Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Unexpected Blessings

The last words my dad spoke to me from his hospital bed were, "Rob, take care of your mom." Those are words I have never forgotten. I have not only honored them for my dad, but for my mom. I too am commanded by my Father to honor my mother and father.

 "Honor your father and mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you." Exodus 20:12

My mom gave her life in caring for me. On my first birthday, my very first Christmas, was spent in the ICU as I was very sick with pneumonia. A little later I would burn myself with spilled coffee. A few years later I would tumble down many stairs and once again spent time in the hospital. 

I remember all the times I was sick and could feel my mom's hand brush against my forehead as she checked for fever. All the times she must have stayed up all night as I was sick. 

When I was little she would pour me a bowl of Raisin Bran. I loved it. Only I didn't like the raisins. She would take the time to pick out each raisin leaving me with only the bran. Every time I was sick she would make me mashed potatoes. She took the time to do things special for me. 

We visited my grandmother in Arkansas. I was about eight. I was playing in the backyard and found myself smack in the middle of a cactus. Screaming, the words that escaped were, "MOM!!" She carried me in the house and laid me on the couch. She spent hours picking out prickles from my back, arms, and legs. 

Every skinned knee she kissed. Every warm blanket she gently laid over me. Every bowl of ice cream. All of those things add up to measure nothing short of unconditional love. 

Today my mom is not in good health. She has stage four COPD. She has been in and out of the hospital for many months now. It seems as each month passes she grows weaker and at times more confused. It is heartbreaking for me. I had to say goodbye to my dad when I was only nineteen. Watching my mom deteriorate at seventy-eight isn't any easier. 

In October of this year my husband was hit by a drunk driver. He has been slowly recovering at home. Still unable to return to work. This has completely turned our lives upside down. I don't think even raising five children I have ever known this kind of exhaustion. 

"For if anyone does not provide for his own, that is his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." 1 Timothy 5:8

When your young and raising a family you know exhaustion well. But raising children, working, buying a new car, a new home, and all the 'fun' side of things, isn't the same exhaustion as caring for your husband and elderly parent. This is mind, body, and soul exhaustion. This is new to me. Life unexpected you could say. 

My mother in law took a terrible fall a little over a week ago. There was a rush to the ER. My husband and I have been caring for his mother and father as well. His father has suffered many strokes and is unable to care for himself. I find myself praising Jesus for allowing my husband to be home and to help care for our parents. 

How much do you give? There is no end to giving. There isn't an end to helping. At this time in our lives I always thought our home would be filled with our grandchildren. Always planning days with them and enjoying the fun  of being a grandparent. But when our parents are so ill there isn't planning. There's keeping everything open just in case they need us. It's checking on them every morning and throughout the day. It's helping making meals and getting medicines. It's scheduling doctor visits and taking our parents there. It's grocery shopping and cleaning house. 

"Above all, maintain an intense love for each other, since love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God." 1 Peter 4:8-10

I praise God that we are near our parents and we are able to care for them. I cannot imagine not being there for my mom. I have never missed a birthday, never missed an opportunity to bless her on Mother's Day, and never has a Christmas passed without a gift. But there's more than just these holidays. It's just being there. It's answering her calls. It's asking how she is doing and is there anything she needs. 

I know the day will come where she is no longer on the other end of the phone. Where her apartment will be empty of her presence and someone new will move in. I will no longer to be able to call her and share good news or share with her a wound that has cut deep. But for now, no matter how tired I grow, I will forever take care of my mother as long as possible. I may need help from others in this journey, but for me, I must be willing to do all I can do for her. 

Sometimes it's easy to find myself frustrated. A migraine hits and lasts for days. My back decides to go out and pain resides with each step. But with the strength of God I carry on. I honor my Father and through obedience to Him all things seem to work out. 

"For you were called to be free, brother; only don't use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love." Galatians 5:13

I am sure there are many who do things much better than I can. I learn with each step forward. With each hospital visit I am there to pray over her. To talk to doctors. To learn her medications. Mostly I am there at her side to hopefully quiet her fears as her breath slowly becomes a whisper of air. 

"Honor your father and mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and so that you may prosper in the land the Lord your God is giving you." Deuteronomy 5:16

I get scared. But in all things I have learned to trust Jesus. Without Him I make a mess of things. But focusing on Him, making sure I spend time with Him, He resets my course. He keeps me focused on what is important and at this venture in my life, it's taking care of parents. Sometimes that means cancelling plans and days out with my husband. It means leaving the weekend opened to care for things they are not able to do. 

