Saturday, December 27, 2014

Green(er) Grass


 

Be still and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth!

Psalm 46:10

 

There is a saying that the grass is always greener on the other side of the street, or fence or in Erma Bombeck speak, septic tank.  The idea being that things look better from a distance but when you get close, most often you prefer your own yard. I thought of that this morning when remembering a friend from high school.  I’m one of those odd people who attended the same school, with mostly the same children, from first grade through twelfth grade but when we got to ninth grade, high school, we did get an influx of new kids. One of those girls, Doreen, lived just a bit farther away from school than I did. If I’m remembering correctly she rode the bus to school but most days she walked home. I on the other hand, was driven to school in the morning by my father and picked up in the afternoon. Every day. By. My. Father. Get the emphasis? There was a bit of control involved.

          To me Doreen, a beautiful, lively, outgoing girl, represented all that I did not have. She was comfortable with people. She was open, friendly, exuberant and she was allowed to walk home! Think about that for a minute. This walk was not a few blocks. I was probably a mile and a halfish from our school and Doreen, as I said, lived a bit farther. I should have been grateful to not have to walk in the unforgiving weather of Upstate New York but I wasn’t because Doreen’s walk home was a symbol of freedom to me. I have no idea what my chauffeured lifestyle represented to her but to me it represented distrust and entrapment.

          One amazing day my father had a conflict and allowed me to walk home. I walked with Doreen and some other kids who went the same way, our little group shrinking as we traveled. There is nothing significant about that walk. Doreen and I did not become lifelong best friends who know each other’s every move to this day. Through school we were friendly and did socialize every now and then but that’s it. The walk was not a life changing moment for either of us. Today however it became a symbol for me once again, an event I’d all but forgotten, resurfaced in my mind to remind me of perspective, of vision.

          As I said I don’t know how Doreen viewed my door to door car service but she could have been envious, especially on the 10 below zero days we experienced in Syracuse New York. She could have seen it more accurately as the issue of control that it most certainly was or she could have assumed I was a spoiled brat. She couldn’t know the whole story anymore than I could know hers. I envied what looked like freedom, trust and an intact family. Her grass was certainly greener in my eyes.

          Was it truly? I don’t know. I didn’t live in her family. That is what struck me today.  In that instance and so many others I’ve wanted what someone else had or appeared to have, something we all do at times. Lately I’ve been very content in my somewhat messy life and today our Father in heaven graciously used a long ago happy memory to remind me that I am right where He wants me to be. My grass is just fine, brown patches and all.

          In that moment I said a little prayer for Doreen, praying that she sees her grass, most likely covered in a blanket of snow today, as green enough for her too. Our joy and contentment are not reliant on our circumstances. They are reliant on our faith and trust in the One Who Watches Over Us and will never let us go.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas Everywhere


 

When they saw the star they rejoiced

with exceedingly great joy.

Luke 2:10

 

Our heavenly Father, from whom all blessings flow (James 1:17) has blessed my husband and me with ten precious grandchildren. It might be a bit biased to say that they are the sweetest, cutest kids ever but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Just the other day our youngest grandson Abram came to see us. It was his first time at our house since the arrival of the Christmas decorations. Walking in to our living room he stopped and said, “Grammy, it’s Christmas everywhere!” His voice was filled with the awe and wonder. As he moved through the house and saw more and more decorations he repeated his sentiment again adding, “It’s amazing.” Keep in mind our little prince is not quite two years old. In those moments  I was enjoying the privilege of seeing the wonder of Christmas through the eyes of a child.

Beyond my decorations, Abram is absolutely right, it’s Christmas everywhere. At church on Sunday our pastor spoke about Mary and Joseph. Most of my devotional readings are of the Advent variety, mentioning the birth of, or preparations for, Jesus. It is that most wonderful time of the year when people who aren’t terribly aware of Jesus are singing His praises and His name because those songs are playing everywhere. There are lights, baubles, songs and smells all around us that indicate a heightened sense of excitement.

Then there’s the down side. The stores are crazy. The roads are a nightmare. More people are out and about than usual. The end result of that is not a positive one. There are long lines, traffic jams and snarling voices. Why? It’s Christmas, everywhere. The problem is that in too many places it isn’t the kind of Christmas that Abram encounters at Grammy’s house. In the world the name of Jesus is playing on sound systems in many stores and malls but the spirit of Jesus is missing. Many faces display stress and many voices offer disdain. “I’ll be happy when it’s over.” It’s Christmas everywhere but in too many places there is no awe and wonder.

I am happy that it never is over. My house is dressed up, if you will, covered in bright colors and pretty lights. From today forward every visitor will be greeted by the smell of something baking and the sounds of Emmanuel. In our home we are blessed to know the true spirit of Christmas. We know that Jesus came to save us and that He is coming back. We know that’s why our house is so fancy and our hearts are so excited but if for one second we are tempted to forget, tempted to be infected by “holiday stress,” Abram will remind us. “It’s Christmas everywhere and it’s amazing.”

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Look Up


 

To bestow on them a crown of beauty
 instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning
and a garment of praise
instead of despair.
Isaiah 61:3b


 
This morning while praying I realized that I was simply carrying too much junk. There are circumstances far beyond my control that are causing difficulty, disappointment and even pain in my life. Do I want them? No! So I chose to lay them down at the foot of the Cross and pick up the peace that transcends understanding. (Philippians 4:7) That is when the verse from Isaiah came to mind. It just felt wrong to lay down all my junk and walk away with peace but that is God’s plan.

