Where Else would we Go?

I’ve been in a marvelous, online writers’ conference the past three days, so wasn’t sure what I would write about today. Then, in my inbox, I received this wonderful Bible art from YouVersion, created by Faithlife:

This just resonated with me because God used this scripture in a time of my desolation and despair. After my first husband died, the memorial service was over (and was all I wanted it to be, to glorify God, honor Jerry, and help people understand how to have a relationship with God), I crashed.

Suddenly I was in a dark pit, a place a despair, of deep loneliness, of hopelessness. What if all I believed about Jesus was a lie and I’d never see Jerry again?

Some of the disciples walked away from Jesus when they felt the road was too hard. He asked the rest, “Will you also leave me?”

Peter, in his usual extrovertish, bullish personality, jumped in. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69 NIV)

After wallowing in my personal pit for about three weeks, God brought the scripture above to my mind. At that moment my mind left the pit, the lie the enemy would have me believe that God’s Word was untrue. I continued to grieve, deeply, but without that despair of “where is God in all this?”

I think we all face these questions from time to time. Our pastor said this morning that it’s possible to want what Jesus can do for you more than you want Jesus, a good life more than God in our life.

At the Last Supper, Jesus said one of his disciples would betray him that very night. Rather than naming Judas, I think Jesus wanted each of them to look into their own hearts. No one wanted to be Jesus’ betrayor; but each recognized the temptation in his own heart for power, wealth, comfort. Each looked into his own heart and, one by one, said, “Surely you don’t mean me?” But it was Judas, the one who held the disciples’ purse-strings, who betrayed Jesus for 30 silver coins–and later hanged himself.

God has already given me everything–Himself, salvation through the cross of Jesus Christ, eternal life. He owes me nothing.

So will I serve him because I expect to get something out of it for myself– recognition, wealth, influence, whatever–or will I serve him wholeheartedly because he has already given me everything, and I adore him?

Jesus took me from death to life. Think about how huge that is!

In a day where many are weary, heartsick, lonely, feeling abandoned, we need the hope that only Jesus can bring.

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:7-10, NIV

May we be blessed this week, knowing God has freely given us himself; and may we worship and adore him with our words, actions and service.

Under Construction

Laughter, concern, prayer, confusion, a yell of frustration … these have all been part of my week.

I went to our local drugstore to purchase some items. I knew I’d pulled out coupons for that store but couldn’t find them where I usually put them. After paying my bill, I walked out to the car to find the coupons in the back seat. Since several were about to expire, I walked back into the store, got a refund for all the items and then PAID MORE … because on the first receipt the clerk missed one item! I had to laugh. I went back to save money and ended up spending more. I wouldn’t have looked at the receipt closely enough to recognize I wasn’t charged for something. But God knew … and took me back in to pay for EVERY item I purchased!

Wednesday Don and Paige drove me to get my first Covid vaccination. Standing in line I felt a bit like I was in a cattle call. But the site was actually well organized and I was in and out in an hour. The only reaction I felt was some itching at the location of the shot the next day. Well done.

Back to the drugstore … I had two online accounts and called their corporate office (with lots of waiting before I got to the right person) to combine the accounts and delete one. Done. However, the next day when I looked online to order a pharmacy refill, my prescriptions were not in my account! Between yesterday and today I probably spent 2-3 hours on the phone, trying to get some web support.

woman in gray tank top
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I had already tried three numbers I’d been given, and spent hours on the phone waiting. So after this rep said she couldn’t help me and I had to call my insurance provider to fix the drugstore website’s problem, I grumpily said ‘thank you,’ hung up and yelled. After I calmed down I called the local store again, and the manager told me they can fix my account there the next time I’m in the shop. Whew!

How do we respond when these irritants touch our lives, sometimes seemingly all at once? Yes, I yelled today. I’m not proud of that. And my dear hubby listened to me vent. I prayed for grace not to take my frustration out on those trying to help.

My computer’s sound was very low. It was hard to hear a youtube or presentation. A tech guy suggested I order small speakers to go on either side of my computer. I thought it was a setting issue. I got online with Microsoft’s virtual agent, who said my audio drivers were probably not working. She reinstalled them and wallah, I can hear well again! No speakers necessary!

Don, Paige and I also took a welcome walk in the afternoon. That’s a stress reliever and a good time to be together.

We learned this week that my nephew has Covid. Three of his four children and his mother (my sister-in-law, visiting the kids with my brother) have all tested positive for Covid. So they are with family they love while needing to stay in their rooms, separated. A niece of Don’s and her husband have Covid. Kim is in the hospital, with the next 16-24 hours being critical in regards to his response to treatment. We’re praying for each of them.

