DEFINING MOMENTS

 

            One of the most powerful influences in my life was my Mother.  Though not well educated or widely traveled, there was a strength about her that helped shape my life and make me the person I am today.

Though she would not have known the term “defining moment,” marrying at the age of seventeen, giving birth to three babies and losing a her young husband and oldest child, all within the span of six years, created within my Mom a strength and determination that served her well throughout life setting an invaluable example for her offspring.

Looking back on her life now, I am sure my Mother would acknowledge that those particular events brought about fundamental changes that defined, to a great degree, the person she became.

A defining moment is a point in your life when you are forced to make a decision that will change everything.  It will change you, your outlook, and your behavior.

Every life is a series of defining moments that shape and change us—moments that have a huge influence on our development and our choices.  These moments aren’t easy to recognize except in hindsight, but they are the moments that determine who we are and will be—the moments that shape everything that matters to us.

Some of these moments are positive, and some are negative, but that doesn’t matter.  The importance lies in how we respond to them.

This morning, I am looking back on some of those defining moments that made me the  gal I am today, and I am remembering the summer of 1968 and a church family camp in Prescott, Arizona.

I had just finished my eighth year as a public school teacher.  I enjoyed teaching, and I was good at it, but when I dared admit it, there was, deep in the recesses of my heart, a disappointment that could not be quelled.

From my earliest days, I knew that God had a plan for my life.  There was something He wanted me to do, but not knowing what it was or how to find out, I just did what I thought best.  I became a teacher.  After all, I might need to make a living for myself.

I loved my long, leisure summer days apart from my fourth graders, but my determined Mother had another idea.  She suggested it would be nice, if I would take her and some of her friends for a few days to family camp.  I couldn’t say “no.”  So off to Prescott we went.

Little did I know that this was one of God’s defining moments—a life changing moment.

I had not really wanted to go to camp, but the first day on the grounds, Jack, a young man in whom I was greatly interested, showed up.  Camp wasn’t a total waste after all.

After taking my Mom and her friends back to the valley I returned to camp.  God used that return trip to soften me up.  Alone in the car, I thought about Jack.

With tears, I demanded, “Why, God?”  I’m lonely.  Why can’t I have a man like Jack?

It is amazing the things and people God uses to bring us to the place where we can hear his voice.

The camp speaker was a man from Montana.  I didn’t know him and he didn’t know me. Many were blessed by his ministry, but I am totally convinced that God sent Reverend Goodman to Prescott, Arizona just for me.  God does things like that, you know.

After his ministry of the Word, I wept at an old fashioned altar.  Not conscious of praying words, my heart, without restraint, flowed out to God.  He knew the longing, the confusion, the disappointment, the doubt, the fear.

Reverend Goodman prayed with me.  At the nudging of the Holy Spirit, he talked with me telling me things about myself that only God and I knew.  He shared his own ministry experiences encouraging me to open my heart and life to others—to become vulnerable.

I left that camp totally changed.  My life was never again the same.  There is no way to explain it.  It was God’s defining moment.

I had already signed a contract, so I taught one more year before launching into full time ministry—a ministry that was as varied as the colors in a rainbow and extended to many parts of the world.

There is an overwhelming joy in my heart as I remember nearly fifty years of ministry experiences and the lives that have been changed, and I think, “what if I had said no?” How different life would have been!

Among all the decisions I have made in my life, two standout—the moment, when as a child, I decided to follow Jesus, and the moment, as an adult, when I said “yes” to God’s call to service.  Those are the moments that defined my life and made me who I am today.

Your life is a composite of all the decisions you make.  It is all but impossible to make the right decision on your own.  Think of the mistakes and hurts you could avoid, if you had the right counsel—divine counsel.

Psalm 37:5 says, “Commit your way unto the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.”

Commit yourself and every decision to God.  Let Him define your life.

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TAKING THE WRONG ROAD

Friday was the big day, the day when Cecil would finally ask me to marry him.  He would have asked me much sooner, but I was determined that everything had to be perfect.  No surprises here.  This was an arranged event, so according to plan, we headed for Sedona, where beautiful red sandstone cliffs cast their shadow over that little city, and tourists from around the world come to see.  We were late leaving the valley, but we figured we would be there by the middle of the afternoon.

Sedona was an easy two-hour drive north of Phoenix.  Cecil wanted to propose in a pretty little park and take me to a special dinner at a nice restaurant.  Then happy and satisfied, we would drive back to Mesa, and call everyone in the phone book to share our incredible news.

