Photo Worthy

We just finished the Thanksgiving season with all the family gatherings, delicious food, and lots of photo opportunities.  Now the oranges and golds are being replaced by the reds and greens of Christmas.  More pictures to come, for sure!

Already our social media is brimming with the pictures that others are sharing of their Christmas decorations.  So much beauty and creativity!  I love doing that every year, sharing the warmth and glow of the season.

But the brightness all around us, even if we only see it in a photo, sure can make the other side of life seem even darker than usual.

Other’s picture-perfect moments, if compared to some of ours, seem off-the-chart wonderful…and ours.  Well, the line on our chart is going in the opposite direction.  Way down.

Several years ago, I saw this picture of Mary and Joseph after the birth of baby Jesus.  It’s probably the most accurate portrayal of the nativity that I have ever seen.

The call of God on their lives to be the earthly parents of Jesus came at a huge cost to them.  They knew that their reputations would forever be tarnished.  Gossip and judgmental stares would be their lot. 

But can you imagine the long trip to Bethlehem for the census?  The discomfort, hunger, dirt, and fear? 

Then the baby being born in an animal stable.  We don’t know for sure, but did they have help delivering baby Jesus?  How Mary must have wished for her mother to be beside her! 

Can you imagine how alone they must have felt?  No family that we know of to surround them with love and care.  No beautiful nursery ready for baby Jesus.  No comfort of a soft bed for Mary or Jesus.  No kitchen full of food, or a meal train at the ready.

Joseph and Mary submitted without reservation to God’s call on their lives.  That special call might seem sweet and incredible to us but to them I can pretty safely assume that on most days it was anything but that.

Over this past week, mixed in with all the beautiful pictures of family gatherings, I was receiving other pictures from our dear friends.

 Dan and Wendy have loved and cared for their Elijah (Speedy) for many years.  Speedy has an extremely severe form of Epilepsy.  He was hospitalized yet again during Thanksgiving, for six days.

Lots of tests.

Still, lots of unanswered questions.

Always, always there is so much love from these amazing parents for their Speedy.

But the pain…the grief…is so real. 

Raw…and deep.

Wendy and I talk a lot.  We speak the same language that comes from special needs parenting.  We can be real with each other.

We understand what Dale Davis was saying in his commentary on the book of Luke when he talked about the benediction in Hebrews 13:20-21…about the part that says may God “do in us what pleases Him.”

That part is scary because we don’t know what it is that will please God.

Can we be like Mary, though, and submit to God’s will for our lives?

“May it be done to me according to Your word,” Mary replied as she was called to be the mother of God’s Son.

“Submission is preferable to consolation, for consolation pleases us, but submission pleases God.”  (Thomas Hog, 1692)

Let that sink in.

There are so many times that I would far rather have the photo worthy moments of family and fun and excitement and adventure and beauty to be the posts of my life.

Not the incomplete family photos. 

Not the tiredness…anger…frustrations…comparisons…resentments that often accompany this special-needs life.

How about you?  What is it in your life that you feel isn’t photo worthy? 

What would you gladly trade in for a more beautiful shot?

Somehow, though, I know that God looks down on our broken and He sees the very people and things that bring Him the most glory and the most joy.

He sees way beyond this temporal into a plan for each life that goes far beyond what we will ever know on this old earth.

And that’s what is eternally photo worthy.

To Tim and Alicia

Tim, our hearts are across the country with you and the family today as you celebrate Alicia’s life.  We are with you…with Bryson, Brayden, and Willow Grace…as you honor your amazing wife and mother.

I wish I had all the answers for you and the children about why God took Alicia so suddenly and so soon.  Of course, I don’t.  No one on this earth does. 

Only God.

I wish I could take away your pain and deep grief.  Of course, I can’t.

Only God.

What I do know is that God is with you.  I know you know that, too.  You may not always feel it right now, but you know it.

I thought of you this week as I read Genesis 46, about Jacob traveling down to Egypt to see the son whom he thought was long ago dead.

Jacob was settled in Israel, content there, and old.

Israel was the land God had promised to him and his descendants.

But now Jacob was faced with the inevitable…traveling down to Egypt to see Joseph. 

Egypt. 

