outlets, even social media.

St. Augustine’s City of God was commissioned to be written to persuade a falling Roman Empire that Christians made good citizens. Our country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles that Christians do, indeed, make good citizens.

Christians may fail in their quest to be good citizens, but I believe after they fail, they pick themselves up and try harder to love their neighbors better. National and personal history show the success of those efforts.

Just like the scripture enables growth in our God-designed journey, so, too, does our Constitution enable growth of our country’s God-designed journey.

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other” (John Adams)

The morals Adam’s talks about are Judeo-Christian morals. These morals are founded on the principles of loving our neighbors as ourselves.

When intolerance shouts down a political candidate or shoots up a gay bar, killing over 50 people, not only are the Christian principles of America’s foundation trampled on, but the foundation of our souls are trampled, too. It puts the very nature of our country in jeopardy.

Today, I’d just like to steep a bit in what this Christian love is that is foundational to our nation, its communities, and ourselves – a reminder of the saving, redeeming nature of God’s kind of love – and how it has the ability to make the good citizens St. Augustine extols.

“Love is patient,”

“Patience is not just waiting with grace, but living faith in that wait with grace, thinking, speaking, battling the doubt in our minds to live hope like we believe it” ~Bluecottonmemory

Love doesn’t give up on the lost. Love doesn’t condemn the lost to hell. That’s God’s job. Love loves. Love might need to be hands off and hands up in prayer, but love doesn’t give up on a prayer sent out for a lost life to be saved, no matter the frustration, hurt, or the ugliness of the sin.

“love is kind” – no matter the differences – whether you’re a Trump or Clinton supporter, whatever your religious beliefs, whether you’re a meat-eater or vegetarian, whether you’re a bottle-feeding mom or nursing mom, whether you believe in climate change or don’t, regardless of what sports team you pull for or the challenges you face.

“It does not envy” – love doesn’t “wish” it were somebody else, wearing somebody else’s shoes, with somebody else’s paycheck, living somebody else’s “luck,” focusing on perceived unfairness in a fallen world. Love learns to love the heart it lives in, so it can love others better, learns to find the beauty in the ashes of itself, and in the finding of the beauty in the ashes, discovers envy cannot exist in God’s soul garden. Then one day, the soul loves itself, content with its own shoes, its own paycheck, living with its own blessing, focusing on God’s grace in a redeemed world.

“it does not boast” – love doesn’t exalt themselves above God or look down upon the people they walk by in the daily. Love doesn’t say, “I am better than you” or “I am more worthy than you.” Instead of exalting oneself, love wants everyone to become part of God’s family as a favored child – each of us with all the benefits of a son or daughter of the king. Love doesn’t hoard God’s blessings or concern itself with portion sizes. Love brings everyone home to meet the Father.

it is not proud – A holier-than-thou attitude doesn’t make room for God’s kind of love. Love does not dig its heel with contempt into the misfortunes of others. Love reaches out a hand and lifts them up.

It does not dishonor others – love does not shame, embarrass, belittle, beat-up, shout-down, shoot-up a group of people just because they don’t agree with you, think the same, or even behave the same.  Even Christians who believe some behaviors are indeed sin in our Judeo-Christian heritage realize a sinner was never brought to real relationship with Christ through shameful and dishonorable treatment. Christ came with life-changing love and real relationship; the love in us should treat others the same way.

it is not self-seeking – love doesn’t want to win a popularity contest; love isn’t motivated out of a quest for authority and position. Love is motivated only by unconditional, selfless, sacrificial care and determined affection for others.

it is not easily angered – today we live in a culture of anger formed of intolerance for mistakes, failures, differences and immaturity. If people don’t meet our self-defined expectations of behavior and performance, society feels as though it has a right to lash out in physically and verbally destructive behavior. Easy anger makes no room for forgiveness.

it keeps no record of wrongs – love forgives, redeems from a broken past, and lets salvation doe its job reshaping the soul into its intended creation.  Love celebrates the reborn soul in the ups and downs of its journey.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth – Love’s character and conduct does not behave or rejoice with a get-even mentality. Love’s character and conduct don’t cheer when someone who seems to have it all falls into misfortune. Love finds peace when truth is revealed, even when it changes the narrative of the story.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love isn’t a bully, beating up others, silencing with fists, sticks or guns. Love, as a matter of fact, stops the bully at his own risk.

Love trusts the Father, always hoping in His plan, persevering because of it.

“Love never fails” (1 Cor 13: 4-8a) – Choosing love is a never-fail choice. As God is love, choosing God is a never-fail choice. If someone doesn’t choose God, then it is even more important that we show God’s love through our words and actions.

Christ said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Love doesn’t shout down or shoot down – it lays down its life to save another.

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No cheese to go with the whine – just blueberries – ripe and un-ripe – pinks and blues.

Sometimes I have to do things like cook and can my great-grandmother’s chile sauce, sit and read a  Pride and Prejudice chapter , maybe knit a row – or pick blueberries – it’s like claiming through sheer determination a sane, choice moment in a life like a packed blue convertible careening out-of-my-control down a steep hill – though whatever is at the bottom of the steep hill is where I’m going- and those moments, those activities bring grace back into it – sometimes surface grace. Sometimes deep grace.

