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Archive for February, 2016

In a list of meaningful but “minor impressions,” beloved columnist/author, Joe Bayly, wrote the following for Saturday, July 28, 1962:

“Rode the merry-go-round tonight with happy David and worried Nathan, while Mary Lou looked on and waved each time we passed. Timmy kept up with us, running, for three times around”(1).

 

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And then Joe included this familiar scripture:

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17–NIV, emphasis added).

That means everything good in this world comes from God—even a delightful ride on a merry-go-round.

Sometimes, however, the goodness of God’s gifts isn’t immediately recognizable.

Scripture offers a number of examples, such as Paul’s thorn in the flesh. The exact nature of the problem was never revealed, but we do know it was chronic and debilitating. Who would call that a good and perfect gift?

Paul did.

“At first I didn’t think of it as a gift,” he said.

Then God told him, “My grace is enough; it’s all you need.”

 

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“Once I heard that,” Paul explained, “I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift.” (vs. 7-10, The Message).

I, for one, have never had to deal with a long-term thorn in the flesh. But difficult, shorter-term circumstances have turned into tremendous blessings. For example:

  • A particularly exhausting week of teaching, family responsibilities, and other pressing matters was followed up by a weekend music retreat at church. How could I muster the energy to attend and complete a long must-do-by-Monday list? While visions of PJs and pillows danced in my head, I dragged myself to church. But through the funny and inspiring retreat leader, the uplifting music, and the invigorating camaraderie of music ministry friends, I left Friday evening highly rejuvenated, looking forward to more blessings come Saturday and Sunday.
  • Our son was not accepted into his first choices of graduate schools, and we wondered what God was doing. Was Eric proceeding in the right direction? Those trying days, however, turned into lessons of trust and spiritual maturity for him, which he humbly took to heart. As for the university that did accept him? That’s where Eric met his wife.
  • Into every life a few challenging people must fall, right? And with them often come discouragement, stress, and hurt. Where’s the blessing in all that? For starters, God uses such relationships to train us in turning our thoughts to the positive (Philippians 4:8), so we can experience renewal and peace. We also develop perseverance and maturity (James 1:2-4)—traits that lead to a calm and steady life anchored on Jesus.

God gives only good and perfect gifts. Sometimes they come as small but delightful surprises—like a perfect merry-go-round moment.

Sometimes they come wrapped inside trying circumstances.

But those are some of his best gifts–when negative is transformed into positive.

Because that’s downright miraculous.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

Have you ever received a good and perfect gift out of difficult circumstances?  Tell us your story in the comments below.

 

(1) Joe Bayly, Out of My Mind:  The Best of Joe Bayly, Zondervan, 1993, p. 41.

 

(Photo credit:  www.elcivics.com, http://www.pinterest.com.)

 

 

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(Reblogged from May 30, 2013)

 

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I placed my Diet Coke on a nearby table and settled into one of the front porch rockers. The book I had brought with me remained closed on my lap. Instead of reading, I gazed at tall pines, listened to birds chirping good-night to each other, and breathed in cool mountain air.

What a stark contrast to home, I thought. My husband, two sons, and I had escaped the oppressive summer heat of our Florida home, and were vacationing in a North Carolina rental cabin.

Not long after settling, I noticed an enormous Luna moth perched on the porch railing. He appeared to be sleeping soundly. His shapely sea-foam wings stretched out primly, in a perfect display of shimmering symmetry. Not even an antenna moved.

 

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In the sweet idleness of that moment, I had time to wonder:

When do you suppose moths wake up? Is it at dusk, or does it have to be completely dark? And what will be the first part to move? Will his wings flutter a bit in warm-up? Or will those long antennae flicker, checking his surroundings before he ventures into the night?

My knowledge of Luna moths was sorely lacking.

I made strong attempts to read my book, but kept distracting myself for updates on that moth–especially as the sun dipped lower in the sky and shadows deepened.

Eric, our older son, came out on the porch. He stood with hands in pockets, watching the sunset. “What’s up, Mom?”

