God’s Light Show

2018-5-30 Sunset Light Shows _202717_HDRGod put on a light show for me last night.

Near the end of the day, I stood looking out the patio doors of my condo. I noticed a large, towering tree between two houses that peek over the fence separating that property from my complex.

Hmm…I don’t remember noticing that tree before. It’s like someone’s shining a light on it. I see blossoms at the end of the branches. 

My gaze shifted slightly to the left. A rainbow! God, you shown a light on that tree so I wouldn’t miss seeing Your gift to me.  

After opening the patio door and stepping out to my enclosed porch, I bent forward to take in the full expanse of the brilliant rainbow following a day of stormy weather. That rainbow could have arched across any area in town. God chose my backyard.

He wasn’t finished with His show. In the clear sky, three fluffy white clouds popped up, seemingly at roof level, and wisps of pink quickly embellished the center of each cloud.

As I turned to the left again, the whole sky was a soft glow of light pink. Strange, the sun isn’t setting here in the east, yet it’s so colorful. 

The front. There’s sure to be a lovely sunset out there tonight. Grabbing my cell phone, I raced to the front door and flung it open. The blazing sky characterized the aftermath of the day’s darkness, gloom, and flowing rivers down our street. Light triumphed at the bottom of the descending evening grayness, highlighted by the same wispy pink I’d seen from my back patio.

It had been a week of focusing on to-do’s for my publishing project, and fighting off personal doubts and uncertainty. God painted His rainbow across the sky as if to say, “This is for you, My child. I know how everything is going to turn out. Trust Me.”

What do rainbows represent to you?

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Buying me back

Redemption took on new meaning for me last night.

As part of our Easter week remembrance, I joined with close to 100 people who were seated at tables in my church’s fellowship hall to participate in a Passover Seder. Jeremiah, a Messianic Jew involved with Jews for Jesus, stood at the front table. He represented Jewish households and communities around the world who will participate in the Seder on April 11 to mark the beginning of the Jewish holiday Passover.

The elements of the Seder retell the story of how God set the Israelites free from slavery in Egypt. As a Jew who embraces the Messiah, Jeremiah also explained the Christian symbolism of each element that amazingly points to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Messiah.

Throughout the evening, our leader emphasized the word “Redemption” and asked us to repeat the meaning: “God bought back what rightfully belonged to Him.” God created us, but we were separated from Him because of our sin, so we needed a Savior who would pay the price to “buy us back”. God gave His Son Jesus to die for us so we could enjoy a personal relationship with God.

Jeremiah concluded with a story of redemption. It centered on a young boy who crafted a small, beautiful boat, with the help of his father. The last thing the boy did was paint his initials on the side. After father and son walked to the water’s edge, the son placed the boat on the surface and held on to the string he had tied to it.

Grinning from ear to ear, the son watched the boat sway and drift on the glassy water. Suddenly, a strong gust of wind ripped the string from his young fingers. He ran along the bank as fast as he could, but the boat sped ahead of him. He was devastated.

One day while walking on the sidewalk in their small town, he glimpsed something in a store window. It looked like a rusty boat. Drawing closer, he squinted through the glass and saw his initials.

Rushing into the store, he announced. “That’s my boat. Can I have it?”

The owner explained, “Another young boy brought that in and I paid him for it. You can have it if you pay me $10.”

The boy raced home and emptied the money from his piggy bank onto his bed. Gathering the needed amount, he ran back to the store and laid his coins on the counter. The owner smiled, walked over to the window, picked up the boat and set it in the boy’s waiting arms.

He walked outside, smiling with joy. Then looking down and cradling his boat he said, “I owned you twice. I made you, then I lost you, and now I have bought you back.”

That picture of joy will remain in my heart as I consider, once again, the indescribable love of my Father who allowed His Son to die so He could “buy me back.” Redemption.

Who will win?

Fear can crop up at the strangest times.

You would think we could outsmart our most prominent fears once in a while. Especially if we’ve dealt with them for many years. Couldn’t we just tell ourselves, “This time you don’t have to give in”?

It’s not that simple.

Surrounded by friends at a recent writing conference, I felt joyful, energized, confident, eager for opportunities to encourage other conferees.

Things changed during my first workshop about integrating writing and speaking. Our leader, Linda, instructed us to choose a topic and create a short speech. Then she asked for volunteers to make their presentation to the group. I’ve done lots of speaking. My hand should have popped up right away. Instead, I sat in my chair, wrestling with my fear. What if it didn’t turn out well? What would the group think?

