Friday, November 24, 2017

The Black Friday Special that Changed History

I've had a few Black Friday adventures. They were fun because I was with family, but the crowds and the rush were completely overwhelming to me. Today, I'm staying home.

This morning, I'm pondering the Black Friday Special that changed history: A Messiah for 30 pieces of silver. 

It's a sobering thought, and one we'd do well to remember as we head into the shopping frenzy that, all too often, fills the Advent season.

During this season, we celebrate the nativity of our Lord, the moment in history when God Almighty, King of Heaven and Earth, slipped into a coat of flesh and delivered Himself to the most unlikely of parents, in the most unlikely of places.

He arrived with His face set like flint toward His own Black Friday, and He never lost sight of it for even an instant. 

Let's decide now to keep our eyes on the real reason for Christmas as we make our way through the next few weeks. Let's remember that the cooing baby in the manger matters only because of the suffering Son of God on the cross and the empty tomb that followed.

We can honor Christ as we celebrate the Christmas season, but only if we make a conscious decision to do so. Today, let's fix our eyes on the empty tomb, and celebrate the One who loved us so much that He came as a baby and didn't stop until the tomb was empty and His people were free. 

Joy to the World! The Lord has come!
Let earth receive her King!
The Road to Bethlehem advent book is available on Amazon: The Road to Bethlehem (Kindle version is only 99 cents. Paperback is $6.00)

In case you missed yesterday's blog post, here's the link: Choosing Thanksgiving and Counting My Blessings
#blackfridayspecial #advent #Jesus

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Choosing Thanksgiving And Counting My Blessings

I have to admit the last six months have been among the hardest of my life. Caring for Sam Wiley in his dying was difficult emotionally and physically. Most days, I fell into bed exhausted, was up and down through the night, and awakened just as tired as I'd been when I retired.  

Those days were also among the sweetest. Sam and I had precious times together. He let go of bitterness and anger embraced forgiveness, and gained the most peace he'd ever had. 

I marveled as my son faced our loss of Sam with courage and love. I rejoiced as he served Sam with tenderness and humor. I was amazed by the sweet eulogy he shared at Sam's memorial. 

Despite all the difficulties, the past year has been a wonderful one. I've traveled, met new friends, learned new skills, begun to learn a new language. I've had one adventure after another, and I've seen the hand of God over and over again. 

I'm a blessed woman with so much for which I thank God. Today, I'm counting my blessings and naming them one by one... This isn't an exhaustive list. It's a jumping-off spot for thanksgiving. 

I'm thankful for the empty tomb and the freedom and forgiveness that emptiness purchased for me.

I'm thankful for family. For my son, Ryan, my sister, Cookie, and all the other wonderful family members who have loved me at my worst, rejoiced with me at my best, and cheered me along all my life.

I'm thankful for my Grandmother's faith. She loved missions and she lived her life on mission for Christ every day of her life. I'm thankful for the gift of prayer she imparted to me and how her frank, truth-in-love words still speak to me             decades after she moved to heaven.

I'm thankful for the Word of God that is sharper than any two-edged sword. The truth in those pages continues to transform my life.

I'm thankful that, in 1989, God placed me on the farm, for the twenty-five years I raised cows, for the sheer joy of new calves in the spring, for the goats, and chickens and bunnies, and even for Andy the pig (who nearly drove me crazy with his antics), and for all the lessons I learned along the way.

I'm thankful for these spunky, funny, sweet Wonder Dogs that are so much more than companions and storyline material. 

I'm thankful for Sam Wiley and the many lessons he taught me over the 28 years he was with me. I'm thankful for the peace he gained before his death and the way he continued to persevere, even when life was hard. I'm especially grateful that I'll see him again in eternity. 

 I'm grateful for my faithful friends, who love me through thick and thin, and for the perennials they've shared with me over the years. 

I'm grateful for the reminder that God always keeps His promises for the body of Christ, that's so much more than I can yet understand, and for the sweetness of my church home.  

I'm thankful for the call to missions that has changed my life and that God brought me to Global Outreach for this amazing season.

I'm thankful for this nation that has been blessed beyond measure and for the hope that God might, one day, make us strong in Him again. 