Cecil drove, and with map in hand, I was the self-appointed navigator, but you will remember that I am also a talker.  Unfortunately, as we neared the turnoff from Highway 17, I was talking instead of navigating.  We missed our road, but instead of turning around, and wasting precious time I found another road that would take us back to Sedona.  We discovered immediately it was unpaved.  However, it was only twelve miles, so that wouldn’t be a problem.  Would it?

There were no signs, no warnings, and even the forest rangers, whom we met heading for the highway, only waved without bothering to tell us that the road we were on was impassable for any vehicle and especially so for a passenger car.

The next ninety minutes were spent trying to navigate this wilderness trail—one could hardly call it a road—without tearing out the car’s underpinnings.  I had failed as navigator.  Now all I could do was screech and wail, as Cecil tried to avoid great rocky drop-offs coming ever nearer to the side of the cliffs constantly scraping up against the dry thorny desert brush.  I couldn’t be concerned about the well fare of the car.  I was concerned about preserving our life.  Of course, if you have the courage and the presence of mind to look, that route gives the best view of the world famous red sandstone cliffs.

The day was far spent by the time we arrived in Sedona, and I had learned a valuable lesson.

It is far better to turn around and correct your mistake than to take an unknown, untried route to your destination.

I was born with the wanderlust.  “Going” is in my blood.  I have had the great privilege of visiting thirty-four countries in our world, but there are still one-hundred sixty-three others that I have not yet experienced.  It makes me sad to think that, for the most part, my traveling days around the world are probably over.

However, I am presently engaged in another journey, with which bad knees, sciatica, and needy family members cannot interfere.

Life is a journey designed by God before we were ever born—a journey with big rocks to climb, little ones to trip over, and milestones to mark where we have been.  We all must make this journey no matter how bad the road and accommodations.

It would be great if the path meandered always through grassy meadows dotted with wildflowers and babbling brooks, but for the most part, life’s road winds uphill the whole long day.  It is marked with adversity and seemingly impassable obstacles.

Often, in an effort to evade hardship and suffering, we find ourselves on a tawdry detour we have chosen hoping to find an easier way to our destination.

Detours will never get you there.  They will only take you farther from your goal.  When you find yourself on the wrong road, turn around.  Turn around!  Go back to the fork where you made the bad choice, and start again.

Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to man, but its end is the way of death.”

In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…”

1 Peter 2:21 also tells us, “…Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.

There are those who tell us to live life on our own terms, go against the grain, take the road less traveled, but God’s word says, “ask for the old paths,” the tried and true paths.

You can choose your own path or you can choose to follow the footsteps of Jesus.

Our world is moving toward one God ordained event, the return of Jesus Christ, when history will be brought to a close, and life’s journey will be complete.  John Peterson wrote:

Someday life’s journey will be o’er and I shall reach that distant shore,

I’ll sing while ent’ring heavens door “Jesus led me all the way.”

Jesus led me all the way, led me step by step each day;

I will tell the saints and angels as I lay my burden down

“Jesus led me all the way.”

Pray this prayer with me.  “Teach me YOUR way, O Lord.”

 

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A ROCK IN A WEARY LAND

  In summertime, beach cities, in our country and around the world, host a myriad of sandcastle sculpting competitions.

To my amazement, I learned there really are professional sand sculptors, or “Masters of Sand,” as they are called.  They actually make a living playing with sand and water.

Sand sculpting is no easy feat.  Tons of sand must be shoveled and hundreds of gallons of water carried.  In larger competitions sculptors, both professional and amateur, are given four days to complete their masterpiece.  At the end of each day, these uncompleted creations are sprayed with a mixture of water and white glue in an attempt to preserve them.

However, in the end, whether professional or amateur, whether hours or days are invested, these masterpieces or amateur attempts, are not strong enough to withstand the swelling tide or the buffeting winds.  They are swept away.

I’ve never made a sand castle.  I know it must be fun and satisfying to create something spectacular, and in these competitions, there is usually a monetary reward for the best ones, but when I think of the intense effort and time spent knowing my work cannot be preserved, it seems like time wasted.

The main reason these sand sculptures cannot be preserved regardless of having been fortified is that they are built on sand.  When the tide comes in, that underlying sand is swept away and the structure crumbles.  They have no sure foundation.

I was so excited when I bought my first house in August of 2009.  It was brand new, and in my mind, it should have been perfect, but sometime after I took possession, I began to find cracks in the walls.  I learned that the builder had not properly prepared the ground before laying the foundation, so the structure was not adequately supported.

A foundation is a body or ground upon which something is built—an underlying base of support.

Most things need some kind of support.  Women wear foundation undergarments to smooth out the bulges and keep things from jiggling.  Even makeup needs a foundation, and I have discovered that my life must also have a solid foundation if it is to be of any worth.

