Saturday, December 31, 2011

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

“And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.”  Revelation 21:5 (KJV)

Aren’t you glad there is such a thing as “new”?  Untainted, un-ruined, purely clean, and untarnished.  That is what we have today.  The beginning of a New Year!  So far, it is unlived, and it is like we’ve been given a clean slate.  Last year’s failures, hurts, disappointments, and mess-ups were….well, last year.  And the same God who carried us through 2011, will be with us every day of 2012.  And He makes all things new!  He forgives, and even better…He forgets. 

I love that about God.  He is willing to wash our sins away and then He gets rid of them….forever.  He doesn’t throw them back up to us.  Unfortunately, satan does remember them, and he is quick to remind us of them…time after time.  He overlooks the fact that we have a clean heart, and we are new in Christ.  But, God never overlooks anything.  2 Corinthians 5:17 (KJV) says, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature:  old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”  Our old life is just that….old.  When we become a child of God, all things are become new!

What are your wishes for the new year?  Any resolutions?  I read something about how it is easier to keep our new years resolutions, if we break them down into smaller steps….I think I will keep mine the size of baby steps!  Instead of looking at 365 days, maybe we would do better to try to keep our resolution for 30 days.  Then, starting over again in the new month, try to keep it for another 30 days.  It seems less overwhelming that way. 

I, of course, have the same resolution again…I truly hope I can lose the extra weight this year.  I am so excited!!  Kevin and his Mom went together and bought us a very nice treadmill!  I have wanted one for a long time, so needless to say, I am thrilled.  Instead of looking at the 60 some pounds I need to lose, I think I will set 12 goals of 5 pounds each.  By God’s help, when I lose that 5, I will try for another 5.  And instead of promising to walk on my treadmill for an hour each day, I will try 20 minutes or so and work my way up.  Kevin is planning to put it together for me over his long weekend, so I will be set to start on it at the dawning of the New Year, Lord willing!   

I think this year, I will try to take things at a slower pace along with my smaller, quicker-achieved goals.  Hopefully, this way I won’t get burned out in the first three weeks of 2012!  I have several decorative things that say “simplify” on them.  I think that is another goal I will set for this year….to simplify areas of my life that are too over-crowded and complicated.  Jesus said in John 10:10 (KJV), “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”  He wants us to enjoy our lives, and sometimes this means laying aside cumbersome, unnecessary thieves of our time.  I also want to become more organized…which makes everything simpler.  To get myself motivated, I have started cleaning out drawers…one drawer at a time.  My goal is to clean out every closet and cabinet and drawer…taking it one at a time.  There are some wonderful de-cluttering, organizing ideas at www.bhg.com.  They also have a great Storage Solutions Newsletter you can sign up for. 

My prayer for you is that the new year will bring much happiness, health, and a deeper sense of peace with God.  I hope you find time each day to experience life.  Here are some of my wishes for you…

 I hope you take time to cherish each moment...and not rush through them or wish them away.

I hope every day you look your child in the eye and listen to them talk…for as long as they want to…until they are completely finished.

I hope you stop hurrying and sit down and look out the window while you drink your coffee.

I hope every day you look up into the sky and thank God…for all of the special people in your life and your many blessings.

I hope you open your Bible and read one verse every day…just one....even if it is John 11:35.  (Aha!  I got you to open it and look, didn't I? :-)

I hope you find one thing to appreciate about your spouse every, single day…and tell them what it is.  Life would be awful lonesome if they weren’t there to tell.

I hope you feel appreciated and loved and cared about…always.

I hope there is never a moment that you lose hope.

I hope you perform one random act of kindness every day of 2012….and I hope you do it anonymously.

The year is new, and we know not what lies ahead.  But, we know the Maker and Giver of life, and we know He holds our hand and leads us onward. 

Here’s a couple of New Years poems to contemplate…

THE UNKNOWN FUTURE

Life is a book in volumes three–
The past, the present, and the yet-to-be.
The past is written and laid away,
The present we’re writing every day,
And the last and best of volumes three
Is locked from sight — God keeps the key.
~ Author Unknown ~

THE UNKNOWN

I do not know what still awaits,
Or what the morrow brings;
But with the glad salute of faith,
I hail its open wings!
For this I know — that in my Lord
Shall all my needs be met;
And I can trust the heart of him
Who has not failed me yet..
~ Author Unknown ~

God bless you through the new year, my friend!  Forget the past, and keep pressing on!  May it be your happiest year ever!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Y2K

 “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort…”  2 Corinithians 1:3 (KJV)

Y2K.  Remember that phrase?  Remember the wide-spread panic across our nation and our world concerning the numbers changing from the 1900’s to 2000 on January 1, 2000?  Everyone was filled with alarm wondering if all of the preparations to keep things running smoothly would really pay off.  I remember the bank where Kevin and I were employed being so concerned and going to great lengths to ensure trouble-free operations. 

That night was a troubled time, and I imagine most people can remember where they were and what they were doing when the clock struck midnight.  It turned out that all worry was in vain, life went on, and all was well.  December 31, 1999 had another strong and also very sad significance for me.  I remember it quite well.

We still lived in Florida, and our neighbors across the street had an annual New Year's Eve tradition of tying several firecrackers together and stringing them down the middle of our road.  Then at midnight, they would light them, causing them to go off and make a steady sound of popping for several minutes.  Mom and Dad came to spend the night with us that New Year’s Eve, and I so clearly remember standing inside our front door, with Dad at my side listening to the firecrackers….cheering with our neighbors at midnight.  I remember being filled with a sense of peace to know I was with the ones I loved most, and all of us were okay.  It turned out, that was the last New Years I ever got to welcome in with my Dad.

