Wednesday, February 29, 2012

No More Good-byes



“For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”    Revelation 7:17 (KJV)

Not long ago, we honked our horn and waved good-bye to some precious and very dear friends…they went their way, and we went ours, after enjoying such refreshing fellowship and friendship.  They had made sacrifices to come from two different states and directions…just to be with us, encourage us, and let us know they care. 

It touched us deep inside to know that there are people who care that much about us.  That in this modern world where the love of many has grown cold, they are intent on showing us that no matter what transpires, their love and the ties of our friendship cannot be severed.  As we drove away from them, through tear-dimmed eyes, I began singing the song, “Reunion In The Sky” written by Francis Eichelberger. 
Here are the words:

  1. When we have a meeting to glorify the Lord,
    How we love to worship His name in one accord;
    But the thought of parting always brings us inward pain,
    For we know not whether we’ll gather here again.
    • Chorus
      Some day we’ll meet together, the time is drawing nigh,
      When we have our fam’ly reunion in the sky;
      We’ll gather ’round the throne of God to never say goodbye,
      When we reach our mansion prepared for us on high.
  2. We will pray the Father to bless and keep each one
    With the peace He gave us through His beloved Son;
    If we never meet again this side of heaven’s shore,
    He will keep us faithful and true forevermore.
  3. We’ll keep pressing onward in unity and love,
    Waiting for our summons that’s coming from above;
    God will wipe away the tears from every weeping eye,
    When we get to heaven there’ll be no sad goodbye.
Everything in this life has an ending.  Ecclesiastes 3:1 (KJV) says, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…”  There is a time to say hello, and a time to say good-bye.  The good-byes are always the hardest for me.  As the song above says, “For we know not whether we’ll gather here again.”  Life is uncertain.  There are no guarantees.  Changes come unannounced and unexpected.

Aren’t you glad one day we will never say good-bye again?  It is so glorious to gather together in this life to enjoy the blessings of the Lord, but the impending good-bye always looms in our minds and casts its sad shadow.  When we get to Heaven, the glory will never end.  The fellowship will be continual and forever.  We won’t need to wave good-bye or ever cry again.

Revelation 21:4 (KJV) says, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” 

Aren’t you glad there is a Heaven?

Aren’t you thankful this is not all there is to it?

As full of the glory of God as the Apostle Paul was, he penned these words…”If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”  I Corinthians 15:19 (KJV)  Even though this life contains many moments that are great and wonderful and filled with blessings, there is a flip-side of pain and disease, tears, good-byes, and sadness.  To think that this is all there is….that we live and then die with no hope of a better home is to reach a very hopeless conclusion.

We’ve all said good-bye to departed loved ones and felt the horrible realization wash over us that we will never see them again in this life.  We’ve lived through days and nights of denial, trying to convince ourselves that surely they are still here…that life is still the same…that we can still reach out and talk to them and touch them, only to be jolted to the harsh reality that everything has changed, and they will never be here again. 

In Heaven, that will never happen.  Because the Bible says “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying…for the former things are passed away.”  What joy to know that there is a place like that!  Jesus said He would go and prepare a place for us, and then He would come again and take us there. 

I really hate good-byes….I hate leaving my loved ones, especially the ones who are far away.  I hate not knowing if I will see them again and not being able to predict how much time any of us has left.  And I really hate saying those final good-byes standing by the gravesides of those I’ve loved.  But, as we read in I Thessalonians 4:13 (KJV), “…ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.”  When our loved ones die in Jesus, we have hope that we can live for God and be reunited with them when we die.  And the next time we see them….in that family reunion in the sky....we’ll never say good-bye to them again.  J

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Life Well-Loved


 “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!” 
Numbers 23:10 (KJV

I was recently emailing my dear friend, Sis. Margie, who just lost her brother, Jim.  They were very close, and he was very precious to her heart.  The empty spot he left will be keenly felt for a long time to come.  As I was writing, I made a comment to her about him being a well-loved man.  He was someone who was special to Kevin, Zachary, and me, on a personal level.  He was a kind man.  A humble man.  A man who was there to comfort and bless and encourage us more than once.  He had a discerning spirit of understanding that ministered to us in a real and much-needed way.

When I was little, I remember being at his farm.  He and his wife, Ida, invited a lot of children and young people to come for a cookout and hayride.  I remember the moment I fell…off the back of the wagon.  I was scared and blood was running down my leg from a gash during the fall.  I still have a scar, and each time I have looked at it through the years, I have thought of him and that moment and how concerned he was when he came over to make sure I was okay.  I’ll never forget that.

Through my growing up years, I was close to his daughter, Jennifer, and I remember going there to spend nights and sleeping in the upstairs bedroom of their farmhouse.  I remember going to their church with my parents through the years growing up, and feeling the glory of God fall time after time, as old-time preaching went forth under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.  There was an atmosphere of holiness and worship there that was very comforting to me, as a child.

I lost touch with them for many years after I moved far away, until Jennifer was able to get my email address and contact me.  It was wonderful to be able to correspond and reconnect.  Our communication led to her parents coming to visit us and spending some nights in our home a few years ago, and later, a second visit when Bro. Jim and his sister came to our home for a few days.  During these visits, I was able to get to know him better as an adult than I did as a child, and Kevin was able to become well-acquainted with him.  Our fellowship, talks, and times of prayer with him were sweet.  He lived a Godly life that, to me, was above reproach. 

