Day 13 of Encouragement During These Weird Times

Romans 8:37-39 “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

“Nor anything else in all creation”.  Those words really jumped out at me today.  I’ve read these verses so many times.  They are familiar to you as well, I am sure.  I have always found comfort in the fact that nothing, absolutely nothing could separate me from my relationship with God.  Nothing I could so personally.  Nothing in this world.  No disease. No virus.

We live in a world of uncertainty.  More than ever we are all feeling that truth.  We have modified our lives to avoid contracting a man made disease that has been released on us like some modern weapon.  We are functioning in a new normal.  It changes almost daily.    But “it” still cannot separate us from the love of God.

We are more than conquerors.  Because no matter what happens neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God.  We do not have to fear anything today, nor anything to come.  We do not have to tremble at the powers that rule over us.  We can know the peace that He offers.

So today.  Today close your eyes and take a deep breath.   Breath in God’s love and release all the tension, doubts, fears, weariness, anxiousness and concerns.  Allow the love of God to wrap around you like a warm blanket.  Accept His love.  Be secure in His love.  He is walking through this with us.  Trust Him.

Love y’all.

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 come 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 bridesmaids 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 had 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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A Year and a Half Ago

I woke up this morning still tired after a night of sleeping and waking and thinking.  My life has changed so much in the last year and a half, and continues to change and move into a new season.  A year and a half ago I lost my job.  But it didn’t seem to matter so much because we were in the trenches of cancer and I was thankful to walk every step with my big guy, holding his hand, praying, listening, hoping.  After the “all clear” words came from the doctor, we went home and just sat in our living room quietly.  The words we had hoped for and prayed for had come.  Now for finding normal.  That was in May and life has continued to move forward as if the year of cancer never happened.  A year and a half ago we were welcoming a new grandson into our lives.  A year and a half ago we were in the midst of planning baby girl number two’s wedding.  A year and a half ago we lost my sweet Daddy.

I began keeping our new grandson when my daughter returned to teaching during this past year.  It has been a joy watching him grow and getting to love on him on a daily basis.  But this past August, when school began again, my daughter decided to put her boy in daycare in preparation for a second baby on the way.  I am told finding and getting into a good, reliable, and desirable daycare is both competitive and difficult.  I had no idea.  So he went to daycare after a year of staying with Lolly.  He loves it and has adapted quite easily.  My man cub is growing up too fast!

So, now, for the last two months I have been trying to figure out what next.  Yes, there are wedding plans still going on for baby girl number three, but that will be over in another thirty-nine days.  But then what?  I guess last night it was on my mind and I would go to sleep, dream, wake up, think about it for awhile, then start over again by filing asleep.  I’ve talked about getting a job, but I’m not sure if I’m even supposed to get a job right now.  I’ve prayed about it, and I get the sense from the Lord that I am exactly where he wants me to be for now.  I’m just having trouble adjusting, even after a year and a half.  I’m trying to find some routine.  I’m trying to write a little each day, even if it is just to blog a short piece.  I’m trying to figure out what the next step the Lord has for me.  I’m trying to establish a regular morning time with Him.  I even got out my daughter’s Kurig and am trying to drink coffee like a real grown up….decaf, of course!  The crazy thing is I can’t remember the last time I had quiet time like this in the mornings.  I’ve been raising baby girls for the last twenty-eight years.  I remember dreaming of slower mornings, peace and quiet, a clean house, time to write and here I am.

For now I will enjoy the peaceful and quiet mornings.  I will enjoy having time to spend with the Lord.  I will enjoy the slower pace.  Maybe I will eventually be able to write about my big guy and I going on adventures.  But today I’ll sip some decaf coffee and enjoy this rainy morning…..and maybe check my to do lists for the wedding, prepare my devotional to deliver to the students on Sunday afternoon, do some laundry, clean the kitchen, make the bed……

For anyone reading this blog, don’t stress over the season you are in at this moment.  If you have a personal relationship with our Heavenly Father, you are not alone.  He is with you.  He will walk with you and guide you.  He will listen to you as you tell Him about your concerns, your dreams, your life.  He truly cares.  Only He can wrap you in a peace that passes all understanding.

 

He Knows Me….

Today I sat and read scripture I have read many times before, but God in His grace and mercy allowed His presence to surround me and remind me of the truth, He knows me.  I assumed He had led me to these verses for someone else, so I promptly shared the verses with a sweet friend.  My thoughts were sincere, she needed to know that God created her uniquely and that He took time to make her who she is, and He is with her.  He is there when she looks and lives out her life exactly as He planned and He is there when she stumbles and finds herself face down in the pit that tripped her up.  I wanted her to be reminded of that because she is His child, He knows her thoughts, as scary as that might be, and He loves her.  He is “acquainted” with her ways.  There is nowhere she can go from His Spirit.  Such beautiful and comforting words.