I'm thankful for veterans like my daddy who fought and suffered in so many ways for the freedom we hold far too lightly. I'm grateful for the ones who gave blood, limb, and life for those freedoms. 

I'm grateful for our forefathers, who established this nation on Christian principles and grateful for the promise of 1 Chronicles 7:14.

I'm grateful for the opportunities I've had and the adventurous life I've lived. 
I'm grateful that my life is never boring, that it's forward-looking, and that God still has a plan for me.

No matter what our circumstances, let's choose gratitude. Let's tell the people we love and appreciate how grateful we are. Demonstrate thanksgiving in word and deed. Let's live as thankful people, not just today, but all year long.

"I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all of my heart; I will tell of all Your wonderful deeds." Psalm 9:1

It's become my tradition to read Lincoln's Thanksgiving Day Proclamation every year. Here's the link: Lincoln's Thanksgiving Day Proclamation.
Please like and share to help extend our digital reach. 

In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: Why Every Day Should Be Thanksgiving

If you've been blessed by and are grateful for this digital ministry, prayerfully consider supporting  this outreach. Here's the link for online donations: Global Outreach Acct 4841 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Why Every Day Should Be Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day is tomorrow, but every day should be Thanksgiving. Why? Because we are a blessed people and because God tells us to give thanks. 

In this post-Sam, not quite recovered from going night and day for so long, life of mine, it's taking me a while to get back to my "usual." I don't want to be Leanna-centric, but I've given some time to doing things that matter to me. Straightening my house. Decluttering. Deep cleaning. Yard work (though you can't tell it from the leaves that have re-accumulated). Reading. Art. Music. Baking.

Writing's probably at the top of my list of things I love to do, but I prefer to write from a full-heart, not a squeezed-dry one. I'm not writing much these days, but it's only temporary, and I'm grateful for that.

Thanksgiving has occupied much of my time recently. Not the holiday, but the action. My list is pretty long:

1. Jesus and His grace and mercy
2. Forgiveness and healing
3. Ryan and the good man he is
4. My family and friends who supported me, encouraged me, helped me all the             way through the long years of caring for Sam.
5. Snuggly dogs and puppy kisses
6. The crunch of fall leaves underfoot as I go to the barn
7. Plenty of hay for the horses and full feed barrels
8. Tractors that run, even though the old one still smokes when it's started
9. Full pantry, refrigerator, and freezers
10. Central heat and air
11. The religious freedom we have in the United States
12. Seasons - in weather and in life - and the assurance that they will, eventually, change, even when they're hard
13. The hope of eternity and the hope we have in the perfect plan God has for us
14. The peace of God that transcends circumstances and carries us through anything we face

Other than food (for animals and for those I love), tractors, and the heating system, there isn't much "stuff" on my list, for life does not consist in things. Luke wrote, "Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own." (Luke 12:15 nlt) He's right, of course. 

Life isn't measured by possessions, but by love. Love God. Love others. It's that simple.

One of the ways we express our love is in thanksgiving, especially when we're going through a hard time and we don't feel particularly grateful. It's a sacrifice of thanksgiving that means more to God than we realize, and it brings some pretty amazing promises our way.

"Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God...then call on Me when you are in trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give Me glory." Psalm 50:14 nlt

"...If you keep to My path, I will reveal to you the salvation of God." Psalm 50:23

The promise of rescue in time of trouble is so huge that it should spur us to assemble a mile-long list of things for which we're grateful. 

The revelation of God's salvation...even better. This is more than a general offer of help. It's a promise of recognizable salvation. God will save us and we will know it was Him who did it.  

How do we obtain these sweet promises? By saying thank you, even when it's hard. 

Why not make today, and every day, Thanksgiving Day? Let's start now with a list of things for which we're grateful and, as we go about our day, continue with thanks all day long.
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In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: Biting Cat and the View from the Rearview Mirror
photo courtesy of

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Biting Cat and The View from the Rearview Mirror

Biting Cat didn't come for breakfast yesterday, but that's not unusual. He lives life on his own schedule, and it has nothing to do with mine. I assumed he'd found a mouse that was more tasty than his canned food. He does that sometimes, but he usually shows up for dinner.

