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

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.

Answer the Knock on the Door

Revelation 3:20

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer Focus:  Those desiring a stronger relationship with God.

Lolli Pop

Joshua 1:9

Have I not commanded you?   Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. 

Thought for the Day:  Have faith in God and He will carry you through.

Waiting for our special visitors, Lolli and Pop, to drive their 400 miles to get to our house was difficult.  Worried about the traffic, as I had checked to see it was bad, kept me praying and checking in on them occasionally.  I listened to my little boy asking many times, “Are they almost here?” To which I would reply, “Honey, they are in bad traffic but will be here in a little while.”  My husband continued working diligently to prepare our house for visitors remarkably placing memory items in special places.   Then it happened, there they were, parked and getting out of their car in our driveway!  “They were here!!!!”  Then the hug, the “LOLLI hug” from a person who has filled my “mama” role since I lost my mother.  My youngest ran to Lolli and Pop giving them the biggest hugs ever.  These two visitors to our home, are the boys’ grandparents!  These two visitors came into our lives in the grandparent role because of their relationship with me. They were my first husband’s parents.  When David and I married, they “adopted” me as a daughter and then after his death and my marrying again, “adopted” my present husband as a son.  I never thought as that relationship happened that in the next few years, my husband and I would both lose our parents. When our children were born, they immediately came in to the grandparent role.  God gave us these two very special people to melt into our lives and into our hearts.  God knew we would need them and He placed them perfectly into our lives and into our hearts.

God is all loving and all knowing, and places those he ordains in our lives because He knows our future and knows we will need them.  Through so much tragedy, our lives could have taken other roads, but God saw the future He planned for us and placed people in our lives to transform our lives to walk into the future.  Everywhere we look in our lives, we can see where He has done that.  We can see where He placed friends, acquaintances, places, and events in front of us – including Lolli and Pop who have been Jesus to our children in so many ways.  God is good!

Prayer:  Thank you God, for the love you bring to us!  You know us and You know the perfect people to put in our lives to carry us through.  Thank you for family and for the ones who become family in unexpected ways.  You are awesome, God.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Those experiencing God’s love.

We Called…They Came

John 15:12-17

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.  No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.  This I command you, to love one another.”

Thought for the Day:  God loves us enough to send friends who we can hug and who we can lean on.

We called and they came!  Twenty-years ago, we called as we moved me from my home near Memphis to our new home in Dyersburg and they came!  One year ago, when we needed help packing things in our house in Collierville before we moved to Dacula, we called and they came….and stayed for a week.  There are some friends who you know before you call, will drop everything and come whenever you are in need.  They are our friends Jimmy and Becky.  They have been my husband’s friends for many years and mine since I married in to “their family”, well at least their family of friends.  Their son, John, is a precious young man who loves our family in a special way and we love him, and I am so proud that our children have grown into such friends.  As we drove into their driveway yesterday afternoon, such joy filled our hearts.  We had not seen them in so long and had missed the wonderful conversations we always seemed to have.  We picked up where we left off and enjoyed our time together.  God placed these God loving friends in our lives and placed them to “Be God” to everyone in whom they share time.  And they do it well.

This morning I reflect on these friends, and others, and easily see where they have been “Jesus” to us.  They live to love Christ and that love comes through doing for others and loving others.   This morning, I awaken feeling “filled with Jesus” because we spent that time with Him yesterday through these precious friends.  How can I “fill someone with Jesus” as I walk and talk today?

Prayer:  Our Father, thank you for the friends You have placed in our lives to be there in good times and bad.  They are our family, and they are Jesus, to us.  Be with us and teach us better how to serve others where we can be more like You.  Amen. 

 Prayer Focus:  Friends

Joy and Warmth

Romans 15:13

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. 

Thought for the Day:  The Joy of the Lord can be felt through those people and experiences near us.

What brings the joy of the Lord?  What brings a warmth to the heart?  Recently, I realized that a joy was felt in my heart as I talked to a friend in the school where I have a long-term substitute position.  I said, “You know, it is funny…all of this time I have not been working, I have gone to the church early each Wednesday to prepare my children’s choir room rehearsal.   But since I have been working, I have gone in just a few minutes early to get ready for the children to come in the choir room.  I truly believe these rehearsals of last minute entrance have been the best rehearsals.”  She replied, “That’s because you are where you are supposed to be.”  As she said that, I knew she was right.  Although I am in a substitute position and still have no idea what my future holds, I am teaching in a school each day and I feel I am doing the thing that brings me pure joy.  Because of that joy, other areas in my life seem to be more in line.  Now, at church, I hear children say, “Mrs. Locke, I saw you at school the other day”, and at school I hear, “Mrs. Donna!!!”, and feel arms coming around my waist for a hug.  That is where the warmth comes to my heart.

