Marriage Blanket of Grace

“Their marriage was a blanket of grace that had been so many years in the making.” Home for Christmas by Melanie Wilber.

I love that imagery. There’s something so cozy about curling up under a heavy blanket that provides warmth for the body and the soul.

I read the quote to Jerry and asked if it provoked any thoughts. He responded that grace develops over time. The longer we are married, the more grace abounds.

So true. It’s not the time alone that increases grace in our lives. It’s the way we handle the little moments that seem insignificant, the everyday occurrences, and the monumental memories or stories that grow bigger each time they are recounted.

I envision our marriage blanket of grace as a quilt top secured to a fuzzy soft velour backing. I wrap myself in the snuggly side and ponder the memories and meaning of each quilt piece.

I see a piece of the blouse I was wearing on our first face-to-face date.

There’s a fragment of his sweatshirt I wore camping one weekend. Oh, how silly I was waking him up in the middle of the night to ask if I could take it.

Satin and lace from the ring pillow made by a friend and carried by another friend at our wedding.

Fabric from the shirts I made for Jerry in our first year of marriage. And to think our friend who was years ahead of us in marriage told Jerry to enjoy them now because I’d never make another. Four years ago I made him two more, just to prove our friend wrong!

Tears fill my eyes as I see the pictures printed on muslin scattered throughout the quilt. Our first home together. Posing at the accordion statue downtown before we moved away. Minor to major league baseball games. Visits with family, cruises and beach vacations. Not only is each picture worth a thousand words, but every photo also coveys a bushel of grace.

Other pieces of the quilt came from event t-shirts we served in together.

Oh yes, that scrap is from a favorite dress that fell off the bed and got caught in wheelchair tires. I remember laying on the floor cutting it apart to free his wheels to turn.

Snippets of hospital gowns one of us donned remind me to be thankful for good health now.

A section of a guest bed sheet helps me recall the hundreds of people we have hosted in our homes.

A strip from one of Jerry’s wheelchair bags brings to mind that life is made up of day by day activities.

That corner of a kitchen towel is reminiscent of all the messes and memories we’ve made sharing meals.

There are many more pieces to remember, but not today. Instead, my focus turns to the stitching holding it all together.

Copious amounts of love, prayer and grace are in those threads to be sure. But the thin strand is strengthened by forgiveness, patience, acceptance, honesty, integrity, mercy, tears of joy and pain, growth, battling through loss, laughter, and celebrations. I wonder what we will add in this new year?

What are some pieces that comprise your marriage blanket of grace? I’d love to know.

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Grandmom Borton made a quilt for each grandchild. This was the one given to Jerry when we got married.

Tune My Heart

For some people recent weeks have held visions of sugar plums dancing in their head. Not at our home. We were, and still are, full of Christmas cheer, and deep gratitude for the gift of Jesus.   But, when not thinking about Christmas words like Hulu, Netflix, Streamers, Sling and antenna have been bantered about in the search for an appropriate tv service. The goal is to find the one that will get the right sports channels for Jerry and the preferred chick flick or lifestyle channels for me.

At the suggestion and experience of a neighbor we went with an antenna. It appeals to me because once we pay for the sevice, there is no monthly fee. Less cost comes with more experimenting to find just the right angle to place the device. If we point the device just 3 or 4 degrees to one side or the other we gain or lose channels.

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Photo by Andre Moura from Pexels

But you are not reading this to get a television service recommendation. And frankly, I don’t have one to share. As often happens for me, God used this experience to teach me a lesson.

This morning I was moving the antenna around the house to get the clearest and greatest reception.That’s when it hit me – the antenna is like my heart!  I want to have the strongest possible connection to my Lord Jesus. Too often I allow my heart to be led astray by something shiny or intriguing, taking it just a few degrees off center. It is subtle, but that small change in focus compromises my relationship with Jesus. Sounds like something he warned us about in the Bible – no one can serve two masters.

Maybe I’ll like this antenna deal more than I thought. Not for what I can view, but for the reminder to constantly re-calibrate my heart to stay in tune with my Lord.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.                                     

Ezekiel 36:26 New International Version

God Doesn’t Waste Anything

God does not waste anything. While those exact words may not be found in the Bible, the concept is there. Over the last few months God has proven this in my life.

I had the usual childhood answers to “what do you want to do when you grow up?” Nurse, teacher, etc. As I grew though the answer changed – I wanted to be a missionary.  In my young adult years I knew the location – Germany or Austria.

