Out of the Heart – Continued Encouragement

Today I was reading through a study I have been doing for some time in Ephesians, when I read something that I know I have read plenty of times, but it echoed over and over in my mind.  The text referred back to verse in Luke 6:45 “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”  Or basically the mouth speaks what the heart is full of…..I sat back against the couch and chewed on this thought.  A verse came to mind in Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?”    Our hearts are the epicenter of who we are.  We can change our looks, our location, and our language, but at some point the truth of who we are, which lies within our hearts will flow out of our mouths.  The truth will be known.

During this time in the world we live in, when we are quarantined, isolated, uncertain, the truth of who we are will be revealed in what flows out of our mouths.   Sometimes anxiousness will cause us to allow frustrations to escape through our words.  Sometimes we speak without thinking.  But it is then that the truth of what lies deep in our hearts will cause us to stop, ponder our words and realize we have spoken with harshness or anger.  It is then we step forward and apologize, ask forgiveness, and then ask God to forgive us and help us to think before we speak!  But I believe, also, that those that know of God, but don’t have a true relationship with Him, will be revealed by what proceeds from their mouths.  

It has taken me 59 years, but I am finally learning to “not” say what first comes to mind.  I haven’t perfected this skill yet, but I find myself thinking about what I am about to say, and deciding to just say nothing.   You may have already conquered this skill, but I have struggled with it my entire adult life.  I sometimes over share, I sometimes speak what comes to mind, and I sometimes say what truth is about a particular situation whether it is necessary or not.  And I confess I haven’t always asked God if I should say something before it is released from my mouth.  I have prayed and asked God to help me in this area and I realized a few months ago that I was thinking before I allowed something I was thinking to escape my lips.  I wanted to say “Hey, I was about to say something, but God said no and I didn’t!!!” But decided to keep it to myself! I want to walk in a way that honors God.  Whether in the middle of a pandemic or living in what used to be normal life.   I remember hearing a former music pastor tell the choir I was a part of, to ponder in our hearts our questions, as he was giving us instructions.  So I am trying to ponder my thoughts before I release them!  But I digress from the verse that I first shared.

During this time, when we have so much time, ponder what is in your heart.  Think about the words that flow from your mouth.  Do they honor God?  Are they uplifting?  Are they encouraging?  Are they loving?  Are they beneficial?  I want to encourage you to examine your heart. Determine whether He is the Lord of your heart, your thoughts, your life.  I am taking time to do the same.  We are spending time with family and possibly friends 24/7, which could be a stressful time, maybe we need to isolate to a quiet place (even if that means hiding in your closet) and allow Jesus to minister to our hearts and minds, and reveal what is in our hearts.

Love y’all.

 

Day 12 of Encouragement

You didn’t miss anything, I haven’t posted in 3 days. AND I shortened the title.   I’ve been thinking.  Thinking about what else I can say that hasn’t already been said.  As I lay in bed last night, familiar scripture ran through my mind.  Psalm 23.  I thought about the meaning of these words in light of today.  And I was comforted by the sense of peace that these verses bring to a trembling world.  We tremble when we go out.  People in our medical facilities tremble as patient after patient come in with this rampant virus.  Mamas tremble as they watch their babies playing in a shut down world, and they consider the measures they will take to protect them.  Fathers tremble as they think about job loss and providing for their families.  The elderly tremble as the news repeatedly report that the elderly are at the highest risk.  Cancer patients tremble as they know their compromised immune systems could not fight off these germs.  Pastors tremble for wisdom on how to shepherd in this strange time and how to minister when we are told to social distance ourselves.  Police and Fire Fighters tremble at every call they have to make as to whether they will be infected, or worse, take germs home to their families.

