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Saturday, December 19, 2009

My Real Christmas Angel

I have always been fascinated by angels. As a child, I took to heart the concept of a guardian angel. Never one to enjoy being alone, it comforted me to know that an angel was watching over me and keeping me from harm. Besides that, I just knew in my child's heart that all angels were beautiful creatures. I mean, how could an angel be ugly?
Several years ago, my mother gave me the little angel you see in the photograph above. She did not give me any explanation as to why she gave her to me except to say that it was from my first Christmas tree and she just wanted me to have her. I had started collecting angel figurines several years before and Mother wanted to add this little angel baby to my collection. I have cherished it and keep it out all year long. One section of the skirt is a little ragged but she is lovely to me. She is a cherished treasure from my loving Mother.
For some reason this year, as I was decorating for Christmas, I became curious about my little angel. I wanted to know the story behind the gift and how she came to be so important. I phoned my Mother and asked her to tell me about my first Christmas angel. This is the story as Mother told it to me.

"You were about 18 months old when your Daddy and I decorated your first Christmas tree. We had so little money that year. All we could afford was a little table-top tree, about three feet high. We had one string of lights and about a dozen pretty bulbs. I ordered the little angel from a catalog---she cost a dollar. I put her on the top of the tree and she looked so pretty. When you came into the room and looked up to see the angel, you just kept saying, "Pretty angel, Mommy.". You just sat in a chair and kept staring at the angel. When your Daddy came home from work, you grabbed his hand and said, "See the angel, Daddy. See the pretty angel."
When you started collecting angels as an adult, I wanted you to have your first angel and to know that, though she didn't cost much money, your love of her and the memory of your first Christmas have always been precious to me."

Do I need to tell you how this story touched my heart? The thought of my sweet Mother, with almost no money to spare, selflessly making my first real Christmas one of beauty and joy. I could not hold back the tears.
But that is how my Mother has always been. She has always put her family ahead of anything she might want or need. To know that we have a holiday to remember---to see the smiles on the faces of her children, grandchildren and, now, great-grandchildren---to create memories that will last a lifetime---these have been Mother's gifts.
I am not able to go home for Christmas this year. My work schedule and other concerns prevent my making the trip. But, as I look at this little angel and remember the story Mother told me, I know that we will be together in our hearts. I will be hearing her sweet voice on Christmas Day. She will ask me if I've had a good Christmas and did the grandchildren enjoy their gifts. She will inquire about what we had for dinner and want to know if we have any snow. I will answer her questions with a smile on my face and a yearning in my heart to see her. I will be certain to let her know that the best gift I ever received was when she became my Mother. I want her to know that, of all the gifts of my childhood, I am most grateful for the gift of having her and Daddy to be my parents.
I am sure we all have a guardian angel. The scriptures teach us that the angels of God encircle us and watch over us faithfully. I know this to be true because, not only do I have a beautiful little Christmas angel to remind me, but I have a real-life guardian angel given to me by God Himself. My angel's name is Margie---but I call her Mother.

In Grace,

Friday, December 11, 2009

O, Come All Ye Faithful

My favorite Christmas carol is "O, Come All Ye Faithful". I have always loved the words, the melody, the repetition of the adoration of Christ, our Lord. Each time I have sung this glorious melody, I have pictured in my mind what it must have been like to be a participant in the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. I have often wondered what I would have said or done had I seen the tiny Babe lying in a manger. Being the one who always sheds the tears, whether happy or sad, I know my eyes would have filled with tears of joy upon seeing the little Saviour. I know the mother's heart within me would want to do as Mary did--snuggle Him close and look for the smile in His eyes.
The words of the song continue by inviting us to come to Jesus both "joyful and triumphant". Why that choice of wording? Why those particular emotions? I believe in my heart that the writer knew that no one could have come to Jesus without joy in their hearts---without feeling jubilation at the birth of the Son of God. When angels sang and shepherds bowed---when kings came from afar---when the Heavens lit up with the smile of God---I ask you, how could there not be joy? With the prophetic words of Isaiah coming to life before their very eyes, "...Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel...for unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given...his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 7:14 & 9:6)--how could there not be joy? How could there not be a feeling of triumph to know that the promised Messiah had finally--finally--arrived?
My brother, Dan, brought the Christmas message at our church not long before our father retired from pastoring. We had just finished singing this beautiful melody and there was a beautiful, reverent hush that had come upon the congregation. My brother stepped forward and said these words:

" We have sung these words for many years, perhaps without realizing the true meaning. The most significant phrase of the entire song--'Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing". Jesus, the Word of the Father, now made flesh and dwelling among us. How wonderful are those words to us."

May we all know the joy and triumph that accompanied our Saviour as he came as the Babe in the manger. May we all come to know Him and walk within His light until we see Him face to face. May the joy and jubilation that surrounded His birth be renewed in us today. Come, all ye faithful. Come to Him and know the true joy of the season---a child is born---His name is Jesus---Immanuel. Come, let us adore Him, Christ, the Lord.

In Grace,

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Joy To The World

Just the mention of the word "joy" brings thoughts of laughter, smiles and happy times. We recall those things that bring us joy and the moments of our lives that have been so full of joy that we have nearly burst from the memory. Joy, by definition however, is a "deep, spiritual experience". Those who were there at the manger, in the fields, and heard the angels sing, would truly know the meaning of real joy.
Nothing in the world is as joyful as the birth of a child. The scriptures even tell us that the pain of childbirth is forgotten when a babe enters the world. Recalling the births of my own children, I can say the scripture is true. Holding my son and my daughter, moments after they were born---smelling the sweet baby fragrance of their skin---snuggling against the softness of their tiny cheeks---kissing tiny rosebud lips---oh, the joy of those first moments. I am sure that Mary, in the first moments of motherhood, experienced the same flood of emotions--the same wonder of holding her tiny babe, the same overwhelming love, the same desire to protect him from the harshness of life, the same joy of having a child. But, I wonder---did she know how much joy his coming would bring to others?
To the shepherds who kept their fields by night, who saw the angelic host and heard them sing, who rushed to Bethlehem to see for themselves, could anyone know the joy that would flood their hearts as they gazed upon the tiny saviour? The message from the angels sent them on a journey that brought them into the presence of the, as yet unknown, Prince of Peace. Oh! the joy of such a moment.
To Simeon, the aged priest who knew Mary's son the moment he saw him, who had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the "Lord's Christ", who was willing to face death after seeing Jesus, knowing that the babe he held in his arms would, quite literally, change the world. What joy must have filled his waiting heart.
To those of us who have experienced the thrill of salvation, whose joy has been made full by becoming children of God, whose hearts are renewed by the child Emmanuel---indeed God with us. To all of us who, by the birth of the child of Bethlehem, are now living lives free of the chains and darkness of sin. Oh! the joy of knowing we will, one day, see Him face to face. What anticipation we have. What joy springs up within us, even when the world around us is dismal and grim---the babe in the manger can still fill us with joy!!

"Joy to the world, the Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King.
Let every heart, prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and Heaven and nature sing."

May you, too, find the "deep, spiritual experience" of joy during this holiday season. Let us all take our eyes off of our problems, our sorrows, our despairs and let us look at the Babe in the manger. A child whose very birth changed the course of religious history---a child who loved enough to give His life---a child whose life would inspire others to follow. May our hearts today prepare Him room. May earth receive her King.

In Grace,

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Blessings To All

May God's richest blessings come to you and yours as we give thanks together. I am blessed because of each of you.

