Thankful, Tender Hearts

I wrote the following post in 2016. Yet I feel it is just as important today when I think about celebrating all I have to be thankful for. May God bless you and yours this Thanksgiving.

“There are many people in our country and the world today that are suffering. The pain, fear,and loss they are facing leaves little room to be thankful.

Here I am, looking forward to the arrival of some of our children, grandchildren and friends tomorrow. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because I enjoy the family gathering, the food, and the focus on being thankful.

Yet I know many are not blessed the way I am. Recently, friends from church lost their college aged son in a tragic accident. A school bus crashed this week causing the loss of five young children. What is there to be thankful for in these situations?

A dear young mother recently shared in our women’s Bible study group that she was dealing with reconciling the fact that –

God is good,

God is faithful,

Yet the pain of the loss of seemingly senseless death lingers.

We are studying Ezekiel, a challenging book heavy with judgement. Yet this young mother shared that she felt challenged by the following verse. Ezekiel 36:26 –

26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.

“Do the situations around me cause me to harden my heart, or soften my heart?”

When my young friend said this – I realized – that is the challenge for me as well.

Will I allow situations around me, and personal suffering to harden my heart? Will I allow God to give me a new, tender heart that is able to see and feel His presence in the midst of suffering?

We have much to be thankful for, yet the suffering some face is very real.

The book Defiant Joy, the Remarkable Life and Impact of G.K.Chesterton by Kevin Belmonte recounts that during a period of utter despair, Chesterton “was filled with both an enormous sense of thankfulness, and an enormous need for someone or something to thank.” (p. 218) This insight caused Chesterton to embrace Christianity. He went on to become a critic and writer that greatly influenced the lives of C.S.Lewis among countless others. “The test of all happiness” he wrote, “is gratitude; and I felt grateful.” (p. 221) The defining quality of his life as described by his contemporaries was JOY. Thankfulness leads to joy.

Notice that it was “during a period of utter despair” that Chesterton came to the point of recognizing his need for God. He had a change of heart.

As we gather this Thanksgiving, let us remember to pray for those throughout the world who are suffering in loss and fear.

Pray that we would have tender, thankful hearts to experience God’s faithfulness and love in the midst of all we face.”

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.

 

 

Don’t Let the Fire Go Out

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I heard a truck in the driveway and the first thing I did was glance at the wood stove.

Was there wood in the stove or had I let the fire go out?

As is often the case, I had been caught up in my book-making and I had forgotten to tend the fire. So, before Phil came in I quickly added wood and was sheepishly grinning when he entered the den.

After 41 years, Phil is accustomed to those sheepish grins. 🙂

Yes, I am easily distracted, yet when I am working on art, time literally slips away. I am totally immersed in the creative process and I need reminders to fulfill my other responsibilities.

We do this spiritually as well. We can get so caught up in “doing” for God that we forget to “tend the fire.”

What does it mean to “tend the fire” spiritually?

It means that we are re-stocking our lives with fuel from the Source, in other words making sure that we are receiving fresh spiritual food from God’s Word. I have been a Christian for almost 60 years, yet I can’t survive on old teaching from my past – as good as it was.

Anyone who heats with wood will tell you – old wood burns up fast!

I need to allow Holy Spirit to speak to me with fresh insight for the current issues I face today. As I read the Bible, the Living Word, it feeds the flames of the spiritual fire within me. This past weekend I attended a women’s conference at our church. Katherine Wright shared from her heart some things that the Lord had been teaching her recently through very tragic circumstances.

“We have created for ourselves an illusion of safety,” Katherine said. “My recent study of Scripture has made me realize that this was NOT Paul’s or the early Christians view of suffering.”

In I Peter 1:6-9, Peter encourages Christians that their suffering has a purpose –

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

I must be faithful to feed the spiritual fire within me through reading God’s Word, hearing Biblical teaching, and listening to the Holy Spirit within me. Katherine’s words clarified for me the truth that suffering is part of life, yes, a NORMAL CHRISTIAN life.