Life drastically changed that following year.  Dad’s health continued to decline at a rapid speed, and I went through the most bittersweet time of my life.  I found out in April that I was expecting a baby after many long years of battling infertility, and I clearly remember the day Kevin and I went to the mid-wife’s office to hear little Zachary’s heart beat for the very first time.  We returned home on top of the world, anxious to call Mom and Dad and tell them all about it.  When Mom answered the phone, I knew right away that something was drastically wrong.  She shakily told me that the doctor had told Dad the very same day that he would more than likely need to have both legs amputated in the near future.  His long-term battle with diabetes had destroyed the nerves in both legs, and the blood flow was very weak.  Whew!  Talk about going from the highest high to the lowest low in a matter of seconds!

It was like this for the next several weeks.  One minute I was on cloud nine thinking about the future, anxious for Zachary to arrive.  The next minute, I was filled with dread and the deep-down, gnawing fear that Dad may not live until Zachary’s arrival date in December.  My emotions were on what seemed like a perpetual roller-coaster. 

At the end of May, Dad began suffering from severe chest pains and Mom took him to the ER.  He never came back home.  He suffered and fought for life until June 5, 2000, when God sent an angel to take him...not back to his earthly home, but to his eternal resting place.  We were all there with him when he made his crossing.  Kevin was standing by his bed, holding his hand.  I stood nearby and watched the monitor at the head of his bed.  I felt like my heart was wrenched from my chest as I watched his heart rate flat-line.  He was gone.  He would never see his one and only biological grandchild.  They would never play together.  He would never get to hold him.  There would be none of that.  I remember walking down the long, unfeeling, cold corridor of the hospital hallway, feeling like there was absolutely no way I could pick up the pieces and go on.  Y2K did nothing to damage the world around me; Dad was gone, and my whole world had fallen apart.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  He had been sick for so many years, and I just assumed he would come back home again and all would return to his sense of “normal” in a few days…like all the times before.  This time, we left there without him, and he was never coming home. 

I’ll be honest.  I fought some pretty hard, angry battles with God after that.  Why on earth couldn’t Dad have at least lived to SEE Zachary?  Why did he have to die NOW, so close to meeting our baby?  Why?  Why?  Why?  I was fighting bitterness, unable to really cherish the moments and the wonders of being with child after waiting so long.  On top of all of that, I was very sick….all the way to the end of my pregnancy.  There were many scares along the way, due to my long-standing health issues, and later, when it was all over, and Zachary was born healthy and perfectly safe, the midwives told me how worried they had been concerning a miscarriage.  Unbeknownst to me, my progesterone levels had been dangerously low, and looking back, I could see God’s protective hand all over little Zach.  Even when I didn’t realize the danger I was in of losing him, God did.  And He took care of both of us all the way through.  Even when I was questioning Him, even when I felt like He was dealing cruelly and unfairly with me, God’s love for me remained, and He took special, personal care of our unborn child.  He knew the pain of losing Dad and a miscarriage would have been more than my hurting heart could have withstood.  So, He took Dad, and he gave a precious baby boy to us six months later.  “…the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”  Job 1:21 (KJV)

I want to present a special New Year’s Eve challenge to you for this year.  Try to be with the ones you love the most.  Even if they get on your nerves, even if you want to be alone, even if it takes extra effort….make that effort.  Stand next to them and always be reminded that one day, you will stand next to them for the very last time.  As the clock strikes midnight to usher in a new year, tell the ones dearest to you that you love them.  Hug them a little tighter, speak in a kinder tone, say what needs to be said.  I’ll never be able to spend another New Year's Eve with Dad.  Never hear his contagious laughter again.  Never feel my heart fill up with joy as I watch him and Zachary play.  I’m glad we shared those moments together on the eve of the new year 2000.  I’m glad for every moment we shared together.  I miss him and always will.  This New Years, think of who you would miss the most if they were gone from your life forever.  Then cherish them a little bit more…not only at New Year’s, but every day for the rest of your lives together.  For, sadly, as 2011 is coming to a close, one day life will, too. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Symbol of Hope

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 
Romans 8:38,39 (KJV)

Casting all sad recollections of 2011 aside, do you have a favorite memory of this year?  A favorite day that went just right?  A favorite time with God?  A time of spiritual awakening that was especially unique?  Looking back, I guess I have several favorite memories of 2011.  One of them happened on a balcony in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

We had just passed through a very troubled, trying time in our lives, and we took a much-needed vacation to one of my favorite places in the world….my Dad’s home state of Tennessee.  We rented a condo for a few days that was right outside the town of Pigeon Forge.  The view was gorgeous…you could see the outskirts of town, yet you could clearly see a beautiful mountain across the way in the distance.  Every night while we were there, Zachary and I would go out and sit on the balcony, stare at the mountain, and talk.  We would look at the lights up and down the side of the mountain and imagine what the families inside the houses were like…what were they doing?  What was going on in their lives?  Though we would never meet or know the answers, we connected with them for those brief moments by the lights in their windows…shining out across the night sky.

Sometimes the aftermath of a storm is worse than the storm.  Sometimes it leaves you reeling, and the repercussions are much more profound than the actual blast of fury.  Sometimes you wake up after it is all over and you wonder what just hit you and how you will ever pick up all of the broken pieces and regroup and rebuild.  You second-guess choices you have made and wonder if, in those split-second decisions, you did the right thing.  Unfortunately, our archenemy, satan, loves to dwell and work in the aftermath.  It seems to give him great delight to point out every mistake we’ve made, but one of his biggest strategies when we are struggling and hurting, is to cause us to question God’s love for us.  “If God loved you, He would never have let this happen to you.  You aren’t really His child.  If you were, He would have protected and shielded you from this deep hurt.  God doesn’t care about you.  He is angry with you, and He isn’t listening to your prayers.  You’re an outcast, and you are no longer His child.  You really, really blew it this time”….just some of the hateful, mean-spirited lies he loves to sit on our shoulder and whisper into our ears. 

