Friday, May 31, 2013

When's Your Appointment?

"" is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment..."
Hebrews 9:27

I can't believe we finished 6th grade today!
Where does the time go?
We packed everything away in a box,
and I opened the box of curriculum we ordered for next year.
It is amazing how different 7th grade is from 6th.
A whole new level.

Peeking into the workbooks kind of terrified me.
Zach got overwhelmed and left the room!

Then, I realized...we don't have to do this today.
There is a three month break in between today
and the day we actually have to begin 7th grade....
along with all of its intimidation and trepidation.

I sat there reflecting backwards over the past 7 years of homeschooling Zach.
How I praise God for every moment...
every single one...
even the tear-filled, frustrated ones.
He has cried.
I have cried.
We have prayed together...begging God to help us through.
It is a daily adventure.
No two days are alike.

When you have been out of school as long as I have,
you tend to forget....
especially those wonderful, mandatory things they make you learn,
even though you never use the information ever again in your whole life.
It is a learning, or at least knowledge-refreshing, experience for well as Zach.

We have made it this far.
Through God's amazing grace.
It occurred to me back in December that we are halfway done.
Halfway done??
Halfway across...the bridge from Kindergarten to 12th grade?

How it happened this fast, I cannot say.
Day kind of blends into day, and then all at once, we are ending another school year,
and we are another year older.

Everyone knows that in order to graduate,
one has to complete the necessary 13 years of school.
So, at any given moment, we can gauge exactly where we are,
and how much farther we still need to go to reach our goal....
on the other side.

We can complete lesson planning,
stay right on track, 
keep up with everything, 
and measure how far we've come...
and how many more years we still need to complete.

I wonder how it would be if life were that way?
What if when we were born, there was an expiration date 
imprinted or embedded on the bottom of our tiny, little foot, 
giving our parents the exact date and moment we would leave this world?
What if when we got old enough to understand,
we were given this tidbit of information?
Think about it.
How would it affect the way we live our lives?
If you knew you were nearing the end,
what would you do differently right now?

If you knew your spouse's expiration date was coming up...
or your mother's, father's, sibling's, friend's, or other loved one's,
how would it affect the way you treat and interact with them?

What if there were an alarm that went off, a few days ahead of time,
alerting us to the fact that the number of our days was running out, 
and we would soon reach the finish line?

What if your alarm sounded....right now?
What if it said something like this,
"Attention....Attention.....your moment of death is approaching.
This is a friendly reminder.
Please take this opportunity to make any needed changes to prepare for eternity.
Now is the time to make your peace with God,
make necessary apologies,
pay unpaid debts of gratitude,
forgive unforgiven wrongs,
release grudges,
say unsaid "I love yous".
Please use these moments to search your more time...just to make sure.
This is your last warning.
You must take heed.
Once you're gone, you're gone.
You will soon enter the realm of your eternal destination.
You will not return,
nor will you be able to change locations once you arrive.
Please do what you need to insure a comfortable eternity."

I can just hear the automated, female voice.
Friendly, but firm.
Gentle, but stern....
enough so to send shivers up and down the spine....
of the one being spoken to.

Obviously, this is not possible.
We aren't born knowing when we will die, 
nor will an alarm sound alerting us to the fact that our number is coming up.
We only know one thing.
We will die.
Every single one of us.
Some of us sooner than later.
If you don't believe it, 
pay a visit to any roadside cemetery.

Walk in.
Take some time.
Look at the names...and dates...and remind yourself that beneath the sod,
lies the physical remains of people....who lived and loved and breathed....
just like you...and and love and breathe.

They live no more.

Leaving this world by means of death is a cold, hard fact of life.
Mom used to tell me that none of us come here to stay always,
and she often reminded me that none of us know how far across the river of life we are.

This is why it pays to be prepared.

I have always been reflective and am, by nature, a deep thinker. 
I often find myself pondering profound, eternity-associated thoughts,
but never have I done this more so than since Mom died.

I don't know why, but for some reason, it has made eternity and death a lot more real to me.
Mom was the type of person I just thought would never die.
I mean, I knew she reality.
But, it was just hard to comprehend. 
Mom was resilient.
She was the strongest woman I have personally ever known.
She overcame incredible odds and difficulties to live to the ripe old age of 84.
She always bounced back.
So, when she died, it hit me doubly hard.
I just couldn't absorb the fact that she was gone.

Sometimes, I still can't.

Seeing this reality unfold in front of my eyes,
has made me ever more aware of my own mortality.

I don't think anyone, anywhere loves life more than I do.
But, as much as I cherish every moment, 
as much as I embrace every occasion,
as much as I treasure every opportunity,
I realize that one day it will all come to an end.

My expiration moment will come up,
and then I will pass off the scene....
just like Dad,
just like Mom,
just like everyone else who has gone before me.

In some ways, I kind of wish I knew when it would be.
In other ways, I am extremely grateful that I have no idea.

It is the "not knowing when" that makes it so unpredictable.
Only God knows how long any of us will live and breathe.
He holds the keys to life and death and all matters.

If death were the end, it wouldn't really matter, would it?
If we just laid these bodies down,
were buried,
and that was it,
it wouldn't really matter how we lived life...while here.