I went about my morning routine and headed to work.Almost to the stop sign at the corner of Highway 9 and County Road 278, I saw a large lump of roadkill in my lane. 

As I swerved to miss it, I got a better view. It looked oddly familiar. Long, fluffy striped tail. Dense, heavy dark fur. 

Was that Biting Cat?

When I was back in my lane, I looked in the rear view mirror. White belly surrounded by dark fur. My heart sank. It was Biting Cat. I felt sick, and started slowing to pull over, then changed my mind. "Lord, this seems unfair. I just cannot deal with one more loss this morning. I'm gonna have to get back with You on this cat carcass." 

I drove on, leaving my dead cat in the middle of the road. 

Half a mile down the road, I thought better of my decision, but I was already late. I just can't deal with that dead cat right now, I kept telling myself. I drove on to the office and sneaked into prayer time a little late.

When we were finished with Bible study, Lyle reached for missionary cards so we could pray for them. "I hope you pull my card," I told him.

Chuck looked over at me. "Do you need prayer today?"

"Yes, I do. I just left my dead cat in the middle of the road," I announced. There were surprised expressions on every face. It sounded like I'd dumped my cat, but I hadn't, so I explained the situation. "When I get finished with my work, I've got to go back and get that dead cat out of the road to bury it."

"Do you have a shovel?" someone asked helpfully.

"Yeah, but I sure didn't want to dig a grave today." 

We had special prayer for me, because the more I thought about the dead cat in the middle of the road, the more I needed a divine intervention.

Several hours later, I'd finished my pressing work, and left to deal with the sad situation. 

I wasn't madly in love with Biting Cat because, as his name implies, he's bitten me quite a few times. However, I'd spent years teaching him not to bite and he'd finally learned the lesson. In addition, he had learned to purr and let me pick him up. After those victories, I hated to lose him, even if he wasn't a good cat.

Biting Cat was also the least concerned about appearance of any cat I've ever met. He refused to groom himself at all. Over the winter, when his fur grew super-long and dense, he'd get dreadlocks. In the spring, I'd have to shave him slick to get rid of them. Unless you've shaved a near-wild-cat before, you can't imagine the size of the job. 

Biting Cat was a lot of trouble. 

Anyway, I drove home, filled with dread about the task ahead of me. I was dressed in my old leather skirt, tights, boots, and a nice sweater. I decided I'd rather get finished with the job than change clothes, which could've been a bad decision, but turned out okay. 

I grabbed my shovel and a garbage bag and headed to the site. I parked at the pottery shop, waited until no cars were coming. I marched toward Biting Cat's body with black garbage bag in one hand and rusty shovel in the other.

When I squatted down by poor old Biting Cat, I got the shock of my life. It wasn't my cat after all. 

It was a raccoon that looked just like Biting Cat. 

I can't describe the emotions that surged through me. Relief. Aggravation. Embarrassment. 

We'd had special prayer for me over a dead raccoon carcass in the middle of the road. It wasn't my cat at all. 

For a millisecond, I wished it had been my cat.

I loaded my burial equipment up as quickly as possible and headed home, grateful no cars had come while I was squatted by the roadkill coon.

There's probably more than one lesson in this story, but the one for today is how skewed the view is from the rear view mirror. Considerable agony came from my backward view. It was only when I took an up-close look that the situation became clear and I could view it accurately.

There's a reason the windshield is large and the rearview mirror is tiny. We're supposed to move forward, both when we're in a car and in life. Are there difficulties and sorrows in the past? It's important to deal with and learn from them so that we don't repeat our mistakes, but there comes a point when forward motion is required. 

Are we moving ahead or looking back? Today, let's get our eyes off the rearview mirror and put them on the road ahead. Move forward, to the future God has planned. 

"Brethren, I do no regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:13-14 nasb
In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: A Very Un-Missionary Like Thanksgiving

photo courtesy of

Monday, November 20, 2017

A Very Un-Missionary-Like Thanksgiving

I've been reading the letters of Paul in the New Testament recently. They haven't been my favorite, partly because sometimes Paul reprimands people via a letter so that he doesn't have to reprimand them in person. 