“This is going to sound silly,” I began, “but see that moth over there? I’ve gotten curious about when they wake up. Is it at dusk or only when it’s completely dark? And as if that isn’t enough, I’m wondering what part of him will wake up first. Do you suppose it will be his antennae that move first, or maybe his wings?”

Eric chuckled slightly—not sarcastically, but in good humor that once again his mother’s curiosity was taking an interesting turn. I thought he’d turn and go back inside the cabin. To my delightful surprise, he chose to sit in the rocker next to me.

 

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Together we kept vigil over that moth as the sunlight diminished to an apricot glow on the horizon, and the landscape turned dark gray. Still that moth did not move. And soon we were enveloped by the night.

Suddenly, with barely a testing of his wings, the majestic moth was off the railing and fluttering away. Eric and I barely had time to say, “Oh! There he goes!” before the moth disappeared into the darkness.

We sat quietly for a few moments longer, listening to the crickets chirping cheerfully. With a contented sigh I reveled in the moment: the cool, peaceful surroundings and my satisfied curiosity. Most of all I savored that Eric had chosen to share with me this rather inconsequential moment.

 

I am new to shooting at night but one of the things I loved about shooting at night in the forest is how camp fires light up the trees. The orange glow on these trees is from a camp fire about 200 meters away.

Just a few years earlier, if I had asked Eric to sit with me and watch a moth, he would have said, “BOR-ING!” and loped off to other pursuits. But that year he was twenty-four. We were starting to relate to one another differently, share more common interests, and communicate on a similar level. Eric was still my son, but he was also becoming a friend.

‘Reminds me a bit of what our Heavenly Father offers. As we mature in him, our relationship grows into a loving, familial friendship, characterized by common interests and heart-to-heart communication. But such a relationship develops only as we spend time with him and his word.

Those who say, “Time with God is BOR-ING!” and lope off to other pursuits are missing out.

On what, you ask?

• The joy of His presence (Psalm 16:11)
• The goodness he bestows (Psalm 31:19)
• His strength (Psalm 138:2-3)
• Rest, in the shadow of the Almighty (Psalm 91:1)
• Perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3)

*     *     *     *     *     *     *      *     *     *

Such precious gifts, Father: joy, goodness, strength, rest, and peace. I praise you with all my heart for being a God who pursues a warm, loving relationship with his children. May I seek your face in return. Always.

 

(Photo credits:  www.wallpaperfo.com; http://www.corlinanature.com; http://www.dcr.virginia.gov; James Wheeler.)

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The view out our windows has not been inspiring of late.

Swaths of flat gray clouds hover overhead, sometimes dipping low to drape gauze in the treetops.

 

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Tangles of bare tree branches claw at the sky.

And where flowers swayed in the sunshine last summer, straggly twigs stand forlornly, grieving their former beauty.

But amidst all this gloom and dormancy, God is at work–behind the scenes.

For example:

  1. Many plants require a season of rest.

All summer long perennials labor to create flowers that in turn attract pollinators. They also spend the long, warm days developing seeds, in preparation for the following spring.

Come fall, these plants pour their energy into root growth.

Now, during the quiet winter months of inactivity, they enjoy a much-needed rest.

 

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(One of our hydrangea bushes at rest!)

 

  1. Plants benefit from snow.

The soft covering (with its air pockets between the flakes) insulates plants from the harm of frigid temperatures.

Melting snow in spring provides the extra hydration plants need for the accelerated growth process of the season.

 

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  1. Seeds benefit from snow.

A period of moist, cold weather is essential for some varieties of seeds to germinate in the spring.

 

Winter is not a mistake, a season God forgot to adorn. Winter has purpose.

It’s just that we can’t see what he’s up to.

But come spring? Then we’ll see the benefits of winter in a magnificent display of glorious splendor!

 

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Perhaps you are enduring a season of winter in the circumstances of your life.

It’s not a mistake, God has not forgotten (Psalm 9:10).

This season does have a purpose (Psalm 138:8a), it’s just that you might not be able to see what he’s up to.

 

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Even in the middle of bleak, colorless winter, we are confident that spring will come, aren’t we.

And even in the middle of bleak, colorless circumstances, we can stand confident with the psalmist, because:

 

“You, [God], will restore my life again;

from the depths of the earth

you will again bring me up.