But, something happens after death.
There is an appointment....unlike any other.
This life is filled with appointments....
corporate meetings,
dentist appointments,
doctor appointments,
parent-teacher conferences,
training sessions,
lunch and dinner dates....
you name it.
Appointments are a huge component of life.
Any of them can be easily changed.
We can pick up the phone and re-schedule,
call in sick,
or cancel...any and every appointment in this life.
We aren't coerced or forced into keeping any of them.

Not so with the appointment of death...or what comes after.

" is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment..."

This "judgment" will be our moment of reckoning....
our instant of accountability....
in which we will give account of every deed we have done in this body...
in this life.

It is easy to lose sight of this...while life is full....
health is abundant....
blood is flowing....
heart is pumping.

It is easy to live like there is no tomorrow.
No life after death.
No God to face.

But, in reality, there is....a tomorrow.
Never-ending life after death.
An Almighty, Creator God to face.

So, it does we live....
what we do...while here.

Not only because we are going to be judged, 
but also because there are others walking behind us...
dropping their feet into the prints we leave behind.

I don't know about you, but these facts affect me.
They make me continuously aware....
of the seriousness of this life.

I want to get it right.
There is only one way to do this.
Only one Way to make it happen.

Remember the devotional from the other day called "the nature within"?

I have pondered it so many times since then.
I have thought it over and repeatedly come to a grateful conclusion.
I am eternally thankful that the God Who created us with a free will 
to opt to give in to and follow the sinful nature within,
also made a way for us to be delivered and cleansed from all sin...
both committed and inbred....
and fitted to live holy in this life.
To live a life that will insure an eternal place in Heaven,
after that final, unchangeable, uncancellable, unpostponable appointment.

Jesus died to forgive, cleanse, and remove all sin.
He paid the price God required.
He satisfied the debt...that you and I racked up.
He chose to bestow the most amazing gift of all.
It is called grace.

It means "the unmerited, unearned favor of God".

It means that if we receive His gift,  
we can live this life in such a way that God will be pleased.
We don't have to give in to the nature within.
We can choose to follow Christ and through His indwelling presence,
we can overcome every, single day of life....
in no way through our own strength,
but totally and completely through His.

Since we have no way of knowing our date of expiration,
wouldn't you agree that it would be best to play it safe,
since there is no preceding alarm to let us know it is approaching?
Wouldn't it be wise to just stay prepared?

There is absolutely no reason for anyone to leave this world unprepared to meet God.
There is no reason for anyone to live in constant fear, 
wondering when they will draw their last breath of life.
There is no reason for anyone to remain shackled to the chains of sin...
cumbered with a guilty conscience....
bound to the shame of continual submission to the nature within.

Jesus made a way, my friend.
For all of us.
Regardless of who we are...or what we've done.

"The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, 
as some men count slackness; 
but is longsuffering to us-ward, 
not willing that any should perish, 
but that all should come to repentance."
2 Peter 3:9

Did you catch that key phrase...
"not willing that any should perish"?

That includes you.
And me.
No matter what.

You don't have to keep living life under bondage to the nature within.
You don't have to be afraid to die.
You don't have to sit around in fear, dreading the moment your number comes up.

You can be set free!
You can be changed! matter who you are or what you've done...
are not without hope.
You can actually look forward, with bright anticipation,
to the moment you leave this world.
You can be that sure.
Then it won't matter.
You will walk free...happy....ready at all times.
Because Jesus' blood is just that powerful.
It can cleanse the deepest stain,
and it can enable you to stay clean....
all the way up to the moment of your appointment.

My gratitude for the sacrifice Jesus made for me
 is something I do not know how to put into words.
I am beyond thankful that I accepted His invaluable, amazing gift of grace,
and that His blood is applied to my heart.
All glory be to Him that my heart is washed free from sin.

Time and life goes by so quickly.
I am 46.
It is an age when you realize, in all likelihood, 
that at least half of your life is over and past....
already lived.
"Middle-age"....I find it so hard to believe that I have crossed its threshold!
But, I'm here.
I will never be 20 again...
or 30...
or 40.
I am here, and I wonder sometimes....
how much longer do I really have?
How much longer do you??
When is your appointment?

Since we have no way of knowing the answers,
I pray we live ready to go.
I pray we don't waste a minute.
Not one.
Because every one of them is precious.

I have never seen it more clearly than I do right now.
I hope you see it, too.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Letting "Good Things" Go

"He maketh the barren woman to keep house,
and to be a joyful mother of children. Praise ye the LORD."
Psalm 113:9

"Are you finished yet, Mama?"
Zach called from the open door.

"No, not yet.
In a minute",
 I called...gently pleading for more time.

It was one of those decisions we, as mothers, are faced with all day long.
A crossroads, of sorts.

Time to make a choice...on how we will spend the next few minutes.
A time to choose...between what we feel we need to be doing,
and dropping it all to sit and spend time with the little ones who
will only be little for a little while.

My heart followed him all the way down the hall....
after I told him I would be done in a minute.
There is nothing I would rather do...
than be with him and his Daddy.

Sometimes even the good things need left undone....
so we can spend time with the ones we love most.

