Cool, Refreshing Water

It has been SO hot! I know we have not had the extremely high temperatures that many places have, but 90 is very hot for us mountain folk. So, Phil and I took some of our grandchildren to the river.

Getting in the cool water that flows from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was so refreshing! We brought tubes and some of us floated in the cool wetness, while others stacked rocks, threw rocks, or just played in the water.

It felt so good.

As I floated, leaning back on the headrest of my tube, I found myself reflecting on just how lovely it felt to relax in the coolness of the river.

It was refreshing, something I needed after the heat of the day.

I also need spiritual refreshing from time to time because of the stress (heat) of life.  It builds up, just as heat does, and we can be overcome by that pressure without realizing it.

Jesus addresses this very issue in John 7: 37-39

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

Rivers of living water flowing from within!

This refreshing, flowing, continuous LIFE comes from the Holy Spirit. When I feel overwhelmed, discouraged, even defeated spiritually, I must allow the Holy Spirit to flow in and through me. This living water, the Holy Spirit, is received when we become Christians, and dwells within us.

Just as the cool water of the river refreshes me physically, God’s Holy Spirit refreshes me spiritually.

May we be faithful to let the living water flow.

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God’s Expectations

Phil and our first-born

” I could never live up to his expectations.”

How often have you heard this tragic statement in regard to someone talking about a parent? Sometimes a father, sometimes a mother, but equally heart-rending. Living with the feeling that you did not measure up is sometimes debilitating, but always hurtful.

The offending parent may have never verbalized their attitude towards the child, but in this case actions do speak louder than words. Looks of disdain, ignoring a child’s presence or needs,  just being too busy to listen all communicate lack of regard for a child.

Making fun of a child who makes a mistake, whether physical or verbal, is so hurtful. This can not only make a child feel inadequate, but can make a child feel like not trying something new for fear of failure.

We parents and grandparents must guard our speech to prevent hurtful words from wounding our children. Words spoken in frustration and impatience are especially scaring. One of the most harmful responses to a child is comparing that child to someone else in a negative way. “Why can’t you be like so and so…..?”

“Why can’t you be more like your brother?”

I have an older brother who was a high achiever in everything he did. He made excellent grades, was a good athlete, played the trombone, and NEVER got in trouble. Thankfully, my parents made it a point to not compare myself or my younger brother to our older sibling.

My younger brother can fix anything. He was this way as a young child. Whenever he visits, he fixes something. (Oh, about our coo-coo clock…when are you coming to visit?)

My parents expressed pleasure when I won the bubble-blowing contest, praised me for the grades I earned, and more importantly, supported my unique pursuits in artistic expression and theater, things my brothers did not do.

I do not remember a sense of competition in our home – but a realistic expectation that each of us would do our personal best. We are all different, and encouraging those differences seemed important in our family. My brothers may see it differently than I do, being the only girl, I always felt valued for who I was.

What a gift!

Phil and I tried to do the same with our four children, celebrating their differences and unique qualities. I can’t say that there was never competition between them, but it was self-inflicted, not from their father or me. The following Scripture is very meaningful to me –

Psalm 62:5   “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him.

It is natural for parents to have expectations for their children.

We must make certain that our children know we love and accept them unconditionally. They must know that our love is not based on whether or not they meet our expectations.  The second part of that verse holds the key – “my expectation is from Him”. We must allow God to form our children according to HIS good pleasure, not ours.

I find this verse, Ephesians 3:20 in the Amplified version, so encouraging –

“Now to Him Who, by (in consequence of) the [action of His] power that is at work within us, is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly, far over and above all that we [dare] ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams]–“

Now I can think of some pretty wonderful things to have happen for my children and grandchildren!

Yet this verse states the fact that what God, our Father, has planned for them is better than anything I can even think or dream!

So – the challenge for us as parents and grandparents is to let our expectations come from God.

Sure Footing

 

Mt. Precipice overlooking the Sea of Galilee

“Just put your foot on the next staple, then move your hands down and lower yourself to the staple below. Keep doing that until you are at the bottom.”

