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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Charla Darla

Billy and Charlene Ward---I love this photo

Of the many friends God has placed in my life, few have given me as much joy and laughter as Charlene Ward. She and her husband, Billy, have become not only friends, but co-workers in Christ as well. We have shared many church services together, shopped together, shared meals together, and, have laughed and cried on each other's shoulder. She is a dear soul, an inspiration, and a true lover of Christ.
I met Charlene in 2007. I had just moved to North Carolina and was missing my family so dreadfully. She sort of "mothered" me (even though she is four years younger than I), cheering me up, and making me feel that I was part of her family. I will always be grateful to her for her attentiveness and her loving concern for someone that, at that time, she hardly knew. But then, that's how Charlene is---she loves you from the moment she meets you. She has become one of the dearest friends I have ever known.
Almost three years ago, Charlene was diagnosed with colon cancer. As devastating as that diagnosis was, she has never once lost her faith. In the midst of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, she would visit our church, always with words of encouragement and faith. She referred to the scriptures often, always looking for the promises of God regarding healing and deliverance. Not one time have I ever heard her voice doubt or unbelief about God's healing power. I have never heard her become despondent or low in spirit but, rather, she reflects in every conversation her faith and trust in the God she serves. Her husband, Billy, calls her "Charla Darla". He would sometimes say to me during this time, "Pray for my Charla Darla". I prayed, oh, how I prayed.
Recently, Charlene was told that she had developed tumors in her brain. Radiation began almost immediately and she has suffered the side effects of loss of appetite, weakness, fatigue, and severe pain. She came to our Christmas banquet this year---she and her husband and I shared the table with our pastor and his wife, Mike and Susan. We all enjoyed each other's company and, even though she was weak and unable to mingle like she usually does, her smile was intact, her words were uplifting, and her faith in God unwavering. I looked at her and thought to myself, "I love my friend so very much. I cannot imagine life without her.". She is such an inspiration to me and I know she is to many others as well.
So, I continue to pray for my friend. I pray for her strength, her spirit, and her endurance, as well as for her healing. I am asking God for the miracle I know He is able to perform. As I pray for my friend, I am also praying for my own faith. It is difficult to see those we love suffer and not understand the "why". Several years ago, when family members were enduring horrendous suffering, I sought God regarding the purpose of such testing in the lives of the faithful. The answer came to me in this way: there are times when God gets a greater glory out of the faith birthed during adversity than any other time. In the midst of suffering and trial, faith becomes refined, polished, and reflective of God Himself. It is also during this time that we draw closer to God out of sheer necessity---we must be as close to the God of all comfort as possible when we are at our lowest in life. If this is the case, then my friend is surely as close to our Father-God as one can get in this earthly existence.
Please join me in keeping Charlene in prayer. She is a bright spot in the lives of all those who love her and she is a glorious reflection of faith in the midst of adversity. I know God is able to do whatever I can believe Him for---and I do believe Him for healing for my friend. Would you believe with me? Believe with me for "Charla Darla". Pray with me for my friend.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Still Coming

I have sung the beloved Christmas hymn, "O Come, All Ye Faithful", since I was a child. I remember singing it in numerous school productions and, of course, every year in our church Christmas pageant or play. It is a song I love and it is my favorite of the traditional Christmas carols.
This year, though, I found myself reflecting on the words used in its composition, specifically the word "faithful". Why would the author of this song choose this particular term in his invitation to come and adore the Saviour? I mean, Jesus was a newborn babe in a manger with hardly any time at all for anyone to become faithful to Him. At least, not in the way I perceived becoming faithful. How could one become faithful to a person or a cause that had not yet been truly revealed or studied? I found my answer in two Biblical passages.
The prophecy of Isaiah became my part one of the answer to my quest. I remembered the beautiful words of Isaiah 7:14,

"Therefore, the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive; and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."

In studying the definition of the word faithful, I learned that it is defined as something that is , "worthy of trust or belief", and, "consistent with fact". The above passage in Isaiah, beautiful as it is, was only a prophecy---only words from the pen of a holy man. Only words---until they were believed.
The children of Israel did not take these words lightly. They did, indeed, consider them worthy of trust, for they came from a prophet of God. Because of their belief, the words of the prophet became worthy of their trust. Since the prophecy was deemed faithful, those who believed were also deemed faithful.
My second passage came from the glorious description of the Jesus' birth in Luke 2:10-12,

"And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."

The prophecy of Isaiah had come to pass. According to the definition of faithful, the prophecy had become consistent with fact. The birth of Jesus was foretold and, now, it had become a reality. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, delivered of a virgin mother. No wonder angels filled the sky and Heaven's light flooded the earth. The Prince of Heaven had descended to earth to fulfill His Father's plan.
From the moment of His birth, the faithful came. Those with loyal hearts to the words of the prophet, those who believed He was sent from God, those who could not explain the miraculous events surrounding His birth by any other means, these were the faithful. And they came for one reason---they came to adore Him.
Oh, how grateful I am to be one of the faithful. How I treasure the assurance I have in my heart that this tiny baby boy was, indeed, the Messiah. How grateful I am to know in my heart that He is Christ, the Lord. He is worthy of all my praise---all my honor---all the glory I can give to Him. Oh, how I love my Jesus, the Lord of my heart.
No longer does the manger exist where He laid His baby head. The shepherds who heard the angels sing have long since been laid to rest. Oh, but the story I can read, the words I can hide in my heart, and, yes, I can still adore Him---and I do.
The composer of my favorite Christmas hymn had an insight into the story of His birth. Only the faithful---only those who believe in Him---only those who trust Him---only these can truly adore Him. I have found myself wanting to adore Him more each day. His birth has given me the opportunity to spend eternity in His presence, in true joy and peace.
May we all come to truly realize that the babe in the manger was not just a babe. He was the fulfillment of the promise, the long awaited King, He was Christ, the Lord. I give Him all the glory. I remain one of the faithful---and I am still coming to adore Him.

In Grace,

Friday, December 10, 2010

If Only In My Dreams

One of my favorite Christmas songs is "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and I love the way Elvis sang it (I happen to be a BIG Elvis fan).  I never really understood the meaning behind the song, though, until I relocated and  had to spend a couple holidays away from my family.  Christmas is the holiday that draws everyone's attention to family and home.  No matter where you may be, or what may prevent you from traveling home, when the big day arrives, home is still  the place you want to be. 
For me, there is the security of being with Mother and Daddy and knowing that, no matter what, their presence in my life remains the greatest gift.  Then, of course, there is the time spent with my brothers, Dan and Dwight.  Remembering them as children and now, seeing the men they have become, brings a sense of  belonging to my heart.  Most of all, being with my son, John, brings the biggest smile to my face.  God blessed my life the day my son was born and he has remained a blessing to me his entire life.  Oh, how I will miss being with them all this year.  Fortunately, my beautiful daughter, Lisa, and her family live close to me and I will be seeing their smiling faces this Christmas.  Lisa has been such a strength to me and has blessed me in so many ways---I love her so much.  Of course, having my little grandsons close by makes the holiday a sheer pleasure.  Still, I wish we all could be together at Mother and Daddy's on Christmas Eve.
I was watching one of the renditions of  "A Christmas Carol" earlier in the week.  It made me think of how memories are made.  Each and every day that passes by, we make a series of memories.  In difficult times, the good memories serve to sustain us, comfort us, and bring us joy.  Though not all memories are pleasant, those that are remind us of just how rich and full life can be.  At this time of year, I am reminded of my two brothers who have passed and how much they both loved Christmas.  The memories I have of them and their love for the holidays always bring a smile to my face.  I wouldn't trade my memories of Don and David for any present under the tree.
The beautiful words to this song say exactly what I am feeling this Christmas season.  I suppose the author was away from home and longed to be there for all the festivities---just like me.

I'll be home for Christmas,
You can plan on me.
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents for the tree.

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light leads.
I'll be home for Christmas, oh yes
If only in my dreams.

I suppose the only way I will be going home this year is in my dreams.  When I dream of Christmas, it is Daddy's deep voice and  boisterous laugh that I will yearn for.  I will crave Mother's warm hug, her delicious Christmas treats, and her beautiful smile.  I will be wishing for a bear hug from each of my brothers and longing to hear my son say, "Hello, Mom".  I will be hearing them all laughing and talking at the same time as we stuff  ourselves at Mother's buffet table.  Oh, how I want to go home for Christmas. 
Christmas Eve this year will find me carrying on the traditions my dear, sweet Mother started when we were all young children at home.  I will prepare the buffet table with treats from Mother's recipes.  I will have the gifts wrapped and under the tree, the stockings filled with goodies for the grandchildren, and  the CDs of Elvis and Josh Groban singing the songs of the season.  My son-in-law, Mark, will read the Christmas story from the Bible and we will all be laughing and talking at the same time---just like we did years ago. 
So, if dreams are the only way I can go home for Christmas this year, then so be it.  When all the festivities are over, and I lay my head on my pillow on Christmas Eve, for a brief moment, before I drift off to sleep, I'll be home for Christmas.  I'll be home---if only in my dreams.

