Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Chapel Epiphany

"And Elisha prayed, and said,
Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see..."
2 Kings 6:17

One of my favorite things to collect is quotes.
Words of wisdom,
spewed from the lips of those who have learned profound lessons.
It takes living life to really absorb deep understanding.
whether our own or someone else's,
 has always been and will always be...
the very best teacher.
So, if I can be taught by someone who has already walked through the dark,
lived through the experience,
faced personal challenges head on, 
gleaned understanding along the way,
then cared enough to share the wisdom they've harvested,
I am eager to learn all I can from the quotes they leave behind.
Knowing they've been there...
walked through similar valleys...
endured and outlasted their trials....
increases their credibility to me.

One quote says this,
"Learn from others' mistakes;
you don't live long enough to make them all yourself."

We can learn from the mistakes of others,
we can learn from their victories,
and we can learn from our differences.

But, we must first have an open mind.

We must first be willing to be taught.

Have you ever met someone who could not be taught?
Who thought they knew it all and had nothing left to learn?
Who, no matter what subject matter came up in a conversation,
had already been there, done that, and had nothing more to learn from it?
Who, though surrounded by others wiser they they,
felt they had already attained the deepest depths of learning
and could glean no benefit from listening to anyone else?
Who automatically dismissed the advice or wisdom of another,
just because that person was different?

I feel sure someone is coming to your mind!  :)
Some "know-it-all" type who perceives their self as superior...
and complete...
and in need of no additional knowledge or understanding.

One of the main things we need to do in life
is to foster and maintain a teachable spirit.
A humble mind.
A hunger for wisdom, 
and a willingness to glean understanding from others 
who have lived longer than us,
or have walked the Christian path for more years than we have.

Sometimes we close the gate of wisdom that is opened to us,
because it does not look like it opens to a path of learning.
It looks unfamiliar...
different from what we are used to...
so, we close our minds...
and never glean the lesson God is so graciously trying to teach.
We pre-judge a situation by what we see,
or a person because they are different from us,
and we never realize that we just missed a golden opportunity...
to learn.

One of the most desirable qualities people seek in a leader or someone to admire is humility.
Someone who is willing to be led.
Not around by the nose by just anyone who comes along.
But by those who are wiser than they.
Someone who has an open mind that is laced with a discerning spirit...
to quickly detect deception, falsehood, and bad advice...
yet be able to identify and glean from the wisdom of those
who bring beneficial unique life experiences to the table.

When we refuse to be taught,
we cease to grow.
We stifle our own maturity.
We shut out the very things that would make us better.

I have learned life lessons from some very unlikely sources.
This has caused me to stay alert for learning opportunities.
If we don't stay teachable,
we will miss them...
overlook them....
let them pass us by.

She didn't know I was there...
in that lonely, hospital chapel.
I had found it after searching for a place to hide...
to be alone with God...
to pray.
My heart was heavy.
Dad had been in the operating room for way too long.
They said it was a simple procedure...
an angioplasty...
to clear the blockages in the arteries of his heart.
They did it every day.
No problem.
No worries.
It wouldn't take long.
So, Mom and I had stood and watched them wheel him in
to the operating room,
I told him I loved him,
and we turned to join Kevin and the others in the waiting room.
That had been hours ago.
I began to panic.
Why didn't they come out and tell us something?
What was taking so long?
I knew in my heart something wasn't right.
Dad was in trouble.
It hadn't been as simple as they said...
not this time.
My anxiety level began to rise...
until it was over the top.
I felt if I didn't get out of there, I would come unglued...
or scream.

I walked the isolated hall, until I found the stained-glass door
right next to the sign that said, "Chapel".

How thankful I am for those little sanctuaries!
I have sought them out in more hospitals than I can remember...
time after time...
during Mom and Dad's various hospital stays.

They have been a comfort to me.
They provide a quiet place,
a serene haven...
in the midst of the foreboding, unsettling hospital atmosphere.

How thoughtful of hospital planners and architects to include them!
May they always do so.

I opened the chapel door and stepped inside.
It was quiet....
and dimly lit.
I didn't see her, as I dropped to my knees in front of the back pew.
I began to cry and earnestly pray for Dad.
Isaiah 41:21 says,
"Produce your cause, saith the Lord;
bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob."

I was doing just that....
producing and bringing forth....
reminding God of all of the cause and reasons
we needed Dad....
begging Him to bring him through...
to spare his life...
to give us more time with him.

As I prayed...
in the stillness of the little chapel...
I began to hear a noise.
A soft clicking of sorts....every now and then.
What was it?
Wasn't I alone?
Quietly, I peered over the pew behind my position on my knees,
to the direction from which the sound was coming...
towards the front of the chapel.

Then, I spotted her.
She was elderly...
seated in front of the chapel.
Her face held an anguished expression,
as if she were deeply distraught...
and worried.

I watched her.
It was as if she were completely unaware of my presence.
She must not have heard me open and close the chapel door...
just moments before.
She seemed so engrossed...
so deep in thought...
so troubled.

Where was the noise coming from?
It was definitely her, but what was she doing?
Then I saw the movement of her hands.
In them, she was holding tight...
to a set of rosary beads....
to God....
from what seemed to be the depths of her soul.
Her face was upturned...
as if she were searching for Him...
with all her heart.

I had never seen anyone use rosary beads before.
I had heard of them, but didn't know their purpose.

It hit me as I sat there...
and watched her...
that we were both doing our utmost...
in the only way each of us knew how...
to communicate....
with the God of Heaven.

We were both hurting.
We shared common emotion...
of worry...
and heartache...
and grief.

And we shared faith...
in the God of impossibilities.
The God of all comfort.
The God Who had sustained both of us...
to that moment.
Who had walked with us every mile thus far,
and Whom we sought in this new uncharted territory...
on this unsteady, uncertain path...
we now walked.

I had a desire to talk to her.
To reach out to her.
To connect with her...

The opportunity never arose.
We never spoke.
There was no audible conversation.
I don't know if she ever realized anyone else was in the room.
Perhaps she was hard of hearing.
I tend to think she was so completely caught up...
that she didn't notice me.

I watched her....
just a little while longer.
I sensed the pain in her heart....
the sincerity of her worship....
the fervency of her prayer.

Such a profound teacher of wisdom...unbeknownst to her.
Such an unexpected life lesson....for me.
I'm glad I didn't reject it...
because it wasn't scheduled or planned....
or packaged the way I was used to or would expect.

I finished praying,
and softly turned to go....
careful not to interrupt her reverie.
As I stepped out into the cold, unfeeling hospital corridor,
I realized I had just experienced a life-changing epiphany.
I had just been taught a lesson.
It was one of those profound moments when you realize
God has just spoken to you...
and opened your eyes...
and your heart.

I should never judge...
or dismiss another...
just because we are different.

Who am I anyway?

I shouldn't be so quick to condemn...
other people.
I shouldn't look down on someone...
just because we don't do things the same way.

