Monday, April 29, 2013

Dream On

"Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, 
and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD."
Psalm 27:14

A few weeks ago, the Lord allowed me to stumble across
a book written by Holley Gerth entitled,
"You're Made For A God-sized Dream"
and I was introduced to Holley's blog.

Being a lifelong dreamer myself, I was inspired...
to pick up a tossed-aside, dusty dream and start dreaming again.

Every Tuesday, Holley graciously allows me, along with other God-sized dreamers,
to link up to her site to discuss and share our blessings,
our dreams, and the way we are walking in Jesus' footsteps
 to make those dreams come true.

It is such an encouragement.
I have "met" some wonderful new friends this way.
It is amazing to know how many of us are out there...
plugging away,
doing our utmost...
taking baby the direction He is leading.

This week, Holley mentioned how when we encourage others,
we, too are recharged.
She asked us to write a letter to a dreamer in our life 
and share it on our blog.
I started to write to a specific person,
and then I realized....
we are all a sense, aren't we?

Who among us is without a dream?
Who among us doesn't aspire to be more like Jesus...
to reach our full potential for Him...for His sake...for His cause?
Who among us doesn't feel over-indebted to give back,
after all He has so lovingly and unselfishly done for us?

After all, it isn't about us, is it?

As our sweet Zachary reminded me,
we are not the carpenter.
We are not in charge.
We have been redeemed, purchased by God for a very special purpose.
We are but tools...held in the hand of the Master Carpenter.  
He has gifted each of us with individual, unique qualities that fit our God-given dreams, 
and submission to His will is our gift back to Him.
When we relax...and stop squirming in His hand...
and simply lean in to what He wants for us,
we then begin the journey toward the fulfillment of God-sized dreams....
whatever they may be.

So, I write to all of every one reading this.
This is my you....
you are special, my friend.
You are invaluable.
I write no words of flattery....only truth...straight from my heart.
God is aware of all you go through...every, single day.
Your labor, your toil, your diversity of hats.
He sees how often you have shelved your dream....
how often it has been moved...
from the front burner to the back.
He has watched each time you have walked away from it,
as matters more pressing than dreams took over...
and overwhelmed your life.

He has taken notice of every moment of disappointment,
every breathed sigh,
every trickling tear....
even the ones you wiped away quickly...
so no one else would see.

God saw.
Nothing escapes His all-seeing eye.

He was moved by your tears.

His compassion overflowed for you.
And just because your dream has not yet come true,
does not mean it is not going to happen.

I want to encourage you to hold fast.
Press on.
Don't let go.
Don't quit.
Keep believing.
God is still God.
He knew the plans He had for you from the moment you were conceived...
in your mother's womb.

He wants to prosper you....and give you hope...and a future.
An expected end....a fruition to your dreams.

Did it ever occur to you that He placed the dream the first place?
Deep inside your heart?
So that you would feel gentle walk the path He has planned for you?
After He planted the dream, He gave you what it takes...
to make it happen.

His timing is not like ours.
His thoughts are far above the ones we think.
We want to see progress....solid proof...clear evidence...
that something is happening.
God doesn't always choose to reveal what is going on in the shadows of our dreams.
When it seems He is the most still....and silent....
He is often working the hardest.
Sometimes we see it later.
Sometimes He keeps it hidden.
But, He always has our best interests at heart.
He always does what is best.
He knows how much we can handle...and when.
If there is a delay, it is not without reason.
Time spent waiting on God is never wasted time.
We can't always see what He is doing,
but, we can be certain that He is never idle.
Often, He is working on us....fitting us to serve Him better....
making us more capable...
to handle fulfilled dreams.

Be encouraged!
No matter how close you are to giving up,
it is never too late.
Take His hand.
Allow Him to lead.
Surrender your own His ideal.
Relax in His everlasting arms.
And dream on, my God-sized dreaming friend....
dream on.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Forever Spring

"When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; 
and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: 
when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; 
neither shall the flame kindle upon thee."
Isaiah 43:2

Spring has sprung around our house!
The colors are glorious....
and vibrant.

God's handiwork is everywhere I look.

How blessed we are to have eyes to see and take it all in!

Our cherry tree is taller this year....

its blossoms magnificent....

and such a joy to behold.

Every year, I look forward to the view from our kitchen window
of our peach trees....just beyond the garden fence in our back yard.

Such delicate, beautiful petals.

I love their shade of pink.

It is as if everything is waking up....and coming to new life.

We bought some new azalea plants and made it a family project to
plant them along the sidewalk out front.

"The roses sure are blooming pretty this year", 
Kevin commented, while we worked.

All I could think of is how much Mom loved our roses.
She looked forward to them blooming every spring 
and would admire them as she wheeled her walker along the sidewalk
towards our front door.
She enjoyed them each time we brought her to visit.

I never dreamed last spring was to be the last time she would see our roses.

"I sure wish she could see them this year", 
I muttered, 
fighting back tears.

This is the first spring I have faced without her...
to take drives and enjoy the beauties of the season.

Can you believe it will soon be one year....
since she left us?

In some ways, it seems so much longer than that.
In other ways, it feels like I should be heading for the hospital to see her in ICU....
like it is still happening.
Other days, it feels like it was last week....
instead of last year.

I've tried to stay super busy lately to drown out the memories....
and the dread of the anniversary date coming up next Sunday.
But, no matter how I fill or overfill the hours of each day,
I can't stop reliving it....and dreading it beyond words.
It is like a steady stream of flashbacks....that incessantly creep up...
and force themselves in front of my eyes.

Last year, at this time, she was fighting for her life....
day after long day...
still clinging....
hoping with all her heart to stay with us....
just a while longer.
Each day was agonizing.
Such a roller coaster...
one minute things were looking up,
the next minute another complication had set in.

