Oh, to Know Him …

Think of someone you love with your whole heart– someone you want to spend time with, someone who loves you too. This is a relationship where you are known, even with your foibles and imperfections, yet loved deeply. That’s how God, the Creator of all the Universes, feels about you. Yes, you. And, yes, me. How do I know? “The Bible tells me so.”

In the book of Genesis, Jacob, the twin brother of Esau, was a guy with a troubling track record. He was a self-absorbed schemer and swindler. He stole his brother’s inheritance by tricking his father as he was dying. Jacob knew there was a Jehovah God, Yahweh. Yet, there was a distance between Jacob and God. No wonder with Jacob’s deceitful heart. He always referred to God as the father of Abraham and Isaac (Jacob’s father). We could describe his view of God as formal, not intimate. I would go further to say I doubt in his early years, he “knew” God at all.

One night Jacob had a vivid dream (Genesis 28). As a child, you may have sung “Jacob’s Ladder” retelling this biblical account. He dreamed of a ladder with angels climbing up and down from Heaven. Then, during the dream, the Lord spoke to Jacob and made a promise to him about his future inheritance and the blessings to be poured out on his descendants. Jacob awakened, knowing the Lord had visited him. Yet, even after this encounter, he had the audacity to say he wasn’t sure whether or not to make Yahweh his God. He leveraged this tenuous relationship by vowing he would make God his God, IF God blessed him. That sounds a little like what we call “foxhole prayers,” those prayers of desperation. “If you let me live, God, I’ll become a Christian.” Jacob obviously did not have a connection to his father’s God. I would add, it’s also good that God Almighty is a patient God with much mercy for his petulant children.

Two decades later, Jacob had a second encounter with God, which changed the dynamics of their relationship. This time God was so personal and powerful that Jacob referred to the place as Penuel, which means “face of God.” Now instead of seeing God as an impersonal ruler, Jacob saw an affectionate Father. The Hebrew word for face is paneh —  presence. We don’t see God’s face in a physical way, but the Scripture tells us again and again that we can live in His presence. Later Jacob finds himself alone with God, and God takes him on — they wrestle! I can’t even imagine. There is much more to the story here, but I will add that God wanted Jacob to acknowledge his selfish heart. God had some big plans for Jacob, but first Jacob had to yield. God wanted Jacob to stop being a selfish conniver, and become transformed by God’s love, wisdom, and grace.

If you have ever had a loving, transparent relationship with another human being, whether it was a spouse, parent, or maybe even a child, you know it is a treasure. I remember fondly how I enjoyed sitting across the small kitchen table with my dad when I was an “adult child.” We had a connection. I understood how much he loved me, and he knew how much I loved him. I wanted to spend time with him, face to face. I enjoyed the pleasure of his company. I yearned to be with him whenever I could, and I miss him now.

The Bible shows us how God made you for a “face-to-face” relationship with Him. Wouldn’t you rather know the pleasure of spending time in the presence of God instead of just knowing about Him? Yield your dreams to the One who made you, and understands you best. Seek Him. Take time to listen and talk to the One who loves you beyond measure and is waiting for you to turn your face to His. He awaits the pleasure of YOUR company.

Choosing Peace

Photo by Becky D. McMillen, Baldwin, KS

Have you noticed how life sometimes runs on parallel tracks? Good things can take place in the midst of not-so-pleasant circumstances. When I saw this image, it reminded me of this facet of life on planet earth. In this photo, we see the beauty of two seasons, complementing each other in color and form. The delicate flowers of a redbud tree are accentuated with the flakes of a late spring snow, enhancing both snow and flowers.

If I imagined myself to be a redbud flower, I might not feel the positive vibes of a blast of cold invading my springtime. Imagine bursting forth in your best show of first blooms, to find yourself shivering under a pile of freezing fluff. Sort of sets you back.

In our daily humanity, we may recognize layers of goodness while being struck with a serious loss or disabling event. Laying in a hospital bed recovering from a painful surgery, I heard a simple praise song in my room. I was miserable, and only half-asleep, but the sweet voice sounded like an angel. A nurse had begun singing along with music I had playing on my cell phone. Her kindness and love deeply touched my heart.

