How are You Still Standing?

Psalm 91:1-2

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, He who abides in shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”  

Thought for the Day:  God is as close as our next breath

Spending time in conversation with my new work partner, who will be sharing a classroom and teaching experiences with for the coming year(s), was so special.  We have learned about each other’s children and we have talked about our past work experiences and what brought us to this place.  As we listened, we learned that we are very much alike in personality and that we are anxiously excited to be working with each other.  Neither of us has ever shared a classroom with another person so we will both be experiencing something new….but we can already tell it is going to be special.  Maybe it became special when we realized she was born the year I graduated from high school.  Toward the end of sharing, as we shared about past experiences, I shared about my family and what brought me personality to the place I am today.  Her reply was, “How are you still standing here in this place?  You’ve been through so much.”  I have heard similar statements many times through the years, but there was something in her voice that was different.

Over the past few days, several have brought up the subject because of a song I sang in church on Sunday about finding God’s blessings in the struggles of life.  This morning, awaking very early on a Saturday morning, I found myself contemplating the question, “How are you still standing here in this place?”  My answer, the only answer I can explain, is that I am here because in every tragedy and in every heart-break, God has placed the people and events and memories and His planned blessings in front of me where I knew the direction I was to go.  I sang the words Sunday, “What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near.”  As we have almost made it out of the last tough period, I thought about those words.  From the day that my husband’s position was eliminated in our previous church to the time I was offered my position to teach this coming school year was 1,011 days.  Laura Story’s song, Blessings, became a theme song for us a few months after our time of change began.  I remember hearing those words, “A thousand sleepless nights” and thinking…”I hope this doesn’t take a thousand days.”  But it has.  But in those thousand days we have fallen in love with our new church family, we have made wonderful new friends, we have found a place to live that is beautiful and I can’t imagine being anywhere else.  God has blessed us in a mighty way and looking back, we can see where His hand has led us in such a mighty way.

“How are you still standing?” I am still standing, I believe, because through tragedy one learns to keep the faith and to know God is there…”Closer than your next breath”… and He will never let you go.  There might be a lot of blessings in the tears and there might be many nights where rest does not come.  But, God is in that next breath and God is placing who and what you need to lead you through the hard times.  “How am I still standing?”  That’s easy…God is why I am still standing.

Prayer:  Almighty Father, thank you for loving us in such a special way and for bringing us through storms.  Thank you for sending the blessings of people, experiences, and heartaches to bring us through with the knowledge that You are right there beside us.  You are our Almighty Father and it is humbling to know that you are always as close as our next breath.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  God’s Blessings

A Special Birthday

John 14:21

He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. 

John 14:21

Thought for the Day:  He knows Christ and Makes Him Known

Fifty-nine years ago, a baby was born to Reeves and Mary Priscilla Locke.  What a blessing that fourth child was and what an amazing man he has become.  Yes, there was the time he got excited about holding a soda bottle, spun it around and let go of it straight into a huge store front window (Men inside went flying!)   Yes, there was a time he began throwing his dad’s church keys up in the air then catching them…only to throw them up one too many times with them coming down into one of the church chandeliers.  But then, there was the time, at one week old, that he began his campmeeting life at Joyner’s Campmeeting.  There was the time he walked into his parents’ kitchen to tell them that he had decided to direct church music for a living….they were not excited about that decision at that time, but boy were they proud when he became one of the best around.  And, there was the time he began his time offering his music love with the folks at Joyner’s Campmeeting as he became song leader.  Personally, there was the time yours truly visited Joyner’s Campmeeting with her parents and talked for the first time with this man…and she realized there might be life again after losing her first husband over a year before.  There was the time a little red-headed baby, and later a little black-haired baby (yes – black-haired), were placed in his arms making him a Daddy.  More than anything else, fifty-nine years ago God placed an amazing baby on this earth who became a wonderful musician, a wonderful pastor, an awesome friend to many, a tremendously perfect husband and father, and a man created to share his love of Christ with everyone he met.  Mark Locke became a God-fearing, God-loving, Ordained Deacon in The United Methodist Church to show Jesus to the World.

