Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Voice of My Father

My father passed away over six years ago, and yet, at times, it seems as though time has stood still since I saw him last. In my mind's eye, I can still see him sitting out on the back porch. His legs are crossed: one leg resting atop one knee. And of course, punctuating those long legs of his, cowboy boots. One arm is resting on the arm rest, while the other one, bent at the elbow, is providing his head with a bit of rest, too.

While I vividly recall his mannerisms and gentle ways, it is the words he spoke to me that I remember most. I think this is because he was a man of few words. Even now, I hear his voice of instruction, guidance, humor and spunk.

In winter: Don't forget to pack a sleeping bag in the trunk of your car.

In summer: If you get a flat tire, make sure when you pull over you aren't parking on tall, dry grass. You wouldn't want to start a fire. Oh....and watch for snakes.

In fall: Isn't that the prettiest harvest moon you have ever seen?

In spring: Watch for snakes. (Snakes seemed to be on his mind a lot). The weather is getting warm and they'll be coming out.

In conversation in our home: Talk nice.

When traveling: Don't drive too fast.

After dinner: How about warming us a piece of that peach cobbler and putting a little shot of ice cream on it?

When shopping: Let's just pop in here for a minute and see what they have.

When someone in our family was angry: Why are you mad at me? I didn't throw any rocks at your dog.

When referring to me: How's Daddy's Darlin'?

It is these phrases, these words, that now give me comfort, keep me packing a sleeping bag in my trunk during the cold months of winter, and smiling.

It is no different with my Heavenly Father. Every day, in my heart, I hear his voice speaking to me, too.

In relationships: Love another as I have loved you.

In trials: Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.

In decision-making: Acknowledge me and I will direct your paths.

In my mistakes: Confess your sins to me and I will forgive you.

In my fears: I didn't give you a spirit of fear. I gave you love, power and a sound mind.

In my day-to-day life: I am with you always.

I am so thankful for the gift God gave me in my earthly father. His wisdom and love guide me still. Yet, I am most thankful for my Heavenly Father, the giver of all good gifts, the one who knows me better than I know myself. It is HIS voice that leads me into the paths of righteousness. It is his voice that will lead me to my eternal home.

(Note: I first posted this "Father's Day" post on A MOMENT OF GRACE, a blog where I write daily devotions. Then tonight, I heard my Heavenly Father's voice encouraging me to share it with all of my wonderful HEARTPRINT OF GOD readers, too!)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

No Longer Needed

No longer needed. I will never forget the day these three words infiltrated my ear and bombarded their way into my life. I was on a field trip with my school when the hotel phone rang. Unbeknownst to me, the ringing of the phone didn't simply signal someone on the other end of the line, but that my 12-year teaching career at a Christian school was at an end, too. Words that took less than three seconds to hear have taken me three years to appreciate.

It's often hard to understand God's plan for our lives. When trials come, we are left with questions, doubt and oftentimes, bitterness. Yet, as Christians, we are promised that God is always with us and that all things ultimately work for our good. My reminder of these promises came later that same day during the first stop on our field trip.

Three months earlier, I made a reservation for my class to visit a museum of biblical archaeology. I had never been to this museum before, but felt impressed that the Lord could use our visit to teach my students about His realness, and thus become more real in each of their lives. It was my life, however, where His presence would be felt the most that day. What I thought was a reservation for a school field trip, was instead a divine appointment.

Upon arriving at the museum, I was greeted with a warm smile and a big hug from our hostess for the tour. After the earlier news, this welcome felt as though heaven itself had come down to greet me. Instantly, my anxiety vanished and God's peace began to fill my heart. We were ushered into a room filled to overflowing with ancient artifacts and given white gloves to put on. Not only would we be learning about some of these artifacts, but we would also have the opportunity to hold them in our hands.

As we sat in this room, surrounded by the evidence of God and His leading in the past, our hostess began to speak words that assured me of God's leading in my future. First, she handed me an old clay pot. During the days of Abraham, this pot would have been home to a continual flame, a symbol to all of God's continual presence. As the Bible scholar placed this artifact in my hands, she told me to remember that God is always with us, no matter what may be happening in our lives at the time. As I held this timeworn pot, a timeless truth took seed in my heart. Just as God was always with His children in the past, He is always with His children today.

Next, our attention was drawn to the amazing story of Joseph. Once again an artifact was placed in my hand, and a word from God was placed in my heart. With a few ancient coins, representing the amount for which Joseph was sold, I connected to this Bible figure in a way unlike before. We shared a lot in common it seemed. His brothers gave little thought to selling him for a few coins, and my boss gave no thought to "selling out" on me either. We were both no longer needed. We were each someone of little value and worth in the eyes of those who should have cared for us.

As the words of that morning's conversation replayed in my mind and overtook my thoughts, the words of our hostess brought me back to the museum and back to God. "Have you ever been treated unfairly?" she asked. "Have you been sold for a cheap amount and left feeling worthless and no longer needed? You can be sure of this promise, what Satan meant for your harm, God will use for your good." Then she closed my fingers tightly around the coins and said directly and boldly to me, "And for you, even better."

