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Posts Tagged ‘Blessing’

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 (Photo from http://www.trulia.com.)

“There it is, Mom, “ Steve remarked, as he pointed to a little white house in the middle of a city block. “That’s where we lived when I was growing up.”

“Oh, yes,” she replied. But did Mom really remember?

We were on an excursion through Columbus, Ohio, taking Steve’s mother past the landmarks of her life. Alzheimer’s disease had already stolen away much of her vibrancy and warmth, and, of course, her memory.

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Steve drove by West High School and continued his commentary. “That’s where we all went to school, you, Dad, Karen, and me. You were the very first homecoming queen.  How about that?  No wonder Dad asked you out.”

She murmured assent to Steve’s comments, but added nothing of her own.

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We drove past the brick ranch they built out in the country in 1966. Horses used to reside beyond the back fence. Just a few houses had dotted the area back then. By this time, however, they had been swallowed up by dozens more. The saplings Mom and Dad had planted were now tall shade trees.  And the glorious flower beds and window boxes that Mom had tended were gone. She registered no recollection.

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But when we approached her childhood home, a white Dutch Colonial on a quiet street, all of a sudden she perked up.  Pointing to a second-story window, Mom stated firmly, “That was my room, right up there.”

In the midst of the fog that is Alzheimer’s, one memory–one glimmer of light–shone through that morning. Steve and I almost gasped at the wonder of the moment. Mom remembered!

And the rarity of her memories pointed to the preciousness of this ability. Memory is a gift to be treasured. The older I grow, the more I appreciate the miraculous power of the brain to store millions of memories—with astounding detail–and yet access a particular one in a mille-second.

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Not only do sights trigger memories, but also smells. Researchers say this sense is the most powerful memory-inducer. For me, the aroma of fresh-baked bread always takes me back to my grandmother’s kitchen.

Sounds trigger memories as well—particularly music. Tastes and textures work the same phenomenon.

But surely God had more purpose in mind for giving us memory than the pleasant pastime of reminiscing.

Indeed.

Memories foster gratitude, as we contemplate God’s goodness to us in the past:

  • His countless blessings (even when we haven’t been a blessing to him).
  • Those times he led us through the shadow of death, so that we might experience more completely the glory of his light.
  • Moments when we almost gave up hope, and God surprised us with his creative, abundant provision.
  • Leaving behind what we once were and celebrating what we have become, solely because of his Son, Jesus.

Memories foster faith, as we remember how God has met our needs in the past. See if each phrase from Psalm 103 doesn’t trigger a memory in your mind, and a song of praise in your heart:

“Oh, my soul, bless God,

Don’t forget a single blessing!

He forgives your sins—every one.

He heals your diseases—every one.

He redeems you from hell—saves your life!

He crowns you with love and mercy—a paradise crown.

He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal…

…God makes everything come out right.

He puts victims back on their feet…

…God is sheer mercy and grace;

Not easily angered, he’s rich in love.

He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve,

Nor pay us back in full for our wrongs.

(Psalm 103:2-10, The Message)

Memories inform the present and provide hope for the future. As we meditate on all those times God has wrapped us in his goodness (v. 5), we are strengthened for what we face today. As we consider the many times he made everything come out right (v. 6), we can trust he will continue to make our paths straight.

Of course, there are some memories we would like to erase—those that generate sadness, hurt, or regret. How do we deal with those? Here are a few suggestions I’ve collected over the years:

  1. We must resist self-pity—even in our thought life. Nowhere in scripture do we read that rehashing the negative is therapeutic. God’s way is to focus on the positive (Philippians 4:8).

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  1. We can follow Paul’s example. He forgot what was in his past and pressed on to what lay ahead (Philippians 3:13). Not that amnesia had set in. Paul simply did not allow past failures to cripple his relationship with God and his service for God. God had forgiven and forgotten; Paul did too. No doubt he applied Philippians 4:8, not only to self-pity, but also to guilt. 
  1. We can leave the past in God’s hands. Oswald Chambers said it so well:

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(“Leave the irreparable Past in His hands, and step out into the Irresistible Future with Him”

–My Utmost for His Highest, Dec. 31.)