In Grace,

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mama's List

I have written before about my dear, sweet Mother's prayer life and the example it has become to me of God's ability to hear and answer prayer. How many times I have been blessed and encouraged by my Mother's persistence in keeping my needs before the Lord in prayer. When I could not pray for myself---when life was too much for me to handle--when I felt so far from God--Mother was there to pray for me. How often I would lay in my bed as a teenager and, even then, hear her call my name in prayer. How precious are those memories to me.
As Mother grew older, she felt the need to begin to write down the names of those in need and the specific request that was most urgent in their lives. It began as a list of needs for her family. She often would write down the needs of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She would pray over each need until God answered the prayer she offered to Him. Then she would make a note of the date and way in which God answered. In essence, it became a record of how God was moving, through prayer, in meeting the needs of her family. Though a prayer list is not a new concept, it became new to Mother. It became her tangible evidence of the power of prayer.
On a recent trip home to visit my parents, I asked Mother if I could take a photograph of her prayer list. Mother is not one to share things that are of a private nature to her and so it surprised me when she agreed to my request. Her prayer list is kept on a side chair in her guest room, along with her Bible and a book of devotions. When I came near the chair to take the picture, I felt as if I were entering a holy place. I knew this was the place where Mother met with the Lord on a daily basis. It seemed more than just a chair with a notepad and Bible. Tears filled my eyes as I saw my name at the top of the list. I swallowed the lump in my throat as I pictured my dear Mother on her knees, calling out to God on my behalf. I felt almost unworthy of such devotion.
As I looked at her list, I noticed there were small notes in the left margin of the page. I looked closer and saw they were abbreviations--letters of the state in which the individual lived. There was a notation for North Carolina, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and, of course, Ohio. Beside each of these notations was the name and need for which she prayed. There were requests for healing, for financial needs, for jobs, for encouragement, for direction in life and for prosperity. Each need was one she took to heart---one for which she prayed as if she were praying for herself. Speaking of which, I found not one notation of anything for herself. All the needs she had written there were for the needs of family and friends. I found entries for members of my congregation--people whom she had never met but for whom she sought God as if they were her personal friends. I tell you, I could not hold back the tears.
I have often said that my Daddy gave me my love for the Word of God but it was my Mother who taught me how to pray. Now she has taken that teaching to a new level. Now, I am learning that it is both a blessing and an honor to pray for others. It enables us to take our eyes off of ourselves and focus on the needs of others. We see more clearly how the Body of Christ is knit together. We are not bound only by our common beliefs or our particular interpretation of the Gospel. We are not held together by mere fellowship alone. We are bound together when we begin to pray for one another as fervently and intensely as we pray for ourselves. It becomes the tie that binds us together---the cord which cannot be broken.
I ask each of you who read this, to pray for me. Pray that I may learn the selflessness of praying for others. Pray that I may, deep within my heart and soul, learn to make the needs of the Body as important, or perhaps more important, than my own. Pray that I may reap the reward of seeing my prayers answered in this lifetime. Please ask God to help Marie learn the power of prayer for herself. I pray that someday my own children and grandchildren will see a prayer list---a list that holds their names and the names of countless others as a testimony of the power of prayer. A power revealed to me when I read my Mama's List.

In Grace,

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Anchor Holds

My mother and father have told me all my life what a strong person I am. Daddy has told me more often than I can count that he never worries about my ability to bounce back from life. He says I'm like a huge coil that, when pressed hard, springs right back. I don't share that vision of myself. How many times I have chastised myself for being weak and faltering. There have been times in my life when I have felt so beaten down by life events that I have thought I would never rise again. Mother and Daddy are the strong ones. They have had their share of illnesses, sorrow and despair. They have each lost their parents and they have lost two of their four sons. Yet in their spirits and in their hearts they remain unmoveable, unshakeable--their faith in God ever present and ever trusting. They are the strong ones--the anchored ones.
My sister-in-law, Tracy, took this picture of the anchor on a trip to the Grand Caymen Island. When I saw it, I knew I would have to use it as the image for this post. It is so perfect in what it illustrates---strength, endurance, permanence. It is a symbol, to me, of how I feel about my Lord. He is my anchor. He holds me secure in the midst of all life's storms and assures me, time after time, that all is well. He is strong enough to keep me safe and bring me safely to rest.
Several gospel songs from my childhood come to mind when I look at this photo. "I've Anchored In Jesus" was one of my favorites. I love its words:

"I've anchored in Jesus, the storms of life I'll brave.
I've anchored in Jesus, I fear no wind or wave.
I've anchored in Jesus, for He has power to save.
I've anchored in the Rock of Ages."

My childhood mind conjured up a picture of Jesus, bigger than the earth itself, standing guard over me and allowing nothing to harm me in any way. How safe I felt, knowing Jesus was my anchor.
As I grew older I learned to love the song,"Haven of Rest".

"I've anchored my soul in the Haven of rest.
I'll sail the wide seas no more.
The billows may sweep o'er the wild, stormy deep,
But in Jesus I'm safe evermore.

Where else are we safe but anchored in Him? My mind goes to the purpose of the anchor--to hold a ship in place, to hold it secure, to prevent it from drifting from its location. Oh! when Jesus is our anchor, we are, indeed, held so securely in the storms of life. We are held by a Saviour who will never let us sink or fail. He will keep us where we need to be during even the darkest times of our lives. A more recent song by Ray Boltz, "The Anchor Holds", says it so clearly:

"The anchor holds, though the ship is battered.
The anchor holds, thought the sails are torn.
I have fallen on my knees
As I've faced the raging seas,
The anchor holds, in spite of the storm."

In spite of the storm. In spite of all that is raging around us--the anchor holds. In spite of all the heartaches and despair that might make us think we are about to sink--the anchor holds. Jesus, the anchor of life and soul, holds us secure. Nothing can touch us, harm us, defeat us, for He holds---in spite of the storm.
I recall a story of a young man who was preparing his small ship to face a raging storm coming through the coastline of where he lived. An older, more experienced seaman watched him for a moment then said to him, "Son, what are you doing?" I'm tying down my boat with this rope so it will be safe in the storm.", replied the young man. With a smile based on years of experienced at sea, the older man said to him, "You don't have to tie it down, son. Just drop the anchor."
Oh, dear friends, how many times I have failed to let Jesus anchor me. How many times I would have been secured and sheltered in time of storm if only I had anchored my every thought and fear to His dear side. May we learn today the meaning of the anchor. May we find its strength and its security in whatever storm we are facing at this time of life. Jesus, the anchor of our souls. Trust me, this anchor holds---in spite of the storm.

In Grace,

Saturday, October 31, 2009

When Michael Prays

I have always been amazed at how much faith a child can display. It seems that no matter how discouraging the circumstances are, a child can see the silver lining in the darkest cloud.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my grandson, Gabe, and his tremendous dedication to God. He has always had such a devotion to the things of God and never seems to tire of His Word. Recently, I have noticed my youngest grandson, Michael, displaying his faith in a different manner. Quite simply, Mikey prays---and he prays with complete trust and faith in his God. When I think of where God has brought Michael from, I am both humbled and awed by Mikey's deep relationship with God.
When Mikey was born, it was apparent from the beginning that he would have a difficult start in life. He cried continuously---not like a colicky baby cries, but like a child who is in agony. Nothing we did eased his discomfort. It was so sad. Then, as if by magic, he stopped crying and became almost totally unresponsive to any of us, his family. He did not laugh, he did not smile, he did not coo. He would lay in his mother's arms with no expression on his beautiful little face. We prayed and cried and sought the Lord for healing. When, at the age of three months, he smiled for the first time, we were ecstatic. From that point on, Mikey smiled almost continuously. Everything we did, every word we spoke, Mikey would smile and coo at us while his eyes lit up with joy. He became affectionate and loving, holding up his little arms for us to pick him up---and we did.
Mikey continued with his laughter and his smiles almost two years. While his smile and his little personality were now a constant, we encountered another problem---Mikey could not talk. He made no attempts to speak. He did not make any sound that could be interpreted as an attempt to talk to us. We would ask him questions and he would just look at us with a big smile and continue with whatever he was doing. How I wanted to hear his little baby voice and to have sweet toddler conversations with him. I wanted to hear him say my name and I wanted to hear him say "Mama".
One Sunday morning after church, we were all together at my parent's home. Mikey was seated on the floor, playing with his toys. I watched him closely and, quite suddenly, felt in my spirit that my father should lay hands on him and pray for his healing. I gathered him in my arms and carried him into the living room. I remember the feel of his little arms around my neck and the way he snuggled into my embrace. I explained to my father what I had felt in my spirit. He took Mikey in those big, strong arms of his and I will never forget his prayer: "Lord, we just ask that you would heal Michael today. Loosen his tongue and let him speak, in Jesus' name. Amen." Such a simple prayer but I felt the presence of our healing Saviour that day. That was Sunday afternoon. By Thursday, Mikey began saying little words--somewhat hesitantly, but he tried. By the next weekend Mikey was speaking in full sentences and has been ever since. Oh, how my heart soared. The first time he looked at me and said, "Gigi", I thought I would faint from the sheer joy of the occasion.
When I think of these things, I am not really surprised that Mikey's relationship with God would be based upon prayer---a part of the relationship that uses his voice. How great is our God!
Our family has greatly benefited from Mikey's prayers. Most recently, He prayed for my father. Daddy had been having severe arthritic pain in his knees. Sometimes the pain has prevented him from doing some of the things he normally loves to do. So, while we were all visiting, my father said to Mikey, "Mikey, come here. I need you to pray for my knees and ask the Lord to take away the pain." My lovely little Mikey laid his small hands on my father's knees. In earnest faith he said, "Lord, we just give you thanks and praise for this day and for your many blessings. Lord, we just ask that you would heal Pa's knees and make them better. In Jesus name, amen." He looked up at my father, smiled that beautiful smile, informed my father that he would be alright, then went back to his toys. His faith was so simple, so profound, that my father and I just looked at each other and grinned. We know how far Mikey has come.
Children are such wonderful little creatures. They are such a blessing and bring us to an understanding of what is really important in life. Children are the only assurance we have that our ideas, our morals, our sincerest beliefs, will move forward into the next generation. Children make the world a wonderful place.
I will long remember a day in October when a little boy, who couldn't speak for so long, prayed a prayer of faith and left his mark upon my heart. I will remember the sound of his childish voice and cherish his childish faith. I will recall the day when God came near and brushed the heart of man. It was the day when Michael prayed.

