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PAWPAWS AND FRUIT

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West Virginia: a joke for people who don’t live there, right? John Denver called it Mountain Momma, almost heaven, and its original second name was the “Little Switzerland of America.” And just to get even with all the people who make the jokes, West Virginia is one of the few states that boasts a rare tree of amazing size that produces a fruit that is beginning to be appreciated and available to consumers: the lowly PAWPAW. You’re sitting there saying “papaya, you mean,” and I’m saying, “No.” If I meant a papaya, I would have said so. It’s paw-paw, just as in grandpa. A multi- sized fruit that is shaped not unlike a figure 8, green speckled skin (when it’s ripe), and a yellow, seed infested, inside with the consistency of a banana. And if you want further proof that such a fruit exists, find a YouTube video that sings “Where O Where Is Dear Little Mary?…. Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch!”

My daddy was a man who lived in the wrong era. He was a tool-maker by trade, a Hillbilly by birth, and an un-diagnosed Asperger victim on reflection. He had all the classic symptoms of Asperger’s, but was a creative genius and a tool-maker that defied the odds of not only making the tools, but designing the dies that made the tools. And then he’d make a bunch and give them to his fellow-workers! Yes, they got the patents. Yes, it bothered us. No, it didn’t bother Daddy. He could grind a tool down to less than 1/1000th of an inch, my uncle always told me.

What has this got to do with the Pawpaw, you ask. Well, if you’re raised in West Virginia, early on you learn to eat what is available, and one product was the pawpaw from the huge pawpaw tree. It grows to magnificent size, and has clumps of fruit that is almost impossible to describe: sort of like a banana, mango, and peach rolled into one, with huge black seeds layered through it. You take a bite, spit out the large seed, and keep eating.

When the time came that Daddy’s wanderlust kicked in and forced our family to leave West Virginia for Ohio, we’d make a yearly trip back to Roane County, where tons of pawpaw trees grew. Next it was North Carolina, and he’d still make the annual trip, only now he brought all he could load in the car, and freeze them when he got home. He’d eat them until the next year. No, they don’t freeze well. No, that didn’t bother Daddy. I think Mother was the only thing that bothered Daddy. Eventually the trip wasn’t enough to satisfy him–he wanted his own pawpaws. No one had ever successfully grown them in the heat of NC, as far as he knew, but that didn’t stop him. He kept the seeds and started trying to get little plants to love the NC soil, and tolerate the NC heat. After some time–and long before we knew of anyone else trying the same thing–he became the lone producer of pawpaws in Beaufort County, NC. (This was about fifty years ago, or about fifteen years before someone else decided to try it, and like Daddy, succeeded–and just as with the tools, the man became known as the father of producing pawpaws for farmer’s markets.)

Every year at blooming time, he would load his neighbors and friends down with all the pawpaws he could give away. Most people, not having had them from birth (like West Virginians), weren’t overly fond of them. Occasionally someone would find them delectable, and now, of course, it is becoming known that they are one of the healthiest of fruits. Yea for West Virginia!

The one thing I found surreal (and not able to be explained) is that he had a beautiful grove of pawpaw trees. When he became ill in the early part of 2000, the pawpaws would soon be blooming. He died on March 1, and that year they did not bloom. It was the first year since he had planted his grove that the trees did not bear his pawpaws. Although Mother kept the garden and orchard going, those pawpaw trees never bloomed again.

So what’s the point, you’re thinking. Well, if you read this whenever the mood moves me to write, it’s because God has caused some verse in my daily devotions to blink with brilliant neon lights. And so He did this morning. In Matthew, the 3rd chapter, John is baptizing, and Jesus comes to be baptized. (My daughter, when she was a little squirt, used to say “bathtized,” which I thought was quite appropriate). In verse 7, the Sadducees and Pharisees come to be baptized. John is very politically incorrect and quite intolerant so far as the opinions of today’s millennialists go, and berated them soundly: “You brood of vipers! Who warned YOU to flee from the wrath to come? Go, produce fruit that is in keeping with repentance!” As I read that, I realized that we so often are tiptoeing around the subject of someone’s salvation–and so we most often should be, I suppose–but there comes a time when behavior, if it is a lifestyle that is not causing conviction, shows us the condition of someone’s heart, and it’s okay to recognize that they are not bearing fruit that is in keeping with repentance. They are probably not, in fact, bearing any fruit. Especially fruit that would be what we would term “good.”

In Florida my husband and I tried many times to grow tomatoes. No matter what we did, they would start getting brown spots on the young, green tomatoes, and we would end up losing all the fruit. But the fruit of a person who claims to be a Christian, (meaning “little Christ”), is good, and bears testimony that you are in fact what you claim to be! I had not looked at it like that, although (of course) one has always known that God expects that those of us who are “grafted” into the Branch will produce fruit.

I think of my dad again. He was not someone whom I could say definitely was a Christian. I hoped he was. Mother hoped he was. But there was no fruit. Anyone–saved or unsaved–can do “civil” good (give to neighbors, give to charities, give to humanitarian organizations, etc.) but only Christians can do righteous actions that shows their heart and daily living is striving to please God with the way they conduct themselves. I never saw that in Daddy.

The fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, long-suffering [putting up with someone who bugs you], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. You don’t even have to labor to grow these–they are a normal by-product of a healthy relationship with the Father. Can you imagine what it would be like to strain, grunt, squeeze your innards, and groan, trying to produce a fruit that wasn’t going to come?

So what kind of fruit are you producing? Do you have to make yourself work hard to show the qualities above, or are they present in your life daily? Sure, we all have bad days, but underneath all the pain, there still should be the young healthy fruit that is growing. Satan can rob us of many things: our family sometimes, our money, our time, but he should not be able to rob us of our fruit: our joy, peace, gentleness, etc.

The next time you feel like you’re not having a good fruitful day, look up the video and sing along to “Where O where is dear little Mary?” and go back to that pawpaw patch to gather your fruit. Surrender it all to the Lover of your soul, and ask Him to give you some extra Living Water!

 

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Because It’s the Right Thing To Do, That’s Why!

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What a long day! It seemed as though it had lasted for a week, and it felt so good to sit down, take off my shoes, wiggle my toes, and be at home. Some days–whether you want to live like that or not–are just totally out of control from the moment your feet hit the floor. Don’t be smug: if you haven’t gotten there yet, say a quick prayer of thanks, for your day will come. We all have to have days when we give and give and give.

Morning had started with a sick grandchild needing to be picked up at school and taken to the doctor. Glad for my elderberry syrup, which I swear by, I hoped I had built up an immunity to whatever might be stirring in the young one’s body. Later, sitting in the pediatrician’s office was a grandma’s nightmare. At least the room was divided by a “half wall” where well children were kept on one side and those with fevers, viruses, and all sorts of rampant germs who were just waiting for another host were on the other! That was the side we were on. The runny noses, the coughs, the red cheeks… sigh. It wasn’t long before we were taken back, the dreaded swab done, temperature taken, etc. There was no strep (they said. Turned out they were wrong). Back to the little one’s house for bed.

Leaving there, the phone rang again. Could I stop by and pick up the gifts for a friend’s Angel Tree child? Sure, no problem. I would deliver them to the church. And while I was heading in that direction, I needed to stop by a building at the University and drop off some paperwork. Actually, it was a week overdue. Oh well. Better late than never. Better to ask forgiveness, right?

That done, my husband called: could I pick him up at the shop where the work on our cars is always done, so they could keep it overnight? Sure. I’m in town. No problem. Do I want to eat out? No. He eats out three times a day, just to make up for all those years of working, I think.

The phone rings again; my daughter is in town (versus a few miles out), and wondered if we’d like to meet at the pizza restaurant with the grandkids. So much for not eating out. By then it was almost supper anyway, so we ate. It wouldn’t have mattered if I had just eaten anyway, mention pizza and my appetite goes into overdrive.

Afterwards I did the last few errands, and as I got back in the car, a friend texted. Her dad had been taken to the ER. He had ripped out a newly inserted port, not understanding why it had to be there. She could not get it through his mind that it was going to keep him alive. They were on the way to the small ER in her town. Over the next hour we texted back and forth as the ER was unable to re-insert the port, and he would have to be transported by ambulance to the bigger hospital in our town. The day was now late. She was tired, and the last thing she felt like doing was accompanying the ambulance an hour to the larger ER. But–it is what it is. You do what you have to do.

We continued to text, and it was going to be a long night. The ER was so packed that beds were lining the hall, theirs included. On one side a woman was throwing up every few minutes; on the other was a suicidal man who did not want to be there. Not a place you would be want to be, and the evening had just started. People who work ERs should have extra angel wings.

My mind started bugging me. By now I was home, settling in for the evening, praying for my friend, her father, the wait–and all the time my mind was asking questions of itself: wonder if she had supper? I bet she didn’t think to bring a book, a tablet, something to do while she waited. Our ER is notorious for eight to ten hour waits. Seriously. Did she have anything to do? Was she feeling like she had to stay right by her dad, even in dementia? Yes, I was sure she would. Was her husband there yet? No, he wouldn’t be leaving work until late. She was as tired as I was. I was home. She wasn’t. I was sitting in my chair. She was sitting in the hall at the ER.

Recently our pastor preached about a faith that is active; one that acts when it wants to be passive. I knew what I had to do. Was I going to get up and do it? I had to. Not because of guilt, of trying to earn points with God, but because I had a sister in Christ who needed to know someone loves her. I packed some food, got some books, and took out, texting as I drove (at red lights) so that she would not think I was doing anything except resting, since she would feel she had to talk me out of it.

She figured it would be two hours more than it had already been, and best case scenario, they would let her drive him back to the facility where he “lives.” Worst case scenario, they would wait for the ambulance transport, probably most of the night. Miracle of miracles, about the time I was half way there (it is a thirty minute drive for me), she texted and said they were letting her take him back to her town–and soon! I looked at the food, thought about the time, wondered if I should have tried to have gone, but I knew my answer: yes. This was my friend. She needed encouragement. She needed reinforcement that she wasn’t alone. That someone else who had been there with a dementia parent was on the way. It wasn’t the gift, it was the thought. I was glad I had made half the journey. I told her I had been halfway there, but would head back home. She knew she was loved.

