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

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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

 

My God Love Story

“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) always had gum – perfect combination to keep a young girl quiet in church.IMG_0833

But often, I didn’t need those distractions because there was no place else I’d rather be. I loved the singing, the preaching and the invitation. It often seemed otherworldly and important in a way that I didn’t understand back then. I just knew that when I went there, I felt good inside and the fact that there were great stories just made it that much better. Sunday school, Training Union (as we called it back then), Sword drills, GAs (Girls Ambassadors) they all encouraged me to understand this God person that everyone talked about.
vacationbibleschoolI was eleven years old and at Vacation Bible School when it happened. I accepted Jesus into my heart as my Lord and Savior. In my innocence the only thing I knew was that I just didn’t want to go to Hell and that’s what our preacher assured us would happen if we died without having given our lives to God. For all my teenage years, I went to church every week, participated in my church youth group and attended every event my small Southern Baptist Church had. Looking back, I’m not sure if I went because I was on fire for God, or because there was some cute boy there I wanted to see. Either way, my need got me to church and kept me there, at least until I was 22.
But, at age 22, I walked away from God and for the next few years tried to live my life as if He didn’t exist, without His guidance and without Him as my cornerstone. I could recount for you all the mistakes I made and how I allowed sex and alcohol to fill the void that was in my heart, but I know that those actions have been forgiven, and that talking about them here serves no purpose. It was during these years, though, that I moved from my hometown of Laurel, Mississippi to Leesburg, Florida where I met and married my husband. (You’ll hear that story later.)

It was a productive time, but I always knew there was something missing from my life. After we got married and had children, I moved in and out of church because I knew I wanted my boys raised in the church as I was, but for a long time, it just didn’t stick. I wasn’t committed, my husband wasn’t committed, and Satan was having a field day with our marriage. I knew something was missing, I just didn’t know what. I was busy being married, finishing school, having babies and starting a career. Things were going fine so I convinced myself that I didn’t really need God. I also had married someone who didn’t have the same affinity to church and to God that I did, so that made it difficult as well.
All that changed on June 5, 1995. My daddy had a stroke and was in the hospital four hours away. As we drove to where he was, I began desperately to pray that God would spare him. I called everyone I knew who was a believer and asked them to pray as well. But, as I reached his bedside, I knew that he was not going to recover and I felt totally and completely lost. For the first time in a very long time, I cried out to my Heavenly Father.1305785931_l-1

And, God heard me. Even though I had not found time or made time for Him in many years, He heard my cry and He wrapped His arms around me. I heard Him speak to me saying “I’m right here. Right where I’ve always been, waiting for you to come home.” In that instant I knew that I might have lost my earthly father, but my Heavenly Father, my Abba, was never going to leave me.

That’s a God thing.

He waits and we return.
Since that day, things have been very different with God and me. I can’t say it’s been perfect, I am human after all.

But as Renee Swope says in A Confident Heart, “Whatever you have done, or will do, God still loves you and He forgives you.” (pg. 126)
That’s what God’s love is all about and it is the only love story I need. He meets us where we are and He never lets us go. He is patient and kind and He waits, like any gentleman would, for us to come to Him. He never forces himself on us, He never says I told you so and He is always proud of us, maybe not for an action we’ve taken, but because we are His chosen and He loves us unconditionally.

His word tells us in Lamentations 3:22 – 25: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him. (NIV)
I am so honored to know that God loves me this much. And, like the writer of Lamentations, I wait for him. This is one love story that will never end.never-leave-you-nor-foraske-you

Grace for the Weekend

It’s a beautiful, cool, clear morning outside my window in Florida.

The voice from Psalm rings in my ears:

“This is the day the Lord has made. I WILL rejoice and be glad in it.”

Today I am looking forward to church with my children, lunch with my family and a nice long bike ride. 26DSC00710DSC00089

Days like this are gifts from God.

Wherever you go and whatever you do today, my friends, take time to praise the one whose grace makes our lives possible.

Thank you Lord that your “mercies are new every morning.”

 

 

 

Grace for the Weekend – Celebrate

Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. I Peter 4:8-9a

This verse makes me smile. My family lives this verse without even realizing that we do. We all love each other with abandon, and forgive each other our many differences because above all, we love deeply and passionately.

At no time is this more real to us than in a month like August.

A month full of celebrations for our family.

Last week we celebrated our grandson’s first birthday. My brother was here. His other grandmother, great aunt and Aunt Nattie were here.

DSC00713This week we celebrated number one son’s birthday.

With our adopted family Dan, Rachelle and Will here, the day was wonderful.

Today at church we celebrated back to school Sunday. In our family this is a big deal since we have four teachers, two university staff members and one college policeman in our midst. In fact, all of us in some way touch the lives of students.

Next week we celebrate Football Sunday.

And then it’s time for college football.

All things our family enjoys celebrating.

I’m looking forward to many celebrations this school year.

As I pray over and for my students, I am looking for God to do great things in their lives.

As my family celebrates the birthdays to come and the accomplishments of each other, I look forward to the goofy, fun and sometimes crazy family gatherings around my dining room table.

DSC00710But, most importantly of all, we celebrate life. Both the life we were born to and the life we have been given through Jesus Christ who sacrificed His life for us.

As you celebrate this month and throughout the fall of this year, may the thought of Jesus and His grace never be far from you.

 

 

You can rest!

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)

A few weeks ago I attended a women’s retreat and as part of the service, we were asked to write on a card the things in our lives that were weighing on us. Those things we couldn’t seem to give up. To give to God. Then we were asked to place them in a bowl and to walk away from them taking with us a card that contained a message for us from God.

Mine read, “You can rest.”

And, it included these verses from Matthew.

I have the card on my refrigerator where I can see it every time I walk into my kitchen. I also wrote the message in my Bible and have it on a card at my desk.

You know why, right?

It’s hard for me, as a woman, – wife, mother, grandmother, sister, friend, employee, volunteer – to do that.

rest

If I’m still, I feel like I’m neglecting someone or something that needs me.

But, even Jesus rested.

Jesus recognized the importance of getting away and taking the time to recharge and rejuvenate so that he could give the best of himself to those who needed and still need him.8ab8cd842c647e08262b5e6cf3f315ab

My prayer is that I can learn to do the same. And, that you can too.

Let’s take our cue from Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.

May we rest in him and share with him the burdens of our hearts.

 

 

IMG_0810

“But He Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” Luke 5:16

He’s waiting.