The Pleasure of God

The Pleasure of God

Who can say how these moments arrive? A sudden awareness, an unseen presence descending like a soothing breeze.

It happened to me one glorious fall day. The late afternoon sun felt warm on my skin. I’d been picking up trash, strewn along the roadside by our house.

IMG_1154With my garbage sack full, I strolled up the driveway, thinking about how seasons come and go and years slip by. A vague kind of loneliness came over me as one thought led to another. And then, God came near.

You’re so beautiful to Me, He whispered.

It had nothing to do with physical beauty. Time fades all that. Besides, I was grimy with dirt and perspiration. It seemed like such an odd thing for Him to say. Why then?

It had nothing to do with the fact that I was picking up other people’s garbage, as if that were something special. Concerned citizens in our town organize that kind of effort all the time.

It wasn’t like I’d just accomplished some great thing in my life. I was simply carrying a load of garbage up the driveway. But God seems to catch me off guard in quiet, solitary, mundane moments—maybe on purpose—so I won’t associate it with anything I’ve done.

He just wanted me to feel His pleasure.

Jesus BaptismJesus hadn’t even started his ministry when John baptized him in the Jordan River. Still, God said, “This is my son, in whom I am well pleased.” Of course, one might say, “That’s because it was Jesus,” but that same pleasure is for us.

Kindness Words in Sky Compassionate Generous BackgroundGod smiles when someone does the right thing and no one is looking. He rejoices over the marriage bed of a husband and wife who’ve remained faithful. He is moved by true contrition and forgiveness. He delights when we step into the purposes for which He made us. He notices surprising generosity, private worship, and honest prayers. He exults over each person who comes out of darkness into light.

It might sound prideful or pompous to say God takes pleasure in us. One could even say it smacks of self-righteousness. But His pleasure isn’t necessarily tied to our good behavior…Continue reading

The Trap of Cordiality

The Trap of Cordiality

“Jem and I found our father satisfactory: he played with us, read to us, and treated us with courteous detachment,” said Scout in the classic novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.[1] Scout’s description gave me pause. In our crass and quarrelsome culture, a little respect and good manners might go a long way. We need some good old-fashion cordiality.

But are there unintended consequences among polite types of people? I thought of religious circles or Christian families that strive to have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control–under control at all times. Courteous detachment could be the kind of cordiality that keeps others at arm’s length.

Have you ever experienced that? I have. Maybe I’ve even done it to others!

Illustration depicting cutout printed letters arranged to form the words think before you speak.

In Marilynne Robinson’s moving story, Home, Jack, the black sheep of the family comes home to his dying father after twenty years. The father, a retired pastor, works hard to say all the right things, to give the benefit of the doubt, to believe the best, but there remains unimaginable tension in the atmosphere. The prodigal son is a sin-sick soul, looking for restoration. He wants to believe he can be a good man. The father wants him to “get saved.” They resort to polite conversation at first, bottling up their history of hurt and disappointment.

Deep wounds form when cordiality prevents real connection—maybe even more so than an outright fight.

Glory, the younger daughter in the story, has also returned to care for her father’s basic needs. She too is longing for healing within the family. She loves her wayward brother, Jack. All the other siblings seem to have perfect lives.

“(Glory’s) father told his children to pray for patience, for courage, for kindness, for clarity, for trust, for gratitude. Those prayers will be answered, he said. Others may not be…So she prayed again for patience, for tact, for understanding—for every virtue that might keep her safe from conflicts that would be sure to leave her wounded, every virtue that might at least help her preserve an appearance of dignity, for heaven’s sake. She did wonder what the neighbors thought…”[2]

Young lonely woman sitting in glass jarSafe from conflict…the appearance of dignity…what will the neighbors say?

I have come to believe these fears areContinue reading

As promised…Chapter One

As promised…Chapter One

BHMcoverfinalI am not old, but I’m no longer a child. Sometimes I’m brave enough to think about those days—days of suffocating fear and weeks when sadness had no end, and I lived with many questions tapping on my brain like a relentless woodpecker. Each new bend in the road of twists and turns thrust me into the unknown like a wild mustang ride—snorting, rearing, and trampling my simple world. And when the quiet came at night, my heart seemed as cold as the bottom of the great lake.

Yet Nana’s gentle hand on my arm, or the look in Skeets’ kind eyes, well, they kept something muffin alive in me. They made me believe a greater thing could happen, something I’ve never quite been able to explain—that calm knowing inside, the surge of boldness I felt, and the certainty of where it was from. I sometimes wonder at how easily I could have ignored it. I could’ve been distracted and missed it.

But I didn’t. Somehow, I didn’t.

Chapter 1

How graceful is your grace?

The first time I heard God speak was in a school parking lot. I was ten years old.

My heart flipped violently. The words were unmistakable, as if He stood right behind me and whispered in my left ear. I twirled a complete circle but found no one. Chills rippled across my skin like electric current. I sank to my knees. God sounded calm. Still I gasped, because Mama said He didn’t lie. A perfect summer day had become a muted fuzzy dream.

The morning had started with warm rays through my bedroom window and the fresh earth smell that follows a summer rain. I bounded down the stairs like a cat that smells tuna in the air, but I stopped short on the landing.

Our only happy-family picture hung on the wall, slightly askew. I tilted my head. There, in black and white, we huddled on our sailboat with the mainsail for a backdrop. The wind had played with our hair, and we were all smiles. Grace, or Mama as we called her, held my little brother Tuck on her hip. My older brother Wyeth posed behind me. He made bunny-ears at the back of my head, which he later claimed was just a peace sign. Being the only girl, I remained an easy target. Our father, Hank, looked rather handsome but towered over us with a firm grip on the tiller. Somehow, his smile didn’t belong to his face.

My chest tightened. I turned away.

The sound of running water in the kitchen sink spread uneasiness through my body. I always calmed myself down before entering the kitchen, because it was Father’s Command Central in the mornings. He had a set routine—making his coffee just so, arranging his spoon, sugar bowl, and Cleveland Indians mug in a line on the counter. He’d lay The Plain Dealer on the table with a freshly sharpened pencil for the crossword puzzle. I swore acid rain came out his pores if that pencil went missing. Mornings were not a time to be boisterous. Noise or commotion made him grouchy. I had learned that the hard way one time, when Wyeth gave my knee a horse-bite at breakfast. The tablecloth concealed the fact that he started it. Father shouted at me for kicking and shrieking, while my brother got off scot-free, the weasel. But none of that mattered now. Two weeks ago, Father had left us.Continue reading