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

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

Father’s Day

Proverbs 20:7

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

Thought for the Day:  God sends fathers

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

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

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

Prayer Focus:  Father’s Day

The Gift of Music

Isaiah 55:10-12

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

Thought for the Day:  God gives beauty in the music

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

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

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

Prayer Focus:  Beauty in Music and Nature

Gift of Sunshine and Coolness

Gift of Sunshine and Coolness

2 Samuel 23:4

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

Thought for the Day:  Blessings in the Sunshine

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

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

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

Prayer Focus:  Blessings from God

Mary’s Love

pietaJohn 19

Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Mag’dalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother,”Woman, behold, your son!”  Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. 

Thought for the Day:  All she could do was love.

As parents, we see our children through their times as babies, toddlers, children, and teenagers.  We pray for our children and promise to protect them, to hold them, and to love them through everything.  When our children hurt, we hurt for them and want to take away any hurt and pain.  I know Mary prayed for Jesus and gave him the same assurances as we do as parents today. On Good Friday, Mary couldn’t do anything about the pain and suffering Jesus endured as He went through the trial, persecution, and suffering on the cross.  She could not hold him and keep him from that harm.  All she do on that day was to love him as he hung on the cross and as her heart broke for him, the son she brought into this world in a manger, raised through the toddler years, early childhood years, and teenage years.  She then witnessed him as he called His disciples and showed His ministry to the world.  She loved him – she was his mother.

There is a beautiful song, “Pieta”, from the cantata, “The Power of the Cross” by Mark Hayes.  This piece so clearly shows the agony Mary experienced as Jesus went through his suffering on that day.  The more I have listened to the piece, the more I have visualized Mary as she followed Jesus through the day and then to the cross.  She could do nothing but to follow him holding on to the only promise she could fulfill, to love Him.

Prayer:   Our most gracious Father, how difficult it must have been for you to send your son, Jesus Christ, to earth knowing that he would be sacrificed for our sins in such a terrible and painful way.  But you loved the world so much that You sent him, that whoever believed in Him would have eternal life.  Thank you.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  MOTHERS LOVE

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.

Glimpses of God

2 Corinthians 4:17-18

For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen, for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Thought for the Day:  God is in the unseen 

Walking happily in the park on a Sunday afternoon was wonderful.  There were so many people and so many natural things to see.  I decided to walk the opposite direction from my norm where I might see things differently as I searched for photo opportunities.  The first time I pulled out my camera was as I walked by a creek area.  As I heard the water move, I looked over to see a beaver coming out of the water to come up on the creek’s edge.  I took so many pictures,  hoping one would be perfect.  I had never seen a beaver at the park before and had been looking.  There can’t be a beaver lodge without beavers somewhere.  As I continued walking, I heard the sweetest conversation between a daddy and a little girl.  “Yes, there are birds here.  Can you look for them?”, said the daddy.  “I see one!” replied the little girl.  “Take a picture!” continued the daddy. The little girl cupped her hands like she was taking a picture.  “I think it was a parrot!” screamed the little girl.  “Oh, it was a parrot?!” continued the daddy.  The voice of the little girl was so sweet and I actually put my camera on video to record a bit of the conversation without the visual.  I continued walking and saw a little squirrel.  As I watched, it came very near to me and I shot several pictures of it posing on the side of a tree staring straight at me.  I couldn’t wait to get home to see those pictures on my computer.  Then, as I came near the end and walked out on a pier, I saw a couple and they were both holding cameras with very long lenses.  I asked them what they were seeing and they told me there were Blue Herons nesting in the trees across the lake. She was very gracious and pointed them out to me.  I took several pictures hoping I could see the birds better when I opened them on my computer.  What an awesome day at the park – the best pictures ever!

But, as life can be sometimes,  I got home and placed the memory card into my computer and went to the file.  “NO PICTURES!”  I still do not know what happened as this had never happened before but none of the pictures I took on that walk were there.  No squirrel, no blue heron, and no beaver.  Gone, all gone!  At first I teared up and got a little angry.  But then I realized that nothing bad had really happened.  Actually, a lot of good happened on my walk.  I still remember the beaver on the side of the creek, the little girl’s voice as she saw the “parrot”, the squirrel’s scurrying around the park, and the herons in the trees.  And, now I have something to look forward to the next time I share time at the park.  God blesses us every day with nice surprises, doesn’t He?  Today, I received some beautiful surprises in the park.  I can’t share them with anyone but they are now in my memory, and I know God gave those images to me as a gift.  God gave those to me as a reminder that He is there in my heart.  I may not be able to see them in front of me on a computer screen but I know in my heart He is there with me.

Prayer:  O, God!  Thank you for letting us see glimpses of You as we go through our days!  Through nature and through our children, we very quickly see You in the beauty around us and in the eyes of our children.  Thank you for loving us so much that You created a beautiful world around us.  You are awesome!  Amen!

Prayer Focus:  Glimpses of God

The Hand Squeeze

(This Devotion is repeated, with a few changes)

A SIMPLE HAND SQUEEZE

1 Corinthians 13

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

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

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

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

Prayer Focus:  THOSE WHO EXPERIENCE TRAGEDY