You know, I think satan can sense fear and insecurity in us, like a shark can sense the smell of blood in water.  When he senses it, he pounces and closes in for the kill.  If he can get us to doubt, even just a little bit, that God has forsaken us, he will attack with full strength.  This is where I found myself one night on that peaceful balcony.  I had gone out alone, with Zach’s promise to meet me out there later.  It was just me and God, the night sky and the serene mountain across the way.  But, into the midst of my tranquility and gentle thoughts, the old nagging questions started flooding my mind.  “Did we do the right thing?  Was it really God Who had led us down such a radical path?  Did we really hear HIS voice, or was it the voice of another?  Did God care about us?  Had He forsaken us?  Would the hurt inside ever go away?”  On and on and on the questions came, each one with more intensity, and the faster they came, the more my anxiety increased.  By the time my horrible lightning round battle with the devil eased off and subsided, I was exhausted and thoroughly discouraged.  This is the shape I was in by the time I heard Zach opening the french doors and walking up to sit down in the chair beside me. 

Bless his little heart, it never ceases to amaze me how much comfort a child can bring!  He is so precious and has been such a source of encouragement and joy to Kevin and me through all of our trials.  He had barely sat down and gotten comfortable when he exclaimed, “Oh, Mama!  LOOK!”  I leaned forward to see what had caught his eye, and there up the road a ways, was a huge, solid white cross….seemingly hanging in space against the night sky.  We looked at each other, and we began to wonder what was holding it in place.  And why hadn’t we noticed it on any of the nights before?  We got the camera and took pictures, but it was so far away it was impossible to get a clear image.  It looked like it was suspended, off the ground, from where we were. 

Zachary was completely fascinated….so was I.  He didn’t know anything about the war that had been waging in me, nor did he realize how close I was to completely giving up the hope that God loved us or cared about what we were going through.  I would never want his trusting, innocent heart to feel the complete hopelessness that had nearly overwhelmed me just moments before he came outside. 

As I sat there and stared at our newly discovered cross, its comfort enveloped me like a reassuring hug.  It was like God had sent me a sign…right at that exact moment….when I needed it the most.  And what better sign to send than the emblem of the suffering and shame of my Savior?  It was like He was saying, “Child, I understand.  Remember the old, rugged cross?  Remember My suffering?  Remember when I cried out WHY to My Father?  Because of what I suffered, because of what I went through, you can know with all certainty that I DO love you, child.  I love you so much that I died for you.  THAT is the express reason I died.  You are not alone.  I am with you.  And, by the way, it WAS My voice you heard, listened to, and followed.  You did the right thing.  You are in the center of my perfect will for your life at this moment.  Continue to follow Me.  I will never leave you, and I will never forsake you.  You are My child.” 

Oh, the peace that washed over me!  I stared at that cross for a long time that night.  I never could figure out why we hadn’t noticed it before, but the next day, as we were driving along, Zachary and I spotted it and pointed it out to Kevin.  It turned out that it was securely supported by the ground on the side of a mountain, and the lights of the city around it had only given the illusion of it being suspended in mid-air.  Another gentle reminder that the message of the cross is forever concrete and solid.  It will never change. 

Seeing a cross is a symbol of eternal hope….a profound reminder that God’s love will never change towards us.  He will never leave us alone.  He is there….during the storm and all the way through every stage of the aftermath. 

Today’s passage lets us know with certainty that no matter what happens in our lives, no matter what we go through, no matter how hard it gets, one thing will always, always remain.  God will always love us.  Nothing can separate us from His love.  It will penetrate through the deepest depths of suffering and the most concrete barriers this life could ever create.  I repeat, NOTHING can separate us from His love.  And to prove that, He hung, suffered, bled, and died on a rough wooden cross.  Shortly before His death, Jesus told His disciples, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13 (KJV) 

He loves you…and He loves me.  These days, I find that I need to remind myself of that more often than usual.  No matter who turns against us, talks about us, slanders us, decides to sever relationships with us….no matter who else lets us down, He never will, my friend.  He never will.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Comfort, Joy, and Merry CHRISTmas!!

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not:  for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ, the Lord.” 
Luke 2:10,11 (KJV)


Author Unknown

“God rest ye merry gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay;
Remember Christ our Savior,
Was born on Christmas day.
To save us all from satan’s power,
When we were gone astray,
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy,
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy."

That is what the angel brought, when it appeared to the shepherds on that first Christmas night.  Tidings of great joy…and so much comfort!  For years, the world had been in darkness…waiting….for the promise of the Messiah to be fulfilled.  The One who would free them from all spiritual bondage!  And on this blessed night, He came!

Unassuming, in an out-of-the-way, obscure place…with just His mother and earthly father in attendance, the precious, long-awaited Messiah was born!  And in that moment, God became flesh so that He could live and dwell among men.  For 33 ½ years, He lived and breathed and walked and talked.  He felt what we feel.  He was tested like we are tested.  He hurt like we hurt.  He was God, and He was man.  He was the bridge that spanned the gap between the two.  I love the Scripture in Ephesians 2:14 (KJV) that says, “For He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us…”  This is why Jesus came…to tear down the wall between God and man, by becoming one of us.  Emmanuel, God with us! 

The Old Testament prophets could see, at a distance, that one day there would be a Savior.  They prophesied right down to the finest detail about Jesus’ birth...and it came to pass exactly as they foretold it.  Remember Anna and Simeon?  Both of them were in the temple when Jesus was brought in for circumcision, and they both recognized that Jesus was the Messiah that they had been waiting for.  How did they do that?  What was different about Him that caused Him to stand out from the other babies brought in that day?  It is wonderful how God, through His precious Spirit, revealed to both of them that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. 

