Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Traditions

“Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.”
I Corinthians 11:2 (KJV)

We started our Christmas decorating a few weeks ago, but today, we kicked it into high gear at our house.  Kevin made his yearly trip to the attic, bringing down crate after crate of nativity scenes, garland, lighted houses, ornaments, and decorations.  It is a tradition for Zachary and me to sit down and go through the crates, taking out things we want to use, and putting the rest away for Kevin to put back in the attic.  We turn on a Christmas tape or CD, and we have lots of fun….remembering, laughing, and looking forward to the coming holiday.

Today, it hit me that time goes SO fast, and it won’t be long until it will be time to take it all down and put it all away for another year.  I thought, “What’s the point?  All of this work seems kind of futile and unnecessary.”  As we get older, it seems more cumbersome to me.  Kevin’s knee and back problems are steadily worsening, and it is hard for him to make so many trips up and down the attic stairs.  I get worn out a lot quicker and easier than I used to.  Today, I began to wonder if it is really worth all the work of keeping our Christmas traditions going, when it is for such a short time of enjoyment. 

As I was working away, putting everything in its place, Kevin and Zachary decided to spend some time outside with the dogs.  By the time they came back in, I had made lots of progress and was almost finished.  When Zach walked in the front door, he was so excited!  “Oh, Mama!  Oh, Mama!  It’s beautiful” he called as he took it all in.  Just seeing all of the familiar pieces brought him so much joy!  We stood together in front of our dining room hutch and hit the button on his favorite lighted house and listened to the Christmas song it played.  “Oh, Mama!  That one is my favorite!” he said with childish excitement.  I wrapped my arm around him and said, “I know, Zach.  Don’t ever lose the magic!  And always remember all of these special traditions, okay?”  He promised me he wouldn’t and he would, respectively.  It hit me right then and there that it is ALL worth it.  Whatever work it involves making home a happy, secure, predictable constant in his life and maintaining every cherished tradition, is well-worth it to me. 

Traditions are important.  They mean something to us, and no matter how hard it is to keep them alive, it is well worth the price paid to do so.   Children need traditions…they will draw from them later in life, just as you and I draw from special memories of our childhood. 

In II Thessalonians 2:15 (KJV), Paul gave this instruction.  
“Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.”  Why?  Because truths that we have learned from the Word of God are just that important.  He was not talking about man-made traditions and heavy burdens that men bind on the backs of Christians - not because of any Biblical command, but by their own interpretations and will.  He was speaking of the pure, holy truth that is in Jesus Christ.  Jesus said in John 14:6 (KJV), “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

We live in a world that is changing….fast.  Many of the traditional truths we have been taught are being questioned and even cast aside for the sake of “modern” and “progress”.  While some changes can be beneficial, there are some things that should be left alone and never changed.  Like the fact that there is only one true God Who created all things, and we are to worship only Him in spirit and in truth.  And the fact that Jesus Christ is His only begotten Son Who came in the flesh and was born in Bethlehem that first Christmas night so long ago.  And the fact that He grew up to be a man and died a sacrificial death on a rugged cross for our salvation, and there is no other way to Heaven except through Him.

I can’t imagine all the changes Zachary will see in his lifetime.  He is going to need to have the truth of God’s Word ingrained into the fiber of his being in order to not be shaken by all of the alterations and modifications he will see.  David had a concern about this when he wrote the 48th Psalm.  He wrote in verses 12 & 13, “Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof.  Mark you well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that you may tell it to the generation following.”  He had a deep concern that his generation become so familiar with Jerusalem…that all of its attributes and qualities be so deeply imbedded in their minds, that they could remember it to tell the generation who was coming after them. 

You and I need to have such a vivid, solid vision of God, His church, His love, and His truth, that we can tell our children and the generation following us.  If we let go of the traditions we have been taught, if we cast aside the truths that are dear to our hearts, if we compromise God’s Word, they will never have the opportunity of seeing it as we see it. 

Sure it is going to take some work and effort….sometimes we will wonder if it is all worth the sacrifices we have to make.  But, in the long run, when our children meet us in Heaven one day….we’ll be so glad we did!  I can just picture Zachary coming through the gates of glory, and me being there to welcome him, and him saying, “Oh, Mama!  Oh, Mama!  It’s beautiful!”  Is it worth it to stay firm and true and hold my traditions and faith in God?  Absolutely!  It will be worth it for you, too, my friend...whatever the cost! 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Honnahlee

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: 
but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” 
I Corinthians 13:11 
(KJV)

Remember the childhood song,

“Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea,
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honahlee”?

It was originally written as a poem by Lenny Lipton while in his freshman year of college in 1959, and it later became a very big hit song for the group Peter, Paul, and Mary.  
It is about a little boy, named Jackie Paper who has a stuffed dragon, named Puff.  
They have grand adventures together within the world of little Jackie’s vivid imagination.  
Oh, the happy hours they spend!  
But in the third verse of the poem/song something changes…. and it is very, very sad.

"A dragon lives forever but not so little boys,
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more,
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.

His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain,
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his life-long friend, Puff could not be brave,
So Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave."