Finally, I talked with God. Immediately I knew I could and should confront my fear. As I faced the group, I relaxed and God took over. Ironically, my presentation related to the book I’m writing about rising above the fear of rejection by walking out of our self-made prisons in God’s strength and tasting freedom to become who God made us to be.

That walk to the front of the room became symbolic of coming out of my own prison and facing my fear that day. Because one of my classmates heard me speak, she opened some unique doors for me to promote my book. That was God’s plan all along.

My friend Dayle, writer of Tip of My Iceberg blog, shed light on my path through her  recent post. “We’ve all got potential to be more than the limits our minds and fears give us. If we give ourselves the freedom to believe in an all-powerful, all-knowing God who made us intentionally in love, we have His power to pursue dreams greater than our perceived limitations.”

I hope I remember this the next time fear tries to hold me back.

Something New

This morning I was struck by the privilege we have to watch a new day” dawning simply because God ordained it. He gives it to us for our personal enjoyment and to highlight His presence. He has great things in store for us each day beyond what we’ve already planned. This may be an “aha” moment, or an experience that brings spiritual growth. It could be victory over a situation that has bothered us for some time. He knows what each new day needs to contain for us, His children.

Then there’s each “new year”. When it arrives I always feel as though I’m picking up a new book to read. It fosters a spirit of anticipation. Through God’s Word we know that this year will be full of unexpected plans and dreams created for us by God before the foundation of the world. Do you wonder what things will unfold in your life in 2018? What things are you trusting God to bring about for you?

As we turn our calendars to February, we may find reminders of “new opportunities” ahead. Perhaps you will step into arenas you haven’t experienced before. This may cause some apprehension. When I am about to encounter new things and would rather hold on to what’s familiar, this favorite promise helps me align my perspective with God’s heart:

“Do not call to mind the former things.
Or ponder things of the past.
Behold, I will do something new,
Now it will spring forth;
Will you not be aware of it?
I will even make a roadway in the wilderness,
Rivers in the desert.”
Isaiah 43:18-19

 

 

Living Legacy

I’ve suffered another loss. Unexpected. Not ready. Are we ever ready?

Thomas was 81. Many of us witnessed his physical changes during the last decade of life. Yet, his heart for impacting people for Christ never wavered. So the news of his stroke caught us off guard.

My friendship with Thomas and his wife Molly began almost 50 years ago. We served God together in a Christian organization, and I never envisioned I would have the privilege of being Thomas’ executive assistant for 27 years.

Time had passed so quickly. Now it was standing still.

Thomas laid in his hospital bed for 14 days, unable to speak yet able to hear. Most of those days his three children surrounded around his bedside. During that time God reminded them of their father’s comment, “Why do people say all those nice things about someone after they’re gone? Why don’t they tell them while they’re still living?”

That birthed an idea. “Why don’t we invite people to say what they want Dad to know now?”

Emails poured in and they took turns reading each one to Thomas. They held the cell phone to his ear so he could hear a call or a voicemail left at a designated number.  Once in a while he’d mumble a weak response; other times a tear would flow down his cheek as he listened to words of endearment. Some who lived nearby visited in person.

This “living memorial” went on for days.

I sent an email because I didn’t trust my emotions to hold up while I expressed my love, admiration, and appreciation for all he poured into my life that shaped who I am today. When he lingered, I asked God for strength to call so he would hear my voice before his journey to heaven. I especially wanted him to know I’d keep on serving God for the rest of my life.

A couple days later he was gone. Immediately transported into the presence of God because he had embraced God and begun a personal relationship with Him.

I wondered, “What will my life be like without seeing Thomas, hearing his contagious laughter, or receiving his words of love, friendship, advice, and encouragement?”

Brokenhearted, I turned my question to God. God helped me see that Thomas had finished the work He had given him to do. He’d left a legacy that had helped countless people know how to have eternal life and serve God wholeheartedly.

Now it’s my turn to continually build the legacy I believe God wants me to leave behind by helping others know God and live for Him.

The way I spend each day is important. I never know when it may be my last.

 

Unexpected Embrace

Colorful gift bags graced our table as the four of us hovered together in our booth ready to banter and tease and catch up. We were four ballroom dancers, one of us the instructor. We were well acquainted on the dance floor but we counted on these occasional gatherings, be it a birthday celebration or a “just because” meal, to talk long enough for true feelings and struggles to surface.