The last time we saw him, he was standing behind a pulpit at the close of a meeting, pleading with souls to turn their lives over to Christ.  I remember the look in his eyes, as he spoke of eternity and how serious it is to make sure we are ready to meet God after this life.  He had a sincere, heavy burden for souls.  The church was packed with people, and he cared that there may be some in the large crowd who had never trusted in Jesus and surrendered their hearts to Him.  There was a genuine quality about him that was unmistakable. 

He suffered greatly during the last few months of his life.  We recently heard a recording of a testimony he gave a short time ago.  He spoke of his suffering and the intensity of it and how during it he had witnessed the glory of God.  He had a vision of things eternal that he could hardly put into words.  It touched me deeply.

His body is now buried.  His race has been run.  In my heart, I have no doubt that he has traded his heavy cross for a crown….the crown the Apostle Paul spoke of in 2 Timothy 4:8 (KJV), “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day:  and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.”  I believe Bro. Jim did not draw back when he knew death was near.  I believe he looked beyond the crossing to the other side and what awaited him there. 

I believe he viewed his suffering in this life the way Paul did in 2 Corinthians 4:17 (KJV), “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory…” 

He was a well-loved man.  He will be sorely missed…by his family, his many friends, and the church.  We are left to wonder why God took him.  To me, God would have received so much more glory had He miraculously healed him and raised him up to further service for Him in THIS life.  But, we can’t see the whole picture.  We do not know God’s thoughts.  They are far above ours.  We are not meant to understand everything.  There are things we simply have to commit to God’s wisdom, knowing He doeth all things well.

A life well-loved.  Isn’t that something we all long for?  To be loved and respected and cared about by the ones around us and whom our lives touch?  How do we attain that?  What would cause someone else to say that about us after our death? 

There is a very sad story found in 2 Chronicles 21:1-20 about a king named Jehoram.  He was the firstborn of his father, Jehoshaphat, so he automatically inherited the position of king after Jehoshaphat died.  Unlike his father, Jehoshaphat, Jehoram was an extremely wicked man.  After he became king, he killed all of his brothers with a sword and many other princes in Israel.  He committed abominable acts and used his power for all the wrong reasons. 

The prophet, Elijah, prophesied that Jehoram would suffer severe punishment from God for the horrible things he had done.  Sure enough, Jehoram became very ill, and at the end of two years, he died of sore diseases.  After he died, verse 19-20 says, “And his people made no burning for him, like the burning of his fathers.  Thirty and two years old was he when he began to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem eight years, and departed without being desired…”

He departed without being desired.

His death was to the sorrow of no one.

It mattered to no one that he was gone.

What a sad, pitiful story!  His was a life well-hated.  There was no love lost between him and any other human being.  No one mourned his death.  No burning ceremony was made for him.  He died at the age of 40 and left a legacy of abuse and unbelievable evil.  And no one cared that he was dead.

Verse 20 goes on to say this, “Howbeit they buried him in the city of David, but not in the sepulchres of the kings.”  Because they were decent people, they gave him a burial…but it wasn’t the burial fit for what he was…a king. 

So, which ending do we want to have?  The kind of Bro. Jim Sallee…his family near, his friends fasting, praying, and interceding for him, his loved ones grieving deep over his departure?  Or the kind of King Jehoram…where no one…not a soul cared that he was gone?  May we all “die the death of the righteous”, and may we leave behind a legacy of having lived a life well-loved.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Together


“God setteth the solitary in families.”  Psalm 68:6  (KJV)

Sometimes, as is the story with all little boys, Zachary gets a tummy-ache.  When I sense that the source of his trouble is anxiety or worry over something, I have learned that what helps him the most is comfort and his emotional distress addressed, instead of help from a physical perspective.  So, we play a little game.  We take a journey, (in our imaginations, of course, but it feels so real!), to places we like to go.  We revisit vacation spots we’ve known, and we pretend we are there again, enjoying all of our favorite things together.  On a recent early-morning episode, he woke me up feeling very bad, so together we walked to the living room, and through sleepy eyes, I took him on an imaginary one-month-long expedition.  We encompassed five states, and we went to some very neat and exciting places.  Shortly after our “trip”, Zach was feeling all better and ready to go back to bed.  After I tucked him back safely in and kissed his cheek, he said, “Wherever we are together, I’m happy.” 

I walked away and thought about what he had just said.  Out of the mouth of babes!  He has so much wisdom.  And things are so simple and easy to understand for him.  His philosophy is pure and untainted by cynicism.  His enthusiasm hasn’t become jaded from years of living and facing the not-so-pleasant side of life post-childhood.  So, I love to hear his take on things and try to escape into his world of clear perspective and authentic acceptance of life being unsullied by doubt and suspicion.

As I pondered on his simple statement to me, I came to the full realization that he is 100% correct.  Togetherness, with the ones we love the most, makes all of us happy.  The component of moral support, of being surrounded by love and those who love us, is invaluable.  Through the years, some of the worst and darkest times of my life have been softened and made tolerable just by Kevin’s touch…of having him near…of looking across the room and seeing Zachary and knowing he is okay and with us.  Just having them near me brings a sense of confirmation and assurance that all will ultimately be well as long as we are together.   

Together.  It is important.  It is essential to a life well-lived.

Even our dear Lord needed that togetherness…that moral support of knowing the ones He loved most were near to Him.  I believe in my heart that some of His sadness and heartbreak in the Garden of Gethsemane on that final night was due to the fact that He would soon have to leave His dearest friends.  He also keenly felt the loneliness and desolation they would soon feel…the horrible sense of loss of no longer having Him near to lead, comfort, and guide their every move. 