I can hardly bear to sing or hear this song, because when I do, I think of our own little boy who is growing up way too fast.  
I cry over it, but as much as I cry and wish for time to slow down, he will continue to quickly grow into the fine young man he is becoming.  
I am powerless to freeze the moments.  
I can only stand by and see the changes that take place in our little man from day to day, 
and I can cherish every single second of his infancy, toddler days, and childhood up until now.  
And I can pray for God to keep him healthy and strong and give him a long and happy life and allow Kevin and me to see as much of it as possible.  
I can never go back and hold him as a baby again….
and that is a deep sadness within the core of my being.

As many or all of you know, we waited a very long time for Zachary.  
It seemed we would never have a child of our own, but when God did send us one, 
He sent us a very special, precious boy who gladdens our hearts every day with his sweet personality and kind ways.  
I thank God from the bottom of my heart for him and the blessing and comfort he is to Kevin and me and everyone else who knows him.  
I look forward to seeing what he becomes as an adult and what special plans God has for his life and future.  
When you wait so long for a child, 
I guess you tend to wish time would go slower even more than the average parent.  
The moments arrive, and then they are gone as quickly as they came, 
and you are left with a feeling of emptiness wondering where the time has gone. 

There is a wonderful little toy store in Lewisburg, WV that has become a cherished spot to Zachary, his Granny Alda, and me.  
Ever since Zach was a tiny little boy, it has been a tradition for Granny, Zachary, and me to go to there each time we go to WV and spend some time shopping.  
Without fail, Zachary leaves the store with some goodies Granny has bought him, 
but more important than the new found treasures, 
the three of us leave there with a new deposit to our “special memories” bank.  
Very appropriately-named, the store is called Honnahlee 
(spelled a bit different than the lyrics in the song). 


The owner of Honnahlee is a middle-aged man who moved to Lewisburg with his wife several years ago and opened the store after retiring from teaching school.  
He just seems like he LOVES what he does, and he makes the shopping experience very special.  Towards the front of his store, there is a Thomas the Train wooden table 
where Zachary used to play every time we would go in the store when he was younger.  
We would have a hard time prying him away from it each and every time we went in.  
Then there are the hard plastic animals, puzzles, games, stuffed animals, 
and a host of other kinds of toys.  
As you continue walking, you reach the back, 
where the most precious memories of all have been made.

In this section at the back, you can sit on little wooden chairs, 
and you can pretend you are baking pizzas and birthday cakes.  
There is a cash register on a little wooden stand with a colorful umbrella over it, 
in case you want to pretend you are in a restaurant or grocery store.  



There’s a pretend stove with an oven and all kinds of plastic groceries and accessories.  
Granny and Zachary would sit down on the little wooden chairs and play together,
 and Zach would pretend he was serving Granny pizza and other goodies.  



They had their own little time of “serious” play, and I would stand by soaking it in.  
I’m so glad I did.


Granny would “enjoy” the fun as long as she could endure her back pain
 from sitting on the wooden chairs.  
Then, reluctantly each time, we would leave, with Zachary’s new treasures in tow.  
He would always pause at the Thomas the Train table, 
always stalling, longing for more time at Honnahlee with Granny.  
Oh, the precious memories we have made there through the years! 

One day, during our last trip to WV, Zachary and I were driving along through Lewisburg 
after visiting some local thrift stores.  
As we passed through the downtown section, I began looking for Honnahlee.  
For some reason, I always get mixed up as to which side of the road it’s on…
it is tucked in the midst of several stores that kind of all blend together.  
I could always spot it because there is a huge stuffed giraffe that is usually sitting on the sidewalk in front of the store.  
As we drove along, I looked for the giraffe and didn’t see it.  
Then my eyes fell on something that made me sit there in the car and cry like a baby. 

On the window of Honnahlee, was a big white piece of paper that said something like this,.. 
“We are closing December 31st.  Thanks for the last 12 years!”  
All of those precious memories flooded my mind…..
almost ten years’ worth of special times with Granny and Zachary 
in a place that was happy and peaceful and kind of removed from the stress outside.  
I cried so hard I could hardly see to drive us the 30 or so miles back to Mom and Dad Smith’s house.  When we got there and told Granny, she was sad, too.  
So, we immediately made plans to go to the toy store….one last time.

This trip was different.  
As we walked through the front door, we knew this would more than likely be the very last time the three of us would do this together.  
Our vacation only lasted a week, and by the time we get to go back to WV,
 that special door will be closed and the inside will be empty as we peer through the front window.  Kevin went with us that day, and even his Dad went and sat in the car 
while we went in and enjoyed our tradition one last time.  
Zachary’s taller now, so he had to bend down to play with the Thomas the Train table. 
As he played, we fondly remembered all of the other times he has done that through the years.  
He and Granny spent time at their special spot in the back, and, this time, we took LOTS of pictures.
(Those are included with this post.)  
The chairs somehow seemed smaller than they did when we first started going there, 
and I noticed Zach doesn’t fit in them so easily now.  
As we were checking out, we talked to the owner, 
and I poured out my heart telling him how much his store has meant to us through the years 
and how it was such a part of many special memories.  
He told me how sweet I was to say that, and we both fought back tears as I turned to go.  
Another chapter closed in our book of life.

