An Open Letter To Grace

Dear grace….

Where do I even begin, you are such a beautiful gift in my life. As a lifelong Lutheran, you have always been engrained in my very fiber and being. Martin Luther talked a lot about YOU! And this Bible verse from the book of Ephesians is a daily reminder of the gift you are “For it is by grace through faith that you have been saved, it is not your own doing but a gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)

Yes, my friend grace, you are indeed a gift. But what is it about you…that makes me so very thankful for your presence. You always find a way into my head and into my heart.

In the midst of mom’s illness, when I snap back quicker than I should, you tap me silently on the shoulder and tell me that next time I won’t react as quickly. When I beat myself up because the desires of my heart haven’t been met yet, you again look me in the eyes and show me that God does hear them. God will answer them in his time and not my own.

And then I open up the newspaper or turn on the radio and hear the horrific stories of violence and sinfulness…but even in those moments, I hear you whispering. “They are sinners in need of God’s grace.” “You are a sinner in need of God’s grace too!” We all are going to screw up and fall short of the glory of God. Yet you (grace) are sufficient. You will get us through those times. How many times do we sin and think that we are not worthy to be forgiven….yet you continually grasp us…a simple reminder of the power of God and God’s grace in our lives.

In the words of the well-known hymn “Amazing grace,” ‘you (grace) have’ taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved. How precious did YOU appear the hour I first believed.’ And you also (grace) have ‘ ‘brought me safe thus far and will lead me home.’

Oh grace! You fall like fresh dew and cover me; cover us in your promises…your promises that daily cover each of us. And as your promises cover us like a well-worn blanket; torn, battered, and beaten, you still provide us with comfort and embrace us in your loving arms. You call us to action; a reason to love and serve God more fully.

Grace is knowing that sometimes we are going to spill milk on the kitchen floor and going to have to clean it up. Grace is knowing that sometimes you are going to make the wrong choices, but there will always be that second chance. Grace is knowing, even in the midst of grief, that you are sufficient when nothing else seems like it is.  Grace is sharing my words even when I am trembling as I hit the publish button. Grace is knowing that you are always within my grasp; that you are always within each of our grasps.

And ultimately, my friend grace, you always change me; always change each of us! In the words of Anne Lamott, “I do not understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us (me) where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”

I am linking up with Holly for Testimony Tuesday, Kelly for the RaRa Linkup, Jennifer for Tell His Story and Holley for Coffee for your Heart:

 

The Spilled Sand Art Cross (Or How God Takes Brokenness and Makes It Beautiful!)

So much of our society and world is about striving to be perfect. We think we have to be perfect. But the truth is that God didn’t create us to be perfect. We are human…and we are sinners! I mean look at the world around us. This week especially I have been acutely aware of our sinfulness. Just turn on the news the last couple of days, riots breaking out in Baltimore. And I am saddened by what I see! My best friend’s husband is a highway patrolman. I know that RT would never act the way the policemen are acting in Baltimore. Yet I am not blind to the fact that we are all created to be both saints and sinners alike.

I am reminded of these words that we read in 2 Corinthians 12:9 “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” In other words, it is through our brokenness and our imperfections that we are made more powerful.

When I worked at a Bible camp for many summers, it was always awesome to watch how God often would use brokenness, imperfections to shine the light of God’s love on each other. One week in particular a friend and I were co-counselors together. Like many other weeks, this week had its challenging campers. One afternoon we were gathered in the craft shack to do an art project when one young girl in particular was testing our buttons. I don’t remember the particulars of that afternoon, how the sand art ended up on the floor, but it did. And in the midst of the spill, the sand art sprawled out onto the floor to create this beautiful cross. My co-counselor and I looked at each other and just smiled. A simple reminder of beauty out of brokenness.

The truth is that it is so easy to get caught up in wanting to be perfect, yet when we truly take the time, God has this amazing way of showing us how God takes our brokenness and makes beautiful things. My mom is one of those examples for me! Even though she has lived most of my life with a mental illness, her story/our story has blessed many. In the deepest darkness of the depression or in the highest high of the mania, God has taken it and reminded me that God indeed takes our brokenness and makes it beautiful. My sister and I wouldn’t be who we are without this journey. There were many days growing up when I didn’t understand. But as a young woman, I have become more and more aware of how God takes our brokenness and makes beautiful things out of our brokenness. In fact, to be honest, my mom is one of the most beautiful women that I know….beauty out of her own brokenness!