Feeding on the Word of God will keep my fire burning!

Love – Invest for Eternity

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Today would have been my parents’ 68th wedding anniversary.

They had over 67 years together and this is the first anniversary that mother is alone.

Yet, she would tell you she is not alone.

She has Jesus.

I was with her two weeks ago and we were going through the many cards, letters, notes and messages that Mother has received since the passing of my father at 91 years old on February 10th. It was a very sweet time of remembering people who had been blessed by my father and mother, and who had in turn blessed them. Among the notes was one in my father’s handwriting. It was on a small piece of note paper and must have been placed in a small gift box on their anniversary 4 years ago. She had placed it with the new notes to put in a memory book I was making for her.

Tears came to my eyes as I read the following:

Dear Esther,

I could fill this box with many material things and they would end up being just things. But I am filling this box with two intangibles that will be valued by you for the rest of your life.

So – this box is filled to its fullest with God’s love that can not be fully described but keenly felt, and with my love that has been yours for over 64 years and will continue on till we have to part, but then will become the indescribable love of being with Jesus.

love, Bark

This is what authentic love invested in another individual looks like – an investment for eternity.

I Corinthians 13 describes REAL love. Verse 7 summarizes love that is the antithesis of the love our culture practices.

Love never gives up,never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (NLT)

Verse 13 ends this treatise on authentic love –

Three things will last forever – faith, hope and love – and the greatest of these is love.

I am so thankful for parents who loved one another with God’s love. It was loved that lasted as long as they both lived, and now is “that indescribable love of being with Jesus” as my father wrote to mother.

I pray that our marriages will be just such a demonstration of God’s love to our children and grandchildren.

Invest in love for eternity.

 

 

 

 

Brokenhearted

 Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times

How do I respond to the horrific, senseless violence that is sweeping the world?

Is it getting worse, or do I just hear about it more frequently because of the 24/7 media coverage that sends an unending stream of information and images from throughout the world?

How do I help my children and grandchildren process these events without causing them to live crippled by fear?

  • the killing of police officers in Dallas
  • the shooting of unarmed black youth in several US cities
  • the massacre of 41 innocent civilians in Turkey
  • the gunning down of 49 people in a night club in Orlando
  • 14 are shot dead in San Bernardino, California

and yet more personal …

  • the senseless murder of a dear young mother’s husband in Atlanta

This lovely young woman, a long time friend of our family, has been working tirelessly to eradicate human trafficking as an Assistant to the Attorney General of Georgia. She is now faced with raising her precious little girl without the loving support of a father.

I must respond with genuine concern and compassion to all those involved.

Jesus did that.

Right before he was crucified, on the Mount of Olives, Roman soldiers (the despised oppressors of the Jews in Jerusalem) approached Jesus to arrest him. Peter responded with violence – cutting off the ear of the High Priest’s servant.

Mark 22:51 – But Jesus said, “No more of this.” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.

NO MORE OF THIS!

Our response to the violence and suffering around us must be an example to our children and grandchildren.

No more of this. We are brokenhearted.

If we  – for one moment – we think “maybe they deserved this” we are WRONG!

We MUST respond with compassion. If we do not feel compassion for the those shot and their suffering loved ones, regardless of the situation, we must repent.

Psalm 34:18-19 (NLT)

18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

19 The righteous person faces many troubles,
but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.

Our children and grandchildren will form their understanding of suffering from the way they hear and see us respond.

  • if we express fear – they will fear
  • if we express hatred – they will learn to hate
  • if we seek revenge – they will seek revenge
  • if we express compassion – they will learn compassion
  • if we trust God for justice – they will learn to trust God

I heard an inspiring message Sunday from Rev. Reggie Screen of Atlanta. This Godly black man challenged us to have compassionate hearts in light of the violence all around us. He challenged us to be like Jesus. Reggie encouraged us that as things are darkest – the light of Jesus shines brightest.