Today, the song, “The Joy of the Lord” comes to my mind as I think about this joy that has come in a simple recognition from a child that they “Know” me and through the warmth that comes from those arms coming around me for a hug.  I wrote recently about what “Faith” is and said, “Faith is believing without seeing”.  Today, I realize that I have been in the midst of God and through these children.  I have seen His face as He has shown His faithfulness to me.

“The Joy of the Lord”, by Twila Paris

Prayer:  Father God!  Today we praise You and worship Your Holy Name.  You are a gracious and loving Father.  Today, thank you for bringing us joy and warmth through the people you place in the walk around us.  Thank you for letting us “see” through faith, the unconditional love You have for us.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Those needing to feel joy and warmth

Playing in the “Snow?”

jonathan-and-brooks-by-the-fire

2 Corinthians 13:5

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith.  Test yourselves.  Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you.

Thought for the Day: Where will we see and be Jesus to someone today.

Watching my youngest son play with his neighborhood friend “in the snow” was a cherished moment to me.  As we awoke, we realized that we did not get the snow that had been forecast.  We woke up slowly and just kept warm in the house.  A text came in, “Can Jonathan come and play in the snow?”  I got my son dressed warmly and sent him out.  Realizing that there was only a tiny bit of snow, I wasn’t sure how they were going to play.  But they did, they pushed the sled across the small amount of snow on our back patio.  The played with the snow that covered the windshields of the cars.  They played on the trampoline at his friend’s house.  They drank hot chocolate and sat by the fire.  As the day progressed, I realized these two little guys had been together most of the day.  It did not matter how little snow they had to play in, they made the best of it and made up ways to play.

Thinking about their special friendship that has grown over the past couple of months, I realize that they might already have that type of friendship where nothing else matters except that they are together.  I heard from some special friends of my fathers this week that there were times he knew he was needed but that he would just come and sit, without saying a word, to show his love for them.  I have a friend, a special friend, who I do not see very often but it is that type of friendship where we can always pick up where we left off.  God places special friends in our lives to be Jesus to us.  God places us in the lives of others to be Jesus to them.  Watching these two little guys “playing in the snow” made my heart warm as I realized they were building that type of friendship – My son saw Jesus yesterday – I believe his friend saw Jesus as well.  Where will we see and where will we be Jesus today!

Prayer:  God, thank you for blessing us with friends.  Help us realize that those friendships are from You.  Help us use those friendships to see Jesus, and to be Jesus to others.  Be with us as we cherish and love the friends around us.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Special Friends

My Spirit Feels Alive

Luke 2:19-20

But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.  And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Thought for the Day: Through Jesus Christ, we are alive  

Sitting for a few minutes after several days of Christmas celebrations and then a couple of days of family visiting in our home, has mixed thoughts.  In one way, the festivities and preparations for the Christmas Cantata, Christmas Services, Christmas morning with our children, and Family Christmas planning kept me excited and giddy as we moved through the time.  In another way, the time brought a tiredness as I felt I never sat down and never rested as well or as long as I would have liked.  Last evening, on our one more excursion for our boys to use gift cards they had received and to do a couple of other things, I found I didn’t feel well.  I shared with my husband that I wanted to stay in the car and let them share time in the stores.  As I sat, I worked on a crochet project I had started and relaxed for that time.  When we arrived home, I found that all I wanted to do was to crawl into bed.  Thanks to my loving husband, I was able to do that so I crawled into bed and continued working on my crocheted project until my eyes became heavy.  I did not set an alarm, for the first time in several months, and I allowed my body to get the rest it needed.  Today, I feel better and ready for my day.

As I think about this experience this morning and how a good night sleep helped me feel more energetic, I think about someone else.  I think about Mary and Joseph.  When Mary gave birth to Baby Jesus, they had just traveled many miles with her riding on a donkey.  She must have been so tired and she must have wanted so badly to have a place to lay her head.  Joseph, who walked the distance must have been exhausted.  Not only was he tired from the travel, he also had the extra concern for Mary as he knew she was close to giving birth.  They walked up to that inn door and knocked hoping for a room.  But what they received was a stable.  Then she gave birth to Baby Jesus in that stable having to lay him in a manger because there was no other place to lay him.  Oh, how they must have been so tired.  But then, the angel appeared to some shepherds who came into that stable to kneel beside their baby and to worship Him.  Can you imagine the feeling Mary and Joseph must have had in that moment?  The tired feelings subsided making way for excitement and celebration.  She had just given birth to Baby Jesus, the One who was born to save the world.  Her body was still tired, but her Spirit was alive and awake, and only wanted to celebrate.  As I look at myself and think about how my tired body caused me to want to rest, I think about Baby Jesus and that He is the reason for Christmas.  My spirit is alive and awake today, just as Mary was in her tiredness so many years ago, because Baby Jesus was born and He lives in my heart every day.

