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Daily Dose (Apr 18 – 21)

Tuesday —

This week, let us hear the invitation of grace.
“Look at my eyes. Now take one step”, no longer confined by what we see as limitations.

My grandmother—Southern Baptist born and bred—didn’t cotton to folks in her church who played the judgmental-eternal-damnation-card just to feel good about themselves, or for the sake of proving a point.  She understood that in her church’s “theology,” there were many kinds of people “on the outside.” (Truth be told, in her church, “most” people were “on the outside.”) But my grandmother lived by an overriding imperative: “Anybody is welcome at my dinner table, no questions asked, no matter what.”
My grandmother understood the power of presence.
In the latter years of her life, in the back yard of her home in northern Florida, my grandmother had a porch swing. She liked to sit, and swing, and hum old church hymns, like Rock of Ages Cleft for Me. I can still see her there, wearing a white scarf over her head, a concession to chemotherapy’s unrelenting march. When I visited her, as a young adult, she would always ask me to sit with her on the swing, for a spell. She would pat my leg, and she called me “darlin’.”
As long as my grandmother lived—and in spite of her pain—there was always a place for me on the swing. If I were asked to explain Grace, I would paint the picture of my grandmother’s swing. There, I never had to deliberate or explain or worry regardless of the weight I carried. The swing–my grandmother’s presence—existed without conditions.
And I am here today, because of that swing.
I can hear the invitation of grace.
I can hear “my song”.
I cannot tell you your song. But I can tell you this: you have one.
Count on it. And if you sit still, you may hear it.
It is the song that reminds us we are beautiful, when we feel ugly.
It is the song that tells us we are whole, when we feel broken.
It is the song that gives us the power to dance, even when we feel shattered.
It is the song that allows us to take a step, even when we feel stuck, or shut down.

Wednesday —

I love stories that ignite, hearten and uplift. Stories that make space for healing, passion, and grace. Yesterday I told the story (and posted the picture) of my Grandmother’s swing (Chiefland, FL) and her unflinching and spirited embrace. She was for me a place of sanctuary and grace and healing.
For that reason, it’s a story I love to retell. Because grace has never been an easy gift for me to receive. A conviction reenforced by an image of God who frowned (literally) on my fault-lines (limitations, deficiencies, weaknesses). It’s no surprise that I internalized that limitations and they alone, measured my value (and my well-being).
This is where shame takes root. And we feed shame with fear.
Charlotte Kasl’s reminder, “Shame is essentially the degree to which you mistake your labels for your identity. If you draw your labels into the core of yourself, you can no longer see the center.”
And here’s the deal: there’s something about labels. They carry with them a debilitating enticement, and we wonder if we are ever “enough”.
“Henri Nouwen said that all his life two voices competed inside him. One encouraged him to succeed and achieve, while the other called him simply to rest in the comfort that he was ‘the beloved’ of God. Only in the last decade of his life did he truly listen to that second voice.” (Thank you Philip Yancey)

So. What’s the secret? This story helps point the way and does my heart good.
A “wise and loving father” sat down with each of his almost-teenage sons, and used the word “sanctuary” to assure them that they would always be welcomed, no matter what they had done. He spoke of future mistakes and actions his sons might regret and their fear of the consequences. He went on to say, “When that happens, please… come to me and say only ‘sanctuary’, and I will know. You can sit there in the silence, and I will keep you sheltered by a love that will never let you go, no matter what you did. We will get through it together. I want you to know this now and to count on it when you feel despondent, like a failure and want to run away. I will be your Sanctuary—till you can carry on.” (Thank you, The Compassion Connection, Catherine T. Nerney)
And I say, Amen. And I say Thank You, to my Grandmother, and to others who have been that place (“Look at my eyes. Now take one step.”) for me.
And the good news? Not only do we find sanctuary and hope and mercy, but are empowered to freely offer these gifts to those whose paths we cross.