In Grace,

Friday, October 16, 2009

Gabe's Message

My oldest grandson, Gabriel, and I have always had a special bond. I loved him the moment he opened his beautiful blue eyes and looked up at me as if he had always known me. He was a peaceful, sweet baby. He loved to snuggle up with me when I laid down to nap with him and his smile was almost a permanent fixture. When he started walking, he followed me everywhere I went. When he started talking, he told me about every toy he played with, every cartoon he watched on television and asked a dozen questions about everything. I didn't mind. He was my little companion--my little friend--my little joy bundle.
When his brother, Michael, was born, Gabe stayed with me while his mother was in the hospital. We went everywhere and did everything together. I revelled in the sound of his laughter and spent hours watching him sleep. He was so precious---he still is.
As a toddler, Gabe asked a hundred questions about God. It was almost as if he hungered after everything I could tell him. When I would say "Hallelujah" during my personal praise and worship, Gabe would throw up a hand and say "Hall-u-jah" and clap his little hands until I joined in and clapped, too.
At age four, I found him staring at a crucifix I had hanging in my foyer. He got a chair, climbed up and looked right into the face of the scuplture of Jesus on the cross. I just watched him and didn't say anything at first. I waited for his questions. The first question was, "Is that Jesus?". I told him yes. His next question was , "What's He doing?". I explained that Jesus loved us so much that He took all of our sins and went to the cross. I told him, in very simple terms, what sin was and how it took us away from God. I described, as best I could, how very much Jesus loved us. I was totally unprepared for what happened next. As he stared at the crucifix, he whispered, "I love you, Jesus.". He then looked at me and said, "Jesus really loves me, Gigi" (this is what he has always called me. Gigi, pronounced with a hard "G"). I could not hold back the tears as I hugged Gabe tight and said, "Yes, Gabe. Jesus really loves you.".
A few days later my father came to my house while Gabe was visiting. Gabe got the chair again, climbed up and proceeded to tell my father the story of Jesus. My father, the wonderful man of God, had tears in his eyes by the time Gabe was done. I could not believe how much Gabriel loved telling the story of Jeus.
Recently, I was reminded again of Gabe's deep love for God. I had taken the boys to church with me and, after driving them home, decided I would join them and their parents at the neighborhood park near their home. We had a lovely time. We fed the ducks, the boys played in the creek and we enjoyed a simple lunch of sandwiches and chips. After lunch, I was enjoying the fall beauty of the park when I heard Gabe call to me, "Gigi, come look at this. It's really important.". When I saw Gabe, he was standing in the sandbox and was waving for me to come to him. As I walked toward him, he had that gorgeous smile on his face. "Look what I wrote," he said. I looked down in the sand and read the following, "Id dy 4 God.". I had to read it twice before it registered in my mind. As I read, Gabe just stood there and smiled. He was proud of what he had written. Tears filled my eyes. "Id dy 4 God.". I looked down at the face I loved so well, stroked his cheek and stared into those beautiful blue eyes. "You really mean that don't you?" I asked. "Uh huh. I sure do." was his quick reply. I hugged him tight and told him how proud of him I was. It was one of the most precious moments of my life.
The picture above is the message Gabe wrote in the sand. A message that should challenge us all to love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds. How much do we love Him? He loved us enough to send His son. He loved us enough to forgive all of the sins of our weak humanity. He loves us just because. I pray that I find the conviction of a seven-year-old boy---a love that says, "I'd rather die for God than live without Him.". I pray that when my faith grows weak, I remember the message in the sand. Gabe's message---"Id dy 4 God.". Me too, Gabe---me too.

In Grace,

Thursday, October 8, 2009

This Precious Book

My Bible is one of my most prized possessions and is never far from my side. The study Bible I use most has become worn and a little ragged. It has seen me through many times of questioning and pondering regarding life events. It has opened my eyes to the will and purpose of God in the lives of His weak humanity. In times when there were no ready answers, it has comforted me--held me firm--kept me strong. There is no other book like it.
I have often said that it was my father who gave me my love for the Word of God. At every opportunity he would say to me, "Let's see what the Word has to say about that.". No matter what my question or whatever the circumstance, Daddy pointed me to the Word---to the precious Book. It became my first line of defense in times of despair and my greatest source of comfort when my heart was hurting.
Though there were many times when I turned to the Bible, there is one particular situation that comes to mind the most. It was during the time following the death of my brother, Don. I grieved for him so deeply. I wanted him back and yearned for the sound of his voice, his way of making me feel everything was alright, and just his presence. Oh, my heart hurt so badly. I grieved from the depth of my soul for the first six months following his death. I couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, couldn't do anything. Don was gone and life as I had known it would never be the same. God's Word came to my rescue at about three o'clock one morning. As usual, I had not been able to sleep. I paced the floor with tears streaming down my cheeks and great, heaving sobs rolling from my body. I needed my brother and he wasn't there. I sat down on the sofa and picked up my Bible. I held it in my hand and, from somewhere deep in the recesses of my spirit, it came to me that the comfort I needed was within its pages. I held my Bible in my hands and said this prayer, "God, if you don't give me something to hang on to, I am not going to make it. Please give me something. I need healing. Please help me.". I looked down at my Bible and just let if fall open randomly. In front of me was the following scripture from Proverbs 18:24: "...there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.". Oh, how my heart soared. I was instantly made aware of the fact that, no matter what the joy or the sorrow, God was with me. I knew how close my brother and I had been. He was always there for every joy and crisis of my life. If my God was closer than my brother had been, then He was there with me in the midst of all my sorrow, my pain, my loss, my grief.
I cannot tell you that my grief was instantly relieved. I cannot tell you that the yearning for my brother was at that moment taken away. What I can tell you is that I no longer felt alone. I knew, as I had never known before, that God was with me. His Word came to my rescue and became the turning point of my healing. Years later, while doing some research for a seminar I was teaching on "How To Study The Bible", I found the following poem. I copied it and placed it in the front of my Bible.

Something new and beautiful,
Each day within God's Word
I find if I but search until
My listening heart is stirred.
Sweet and precious promises
Unfold with fragrance new,
As saints who've tried and trusted them
Come marching into view.

Could I but reach out lovingly,
And in some way impart
A portion of this mine of gold
To every troubled heart.
This Book. This Book. This precious Book
Forever holds the key
To every door I'll need on earth
And to eternity.

Alice Hansche Mortenson

May we ever see the need for daily doses of God's Word in our lives. Oh, how well it knows us and meets us at every turning point of life. How good of God to place Himself within a Book that will, forever, keep us--lead us--guide us--direct us.
This precious Book---my favorite Book of all.

In Grace,

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Job Well Done

Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis will remember my writing previously about my brother, David. He passed away in October of 1997 at the age of 39. A diseased liver took his life before he could receive a liver transplant. He was such a wonderful man---I miss him so very much.
David left behind a wife and two sons, David Lee and Derek. Eleven years separated the birth of his two boys. When Dave found out he was going to have a second child, he was ecstatic. Having loved children all his life, being a father was to him the greatest gift God could give. He was a firm but loving father and his two boys adored him. David Lee was 20 years old when his father passed---Derek was only 8. As much as my heart ached for my own loss, it ached especially for his two sons who would find life so empty without their Dad.
Two weeks after my brother's passing, I invited Derek to spend the night with me. It was Saturday, my children were away for the weekend, and I just wanted Derek to be with me. He was so much like his father and it comforted me to have him near. He reminded me a lot of my brother when he was a little boy.
Derek hadn't spoken much about his father since his death. I sensed that, in his childlike mind, he probably had many things about life and death that would remain unanswered questions in his mind. Little did I know just how much of a grasp he had on the subject.
As we drove along, Derek suddenly looked at me and said, "Aunt Ree, I didn't expect my Dad to die. I thought he would go to the hospital and get a liver transplant and then everything would be alright.". I loooked into that little face I loved so well and replied, "I thought so too, Derek. I must say I don't understand why God allowed this to happen. I don't understand why God allowed my brother to die.". The reply that followed shocked me. "Oh, I understand it all. I understand it very well.". "Well," I said, "would you please explain it to me? I'm not trying to be sarcastic, but I'm having a really hard time with this.".
"Well,", he explained, "it's like this. Everyone is born with a job to do. While you are alive, God comes down from Heaven from time to time and gives you what you need to do the job. Then, when your job is done, He comes down one last time and takes you home to be with Him.". He looked up at me with those big, dark eyes of his and said, "And, Aunt Ree, my Dad's job was done.".
Oh! how my heart leaped at his words. A child of eight years old had just provided me with the comfort I needed to begin the healing of my heart. A child, who had just lost one of the most important people of his life, had an insight into the workings of God's spirit that I could only yearn for. My eyes filled with tears as I looked at him and saw within his eyes the faith that undergirded him---a faith that had been passed on to him by a loving father---a faith that, even at that moment, refused to fail him.
I could not speak for a few moments. My mind replayed the words again and again until finally I looked at him and said, "Derek, you have just given me the explanation that I needed. Your Dad's job was done and now he is at rest in the arms of God.". He smiled a little smile and nodded his head as if to say, "Glad you finally got the message.".
God has, indeed, placed us all here for a purpose. When we yield ouselves into His Divine hands, He uses us to accomplish His will and, hopefully, accomplish His great plan. My hope and prayer is that my life will end in a job well done. God does strengthen me, indeed, each of us, to do His will and fulfill our destiny. I so long to do my job well. I so long to have His strength and comfort so that, when He comes to me that one last time, I can go home to be with Him. I pray to finish well. I pray to see His face one day and hear Him say, "Well done, Marie. Well done.". I will know then, on that day, my job is finally completed.