Mom will not see our roses this year.
But, I have a feeling the beauty of the flowers she is seeing 
far surpasses the prettiest ones in our flower garden.

I miss her.
Does the pain of that ever stop?
In some ways, I am so much better...
so much more hopeful....
so much more at peace.
In other ways, some days, I can hardly function.

Grief this deep doesn't heal overnight....
or in a week...a month...or even a year.
Is a lifetime long make it go away?
I wonder if it ever completely heals.

Everything around is so full of life.
It is hard to imagine that she is not here to see it 
and bask in the newness this season brings.

I have learned much over the past couple of years.
Lessons with depths that seemed to far surpass all of my other life lessons put together.
I have taken Isaiah 43:2, and I have tested its words....over and over again.
I have passed through waters...
deep waters, full of turbulence and foamy, overpowering waves, 
so full of force that I wondered if they would suffocate the very life right out of me.
I can tell you this.
He was with me.
Every grief and anguish-filled moment.
Every time I stumbled...and fell flat...on my face.
He was there.
He is with me still.
I can vouch that He never leaves...never forsakes....
never abandons....never deserts....
even in the aftermath of the storms of life.  
He is still there.
Full of unconditional love...that never ends.

I have passed through rivers...
that felt like the Jordan overflowing its banks....
way over my head...
to the point that my feet were no where near touching bottom.
To the point of being forced to just trust,
fall back into His everlasting arms....and believe He wouldn't let me drown.
He didn't.
I can tell you that the rivers never overflowed me.
Even when it felt like they would.
Even in waters over my head,
my head never went under...not even for a second.
He wouldn't allow it.
When the undertow tried to draw me in,
He swooped me up...every time....just in time.

I have walked through fire...
heated seven times hotter than normal.
I was never burned.
The flame never kindled...upon me....
though it burned all around, threatening to consume at any second.
He didn't allow it.
He was in the fire...with me....
controlling the elements.
His hand never left the thermostat.

His nearness made the flames worthwhile.
I can say that from the heart.

So, Sunday marks one year...since I stood by Mom's bedside and said good-bye...
for the very last time.

We have come full circle.
We've passed the dreaded firsts....
Mothers Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, her birthday, Easter, 
and all of our birthdays.

My sister, Debbie, was the last one to face her first one without Mom...
last weekend.

Last year, Mom's life support was removed on Debbie's birthday.
I remember looking across Mom's hospital bed 
and telling her what a blessing it was that Mom was awake
and could wish her a happy birthday.
One week later, Mom was gone.

One year later, we still grieve.
But, we made it.
We are still standing.
We still the One Who doeth all things well.
The One Who was despised and rejected of men; 
a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.
The One Who "was wounded for our transgressions, 
He was bruised for our iniquities: 
the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; 
and with His stripes we are healed."
Isaiah 53:3,5

He suffered every, single thing you and I will ever suffer.
He knows how we feel.
And He cares.
How would we ever know how much if we never had 
need of healing?
How would we ever experience His depths
if we were never taken through the deep waters?
How would we know of a certain that we can walk 
through fire and not be burned, 
if we never walked through the fire?

I am a walking, breathing testimony of His faithfulness.
I don't ever remember a time that I have loved Him more,
nor have I ever felt closer to Him than I do right now.

To fellowship Christ through suffering is truly the sweetest fellowship of all.

Last night, I had just finished filling out a card to send to a dear friend
when I happened to flip the card over to read the back.
My eyes fell upon the printed lyrics to
"What A Friend We Have In Jesus".

As many times as I have heard and sang that song,
its words have never moved me the way they did last night.
I put the card in its envelope
and walked across the room to our keyboard.
I sat down and began to play the melody to this sweet, old, precious song.
As I played, my tear-filled eyes were drawn 
to this beautiful picture we have hanging directly above the keyboard.

It was a gift from my niece, Kristen, and I cherish it dearly.
See the nail prints in His hands and how tenderly and closely He is holding the little lamb?
"He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: 
he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom..."
Isaiah 40:11

I heard His dear, comforting voice.
It was as if He were right there...talking to me.

"That little lamb is you, My child.
This is where you are.
I am carrying My bosom.
You are safe.
I will never let you fall.
There is nothing to fear.
This is how much I love you."

I sat there and played that melody over and over and over....
I don't know how many times.
My eyes were fixed on the picture.
My mind was focused solely on precious, gentle, loving Shepherd.
I felt His presence surround me.
It was so real.
It was if I would see Him face to face any moment.
I was enveloped....caught up....into a holy atmosphere...
more precious and hallowed and sacred than I could ever put into words.
I didn't want to stop.
 The sweet flow of worship was so pure....
so sincere....
so from the heart.
It sprang from deep within.
There were no words.
There didn't need to be.

He is healing me....slowly and tenderly and precisely.
He sees the source of the bleeding hurt, and He applies the healing balm of Gilead
right where I need it the most.

I wish Mom were here...enjoying the roses.
Seeing the sights of spring.
I gaze at our flowers from the front porch.
I wish I could look up and see her smiling at me....
walking up the sidewalk....just one more time.
I wish we could have experienced this together....just once more.
I cherish our memories!

Spring was her favorite season.
She always hated the deadness of winter, 
and every year she welcomed spring with open arms.
I wish I could hear her familiar voice....
"Oh, Cheryl, look at those roses!
They're beautiful!
I don't ever remember them being more beautiful."
Bless her dear heart!
 My heart aches thinking of it.

The comfort I find is in knowing she is resting with the angels....
forever safe...
in the arms of the One in the picture.....
in a land where she will never grow old...
in a city where the roses never fade....
in a place where it is forever spring.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Baby Steps

"Have not I commanded thee? 
Be strong and of a good courage; 
be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: 
for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest."
Joshua 1:9

I have a God-sized dream.