Who am I to determine God's mind?
Who am I to know what is in another's heart?

My approach and the elderly woman's approach...
to Almighty God...
may have been worlds apart.
Possibly, neither of us understood the other's method.
But, we both had the same desire...
the same intent of heart....
the same hoped-for end result.

I felt enlightened...
and lighter...
and less judgmental....
as I reached the waiting room.
The doctor soon came out and told us there had been complications.
They were serious.
While administering the angioplasty procedure,
an artery had burst,
and Dad had to be rushed into emergency quadruple bypass surgery.
They would let us know as soon as they could.

The hours dragged slowly by.
Is there anything much worse than sitting in an operating waiting room...
dreading the worst?

God answered the many prayers prayed for Dad that day.
He brought him through.
He left him with us for another eight years.

I have often wondered who the woman was concerned for that day.
I trust God sent a happy ending to her worry.
I know that whatever she faced, He was faithful to her...
to see her through.

She taught me so much,
though she never said a word.
I never expected to learn a lesson that day.
Especially, from the person who taught it.
It has been over 20 years,
and I have never forgotten her....
or the wisdom I gleaned.

She never even knew.

What lessons are you and I teaching...unawares?

Since that encounter, I hope I have been more loving,
more understanding,
more kind,
more empathetic....
to those who don't do things exactly as I do.
I hope I have been more gentle...
and less critical.

Haven't we all been looked down upon by others who were different from us?
Do we really want to inflict that kind of condemnation...
that hurt...
that burden...
 on someone else?

Are we in the place of God?

Who are we anyway????

God is love.
He will always be.
He never loses control.
He never misses a tear.
He never overlooks a hurt.
He was a Man of sorrow, acquainted with grief...
and it moves Him with compassion...
every time He sees a heart break.
He hears every prayer...
prayed to Him...
from a sincere, reverent soul.

He is not impressed by our outward exterior.
With God, it is a heart matter.

I Samuel 16:7 says,
"Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature....
for the Lord seeth not as man seeth;
for man looketh on the outward appearance,
but the Lord looketh on the heart."

Aren't you glad He does?

If only we would look beyond what our eyes can see...
and try to do the same.

We just might learn something.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Unceasing Prayer

"Pray without ceasing."
I Thessalonians 5:17

I love this advice given by A. W. Tozer.

"Retire from the world each day to some private spot.
Stay in the secret place till the surrounding noises begin to fade out of your heart
and a sense of God's presence envelops you.  
Listen for the inward Voice till you learn to recognize it.
Give yourself to God,
and then be what and who you are without regard to what others think.
Learn to pray inwardly every moment."

I used to wonder what it meant to "pray without ceasing".
Then, one day, it hit me...
it is living a life of constant communion....
with Almighty God.
None of us can stay on our knees 24/7.
Obviously, the Apostle Paul couldn't either.
But, I believe the point he was making in this passage
is that we must do as A. W. Tozer advises,
"Learn to pray inwardly every moment."

How precious are those times that we can retire from the world to a private spot!
Those are some of the most precious moments of my day.
Oh, to feel His presence completely envelop and surround!
To linger there until the surrounding noises begin to fade away,
and it is only HIM...
and me.
I usually pour out my soul to Him,
beginning with praise and gratitude and worship and thanksgiving
for all He has done for me.
Then I ask....
for so many things,
I must sound like a broken record.
He is so faithful to listen...
every time...
all the way to the end of my asking.
I never get a sense of God rolling His eyes in frustration
when He hears me ask for so much....
so often.
He never reminds me that I asked for the same, exact thing yesterday.
It is like He is hearing it all for the very first time.
I have His full, undivided attention.
He listens.
His presence is so near.
Sometimes, I feel that if I opened my eyes,
I could see at least a part of Him pass by...
as Moses did.
It is worth more than anything this world has to offer....
to experience this...
this wonder called "prayer".

Why do people neglect it?
Why does anyone find it a "chore" to pray??

After my asking is finished,
after I have poured out my soul to Him...
after it is all laid bare,
and transparent,
and vulnerable...
at His feet...
then I am the one who does the lingering.
I stay....
in the quiet and solitude and peace...
of His presence.
And I listen.
I wait.
I beg Him to speak to me.
I plead with Him to reveal to me
what is in His heart...
and on His mind.

He comes.
He speaks.
He opens His heart....

I am so reluctant to leave...
this place.
This moment.
This atmosphere.
His throne.
His feet.
His presence.

Life is going on.
My family is stirring.
There is laundry to wash...
and dry...
and fold...
and put away.
The globe, Teacher's Score Keys, and open lesson books remind me....
we need to start school....
shortly after breakfast.
I see a cobweb swishing this way and that,
as the ceiling fan above me continually swirls the air in the room.
Didn't I just clean this room not so long ago?
Where does all of the dust come from?
There are a pile of bills...
finances need to be figured out,
checks need to be written,
and mailed...
on time.
I hear a little voice,
"Mama, I'm hungry!"
Love washes over me...
how I love to cook for them....
be there for them....
do all I can...
to make their lives happy.

I linger...
just a moment longer...
so torn inside...
not wanting to leave...
His presence.

But, joy springs within me!
I don't have to!
I don't leave Him...
He doesn't leave me...
when I rise from this sanctuary of prayer!
He is with me...
all through the day....
as I clean toilets and cobwebs,
nourish my relationship with my husband,
nurture, instruct, and bond with my child,
encourage a friend,
cook meals,
wash dishes,
run errands,
buy groceries.


How many times have I heard His voice...
with me....
as I scrubbed a bathroom floor?

How many times have I called out to Him...
in tears of anguish,
while pushing a vacuum...
its noise muffling uncontrollable sobs?

I remember one time in particular.
I was going through a very hard place in my life.
It was a time of bewilderment over hurts that were inflicted
by someone I dearly loved.
It happened to be my turn to clean the church we attended,
and as I was running the vacuum,
Zach was playing nearby, as I cleaned.
I needed to cry,
but I didn't want him to see, wonder, and become upset.
The noisy motor of the vacuum cleaner was a welcome camouflage,
and he never even knew.
As I was vacuuming,
the precious Holy Spirit came to me in the most real, profound way.
He bound up my wounds,
and He inspired me simultaneously with both the words and the melody to "My Cross".
Though each song He has given me has a special place in my heart and holds unique meaning,
"My Cross" is undoubtedly the dearest and closest-to-my-heart song I have ever written.

When we keep our hearts tuned to a continual, non-ceasing state of prayer,
His voice transcends and overpowers any other noise and distraction.

He speaks to our spirit...
deep inside.

Through the years, Kevin and I have taken on cleaning jobs at different times
to supplement our income.
Though it is not only hard work,
but sometimes downright degrading,
I don't mind too much.
I've mentioned to Kevin many times that cleaning keeps us humble!
It's a little hard to feel proud while you are on your knees
cleaning around the base of a stranger's bathroom facilities!
While I'm down there,
I find it very easy to pray.
It's a great opportunity, really.  :)

Whatever my lot,
whatever is going on around me,
the conversation never really stops.
His still, small voice speaking...
my heart cries.....
at consistent intervals all throughout the day.