In Grace,



Sunday, December 5, 2010

He Came To Me

I know that this is the time of year when all hearts and minds are thinking of the baby in the manger.  I love the phrase, "Jesus is the reason for the season", and I adore hearing my Daddy's rich, baritone voice reading the story from Luke, chapter two.  I love the joy and festive spirit of the season and, of course, my heart sings at the excitement on the faces of two wonderful little guys I call  "Gigi's Boys".  The food, the decorations, the children's plays, and the carols of Christmas are all parts of the season that I remember and treasure.  My precious Mother's homemade treats and my brothers' funny stories, along with the ones told by own children, make this time of year a holiday my entire family anticipates.
But, for me this year, Christmas holds a newer perspective.  My mind is not totally focused on the manger scene, the angel's song, or the gifts of the wise men.  I am singing the songs of the season but I am adding one this year that takes the birth of our precious Lord a little further.  You see, I am thinking of how He came to this earth, a tiny baby who seemed insignificant and unimportant.  I am thinking of how the baby became a man---a man who would be persecuted beyond belief, tortured for hours on a wooden frame, mocked and despised by those He loved, and whose death would bring redemption from a bondage called sin.  Yes, He came, but not just as a baby.  He came as a Redeemer.  He came to the world.  He came to me.
While traveling to my pastor's home yesterday for a social gathering with his wife and daughters, I began to sing a song I had not sung in years.  I prayed as I sang, thanking God for moving in some situations recently that had caused me some concern.  At one point I said these words, "I thank you, God, that you came to me.".  A flood of emotions swept over me as I heard His words in my spirit, "Yes, I came to you.  I came to you when you were fallen and lifted you up.  I came to you when you cried and  wiped away your tears.  I came to you when all hope was lost and showed you how to believe.  I came to you when no one else would come.   When all who heard your cry of despair refused to come, I came to you.  I will always come to you---always.".
I could not stop the praises from spilling forth.  He came to me.  I could not stop the joy.  He came to me.  "When I could not come to where He was, He came to me.".  The words of the song mingled with the praise of my heart---just to think, He came to me.  Read these beautiful words to the chorus of this song:
            "He came to me.  He came to me.
             When I could not come to where He was,
             He came to me.
             That's why He died on Calvary.
             When I could not come to where He was,
             He came to me."

It's true, He came to the world as a baby.  It's true, He gave His life for the sins of the world.  As a tiny baby, born on a day we call Christmas, He was heralded by angels and admired by shepherds from the fields.  He lay in fresh hay in a manger stall and a star told His location.  As a man, He gave His life in exchange for ours.  Oh, but as a Saviour, He excels.  As prince of peace, there is no competition.  As tender shepherd, He is the best.  When I need Him, He is my champion---my hero---my protector.
Of course I will celebrate Christmas with my family and friends this year.  I will make new memories and cherish the old ones.  But, I will not be thinking of Jesus as the manger babe.  I will be thinking of how He came, not to the world, but to me.  I will be thinking that, when  I could not come to where He was,  He came to me.

In Grace,


Friday, November 19, 2010

Truly Thanking God

I cannot think of the Thanksgiving holiday without remembering a dear friend from my childhood years. Though I have met so many wonderful people in my lifetime and though many of them have touched my life, none have left the marks upon my heart like Laura Shrout. As children, my brothers and I frequently called her "Laurie". What a delightful woman she was.
Laurie was a large woman with big, beautiful blue eyes. The sound of her laughter would always make us children laugh, even if we didn't know what we were laughing about. She had the most gentle touch and was always telling us how much she loved us. I loved to snuggle up to her and smell her perfume. I don't remember the scent she wore, but she always smelled so divine. It was a pleasure to be in her company.
Laurie didn't have any children of her own. As Mother began to travel with Daddy on his ministerial journeys, Laurie would come and stay with us. She was a true Nanny. Her husband, Tom, would come by each evening and read to us or watch television. We felt safe so safe with Tom and Laurie.
Laurie was among the first of my Daddy's congregants. When he assumed the leadership of our church, Tom and Laurie were there from the beginning. Their faithfulness to the House of God, and their loyalty to my Daddy's leadership, endeared them to our entire family. I recall many times seeing Laurie wipe away the tears as my Daddy preached. She had such a tender heart.
It was the custom of our church to precede the Wednesday night Bible study with a few testimonies from the congregation. I loved to hear various members of our assembly share what God had done for them. Many stories of faith and hope, believing and trusting, fell upon my childish ears. My faith was developed and anchored by the visible proof of God's ability to meet all our needs as I saw it for myself in the lives of these humble people.
Laurie's testimony was the one I loved the most. This gentle, loving woman would come to her feet, place her hands on the pew in front of her and speak the words, "Truly, I'm thanking God for all He has done for me.". Every testimony Laurie gave began with those wonderful words, "Truly, I'm thanking God.". It left its mark upon my childish heart. I knew from the tone of her voice, the softness with which she spoke, and the reverence of her words, that Laurie really knew the Lord. She spoke of Him like she would speak of a good friend, which, of course, they were.
Truly---the word refers to something that is real and genuine. That was Laurie's relationship with God. It was real. It was right. It was genuine. She left her mark upon the lives of myself and my three oldest brothers. My youngest brother, Dwight, never knew Laurie. She died before he was born. Still, her life was not in vain. Her smile, her love of life, her gentleness, and her goodness, are all remembered by my family and I.
So, when the season comes 'round and the time of giving thanks is here, I think of Laurie. I think of a woman who had very little in material goods. I think of a woman who enjoyed the company of friends and family more than the things that money could buy. I remember warm hugs, pats on the head, hot chocolate, and bedtime stories. I recall fondly, a Godly woman who was not afraid to cry when her heart was touched. I think of her daily and I can say, "Truly I'm thanking God" for my childhood friend, Laurie. For all good things that have come down from the Father above, "Truly, I'm thanking God.".

In Grace,

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Learning To Lean

As one who has trusted God from childhood, I thought I had learned how to lean on the Lord. At every crisis point of my life, I turned to Him in prayer, asking for His help and direction. I searched the scriptures for words of comfort and courage. I had faith that God would, and could, bring me through whatever situation life brought to me. I felt secure in what I believed and knew my faith would remain intact, regardless of my circumstances.
How smug I was in my faith. Though it never crossed my mind that I was better than anyone else because I trusted God, I had grown rather prideful of my relationship with God. I just knew that, because I loved Him so much, God would never allow me to be put to the test. I had come to honestly believe that God loved me too much to allow me to suffer in any way. Little did I know what life had in store for me---little did I know what I would learn about really trusting God.
My lessons began with the loss of a twenty year marriage. I loved my husband dearly and my whole world was shattered the day he walked out of my life. I was dazed, shocked, hurt, and so lost. My spirit crumbled within me and my heart shrank into nothingness. Two years later, the loss of a second brother wrenched my heart. I hurt so badly---David was my friend, my confidant, my protector. I felt as if a hole had been dug into my life and I was falling in. Several years later, a close friendship fell apart. Someone who had been the dearest friend I had ever had, no longer desired that friendship and, once again, I felt rejected and alone. Recent tragedies in my family (see my previous post) have, again, served to reshape my relationship with God. Finally, just a week ago, my brother, Daniel, and his wife suffered the loss of their daughter. She was 30 years old and passed away in her sleep.
During these times I found myself weeping and wailing before the Lord. I cried out, "Why, Lord? Why have you allowed these things to come? What have I done that has provoked your anger?". I felt betrayed by God and could not understand why He had allowed such suffering to come to me. I searched my heart and life to find something--anything--that would give me a clue as to why God had, literally, pulled back His protective hedge. Why was God allowing these dark times, these "Dark nights of the soul", as the author Thomas Moore calls them.
Early one morning, as I was praying earnestly for understanding, the words of a recent message came back to me. I had heard a minister speak a few weeks before, regarding this very subject. I recalled his words, "When you were in school, you had a teacher. Your teacher went through each lesson with you. He/she explained each problem, covered each principle, and made sure you understood what was being taught. But, when it came time for the test, the teacher was silent. He/she didn't say anything, didn't answer any questions, didn't provide any explanations regarding what was on the test. The teacher was silent while the test was going on. The test was the only way the teacher could find out if you had learned what you were being taught. When God allows a test, He can be silent, too.".
It finally hit me. I was "taking the test". God was silent. He needed to know if I had learned the lessons He wanted me to learn. What were the lessons? Lean on Him when life hits hard. Never leave His side if I want to know the way. Stay close to Him if I want to make it safely. The only way that God would know for sure if I had learned how to lean was to allow me to be placed in a circumstance that was beyond my control. He took me out of my comfort zone, out of every thing that I was capable of handling on my own, and placed me smack dab in the middle of a situation that only He could help me through. My knowledge of His Word served me well---it became my handbook. The habit of prayer enabled me to go to Him with the slightest pain, the deepest agony, and talk to Him as I would to a dear friend. I was truly learning what it meant to lean on the Lord. It was a painful, but necessary, lesson.
I cannot say that I will never again question God as to why He allows what He allows. I cannot say that I will always come to Him first rather than try to find the answer for myself. But I can say that I have come to love leaning on the Lord. I have found safety, security, and refuge when I run to the strong arms of God.
All the sorrows and despairs of my life have only served to teach me, to prepare me, for the tests life is sure to bring. Though my heart may ache, my spirit sag, and my song disappear, I know where to run. I have the perfect hiding place---the shadow of the Almighty. Through it all, I lean on Him. He is, after all, the God who cannot fail.