Home again, it felt so sweet. Sweet to know I did what I felt I had to do. Not because of a sense of anything except the desire to say yes to the Lord to feed one of His sheep, to love my “neighbor” and to show her that her value was placed above my own.

In other words, I did it because I wanted to serve, to put my faith in action, and to know it’s what God wanted me to do. How much better does our Christianity get than that?

TRIED BY FIRE

lightning-photo-for-free-download Our noses deep in the very popular school Science book, my children and I read “No one has ever seen the end of a rainbow.” We looked at each other and then broke out in laughter. Coming home from church one Sunday, we pulled into the driveway. There, as brilliant as could be, was the end of a gorgeous rainbow! The bad news: there was no pot of gold. No pot of anything–just the rays of the colors. The amazing thing is, about three years later it happened again. This time we were living further north in Florida, and I remember kidding the family that God must be reminding Himself that He was not going to destroy us personally!

That was an extremely unique experience, but the most amazing scene of all was a late afternoon thunderstorm. You can be aware that the sky is turning dark, when all of a sudden a clap of thunder comes, or a streak of lightning and it causes you to run for cover. We ran to the small front porch, probably about 6 x 8′, under part of the roof (thank goodness), when an enormous streak of lightning lit the sky–so tremendous, in fact, that a ball of orange fire, about the size of a basketball, rolled across the lawn, in front of our eyes. We could not believe what we had seen. Prior to sitting here tonight, I googled “lightning balls” and found that not many are recorded in the manner which the one we witnessed with our own eyes had come and gone. It was a moment of God declaring His majesty.

Seeing something so grand, so marvelous, and so unique is an awesome experience. Yet ranking right along with that–to me–is the reading of a portion of Scripture and suddenly seeing it with a whole new meaning: one which broadens the scope of God’s activity in our lives, and the verse bursts with new clarity and a thunderclap.

I have no idea if I had to name my favorite Bible book, which it would be, but James would be one near the top. I can hardly wait to meet him! I love how he takes a verse, and yet one of the words in the sentence flows into the next sentence. But in the first few verses of Chapter 1, he talks about trials or testing that comes into our lives. With this in mind, he says that we should rejoice in tribulation,  knowing this, that the testing of our faith produces endurance. Later on he says that when we have been tested, and passed (approved), we will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

I’ve long realized that our faith is not tested when we’ve earned money which will pay a bill, only to spend that money on (say) clothes, then pray for God to supply the money for the bill. Or having a flat tire–why should we NOT have a flat tire? Or a child that has caught a virus at school, where “bugs” abound? Those are not tests, just ordinary living. So what exactly is a test?

If you read further, James says that God does not tempt us to do evil; that we are led away by our own lust (for new clothes, new things–the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh or the pride of life)–and Satan knows how to tempt us, by using the bait that will get us to turn away or blame God for our problem. Just as we don’t try to catch sharks with minnows, Satan doesn’t try to tempt someone who can’t stand cigarette smoke with smoking. So what is testing? Especially testing that will cause us to quit, as the sermon from Thomas Road was preached this past Sunday (www.plowingfallowground.com, for Oct. 9, 2016)? It has to be so big that we don’t just get a trial, we get a trial that causes us to cry out “GOD! ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING? ARE YOU EVEN AWARE OF WHAT I’M GOING THROUGH? DO YOU CARE??” As Kay Arthur once so eloquently put it, it’s not so much saying “God, Are You Really There?” as “God, Are You Really HERE?” Suddenly God showed me what the testing is that causes us to leave Him–what our “bait” is that Satan can use to make us give up and leave Christianity behind.

It’s whatever we care enough about to pour our souls out to Him in prayer, asking Him to fix. Something that we love above all things. We lift up the life of our child who has a terminal illness, begging Him to spare the child; we promise everything if He will just heal the child.. or the parent, or the spouse. Perhaps it’s our home, maybe a “dream” home that we have wanted for years, and finally got, and suddenly (as my husband and I know well) we see smoke rolling out some of the windows. For a wife or mom, it’s probably her children, her spouse, her parents, her home; for a man it’s probably his children, his wife, his job and his home. For young children, it’s their parents; for older people, it’s their children, grandchildren, and health. The list is different for everyone, but in the end it is what we hold so dear that we can’t bear to think of living without it. And so we pray, and that prayer doesn’t seem to go above the ceiling. We pray harder, and lose the very thing we prayed for: that life, that home, that job, that parent. And because we’re so hurt, and our faith that God really cares is tested, we decide God is not worth trusting, not worth loving, not worth praying to. We don’t see the result from God’s perspective.