I'm still a little fragile from the long season of caregiving, followed by Sam's death, and it's seemed like more than I can bear. I've persevered, however, because... Well, I don't really know why. Mainly because persevering is what I do. 

This morning, I opened my Bible with a mild sense of dread, in anticipation of more Paul-fussing. I hate to admit that, because it's not very missionary-like, but it's true. I'm probably not the only one who feels that way sometimes. 

I don't think a dread of Paul's fussing is a sin, unless you indulge it and avoid the Bible because of it, which I didn't. 

I've spent weeks whining to the Lord about how hard it is to read Paul's words in this season of life. When I picked up my Bible, I prayed, "Lord, I need a nugget of truth that's not fussing this morning." I know. That's not a very missionary-like prayer, either, but it was answered in an amazing way. I think God understood my heart.

Today, I read Galatians 2, in which Paul describes his visit to Jerusalem to talk with the elders there. He'd gone to present what he was teaching to the Gentiles and be sure they were all in agreement. 

My faded, hand-written note in the margin says, "Paul suffered much persecution in Galatia. He was stoned and left for dead. Run out of town. The church ladies and leading men of Galatia were stirred up and the city was divided. People tried to worship Paul and Silas and he barely restrained them. Taking the gospel to Galatia was costly to Paul." 

Suddenly, I realized that all the trouble was because Paul, who had been a major Jewish leader before his conversion, spent his life taking the gospel to the Gentiles. Since I'm a Gentile (not a Jew), Paul spent his life taking the gospel to my people. 

If not for Paul, I probably wouldn't be reading my Bible, much less whining about his words not suiting me.

I was cut to the core with conviction.

Sometimes I forget how much it cost those early disciples/apostles to spread the gospel around the world. They were persecuted over and over again. Most of them died martyrs' deaths. 

Paul could've been a top-dog-leader if he'd stayed in Jerusalem. Instead, he walked the path of obedience and paid dearly for it. His life of pain and suffering was the price he paid to bring the gospel my direction.

Tears streamed down my face as I repented of my negative feelings toward Paul's words and thanked God for this man who gave up the life he had to embrace the life God chose for him. I thank God for Paul's impact that persists nearly two thousand years later. 

I'd like to have the legacy Paul has, but I don't want to pay the price he paid to have it. I'm ashamed to admit that, but I doubt I'm alone in my reticence. 

What I realized this morning is that Paul didn't want all those hard times either, but he wanted obedience more than he wanted an easy life. That's what I should want, too. But do I?

This morning, I'm thanking God for those who have given so much to bring the gospel to me, for those early disciples who sacrificed to carry the news of our resurrected Jesus around the world. 

Today, I'm embracing Paul's "fussing." Bring it on, Paul. You've earned the right to your hard words. 

More important, though, is that I'm embracing Paul's attitude. Not me, but Christ. Enduring through whatever comes my way and setting my eyes on the goal, I press on. 

Disciples follow their Master, even when it's hard. That's what Paul did, and it's what we're supposed to do, too. Today, let's assess our depth of discipleship and make whatever adjustments are needed.

Embracing the life of a disciple may not be easy but, to have a legacy that persists thousands of year, it's worth it. 

"Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:13-14 nasb
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: When I had a Nazareth Heart and Missed the Miracle Before Me

Sunday, November 19, 2017

When I Had a Nazareth Heart and Missed the Miracle Before Me

I'm getting a new website for Christmas. 

Actually, that's not quite true. I'll have a new website BEFORE Christmas, and it's a ministry-expanding project, not a present. I'm super excited about this. 

In preparation for the new website, I've begun to go back through old blog posts. Some of them will be carried over to the new site. Some will not. This morning, I looked through past Thanksgiving posts, discovered the "Nazareth heart" post, and thought the truths were worth revisiting. 

I found an "ouch" here, so be forewarned.

Jesus grew up in Nazareth and, since it was a small village, everyone knew Him. No one ever expects the little kid next door to grow up into the Messiah who will save the world, even if He's a really nice kid. The people of Nazareth were no different. When Jesus was well-known because of His teaching and miracles, they wanted to see the miracles for themselves.

One day, Jesus spoke in his home church (aka the synagogue in Nazareth) and, instead of being happy about miracles, the people were enraged by His words. Luke (4:28) tells us there wasn't one person who was not out-of-control angry with Jesus.  

