God’s Embrace

Psalms 74:25-2

Whom have I in heaven but thee?  And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides thee.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.     

 

Thought for the Day:  God is Near

“Mama, all I want to do right now is to come and hug you”, came from my youngest as we ate dinner last night.  As he hasn’t felt well for the last couple days, my first thought was, “Oh, no, he might really be sick”.  That hug, however, made him feel better for a few minutes and began an evening of more hugs and snuggles.  Taking in every moment of the evening with my boy, I remembered those times when he was much younger and we had the daily snuggle time.  Did I take that time too lightly?  Maybe.  I knew they were special but didn’t think as I was going through them that the time would end.  So, a hug at the dinner table, then a little seven year old boy climbing in my lap with a favorite blanket was precious.  (And yes, I am taking him to get him checked today – in case you were worried.)

So, how are we when we need to “come and hug”?  As I think about this, my first thought is to love and hug my family – as they are my “go to” for comfort.  But there is someone we can go to, at any time and any place.  God is beside us wherever and whenever we find ourselves.  As times of overwhelming emotions have come recently, and a feeling of overwhelming stress has taken over, I am so glad I can turn to the Father in Heaven who loves me.  All I have to do is reach out, and God is there.  So, “God, all I want to do is come and hug you” is always available just as my lap was available for my youngest son last night.  What better place to be than in the embrace of God.

Prayer:  Almighty Father!  Thank you for always being near as we go through sickness or go through times of great emotions.  You are always there, right beside us, waiting for us to lean in to you for an embrace.  Help us daily to remember how close you are and that you are just waiting for us to “ask for a hug”.  Amen

Prayer Focus:  Embracing God

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It is Well with My Soul

Psalms 62:5-8

For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.  Trust in him at all times, O people, pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.

Thought for the Day:  It is Well with My Soul

There are experiences in life when one knows immediately that the moment will be remembered for a lifetime.  We sat in our pew, taking in the music and speakers during the funeral for a dear friend’s husband.  The service was beautiful with some of the most precious words being spoken about this wonderful man.  Then, the final organ/piano duet began to the song, “It is Well with My Soul”.  The instrumental music was gorgeous, and my heart wanted to sing.  When the last verse began, we began hearing a beautiful soprano voice.  From where we were sitting, toward the front and toward the side, we were able to see the faces of the family members.  As the voice sang, we looked toward the family and realized that our dear friend was the one singing.  She sang:

And Lord haste the day when my faith shall be sight The clouds be rolled back as a scroll The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend Even so, it is well with my soul It is well with my soul. It is well, it is well with my soul It is well, it is well, it is well, It is well, it is well, it is well It is well with my soul. It is well with my soul.

As I watched her, and as I watched her family, I felt that something great was coming.  I pulled out my cellphone, and without using video I began recording.  As the congregation listened, and as I was one who was able to watch, I saw her hand go into the air.  That moment, that special moment, my heart knew that “It was truly well” with her soul.  Her daughter then joined her as the climax of the song came.  Then, an even more special moment came when our friend sang the last note….so high, so pure, so perfect.  My heart, our hearts, leapt with the sound of that voice.  My heart, our hearts, knew that she was going to be okay.  She, in singing those words, gave her family peace that their father, father-in-law, grandfather, and her husband was in the arms of God and that God had his arms around each of them.  “It is Well with my Soul”. What strength she showed in sharing with everyone in the room that “It was Well with Her Soul.”

The song, “It is Well with my Soul” was written by a man who had just experienced great tragedy.  It is amazing that this hymn that we sing often has been sung for so many who have grieved, and has helped bring strength.  Our friend took it to a new level as she sang, giving everyone in attendance a sense that “it is truly and wonderfully well with our souls.”