In Grace,

Monday, September 13, 2010

Stand By Me

"When the storms of life are raging, Lord, Stand by me."

It is with sadness in my heart that I write today's post. Life has been difficult this past week and there has much to take before the Lord in prayer.
Many of you may have heard over the news broadcasts, or perhaps read in the newspapers, of the murdering of five people in Kentucky. The gunman killed five adults, then turned the gun on himself and took his own life. The gunman was my cousin, Stanley Neace. My heart is aching today over these events.
I recall playing with Stanley as a child. He was bright, funny, and made me laugh all the time. He had a wonderful imagination and could tell a story like no one else. He had big, beautiful blue eyes and curly brown hair. When he smiled, and he smiled a lot, his whole face would light up. I found myself smiling with him simply because he was enjoying himself at the moment. He was a joy to be around.
As a young teenager, Stanley gave his heart to the Lord. At Stanley's request my father, "Uncle Russell" to Stanley, baptized him and prayed with him that God would protect him and keep him safe all of his life. It was a wonderful day. You could just see the glow of God's presence on my cousin's face. It was, indeed, a true conversion of both heart and mind.
As an adult, Stanley faced the hardship of seeing his parents divorced and his family torn apart. His faith held him in good stead for a while, but he gradually became bitter towards our Lord and blamed God for allowing these things to happen. His bitterness turned him against God and it wasn't long before his faith was lost---lost to a broken heart and a life without a true family unit.
The last time I saw my cousin, he was a broken man. He had developed mental illness and had begun having seizures. Medication helped somewhat, but he had also become dependent on alcohol as well. Life for him had become unbearable and he sought escape in drugs and liquor. He never considered the possibility of renewing his relationship with God. He never stopped blaming God for the hardness of his circumstances.
I was traveling back from a women's conference in South Carolina when my father called and gave me the news of Stanley's death. My pastor's wife, Susan, was driving and when she asked me what was wrong, I could find no voice. I could only see, in my mind's eye, the little boy with the big blue eyes and the dimpled smile. I wept for his death and the deaths of those he murdered. I tried to imagine the sorrow that was sweeping through the families of the victims. Stanley was the son of my mother's brother, Paul. An additional sorrow to me was concern for my mother and how this would burden her heart.
I relate this awful circumstance for several reasons. First, and foremost, I ask for your prayers for myself and for my family. We are grieved beyond measure. I ask also for prayers for the families left behind to grieve the untimely deaths of their loved ones. Grief is such an awful monster of the heart---please pray that God will comfort us in this time.
Secondly, we never know when life will hand us more than we feel we can bear. We must cling ever more closely to the Lord and lay our cares upon His shoulders. He cares for us so deeply, loves us so dearly, stands ever near in the time of trouble. Our relationship with our blessed Savior must be nurtured and secured in our hearts so that, in times like these, we can lean heavily upon Him.
Thirdly, we must always trust that God knows what He is doing. Nothing comes to us that He does not allow. Nothing happens in our lives that our gracious God has not considered and said, "She/He can handle it. I'll be there to help". In the scriptures, Timothy was encouraged by the Apostle Paul to endure hardness as a good soldier. If these awful situations, if these sorrows of the heart, if these grieving moments, will moved me closer to the One I serve, then I can do no less then serve Him in the bad times as well as the good. I want to be a good soldier of the cross.
I know my God will bring healing from the loss I feel. I know He will be the lifter of my head, my strong and mighty tower. I know I can run to Him and be safe. I am certain He will guard my heart and grant me peace. My most gracious thanks to all of you as I know you will be praying for me. May God bless you so very richly.

In Grace,

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Passion For Souls

This is Rev. Oscar Wagoner, the man whose ministry helped lead me to the Lord.

As I have said before, I have been privileged to meet so many wonderful ministers and their families during my years as a pastor's daughter. I have heard so many truly gifted speakers whose words would touch my heart and inspire me to move forward in my walk with God. Of course, to me, no one could speak quite like my Daddy. His rich, baritone voice seemed to bounce off the rafters as he ministered the gospel. His understanding of the Word of God always amazed me and, even to this day, I marvel at his grasp of the scriptures. He remains my first and foremost mentor.
There is, however, another minister who became so special to me, both as a young teenager and as an adult. Rev. Oscar Wagoner (pictured above) was my father's Assistant Pastor and our Youth Leader for many years. His faithfulness and devotion to the cause of Christ served as an inspiration to all of who knew him. His service and loyalty to my parents as he served in the church cannot ever be forgotten. I am reminded, as I write these words, of his unfailing love and support of the Body of Christ. What a great man he is.
When I first met Rev. Wagoner and his sweet wife, Brenda, I was only 14. He and his wife had not been married long and they had just had their first child---a lovely little girl named Joanna. He was gifted with an anointing that made his sermons come alive. Indeed, his preaching would, many times, bring the Bible so to life for me that I felt I was right there with the saints of Bible days. I hung on his every word and always looked forward to his preaching. He was, and is, one of the best ministers I have ever heard.
Though Rev. Wagoner was a fine speaker, it was his passion for souls that defined him. His obvious caring for the lost and his prayers for their salvation, permeated each altar call. His preaching was convicting, allowing the hearer to see the need for Christ in their life. But, oh, it was his desire to see each and every soul saved that propelled us to the altar of God. It was his rejoicing over each one's repentance that convinced us we had made the right choice. Many times I have seen him stay at the altar, in prayer with those who had given their lives to the Lord. He became someone we all looked up to.

Rev. and Sis. Oscar and Brenda Wagoner

Always by his side was Sis. Wagoner, "Bren" as we often heard him call her. Sis. Wagoner never failed in her support of her husband and his ministry. In addition, she played the piano and sang beautifully. When I was learning music, I had no one to help me until she came along. I had learned the chords by that time, but Sis Wagoner helped me put it all together. When "Bren" played the piano, her fingers barely seemed to touch the keyboard---she played so softly yet so beautifully. There were times when I would see her smile when she played and I knew she was enjoying herself immensely. I can still, in memory, hear her lovely music.
I recently received an email from Rev. Wagoner in which he asked me a few questions about my music. He then reminded me of a poem I had written for him years ago. Our youth group was honoring him and his work he had done for the youth of our church. I wrote the poem to show our gratitude for his teaching and for helping direct us in our walk with God. I was touched beyond measure to find that he still had a copy of it and still considered it "so beautiful". I could not hold back the tears as I thought about him still reading what I written.
I am so grateful for the great men and women of God who have come into my life. I have been so blessed to have been instructed, encouraged, and uplifted by so many voices. Though each of them have a place in my heart, Rev. and Sis. Wagoner hold the most tender spot. Hardly a day passes that I do not think of them. Always, I am thanking God for their patience, their teaching, and their caring for a young pastor's daughter who had trouble finding her way. Because of them, I am secure in my faith and my calling. Their influence upon my heart has never failed but, rather, has grown deeper with the passage of time.

Oscar and Brenda Wagoner, 2006

To say, "Thank you", seems so feeble in comparison to the love and support they have given to so many. Let me add "I am grateful", and that I think of them often. When I do, I remember a black-haired minister and his lovely wife. I remember his passion for souls and I remember that I am one he helped win to Christ. Thank you "Oscar and Bren", thank you from my heart. I love you both so very, very much.