Egypt was the enemy.  Egypt was a place of fear…unfamiliarity…full of danger and totally distasteful to Jacob.

But God told Jacob, “I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt…”

And God continued, “I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again…”

Tim, as the dust settles, and your life continues…but without Alicia…I pray that you and the children will know that God has gone down with you to this Egypt.

“Where can I go from Your Spirit?  Or where can I flee from Your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, You are there.  If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.

If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,

Even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me.

If I say, surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,

Even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day.

Darkness and light are alike to You.”   (Psalm 139: 7-12)

Tim, God is with you and the children in this Egypt.  And just like He promised Jacob, He will bring you up again. 

God will heal your hurt.

God will comfort your deepest sorrow.

God will walk with you each step of this very hard road.

God understands the question, “Why?!” 

Alicia, last week Tim messaged me and said that more than once you said you would love to have met me. 

Let me tell you, that I have always wished for that as well…and never more so than now after reading the multitude of posts about how many lives you touched.

Tim said you were the kindest lady he had ever known and that he was blessed to have been loved by you.

I have seen this week that this is the lifelong impact you have had on many lives as a wife, mother, sister, friend, and a brand new RN. 

And especially as a follower of Christ, your kindness and love will live on in the hearts and lives of so many people. 

Death has not…and will not…dull your testimony.

In fact, I do believe that God will use this as the means to show us all how very important it is to know Jesus personally…to shine brightly for Him…and to always be ready to meet Him.

Speaking of meeting, you and I WILL meet one day…of that I am very certain.  I look forward to that day in heaven when I do finally get to give you a big hug and to thank you for the impact you have had on my life even from afar.

Tim, Bryson, Brayden, and Willow Grace – you are covered in our prayers.

May you, as time goes on, be able to say with Jacob, “God answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” 

We love you.

Under the Quilt

I heard Aaron’s first seizure at 12:38 this morning.  The second was at 2:37.  As I often say, Aaron would appreciate that I am using the precise time. 

Not long after 4:00 I heard him rustling.  It wasn’t a seizure.  I listened and knew that he was out of bed.  He went to the bathroom and then back to his room.  I heard his door close. 

I got up and went to his room, fairly sure of what I would find.  He had changed his pajamas and was getting ready to climb back into bed.

His sheets were wet.  Bed wetting seizures are common to Aaron. 

I had him sit in his desk chair as I changed his sheets.  He watched my every move, as he is not only bent on using precision with his time keeping but is also particular about his bedding being just right. 

I was thankful for waterproof mattress pads, and that we keep an extra one on hand.  Thankful for extra sheets and blankets, and for our washing machine and dryer.

There sat Aaron.  He was flicking his fingers together as he so often does now, more and more.  There was some dried blood on the corner of his mouth where he had bitten his tongue during his first seizure. 

He kept telling me that his head hurt.  He wondered if he would have to go to his day group. 

It always breaks my heart to see him like this.  Broke my heart, too, as I asked him if he would have slept on wet sheets if I hadn’t come in there.  He said yes because he didn’t want to wake us up. 

I told him he never ever had to sleep on wet sheets.

I was finally done with his bed.  It’s a stretch for Aaron to lay down under different covers than his usual ones.

“I want my Mario blanket,” he said as he looked at his bed all covered in a blanket not his own.

“But it’s wet,” I told him.  “Here, I’ll get you another blanket to use.”

I walked out into the hall and opened the linen cabinet.  I saw the quilt that we have had for many years and knew that the weight of it would be a comfort to Aaron.

As I carried it to his room and arranged it on his bed, I was thinking about the sweet memories of this quilt.  It was a wedding gift to me and Gary, made 44 years ago by the dear ladies at Needham’s Grove Baptist Church in Needham’s Grove, North Carolina.  My brother pastored there. The women in the church had gotten to know me while I was in Bible college not far away and would often visit on weekends.  

Finally, I was finished with Aaron’s bed.  He surveyed it as he stood up from his chair.  I smiled as he immediately pulled out some wrinkles in the quilt before he walked around to get back in bed.  He snuggled under the covers, and I pulled them up around his face, a soft smile of contentment visible on his lips. 

It wasn’t even 30 minutes later that I heard another seizure.  As I stood beside his bed, I looked at that special quilt again.  Each stitch was sewn by hand…hands of women who loved the Lord and loved to give. 