(History of “It is Well with My Soul”)

Prayer:  Father God, thank you for bringing us peace in unexpected ways.  God, I ask that you wrap your arms around every member of this sweet family, that they will know your love and peace.  Thank you for speaking to all of us through the beautiful words, “It is well with my Soul”.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  It is Well with My Soul

A Special Place of Prayer

Philippians 4:6-7

 Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Thought for the Day:  Pray

My mother shared with me a secret when I was told a story from about 1972.  I have written about it before, but for some reason it holds my heart today.  My mother and my father’s mother traveled to the Holy Land that year, enjoying the time they “walked where Jesus walked”.  During their trip, they made their way to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.  As people visit that very special wall, they stick written prayers on little pieces of paper into the cracks.  My mother made her way to the wall and placed a special prayer into the wall and said a special prayer.  She told no one about her prayer and carried on with life.  Through the next twenty or more years, my mother saved money where she could take my father on a Holy Land trip.  Finally, in 1995, she had enough money and they traveled on her dream trip.  That trip, after years of taking care of my handicapped brothers followed by their deaths, finally happened.  Those years in between were filled with physical and emotional strength of my mother as she took care of my brothers’ needs day end and day out. I look back and I remember, and I realize these many years later, what she truly did for these boys.  They died in 1980 and 1983.  The years after they died took their tole on my mother, as she grieved for them.  In 1995 when my mother took my father to the Holy Land, especially to the Wailing Wall, the story of her note from 23 years earlier came to light.  “God, help them not to suffer” was the written on her first note.  On this trip, my mother simply wrote “Thank you”.

Today, as I drive to work, I pray as I travel a particular area of my drive.  As I top one hill, where there is a beautiful view, I begin praying for my family and friends who are going through challenging times.  Often, after saying my prayers on one day’s drive, I will come back the next day and say, “God, Thank You”, because I have seen those prayers answered.  I would love to go the Holy Land someday and specifically the Wailing Wall.  But, for now, I have to make my own prayer place here where I am.  Mine is that portion of my drive.  For my mother, the importance of the Wailing Wall was her prayer.  For me, the importance of that small portion of my drive is my prayer.  For my mother (at the Wailing wall)…”God help them not to suffer”…”Thank you.” For me (on my drive) …”God help them through this hard time”…”Thank you.” God wants to hear from us and He wants to help us through the events in our lives.  We just need to find our place, or our time, to pray.  “God help!”…”Thank you!”

Prayer:  Our Heavenly Father!  We praise You today for helping us through our challenging times and for hearing our prayers each day.  Whether we pray in a special place of travel, or if we pray from right here at home, You hear us.  Thank You, God, for listening and for hearing then answering our every prayer.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Prayer

The Road that Leads Us Home

Psalms 107:4-8

Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.  Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he led them by a straight way, till they reached a city to dwell in.  Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to the sons of men.  For he satisfies him who is thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things.

 

Thought for the Day:  Where is God leading us home?

December 27, 2017!  Today, I found myself reading a devotional about moving to a new place.  As I read The Upper Room Devotional about a family moving to a new town, my mind went straight back to our situation only a few years ago.  Our situation came in such a way that hurt, and totally came from somewhere we never imagined.  But, then, we realized that God was closer to us and our situation than we had ever felt before.  During our time of grief over a great loss, we found ourselves falling into the arms of God.  We found ourselves loving our time with Him.  My husband began reading daily, for many hours, “Jesus Calling”.  The stories in that book hit home as he read about others who have found peace through Christ.  I heard him say on many occasions, “God gave this to me today!”  I, one day began writing.  “What? Writing? Me?!”  In the depths of our despair, I found myself wanting to share an experience I had as a teen with a teen going through a similar situation.  Next, I found myself saying to God, “I promise I will try to write every day!”  “What? Writing, Me?! – Everyday – What?!” Between my husband’s realizations that God was with us and was taking care of our needs, and my new love of writing, we knew God was with us.  We had ups and downs…many downs, but that knowledge that God was there walking beside us made them a little better to deal with.

Time has passed now, and we now find ourselves in the place where God has led us.  The road has led us “home” in a way.  The road led us through the wilderness of loss and grief.  The road led us through self-change in our relationship with God.  The road led us through searching as we asked God to lead us to the place He wanted us to be.  The road led us through acceptance that God was changing our thoughts and desires from where we thought we would be.  The road led us to something better than we ever imagined – All we had to do was let God take the reins and lead us.