When my dog experienced multiple health crises within a short out-of-state “vacation,” a kind veterinarian (our 5th appointment) spent thirty minutes reading all the health reports and deciding on a course of treatment. We were to leave for home the next morning. When we checked out, he had not charged me for anything except the medication. I felt tears well up in my eyes. It was not the money saved, though that was a blessing. It was his compassion. It felt like a hug from God.

I have found that people who are most successful in navigating pain, loss, and devastation don’t immediately jump up and down to embrace their dark trial. They will say, “It was hard.” However, they pass from grief to gratefulness when they recognize God’s provision along the journey. Yes, we may find a freezing jolt to our once-comfortable life, but in recognizing God’s mercy and grace to get us through, we find hope for the sorrows.

God’s peace is promised to us in Philippians 4:6-9. However, with every promise comes an expectation. True? We are told to not be anxious. How does that work, you ask? “I just lost … (fill in the blank), and I’m not supposed to feel the sad and awful reality?” Your husband (or wife) left you after years of marriage. You husband (or wife) died suddenly without any advance warning. You or a loved one receives a diagnosis of a fatal illness, or a health dysfunction without a remedy. Your child breaks off relationship. You know the list of tragedies goes on and on.

However, if you are one who has stepped over that line of faith as a believer in the Creator God of the Universe, He asks us to pray, to tell him what’s on our heart. He says in Philippians 4:6-7 to pray/petition WITH THANKSGIVING. Then comes the answer: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

What a joy to let go of the spirit of heaviness, and release it to Father God, the One who loves you most. Not every woe in this life will have a “happy ever after” ending. In John 16:33, Jesus tells his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  Yield, and receive your peace. We know in Heaven there will be no more sorrow, no more tears. Everlasting joy!

The Consequences of Choice

man holding a sign
 Imageu by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Americans are familiar with choice. It’s second nature to people who have lived in a more or less free society, depending on the period of history. We often glide through our days not giving much thought to all the choices we make. Yet, if we were denied the right to decide, undoubtably, we would squeal. Unless our voices are arbitrarily silenced and we had no recourse, we would not be satisfied without this freedom. Yes, we do yearn to be the master of our destinies. We love the freedom to decide what, when and how we do something.

Our Master Designer, God Almighty, gave us that ability to choose … but with “guidelines.” Well actually, ONE guideline. If you examine Genesis, you discover God’s children were provided with everything they needed in a beautiful place without strife or want. God’s nature is to provide. Yet, the “children” chose to do the only thing God asked them not to do. I have to smile because having raised children, I’ve watched them determinedly attempt scaling all established barriers, even if they were meant for their good.

While visiting a more tropical region, I experienced an unusual and uninvited houseguest. One morning, we found a little creature I nicknamed “Larry the Lizard,” in our kitchen sink. Not being accustomed to wildlife in my work area, I freaked out! I refused to do anything in the kitchen until Larry was free again … outside. Lacking gloves or anything which would help remove this intruder, my husband resorted to a property management housecall. “HELP! WE HAVE A LIZARD STUCK IN THE SINK.”

The more I thought about that little guy sitting at the bottom of the glistening, yet perilous-for-a-lizard bowl, I imagined the surprise when he tumbled down its inescapable slope. Each time he tried to climb out, he slid back to the bottom. What led him to explore in the kitchen, I wondered? What enticed him inside to begin with? I had so many questions.

However, the Lord reminded me how similar we humans are. Wandering about on our own, exploring life’s sights and stimulating possibilities, can land us places the Lord never intended for us–situations with emotional, physical, or spiritual risk. Do we always align our choices with God’s Word? Are we even aware of the choices we make daily? Do we pray before we accidentally slide into some inescapable trap?

Have your choices ever taken you somewhere you didn’t want to be, a place where you couldn’t easily climb back into God’s will? Here is the good news. Unlike poor “Larry,” who did not have a happy end of life, we have a Father God who is waiting for us to come to Him for help. Even in our rebellion, God hears our cries. Yes, there may be unpleasant natural consequences for our wandering choices, but He is faithful to hear. In Isaiah 30:18-19 (TPT), we read, “For this reason the Lord is still waiting to show his favor to you so he can show you his marvelous love. He waits to be gracious to you. He sits on his throne ready to show mercy to you. How compassionate he will be when he hears your cries for help! He will answer you when he hears your voice!”

