Being Content

It hit me over the weekend.

As I sat a baseball game with my hubby. 11407285_842408325840074_8629597503444942428_n

I am content.

I mean it.

Deep down in my soul.

Finally.

Fifty-six, claiming Philippians 4:11-13 for years.

Now. I am there.

I’ve searched for decades.

Tried new houses.

New jobs.

New friends.

New churches.

Nothing helped.

IMG_1712At least not until I stopped trying.

And I know why.

It’s God.

That’s it.

Just. God.

 

He filled the empty spaces. He calmed my wandering heart. He placed me in the palm of His hand and refused to let go.1305785931_l-1

I can say now with confidence “ Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13

My life verses.

Now true.

Who knew!

Contentment.

Good at any age.

Thank you Father.

For never letting go.

 

 

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My God Love Story

Still just as true today as when I first wrote it. I am so thankful that God loves me even when I am not lovable or deserving.

graceitsagodthing

“Until God’s love is enough, nothing else will be.” A Confident Heart (pg 55)
My earliest memories revolve around church. I loved the smell of the hymnals, the plush carpet on the floor and the big cross that hung on the wall over the baptistery. The echo of my voice when I would run into the sanctuary early on a Sunday morning always made me feel small, but powerful, and quickly brought me to reverence for the God I was there to worship. I can remember even as a very young girl sitting on the pew with our entire family – grandparents, parents, brother, aunts, uncles and assorted other family. We would crowd in and listen to the sermon of our pastor. Somehow, I always wound up between my mom and my grandmother, which was okay with me, because mom always had a pen and paper and Mabel (my grandmother)…

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The Long Way Home

“But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” Luke 15:32

So what does all this talk about God’s grace and His pursuit have to do with you?

That’s the ultimate question isn’t it.

Well, I think it has a lot to do with you. If you want to live a life of grace then you must be willing to see God’s grace in the world around you. It is there, because His grace is everywhere. Sometimes we may discount it or look at it as coincidence or chance, but it is really just God.

Just God.

What an idea.

Our humanness finds it hard to conceive of just God. We are conditioned to believe that He can’t be involved in the mundane details of our lives because He is too busy running the universe.  But what if we change our way of thinking to realize that we ARE His universe. All he wants is the opportunity to share our lives, our hopes, our dreams and our reality. He already wrote the story; He just has to wonder sometimes why we take the long way home.

Home. A four-letter word that we all believe in and search for every day. But home is where He is and where His is enough.

Isn’t it?

His grace is our home. His mercy is our hope. His love is our promise, and it’s a God thing. Do you remember the story of the prodigal son? If not, let me share it with you:

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. 25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’   28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ 31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” Luke 15:11-32

I can’t tell you how many times I have realized that I am the prodigal in this story.

And every time I read it and see the response of the father at the end of the story, I am thankful and amazed at God’s grace.

He let me go, but not too far.

He waited for me, but didn’t force Himself on me.

He eagerly anticipated my return but wasn’t push.

Then, when I finally came home after many years of trying to make it on my own, He threw a party.

How do I know?

I just know.

The way I know that my mom and dad are watching me from Heaven, and the way I know that God has a plan for my life.

He has a plan for you, too, you know, and I would love to hear all about it.

Please share your story of God’s grace with me. You can write it hear and God will be sure I hear you.

My goal is to start a community of grace that is founded on the Grace of God and lived out daily in the lives of His people. As Paul said to the Christians at Thessalonica, so I say to you:

“ 16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. “ 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

His grace is real. Embrace it, believe it, live it!grace-736162

New Beginnings

(This God story is from 2011. Things have changed since then, but more on that later!)

“You were the unanimous choice of the hiring committee, so if you and the president can agree on a salary and a start date, the position will be yours.”

Had I really just heard that right?

The assistant to the president at the college where I now teach was telling me the news I had been hoping and praying for for weeks now.

But the fact that she was saying those words filled me with wonder and awe.Yes to God 2

And, I knew, it’s a God thing.

This new beginning started back in early summer when just by happenstance I picked up a Sunday paper. Glancing through the classified section I saw the ad for the English faculty position at SWGTC. After showing it to my husband, David, and discussing and dreaming about the possibility with him, I set the paper aside and went about my day.

