Hold My Hand

As a lunch lady, I get the opportunity to be around kids daily. Right now, I’m working in a middle school. I’ve truly come to love that age group and enjoy them tremendously. This past week, I was serving and happened to glance up just in time to see two girls heading down the line, one hanging onto the hand of the other. I smiled at the innocence of it and then thought of all the hand holding we experience in a lifetime.

I would say most people’s earliest memories are hearing a parent say, “hold my hand.” As a child, it normally meant I wasn’t going to be allowed to go where I wanted to go and do what I wanted to do. Sometimes it was comforting, but mostly it felt restrictive!

Later, when my sweet husband and I were dating, there was no feeling in the world like him reaching over and grabbing my hand. It was exciting and comforting, all at the same time. Even now, few things make me feel as secure as Keith teaching over and holding my hand.

When I became a mom, hand holding became a new Olympic sport! My little girl was high strung and high energy. Holding her hand was a measure to keep her safe that couldn’t be beat! But those moments when she would slip her hand into mine, unbidden, would absolutely melt my heart!

I was 41 when my dad passed away. I was long past the days of holding daddy’s hand. But, as he neared the end of his life, he became increasingly fearful of being alone. I would sit and hold his hand until I could no longer feel mine. It gave him reassurance that I was still there and it gave me precious time to say goodbye.

As a young woman, I wasn’t a huggy-touchy-feely kind of girl. God changed that and I came to appreciate the hand of a friend. There is something infinitely comforting about the boldness of a friend who will hold your hand in times of need. It serves as a tether of reality in the saddest times, as an encouragement in trying times, as shared joy in happy times and a gesture of love that is solid and tangible.

Then, there’s the hand that matters most. Isaiah 41:9-10 says, “I took you from the ends of the earth,

from its farthest corners I called you.

I said, ‘You are my servant’;

I have chosen you and have not rejected you.

10So do not fear, for I am with you;

do not be dismayed, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you and help you;

I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

We all have times when we desperately need to know we’re not alone. We need to feel the comfort of a hand, the love of one who cares. In those moments when we feel as if no human knows our pain, this truth from God’s Word bring me hope. He cares. He has chosen us. And He holds us with His hand! Maybe He even holds our hand. I can’t think of another hand I’d rather hold.

Be blessed and tell someone you love them.

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Do Not Disturb

Anyone who knows me knows that I am pretty easily distracted. If you don’t believe it, simply walk through the aisles of Hobby Lobby with me. I can go from deep theological discussion to “oooh, shiny!” and back again in a split second. If you’re thinking I’m like Dug from the movie Up, you would not be the first to make that connection. Squirrel! (If you’re confused, google it).

Now, most days, I can control the easily distracted thing pretty well. But, if a person knows that I struggle with distraction, it’s a tool they can use. My children both perfected at an early age the strategy of making me laugh when they were in trouble. And my kids in children’s church are masters at distraction! For the most part, these are benign distractions.

Unfortunately, there is one whose mission is to distract is more sinister. The devil, satan, the enemy of our souls, the liar and father of lies is always out to keep us from God’s will. He started early, in the Garden of Eden. He distracted Eve with a question. He used it to make her doubt. Then he led her right to sin.

The devil even tried his tactics on Jesus. When Jesus was hanging out in the desert, after his baptism, satan showed up to distract Him from His mission with temptation. Jesus resisted (more about that later.)

So. Back to me. I am easily distracted. And the biggest tool the enemy uses fits in my hand. In fact, it fits so well, it’s there all the time. Yes, I’m talking about my phone. With Eve and Jesus, first satan distracted then he tempted. For me, the distraction comes when I hear my phone. Or think I hear it. Or think I’m going to hear it. Then, the temptation can come when I see a notification. I must look at it. Now. No matter what’s going on. It grieves my heart to think how many important conversations I’ve pulled away from for the simple act of checking my phone. How many moments have I missed with family and loved ones? How many opportunities have I missed. All because I am so phone addicted.

So. What to do about it?

I woke up with the thought of my weekend away. Amy and I took a weekend trip to the mountains to see Beth Moore. At the hotel yesterday morning, I heard housekeeping knocking on doors, long before I was ready to have them bombard my room. So, I did what any seasoned traveler knows to do. I hung up the Do Not Disturb sign.

