Look Back, Yes, But Then Look Forward

Ecclesiastes 3:1-9

For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather  stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time  to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

Thought for the Day: God is with us in our past, present, and future.

Today is the day to look back at the past but more importantly to look ahead at our future.   My family has had its challenges in the last three years bringing financial and emotional hardships.  As we still think about our past, however, we feel blessed that God has placed us in a very special place where we can experience a beautiful future.  Yes, there are memories of painful times, especially of people who hurt us and who have never said they were sorry.  Yes, there are moments we would like to forget.  But through those times, there were the moments in between that we never want to forget.  Because of heartbreak, my husband and I prayed more, read the Bible more, and became more spiritually strong.  We feel closer to God than ever before and we are thankful.  Because of heartbreak, I began writing.  At first I wrote about pain and I wrote about things that could never be shared with anyone else. But then, I felt God begin to lead my thoughts and He led me to write devotionals.  Those devotionals helped me become closer to God and to realize God’s presence in the hard times and in the good.  Those devotionals have actually helped others as well, of which I am thankful.  My husband found a position in a church that is known for Hospitality, and he has been able to share his ministry in new and miraculous ways.  We feel blessed to be in this place.  I have found myself still without a teaching position but my heart has been filled and fulfilled in writing, directing children’s choirs, singing in the chancel choir, taking pictures, being present for my children, and the list goes on and on.  God has blessed us in the hardships and in the gloriously wonderful new place.

Tomorrow, we begin a new year.  What will that new year bring?  The only thing we know for sure is that God will be in the new year for our family.  There is nothing else that we know for sure.  Through God being in our lives, though, we know we will feel His presence through each day.   There will be hardships, there will be blessings!  There will be days that are frustrating, and there will be days full of celebration!  There will be days of wondering, and there will be days of wonder!  But every day will be a day filled with God and God’s love will be present in our hearts.

Prayer:  Father, thank you for these days when we look back and can see where Your hand has led our lives.  Thank you for the days we begin anew knowing Your hand will lead us.  Be with us in the looking back but more so in the looking ahead.  We love You and know You are with us as we go through life.  We are thankful.  Amen

Prayer Focus:  Those looking back

My Spirit Feels Alive

Luke 2:19-20

But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.  And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Thought for the Day: Through Jesus Christ, we are alive  

Sitting for a few minutes after several days of Christmas celebrations and then a couple of days of family visiting in our home, has mixed thoughts.  In one way, the festivities and preparations for the Christmas Cantata, Christmas Services, Christmas morning with our children, and Family Christmas planning kept me excited and giddy as we moved through the time.  In another way, the time brought a tiredness as I felt I never sat down and never rested as well or as long as I would have liked.  Last evening, on our one more excursion for our boys to use gift cards they had received and to do a couple of other things, I found I didn’t feel well.  I shared with my husband that I wanted to stay in the car and let them share time in the stores.  As I sat, I worked on a crochet project I had started and relaxed for that time.  When we arrived home, I found that all I wanted to do was to crawl into bed.  Thanks to my loving husband, I was able to do that so I crawled into bed and continued working on my crocheted project until my eyes became heavy.  I did not set an alarm, for the first time in several months, and I allowed my body to get the rest it needed.  Today, I feel better and ready for my day.

As I think about this experience this morning and how a good night sleep helped me feel more energetic, I think about someone else.  I think about Mary and Joseph.  When Mary gave birth to Baby Jesus, they had just traveled many miles with her riding on a donkey.  She must have been so tired and she must have wanted so badly to have a place to lay her head.  Joseph, who walked the distance must have been exhausted.  Not only was he tired from the travel, he also had the extra concern for Mary as he knew she was close to giving birth.  They walked up to that inn door and knocked hoping for a room.  But what they received was a stable.  Then she gave birth to Baby Jesus in that stable having to lay him in a manger because there was no other place to lay him.  Oh, how they must have been so tired.  But then, the angel appeared to some shepherds who came into that stable to kneel beside their baby and to worship Him.  Can you imagine the feeling Mary and Joseph must have had in that moment?  The tired feelings subsided making way for excitement and celebration.  She had just given birth to Baby Jesus, the One who was born to save the world.  Her body was still tired, but her Spirit was alive and awake, and only wanted to celebrate.  As I look at myself and think about how my tired body caused me to want to rest, I think about Baby Jesus and that He is the reason for Christmas.  My spirit is alive and awake today, just as Mary was in her tiredness so many years ago, because Baby Jesus was born and He lives in my heart every day.

