Counted

Time to work my way out of all that has silenced me the past few weeks. Only one way I know of: list the blessings. When I am lost in all that is wrong, first I hear my mother’s voice: ‘Count your blessings, not your woes.’

Then I feel the Holy Spirit move my soul – for many are the blessings. Sometimes I just forget. I’m in a journey of change right now. Caught in a cycle of trying to learn to manage and live with pain – while also not letting it become what life is all about.

I despair at times – wondering how I live that life that was just a couple months ago. Then I’ll have a decent day where little joys from little boys make me smile. Where the gentleness and steadfastness of my husband make me breathe. But most of all where God reminds me: “Grace and peace are mine in abundance through my knowledge of God and Jesus my Lord.” (a personal paraphrase of 2Peter 1:2 NIV)

Grace…peace. Not just a little, an abundance. And I realize it is true. For without those how would I have navigated life, not just the last couple months? Grace – His favor, love, mercy, forgiveness, and more that have made an eternity of no pain my true reality. Peace – the inner assuredness in the midst of chaos or sorrow or fear or worry…or pain.

Don’t miss the next part of the verse: knowledge of God and Jesus.

That is where grace and peace flow from. How can we experience what comes from God and our Savior if we do not intimately know Him? Ahh, a blessing to count. Jesus has taught me through the power of His Spirit in me for thirty-nine years. Through the Bible, through prayer, through fellowship with those who follow Him.

So, in times that seem like a dark valley, we are not alone. The Savior’s comfort and presence help us through whatever circumstance we are in.

And then joy breaks through — a little guy turned four, his mother took him to the beach to see the sunrise, and he exclaimed: “God must have painted the sky for my birthday!” And this grammy’s heart soared to the heavens and blessings were counted and woes forgotten.

Changing

I’m looking out over trees of yellow, red, orange – the valley below is showing its array of colors as well. Winter is coming early to the mountains this year. The first freeze is only days away. A young woman at the farmers market was selling gorgeous boquets of dahlias and zinnias and said next week her fields will be gone til next year.

Changing colors, changing temperatures, changing seasons. Though I love autumn and all its brilliance, I can’t say the same about change. I’m a Florida girl and perpetual green suits me – no reminder that things grow in beauty and then fade and are no more.

We all know this. We try desperately to outrun it – this change that each passing year brings. Most with no assurance that this is not all there is. Truth: “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8 NLT)

As Christians, this should lead us to look at those around us with sorrow and determination to make sure they know that there is a forever. Where life goes on and on. Where loved ones are always strong and healthy.

A someday where aches and pains, fears and worries, sorrow and tears – won’t even be vocabulary words. That was the plan in Eden – the plan didn’t get destroyed, it got delayed. But the delay is nearing its fulfillment. That’s a change I do look forward to. “And the One seated on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Then He said, “Write this down, for these words are faithful and true.” (Revelation 21:5 BSB)

So, I rejoice. What holds us back now, the inevitable sorrow that will pass our way in days and years to come, these are temporary. We can rejoice in the knowledge that God is the Renewer of all things.

That is Jesus’ message to us. He has paid the price that makes it possible to not fear earth challenges. The Savior showed us that joy is ours in spite of the delay. I see a squirrel stuffing cheeks full; he feels the change that will make him burrow down deep for months. He fears not, for His Creator has made him for this.

He has made us able as well. Oh, I agree, at times I do not feel able. I want to quit. But faithful is our God and there is strength for today. “For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God. As the Scriptures say, ‘People are like grass; their beauty is like a flower in the field. The grass withers and the flower fades. But the word of the Lord remains forever.’ And that word is the Good News that was preached to you.” (1Peter 1:23-25 NLT)

One Thing

Laying in bed longing for a good night’s sleep I started to ask God “Just this one thing” – when I realized that really I want a lot more than one thing. No, nothing material, not money or things. No, nothing self-fulfilling, not popularity or notoriety.

So, I stopped before I asked and said: really God, I don’t think I know what I want. Yes, restoration of my aging body now beginning to slow me down and give me pain. Yes, for all my family members to know You and walk with You. Yes, to a lot of good things. But then God gently prodded…

One thing. “One thing I ask of the Lord,” (Psalm 27:4a NIV)

There’s one thing we all need. Whether during times where our world is rocked or during times where all seems right. See, what we think we want is instant answers, instant cures, instant fixes.

