Sufficient Grace

My journey through life in God's grace.

Category Archives: faith

Joy > Happiness

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“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people.”  Luke 2:10

When the angel came to the shepherds, the first thing he said was “Don’t be afraid.” That always seems to be the first thing angels say throughout the Bible!

Then the angel said to the shepherds, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy.”

Shepherds were the lowest on the class totem pole in Israel. Because they worked with animals, they were considered “ceremonially unclean” to enter the temple. They lived in the fields and caves with the sheep. (Have you ever smelled sheep? And no hot showers available in a cave? That might be another reason they were shunned by common folk!)  They may have wondered what could bring them great joy and why were they singled out for this message?

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The angel Gabriel also said to Mary, “Don’t be afraid.”  Then he said, “You have found favor with God.” Notice he didn’t say “favor that will make your life amazing and easy.” He didn’t show up with a balloon bouquet from the prize patrol.

We know that Mary’s life wasn’t easy. She may have had happy moments but the circumstances of Jesus’ birth and life could not have been conducive to happiness for His mother. Being pregnant before she and Joseph were married was a dangerous position in which to be. It could have cost her her life.  Seeing Jesus hated and shunned by the Pharisees and rejected by the people of His own hometown of Nazareth had to be heartbreaking. And then to be at the foot of His cross watching His suffering, wondering why, if He was God’s Son, God didn’t save Him?  That would have been almost more than any mother could bear.

But we know that Mary did have great joy.

Happiness is different than joy. Happiness is dependent on our circumstances. It’s superficial. Joy is deeper than happiness. We can be filled with joy in spite of our circumstances. Mary was filled with joy in spite of being an unwed mom and giving birth in a cave. The shepherds also rejoiced after the angel’s message and went to see the baby Jesus.

I am blessed to witness this type of joy twice each month. My golden doodle, Ellie and I visit the residents at Country View county home every other week. Ellie enjoys our visits because she gets lots of petting and treats. The residents love the visits because she brings them joy

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Many of the residents have extreme physical challenges–amputations, lack of mobility and other hardships. Mental illness is common. All of their earthly possessions are housed in an area smaller than my master bathroom.

Yet, I see joy when we visit.

Not long ago one of our friends at Country View was sitting in the lobby talking to another resident when we walked in. With a loud squeal of delight, her arms flew around my puppy’s neck and she buried her face in Ellie’s soft fur. She repeated over and over in a muffled voice, “I love you Ellie!” When she finally looked up, a wide smile spread across her face and her eyes sparkled.

She told the activities person who was with us, “I was having a bad day, but now Ellie has changed my day!”

Nothing else had changed. She was still in the same living situation. Her mental and physical disadvantages were still part of her life.

She recognized the difference between happiness and joy.

Do we recognize this difference? Are we chasing material things and less-than-satisfying relationships for our happiness?

Only a relationship with Jesus can bring us true joy. His spirit allows us to persevere through difficult circumstances, not with happiness, but with peace and the joy that Mary experienced knowing her son who was also her savior.

Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your son Jesus to earth so that we can experience true joy that only comes from walking through life with Him. Help us to reflect the joy of your birth and life and resurrection in our lives, not just at Christmas, but every day of the year.  Amen.

 

Christmas Preparations

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“The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you who will prepare your way—a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.’”  Mark 1:1-3

It’s not “beginning to look a lot like Christmas” at my house.  The only evidence of the approaching holiday is a new Christmas magnet on the fridge along side a beautifully hand-cut red snowflake given to me by a friend’s 5-year-old son.

Several circumstances contributed to this delay.  I had great intentions last weekend to get started decorating, but ended up nursing a nasty cold. Tomorrow I leave for a short trip/long weekend to visit dear friends. The new kitty, who obviously doesn’t understand the phrase “curiosity killed the cat,” is creating new challenges!

Frankly, decorating for Christmas is not nearly as heartwarming when the one who shared appreciation of it the most isn’t here.IMG_2189

Don’t worry. I’ll get it done! I’ll figure out how to keep the cat from climbing the trunk of the tree and knocking it over. And on Christmas Eve when the kids and grandgirls come, the house will look like Christmas.

Because of all these things delaying the outward preparations for Christmas, God is helping me find time and space to focus on the spiritual preparations for Christmas this year, to experience a true Advent season.

One of the definitions of the word “Advent” by Merriam Webster is “the arrival of a notable person, thing or event.”

In our secular culture, this definition certainly describes our frantic preparations for all things Christmas. We decorate our homes. We bake goodies. We shop for and wrap presents. We prepare meals and rooms for visiting family.