In Grace,

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Beside Still Waters

The twenty third Psalm has always been a mainstay of my life. I have been drawn to it time and again over the course of my forty-three years of serving God. There is a simple truth that lies in each verse---a truth that speaks to me in the midst of the severest trial or the most heart wrenching tragedy.
Verse two speaks to my heart today, "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters.". Green pastures---still waters---a beckoning to rest and trust. The opposite of storm and strife, the place of refreshing, a time of letting go---how we all need this place and time where weariness can disappear and where cares can be laid down. How I need this place today.
It is interesting to note David's choice of words, He MAKETH me...". This leads me to believe that perhaps we are not good at recognizing our own need for letting go of burdens and cares. Is it possible that we tend to think that, if we carry the load just a little further, we will eventually be able to resolve it ourselves? Is it possible that we tend to think of our burden as something we just have to bear and so we try to carry on without realizing God is longing to help us? It is the persistence of our human nature that places God in the position of "making us" lay the burden down and give it to Him. But it is here, in the place where we are made to go, that we really see how God cares for us and desires us to be refreshed and renewed.
Green pastures---just the phrase brings to mind a view of lush grasses, beautiful wild flowers, gentle breezes and shading trees. My grandparents had such a place in the mountains of Kentucky. I would often sit on the front porch of their little cottage home and gaze out upon the beauty of the pasture land before me. Even as a child, I can recall the settling of my spirit as I looked upon the beauty of the view. My grandfather had a huge porch swing and I would just sit and swing looking at all the trees and flowers and the green grass and thinking that no artist could ever paint a picture as beautiful as the one I was seeing. I can recall many times falling asleep in the swing. I was as if the view lulled me to sleep. I wonder if that is how God would like it be with us? Do we dare to believe that God wants us in a place where we can be lulled to rest, even if for a short time, so that we can continue on with renewed strength and vigor?
Let us not forget the still waters. Do you know that sheep will not drink from running water? No matter how thirsty they are, they will not drink from any source where the water is not still. It is as if they are frightened by the rushing of water over the rocks in the river bed. How frightened have we been sometimes by what we are called upon to face and endure in this life? How many times do we call out to God to help us and, at the same time, we cannot see Him as the source of Living Water. Not a dry riverbed, not an empty well, but a source of supply that never runs dry---a constant satisfaction to a life that is barren and dry. This is where He leads us. He leads us to Himself so that we can "with joy...draw water out of the wells of salvation." (Isaiah 12:3). You see, salvation does not just mean repentance---it also means "deliverance". So, to draw refreshing and strength from God, the source of living water, is to also find deliverance, not necessarily from the burden (although that does happen), but from the weariness of bearing it.
Oh, how we need to be led by the still waters. How we need to lie down for a while in the green pastures. The next verse of this lovely Psalm tells us that, after this rest, He restores our soul. Oh! how we need this lovely repose today. How we need the rest of the green pastures of God's spirit. How we need the still waters for refreshing and restoring.
May today bring to each of you a time of rest---a time of peace---a few moments where you can lay down the load and rest yourselves in Him. The beauty of the old song comes to mind:

"Where He leads me I will follow,
Where He leads me I will follow,
Where He leads me I will follow,
I'll go with Him, with Him,
All the way."

Today may He lead you, may He rest you, may He refresh you so that you, too, may go all the way. He restores my soul in pastures green and beside waters still. You come, too.

In Grace,

Thursday, August 27, 2009

My Redeemer Lives

You will need to stop the music on the playlist to listen to the post for today. This video of a disabled son and his father has brought tears to my eyes and hope to my weary heart today. Dick Hoyt's son, Rick, was born with cerebral palsy. After refusing to put him in an institution, his father determined to make Rick's life as rich as he possibly could. When Rick learned to speak via an elaborate electronic device, life became "normal" for Rick in that he could communicate with those around him.
The Ironman competition came as a result of Rick's desire to help another disabled individual. Dick was challenged by his son's desire and so began an inspiring adventure in which Team Hoyt has touched the hearts of millions across the world.
As I watch I wonder--how many times has my God carried me through the deserts and mountains of my life? How many times has God pushed me through when I could not do it for myself? How many times has he carried me across the dark waters of tribulation and heartache when my life was so broken I would surely have perished on my own? My God has done all this and more for me.
Just as the love of Dick Hoyt for his son, Rick, pushes him almost to the point of going beyond his endurance---just as the desire of a father becomes showing his son the joys of life---just as the father takes pride in the son and what they have accomplished---so does God do this and more for those of us who love Him.
Dick Hoyt is a hero to his son Rick. In like manner, God is a hero to me. In fact, He is more than my hero---He is my Redeemer. And, yes, I know my
Redeemer lives. Please note the look on the son's face as they cross the finish line. I know I will have the same smile when I cross the finish line of my life and, weary and worn, enter into the presence of the same God who carried me to the gate of Heaven. It is then I will know for sure, indeed, my Redeemer lives.

In Grace,

Thursday, August 13, 2009

When I Dream

As a child, I had a huge imagination. I would make up my own stories and write my own "books" (I have always loved to write). As I got older and began to plan my own life, I started having my own dreams about what my life would be like. I dreamed of being a gospel singer---I dreamed of being a teacher---I dreamed of being a nurse---I dreamed of being an author. As I read about places around the world, I dreamed of traveling to Paris, London, Venice and Greece. I dreamed of cruise ships and moonlight dancing. I dreamed of Prince Charming and I dreamed of the children I would have.
What I didn't dream about was a life that would go on without the people I loved. I didn't think about marriage ending in betrayal and I didn't dream about a body wracked with pain everyday. I didn't dream about a faith that would be tested beyond its limitations. I couldn't imagine a life without hope. I did not anticipate dreams shattering and my whole world coming to a halt. I couldn't see these things happening---but they did.
For the longest time, I lost my dreams. I lost my vision of a happy life and a joyous future. I had no dreams to dream. I awoke every day, I went to work, I continued my responsibilities at my church, I spent time with my children, and I did it all feeling like it was someone else inside me. I felt like I had lost myself. My dreams were gone. No more writing, no more dreaming, no more hopes for the future. It was all gone---lost to the pain and agony of a life unfulfilled.
Ah, but we all know that God brings us 'round at the appointed time. I remember sitting on my sofa, looking at the clock and realizing four hours of time had gone by. I had been sitting in that same spot, unmoving, for four hours. There were times when I would say to myself, "Breathe, Marie. Just breathe.". Oh, how my heart hurt and how I wanted to retreat from life. I purposely stayed in the numbness of it all because it hurt so much to feel anything. But, as I said, God brings us 'round.
I heard His voice--I felt His presence. It was as if He sat next to me, put His arms around me and began to rock me. His presence was so real. I began to cry. No, I began to weep, great weeping sobs that swept over my entire body. Heaving sobs that came from my very gut. All the pain, all the sorrow, all the agony, burst forth in wave after wave of weeping. A scripture regarding the loss of the families of King David's soldiers says, "...they wept until they had no more power to weep...". That was me. I cried until I could cry no longer. Then, I slept. For the first time in months, I slept---soundly.
I awoke knowing that God had reached through the darkness of my life and had filled it with His light. I made coffee, I read the paper, I played my piano---and I sang!!! I sang until my throat was sore. I called my mother and asked her if she would make me breakfast. I ate with Mother and Daddy for the first time in months. Mother looked at me with tear-filled eyes while I ate her wonderful homemade biscuits and gravy. Daddy sat at the head of the table and looked me in the eye and said, "I knew you would come back sooner or later.". Mother hugged me as I got ready to leave that morning. Her heart was so full she could not speak but she hugged me tight. Daddy grabbed me and lifted me off my feet to swing me around Mother's kitchen while I laughed aloud like I did as a little girl. I had begun to heal.
That dark time of my life took place a long time ago. I have not forgotten those awful hours nor do I wish to. I want to remember what it was like to lose hope and dreams. It helps me remember now what it is like to have those hopes and dreams restored. It helps me understand others who are experiencing their own loss of dreams. It helps me pray effectively.
So what do I dream about now? I dream about traveling to Paris for my 60th birthday. I dream about singing gospel music on stage. I dream about writing books that will encourage the body of Christ. I dream about a grand-daughter. I dream about finding the love of my life. Most of all, I dream about being a woman God is proud of. I dream of being the woman of Proverbs. I dream of Heaven and I dream of the smile of God. Praise my precious Lord whose great love and mercy gave me back my dreams. I dream of Him--when I dream.