And so, we give up on God, and we quit. Totally the wrong thing to do. We’re setting ourselves up as God at that point, saying we know better what the outcome should have been. He should have loved us more. Why, look at the (friend’s)! They’ve had it easy all their lives: money, prestige, ability to buy whatever they need, especially if it’s a health problem and major medicine is involved–it’s not fair! And we pull out.

That is the time when we should draw even nearer to God. When we should say, “I don’t understand, but I trust You that You are working things out so that it will be good.” You think I’m talking about something I haven’t lived? Wrong. If you ever feel that way, sit down and we’ll talk. I’ve been so far down I’ve had to look up to see the bottom. I’ve made a mockery of the love God showed when Jesus died on Calvary. I’ve spurned His grace, His love and His forgiveness. But by the grace of God, He has cleansed me and removed my sins as far as the east is from the west. But the sad part is, the persons I hurt the most walked away from God because they felt He had not loved them enough to answer their prayer.

It’s time we decide we are NOT going to give in, give up, or trade our faith for ashes. We want beauty. God is working the beauty out. Trust Him–He will not always do what you want, but He will always do what is best.

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STUCK ON A GLUE BOARD?

CLEANINGGLUEOFFACATWHATELSE It all started when my son put “Mittens” outside. Compassion in needed areas is my strength and ill-placed compassion is my weakness. He chose to leave “George” in, so Mittens had to go, and my ill-placed compassion kicked in. One house cat is enough. (His quote). I couldn’t stand the thought that a cat that had been treated like family was now outside. “Bring her down. I’ll take her.” A minute went by, and my common sense kicked in. “Is she litter-box broke? Does she shed?” Yes and No. The right answers.

By 6 o’clock she was getting acclimated to a new house. In real terms, that means she was sniffing everything that she walked by, after rubbing her then-furry body up against everything. Yuk. I had forgotten how fastidious I’ve become. I watched her like a hawk (or like she would watch a mouse) for the slightest excuse to back up on my decision. Did I mention impulsiveness is one of my several hundred besetting sins? This was done with no forethought.

One tall plastic storage box later (so a hole could be cut in the top and she could still kick her litter, without it going over the tall sides. Balderdash. She managed to displace a cupful the first time she used it), one $20 box of non-clumpy (ha) litter, 1/2 giant bag of cat food, a scratching post (which she did not use) (even once), cat toys (which she did not play with) (even once), and a pet bed ($13) (which she did not use) (even once) later, she was still going into places I haven’t cleaned in thirteen years.

Okay, so I forgot about the glue boards, except for a dash between my brain, going at warp speed. Two full days go by, and she decided to take up residence in the bay windows, where she could look longingly at the birds flying nearby, and probably have a heart full of evil desires, and who knows what other thoughts going through her mind? All I know is, the glue boards didn’t go through mine. They are thin, placed underneath pieces of furniture in case a small crawling critter comes along. Who even gives them a thought? A mischievous cat, that’s who.

The first indication something was wrong was late on the 2nd night–or maybe the 3rd, they start to run into each other at our age–when my husband (who had been very good about the whole “we’ve now got a cat” news) heard a loud screech, howl, scream that got louder each second: “MEEEOOOOOWWWWWWWWW!!” He looked in the general direction of the mayhem in time to see a glue board stand up, with no face and no arms, only a lower body standing on hind legs. She was stuck. Apparently the tantalizing sight of crickets, spiders, or whatever, was too much temptation, and who would know the nice white, shiny surface would never let her go?

Fortunately, my lifelong habit of early to bed-early to rise syndrome saved me from hearing the wails that went on over the next half hour. However, it was hard to miss the glue board the next morning, coated with fur. I wasn’t sure if I was looking at the cat or a glue board. Do you ever have a moment of guilt, knowing something you COULD have done would have saved some real trouble? That’s how I felt. I had even entertained the notion of picking up the glue boards. For about one second. When she first arrived.

Last night, as I lay in that wonderland between falling asleep and actually being asleep, I realized there had been a deep spiritual lesson there (you knew that, if you read this very often. I know, right?) I saw people–us–you, me, those we love, those we can’t stand to be around, and others, “stuck on our very own glue board.” How can that be? Well–what do you find that controls you? Something you can’t put away from you, no matter how hard you try? An addiction? A job that you hate going to every day, and you’re totally stuck on that particular glue board? Perhaps you’ve moved up the rung, so to speak, and now your salary is such that taking a new job–even one you would enjoy–would mean a big pay cut. Maybe it’s your marriage, your family, your status in life, and nothing you can do will change that.

Did you ever think about walking into a room in a house that is not lived in, and saying “Let there be furniture!” and immediately the room is filled with gorgeous pieces of your favorite decor? Impossible, right? Of course it is. Yet you know the One who stepped out into space and spoke (SPOKE, John 1) the world into being. He is not limited by your circumstances, your past choices, your lifestyle, your marriage. He is willing to say “Come to Me,” and you can run to Him, throw yourself on His mercy, and “behold, old things are passed away, all things become new!” Sounds to good to be true, doesn’t it?