Kevin and Zachary have been cleaning Zach’s room.  
I’ve been noticing that toys that he cherished only a short time ago are ending up 
in the “donate/give away” box.  
Every now and then, I will walk by, peek into the box, and ask, 
“Are you SURE, Zach?  Do you really want to get rid of that?”  
He’ll say, “Yes, Mama.  I’ve kind of outgrown it.  I don’t play with it anymore.”  
Each time I hear those words, they are like darts into the tenderest part of my heart.

Zachary is growing up.  
I can’t change it.  
I can’t slow it down.  
It is happening right before my eyes.  
Many times, when he wakes up and comes down the hall in the morning to where Kevin and I are sitting talking, Kevin will say, “Zach, I think you grew last night”. 
It seems overnight he gets taller and more mature-looking.

I know the day will come when he is no longer a little boy…
when he won’t even have the desire to go into a store like Honnahlee.  
I will miss those days….terribly. 
So, while I still have him here…in our home, seated at our table, gathered with us for prayer during family worship, may God help me make the very most of every, single second.  
May every minute be spent making positive-impact memories that will stay with him and comfort and sustain him through life. 

The most valuable gifts we could ever give our children boil down to two things, in my opinion...
a solid spiritual foundation 
and 
our time.  
I know other things are important, too, but to me, those are the most significant.  

If you still have a child/children at home with you, hug them a little tighter today, will you?
Cherish the moment a little longer than usual.  
Overlook the frustrations, the fingerprints and smudges, and the toys scattered across your floor.
Dismiss the urge to scold, and pick that little one up and hold on for dear life.
I know the days seem long, the toil seems hard, and the repetition becomes mundane.
You can't see it now, but these are some of the most meaningful, precious moments of life you will ever spend, my friend.
Make the most of every, single second, and give away every drop of the love inside your heart.
For sadly, these days will one day end,
and these chapters, 
like the doors of Honnahlee, will one day close.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Blame Game


“And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.”  Genesis 3:12 (KJV)

Have you ever blamed someone else for your actions or reactions?  Have you ever found yourself saying things like, “if my childhood would have been different, I wouldn’t have these issues”, and “if my Dad didn’t have such a horrible temper, I wouldn’t either”, and “so-and-so talked about me, so I am justified to be angry and bitter” or “my husband just doesn’t measure up to my standards, he’ll never be the man I want him to be, so it’s okay that I am doing what I’m doing”….on and on it goes.  The blame game.  We’ve all played it, and in fact, there has probably been some truth in statements like these that we have made.  Who we are today, truly has been greatly influenced by the people and events in our past.

But, does it do any good to blame my great-grandmother for my harsh and hurtful tone of voice?  Sure, she may have been verbally abusive to my grandmother and her siblings while they were growing up, but does that justify any hurtful words I could say to my own child?  Does the fact that I was tempted to do wrong and yielded to the temptation release me from the guilt of wrongdoing?  Can I come before God and say, “Well, Lord, you know the temptation was just too strong, and I couldn’t help it.  If so-and-so wouldn’t have enticed me to do wrong, I never would have done it….it’s their fault, not mine.”  How does God view the blame game?  Does He play it?

God is holiness, goodness, and love personified.  There is not a trace or shadow of sin in Him.  He is 100% purely righteous.  And to answer the question as to whether or not He plays the blame game, let’s study the first man He ever created….the inventor of the blame game, if you will.  Adam was created in God’s image.  Since we know the character of God, it is safe to say he was created holy, good, pure, and righteous.  Along with being made in the image of Almighty God, Adam was also created with a free will…a mind of his own…to make his own choices and chart his own life’s course.

God provided for all of Adam’s needs…right down to realizing it was not good for him to be alone.  Beginning with one of Adam’s ribs, God created a woman for Adam….to comfort him, to help him, to be his soul mate.  They got to live in a perfect paradise….everything they could ever want or need was right at their fingertips.  They didn’t have to work or figure out how they were going to make it through life; all of that was given to them freely by the hands of a loving God.  He gave them only one rule…just one.  Don’t eat of the fruit on a certain tree.  That’s it.  They could have anything else they wanted, anytime they wanted it.  But of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they were not to eat.

One day, Eve was in the garden; the Bible doesn’t tell us where Adam was or what he was doing.  She must have passed by the forbidden tree alone and vulnerable.  Unfortunately, satan is always on the job, and seeing his chance to tempt and beguile, he began to talk to Eve.  She paused for a little too long; listening to his deceptive lies, gazing at the beautiful fruit…wondering what it might taste like….wishing God wouldn’t have given them such a rule.  Why rules, anyway?  Why couldn’t they just be free to do anything they wanted?  Why the restriction of not being able to have everything they wanted? 

After a little more talk, satan convinced Eve that surely God had made a mistake, and it wouldn’t hurt anything to eat the fruit, even though he knew full well that God had said an emphatic “NO”.  The more he hammered away at Eve, the weaker her resolve became.  Evidently, Adam wasn’t looking, so why not?  Why not go ahead and indulge and see what it tasted like?  She could always hide the fact that she had done something she knew she shouldn’t have.  So, she caved.  She took a bite, and oh, wow!  It tasted good!  She must have stood there and wondered why God had withheld this from her.  “Adam!  Adam!  Come over here and taste this!  It’s wonderful!” must have been something similar to what she said. 

