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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,

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Space In The Middle

I recently traveled home to Ohio for my son's wedding. It was such a wonderful trip and I enjoyed being with all my family--especially my parents. There is nothing that can replace family--nothing. I felt so blessed to be surrounded by all the ones I love so much.
On Sunday morning I had the priviledge of attending church with my brother, Dwight, and his family. On the way back to my parent's home, I decided to go by the cemetery where my two brothers were laid to rest. The cemetery was close by and I felt a need to be there. I drove slowly, memories flooding my mind. When I came to the stone that bore my brothers' names, I parked the car and walked to the place where I had said goodbye to two of the finest men I had known.
This time, however, I noticed something that had never struck me before. I read the dates of birth and death that were so familiar. I ran my fingers over the names carved in the stone and allowed the tears to fall, as they always do. That's when it happened. One of those rare insights that come when you least expect it.
I realized that the dates were not the important thing. It was not the fact that my brothers had been born and had died that was so important. It was what they had done while they were alive and how they had filled the spaces of their lives that tugged at my heart strings. It was the memory of how they had filled the space between the dates--the space in the middle--that really mattered. The events of their lives, their achievements, the love and the laughter of each day they lived--this is what I miss and cherish the most.
The spaces in the middle are filled with memories of birthdays, Christmas, summer vacations, dinners, and life celebrations. I recall the smiles of each brother and the sound of their laughter. I can sense the quiet strength of my brother, Don, and the fun-loving spirit of David. I could almost feel David's bear hugs and Don's soft kiss on my cheek.
I am reminded of David entering our church and always coming to mother's pew to kiss her on the cheek, no matter who was close by. My mind went back to two weeks before Don's death when he gave his heart to the Lord as he prayed with our Mother one morning after work. These memories are what assures me that their death is but a temporary separation. I will see them again.
Then, I thought about the spaces of my life--my own space in the middle. How am I filling it? What am I doing to make sure that my life is remembered as valuable and the things I have said and done are cherished by those I leave behind? Have I done enough to show others the way to the wonderful Lord I love and serve? I want those who follow behind me to be inspired by what I live and teach in a way that would draw them to Jesus. I pray to leave a legacy of faith and hope for my children and my grandchildren. I have come to realize that each day we have is the only opportunity to make that day count. Once it is gone--it is gone. I don't want to come to the end of the day , and find it filled with regret and sorrow. I want to
live each day to the fullest and fill it with as much grace and honor as I possibly can. I desire to be remembered as a woman of integrity---as a woman who loves the Lord.
A childhood friend of mine wrote a song a few years ago with the same title "The Space In The Middle". I do not remember the verses but the chorus speaks volumes,

"The space in the middle will say it all for me.
And the life I leave behind is my most valued legacy.
On that old granite stone, from my birth to my death,
I know the space in the middle is the greatest thing I've left."
(written and recorded by Gina Vera)

My prayer for each of us is that we fill our lives with the things of God. May the Lord lead us and guide us in being all for Him that we can be, so that, when we are remembered we will be remembered well. The space in the middle will speak loudly for me---may I fill it well.

