Where is God?

I gave up facebook almost a year ago and I am so glad that I did.  As I scroll with my husband on his account, I am reminded of what a broken, disgraceful, self-absorbed, messy world we live in.  I see headlines and posts about the attacks on Paris, Muslims, Syrian Refugees coming to the USA, liberalism, common core education, starbucks cups without snowflakes, political correctness, bashing our president, and so much more.  Not to mention all the personal posts about how life is grand, or life sucks, or look at what we have, etc, etc, etc.  I am sure you get the idea of what is out there, you may even be reading it in your own scroll.

I began to ponder the question so many ponder.  Where is God in all of this?  I am not a politician.  I am not versed in law, world affairs, government, political parties, etc.  But as I read about these events taking place in the world, as I see families being torn apart in my town by divorce, abuse, infidelity, and more, I can’t help but wonder what the heck is going on.

The only place I can and will go to find my answers is the Good Book, The Bible.  I happen to be studying Isaiah right now and oh my goodness!  It is almost as if God placed this book in my hands right when I would need answers to all that is happening in our world today.  The kings of Isaiah’s time all fell short.  Some to idolatry, some to prayerlessness, some to unbelief, legalism, pride (that’s a big one).  Each time these kings found themselves in troubled situations, God reached out to them.  Some accepted His hand and some refused it.  Those who accepted His hand were blessed.  Those who refused it were defeated.  This is a very simple, basic synopsis of what I’ve been reading about.  It goes deep and it is long.  But the principle remains the same.  God wants to help us.  Will we let Him?

Our fight in this world is not against terrorists.  It is not against  Muslims, Christians, Jews, Democrats, Republicans, Communists, etc.  It is not against our nasty neighbor, our abusive parent, our cheating spouse, or our dysfunctional school system.  Our fight is a spiritual war against the devil.  It is the devil who is causing all of these divisions in our world.  He is tempting everyone, using everything, and he is getting his way.  He has us fighting ourselves!

We sit here and wonder why is God not doing anything to help us, to save us from this suffering, to take this away from us.  But He is, He has, and He always will.  We are just not accepting the hand He is extending to us.  I am so thankful that God is so patient with us.  2Peter 3:9 tells us that “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand  slowness.  Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

Don’t you see?  God is waiting patiently for all to repent!  He is giving us chance after chance after chance!  And when we repent, as individuals, as families, as neighborhoods, as cities, as states, as countries, WE WILL BE BLESSED!  The Lord wants to protect us and He wants to deliver us from this evil.  Our culture and our country is saying no, loud and clear.  Everywhere we go, God is being forced out and the devil is being invited in.  We are getting exactly what we have created.

Isaiah 61:1-4 promises the deliverance of those in bondage.
“The spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of despair.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.”

Our freedom is in Christ alone.  He is the deliverer!  He is the one who can release us from this world.  No political party or military plan will work without Christ.  It doesn’t matter if we accept or reject refugees, bind or release prisoners, secure our borders or keep them open.  Without Christ, we have nothing.  Our country needs to repent and praise God.  Until this happens, we will be under spiritual warfare.

I cannot wait for the return of Christ on the earth!  What a glorious and awesome day that will be!  But I am also so thankful for His patience in trying to reach all of His lost lambs.  He is waiting for us, all of us.

Instead of living in fear, let’s stand united in Christ.  Put on His armor.  He is our strength and our shield.  Let this political situation be an opportunity for us to stand together as one, not divided.  Let us minister to these refugee families as they come into our country.  Let us share Jesus with them.  These kids will be in our schools, they will live in our neighborhoods.  Let us not be fearful.  Cry out to God for His strength, His words, His direction.  Let us show these people what a peaceful nation can look like.  Take down the signs of hatred, the political party labels, the denomination disagreements.  Let us be ONE in Christ!  Let us welcome all who come to us and let us be humbled with the opportunity that Christ has given us to share His love with them.

Are you up for the challenge?

Psalm 63

O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you.  My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water.  I have seen you in your sanctuary and gazed upon your power and glory.  Your unfailing love is better to me than life itself; how I praise you!  I will honor you as long as I live, lifting up my hands to you in prayer.  
-Psalms 63:1-4

This is how I feel often, like I cannot get enough of reading God’s Word and learning more about Him.  I look around me and see the broken world that I live in and it is difficult.  But then, I look within, I know that this is not my home!  I know that I am on a journey and this is just a small part of my journey to eternity!  I raise my eyes, lift my hands, and praise God for His grace and salvation!