Instead of standing firm and saying, “No, Eve, that’s wrong.  What have you done?”, Adam succumbed to the pressure, too.  The temptation was just so strong, and surely God would understand.  I don’t know how he reasoned it out in his own mind, but the bottom line is his resolve to do the right thing crumbled.  He ate.  As soon as he did, he realized the gravity of the wrong he had committed.  Now, he had ingested the knowledge of good and evil.  Now he had a consciousness of right and wrong, and his innocence was gone!  The fellowship he had enjoyed with God was broken, because he was no longer in his image, and sin had become a part of his nature through his disobedience.  His new found conscience pricked him!  Oh, no!  What had he done?  How would he react when God made his daily visit to talk with him?  Surely, he had to hurry up and hide himself and his wife, so God would never find out what they did! 

Adam and Eve scrambled and made themselves clothes and hid.  Maybe God wouldn’t come by today!  After all, they were hiding, and maybe He would just pass right on by without figuring out where they were, much less what they had done.  You and I know something that apparently Adam and Eve didn’t…..you can’t hide from God.  He sees EVERYthing.  He misses nothing.  Hebrews 4:13 (KJV) says, “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.”  Purely open and transparent…we are to God.

God saw right through their carefully constructed hiding place.  Right through the clothes they had hurriedly sewn together.  Right down below the surface into their very soul.  God began to question them and call to them.  He knew all along every, single thing that had transpired that day, but he gave them a chance to admit it all to Him.  “Adam, where are you?” God asked.  “I was afraid and hid myself, Lord.”  Adam replied.  “Why?  Did you eat the fruit of the forbidden tree?  I told you not to.”  God’s anger was stirred.  Then the very first round of the blame game began.  “Well, Eve gave me the fruit.  It’s her fault.”  It was true.  Eve did eat the fruit first.  She did give Adam a bite.  What she didn’t do is hold a weapon to his throat and force him to eat it, too.  God moved on to Eve and questioned, “What have you done?”  “Well, Lord, the serpent tricked me.  I was deceived into eating it.”, Eve replied.  God moved on to the serpent, and the buck stopped there. “Because you have done this, I am now pronouncing punishment on you.” 

Whew!  Could Adam and Eve breathe a sigh of relief?  They were off the hook, right?  It was all the devil’s fault, God was speaking directly to him telling him what his repercussions would be, and that was it, right?  After all, if he hadn’t tempted her, none of this would ever have happened.  Justice was served.  Now things could go back to normal.  Great! 

But, wait!  God turned to the woman!  “Now Eve, here’s your punishment.”  God wasn’t playing the game.  As you and I know in our enlightened state of mind, God doesn’t play games….period.  Eve was dealt a severe penalty for her little taste of sin.  Every woman after her would suffer for it…oh, Eve, what were you thinking?  Did you ever count the cost?  Had you any idea how serious the repercussions would be?  Did you really think blaming the devil would exonerate you from any consequences?

Lastly, God turned to Adam…this masterpiece of creation that He had created in His Own image.  What disappointment He must have felt!  Not only had Adam disobeyed, he had tried to cover it up, and then went on to blame his own disobedience on his wife.  God said, “Because thou has hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it….” and then He went on to declare Adam’s punishment.  It too was severe. 

The bottom line is…we are all responsible for our own actions.  We are all tempted.  The grass always looks greener from a distance.  We automatically long for what we can’t have.  Unfortunately, satan is very aware of all of this.  The longer we gaze at forbidden fruit, the more we listen to satan’s lies, the weaker our resolve becomes.  Little by little, it sounds better and better.  Friend, let me tell you.  Sin is not worth the end result.  You might think, “It’s just a little taste.  It won’t hurt anyone.  I’m the only one it will affect.  No one else will ever even know.  I can keep it together, and life will be the same.”  Oh, no it won’t!  Never again.

After it is all over, you can find all kinds of people to blame.  They, in turn, can blame someone else for causing them to do what they do and being the way they are…on and on it goes down the line, until at the end of the blame game the only one left standing is satan himself.  Will that absolve all other players in the game from any wrongdoing?  Will God say, “It’s okay.  I know you never would have acted this way if your great aunt Susie hadn’t done what she did.” or “I know you wouldn’t have had that attitude if your husband was different”, or “I understand your wife drove you to yield to that temptation.”  The answer is no.  Blaming others for our wrongdoing will never excuse our actions.  It didn’t work for Adam or Eve, and it will not work for you and me.

Thankfully, Someone paid the penalty for our sins.  We have a Savior, who even though He was NOT guilty, even though He NEVER sinned, hung on a cross almost 2000 years ago, and instead of playing the blame game said, “I am guilty”.  Unlike Adam, and Eve, and you, and me, He didn’t place the blame….He took it.  He sees right through all of our pretenses and hiding places, and He loves us anyway.  Why not stop blaming others, and simply receive the gift of forgiveness He offers?  He took the penalty for every sin you ever committed, and your debt has been paid in full.  There’s no need to point the finger at anyone else ever again….He already took the blame.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Leftovers

 “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness:  for they shall be filled.” 
Matthew 5:6 (KJV)

I absolutely love the holidays!  I love seeing my family and friends walk through our living room door towards the dining room table that is spread with all kinds of wonderful food placed on the lace tablecloth I put on year after year.  The aroma of rolls baking in the oven, the chill in the air, and the smile on each face warms my heart with an unexplainable peace.  As I hug each person who walks in our front door, I am deeply grateful for who they are and how much they mean to me.  They are all unique and wonderful….and very, very loved.