I love the passage in Luke 2:25-30 that describes Simeon and his reaction to seeing the baby Jesus.  “And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel:  And the Holy Ghost was upon him.  And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  And he came by the Spirit into the temple:  and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest Thou thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word:  For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation…” 

There was something very different about the Lord Jesus Christ, even as an infant, that was identified by those who had God’s Spirit dwelling within them.  And just as His presence filled the heart of Simeon with comfort and made Anna rejoice in the temple, He brings comfort, and joy to all those who open their hearts to receive Him today.  There is no true joy outside of having peace with God.  Jesus came to bring peace between God and man.  His presence in the heart and life are a Source of comfort each and every day.
I hope you have a wonderful Christmas day!  I hope you are surrounded by the ones you love the most, which means more than any earthly gift.  I hope the day brings much happiness to you as you celebrate and enjoy whatever festivities and family traditions you hold dear.  And, as your heart is warmed by family, friends, and loved ones, I hope you pause for a few moments….and remember the Christ child.  And if you have never made the decision to let Him come into your heart and life, I hope with all my heart, you decide to do that this Christmas.  When He came as a baby, there was no room for Him in the inn.  I hope today we all make room for Him in our hearts.  From my family and me, Merry and blessed CHRISTmas greetings to you and yours!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Quilts….and Swaddling Clothes

“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”  Luke 2:7 (KJV)

I love quilts.  Every now and then, I come across a really great buy on an old, weathered one, and I bring it home to add to my collection.  Quilts are interesting creations…when I buy an old one, I always wonder whose hands stitched it, and how many hands it has passed through over the years.  And what hands will it fall into after I am gone and no longer have any use for it? 

Several years ago, we went to visit my Aunt Joyce and Uncle Orville when they were living in Jacksonville, FL.  When we got to the room we were to sleep in, Kevin remarked at the beauty of the quilt on the bed.  He just fell in love with it.  It was predominantly brown, with many other colors added throughout, and it was a unique pattern that my aunt told us was called Cathedral Window.  She made it by using several leftover pieces of upholstery fabric, and she told us how her fingers bled from the needle being so hard to push through the thickness of the fabric.  The quilt was truly a labor of love and of her self.



A few years later at Christmas, a surprise box came in the mail addressed to Kevin from Aunt Joyce.  Inside was the beautiful quilt she had made that he liked so much.  Needless to say, he was thrilled, and it has become something we both treasure.  Not only because it is beautiful, but because of the time, energy, and effort Aunt Joyce put into making it, and because of  her unselfishness in passing it on to someone who cherishes it so much.  Each time I look at the quilt (pictured above), I think of Aunt Joyce and how much she means to me.  We will be good stewards over her quilt, until one day we pass it on to Zachary.

When Zachary was a baby, I made him a quilt.  Not anywhere near as nice or pretty or as complicated a pattern as Aunt Joyce’s, but every stitch was stitched with all of the love my heart could hold.  I was so happy to have the fabric and ability to create something warm and comforting for our child.

At this time of year, my thoughts often turn to Mary.  I think of how I felt 11 years ago, when I was expecting Zachary, and in labor on Christmas Day.  During my pregnancy, Kevin and I spent hours turning our guest room into a nursery.  We painted, put wallpaper on the walls and a Precious Moments border at the top.  We moved all of my doll collection off the shelves that were installed over and around the window, and we began to fill up the shelves with baby items and d├ęcor.  Kevin worked hard making everything just right.  He assembled the crib, changing table, and glider rocker, and he arranged everything perfectly.  I clearly remember the first day we brought Zachary home from the hospital, and I sat rocking him in his room for the very first time.  Everything was clean and neat and comfortable. 

Mary had no such luxuries.  She had no clean, new crib; no serene baby wallpaper; and no walls to paper.  She didn’t have a new rocking chair in which to soothe her baby to sleep.  She didn’t even have a roof over her head.  No comfortable hospital bed in which to give birth.  No attending physician or midwife.  No comforting friends around to welcome the first cries of her infant Son.  She was in an unfamiliar town, alone, except for her noble Joseph, who stayed faithfully by her side.  They had traveled a far distance, not in a nice, comfortable automobile, but on the back of a donkey.  We can only imagine what they went through to get to Bethlehem. 

Mary had no soft, comforting quilt to wrap around her precious baby.  The custom in those days was to take strips of cloth and tie them together to wrap around a newborn.  Swaddling clothes, they were called.  I have wondered where Mary found the fabric to tear into strips.  There has been speculation, but we really have no concrete facts since the Bible does not say.  Perhaps she tore pieces of her own garment or some of Joseph’s.  At any rate, the best she could do was to wrap sweet Baby Jesus in crude pieces of cloth…not neatly sewn, but roughly tied together, then wrapped tightly around Him, to keep Him warm.  Then the best she could do was to place Him in a rugged manger that was otherwise used as a feeding trough for animals.  Smelly, possibly damp, and most definitely uncomfortable. 

The inn probably had much finer accommodations.  Had Joseph only been able to rent a room for the night, both Mary and Baby Jesus would have fared much better.  But, there was no room.  I wonder who came to the door of the inn to tell Joseph the inn was full.  Did he or she feel a stab of pity as the dejected twosome rode away?  Wouldn’t you have thought there could have been a small vacant spot found somewhere to make them at least somewhat comfortable? 

Through human eyes, I would have much preferred reading that a beautiful, hand-stitched, comfortable quilt softened Jesus’ entrance into this cruel world.  But in reality I read that He was wrapped in swaddling clothes.    Later in the 2nd chapter of Luke, we read “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”  She had to have questions; she had to wonder what was going on because she was human, just like you…and me.  But, she trusted God’s wisdom, when she couldn’t understand His logic. 

