When the Future Seems Dim

‘‘I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord. 

“They are plans for peace and not disaster, 

plans to give you a future filled with hope.”  Jeremiah 29:11

I was just a teenager when this verse first jumped off the page for me.  I was depressed, although that was not clear to me at the time.  I remember feeling hopeless, and deeply sad.  For many reasons, I could not see a future.  I could not picture myself in the future.

But I did know that God was near me.  I knew that He saw my sadness.  I knew that I could cry and feel hopeless, and that He cared for me.  I had first asked Him to “come into my heart”  when I was 3 years old, and my simple faith began at that moment.  I never feared that He would leave me.  I struggled with many, many fears along my life’s path, but the one constant Truth that I could hold tightly was that He was there.

Looking back on the Path along which He has led me, I never had any doubt that He was near…walking with me, watching over me, gently guiding my steps.  Many times, I did not want to walk the Path, as it was too scary . . . too painful . . . too lonely . . . and at times too dark.  Yet I knew absolutely that He was there.  He was with me.   He wasn’t fixing everything.  He wasn’t parting the clouds and shining His Light for me to see or understand all that was surrounding me.  But I knew that He was with me.  That simple truth was what I could hold on to.

God’s message through Jeremiah is simple, but oh, so powerful.  No matter what tomorrow holds, no matter what sadness is surrounding our days. . . our hearts, He is carrying out His Plan in each of our lives.   

Would I have ever imagined that I would be a widow. . . that I would be without the church I had helped birth and build beside my husband for most of my adult life?  No.  This part of my journey has been very difficult and painful.   

But I also have to ask myself, would I have ever imagined that I would be the grandmother of 12 loving, delightful children, the mother of three wonderful, wise, loving sons and the beautiful (inside and out) wives they chose  . . . lovingly raising “the 12.”  

And would I have ever imagined being deeply involved with a Muslim nation that has welcomed the Good News of Jesus.  No, I would have never imagined such a thing.  

Though I would not have written the Story of my life that has unfolded, I can have Peace of mind and heart knowing that His Plans for me have truly been best.

Growing Love

“I pray that your love will keep on growing because of your knowledge and insight. 

That way you will be able to determine what is best and be pure and blameless 

until the day of Christ.”

Philippians 1:9-10

I’m sitting in a corner of a beautiful old New York hotel lobby, having completed my “petition” to the United Nation’s Fourth Committee, which has been involved with the long-time tragedy of the desert people I love so much.. . the Saharawi.  Each year, people with “inside” knowledge can come and speak of what they have experienced, and ask on the Saharawi’s  behalf for a just solution.  

It is always an emotionally troubling experience, and does not get easier for me.  Often I have to listen to words that I know come from scripted speeches that have little to do with truth.  My first time here, many years ago now, I remember wanting to pick up my chair and throw it at some folks who had never even been in the refugee camps, yet spoke scathing lies of the camps.  

Over the years, I have much less of those intense emotions.  Somehow, knowing what is true, and knowing that God loves my desert people far more than I can, has helped me to look to Him more, trust Him more, and entrust Him more with them.   

Looking at Jesus’ example while He walked the earth, seeing, experiencing, and tasting of the human experience we all share, His consistent choice was to love.  When He spoke, it was loving, even when “love” included uncomfortable Truth and corrections.  The Example that He lived out in our world is for us to follow.  His actions,  and reactions help us to check our own.

This morning, I went into one of those fantastically yummy New York Bakery/Cafe’s, and ordered coffee and a pastry I never heard of before.  (It was amazing.)  But out of the window, I saw a man on the corner who I recognized from the UN group to which I give testimony about the Saharawi people.  I (uncharacteristically) left my spot and shot out the door to greet him.  First, I interrupted something he was typing on his phone, then I startled him with my forwardness.  Then I greeted him with a familiar Saharawi phrase.  I was kind of proud of myself for my courage to initiate a little interchange.   Well…. He was not of the Saharawi of the camps.  He was from “the other side” of the conflict.  The “enemy.”  After his startled expression, he said I had mistaken him, but with a chuckle.  He said, “Thank you.”  I said, “Sorry!” and ran back to my vacated chair inside.  

Well, that hadn’t gone as I had expected, but I had accidentally made a friendly gesture to an “enemy” of my people and I felt good about it.  Sheepish, but good.  