Are you catching my drift here? When the enemy comes knocking, we have a choice! We can hang up our Do Not Disturb sign!

But, how?

Well, let’s look at what Jesus did.

 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:“‘He will command his angels concerning you,    and they will lift you up in their hands,    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. Matthew 4:1-11When satan came to Jesus, he used a tiny word to try and plant doubt, “if.” But, Jesus knew Who He was and easily put satan in his place with the Truth. He used scripture to refute what the devil was claiming. Then, He simply told satan to leave. And, He did! I think that’s a powerful model of how we can deal with the enemy when he comes. And, he will come!1 Peter 5:8 says, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” Notice this doesn’t say that he might be prowling around. It says, he IS prowling around.

So. What are your distractions? I can tell you some of mine. (I mean, besides my iPhone.) Pain. Sickness. Past sin. Heartache. People. The enemy can use anything to distract you. (Currently, he’s trying to use a wet, smelly dog to distract me from this blog!)

Now, how do we hang up our Do Not Disturb sign? Scripture. Just like Jesus did. Commit to memory the words to repeat back to satan. He can never stand against the Truth.

Is negativity your distraction? Remember Philippians 4:8. I really like the way The Message puts it. “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”

Is fear a problem for you? Try this one: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7, NLTAnxiety? “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” 1 Peter 5:7, NLTGot a past the devil is using against you? “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:16, ESVGot an addiction? (Yes, even to a cell phone.) “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,” Hebrews 12:1, NIVTruly, there is nothing satan can throw at you that you can’t resist, with the help of Christ.”We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” Hebrews 12:2, NLTNow, get out there and make a difference for Jesus!Be blessed and tell someone you love them.

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God’s Timing

Today, I watched a short video of Beth Moore preaching. It was a tiny piece of a larger sermon. The part I watched was talking about not stressing over finding God’s will for your life. She made a statement that I agree with completely. If you have even a little bit of a heart for God, His spirit will use that for His purpose.

 Acts 13:36 says, “Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep.” (He died). The important part of that is “when He had served God’s purpose”. Now, we all know David had some issues. Adultery and murder are the first two that pop in my head. If he was a modern man, we’d see his face plastered all over Facebook with self-righteous tirades about what a scoundrel he was. Yet, the Bible says he was a man after God’s own heart. (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22). 

You need to know. I am a David. Okay, not the murder and adultery part. But, I can be a real screw up. I’ve made my share of mistakes plus some. And I’m probably not done! But. I love the Lord. I have a heart for Him. And I want to be useful in His kingdom. Because of His grace and mercy and propensity for using screwups, sometimes I get a glimpse of Him using me for His purpose.

You might have noticed I haven’t written in awhile. Or maybe you haven’t. Either way, I haven’t been writing. I’m always too busy or too tired or my brain isn’t working. And I’ve fretted over it (well, I’ve fretted a little). But the truth is that my life just hasn’t been suited to writing. My body has been doing some crazy stuff and the best I can do a lot of days is work and then come home and collapse. Week before last, my sweet best friend and I went to Florida. We had a condo with an amazing view of the gulf. We were right on the ocean. The weather was amazing most of the week. And most of my pictures were of the view through the sliding glass door. And I fretted. Because normally, I would be out walking on the beach, praying and getting some serious God time in. But I was so tired. So I rested. A lot.

You see, I’m one of those people who tends to pack my days and weeks so full that I don’t always even get the needed 8 hours of sleep at night. The scripture I use to justify it is often Galatians 6:9, “…do not weary in doing good.” But I completely forget that God means for us to rest. 

So, in retrospection this past week, as I thought about all the things I didn’t do in Florida, I felt God telling me I had done exactly what He meant for me to do. I rested. Completely. And when I came home, I started streamlining my life a bit. I’m cutting out some of the superfluous and making a true effort to give my body and mind the rest it needs. 

And in exchange? God has given me a glimpse of how He’s used me. A well timed text. A comment to the pastor. An off-the-cuff lesson in kids church. Not because I’m an amazing person, but because He is an amazing God.

So. Do you have a heart for God? Do you want to do big things for Him? Don’t stress it. Just stay close to Him. Do what He says, even when He says do nothing. He will use you for His purpose. In His timing. And it will be good.

