Thursday, May 31, 2012

Turtle Musings

I cannot let the month of May slip by without telling you about my calendar experience.  I have several calendars around the house and sometimes don't always get them moved to the next month in a timely manner, and so I was late with my favorite calendar.  But when I turned it from April to May it took my breath away.  It was not some spectacular scenery view or some beautiful flower up close or a bird, but . . . a turtle.
(photo by Tim Fitzharris)
It took several days for it to sink in, the appropriateness of a turtle, because the verse on it says, "The LORD will do amazing things among you.  Amazing things.  (Joshua 3:5)  The verse spoke to my heart.  Really?  Amazing things?  Could this be the month that I have a breakthrough with my writing?  That it all comes together?  I'm not asking for the whole book, just this one chapter I'm currently working on. Please God? 

But then the turtle thing got to me.  How very slow moving is a turtle!  And in God's good time, He will do amazing things.  Sigh.  I've been fighting with this chapter for three months now and the last month in earnest.  And when I say fight, I truly mean a struggle.  Wrestling with this thought or that, cutting out the clutter and the rabbit trails.  And I have to admit I've been a bit frustrated with God lately that it doesn't seem like I'm making progress with this project at the pace I had hoped. 

But God is "not slow in keeping His promise as some understand slowness.  he is patient with you..." (2 Pet.3:9) What?  HE is patient with me?  Yes, like a parent trying to teach a child how to do a household chore, He steps back and waits for us to learn the task when all the while He could accomplish it with ease.  But He doesn't want us to miss out on the blessing, the joy that is ours as He works His purposes through us. 

In reality, I don't think God is as much concerned for the outcome as I am.  I think He is more interested in molding and shaping me into His image through the process.  Submitting to His will when I can't see results is difficult, but is what I need to do in order for me to learn the lessons He's trying to teach me.  And the fact is, God has to prepare my heart for the results and He knows I may not be ready for that yet.  Patience.  Slow and steady wins the race.  Slow and steady.

On the days when God seems to be moving slow as a turtle, I have to remind myself that it just may be me that's slow, not Him.  I think of the times I run into a wall with my flow of thoughts and then procrastinate or think I can sit back and do nothing because I have prayed.  No, God would have me engaged in disciplined action.  I must believe He will do what He's promised and reserve time in the day to write, and then, actually write.  Engage.  

I don't always put a lot of clout in a verse on a calendar, and yet it does cause me to pause and think about it . . . wondering if this is not the voice of God directed toward me for this month.  (Among other things, such as my daily time with Him and listening to the preaching of the Word each week.)  And for the record, April's verse was "You have been my refuge . . . a shelter from the storm."  (Isaiah 25:4)  April flew by so fast I didn't even see the verse until May.  But as I thought of the events of April with the death of my sister in law, I couldn't help but think that God may have provided that verse there for me.  How sad that all of April slipped by and I missed the blessing of this calendar picture.  God was reaching out to me and I failed to see it.    
(photo by Gary Alan Nelson)
God is so eager to rush to my need, to lift me up on His wings of strength, but sometimes I miss it being preoccupied with my life.  I have to admit I am reluctant to flip the calendar to June because I've quite fallen in love with this turtle staring me in the face all month . . . my constant reminder to carry on, slow and steady.  It is one calendar picture I might have to frame and keep on my wall for always.  God is doing amazing things among us . . . amazing things!   God give me faith to believe even when I cannot see.   

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Party Going On

I was at my daughter's graduation party, when a friend came up to me and told me this story.  She had been out of town and on her recent return was sorting through the mail.  She saw my daughter's grad invite and as she flipped it over the little card fell out inviting her to the party.  With urgency in her voice and with her southern accent she declared to her husband, "Oh my, this party is happenin' right now!  Hurry up, get ready.  We are missin' a party!"  I have to admit, her story tickled my funny bone. 

This week I read from Psalm 81 and cannot help but apply this story to my life.  Oh the things we miss by preoccupation with worries, agendas, and distractions.  We are invited to intimate relationship with the Creator of the Universe, but so often we miss it!  Hear the cry of the Lord, "if you would but listen to me, O Israel!", and again, "if my people would but listen to me!"  God desires to fill us.  He has so much good in store for us, but we are missin' it!  "Open wide your mouth and I will fill it", declares the Lord, and "you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you." (Psa. 81:8,10,11,13,16) Can't you just hear the longing in His voice? 

