The Beauty of Grace

As we come away from Resurrection Day, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead after offering himself as a sacrifice for ALL of our sins, I must share my gratitude for – His Sufficient Grace. For ALL have sinned and fallen short (Romans 3:23) – we are all in need of salvation which comes by His mercy (compassion and lovingkindness) and grace, and by the shed blood of Christ on the cross.

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Webster defines Grace as: unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification, approval, favor, mercy, pardon.

Wiki says: In Christian theology, grace has been defined as “the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it”,[1] “the condescension or benevolence shown by God toward the human race”.[2] It is understood by Christians to be a spontaneous gift from God to man – “generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved”[3] – that takes the form of divine favor, love, clemency, and a share in the divine life of God.

And even deeper and better yet, the word in Hebrew is paralleled with several other ideas including: healing, help, being lifted up, finding refuge and protection, strength and salvation; to be rescued!

I met and accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior when I was 6 years old. I spent my youth quite close to Him. It wasn’t until my sophomore year in college that I really began to deviate from this relationship. I began to make poor decisions, and at some point I felt that I could never go back – that I had strayed so far that there was no point in even trying. Over the years I slowly drifted further and further away, trying to keep up appearances for those around me. I fought depression and isolation and eventually sunk deeply into alcohol and drug use and various other unsavory choices. I should have been dead many times over, but my God protected me despite myself. He showed me mercy even when I did not deserve it. I felt like I was too far to ever receive His Grace.

Finally, in early 2008 a perfect storm of circumstances caused me to hit bottom so hard that the only way to look was up. All I had to do was turn around and cry out – and there He was. He was there all the time. Restoration and rebuilding can take a long time, but when you call His Name, His Grace and Mercy come upon you in an instant, for you have finally stretched out your arms to accept what He has freely given.

You see, we all go through trials and difficulties in this life. That is just the human condition. We bring many of these upon ourselves, but others come from other people or circumstances beyond our control. God sees us through all trials, regardless of their origin – He extends His grace and mercy without regard to how or why we landed in our situation. He just wants us to turn to Him.

It seems to be hard for some people to grasp the simplicity of salvation. How could the Creator of the Universe so freely give His love? All I know is that He does, and that He extends that gift to ALL. No exceptions. He cried “It is Finished” from the cross, because He paid ALL our debt once and for all. Hallelujah!

Ephesians 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast.

At my time of restoration and renewal, I latched on to some wonderful songs that encouraged me and built me up.

One was “Beauty of Grace” by Krystal Meyers (a song sung from God’s perspective):

Tell me why’d you run
You say you’re so ashamed
bruised and broken
Thought if I figured out
The mess you’ve made
That I’d leave

Chorus:
But anywhere you are

Is never too far away
There’s freedom from your scars
The mistakes that you’ve made
Forgiven
The memories erased
Baby, that’s the Beauty of Grace

Tell me what is love
I’ll never hold you to
The things you may have done
You say you want new life
In my arms, there’s mercy

Another, by the greatest selling Gospel group of all time, the Clark Sisters. (Do yourself a favor and download this one!)

“Blessed And Highly Favored”

He brought me through hard trials
He brought me through tribulations
Never let a day go by and not realize
Had not been for the Lord who was on my side

Back was against the wall
He looked out for me
He heard my cry and rescued me
Never let a day go by and not realize we are blessed

Chorus:
Don’t take it for granted that we are here today
Just know that we’re blessed and highly favored
Just know that we’re blessed and highly favored

As I look back through the years,
It’s amazing how He kept me.
What the devil meant for evil,
God turned it around,
Turned it around just for my good.

I know that I am blessed and highly favored.
Just know that we’re blessed and highly favored.

It coulda’ been me,
It shoulda’ been me,
It woulda’ been me if it wasn’t for the blood.
Grace, mercy.
Grace, mercy.

