God’s Elixir of Gratitude

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Memories of gratitude. 62 degrees. No humidity. Sun beginning to set. A band of soft gray and beige and pink puffs stretches low above the horizon. I pause and stop to say “Thank You, Lord. Those are such beautiful colors and such pretty patterns.”

As I come around the corner of the building, loaded down with grocery bags, headed to my unit, suddenly I remember another early evening, rounding the corner of a building, loaded down with grocery bags, heading toward home. That evening was thirty plus years ago, when my daughter was 12.

Sharon had, as usual, phoned me when she got home from school. I had said I would pick up some videos after I got groceries and be home by six. A three-day weekend was coming up, for both of us. To help offset the fallout of my single parent finances, I made a celebration out of anything I possibly could. Our VCR player got lots of use as we curled up together under a blanket on the couch and ate popcorn. The hormonal storms of adolescence still a ways away, we had many sweet and tender times just being together that year.

I had not told her I would also get a box of fried chicken, a rare indulgence for our little family of two. As I rounded the corner that evening, toting the groceries, video and chicken, I felt an almost palpable reword sense of good will toward the whole world. I was simply grateful down to my bones that I could provide food, and even special treats like the fried chicken, and a few hours of entertainment that would delight my daughter. And I was beginning to finally feel secure in the job I had begun a few weeks earlier. The job had better benefits and we had health insurance now.

I rounded the corner, stood on the tiny stoop and, since I did not have a free knuckle, banged the bags against the door. Almost instantly, the door opened, and she reached to relieve me of some of the bags.

“Oh, Mama! You got three videos! And you got chicken, too!”

Happy tears blurred my vision as I looked into her bright eyes.

Grateful for feeling “Not bad”. Now, the bags looped around my fingers were cotton mesh, not the environmentally-unfriendly plastic of 30 years ago, and rather than anticipating a deeply delightful evening with my daughter, I was heading to my beloved rescued Tonkinese and my beloved Heavenly Father.

“Thank You, Lord, that I feel so much better today. Thank You that my eyes are not so swollen and I can breathe easily.”

Last night, at nine, I had had an anaphylactic reaction, the first in many years, so many that I no longer carried an epi pen. It had been a wild night, walking to the car with eyes swelling, tears gushing, throat swelling, driving to an urgent care clinic, only to find it closed then driving across town, then answering questions and signing papers at the front desk while thinking I might pass out, finally being given two shots and a breathing treatment, waiting three hours at the facility, then driving home, getting into bed at 5 a.m.

So, I was very grateful when I woke at one, feeling almost normal. It felt like a holiday to just get out and see the sun as I drove to the grocery and library. One blessing of trials is it feels so good when they are done!

“But, Lord,” I reflected as I put bananas on the countertop and stacked cat food in the cabinet, “help me be genuinely thankful all the time, not just when You have delivered me from a problem.”

Image result for Free Clip Art of TambourineI believe God loves it when we rejoice with Him when trials have ended and He has given a great victory, like when Miriam led the Israelites in singing on the other side of the Red Sea. Miriam took a timbrel and sang, “Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously and is highly exalted; the horse and rider He has throw into the sea,” (Exodus 15:21, AMPC).

However, the Bible makes it plain we are to be thankful ALL the time. Why?

An attitude of gratitude is good medicine!  The dictionary defines elixir as a “magical or medicinal potion.” Another definition is “a particular type of medicinal solution.” (https://tinyurl.com/wfnrjh9). Like everything God tells His followers to do, being thankful is good for us. (“All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful to those who keep the demands of His covenant. Psalm 25:10, NIV). Being thankful is so powerful it does seem magical. No wonder God says to “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (I Thessalonians 5:18 NIV).

Why are we to do that? Two, of many reasons, are:

[1] God “. . . is good; for His mercy and loving-kindness endure forever.” (Psalm 136). Thanking God, all the time, is simply the right thing to do.

[2] It brings us into His presence. “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise” (Psalm 100:4, NIV)

Image result for royalty free picture of neglected gardenCultivating the garden of your heart. I have learned, the hard way, that a constant attitude of gratitude is essential for me. Unless I am actively thankful for God’s blessings, the enemy soon steals my peace. I tried, for years, to be consistently thankful but it was like the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. Some seeds of gratitude I was trying to plant never got down deep into my heart, some landed in areas of my heart that were filled with the rocks of envy, jealousy and resentment, and some seeds of gratitude grew for a while but then worry about things of this world choked out the gratitude.

I finally saw that only God could remove the rocks, weeds and thorns. I had to ask Him to show me where the ugly things were, and then do my part. I saw that only God could provide good seed, and that I had to sow then water it by keeping His Word in my mind. I saw only God could make it grow, and that my part was to wait patiently, with hope, and to “Above all else, guard [my] heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV). After much work, for a long time, God did change my attitude, but it was a process of cultivation, like developing a garden.

Image result for Royalty Free Clip Art Of Gardening Tools And Seeds'The process of cultivation. To cultivate the good fruit of thankfulness in my heart, I had to:

[1] Clear my heart of rocks, weeds, and thorns and break up the soil. In ancient times, through the prophet Jeremiah, God pleaded with His people to return to Him, put away their idols and “break up your ground left uncultivated for a season, so that you may not sow among thorns.” (Jeremiah 4:3b, AMPC).