 Remember how His heart went out to His mother when He was hanging on the cross?  “When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.”  John 19:26,27 (KJV) 

Jesus knew her mother-heart was breaking with the overwhelming sense of losing Him.  He knew she would need comfort and care after His departure, so in His dying agony, He made provisions for her to have someone else to call her son!

Family matters, my friend.  It matters not how imperfect they are, how short they fall from someone else’s ideal of a “perfect family”, or how big or small they may be.  If you have one, you are abundantly blessed.  To have someone who worries when you aren’t home on time.  To have someone to call and share good news with.  To find kind eyes to look into when you’re falling apart. 

It really matters not how many earthly treasures we accumulate.  They can’t comfort us or care about us or respond to our needs.  What matters is having someone who loves us…who sincerely cares about us….who makes “together” a possibility for us.  As Zach so accurately pointed out, happiness comes from being with the ones we love…no matter where we are.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Over My Mixing Bowl

“…we spend our years as a tale that is told.”  Psalm 90:9  (KJV)

Today, I stood measuring and stirring the ingredients of the pumpkin cake (recipe is at the end) I was making for Mom’s 84th birthday.  I thought of how it didn’t seem so long ago that her cake candles were reversed…the day she turned 48.  I was nine and don’t really remember that day at all.  But, what struck me is the amount of years that have passed in between.  She tells me she doesn’t know how she could possibly be 84.  That she can’t even remember a lot of the years of her life. 

I started writing a song several years ago based on today’s passage of Scripture. The first verse goes like this:

“We live our lives as a tale that is told,
Each moment we’re given’s more precious than gold;
One day we’re young, the next day we’re old,
Each step is leading us home.”

So, if I am spending my years as a tale that is told, what is the tale telling about me? 

How will it be retold and repeated to the generations who follow?

How will I be remembered?  What will Zachary say when he is telling his children and grand-children about his Mama?

I already know, based on my life so far and my parents and others’ experience that life is fleeting.  It goes by so fast, you hardly have time to enjoy and cherish the individual moments. 

I scooped out more sugar into the measuring cup, and I thought about the individual grains.  Each little, tiny grain adds its own contribution to the whole two cups that went into the cake.  One little grain of sugar couldn’t do much on its own, couldn’t make much of a difference.  But, when all of them are combined, they make up the whole.  Just like the moments we live make up our lifetime.

Those little, “inconsequential” choices we make….don’t seem like much on their own, do they?  My tone of voice in those nerve-wracking moments when everything is falling apart; whether or not I roll my eyes when I am asked the same question for the umpteenth time by a forgetful relative; whether or not I’ll be unselfish when everything within me feels like doing what is best for me, not considering others involved; whether I will spend my “me” time drawing close to God or indulging in something less profitable….every, little grain adds up to the whole two cups and weaves itself into the tale of my life. 

Am I making each moment count?  For something good?  Do I really see the importance of my time spent here on earth?  Sometimes, I think we become so focused on just making it through one more day…on the tiny grain in front of us, that we lose sight of the bigger picture.  The one that is being painted by the brush we now hold in our hands.

All three of our living parents are now in their 80’s.  Their tales are nearing their final chapters.  We have a young child.  His tale has only begun to be written and told.  We’re in the middle somewhere, with many chapters behind us, and we hope and pray, many more to follow. 

We can’t change the past.  I saw a sign the other day that said, “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”  Isn’t that great?  If we identify that our life’s story is not the way we would like it to read, we can start today writing it differently.

Every now and then, it never hurts to take a cold, hard look at ourselves.  I seem to do that a lot lately.  It is necessary, I think.  To make sure I am on the right track and where God wants me to be at this exact point in my life.  It’s good to feel a sense of peace and know I am in His will.  And it’s good to face the truth when I need to make adjustments.  He has all of the help and grace we need to conform into His image…in every, little detail of our lives.

One thing about it…none of us will ever go wrong following Christ.  Patterning our life after His, doing what He would do in every, little thing, no matter how inconsequential it may seem.  Because every little grain matters…every little word engraved on the tale being told about us makes an impact and a difference. 

May your life’s story be one of peace…one that you would be proud to see your child(ren) replicate and repeat…step by step, following right in your footprints.  They are doing that, you know….while you aren’t looking.  They are watching, and they are learning, and they are becoming who they will be.  And chances are, they want to be just like you.




Pumpkin Cake


2 cups flour                                                  4 eggs
2 tsp. baking soda                                        2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. salt                                                  1 cup oil
2 tsp. cinnamon                                            1 can Libby's pumpkin

In small bowl, mix flour, baking soda, salt, & cinnamon.  
In large bowl, beat eggs with sugar.  
Add flour mixture, oil, and pumpkin.
Mix for two minutes.
Bake in greased bundt or tube pan at 300 degrees for one hour, or until done.  ( I usually have to bake it about 10-15 minutes longer than one hour.)
Frost with cream cheese frosting...very yummy!
Enjoy!!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Following Peace



“Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord…”  
Hebrews 12:14 (KJV)

I have two favorite stores.  Both of them are quite peaceful.  Will you visit them with me...follow me there, if only in your mind?  They are situated on the same country road; one is caddy-cornered from the other.  I usually visit them with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law.  We like to make it our “girl’s time out”, and we just kind of ease into our own little world.  Even cell phones don’t work there, so there are no distractions.  Just pure, uninterrupted shopping in two of the best and most comforting places I’ve ever found to shop.