But instant isn’t the way things work in life. Whether our circumstances are caused by our poor choices or because we live in a broken world, problems may seem to appear instantly – but the solutions…well sometimes they come and sometimes…they don’t. Always Jesus is with us in the process, but we have a role: “this is what I seek:” (Psalm 27:4b NIV)

Seek. Not for answers. God was saying to my heart that night – seek just one thing: Me. I have lots of suggestions of how God can fix all this mess. Seems He isn’t interested in my suggestions, rather He wants to be my God not my genie in a bottle. He wants to show me His ways.

“that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life” (Psalm 27:4c NIV) How do we d-w-e-l-l in His house all our days (not a church sanctuary, not a place)? It’s that desire for His presence, as though we are living under the same roof. When we live day in and day out under the same roof, we know each other well. To dwell is make a place your home – His presence our home.

“to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple. For in the day of trouble He will keep me safe in His dwelling,” (Psalm 27:4d -5a NIV) The beauty of the Lord: He is perfect, there is no weakness in Him, He is truth, and He is love. Seek Him in His temple – He has made us His temple, His Holy Spirit is in us. We need not scour the internet or search endlessy for what we think we need. Because in the day (or month or year) of trouble He will keep us safe – in His dwelling. Ah, dwell with the Lord – and no matter what – we are safe. And some sweet day – no more cries in the night asking Him to fix it, for all will be well, forever!

J.O.Y.

Need a little? Joy that is.

A friend recently told me “You can’t let ‘this’ keep you from living life.” What is your ‘this’? Maybe you don’t have one…yet. But we all do from time to time.

For a long time, I’ve been signing my emails with the tag line “counting it all J.O.Y.”. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,” (James 1:2 ESV) Beyond this obvious reference I found a little nugget of light. Just what we need for the ‘this’ times.

I was always the happy child. The one who always said ‘fine’ when asked how I was feeling when sick. The one quick to smile after an argument or sad news. I found humor in most things. Once I became a Christian, I felt it was a sweet gift from God. The way He made me.

But that me has been missing lately. I had my idea of how things should be when I reached this point in life. And when suddenly they weren’t, the smile faded; humor was no place to be found. I was not fine.

We all know that happy and joy are not the same right? Happy depends on circumstances. We’re all happy when the bills are paid and there’s leftover. We’re all happy when it’s vacation time.

But joy – that’s different. It isn’t circumstantial. It’s not a thing that can be bought or place you can go. Joy is a gift you can receive or you can reject. Because joy is a person and joy is a promise. You see, my original idea was that j-o-y was an acronym for Jesus Only You. That was long before my current ‘this’.

And so, I’m trying to unbury my gift. Because it was my choice to cover it over with…worry, fear, anxiety. And I can’t unbury it on my own. It’s amazing just how helpless we are. We need our God every moment. Jesus only You can fix my ‘this’ – or help me live joy in the midst of ‘this’. Jesus only You can take my shovel and unbury the gift of giving praise in all circumstances. “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (1Thessalonians 5:16-18 NLT)

Here, sweet Lord, take my shovel, resurrect my gift. May Your praise ever be on my lips.

Don’t Lose Touch

You and me – we don’t cherish difficulties. We don’t look forward to seeing what’s on the other side of hard. Fortunately, that’s normal.

After several days of trying to figure out ‘why’, ‘how’, and a lot of ‘I can’ts’, I was weary. Body and soul. I was still in my Bible daily. Still praying. But as I went to bed one night, I realized I wasn’t talking to my Father as I tried to get comfortable and leave all the unknowns alone. That was not normal.

Although I didn’t do a very good job of it, I called out from my heart and told my great big God: ‘Yes, I’m angry. Disillusioned. Sad. I confessed I questioned why He would allow such troubles. He already knew all this, of course. But I didn’t. I was trying to be the strong Christian woman. And in those moments of releasing those pent up accusations, He blissfully let me fall asleep. “Then Jesus said, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 NIV)

I wish I could say I woke up in the morning and all was well – in many ways, it wasn’t. But in one important way it was. I had been reminded that Christ is faithful. Giving us just what we need, when we need it. I think we often expect that since we’re followers of His, all should be sunshine and roses. How could it be? This is a sin sick world. It’s been spinning towards destruction since Adam and Eve chose their own way.

My mother used to say “Into each life, a little rain must fall.” She forgot to tell me that sometimes it’s just sprinkles and sometimes its hurricanes. All this stuff of life, makes us long for a someday. And the only someday that will fix it all, is the first one in the presence of Jesus. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and welcome you into My presence, so that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:3 BSB)

When we lose touch with the One who gave His life for us, it doesn’t mean we’ve lost our salvation. It doesn’t mean we’re bad. It also doesn’t mean He loves us less. It means we’re human, still growing into the plans He has for us. We let go of His hand sometimes, but He holds us in the palm of his hand. “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:28 BSB)

Don’t lose touch. Hold on tight. Through the valleys He goes before us. The Holy Spirit never leaves us. His touch on our souls is forever ours. And our forever is a guarantee.