Then as I pondered, who am I kidding, I chewed hard on all these words all morning.  While I know they were for her, I believe they were also for me.  A sweet reminder in this season of change, in this time of asking what He wants me to do next, in my searching for the direction I am to go.   I kept going back to one of the verses that kept ringing truth in my heart, “You ‘hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.”  A memory floats around in my mind of one of my girls when they were small.  I see my husband and I walking with a three year old full of energy.  Curious about everything around her, unaware of the possible dangers or obstacles that may be in her path.  We stand on each side of her, watching where we are walking, scanning the area around us, clasping her tiny hands as she struggles to break free and run ahead.  We see an unfriendly dog and my husband instantly pushes her and myself behind him.  I pick her up and stand protected behind him, his arm and hand extended back to protect.  I am reminded that God is watching me, that He is looking ahead, He is scanning the area for any threats there may be, hemming me in when needed, laying His capable hand on me to protect and, yes, comfort from any fears that may arise.

We often think we can get so far from God that there is no way back.   We think, somehow we are capable of going to a place He cannot go to bring us back.  He pursues us, always.  You cannot hide from God.  He knows you.  He’s watching and knows the path you have been on and He is waiting for you to realize He is there, waiting for you to acknowledge Him and call out to Him.  To know that He knows and that He cares.  He won’t push in.  He waits for you to allow Him back into your life.

As you read these verses, take in the comfort and rest in the promise that He is watching and He knows you.  He has plans for you.  He is making a way for you.  He is protecting.  There is nowhere you can go from His Spirit!  Turn toward Him now and be wrapped in His embrace and let Him love on you.

Psalm 139:1-12

O Lord, you have search me and known me!  You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.  You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.  You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?  Or where shall I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there!  If I make my bed in Sheol (hell), you are there!  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me and your right hand shall hold me.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you.

Other Places….

Eighteen years ago at this moment, I was standing in my living room, my 2 year old was running around singing, carefree, and I was staring at the t.v. watching a plane fly into one of the towers of the World Trade Center, my phone was still in my hand and I could vaguely hear my husband’s voice calling my name.  I remember the words I said to him “Is this real?”.  It was real. Moments later I saw scenes from the Pentagon, a gaping hole in one side of it and people running in all directions. Then suddenly the scenes changed again and I watched first one, then the second tower collapse in a cloud of smoke and debris.  People running from the billowing cloud chasing them, terror on their ash covered faces. They were in shock.  Running for their lives. Then, yet again, breaking news of a plane crashing into a field in Pennsylvania.  By this time, I’m sitting on the couch, no longer on the phone, holding my little girl who was begging me to read her a story.  I couldn’t quite collect my thoughts.  I had a sense of fear creeping up from somewhere inside me. What was happening?  These things happened other places.  Not in America.  People bombed other places.  Other places dealt with this kind of violence on a regular basis, not here.  As I sat taking in scene after scene, I heard my two-year-old ask me with concern “Why you cryin’ Mamma?”  I didn’t even realize that tears had slipped unnoticed down my cheeks.  “I’m okay, sweet girl, let’s find you a fun movie to watch.”  I took her hand and led her to her chair in her room, popped in the first video I came to and she promptly sat down to watch it.

I felt numb.  In a matter of minutes, our world had changed.   Violence and hate from other places had spilled over into our world and now fear was roaming free across our country.

This is the crazy part. I had made plans to go shopping with a friend and her little boy.  For some reason, we decided to go ahead.   Maybe it was our attempt to try to be normal.  Maybe we thought it would make things normal.  It did not.  We drove to the outlet mall, our conversation strained as we talked about shopping, then about the events of the morning, then quiet.  We walked around for forty-five minutes looking, but not really seeing what the stores had to offer.  People were acting strangely.  Awkward. I told my friend I thought we needed to go home, and so we loaded the little ones back up and headed back to the safety of our homes.

I was in line early to pick up my older two girls, so were many anxious parents.  I formulated over and over what I would say to them, how I would explain that our country had been attacked by evil men who hated America. I watched as teachers lead students out, dazed looks on their faces as they watched carefully after their students. Children, kept unaware of the events of that morning, laughed and skipped and held their friend’s hands. “They have no idea.” I thought to myself.

As they got in the car, my oldest who was ten asked “What’s going on today, Mom, the teachers have been acting weird all day.”  So there it was, the acknowledgement that things had changed and they sensed it. “Let’s talk about it when we get home.” I looked in the rearview mirror at their faces as they exchanged looks that said more than words.