It is wonderful to live a life of prayer.
What glory to keep the line open,
free of obstruction,
clear of interference.

And though we can't stay on our knees every waking hour,
aren't you glad that isn't necessary?
Aren't you thankful the physical position isn't really what is important?

God doesn't look on the outward appearance,
He looks on the heart.

God hears whenever we pray,
from wherever we are.

His ears are always open,
and His heart always cares.

This is what it means to live a life of unceasing prayer.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Gentle Urges

"And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, 
This is the way, walk ye in it, 
when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left."  
Isaiah 30:21

I absolutely love this verse.
I have heard "the word behind me"...
many times throughout life...
telling me which way I should go.
How faithful His voice!
How dependent upon Him I am!

I stood at the crossroads.
A decision had to be made.  
There were two choices placed before me.
I had reached a fork in the road.
I knew that from that moment on,
life would never be the same...
no matter which way I turned. 
Change was absolutely inevitable.
As much as I resisted it,
as passionately as I loathed it,
as hard as I endeavored to ignore the facts and pretend it wasn't happening,
change had paid an unwelcome visit...
to the comfortable,
the known,
the familiar solace...
of my life.

So, what to do?

I couldn't just stand the fork in the road.
I felt anxiety...
pressure to make up my mind.
It was almost like the audible ticking of a clock...
somewhere deep inside...
compelling me...
constantly reminding me...
to decide between the two paths....
and move forward.

Sound familiar?
Ever been there?
Haven't we all?

Perhaps you are there right now.

How many times in my life thus far have I found myself standing there...
in the valley of decision...
surrounded by inevitable change?

How many times have I felt that dreaded pressure of imminent life-alteration?

How many times have you?

If we live long enough, chances are, 
we'll find ourselves back there...again...
contemplating which way to go...
what direction to take.

It's funny, but as I look back over my life, I see a consistent pattern at the point of every crossroads.
The same chain of events has happened at every, single fork in the road.

I have paused,
and I have looked as far as I could see...
down each path.
I weighed the options...
and possible repercussions,
then became frustrated,
and unsure,
as I have realized I did not have,
nor could I find within myself...
 the answers.

Fear welled within me every time.
What if I took the wrong path?
What if I made a mistake?
What if my decision caused remorse, regret, and heartache?

A wise person once gave me an invaluable piece of advice.
"Cheryl, before you make any decision in life,
always, always look down the road and ask yourself,
How will I feel about this decision five years from now?"

I always remembered and tried to heed that nugget of wisdom.

But, unfortunately, the outcome of our decisions
cannot always be predicted with 100% accuracy.

I don't like taking chances.
Life is way too short, 
and we only have a certain amount of time in which to live it.
It isn't worth the risk of plunging in with no guidance.

So, in every pivotal moment of my life,
I have followed the same, exact routine.

When I reached the point of frustration,
when I came face-to-face with the reality that I did not know what to do,
I have bowed my head and turned my heart...
to the One Who knows all things.
Who saw the end of my life the moment I was conceived.
Who has already numbered the days of my pilgrimage on earth.
Who promised to never leave me nor forsake me.
Who sent His Spirit to lead and guide me into all truth.

And each and every time,
I have found the same result to my prayers.
He has faithfully sent the same answer without fail.
I call it a gentle urge...
a tender prod....
from the guiding staff of my beloved Shepherd.

Sometimes, it has come through a change in the circumstances surrounding my life...
alterations that were beyond my control.
In those moments, 
as I watched the scenario unfold...
I have had to take a step back and come to the realization that God 
was undeniably providing me with the direction for which I had so earnestly prayed.
Through the shaking of my nest...
through the hindrance of my carefully-laid plans...
He was sending clear direction.

Other times the guidance I so desperately craved
has come by Him speaking to me through another person....
a friend,
a peer,
a relative,
the preached Word,
yes, even a stranger.

Still other times, He has spoken so plainly through 
the still, small voice of His precious Spirit...
resonating deep inside my soul... 
with the witness and confirmation I needed.
It is the same voice Elijah heard when he needed to change course.

Whatever channel God has chosen to use to convey His will to my waiting heart,
my interpretation has always been the same.
What I have experienced,
what I have heard,
what I have understood....
was a gentle urge...
in the right direction.

It was clear, unmistakable, and precise.

God is not harsh in His dealings with those who are seeking Him with their whole heart.
In the 35 years I have served Him,
I have found God to be loving,
and kind,
and gentle.

Only in the times that I have overridden His still, small voice,
have I felt the sting of remorse.

I have found that when I have heeded the gentle urges He sends,
when I have listened to the advice He gives,
I have never experienced regret.

When I follow Him,
I am never sorry....
five years later.

Have I always understood His wisdom?
Have I always been able to comprehend His logic?
Has the road ahead always looked inviting and easy to tread?
I would have to answer all three questions
with a reluctant, but sure "no".

Has He always walked it with me?
Has He always held tightly to my hand?
Has He picked me up and carried me in His arms when I couldn't take another step?
Has His sweet, reassuring voice continually encouraged me?
Has the sheer joy of His presence...of His approval....filled me with an unspeakable peace?
Without hesitation,
I happily answer with an emphatic "YES!"

Life is hard.
It is perplexing, winding, and impossible to predict.
There are landmines hidden at random by the enemy of our souls.
God saw him conceal them.
Our loving Heavenly Father positively knows what path is best for us...every time.

It is safe to put your trust in Him, my friend.
When you can't understand His logic,
trust His wisdom.
Heed the gentle urges He so faithfully sends.
You've felt them, haven't you?
Look back over your life and trace the pattern.
What happened when you took heed?
What happened when you didn't?

We can't change the past.
What's done is done.
Thank God, in many ways,
we can change the future...
at least the future direction of our lives.

When you reach a fork in the road,
when you are confused,
when you have no idea what to do,
when both paths look the same...
don't take another step until you seek Him with all your heart.
"Then shall ye call upon Me,
and ye shall go and pray unto Me,
and I will hearken unto you.
And ye shall seek Me, and find Me,
when ye shall search for Me with all your heart.
And I will be found of you, saith the Lord..."
Jeremiah 29:12-14

He will show you the way.
More than likely, you won't hear a thunderous voice from the Heavens.
Chances are, you won't see a hand writing on the wall.
Most probably,
you will feel a gentle urge...
tenderly pointing...
in the right direction.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Big, Old-Fashioned Country Pile-Up

"Bless the Lord, O my soul:  and all that is within me, bless His holy name....
Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things..."
Psalm 103:1, 5

When I was a teenager, I remember carpooling 
with a few other families to the Christian school I attended.
The lady who usually drove us home was Mrs. Cromwell, 
the mother of a boy named Bob, who was in my class.
She would drop me off in our driveway,
and wait to see that I made it safely up the walk and inside the house
before she would leave.
On my way to our front door, 
I always knew right off when Mom was cooking 
my favorite meal....
pinto beans, 
fried potatoes,
and cornbread...
because the kitchen window would be fogged up,

from the inside kitchen heat hitting the cold, afternoon Ohio outside air.