We never want to see our parents age or think about them not being here with us. But as I turn fifty in a just a few short days that becomes a reality more and more. I see this now as a privilege, an honor. In loving my mother I am giving her all of myself as she has done her life for me. 

There are many blessings to be found in caring for our parents. It doesn't matter how old our parents are, we should honor them, and hold them in a special place. They spent so many hours watching over us. So many prayers spoken. Such love shared between moments we cannot even remember. But our parents remember. They remember those tiny fingers held to cross the street. Those little giggles we made as we seen their face and heard their voice. 

The list never ends at all that I find myself grateful. It wasn't until I began raising my own children that I began to discover all my mother must have endured with me. All those midnight's she waited up until I was safely home. We can find ourselves in our parents shoes, can't we? It's easy when we take our eyes off of ourselves. 

Let us bless our parents today. No matter if they are near us or far away. A call blesses the heart. A card gives assurance they are being thought of. A gift shows them we care. Most of all, all those little things we can do for them lets them know how much they are treasured. They leave behind in us a legacy. In me, my mother instilled love and mercy. It is today I am allowed to show her the same. 

I love you, mom. 

"Children, obey your parents as you would the Lord, because this is right. Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise, so that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life in the land." Ephesians 6:1-3



Take A Walk With The Wind

Ever think much about the wind? There's so much about the wind to love. Hanging clothes on the line. Flying a kite. A sweet breeze on a summer's day. A child holding a dandelion by tiny fingers with giggles escaping their wide open mouth in nothing but excitement over the wonder before them. Can you think of blessings of the wind? 

Many fear the wind that comes with storms, tornadoes, and hurricanes. There is much power in the wind. That same fearful wind can set a sailboat to find beauty in the open seas. It can aid in balloons flying high above. It almost seems they are searching to reach the heavens. 

In Hebrew the word for wind is ruach. But it too has another meaning. Spirit

To think about the wind is soul pondering. On a summer's evening we like to face the wind as it blows gently upon our face. But give us a cold winter's day and we don't much like facing the wind. We would rather have that wind at our back. Facing it brings such coldness to the cheeks. The eyes and nose begin to run water. If it is a strong wind it's almost painful to face. 

Give us a windy day as we are out and about. It seems if we are facing the wind it slows us down. We walk against it as we endlessly push against it never getting anywhere as it pushes back. But if we walk with the wind things change for us. It's as though it almost carries us. We are free from the pushing and in your face strength. 

There is something powerful for us to learn from the wind. Most of us don't think too much about it. But the moment we stop and ponder, wow, we find ourselves in amazement. 

"The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don't know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." John 3:8

"Suddenly a sound like that of a violent rushing wind came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were staying." Acts 2:2

"I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don't do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law." Galatians 5:16-18

"The men were amazed and asked, "What kind of man is this?-even the wind and the sea obey Him!" Matthew 8:27

"Then He said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the Lord's presence." At that moment, the Lord passed by. A great and mighty wind was tearing at the mountains and was shattering cliffs before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind was there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake." 1 Kings 19:11

All through scripture we see the wind as the Holy Spirit, as the Lord of lords. There is so much to be learned by these scriptures. No one can see the wind. We see the leaves blow, the trees shake. We see the effects of the wind. We too feel the wind on our skin. We feel its power or its gentleness. We can hear the wind as it roars past us. But we cannot see it. Just as we cannot see our God. But we see the effects of Him. We hear Him speak to us. We feel His very presence. We can witness His power and might just as we can His gentleness through His grace and mercy. Just as we experience the wind, we too experience our God. 

When we walk against our God things seem to be harder, don't they? Things just don't go right for us as we fight to keep pressing on against the weight of the wind. But when we choose to walk with Him, that's when things begin to change for us. Life is a bit easier for us. The motion of walking our journey can feel as though He is carrying us, lifting us up off the ground, and guiding us to be exactly where we need to be. 

A few nights ago when the winds were strong and the air was cold I had to take Stanley, our dachshund, out for a walk. Stanley wanted to go one way and I the other. He wanted to go toward the wind. I walked against the wind for a bit. It was cold and the wind hurt my cheeks. I could feel it pressing against me. This is where the scripture came to life for me. It wasn't just black and white pages, but the wind was now facing me. I turned to walk with the wind. I said, "Let's try this way, Stan." The wind was at my back. It pushed us along. It was no longer fierce in my face. The walk was easier. This is how I want my walk with Jesus to be. How about you?

