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Hurricane Irma and the Storms of Life

IrmaIt’s Atlantic hurricane season, in case you didn’t know. We all watched the devastation in Houston. We read the reports, we saw the pictures. What a tragedy!

What I didn’t know until the other day was that this disastrous flooding had been predicted in the Houston area for a very long time. (See this article in the Dallas News about a report that was basically filed away and forgotten about this issue.) But because of politics or ecological concerns or the astronomical cost of fixing things, the harbingers of danger were ignored by the local government.

And now the cost of clean up and rebuilding is likely to exceed that cost by billions of dollars.

Today, we wait for Hurricane Irma to come across our area of Florida. Irma has us in her sights and we are being warned to not ignore the advice of our county and state officials. We’ve known this massive storm has been coming for days. We’ve known we are in the “cone of uncertainty.” We watch, we prepare, we wait. When the storm hits, hopefully we’ll be ready.

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Watching Hurricane Charley in 2004

2017 has been a very stormy year for our family, and they have been storms that we had no idea were coming. We didn’t have emotional doppler radar scanning out weeks and months in advance, warning us that we’re going to be hit. Wouldn’t that be nice? Maybe then we could be ready.

But the fact is, life doesn’t work that way, so we need to be prepared for life’s storms even when things are going well.

Am I anchored on the Word of God? Do I know who God is? Do I trust Him to be good and loving and merciful?

“Through every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.” These words were penned by Edward Mote back in the early 1800s. That means we have to have an anchor, number 1, and we have to keep it deployed, number 2. Sometimes I see kids riding bicycles with their helmets hanging from the handlebars. Dude, that helmet won’t do you any good there. An anchor held by a person or a job or money will not save us in a storm.

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Bent but not broken. A pine tree in a nearby neighborhood after Hurricane Charley came through in 2004

If our anchor is not held by our strong and mighty God, we will be tossed by those stormy gales.

In preparation for Hurricane Irma, we are taking down loose fence panels, trimming dead wood from nearby trees, picking up everything that is not tied down in our yard. What’s not anchored becomes a potential projectile.

It’s easy to find those fly-away objects in a yard; it’s not so easy in a life. What might look stable could end up being the very thing that overwhelms you.

We are also filling containers with water and eating any perishable foods that might not survive an extended power outage. These are all normal preparations when you know a storm is coming.

Feeding from God’s Word, drinking from the Living Water on a daily basis helps prepare our hearts for whatever storms might come.

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Morgan and Sunny stand by the only loss our home suffered from Hurricane Charley in 2004.

So, do we just live in constant fear of future upheaval? No, that doesn’t show faith. But being prepared for the inevitable helps.

Ground yourself in God’s Word.

Listen to wise counsel.

Ask for help when you need it.

Ride out the storm in community. In other words, make sure you have good friends praying for you.

When Irma rushes by us in all her fury this weekend, we will rest in the assurance that we have done all we can to prepare. And then we trust in Jesus, that beautiful, solid Rock, for the results.

Enjoy this old Benny Hester version of the hymn containing the words mentioned above.

 

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A Neat and Orderly Life

I’m a list maker. I love having things written out clearly so that I can follow guidelines and get things done. It makes me happy to check things off. Lists are lifesavers sometimes when there’s a lot to do and remember.

Too bad life isn’t like that.

I’d love to have the checklist for a good marriage, happy and successful children who are following Jesus, a personal ministry that encourages people to walk with God in truth and grace.

IMG_4473Fact of the matter is, life is messy and grace is a big, borderless blob that ebbs and flows and doesn’t look the same for any two people.

One married couple might find the key to a happy marriage is weekly date nights and nightly prayer. Another might work split shifts and barely get to see each other, but love and support and cheer each other on in a rocky season. Is one marriage more successful or godly than the other?

One family may put their children in the best private schools money can buy, serve only organic, non-gmo, whole foods and have weekly family game nights to build a happy, healthy family. A single parent might struggle to get the kids out the door to public school every morning with a couple of bucks for cafeteria food. Game nights? That’s a joke. Unless sleeping on the couch while the kids play video games counts. Are the first family’s kids guaranteed to be following Jesus and the other’s guaranteed to fail?

It’s not that easy. A popular evangelistic booklet has illustrations of what life looks like with Jesus on the outside of a person’s life and then with Jesus inside a person’s life.

