Tonight has me thinking about gifts. God has given me so many gifts in my life that I am overwhelmed with gratitude. No, I am not talking about talents, or wealth, or any other abundance that is visible to the outsider viewing my life from a distance. I’m talking about hidden-behind-the-back-wrapped-up-in-a-big-red-bow-surprise-kind-of gifts. From my job, to my friends, to my husband’s recent salvation, the Lord has blessed me mightily.

This week I am particularly thankful for my mother-in-law. There is no substitute for the peace of mind that arises from knowing one’s children are well cared for. Especially when a small one is ill, it is difficult to fulfill other responsibilities. All the heart wants to do is stay and care for that child. But life doesn’t always allow for such sentimentalities. So, God made Grammys. And we have a good one.

Yes, we are very blessed. Our family has suffered some financial losses in the past year. At times, we were uncertain what the future had in store for us. In many ways, we still are unsure of the path that lies ahead. Many times I have been tempted to give in to fear through this journey. Yet, surprisingly, an overwhelming sense of assurance has pervaded. Through these losses, much has been found. We have been forced to look at our lives, to determine what matters most to us. I am so thankful for this time to evaluate and reflect. One lovely blessing of these trials has been that I now have back the man that I married. My marriage is stronger than ever, and my husband and I have grown ever closer. Our children have been blessed through this process as well. God has refined our family. Now our focus is on Him, and on one another. He put a big shiny bow on that one. I never could have foreseen the ways He would grow us through these challenges.

I read something recently that warmed my heart. In Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline he says: “Freedom from anxiety is characterized by three inner attitudes. If what we have we receive as a gift, and if what we have is to be cared for by God, and if what we have is available to others, then we will possess freedom from anxiety. “

When I find myself feeling anxious (which, if you know me, you understand that this is a demure statement of my usual physical state), all that I have to do is realize that the current situation is a gift from God, and it changes everything. I then begin to ask myself: what are you teaching me in this, Father? What joys will come at the end of this? And I begin to see with the eyes of a student, sitting at the feet of the Great Teacher.

Oh, what a gracious gift. What an amazing gift.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning. (James 1:17)

Fear and faith

Hello, my friends!

What a lovely day it has been here in West Virginia. The sky has been clear, and a crisp breeze cooled the air just slightly. As one of my sweet friends at church told me this morning: I’d like to bottle this weather up and take it home!! This is the kind of day that one just wants to savor. Sundays are usually a bit hectic for our family, but for some reason, though still busy, today felt special. Must have been the weather. And the fact that Jeff Gordon won the race! That’s two in a row. Maybe he is getting his old magic back. Seriously, I am not Nascar crazed, but my ten year old is. And, well, I like to stay connected with what he cares about. And Nascar it is. The child is obsessed. It is so wonderful to watch him find something he enjoys. What a blessing it is to share it with them. My little guy has had some trouble finding his place in this world. He is a bit different than most boys his age. He couldn’t care less about sports. He’s a little bookworm. Selfishly, I love this about him. We have read some marvelous books together. Books got me through some very lonely times when I was a young girl. So, I’m afraid I’ve failed to discourage this trait in my little guy. I remember my parents ordering me to leave the house on beautiful days like today, because all that I wanted to do was stay inside and read. My son is the same. My solution? I take a blanket outside and we lay under our pear tree and read together. I pray these will be special memories for him. I cherish the times my mom shared something with only me. This passion has not been without it’s challenges. The first thing my son does in the morning is read the paper. He has done this since he was in the second grade. Initially, I was very cautious. I censored what I let him see. But over the last year or so, I’ve grown careless. This has proved problematic. Especially since recent events. I tried not let him see the headlines following the VA Tech shootings. But he found the place that I’d stashed the front page. Of course, as it turned out, all of the kids at school were talking about it, so I was thankful that I at least had a chance to prepare him a little before he heard about it at school. But ever since, he’s been having fears at night. He pleads with me and his father not to leave him alone in the dark. He has even been waking up in the middle of the night and calling for me to sleep with him. This has not happened since he was three or four years old. It’s been very difficult. He is afraid that an adult will kill him. When I reassured him at first, he said to me, “Don’t you understand, mom? Bad things happen every day.” yes, I told him, this is true, but one of the great things about being a Christian is that we trust God to handle these things in life; to give us strength to make it through difficult times, to even deliver us if He so chooses. I don’t, he responded. I don’t trust God. I said something lame about him being young and how his faith will grow over time, but I was shaken. I was shaken by his honesty and his insight. And I wondered, how many adults would have the courage to say such a thing? And, do I? Do I really trust God? Here I have been, trying to help my son in my own flesh. Trying to reason with him and offer my own strength to him. After that day, I just began to pray. Jeff and I are both psychologists. There isn’t much that is off limits in our house as far as topics of conversation. I believe that difficult issues are a spring board for life lessons, for deeper conversations. Every night now, Teddy prays for the families of the victims at VA Tech. And I know that it is still on his mind. So I lay down with him every night. For the first time in a long time, his need for me is greater than his need to be cool. He clings to me. And instead of saying, there’s nothing to be afraid of, or pray; I tell him what a special little boy he is, and how God blessed my life when He sent me Teddy. And I feel him relax in my arms. He is closer to God, because I showed God to him. I didn’t just tell him about God. I let His love flow through me. We still have a long way to go. And I know that there will be many more battles. But I pray that these times will be his strong foundation. I pray for wisdom. I pray for strength. God is not only working on Teddy through this, He is working on me.

A Time for Everything

Hello, Dear Ones,

Today was a bittersweet day. We received our new pastor in church today. We have been praying for this day. We have longed for this day, with faith and hope and love. It was day of rejoicing and celebration.