It was planted inside of me years ago.
No matter how much I try to quench its fire,
its intensity overwhelms my efforts, and it continues to burn.

This is how I know it is God-sized.
This is how I know it is not just one of my whims....
or swiftly speeding ships in the night.  :)
If it were one of those, it would have reduced to a smolder,
then fizzled completely out by now.

Yes, sirree!

My dream of being able to compile some of the verses I've written over the years
into printable greeting cards
and then marketing them online from a real Homespun Devotions website
is definitely God-sized, not Cheryl-sized.

Seems impossible, really.
An insurmountable feat.
Way above what I can ask...or even think.
An Ephesians 3:20 dream.

Last week, I was able, with God's help and Mark Brodsky's assistance and direction,
to take my first, tottering, faltering baby step 
towards creating the new website of which I have been daydreaming.
After I got into it, it was actually a lot of fun.
One night, I had a hard time peeling myself away from the computer
I was enjoying it so much.  :~)

It is definitely under construction, but if you want to take a peek,
you may do so by clicking here.

If you'd like, 
please take a moment to go ahead & subscribe while there.
This way you will continue getting the devotionals by email
once everything is switched over.

(If nothing is written or added to the new site, you won't receive an email,
so you won't be bombarded with duplicates in your inbox.)

It will be a while before the complete transition happens
and even longer before my total dream is in place.

All of this takes time.
I have a vision in my mind....and heart...where it all began.
All kinds of cards...
birthday, get well, sympathy, encouragement, thinking of you, just because...
you know...the whole nine yards.
I see them finished.
Beautifully and professionally printed...with a cutesy, homey little Homespun Devotions logo on the back.
I picture them listed in a particular way....on a Homespun Devotions website....
with the little quantity box beside them,
the shopping cart to put them in,
and the capability of selling them.

God has planted some creative ideas on how the cards can be compiled, 
neat little ways of putting them together, etc.

Today, I took another baby step when I started talking to a local printer
about setting up professional-quality, online printing.

Right now this is just a dream.
A God-sized dream, nonetheless,
but still only a dream.
I see it all...crystal clear.... 
but, how to get there....from here?
How to transform an idea....a dream into what is real?

I tend to want things done now...
I am not the most patient person.
It feels like time spent waiting is wasted time.

But, is it?
The Bible says,
"...they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; 
they shall mount up with wings as eagles; 
they shall run, and not be weary; 
and they shall walk, and not faint."
Isaiah 40:31

Waiting provides time for restoration and renewal.
It presents a golden opportunity to hear the still, small voice of Almighty God...
giving the direction in which to start...
when He says it is time to make the next move.

When babies are learning to walk,
they need a hand to hold on to.
To steady them.
To keep them on track.
To prevent them from falling.

Baby steps are tiny.
They don't propel you forward great distances at a time.
Actually, it feels like you aren't moving at all...taking such tiny, little steps.

But, doesn't every step add up?
Even baby ones?

Don't they move you more than if you 
never took a step at all?

Rome wasn't built in a day.
Dreams do not turn into reality overnight.
Sometimes they take years to reach full fruition.

But if it is worth having...
if it is worth dreaming...
isn't it worth the wait?
And hard work and energy?

God-sized dreams never die.
They matter how far from the surface they sink,
they are always there...with you....and me.
They continue to prod, even when we do our utmost to silence them...
and to convince ourselves we aren't worthy of fulfilled dreams.

His dreams for us are far beyond anything we can ask or think.
His thoughts are to prosper us and to give us hope and a future...
an expected end.
(Jeremiah 29:11)
His plans for us are to bring us to a place of utilizing our full potential.

Me-sized dreams wither....they wane....they waste away.
God-sized dreams are lasting.
And along with the dream, He provides what it takes to pursue them.

What is your dream, my friend?
Anything you wish for, but because it is so far removed,
you don't feel you have the strength to begin the journey towards it?
Why not consider taking one baby step?
Just a tiny, manageable one.
The first one, even the smallest, is the hardest to take.
But, chances are, after you take it, you will feel so good,
you will muster strength to take another...then another.

How about setting a goal of taking one baby step per week...
or day or whatever you feel capable of doing?
Don't pressure yourself.
Take time in between steps to pray and seek God's face
and hear His directing voice....
so you know what to do next.
Never let go of His hand, while walking.

Pace your steps.
Take small, baby ones.

One day, you...and even I...will reach our destination.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Greater Love

"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
John 15:13

We sat at the kitchen table having supper.
Conversation was light.
Until, I saw that far-off-thinking-deep-thoughts look in his eyes.
He turned to me and said,
"Mama, how do you know?
How do you know when it is the right one?"....
this coming from our often-too-serious 12 year old baby.

Isn't he....still a baby?
I look at him...growing like a weed....
soon to be taller than me...
and I wonder, 
where did the years go?

Whether I like it or not, he is growing.....
into a fine young man.

I remember the years....wishing for him.
Dreaming of the day we would have a child to call our own.
It seemed it would never happen.
It almost didn't.

I remember the moment.....they called to tell me it was true.
After over 11 years of trying....dreaming.....hoping....
we were going to have a baby!

I remember the months...waiting for him to arrive.
All of the preparation.
All of the scares...close calls....trips to the midwife.
Losing Dad, right in the middle of the joy...and anticipation of it all.
God was so good.
He delivered Zachary right into our arms....
perfectly healthy, precious,
and overfilling our hearts with more love than they could possibly hold.

I remember so much....of his infancy, toddler days.
I cherish all of the happiness he continues to bring into our lives and home...
every, single day.
Some of the years past seem like a blur to me.
Living by all goes by way too fast.

