Monday, September 30, 2013

Happy Fall :~)!!!!!

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven..."
Ecclesiastes 3:1

It's my favorite time of year again!
That time that starts on my birthday in early September
and ends up on Kevin's birthday in early February.
It includes both of our birthdays, Zachary's birthday on the day after Christmas,
the BIG October craft show in WV,
New Year's,
my two favorite seasons of fall and winter,
and all the fun in between.

I love the season of autumn.
There is nothing like it in the world.
Everything about it warms my heart....
the colors....
the cooling temperatures....
the decorating.
I enjoy decorating for fall, almost as much as I enjoy decorating for Christmas!

The other night, Zachary went out to the "fall" crate in the garage where we keep our fall decor.
It's amazing how I forget what all we have from year to year!
It is fun dragging it all out, arranging it, and remembering autumns past.
This little scarecrow lamp with the cute little crows was a new addition this year.
Kevin bought it for me one day when he, Mark, Zach, and I were shopping at the Goodwill.
I picked it up, put it down, picked it up again....
I don't know how many times.
I hated spending the money on something I didn't really "need".
But, each time I put it down, it seemed to call my name,
and once Kevin saw how much I loved it,
he insisted on not leaving without it.

I'm so glad he did!
It looks adorable on the old, primitive table we keep on our porch right next to the front door.
It is so pretty when I turn the switch on at night.
and it casts its warm, little glow on our front porch.

Change is just around the corner.
A very welcome reprieve from the upkeep of two acres in the sweltering summer heat.
Things are slowing down, and I couldn't be happier....or more comforted.

Isn't it kind of our loving Lord to plan it this way?
So that each season lasts for only three months at a time?
Have you ever noticed that when the season first begins, everything is brand-new and exciting,
but then towards the end, you can sense that everyone is ready for a change?

God designed it that way.
It adds variety to our lives and keeps things interesting.
If we stayed stuck in summer all year, we would all become sick of it after a while.
Kind of like I used to feel when we lived in Florida.
The thing I missed most about my home state of Ohio was the way the seasons change four times a year.
How I missed that!
I missed the falling leaves.
The chilly, fall nights.
The bareness of the branches of tall trees as I gazed Heavenward.

I missed winter coming on, the gray skies, 
and peeking out my window to watch silently falling snow.
I missed seeing it spread a blanket of pure white across the dead brown grass.
I missed going sledding,
making snowmen....and snow angels....
and bundling up to go outside to breathe in the clear, crisp air.
I missed seeing my I exhaled....watching its heat hit the cold,
then linger for the slightest moment,
and vanish away in the brisk, silent night.

Florida, with all its beauty and uniqueness can't hold a candle to a state that offers changing seasons.
Of course, that is only my opinion....but I just enjoy being able to experience the full gamut!

I love the season of fall, and I praise God we are in it.
In it, I rejoice.
I have a harder time rejoicing when summer's heat is near-unbearable,
the grass is growing at record speed,
and the workload is more overwhelming!!

But, even though I prefer fall and winter over spring and summer,
I must rejoice in them all.
Because God is good.
And life is precious.
And just to have the privilege to breathe and walk and move about
and know that God has brought us full-circle one more time....
is one of the sweetest, most precious blessings we could be granted.

Today, I stood outside taking pictures of the little displays Zach and I put together.
I admired his little pile of leaves that he has accumulated thus far
and how he strategically placed the small turkey
in between the "mama" and "daddy" turkeys sitting in our lawn chairs.
As I looked at everything and snapped pictures, thanksgiving sprang from deep within my heart.
I am so thankful to still be alive.
I am so grateful we have all lived to see the seasons change once again.
Life means so much to me.
How I praise God for it....I never take it for granted.

To see the autumn come around again 
means we are truly and wonderfully blessed.

Thinking of the changing seasons,
makes me think of the spiritual seasons through which we pass in our walk with Jesus.
God designed it to be that way.
If we follow Him, we will find that He leads us forward,
always on the move,
always changing.

Me...I am not a big fan of change.
I'd prefer it to be the fall season all year long!
I also like to settle into a niche, find a comfortable spot, and stay there....spiritually-speaking.
But, I find that after a certain amount of time, my little spiritual niches can become ruts....
and I can become stagnant....and spiritually dry.
I would probably come to enjoy autumn a lot less, too...
if it were autumn all year long.

When the coolness of fall permeates the atmosphere,
we cannot make it become summer again...
no matter how hard we wish or long for it.
When springtime comes in all its glory and newness of life,
we have no power to retain the cold temperatures and falling snow of winter days.
We have to adjust our sails to the change of seasons.
Like it or not, we must move on.
We must accept that the weather is something we will never be able to control or change.

As God opens and closes doors and seasons in our lives, 
we must also trust His wisdom,
even when we can't understanding His logic.
He always does what is best.

It is amazing how He gives us little, subtle nudges when it is just about time to move....
from one season to the next.
I call them GENTLE URGES.
Just as He allows the temperature to change to give us a clear indication
that we are moving forward...from one season to the next,
He lets us know when the well has run dry where we are, spiritually....
and it is time to move on.
Just like He allows the leaves to change colors and fall from the branches of trees,
He leaves little hints that spiritual change is in the air of our lives.
He does things to get our attention.
To cause us to stop and consider that there is something He wants us to see.

Jesus is our Shepherd.
He continually seeks out the best feeding grounds....for my soul....and yours.
He knows where the freshest, most nourishing streams flow.
So, He leads us to that place...where we can be most fully filled....with Him...
His power, His grace, His life-giving water....
and where we can be most effective in our labors for Him....
during this season.
While it is now.