Looking back in retrospect, we know it was all part of God’s plan.  But being a woman, at Christmas, my heart always goes out to Mary and the plight she found herself in.  She, the noble one God chose to aid in the miracle of the birth of His only begotten Son, was forced into the most meager, humbling, and more than likely puzzling, of circumstances.

God doesn’t always do things the way we think He should.  His plan is so much bigger and better than any we could come up with.  Isaiah 55:9 (KJV) says, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”  In my way of thinking, Jesus should have been born into the very best of circumstances.  In reality, He couldn’t have been born into much worse.  But, who am I?  God had a plan, just as He has a plan for your life and mine.

Do you find yourself in puzzling, mysterious situations that are hard to understand?  Do you wonder why God is allowing things to turn out differently than you envisioned He would?  Mary must have wondered, too…she “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”  After all, the angel had told her she would give birth to God's Son, but she surely must have thought it would be in different circumstances than this.  Somehow, I believe she knew that she was an essential part of something much bigger than what she could see.  You are too, my friend.  You are an all-important part of God’s plan.  None of us will ever have the unique opportunity Mary did to make such a revered contribution, but all of us have the chance to submit to God’s purpose for our individual lives using what we have to make the best of our circumstances.  Kind of like Mary turning strips of cloth into swaddling clothes...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Fallen Leaves

  
Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19:32 (KJV)

I stood looking out our front door window at the cherry tree in our yard.  Almost all of its leaves have fallen, and its branches look starkly bare against the sky.  There are a few of them still hanging on for dear life; I counted 23, and they are beautiful.  No longer the deep green of the summer, they have now made their metamorphosis into varying shades of red, yellow, and burnt orange.  I figure they, too will fall off within the next few days, and the branches will stay bare until the spring comes in late March or early April.  Then, the whole process will be repeated, and hopefully, we will all get to enjoy the stages of beauty once again. 

The life of a leaf has many stages, and they kind of remind me of human life.  First it buds in the early spring.  Then it grows into a full-grown green leaf full of life and color.  It stays on the branch, attached to it and green, until fall comes.  It is then changed into another color, and it begins to die.  As soon as a strong wind or rain comes, it falls off the tree and lies on the ground….waiting.  Either for the wind to blow it away, or to lie on the ground through the winter months, eventually disintegrating into the ground.

The other day, I raked a huge pile of fallen leaves in the yard, and they fulfilled one last purpose before they either become nourishing compost for the soil or are blown away by the wind.  They provided Zachary with hours of fun.  He took some toys outside and buried them in the pile I had raked together, and then he played the game of finding them.  He didn’t want to come inside; he was having such a wonderful time.  Even though the leaves have fallen off the tree, they are still very beautiful to look at, and they still have purpose and usefulness.

People are useful, too.  No matter how old they become or how unnecessary they feel.  Elderly people kind of remind me of fallen leaves.  It is especially noticeable when you walk through a nursing home…bless their hearts, it is like they are just waiting to die and they no longer feel useful.  They should always be made to feel that they still have purpose and that they mean something, long after they have come aside from an active lifestyle.  The mindset of our society seems to imply that after a person is no longer able to contribute by actively working a job and paying taxes, they are a drain on the system.  This way of thinking makes me very, very sad, because we are losing out on so much by not listening to their stories and learning from their wisdom.

I have a cedar chest in our room that I have cherished for many years.  It was given to me when I was 16 years old.  I was working part-time in a nursing home, and one of the residents became especially dear to me.  She was a tiny, little lady who was very stooped and fragile.  She had a raspy, frail voice, and I had to really strain to understand her when she talked.  But, I always took time to listen to her and let her tell me her stories.  She was a generous, caring little soul, and one day she told me she had some things she wanted to give to me.  One of the items was the beautiful cedar chest I still use and treasure.  It seemed to give her so much joy to know that I would have her things….it just seemed to give her a sense of still contributing something useful to the world around her.  I think she needed that.

Kevin’s Dad is becoming more and more feeble.  He is no longer able to care for even his own  basic, personal needs, and the strain is becoming much harder for Mom S. to deal with.  He talks a lot about dying and how his days on earth are numbered.  But, an amazing thing happens when Kevin walks into the room.  Dad Smith makes a transformation!  Kevin is the apple of Dad’s eye, and it gives him new zest just to see him.  He tries with all his might to keep Kevin from seeing the ever-increasing loss of his own vitality, so I think he pushes harder when Kevin is around.  Kevin treats him with respect and encourages him to stay active by trying to involve him in projects while we are there.  It makes Dad feel useful again…if only for a little while.

How about you, my friend?  Is there some special “fallen leaf” in your life who still has beauty and worth and value and whose day would be brightened by a visit from you?  Maybe they’ve stopped feeling valuable and loved, and just seeing you would give them renewed vigor and courage to try again.  Maybe you could think of something the two of you could do together to make them feel necessary again.  Perhaps YOU are the apple of some aged person’s eye, and they would give anything just to share some of your time....and some of their stories.  The elderly are as precious to the heart of God as the young and strong.  They have a wealth of wisdom and knowledge to share…they just need someone to pass it on to. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Hands

“And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him…” Matthew 8:3 (KJV)

One of my favorite feelings in the world is to feel Kevin’s hand on my back or around my waist as we are walking.  His hands are strong and gentle and soothing.  He uses his hands continually on his job to provide for our living, his hands brush tears from my eyes, and they steady me when I start to fall.  I have always been a fast walker, and many times, through the years, if I have walked ahead of Kevin, he will say, “My hand’s lonesome!”  Each and every time, I have slowed down for him to catch up, so we could do something that will always be one of my favorite things in life….hold each others’ hand. 

