The Open Door

Acts 14:27

And when they arrived, they gathered the church together and declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.

Thought for the Day:  God opens doors

For two years, I found out yesterday, well a little shy of two years, a precious lady at our church has been praying diligently for me to find a job.  As she came up to me yesterday at church, “How have things worked out for you in finding a teaching position?”  Excitedly I told her that I do have a position for the next school year.  She teared up and said, “I have been praying for you….I always love hearing about prayers answered as it reminds me that prayers work.”  She has been a constant encourager for my family and me through this time since we have been in Georgia, and the love shows on her face every time we are in conversation with her.  As I shared with her about all the different doors that seemed to close for me, even after having great interviews, was discouraging at the time and I wondered why God was closing the doors.  I didn’t get it.  Then, when a long-term substitute position opened at my son’s school, I jumped in and began work.  I loved my work and was encouraged every day by those around me, but having it lead to a full-time position was not clear.  Then the day came, at 9:30 in the evening, when I was offered a position in the school nearest me…and in one of the best elementary schools around.

I shared with our sweet friend that at that moment, I knew why the previous doors had been closed.  God simply did not want me to walk through them.  Two days ago, we drove by another school in our area where I interviewed.   The building is exactly like the building where I got a position.  As I drove by I shared with my child, “Honey, can you see that school is the same type of building as your school?”.  “If I had been offered a position and taken it, I would not be at your school next year.  God closed that door and I am so glad.”

Many prayed for me and could not understand why so many doors were shut for me.  But then the door that was supposed to open did….and God let me walk through.  God knew, but I believe God wanted me to interview in the different schools.  He knew that I needed to receive knowledge through each of those interviews of steps I needed to take.  Through those interviews, I realized that I needed an extra endorsement on my teaching certificate – ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages).  So, I studied and took the ESOL test and passed.  Adding that endorsement helped in my search of a position, but more than that it gave me essential skills to succeed in my new position.  God said yes and opened the door when HE knew it was the right one – because HE led me to that widely opened door.

Prayer:  Father God, thank you for friends who pray for us and encourage us in such special ways.  Through the prayers of those remarkable people, we realize how You listen to us.  Thank you also, God, for the closed doors that keep us from going into places you do not want us to go.  Thank you for making clear the open doors we are to enter.  You are awesome!  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Friends who are encouragers

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We Called…They Came

John 15:12-17

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.  No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.  This I command you, to love one another.”

Thought for the Day:  God loves us enough to send friends who we can hug and who we can lean on.

We called and they came!  Twenty-years ago, we called as we moved me from my home near Memphis to our new home in Dyersburg and they came!  One year ago, when we needed help packing things in our house in Collierville before we moved to Dacula, we called and they came….and stayed for a week.  There are some friends who you know before you call, will drop everything and come whenever you are in need.  They are our friends Jimmy and Becky.  They have been my husband’s friends for many years and mine since I married in to “their family”, well at least their family of friends.  Their son, John, is a precious young man who loves our family in a special way and we love him, and I am so proud that our children have grown into such friends.  As we drove into their driveway yesterday afternoon, such joy filled our hearts.  We had not seen them in so long and had missed the wonderful conversations we always seemed to have.  We picked up where we left off and enjoyed our time together.  God placed these God loving friends in our lives and placed them to “Be God” to everyone in whom they share time.  And they do it well.

This morning I reflect on these friends, and others, and easily see where they have been “Jesus” to us.  They live to love Christ and that love comes through doing for others and loving others.   This morning, I awaken feeling “filled with Jesus” because we spent that time with Him yesterday through these precious friends.  How can I “fill someone with Jesus” as I walk and talk today?

Prayer:  Our Father, thank you for the friends You have placed in our lives to be there in good times and bad.  They are our family, and they are Jesus, to us.  Be with us and teach us better how to serve others where we can be more like You.  Amen. 