At home I fixed them something to drink and we sat down.  I slowly started to tell them about what had happened that morning.  I chose my words carefully.  I did not want to stir up fear in their hearts.  My seven-year-old, in all her innocence asked “Are they gonna blow us up?”  I looked at her and said “I don’t think so, I’m sure we are going to be fine.  But we need to pray for all those people in New York and Washington DC who were hurt, and the families of those that were killed. I’m sure they are all in shock and afraid.”  But were we really going to be fine? My ten-year-old, who was more serious about life, came and sat beside me.  No words were necessary.   I decided that the t.v. would stay off, it would not help them to see scene after scene of the carnage in the aftermath played over and over.

I teach 11/12 grade girls in Sunday School, and I realized a few weeks ago that to them  9-11 is just a history lesson.  Something they read about in school.  Just like I did when I was in school when I read about Pearl Harbor or WWII.  They don’t know that life was different before that day.  This life they live now is normal for them.  They live in a world that is a constant intake of news and media in the palm of their hands.

So today, we remember. We remember all the lives that were taken by people who have some twisted reasoning for causing so much death, so much damage, so much fear.    We remember a day when bombings or shootings were not news worthy for a moment, until the next act of violence grabbed the media attention.  We remember a day we didn’t look at people who were different than us with some trepidation.  We remember the heroics of the police, the EMT’s, the firemen, the medical personnel, the average man or woman who ran to help others.  We remember the victims on board those planes, who knew in an instant that this was the end for them, yet they still bravely fought back saving lives and losing their own.  We remember a president who we didn’t always agree with, yet he stood on that mountain of what was left of the World Trade Center and shed tears and hugged average people who had done above average acts of bravery.

People in other parts of the world say we are indulged Americans who are self-centered and arrogant. Maybe so.  But we average Americans love our country and we love helping people. We live in a world now where we are more aware than ever that violence and hate roams within our borders.  We are more aware of the dangers.  How could we forget because the media tries to keep a spirit of fear stirred up every day.  But there is still goodness in this world.  We Americans may not agree on a lot of things:  politics, immigration, and global warming, all are topics that stir up heated discussions and anger, but one thing ties us together…we are Americans.  We come to the rescue of the injured, the weak, the hungry.  We send food and medical help to people who are suffering in disasters or war-torn countries.  The world may say they hate us, but they come to us first when they need help.  I believe, that if the need arose, we Americans, we would stand and defend our people, our country, and our borders, against a twisted religion that condones violent acts.  We will stand up against a people who are invading our country under the guise of pursuing the American dream, only to try to force us to change our laws to their laws, or force us to accept their mindset.  We won’t do it.  We may make efforts to respect your beliefs.  We may offer help if you need it.  We may even try to call you friend.  But we are not ignorant of your hidden agenda.  We are not idiots.  We see. We listen.  We stand against the ugliness that has taken root in your mind and in your hearts.  We were not defeated or disabled on September 11, 2001.  We were awakened.  We were educated.  We will remember.  We will teach our children to remember.  We will remind each other of what is right and good.  To all those families and friends who lost people they love on that day. We remember and we pray for you.

What Now?

I am in a weird place.  Not like an actual location or anything.  I haven’t taken a road trip that has gone awry.  I am not in a crowd of people that have an agenda I know nothing about.  But now that I read back over those last three sentences, I have to back track and say they all are pretty accurate, generally speaking.  I’ve been chugging along for the last twenty-eight years as a mother of three daughters.  Thirty years as a wife.  And here and there for periods of time as an employee.   I have been mothering, pushing, washing, feeding, nurturing, loving, disciplining, teaching, wife-ing, cooking, chauffeuring, guiding and loving three girls and a husband.  Mixed in with that, I have been teaching Sunday school to mostly 11th & 12th grade girls, serving in Women’s Ministry, singing in the choir, and many other ministries here and there. But today, I am sitting in a quiet house, wondering.  Wondering what now.

I’m not sure who I am now.  Before you become concerned that I am a writer with dementia, I know who I am, but I don’t know WHO I am.   I’m not despondent.  I’m not even downcast or depressed.  I’m trying not to measure myself to unrealistic expectations or compare myself to all the amazing women of God out there making a difference!