 

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Father, I do thank you for the gift of memories—the ability to remember with joy and appreciation the people, places, and experiences of the past. I even thank you for the not-so-good memories, knowing that you use every difficult situation for the development of my maturity (James 1:2-3). And may I take advantage of the wisdom gained in the past to guide me in the present, and lead me into the Irresistible Future with you.

 

Art & Photo credits:  www.trulia.com; http://www.westhighalumni.com; Steve’s photo collection; http://www.allrecipes.com; http://www.god.com; http://www.pinterest.com.

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Visit a theme park and you soon learn that part of the adventure is waiting in line–even if you pay extra for fast passes.

Such was our experience at Disney World two years ago. The castle of Beauty and the Beast required wait time—well over an hour. But friends of our daughter had told her, “Don’t miss it,” so we joined the long, looping line.

You may also know that, while you wait, the folks around you can become like friends. Topics such as home state, kids’ ages, and other experiences in the park, get the conversation going. Commiserating over the long line adds to the camaraderie.

Finally we approached the entrance to the castle. Only fifty or so guests were allowed past the gilded rope. This was our first surprise, since most theater-attractions seat hundreds of people. (No doubt there are at least several theaters within the castle, to accommodate the crowds. But each group enters separately, totally unaware that there must be identical venues down alternate hallways.)

First, we were ushered into an outer room, hosted by a footman, I believe. He assigned roles to many of the guests. Among them, the father from Michigan with the four kids became a butler, the little ballerina (who had performed intermittently as we waited in line) became a teacup, our son-in-law, a knight, and our granddaughter, a salt shaker. Each participant was given a colorful placard to identify his or her part. The footman explained what they would need to do, once we entered the library to meet Belle.

 

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One particular role seemed completely inappropriate. For the Beast, the footman chose a little girl with an obvious limp.  It seemed cruel to choose such a child for the Beast, of all characters.  As he draped a red cape over her shoulders, I thought, He probably didn’t notice her difficulty walking. But those of us who had become acquainted outside the castle knew full well: this was going to be awkward.

Soon we were ready to enter the library and meet Belle. Our small gathering of almost-friends filed into the dimly lit, cozy room.  Most of us sat close together on benches.

Beautiful Belle, in her yellow satin gown, directed the teacups, salt shakers, and other dancers in a delightful little polka, while the knights stood guard. Such an elegant and charming princess, that Belle.

Then she said it was time for her dance with the Beast.

Our new little friend slowly and carefully approached Belle without any sign of self-consciousness. Her eyes locked with Belle’s, glistening with pleasure and adoration. Gently, they nearly waltzed, Belle being mindful to accommodate Beast’s handicap. And for a few precious moments, that little girl’s physical challenges were forgotten in the inexpressible delight of dancing with Belle.

Suddenly, my eyes filled with tears. That little girl had been the perfect choice for Beast. Her ecstatic joy was obvious in the non-stop smile and luminous eyes. She was the center of attention of a princess—someone whom she dearly loved and greatly admired. Even more poignant, the sweet look of love returned by Belle, her gracious intentness focused entirely upon the child.

Love soon encompassed the entire room. Surely every guest felt it, not just me. We loved the child for her precious innocence. We loved Belle for her warmth and kindness. We even loved each other, as almost-friends, sharing in this  miracle—a once-in-a-lifetime experience, never to be repeated.

But wait.  In actuality such euphoria and reverence is available to us–every day.

We can keep company with Jesus, our Prince of Peace —not just for a few miraculous moments, but  All.  The.  Time.  In fact, like the father of the prodigal son, he waits in eager anticipation for us to come “home” to him and linger there.

We can be transformed, just like that little girl.   For the length of that magical dance, she was blissfully unaware of her handicap. Why? Her attention was riveted on Belle.  Paul challenges us to do the same in the spiritual realm:   “Fix your attention on God,” he said.  “You’ll be changed from the inside out” (Romans 12:2, The Message).

We can experience love beyond imagination. Belle portrayed perfect love for one shining moment; God is perfect love (1 John 4:8). And the love of his Son, Jesus, is wider than any experience we encounter, longer than our lives last here on earth, and higher, purer, and deeper than any other love (Ephesians 3:18).