It doesn't mean life's circumstances aren't still going to be ahead of us. But in obedience to Him, keeping focused on Him, our journey can be easier, because He is doing the leading and we are following the Spirit before us. We can journey differently through those circumstances.

I know, I get it. I'm just like you. I want to do things my way. I see what I want and I take the path easiest to get there. At least the path I think that leads me there. But when I face the wind like that I am leaving His guidance out. I am doing nothing but pushing against His will. I don't want to take that path. Oh, how much better our lives to be if we completely follow Him and trust Him with each step of the way.

In taking the Spirit's leadership we get to see things we would have otherwise missed if we had kept on our own path. Walking with the Spirit gives us power to move forward. So, it can be said that we want the wind to be at our backs. The Irish Prayer that speaks of the wind at our backs? This makes so much sense to me now. What a prayer to pray for ourselves and others, to always have the wind at our backs!

Friend, I don't know your journey. But I do know mine. I know this road is more than tough. It can bring us to our knees as we press against it. We push our way through searching for some kind of solace. Some sort of answers to the fight before us. I am learning to stop pushing against it and allow the Spirit to lead me through the journey. In doing so, I feel His presence and His peace. That's something more powerful than any circumstance we face. This way I am trusting my Savior. I am giving ALL control over to Him. That isn't it, but that's the place where faith comes alive. That's the very place where we see Him move on our behalf. 

Today as the wind touches your face, feel it and in that moment, ponder Him and all of His wondrous gifts to us. I promise you will find a blessing new to you today. 

The Irish Blessing

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back. 
May the sun shine warm upon your face; 
the rains fall soft upon your fields 
and until we meet again, 
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.



Sunday, December 18, 2016

Let Us Make Room

"Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me." Revelations 3:20

"In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if not, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you. If I go away and prepare to prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also. You know the way to where I am going." John 14:2-4

"Then she gave birth to her firstborn Son, and she wrapped Him snugly in cloth and laid Him in a feeding trough-because there was no room for them at the lodging place." Luke 2:7

Mary and Joseph knew the wound of not being invited in. Our Savior as a babe was turned away before He was even out of the womb of His mother. They were turned away because there was no room in the inn. No room for the King of kings. Mary would not give birth in the warmth of an inn. Did the inn keeper know who he was turning away? Was it possible to make room for this expecting mother? All we know is that the inn was full. If there was room would the inn keeper have invited them in? 

Do we always invite others into our home? Do we make room for others? During this season this question is one for us to ponder. I mean really open our hearts to the question of making room for others in our life. Too often we exclude people. We only invite in certain people, never really giving thought to those we wound by leaving them out. 

We just want to be invited in, right? We want to be accepted by others. Not for who we are or what we do, but simply because of love. Have you felt this wound? Me too. We have a Savior who knows this wound. So, friends, we are not alone. Jesus is always waiting in hope to be accepted in the hearts of man, but is always a Gentleman, never pushing Himself into a heart that isn't willing. 

Being excluded, not included, not invited, not accepted, not wanted, however one would like to put, it cuts deep. We can find many reasons as to why we don't invite others in, but wouldn't it be nice if we really thought about those reasons and applied the same grace, mercy, and love we have received from the Savior? If only we could extend the love of Jesus. 

We see often others gathering when we have not been invited to join. This makes us feel unloved and unwanted. We begin to ask ourselves, "What's wrong with me? What did I do that makes me so unworthy to be included?" Families don't always get along. Brothers and sisters bicker. Mothers and daughters don't always see eye to eye. Fathers and sons can hold anger. But are these reasons to exclude loved ones? I don't know. I just think during this season of Christmas it seems we could make room for love, make room for forgiveness, and hope. 

This is a season where often hearts are burdened with this wound. Oh, we try to hide it, make excuses, but in the end when we see photos of others gathered while we are at home in front of the television it makes us feel so lonely. We find ourselves longing for family. No family is perfect. We are all pretty much a mess, right? But when we make the choice to come together in love there is always room for hope and restoration. 

So, when we exclude people it says more about us than it does about the one we are excluding. It says, "I'm more important than you. I'm more valuable than you. My feelings matter more than your feelings. As long as I'm in charge, there's no room for you."

Just think. Our Savior feels this pain daily as people push Him out. Our entire Christmas is because of Him and Him alone. Without Him there would be no Christmas. His very name in in Christmas. It is a celebration of His birth. But look at our world, the world created by our God, the God who sent us His Son to give us life. This world excludes Jesus from His very celebration. We gather to celebrate with gifts and desserts, only to never give Him thought. 