Father, help me root out the thorns of ungratefulness, bitterness, envy, jealousy, and resentment. Use Your Word to reveal the hidden thoughts and intents of my heart that I cannot perceive so I may confess, repent and be forgiven. (Hebrews 4:12)

[2] Plant good seeds. Galations 6:7 (NIV) tells us “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows”.

Father, You have provided all the seeds of truth that we need for life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3). Help me sow bountifully so that I may reap bountifully from Your Word. (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)

[3] Water, watch and wait. Growing anything takes time but God helps us as we seek to grow, and He finishes what He starts. As Paul said “And I am convinced and sure of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up until the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you.” (Philippians 1:4, AMPC)

Father, help me be patient as You do what only You can do. (Revelations 4:11)

[4] Maintain the garden. Maintaining a garden requires regular watering, weeding, and removal of pests.

Father, help me always water the garden of my heart with the Living Water of Your Word (John 4:13-15). Show me the weeds and thorns (Matthew 13:7) and help me to take “. . . the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards [of our love], for our vineyards are in blossom (Solomon 2:14, AMPC)

Dear friend, as we both strive to become more grateful, I can only remind us both of God’s promise in 2 Corinthians 9:10-11:

“And [God] Who provides seed for the sower and bread for eating will also provide and multiply your [resources for] sowing and increase the fruits of your righteousness [which manifests itself in active goodness, kindness, and charity]. (AMPC)

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The riptide of His love

Image result for royalty free picture of child in father's arms “You will be safe in His arms.” “You will be safe in His arms, you will be safe in His arms. The hands that hold the world are holding your heart. This is the promise He made. He will be with you always. When everything is falling apart, you will be safe in His arms.“ (Lyrics by Phil Wickham)

As I listened, I curled into the corner of the couch, next to the lamp and the radio, pulling the cotton throw over my bare feet, as I sipped my coffee. The air was pleasantly cool as a gentle rain washed the trees and bushes and grass outside in the darkness.

“Thank You, Lord. That is exactly what I needed this morning, to remind myself that You love me, that You listen to me and that You will take care of me.”

Yesterday had been an all-day, all-out fight for faith as a dear, dear friend was re-admitted to the hospital, my beloved Barny cat and I waited four hours in the veterinarian’s office, and I pondered the latest foot problem. All day, by grace I prayed and quoted Scriptures to myself. All day though, I felt shaky. I kept reminding myself that God would, in time, calm the storm in my heart.

Last night, still feeling shaky, I went to bed and by grace slept well. This morning, that song stirred the undercurrent of His love running deep in my heart. Emotions settled and thoughts about God and His countless instances of tender, loving care took over. Then, like a soft blanket, came that blessed, unutterable peace (Philippians 4:7).

We all need an undercurrent of His love. Because life is filled with troubles, we humans need the awareness of His love as the bedrock of our hearts and minds. We need that awareness as our default mode, a network of interconnected thoughts and feelings to which our mind automatically returns when it is not specifically involved otherwise.

Three hearts stay on my kitchen countertop. The words written on them say “God made me, and He loves me. God listens to me, and He loves me. God takes care of me, and He loves me.” These truths remind me of Scripture passages about God’s love that I have meditated upon for many, many weeks. This undercurrent of feeling loved and cared for, personally, by God has become my default mode of mind. It is one way Jesus helps me overcome the troubles in my world. (John 16:33)

Image result for Royalty Free Picture of Laptop How to change your default. How do we get to the place so that even when life thunders, we remember God’s love and remain secure? By doing the hard work of renewing our mind, in other words, by changing our default mode of mind and heart (Romans 12:21).  It is a simple process.

[1] Look diligently into the Word for ourselves to find the truths we personally need. (Proverbs 2:1-11)

[2] Keep those truths in our thoughts constantly (Deuteronomy 6:7).

The process is simple. However, it takes hard work, and it takes time. So be patient, like a farmer tending a crop. (James 5:7) In due time, you will be rewarded. (Hebrews 11:6)

Image result for Royalty Free Picture of Crashing WavesHow does an undercurrent work? In reading about undercurrents, I learned that they are currents flowing under the surface of a large body of water. A riptide is a powerful, fast-moving undercurrent flowing at right angles to the shore. I like to think of God’s love as a powerful undercurrent, a riptide, that we can, by choice, dive into and that will carry us out to clear, open water, far from the crashing waves. Once we have stored up His truth within our hearts, that undercurrent, that default mode of mind and heart, is firmly established (Deuteronomy 28:9). In darkest trial, we will feel safe, in His everlasting arms.