We gather around our table and give God thanks for all of the bounty and love and kindness He has extended to us for yet another year.  Then we eat…and we eat…and we eat!  And as my father-in-law says, if we always felt the way we did right then, we would never eat again! 

The sad part of special holidays for me is when they are all over, and everyone has gone home.  Seeing our table reduced back to its normal size with the extensions taken out is a vivid reminder that another cherished family time is now history and has been transferred to my “special memory” bank.  Later that night, hunger ultimately does set in again, and it occurs to me that there is still something left of the day…a very pleasant after-effect that remains long after the kitchen is silent and every dish has been washed and put back in its place.  Leftovers!!  As I sit down to enjoy some leftover ham, macaroni and cheese, and broccoli casserole (you will find a recipe for my family’s favorite variation of this dish at the end), it hits me that some foods taste even better the second time around.

Recently, we had a church service that was truly out of the norm.  It just seemed that the Spirit of God was overwhelmingly present from the time we walked through the church doors, until the moment we walked back out of them a couple of hours later.  I don’t think there was a dry eye in the whole chapel, and there was a spirit of worship that was extraordinary.  It seemed like the pastor was glowing as he preached, and he ended up preaching way before it was even time.  He started off testifying of God’s goodness, and the next thing we all knew, he was preaching strong under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.  To say that we were blessed with an overflowing abundance of God’s special visitation, is putting it mildly.  By the time we left, my spiritual cup was overflowing, and I think everyone else’s was, too.

Leaving service that night was hard.  None of us wanted to leave the special spiritual feast God had prepared.  Eventually, we all said our good-byes, went our separate ways, and the chapel was left silent.  Later, as my soul became hungry for God again, I was pleasantly reminded that the good I received that night didn’t end when I walked out the door.  God gave enough for there to be plenty of “leftovers”!  I can call them back to my mind any time I want to and “re-chew” and ponder them and as I do, they taste even better the second time around!    

God knows what is up ahead for each one of us.  He knows how long the spiritual nourishment He provides will have to sustain us, and He feeds us accordingly.  I love the story in I Kings 19:1-8.  The great Old Testament prophet, Elijah, found himself discouraged, alone, and depressed sitting in a cave.  He had followed and minded God, yet the wicked queen Jezebel was determined to take his life.  He was spiritually depleted and down-hearted.  He lay down under a juniper tree and took a nap.  As he slept, an angel came, touched him to waken him, then told him to “arise and eat”.  Verse 6 says, “And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again.”  Evidently Elijah felt full and nourished and felt he had eaten enough to be satisfied.  But, verse 7 says, “…the angel of the LORD came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee.”

God knew the journey ahead would be rough and hard and discouraging.  He knew Elijah would have to travel 150 miles before he would be able to obtain more sustenance.  He knew one round of food would not be enough to keep him during all he would go through.  Verse 8 says, “And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God.”  I am so comforted to think of God’s providential care of Elijah.

Don’t you know God is aware of what we need, too?  He knew that the church service I described above would be the very last one Sis. Inez Richardson would ever attend.  She came to church that night with a very heavy heart and a tired and weary body.  She was racked with pain, and during service, she asked for special prayer.  We prayed earnestly for her, and she walked out of the chapel that night for the very last time. 

The following week, she went for some medical tests and found that there was a severe recurrence of the cancer from which she had previously suffered.  Her condition deteriorated very rapidly, and she was called home to be with Jesus yesterday….on Thanksgiving Day….just 18 days after that special service.  God knew what was ahead for Sis. Inez.  I can just imagine that in the 18 days that followed that service, her memories of that spiritual “meal” came back to bless her time after time, as she suffered.  Her children were amazed at the way she sang from her hospital bed during the days before her death.  Right in the midst of her intense suffering, God was feeding and nourishing her soul! 

I Corinthians 2:9 says, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”  He has what you need, my friend.  He will fill your heart to overflowing, enough for the “leftovers” to sustain you for many days.  Then, when it is necessary, He will fill you again!  His storehouse of spiritual blessings will never run out!  One day, like Sis. Inez, we will all make that crossing to be with Jesus for eternity.  Then we will never be hungry again.

Broccoli-Cheese Casserole
1 pkg. frozen chopped broccoli
1-8 ounce jar Cheese Whiz
1 cup Minute Rice
1 stick margarine
1 can Cream of Mushroom soup
¼ cup chopped celery
¼ cup chopped onion

Preheat over to 350 degrees.  Mix all ingredients in casserole dish, cover, and bake for one hour.  Stir after the first 30 minutes.  Remove cover the last 15 minutes.  Enjoy!!  It is delicious and tastes great “left over”!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Forgotten Benefits

“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits…”  Psalm 103:2 (KJV)

Happy Thanksgiving!! 