And then, one glorious gift that even the lovely Belle could not bestow.  We can be healed of our handicap, the handicap of sin.  Jesus paid the price for our sin when he died on the cross.  He sacrificed himself so that we could be healed of the ravages of sin and enjoy a God-enhanced life (1 Peter 2:24; John 10:10).

With ecstatic joy we can revel in all the privileges of one-on-one relationship with our Prince, who loves each of us as if there was only one of us (St. Augustine).

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Oh, Prince of Peace, what an astounding privilege you grant us, to bask in your perfect love each day.  Thank you for the assurance of your love throughout scripture, reminding us that we are precious and beloved to you.  May our status as your precious ones free us to live unencumbered by self-consciousness, fear, and worry.  And may we never fail to express your gracious love to those around us.

 

(Photo credits:  www.wdwmagic.com; http://www.galleryhip.com)

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“No hugs today,” Laura said as she stepped back from my outstretched arms.  “I’ve got a cold.”  Laura proceeded to turn around and we shoulder-bumped, laughing like school girls.

You know what?  That shoulder bump felt just as good as a hug.  It provided connection, silly as it was.

Research shows that physical touch actually causes a number of health benefits.  Lowered blood pressure and cortisol levels are two positive outcomes, which in turn reduce stress.  In addition, the hormone, oxytocin, is released, creating a sense of well-being.  Studies have also shown that touch eases asthma symptoms and migraines.  The power of touch even impacts the quality of a person’s sleep.

And it’s not just hugs.  Many different types of touch suffice.  Of course, loving hugs from family members or friends would certainly be at the top of the list. But a squeeze around the shoulders, even a touch on the arm can have a positive influence, creating happiness and joy in our spirits.

In 2006, a research study determined we can accurately communicate a number of emotions through touch alone, including:  anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, and sympathy.  The study involved total strangers using touches on the forearm.   No words, no body language, no facial expressions.  Just touch.

There is power in human touch.

There is even greater power in the touch of God.   Have you felt it?

Perhaps you’ve heard a sermon and the minister seemed to be speaking directly to you.  That’s God’s hand on your shoulder, communicating encouragement.   “You, see, child?  This is the way that will take you forward.”

Perhaps you’ve been overcome with emotion at the sight of sunbeams breaking through rose-hued clouds.  That’s God enveloping you in a loving hug, saying, “This gift is for you.  I do love you, child.”

Perhaps while reading the Bible, a particular truth has stood out.  And as you began to apply the principle, change occurred—not necessarily in your circumstances, but in your attitude and ability to cope.  A quiet sense of joy pervaded your spirit.  That’s God squeezing your shoulder, infusing confidence, and saying, “Well done!  Press on!”

Perhaps tears have welled up in your eyes as you’ve sung to God a praise song from your heart.  Peace enveloped you.  That’s his hand tracing your brow with comfort as he says, “My peace I give you…do not be afraid” (John 14: 27).  “Let my joy be complete in you” (John 15:11).

“What a wonderful thing to be touched in the heart by God…When the heart is touched, the core of our being is touched.” – John Piper

Have you ever heard someone gush about shaking hands with a dignitary or celebrity? Many people place great importance on the value of such a touch.

Now think of being touched by the sovereign King of the universe .  The all-powerful, all-wise, always loving and kind God reaches out to touch each of our hearts.

Incredible, isn’t it?

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Thank you, Father, for the power of your touch  that offers peace and comfort, encouragement and support, strength and confidence.   Thank you for coming so close, so frequently, to touch our spirits.  I thrill with adoration and gratitude every time! 

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When some folks say, “Merry Christmas” they mean, “I hope you have a fun and festive holiday.”

That would be in keeping with the definition of merry:  full of high-spirited gaiety, delightful, entertaining, joyful, and mirthful.

But centuries ago the word merry denoted peacefulness and blessedness.  “Merry Christmas” meant, “May you have a peaceful Christmas” and “May Christmas bring the blessing of God to you” (Christmas by Charles L. Allen and Charles L. Wallis, Fleming Revell Co., 1977).

An old carol highlighted this idea:

“God rest ye merry, gentlemen;

Let nothing you dismay.

Remember Christ our Savior

Was born on Christmas Day,

To save us all from Satan’s pow’r

When we were gone astray.”