“There is no one like the God of Israel. He rides across the heavens to help you, across the skies in majestic splendor. The eternal God is your refuge, and His everlasting arms are under you. He drives out the enemy before you, saying, “Destroy them!” So Israel will live in safety, prosperous Jacob in security, in a land of grain and new wine, while the heavens drop down dew. How blessed you are, O Israel! Who else is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is your protecting shield and your triumphant sword! Your enemies will cringe before you, and you will stomp on their backs.” (Deuteronomy 33:26-29, NLT)

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Start your day feeling loved

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I lay still a moment in the thick silence and darkness, pulling the comforter up to my chin, remembering how my father always rose at five, in pre-dawn darkness like this, and left the house at five-thirty for the rock mine. When I was older and needed extra time to study, he woke me up, too. On those cherished mornings, I shuffled between sink and stove, making toast and the one cup of instant coffee I was allowed, while Daddy sat at the table, skimming headlines and perusing the sports page.

We turned on just the stove light on those mornings.   The bedrooms were at the other end of the hall, but the hall was short so the overhead light would have shone under closed doors and awakened my Mom and my two brothers. Alone in the dimly-lit kitchen, it was like Daddy and I were spotlighted on a stage, the rest of the house hidden in the uniform anonymity of darkness, like a darkened theater, present but possessing no possibility of affecting the actors on the stage.

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For those few minutes, I had Daddy all to myself, and we two, who were more alike than I would realize for many years, sat in a silence as companionable as it was absolute, the only sounds an occasional gentle snap as Daddy straightened the newspaper or a quiet slurp as I took a prolonged sip of my precious one cup of coffee.

All too soon on those mornings, he kissed my cheek then was at the door where he’d left his work boots, coated with lime rock, the night before. Then he was gone, leaving me in the spotlighted kitchen, alone but feeling special and somehow right with the world, having already achieved an early start to my day, just like him. I also felt loved, I felt safe, and I felt secure, like I always did when Daddy was home.

Whether a lark (those who are alert during the day, like me and my Dad) or an owl, those who prefer being awake at night, we all need to start our day feeling loved, feeling safe, and feeling secure. Solitary time with God is the best way.

Feeling loved. God tells us to start our day with our minds on His commandments. In Deuteronomy 6:7 He says “Impress them (meaning His commandments, which He just talked about in verse 6) on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you rise up. . . (NIV).“

When I wake up, if I start to worry about the day or week ahead, I think about all the ways He has fulfilled His many promises to keep me in His peace (Isaiah 26:3, Psalm 29:11, Psalm 76:3, Matthew 28:11-30). That helps me start my day feeling loved, as I remind myself that God has always taken care of me. Just thinking about Daddy made me feel good because he was consistently loving, tender and caring toward me. Pausing to think about God makes me feel good.

Image result for royalty free picture of sunriseFeeling safe. It is natural to look toward the sky on awakening. If we pause long enough, we start thinking about Who made that sky, how powerful He is, and how much He loves us. And those are comforting, soothing thoughts.

Many psalms illustrate how considering nature can calm us. Such psalms follow a pattern:

  • an outpouring of the psalmist’s emotions;
  • consideration of God’s power and love as revealed in nature and His dealings with mankind; and
  • then solace as the songwriter ponders God’s love for him.

What a healthy way to banish negative feelings! Tell God just how we feel and then ponder His power and His love for us until we feel encouraged.

Feeling secure. Psalm 91:14 (AMPC) says, “Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him. I will set him on high, because he knows and understands My name [has a personal knowledge of My mercy, love and kindness; trusts and relies on Me, knowing I will never forsake him, no, never.) I felt secure just being in my Dad’s presence because I knew his character. I had experienced what he was like and how he would treat me.

These last few months of maintaining victory over depression, I have come to know God’s character better than before because I have pressed in hard to get closer to Him. He has drawn closer to me in response. (James 4:8) I have been truly leaning on Him, depending on Him so much that if He withdrew His support I would fall, just as if you had removed a crutch that I needed.

I think of that as wrestling with God, like Jacob did at Peniel. “And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel [the face of God] saying, For I have seen God face to face, and my life is spared and not snatched away.” (Genesis 32:30, AMPC) For the rest of his life, Jacob limped. I cannot live now without leaning on God for my every step. I limp but I walk with Jesus and I am happy beyond words!Image result for royalty free clip art of leaning on jesus

Unveiled blessings

 I do have a sunrise! 5 a.m. Still pitch black dark. Earthy smell of coffee in the chill aImage result for royalty free picture of hands holding coffee cupir. I pushed the covers off, went to the bathroom, then downstairs. The dim glow from the streetlight outlined the dark rectangle of the couch and coffee table. I turned on the stove light, poured a cup of coffee and went back upstairs, to the old recliner in the corner, by the open window. Here, in the back bedroom of my small townhome, a grandfather oak spread wide branches across the window, shielding the view from anyone standing below. I seldom closed it.

I kicked back in the recliner, cuddling the hot mug in my hands as I took that first blissful sip. Aaah. . . “Thank You, Father, for a good sleep. And for that automatic coffee maker! Hmmm, I can barely see a bit of blue-black at the horizon. Thank You so much, Father, for the gap in the branches there, to the east. It is in just the right spot so I can watch You change the sky. You know, it never gets old, Lord. How do You make it different every single day? You know, Father, I . . . “

That was twenty years ago, when I lived in Florida. I am very grateful for the two rooms that constitute my current home although two of its three windows face walls ten feet away. For the two years I have lived here, I have tried not to complain about the view. This morning, in the quiet half dark, I opened the blinds on the east-facing window and saw wide bands of blue and wisps of salmon-colored clouds. The blinds on that window usually stay closed until midday when the sun has relocated. I smiled, opened the blinds and had my morning cup of coffee with the Lord and His beautiful sunrise.

