The Incredible Power of Memory

Today I walked in the rain, sheltered by my big black umbrella and enjoying a brief time with the Lord in my corner of his creation. My walk took me a half-mile down our country road to Lake Winnebago.

I smiled as I discovered deep blue violets and graceful wild geraniums growing along the roadside. During the months of May in my childhood, I picked bouquets of these pretty blossoms and other wildflowers to delight my mother. Those were sweet times.

Today birds whistling, trilling, and chirruping with all their hearts presented a great symphony that filled the morning air. Again I smiled, recalling all the springtime mornings I awakened to their joyous songs.

Memory is a powerful tool. That’s probably why God invites us to remember those times when he has answered our prayers and helped us. Why bother to remember? Because such memories cheer and encourage us. They help us hang on when life becomes difficult. They remind us that God is good. He deeply loves us and has filled his Word with wonderful promises of all he delights in doing for us.

Has God answered a prayer dear to your heart? Remember and be encouraged. Has God restored your health or the health of someone you love? Remember and be filled with thanksgiving. Has God given you the wisdom or strength to overcome an obstacle in your life? Remember and sing his praises. Keep a treasury of your memories of God’s goodness. It will encourage you to trust him today and in the days to come.

Focus: “I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. They are constantly in my thoughts” ~ Psalm 77:11-12, New Living Translation.

How about you? What memories of God’s goodness do you hold dear to your heart?

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

Making Decisions

I stopped my car on the white “V” where two major highways merged outside of Chicago. While traffic roared by on both sides, I stared at the sign above the busy tollway. Do I go right or left? To my nervous brain, the sign seemed nothing but gobbledygook.

Since leaving home that morning, I struggled with worry about driving alone to a writers’ conference in Wheaton IL. What if I took a wrong turn and wound up hopelessly lost in downtown Chicago?

To avoid the problem, I tried picking up Highway 45 near Kenosha, Wisconsin. However, as I entered Illinois, 45 turned into a country road with few signs to guide me. Coming to a gas station in the dense woods, I stopped for directions. A kindly woman behind the counter told me I was on target but couldn’t get to Wheaton without taking the tollway. “When you come to it, keep to the left,” she emphasized.

Did she really know what she was talking about? Gritting my teeth and sending up a prayer, I entered the traffic to the left. Thirty minutes later, I arrived safely at my destination.

We’re often faced with decisions that might sweep us into untold trouble or take us safely to our destination. When we’re not sure which way to go or what is best for us, who do we rely on?

Early Christian believers relied on their rabbi (teacher), Jesus. What they learned from him, they told to everyone who would listen. They later wrote these things down for us. Among other things, they taught that God’s Word is truth (John 17:7), that Jesus is truth (John 14:6), and that the Holy Spirit is truth (John 16:18).

When faced with decisions, we sometimes wonder, “Can I really trust God and his Word to guide me? If I ask him, will he show me what is best for me?”

God’s children down through the ages have learned from experience that the answer to those questions is “yes.”

Focus: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go” ~ Isaiah 48:17, New International Version.

How about you? When faced with decisions, who do you trust to guide you?

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.)


Happy Father’s Day, Dad

In the late 1800’s, the life of a young Civil War veteran’s wife faded as she gave birth to their sixth child. Widower William Smart raised his daughter and five sons on the family farm in the state of Washington with such devotion that, as an adult, his daughter began a campaign to honor all fathers.

In 1906, Sonora Louise Smart Dodd, then living in Spokane, discussed the idea with her pastor. She envisioned a day of special church services and children offering their fathers words of appreciation and small gifts. The city’s YMCA joined the sponsorship, and on the third Sunday of June 1910–the month of William Smart’s birthday–Father’s Day was first observed.

In 1916, President Woodrow Calvin Coolidge recommended its observance, but decades followed while others slowly joined in the effort to establish Father’s Day. During those years, wearing a red rose honored a living father, a white rose for one not living. Today we celebrate Father’s Day with backyard barbecues and gifts for our birth fathers, stepfathers, fathers-in-law, and grandfathers.

This is all as it should be! However, this year as we honor the fathers in our lives, let’s remember the most wonderful Father of all–our heavenly Father. The One whose abundant love is always the same.The One who never tires of watching over us and providing for our needs. He who, when we stray, never stops wooing us back to him. More than all that, he is the Father who made the way at great personal price–the willing death of his Son on the cross–that we might be his children.

Focus: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God!” ~ 1 John 3:1, New International Version.

How About You? How many fathers do you honor on Father’s Day, and how do you choose to do it?

(This blog post is adapted from a June 1999 piece published by Together in Faith in my ten-year column, Love With Shoes On.)

Love and Faithfulness at Work

Chee! Chee!

A piercing distress call pulled my attention to an area of the parking lot where three little girls giggled. Their father drew them away from the mother bird. As others walked by her nest, the beautiful killdeer spread her wings and puffed up her feathers in a protective bluff.

A few feet away, I looked among the rounded decorative stones where she stood guard. Sure enough. She had laid a clutch of eggs, almost invisible in their surroundings. Settling back on her eggs, she also became nearly invisible.

As the weeks went by, intruders frustrated her efforts to see to the safety of her eggs. Severe thunderstorms battered her. Yet nothing could drive her away. Nothing could pressure her into abandoning her special work. Because of her faithful love, four baby killdeer came into the world. She continued vigil over them until they were ready to go out in this world on their own. Once again, she had completed God’s plan for that season of her life.

