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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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Love Your Neighbor

love God love peopleA woman fell outside my house today. I was just arriving back from my morning bike ride, sweaty and dripping, when I saw a huddled group of 3 ladies on the sidewalk. One was sitting on the ground next to a motorized scooter while one of her friends fanned her.

I stopped and asked if they were OK and did they need help. They explained that the woman on the ground, Carolyn I think her name was, has MS and didn’t have use of her legs. They weren’t strong enough to lift her up. Thinking they would need at least 2 men to get her up, they had called 9-1-1.

Unfazed, I told them I had an 18-year-old son in the house and I would get him and I was willing to bet that, together, we could get her back onto that scooter. There was roadwork right outside our neighborhood that was holding up traffic in both directions. The first responders would be awhile.

So, I rode around my yard into my garage, ran into the house and woke my son and told him a lady had fallen and we needed his help getting her up.

Without hesitation, he jumped out of bed, threw on a shirt and ran with me out the door.

Together, and with the help of another friend who was driving by, we got Carolyn back onto her scooter, a little traumatized, but none the worse for wear.

The ladies were effusive with their thanks, grateful that there were still “good people in the world.” Watch-Tower-jehovah-witnesses-31065655-549-720

Here’s the thing: When I had moved aside a bag to get a better angle to help, I had seen copies of The Watchtower pamphlet. I knew these women were Jehovah’s Witnesses, coming through my neighborhood to spread a false gospel. So, though kind and well meaning, these women, some would say, are my enemy. Their false gospel leads many people away from the truth about Jesus. In all I do, I try to connect people with God through a relationship with Jesus.

We are at odds.

And yet, I didn’t even consider not helping. They were in need and I and my son had the means to help them. And so we did.

When we knew they were OK and Carolyn was situated again, we were getting ready to leave, the sound of an approaching siren in our ears, when one of the women offered us a pamphlet to read. I kindly declined and we walked back into our house.

What I didn’t say was that we do what we do because we love Jesus, not because we’re good people. It didn’t feel right in that circumstance to talk about faith. I just pray that our actions spoke for themselves.

In that moment, differences didn’t matter. Theology didn’t matter. What mattered was that we operated out of love.

gong“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, ESV).

 

images from: steadfastlutherans.org; fanpop.com; gambarbercata.com

Compared to Who? A Book Review

QueenmirrorThe evil queen in Disney’s “Snow White” made a soul shattering mistake. She looked in her magic mirror and asked the question: “Who’s the fairest of them all?” When the answer came back that a beautiful girl, Snow White, had usurped her in that role, the queen was consumed by jealousy and thereafter sought to end the life of her chief rival.

Heather Creekmore, in her new book, “Compared to Who?: A Proven Path to Improve Your Body Image,” would agree that comparison is a killer. And self esteem, which is what the queen wanted the mirror to help build in her, is really counter productive. Heather submits, “If we want to see true freedom from our body image struggles, we need to forsake esteeming ourselves and pursue esteeming the king.”

Having struggled with body image from a very young age, Heather, the wife of a pastor and church planter in Dallas, Texas, and mother of four, speaks from a very personal place. Her honesty about her issues throughout the pages of this book speaks to the thousands of women who are bombarded every moment of every day by images of super models and celebrities, Pinterest-, Facebook- and Instagram-perfect women who seem to have everything we could ever need to finally be happy.

Yet fad diets, hours a day of exercise and and an Imelda Marcos-sized wardrobe don’t solve the soul-craving that keeps us disgusted with the way we look even when others might look upon us with envy. So what is the key?

In “Compared to Who?” we are given, as the subtitle suggests, a way out of
our struggles to have the ideal body. It’s the gospel. Pure and simple.

Does that mean it’s an easy task? Just do these 5 things and you’ll never struggle with body image again. No, and thankfully, Heather does not sugar coat (great word picture for a body-image article, isn’t it?) the process.

So what is at the root of our body-image issues? Sin. What do we need to break free? Salvation.

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And community.

It was just 2 1/2 years ago that I began my weight-loss journey that I talk about in this post. I could not have done it if it wasn’t for the group of women with whom I traveled and continue to travel to this day. A monetary incentive didn’t hurt, but the accountability and encouragement from others was key.

As Heather says in “Compared to Who?”: “My dream is for Christian women to relate to each other differently. Until our friendships move beyond superficial endorsements of our struggles, we battle alone. You may have 1, 849 Facebook friends and as many Twitter and Instagram followers, but until you have one or two women in your life willing to listen to the heart behind your words, offer you grace, and show you how the gospel applies, you walk alone.”

