Friday, August 4, 2017

The Swamp

Driving down the back roads the other day, heading to see my grandsons, I had to stop my car in the middle of the road and pull over. No, I didn't run out of gas, or have car troubles. But, what I did see stopped me in my path. I was compelled to get out and take a closer look.

Normally when I'm traveling through this area, I just mosey right on along because it's smack dab through the middle of a stinky, dirty, slimy...did I say stinky...swamp. The water is backed up, covered over in muck, and usually has all these dead trees and stumps protruding out of it.

On that day, which happened to be a sunny, breezy Sunday afternoon, it was different. Out in the middle of what was usually a stench filled backwater area, were all of these beautiful lilies! Perched on top of bright greenish blue lily pads sat these delicate blooms. There must have been thousands of them.

It just took me back. I never dreamed anything good... anything that beautiful... could ever come out of all of that mess.

Isn't that how we are? We have stinky, dirty, slimy messes in our lives and we are sometimes certain that's all there will ever be. We ponder whether there will ever be any beauty.

Read Isaiah 61:1-7 with me.

During the days of Isaiah, I can imagine that the Israelites might have been a bit hopeless too. But Isaiah gives them some great news: Jubilee is coming and all will be made new. All of the things that imprisoned them. All of the things that broke their hearts. All of things that caused them to mourn. And all of the things that were torn apart.

Even better, when Christ comes, He brings jubilee! He offers freedom from all the pain and hurt in what can be a stinky, dirty, slimy world. He brings Peace. He provides hope. He gives forgiveness.

What do you need to offer up to Him? Leave it at the foot of the cross. Let Him set you free, heal your brokenness, and give you a crown of beauty for ashes.


“To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.”
Isaiah 61:3 NLT


Click to download a copy of The Swamp!


Editor's Note: Clipart in Bible illustration and traveler's notebook is from Creative Market. Click here to get your own copy!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Joy


When you were a child, how many times did you pluck a dandelion, close your eyes, and make a wish?  If you were like me, I'm sure it was a thousand or two times!!  Those seeds were in their prime just waiting to be scattered in the wind...landing where they may!

I can still remember the joy I had watching each little individual seed blowing in the breeze. Hours might pass by as I blew on one after another. One might land near my feet. Another in the yard next door. And others still would be carried farther than my eyes could see.

Seeing those little seeds floating on their merry way would bring such giddiness and joy to this girl's heart. Those seeds would be sown, new dandelions would sprout up, and the cycle would repeat.

Through the years the Lord has given me opportunity to sow other seeds as well. Seeds that will last through to eternity. Raising my girls. Time with students. Teaching ladies.

Getting to see these types of seeds sprout brings an even greater joy. Watching my oldest daughter instill in her three young sons things of eternal value...wow.  Listening to my first grandson give gratitude to the Lord for a beautiful falling snowflake...oh my. Observing my youngest daughter pour her life in to children in an orphanage half way around the globe and then learning just this week that one of the young girls in that orphanage has decided to be a Jesus follower...hmm.  Hearing the news from a girlfriend that she is teaching her friend the things that I taught to her...whew.

I'm not writing all this to pat myself on the back. I'm writing it down as a reminder to myself that my work here is never done.  Now is not the time to sit back and waste time. There are always more seeds to plant...and to water...and to cultivate. Even though I may not physically be able to do the things I used to, there is always someone I can meet with, someone I can pray with, and someone I can pour His love in to.  I have to choose to be intentional.


A tear often slips out of my eye when I ponder the goodness of God that allows me to be a part of Him bringing people to Himself.  He doesn't need us...but He allows us the privilege.

Truly "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth."
‭‭3 John‬ ‭1:4‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Who are you investing in today?

"and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also."
‭‭2 Timothy‬ ‭2:2‬ ‭ESV‬‬



Thursday, May 25, 2017

His Kind of Love




Shortly after my honey and I first met, he commented that I had so many friends. That seemed like an odd statement to me, because I've always had lots of friends. Doesn't everyone?