Prayer:  God, thank You for this time of year that You give us to celebrate the Birth of Your Son, Jesus Christ.  You sent Him to be born to Mary when she was tired and worn as some of us find ourselves today.  But through that birth, that most special birth, You gave Mary and us the One thing that can make us feel alive!  Help us feel alive in Christ today – and every day.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Those needing to feel alive.

The Family Who Adopted Me into their Fold

Romans 9:6-8

But it is not as though the word of God has failed.  For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his descendants, but “Through Isaac shall your descendants be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are reckoned as descendants. 

Thought for the Day: We all belong to God.  

On this quiet morning, two days after Christmas, I sit in a quiet house.  It is cloudy and rainy outside so it seems the others in the house are sleeping in.  I did too.  But now I sit and reflect over the past few days and look forward to days to come.  Christmas Eve services were absolutely wonderful, followed by our Sunday Christmas Service that was sweet and beautiful.  Yesterday came and I woke to a house that needed to be cleaned.  Dressed in my warm ups, I cleaned everything that could be cleaned as I knew family would be arriving today.  Today I look forward to visitors coming to our home to celebrate Christmas.  This year, I have not been able to spend time with my family, as my immediate family is gone and distance kept us from seeing my extended family.  Today, however, I do get to spend time with family – special family members who took me in twenty years ago and welcomed me with opened arms into their family.  They wrapped their arms around me and I became their sister.  I wrapped my arms around them and they became my brothers and sister.  I did not know at that time that in only a few years, they would be my immediate family but I am thankful they were there when the time came.  My sweet husband, my boys, and I are finishing those last things where we will be able to welcome “our family” into our home.

Adopted into their immediate family is what I was.  Adopted into a family that accepted me with full open arms into their circle.  As we adopted our children, we welcomed them completely with every ounce of our hearts and with as much love as can be imagined.  There are many times, admittedly, I begin to feel sorry for myself that I no longer have my sweet Mama and Daddy, my two brothers, and my first love.  But then, I look at where has God led me and how He so perfectly placed me in the midst of those who loved me.  He gave me my first husband’s parents as my parents after my parents died.  He gave me a wonderful husband who loves me deeply and whose family took me into their fold. He gave me two of the most precious sons a mother could ever ask for.  My family is full, not by the one I was born into but by the one that adopted me.  “This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are reckoned as descendants.”  My family is coming today and I am so very thankful for them.

Prayer:  Father God, thank you for knowing us and leading us to the people who become our family.  Help us remember that each of the special people around us are our Family in Christ, and that You put them there for us.  Help us know that we are a part of the whole as You have adopted us.  We love You!  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Those needing to feel loved.

The Brick

Matthew 10:5-8

“Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.  You received without paying, give without pay.”

Thought for the Day: Remember to love.  

This morning brings so many stories on Facebook that bring tears to the eyes and thoughtful contemplation.  This morning, I glanced at Facebook as I normally do and a video popped up.  It was about a man who was driving through a part of town and thought he saw a child from the side.  As he continued driving a brick hit the side of his car.  He got out of the car, very upset, and ran over to the child asking why he would throw a brick at his car.  The child replied, “Because it was the only way I could get a car to stop.”  The child’s brother had fallen out of his wheelchair and had been injured.  He was trying to get help for his brother because he could not lift him and take care of him by himself.  The man helped the little boy get his brother back into his wheelchair and helped bandage his scrapes.  After he left, he decided to leave the dent in the side of his car to remind him that God had to get his attention with a brick because he didn’t hear God’s voice when the little boy came to the side of the road waving for help.

During this time of year, there are many people in need who do not know where to turn.  God sends us small messages to nudge us to help, but many times it takes a “brick” to get our attention.  Today is Christmas Eve and we are very busy people with worship services, wrapping final gifts, and all sorts of other things.  But, thinking about why Jesus came to us as a baby brings us to the true thoughts.  As a song, “Welcome to Our World”, says, “Fragile finger sent to heal us, tender brow prepared for thorn, tiny heart whose blood will save us, unto us is born, unto us is born. So wrap our injured flesh around You, breathe our air and walk our sod.  Rob our sin and make us holy perfect Son of God, perfect Son of God.”  As a sister to that boy in the wheelchair who protected her brothers as much as she could.  As that sister who “gave the look” at anyone who stared at her brothers because they sat in wheelchairs.  As a sister who loved her brothers enough to do anything for them, maybe even throwing a brick to get them help.  God sent Jesus as a tiny baby to live among us to get our attention to be on those in need, to die on the cross for us to save us from our sins, and to show us how to love.  On this Christmas, let’s love as Jesus came to teach us how to love.