So, Happy Birthday, Mark G. Locke! May God bring His loving arms around you.  May God bless all who come into your presence as You show them God’s love.  You were born to “Know Christ and to Make Him Known” and you do that very well.

Prayer:  God, thank you for placing people in our lives who show us how to live in love for you.  Be with all of us to help us become Your face to the world, as others have been to us.  

Prayer Focus:  Born to be a Follower of God

Time Spent with God

John 15:1-5

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-dresser.  Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.  You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you.  Abide in me and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:1-5

Thought for the Day:  Find time to be with God today.

Centering ourselves to be more in touch with God can be difficult. Waking up to my alarm clock going off normally begins my day and lately, the snooze works very well on my alarm.  Getting out of bed to drink coffee because we can’t seem to wake up without it seems to be the routine.  Turning on the television to watch the news can be overwhelming and can cause more stress to our day.  But, no matter how busy our mornings seem to be, we all know that stopping the morning madness and turning to God for even a few minutes can change our entire outlook for the day.  For me personally, putting on my walking clothes, grabbing my camera, driving to our park, and beginning my walk is my moment.  As soon as I enter the lush green trail entrance, my heart calms and I forget about my to do list because I am entering my time with God.  For my husband, pulling out his Bible and devotional guide brings his moment with God.  He studies the devotional and then writes special scriptures on cards to place in a scripture box he has next to his devotional materials.  The most important part for both of us is that we have that moment to center ourselves, if only for a moment, on God.

As I watch people in our church and other friends, I see so many beautiful ways to spend time with God.  Small group times of sharing with special friends, helping in food pantries and soup kitchens, group Bible Studies, worship services, and individual quiet times are ways to find special times with God.  My personality calls for my personal quiet time with God.  Others need more group times with God.  God just needs us to be with Him where He can share Himself with us.

Prayer:  Father God, today we are praising You for the love You have for us.  Help us to see that love more by spending special time with you.  Help us see Your words as we read the Bible or as we see Your precious creation in nature.  Be with us today to see where You are and to help us remember to stop for a moment to spend time with You.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Time with God

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

Walking Around God’s Park

Deuteronomy 8:7-9

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, or fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity in which you lack nothing.  

Thought for the Day:  Nature brings us closer to God.

Thinking about God’s creation and that I get to learn more about His creation when I walk at our park is overwhelming to me.  God has given a beautiful place for the people in our community that has a little bit of everything and I love it.  As I begin my walk each day I look at my watch and set a time to finish.   But, as I walk I quickly realize that God has set my goal and it has nothing to do with my time goal.  He has a goal for me to see everything I can in the creation He has put in front of me.

My walk begins through a wooded area and quickly comes to a deck that goes out into a beautiful area of the lake.  From that deck, I can see the blue heron nesting area, geese flying and swimming in the lake, beautiful water being edged by huge, gorgeous trees.

 

From there I walk on taking in the blooms that appear high in the trees and an occasional perfect pose of a bird here and there.

 

I always walk to the water’s edge to look across the lake at the blue herons and I hope for the perfect picture.  Not far from that point, I come to another deck that looks out toward an island with mimosa blooms, more geese, and another view of the herons.

 

As I turn around to walk the path out from the deck, I occasionally am greeted by a family of geese – and I carefully walk past them not to bring attention to myself as I walk past their babies.

 

From there, I walk into a water area where I see a beaver dam, turtles on logs, occasional blue herons, and pure beauty in the water.

 

Going into the next section is my time of want and concern.  That area is where I see that occasional copperhead snake laying on dry limbs and straw warming in the sun.  I always look for them and feel success when I get a picture or when I don’t see any at all.  My heart becomes a little more active when I see that snake.

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Going on I enter the meadow area of the park.  That is where I see birds and my favorite sights, butterflies.  The flowers in the meadow seem to welcome the view of a camera as they smile and wave to those passing.  I have seen many deer there and as I look back to the lake I can see herons seeking food near the waters’ edge.  And, I hear the geese calling to each other right before I see them fly into the lake area.