I think of my friends Jon and Renee and Renee’s first husband Ben. They wouldn’t have gone to Haiti if they knew the earthquake was going to happen and Ben was going to lose his life that day. Today Jon and Renee are married and have their first child. Again God took a horrific event and in the midst of it all, God wove together something incredibly beautiful.

Like that spilled sand art cross, God takes all of our brokenness and often weaves it into something incredibly beautiful. We may not always see it at first. But take a closer look and the beauty out of the brokenness is quite evident!

Today I am linking up with these beautiful writers 
Holley and Coffee for your Heart, Jennifer and Tell His Story.

 


I Am A Daughter; Part Two

I am a daughter! Yet somedays it is easier to be that daugher than other days. As many of you know who read this blog, I am a daughter of a woman who lives with a mental illness. She has taught me more about faith and life than I can even begin to tell you. She has never let her illness get in the way of who she is. She is the most faith-filled woman of God and has nurtured faith in both me and my sister.

Yet somedays it is harder for me to be the woman she has created me to be. Perhaps I am writing this blog post because that good ol’ Lutheran guilt has slipped in. But I really think I am writing it because I too am human. There are days that I find myself snapping back when she asks me the same question twice. Then within a moments notice, I realize that I snapped back. Today she called me as she does every Sunday and asked me if I preached. I told her no, but I know I said it rather quietly because I was in a major department store. She asked again and I said “No” again. It’s these little moments that make me realize that I am a sinner just like everyone of us is a sinner. And I wish I wouldn’t be so quick to react.God knows I love her with every fiber of my being just like she loves me and my sister with every fiber of her being. Yet it isn’t easy.

It isn’t easy being the daughter of someone who lives with a mental illness. There are days that I wish my parents wouldn’t have gotten divorced. There are days that I wish mental illness wasn’t part of what I am called to share and educate about in this world. There are days (probably more than I care to admit) when I ache, ache to have my mama whole; free from this illness. I wonder who will go wedding dress shopping with me when I finally find my Mr. Right. But then I remember that God gave her to me for a reason; to love and to cherish. I am reminded of these words, “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper and not to harm you; plans to give you a hope and a future.”—Jeremiah 29:11

When I snap back, my mom forgives me without a second thought. When I ache, God reminds me that I am not alone; that I am never alone. God reminds me every day of God’s gifts of grace. That gift of grace is continually shown to me through my mama. God’s grace is a gift that is freely given. And in that grace, God reminds me that we dont always understand why things happen in life but that God walks with us. God shows us daily what God’s love, grace, mercy and peace look like. And knowing this grace, may we all share that grace in the world.

I love my mama with all of my heart. Yet somedays it is easier to say I am her daughter. Growing up I have a feeling she probably said that about me and my sister somedays too yet she continued and continues to love us. So my friends….

I AM A DAUGHTER (a daughter of someone who daily lives with a mental illness)

Jesus Was All About Love!

We are all sinful beings…that is part of our human nature.

However my hope and prayer is that we can choose love over hate, life over death, etc! I understand that not all of us agree about what the President said today about gay marriage! The truth is that we aren’t all going to agree on a lot of things! (I am one who definetely agrees with the President!) However I understand where those of you who don’t agree with him are coming from!

But what makes me sad is that some people choose to call us “Bible-thumpers” etc because of what the President said. Boy that is not the case at all! I don’t know what God will say when we get to heaven and he declares his thoughts…but what I do know is that God is all about GRACE! God is about forgiveness! God is about love! Jesus tells us “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Jesus was the one who reached out to outcasts and sinners. Jesus wasn’t afraid to go away from what the norm was.

Three years ago the church body of which I belong made a huge decision and it has not been an easy road since that decision was made(But I am so happy they made that decision!) I have several friends who are living in committeed relationships and who am I to say that they shouldnt be allowed to marry etc!They are some of the most loving and caring people I know!

What does the church look like to those outside the church who aren’t welcomed? Do you think they feel love or hate, life or death? I’m pretty sure they have a hard time coming because they don’t see love, they see hate and they don’t see life, they see death! That makes me so utterly terribly SAD!