“just” –  does that word cause you to pause?

It should. One person’s “just” may be a significant challenge for someone else. As in “just tell him “no” – when you want your child to stop doing something that may be dangerous. Depending on the child, that may or may not be a simple solution.

Something that challenges me down to the very fiber of my being, may be “just climbing down a cliff” to someone else.

While in Israel, the main quality of the topography that Phil and I noticed were the rocks. (This is besides everything being very dry unless it is irrigated.) Rocks were everywhere. In the ancient sites and ruins we visited, the buildings were constructed of rocks and are therefore still visible. This makes perfect sense because rocks are in such abundance and people throughout history use what is available to construct dwellings.

After seeing rocks everywhere, it should have come as no surprise that our group would be asked to descend a rock formation.

Yet, Elaine and I WERE surprised!

We had hiked up a steep slope through brown grass that was sprinkled with flowers, startling in their beauty because everything around was so brown. The end of our climb was a spectacular panoramic view. This mountain was called Mt. Precipice.

I looked up the word precipice  – it means – a very steep rock face or cliff, typically a tall one. The name was so appropriate and should have been a clue of what was to come.

After our guide James pointed out the significance of the surrounding landscape and what Jesus would have seen during his time, we saw where we would be hiking next, even where we would be spending the night. (FAR in the distance!)

James then said, “We are just going to descend this cliff. It is a bit tricky, but we will help each other.”

The path James led us to was straight down!

You can see from the photo that I am not exaggerating. We were told that morning  before we left that there were some “rocky bits” and “one strenuous part.” We had been on rocky bits the whole trail. I should have know that when James said “strenuous” it really would be. There were large iron staples embedded in the rock face to hold on to and step on as one climbed down.

I watched as the others started descending first. I was so proud of Elaine! What a trooper! She went down from hand/foot hold to hand/foot hold, step by step.

As I watched Elaine descend, I knew I could as well. She went before me, making sure each of her steps was on sure footing.

Elaine’s example gave me courage and encouragement to make the descent myself. My biggest concern was making sure my foot was securely on a staple before I put my weight on it and went down to the next staple. I wasn’t sure I could see the next staple.

Phil went before me and when I needed it, he guided my foot to the next staple. Once I felt the staple under my foot – sure footing – I was fine.

Needless to say, we all made it down in one piece.

I have thought since then that this is a picture of our walk with God and how important the Body of Christ is. In life we come to those times where we are on a precipice, we are not sure where to go, or how to face what we see ahead. It may seem that there is NO WAY forward. Yet if we look around, God often provides someone who is going through something similar – right before us – and that person can support and guide us along the way.

Seeing Elaine descend successfully, then having Phil guide my feet, prevented me from being paralyzed by fear or being left behind on the mountain.

In Psalm 37:23-24 it says –

23 The Lord makes firm the steps
    of the one who delights in him;
24 though he may stumble, he will not fall,
    for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

In Psalm 40, David encourages me –

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
    and put their trust in him.

We can encourage one another as we walk with God, encourage each other to keep out feet on the Rock, our sure footing.

Don’t Give Up

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This camellia is just beautiful right now! I was lamenting the fact that it is blooming so early and that a freeze or frost might kill the blooms.

Phil said to just enjoy it while it lasts. Stop worrying about what MIGHT happen.

So, I am trying to do that. I have no control over the weather, or how that weather effects our plants. It has been unseasonably warm this February and things are budding out and blooming earlier than I can ever remember.

This camellia is a bush we transplanted from Phil’s Aunt Priscilla’s home after she passed away at 95. We had given her this plant for her 80th birthday (I think) and she had taken special care of it. She fertilized it regularly and pruned errant limbs as needed. When Phil’s family was getting ready to put Aunt Cil’s house on the market, we went to collect some items with special memories for Phil.