I want others to feel this.  I want others to know Jesus.  I want others to feel this thirst that is described by David in Psalm 63.  I want others to know that the past is the past and Jesus holds no record of sins.  That His blood alone is atonement for the world’s sins forever!  That simply, through faith in the cross of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven and redeemed!

I have had a lot of changes and transitions in my life over the past several months.  One of which was resigning my teaching job and being at home to support my family and be more available to them.  While this is a wonderful opportunity and I am grateful and blessed that we are financially able to support this family decision, I was nervous.  What am I going to do with myself while everyone is at work/school?  You see, I do not like to be alone.  My mind goes crazy sometimes and I think all sorts of things that are not good or healthy.  However, here I was waving goodbye to my family and finding myself in complete silence…

Some may say that sounds like blessed bliss!  I struggled for a while with finding my way in this new role.  I took to cooking every night, which I love (and so does my husband!)  I shuttle the girls here and there before and after school to various activities.  I now have a routine for laundry, cleaning, shopping, etc and all of this is done while everyone else is at school/work.  I even volunteer in schools a few days a week.  But I was still feeling empty.  I decided I needed direction, not from my husband or children, not from friends, but direction from God.  I needed to know where He wanted me and what He wanted to use me for.

I began to pray.

I participated in a Bible Study at my church.  It was a Beth Moore study called Stepping Up – a journey through the Psalms of Ascent.  This was a fantastic study and journey.  It helped me understand the journey of the Pilgrims as they traveled to Jerusalem each festival season.  It gave me a picture in my mind of life in those days and how these people felt many of the same feelings that we feel today; anguish, desperation, praise, disrespect, ridicule, protection, restoration, blessedness, persecution, promises, harmony, and blessings.  It also showed me how these people relied on God to help them through both the difficult times and the joyous times.

Through this study, I continued to pray.  I prayed for direction.  I prayed for a way to serve others.  I prayed God would lead me.  It was after the Extraordinary Women’s Conference a few weeks ago that I realized that I felt pulled to serve in my community somehow.  Now, for those of you who know me, I am not a people person!  I am not the person who will knock on doors or start conversations!  Going new places gives me a bit of anxiety!  So, this was an interesting pull that I was feeling!

I continued my prayers and asked God to show me what it was He would like me to do.  I do not know how to describe it, except to say that one day during my prayer time, it just came to me!  The WARM Shelter in my community just popped into my head.  WARM (Waynesboro Area Refuge Ministry) is a temporary shelter for women and children who desire the opportunity to gain self-sufficiency and long term stability.  The home can host up to 7 families and assists these families in getting back on there feet, permanently.  In my prayer, I heard God telling me to offer a Bible Study for these women.

I immediately contacted them and shared my prayer.  I filled out a volunteer application and attended an interview.  They shared with me that they were also in prayer for someone to lead a Bible Study for these women who so desperately need it!  WOW!  Isn’t God amazing how He brought us together for His purpose?

I am humbled by this opportunity that I will be starting in early November.  I have been researching studies and thinking about a game plan.  Since the families live in the home for only a short time, up to 6 months, I wanted to make sure I chose studies that they could really fill their Spiritual Toolbox with.  Scripture based studies that would stay with them forever.  I also wanted to choose something I could reuse as a new group of women came in.  I have chosen Beth Moore’s Breaking Free and Priscilla Shirer’s Armor of God.  Both of these studies are deep.  They will help these ladies to realize that they don’t have to be in bondage of their past and that God will protect and guide them wherever they go in the future.  It is my prayer that these women will be blessed by this time together and that they begin to grow a relationship with Jesus that they will take with them wherever they go in life.

I have ordered the materials and books for Breaking Free already and I am so excited!  While there is not a budget in place for Bible Study at WARM, I know that God has called me to do this.  I have faith that others will see the importance of sharing Jesus’ Word to help these families in transition and want to help.  I know God will bless this study and future studies as well.  I can only praise God for answering my prayers and giving me this opportunity to minister to women in my community!

Thank you Jesus for guiding me to this task for you.  Let my words speak of your goodness and grace and be present with me Lord as I minister to these women and their children.  Give me the courage to speak your messages in bold confidence.  Let these women see you in me.  Thank you Jesus!