Now, he thinks such deep thoughts.

I stopped in my tracks...fork lifted halfway to lips.
Oh, boy!
The dreaded questions that come....from such inquisitive, thinking-ahead minds.

I drew in a deep breath, and I answer....wondering, 
"Where do I begin?"

"How did you know, Mama?
How did you know Daddy was the right one for you?"

Okay, now that made it easier.
That is a love story I know something about.
I've lived it.
Breathed it.
Been in it...since August of 1987.

"I just knew, Zach.
I had no fear.
You just have to seek God ahead of time...with your whole heart.
He will show you.
You will know."

"But, how?"

"Okay, I'll tell you."

My mind immediately went back to the night I knew.
The moment it became crystal clear....for me.

Kevin and I were dating...double-dating, actually,
with two of our good friends, Andy & Faye.
Things didn't work out between them, 
but after they parted ways, Andy still came along with us sometimes.
One night, the three of us went to another friend's house to spend some time.
During our visit, I noticed Kevin didn't seem like himself.
He was pale and tired.
At first, I chalked it up to the nine-mile walk-a-thon 
he had participated in earlier in the day.
As we got ready to leave, he got really sick...
nearly passed out.
I remember how Andy had to help him stand up
and how he supported him to walk to the car.

I think that was the moment....I knew.
My heart went out to Kevin in a million ways.
I was worried..not just in a casual kind of way,
but in a heart-wrenched way....
from the depths of me, I wanted him to be okay.

Looking back, I think that episode was the beginning of a physical issue
Kevin has struggled with for years, but we just didn't know it at the time.

I turned to the table.
His big, melted-chocolate brown eyes were peering into mine....
searching....waiting for an answer.

I told him the story and the sickness his Daddy had endured that night
and how deeply it had hurt me to watch him suffer....
how intensely it had affected me....
how it wasn't something I could just feel a passing concern for, then forget about.

"That's how you know, Zach.
When you feel something...
deeper than you have ever felt for anyone else
in your whole life.
When you can't just shrug it off and let it go.
When their pain becomes your pain....
their trouble becomes your trouble....
their heartache causes your heart to ache...deep inside.
When you know, without a doubt, that you would lay down your life for them,
if necessary....
without blinking twice or giving it a second thought.
When your heart is filled....
with a greater love....
than you have ever felt before.
That's when you know....
that it's not just a passing infatuation...
a fleeting crush....
a "for-the-moment", "flavor-of-the-week" interest.
That's when you know....that they are the one for you."

I remember the night we stood outside my apartment door...
laughing....talking about our evening....
when things turned real serious,
and Kevin looked into my eyes and told me he loved me...
for the very first time.

I remember the night he pulled his car into the road that led to Juno Beach,
and we got out and walked the moonlit sand.
It couldn't have been a more romantic setting
for him to stand in front of me and ask if I would marry him.
It was like God was smiling down on us from the heavens....
cheering us on....
happy beyond words that we had yielded to His perfect will
for us to find each other and spend every day of the rest of our lives side by side.

I have never regretted it.
Not for a second.
I will always know that he is the one.

It is love that doesn't count the cost.
Love that propels one to lay down one's life...
one's own interests....
one's own comfort....
one's own self...
for the sake and the good of the other.
Love that will do what is necessary...
regardless of individual sacrifice or personal inconvenience.

The love in my heart for my husband and child propels me
to lay down my life, to a degree, every, single day.

The love in your heart causes you to do the same in your world....
performing countless acts of self-sacrifice without thinking twice.
Every time you serve the ones you love,
you are laying down your life...
pouring yourself out....
making your own needs secondary....
for the sake and good of others.

This is love,
true and pure.
But, there is one greater....
than even this.

As much as I love Kevin....
as deeply as my feelings go..
no matter the depths to which they reach...
there is yet an even greater love.

As much as I love Zachary.....
from the depths of my filled-with-love mother's heart,
there is yet a greater love...even than this.

Human love, no matter how deep,
regardless how intense or passion-filled,
 doesn't come close to holding a candle to the greater love 
spilling from the heart of the One Who went way over and beyond
what you and I would consider to be laying down one's life.

The One Whose heart holds the greater love literally laid down His physical life....
 for the sole good of His friends....
in the most complete way possible.
Like a sheep led to be slaughtered,
He humbly, willingly laid it all down...
gave it up.
To purchase our redemption....
to build a bridge between God and you....and God and me...
to make it possible for us to escape eternity in Hell.

Not long before He walked the Via Dolorosa toward Calvary's hill,
Jesus uttered these precious, prophetic words,
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends",

He had just endured the most intense of all scourgings...
immediately before He made His agonizing trek through the city of Jerusalem that day.
Blood oozed and spilled from open, gaping wounds,
and splattered onto the dusty ground beneath His tired feet.
The drops of red left a trail behind that proved the depths of His greater-than-human love.

He could have any given moment.
He could have lifted His eyes Heavenward,
cried to His Father,
and received immediate and instantaneous relief.
Thousands of angels were hovering...
on alert....
watching Him suffer....
anxiously waiting....
for orders to rush to Him.

What kept Him going?
When He fell under the load....
losing strength to hold His cross for one...more....second?
How did He get back up...on His feet....and keep putting one foot in front of the other?

How did He have the heart to lay His body down...on that splintery, wooden cross....
endure searing pain as the jagged wood came into contact with the freshness of His wounds,
and be raised to hang in an upright position for six anguish-filled hours?

It was nothing less than a greater love....than you and I could ever comprehend.

Human love only goes so far, Mom used to tell me.
After that, it takes divine love, she would say.