I have told you these things (i.e. that I am leaving), so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33, parenthesis mine

I’m so glad there’s a God who is still sovereign; who still loves us; who tells us to “cast all your cares on him, because he cares for you” (I Peter 5:7). And who isn’t finished with his work in me!

… being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:6

What is Love?

“Love is a choice of the will, not a servant to the emotions.”

Many of us are familiar with I Corinthians 13, the apostle Paul’s love chapter.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends.

I Corinthians 13:4-8a

These are great tests for how I’m loving my husband, my family, friends and neighbors. And those with whom I disagree!

Do I want the best for my partner, or only those lovely things he does for me?

Do I insist on my own way, and become resentful when I don’t get it?

When my husband (or wife) is discouraged, how can I come alongside to encourage and strengthen him (her) with hope?

Where do I most need patience, kindness, goodness in my relationships?

What difference does it make if I show Christ-like love when my partner or friend doesn’t?

I’m happily ensconced in my second marriage, having lost one spouse to death. HARD? No words for it! Don’t waste your moments together!

But in both marriages to men I love(d) deeply, there were times when I didn’t like them very much. Didn’t feel particularly attracted to them. No soft, snuggly warmth. More like this worn-down barn.

So what can you or I do when that is the case?

Remember that love is a choice. And its accompanying feelings cycle. At times attraction and warm, fuzzy feelings peak and we’re crazy in love with the other person. At other times something they do, which may be quite minor, tips the scales and we want to correct them, stop them, express our anger or frustration.

Love is a choice. If we wait patiently, the cycle will again change. Godly love, the kind spoken of in I Corinthians 13, chooses to upbuild and uplift the other even when circumstances are less than ideal. 2020 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, Russell Wilson, paraphrased his father’s instruction to him…

“To the young boy or girl who has a dream, who wants to make a difference. Remember this one thing: love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love changes things.”

https://www.christianpost.com/news/russell-wilson-named-nfl-man-of-the-year-quotes-1-corinthians.html

I think of husbands who love their disabled wives, care for them, help meet their needs with understanding hearts. I read about a man who visited his wife in the Alzheimer’s Unit of a care center every day. She didn’t recognize him any more. Because of a stroke, her lip drooped on one side. Every day her husband would do his best to match the curve of her lip as he kissed her, then served her in any way he could.

I’m grateful for wives who encourage husbands who are discouraged and unsure which direction to go.

I thank God for the partners who commit to the long road of rebuilding a marriage after trust has been broken by infidelity.

And for those who, through good days and bad, support, pray for and encourage their mates.

That’s the kind of lover and friend I want to be.

My husband shows his love for me consistently and in many ways–on a cold morning he’ll start my car so it warms up before I have to leave for an appointment.

He makes breakfast every day to free me to write in the mornings.

We hug and encourage each other when one of us is discouraged, down.

We pray together for our families, friends, our nation.

And I am blessed in his love and, from what he tells me, he is in mine.

But think about the people around you who may be lonely–either married or single–but not experiencing the love and true partnership of either a spouse or a family member. What can you and I do today, this week, to reach out and extend love to someone near who may look like all is well, but inside is not?

I’m going to call my single neighbor right now.

Grateful!

SOVEREIGNTY. That’s my word this year. I’ve reflected on it often this past week. Focusing on this characteristic of God has helped keep me grounded.

For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. Psalm 71:5

It’s been a full week!

Productivity: I worked on submissions to an agent and another person for critique at the end-of-month West Coast Christian Writers’ online conference. Spent hours refining, condensing, and finally sending on Friday, which was my deadline. I’m praying for helpful feedback and direction as to next steps with the novel I’m writing.

Self-Care: Got my hair cut and colored–yippee! As one of my cousins said, “makes me feel pretty for a few minutes.”

Health: Don, meanwhile, had a root canal and his second Covid vaccine. He’s doing well, no symptoms from either.

Communication: I had a great phone conversation with Susan, a delightful FaceTime with a cousin in Canada, and an in-person meet-up outside with three Bible study friends, one of whom was in from out of state.

The next day Marilyn led us in a study of Psalm 86, so timely.

Teach me Thy way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear (honor) your name.

Psalm 86:11

Our small group met to discuss Daniel’s faith when thrown into the den of Lions by King Darius of Persia, who asked “Is your God able to save you?” and was thrilled when the answer was “He is able, and He did!”

And finally, we had a family zoom call yesterday during which Don’s grandson and his wife revealed the gender of their expected second child! Blue it is, and we are eager to add another great-grandson to our family!

What a great week. Busy, focused, productive, meaningful interactions.

I know we still have a long way to go with COVID-19, that other obstacles and trials will come our way, but somehow the sunshine this week (in our part of California) has felt like the newness of Spring, the freshness of new life, the hope of eternity. And I am thankful!

