Saturday, January 28, 2023

The Ticktock of the Retirement Clock

The clock is still ticking.


I didn’t expect that. I was pretty sure that when I clocked out for the last time on my last day of work that my fight for time was over. Days stretched out endlessly before me, free of schedules, obligations, and claims upon the twenty-four hours I was granted each day. And truly I rejoiced in that, especially in the first weeks after the holiday celebrations were over and it was time to start a new year, a new kind of life… a new way of living.


I had been preparing for these moments from the start of the previous year. Having finally made the decision to retire, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t waste the freedom I would so soon attain by letting the days go by unscheduled. I knew from experience that free time without pre-planning can fly by in no time and turn into lost time …leaving only feelings of regret instead of joy or accomplishment. So to avert that tragedy, I started making a list of ways to occupy my time, once I had time to spare. And I found that the more I pondered the subject, the more projects I came up with. Not by accident, I’m sure, people came alongside me occasionally who would unknowingly feed my enthusiasm for an idea or steer me in a direction I’m sure God intended for me to head. As the list lengthened, so did my excitement for the ideas it contained. Some were simple, even silly suggestions that just struck my fancy, while others had a more meaningful purpose behind them, meant to benefit me or others in a particular way.


Three weeks have now passed, and I’m feeling a little retrospective. It’s early times yet, but I’m proud of having jumped in and pushed myself to start on the first  of the goals that I wanted to focus on in the first month of the year. It is a constant battle, I’m beginning to realize, to keep moving forward, aware as I am that there are forces working against me, much as gravity slows and eventually stops a rolling stone. I want to keep the momentum going.  So I’m praying that the wind of the Spirit blows continuously to fill my sails and propel me forward.


I did think that once free of the forty-hour work week, I’d have plenty of time for whatever took my fancy. And yet, surprisingly, I’m still feeling time pressure. The time clock is no longer my master, but Father Time is still controlling my life. The scheduling of the hours allotted to me is now mine to choose, but the length of time I have in which to accomplish it all has a finite end. And I feel a bit like I’m racing the clock to fit all that I want to do in the time that I have left. The urgency I feel thus tends to rob each day and its activities of their joy, which was the pursuit of the projects in the first place. 


One of the items on my list was to get back to playing the piano for pleasure. Anxious to keep my mind busy with learning new things, I ordered a book of sheet music for simple melodies written by a pianist I discovered online. I vowed to learn new selections from the book on a regular basis, even as I played again pieces I’d learned and loved in my younger years. Anxious to get the timing right while practicing, I downloaded a metronome app to my phone to issue a steady beat that I would play along to. But because I couldn’t figure out how to use the app properly, the beat never changed, no matter how I tried to change the speed in the settings. All that it did was set the dogs in the house to barking furiously, and if that wasn’t enough, the steady tick-tick-tick soon started to drive me a little crazy, as well. Scrambling to fit all the notes between the ticks of each measure  turned my practice period into a chore rather than a joy. The beauty of the song was lost in the process of trying to play it too perfectly. Plus, the app was expensive in terms of cell phone battery life. I was soon done with it and deleted it off my phone.


And so today I’m doing the same with the way I’ve been hitting my lists… deleting the need to cram everything in the measure of days I have left before I reach the end of my song. I’m in danger of losing the beautiful melody retirement was supposed to be by controlling it too rigidly. Instead, I plan to take life just one measure at a time, seek the Lord’s direction for it, and simply play it well, to the best of my ability, rejoicing in the music that comes out of each day.


 “Lord, make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my days…” (Psalm 39:4 KJV)

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Delighting in a Day-dream


One hundred movies in a year, selected off a scratch-off poster that now hangs on my bedroom wall – another retirement activity, selected off the list of things to keep me occupied and engaged rather than bored and idle in my newly gained freedom from schedules and obligations. Eagerly I'd begun, and thus I soon found myself settled in and ready to watch Movie #2 of the year: The Sixth Sense. Never a fan of the horror/thriller genre, it was an odd choice for me, but it was a movie I'd have to watch sometime if I were to accomplish my goal. And so it began...

Surprisingly, I loved the movie. Oh, I jumped and gasped my way through many scenes, but I was mostly taken by the incredible acting of the young star, a boy of just 11 years old. One frequently-quoted line from the film stayed with me, as apparently it has with others...

I see dead people.”

Surprised that I was still thinking of those words a few days later, I wondered why. It was then I realized that it's because I have several friends who do the same... and perhaps I am a little jealous that I don't.

Repeatedly on Facebook I scroll across posts detailing people's nocturnal visits with departed loved ones in their dreams. The clarity with which they describe those encounters, the laughter they enjoyed, and the peace and happiness they experience upon awakening inspires a little envy in the heart of this one whose nighttime slumber is devoid of any such interactions that I l can later remember and recount.

I, too, have departed loved ones I would so love to see and spend time with again. I wonder if perhaps the issue is that I sleep too deeply, seemingly never getting enough hours of the same, to enter and play in the realms where dreams abound.

Surprisingly, science seems to support that thought. A study suggests that “while we dream all throughout the night, it's easier for us to remember dreams that occurred during the REM stage of sleep. And people may miss out on REM sleep by cutting sleep short.” However in the few weeks since I left the working world, the hours I devote to sleep have become luxuriously lengthy. Still no change in the dream pattern; maybe I just need to give it more time.


The dream study went on to say that day-dreaming is much like the nighttime version of the same in terms of activity in the brain. Goodness knows, I'm good at that... maybe I'm “dreaming” more than I realize. And suddenly an instance occurred that seemed to prove the point.

I was sitting in church last Sunday morning, and something suddenly triggered thoughts of my late husband. I don't know exactly what it was... perhaps the song selection, one we both liked, that took me back to the times we used to worship together in the years before cancer stole so much. Gone three years now, my memories of Jim have been stuck in the last three months of his life when life itself suddenly became so difficult... adjusting to the changes we had to make because of his illness, to simply making it through each day and long night just to get to the next one and do the same. The struggling version of my husband was the only one I seemed able to pull up in my memories with any regularity, perhaps because that was the last one I saw.

Until that morning. Suddenly the laughing, smiling, joke-telling version of the man I loved was back. For just a few moments I was able to see him again as he once was... and it was wonderful. Perhaps the best part of the episode is that it has remained with me. The healthy version of my husband is now the last one I've seen... and I seem at last to be able to hold on to that vision. How incredible that in just a few moments one can receive such a powerful gift!

Apparently I was wrong in my earlier assumption. I do see dead people... or maybe just the one I needed to the most... and I am ever so grateful.

And when that which is mortal puts on immortality, and what now decays is exchanged for what will never decay, then the Scripture will be fulfilled that says: Death is swallowed up by a triumphant victory! So death, tell me, where is your victory? Tell me death, where is your sting?”