If you would like to make a donation to Bible Study books and materials to be used at WARM, please click the link below.  Thank you in advance!  God bless!

https://www.youcaring.com/waynesboro-area-refuge-ministry-warm-456750

Merry Christmas….Don’t Call Me Until January!

December is a magical time of the year.  Excitement grows in the young and the old.  Houses sparkle with lights inside and out.  Stockings are hung, trees are trimmed, cookies are baked, knick-knacks are packed away and replaced with small nativity sets, Santa statues, bells and snow globes.  Calendars fill up quickly with activities, events and parties.  All of these preparations are completed to celebrate the coming birth of Jesus Christ.  What a glorious and majestic Advent Season, and such a time to be thankful, joyful and celebratory!

December is a grief stricken month for many.  It is a reminder that someone we love will not put the Angel on the Christmas Tree this year.  A painful sight of a stocking hung that will not be filled or opened on Christmas morning.  A place setting at the table that no one will fill for Christmas dinner.  Those same decorations and ornaments that bring us joy and expectation also bring memories of past Christmases and sorrow.

Being on this grief train is not a choice I had to make.  No one chooses this, but so many live it each day.  We mask it well, most of the time.  Every so often, you may see a glimpse of the roller coaster speeding downhill a little faster than we were prepared for.  We never quite know when it will occur.

So, how does one like myself, (a mom of two girls living and a wonderful and loving husband), share the excitement and expectation of Christmas while feeling the stark pain through my heart as I hang my late son’s stocking?  The little voice of my 5 year old sings behind me and tells me how much she loves that her brother’s stocking is in the middle this year.  I smile to her and blink away the tear in my eye.

My husband is out with my daughters right now choosing a Christmas Tree.  We always put up our tree and decorate it the second weekend in December because it also happens to be my son’s birthday.  (This doesn’t make the season any easier for us.)  However, it is a nice way to celebrate our son and Jesus together and it gives us something productive to do as a family.  I didn’t want to go with them.  This morning, I was so happy and very “Merry Christmas Everyone!”  This afternoon, I am more like, “Call me in January and not before!”  It’s  a quick ride this roller coaster.

So how do you cope?  One day at a time?  Sometimes that is even too much.  I am 7 1/2 years into this grief journey and yes, sometimes one day at a time is still too much for me, especially in December.  So, maybe one hour at a time?  That seems to work most days.  If I feel down, I take an hour “off”.  Maybe read, pray, just take a short nap or rest somewhere.  The ride is so quick, within an hour, I may be ready for baking or tree trimming.

You see, inside my heart is a constant battle.  One part of my heart is joyful and excited for Christmas, just the way you would imagine a small child at this time of the year.  I get excited when the Christmas specials are on TV and I want to watch them live with the commercials because it reminds me of when I was a child and my parents would let me stay up late to see them!  We couldn’t DVR or buy the video and watch it 1000 times a season.  You would watch it when it was on or you had to wait a year!  The other part of my heart feels heavy, so heavy I can’t move.  My chest aches like there are bricks lying on it.  Having these two conflicting feelings occurring simultaneously is confusing, difficult and makes you feel just plain crazy!

I don’t have the answers.  I just know that I might tell you Merry Christmas or I might tell you to call me in January.  Either way, I know I will find my steps through this glorious, grief-stricken, magical and dark season of Christmas.

God Bless you all and please be sensitive to those who who are celebrating this season without a loved one.  It doesn’t matter when that person died, this year or 50 years ago.  The loss is still evident everyday.

Merry Christmas to you all!  Call me in January!

Miracles Do Happen

We read about Jesus’ miracles in the bible.  There are so many!  Turning water to wine, healing the sick, casting out demons, walking on water, just to name a few.  In your mind, have you considered that miracles still occur today?  I knew miracles occurred everyday, I mean, take a look at a newborn baby.  Or cast your eyes on a valley from the top of a mountain.  Listen to a stream or smell the fragrance of wildflowers in a field.  Experience the caterpillar change to a butterfly or a tadpole change to a frog.  Yes, these are all beautiful, everyday miracles.  However, this week, I experienced a miracle that was unlike any of these.

I decided to go hiking.  I have taken up this past-time this summer and despite my trepidation, I have even ventured out solo a few times.  In my mind, it goes against everything my parents have taught me.  However, it is the most solitary, peaceful, beautiful time a person can imagine.  I can hear a stream almost a  mile out before I reach it.  Bird calls have never sounded so clear and distinct.  This time gives me a chance to escape life for a short time and think, pray and experience a part of our world that so many have not seen.