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You will increase my honor

and comfort me once again.

I will praise you with the harp

For your faithfulness.”

–Psalm 71:20b-22a

    *     *     *      *     *

 

(Information about the value of winter for plants came from “4 Reasons to Celebrate Your Garden in Winter” on http://www.houzz.com.)

Photo credits: Nancy Ruegg (3), http://www.wallpapersmela.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.fairfieldpubliclibrary.org.)

 

 

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Recently, someone on Facebook used the word, gobsmacked. I’d never heard the word before, became curious, and looked it up.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, gobsmacked means “utterly astonished or astounded.”

But my curiosity wasn’t satisfied yet. I had to learn the origin, too.

Sometime in the 1980s, gob (which means “mouth”) was joined with smack to indicate a clap of the hand over the mouth in astonishment. (Where have I been the last thirty years that I’m just being introduced to this word now?)

My first thought upon digesting this information was, I’d like to add the word, GODsmacked to the dictionary! Not that I’m visualizing God clapping at our heads like a hand over the mouth, but the new word could describe those moments when he utterly astonishes and astounds—moments such as these:

 

Example #1

 

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Out of nowhere one morning, while beginning my prayer time, tears began to flow. It seemed as I drew near to God, he chose that day to demonstrate just how near he was.  I felt his warm presence.

Charles Spurgeon said,

 

“Tears clear the eyes for the sight of God in his grace

and make the vision of his favor more precious.”

 

My spiritual eyes were cleared that morning as I was GOD-smacked by the favor of his palpable presence.

 

Example#2

 

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Sometimes I wonder: Should I continue with the blog? The effort requires such a large time commitment. And it’s not as if I’m attracting thousands of followers. Maybe I should give it up.

Then I read this in Eugene Peterson’s Run with the Horses (InterVarsity, 2010):

 

 “Never give up…get distracted,

and be diverted to something else…

There is only one thing needful…

Do it. Then do it again. And again.

Persistently.”

(p. 118)

 

I prayed, Lord, does this apply to my writing?

 I turned the page to the next chapter and read the title, “Get a Scroll and Write.”

Talk about GODsmacked!

 

Example #3:

 

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Frequently after church, Eric and Hilja (our son and daughter-in-law) and we enjoy brunch at a nearby restaurant. A couple of weeks ago the waiter commented that our group was very small that Sunday – just three adults and our granddaughter, Elena. (Steve was home sick with a virus.)

“You know, you guys come in here a lot with internationals,” he continued.

We do?

The three of us began calculating just who Eric and Hilja had brought with them the last couple of months: 1) Hilja’s mother from Finland, 2) the Chinese students they’ve hosted during their one year of study at the university, and 3) international colleagues of Hilja’s.

He was right. There had been a number of ethnicities represented at our table.

But it was his last comment that surprised me most.

“Yeah, the wait staff always talks about who you’ll bring in next!”

I was GODsmacked by the pointed reminder: people are watching. And my words and actions need to reflect the love of Jesus and demonstrate the God-enhanced life—wherever I am.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Father, What a delight that you love to astonish and astound!  Your surprises bless me in numerous ways, including: reaffirming your love, encouraging me to press on, and offering memorable guidance and reminders. Thank you for being a GODsmacking God!  

(Photo credits:  www.pinterest.com; http://www.cetnershift.com; http://www.campohio.net.)

 

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Consider what great things [God] has done for you,”

(from the farewell address of Samuel the prophet,

to the people of Israel–1 Samuel 12:24b, italics added).

 

I wonder if Samuel paused after those words, to give the Israelites a moment of reflection.  God had blessed them in numerous ways by:

  • Miraculously bringing them out of slavery in Egypt.
  • Sustaining them during their wilderness journey to Canaan.
  • Providing laws and commands for them to assure an orderly, pleasant, and productive life.
  • Giving them victory over their enemies.
  • Sending prophets and judges to guide and encourage (vs. 6-15).

 

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And what might have been the Israelites’ response as they remembered those blessings?

Were they whispering prayers of praise, because God had cared for them so attentively?

