Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Perfect Winter Day

 

It was the kind of day that will stay in my memory for a very long time.  It was a picture postcard kind of day.  It was a winter day photographers hope to capture….the perfect winter day.  Cold but invigorating, bright blue sky and brilliant sunshine, very little wind…. and snow that allowed for great snowshoeing.

I live in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a magical place where God’s handiwork is “over-the-top” amazing.   Even my wonderful southern friends (and you know who you are!) would be compelled to celebrate this amazing winter day.

While my husband was enjoying a father/son weekend at his camp in the woods (it was beautiful there too!), I headed to the “ice caves” with two of my outdoorsy girlfriends.  We met at a mini mart, loaded our snowshoes, poles and packs into one car, and headed down the road.  Although I grew up in the U.P. and have lived here again for the last 11 plus years, I had never visited this amazing place.  It is less than a 2 hour drive from my home and the pictures posted on Facebook totally motivated me to see the “ice caves”.

I had been warned that it was a challenging trek from the parking lot to the actual site…and those warnings turned out to be true.  It took us almost an hour, on snowshoes (great exercise), and the last 10 minutes were the most challenging.  There were steep hills, sudden drop-offs (no guard rails because everything was in its most natural state), twists, turns and tree roots under the cover of snow.

The ice caves are not really caves etched into the rock as much as they are formations of ice that freeze as they cascade from high rock overhangs.  The solid ice forms a cave like structure.  It was a bit intimidating to actually go into the cave because of my fear of falling; it was sheer ice in there! (I broke my wrist a couple of years ago and that memory is still pretty vivid.)  However, I just could not get that close to the structures without having the full experience.

There was a posting on Facebook later that same day that said something about enjoying winter by looking at pictures of it while sitting on a Florida beach.  I had to respond!  I would not have traded that fabulous winter day for any beach anywhere!  It was pure magic.

It is times like these that God’s creative wonders seem to catch me by surprise.  I don’t know why!  I have been privileged to visit many of our world’s beautiful places and certainly have viewed the unvisited ones through photographs, etc.  The Bible story in Genesis of the creation of the world is enough to stop me in my tracks.

And yet, there are those times when God totally amazes me with His acts of beauty.  As we headed back to the parking lot, we took photo after photo of snow hanging from tree limbs, of dappled sunlight creating movement on the snow, of brilliant blue sky peeking through the tree branches, and of each other surrounded by pure beauty. I am so thankful for those “take-me-by-surprise” moments. 

I need the reminder that God is sovereign, that He has good plans (Jeremiah 29:11), that His creation shows plainly that He exists.  Romans 1:20 reads, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”  Friends, God’s handiwork makes it absolutely clear that we have an amazing, creative God Who set us on earth in the midst of that created beauty.

Yes, we still need to tell others about Jesus (Romans 10:14); words must be used.  The gospel is to be shared through words as well as our actions; but we can clearly see God through His amazing creation.  It’s all the “evidence” we need to start us on our journey to know Him through His Son, Jesus Christ.

I pray my eyes and heart are always open; I don’t want to miss God’s wonderful, breathtaking moments.  It is the desire of my heart that I live each day with expectation, knowing God is ALWAYS up to something wonderful!

 

 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Truth With Love

My last week was filled with adventure.  Many of the elements of that adventure-filled time included: travel, fellowship with other Christian women, time with a best friend, 2 overnights, a reunion with 2 favorite college students and a time of sharing Christ on 3 separate occasions and….lots of laughter.

In the past couple of years God has moved me into a speaking ministry.  Through a wonderful process, I became an “official” speaker for the worldwide “Stonecroft Ministry”, which means I drive to various events to present my testimony to other women. 

I have a dear friend who asked if I would like company on my trips and that sounded wonderful to me.  Michelle accompanied me to a speaking engagement mid Dec. of 2015, and through conversation with the chair of that group, we discovered she could be a part of my speaking ministry with her music.  We worked out some details which resulted in a ministry partnership that now includes her music embedded into the body of my talk.

This past week we set out for Wisconsin together; my car was loaded to the gills with her guitar and music equipment, our luggage and her son’s snowboard (we planned to stop and see him at his school on our way home).  We were the Christian version of “Thelma and Louise” (no crime, just a sharing of Jesus!).

Many miles of driving gives opportunity for in-depth conversation.  And since we were planning to develop this traveling partnership, it seemed a good idea to work at keeping things open and honest.  I asked Michelle if there was anything I did that made her uncomfortable or if there was anything I could do to make our  time together better. 

When I glanced at her I could tell she was in “thinking mode” and she hesitated; but…bless her!  Michelle lovingly and truthfully shared that I had a driving habit that was causing her some discomfort.  Wow!  I really had no idea what that could be as I always thought I was a pretty careful driver.

Anyone who knows me knows I can hardly speak without my hands being in motion.  If my hands were missing I would probably be mute! But I had no idea I used them when I drove and talked.  Apparently I take both hands off the wheel, very momentarily, but “off” none-the-less, when I am talking!  Really??!!!  Yikes!  Once she called my attention to it, I couldn’t believe how many times I came close to doing it…again and again.  What a wonderful friend…she may have saved me/us from a potential accident!