Not only does God extend grace to all of us by the power of the shed blood of Christ on the cross, but he also extends forgiveness and separates our sin from Him as far as the East is from the West. Since space is infinite, that means there is no ending point in the East or the West. So this means, as in the song “Beauty of Grace,” that He erases the memory of all that you have done. Think of all the times another human being has hurt you. Have you been able to forgive? Hopefully you extend the same grace to others as God has extended to you. But, if you are like me, you don’t easily forget that hurt. It can be hard to forgive others and yourself. And it is certainly almost impossible to forget. We harbor hurt feelings, and we condemn ourselves sometimes to the point of spiritual paralysis.

Imagine the kind of Grace that God is extending to you. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been. He has offered atonement and covering for your sin through the Cross. All you have to do is accept it. You can never earn it – it is a GIFT. And not only has He offered this gift, but He has also promised that once you have repented of your sin, He will cast it off into infinity and beyond!

If you are waiting to “get things together” before you turn to the Lord, let me advise you that you will NEVER be ready because your efforts will always fall short. Cry out to Him and accept His gift of life. There is no greater thing than a relationship with the One who created you just as you are. He knows everything about you and loves you unconditionally anyway.

And that’s the Beauty of Grace.

Psalm 103:1-12 NIV
Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits– who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.  He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

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Moisture Barrier

Brand New Carpet. The ultimate way to start spring cleaning!

(First, I would like to thank the Lord for providing for me to get this new carpet after so many years. I acknowledge that it is not a necessity for living and that He graciously made a way for me to finally afford it. He takes care of us even beyond necessity!)

Last Thursday, I finally got my new carpet installed! Happy First Day of Spring to me! My old carpet had not been installed properly. It was cut and then just put in place. Never stretched and properly tacked. Therefore, over the years, aside from the normal wear and tear, it also developed unsightly and eventually dangerous rolls.

Once the installers moved my furniture, I could see just how dirty the high traffic areas were! I could also see the places where stains had set over the years. Once they began to rip up the carpet, those same stains were also visible in the padding beneath!

My original carpet was installed when the house was built in 1991. Since then there have been advances in both the quality and stain resistance of the carpet itself and the padding that goes underneath. Now the padding includes a moisture barrier that prevents any liquid that you spill on your carpet from going all the way through the padding. Without that barrier, if you spill something like cranberry juice on your carpet, even after you scrub the stain it will return because it soaks into the padding and then eventually creeps back up into the carpet. The unprotected padding would also hold the scent of whatever soaked into it. This new moisture barrier keeps that from happening.

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I thought, that barrier is like the Word of God in our lives! Without it we are much more vulnerable to the stains of the world. That Word in our hearts and minds defends our souls from seeping stains and toxicity. This is why me must remain in the Word and guard ourselves with it! Let’s be honest. Most of us spend countless hours reading novels and watching TV and movies and very little time reading God’s Word. Just having your Bible sitting on your coffee table won’t do it – you have to open in, read it, digest it.

Cover your soul with the promises of God.

We will eventually spill something on our carpet that needs to be properly cleaned. Or, someone visiting will spill something on it. Same with life. Life can get messy. On the surface we will always have some sort of a mess we are dealing with. But, if we have that barrier, the Word of God, guarding our hearts and minds, we can prevent those messes from seeping all the way into our souls. When we are sure in our relationship with Christ, the messes, however painful, don’t have to ruin our core. That core will be sealed and protected so that the stains of life don’t fester, rot or mold and eventually work their way back to the surface.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV

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PURE JOY!!!

“The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” Psalm 126:3

One evening last May, my little godson Matthew called me to ask if he could have his 6th birthday party at my house – a dance party! You see, I am an “auntie” to a lot of my friends’ kids since I don’t have any of my own. All of them like to visit Auntie Kristin’s house because I have a cool basement filled with disco lights, electronic drums, bongo drums, games and DJ equipment with big speakers – and my buddy Matt is no exception.