Thursday —

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (The Gospel of Luke, The parable of the prodigal son)
We cannot undo bad (harmful or hurtful) things.
But we can allow ourselves to fall into the embrace of Grace.
And to find healing and restoration in the gift of Sanctuary.
And yes, fall into. Because this is not a cognitive or theological quiz.
Gratefully, when I stop, and close my eyes, I can hear my Grandmother’s voice (sitting on the swing, patting my leg) calling me “darlin’”, and I know, at my core, Henri Nouwen’s truth, “We are not what we do, we are not what we have, we are not what others think of us. Coming home is claiming the truth. I am the beloved child of a loving creator.” 

In his book The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming, Nouwen writes, “Although claiming my true identity as a child of God, I still live as though the God to whom I am returning demands an explanation. I still think about his love as conditional and about home as a place I am not yet fully sure of. While walking home, I keep entertaining doubts about whether I will be truly welcome when I get there. As I look at my spiritual journey, my long and fatiguing trip home, I see how full it is of guilt about the past and worries about the future. I realize my failures and know that I have lost the dignity of my sonship, but I am not yet able to fully believe that where my failings are great, ‘grace is always greater.’ Still clinging to my sense of worthlessness, I project for myself a place far below that which belongs to the son.”

Here is the powerful good news: One day, I need arms around me and the gift of grace. And one day, I can be those arms for someone around me who needs them. “When we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.” (Thank you Henri Nouwen)

Friday —

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (The Gospel of Luke, The parable of the prodigal son)
Yes. Can we hear this invitation to fall into the embrace of Grace?
This is good news, because there are many things that can take us away from home… anger, distraction, self-importance, cruelty, vengeance, unforgiveness, discouragement, despair, alienation, heartache.
And what I’ve learned—in my own life at least—is that in every instance there is a new weight, and it becomes the definition for our identity.
We let the “weight” (the label) tell us who we are.
And, the label requires that we focus on periphery issues, on whatever is needed to impress, or manipulate, or achieve, or use, or perform, or hurt. Bottom line: we end up disconnected from our self.
However—and this we must hear—there is always the invitation to pause.
To allow ourselves to fall into the embrace of Grace.
To fall into the healing comfort and power of sanctuary.
We’re back to Sankofa… from the Akan proverb, “Se wo were fi na wosan kofa a yenkyiri,” meaning, “It is not taboo to go back for what you forgot (or left behind).”

Here’s the good news: We can help one another remember (to be grateful for one another) the embrace of grace and sanctuary. And that does my heart good today.
I am so grateful for the people in my life who have been Sankofa to me.
Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh?” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”
(A. Milne: Winnie the Pooh)

Too easily, we miss one another… I mean that we miss opportunities to connect, or opportunities to love and to touch, or opportunities to fall into the embrace of blessing. And grace and sanctuary. I guess that’s the part that befuddles me. So often when we do touch (or are blessed)—and it does happen very often—we don’t even see it. And we have forgotten that we too, offer an embrace, that becomes Grace and home to others.
Love (born in Grace) is the only force powerful enough to prevail against the confusion and darkness of our present age. Love is the only thing that can turn enemies into friends. War can’t do it, violence can’t do it. Jesus said only love can. Only love can bring together people who hate and distrust each other and whose distrust cripples relationships.
So. Whatever love is in your heart…  Nurture it. Develop it. Grow it. Spread it. Spread it to your family but don’t stop there. Spread it beyond. Even spread it to your enemies, Jesus said.
It is the only force that can heal our broken world.

Prayer for our week…
A Celtic Blessing for Self-discovery
May you find yourself
Through love
May you find yourself
Through kindness
May you find yourself
Through listening
May you find yourself
Through simple things
And may you find yourself at peace.
Iain Tweedale

Photo… My Grandmother Gladys Andrews, on her swing with her grandson, in Chiefland, FL, sometime in the 1970s…

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