Your Father God is waiting for you to call to Him, even for rescue, if need be. He sent Jesus, His Son, who not only taught, but took the penalty for generations of rebellious choices, past, present, and future. He made a way for us to have a personal relationship with the God of the Universe, even though he is holy and we are not. With this amazing gift, we are forgiven. And, we are loved beyond measure.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him,” (NIV).

Happy Easter!

2021

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Have You Ever Been Loved by a Dog?

selective focus photography of white and tan shih tzu puppy carrying by smiling woman
Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com
To Be Loved

I’ve been thinking a lot of about dogs lately. Some people have said the word dog is “god” spelled backwards. I agree with the spelling inversion, but the God of the Bible is Almighty, all powerful, Creator of the universe, and so much more. Dogs cannot compare to my awesome eternal God. But this I know: Dogs do in some small way capture the essence of God’s faithful forgiving nature–love personified. It’s one thing to own a pet, but to BE LOVED by one takes the human/animal relationship to a whole new level.

Attributes

Treat dogs kindly and they will return their love and loyalty without reservation. Have you ever looked into a dog’s eyes and noticed the unconditional love flowing back? “If only they could speak,” I have often said. But honestly, they communicate quite well without our language. In my observation, a dog’s purpose and primary desire is to be near and to love. For this gift of love, I am grateful to God who had us in mind when He made all the creatures of the world.

Why do I spend time pondering the lives of canines? They are only one species of God’s great and wondrous creation. My life has been long and blessed with the abundance of unique animals I have known and loved: dogs, cats, horses, bunnies, and even a very funny goat “kid” we bought when the children were young. Perhaps my recent reflections are stirred because my present two “best doggies” are now old, with aging health issues. I must face the fact they won’t be with us for much longer.

A Time for Everything

Scripture tells us there is a time for everything. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to weep, and a time to laugh. I know how the breath of life draws a final conclusion to even the most vibrant and influential of lives, human or animal (and I do believe in the distinction). No matter how familiar my brain is with the seasons of life, death still shocks my system. It’s like a trick I must grapple with–every single time. “How can it be?” I ask, shaking myself to accept the reality that a living-breathing-vibrant being is no more.

Hope in Loss

Yet I have hope. Because of the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ, the sting of death is diminished. Not eliminated, I add honestly. I still grieve the losses of those I love. For my human loves, I have the hope of heaven’s reunion with those who trusted Christ and have gone before me. For my furry friends, I have rich memories of the seasons in which we ran, laughed, cuddled, and exchanged love.

For now, I will hold my aging “puppies,” tell them how much they are loved, and thank God for such a gift–a tiny representation of His even greater love. Love has risks. Without love, life is empty. I choose to love, to endure the pain of loss, and cherish the days of laughter. Now, go hug a person or a pet today, and tell them how much they mean to you.

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A Kindle Conundrum

I had a day from “the dark side” this week. It all began with a simple and seemingly benign decision. I ordered a Kindle reader from Amazon! Have you ever had something go awry at every turn? I’m sure you have. It’s part of the human condition, it seems. Earth is not Heaven, and that I’m sure we all have grasped. We await for that heavenly destiny and glory to come, or until Jesus returns for His children.

My adorable little Kindle arrived early in the week, but little did I know where that would lead. After five hours on the phone with five different Amazon customer service agents, I was a frustrated wreck. There were unusual sign-in issues, and after one service rep suggested I eliminate a little used business account, the apparently defective Kindle then became impossible to return. I had unconsciously ordered it from the then-defunct account and no one could seem to go back to retrieve the original order. I was on the phone with our credit card bank at 11:00 p.m. that same night because the first rep tried to charge me $59.99 for registering the device. That was fraudulent, I was later told. He sent me an email form to fill out with my credit information, resulting in not one, but two cards having to be immediately cancelled. I felt my stress level rising as no one seemed to know how to resolve all these mounting obstacles.   As I lay in bed talking to the Lord about my daunting day, I knew it was all inconsequential in the face of so many major problems around us. But, it did make me evaluate how I handled my personal potholes that day. I can share with confidence how God intervened and walked with me through the fires of some major traumas in my lifetime. Why, then, was I so undone over this incident? Of course, I wanted my money back. Certainly, I didn’t like being scammed by someone who was supposed to be a reputable representative. Naturally we were upset by suddenly having no credit cards.   Yet … I have friends facing Covid hospitalizations, livlihood losses, loss of family members, positive test quarantines, and grandchildren struggling to gain a normal in-person education. We see lots of suffering all around us. As I prayed that night, I knew I needed to regroup and let my Father God be my Source of peace again. How easy it is to walk away from His great love and light, to let worry fray my spirit, and weigh my heart.   I am reminded that God’s Divine power has given me (and you) everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him. He called us by his own glory and goodness (I Peter 1:3). In verse 5, we are admonished to “make every effort to add to our faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.” If we have these qualities increasing, it will keep us from being ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.   So, my reminder to self is that I don’t have to let little challenges in life rob me of my joy. Knowing how God was faithful to me in the most daunting of losses and heartaches, He will be faithful even in the small things. He will help me navigate even in the day-to-day junk.

