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

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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

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

God’s Refreshing Water

Titus 3:4-7

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

Thought for the Day:  God refreshes the land and our hearts with his love and hope. 

Loving our drive through the mountains, we took in the beauty around us and the thoughts of people who lived in areas along the way.  As we neared our vacation location, we began seeing areas that had been burned out in a very large wildfire several months ago.  The feeling of elation as we were driving for fun with our children in one of our favorite places became heart wrenching.  As we drove, our eyes filled with tears as we saw mile after mile of areas that had been blackened and broken by the wildfires.  Nearing one town that had been massively affected by the fires, we wondered what we would witness.  In the midst of the reality that so much was destroyed, we were touched that rebuilding was already taking place to construct businesses, homes, and rental cabins.  We also witnessed the many people who had traveled to the area to enjoy time with family and friends.  Our hearts were warmed as we continued driving as we noticed some green in the midst of the blackened timbers.  There was a lush green in the grasses that grew along the roadside.  There were wild flowers growing in the midst of ash.  There were many areas of beautiful moss growing on fallen trees.  The thing we noticed the most were the many creeks and streams that looked totally unchanged even with the area around them totally charred from the fires.  At one point I said, “It’s as if God is saying, I’m not finished here yet.”  The precious water that continued to flow through the mountains, flowing through the blackened forests and flowing under fallen, burned trees gave hope that God was already there healing the land that had been damaged so badly.

“I’m not finished here yet.”  It is amazing how God comes in after such tragedy of wildfire to the land or heartbreak in our hearts and says, “I’m not finished here yet”.  In those areas of blackened land were the spots of green growth and water flowing to give hope to the land that it would be renewed.  In those areas of blackened areas where damage has taken place in our lives, there are spots of new growth and beautiful water flowing to give hope that God has something wonderful planned for our lives.   God’s refreshing water…renewing our land and renewing our spirit.

Prayer:  God, thank you for refreshing us with the water only You can give.  Lord, we do thank you for the spots of hope You give in the midst of tragedy.  We do also ask for the continued healing to the land and the lives affected by such terrible wildfires.  Be with those in need today.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  God heals our land and our lives.

Chat Time with God

Isaiah 41:13

 For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I will help you.”

Thought for the Day:  God holds our hand

Waking, again, early as I have done almost every morning recently, I had some chat time with God.  I talked not being sure that God was listening.  Of course, I know in my heart that He is always listening but sometimes we just need to let Him know through words what we are feeling.  Today was one of those days.  Sitting in the quiet let me express my words to God that were on my heart.  As I expressed my words to Him, I held my Bible hugged against my chest.  I haven’t done that in a long time, but I truly needed to hear God’s Word to me and I was hopeful that His Words would come when I opened that Book.  After my prayer, my talk, with Him I slowly opened the Bible letting my fingers open to the unknown scripture.  When I looked, I found the page turned to Isaiah 41 and these words: “Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish. You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be as nothing at all.”  My heart sank as I read these words thinking, “This is not what I needed, Lord, is this what You needed me to hear?” But, then I read on where the next verse said, “For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’”  With those words, my heart relaxed.  Peace took the place of anxiety, if only for a moment, and I knew that those were the words God wanted me to hear.

Thinking about these words and praying about what they mean for me today, I heard my cell phone buzz as a Facebook memory appeared.  When I looked at my phone, the memory was about a devotion I wrote one year ago today titled, “Blank Page”, where I was excited to enter that day as I had decided to let God fill in my words for the day.  Now, I have a little smile on my face knowing two things: God has told me that I need not fear because He is holding my right hand and is going to help me, and there is a blank page in front of me that is ready for God to write what is going to take place in my life today.  God has listened to me today and has begun writing on this blank page.

Prayer:  Father God, You are so good and sometimes we do not see Your hand right in front of us.  You want us to follow You and to trust You, but sometimes we let thoughts and worries come in to our thoughts where we don’t see You.  God, let us see You today in everything we do.  We trust You, Lord.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Those needing to feel God.

The Car Sing Along

Romans 12:1-2

I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Thought for the Day: Keep Our Minds Centered on God

On a recent six hour drive where I found myself alone in the car, I began playing music.  I use an app that allows me to place an artist name into the system and it only plays that music.  On that trip, I chose several artists such as Amy Grant, Sandi Patty, Michael W. Smith, and several more.  Then I put in Twila Paris and her songs began.  As I listened, I sang along as I knew almost every song from memories I had from long ago.  The time on that trip passed quickly and I found that this music, music of the faith, kept me alert behind the wheel and I drove safely into my driveway a few minutes before midnight.  As I drove the day before, I placed in some secular artists’ names and I tried to sing along with them, but as I drove I found myself thinking about the words of the songs.  I realized that many of those songs had words that I could not sing along with because of their meanings.  Cherished artists sang words that go outside my Christian beliefs and although I was alone, I could not sing the words.  My comfort came in listening to the songs of faith as I could sing every word knowing the words were of God.