          As I continued with my reading and my prayers the peace grew. That was a bit odd as one of the readings was directed at one of my sorest spots. Right there in that moment I set the book down and asked God to reveal the deeper lesson to me. Why was He showing me those words in this moment? Friends, God is so very good. Within seconds a full image was in my mind and it was perfect.

          Last year my husband and I spent some time in the Great Smoky Mountains. One of my favorite pictures is of Otto standing in a shallow stream of water, the water is rolling over big beautiful rocks and behind, above, all around him in the picture is the image of the majestic mountains. I love that picture!

          What if, God pointed out to me, there had been a bit of trash in the water? What if some careless person had dropped a can or food wrapper in there? Hmm… I’d ignore it. Well, what if while you were watching Otto and taking the picture several pieces of trash had come into view? My first thought was I’d look away from the trash and as soon as I thought it I saw the greater truth God was revealing to me.

          There is a pile of trash flowing along my stream of life at the moment. It ranges from a random bit of paper to a big, full, ugly diaper moving along and marring the beauty of my days. Sadly I can’t clean it out. I have to wait for a much bigger hand than mine to clean up the mess. I can do my part when the time is right but right now I’m standing by the stream waiting. So what should I do? God’s answer was simple, succinct and perfect. “Look up.”

          Oh! Just like in the mountains. If the view had been momentarily marred by trash I would have looked away, at another part of the stream, at Otto or looked at the mountain. That makes perfect, beautiful, simple sense. My life’s view is a bit off at the moment. The enemy is using circumstances to attempt to steal my joy. Well he can’t have it! It’s Advent right now. Jesus is coming! We’re singing about Emmanuel and preparing room for our Savior. This is a lovely time and I won’t let it be ruined by random trash. I’m looking up and the view is magnificent!

 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Heritage


 

By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph and he worshipped, leaning on the top of his staff. Hebrews 11:21

 

 Just a few minutes ago I read this quote as part of a devotional message. The author of that message leaned pretty heavily on the idea of heritage and how important it was to Jacob’s sons and grandsons.  That made me smile because just yesterday afternoon my grandson Joey was talking to me about heritage.  We were in the kitchen and Joey was baking brownies for the first time.  I was talking him through the steps and told him that the recipe he was using came from his great-grandmother. “It was my mom’s recipe first.” I told him. “Now that you are using it you’re the fourth generation on this same recipe.” He grinned at me and said, “So it’s like heritage.”  Yes, precious boy, it’s like heritage.

I am happy to pass on recipes, old family traditions and home remedies to my children and grandchildren but nothing makes me happier than passing on my faith.

The most important person in the development of my childhood faith was my Gram. She was never preachy or demanding, she simply lived her faith. It was a part of everything she did. It made her the wonderful person that she was. I was drawn by her reverence of God but much more so by her complete enjoyment of all things relating to Him. She loved being in church and praying but beyond that, even in the hardest times, she carried that peace that passes understanding. She really knew her Savior.

That is the heritage I hope to pass on to Joey, Faith, Isabelle, Samuel, Madelyn, Grace, Gavin, Abigail, Abram, Harper and the new baby, still being fearfully and wonderfully formed within her (?) mother’s womb. So I will bake brownies, prepare holiday meals, watch movies, play games, listen when they talk and in all those things I  pray to show them the most important aspect of their heritage, that beyond being their Grammy, I am a child of God, just like each one of them.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

In the Right Order


 

Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it; ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” Matthew 22:37-39

 A message I read earlier today really touched my heart. It was a reminder that being a Christian, being a Christian, not saying that I’m a Christian, means putting Christ first. It means breaking down the strongholds and losing the idols. I responded to that message by going into a moment of prayer for that exact stance in my life. I prayed that God will always come first, reign supreme for me, own my heart and that after that will come my sweet husband, other people, whatever service God draws me toward and eventually, me.

        That prayer reminded me of my newest precious friend Samah. Samah is incredibly expressive. When she tells me stories of what she did over the weekend or the evening before most of them include the cast list for the event. “I get ice cream with my daddy, my mommy, my brother and my sister. And me!” Although she adds herself, “and me” with great enthusiasm she always lists herself last. Having spent the last several weeks getting to know her and then meeting her family I do believe the list is in order of importance.  “My daddy” could also be identified as my hero, the eighth wonder of the world. “My mommy” as Samah sees it, is also the woman everyone in the world should want to pamper. Samah is always telling me about the things that she and her daddy do for mommy. “My brother and my sister” are listed in one breath and I believe that is because one day her brother is her favorite and the next it’s her sister. Then there’s the detail that stood out to me this morning. “And me” is spoken with a big finish feel to it. This is a child with great confidence. She’s beautiful, funny, loving and well loved and she knows it. I’ve teased for a week or so that her list reminds me of the famous George M. Cohan sign off line. “My father thanks you, my mother thanks you, my sister thanks you and I thank you.” George also listed himself last but from the little I know of him, I do not believe it was out of the same precious humility as Samah.

          Samah’s list gave me a great example for how to pray and how to live, my God, my husband, the rest of my family, my friends, any other people God sends into my day and me. It takes the two directives from Jesus to love God and your neighbor and makes them real. If I pray and then live under those guidelines I will the person I want to be, the happy little foot washing servant of God. In being that person I will find great joy and great satisfaction.