They were angry because Jesus said aloud what they were all thinking privately.  He exposed the truth they'd hoped to hide. They were happy to have Him in the synagogue because they wanted Him to do "tricks" like He'd done in Capernaum, but they didn't want words that required them to change their lives or their minds. 

Jesus reminded them that prophets are never popular in their hometowns, and Elijah and Elisha had been sent to Gentiles. He implied that the people of Nazareth would not see any special miracles, but other towns (possibly Gentile towns) would. This was true, but it was fuel for the fire of their fury.

Jesus knew the people of Nazareth didn't want truth or conviction. What they wanted was a miracle-side-show. They didn't love Jesus, and they weren't overwhelmed with gratitude for what God had already done. They didn't want to be disciples. They wanted to be observers. They just wanted a show, and they wanted it to be spectacular.

I had this problem recently, and I still regret it. We helped at the Stone Soup lunch one Saturday at Salvation Army. The last two times I'd been there, we'd seen loaves and fishes miracles that were very impressive. 

I wanted to see another miracle. It didn't happen. 

Instead, a woman walked through the room and sang with such power that I was reminded of the passage in Zephaniah which says God sings over us with songs of joy. (Zeph. 3:17) It was beautiful, but I was so busy waiting for a miracle that I overlooked the amazing truth she sang. 

She was the miracle and I missed it because I had a Nazareth heart.

I have a friend who often says, "If Jesus never does another thing for me, what He's already done is more than enough!" She's right and, I believe she has the kind of grateful heart we all should have.

As we begin Thanksgiving Week, let's take a few minutes for introspection. Do we have a grateful heart or a Nazareth heart? Do we want not only more, but something spectacular? 

"Nazareth heart" is a terrible disease, but the cure is simple. Gratitude. Today, let's look for evidence of the goodness of God at work in our lives and thank Him for all He has already done for us. 

"In everything give thanks for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thessalonians 5:18 nasb 
In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: In Defense of Drinking Tea and the Three-Kiss Greeting

p.s - I recently met someone from Nazareth and instantly loved her. She doesn't have a "Nazareth heart" at all, so please don't think badly of her town because of the events in this post that happened ~ 2000 years ago. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

In Defense of Drinking Tea and the Three-Kiss Greeting

I love the Middle East. 

I love the colorful souk (outdoor market), the sounds of raised voices bartering, mingled with the distant sound of chickens around the corner, and the call of prayer sounding overhead. 

I love the aroma of spices: cumin, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, cloves. 

I love the crowds and the exotic clothing. Don't hate me for this, but the hijabs and abiyahs are beautiful to me. I wouldn't want to be forced to wear them, but many are made of rich fabrics, exotically decorated with sequins and beads. In the windy valley, they're more practical than you might think. (I'm not talking about niqabs.)

I love that the people (both men and women) still wear their native dress. A long, loose cotton "dress" is much cooler in hot weather than American jeans and t-shirt. I haven't tried wearing a keffiyeh, but I believe it would be a nice protection from the sun. 

I love the hospitality. Mississippi calls itself "The Hospitality State." Admittedly, we're a social people, but in comparison to the Arabs, we have a way to go. 

Middle Easterners have honed hospitality to a fine art. "Come have tea with me," is an invitation many made and all meant sincerely. When I dropped by their homes for tea, they stopped whatever they were doing and welcomed me. The hostess gave me the seat of honor, and served hot tea and some sort of sweet. Homemade cake, pastries from the bakery, cookies straight from the box. They always offered something, and I always ate whatever I was given. 

Their welcome can't be beat. I was greeted (by women) with hugs and three kisses, one on my right cheek and two on my left. When I returned home, it felt odd to greet my friends with a distant "hi," even when the distance was only two or three feet. 

In case you can't imagine this, when you hug your visitor and kiss her three times (and she does the same), you instantly slow down and settle in. 

I'm in favor of the three-kiss greeting.

Today, I finally came to 2 Corinthians 13:12 in my study. "Greet one another with a holy kiss," Paul wrote. The three-kiss greetings came to mind and I realized something wonderful. Paul was a Middle Easterner. The kisses I received were something that was practiced even in Paul's time.