And the next time, I think it will be easier.  

The Double-Take

“Let us look only to Jesus.”

Hebrews 12:2

This morning, I went into the lambs’ pasture to spend a bit of time with them.   They were in their usual morning routine of finding cozy little spots clustered together under trees and shady places beside stacks of logs.  A few would lift their heads to note my presence, but quickly returned to their napping.

But my little Easter-lamb was munching away on some grass away from the rest.  She lifted her head and caught sight of me.  She actually did a “double-take”.  Then she did her “Baaa-aaa” of greeting and returned to her munching.  I chuckled at her double-take….I had never seen that before and it warmed my heart to know she recognized me and called out her little greeting.  It was sweet.   I didn’t need her to run over or change what she was doing.  Her simple greeting…the little double-take…was enough to brighten my day.

And I wondered….do I make God smile when, in the midst of my “normal”, I glimpse His Presence – “see Him” – and acknowledge Him with a simple thought or word?  Does it bring Him a touch of joy in the moment?   My Good Shepherd has His Eye on me, whether I notice or not.  But the notice . . . a simple, pure reaction of seeing Him in my normal day, I do believe matters to Him.  His Eye is on me . . . on you . . . every moment of every day.  

I want to be that lamb that notices and recognizes His Presence in my “normal.”  I want to give Him moments of Joy.  I want to make Him smile.  

May I often “double-take” with Him.

Show and Tell

“Train a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not turn away from it.”

Proverbs 22:6

I currently live in a home with 4 children, ages 8 months to 7 years…(and their parents, Thank God!)  LOTS of activity….lots of interactions….lots of activity (did I say that already???)   They’re all at different levels of understanding, temperament, and focus capabilities.   They’re also home-schooled, so there’s a lot of teaching and learning going on.   Hopefully.

My grandchildren are actively learning educationally.  Books, activities, games, and physical experiences.  They are learning things that will benefit them on many levels for the rest of their lives.

But this verse in Proverbs is not so much focused on intellectual learning.  Training is very inter-active in nature . . . not so much in intellectual information, but in life skills that will carry them throughout all that LIFE will bring their way.   No easy answers, no clear equations, not book learning.  Training requires active engagement, where both the trainer and the trainee are working together.  It’s “Do what I do…” stuff that will stick with them throughout their lives.

Years ago, I had an interpreting job that was, thankfully, a one-time-only job.  I had to interpret a welding job training to a deaf young man.  All the pre-training of information had been done in the classroom.  Now it was “hands-on” time.  He, his trainer, and I had our welding equipment on, and it was time to actually weld.   “One…two…three….masks down.” 

Instantly, we were all in the dark. The mask had a blackened shield to block out the searing welding flame.  But without being able to hear and see the trainer, the training quickly turned into laughter as the deaf man and I realized that we could not see each other at all.  No lip-reading possible.  No sign language visible.  We were all in the dark….literally.  The trainer was talking and doing his training, I could hear him, but the deaf young man could neither hear or see the trainer’s words, nor my hands signing to him.  I couldn’t even see him!  Needless to say, no hands-on training took place that day!   But we all had a good laugh.

Essential to training is the full experience of seeing, understanding, gaining the necessary knowledge, and watching it lived-out by the trainer.  It’s not normally a “one time” training. Repetition is essential.  And the success of the training depends on how we have conveyed the message in ways that will be most easily absorbed by those watching and learning from our lives. 

What are we living out to our children . . . grandchildren  . . . as well as the Believers in our lives?   Learning through Book knowledge, or through verbal information is important.   But actively living out the realities of following Christ in our daily lives is how those who are watching will best see, absorb, and learn.  

Anyone who has chosen to follow Christ steps into an instant “trainer” role, whether intentional or not.   We become one of His own.  And as our world watches, we begin to “train” through our very lives, every day, 24/7.  

So . . . what are those close to you learning from your life?

      

Sweet Rest

“You will feel confident because there’s hope, 

and you will look around 

and rest in safety.”

Job 11:18

This morning I had a truly precious experience.  God has been giving me glimpses of what it means to be one of His Own, using children and sheep as His primary “visual aids.”

I had made my daily morning trek out to the sheep pasture.  In the past six months it’s become a very sweet venue for God to speak to my heart.  Experiencing real sheep in a real pasture was never in my plan, but it was apparently in God’s Plan for this chapter of my life.