Advent in the Christian tradition involves a preparation of a different sort. It requires a bit of a history lesson to understand the meaning of Advent.

God had promised a Messiah or savior since the beginning of time all the way back to when sin first broke the relationship between Him and His children. He assured all the people throughout the Old Testament of this coming event and special person for centuries. He sent prophets to remind the people of this excitement.

But like many of us today, the people lost interest. They became bored or got distracted. Some gave up hope that the promise would ever be fulfilled. They stopped looking for signs.  They stopped telling their children and grandchildren about the special pledge God made with their ancestors.  The prophets even stopped telling the people the stories about the promise. God stopped talking to the people all together.  No one heard anything for four hundred years about God’s Messiah.

There were some people who remembered the Promise. They still had hope. They passed the stories along to their children and grandchildren. Others studied the signs in the heavens and the stars.

Then when the time and circumstances were absolutely perfect, God fulfilled His promise, and the long-awaited Messiah of the world was finally born–quietly and unexpectedly.

Just like the promise God made centuries ago to bring a Messiah to earth came true in Jesus’ birth, His promise to return and reign forever will be fulfilled also in His perfect time.

How many of us today believe God’s promise or even look forward to the time of His second coming?

Even if we do know the Christmas story, do we put as much time and consideration into preparing our hearts and minds for the celebration of Jesus’ birth as we do into our secular and family celebrations?

For me, there is always a let-down after the holidays. It’s more fun to put up the decorations rather than take them down.  Many times, our expectations of the “perfect” Christmas don’t ever quite live up to the reality. The gift wasn’t the right size.  Or our family didn’t make it through Christmas dinner without the same old arguments and resentments showing up.  Or the celebration was fine, but the “empty chair” where a loved one sat still breaks our hearts.

This longing in our hearts can’t be completely covered up by our busyness or culture’s glitz and glamour of the “perfect Christmas” that we see on the Hallmark channel.

Scripture shows us how we can prepare our lives to receive Jesus fully this Christmas.

David, the greatest king of all time, prayed a humble prayer. “Create in me a clean heart, Oh God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation and uphold me with thy free spirit.” Psalm 51:10-12

Wouldn’t this be the greatest gift we could ever request? Who of us couldn’t use a clean heart and a right spirit in this time of divisiveness and lack of civility?  And I can always use a little more joy in my day!

This gift isn’t hard to receive. It only takes intentional focus on our part in these ways:

  • By setting aside quiet time for devotions or reflections on His word.
  • By making space in our busy schedules to remember the true meaning of the season.
  • By sharing love and joy and hope with family and friends and others who are less blessed than us.

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Jesus is the only cure for the hole in our hearts and the aching in our soul for perfect love, joy and peace.  He is the long-promised Messiah.  He left the glory of heaven out of love for us to come to earth, not only to provide a way of salvation, but to give us hope for today and peace that surpasses all human understanding.

This is my prayer for all of us this year—that our hearts would be prepared to receive the greatest gift of Christmas, that the Babe of Bethlehem would come into our hearts and make His home within us today and all throughout the coming year.

Lord Jesus, thank you that you left the awesomeness of heaven to come to this dark and fallen earth, not as a worldly king, but as a humble, small baby so that you could live a life like us and relate to everything we experience as humans to be able to comfort us.  Help us, Lord, to set aside time everyday from now until Christmas day so that our hearts can be ready to truly celebrate and fully accept the best gift we can ever imagine—the gift of your life for us!  In your name we pray.  Amen

 

Heavenly Minded

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“Now we do not want you to be uninformed, believers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you will not grieve for them as others do who have no hope beyond this present life.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13 AMPC

It’s amazing how heavenly minded you become when someone you love dearly is there.

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God has turned my heart and mind more and more towards heaven and away from this earthly life these past two years. Grief is an unavoidable journey. If you haven’t experienced it yet, you most likely will. Few of us get through this life without being touched in some way by grief.

No one can know what it’s like unless you have walked the path and even then, every experience is different. I have offered apologies to friends for not being as supportive as I could have been in their time of mourning.

Grief isn’t a season that passes. It’s a new way of life. I would imagine it’s a bit like having a limb amputated. You have to adjust to an entirely different way of living every day knowing your old life is gone and can’t return. It’s not about wanting sympathy or pity, but simply acknowledgment that life won’t ever be the same for those of us who’ve undergone this life passage.

A year ago I wrote in a paper for a class I took in which I shared, “I am not suicidal. However, if God calls me home, I am ready to go.” Our world is lost and hurting and so divided. Why wouldn’t any believer long to be in heaven?

