Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Count Your Blessings!

"Be careful for nothing; but in EVERY THING by prayer and supplication WITH THANKSGIVING, let your requests be made known unto God." 
Philippians 4:6 (caps mine)
A little over a year ago, God placed a book in my hands that has changed my life, but the journey had actually begun more than eight years before that.  In January of 2004, my husband had emergency surgery and was on a ventilator for several days after the surgery.  The first thing he said to me the day they took the ventilator out, was how thankful he was for the life God had given him, how thankful he was for me, our marriage and our two children.  He went on and on about how blessed he felt!  While he was sick, whether he was in the hospital or at home, the challenges we faced were many.  One night as we were getting ready to pray, he said he felt we should begin our prayer time by telling God what we were thankful for.  That was a habit we would carry out until he died.  Shortly after he died, I was in bed one night having my devotional time.  As I was writing in my journal, I happened to glance up at the wall to a picture hanging there.  The picture was of a church located on St. Simon's Island in Georgia.  My husband and I had vacationed on that island twice and I fell in love with it.  It is one of my favorite places on earth.  As I was looking at the picture, I lamented that I would probably never visit that island again.  The Lord spoke quickly to my spirit and said, "Don't lament over what will never be, but give thanks for what was and is."  That was the beginning of my journey of thanksgiving.  I began to thank God for the 33+ years of marriage I had, for the great husband I had, for the fact that we were able to visit that island twice and then many more offerings of thanksgiving came forth.  Over the years since then, I have endeavored to cultivate a thankful heart.  

About 2 years ago, our pastor preached on a grateful heart and challenged us to begin a journal listing at the end of each day five things we were thankful for.  I began to do that and continued it for about 6 months.  At that point in time, I realized that I was doing it by rote and not from the heart, so I stopped.  Shortly after, I found this book - "One Thousand Gifts" by Ann Voskamp.  What a gift this book has been!  It has expressed everything that I felt God was doing in my heart regarding thanksgiving.

Ann talks about living eucharisteo thanksgiving.  The kind of thanksgiving that challenges you to live in the moment, to recognize God in the moment, to give thanks in ALL things believing that God has given ALL things.  It's learning to abide in Christ through every moment of every day and give thanks!  Scripture says, " His presence there's fullness of joy." (Psalm 16)  How do we enter into his presence?  With thanksgiving in our heart. "I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart.  I will enter His courts with praise." (Psalm 100)  Cultivating a thankful heart produces such joy, genuine joy, the fullness of joy that Scripture talks about!

Ann also shares in the book the challenge that she was given by a friend to count "one thousand gifts" that God gives her on a daily basis.  Her book was born out of this challenge and she shares what God did in her heart as a result of meeting this challenge.  I started my own count last year but have been doing it more regularly the last few months and this fall we have been going through the Bible Study video series Ann offers based on this book.

I can't begin to tell you the difference this has made in my life.  Finding God in every moment has definitely been a challenge, but it has opened my eyes to so much that I've been missing in life.  It has brought a fullness to my life and joy to my heart.  Recognizing the gift of God's love extended to me in all things as I go about my daily life - even, oh, especially, in the mundane and rote activities of daily life.  Suddenly, they don't seem so mundane at all!  And He is found in ALL things when you are looking!
Today is my husband's birthday; he would have been 66.  While I think his years on earth were much too short, I know God's plan is perfect and I accept that.  I celebrate his life today, giving thanks to God that in this life, I was loved by Phil.  I rejoice in the blessings God gave me in the years I had with Phil and I rejoice in the many blessings He is giviing me today and those he has yet to give me.  Part of Phil's legacy to me is, I believe, the legacy of thankfulness; the gift that was born out of his death.  I rise to the challenge of finding those 1000+ gifts in the days ahead!!

Join me and count your blessings, too!


Monday, October 28, 2013

Chastened by Love

"Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shall thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye."  Matthew 7:5
It was Easter Sunday and I had spent the day with my family.  My Dad had gone to my brother's house for dinner, so I waited to go see him until later in the day when I knew he would be back in his room at the nursing home.  He was not doing well when I saw him.  He was exhausted from the day and his left hand seemed to be swollen and he was favoring it.  I was concerned about him and spoke to the nurses, then had a very unpleasant phone conversation with my brother.  By the time I left, I was quite distracted and upset.  As I drove home, I found myself behind a very slow out-of-state car, going about 30 mph in a 40 mph zone.  Adding to my distraction regarding my Dad, I was now feeling frustrated and very impatient that he was going so slow.  I began tailing him, hoping he'd get the message to drive a little faster.  All of a sudden, I saw the flashing blue light behind me.  Knowing I wasn't speeding, I pulled over, expecting the police car to drive by me.  The slower car in front of me also pulled over.  Alas, the police car pulled up right behind me. 