 She admitted she was a bit nervous about sharing that with me but once I reassured her I was thankful for her observation, it opened the door for more conversation.  After that discovery, she opened the door for me to walk into her life.  I laughed when I shared with her that she had an ongoing grammatical error.  Of course, she wanted to know what it was.  (She insisted I include this in this blog post even though I think it is so inconsequential.) 

I proceeded to be specific, feeling rather silly about the whole thing.  We laughed so hard but once she was “enlightened” she continued to pay attention to that grammar issue.  Truth with love. I reminded Michelle over and over that her grammatical error doesn’t have implications for our safety in the way my driving issues do! 

 Michelle is a true Christian friend because I can trust her to tell me what I need to hear….and she does it with a heart of love. Isn’t that exactly what the Bible tells us to do?  Many of the scriptures in the Book of Proverbs urge us to be truthful with each other. 

Proverbs 9 warns us about trying to correct a “mocker” BUT verses 8 & 9 say, “Rebuke a wise man and he will love you. Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.”  I believe Michelle’s loving truth statement to me, “added to my learning”.

I Corinthians 13: 6 says, “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.”   I believe that “delighting” is both in the telling and the receiving.  When we offer truth with a heart of love (no irritation or attitude of retribution), we are giving one another a gift AND fulfilling God’s command.

It was not easy for Michelle to offer truth but there was a safety issue involved.  Plus, I had overtly invited her to speak truth into my life.  I deeply desire to live my life in such a way that honors God and brings love and peace to my relationships (as much as it is up to me).  Michelle and I are well into a friendship that includes love with truth. So….bring on those road trips.  I am excited to see what God has planned.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Joy of Receiving


It is one of those blustery, windy, raw January days that is, unfortunately, not unusual here in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  The bright winter sun brings energy to what could be a dreary day.  The cold weather, of course, did not dissuade us from church today or even a few errands afterward.  I am thankful I can spend the rest of this day “enjoying” winter by looking out at it.

It was winter, a few years ago, when Charlie and I decided to drive south to North Carolina to visit our son and his wife.  Winter was in full bloom here in the U.P. so the farther south we drove, the more mild it became.  Raleigh offered us a great visit with our kids PLUS much warmer temperatures.

We were on an excursion to a local health food store when Charlie’s cell phone rang.  He looked at caller id, recognized the name and answered.  It was one of his guy friends calling to ask some strange questions.  I have forgotten the questions but they had something to do with our garage, and was it locked, etc.  We were puzzled but didn’t take a lot of time to really think about the call, as we were busy enjoying a break from our routine at home.

Toward the end of our trip, before heading home, we checked the weather and saw our town was getting dumped with snow.  Groan….  That little break we had in N.C. was going to have to hold us for a while!

As usual, we completed the return trip in one long day, starting very early in the morning and arriving sometime after midnight.  As we got closer and closer to home, we began to think about all the snow that must be piled up and what we would have to do just to get into our driveway. As we rounded the corner and our home came into view….what?!!!  ALL of the snow had been removed from our driveway and sidewalks!  We have a double lot on a corner so there is a LOT of space to cover.  ALL GONE! We were flabbergasted, and very thankful.  We surely did experience the joy of being on the receiving end of such a loving act of service.

Exhausted from all that driving, we dropped ourselves into bed in a very thankful state of mind.  The next day we went through a short list of people we thought might be responsible.  I called my brother but he said it wasn’t him.  Within a few days, after making some inquiries, we learned that a couple of men from our church family were responsible; men with wonderful servant hearts.  I took cookies to them as a very small thank you.  I wanted them to know that there was great joy in receiving.

Jesus told His disciples in the second part of Matthew 10: 8, “Freely you have received, freely give.”  In Acts 20: 35 Paul is giving a farewell to the leaders of the Ephesian Church and he reminds them, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (He is actually quoting Jesus.) Both of these scriptures are in context with what is happening in the moment.

These verses speak to my heart in this way: when we have received Jesus and His sacrifice for our sins, when we have received grace from others in God’s family, when we have really understood the blessings we have received…then, we have a heart to give freely, unabashedly, joyfully.

That wintery season, Charlie and I received a gift from men who loved and served the Lord.  Out of that “Jesus” love came a desire to give us the gift of a snow free driveway and sidewalks.  We received with joy that gift, and we received it as a sign of God’s unfathomable love.  Who in your sphere of influence needs to experience the joy of receiving?  How can you express the love of God through an act of service?  Whether you give…OR receive…you will experience the joy that comes from the heart.

 

 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Just Barely

This past week I was driving home from Bible study and my route took me under a viaduct.  There was a rather large truck in front of me and as I watched the driver maneuver his way under that viaduct I found myself catching my breath.  I was sure the top of that truck was going to scrape the underneath portion of that viaduct!  He just barely made it with what looked like a ½ inch to spare. Whew!

On that same note, I am reminded of last summer when we were excitedly anticipating the arrival of our son and his sweet family.  They left their home city of Portland, OR (Mom, Dad, Gus, age 16 months and big brother, Henry, age 5 ½) and were to change planes twice before getting to our small airport. 