Prayer:  God, thank you for the reminders of Your love and for sending Your child to earth to save us.  Thank you for bringing us love in the midst of turmoil, for sending peace in the midst of war, but mostly for teaching us how to love as Your Son, Jesus Christ, taught us so many years ago.  Thank you for Baby Jesus.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Loving those in need

The Ornament

2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

Thought for the Day: Remember with a tear, and a smile  

“Hi Donna!  I think of your mom every Christmas when we decorate our tree.  She gave us this Hallmark ornament.  The light alternates between inside the house and the light on the porch.  It is one of my favorites!  It has the year and says ‘Our First Christmas’”.  My immediate reaction to reading this message from my first cousin was tears forming in my eyes.  As I do every year during the Christmas Holidays, I think a lot about my parents, brothers, and first husband who are not with me.  On my personal Christmas tree, I have ornaments that remind me of each one.  I also have an “Our First Christmas” ornament given to my husband and me by my Mama on our first Christmas, I have Christmas ornaments made by my brothers and me when we were children, I have Christmas ornaments given to my Daddy by many of his church members, and I have ornaments that were special to my first husband and me.  It should come as no surprise to me that tears form as I realize my Mama touched others with her special ornaments given especially to them.  That is a very special thought as I know my Mama touched so many with her special and unusual gifts.

The Christmas Season comes each year bringing tears and smiles to me.  As I unwrap each ornament and decoration, my heart fills with a tiny bit of sadness as I realize how many are no longer with me but it fills even more with gladness as I remember each in special ways.  This is a very difficult time of year for so many as family members are remembered.  There is a belief with many that after the loss of a loved one that the grieving person should “be back to normal” in a “proper” amount of time.  To those who are grieving the loss of loved ones after a year, or two, or twenty, the pain still comes and it is okay.  But, to those who are grieving, remembering loved ones in special precious ways also helps.  Yes, tears come as ornaments are placed on the Christmas tree, memories flood our “eyes” as we think of those so special to us, and tenderness returns for a moment.  But, then, we realize that those memories bring those we love back to us if only for a moment to smile with and celebrate life with.  And, as we celebrate their lives, we celebrate that one day we will be back with them to feel their arms around us as they welcome us home.

Prayer:  Father God, thank you for the memories, those memories that flood our hearts when we remember loved ones.  Help us get through the hard times of the year to remember with tears but also with smiles.  Help those who are watching friends in their grief to know what to do for them.  Be with us, God, and bring us through.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Those grieving during the Christmas Season

A Year

Jeremiah 29:11-14

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

Thought for the Day:  Look at your life to see where God has led you in His plan.

Christmas Break finally came for my children as they returned home from school yesterday with excitement that Christmas is almost here.  As my children have ended their first full year in Georgia, I reflect on thoughts of them.  My oldest child, shy as I, has found that this place has offered and fulfilled many life experiences for him.  He began school less than a week after we moved and it began on a very rocky road as he did not know anyone.  But it didn’t take long before he became involved in the church middle school group, The Middle, where the other youth and adults took him in.  That led to groups at school where church friends were near. He enjoyed band and playing trumpet where he still had those church friends around.  Boy Scouts has been another experience for him where he has become even closer to some of the church friends from The Middle.  Our youngest, very outgoing child, had some difficulty in beginning a new school as he had challenges in learning.  After time, things began falling into place.  Once again, the church friends have been very involved in his success.  That sweet boy began first grade, a little behind, and because of the work of his teacher who is a church member, and another sweet teacher, he is now on grade level and doing extremely well.  At church, where at first he would not enter the Sunday School experience without tears, he is now walking in knowing he is going to enjoy his day.  At home, he has two sweet friends who knock on the door for him to come out and play.  My heart is warmed every time I hear that knock on the door. Cub Scouts has been an experience for him as it has been for his big brother as once again, church members have helped lead him to feel success in Scouting.  My children are ending the year feeling that God has led them to this place.