(1 Corinthians 15:54-55 TPT)

Friday, February 4, 2022

Gold Medal Lifestyle

The XXI Winter Olympic Games held many of us as spellbound as this just-ended February kept us snowbound indoors, watching the sports coverage on our TVs. Truly the American athletes performed magnificently, launching the United States to the top of the leader board in the medal count, standing on various levels of the medal podiums again and again. It became our habit to check the paper or the internet first thing each day to see where we stood in the medal race and if we'd added to our count in any of the events of the previous day. 

The medal ceremonies themselves were likewise a favorite part of the television coverage. No matter what country stood on the top spot, we were drawn to our sets to look into the gold medal athlete's eyes as each watched their flag being raised and heard their nation's anthem played on their behalf. We wondered what this moment could possibly feel like, the culmination of years and years of effort, hard work and training. 

We know, of course, that there's so much more to the Olympics than just the medals. Despite the "U-S-A! U-S-A!" chant that pounds incessantly in the back of our brains, we hear the old adage it's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game sounding in our hearts. Those words of wisdom tend to get lost, however, in the pressure to perform for our national pride and in the lure of monetary compensation from commercial endorsements that are at stake. 

But every now and then an athlete comes along who gets our thinking back on track. Such was surely the case when Johannie Rochette skated her short program in the ladies figure skating competition just two days after her mother's sudden death. Surely at that moment there was nothing she felt less like doing than putting on her costume, lacing up her skates and pasting a smile on her pretty face for a watching world. The Olympics at that point mattered far less to her than mourning the loss of this woman who had so selflessly loved her, consistently cheered for her and faithfully financed her efforts through the years to make this very moment possible. And yet she did it simply because she knew her mother would be watching from somewhere up above, expecting her to take to the Olympic ice and skate the performance of her simply give it her all despite the circumstances surrounding give the world a glimpse of the champion she knew her to be on the inside. 

We likewise have a Loved One in Heaven who sacrificed everything that we might also have a shot at glory...eternal glory. He watches us now as we head to jobs instead of a skating rink, deal with relationships in our homes and offices instead of in an Olympic Village, and are guided by the advice of our counselors, pastors and parents instead of that of coaches and trainers. And every day we face the choice of taking to our own piece of ice, wherever it may be, and giving the task at hand our all, regardless of the possible outcome or the situations opposing us, offering the world a glimpse of the overcomers God has called us to be. 

 Johannie Rochette did just that the night of her short program, bravely stepping out onto the ice and skating the performance of her life, only breaking down at the end when she was through. And although the competition was only halfway completed, the television coverage ended that night with yet another award ceremony, one in which no medals were given, but instead praise, cheers and tears, as the world cried along with her. 

 While two days later Johannie finished the competition in third place with a bronze medal hung around her neck, clearly no athlete performed with more heart, even when her own was breaking. May her performance inspire us to pursue our passions with similar Olympian effort, knowing that whatever the outcome of our endeavors or any accolades we may receive, we likewise performed with a heart of gold.

"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might..." (Ecclesiastes 9:10 NIV)

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Have a Purr-fectly Happy Thanksgiving This Year

Oh, how I love to hear my cats purr.

A purr is a spontaneous gift, an expression of contentment that comes rumbling out of their inner being. By nature a voluntary offering, it is all the more precious because it is not produced on demand. Freely given, it is freely received by this one who simply rejoices that her cats are happy in that moment and are simply letting her know.

Have you ever wondered if God loves the same, and how His ears must tickle at an unsolicited expression of happiness and gratitude? How long has it been since God heard you purr?

Perhaps your communication with Him of late has been more along the lines of loud meows when you're hungry or in need of something, a cry to get his attention, perhaps, or a howl of complaint about some situation that is not to your liking. Truly God hears and responds to these as He promised to do when He took you in as His child.

When God meets any need in our lives we are rightly trained to say thanks. We regularly set aside certain hours of the day or week to offer the same individually or corporately with our local body of believers. Thanking God can be a pre-planned and scheduled event in our lives.

But what about those times when it's not? What about the times when you suddenly realize how incredibly happy you are in a particular moment... perhaps even for no specific reason... and you simply stop at that juncture, lift your eyes or your hands but always your heart... to share the joy in that instant with Him? That's a purr... and it delights God's heart like no other.

My morning meeting with God is made all the sweeter when I suddenly notice the black cat spreadeagled across my open journals, purring her happiness at simply spending that morning time with me as I slowly sip my first cup of coffee of the day. It never fails to bring a smile to my face and move my hand to stroke her gently on her head a couple of times, the only physical contact she ever allows. (Sometimes we, too, are guilty of restricting the amount of love we will receive from above – but that's a story for a different time.)

My feline youngster on the other hand, an eight-month old grey tabby, purrs loudly as he kneads his paws into a squishy blanket, jumps on my lap for a quick visit, or cuddles under my neck while I'm lying in bed. He loves to be stroked in return, repeatedly, endlessly...until my hand stills in that action as we fall asleep together in blissful peace.

This month of Thanksgiving we are all rightly focused on gratitude. But what if we became more catlike in our responses to God in the next three weeks, and express our thanks in unsolicited, unexpected, and maybe even unspoken ways... a sudden rumbling in our spirits that He can't help but hear and delight in... and perhaps respond to in unexpected ways Himself.

Let God hear you purr.

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.”

(Psalm 107:1 NIV)


Monday, May 31, 2021

Needing a Holy Spirit Hearing Aid


After arriving home from work in the wee hours of the morning, my son Kevin blissfully slept in in the comfort of his bed while his fiance Alexandria was in her home office, teaching English to schoolkids in China online. Suddenly their cat Iniko came bursting through the dog door with a still-alive bird in her mouth, which unexpectedly got free and started flying around the house in a panic, shedding feathers like rain! Poor Alex was able to grab the cat, then she burst into the bedroom and threw it onto sleeping Kevin, who woke up with a start and in his sleep-numbed state thought she said, “Entertain her for me while I teach the class!”

Obligingly, Kevin tried to get the cat to cuddle in bed with him, to no avail... or to play with its toys (not interested), his shoestrings (nope)... anything other than scratching and howling at the door to get back out! He couldn't figure out why the cat was so crazy to hang with Alex that morning, but did his best to “entertain” her for his beloved so she could teach her class. Finally after an hour he gave up, and texted Alex to say, “I can't do this. The cat just wants to be with you.”

By this time Alex's class was over and she explained to him what had happened. What she had said to him when dumping the cat in the room was not "Entertain the cat", but “Come help me catch this bird”!!! She must've been so confused, wondering why he stayed locked up in the room with the cat while she was trying to catch the bird and teach her class at the same time! She did finally manage to grab the latter and throw it back outside, leaving the house littered in feathers!! At least the Chinese students must've been vastly entertained; I'm sure they think we Americans live pretty crazy lives!

This story intrigued me for more than its entertainment purposes; I've lived it!... albeit not with cats and captured birds. But perhaps there has been a time in your life, as well, when you thought you had received certain instructions, worked diligently if unsuccessfully at following them... only to find out later that what you were doing was not what was intended at all. In my attempts to find my purpose in the Kingdom of God I have mistakenly thought He wanted me to be in charge of the nursery at one church, assume the financial duties of treasurer in another ministry, and later lead a women's fellowship group after the current president retired from the job. I did my best in each of these attempts, yet ended each with a plea to God to release me, saying as Kevin did, “I can't do this.”