The scenery on the drive there is beautiful.  We wind through the mountains on a very curvy, narrow road.  The road is a shortcut, so we choose to take it every time.  The view is worth it.  We drive past farms, farmhouses, cattle, and a quaint little country church.  It seems to fly by as we catch up on all the latest happenings in each of our lives.  After a time, we turn on to another country, but more-traveled road.  Soon, we wind around a bend in the road, and my favorite stores come into view.  There they stand, nestled in a valley, dependable and welcoming.  I’ve been here so many times; it feels like a piece of home.

We usually visit the one on the left first.  There are outside cabins situated next to the main store, and in two of them, we usually find an ongoing yard sale.  Some of the items that are for sale are used, and some are new discount items that have been brought out from the inside of the store.  We usually hit the yard sale cabins first, and we take our time looking at all of the goodies, usually picking up a few things to carry inside.

We walk across the graveled parking lot to the wooden porch on the side of the old building that houses one of my very favorite places to shop.  We walk in, and instantly, we are greeted with the most wonderful scents.  Candles are burning, and there are wax melts, potpourri, and other scented things tastefully placed and sitting around...permeating the air with their sweet & spicy fragrances.  Country textiles line a wooden shelf…all different shades of mustard, burgundy, navy blue, mingled with lots of black and tan. 

There are antiques all over…including an old Coca-Cola cooler that still works and keeps the drinks cold that are for sale.  As you pass the Coca-Cola cooler, you see more candles and wax burners.  Up ahead, there are primitive plaques, wooden blocks with sweet phrases on them like "stress less, pray more" & "family matters", beautiful quilts - both old & new, pictures of country scenes, baskets, lamps with primitive shades, braided rugs, and the most amazing hand-built furniture.  The craftsmanship is impeccable and precise.  I listen as the owner of the store rubs sandpaper across a jagged edge he just discovered. 

I hear music…beautiful, a cappella, Mennonite singing of old hymns that bring tears to my eyes more than once as I shop.  The notes are sincere, like they are sung from hearts who can witness first-hand to the saving, redemptive grace of which they sing.  I walk into an adjoining room on the other side of the store to find many other treasures…all primitive, all homey, all inviting; all bring comfort to me…just to stand in the midst of them.

At the back of the adjoining room, I find another room.  I hear the sweet noise of birds singing, and as I approach the source of the sounds, I realize it is a CD playing the pre-recorded hum of nature.  Old dressers display tastefully-arranged primitive vignettes, with little twinkling lights intermingled and intertwined.  I climb the stairs to return to the main room and find books, more textiles, and stands of cards for all occasions. 

At some point, Mom, Lori, and I meet up with each other…each has been lost in their own reverie consumed by interest in the all of the things we see, hear, and smell.  We always take our time, each allowing the others to feel a sense of completely covering the store.  Each time we go, things are differently arranged, but the feeling is always the same.  We take our final selections to the wooden table at the back of the main room…the one with the huge, colorful quilt hanging on the wall behind, and we pay the stately, distinguished looking man who builds and creates the flawless furniture…sometimes it is his wife or one of his daughters who greet us and ring up our purchases.  We feel a sense of family and wholesomeness and simplicity of life as they gently wrap our treasures and place them in a cute, primitive bag.

I always leave with reluctance…I love the world inside…the atmosphere of peace I feel.  I long to be around them longer and more….to get a bigger taste of the freedom from chaos that their non-modern life affords. 

We all three get into the car and drive the short distance to their other store located on the right side of the road.  We step inside to the smell of spices…all kinds of them, blended into one, compelling, welcoming aroma.  There are rows and rows of shelves….all kinds of spices, candies, nuts, coffees, teas, jellies, jams, relishes, dried fruit, flavorings, salsas, cookbooks, cute jar covers, cereals, cookies, fudges, and other goodies meet our eyes as we stroll across the store. 

We make our way to the back where we find a deli filled with all kinds of fresh, yummy-looking meats and cheeses.  We stop at the counter to order a lunch combo…a sandwich with our choice of meat, different types of fresh-baked rolls, and various cheeses.  They are quick and efficient, and soon we have our white bagged lunches and are ready to go back to the front of the store to pay the plainly modest-dressed Mennonite girl who waits for us.  She smiles as we talk about the sassafras tea I have decided to try.  She likes sassparilla, she tells me, but has never tried sassafras tea. 

The three of us finish paying for our purchases and go out to our car to eat our lunch together, talking and enjoying our moments.  It seems like we’ve stepped into another world…where electronics and modern “in”conveniences have no place.  I love the peace I find inside the walls of both stores.  I would visit them more often if I could.  But when I am near them, I always do my best to patronize and support them.  I hope the day never comes that I go there to find the doors closed. 

I notice people coming and going, and it seems I perceive they have the same longing in their eyes as I feel in my heart.  A longing for simpler times, a slower pace, a quieter mind.  A desire to follow the trail of peace.  These store-owners and employees have all of the above….right now in 2012.  They've managed to maintain a lifestyle I think we all crave.  They haven’t succumbed to the pressure of modern invasion.  They seem very much at peace. 

When we feel we must leave to go back home, we do so, hesitantly.  We’ve made some great memories, and we feel a sense of leaving a more serene, holy world.  A world where God is first, and where one of their favorite mottoes is “Hands to work; hearts to God”.  They haven’t lost the fine art of doing a hard, honest day’s work and coming home to a waiting, loving family at night.  Sometimes, I feel I could move there and live among them…work alongside them….after all, our mindsets and desire for a simple life are already quite the same. J

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Seasons


 “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…”  Ecclesiastes 3:1 (KJV)

I am standing at one of my favorite points of view in the whole world.  The snowflakes are flying and the cold winter breeze cuts through me like a knife.  I wear no coat, so the wintry draft makes me shiver.  But as cold as I am, I can’t be convinced to go back inside.  I want to cherish this moment.  I want to drink it in and live it…fully.