I am glad God is in control.
Because if it were left up to me, I would esteem comfort over change.
And that is not always the healthiest choice.

God, in His infinite wisdom, 
has planned and scheduled seasons for each of our spiritual lives.
When He says "the well has run dry"
it is up to you and me to let go of yesterday's season,
say, "Yes, Lord", 
and move forward.
There are wonderful things ahead for all of us!
Following Jesus...from one season to the always an exciting adventure...
and He has promised that we will never walk alone.

We can't lengthen any of the four seasons.
They come, they last for a time, then they are over.
They become the past, and, at that point, we are ushered into the next season,
whether in accordance to or against our own will.

Accepting God's will and rejoicing in the season He has opened is the best thing we can do.
Elijah had no choice but to move forward when the brook dried up, remember?
(Click here to read about it.)
Had he stayed there, God would have sent ravens no more.
God wanted Elijah to make a change.
So, he made the current circumstances unbearable...and unsustainable....
and he led Elijah into a whole new set of circumstances.

God always knows what we need, just when we need it.

A new season is upon us and has arrived....
ushering in a change.

Let us walk forward in His amazing grace,
let us be content,
let us look forward to cold nights, hot cocoa, and snuggling up to the one(s) we love,
and let us rejoice!

Thank God it's fall!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Forfeited Peace & Needless Pain

"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
Matthew 11:28

Back when Dad was alive, he nicknamed me "WW"....for "worry-wart".
Honestly, he actually called me that.
When he and Mom would leave our house to go home after a visit,
I would time them, and if they hadn't called by the time I thought they should be home,
I was on the phone calling their number.
That was back before cell phones, 
and knowing their car was old and not the most reliable 
made me worry....a lot.

It's really something how you reverse roles, as parents age.
That truly has to be one of the most difficult transitions in life.
Seeing them lose their faculties,
watching their independence fade,
and adjusting to being the one who looks after, rather than being the one who is looked after,
are hard pills to swallow.

When I would get really worked up, Mom would often tell me,
"Cheryl, when you're trusting, you're not worrying.
When you're worrying, you're not trusting."

I knew the words were true, but I kept right on worrying just the same.

We went to the Pickled Peach the other day.
It is located right next door to The Meeting Place Restaurant in Helen, GA....
the place I am always raving about.

They sell the neatest things in the Pickled Peach,
including signs like this one.

There were so many of them.
I love quotes, so would have loved to buy one of every sign they sell.
Since I couldn't do that, I took pictures of some of them.

This one especially hit a personal nerve.
How many precious hours of life have I spent worrying?
It's hard to say, but safe to say....way too many.

If medals were given out for the greatest worriers,
undoubtedly, I would be one of the top contenders of all time.

Worry is draining.
It absolutely empties today of its strength,
as the sign says.

Last night, I had a lot on my mind, and again, I found myself in that familiar state....
fretting, stressing, and worrying over things that are happening, 
but over which I have no control.

I went to the back bedroom that is farthest removed from the rest of the house,
I closed the door,
and I began to weep....
calling out to God from the depths of my heart,
telling Him all that was bothering me.

In the midst of my tears and explaining to God,
He brought the most incredible sense of peace.
He spoke Psalm 46:10 to me, like He has done so many times before.
"Be still, and know that I am God."
Then His voice spoke on,
"Just be still, child.
Everything is going to be all right.
Everything is under My control.
I see what is happening, and nothing that is touching your life is surprising Me."

Hearing that still, small, familiar voice completely soothes me....every, single time.

How grateful I am that God never changes.
That I can count on Him....always.

I can still hear Mom's voice....somewhere in the back of my mind...
when I am uptight and worrying,
"Cheryl, there are only three things in the world that God cannot do.
He can't change.
He can't lie.
And, He can't fail."

God is eternally faithful.
He is ever on guard.
He never sleeps.
There is never a moment the enemy can sneak anything past Him.
I know this.
Not only in a hypothetical sense,
but in a personally-proven-many-times-over sense.
In a back-against-the-wall-with-nowhere-else-to-turn sense.
God has never let me down.
He has never been too busy to listen to my needs....
to speak back to me....
to give me answers that are all-encompassingly problem-solving.

I don't know how long I prayed,
but what I do know is that once He started speaking,
I stopped worrying.

I Peter 5:7 says,
"Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you."

The word "care" in this verse literally means "worry" & "anxiety" in the original Greek language.

Remember the old saying, "I go all to pieces"?

When you delve into the Greek a bit deeper, you will find that the original word, "mérimna",
 also means:
a part, separated from the whole,
dividing and fracturing a person's being into parts,
to be drawn in different directions,
anxiety about things pertaining to this earthly life.

Worrying actually fractures a person's being into parts.
It causes one to feel they are literally being torn several directions at once.

I cried I studied for this devotional.
Thinking about the many times I have been torn to pieces, 
times when my nerves were literally shredded to bits,
and I have felt completely fractured.

All because of worry, care, and anxiety.

I don't choose to be a worry wart.
It is not something I have aspired or set out to be.
I am painfully aware that it completely displeases my Heavenly Father.
So, why do I continue down this path?
Why do I become so heavy-laden and burdened down?
Why don't I trust?
Why can't I just cast my cares upon Him?
I know...beyond a shadow of a doubt that He cares for me.

I know Jesus cares.

So, why do I choose to grip my worries until my knuckles turn white,
refusing to release them to Him?

