Unforced Rhythms of Grace

Image by Gary Cunliffe from Pixabay

“Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” – Jesus, as quoted in Matthew 11:29 (The Message)

This month marks the sixteenth anniversary of my sister’s death.

She was only 55. It was totally unexpected.

These things change you. Change the way you think about things. Change the way you live.

At the time I was teaching full time and writing part time for a local newspaper. With the youngest in college and the older two on their own, it was time to pursue those dreams I’d put on the back burner to raise a family.

While teaching was my passion, I wasn’t finding fulfillment in covering school board and county commissioners meetings and election results. And while I loved the camaraderie of the newsroom staff, getting up early Saturday mornings to drive 45 minutes in all kinds of weather to type obituaries wasn’t getting me any closer to my writing goals.

Of course I ignored the signs of dissatisfaction and pushed on. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?

Then a post-operative blood clot took the life of my only sister just when we were getting close again. I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye.

I shivered on the love seat for days, in shock.

Change. It’s foisted on all of us. Whether we welcome it or not.

The key to surviving it is to look to God, knowing He has a plan and purpose for us (Jeremiah 29:11, Psalm 139:16), knowing He takes the rough draft of the chapters of our lives and revises them so they shine (Romans 8:28) and lead to the ending He has planned. And knowing that if we follow our Shepherd, we will arrive at that ending without burning ourselves out.

But I hadn’t been stopping long enough to listen to God.

My sister’s death was a wakeup call—to pause in my headlong rush to fulfill my dreams and be all things to all people, and determine where I was truly headed.

Davis Bunn, in his 40-day devotional “The Turning,” writes, “When we read, we give no notice to the spaces between the words. And yet those pauses are vital. Without them, there is nothing but a senseless jumble. With them, thoughts are unique, words are clear, ideas fashioned, lives transformed. So it is with the brief pauses we make to stop and listen. Our thoughts and actions take on new clarity.”

And so it was for me. If I were to die suddenly in my mid-fifties, I thought, would I have realized my dreams? Within a week, I resigned from the newspaper job.

I still get too busy, lose focus, and drift away from God’s path for me. It’s refreshing to pause, still the clamor of life, rest and recharge spent batteries.

“Are you tired? Worn out?” Jesus says. “Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:28–29, The Message).

I’m a slow learner, Lord. I have to force myself to slow down. Sometimes my body, mind, and spirit are just too exhausted to push on. Remind me often to pause to reflect, rest, and recharge. Amen.

Read and reflect on Psalm 23

From God, Me & a Cup of Tea: 101 devotional readings to savor during your time with God. © 2017 Michele Huey. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

When Life Happens

How do you know what is going to happen tomorrow? For the length of your lives is as uncertain as the morning fog—now you see it; soon it is gone. –James 4:14 TLB

 Life can turn on a dime.

A 39-year-old wife and mother is diagnosed with ALS – progressive, incurable. One minute she’s raising her kids, planning for the future, and the next all those hopes and dreams come crashing down around her. How to tell her three children?

A 97-year-old woman losing her eyesight waits in a personal care home, longing for the day God calls her home. But before that happens, she learns she has cancer.

A 57-year-old husband, father, and grandfather is sent home to hospice care, which barely lasts a week, leaving his family devastated and his young grandchildren dealing with a grief they cannot understand.

A 59-year-old doting grandmother faces months, even years, of recovery after a head-on collision, which the other driver caused. Not to mention the insurance hassles.

A young man, 24, his divorced mother’s only child, loses his fight with drug addiction.

Divorce. Unemployment. Suicide. The list goes on.

When these things happen, you realize you’d rather deal with the question marks of life than the certainty of the long, dark valley stretching ahead of you. The valley of progressive, incurable disease. The valley of waiting. The valley of grief. But you have no choice. It is what it is.

How do you cope with the certainty of life’s uncertainty?

By focusing on five things that are certain (besides death, taxes, and uncertainty):

God’s love: unlimited, unchanging, steadfast, and eternal (Psalm 36:5). It’s yours for the taking.

“For I am convinced,” wrote the apostle Paul, whose life was as uncertain as a ship tossed on stormy seas, “that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 37­–39).

God’s presence. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). (See also Hebrews 13:5.)

God’s provision. “Look at the birds of the air,” says Jesus, “they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” (Matthew 6:26). He not only provides food, He also gives you rest (Psalm 23, Matthew 11:28), peace (John 14:27), and wisdom (James 1:5).

God’s sustaining grace. God didn’t remove Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7–10). Instead He told the apostle His grace was all he needed. God may not remove your burden, but He will give His grace to sustain you through the valley.

Your future. No, not your future on earth, but your home in heaven. “For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands” (2 Corinthians 5:1).

The mother-in-law of the woman diagnosed with ALS told her son to stress to the children not to allow fear of the future to rob them of joy with their mother today.

“In all these things,” writes the apostle Paul, “we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us” (Romans 8:37).

Yes, life can change in a heartbeat. But God – His steadfast love, unchanging grace, abiding presence, abundant provision ­–­ will never change.

Of that you can be certain.

What uncertainties are you facing?

Help me, O God, to keep my eyes fixed on You, not on the long, dark valley stretching before me. Remind me You will never leave me, never abandon me, never forsake me. That You are right here with me. Help me not to let fear rob me of joy, no matter what the circumstances. Amen.

Read and meditate on 2 Corinthians 4:7–5:5

© 2018 Michele Huey. All rights reserved. Photo by Wilbur D. Huey. © 2016 Wilbur D. Huey. All rights reserved.