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

Gotcha Day

Ephesians 1:5-6

He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed us on in the Beloved.

Thought for the Day:  God sent us our son through adoption

Today is “Gotcha Day”!  Today is “Gotcha – Jonathan – Day”!  But, first, I must go back in time.  July 1, 2010 – receiving a call in the evening with the words, “Are you still interested in adopting a child?  We have a little boy who was born ‘yesterday’.”  “Well, yes, we are – can we pray about it a little while and call you back?” You see, we had already promised our then six-year old Nathaniel a time of swimming at a friend’s house.  As we drove, we talked about the possibility and asked God for clarity one way or the other.  We swam and had the best time and then we began our drive home.  As Mark drove the curvy road back home he gasped a loud gasp which scared me.  When I asked him what was wrong he said, “Nothing – He was BORN ON YOUR BIRTHDAY!  I just realized that he was born on your birthday.”  We both began to tear up as we realized that God had given us our clear answer.  Fast forward to July 12…awaking excited and hopeful, we began our preparation to go to the Adoption agency to sign papers and prepare for the adoption of our son.  As we were given old school advice from a previous social worker, we had done nothing about getting items for his arrival. We literally went not knowing the schedule.  When we finished signing the papers, our adoption director said that we would be able to pick our baby up the next day.  Well, Mark would have nothing to do with that so we talked her into letting us get him that evening.   Getting in the car, we made a quick plan.  We needed to drive 60 miles to another town to pick him up, and we had one and a half hours….and we had no car seat.  Making a quick list we drove to a nearby “Babies R Us” and went straight to the desk and said, “We have 15 minutes to get everything we need to bring our adopted baby home tonight.”  The young man said, “Well, let’s go!”  We showed him our list and we began following him around the store.  Fifteen minutes later we left the store with everything we could need to bring our baby home.  And wouldn’t you know it, the most torrential rainstorm we had ever witnessed came as we drove.  As Mark drove through that rainstorm, I called everyone we knew who would want to know about our baby.  The rainstorm didn’t stop us and we made it to the church to meet the “cradle care giver” with our new son.  That moment, that precious moment came and he was placed in our arms.  Our precious Jonathan was with us beginning our adventures of having a complete family.  We drove home, stopping for a few minutes to introduce Jonathan to his great aunt, Patsy.  Okay, we also stopped at our friend’s house where we swam the night we first found out about the possibility of adoption.  Then, oh yes then, we went to pick up our six-year old from the family he had stayed with that day.  The entire family, some friends, and our precious Nathaniel ran out to the car to get their first glimpse of this special one as soon as we drove up. In that moment, our family was complete and we were thankful to God for the blessing of adoption and for the blessing of having two sons.

Today, we have a thirteen year old and a seven year old, and we see God’s face through them each day.  Today is “Gotcha Day”, that special anniversary day of when an adopted child comes to live with his forever family.  Today, that precious baby has become a loving, caring, sweet, huggable, funny, silly, active, and smart child.  He loves life and he absolutely loves everyone he meets.  God gave us that clear message on July 1, 2010 that this was the child we were to adopt and He led us to that baby being placed in our arms only a few days later. We will truly never forget that day and the experience of when our baby came to be with us, his forever family.

Prayer:  God, thank you for the gift of children…and thank you for the gift of adoption.  They say, Lord, that adoption is a choice…..but You were the one who chose our baby for us.  You gave us the two most perfect children and we are ever thankful.  You are awesome!  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Adoption

The Mama Duck and Her Ducklings

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Isaiah 43:1-2

But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!  “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.  And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.  When you walk through the fire you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.”

Thought for the Day:  God leads us through the waters.

Spending time at my favorite place, Lake Junaluska, is refreshing and brings a feeling of joy.  Each year I take my camera to the different gardens and take pictures of God’s beauty set before me.  This year was no different except that the bridge over the dam was closed which made me take the County Road below the dam.  I do not often stop below the dam to see the water flow and to see the water find its way to a beautiful stream.  But this year, I spent some time there for just a few minutes.  I took pictures of the dam which was flowing rapidly because of recent rains and then I walked over to the stream.  As I took pictures, my eyes were directed toward a duck and her ducklings.  I brought my camera to my eye and began watching them through the lens.  This mama duck began leading the ducklings downstream.  At first the ducklings were all in a straight line behind their mother with such cuteness that my heart melted.  Then, the family came to a strong rapid.  The mama scurried in the water to get out of the rapid and I saw something spectacular.  The ducklings all became very active, swimming fast, to stay behind their mother until they were out of the rapid.  They followed her until they found their place on the rocks beside the stream.  I continued watching to see her work her family to the others side of the stream where they sunned and bathed for a few minutes.

I watched God in action that day in the stream below the dam.  I watched Him, through the mama duck, show us that He is always with us to protect us.  He is always with us to lead us through the treacherous waters of the sea.  On that day, I saw the mama duck teaching her children to make their way out of a dangerous rapid.  On that day, I heard God’s voice tell me that He is always with us to help us make our way through the wilderness of life.  Those ducklings showed me through their obvious following of their mother how to follow Christ.  The mother and ducklings all found the safety of the rocks, just as we find safety from turmoil when we follow God where he leads.

Prayer:  Father God, thank you for the beauty you place around us.  The magnificence of your creation seems to glow when we look for you.  Thank you for placing your examples of how to follow you right in front of our eyes.  Help us recognize you and help us to follow you as you lead us through the wilderness of life.  You are awesome, God.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Following 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 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

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

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

Animal Mamas and Their Babies

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 loves it when His children take in His creation

Watching the animals at our park nearby reminds me that God’s creation is absolutely amazing.  As I watch the squirrels scurrying from tree to tree and finding nuts to hold in their tiny paws to eat, I am completely in awe.  These creatures, no matter how young they are, know instinctively what they need to do to take care of themselves.  How do they know that they need to stash nuts to be available during the cold winter months – how do they know that?  And what about the beaver?  How do the beavers in our park know they are to gnaw and claw trees to make beaver dams.  Looking around our park, we see dams built in different areas and we can see the gnawed markings on the trees. Then, how is it that we do not see the beavers – we know they are there, but we hardly ever see them.  Then, there are the four adult geese that are always with the baby geese.  One can actually see the adults nudging the babies to go certain directions and the adults stand firm beside the babies to make sure nothing happens to them. And my favorite animals to see are the blue herons that nested in the tops of trees and now are beginning to teach their babies.    As I watch, I can see the mamas and their babies, and I can hear the squawking as they tell their mama they are hungry.  I can then see her fly off soaring through the air to find food to bring back to her babies.  There are a lot of God lessons to be learned at the park.

Reflecting on these and so many more animals, I am reminded of how God takes care of His children.  In those times of need, we often get down and can’t get up on our own.  Then God comes in, with either someone to help us through a situation or with some instance that leads us in the way we should go.  Sometimes we do not recognize that it is God who helps us until we look back on a part of our lives and we see it very clear.  God is our Father, and He will nudge us in the right direction.

Prayer:  Father God, we thank You and praise Your Holy name today as we realized how wonderfully You take care of us.  Thank you for the animals in our midst that remind us about how You take care of our every need.  Thank you that we and the animals are wonderfully made.  Amen. 

Prayer Focus:  Animals taking care of their young.

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