But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds. Psalm 73:8

What’s helping you deal with isolation, loneliness, and anxiety? I’d love to know, and to pray for you.

Anniversary and a Funeral

Have you found that joy and pain coexist in your life, that they cycle through your days, weeks, months? I was reminded of that again this week.

Last Monday I opened the front door to see a beautiful mixed bouquet of flowers and a sweet stuffed bear, along with a note from my loving husband on our eleventh anniversary.

Our marriage is a second chance at love for both of us after losing our first partners. A God thing. After being widowed awhile, I asked the Lord if He had someone else for me, to sort of “drop him into my lap.” I had no desire to be part of the dating scene after being married to a wonderful man for twenty years. Don had prayed a similar prayer.

And, at a widow and widowers’ grief recovery meeting two years after Jerry’s death, there he was…dropped into my world, as it were (and I into his). Handsome, tall, white-haired, and kind. So kind, not only to me but to both the women and the other men in the group.

Our marriage has survived the normal ups and downs, and a few extra that come with the assumptions and expectations of extended family members. We’ve experienced the delight of traveling, being in small groups together, cooking together, planning for our future, laughing at our dog, Paige’s, antics, just “being” together, and learning to know and love each other’s families. There’s been a lot of joy packed into these years.

Then yesterday I attended a zoom memorial service for Virgil, who was a teenager when I met him in the inner city of Los Angeles. He was one of the teens in our Bible clubs, teen choir, and activities. My memories of him are of a very pleasant, sweet young man.

After 38 years, I reconnected with Virgil two years ago at a World Impact women’s reunion when he came to pick up his wife, Robin. Still gracious, kind, loving his wife.

And during Virgil’s memorial service, I learned so much more about his life in those intervening years. He ministered with World Impact for twenty-seven years, then started a church. His sudden and unexpected death in late December was a shock to all of us.

I had forgotten that our staff came to know Virgil when, as a 12-year old boy, he broke into one of our staff homes. That was a turning point in his life as the men on staff took an interest in him, taught him about Jesus Christ and a new way of life. And Virgil responded with a heart that hungered to know more about his God.

So, despite tears and sorrow, his service was a celebration. A celebration of Virgil’s life, his ministry, and most of all, his love for God and his family. Friends told of his faithful follow-up by text or phone; his care for others; one said he was the first good example of a black father this younger man had seen. And I pray for comfort and healing for Virgil’s wife and children, and his loving, extended family. The lion of pain has invaded their hearts.

So, joy and sorrow, grief and gratitude, constantly in flux in our lives. I praise God for those faithful men who built into Virgil’s life, who then built into the lives of others for the glory of God.

Reminds me of Daniel, who was captive under four Babylonian kings: Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius, and Cyrus. Because of Daniel’s “excellent spirit” during that captivity, he served each ruler faithfully, not saying what they wanted to hear, but speaking the truth as God revealed it to him. And he kept getting promoted to higher positions.

During those years he developed a habit of kneeling to pray in front of an open window that faced Jerusalem, his home. He did this faithfully three times a day.

And when he became one of the most powerful leaders in the country under Darius, others became jealous and tried to trap him. But they realized they couldn’t accuse him of anything regarding the kingdom because he was faithful in his duties and they couldn’t find fault with him (Daniel 6:4). So they said “Let’s find a complaint against him regarding his faith in God.”

They tricked the king into writing a decree that, once sealed, could not be changed or undone. The decree stated that anyone who asked any request of someone other than the king for the next 30 days would be put into the den of lions! Whew…a terrifying thought!

close up photo of lion s head
Photo by Alexas Fotos on Pexels.com

But when Daniel heard the edict, he went home, knelt and prayed in front of that open window three times a day, just as he always had (Daniel 6:10). He knew his detractors would see him. He could have prayed in his bedroom, away from the window. But he trusted his God. And when King Darius, horrified, realized the trap into which he had been led, and from which he could find no escape, he said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!”

Moody Publishers / FreeBibleimages.org

That night, as Daniel walked, prayed, slept–we’re not told–the king fasted, tossed and turned all night. Early in the morning he rushed to the lions’ den, groaning in anguish. He cried, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him, and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.” (Daniel 6:20-22).

The short story is that Daniel was taken out of the lions’ den and his accusers thrown in and killed.

May I, may we who trust in our God, Lord, Savior, King–stand firm as Daniel did, trusting God in our times of joy or promotion; and of sorrow and loss. Grief will come; joy will brighten some of our days. But in all, our God has promised to be with us as He was with Daniel. And whether we are liberated without a scratch, as Daniel was, or our God takes us to Himself, He is with us. Blessed be the name of our God!

At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.

Daniel 6:4

Question: Do you know someone like Daniel? Consistent, trustworthy, faithful, walking with his or her God? I’d love to hear about that person’s impact in your life.