Well, of course I said yes, and told Matt that we could plan a disco dance party at my house and he could invite all his friends. He started designing invitations that day. The funny thing was, he had over 5 months to wait until his birthday in October! This fact did not dampen his excitement, so the countdown began.

FINALLY, the day of the party arrived! I had spent many, many hours planning and preparing my house for a flock of tiny people to come have fun and go crazy! I was so excited and proud of what Matt’s Mom and I had done to prepare. I couldn’t wait for Matt to arrive and see what I had created JUST FOR HIM! I did all of it just because I love him so much and wanted to see him enjoy his big day with his friends!

Matt’s family arrived early before the guests. I was outside in the back yard setting up tables and chairs. Once the car parked I assumed Matt would see that I was in the back and that he would come straight to me. However, he hopped out and ran to the front door, which I had left unlocked. I quickly went back into the basement hoping to meet him when he came down the stairs to the party room.

As soon as I got inside, Matt burst through the other door and there we were, just the two of us. I already had all the lights on and some music playing. The disco ball was spinning, and birthday decorations were everywhere!

He looked around and took it all in, then he began hopping and clapping and squealing with glee! He ran to me and jumped into my arms, bear-hugging me and whispering, “THANK YOU AUNT KRISTIN” in my ear.

It was a special, intimate moment I will never forget. The pure joy and gratitude of a 6-year-old boy who knew I loved him so much that I would go to any lengths to provide him with the birthday party of his dreams.

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Isn’t this how we should be every day when we see what our Father God has created for our pure enjoyment?

God loved us so much that He sent His only Son to die and give us life. And beyond that, look at the beautiful earth He created for us to inhabit! We tend to get complacent about the everyday – a shining warm sun, green trees, flowers, lakes and streams, animals, food and clean water, family, a job – the air we breathe and a beating heart every morning we wake up.

Webster’s defines Joy as: the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires; delight; the expression or exhibition of such emotion; bliss; enjoyment.

Psalm 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

Psalm 118:24 “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

James 1:17 “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

Take a look around today, soak it all in, and JUMP FOR JOY into your Heavenly Father’s arms, expressing your deep gratitude for His gifts to you. He not only provides enjoyment for you on this earth, but He has also prepared for you a boundless eternal home as well. His love for you is overwhelming, unconditional and limitless! Unbridled joy and gratitude is appropriate!

1 Corinthians 2:9 “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

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The Lord Will Provide

MEMORIES…they can be hurtful or delightful. As I get older, my mind is often filled with memories of the past.

I was a depression kid. My father, a farmer turned city boy, worked for small wages that were never enough to pay the bills and feed his growing family of 6 kids. But never despairing, I can hear him sing, “I’m a child of the King, A child of the King. With Jesus my Savior, I’m a child of the King….”

My Mother, too, was not one to let her circumstances control her. I fondly remember an event that happened in my early school years:

We always came home from school for lunch. One day when we got home, Mom seemed to have nothing to feed us. She sat us down at the table, with nothing before us. Just then, we heard a knock at the door. We children sat still, while our Mother went to the door. There stood a man with a large loaf of bakery bread in his hands. He represented a new bakery in the community, and was handing out FREE samples!

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My Mother came back to us, her face beaming. Holding aloft the bread, she said, “The Lord will provide.”

Memories – make good ones, for your family will recall them.

Gladys wrote this and shared it with her granddaughter Kristin on July 8, 2003. What a wonderful example of how our Lord, Jehovah Jireh, always provides for us. At this time of the year, Christmas, that has become so commercialized and tempts us to want “things” we don’t need, let us remember how God cares for our daily needs and that His supply is never short. Remember also, to share with others as God spurs you on to do so. He provides for us through each other time and time again.

1 Timothy 6:17-19
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” NIV

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The Gratitude Diaries

 In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.          Thessalonians 5:18 (NAS)

Here we are coming off the week of Thanksgiving.  Much has been written about being thankful and grateful and not going too all-out crazy on black Friday.  We have been chided and challenged to keep a heart of gratitude all year long, not just the last Thursday of November.  So, how’s that working out for you?

