Facing the Empty Nest

Who is like you, O Lord? Your beauty is in all your creation. The words welled up in my aching heart as I sat alone outside my campgrounds tent.

No longer would I hold the hand of a small boy and guide him through life. My youngest son would soon be off to college. His whole senior year had been a series of goodbyes: his last high school drama, his last forensic competition, his last musical play, his last choral concert, his last prom. Then graduation. Would this be our last vacation as a family?

A Great sadness engulfed me. My life was changing, and I wasn’t sure I was ready to face the empty nest.

But somehow I sensed God reaching out to comfort me in the unfolding beauty of dawn. Dry weeds hugging the sandy soil like a delicate carpet of dusty rose. Oak trees standing tall against a blue sky, their leaves shining in the rising sun. In a flash of black and white, a red-headed woodpecker flew to a nearby tree, its busy rat-a-tat-tats echoing in the quiet of the morning. Below, a chipmunk darted across the campgrounds in bursts of quick rhythm.

Then I caught my breath. A small, fair-haired boy marched up the hill to the bathhouse, shouting, “I’m Jeremy! Follow me!”

His words hung in the air as I remembered a similar call years ago. “I’m Jesus. Come, follow me!”

I’ve never regretted answering His call. Through good times and bad, I’ve experienced God’s unfailing love. One thing will never change. I can go fearlessly into the coming years because my God will go with me.  Therefore, today and every day …

Focus: “My soul will rejoice in the lord and delight in his salvation. My whole being will exclaim, ‘Who is like you, O Lord?’ ~ Psalm 35:9-10, New International Version.

NOTE: This piece first appeared Sing a New Song, an anthology of devotions for women complied by Mary Beckwith (Evergreen Publications, 1991). Funny how, though I wrote it many years ago, its truth encourages me today.

How about you? What gives you the confidence to face uncertain days?

(The blog post adapted from a July 1991 piece published by Together in Faith in my ten-year column, Love With Shoes On.)

When Tragedy Strikes

I picked up the phone. “Hi, Mom, what’s up?”

“I have sad news, Beth.” Her voice shook a little. She took an audible breath. “Your Uncle Dick died of complications from surgery yesterday.”

Uncle Dick gone? Just like that?

I lowered myself into the nearest chair while snapshots of family life danced through my memory. A young Uncle Dick in his Army uniform, grinning from Grandma’s Whitney Street porch. Him and Aunt Mae rejoicing on their wedding day.

Like my dad, Uncle Dick always had a twinkle in his eye and a grin on his face. He was the guy with the camera, taking pictures at our family reunions. Now suddenly, another of dad’s brothers was no longer with us?

Mom and I talked about the shock of his unexpected death and the funeral arrangements before we hung up. For several minutes, I wandered about the house before the full force of his death hit me, and I wept. Yes, Uncle Dick was in heaven with Jesus, but it hurt to realize that another piece of the fabric of my life had been ripped away when I wasn’t looking.

Sometimes life swoops in and wallops us from our blind side. We stagger under unexpected tragedies that shake us, reduce us to tears, and turn our insides to jelly.

Where do we go then?

Some choose to blame God for letting it happen and cut themselves off from Him. So sad because He waits to comfort and carry us through hard places.

When tragedy strikes, I’ve found my best choice is to run to God. He alone holds the ultimate healing balm for our hurting hearts. He alone knows how to take the shattered pieces of today and put them together into a “something beautiful” tomorrow.

Run to God when tragedy strikes.

Focus: “For I know the plans I have for you … plans for good and not disaster, to give you a future and a hope” ~ Jeremiah 29:11, New Living Translation.

How about you? Where do you run for comfort and healing when tragedy strikes?


Look for the Silver Lining

“If you have to do it, you might as well find something good about it!” Of course, my father was referring to the chores he had assigned to me when I was living at home. But that little nugget of truth has followed me down through the years. It came in handy during our recent spell of hot days and sweltering nights.

Maybe you’re like me and find it hard to breath or sleep when it’s hot and humid. Anyway, after a few days, I found myself grumbling. Immediately I was ashamed. Love doesn’t complain, and if this was the weather God chose to give, who was I to grumble?