As I began writing this morning, I sat for a long time trying to think of something to write.  My first thoughts went to myself and pondering where I am in this moment.  I struggled in that thought.  Then I thought of my children and the thoughts opened up as I felt how wonderful things have been for them.  As I think of the scripture, “For I know the plans I have for you”, I sometimes get down.  I have yelled at God a few times as I feel that I am not seeing His open door for me.  But then I think about my family and realize how obvious it is that God has brought our family to a new place.  Observing my husband and his work leading a congregation in song through choir anthems and hymn singing makes it extraordinarily clear that it is a part of God’s plan for him.  Looking at my children and the way they have had so many happy events happen since our move makes it extraordinarily clear that it is a part of God’s plan for them.  Observing myself as I write, take pictures, lead children’s choir, and sing, I do see where God’s hand has led me.  I am falling in love with the people here and I feel we are in a special place.  “For I know the plans I have for you” clears my mind to see why God has led us to this place.  God is here in every minute and every special moment of our lives.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank you for showing us Your plan when we move to a new place.  There are so many times, we do not open our eyes to see You and we are sorry.  Help us to open our eyes to see You and to know You are with us.  Help us see clearly the path you place in front of us and help us have the courage to follow Your path.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Looking back to see God’s plan

The Conversation

Isaiah 43:18-21

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old, Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.  The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.

Thought for the Day:  As we face new days and thoughts, remember the times God has made a way.

Sharing a conversation with a friend who I haven’t spoken to in many months was refreshing to me.  There are still days when I feel sorry for myself as I still do not have a teaching position and although I am fulfilling a lot of dreams and visions of my heart, I sometimes feel I am not complete.  As I spoke to her about my husband’s ministry in our church and how our children are doing in their school, scout, and church activities my heart seemed to warm.  She stated that it seems that God has definitely led us to this place.  I agreed as it seems that everyone in our home has their place and is happy.  Looking back at that discussion as well as talks I have had with others through the last months has reminded me, once again, of God’s great plan for our lives and that He places us where He wills.  I am still yearning for a  position teaching in a local school, but in the meanwhile, I will continue being in His presence and writing about being in the presence of God.

“God will make a way where there seems to be no way, He works in ways we cannot see He will make a way for me.  He will be my guide, hold me closely to His side.  With love and strength for each new day, He will make a way.  He will make a way.”  In our lives today, “God has made a way where there seemed to be no way, He has worked in ways we could not see.  He has made a way for me.  He has been my guide, has held me closely to His side.  With love and strength for each new day, He has made a way.  He has made a way.”  I am still watching for God to guide me to my next big chapter, but in the meanwhile, I am thanking God for walking beside me.

Prayer:  Father God, thank you for conversations where we can talk about our faith and where You have led us.  Thank you for the friends we talk to who listen, give words of wisdom, and then pray for us.  We praise You today.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Seeing where God has made a way

Face of Jesus

John 13:13-17

“You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.  Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.  If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

Thought for the Day:  How can we be the Face of Jesus to others.

After reading the Upper Room Devotional for today, I had thoughts of people who have become Jesus to others.  There are so many in our church who seem to volunteer all the time.  There are those who work on different teams to cook for the staff and for Wednesday evening dinners.  There are those who sit at the Welcome Center to give a smile to those who enter the building, giving them the assurance that someone cares for them.  There are others who work at the Church Food Pantry each week who organize food donations and then work with families in need to receive those donations each Saturday.  One stands out in my mind this morning.  She comes around to each table on Wednesday evenings taking dirty dishes and then cleans the table.  She always offers conversation and loves sharing herself with those seated around the tables.  On Tuesday evenings, during our Chancel Choir rehearsal, she seems to be a busy bee as she works to organize our music library.  She is not in the choir, but her husband is and she always comes with him each week.  Since the music library is in file cabinets in our choir room, we see her diligence as she never stops working to organize our music.  After rehearsal, she almost always gives me an encouraging word about how well my little boy behaved as he sat and played quietly during our practice.  She gives us a little glimpse of Jesus each week in her wonderful spirit as she volunteers and in the words of compassion that she speaks.

As I think back over my life and the list of people who have shown Jesus to me and to others, I realize how long the list is.  My mind races as I think of the overwhelming number of people who have been Jesus to me.  They have been the face of Jesus and they have helped form who I am in my faith.  In this moment, my mind seems to see a collage as different ones come to my mind.  It is absolutely amazing!  Today, I still meet and grow in my faith through new friends I meet.  I will never outgrow my need to see Jesus in the faces of those around me.  But, today, I also look at myself and wonder where I can improve to be more of the face of Jesus to others.