         

Sunday, August 31, 2014

No Filter


 

Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time. Hebrews 4:16

 
How many times have you heard it said of someone that he or she has no filter? My granddaughter Madelyn is the personification of that statement and she gets that quality straight from her mother. My daughter Laura is an adult now and as such has tamed her wild tongue a little bit. Madelyn, who I lovingly call Mim, has not. Mim says whatever she’s thinking. It pops into her head and she says it. Just the other day she told me that she’d seen an old picture of me with blonde hair. “Hey Grammy, so I saw a picture of you when you used to have blonde hair.” She looked at me, cocked her head, gave me the quirkiest little look and said, “Yeah, keep the red.” See what I mean? No. Filter.  And quite frankly we all love it, for now, because Mim is six years old. Eventually she’ll have to find a filter. Although knowing her as I do, I suspect it will be a tiny one. She reminds me of my Gram who never really got that concept either. She just learned to pseudo whisper her comments.

          Maybe that isn’t a bad thing. Mim says what she wants, to her family, her teachers and to God. She isn’t afraid to express herself. In prayer, Mim approaches the throne of grace with the confidence of the beloved child that she is.

          In several places in Scripture we are told to become like children, to interact with God with the pure and simple faith of a child. Hmm… maybe those filters are overrated. I’m not advocating speaking your mind at all times. Feelings get hurt that way, damage gets done. We are also advised in Scripture to be quick to listen and slow to speak. (James 1:9) Reading the verse above and thinking of Mim, I realized that yes, in our human interactions we need to follow James’ advice and to have a filter but when we are speaking to our Father in heaven anything goes, with respect of course. Our Father is available always to hear our hearts. He already knows what we’re thinking and how we’re feeling. Sometimes in an effort to spare our family and friends we don’t say what we’re thinking or feeling. With God we can. We can whine, cry, laugh, vent and beg and we can do it with confidence, confident in the fact that His feelings for us won’t change.

         

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Open Endings


 

 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again: he was lost and is found. Luke 15:31

The story of the prodigal son has been a recurrent theme for me for years and recently it’s been a fairly constant companion. On close inspection and upon serious delving into it, I find that I am and/or have been every one of those three characters many times. I desire to be the Father. That is the kind of heart I want to have and to share. During my time with the story I’ve been able to identify a few places where I have been successful with that, with having and giving a version of that open armed, unconditional love. That is great, considering that being able to live life with that attitude is the goal.

          I’m a person who hates the end of books, not because the story is over but because I have to give up the characters. Well written, richly developed characters draw me in and when the story ends I want them to stay. I want to know what happens to them next. The three main players in the prodigal story, father, son and elder brother are extremely rich and deep characters. I am very drawn into the drama that is illustrated in Luke 15. Then it ends. Kid’s home, dad’s thrilled, older brother is….well, he’s not thrilled, that’s for sure! Then what? Read the verse again, that’s the end. No! I need to know what happened next.

          The father says to the older brother, everything I have is yours. Does the older brother then begin to live with the confidence of one who is loved and has all the provisions that he needs? Does the younger son truly understand the magnitude of what his father has done for him? Does the father recover from the betrayal? Is he able to build and sustain a new relationship with both boys? I want to know!

          It’s a good news/bad news thing. I can know, at least in my own life what the outcomes are whenever I see myself in the story. The bad news? We are not characters in a parable intended to enlighten and guide. We are real fallible human beings.

          The prodigal sons come back but do they embrace the fathers? Is there always a sense of accountability? Do they always see the hurt they’ve brought into the father’s life? No.

          Some father’s run, just like the one in the parable. Some stand back but open their arms when the son shows up. Some allow the son the exact thing he came over to get, a place on the staff.

          The older brother? If he gets it is the happiest of men. He is loved! No striving, proving or working necessary and yet those things are always applauded by the father. If he doesn’t get it and instead holds onto his bitterness, as my dear friend Bella would say, “poor him!”

          I love the parable and I’ve learned so much. It has blessed my life in ways I could not have imagined. Unfortunately I’ve also come to realize that it is open ended, not just in the Bible but in life. All of us, sons, brothers and fathers alike have free will. I still want to know the rest of the story and hopefully one day, when I get Home, I will.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Great I AM/Dear Friend


 

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8

“I no longer call you servants but friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15

 
Which aspect of God is more familiar to you? Do you spend more time revering and feeling in awe of Alpha/Omega, Almighty God or with Jesus, who calls you friend? We realize intellectually that they are one in the same but having a deep and true understanding of that is much harder, if not impossible. It is after all referred to as the mystery of the Trinity. Somehow in order to be a close and sane follower of Jesus we have to rectify the two ideas, God omnipotent, holy, unique and mysterious and Jesus, relatable, close but also holy and unique.

We can’t be so afraid of God that we refuse to draw close to Jesus, to accept the presence of the Holy Spirit. Yet, we can’t be so comfy with our good pal Jesus that we forget that He is God, holy, unique, omnipotent and mysterious.

Listening to two different songs in church yesterday this concept was so obvious to me. In one there was a deep, reverential, awestruck tone. The other was lighter, friendlier, spoke of close familiarity. Same God, same faith, same me. So how does that work?

It reminded me of a young friend of mine and me. What my friend and I have in common is lovely but vastly flawed fathers. The father of my youth was not a nice man. Suffice to say he lacked respect for the personal space and well being of the people who should have meant the most to him. In his later years he realized his faults, to a point, and attempted to make some changes, not amends, just a few new behaviors. Through both stages of his life he was and is a likeable guy, charming and funny. Which just doesn’t seem possible given his heinous actions.