I don’t really struggle badly with body image. I’ve never taken diet pills or tried fad diets, or lived at the gym. I don’t look at fashion magazines or compare myself to celebrities. I needed to lose some weight and ended up almost 30 pounds lighter after our challenge 2 years ago. But I don’t always smile when I look in the mirror. And I have a 14-year-old daughter who needs to see her value in Christ and trust the gospel to tell her the truth about who she is. I’m desperate for her to see Jesus as He really is and therefore see herself through His eyes.

I am thankful for Heather’s words in this book. I highly recommend it to anyone who has ever looked at anyone else—whether their body, their hair, their home, their children—and thought, “I wish I was more like her.”

And the evil queen’s magic mirror? Its mistake was simple. The best answer to the queen’s question about who’s the fairest of them all should have been, “Jesus. He’s the fairest, and He’s all you need.”

 

Heather CreekmoreSee more of what Heather Creekmore has to say at her blog: http://comparedtowho.me/ . Buy your copy of “Compared to Who?” at Amazon  or Christian Book Distributors.

Images from The Disney Wiki and http://www.comparedtowho.me

Pet Obsessed

Currently in my household there reside my 3 kids (14, 18, 20), my husband, my mother-in-law, and me.

And approximately 347 animals.

OK, that might be a bit of an exaggeration. But for my non-pet-loving husband, I’m sure it feels that way at times.

 

Currently we care for 1 big, noisy, hair-factory dog named Berkeley, a 9-year-old blackIMG_7141 lab; twin 2-year-old kitties named Stella and Luna that we can only tell apart by their collars and their personalities; 2 parakeets, Jasper, whom we’ve had for 4 years, and FullSizeRender 13Kalani, whom we’ve had for 1 after summer pet sitting turned into a forever home; a new mud turtle named Franklin who’s supposed to be in my daughter’s care—we’ll see how that goes—a koi fish pond out front that currently holds 2 gorgeous koi named Kiiro, which means yellow in Japanese, and Kireina, which means beautiful, at least according to Google Translate and an aquarium with fish that now number about 15, I think.

Phew! Sounds like enough, doesn’t it? Yet every time I see that someone needs a home for an animal, my mind always jumps to the idea that just one more won’t make a difference. Then I think of my husband, long suffering but loving, who just shakes his head at my obsession.

IMG_8058He agreed to the mud turtle because it doesn’t make any noise.

And it doesn’t shed.

Mind you, we live in the ‘burbs. We’re not on a farm where animals can roam freely and be outside most of the time. Ours are all indoor animals, though the cats love the screened-in back porch and are excellent lizard hunters.

So every morning I get up before I really want to and take the cover off the birds’ cage, let the cats out of the laundry room where they’re confined for the night because they kept bothering the birds in the wee hours of the morning, let the dog out, check the food and water levels in everyone’s bowls and step IMG_7792out the door, rain or shine, to make sure the koi get their sustenance.

Every night I cover the birds, feed the aquarium fish, clean the litter box, give the kitties their treats and lock them up, let the dog out and make sure Franklin has been seen to.

In between comes the washing and the playing and the cleaning of filters and changing of water and bird cage liners, and, and, and. The list is endless.

So why do I do it? Why do I keep these little critters that take up so much time and energy?FullSizeRender 14

That’s a good question I’m sure my husband would like answered.

Before we got the 2 cats we have, we had another big ol’ boy we named Oreo (can you guess what colors he was?). We weren’t going to get another cat, but my eldest told us of a dream he had one night where his class from school went to a pet store, and everyone got to get a pet but him, because his dad wouldn’t let him.

I didn’t even put him up to it, I promise.

As David was praying about the issue, God told him that by keeping pets from his kids, he was limiting their capacity to love. They did, in fact, need to have these creatures into which they could poor affection.

oreoWhen Oreo mysteriously passed away at the young age of 8, this is what my then 16 1/2-year-old, that same boy who had the dream, said in way of eulogy on Facebook, along with the photo (left): “My friend, it has been an exciting and pleasurable journey we have taken. Every moment and every part of your existence was well spent, and although I don’t know if cats have a true sense of feeling and emotion, I hope you felt that you partook in a life well lived. Though the circle of life continues, your being will never be forgotten as long as I live. Our vast array of memories will never leave my mind. Rest in peace, Oreo, my wonderful pet, friend, and companion.”

Capacity to love? You betcha.

I also feel like a love of animals has a biblical basis: Psalm 50:10-11 says, “For every beast of the forest is Mine, The cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, And everything that moves in the field is Mine.”