Psalm 23 “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul.  He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

Let me stop right there for a moment.  We can rest in the truth of a shepherd who will provide our needs, and while we are all disconcerted over confinement to our homes, maybe it is God “making” us lie down in green pastures.  A time to be still and to rest in Him and not be fearful.  Allow Him to restore your soul during this time.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

This time may feel like we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death.  We may not have the virus ourselves, but the affects of the spread of this virus is casting a shadow over everything in our lives.  But we do not have to fear, for HE is with us.   His rod and staff comfort me.  The rod represents His authority and the staff represents His guidance in our lives.  Knowing these two things, His authority and His guidance in our lives do comfort us.  As His children, His hand is active in our lives, guiding and leading us.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

God’s provision in our lives is dependable.  We don’t need to panic as many people are doing.  We do, however, need to be sensitive to the needs of others and help when we can.  Because we have more “free time” we can spend more time seeking Him.  We can focus on His will for our lives.  We can get a perspective not cluttered with the busy-ness of events, entertainment, and all the go-go-go that we experience in our everyday lives.  And then we can shout as loud as we can, for ourselves and those around us “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and then I will camp out in the house of the Lord….FOREVER!”  (I don’t know why I added the quotes there, because I obviously paraphrased the exact wording!)

So today.  Rest beside still waters.  Think about the glory, the goodness and the mercy of God.  Shut down the news reports.  Block out the uncertainty.  Eat a good old ham sandwich…or peanut butter and jelly….and sit at the table and give thanks.  Allow your cup to overflow with His goodness.  Speak truth into the lives of those quarantined with you.  Tell Bible stories to those kiddos that are in your house.  Sing worship with them.  Of course do school, too, but integrate God into everything.  What an opportunity you have to wrap them in God’s Word and teach them to live a life that honors Him.  Ask God for wisdom, for discernment and peace (and maybe patience!).  He is faithful to give it.

Love y’all.

 

 

Day 8 of Social Distancing Encouragement

Jeremiah 29:12-13 “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.  You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

Most people know the verse that precedes these two verses declaring the Lord has plans for us, but these two verses are so much more comforting with the promise that if we seek Him we WILL find Him.  We want to know that God hears us.  Perhaps it is that we humans are self-centered at the core of who we are, or maybe as believers it confirms the hope we have in Him.  Being heard somehow affirms the belief or faith we have in an  all knowing, all powerful God.

But here is something we should consider in this seeking and finding….it often involves our wrestling with God, because while we want to seek and find God, we don’t necessarily want the necessary changes that must be made to our lives in order to walk closer with Him.  Wrestling with God is life altering.  Wrestling with God can leave wounds and scars so that we can be reminded of the change that God has done in us.

We have been given a unique opportunity of time to seek God.  Time to open His Word and hear His voice.  Time to wrestle with Him over areas in our lives that need to be examined.  Time to wrap our minds around what He wants us to do in this next season of  life and to strengthen our faith and determination to stand strong and do it!

I encourage you today to be still.  To seek Him.  To have a time of worship through music.  To honestly ask Him what He wants you to do next.  To pray and ask Him for discernment and wisdom.  If we seek Him, we will find Him.  If we pray, He will hear us.  Let’s do it with all our hearts.

Love y’all!

 

Day 6 of Social Distancing Encouragement

Psalm 28:7 “The Lord is my strength and my shield; in Him my heart trusts and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to Him.”

Today has been a heartwarming day.  The weather was gorgeous, we started the day at 9:00am doing Lifegroup on the Google Duo (we’ll use Zoom next time) with our 10-12th grade girls class, followed by online worship with FBTC praise team and Pastor Derek.  It almost felt normal.  While it was awesome and unique, it just doesn’t replace the face to face fellowship with our church family.  But we have to keep telling ourselves this is temporary.  We must keep our eyes on Him and let Him be our strength and shield.  I like the shield part…..shielding us from the Corona!

A quick word knowledge right here.  The word “exult” means to feel or show triumphant elation or jubilation.  That word “elation” means great happiness and exhilaration. Chew on that for a moment.  Re-read that verse with that definition in the place of exult.  It’ll totally change the impact of this verse.

Psalm 28:7 “The Lord is my strength and my shield; in Him my heart trusts and I am helped; my heart feels triumphant exhilaration, and with my song I give thanks to Him.”

I want to insert a happy dance right here.  I don’t know about you, but I needed this today.