In today’s world of instant music anytime we want it and movies that go way out of the thoughts of the Christian faith, I wonder.  I wonder if all of those song lyrics and movie story-lines keep our thoughts away from God.  As I listened to the secular music as I drove, I finally had to turn them off.  I found I was actually singing words that go against my beliefs.  That felt wrong to me.  As I listened to the Christian music, I found I could sing from my heart sensing God with me along my drive.  I sensed Him there because He was there singing the songs along with me.  I was with God and He was with me – bringing me home to safety.

Prayer:  Father God, You are all powerful and wonderful!  Help us see You as we go through our lives to always cherish and sing only to You.  Help us keep our hearts and minds focused on You as we realized so many things we experience are outside of Your desire for us.  Help us be safe in You.  Amen

Prayer Focus:  Keeping our hearts close to God

Help Me Feel the Shadow of Thy Wings

Psalms 17:7-8

Wondrously show thy steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at thy right hand.  Keep me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of thy wings. 

Thought for the Day: Pray for God’s mighty wings to protect us

Over the past few days, there has been a special “live” video that has appeared on Facebook and other media of the hatching of two baby eaglets.  When I see the link, I click on it to see the video of what is happening in the eagle nest at that moment.  Most of the time, all I see is the eagle mama or daddy sitting in the nest with no sign of the egg or baby.  Only once have I viewed the video to see the movement of an eaglet as it received nourishment from its parent.  Admittedly, I have not viewed the live feed video for long and I am sure I just missed the images of the babies.  However, as I have watched I have realized how protected they are as the parent eagles have covered them with their very strong wings.  To me, I feel it exciting to see a glimpse of the babies, but I feel more excited to see how protective the parent eagles are of the babies.

One of the scriptures mentioned in a devotion I read was from Psalm 17, “Wondrously show thy steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at thy right hand.  Keep me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of thy wings.” As I read those words in the early morning hour, my mind immediately went to that eagle’s nest and the vision of the parent eagles taking care of their babies.  Covering them with their wings, they protected their babies from view of enemies and from the view of the cameras.  As God’s children, we are much like those eaglets.   Our protection comes from God and when we heed His voice, His protection “of His wings” drapes over us to protect us from harm.  Today I pray, “Keep me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of thy wings.”  I want to be protected by His strong wings.

Prayer:  God, You are our Father and our protector.  Today we pray for Your protection as we go through our day.  Be with us as we take each step and help us remember that You are near.  Please protect us from our enemies or from things that can harm us.  Cover us with Your wings today.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Those who need to feel God’s Protection

Good Day, Bad Day, Great Day

Matthew 4:10-11

Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”  Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.

Thought for the DayAsk God to surround you with the love only He can give.

What a day!  A day waking up to a full schedule but one that everything on the schedule was special.  Going to Church on Sunday is always a highlight so that part of our regular schedule was fine.  The next few hours of the day’s schedule seemed to be surrounded by something other than God’s love for us.  My oldest son was to go to a Student Christmas Party at church but before he was to leave he lost something special to him in a street drain.  He became so upset and would not get dressed for the party.  My youngest son was to go to the home of the sweetest lady around while we went to a function we had planned, but before he went he had a friend over and “totally” destroyed his room.  My husband and I were to go to a party with a special group of friends and we were to sing in a Christmas Quartet, but he had difficulty finding the clothing he had planned on wearing and he was having difficulty with his voice.  I also had difficulty as my throat began feeling itchy and a little raw.  As we finally made it into the car, my husband said, “Satan is really trying to mess with us today.”  At that moment, I began praying asking God to surround us with his love and to keep satan away from us.  I told satan, “Get away from us. You are not wanted here.”  We dropped our oldest son off at the home of a friend where they could go to the party together.  This friend is funny and we knew he would help cheer him up.  We dropped our youngest son off at the home of the sweet lady, and she immediately met him at her door in her wheelchair and began talking with him in the sweetest way.  My husband and I arrived at our party.  At first, we had difficulty pulling it together where we could sing in the quartet.  All of us had difficulty.  We prayed and went into the room where we sat and ate a wonderful meal prepared for the full room of friends.  Right before we were to sing, we found our way to another empty room and had a prayer.  Coming back into the room to sing, all of us felt more at ease and ended up having a great time singing the wonderful songs of the season.  We enjoyed time afterwards sharing special time with several friends, we picked up our youngest at that sweet lady’s home where he had thoroughly enjoyed himself, and we picked up our oldest from his party where he had fun.  When we returned home, the ultimate happened.  My oldest son and his daddy went out to look for the thing he had lost and it was found.  We felt surrounded by God’s love.