God knew that, of course. He had never intended for me to take on any of those positions, because He knew I hadn't the giftings to succeed in any of those situations. I was right in pursuing His direction, right in my willingness to serve... but wrong in what I thought I heard Him say. It became apparent to me that I was serving out of a mistaken sense of duty. Each of the jobs I had taken on needed filling, and in my attempt to serve the Lord I loved, I thought it was my Christian obligation to fill those spots... whether I liked what I was doing, or not. And I did not. My willingness was all I brought to those positions... and it wasn't enough.

Finally I told the Lord that I found myself resenting the latest job I had taken on because it took time away from what I really wanted to do, which was to write... that there was a joy in that activity that I didn't find in any other area of service. And suddenly I understood that that was what He had intended for me to do all along. I found joy in scribing words because He had given me the ability to put them together well... for His purposes. I simply hadn't heard His leadings in that direction because I was operating from a more conventional list of service options.

The relief and excitement that followed that revelation was indescribable. I resigned from my leadership position immediately, and just as quickly received a new assignment in the area of my joy, confirmed independently of each other by two people I trusted as followers of Christ to know the sound of the Shepherd's voice. And I have simply never looked back.

I still struggle at times when the pastor speaks of needs in the church that are waiting for volunteers, and truly we all bear a measure of responsibility in doing whatever needs to be done. But I listen a little more closely now to the Voice I follow... so that I'm not spending all my energy calming the cat when I'm supposed to be catching the bird.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”

(Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV)

Friday, April 23, 2021

Rainbows are for Real

It was my daughter-in-law Sarah who suggested it. Realizing we were coming up on my husband's birthday a year-and-a-half after his death, she thought it would be fun to remember him by dressing in support of his favorite baseball team and going out to eat his favorite food. The men in the family were all busy with another activity that night; it was up to us girls to celebrate on our own. We donned our best Cincinnati Reds baseball gear and were in the car driving to a nearby barbecue joint, when I suddenly noticed the look of the sky. It had been on and off cloudy all day, but a just-passed thunderstorm left dark clouds in front of us but sunshine now spilling all around us.

“It's a rainbow sky!”, I said with some excitement, noting that conditions were just right at that moment for the appearance of a beautiful bow. “Everybody keep an eye out for rainbows, and holler if you see one!” Just as I said that, I looked to my left and spotted a multi-colored arch outside my driver's side window! “THERE'S ONE!” I fairly shouted, and we all ooh-ed and aah-ed over it as we drove. A minute later it was suddenly gone with the shifting light and cloud formations, and we talked about how easy it is to miss them completely. Almost to the restaurant, though, we suddenly saw another. “Two in one day!” I exulted. “That's amazing!” We got to the restaurant and were enjoying our meal together, when suddenly a customer at another table spotted yet another rainbow out the front windows of the building. It was so pretty, bold and distinct, that dinner patrons left their tables and headed outside to take a picture of it. My granddaughter Chloe was sent to do the same. There was even a fainter secondary rainbow outside the first, making this third vision the most extraordinary yet.

Three in one day! My heart overflowed and a smile split my face every time I thought about it. And yet I still didn't get it...until while again marveling over the sightings on our way home, Sarah said, “You know, that was Jim... saying hi.” Suddenly it hit me. Of course that's what it was! And then I burst out laughing at the thought of how frustrated my husband would be at having to send THREE rainbows before we got the message! I could just picture him seated next to the Almighty and saying helplessly, “They're just not getting it, God! We're running out of daylight here! What are we going to do?” And so they sent the double whammy, hoping we'd finally get the point. And when we did, the laughter... so like my husband to always leave me with a smile on my face and a laugh in my heart.

Jim didn't send any more rainbows that day... he didn't need to; we finally got the message. But God simply never stops... and I wonder if He doesn't likewise get a little frustrated when we repeatedly miss the messages of His love that He lays before us in a million different ways as we go about our days. He placed the first bow in the sky as an act of love and a promise that He would never again let floods destroy us. No wonder on stormy days in life we still lift our eyes to the skies and look for a sign of His presence and His love. Rainbow skies just mean that God's eyes are on you... you are loved more than you can imagine, and safe in the shelter of His grace.

I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth...Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.”

(Genesis 9:13,15 NIV)


Thursday, April 8, 2021

He Knows You By Name

The woman stood in front of the self-scan booth unsteadily, eyes closed, and body swaying slightly as if it was trying to remain upright. She held a pie in her hand that she apparently was attempting to ring out.

“Can I help you?” I asked as I came up beside her.

“Oh.” Her eyes opened again, and she said, “I'm just trying to get my head together. I've got it.” Yet she stood there, rocking forward and back, pie still in hand, as if unable to process what to do next.

An older lady came up behind her with a loaded cart. Apparently they were shopping together; I assumed she was the first lady's mother. Together we helped the younger woman scan the pie, navigate her payment and bag the item. Then they turned to scan the cart full of groceries. It soon became apparent that the daughter was physically unable to proceed. She whispered something in her mother's ear, and headed out the door. Left alone, the older lady labored through the task of ringing up her groceries. Hooked to a tank that fed oxygen through her nose, which was also covered with the mandatory face mask, she struggled along until she finally pulled the latter down and gasped, “I can't. I just can't do this. She was supposed to help me, but she's been drinking. I thought I could do it myself, but I can't breathe. Could you please just cash out what I've done so far, and I'll go through a check-out lane for the rest?”

It was Easter weekend, and the checkout lines in the store were horrific; I assumed that was what prompted her to go through self-check in the first place. Sending her to go stand and wait in her oxygen-deprived state was unthinkable.

“I'll finish it for you,” I said, praying that none of the people at the other five booths I was responsible for would need assistance for the next few minutes. Quickly I worked through her remaining items, then put the bags back in the cart while she paid the bill.

“Thank you,” she said, and headed out to join her daughter. Relieved that we had made it through the episode unscathed, I put it out of my mind and went back to helping other patrons.

But moments later, she was back, still struggling while pushing the cart loaded with the bagged items. “I can't find my daughter. She was going to go sit in the van, but the van isn't where we parked it. People are telling me to call the police, but I don't want to call the police on her. I have to go look for her, but I can't push this cart while doing so. Can I just leave it here till I find her?”

“Of course!,” I said. “Tell me your name, and I'll mark it as paid so they don't do anything with it.”

“My name's Elaine,” she answered.

That stopped me short. My eyes bugged out a little as I showed her my name tag and said, “Mine, too!” With worries on her heart she had little time for seeming coincidences and hurried out the door. But I stood there a minute longer, knowing instantly that the seemingly random exchange was more than just that. Mine is not a common name. I knew it was spoken deliberately because it was meant to catch my attention. But duty called, and soon I was summoned by somebody else who needed help. I was likewise engaged with another customer when she came back in sometime later and retrieved her cart. I desperately wanted to know the end of the story, but apparently I had heard all I needed to hear. I pushed it aside and went back to work.

