God’s Protection-Building Faith

My husband and I took daily one-hour walks during the months of the COVID 19 lockdown. These walks helped us not go stir crazy, allowed us to wave and smile at real people in our neighborhood who were also needing some fresh air to deal with the agony of being stuck indoors. It gave us a sense of being able to do something normal.

There were times we took our walks solo. It was on those walks that I began noticing some things I’d not seen before. One being a large prickly pear cactus growing in a neighbor’s yard. I was stunned at this sighting! I am a native Texan who spent a lot of time in New Mexico where it’s common to see prickly pear cacti growing wildly in open spaces and in yards. I discovered there’s only one variety of traditional looking cacti that grows in Tennessee. It’s the Texas Prickly Pear. It makes me proud seeing Texas as the adjective describing this type of cacti! Since then I discovered another Texas Prickly Pear growing by a mailbox on a road I take weekly on my way to church. Both these are now in bloom: one with yellow flowers and the other with red. They are stunning!

Every time I eye the one of these unique beauties, I remember a run-in I had with cacti. It was when I was 10 years old and attended a week of camp at Plains Caprock Camp with a group of girls from my grandmother and granddaddy’s church in Floydada, Texas. This camp is located in the Blanco Canyon and was my first adventure of being away from home for a camp experience.  I wasn’t too fearful since I already knew some of the girls and leaders I’d be spending the week with and I knew my grandmother wasn’t too far away if I needed her. Since the camp was located in a canyon I’d been warned to look out for rattlesnakes. Fortunately, I didn’t find one nor did one find me. However, Prickly Pear cacti were everywhere. It’s part of the beauty. And, they’re big enough that you’re not going to run into one or at least you’re not supposed to.

On the first day during free time, we did some hiking. We hiked up a small hill that took little exertion for a 10 year old.  Coming back down should have been easy but it was steep enough that it put me in a too-fast stride so I fell and started rolling. When the downhill roll came to a halt, I was left with only some ugly scrapes and scratches on my arms and legs, but nothing else! I’ll never forget looking back up at the path I’d just rolled down and seeing all the cacti with barbed needle like bristles that had not touched me. I’d just experienced my first miracle. God was watching out for and protecting this little girl at her first camp. The nurse cleaned and bandaged up the bloody scratches. I had the option of calling my grandmother to come and get me. I mean this was a rather traumatic experience! But, I chose not to.

This encounter with the wildness of nature taught me some things about the intrinsic nature of God and my own nature.

  • God has a “will” and his “will” will be done. His desire was to protect this little girl from being assaulted by cacti needles. He wanted me to stay at camp. He wanted me to hear the Jesus stories and the missionary stories. He wanted me to play and have fun with my friends.
  • I learned some things about myself. I found an adventuresome spirit inside of me that is full of courage and strength. I could overcome fear. Why? Jesus was with me.

I am no longer a young girl. I have passed the young woman season, the middle aged season and am now in the last season. The funny thing is that I still have to work at pressing  forward through times of fear that show up in new planned out experiences or unexpected life events that show up out of nowhere. But two things I know: Things do work out according to God’s plan and will. Therefore, I will be okay no matter what comes, and so can you. I will rest in the truth that I am a woman of strength and courage because of who I am in Christ . . . and so can you.

Where have you seen miracles in your life, big or small? What did that do for your faith? How does that help you press forward with more faith?

What unexpected life event are you dealing with right now? How are you handling it?

The Way to Live-The Way to Leave

 

In September of 2018 while on a spiritual retreat in Colorado, I peeked at Messenger. It was the kind of retreat where we were asked to put all technology aside, but I did happen to glance at my phone and saw something from my cousin, Greg. We lived 1000 miles apart which made keeping in touch difficult. Because it was unusual for him to message me, I knew it had to be something important. It was. He was asking for prayer. He had passed out in a restaurant which landed him in the hospital for testing. The doctors feared he had leukemia. The fear was confirmed.

Greg was a farmer. A friend has the right word to describe farmers: tough. Yes, farmers are tough. Greg had strength and toughness. But, he had something else, too: gentleness and a great capacity to love and spread joy. He poured out that love and joy to his teenage daughter, Sydney. He couldn’t bear leaving her. She’d already lost her mother 9 years ago. So, Greg fought hard for one and a half years. Two weeks ago yesterday, his final earthly battle was done.