Thank God for divine love.
The greater love of Almighty God...
for you....and for me.
A love that compelled Jesus to do what He did.

Contrary to what the muscle-bound Roman soldiers must have thought,
it wasn't their carefully-driven nails that kept Him on the cross.
He had all of Heaven's resources for deliverance at His fingertips.
All He would have had to do is to speak the word,
and the nails would have had no choice but to surrender...
and release Him....
from His awful fate.
Angels could have pulled out the nails...if He would have asked them to.

The thing that held Him fast...
that kept Him there...
until the blood was drained from His mutilated body,
and He could say from the heart, "It is finished"...
had nothing in the world to do with nails.
The thing that held Him there was a greater love.....
than you or I have ever been shown.
And, it is a greater love than you or I have ever others.

Today, I prayed and asked Him for a greater love...for Him.

Don't get me wrong.
I love Him with every fiber of my being.
Everything within me loves my Creator.

But, I long for a greater love.
A love that will compel me to be more....of the woman He wants me to be....
living life, every single day.
A love that will compel me to do encourage, inspire, & strengthen
others on their Christian journey.
A love that will compel me to give more...of myself, laying personal comfort aside,
pouring out and serving Jesus by serving others.
A love that will compel me to show more....compassion, kindness,
understanding, long-suffering, and benevolence.

People are hurting.
They are sad.
They feel alone.

Times are tough.
Downright scary.
My heart breaks every time I hear a shred of news
about the horrific bombing in Boston.

God sent down the antidote....for all evil....
in the form of His Own, dear Son.
He is love.
More sincere, pure, and genuine...
than any other form of love.

At the risk of sounding cliche',
what the world needs now is love....
not forced,
not half-hearted,
not self or reward-seeking,
not selective....
but a greater love....
than it has yet seen.

It is our only hope.
It is the only force powerful enough to heal.
It begins at the Jesus' feet.

Jesus has ascended.
He now sits at the right hand of the throne of God, His Father.
He needs human instruments....
willing to be filled with His divine love,
so it can pour out and touch and heal the world around us.

God, please open our hearts, and fill us now with greater love.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Still Hungry

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
 Matthew 5:6

I sat on the deserted beach
watching the Gulf's waters rise and fall.
Hearing them pound the shore.
There was in my spirit a longing.
A craving.
An intense, deep hunger....
to find my Creator.
To talk with Him.
To hear His voice.
To sense His presence.

So jaded was life.
So tired was I....
of the chaos that surrounded my existence.
I searched for peace.
I longed for inward rest...
that would sustain me..
and not leave in the days to come.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Learning To Lean....In To The Blessing

"Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?"
Jeremiah 32:27

Nothing is past the ability of God.


So often, I lose sight of that.
I fail to keep it front and center.
Therefore, I am driven by fear.
I know it doesn't come from be afraid.
"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear;
but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."
2 Timothy 1:7

If God wanted us to be afraid,
Jesus wouldn't have said,
"Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."
John 14:27

I have not verified the validity of this, but I heard there are 365
passages in the Bible where we are instructed not to fear....
one reminder from God for each day of the year.

So, why do I continue to become terrified....
when faced with a new challenge,
when bombarded with a new attack from the enemy,
when forced to the point of making a decision?

I am not good at change.
In fact, I think it would be safe to dub me severely "change-challenged".
I like familiar.
I cherish routine.

And, I am not a good decision-maker.
I'll admit it.
My continual reaction when faced with a crossroads,
is to turn to Kevin and say,
"What do I do?
What would you do?"

I am from-the-very-bottom-of-my-heart grateful for him.
I am ever mindful of the day my precious, newly-widowed sister, Sandi, said,
"Cheryl, you just don't know how hard it is to not have someone to turn to
and ask.....what do you think?"

She missed being able to do that.
She missed having that option.

I never take it for granted...not for a minute.

Life is full of crossroads.
Times where we feel pinned against the wall.
Situations that absolutely require a change, no matter how much we cringe,
draw back, resist, and try to pretend it isn't happening.
Moments when decisions have to be it or not.
When I hit one of these difficult-for-me spots,
I turn to Kevin....and to God.

I had to do a big way....recently.

I talk to Him every day, consistently.
I couldn't make it through the day if I didn't.
But, there are times when just a normal, run-of-the-mill prayer will not do.
There are days when I need more....
it takes more....
to really get what I need from Him.

Distressed to the point of tears,
I bowed my heart before Him.

"God, we need you.
We don't know what to do.
Which path is Your divine, perfect will?"

I began laying out all of my "what-ifs" before Him.

Gently, the Potter began speaking back to me....with questions.
"Have I ever let you down?
Has there ever been a time that I didn't take care of you?
In all of the past situations...that were exactly like the one you are facing now....
did I fail?
Was there ever a time that you did not have what you needed?"

He reminded me of a past situation when a wise man told me,
"Don't approach this with the spirit of fear", and I said,
"But, I am afraid of getting out of God's will", and he firmly and emphatically replied,
"You won't."

Have you ever been in a situation where God was doing His utmost to bless you,
but just because the blessing involved a sense of change and required a measure of faith and trust
you actually drew back from wanting to accept the blessing?
You actually considered staying where you were and dealing with the undesirable....
just so nothing would have to change?

I know...I know.
It sounds absurd.
Who doesn't want to be blessed, right?
Who doesn't want to run, arms-wide-open,
to receive what God is so graciously trying to bestow?

Is there anyone reading this who can relate?
Has anyone else ever been afraid to accept a blessing from God
just because change...and faith....and trust....was included in the package?

It was down to the wire.
I knew it.
My pulse quickened.
I felt cornered.
Like I was surrounded and closed-in....from all sides.
Decision time was upon me.
They kept talking...all around me.
The pressure was too much.