I realized it as I sat at the computer...
trying to "perfect" a blog...for the umpteenth time.
It just didn't flow.
The rhythm escaped.
It evaded me no matter how many times I hit backspace or delete.

I finally got at least half-way acceptable,
(is it ever really completely what I envision and desire it to be?)
hit "publish",
and went to find that sweet boy.

He had waited...ever so patiently....
for what I had promised would only be "a minute",
but had turned into the past half hour,
 for me to sit down with him and watch his new "One Nation Under God" DVD
from Mike Huckabee's "Learn Our History" series.
He had been looking forward to watching it for days,
and it had finally come in the mail.

I shouldn't have made him wait.
Blogs can wait.

There are mothers in Oklahoma who would give their right arm to hear
their sweet baby ask for their attention or to hear them call them "Mama"....just one more time.

My heart aches when I think of it.

We were shopping at the Flea Market,
enjoying the day with loved ones,
when Mom Smith and I decided we wanted to hit some thrift stores.

We did, and when it came time to meet up with the others,
we picked a particular meeting place where she and I waited.
It seemed to be taking a long time.
The phone rang.

"Honey, I can't find Zach."
Kevin is the calmest man I've ever known.
He brings a precious, coveted sense of peace to any crisis situation.
I could sense the slightest twinge of worry....almost a trace of unusual panic....
in his familiar, soft-spoken voice.

"What do you mean?"
Fear rose within me, as incomprehensible scenarios began
to present themselves to my mind.

"I told him to stay with Austin and Phyllis in a certain spot.
When I came back, Austin said he had gone inside.
I've looked everywhere inside, and he is just not there."

Okay, now I was sick.
My stomach ached deep inside,
as I told Mom what was going on.

"We're coming right now."
I told Kevin I loved him, as I hit the "end" button on my phone.

How we made it there, I cannot say, other than the grace of God.
Mom was driving, and she was terrified.
Not nearly as much as I was, though.
It just wasn't possible for a human heart to hold any more terror...
than mine did in those moments.

We reached the fairgrounds.
I thought of the hundreds of booths,
tables, vendors....strangers.....
my mind exploring all sorts of possibilities....
none of them pleasant.

"Mom, just let me out here, will you?
I'll get out and be looking while you go park the car."

I got out, rushed to the building,
and found my strong, steady, soothing husband's waiting arms.
He draws me close...and I feel safe...
no matter what storm is raging.

I knew the minute his eyes met mine that Zachary was still no where to be found.
I spotted Austin.

"I've been outside having prayer."
Bless his sweet heart.

Has there ever been any sweeter boys...
than Zach and his two best friends in the world?

I suppose every Mama feels this way.

"Austin, you're such a good boy" I told him,
as I often do.

He walked with me, and Kevin went an opposite way...
searching every aisle,
every booth,
every face.

We met up at the opposite end of the building....
without Zach.

There were some ladies running a baked goods booth.
Have you ever been in a panic mode and stood still trying your utmost
to find something....someone...anyone....who could...somehow make a positive difference?
The Spirit of God witnessed that the ladies in front of me were Christians.
At the risk of me having misunderstood His Voice
and them turning out to not being praying people,
and at the risk of sounding and appearing completely insane,
I started talking.
I didn't care.
I let go of caring what people think of me a while back.
It just isn't important anymore.
It just doesn't matter....not a drop.
Especially, then.
Nothing else mattered....except seeing his sweet, rosy face,
and knowing all was well....and back together....and right in our world again.

Her kind eyes looked up from where she sat behind the table.
She was wrapping a loaf of homemade bread.

"Would you all please go to prayer?
We can't find our little boy.
Please pray we can find him
and that he's okay."

Without stopping to further explain or even listen for her response,
I kept walking.
Searching every nook and spot.
Pleading with God.
Trusting Him to do what I could not...during the separation.

I don't remember how long this went on....
or how long Kevin had already been looking before he called me.
All I do know is that it felt like eternity.
I reached the other end of the building....again....
looked outside,
and there.....
I saw the most precious sight I have ever....ever seen.
There he was.
Strolling along....carefree...
carrying the bag of books he had just bought.
Swinging his arms.
Happy....and thanks to our dear and wonderful Lord, as perfectly he could be.

Angels kept him.
I just know it.

There were people coming and going from and in all directions.
Angels guarded that precious boy.

I ran to him.
There were no words.
No scolding.
No sound at all....
except the continual flow and dropping of heart-wrenched tears.
They fell from my eyes...and splashed on to his little shoulder.

I cried from what felt like was the core of my soul.
Happy, relieved, thankful-from-the-bottom-of-my-heart, beyond-grateful tears.
He just stood there....not understanding.

"Mama???" he finally said.

I didn't answer.
I just couldn't.
I just held on.

Finally, letting go....
I saw one of the ladies from the baked goods table running towards us.

"Is he okay?"


"Oh, praise God!"

Thank you for your prayers."

I gave her a hug.

"Thank you for letting your light shine", I told her,
as she walked away.

It is wonderful to find brothers and sisters in Christ
every time you need them.
You can recognize them if you stay continually tuned to the Spirit's voice.
He will faithfully lead you to one another....
when you need each other most.
The sweetness in the smile usually adds any needed confirmation. :~)

We got our things together,
got in the car,
and drove towards home.

