Abundant blessings

When was the last time you were overcome with gratitude for the blessings in your life? When was the last time you paused and let that gratitude sink in, maybe with tears in your eyes, or with your hands clasped and head bowed? That was my experience last weekend when my husband and I drove to the southern tier of New York State to visit a friend and lead the discussion at her church’s Sunday School. John and I drove north along the Delaware River, then cut west across the Poconos and northwest again along the Susquehanna River to Spencer, NY, where my friend Sabrina is the pastor at Christ the King Presbyterian Church. Sabrina cooked us dinner and we caught up on the events in our lives. We stayed overnight at the delightful Slice of Home Bed and Breakfast, then I led the Sunday School scripture reading and discussion, and John and I worshiped with the congregation. Everyone was warm and welcoming, truly displaying their gifts of hospitality, music, and praise. Sabrina has been the pastor there for about 18 months and her boundless enthusiasm is reflected in those around her. It was a joy to spend that time together in that way.

The scripture verses we explored together were Luke 5:1-11, Jesus calling his first disciples. It tells of Simon and his fellow fishers sending all night on the water and catching nothing. After hearing Jesus teach about the Word of God and instructing Simon to let his nets down into the deep water, Simon and his companions, James and John, catch so many fish that their nets start to tear and their boats nearly sink. In the midst of this magnificent abundance Simon falls to his knees and declares his unworthiness! He sees no reason to receive this good fortune. Jesus, however, is confident that no mistake has been made. Jesus even promises more – that he will make Simon Peter, James, and John fishers of people. They will see and perform miracles that will lead others to Christ, and will restore relationships with God. I doubt that Simon Peter, James, and John understood what Jesus meant but they followed him anyway.

Their willingness to leave their nets and boats – at the height of their careers thus far! – and follow Jesus seemed remarkable to us and I reflected on the fact that God asks us to be willing. If we are willing then we will be equipped for the journey along the way. We don’t have to know things fully or be experts in order to step out on our journey. God doesn’t expect or require our perfection, just our willingness to be open, to learn and grow, and to share our gifts. We also need to be willing to accept gifts, especially the gift of God’s abundant grace. Simon Peter resisted the abundance of the catch at first, but Jesus ignored his protests and basically said, “You think that was good? You’re going to be catching people!” Simon Peter moved past his resistance and accepted grace.

My homework assignment for the group was this: to look for instances of abundant blessings in your life and observe your resistance to those blessings. Maybe you will be blessed with an offer of help, or forgiveness, or an offer to share in someone else’s good fortune. Will you resist, feeling unworthy? Will you resist, not wanting to feel as if you are in someone else’s debt? Or will you accept the offer, the gift, the blessing, or the forgiveness, feeling and accepting the love that is at the heart of it? I pray that you will let the love in. I know it’s not always easy to let down your guard and let in the grace. God’s love is a gift, given freely, and given through broken, imperfect people like me and you.

Loving God, I praise you for the blessings in my life and for meeting my resistance with abundant grace. Amen.

Unfailing love

It is ironic that I am not working now that my kids are in college. I worked through the summer, saving my vacation days to tack on at the end of my employment and I stopped working as they went back for their fall classes. Now that I could be considered a stay-at-home mom they are away. But parenting doesn’t end when kids go to college or enlist in the military, or get a job and move out. Even when I don’t see my kids often I can encourage them with cards, emails, texts, and the occasional phone call. One of my kids usually responds quickly, the other sometimes doesn’t respond. Without much prodding one tells me about classes, friends, activities. The other is less willing to divulge any news. Some days I wonder if it matters that I am trying to stay in touch but I know that the absence of any attempts would be noticed. I ask questions and then do my best to listen and to be open, not judging.

During the winter break each of the kids made a gift for someone else and it was a joy for me to be able to assist them. I helped to pick out the materials they needed and showed them how to do different things – using the sewing machine, staining a wooden board, cleaning the paint brushes. Their acceptance of my involvement was a gift to me! We spent time together working with our hands. They gained skills and confidence, and I gained time with them and a feeling of connection.

Sometimes when I am longing for connection with my kids I think of my relationship with God. I read devotions daily and scriptures often, and I am very involved with my church, but I don’t always take my prayers to a deeper level. When this realization comes to me I imagine that God is waiting for me to turn and seek God’s presence. Some days it is hard for me to accept the idea that God wants my attention and connection just as I am. I don’t have to do more or be more to be loved by God, and God loves me even when I’ve been absent for a while! God doesn’t say “what took you so long?” although I may be thinking that.

Reflecting on my relationship with God helps me to think about my relationships with my almost-adult kids. I am grateful for whatever time we spend together and I don’t need to interpret any lack of response as rejection. I can commit to reaching out with love, consistently, and being receptive to their response whenever and however it comes.

Lord, thank you for your example of unfailing acceptance and love. Amen.

Psalm 13:1, 5 – “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? . . . But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.” (NIV)