All those years ago, I had no idea what our life would hold.  We were dreamy-eyed newlyweds with our whole life before us. 

And now, under the quilt that we used to lay under, lay our special Aaron.  Never would I have imagined that we would still be caring for our 37-year-old son…that the quilt that covered us now covered Aaron.

I don’t know or understand the reason for any of it. 

But I do know my heavenly Father.

And I do know that He has stitched every little piece of my life and of Gary’s life and of Aaron’s life. 

God has stitched it in order to create a beautiful work.

Not an easy work.  And not the one I would have chosen if He had let me. 

But do I trust Him?

And if I do, at what point do I stop trusting?

I either fully trust God, or I don’t.

That means, that even through tears and disappointments and frustrations and exhaustion, I trust the God Who has promised to direct my steps.

Who has promised that “underneath are His everlasting arms.”

I am never lower than His arms that are always under me to hold me up.

And neither are you, my friend, if you know and trust this God Who loves you so much.

Who gave His own Son, Jesus, to die for you.

And Who is meticulously stitching the fabric of your life…of my life…of Aaron’s…into a work of art.

I want to rest under that quilt, handmade by God.

The Next Step

Aaron loves walking in nearby Swanson Park.  The weather finally cooled down enough a few days ago for us to enjoy a nice stroll on the paved trails.

Aaron is familiar enough with the park to know when we are nearing the small bridge that goes over Cowskin Creek.  There it is, barely visible ahead of us as we walk the winding trail. 

I know as we get nearer to the bridge that Aaron will tell me he doesn’t like that bridge.  On this particular day, I offered for us to turn around and walk back the way we had come and not go over the bridge.  But he did not want to do that, so we kept walking.

Each step brought us nearer to the scary bridge.  Yet Aaron knew, through prior experience, that I would stay with him and that the walk across the bridge would end up just fine.

Sometimes I’m very much like Aaron as I walk with the Lord.  I’ve walked with Him a long time, in many places and many varied experiences.  God has proven Himself faithful over and over.

Yet still, when I know that up ahead is a situation that I may not like, I get unnerved. 

It’s easy to focus on the scary bridge and not on the One Who is walking beside me.

Easy as well to want to plan and strategize.

If I do this, then maybe that will happen. 

But I don’t see how it’s even possible to do this.  So maybe I could try this other thing to make it all work out.

Hmmmmm.

Well, maybe this…..

No.  I know!  I could do……

Finally…I just don’t know how ANY of this can work out!!

All my planning falls in a heap of frustration.

You know what God really wants?

He really wants me to walk one step at a time, one moment at a time, one day at a time.

He wants me to take the next step.  Period.

And to quit stewing over what might be or could be or will it be?!

That’s what Ruth did when she and Naomi left Moab.  There they were, two destitute widows with no plan and no certain future.

But Ruth just did the next thing…took the next step by asking Naomi if she could go glean the grain that the reapers left behind.  She and Naomi needed food, and Ruth had learned that God had told His people to leave grain in the fields for those like her and Naomi.

Ruth couldn’t see what would happen tomorrow or the next day or the following week or next month or next year.

But she knew that today she could go and glean grain.

You and I know the rest of the story, but she certainly didn’t.

And more importantly, God knew all the twists and turns of Ruth’s life and of her future.  He wanted her to each day take the next step of obedience, and to do so without knowing her future.

This is exactly what God wants of me…to walk one step at a time today without trying to leap ahead into tomorrow with all my plans.

All of us have a bridge up ahead in our lives.  We have good things and scary things and hard things up ahead.

But we don’t have to walk across that bridge alone.  If we know God, then He will be right there beside us, guiding us to take that next step.

“Trust the providence of God for tomorrow, and do the next thing in quiet faith today.”  (David Strain)

I Don’t Hold My Breath

It started last week with some strange pains in my chest.  The pains didn’t seem to be heart related but they were disconcerting regardless.  I talked to my doctor’s nurse, who spoke with my doctor, and I got some advice along with an appointment to see her.

Yesterday, after conversation and an exam, I found myself being ushered to various rooms.  Labs…chest X-Ray…EKG…a CT Angiogram…and all the waiting that is an inevitable part of the whole process.