Suddenly standing up, I said,
"I need to go home and....and pray about this....for a couple of days.
I can't make a decision today."

My "fight-or-flight" response was kicked in to overdrive,
and I felt the urge to bolt.

I the point of nearly running outside to get a breath of fresh air.
I felt claustrophobic.
Pinned down.
Short of breath.

"I'm going to the restroom", I said as I walked away.

I needed to get alone...with Him.
Closing the door behind me, I sought Him...again....with all my heart.

"God, please, please don't let us get out of Your will.
Please don't let us do the wrong thing.
Please, help us!
If this is not Your will, do something to block it....please.
Don't let this happen."

I meant it from the depths of my soul.
As great and tempting as this was....
as effortlessly smooth as it seemed to be going....
if God wasn't in it,
I wanted no part of it.

I walked back to the room and looked at Kevin.
Kind, sympathetic, knowing eyes...met mine....
looked back at me....seemingly straight into my soul.
He knows well.
Sees clear through to the roots....
understands my past....
and situations that have sculpted me into the mess I am today.  :~)

"I think it will be okay...
I think we will be okay.
Let's just do it."
His calm, softspoken, familiar voice soothed my rattled nerves.

It brought a sense of peace to the midst of the storm,
his stability....his ability to remain calm,
gave me fresh courage.....
to the point of saying, "Okay."

So, what would have seemed like a no-brainer to most,
turned into an agonizing ordeal to me.

Most would have jumped at the chance....right off the bat.
Most would have recognized the magnitude of the blessing God so wanted to give....
from the very get-go.
Most wouldn't have had such a hard time taking it in,
taking ownership of it,
and just thanking God.

God sees our end from our beginning.
He knows our hearts....even better than those who loves us most.
He understands our issues...hang-ups....quirks....
even more completely than those who know us best.
More importantly, He has been there...all along....
watching as life unfolded...
as we endured the heartaches
that caused us to develop the issues, hang-ups, and quirks in the first place.

He didn't scold me for being a reluctant recipient
of the wonderful blessing He so kindly and lovingly provided.

Not one bit.

After it was all over,
there was an aftermath...
a period of me second-guessing....panicking...wondering....
if truly we did the right thing.
Knowing me, I knew there would be.

But, right in the midst, He drew near to me and spoke.

"Child, just enjoy the blessing.
Don't look at the big picture.
Enjoy each day.
Know that I am already each tomorrow.
I will always be.
You can rest.
You don't have to struggle...and worry and fret.
Just My everlasting arms.
And just lean in to the blessing."

"Lean in to it, Lord?"

"Yes, child.
Lean in to it.
Stop fighting its flow.
Succumb to it.
Allow yourself to enjoy what I have given you.
I wouldn't have given it to you, if I didn't want you to have it.
I see the future.
You are going to be okay.
I have already taken care of it.
You have remained in My will."

How goes it with you, my friend?
Do you get a feeling God is wanting to bless you....
by leading you in a different direction, maybe....
but you stand paralyzed by the fear of change?
Are you worried about tomorrow and what will happen
if you leave your sense of familiar?
Has God opened a door and given you gentle urges to walk through it,
but you hesitate to take that first step
because you can't see what is on the other side...
of that open door?

Can I encourage you to lean in to the blessing?
May I persuade you to just trust?
To go ahead....take that first step....and walk through that open door...of blessing?

After I took my terrifying first step....or should I say stumbling leap....
of faith...through the open door,
after I leaned in and stopped kicking and screaming and trying
to refuse what God wanted to give,
after I listened to His reassuring words and promises to take care of us,
I finally started to be able to open the gift...
to peel back the layers....
to watch God's plan unfold.

And, guess what?
I am beyond thrilled to tell you that
the view from the other side is beautiful.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Garbage In, Garbage Out

"Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life."
Proverbs 4:23

I sat in the passenger seat waiting while Kevin pumped gas.
We were in a bad section of town, and I couldn't help feeling uneasy.
Inwardly, I was praying...trusting God for protection.

A young guy walked over to the car parked at the pump caddy-corner from us,
and struck up a conversation with another young guy who was seated under the wheel.

What ensued afterwards....
sent shock waves from my ears to my soul.

Remember when people only cursed and swore when they were really, really angry?
Back when it took a lot to provoke someone to the point that they would 
actually utter those really bad words?

Not that I am condoning the use of curse and swear words under any condition.
Jesus said,
"But I say unto you, 
That every idle word that men shall speak, 
they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment."


Now, that is a lot of account-giving.

The young people nowadays make the kids 
we dubbed as "hoodlums" when I was growing up look like innocent angels.
Sure, those guys smoked, drank, used drugs, and yes, they even cursed
and got into a heap of mischief, 
but I declare, they did have some restraint.
They apologized in front of my mother when they let a bad word slip in front of her.
They didn't seem to use the basest means of profanity....just for the "fun" of it.
It didn't seem to flow out of their mouths like common, everyday talk.

I sat there in the car and cringed every time the foul-mouthed boys opened their mouths.
Poor, little Zach.
The windows were opened, and he was taking it all in.
Thank GOD, there were some words he has never even heard before,
so he didn't even know they were bad words.
The little fellow has never been exposed to such,
and some of what he was hearing went right over his head, thankfully.

At one point, he turned towards our dog, Paige, 
who had come along for the ride and was seated in the back seat next to him 
and said,
"Purify your ears, Paige.
You don't want to hear this."

I had to stifle a laugh....because the situation surrounding us was in no way funny.

Many times, when we are out and are approaching a scantily-clad woman,
or are in a store with undesirable pictures & words on the magazine covers,
I turn to Kevin and Zach to give them a heads up
if I happen to think I've spotted it before they have.