The word "cast" in this verse literally means "throw" or "impose".
Jesus invites us to throw our worry and anxiety to Him.
He stands waiting...ready....hoping..."mitt" wide open...
to catch our ugly, tangled-up, heavy loads of care....
the minute we release it all and throw it over to Him.
And, though the word means "impose", Jesus doesn't see it that way.
He doesn't look at it as an imposition.
He welcomes it.
He wants it, but He won't wrench it from our stranglehold grasp.

Last night, like so many times before, I threw my care to Jesus.
I gave it to Him, and He took it from me.
I felt so much better.
After He mended my fractured nerves,
I opened the door, red-eyed, splotchy-cheeked, and smiling,
and re-joined my sweet, little family 
feeling a whole lot better....and lighter.

Worry weighs us down.
It steals our joy.
Robs our peace.
Kills our happiness.
It ruins everything about our day...
hanging over our heads like a dark, angry, ready-to-spill-over cloud.

Why do we hang on to it for so long?

I've been singing the old song written by Joseph M. Scriven, "What A Friend We Have In Jesus",
in and out of church for nearly all my life.
Only lately, has the depths of the comfort of its words truly became mine.

The first verse says this,
"What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer."

I don't think anyone anywhere sings it any better....or prettier than Alan Jackson.

If you can't view it, please click here to be redirected to it.

Joseph M. Scriven knew more than his fair share of heartache.
He left his native Ireland, grief-stricken,
 to move to Canada after his fiance' drowned on the night before their wedding.
After he arrived in Canada, he again fell in love & became engaged to be married to Eliza Roche. 
Before their wedding day, Eliza became suddenly ill from pneumonia and died.
Some time later, he received news from Ireland that his mother was very ill.
He wrote a poem to comfort her called, "Pray Without Ceasing".
That very poem was found shortly before Joseph's death by a friend who sat with him while he was ill.
The friend asked Joseph about it, and he told him he 
had never intended for anyone other than his mother to see it.
After its discovery, the poem was set to music and renamed,
becoming the dearly beloved hymn we cherish and call "What A Friend We Have In Jesus".

The man left this world without so much as a clue as to the magnitude of comfort and hope
his inspired words would bring to countless millions.

Through some of my deepest sorrow, it has come to be one of my favorite, most cherished songs.

How much peace have I forfeited through the years?
How much needless pain have I borne?
How much have you?
How much are you now?
At this moment?

What are you facing, my friend?
What is breaking your heart?
Causing you worry?
Inflicting anxiety?
Bringing you to tears?
Fracturing your inward spirit?

Are you ready to hand it over?
To release your need to sort it all out?
To give it up?
To One Who is willing....and actually take it from you...
because He cares for you that much?

Throw it to Jesus.
All of it.
In its entirety.
He waits...with outstretched arms
 and wide-open, nail-scarred hands...
to catch it.

I don't think we come close to realizing or comprehending how much He really cares.
If we did, we would realize that our needs are His priority.
We would understand that He is our Father, and He will take care of all that pertains to us....
without us even having to ask.
We would accept the fact that He cares for us more than anyone else ever will.
And we would never worry again.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Surrendering All

"I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."
Philippians 4:13

God asked me to do something very difficult recently,
and it took everything I had within me to do it.
For days beforehand, I woke up in utter panic...multiple times.
I fretted.
Nearly made myself sick.
Every time I thought of it, I would cry out to God for His help.
I feel so inadequate.

Does anyone else ever feel this way?

I am undone.

Jesus told His disciples that without Him they could do nothing.

Let me tell you, I feel that sense of utter nothingness....
complete, total dependency upon Almighty God and what He can do.

One night, when the panic was exceptionally intense,
I got out of bed, and as I walked across the floor, I told God,
"I can't.
Lord, I just canNOT do this."

A voice inside whispered that I just needed to call the person involved
and let them know that I was truly sorry, but I couldn't fulfill my commitment.
I thought of how much relief I would feel if I just did that.
If I just knew I didn't have to do this difficult task,
I could relax and stop worrying, and the anxiety would cease.

As soon as that voice stopped speaking,
I heard another one....
one that is familiar...
and so soothing that it calms my most frazzled nerve....
one that rings true and faithful and reassures me like no other.

"No, My child, you cannot do this.
But, I can.
I can do this through you.
You must trust in My strength.
Do not lean to your own understanding.
Trust Me with all your heart.
Let Me do the work.
If you make that phone call and tell them no,
you will not be doing what I am asking you to do."

We all know what condemnation feels like, don't we?
That black, hovering cloud that hangs right over our head,
following us around, 
after we have said "no" to God?
Is there anything this life?
Than to feel God's disapproval?
To feel that distance that comes between us?
To experience the void of His smile?

I have learned that no matter what God is asking me to do,
regardless how hard it is or how severe the personal sacrifice,
it is still easier than to have to face the condemnation that follows disobedience.

It just isn't worth it to me anymore.
I'd rather do what He says.
I'd rather feel His approval.
It is beyond precious to me, and whatever I have to do to keep it is reasonable and low cost.

God and me...we are a team.
We have been since the moment I fully surrendered to His yoke.
I remember it like it was yesterday.

I was a Christian before that day....long before.
I had made a certain level of commitment to Him,
and to the best of my ability, I had honored that commitment.
I had gone to a certain point of consecration,
but there were parts of me that still said "no" to God.
There were within my heart....deeply-embedded places that had an "off limits" sign.
Places I called my own....
that when God reached them and wanted to come in,
He was turned away...time after time.

God is a patient, long-suffering, merciful, tender-hearted God.
He bears long with us, as His children.
He sees our potential, and His great heart yearns to see us fulfill it.
But, He is a Gentleman.
He will never force His way into a place we do not want Him to be.