Sometime later I put the pieces together. My daughter-in-law works in an assisted living facility and had recently asked me if I had any stories I could let her use for an Easter devotional with her residents. “And if you don't have any, could you please write one for me?” she'd asked. I laughed at the last question, as I know from experience that I can't produce a story on my own. Inspiration has to come from above, and, to be honest, had been in short supply of late... a combination of earlier work hours that had taken away my usual writing time and the drifting of my mind in other directions as a result. Thankfully I was able to find a devotion written by somebody else to send her.

And then God gave me a story anyway... about how He sees us in our struggles with sin and sickness, and life issues...even just our own indifference to spiritual things, knowing that we are simply unable to get through life on our own. So He stands by, anxiously waiting for the fight to break us down till we finally speak the words He needs to hear before He can step in and act... simply, “I can't.” When we finally admit that we need more help than we can muster on our own, He steps in and offers what only He can do. He says 'I'll finish it for you...”... and He did so with His last breath on the cross. And now that gift of salvation is paid for and waiting for you to come and claim... because He carries your name across His heart.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

(Romans 5:8 NKJV)

Friday, March 12, 2021

The Lenten Loosening

I stepped on the scale in the predawn hours of the day, looked down at the result, and sighed.

“I may have to give up Extra-toasty Cheez-Its for Lent.”

I smiled at the memory of my days as a practicing Catholic and the annual practice of giving up something for the 40 days before Easter as a reminder of the suffering of Christ on the Cross and His sacrifice on our behalf. Its purpose was to loosen one's hold on the things of this world and focus attention instead on its Savior. Clearly the scale was telling me I needed to loosen my hold on my box of crackers, and I always need more of Jesus in my sights. Lent is meant to be a serious and reflective season rather than a particularly happy one, but the “Fish on Friday” result of abstaining from eating meat on that day of the week during the Lenten season was always my favorite Catholic tradition and are three words I have lived by with delight to this day. Looking forward to a fish sandwich of baked cod in a toasted bun for dinner that night made it easy to push thoughts of cheesy crackers aside. Eagerly I signed on and hoped that on Easter morning when I again stepped on the scale I would see positive physical results as well as spiritual ones.

Somewhere in the multiple decades of my life my pursuit of God changed from following a list of rules to forming a real relationship with the Creator of the world Himself. Now my life is governed by my love for Him that grew out of the realization of His love for me, and my actions are guided and motivated by that love. One result of our ever-growing friendship is that He leads me along the path I am to follow with challenges that are fun and motivational, rather than difficult or restrictive. He was fine with my “giving up” something that was cluttering my life and expanding my waistline, but suggested I put my focus on “giving out” every day of the period as well. I was to try to find ways to show His love every day in some way.

Perhaps it was not by accident that I was reading Max Lucado's book Begin Again at this same time, and that I came across his assertion that “the works of mercy are simple deeds.” God wasn't looking for me to pull off some grand feat of bravery or large monetary expense to prove my devotion so much as to simply put others before myself in some way as an offering of love. It's a devotion to small acts or kindness that are heroic in God's eyes and garner His attention.

In the hours that followed that day He gave me some examples. I was manning the self-scan booths at my grocery store when a lady signaled to me that she was ninety-three cents short on her bill and was going to run to her car to gather up some loose change. The man who was putting cash in the machine next to hers simply pulled a dollar bill out of his already open wallet and handed it to her with a smile. Another time later in the day I noticed that movement out the front door was slow because people were inviting others to exit ahead of them with a smile and a wave of the arm instead of shoving their way through in the usual hurry to get out and on with the day. There were others who stopped to help pick up items dropped by somebody else, unload a cart, or simply wait patiently with a smile when somebody in the line ahead of them required a little bit of extra time; all simple examples of actions that God sees and takes note of.

In his book, Max asserts that eventually each one of those actions will be recounted, remembered, and rewarded. So he encourages us to make a list while on earth that will take some time to get through in Heaven. No worries; you've got all eternity with Him to review what you did with the life and breath and love He gave you.

I like my Cheez-Its extra-toasty. But I love that God can use even the description on a box of crackers to challenge me to give a little extra to a world that needs the Love I tend to hold all to myself. How great to stand in heaven with empty hands because my heart was full and I gave all His Love away.

And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'”

(Matthew 25:40 NKJV)


Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Hands-on Help for the Hurting

My fingers were all just so sore.

That was my thought as I lay down in bed the other night. Usually I have one or two troublesome digits at a time during the winter months; to have both hands so achy was unusual and a little overwhelming. I could work around a couple of sore spots with ease, but to have the fingers that were supposed to pick up the slack also in bad shape was a bit of a problem. Resolutely I grabbed the little pot of cream on my bedside table, took off the lid and sent the top of both hands inside for a dive. Then slowly and methodically the tips of those ten fingers worked that salve into each other's broken places... the finger cracks by the nails from the cold weather, the dry skin from pulling moisture-sucking grocery bags open all day at work, the burns from my carelessness with the wood stove. Up and down, in and around, rubbing and soothing till all the excess was gone. I got tickled to realize that as each finger worked cream into its neighbors' wounds, its buddies beside it were doing the same to its own lesions. It was a mutually beneficial action that would soon bring positive results. I flipped off the light and let the healing balm do its work during the sleep-filled hours of the night.

When I woke I realized that my fingers' actions the night before were a picture of the church.

“Church” has been on my mind of late, as my pastor has been preaching a sermon series exploring the reasons why we as believers attend. Of course, church attendance has changed in form during this last year of dealing with a pandemic; our options have expanded from merely walking through an open door to watching a service online to small-group Zoom meetings in the comfort of our homes, to name a few. But a weekly gathering of believers in some form is still a ritual we cling to. My pastor's opening question of why we do so troubled me more than I liked to admit. Was it just a matter of habit? One of those things I've done for so long that the action is no longer questioned? Or perhaps obedience? I went originally because my parents said so; now I go because God says the same? Or is it merely a social activity with people who have become my friends? The question lingered in my subconscious and surfaced repeatedly during the last couple of weeks to tease my mind.

In the process of delivering last week's sermon, almost as a side note, our preacher issued an invitation to his congregation. The ongoing construction of a new sanctuary on the church grounds is nearing completion, and church members were invited to come in socially-distanced times and ways to cover the bare floor with hand-written Scriptures and prayers before the carpeting was laid down in the coming week.

I smiled at a memory the words conjured up; a similar invitation issued many years ago when the church I was then attending had built a new platform for its growing worship team, and we likewise covered the bare wooden boards with the words and promises of God. It was a powerful and prophetic action that united us in purpose and praise for what God was allowing to be a part of in the lives of the people in that area. I was eager to participate again.

