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It’s All About the Comma

“Never place a period where God has placed a comma.” -Gracie Allen

This was another week rich in help and guidance from God. Good thing because I am someone deeply in need of this help and guidance. Without God and my faith community, I’d be lost.

There’s a comic that used to hang in the staff room of my old school which showed the progression of a week from Monday to Friday. At the beginning of the week is a cool cat, with smoothed down fur, calm and collected (imagine a cool Garfield cat). By mid or end of week, the cartoon showed Bill the Cat from the old Bloom County comic strip who has seen better days. The cat’s most frequent spoken sentiments are “Ack!” and “Thbbft!” and his main pastime is coughing up fur balls. The comic poked fun at how teachers are usually more than ready for a break by Friday.

One day last week I drove home feeling like Bill the Cat and it was only Wednesday. I felt about as coherent as Bill, only able to cough up the dregs of the day.  The calm cool of Monday was long gone. I take things too seriously. My friends know that this happens to me, and I’m learning ever so slowly not to coddle this state of mind.

On this day though, it was quite distracting, and instead of switching on the radio, I decided to pray as I navigated my way home. Often when I pray, I say something and wait to hear what God might say back to me. My end of the conversation went something like this: “God, I was too impatient today. I became a hardened cop dealing with problems instead of the encourager I am on better days. I’m tired and discouraged. What would you say to me?” Feelings of self-recrimination flowed through my prayer, as I felt I “should have done better”.

In the silence of the car, it didn’t take long for a Word to filter through to me. They say that God usually speaks in short sentences. What I heard was a line from the poet Rilke from the famous and wonderful book Letters to a Young Poet. Rilke advises the young poet, “Be patient with all that is not yet finished in you.”

Was this the Word for me, I wondered? God’s patience. It made sense to me to let go of my worry and to remember that in God’s eyes, we are all works in progress. For someone prone to perfectionism like I am, God’s compassion is always a bit of a shocker. Where I am quick to judge myself for mistakes, God always gives second, third and millionth chances to turn back again to the light and hope. Be patient with yourself, God told me.

This short sentence made all the difference on the rest of the ride home and the rest of the week. I still felt tired, but my thoughts now mingled with God’s thought. Maybe it wasn’t my impatience that was the problem, rather, maybe it was how I was thinking about my shortcomings. I had forgotten that God uses everything (and not just the good times) for good and for an unfolding story of how love changes everything. God doesn’t turn his back on me when I perceive myself to be messing up, instead, God  always forgives and seeks to strengthen and deepen us.

On the rest of the ride home, I remembered something that had come to mind earlier that day. A line from my favorite psalm, Psalm 139 –  “You are familiar with all our ways.” God knows all this stuff that I’m going through, I remembered. When I am frazzled and can’t think my way out of a paper bag, God knows what I need much better than I do. And so my prayers back to God began, “Strengthen me God. Grant me what I need, not necessarily what I want. Develop my character and keep me steeped in your hope.”

Wednesday night is the night of our community’s Bible study. That night we were studying the Apostle Paul from the New Testament. Somehow during the rich discussion of the evening, the word from the Psalm came to me again, as if God was still whispering to me. “Lydie, I see you. I know you. Don’t worry, I’ve got your back. I know your needs way better than you do and I won’t abandon you.”

Some might ask, how did I know that was God speaking to me? You know when you are hearing capital T Truth because it’s not just in your head. It settled in my heart and was a source of consolation. In short, I felt revived.

A few summers ago, my son Joel and husband Lyle went to Chicago. A picture they took from that time held a great quotation which someone also mentioned on Wednesday evening:

“Never place a period where God has placed a comma.” -Gracie Allen. 

How quick I so often am to say the story’s over and that a period comes after words like discontent, hard day, discouraged. But to God, all that is about is our human condition, which we usually don’t see the way God does. God sees possibility and the continuation of a story in us.

It comes as no surprise that the rest of the week went more smoothly than Wednesday. It wasn’t without problems, but my feet were planted again in a bigger world. God’s world. I am freed to be human, depending on God for wisdom for every step.

I pray for that we might all experience the hope of second chances with the God who never forgets us.

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