 

As I walk into the woods from the meadow/lake area, I look in the direction of our church to see the cross atop the tree tops across the lake.

 

As soon as I walk into the wooded area, the temperature immediately drops probably ten degrees and the images totally change.  At this point, I look up into the trees and see the beauty in the leaves as the sun catches them just right.  I listen as I walk and hear the rustling of leaves as a squirrel passes by, I turn quickly as I hear a bird and realize it is right by the path, I search as I can through the trees as I come to the nearest spot to see the blue herons and can rarely get a picture through the limbs.

 

Going on I make the decision whether to go up the steep grade walk to my favorite place where I hear the small waterfalls in the creek and can share my special few minutes with God.  I walk back down the path and continue to the main path.  As my walk continues I get to visit with more animals in the wooded area then I come to a swampy area.  That area is filled with ducks, blue herons, the new little green heron, and yes the occasional snake.  I love this area as the trees seem so green as they seem to grow right out of the water.

I continue around the corner to see turtles burrowing into the warm mulch laying their eggs.  Such a tremendous blessing to see yet another species of animals nesting as they increase their family.  Walking the last 8th mile continues through the woods where a creek runs along the walk and comes into a water area.  In this area, I can see where beavers have created dams and have left their remnants of gnawed limbs beside the water.

As I exit that area there is another deck that looks out over an area normally filled with geese yet containing minnows, dragonflies, lizards, and turtles swimming in the lake where one only sees the head coming up for air.

Walking around the corner, I come to the last deck that at almost any time, I can look down to see logs covered with turtles warming in the sun.  And, if I hit at the right time, I can see families of turtles swimming together as they teach their young.

So, my goal of time is wiped out completely as my ears and eyes seem to follow God’s voice through the sounds at the park.  But, I believe God’s goal is met for me when I come home, open my computer, view my images of the day, and then share them with friends who appreciate them.  God is with me all the time, I know that, but I sure seem to feel closer to God when I find myself closer to nature, God’s nature.

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Prayer:  God, thank you for loving us so much that you created beautiful places for us to see Your creation.  You show up and show out when You bring your animals, plants, and climate all together to created beauty that only You can create.

Prayer Focus:  A Walk in the Park

Seeing and Hearing the Sights and Sounds of God

Job 12:7-10

“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare you.  Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?  In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.”

Thought for the Day:  God wants us to see and hear the sights and sounds of the world.

I have enjoyed taking pictures recently as I have walked around our nearby park, a park filled with beautiful land and awesome wildlife.  A couple of people recently have mentioned to me that I must have an eye to see things to take pictures of.  As much as I would love to think that so, I have a different thought about it.  First, many times it is just the camera – that automatic focusing camera that does a great job.  Then, it is timing – timing of the day that gives the best light.  But most importantly, it is God’s sounds and visions.  As I walk I see glimpses of where God is leading my eye – it is as if it is just placed in front of me.  And, as I walk I hear sounds – it is as if I have passed something God wants me to see and He has to make a sound to draw my attention back to the photo opt that I have passed up.  I would love to think it is my eye, but it isn’t, it is what God places in front of me.

I believe God leads us whenever He places something of beauty in our sight, and occasionally it is whenever He places something in front of us to make us think – that homeless person sitting on the corner, or that donation stand for food collection for a food pantry.  Yes, God places the beautiful things in our thoughts to remind us of how much He loves us, but then He places the needs in front of us to let us show His love to those in need.  Where is God leading our eyes and ears today?  Is it to view the beautiful animals and plants we can see if we visit a park, or is it to see with our loving eyes the needs of those around us?  Can you see it? Can you hear it?  God is right there showing us the way through our eyes and through our ears.

Prayer:  God, thank you for loving us in a precious way to bring our sight on those beautiful things around us.  Thank you even more for focusing our eyes and ears to hear the needs of those we meet.  Amen 

Prayer Focus:  The sights and sounds of God

Answer the Knock on the Door

Revelation 3:20

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” 

Thought for the Day:  He stands at the door and knocks, will we open the door?