4 laws self directed4 laws spirit directed

 

 

 

 

I can understand the concept, I really can. But the reality is that, even with Jesus directing our life, even when we are completely submitted to Him, all our little circles aren’t going to be neatly lined up and orderly.

Life will still be messy.IMG_4361

The difference is that we don’t have to figure it out for ourselves. We have a Savior who knows our suffering and invites us to lean into Him and let Him carry our burdens. Our sight isn’t short, looking only at the problems that confront us. We keep our gaze fixed on the face of Jesus. We see the love and compassion in His eyes. We know we’re not alone.

There’s much talk these days about being authentic and real and transparent. That scares me a little bit, thinking that people will spill details of family troubles that rightly should be shared with only a few safe people they know will pray for them and support and encourage them in the process. That doesn’t mean you paste on a smile and say everything is hunky dory, but a simple, “It is well with my soul,” can speak to waves crashing over us and leaving us broken, but hopeful.

In his second letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9, NIV).

IMG_3902We don’t do any good for anybody if we put on a mask and tell everyone that we’re doing great if we’re not doing great. Our trials aren’t just for us. Chances are, something we’re going through will be experienced by someone else down the road, and they will be encouraged to know that they are not alone, and that someone actually survived the trial and found themselves closer to Jesus because of it.

And another thing. This may come as a surprise to some people. Ready?

Everyone sins. That’s right. Everybody. Jesus was the only person who never sinned. We are all in need of that wonderful, gooey grace that has no borders and no rules. So why pretend like we don’t suffer or have hard times or messy lives?

The next person who says to me, “I’m doing great!” in response to my question, “How are you?” I’m going to look them in the eye and say, “Really? Nothing you need prayer for? Nothing that’s worrying you or stressing you out or causing you to lose sleep?”

I don’t expect strangers to reveal all their deep dark secrets, but darn it, my friends better be honest with me when I ask them.

Because I know better. I know they’re human.

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Just Who Do I Think I Am, Anyway?

I’m think I’m lost.

fullsizeoutput_7d81And I’m trying to figure out how to find myself again.

I knew months ago that there would be a lot of change for me this summer, but since it was (supposedly) all good, I hoped it wouldn’t cause grief. But grief has creeped up on me, causing me to doubt the decisions I made that brought about some of this change.

Some changes were just part of life happening. Positions in which I had served for many, years ended or were taken away. 2 of my 3 kids have moved or are moving out of my house. And then I made the decision to leave the organization of which I had been a part for 32 years.

As I see multitudes of friends posting pictures on social media of their summer travels that will end in the Cru staff conference in Ft. Collins, Colo., and I anticipate my husband leaving tomorrow to attend without me for the first time in more than 26 years, I find myself grieving more than I thought I would.

Yes, I made the decision to leave and pursue a writing career. I could have stayed. But the discontent that had been bubbling on the back burner would still have been there. Still a big part of me wants to be in Colorado with my closest friends.IMG_4361

It was time, though. At the point of my decision, I didn’t doubt that this was what God was leading me to do.

Yet I grieve. And I fear. And I doubt that I have what it takes to make a go of this full-time writing thing.

Where is this that I have found myself? Did I hear God correctly? Maybe I made a big mistake.

My writing muscles have atrophied. I don’t even know what it’s like anymore to pitch articles and do research. And what topics do I even care about? What am I learned enough in to even consider writing for others?

Just who do I think I am, anyway?

And so the tears come.

Soon, summer will be over and my daughter will get into the swing of school. And I will figure out what God wants me to say and to whom He wants me to say it. Are there likely to be rejections? Of course. I’ve already received my first. But after not using my brain for anything more than teaching 6th graders language arts and Latin for the past 5 years, my muscles may hurt for awhile. I may want to quit because it’s too hard.

IMG_4473And at unexpected times the grief of what is left behind might crawl out of the corner in which I’ve placed it. Some days I might let it come out and sit in my lap, and I will embrace it for awhile. Then I will point it back to the corner, hoping it will stay there longer than the time before.

And the joy of the Lord will be my strength.

Who do I think I am? I’m just a girl, sitting in front of a computer, trying to write from my heart, asking people to love what I have to say.

 

From Death, Life

IMG_3589This is my backyard. Looks good, doesn’t it? If you look closely, though, you can spot the imperfections. You can see the tracks the dog has made as he madly chases his thrown ball. You can see the weeds that have gone unpulled. And if you look closer still, you can see where some plants have just not made it, despite our attention.