This has even more significance when we understand the celebratory feasts of Israel.  Barley was poor man's bread and at the end of its harvest there was a one day celebration to transition into the wheat harvest. But it was at the end of the wheat harvest that the real party took place, a week long celebration. The barley was but a tease for the good stuff, the wheat, nourishment fit for a king.  God has ready for us, not just wheat, but finest wheat, and honey from the rock! 

What does all this mean?  That God is so eager to fill us with Himself, to satisfy our hearts, but we miss it!  We drown out His voice with our stuff or we focus on ourselves and "what we will wear, or what we will eat," or what people think. (Matt. 6:25) The party is happenin' right now people!  We must get ourselves ready with a fully surrendered heart and then, get on over to the party! 

We also enjoyed watching the eclipse this week.  We stood out in the yard and with sunglasses layered inside a welding mask, we were able to look at the sun and watch as the moon forged its path between us and the sun, blocking the light.  And how true of us, that when we place other things in our focus, it comes between us and our fellowship with God, blocking the righteousness which God means to shine so brilliantly in us.  

Last Sunday my husband delivered a message on Hebrews 12:1,2 and it really struck a chord with me.   As we "throw off everything that hinders, and the sin that so easily entangles," then we can "run with perseverance the race marked out for us."  But the way to throw off that weight of sin is to "fix our eyes on Jesus..."  Looking only to Jesus is the pivotal point of the entire two verses!  And I've realized that my focus has been preoccupied with concerns which block my ability to run the race of life well. 

Worship of God tends to be the first thing which slips out the door when I get entangled in my worries.  I often turn to food, movies, facebook, or sleep in order to sooth my emotional needs.  But oh the sadness I must bring to the heart of God when I turn to things so trivial!  He offers such sustaining sustenance in Himself. 

Lately my prayer has been, "let my life flow in ceaseless praise."  I no longer want to be a complaining grump, but desire the fullness of God in me.  We sing the old hymn, "oh for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer's praise."  I don't need a thousand tongues!  All I need is for this one mouth to praise Him.  I, for one, do not want to miss the party, especially one so grand as this!  What are we looking at?

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Some get the faulty impression that God is a kill joy with a list of dos and don'ts and a club to wield His power, but that is simply not true.  The Bible is chock full of celebration, and describes a God who is good with our best interests in mind.  I've been studying the feasts which God instigated for Israel in commemoration of various events, such as the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles, but the greatest celebration is still yet to come . . . our entrance into heaven.
The here after will be terrifying for those who do not know God because all will kneel before Him and acknowledge that He is Lord . . . and heaven will evade them.  Only those who have put their faith and hope in Jesus will experience the glorious celebration of heaven.  Until recent years, I'd never thought much about the rewards we will receive there, because, well, it is not kosher for believers to seek accolades.  And yet the Bible does speak of rewards given and I've been keenly aware of it in the recent graduation of my daughter.  What an illustration of that day when we will be acknowledged for those things on which God places value. 
Each graduate has come to this point on the grounds of faithfulness, day after day showing up at school and participating in classes, completing homework . . . where most do not see and many do not know.  But it all comes to light on graduation day, when each is deemed eligible to wear the robe and receive a diploma which says, "well done, good and faithful servant." (Matt. 25:23)  But these grads would not be here at all if they had not first entered the world of education to start with.  And in heaven no one will be there who has not first cried out to Jesus for their salvation from sin.  That is our entrance pass.  But once we have the pass, we prepare for that place, "gettin' ready for glory." 
Before the commencement, Heather with hat off, head bowed.

The rest of us, waiting her entrance.
Every graduate wears the robe, but only some are decorated . . . tassels, medals, stoles, cords, and for an elite few, the privilege of speaking on a platform.  Likewise in heaven there will be differing rewards given as motives of the heart and our life in the Spirit are revealed.  At times we elevate things here on earth which may amount to nothing in heaven, and often the unseen sacrifices are what God deems valuable.  We can do a lot of bragging and receive much praise from men, but God's eye is turned toward the heart that is completely His.  The devoted heart grabs His attention. (2 Chron. 16:9)
As we gathered in the stadium my thoughts were drawn to the kingdom of heaven, where 5,000 is only a speck compared to the billions of witnesses waiting expectant and eager to watch us receive our reward.  But most importantly, these rewards will be coming from God Himself!  And how much more valuable the reward when it is given from such a worthy source.  I think tears will flow.   Not tears of pain, but tears of overwhelming joy, and "God will wipe away all tears from our eyes" as we realize the extent of His favor.  (Rev. 7:17)
Yet to see this event, each parent and guest endured discomfort for several hours.  We sat on hard metal benches, squished up beside strangers invading our personal space, sunlight glaring into our eyes . . . simply to catch the name of our son or daughter and to watch them walk across the stage to receive their diploma.
Likewise, we endure the trials of this day that we might know the delight of that day.  What joy at encouraging others in their success!  There are no jealousies with others getting higher honor, no spiteful thoughts, only exuberant gladness shared with a crowd of others.
But perhaps my favorite part is immediately after the graduation, when those 5,000 guests pour out onto the field looking for the person they know and want to personally congratulate.  It is an experience like none other, except, perhaps, in heaven, where we will look for those special individuals gone before. 