Zach was very quiet.
I think my outburst was about more than he could bear.

"I almost broke down and cried right there in that building."
Austin's voice was still shaky coming from the back seat.
"All I could think of was that I might never see you again.
I was praying that we'd find you."

Finally Zach spoke.

"I had walked around three times and was getting ready to go around again,
when something just told me to go back to the inside building.
So I did."

"Zach, that had to be because of Austin's prayers.
Every time you feel an impulse like that,
don't ever ignore it.
It is God telling you what to do and giving you direction."

I was still trembling.
I don't remember when I stopped.

It turned out to be a big misunderstanding.
Zach had told Austin and Phyllis he was going to look for his Daddy.
Austin thought he said he was going inside.

At any rate, Zach should not have wandered off.
We have told him that many times over.
Kevin had told him not to leave the table,
that he would be back in 30 minutes,
and for the two of them to stay together....always.

Zach had misunderstood, and all that was on his mind, was to find his Daddy.

Bless the Lord, all is well that ends well.

"Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name."
Psalm 103:1

Matt Redman - 10,000 Reasons

Don't we all have 10,000 reasons?
To bless the Lord?
To worship His holy name?
To give Him praise?

God answered prayer.
Through it, He reminded me that He is always on guard.

"For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways."
Psalm 91:11

He knows where each one of us all times.
His eyes never leave us.
He protects and shields even when we don't know we need to be protected.
He was continually with Zach.

The experience has made me ever more aware of how
every moment we are given together is beyond precious.
And how I should let some things go....even the good things.
The things I think need to be done can wait.
I've known that and practiced it Zach's whole life,
but sometimes we all need to be reminded.

There are things that we should pare make room for what matters most.
They grow up so fast.
Way too fast.
We blink, and they are as tall as we are.
Where does the time go?

I remember holding him...for hours....literally....
when he was a baby.
Just because I didn't want to put him down.
All the way through his two-hour naps.
Not wanting to let go...even for a matter what else needed to be done.
I often heard comments like...
"you need to put him down" and
"you're going to spoil that baby" and
"he'll be a Mama's boy".

Oh, well. :~)

Their well-meaning comments bounced right off....
went in one ear, and right out the other.

I guess when you wait so long to have a child,
when your hopes and dreams are consistently shattered by doctors,
when you are a woman barren....
then all at once, out of the blue, God opens your womb
and sends you the sweetest, most precious gift....
well maybe you are just a tad more thankful and beholden to God...
for the invaluable miracle He placed in your womb...and your arms. :~)
And maybe you are just a bit more conscious of the magnitude of the treasure....
of a single moment....
of the moments that make up this amazing journey called raising a child.

I don't regret a minute.
My arms feel empty now.
I miss those days.
I yearn for yesterday....
until I stop and think.
He is still little...somewhat.
He is still at home...with us.
He still needs his Mama and Daddy.
He still craves our time....more than anything else we could ever give him.

So, cobwebs can wait.
Writing can be done...when he is asleep or otherwise occupied.
Writing is a dream.
Singing is a dream.
Having a perfectly-organized home is a dream.
But, such small dreams...when compared to my two biggest ones.
Being Kevin's wife and Zach's mama are the two biggest dreams of my life.
This is what I was meant to do...and be.
It is God's plan.
I am beyond content right in the middle of it.
Other things can wait....and be squeezed in, if possible.
If not, it is really no big deal....nothing important is lost.

"Thank you, Lord, for gentle reminders of what my priorities are."

I pray every day for more time with the ones I love the most.

Sometimes, you just have to let go of everything else to have that.
Even the "good" things.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Nature Within

"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me..."
John 10:27

Our dog, Paige, is part Australian Shepherd.

Studying up on the history of this dog breed,
I found this statement on Wikipedia...
"The Australian Shepherd was a particularly tireless sheep herder in the Rocky Mountains
because it is relatively unaffected by altitude.
Ranchers in Boulder, Colorado began breeding the dogs,
which would attract purchasers from as far west as California
for their legendary sheep herding abilities."

Sheep-herding is what they were bred for.
It is my understanding that herding sheep is their inherent, natural ability.

To my knowledge, little Miss Paige had never before encountered sheep....
that is, until the other day.
Zach and Austin were outside playing,
and of course, Paige was tagging along behind them.

All of a sudden, Austin burst through the front door....
a mixture of excitement and terror all over his face.

"Paige is over there chasing Bill's sheep!"

We all darted outside to see our beautiful dog running full-speed,
across the mountainside,
directly on the heels of a fat, woolly sheep.
It was running for all it was worth....trying to escape her control.
She had already managed to herd a group of sheep into a circle,
and evidently, she was having a time getting this particular one to cooperate.

Watching this scene unfold was amazing to me.
How did she know how to do that?
As far as I know, she has had no formal training.
Why did she feel the urge and need to herd sheep?
All it seemed to take was for her to see them.
Feeling they needed to be herded just seemed to be an automated, natural reaction.

Bill is a farmer whose livelihood depends upon raising and selling his livestock.