I called Greg frequently during his stay at MD Anderson in Houston. His stay was long: eleven months. Our conversations were gifts to me. I remember one of his comments, “It’s a win-win, no matter what happens.” He said those words with joy and assurance. He could say them because he knew he had the hope of Heaven awaiting him. He knew that’s where he was headed, either sooner or later. Of course, he desired later, but he was entrusting it all to Jesus whom he loved and had given his life to years earlier.

God, through His goodness, grace, and mercy provided a way for me to attend Greg’s memorial service. Actually, God worked a miracle in order for me to be there. Yes, there was intense sadness for Sydney, Greg’s mother (my precious 90-year-old Aunt Nancy) and Greg’s brother, Mike. And, sorrow for all the rest of us who loved Greg. But, what we received from the memorial service gave comfort and even joy.

The pastor and shepherd, Rick, who’d spent much time with Greg, shared what Greg whispered into his ear one of the last times he saw Greg. Greg’s declared, “It is well with my soul.” How could Greg say that? He knew Who he belonged to and what he had to look forward to. It’s evident he’d surrendered everything which included his every breath to the keeper of his soul: Jesus.

Greg left the proof that he’d surrendered it all. This proof was included in the words he wrote that were read at the funeral: “Everyday God gives us is a blessing. When I’m gone I’ll be with him. What a blessing.” In these words printed on the memorial program, Greg again affirmed, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

This proof was also in the words of the two songs Greg wanted sung: “When I am down, and, oh, my soul, so weary, when troubles come, and my heart burdened be. Then, I am still and wait here in the silence until You come and sit awhile with me. You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains, You raise me up to walk on stormy seas, I am strong when I am on your shoulders, You raise me up to more than I can be.” And then the song Even If by Mercy Me “. . . I know You’re able and I know You can save through the fire with Your mighty hand, but even if You don’t my hope is You alone.”

Greg left us in a way that brought glory and honor to the One who made him. Greg’s hope was in Christ and him alone. He breathed his last breath knowing all was well with his soul.

Questions we must answer: How is my soul today? How will my soul be the day I take my last breath?

What we do right now in this very moment will determine the answer.

From Silence to Hope-Darkness to Light

 

 

 

Have you ever been in a meaningful relationship that went silent? I have. Sometimes this silence means the relationship has ended so we work through the “closure” knowing we must accept it and move on. We finally come to the place of knowing it was for the best. But, there are other times we just know the relationship is something of great value that needs to be resurrected so we wait, we hope, we pray, we believe. We want to also watch, but at times there’s not much to watch because of the physical or emotional distance that has resulted. It’s in that place that it is so easy to give up because of the deafening silence.

There was a time in Biblical history where everything went silent. This was an era of Silence. Ever since Noah, God had provided someone who spoke God’s message to others. Then it stopped – for over 400 years. However, if we do some historical study of this time period we see that a lot was happening. God was not inactive. He was at work. All things were falling into place, good and bad, preparing the way for the greatest miracle of all times to spring forth: the birth of the long awaited Messiah, Jesus. God broke through the silence and this breaking through changed everything. It’s because of this that we have hope that relationships that need renewing and remaking can really happen. God is the expert – he knows what needs to happen and when it needs to happen for rebirth to occur.

Recently in my place of quiet God reminded me of Isaiah 64:4, a scripture I’d memorized many years ago: “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” Have you been waiting and longing for something to happen that has seemed impossible? I have. I have prayed, hoped, believed, waited, and wrestled with God. Now . . . some light is breaking through. God is allowing me to get a peek at what He’s been up to, however, all is not yet as it should be. But I will keep waiting, watching, and knowing that at just the right moment in time God will let me see what He’s been up to all along. In this “all along time,” I can trust he is doing some major repair work in me that is conforming me into more of the likeness of His perfect Son, Jesus. I can trust in the greatness and goodness of God in all things. He is working on my behalf and on yours. We can rest in Him, always being assured that it really is good. We must never lose hope in the waiting.

Gracious Father, enlarge our capacity for waiting patiently today as we pray “For you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God who will answer.” Psalm 38:15

Two thousand years ago God broke the silence. Through Jesus, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness.” (Isaiah 9:2) Where do you need a breakthrough of light today? Where do you need God to speak?

Resilience of the Pink Calla Lily

 

My mother died October 23, 2014, almost 5 years ago. The amazing people my husband works with sent a beautiful plant in memory of her death. I wasn’t sure what kind of plant it was, but it looked somewhat like a Peace Lily. I’d had Peace Lilies before and knew they were quite hardy. So, I just gave it water…..every once in a while. However, my care must not have been what was needed since the leaves started turning brown so I took it outside and just left it. I left it out of sight since I knew it was withering away. It’s beside our AC unit, so it couldn’t be an eye sore when it finally lost all of its leaves. That original plastic pot became weathered and now has broken cracked pieces in various places. It still out of sight, and out of my mind.