The officer came over to my car and in a very angry voice asked me if I knew the person in the car in front of me.  I told him no and he motioned for the other driver to go ahead.  The officer wanted to know if I had a good reason to be following him so close and proceeded to holler at me about following another car too close and all the dangers associated with that and of course, asked for my license and registration.  Feeling properly chastised, I turned them over.  A few minutes later, he came back to the car, returned my IDs and warned me again about following another car too closely.  He indicated he would not give me a ticket and cautioned me to heed his warning.
As I pulled away, I felt some humiliation, but then began to get angry.  "Seriously," I said to the dead air in the car.  "You have cars running red lights constantly, people going through stop signs, people speeding and you stop me for following a car too close??!!!!"  Immediately, this Scripture came to mind:
"Then Peter, turning about seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following: which also leaned on his breast at supper......  Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?  Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?  you follow me." 
John 21:20, 21
"You - follow me!  Never mind what others do.  I will deal with them.  You - follow me!"  These were the words I heard the Lord say and they brought immediate shame and repentance to my heart.  I had been properly chastised by my Father and I knew I had grieved His heart.  As I continued to reflect on this, I thanked the Lord for His chastisement.  I thanked Him for His discipline because it represented His love for me.  He loved me too much to let me continue on in my own sinful way.  Not only were my actions wrong, but my heart attitude was dismal.
"My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.  If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?  Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous:  nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.  Hebrews 12:5b, 6, 7, 11
I once heard someone say - God loves you just as you are, but He loves you too much to let you stay that way.  I am so thankful for that.  I am thankful that He loves me enough to correct me when I need correction, that He loves me enough that He's not concerned about my hurt feelings, that He loves me enough to walk me through the hard times of chastening.  And I'm thankful for His forgiveness.

My heart rejoiced that day, even though it was a real moment of humiliation and shame at the awful attitudes that were still there alive in my heart.  I give an account to Him of  my actions only.  I can't change anyone else's actions, but I can choose to be obedient to Him and change mine according to His Word.
And just for the record, I definitely do keep a safe distance from the car in front of me on the road these days!!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Laughter is Good for the Soul

"A merry heart doeth good like a medicine..." 
Proverbs 17:22
"A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance....." 
Proverbs 15:13
"Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad."
Proverbs 12:25
My late husband, Phil, had a very merry heart and could see the humor in almost all of life's situations. He made me laugh...a lot.  I have always been a very serious person and he would always say to me - "You need to lighten up, Donna, lighten up."  He was so right.  He brought a lot of fun to our family and taught me not to take myself or life too seriously. 

Laughter is so good for the soul.  Because we are made to see humor in life and because we enjoy laughter, I believe it's also in God's character to do the same because we are made in His image.  He has a terrific sense of humor.  Just look at all of His creations (not humans - but animals, fish, even some plants).  Life, even at it's best, is hard.  To find things to laugh about each day helps to lighten the load.
A former pastor of mine used to always say, "If you're happy, let your face know."   
I felt impressed by the Lord to write this blog today.  Those of you who know me, know that isn't always the way my mind bends.  But as I was out walking the other day, I took some pictures that brought big smiles to my face and I even thought of captions to put under each one.  So today, I just want to make you smile and maybe even laugh. 
Lighten up, smile, it's good for your soul!
 "A little help here.  I'm stuck!"

 "Help, I've fallen and I can't get up!"
 "Raptured? Seriously?!? Nobody told me!"

 I have no words for this one!

"Harpo, have you seen my cigar?"

"I'm not coming down unless you promise me full amnesty!"
I think I just heard some of you groan!  Really, that's all you got?  Hey, we have to take it where we can find it!! I challenge you to find some humor in your day today.  You might have to look hard depending on how your day is going, but look anyway.  Remember, it takes less energy to smile than it does to frown, so if you're tired, that might be why!!!  :)
Hope you enjoy this video and song.  I really have not lost my mind!! Just enjoying the medicine of a merry heart!!
God is always good and you are always loved!!