Last week, Jan came to clean for me.  She was angry and upset because things were not going well with her grandchildren, whom she has raised.  This woman has been in and out of my house for several years.  She knows me well enough to be sassy with me.

From the beginning, I felt that God put her in my pathway for a reason.  I have often talked to her about the Lord being very frank concerning the truth of the gospel.  Jan always seemed to appreciate our conversations, but she has never taken that crucial step of faith.

Why can’t I ever get a break,” she wailed.

We sat on the sofa, and I said, “You know, Jan, you want God’s blessings and answers to your problems, but you have never given Him your trust.  You have never given Him anything.”

“Why should I?” she demanded.  “He has never done anything for me.”

“No?” I asked.  “Two thousand years ago He gave His life for you, but you won’t even give Him the time of day.”

She left angry refusing the hug I offered.

Jan has no foundation.  She has no one to call on in time of need.  She has no one to lean upon when she is weak.  She has nothing steadfast upon which to depend.

She is like the foolish man in Matthew 7, who built his house upon the sand: and when the floods came and the winds blew, the house fell, and great was its fall.

Matthew 7:24 also tells us about a wise man, who built his house upon a rock, and when the rains came and the wind blew, the house stood firm.

Matthew likens the wise man to one who makes Christ his foundation, his rock, and lives in obedience.   He also likens the foolish man to one who refuses Christ and will not obey Him.

In 1 Corinthians 3:11, the Apostle Paul says, “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

In the 1800’s, songwriter, Edward Mote wrote:

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ the solid rock I stand.

All other ground is sinking sand.

All other ground is sinking sand.

You may be worn out with the problems you face today.  A flood may be threatening and a gale blowing.  Make Jesus your foundation.  He will be your “Rock” in this weary land.

Remember the sun will come out tomorrow!

THAT’S MY GIRL!

  When Cecil was diagnosed with an inoperable aortic hematoma and told that he would die, the sunshine went out of my life.  I couldn’t believe it.  I wouldn’t believe it.  Consequently, talking about it became almost impossible.

One morning, after arising, Cecil crawled back into bed with me, and said, “We need to talk.”

There was an immediate avalanche of tears.  He talked and I listened.

Finally, struggling to control my emotions, I said, “Cecil, if you die, I am not going to rant and rail against God.  I am just going to believe this is God’s time to take you home.”

I can still hear the warm approval in his voice as he drew me closer, and said with a deep sigh, “THAT’S MY GIRL!”

“THAT’S MY GIRL” was his seal of approval.

Every person on the planet shares certain core needs.  There are the physical needs such as food, water, and air, but there are also emotional needs.  Every man strives for a sense of physical and emotional security.  Feeling approved of makes us feel good about who we are meeting that common need.  Whether we admit it or not, the desire for validation is one of the strongest needs known to man.  When we are no longer met with approval, our sense of security is threatened.

I spent a good deal of my early life longing for people to like me trying to be what I thought they wanted me to be.  I found myself saying “Yes,” when I really wanted to say “No,” agreeing when I didn’t, telling people what they wanted to hear, cooing over things I hated, sucking up to strangers for a bit of approval, and trying to be impressive.

I robbed myself of ME, and the approval of others was, at the most, fleeting.

Of course, the approval of others is desirable, but not at the expense of losing who you really are—not at the expense of sacrificing your own dreams and desires.

Aristotle said, “Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing and being nothing.”

God created no clones.  When He made you, He did not intend that you morph into some Hollywood star, some supermodel, a well-known athlete or even an admired friend.  He made you a unique, special being, unlike any other of His creation.  Even Identical twins are not truly identical.  No two sets of figure prints are the same.  DNA is particular to each individual.

In my favorite Psalm 139:14-15, David said, “…I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are your works…When I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth, Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed…”

The Psalmist is simply saying the structure and functions of a human body are beyond imagining.  The body is wonderful!  It is awesome and mysterious!  In the womb, it was skillfully made—the parts embroidered and woven together with threads of various colors.  So, also, is the soul awesome and wonderful in its intellect—in its imagination, affections, judgment, conscience, and will.

Every individual is a bundle of possibilities, but no one has precisely the same possibilities as anyone else.  Each man can be what nobody else can be.  Each man can do what nobody else can do.

Oscar Wilde is quoted as saying, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”

Yes, I wanted approval, but I soon learned that I could not “say nothing, do nothing, or be nothing.  I needed to be me—the girl God made.  By the way, I like that girl!

When Cecil first began to show interest, I warned him not to get serious.  I told him that I am Selfish and stubborn, terribly opinionated, and I talk too much.  He declared that those were some of the things he had always admired about me.  Funny man!