Today’s Scripture tells us to “forget not all His benefits”, and then it goes on to list many of the things our Heavenly Father does for us….He forgives all of our iniquities, He heals all of our diseases, He redeems our life from destruction, He crowns us with loving kindness and tender mercies, and He satisfies our mouth with good things. 

As I think about the pilgrims and that first Thanksgiving Day so long ago, my heart is filled with gratitude, too.  I feel like I have SO much to thank God for…not only today, on Thanksgiving, but every single day of my life.  I am careful to thank God often and give Him glory, worship, and praise for so many of the blessings He continually bestows.  I remember to thank Him for the things that are so obvious to me….my salvation, my dear husband and our marriage, our precious son, our Christian home, the fact that we can kneel and pray to God together in unity and fellowship, the house that keeps us dry and comfortable all year-round, the wonderful privilege of homeschooling our sweet boy, the good health God has given us, the cherished gift of living in the United States of America, our religious freedom, our freedom of speech, our three parents, and a host of other people we love and treasure.  I could still be sitting here months from now mentioning people and things and blessings that I remember.  But what about all of the benefits I have forgotten? 

What about all the times God has answered a prayer prayed in a moment of panic, and I completely forgot to go back and give Him thanks?  What about the unexpected card I got in the mail from a long-lost friend?  And the parking place that “just happened” to open up as I pulled into the over-crowded Walmart parking lot?  What about the strangers who discreetly and secretly bought our meal, and then left the restaurant before we had a chance to thank them?  What about the second time that happened in a completely different setting?  What about the time I walked into an uncomfortable, awkward situation and spotted a friendly, familiar face smiling reassuringly at me?  What about the dove that landed unexpectedly on the roof of my car during a troubled and unsettled time in my life?  What about the deer that was hit by another car instead of ours?

Since Kevin started his new job over a year ago, I have been plagued with concern over him driving home late at night on the deserted country roads he has to travel.  I pray daily for God’s protection over him, and one of the things I almost never fail to ask is that God will “remove deer from his path”.  We have deer around here…a LOT of them.  So, even though I know I shouldn’t worry so much, it is a legitimate concern.  J

One night, while on his way home, Kevin called me.  When I answered, I knew right away that something was wrong.  He said, “I hit a deer”.  He sounded shaken up, so I was almost afraid to ask.  “Are you okay?” I softly asked him.  “Yeah, I’m fine”, he replied.  And then he went on to tell me the most incredible story. 

He had been driving along at about 60 mph and decided to change over to the passing lane to pass the car in front of him.  When he got just about even with the car he was passing, an adult-size deer ran right into the car…not our car, but the car beside him!  By the time the deer reached the lane Kevin was in, it was injured and lying on the ground.  The only way it made contact with our car, is when Kevin had no choice but to run over it.  He and the lady who was driving the other car pulled over, and right away Kevin could see that her car was damaged….very badly.  The whole front side was torn up, extensively, all the way back to the front door.  Then he looked at our car.  There was absolutely no harm done…not even a dent!  As I listened to him telling me what happened, my mind immediately went back to the many times I had prayed that prayer for him.  How many other deer has God removed from Kevin’s path?  We knew about this one, and we fervently gave God thanks, but what about all the other times God brought him home safe without hitting a deer?

In Luke 17:11-19, there is a story about ten lepers.  Leprosy was a horribly debilitating disease in Jesus’ day.  People with leprosy had to live very tormented, isolated lives away from their loved ones and family.  They were social outcasts.  I don’t know how long these men had been in this state, but when Jesus entered into their village the ten lepers met Him.  They lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  Jesus told them to follow the Old Testament procedures for someone who was healed of leprosy and to go and show themselves to the priest.  As they were walking, all ten of them were cleansed…instantly healed of their leprosy!  It was a miracle of monumental proportions and truly amazing to behold.  They got their lives back!  They were no longer outcasts of society.  They could return home to their wives and families and live normal, enjoyable lives once again.  So, wouldn’t you think they would all be filled with utmost gratitude?  Absolutely.  But, an unbelievable thing happened.  Only ONE, yes I said, only ONE, of the men “turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.”  Jesus asked the man, “Were there not ten cleansed?  But where are the nine?” 

I look at these nine men with a feeling close to contempt.  How could they?  After what Jesus just did for them?  How could they walk away in good conscience and never turn around and say, “thank you”?  It seems inconceivable to me.  Ah!  But then I consider myself and the many benefits I, too have forgotten.  How many times have I failed to turn back and give thanks?

Today, I am going to do something I have never done before.  I am going to bow my head and thank God for forgotten benefits.  The many answers to prayer, the many times He has protected us when we didn’t even realize we were in danger, the times He rearranged our day so we didn’t have an accident, all of the changes to our schedule because He knew we would be exposed to sickness if He didn’t insert a detour….the list goes on and on.  So many benefits….such a merciful God…..very forgetful me. 

Shamefully, I feel like I have a lot of thanking to do.  How about you?  Have you forgotten any of God’s benefits?  Sometimes, we can become so focused on all of the negatives in our lives, that we completely overlook all of the benefits He so faithfully bestows every, single day.  Thanksgiving Day.  I can’t think of a better time to remember and catch up on thanking Him, can you?

