Monthly Archives: January 2023

Accepting Grace


I was sick – again. My asthma flared at Thanksgiving when we’d had some interior home painting done. Then, after Christmas my asthma flared again after I rented a car that had an overpowering fragrance. I don’t get sick that often so in addition to feeling exhausted and sick, I was frustrated as well. I’d started an online class and while I’d read the assigned chapters and watched the instructor’s videos, I couldn’t find the strength to sit down and answer the discussion questions. It was only week two of the course, and I was determined to finish the homework. I even emailed the professor and told him I was going to be a little late, but I promised to complete the tasks. On Monday of the third week of class, I still felt awful physically and realized that if I didn’t start on the new week’s assignments, I would get so far behind, I wouldn’t be able to catch up.

At that point, I decided to take the professor up on the offer he’d made at the very beginning of the course: we could choose not to answer the discussion questions for two of the ten weeks. I’d known the whole time I was ill that I could fall back on the professor’s offer, but I didn’t want to do it. I thought I’d be a failure if I didn’t complete every single assignment. I felt like I’d be lazy and taking the easy way out if I didn’t finish everything. When I finally recognized that I couldn’t get the work done because of my sickness, I surrendered. I surrendered my desire for perfection and my tendency to beat myself up for perceived inadequacies. I accepted the kindness the professor had already provided. 

The experience provided me with a reminder of how God offers grace to us. God’s forgiveness, mercy, and grace are always available to us. But we struggle to accept it. We feel like a failure for our bad choices and beat ourselves up for our mistakes. We carry the heaviness, fear, and shame with us. We insist on shouldering the burdens alone because we don’t feel worthy of God’s grace. 

We refuse the comfort and peace that can result from claiming God’s grace. We don’t take God up on the offer to walk with us through the difficulties or consequences. God often provides that grace and comfort through our friends, family, and community. Instead of agreeing to let them help though, we may isolate and try to go it alone. If we accept help in our times of hardship, we are accepting God’s grace. 

Surrendering to God’s grace is not necessarily easy. We must get out of our own way and understand that when people offer help that is a form of God’s grace. God’s grace for us already exists and is ever present. All we need to do is accept it. 

Reviewing the Film


One of my son Jed’s teammates had a bad basketball game. It happens to every athlete obviously, whether they play on a recreational level or as an elite professional. But because this was uncharacteristic of this particular young man, my husband Ben asked Jed if his teammate had been playing with an injury. Jed said no – that he’d just had a bad game – but watching film in practice was rough. “Oh my goodness,” I said. “I hadn’t thought about that.” After every game, the team watches the film back to figure out what they did right and what can be corrected. But watching back a game when someone plays poorly sounded miserable. I’m sure that the kid was not pleased with his performance in the first place so to relive it with the whole team must’ve been awkward and uncomfortable. 

On the other hand, once they’ve watched the film from the last game, the team moves on to scouting the team they’ll play next. They study who they will guard, the plays the other team runs, the style in which the other team plays. And by doing that, they look forward to the future. They’ve learned what they can from the last game and apply it to the game they’re about to play. But they don’t linger on the past game because to do so would keep them from getting ready for what’s next. 

Unfortunately, I think many of us spend too much time reviewing the film of our past mistakes, instead of giving it a quick look to understand our mistakes and make different choices. We often dwell on the past and replay it over and over again. We wish for a different outcome even though there is nothing we can do to change what’s already happened. We get stuck replaying our bad performance, poor decisions, and mistakes. The film loop never ends for some of us. Revisiting the past becomes almost a source of comfort because it is familiar even if the familiarity is in fact painful. 

Watching bad film over and over doesn’t move us forward though. It only mires us in regret and shame and heartache. At some point, we must take the lessons from the past and figure out how to apply them to the future. What are we facing in our lives now and how can we be better prepared? How can we avoid the mistakes that haunt us? Being afraid of repeating the past is a real concern but living in fear won’t propel us into a better future. Instead, we have to stop rewatching the bad and scout out what’s coming next. 

We all have bad days, seasons, experiences that replay in our minds. Sometimes they’re hard to shake. If an athlete can’t get out of their own head and pivot toward whatever’s next, their game is in trouble physically and mentally. But a mark of a healthy athlete is the ability to shake off the bad game and keep going. To keep shooting the ball until they regain their rhythm, to keep trying until they make a comeback, to practice becoming better until it happens. To believe that they are not defined by their worst game. To have confidence that better days are just over the horizon if they have confidence in themselves and their abilities. Let’s give the film of the past a look but then put it in its proper place on the shelf, striving toward a better future because of what we’ve learned. 