He waited for my obedience longer than I care to share.
I am ashamed.
But, it is what it is.

That day, I knew there was more....
more that He required....
more of me.

He wanted full access.
To every nook, cranny, crevice, and locked door....
inside my heart.

I struggled.
I won't pretend it was an easy crossing.

I had a hunch that if I ever opened myself completely up to Him,
He was going to ask me to do some very difficult things.

Self within me cringed.
Drew back.
Became increasingly stubborn.

It was like a painful tug-of-war....where I was the rope.
Both sides were opposite directions...
and I was being torn apart.

I had reached a point in my Christian journey that I had never reached before,
and it had to be dealt with.
The fullness of time had come, and I could put it off no longer.
Whatever decision I made that night would affect my Christian walk from that day forward.
I would either plunge in, full-speed ahead, completely and entirely, and give God my whole heart,
or I would determinedly dig in my heels, tell God "no", and go no further.
I knew if I chose the second option, I would begin to regress.
To be honest, the thought terrified me.
Brought a shudder to my spirit.
It's a weighty load to be where I was that night.

In our individual walks with the Lord, we are either going forward or backward.
We are either walking in the direction of Jesus or away from Him....
coming to the Light, or turning away from the Light.

His light had shone, and it required a response....from me.

I stood there....torn in half....what should I do?

I knew the answer to what I should do.
But, could I?
Could I go forward to pray and really mean what God was asking me to say?
This was solemn business.
Vows to God are serious...not to be taken lightly.
I knew that.
The impact of that nearly smothered me.
I don't know how long I stood there...
but something compelled me to make my way to the altar that was situated 
right below the pulpit up front.

I don't remember the walk there.
I only remember what happened once I got there.

I surrendered all.

Gave it up.
Told Him I was His....forever...eternally....completely.
I meant it from the bottom of my heart.
Nothing in me was off-limits to God.
I was broken.
Willing to be obedient.

No more saying "no".
No more half-hearted, nominal Christian living.
No more mediocrity.
I was sick of lukewarmness.
I wanted heat.
Holy Ghost, all-consuming fire...that would destroy self
and infuse my soul with the power I knew I needed to launch out to the depths He was calling me to.

I have never, ever, ever regretted what I did that night.
I would do it all again....thousands of times over.

Since that night, God has asked some very hard things of me.
He has allowed me to be placed in some pretty awkward positions.
I have squirmed, I'll admit.
I have fought many face-to-face rounds with satan.
Each time you reach a new spiritual level, 
you automatically face a new devil.
He has done his utmost to convince me to turn back...
to return to a time in my life when things were so much easier....spiritually-speaking.
He didn't fight me so hard back when I wasn't in this with all my heart.
In fact, there were days he pretty much left me alone...nearly.

The moment he saw me turn that corner, he's been trailing me close-at-hand ever since.

He is relentless...tireless....determined.

I am more determined than he is.
I am not alone.
I have an Advocate.
He sits at the right hand of His Father....
continually interceding on my behalf.

He is greater than satan.
He has more power.
Therefore, I press forward.
All because I am yoked to Him.

When we take Jesus' yoke upon us, we do not know exactly what He will ask us to do.
When we take His yoke, we do not know what the future holds.
Taking on His yoke is saying "yes" to His will.
It is telling Him, 
"Lord, I will follow You.
We are attached...from this day forward....I am willing to be led...
completely and You.
You choose the direction.
I will not fight You.
I will submit to what You ask me to matter how hard it is.
Here, Lord.
I relinquish self....ambitions....goals.....plans.....aspirations....dreams.
I will no longer run aimlessly....unattached from You.
You are in control."

If two oxen are yoked together, they are of like mind.
They go in the same direction.
They cannot pull apart.
That's why they are called "a team".
The yoke is what makes it so.

The real struggle comes when we try to pull away and go our own direction.
Just like I was considering doing the other night.

I wrestled with God for a long time.
I knew what I had to do.
I remembered my commitment.
Deep inside, I knew I couldn't come close to dialing that phone and chickening out.
Because God was asking me to do something.

I began to consider it an honor....that He asked.
And I turned my eyes upon Jesus.
I looked His direction, and I thought of the cross.

Oh, the cross!
How did He do it?
How did He have the walk that lonely, blood-drenched, anguished path?

Then it came to me.
He was able to go all the way to Calvary, because He died out to self ahead of time.
In Gethsemane alone.
When His disciples should have been praying with Him,
should have been comforting Him,
should have been wiping the sweat-turned-blood drops that were oozing from His pores.

While He anguished, they slept.

So, Jesus prayed on.
Three times.
Begging for deliverance.
Pleading for an alternate solution.
Hoping for escape.

None came.

So, He said those eternity-changing words,
"Not My will, but Thine be done."

Once He said it, He had what He needed.
He transferred total responsibility to His Father,
and He turned to face the angry, cruel, devil-filled mob.

As I sat there fighting self, wishing I could get out of what God was asking of me,
I said the words.
I meant them from the heart.
I held nothing back.

"God, if you want me to do this, I will.
Not my will, Lord, but Thine be done.
You know I will not tell you no."

Victory came.
I am not going to tell you it was any sense of the word.
But, through God's grace alone, I did what He asked.
I was faithful.

After it was all over, the enemy was there...isn't he always?
Accusing, placing doubts, critiquing, and criticizing.

Deep in the recesses of my soul, I heard His familiar voice,
"Child, I am pleased with you.
I am pleased with what you did.
Don't second-guess your performance.
Leave it alone.
Let it go.
As long as I am pleased, that is all that matters."