Why had I not seen that sunrise before? A profusion of coral crepe myrtle flowers covers that window most of the year. However, the lacey filigree of winter-bare branches now provides a view, like that open spot in those oak branches twenty years ago. I just have to look closely. Winter has removed what once blocked what was always there.

God’s pruning process. Sometimes God removes the good so we can see another or better good. In the first two verses of John 15, Jesus tells us:
1.  I AM the true Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser.
2. Any branch in Me that does not bear fruit – that stops bearing – He cuts away (trims off, takes away). And He cleanses and repeatedly prunes every branch that continues to bear fruit, to make it bear more and richer and more excellent fruit.”

Image result for royalty free clipart of pruningThe second sentence of verse 2 tells me that I may be doing something good (bearing fruit) but that something good or another something good may be taken away, or pruned. God removes good things for the purpose of making me bear “more and richer and more excellent fruit.” Joyce Meyer shares her experience with God pruning her out of a fruitful job at a church and into the ministry He had prepared for her. She was producing good fruit in her work for God at that church, but God had in mind for her to “bear more and richer and more excellent fruit.” Think what you and I would have missed if she had not submitted to God’s pruning process!

Notice also in verse 2 that He repeatedly prunes His branches. Perhaps God’s plan for you, over a long span of years, is to work at your local church as greeter, then elementary teacher, and finally to supervise all Christian education in your church. God will lead clearly each step of our way (James 1:5-6), but we must keep saying yes to Him and keep following where He leads us (Hebrews 12, especially 6-13; Proverbs 1:23-33).

Image result for royalty free clipart of hand in cookie jarWhere am I looking? Although beauty and good are everywhere, focusing on one thing can block our view. Like a child who cannot withdraw the fist holding the cookie from the cookie jar, we sometimes want one thing so desperately that we miss another, more obvious good. I may despair that my preteen son will not sit and talk. But, if I look for the good in the situation, then I can enjoy his presence at mealtimes and while driving him to school. And I can do what I can about the situation, though it may cost me something, like watching a baseball game with him, or driving him and his friends to the field for extra batting practice.

John has a great job and a happy family but complains that his wife has changed after having three children. Sandra is retired, in good health and surrounded by loved ones but she sees only her small, though adequate, fixed income. You get the point.
If we focus on what we do not have, that thing grows. As we thank God for good things He has already given, gratitude grows and the good in our lives look larger.

Image result for royalty free picture of looking for somethingFind God’s good in your life. Friend, I urge you: find the good God has put in your life and dwell on it, relish it, thank Him for it and talk about it with Him. It may not be the particular thing you long for, but He has blessed you abundantly. Thank Him and praise Him! “Bless – affectionately, gratefully – praise the Lord, O my soul and all that is [deepest] within me, bless His holy name! (Psalm 103:1, AMPC) Thank our merciful and gracious Father for what you have, and you will be given something beyond price: the peace of His presence. It will also strengthen your faith if God is doing some pruning in your life.

If I looked with the discouraged, negative eyes of depression I used to have, I would see a tiny two-room condo, bordered on one side by a street unsafe at night; a twelve-year-old computer sitting on an ancient card table; to my left, mismatched bookcases perched on a beaten up desk, serving as hutches; a one-wall kitchen behind me; and to my right a saggy, fraying couch from the thrift store, flanked by a file cabinet at one end and a toy box at the other, serving as end tables.

But what I, by grace, see is: a blessed home office where I meet God each day as I write for Him, a blessed kitchen where I bake canned biscuits, to the delight of my grandsons; a blessedly-big comfy couch on which we sit while I read and snuggle with them . . .

“Whatsoever things are true. . .” Friend, I urge you again: find the good God has put in your life! What you focus on grows. First, take delight, purposefully, in God Himself and then in all that God gives you each day. (Psalm 37:4) I used to focus on the negative. Now, by grace, I focus on and look for the good. God shows it to me everywhere.

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8, KJV)

Under His wings


Image result for royalty free picture of grandmother hugging grandsonWhen we need a refuge. A woman in gray sweatpants stood, talking with another in skinny jeans and a green hoodie. Next to the orange pole bearing the sign “First Grade – Ms. Jones” stood two women and one man. Small children, siblings of the ones being waited for, ran circles around the twenty or so standing adults. I sat on the bench under the big oak, with another grandmother.

Then I saw him, walking toward me, head down, bravely struggling with tears. I opened my arms. Without pausing to meet my eyes, he burrowed his head hard into my chest. I closed my arms, entirely encircling him, and gently squeezed, then rocked a little back and forth. I just held him a few long moments, knowing he needed comfort, whether there was a justifiable reason for the tears or whether it was just an endofthedayimtiredmelt-down, typical for first graders.

As I held him and rubbed his back, he kept pressing his head against my chest, seeking safety and comfort and love, shutting out the troubles in his little world.
“Just like I do with You, Lord,” I reflected.