Several of us began calling Paige's name...all at once....
to try to convince her to forsake her shepherding "duties" 
and come on back home.
The wind always seems to blow harder up on the high hill where Mom and Dad live,
and for a period of time, it seemed Paige couldn't hear our voice because of it.
She had wandered beyond the realm of our being able to communicate with her.
Finally, the wind stopped blowing so hard, and she heard our call.
Once she hears us, she is rarely disobedient, 
so as soon as she realized we were commanding her back home,
 she came running....lickety-split....sailing down over the mountain,
towards the road that separates Mom and Dad's yard from the neighbor's.

All at once, I became aware of another problem,
as I looked out of the corner of my eye and caught a glimpse of a truck coming over the hill.
There was no way Paige could see it.
It looked like she and the truck would reach the road at the exact, same time,
and we all began to panic.
There was absolutely no way to warn Paige and make her understand that she was in danger.
She had heard her master's voice, and she was determinedly racing towards us.
That was all that was on her mind.

I turned around to walk inside and told Kevin I couldn't bear to watch.
Just the thoughts of seeing what seemed to be a horrible inevitability was more than I could take.

Somehow, by some miracle, Paige missed colliding with the truck,
and she was soon back safe on Mom and Dad's porch.
We verbally scolded her about the sheep,
 letting her know she was not to run back across the street....
under any circumstances. :~)
It is amazing how smart she is....
and even though we were there for several days after,
she did not cross the road....or go near the sheep again.

Once while standing outside with her,
I saw her watching them.
Her eyes were fixed....her ears perked.
It was easy to sense that everything within her yearned to take off into a full run
and chase them with all her might.....
but I gently said, "No, Paige."
Her dedication to obedience overpowered 
the nature within her to herd sheep.
She never budged from my side.
She is such a sweet, wonderful, loyal dog.

The most troubling part of this whole incident is what we found out
after everything was over.

Two weeks before, two stray dogs had paid an uninvited visit to Bill's farm.
They had chased and tormented the sheep, running two of them into the pond.
The weight of their wet wool rendered them unable to leave the pond,
which sadly caused both of the sheep to drown.
A man who depends on sheep-raising and cattle-breeding to sustain life
cannot afford to keep losing his livestock.

What we didn't know...
what we couldn't see from across the road....
is that the watchful eye of the shepherd was upon the sheep...
as Paige performed her "heroic", infamous dog-herding act.
He was taking in the whole its entirety.
He had never seen Paige before.
He didn't know who she belonged to.
All Bill knew is that there was a strange dog chasing after his sheep,
and he needed to put a stop to it before he lost another one.
He had reached for his Winchester .243 caliber rifle
and set the sight on one target.
His finger was on the trigger.
He was ready to shoot....
when he heard our voices calling her from across the road.
He stopped, as Paige answered our call,
left his sheep, and came back home.

There was no fault on the part of Bill.
He is a good man.
A great neighbor.
He cares about his animals.
He is their shepherd.
It is his job to look out for them and protect them from intruding perils.
He certainly meant no harm.
Bless his heart, he felt so bad afterwards.
He apologized over and over again and said how bad he would have felt
had he killed our dog.

You can't really blame Paige either.
She is an Australian Shepherd.
Australian Shepherds herd sheep.

She absolutely acted on instinct when she chased the sheep.
It was a natural reaction that was generated from an innate, inbred impulse.

She saw sheep.
She felt the urge to shepherd them.
Nothing else mattered.
Until she heard our voice.

We had no idea how close she was to death....
had no idea Bill had her focused smack dab in the center of the intersecting lines
of the crosshairs on the scope of his rifle.

My mind has considered so many "what ifs?"

What if she hadn't obeyed?
What if she had ignored our warnings?
What if the wind hadn't died down...right when it did?
What if she hadn't been listening for the familiarity of her master's voice?
What if Austin and Zach hadn't seen her over there?
What if they hadn't come in and told us when they did?
What if we had lost our sweet dog that day?
What if we had been forced to return home without her?
How would it have affected Zachary...and the rest of us...
to watch her get shot right in front of our eyes?
To come home to life's routine....minus the dog who is such a part of our family....
would have been very hard.

She escaped death twice...
once from Bill's rifle,
and once from the truck that happened to be coming over the hill
at the same instant Paige was reaching the road.
Unbeknownst to her, she placed herself in jeopardy,
all because she gave in to a tendency that is bred into her nature.

Every time we leave our driveway,
there is a prayer we pray together in the car.
It is repetitious.
I don't care.
We say it faithfully and consistently.
We never leave without praying it.
In the prayer, among other petitions,
we ask the dear Lord to allow all of us to return home safely....
including Paige, if she is with us.

That was all I could think of when it was all over.
God had heard and answered that prayer....once again.
How many thousands of times has He heard and answered that prayer
and allowed all of us who left together to return together...
safe, unharmed, the same as when we left?

My heart overflows with gratitude...
when I think what might have been,
and what God did.
He is so faithful.
He cares so deeply...about all of His creation.