Did you pause after the comma in the first line?  Without it, the meaning changes.  The anonymous poet was wishing peaceful, contented, joyful rest to others, as they remembered Christ their Savior.

“Merry Christmas,” then, can be a prayer within a greeting.  Something like:

Oh, Lord, may your spirit of peace rest upon the life of this person.  May he/she experience the blessing of your presence and your joy.”

There are many people around us who need a divine touch, especially during the Christmas season.  The merriment around these folks seems a mockery of their despair.  Perhaps that includes you.  May the prayers below speak a Merry Christmas blessing to you, especially if you are:

Lonely.  Oh, God, wrap a loving embrace of your comfort around those who do not have family or friends with them this Christmas.  I thank you for the promise that you are our refuge and strength, always ready to help when we need you (Psalm 46:1).  Be a warm solace, I pray, to the one who feels alone.

Enduring hardship.  Oh, God, may the blessing of Christmas include grace and mercy for your children who are suffering through difficulty.  Out of your compassionate mercy, ease their burden, and out of your unfailing grace, grant them strength and favor (Hebrews 4:16).

Struggling with painful memories of Christmases past.  Oh, God, shower your tender, loving care upon those with hurts from the past, hurts that cast a shadow over the joys of the present.  Grant them liberating freedom from emotional distress.  May your peace cover those memories, so they no longer cause anguish (John 14:27).

For all of us, Heavenly Father, may the blessing of Christmas include renewed wonder for the indescribable gift of your Son.  Thank you for providing through him the way to eternal life.  Such peace and blessing are ours in that single assurance! 

(art credit:  www.christmasgreetingsmessages.com.)

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With quick steps I entered T.J. Maxx.  Mustn’t waste a minute in December.  Too much to do, right?

First order of business:  get a cart.  The first one I grabbed was stuck to another.  Couldn’t get them apart.

Just as I reached for one in the second row, a cheery woman with sparkling eyes approached from the side, ready to return her cart.   “Here,”  she said. “Take mine.”

“Thank you very much!”  I replied.  As she turned the cart to face me, I couldn’t help but notice how smoothly it made the circle.  “Wow!  No wobbly wheels or squeaks!”

I tested the cart myself, turning it one way and then another.  This was the Cadillac of carts.  Very fluid and responsive.   Quiet.

Mrs. Lovely Lady chuckled a bit at my excitement.  “Yes, it’s a great cart.  I really hate to leave it,” she added wistfully.

Now I was chuckling.  “You are very kind to pass it on to me.”

“Well, pay it forward,” she called and headed to the exit.

That little episode got me to thinking.  Mrs. Lovely Lady had paid forward to me much more than a kind deed.  She also gave:

  • the gift of good cheer and laughter
  • A friendly moment of camaraderie, in spite of the fact we were strangers to one another
  • A large serving of the fruit of the Spirit – his love, joy, kindness, and goodness

As a result, I felt incredibly refreshed and invigorated.  Just that brief encounter made a huge difference in the condition of my spirit.

And I pray that kind woman who passed on her cart experienced the same uplift.

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Lord, help me to pay forward many kindnesses during this Christmas season, and beyond into 2014.  May I reflect you – your love, joy, kindness, and goodness—with plenty of good humor!  And one more thing, Father.  I don’t know who that woman was in T. J. Maxx, but you do.  (Such a fantastic truth—your omniscience!!)  Would you bestow a special blessing upon that lovely lady, for her delightful demeanor and thoughtfulness?  Thank you, Father!

(photo credits:  www.marketplace.org; http://www.unfadingelegance.blogspot.com.)

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Before my friend, Elizabeth, even spoke, I knew something was wrong.  The slump of her shoulders, the wrinkled brow, the tears welling up in her eyes–they spoke loud and clear.

“You know how Michael and I would like to have a little brother or sister for Ashley,” my friend said, dabbing at her eyes with a Kleenex.  “Well, it’s become more than just a desire for me.  I so desperately want another child.”  Her voice became tight.  “The waiting and uncertainty are becoming unbearable.”

We stood together, in the emptying sanctuary after church, arms entwined.  And I prayed for Elizabeth and Michael.

Psalm 113:9, a verse which had ministered to me years before, came to mind.  I included the promise in my prayer:  “God, you’ve promised ‘to settle the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children.’  We are claiming that promise today for Michael and Elizabeth.  Even now we look forward to the day when they are holding a new, precious baby in their arms.”