I know things I want to do.  Like have a clean house.  Don’t laugh.  It hasn’t been uber clean in months.  Our oldest daughter and her family have been living with us while they are looking for and buying a house.  So, keeping the house perfect has been low on the list and enjoying our grandson living in our house 24/7 has been at the top of that list!!!  I have to say he is the cutest baby you’ve ever seen and having him here has helped us acclimate to being Lolly and Pop, especially considering he’ll be getting a baby sister in four short months.  They are now about to close on their house and will be moving next week.  Our middle girl child has been living her new married life to her sweet man  in a downtown loft.  She is now realizing her dream of working from home and as we’ve always said, we’ll all be working for her one day!   The baby girl of the family is getting married in just over ninety days.  Ninety-four to be exact.  Our baby girl.  She was an unexpected blessing twenty years ago.  I know God has her here for a specific purpose because she was not in our plans, in fact we were done and moving on in life with the two beautiful girls we had!  I have both smiled at her boldness to get married so young and cried that she’ll be off doing her own life without me in ninety four days.  I keep saying she’s not old enough, that they don’t know what they’re doing, they aren’t ready.  But then God reminds me that He created her, He saved her, He has a plan for her life, not me.  She and her fiancé love Jesus and are gonna follow Him, not my plan.

Back to this weird place.  So I am soon to be out of the mothering job and I am not working a job outside our home any longer.  This happened last year while my sweet man was going through cancer treatment.  It was both a blessing and a difficulty at the same time.  But God has taken care of us, as always, and after much deliberation (mostly on my part), my man said he wanted me to stay home.  So this weird place has taken away the two things that have been consistent for some time in my life.  I don’t know why I’m so lost, because I have wanted to have the freedom to write and now I have it.  And yet.  And yet I don’t know what to write.  We write to inspire others.  We write to tell stories.  We write to unleash the words that fill our brains every minute of every day.  I am sure if we could look inside an average person’s brain and the brain of a writer we would see that the writer is constantly writing about life as it is observed.  Always adding to the story.  Always editing.  Always creating. The words never stop swirling.

So this weird place is me standing, no, sitting, in my chair, staring at a computer screen.  Me, looking around at the things that need to be done.  Me, longing to be some kind of spiritual giant that could inspire people to cling to Jesus in every area of their lives.  Me, longing to finally get a handle on losing weight and finally finding victory over the scale. Me, measuring myself up to the expectations in my head and failing miserably.  Me, crying and asking God to please help me be good at something.  Help me find success at something.  And ultimately, just giving in and finding a quiet, cool place in the house to take a nap, to think about these things another day.  I’m 58 years old.  I have no degree.  I’m an okay writer, but not a profoundly gifted writer.  I am not particularly disciplined.  I don’t look like Beth Moore or speak like Priscilla Shirer.  I never quite meet the expectations in my head.  I think I may have wasted this life that God gave me.

This weird place has locked doors right now.  I feel like I’m standing in the middle of this weird place, completely baffled at what I am to do next.  What door do I choose? I’m frozen.  Not sure what I’m supposed to do next.  I preach to my daughters and my Sunday school girls all the time that “God has a plan for your life, now go walk in it”.  But here I am, in this weird place, wondering if there really is a plan for me and, if so, what that plan for my life is!

 

One Year Ago

One year ago. One year ago we were being hit by one storm after another. But the ultimate storm of cancer came and stayed….and now, on the other side of that storm looking back, I am once again reminded of God’s faithfulness, His provision, His comfort, His healing power. I read back over the blogs of the past year and I see a woman clinging desperately to the Savior. I am reminded of the woman who reached out to touch the hem of His garment and I understand her in a new way. I know myself, that I have tightly gripped the hem of His garment in my clinched fists refusing to let go. We have walked through this cancer journey saying over and over “I trust you” aloud for ourselves mostly, but also to our God, declaring that while we don’t understand, and while we know His plan is perfect, and while we were even fearful at times, we would TRUST HIM, no matter the outcome. Our faith is stronger, our family is stronger, our love is stronger and our compassion is stronger. Today, after a year of diagnosis, biopsies, surgeries, chemo, radiation, doctor appointments, uncertainties, waiting, frustrations and sometimes fear, we got the official words of cancer free. I hesitated to even post this because we have friends and family still doing battle with this evil disease. But I want those reading this who are in the battle to be encouraged, optimistic and strengthened. God is with you and you can trust Him with whatever the outcome of your journey may be. People have stated over and over that “God is good” and it is so true. But if we had gotten different news, and the battle with cancer had continued, the truth is that God is still good. He is good even when things are seemingly bad in our lives and life’s storms are coming at us so fast they are tearing us apart. When we feel like we can’t catch our breath between storms and we are staring death in the face, God is good. He is trustworthy. He is faithful. So wherever you are, whoever you are, whatever battle you are in, trust Him. “Be strong and courageous, do not be discouraged or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9