On Grace,

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Love That Lasts

Mother and Daddy, Easter Sunday, 2003

Today is my parent's wedding anniversary---they have been married sixty years. What a wonderful life they have shared together. Though there were many difficult times along the way, they have held on to their faith in God and to each other. Their love for each other has never wavered, their devotion never faltered, their commitment to each other remaining secure through the passage of time. The only thing greater than their love for each other has been their love for God. I am certain this has been the cement that held their marriage together through storms that would otherwise tear them apart.
Born during the Great Depression, both my parents had their share of hardship and want. My Mother was one of seventeen children, several of which died while very young. Her mother died before I was born---Mother speaks of her with such a sadness in her eyes and I know she yearns for her still. Over the years, she has lost all but three of her siblings and her father as well. Daddy's mother was a paraplegic. Thrown from a horse when she was only fifteen, she received an injury to her spinal cord. She lay bedridden for five years before realizing that her life was not over. She became a seamstress and supported herself until she married my grandfather when she was approximately 32. She gave birth to my father and his brother within the next five years. Her faith in God was strong and she ingrained it into my father when he was just a child. Daddy's father was a tobacco grader, a hunter, and a businessman. He taught my father how to make a living on next to nothing. Most of all, he taught Daddy how to be a loving father. Believe me when I say my Daddy is good at loving his family.
Mother and Daddy met and married in August of 1950. I was born the next year. When I was only a few months old, Mother gave her heart to the Lord. Oh, what a Godly woman she has been. Daddy, on the other hand, proved to be harder to win to the Lord. Mother prayed for Daddy for seven long years and, in August of 1958, Daddy became a child of God. He was gloriously and wondrously saved. He has been a true man of God ever since. I think it was after his conversion that Mother and Daddy truly began their marriage.
Growing up as a child in Mother and Daddy's home was a sheer joy. Although I had wanted a sister, each new baby was a boy. After a while, I learned there were benefits to being the only girl (like having your own room). I learned to love each of my four brothers and we have the kind of closeness that has stood the test of time. Daddy decided that each son's name should begin with "D"---Don, David, Daniel, and Dwight. Sometimes it would sound like Mother was stuttering as she tried to call the right name. We would get so tickled and she would laugh along with us. She has truly been the dearest Mother.
My favorite memories of Mother and Daddy through the years has been hearing them pray together. When Daddy came to the Lord, he made it a point to spend time daily in prayer and study of the Word. I recall a time when I passed by his bedroom and saw him kneeling by his bed in prayer. The Bible lay open on the bed and Daddy had his head resting on its pages. I can still remember him asking God to give him what it took to make it where God was. Mother often knelt with him and together they would call the names of each of their five children in prayer, asking God to supply the need and bring us to Him. I can feel the tears begin to flow as I remember these sweet moments.
Though Mother and Daddy lost many family members, nothing hit quite so hard as the loss of their two oldest sons. Don passed in 1980 at the age of twenty-six, David in 1997 at the age of thirty-nine. Oh, how awful it was to watch them grieve and know there was nothing I could do but lift them to the Lord in prayer. Mother's beautiful blue eyes were rarely dry during this time and Daddy would frequently just stand in the hallway and weep. I know that the Lord strengthened them during this time, but they also drew strength from each other. They would cling to each other and pray for each other to be able to endure this horrible loss. I saw their love grow richer and fuller during this time. I recently asked my sweet Mother how she endured the loss of two sons without losing hope and giving up on life. She smiled that beautiful smile of hers and said, "Honey, I make it one day at a time, leaning on the Lord.". I began to weep at the words of this remarkable woman I call Mother, and she, being Mother, hugged me close and just let me cry. Oh, how wonderful is this woman.
Daddy retired from full time pastoring several years ago. He and Mother now spend most of their time in conferences, home Bible studies, and other special services. Daddy especially likes helping young pastors develop their churches and assists them with the business side of pastoring. Mother and Daddy are inseparable and go everywhere together. When I am in their home, I hear them laughing at each other, telling some silly story about one of the grandchildren, and I still hear them pray together. Sometimes, during their Bible reading together, Daddy will get excited and start preaching to Mother. She just sits and listens with a smile on her face and lets Daddy "have the floor".
Sixty years is a long time to be together. When I called Mother to wish them a Happy Anniversary, I jokingly asked how she had put up with Daddy all those years. She laughed and said, "By the grace of God.". Indeed, it is true. Leaning on each other is one thing, but leaning together on the Lord is quite something else. Mother and Daddy will quickly tell you they have indeed made it by the grace of God. For them, there has been no other way.

In Grace,

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Coffee On The Porch

My friend, Susan, and I have shared some wonderful moments of friendship. We have seen each other through good times and bad, shared laughter and tears, and enjoyed each other's company through it all. I lived in Susan's home with her for a few months following my initial move to North Carolina. We spent many evenings together just talking and sharing the events of the day. During the summer and early fall, we developed a ritual that we called, "Coffee on the Porch". Susan would fix us each her special coffee: french vanilla coffee creamer, coffee, and whipped cream with a little cinnamon sprinkled on top. We would then take our coffee out to her huge front porch where each of us would occupy a comfy rocking chair and there is where we ended our day. As the weather grew cooler, we had our coffee in the den, still calling it "Coffee on the Porch".
When I found my own place and moved out of Susan's home, I dreadfully missed those calm, unhurried evenings where Susan and I would sip coffee and end the day. I gradually developed my own form of "Coffee on the Porch" by calling Susan and saying, "I'm having coffee on the porch". She would be having her coffee, too, and, over the phone, we would end the day. Eventually, "Coffee on the Porch" began to stand for fellowship and friendship, whether we were on the porch or not. I recall a time when I was driving home from a trip to Ohio to visit my family. I had stopped at a Starbuck's and gotten my favorite cafe latte. I got back on the interstate, looked at the time, and immediately called Susan, "I'm in the car and I'm having coffee on the porch". Susan started laughing and we talked for a few minutes about my trip and what was going on in both our lives. I smiled when I hung up the phone and thanked God for my friend.
Since then, Susan and I have told many of our other friends about "Coffee on the Porch". You see, what we have come to realize is that fellowship and friendship do not need a designated spot or ritual. Matters of the heart seldom do. What we have also discovered is that people, women in particular, are hungry for real friendship and true fellowship. It is the celebrations of life that make it rich and, sometimes, the celebration can be something as simple as being grateful for life and the opportunities it brings.
Recently, after our Women's Bible Study, several of those who attended, myself included, joined Susan in her beautiful home for, of course, "Coffee on the Porch". She and I shared with everyone about this time of fellowship and how it all came about. We had so much fun just talking about the things of God, our lives, our children, and how important Christian fellowship can be. Susan's Mother, whom everyone calls Memaw, shared some stories about Susan with us and we laughed hysterically at the some of the things she told about Susan and her sister, Vicki. Pastor Mike kept the coffee coming and, from time to time, came in and joined us. All in all, it was a great time and a lovely way to end the day.
I am convinced that friendship is God's way of extending His hand to us on a daily basis. True friends do not have to have words to tell how they feel, they just know. True friendship is not contingent on gifts, compliments, or extravagance. True friendship rests on the premise of loyalty, respect, and trust. When God sends people into our lives and friendship is cultivated, it is always the kind that lifts us up, encourages us, and gives us strength. It keeps our spiritual compass pointed toward the things of God and our ear attuned to His voice.
Oh, how grateful I am for all the friends God has given to me. I am especially grateful for the fellowship I am blessed to enjoy when my friends and I get together. I still miss the privilege of sitting on Susan's porch at the end of the day and enjoying the peaceful surroundings. However, french vanilla creamer is always in my fridge along with whipped cream and the cinnamon that sits in my cabinet. The coffee will be fresh and hot tonight, seasoned with Susan's special recipe. I'll make a cup, settle in on the sofa, and call Susan. When she answers the phone, I'll laugh and say, "It's time for coffee on the porch". What I will really be saying is, "I need to talk.". I'll do most of the talking, she'll do most of the listening but we both will be thanking God for all that He has done---especially for "Coffee on the Porch".