I’ll admit that until this year, I rarely gave it a second thought.  The busyness of the holidays blows by with the force of a hurricane most years, with me left at the end of it all with messy hair and feeling like I’ve missed it. Like there should be something more fulfilling about this season.

The past year has found me on a journey of being more spiritually aware, and I have slowly moved toward being increasingly deliberate about my daily walk.  It’s a slow process, but there have been many rewards.  Striving for a heart of gratitude is part of the territory.

And so, a friend’s post on Instagram on November 1st that she was accepting a challenge to share something she was thankful for every day struck a chord with me.  I accepted the challenge, too.

It’s simple, really – for the 30 days of November, name one thing each day that you are thankful for & post a photo about that thing.  So simple.  But as it turns out, not easy.

It’s not that I couldn’t think of many things every day I’m thankful for – so coming up with just one was not difficult.  It was the planning to post something deliberate every day that got me.  Consistency and discipline are not my strong points, and this exercise brought that home.  Most days I was making my daily thankful post from the bathroom while brushing my teeth.  At midnight.  Not exactly the disciplined soul I pretend to be.

I began my month with a list.  I added to it daily.  It turns out, when you are deliberate in naming what you are thankful for you are naturally more aware of those things, which in turn makes you more thankful for them.  It’s a beautiful circle, really.

And so, I began posting.  My family, my pets, the beauty of the earth, even my washer and dryer made the list.   What I discovered was that each thing I was thankful for could not be adequately described in a few short sentences on Instagram, but I posted anyway and began thinking about writing a gratitude diary where I could expand on each item and get into the meat of why its existence was so important.

30Days.sunset                 30days.water

You know how they say it takes 21 days to form a new habit?  Try something for 30 days and it could even become a way of life.  What began as a fun way to post a new photo and clever phrase every day has become a daily exercise in gratitude awareness that I hope I can continue throughout the coming years.

I learned something about myself last month: it’s not that I am not thankful for these things all year long, it’s that I am just not deliberate in acknowledging them.  And so, I take them for granted.  I ignore their beauty and significance.  Worst of all, I was forgetting to thank God for those things, and I think maybe that makes Him a little sad.  I am surrounded by beauty and love and convenience.  Every. Single. Day.  It’s much too easy to take it all for granted.

I encourage you to try it.  Being thankful doesn’t end when the turkey leftovers are consumed and the Christmas decorations emerge from the attic.  It’s a daily exercise that will create in you a new outlook on the mundane.

If you are thankful for the technology that allows you to have clean clothes at home every day, you won’t think about the task of doing laundry in quite the same way again.  If you look at your family with eyes of gratitude for all the good they bring to your life instead of the annoying habits they possess, your love for them will grow.  Even the opportunity to have a fire in the fireplace on a cold night takes on new meaning.

So, what are you thankful for today?

 

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Every Leaf is a Blessing

I just spent a weekend with my friend Natalie, about 70 miles from my house. As I left that Sunday morning I told her I’d let her know when I made it home safely and that I had to do hours worth of yard work as I was severely behind on my fallen-leaf management. UGH.

I arrived back home and sent her a text that I had made it and thanked her for her hospitality and a fun weekend.

Her reply text said, “Awesome, glad you made it safe. Have a great day, enjoy every leaf, it’s a blessing!” 

I sort of laughed sarcastically as I read it and got geared up to work outside for dreadful hours on end.

I live in North Carolina, a deciduous forest. (Deciduous: the dropping of a part that is no longer needed, or falling away after its purpose is finished. In plants it is the result of natural processes.) As you can imagine, this means autumn is a gorgeous time of red, yellow and orange leaves that eventually translates to untold numbers of leaves on the ground and bare branches through the winter. I used to get all bent out of shape if I didn’t get all my leaves cleaned up out of the yard and put in bags by the street for the City to pick up. After years of this, I finally settled down and stopped worrying so much about it. After all, the leaves disintegrate and go back into the earth from whence they came, giving more nutrients to the soil. Why not leave some of them? Why not mulch most of them and let nature take its course? Why do people get so obsessed with “cleaning them up” and resenting every minute of it?