Daily life chitchat eventually gave way to sharing of family stories, personal experiences, disappointments, and joys. Some conversation brought laughter, some called for simply listening as there were no easy answers. By the time the main course evaporated from our plates, we felt like we knew one another and our families better.

At the appointed time, the waiter brought small plates, unveiled a sweet birthday cake hand chosen by JoAnne and lit a few candles while they sang happy birthday to me. Our individual portions melted in our mouths.

“Gail, open your presents!” Sharon’s card had a dance couple painted on the front with an inside inscription of “Dance the night away!” How well it represented our shared joy of dancing. Billy, our instructor who crafts his teaching to suit our wide diversity of learning styles, handed me a gift bag that proclaimed “It’s time to Happy Dance!” The rustic wooden box inside the bag bore this inscription on the top: “You are a true blessing.” I smiled across the table, grateful that God had somehow used my friendship, our conversations, and my lifestyle to bless him.

JoAnne then announced, “This present just screamed ‘Gail’ to me.”  Curious, I pulled away the gift wrapping and lifted the lid of a tiny box. From a dainty silver chain hung a miniature heart, cross and angel wing. The cardboard underneath the necklace said in large bold lettering “BELIEVE.” The accompanying words added to the message. “Believe in miracles. Say a short prayer, and remember that miracles do come true.”

I gasped. Turning to look at JoAnne I told her something she didn’t know. “Each year I ask God to give me a word for that year. Do you know the word He gave me for this year?” She shook her head. “Believe!!”

“No way, really?!” A smile lit up her face.

“Now you know why God told you to buy that gift for me!”

She nodded in amazement. It was a connection with God she least expected. From our past personal conversations and those voiced to the whole group, I am certain she knows about God. From time to time she mentions what she has prayed and asked God for. But she hasn’t expressed interest in having a personal relationship with God and Jesus like she knows I have. She appreciates my faith but doesn’t seem to want to embrace it for herself.

God didn’t wait. He embraced her Himself by sharing a secret. When He led her to the present that was perfectly designed for me, He said, “This is the gift I want you to buy for Gail.”Silver necklace 2 from JoAnne

Once JoAnne realized the significance, she experienced God in a way she hadn’t before. It also created a deeper connection for us as friends. I believe she will never forget that encounter with God. And every time I wear my unique silver necklace I will be reminded of the seed that God planted in JoAnne’s heart in 2016. Because God loves JoAnne so much, He will continue nurturing that seed until it blooms in His appointed time.

Were it not for God

Today is Resurrection Sunday! Lord Jesus, You didn’t stay in the empty tomb. When Your Father touched your still and broken body and breathed life into it, that gesture of love, compassion and mercy symbolized what happens when we respond to Him. When we open our hearts to Him, He breathes life into our dead spirit and we become alive! We are resurrected. Our sin no longer holds us in bondage. We are free because You paid the price that purchased our salvation, the forgiveness of our sin.

Were it not for Your love, we would be spiritually dead. Were it not for Your sacrifice, we would be without hope of the promise of living with You forever. Were it not for your resurrection, we would never see our loved ones and friends again.

Father God, today I pray especially for my friends who recently have lost a spouse, a parent, a child, a sibling, or a friend. Fill their empty hearts with hope and peace.

When I lost my mother unexpectedly, I wondered how I would survive without her. I felt alone and uncertain. When the next Easter arrived I sat in church with sadness draped over my hurting heart. Noticing my tears, a caring friend leaned over and said, “But, Gail, today is the day of resurrection. You don’t need to be sad. You will see your mother again.”

That particular day, now more than 20 years ago, I didn’t wipe my tears and experience peace. My heart was too weak to embrace the truth of the resurrection. Yet since that time, the promise of resurrection and the great reunion in heaven has made all the difference.

His death had to come first, but joy comes in the morning when we visit the tomb and discover He is not there. He is alive…and so are we.

“He is not here, for He has risen….”
Matthew 28:6

 

 

 

True Thanksgiving

During a Thanksgiving gathering, our speaker presented a thought-provoking insight based on the story of 10 lepers whom Jesus healed.

“Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria  and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’

“When he saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed.