What We Keep


When actor Austin Butler won the Golden Globes award for his performance as Elvis Presley on January 10, 2023, I was thrilled because I thought his portrayal was spot on. My mom taught me to be an Elvis fan, and I’d worked at Graceland as a tour guide during the summer of 1995, so I watched Butler’s performance with a critical eye. But he did such an amazing job capturing Elvis, his physicality on stage, his facial tics, his hand movements, and his voice. In a press conference after he won, a reporter asked Austin about how his voice still sounds a lot like Elvis’ voice. Austin replied he didn’t think he still sounded like Elvis, but said, “I  often liken it to when somebody lives in another country for a long time. I had three years where that was my only focus in life so I’m sure there are just pieces of my DNA that will always be linked in that way.” 

I thought his answer was quite brilliant. When we live somewhere for a long time, we pick up on and adopt some of the lingo, the cadence of the voices, the customs, the trends, the culture. It’s impossible to avoid it altogether. But this is not limited to geographic places. When we spend a long time in any community, friendship, family, or relationship, we embrace (consciously or unconsciously) the habits, attitudes, and elements of others’ personalities. Some of those changes are good: a couple bonds, a family grows together, the good of one rubs off on another.

But sometimes, when we must move on, whether by our choice or not, we don’t realize that we take the personality of the old place or people with us. We don’t realize that we are still living in the past and repeating those habits whether they serve us now or not. We enter a new era and set up a tent that may be worn and full of holes from the old country even though we don’t live there anymore. I’ve done this – I’ve brought my pain from other situations and neatly reconstructed the difficulties in a new time and place even though it does not belong there. Even though I’d be better off acknowledging the unwanted effects on who I’ve become and then working to dismantle any harm it may still cause. 

Being cognizant of who we are based on where we’ve been – the places and the relationships – in order to determine if we want to keep those qualities in our new lives is an important way to make sure we keep the positive and discard the negative. We will always carry some of the previous parts of our lives with us, but we can try to make sure the good outweighs the bad as we go forward.

P.S.  When I was in the process of writing this piece on January 12, 2023, I learned that Lisa Marie Presley died from cardiac arrest at the young age of 54. My heart breaks for the entire Presley family and my fellow fans. The Presley legacy will live on, but now with another tragic turn.

Embracing Ordinary Time


“I’m kinda glad it’s over, and kinda sad it’s over,” the woman cutting my hair said. We’d been talking about the holidays, and I felt the truth of her statement. As a mother, especially, I enjoy the holidays, but there is a lot of build up to Christmas and the school break. It can be exhausting. And then what? The high ends, the weariness sets in, and the days stretch in front of us without a lot of fanfare in sight. Christmas is not the only time we have big events come and go only to leave us a bit empty – vacations and birthdays in normal years; graduations, weddings, and babies in extraordinary years. How do we deal with the routine, normal days when we’re given the impression that life should be special all the time? Especially in the time of social media when we only see the highlights that people post, what should we do in the meantime?

The liturgical calendar that many Christian churches follow, including my own denomination, the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), reflects life in this way. We start the church year with Advent waiting for Christmas, then in quick succession, we have Christmas, then Ephiphany, only to jump to remembering Jesus’ baptism (we age Jesus from infant to 30-year-old-man in a week). We have additional seasons like Lent, which prepares us for the sacred holiday of Easter celebrating the resurrection of Jesus after his crucifixion and death. The Easter season ends with Pentecost, which focuses on the Holy Spirit’s work in the church. But the majority of time in the calendar is designated as “Ordinary Time.” The regular days in between the big events are simply ordinary, even in the church. 

And maybe there’s an important lesson in that for us. I get antsy when I feel like I don’t accomplish something significant in a day’s time. I feel unproductive or worse, lazy, when I rest, because I’ve “wasted” time. I fall into the trap of thinking every day should be headline making, or I’ve failed. But some days are just ordinary, and that’s okay. We don’t need a post-worthy caption for every single day. 

I know some folks embrace the philosophy of living every day like it’s their last. And perhaps there is some value in the motto in that we should treat people well every day. We don’t want to approach everyone we encounter with a rant or in a fit of rage that could haunt us whether it’s the last or one of many days. But for some of us, that pithy saying creates pressure that is both unrealistic and anxiety producing. If every day is not amazing, then maybe we aren’t doing “all” we can. 

If we could accept that most of the time is ordinary time, we might become more content with our daily routines and have less of a letdown after the momentous events. We might even crave the quieter times. We could work to establish more balanced schedules. We could dismiss stress as a sign of success. Ordinary time could become the season we seek and even cherish. If God’s church experiences large swaths of ordinary time, then so can we. Let us make an effort to embrace the ordinary as part of God’s plan for us – as a demonstration of God’s care and love. Thanks be to God for the ordinary times.