Every Morning

Morning person or night owl? I’ve always been an early riser – love to greet the day (these days earlier than necessary but that’s an age thing and a whole other subject, not going there).

In that stillness of pre-dawn, I pad around while my hubby blissfully gets in his last snoozes. I glance up often from my reading to see if the sky is beginning to turn lighter. When it does, I go out, breathing in the damp, Florida air and look heavenward to see how the Master Artist is painting the new day. But lately, I haven’t been as enthusiastic.

Around here there’s been stuff that weighs one down. It hangs around and tries to block the view of what is real and important and worth noticing. And, at times, it wins. I find myself looking inward instead of around. Finding what’s wrong instead of enjoying what’s right. Because…I forget. When we forget Who and focus on what, it’s easy to lose sight of what was once joy. “The whole earth is filled with awe at Your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, You call forth songs of joy.(Psalm 65:8 NIV)

This weight of life, we were not meant to bear alone. Even loved ones and friends are not our burden bearers. There is only One. He won’t take it from us, but He will gladly accept it. And just when we think we can’t – then we finally realize truth: we can’t.

It is hard. During loss or grief or pain or fear or whatever our hard thing is, I can testify that when I finally melt down and just simply say I can’t, He makes a way. The burden lightens, sometimes just enough to breathe – and that is enough for then. “Let the morning bring me word of Your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in You. Show me the way I should go, for to You I entrust my life.” (Psalm 143:8 NIV)

There’s a little read book in the Bible, Lamentations. As its name indicates, it’s full of woe and dreariness. And the author, Jeremiah, lived a lot of woe. But in the midst of it all, a ray of sun shines through. And what Jeremiah momentarily forgot, what we forget sometimes hourly, is what our souls crave: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV)

And so, He does it once again (and again and again). And another day closes and the hope of a new morning awaits. As you’re reading this, if you find yourself in that place where ‘I can’t’ is all you know to say, don’t hold back. Shout it out. In the release of that exhausted breath, the Holy Spirit will hold you once more. The Jesus who hung on the cross and bore more burdens than we can even imagine, will gladly take yours.

God’s promises are truth, they all come to pass. Some day we will see His face and not even a vague memory of this journey will linger. Until then we can join the chorus and sing:

Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me —– EVERY morning!

What we need to: hear

I’m a words person. Years ago, Gary Smalley wrote the 5 Love Languages; mine is words. Flowers don’t do it. Gifts are ok. But a card with love words and additional handwritten sentiment, that’s what means the most to me. Our voice isn’t just verbal, it comes through in what we write to others.

Notice that God showers the earth with flowers, gives us gifts of life, children, our very breath. But He made sure to write down all we need to know and filled the pages with a love so deep we can’t even begin to fathom how it could be. He wants us to know His voice even when we don’t audibly hear it. Then there is no mistaking it.

Many will come along saying they are speaking for God. There have been before, and there will be again, those who claim to be God. Only if we hear His voice through the Bible, will we know they are the false ones – out to deceive. John 10 is a beautiful illustration of Jesus as our Shepherd. This verse is key: “But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will flee from him because they do not recognize his voice.” (John 10:5 BSB)

Thirty-nine years into marriage, I recognize my husband’s voice; know my children’s and friends’ voices. There are authors whose writing styles I love. I’ve never heard them speak, but their voice comes through their writing. Our God wants us to know Him well – for He knows us better than we know ourselves.

I don’t know about you but starting each day with a word from the Savior is a comfort I need to get through. “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” (2Corinthians 1:4 NLT)

On board a flight recently, I skipped taking a decongestant that helps my ears during take-off and landing. The pilot did a slow-circle-the-storm kind of landing. My ear began to build pressure. By the time we landed I almost couldn’t hear out of it.

Everything was muffled, like I was in a tunnel. I had to watch my husband speak to make out his words as a cacophony of other voices drifted around us. Our spiritual ears need to be tuned to the Holy Spirit. Lots of other voices will try to persuade us.

What we need to hear are Truth words, being sure our hearts and souls are grounded in the Word of the Lord. Then our words will shine the good news of eternal life and of hope and of love. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20 BSB) Hear Christ’s voice.

What we need to: see

Never a dull moment – I think that about sums up life these days, right? I for one am a bit weary and long for a break, a quiet, a sense it’s all okay.