But, I couldn’t let it go.

I wanted to, but something (God) kept pulling me back, and, on the last day of the application period, I filled out an online application, got three friends and colleagues to write me letters of recommendation and sent the packet on its merry little electronic way. “There.” I told myself. At least I took the step. That’s all I can do.

I didn’t share the application news with anyone except Dave and the three friends who wrote the letters and I was glad.

After almost a month I still hadn’t heard anything from the college.

I was thinking, “Well, this is what God wanted. He just wanted to know I was willing to step out even if nothing came of it.”

But, being ever like the man after God’s own heart, David, and having a need for confirmation, I emailed the human resources person just, I thought, to be told that they had hired someone else. That’s not what happened, though. Her response was that they would begin interviews the following week and I should hear from the Hiring Committee if they were interested. Good enough. I had my answer. I said a prayer of thanks to God and let it go.

IMG_1244That’s not the end of the story, though. If it were, it would be good and God would still be great. However, the following week, while talking to my sister-in-law and friend Kimberly on my cell phone, my home phone rang and it was the Dean from the college wanting to set up an interview! I could hardly believe it. Just when I thought God had said NO! the door opened a little crack again.

I went to that interview the following week and when I left, I knew that I had done all I could and that there was nothing I wished that I had done any differently. I had been confident that I was the right person for the job and I left confident that whatever happened, God was in control. The committee had said that I should hear something within a week, so that meant that I wouldn’t have long to think about it or to worry over it, my usual mode of operation. This time, though, I felt a sense of peace because I knew I had given the whole situation to God and that He had this.

When two weeks went by and I hadn’t heard anything, I have to admit to panicking just a little. So, I once again put on my David persona and sent an email to the human resources person to see if a decision had been made. As I was reading her reply the following Monday morning, my cell phone rang and it was a number I didn’t recognize.

You guessed it! It was the call from the president’s office setting up my interview with him.

Some people would say that’s not about God. It’s just you were the right person. But I know differently. And, so did my sweet sister-in-law, who I often say has a direct line to God. Because when I texted her after the interview and said if God speaks to you about this, please share. She did. Here is her reply:

“The door is open. He is waiting for you on the other side to meet Him there…trust Him. Don’t listen to Satan’s lies. He will try to sway you in your discernment. I don’t know the logistics, but He does. There are a lot of mixed up college kids waiting for you to love them.”

That’s a God thing. I knew when I read this text message that taking the position was the right thing to do and that God was all over it. I just had to get out of the way and let Him be the one to shine. As He says in Jeremiah 29:11-14:

“I know what I’m doing.  I have it all planned out–plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen.When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed. I’ll turn things around for you…You can count on it.” (The Message)

That’s my God! And, I pray that’s your God, too.26

The Worn Path

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33

While I don’t remember the exact date that my friend Anna told me she and her youth Pastor husband Larry were moving, I do remember the feeling of loss and dread I felt at the thought that someone whose friendship I valued was moving away. IMG_0275

But, I remember being even more surprised when Anna shared with me where God was taking them on their journey. For the third time in Larry’s ministry, God was taking them back to a church where they had already served.

Their story and God’s grace is one that constantly reminds me that while we think we should always be moving forward and away, sometimes God’s design can be that we move back and return to places and people He has put in our lives before.

Larry and Anna have been in youth ministry their entire married lives. It always will be the call on their lives and they have willingly followed God’s call wherever that meant they would be. When Larry and Anna came to our home church in late 1996, I knew immediately that they would have a profound impact on the lives of my children. What I didn’t know is what good friends they would become to my husband and me. Having them along side us as we guided our sons through their teenage years was definitely a God thing. I truly don’t know how we would have made it without them.

For Andrew, Larry was a strong hand that taught him about commitment and being the man of God he professed to be all the time not just while on stage. With AJ, Larry was the one person who could get through to him when his anger was the only thing he could see and feel. For Dave and me, they were a couple that honored God in all they did and yet who were real and honest in a way we had never known. P1010779

And now, just as quickly as they had entered our lives, they were leaving.

Following God to the next place where He would use them.

Funny thing was, it was somewhere they had been not once, but twice before.