But God has left me here in this world to help accomplish His kingdom work. I know He has a purpose for me. His good news isn’t received by all yet. So I mentor and study His word and pray for friends and family. God offers me and all believers strength and hope for our time on earth.

As believers in Christ, we are called, as Paul says, to grieve “not as those who have no hope beyond this present life.” The hope of eternity through Jesus isn’t the same as the definition this world and our culture gives hope. It’s not “I sure hope my team wins this weekend” or “I sure hope I get that new job.” Hope in Jesus is complete assurance that heaven is waiting for us if we have accepted His gift of grace and salvation.

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I know this to be true in my heart and soul. If I would have had to depend on my own strength these past two years, I would have curled up in a sobbing heap long ago. I never would have imagined I could live without Tom. But God restored Tom’s faith in Jesus and brought him to His heaven. God continues to strengthen me and grow my faith and draw me closer to himself as well.

The past two years I’ve also seen how words and scriptures take on new meaning in this phase of life. The phrase in the Apostle’s Creed “I believe in the communion of saints” means so much more when you know one of those saints. I also take strength and comfort knowing Tom is among the “great cloud of witnesses” surrounding me and cheering me on from heaven. (Hebrews 12:1)

This isn’t to say I don’t have hard moments or don’t miss Tom. I certainly do, and once in a while I will have a good old pity party. Then I am reminded of the words to the Easter anthem, “Now All the Vault of Heaven Resounds”, that say, “grant grace sufficient for each day, that by our lives we truly say, Christ has triumphed. He is living!”

Jesus is alive! God has a plan and a purpose for all of us. I don’t know how many more days the Lord has for me here on this earth. However long that is, I trust Him. I will continue to live out of His strength and grace and anticipate the day I am home with Jesus and reunited with Tom for eternity.

Heavenly Father–thank you that through the sacrifice and resurrection of your son Jesus, we have complete and total hope and assurance of eternal life. Help us to live each day by your sufficient grace so that our lives say “Christ is alive!” Give us strength to not mourn as those who have no hope beyond this life. Give us boldness to proclaim your love and the Good News to every heart that hasn’t accepted your gift. We ask this all for your glory and in Jesus name. Amen.

Jesus Interruptions

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“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Romans 15:5-6

I had great intentions today.

My one morning meeting got canceled, so I dropped Ellie at doggy daycare. I had my iPad and notebook, which is still my preferred method of writing. My blog needed a new post for all of you new and longer-term followers. (Thank you!) A devotional writing project has been tugging at my heart also. Maybe today could be the start of that project.

I headed to the library to find a quiet corner.

On the way…

A dear friend and business partner of Tom’s called for some heartfelt conversation and encouragement. After talking about twenty minutes, I walked towards the library where I saw an acquaintance from church whom I hadn’t seen in a while. His wife went to heaven a few years ago so we visited about our commonality of life these days.

As I found a table upstairs by the window, later than anticipated, I opened my iPad and realized I needed to reply to several emails for a volunteer project for Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Arrggghh!

Sometimes I feel so ineffective. Those great intentions get waylaid so easily. Satan certainly uses subtle distractions to pull us off task.

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But were these from Satan?

Jesus was interrupted often during His work on earth. The Bible shows us many of these unplanned events.  In Matthew 9, Jesus has just invited Matthew to follow Him. They’re at Matthew’s house eating dinner when the Pharisees interrupted the disciples with questions.

In Mark 5, Jesus has just driven a legion of demons out of a man and is on His way back to town when a leader of the synagogue falls before Him pleading for healing for his daughter. Jesus starts to go with this man when a woman with an issue of blood comes from behind and touches His garments and is healed. Jesus stops to acknowledge her. Verse 35 of Mark 5 says, “while Jesus was still speaking…” a servant from the leader’s house steps in to say the little girl is dead. But instead of going back to His original plans, Jesus tells the man, “Do not be afraid. Only believe,” and continues on His way to the leader’s house.

In Luke 5 we see Jesus teaching in a crowded house when the roof above Him literally comes off and a paralyzed man is lowered down right in front of Him. Jesus isn’t even phased. He issues forgiveness to the man and heals him.

Even in His darkest hours in the garden of Gethsemane when Peter cuts off the ear of the Roman soldier, Jesus heals him. (Luke 22:51)

Were these interruptions sent by Satan to keep Jesus from doing His father’s work?  Or were they the Father’s work?

Jesus knew the difference between distractions sent by Satan and work put in His path by His Heavenly Father. His earthly ministry was only three years long, but He accomplished more in those years than I can even dream of getting done in the same time. He impacted more people in three years than any politician or business person before or since.  His love and grace has outlasted the best marketing campaign ever waged.