After my CT scan, I was led to another waiting area.  For a long time, I sat there by myself.  There was a small, tall table beside me.  I hadn’t paid it much attention.  I was looking at the other table across the room and for some reason wondered if the one beside me matched it.  So I leaned forward to look at the table next to me.  Then I saw it…the Bible laying on the little table. 

I felt compelled to pick it up and to open it.  I have opened my Bible often in my life at times like this…times of stress and concern.  I have never been disappointed in what God has to say to me when I look down and start reading. 

I opened the Bible.  I looked down to find myself in the book of Job.

I was a little let down.  I mean, why couldn’t it have been the Psalms?  Not that Job doesn’t have words of God’s encouragement, but the Psalms are stuffed full of really great verses that are meant for these moments of uncertainty such as I was feeling. 

 I started reading chapter 12.  Just look at these verses!  Job was speaking:

“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you;

    the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you;

 or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you;

    and the fish of the sea will declare to you.

 Who among all these does not know

    that the hand of the Lord has done this?

 In his hand is the life of every living thing

    and the breath of all mankind.”

Job looked at his terrible suffering and could still say that the Lord’s hand had done that.  He knew, and said that even animals and nature know, that all of life is in God’s hand.

But I was blown away by that last line.  The breath of all mankind is in God’s hand. 

I had been given breathing instructions in every exam and test that morning.

 Take a deep breath.  Now let it out. 

Take a deep breath and hold it. 

You may breathe normally now.

Hold your breath.

Now breathe.

And as I sat there waiting on test results, wondering if something serious was wrong, God so gently reminded me that He was holding my very breath in HIS hand.

If something was wrong with me, could I say like Job did that God’s hand had done that?  The same hand that held my breath could do with me what He wanted, but whatever it was that He did would be good. 

Did I really believe that?

It turned out that the radiologist that we were waiting on to read the CT results was gone.  I sat there for an hour only to be told to go home and results would come in later. 

It would have been easy to be frustrated by that…to feel like I had just wasted an hour, hungry and tired and with no results.

But I look at it as a sweet gift from God, that time of opening a random Bible and listening to what God had to say to me in that dismal waiting room. 

Right now it seems like I am fine, and I’m thankful for that.

But most of all I’m thankful for God sitting with me in that waiting room.

 Thankful for the very timely reminder that every breath I take is in His hand.

And on the day I take my last breath, I’ll be holding His hand. 

Draw Near

I have a very simple olive wood nativity set that I put out every year for Christmas.  I bought this set in Israel many years ago.  I love its simplicity and the memories it brings to me of my times spent in Israel.   

This year, as I was decorating, I asked Aaron if he would like to place the nativity scene on top of the cabinet where I always display it.  He agreed, and so I left him to it as I continued putting out other decorations. 

Later, as I walked by, I saw what Aaron had done and I had to smile.  You see, he placed the shepherds, wise men, Mary and Joseph, and the animals in a tight group around baby Jesus in the manger. 

I usually have them spread apart, like this.

My first instinct was to rearrange the pieces in the way I always have them.  But I stopped myself.  First, I didn’t want to hurt Aaron’s feelings – making him think that he had not done the job correctly.

But looking at this little scene, with every person and animal huddled close around baby Jesus, has made my thoughts go to the significance it portrays.

The whole depth of God’s love for us is demonstrated in that humble manger scene.   To think that He planned the way of our salvation through the gift of His only Son is astounding. 

Jesus, God Himself, drew near to us as he was born in a filthy animal stable and placed in a dirty feeding trough.  He endured the difficult life of a human during a very hard time in history.  Israel was ruled by brutal Romans.  Jesus was not welcomed in that world and was eventually crucified.  His death went far beyond politics, though.  He lived and died to make the way for us to know God…to come to God through His sacrifice for us…to bear our sin so that we could be sinless in God’s eyes.

Jesus grieved over Israel’s refusal to believe that He was the Messiah.  His heart broke as He looked over the city of Jerusalem and said that He would have gathered them near as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. 

And how He wants us to draw near to Him in that same way!

James said, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you…”  (James 4:8)

He has said that if we seek Him, we will find Him.