So, see. He knows our pain of being left out and not wanted. But what do we do about that wound? We begin by inviting in our Savior. We make room for the King of kings. We pray in asking Him to fill us with all of Him and to empty us of all this world's wounds. We forgive even when we don't find forgiveness in others. We reach out even when no one is reaching back. Oh, it hurts. There's nothing easy about it, but when we focus on Jesus and do everything in love it changes everything. 

We first seek Jesus. See, the more of Him we seek, the less of this world we need to fill an emptiness within us.  In My Savior I know that I am cherished. I am accepted. I am wanted. He becomes our joy and our hope. It is in Him we find purpose and pleasure. When we focus on Him it takes our focus off of others. He can remove the anger and bitterness. He is the Jesus who has the power to change the heart of man. Let us serve others this season. Be a part of something bigger than ourselves. 

Too often we determine our worth by how many family and friends surround us. Let us turn that around and surround ourselves with the Savior, seeking Him as never before. Not because we want to feel good, but because we know there is more than the wound we have become. 

Sadly in our world people knock on doors and no one answers. Many times people are knocking and are told they are not invited in because of this reason or that. Too often people place restrictions and conditions on whether or not we can be included. It isn't fair is it? It cuts deep as we see that others gather without us. Friends, know that Jesus will never exclude you. He will never leave you out and will never make you feel unwanted, unloved, and not good enough. His love is unconditional!

"Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God's love was revealed to us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we mighty live through Him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God remains in us and His love is perfected in us." 1 John 4:7-12

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Spectacle of Glory (God's Light Shining through Me Every Day) by Joni Eareckson Tada with Larry Libby

This is my first book to experience the pen of Joni Eareckson Tada. I am hoping to now read more of her work. Oh, what a tremendous blessing for the wounded and struggling soul. 

This is a powerful devotional. A gift for the friend who is trudging up that mountain, trying to find glory in their mess. A beautiful gift for anyone who desires to see God's glory in everything in us and around us. 

This little gem is packed with goodness and strength. Each devotional is dated, with the address of scripture that the devotional reading comes from, and  each ends with an uplifting prayer or words of sweet story. 

I will share with you a favorite. This devotional is listed for September 21. The scripture is Psalm 46:10

"There is only one situation where weakness is a virtue. The Bible, of course, urges us to "be strong" again and again. Our culture celebrates powerful people and shows contempt for weakness. But in the presence of the Almighty, all-knowing, everywhere-present Lord of all, admitting weakness is both wise and appropriate. In today's scripture, the Lord Himself speaks: "Be still and know that I am God." In Hebrew, the term translated be still could also be rendered "to be weak; to let go, to release." A paraphrase might read, "Let yourself become weak, and you will know God's power in your life." The apostle Paul agrees: "When I am weak, then I am strong." Whatever adversity you may be facing right now, don't be ashamed if you feel weak or lack strength or resources. That's the best time to present yourself to God, so He can supply His strength.

Lord, I remember the story of David at Ziklag. He was defeated and heartbroken, and he had cried so hard that he had no strength left in his body. His men were so angry with him that they were about to stone him to death. But your Word tells us that "David strengthened himself in the Lord his God." That is what I want to do, Lord, right now,"

This is just a marvelous devotional that truly touches the broken, bruised, and weak. So often we feel alone and exhausted as we take the next step into the unknown. Joni Eareckson Tada gives the reader words of hope and grace that points to our Savior and Him alone. 

This is definitely one of those devotionals to treasure for this long journey home. 

This devotional was a gift from Zondervan for sharing my review with you. 

Joni Eareckson Tada is found and CEO of Joni and Friends, an organization that accelerates Christian outreach in the disability community. Joni and Friends provides practical and spiritual support to special needs families worldwide. Joni is the author of numerous bestselling books, including Joni & Ken, Diamonds in the Dust, and the Gold Medallion Award-winning When God Weeps. Joni and her husband, Ken, reside in Calabasas, California. For more information, visit www.joniandfriends.org

Grace For The Moment (Inspirational Thoughts for Each Day of the Year) by Max Lucado

There are some books that are timeless. They are prevalent for us at any time in life. Touching us in special ways and filling us with encouragement and inspiring word to guide us closer to the Father. This is one of those gems. A keeper for sure. 

This devotional was first published in 2000. These devotionals are taken from Max's previous books. Each page gives us scripture and  his words of wisdom. I love each devotional having a title and a date. Over and over through my walk with Jesus, as I pick up a devotional, especially those from Max, it is always a blessing that on that date that specific devotional applied to my day. 