I made a promise to God that night at the altar.
By His grace, I intend to keep it.
It will not be easy.
It never has been.
But, knowing He is with me,
knowing I am yoked to Jesus Christ,
what better comfort could I ever ask for?
He is my Teammate.

So, how goes it with you?
What is going on in your life?
What is Jesus asking you to do?
Any challenges in your path?
Has He called you into a place of ministry?
Does it seem impossible to you?
Is the flesh inside of you drawing back...wishing for an easier path?
Maybe He is asking you to take the humble route...
to make an apology...
to go the extra mile for someone who has wounded you....
to return good for evil....
to take the path He took.
Perhaps He is requiring you to forgive...even though the one who wronged you has not apologized.
Or maybe you are dealing with a difficult or abusive spouse....
doing your utmost to be that virtuous wife in the midst of humanly impossible circumstances.
Does the road in front of you look steep and all uphill?

Taking Jesus yoke upon you makes otherwise impossible tasks bearable...and doable.

"Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: 
and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

For My yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Matthew 11:28-30
Find a place alone with God.
In a church,
at an altar,
on a quiet bench,

beside your bed,
in your car....
you name the place....and time.

He will meet you there.

Yoke yourself entirely to Jesus Christ.
Give Him full and complete control.
Allow Him every part of you.
Don't hold back.
The more you relinquish self, the more space He has to fill.

No matter how difficult the path in front of you,
it will be made so much easier if you stop fighting His will.
If you just lean into what He is requiring of you.
If you just allow Him to do all of the leading, and you faithfully follow.

"But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them,
With men this is impossible; 
 but with God all things are possible."

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Random Moments

"How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power:
who went about doing good,
and healing all that were oppressed of the devil;
for God was with Him."
Acts 10:38

The other day, we stepped into a little coffee shop in Helen called "Higher Ground".
I love the name!
I ended up ordering an iced decaf., and Kevin and Zach decided to share a frozen lemonade.

Kevin was really suffering that day.
Can I tell you how many ways my heart goes out to him?
I pray so hard for his healing.

After I got my coffee and walked over to sit down with him and Zach,
he decided to move to a comfy chair near the window.
It was a lot softer and easier on his back.

I looked over at him, and my heart broke, as I sensed his pain.

 Could I ever put into mere words how much I love this man?
How much I appreciate him and the daily sacrifices he makes 
so Zachary's and my needs are met?

"Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?"
Proverbs 20:6

Just as a virtuous woman has worth beyond measure,
so does a faithful man.

They are few and far between...especially, in this day and age.
How did so many things...including marriage....become disposable?
Why do we go into such serious commitments with the preconceived notion
that if this one doesn't work out, we will move on to another one?
Whatever happened to sticking it out....through thick and thin...
poverty and prosperity....
sickness and health?

After a few moments of watching him there...
knowing he was really pushing against it to show us a fun day....
realizing the amazing worth and value of such a grace-covered, faith-filled husband like him....
loving him from the core of my soul.....
I noticed the neat sign above his head.

Soon, Zach decided to go over and join his Daddy.

I watched them together, as I studied the sign.
Pondered its words,
"Share a random moment".

Is any moment random...really?

Are we ever where we any given accident?
Do people cross our path, then walk on, without any purpose?

Lately, we've been experiencing some unusual encounters.
We have come to call them our "assignments".

I can't really explain it.
It just keeps happening...
ever since we began praying the prayer of Jabez.
"And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying,
Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed,
and enlarge my coast,
and that thine hand might be with me,
and that thou wouldest keep me from evil,
that it may not grieve me!
And God granted him that which he requested."
I Chronicles 4:10

For instance, one day, we were traveling between Ohio and West Virginia, 
when we became hungry and pulled off the interstate with the intentions of 
stopping at the Wendy's we saw advertised on the exit sign.

Once we reached the end of the exit ramp,
we realized Wendy's was 3.2 miles away.
We considered driving on to another exit where we could find
a restaurant closer to the beaten path.
Something compelled us to stick to our original plan,
so we drove the 3.2 miles until Wendy's came into view.

When we reached the intersection with Wendy's on the right side,
I happened to look over at the restaurant directly across the street.
It was a pizza place, and since we are on a perpetual quest to find
the perfect-tasting New York style pizza,
we made a last-minute plan change and pulled into its parking lot instead.

When we went in, I noticed there was only two other customers....
a middle-aged woman and a little blonde-haired boy.

We ended up sitting right next to each other,
and after a few minutes, Zach took out some of his action figure toys 
to pass the time away until our meal was ready.

The little boy began eyeing Zach and his toys curiously,
until finally, Zach offered him to play with them.
As the boys played, I began talking to the woman.
Soon, I found out that the little boy was her grandson,
and her heart was heavily-laden with burdens.

Without going into explicit details,
her story broke my two.
Especially, the part when she told me about the home life of the sweet little boy
who was playing with Zach.

"I am going to pray for you", I said.

"I kind of felt like you would.
That's why I told you", she answered.

As I sat there, the Holy Spirit began to speak to me.
"Pray for her now", He gently prodded.

Cowardice rose within me.
"What if someone sees us?
What if they hear me?
What will they think?"
the voice of the enemy whispered.

Defiantly determined to overcome and mind God, I turned to the woman,
"In fact, I'd like to pray for you right now."

She immediately got up and walked over to take my hand.
We prayed.
Right there.
Near tears.

We took her burdens straight to the throne room of our Heavenly Father,
and we presented her case.
We prayed for the little boy, and his Mama. too.
We covered them with a blanket of genuine concern, love, and compassion.