“One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.  He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

“Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?’  Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”  Luke 17:11-19 (NIV) 

Our “messenger” pointed out three things in this passage. The men had a need. Jesus’ attentiveness to that need created gratitude in their hearts. Yet only one healed man expressed thanksgiving to Jesus. We learned that gratitude is a feeling while thanksgiving is an action.

I can only imagine the shame these 10 men must have experienced when they approached Jesus and stood at a distance from Him. They’d been ostracized from society, without any love or care. They weren’t sure what would happen. But Jesus saw them and listened to their cries of desperation. On the way to see the priests, as Jesus had instructed, they were cleansed—healed from their dreadful disease.

Surely all 10 of them were grateful for their deliverance. But one returned to praise God in a loud voice so everyone would know that Jesus had indeed taken pity on him and healed him. Then in an act of humility he threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him.  Jesus responded with a blessing: “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

At the end of our own gathering, we were challenged to consider what things we are grateful for and ask ourselves if we have put our feeling of gratitude into action yet.  I am grateful for my 97-year-old uncle who loves and encourages me as we go through life without many family members we both miss. Tonight I called to thank him personally—my act of true Thanksgiving.

Letting the Wall Fall

Last month we talked about the Strength of Grief. That blog post centered on excerpts from a book I read. One character sought to build courage into the heart of the other one who was trying to recover from a terrifying trauma.

He said, “You survived by hiding . . . but it’s a defense. Grieving is about letting down that shield, not having to keep that defensive wall in place. When you can lower it and not get overwhelmed by the memories, you’ll know your healing is mostly complete . . . and be ready to move on.”

Today let’s talk about that “defensive wall”. It’s easy to construct. We erect it because we can’t bear the flood of emotions. Yet, facing our emotions brings healing.

I pray that the second excerpt below will shed new insight and create a desire in your heart to ask God to break down your wall, if it’s still up. He wants you to experience freedom from the inevitable grief and sadness.  And to dream again.

“I’m hoping, praying, that the wall you’ve had to put in place around yourself and your emotions will come down. That there will be more of you appearing. Wider emotional swings both up and down. More energy. Dreams for your life. Things you want. Desires of the heart. And, yes, a deeper sadness. Grieve. All of it. That’s life, and the more of it you are feeling, the closer you are to being whole again.”

“. . . It will give you the ability to see the world around you as it exists both good and bad. It will be having a life that isn’t being steered by the past, where it doesn’t feel like the past is a daily anchor weighing on your thoughts, or on your impressions of places and people. Healing will be the capacity and the ability to love family and care about friends. It will be about having dreams for yourself and the confidence to work toward them. Healing in part is being able to feel you are free of the past.”

Excerpts from page 278 of Taken.
Used by permission of the author, Dee Henderson.

The Strength of Grief

While reading a fiction book recently, I came across a large portion of dialogue between the two main characters. Their conversation caught me by surprise. The young woman endured a painful, horrible, and long-lasting experience. The words of hope her new friend offered her centered on grief and how to move past it.

Reading those words altered my way of processing grief and assessing my progress. Immediately I desired to share these excerpts with you. The author happily granted permission.

This month’s excerpt centers on the strength of grief. Next month’s quotation talks more about our walls and the freedom we can experience. I pray this will encourage you in your own journey of grief.

“Grief isn’t fragile. It comes along with strength, facing the losses in life, the reality of what you won’t have back, then turning to the future to create what can be built. Grief is part of accepting what was; it’s what takes the sharp edges off your history. It’s emotion and it’s reality. It’s mostly not hiding, letting your mind present what needs processing and dealing with all the implications of those memories.”

“. . . You survived by hiding. It’s still how you cope when events or situations hurt you. I’m glad it’s a strong instinct because it’s getting you through. But it’s a defense. Grieving is about letting down that shield, not having to keep that defensive wall in place. When you can lower it and not get overwhelmed by the memories, you’ll know your healing is mostly complete…and be ready to move on.

“You’ve learned to endure, to live strong in spite of all that’s been thrown at you. That’s powerful and good.  . . . I think you’ve dealt with matters by a sequence that was basically ‘It happened, it was horrible, it’s over, move on’ and your emotions learned to function that way as well. But that was a learned pattern. Freedom is going to shift your emotions to something’s that’s more expansive. You’ll feel things with larger and wider emotional swings again, because now you have the freedom to experience those normal emotions. It’s going to be a good thing.”

Excerpts from pages 276-277 of Taken.
Used by permission of the author, Dee Henderson.