In Grace,

Friday, August 7, 2009

How Long, O Lord?

Our pastor recently ministered on Psalm 13 where David asked the question, "How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord?". His message centered on the fact that so many times our test/trial seems to go on beyond human endurance and that it is at these times we wonder how long it will last. It was a very moving sermon.
As he spoke, my mind went back to the testimony of a lady I had met at a women's Bible study several years ago. Her name was Cindy Ruhl and she spoke from deep personal experience. Cindy had developed a chronic condition that riddled her lower body with excrutiating pain. No medication or other therapy relieved, or even lessened, the discomfort. Finally, in desperation, the physicians on her case placed Cindy in the hospital and began a barage of tests---all of which proved nonconclusive. Her pain became so unbearable that Cindy would often weep and wail from her hospital bed. In a final effort to alleviate some of her pain, the doctors packed her lower body in ice hoping it would numb the pain---and it did. Finally, the pain abated enough that it was at least bearable. It was then that Cindy and
God began their journey through what David called, "...sorrow in my heart...". What wonderful things God showed her at this time.
Lying in her hospital bed, Cindy began to question God's purpose for her suffering. Realizing that nothing comes to us without first being filtered through the hand of God, Cindy knew there was a reason for what she was enduring. For this, she began seeking God with every waking moment available to her. She was surprised when God led her to the book of Acts and the story of Paul and Silas in prison (Acts 16: 24 - 26). The story took on a deeper meaning when the words of verse 24 leaped off the page, " ..thrust them into the inner prison...". The inner prison was the darkest part of the jail, having no windows, no candle, no visibility at all. It was the place where the worst offenders were kept and into this place went the great apostles of God. It was a place of darkness and desolation.
Looking at her illness as a prison of pain and a place of deep desolation, Cindy began to identify with the beloved men of God. From her previous study of this passage of scripture, she recalled that this dark dungeon was also the place where the criminally insane were kept. Here, among the cries of the insane and in total darkness, were Paul and Silas. And here, they began to sing. No doubt, it was the first time that the walls of the darkest cells had rung with the voices of God's anointed. Here, again for the first time, those reeked with the enemy's torturous mind heard the praises of God. Isn't that just like God to place us, the true lightbearers, in the darkest of places so He alone can be the source of light?
Cindy understood that her purpose was not to figure out the reason for this valley of sorrow, but to render praise to God that He counted her worthy to be His lightsource. Determination rose up within her---determination that said, "I will praise Him in this storm. I will give Him all the glory.". Surrendering her life and herself to God's Divine purpose, Cindy made a decision that day to praise God for life, health, and strength. No matter what.
What I recall most of all, and what left a lasting impact with me, were Cindy's final words. As she stood before us, still in pain but finally controlled to a certain degree with medication, she looked over the faces of all of us before she spoke. I will never forget what she said, "When you really desire the will of God for your life, it won't matter what you are enduring. It will not concern you about the passing of time, it will not concern you about what others think of you and how you are facing the situation. What will concern you is how God wants to use you during this time. His will becomes your obsession and your relationship with Him becomes all consuming. With that in mind, you can say, 'let the trial begin'.".
My trials and tests have seemed so small in comparison to what my dear sister in Christ endured. Nevertheless, my circumstances hurt to the core of my being. I was humbled, beaten and broken by life, but, yet, I've endured. By the grace of God I have endured. God is faithful. I can lift both hands today and say to you, "God is faithful.".
My pastor was right when he explained that the answer to the question, "O Lord, how long?" is simply this--as long as it takes. As long as it takes for us to realize that it is not all about us. It is all about God in us bringing light to a dark world. God in us showing the world that it is possible to live in victory no matter what the circumstances. God in us saying, "LET THE TRIAL BEGIN!".

In Grace,

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Who Knows?

This past week was Vacation Bible School week at our church. It was great!!! The children were beside themselves with anticipation making each night a true adventure. My grandsons were both able to be present every night and, since they missed VBS last year, it seemed a special treat to them to be able to be there this year. Along with the other children they played Bible games, made crafts, learned new songs, listened to stories of their favorite Bible characters, guzzled snacks and treats, and, over all, had a wonderful time.
The last night of the week was a special night. This was the night when the entire group of children gathered together and sang for their parents and family members. It was precious! Tears welled in my eyes as I looked at the faces of the children I have come to love and listened to their voices join together. The joy on each child's face, the pride they took in their singing--it was just so touching to watch them. My mind went back to the time when my own children were small and how they also enjoyed learning about Jesus.
As I sat there and looked over the group of children, my mind recalled the scripture, "And He gave some apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;...for the work of the ministry...". I began to consider just what I was looking at. Which one of the childhood faces I was looking at would be tomorrow's pastors--which one would be a future teacher or evangelist? Which one of those children would be called to a foreign nation to work on the mission field? Going beyond the scriptural reference--which ones would be the worship leaders and musicians of tomorrow? Just where would each one of them fit into into God's future church? Oh! how I yearn for them all to know the beauty of service. How I long for each of them to lay down at night knowing the peace that comes from having touched a life with the gospel of Christ. My heart longs to tell them how glorious it is to stand in the congregation of saints, knowing that you have been used of God to bless and/or instruct them in what it means to know our Jesus. Oh! the richness of Christian service--the joy of being in God's employ. There is, indeed, no greater glory.
I have not always felt this way. There was a time when I sang and played music from a sense of duty. God gave me talent--I gave it back to Him in each service I attended. But I gave it out of obligation, not joy. That is until I accompanied my father to revival services at a small church in the mountains of Kentucky. The church was not much bigger than one of the Sunday School rooms in my father's church. The piano was old (ancient it seemed), with only the middle keyboard making sound. When Daddy preached he had only about a five foot square to move around in--that was rather limiting for Daddy who tended to speak as much away from the Bible stand as he did behind it. And, of course, there was no central air conditioning. And, of course, the revival took place at the hottest time of midsummer. However, I played and sang my heart out during that meeting. I have a strong voice and, since there was no sound system, it held me in good stead.
My whole attitude changed one night toward the end of the revival. I was very hot and decided that I would step out to the small porch at the front of the church to get some air. Daddy had preached a stirring message and I had sang what he had requested. As I stepped out onto the porch I caught my breath in amazement. I could not believe what I was seeing. Men and women alike, who had found no room at the small altar inside, were kneeling at the bumpers of their cars for makeshift altars. They were crying in repentance, asking God for forgiveness for the wrongs of their lives. Tears fell down the weathered cheeks of men who had spent their lives working hard for their families with little reward. Women whose hands were worn and reddened from homemade soap and scrubbing floors, were lifting those same hands in praise to our precious Lord for His forgiveness of their sins. The smiles that covered the lined and worn faces brought radiance to those same faces and brightness to the eyes that were now filled with tears of joy.
I could not move for a moment. The overwhelming presence of God that filled that small church and extended to the parking area which, now filled with humble people praising God, had become an extension of what was taking place inside. I began to weep uncontrollably. I was ashamed that I had taken this glorious gospel, this talent I had been given, this Godly heritage I had been given, all for granted. I came to realize, with repentance and a new vision, that God wants more than just going through the motions. He wants us to use what He has given us and use it with joy. He wants to work through us to accomplish His purpose---and He wants us to enjoy the working. I have never forgotten those lovely mountain people who taught this preacher's daughter that simple fact.
So, I look at the smiling childish faces in front of me and I wonder. I wonder will they really continue to love what they do for the Lord in the future as much as they do now? Will they give everything they have to give and then dig deeper for just a little more--all in an effort to please the God they serve? Will they cheer each other on and stand by each other's side, knowing that together they can accomplish anything? I wonder. Will God bless me to live to a ripe old age so that I can be there to hear the first sermon, rejoice in the first song, thrill to the first music played and, by example, let them know that the joy they feel now is nothing to be compared to what they will feel when that first knee bends because of their obedience to Christ. Dear God, I pray it will be so.
Who knows which one of them will lead the church of tomorrow? Only our great and loving God knows that. But this one thing I do know--it is my responsibility to lay an example of service before the children and youth of today that will make Jesus Christ irrisistable to them. If I can convey, by word or deed, the joy of serving Jesus and do it in a way that will draw the little ones I love to Christ, then I will have been a success. Who knows which one will pick up the blood-stained banner and, in the words of the prophet, shout, "Here Lord am I. Send me." Who knows? God knows and, one day, so will we.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Never Alone