Be blessed and tell someone you love them.

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Refused Blessings

I’m back at Food Lion. For the summer, anyway. One of the regular customers is a man who buys food at a reduced price to feed the hungry. Apparently, he’s part of a Christian group that does the feeding. Which, to be honest, kind of shocked me. He isn’t very friendly.

A couple weeks ago, the man came in to buy groceries for himself. I got to the end of the order and he very gruffly shoved a pack of meat back at me and told me to take it off. I’m guessing I had a quizzical look on my face because he quickly explained that he was about a dollar short. 

Now, I’m not wealthy, my any stretch of imagination, but I had a dollar I could spare that day, so I dug in my pocket and told him I had him covered. He assured me that he would come back to pay me back. I told him not to worry about it – just pay it forward. 

I didn’t think anything more about the situation, until he came back in several days later and thrust a dollar bill at me. I thanked him, but told him it wasn’t necessary, that he was supposed to pay it forward, he proudly stated, “I pay all my debts!”

That’s nice.

Except.

Some debts can’t be paid back. 

I have debts I can’t repay. The folks along the way who have helped us financially, those who have watched kids or made food. And then there’s the friend who gave us a place to live.

It’s hard to accept a gift like that. It’s humbling to recognize that we’ve received such a treasure. And that there’s no way we can “balance the scales.” Some things just can’t be repaid.

Jesus paid a debt for us that can never be repaid. We have zero capacity to even come close to repaying what He did for us. Yet, He offers it freely to all those who will accept.

Friends, if we can’t accept a dollar or food or babysitting or a place to live with no ability to repay, then how can we accept the grace of forgiveness and eternal life? 

Are you in a place of need today? Is someone offering help you’re refusing because you know you can’t pay it back? If so, I would gently remind you to check your pride level. It’s so easy to rely on self, but it’s not what God calls us to. Open your hands, let go of the “should haves” and accept whatever gift God is offering you, through whichever vessel He chooses. I can almost guarantee it’ll be unexpected!

Be blessed and tell someone you love them.

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Wilderness Walking

Twenty two years ago, Keith and I realized that trying to live our lives without letting God be in charge wasn’t working for us. We rededicated our lives to Him and shortly after found a church. Harvest was an integral part of our lives for fifteen years. Over time, though, change occurred. Change in us, change in the church. Seven years ago, God made it clear it was time to move on. It was a hard, emotionally wrenching move, but He assured us we were on the right path and that He had a place of rest for us.

That place of rest turned out to be Lowell Church of God. There were doctrinal differences, but they loved the Lord and loved us, so it worked. We made friends and Lowell became the safe place God had promised.

But, life changes. And ours did, dramatically. I was laid off. Keith was laid off. I took a job in retail where I worked late many Wednesdays and worked every other Sunday. Our finances were in the toilet. Several of our friendships were in the same place. 

One of those relationships was with the children’s, then youth, pastor and his wife. It’s a long story I won’t go into. They were in a bad place. We were in a bad place. There were hurt feelings. And unforgiveness. My favorite sermon at that time was Bishop TD Jakes preaching about his “gift of goodbye.” I had certainly received that gift. I chose to exercise the gift and move on with life.

As all this was happening, God moved them to another church. Then, He moved us. No, not to another church – He moved us to the sticks! 

When we first moved, we honestly thought it was a temporary move. I guess it took about six months to realize that didn’t seem to be the plan. 

We tried a few churches, but none felt like the place we were supposed to be. Mostly, God seemed to be working on teaching us to listen to Him when there was no pastor around to give us direction. 

There were those who would have said we were wondering in the wilderness, like the Israelites. There was a time that I would have hotly refuted that statement! Today, however, God reminded me that it was Him Who had the Israelites in the wilderness. They were never wandering aimlessly and He never deserted them.

And so it has been for us. He has held us aside from “institutional church,” teaching us, guiding us, strengthening our relationship with Him and helping us learn to rely on our ability to hear from Him.

Now, those of you who know me know that one of my favorite things to say is, “We tell our plans to God and He laughs.” 

Guess what! God’s laughing.

That couple with whom I exercised my gift of goodby? Yeah, well, despite the fact that I said I was done with them, they are now my pastors. 