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Next Page


“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment.”
I John 4:18 (KJV)

I sat at the kitchen table with tears gathering in my eyes, threatening to spill over at any moment.  I felt so sorry for Zachary.  He was seated in the chair next to me, and I watched as he became more and more frustrated over his school work.  He was working on a page in math that had problems that he was very familiar with, and he knew how to solve.  The page was half-finished, and I wondered why he was becoming more and more agitated as he worked on it.  I asked him what was wrong.  He said, “Mama!” as he flipped his workbook over to the next page.  When I saw it, I knew instantly why his little heart was so troubled.  On the next page was brand-new stuff….new information…problems he’d never seen or had to solve before.  And he was filled with anxiety.  Why?  Because it was unknown, uncharted territory.  And even though he hadn’t reached that point yet, even though he was still working on a page that was easy for him, he had looked ahead and seen what was coming up, and the dread of it was overwhelming him.

I said, “Zach, don’t worry about that page right now.  Just work on the page you are on.  Finish that first, then we’ll do the next page together.”  He reluctantly went back to doing what was familiar and comfortable.  When he finished that page, we tackled the next one.  He caught on to it real quick, and it turned out, his dread was entirely unnecessary.  He even enjoyed that page and said it was fun!

It hurts me to see him get so upset and worried over what’s coming next.  I could look at the page he was so troubled about, and to me, it was no mystery.  I already knew how to solve the problems, so they didn’t threaten me the way they intimidated Zachary.  I tried to tell him that it wasn’t that bad, and that I would be there with him and help him through it.  But, to him, it was monumental and frightening, and it disturbed him terribly.

Anxiety is a terrible emotion that plagues all of us at one point or another…some worse than others.  I’ve always been prone to worry over the future, but it seems over the past few years, my anxiety level has been over the top.  I wake up in full-blown panic attacks sometimes…not necessarily over things that are actually happening in my life, but because of what I fear might happen.  Sometimes, satan paints such dark, intimidating pictures and presents them to my mind that I become utterly terrified, and even though things are calm around me, the fear and dread of what might happen on the “next page” of my life causes me to not be able to enjoy the peaceful setting I am in today. 

This frustrates me because in my Christian journey I have learned a valuable truth about satan’s dark, intimidating predictions.  They never happen.  They don’t come true.  They are lies and baseless scare tactics.  Jesus said in John 8:44 that satan is a liar and the father of lies.  Later, I feel so ashamed over the way I got so worked up and troubled over something the enemy has come and whispered in my ear, and I promise myself I won’t ever do that again…that I will trust Jesus, because He is the truth and I have always been able to count on Him to see me through.  He already sees the future.  He knows what is on the next page.  And even though I may catch a glimpse, and it may look frightening, He knows the answers and already has all of the problems solved.  They don’t intimidate or surprise Him at all.

In Joshua 3:3, 4, God gave instructions to Joshua concerning how He would lead the children of Israel.  They were to faithfully follow the Ark of the Covenant and the priests who were carrying it.  When it moved, the people were to move.  When it stopped, they were to stop.  And there was a very specific way they were to follow it.  They were always, and at all times, to stay 2,000 cubits, (about ½ mile) behind the Ark.  They were never to come any closer and they were never to drift any farther.  It was a perfect distance to allow clear visibility.  Verse 4 ends by saying, “for ye have not passed this way heretofore.”  God’s presence, represented by the Ark of the Covenant, was leading the way, and this removed the uncertainty factor.  The Israelites didn’t have to figure things out on their own.  All they had to do was to stay a safe, visible distance, and follow God’s lead.  They were not to crowd in and try to rush God.  They were not to try to run around the Ark and get out in front of God.  They were not to lag too far behind God.  They were to obediently keep a 2,000 cubits distance between His presence and themselves and allow Him to lead in His time and in His way.

You and I live in very troubled times.  We have not passed this way before.  Things we used to think we could depend upon are now shaky and uncertain.  We don’t know what will happen tomorrow.  But, God already knows, and He already sees.  The things that seem so frightening and mysterious to us are as clear as the sun to Him.  His presence goes before us, and it would be in our best interest to keep a clear visibility of the way in which He is leading us to go.  You can be certain, satan will try to block your vision of “the Ark”.  Sometimes it will seem like things are not moving fast enough, and we should run ahead of God and do something.  Other times, it will seem like things are moving too fast, and we need to fall back a bit, not realizing if we drift too far from the Navigator, we will not be able to see which direction He is wanting us to go next, and we will lose our way.

“Perfect love casteth out fear…”  Remember the old Fanny Crosby song, “Blessed Assurance”?  I love the verse that says, “Perfect submission, All is at rest, I in my Savior am happy and blest; Watching and waiting, looking above, filled with His goodness, lost in His love.”  That is where the perfect love comes in!  That is what removes the fear factor!  Total, perfect submission to God, His leadership, His timing, and His will. 