The change from that glue board where Mittens was stuck was not in her ability to free herself. It was in her ability to cry out to someone whom she knew would come and “save” her. And he did. Did it hurt? Definitely! Her fur lining the glue attests to that. But she was free in the end, and had a choice to stay away from any such-looking things again, or put herself right back in the same predicament. You do, as well. Your circumstances won’t change overnight, but if you are willing to put Christ first, to hunger and thirst to be the kind of child He wants you to be, He will take care of your life, and turn it into something beautiful. There’s an old saying, “You take care of the things that matter to God, and He will take care of the things that matter to you.” Great saying.

So–call out to Him to get you off your glue board. He’ll set you free (“and you shall be free indeed”), and turn you into a new being. It won’t always be the way you expect it to be, but if you trust Him with your life, it will be better than anything you ever could have imagined. Even when it goes wrong (and it will), when He seems to turn a deaf ear (but is listening intently), when He says NO (or at least it seems that way)–just wait. The best is yet to come.

Try Him–He’s faithful!

 

God STILL sends Love Notes!

Sillhouette of a couple

The perfect wedding. They were so in love, and it was evident each time they looked into the face of the other. They had taken time to get to know each other, become fast friends, enjoy the same simple pleasures. Life was good. Both were concerned that their marriage be built on the foundation of faith in God, and that He be, not just a figuredhead, but the true Head of their union.

Over the next couple of years they added the traditional pets: two dogs, two cats. No babies yet! Gradually work seemed to be taking more and more of his time, and the paychecks began to be larger–although they really didn’t need the extra money. She, too, worked outside the home, and evenings became their only bonding time. By then she was tired. And he was getting ready to pull an all-night shift.

He was so engrossed in doing a great job at work that he didn’t notice the time passing, and the distance between them becoming wider. Their love was still deep, but her loneliness was growing. I’ve been there myself: you know your spouse is providing for you, but they just don’t “get it” that a relationship has to be continually having investments, in order to grow. Actually, it is the very same way a savings account gets larger, in order to be ready if a tough time comes! If you don’t add to the balance, soon it becomes stagnant, and then, when there’s no activity, fees set in and the balance begins to erode, slowly, month by month. You ask over and over, “can we do something together?” and then the asking slows down… and becomes quiet, rather than cause contention.

And so it has become. This beautiful couple had a love account that was starting to get depleted–not on his side, for he was working almost double normal hours each week in order that she could have everything she wanted. But what she wanted was his presence. He didn’t get that. Eventually, on an innocent shopping trip, an old friend happened to cross her path. They talked over coffee to catch up on “old times.” He showed an interest in her life, in her loneliness, and was compassionate. (Hint: don’t ever discuss your marriage with a former flame. Never. He–being a guy–wanted to “fix it.” It’s a guy thing. It’s what they do.) He, because he wasn’t solid in a relationship with Christ, did not care she was married, just that she was lonely. She, on her side, was so isolated from friends and fun, that she was vulnerable to someone seeming to care. One thing led to another, and another.

After a few short months, it became obvious that her affections were being turned from her husband toward someone else. He, on his part, was clueless. Life had become a routine of work, sleep, a couple of hours with his wife, and work, sleep. The one day he took off had become a day to fight over his schedule, so he avoided that by sleeping extra.

It came as a huge shock when she let him know she was involved with someone else. It was, perhaps not a wake-up moment, but at least the alarm was going off. Could they seek counseling? She agreed. After all, she thought she still loved him, but she wanted her husband back, and was willing to see if they could change. It didn’t work out well. Counseling brought out feelings and resentments that put him on the defensive. What was he doing wrong? Working so she could have so much!! Where was the fault in that? He didn’t consider that women are extremely different from men. For women, it’s usually about the relationship: the harmony, the listening with true attention, the conversations below the surface, the quality time (and watching a movie together is NOT quality time–either can do that alone!), the affirmation that she is attractive and smart. She gets her strokes, usually, from him. For men, it’s about providing. And sex. Not necessarily in that order. Theirs is a life revolving around their profession first, and family second. Or further down (that’s a generalization, not always true, I understand that, so don’t email me.) He generally gets plenty of recognition from the boss, co-workers and clients.

He was torn totally out of his world, which was her! Depression, rejection, his love, his “investment” into a profession to give her everything, all of it was now like a boulder on his shoulders. They tried to work together but the fight was becoming too much. Finally, in desperation, after a few months he decided if she wanted a divorce, he would give it to her. At the next counseling session, he would tell her. He would let the other guy have what he himself prized most in life.

They met in the counselor’s office, and sat down. He had brought a list of what he was going to say, so that he didn’t forget anything important. He was ready.

The strange thing was, the night before, while he was tossing and turning, he felt God saying to his heart, “I DARE you to love her! I DARE you to love her!!” He had no idea what it meant. It did not make any sense.

