Chasing rabbits

I must be brief this morning.

maggie napping while sick 9 11 13My toddler is still quietly sleeping in her crib, curled up in a little pink ball. Last night, she resisted her normal 7:30 p.m. bedtime and wanted to watch an extra episode of Curious George, her current favorite cartoon. After that, she pitter-pattered around the house, dragging her “Good Dad” by the hand, insisting that he follow her and accompany her the entire time. An hour later, after exhausting both of us, we coaxed her back into her crib (not without shedding of tears), sang a song, and reassured her that we’d see her again in the morning.

5:15 a.m. felt early today. It took me a few minutes to adjust to the notion that getting out of bed was a good idea and that spending time reading, praying, and meditating would benefit me. However, having benefited from reading, praying, and meditating and spending chunks of time alone with God each morning for several years in a row now, I knew that getting my tail out of bed was the best decision.

decaf._Cat._prod._pg.So I did. My sister recently gave me a one-cup instant coffee maker, and today was its christening. The chance to use my new gift was almost exciting enough to motivate me to get out of bed without a grumpy attitude. One minute later, presto! I got back into my warm bed with my hot cup of coffee, my Bible and other reading material, and my glasses. I was ready to go.

My normal RPM time–reading, prayer, and meditation time–takes about 30 minutes. I normally read a short passage.  If I read the Bible, I read about one chapter or less. I don’t try to digest too much information because I want to retain something and carry it with me throughout the day. If I read other devotional material, I read a one-page devotional entry, and I read it three times: once quietly, once aloud, and once again, looking for one piece of good orderly direction to jot down to carry with me on a slip of paper. I learned to do this from a woman who is my mentor. This method really works for me, so I continue doing this daily.

This morning, and other mornings when I happen to have lots of extra time to devote to my RPMs, I allowed myself the luxury of chasing spiritual rabbit trails. I did my normal RPMs, and then I just started reading whatever I found interesting. I opened the Bible randomly, and the pages fell to Psalm 84. The entire chapter is beautiful and contains some of my favorite verses, but this morning verse 5 stood out to me. Last night at a meeting of friends, we talked about the fact that one of the definitions for salvation in the Hebrew language is to come home. Verse 5 and the reference to going on a pilgrimage seemed to relate to this in my mind, and I was intrigued. I decided to look at the footnotes; they referred me to Jeremiah 31:6.

It would be silly to read just one verse, right? So I read the entire chapter. And man, what a tearjerker. Jeremiah 31 was chock full of language that spoke to my heart. It must have spoken to my heart many times before, too, because there were several verses underlined, marked, and highlighted. Some of the same passages that brought tears to my eyes this morning were marked, but many of the passages that were significant today were not underlined or marked, which let me know that God is continually showing me new things and deepening my relationship with Him (if I let Him).

At 6:50 a.m., I finally finished my time of reading, prayer, and meditation and had nothing but a few sips of cold coffee left in the bottom of my mug.

At 7:08 a.m., I’m thankful that I decided to get up regardless of my grumpy attitude this morning. I’m thankful for the coffee maker my sister gave me that helped me overcome my grumpy attitude. I’m thankful that I learned how to benefit from doing RPMs from my mentor, and I’m thankful that I developed the habit of spending time with God every morning since starting out my day with God not only benefits me but also benefits everyone who comes in contact with me, too. I’m thankful for the insights God gave me this morning. And I’m thankful that my toddler slept all this time.

I might still have time to brush my teeth.

My mother’s Bible

*Thank you, Lorie Mink, for sharing your reflections and gratitude in this post.*

While searching my closet for a pair of slippers, I came across my mother’s Bible. It’s been sitting on the shelf since we moved in the house three years ago. And I can’t remember the last time I opened it. Mama’s been gone for ten and a half years now, and it’s been almost that long since I took it out of its case and looked through it. So I did.

My mother’s Bible is a treasure trove of memories. There are pictures of the grandkids, notes from the grandkids and from her former Sunday School students, bits of paper with Bible verses written on them, even old letters from family stuffed in between the pages.

Even the cover, with her name pressed in faded gold lettering, holds memories. The corners are ragged and chewed on, thanks to a Maltese Poodle mix named Critter, who passed away at 13, just two short years after Mama died. Rubbing my fingers over the jagged edges immediately brought forth the memories of that dog, who Mama swore she didn’t care that much about but loved as much as I, sitting at her feet on the porch, head resting on her house-shoed foot, while she drank her morning coffee and read the Word of God each day.