Draw near to Him for salvation.

Draw near to Him in every upheaval of this life. 

Cancer.  COVID.  Divorce.  Prodigals.  Danger.  Tornadoes.  Finances.  Termination.  Caregiving.  Death.

Just add your situation to the list and then purposely draw near to Jesus.

Satan wants to distract us and defeat us by making us look at the impossible and the hopeless.

But Jesus wants us to know Him and to see that with God all things are possible.  With Him, we have hope both here and now, and for eternity.

And to be able to say with the Psalmist, “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good.”  (Psalm 73:28)

Secret Things

If there is ever a time that it’s OK to keep secrets from each other, it’s now, at Christmas.  We buy gifts and then try to find the best hiding places around the house so that little…or big…snoops don’t find them.  We rush to grab that delivered box off the porch before our husband or child grabs it first.  It’s fun and exciting and perfectly allowed.

Then we must wrap the gift when prying eyes won’t see what it is.  I used to love stacking our children’s wrapped gifts in their individual piles and having them put their own gifts under the tree.  There was lots of shaking and guessing going on while they worked.  It was so much fun!  I knew the answers to their many questions, but I kept it to myself as I watched them wonder what was in each box. 

Last year, as Gary and I sat by our tree, Aaron joined us.  It wasn’t long before he was on his knees in front of the tree, taking out boxes to see which ones were for him.  He went through that ageless process of trying to guess the content of the gifts that bore his name.  And I went through the same ageless process of telling him that he must wait for the answer.

You know, God has secrets, too.  I just read about that fact this morning.  Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God…”

There are things that God keeps to Himself, things about my life and about His doings in my life.  I don’t always understand why God orders my life in the ways that He does.  I don’t always know what’s in each box that ends up on the front porch of my life.  

And perhaps more importantly, I don’t often understand the “why” of some of the gifts that God gives.  In fact, there are things that I wouldn’t even classify as a gift in many ways.  A gift should be fun and wanted and needed, right?

I think of Aaron, of what a gift it was when after five years of marriage God allowed me to finally be pregnant.  Of the immense joy I felt as I held my little baby son 37 years ago, feeling like the most blessed woman in the history of the world.  Of watching him grow, smart as a whip and cute as a button.  Then the sudden huge seizure when he was in the first grade, the years of medicines and tests and doctors and still seizures.  The unexplained behaviors that manifested more and more as he got older, that set him apart from his siblings and his peers.  The diagnosis of autism, the challenges of his anger and his very particular way of conducting his life.  The forever care that he needs and the way that this impacts Gary and me now in our older years.  The questions about his future, and ours.

But on the hard days, in the sadness of seizures and the frustrations of autism, I have a choice to make about this gift that God has given me.  I can question it, I can resent it, I can let it make me bitter.

Or I can look beyond the gift into the heart of the Giver and know that He only has my good…and Aaron’s good…in His loving heart.  God has some secrets that only He knows about concerning Aaron and his life, and therefore mine.  I don’t need to know God’s reasons before I exercise trust in Him.  I just need to know Him.  Period.

When I grasp that concept…and so often I don’t…then I can experience some other gifts that God has given me. 

Peace.

Joy.

Contentment.

Those attitudes, those gifts, come and go with me. 

“What IS this, God?” I can imagine me asking Him as I shake the box.

“Go ahead and open it,” He responds.

“But I didn’t ask for this,” I tell Him as I see what’s inside.

“No,” he lovingly says.  “But I know that you need this very thing.”

“Why?!” I ask through my tears.

“Oh,” he answers, “that is a secret for only Me to know right now.  Someday I will let you in on the secret, but not today.”

“But…” I so often begin.

And God answers:

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”  (James 1:17)

Like the old hymn writer said:

And we wonder why the test when we try to do our best, but we’ll understand it better by and by. 

By and by, when the morning comes,

When the saints of God are gathered home,

We’ll tell the story how we’ve overcome

For we’ll understand it better by and by.

The Fruit of Forgetfulness

Aaron and I walked into our Dillon’s store one day this week.  He had happily agreed to my idea of getting him a Cheddar Pasta Salad for supper.  As we walked in the door, he quickly took off in the opposite direction from me. 