I would see that steamed-up window, 
and it would warm my heart.
The first thing I would think of,
is "Mom is in there to welcome me home from school,
and she is cooking beans."

I guess I didn't realize it then, 
but probably the main reason we had 
beans, fried potatoes, and cornbread so often,
was that it didn't cost much at all to make.
You could probably make the whole meal for under $5.00,
and there would be plenty of leftovers.
I can't think of too many creative ways to
make $5.00 stretch more than that!

I wasn't thinking of any of that then.
I just knew we had it often, and 
it had become my childhood comfort food,
I loved it more than any other meal I could think of.

We didn't eat rice where I grew up.
It was potatoes...
all the way.
It was only after I left Ohio that I realized anyone ate rice
like we ate potatoes.

This morning, I took a pound bag of pinto beans out of our kitchen cupboard,
and I cooked them....
just the way Mom used to.
She had a special way of getting the soup to just the right thickness.
Sometimes, I've made them, and they didn't resemble Mom's beans at all.
They were either too watery
or not watery enough.

Today, thankfully, they turned out just right.
Through much experimenting,
I've found that one of the secrets is to add some ketchup 
to the beans towards the end of cooking them.
It thickens the soup quite nicely,
and it adds a special dimension of flavor.

As I started cooking them this morning, I added some "Orrington Farms"
ham flavoring and later threw in some leftover bacon slices from breakfast.
The combination of it all was just mouth-watering.

Zach came in to the kitchen, as he often does,
to see what I am into in there.

His face lit up with excitement,
"Beans, Mama?"

"Yes, Zach."

He waited.

"Well, are we gonna have anything else with 'em?"

I knew where he was heading with this.
I had thought maybe I would forgo the fattening fried potatoes
and cornbread this time...
they don't exactly fit into my weight loss aspirations.
I thought maybe we could just eat a bowl of beans for supper...
what with all the fiber they provide,
it could actually be quite healthy
(if you ignore the fat from the bacon!)...
without all of the added calories.

That just wouldn't do...
not for Zach.
His logic is....
 what are beans without fried potatoes and cornbread???
He loves my favorite childhood meal 
almost as much as I do.
Now that I'm older and realize how Mom must have had to pinch pennies,
I am thrilled Zach is content with such meager fare!

"Okay, Zach, do you really want fried potatoes and cornbread, too?"
I knew what his answer would be before he opened his mouth.

"Welllll, Mama....if it's not too much trouble."

Who could resist his melted-chocolate brown eyes??

Not me, obviously.

"Okay, Zach."

I cast a furtive, wistful glance towards my sewing machine
sitting quietly in the room next door.
I really wanted to get back to the quilt I am almost finished with.
But, then there he was....
looking so hopeful.

It was not a hard decision.

Without a drop of hesitation, I turned away from the quilt that was beckoning,
and I went to work.
I made the cornbread muffins, stuck the pan in the oven, started peeling potatoes,
and I thought of Mom.

How many times did she do that for me?
When her back was aching?
Her feet were tired?
When she felt like doing something else?

I guess you never realize the sacrifices someone else is making on your behalf,
until you are making those same sacrifices for someone else.

Then you realize that they really aren't sacrifices at all....
when you perform each task with love.
The element of love removes the hard part.
I feel sure that is how she looked at it, too.

His eager appetite made me glad I neglected the quilt project.
We sat down at the table when everything was done,
and we filled our plates with what Zach refers to as
"A Big, Old-Fashioned Country Pile-Up".

Allow me to explain.
It is important that you get this just right.
First you put a pile of brown, crusty fried potatoes in the middle of your dinner-size plate.
Next, you crumble a hot, steaming cornbread muffin that just came out of the oven, 
on top of the fried potatoes.
(You can split it in two first and put butter on it, if you wish.)
Next, you take what Dad referred to as "big ol' slab of onion" and plop it on top of the potatoes.
Then, you squirt ketchup over the entire concoction.
Last of all, you take a big dipper-full of pinto beans, 
soup and all, and you pour it over everything on your plate.

You mix it all together, just right, until all of the flavors are well-blended,
and here's the best part....
you dive in.
Table manners aren't really top priority, at this point, 
if you know what I mean.

I sat there tonight, 
at our kitchen table, 
and I watched Zach eat.
He relished every, single bite
of his Big, Old-Fashioned Country Pile-Up...
right up until the last morsel was scraped up with the spoon....
and his tummy almost hurt from being so full.

As I watched him,
I realized it is sheer joy to see someone enjoy their food that much...
especially when you have put that much love into it.
Seeing him relish every bite,
then hearing him say, 
"Thank you, Mama!"
made it all worthwhile.

It made me think of how God is so faithful to provide good things for us.
He puts a lot of love into every gift He bestows.

Psalm 23:5 says,
"Thou preparest a table before me..."

It takes effort to prepare a table before someone.
To carefully include all of the things they love and enjoy 
takes work and time and effort.
Each morning, God gently wakes us to see a new day.
He sends us reminders of His love all day long.
He blesses us with what we need and many times what we want.

How it must fill God's great heart with joy to see us enjoy what He gives!
Seeing that...
knowing that....
must make Him glad He blessed us.

How many times do we turn and thank Him?
Do we lap up the blessings, only to take them for granted,
never considering Who sent them?
Never giving thought to the sacrifice that was made on our behalf?

Or do we faithfully acknowledge that it is He Who sends it all?
It is He Who distributes the right combination of rain and sunshine in needful amounts...
just enough to make the crops grow.
It is He Who blesses the farmer with strength to plow 
and sow and harvest the ripened grain.
It is He Who bestows health and aptitude and ample work 
to provide funds to purchase the finished product.
And it is He Who lands it on our table for us to enjoy.

I think God likes to see us happy.
I believe it fills His great heart with a sense of fulfillment and joy
to see us utilizing and enjoying His gifts.
He is a gracious Heavenly Father Who cares about us 
in a very real way.
I find it hard to comprehend, but God loves us
with an even deeper love than the love we feel for our children.

He satisfies our mouth....
and life....
with good things...
on the table He has gone to great effort and lengths to prepare...
just for us.

It does His heart good to hear grateful words coming from our lips.

Why not stop what you are doing right now....
turn your face upward...
and tell Him "thanks"?

I just did.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Reasons To Rejoice!

"Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, rejoice."
Philippians 4:4

God is faithful.

One of His most prominent attributes is that He is absolute.
He never fails.
He always keeps His promises....
no matter what.