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

When I Dream

My friend, Janet, has a darling three year-old named Abbie (Abigail Elizabeth). This child is hysterical. She has the best little sense of humor and the highest energy level known to mankind. She can keep up with any child her age, including the boys, and is more aware of her surroundings than most adults. She is sweet, loving, active, and smart. Everyone loves Abbie.
A few months ago, Abbie and her mother were in the car, just out and about. Janet saw an airplane in the sky and pointed it out to Abbie. She asked her daughter, "Abbie, wouldn't you like to ride in that plane?". Without missing a beat, Abbie replied, "No, Mama. I want to DRIVE the plane.". I nearly died laughing when Janet told me this story. This is so typically Abbie. She dreams big.
I have thought about this story many times, recently with a different perspective. As a child, I,too, dreamed big. I dreamed of being a gospel singer and traveling across the country doing concerts with other gospel singers. I dreamed of being a writer and having my book sit on bookstore shelves while people waited in line for me to sign their copy of my work. I dreamed of teaching literature to college students and inspiring them to love English poetry as much as I do. I dreamed of a house in the country with a wide porch, a porch swing and lazy summer days sipping sweet tea to my heart's content. I did, indeed, dream big.
When I gave my heart to the Lord, though, my dreams began to change. I began to think about mission work, tent revivals, and youth fellowship. I began to dream of souls being saved, lives being changed, and the hopeless finding hope again. I began to weep for the lost and hurting of this world as I prayed for healing and restoration. I dreamed of being a source of inspiration and courage to those same souls whose lives seemed so despairing and dead. I dreamed big for God.
Unfortunately, as my own life began to pass by, I encountered devastation and heartache so intense that my dreams fell by the wayside. Not only did my dreams become small, they soon ceased to exist. I had lost hope---my dreams had failed. I lost the desire to dream again. I wrote in my journal during this time, "I have no dreams to dream. It is all so pointless. I am to old to dream anymore.". Life had won. My dreams had died.
It was after the birth of my first grandchild, Gabriel, that I began to think I might be able to dream again. As I held his baby face close to mine, I began to think of the things I hoped life would bring to him. Do I dare to say I dreamed big for Gabriel? Am I saying to you that this tiny being---this baby for whom I would be willing to give my life---is the reason for my dreaming? Yes, I am saying to you that with the birth of Gabriel, my outlook for the future began to change. I began to want things for him, to dream of what I would be to him, to think of the things we would do together and the lessons I would teach him. I wrote a lullaby for him, rocked him to sleep, stared at his baby face as he napped, and felt stirrings in my soul for the kind of man I dreamed he would be. Like Abbie, I began to dream big again.
Since that wonderful awakening, I have come to realize the importance of dreaming. Dreaming is defined as, "having a hope or aspiration; to consider something as being possible.". WOW! That definition alone inspires me to continue dreaming. I have hopes, aspirations, and dreams. I dream of being so close to God that I can feel the smallest urging of His presence. I dream of seeing my children and my grandchildren become great warriors of faith. I dream of growing old in the Lord and becoming wise in Him with the passing of time. I still dream of inspiring others to know Jesus by the reflection of Him they may see in me. I dream of knowing Him more intimately as time goes by. I dream of eternity in His presence.
Dreaming, having hopes and aspirations, seeing life's possibilities---is so important to a life of joy. Only when we can dream, and dream big, can we truly see the potential of what life has to offer. God gave us the ability to dream. He offers us, through our dreams, a vision of what life can be if we submit our dreams to Him. We do our part by dreaming big. He does His part by showing us how.
I am still dreaming and am recording those dreams in my journal. I don't want to forget the smallest detail of the possibilities of my life. So, yes, I still dream and when I do, I dream big. Just like Abbie.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Remind Me

Dottie Rambo--my most loved and revered gospel music artist

When I gave my heart to the Lord at age 14, Dottie Rambo was just becoming known in gospel music circles. She had a big, booming voice and could play a guitar like nobody's business. She wrote songs on what seemed like a daily basis. The words of her songs would captivate the listener, bring tears to eyes of all who heard, and reveal an anointing that went beyond the usual songwriter. She was such a tiny lady--barely five feet tall and maybe a hundred pounds. But, when Dottie Rambo sang, the power of the Lord Himself came through each note. Her voice would ring off the rafters, bringing a richness to each note, creating hope and courage by the words she wrote and sang.
I was privileged to meet Dottie during a concert in Cincinnati, Ohio. We chatted for a few moments about her music and her love for the Lord. She gave me the sheet music to her song, "We Shall Behold Him". She signed it for me, hugged me, and told me how much she enjoyed talking to me. I am sure she said those same words to many other people but, to me, it meant so very much.
Dottie was killed in a bus accident two years ago. She was traveling to a singing engagement when her bus ran off the road and crashed. She was killed instantly. Such a great loss to gospel music and to the kingdom of God.
Of all the songs Dottie Rambo wrote, my favorite remains, "Remind Me, Dear Lord". Please allow me to share those wonderful words with you today:

"The things that I love and hold dear to my heart
Are just borrowed, they're not mine at all.
Jesus only let use them to brighten my life.
So, remind me, remind me, dear Lord.

Roll back the curtain of memory now and then.
Show me where you brought me from and where I could have been.
Remember, I'm human, and humans forget.
So, remind me, remind me, dear Lord.

Nothing good have I done to deserve God's own Son.
I'm not worthy of the scars in His hands.
Yet He chose the road to Calvary, to die in my stead.
Why He loves me, I just can't understand."

Over the years I have sung this song so many times. Each time I sing the words, I cannot help but think of the good things my Lord has done for me. I pray He will continue to bring to my remembrance the times when only He could come to my aid. When you comforted me---remind me Lord. When you strengthened me---remind me Lord. When you mended my brokenness---remind me, Lord. When you turned my sorrow into joy, my pain into hope, my tears into laughter---remind me, Lord. When you became a friend that has been closer than a brother---remind me, Lord. When, in my humanity, I forget your goodness---remind me, Lord.
How we all need to be reminded of the great things our wonderful God has done for us. How easy it is to forget, in the hustle and bustle of daily life, the things, both small and great, that He continues to bestow upon us---simply because He loves us. How easy it becomes to reap the blessings of the Lord and still fail to remind ourselves that we have done nothing to merit such favor.
Oh, dear Lord, remind us. Roll back the curtain of our memory and let us be thankful for all you have done. Never, ever, let us forget that all we are, or ever hope to be, is because you first loved us. Remind us, remind us, dear Lord.

In Grace,

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Simply Susan

My friend, Susan (on the left), with her sister, Vicki.
My pastor's wife, Susan, is a great lady. Not only does she have the best sense of humor ever, but she is kind, loyal, and dearly loves the Lord. I always look forward to spending time with her and enjoying her bright personality. Susan is such a positive thinker, seeing the good things in life and always, always, always, offering a word of encouragement for every endeavor. She has been my biggest cheerleader and my dearest friend.
She does have a funny side, however. For instance, last fall Susan and I had lunch with a dear friend of ours who was visiting from out of town. We had a wonderful time of laughter and fellowship. Later, in the parking lot, I spotted Susan's car and walked in that direction. Suddenly, I heard Susan's voice behind me, "Oh, man. Look what someone did to my car. There is a huge scratch on my bumper.". Since I had Susan's car, a Camry, in view, I knew the car she was talking about was not hers. In addition, our friend was trying her best to open the door of the wrong car. I said, "Susan, S-A-T-U-R-N does not spell Camry. This is not your car.". I started laughing so hysterically as our friend said, "Oh my gosh, I'm trying to get in the wrong car.". That's simply Susan.
Last summer, Susan had visitors in her home for about a week. They cleaned her garage and cared for the yard and flowers during their visit. Everything was so nice and neat when they were finished. The next morning, Susan left for work---at least we thought she did. She came back into the house and said to her husband, "Mike, someone has stolen my car. It's not in the driveway.". Of course, Mike goes quickly to the garage, only to find the car sitting right where Susan had parked it the night before. Not being accustomed to having her car inside, Susan walked past her car in the garage, did not see it in the driveway, and walked past it a second time to come and tell her husband her car was stolen. I laughed so hard I could hardly catch my breath. That's simply Susan.
As funny as Susan can be, it is her tremendous love for the Lord that defines her. She is our Praise and Worship leader and does so with enthusiasm and great joy. There are times when I watch her sing and there is a smile on her face. Praising God is what Susan does best. Her love for Him is infectious and you cannot be around her long before you discover it for yourself. She is so secure in her faith---it permeates every corner of her life. The joy of the Lord is her greatest strength and she shares that strength with all of us.
I recall a time a couple of years ago when I was at a very low point in life. I needed Susan's encouragement so desperately. I was, however, quite unprepared for what she said. As I sat in her beautiful home, drinking coffee with her, she said, "Just how does what you are going through have anything to do with how great God is?". Talk about perspective, I got it then and there. I realized that, no matter what I was going through, none of it had anything to do with the greatness of God and what He could do in my life. God was as great as ever. Nothing that could happen to me could undo the greatness of the God I serve. Such are the words of a true friend.
I have heard Susan laugh until she could hardly breathe. I have heard her pray for people, calling each individual name in prayer. I have seen her rejoice at the success of others with no jealousy over their accomplishments. I have seen her tears when she observes the pain of others. She doesn't complain, she doesn't compete, she doesn't envy. She looks at every day as an opportunity to do something good for her Lord. The picture above is one of Susan and her sister, Vicki. I used it because it shows Susan's bright and joyful spirit. It shows her enjoying life.
My friend is not perfect. But then, neither am I. We each have our share of faults and shortcomings---that's why we need the Lord. I cannot imagine a life without Susan in it. She is my friend, my mentor, my cheerleader. She stands with me and helps me face life unafraid. She is a great lady. She is, quite simply, Susan.