My friend’s dad is the opposite. A lovely and involved dad in his younger days, he reacted to the stresses of life by becoming weak and selfish. How is that possible? He was such a strong, loving, courageous man. Just as my father’s slight turn for the better does not negate the damage of his early years, my friend’s father’s early kindnesses do not excuse his latter selfishness.

What my friend and I have in common is that we want to love those men and give credit where credit is due but we have to reconcile that with the dark sides that were so bitterly harmful. We can’t compartmentalize. We have to love the whole of each of them, while acknowledging that they were in fact,  deeply flawed human beings.

That gave me a little insight to the awesome God/ friendly God. They are one in the same but in His wisdom God knows that we can’t quite get that. That is why the aspect of God’s character that we know as Jesus is approachable in a friendly and comfortable way. We chat with Him as we do our other friends but with an underlying respect for His sovereignty. When we are deep in reverence of the person of God the Father we are not too intimidated to pray or praise because of the humanity of Jesus. Aren’t we smart? No! We’re empowered by the Holy Spirit. If we will yield to the power of the Holy Spirit we can cope with the things we can’t understand or reconcile. We can worship in spirit and truth and we can love even those who’ve shown us in spotlight, neon letters, glaring fashion that they are not who we would want them to be.

 

 

 

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Measure of Success

 
“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
1 Samuel 16:7b
God has placed me in a certain small group, not like a study group, more a social thing, that has given me a great glimpse into what He sees as important. Off and on over the years I’ve seen this but just recently a series of events has turned a spotlight on subject.
               Through my experience with this group I’ve come to know which people I can rely on and which ones I cannot, which ones will take responsibility and which ones will shirk. I like them all and find most of them fun to be around. If you asked me to rank them in terms of worldly success I would have a pretty clear picture. If you asked me which of them is closest to doing the will of God, the picture would get a little fuzzy, not because of who they are but because of a world/human view as opposed to a spiritual one. It’s hard to decide because on paper a few look pretty good and one or two are a bit sketchy.
               The other day I was asked to do a favor for someone not connected to the group. I was happy to do it but it was a bit beyond what I could handle alone. I asked the group for help and help came from the ones who seem most obvious to me as helpers but to the world might look a bit less accomplished to the rest of the world. I was right. They came through for me with flying colors and helped me achieve the goal. They did it without asking for recognition or applause, out of the kindness of their hearts. This is not to say the rest of the group is uncaring or inconsiderate. They just have different priorities. The ones that did help however, are the ones the rest of the crowd would hesitate to ask because they don’t appear to be big on follow through.
               Looking back at it today I realized that is what is meant by seeing the heart of a person. Are these detail people? No! Can they organize well? No. Are they prompt and efficient? No. Yet, they are always the first ones there when there is a true need. They may be late for the party, so to speak, but they are never late for the project. These are people who have disappointed and frustrated me on occasion but never when it’s been truly important.
               It warmed my heart to see this and made me realize that these people have hearts that are usually in the right place. It’s the execution of their own plans that derail them at times. God looks at our hearts. He sees our intentions and knows what is behind them. There was no desire to gain favor in the actions of my friends. Their behavior was motivated by a sincere desire to help and bless.
   On paper I don’t look like a great success but it is my intense desire to please, bless and glorify God and through this example I understand a little better that He knows that. He knows it even when I cannot follow through or simply don’t for some reason. He knows that I’m human and fallible but also devoted. God does not measure success as the world does. He measures it by our love for Him and our neighbor. The reminder of that blessed my heart and I hope it blesses yours as well.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Precious Prayers


 

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the

Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change

 like the shifting of the shadows. James 1:17

Yesterday I had a lovely surprise, a mid-morning visit from my son Jeffrey. Due to our work schedules this never happens but it did and it was delightful. Normally when I see Jeffrey there are at least three children (his) around and usually more along with more adults. It is a rare and precious thing to spend time with anyone of my four children and be able to just sit and chat.

            While we were chatting Jeffrey was telling me about praying with his wife and children, Isabelle who is eight, Samuel who is seven and Abigail who is three. We’d been talking about taking some pretty big blessings for granted and Jeffrey shared with me how Samuel’s prayers had humbled him a bit and shed a light on what should be obvious to all of us.

            Samuel is a practical child and he is still very much a child. He is delighted by things too many of us take for granted. He is still at an age where is something is funny once, it’s probably hilarious on the fortieth repetition. Samuel’s laugh or more accurately giggle is extremely contagious. In short, he’s all boy and just precious. Apparently he is also aware that all good things come from above. Jeffrey shared with me that Samuel’s nightly prayers always include one of thanksgiving for the good food he received through the day.  Jeffrey’s take on that is that a blessing over our meals is something Samuel has experienced his entire life and so believes that all prayers should contain that thought. Maybe….

            What touched Jeffrey’s heart and subsequently mine, is how great that prayer really is. We are as my son pointed out, Americans (read spoiled). We take food, clothing and shelter as a given. No one in our family is wealthy. We’re all somewhere in the upper lower to lower middle class range but again, in America. We all have at least one vehicle. We all have nice homes. We’re all fed, every day, several times a day and we just expect that. All of us, it seems, except Samuel.

            There is the expression, out of the mouths of babes and it is so true. By thanking God for his food, not at the table when it’s right in front of him but later, after teeth are brushed and there is no chance of one more chicken leg (one of his favorites) or another treat, Samuel is still grateful that he was fed and fed well. He’s seven and God bless him, he gets it in ways those of us who are older and “wiser” have forgotten.