Recently, I noticed several examples of places where we thought we had taken out a plant that was dead only to find, months later, that it is thriving again. This comes as a surprise to me, but it really shouldn’t, because it’s so much like God. He reminded me of that this morning.

First, around our pool enclosure we have rows of a pretty flowering bush called Ixora. We had a bad frost several years ago, and all those bushes suffered. Over the years the other bushes made a good comeback, but this little one never recovered. So my husband pulled it out.

Or so we thought.

Second, next to our koi pond, we had a little variegated plant called Stromanthe (at least I think that’s what it is). It grew and blossomed and did really well. For awhile. Then the leaves started turning brown. Though it was large and seemingly happy, something was not right in its little world, and it started to decline. I tried pruning it back, cutting away the dried brown leaves and trying to shape it up a little. But it didn’t respond to my touch. Eventually, we made the decision to pull it out and once again my husband did the deed.

Or so we thought.IMG_2048

Third, we had a beautiful avocado tree in our backyard tragically eaten by beetles. I wrote about that several years ago. You can read that story here. When we found a gnawed-upon fruit that the squirrels had discarded sprouted in the corner of the yard, we thought, well, what could it hurt? So we transplanted that tiny seedling into our front yard, watered it daily, kept an eye on it and hoped. You can read about that part of the story here.

And then something miraculous happened in all 3 cases. New life.

IMG_8106Our pulled-up Ixora is small but blossoming.

The seemingly dead Stromanthe is tiny but growing.

And that little avocado seedling is now a nearly 20-foot tall tree and has fruit of its own.

Amazing.

And the lesson here? Other than caring for, watching and hoping, we did nothing to cause the new growth. It was only and always in the hands of the Creator. Sometimes it took mere months to see the growth; sometimes, as in the case of the avocado, it took IMG_8077years.

In the letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6-7 ESV).

Do you have a child who is straying? Pray, love, care for, encourage, don’t give up hope. God is at work, whether they want to acknowledge it or not.

Given up on your marriage? As long as there is breath in your body, pray, nurture, and don’t give up hope. Oh, please, don’t give up hope.

Do you see only death around you? Death of dreams, of chances, of families? Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly.

IMG_8102Make no mistake, we have had other plants over the years that have, simply put, died. The uprooting was complete and they never came back to life.

Sometimes children never come back to the Lord. Sometimes marriages fail, despite our best efforts.

But God.

He is still working. Sometimes the new life and growth is in our wandering child or our wounded marriage. And sometimes it’s simply and profoundly in us.

 

Fleeting Life

Last week, I nearly lost a dear friend.

A call from her husband at 11:45 p.m. went unanswered as my phone was on “do not disturb” and my husband let the call go to voicemail. When our son, friends of their eldest daughter, came in moments later and told us to check our messages, Julie had been in an accident, I didn’t even know what to expect.

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My husband pulled on clothes and rushed to get her husband and go to the accident site as the vehicle she was driving was their only multi-passenger vehicle and he needed a ride there and a way to get them all home.

The images here are what she shared with us that night and the next morning.

But for the grace of God, Julie and her twin daughters would have been impaled by a guardrail into which their minivan was pushed by a reckless driver trying to squeeze in between their van and another vehicle in the next lane. His selfish action nearly cost the lives of 2 beautiful teenagers and their mom, grieving a husband, 2 other kids and numerous friends and family members in the process.

When I see the damage done to their van, I know that it is only by God’s hand that they survived with barely a scratch. They are sore, and Julie thinks the rail must have skimmed her head because she has bruises in a couple of places. But they walked away, glass encrusted hair bearing witness to the horrendous mess made of their vehicle.

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One of the girls was sitting in the back on this side of the van.

When they awoke the next morning, Julie was glad just to be alive. When one of her kids noted that they were out of coffee creamer, her response was, “Isn’t it nice to be out of creamer?”

In texts between a group of friends, she noted, “I cannot begin to convey how thankful I am to God and that waking up this morning, it was a very ordinary day when it could have so easily not been ordinary. We three are pretty sore understandably. But so thankful for so much. I told the girls that we will never have a bad day again, they’re all good days from here on out!”

Later she texted, “My words are too few and not nearly as adequate as I would like. It’s been very humbling that God would choose to save us in this way.”