In Grace,

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Making of A Queen

As a child, I loved to hear the stories of the heroes and heroines of the Bible. I would lose myself in their exploits and was awed by the way God would always intervene on their behalf. While my favorite heroes were Moses, Samson, and David, there was only one who remained my heroine---Esther.
I first heard the story of Esther in my Sunday School class at the age of nine. My teacher told her story as part of the lesson but it was Mother who later brought the story to life. She not only read me the scriptural account, but explained Esther's significant role in God's plan for delivering His people from certain death. I was captivated by the way a young Jewish girl, not much older than myself, played such an unbelievable role in Biblical history. I read and reread the story, sometimes putting myself in the place of the young queen and trying to imagine what it would be like to stand in the presence of the King. It was, and still is, a magnificent story.
Esther was orphaned as a child and left to be raised by her cousin, Mordecai. That within itself would grab my heart. As much as I love, and am loved, by my mother and father, my young heart could not imagine how awful it would be to not have parental love. I remember telling my mother how sad Esther must have felt without her mother and father. But how much Mordecai must have loved her to step in and accept her as his own child--to provide her with love and caring. Mordecai, as the story unfolds, was quite a man.
When Queen Vashti was exiled from the palace for failing to appear before the King, Esther became one of many young girls summoned to the King's court. What remained unknown was Esther's heritage--her lineage. Mordecai had urged her not to reveal this to anyone and, so, she remained silent--for the time being. How difficult this all must have been for Esther. Having lost her mother and father and, now, to be separated from the one who had raised her and sheltered her under his care. How her heart must have cried out within her--how lonely she must have felt for the strong arms of Mordecai, her foster father.
And, what about Mordecai? The scriptures teach us that he walked past the court of the house where she was placed everyday. How he must have yearned for just a glimpse of the young girl he now looked upon as his daughter. I am sure he prayed every day for her safety. I am certain he asked for the watchcare of the God he served to be upon her. What an awful experience--to have the only child you have ever known to be taken from you--even if it was to go to the King's house. No matter where Esther was taken, Mordecai's heart would still have yearned for her return. What a true father he became!
When the time came for Esther to appear before the King, the scripture states that
the King loved Esther above all the young women who passed before him, "...so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti.". Still, Esther had not revealed that she was a Jew. Her time for that had not yet come. I wonder how she felt when the crown was placed on her head? Did she know that she was about to be used of God to save her entire race? Did she know that she was a key player in the plan of God? I wonder.
Next in the story comes the evil Haman--a Bible-day Hitler, whose idea to destroy the Jews stems from his hatred of Mordecai. Hatred that springs from Mordecai's refusal to bow to anyone other than the God of Israel. The same hatred that runs rampant in the world today and seeks to destroy every effort put forth for the Kingdom of God. But, God intervened in the least expected way. Haman had convinced the King to issue a decree to kill all the Jews in the kingdom. This would have caused the death of Mordecai and the death of the new Queen as well. God, however, was not done with the young Queen. Isn't that just like our precious God? Though we view our adversity with a human perspective, God only sees His marvelous plan for our lives being fulfilled one event at a time.
Mordecai, grieved because of the decree of death to his people, appears outside the King's court in sackcloth and ashes. Esther sees him in this condition and sends a servant to inquire of the reason for his behaviour. He sends the servant back with a copy of the decree and the following words: "...think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the King's house,more than all the Jews. For if thou altogether hold thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?". In other words, Esther had the responsibilty to go before the King and beg for the lives of her people.
What an awesome request of the young Queen. Could you and I have the strength to stand in the face of what could be certain death so that God's people and His work could be preserved? I pray that I would have such strength should I be put to such a test. Oh, how I want to stand strong for the Lord! How I want my life to be an example of what God can do in the yielding of word and deed into His hand. I want to leave behind a life that would inspire others to love and trust my Beloved Saviour!
When I got to the last words of Esther, before she goes in to see the King, my soul was stirred and I waited to know what would happen to Esther. To go in to see the King uninvited was a risk, but, if he held out the golden sceptor, it was safe to come before him with one's petition. Knowing this Esther decided to go before the King and, in her words, "...if I perish, I perish.". What courage in one so young. That captivated my young heart and still does.
So, Esther comes before the King, he holds out his golden sceptor, and she comes into his presence. Esther had received the Queen's crown many days before this appearance, but she became a true Queen when she took the first step towards the King. With that step, Esther became a Queen of renown, a young woman who became the vessel of deliverance for an entire race, a young woman who would risk all for the God she served--the God she loved--the God she believed.
As I read this story now, I find myself still awed by the hand of God in the affairs of man. How He comes into our desperation and, through people and events, moves us into His will. I once made the statement to a dear friend, "I go kicking and screaming into the will of God, but He makes sure I go.". Esther reminds me that it is not popular to stand for what is right, but it is worth it. We may not be the world's most eloquent, or the most beautiful, or have the opportunity to impress a King. But, we can still be used by the King of Kings. We may not be in the limelight, but we can remain in the Lamb's light. My human nature prays to never be put to the test of life and death for the cause of Christ. My human side fears being placed in a position where I must stand or die. But, oh, my spirit says that God will be with me and that He will hold me up when I feel I will fall.
God, help us take the steps towards your will that will make us true children of the King. May we all remember that if we don't stand for something, we will fall for anything. Who knows whether we are brought to the cross of Christ for such a time as this?

In Grace,

Friday, May 8, 2009

'Til The Storm Passes By

There have been times recently when I have asked the question, "How much can one person take before they reach the breaking point?". So many of my friends and members of the Body of Christ are enduring horrible events that rip the heart and leave us wondering, "why, God?". I have had several unexpected situations occur in my own life recently that have driven me to my knees, begging God for strength and courage. I seek Him for understanding and find, instead, a silent God. It is then that I surrender, not knowing what else to do but wait.
God did not promise us that we would never suffer. He did not promise us that we would weather the storm without broken hearts and sagging spirits. He does not offer the bed of roses without the thorns or the rains of refreshing without the storm. Though I believe a life in Christ to be the best life, I do not believe it to be the easiest life. Please don't misunderstand. Life without Jesus is no life at all. But, there are times when I feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of life's sufferings. There are times when I feel like I can go no further, I cannot take another step, I cannot stop the flow of tears or find the words to speak another prayer. I feel drained, emptied and I have come to end of the road.
It is there, in that darkened place of my life, I feel an unspeakable joy and a peace I cannot explain. It is there, in my broken spirit, in my sorrow and despair, He comes. Has the storm ceased--has the suffering ended--have the circumstances changed? No--I have changed. I have found a place of yielding. I have hidden myself under the shadow of His wings and there I rest.
Abraham Lincoln once said, "I have often been driven to my knees by the realization that I had no where else to go.". So am I in times of storm. I have sought to heal myself and found my human efforts to be in vain. I have sought to comfort myself and no comfort could I find. But then, Oh but then, I find Him. I hide beneath His Divine shadow and I am safe--I am comforted--I am at peace. Though the storm rages on, I am unharmed for He holds me secure.
I recently received an email with a partial transcript of an interview with Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life. One statement stood out to me more than all the rest. In reference to the suffering of God's people, he made this comment, "God is not interested in our comfort. He is interested in our character.".
Dearest friends, God wants us to be all that we can be and the lessons we learn through the enduring and trying of our faith serve to mold us into the image of our loving God. We take on His righteousness, His character--we become His expression. When looking at the test or trial through the lens of God's eyes, I see His hand at work. I see Him gathering a group of weak, insufficient humanity and, through hardship and adversity, molding them into His protege. I see our human nature and characteristics falling aside as we seek to become more like the wonderful God we serve. When remembering that nothing comes to us without first being filtered through the hand of God, life's difficulties take on a whole different meaning.
All who know me know how I love the old hymns. One in particular stands out to me. I used to listen to Vestal Goodman sing the song, "Til The Storm Passes By". The words of the chorus have become my mantra, my prayer.