I had driven by that old church in recent weeks, and was saddened by the sight of the chain that now blocks the driveway, the building slowly falling into disrepair behind it after property disputes among former tenants forced it to close while lengthy legal battles sorted the mess out. To a casual observer it looks like the church is shut down, its days of serving the community now over. But those of us who used to attend there know differently. The building may be closed, but the church itself is alive and well, the flame of the Spirit that used to dwell there burning brightly still in the hearts of the believers who are now spread out into different houses of worship, setting dry spirits aflame with new hope wherever they go.

And suddenly I understood. The church gathering is just the pot of cream we dip our hearts into each week, a source of healing balm that we then use in our interactions with each other, rubbing it into our sore spots and open is help for the hurting that we apply as we go and which heals our own hurts in the process. We come together for a joint encounter with God, Who promises that where two or three are gathered together in His Name, He is there in their midst. The worship releases and increases our love for Him, the preaching instructs and inspires us, and the social interactions give us an outlet for the gifts we've been given... so that we leave armed and ready to be a blessing in some way to those who will cross our paths. Just as I have three kinds of lotion or ointment on my nightstand that I choose between on any given night to give my fingers some relief, so do we have multiple options of church services to choose between depending on our personal preferences and needs. The important thing is that we find a source of help.

Perhaps when God warns us not to forsake “the assembling of ourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25), it's not because He wants to add another item to our over-loaded to-do lists, or to make us feel guilty for our failure in that area, nor because He is an overbearing father just giving commands because He is the Boss. He simply knows that none of us can make it through this life on our own... that we need each other to sooth the hurts and walk us through the broken places in our lives in this journey through a wounded and weary world. As always, He has a source of Help and Hope ready for our every need if we just make the effort to avail ourselves of it.

Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?

Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?”

(Jeremiah 8:22 NIV)


Monday, December 28, 2020

Morning Milking

Not many girls I knew were lucky enough to grow up in the shadow of a big city and yet have a working dairy farm situated at the end of their road. I never really paid much attention to it until the day I spotted a cow giving birth in a pasture while my family was driving by. Thinking such a momentous event should not be happening unattended, I made my mom stop at the house, raced to and pounded on the door, telling the farmer who answered what I'd seen in breathless gasps that he was surely lucky to understand. He smiled kindly, nodded his head and thanked me, and said he'd take care of it. Then he closed the door and we were done! His response was a little underwhelming, to say the least, but thus began a friendship that lasted for several years.

Apparently I was just one of a number of local children he humored with trips about his farm, letting us tag along as he did his chores, scattering grain for the chickens, feeding the big bull in the barn, and to my great delight, hand-feeding the calves out of giant baby bottles that they sucked at so greedily they threatened to pull them out of my hands.

And always I visited the milking barn, passing the cows in the corral, patiently lined up and waiting their turn to be milked. While most were milked by machines attached to their udders while they fed on hay in the bin, there were some Mr. Peak milked by hand for some reason, sitting on the little three-legged stool and working the udders to produce a steady stream of milk in the waiting bucket below. He gave me a shot at it a couple of times and I remember the softness of the udder, the process of working the teat and my amazement when my efforts were successful. It was magical to a city girl, and I spent countless hours there on lazy summer afternoons.

The farm is long gone now. A Silicon Valley millionaire bought the property and built a mansion on that land of milk and memories. But I was suddenly transported back there recently in a conversation with my sister in which we discussed the importance of “milking joy” out of every moment this holiday season, especially in a year dominated by the worries and struggles produced by a global pandemic. Suddenly I was back on that milking stool, squeezing the nipple, delighting in the milk my actions produced.

God wants us to know we can have that joy in everything we experience, not just during the holidays, but every day in every circumstance we face, if we just take the time to work our situation to produce the blessing it contains. Time stops and joy deepens when we stop long enough to squeeze out all the magic of the moment, appreciating it fully and giving thanks for the wonder of it before releasing it, only to grab the next and repeat the process, again and again as we go through our days. Even the hard times have hidden blessings that are found only when we make the concerted effort to pull up a stool and release them.

Too often these days in our increasing rush to meet holiday deadlines, our joy is produced through artificial means, pumped out of the season in the familiarity of carols, heartwarming movies, eye-popping decorations and wallet-emptying purchases for ourselves or others. We get our spiritual sustenance in the same way, bottled and delivered by any number of outside means. One benefit of milking machines is the incredible amount of time they save on days when multi-tasking is by necessity the name of the game. But there is something special about setting aside some time every day to milk joy the old-fashioned way, spending the time to bond with the One who gives us all good things and finding our peace in the meditative process of seeking Him out.

Our day starts every morning like a cow standing before us with a full udder, ready to release it's joy. Don't let your bucket run dry.

Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. 'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, 'Therefore I hope in Him!' The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.”

(Lamentations 3: 22-25 NKJV)


Sunday, December 6, 2020

Kudos to Christmas Carols

Photo credit: Sonny Hurd

“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” 


Elf movie devotees will recognize that quote instantly. Who among us doesn't need a whole lot of Christmas cheer at the end of a pandemic-affected year?! All of us need all the happiness we can muster up. Perhaps that's why some people started listening to Christmas music while the Halloween ghosts and goblins were still running around gathering socially distanced- placed treats!

Not this girl, however. I sortof need a Christmas tree in my sights before my vocal chords loosen up and let fly with the holiday vibes. But the tree is now in place and working its magic. I find myself drawn to the piano in the corner behind it, pulling out the bench and squeezing between ornament-dangled branches for a quick songburst before heading to bed and letting visions of sugarplums fill my head.

I smile to realize I was raised that way.

Every night during the holiday season when I was a little girl, our family of five sat around the Christmas tree and the kids took turns banging out a carol on the piano while the rest of the family sang along. I think it was my mom's way of wrangling a few extra minutes of piano practice out of reluctant kids before the approaching Christmas recital at our teacher's house. Whatever the reason, we gathered and played and sang five songs, multiple verses, every... single... night.

How on earth did we manage it? It's all we can do to gather our families around the dinner table now, let alone around a Christmas tree at night. Of course this was long before the distractions of cell phones, video games and binge-watching favorite shows on Netflix. But haven't all generations simply had too much to do in December to make time for activities like this?! I know that in raising my own kids, December was a mad dash to get everything done by the 25th day of the month...the shopping, baking, decorating, cards, wrapping... and it was only my husband's insistence that we adhere to certain traditions that kept the holy in the holiday even as we decked the halls.


I guess my parents knew it was important. It kept our hearts focused on the Reason of the season, even while allowing us the joy of gazing at the pretty lights and beautifully wrapped packages in front of us. And it worked. Surely it must have, for me to remember the wonder of it some six decades later, and to be drawn back to that piano bench once more. 


Our houses may be a little emptier by necessity this year than in days gone by, but our hearts don't have to be. If you're feeling a little down, fill your own cup of cheer by singing loudly for Jesus to hear. You don't even need a piano. He's all ears and eager for your nightly lullaby. Give it a try.

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,

And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,

And death's dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.”