Prayer:  God, thank You for this time of year that You give us to celebrate the Birth of Your Son, Jesus Christ.  You sent Him to be born to Mary when she was tired and worn as some of us find ourselves today.  But through that birth, that most special birth, You gave Mary and us the One thing that can make us feel alive!  Help us feel alive in Christ today – and every day.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Those needing to feel alive.

The Family Who Adopted Me into their Fold

Romans 9:6-8

But it is not as though the word of God has failed.  For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his descendants, but “Through Isaac shall your descendants be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are reckoned as descendants. 

Thought for the Day: We all belong to God.  

On this quiet morning, two days after Christmas, I sit in a quiet house.  It is cloudy and rainy outside so it seems the others in the house are sleeping in.  I did too.  But now I sit and reflect over the past few days and look forward to days to come.  Christmas Eve services were absolutely wonderful, followed by our Sunday Christmas Service that was sweet and beautiful.  Yesterday came and I woke to a house that needed to be cleaned.  Dressed in my warm ups, I cleaned everything that could be cleaned as I knew family would be arriving today.  Today I look forward to visitors coming to our home to celebrate Christmas.  This year, I have not been able to spend time with my family, as my immediate family is gone and distance kept us from seeing my extended family.  Today, however, I do get to spend time with family – special family members who took me in twenty years ago and welcomed me with opened arms into their family.  They wrapped their arms around me and I became their sister.  I wrapped my arms around them and they became my brothers and sister.  I did not know at that time that in only a few years, they would be my immediate family but I am thankful they were there when the time came.  My sweet husband, my boys, and I are finishing those last things where we will be able to welcome “our family” into our home.

Adopted into their immediate family is what I was.  Adopted into a family that accepted me with full open arms into their circle.  As we adopted our children, we welcomed them completely with every ounce of our hearts and with as much love as can be imagined.  There are many times, admittedly, I begin to feel sorry for myself that I no longer have my sweet Mama and Daddy, my two brothers, and my first love.  But then, I look at where has God led me and how He so perfectly placed me in the midst of those who loved me.  He gave me my first husband’s parents as my parents after my parents died.  He gave me a wonderful husband who loves me deeply and whose family took me into their fold. He gave me two of the most precious sons a mother could ever ask for.  My family is full, not by the one I was born into but by the one that adopted me.  “This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are reckoned as descendants.”  My family is coming today and I am so very thankful for them.

Prayer:  Father God, thank you for knowing us and leading us to the people who become our family.  Help us remember that each of the special people around us are our Family in Christ, and that You put them there for us.  Help us know that we are a part of the whole as You have adopted us.  We love You!  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Those needing to feel loved.

The Ornament

2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

Thought for the Day: Remember with a tear, and a smile  

“Hi Donna!  I think of your mom every Christmas when we decorate our tree.  She gave us this Hallmark ornament.  The light alternates between inside the house and the light on the porch.  It is one of my favorites!  It has the year and says ‘Our First Christmas’”.  My immediate reaction to reading this message from my first cousin was tears forming in my eyes.  As I do every year during the Christmas Holidays, I think a lot about my parents, brothers, and first husband who are not with me.  On my personal Christmas tree, I have ornaments that remind me of each one.  I also have an “Our First Christmas” ornament given to my husband and me by my Mama on our first Christmas, I have Christmas ornaments made by my brothers and me when we were children, I have Christmas ornaments given to my Daddy by many of his church members, and I have ornaments that were special to my first husband and me.  It should come as no surprise to me that tears form as I realize my Mama touched others with her special ornaments given especially to them.  That is a very special thought as I know my Mama touched so many with her special and unusual gifts.

The Christmas Season comes each year bringing tears and smiles to me.  As I unwrap each ornament and decoration, my heart fills with a tiny bit of sadness as I realize how many are no longer with me but it fills even more with gladness as I remember each in special ways.  This is a very difficult time of year for so many as family members are remembered.  There is a belief with many that after the loss of a loved one that the grieving person should “be back to normal” in a “proper” amount of time.  To those who are grieving the loss of loved ones after a year, or two, or twenty, the pain still comes and it is okay.  But, to those who are grieving, remembering loved ones in special precious ways also helps.  Yes, tears come as ornaments are placed on the Christmas tree, memories flood our “eyes” as we think of those so special to us, and tenderness returns for a moment.  But, then, we realize that those memories bring those we love back to us if only for a moment to smile with and celebrate life with.  And, as we celebrate their lives, we celebrate that one day we will be back with them to feel their arms around us as they welcome us home.

Prayer:  Father God, thank you for the memories, those memories that flood our hearts when we remember loved ones.  Help us get through the hard times of the year to remember with tears but also with smiles.  Help those who are watching friends in their grief to know what to do for them.  Be with us, God, and bring us through.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Those grieving during the Christmas Season