He consistently deals with the hearts of those who long to please Him.
When we wander...
when we get off-track...
when we veer off-course...
He is quick to notice...
and His faithfulness compels Him to correct our missteps.

Lately, He has been gently and tenderly teaching me
to purposely search for reasons to rejoice.
To find the good.
Sometimes, it is hidden deep.
Other times, it is right there....
directly beneath the surface.
Still other times, it is completely obvious....
out in the open....
without cover.

The other day, I found myself surrounded by the things and ones I love the most.
Geographically speaking, I was at one of my favorite locations on earth,
and I couldn't have been any happier.
I felt safe, content, at peace.
Right there, in the midst, I turned my face towards the sky,
and I praised Him...
with all my heart.

I rejoiced, with exceeding great joy!
Who wouldn't have?
It was easy.
It required no effort...
except to lift my head...
and my heart...
and give thanks to Him from Whom all blessings flow.

I just did what came naturally.

It isn't hard to rejoice and praise our Maker....
in the good times.
But, what about the bad?
What about the moments we are overwhelmed with grief,
doing things that are difficult,
or surrounded by those who do not understand?
What then?

A few days later, I found myself surrounded by entirely different circumstances.

Lately, I have been mustering courage and strength to brave the task
 of going through some of Mom's things....little by little.

It isn't easy....
to open those boxes, drawers, and crates.
Sometimes, I open one, the memories completely overwhelm me, and I close it back...
and tightly....
as I am hit with the cold, hard realization...
that we will make no more memories with Mom.

Other times, I feel stronger.
I actually make it through an entire crate or drawer without falling apart.

The other day, as I stood there going through a box,
I found Mom's scarves.
I picked one up and held it close to me,
breathing in the scent....
hoping for something to make me feel close to her.
As I did,
I could smell her familiar perfume.
It felt like a thousand memories rushed to the surface,
until the tears broke through and began to flow.
I missed her so much in that moment,
I felt I couldn't bear the pain.
It hurts to miss someone this much.

I was finally able to resume unpacking.
Seeing all of her what-nots and knick-knacks
took me back to the spot she had each of them placed in her apartment.
Each piece holds a memory.
There is something special attached to every thing that was hers.

I thought of how God has dealt with me about
in all situations and circumstances.

The reason to rejoice was buried deep....
but it was there.
I knew it had to be there.
After a few moments,
I regained my composure...
and I found it.

I started thinking how very blessed I was...
to have had Mom in my life all of those years.
To know that I was loved.
To have been raised in a Christian home...
where I was taught the Bible from my earliest childhood recollection.
To have had parents who stuck it out to raise me together.
Who cared enough to make great sacrifices so I could go to Christian schools
as much as possible.
Who took me to church in all kinds of weather,
through all manners of church-splits and problems,
and who taught me that it wasn't the church building at all....
but a personal, one-on-one relationship between Almighty God and me
that really mattered.

How thankful I am to have learned that at a young age!
My parents instilled invaluable wisdom in my heart...
worth more to me than nuggets of gold.
Their training and life-lessons have
enabled me to face some stormy times...
and not turn loose...
of my hold on God.

As I stood there,
tenderly picking up the pieces...
of what is left of Mom's life on earth...
I began to truly rejoice....
even in this deepest loss.
Thanksgiving and gratitude welled from deep within,
and I rejoiced and praised Him with sincerity....
right there in the midst of my pain and hurt.

For my birthday, a dear, cherished friend
sent me the neatest salt and pepper shakers
with a cutting board to match.
They are brightly colored, and all over them,
are printed these wonderful words of life found in God's Word:
"Rejoice and be glad."  Psalm 118:24
"I will be joyful in God my Savior."  Habakkuk 3:18
"Be joyful always.  Pray continually."  1 Thessalonians 5:16

She had no idea how God has been instructing me.
The little "Rejoice" plaque I found and placed over our kitchen sink,
the salt and pepper shakers and cutting board....
is it just happenstance that God sent them all to me around the same time?
I think not.
They are little segments of His big plan....
little tokens of His faithfulness...
to remind me what to do...
in all circumstances.

Nothing is coincidence with God.

He didn't say it would always be easy to rejoice.

Emotions are unstable.
Sometimes we are up...
sometimes down.
My emotional state can run the full gamut...
in a matter of minutes, it seems.
I can go from laughing hysterically,
to sobbing uncontrollably...
in record time.

Laughter through tears is not an unusual emotion for me.

Situations are unpredictable.
Sometimes they are in our favor,
sometimes they work against us.
There isn't much we can control.

The continual ebb and flow of my inconsistent emotions
and my outward, external circumstances
absolutely cannot be the determining factors
as to whether or not I rejoice.
They are not trusty indicators.
If I base my decision to rejoice on them,
I will not rejoice always....
just sometimes.

God knew all of this when He inspired the Apostle Paul to say
what he did in today's verse.

He instructed us to "rejoice!"
Not once did he say it,
but twice.
And he inserted the little word "alway" in there,
to let us know that our rejoicing must be unconditional.
non-dependent upon our circumstances,
situations, or predicaments.

Because there is always something to rejoice about.
Even in the dark.
We can always find the reason.
Sometimes it just takes a little longer.
Sometimes we just need to dig a little deeper...
try a little harder....
to find it.

I love to read Isaiah 61:1-3.
It gives a vivid depiction of some of the reasons
the Messiah would leave Heaven and come to earth
and what His mission would be.
Some of my favorite parts are found in verse 3,
"To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion,
to give unto them beauty for ashes,
the oil of joy for mourning,
the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness..."

God knew all about our emotional makeup.
He created us, remember?
He knew there would be times that we would mourn.
He was completely aware that we would sometimes come to Him
with nothing in our hands but ashes.....
from the leftover fire that once burned within.
He understood that we would face situations in life
that would leave us laden and bowed down by the spirit of heaviness.

Have you ever found yourself in any of these states of mind?
Conditions of heart?

How wonderful to know that our Messiah has come!
He came to make a difference....
in every, single circumstance of our lives.
He enters the arena of our darkness...
He walks onto the stage of our gloom...
and He makes an unbelievable offer.

"Here, child, hand over your ashes.
I won't ask you how it happened.
I already know.
I'll make you beautiful.
Let Me have your grief.
In its place, I'll fill you with unspeakable joy!
You will rejoice...always....
for the continual flowing of deep life will never cease springing up within you.
And that spirit of heaviness...
that depression...
the darkness, the gloom...
I can see it, child.
You're deep in its clutches....
it has enslaved you for so long....
after today, it will haunt you no more!
Come closer, child.
Here, let me lift that.
I can see how heavy it is.
It isn't too heavy for Me.
There, now, its gone!
I took it away.
And now, I will wrap the garment of praise about you.
Walk away, free, child!
This is why I came."

What wonderful exchanges!

We give Him our ashes...
the shattered pieces of our lives,
our mess...
and He gives us a beautiful life in exchange.