Saturday, October 24, 2020

Slow the Flow


“So, Elaine, are you ready for Thanksgiving?” my coworker asked as we scanned and bagged a grocery order.


Thanksgiving? It's mid-October! Listen, buddy, I'm old! Each day is a treasure! I can't be throwing them carelessly away!”


My friend looked a little startled at my vehement protestation. And I understand where he's coming from. He's young, less than half my age, and eagerly counting the days till his upcoming vacation and birthday celebration Thanksgiving week in the mountains of Tennessee. Who could blame him for mentally tossing away calendar pages as fast as he turns them over?


It's a matter of perspective, one gained over time. His lifetime hourglass is still very full; the hours seem to stream endlessly before him with no end in sight. I, on the other hand, am keenly aware that there are more grains of sand in the bottom half of mine than are waiting to drop from the top, so I am increasingly careful with what I do with each one. I don't have any to waste!


And really, why would we want to, no matter what stage of life we are currently in? Each day is a gift, a one-time-use twenty-four-hour offer of joy from God, available for pickup each morning and expiring come nightfall, never to return in exactly the same way ever again. Why would we pass that up?


Yet some of us do. We stumble through our daily routines just trying to make it through each one till we can fall exhausted in our beds at night for a few hours of rest before rising to do it all again. We count on holidays and weekends away to be bright spots of joy in increasingly pressure-packed schedules that vary little from season to season in intensity, but only in the activities we pursue. Meanwhile, the days of our lives are slipping through our fingers and there seems to be no way to slow the flow.

But that's not so.

Favorite author Ann Voskamp suggests that we can actually do so with gratitude. We hold a moment captive when we see the wonder it contains, fully experience its joy and express our thanks for the same before letting it pass away. Gratitude simply adds length to our days... and perhaps days to the length of our lives. Count me in!

And so I approach my days a little differently now. I rise in the morning to meet up with God, Who hands me the gift of the day before me, and then eagerly watches as I go through the hours that follow, gently unwrapping the tissue-packed minutes that are meant to surprise and delight me. His smile grows at my joy over each new discovery of His goodness, every token of His care, and every new revelation of His love for me. His ears rejoice as I voice my thanks. And at the end of the day I slip the wrappings away in a bedtime thank-you conversation with Him about the hours just past, a gift in return. Sleep then comes peacefully sweet till I rise to do it all over again the next day. Who would want to give any such days away?

So am I ready for thanks-giving? You bet! And I hope you are, too.

This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.”

(Psalm 118:24 NKJV)

Sunday, June 7, 2020

I Said "YES"

My marriage didn't make it to the 40-year mark. Cancer stole Jim away 281 days short of that impressive milestone. It may have taken the future we had ahead of us, but it couldn't touch the past; the memories made, the love shared, the laughter that filled those years. I still feel married to him; his ring remains on my finger. And so I decided to celebrate the day anyway, even to the point of buying myself a gift.

Traditionally, the 40th anniversary is celebrated with the purchase of a ruby in some form. In recent weeks I have thought about buying a simple heart-shaped necklace with the red gemstone set inside. I did some online searches but didn't find anything that stole my breath away, so I put the idea aside to look into more on another day.

The last months of Jim's life were difficult ones for both of us in many ways. Of course there were the physical symptoms as the disease progressed and impacted Jim's body in more and more ways. But equally difficult was the spiritual battle we faced, as we tried to hold on to the hope that God would intervene in our situation with the healing we so desperately sought.

Our battle began months earlier when the results of the biopsy came back. Suddenly our enemy had a name, and Jim's doctor wanted to start an aggressive attack against it, one that carried risks Jim found he couldn't accept. He wanted to seek other treatment options; change his diet to minimize the growth of the tumor while pursuing healing in the spiritual realm. A choice unpopular with the world, he told only those who absolutely needed to know so that his faith in God would be supported rather than undermined with negative pronouncements. Together we agreed to leave no stone unturned in this spiritual journey; to that end we traveled to healing rooms and prayer rooms in distant locales, had our house anointed with oil, studied and began the daily practice of taking Communion, read books on healing, and filled our minds and our hearts with stories of miracles others had received that could be ours, as well. Firmly believing that healing was purchased for us on the Cross of Calvary, we believed it, claimed it, spoke it, prayed it.

The only thing we couldn't do was manifest it in our lives. As the summer months progressed, so did the disease, and soon it became obvious to me that God wasn't going to answer us in the way we were expecting. While still holding out hope for a midnight-hour miracle, I was losing my grip on my spiritual lifeline. I didn't understand why the truths I so firmly believed seemed to work for others, but not for me... why it felt like God didn't hear me... why for some reason He refused to intervene. While never losing my belief in the ultimate love and goodness of God, there was an increasing distance between Him and me, a growing loss of intimacy because of my confusion over what we were experiencing.

Jim's faith didn't waver. He held on to the belief that healing was his whether he could experience it in this life or not. At the very end, he said only that if he wasn't going to receive his miracle on this side of Heaven, then he was ready to go on Home. And so he did.

My faith crisis in those days didn't affect God's faithfulness to me. He showed up and carried me in the last week of Jim's life and in the weeks and months that followed in ways that were nothing short of miraculous, leading me to realize that my prayers for a miracle had been heard and answered, just not in the way I expected. My gratitude towards Him overflowed as He helped me do all that was necessary to carry on with life in Jim's absence.

Yet the distance between us remained, and it was agony for me. I couldn't bear to lose the love of my life and the Lover of my soul at the same time! But as in any love relationship, it's hard to get back to the intimacy you once experienced when you feel that the trust between you has been broken. I didn't know how to bridge that gap.

Some say we should have chosen the medical options in conjunction with the spiritual ones, regardless of the risk, rather than putting God to the test of producing a miracle at our request. The list of “what ifs” is long and leads only to regret and recrimination. I was ready to move forward if I could just find again some stable footing on which to place my feet.

In the end, it came down to a simple choice. God took me back to a time decades ago when our relationship was in this exact spot. While the stakes were much smaller in the earlier situation, the spiritual consequences were just as huge. I had believed God for something and it hadn't happened; as a new believer I was devastated and questioned whether I could carry on with a God who didn't seem to keep His promises. My confusion and pain made me miserable. I remember exactly where I was when God suddenly asked me if I could simply trust Him, even if I didn't understand the way He had handled the circumstances I was going through.

There is no way to convey how huge that moment was for me. I felt the weight of it; I knew I had come to a crossroads in my spiritual walk, even in its early stages, and that the course of my life would be very different depending on the choice I made. I could continue to walk with God, even without completely understanding everything that happened to me, or I could turn and journey on alone.

Could I trust Him? I said yes. And when the question came up again in these last few months, I ended up giving the same reply. Yes, I will believe in You. Yes, I will trust You. Yes, I will absolutely love You, no matter what happens, “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health...” I smile now at the familiarity of those words.