Because I tend to be an extra extroverted extrovert, I'm pretty much always connecting with someone. I love to be with people. Girlfriends charge my battery. People encourage my being. They fuel my heart. And I get to talk with them. Who doesn't love to talk??

Many years ago now, the Lord impressed upon my heart that my mission in this life was to encourage others to have a love relationship with Him. That could explain why He made me a bit on the outgoing side. I've always been pretty open about my life with Jesus, but He was instructing me that I needed to be intentional with this. I knew He would show me what that would look like.

Over time, I realized that He meant "go and make disciples". I thought at first He literally meant "go somewhere...go be a missionary". I've come to understand that verse for me meant "as you are going". Going through this life. Raising babies. Steering teenagers!! Caring for aging parents. Losing a sister. Coping with the pain of divorce. Accepting health issues. Coming alongside hurting friends.

Could it be that friends are for more than mani pedis and going out to eat??

All the while as we go through this life, we are given the opportunity to have others alongside us....as we are going. You know what? Not only do we get to be involved with what God is doing in their lives, they get to be in ours.

Raising my girls wouldn't have been possible without friends and mentors giving me great advice. Losing my sister and caring for aging parents...the same. Friends and family carried me through those. Divorce? Yes, my friends, my daughters, and my brother were right there beside me. These same ones have bent down and put my shoes on my feet, and even now sweep my floor because some days I just can't.

And I thought all these years, I was just doing what God had placed on my heart to do...show others about a love relationship with Him. And I was. And am.

But, oh my, how much more my family and friends have taught me...and shown me...about His love. They have shown me that I am loved. Loved with His kind of love.


"This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends."
‭‭John‬ ‭15:12-13‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Friday, April 7, 2017

Free From What If's

I've always been a thinker. A dreamer. A planner. And, unfortunately, a worrier. There are days, and often many nights, that my mind just doesn't want to turn off and slow down. These are the times that pondering isn't always a good thing.

This blog post is really for me because I'm sure none of you ever deal with that. You just pray and give it to God and leave it there. You never start thinking "but what if this happens? What if that happens? How about this God?" Or my favorite..."don't you think you should fix it like this God? And by this date?"


The Lord keeps reminding through His Word that He has it all under control and He doesn't need me with my list of "what if's" to help Him out. In fact, over and over in Scripture, He tells me that I am to stand still, trust Him, and that He will fight my battle.

This week as I was reading about the Israelites preparing to cross the Red Sea, two little words jumped off the page at me. "Be silent." What? Me? Be silent? Don't say anything?? Ha! Anyone who knows me, knows I talk. A lot. And the word "silent" would never be used to describe me!!  However, plain as day, God spoke to my heart when I read these verses in Exodus 14.

"And Moses said to the people, "Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent."

Oh my!! Surely I misread that. Nope. It says all I have to do is "be silent". Wait. "Of all things Lord, be silent?" "Yes, Gayle, be silent." Hmmm. Ok. I guess I can keep my mouth closed. I memorized a Psalm many years to help with that. Remember I'm the girl who likes to talk. A lot. "Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!" ‭‭Psalm 141:3‬

What the Lord is really teaching me though, is that it's much more than just keeping my mouth silent. It's keeping my thoughts silent as well. That's where the beginning of that passage in Exodus spoke to my heart. "Fear not."  Be brave.  I'm a strong, independent kind of girl and I don't like to admit that sometimes I'm fearful and not very bold.  Finances. Health. My kids and grandkids. The future. Home repairs. Sometimes, all of those thoughts run through my mind all at once and it's like they are competing in a marathon in there...or at least bumper cars!!

But God. I think He knew the Israelites...and I...would need to hear these words. "Be silent." The passage summed up for me is this:  1.  don't fear  2.  stand still  3.  watch God  4.  be quiet

This next dialogue is for me, but you can read it if you like. Why be afraid when God is always in control and He is always faithful? Stand firm. Don't waver. No doubting. Then, watch God. He will always take care of the situation. Remember? He's the faithful One. Oh yeah, don't forget...be silent. Not just your mouth, Gayle, but your mind and heart too.