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Abiding in Him

"Abide in me, and I in you. 
As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine;
no more can you; except you abide in me. 
I am the vine, you are the branches. 
He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit;
for without me you can do nothing." 
John 15:5, 6

Abide - the dictionary defines it as - "to remain; stay; to dwell."  Remain in me; stay in me; dwell in me......except we remain, stay, dwell in Him, we can bear no fruit.  Hmmmmm......  So, then, how do we abide, remain, stay, dwell in Him? 

In my quest to be more aware of the Lord's presence in my life every moment of every day, I am discovering that in having my eyes open to receive every thing in that day as a gift from Him, I begin to sense His presence in all things.  To open my eyes to His presence and recognize Him in the small things of my day - the blue of the sky, the smell of chicken soup simmering on the stove, the green light, the sun breaking through to make shadows on a cloudy day, manna from His Word, the wind blowing in my hair, clean dishes in the sink, I am dwelling in Him.  Sound crazy?? 

Recognizing His gifts in EVERYTHING is seeing His hand extended to me in love; it's recognizing Him in every moment of my day.  Those things that delight my heart?  The sound of crunching leaves, the taste of peanut butter on hot toast, a flower peeking out of a pile of dead leaves, a face on a tree - these things that delight my heart?  These are gifts from Him, wooing me into a love relationship with Him.  As I recognize these as the gifts they are, my heart fills with thankfulness and joy ---- joy in the fact that He is speaking to me personally with those things that He knows delight my heart.


When that joy (a fruit of the Spirit - Galatians 5:22) overflows in my heart, it can't help but affect all aspects of my life and overflow into my relationships with others.  Joy comes from seeing Him in all things, thanking Him for all things and receiving this day and all it holds for me as a gift.  This, then, is abiding, staying with Him in the moment, each moment of my day.

Am I always successful at this?  No, I am not.  But I am practicing.  I am practicing slowing down, looking for Him, living in the moment, seeing the Giver behind all the gifts and beholding His heart's desire for me.  I desire to be fruitful in my life, producing fruit that will remain and the Word tells me I can only do that if I abide in Him.

Fruit even in the midst of decay and rotting leaves.  Lots of fruit, good fruit, quenching fruit!!  Lord, abide in me that I may abide in you - daily, moment by moment.  Create in me an awareness of you in ALL things!  May my joy be full!!
"These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you,
and that your joy might be full." 
John 15:11
" thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore." 
Psalm 16:11


Monday, October 21, 2013

Encouraged by the Word

"Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ."  Philippians 1:6
I thought of this scripture yesterday.  I woke up feeling very far from a "good work".  The attitudes of my heart have needed quite a bit of work lately.  I was thinking I'm certainly not very confident of my ability to change my heart or to be able to do anything about my attitudes.  I've felt very impatient with myself and everyone around me lately and truthfully, I despair when I think about what's needed in my heart to affect change.  Sometimes I feel like such a fraud as a Christian.  I wholeheartedly thank God that no one can see the ugliness of my heart, but then I remember - He can!!  When I remember that, it's hard for me to believe that He still loves me in spite of all that ugliness.  But then I read that Scripture again, and remind myself that "He which hath begun a good work....will perform it", not me, and I am encouraged again.  The Scripture tells us that David encouraged himself in the Lord, and I find I have to do that continually.  My heart IS deceitful above all else and I can't trust it, but I can trust the one who sees my heart and I can trust that He will work in me to change it.

I thank God for His Word that also tells me:
"And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it."  I Thessalonians 5:23-24
Boy, I want to put an exclamation point at the end of that!!  I am so thankful that He is faithful - faithful to even my failing heart.  Faithful to pour out His grace when I reach out for it, instead of choosing to stay in my pit of despair.  I look up and give thanks to "Him  that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us."  (Ephesians 3:20)
Be encouraged in Him today; be encouraged by His Word that is truly "manna" to your soul!
God is always good, and I am always loved!

Friday, October 18, 2013

This Day Is A Gift

"This is the day the Lord has made.  I will rejoice and be glad in it."

Just got back from a quick trip to the Post Office which I should have done yesterday, but forgot.  As I drove home, the sun came out and reflected off the leaves wet from last night's rain.  It's still so beautiful here in Vermont.  The colors in my local area are still vibrant and they glisten in the early morning sun.