In Grace,

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Don't Lose Your Vision

I had to get new glasses recently. For some time now, I have only had to have reading glasses. I didn't pay too much attention to the fact that my poor vision made reading without glasses nearly impossible. I just put them on when I needed to and took them off when I didn't. However, a couple of months ago, I noticed that I was having trouble with seeing things clearly from a distance. While standing at the foot of a patient's bed, I could no longer make out the numbers on the heart monitor. I would have to get really close to read the display without squinting. So, I went to the eye doctor and my vision had changed dramatically in two years. He gave me a new prescription for bi-focals and now my vision is perfect. Hmmm, a simple correction in my vision has made all the difference in how I see things.
I believe our spiritual vision can suffer dramatic changes as well. When we begin our walk with the Lord, all is right with the world. We look at life through the lens of His spirit and we see all the good things that surround us. We realize we are blessed with life, health, family, friends, and many of the things we love that make life so rich and full. We look forward to the possibilities of each new day and revel in the blessedness of what God has done for us.
As we go along, though, and times of testing enter into our lives, we suffer a marked change of vision and perspective. Our focus becomes the awful agony we are enduring. Our despair becomes our way of life and our faith seems insignificant in the face of it all. We seek God, but feel He does not answer. We yearn for someone to understand and, seemingly, there is no one. Our sense of aloneness amplifies our already hurting spirit and we plunge deeper into the depth of hopelessness. We cannot have hope because we cannot see God in this situation.
As I write this, I am reminded of Peter. Though he was given the keys to the kingdom, he still did not understand what having faith was all about. That is, until he was trapped in a boat---in a storm---with no help available. As he and the other disciples cried out for help, the vision changed. They saw Jesus. They didn't just see Jesus, though, they saw Him walking ON the water. Thinking they were seeing a "ghost", they now cried from fear. Their vision and trust in Jesus had become so poor, they could not even recognize Jesus when He came to them. Oh, but Peter, the Rock of the disciples, stepped out by faith. At the the Lord's invitation, he walked on water to go to Jesus. He had gone from despair, to faith, and, alas, back to despair. The scriptures teach us that when Peter took his eyes off of Jesus and looked at the storm, he was so overcome with fear that he began to sink into the stormy waters surrounding him. Jesus immediately reached out His hand and lifted Peter out of the raging storm. How like Jesus is that?!
How difficult it is to see Jesus sometimes. Life is not easy and, sometimes, my spiritual vision is dimmed by the hardship I am enduring. I need a change of vision. I recall a story I was told as a young Christian: A young newspaper editor began to suffer difficulties with his vision. Even with corrective lenses, his eyes began to fail. Since his occupation depended on his vision, he was devastated to think that he might be losing his sight. While seeking a second opinion, the doctor asked him what he did for a living. He then inquired of him where the young man lived. Upon discovering that the young editor lived in a house high above the foothills of Appalachia, he gave him very strange instructions, "Your vision is poor because you are constantly looking at things up close. Your ability to see distance has almost disappeared as a result. When you go home, you must do nothing that requires close vision. I want you to sit and look into the distance. Look at the grandeur of the mountains on the horizon. Look at the sky above. Look at the beauty that surrounds you and your vision will correct itself.". What wonderful advice!
How awful it makes us feel to consistently look at nothing but our problems. How depressing that is. But, somehow, when we look to Jesus, our vision changes. We see Him standing near, ready to come to us at a moment's notice. He stands ever so closely and is ready to reach out His hand and lift us from the storms of life. When we look ahead to the glorious promise that awaits us, the promise of Heaven and eternal rest with Jesus, our Lord, oh, how the vision corrects itself. Things of this life pale in comparison to what we see in our spiritual sight. The blessings of our lives become visible again as the problems become bearable when we see Jesus. Look to Him, today. He is near, He is present, He is waiting. Look to Him.

In Grace,

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

When Jesus Passed By

Traveling with my Daddy could sometimes turn into an ordeal. Having traveled extensively in the early days of his ministry, he was familiar with many of the major highways across the eastern United States. Being a native of the mid-south, he was also familiar with many southern routes as well. I remember many times, as we were traveling, that Daddy could tell a story pertaining to his previous journeys on the same road we were now traveling on. He knew so many people and could tell so many wonderful tales about them all. Consequently, he would want to stop and say hello to many of his friends and ministerial colleagues as we traveled along. He would often say, "I can't come this close and not stop to visit for just a while. I cannot drive on and just pass by the good friends God has given me.". So, we would pause long enough to enjoy some wonderful fellowship and prayer together and it seemed that the journey was sweeter after each visit. Such a change sweet fellowship in the family of God can make in your life.
As I read and study the precious Word of God, I find that many changes occurred in the lives of people each time that Jesus passed by. His fame and reputation preceded Him and many would come to where He was, hoping that He would choose them to receive His healing touch. No one who came in contact with Jesus was ever the same afterward. Those who received healing, deliverance, or forgiveness, would be willing to follow Him to the ends of the earth if need be. He was, indeed, the manifested Word of God, living and breathing among us. Possessing the same Divine nature as well as the same righteous character as His Father in Heaven, Jesus never turned His back on any one. Rather, He gave until His natural body was weary and, even then, continued to meet the needs of those to whom the Father had sent Him.
Wherever Jesus went, something changed. A life was restored, demons made to flee, blind were made to see, lame were made to walk, deaf ears opened to the sound of His voice, and little children were held in His arms. Oh, how glorious that must have been---to be physically present when Jesus passed by. I am reminded of the words to a very, very old gospel hymn:

"When Jesus passed by,
When Jesus passed by.
Gone were all the heartaches,
The trouble and strife.
Just reach out and touch Him,
He'll hear your cry,
All things were possible
When Jesus passed by."

I am so very grateful that Jesus passed by my broken, shattered life one day. He came to me when I was not strong enough, or well enough, to go to Him. He came to where I was, He passed by the dark place where I was hiding from life, and He lifted me. He picked me up, gave me a new purpose, changed my vision of life, and filled that life with possibility. He added hope where there was none, joy where there was only sadness, and gave me laughter for my tears of pain. He has not been easy to follow, but I dare not lose my vision of Him. "Where He leads me I will follow, I'll go with Him, with Him, all the way."
The presence of Jesus, my loving Savior, makes life an adventure. It is a journey I make gladly, regardless of what tomorrow may bring. I smile when I read the Biblical accounts of those who were touched by His loving hand. Sometimes, I don't realize that I am smiling as I read. My little grandson, Gabriel, once asked me what I was smiling about when I was reading my Bible. I told Him that it made me happy to read about others whose lives were changed when Jesus passed by. He then looked up at me and said, "Jesus makes us happy." Hmmm, even a child can tell the difference when Jesus has passed by.

In Grace,

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Praying As Before

Sometimes maintaining a prayer life can be so difficult. We face circumstances and situations that bring us so low, we can hardly find the words for prayer. There have been times when all I have been able to do is just lay my head down and weep. Prayer seemed so futile in the face of my agony. Of course, this was my brokenness taking over and dissuading me from seeking the Lord. I am reminded of the scripture regarding King David. He and his men had just come back from the war front only to find their city burned and their wives and children taken captive. The scriptures tell us that the men in David's army were so grieved that they "...wept until they had no more power to weep.". I know how that kind of sorrow feels.
Another great Bible hero has given me such inspiration when I face difficult times. Daniel was such a great prayer warrior. In scripture we are told that he prayed morning, noon, and night. With his face toward Jerusalem, he sought God faithfully each day. No matter what the circumstance, Daniel prayed. When he was taken captive as a young teenager---he prayed. When he faced hatred and enmity from the king's advisors---he prayed. When all was going well---he prayed. No matter what came into his life, or how difficult daily life became, Daniel prayed.
There came a time when those closest to the king began to plot against Daniel. Challenging his devotion to his God, a decree was made that would cost Daniel his life if he continued in prayer. The story continues by pointing out how Daniel entered into his chamber, opened his windows, faced toward Jerusalem and "...prayed as before". Nothing would stop him from seeking help from God. Nothing could break the trust that Daniel had placed in a God that could not fail.
How many times have my life's battles brought me to my knees? How many times have I been driven to seek the Lord because nothing else would do? Oh, dear friends, I have found such solace in seeking Him---such peace in knowing He is ever present---such comfort in the midst of my sorrows. There is no one who can take the place of our God and the richness of His presence. Somehow, when life brings us low and joy seems so far out of reach, prayer brings us into the throne room of God and we bask in His love and mercy. The circumstance may not change, but we do. We have come to source of our life's supply and He has given us what we need to go a little further.
I yearn to be a woman of prayer. I desire to be faithful and true, trusting the God I love so well to meet all my needs. I am reminded of the words of President Lincoln when he said, "I have often been driven to my knees by the realization that I had no where else to go.". There are those times when we don't know what to do---except continue in prayer. God is faithful and He will never leave us. Whatever comes, good or bad, I long to face it well. I hope to carry on no matter what life brings---praying as before.