When an opportunity was presented at our church to join a new venture, called “World Class Cities Teams” I felt the tug in my spirit. World Class Cities were defined as a city of one million or more in population. I applied and was accepted to join a team that would plant churches in Vienna, Austria. As our team formed and began to learn how to work together and raise support we encountered some obstacles. Our team fell apart and most of us never made it to Vienna. This left me with pain and discouragement wondering why I had to go through that experience.

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Photo by Adam Tumidajewicz from Pexels

Many years later the organization I worked with partnered with an urban ministry, World Impact. We taught them about disability. They taught us about urban life, where many  people with disabilities live; either by choice or default. The part of the city we were working in was known to be among the top zip codes in the state for violence, drugs, etc. Still, I would have moved there if I could have, but this community would have made Jerry’s life even harder than it is. I loved what I learned about urban life.

When our partner ministry moved out of that area, we joined forces with Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association. Yes, even the anacronym OCCCDA is a mouthful. This work was in a part of the city that was new to me. Additional lessons came my way. Urban life is as varied as suburban life. Once again, I found myself wishing I could spend more time working with OCCCDA. I joined their Board and loved every minute of working with this community.

Then God moved us to central Florida. We do live within the city limits of a medium sized city, but still very much in suburbia. Here is where I saw the threads of my life coming together in God’s weaving.

Jerry and I joined the missions team at our local church. Each missionary supported has a liaison within the church.  One of the missions in need of a church contact was a seminary in . . .  yes, Vienna, Austria! Guess who quickly volunteered to be that representative? Though this looks much different than what I had envisioned thirty-five years ago, perhaps God is allowing me to have some level of contact and ministry in Vienna after all.

Working with Luke 14 Exchange, Inc took me to a meeting held at the Dream Center in the northern part of our city, which is urban. On our first visit there we learned about scores of amazing programs the Center offers for people in that neighborhood and around the city. One area they did not have any program offerings in was the field of disability. Hmmm, seems Jerry and I may have attended this meeting for more than one reason.

Every time I am in the neighborhood of the Dream Center (just four or five miles from our home) I see people moving around in wheelchairs or scooters and using canes. We are still exploring with the Dream Center what God has for us together. So far it has meant I’ve had an opportunity to reapply some of the urban living training I received in the past. It means that last night was the first of hopefully many opportunities where I and some church friends helped distribute food bags to the community. And it means I am developing a new friendship with C, a woman who lives with her own disability, and has a young son with autism. In a few short weeks she has taught me so much about trusting in God, vulnerability and living by faith.

I don’t know where else God will take these opportunities in the future, but I am

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Photo by Sergio Gonzalez on Unsplash

encouraged to see God unfold blessings from times in my past, even some difficult periods. I wonder what the final tapestry will look like?

And this much I know to be true, if He has done that for me, He will do it for you! What experiences do you wonder why or how God will use?

Recliner Ninja

I’ll admit it. I am a recliner sitting American Ninja Warrior (ANW). I am captivated by that television show. Captivated, that is, to watch, not to participate.

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Photo by Jaco Pretorius on Unsplash

True Ninja’s and Ninja wanna-bes run across floating disks, climb salmon ladders, cross wingnut alley, open doors underwater and take on the warped wall. If forced to try I would plop, fall, crawl and likely give up. There is no way I would even try to run up a wall that curves at a ridiculous angle.

The ultimate goal  is to conquer each obstacle course and get to the top of “Mt Midoriyama” (a structure set up on the Vegas strip). Some seasons no one accomplishes this feat. In the most reason season two made it to stage four, with one winning the coveted title “American Ninja Warrior,” and a large sum of money.

What do I get out of watching?

Some of the back stories about these athlete-performers make me feel like I am listening to a symphony orchestra the way they tug at my heart strings. There was the young dad who competed to earn money for his infant daughter to receive a kidney transport. A viewer responded to that story and donated her kidney! Another athlete trains on his ranch in the Midwest by completing chores and activities while carrying his wife with disability on his back so they can spend time together. Others train and race to show their own kids, or the community around them what it means to overcome.

Not all the competitors have such altruistic purposes. Some are athletes who want to prove they can do more, better, faster. Others are just quirky and young enough that their bodies allow them to compete covered in gold paint, hair dyed green or wearing a super hero cape, or shrimping boots. It is simply fascinating to watch what the human body is capable of, and the unique ways God created each one of us.