I wanted very much to please my sweet husband.  I wanted and needed his approval, but we did not always agree on everything.  Rather than quarrel, we were open and honest about our differences, and I knew there were some things about which we would never see eye to eye.

When I think of Cecil now, I hear again his tender voice saying, “THAT’S MY GIRL,” and I know, in spite of everything, he approved of me.

However, I realize that ultimately, the approval I most need to be concerned about is that of Almighty God.  I am living and longing for the day when I stand before Him and hear Him say, “…Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things.  Enter into the joy of your lord.” Matthew 25:21.

That will be His seal of approval upon the life I have lived.

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

WHEN OPTIMISM FLYS THE COUP

 In my first blog, almost two years ago, I introduced myself to you as an OPTIMISTIC OCTOGENARIAN.  I’ve always thought of myself in those terms.  I’m the one who makes lemonade out of lemons, and I see the glass half full instead of half empty. “Nothing is ever as bad as it seems” “It will be better tomorrow. “ We can do something to fix this.”

I have been accused of being out of touch with reality because I refuse to see the hopeless side of things.  BUT—I must confess—lately, I have found myself questioning my own outlook.

Truth is the last five and one-half years have been the most stressful, traumatic time in my life—without a breather.  I have written about all of this, so I will not bore you with the details.

First, there was the unimaginable excitement and stress of marrying at an advanced age, then after only a few months, the death of my husband, and the unbearable grief that followed. When I could finally function again, I was confronted with my sister’s needs.  Things that seemed simple have become so complicated.  Nothing has gone smoothly.  There is one crisis after another, and I am tired.  There is always a knot in the pit of my stomach and I live with a sense of uneasiness, and at the same time, I live with a sense of hope that “this, too, shall pass.”

So, am I truly an optimist or have I been depending on my own innate strength.  I am a strong person.  I know that!  I’ve always been able to solve the problem in some way.  No more!  I am, now, at the mercy of others.

Is it true?  Have I, like the proverbial ostrich, been burying my head in the sand refusing to face reality?  If so, I find myself reluctant to admit it.  (By the way, the ostrich does not bury his head in the sand.)

In my moments of quiet contemplation, trying my best to understand all of this, I realize that my optimism springs from my relationship with God.

Everyone, whether Saint or outright heathen, suffers difficult problems. Many others face impossible, unsolvable situations.  How do they cope?  No wonder the suicide rate is increasing, and mental institutions are crowded with hopeless souls.

Realizing that my optimism is inextricably linked with my faith raises another question.  When optimism wavers, where does the fault lie?  Is my faith also wavering?

The Apostle Paul, in Philippians 4:6, told the people that they were “to be anxious for nothing.”  Then he gave them the cure for anxiety, “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Still, I am anxious, which seems to say that I distrust God’s power and wisdom, and doubt the reality of His promises.  Yet, I know that is not true.  I do trust Him.  That is the reason I keep coming back.

Of course, I pray, and others pray with me.  The problem lies in the fact that I know He hears me, but I don’t know, yet, what He is doing about it.  Could my impatience be part of the issue?

I have a way of wanting God to do it right now.  But, perhaps He is using this period to teach me a grand lesson—a lesson in patience.

In Luke 21, Jesus speaks to His followers about the terrible trials that will come in the last days, but He says, “Don’t worry for not a hair of your head shall be lost.  By your faith and patience, you shall have eternal life.”

James 1:3-4 says, “…the testing of your faith produces patience…that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

LACKING NOTHING!  WOW!  That surely puts a shot into the arm of my optimism.  Lacking nothing must mean that one day soon, I hope, all these awful, strength-sapping trials will be behind me.  I will heave a great sigh of relief and dance a joyful jig, and try to ward off the next onslaught.

I have been learning Christ all my life.  These years of pain have only served to reemphasize the truths already learned.  I KNOW that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.  I KNOW that He surrounds me with His loving care.  I KNOW that His Spirit indwells me and upholds me. I KNOW that He will cause me to triumph, and enable me to be faithful until death.

IN HIM I LACK NOTHING!

This truth ought to elicit a torrent of Thanksgiving.

If that isn’t optimism, I don’t know what is…

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I DO HEREBY RESOLVE!

Self-improvement is a shared American Hobby.  That’s why more than 40% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions.

Charles Lamb, a writer from the 18th century, said, “New Year’s Day is every man’s birthday, simply meaning that no matter what a mess we made of 2017, the New Year gives us another chance to get it right.  We somehow believe, somehow hope, that we can turn over a new leaf, make a concerted effort, and finally accomplish our greatest desires.

