Young Love: The Backstory

When I first published my observations of enduring and sacrificial love from an elderly couple (which you can read here), I had little idea that it would be shared and re-posted enough that it would eventually get back to the man about whom I wrote it. 

I came in the door after a tiring 2-day surf trip with the youth group this summer and had a letter waiting for me. I dropped my suitcase, keys, and sunglasses in the floor and opened it eagerly. And with tears rolling down my cheeks, I read a carefully typed 2-page account of their love story. Jim later told me, “I’ve never written anything like that before.” And he gave me permission to share it with you. So here are the main excerpts from his letter:

Lauren,

That you would observe and write such a beautiful article about us is humbling. I am especially grateful that you see our situation in a positive light, since I do not wish that our ‘nonconventional’ appearance be a negative factor… I don’t wish to bore you, but I would like to make a couple of comments related to the subjects about which you wrote:

…I don’t consider my efforts to be anything outside of normal behavior… I do not [consider it an] obligation…I don’t do what I do ‘because I have to.’ To understand, I need to take you through a little history.

We started dating in high school in 1942 when we were both 15; she was a sophomore and I was a junior. We did all the ‘school things’ and Saturday night movies with hamburgers and cokes (I was a real big spender). We dated as much as we could after my graduation while I worked for a year…then I was in the Navy for 17 months. After the Navy I started my freshman year at [college]…. At the end of my freshman year (August 1947) we married. I will not bore you with a lot of subsequent history; although it is pertinent, it is not necessary to make the point that I am trying to make.

Take a look at our situation when we got married. We were almost 21, she had a steady job… and things were going pretty well for her. To marry me she would have to move away from her family, change jobs, live she-didn’t-know-where, and work for 3 more years so we wouldn’t starve. I, on the other hand, had just finished one year of college, had spent what savings I had on that, and didn’t even have a bicycle for transportation. Even more, with my background of having graduated from only a small 100-student county school in Tennessee, having worked as a mechanic, spent time in the Navy and one year in a junior college, why would she even think I had what it takes to graduate from a prestigious engineering college like Georgia Tech? You would think that such a smart, pretty, employed girl who had so much going for her would have had far better offers than I could make. However, she did agree and we hitched our wagons to my star of becoming an engineer.

During college, money was pretty tight, and I remember once we had a serious discussion about whether we could afford for her to have a 5 cent coke with her sack lunch each day. [We agreed] that when I got out of college, she would keep the home and care for any children we might have, and I would be responsible for providing the income. That would mean we would adjust our standard of living to my salary. That was not to say that everything was easy or always one way. We made most decisions together, and a number were made differently than if I had been single; she could say the same.

So what is the point I am trying to make? In addition to all the above-mentioned reasons for my desire to care for her, there is the matter that she very early-on gave up her independence and put her faith and trust in me to see that she, and a family, were taken care of. I made a covenant with her before God and a few people to do that, ‘in sickness and in health.’ So, am I now obligated to meet her needs for 24/7 care, and do I do it for that reason?…No — I do it because I want to, and even though she does not know it, I want to express my appreciation for the love and confidence that she, as a smart, beautiful, rosy-cheeked, auburn-haired young lady expressed in me 67 years ago, and has continued to do so ever since! I suspect the time will come when I will not be physically able to personally meet her needs and other arrangement will be necessary. Until such time, I will continue to care for her and nothing else will even be considered.

I hope that you will meet and marry a Christian with whom you can have the same love and commitment that [we] had/have, to jointly ‘hitch your wagons to a common star,’ with God’s Word guiding you along the path. You may find that while someone may have to temporarily give up that 5 cent daily coke, it will not matter since 67 years later, despite the circumstances, you can say, “I would do it again.”

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Published in: on August 26, 2014 at 11:28 pm  Comments (2)  
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“This is for you, Paulo”

In my last post, I wrote about a book that my youth group is studying this summer called “I Like Giving.”  In keeping with the theme of generosity and creative (not random, because they’re intentional!) acts of kindness, yesterday some of my students and I spent the afternoon giving to others.

First, we paid for the person behind us in line at Subway.  Then we purchased a $5 Starbucks card for each of them to decide how they wanted to give it away.  Our next stop was Walgreens, to develop a happy selfie of all us to tape to a church member’s door (captioned: “We’re all excited because we think you’re awesome!”).