Did they resolve to reverence him more intentionally and serve him more faithfully, as Samuel suggested (12:24a)?

 

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Surely both responses were called for.

I also wonder if we might similarly be impacted by considering daily the great things God has done for us.

My own pondering made me realize my life includes parallels to those of the Israelites (although in less striking ways). Perhaps you, too, have had similar experiences.

God has:

  • Brought me out of difficult situations. (One small example: When a teaching job opened up nearby, I no longer had to endure  a stressful 50-minute commute.)
  • Sustained me with a heightened sense of his presence through the wilderness of hurt and emotional pain.
  • Provided his Word of wisdom for an orderly, pleasant, and productive life. (Not that I’ve always taken advantage of that wisdom.)
  • Given me the final victory over Satan, through his Son, Jesus. One day I will enjoy life in heaven with my Savior.
  • Sent spiritual teachers, pastors, and mentors to guide and encourage me.

 

A group of young women bow their heads and pray with bibles.

 

But perhaps you feel excluded from God’s blessings. Any consideration of your circumstances makes you shake your head in disillusionment. After all, the evidence seems clear. While others are enjoying marriage and family, a satisfying career, good health and/or _______________ (fill in the blank), you’re not.

Perhaps another point of view would provide alternative evidence. Consider your circumstances and the blessings they do provide.

For example:

 

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  • Not married? You benefit from greater freedom in your life.
  • No children? You can invest fresh energy and enthusiasm into children-not-your-own, providing the parents a much-needed break.
  • Struggling in a wilderness of emotional upset right now? Draw near to God and he will draw near to you in new, profound ways. Look for him in creation and in his Word. Listen for him in a song or in the encouragement of a mature friend. Be watchful, because he reveals himself in highly creative ways.
  • Is Jesus a part of your everyday life? Then you have a constant Friend who loves you, cares for you, withholds no good thing, and will never leave you.
  • Are there mentors and models in your life, showing you the way to a God-enhanced life? How splendid not to be struggling alone.

The bottom-line consideration is this:

Do I want to wear a shroud of despair or a garment of praise (Isaiah 61:3)?

 

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Do I want to live selfishly or in grateful obedience to the One who has bestowed so much?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Amazing God, words fail to express my gratitude as I consider your countless blessings.  Nor can words sufficiently extol your grace that motivates such loving benevolence.  I long to be continually grateful and consistently obedient, as a love-gift back to you.  May thankfulness energize my obedience! 

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.wallpaper.knowing-jesus.com; http://www.lds.org; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.fullsupply.org; http://www.americakeswick.org; http://www.transitionsabroad.com; http://www.crosswalk.com.)

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(A personal psalm)

 

Oh, Lord God of creation,

I praise you for the glowing hues of your sunsets, the heavenly aroma of your lilacs, and the lyrical bird choruses you orchestrate in springtime.

 

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I praise you for endowing us with physical senses to experience these splendors and countless more.

John Calvin once described the world of nature as your glorious theater. How appropriate. Night and day you present a dramatic performance!

You bring out the starry host one by one, and call them each by name (Isaiah 40:26).

 

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Astronomers can only estimate their number – perhaps up to 3,000 million billion. That’s a three followed by sixteen zeroes! And you know them all by name?!

Oh, Lord, your creative ability knows no bounds of size or number.

Men get excited about creating multi-story skyscrapers, each one a bit taller than the last.

You create galaxies.

In addition to the heavens, you have made everything on the earth and in the seas – from minuscule microbes to mighty mountains, from single-cell protozoa to humpback whales. You give life to everything (Nehemiah 9:6).

 

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And yet, your creative power, as well as your wisdom and engineering in preserving your work, are mere finger-play for you (Psalm 8:3a).

My heart swells with awe.