Me: At the same time, I went to bed, hundreds of miles away. Usually a very-early-to-bed person, this particular night I stayed up hours beyond normal. I was agitated, and this couple was heavy on my mind. When I finally went to bed, I felt God saying “Court her! Court her!” It rang a bell, but at midnight my brain is on flat-line. I just knew the couple was heavy on my heart. I figured perhaps God was telling me to tell him that he should try to woo her the way he had done when they first met, and fell in love. Okay, I could do that. Still, something “niggled” at the back of my mind. I didn’t have many hours before I had to get up. Finally I fell asleep. My first thought on waking was “OH! That was from FIREPROOF, the movie!” Okay, I could tell him that, as well.

During church that Sunday morning I was having a tough “pity party.” I felt as though I was doing nothing for God; yes, I write, and yes, sometimes get “likes,” but was I reaching anyone to tell them God loves them? Would anyone be in heaven because I have lived? Worse, would anyone be in hell because I have lived? I could think of a couple, and prayed God would save them, but the depression had me down. I felt so useless!

The afternoon came, and I remembered the message I needed to give him. Searching for a name on Facebook, I found it, and sent a private IM. All I could do was tell what had happened the night before, add where I remembered hearing it, and beg forgiveness for interfering. I pressed enter, and it was gone. Then I noticed there had been no activity on the account for ages, and figured, “Oh, no! He won’t see this perhaps until it’s too late!” I figured perhaps there was someone I could call to get his cell number, and then I could send a text to say, Look at your FB message.

The Husband: I had my cell in my pocket when it made a funny, several note, beeping. I had never heard that before! What on earth was happening to my phone? I hit the screen light up, and saw there was a message from Facebook! Wow! I had NEVER had that happen before! The whole message that had been sent to my Facebook account–which I hadn’t been on in weeks–appeared, and I read it, astounded!

Me: Before I could even think of who to call for a phone number, probably within 15 seconds, a message popped up on Facebook: CALL ME! and the number. I did.

The Husband: As I read the message and called, I had the incredible bathing of the Holy Spirit washing over me, literally, as Romans says, “being poured out within my heart,” as I realized anew how much God loved me! Here was the confirmation of what HE wanted me to do, and here is what had taken place the week I had just lived through:

The morning of the counseling session, I had gotten to the counselor’s office, ready to offer my wife her divorce. Upon being seated, we began. When a question was asked me, I tried to answer, but my tongue seemed like concrete, and I could not think clearly. It got so bad that, at one point, both the counselor and my wife asked, “Are you okay?” I was worse than a mute–I literally could do hardly anything except grunt and LISTEN. During that session God really opened my ears, AND my understanding, and I learned more about my wife’s feelings for the previous months than I had had any clue about. I saw things from her perspective, not mine. Toward the end, when I should have said what I had come to say, I still couldn’t. And then the counselor ended the session: “I do not want either of you to TALK to each other for the next 30 days!” My wife hesitated, then said, “I don’t think that’s long enough; could we make it 40?” Yes, it was changed to 40 days!

What was I going to do for forty days?? How was I going to make it? I decided to go to a Christian bookstore and look for a devotional to get me through the weeks. As I looked at the shelves, my eyes went to the top row. There, staring back at me, was a book “THE LOVE DARE!” Remember, this was the next day after I had felt God tell me, “I DARE you to love her!” I picked the book off the shelf and thumbed through it. Only if you’ve been there can you imagine the astonishment I felt when I saw this was a workbook for a FORTY DAY assignment on loving your wife and winning her back! God was DARING me to love her! He was providing a book to work through for the 40 DAYS we were not to communicate! I walked out after buying the book, and started reading as soon as I got home.

As soon as I began, I saw the book was based on a movie I had never heard of: Fireproof! I had no idea what it was about, who made it, or what the theme was–I just knew I had to get it! I went out and rented the movie, and sat down and watched it. And wept, and wept. God’s love for me washed over me, and I could feel a tiny twinge of hope begin being fanned into life deep in my spirit. And so I began my forty day journey.

Day seven was finished, and I was working on day 8 when the message came through my phone. As I read it, I could now connect all the dots! Was I losing my mind, or had God really spoken to someone else, saying “Court her,” mentioning Fireproof, and confirming that what I was doing was His perfect will for me? The joy, the peace that passes all understanding, the incredible feeling–no, KNOWING–that God loves me personally was so overwhelming that the subsequent telephone call was a time of worship, praise and rejoicing that somehow, in His time, God would heal my heart, and hopefully heal my marriage.

(Me, now:) No, I haven’t heard yet what the outcome is, and am still praying that God does a miracle with this beautiful couple–as well as the others who are going through similar troubles. But don’t ever think that you are too insignificant that your Heavenly Father has no time to think of you. He is on your side, and if you are committing your life to Him, He will fight your battles. He is working to restore, to give you more than you could ask or think. And in doing so, He may even use someone else who is sinking in their own mud puddle, thinking they are useless to Him! His love notes to us, His messages of life and hope are never ending. Seek for Him, and you will find Him! Knock at the door, and He will open it, and come in! Don’t ever give up on God because someone has hurt you, or life hasn’t gone your way. Perhaps the consequences can’t be fixed, but the peace that will come in the new relationship with Him will last forever. If you’ve made choices that are not able to be fixed, let Him meet you right where you are. You say you have NOTHING to offer Him?