Phil decided he wanted the camellia bush, so he got a shovel and began to dig it up. The roots were much deeper that he anticipated and it was quite an effort to finally dig it out. We were not sure that it would make it, if there was enough root still attached to maintain life when transplanted in our yard.

So, we brought the plant 146 miles from Moravian Falls to Dillsboro and took great care in transplanting this camellia. Phil dug a large hole, put in rich, composted soil from the garden, and then planted the camellia, watering it generously.

And, we KEPT watering it. My father took it upon himself to make sure it did not dry out, which would kill what roots were left.

The leaves on the plant gradually dried up and fell off. (For those that don’t know, camellias are an evergreen shrub, they only shed leaves as new leaves push-off the old ones)

Soon, there was only three brown stems where there had once been a lovely, full shrub.

Well, we left it that winter and hoped that maybe new growth would poke out in the spring.

Nothing happened.

No new leaves.

So, later in June, I decided that I would plant something else in the place of that camellia. I started to dig around the bottom of those dead looking stems and …

SURPRISE!

There was a new stem starting to poke up from a root next to the old, main stem! I was so excited, I called Phil to come over and see that puny little stem.

We took great care then to water, protect, and nurture that fragile little stem. Now, four years later, it is a vigorous bush with lovely pink blooms as you can see from the above photo.

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In Galatians 6:9-10 Paul says this –

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. 10 Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.

Notice Paul is encouraging the Christians in Galatia to NOT GIVE UP!

We must be careful not to give up on

  • our children
  • our grandchildren
  • our teenagers
  • our parents
  • OURSELVES

Paul encourages us that at “just the right time” we will reap the harvest – or see the results.

IF WE DON’T GIVE UP!

God’s time is not our time.

God is God.

I would have missed the blessing of these beautiful blossoms if I had given up on Aunt Cil’s camellia.

We will miss God’s blessing if we give up on those we love and care about.

And, may we do good to everyone.

 

Be an Ambassador

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My daughter Hannah and I had the privilege of staying two nights in the home of the Ambassador of the Republic of Haiti in 2006 when we were visiting Washington, DC.

We had a lovely visit and even went to a celebration of Nigeria’s Independence Day at the Nigerian Embassy with our host and hostess. I saw the most beautiful dresses there that I have ever seen!

How did we happen to have this amazing opportunity?

Well, the story starts in 1956 when I was 5 years old.

I grew up in an old farmhouse that evolved into a house in a neighborhood four blocks from Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois. My parents housed students from Wheaton College to help pay their mortgage.

One of those students was a brilliant young man, Raymond Joseph, from Haiti. He was studying at the college and would always greet us in the mornings and evenings in French as he passed by us to his room upstairs. He had the most beautiful smile and was always interested in what my brothers and I were doing.

Raymond Joseph went on to study at the University of Chicago and later worked as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and worked as a leader in the Haitian opposition movement of then dictator, Francois Duvalier.

You can imagine my surprise when I got a telephone call 55 years later from Raymond Joseph!

He was calling from Washington, DC where he was living and serving as Ambassador to the United States from Haiti. Raymond had been in touch with my mother and she had given him my phone number. We talked for a long time catching up and reminiscing.

He said that if we ever came to Washington, DC we were welcome to stay with him.

Don’t ever say that to the Woodys – we will come!!!

We had the most delightful visit. Ambassador Joseph had his limo pick us up and drop us off for a tour of the Haitian Embassy. We talked at length about the issues facing his homeland and his efforts to work for progress and real change for his people. His love for Haiti and his people was evident in his home, his office, and all he shared with us.

The definition of ambassador is – an accredited diplomat sent by a country as its official representative to a foreign county.

Raymond Joseph was an excellent ambassador. He represented Haiti well from 2005 to 2010.

The recent appointments of ambassadors for our new administration has prompted the above memories and also started me thinking of our role as ambassadors for Jesus Christ.

II Corinthians 5:20-21 says –

20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin,  so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

What a beautiful message of reconciliation!

We, God’s children, should be representing our Heavenly Father in such a way as to make others who aren’t Christians desire to become part of God’s kingdom.