The day was dark and rainy so I decided all I could do was to stay in and clean the house.  Throughout the day I cleaned bathrooms, vacuumed carpets, cleaned hardwood floors, and washed and folded many loads of clothes.  Through that time, my two boys kept coming to me asking me question such as “What is your favorite food?” and “What are your favorite colors?” The two kept very quiet and were very secretive.  Over the next couple of hours, I continued working and the boys continued being quiet.  When I finished my cleaning chores for the afternoon, the boys called me into my 13 year-old son’s bedroom.  They had worked and finished a Mindcraft project on their gaming system about me.  They had my face (well sort-of), a rainbow colored decoration, a Filet Mignon steak (that was my favorite food answer), and an online-plague saying “I love you”.  As we sat on the floor together, I felt very special….my boys shared their love with me in a very unique way.  As they shared the Mindcraft images with me, they were excited and a visible way that they had created something wonderful for me and I was excited that they had me in their thoughts.  What a special afternoon!

I wonder, what can I do for my God to show Him how special He is to me?  “What is your favorite food?”, “What is your favorite color?”.  “How can I show You how special You are to me?” As I thought about this question this morning and read in the Bible, the answer is simple.  God wants a personal relationship with us.  God wants us to invite Him into our hearts to share with Him all of our thoughts and dreams.  God wants us to listen to His voice where we will know how to follow the plans and dreams He has for us. God wants to share time with us and to feel our love.  God wants to sit and dine with Him.  God wants us to always, every minute, share our time with Him. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”

Prayer:  O God, You are awesome and wonderful!  We praise You today for being our great Father.  God, we want to have an everlasting and beautiful relationship with You today.  Help us answer the knock on the door and to let You into our hearts in a way we have not before.  Come into our hearts today, Lord, we want to dine with You.  Amen 

Prayer Focus:  Those desiring a stronger relationship with God.

Was, and Is, and Is to Come

Revelation 1:8

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

Thought for the Day:  God has been, is, and will be with us.

Looking forward to having a school holiday, I imagined waking up late and getting caught up on my sleep.  But, for two mornings I have awakened at 3:48 a.m. unable to go back to sleep.  Thinking about “life things” has been that waking alarm and prayer has not seemed to give me the calmness to rest.  A moment of “aloneness” swept in and gave me moments of fear.  “What ifs” came into my thoughts as I began questioning.  Then I decided to go on and get up this morning where I could read The Upper Room where the first words I saw were from Isaiah 40. “He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.  Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”  Reading those words made me remember my experience at the park yesterday where I noticed birds flying without a worry in the world.  God gave them their food as they noticed fish in the water and swooped down to catch their prey.  I noticed a turtle family as the parents were obviously taking care of their baby as they blocked him from going toward danger.  And I noticed the trees just beginning to bud as they prepared for the new leaves that will appear soon.

God loves us, we know that.  God takes care of us, we know that too.  God knew us from the moment we were conceived in our mother’s womb and formed us into the persons He wanted us to be.  Looking back at my life has helped comfort me this morning as I have remembered the obvious times God took care of my family and me.  God gave my handicapped brothers and me parents who would love us beyond imagination as they took care of our needs.  When my husband died, God gave me time to grieve and then brought me someone to love who brought happiness to my life.  When my mother died, I had another Godly woman, my first husband’s mother, who has mothered me in a special way.  Through adoption, God gave me two precious boys who have brought joy and love – I never dreamed I would have children but God had other dreams for me.  When our lives were turned upside down by what seemed to be Satan, God gave us a new place and a new church home where we are loved and cherished in a special way.  Today, I awoke at 3:48 for the second morning in a row, worried about things to come.  Today, however, God has given me His words of comfort and hope – God was with me when I was born, God has been with me through my life, God is with me in this moment, and God will be with me in the moments to come.  Thank you, Almighty God, for your message to me today.