They really do reflect the glory of God. He made them. He cares for them. He has given usFullSizeRender 15 stewardship over them.

Do they cost a lot of money in upkeep? Yes.

Do they make a lot of noise? Some do, yes.

Do they make a lot of messes? Again, some do, yes.

Do they sometimes ruin things that we have purchased? Yes.

But would I give them up to have a spotless house, a pristine yard, an unscratched window, a lot less work? No.

When that fuzzy little body climbs onto my lap and purrs, I know that I am touching something sacred. And would I have missed my boy’s heart for his cat? No. All of my kids speak lovingly of having pets of their own when they move out.

The care and loving of an animal will prepare them for parenthood, it will make them kinder people, it will make them more patient and accepting of others. I do most of the work mainly because I want to, not because the kids are shirking their duties. They know there will be work involved.

So in my 55+ years of life, I’ve invited into my heart 4 dogs, 5 cats, 3 birds, numerous fish, a rabbit, a couple of mice and a hamster that was really my brother’s.

And I’m all the richer for it.

 

 

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.

Redeeming Ruth: A Book Review

Books-Mockup-01Some may think doing hard things isn’t worth it. Some may think one little Ugandan baby with developmental problems is too big a risk for a normal family from Maine. But Meadow Rue Merrill and her family felt differently. The subtitle for this beautifully written book is “Everything Life Takes, Love Restores.” All across the pages, this truth comes through.

What I loved about this powerful story was Meadow’s honesty throughout. She had doubts about adopting this special-needs baby. She didn’t want to trust God with this opportunity. She questioned what seemed plain to her husband, Dana. Honesty about her faith struggles, honesty about her marriage struggles, honesty about her parenting struggles. Everything is there for everyone to read. No holds barred.

But what shines so clearly through as well is the non-stop love and care and advocacy Meadow and her family heaped upon this little girl, and the heart that they bring to the issue of special-needs kids in the poorest of countries in the world. If their family could help, so can yours.

The story comes to life through Meadow’s recounting of her trip back to Uganda with Ruth to complete the adoption process. My palms sweated and my heart raced as they encountered trial, after trial, after trial, but saw God’s provision in every instance. Tears flowed when hearts were prompted to raise money that was needed in just a couple of days. Emotional and heart breaking and heart warming all at the same time, Redeeming Ruth shows us the heart of God through the hands of His people.

Losing a child is an unspeakable tragedy, yet Meadow speaks of the place this tragedy had in her life, in her faith, in her family. Raw emotion, unconditional love, shaken faith. And redemption. God brought that to this little family in Maine through a deaf, disabled baby from Uganda. And He can bring it to you, if you will open your hearts.

You can find Redeeming Ruth starting May 1 at Amazon.com, and Christianbook.com and watch the book trailer here.

Drink Like A Deer

img_1701-1In my front yard I have a grapevine doe. She used to be a Christmas decoration, but eventually the light bulbs burned out. So I moved her over to my koi pond, which sits right in front of my dining-room window. And now I can watch her all year long.

Every once in awhile I see a lizard skittering inside her belly.

What struck me today, though, was that she’s ever so close to drinking that water, but never quite getting there. If she could just stretch a little further; if the water would just come a little closer, she could be fulfilled.

It reminded me of the verse, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Ps. 42:1b).

Do I long for God? Do I literally feel as if I will die if I’m not with Him?

This winter has been rough—I know, I know, how can a Version 2Florida winter be rough?—but though the sun has been shining and the weather has been warm, the storms of life have almost undone me.

From emotional crises to a nagging health issue to an accident that’s causing me to take on a role that doesn’t come naturally to me, the blizzards hit one after another, just as if I’m New England in this winter of ’17.

Oh, how I long for the flowing streams of God’s grace. I don’t want to sip, I want to plunge in, head over heels, and feel Him surround me and take me under so that I’m no longer breathing air, I’m breathing Jesus. Every breath I take.

Sometimes the life-giving water seems far away. I just can’t reach that far. There is too
much fear, like lizards crawling around in my belly. Do I trust Him, even though He’s choosing to keep me in this season?
img_9130Do I believe He’s a good Father who is doing the best for me? Working all things together for good. Because I do love Him. I am called according to His purpose.

As the hymn writer Horatio Spafford said, “When peace like a river attendeth my way . . .”

So many water images in the Bible, Jesus Himself being the epitome of that. Living Water.

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” Ps. 34:8.

The water is fine, I tell that doe. And myself. Dive right in.