We promise to lose weight, quit smoking, learn something new, eat healthier, read the Bible, get out of debt, spend more time with family, travel to new places, take things in stride, volunteer, and be kinder.

But in spite of all the good intentions, only a tiny fraction of us keeps our resolutions.  It is estimated that just 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goals.  How many New Year’s resolutions have you broken?

Why do so many people fail at keeping their New Year’s promises?

I believe that many times the goals we set are too magnanimous, too extreme, and often too vague dooming them to failure.  Shooting for the moon can be so psychologically daunting, that we never get off the launching pad, and our intentions die before taking the first step.

The other night, when I couldn’t sleep, I turned on the TV. There was a man talking about New Year’s resolutions.  He shared a formula that I believe might really work.

  1. Instead of making a vague promise, make a plan.
  2. Commit to your plan.
  3. Sacrifice whatever is necessary.
  4. Accept the consequences.

Losing weight is the number one New Year’s resolution, so let’s apply this formula to that goal.

Instead of saying I’m going to lose weight, make a plan—no potato chips, chocolate, or ice cream for six weeks.  If this seems impossible, then you must ask, “Am I really serious about losing.  What is your greatest temptation?  Be specific.

Commit to your plan.  No one can do it for you.

Will there be sacrifices?  Of course!  Will it be worth it?  Of course!

Be honest about what you are doing.  Years ago, when I joined Weight Watchers and lost a ton of weight, I prayed every day, “God, I’m doing everything I am told to do.”And that was absolutely true.  I was serious about it.  My prayer continued, “Please make my body respond as it should.”

No matter what your resolution or plan, you should be able, somehow, to measure the results.  There will be good consequences.

Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a continuation of life with all the wisdom and understanding that our experiences have brought to us.

I must admit that I do not make New Year’s resolutions, but, on a daily basis, I do examine my heart and make life corrections according to God’s plan.  For, in my relationship with God I do not have to wait until a new year begins to make a new beginning.  With the rising of the sun, I can make a new start.  Repentant for my failure, I latch on to God’s strength and take my next faltering step knowing that:

“Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”  Lamentations 3:22-23.

 At the age of twenty, Jonathan Edwards, a great preacher of the first half of the eighteenth century, made a long list of resolutions concerning every area of his life and ministry.  He reminded himself to reread his resolutions once each week, and he prayed this prayer.

              “Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat Him by His grace to enable me to keep these resolutions, so far as they are agreeable with His will, for Christ’s sake.”

 Jonathan Edward’s most impressive and important resolutions determined everything else he did the rest of his short life.  He wrote:

Resolution One—I will live for God.  Resolution Two—If no one else does, I still will.”

Let us, you and I, make that same commitment for 2018 understanding that without God’s help we can do nothing of worth.

With that kind of commitment, you can write it in your heart that every day, not just New Year’s Day, is the best day in the year.

With warmest wishes, I pray for you that this will be a crowning year in your life—that you will know God better—love Him more dearly–walk closely with Him—serve him more sincerely, and enjoy His great blessing.

 

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

THE GIFT GOES ON

It’s 10:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, December 26.  I know where many of you are.  You have bundled up the gifts you don’t like, the one that is the wrong size, or wrong color or just generally undesirable, and you have once again descended upon the mall.  Besides, there are those after Christmas sales you just can’t pass up.

I remember those days.  I couldn’t get out of the house fast enough.  I had to have wrapping paper, ribbon, and you name it.  No more!

My birthday is the 28th, so my brother wanted to go birthday shopping today, but I vetoed that.  My sole purpose for today is to eat leftovers and lie on the sofa, while my Christmas gifts remain stacked in their boxes in my bedroom floor—the wrong colors, the wrong sizes, and the things I certainly don’t need.  Like Scarlett, in “Gone with the Wind,” I will think about that tomorrow.  Maybe I will become a Re-Gifter.

Though I have trouble doing such a thing, I guess re-gifting has become a time-honored practice.  In fact, more than three in four Americans find re-gifting socially acceptable.

There are some rules to re-gifting.  Don’t re-gift among the same social circle or friends and extended family.  Let some time elapse before reusing the gift.  It must have value and always be new and in original packaging.  A re-gift has to come with the right intentions, fit the receiver’s style and be something you would likely have purchased on your own.

If I look long enough, I am sure I can find, in my house, enough new items in original packaging to fill my gift list for next year and years to come,.  But then, I fear I would leave my friends and family in the same predicament I am in.  What do I do with all these things I can’t use, don’t like, and won’t wear?