I’ll stop right here with a little bit of transparency.  I had a rough evening last night.  I think the week of “self quarantine” and lack of contact with friends and regular schedule, plus the constant news updates from my big guy caused a meltdown.  Sadly, my last 5 days of encouragement didn’t seem to hold a candle to the overwhelmed feeling in my soul.  I allowed the chaos and confusion of this world to seep in and start a small fire of fear.  I told my big guy to stop talking to me and after I cried a few tears of uncertainty, I was better.  I read some more scripture.  Prayed really hard.  Listened to worship music.  And I felt myself stepping away from the edge of the pit.  However, sleep evaded me.  I tossed and turned and could not get to sleep.  I resorted to Melatonin and within an hour I drifted off.  I woke this morning with a much better outlook.  I reminded myself of the complete truth of this verse…..He is my strength.  He is my shield.  And I DO TRUST HIM!  And I am helped.  My spirit was lifted.  He reminded me with His Word that whatever happens, whatever the next weeks look like, I can trust Him.  I can choose to declare His faithfulness and redirect my emotions when I feel things closing in.

So let me encourage you right now.  This ain’t over yet.  Be strong and courageous. We may be staring down two weeks of lockdown, tighter than the last week or two we’ve experienced.  We will need to sing…..a lot!  We will need to declare His faithfulness….a lot!  We will need to remind our hearts that we trust Him….a lot!  Because we are silly humans who have the attention span of a gnat.  We will need to connect via Zoom, FaceTime, Google Duo, Skype or whatever else is out there to connect over the internet with friends and family and a remind them as well.  Let’s commit to having an attitude of gratitude over the next couple of weeks and to treat each other and ourselves with kindness.

Thank you for coming back and reading each day.  Please “like” my posts on my blog, if you don’t mind and follow me, if you aren’t already doing so.  Also feel free to share with your email list of friends….I would GREATLY appreciate it.

Keep the faith

Day 4 of Social Distancing Encouragement

Sadly I realized at about 2:30am this morning that I did not post encouragement for today…..uhhh…..yesterday!  And, sadly, the verse I was going to post on was about love.  Not sadly that it was on love, but sadly it was on love and I forgot to post in the midst of all the love going on in our family!!!!

John 13:34-35 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

All that love in two verse in John, in the midst of a global pandemic, in the midst of a suggested/requested quarantine, and I forget to post!  Let me state my case for forgetfulness.  I actually didn’t totally forget, but I let the day get away from me.  Yesterday was Molly Grace’s 21st birthday.  The baby of the family.  Our baby girl who loves birthdays and family and cake and is the best present opener EVER!

My two older girls braved the pandemic and hit two stores and a bakery in an effort to try and make it a normal day as possible.  Life is so full of uncertainties right now, we felt the need to do our best to gather and celebrate, before we are forbidden to gather and celebrate even as families.  We found Flour Girls open and willing to let me in to purchase a dozen cupcakes to deliver to her office.  We pulled up to the front door of her work, crossed our fingers they would let us in, even though we weren’t there for an appointment.  I waltzed right in and up to the counter where she sat smiling and surprised. I kept the required 6 foot distance (after putting the box of cupcakes on the counter) and sent all the air hugs possible to our baby girl.   I dropped off the older daughters and went home to begin the preparation for the birthday party.  I found party decor in a box that I had been saving and  decorated the dining room.  I baked a strawberry cake, with chopped up strawberries in it and topped it with cream cheese icing.  We prepared her favorite Shrimp Bisque and set the table.  The family all arrived at 6:00 (thankfully there is no curfew as of yet) and we celebrated her life.  Somehow, in the midst of everything going on, we needed to do something normal.  We have five more birthdays and a new baby coming in the next few months, and we aren’t sure how it will all play out.  We are being bombarded everyday with COVID19, or “the Corona” as we like to refer to it, whether the information is fact or not.  Shelves in stores are getting less stocked as time goes on.  Numbers in our coastal city, Mobile, or creeping up, as they are across the nation.  Weddings and baby showers and other events are being cancelled every day.  School has been cancelled.  Churches are becoming techno smart in order to stay connected with their people.  People are becoming unemployed all around us.  And this verse couldn’t be more accurate today, right now.

We need to love.  We do not need to fear.  We need to celebrate.  We need to remind ourselves and others that God is in control.  We need to be smart, but we need to still gather in small groups if we can.  We need to breathe in and breathe out.