We bring to Him the depths of our grief,
our loss,
the hurt, pain, and devastation,
our brokenness....
and He gives us what?
The oil of joy!
A rejoicing heart.
A thankful state of mind.
A grateful spirit.

We come to Him in the depths of depression,
oppressed, sad, heavy-laden, weary from the weight of our sorrow,
and He hands us the garment of praise!

I have experienced this transaction of exchange.
I have felt Him lift the spirit of heaviness...
the overwhelming grief...
the smothering gloom....
and in its place,
I felt Him tenderly wrap me...
surround my soul....
envelop my inmost spirit...
 in the garment of praise.

It was the sweetest, most comforting exchange.

Rejoicing dispels gloom.
Sadness and praise will not linger in the same place simultaneously.
It absolutely cannot happen.
Thanksgiving to God dismisses an aura of melancholy.

There are reasons to rejoice all around us, my friend.
Some of them are no-brainers.
Others have to be sought out....
but they are there.

Won't you join me in my quest to find them?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Detours & Slow-Moving Carriages

"As for God, His way is perfect..."
Psalm 18:30

Over the years,
I have accumulated several decorative items that have the word
on them.
When I look at them,
they constantly remind me to slow down.
To take a deep breath.
To make things as simple as possible.
To condense things....
into smaller bites....
and easier-to-manage blocks.
To get rid of the excess.
To focus on what is most important.
To search for and discover the most simple and peace-filled route....
to wherever I am going.

 The other day, when we had to take a detour
due to the 18-wheeler collision,
I didn't complain.
I thanked God over and over
for not allowing us to be involved in what looked like a very serious accident.

I decided God wanted us on that alternate road.
He obviously had something to show us...
something He wanted us to see.
Something we would have missed...
had we stayed on our original route.

So, I began to search for it.

I opened my mind to His will.

We found the detour to be a very pleasant, scenic route.
It was winding and way off the main road,
and it gave us a closer view of the Tennessee mountains I love so much.
Their beauty fills my senses with a great sense of peace.

To me, the detour was a great reason to rejoice....
to thank God for sparing our lives...
to praise Him for His protection and His ever-faithful providential care.
And to give Him honor for allowing us to see the beauty that was all around us.
There were parts of it that we would have missed on the other route.

On the detour, we found ourselves following behind several other vehicles
who had the same idea and had taken the same route.
Soon, it became evident that the cars in front of us were
slowing down to a crawl.

Now what??
Another delay?

We followed on at a snail's pace for what seemed like a long time.
Then, we noticed some of the vehicles were beginning to pass other cars in front of us.
They were in such a hurry.

After several of them did this, we crept closer to the culprit,
and we could see the cause of the slow-moving traffic.
It was none other than three horse-drawn carriages,
definitely not in a hurry,
enjoying a leisurely afternoon ride.

They seemed so calm and didn't seem in the least bothered that they
had been the cause of backed-up traffic.
They were living life simply...
in the slow lane....
taking their time...
and bothered by nothing.

After a little while, they turned off the road,
and we saw them no more.
I wasn't disturbed by the fact they had slowed us down.
I was thankful they caused a delay....
so I could look at everything closer...
take it all in....
and let the serenity of the mountains soothe my soul.

There are two ways to look at a detour and a slow-moving carriage.
They can either be viewed as an aggravation and cause for frustration,
or we can search for and find the solace they provide.
They allow us to take a moment to pause...
catch our breath....
and slow down.
To live life simply...
at least for the moment.

What would we have missed seeing had we stayed on the first road?
What beauty would have passed us by had we traveled at normal speed on the second road?

I decided it was well worth it all to see what we saw.
To experience what we were privileged to enjoy.

I wonder how many people who live on that second road
pause and stop to really look at those mountains every day?
How many times do they turn their faces Heavenward to thank God for allowing them to
be so near His presence...
His majesty....
manifested in such a real, profound way...
in those mountains.

Life is a lot like our experience with the detour.
We feel empowered and in control, and we put in place such carefully-laid plans.
We print out our life's map the way we deem best and most appropriate.
Then God allows a curve ball to come our way.
An unexpected event that forces us to change course.
He leads us down a completely unfamiliar path...
that is untested...
and untried...
by us

As we walk the path, we are continually reminded
that the path is not unfamiliar to Him...
that Jesus is the One Who blazed the trail...
and He is walking with us each step of the way.

Along the way,
there are beauties rare...
quiet, peaceful moments...
alone with Him.
He sets the pace...
as He sees best.
The things we see as unnecessary delays,
are chock full of hidden joys,
golden spiritual nuggets,
and a closer look....
at Him...
and the things we love most.

I'm really thankful for the detour we followed the other day.
I wouldn't trade those memories.
I didn't mind going slow...
or arriving later than we planned.
I was so grateful to have arrived at all.

God knows best.
In every detail of our lives.
He absolutely has the best plan for each of us.

Sometimes detours are the best routes of all.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Distraction...or Divine Providence??

"O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps."
Jeremiah 10:23

Do you ever think about the little decisions you make every day?
Those little choices that seem like they don't really matter...
that they are pretty much inconsequential and unimportant?
Did you ever stop to consider that maybe God is directing your path
through the desires He places within you?

Let me explain.
We were traveling on vacation the other day,
just taking our time...
when we found ourselves driving on a country road.

We find it hard to pass Thrift Stores,
Goodwill Stores,
yard sales,
and antique stores.
There just seems to be an invisible force...
pulling us in their direction!

So, when we passed a neat-looking old general store
with old signs, antiques, and old, well-worn, weathered looking items scattered out front,
we felt that compelling pull tempting us to turn around.
We were hungry, and it was nearing lunch-time.

So, we were faced with one of those minor, seemingly unimportant choices.

Should we, or should we not?

We really wanted to get to our destination,
and it would probably be time-consuming to go back.
But, soon the pull become stronger
than the gnawing, ever-increasing hunger in our stomachs
and our desire to get settled in our motel.
So, the desire to go back eventually won out.

Kevin found a place to turn around,
and we went back to look at all of the goodies.
It turned out, they were having a large
flea-market, swap-type sale,
with venders from different areas
selling their wares set up on make-shift tables.

The sale covered a large area of ground,
and it took us a while to cover it all.
We enjoyed every minute,
made a couple of small purchases,
and walked back to our car...
happy with our decision to turn around...
and getting hungrier by the minute.

We got back on the two-lane beaten path
and were making good time, when all of a sudden,
we noticed traffic was beginning to back up ahead of us.
Kevin slowed down,
and we tried to figure out what was causing the delay.

After a period of time,
he was able to spot an 18-wheeler leaning towards the side of the road,
he could see that there were police lights flashing,
and that an ambulance had arrived on the scene.
We waited for a while, hoping the delay wouldn't last long.
We saw that the cars in front of us were beginning to turn around,
and it appeared they were looking for an alternate route.

