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

The Red-Winged Blackbird

 

Matthew 18:6

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Thought for the Day:  God loves us

How can it be that in one hour of walking around our park, I witnessed red-winged blackbirds tormenting other birds.  I haven’t seen it before so I was a little surprised, as I know nothing about that bird species.  As I began exploring the internet, I quickly realized that the reason they seem to attack larger birds is that the birds fly over their nesting areas.  So, much like geese do not like it when other animals get too close as they are nesting, and the blue herons scream out loudly if other animals get too close, the red-winged blackbirds are just protecting their babies.  As a mother, I know I can be almost over-protective of my children.  I hover over them when they are sick and make sure they know about harmful possibilities in the community.  So, am I over protective or am I similar to the red-winged black bird in my want to be a good mother and to help my children succeed in life as I make every attempt to teach them to live a God centered live.

Now, I look to our Parent, God, who loves us and will help us whenever we need Him.  He sends His angels to protect us and He guides our hearts in the way we should go.  All we have to do is read the Bible and we will find the hundreds of stories where God led people to where they needed to go, and opened the doors that needed to be opened.  God showed His love to us.  So, red-winged blackbird, protect your babies where they will know how to live when it is their time to fly free.

Prayer:  God, thank you for leading us where we need to go and for directing our feet.  Thank you for the birds of the air as they show us that they, too, protect their babies.  Help us look at all of nature to see how God shows His love to even the smallest animal – which shows us how much He loves us. 

Prayer Focus:  Parents

Father’s Day

Proverbs 20:7

A righteous man who walks in his integrity – blessed are his sons after him!

Thought for the Day:  God sends fathers

“Daddy, can you do the ‘Tickle Spider?’”, I hear as the time comes for our youngest to go to bed.  “Why sure!” is the reply and the laughter begins.  As time wains, I begin hearing scriptures being said with Mark saying a line and Jonathan repeating.  Then I hear them saying “The Lord’s Prayer” together.  As Mark talks to our oldest, Nathaniel, I hear the serious talk about the day followed by “The Lord’s Prayer” ending their conversation for the night.  As a mother who has never been great at memorizing scripture, I hear the beautiful spoken word of my husband as he speaks words of faith with our two sons in a way that touches me deeply.  What a great father this man of God is to his sons, and what a great devotion the boys feel toward him.  God brought our family together where this man could share Jesus with all of us.

As I think about God and the way He loves us, I realize that my husband loves his boys in a special way.  Our family is special because God is the Head of our family and my husband follows His heart to teach our family about God’s love.   Together, God and Mark are a great team.

Prayer:  God, thank You for loving us enough to send dads, special dads to teach us about Your love.  Be with all dads on this day that they can see and recognize the love from their children.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Father’s Day

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.

DSC_1409 (2)

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.

DSC_9503 (2)

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

The Gift of Music

Isaiah 55:10-12

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”  “For you shall go out in joy, and be led forth in peace, the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

Thought for the Day:  God gives beauty in the music

Sitting in our choir rehearsal last night, I observed something beautiful.  As I listened to several pieces that have been rehearsed over the past few weeks, I heard pure beauty in the words and music. As we were about to do a final sing through of one piece, I grabbed my camera, set it to video, and started recording.  In that time, I realized that my heart and the hearts of everyone in that room was filled with God…so filled with God that the song took on a life of its own and came to ultimate beauty.  When I arrived home, I listened to it once again and was taken in, once again, to the feeling that God was near.

The piece we sang came from Isaiah 55, with these beautiful words: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”  “For you shall go out in joy, and be led forth in peace, the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”  I realized after singing and then listening back to the song that the reason it touched me so much was that I was thinking about walking in our park.  Each line of the song seemed to talk about the beauty I see when I walk and even as we sang, I kept seeing visions of the animals and plants that surround me as I walk.  I thought of the many changes that take place in the park as the seasons change and how everything depends on God to become what it needs to be.  I feel God as I walk, and I felt God as the choir sang so beautifully.

Prayer:  Almighty God, thank you for music and song, and thank you for the beauty in nature you give us each day.  We praise You, God, for all things glorious and for all things given to us each day.  Amen. 

Prayer Focus:  Beauty in Music and Nature

Gift of Sunshine and Coolness

Gift of Sunshine and Coolness

2 Samuel 23:4

He dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth upon a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.

Thought for the Day:  Blessings in the Sunshine

“Rain, Rain, go away, come again another day” we chanted when we were children.  Days of only playing inside brought frustration and impatience with everyone around.  Last evening, after days of rain, even bringing a little leak in our house, the sun began to shine. As we walked with some friends who were visiting, we remarked about the coolness of the night.  Then today, the sun shone beautifully in the sky fulfilling our need for the sunlight, but the temperature remained cool.  What a blessing from God, bringing the beautiful sun and gorgeous cool weather to create the perfect recipe for a playing outside type of day!