There are those days! There are those days when we feel everything is going wrong!  There are those days when we feel satan trying to interfere in the things God has led us to do.  On the day when everything was to be done for God’s glory was when he tried to enter.  But we prayed and God heard us.  Because of that love of God, satan had to go away because he knew he couldn’t interfere anymore.  Satan hopes that we will not recognize that those bad things are coming from him, and that we will continue down the road we are on.  When he realizes that we bring God into the situation he has no other choice than to leave. Today, I am praying that God’s love surrounds us in such a strong way that Satan cannot find a way in.  Today, I love my God and I am thankful that He always walks beside me.

Prayer:  God, thank you for sending satan away as You surround us with Your love.  We are sorry for the times we get so caught up in the schedules of life that we lose You and let satan find a way in.  Help us today to know Your love in such a strong way that he cannot find a way in.  We love you today and always.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Those struggling

Protection from a Storm

Psalms 107:28-30

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.  Then they were glad because they had quiet, and the brought them to their desired haven.

Thought for the DayPray peace and love for those living in the midst of storms.

 For the first time since becoming a mother, I experienced a time that was different for me.  As I continued preparation for our children’s program at our church, the tornado alarms started going off and we were asked to go to the basement.  While there, we were all on our phones trying to find out more information.  I realized as I walked down that this was the first time that I was in one place and my children were both at their schools away from me.  As a teacher, I was always in the same building with at least one of them under the same roof.  Without being close to them, I found my heart beating quickly and began praying.  There was nothing else I could do.  My anxiety went up when loud alarms went off on all our phones.  I tried to remain calm on the outside, but inside I felt panicked.  All I could do was pray for God’s protection.  And God did protect our family from the storm.

Today the weather forecast calls for calm weather with the sun shining.  As I reflect on this time, I realize that during the storm and our time of panic, that we all turned to prayer to ask God to protect our families.  The storm passed and things returned to normal and we went on with what we were doing.  Yesterday brought me the feeling of panic and then the feeling of relief.  But as I feel that relief, I realize that so many affected by recent wildfires and storms are waking up with continued anxiety about family members who are away from them.  Today, I pray for them that they will feel God in their midst, as He is, and will know He will lead them through.

Prayer:  God, we praise You today and thank you for protection from the storms in life.  We pray today for those who have been affected by the fires and storms and that they will feel Your love.  Be with us today to know what we need to do to help spread Your love to them.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:   Those needing protection

Responding in Love

Psalms 34:18-22

The Lord is near to the broken-hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivers him out of them all.  He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.  Evil shall slay the wicked; and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.  The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.     

Thought for the Day:  Pray for those in need, do what we can to help.

Watching the news about the devastating fires that swept across The Great Smoky Mountains into Gatlinburg and then Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, has caused what feels like true pain in my heart.  I love the area and have enjoyed many times of fun with my family in those places. To see places we have enjoyed burned to the ground has been heart-wrenching.  As I kept listening to the news yesterday, however, my heart and mind went to the people of that area.  As we have visited the area through the years, we have met the people and have seen how so many of them live and work in that area.  They are not rich and they are not well off, they are hard-working people who own stores and motels, serve tourists in restaurants, help children on go cart rides, welcome visitors into theme parks, and give of themselves anyway they can.  Walking in the stores, we see so many who make their living by serving the millions who come through that area each year.  Those homes and businesses that have been shown on television and on the internet are not just buildings.  They belong to these hard-working brothers and sisters in Christ who do not have a place to go back to.  Some of them do not know where to turn because their livelihood rests in the charred ruins of their beloved home or store.

Today, I pray.  As a child of God, I pray and ask others to pray with me.  To that child of God who served us in that steak place that is no more, and to the one who laughed with us as we ordered pancakes, I pray.  To that hotel owner who welcomed us so sweetly as we visited or that resort worker who drove a golf-cart ahead of us to show us our cabin, I pray.  To that sweet friend who helped us find our child when he got lost from us in a theme park, I pray.  To those who welcomed us into their Worship space as we visited on a Sunday morning, I pray.  My heart aches that a special place for our family vacation has been taken away for a while, but my heart aches more for the people who live and work in that area for their lives have been forever changed.  “The Lord is near to the broken-hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”

Prayer:  Father God, we praise You today for your love for us.  Help us share that love with someone else today.  Lord, be with those who have been affected by the fires.  Please bring peace to their hearts and bring love to them in the most magnificent ways.  Help us know what we need to do to help them in some way.  All our love to you.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:   Praying for Those in Need