Remember, He made the world out of NOTHING.

An additional post script: I held back on publishing this, hoping to hear that things were turning around. A visit recently coincided with a Sunday, and this faithful husband came to the church. As I listened, across the room, I had chills as, over and over, the pastor exhorted those who were locked in a battle to not give up! It was the theme of the message, and another confirmation that God was still fighting for the marriage. The strength, the pastor said, was not going to be from the husband, but from God. The victory would be from God, and all would know that it was He who had brought it about. I pray He does.

Father, the battle is still raging for this precious couple, as well as thousands of couples within the reach of this blog. Please restore to them the joy of their marriage, the joy of their salvation, and find, in You, fullness of joy. In the priceless, matchless Name of Jesus Christ, the redeemer and kinsman of our souls, Amen!

 

© Ice | Dreamstime Stock Photos

RUNNING WITH THE HORSES…

dreamstimefree_65987Barney. If you’re not around horses, the word probably does not mean much. Maybe you think it means an idiot. Wrong (at least here). BUT… if you’re on a horse farm, if you ride the huge animals, or interact with them, it has (or did have, at one time!) a whole different meaning: it means a horse that senses his rider is a novice, is fearful, and decides, on the spur of the moment, he’s had enough of this greenhorn and is going back to the barn–with or without the rider. That was me.

Riding for the first time, this “sweet-spirited, gentle” (quote, my sister) horse would be just the one that I could ride without falling off the saddle from shaking with fear. We got in a line, about six riders, ambling down a path through woods near the farm. The rural countryside in Wake County, NC, was (at that time) beautiful, sparsely populated, and serene.

The horse probably knew the instant I was helped onto his back (believe me, I did not mount correctly) that he had a total newbie on him. It is said that an animal can smell fear. I’m certain his large nostrils were filled with it, and if he could have, he would have asked for a breathing mask.

Halfway through the ride he decided he had had enough walking, decided running might be more fun, and if he were going to run, he might as well head back to the barn. His speed rivaled any horse in the Preakness, Kentucky Derby or on any race track. At least it felt that way to me. I had enough awareness of my situation to know that if I let one of the hairs of his mane slip through my fingers, I would fall, probably to my death. It’s a wonder his mane did not come out. I have no memory of the halter, or anything leather in my hands. Just hair.

I’m sure the screaming in his ears didn’t help any, but after miles and weeks of running at the speed of light, he rounded the corner into the barn. I laid on his back and bawled until several hours later when my sister, family and friends arrived back at the farm. Okay, maybe it wasn’t weeks and hours. Life should not be measured in hours, days and weeks, but in experience. This was one of the “thousand year” times.

All that to say, this morning when I staggered into the kitchen for my first two cups of coffee, which are in one mug (when news came out several years ago that more than two cups of coffee weren’t good for you, I increased my cup to one that holds 20 ounces. So I still drink two “cups,” it just happens to be 40 ounces), I saw an unusual sight: two box fans, on the floor, blowing on high speed, the mop standing there, a shiny, clean floor, and the frig (by the standards of a housewife) not straight. About that time my husband came up from the lower level–a shock, since he sleeps a full two hours longer than I do. The ice maker had poured water out of the ice section (not the gadget side for water), somehow missing the connection of flowing in to refill the ice tray. For who knows how long? Long enough to flood the kitchen. Great. At least he had risen to get a drink of water and found the situation before it leaked through the floor to the lower level. The maintenance agreement ran out in March. Is that predetermined or not? By the time I got around to chugging down my coffee, if I remember correctly two hours (or ages) ago, we were having a “negative fellowship,” since I wasn’t moving the frig correctly, wiping the floor right, and all those other things that might be said when two people are under duress, and one doesn’t even want to be spoken to until coffee has gone from mouth to stomach, stomach to brain.

As I calmed down, I could not help but reflect that nearly every day brings a crisis of one type or another. Some days it might be a small one, other days it’s a big one. I start my day with quiet, coffee and my Bible. Today didn’t start like that. I was frustrated, irritated that the frig wasn’t doing its job, and antagonistic because I was having to “hit the ground running,” rather than having a peaceful quiet time. The Scripture hit me between the eyes, “If you can’t run with the horsemen, how are you going to make it when you have to run with the horses?” (That’s a very loose paraphrase of Jeremiah 12:5).  In other words, if I can’t wake up to a flooded kitchen, how am I going to react when I wake up and something has happened to one of my children or grandchildren? Or news of a terminal illness comes our way? I was not running well with the “horsemen” this morning, so how am I to keep up when I have to run with horses?

Sunday’s sermon came to mind. (You knew it would come to this, right??) Matt Willmington, at Thomas Road, preached on what a Christian really is. That means in the midst of trials, persecutions, hardships, etc., we don’t forget Who we’re following.  We act like a Christian, talk like a Christian (no profanity, sorry folks, but that’s what the Bible says), no saying “Oh, my god” and taking His name in vain (sorry, folks, but that’s what the commandments say), but we realize this trial is momentary, a “light affliction,” and developing patience in us (James, chapter one. Read it, he’s terrific).