I did buy myself a necklace to celebrate my anniversary (, and like the day I'm celebrating, it looks very different from what I thought it would.... still a "precious gem", just in a different form. Saying “yes” to Jim on this day gave me 40 years of love and joy; saying “yes” to God guarantees me an eternity of the same.

Preserve me, O God, for in You I have put my trust...I have set the Lord always before me; Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will rest in hope...You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
(Psalm 16:1,8-9,11 NKJV)

If you want the peace that surpasses uderstandingyou have to give up your right to understand.”
  • Bill Johnson

Monday, November 11, 2019

When a Sketch is a Stretch

I'll admit it; I'm a Halloween party-pooper.

Dressing up in a costume to me is more torture than fun; best leave that to those who are heart, if not in age. Because I spend the majority of the year trying to eliminate fear, I don't go looking for goblins and ghouls in haunted houses, nor watch movies that are sure to haunt my dreams and mess up a good night's sleep. I'm even too lazy to carve a face on a pumpkin. The only part of the holiday I really participate in is candy consumption... but that I do with a vengeance!

This year I tried to limit the caloric intake of the holiday and so reduced my actual holiday candy allotment to a single bag of candy corn. One bag containing two servings, that would be it. Dutifully I split the contents of the bag into two piles, eating one immediately, and somehow managing to put the other in a little container to eat as a treat at work the next day... except that I inexplicably forgot that I had the candy with me on the morrow and returned home with it still in my lunchbag.

I was sitting at the kitchen table the next morning, jump-starting my devotional time as usual with some thankful thoughts... at least three of them, one of which had to be illustrated in a little sketch in pencil in my journal. Originally my directive was to draw the moment which meant the most to me from the day before... but since my artistic skills are severely limited, some things for which I was profoundly grateful were eliminated from the selection process because I knew I could never sketch the moment in question. I'd have to be grateful for something a little easier to draw! Soon the purpose of giving thanks was lost in the ordeal I'd made of the activity, and I was coming close to abandoning it completely when I suddenly remembered that little container of candy corn.

Delighted, I grabbed it out of the bag on the counter and was ready to pop the small handful in my mouth, regardless of the early hour, when God halted me with a sudden “Not so fast!” that I heard in my spirit, if not in my ears. “One piece of candy corn for every grateful cheating!...and GO!”

I love it when God plays games with me, and so eagerly began. The thoughts came quickly at first, fueled by the little bits of sugary sweetness I gobbled after each one. I thanked Him for the re-connection with a friend I had seen the night before...traveling mercies in rush-hour freeway traffic I navigated to get to the event...the power nap I somehow had time for before leaving home that afternoon. After the first wave of gratitude there was still corn on the table, and my thoughts turned to things I normally wouldn't have mentioned... the sight of an owl flying through the trees in the yard just before dawn... watching a squirrel rebuild a nest with a mouthful of leaves it had collected from the ground below...a red-bellied woodpecker come to eat breakfast at the birdfeeder on the deck. Little moments I would have thought unworthy of my journal were gifts from God's hand whether I could illustrate them or not, and the acknowledgment of each brought delight first to His heart and then to my tongue.

Soon the pile of candy was gone but in its place was an understanding that God wants me to see His goodness in all things, and that walking in constant gratitude brings a sweetness to life that a little bit of candy can't begin to match. I've learned lately that even the scariest of seasons can be traversed with His constant love as my companion, and my steps sweetened with gratitude for bite after bite of the goodness of God.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!”
(Psalms 34:8 NKJV)

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Missile Attacks on the Mind

It started about a week ago. A barrage of calls from numbers my phone didn't recognize started coming in at various hours of the day. Grateful for caller ID, I continued my habit of letting my voicemail take any messages that might be important and tried to simply ignore the constant communication. Thankfully I quickly learned to keep the device muted, but even the frequent vibrations of the phone in my pocket was an annoyance. The long and short of it was that my peace was continually disturbed.

Suddenly it seemed that my service provider had gotten wind of the problem and was stepping in to help. The stream of random phone numbers I didn't recognize when a call came in were now replaced by the words Alert: Telemarketer, Spam Risk, and Fraud Risk. While the calls still kept coming in, it helped to know that somebody was on to the caller's game and working to stop it. 

And then just as suddenly as the episode started, it ended. The dozens of unwanted calls I was getting a day dwindled back down to the usual two or three.

I know hackers are everywhere these days, and that with the wonders of easy communication and advanced technology come risks that we may never have had to deal with before. It is encouraging to know that security systems are likewise stepping up their efforts to thwart the actions of those intent on harm. The battle is ongoing, but it helps to know we don't fight alone.

I liken this recent situation with my smartphone to what has happened spiritually to me recently with my mind. Like everyone else, I have life issues to deal with, and I am used to fending off the occasional attempts of the enemy to speak doubt and distress into situations that I know in my heart are covered by the Blood and the love of the Lord. But sometimes it seems that the enemy is able to hack in to my thinking, sending a barrage of messages that speak darkness into corners of my life that were once filled with light, overwhelming my defense mechanisms by their sheer numbers and spiraling me downward into hopelessness and despair over the outcome. The Bible says that without revelation and a vision of the future, the people perish. Clearly the devil has read this passage, too, and is working to achieve it.

Thankfully we don't fight alone. The Holy Spirit inside of us rises to our defense, and starts sending messages of His own to our control center in the brain. He starts identifying the source of the incoming calls, directing us in how to respond to each thought that comes in, wanting to take up residence. Suddenly we hear, “Don't answer that.” “That's the enemy speaking and it's a lie. God's Word says this on that...” “Hang up the phone.” ...and my personal favorite: “Why do you believe that?” With God as our Guide, suddenly the security breach to our thought processes is closed and we return our thoughts to whatsoever things are true, noble, just, pure, lovely and of a good report, as the Bible directs. And amazingly, when resisted in such a manner, the enemy flees to fight another day in another way. How comforting to know that no matter what tactic he comes up with, the Holy Spirit within us is ready for the attack and to arm us accordingly. In times of war, the peace of God is our weapon of choice.

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33 NKJV)

Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Fence of Faith

As springtime edged towards summer, resuming my early morning walks was something I was eagerly looking forward to. Finally a dry, sunshiny day coincided with my scheduled day off, and soon I was off, rejoicing in the beauty of my surroundings, the warmth of the weather, and the quiet surrounding me. I headed towards the grove of trees to my west, moving steadily because even though I didn't have to go to work, I was still under time pressure. I had put a coffeecake in to bake before heading out the door, confident that I could reach the treeline and get back just in time to pull our breakfast out of the oven.

Exhilarated to be out and exercising once more, I reached the trees and started to turn, as planned. But something stopped me, and I gazed at the little stretch of woods with longing, feeling a pull to step a little farther along the road to where I could see into the grove and enjoy its beauty for just a few seconds more.