I took many precautions before heading out solo.  I learned that the trails are well marked and safe.   Most injuries on the trails are not from violent crimes.  I learned some of the basic gear I would need and also got  myself a pair of good hiking boots.  I bought a map of our area and some Clif Bars as well.  Then, for added security and safety, I got myself a knife and some pepper spray.  I was ready to head out!

Some of the trails around here are short, one mile hikes.  Others are longer and require a few hours on the trail.  The shorter ones, I have completed several times and have even brought the girls and Pat with me on more than one occasion.  The longer ones I am in the process of tackling myself.  It is on one of these trails where my miracle occurred.

We had gotten home from church on Sunday.  Our family had no plans that afternoon.  My husband had been out to mountain bike on Friday and Saturday and he suggested I go hiking on Sunday to get some fresh air and some alone time.  I readily agreed!  Picking up my map, I plotted out a good course to take.  I planned to park my car in a lot at Mile Post 9 off of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I would walk back along the parkway to Mile Post 6 and pick up the trails here.  Then, I would hike the AT South back to Mile Post 9 where my car was.  It would take me a good 3 hours to accomplish this, maybe a little more.  I was excited!

As I was driving the parkway, I paid close attention to the road between miles 6 and 9, noticing the little to no shoulder.  This is where I would need to be walking shortly.  It was also very curvy with many blind turns.  I would have to be very careful.  I arrived at MP 9 and parked my car.  Sent hubby a text and began my adventure.

I prayed my first prayer.  I asked God to keep safe my family while I was away and to be with me on my hike, most especially on the parkway where walking might be challenging.  Each turn and blind spot I came to, I prayed for safety in getting to the next spot.  Within 45 minutes, I had completed the 3 miles of parkway safely.  Along the way, I had a butterfly land on me and was witness to about 100 others fluttering about landing on flowers right before my eyes.  I was able to stop on an overlook and take in the beautiful valley below and I was able to listen to a stream somewhere in the mountains that I had never heard before riding in my car.  By the time I reached the trail head at MP 6, I was already full of excitement and I was thanking God for protection and also for the beauty I experienced.

I jumped on the trail and it is here I made my first mistake.  I chose the wrong starting path.  There are three to choose from.  Although it was not the best choice for me to start with, it still would take me to where I needed to go if I followed it closely.  I hiked about a mile up and was expecting a junction where I would head south on the AT.  I came to the junction and turned the direction I thought to be south.  However, it was in fact north.  The south trail was hidden from the direction I was headed.  (Had I been turned around, it was very clearly marked and easy to see).  I went on about 1/4 mile and something in my head was telling me that maybe I went the wrong way.  I do have a keen sense of direction.  I should have listened to my inner voice, but I convinced myself that I was on the right path and that there really was not another way to go.  Well, 2 miles down this path I come to a stream that I am familiar with.  It is a beautiful stream, however, it is north, not south of where I need to be heading.  I am now 2 miles down the wrong path.  I have two choices, keep heading north and have my husband pick me up at the next parking lot or back track and head south again.  Well, the next point out of the wood north was another 5 miles at least.  So, I turned around and headed south, a bit frustrated with myself and realizing I was now over an hour behind where  I needed to be.

It is important to keep in mind here that 3 miles of parkway road does not equal 3 miles of hiking trails.  While the road will be relatively direct in route, the hiking path will wind and curve with switchbacks up and down the mountain.  It could very well be double the mileage or more even depending on the terrain.

As I am heading back, I begin realize how far I am now from my car.  I also realize that I began this hike in the middle of that afternoon and that I needed to be conscious of the time or I would find myself in the dark before I reached my car.  I began praying that God would guide me and get me safely to my car.  I had sent my husband a text message to let him know I had taken a wrong turn and was behind by more than an hour.  I kept on trekking.

At some point in my hike, I saw a coiled up snake in my path.  Snakes are one of my least favorite creatures.  I have a fear of them and I do not even really like seeing pictures of them.  Now, here I was looking right at one.  My heart skipped a beat, but I remained calm as I watched it for a moment.  I even took a quick picture.  Although he was quite long, he was very thin.  I did not disturb him and ventured around him to continue my hike.