After we finished, I think we all felt better.
I turned to the little boy.

"You know God is always with matter what.
You can pray to Him anywhere at any time, and He always hears you.
If you are ever in trouble, you call out to Him, okay?"

He looked up at me...wide-eyed...trusting...taking in my words.

Soon, they left, and we watched them drive away.

"God bless them", I said once more, through tear-filled eyes.

I will more than likely never see them again.
I will probably never know the outcome of their sad, pitiful situation.
Our paths may never cross again.

But, I still pray for them.
I still mention their names to God.
He knows where they are.
I only know their first names....God knows their last.
His eye is watching over that precious, little boy,
and I trust Him to make a positive difference in his little life and predicament.

Was it a random encounter?
Were those moments there in the pizza place so far from home....random?
Did we just "happen" to end up there that the exact, same time they did?

After a few encounters similar to this one,
we began writing down the names of the people involved...
in one of Zachary's notebooks.
We list their names and something that will jog our memory concerning their situation...

Our list is growing and getting bigger.

Lately, I've been trying to pay closer attention....
trying to look into the eyes of the ones I pass....
trying to make contact long enough to smile...even when they don't smile back....
trying to stay in constant tune with the voice of the Holy Spirit inside of me.

He is faithful.
To open doors.
To orchestrate seating arrangements.
To arrange and rearrange schedules....
so that Divine appointments can take place.

After they are over, I try to make a conscious effort to remember their needs.
Thank God, we have a Heavenly Father Who cares even more than we do.
Whose heart is broken as He watches His children weep.
Who told us to bear one another's burdens and therefore fulfill the law of His Son,
Who absolutely did the the greatest degree possible.

"Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ."
Galatians 6:2

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

Precious words from Jesus' Own lips.

If He laid down His life, shouldn't we?

It is easier to turn the other way.
To ignore the pain-filled eyes.
To proudly comment that we sure are glad we aren't like them.
To puff up our self-righteous chests and walk away feeling superior.
To pretend it isn't happening.
To convince ourselves it is not our problem....
that the moments in this life are all just "random", meaningless, and without consequence.

I ask you this, my friend, did He...just walk away?
Did He overlook the heartache?
Didn't He pour Himself completely out....into the lives of others?
Didn't He give all He make the most important difference in every, single life?

No encounter with Jesus is random.
It is all carefully-planned.
Part of the grand design.
And once we cross His path, we are never the same again.

Shouldn't it be that way with the ones we meet?
Shouldn't we allow our steaming food to cool off if someone really needs to talk?
Shouldn't we delay selfish interests if someone is pouring out their heart and needing prayer?
Shouldn't we investigate a tiny bit further once we spot hopelessness in someone's eyes?
Shouldn't we stop feeling "put off" and derailed by their aloofness or unfriendliness,
die out to selfishness and how things are affecting us,
and go the extra mile to be nice?
Shouldn't we leave them more hope-filled than they were when we found them?

What would Jesus those not-so-random moments?
What did Jesus do?
When He was here?

He treated every person who crossed His path as if they and their problems
were the most important, pressing situation in the world.
He didn't pass judgment on their outward situation.
No matter how unGodly, smelly, afflicted, addicted, or far gone they were,
He stopped everything He was doing,
and He addressed their need(s).
Right then.
And there.
Without delay.

People don't care how much we know,
until they know how much we care.

We cannot ever expect to reach the spiritual need,
without first meeting the physical and emotional.

Waiting until later is unwise....
because every opportunity has a window of effectiveness.
Every chance to help someone has an expiration time and date.
People won't always be your presence,
nor will they always need help.

People die.
They move on.
Their life improves....or gets worse.

We will one day die...pass off the scene....out into long eternity.
Will we have utilized every golden opportunity to bless another?
What exactly will we hear as we stand there....
just us and God....
on Judgment Day?
Will it be,
"Come, ye blessed of my Father,
inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat:
I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink:
 I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

Naked, and ye clothed me:
I was sick, and ye visited me:
I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Verily I say unto you,
Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren,
ye have done it unto me."
Matthew 25:34-40

OR will we hear,
"I never knew you: depart from me..."
Matthew 7:23

Pretty strong words...spoken by THE WORD....
words by which you and I will one day be judged.

God knows who can best help another.
You can reach those whom I could never reach.
We each have unique abilities, past experiences, and life lessons to share
that are completely our own.
God wants to turn our personal mess into our message....
our tests into our testimonies....
our lives into living, breathing instruments in which His Spirit dwells
and through which His voice speaks.

I truly believe our moments are never random.
I believe God has a timetable and a plan and a Divine agenda.
In His agenda, He plans out our days.
It is up to us to follow the plan,
listen to His still, small voice,
be alert for and mind the checks He faithfully sends,
roll with the changes He allows to intercept our carefully-planned schedules
and continually make the conscious choice to follow His agenda, not our own.
There is nothing random with Him.

"That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us,
who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
Romans 8:4

Walking after the Spirit, 
following His lead, 
pursuing His prompts,
will land us exactly where we are supposed to be,
when we are supposed to be there.

You will never regret minding God.
No matter where the road leads you,
how off the beaten path you are taken,
or by what extent your own agenda is altered.
God's agenda includes both sides of a situation.
He always works on both ends...
for the common good...
of all parties involved.

Who knows how many twists and turns came into that woman's day
in order to land her at the pizza place right when we were there.
And could the many stops we decided to make to take "just one more" photo
along the beautiful, mountain-strewn path have been the very interruptions
God sent to orchestrate the exact moment we would arrive there?