Image result for Royalty Free Clip art of Cause and effectThe if/then nature of promises. These last few months, in my pursuit of closer closeness with our loving heavenly Father, I regularly sought the comfort, reassurance, and safety of the many truths in Psalm 91. I printed the entire psalm and marked up the two pages like I did in school, with a textbook. I used the Amplified version, because it includes more of the connecting words, like then, for, and because, than some other versions.

Through coming to the point where I could do nothing but depend on God alone, I have thoroughly learned that everything we receive from God is by His grace alone, not our effort. But, in searching for Him in that desperation, I also learned that we obtain the fruit of His promises when we do our part. There is a cause and effect. An if/then is involved.

For instance, Isaiah 26:3 says “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast because they trust in You.” That tells me that God will keep me in peace if I keep my mind fixed steadfastly on Him and He does that because I trust in Him.

Regarding the promises in Psalm 91, if I want to remain stable under the care of God, if I want to know God as my Refuge and my Fortress, and to have Him rescue me when I have fallen into the snare of, for example, self-pity, I must do my part. Look at the links (underlined) in the first four verses of Psalm 91.

1. He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall remain stable and fixed under the shadow of the Almighty [Whose power no foe can withstand].
2. I will say of the Lord, He is my Refuge and my Fortress, my God; on Him I lean and rely, and in Him I [confidently] trust!
3. For [then] He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. [Then}
4. He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings shall you trust and find refuge; His truth and His faithfulness are a shield and a buckler. [Then] . . .

In other words:
IF I dwell in the secret place,
IF I say … , lean … , rely… and confidently trust —
THEN God will deliver me,
THEN He will cover me, and I will be able to trust and find refuge.

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When you cannot feel the trust . . . yet. The sequence of thoughts in verses 1 through 4 helped me tremendously but what helped most was verse 4. Verse 4 says to me that, once He has covered me with His pinions–which is after I have “said . . . , leaned. . . , relied . . . and trusted”—once He covers me with His pinions, once I am under the shadow of His wide-spread wings, I am able to trust and find refuge. In the first three verses, I trust the best I can, then God responds by covering me and helping me trust so that my soul, my feelings, indeed find refuge.

Someone once related trust to sitting in a chair. I can say I trust the chair to hold me up, but I prove my trust when I actually sit. I can say I trust the Lord but I prove it when, for example, I choose to read my Bible and sing to the Lord when feeling anxious rather than always calling someone. I can say I trust God for finances, but I prove it when I pay God’s tithe to my local church.

Knowledge of His faithfulness helps me trust Him. My darling grandson trusted me, as soon as he saw me today, because I have comforted him numerous times before. His little heart was enabled to trust with all its strength and so find refuge, in the shelter of my arms, as he leaned into me.

If my human love for my grandson is so powerful, how much more will the love of the Creator and Sustainer of the entire universe do for us, beloved? Let us run into His loving arms and cast all our cares and fears and worries on Him and trust Him, because He cares so much more than we know for each of us. (I Peter 5:7)

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The unseen wind of the Spirit

Image result for royalty free picture of morning in the city“As you do not know the path of the wind”  I stepped from the bus onto the sidewalk and into that strange light of predawn, just before orange enflames the edge of gray sky. I hitched the straps to my purse and lunch bag higher on my left shoulder and glanced at the index card in my right hand.

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit] gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8, NIV)

The cold wind blew open the flap of my coat, partly exposing a bright pink dress, one of three from my Mom. The pink clashed with the burgundy walking shoes, also a gift from Mom, but I was grateful the dress was not frayed and that the shoes were not tennis shoes, which they would have been but for her generosity.

As I walked, the biting wind whipped across the empty lots here at the edge of downtown, chilling my fingers holding the index card. I found myself wishing for gloves. As a single mom, money was spent with care, as was time. Each hour from pickup to bedtime I focused on my daughter. Bible study and prayer came after she was asleep or before she woke. Travel to and from the office was for memory work.

As I burrowed into my coat, I focused on verse 8. “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“Yes!” I thought, “you cannot see the wind, but you know it is there by the effect it has, like moving tree branches. And the same with God’s Spirit. We know He is there by the effect He has!”

I pondered that nugget all that long day at the office. More often than I can count through the ensuing 30 plus years God has brought that truth to mind, just when I needed it. I am grateful for every bit of Bible truth I have hidden in my heart, but I do wish I had been more consistent with memory work. Why is memorizing the Bible so difficult?

Image result for royalty free clip art of hard workWhy does Bible memory seem so hard? Three obvious reasons come to mind.

[1] The enemy of our souls understands and fears the Word of God, so he attacks with all his might to keep us from getting the Word safely inside our heart, where he cannot steal it and where we have it ready to use at a moment’s notice. God’s Word is a blessed shield and sword in battles where the enemy shoots arrows of thoughts that can lead to negative emotions, such as anxiety and depression.

[2] An “I can’t” mind set. It may take countless repetition (especially if you are older, like me!) but we can do it. You did memory work at one time in your life or else you would not be reading these words. Our minds are not as quick as when we were children, but God will help us as we try.