How beautiful is that?

Why don't we continue this lovely practice of greeting with holy kisses?

Why don't we have tea and a little sweet and visit for a few minutes with our neighbors on a more regular basis? Why don't we welcome drop-in visitors and stop what we're doing when they come by without inwardly rehearsing all we have left to do?

We're too busy. That's why. But to what point?

Jesus was a Middle Easterner, and His ministry was one of relationships. That's how He trained His disciples. Jesus spent time with his followers. He ate with them, walked with them, and talked as they traveled. They probably drank tea together. He built relationships and, in the process, those disciples became a little more like Him. 

What would happen if we built relationships in the same way, including with unlikely people? If we acted like Jesus, might they become a little more like Him? Might they learn of Him from spending time with us? And we from them? Of course, we'd probably all be more like Jesus.

As we enter the holiday season and the mad dash to those few moments under the tree when tape is torn and wrapping paper tossed aside to reveal gifts we don't need, let's stop to reconsider our relationships, our greetings, our busyness. 

Let's stop, and do something wonderfully different instead.

Take a few moments for a visit with our neighbors. Greet each other warmly. Offer a holy kiss on the cheek. Make a pot of tea and drink a cup together. Eat a cookie from a package or a piece of homemade something. Talk. Visit. Pray. 

Spend time together. Build relationships, not our stash of stuff. 

"Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss." 2 Corinthians 13:11-12 nasb
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The Thanksgiving I Almost Missed

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Thanksgiving I Almost Missed

I haven't missed Thanksgiving yet, but I almost did. 

During staff meeting yesterday someone mentioned that Thanksgiving is next week. Next week? I sneaked a peek at my calendar to be sure. Yes. It's in less than a week.

I still have my July 4th door decoration up. Really. 

I'm way behind.

I haven't spent the month of November being grateful. I've spent it watching Sam die, memorializing him, and trying to recover from two years of caregiving. 

There's no list of things for which I'm thankful on my refrigerator. I haven't baked cornbread, much less made the dressing. I don't have a pumpkin, or acorns gathered, or colorful leaves. My pilgrims are still in the storage house. 

It's not much of a start, but I did buy a can of pumpkin recently. Today, I'm officially embracing Thanksgiving, and not because of next week's holiday. I'm embracing thankfulness because it brings healing. 

King David wrote these words, "I am afflicted and in pain...I will praise the name of God with song, and shall magnify Him with thanksgiving. And it will please the Lord better than an ox...You who seek God, let your heart revive." Psalm 69:29-32 nasb

It's a principle I've decided to embrace. Even though he was having a terrible time, David chose to praise and thank God, knowing that giving thanks in hard times pleases Him. He also knew it would help revive his own heart.

Today, I began a list of things for which I'm grateful (in no particular order):
Ryan will home in less than a week
~ Great trip to the Middle East, where God protected and used me
~ Safe trip there and back
~ Sam didn't die until after I got home
~ Recent repair of my old and much-loved tractor
~ Snuggly lap dogs
~ Working from home is one of my options
~ Being a finalist in First Impressions competition was such a nice surprise
~ I have amazing friends

Once I started my thankful list, I felt my own heart revive. Life has changed, but it's still good. God's still on His throne. He'll still see me through. Funny things will happen as I make my way through this transition, and blog posts are sure to follow. 

I didn't realize it until I started giving thanks, but there's so much for which I'm grateful.  

No matter what we've endured or what we face, thanksgiving is still our best option. In the midst of sorrow, trouble, or great loss, there is always something for which we can be grateful. Want to feel better? Spirit need reviving? Give thanks. 

We may not have a choice about the circumstances of our lives, but we have a choice about our response. Let's choose well. Begin with thanksgiving. 

"In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thessalonians 5:18 nasb
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: When Normal Isn't Normal Anymore

Thursday, November 16, 2017

When Normal Isn't Normal Anymore

For twenty-eight years, Sam was in and out of my house all day long. In the early years, he did everything for me. He took care of the farm and livestock, bush hogged, mowed the grass, changed light bulbs, took out my garbage, and got the mail out of my mail box. My newspaper was by the coffeepot when I went downstairs in the morning.