"Guys, sanctify your eyes," I'll say. :~)

Zach began to softly sing a hymn, 
trying to drown out the insufferable voices....
of the loud, obnoxious young men just a few feet away from us.

Boy, was I glad when Kevin got finished and we were on our way!

Another time recently, I was in a public place 
where I ended up being surrounded by teenagers.

Don't get me wrong.
I honestly put forth my best effort to think the best of people.
I really try.
I went into the situation with a positive attitude, 
bound and determined to show them the respect they so often say they are never shown.
I tried smiling at them, on the rare occasions that they 
actually acknowledged my presence and made the briefest eye contact.

Most of the duration, I seemed invisible to them.
It was like I wasn't even there.

Remember back when young people were respectful in the presence of an adult?
Remember when they would look you square in the eye and say, "hello", 
even if it were just for the sake of being polite?
Remember when they would offer the adult in the room a seat if there was only one available,
and the adult was the one who was standing up?

I sat, book in hand, trying my utmost to read....
and somehow drown the incessant, idle talk coming out of their mouths,
but it was to no avail.

The volume of their voices was undrownable (is that a word?)

I know kids need to be loud.
I know they are young and should be given a measure of freedom
to just be...well, kids.
I get that.
I respect that.
I was once their age.
I still remember how it feels.

But, today, there is a lack of restraint that I do not remember ever having.

Since the words on the page of my book were rendered insufficient
to overpower the noise they were making, 
I sat, still looking at the open book in my hand,
and listened to what they were actually saying.

It was amazing.
And not in a good way, I might add.
I was so happy when it was time to actually leave that place,
get back into the tranquil quiet of our car,
and drive home in peace.

It's enough to really burden your heart.

I know these young people need to be given time and space
to grow up and mature into quiet, respectful adults.
But, some of them already are adults.
And they are not quiet....nor are they respectful.

I don't know...I guess I just miss the old days.
The new ways scare me.
Where do they get this brazen, froward, overbearing attitude?
It is like there is no fear of God before their eyes,
and they have lost their sense of the fact that there will be a day of reckoning.
Maybe our parents, grand-parents, and great-grand-parents thought the same
thing about our generation?
They actually probably did.
But, in all of my 46 years of life, 
I, personally, have never seen things so "loose" and "unbridled".
And it troubles me....deeply.

After Kevin got back in the car and under the wheel, I asked, 
"Did you hear the way they were talking?"

"Yeah, I heard some of it.
You just have to let it roll off...
just ignore it....
forget it happened.
Don't let it get to you."

Kevin is the most even-keeled person I have ever known.
He has the amazing, coveted capability of shaking off the undesirable.
He doesn't care what people think.
He doesn't worry about what they do.
He does his utmost to please God with his life, and the rest....
well, he just really doesn't waste a bit of precious energy worrying about.

I wish I could be like him.

I told him the car.

"I wish I could be like you are.
I really, really do."

We drove in silence, for a bit.
I tried to calm down.
Become settled.
Let it go.

It wasn't gonna happen.
Something was burning inside of me.

"But, I just can't!
I can't.
I can't pretend it isn't happening.
It is happening.
It hurts me.
It burdens me greatly.
I don't understand.
Where is the fear of God?
How can they be this way?
Seeing them...their flippant attitude,
the way they view things, 
the way they can spew filth out of their mouth like that....
over nothing....unprovoked.
It is like it is just regular words.
It is such a part of their vocabulary."

I was really on a roll....
preaching away....
as Kevin drove us into the night.

I told him about a remark I had heard one of the guys make
while using the bad, BAD words.
He was using the words while talking about his shoes.
Yes, you understood me.
His shoes.
The other guy had complimented his shoes,
and he responded by saying he needed to clean the blankety-blanks.

I'm talking about what Mom and Dad taught me was the most vile of all curse words.
You get the picture.

How can they do that?
And in the presence of women and young, innocent children,
seated in cars nearby, with the windows rolled down?

Then it occurred to me that we have become desensitized.
We are so surrounded, infiltrated, bombarded, saturated with unrighteousness...
in what we see, and in what we hear that 
we have lost the sharpness of sin.
The keenness of it.
The exceeding sinfulness of it.

Sin permeates our airwaves.
Television programming has become pure, sheer filth.
I praise God that long ago Kevin made a decision to not bring a television into our home.
He was raised with one and spent a lot of time watching it growing up,
but he decided we would have a better quality of life without one.
I left it entirely up to him, as the head of our household.
I was glad for the moment he came to me and said,
"You know, I don't think we should have a TV."
We've been the recipient of some peculiar stares, shocked expressions, & ridicule
through the years as people have thought we were a bit off our rocker for the stand we decided to take,
but we never cared.
It is important to us...and never more so than since we had Zach.
I'm not around one too often, but each time I am, 
I become more and more appalled.
Regular, uncensored TV, anymore, is what extreme cable was when I was growing up.
Children are bombarded with filth from the time they are old enough 
to begin comprehension and learn how to talk.
Even if the programming is decent, the commercials are incomprehensible.
You never know what is going to be flashed before your 
doing-your-utmost-to-keep-your-mind-pure eyes.
Then, there it is.
It has gone from your eyes to your brain....into your mind.
The next destination on its intended path?
Your heart.
That part of us that Solomon said we should "keep with all diligence"...
that part where every issue of life originates.
Do we really want to dump garbage there?
If we do, it will filter the one form or another.
After we see something with our eyes, we are left to deal with and process it....
and make a decision.
Will we resist it? 
Get it out of our mind?
Or will we give it a free pass...and allow it to travel forward...
sinking into the most precious, important-to-be-guarded part of us?
If we never see the garbage in the first place,
it will never have the opportunity to inject its poison.