As you may recall from an earlier post, my daughter and her family have been staying with me while they have relocated to North Carolina and could find a home of their own. This week they moved into a lovely cottage home in the country with plenty of space for the boys to play, lots of trees for the boys to climb, and, in addition, only a few miles from our church. I am so grateful to the Lord for making a way for them to move close to me--I have missed them so very much.
Now that they have a home of their own and have moved out of mine, however, I find myself feeling very alone. I did not realize that I would become so accustomed to their presence in my home and I certainly did not anticipate the empty feeling I would have now that they are gone. I miss the sound of Gabe's laughter and Mikey's hugs and kisses. I miss the companionship of the lovely woman my daughter has become. I miss Mark keeping fresh coffee available and taking out the garbage for me (always a chore I have dreaded). I miss them all.
All of this has served to dredge up a fear I have struggled with for most of my adult life---the fear of being alone. As you know, I grew up in a close and tight-knit family. There was very little alone time and we were constantly in each other's way. Even after growing up and leaving our parent's home, we all flocked back at every opportunity to enjoy the company of family---to remember we were not alone as long as we had each other. When life's circumstances put me in a position of facing life alone, I found it difficult. In fact, I found it almost intoler-
able. Alone was not what I wanted to be.
I tried filling the time in every way I knew how. I worked a lot of overtime, I went to seminars and workshops, I enrolled in online Bible studies---all in an effort to fill my time to the max so that I wouldn't have to face being alone. I accompanied my father on his speaking engagements, I did a lot of speaking on my own and took on more responsibilities in my local church--again, just to fill my time. Looking back, I realize that by filling all the empty time I had with whatever I could find to do, I left no time for God to teach me the real lesson, WE ARE NEVER ALONE. When I fell on my knees one morning after work, weeping from weariness of mind and body, begging God to help me, I heard the inner voice I knew so well. It was not an audible voice but more like an intense thought that took over my mind and spoke one thing, loud and clear: "You are not alone. I am here. Let me help you.". I understood, in a way I never had before, the meaning of Jesus' words, "Come unto me all ye who are weary and heavyladen and I will give you rest.". Oh, how I wanted rest, how I wanted God's help, how I wanted to know it was okay to be alone. I was ready for God to show me--to teach me--to heal me--to give me peace. I wanted alone to be a state of being, not a state of mind. Physically, I was alone. Spiritually, I had a constant companion, a cherished friend, a refuge. I was sheltered in the arms of God.
Life since those days has not been easy. There are times when I have said to God, "This time you have given me too much to handle.". There are still days when I cry and feel so alone. But God never fails to remind me that, though He is not tangible--though He is not visible--though He is not flesh--HE IS STILL THERE. It is His healing presence that enables me to live alone. It is His guiding hand that prevents me from falling. It is His love that keeps me secure. He is, indeed, everything I need.
I am sure that, though my daughter and her family are not physically in my home, they will always be as close as a phone call. Video games and children's movies are tucked carefully away just waiting for the hands of two little boys to bring it all back to life. In the meantime, God and I are getting along famously. He holds me secure in the palm of His hand, His voice stills my doubts and fears, He meets me at every turn. Every now and then I still hear the Godly whisper in my heart and mind, "You are not alone. I am here. Let me help you.". It becomes my mantra that I repat over and over to myself--never alone, never alone, never alone. He promised never to leave me and God always keeps His promises.

In Grace,

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Earthly Sanctuary

Recently I have faced a number of situations for which I have found no immediate solution. Along with personal illness, and related time off work, I found myself feeling completely overwhelmed and exhausted by it all. My mind was numb and my body weary---I knew I needed help. In crying out to God I was reminded of the one place I had always found peace and comfort in times like this. I was reminded of the church--the house of God--the earthly sanctuary.
As a young Christian, I had always had access to the church. My father being the Pastor provided me with unlimited opportunity to have time alone with God whenever I needed it. When life became too much for me to handle, the church became my sanctuary--my refuge--my calm in the midst of the storm. It was as if God were saying to me, "It's alright. I am here and I will stay as long as you need me to". I felt cradled by a force greater than myself. I felt safe.
So, when the recent events of my life became overwhelming, I went to the one place I had always felt secure. I went to my church. The minute I walked in, I felt the presence of God welcoming me. I felt the same peace and quietness come over my spirit that I remembered from my youth. I knew that, even if I left with no solution to my problems, I would still leave refreshed and encouraged.
I knelt at the altar and began to pray. I asked God for forgiveness for my earthly shortcomings and, like David, I asked Him to restore to me the joy of my salvation. I prayed for guidance and direction. I prayed for strength and endurance. I prayed for the peace that passes all understanding. As hard as it was, I asked God to show me what I was doing, if anything, that would prevent me from receiving the answers to my prayers. It was a prayer that was unrushed and unhurried--a prayer accompanied by many tears--a prayer from the heart.
I rose from the altar with no change in my circumstances. The problems and situations were still there--still unchanged. But, I was changed. My heart was filled with joy and my mind knew peace for the first time in many weeks. I had come to my sanctuary with a heavy heart, a cluttered mind, a wounded spirit. I had received comfort, encouragement and healing. I was refreshed by the washing of His Spirit and renewed by the power of His Presence.
There will always be problems, heartbreaks, illness, betrayals and sorrows in this life. I may not always be able to go to the church and bow at the altar, seeking His beloved comfort. But, for now, for this time, I found a haven. I found an altar of mercy and a God of unlimited grace. I found a refuge from the storm. It was there all the time--my earthly sanctuary.

In Grace,

Monday, June 29, 2009

Mary's Little Boy

My daughter and her family recently relocated to North Carolina to be closer to me. Right now they are spending some time with me while they arrange for housing, job transfers and, possibly, new employment. It is such a joy to have my grandsons around--to listen to their stories and to be a daily part of their lives.
I must say, though, that I had forgotten what a handful little boys can be. My home is now filled with cars, trucks, Transformers, Star Wars figures, video games, legos, marbles, swords and shields, in addition to Veggie Tale movies, Ironman, Batman and Superman. Zorro and the Man In the Iron Mask round out their favorites. A lot of pretending to be any of the above mentioned superheroes takes place along with acting out their favorite Bible characters such as King David (their personal favorite), Moses, Noah and Daniel. I have heard more Bible stories recently than I have in years. I have also had more hugs and kisses, more snuggling, and more "I love you" said to me than I could ever imagine. This is the joy of children--this is what makes the world a wonderful place to be. The unconditional love of a child is worth more than all of earth's treasures.
As I slipped upstairs, long after they were in their beds, just to catch a glimpse of their sleeping faces, I wondered about another little boy. I wondered if his mother ever just sat and watched him sleep not knowing the awful death she would watch Him endure. I wondered about Mary's little boy.
We are so programmed to think of Jesus as the Son of God--the last Lamb of Calvary--the one who gave His life so we might live free from the bondage of sin. We think of Him as the healer, the deliverer, the miracle worker and, indeed, He was all of those things. He was, to all who followed Him, more than just a man. He was flesh and bone, yet He carried within Him the divine genetics of His father. He was the Son of God but He was also Mary's little boy--a fact we often overlook.
I am sure that, to the casual observer, Jesus was just like any other child. I know He must have laughed and cried, wanting His mother to kiss away His hurts. I am sure there were times He was as mischievious as all His other boyhood friends. The carpenter shop must have rung with his childish laughter and Mary and Joseph surely laughed along with Him. Did He run along the shores of Galilee with His cousin, John, before they were old enough to fulfill their destinies? And, I wonder, did Mary slip to the side of His bed, just to gaze lovingly upon the face of her child while He slept?
Later, did Mary watch with a sense of dread as her son left to begin a ministry that would surely lead to His own sacrifice? How many times did she cry out to the Divine Father of her child and beg Him to change His plans? How deep was her agony at the possiblity that each time she saw her son, it could very well be her last? Finally, how many times did she have to yield her fears, her dreads, her mother's desire to spare her son---how many times did she yield to the will of God?
In the movie, "The Passion of the Christ", there is a scene that depicts Mary's heart so beautifully. As Jesus stumbles under the weight of the cross, Mary is watching. Her mind flashes back to a memory of Jesus as a child--the child stumbles and falls. Mary immediately rushes to Him, picks Him up and says, "Mother is here.". How she must have yearned to rush to Him as He fell beneath the wooden cross, wipe away the bloody sweat from His brow, throw her arms of love around Him and whisper, "Mother is here". But she could not. Mary had to do the unthinkable--she had to leave her son alone--she had to let Him die so that you and I would have a chance for eternal life, free of the chains of our sinful nature.
I only have one son. He has been such a joy to me and has filled my life with beautiful memories from his birth until this very day. I cannot imagine a life without John in it. To those who have lost a child I can only say that I cannot begin to think of the awful pain and sorrow it must surely bring to your heart. When I think of Mary and the awfulness of watching her only child suffer and die on a cross, my heart breaks and I cannot stop the tears from falling. I am sure the memories of a lifetime flooded her mind during the six hours Jesus hung on the cross. I am certain she thought of every detail of His life with her and mourned His death in a way that no one else could.
When I think of these things, the mess on my living room floor doesn't seem so bad. The whirlwind of superheroes and the Veggie Tales blaring throughout the house becomes so much more tolerable. The little hands that reach for mine, the child's arms that wrap themselves around my neck, the sticky fingerprints on the piano keys--all remind me that there is nothing more precious than a child's life. How wonderful it is to be loved by a child! I have been so blessed by my children and now to have grandchildren--it is an additional blessing I love and cherish.
Tonight I will make my way up the stairs, quietly as I can, and I will look at the faces of two little boys. I will sit there and watch them sleep for a while. I will watch their little chests rise and fall just to make sure they are breathing okay. I will lean over and kiss their cheeks lightly so that, God forbid, I won't wake them. I will thank God for them and the blessing of their love. Then I will thank God for another little boy--a little boy who loved me enough that He was willing to die for me--a little boy who became the reason I am called a child of
God--a little boy named Jesus. Mary's little boy.