            I see myself as a fairly grateful person. I count my blessings several times a day and keep record of them. Still my little Samuel made me aware of how deep, wide and precious is the love of God, lavished on us, His children, His selfish, self-centered, undeserving children.

            We should all be thankful in the extreme for those things we see as simple facts of life. I am currently sitting in front of my computer, that is to say one of several in this house. My house… with the pool in the backyard, the well stocked kitchen, the working air conditioner and the fairly new furniture. I stepped out of my own bed on my own steam this morning and I’m breathing. On top of that, yesterday I had a surprise visit from my youngest son and a planned visit with my oldest son and youngest grandson. God is good all the time and all the time, we should acknowledge Him.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Touch


 
Jesus said, “Who touched me?” When all denied it Peter and those with him said, “Master, the multitudes throng and press you, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” Luke 8:45

 I love this story and the accounts in Matthew and Mark. They all read pretty close to the same when it comes to the bleeding woman. She’s been ill for twelve years and seen every doctor around. Finally she gets her chance to see Jesus and out of total desperation she touches Him, not Him exactly but his clothing, the very edge of His clothing. The whole thing is amazing.

          First it’s sad. This poor woman! She’s ill enough to risk touching a man, a strange man at that, which was unheard of in that day. Plus she’s somehow dragged her weak body into the streets and hustled her way close enough to touch, if not Him, at least His cloak. Your heart has to break for her. For years I got migraine headaches. Due to the type of migraine they came in a very cyclic pattern.  At the worst I was miserable for four straight days, unable to sleep or eat and every movement caused excruciating pain. It was awful but I knew it would end, at least for a few weeks I would have a break before the onslaught of more pain. From what we know, this woman didn’t get any breaks. She was sick for twelve long years. Sad.

          Then there’s Jesus and this is the part I love. It amazes and inspires me. In the same moment it bolsters my faith, it also makes me question it. This woman had such great faith. She didn’t need to be acknowledged by Jesus. She didn’t need or expect Him to stop and have a long conversation with her to see if she deserved healing. She saw Him as healing. If she could get close, she could get well. And she did! That’s not all of it. Jesus stops, turns to His guys and asks who touched Him. Seriously? They’re looking at the crowd, the multitude (love that word) and thinking, “Yeah right, like we’re going to find that one person who touched you.” Everybody was touching Him, grabbing at Him, wanting something from Him but Jesus does find her, not that it matters. It wasn’t the woman herself or her suffering that called to the heart of the Healer. It wasn’t an earnest and well-spoken plea that compelled Him to grant her request. It was her faith! There was no question in her mind that close proximity to Jesus meant restored health. Wow!

          That is where I question my own faith. Why do I feel the need to plead my case, explaining the myriad reasons why I need healing or help? Why don’t I just know that Jesus has my best interest at heart? It’s a simple answer. It is because God’s ways and mine are different. What God sees as best for me often isn’t what I want. Beyond that I rarely understand why I get an answer that is or looks like a no. Oddly, that is where my faith is bolstered. I may not get what I want or think I need but somehow in the process of seeking His face for an answer I draw closer to Him. My faith is not where the bleeding woman’s faith was but it’s stronger than it was a month ago.

          If times are hard for you right now read this story, the whole story, in all three Gospels. I’ve barely scratched the surface here of the miraculous nature of all that is going on. Then reach out and touch Jesus. Something miraculous will happen, He promised.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A List of Miracles


 
It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.
Daniel 4:2

 
Today had kind of a rocky start for me. To go into the reasons why would, however, give the enemy attention and I prefer not to do that. So let’s just say it was a bit of a battle to refocus my thoughts and hold onto my joy. In fact as I type there are still little dings coming my way. Here’s the good news, God is good. I’ve said it before but I think it bears repeating, I’m irritated by the whole “life is good” slogan. Life is not good. Life is hard. God is good all the time.

          As soon as I read this verse from the book of Daniel I had the support I needed. I was reminded of the greatness of God, His faithfulness, mercy and love. Why? Well, let me borrow from Daniel and make it my great pleasure to tell you about God’s movement in my life.

          I have a wonderful husband. I’m aware of that always but every now and then there are small things that shine a huge spotlight on just how much of a blessing he is to me. He has great integrity and greater faith. He is kind, loyal and protective and sometimes he makes me crazy which just proves he’s the real deal. We have four adult children, three sons and a daughter, and three lovely daughters-in-love. Our oldest son is truly a walking miracle. He was diagnosed with brain damage as an infant but spoke in full sentences at a year old and is apparently starting an advanced degree collection.  Our second son has a heart that has caused people to comment since he was two years old. There are no strangers in his world, only friends he’s yet to meet. Our third son has a musical gift, to call it “talent” would minimize its intensity. With no training he plays several instruments and sings beautifully. Our daughter is a hurdler, not in the traditional sense. Trust me our baby girl does not run. No, she’s a life hurdler. She’s vaulted over more obstacles than I care to remember and she does it with humor and better yet, without self-pity. Our children have blessed us with ten grandchildren. All of whom are unique and precious. One is another miracle baby, as his existence came as a bit of a shock, considering his parents were told that his conception was something of impossibility. Hmm, see Matthew 19:26 for that answer.  Miracles, all of them.

          Where life has handed me more than a few challenges, God has handed me strength, faith and grace to rise above. Once during a very hard time I was asked how I was handling it. I answered quite frankly that I wasn’t. My hope and strength are in the name of the Lord. Miracle.

          My day job is working with “special needs” children. That may not sound miraculous on the surface but I promise you, it is. I have learned so much about love, life and faith from my kiddos. That job wasn’t on my list of things I wanted to do and yet it has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.