[3] Making new habits takes persistent effort. Again, God will help if we try.

How to memorize. Hiding the Word in our heart is God’s will so we can ask for help, with confidence. “And we are confident that He hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases Him. And since we know He hears us when we make our requests, we also know that He will give us what we ask for.” (I John 4:15-16, NLT)

[1] Be strategic. Use a concordance to pick a verse or passage in your area of greatest personal need.

[2] Focus on one phrase at a time. Repeat that over and over until you know it. Do the same with another phrase. Then link the two phrases, repeating them until you know them both. Continue.

Image result for Royalty Free Clipart Of Index Cards[3] Keep the Word you are memorizing before your eyes. Carry your index cards with you and look at them during the day. Post another copy of your verse on your bathroom mirror, over the coffee maker, or the sun visor of your car. This is one modern-day version of Deuteronomy 6:7-9, of talking about the Word all day long and of keeping it visible before your eyes, as a reminder. If you have children, follow God’s command in Deuteronomy 6:7-9 and talk about the Word with them throughout the day.

[4] Be systematic and keep a record. Begin with your area of greatest need and ask God to lead you from there. Maintain a list of the verses you have memorized and review them regularly.

Benefits of memory work. Again, there are multiple benefits of hiding God’s word in your heart.

[1] You can resist the enemy at the outset of temptation or weakness, immediately and in instances where you cannot access a Bible, like Jesus did in Luke 4.

[2] God will bring verses to your mind when you need them, for yourself or for others. (Matthew 10:19)

[3] You will experience greater understanding in your Bible study, because you will have a bigger foundation of Bible facts in your mind. (Isaiah 28:10)

[4] You are obeying God and He will bless you. (Jeremiah 7:23)

My recent experience with memorizing. God has been so very gracious this past year to help me overcome life-long depression and fear. Diligent studying of the Word in my areas of need has made the biggest difference. I had to dig into the Bible for myself, me and Holy Spirit alone, rather than rely on what someone else had dug out of the Word. Memorizing scriptures has been a key factor as well. During my routine at the gym, while watching my grandkids play in a park, while standing in line at the grocery store, throughout the day I repeatedly repeated phrases from notes I carried with me everywhere.

Image result for royalty free picture of grass blowing in the windHis Word bears fruit in the garden of the heart over and over.   I got the idea for this blog post late one afternoon, while returning home after playing with my grandsons all afternoon. Leaving the warmth of family and facing the empty-feeling condo can be hard. But, I noticed the wind gently bending the lush grass bordering the sidewalk. Suddenly, I remembered that morning, more than 30 years ago and how often that piece of the living Word in John 3 had helped. And I found myself repeating the chain of scriptures I had memorized about God’s love and tender care. With my mind turned back to God–and out of the self-pity snare — the Lord, my Barny cat and I had a wonderful evening together.

I urge you: Persist! Perhaps you are like me, with years of sporadic memory work. Friend, you and I must in this, like Paul, forget what lies behind and press on in our journey with God. Ask God for His forgiveness, avoid that deadly snare of regret, and move forward, knowing that God delights in your efforts to draw closer to Him! He will help you. It may be in ways you do not understand and could never imagine. . .

“As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in the womb, so you do not understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.” Ecclesiastes 11:5-6

 

No way? No way!

Image result for Free Picture Of Oak Tree Beside House

Nature does the impossible. The sound of the chain saw ripped the air as savagely as it ripped into the root of the grandfather oak. I thanked God for my friend who was leaning over, holding the chain saw over the exposed root of the tree. That root had travelled ten feet from the base of the tree, under the patio slab and on under the building, finally entwining itself around the water pipe, which had caused my kitchen wall in the kitchen to leak water.

“No doubt” I mused, “The folks who drew up blueprints for this townhome complex thought that they had positioned the buildings far enough away from the oak trees.

But they had not reckoned with the power of nature.

It only takes a little reaching out.  While in a group therapy session for depression, I heard a powerful metaphor about making even tiny efforts.  The illustration was that plant roots have tiny hairs reaching toward sources of water. Growth requires only an almost microscopic root hair reaching out. What a deep spiritual parallel for me!

Image result for Royalty Free Clipart of A Mustard SeedFaith like a mustard seed.  Psalm 103 says God remembers that we are frail humans and that He always keeps that mind. He knows we are weak and that believing things we cannot see is hard. That is why He does not require perfection – just a whole-hearted commitment. (Deuteronomy 6:5; Ecclesiastes 12:13; Micah 6:8). Surely that is one reason why Jesus comforts us in Matthew 17:10 with the promise that, with a tiny bit of faith, no bigger than a mustard seed, nothing will be impossible for us. Sometimes my faith feels about one sixteenth of an inch, but God keeps it alive and reaching out.

No way is there no way with God! The Bible is filled with stories of how God did the impossible for His children. Consider the Red Sea, the fiery furnace, Jericho, and Goliath. God made dry land appear in the middle of the sea, prevented three Hebrews from being burned while in the middle of a raging fire, made the walls of a fortified city fall down, and enabled a young shepherd boy to kill a giant with one small stone in a slingshot.