When I take note of your wonders, I realize that you love:

  • Variety – as seen in the myriad kinds of plants and animals around the globe
  • Organization – recognized in the sustainable food chains, predictable tides, and purposeful cycle of seasons
  • Pattern – revealed in the stripes of a zebra, the hexagons of a honeycomb, and the spiraled petals of a rose

 

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  • Color – artistically displayed on butterflies, birds, and even in the galaxies
  • Beauty – exhibited in majestic trees, aquamarine waters, and snow-topped mountains
  • Intricacy – demonstrated with lacy frost, coral reefs, and the DNA double helix found in almost all organisms

 

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But why, Lord? What is the purpose of all this craftsmanship, all the attention to detail, all the grandeur?

Surely you chose to display your glory outside of heaven so that we might come to revere you (Psalm 33:6-9).

And one day we will join with the throng of heaven and proclaim you worthy to receive glory and honor and power, because you created all things (Revelation 4:11).

But there’s really no need to wait, is there?  Even if there is just one voice, you listen with parental joy and appreciation.

So I lift my one voice to praise you:

Lord of the universe, my mind cannot fathom that out of nothing you fashioned all the beauty, majesty, and complexity of the world.

With the mountains and hills I burst into song before you, with the trees of the field I clap my hands, because you are mighty in power, glorious in splendor, and loving toward all that you have made.

 

(Nehemiah 9:6; Isaiah 55:12; Psalm 147:5; Psalm 145:12, 17)

Photo credits:  michiganradio.org; http://www.stylespinner.com; http://www.animalians.wikispaces.com; http://www.etsy.com, http://www.pinterest.com.

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(John and me in our second home, 1957)

 

If I close my eyes, I can still see the various rooms of my three childhood homes in northern Illinois, but especially the one we moved to when I was ten–the one in which my parents still lived when Steve and I were married.

With great fondness, I remember reading in the box elder tree behind the house, playing Hotbox with Dad and my brother, watching television with a big bowl of popcorn on my lap, and the four of us eating dinner in the cozy banquette Dad built in the kitchen.

In all kinds of weather John and I walked or rode our bikes to school.  Before the bell rang each morning, one teacher supervised the entire student body of 400+ children as we arrived and played on the playground.  We learned Christmas carols in school and no one complained.

When not in school, John and I were out and about in the neighborhood, playing with the other kids, building snowmen and snow forts, riding our bikes to friends’ homes, to the library, and (in the summertime) to the pool.

I have to admit: my thick, rose-colored glasses cast a utopian hue upon those days. A person reaches a certain age and suddenly the decades of one’s youth become “the good old days”—far superior to the present.

 

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(1959)

 

After all, how many families today sit down together for dinner—with no television, ipads or phones interfering with conversation? What children can enjoy the freedom of riding their bikes clear across town without supervision? Where is there a public school that teaches children Christmas carols?

Times have changed.

To be honest, however, it’s doubtful those days of my youth were actually better.

It’s just my selective memory choosing the tranquil, happy moments. Overlooked are the arguments with my brother (and the teasing I did, for which I still feel deep regret!), those times Mom and Dad were being terribly strict or unfair (in my opinion), and the occasional upset at school or with friends.

I also have to remember:  the Greatest Generation that raised us Baby Boomers thought their good old days were far superior.

For example, in a book of Christmas literature we own, the editor wrote this intro for one selection: “This story is for those to whom the modern holiday season seems to get more glamorous and clamorous each year, but who still experience that old nostalgic feeling for the Christmas-time of a more quiet bygone era.” The year of publication? 1955.

Maybe we should put away our rose-colored glasses, unreliable as they are.

And yet, numerous scriptures encourage us to remember and rejoice in the good of the past—verses like these:

 

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  • “…Rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household” (Deuteronomy 26:11).
  • “Remember the wonderful works that He has done, His miracles…” (Psalm 105:5a).
  • “I will tell of the kindness of the Lord, the deeds for which He is to be praised, according to all He has done for us” (Isaiah 63:7).

So are flights of nostalgia right or wrong?

It depends.

Constant longing for the past creates dissatisfaction in the present. That’s obviously not healthy.

But remembering God’s blessings of the past strengthens our faith and creates a deep longing for more of him in the present. That’s obviously a good thing!

You know what else would be a good thing? To savor today’s blessings and not wait till a decade from now to enjoy them.

 

(Photo credits:  Nancy Ruegg and http://www.pinterest.com.)

 

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