Did He draw our eyes to the beauties along the way...
just so we would stop in order to perfectly orchestrate His timing?

Did He cause us to notice the neat, old, weathered barns....

and the neatly-rolled bales of hay....

and the old, country churches that beckoned us to get off the interstate
to come aside and rest for a while.....

and the peaceful, country cemetery where I longed to linger
even longer than we did.....

and the majestic mountains that surrounded us on all sides?

I believe it is so.

I have come to trust God's detours.
I have learned that they lead to Divine appointments....and not-so-random moments,
and often they are sent to protect and defend us from satan's planned detriments.

I love reading the story about Peter and Cornelius in the 10th chapter of Acts.
Both men had something to learn.
God worked on both ends, preparing and opening both of their hearts,
 and He absolutely orchestrated their meeting.
Both men were edified, blessed, as they learned from each other.

There is a reason God places us in each other's lives.
It is never to hurt or offend or discourage one another.
It is always to sharpen each other's iron...
to encourage one another....
to lift and build each other up....
to fill each other's needs.

God has already set the appointments.
They are in the making.
He's already working on the other end.
All we have to do is be willing to show up,
follow His instructions,
and share the not-so-random moments.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Precious Stones

"Moses said, "This is what the LORD has commanded:
'Take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come,
so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the wilderness when I brought you out of Egypt.'"
Exodus 16:32

The other night, we walked from our hotel to a Mexican restaurant nearby.
We had plans to go play mini-golf after dinner, but as we walked along,
we looked to the right side of the road and saw a peaceful park
situated right alongside the Chattahoochee River.

It called to us...beckoned us to enter its sanctuary.

"Why don't we stop and sit by the river instead of playing putt-putt?"
Kevin suggested.

"Yeah, that sounds nice."
Zach and I agreed.

There was a neat swing near the water where Kevin and I sat down, side-by-side,
to watch Zach play by the water.

"Can I get in and wade?" he soon asked.

Somehow, I just knew he would ask that!

The cool, refreshing water was too tempting to resist.

"Sure, Zach, go ahead."

Truly, how often does one get the opportunity to wade in the Chattahoochee?

He had a ball.

The water was clean and crisp.
You could clearly see the rocks under the surface.

Soon, it wasn't enough for him to just wade.

"Mama, can I get in.....all the way?"

"Ooh, Zach, I don't know if that's a good idea."

The evening mountain air had the slightest chill to it.

"Oh, Mama, come on!"

It didn't take much begging to convince me.

Soon he was all the way in....
clothes and all!
As he swam, Kevin skipped rocks all the way across...
from our side to the other.

It did both of us good to watch Zach having such fun.
How I praise God for moments like these!
Moments like these invoke worship from the depths of my soul.

Such delights of childhood!
Such carefree innocence!
Such wild, reckless abandon!
How do we lose that with age?
Why do we become so jaded...and guarded?
What happens to our zest for life?

"Mama, I'm picking up this rock for you and Daddy to keep.
It reminds me of your love.
It's in the shape of a heart."

Zach was out in the middle searching for stones
for his Daddy to skip across the river.

He threw our special rock to the shore, and I walked down to pick it up.

I took it back to our room, washed it thoroughly, and brought it home with us.
I will keep it forever.
It is a precious stone....more precious to me than a diamond.
Each time I look at it, I will remember our special time there....
beside the Chattahoochee.
I will think of how Zach said that rock reminds him of his Mama and Daddy's love....
and how precious those moments together were.
I will remember the serenity of the setting....
how it filled my heart to watch Zach play....
how thankful I am to still have him home with us....
how glad I am that he is still as little as he is.

The best things in life are free.
The best things in life are not all.
They are moments...and memories....
and the love that is poured into them.

Seeing Zach out there in the middle of the Chattahoochee looking for skippable stones to give his Daddy,
made me think about another special day by a riverside and some other precious stones.

Moses, God's chosen leader, had died...passed off the scene....never to return.
God had chosen to leave Joshua in charge.

Joshua was no stranger to the perils of the way.
He had studied diligently and conscientiously and learned from the wisdom of Moses.
He had been a first-hand, eye-witness to the power of Almighty God,
and He knew that there was nothing beyond the realm of His ability.

Joshua was a man of courage.
The charge left to him was insurmountable...through human eyes.
He must have felt the weight and heaviness of the responsibility.
He must have longed for Moses' presence...there beside him to tell him what to do.
The reality was, Moses was eternally resting from his labors, and there was no one else to turn to....
except the One Who put him charge in the first place.

So, he trusted.
And plowed the name of the One Who has never lost a battle.

Early in his career of leading God's chose people,
his faith in God was tested....severely.
There was a river in their path.
It needed to be crossed in order for them to make progress and go forward.
Spanning its width was humanly impossible.
Joshua and the people stayed by that river for three days.
I wonder what he was doing during that time.
I have a hunch Joshua was diligently and intently seeking the face of God.
Begging for instructions.
God was always.
Guidance came.

"And Joshua said unto the people, Sanctify yourselves:
for to morrow the LORD will do wonders among you."
Joshua 3:5

On the following day, something amazing....absolutely miraculous...
took place right before their very eyes.

"And as they that bare the ark were come unto Jordan,
and the feet of the priests that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water,
(for Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest,)
That the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon an heap 
 very far from the city Adam, that is beside Zaretan: 
and those that came down toward the sea of the plain, even the salt sea, failed, and were cut off: 
and the people passed over right against Jericho.
And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground 
in the midst of Jordan, 
and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground
 until all the people were passed clean over Jordan."
(emphasis added)

Can you imagine the magnitude of this miracle?
God had performed a similar impossibility approximately 40 years earlier,
when the Israelites were being pursued by Pharaoh and his mighty army, 
and God had parted the Red Sea in order for them to cross over on dry land....
to escape their cruel pursuers.