There is really only one gift that I can think of that is safe to re-gift to anyone.  It is a gift that is appropriate to every lifestyle, appealing to those in every culture, fitting for every age group, meaningful at every intellectual level, relevant in every time and place, and embraced by both the rich and the poor.

This gift, of which I speak, is of course, THE GIFT OF CHRISTMAS—THE GIFT OF LOVE—THE GIFT OF LIFE ETERNAL.

That’s what Christmas is all about.  That’s why Jesus came.  The beauty of the Christmas tree, the brightly wrapped gifts, and the heavily laden banquet table are only slight glimmers of the glorious gift, of which the angels sang.

The wonder of all of this is that you and I have been accorded the great privilege of giving this gift away.

Romans 6:23 says, “…the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.”  

            Matthew 10:8 tells us, “…Freely you have received, freely give.”

If you have been a recipient of this marvelous, free gift of God, it is time to start giving it away.  Amazingly, no matter how often you give or to whom or how many you give, you will never run out.  The gift will never wear out or grow threadbare.  Its color will never fade or become unappealing.  It is a gift that keeps on giving.  You can safely re-gift it.

I love Sandi Patti’s song:

Don’t you love to get a present wrapped up in a Christmas bow

God gave each of us a present on that night so long ago.

It’s a gift that keeps on giving if our spirits can receive

It’s the secret joy of living if our hearts can just believe.

 

When your life is full of Christmas then your life is full of love.

You can give away the present that began with God above.

Just like ripples in the water the circles of our love extend.

What was started with the Father is a Gift that has no end.

AND THE GIFT GOES ON AND ON AND ON—

 Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

 

 

 

 

 

           

SWEET PEACE

 

My Mama, Maggie Lou, was married in a quiet ceremony, in her parent’s home, on Christmas Eve, 1917.

The war that raged on the Western Front, in Europe—“The Great War”—The War to End All Wars,” seemed a million miles away on that joyous occasion.

Mama went to live with her beloved Ed and his bootlegging father, on a dry land farm in eastern Oklahoma.

By her eighteenth birthday, in March of 1918, Mama was already pregnant with her first child.  Suddenly life, for this laughing girl, became serious.  She was now responsible for another life, and she awoke each morning wondering if this was the day her young husband would be called up to serve his country and perhaps die in a faraway place.

America, under the leadership of President Woodrow Wilson, had remained neutral the first two and one-half years of the war.  However, neutrality finally became impossible considering the increased aggression of the Nation of Germany, and our close bond with Great Britain.  So America entered the fray on April 6, 1917 sending 2,000,000 American boys to the front where 50,000 of them died.

In Paris, France, on November 11, 1918, at 11:00 a.m. an Armistice was signed, and the war came to an end.  The world was at peace!

Just after midnight, in the wee hours of November 12, while bells were still ringing, horns still blowing, and people still celebrating, Maggie gave birth to a baby boy.  Beautiful Levi!

The baby that she had carried in her womb for nine months was now safe in her arms, and there was no longer any danger that Ed would have to go to war.  Sweet peace brought healing to her troubled heart.

Peace is a rare and longed for commodity.  It is said that there are those who would give a “King’s ransom” for one hour of genuine peace.  The “War to End All Wars” was a hope never realized, for war rages somewhere in this world continually.

Many people and entities have tried to bring peace to our world.  The military can’t do it.  Diplomats have failed.  Governments are ineffective, and The United Nations is laughable for the most part.

War does not have to be nation against nation.  It is sometimes corporation against corporation or family against family, and mostly individual against individual.

Truth is, strife and discord begin at the grassroots.  I’m reminded of The Hatfield and The McCoy feud—a feud that lasted almost thirty years and has had repercussions for decades.

No one is sure, but it is said that the whole thing started over the theft of a hog.  However it started, it escalated to murder and mayhem, and the absence of any measure of peace.

I know individuals who hate to go home for the holidays, because of family infighting—so much for “Peace on Earth, Good Will toward Men!”

There are times when outside interference lays siege to my personal peace.  Last spring when I was rewarded guardianship of my sister, I heaved a sigh of relief believing that, aside from the annual reports I must file, I needed only to take good care of her.  However, last week, without warning, my sister’s attorney requested that I be removed as guardian.

I am devastated.  I am praying. I am crying, and just like you, I am wringing my hands, and losing sleep.   Sunday evening I was with a group of friends, who prayed with me.  Monday morning just as I was awakening, I saw the words, as on a plaque, “sweet peace the gift of God’s love.  Opening my eyes, I thought, “That’s a song.  I haven’t heard it in a hundred years, but I know that song, and the words came singing back.

When Jesus as Lord I have crowned,

My heart with His peace will abound;

In Him, the rich blessing I found,

Sweet peace the gift of God’s love.