Note the verse says children, not child.

The prayer came out of my mouth with certainty and brazen expectation, not in keeping with my cautious personality at all.  I have to admit, the thought crossed my mind, What if God intends for Elizabeth and Michael to have just one child?  You’ve gone way out on a limb with that prayer!

But I voiced no disclaimers, no caveats.  I let the prayer stand on its foundation of conviction–conviction that didn’t come from my spirit as much as from the Holy Spirit.

For the weeks that followed, I continued to pray that God would bless this couple with another child.

Weeks later, Elizabeth approached me once again.  Even before she spoke, I knew what she was going to say.  Her outspread arms, wide grin, and sparkling eyes spoke loud and clear.

“I’m pregnant!” she cried.

We hugged each other tight and noisily exclaimed our jubilation.

Would I have been as excited had I not been praying for this family?  Delighted, yes.  But jump-up-and-down-ecstatic?  Probably not.  My joy was greatly expanded because I had invested myself in the outcome—with the effort of prayer.

Yes, there are many reasons to pray, including these benefits:

  • Our wills are aligned to God’s will (Psalm 37:4).
  • Strength of character is developed through the discipline of perseverance (Luke 11:5-8).
  • We have the opportunity to bring glory to God (John 14:13).
  • Prayer is a means for fighting against evil (Ephesians 6:10-18, especially verse 18).

But the wonder of prayer, for me, is the privilege God gives us, to be part of the process, as he engineers circumstances to accomplish his will.

Every time God moves in situations for which we’ve prayed, he is giving us a precious gift:  the gift of participation with him–in a miracle.

Maybe two.

Michael and Elizabeth had twin girls!

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Heavenly Father, thank you for the splendid privilege of participating with you in the healing, protection, provision, and guidance with which you bless others.  May I never get tired of bringing my requests to you, knowing that the joyful conclusion will be worth every moment spent in prayer!

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Remember those black and white portraits in our history textbooks–those figures posed stiffly with expressionless faces?   They looked more like statues than real people.  In fact, they appeared downright bored, didn’t they?

Take A.B. Simpson here.

Albert Benjamin Simpson

Albert Benjamin Simpson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He looks the part of a serious preacher, which he was.  Reverend Simpson was also a theologian and prolific author.  He wrote 101 books, numerous hymns, periodicals, articles, and even complete curriculums.

Oh.  And he founded a denomination.  A rather impressive list of accomplishments.  No wasting time for Albert.

But A.B. did much more than sit in a book-lined office with stacks of research everywhere.  While pastoring a prestigious church in New York City, God laid a special call upon his heart–to establish a church specifically for the immigrants pouring into the city.  A.B. felt burdened for the poor, homeless, sick and displaced.

Yet his dream did not stop there.  Albert wondered how he could reach people overseas who did not yet know Jesus.  And one thing began to lead to another.  He gathered like-minded people together that led to Sunday afternoon meetings, which became revivals along the East Coast.  And The Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination was born.

From the soul of such an impassioned, focused, persevering man came these warm-hearted words:

Let us but feel that

He has His heart set upon us,

that He is watching us from those heavens

with tender interest,

that He is following us day by day

as a mother follows her babe

in his first attempt to walk alone,

that He has set His love upon us,

and in spite of ourselves

is working out for us

His higher will and blessing,

as far as we will let Him –

and then nothing can discourage us.

–A. B. Simpson (1843-1919)

Knowing that A.B. gave his life in selfless service, I find his words all the more meaningful.  Surely he felt God’s heart set upon him and following close during his many endeavors, that his Heavenly Father was working things out–in spite of himself.  Not just minimal sustenance, but for God’s higher will and blessing.

I like that.  Those words “higher will and blessing” hold hope and excitement for what’s to come for each of us, as God’s plan unfolds indefinitely until we meet him face to face.

I’m with A.B;  I want nothing to hold me back.  No doubt you feel the same.

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Thank you, Heavenly Father, for introducing me to A.B. Simpson today.  I love this quote that highlights your compassionate love, your desire to use us, and even bless us.  May I be mindful of your watchfulness, and then nothing can discourage me.  

 

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