Sam literally did everything. He made my life possible.

I didn't hesitate when I bought a high-maintenance dog, because I knew he would walk Maggie three or four times a day while I was at work. He'd take care of her and Mamie (my second high-maintance dog) when I went out of town. 

He slowed down over the last few years. By early summer, Sam could no longer walk the dogs. By July, he couldn't get Ensure out of the refrigerator, but he could still answer questions about how to do things. 

Now, he's gone and I'm trying to figure out how to do things for myself. 

It's strange and feels as if my life has been turned upside down. I've never locked my doors because I knew Sam would be in and out repeatedly. Now, I'm diligent about the deadbolts and the chain locks. I'm looking at security systems, considering electronic gates. 

Because Sam was in and out all day long, I was always fully dressed. I've never had a "pajama day" or changed into pj's early. This past Sunday, it was cold and I was tired. I thought about getting ready for bed early but hesitated because of Sam. It hit me like a brick. Sam wouldn't be coming over. I changed into sleep pants and a t-shirt just after 5 pm, but it felt strange and oddly wrong.

Last night, it was dark when I turned into my driveway after church. A light was on in "Sam's house." For an instant, I thought, "Sam's still up." Just as quickly, I remembered. I'd left the light on myself.

My normal's been disrupted. I'm looking for the new normal, but I haven't found it yet. 

I've told myself this isn't grief, but maybe it is. I don't wish Sam were back. He's in a much better place and he's no longer sick or suffering. I do, however, grieve the life I've lost. 

The life I knew isn't coming back. I keep reminding myself of this, and that I need to figure it out. I know it will take more than a week to find normal again, and it won't be the same. As much as I hate to admit it, the old life is gone for good.

A new life is coming, and it's going to be good, too. I feel fragile and weak and uncertain right now. Six months from now, I'll have learned to bush hog, ground the leaves, made it through a winter on my own, and (hopefully) kept the pipes from freezing and the animals fed and watered. 

A year from now, I'll feel safe again. 

Today, though, I'm hanging on to the truth I know. My faith never rested in Sam, although I depended on him for so much. My faith is in God alone.

I'm not tough enough for this new place in life, but My God is more than able. I read the words of Paul this morning and grabbed on to them. 

"And He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.'" Most gladly therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.'" 2 Corinthians 12:9 nasb

I'm not to the "boasting" part, but I have the weakness part down pat. For now, I'm counting on His power and looking forward to the day His power dwells in me.
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: A Few Good Surprises

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Few Good Surprises

I've received quite a few surprises lately, and they haven't all been good. Last night, though, I received a call I almost didn't answer because I thought it was a telemarketer. When I saw a call back from the number,  I finally answered and received the happiest news I've had in a while. 

It was the Category Coordinator calling to inform me that my novel is a finalist in the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) First Impressions Competition. I've worked hard on the novel, but I entered on the spur of the moment and promptly forgot about it. It was a surprise to remember I'd entered, and even more of a surprise to find my novel is a finalist. (I'm seriously thrilled.)

This morning, I had another surprise. I've read 2 Corinthians before, but I'd forgotten about Paul going to third heaven. My first thought was, "there's only one heaven," but I decided to keep an open mind and check it out a little further.

As it turns out, there are three heavens. I don't know if there are more, or not, but for now, I'm holding to three. I won't list all the Scripture I've searched and the commentaries I've read, but please trust that I've checked this out. 

The multiple heavens description is based on the understanding of the ancients, who saw the sky/air/atmosphere/etc as non-contiguous, heavenly layers. First heaven, then, is where the clouds are and the birds fly. Second heaven is where the stars are located. Third heaven is where God resides. 

Hebrews 4:14 tells us Jesus has "passed through the heavens." I have long wondered about the term "passed" used instead of "died," so this was another surprise. When Christians have "passed," they have "passed through the heavens" to their eternal destination. 