Maneuvering through the fence of the sheep’s field, I was greeted as usual by the two little orphaned and abandoned lambs for whom I’ve helped care since they were born.  I headed to a rickety old wooden “spool” I use as a table, and set up my weathered old chair.  Taking out my notepad and pen, I was interrupted by Easter and Autumn calling their “Maaaa’s” as they headed to my humble ‘writing table.’  One on each side of me, they nudged my legs, waiting for me to scratch their soft ears and wooly faces.  

Trying to focus on thoughts toward my Good Shepherd, I was being interrupted by the insistent nudges of the two lambs on each side of me.  Finally, I laid down my pen and just focused on scratching the two sweet faces resting their heads on my knees.  As I rubbed their wooly faces, I surveyed the scene that surrounded me: large mama sheep munching grass, and then lying down in a tangled pile of old logs, ewes, branches and lambs. Birds, butterflies, and flowers  

drew my attention as I rubbed the soft heads.

Then, I heard a new, quiet sound beside me.  Easter had fallen asleep with her furry head resting on my knee as I scratched her nubby neck and head.  Standing, she was leaning into me, her dark brown eyes closed. She was asleep.  

That simple, touching moment caught my heart and I sensed a Whisper of my name from my Good Shepherd.  He was near.  He was with me.  No words necessary.  My soul could be at rest with that.

Imitate Me as I Imitate Christ…

       “Imitate Me as I Imitate Christ…”

                                                  1 Corinthians 11:1

He’s 3 years old, and loves to hang out with his “Omi”  (Gramma….me.)   He wants to do what I do, “help me”, and be close.   He loves to ‘nuggle’ with me and has a funny little compulsion to slip his icy little fingers up into my warm armpit whenever he can.  (It always evokes a spontaneous “AAAHH” of surprise from me!)

This morning, as I was having my quiet time, he slipped into my room to see what I was doing.  I had to leave for a minute, but when I came back, I found his little rocking chair had been carried by him and placed next to mine, and a little footstool beside it with his drawing papers, a crayon pouch, and his little grey, plastic “alien-buddy” waiting for him.   He was ready.  Although uninvited, and without a word, he was ready to join me in my daily routine of “time with Jesus.”

The sweet simplicity of his quiet preparation for our “quiet time” together was so sweet!   I chuckle every time I think about it.   There was no “lesson preparation” on my part for having a

Devotional time with him.  There hadn’t even been a thought on my part to include him.  Yet, here he was….ready to join me in my time with God.   

May my eagerness to “do what Jesus does” be as pure . . . with the childlike simplicity He taught us:   “Follow Me . . . Come near to Me . . . Do what I do . . . Love like I have loved you.” 

At His Feet

“…When he saw Jesus, he fell at His feet.”

Mark 5:22

This morning, I made my daily visit to the lambs in their pasture.   The two lambs that have  become very dear to me made their usual little trots over to where I sit to watch them.  Baa-ing their sweet welcome, they were soon checking out if I had any treats for them.  I settled into a shady place in the old, weathered chair we leave in their pasture for such visits.  And it almost never fails that, as I sit quietly watching them, and listening for my Good Shepherd’s quiet words to come to my heart, I will have a very clear thought that I can begin “chewing on” as I spend some quiet time with those sweet, funny lambs.

Watching the usual sheep activity – mostly chewing grass (them – not I!) – I realized that one of the orphans (Autumn) had settled on the ground touching my feet.   She just laid there chewing on the grass that she had eaten.  The other lamb (Easter) came to my side, making it clear that she just wanted to be scratched around her ears and on her head.  Both lambs simply stayed right there, peacefully looking around and soaking up the time together.  

I couldn’t help but think about several times the Bible mentions someone “sitting at the feet of Jesus”, and the encouragement for us to do that.  What was happening at my own feet was the sweetest, dearest little taste of what that experience is like.  The two lambs were not looking for any food or treats from me. . . they were simply, contentedly at my feet, enjoying the  touch and presence of being there with each other.

Is that how Jesus wants it to be between Him and me?  Between Him and You?  Just  being quiet and near.  No words were necessary.  There was peace.  There was a sweetness in that simple space.  The lambs were no different than any other day . . . no adjusting of themselves, or requirements in the shared Moment.  The same was true of me . . . it was just one of those special, unplanned moments, when I sensed that God was giving me a taste of the sweetness of simply being together with Him.  The world did not stop turning . . . the annoying little gnats did not stop bugging us . . . but that all faded as that unplanned Moment  surrounded us.  