In Grace,

Saturday, June 27, 2009

What Makes Us Strong

My pastor recently ministered on the subject of "The Goodness of God". He spoke about why God has such kindness towards us and why He continues to extend to us blessing after blessing. It was a wonderful message full of hope and expectation. It left me counting the many blessings God has given me. He then made a statement that left me thinking about my adversity as well, but in a different way, "Resistance is what makes us strong. You never encounter resistance when you are doing the wrong thing. It is only when we choose to do the right thing that we encounter resistance from the enemy". It was a new concept for me. I knew about resisting but I had never, for some reason, identified it as something that would make me strong. It usually left me feeling spiritually drained.
I then thought about my son. John was always disappointed as a teenager that he was not as tall as he wanted to be. He was also very thin (not necessarily a bad thing) and not all that strong. John was, and still is, very strong in his personal beliefs and in his faith but was not overly strong physically. When he graduated from high school, though, he got a job at a local fitness center. There he began lifting weights and following a regimen that he still follows today. As a result of that, John developed musculature and strength that he had not had before. I think the word we would use today is "buffed". John is 5'9" and has tremendous physical strength---all because he used resistance to develop his body.
I use the example of my son because it brings to mind the benefit of really resisting against another force. I have never seen a time when the body of Christ is suffering as it is today. We are pushed by life into areas we do not wish to go. We are facing the ravages of illness and disease, the loss of those we love, financial adversity, job losses, and a world that is changing too rapidly for comfort. It is easy to feel powerless and overwhelmed. It is easy to feel like throwing in the towel when life becomes this painful. Faith and trust become harder to maintain. Resisting the urge to give in is a battle we feel we cannot fight.
If I may refer to scripture, we are not told to fight--we are told to resist. We develop ourselves spiritually through resistance against any thought or action that would place us against the will of God. We become stronger in our faith and our ability to trust our wonderful God when we resist any "principality or power" that would pull us away from the shelter of His love and provision.
Dear friends, faith is hardest to find when we are in the midst of situations we do not understand. It is harder to trust when it seems all is going wrong and there seems to be no way out. God's path for us is not always easy, but it is always worth it. Through all of our most difficult times, He is there. We learn what God is capable of doing for us when we resist the forces of evil and stand with the promises of God. We then lift the spiritual weights that strengthen us and enable us to go further in our walk with God.
I must confess I have not always been successful in resistance. There have been times when I have felt so stretched and so overwhelmed by my circumstances and the sorrows of my life that I have allowed myself to become untouched by God. I refused to listen to His words of comfort because I felt He was being unfair with the events He had allowed to come into my life. I lacked understanding of God's ability to make even the most dreaded of life's events bearable. I am reminded of a situation that was breaking my heart and becoming so painful that I felt I was being suffocated by its weight. I finally went to God in desperation and prayed, "God, if you can't take this away from me, please make it bearable". The situation did not change but I did. Many times we yearn to escape from the agony of what we are enduring but we cannot circumvent the issue with an "around" kind of faith. The only faith that will work is a "through" kind of faith; a "though God slay me I will trust Him" kind of faith. This kind of faith is resistance at its best. It develops us into the faith warriors we need to be.
So dear friends, I urge you to stay the course. You will meet resistance, of that I am certain. It is the enemy's purpose to keep us from experiencing the will of God for our lives. But, no matter what the test, never give up. Resistance training is not easy but the reward is worth it. Andre Crouch says it like this, "If I never had a problem, I'd never know that God could solve them. I'd never know what faith in God can do". The greater the resistance, the stronger the faith--the stronger the faith, the more it can do. Resistance training--it's a faith thing.

In Grace,

Friday, June 19, 2009

He Did It All For Me

I have been thinking a lot today about the wonderful things people in my life have done for me. I have recalled so many words and deeds--my heart is full with the memories.
I could not possibly detail all the things Mother and Daddy have done for me. In addition to the material things I've received from them, I've been blessed to have their wisdom, their counsel, and their love. I have been so fortunate--they have been so good to me. I love them so much.
My brothers have been my best friends and my closest confidants. I learned from them to respect another's opinion when it differs from my own. I learned give and take for, much to my childish distress, it wasn't always about me. Most of all, I learned that no matter what happens in life, the ties that bind a loving family can never be broken. My brothers gave me that security--the life cords that bind us together will always hold tight.
From my children I have received joy untold and the pleasure of being the mother of two marvelous gifts of God. They have tested my faith at times--tested my temper at other times--stretched the limits of my sanity--but have always loved me. They have done more to fill my life with hope and love than I could possibly tell.
My precious grandsons are my blessed assurance--my certainty that the legacy of faith I have cherished all these years will continue long after I am gone. They give me inspiration with their childlike faith and love. Oh, how I love those little boys.
In case I have not stated it adequately, the people God has allowed to enter my life have given me so much. They have done everything in their power to make my life a lovely place to be. Yet the one thing that secures my destiny is something that cannot be given by earthly beings. No human could do what needed to be done to secure my eternal life. But God did.
As I have written before, I knew from babyhood that Jesus was sent to die for the sins of the world. I knew He came to change the lives of us, weak humanity, into the overcomers we were meant to be. In the process, He also enabled us to lay aside the mantle of our sins and shame and to become "new creatures" through his love and mercy. He did it all so that we could have it all--eternity in His heavenly city and a life in this mortal frame free from the bondage of sin. What can I say about a Saviour who would willingly do for me what I could not do for myself? A dear friend summed it up with a chorus that says, "He paid a debt He did not owe, I owed a debt I could not pay--I needed someone to wash my sins away." How glorious is the thought that I am loved enough, cared for enough, embraced by God enough, that He would wash me clean of the sin from which I could not cleanse myself? Oh, what a Saviour.
I am always remembering the words of songs which have lifted me over the years. For days the following ones have been on my heart:

"He did it all for me,
Each drop of blood was shed for even me.
When the Saviour cried,
Bowed His head and died,
He did it all for me."

How humbling is the thought that the Saviour of Heaven would willingly, because of His great love toward us, take our sins to the cross and, along with Himself, nail them there on our behalf. What love our Jesus possessed! To pray the prayer, "...nevertheless, not my will but thine be done...", knowing He was facing certain death and persecution, yet He was willing because of His unfailing love. He is, indeed, my Lord and Saviour. He is the beat of my heart.
Yes, I possess many things today and hold many possessions dear to my heart. I have many friends and loved ones who have done so much for me. My family would willingly give their lives to protect me and I would do the same for them. But, though they would lay down their lives for me, and as much as they love me, they could not remit my sins--they could not wash them away. Jesus did it all. He took the shame, the blame, and the pain so that you and I could walk in newness of life. He secured our souls with His own blood. I know He died for all but I am especially certain that He died for me. He did it all for me--my heart's desire is to give my all to Him.

In Grace,

Monday, June 15, 2009

Just A Glove

I have always loved wearing gloves. When I was a little girl, I could hardly wait for Easter Sunday so that I could put on my new, white gloves to wear with my special outfit. Mother always bought me such dainty ones, sometimes trimmed with pretty lace edging or a lovely pearl button that would fasten over the wrist. I loved putting them on and feeling the satin smoothness of the fabric cover my hand.
My first pair of gloves as an adult was worn with a lovely blue dress and my first pair of high heeled shoes. I thought it was one of the lovliest outfits I had ever worn. I received many compliments that day and felt like such a "proper" young lady with my white gloves and heels. Years later, when wearing gloves to church on Sunday became a thing of the past, I insisted on carrying mine along with my purse--I just could not bear to part with my lovely white gloves.
As time passed, I difted away from carrying gloves and, unfortunately, forgot about them altogether. That is, until I attended a Ladies' Retreat in West Virginia. One of the ladies of the church sang a song that brought back my adoration of gloves. She sang a song entitled "Keep Me In Your Will". It's a beautiful song about finding, and staying in, the will of God so that we don't get in His way as He moves in our lives. The words and music are so beautiful and the message so profound. It was the words of the second verse, though, that left such an impact on my memory:

"Remind me, Lord, I'm just a glove
Into which you place your hand.
Not my will but thine be done,
Though I don't understand.
The best laid plans I've made
Somehow always go astray.
Keep me in your will
So I won't be in your way."

