Key One: Noticing that part of me would be quite content to write nice words about mercy and feed off them rather than actually doing the hard work of putting them into practice: to feed off the pleasure of ideas and pictures and poetry, the acknowledgment of others, the appearance of maturity and wisdom and insight that such words suggest. But this is baby food and I am hungry for more.
Key Two: Noticing both the moments of grace that I had enjoyed yesterday – especially when I suddenly had eyes to SEE the incredible beauty and aliveness and gift of my daughter, and gained a heart to wonder at this, at her – and also the moments of unmercy I have shown as I snapped at her, demanded too much, criticized; or as I responded with irritation or simply indifference to others. Noticing both of these helps me see that there IS “a river that makes glad the city of God”, there IS a flow and ‘wondrous loop’ that I can choose to remain in, or choose to step outside of.
Key Three: Asking for forgiveness quickly yesterday when I noticed that I had spoken a harsh word, and marvelling at the way this softens me, softens her, softens the atmosphere we live and breathe. So often hurt pride and resentment and shame stop me from doing this, but when I resist this I resist mercy - the mercy I need so desperately.
Key Four: Letting my heart break that so many of the moments of grace pass me by as I choose unmercy instead, and allowing myself to (uncharacteristically) weep by my sweet girl’s sleeping body last night, begging God to help me love her more truly, deeply, consistently, mercifully. And this is a prayer I know he hears and runs towards me to answer, for he is its author and perfecter.
Key Five: Taking time this morning to ACTUALLY write down the gifts of God to me over the last days, not just read about other people’s gratefulness or tell myself I am on a gratitude journey because I’ve thought about it and written about it and listed a few of my ‘one thousand gifts’ a few days ago. And – what do you know?! – heartfelt gratitude and joy welled up fresh inside me just from this simple act. When I stop to NOTICE the gifts, I find out I am full to overflowing, cup running over, rather than the empty I often feel.
Key Six: Choosing to act out of the fullness God promises me – and Jesus seems to assume is mine when he makes all his unreasonable demands! – by not allowing the ‘emptiness’ of others around me to empty me, but instead to choose to see fullness and live fullness regardless of what others are experiencing; then to reach out to give to them from within this fullness.
Key Seven: Doing the little things I could, as I took joy to create a chicken pot pie for our supper, to ‘go the extra mile’ and create a table of meeting that was beautiful and love-filled for us to eat at as a family, with grandparents added to our small three for this week. Good food, good drink, pretty napkins, candles, nature’s treasures scattered around... these simple things felt like sacraments to me as I prepared them and laid them out, and I knew mercy was soaking my heart and grace was soaking the atmosphere.
And, as this meal began, I asked Amelie to choose and read a grace from the little book that I began to compile many moons ago for our family meals, and that has largely gathered dust. She asked me if I would PLEASE, finally, handwrite the sung grace “Johnny Appleseed” in there next to her yellowing illustration, instead of waiting to print it out as I have been meaning to do for over three years! So I sat down and did it; it took me one minute. And the page that had been blank and years-long waiting – waiting for perfection, for the perfect moment – was swiftly filled with simple words of childlike gratitude that are bathed in the mercy that God rains on 'the just and the unjust alike':
"The Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord, for giving me the things I need, the sun and the rain and the apple seed, the Lord is good to me. Johnny Appleseed... Amen!"
And so – with all these simple, rusty, but powerful keys – I present my own blank page to God, finally deigning to handwrite my simple, childlike gratitude and bathe in God’s mercy-rain right here and now (I am the just and the unjust) rather than waiting for another day, the perfect day, the perfect way, the perfect words. I am counting the ways he loves. The Lord is good to me.
No need for you to read on unless you want to read the next of those 'one thousand gifts' I am cataloguing! :-)
Joy Dare: 3 gifts worn:
7 - A piece of handmade jewelery on a new acquaintance that speaks of skill and gift
8 - A beautiful, brightly coloured shirt on a sad friend
9- My snuggly red robe!
3 gifts hard to give thanks for:
10 - The gospel singing from downstairs in the retreat centre when I longed for silence
11 - So busy with so many wonderful people that I didn't manage to get outside all weekend!
12 - The people who made and served our meals - my judgment about what I perceived as their fussiness could have buried gratitude for their presence and service
3 gifts found:
13 - 'Treasures' in the SSU pantry that I didn't need to go and buy
14 - A game for Amelie to play with Granny and Grandpa
15 - Organic fair-trade coffee on a 50% off special to refuel the students of Park Hall! ;-)
A gift bent, a gift broken, a gift beautiful:
16 - Bent me, asking for forgiveness from Amelie; a bent gift is the joy of making it right and receiving mercy
17 - Amelie's purple beret minus bobble and growing a fraying hole gave her Granny the chance to darn and show her love
18 - Every time I actually stop long enough to SEE her, my daughter is Beauty itself for me - her wild, dark hair, her new sunlight-yellow top, her peach-soft skin, her lit-up eyes
3 gifts in the kitchen
19 - A hug with Amelie that lasted until she was OK again
20 - Ian and Jacqui faithfully doing the dishes so that the sink and countertop are always clear
21 - Evening light catching me by surprise as I cooked supper, and reminding me to pour love and grace into my preparations