Prayer:  God, thank you for being as close to us as our next breath, even when we don’t feel you.  You are the one who leads us through the wilderness to the place you want us to call “home”.  Help us each day to recognized you are near, and help us let you lead us through.  You are our guide, our friend, and creator.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Finding Home

Joy in Christmas

Luke 2:10-1

And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

 

Thought for the Day:  There is joy in Christmas

The Christmas Season, full of bright lights and many sale signs, seems to come too soon in the year and then seems to go away too fast as well.  As I awoke this morning, I sat reminiscing about Christmases past and how this Christmas will be the first time in many years, where we will stay home on Christmas Day.  I also awoke this morning and began looking at Facebook to see the many pictures of families together.  Some pictures are of friends of mine who posed with their parents and siblings. Some pictures are of homes decorated beautifully for the holidays where loads of family members come to celebrate together.  There are moments when I ponder my life of many losses, and long for my parents and brothers to walk in the door on Christmas morning.  I haven’t seen them in so long.  There are moments when I watch a, yes – Hallmark Movie and long to have an old-fashioned Christmas as portrayed so beautifully.  Sadness does come to me often, as it does to so many, especially at this time of the year.  We can’t help it – it is a part of the life we live.  It comes every year, it comes when we least expect it, and it hurts deep in our hearts. So what do we do about it?

We celebrate what we have!  I have so much and I do not take that lightly.  I have a very loving husband who brings Christmas to my sweet family in beautiful ways.  I have two young sons who love so beautifully and bring excitement into our otherwise quiet home.  But what do we really celebrate?!  We celebrate Jesus!  We celebrate that He came and brought to us life, true life with Him!  I celebrate that I am a part of a Church and the Music Ministry of a Church where we sing, we sing God’s message for the congregation and we praise God.  We sing for those in the congregation who are sitting with huge families and for those who sit alone.  Today, I can celebrate fully because I have my family with my husband and children.  Today, I can celebrate that I have God who loves me and who has brought me through so much.  Today, I can celebrate the we have “family”, other children of God, in our precious church friends who will celebrate with us.

So, do I and do others who have lost so many family members still hurt.  Oh, yes we hurt!  But, do we have the feeling of hope and love in the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ?  Today, I will worship God.  Today, I will take in as much love as I can as I remember Him.  Today, I will remember all those family members who are no longer with me but I will cherish even more the ones who are with me now.  Today, I will remember the “true” meaning of Christmas, “God loves me”.

Prayer:  Dear God, thank you for Christmas and for sending your son to earth as a baby.  This day, we celebrate His birth and the joy that He brings.  Be with those who hurt today, God. For there are so many.  Bring joy to their hearts and help all of us share love as we see them today.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Christmas Eve

The True Meaning of Christmas

John 3:16-17

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

Thought for the Day:  Remember the true meaning of Christmas

Over the past weeks, since Thanksgiving, actually, the busyness of the Christmas Season and end of school semester has kicked into full gear.  Children’s musical, school observations, grading, planning for Christmas parties, Christmas Cantata rehearsals, etc.  My mind has been put to the ultimate test. This weekend has been spent doing the chores around the house that have been put off for weeks and now, I sit and ponder.  I sit and ponder what it is all about.

Our children’s musical, “Christmas Spirit”, was presented one week ago with children remarkably telling us about the True Meaning of Christmas.  Experiencing the cast members learning their parts so perfectly and so quickly (to my amazement) was such an answer to prayer, and the choir learning the music to such beautiful songs touched my heart.  My heart was touched several times during the rehearsals, but one thing touched me more than any other.  It was when I saw with my eye one cast member “getting it”.  As the lines were rehearsed, we noticed that this child smiled at times when the character should have been very serious.  In watching, we realized that the reason for the smile was that she didn’t understand what the lines meant.  How does a young child understand the meaning of the birth of Christ and the meaning of the Crucifixion? As we shared with the child that Christ is the Son of God who was born in a manger and who died by being hung on a cross for us – for her, she began having a look in her eye of understanding.  She had heard the story of Jesus Christ before, but had never understood the true meaning.  During the presentation, she was able to portray her character perfectly and was able to tell the true meaning of Christmas.  So, what is the true meaning of Christmas.  “That God loves me…He sent His Son beloved, to die on Calvary.  And on Christmas morning, a new hope was born – and now I know the secret.  That’s what Christmas means to me.”