And so I did, and just as I got to where I could peer into the tree stand a little deeper, I suddenly gasped and stopped in surprise. There, just feet away from me, stood a beautiful doe and her tiny fawn, likewise enjoying a beautiful day and breakfast out. They lifted their heads and we stared at each other for the longest time; I slowly moved my phone up to where I could snap a photo and the deer began to ease out of the picture at just the same speed. Finally the doe bounded away, her baby at her heels, and I stood for a moment more, awestruck, before I remembered that I had a reason to hurry off, as well.

As it happened, that evening my husband suggested we continue to enjoy the beautiful day by again going on a walk, this time together. We headed down the road in the opposite direction from my morning hike, again enjoying a quiet holiday weekend stroll and commenting on the sights in our neighbors' yards as we passed by. When my husband asked how far I wanted to go, I pointed to the stump of what used to be a huge walnut tree a good ways off in the distance, my usual turnaround point when I walked this way. But as we got closer, we were once again stopped in out tracks, this time by the sight of two very large dogs sitting unrestrained in any way in a yard just up ahead. No fence, no chains, nothing to keep them from defending their property from possible invasion, even by innocent passers-by. We could see a row of little white flags along the border of the property, and my husband suggested that perhaps they marked the presence of an invisible fence. Did we want to trust that such a fence truly did exist, and that the dogs were sufficiently trained to remain within its confines, even at the sight of approaching strangers? As yet the dogs had not noticed us; they were facing a different direction. In silent agreement we turned and headed back towards home.

In our Christian walk, we similarly sometimes have a goal in mind... a level of faith we want to achieve, an answer to prayer we are waiting on, or perhaps just a deepening of our relationship with Him. And so we proceed, but sometimes the cares of this life stop us just short of where God wants to take us. We yield to the pressure and turn around right when we were on the brink of discovery, and so miss a beautiful moment that God had prearranged, just for us. If we would only listen to and respond to the pull of our hearts, to venture just a little bit further, perhaps we would see a whole lot more and be simply awestruck by what He had in mind to show us. How easily we can miss moments of glory, just by turning around a moment too soon.

Or perhaps we are moving steadily towards our breakthrough, our turnaround point... that answer to prayer we have been waiting on. Just as it comes into sight, however, we likewise catch sight of the enemy lurking nearby, intent on keeping us from walking on ground that is rightfully ours, purchased for us by our Savior with His Blood on the cross. We quail at the size and imagined ferociousness of our foe, held back only by the fence of our faith. Perhaps to this point that faith has never been tested, and we are unsure if it is strong enough to keep the enemy at bay. Rather than risk a fight we might lose, we turn tail, and the turnaround in our situation must wait for another day.

Are you at that point today? Has your walk with God taken you to a point where you must decide whether to let Him take you further into uncharted territory, or retreat into the safety of what you already know? It took the Israelites 40 years to enter their Promised Land, simply because they balked at so many of the challenges they encountered, longing at times to return to the life they knew, even as slaves under a tyrannical master. Some of us simply don't have that long to wait! Yet God is longing that we would see these situations as the stepping-stones they are to the answers we so desperately seek. A change in our perspective might lead to a change in our actions...and likewise to the outcome of the situation. Count it all joy!

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
(James 1:2-4 NKJV)

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Fight With a Four-Letter Word

I woke up with a four-letter word on my mind.

Intrigued, soon the first sip of morning coffee found me typing it into the Dictionary app on my phone to find the definition.
The word “stet” followed by a row of dots means “let it stand”, and it is written as a corrective direction on a manuscript or written material of some sort to keep a portion of the same that had earlier been marked for deletion.

I love that! ...maybe because I know the pain of submitting a written work to an editor and receiving it back covered in red ink. There are passages deleted, words changed and sentences rearranged, all in the hope of making the message more concise and to the point. No matter how pure the editor's intent, however, there is something inside of me that rises up in rebellion and makes me want to fight at the sight of all that red!

Maybe that's not a bad thing, but a God-planted defense mechanism for those times when we're under attack. The Bible tells us that God has plans for our lives, story-lines for each of us, written before we were even born. Those plans and thoughts are for our prosperity and well being, filled with hope and a bright future. But the devil also has a plan ...of attack! ...and the Word says that he comes to kill, steal and destroy all that which God meant for our good.

So the manuscripts of our lives can suddenly be handed back to us one day with large passages of the same marked out in red ink. Things we thought were in our future, plans we cherished, joys we were anticipating... all can seem suddenly to have been removed from our story by the one who robs our joy.

In our affliction, we appeal to a Higher Authority. And how does God respond? He writes “stet...” beside those passages the devil wanted to delete. “Let it stand” He writes beside the joys and life experiences the enemy meant to steal away.

And what makes the red-letter promises of God in the Bible more powerful than the red-ink editions of the devil? God's are written in the Blood of His Son.

So you shall serve the Lord your God, and He will bless your bread and your water. And I will take sickness away from the midst of you...I will fulfill the number of your days.”
(Exodus 23:25-26 NKJV)

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Divine at Your Doorstep

We've never had a doorbell.

Our attention has been eventually drawn to visitors on our front step either by their frustrated pounding on the front door or the loud and incessant barking of the two dogs on our side of it.

Until now.

Because we were so intrigued by ads for the same we'd seen on TV, a Ring video doorbell found itself wrapped and waiting for installation under the Christmas tree this past holiday season. Now in place, our eyes have literally been opened to what used to be just a matter of conjecture on the amount of traffic occurring outside our home.

Purchased primarily for protection purposes, the Ring has met all our expectations. Being able to see and speak from a distance to whoever might be on the property, whether they wish to be seen or not, has added greatly to our peace of mind when we're away from the house as well as just in a distant room in the back of it.

Not that there haven't been a few scary moments, such as when alerts have lit up the cell phone in the middle of the night. But a pounding heart quickly calms when a check of the video shows nothing but a passing possum, a leaf blown by in the wind, or even nothing at all but pitch darkness rather than an intruder bent on entry.

Far more wonderful have been the unexpected joys of seeing a package you've been waiting for delivered, a family member arrive safely home... or the latest, our neighbor plowing out our driveway after the most recent round of snow! Talk about joy! We would have discovered these blessings eventually upon our return home, but our days were made immeasurable happier by being made aware of them while they were happening.

Too often as believers our vision is limited by what we can see with our physical eyes. Yet the gift of the Holy Spirit is waiting to be opened up and activated, a portal into a whole other realm of activity going on around us that we would otherwise be unaware of. It not only alerts us to the dangers of fear, negative thinking, and the restrictions of conventional wisdom... but it brings into view the provision that is available and waiting for us, and gives us the ability to access it and appropriate it into our lives right now. The wisdom, healing, direction...every form of heavenly help we need... is suddenly at our fingertips, waiting for us to pick up and use. How wonderful that we don't need to wait till we get to our heavenly Home to realize these joys, but that God's intent is that we see and enjoy and use them for His Glory while we need them here on earth. And how sad if we pass through this life leaving the help we longed for sitting at our front door...simply because we didn't know it was there.

But the Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor – Counselor, Strengthener, Standby), the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name... He will teach you all things. And He will help you remember everything that I have told you.”
John 14:26 AMP
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