Yet, even as we searched the field for our daughter, we ran into so many others that we know.  What pleasure to congratulate them as well.  And I can scarcely imagine all the people we will recognize and 'bump into', as the atmosphere of celebration permeates every corner of heaven.  What a day that will be!  Mingling with Paul, John, Esther, Abraham, Isaiah, David, Grandma, Grandpa, brothers, sisters, cousins, and scores of others.
Yet, getting out on the field is a challenge because so many people must file through the gate.  As we tried to find our way through the aisles, moving slowly against the wire fence, we felt rather like sheep.  We could not see the field very well, (although we knew it was there), and we could not weasel our way through the crowd.  We were trapped within it, moving at a snail's pace, step by step.  Fearful of losing track of my family, I made certain that my youngest was holding the hand of my oldest, and that the middle one and grandparents were being watched out for.  

We too, are much like sheep in our way toward heaven, led by our Shepherd as He bids us follow, one step at a time, closer to that place. Heaven remains veiled to us now, and we cannot even see beyond the people in our immediate vicinity, but sometimes we catch a glimpse of it through the fence when a precious one passes through the portal.  Meanwhile, we must completely trust the hand holding ours to lead us in our journey to that place.
Today, just two days after graduation, my daughter reports for work at her summer job.  And the graduation, while an incredible milestone, is not really an end in itself.  Likewise, our time on this earth is only preparation for our niche, what we are made for, in heaven.  But sitting around on a cloud playing a harp does not fire my rocket. (I'm so glad that is not the accurate teaching on heaven from the Bible.)  No, Jesus tells us we will reign with Him!  (Rev. 20:6)  I don't know what or who we will be reigning over exactly, but each of us will have a specific purpose, a calling that we have been prepared for.  Now that gets me excited!
 Thank you Heather, for the chance to see such a glorious picture of heaven.  You have done well, receiving cords for your GPA, service hours, music and art honors, and your advanced placement class achievements.  These awards have been gained through sweat and tears, but these awards may someday be forgotten, gathering dust in a box somewhere.  Yet the character gained and the influence left behind will remain forever.

However, my greatest desire and prayer is that you continue to follow after God with all your heart so that when you graduate into heaven, you will receive your reward in full.  These are the rewards which will last for eternity and will fill your hands and heart so you might have something to give . . . to lay at the feet of Jesus in worship.
What a day that will be
when my Jesus I shall see,
and I look upon His face,
the one who saved me by His grace.
When He takes me by the hand
and leads me to the promised land,
what a day, glorious day that will be. 
by Jim Hill

Monday, May 7, 2012

Simply His

Every spring I go through a test of faith.  Oh, it is not any big traumatic occurrence or event, but always experienced through a tiny seed and a little dirt.  What is it about a seed placed in the ground mixed with a little water and sunshine which produces this renewal of life?   I never tire of the miracle, the hope, wrapped up in a seed.  
I love working the dirt in the spring.  It seems time comes to a halt as I crouch low to the ground and so very carefully place a seed, wondering if that dry old thing will indeed sprout.  I guess it brings me near to my childhood when I relished carefree afternoons on the rare event that the sun actually found a blue sky to cast its rays.  I would lie on the ground, basking in its heat while observing the minutest speck of dirt on the pathway and the random ant marching by on a mission.  The seed, it cannot hurry, but rather must rest, be still, and move at the pace God has set for it. 

However, I am not very patient in waiting for seeds to germinate and finally break the surface of the earth with their tiny sprout of green.  I count the days when they are expected to appear and each day late causes some anxiety thinking they have rotted in the ground, that I buried them too deeply, or forgot to water them one too many times.  But what joy and relief I receive from seeing that plant come out of the ground.  Ah, at last, little seed, you made it! You have proven victorious!
Then, when the plant has grown to proper maturity, at just the right time, the bud blooms with a grand finale flourish.  This is what it is made for!  So much splendor in a flower.  Petunias, iris, honeysuckle, snapdragon, peonies, each so unique, but together they make my back yard simply glorious.  I drink in their combined fragrance as the breeze blows through my open window.