I can remember talking to Larry and Anna about their decision and how even though to them it seemed improbable that they could serve at the same church three separate times, that was exactly what God was leading them to do. They would be going back to serve the children of students they had ministered to in the early nineties and would watch as some of those former students stepped up to be leaders serving alongside them in ministry. What an honor and a rare privilege God has given them.

But this story could just as easily not happened.

What a testament to the endearing grace of God that He would make Himself known to His servants and that they would see the opportunity to serve Him not once or twice, but three times at the same church.

IMG_274Today the thriving youth ministry they began almost thirty years ago is still the passion of their hearts and the city where they are is where they would want to be to serve out their final days in ministry. The verse from Matthew at the beginning of this chapter has always been one of Larry’s favorites. He often quoted it to the kids in youth group and the middle school ministry even bore the number 33 in its name. To see him live out that verse in his own life has had a huge impact on the lives of young people who have been in his youth group over the years and who are still impacted by the life he and Anna live today.

Not only does Larry and Anna’s obedience change young people, the parents of those young people are changed as well. My husband and I are examples of that. Because these two servants of God choose to go where He leads and do what He commands, lives have been changed and will continue to be changed for many years.

 

 

The path to the church where they now serve is worn. They have traveled it many times before, and they will continue to travel it and the paths leading back to “their kids” as long as God allows.

By His Grace, they serve.p10106534.jpg

 

Loving My Mom

“Honor your father and mother…” Exodus 20:12

P1000521            My mom passed away in May of 2010 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

The struggle had been painful and difficult for her and I know that she is now in Heaven where there is no more pain and she is no longer struggling to control her movements, she’s no longer falling, and she is at peace. I wish I could say the same for myself.

Remember the story about pursuing my passion; I did take that job as a teacher and it made all the difference in the world to my son. He finished school and his anger issues, while not completely gone, are controllable.

And, he has become the man I knew he could be. I did what I needed to do to take care of him and to be sure that he was okay. But in so doing, I made choices regarding my mom that I would take back if I could.

We sold our big house with the mom room when I took that teaching job and moved her to an assisted living facility. The day we moved her I told her, “Mom, just let me get AJ taken care of and then I will concentrate all my energy on you.”

There are days I wish I’d never said that and those words still haunt me even now, four years after her death because I’m not sure I kept that promise. At least not in the way that she wanted or expected.

But, where my mom was and is concerned, I tend to ignore the voice of God I hear inside and just react. I don’t stop to pray, weigh the consequences of the action or even consider how anyone else may be affected. I just do.

That, too, resulted from a promise. This one to my dad not long before he died when he made me promise that I would take care of mom after he was gone. Seemed an easy request. He was the healthy one and she was sick. He would easily outlive her, right?

Then my dad died suddenly and I was left with this big promise to the man I adored. I couldn’t break it no matter what it meant to my husband, our relationship, our children, my career or me. And trust me, it took a toll on all those areas.

In the fall of 2006, my mom took the fall that would be the beginning of the end for her. She broke her femur completely in two and it had to be bolted back together. Because of the Parkinson’s tremors, the bone didn’t heal properly and my mom never really gained full use of her legs again. She could take short walks from room to room, but was confined to a wheelchair pretty much all of her waking hours. That fall was extremely hard on my family and on my brother who lives in Texas. He IMG_1103spent a good deal of time and money being in Florida to help me with mom so I could work, and a couple of times, we prepared to lose her as the doctors told us she just wasn’t doing well and that most of the problem was depression. Once again, I did what I always did when she got like this; I uprooted and changed my life so she would be taken care of.

Right before Christmas of 2006, Dave and I moved into a new house we couldn’t afford but that had plenty of room for mom and moved our married son and his wife into the house we had built for ourselves and could afford. Confusing, huh! On December 20, 2006, we moved mom into the house and into her wing complete with a bedroom, bathroom and sitting room. The perfect little apartment! And, on the day after Christmas, just as my brother was getting ready to leave to go home, she fell again. This time with all of us in the next room! That should have been an omen, but it wasn’t. I just quit my job and stayed home with her convinced that my being there would prevent anything else from happening.