And yet…

These celebrations represent the breaking of another’s heart. The dreams of one we love once lay in the pulpit that this precious new pastor now fills. And though I rejoice with my church family at this wonderful gift of a new leader, my heart felt the absence of a friend today.

I try not to dwell in these thoughts. It is time to move on. As the wise teacher tells us in Ecclesiastes 3, there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. I believe with all of my heart that everything happens for a reason. I found it interesting timing that on the very weekend that we officially called our new pastor, our old friend received his new call. Doesn’t our Heavenly Father have a flair for the dramatic? Isn’t He full of kindness and compassion? I don’t pretend to know what His timing means, I only know that He has filled my friend with hope again, and for this I am so thankful.

The Lord tells us over and over in His Word that where there is pain, where there is sorrow and heartache; in this pain there is a chance to grow. We are supposed to be thankful for our struggles. To rejoice in them, no less.

Huh. I find this much easier to do in hindsight. The lessons are more easily internalized when I’ve made it safely to the other side. In fact, I don’t know too many people who suffer gracefully. In our flesh, we are prone to bitterness, anger, unforgiveness, and the big one: pride.

Our congregation has had our share of these emotions in the last couple of years. It’s been quite a roller coaster ride. But only one among us had his life uprooted. Only one among us was left alone.

I sit with my friends and rehash all the circumstances that led us to where we are today. Every time we do this, I feel worse, not better. But it is like we have been through a trauma and we are compelled to talk about the terror of it. Like soldiers who have been through a terrible battle, we relive each hurtful incident. We must reveal our thoughts, our pains, our anger. Else, healing will never occur.

A time for everything.

And so it is time for the healing to begin. And I wonder to myself, what has the Lord been teaching me through this? What has He been teaching my departing friend? And the rest of our congregation? What have we all learned?

“…but we also rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”–Romans 5:3-5

Iron clad friendships

Hello, Dear Ones,

Have I mentioned how blessed I am with friends? I’ve only just returned from my lovely friend Veann’s, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude that the Lord put her in my life. We spent the better part of an hour and a half just talking…sharing stories from our lives. At the end of our visit, she took my hands in hers and prayed the most beautiful prayer over me. Her unselfish love made my heart grow.

Do you have a friend like Veann in your life? Someone who makes you want to be a better person? Someone who being with feels like sitting by a warm crackling fire? The Bible tells us that “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17). I have prayed this scripture over my children for years now. But it never occurred to me to pray this scripture for myself. Good friends are so important in our lives. Several years ago, I remember how alone I felt. My life revolved around two small children and making friends was a difficult task. I remember one specific day, when I felt betrayed by someone that I thought was a close friend. I cried out to God that day. I asked Him to send me some friends. Friends who would love me no matter what. Friends that I can be real with. Not too long after that, I joined a Bible study and now, I have a wonderful circle of sisters that I can’t imagine living without.

Through these friends, God has softened my heart to others. Now, my friendships are like a river, ebbing and flowing; sometimes overflowing its banks, and other times, still and deep–a rich pool to immerse myself in. During this time, God revealed this secret to me: if you want to have a friend…be a friend.

Sounds simple, right? It wasn’t. Leaving my comfort zone, putting myself out there…these things meant that I could be hurt. I could be rejected. I might make a fool of myself.

As one who had been deeply hurt by women in the past, I had issues with opening myself up to these possibilities. But God is so good. He put me in situation after situation where I had to depend on my friends, or reveal parts of myself that I wasn’t so proud of. And do you know what? They came through every time.

When our relationships are rooted in God, He will take them to a whole new level.

Are you lonely, Dear One? Pray about it. He answers prayers, I am proof of that. And speaking of trusting friends, do you? Do you trust the most awesome friend you will ever have? Trust Him with your burdens, Beloved. Cry out to Him. He loves you, and He will come through. Every time.

Practicing the Presence of God

Dear Friends,

It is snowing outside! My poor flowers and shrubs have been stricken, but I can’t help to marvel at how the cold has fit into this Holy week. I just finished baking 64 sugar cookies for our evening church service tomorrow, and the kitchen has never felt cozier. Jeff took the boys to get their hair cut and I was left alone for a short time. I put on some praise music and commenced baking. I have read Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of God, but I never truly understood it until this very day. My heart was singing with joy as I buzzed about, up to my elbows in flour. The luxury of aloneness is that I can talk to God out loud, and no one looks at me funny. It was so lovely.
I still find it hard to believe that Easter is upon us. This has been such a special time. Last night, at dinner, the four of us each read a verse of the crucifixion and resurrection from the book of Luke. We each then , in turn, lit a candle and said, “He is risen.” To hear Little Jeffrey’s eight year old voice assume solemnity at the gravity of the crucifixion, to hear my husband’s voice catch with emotion at the joy of the resurrection…these are the things that make my heart quake with joy. We plan on making this little ceremony the new tradition for Good Friday in our house.
More good news: our church building will be ready for us on Easter morning! The ceiling tiles will still be MIA, but the place will be clean and ready to be filled with the body of Christ tomorrow. Jeff and I stopped in yesterday to spend a little time in prayer and meditation in the church parlor. The cleaning crews were still busily working on the sanctuary, but I did not smell one little whiff of smoke. How wonderful to worship the risen Christ in our church home again!
One of my favorite Easter activities is to catch the movie Easter Parade on AMC. I love Fred Astaire and Judy Garland. Those old movies amaze me. The players had so much talent. They just don’t make them like that anymore! But I haven’t had time to peruse the old movie channel today. Sooo….
I had better get busy icing these cookies so I can settle in for a little treat later.
Blessings, Dear Ones! And a blessed Easter in the morning!