          Then there are the “ordinary” miracles and signs.  Take today. I’m sitting in my nice, comfortable home with a full pantry and two full refrigerators. In a short while I will take laundry from my washer and dry it on my line, because I am blessed with a gorgeous sunny day not because I don’t have a dryer. After that, I’ll lounge in my pool and read a book, because I have a pool, a book and the vision and intelligence to read. Even later I will spend time with my wonderful husband and three of our precious grandchildren because their parents trust us to take care of them. They will be here while their parents celebrate their wedding anniversary, which involves too many miracles to list here.

          This is a short and sadly lacking list of the miracles God has done in my life. I didn’t even get to the signs but to list everything would take far too many words. My hope is that it will get you started on your own list and that when you see God’s fingerprints all over your life you will stop and give Him the praise He so richly deserves.  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Drawn In By Grace


 

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.  1 Peter 3:9

 
A few weeks ago I had an eye opening conversation with a woman I’ve known for several years, I’ll call her Ann. Ann expressed her displeasure over another woman’s lack of gratitude. She told me how no matter what she does, how often she does it or how much of a sacrifice it is, the woman never thanks her. That conversation was very enlightening. I saw Ann wanting the recognition, expecting the thanks but I also saw that she neglects to give those things to the people who do for her. In that moment I saw a bigger picture. I wondered when or if Ann ever thanks God? She professes to be a Christian but it doesn’t seem to impact her life. I continued chatting with her but honestly only half-listening as my mind traveled a different path.

 A few days after my conversation with Ann I had a very different conversation with another friend. On the surface the two don’t seem to bear much commonality but for me, they do.

My second conversation was with a friend who was upset because she felt that she’d been wronged and she was right, she had. What she failed to see was that her own actions were the catalyst of the wrongdoing. She was hurt by another person’s behavior but neglected to see that her choices had clouded up and rained all over many other people including the one with whom she was angry.

Both of those attitudes bothered me. Thank me. Acknowledge me. Don’t offend me regardless of the fact that I have offended you and caused you to receive insult that is not yours. In both instances I wanted to scream “Look in a mirror!” Why I wondered did those set off such strong reactions in me? In both cases I did what I do. I prayed to ignore my feelings and respond as my Father would have me respond. While I pray that very often I have to admit I fail in it far too much. Thankfully in these instances I relied on God’s grace and stayed quiet and that grace allowed me to see why I reacted as I did.

Jesus Christ, at the very young age of thirty-three years old, hung on a cross and died for me, for my sins. He did nothing wrong, not one single thing, no snide remark, no blatant lies, no murder, no lust and on and on and on. He didn’t indulge in a single ugly behavior but he suffered unspeakable torture and died because we do indulge over and over again. My friend may see herself as an innocent victim and she may be but it’s nothing compared to Jesus’ innocence. Which brought me to the gratitude thing. Ann wants thanks for every miniscule act but when does she thank or praise God? She doesn’t. In fact she minimizes Him. She sees herself as the giver in all things and does not see that without God’s grace she’d have nothing to give.

My aggravation with both friends quickly turned to gratitude. How often do I cast myself in the put upon role? Or think someone “owes” me a thank you? Bigger question. Do I spend everyday living with the knowledge of the sacrifice of Jesus? Does that act fuel my behavior? Do I realize that He was completely innocent but took shame, pain and punishment because I’m guilty? Do I thank Him for every miniscule thing?

We live and move and have our being by God’s grace and God’s grace alone (Acts 17:28) and I am very thankful for the reminders that I received, irritating though they were. It’s just further proof that God can and will use everything in my life to draw me to His side.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Gram’s House


 
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
Psalm 36:7

 

When it comes to spiritual gifts I would tell you that I have no gift for evangelism. Any spiritual assessment I’ve ever taken has backed up that belief. In the traditional door knocking, Roman Roading sense, I am not, not, not an evangelist. I’m an encourager, a hostess, the support team, if you will. In the assessment this is lumped under exhortation.  I’m not fond of the word but I like the ideas behind it.

Earlier today while reading an excellent book about growing more like God I came across a scene that gave me a new perspective. The author was talking about standing near the Father, being close to Him, at home with Him, welcoming others back to or into fellowship with God. That reminded me of one of my favorite childhood experiences.

Growing up my absolute favorite person in the entire world was my Gram. She was so dear to me that spending time with her, no matter what we were doing, was the best thing in my life. (As a point of reference I offer this, every summer during one or more of my extended stays with Gram I was always counseled to bring something “dressy” in case we had to attend a wake or funeral, which we almost always did. We also visited many relatives recovering from surgeries or home bound for some reason or another.  While Gram did her fair share of spoiling me rotten she also taught me a lot about real life.) The scene that came to mind earlier was of being at Gram’s house when the cousins came to visit. The image in my mind was as vivid as if it happened yesterday. I saw myself standing on Gram’s porch, just outside her front door with my cousins coming up the stairs. I was the greeter, the welcome committee, the right hand of grace and joy. Standing there in that doorway I was welcoming my cousins into the safe haven of unconditional love, also known as Gram’s house. I felt so privileged to have that position. It was fair superior than being the one on the stairs ushered in by a cousin.

That is what I saw and felt when I read the description in the book earlier and I realized I am not an evangelist but if you get to the door, so to speak, I’m fairly sure the smile on my face and the joy in my heart will do the work for me. Once inside, well, there’s where my Father lets me shine and just like at Gram’s I’ll be happy to point out all the treats and delights that await in that inner circle of love.