The story in Exodus goes on to tell us not only did the Israelites cross the Red Sea, but they did so on dry ground, and none of them were defeated by the enemy. All they had to do was "be silent". 
 

"Father, please help me to be quiet. To be brave and bold. To trust you. To not fear. And then to turn off my mind full of 'what if's' and be silent as I watch you." Amen.



(Editor's note:  This study was influenced by an Illustrated Faith devotional entitled "Free to Flourish".)

Thursday, March 9, 2017

A New Song


 
Once upon a time, there was a little girl with blonde hair and golden brown eyes. She lived with her Momma, her Daddy, and her sister and brother. All was happy and just right from her perspective. She would often dream of being all grown up and someday marrying her Prince Charming. They would have a few kids, own the little cottage with the white picket fence, grow old together, and live happily ever after, because that's just the way fairy tales always ended.

Right?? Well, in this case, not quite. Everything was just as she dreamed, right up until the "grow old together" part. You see, her Prince Charming, her pastor husband, decided he wanted to live happily ever after...without her.

As you can imagine, her heart was broken and her dreams were shattered. She was so sad. So hurt. So lost. That fairy tale life she dreamed of turned out not to be such a fairy tale after all.

But God whispered ever so lovingly in her ear. "Depend on me. Remember, I'm your first love. I'm your Bridegroom and you're my bride. I'll never leave you."

So she did the only thing she knew to do. She threw herself into His arms. She spent hours pouring herself in to His Word...His love letter...to her. She asked Him for wisdom as only He could give. He surrounded her with her family and friends and her church who comforted her. She chose to believe He would hear her pleas and answer.

"I've thrown myself headlong into your arms— I'm celebrating your rescue. I'm singing at the top of my lungs, I'm so full of answered prayers." Psalm 13:5-6 MSG

One day her brother called her while she was at work. She knew that something wasn't right, because he never called her office.  He told her the devastating news that their Daddy had stage 4 lung cancer. The tears just poured from her eyes. Her Daddy, her rock, was dying and he would soon leave her too.

But God, once again, reminded her He was right there. He wasn't going anywhere and that He would always love her.

Days turned in to weeks. Weeks turned in to months. The girl spent her days going to work, running back and forth to Little Rock, coming home to her sweet fur baby Maggie, and pouring herself in to God's Word. As she pondered His Words, usually with Maggie in her lap, she allowed His Words to soothe her weary soul.

And then one day, it happened. The same sweet whisper she had heard compelling her to depend on Him, was now telling her to go open the front door. She thought it a bit strange, but she obeyed.

What her eyes beheld caused a cleansing tear to roll down her cheek. There, just out at the edge of the sidewalk, the Bradford pear was bursting forth in bloom and the daffodils were displaying all their glorious yellow color. The sky was bluer than blue, the rays of the sun warmed her face, and the birds' melodies were sweet music to her ears. All of creation was pouring out praise to the Creator!! It was as if the words in the Psalms she had been pondering were birthed right before her.

You see, she wasn't even sure if the daffodils had bloomed the previous spring. She was pretty sure the birds hadn't been singing and she knew the skies had been dark.

But God, on that spring afternoon, gave her a new song to sing. He reminded her that after the darkness...after the winter...after what may seem like four winters in a row...spring always comes, and...if she let Him, if she would choose,  He would always give her reason to sing praise!

"I waited patiently for the LORD to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the LORD."
‭‭Psalm 40:1-3‬ ‭NLT


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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Love Story


There was never a doubt when I was growing up that my parents loved each other. Darling, Honey, and Sugar were frequently used when they spoke to each other. They always kissed good morning
and good night and were constantly saying "I love you". They held hands like school kids while we were out shopping in the mall.

Sweet memories come to mind when I think of their love for each other. Daddy served a tour in Vietnam in the early 70's. Momma and us kids wrote letters almost daily to him and he wrote often to us.  As the time got closer for him to come home, his letters even had a little picture on the envelope with numbers on it counting down the days.