The snow is starting to stick…just a bit.  I am hoping it will completely cover the ground. 

Off in the distance, I hear happy voices and laughter.  These two boys…born exactly six-months-to-the-day apart…weighing the same exact amount at birth.  As different as daylight and dark, but as close in heart as brothers, and the very best of friends.  Austin is six months younger than Zach, but he has already passed him in height and weight.  They are both growing…way…too….fast.  

I notice the snow is sticking…accumulating fast.  Soon, it covers the whole front yard and the mountain and valley across the road.  Soon, they come from the back yard to explore it and take delight in its beauty.

As I watch them playing, rolling around in the freshly-fallen snow, it occurs to me that they’re growing as fast as this snow will inevitably melt on the next sunny day.  Right now, they’re two little boys.  Carefree, with two Mamas and two Daddies who dearly love them….and who are still in love with each other.  How blessed they are – these two boys!  How blessed we are to have them!

I’m glad we’re here.  I’m glad it is still snowing.  I’m thankful the boys are still little.  I’m glad their two young, innocent lives are clean and untarnished like the beautiful, soft, white blanket that now completely covers the front yard.  And as no one has yet walked on its bright, shining pureness, the slate of each of these two boys is clean….purely unencumbered and free.  How it fills me to watch them…to listen to them…to be a part of this.

I’m thankful for the four seasons.  Each has a beauty all its own. 

I’m grateful for each of the seasons of life…always interesting, ever-changing, offering its own challenges, happiness, and beauty.

I compare the youth, vibrancy, and vitality of the boys frolicking in the snow to the season of my father-in-law who sits behind me in the house….his walker close by in case he needs to stand.  He’s failing.  Each time I see him, I see it. 

We talked last night…he and I.  He said he’s lived a good life, and he has no regrets. 

“Really?” I ask. 

“Oh, there are some things I would have done different if I could go back.  But I have no regrets.”  He tells me that if he dies tomorrow, life’s been good.  “And the only thing really holding me here is this….” he points to the frail, little woman whose head rests in his lap.

She’s tired.  It’s been a long, full day, and she has spent it like all of the others.  Serving, giving of herself, meeting his and everyone else’s needs.  Neglecting her own.  Ignoring the pain that continually wracks her fragile, little body.  She’s lost more weight.  No one can explain it.  I think it is simply because she hardly eats anymore.

For over 52 years they have lived together…these two precious souls who took me into the arms of this wonderful family almost 24 years ago.  Before that, really.  For ever since I met them when Kevin and I were dating, they have welcomed me with open, loving arms….choosing to call me “daughter” and leave off the “in-law” with all of its off-putting undertones.

For 52 years they have loved each other.  They’ve weathered life’s storms.  They’ve seen a lot of snow fall, and then watched it melt off the scene.  I love hearing their stories.  Has it always been easy?  They’ll be quick to tell you no.  “We’ve had our disagreements” Dad is saying to me, as she sleeps softly beside him.  “Just like everyone else.”  But he assures me it’s been a good life. 

Winter’s chill has crept in to their lives just as sure as the cold wind is chilling me standing on the porch, watching, listening, and soaking in the two boys playing in front of me. 

I agree with Dad Smith.  Life has been good.

Life is good.

Right now, at this moment, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Longing For Home




“For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven…” 
2 Corinthians 5:1, 2 (KJV)

On the first night of a recent trip that involved us spending several days and nights away from home, Zachary and I engaged in a conversation.  It went something like this:

“Mama, it’s hard for me to think we’ll be here for so long”, he said as he stood putting his toys away for the night.

I said, “Zach, what do you mean?  Are you homesick?”

He nodded a sad, “Yes”.

I said, “Yeah, it kind of hits you at night more, doesn’t it?  When it’s time for us to start winding down, our thoughts turn more towards home, huh?”

“Yeah, Mama, they sure do.”

There’s just something about home…its sense of familiarity, relaxed comfort, and peace….there really is no substitute.  No matter where we wander or how welcome we feel in our surroundings, the welcoming arms of home reach for us, no matter how far they have to stretch.  Home’s heartstrings resonate a powerful, voluminous tug back to where we truly belong. 

Not that we don’t want, yes, even need, to get away sometimes.  Don’t we all?  Everyone needs a change of pace now and then, for the sake of maintaining sanity and balance. 

But even during the pause, home beckons.

What is this element that makes a structure built of wood, brick, and stone a home?  As I listened to Zachary and felt and shared his melancholy, it occurred to me that “home” really can’t be put into words.  It is more a heart matter that is understood and felt, but incapable of being spoken.

To me, home is life….the base and foundation of our daily routine…the sanctuary of our lives, and the haven we run to for a safe, soft place to fall.  Home is where the most precious memories are made.  It is the sense of security knowing that even in this crazy, chaotic world, there is a refuge that promises, yes guarantees, stability and an unchanging reliable serenity that can only be found within its encircling support.  It is unlike any other place in the world.

Home is a place where I am loved…undeniably, unconditionally, and unendingly. 
Home is where I most long to be.  When I am away, it lives in my heart and steadily, impulsively pulls me back…to the consolation of its comfort.