As I drove home, I thought about the things I needed to do today, places to go.

make croutons
make phone calls
visit Dad at the nursing home
make deposit at bank
go to the grocery store 
etc, etc. 

All was good until I thought about where I have to go tonight.  I really do not want to go.  It's one of those social situations I feel most awkward in because I am not part of a couple.  I really would rather just stay home.  But I've promised and before the Lord, I cannot break that commitment, so I will go, but "Lord," I softly pray, "change my heart regarding this.  Help me to see this as a blessing.  You know how this invitation came about and you engineered this from the beginning, so I believe you have purpose in it.  Help me to be open to that, Lord.  I surrender it to you."

Then I remember - each day is a gift, given to me by God, to open and do with as I choose.  When I give somebody a gift, I want and hope that they will - open it, be surprised by it and love it.  I also hope that they see the love that has gone into preparing it for them.  Beyond that, I have no control.  They can do what they want with it at that point. 

I see that God has given me this day as a gift.  He wants me to - open it, be surprised by it and embrace it.  He wants me to see the love that has gone into His preparation of this gift for me.  Now, what I do with it, is up to me.  Do I receive it as a gift from Him and cherish every minute of it or do I rail against all that He has prepared for me in this day?  Hands open to receive or hands closed to decline?

THIS is the day the Lord has made.  I WILL rejoice and be glad in it.  Thank you, Lord, for the choice.  Thank you for this day.  Thank you for the seemingly hard thing you've asked me to do this day.  I CHOOSE to rejoice in this, knowing you have chosen it for me.

I am ready now to meet this day head on and am even excited to see what God unfolds through this day, and yes, even this evening, for -

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning."  James 1:17
Rejoice in the gift of this day!  Rejoice in HIM!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Embrace the Seasons of Life

"To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:"  Ecclesiastes 3:1

I set out on my walk today somewhat reluctantly. I hadn’t been on a walk for over a week and wasn’t really sure I wanted to do one today. But as I walked I started to revel in the moment. The wind was blowing hard from the south and really messing up my hair. I love the wind!! As I began to put myself in the moment, I started thinking about the fall season - what is it about fall that makes me feel so alive?? Then I progressed to thinking about seasons - fall - winter - spring - summer - and I remembered a candle holder that a dear friend gave me many years ago. It says “Every new season brings its own special blessings.” I’ve thought of that candle holder many times over the years and it’s caused me to reflect on the seasons of my life.

The season of youth, the season of falling in love, the season of married life, the season of babies, toddlers, adolescents, teenagers, the season of empty nest, the season of widowhood, the season of retirement and I’m sure there were others and still more to come.
Every season does have its own special blessings if we will open our heart to receive them. We mourn the season past while holding hand open to accept the season to come.

As I was walking down the road, the wind was at my back and I thought - some seasons of life are like that. The wind is at your back, blue skies above, smooth sailing ahead, God is on His throne in heaven and all is right with the world. But as I turned around to head back home, the wind was blowing hard against me and I thought, yes, some seasons are like that, too. Sometimes it takes so much effort just to take the next step, sometimes you don't even know what the next step is but it feels like everything is pushing against you and you just don’t know how you will make it. But, you know what?  God is still on His throne during this season, too. And His love is always reaching out to us, through all the seasons of our lives.

We, most of the time, do not know the path our journey will take us on when we embark on a new season in our life. Sometimes the road looks straight ahead and we know where we are headed, and sometimes there is a curve in the road and we can’t see beyond that and we have no idea what’s ahead. Sometimes we can't even see the road!!  But this we do know, wherever that road takes us, God is with us as we walk it.

Whatever road you are on, in whatever season you are in, remember this, God IS on His throne, all IS right in His world and He has promised from His word -

"...for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee."  Hebrews 13:5b

Embrace this season you are in - embrace it with all that’s in you and receive with hands and arms wide open, all God wants to give you in this very special season of your life.  EMBRACE IT - don't try to walk out of it, don't try to walk around it, don't try to avoid it.  God has so many special blessings for you right now, right here, in this season of your life!  It's no mistake or accident that you are where you are.  Take that first step and persevere to walk down the road He has chosen for you in this season He has chosen for you.