On the day Daddy returned, my Momma, my sister and I all got our hair done. You know, the big puffy bouffant kind of hair do with a whole can of hairspray on it!! My brother got a new little outfit, baby blue, with the cute white knee socks. We were at the airport anxiously staring at the sky looking for that plane to come in view. There we were.  All dressed to the nines in our new outfits and fresh hair dos.  Momma had an extra splash of perfume on...it was called Persion Wood...it was by Avon!!  I can close my eyes and still smell that sweet aroma of Momma's perfume.  When Daddy's plane landed and he got to the bottom of those steps, Momma flew into Daddy's arms and they both wept. Not because they were sad...but because of their great love for each other. My memory replays that beautiful scene like an old movie.


Many years later, and many more precious memories later, a tear rolled down Daddy's cheek the day we buried Momma. I knew his heart was broken.

Time does heal broken hearts.  A few years had passed when I noticed a new spring to my Daddy's step and a little smile that often crossed his face.  Ahhh...new love...and a new marriage.  Several years into their marriage, Daddy and I were staying the night in the hospital waiting room because his new bride, Wilma, had open heart surgery. Daddy was beside himself...but yet, He had a calm peace because He knew the Lord was in control of it all. Her surgery was over and she was stable, but Daddy wasn't going to leave his bride alone at the hospital. You see, my Daddy was the most faithful, loyal person I've ever known.  He loved my Momma, but oh, how he loved Wilma, too.  He used to say he was the most fortunate man for God to have given him two such wonderful women to love!

In the wee hours of that night, Daddy and I began to do some middle of the night pondering. He began recounting he and Wilma's trip to Washington DC. He told me of visiting the Korean War and the Vietnam Memorials. Knowing that must have been emotional for him being a veteran of both wars, I asked him how he felt. As he began to tell the story of seeing his friends' names on that wall, I saw his eyes leak a tear or two.

For the first time ever in my life, my dad began to tell me about his tours in Korea, Libya, and Vietnam. He shared about the horrors he saw, the fears he had, and the friends he lost...the trials he faced, and the sacrifices given. The tears leaked from both of our eyes at that point. In those moments, I was ever so thankful that the Lord spared my Daddy and I knew I had seen love in every tear Daddy shed.

In 1st John, chapter 3, verse 16, we are told "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers." The passage goes on in the next chapter, verse 7, to say "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God."

"God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.
Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other."

‭‭1 John‬ ‭4:9-11‬ ‭NLT‬‬

You know by now from joining me in my ponderings, that I loved my Daddy very much. That is probably even an understatement!! Daddy was such a great example of pure, selfless love. He gave from his heart...always. Yes, I saw love in my Daddy's actions, but oh my...My Heavenly Father demonstrates it to me...and for you...even more so.

That, my friends, is a love story.

‭‭

Monday, January 30, 2017

Hide-n-Seek

Ninety eight, ninety nine, one hundred. Ready or not here I come!! And off I would go to find my friends who were hiding from me.
Let's see. Under the bushes? Nope, not there. I know. Behind the house? Geesh. Not there either. I'd ponder again. I've got it now!! They are crouched behind the car. Dog gone it. That wasn't it either. I would search everywhere my mind could dream of, but just couldn't find them.

Then, I'd hear it. That coke can would go tumbling down the street and I knew they had gotten to home base and kicked it before I could seek them out. I'd get frustrated because once again, my search turned up nothing.

Whew. I'm so thankful that when we look for our Father, our exploration isn't futile. When we search for Him, He can always be found by us. When life is hard, and we are desperate for answers, He provides them.  When we are exhausted and come to Him, He gives us rest. Over and over in His Word, He assures us of the promise that He will be always be available for us.


"But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul."
‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭4:29‬ ‭ESV‬‬

"I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me."
‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭8:17‬ ‭ESV‬‬

"Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord."
‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭29:12-14‬ a ESV‬‬

He isn't hiding out with the intention of not being found. He has so much to give to us. So much instruction. So much comfort. So much counsel. All we have to do is search...diligently...with all of our heart. He can be found.

There's no playing hide-n-seek with the Lord.  Yes, He wants us to search for Him and seek His plan and His ways.  But, He always lets us win when we play.  Isn't that just like Daddy?