It kind of reminds me of the way thoughts of Heaven make us realize we are really not of this world.  In the depths of each person, there is an immortal soul that is made for a world other than this.  I once saw this saying:

“We are not human beings going through a temporary spiritual experience;
we are spiritual beings going through a temporary human experience.”
(Author Unknown)

That eternal part of us longs to be in its rightful, resting place and realizes it is just passing through this life.  When my Dad died, I wanted something special to be printed on the back of the cards we handed out at his funeral.  This is what I chose:

“Heaven”

Think of stepping on shore and finding it Heaven,
Of taking hold of a hand and finding it God’s,
Of breathing new air and finding it's celestial air,
Of feeling invigorated and finding it immortality,
Of passing from storm and stress to a perfect calm,
Of waking and finding it Home!”
(Author Unknown)

Such beautifully poignant words!

My sister, Debbie, was visiting Mom and Dad a short time before Dad died.  He was telling her how bad he felt, physically, and he said, “Debbie, I just wanna go home.”  She replied, “Dad, don’t talk like that.”  She went on to remind him that Kevin and I were expecting a baby, and that he had that to look forward to.  He was careful in his reply, “I know, Debbie.  I am so happy for Kevin and Cheryl.  But, I just can’t go on like this.” 

The draw of this world, no matter how close to his heart, just wasn’t enough to make him want to stay.  He was longing for home…his eternal home, and the pull from there was stronger than anything this side could offer.  He died a few weeks later.  As we stood around his deathbed and Kevin held his hand, I wished we could see his face when he saw Jesus on the other side…welcoming him home!

Here’s a link to the beautiful song “Far Side Banks of Jordan” written by Terry Smith and sung by Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash that reminds me of Mom and Dad each time I hear it:


So, who is waiting for you?  Are there loved ones waiting at “home”? It will be worth whatever you have to go through to get there to be with them again.  Knowing Dad and other loved ones are there…waiting on the banks for me…makes thoughts of home even sweeter. 

Home here on earth gently pulls to me with a tender, sweet attraction that no other place can reproduce.  But, no matter how precious it is, the nagging understanding that it is only temporary is continually with me.  What comfort to know that our eternal home will be forever….never-ending, and as today’s Scripture says, it is “eternal in the heavens”.  My friend, I hope to live with you there someday!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Contentment


“But godliness with contentment is great gain.”  I Timothy 6:6  (KJV)

There is a Veggie Tales song written by Phil Vischer that goes like this…

I thank God for this day,
For the sun in the sky,
For my mom and my dad,
For my piece of apple pie!
For our home on the ground,
For His love that's all around,
That's why I say thanks every day!

Because a thankful heart is a happy heart!
I'm glad for what I have,
That’s an easy way to start!
For the love that He shares,
'Cause He listens to my prayers,
That's why I say thanks every day!

“The richest person is not the one who has the most, but the one that needs the least.”

To me, being content is wanting, and as the song above says, being glad for, exactly what I have.  Not longing for more.  Not trying to change, rearrange, or recreate anything.  Just happy and complete….right where I am…with whom I’m with. 

The Apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:11 (KJV), “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”  Contentment requires learning.  It isn’t automatically born into us.  We must learn what is important in our individual lives, learn what we value, and learn what our priorities should be.  When we identify those important issues, we learn to be thankful for the ones and things that matter most.  Then we can be content with who and what we have….right now…and not long for anyone or anything else. 

Paul had learned this wonderful secret to happiness, and his life was fulfilled…just the way it was.  Remember, this was penned by the man who said these words…”Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.  Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.  Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.  Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. “ 2 Corinthians 11:23-28  (KJV)

Did you absorb all of that?  Hard Christian labor; stripes more than he could count; frequent imprisonment; oftentimes near death; five scourgings within an inch of his life; three severe beatings with rods; a stoning; three shipwrecks; a night and a day in the ocean without rescue; oft travels; treacherous waters; jeopardy of robberies; suspicion among his own countrymen; danger among heathens; perils in the city, wilderness, the sea, and among hypocrites; utter and complete mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion; pain; sleeplessness; starving; thirsty; fasting; cold; and without clothing.  Can you imagine?  THIS is the man who said he had learned that no matter what his outward circumstances, he could find an inward contentment. 

I guess when a person compares their lot with the Apostle Paul, no one really has anything to complain about, huh?  I don’t think any of us can testify to circumstances that come anywhere near close to the life he had to live….no, let me rephrase that…he CHOSE to live.  From some of those dank, dingy, dreary prison cells came some of the deepest and most profound of his writings that now make up a big part of our New Testament.  He was thankful that he was counted worthy to preach and write the Gospel of Jesus Christ….no matter what his outward circumstances.

Can you say, with Paul that you have learned to be content?  Is your current situation enough?  Do you have food on your table and clothes on your back?  In I Timothy 6:8 (KJV), we read, “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.”  Written by whom?  You guessed it….the Apostle Paul.  Who among us readers can say that we only have food and clothes?  Can’t we all attest to having much, much more?  So, why the discontent?  Why the complaining?  Why the constant craving for more? 

In my daily prayers….in my constant heart-cries, I thank God for the ultimate sacrifice He made for me on Calvary, for the sweetness of my relationship with Him, for the dear and kind husband He allows me to walk hand-in-hand through life with, the sweet son He sent after years of longing, and all of the many people in my life who mean something to me.  I thank Him for all of the things, too…all of the creature comforts…the little things that seem insignificant….the moments that seem not worth mentioning.  All of it is woven together to make up my life and the existence I love.  A continual attitude of gratitude and thanksgiving makes a contented heart, and yes, as the little Veggie girl sings, a happy heart.