Have you ever listened to some of the lyrics of the songs young people are listening to?
I try not to.
Sometimes, you can't help it...
when it is blaring and shaking the earth under the car next to you 
at a stoplight...or at the gas pump in front of you.

It just completely flabbergasts me.

No wonder they talk like they do.
Their minds feed on filth, promiscuity, the trashing of women,
profane talk, violence, and all other manner of evil.
No wonder it automatically comes out of their freely....
so unashamedly....
so unprovoked.

It is what they see, they hear, they feel, they experience....
so it is an automatic, effortless flow....
from the core of their being.

Jesus said,
"...out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh."

Sin is the worst disease.
It eats like a cancer.
It erodes everything pure and innocent and good,
and replaces it with everything rancid, putrid, and evil.
It cuts both ways....going in and coming out.
It penetrates from the outside to the inside....
through our five senses.
It emanates from the inside to the outside....
through the same channels.

The more garbage we put in,
the more garbage that comes out.

"I just can't pretend it isn't happening....
I wish I could.
Believe me, I do.
But, it just hurts me....deep know?"
I continued as we drove along.

"I know."

Kevin calls me Cherylmiah....because I weep a lot when I pray.
I cannot help weeping when I see the state of our world...
our nation....
our young people...
our next generation of leaders??

Where are the morals?
Where have they gone?

We never had a TV when I was growing up, 
but most of my relatives did.
There were certain things Mom and Dad let me watch 
when I went to their houses.
There was decent programming that was absolutely clean,
and they didn't have a problem with me taking it in.
And there were some things they put their foot down about 
and would not let me watch under any circumstances.

Remember restraint??

Boy, am I glad I had the parents I did.
I could never thank God enough for the immeasurable gift of two Christian parents
who cared about my eternal welfare enough to say "no",
my spiritual well-being enough to say "that's enough",
and my character enough to say "that isn't good for you, Cheryl".

It molded and shaped a deep love for God in my heart.
And an amazing fear of Him.
A respect.
A reverence.
An awe.
A realization....that I will stand before Him one day...
and give an account of Every. Idle. Word...
and every single other thing I do.

"I don't know how God could ever turn this thing around,"
I went on.
"I just don't know what it would take.
I mean, I look at those young people, and it is no wonder things are going like they are.
Everyone has this live-and-let-live mindset.
Just do your own thing.
Live the way you want.
If it feels good, just do it....just say it.
Don't worry about anything.
There is no restraint.
Don't they know there will come a Judgment?
For all of this?
Don't they know they will stand before God one day?
And give an account?
How could that fear, that reverence, that awe ever be put back into our society?"

I got an email today from "Saving Our Future - Faith, Family, Freedom", 
with an article that was entitled, "Urge the FCC to Uphold Decency Standards".
I didn't read the article....yet.
I hate to say this, but I may not.
Sometimes, I get so overloaded with the burden of what is going on,
I just can't take in anymore.

I'm still on my media blackout.
It is not that I am taking on an ostrich-like stance.
I am not burying my head in the sand.
I simply cannot bear to hear too much of it.
It vexes my soul.

Does it vex anyone else?

I have concluded that the only way we can ever hope to turn this thing around 
is to plead and claim and perform 2 Chronicles 7:14....
on an individual basis.
"If my people, which are called by my name, 
shall humble themselves, 
and pray, 
 and seek my face, 
and turn from their wicked ways; 
then will I hear from heaven, 
 and will forgive their sin, 
and will heal their land."

We can't do the healing.
It is beyond our capability.
It is way outside of the reach of our grasp.

Only God can heal.

But, we can do the other four...can we not?
Can we humble ourselves?
Can we pray?
Can we seek God's face?
Can we turn from our wicked ways?
I know it may surprise some of you...
but, yes, you have 'em.
So do I.
We all need help.
God wasn't speaking to unbelievers here.
This is addressed to HIS people...
that's staunch believers.

Why do I say on an individual basis?

I'll tell you.

I need to start with me.
You need to start with you.
It will take some effort.
It will take some time.

We need to stop waiting for the ones who don't believe to do it,
because God wasn't talking to them in this verse.
He said His people had to be the change-makers.
We need to take personal responsibility.
We need to humble....repenting for our own sins.
We need to pray....harder than we ever have....earnestly, fervently, with our whole hearts.
We need to seek God's we've never sought it before.
We need to turn from our wicked it what it is....get it out of our lives.....turn from it.
In other words, we need to repent.

Maybe if these young people saw a drastic us....
just maybe they would want this thing called Christianity.
Maybe if they saw the Christians come together,
they would want to be a part.
Maybe if they saw a cease-fire in "Christian" circles....
you know, if this one would stop bashing this one,
if this one would humble and apologize to this one,
if these dividing walls could be torn down....from both sides....
just maybe, they would feel conviction pricking their hearts....
when they come into the presence of the Holy Spirit's blinding illumination....
emanating from you....and our newly-humbled state.

Maybe in order to restore the exceeding sinfulness of sin,
and make it front and center to our world,
we need to go back to Romans 7:13 and practice what Paul preached,
"that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful."

Maybe if we lived out the commandments...
maybe if we lived by the commandment...
the world would see a brighter light.
And it would shine and penetrate and emphasize
how ugly sin really, truly is.

Maybe if we not only preached the full truth,
but if we lived it....
if we practiced it....
if we walked as Jesus walked....
if we loved Him and each other as He loved....
they would recognize and see the difference.

The greatest commandment of all is.....?

Jesus said
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, 
and with all thy soul, 
and with all thy mind.  
This is the first and great commandment.  
And the second is like unto it, 
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
Matthew 22:37-40

Need I say more?