God had revealed to me months ago that it was time to be back in church, that my boy desperately needed it. Keith still works most Sundays, so we visited churches as we could, with or without him. Every time we found one I thought I might could like, God said no. A couple months ago, I woke up with the absolute knowledge that I was supposed to be at Daniel and Tabitha’s church. When I told Keith, his response was, “In Lincolnton???” Yes. In Lincolnton. Forty-five minutes away. He shrugged and said, “if that’s what God’s telling you, then okay.” When I contacted Tabitha, she was a little more excited that I would have expected. It didn’t take her long to tell me that they had been praying for a children’s minister and she thought I was the answer to that prayer. After a couple days of praying, I realized this was God’s plan. (Even though I had also sworn I was done with children’s ministry.)

So. This is a story of restoration. Of God finishing what He started. Of His ability to speak to the hearts of His children. And yes, of wilderness walking. 

Do you feel like you’re in a wilderness? Cling to God. He hasn’t left you or forsaken you and never will. 

And for those of you watching your friends walk around in a wilderness, don’t assume you know what’s going on. Unless God has revealed it to you, you have no clue what His plan is for them. Don’t be like Job’s friends! Just encourage them and love them. God’s got the perfect plan.

Be blessed and tell someone you love them.

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Sized Wrong

Yesterday, as a friend’s two year old came running by, shorts almost to his ankles and sagging like a gangsta, she mentioned that her boy’s shorts were too big. She went on to say that they were sized 18-24 months. Now, it’s been a minute or two since I had a two year old, but this little guy looks like that should have been the exact size he would need. However, these shorts were mis-sized. They had been labeled wrong. We had a good laugh about it and went on with our conversation.

This morning, though, the laughter has turned to contemplation. How often in our lives do we try to “fit” the label someone else has given us? 

Sometimes it’s things like tall kids should play basketball, stocky kids should play football and a kid with long fingers should be a piano virtuoso. But if they don’t have those talents, their size and shape don’t matter. Likewise, if they do have those talents, size and shape don’t matter. (Anybody remember Muggsy Bogues?) What matters is who they truly are, not who they’re perceived to be.

Other times, though, the labels can be much more damaging. Bad, stupid, dumb, fat, skinny, ugly, too tall, too short….just not good enough. Those labels can be applied at any time and can last a lifetime. We all know people who have never achieved much, despite talent, simply because they had been labeled wrong.

If you’ve read the label someone has stuck on you and believed it, I have good news! You are NOT who they say you are! You are who God says you are. And His Word says some pretty amazing stuff about His children.

If you are a child of God, a born-again believer, a follower of Christ, then this is who you are: Holy, righteous, co-heir, salt, light, complete, alive, redeemed! Did that list excite you? It should. And it’s just a partial list, a sampling. The Bible says so much more! 

I know that some of you are doubting me. You’ve believed the labels given to you by others – parents, spouses, friends, teachers, pastors – that you’ve become it. It’s time you understand. They mis-sized you! Google “Who I Am in Christ” and read the list. Look up the scriptures. Meditate on them. And remember that God can’t lie. Let your identity in Christ be the person you become and leave those old labels behind. I promise, it will change your life. He will change your life! Then, go out and share who you really are with the world. We need more of that.

Be blessed and tell someone you love them.

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Days Like This

Yesterday. Oh my. By the end of the day, this one piece of music was running through my head, “Mama said there’d be days like this.” Yep. It was just one of those days. I’m sure you’ve had them. Those days when seemingly everything goes wrong. When the comedy of errors is so absurd your choices are to laugh or cry. When it feels like every effort is blocked by a brick wall. No worries. I handled it like a champ. Wait. Make that toddler. I handled it like a toddler, complete with whining and foot stomping.

This morning, when I woke up, I greeted the Lord. Got my coffee. Sat down with my Bible (app). When I opened the app, the scripture I was reading earlier in the week was still there. Genesis 39. That chapter is telling about Joseph, who had been sold by his brothers to the Ishmaelites. He was then sold to Potipher, Pharoah’s officer. Then he was sent to prison. 

That’s kind of how my day (week) felt! I’m feeling you, Joseph!