Grace permeating despite the whining – about picking blueberries.

The blueberry lady at the Farmer’s Market invited us to come pick (see sister post, When the Blueberries are Not Yours to Pick). Our familiar patch wasn’t open this season – and I needed to pick blueberries. Not just for recipes – but for inside things, soul things.

At mid-day one Sunday after church, in-between the rains, when the sun came out hot, scorching our skin and pulling sweat out of us, we found our way to this new blueberry patch.

The bushes were only a few years old. We had to bend and squat to pick.

But sweet things like blueberries don’t just come to us. We have to go after them, work for them, sweat and be uncomfortable – knowing in faith the joy they will bring us in the cold months – a jar of summertime unsealed and opened – or a summertime unsealed from a freezer bag – in the middle of a winter snow storm.

I knew God would be there in the blueberry patch. He’d met me there before (see Blueberries for the Soul).

The boys, Keith and I – we each had gallon buckets.
“A gallon each,” my husband charged the boys. “Can’t leave until then.”

The last time we’d picked, the boys hadn’t even managed a quart total. That was with 3 boys and a girl-friend. Today I had two boys and a husband. In the other blueberry field, we stood, not needing to bend – we could reach on our tip-toes to finger-tips stretched, like reaching to heaven.

Here it was harder, more uncomfortable.

I wished I had brought my gardening stool. The boys  wished I’d just not brought them.

“Pick the bushes clean of blue,” I encouraged. “It keeps the flies and bugs away – and it doesn’t waste.”

The blueberry lady needed the ripe blue picked.

I followed behind, gathering what the boys missed.

blueberry2013c2“Guys,” I cajoled, sweat dripping down my back, the pressure in my head rising. Bending over does that to me. I keep telling them I’m old as dirt – but they don’t pay attention. “Guys, – don’t miss a one. Go past the outside branches to the deep inside.”

We picked and they missed so many of those ripe blue inside.

“Think of each blueberry as a child or adult who doesn’t know God – but their hearts are ready – if they’re blue blueberries – they’re ready.”

The buckets slowly filled. We each got better at picking the blue.

God doesn’t want a one missed – not a single one.

Some are easy to reach.

But God doesn’t want a one missed.

Not. a. one.

In the quiet of the picking, my heart prays, “Father, I don’t want to lose a one – not a single one. Like these blueberries designed to be picked – my boys and so many others are designed for you, designed not to be missed.”

As we move down the rows, bending, sweating, I encourage quietly
don’t just go after the easy ones
find the ones in the difficult places
past the chiggers, where wild things might nest
down low in the uncomfortable
or in the boughs where you have to stretch – though that’s not where we are right now

go deep and pull them to me


“You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally” (Ezekiel 34:4)

blueberrysum13Sweet things like blueberries and salvation don’t just come to us. We have to go after them, work for them, sweat and be uncomfortable – knowing in faith the joy they will bring us in the cold months – a jar of summertime unsealed and opened – or a summertime unsealed from a freezer bag – in the middle of a winter snow storm.

It was easy to pull the outside blueberries into our buckets: easy to see, comfortable to pick.

Inside the bush, though, past the easy outside, were ripe blueberries, so needing to be picked.

Teens, Young Adults, Young Mothers, Old Mothers – not making the right choices, not in the right places, trash talking, talking to loud, abrasive – in their words, in their stance – in their style

not in the easy places

not comfortable to pick

Raising boys to men, some take the hard paths to get where they’re going.

God’s not surprised. He went into the dark places, pursued Jacob, Rahab, Samson – they weren’t easy . They just needed time to ripen – like those pink blueberries weren’t ready to be picked. They would be, though – one day – and they were designed for boy-to-man hands to  pick – or mama hands.

I encouraged the boys – go deep, pick every ripe blueberry.

They were designed for picking.

“Look at it this way. If someone has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders off, doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine and go after the one? And if he finds it, doesn’t he make far more over it than over the ninety-nine who stay put? Your Father in heaven feels the same way. He doesn’t want to lose even one of these simple believers (Matt 18:12-14)

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If a blueberry is created to give the birds, the beasts and man pleasure – then each blueberry has a mission. If the ripe blueberry wastes itself on the bush – what kind of message does that send to the pink ones, the ones growing to fulfill its destiny?

It sees not destiny, no hope to fulfill God’s plan for its creation.

Sometimes we have to go into the hard, uncomfortable places, to go deep to reach each soul, in order that its its destiny be fulfilled – be complete – be His..

Don’t just go to the easy places. Go to the hard to reach places. Pull as many as you can to God.

Don’t let a one be wasted.

We ended up with 4 gallons that day. Each of us picking one gallon. These boys did a great job going deep and pulling out ripe blueberries, summertime blessings for the winter.

Shaddai – He joined us there in the blueberry patch – and gave me so much more than blueberries. Maybe my boys, too!

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Come of these blueberries fulfilled their destiny
in a Blue Cotton Crunch
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In a Meringue Shell atop a chocolate ganache

(recipe to come)
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and my Blue Cotton Blueberry Muffins

(recipe to come)
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