As we stood in Walgreens waiting for the picture to be printed, one of the girls decided that the young man working behind the photo counter needed a Starbucks card.  She felt a little awkward and wasn’t sure how to go about it, so I told her to glance at his nametag.  “His name is Paulo!” she stage-whispered to me, grinning.  So I told her to write his name on the card so that he knew we didn’t leave it by mistake.  She borrowed a pen and carefully wrote on the little brown envelope, “This is for you, Paulo!”  And then she added a smiley face.

“Do I just…hand it to him?” she asked.  Trying not to be obvious, I shushed her and responded quietly, “No, just wait until we’re walking out and leave it on the counter.”

Paulo handed us the printed selfie, and I paid for it, and as we turned to walk away, I nudged my youth group girl to let her know that it was time.  Paulo picked up the gift card as we were walking out, and he shouted to us, “I love Starbucks!!” We turned around, and his ear-to-ear grin was worth far more than $5.

I think all of my youth group kids thought so, too.

Once we got back to the church building, we talked about how it had felt to give, and then I asked them to remember a time when someone gave to them and write a note to that person.  One girl mentioned an elderly woman at church who sends birthday cards to everyone.  One of the guys talked about a time when someone took him out to dinner.  And some of them — well, I didn’t know what they wrote in their notes until later.

Because perhaps my favorite moment of the day — when all was said and done and students were dropped off and I was back in the office sorting papers — was when one of the other ministers stopped by my office door.

“It’s crazy what sticks in a person’s mind,” he said.  “Did you read the note Juan left me?”

I shook my head no.

“Well,” he continued, “he thanked me for taking him home when his mom was sick.  I don’t even remember that.  Must’ve been when she had surgery two years ago.”  He shook his head.  “Sometimes you wonder if what you do makes any difference…”

A small act of kindness goes a long way.  I think about the times people have given to me without knowing how much it meant or how it shaped my life, and I think it does make a difference.  More than we know.

And I think that what my student wrote on that Starbucks card is a concise reminder of the attitude with which we should give.  It’s not about us or any attention or praise that might result.  It’s a simple way to say that they are worth noticing, that they are worth our time and money and emotional investment.

“This is for you.”

It’s a way to let someone know that your gift is not a ‘random’ act of kindness, that it’s not an accident. That they’re not an accident.

“This is for you.”

Keep your eyes open today to see how you can make a difference for someone — how your life can be a gift that is intentionally, uniquely, just for them.

Published in: on July 26, 2014 at 10:34 am  Comments (2)  
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Every Time You Give, a Story Begins

This summer, the Sunset youth ministry team is teaching a class based on the book I Like Giving by Brad Formsma. It’s not a super deep book. It’s made up mostly of stories and random thoughts on giving, and I LOVE IT. Reading the book and preparing lessons has made me so excited about all the possibilities that come with a lifestyle of giving. Often we think of giving as a compartmentalized part of our lives, and we do it in the most routine and boring ways, setting aside a percentage of our income and thinking that the check we write is the gift.

But what happens when we start to see our lives as a gift to other people? Then we open our eyes for opportunities to give in all kinds of different ways, and creative giving simply becomes an expression of who we are.

There’s a line towards the end of the book that I have made my theme for this summer:

Every time you give, a story begins.

And it’s true. Most of the time, you never know the ripple effect that begins when you give. You can change someone’s life and not even know it. Even the smallest gifts become a story that both giver and receiver remember for years to come.

Over the last few weeks of teaching this class, I’ve been reminded of all the times people have given to me in creative ways, and as I think about them, I can’t help but smile. There are too many to list, but here are a few that have been on my mind.

I Like Pumpkins

One fun fact about me is that I love seasonal decorations. I’m not a fan of roses on Valentine’s Day, but pumpkins and chrysanthemums in the fall and poinsettias in the winter just make me happy. This past fall I had just moved into my first off-campus house, and when September came, I couldn’t wait to get a pumpkin to grace my front steps. My first pumpkin was big and round and absolutely perfect, and every time I came home and saw it on the porch, my heart was all aflutter with autumn happiness.