"Remind me Lord, I'm just a glove". I thought back to the days when I wore gloves. I remembered putting them on, adjusting the fingers and, if needed, fastening the button over my wrist. After that, I just enjoyed the wearing. Whatever my hands wanted to do, the gloves just went along. My gloved hands carried out my every wish--they carried my purse, they held my hymnal, they laid silently in my lap, and they reached out to grasp another's hand in greeting. Not one time did the gloves ever resist what my hand wanted them to do. Once I placed my hands in the gloves, they came to life and did exactly as they were bidden to do. Alone, in the drawer of my dresser, my gloves could do nothing, be nothing, accomplish nothing. But once placed on my hands, they could accomplish whatever I desired.
Isn't that just the way we should be when it comes to doing the will of the God we love and serve? Shouldn't we be the glove? Shouldn't we be the ones that wrap ourselves around the hand of God in such a way that He can do whatever He chooses to in our lives and we will submit to His purpose without thinking how much better we could do the job? When we remove ourselves from the hand of God--when we follow our own way instead of His--when we allow our own futile efforts to replace His Divine will--we are no longer the glove. We become self-willed, yearning for our own way and our own path.
This yielding is not easy. We are sometimes fearful to yield to the Lord because we are afraid He will not give us the answer or solution we desire. But, if we can remember that His will is much more perfect than ours--if we can believe that all things do, indeed, work for our good--then we can become the glove. We can have all that we desire in God as He works through us and for us.
I still love wearing gloves. I think a pair of white kid leather gloves with pearl buttons is one of the most beautiful accessories a suit will ever have. A lovely pair of white satin gloves, reaching above the elbow, will make an evening gown even more stunning than ever. But me, with God moving in and through my life, is even more dazzling than any earthly glove could possible be. Me, the glove--God, the hand. What an amazing design. I hope He wears me proudly.

In Grace,

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Keep On Keeping On

As a pastor's child, it has been my priviledge to meet many wonderful people. Some of them were known from my childhood and some from my older years. One of the most memorable figures I knew and loved as a child was Rev. Wiley Neal.
It could be depended on, regardless of which hymn was sung or what text was ministered, that Rev. Neal would witness at the end of every service. His face would reflect the joy he felt in his heart as he gave his testimony and reflected on the evening's message. It was not unusual for him to raise his hands and give praise to the Lord as he spoke. Many times he would sing his testimony with a voice that was surprisingly strong for a gentleman in his seventies.
Rev. Neal not only rejoiced in the Lord in the sanctuary, but also in his home. Many times as a child I visited his home with my parents. He never failed to touch my heart with how lovingly he spoke about the Lord he served. He would sit in his rocker in the living room and share with my parents how God had blessed him throughout the years he had known the Lord. I recall my father sitting across from him and hanging on his every word for not only was Rev. Neal a godly man, he was also a fine teacher and Daddy often spoke of how inspired he was by Rev. Neal's insight.
As a child, I adored my elderly friend. He took time to talk with me and made me feel important. I felt comfortable asking him questions for he was so kind and patient in answering me. I came to love and trust him because of his loving spirit and his gentleness towards me. He became a grandfather figure to me when my own grandfather passed away. He encouraged me to love the Lord and to always strive to be the best that I could be. I adored him.
My fondest memory of him comes from the words he uttered at the end of every testimony. He would always close with the words, "Pray for me that I can keep on keeping on.". I asked him once what he meant when he said that. Very gently he explained that, no matter what came his way--good or bad--he wanted to keep on serving the Lord until his death. He wanted to keep on being all that he felt God wanted him to be. He told me that, even though he was an old man, he still wanted to do all he could to lead others to the Lord. He wanted everyone he came in contact with to be able to see the love of God in him and to want to know God as a result. He just wanted to keep on doing God's will.
My heart was so broken when Rev. Neal passed. Such a void was left in the lives of all of us who knew and loved him. It took us a while to get used to closing our services without hearing that sweet voice at the end. He left behind such a legacy--such an example. All of us who knew him were blessed to have done so.
So now, I think about my own relationship with God. I realize that I have been so blessed to have had not only a family I love and cherish, but the influence of tremendous men and women of faith. Men and women who lived their faith every single day of their lives and who have left behind a legacy that continues to inspire me on a daily basis. Because of Wiley Neal, I have learned the importance of "keeping on". In the face of all adversity, I want to keep on. In the midst of every storm, I want to keep on. In gain or loss, joy or sorrow, I want to keep on. For it is in the "keeping on" that we come to know Him as the God of all comfort, the lifter of our heads, the strong and mighty tower, the refuge from the storm.
Oh, may I have the spiritual strength and courage to continue on for the God I love so dearly--the God who has led me through much storm and adversity--the God who has been the truest friend I have ever known. May I have the determination to press on and remain at His side, sheltered in His arms.
I look forward to the day when I see Rev. Neal again and hear that rich, sweet voice say to me, "You made it, little one.". My glad reply will be the words I heard so often as a child. I don't think I will be able to resist a smile as I look at him and say, "Yes, I made it through. I just kept on 'keeping on'."

In Grace,

Thursday, May 28, 2009

When I Was Young

As I look back on my childhood it seems like it was almost idyllic. Carefree, happy, secure--all words that describe how I feel when I recall my childhood years. At home with Mother and Daddy became my favorite place to be. How I loved them both and how safe they made me feel. No one could make me feel as treasured and protected as my parents.
When I gave my heart to the Lord at the age of fourteen, a greater joy came into my life. One that I have never been able to find the words to describe. I only know I was overwhelmed by the realization that Jesus had died for me. I had been taught, and understood, that the Son of God had willingly given His life for the sins of the world. I also understood that I was part of that world. But, for some reason I saw Him for myself, as MY Saviour. He became, and remains, my constant friend and continual source of unending joy.
I approached my life in Christ like there was no tomorrow. I prayed constantly. I read and reread the Bible. Becoming as much like Jesus as possible became my quest. Time in His presence became my treasure. I think I grew more in that first year of knowing Jesus than I did for many years after that. I yearned for Him and all that He had to offer me. Years later, I wrote a poem reflecting my feelings surrounding those days in my walk with God.

When I Was Young

When I was young I sought to do
The things that God would have me to.
My heart's desire was solely spent
On things that would be Heaven-sent,
And constantly I did repent.
When I was young.

When I was young, my heart was light.
The world was fair to my youthful sight.
I came and went just as I pleased.
My spirit soared and rambled free,
And rested in God's richest peace.
When I was young.

Those words, even now, remain so very true. It was almost as if God purposely held back adversity and allowed me to soar with Him in Heavenly places. But then life began to find me, along with its tragedies and despairs. I felt drained and empty--as if someone had removed all the joy from my life and left me a thoroughly emptied vessel.

But as my life began to pass
And I grew older, it seemed at last,
That sorrow found its way to me--
Broke my heart and humbled me.
With pain-filled eyes I came to see
I was no longer young.

It is painful to grow up and leave the comfort and security of the parental home you have loved and enjoyed. Leaving Mother and Daddy behind was sorrowful and I missed them so. Growing older in Christ is much the same. In fact, it can be more gut-wrenching as the Lord uses the crucible of life to mold us into His own likeness. I had a bedrock of faith and a knowledge that God would never leave me or forsake me but it is hard to remember this fully when the agony of your heart is crying louder than the voice of a loving God. I recalled more as I wrote.

I questioned God and asked Him why
I had to live. Could I not die?
My faith was surely and sorely tried,
My pillow wet where I had cried.
Painfully I realized
I was no longer young.

My young, broken heart found it hard to comprehend that a loving God would allow suffering such as this to those He claimed to love. I had a hard time reconciling this in my heart. One early morning, my grief so great, my heart so broken, I cried out to God, "God, if you do not help me--if you do not give me something, and give it to me now, I will not be able to stand. Please help me, Lord.". I opened my Bible randomly and it fell open to the scripture in Proverbs 18:24, "...there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.". I knew how close my natural brothers and I had been. I remembered how loyal and protective they were of me--their only sister. No matter what the circumstance, or how hard the situation, I could depend on them to be there for me. I knew then, and understood, that no matter what came to me--no matter how hard it was to endure--God would be with me. Always.

Ah! But then my eyes began to see
What suffering had done to me,
The work it wrought within my life--
Submission to the will of Christ.
I saw more clearly than years ago
When I was young.

And so I journey on through life
With a deeper knowledge of Jesus Christ,
What faith in Him can bring me through,
What trust in Him and His love can do.

Now I know that when I come
To the end of life and all is said and done,
I can let these words fall from my tongue:
"I know Him better now
Than when I was young."

The best part of surviving any circumstance that is devastating and life-changing is
seeing the hand of God in it all and knowing that the end is better than the beginning. If I come to know God more completely, trust Him more fully, love Him more than ever, then the breaking was worth it. To know Him in the carefree joy of youth is precious, but to know Him as the God of all comfort is priceless. Am I glad I came to Him as a youth? Yes!!! Am I glad to know Him now as I am getting
older? Yes!!! Still, I am glad to say, I know Him better now than when I was young.

In Grace,