Their first plane change was in Atlanta and they called saying they were on a delay but not to worry since they had plenty of time.  However, another call came later saying the flight delay may be a long one and they were getting concerned.  Since 3 of the 4 of them were only going to be with us 3 full days (we kept Henry for another week!), an overnight stay somewhere would seriously hamper our time together.

We breathed a sigh of relief when that plane was scheduled for take-off, only to be told they were not sure they would make the connection in Detroit that would bring them here.  It was time to pray, for sure.  Since we worship a God Who numbers every hair on our heads (Matthew 10:30), I think He cared about our dilemma.  No guarantees though, that it would be resolved according to our plan!

Once they got to Detroit, our son called us and said he had sent Kerry on to the next gate with the two boys while he handled last minute issues at their gate.  Presumably the plane to Escanaba was being held.  I so laughed when I later listened to our daughter-in-law retell the story of the dash from one gate to another.  I laughed because she is a great story teller and because I have made that very fast jaunt many times….down under the runway and through the tunnel that has weird psychedelic colors playing across the walls.  She described the moving sidewalks, the escalators she had to conquer while carrying Gus and urging Henry on.  This is after a full day of travel! Whew, they just barely made it!

If I am honest, I would tell you that my spiritual life can be like that if I am not vigilant.  My prayer time?   I am a woman of prayer and one who believes in the power of prayer and I talk to God all day.  But time that I want to set aside just for Him and me, some days….just barely.

How about my Bible study time?  I do reasonably well through the year as long as I am attending a formal Bible study but summer comes and, honestly, there are days where it is just barely.  It is so easy to get off track.

When I am out of my usual routine, traveling, both prayer and Bible study way too often go to the status of just barely.  Proverbs 21:5 reads: “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.”  I believe this proverb can address many areas of our lives and “poverty” should be understood in a variety of ways, even though we tend to attach that word to financial resources.  This verse speaks to me about how abundant my life is when I allow my study and prayer time their full due; I am much more able to meet the challenges of my day in a Godly manner when I have spent time with Him.

As God continues to expand my speaking ministry and provide more and more opportunities to speak truth and hope into the lives of women, it is obvious I have nothing to give without being personally filled with His presence and His Word.  I surely need more than just barely.

How about you?  Now that it’s time to get back to a “routine” (whatever that means) following the holidays, it’s all too easy to do life in the just barely mode. Or you may be heading south for several months and it feels like extended vacation time.  Wherever you are, hopefully you find a church and keep yourself anchored in prayer, Bible study and worship.  It’s guaranteed to keep you out of “just barely”. 

John 10:10 tells us Jesus came so we may have an abundant life.  I want that!  I want all that God has for me!  No just barely!  How about you?

Sunday, January 3, 2016

New Beginnings


Happy New Year!  How many times have I heard that greeting or repeated it myself in the past week? May I tell you a little secret?  I have never been a genuine “New Year’s Eve enthusiast.”  There were years in my past when the big celebration was the thing to do among my friends…so I did.  There were also too many years to count when I rather wished the whole thing would pass me by.

For me, new beginnings means it must be the month of September.  It probably goes back to my school years when September was the start of a new school year.  My father was employed by the public school system so his life also revolved around the school calendar.

After I graduated from college, I worked as a speech therapist in a school system; once again, September meant a “new start”.  (September is also the beginning of a new fall season; January is just a continuation of winter and nothing about it feels new.)

Ok, enough of this wandering and musing.

The word “new” has been rumbling around my brain for several days as I thought about this week’s blog topic.  Of course, as always, I love researching words and ideas that are important to God so I went straight to His book.  I researched the concordance in my Bible, focusing on the word, “new”.  I found 30 references using “new” within the verses.  It appears to me God has something to say about the concept of “new”.

Psalm 40:3 says, “He put a new song in my mouth….”  Psalm 98:1 tells us to “Sing to the LORD a new song….”  Jesus declared in John 13:34, “A new command I give you; Love one another…..”  One of my favorite verses is: 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

God is all about NEW!  Out of His perfect love and because of His perfect plan for each of us, He offers us a new beginning whenever we need one.  Since we (well, it’s certainly true for me) are sin prone, that word “new” is comforting and encouraging.

I especially love verses 22 & 23 from the book of Lamentations: “Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”

This means I don’t have to wait for January 1, or even September 1, to start over, to recover from sin, to renew a relationship, to heal from a loss, to start a new business or to grow deeper in my faith.   I once heard a Christian male friend tell a beautiful story about his wife; when they were newly married and he was struggling to figure out how to be a good husband (and failing at it, according to him), his wife allowed him to have a fresh/new start every day.  What a wonderful human example of how our heavenly Father loves us and offers us the same.

So tomorrow morning, or anytime, let’s hit the road running, remembering that God offers us new mercies, new opportunities and new life.  On my business card are 3 descriptive words:  rescued/redeemed/restored.  Those words remind me of God’s mercy and faithfulness.  May you allow God, through His Son Jesus, to guide you to new beginnings, plant you in new places and bring you new joy.