It is invaluable, beyond worth, and more precious than gold to reach a place of true contentment.  To not long for one more thing.  To feel a deep, resolved sense of settled…happiness….contentment.  It’s there for you, my friend.  You can learn it.  You can attain it.  No matter how old your car, how new your furniture, how big your house, what your marital state, how much the size of your bank account or lack thereof.  Because you see the best things in life are….well, not things at all.  The supreme best thing in life is knowing Jesus Christ….really, truly knowing Him.  Allowing Him to fill every fiber, reach every remote darkened corner, soak grace into every longing, and inhabit every tiny grain of your composition.  He calls to you now, “Come unto Me…learn of Me…for I am meek and lowly, and you will find rest.” 
He is the ultimate Teacher of contentment.  After all, He is the One Who voluntarily, willingly gave up everything….to have absolutely nothing

Friday, February 17, 2012

Writing Your Love Story


“And when she was risen up to glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, Let her glean even among the sheaves, and reproach her not:  And let fall also some of the handfuls of purpose for her, and leave them, that she may glean them, and rebuke her not.”  Ruth 2:15,16  (KJV)

I love reading the love story of Boaz and Ruth, don’t you?  Ruth’s absolute devotion to her mother-in-law, Naomi, and the reward God gave her in the form of Boaz’s love and care for her is precious and heart-warming.  Today’s verse tells of Boaz’s notice of her and how he looked out for her and gave her special concern.  I love reading the part in chapter 4 verse 10 where Boaz says, “Moreover Ruth the Moabitess….have I purchased to be my wife.”  He chose to redeem her and take her for his own! 

Being a truly hopeless romantic at heart, I love to hear people tell me their individual love stories.  I find it so interesting to hear of how they met, whether or not they started out as friends, what their first impression was of each other, and how their relationship evolved to the way it is now.  Sadly, many of the couples I know and have known on a personal, intimate level haven’t always had a happily-ever-after love story.  I’ve seen many marriages go on the rocks over the years and witnessed a lot of heartache and confusion…and to be honest, I can’t think of many real-life positive examples of marital bliss.

So, early in my life, I began to paint a mental image of a not-so-pretty view of marriage.  Deep inside I still longed for it, but I didn’t see many examples of it being played out and lived in front of me.  I loved to read books by Grace Livingston Hill, Sallie Lee Bell, Janette Oke, and others who created such vividly beautiful portraits of what true love should be.  Their characters carried me away…far from the discord and chaos of the real-life situations around me that were such a stark contrast to the blissful relationships of my favorite heroes & heroines in the books.  Then I met, fell madly in love, and married my soul mate, the one who fulfills me and is and continues to be my real-life hero.  He changed my heart, and my mind.  Each and every day, he instills hope that true love is real, it does last, and it doesn’t just exist in storybooks and fairy tales.  He shows me by his daily example that love endures just as strong in the worst of times as it does in the best.

I believe God has someone for everyone.  I completely trust that He has a Master Plan for each one of our lives, and in His time, and in His way, He ordains and orchestrates our steps toward and in the way of that plan.  And after we meet that one, special person with whom we will walk through life, I believe He wants our journey together to be sweet and beautiful...not uproarious and unpleasant.

Life is a canvass of consistently-changing scenes.  There are dark and bright backgrounds, cloudy and sunny skies, and pleasant and dreary landscapes.  Always moving, always flowing, one scene blending into the next, as the Master Artist sees best.  As the backdrops change and as the seasons of life come and go, a lot of the outcome and level of our durability depends upon our attitude towards the one to whom we have pledged our vows.  We can either pull together, or we can split apart at the seams, each going in our own direction. 

As we have all figured out by now, life is not a fairy tale.  Life gets messy.  It comes unglued sometimes.  It gets downright ugly.  The most carefully-laid plans fall completely apart, and are replaced with ones that are the extreme opposite of our dreams.  We walk through depths of sorrow that we would never choose to have to endure.  We have to deal with difficulties that reach uncomfortably close to breaking us.  There are imperfect, demanding, unreasonable people thrown into each one of our mixes that make the uphill climb harder to ascend. 

Unfortunately, not everyone wants a good marriage to succeed.  There are people who actually try to drive wedges, inject suspicion, and even purposely place stumbling blocks and temptation, due to their own insecurities and jealousies.  It is going to take a determined, concentrated effort…on both parts, to make sure love lasts, and to continue the pursuit of happily-ever-after.

I learned a long time ago that the end of the day matters.  No matter who I am at odds with, no matter who is demanding my attention, no matter how much pressure I feel from other people, Kevin is my husband, and he is the one I face at the end of each day.  He is the one who matters most.  Our relationship is the one that I care most about….right after my relationship with God.  I could write a book…and someday, Lord willing, I will.  J  For now, let it suffice to say that we’ve weathered a lot of storms.  At times, the turbulence was so over the top that neither of us knew what to do, what step to take next, or what the outcome would be.  But, we always knew which way to turn….towards each other.  We never pulled apart.  It was never even on the radar screen of options.

The hopeful part is this….no matter what your story reads like so far, no matter what the past has been for you, if there is life, there is hope.  You are still writing your love story.  It isn’t over until it’s over.  It may look like things will never be ideal, that it is hopeless, and the ending is inevitably going to be sad.  But, the end scene hasn’t been written yet!  You are still in the process, so take hope!  We can’t change the past.  There is not one thing we can do about wrong choices already made and unwise turns already taken.  But, by God’s grace, we can change the future, to a great degree. 

