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.
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.
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!
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!”
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.
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.
What a year 2020 has been! We headed into a rather restricted Thanksgiving week, limiting connections (as we’ve done for some time), meeting outdoors if at all. But I am thankful for YOU, my readers. I pray that my thoughts have shown you hope in some small way. You have certainly encouraged me during some difficult emotional times.
WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH US … Don rebuilt much of our deck, which had a great deal of dry rot beneath; and built a lovely waterfall along the pathway to our front door. He makes breakfast in the mornings to allow me more time to write, and is a great sounding board for ideas.
I’m still writing, working on my historical novel, and occasionally talking with friends in person outside, by zoom or phone.
We’ve had an apartment vacated (after thirteen years!) and updated it with some significant help from my nephew and his 9-year old son. We’re praying for just the right person or family to move in.
Like many of you, we haven’t seen as much of our family as we would like. But we have gotten together outside with another couple, or several, on rare occasions. Do you find, as I do, that this time of isolation makes our families and friends even more precious, the joy in times or talks together multiplied because of their rarity?
Don and I walked in the sunshine in our neighborhood yesterday morning, enjoying the multi-colored leaves (these are just five I picked up–I think the one with the prominent rust-colored veins is stunning!) and watching Paigey explore and sniff along the way.
We put up our Christmas tree and decorated it after a wonderful drive-in church service this morning, then enjoyed talking with each other while sitting and looking at the beauty of the tree. Paigey goes with us to drive-in church–we call her a “pup who praises.” Don’s put up the outside lights and I’ll decorate the mantle later.
ON THANKSGIVING, we took time to remember our Mom, who passed away in April of this year. While I am still grieving her loss, I am so grateful she is not alone and isolated during this pandemic. Instead, she is enjoying inexpressible delight in the presence of Jesus, our King.
We laughed as we shared different memories. Mom always felt she and Dad were too serious, so it was a joy to see and hear her relax and laugh more in her later years. We delighted in (and enjoyed) some of the baking traditions she passed on to family members; and talked about her gracious, giving spirit and the years she prayed for each of her family members.
We have much for which to be thankful. A vaccine for Covid-19 is on the horizon, we have precious family and friends, we can walk and enjoy the beauty of Creation. And, despite divisions and uncertainty about the future, we can have confidence in the God who is There! I need Him more than ever, and work to focus my mind on Him rather than on the chaos surrounding us.
AND I’M THANKFUL FOR YOU! You’re important to me.
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
California fire season is usually in September and October. But 2020’s fires started early, with about 400 wildfires and 5700 “incidents” (https://www.fire.ca.gov/incidents/) in the past week. Don and I have kept in close touch with our neighbors here, sharing updates with each other as we receive them.
I’ve felt anxious, always watching for the next bit of news. Wednesday night I had a hard time falling asleep. Tears have been near the surface, and sometimes have fallen. Thursday I couldn’t concentrate, but kept watching for news, and registered for notification in the event we are ordered to evacuate.
We heard Thursday that Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center, where I’ve spent a good bit of time at retreats and then at writers’ conferences, had been evacuated and was in danger. Some of our family have been evacuated from that area as well, and are safe.
Meanwhile, food, meals, writing–it’s been hard to concentrate on anything else while we wait; yet life doesn’t stop. We have our “go bags” pretty ready; and my computer bag is next to my desk so I can pack my laptop quickly in the event the fire moves toward us.
According to San Jose Fire Chief, as of Sunday morning they expect winds, light rain, and possibly more dry lightning strikes–something we sure don’t need right now! Praying God will light up the world over the ocean rather than in the forests!
I am calmer now, but seem to go in cycles of fear and then release, recognizing there’s nothing we can do except be prepared and pay attention. So far, the fire seems to be moving a bit farther from us. My brother and sister-in-law have offered us a haven if we need to leave.
And we’re certainly not alone. Floods are pounding the South and East of the United States. Hurricane Marco threatens the Gulf Coast, closely followed by Tropical Storm Laura, which has already impacted Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and is expected to slam Cuba on Monday.