Are we being good ambassadors?

Do our children, grandchildren, friends, co-workers, anyone we come in contact with – do they see a Jesus in us who loves them so much He died for them?

  • Do others see grace or condemnation?
  • Do they see joy or sadness?
  • Do they see faith or fear?

God is making His appeal through us!

May we be faithful ambassadors of the kingdom of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not Ashamed

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I am visiting my mother this week. I am staying with Mom in her apartment at the retirement community where she lives in Wheaton, Illinois.

This week is the year anniversary of my father’s passing on to his eternal reward. He is greatly missed.

My mother is doing well. She is active –

  • physically – exercising regularly
  • mentally – coordinating library services for her community
  • spiritually –  attending her local church and involved in Bible study in her community.

God has been so faithful.

Mother is very quick to give God the glory!

As we walk the hallways (two miles of carpeted hallways here), we see many people who I knew while growing up here in Wheaton. One lady yesterday said to me – “Oh, Gayle, I remember you in “Oklahoma” our school musical that year.

That was in 1969!

What really has struck me is the fact that I am immediately identified as Esther’s daughter. I was walking alone in the hall and a resident stopped me and asked me who I was. “You look familiar.” she said.

When I told her who I was and that I was Esther Barker’s daughter, she responded, “Of course! That is why you looked familiar. I knew Esther when she was your age.” (I now look very much like my mother did when she was 65.)

I have been told I look like my mother my whole life. I have never been ashamed of that fact – since it was so consistently expressed, it has always been one of those givens of my life, like having brown eyes, or being taller than average.

I have always been identified as Esther’s daughter.

That is who I am.

Is my identity as a daughter of my heavenly Father as easily identified? Do individuals that do not know me see Jesus in me?

Is Jesus evident in my words and actions?

That is who I am.

Paul says in Romans 1:16-17

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

I realized that I have never been ashamed of being identified as Esther’s daughter because of the unconditional love she has always demonstrated toward me.

An even greater love has been demonstrated to all of us in God’s giving His one and only son  – Jesus – as the sacrifice for our sins.

I am not ashamed of the gospel. My desire is that I live in such a way that people identify me with the gospel.

May we live in these troubled times sharing the unconditional love our Heavenly Father has so freely shared with us.

Let us live  – not ashamed to be identified with Jesus.

 

 

Fear

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Fear is darkness.

Have you ever woken up at night and fearful thoughts start running through your head? Those thoughts tend to multiply and sometimes become overwhelming. The fear grips us in a mental, emotional and even physical way. The darkness becomes even darker.

I remember vividly a time soon after the birth of our first child when fear gripped me in this way. Phil was late getting home from a trip (before cell phones!) (although that might not have made a difference since Phil’s cell phone is most often on his dresser – turned off!) and I became consumed with fear. My mind went wild as I planned his funeral, planned how I was going to live as a widow, and raise our little boy without his father. The more I thought, the worse those thoughts became. The darkness became darker!

When he walked in the door, I was an emotional mess!

Yet we may have those same fearful thoughts in the midst of the day and they don’t seem quite as terrible.

Why?

It is the LIGHT of day.

We see things more clearly.

Jesus says in John 8:12 –

12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John explains the blessing of recognizing Jesus as the Light and following Him.  – I John 1:7

7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

Fear is darkness.

Faith is light.

As we allow the Light of Jesus to enter our minds and hearts we will have faith. Just as turning on a light in a dark room reveals where things are located so we don’t stumble and fall, the Light of God’s word illuminates our daily path as we follow Him.

Psalm 119:105 says –

105 Your word is a lamp for my feet,
    a light on my path.

When our children are fearful we need to share this truth with them as well. I memorized this verse from Psalms as a child and it still reminds me to follow the light of faith, not the darkness of fear.

There is so much to be concerned about in our world today. We must not let the darkness close in. Fear of the future can have a paralyzing effect on our lives. We should be examples of hope by our words and deeds.

We can choose to walk in the Light!