Today, we watched our annual Christmas parade in our small town, and the sun was shining in my eyes.  Kevin, always thoughtful, considerate, and sensitive to my needs, stood between me and the sun to block it, and his hand touched my face with concern as he remarked that I was getting too much sun.  His hands provide a deep sense of comfort to me, and it makes me feel safe and loved and cared for when I feel his touch.  After being married for 23 ½ years, I think I could identify his touch from all others….his would have the most love, kindness, and gentleness, and I would recognize it with my heart.  I feel very blessed to have a husband that protects and lovingly guides with his hands.  My heart breaks for every woman who has come to fear impending blows from the hands of the man who should be her defender. 

As I was growing up, I was also very blessed to have a Daddy whose hands I never had to fear.  Not that I didn’t get my fair share of discipline when I absolutely needed it, but it was only after he had exhausted every other option to get me to straighten up!  He was kind and protective and his hands worked very hard to keep a roof over our heads and food on our table. 

Dad always had a habit of biting his fingernails, and he was always ashamed of the way his hands looked because of it.  He always told Mom that if he died before she did to make sure his hands weren’t showing in his coffin.  Neither Mom nor I told the funeral director about this, but amazingly, when we went in to view Dad’s body, his fingers were neatly bent on both hands hiding his fingernails!  Mom and I never could figure out how this happened, and it has puzzled us ever since.  I guess, it will always be one of those unsolved mysteries in my life.

I remember standing there looking at his hands and thinking of all of the many hours of work he had done with them through the years to make sure Mom and I had what we needed in life.  Do you remember the song “Daddy’s Hands”?  It was written by Holly Dunn, and it truly expresses my feelings about my Daddy’s hands.  (If you go to my blogspot at www.cherylsmithministries.blogspot.com, there is a link to the youtube video to listen to it.) 
Here are the lyrics:
Verse One
I remember Daddy’s Hands, folded silently in prayer,
And reaching out to hold me, when I had a nightmare;
You could read quite a story in the calluses and lines,
Years of work and worry, had left their mark behind.
Verse Two
I remember Daddy’s hands, working ‘til they bled,
Sacrificed, unselfishly, just to keep us all fed;
If I could do things over, I’d live my life again,
And never take for granted, the love in Daddy’s hands.
Chorus
Daddy’s hands were soft and kind when I was crying,
Daddy’s hands were hard as steel when I done wrong;
Daddy’s hands weren’t always gentle, but I’ve come to understand,
There was always love in Daddy’s hands
Verse Three
I remember Daddy’s hands, how they held my Mama taught,
And patted my back, for something done right;
There are things that I’ve forgotten that I loved about the man,
But, I’ll always remember, the love in Daddy’s hands.

I remember standing at the graveside of my Papaw, William McCoy.  My twelve year old heart was breaking, as the songs were sung and I knew the moment was nearing that Papaw’s lifeless body would soon be laid to rest for the final time.  As I cried, someone began to scold me for crying.  “Don’t do that, Cheryl.  Your Papaw wouldn’t want you to cry!” were the words of cold rebuke.  How could I keep from crying?  I didn’t want to see him go, and it hurt deep down inside.

As I stood there trying to stifle my tears and pull myself together, I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder.  The comfort and kindness was unmistakable, and I turned my head to see who the hand belonged to.  The eyes looking down at me were filled with compassion and concern.  I had never seen her before, but it turned out, she was there to support my Uncle Orville and would soon become someone very special in my life.  She would soon become my beloved Aunt Joyce. 

That was almost 33 years ago.  Aunt Joyce has remained a cherished, endeared person in my life and to my heart.  From that first gentle touch of kindness, her hands have continued to bless and comfort me through all my years of knowing her.  My family has been warmed by the many crocheted afghans she has used her hands to make for us.  I see things all around me in our home that have been created by her hands, and I know each project was made and stitched and crafted with love.  It isn’t as easy now for her to use her hands to do the things she has loved to do for so long since she suffers from arthritis and other health problems.  But even though her hands aren’t as usable as they once were, the love in her heart and her desire to bless are still there. 

Almost 2000 years ago, the most unselfish sacrifice of all time was made…it involved two hands.  Hands that belonged to a baby boy who was born into primitive surroundings and placed in a rough-hewn wooden manger during His first few moments of life.  Hands that grew up to use a hammer and nails and build things alongside his earthly father, Joseph.  Hands that reached out to touch the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf, and the hearts of the broken.  Hands that comforted and blessed and served and healed every hurting person they came in contact with.  Hands that were guiltless of any wrongdoing, yet stretched out before public view after willingly taking the blame for every wrong.  Hands that voluntarily allowed a Roman soldier's hands to drive a nail through them and fasten them to an old, rugged cross!

Here is a beautiful song by Carroll Roberson called "One Pair of Hands".  It is well worth your time to listen.  http://www.carrollroberson.com/main/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=66

These were the hands of my Savior, my Lord, my Master!  Precious, nail-scarred hands that continue to nurture and tenderly care for the needs of every man, woman, boy, and girl.  Have you felt the touch of those dear hands?  Have you experienced the loving-kindness with which they are driven?  Do you know Him?  I encourage you to get acquainted with Him.  Allow His hands to draw you close and heal your hurting heart.  Place your frightened hand in His, and allow Him to lead you through the hard times.  Won’t you reach out for Him?  What holds you back?  They’re outstretched and waiting…for you, my friend.  Just for you.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Peaceful Home….and Heart


“Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. “  Romans 14:19 (KJV)

Home…just the word brings feelings of comfort and warmth to my heart.  The old song is so true…be it ever so humble, there really is no place like home.  I guess I have rightfully earned the nickname of “homebody” over the years.  Everyone who knows me very well can vouch for the fact that I love home.  As a woman, I believe it is one of our God-given duties to make our homes as welcoming, warm, comforting, and peace-filled as we possibly can.  Our homes should provide a safe-haven for our husbands and children and be “lived in” and feel inviting and comfortable to them…and to us.  I can honestly say that there is no where on earth I would rather be…and stay…than right here at home. 