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I pray that I can be as discerning about what’s important. I pray that Jesus will give me wisdom to see opportunities to share His love as just that–opportunities, not interruptions. I pray God will give me grace to pay attention and be willing to heed His work and will over my plans when my intentions get waylaid.

Jesus, thank you for your example of grace and patience that you lived out on earth. Give me wisdom to acknowledge people and opportunities you place in my path. Help me to recognize each person who crosses my path every day as someone you love just as much as you love me. Give me discernment to know your will versus the distractions of Satan. Help me to come to you to listen for your guidance every day of my life. Amen.

 

Sequence Failed Continuity

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“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will note leave you or forsake you.”    Deuteronomy 31:6

I didn’t plan to write today. The square on my calendar is full from morning till late evening. The contractor is here to fix several things in the house. Meetings begin at 9:30, then lunch with a friend at noon, more meetings and then church council this evening. Maybe in between it all I will be able enjoy a bit of the beautiful sunny, crisp day.

A day just like 17 years ago…

It doesn’t seem possible it’s been seventeen years. Our oldest granddaughter wasn’t a year old yet. The other two weren’t even, as Gia says, “twinkles in mom’s eye.”  Cancer hadn’t changed my world.

The title of this blog isn’t original. Google has several other blogs with the same title. They all have a similar theme–9/11 pilots who were supposed to fly on that bright sunny Tuesday.

Sequence Failed Continuity is air traffic speak for a flight that never reached its destination.

It appeared beside four flights that fateful day.

worm s eye view photo of plane between two high rise buildings

Photo by jacoby clarke on Pexels.com

American Airlines pilot Steve Scheibner was originally scheduled as co-pilot on Flight 11 from Boston to LAX on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.  Late on Monday, September 10, Scheibner was scratched for Tom McGuinness who was a senior pilot. (You can read about Schreibner’s story on the other blogs with the same title as this one or view the short film his oldest son posted on YouTube called “In My Seat.”)

In the years since 9/11 we’ve focused on those who lost their lives and the families who lost loved ones. It is totally appropriate, in fact an obligation for us to never forget those people. The reports are that even more, nearly as many as were killed in the original attacks, have died due to illness from the massive quantity of asbestos that filled the air for weeks after the Twin Towers fell.

The stories of the heroes and those who were spared that day were popular in the weeks and months after the tragedy.

How many of us still remember them?  The “lucky ones” who were supposed to be on a flight but didn’t make it? The business man who got stuck in traffic and was late to a meeting at the World Trade Center? The mom whose child was sick and couldn’t go to preschool in the Towers?

Pilot Scheibner says he and his wife and their eight children couldn’t “go back to normal life” after that day.

Any of us who have experienced tragedy or a life-changing event know this. Those experiences cause us to change our outlook on life–sometimes momentarily, sometimes for the rest of our days.

Why am I here? What is God’s purpose for me? How am I going to use this for good?

Every person who’s last earthly day was September 11, 2001 had plans. Plans for the day, plans for the week ahead. Plans for their families and their lives. And probably many of them, like us had a lot of “someday” plans.  Someday I’ll read those books on my night stand. Someday I’ll call my friend from college who’s going through a divorce to see how she’s doing. Someday I’ll make time to go to church.

After 9/11, Scheibner says he could no longer be a “someday saint”.

Divorces, diseases, and death can leave us bitter. Or we can choose to use our pain to help others make life better.

I’ve chosen the latter for the rest of my life. Survivors of any tragedy would tell you it’s the better choice–for others and for ourselves.

What things are on your “someday” list?  What purpose for your life is God waiting to bless that you haven’t taken the time to notice?  Whose life is less complete because you’ve put your calling on the back burner?  When the number of your days are dwindling, will you look back and be thankful for heeding the purpose God created you for?   Or will you, like those flights, be sequence failed continuity that never reached your destination?

Don’t wait for another 9/11 to find God’s calling and purpose for your life.

Heavenly Father, thank you that no matter happens in our world, Your promises to be with your children never fail. Help us Lord to feel an urgency in our hearts to share love with others who are hurting, to use the talents and opportunities you’ve given us to share the Good News of salvation through Jesus. Give us boldness to shine Your light brightly in our dark world. In Jesus name.  Amen. 

Advice to my younger self

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“Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before and you lay your hand upon me. ”  Pslam 139:4-5

Recently I had the occasion to walk in downtown Waterloo (our neighboring city) along streets I hadn’t been on in a long while–at least not on foot. Usually if something brings me here, I’m in my car rushing from one meeting or errand to another, not paying attention to memories from long ago which came trickling in on this day.