As I worked hard at mulching, raking and bagging leaves, I could not stop pondering what Natalie had said. “Enjoy every leaf, it’s a blessing!” I began to really think of them that way. On my own property there are millions of leaves. Translate that into blessings from God. WOW! His love for us is overwhelming!

There are leaves of different sizes and shapes and colors. Every single one is different from every other. Some are perfect in shape, some are cute, some have already begun to break down and are ugly. But when they all return to the soil, fertilizing it, they all create nutrition and give life to the grass, trees and plants they feed.

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Isn’t this the same with each blessing we receive every single day? Every breath is a blessing. Every moment shared with a loved one. Food, clean water, shelter, family, friends, pets, jobs, opportunities to serve others. Some blessings don’t look like blessings at first glance. They may be ugly and painful as we deal with them, but they still end up feeding our soil (soul) and we grow because of them.

Suddenly I experienced such joy raking and mulching the thousands and thousands of leaves in my yard as I thought of each of them representing a blessing in my own life. Some are ground up and return back into my own soul to help it grow, and some are bagged up and put up at the street as if I am giving them away. If you look, you will see an over-abundance of blessings in your own life, even amidst your most painful struggles. Some are to be absorbed and enjoyed, and others are to be passed on to bless another life.

I will never look at leaves the same again – they will always remind me to be thankful to God for the unlimited supply of blessing that He has given me, and remind me to give as He unfailingly gives to me.

As we approach Thanksgiving, be sure to notice just how blessed you are and how you can speak life and blessing into the lives of the ones you love. Every moment is a gift. Every leaf is a blessing.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17 NIV

Jesus says, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:38

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Redeeming Lost Time for Grace Time

college-graduation

I felt a momentary twinge of sadness, regret even, when I noticed that the college graduations happening several weeks ago were those of my son’s former classmates.  Four years already? Was my first thought – how could it have been four years since his high school graduation? And then, the sadness.  Sadness that we were not celebrating Chris’s college graduation.  Sadness that his plans were interrupted.  Sadness that life sometimes throws a curveball.

How could we have known that day Chris came home after his sophomore year that the sleep deprivation he suffered was caused by hours and hours of nighttime seizures? Or that by following the brain mapping road we assumed would lead to brain surgery and a cure ultimately left Chris in the same place as before but with two years lost?

And then, it was gone.  My brief flirt with self-pity and regret was replaced with gratitude.  I mean, really? I was mourning the loss of a diploma and a party.  What I have instead is a son who is being transformed by God and his circumstances into a young man of grace and sincerity during these years of uncertainty.

Although he struggles daily with side effects from his meds and still experiences many seizures in the night hours, in many ways Chris is thriving.  His experience dealing with what can be a debilitating and sometimes fatal medical condition has left him with a renewed vision for his future.  Each day he accomplishes something that brings him closer to owning his own business; with entrepreneurial dreams he looks to the years ahead with hope and not dread.

Just the other day Chris asked me if there’s a Bible verse that speaks to moving forward and forgetting the past.  I gave him this:

“…Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:13-14

He and his business partner have decided to make that their theme verse for Innovate Clothing, LLC.

Yes. I can learn a lot from this young man.

What about you? Have you been haunted or filled with regret by what you see as lost days, weeks, months or even years?

God sent a big fish to interrupt Jonah’s life, then caused that fish to carry Jonah right to where God wanted him.  Your situation – dare I call it your Big Fish –  has been carrying you to the exact place you need to be when you are released from it.  You might say that epilepsy is Chris’s Big Fish, the time spent inside it is shaping him to be the man he needs to be.

This time is not lost time, it’s grace time.  What are you doing with your grace time?

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