 

Peace, peace, sweet peace,

Wonderful gift from above.

Wonderful, wonderful peace,

Sweet peace the Gift of God’s love.

 Later in the day, I read these words from Jeremiah 20:11.  “But the Lord is with me as a mighty, awesome One.  Therefore my persecutors will stumble, and will not prevail.”

 This promise is certainly a recipe for peace.

Finally, I believe, “THE WAR TO END ALL WARS” is the war that I wage within—the war that I fight against Christ and His authority in my life.  When I refuse to give Him control, I am filled with turmoil, hopelessness, and fear.  When I lay down my arms and lift my hands in surrender, the Prince of Peace comes in, and His peace remains.

The world is in fighting mode—in hearts, in homes, in our streets, in legislatures, courts, and palaces.  From north to south, east to west, we are at war, but in the middle of all this chaos, you can live in peace.

Isaiah 26:3, “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is fixed on You.”

God’s peace is a gift.  Give up your weapons, sign the Armistice, and fix your heart and mind on Him in exchange for perfect peace.

Your prayers are appreciated.

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE SHADOW OF HIS HAND

The country of India is a giant kaleidoscope of varying sites and experiences as conflicting as that of the Taj Mahal and Calcutta’s putrid city dump.

Having spent a month in ministry in various locations, I was actually on my way back to Belgium with a stop-off in New Delhi, when I experienced one of the most memorable of days.  I was accompanied by three gals, whom I had met in Calcutta—a missionary wife, the pastor’s Indian secretary, and a well-known gospel singer from California.  The four of us put our heads together agreeing that we had worked hard and needed some fun before I left the country.  Thus was born the plan to visit the Taj Mahal in Agra three and one-half hours south of Delhi.

Due to the generosity of our gospel singer, we were treated to two nights in a lovely, even luxurious hotel.  Our little Indian secretary had never seen the inside of such a place.  Just sharing her “wonder” and enjoyment of a hot shower was worth the whole episode.

We hired a taxi for our trip to Agra paying the equivalent of $12.00 for the round-trip.  We had hoped to leave early in the morning, but our singer, who was a bit of a “Prima Dona,” just couldn’t get her act together, so we didn’t leave until close to noon.

Our outbound trip down a narrow, two-lane, road, through barren, sparsely inhabited countryside, was uneventful.  We had been warned, however, that highway robbery was a very real danger after dark, so we must return to the city before nightfall.

Having arrived in Agra after 3:30 p.m. and being desperate to see the sights, we sort of ignored the warning.  After all, here we were, four pretty girls.  Who would want to harm us?  I don’t think we actually thought that, but the attitude was there.  Our driver was nervous.  He urged us to leave, but our “Diva” wasn’t ready yet.   Finally, when the sun was already dipping in the west, we agreed to go, but we needed a refreshing drink before setting out on this grueling trip.  Our henchwoman insisted that we stop at a hotel just outside the city.  The driver had no choice.

When, sometime later, we exited the hotel, wouldn’t you know, there before us, in the courtyard, stood a gigantic elephant bedecked in all his finery?  He wore a beautiful “jhools” or saddle cloth, a bright head plate adorned his forehead, and on his back was an ornate “howdah”-a seat for passengers.  How could we resist?  Would I ever have another opportunity to ride an elephant?  It was a blast.  In fact, riding that elephant and later, a camel, were two of the funnest things I ever did.

It was just bordering on dark when we resumed our trip, but the delays were not over.  Thirty minutes out, we had a blowout.  After the driver changed the tire, he insisted we return to Agra, because he had no other spare, but we were tired and hungry and vetoed that idea.  I am sure this kind man had never before faced a phalanx of determined American women.

Darkness had fallen in earnest.  This was no broad, brightly illuminated freeway.  Only occasionally did we see a pinprick of light from a distant dwelling.  It was eerie.  I became increasingly worried as I thought of robbers.  All of a sudden, up ahead, blinding lights appeared.  We were sure the jig was up.  Our California gal hid her expensive camera under the seat and stuffed her jewelry in her bra.

Instead of robbers, we encountered a military roadblock.  We were not allowed to continue our trip until other foolish drivers, traveling the same road, arrived behind us.  After some time, and a long line of vehicles, we had the safety of military escort back to the city. Arriving well after midnight, we were relieved, tired and hungry.

The warning we had ignored was real.  The danger was imminent enough to engage the Indian military, yet I doubt we lost any sleep over it.  Somehow, subconsciously, we felt immune to such threat.  It couldn’t happen to ME!  Could it?