Are you tired of being afraid?  Fearing what will happen next?  Listening to the devil’s lies that terrify you?  Submit it all to God, and you will find sweet rest in Jesus.  You too can say that you are “watching and waiting, looking above, filled with His goodness, lost in His love”.  Oh, praise God!  What a blissfully happy way to live!  Just consecrate yourself and the unknown future into the hands of our all-knowing God, and keep your eyes on “the Ark”, my friend!  He knows what is on the next page, He leads the way, and there is absolutely nothing at all for you to fear.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Your First Love

“Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.”  Revelation 2:4 (KJV)

We were driving across the lonely stretch of Alligator Alley through the everglades between Miami and Naples, where we lived at the time.  It was just Mom and me in the car, and I could tell she had something she wanted to tell me.  It was one of those times when I knew it was going to be important, so I listened real close.  I was a teenager, in that uncertain, not-sure-what-to-do-with-the-rest-of-my-life phase, and Mom was several years into her marriage with Dad.  Mom and Dad were having some problems, and she was kind of depressed and reflective that day.

I knew much of Mom’s history…that she had married young, and then had my four siblings by her first husband, Eddie.  He had died a very tragic death, and Mom was left a widow and a single mother at a young age.  She had lost many people who were dear to her…her father, mother, sister at age 15, brothers, and a host of others.  But, the tidbit she shared with me that afternoon was all new to me.  I had never heard her talk about it before.  Maybe she and Dad’s marital problems brought it all to the surface, but for some reason she decided to revisit a very painful place in her past and take me along.

She started off by telling me that you never forget your first love.  I had always thought her first love was her first husband, so when she went on to talk of a guy named, Norman, it completely surprised me.  She had been young…only 17 or so, and had met Norman through the girl who married her brother, Paul.  They had fallen madly in love, and they were talking of a future together.  Things were good, but for a particular reason, my Grandpa didn’t care for Norman.  He forbade her to continue the relationship, even though she loved him dearly.  After a period of time, Norman went into the armed forces, and he was stationed far from home.  In the months following, there was no contact between the two of them, even though Mom tried to keep in touch. 

After a period of time, Mom gave up on ever hearing from Norman again…she just assumed he had moved on and their relationship was over.  She met Eddie, and this time, Papaw approved.  Eddie and Mom were married, and soon after she became expectant with my oldest sister, Sharon.

One day, Norman came home from the service and went to see Mom’s brother, Paul and his wife.  He had an engagement ring in his hand and was looking for Mom!  He had bought it and was planning to surprise her by asking her to marry him.  The pain set in when my aunt told him Mom had already married another.  Not long after, Mom was riding a bus downtown one day, and she ran into Norman!  Her heart ached as they stood and talked about what might have been.  Mom was already unhappy in her marriage, and the temptation was strong to walk away and back into her interrupted relationship with Norman.  I could tell by the way Mom talked that it was hard for her to do the right thing that day.  Ultimately, she did….she said good-bye to Norman, and she stayed true to the vows she had made to her husband.  The hurt of having left her first love has been hard for Mom to bear through the years.  So many times, she has wondered how different things could and would have been had she followed her heart and waited.

One day, after Dad died, I had the nerve to ask Mom if I could do something I had wanted to do since I found out about Norman.  I wanted to see if I could find him.  I felt like I had to know where he was, how his life had gone, and it was my secret hope that Mom could just talk to him…one more time.  I started my investigative work and found his name pretty quickly on the internet.  Mom was apprehensive and reluctant to think about talking to him again, at first, but with my persuasion, she finally agreed.  She nervously began to call the phone numbers I came up with, and it turned out “her” Norman was the second one on my list.  After all those years, they spoke again.  It turned out he had married a lady and settled in Kentucky.  Mom spoke with his wife, who seemed very pleasant, and from their conversation, it was obvious she had heard all about Mom.  Norman wrote Mom a letter to catch up and tell her about his life and adventures through the years. 

One day, Mom called him just to say hello.  His wife answered the phone with sad news.  Norman had suffered a heart attack and passed away.  It seemed I saw a part of Mom die that day, too.  What might have been?  We will never know.  We all make our choices, and we live with the consequences, whatever they may be.  People leave their first love, they move on, and they deal with the haunting questions that follow.

In our passage of Scripture today, Jesus told the church at Ephesus that they had left their first love.  It was the love they had once felt for Him.  They were still a church-going crowd who looked like they had it all together on the outside, but, inside they were void of their original love and passion for Jesus Christ.  He was no longer number one.

Do you remember when you first met Jesus?  Remember how your heart was “on fire” with a passion and zeal for Him?  How you wanted to spend every possible second you could with Him, and you couldn’t wait to spend the rest of your life walking with Him hand in hand doing all you could to serve and love Him more?

Do you still feel that way?  Is He still your first love?  Does your heart still yearn for time with Him?  Or somewhere down the line, did you walk away?  Did someone or something come in and steal His place in your heart?  Is He still number one?  If anyone moved, it was you or me, my friend, because He never leaves.  Is He still your first love, or have you left Him?  He is still available.  He still loves you….with a perpetual, unconditional love.  He still wants to be first in your heart and life, and He is ready to forgive, if you have strayed.  Psalm 86:5 (KJV) says, “For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.”  He is the God of second chances, and He allows U-turns.  It won’t take you long to find Him.  All it takes is a sincere, heartfelt prayer of repentance.  He will put the past behind you, and you can start again.  If you’ve left your first love, why not come back to Him today?  It was too late for Mom and Norman…thank God, it is not too late for you and Jesus.