However—and here is the hard part—the Israelites had to step into the sea before it parted. The three Hebrews had to stand up for God and face the consequences. The Israelites had to march around Jericho a total of 13 times, and David had to step toward what appeared certain death. Likewise, you and I must take steps of faith, though we may feel afraid and though it may look impossible.

God will help us. Beloved, no matter how weak our faith, or how seemingly impossible our situation, God will help. He cares for every detail in the life of His children (Psalm 34:23). That means the same omnipotent God who created and sustains the universe, the same loving One who did all those miracles in the Bible,  is working in our lives. Our victory in Him requires only a tiny bit of faith, and stepping out (James 2:14-26).

And how do we get more faith and strength for that step?  Romans 10:17 in the NKJ says: “So, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” Friend, let us study our Bible and so increase our faith that we may reach out to take hold of God’s promises with whatever measure of faith we have.

God is our “Way Maker, Miracle Worker, Promise Keeper, Light in the darkness” as the song by Sinach says. Click on the link below to see the comforting, faith-building words of this worship song and let your faith arise!

https://sifalyrics.com/sinach-way-maker-lyrics

 

 

 

God will always give us a hug

God knows when we need extra hugs.  “Meeow!” I ignored the sad sound and kept typing.

“Meeow!”

“You’re okay Barny. I’m working. In a minute. . . “

On the third meow, I put my laptop on the table, picked up the cat brush, and sat on the floor, pulling my beloved Tonkinese close, resting my forehead on his. His quiet purr revved up to a louder pitch as I rubbed his ears and crooned to him. When I pulled back and began brushing his coat, he pressed his head into my leg, a posture I had learned meant he wanted more face time, forehead to forehead. I put the brush down, leaned over and crooned “Good boy, Barny. Love you baby. You are my sweet friend.” Then he went back to sit quietly on his corner of my desk. My faithful and loving companion had craved just a few moments of my time and my affection, nothing else.

God’s love is available to us.  Because it has been a topic of recent study and writing, Image result for royalty free picture of child hand reaching to parent handsmany scriptures come to mind about seeking God’s presence. Two stand out: “God is with you while you are with Him.” (2 Chronicles 15:2) and “He earnestly imprints on His heart that we are just dust.” (Psalm 103:14, AMP.)  

God really is with us while we are with Him. 2 Chronicles 15:2 in the Amplified is “God is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him [inquiring for and of Him, craving Him as your soul’s first necessity], He will be found by you.” God is clearly saying that if we seek Him whole-heartedly, we will find Him. Unfortunately, I sometimes ignore my beloved Barny’s  whole-hearted plea for the comfort of my love and affection. How blessed we frail human beings are that our God is perfect and knows our thoughts (Psalm 139)! As our perfect Father, He knows when we need that extra reassurance, and the comfort of being especially aware of His presence.

God has imprinted our human frailties on His heart (Psalm 103:14). Psalm 103 is one of my go-to passages when I have stepped into the snares of fear and worry. Verse 13Image result for royalty free picture of parent carrying child reassures me that just like a father has compassion on his children, or loves and pities them, God “. . . loves and pities those who fear Him – with reverence, worship and awe.” Why is that? Verse 14 says because “He [earnestly] remembers and [imprints on His heart] that we are dust.” Human parents will instinctively pick up a tired child, soothe a crying  child, and feed a hungry child. When a nursing mother hears her infant’s cry, her milk is released or “lets down” – by instinct, automatically, with no effort on her part because that response is imprinted on her heart. 

Friend, our needs provoke a far more powerful response from our loving Father. All we have to do is ask and we will receive His mercy and loving-kindess, which endure forever. (Psalm 136:23) 

God hears our every cry. If I can be mindful of the tender nature and needs of my little pet, how much more is my almighty, merciful and kind heavenly Father aware of when I need some extra love from Him? No matter how low some moments of daily life may seem, I can remind myself that God has promised to deliver me out of all my troubles. “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their distress and troubles” (Psalm 34:19, AMP.)

The heart of that little drummer boy

 Piano lessons. As a girl, I took piano lessons, which meant practice! I began in fourth grade, when practice consisted of a few minutes a day after homework was finished, before I could go play baseball in the empty lot next door with my brothers and other neighborhood kids. As I grew older, practice sessions grew as did my pleasure in playing. I began getting up early to practice before school. Image result for royalty free picture of upright piano

Like many families in those times, we had a living room we seldom used. It could be, and usually was, closed off by a sliding pocket door that disappeared into the wall. On those early mornings, with darkness still at the windows, Daddy already at work, Mom having morning devotions in the family room and my two brothers still sleeping, I slowly slid that door open, relishing the cooler air of that isolated room, the lemony scent of furniture polish wafting from the piano, and that not quite dusty but distinctive smell of infrequently used rooms.