I hurt for the many who have lost family members, homes or structures. It’s good to grieve, to weep with friends, to sit and listen to their pain. Even Jesus, who was perfect and knew He would reverse Lazarus’ death, wept with Mary and Martha as they grieved the loss of their brother. But after He listened and wept, He called Lazarus forth out of that grave!
We are so grateful for the many who are praying for us, and for California.
Grateful for yesterday’s report that Mount Hermon is okay at this time. All staff are safe.
Twin Lakes Church’s Camp Hammer is partially burned. Some of the cabins are still there and the forest is evidently still lush and green, and all staff are safe. May God bring beauty from the ashes!
Grateful for loving family and friends.
Deeply grateful for our firefighters, as well as those coming in from other states and even other countries to help fight these massive fires; for the sheriffs and police who are helping people evacuate, working long hard hours. Thank you to each of you. We are praying for you.
Earlier this week a dear friend recommended we read Psalm 36. Yesterday I read it aloud for our morning devotions, tears coming to my eyes. What a precious scripture!
Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies… How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings …
I have been through several major challenges in my life and, while it’s taken time to work through those issues with God, He has never failed me. And He will not. Tim Keller said Jesus didn’t suffer so we wouldn’t suffer. He suffered for us so when we suffer — and all will! — He can REDEEM it!
Crises such as these do remind us of what’s most important–our relationship with God, family and friends. An old friend used to say the two things that last are God’s Word and people! If you’re not sure of your relationship with God, I encourage you to read John 3:16-18 and Romans 10. I welcome any questions you may have.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.
I John 5:12
California and our nation, you continue to be in our prayers.
I walked into the garden section of a popular hardware store near us and looked for tomato plants. I found them–tiny wisps of leaves. I asked “Aren’t there any bigger than this?” But no, that’s what they had.
Don grew a lovely crop of tomatoes on our deck last summer, so I bought three small plants–a Roma and two cherry tomatoes. None were more than three inches high.
We’ve watched them grow almost daily. It’s been such fun to see them–six inches, nine inches, then a foot tall. Their growth has been phenomenal until now, about six weeks after I purchased those little seedlings, they are a good five feet above the planter–and wide–and we see bunches of green tomatoes developing.
It seems like a miracle that these tiny seedlings have grown noticeably almost every day since I brought them home.
So how do we grow in our walk with God, especially in these turbulent times?
Gratitude is one aspect of our growth. Like many, I have gone through cycles of faith, fear, depression, and angst over the past months.
I’ve been through difficult times before.
I lived in the inner city of Los Angeles for ten years and had dear African American, Hispanic, and Asian friends. But I and the women with whom I lived and ministered were also threatened with dismemberment and death. I recall fearful nights going to sleep praying, “Lord, I don’t know whether I’ll see you face to face in the morning, or will have another day to live, but I am yours.”
I faced anguish when I lost my first husband to death.
I grieved at the losses of a nephew, my father and most recently, my mother.
But God’s view is so much higher than mine. He sees the big picture. He sees what will draw people to Himself. And His love is so great He sacrificed His only Son, Jesus, to become a man, live among us, die a cruel and heartless death at the hands of false accusers, and rise again. And this God, who loves us with unlimited, unconditional, unending love has commanded us to thank Him in every situation.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
I Thessalonians 5:16-18
The late A.W. Tozer, American Christian pastor, author, magazine editor, and spiritual mentor, said “A thankful heart cannot be cynical.” And how easy it is for me to become cynical in this time of racial and political unrest, where I can’t have my faith-friends come alongside me to sit with me and challenge my wrong thinking during those cycles of fear.
Dr. Rick Hanson has studied the happiness factor.
The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones.
Dr. Rick Hanson, Neuroscientist
So if, as Hanson attests, it takes five good interactions to make up for one bad one, we need to be people of gratitude, persons who notice and thank God, not only for the blessings He has given but also for the opportunities to grow which are inherent in difficult times.