'Til the storm passes over,
'Til the thunder sounds no more,
'Til the clouds roll forever from the sky.
Hold me fast, let me stand,
In the hollow of Thy hand.
Keep me safe
'Til the storm passes by.

Hold on, my friends. Never let our faith waver for an instant but let us hold ever more firmly to the cross of Christ. Let us be willing to be molded into the likeness of the one who cannot fail. Storms may rage, winds may blow, but our God stands secure. If He holds us close to Him, we, too, will stand.
My prayer for us today is "Lord, hold us fast in the hollow of your hand. Keep us safe through the storm--we lean on you." I will be praying for you, "til the storm passes by".

In Grace,

Monday, May 4, 2009

'Til Death Do Us Part

I am foolish for weddings. Nothing is as beautiful as two people pledging love and fidelity for as long they live. It becomes even more special when one of those two people is one's own child. Such was the case this past Saturday, May 2nd., when my son, John, married the girl of his dreams, Amanda. I thought my heart would burst from the sheer joy of the occasion.
John is my oldest child and my only son. The day he was born was one of the happiest days of my life. The first time I looked into his tiny face and felt the softness of his newborn cheek, I was smitten. I remember thinking I would move Heaven and earth to give him life's best--I would give my life to protect him. From birth he held my heart in his hands.
I had wanted a child for a long while and had almost given up hope of having one. So, when I discovered I was having a child, I wanted a name that would reflect my gratitude to God for the blessing He was giving me. I never really thought about a girl's name--I was so certain it would be a boy. I chose the name John because of its meaning, "gracious gift of God". That is what John has been to me, a gift of God that has been a blessing to me all of his life.
Now, by no means, do I mean to imply that John is perfect (even though he was born 7-7-77). He was all boy and had his share of scrapes and mishaps. But he also had moments of wisdom beyond his years, the ability to laugh in the face of adversity, and faith to go forward in life--even when faced with heartbreaking disappointment. From childhood his faith in God has been the bedrock of life and it remains strong in his heart today.
Amanda brought real love and joy to John's life. From the moment I met her, I loved her. She has such a warm personality and a heart as big as the world itself. She is kind and generous. When planning the wedding, she was careful to include all of us and made us feel very much a part of the ceremony. I would frequently catch her looking at John with so much love in her expression that it would make me want to cry. I truly love my new daughter-in-law. She is a real joy.
So, when John and Amanda said their vows, I was proud of them both. I was proud to have the gift of my son and proud to have his new wife become a part of my family. As with any mother I suppose, many memories of my son flashed across my mind as I listened to the deep voice say his marriage vows. A recent phone message from John came to my mind: "Mom, this is John. I just wanted to say Happy Easter. I love you and I appreciate you.". Loving words that I will never forget.
" 'Til death do us part". Familiar words to all who have ever attended a wedding ceremony. Words that carry hope, trust, and faith. Words that look forward to the future and a lifetime of happiness shared. Words that declare a love that will never die.
When John was a little boy, I read a book that emphasized the need for mothers to pray for the future mate of their child. I began praying for the girl John would marry. I made a list of qualities that I would like to see in the young lady of his choice. I am happy to say that Amanda has every quality I had on the list--and then some. I am convinced that God is faithful regarding the prayers we pray for our children. I am convinced that His Divine plan is performed even as we pray. How good of God to care for our children in ways that we never could. Both of my children were dedicated to God when they were only weeks old. I placed them in His care, knowing that life for them would not always be easy, but also knowing that He would watch over them when I could not be with them. There are times when it has been difficult to leave them in God's hands and let Him work His plan in their lives. I have learned, though, that when concerns are left in the hand of God, it works out far better than when we try to solve them ourselves.
I am at peace with John and Amanda. I know they will face hardship, difficulty, and just the day to day problems of life itself. But I am confident that the love they share will keep them strong and will stand the test of time. I know they will survive, with God as their guide, to be the enduring love of each other's lives. I pray they will truly love each other " 'Til death do us part".

In Grace,