Recently we flew to see our out-of-state son and his family. The visit was wonderful – some of the mishaps along the way…not so much. The first night I woke up to extreme vertigo – having never experienced this, I was freaking out. Trying to right a spinning world in a hotel room, hundreds of miles from home, and not wanting to ruin the trip – not my idea of a good time.

Vertigo is just plain scary. Nothing looks right or feels right. All you want in the midst of it, is to see clearly. There is a story of a man born blind, all his years spent in the darkness. As Jesus and His disciples approach where he is, they inquire of the Lord why he was born blind, was it sin?

Jesus assures them this is not the case. You can read the full account in John 9. But the most poignant moment is found towards the end of the story. The man did not see who healed him, for he was sent by Jesus to go wash his eyes. Nobody believed he was who he said he was – or they thought perhaps he had never really been blind. A miracle happened and doubt was the response.

But the man knew. When questioned about who did it, he told them ‘the man called Jesus’ – but having never seen Him he didn’t know Him. Things got so out of hand, the priests threw him out of the temple.

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, He said “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is He, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in Him.” Jesus said “You have now seen Him; in fact, He is the one speaking with you.” Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped Him. (John 9:35-38 NIV)

There are several things happening in this passage: finding, telling, seeing, hearing, believing, worshipping. Jesus purposely looked for the man, Jesus told him who He was, the man saw, the man heard, the man believed and he worshiped.

Today, we do not see Jesus in flesh, but we can see His followers. We can see His written Word. We can see with our heart and soul and spirit. The question is: will we worship? It is the only response a truly surrendered heart can have to such a gift as Messiah. The story is an illustration for our lives – to seek others out and to tell His story, by telling our story of God in our lives. A tired world needs to see the Jesus in you.

Recap

The last few weeks I’ve woven a faith journey into a road trip taken earlier this summer. Today, I’m who knows how high above the earth, with someone else at the wheel.

Keeping it short this week by taking a few moments to ponder the ways the Lord leads us. Turns out there a many, many verses throughout the Bible that have to do with journeys, roads, paths, the way, following Him. Below are just a few, I encourage you to find more. (A good resource when you’re looking for a verse about a topic or with a specific word is: http://www.biblehub.com.)

Psalm 119:05 Who are those who fear the LORD? He will show them the path they should choose. (NLT)

Psalm 32:8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will give you counsel and watch over you. (BSB)

Psalm 27:11 Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me on a straight path because of my oppressors. (NIV)

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take. (NLT)

Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. (ESV)

Proverbs 3:17 (speaking of wisdom) Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. (NIV)

John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (NIV)

And so many more. The best journey we can take in life is one spent daily reading the Bible and finding the way to our true home. May all your paths lead to Jesus…

Getting There

The last few days of our back roads trip started with a final descent leaving foothills in the rearview mirror. But not without one last hold-on-to-the-wheel-here-we-go moment.

I thought the twists and turns were behind us, it was okay a few more were left, but our timing made it a bit more treacherous. Shortly after climbing a hill and making a turn, a dense fog set in. I noticed as I made the turn a law enforcement car turned the same way. As I ever so slowly crept through the curves trying to see more than the three feet in front of me, I was glad someone who knew the road and would help if I messed up, was behind me.

Consider this verse: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12 NIV) Solomon, who wrote this verse, chose some great paths, but too often he chose his own way and learned the hard way. He spent a lot of time writing about wisdom – ironically it was the one thing he asked God for and the thing he often neglected.

That foggy road was not near as winding or steep as the others had been. The difference was my vision was limited. In life when we are going along and all is falling into place, it’s easy to see what the next step should be.

But when we hit those places where everything has suddenly changed, and not for the better, we lose sight of the way. We begin to doubt God – we retreat, or we pull up our ‘bootstraps’ – either way, we want out. Oh, we of little faith.

That is the joy and peace of knowing Jesus as Savior. Just like the officer in the car behind me, our Messiah never leaves us. We may feel all alone, wondering why we are on this road. But the truth is, as we most often discover, our constant Companion is faithful, even when we are not.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14 BSB) We must never forget this – the world would lead us down its broad road – and it does appear easier, happier. But the road that will leave all sorrow and pain, heartache and body ailments, fear and death in the rearview mirror, that road is a bit more challenging to navigate.

In the end, it leads to LIFE. Getting there is an earth journey full of triumphs and defeats, sorrows and joy for all mankind, believer or doubter. Which road are you on? Do you know the way? The narrow road to life is a forever of all God intended for His beloved creation; the broad road, that’s a sorrow-filled eternity.

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