We all have different spiritual gifts. I’ve often felt inadequate because I’m not great at the invitation. Today I am grateful to God for showing me what I can do and do well. I’m exceedingly grateful for the illustration that shows me just how special and chosen I am. That is exactly how it felt to stand in the doorway at Gram’s, chosen and special. Gram didn’t play favorites and I’m sure every one of my sisters and cousins felt that same feeling at some point. To me that is a perfect picture of the Father’s love for us. There are no favorites because we’re all favorites, chosen and precious. That brings me huge joy and I hope it does for you too.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

To Be Known


 

Jesus answered, “Don’t you know me Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father?” John 14:9

 

Reading these words of Scripture just now I felt an ache in my heart. Jesus has walked with these men for three years. He’s been as open as a person can possibly be and shared everything with them. Now he is nearing the end of his time with them and there is an added urgency. Soon he won’t be there in the flesh to direct and guide them.

The urgency of Jesus’ words to Philip has always been apparent to me but this morning I read something a little different. I read a little sadness. We all want to be known, to be understood by those closest to us. Hear it that way, “Don’t you know me Philip?” Now put your dear friend’s name in there. “Don’t you know me ________?”

Some of the most frustrating moments in my life have come from being misunderstood. When efforts to help or bless are misread or when a need is ignored, it is so hard. We are called to know Jesus, in his triumph but also in his suffering. I’m not a military person nor do I have an occupation that causes me to risk my physical life. I do not know Jesus’ suffering in this way, this sense of being unknown to those closest to me. I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend and grandmother and I do know this kind of suffering. To look in the face of a dearly loved one and no that they do not understand you or truly know you is awful.

Worse is to know that they don’t care to know you.  It seems to me that in asking the questions he asked, Philip did want to know more about Jesus but maybe not. Perhaps as the question is asked in regard to knowing the Father,  Jesus heard in Philip’s voice that he [Jesus] was just the means to an end. That is pure speculation. I don’t know Philip’s motivation or Jesus’ understanding of it. All I know is that not being known is sad, very sad.

I think of the many young people who have committed heinous acts of violence against their peers. How many have then turned their weapons on themselves? When we look closer we most often see wounded outcasts. Was all of that horrific, violent, murderous behavior a way to ask, “Don’t you know me?”

To know anyone else we must first know ourselves and to know ourselves best is to see through Jesus’ eyes. The closer we are to him, to our heavenly Father, the better we can know who we are. We learn that by knowing whose we are. From there we can better know the people around us.

 Pray to be able to answer the question with great authority. When Jesus asks you, “Don’t you know me_____?” Be prepared to answer yes and then ask to know him more.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Father


My Father who has given them to me, is greater than al, no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. John 10:29

 
Last night I watched a movie which included a relationship between a father and daughter. The daughter loved her father completely. He was her hero and her heart. Eventually she would discover that her hero had feet of clay. He was effusive and charismatic and he loved her to the best of his limited ability but his abilities were tainted and extremely limited. It broke her heart to realize that this giant, this personality, this father was a damaged human being who left pain and catastrophe in his wake. It reminded me in some ways of my own father and of a conversation I had recently with a friend.

My father has a big personality. He is charming and endearing when you know him only on the surface. I was reminded of him when my friend Kim was telling me a story about a man her daughter had met at work. He was an older man but still full of life and humor. Kim’s daughter was taken by his energy and apparent joy. As Kim told me the story I did not picture a lovely old man, fun to know, delightful to encounter. Instead I felt a revulsion to this described man as he so seemed to resemble my father who most people would describe, with a certain amount of accuracy, the same way.

There is a part of me that still loves my father but I do not respect him. It took me years, like the woman I saw in the movie, to give myself permission to love the man but still hate the sin and pain he brought with him.

Those three factors, the movie father, my own father and the man in Kim’s story came together for me as I read in Luke where Jesus cries out to his Father, our Father right before he faces death.  I saw in my mind the scenes from the movie where father and daughter were so happy together and remembered a few similar moments from my own life. I also remembered the underlying dread that this happy go lucky version would at any moment change before my very eyes. Right then I felt an immense gratitude for a Father who never changes, whose love is unconditional, who does not have feet of clay but rather arms open wide to those of us who do.

So many people have been hurt by fathers and mothers who carry hurt from the generations that came before them. It makes it difficult sometimes to embrace the idea of a loving Father who will never leave or forsake us and yet He is very real.

There were scenes in the movie and in my life of cruelty and anger. There are no such scenes with our heavenly Father. He does not reject our offerings or our love simple and flawed though they may be. Instead He blesses our paltry offerings and turns them into gold.  His faithfulness is great. His love is perfect and is literally without end. (Lamentations 3:22-24, 1 Corinthians 13:8)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Peace Not Worries

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day had enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34

 
This morning I read a message that talked about this verse from God’s perspective. There was an acknowledgement of the fact that while this is His command to us He knows it’s a bit beyond our abilities. That made my day!

 During the school year I work in a classroom for children with special needs. Every single day we offer them challenges that, even as we’re planning them, we’re fairly sure they won’t be able to quite get it, at least not right away. It’s an invitation to try, to grow. No one is going to yell at them or discipline them if they conquer it on the first or thirtieth try. What we do is try another approach. We adjust our presentation to aid their success.

Here in this verse, God gives a directive. Do. Not. Worry. It’s so important to Him that we have faith and trust in Him, in His will. Here, He is telling us not to worry. There are several places in Scripture that prop up the command, places where God promises His help and provision. If we truly, through and through believed and had faith that God’s will is best we wouldn’t worry.