So I am sorry for getting caught up in the preparations for her birthday celebration.  But the gathering of our family did us all good.  It felt normal.  And for a couple of hours of food, fun, laughter and celebration, we loved on each other.

Be as normal as possible.  It doesn’t have to be a “big” deal, but keep on hugging, laughing, and reaching out others, even if hugging isn’t possible.  Happy birthday, today, to all those who are sitting at home, working at a desk or out looking for toilet paper. (I still don’t understand or obsession with this one).

And.  Just for the record.  We only had 9 and 2 little people (ages 2 and 2 months) which could technically be considered as 10.  So we didn’t break the rules!

As a side note…..I am not encouraging excessive touching or spreading of germs. We should all respect the fact that there is a virus out there that is contagious and we should be careful.   So maybe air hugging is the best option for now.  And keep your groups at 10.  And no sneezing or coughing in anyone’s direction!

It Takes a Village

I have never really put a lot of thought into the statement “it takes a village to raise a child” and that may be because I heard Hillary Clinton say it once and I some how associate that phrase with her.  But in the Christian community, in the church family, it does take the village to raise our children to be people who understand what God did for them, then to teach them what it means to have a relationship with Jesus and to live a life that honors God.  That church family of precious believers are the family that pours truth into their lives.  The family that cheers them on, encourages them and often comes to their rescue.

This weekend I saw this village of believers came to rescue the wedding day of my youngest daughter.  My girl had been dreaming of this day at this perfect outdoor venue for well over a year.  Our area of Alabama is known for unpredictable weather.  It is said, if you don’t like the weather, hang around for about fifteen minutes and it will change.  Saturday morning, just as forecasted, was rainy.  Not torrential, downpour rain. But steady rain.  I stood inside the house of the Historic Malbis Nursery watching the puddles form outside, trying to devise a Plan B.  I could not fathom how we would get over 150 guests, the food and the ceremony inside the building.  We decided to wait it out and be flexible with some of the decorations.  Thankfully I had brought a stack of towels “just in case”.  We delayed putting linens and centerpieces on tables.   And we prayed.  Yes.  We asked God to make the rain stop for a wedding.  It seemed shameless and selfish to ask such a thing when people in other parts of the world were praying for food!  But we prayed.  We asked our friends to pray.  We asked social media to pray.  My husband and I went back to the hotel to get ready while our baby girl was in the bridal suite getting hair and make-up done.  We got a phone call right before we were leaving to return to the venue.  We were needed for a “first look” picture asap.  As we rode back to the venue we noticed that the rain had stopped and the sun was beginning to shine.  We just smiled.  God in his sovereignty had chosen to answer our prayer.  As soon as we arrived we were wisked away to see our baby girl for the first time.  We were in awe at the young woman standing before us.  No longer a little girl.  No longer our baby.  But a beautiful young woman ready to marry the love of her life.

When we stepped inside the venue there was a beehive of activity.  Friends were everywhere blowing rain off the outside brick flooring, drying chairs, wiping down tables.  Linens were being put on tables and centerpieces arranged.  The caterer was busy organizing the banquet of food.  The one desire of my girl was to have chiffon draped at the ceremony site with a beautiful wooden cross draped in eucalyptus.  With the rain it didn’t seem an option because of the continued light dripping of rain off the greenery that covered the venue.  One of our friends told me to send him the picture of what she wanted and he would make it happen.  Within a short time I looked out and two wonderful men had intricately draped the chiffon exactly like the picture I had sent them.  I grabbed my daughter as she was headed back to the bridal suite and showed her the ceremony area.  Big tears welled up in her eyes as she smiled.  She was so happy.

The events of the day progressed.  People kept coming.  Chairs were pulled from the reception area to accommodate the number of guests.  First the pastor, groom and groomsmen.  Then the bridesmaid along with my grandson wearing a sign “Uncle Zach, here comes your bride?”

Then the moment came, my sweet big guy escorting his last daughter down the aisle.  My memory raced back to a year ago as he escorted our second daughter down the aisle for her November wedding.  He had only been out of the hospital for a week from his last week long chemo treatment.  He was weak, bloated and hairless from five months of treatment, but he was there, walking her proudly down the aisle.  Here we were a year later and he looked amazing.  New suit, bowtie, goatee and a huge smile.  He proudly held her arm in his.