Thinking of Paige and how she acted on impulses that have been bred within her,
got me to thinking about the human race and our sinful condition.
I just knew there had to be a spiritual application in there somewhere!  :~)

Adam was the first man God created.
He created him in the image of Himself....
pure, holy, righteous, sinless, morally perfect.
Adam disobeyed God.
He sinned.
His wife sinned.
Together, they parented children.
Because of their disobedience to God,
their children and every child born after them
have come into this world with a propensity to sin.
All, that is, except one Man...the Lord, Jesus Christ.
As Adam was created directly by God,
so was Christ.
A human male was not involved in the conception of Christ.
The Holy Spirit overshadowed the virgin Mary's womb,
and the seed within her was conceived directly by God.
(This is one reason Christ is referred to as "the last Adam" in
I Corinthians 15:45.)
Other than the two of them (Adam and Jesus Christ),
the rest of us all have the same problem, at birth.
It is inbred sin....
the carnal nature.
Some call it "the Adamic" nature.
One thing for certain, whatever you choose to call it,
we all inherited it....thanks to Adam and his act of disobedience.

There is an innate, natural, inbred "bend" and inclination to do wrong
automatically instilled and born into the composition of every one of us.
The inbred sin causes us to commit sin.

Just as the Australian Shepherd breed is bred to herd sheep,
so we are bred to go contrary to God's commands.

Paige did nothing to cause her inclination to shepherd.
We did nothing to cause our inclination to sin.

Yet, the condition exists,
and it creates quite a problem for every, single one of us.
Our "bend" to go astray leads us down many a forbidden path.
We see something that appeals to us,
and off we go.
It is just natural.
Sadly, many of our adventures place us straight in the crosshairs of one
who seeks to kill and destroy us and everything good in our lives.
His sight is set....continually.
We don't even know it.
We don't realize it.
We are so bent on pursuing what we inherently desire...
chasing after whatever catches our eye and lures us in....
that we are unaware of the evil eyes that lurk on the other side of the scope.
We become so caught up in what feels right
that we fail to realize we are trespassing on ground controlled by our archenemy,
and that it is his finger resting eagerly....on the trigger.

"Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion,
 walketh about, seeking whom he may devour..."
I Peter 5:8

Thankfully, we have a Shepherd.
A Master.
A Redeemer...who purchased our salvation by the shedding of His Own blood.
One Who faithfully calls to us when we are in danger.
He sees the landmines....the pitfalls....the hidden snares.
He watches as the rifle is picked up and we become the target.
So, He calls.
He beckons.
He warns.
He draws us His open arms.

"My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not.
And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous..."
I John 2:1

Our Shepherd, Master, and Redeemer is also our advocate with God the Father.
The One Who intercedes for us
The One Whose blood cleanses from all sin...
no matter how deep and dark and horrific the stain.

"As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one..."
Romans 3:10

"All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned every one to his own way;
and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all."
Isaiah 53:6

Jesus took our iniquities upon Himself.
He stretched out His precious, mutilated, bloodied arms
and allowed them to be nailed to an old, rugged cross,
and, in essence, He spoke words that deeply pierce my guilty heart.
It seems I can hear the echoes...all these years later...
as I find myself prostrate and helpless, at His nail-scarred feet....
"Holy Father, I am guilty of Cheryl's sins.
All of them.
I take full blame, Father.
Don't punish her.
Punish Me, instead."

Because I have gone astray, because I have followed my "bend" towards wrong,
even though I knew full-well it was leading in a direction contrary to His will,
Jesus Christ was made to suffer....
for what I have done wrong.
Do you know how that makes me feel?
Put your name in the place of mine....
 and then you will have an idea...
how it feels to know that an innocent Man died for crimes you...and I....committed.

Oh, my friend, do you hear it?
Do you see what He did?
It breaks my heart, but it is absolutely the truth.
My sins nailed Jesus to that cross.
So did yours.

But, I don't want you to despair.
He doesn't either.
I want you to take courage.
No matter what you are facing today,
no matter what your inherited nature has led you to do,
no matter what has side-tracked you,
no matter what has drawn you in to forbidden ground,
no matter how far you have gone,
no matter how long it has been,
Jesus loves you....still.
He died for you.

If you find yourself trespassing on posted land, on the neighbor's mountainside,
running full-speed on forbidden territory....
if you have wandered from your home at the Father's far that you can barely hear His voice....
if you are struggling with the repercussions of transgressing His law
and dealing with the aftermath of going astray,
the thing to keep in mind is this, my friend....
 the Shepherd's eyes are upon you.

He knew what you would do long before you did it.
He took the blame for every bit of it,
and He died for you anyway....
in spite of the fact that it cost His very life.

He is now, as we speak, calling you home.

Do you hear His voice?
Off in the distance?

All you have to do is listen and take heed,
leave forbidden territory,
come home,
repent, and fall into His open, forgiving arms.

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins,
 and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
I John 1:9

If Paige hadn't responded to us that day,
if she had valued the thrill of the chase more than the approval of her master,
she would now permanently rest beneath West Virginia sod.
And, here is the worst part.
Her tragic end would have affected more than just her.
Everyone who knows and loves her would be beyond sad.

If we don't listen to our Shepherd,
if we fail to respond to His gentle reproof....His tender warnings....
His call to come closer....
we will plunge ourselves into deeper peril....
bringing sorrow to not only ourselves,
but to everyone who cares about us.
The farther we drift from Him,
the less likely our chances to hear His voice...
and the greater the likelihood of satan pulling the trigger.