When these special blessings come, how do we show our thanks?  God, who brought the well needed rain to nourish our land, also brought the sunlight and coolness to nourish our souls.  Today, I have noticed how our family conversations and activities have gone with less turmoil and frustration, and our family day has felt blessed.  Our family has enjoyed each other and has brought moments of love throughout the day.  Thank you, God, or blessing us with what we need, once again, to see your face clearly.   How do we thank our God?  We praise His Holy Name.

Prayer:  Father God, thank you for loving us enough to bring the needed rain – although we became tired of it – and then bringing the beauty in the sun and the coolness of the air to bless our day.  Help us to be thankful for the blessings you bring our way.  Amen.    

Prayer Focus:  Blessings from God

The Hand Squeeze

(This Devotion is repeated, with a few changes)

A SIMPLE HAND SQUEEZE

1 Corinthians 13

So faith, hope, and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love.

Twenty-two years ago today, my husband remained in the Trauma ICU at the MED.  The accident that happened the night before had injured him so badly that he was unrecognizable and unable to talk.  The doctors finally called us back to see him in the afternoon.  Seeing him with swollen face and lying so still was difficult, and I was not sure how to talk to him.   All I could think of telling him was how much I loved him.  As I held his hand, I felt a familiar hand squeeze.  It was three squeezes from David’s hand to mine.  I immediately squeezed his hand back four times, and cried “I love you, too.”  Throughout our relationship and marriage, we had the hand squeeze message of three squeezes for “I love you”, and four squeezes for “I love you, too”.  That was the best feel I could have ever imagined as I sat beside his hospital bed. Even though there was sense that he would not make it through this, God gave him the strength to give me the message, through a simple hand squeeze, of his love for me.  That simple thing, but not simple at all, gave me the confirmation that our love was strong and that God’s love was also with me.

Throughout our lives, it is important to see God in the little things. With me on that day, the hand squeeze showed God’s love for me and David in a most extraordinary way.  That simple hand squeeze, twenty-two years later, still reminds me of the wonderful message that our love was strong, and that God was going to make everything okay. My husband, Mark, and I began that handshake when we married and have continued through our years together, and I am reminded of his love for me when we communicate in that way.

Prayer:   God, thank you for the little simple things that show your love in such big ways.  Help us to see your love in the little things we encounter every day.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  THOSE WHO EXPERIENCE TRAGEDY

I Didn’t Know…But God Did

Psalms 139:1-6

O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me!  Thou knowest when I sit down and when I rise up; thou discernest my thoughts from afar.  Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.  Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.  Thou dost beset me behind and before, and layest thy hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it.

Thought for the Day:  God loves us and knows us – He holds us close and knows the future for each one of us. 

Goodness Gracious – Early on this Thursday morning, I arose very early not able to sleep.  I have tossed and turned, I have fixed my morning coffee and have had a cup, I have checked Facebook messages, I have opened the bedroom window – and shut it quickly as the temperature outside is in the 20s, and I have read my devotional.  As I pulled out my computer to begin writing, I thought, God what are you wanting me to do right now?  I looked down in the corner of my computer screen and there it was, today’s date.  There it was, my reminder of an anniversary – an anniversary that comes every year and an anniversary of something very hard.  Twenty-two years ago today was my husband David’s car accident.  When he left for a jazz rehearsal, I didn’t know it would be the last time he walked out of our house and the last time I would see him full of life and full of hope for the future.  I didn’t know that 36 hours later my life would stop at the moment he went on in peace to see God.  I didn’t know that I would need to lean on God in a way I had never leaned on Him before.  I didn’t know.

But God did – God knew my future.  God knew and in time, much time, I found that God had walked before me setting the stage for a bright future as I continued teaching, as I dated and married another wonderful man – Mark, as I learned new skills that led me to new possibilities, and as we adopted two remarkable boys.  God knew that after Mark’s and my parents passed away that David’s mom and dad would become our children’s grandparents.  Today, I find myself once again not knowing what my professional future holds.  But, today, I am aware that God has been with me through every heart ache and through every pain.  God has been with me through every surprising joy.  God was with me when I lost the love of my life and He was with me when I found my new love of my life.  I am thankful today for the love God has shown me every day.  As my devotional read a couple of days ago:  Thank you, God.  Today I thank God for the future He is working on for me.

Prayer:  Father God, thank you for loving us and bringing Your plan for our life into the light.  Be with us as we go through the day to recognize the blessings You show to us and the blessings we do not see.  You know our every need, every struggle, every joy, and every moment.  Help us learn to place them all in Your hands knowing You have each of us near to Your heart.  Amen. 

Prayer Focus:  God knows the plans He has for us.   

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.