Sometimes it is hard…especially if one of the two of you is not willing to make that change.  We will never be able to change the other person.  And to try to force that into happening is completely foolish and comes with great risk of total loss.  But, there is one person we can change…that we can allow God to conform.  That is ourselves.  As we redirect our outlook from finding everything wrong with the other to looking within and facing the harsh realities of our own faults, our focus shifts in the right direction. 

Happily-ever-after may not seem remotely possible to you, my friend.  But, remember this, “With God all things are possible”.  Don’t give up.  Don’t give in.  Don’t ever think there is no hope.  Forget the past chapters, and determine to make future chapters and the ending of your love story the very best they can be …starting today.  You hold the pen in your hand, and the ink is still wet.  Make it a story your children and grand-children will love to repeat and want to duplicate when writing their own love story.  With God, “happily ever after” is still possible.  J

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Beyond The Fence

”But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”  Matthew 19:26 (KJV)

 “Two men looked out from prison bars; one saw mud, the other saw stars.” 

A few years ago, Kevin and I were involved in a situation that was discouraging to both of us.  We were out of state and staying in a motel at the time.  I opened the curtain on our first morning there to check out the view outside.  How disappointed I was to see that the view from our upstairs window was a garbage dumpster in the parking lot below!  I thought, “What a terrible thing to have to look at!”  But, as I stood there grumbling under my breath, my eyes lifted to the wooden fence that surrounded the back of the property.  Upward they rose, until they reached the top of the fence, and then I peered over it.  Beyond the dumpster, past the fence was a peaceful, serene meadow.  There…grazing on the grass under their hooves, tails swooshing lazily in the breeze, were several beautiful horses.  The thought came to me that I could either stare at the ugliness of the trash, or I could lift my eyes and choose to gaze upon the beauty of the horses.  It was my choice. 

God began to deal with me about our situation and the discouragement we were both feeling.  We could focus on all of the bad things we were hearing and discerning in the situation or we could elevate our vision above it.  We could do as David did in Psalm 121:1 (KJV), “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.  My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.”  Lifting up our eyes made all the difference.  Choosing to focus on God and His power and what He could do gave us the courage we needed and gave us a place to elevate our sights above the confusion and disappointment.

It’s all about perspective and how we choose to view our situations.  It’s all about focus and where we choose to place it.  I heard a story about a woman who looked through the window over her kitchen sink and watched her neighbor’s laundry blowing in the breeze on the clothesline in the yard next door.  As she watched, she criticized, “How awful of her to hang dirty clothes on the line!  Just look at them!  They are dingy and don’t appear to have been washed at all!”  On closer observation, her neighbor’s clothes were perfectly clean.  It was her own window…the one she looked through that was dirty!  After a time, she cleaned it, and could clearly see that her neighbor’s laundry was not the problem.  The problem was on her end entirely.  Her view was distorted by her own dirty window.

We can be so quick to judge, criticize, and condemn another, when all along it is our own perspective that is completely out of focus.  Someone judged me very forcibly and disrespectfully, and the view from which they judged me was so contrary to what the Bible instructs.  It would have taken a lot of explaining to correct the many wrong assumptions they had made and to try to show them the distorted, “dirty window” they were peering through would have been a complete waste of my time and energy.  God showed me to leave it alone, that their perspective was way off, and to just move on.  Only He can point out the “dirty windows” that each one of us are susceptible and likely to look through. 

We can’t correct the perspective of another person.  Just as the woman falsely accused her neighbor of hanging dirty laundry on the line, and nothing could have been further from the truth, we can assume wrong of one another and be completely in the wrong ourselves.  The attitude with which we approach others can be very detrimental and more wrong in the eyes of God than the accusations we make against them that turn out to be completely in error in the first place many times.

If you stand outside a barrel and peer inside it through a hole that is bored in its side, the view will be very dark, uninviting, and limited.  But, if you step into the barrel and peer through the hole from the inside, it is a whole different story.  Some people, who are non-believers, view the Christian life as restrictive and oppressive, even mundane.  That is because they are on the outside looking in.  Once they step inside the barrel of grace, taste of the wonders of salvation, and peer from the inside out, the view is so much different…so much brighter and from a complete opposite perspective.

When my Mom was nine years old, she contracted Rheumatic Fever and Polio at the same time.  She was in very serious condition and was unable to even turn herself in bed.  My Papaw was a man of great faith, and he called for two old-time ministers (Bro. Foster and Bro. Key) to come and pray for her.  When they arrived, they saw the gravity of her condition, but one of them spoke these words to him:  “Bro. McCoy, don’t look at the affliction.  Look at the power of God.”  As they prayed and interceded to God in prayer together for my mother, they prayed the prayer of faith.  The next morning, Papaw said he awoke to hear the sweetest music he had ever heard.  Mom was downstairs rocking in a chair singing!  She was completely and permanently healed of both diseases! 

I have thought of that dear minister’s words many times when I have been faced with hard circumstances.  “Don’t look at the affliction.  Don’t look at the problem.  Look at the power of God.”  Choose to focus on Him and what He can do.  Not on the mountain in front of you.  Not on the sickness.  Not on the pain.  Not on the impossibility.  When our perspective is correctly aligned with the power of Almighty God, nothing is impossible.  Whatever your situation, my friend, there is always a bright and dark side.  There is always a right and wrong way to look at things.  Even the worst scenario can be viewed through the eyes of faith.  God is bigger than any problem, circumstance, or situation we face in this life.  Ask God to clean the window of your perspective.  Look past the mud and see the stars.  Choose to view the horses, not the trash.