I’m sad that we can’t agree to disagree and respect each other. What I do know though is that…

JESUS WAS ALL ABOUT LOVE!
LOVING SELF!
LOVING NEIGHBOR!
LOVING THE OUTCAST!

“Jesus Loves Me This I Know, For the Bible Tells Me So!”

Outrageous Grace! Unspeakable Joy!

Outrageous Grace! Unspeakable Joy! Last night I was at a church meeting and one of the ladies shared a poem that talked about the crazy “jingle jangle” of the holidays and how there is no mention of taking time to pray etc. As I closed my eyes and sat and listened to her read the poem, the one phrase that really jumped out at me was the phrase, “outrageous grace.” (Now leave it to me and all the rest of us good Lutherans to really find ourselves resonating with that phrase) But what is outrageous grace? What does outrageous grace look like? I think outrageous grace comes in so many and various ways. Outrageous grace is when someone stops to help you when you are having car troubles. Outrageous grace is holding an infant in your arms and knowing that nothing but nothing can seperate us from the love of God. Outrageous grace, I believe, is watching parents interact with their children. I am reminded of my friend L and her son. She really doesnt like making sugar cookies but she did it because her son wanted to. And in the end, the mess and the smile on his face was totally worth it…that is outrageous grace!! 🙂 Outrageous grace is taking time this holiday season to stand in the cold and ring the bell for the Salvation Army. Outrageous grace is patiently waiting for your first child to be born! (GirlwithBlog and J, I’m thinking of you today) Outrageous grace is realizing that Im not always right! What does outrageous grace look like to you?

In addition, I happened to be listening to one of my favorite Christian radio stations yesterday when another phrase jumped out at me. Im not one hundred percent sure on the artist but I think it was Chris Tomlin. The song is his rendition of “Joy to the World” (I think thats the song) and in the middle he keeps repeating the phrase “unspeakable joy”. So what is unspeakable joy? In many ways I think outrageous grace and unspeakable joy can look a lot a like. Unspeakable joy is hearing a friend tell about the benefit that was held for her and being overwhelmed by the many people and the money that was raised. Unspeakable joy is reading about a college friend and her family’s adoption journey. Unspeakable joy is watching a seminary friends family grow especially after their long awaited journey of getting that child about 3-4 years ago!

Unspeakable Joy….
Outrageous Grace….
Unspeakable Joy…
Outrageous Grace

Reformation

Happy Reformation Day and Happy Halloween dear readers and friends! Yesterday I preached for our Reformation service. I don’t normally post my sermons at this blog anymore because I started a new blog just for that but since people seemed to enjoy it. I thought I would post it here as well. Enjoy your day dear friends!

It’s All About Grace! (A Reformation Sermon)
I don’t know about you but I love being Lutheran!// Now I realize not everyone here today was born and raised in the Lutheran faith. Some of you married into it. Others of you have found yourself here because perhaps a friend or a neighbor invited you here.// However the truth is that as Lutheran Christians, we don’t spend a lot of time focusing on our Lutheranism.// Although on a day like today; Reformation Sunday, it is very difficult for us not to talk about what it means to be a Lutheran Christian.// Did you know that Martin Luther is named as one of the most influential people of the last one thousand years?//

16th century Reformer Martin Luther opened the door to renewal and reformation for the church when he posted his 95 theses on the castle doors at Wittenberg calling for debate. This renewal and reformation was founded on being “saved by grace through faith”; faith in the one who calls and claims us as God’s children.// Through the precious holy waters of Baptism, God calls and claims us as God’s children despite our own failures and shortcomings.// It is all about God’s immeasurable grace!!!!//

In the meaning of the Third Article of the Apostles Creed in Luther’s Small Catechism, Luther reminds us of the power and gift of this grace when he writes, “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him,// but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith,// just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith.// Daily in this Christian church, the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins—mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life.// This is most certainly true!//

Martin Luther wrote these words after he came to understand God’s Word more fully.// As a young man, Luther questioned if he was even lovable. He questioned if he was living up to God’s expectations of him.// But as he began to study God’s word, he began to discover a God who infinitely would love him despite his own failures and shortcomings. He began to see God’s grace pouring through God’s Word.//