 Prayer Focus:  Friends

Out of the Mouths of Children

2 Timothy 3:14

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 

Thought for the Day:  God’s words often come through the mouths of children

My husband’s father lived in a retirement home in his later years. His area of the building had a gathering area beside the elevator on his floor. The elderly men and women spent time in that sitting area sharing stories with each other and watching to see who was going to get off the elevator. We went often to visit but one special day we got off the elevator to see many precious people with Mark’s dad, Reeves, sitting right in the middle. Our son, Nathaniel, who was five at the time went directly to PawPaw and sat beside him. The little ladies immediately began commenting on his beautiful red hair and how cute he was. After a few minutes, Mark asked Nathaniel if he would be willing to say the 23rd Psalm for these sweet friends. Reluctantly, he agreed and stood proudly and said the 23rd Psalm, which brought tears to the eyes of several of the ladies and oohs and aahs from others. PawPaw, in such a proud way, smiled and hugged Nathaniel for what he had done. The next few minutes were precious and all of the elderly ladies wanted to hug Nathaniel and touch his hair. He took it in never letting on how uncomfortable he was. His sweet spirit led the way and gave these friends a wonderful gift to remember. As we left that evening, Mark stated, “Now you know they are going to be talking about you (Nathaniel) for the next two weeks. Son, you gave them something very special.” We could almost hear the conversation, “Do you remember that cute little red-headed boy who said the 23rd Psalm – Reeves, you have a precious grandson.”

On that day, Nathaniel was God’s messenger to these precious people that they were loved. Nathaniel, at age 5, gave them an unexpected gift and one that they would remember for the rest of their lives. The words possibly gave some of these elderly ladies and gentlemen a reminder of God’s words to them: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

Prayer:  God, from the mouths of children, we hear Your words. Thank you for our children who through their innocence give us Your words. Be with those special older friends that they feel your presence today. Amen.

Prayer Focus: THOSE AGING

Joy and Warmth

Romans 15:13

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. 

Thought for the Day:  The Joy of the Lord can be felt through those people and experiences near us.

What brings the joy of the Lord?  What brings a warmth to the heart?  Recently, I realized that a joy was felt in my heart as I talked to a friend in the school where I have a long-term substitute position.  I said, “You know, it is funny…all of this time I have not been working, I have gone to the church early each Wednesday to prepare my children’s choir room rehearsal.   But since I have been working, I have gone in just a few minutes early to get ready for the children to come in the choir room.  I truly believe these rehearsals of last minute entrance have been the best rehearsals.”  She replied, “That’s because you are where you are supposed to be.”  As she said that, I knew she was right.  Although I am in a substitute position and still have no idea what my future holds, I am teaching in a school each day and I feel I am doing the thing that brings me pure joy.  Because of that joy, other areas in my life seem to be more in line.  Now, at church, I hear children say, “Mrs. Locke, I saw you at school the other day”, and at school I hear, “Mrs. Donna!!!”, and feel arms coming around my waist for a hug.  That is where the warmth comes to my heart.

Today, the song, “The Joy of the Lord” comes to my mind as I think about this joy that has come in a simple recognition from a child that they “Know” me and through the warmth that comes from those arms coming around me for a hug.  I wrote recently about what “Faith” is and said, “Faith is believing without seeing”.  Today, I realize that I have been in the midst of God and through these children.  I have seen His face as He has shown His faithfulness to me.

“The Joy of the Lord”, by Twila Paris

Prayer:  Father God!  Today we praise You and worship Your Holy Name.  You are a gracious and loving Father.  Today, thank you for bringing us joy and warmth through the people you place in the walk around us.  Thank you for letting us “see” through faith, the unconditional love You have for us.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Those needing to feel joy and warmth

The Laundromat

The Laundromat

 1 John 4:9-12

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.    

Thought for the Day:  Love our brothers and sisters around the world.