What strikes me most on every episode is the level of comradery between competitors. This is an individual game. While some say they are just competing against themselves, the reality is that everyone is competing against each other. But I rarely see that.

Because there are a limited number of Ninja gyms around the country. Many of the Ninjas move to areas close to a gym, or create their own. Several of the Ninjas train together. They don’t do this just to scope out the competition. They do it to sharpen one another. Hmmm, seems like I read something about that before.

But here’s the thing; when one Ninja is competing, groups of other Ninjas are on the sidelines, shouting encouragement or tips, and wearing the colors, or t shirts of the Ninja racing. There are tears and hugs when a fellow competitor makes it to the buzzer. Likewise there is a sorrow among everyone when a Ninja falls. It could be that the Ninja they are cheering on will beat them to the final buzzer.

I watch because I want to live in a world like that. Or more specifically I  want to live among a Church community like that. I want to live, work, recreate and worship with people who have my back. People who cheer IMG_5819for me, who train with me, who encourage me to go farther and faster than I ever thought possible. Who are sad with me when I get caught by an obstacle, and encourage me not to give up.

Even more I want us all to look and dress like the one who is in the lead -Jesus Christ. I don’t want to wear the colors of “church A” only to promote it over “church B.” I want to remember that Christians in other churches are not my competition. We aim for the same goal, our eternal home with Jesus, filled with as many people we can bring.

Who’s with me?

Don’t Forget Your Walking Stick!

Circle Bar B Reserve had been recommended to me by nearly everyone I’ve met since moving to Lakeland. People rave about the paths for walking or bike riding. Photographs fill Facebook with the variety of birds, plants, amphibians, and bugs that make their home there.

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I love seeing God’s love displayed in nature.

Today my schedule and the weather allowed me to venture on my maiden trek at the B. Thankfully, a neighbor was also able to go. While making plans a couple days ago, she ended our conversation with, “don’t forget your walking stick.”  I told her I did not have one. She assured me she had an extra one she would bring.

The next day I was talking with some other neighbors and mentioned Patty and I would be going to Circle Bar B. They responded with, “don’t forget your walking stick.”

I looked at them and asked, “what’s the deal with the walking stick? I keep being reminded to take one. I don’t have one, but I am not unstable on my feet. And I am not that old. Are the trails rough?”

Tim and Cindy smiled and said, “you want it to flick a snake out of the way if it comes across your path. Or you may need it for protection from other wildlife or animals.”

Ohhhhhhh. That makes sense! And now I want my own walking stick.

There is so much to learn in a new community and environment. While on the nature trail today I learned a couple fascinating tidbits about alligators. Did you know . . .

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See the gator between the two lower to mid log shadows?
  • The temperature of the nest in which the alligator eggs are laid determines the sex of the hatchling. Below 86 degrees F makes it most likely that females will hatch. Temps above 93 degrees F will most likely hatch males. (Don’t ask me what happens between 86-93 – maybe twins?)
  • The distance, in inches, between a gator’s eyes and nostrils will approximately equal their total length in feet (e.g. 4 inches between snout and eyes likely means you are looking at a 4 foot gator).

Patty and I had a great time. Neither of us needed to use our walking sticks for defense or offense. At least on this trip. But I’ll be ready next time. And if you come to visit I’ll rustle up a second one to share!

feedback-3387216_1920We’re never too old to learn new things. What is something new you learned recently? Please share; I have much to learn!

I Can’t Imagine

One of my friends met Jesus face to face yesterday.

This friend lived a hard life. At first, I found it ironic that she spent her last several days in a hospice home that likely was the nicest place she ever lived. But then I thought that this peaceful place was “training wheels” for the eternal home she would soon enter.

Several years ago my friend gave her life to Jesus. The day she was told it was time for hospice she called me. We talked about the excitement of knowing our final destination but the fear of the route we need to take to get there. I encouraged her to run without delay into the arms of Jesus whenever He called her name. I believe she did.

sun-rays-182170_1920I know what the Bible says about Heaven. The pearly gates, the streets of gold, the homes prepared for us by Jesus himself, the banquet feast we will share, a place of no tears, a place of no sin, and best of all . . .  Jesus. A forever home with Jesus.

Yet my finite mind can’t really grasp Heaven. I am glad my friend can now. The suffering and pain she endured, I am certain she would say, pales in comparison to what she is experiencing.

I have no idea when God will say it is time for me to join Him. Until that day comes I want to be present and engaged with the life He has entrusted to me. But when my time comes, know I too will be running into the arms of my Savior.