Prayer:  God, thank you for Your words of comfort as we read devotions written by your children.  So many have gone through hard times only to tell about their faith journey and to give us hope for our futures.  Others have shared their lives as we have simply watched how they have lived.  Help us today to feel Your presence and to hear Your message to us:  You have been with us every step of our way, You are with us now, and You will be with us as we go through our future.  We love you, God.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  God is with us.

 

The Turtle and the Log

Proverbs 19:20-21

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom for the future.  Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established. 

Thought for the Day:  Listen to the voice of wisdom.

The turtles that swim and climb logs in the lake nearby always intrigue me.  Seeing parents and babies swimming together catches my eye every time because I see how they resemble each other, except for the difference in size  As I continue to watch, I see that the baby is trying to do everything the adult turtle does.  Speaking to a gentleman at our park recently, he said that he enjoyed watching the turtles on the logs as they congregate close to each other.  As he watched recently, he viewed a turtle trying to climb up on the log.  Every time the turtle would get its feet up on the log, his weight pulled him off.  As the gentleman continued watching, he saw the turtle doing this over and over again.  Then, as he watched, he said that he could almost hear the other turtles saying, “Hey you will never get up there – you have to swim to where the log goes under the water – there you can climb up!”  After some time, the turtle seemed to understand and after more struggle, and “listening”, he finally swam to where the log dipped under the water and he easily swam and then climbed onto the log.

Isn’t that how we are sometimes.  We have to try things on our own, sometimes making something easy very difficult.  When we finally listen to wise voices, we decide to follow their direction and then find out we were making things much too hard.   Is this what we do with our faith in Christ?  I know I tend to make things hard because I struggle to hear the words that He wants me to hear.  Faith can be very simple, we simply need to listen and turn toward Christ’s voice.  Then we will understand his love and accept Him as our Lord and Savior.  Climbing that log should be simple.

Prayer:  Father God, You are our awesome Lord who we love.  Thank you for always begin there for us leading us to where You want us to go.  Be with us as we go through our day and help us hear Your voice of wisdom as we make decisions through the day. Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Listening to Wisdom

God Knows Me

Repeated  Devotional

John 17:23

Jesus said, “I in them and thou I me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and has loved them even as thou has loved me.”

Thought for the Day:  God knows us and loves us

Where do I think of when I want to go somewhere for prayer and time with God?  Recently, I have observed friends saying, “It is nice to be alone with God as I hear the bugs making noises”, “Hearing music brings me closer to God”, and “Sitting and listening to the creek is where I feel nearest to God.” Thinking about that today and hearing of the deaths of friends’ parents made me go back in my memory to my place as a young person.  When I was young, I found my way to the piano when I needed to “get away” from the stress of school or from the worry about my brothers.  In one of our homes, the placement of the piano was not perfect and I did not hear about it until several years later.  The piano was placed on the wall to the left as we went in the front door, but was on the other side of the wall from the head of my parents’ bed.  Yes, the only thing separating the piano from the bed was a thin wall.  My time with God and to be alone with music included playing old recital pieces which were full of runs that could get loud.  My time also included singing songs as I played.  Years after we left that parsonage, my Daddy shared with me that in the late hours when I chose to play my mother laid in bed trying to go to sleep.  She would say, “Gordon, you are going to have to go ask her to stop.”  He said that every time that request came from my mother he would say, “I am not going to stop her because she needs this time.”  My Daddy knew me and he knew my need for time alone in that moment.

Today, my Daddy knows me.  Today, my Father God knows me.  With all the billions of people in the world and the many places and faces here, God can see me and He loves me.  No matter where I choose to spend time with Him, He is listening.  As I thought about this, I remembered a Sandi Patty song from awhile back called, “He Loves Me” where she sings about how, in the midst of everything going on in the world today, that God is still there listening, knowing, and loving each one of us.  Today, your Daddy knows you.  Today, your Father God knows you.  Today, God can see you and He loves you.  Find your place and pray.

Prayer:  Almighty and loving God, thank you for loving us as our earthy Father’s love us.  You see us and know every part of us.  Yet, you still love us in a way that is far beyond any love we have ever felt.  Be with us as we find our special place to be with you today.  We love you.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  God is with us