Today’s passage instructs us to “follow after the things which make for peace”, and I believe that it is just as important to apply this to our homes as well as our individual lives.  What are “the things that make for peace” in your life?  What gives you that deep-down sense of being right where you belong and right where you want to be?  For me, it is the simple things, and these are a few of my favorites.

I feel a sense of peace when Kevin and Zachary are near me.  Just knowing they are both in the house somewhere, even if doing their own thing, settles my nerves and brings a deep-down comfort.  I am comfortable with them, and they love me just the way I am…whether it is on my best or worst day.  Just their presence brings peace to our home.

We have a fish tank on a stand near our kitchen table that was once filled with beautiful, lively fish.  One by one, they have died and their little lifeless bodies have been flushed off the scene of life.  Now, we have one left…I hate to call any of God’s creatures ugly, but this fish is not pretty!! :)  It is an algae eater, a scavenger, a bottom-dweller….and it is thriving.  As people eat at our table from time to time, sometimes I will get asked why we keep the tank going, when all of the fish have died….well, all except this unattractive creature that keeps clinging to life.  And each time the question is asked, I always give the same response…I love the sound of flowing water, and our fish tank comforts me.  It gives me a sense of peace. 

As I am awake all hours, due to Kevin’s unpredictable work schedule, I spend a lot of nights in my favorite recliner in our living room.  From my favorite chair, I have a perfect view of our fish tank in the kitchen.  When it was full of fish, I loved to watch them late at night, as they swam about…it was so peaceful and lulled me to sleep when I was anxious.  One night I came out to settle into my little corner of peace, and alas!  The bulb had burned out on our tank!  So I began a quest to find a replacement.

I went to PetSmart, Ace Hardware, Walmart, and I can’t remember where else, and no one carried this particular fish tank bulb.  I even went online and tried eBay and other sites.  The tank set-up was given to us by a friend, and it appears to be pretty old, so my hopes of ever again drawing peace from watching our tank at night waned with each failed shopping attempt.  I had even prayed that God would please help me find one…I knew He understood the nights I spent enjoying the tranquility it provided. 

I had all but given up, when one day, out of the blue, my dear friend called.  She was standing in a thrift store with a fish tank bulb in her hand, and she asked me what size and type I was looking for.  I hurried in to the kitchen to see, and lo and behold, it turned out she was holding the exact bulb I needed!!  We both rejoiced, and she bought it…her and God’s gift to me!  (God DOES hear and answer even the smallest, seemingly unimportant prayers!)  Some day soon, if the Lord wills, I will buy more fish to restock our tank, but until then, I will simply enjoy the sound of water as it helps me drift off to sleep.

I love primitive things.  If you have ever been to our house, you know that I love to decorate and fill our home with anything old.  Quilts are one of my favorite collections.  They add so much character and warmth and peace…just by seeing them on a bed, or draped over the back of a chair or this primitive ladder that my brother-in-law made for me that I have propped in the corner of our living room. 

Through the years, Kevin and I have enjoyed many trips to antique stores and malls.  Whether or not we buy anything, it fills me with a sense of peace to be surrounded by stable things that have endured the tests of time.  I love to look at antiques and imagine what the original owners were like and how things were in our nation when they were created.  I wish they could talk and tell the stories of the people who used them and enjoyed them and held them in their hands through the years.  We have accumulated quite a collection of kitchen utensils, old bottles, scales, small tools, vintage signs, crocks, and other primitive items over our years of “antiquing”.  They are scattered here and there, and they bring a sense of gentle peace throughout our home.  One of my favorite signs is this one tucked in between some of my favorite quilts.

Candles, little primitive lights, doilies, family photos, pillows, and plaques….all of them are some of my favorite things.  They make our house “our” home.  And they provide a sense of stability and peace.   I love to listen to peaceful music….old hymns, and encouraging, uplifting songs of praise are always things that make for peace.  Peace is something very valuable and precious to me.  Psalm 34:14 (KJV) says, “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.”  In order to have and maintain a peaceful atmosphere in our lives and in our homes, it will take effort on our part.  We will have to pursue and go after it in order to achieve this much-needed, much-sought-after way of life in these troubled, unsettling times. 

All of these outward things are wonderful assets to the making of peace, but real and true peace is an inward peace in the heart that only Jesus Christ can give.  Shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”  Outward things that make for peace are important elements in our lives, but Jesus gives a peace “not as the world giveth”.  As the old saying goes, “if the world didn’t give it, then the world can’t take it away!”  The peace that Jesus gives is eternal.  It is a deep-settled peace down in the most remote recesses of the soul, and it is everlasting peace.

Do you have this kind of peace, my friend?  Are you troubled?  Are you afraid?  Jesus has true peace for your heart, no matter how troubled or afraid you feel.  He came to build a bridge of peace between God, His Father, and man.  Won’t you walk over that bridge and make your way towards Him today?  True peace awaits you in the shelter of His arms!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Walking King James

  “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh…”
Hebrews 11:4 (KJV)

"He being dead, yet speaketh"….I thought of this part of this verse today, as I fondly recalled some memories of my deceased Papaw, William McCoy.  Some of you will clearly remember him.  I so admired him and the life he lived for God.  He worked a full-time 40 hour job in a factory, was a very devoted and dedicated pastor to our church for around 40 years, and he raised nine children, simultaneously.