“Aaron,” I said to his back as he briskly walked away, “you need to come and find me when you’re done!”

I quickly got the salad.  No Aaron.

As I walked to the meat section, looking up each aisle…no Aaron.

I bought some meat.  No Aaron.

I looked up each aisle that I passed again.  No Aaron.

Finally, I went back to my original location. 

“MOM!!”

There he was, amid the flowers on one side and the boxed bakery treats on the other.  He had seen me.  He took off toward me in a run, holding two jars of peanuts, his face covered in a huge smile of relief.

“MOM!” he repeated.

“Don’t run, Aaron,” I admonished. 

But afraid of losing me again, he ran anyway.

“I thought you had left me!” he dramatically stated as he dumped his jars of peanuts in the cart. 

“I would never leave you,” I replied.  “You’re the one who left me.”

“But I thought you had gone, so I told a lady who works here to page you,” he excitedly answered.

“Oh, Aaron!  Did you really?!” I asked.

“YES!!” he said.  “I told her I couldn’t find my mom and I thought you had left and would she page you.”

I was actually pretty impressed that he had thought about paging me.  He saw the employee in self-checkout that he had spoken to.

“Is this your mom?” she asked.

“YES!!” Aaron told her.  “She didn’t leave me!”

We laughed…and there I stood, feeling like the mom who routinely abandons her son, being eyed by the customers who would never do such a thing.  😊

As I scanned the groceries, and kept reminding Aaron to calm down, I was also reminding him of all our past history.

“Aaron, have I ever, ever left you anywhere?” I asked him.

He said no, but…

“No, Aaron, just remember that I have never left you and I would never leave you,” I continued.

This past January I chose a word for the year.  I’ve never done that before but this year I felt impressed to choose the word “Remember” for my word of the year.

I’m reading and studying through the book of Deuteronomy.  Moses was preparing the children of Israel to enter the Promised Land.  It was a land of “milk and honey,” full of good ground and many resources.

But it was also full of danger from inhabitants who hated the God of Israel and who fully intended to kill all the Israelites. 

So, there were the weary travelers who had just spent 40 years wandering through the desert, and God wanted them to conquer this land.

“Really, God?” they questioned.  “And just how are we supposed to do THAT?!”

And Moses said, “REMEMBER!!”

“…you shall not be afraid of them; you shall well REMEMBER what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt.”  (Deut. 7:18)

How easy it is for us to forget God when we are surrounded by the stresses and bad news in our lives! 

Or we don’t really forget God, but we forget all the many ways that He has shown Himself faithful to us over the years.

Sometimes we simply forget WHO God is. 

And when we do that, we focus on our situations and not on God.

This quote jumped out at me this week and planted itself firmly in my heart:

            “FEAR IS THE FRUIT OF FORGETFULNESS.”  (Raymond Brown)

Over and over, Moses told Israel to remember all the works of God and all the ways He had led them.  And the only fear they were to have?

“You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him…”  (Deut. 6:13)

This fear means to have reverential trust in God. 

There is plenty to fear today in our personal lives; in the lives of our families; in our nation and in our world.

I don’t know about you, but I have had – even just this week – several opportunities to practice fearing (trusting) God instead of fearing my circumstances.

You see, trust and a lack of fear does not involve understanding my circumstances.

Trust and a lack of fear involves knowing and understanding God.

There is so much I don’t understand today.

But I DO know and understand this:

“Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God Who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments.”  (Deut. 7:9)

I affirmed to Aaron that I would never leave him.

And may I never forget that God affirms to me the same.

A Cloud of Fear

It was shortly after 6:00 this morning when I walked into the room where I have my quiet time with the Lord.  As I always do, I looked out the window at my usual view…a view I have grown to love. 

And there, right above our Pin Oak tree that has been in hundreds of my sky pictures, was a lone dark cloud. 

It was so odd and unexpected.  Most of the sky was clear except for a few clouds here and there. 

I looked on my weather app and even the radar was clear. 

But there was no denying that just outside my window sat a large dark cloud.

It wasn’t long before I heard rumbles of thunder.  By now the cloud had moved, and the rising sun was reflecting out of it.  I could see a shaft of rain in the distance. 

All of it was truly beautiful.

I have said it many times before, but it bears repeating.  The most beautiful sky pictures usually involve storm clouds. 