The Christmas musical was about a little girl who saw all the hustle and bustle of the season in the gifts given and the craziness that surrounds the time.  In her heart, she knew there must be more…but no one gave her a satisfactory answer.  It took a dream, or was it a dream, for her to get the answer and for her family to see the answer as well.  That was the same little girl who “got it” in rehearsal.  And she told the true meaning of Christmas to those in attendance.

During the coming weeks, as we go through the hustle and bustle, keep in the forefront of your mind the true meaning of Christmas.  The true meaning of Christmas is that God loves you…He sent his Son to die on Calvary…for you.  Hear that…for you, He died on the cross for you.

Prayer:  God, thank you for sending your Son to be born in a manger for us, and for sending Him to die on the cross for us.  This love you showed to each of us should not be overlooked by the hustle and bustle of the season.  Please forgive us when we let busyness and selfishness keep us from seeing You.  Be with us each day to help us hear over and over the true meaning of Christmas.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  The True Meaning of Christmas

What Can We Do?

Psalms 91:1-5

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, who abides in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”  For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence; he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness in a shield and buckler.  You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day.

Thought for the Day:  What can we we?

As our family took a few minutes last evening to prepare our home for the storm winds and rain we should be receiving today, my heart was breaking for those in Florida and Texas.  We cleared the bicycles from our garage by putting them in our dining room so we could get our cars in, we checked the gutters to make sure the water would go away from the house as it rained, and we brought items in from our deck.  Every step of the way I kept thinking, “This is nothing compared to what is taking place a few hundred miles south of us – how are they dealing with what has been and is happening?”  And then I think, “What can we do from here, what can we do to help in some small way to bring them a little peace?”  First, in the United Methodist Church, UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief – UMCOR.org) is a non-profit organization dedicated to alleviating human suffering around the world.  100% of the donations go to projects to help those suffering.  After Hurricane Katrina so many years ago, my dad traveled with a group to Louisiana as a part of UMCOR to help friends in need.  These UMCOR friends are the hands and feet of Christ.  Brothers and sisters around the United States are working as the hands and feet of Christ as they collect items for Hurricane Relief buckets of cleaning supplies to help in clean-up efforts.  Our church has taken part in this ministry, with even the young people helping.  What better way to help these children become Jesus to someone else.

As I wrote about UMCOR and Hurricane Relief buckets, there was one thing that was left out but which is the most important.  Prayer!  Prayer is our most clear and straight line of communication with God.  It seems so small sometimes as we continue to pray, but it is also the most important.  Reading an article in Guideposts recently, I read about a lady who for years added a concern in her church’s prayer listing.  Staff members in the office, every week, wondered about those week by week prayer requests thinking that the prayer was not going to be answered.  After a very long time, the prayer answer came in such a way that the people of the church knew the call for prayer by this lady every week was indeed answered…the week by week prayer request was worth it.  Today, we pray and today we know that God is present with the people in Florida and Texas.  Today, things are fresh and the weather system is still churning in part of Florida and will cross other states today.  Tomorrow, the sun will shine and the truth of destruction will be made clear.  But what about next month and next year – will we continue praying daily for these brothers and sisters.  I hope the answer is yes – and I know that, in time – maybe much time – those prayers will be answered.  Pray.

Prayer:  Father God, we praise you today for the powerful love you show us every day.  You are almighty and you are worthy of our praise.  Today, God, many are hurting.  Some have lost everything and some do not know what to do next.  Be with these brothers and sisters today and let them know that you are near.  God, be with them today.  Help us to know how best to be there for these friends.  Amen.  

Prayer Focus:  Hurricane

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 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

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