In Grace,

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Bear Named Max

Those of you who follow this blog will remember my writing previously about my nephew Derek and the strong faith he had after his father's death. He was eight years old at the time and his commitment to his faith and trust in God during that time was an encouragement to our entire family. However, this was not the first time Derek became a source of strength to me.
Derek is my youngest nephew. When he was born he brought joy all of us. We loved him so much. We passed him around and cooed at him uncontrollably. We made such fools of ourselves over this baby. Adults who were somewhat prim and proper were down on the floor playing hot rods and wrestlers, tickling and crawling---and enjoying every minute. When Derek looked at us and smiled, we would move Heaven and earth itself to give him what he wanted. He was sheer joy.
When Derek was six years old, I went through a devastating event in my life. My heart was broken and I was so sad I could hardly make it through each day. I felt like I was dying inside. I yearned for something to comfort me---I needed Derek's bright spirit. I went to my brother's home just as Derek was getting ready for bed. When he heard my voice, he came running out of his room and jumped into my arms. He wrapped his little arms around my neck and kissed me on the cheek. He looked at me for a moment but didn't say anything. I set him down and watched him as he went to his room. In a minute he returned with a beautiful white teddy bear in his arms. He came and stood in front of me as I stooped down to hear what he had to say, "Aunt Ree, I know you have been very sad lately. But I have something that will help you. This is my favorite bear. His name in Maxamillian Snowflake, but I just call him Max. I want you to have him and whenever you feel really sad, just give him a hug and he will make you feel better." Little arms reached up and handed me a soft, white, cuddly bear. Big blue eyes looked at me expectantly as I hugged Max close to me. I could smell Derek's bubble bath in the bear's body but, more importantly, I could feel Derek's love reaching out to me. I knelt down and hugged him tightly, basking in the comfort he had just given me. He smiled at me, kissed me goodnight and went off to bed. My brother and his wife were wiping the tears from their eyes. I could not speak, I was so overcome with emotion.
That was fifteen years ago and Max has never left my side. He is pictured above in his place on my bed--and I still hug him almost everyday. Max has traveled with me wherever I go and is never far from my reach. I taught a seminar not long ago on "Spirituality in Nursing", emphasizing the fact that nurses (and everyone for that matter) need to find ways to nurture their emotional and spiritual selves. We give out so much of ourselves as women that we sometimes forget to give to ourselves. Max sat with me on the podium that day. I told my story about Derek and Max. I shared how Max has been a point of connection between my nephew and myself---how hugging Max brings the love of a six-year old to life and comforts me. Every person at the seminar came forward to hug Max before leaving. He gave comfort to a lot of people that day.
I relate this story to say that God meets our needs in mysterious ways. A teddy bear may not seem important to anyone else, but, to me, it became a lifeline. I am often amazed at how God uses children to touch our lives and enrich our spirits. Children make the world a wonderful place. Nothing can take the place of the love of a child. I have been so blessed by the children in my life. My children, my nephews, my grandchildren, the children of my friends, have all been such a joy and comfort to my life. I am so blessed.
Today Derek serves in the United States Army. He told my mother shortly before He left for training that he had prayed about it and this was what he felt God wanted him to do. I am so very proud of him. I am sure he doesn't think about Max very often---his life is full of other things. But, now, when I look at Max, I am reminded to pray for a young man whose faith has never failed him. A young man who has faced life's adversity with courage and trust in the God of his childhood. Each time I remember, I hug Max and pray for Derek. I remember how one child impacted my life---a six-year old and a teddy bear named Max.

In Grace,

Monday, February 8, 2010

Walking By Faith

Driving home from work a few mornings ago, I found myself driving in a very thick, dense fog. Although I could only see a few feet in front of me, the driving didn't bother me too much as I was on the interstate and could see the lights of the car in front of me. As I exited off the highway, though, and onto the road that would take me home, I discovered I was traveling alone---or at least I appeared to be. The stretch of country road was visible only a car length in front of me. I could see nothing ahead and nothing behind. The fog was dense, wet, and gray. It almost appeared ominous. Still, I was relatively unafraid. I drive this road several times a day---I know every turn, every bend, every crossroad. It was familiar territory.
I pulled into my parking space in front of my home and the thought hit me, "That is exactly what it's like to walk by faith and not by sight." As I drove home that morning, I had faith in my memory of the road ahead. I trusted my judgment and had faith in my knowledge of what to expect up ahead. It made the journey home one of trust and confidence in what I knew about the route I chose. Walking by faith, not by sight, is a bit more complicated. By nature, we want to be able to handle the road of life ourselves. We want to make good choices and capable decisions. We want to be able to rest in our own abilities and trust our own judgments. As children of God, it is not that simple.
God leads us, many times, into paths of the unknown. We face heartaches that are unexpected--we must make decisions for which we feel unqualified---we must let go of things/people that are dear to us---all of which lead us into the dense fog of God's will. The path is not always clear. We hold a divine hand that leads us gently forward and yet we cringe at the thought of what we may find. Our earthly vision exists only from an earthly point of view. God's vision rests on us from the heights of Heaven itself. I am reminded of a beautiful song, the chorus of which says it all:

"I'll soar like an eagle
Flying high on wings of grace,
Far into the Heavens,
I can almost see God's face.
Rising in His splendor
To heights I never knew.
What once looked like a mountain's just a hill
From Heaven's point of view."

Walking by faith necessitates a vision that is not earthly. Though we cannot see what lies ahead, we know we are held by the divine hand of God and that He leads us where we need to be to become what He needs us to become. Rick Warren, author of "The Purpose-Driven Life", says, "God is not interested in your comfort. He is interested in your character." I cannot state it better than that.
Of all the times of sorrow and despair that have made their way into my life, I can truthfully say that I know God so much better now. I am aware of how He leads, how He guides, how He comforts, how He heals. I can see the path ahead no clearer now than I did years ago. I have no idea what lies in the thick fog of the future. But, I know that from Heaven's point of view, I am a survivor. I have walked by faith and pray to be able to do so until I see Him face to face.
You see, I would rather walk into the unknown future with a known God, than to see it all without Him by my side. So, I journey on---walking by faith.

In Grace,

Friday, January 29, 2010

She's Been With Jesus

My friend, Tammy (over at Tammy On The Go), posted a statement on her Facebook page a few days ago. It struck a chord in my heart and I asked her permission to use it for this post. "The woman who washed Jesus' feet left the building smelling just like Him.".
I pondered Tammy's words for a couple of days before going to the scriptures and rereading the story (Luke chapter 7). As I read carefully and prayerfully, my heart was, once again, captivated by the love Christ has for us. I am amazed at the ability Jesus had to love, forgive, restore, and renew all those who sought Him with a pure heart.
Jesus had come to dine with a Pharisee named Simon. Since the Pharisees thought themselves superior in knowledge and intellect, one can only assume that Simon invited Jesus out of curiosity and arrogance, not out of respect and honor. It was the custom in those days to offer your guest water to wash their feet and refresh themselves from the dusty rigors of traveling by foot. It was also customary to greet your guest with an embrace of welcome, letting them know you were glad they were in your home. It is of note that Simon did neither. No honor was given to Jesus as a guest. Daily courtesies afforded any traveler were denied Him as He entered into the home of a man whose only mission was to find a fault in One who had no faults.
Into this gathering comes a woman---a woman of ill repute. A woman whose life was sin ridden and empty. Yet, she came to Jesus. The scriptures do not tell us why she came. We do not know what she had in mind when she appeared in Simon's home. Still she came, standing behind Jesus, so ashamed she could not raise her head to look into His eyes. Instead, she fell to her knees, weeping uncontrollably. Her tears mingled with dust on the Saviour's feet and she wiped them away with her hair. She had not come prepared to wash His feet, but she had come prepared to honor Him with an alabaster box filled with precious ointment. No doubt, this cost her much to purchase, the box itself being of great cost, the ointment so valuable that only a box of this material could preserve its fragrance. It was all she had to offer---the most valuable she had to give.
She opened the box at the feet of Jesus. Immediately the crowded room, filled with traveler's dust and empty hearts, became a fragrant repose. The scent of her offering filled the room as she tenderly poured it onto the feet of Jesus, kissing them all the while and honoring Him in the only way she knew. Bowing before the King of Glory, anointing His feet with a priceless ointment, she not only washed the Saviour's feet---she found cleansing for herself as well.
I cannot begin to imagine how she must have felt when Jesus finally spoke. After reproving Simon for his dishonor and lack of respect, Jesus immortalized this dear woman with words of love and forgiveness:

"...her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much..."