It didn't look like the situation would be resolved anytime soon,
so Kevin pulled into the parking lot of a nearby store.
We asked a kind man standing outside if there was another way to
get to our destination.
He answered that there was and took the time to draw us a map.

"What happened?" I asked.

"An 18-wheeler collided with a car", he replied.

So, that was the reason for the delay.

It hit me with full force...
that could have been us.

It very easily could have been.

Seeing that the ambulance and police had sufficient time to arrive on the scene,
the wreck could very well have happened right around the time
we would have been passing through...
had we not stopped at the sale.

What if we had decided to pass?
What if we hadn't felt that pull to turn around?
Would it have been our car that collided with the semi?

I began to think about the consequences to our actions.

Everything we do has a consequence.

Every day and sometimes many times throughout the day,
I find myself fervently praying what must seem like very repetitive prayers to God.
"Lord, please don't let me get out of your will."
"Father, please keep us on the right path."
"Please guide and direct and protect us in every single thing we do today."

I do not know what is best.
I cannot see the future.
I am unaware of dangers ahead of me.
I am unable to spot the hidden land mines.
I do not see the accident that is about to happen.

Jeremiah acknowledged his dependence on God's direction in today's passage of Scripture.

I recite his words often in my prayers,
and I remind God how dependent I truly am upon Him and His continual direction

I feel a desperate need for His counsel....
even in the smallest, most simple matters of my life.

We thanked the man who drew the map for us,
and we drove away feeling the weight of what might have been.

At the very least,
our plans for a relaxing vacation could have been horribly altered....
completely ruined.
At the worst,
we could have lost our lives.

I did not hear any other details about the accident.
I don't know how many cars were involved,
or how many people were in each vehicle.
I may never know.

What I do know is that God answered prayer.
He orchestrated the details of our lives...
to steer us away from danger....
to remove us from peril....
to show His love to us....
one more time.

How many times has He done that?

Mom used to thank God in her prayers for sparing her from dangers seen and unseen.
Sometimes, we see the danger from which we have been spared.
We are brought face to face with the indisputable evidence of God's providential care.
What about all of the times of which we are not made aware?

Accidents that didn't happen because we were prompted to stop at the store on the way home.
Collisions we avoided because that last-minute customer ended up at our desk.
The robbery that was thwarted because the phone rang on our way out the door.


I think not.
I suppose we will never fully know or realize all of the pain,
and peril...
from which each of us have been and are regularly spared.
All because of a loving God...
Who cares about the smallest, most seemingly insignificant details of our lives...
of our day.
Who sometimes sends interruptions...
to detain us,
to detour us,
to distract us...
from certain danger.

Sometimes He places something we like to do in our path...
to pull us out of harm's way.

I am glad He sees the whole picture.
I am thankful He loves us, aren't you?

After we stopped at the swap meet,
we found out it is a once-a-year event.

We knew nothing of it.

God did.
That was all that mattered.

His all-seeing eye is upon each and every one of us,
and He knows what to do to get our attention.
He is a faithful, loving Heavenly Father,
Who is ever attentive to our needs and constantly aware of the dangers lurking about us.

Sometimes life's distractions turn out to be Divine interruptions.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


"Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, 
and called the name of it Ebenezer saying, 
Hitherto hath the Lord helped us."
I Samuel 7:12

Warner Press bought a birthday greeting card verse from me,
that read something like this, 
"Don't look at your birthday as just a milestone,
think of it as a smilestone...
one more reason to give thanks to Him!"

Some people dread their birthdays.
I look forward to mine.
If I made it another year,
to me, that is a great reason to rejoice...
and smile.
Mom used to say that there are two things you do not ask a woman....ever.
Her weight....
and her age.
I guess I see that a bit differently than most.
The way I view it is that you can't very well hide your weight.
Unfortunately, that is a part of us that is pretty obvious,
and it doesn't take rocket science to come pretty close to estimating what it is!

And, I don't mind getting older.
It doesn't bother me to tell my all.
I constanty realize that I am very blessed to have lived, 
loved, laughed, and experienced all of the facets of life on earth...
for 46 years.

As I blew out my candles this year,
I thanked God for the family and friends who were around me.
Each one means SO much to me.
I thanked God for allowing me to see another day that brought so many reasons to smile.
My sister, Debbie, told me to make a wish...
before I blew them out.

I could think of nothing to wish for.
I wish for nothing more than what I have.

I am at peace...
and so very, very blessed.
And though there was a dearly loved presence missing this year...
that was very blatant and painful for us all...
I thank God for all of the past birthdays Mom sat beside me...
at the table....
and we were able to enjoy the moments.

As I stood there, holding my cake...
the candles softly burning....
the ones I love singing "Happy Birthday"...
it was painfully obvious that there was a voice missing.
The absence of her familiar soprano hurt...deep inside.

When they were finished singing, 
I turned to hug Debbie, and we both cried...
on each other's shoulders....
but not for long.

Because there is so much to smile about.
I thanked God for the ones who were there...
who love me enough to buy food and prepare it...
who went out of their way to make it a special day....
who put themselves out to try to make up for the loss....
who care so much and had driven a distance...
to be there...
to celebrate...
the gift of another year of life.

Smilestones aren't just birthdays.
There are reasons to rejoice all around us.
Overlooked blessings that we take for granted...or don't even notice.
Unappreciated joys that we walk upon, 
and never turn our faces upward to thank Him for.

I love thrift stores.
Recently, while out of town, we got to visit some brand new shops we had never 
been to before.
All three of us had a ball.
I found a primitive wooden plaque that is painted a burgundy color.
It says, "REJOICE"...
and has a red and white gingham ribbon attached to the top.
I hung it directly over the kitchen sink...
right under the window so I can look at it several times a day while doing dishes.

Each time I look at it, I have made it a habit to stop and smile.
To rejoice...from the depths of my heart.
To praise Him for all of my many blessings.
To give thanks for the dishes...and the food that soiled them.
To offer my gratitude for eyes that can see well enough to wash them clean...
that can look beyond the sink to the green trees and grass in our back yard.
To glorify His name for the precious little boy I have ears to hear splashing in his swimming pool....
just beyond the back wall.
Every now and then, I stand on tip-toe to look out at him...
and praise wells from deep inside my inmost soul.
We waited for him for so long!
I pause to thank Him for the comfortable, soothing mat under my tired feet....
and the dear, thoughtful, caring, precious husband who insisted on buying it for me...
even though I contested profusely that it wasn't necessary.
It makes such a difference!

In today's passage of Scripture, 
the Old Testament prophet, Samuel
had great reason to rejoice...
and smile.
God had performed an amazing miracle for the Israelites, His chosen ones.
The armies of the Philistines came near to fight them, 
and God sent loud thunder that confused them and caused them to become disoriented.
So much so, that Israel won the battle.