The verse that struck me, though, was this: ““The chief jailer did not supervise anything under Joseph’s charge because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made to prosper.” ‭‭Genesis‬ ‭39:23‬ ‭NASB‬‬. 

Wait. Back up the truck. What did that say? He prospered??? But I just told you he was in slavery and in prison. Hmmm. Maybe we should dig deeper into that story.

Joseph’s story starts in Genesis 37. He was the youngest son of Jacob, aka Israel. He was also the favorite son of Israel because he was “the son of his old age.” Joseph’s brothers hated him for it. Also, Joseph was a tattletale. (v. 2). That probably didn’t help. Nor did the dreams he shared with them – the ones that meant they would bow down to him. So, they plotted to kill him. But Reuben couldn’t hurt his dad that way, so he convinced the other brothers to toss Joseph in a pit instead. The brothers saw a caravan of Ishmaelites and decided to make money off of Joseph. They sold him for twenty pieces of silver. Reuben was distraught when he realized it. They then hatched a plan to fool their father into thinking Joseph was dead. They dipped Joseph’s multi-colored tunic (given to him by his father) in blood and presented it to Israel. Israel instantly tore his clothing and began mourning his favorite son.

In the meantime, the Ishmaelites took Joseph to Egypt and sold him to Potipher, an officer of Pharoah. God was with Joseph and he found favor with Potipher, who ended up putting him in charge of his entire household. Unfortunately, Potipher’s wife took a fancy to Joseph. She pursued him, but Joseph resisted, saying, “Potipher has withheld nothing from me except you. I can’t dishonor God that way.” (My paraphrase). Wifey wasn’t happy and kept pursuing him. One day, he was the only one in the house and she tried again by grabbing his clothing. He slipped out of it and ran, leaving her holding his shirt (or tunic or whatever). She then claimed he tried to rape her. Of course Potipher was livid and tossed him into prison.

In prison, God was with him and he was a model prisoner, so he was put in charge again. When Pharoah’s cup holder and baker got themselves in some trouble, they ended up in prison with Joseph. They each had weird dreams and came to Joseph about them. God gave Joseph the interpretation. Basically, the cup holder would be restored in Pharoah’s household and the baker would be killed. When it came to pass, the cup holder forgot all about Joseph, despite his promise to remember him, until a couple years later when Pharoah was having weird dreams.

Pharaoh assembled his magicians and pseudo-spiritual dudes, but they couldn’t interpret the dreams where the skinny cows ate the fat ones. The cup holder told pharaoh about Joseph. Joseph told Pharaoh it was God Who interprets dreams, then proceeded to tell him the dreams meant there would be seven years of plentiful crops, followed by seven years of famine. The famine would be so great that it will kill many. But God had also given Joseph a plan. Pharaoh took Joseph out of prison and put him in charge of the famine plan. Joseph had God’s favor and answered to no one but Pharaoh.

In the plentiful years, Joseph had everyone give a portion of their crops to be stored. When the famine hit, Egypt was ready. The stored food was rationed out and the Egyptians were eating while all around other folks were starving. Joseph’s sons heard that the Egyptians had food and made a plan to go to Egypt for food. Joseph recognized them and after some negotiations and sending them home and having them return, he finally revealed who he was. Joseph was restored to his family and to his father. And the family had all the food they needed. When the brothers fell before him apologizing for selling him, he said, “what you meant for evil, God meant for good.”

Wow.

As I look at Joseph’s story, I’m astounded by the fact that he was put in some very not-good situations, but God used every one of those to reposition Joseph to where he needed to be to achieve God’s purpose. Even in prison, the Bible tells us that Joseph had God’s favor.

Keith and I have been in enough situations in life that we’ve seen the principle over and over. God will use the bad, hard, rotten stuff to move us to a better place. Our hard move to the sticks has resulted in a new son-in-law, among other things. Some days I’m even bright enough to remember that God uses all things for the good of those who are His (Romans 8:28), and manage to not get mad or discouraged. But not always! But I should because God has never let me down. 

So. Are you in a head, bad, rotten place? Are you angry at the people or circumstances that put you there? God is no respecter of persons. I believe what He did for Joseph, He still does for His people. Focus on God and doing the things that would honor Him. I believe He will give you the opportunity to say, “what you meant for evil, God meant for good.”

Be blessed and tell someone you love them.

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