But one morning I opened the door and my pumpkin was gone. Someone had come and stolen it in the night. (Side note: who does that?!) At first I thought maybe it was a joke, but my pumpkin never came back. Every time I came home, I just felt sad and missed my beautiful pumpkin. In a depressed heap of pumpkin-less misery, I posted a pitiful status on facebook about my missing pumpkin.

The next night, I was out all evening and came home at about 11pm. As I walked up the sidewalk, something round and orange caught my eye. There was a pumpkin on my front steps!! I was absolutely elated. I couldn’t believe someone had been thoughtful enough to go out and buy me a new pumpkin, but there was no note and no one to thank. I posted on facebook, “To whoever bought me a new pumpkin and left it on my porch for me to come home to tonight — you are wonderful. There is good in the world. THANK YOU!!!” I hoped that whoever bought the pumpkin would see it. Turns out he did — and he took a screenshot of it. And he later became my boyfriend.

I Like Scotland

In March of 2013, I went on a mission trip to Scotland for the first time. It was a bit of a last-minute decision to go, and I had 3 weeks in which to raise $1400. A couple days into my fundraising campaign, I had this dream that someone financed my entire trip. I woke up thinking, “Well man, I thought that dream was real. This is super disappointing.”

I opened my computer to check facebook, and I had a message from a guy I hadn’t seen or talked to since I was about 13 years old. He asked how the fundraising was going and how much I still lacked. I told him I had just started, so, like…all of it. He responded, “Good, because after paying my bills this month that was exactly the amount that I had left in my account, and I felt like God was telling me to give it to you.”

It was one of those moments where it’s such an extravagant gift that you feel almost embarrassed. I tried to tell him no, I could write him a check back for whatever amount I raised over $1400, but he would have none it, saying that if I raised more than that, it could go to other people on the trip. Talk about a humbling experience — I hadn’t even planned on paying that much for my own mission trip! His gift taught me more about faith and giving than any book or sermon.

And Scotland was amazing.

I Like Cookie Monster

A couple of years ago, I worked as a summer camp counselor.  At the beginning of one week, I met this little guy with a cookie monster T-shirt that said “Keep calm and eat cookies.” I nearly choked on my excitement as I told him how amazing it was. Later that week, I was in charge of extended care for the afternoon, so I was sitting by the volleyball court watching a couple of kids make sand angels when the Cookie Monster guy’s mom came up and sat with me. We talked about faith and about relationships and she asked me what my plans were for the future, and I remember telling her how much I had needed some good adult conversation.

That week of camp ended on Friday afternoon. I was standing around holding a blue flag and a clipboard and trying to keep 9 kids together until their parents came to pick them up, when Cookie Monster guy’s mom came up to me and handed me a gift bag. Inside was a sweet note along with the same Cookie Monster t-shirt her son had. I’m not sure where the card is, and I’ve forgotten her name, but I always wear that soft blue shirt to sleep in, and I will never forget it.

Someone who overhears a comment like that and thinks to act on it for a complete stranger — that is someone who sees their life as a gift.

To each of these special people — thank you!! You gave, and a story began, and the world became a bit brighter.

Take the time to remember your own stories. Write them down and share them. Be inspired. Then keep your eyes open for opportunities and start a story for someone else.

Young Love

It’s a Sunday morning in a small town church, and the preacher stands before the congregation, his Bible open to today’s chosen Scripture.  From where I am sitting in my church pew, I glance across the aisle at the couple on the second row, sitting side by side and sharing a hymnbook.

Church dates are the cutest.  It looks like it’s their first.

She modestly smooths her dress over her knee, and he tentatively reaches out and puts his hand on top of hers.  For a moment he looks apprehensive, as though he’s afraid that his gesture will be rejected.  But although she is too shy to reciprocate at first, she turns toward him and her eyes light up with that spark of young love.

Ever so gently his thumb strokes the back of her hand, and the words of the sermon fade out as I become absorbed in their little romance, staring shamelessly.

Because it looks like their first church date, and for her, perhaps it is.

But her dress is outdated and her hair is white.  And by now, as her ragged breath comes in gasps and she grips his hand, looking frightened and ill at ease in her wheelchair, their Sunday morning excursions number in the thousands.