Luther Seminary Assistant Professor of Old Testament Kathryn Schifferdecker captures this well when she writes, “Luther knew that God’s nature does not change.// God was, is, and will continue to be a God of great mercy, forgiveness, and love for a wayward people.// It is that people’s (the church’s) understanding of God’s nature that had become clouded in Luther’s day. Like Jeremiah, then, Luther called the people of his day to a new understanding of God and a renewed emphasis on God’s grace and God’s abiding love even for a sinful people.”//

As Lutheran Christians, we are people who are simultaneously “saint” and “sinner.”// The truth is that we consistently fail.// We fail at loving each other.// We fail at being who God has called us to be.// For in the words of Romans, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Yet despite these failures and shortcomings, God still shows us God’s immeasurable grace by sending God’s Son to die on the cross of everyone of us.//

And because of that grace, Martin Luther’s renewal and reformation of the church continues to challenge us daily.// The Lutheran church is a church that is constantly evolving; trusting in God’s grace, clinging to the promises of that grace, and knowing that God and God’s grace is the truth that will set us free.// So what does it mean for us; Dilworth Lutheran church, to be a “renewing” and “reforming” church?//

Dilworth Lutheran church is a “renewing” and “reforming” church by reclaiming what it means for the home to be actively involved in the faith nurture of our children, grandchildren, and all those we love.// Dilworth Lutheran is a “renewing” and “reforming” church by equipping families to take faith home through our Milestone Ministries and Confirmation programs.// Dilworth Lutheran is a “renewing” and “reforming” church by helping our neighbors beyond these walls; whether it be by building a home in Haiti, starting a community garden, or collecting canned goods for our local food shelters.// However the truth is that we are never done “renewing” and “reforming,” we are constantly in need of renewal and reformation. We are constantly evolving and changing just like Luther saw his church as constantly evolving and changing.//

But the beauty is that as Lutheran Christians, even in the midst of continual renewal and reformation, God promises that God will never leave us or forsake us.// God continually shows God’s love for God’s children despite our own failures and shortcomings.// In all actuality, it comes to down to God’s immeasurable grace for all God’s children! Or in the words of my friend Lynn, “Being Lutheran is about grace, liturgy, Scripture, grace, coffee, and one more helping of grace.”//

That immeasurable grace, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ is why on a day like today; Reformation Sunday, I am proud to proclaim myself a Lutheran Christian who fully believes in and clings to that grace not just on this day but every day.// So as a fellow Lutheran Christian, will you join me in proclaiming and sharing God’s grace not just today on Reformation Sunday but everywhere that you encounter God’s grace in this world?// Amen!// (Copyright Tara L. Ulrich)

God’s Grace

“God’s grace is sufficient for us all”

These words are ringing in my ears as I reflect on the importance of this holy meal. Communion has always been important to me. It reminds me again and again of who this Jesus is and that God’s grace is sufficient for us all. It is not the bread or wine itself that makes this meal special. Tonight during a first communion milestone class a parent wanted to know how their child is special because he know can take communion and how is he different because he takes communion and his siblings dont yet.Im really struggling with this because it isnt the child/participant that becomes special. Just because we take communion doesn’t mean we get magical powers like Harry Potter. In fact in Luther’s Small Catechism, it says, “Eating and drinking do not do it, but rather the words that are recorded “given for you” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” So my dear readers and friends, I am asking for your responses to these questions; why is communion important to you? What makes communion special to YOU?

“God’s grace is suffient for us all”

The Insanity of Grace

I haven’t been in a writing mood much lately, but tonight I was inspired. The pastor that I work with wrote this beautiful piece about the pure insanity of grace. He shared it with us at our council meeting tonight. As I was driving home tonight, I kept thinking about that piece and the faces he wrote about and other faces Ive seen who capture that grace. I came home and immediately grabbed my computer. These words quickly formed in my head. I hope you like it!

The Insanity of Grace
By T

Who is this face;
This face that teaches
About the insanity of grace?

A woman rations her groceries
To help provide for those
Who need a little more
Than she does!

Is this a face
Of the insanity of grace?

A young man
Helps an older gentleman
When his car runs out of gas
On main street.

Is this a face
Of the insanity of grace?

A young child
Chooses to use
their allowance to buy toys
To help fill a shoebox
For a child in another country.

Is this a face
Of the insanity of grace?

A couple
Loads up their vehicle
To take clothes to a local mission.

Is this a face
Of the insanity of grace?

Yes, each face;
Each face is a face
That captures
The pure insanity of grace!