Matt laid out some facts that were humbling: if you made more than $5o,000 last year, you’re in the 1% bracket for the world’s wealthiest people. So all those “rich” folks you’ve been frustrated with now includes you; if you made $25,000, you’re in the top 2% wealthiest people in the world. At just $12,500, you’re in the top 13%. That’s $6 per hour, if that helps. Does that put things in perspective for you? It did for me. I was complaining and whining about my frig (“do all things without grumbling and complaining.” Sorry, folks, it’s in the Bible), when really, I have a refrigerator and most of the world does not. I want days without crises (plural), but it’s not going to happen. I need to exercise my spiritual life so that I can keep up with the horses, even when they’re barney.

I need to take the crises of life, turn them into reasons to be grateful, and thank my heavenly Father for His daily care, His daily love, (He gives me daily bread–and since HE is the Bread of Life, He feeds me with Himself daily), and remember to be grateful that I have a frig. Car. Gasoline in it. Breath. Fresh air. Good health. “Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done!”

Thank you, Father, for life!

Sunday sermon from Thomas Road Baptist Church: http://www.trbc.org/sermon-archive

© Raoul Nijst | Dreamstime Stock Photos

 

POURED OUT AND OVERFLOWING–The Aftermath!

The pick-up truck pulled in beside the bins, just another vehicle in a long line. An elderly gentleman and his wife got out of the truck, walked to the back and started taking boxes out. There were sheets, dinnerware, comforter sets, crib sets, canned goods and health products. They filled one of the bins completely full, got back into the truck and pulled off. They had smiled and nodded at the workers, but made no show of their generosity.

The large group of college students jumped out of the bus, tools in hand or tool kit, gloves and boots on, ready to work in one of the more damaged areas. They started cleaning, hammering, fixing–anything that needed to be done. At lunch they stopped for a short break, ate their packed lunches, and went back to work. Some of the students circulated among the householders, trying to find out if there were immediate needs that required priority. They weren’t pushy, obnoxious or arrogant; they were just a large group of students helping out in a neighborhood full of needs, to the best of their ability.

A group of teenage girls came from a local youth group, cases of crayons, books, puzzles and more, ready to entertain children, calming them while their parents needed to get their lives re-arranged after a tornado. The girls were sweet, caring, and helpful with the children. They had come to do a job in loving their neighbors, and were doing it the best way they knew how.

This community is like thousands of others around the nation. People who have had their lives completely blindsided, being helped by other people whose only motive is to make things easier for those suffering during a time of disaster.

The humanitarian organization was there, handing out water, blankets, food, and other essentials. They, too, were serving. They, too, were motivated by concern and love.

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You look around at the lives interacting, and see the services offered in love, see those who need love at the moment, need comfort, encouragement and physical needs met, and you have to ask–where did these people come from, the ones who are helping? They’re not military, nor paid workers–just ordinary folks like you and me, alert to a time of tragedy and how they can help. It’s love in action.

At a time in America when Christians are taking the flack for everything from reading their Bible in public to having their social media censored, these people aren’t letting it bother them. One looks at them, not trained, but helping without being asked. You look beyond where the vehicles are parked and see van after van, a bus here or there, all with church logos on them. All putting their faith into action.

Did they stop and ask those who need help if they are worthy? Certainly not! Did they bring up anyone’s lifestyle, their hobbies, their language, their race, their looks? Certainly not. These people did nothing to deserve the help, material items or love brought to them: they received it because they are made in God’s image, and the church is to love them. To show love such as Jesus would show. To perhaps cause one of them to question, “I thought Christians were hypocrites, were judgmental, and arrogant because they say their sins are forgiven! But you aren’t acting like that. Can you tell me why?”

If they, as ordinary human beings, can serve and love their fellow neighbors like that, without asking “are you worthy for us to help you,” how much more does the God in heaven love them. He doesn’t judge them by their past or their present, either. If they decide they want to believe that He is the Son of God, turn from their sins, and follow Him, every sin they have ever committed is instantly forgiven! A debtor whose debts are paid, and a bill marked “Paid In Full” hand-delivered by Christ to them.

For those of us who have loved Him for years, we have found Him faithful. He has never left us, never moved away–through the hurts from the world, through the evils that have occurred because the world truly is full of evil, through the bad times and good. He has carried us, held our hands, snuggled us closely while we wept, and carried our burdens. Is life always easy? Absolutely not. But the advantages of being a follower of Jesus Christ–and having a relationship with Him–is so overwhelmingly in our favor that it’s hard to understand someone rejecting Him. He is good, He is faithful, even when we are not. How much more can you ask?

Don’t get your eyes on people who fail you, for there will always be those, both inside and outside of a church building. Get your eyes on Jesus, knowing He will love you through it all. But He’s not a Genie to be used only when you need a favor–He’s the holy creator of the universe, the One Who spoke the world into existence. He has plans and a purpose for you, if you’ll trust Him enough to take His hand. Just do it.

 

© Angela Farley | Dreamstime Stock Photos