Fifty-two Sundays a year, for at least sixty years, they have walked together through the doors of the church.  But now he walks behind her as he wheels her toward their pew.  When the communion tray is passed around, he breaks the bread for her, and the ushers respectfully stand and wait as he feeds her the body of Christ in a sacred moment.

She becomes anxious, compulsively plucking at her dress and loudly whispering words that don’t make sense.  But he turns his creased and careworn face toward her, with love and longing and a depth in his eyes that I, at 21, cannot understand.  And he steadily reaches over and takes her wrinkled hand in his, comforting her as he gently continues to rub her hand with his thumb.  Her breathing slows and her panic subsides, and she looks down at their entwined fingers as though she is surprised to see them there.  Perhaps as though it is the first time.

At church, we talk a lot about Jesus and we talk a lot about love, and now I’m not sure that any of us, even the preacher, really knows what we’re talking about.

But I think Jim does.  Oh, I think Jim does.

Late Night Adventures and Little Girl Kisses

There’s no better opportunity for sharing random memories than a 15-hour road trip, and nobody better to hear them from than my mother.  So this one is hers.

“One night, when I was about 5 or 6, a couple of years after my Daddy died, I was mad at Mama about something. I guess I had gotten in trouble or something — I don’t remember, and I doubt she even remembers this — but anyway, I was mad and wouldn’t kiss her goodnight.  But after I had gone to my room in a huff, I looked out the window and saw the flashing red and blue lights of a police car down the road.  I guess I kind of forgot that I was mad, and I called her in to come look.  She asked if I wanted to drive down the road to see what it was.  [My older sisters] were already in bed, so we left them at the house and went on a little adventure, just the two of us.  I don’t remember if it was a car accident or what, I just remember that we had our little adventure and that when we got back I gave her a goodnight kiss, and all was right again in my little world.”

It reminded me of one of my own earliest memories, when Mother was already aggravated with me and I was supposed to be in bed.  I called her from my bedroom for probably the 2378th time, and she marched in threatening to punish me if I didn’t go to sleep.  Tears welled up in my eyes.  “But Mama, you don’t understand…see, there’s a bunny in the yard, and it’s hopping closer and closer to my window.”  She immediately softened and came to look out the window with me, exclaiming in delight.  At least, that’s how I heard it.  It occurs to me now that she was probably still really annoyed and not at all interested by the bunny, but she pretended to be interested, and I beamed with the pride of sharing my discovery.  I wasn’t punished, and I gave her a kiss goodnight, and I went to sleep happy.

My grandmother doesn’t remember driving down the road to look at police lights, and my mother doesn’t remember the bunny-watching.  So I can’t say why these memories stick out so vividly for us, except that perhaps while bunnies and police lights are meaningless, it’s those little (yet oh-so-big) moments of validation that define our sense of self.  It’s the fact that our mothers, our role models, were willing to pause their important adult lives and be fascinated alongside us.

What is of little consequence to you, may be one of those snapshot moments your child remembers forever.  So remember to slow down enough today to make memories.  Take your child out for ice cream and ruin his dinner.  Stay up late playing and having big girl time while your youngest is in bed.  Think twice before time-out and show a little unexpected grace.

And don’t forget a goodnight kiss.

A Game of Wiffle Ball

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Recently I was at a professor’s house for an end-of-semester party.  The evening sun, although it was setting, cast a warm and perfect golden glow through the trees. The weather was perfect and his backyard was large and inviting for a game of wiffle ball with our professor’s 8- and 10-year-old sons.  Teams were divided and makeshift bases set up around the yard, but between the little ones hiding them from us gullible college students and the too-competitive players sliding into them, they never stayed where they were supposed to be.

After a couple of strikes, my friend Samantha hit the ball with as much enthusiasm as she could muster, and the ball sailed across the yard to the neighbor’s dog, who was chained to a tree and looking for some excitement in his life.  It was an epic home run before the outfielders could wrestle the ball from his happy, salivating mouth.

Once in a great while, I experience brief glimpses of eternity here on earth that I can only describe as eschatological moments. Kingdom moments.

This was one of them.