So, can you imagine my shock when in May green leaves started sprouting up out of that years-old pot of dirt! A lot of leaves!! Then, much to my surprise a gorgeous pink flower popped out. I knew it was not like the flower from a Peace Lily. I had no idea what kind of flower it was, but after investigating, I discovered it was a Calla Lily. This flower was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen in my life. That Calla Lily flower popping out on May 30, 2019, was a God-gift to me. This flower came at a time when my heart was sad as I was remembering the two year anniversary week of the death of my sister, Kimberly, as well as another sad event of the previous year. That Calla Lilly continued to bloom. Not only was there one flower, but many.

God spoke much to me as I watched something come alive that I thought was dead. He used this plant to remind me that just because I saw and thought something dead didn’t mean it was. Why? Because God is the life-giver, the life re-newer, the life-sustainer. Nature is held in His hands and so am I. So are you. We are never ever separated from Him who breathed life in us. His breath still breathes into us every day. This is what matters. As long as there’s breath in our body we can rest assured that beauty and vibrance is still there that can pop out every day. There’s never a reason to give up.

When I can’t sense God’s movement in my life, He’s still moving. He’s still loving, He’s still making, He’s still forming. And, He still says, “It is very good.” Kristi, too, can say, “It is very good.” So can you.

What good things do you need to thank Him for today? He is there and He is not silent. You can definitely thank Him for that!

Celebrate Today

 

 

Two years ago today, we celebrated with family and friends the life of my fiery, bigger than life, beautiful red-headed sister, Kimberly. This service was not called a funeral. We never spoke of it in that way. It was a Celebration of Life service.  The burial took place during the morning hours, the Celebration in the afternoon.

We celebrated Kimberly’s life, but more than that, we celebrated the life of Jesus in her. He is the One who spoke life into her. He was her joy and her strength. We chose songs to sing that meant the most to her: The God of Angel Armies, Great Are You Lord, Holy Spirit You are Welcome Here, and No Longer Slaves to Fear. These are all songs related to the reasons we can celebrate life even when walking through dark shadowed times.

Kimberly focused on living bravely, in a celebratory fashion, so beautifully right up to the moment she left this earth. She is one that lived well and died well. I can’t help but think of the second verse of the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr:

Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time;

Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace.

Taking, as He (Jesus) did, this sinful world, not as I would have it;

Trusting that He will make all things right, if I surrender to His will.

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life.

And supremely happy with Him

Forever and ever in the next.

What is the will of our Father God? He desires that we celebrate something about life every day. How do we do this?

The key is living in the present. Living in the present embraces the truth that in each day there are moments to enjoy and even relish. The enemy of living present is living in the past. We do this by wishing things were still as they used to be. We long for those “good times.” But living in the past is dangerous because there were bad and hurtful things there, too. We can get stuck there wrestling with the “whys” and “what if’s”. Kimberly could have dwelled on many whys and what if’s, but she determined to live in the present.

So what kinds of things can I celebrate in the day I have? This is something I’m working hard on. How can I find those things? It’s about awareness. It’s an awareness that finds ways to celebrate the fact that I am alive and breathing. Kimberly never wanted to have to walk around toting a can of oxygen with an oxygen tube in her nose, but she surrendered to it beautifully and was she ever thankful!! She could breathe easier! She could still do life! She was tickled pink that the technician gave her enough tubing attached to the tank so she could walk all around the house. She rejoiced in how nice and kind that technician was in setting it all up in her house. She even said, “I’ve got to contact the company he works for and tell them what a great job he’s doing for people.”

I remember my father-in-law in his prayer before each evening meal saying, “Thank you, God, for this another beautiful day.” Is every day full of beauty? Well . . . maybe not, but, yes, there is much beauty around me every day. Sometimes I’ve just been unaware. Living in the present, even in the midst of pain, I’m discovering these things of beauty that I’d missed before and they are taking me to deeper sacred places in my own soul, in my relationship to God, and with others.

Sometimes it’s even seeing “old things” in a new way. As I experience delighting in seeing these new things and giving thanks to the One who gives good things to enjoy I’m beginning to celebrate life in ways I’d not known before. I’m more able to soak up and enjoy the goodness of the Lord and others in this place of joy. All of a sudden God creates in me a playful spirit full of gladness and freedom to be me as He truly intends.

What can you celebrate today? How are you going to celebrate?