Youthful dreams of a youthful heart. Some mornings, before I crossed the room to the light switch, I stood in front of the picture window, another popular feature of mid-century homes, and gazed at the few lighted windows in the houses of our neighborhood, the sparse street lights, and the brightly lit convenience store at the foot of the rolling hill atop which our house sat, imagining I was gazing at the night-time streets of New York, where I dreamed of living as a writer. Then I turned to the piano and opened the sheet music, edged with purple, with the profile of a little boy and a drum.Image result for royalty free picture of neighborhood at night

That winter of seventh grade, Mrs. Rich was teaching me how to play with more expression, which was proving to be a much-needed outlet for my overly sensitive, adolescent soul. I leaned over the piano, intent on gently playing, four times, the chord that repeats throughout the tender song. Then I sang quietly while I played, “Come, they told me, pa rum pa pum. A newborn king to see, pa rum pa pum. . . “

The anointing God has placed upon that song calmed my heart, even though I did not know Jesus at that time. I played it so often that the entire family could join in. The love and comfort of that tender melody soothed the simmering emotional storms. Fifteen years later, I finally opened my heart to that awesome King I had been singing about and found His gifts of real love and real peace.

A gift fit for our King. Throughout the Christmas season we often hear that much-loved song. What a stirring thought that the little drummer boy perceived the deity of the tiny baby in the manger and wanted to give Him a gift fit for a king! Sweetest of all is the bashful gratitude the little boy expresses as he perceives that playing his drum has pleased the tiny king. “Then, He smiled at me, pa rum pa pum. . . rum pa pum. . . me and my drum.” Image result for royalty free picture of little drummer boy

I, too, have no gift that’s fit to give the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.   However, like the little drummer boy playing his best, I can live my best for our risen Lord. I can fulfill Romans 12:2 which urges “. . . offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–which is your spiritual act of worship. (NIV)”

Listen friend! Do You hear His love, do you perceive His smile of pleasure as you offer yourself a living sacrifice, striving to please Him in all that you do? “Pa rum pa pum, rum pa pum, rum pa pum.”

Dear Father,

Thank You for sending Your Son to be our Savior. Thank You for showing us clearly in the Bible how to please You. Holy Spirit, teach us how to live our lives as a gift. We love You, Lord! Happy Birthday Jesus!

When Nana (almost) Got Run Over By A Deer

Beautiful mornings. From the vantage point of the interstate, heading into the hill country east of Austin, morning mist lingers in gossamer pockets formed by gently rolling hills visible all the way to the horizon. Just before daybreak, darkness still Image result for royalty free picture of hills at sunriseobscures more than the growing light reveals, creating a sense of solitude. Five years ago, I drove into the hill country two mornings a week, sipping coffee from a go-mug, eagerly anticipating turning off the interstate onto a winding, unpaved road that ended at a house bordered on three sides by small pastures.

A bona fide city girl, with a life-long unsatisfied love of horses, I relished my part-time job doing light housekeeping for Rachel and caring for her two horses, this on the days I was not busy being Nana.

That morning, from her wheelchair by the big bay window Rachel looked out through the mist at the corral where a lone deer was grazing, and grazing on grass meant for the horses.

“Look at that deer!” Rachel harrumphed. “You just can’t get rid of ‘em!”

“You want me to go yell at them, Rachel?”

“Yes!”

I stopped stirring the oatmeal, ran through the side door into the garage and burst through the outer door like a one-woman SWAT Team, albeit not nearly as fast.

Inspired by hard-riding cowboys. You have to remember that I grew up in the sixties,Image result for free picture of john wayne when Westerns ruled prime time television. My brothers and I laid on the floor in front of the television, with Daddy in his recliner, and watched every weekly episode of “Rawhide”, “Bonanza”, “Maverick”, and “The Big Valley”, to name just a few. Western TV shows and western movies, especially ones starring John Wayne, were better than ice cream. So, I had often seen cowboys waving their lariats and yelling, “Yeehaw!”.  It had worked for those hard-riding cowboys as they headed off strays or turned a stampeded herd.

With great intensity, as I ran toward the deer, I now attempted to duplicate that motion, flapping my long arms wildly, and widely, in place of a lariat.

Not my wisest move. Well, several things happened. They happened fast, they happened in slow motion, and they have remained forever frozen in my mind. First, that lone deer that Rachel had seen in front of the house jumped straight up and high-tailed it, literally, toward the larger pasture to the right of the barn and corral. Image result for free picture of cattle stampedeSecond, in the same instant, both horses in that pasture also jumped but, thank the good and merciful Lord, did not bolt toward their fences. Now, the third thing is where things got interesting.

One of the sneaky deer who had been behind the house to the left, hidden from my view, munching on bushes next to the oak tree, leaped and soared within five feet of me on his way to the same pasture as the other one. Fourth, his or her companion, a bit slower by only a nose, ran behind me, this time within three feet of me. It was getting crowded, I guess, on the only pathway away from the obviously insane human.

Fifth, I stood still – for how long, I don’t know. As my racing heart slowed and my breath returned, I reflected on stories I had heard about encounters between vehicles and deer. I concluded that what I had just done was not the wisest move I had ever made.

Finally, still a bit shaky, I turned and went back inside, reflecting how often people had warned me about deer since I had moved to Texas. What would a full-steam ahead deer/human collision look like? Not so great for the human, I was sure.

Rachel and I got a good laugh, but I think about my close encounter when I see a deer or when I hear that song “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” Only now I don’t laugh quite so much!