providence

Have you ever heard a word or phrase over and over, and then suddenly, one day, you hear it (or read it), notice it, and think about it in a different way? In my mind, it seems as if this happens very often with words or phrases related to God or spirituality, like these:

Live as a witness.
Suffering is redemptive.
God loves you.
Offer it up.
This is my body.
God’s providential care.

I distinctly remember the first time I really heard the word providence. I remember, because I realized at that moment that I really had no idea what the person was talking about. I had heard that phrase “God’s providential care” many times over the years, but had never really given it much thought. When heard it again that day, it was clear that I was being invited by God to explore the concept in a new way.

I think it works like a spiral staircase. You begin to ascend, and you notice something. You continue to climb the stairs, and when you come around to the same side of the staircase again, you’ve experienced all the steps in between. Your experience in the interim informs your reaction to the phrase the next time you hear it. Perhaps you had a conversation about something related to God’s grace, and the next time you hear “providence” you make a connection to grace. Or, perhaps you realized that a particular person who came into your life at a particular moment in time changed the course of your life in a significant way.

In the same way, I can trust that things in my life that I don’t quite understand have some significance in God’s plan for me.

What does this mean?

Here’s an excellent example. When I began writing this blog a few months ago, I was not quite sure about the title, “The Grace in Life.” I mean, I know that grace abounds (Romans 5:20), but I wasn’t sure I would be able to write about God’s grace, week in and week out. To prevent writer’s block, I began making a daily list of things I saw as grace-filled. These daily affirmations of grace helped me become more aware of it during difficult times. As I have been saying here for a few weeks now, my life has been difficult of late. Yet, the things I know to be grace-filled have sustained me in this darkness. God somehow led me to write these lists. And now, I have them to review when the going gets tough. This is providence and grace.

My incredible friend whose wife suffered an aneurysm a few weeks ago has found so much grace in his circumstances. A loving community has rallied around them, he and his wife are so conscious of all the prayers that are sustaining them, and he has identified many daily miracles in her progress, which he publishes online daily. His signature closing line has become, “Let’s pray for another day of progress tomorrow.” Our prayers for her progress are answered on a daily basis.

Sometimes God’s providence becomes obvious to us over time. Sometimes it remains a mystery forever.

Always, grace abounds.

happiness

My mom always says that my brothers and I have been blessed with dad’s disposition. He had a kind and gentle spirit, and he always found a way to bring humor to otherwise humorless situations. These past couple of weeks, I have needed something to make me laugh. In my world, there have been more than a few reasons why one could easily give in to having a troubled heart. Serious illness, scandal, hurt feelings, fear, division – in other words, human tragedies large and small.

I’ve been pretty demanding of God during these difficult times. God (I plead) grant my heart some peace. God, give me courage. God, shower me with grace.

I will admit (though not quite as freely) to having been pretty demanding of those closest to me, too. My family and close friends have been filled with grace as they listen to me, help me to process, and act as the face of God for me. This is where God has answered the demands I have made. God has given me peace through the loving presence of that person who allowed me to talk through my troubled heart and did not judge or offer solutions. God has given me courage in the response of that person who guides me to find strength in the confusion and light in the darkness. I have known the face of God in the unexpected support of that person who has been strong and wise.

In the midst of these struggles, God has showered me with the grace of a community willing to laugh. A lot. In the midst of the darkness, I have been blessed with a community with a sense of humor. With smiles and heartfelt embraces. With laughing at the absurd, the ridiculous, or the random. With celebration of the good things in life, as small and insignificant as they may seem. God has given me the strength, courage, and grace in the large and small. Grace is in the grins and the guffaws and the hugs and the craziness. Because life is really laughter and tears, and everything in between.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.
Psalm 126:2

do not be afraid

This week a dear friend has been through hell.

His hell is one of those things that could happen to any one of us, unexpectedly, at any time. His wife suffered a brain aneurysm and is in stable but critical condition.

I can not imagine how frightening this must be.

As I reflect on his experience, I pray for his peace, for his wife’s healing, for strength for their family, for grace and guidance from the Holy Spirit in those who care for her. I pray that God’s presence is known and felt in the darkest moments, and that God grant this family consolation and relief.

This past week I have been called again and again to pray with this scripture passage, and I did not understand why. Now, I think I do.

Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters I will be with you;
and through the rivers; they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God
the holy one of Israel, your Savior.

-Isaiah 43:1-3

Today, I am painfully, consciously aware of those who have loved ones who are ill, not just this friend, but all of my friends who are struggling with illness, cancer, death of a loved one, loss. I pray for all of them this day. I invite you to do the same.