Within the course of the next six months, my mom fell five more times, began hallucinating and had more urinary tract infections than I can remember. In June, 2007, our doctor told us we had to move her to a nursing home because she was too much for me to handle and if we didn’t I was going to be in worse shape than she was.

What a blow!

I had given up a career I loved, the one I had only begun 5 years earlier, had no prospects and was living in a house that was way above the means of my husband’s state worker salary. But we moved her, cashed in her savings and I went to work at the local community college as an adjunct instructor.

You may notice that during all this there is no mention of God in my words. That’s because for those months I turned my back on Him. I was angry and upset that He would allow this to happen to me. I was trying to honor my mom. I was keeping my promise to my dad and yet things just weren’t working out like I thought they would.

Looking back on it now, it’s easy to see why things weren’t working out, but in those days, weeks and months, all I could see was that I wasn’t important to God. I didn’t matter to Him and so I quit talking to Him and consequently, He quit talking to me. That’s how it works, you know. We stop talking and listening and so our Father becomes quiet too. He’s still there, and He still loves us, but He allows us to wallow in our mire until we cry out:

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,

                        who was and is and is to come!” Revelation 4:8b

And when after almost two years of struggle I did that, He welcomed me yet again into His waiting arms to love me and to make right the mistakes I had humanly made. That’s not to say that there were no consequences for the actions and steps I took outside His will but I was right with my maker and that was all that mattered.

I will always be grateful for the last three years I had with my mom. I had only promised to take care of her because my daddy asked me to do so. She and I had never been close before his death but I would do anything to make him happy and this was what would make him happy. I’ve often wondered if he knew that there would come a time when I would take care of her because I wanted to not for him. momandme

See, that’s what those last three years were. They were my chance to get to know my mom and to build a relationship with her that would protect my memories of her and would help me to move on when she was gone.

Not a day went by during this stage of her life when I didn’t see her. I either went by the nursing home in the morning on my way to work or in the afternoon on my way home and she was at my home with my family every weekend and every holiday.

P1000872My sons have precious memories of their grandmother that will stay with them forever and her presence is a constant in our home.

That my friend is a God thing.

He opened my heart to love my mom in a way I never had before and He built a bridge to her that I had never before had. His grace shone all around her during this time and despite the pain and frustration I know she felt, she never complained. She was kind to all who met her, loved those who even paid a little bit of attention to her and taught any who cared to learn by her actions that God’s grace is enough. It was for her, even on the days when she couldn’t remember my name and saw orange chickens under the bed. Even then she would tell me that she knew God was there. She read her Bible until the end of her life and she sang me church songs all the time.

What I wouldn’t give for one more day to hear her voice, to see her face, to share Saturday morning breakfast with her. Maybe I could have tried to keep her alive when she took that last fall in May 2010, but she had been begging me for weeks to let her go home and so I did.

I sat with her for 10 days in hospice while her body shut down and she finally went to be with God. Those days were so precious and I am so glad we had them. I got to know her even more during those long hours as I read her favorite book ”A Gift From the Sea” to her. It was one of those things I had never understood – her fascination with that book. But in the hours that I sat beside her and read it to her, I finally saw what she must have seen in that book and it clicked. All the ways I am like her, all the ways she inspired me to be who I am and how she loved me with Godfidence so that I would be able to be the woman He called me to be even if that wasn’t the woman she wanted me to be.

In the end I did follow God’s law and honor my mom. I miss her terribly and talk to her everyday. I also know that she imparted to me the knowledge I needed and then God took her home because that’s who He is. He gives us what we need, when we need it and then He moves us and the person or situation on.

As Anne Morrow Lindbergh says it in “Gift from the Sea”:

“A good relationship has a pattern like a dance and is built on some of the same rules. The partners do not need to hold on tightly, because they move confidently in the same pattern, intricate but gay and swift and free, like a country-dance of Mozart’s. To touch heavily would be to arrest the pattern and freeze the movement, to check the endlessly changing beauty of its unfolding. There is no place here for the possessive clutch, the clinging arm, the heavy hand; only the barest touch in passing. Now arm in arm, now face-to-face, now back-to-back — it does not matter which. Because they know they are partners moving to the same rhythm, creating a pattern together, and being invisibly nourished by it.” –

 

My little bit of heaven on a Monday.

Sunset on my favorite stretch of beach