We sometimes treat God’s warnings or counsel in the same manner.  We sort through scripture obeying what we want and ignoring the ones that do not apply to “ME.”

We live in a dangerous world, both seen and unseen.  At times we face danger because of our own foolishness thinking we will never suffer the consequences.  However, our only surety is in obedience, for when our steps “are ordered by the Lord,” we have the promise that He will uphold us with His own hand.

According to the Isaiah,  Jesus is our Counselor.  He instructs us, teaches, guides, and warns us.  If I love Him, I will obey Him happily knowing that it is for His honor and for my good.

Psalm 19:8-11 tells us, “The statutes of the Lord are right …Moreover by them Your servant is warned and in keeping them there is great reward.”

In Psalm 32:7, David itemizes the reward. “You are my hiding place.  You shall preserve me from trouble.  You shall surround me with songs of deliverance.”

This is a dangerous world.  Stay safe “in the shadow of His hand.”

 

A DIFFERENT KIND OF FREEDOM

I sat in my living room floor, in Brussels, packing and repacking.  I was scheduled to leave the next morning for a teaching assignment in the country of Poland.  That was 1979, and the “Iron Curtain,” which divided the east from the west was a looming reality.

It would be eight years before President Reagan would stand in front of that dividing wall and demand, “Mr. Gorbachev, TEAR DOWN THIS WALL!”

Those under communist rule suffered cruel restrictions and limited resources.  I had heard frightening stories about attempts to smuggle Bibles and other religious materials into communist-controlled countries.  Materials were confiscated, the culprits jailed and keys thrown away.

Yet, there I sat surrounded by mountains of religious materials that were absolutely essential for the training of Sunday school teachers and other children’s workers.  In a brief moment of fear, I thought to cancel the trip, but, resolutely, I put everything back in the cases, and made the trip as planned.

Much to my relief, my luggage was not opened in Warsaw (that’s a whole other story), and after a short flight to Krakow, I was met by a friendly pastor and Peter, the young man who would be my translator.  We drove through the dark, snowy night to the town of Cieszyn on the border of Poland and Czechoslovakia.  Barriers, border crossings and armed guards were strange sights to this gal from “America, the land of the free.”

It had been arranged that I stay with the pastor and his family in their tiny, cramped apartment.  I was thrilled to be in a Polish home.  It didn’t matter that it was not luxurious.  However, I was puzzled by a conversation overheard between the pastor and Peter.  They were concerned because there was no room available for me in the hotel.

“What would the authorities say?”

“Can’t I just say I am staying with you,” I asked?

“No, that would be very unwise,” the pastor replied.

By the next day, a hotel room was available, so I went to the hotel, registered, picked up my key and returned to the pastor’s home.  On my last day there, I went back to the hotel, paid my bill, turned in my key and left without ever having seen the room in which I had “stayed.”  I did, however, have that essential piece of paper in my hot little fist—the paper that proved I had paid for a hotel room.  Such intrigue was beyond me, but it was part of the fabric of life for these people who lived it every day.

How can I tell you about these simple, warm-hearted folks, who opened their hearts and arms to me?  I believe they actually liked me—this strange American woman who went bareheaded on the coldest day, who insisted on drinking cold water in the dead of winter and devoured their delectable potato dumplings with delight.  They opened their hearts and minds to receive the simple teaching and materials.  They laughed at my silly jokes, and with tears expressed their gratitude for such help.  Then on the last day, they brought lovely gifts that I  cherish still.

On Sunday, after learning that demonstrations in Warsaw had canceled flights and stopped most trains, we rushed through the bleak countryside eighty miles to Katowice, the city made famous by Lech Walensa, to the railhead, where a train to Warsaw might originate.

The scene on the platform was one of bedlam.  It was almost impossible to get through the crowd.  Finally, the pastor and our driver picked up Peter and put him through the window handing my luggage in after him.  Then they hustled me up the steps and said their goodbyes.

The corridor and every compartment were jammed with travelers.  There was standing room only.

“I thought we had first class tickets,” I said.

“This is first class,” Peter replied.

After some time, we found a jump seat in the aisle, and Peter graciously offered it to me, while he stood for the entire five-hour trip.

Monday was a delightful day spent touring the beautiful old city of Warsaw.  Early in the evening, without incident, I boarded my flight to Brussels.  As I flew home, my heart and mind were filled with the people, whom I had just left.  These people lived in bondage and deprivation, yet they enjoyed a kind of freedom that many never know.

Romans 8:2, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free…”

Galatians 5:1, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free…”

2 Corinthians 3:17, “…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

These dear, fellow believers had found their freedom and hope in Jesus Christ.  They touched my life only briefly, and somehow I was changed forever.

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!