Ribbons and bookmarks were placed here and there by highlighted bits of scripture that she felt were important to remember. Even Valentines and inspirational cards could be found.

My mother’s life is held in this Bible. The scriptures she liked and highlighted, the bits of paper she felt important to keep, even her driver’s license, birth certificate, and marriage certificate are nestled in the pages.

As I leafed through her Bible, I immediately felt connected to my mother again, as if she sat beside me telling me the stories of what each piece of paper and picture meant. As I read over the highlighted passages, I also felt my connection to God rekindle.

God and I are just now renewing our old friendship. He’s been there patiently waiting for me to come back to Him. I stubbornly held myself aloof. I’ve always believed in God, thanks to my mom, who instilled this belief in me at an early age. But I kind of took a veering path, not necessarily away from Him, but distant to Him nonetheless. Shifting through the pages of Mama’s Bible seemed to shift things in my mind. And suddenly I saw God, sitting quietly beside me as if He’d been sitting there for a long time patiently waiting for my return. As if He had nothing better to do but wait for me to come to my senses.

It’s been a tough two years for me. I’ve had to deal with some situations I really wish I hadn’t. But I mistakenly believed I had to deal with them on my own. Now I know I don’t have to. I talk to God every day. Sometimes, He still seems distant. Sometimes I feel like I am talking to Him as if through a long tunnel, where the voices carry but are faint. I know this is me, not Him. I know He hears me perfectly and answers me in His way. I am the one who is distant, who is unable to hear Him clearly or understand all that He says to me. But I know that the distance is fading every day.

And though I am still going through troubled times, I know He is with me, drawing me nearer every day. I am truly grateful for all He has given me. Especially for leading me back to my mother’s Bible.

Day 22: Dear Mrs. McGrath

*It’s hard to believe Day 22 of the Dear Gratitude project has arrived! Only eight more days of letters from eight more wonderful guest writers. Today’s post is by LaDonna Busby, a friend and fellow church member.*

This thank you is long overdue, and it is going to someone long dead.  Why do we wait to express our gratitude to those who cross our paths in this life?  We need to remember to say thank you, even if we have to send letters read by someone other than the intended person.  So here goes:

Dear Mrs. McGrath,

1ST GRADEI wonder if you ever knew what a wonderful gift you gave me – something that I have cherished my whole life long.  You introduced me to READING!  For that great gift, I want to say thank you, and I am sorry it has taken me over 50 years to express this gratitude.

Oh, the people and places you enabled me to meet and visit.  I still remember you patiently helping us to learn “Look Jane, look.  See Spot run.  Oh, look Jane, see Spot.”

Thus began my adventures with some sweet characters, some not so sweet.  Many are like dear friends when I think of them.  Amy, Beth, Meg and Jo from Little Women – each one a different personality woven into a story that young girls can enjoy even today.  I still have a treasured copy of that book.  There were so many others – The Bobbsey Twins (Bert and Nan, Flossie and Freddie); Laura Ingalls;  Hester Prynne from “The Scarlet Letter”, Jane Eyre; David Copperfield; Romeo and Juliet; Tom Sawyer, and the list could go on and on.

Not only did I get to know some wonderful characters, but I also got to travel without even leaving my cozy chair. Through reading I have traveled the world over, learning many interesting things, seeing so many beautiful places – even if only in my mind and imagination.  Of course not all places are wonderful, but I traveled where the books took me.  Nowadays, a lot of my reading is about places of trouble and sadness.  Places of war, poverty and cruelty – but I read on filled with hope that some time I will read that things have improved for some country or its people.

Your gift has blessed my life in so many ways.  Reading is so important to me.  I have been able to read the letters sent by my brother when he was in Vietnam.  There have been cards – birthday, anniversary, get well, thank yous, invitations, and notes of sympathy.  Just think what I would have missed if I had not been able to read.

I am able to read the Bible.  Through my reading of scripture, I have become stronger in my faith.  My faith is so important to me, and I cannot imagine being unable to read the Word of God.  The Bible is filled with stories, characters and places.  You can read it over and over, each time getting something new and powerful from the reading.

I passed on this gift to my daughter, Susan, who loves to read.  I don’t quite like her choice of books – she loves the author Stephen King – but I am happy to see her read.  Now we are passing this love along to her sons.  The oldest had quite a struggle learning to read – but thanks to a compassionate and caring teacher, like you, he conquered that mountain and now loves to read.  So, you see your gift to me just keeps going and going.