We must be brokenhearted like Jesus.

We must have compassion.

We must love others and demonstrate that love at every opportunity.

We must seek justice and love mercy.

Oh, God, heal our land….

 

 

 

A Legacy of Lasting Love

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This week, my father passed on to his eternal reward. We have received so many kind, thoughtful, and meaningful messages from family and friends around the world. You realize at a time like this just how many lives are touched by one individual.

Even though it is my dad who died, every message references “Bark and Esther” or “Mr. and Mrs. Barker” or “your Dad and Mom”.

Together.

Husband and wife.

67 years of marriage.

It is like butter on hot cornbread – you can’t separate them.

Our son-in-law Tim wrote the following – “Bark was always interested in me and Salem and what we were up to. He and Esther have been great examples of what a Godly marriage looks like.”

A lasting legacy of love.

So much is written about love around Valentine’s Day. Some of it is meaningful and sincere. Some is self-serving and shallow. You can tell after being around a couple for a certain period of time whether their love is genuine or fake.

My friend Joyce told me today on the phone – ” I loved watching your parents together. You could see how much they loved each other.”

They did not practice “public displays of affection.” Their love was expressed through deference to the needs and feelings of each other.

Two days before Dad died he was retaining fluid and having difficulty breathing. I was sitting with him and he opened his eyes, looked at me, and said, “Gayle, where is Mother?”

“She went to take a nap, Dad. Is there something you need?”

“Oh, good.” Dad replied. “She needs to rest.”  Dad was struggling at the end of his life here on earth, yet his thoughts were of his wife’s health and comfort.

I will always remember Jay Fesperman telling young couples what the most important skill for effective parenting was for the parents to –

Love each other.

That creates an atmosphere of security, trust, and peace in the home. It is also the perfect environment for children to thrive.

I was blessed to grow up in a home where my parents truly loved each other.

Our home was not perfect – but my brothers and I never doubted that my parents genuinely loved each other. Our home was a secure place to live.

I Corinthians 13: 4-7  expresses real love this way –

4 Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, 5 never haughty or selfish or rude. Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable or touchy. It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong. 6 It is never glad about injustice, but rejoices whenever truth wins out. 7 If you love someone, you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him, and always stand your ground in defending him.

I am so very grateful for the legacy of love my parents have left behind.

It is worth far more than any material inheritance – it is of eternal value.

My father will be greatly missed. I pray that Phil and I and our children and grandchildren will carry on that legacy of lasting love.

Is It Well?

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When peace like a river attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll.

Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,

“It is well, it is well, with my soul”

Can I say that? Is it well with my soul? This classic hymn of our faith states the contrast between peace that flows like a river – constant, unending peace. The opposite is sorrow that is like a sea billowing, overflowing.

Peace vs. Sorrow.

Yet, the hymn goes on to say that “whatever my lot” it is well with my soul. It is difficult to accept that peace and sorrow should have the same result – acceptance. The only way that is possible is for one to have the belief that God has a purpose for life. That God will use everything one faces in life to fulfill His purpose –  and that the purpose is ultimately good.

I have recently attended the funerals of three people close to my age. Two of these were very sudden, unexpected deaths. The other was the result of a battle with cancer. Sorrow came crashing like waves on those loved ones left behind. The comfort of God’s peace will come as the sorrow ebbs away. Yet it will take time to sense that peace.

When our children face the loss of a loved one, it is important to talk with them about the sorrow they feel. It is helpful to let them cry and see that others are mourning the loss as well. Don’t try to “be strong” for others. Open, honest sorrow is normal and real and children need to see that.

It is also important to talk about the peace we can feel as we trust in God. We do not  understand why, but we trust in God’s love.

Philippians 4:6-8 (NLT)

6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

God’s peace will allow us to honestly say “It is well with my soul.”