When the battle was all over and Samuel realized the magnitude of the miracle,
he chose to remember it by taking a stone and erecting it at the battle site.
He named it Ebenezer and said, 
"Hitherto hath the Lord helped us."
The word Ebenezer means,
"The stone of help".

I can just imagine the many who passed by that stone after that day
and how they were reminded of the great victory and blessing
God had bestowed.
Had Samuel not placed the stone there,
quite possibly, the miracle could have been forgotten.
But, because of his faithfulness, the site was long remembered,
along with the great miracle God had performed.
I hope each passerby paused when they saw the stone...
long enough to lift their praise and worship to the God of their fathers.
It was a reason to rejoice...
to pause and reflect and remember....
and praise God...
and smile.

We all have Ebenezer stones in our lives, do we not?
Moments of miracles...
impossibilities that God came through and made possible.....
reasons to rejoice...
and give Him our heartfelt, sincere praise.

I call them "smilestones".

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Butterfly....Some Flowers....and Brotherly Love

"A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity."
Proverbs 17:17

A friend in need, is a friend indeed.

I was approaching one of the most dreaded "firsts" since losing Mom.
My 46th birthday...
and the first one without her.
It had hit me hard all week.
I kept remembering things she and I would be doing....
during those days...
leading up to my birthday.

It is the little things I miss the most.

Just being with her was what mattered.
Knowing she was there.
Knowing she cared.
Knowing I had that security...
of a mother's love.
How blessed I was to have that enveloping blanket...
that dependable, secure force....
for so many years.

Zachary and I were rushing around...
trying to get out the door...
to meet my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew.
We had been planning a day out together...
to celebrate my birthday...
for quite a while.
Their continual love, support, kindness, and sharing of sorrow
is a precious gift I treasure more than words.
They all know this isn't the easiest time in my life....
it isn't the easiest in theirs either.

We were running late, and I was trying to do some last-minute things
before we left, when I heard Zachary open the front door.

All of a sudden, he cried out,
"Oh, Mama!"
It was one of those tones of voice where you could tell he was on the verge of tears,
and I could just sense an impending meltdown.

I hurried over to the front door,
not knowing what I would find when I peered through the glass. 

What I found was a tall box that said "Flowers" on the side...
placed on the front porch.
Perched on top of the box,
gracefully resting.....
was a beautiful butterfly.

It was as if I could sense Mom's presence....
in the most real way....
as the butterfly stayed there....
for the longest time.
It would open and close its wings...
turn towards us, then turn back around.

"Zach, hurry and go get Daddy!", I urged.

I didn't want Kevin to miss this moment.
We took some pictures
(I tried unsuccessfully to insert them here...I will keep trying!)
and watched the butterfly for a few moments....
not wanting to disturb it or cause it to fly away.

It seemed it did not want to leave its perch on top of the box.
I guess the logical explanation was that it smelled or sensed the flowers inside,
but I like to think God placed it there as a source of comfort.
For that is certainly what it brought to all of our hearts.

We finally walked outside towards the box.
The butterfly fluttered around our porch,
flying this way and that....
landing here and there....
it seemed as hesitant to fly away
as we were in wanting it to leave.

Kevin brought scissors and opened the box.
Inside we found the most beautiful bouquet of lilies....
in three different colors...
orange, pink/purple, and white.

Below the flowers was a beautiful, heavy glass vase.

My heart was deeply touched.
Who were they from?

I picked up the card at the bottom.
It was tucked inside an enveloped that said,
"Someone is thinking of you."

Who could it be?

I half-expected to see Mom's name on the card...
so real was her presence....
on the porch.

Could she have ordered them before she died?
Could she have planned this, sensing she would not be here for my next birthday?

My hands trembled as I removed the card from its envelope.

Tears spilled from my eyes and flowed down my cheeks,
as I read sweet, thoughtful words....
written from the kind and caring hearts...
of a dear minister friend and his wife.
The card was signed,
"Carl and Becky Shaffer."

How could they have known....
the depths of what this would mean to me??

It was as if they sensed my need....
from hundreds of miles away....
and they knew this would be a hard birthday...
the hardest I've ever known.

I stood there and literally sobbed....
on the front porch.

"Don't cry", Kevin said softly,
as he stood close to me.

"I can't help it", I shakily replied.
"I just can't believe they would do this....for me."

The love and concern behind their sacrifice and act of kindness meant the world to me.
I could not stop the continual flow of tears.

Bro. Carl used to come to Ohio and hold revival meetings when I was a young girl.
He preached Dad's funeral several years ago.
He and his family left a campmeeting that was being held in the church he pastored,
to drive a few hundred miles....
to be there for Mom, my family, and me...
during that difficult time.
He had been a blessing to Dad in his walk with the Lord,
so it meant even more to have him there.

A few days after the flowers arrived, I received a beautiful birthday card from them....
another token of Jesus' love....
flowing from their hearts.

"...a brother is born for adversity..."

I am so thankful to have brothers and sisters in the body of Christ....
like the Shaffers...
who don't forsake you when you are down...
or when adversity strikes.
Who are obedient to the voice of the Holy Spirit...
when it prompts an act of kindness.

It occurred to me that they will probably never know or realize the weight or the depths of
the comfort I received from those flowers.
I believe God put it on their hearts to send them.
And I believe with all my heart that He sent the butterfly....
to rest so gently on top of the box....
to let me know that Mom would have been touched by them, too.

The beautiful butterfly lingered....
long after we had opened the box and taken the flowers inside.

It landed on the railing of our porch...
on the side Mom used to hold as she walked down the stairs.

It flew to the purple crepe myrtle beside our porch,
and lit on a leaf on the cherry tree past the crepe myrtle.

I hated to leave home that day.
I wanted to stay near the butterfly....
and flowers.

As I walked towards the car to leave,
the butterfly landed on the driveway in front of the car and stayed still for a few moments.
It seemed to sense that I had to go.
Then it looked as if it were dancing in midair as it fluttered around the side of the house
off towards the sky.
As I watched it fly away,
it seemed to say,
"I'm happy....
  I'm free.
I want you to be happy, too!"

In that moment,
I felt loved.
I felt as light...
and free...
and happy....
as that butterfly.

The lilies have opened up so beautifully.
They grace our kitchen table,
and each time I pass by them,
I am filled with a sense of peace.
I am blessed to know the ones who sacrificed to send them to me.

Hebrews 13:1 whispers a gentle admonition to us all,
"Let brotherly love continue."

Not just when it is easy.
Not just when it requires no sacrifice.
Not just in the good times.
Not just when we understand our brother.

Brotherly love flows out of hearts yielded to God's will.
Brotherly love is a force that continues...always.
It transcends time...
and distance...
and all barriers.

Because it is a component of God's love.
It is generated from God's heart...
and it flows from one member of the body of Christ...
to another...
without restraint...
without regard to obstacles.
It is automatic.
And it never gives up.

Jesus said, "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another."
John 13:35

I think a bouquet of lilies...
is pretty good proof.