Ephesians 4:10 says Jesus "ascended far above all the heavens." I don't know where that lofty place is located, or if there are multiple stories/levels in third heaven, but I do know His people will be with Him wherever He is. (Based on John 14) 

Paul wrote that, in third heaven (where God is) he heard "inexpressible words" and experienced "surpassing greatness of revelations." (Col 2:4,7) When we get to third heaven, then, we'll all be surprised, and in the best way of all. It's better than we think, and the streets of gold and pearly gates will not be the best parts, the presence of God will be.

One day, we will all "pass" to our next destination, either heaven or hell. According to Paul, heaven is much more wonderful than we can imagine. Hell is almost certainly worse than we can imagine, too. We'll be surprised, either way. 

The thing that should not surprise us is the destination to which we arrive. That's determined here on earth. Do we follow Jesus (not just claim to follow) here? Then we'll be with Him in eternity. Do we reject Jesus here? We'll spend eternity away from Him. 

What kind of surprise will greet us in eternity? We choose whether our eternal surprise will be wonderful or horrible based on our response to Christ. Let's choose well.

"And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him." Hebrews 9:27-28 nasb
If you're looking for an advent devotional, check out my book The Road to Bethlehem: An Advent Prayer and Devotional Guide, available on Amazon.

In case you missed the last blog post, here's the link: Why Sutherland Springs Still Needs Our Prayers

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Why Sutherland Springs Still Needs Our Prayers

I've been home less than two weeks, and am still reeling from the effort of processing all that's happened since my return. I finally noticed the flag at half-staff and, for a millisecond, I thought it was for Sam. I know it wasn't sensible to think that an entire country shared my grief, but that's how grief works. It absorbs us and permeates every pore of our being.

The flag wasn't lowered in memory of Sam, of course. It was lowered because of the dozens of people who were tragically killed in the Sutherland Springs church shooting a few days before I returned.  

My church held a special service Sunday evening to pray for the town, the church, the families affected. I'm sorry to say that I stayed home because I didn't think I could spend one more minute grieving loss. 

Today, I'm rethinking that decision. I'm praying for comfort and healing for those believers who went to church expecting to see people they loved, hear lessons of faith that strengthened them for the week ahead, pray for those in need, worship the God they served, and go home to eat a nice Sunday lunch afterward. 

Instead, they saw people they loved gunned down, bleeding, and dying before their eyes. They were the ones in need of prayer. They were abruptly immersed in devastation that rocked their world and tried their faith. I doubt anyone felt like eating Sunday dinner after that tragic service. 

Their grief slammed into them with a barrage of bullets. The noise of gunshots, the smell of gunpowder, the scent of blood, will linger for a long time. They'll jump when they hear a loud noise. There'll be reminders all around them, and it will bring their grief rushing in like a flood when they least expect it. 

Trauma-induced grief is pervasive, gnawing, hard. The temptation will be to set aside the grief so they can move on, but that risks letting it fester and grow into an abscess of bitterness. The other temptation will be to hold the grief and let it control the future. Neither option brings freedom.

I'm praying for the people of Sutherland Springs, that the peace of God that passes all understanding will fill their hearts and their lives, that the perseverance of Christ Himself will guide them through the next weeks and months, that the love of Christ will still flow from them like a river of living water, that the grace of Christ will be extended by them to all who bungle their condolences and say thoughtless, unkind things. I'm praying that they will choose forgiveness, not because their attacker needs it, but because they and their children do. 

I'm praying that the body of Christ will surround them with help, and love, and hope and that they'll allow them to draw close and carry their burdens for a while.

By now, the church has been cleaned, the funerals have been held, paperwork has been filed. Life has begun to go on again, but the horror they've experienced will take a while to process. It won't be "over" soon.

The prayers of a nation sustained them during those first few days, but what about now? Are we still praying? They'll need our faithful prayers more than ever as the days pass and the memories of the news fade from our consciousness, but not from theirs. 

Even from a distance, we can be a part of their healing. How? Through prayer. Scripture tells us that our prayers are powerful and precious to God. Today, let's lift up the people of Sutherland Springs, even if we've prayed for them before, and ask God to see them through. 

". . . the prayer of the upright is His delight." Proverbs 15:8 
In case you missed the last post, here's the link: Thanking God and Thanking You

If you're looking for an advent devotional, check out my book The Road to Bethlehem: An Advent Prayer and Devotional Guide, available on Amazon.