As I held these coins of insignificant value, God revealed to me the invaluable significance of His plans. The news I received earlier was not a dead end, but rather an avenue through which God was about to do something new and better in my life. Hope burst into my heart, shoving out the rejection and hurt that sought to take up residence. I put those coins back into the hands of our hostess, and humbly and gratefully placed my life and my future back into the hands of my God.

All too soon, our time at the museum came to an end. My class left excited about the next destination on our field trip, and I left excited about the next destination in my life. I stepped out into the sunshine and into my future, confident that God was still present in my life and that He was going to do something even better.

The "better thing" God was doing in my life started coming into focus the moment I learned of an opening in a school twenty minutes away from my parents' home. My father's health had been gradually declining, and my heart longed to be closer to him during his final days on earth. After sending my resume, and a quick interview, I found myself moving into a new classroom, and back into the home of my parents.

The God of Abraham and Joseph, in His infinite wisdom and love, had brought me full circle. Here, living under the same roof as my ailing father, my life kept on getting better. I was given the awesome privilege of ministering to my precious father in this, the most needful and fragile time of his life. I was the one able to sit by his bed, hold his hand, and listen to the words of his heart.

It was Christmas-time when my father passed away. Sitting at his funeral, my thoughts went back to that life-changing day three years earlier. The phone call...the museum...the artifacts...the words. Not the words "no longer needed," but rather the powerful words of a God who loved me so much he closed one door to open another. The words of God who longed to meet my needs while meeting the need of my father. I thought of the words from a faithful God who promises to be with us no matter what, and to take what Satan means for our harm and turn it around for our good.

The hostess was right and her words were true. God did something even better in my life. He didn't take from me, He gave to me a gift that would have gone unopened had it not been for that phone call, and those three words.

(Note: I was blessed to have this story published in the March 2008 edition of P31 WOMAN, a magazine published by PROVERBS 31 MINISTRIES.)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mountaintops, Valleys and Life In-Between

This past week I had the most amazing experience. I was privileged to be part of a week long summer camp for children in 4th-6th grade. I have to admit that prior to last week, the idea of being a camp counselor was not something I was looking forward to. Don't get me wrong. I love children. I love the mountains. I just wasn't sure how spending a whole week....24-7....with these youngsters in the mountains was going to turn out. I overlooked the fact that God would also be with us at this camp. What a difference He makes!!!!!

We settled into our bunks, acquainted ourselves with the camp, and it wasn't long before I discovered I loved "mountaintop living". Here, there were no TVs, no computers, and no cell service. Only trees, a small pond, squirrels, fresh air, each other and God.

Each day started and ended with Worship. Sometimes Worship was held in the small, wooden chapel. Other times, God's creation itself was the setting of our praises and our worship. As we breathed in the cool, fresh mountain air, it was easy to breathe in God's spirit. As we sat in the silence of the stillness of the mountains, it was easy to hear God's still small voice. As we focused on the only thing that truly matters in life...

it was easy to keep our focus on Christ.

All too soon, though, our time on the mountain was over. It was time to pack our bags, exchange addresses and say our goodbyes. Sitting in the small chapel for the last time, I tried to capture it all in my heart. The angelic voices of children singing praises. The smiles on their faces. The presence of God. For a moment, it felt like "heaven on earth" and I longed to stay in this moment. It was so easy to experience God in this place. It's not so easy when you come down off the mountain.

The speaker at this final worship service knew this, too. And yet, this wise women of faith reminded us that while God is with us on the mountaintop, He is also with us in the valleys of life.

I knew this, too. My heart and my life could attest to this very truth. It was during the lowest times of my life that God became the most real to me. It was when I was walking through the fire that I felt God's presence walking beside me. I had felt God on the mountain, but I had come to know God in the valleys.

As I sit here tonight, the time at camp now but a memory, I give thanks to God. I thank God that I can still start and end my day in worship. I thank God that I can still choose to sit in silence before Him each day and hear His still small voice. I thank God that I serve a God who has promised to never leave me nor forsake me. I thank God that always, He is here.

I have to admit, now that I have been a camp counselor for a week, I am not looking forward to heading back into my "normal" life. Don't get me wrong. I love my life. I love where God has me. I'm just not sure how my life, the day to day, 24-7 of it, is going to turn out.

Yes...I have come down off the mountain, but what I must never overlook is the fact that God has come down with me. What a difference He makes!!!

(Note: I wrote this in July 2010. This past weekend, I was blessed to attend yet another camp and enjoy another mountain top experience with God. Once again, He was faithful to meet me there, and once again, I know He will be faithful to accompany me back here.... to the day to day living of my life. What an AWESOME God we serve. What a faithful friend we have in Jesus. What a Saviour!)