Perhaps it isn't you who has wandered.
Maybe you are today struggling with the burden of a loved one gone astray....
a wayward, rebellious child,
an estranged spouse,
a lost parent, sibling, or friend.
It may look hopeless to you.
It may appear that they have drifted too far.
That the situation is irreparable....
the relationship unrestorable.
That they have drifted beyond the sound of the Shepherd's voice.
It may seem that evil has won, the trigger has been pulled,
and they are down for the count.
If they still live and breathe, remember isn't over.
No matter how impossible it looks.

I plead with you to keep praying for the wayward one(s) you love.
Keep doing all you can to help them find their way to the Shepherd.
Remind them how much Jesus loves them...still.
Tell them He still forgives and cleanses all manner of sin...
that the fountain of cleansing still flows....
that He is a merciful Lord Who is willing and ready to forgive. (Psalm 86:5)
Don't give up, my friend!
You may be the very channel God is using to bring them to redemption.
Keep calling to them....reminding them....encouraging seek after God.
Pray for their protection from self-destruction.
Bombard Heaven with their name.

After all, hearing us calling Paige's name is the only thing that kept Bill from pulling the trigger.
What if we had given up?
What if we had stopped calling her name?
When the wind was against us?
When she seemed unreachable?
When it appeared impossible?
What if we had turned and gone back inside, surrendering to a hopeless resolution?
Bill would have pulled the trigger, and Paige would no longer live and breathe.

However hopeless things look today,
the truth is,
there is still abundance!
Jesus still searches for that one lost sheep.

Perhaps it is you.

Or maybe He just needs you to help Him find it.

Maybe this is His biggest dream for you....of all.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Secret Place

"He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty."
Psalm 91:1

I have a secret.
Actually it is a secret place.
It is where I hide.
Where I dwell.
Where I remain.

It is my safe place...
right smack in the midst of whatever commotion,
chaos, or turmoil happens to be going on.
It is a place shut out from the world's turbulence
and shut in to only peace.

If I could paint you a verbal picture of my secret place,
I would describe it to you this way.
It is set off the road by a long, winding path....far away from the hustle and bustle.
You will miss it if you aren't watching very closely,
but if you focus, it isn't hard to find.
Just look for the beautiful, old, rustic garden gate
on the right side of the road.

Though its hinges may appear a bit rusty,
it takes very little effort to open.

Once you walk through the gate,
your eyes will feast on much for which your heart longs.
You will come to a bridge that spans troubled waters.

Once you cross over it, you realize the troubles on your mind have been left behind,
dropped below the bridge into the water,
and you think of them no more.
The path is long, but the pleasantness of the surroundings make it a joy to explore.

There are stepping stones....with footprints on them....
to make the path plain.
Strewn on both sides are the most beautiful flowers.
There are roses, hydrangeas, lilacs, honeysuckle, gardenia, and the colors!

Oh, the colors!
Such vibrancy, such depth!
You inhale the mixture of sweet fragrances that completely fill the air.
The closer you get to the secret place,
the more you feel as if you have been on a long, wandering journey,
and are now, at last, coming home.
It is like you have been searching for this very spot your entire life.
It is as if everything in your past has led you to this very moment.

You are tempted to breathe in the beauty that overwhelms
and pervades the very atmosphere.
But, the desire to reach the end of the path transcends the enticement to stand still.
So, on you plod.
Each step is filled with wonder, as you notice something new....
the sweet, happy melody of a little songbird resting gently under a shade tree that overshadows the path,

the way the trees grow up, forming a majestic peak overhead, shielding your eyes from the sun,

the beams of light that still manage to force their way through the leaves and spread the softest light,
the refreshing, cool breeze that continually blows.
Your senses are completely the brim....and overflowing.

The overbearing, foreboding sounds of evil you left behind when you entered the path, 
are becoming more distant, more remote, with each step you take.
It is quiet here.
You lift your eyes and peer through the shadowing trees to catch a glimpse 
of the bluest sky you've ever seen.
Worship springs from someplace deep inside, as your heart fills up with wonder...
and awe...
and reverence....
for the One Who created it all.
The words of "How Great Thou Art" slip into your mind,
and you find yourself singing, in spite of yourself.
As you drop your eyes to guide your next step, 
you stop.
Dead in your tracks.
For it seems that there is only one step reach the destination your heart craves.
There it is!
The secret place!
Suddenly, every noise is shut out.
Every worry banished.
Every fear absent.
You see His shadow.....
the shadow of the Almighty of Whom, to this point, you have only read and heard....and longed for.
You can't see His face.
But His shadow!
It falls all over the secret place.
Completely envelops, surrounds, undergirds, and covers.
It is impenetrable.
Unable to be pierced....
by the most powerful darts of the outside world.
You are safe.
At rest.
An unexplainable peace fills your inmost soul,
as you realize every sin is forgiven,
every barrier broken down,
every hindrance eradicated.
It is just you....and Him....
inside the secret place.

Memories of plaguing struggles on the outside seem to begin to fade,
as you fall on your knees and feel the warmth of His shadow.
It is a serenity like you have never known.
A tranquility you have never before experienced.
You wish with all your heart that you could stay there forever.
His voice whispers, "Oh, but you can!"