As I sat on the porch steps with one of my best friends, sharing reflections on the beauty of restored relationship and new creation and watching our classmates laugh and play and interact with the younger kids, I saw it as though a curtain had been pulled back to reveal a new, and fuller, dimension of life.  It was somehow sacred, this seemingly ordinary game of wiffle ball.  It was fun and innocence and life, and it felt vision-like as I saw it through the eyes of eternity.

Our professor’s youngest son shouted at my friend Lincoln, “I’m gonna kill you!,” and everyone laughed at his absurdity.

And then, too, we will laugh at the idea of death because it seems so far from the lush springtime grass and the laughter of innocent banter and play. We will laugh because death has been swallowed up by life. And wiffle ball.

The pure fullness of life is a foretaste of resurrection.

Black Eye Pride

The other night while I was at Maggie Moo’s with some of my youth group girls, as I walked to the trash can to throw away my ice cream cup, I noticed a young boy about 8 or 9 sitting at the table with his mom.  One eye was severely swollen and bruised and had a piece of tape covering a nasty cut underneath it that may have had stitches.

“Wow, that’s quite a battle scar you’ve got there!” I said admiringly.

He beamed, the tears that surely accompanied the hit forgotten. “Yep!”

“How did you get it?” I asked.

“I got hit with a baseball!” He squinted up at me, with the one eye nearly swollen shut, the other a bright clear blue, alive with excitement. He dug his spoon into his chocolate ice cream with sprinkles as happy and colorful as he was.

“That’s awesome!” I said. “Did you get a home run?”

He shook his head. “Nope. But I got this!”

And this will probably be far more memorable to him than any home run.

After all, scars sometimes make better stories than successes.

Published in: on April 22, 2014 at 9:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Showing Hospitality…to Yourself

There are seasons of my life in which God teaches me through repetition. This semester, it seemed that every experience, every casual conversation, every class period, indeed every moment, somehow tied into the larger theme of hospitality. From reading Henri Nouwen, to struggling through the awkwardness of hospice visits and learning to be comfortable in discomfort, to receiving the hospitality of others, I have thought and journaled enough about the idea to write a little book on it. Maybe I will one day. But until then, the blog will suffice.

So if I could sum up in a single sentence what I have learned about hospitality, it would be this: Hospitality is an attitude of the heart.

Until we have peace within ourselves which we can extend to others, hospitality is merely a matter of going through the motions – and recipients of this “hospitality” can often sense its shallowness. This is not to say that those who extend this sort of hospitality are insincere in their intentions. Rather, because hospitality by its very nature welcomes, affirms, and eases discomfort, anything less seems forced and awkward. To make others feel at ease, we must cultivate an atmosphere of peace and create an environment in which others feel free to be themselves.

Yet we cannot accomplish this until we are comfortable with who we are and experience peace within ourselves. Thus, the first person to whom we must show hospitality is ourselves.

A while back, I had an eye-opening experience in which I learned to offer grace and show hospitality to myself. I was among a small group of fellow theology majors, and one of my classmates led us through a self-examining meditation. In our imagination, we were to picture a five-year-old child coming to us and sitting on our lap – a five-year-old version of ourselves. What do you say to the child? She gives you a gift – what is it?

My imagination wasn’t working, and I inexplicably became frustrated, even angry. What stupid, cheesy gift would five-year-old me give me? “Heck if I know,” I thought. “This is dumb.”

Yet as another of my classmates shared through her tears how she just wanted to let the little girl know how beautiful she was, it illuminated some very deep feelings inside me.

The reason I couldn’t picture the little girl was because she repulsed me. I didn’t want her there ruining my hard-earned awesomeness with her five-year-old awkwardness that I had tried so hard to put away and forget about. I was ashamed of her and didn’t want to be seen with her. I was angry at her for not being athletic, for not being fashionable, for not being perfect. Forget telling her she’s beautiful — I wanted to shake her by the shoulders and scream at her to get with the program because she had made my life difficult.

A lifetime of built-up resentment came out in a startling, choking sob as I realized that this criticism is something I have always done to myself, as I punish my past self and try to live up to expectations of my tyrannical future self.