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Thirty-six years ago my “career,” if you can call a part-time job a career, began downtown. That job changed my life in ways my young, naïve self could never imagine.

It’s always interesting to look back over our lives to see God’s hand directing our path.

My dad had insisted I go to school after high school to become a secretary. I’m confident he thought that was about the only job I was qualified for that would make a decent living and maybe land me a good husband. Dad was a stubborn, old-fashioned Irish-German that didn’t take easily to being argued against.

So, two years later, I graduated from our local community college with my AA degree in the Executive Secretary program. God had His hand on me even then. I learned shorthand and typing skills very well (thanks to many hours in the typing room doing timed writings!)

Four friends and I all interviewed for the same internship at a local brokerage office. I was hired for the three-month intern position and asked to stay on part-time when it was completed.

I thought I would just stay a few months while I looked for another job that would pay me enough to be able to move out on my own. The pay at the brokerage office wasn’t great, but the experience and wisdom I gained, like the commercial says, was priceless.

It was a professional office where everyone dressed in suits and skirts. Business people, attorneys and judges stopped by over their lunches to check stock prices. An old-style ticker tape machine chattered away in the reception area cascading a long trail of paper onto the carpet.

Being the only person in the office who knew shorthand made me a valuable employee for the nine stock brokers to communicate with their clients.  That skill paid off in a big way in the summer of 1982 when I got a call from our office manager asking, “How soon can you be here? The s*** just hit the fan!”

Our office had experienced several collapses of stock positions and “guaranteed” bond positions which our parent company had underwritten and consequently we had sold a ton of to clients. This last default of a huge holding of bonds issued by Gamble Skogmo Company was the beginning of a journey that would change the trajectory of my life.

I was suddenly working full-time. Every day consisted of taking dictation from the brokers and transcribing and typing reams of letters to clients who held these bonds. People were literally losing their retirement funds and life savings.

Four months after I was hired full time, my boss left for another brokerage firm to take over the regional office and asked me to come on board with him. We started transferring accounts, withstanding non-compete agreement lawsuits, trying to hold together a Cedar Falls office whose manager had been fired, build a new office in downtown Waterloo for us and three other brokers who came with us from our previous firm, bring on a new, first-time broker and all of it fell on top of my totally inexperienced desk!

I was only just 20 years old and so much less confident than I am today as are most of us without the wisdom of life.

God blessed those tumultuous times. Our office survived the lawsuits and mass of paperwork and fiery personalities. In April of 1983, we all came together in a beautiful, newly renovated downtown office. Many of those folks are still friends of mine today.

The most amazing thing that God orchestrated was introducing me to a man, who at the time I thought was extremely arrogant and made me very nervous on the job! That man was Tom Barbatti who eventually became my husband.

During my working years at the brokerage office, I used to walk to lunch along the banks of the Cedar River in downtown Waterloo for brief outdoor escapes from the stressful work.

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I thought about those times this day, thirty-some years later, as I walked along the same river. I thought about that young, naïve, self-conscious woman who I was then. What advice would I give her from my wiser, older self?

I would tell her she has no idea the journey that lay ahead of her.

I would tell her that God’s hand is over everything in her life and, even though she will stumble and make mistakes and some bad choices along the way, God is good and patient and can use her mistakes for His good and His glory.

I would tell her about the amazing ways she will grow in confidence in herself and the amazing things she will experience and learn and the wonderful people who will come into her life.

I would tell her she will be embraced with a love so deep from that man who made her nervous that she would wonder how God decided to bless her so richly.

I would tell her that she will be tested in ways she doesn’t believe she has the strength or courage to endure.  I would tell her she is much stronger than she can imagine.

I would tell her to savor every moment of life because it is short and fleeting but not to be afraid because her salvation is secure.

And I would tell her that our amazing Heavenly Father will show her His grace and draw her closer to Him through trials of fire and use her in unimaginable ways to bring glory to Him and touch family and friends for His Kingdom.

Heavenly Father, thank you that throughout my life—through my sins and stumbles and tears and fear and joys and moments—your hand has always been there to pick me up when I fell, to forgive me when I strayed, to carry me when I couldn’t walk on my own, to collect my tears and give me laughter and friends and family and beauty from ashes. I especially thank you for knitting all the pieces of my life together so that I am assured of my complete adoption as Your precious child.  Please continue to guide and lead me in the ways You have for me to share Your story. In Jesus holy name.  Amen.