I'm reminded of the fragrance and beauty of followers in Christ.  Each of us different, but each adds to the scent of the whole, the powerful unmistakeable aroma which identifies us as His.  But how easily our own preoccupation with self can turn that into a stench.  It is a constant battle, this squelching of self, stomping it under the foot of the cross like a weed . . . narcissist, relentless in its persistence on being in the foreground.  I have to daily maintain Christ on the throne of my life, or by default self takes over.
 I recently littered my flower beds with moth balls in attempts at stopping some persistent critters from thinking my yard was theirs.  But all I did was destroy the delicate scent of the flowers that I love so much.  The critters simply hop over the moth balls, undeterred.  My children do not even enjoy the yard anymore because as they say, "it smells bad".  I'm reminded at how easily the fragrance of Christ can be overpowered by my selfishness and pride.  How my life is then avoided like the plague because it smells so badly.  Lord Jesus, remove the moth balls in my life today so I won't repel others from your presence, but rather draw them into it. 
Lately this verse has grabbed my attention.  "Seek the LORD that you may live."  Amos 5:6  Most assuredly the choices I make are life and death choices.  Oh, they do not seem like it, but when it comes down to it, to live selfishly does end in death.  My choice to seek after the Lord with heart, soul, mind, and strength is what brings life.   It is hard to go against my sinful nature and so often I give in to it.  But when I think of the beauty and aroma of a flower it encourages me to fight it, because "flowers of tomorrow are in seeds planted today".   Flowers can't be forced.  They must be given time to bloom.  So I cannot force the fragrance of Christ.  It must be developed in my life through consistent waiting and resting.  But oh the joy . . .

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Day

It was early morning when I led my oldest daughter and a small host of her friends, then in eighth grade, secretly through the halls of their school on a mission of encouragement . . . delivering May baskets filled with fresh flowers.  We got the okay from the administration and they let us in to deliver our baskets to all the teachers and staff.  I will never forget what one of the school cafeteria cooks said, "this is the best thing that's ever happened to me."  To think that a rather plain paper cone filled with simple beauty could be someone's best thing had an impact on us.

But it was on May 1st even further back that a best thing happened to me.  God delivered a May bouquet wrapped in grace which I dearly treasure, my daughter of 18 today.  This daughter was not given in the usual way.  No, her delivery became, quite ironically, a cry for mayday, like a ship's crew desperate for help in the fury of a storm.
Under normal circumstances we believe that childbirth is not an emergency, and therefore does not require the panic or intervention which can accompany some hospital births, and were what the medical field would consider low risk.  We had already experienced an uneventful home birth with our firstborn and so decided to have our second at home as well.  But it was different with her.  God had something He wanted to show us . . . His power over life and death.
We believe in proper prenatal checkups and received superb care from a midwife/registered nurse and her assistant who had already delivered close to 700 babies, one of which was my son Tyler.  But partially into the labor, mayday struck.  I know every woman has a story and thinks hers is the worst, so I don't intend to be over dramatic, but I will say it was a traumatic experience.

My husband is a firm believer in being a participator in this world of child birth and so he did extensive study on the subject and was there to assist and to cover me in prayer.  But the baby's size became an issue.  We experienced severe shoulder distocia and as a last resort our midwife purposely attempted to break her collar bone in order to get her out.  The upper arm was broken instead but it was enough give to deliver her . . . all 11 pounds of her.

But once born there remained an eerie stillness, an unnatural quiet, as she lay there lifeless.  The cord had been wrapped around her neck and was in poor condition, only a tiny thread of life still channeled through it.  Our midwife was prepared for this scenario and tried various methods, but could not get her to breathe.  Time ticked by which seemed like hours.  Finally, our midwife told us there was nothing else they could do.  We thought we may have lost her.  

It was at this point that my husband took the lead.  He placed his hands on her chest and commanded, "little baby girl, in the name of Jesus, breathe."  She opened her eyes for half a second . . . paused . . . and then inhaled with the biggest breath a baby could take, directly from the hand of God.  I am very familiar with the stories in the Bible of Jesus raising the dead, but that was back then and I was very distant from it.  Now I was witness to His power over death here. . . in my own house.  We had not yet picked out a middle name, but now knew what it should be. . .Grace. . . Heather Grace, because except for the grace of God, she would not be with us today. 