Another in our text group said, “I’m so glad we are texting rather than crying over caskets!” Wow. That hit me hard and I just wept. What caused one daughter to duck when her sister in the front screamed, thus causing the deadly missile to miss her by inches? How was Julie not decapitated by the force of the pole through their windshield so close to her head?

IMG_55181How fleeting life is. Sometimes we don’t think about it. We just go about our business assuming we’re going to see our loved ones later. But sometimes they don’t come home.

But God is still good. Circumstances don’t change that. I am thankful for the lives that were saved last Friday night. Had things been different, I can’t even imagine what this next week would look like. Mother’s Day would have felt very different. Graduation just days away would be a wrenching event instead of a celebration for the senior daughter. Every “last” for that senior is more precious when Julie thinks how differently things could have turned out.

For this time we can breathe a sigh of relief and thank God that He spared them. But we know that not everyone can do that. Lives are lost every single day in tragic accidents caused by foolish people.

Take nothing for granted, except that God is good.

Seasons of the Soul: A Guest Poem

Again, my 18-year-old son, Nathan, has composed a poem that I wanted to share with you here. Enjoy!

Seasons of the Soul

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It’s Summer in my soul.

My smile reflects the vibrant sun that always seems to shine,
My heart is light just like the days, and everything is fine.
The warmth I feel in summer is a constant source of peace,
And I hope this optimistic Me will never start to cease.
Even in the dark of night my hope just can’t be quelled,
Firefly thoughts dance through my head, their light won’t be dispelled.

But nothing lasts forever, this truth we cannot bend,
This Season of the Soul will pass, for all things must surely end.

It’s Autumn in my soul.

A chilly wind sweeps through my mind and leaves: a reddish hue,
All my dreams begin to Fall, as dreams so often do.
No vibrant smile shines from my face, no happy thoughts glow bright,
The setting of the sun preceeds some dark and endless night.
Crimson trees bathed in blood from hopes too soon destroyed,
My spirit sinks lower as the dark takes over and fear is now employed.

No, nothing lasts forever, this truth we cannot bend,
This Season of the Soul will pass, for all things must surely end.

It’s Winter in my soul.

The darkness that surrounds me is as frigid as my heart,
The blizzard raging within me wants to tear my soul apart.
Buried under the weight of all my fears that pile like snow,
I’m trapped, my body’s numb, and now there’s nowhere left to go.
There’s a barren winter wasteland where the sun no longer shines,
And though my soul looks like it, there’s still hope for better times.

Nothing lasts forever, this truth we cannot bend,
This Season of the Soul will pass, for all things must surely end.

It’s Springtime in my soul.

From this barren wasteland Springs life that blooms anew,
The tender light of daybreak mingles with the morning dew.
Fresh thoughts of hope grow like flowers in my mind,
There’s life again inside my soul! I’ll never look behind!
For even in the coldest winter when everything seems lost,
Never stop hoping that things will get better, no matter what the cost.

Because nothing lasts forever, this truth we cannot bend,
These Seasons of the Soul will pass, for all things must surely end.

image from 123RF.com

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Nathan Reeves is a senior at Colonial High School in Orlando, Fla., graduating on May 22nd. In the fall he will be attending the University of Central Florida’s Burnett Honors College, majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies with an Environmental Science track. Nathan hopes to be a park ranger in one of America’s beautiful National Parks after he graduates from college. Though he claims to not like to write, he has a poetic gift that makes his writer mama proud. He is an enthusiastic collector of swords and knives.

The Ancient Hill: A Good Friday Contemplation

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What is that there on yonder hill

Awash with red so deep?

What does it have that draws me near?

What secrets does it keep?

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My heart is caught, my eyes are set

Up to that hill I tred

There’s something there, I know not what

But oh, that deep, deep red

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I hear the story, I know it’s true

but I do not know the why

A man, they say, but more than a man

went to that hill to die

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For me? I ask, but why for me?

What did I e’re do wrong?

And then I heard a still, small voice

Sing out an ancient song

 

There was no answer I could give

upon that old, old hill

I saw the red, I heard the cries

I know I always will

 

For me, for me, I hear the song

I weep because it’s true

He came, He loved, He gave his life

For me, and friend, for you.

 

Upon that hill, that ancient hill

I always want to stay

For there I know my Savior bled

and set me free that day

 

image from: images.fineartamerica.com