I went for a walk this morning.  It was beautiful.  Sunny.  Crisp.

I walked past a little stream and began to silently thank God for the unexpected gurgle.  But as the words came out, I noticed a styrofoam cup, a shopping bag, wadded up newspaper.  Huh.

I walked past a house with festive decorations and started to smile.  Then I saw that instead of taking down their fall decor, they had left the pumpkins and just added lights to the mix.  Classy, I thought.  The next house had three angels with lights strung around their necks, choking them.  To top it off, the owner had put fake garland around them.  I wondered why she didn’t use the beautiful branches from her pine tree a few feet away.  I mean, really?

And then it hit me that my criticism was suffocating me even in the fresh air.

Joy is something that I have to choose.  Grace is something I can find in this desert too.

And so, I took another deep breath.  I began to thank God for the people who lived in each house I passed. I prayed for the hurt in their lives.  I prayed that the love of Christ would be real to them.  And I thanked Him for beauty that surrounding me in unexpected ways.

Lately when I’ve read the Bible I’ve had such a hard time focusing.  I find it much too easy to let the day slip by without sitting down and spending time with God.  And when I do take the time?  It seems mundane.  Uneventful.  Flat.  Sometimes I just can’t wrap my mind around His Words.

My heart seems to be suffocating.  One day I don’t get any fresh air at all. The next day I get the fresh air of His Word, and yet I spend my time too anxious to get on to the next thing on the list.

The rest of the day I find myself still mulling over the trash in the creek, the gaudy decorations, my resistance to stop and receive His grace.  Ugh!  What is wrong with me?

In that moment, I look up.
And my eyes begin to see– to really see.

I look around my house and notice pictures from Kate.  Little notes of love from her to me, with the sun hitting them in just the right places.

I hear a whisper, “Even in this place, I love you.  I created you.  I am with you.  Breathe My joy deeply and let Me fill you.  Grab your tambourine and resume your singing.”

And I do.

This is the way God put it:
   “They found grace out in the desert, these people who survived the killing.
Israel, out looking for a place to rest, met God out looking for them!”
God told them, “I’ve never quit loving you and never will. 
   Expect love, love, and more love!
And so now I’ll start over with you and build you up again, dear virgin Israel.
You’ll resume your singing,  grabbing tambourines and joining the dance.
You’ll go back to your old work of planting vineyards on the Samaritan hillsides,
And sit back and enjoy the fruit— oh, how you’ll enjoy those harvests!
The time’s coming when watchmen will call out from the hilltops of Ephraim:
‘On your feet! Let’s go to Zion, 
   go to meet our God!'”
Jeremiah 31:2-6