Storms can be frightening.

But storms can also be beautiful, and storms can bring much needed nourishment to our land.

In fact, we need storms for life and growth.

None of us have far to look today in order to see a storm cloud.   Not a literal storm cloud.  However, just turn on the news or read the headlines, and there you see it…a cloud of fear.  Many clouds of fear, actually, all around our world.

We’re all dealing with those clouds, but many are also dealing with clouds that are even closer.  Personal clouds of fear are right outside your windows.  Situations exist that are beyond your ability to dictate and manage.

Yet in those fearful clouds, those scary circumstances, there is the beauty of knowing that if you are walking with God then He is in charge.  He will only allow what is best for each of His children, even if part of that plan contains fear or pain.

Never forget this:

            “Out of my distress I called upon the Lord;

            The Lord answered me and set me free.

            The Lord is on my side;

            I will not fear.

            What can man do to me?”  (Psalm 118:5-6)

And finally:

            “The Lord is God, and He has made His light to shine upon us…”

            (Psalm 118:27a)

The Lord is God.

Be sure you know God, personally, through Jesus. 

Then take comfort in knowing that the Lord is on the side of His people who know Him.

And we have nothing to fear, now or in the end. 

What Does It Profit?

I have a story to share.  It’s a true story that has impacted my husband and I greatly over the past few years.  I trust it will do the same for you.

Years ago, we met a woman who should have been a part of my husband’s life for all of his life but was not – through no fault of either of them.  That all changed a couple years ago.  I will call her Mary. 

Mary had lived a difficult life before we ever knew her.  Many of her problems were due to her own bad decisions, we came to learn.  But in recent years, Mary came to know Christ personally.  As her faith grew, her life changed.  The consequences of her past decisions could not be erased but her life took on new meaning, new purpose, and was full of new peace.

Our lives became more personally entwined with Mary’s due to the death of a dad and later the death of his wife.  What was to have been Mary’s from the estate was wrongfully taken away.  Mary, now suffering from metastatic breast cancer and still trying to work to make ends meet, was devastated.

Gary and I, though, did what we could to encourage Mary from a distance.  However, we watched with grateful amazement as she turned to the One Who really loved her the most and from Whom she gained the greatest strength. 

Her conversations with us centered on that relationship with God that was growing in her life through her extreme difficulties, her hurt, and her declining health.  Mary turned her back on being bitter and instead turned her heart to God’s forgiveness of her, and thus her forgiveness of those who had done so much wrong in her life.  She had counted on some earthly financial help to come her way but when it did not, she learned the value of counting on God instead…and from that experience, she grew so much.

On what was to be her last holiday season on earth, Mary sent us this message.  I will simply let you read her exact words:

“I’m at the cancer clinic right now getting my blood drawn and waiting to see my oncologist for my usual follow up. On the way here this morning I passed the mall and stores with their crowded parking lots full of Black Friday shoppers. It really caused me to think about what’s most important in this life. It’s God, our Salvation, family and friends. Even if I never ever had another present under the Christmas tree, it wouldn’t matter. Because I’ve already been so richly blessed, and you all are a part of that blessing!  I have so much to be grateful for.”

We commented to her about how thankful we were to have been given the opportunity to know her better over the previous months.  Our relationship probably would not have happened had it not been for the wrong that was done.  But we were sorry for her advancing cancer and for her hardships.  Again, Mary’s words:

“That’s one of the many good things that’s come out of a bad situation. My cancer journey has brought me into a much closer and deeper walk with God, which I am grateful for.

It’s strengthened my faith, and brought about peace, joy, and a sense of assurance, much stronger than I had before. It’s had a positive impact on all areas of my life. It’s truly amazing how our God moves and works His will in our lives.”

What a beautiful example she was of how God makes beauty from ashes!  Her testimony continued to shine with us until her death seven months later. 

Another person recently died, too…a person who was largely responsible for the wrong done in Mary’s life.  He had everything of earthly value that anyone could want, some not rightfully his, but when I think of him, I think of what Jesus said:

“What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?”

A real-life lesson from two people who made choices, one choosing the narrow path and one the wide. 

Two lives…two choices…two eternities.

Which one are you, my friend?