Turning His attention to the woman of sin He said to her:

"...thy sins are forgiven...thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace."

With the scent of precious ointment covering her hands, her hair, her face---with the memory of the voice of Jesus ringing in her ears---she left the house of the arrogant Pharisee with something money could not buy. She left forgiven. She left with peace. She left smelling just like Jesus. Wherever she went that day, all could tell she had been with Jesus---she smelled just like Him.
Oh, dear friends, so many times I have come to Jesus with my list of needs and requests, totally ignoring my need to first honor and adore Him. My forgiveness and peace, which comes from His dear hand, is lost in my "pressing" needs and the importance of telling Jesus what He needs to do for me. I leave my box unopened. But today, I am the woman with the alabaster box. Today I want the people I meet to smell Jesus on me. I want His anointing and His presence to be so rich that others can say, "She's been with Jesus.". I want the fragrance of the Rose of Sharon, the sweetness of the Lily of the Valley, to envelope me today so that others may see Jesus in me and glorify Him.
I am certain that this precious woman in our story today had no idea that she would become an inspiration to others because of her selfless act of love. I am also certain that we have no idea ourselves whose life we will touch because of our devotion to a loving Saviour. May the scent of His anointing follow us and may His glory be evident in our lives today. May those we encounter leave us saying, "She's been with Jesus.".

In Grace,

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Running On Empty

I almost ran out of gas the other day. I had been out and about, running errands and paying bills (yuk), and had not paid attention to how much gas was in my car. Suddenly the gas light, accompanied by its little chime, lit up. I knew I had to find a station soon or I would be stranded. The problem was, I was about 10 miles from the nearest gas station, so I did what anyone else would do---I panicked!!! I berated myself for how silly it was to not check my fuel gauge---I lectured myself for taking the route I had chosen---and I blamed how "busy" I was for distracting me. Bottom line is, I was negligent and thought that I could travel farther before having to refuel. My judgment was faulty.
Once I returned home, with a full tank of gas, I just couldn't stop thinking about how easily I could have gotten myself stranded. I couldn't get it out of my head that my own misguided judgment nearly got me in a precarious situation. I felt out of sorts, frustrated, and anxious. I settled down with my Bible, looking to it, as I always do, for comfort and direction. I read a few chapters but couldn't keep my focus. I began to pray and ask God to reveal to me what was so persistently pulling at my mind and spirit. Very gently He spoke to my heart, "Daughter, you are running on empty.".
Suddenly, I knew why my heart felt heavy and why my spirit seemed subdued. The joy of the Lord had become hidden under the cares of everyday life. His peace had been replaced with my struggle to play "Miss Fix-It" to life situations. His love had been forgotten under the demands of work. Without time in His presence---without communion with Him---without His word hidden in my heart---my spirit and soul had been emptied out and I had nothing left on which to run. I was, indeed, running on empty.
Oh, dear friends, do I need to tell you that the rest of the day was spent hovering over His precious Word and hiding it deep within my soul? Must I describe to you the tears of repentance that fell down my cheeks as I asked His forgiveness for my thoughtless neglect? Yes, I must tell you that my weary being found rest and reprieve at His feet and, for a day, I was Mary, yearning to look into the face of Jesus. For a day, I was blessed to hover in His presence and find, once again, refreshing for my heart and mind. At the end of the day, I was full. My cup had begun to overflow.
How easily life takes from us the very things that we need to survive in today's society. We get lost in daily routines, task lists, deadlines, and obligations. How easy it becomes to put time with God to the bottom of the list---not intentionally---but it happens nonetheless. We come to the end of the day, weary and worn, giving God what is left over and hoping He will give us some small encouragement from on high. We come to the place where we are certain that we can handle things on our own with only a token recognition of God's ability to do above and beyond what we could expect or imagine. We remain unfulfilled and empty.
God makes no demands on us. He allows us to pursue our dreams, meet our goals, and live our lives. Through it all, He waits. Waits until we are ready to be filled, daily, from His wellspring of love, grace, and mercy. Waits until we realize how empty we can really be. Then He reaches down and, through His tremendous compassion, occupies our heart and fills it until we overflow. How blessed it is to lean on our Lord, knowing He can direct our lives far better than we ourselves.
I don't think I will allow myself to come so close to running out of gas again. It was a very scary experience for me. Even more frightening is a day without the presence of the wonderful God I serve. I yearn for Him, long for Him, cannot wait to feel Him near. He thrills me, fills me. I'm running the race, indeed, but with a full heart---a heart that is no longer running on empty.

In Grace,

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Looking Ahead

Sometimes our past mistakes and failures hit us unexpectedly. Some thought or phrase, maybe even a song or a particular place will trigger the memory of a time or event we would rather forget. Unlike memories that we cherish and revisit fondly in our minds, these thoughts pull at us, drag us down, and fill us with remorse. We all have them, we all hate them, we all wish we could turn back time and correct some of the awful mistakes we have made.
The Apostle Paul had such memories. Such an awesome man of God he became, but, oh, the pain he caused and endured in finding the path to his destiny. Born a Roman citizen, he was entitled to all the luxuries such citizenship afforded him. He was highly educated and a member of the Sanhedrin Court---a position of high rank and honor. He was also a Jew and followed the law of Moses to the letter. As such, he could not believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah of God and, so, obtained legal right to persecute those who followed the teaching of Jesus Christ. He was so zealous to protect the religious law he so deeply cherished, that he honestly came to believe that those who did not honor the law were deserving of persecution and imprisonment. On a journey of tracking down believers, his whole life changed in a moment of time.
Paul (whose name was Saul at the time) was struck down on the Damascan Road, blinded by God, and given instruction specific for his deliverance and healing. He heard the voice of God for himself and came face to face with who he was and what he had done. For the first time in his life, Paul was helpless and needed to lean on others to get to where he was going. God had a special plan for Paul, but He needed to get Paul's attention first. The end result was Paul's deliverance, healing, and acceptance of the teachings of Jesus and the yielding of his life to the will of God.
Paul is my favorite New Testament character. But, here of late, I have been thinking about the significance of Paul's words found in Philippians 3:13,

"...this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind,
and reaching forth unto those things which are before...".

It brings me to the realization that Paul had much to forget from his past. I am sure many times he had to shake off the memories of the faces of those he led to persecution. How many times did the faces of those he imprisoned haunt him as he journeyed from place to place? Did he ever hear the cries of the mothers separated from their children or the sobs of husbands and wives taken from each other's arms? I wonder how often he bowed his head and, once again, asked forgiveness for his ungodly crimes? Though he thought he was acting in the will of God at the time, once he came to really know God and His son, Jesus, his actions would rise up to haunt him.
I, too, have been in this place. My unkind words and deeds have often caused me grief. I have recalled the hurt looks on faces I loved, and the disappointment of those who had trusted me. I have looked back with regret that I didn't spend more time with my children, that I didn't pay enough attention to my parents or that I should have been more devoted to my church. I have chided myself over personal faults and failures and have, many times, questioned why God made me the way I am.
But oh, dear friends, I have learned, as Paul learned, that we cannot cling to the past and look to the future at the same time. Looking ahead, asking God's guidance day-to-day, doing the best we can to live above our frail humanity, these are the secrets to "forgetting what is behind". It is only through God and His amazing Grace, that we are able to move beyond ourselves and walk in the joy of the Lord.
My father says it so well, "The only thing we do when we dwell on the past is mess up the present. We can't change the past, but we can control this moment and the choices we make now.".
Perhaps there are some of you who, like me, struggle with the memories of past failures and mistakes. Let me encourage you to leave your past with our precious God who loves us so much. A dear friend of mine once said this to me, "It is a divine prerogative of God that He cannot remember something He chooses to forget.". If God, as awesome and great as He is, chooses to forget, can we not do the same? I don't know about you, but, today I'm doing my best to avoid looking back. I have my human nature to deal with but I have a God who gives me strength and overcoming power. I have come to realize that the best way to avoid looking back is to change my field of vision---I'm looking ahead.

In Grace,