A few hours later, I was ascending the mountain, trying to reach what is called Humpback Rocks.  It is a beautiful mountain top made of all rock that you can climb out onto.  You feel like you could touch heaven up there!  I knew it was at the top of the switchbacks, which I was climbing, but the switchbacks were never ending.  I could not see the top and it was getting late.  The girls and Pat were probably eating dinner already and I had not even made it to the rocks, which was still close to MP 6.  I still needed to get all the way to 9 before dark.  I started to worry that I may not make it in time.

Right around this time, I glanced forward, and there in front of me was a bear.  She was about 15 yards away maybe.  Right when I saw here, she also saw me.  As we stared at each other for the briefest of moments, I had many thoughts race through my head.  I was trying to remember what to do if you encounter a bear, freeze or run!  Before I had to decide, the bear turned and ran off. However, she ran up the switchbacks I was climbing.  So, now I need to keep on the path knowing there is a bear in the area.  I must admit, I was a bit scared.

I slowly and cautiously walked on, convincing myself that the top of the rocks had to come sooner than later.  I watched the woods carefully and kept my ears alert.  I prayed fervently for God’s protection once more.  I also started realizing very quickly that I was not going to make it to my car by sundown.  You see, in the deep woods, it gets dark very quickly and much earlier than in a town or neighborhood.  The canopy of the trees keeps much sunlight out and as the sun sets, nightfall and night animals are welcomed into the woods.  I sent my husband a text message asking him to meet met at MP 6 to pick me up since I was not going to make to 9, where my car was.  However, just as I finished typing my message, my phone died.

So, here I am in the woods with a dead cell phone, a bear close by and I have no idea how far I am from the rocks.  Now my prayers began to change.  I needed help.  I had not come across a single person since I started hiking 4 hours ago.  I prayed to God and asked him to protect me from the bear and any other creatures.  I asked him to guide me safely to the rocks and I also asked that there be someone safe at the rocks with whom I could hike the rest of the way down the mountain with.  I had no idea how I would know who this person was or how I would judge if they were safe to hike with.  But, I did know that at dusk, it was not safe for me to be hiking all alone down the mountain.

From the rocks to the parking lot at MP6 is just one mile.  I’ve hiked it many times.  My plan was to get to the rocks, hopefully find a kind hiker to tag along with and get out of the woods.  When I got to the lot,I would find a way to call my husband to come rescue me!

Well, about 1/2 hour later, I finally reached the top of the rocks.  And here is where the miracle hits me straight in the face.  Hiking on this Sunday evening at dusk, on a day where i had been hiking for almost 5 hours now and had not seen one single soul, was a church youth group of about 20 kids/adults.  I was so overjoyed to see them, I almost cried!

I went to speak with one the the men who looked to be in charge.  He happened to be the youth pastor.  I am sure he was a bit taken aback and weary of my story, but I simply asked if it would be ok to tag along back down the mountain so I did not have to go alone at this hour.   He agreed.  I made myself comfortable as the group took in the sights.  I chatted with one of the youth for quite a while.  His name was Jacob and he is an 18 year old special needs boy.  He was quite intrigued by my tale of the bear!

I was also able to borrow a cell phone from another in the group to call home and tell Pat I was ok.  I asked him to pick me up at MP 6.  Shortly after, the church group began their decent and I tagged along.  I hiked with Jacob and Pastor Shannon.  We shared some good conversation and I told them how I had prayed for safely and for someone to be able to walk with me down the mountain.  I told Jacob that God had sent his youth group to be my angels!  He found that to be pretty awesome!

At the end of the trail, we parted.  They loaded their church van and I found my husband.  I had probably hiked about 14 miles up and down mountainous terrain.  I had encountered a snake and a bear.  I had played with butterflies and enjoyed the bird songs and the streams.  I had had conversations with God.

God heard my prayers.  I never doubted that He hears my prayers, but He heard my prayers and sent me that youth group.  He kept me safe that day!

I have added some items to my gear since this adventure occurred.  I will now be heading out with a GPS loaded with trail maps, a flashlight and a bear bell!  I also have a back up battery for my phone.

While taking a wrong path in the woods is frightening, it was extremely comforting to know that God was with me.  It was an amazing feeling to see that youth group waiting for me!  I will take precautions to keep myself safe, but I know that God is the ultimate protector.  I have experienced His protection first hand!

2Samuel 22:3-4 my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence. 4 I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.

Psalm 23:1-4 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul.  He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.