I hope this song by Michael W. Smith will bring joy to your heart as it reminds us God is here for you. This song also makes a beautiful love song if you have a special person you wish to encourage this Valentine’s Day. Take a listen. https://music.youtube.com/watch?v=M-hgLP9YKiA&feature=share Lyrics: When you feel the sunlight Fade into the cold night Don’t know where to turn I don’t know where to turn And all the dreams you’re dreaming Seem to lose their meaning Let me in your world Baby, let me in your world All you need is someone you can hold Don’t be sad, you’re not alone
I will be here for you Somewhere in the night Somewhere in the night I’ll shine a light for you Somewhere in the night I’ll be standing by I will be here for you
In this world of strangers Of cold and friendly faces Someone you can trust Oh there’s someone you can trust I will be your shelter I’ll give you my shoulder Just reach out for my love Reach out for my love Call my name and my heart will hear I will be there, there’s nothing to fear
I will be here for you Somewhere in the night Somewhere in the night I’ll shine a light for you Somewhere in the night I’ll be standing by I will be here for you
I will be here for you Somewhere in the night Somewhere in the night I’ll shine a light for you Somewhere in the night I’ll be standing by I will be here for you
I will be here for you Somewhere in the night Somewhere in the night I’ll shine a light for you Somewhere in the night I’ll be standing by I will be here for you
I will be here for you

The Story Behind the Story: His Gift

Are you ever curious about why authors write what they do? I am. You often discover something about the author’s unique life experience or perspectives. In my case, the backstory for my debut historical fiction, His Gift, is personal and significant. The story conflict is based on true events in my mother’s life growing up at the onset of The Great Depression. These facts helped me construct a compelling tale stirred with truth, imagination, and sprinkled with love.

His Gift takes place at the onset of The Great Depression, October, 1929. I had someone suggest I shouldn’t write about such a “depressing” era because who would read it? I countered the argument with my belief that His Gift isn’t about the sadness of that historic time. Instead, it is about how God is faithful throughout our trials, and He makes all things beautiful when … yes, when … we yield our dreams to him.

I began writing His Gift after my mother passed away. While reading her diaries, I heard her “voice” in a unique way, not as my mom, but as a young woman with dreams and a determination to see them come true. I knew snippets of “her story,” but suddenly as an adult writer, I knew her life possessed a drama to be shared. My mother was a gifted musician who pursued her ambition to become a professional concert pianist upon graduation. In the fall of 1929, she won a student audition to play the Rahcmaninoff Concert #2 with the Detroit Symphony. Then, weeks later, Black Tuesday occurred, the worst day in stock market history. What happens thereafter is the “rest of the story.”

My husband and I traveled to Royal Oak, MI, the setting of the story, to do primary research. We located my grandparents’ home, and the local music conservatory where my mother studied with a then retired concert pianist. We researched what seemed like miles of micrfiche about the 1920s at the Detroit Public Library. With this information download, I felt prepared to write, write, write.

Armed with ideas, I began writing the novel–without having completed a synopsis from beginning to end. To my surprise, my plot development came to an abrupt halt once I developed the conflict. Why? I didn’t know what happened once my grandfather was forced to move the family into Chicago. My mom was not around to explain the facts. I didn’t know of a true conflict resolution in my mother’s life. I had no confidence to invent a completely fictional ending. So, sadly, the story sat dormant–for a long time. I knew if it would ever be finished, I needed God’s help. I prayed, I read, and like Franz Schubert’s mostly Unfinished Symphony, His Gift, remained unresolved.