I would love to hear from you.  Would love to hear what season you are in and what the Lord is doing in your life during this season.  There is a space below to send me your comments.  God bless you!


Monday, October 14, 2013

Just Love Me

"What am I going to do with you?" he laughed.  And I would always respond, "Just love me!" 

Wow!  Where did that memory come from?  I was working on my Bible Study and adding to my list of gifts.  The key for the day was "gifts said".  As I thought of things that had been said to me, this one came to the surface.  It kind of stopped me and made me think.  Phil would always ask me that question whenever I had done something especially funny, quirky or even stupid and I would always reply the same way.  And love me, he did!  But today those words - "just love me" resounded in my spirit and I thought, isn't that what we all want?  Just to be loved.  To be loved through all our quirkiness, stupidity, difficultness, etc.  We just want someone to love us - just for who we are!

Every time I see a heart stone, I feel it is God saying to me, "I love you, Donna", and my heart feels full at that moment.  As I go through my day, sometimes I lose sight of the fact that He loves me through all the moments of my day, even when I feel and even act very unlovable.

His love is revealed to us in so many ways.  Ways that we sometimes are too busy to see or recognize.  It's in the smile of the man who holds the door open for you at the post office.  It's in the green light that is there when you are in a hurry.  It's in the sunrise of every morning.  It's in the beauty of His creation.  It's written in His Word for you to read as His personal love letter to you!  It's even in the rain that falls steady outside your window.

It's given to you every day in so many different ways.  Take time today to look for His love expressed to you!  Receive that love with hands wide open to all that means for you.  You are loved!!  You are loved!!  You are loved!!

"Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee."  Jeremiah 31:3

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Gift of Peace

"Memories - pressed between the pages of my mind.  Memories - sweetened through the ages just like wine."  I thought of that song today as I drove the familiar roads to the Sheldon Cemetery.  I had been wanting to get there ever since May, but then, I allowed myself to admit, I didn't really.  So many memories flooded my mind as I drove.  I remembered the very first time I traveled to Enosburg with Phil in his 1967 Mustang to meet his parents.  I reflected on all the other many, many times we made this trip over the years of our married life.  I had always loved the drive and I did today, too, but I was filled with a sadness I hadn't felt in awhile.  The journey of grief takes you on all kinds of dips, curves and turns and it is most unpredictable.  I can't believe it's been 9 years since Phil died and over a year since I visited his gravesite.  You would think after 9 years I would be okay.  Most times now, my memories bring me such comfort and joy, remembering Phil's zany side and how well he loved us - the girls and I.  I was surprised at my emotion today.  When I saw the gravestone, something broke inside of me and I cried - the first time ever crying right there at the grave.  It poured from somewhere deep inside me.  I cried for him, I cried for me, I cried because the gravestone was dirty and that felt like such a desecration.

But then as the tears subsided, I felt again God's peace.  This cemetery is so beautiful, with such a beautiful view; a real pastoral setting.  God's peace has been such a gift to me over the past 9 years.  The peace that passes all understanding - it really does.  I didn't feel any real words of comfort, any words of revelation, just a profound sense of peace.  And for today, that is enough.  Enough to know that, in the words of author Ann Voskamp, "God is always good and I am always loved." I thank God for His gift of peace.

It is such a paradox that life is full of death.  And yet we don't accept it as part of life.  Why is that, do you suppose?  According to God's Word, man was never born to die, but to live in Eden tending all God created.  God cried with me today.  He felt my grieving heart and He grieved with me.  I truly believe that.  That is what turns my "mourning into dancing"; to joy.  I thank God for His gifts of grace and mercy and my heart again is filled with joy and thanksgiving.  Thanks that I was given 33+ years with this man; thanks for all he was to me and I was to him while he sojourned here on earth.
As I drove into the cemetery, I was awed by this tree that had apparently either been struck by lightning or been felled by strong winds.  "Broken" was the word I heard in my spirit as I stared at it.  As I left the cemetery, I took a picture of it and again, I gave thanks to God - that even though I, too, had been "broken" at the moment of Phil's death, the astonishing fact was that I wasn't "broken" anymore.  The Healer touched my broken heart and made me whole again in Him.  Put back together - with scars, yes - but wholly together to live to praise Him, thank Him and delight in Him again! 

"Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.  His mercy endures forever." 

What do you give Him thanks for today?