That left me with a problem. How do I get away from complaining? How do I find some good when I feel so miserable?

It took a bit of looking, but I found that “silver lining” as the old song goes. For one thing, no flies and mosquitoes bugging our family. We could enjoy the Wisconsin out of doors in peace! And, yes, our flower gardens grew gorgeous with tall, colorful blooms.

It’s so easy to fall into complaining, isn’t it? Life is full of challenges, full of annoyances . . . leaving us with a choice. Focus on the challenges and annoyances, or open our eyes to the bright silver lining in our circumstances.

I’ve found that when I choose the silver lining, I not only enjoy a better day but know peace as I walk in agreement with God and his Word.

Focus: “In everything you do, stay away from complaining” ~ Philippians 2:14 , New Living Translation.

How about you? What blessings have you discovered as you choose to “look for the silver lining” in spite of your trying circumstances?

Plucked from the Storm

Dark clouds boiled up on the far side of lake Winnebago. From a crowded public diving raft, Mary and I watched them head our way. On shore, speakers mounted on the bathhouse crackled, “All swimmers come ashore immediately!”

As lifeguards launched rowboats into the choppy waters and a distressed voice repeated the command through the bathhouse speakers, the waters near the raft teemed with swimmers trying to outrace the fast -approaching storm. Mary and I jumped in with them.

Never a strong swimmer, I came within four feet of the boat dock. Powerful waves kept pulling me back, sapping my strength as I struggled. “I can’t make it, Mary.”

“Yes, you can!” she shouted above the confusion around us.

“Go on without me,” I sputtered. I could no longer fight the waves repeatedly washing over my face and began to sink.

Mary caught me. “Look!”

From a boat only a few feet away, a lifeguard searched the waters around him. Mary waved to catch his attention. “Over here! Help!”

Moments later, he reached over the side of the boat and plucked me from the dangerous waters.

Like  that lifeguard, the Lord stands ready to rescue us from the dangerous waters of our lives.

Do overwhelming problems threaten us? He reminds us, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” Deuteronomy 33:27, New International Version.

Have we strayed from the Lord God who longs to gather us back to himself? He assures us, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” Jeremiah 31:3, NIV.

Do we need to be freed from the sin that grips us? He promises, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” Acts 2:21, NIV.

Whatever the storms of our lives, when we call out to Jesus, we find that his Word is true.

Focus: “The Lord will hear when I call to him” ~ Psalm 4:3, NIV.

How about you? On what occasion have you called out to the Lord and found him faithful to pluck you from the storms of your life?

Working Toward Freedom

I watched wide-eyed as our nation raged. Our rulers prepared for battle, plotted and cried out, “Let’s free ourselves from this slavery!”

Who did they cry out against? What was the slavery? According to Psalm 2, none other than the Lord God because they didn’t want him telling them what  to do. Neither did their citizens.

If a situation called for a little lying or stealing or cheating, why not? If they felt like using God’s name like a swear word, so what? If keeping their businesses open on Sunday meant turning a bigger profit, that was their call. If they ignored their parents or any other authority–who, by the way, weren’t all that wise or great anyway–that was their call. If they found someone attractive and wanted to sleep with that person without benefit of marriage, hey, whose  business was it but theirs?

Who did God think he was anyway? And what about the many world religions with plenty of gods to chose from? Worship only the Lord God? Obey only him? Forget that!

So they raged on and plotted, filling willing ears with their own version of right and wrong. Inviting others to join their enlightenment, they truly believed they were working toward freedom.

But the Lord God shook his head sadly. He never meant his rules to enslave! He set those boundaries to protect his people, to free them to live in peace and safety and love with one another and with him. Yet each had to choose this peace and safety and love for themselves. Free choice was his gift to each.

Yet to keep us from being destroyed by our freedom, he daily urges us to choose wisely.

Focus: “Be warned … Serve the Lord with reverent fear, and rejoice with trembling. Submit to God’s royal son … what joy for all who find protection in him!” ~ Psalm 2:10-12, New Living Translation.

How about you? How do you choose to use your God-given freedom?

(This blog post is adapted from a July 2001 piece published by Together In Faith in my ten-year column, Love With Shoes On.)