I wish I had gone back to Mitchell Elementary and thanked you.  When we are young, we don’t think to do things like that; it is only as we begin to mature that we realize what has been given to us.  Thank you, Mrs. McGrath, for being my 1st Grade teacher.  You were a kind and gentle woman who helped many children to begin a journey that will last their whole lives.  Please know, there is at least this one student who will forever be grateful.

Fondly,

LaDonna Wittke Busby

When donkeys speak

*Thanks to guest contributor Debra Dickey for writing today’s post!*

100_4448Lately, I’ve been feeling the regular need to seek a shelter — a dwelling place considered as afforded protection, or a refuge — during the storms and questions in my life.  One of my favorites is described in God’s Word as a ‘cleft in the rock’. 

The words of Sheila Walsh say that God tells Moses, “I will hold on to you. I will create a place, a cleft in the rock for you, to keep you and on which you can steady yourself and stand.”  [Exodus 33:19]   For Moses, the cleft was not just for his protection.  It was also the sanctified place whereby God could let him see a glimpse of His glory and His majesty. The cleft in Horeb for Moses was a symbol and pointer to the Ultimate Cleft for us, Jesus. 

God not only keeps His promises, but He also longs to keep us in them.  This is the ‘shelter’ of all God’s promises.  As it was in those castles long ago, made of rock and stone, the very center tower was called the “keep” and provided shelter, a place of habitation, an operating station from which defense, under siege, was centered. Usually a well was built at the center of the keep so those sustained there could not only endure but thrive

In God’s kingdom, there is a keep, too, and it is Christ. How beautiful that God designed a way to provide such strength for us through Christ.   God makes and keeps His promises to us, regardless of our faithfulness to Him.

Why would God want to keep us and His promises to us when we are so unfaithful?  The Bible reminds us of a truth we too often forget, a truth that shines as clear as daylight: because God cannot help Himself.  God does not change.  “God is not man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.” (Numbers 23:19)

donkeyEven Balaam’s donkey, knowing Balaam’s penchant for his own agenda and not God’s, balked in an effort to save Balaam and steer him in the right direction.  When he is beaten for it, he speaks, chiding Balaam:  “Haven’t you ridden me all your life and have I ever done this before? Why can’t you take another look and see what’s going on here?”[The Shelter of God’s Promises by Sheila Walsh]

Jeremiah 29:11-14 speaks:  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD. 

Although one commentator states emphatically that this verse is NOT for us, but instead was written specifically to the exiles at that time in Babylon, it is not difficult to discover present-day truths and lessons that can be found therein:   We are also exiles in a manner of speaking, looking at this world as only a temporary home.  Yet life goes on.  Jeremiah told the exiles of his day to live as normal lives as possible. Sometimes we are called upon to face tremendous difficulties.  Through all of life’s hardships there is one absolutely secure place wherein we can place our hope and future.   [By Jon W. Quinn, From Expository Files 1.6; June, 1994]

“Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; Let me find refuge under the shelter of your wings.”  [Psalm 61: 3, 4]

Moses’ deepest desire was only to be where God is and to know Him more…if this is the cry of your heart, then do not fear if, for a time, God covers you with His Almighty hand and places you in the cleft of the rock. You may not see for a little while, but while you are there, rest, and trust, for He has placed you “near to where He is” and is acting on your behalf in order that you may know Him more.  [christicue.hubpages.com]

Seek the Glory of God, be sheltered in the Cleft of the Rock, ensconced; cloaked in the ‘peace of God that passes all understanding’ (Philippians 4:7) , and, note to self ……listen to the donkey.

What does EASTER mean to you?

*Much thanks to Debra Dickey-Liang for serving as today’s guest contributor!*

E is for eggs we deco-ra-ted,

A is for all of them to hide.

S is for children who were see-king,

T is for the tots who find the most.

E is for extra help from Mommy,

R is running back when you are done.

Put them all together, they spell EA-STER, a word that for the kids means fun!

 

CrossAnd, of course, the other way to look at Easter would be, the Resurrection.  There is no question that I am eternally grateful for the sacrifice on the cross that was made for me, and all humanity, by the Son of God, Jesus.  Although I know, and He knew, that He was part of a Greater Plan, I cannot presume to even minutely grasp the suffering He endured to bring that plan to Perfect Fulfillment , nor as a mother, can I even begin to comprehend the anguish that Mary bore during that terrible, but fateful time, as she watched her son perish, in Absolute Submission and Perfect Obedience for the cause that He was sent to earth to accomplish.

I am grateful that Jesus rose again, and that He lives among us still.  I am grateful for the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, Who dwells within us, testifies of Christ, leads us, strengthens us, encourages us, and intercedes for us.