But, even after witnessing such a nearly unbelievable demonstration of what God can do,
they doubted and were fearful, which caused them to wander around in the wilderness for 40 years.

40 years later, standing at the banks of the Jordan River, 
during the time the river was overflowing its capacity,
God repeated the miracle and again made His power to be shown in an amazing way.

This time, He gave special instructions.

"And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over Jordan, that the LORD spake unto Joshua, saying,
Take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man,
And command ye them, saying, 
Take you hence out of the midst of Jordan, out of the place where the priests' feet stood firm, 
twelve stones, 
and ye shall carry them over with you, 
and leave them in the lodging place, where ye shall lodge this night."

Joshua did as God commanded and chose 12 men to perform the task.

What was the purpose of collecting the stones?
Why go through all the trouble....
of sending 12 men back out to the middle of the dried-by-the-hand-of-God riverbed
to each pick up a stone and carry it with them on their way?

Joshua explained,
"That this may be a sign among you, 
that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, 
What mean ye by these stones?
Then ye shall answer them, 
That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; 
when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: 
and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever."

I love reading this story!

God is still moving, my friend.
He is working in our daily amazing, miraculous ways.
Don't you know we need to be gathering stones?
We need to be collecting leave for our children....
for future generations.
They need to hear.
They need to be made aware...of the spiritual adventures God has seen us through,
of the times He has directly and unquestionably answered our prayers,
of the moments He has parted Red Seas and Jordan OUR lives.

The world around is becoming more and more increasingly evil.
The airwaves are charged with filth, corruption, degradation, and godlessness.
But, in the midst of it all, God is still on the throne.
He is still in control, and faith in Him is something that is far too precious to let go of and cast aside.
We need to hold tight to God's unchanging hand,
and leave behind us a legacy of Godliness for our children to follow.
They need to see a trail of stones....precious stones....picked up in the midst of our deepest trials...
in the middle of our fiery furnaces.
Stones we have saved and deemed precious to our hearts.

We, as mothers, have an awesome responsibility.
We've seen the waters front of our eyes, have we not?
Think about it.
How has God worked in your life?
What prayers has He answered...for you?
What rivers has He parted...when you saw no way out?
Remember the moments?
When satan's searing breath was so close to your neck you could feel the scorching heat,
a wide, wide river was directly in front of you,
and there was no way out and no where to turn?
Remember when you lifted your eyes Heavenward and cried out to the only One Who could help?
Remember when you dropped your eyes and looked ahead, 
and the waters had miraculously parted,
and you walked forward, by faith, on completely dry ground?

If faith in God is at such a low ebb in our generation,
what will it be like in the next?
And the next?

Our children, grand-children and on down the line
need to be able to point backwards to the miracles God performed
in our lives.
They need those precious stones of memorial to remind them...
that there is a God.
That He exists.
That He can do anything.
That they can put their full trust in Him, 
because He saw their Mama...and Daddy through.

They need to be able to call back those memories....
of seeing Mama on her knees, tears falling, turning her heart toward the hills 
to Him from Whom she drew her daily strength.

Oh, for praying mothers!
Oh, for Mamas who will fall to their knees daily,
praying a hedge, wall, and shield of protection around their husbands and little ones!
Oh, for women who will dare to walk to the middle of tribulation's river,
not fearing the threat of drowning,
trusting in her God to keep the waters parted until she gleans what she needs to glean,
and who will reach down and pick up a stone to carry with her all her days!

Aren't we learning every day...through our experiences?
Don't we come to know Jesus more intimately as we journey through this life....and cross the rivers of trial?
As we go, are we gathering stones?
Are we passing them on to our children, as a memorial?
As something they can pick up and carry on through their own lives
and impart to their own children?

"Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof.
Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following."
Psalm 48:12-13

Why do we need to have a clear vision?
Why is it so direly important that we have a first-hand knowledge?
Because we need to be able to "tell it to the generation following."
We need to be gathering stones...precious stones....
in our character,
in our dispositions,
in our daily example...
that will give our children something to hold on to...
as godlessness increases,
as faith in Jesus Christ diminishes,
as they need to remember something real.

Oh, the weight of our responsibility!
It is great.
It is heavy.

We now hold the our generation, my friend.
We owe it to the precious lives and hearts God has entrusted to our keeping
to stand firm for God...on dry the midst of our trials,
and to gather stones.
So, when they ask questions later, we, or someone after us, can tell them.
They can be reminded.
That Mama was a praying woman.
That when she prayed, things changed.
That in the midst of her many heartaches, she held on to an unshakable faith that never flinched.
That she dared to stand in the face of adversity and claim victory.
That she never, not even once, considered an alternate way of life.

They need to remember.
They need to see it that today's first-hand witnessing of our faithfulness
will turn into memories and memorials for them to grasp on to in the future.

There is nothing more powerful to drive home truth than for them to see truth lived out in our daily lives.

It will follow them all their days.

"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it."
Proverbs 22:6

Moses commanded that an omer of manna be kept for the generations to come,
so they could see the bread God had rained down from Heaven for them to eat.
Joshua commanded that stones be picked up from the midst of Jordan,
so they could see the stones and remember how God had dried it up.

May God help you and I to live Godly
so our children will have precious reminders....tomorrow.