But she had yet another problem.  Her other arm hung limp with palsy.  She was taken to the hospital to bind up her wounds. There we were told to work the palsied arm back and forth every time she nursed for a good chance she would be able to move it on her own.  God was gracious to heal both arms above expectation and gave her great strength.

To this day I believe there was more going on than meets the eye, unseen forces in the realm of darkness fighting against her life.  This life would be powerful and effective for the kingdom of God and shortly after her birth God began a work in our lives to bring us into full time Christian ministry.  I believe attempts were made to stop that from happening. 

Heather was born on a Sunday, appropriate, since she's always had a tender heart towards God, seeking after Him wholeheartedly.  At a young age she gave her life to Him and desires to follow His lead wherever that may take her.  And this life, delivered from the hand of death, seems destined to do the same for others.

One July 4th no one noticed that her baby sister had fallen into the lake.  But Heather was onto it, herself only ten years old.  With no hesitation she jumped right in and rescued her from drowning.  It seems fitting that she would be a lifeguard all four summers of her high school years.  She is not the flippant sort, seeking only a nice tan or lazy man's work, but takes it very seriously.  I still remember the day she came home from guarding at the pool to tell me of her sense of accomplishment at performing her first rescue.
Now she seeks a career in nursing in hopes of using that skill in overseas missions.  She has found a Bible college where the nursing program takes her to Africa for their internship.  She is also excited about the possibility of assisting the medical team while on campus during the school year.  It seems a perfect fit as she has always been even keel in emergency situations. 
But one thing I love most about this girl is her love for life.  She emulates a joy that is contagious poured out on her love for others, and especially children.  What a blessing she has been in the lives of her two little sisters.  They are best friends as she plays their games and their interests with them for hours.  Dress up, dolls, detective, hide and seek, forts, princess role play, and her personal favorite, coloring.

She is also very creative, frequently coming up with crazy ideas.  Once she knit nose warmers for each of us.  It proved to be a very entertaining Christmas, to say the least.  Another year she made us foot rollers/massages out of beads strung on yarn with a verse about God watching over our steps.  
The latest "game" is to tag her room with sticky notes when she is away for school trips.  And when we arrived home recently after our sudden week away, she had returned the favor, decorating her sister's room with streamers, welcome home signs, and of course, sticky notes.  I was especially blessed by the meaningful touches she did for mom, with laundry folded and put away, dishes done, and clean rooms sprinkled here and there with fresh flowers.

Heather delights with being in the middle of the fun.  She loves watching NASCAR racing with her Dad and wishes with all her heart that we had saved our 280z car for her.  We thought about it, but decided it would be better handed on to another than to sit around in the driveway until she was old enough to drive.  Besides, me thinks she is safer in our old clunker instead. 
Her brother has been her constant companion.  When they were young, strangers would comment on how cute the twins were, despite the fact that they are 18 months apart. Tyler was small for his age and Heather large, and so they were almost identical in size and looked very much alike.  It is hard for me to find pictures of their childhood where they are not in them together.  I won't deny there are squabbles when one riles the other, but for the most part they have been each others support over the years.

Heather is one of my best friends as well and I love sitting up late talking the night away.  Sometimes the guys will go off and do their manly things, and it is so much fun to have a daughter to watch a "girly" movie with me, or to go shopping, or simply to understand.  One time I noticed some pretty journal type books on her desk and she told me they were for Ivy and Summer . . . for when they reach their teen years.  She is writing down tips and advice on all she is learning about coping with middle and high school.  She plans to give it to them when they enter that stage of life.  I was very touched, to say the least.

When I was first married, I never wanted any girls, only boys, because I thought girls were harder to raise.  Besides the fact that I didn't feel very confident in the area of hair, make up, or style, you know, girly sort of things.  And I thought I could never be a good mom for daughters.  Yet God has given me three and I love them to death.  Plus I think it takes a certain kind of man to be a good father to daughters and believe my husband is one of them.  As I was recently sorting through old pictures, I realized that I have bunches of them with her and her Dad, always delight strewn across her face. 
Heather, you are a joy, and I know you often think yourself rather clumsy, but in reality, you emulate grace.  When you were in grade school, we were at a friend's house for a party and you didn't know the adults were watching.  You expressed such a carefree spirit that you did perfect cartwheels all across their back yard.  Your feet scarcely touched the ground. . . light. . . winsome.  The hosts commented on what a graceful girl you are.  And I don't think they meant only on the outside!
The life God has given along with His abundant grace, flows out from within you. . . permeates your entire being. . . drips with His joy.  We are so blessed to have you in this family, and take great delight in your life.  Happy 18th birthday!