I am grateful that the Power of God is Ultimate, Omnipotent, and Final.

I am grateful for my generous and childless great-aunt Dean who cared enough to pick me up to go to church with her when I was younger, then bring me home again, so that I might come to know these things, and therefore have the opportunity to begin a personal relationship with Him.

I am grateful for the many followers who loved and cared for Jesus while He lived and walked among them on this earth.  I am so grateful for the love that God gives to me, as His child, the care that he extends because I am His, and the ‘peace of God that passeth all understanding’… (Phillipians 4:7) because I belong to Him — all possible because of the selfless and hallowed supremacy of Jesus Christ my Lord.

At this season, and always, let us truly remember the price that was paid for our everlasting spiritual freedom, the cost of which can never be measured by mortal description.  Hallelujah!  He arose!

 

Day 21–Count it all joy

*Thank you, Alison Valderrama, for writing such an inspiring piece about an amazing woman. And for being a constant source of encouragement for me as well!*
Sometimes we get a wake up call in life that shocks us to the core and leaves us wondering how to put it in the box of faith. For me recently, it’s been watching someone I love and admire get beaten up by an ugly, painful and frustrating disease. Our beloved pastor was diagnosed with ALS in November and has had a quick and shocking decline since.  I am merely a church member witnessing this from my comfortable seat, while church brothers and sisters said kind and honest words that brought our leader and her daughters to tears, week after week. What does one even say to comfort a pastor, who counsels and loves and shows US the way to God?

Alison V blogIn December, Pastor Julie gave one of the most emotional and powerful sermons I’ve ever heard. This was no surprise, because she is a very compelling, interesting and down to earth speaker who has always given us realistic, honest insight. But this sermon was different, because it was two weeks before her retirement, which was another unfair result of ALS. Her speech had begun to slur and she spoke from a wheelchair, but between laughter and tears, gave a sermon called “Count it all as Joy.”

Joy?! Here we had seen her sickness take over a healthy person, young and alive and vibrant…and she wanted to talk about joy?! In typical Julie style, we saw that her spirit would not be crushed.

Her message focused on Philippians 4:1-13.

(You can read the sermon, and her other sermons here if you’d like: http://www.firstunitedoakpark.com/files/sermons/12-16-12_Count_It_All_Joy_Julie_R_Harley.pdf).

One of the points that stands out to me still is that Julie says she knows she is deeply loved, and feels it even more now, than when her body was healthy. It’s been uplifting to see how Julie has been able to make positive and joyful and bittersweet conversations out of what has happened on her journey. But I’m not surprised; she is an amazing person, deeply loved by God.

Like we all are.

It’s been hard for us as a church to go through this, but it’s not about us, not wholly. And where it is, we are believing that God is going to meet us in our wilderness. We are trusting that God has all the answers, and holds us in his arms. It’s been hard to remember the love of God sometimes, especially when we see those tears, and the wheelchair, and the pain on Julie’s daughters’ faces. But I know this is the challenge: finding joy in struggle and the rejoicing in the love of God.

“The feeling remains that God is on the journey too.” -Teresa of Avila

 

Day 11–Five thankful people

*Special thanks to Mary Agrusa for writing today’s post for our “28 days of love” project. Be sure to check out her blog as well.*

 

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever.

Psalm 107:1

Photo courtesy of Phoopla Photography & Design

Photo courtesy of Phoopla Photography & Design

Five categories of people who should give thanks to God are listed in Psalm 107. Which one(s) are you?

Verses 1-3 state that anyone who is redeemed should thank God because He is good and His love never ceases.

Verses 4-9 describe those who were lost, wandered aimlessly and had no hope. Hungry and thirsty, they cried out to God for help. He heard them, led them to safety and cared for them. They’re to thank God not only for His unfailing love, but also for supplying their needs.

Verses 10-15 refer to those in prison literally or figuratively of their own making. Their bad choices produced severe consequences. They’re instructed to give thanks because God set them free from their incarceration.

Verses 17-22 cover those who as a result of their rebellious actions suffer serious physical and psychological illness. Their lives spiraled downhill toward the grave. They cried out to God, He heard them and sent His word that healed and rescued them. They’re to give thanks to God publicly and sing songs of their deliverance.

Verses 23-32 tell of those caught in a ferocious storm. Violent winds and crashing waves tossed them about mercilessly. They cried out to God, Who with a whisper, stilled the storm and guided them to safety. They’re to thank God for His love and praise Him in the assembly of people.

Where ever you find yourself in these groups the end result is the same. Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, and His love never fails.