 “We have to order a part for your washing machine.  It will take about a week to come in and we will call you.  You cannot use the machine until then.”  These were not the words we wanted to hear but as soon as I heard them I knew my afternoon was going to be spent at a laundromat.  After looking on the internet to find the closest ones with good reviews, I sorted and bagged all the clothes and towels, put my laundry supplies in a basket, and went by a store to get some change.  All set, I began my drive and found that the two laundromats in the little town I had driven to were covered up with people, so I got back in my car and began driving.  I ended up a long distance from where I had planned but it was good.  When I entered, I found a couple of people washing clothes, and the laundromat was clean and nice.  I began putting my clothes in the washing machines and setting them to start.  My thought was that I would study for a test I have coming up, but found that by the time I finished loading and starting the washing machines, my first load was finishing.  Then the drying began.  My process of folding and hanging the clean clothes began and continued for quite a while.  My blessing came as I shared conversations with a mother and daughter who were washing clothes for their families.  They shared about their families, including many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  And I shared about my boys and my husband, and how they were such blessings to me.  Then, I talked to a man who was in the laundromat with his brother.  They lived together but their dryer had gone out recently.  I giggled as he asked questions to an older lady about what temperature to set the washing machine.  He was a very kind man who seemed a bit overwhelmed over his situation.  I then witnessed another lady as she and her elderly mother came into the laundromat holding a huge bedspread.  I knew she was new to going to a laundromat because she came in and went directly to one of the dryers and placed her bedspread inside.  She laughed out loud when she realized what she had done.  I’m sure she was there because her home washing machine would not hold such a large piece.  My conversations continued throughout the afternoon, and I finished my job and began to leave.  As I made the many trips to my car with the hanging clothes and baskets, I was blessed to have a couple of young men opening the door for me.  I found that my time at the laundromat was delightful and I met some pretty fascinating people.

As I left and remembered all my conversations and the people I met, I realized that I had been in the company of other God’s children.  It was obvious we came from different backgrounds, but we were all there together with the purpose of cleaning clothes for our families.  The conversations were wonderful, but just a sweet was the experience of having families of different ethnicities as one little girl shared with me that my washer had stopped, and one young man opened the door for me several times in a very polite and precious way.  I was in “the family of God” in the laundromat, and I feel very blessed today having shared that special time with them.

Prayer:  Father God, You are almighty and You are our Father.  Help us each day to remember that we are all Your children and no matter our backgrounds, we are all living together in this beautiful world.  Help us learn to better respect and love our brothers and sisters around the world.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Brothers and sisters in Christ.

Playing in the “Snow?”

jonathan-and-brooks-by-the-fire

2 Corinthians 13:5

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith.  Test yourselves.  Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you.

Thought for the Day: Where will we see and be Jesus to someone today.

Watching my youngest son play with his neighborhood friend “in the snow” was a cherished moment to me.  As we awoke, we realized that we did not get the snow that had been forecast.  We woke up slowly and just kept warm in the house.  A text came in, “Can Jonathan come and play in the snow?”  I got my son dressed warmly and sent him out.  Realizing that there was only a tiny bit of snow, I wasn’t sure how they were going to play.  But they did, they pushed the sled across the small amount of snow on our back patio.  The played with the snow that covered the windshields of the cars.  They played on the trampoline at his friend’s house.  They drank hot chocolate and sat by the fire.  As the day progressed, I realized these two little guys had been together most of the day.  It did not matter how little snow they had to play in, they made the best of it and made up ways to play.

Thinking about their special friendship that has grown over the past couple of months, I realize that they might already have that type of friendship where nothing else matters except that they are together.  I heard from some special friends of my fathers this week that there were times he knew he was needed but that he would just come and sit, without saying a word, to show his love for them.  I have a friend, a special friend, who I do not see very often but it is that type of friendship where we can always pick up where we left off.  God places special friends in our lives to be Jesus to us.  God places us in the lives of others to be Jesus to them.  Watching these two little guys “playing in the snow” made my heart warm as I realized they were building that type of friendship – My son saw Jesus yesterday – I believe his friend saw Jesus as well.  Where will we see and where will we be Jesus today!

Prayer:  God, thank you for blessing us with friends.  Help us realize that those friendships are from You.  Help us use those friendships to see Jesus, and to be Jesus to others.  Be with us as we cherish and love the friends around us.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Special Friends

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

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 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

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