The ceremony began and then finished with our girl and her young man washing each other’s feet as their first act of love toward each other as they served each other just as our Savior did for His disciples in the last days before His return to heaven.  It was sweet, it was moving, it was precious.

The reception followed with lots of dancing, hugs and laughter.  They were surrounded by people who have poured into their lives.  People who love them and have watched them in their walk with Jesus.  People who willingly came and made this day perfect for them.

They departed in a flurry of confetti, bubbles and silly string. All appropriate for these to kids who fell in love in their church youth group, then dated for two more years before becoming engaged.  Then they went to their hotel, quickly changed clothes and went off to bowl with a group of friends until almost midnight.  I have to laugh at this last part.  It just speaks volumes about the relationship and personalities of these two kids.  Because in reality they are still kids at heart.  Two twenty year olds stepping into adulthood, filled with love and excitement for what the future has for them.  They have a wonderful support group around them.  A village.  A church family.  They love Jesus and desire to live for Him.  So here’s to a new life for Molly and Zach Johnson.  I have a feeling God has big plans for these two!

As a postscript….I received a text from my baby girl later that night, while they were hanging with friends and bowling.  It said “thank you for making my dream come true today, it was perfect.”

 

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2:48 AM

2:48 AM.  The last time I looked at the clock this morning. Here I sit.  Awake. Miserable.  All because of a large unsweet tea from Foosacklys.  That’s right.  I’ve been robbed of blissful slumber because I can’t handle my caffeine.  I admit it.  What was I thinking?  That’s the problem, I wasn’t.  I just rode through that drive-thru with my daughter, chatting away, ordering dinner, and as bold as a twenty-something, I ordered a LARGE unsweet tea with my meal. I’m 58 years old and I know that I cannot consume anything caffeinated after 5:00pm!  I admire those people that can guzzle coffee or tea, or even devour chocolate at any given time of the day and not suffer from sleep deprivation!    The sad part of this saga, is I have lay in my bed for the last 4 hours straining to go to sleep, my eyes feeling like sandpaper, but my mind running in five different directions all at once!  I have redecorated soon to be vacated bedrooms, organized things to do for a ministry kick-off, planned rehearsals and costumes for student choir, sent out texts to people (and that should be interesting when they get up and read the time I sent them), reviewed details for a meeting I need to have on Thursday, planned out how to help two of my daughters get settled in their new houses over the next two weeks, hold on, I’m not done yet, made notes of editing I need to do on my childrens book, chided myself for not being more disciplined about dieting, planned Christmas gifts for family members, planned dinner for tomorrow, I mean today,  made a list on my phone of anything and everything I need to do in the coming days with neat little check off circles so I can feel good about myself when I check them off, and considered what kind of things we want to do on the Alaskan cruise we’re planning for next year.  I’m just going stop right here.  There are probably twenty more items I could add to that list.  Now you see why I just surrendered and got up, I mean I had already started writing this blog entry in my head, so why not just get up and go ahead and put it in black and white!  Why not, I’m awake, right?  Did I mention in that crazy, chaotic thinking, I was counting forward twenty years to 78 and wondering if I’d be still kicking!  I mean, who knew I’d get to 58 so fast, and still feel 38 in my head?  The last 20 years have flown by so fast, I’m sure I’ll wake up tomorrow, if I ever go to sleep, and be 78!  I won’t be drinking any tea after 5:00pm, you can bet on that!

So, as I get ready to post this and try to leave you with something spiritual to chew on, check out this verse I found during my sleeplessness:

“In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”

Psalm 4:8

I think that’s a sweet promise.  A promise that if we will quit trying to plan, make lists, re-think our lives or even plan out the next twenty years, we can know a peace that passes all understanding, we CAN lie down and sleep, for in His arms we are safe, knowing He is our Lord, our Father, our Savior, our Provider, our Redeemer, our Healer, our Everything!  I think I’ll sign off now, and go lie down and sleep.  He is such a sweet and loving Father to give me this verse in my delirious, caffeine induced insomnia.  He is bigger than my sleeplessness!!!  Goodnight!