For most of my life, these deep underlying insecurities have prevented me from creating a hospitable environment. Acutely aware of my own insufficiencies and punishing myself for every awkward moment, I have fought against them rather than accepting them as a part of me and working with them.

When we as hosts feel tension inside ourselves, some intangible quality of discomfort is keenly felt by all. In addition to creating a negative atmosphere, insecurity with ourselves is self-centered rather than others-centered. When we worry more about how we come across, rather than making our guests feel comfortable, we are neglecting the very core of hospitality.

In the days after the meditation, as I overcame my reactionary pain, I knew what I had to say to my five-year-old self.

I had to tell her I was sorry for the guilt and the blame I had put on her, and the pressure to be perfect that I would never put on anyone else.

But it took me a little longer to recognize the gift she gave me.

My dad has always loved to tell the story of how I, as a little girl with a pure and generous heart, would offer to give away my last piece of candy. That little girl hugged and kissed everyone, even strangers, and wanted to be best friends with everybody – probably even a bitter 21-year-old.

She would accept me, even as I rejected her. The gift that 5-year-old me gave me was one I had never had the courtesy to offer her.

She gave me the gift of hospitality.

Published in: on December 19, 2013 at 10:21 pm  Comments (1)  
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Generations

Families have their own special brand of awkward, this is true. But they also have their own brand of awesome, and as I’ve gotten older, this is what I’ve begun to see.

For the first time in several years, my whole family on my dad’s side got together in Davie, FL, to celebrate Thanksgiving together. I began to take some pictures to capture the family resemblance between generations, loving the beauty of these individual shots. Click any of the pictures to see them full size.

A 73-year-old husband, father, grandfather, and now great-grandfather. Quiet and unassuming, I think this pose beautifully captures a long and full life:

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His 45-year-old son, my dad’s little brother, with the piercing blue eyes so characteristic of the Calvins:

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And my dad, 50 years old and graying on the sides, just as handsome and as fun-loving as always. As I write this, he just walked in the room with a small tin and said, “Hey dad, here’s your antique condoms. Haha, just kidding, it’s pomade.” And they shared in the characteristic father-son laugh that’s always funnier than the joke itself.

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I couldn’t resist putting their pictures together into a collage which shows the family resemblance:

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And here’s the three of them together:

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I love this set of pictures because they so perfectly capture the individuality-in-community which family represents. Separate lives, unique stories, yet irrevocably intertwined. We are all a part of one another, shaped by those who touch us, growing older, always the same and yet never the same.

 

 

 

Published in: on November 29, 2013 at 3:51 pm  Comments (1)  
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A Prayer for Peace

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I began writing this prayer several months ago, and only just now finished it. I was struggling to convey my desire for hospitality of the heart as well of the home, but this concept has long been dear to me. When I worked at a Christian camp a year and a half ago, I would begin every week by praying peace over the cabin and over each bed where my campers would sleep.

When I read this post by Joanne Kraft, it touched my heart even more deeply. This is the type of home I long to have, where peace reigns and dissension has no place, where the Spirit of God is tangible and everyone who enters can sense that my home and my life are surrendered to a God of peace. In the midst of the chaos, I want my home to be a place where life slows down and can be seen for the beautiful gift it is. So without further explanation, I pray peace for myself and peace for each of you:

Wherever your will leads me, Lord, wherever I travel and wherever I settle,

Let your peace be found there.

In any place in which I make my home,

Let your peace be found there.

In the spiritual highs,

Let your peace be found there.

In the dark night of the soul,

Let your peace be found there.

Grace each room of my home with your presence, Lord,

Let your peace be found there.

On the threshold, for everyone that enters

Let your peace rest there

And your presence be tangibly felt.

In the living room, where community and conversation and laughter abound,

Let your joy abide there.

In the kitchen, where meals are served around a table of grateful hearts,

Let your joy abide there.

In each bedroom, where rest brings renewal,

Let your peace be found there.

Make my home a place of healing for the broken,

And my heart an inviting place where those who need love can rest in transparency.

Let your peace be found in me.

Give me a spirit of gentleness and hospitality as I seek to bring your Kingdom to earth.

Wherever I go, Lord, and wherever I encounter others,

Let your peace be found there.

Published in: on November 20, 2013 at 11:26 pm  Comments (1)  
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