When Jesus entered public ministry, no doubt he felt battered, too. His mother and brothers heard how he worked day and night with barely time to eat or sleep. Worried about him, they arrived to take him home. Instead he continued his ministry to the poor and needy. Important religious leaders scorned him, tried to trick him, insulted him and plotted to kill him. Yet he refused to run and hide.

When he told his closest friends that he would be betrayed and die on a cross at Jerusalem, they didn’t understand. One tried to talk him out of it, but no one could drive him off course. Nothing could pressure him into abandoning the special work he had come to do.

With all the faithful love in his heart, he held true to God’s plan to pay the penalty for the sins of all mankind. He knew that, only through his death on the cross would we ever know the blessing of eternity in heaven with God. God, who loves us more than we could think or imagine.

When life batters us, we have a choice. We can yield to well-meaning arguments. We can run and hide. Or we can refuse to be pressured off course. Instead, we can pray for the strength to be a blessing and hold true to God’s plan for this particular season of our lives.

Focus: “Let love and faithfulness never leave you.” ~ Proverbs 3:3, New International Version.

How about you? Like that little mother killdeer, are you struggling—or have you struggled–with a particular season in your life?

(This blog post is adapted from a June 2005 piece published by Together in Faith in my ten-year column, Love With Shoes On.)

Never Too Late

Carol shut the door to her art studio. “Lord, I’m getting nowhere, and I’m sick of trying. I quit!”

It wasn’t as if she hadn’t tried. For years, for Pete’s sake! Okay, so she had procrastinated some. Vegging out in front of the TV and chatting with friends rather than wrestling to master that illusive painting technique.

She sighed and leaned against the wooden door. Truthfully, she hadn’t worked on her paintings anywhere near as much as she promised herself. Sometimes she just had to get that nagging housework done, had to run those errands, had to answer her email first.  Okay, so she used those distractions at times to avoid walking into that studio and facing the fear that her work would never really measure up.

Until now, she had never given up. For years, she tweaked each of her cherished paintings, dreaming that someday when she would perfect them. While her friends devoted themselves to finishing their works, had pieces commissioned by local restaurants and businesses, and saw their work qualify for art shows and museum exhibits. While some achieved “Best of the Show” awards.

They didn’t let doubts about lack of perfection hold them back. They forged ahead with single-minded determination, serving God with whatever they had to offer at the time. How Carol admired them! How she wished she could be like them. Could she?

“Lord, is it too late?”

What I see in God’s Word is that the answer for both Carol and us is no. It’s never too late to develop the skills and talents God has given to us to make this world a kinder, more loving place. Whether it’s teaching, encouraging, leadership, serving, building, inspirational writing or artwork, or something altogether different, we can determine right now to …

Focus: “Be diligent in these matters (not neglect our God-given gifts); give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress” ~ 1 Timothy 4:15, New International Version.

How About you? How do you fight doubt and use your gifts as you attempt to make this world a kinder, better place?

(This blog post is adapted from a May 2006 piece published by Together in Faith in my ten-year column, Love With Shoes On.)

Memorial Day and Dad

Memorial Day was always a special event for my family. Early in the morning  I would watch my dad, a World War II veteran, leave the house in his American Legion blues with his bugle tucked under his arm. While the rest of the city prepared for the parade and other festivities, Dad and a few others made their faithful rounds. At each of our town’s cemeteries, they honored our U.S. servicemen by marking each grave with a small flag. At some point during the solemn ceremony that followed, my father raised his bugle to blow Taps.

By ten o’clock, the town turned out to watch the parade. The moment it had stretched out over the Lawe Street Bridge with my father and the honor guard at its center, it paused. The honor guard fired their guns to salute our war dead. Someone sent the memorial wreath sailing over the railing. As it hit the waters of the Fox River and began floating down stream, my father lifted his bugle, and the clear, mournful notes of Taps drifted out over the hushed crowd.

Someone rightly said that we learn more by what is caught than  by what is taught. By watching my father, not only on Memorial Day but each day of the year, I learned patriotism. I learned to love our Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. I learned to appreciate the sacrifices of those who risked their lives to keep it so. I learned to honor our flag that represents the high ideals of our United States of America. Yes, children learn a great deal by watching their fathers.

During his lifetime on earth, Jesus–the Son of God–watched his Father to know what to do and what not to do. Referring to himself, he once said, “The Son … does only what he sees the Father doing, and in the same way” (John 5:19, The Living Bible.

He also said that if his disciples knew him, they knew his Father. So we, too, can learn from God our Father. By reading his Word and observing how Jesus handled situations and relationships, we can discover how to do the same. With this valuable information, we can make wise decisions that not only honor God but give us the high quality lives and relationships we long for.

Christ’s remarkable life is our sure example of how to grow in wisdom, love, and right relationships. No wonder the writer of the book of Hebrews urges us to …

Focus: “Keep your eyes on Jesus, our leader and instructor” ~ Hebrews 12:2, The Living Bible.

How about you? Do you appreciate someone whose example inspires you?

(This blog post is adapted from a May 2000 piece published by Together in Faith in my ten-year column, Love With Shoes on.)