May we learn to simply be content resting at His Feet, sensing His Presence, His Care,  His Touch. 

What Are You Worried About?

“Let go of your concerns! 

Then you will know that I am God. 

I rule the nations.

 I rule the earth.”  

I am a worrier.  But I used to be worse.

I remember watching a kid who was so worried that he might have to share one of his toys with another child.  Each time his little visiting  friend reached for one of the toys, the boy would grab and hold onto it.  Soon, his arms were so full of his toys that he couldn’t play with any of them.  On top of that, he had gotten onto his tricycle as he struggled to keep holding onto his toys, lest his little friend take one to play.  Thus, he couldn’t really ride his tricycle because of all the toys he was trying to hang onto.  And he couldn’t enjoy the toys, either.. 

The boy definitely needed an attitude adjustment.  

Most likely, so do we.

I am in the midst of moving from a 2000 sq.ft. house to a 500 sq.ft. house.  The whole experience has been one of peeling my fingers off of my stuff and letting it go.  And guess what… I hardly miss any of it.  (Well…a few things, but I’m still breathing.)  

God is well-aware of all the concerns we carry in our hands.  We worry about what will happen if we peel our fingers off and let go.  But as long as we keep holding on, keep juggling all of it as we try to peddle our little trike-lives, the more we miss out on even enjoying what really does matter.   Whatever we hold onto in our worries and fears can never come close to what God has for us.  His reminders, “I rule the nations.  I rule the earth”  bring us a fresh reminder…true perspective…..of this earthly life we hold onto so tightly.  It’s like holding onto all our toys while perching on our cool tricycles.  No wonder we aren’t really getting anywhere!

The One Who rules the nations . . . Who rules the earth awaits, Hands open.  Able to handle all our earthly concerns, He waits for us to put all our things into His Hands, and to trust Him with it.  

Sitting at His Feet

“They came to Jesus and found the man the demons had departed from, 

sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind.”  

Luke 8:35

Have you ever sat quietly at someone’s feet?  It’s been a very rare occurrence for me. 

But recently, I was out with our lambs, sitting on the weathered old chair we leave out there. Simply listening to the quiet. . . feeling the warmth of the sunshine…and soaking in the stillness.  The lambs were quietly grazing and munching the grass, and I was enjoying the scene, thinking my own thoughts.

Then, I realized that “my” little Easter lamb had quietly made her way to where I was sitting, finding grass to munch around my feet.  As she quietly bit off each bit of grass, she chewed for a few moments and then took the next bite. All the while, she was staying within arm’s reach, and I would rub her soft ears and the tightly matted black fur of her head.  At times our eyes would meet.  In those quiet moments, I was softly touched by her choice to graze so near to me.  

And I wondered . . . is this how my Good Shepherd feels when I simply come near, right up to His Feet, and choose to stay awhile?  No words necessary.  Just to be near.  . . within arms’ reach . . . for a while.  

Little Black Lamb – IX

“Certainly goodness and mercy will stay close to me all the days of my life, 

And I will remain in the Lord’s house for days without end.”

This “little lamb” has seen and done a lot in my lifetime.  More than I would have ever imagined.  At the age of 3, I had known that Jesus was the only way to have my heart made clean.  And I really wanted to have a clean heart.  I wanted to see Jesus someday in Heaven, and live there with Him forever.  I stepped into “the Lord’s house” where I have remained throughout my life.

Looking back at over 6 decades on this earth, this “little lamb” has experienced a lot:

  • A lot of love
  • A lot of sadness
  • Being a “preacher’s kid” from 3 years old on
  • Mother of 3 sons, grandmother of 12 “lambs”
  • Being a pastor’s wife throughout adulthood
  • Death of my husband
  • Loss of the work we’d pioneered and led for 36 years together
  • Interpreter for the Deaf career
  • Musician
  • Outreach work in North Africa spanning 20+ years
  • World traveler
  • Writer

Through all of it, the good, the bad, the joys and tragedies, I can truly say that “Goodness and mercy has stayed close to me all the days of my life.”

And when my days on this earth end, this lamb will fully step into and remain in the House of the Lord, forever!