The rub comes in when we start to think about the future, as the verse indicates. The “what ifs” of life. I think it is true and precious that God knows that no matter how many times or ways He tells us we don’t have to worry, we shouldn’t worry, we still worry. Does He get angry with us? No! He doesn’t fine-tune us or our circumstances either. He loves us. He answers our worry with peace that passes understanding and with love that neither ends nor fails. (Philippians 4:7, 1 Corinthians 13:8, Hebrews 13:5) God is for us and therefore nothing should dare to come against. True we may lose a battle or two but ultimate victory is God’s and by His grace, ours.

Don’t get me wrong, I worry and frankly, I worry about ridiculous things that really don’t matter or things so enormous I know I can’t do anything about them. That is not what God wants for me or any of us but I know that He understands and loves me through that worry into the next season of confidence. Why? Because God is good and His mercy endures forever.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

In Awe


 

 

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made,
your works are wonderful I know that full well. Psalm 139:14

 
This morning I read a devotional message that spoke to the beauty of nature. As things of that genre often do, the passage made many references to the grandeur and glory of God’s handiwork and how we humans should feel so small in comparison. As I read I was mentally agreeing with it until the idea of how I was created stopped me.

We humans are the ones created in God’s image. Don’t get me wrong I am in awe of nature. In fact the first line of the message asked are you a beach or mountain person and I couldn’t choose.  Not terribly long ago I would have emphatically answered beach but recently my husband and I had an amazing vacation in the mountains. Months later, looking at those pictures I can easily feel the wonder of being in such a magnificent place. The world we live in is full of beauty. In fact when we were in the mountains I asked my husband if he thought the locals took their amazing scenery for granted. A few days later I repeated that question to a friend who lives in that area and she admitted, sadly, that yes, they do.

 We all do. There is wonder and beauty all around us. From things as grand as the Great Smoky Mountains to the beautiful simplicity of a blue jay, we are constantly in the presence of God’s incredible creation. Blue jays came to mind because the other day I was in the car with my granddaughter Isabelle as a blue jay flew by us gracefully but amazingly fast. It was breathtaking. God has been ridiculously good to us and it shows brilliantly in nature.

Still I’m not sure I’m quite on the same page as writers who think that because some of that handiwork is larger or perhaps more complicated that is more important than we are. Even the most beautiful mountain, ocean, bird or animal cannot say, as we can, that it was created in the image of God. (Genesis 1:27) How blessed we are to have been given all of those things to enjoy and how much more so to be able to be in relationship with the Creator.

 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Introducing….You


 

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

 
Self-image is a tough one right? Do you think you see yourself clearly? Is this a good day or a poor one? Either way, go to a mirror. Now, take a close look, try to see beyond the obvious. Got it? Great. What did you see? Someone who is energetic and ready to face the world? Someone who can’t wait to extend her hand in greeting and say, “Hello my name is Confidence, nice to meet you.” Or did you see what I hear so often, too fat, too thin, bad hair, dull eyes, stress, a dead end job, no friends, no spouse, and so on. This person will reluctantly or with forced politeness extend her hand and say, “Hello my name is Please Don’t Look Too Close.” Unfortunately for most of us most days are like the latter example. Very few of us start the majority of our days with a positive self-image. Personally I wake up and as has become my habit I speak immediately to God. I do this to focus my day, to let the enemy know to whom I belong. That’s great and it does get me out of bed with the right perspective. Most days things go pretty well until the invasion of the mirror or the reminder of what my day holds. The subtle shift in attitude begins when I let physicality or circumstances steer my attitude and steal my joy. Sound familiar?
 
So who are you? Please allow me to introduce yourself. You are beloved. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:14) You are a child of God. (1 John 3:1) Now quick, check the mirror again. Any changes? Do you look different? Did your job, social or financial situation just change? No? Hmmm. That’s not the least bit strange because God doesn’t judge by externals. He looks at our hearts. (1 Samuel 16:7) If we could see what other people see that image would be very different.

We all read the articles and books about feeling more confident or more attractive. We look for and sometimes find, ways to better ourselves, improve our images. Those things can help, temporarily but the truth is real change, real confidence, real security comes from inside, where the Spirit of the Lord is. (2 Corinthians 3:17)

In Christ our heavenly Father makes all things new. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone the new has come.” You may not feel new or believe that you look new but God’s promises are true. Why choose so quickly to believe the lies of Satan and the world that tell you you aren’t good enough, smart enough, pretty enough or that there’s entirely too much of you? (Asks the woman guilty of believing those lies far too often)

Fighting back with Scripture is our best defense of course. There are the verses included here and so many more that tell us how incredibly beautiful and valuable we are to God but because He knows us so well our Abba has provided another way of seeing ourselves more clearly. Look into the eyes of the people who love you and listen to their words. We’re all our own harshest critics but that friend, spouse or child sees in us things we don’t believe are there to be seen. Confidence and beauty do not come in packages or on hangers. They come from believing the Word of God and trusting the people He’s put in our lives to support us.

When the things of this world attempt to knock you down, fight back! Fight back with the strongest weapon available, God’s Word. Introduce yourself as Beloved, fearfully and wonderfully made, so valuable to your Father (Matthew 6:26).  We have to know that if Abba were introducing us He would say, “This is my precious child.” Now, we just have to believe, live it and introduce ourselves in kind, starting with an introduction to that often times enemy in the mirror. God bless!