These are wonderful words to ponder as one begins the day or in the dark of night before pillow and cheek touch. In this leather bound edition it would make a beautiful Christmas gift. Another great aspect is the large print. Easily read by those who need glasses. 

I love devotionals that lead me to a closer walk with Christ. Those that point me to the Word and don't take away from it, adding the writer's own idea of what they perceive the Word to mean. Max shares stories that always lead the reader to open the Word for themselves and ponder the message before them. 

This beautiful copy will remain on my table where I do my study. We all have those mornings where we need a jump start. This is that gem to bring us to open up our Bible for a deeper study into the Word. 

These devotionals are simple yet so poignant to our lives today. In the beginning of this devotional Max shares from his book, When God Whispers Your Name. To begin our day with choosing love, choosing joy, choosing peace, choosing patience..kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, just these alone can bring us to a day of walking with our Savior. What a wonderful opening to a devotional. 

Just one page, a few paragraphs, words shared, hearts touched. Yes, that makes for a day of choosing grace in the moment. I so love this devotional. If you have yet to purchase a devotional to jump start your day, this is a great choice!!

This devotional was a gift from Thomas Nelson for sharing my review with you. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Tangled Webs by Irene Hannon (Men of Valor Series book 3)

If you have yet to read an Irene Hannon novel this is a great place to begin. But I encourage you to go back and start at the beginning of the series. Yes, this could be read and enjoyed as a stand alone, but in first reading, Buried Secrets and Thin Ice, you will grasp so much more and be introduced to one of the main characters of this story. 

How's this for choosing a novel that is super close to home? The characters are very close to Potosi, Missouri, which is right down the road from where I live. The main character is battling Post Concussive Syndrome which my husband is now battling after being hit by a drunk driver. Coincidence? I don't think so. This was perfect timing! 

Irene Hannon is a favorite of mine. I love this Missouri girl who writes about places I visit. Her attention to detail is a marvel as it allows me to feel as if I am present in the story. 

Storytelling is a gift of Hannon. She knows how to bring a story to life through using characters that we can relate to. We are able to feel their emotion in so many ways. The fear they feel jumps off the pages to make the reader ponder what they would do in that circumstance. We feel their wounds, anger, and most importantly their hope! Hannon magically weaves faith into something believable for us. It is something the reader not only desires for the characters, but for their own life. 

Yes, Hannon not only weaves a magnificent story, but brings a message of healing, hope, and finding faith in the midst of any circumstance. She is brilliant! Nothing better than closing the last page and marveling over the pages you were gifted to read. 

This is the third and last novel in the Men of Valor series. Oh, I have loved this just as much as every other novel and series I have had the pleasure of reading. The story flows quickly. It moves at a pace that keep you turning pages with a curiosity as to what is to come. 

We once again meet Finn McGregor. With a name like that you just expect hero, right? He is a strong character. Wounded, but living with a faith that will allow him to overcome. He's seeking some time of rest and decision making. His neighbor across the woods is Dana Lewis. She too is searching for solitude and healing. Her character is just as strong. I love that both of these characters have been through such trials, but they are not about to give up. These two together bring something really special for the reader. 

Another character is the sheriff. He is placed in a circumstance that brings the reader to wonder just what they would do in his position. He has to make some difficult decisions. These are decisions of right or wrong. But as his character develops I found myself feeling so sorry for him. Of course he knows what is right. He is an honorable man, but that man also has a wife battling early onset Alzheimers and he is determined she has the best care possible. Wouldn't we all what the same? I find him trying to turn things to make them seem right even though in his heart he knows what he is about to do is so very wrong. 

Now, of course in this area it wouldn't do to tell a story without something sinister taking place in the woods, right? Oh, the evils that take part in the dark when you think no one is looking. 

A Romantic Suspense filled with so much more. That's what I love about Hannon. She brings so many aspects to a novel other than just a great story. For me that's what writing is all about and that's the kind of novels I want to be a part of. 

This novel was a gift from Revell for sharing my review with you. 

Irene Hannon is the bestselling and award-winning author of more than fifty novels, including Buried Secrets, Thin Ice, and the Heroes of Quantico, Guardians of Justice, and Private Justice series. In addition to many other honors, she is a seven-time finalist for and three-time winner of the prestigious RITA Award from Romance Writers of America. She is also a member of that organization's elite Hall of Fame. Learn more at www.irenehannon.com.
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