Prayer:  Thank you, Father, for the amazing people you place in our lives to be the face of Jesus to us.  So many have helped form our Christian faith.  From the time we are babies to the time we grow old so many show Your love to us.  Today, help us the be face of Jesus to others.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Being the Face of Jesus

One Voice Among Many

004messiah2Luke 2:11-14

For to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and Saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased.” 

Thought for the Day:  Hear clearly the love of God in Your heart

The conductor woke early to listen and rehearse the music one more time prior to leaving to go to the church.  The orchestra instrumentalists arrived, took their seats, placed their music on the stands, and tuned together for the perfect sound.  The choir members arrived, took their seats, put their music in place, and warmed up their voices.  The conductor placed his music, made sure the choir and orchestra were in place, and began rehearsing the pieces.  The pastors came, took their seats, adjusted their microphones, and looked over their words one more time.  The tech people came, placed microphones, set the lighting program, and ran their sound checks.  The people came, found their seats, and waited in great anticipation.

The time came and the music for the Cantata of Handel’s Messiah began.  Those rehearsed voices and instruments brought the words to life in a brilliant way.  As I listened to the instruments, I was amazed how each had very different sounds and played different notes from one another, but the sounds came together to create the sound Handel composed so many years ago.  As we began singing and I sang the alto part of each piece, I sang each note and word as we had rehearsed.  But on this day, the day we presented Handel’s Messiah, I realized that my alto part was only a small portion of the total work and that the beauty came fully only when all the instruments and voices came together as one.  As I awake the morning after our Christmas Cantata where we presented the Christmas portions of Handel’s Messiah, I ask myself the question, “Was the message of Jesus Birth and how He came to Earth as was prophesized long before clear?”  “Did the love of God come to the hearts of each person present?”  I ask the question, “Did God come into my heart?”  My answer is “Yes, God did come into my heart.”  The hustle and bustle of the Season was not thought of during that time so His Word was able to come through clearly and in a magnificent way.

Prayer:  God, thank you for your awesome love for us.  You sent Your precious Son to come live on earth as a human, and let us feel His love for us so many years ago.  Thank you for giving people the talents to write about You in such magnificent ways that we lose ourselves in You for a few minutes and know You are with us in that moment.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Handel’s Messiah

Looking in the Toe of the Stocking

Titus 3:4-7

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life. 

Thought for the Day:  Let God bring you joy in Christmas.

My memory flowed back about fifty years as I thought about how Christmas morning was in our house so many years ago.  When my brothers and I were young, before they were confined to wheelchairs, were like most children today. We awaited the morning, the Christmas Morning, to run to the living room to see what Santa had left under the Christmas Tree.  My parents were not rich, and we didn’t have a lot, but each year they somehow gave us the one or two things our hearts desired.  I never understood how they did it, because none of us ever really asked for anything from Santa.  My parents just knew.  After we opened the gifts, we opened our stockings and went through the little goodies.  We all found fruit, little toys, and my daddy always found his “Heath” bar that Santa always remembered to put in his stocking.  At the end of our stocking time, I remember my oldest brother, Ricky, turning his stocking upside down in the air to see if there was anything left in the toe that he had missed.  We laughed every year as that became a part of our Christmas routine.

Today, I remember these days fondly and cherish the many memories in my heart.  Those memories are all I have left of my family as my parents and brothers are gone now.  My Christmas morning now is giving me memories of my husband and my children as we awake on Christmas morning.  Now, we set up the video camera to record the memories of our boys’ faces as they walk into the Great Room and run to the Christmas Tree.  We sit on the couch with the Advent candles in front of us and read about the Birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  We open our gifts, and we look in our stockings.  I, as my brother did so many years ago, turn my stocking upside down to see if there is anything left in the toe.  Today, my family makes new memories of Christmas.  But, there is something familiar on these most recent Christmases that feel the same as those so many years ago, Jesus is in the Center and Jesus brings the joy and love to each of our hearts.

Prayer:  O God, thank you for Christmas.  Thank you for the memories we have of Christmases past as we think about our families.  Thank you for the new memories of Christmases present as we make new memories about our families.  Thank you mostly, for sending Your son, Jesus Christ, into the world to show us love and joy.  Help each of us feel the joy of Christ in Christmas this year.    Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Christmas Memories