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.)

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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.)

Mother’s Day Tears

“I love you, Mom.”

Her thirty-five-year-old daughter’s words entered Sara’s heart in the midst of a pleasant phone conversation. Then the two returned to the subject they had been discussing. Later, before they hung up, her daughter again uttered those words, and Sara knew her child had turned a life-changing corner. A soft joy spread its light through her heart.

In years past, their relationship had gone through hard times. Her daughter entered those teen years, determined to run her own life though obviously not ready. Like many mothers, Sara shed oceans of tears and knew endless nights of anguished prayer as she repeatedly failed in her attempts at mothering her daughter.

Blaming herself, Sara dreaded Mother’s Day and the church service with its inevitable reading of Proverbs 31. The wonderful passage that paints a portrait of the perfect woman in God’s eyes seemed to mock her, especially verse 28: “Her children arise and call her blessed” (NIV). Mother’s Day became a time of deep sorrow.

Nevertheless, she continued to love her daughter and pray for her. In Sara’s heart, she felt the Lord urging her not to abandon her child even as He did not abandon His children. So, she put her faith in God to accomplish what only He could do in her daughter’s life.

Sadly, it’s true. Mother’s Day is not a joy to all. Some endure this day with broken hearts for children–even grown children–who have not yet come to love God and enjoy the wonder of His healing in their lives. Many grieve over broken relationships with their children who make destructive life choices. But for those mothers who choose to stand steadfastly with the Lord on behalf of their children, God has a promise …

Focus: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy” ~ Psalm 126:5 (New International Version).

How about you? As a parent, can you relate to Sara’s story and her mother’s heart?

(This blog post adapted from a may 2002 piece published by Together in Faith in my ten-year column, Love With Shoes On.)

Feasting on Fresh Bread

In her early married years, my sister Susan and her husband arrived as I removed two hot, crusty loaves of bread from the oven. They had never heard of the easy French bread made in a one-quart casserole dish. Today I smile as I remember how they stood at my stove top, cutting thick slices of fresh bread while devouring an entire loaf! Yes, yeast used to make homemade bread is good, but there is another kind of yeast that is not good.

After miraculously feeding a hungry crowd of four thousand with four loaves of bread and a few small fish, Jesus boarded a boat with his disciples. As they crossed the lake, he cautioned them, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod” (Mark 8:15, New Living Translation).

Are you wondering, “What was he talking about?” as I did? You’re not alone. Jesus’ disciples also wondered the same thing. But as time went on, they came to understand.

In the Bible, yeast was often used to indicate evil. Galatians 3:9 tells why: “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough” (New International Version). Like yeast, it only takes a small amount of evil to infect a good person or group of people, and eventually overtake the entire person or group.

In Jewish homes, preparation for Passover includes getting rid of every bit  of yeast. In Bible times, people used candles to search out even the tiniest crumb of bread made with yeast. Now that’s dedication to God’s instruction through Moses!

This may not be our instruction or custom, but I think it’s a good example to follow in another way. What if we searched our hearts and lives for every crumb of what God calls wrong thinking and wrong doing so that we could pray for His help to rid our lives of it? What would our lives–and our world–be like?

Focus: “Let us … grow strong in the Christian life, leaving entirely behind us the cancerous old life with all its hatreds and wickedness. Let us feast instead upon the pure bread of honor and sincerity and truth” ~ 1 Corinthians 5:8, New International Version.

(This blog post adapted from an April 2000 piece published by Together in Faith in my ten-year column, Love With Shoes On.)

A Prayer Not Forgotten

“Beth, you’re going blind.”

My optometrist’s words sank like a stone in my seventeen-year-old heart. He must have caught my utter dismay because he quickly went on. “Don’t worry. We may be able to stop, even reverse your condition a little, with something new.”

The “something new” he referred to were contact lenses. My heart sank further. How could a high school senior afford anything that cost the equivalent of a college semester’s tuition? My parents couldn’t afford them either.

“I know that,” the doctor said, “but, Beth, I can’t just let this happen. I will pay for the lenses. When you graduate and get a job, you can pay me back a little each month.”

I left the doctor’s office, overwhelmed by his kindness and shaken by the news. I squeezed back my tears and prayed. Lord, you can do anything. Please heal my eyes so that I can see without glasses!

The contact lenses arrived and did stop the loss of my sight. I was so thrilled, I forget all about my prayer, but God did not.

Thirty-seven years later, I raced into the waiting room to share the good news with my husband. “I can see! I can see!”

Back in the examining room, Jim and I learned that the new Lasik surgery had taken the vision in my right eye from 20-400 (legally blind) to 20-25.  A year later, surgery on my left eye had similar results.

As we left the doctor’s office, we marveled at all God had brought together to deliver my miracle. Someone discovered the laser beam. Another invented a machine to harness it for eye surgery. Doctors had to be trained, and I was sure it was no coincidence that my eye doctor was one of eight in the United States currently performing the new surgery.

How precious our prayers are in God’s sight. He responds to them all. To some he quickly says, “Yes!” To others, and for good reason, he must say, “No.” To still others, he says, “Wait.” However, when that right time arrives–it might be years later–he delivers the perfect answer.

Focus: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs and don’t forget to thank him for his answers” Philippians 4:6 (The Living Bible).

How different our world would be if, instead of worrying, we brought our needs to God and trusted him to deliver the right answer at the right time.

How about You? Do you agree? Why or why not?

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

Quick to Forgive?

I sat on the back porch steps, observing my six-year-old granddaughter attempt to teach the game of Frisbee to her deaf playmate. She launched her new toy through the air. “Come on, Anthony. You can do it!”

Anthony shook his head. Kyra coaxed until he tried and succeeded. In his excitment, he hugged the yellow toy and refused to return it. Kyra begged, but he laughed, playfully holding it just out of reach.

Bursting into tears, she ran to the side yard. Anthony laughed, and her back stiffened. She spun around. Glaring at him, she seized a big stick from the ground.

I leapt to my feet. “Kyra! No!”

My little girl looked at me. Her shoulders sagged and tears puddled in her hazel eyes. Dropping the stick, she darted into the front yard, sobbing. No longer laughing, Anthony followed her. Minutes later they returned. He shrugged and dropped down near the porch steps. Picking up a piece of colored chalk, he began drawing pictures on the sidewalk. Kyra stood stiffly a few feet away. “He was mean to me, Grandma. I’m angry.”

“What are you going to do about it?” I asked quietly.

For a few moments, she thought about it, then grinned and nodded her head triumphantly. “I’m never going to speak to him again forever!”

“Oh,” I ventured. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

Kyra’s grin vanished. “Why not?”

“Well—” Lord, please help me here. “—if you don’t forgive Anthony, you can’t be friends anymore.”

Kyra’s eyes grew wide. “We can’t?”

She climbed the porch steps and snuggled into my arms like a wounded bird. After all, they had been friends since they were babies. I held her close while stroking her silky blonde hair. “Besides, Kyra, Jesus wants us to forgive others, even when they hurt us for no good reason.”

“He does?” That clinched it. She wiggled out of my arms and joined Anthony on the sidewalk. He looked up, smiled, and handed her a piece of bright blue chalk.

Her crisis over, I marveled at how easily my little granddaughter had acted once she knew what God wanted her to do.

Wouldn’t our world be a much happier place if we were all so quick to forgive those who hurt us?

Focus: “Love your enemies! Do good to them! … Your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as sons of God” Luke 6:35 (The Living Bible).

What do say? Is it possible today’s chaotic world be a better place if we were quick to forgive? Why or why not?

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