My grandmother passed away in late 1969, and Papaw was left a widower.  He ended up remarrying a woman from Oklahoma a few years later.  She and Papaw moved there, and stayed until two weeks before his death.  He carried a physical affliction with him for years, and as his health continued to decline, in February of 1979, he seemed to know his end was near.  His desire was to go back to his home state of Ohio, and die there, specifically in Mom’s home.  I still remember how Mom, her brothers, and I made the several hundred mile trip to bring Papaw home in my Uncle Cecil’s RV. 

When we got back to Ohio, Papaw lived exactly two weeks to the day.  It was a cold, wintry Monday when Mom told me the end was near.  I was afraid, and I didn’t want to be there when he died, so I got my little neighborhood friend, Tena, from across the street, and she and I walked to the store at the end of our road.  I can still remember the sinking feeling I had as we walked back home, and I saw the coroner’s black car in front of our house.  I knew Papaw was gone.  He had died very peaceably and was now resting in the arms of Jesus.  He was the closest thing to a “saint” I ever knew. 

Even though Papaw was our pastor, he never preached.  He was a very learned Bible scholar and he taught the Bible to our congregation for years.  Though he never actually preached, his faithfulness to God produced at least nine first-generation preachers and at least seven second-generation preachers.  He probably knew the Bible more than any one I have ever known, and he indisputably earned the nickname, “the walking King James”.

I was twelve years old when Papaw died, and even though I remember him well, I wish I could have had more time to learn and draw from his deep well of Biblical understanding.  I can still see him standing at the front of our church on

Tyron St.
in Dayton, OH, teaching the congregation and instructing us in the ways of righteousness.  He has been gone for many years, but “he being dead yet speaketh”…let me explain.

A few years ago, Mom was trying to downsize and eliminate some of the things that were crowding her little apartment.  One day, she began to go through some of her books.  A lot of them had been left to her by Papaw.  Words cannot describe the thrill in my heart, when she handed me several and said, “Here, Cheryl.  You can have these.”  I cherish them all, but the three I treasure most are the three Bibles she gave me.  Two of them were Papaw’s, and one of them was my grandmother’s, whom we affectionately called, “Mimmie”. 

The Bibles are very, very worn and all three of their bindings are being held in place by tape that Papaw must have put on them at some point.  One presentation page reads,
“To Our Father William A. McCoy” By “His Sons, Cecil & John, on Christmas Day 1960”. 
Another says, “Presented to William A. McCoy – Miami Shores” By “Verga M. McCoy (my grandmother) – December 25, 1943”.  
And the third Bible’s presentation page, which belonged to Mimmie, says, “Presented To Verga McCoy – December 25, 1952” By “William A. McCoy –

3648 Clearview Rd.
 

A few years ago, I went back to Ohio to attend a funeral, and while I was there, my Uncle John told me he had something for me in the trunk of his car.  When I got there, he handed me a treasure….another of Papaw’s Bibles.  This one is newer and has Papaw’s name engraved in gold letters in the lower right corner of the cover. 

One thing I notice when I open each of these Bibles is that all four of them have two things in common:  they are all Holman Bibles, and they are all the King James Version.  That is the only version my Papaw would ever read.  He felt if he read any other version, God’s original intention may be compromised, and he wanted it coming to him straight and without alteration. 

When I tenderly and gently open these Bibles, I almost feel like I need to remove my shoes, as God told Moses to do when He appeared to him in the burning bush, because the ground on which he was standing was holy.  I feel like I am peering into something sacred, and indeed I am.  I see the worn places on the sides of the pages, and I can fondly remember Papaw holding them as he stood in front of our congregation teaching us the Word Sunday after Sunday. 

I found something else when I opened the Bible Uncle John gave me.  In the front, tucked right next to the cover, is a pile of Papaw’s notes from his studies.  Some of them are typewritten, and some are written by his own hand.  They are much more precious to me than gold.  When I read them, I wonder where he was when God revealed these “golden nuggets of truth” to him.  What was going on in his life at the time?  Was he preparing for a lesson, or was God giving Him something just for his encouragement?

In the papers, I found a typewritten, old piece that Papaw had copied from his book, “Streams in the Desert”.  I would like to insert it here, because I feel this is what Papaw “the Walking King James” does to me…through my memories of him, the notes I found in his Bible, and the legacy he left behind.

Call Back
(Author Unknown)

If you have gone a little way ahead of me, call back,
“Twill cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track;
And if, perchance, faith’s light is dim, because the oil is low,
Your call will guide my lagging course, as wearily I go.

Call back, and tell me He went with you into the storm,
Call back, and say He kept you when the forest roots were torn;
That, when the heavens thundered and the earth shook the hill,
He bore you up and held you where the air was calm and still.

Oh, friend, call back, and tell me for, I cannot see your face,
They say it glows with triumph now, and you have won your race;
But there are mists between us and, my spirit eyes are dim,
And I cannot see the glory though, I long for word of Him.

But if you’ll say He heard you when, your prayer was but a cry,
And if you’ll say He saw you through, the night’s sin-darkened sky;
If you have gone a little way ahead, oh friend call back,
‘Twill cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track.

I wonder how many times Papaw felt discouraged in his work for God through the years.  I can’t imagine pastoring the same church for 40 years!  There must have been moments that he needed strength and encouragement and longed for saints who had gone before him to “call back” and “speak” to him. 

I’m thankful for the worn Bibles Mom and Uncle John gave to me.  I count them among my most cherished possessions.  And I’m thankful for the many hours my Papaw spent in them earning his nickname.  I’m thankful that when I am feeling so defeated and discouraged, I can pick them up and hold them close to my heart and take comfort in the fact that if he made it, then maybe I can, too.  How thankful I am that he “being dead yet speaketh” and calls back to me….words of comfort, encouragement, and a softly-whispered promise that it is better farther on!