One day, I finally had revelation. I knew what needed to happen. I felt it was inspired. I wrote with great energy and passion as if God were whispering ideas in my ear. I was thrilled as this novel’s resolution pointed readers to seek Christ in life’s obstacles. In our yieldedness, we can find the peace for which we yearn. My heart was full because I knew His Gift could bless readers, and encourage them in their individual walks of faith.

That, my readers, is the story behind the story. I hope you find it interesting, as well as hopeful for whatever dilemmas you may face.

 

Stepping into the Light

cold snow wood landscape

Photo by Yan on Pexels.com

It was a blustery cold morning, and as usual, I was walking my dog. It was what we always did after breakfast. Why, I wondered, did he always seem to stop to investigate a good scent when we were walking in the shade? It felt at least ten degrees colder than when we were in the sunlight! The windchill didn’t seem to bother my furry friend, but it was biting through my parka in a most piercing way.

Since our home sits on the shady side of the street, I decided I needed a course correction. A new routine. Going forward, I took command of my “mostly” obedient German Shepherd, and crossed the street as soon as we exited our cozy home. I made a deliberate choice to walk in the bright sunshine and relative warmth. After a few days of this new plan, I started to sing, like a young child, making up my own tune: “Walk, walk, walk to the sunny, sunny, sunny side….” The more I did this, the more clearly the Lord spoke to my spirit.

The parallel seemed clear. “God is the light …” we are told in Psalms 27:1. When we make the decision to walk in his light, with God beside us spiritually speaking, he does make a difference, no matter what pain and discomfort we encounter. Scripture confirms this cause and effect in James 4:8 (ESV). “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” Notice how we are to make that decision first. God is waiting for you.

When you face the raw chill of physical, emotional, or spiritual pain, what do you do? Perhaps you experience the normal emotions of human grief. You want to deny what has happened, at least in the beginning. It feels so impossible. Once reality shakes out the truth, you may feel the grip of anger and sadness. Whenever you feel like a victim and all is lost, choose to run into God’s light. It’s our choice to remain in the misery of the season of despair, or to take steps to draw nearer to God. There, we are assured, He will draw near to us.

Psalm 91:4 provides us with a beautiful word picture: “He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge, (NIV)” In his refuge, you can find healing. Run toward his light and be warmed. It is there where we will be overcomers.

 

 

 

God is Greater

Witnessing the cultural and political landscape of my beloved America in the past few days, I grieved. It felt like someone had punched me–hard. So many things went wrong, all of which will ultimately hurt our nation. But, this I believe with all my heart. God is greater than any human power, any political party, or any government. He will not be undone. America was his shining light on the hill and God desires it to remain a place of freedom and truth.

lighted pillar candle

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

It is obvious that more recently, many Christians became engaged in the political arena, even if it was only to cast a ballot. For the most part, I don’t believe it was because they became enamored with a charismatic personality. They campaigned, donated, and voted in large numbers for local to national candidates because their biblical principles were at stake.

Those who believe they can politically silence conservative Christian voices are missing something. Our beliefs are not solely political. They are based on our hope and trust in a God we believe formed the universe. We can be expelled from social media, from book contracts, from all forms of media, but we will not be silenced–forever. Why do I say this?

I don’t adhere to my principles because I think I am right. I adhere to my principles because God says they are right. Some feel that makes me a dangerous zealot; I say it makes me a person of integrity, where faith and action align. Biblical principles inform my political and cultural views so they aren’t negotiable. They cannot be changed with the stroke of a pen, with the claim they are outdated.

Therefore, if governing powers designate more progressive laws, antithetical to biblical principles, it is not likely followers of Christ will simply “sit down and shut up.” Although they will bow to the laws of governing authorities, silencing their views has never been a positive solution. This goes to the core foundation of our nation. Freedom of religion and freedom of speech are synonymous to America. People left their countries in Europe and struggled immensely to establish a new land where they could live according to their religious beliefs.

Remove my right to speak or write, and I will find another avenue to express what I believe. Oppression has always created an atmosphere of determination. Thankfully, in my lifetime, America has never demanded the ugly choice between silence or death as in authoritarian countries and I pray it will never do so. Let’s return to the founding principles of our great nation and live in freedom to legally express our views.

God is greater and His plans are higher. His purposes will not be silenced.