The world passes by....on the outside....busy, noisy, tumultuous.
You are still in it....but all at once you realize that you are not of it.
You hear Him praying....He is praying... interceding for you.
Your pulse quickens.
Your heart pounds.
Could it be?
You listen closely to His words!
"I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, 
but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil.  
They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world."
It is the prayer He long ago....
shortly before His crucifixion.
It is recorded in the book of St. John, chapter red letters.
He prays it in the solitude.

Jesus Christ is speaking to His Father, Almighty God.  
His prayer is for you, my friend.
His plea is that you will always remain in the secret place.
Far removed from the evils that penetrate and permeate our society.
Now that you've found it, He longs for you to stay always.
He implores His Father to keep you here.
He knows what you face every, single day.
He discerns your turmoil-laden life.....
your chaos-infused existence.
He wants more for you.
He seeks to give you abundance of life...
a restful heart....
a peaceful existence.
You listen to Him pray....hardly able to comprehend....
that His plea is for you.
You realize with certainty that it absolutely is.
His plea seems an impossible request.
How can it be?
How can you remain separate?
Set apart?
When the world around you is so infiltrated....completely saturated.....
 with the coarsest of evils.

Life must go on.
There are bills to pay.
Meals to cook.
Clothes to launder.
Lessons to teach.
Sermons to preach.
Equations to solve.
Grammar to correct.
History to make interesting.
Projects to complete.
Dishes to wash.
Towels to fold.
Sheets to change.
Toilets to scrub.
Floors to sweep.
Cobwebs to remove.
Furniture to dust.
Husbands to love.
Children to cherish.
Tears to dry.
Neighbors to help.
Hungry to feed.
Thirsty to water.
Naked to clothe.
Sick to serve.
Imprisoned to visit.
Parents to requite.
Babies to hold.
Life to live.
Does the list ever end?

Is it possible?
To dwell here?
In this Eden on earth?
This secret, carefully-hidden, unmarred-by-turmoil place?
In the midst of all of the evil....and all of the demands.....of everyday life?

Everything within you wishes it could be so.
You need this.
You have longed for this....for so long.
You are dog-tired and bone-weary.
Sick of the struggle....the constant uproar....the daily grind.
If only you could just stay here...and never leave.
But, how?

"It will take effort, My child.
You will need to remain attached.
To Me....your life source.
The vine....out of which all life flows. (John  15:5)
Stay hidden Me.
Let Me be your barrier.
Your shield.
Turn to Me first....every time you begin to fall apart.
Let Me handle your problems.
Then you won't have to.
Your peace need never be disturbed.
Ever again.
These things have I spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace.  
In the world ye shall have tribulation:  
but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
In might have peace.
I am the secret place.
Abide in Me, and I in you. (John 15:4)
If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, 
ye shall ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you. (John 15:7)
These things have I spoken unto you, 
that My joy might remain in you, 
and that your joy might be full. (John 15:11)
The thief lives on the outside...of the secret place.
The thief comes only to steal, and to kill, and to destroy:  
I am come that you might have life, and that you might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)
The secret to abundant life lies within the secret place.
He can't touch you here.
Within Me.
Buried deep.
Far-removed from the beaten path.
Here, there is no man who is able to pluck you out of My Father's hand. (John 10:29)
As long as you dwell here, you will remain under the shadow of the Almighty. (Psalm 91:1)
He that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not. (I John 5:18)
To stay within the parameters of My shadow, you must stay very Me.
Put Me first. (Matthew 6:33)
Come to Me often. (Matthew 11:28-30)
Pray unceasingly. (I Thessalonians 5:17)
Live a prayer-saturated life. (Luke 18:1)
Cling tight.
I will go with you everywhere you go.
The secret place is portable, because I am omnipresent.
While you minister, as you serve, during your every chore,
you need not leave the secret place.
For I am with you...always....everywhere.
I will live and dwell within you, as you live and dwell within the confines of My perfect will. (2 Cor. 6:16)
We will walk as one. 
Each time you change positions,
every time you don a new hat and enter the realm of fresh responsibility,
I will be with you.
I will never leave you, never forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5)
This, My child, is living life abundantly.
This is dwelling within the secret place....
on a permanent basis.
Every day of life."

The secret place.
The place after which we continually seek.
We try to fill the void...that deep-seated desire buried in all of us.
We make attempts to fill it up with so many things....
all of them fall so short....
leaving us empty...and sad....and lonely....
still longing for rest.

There is only one place to go if you want real peace.

It will take some effort to get there.
You will have to lay everything else aside,
seek the gate that waits for you at the side of the road,
enter it, (Matthew 7:13)
and walk the beaten path.
My words call out to you....
from inside the secret place....
that it is so worth the trek.

If you are truly sick of the cheap imitations,
worthless facades,
and empty, dry wells,
why not come with me?
Into the secret place.
Where sins are all forgiven,
slates are wiped clean,
broken hearts are bound and nurtured by the gentlest, nail-scarred hands,
destroyed lives are made new,
tangled webs of sinful despair are unraveled,
true happiness is a gift that is perpetually and bountifully bestowed,
and the shadow of the Almighty continually abides.

He waits.
He beckons.
He already took the first step....when He walked up Calvary's hill.
The next step is up to you.