Why, Lord?

Recently, some difficult things have come into my life, as they do in all of our lives. The most recent event was the sudden death yesterday of my cousin’s 13 year old granddaughter in a mountain bike accident. The whole family is devastated as she was dearly beloved and had such a promising life ahead of her. Those closest to her immediate family are completely distraught.

With this tragic news and with so much difficult news all around the globe these days, I find myself feeling the questions of so many. “Why, God?” Why is this happening to us? Some may be angry at God for allowing hardship, but others may sincerely and deeply want to know why. When I ask God why He has allowed things in my own life, He often gives me an answer if I am sincere in my question. When we consider the difficulties of others, we cannot know the reason for each specific situation. It’s not ours to know, but overall there are some basic answers for all of us.

Since the days of Adam, we have all been placed in situations where we have to choose – good or evil? Adam and Eve chose and so it has gone on down through the generations. It is part of our free will. We often find ourselves in the middle, in a valley of decision. Sometimes we literally choose a good or evil object or situation, but other times the choice is in our attitude towards the situations we find ourselves in or towards the events that happen to us. Deuteronomy 30:19 says, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and they seed may live:” God always wants us to choose the good and high road. Even in our grief, we can choose to love God, to continue on in faith and to know that somehow the things that He allows will draw us closer to Him.

Jeremiah 30:3 says, “The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” To me, those are some of the most beautiful words in the Bible. Everything God is allowing to happen in our lives, as difficult as it is, is drawing us closer to Him in some way. We may never be able to see those ways, but thankfully God has a higher perspective than we do.

I cannot begin to fathom the grief of my cousin’s son and his wife at the loss of their daughter. However, my faith says that somehow their daughter is okay. She is in God’s hands. Their grief will lead them on a long road and they will always miss her, but hopefully, in their grief, they will find God and when they do, they will also find His comfort and love. I don’t know why we as humans so often need tragedy to drive us into God’s arms. We often just live life and enjoy the pleasures of this earth and forget who gave them to us. Difficult circumstances and tragedy jolt us out of our everyday living and open our eyes to the greater purpose of life.

It sounds selfish of God to want us to love Him above all else, but that’s just our earthly point of view. I believe that His love is entirely selfless. He knows that when we love Him, He can lead us and draw us ever closer to Him and then one day, when we have continued to overcome up to our last breath here on earth, we can join Him in His heavens and be eternally useful to Him.

Today, I’m praying for my cousin’s family and for others who face unimaginable circumstances. Lord, let them find you through their tears and lead them to a higher place, Lord. Send them comfort and love and most of all, let them eventually find a greater love for you. And God, take care of Lily and keep her until someday (not too soon please) her family can join her.

A 2,000 year old extinct tree resurrected!

https://www.bbc.com/reel/video/p09m0v4x/extinct-tree-from-the-time-of-jesus-rises-from-the-dead

The link above is for a very interesting video about the Judean date palm tree. I really recommend it. It’s about 8 minutes long, but if you don’t have the time to sit for a few minutes to watch it, here is a very brief summary of it.

When archeologists were excavating Masada (a hilltop in Israel, a whole story in itself), they discovered a stash of seeds from that time (about 2,000 years ago).  Among the seeds were seeds of the Judean date palm tree which had gone extinct during the time of the Crusades.  It had been very valuable and famous in its day and represented prosperity and health to the people.  The dates were given as gifts to emperors etc.  They also had medicinal qualities.  A few years ago a woman in modern day Israel asked for some of those seeds and she worked with another woman who managed to rehydrate the seeds and one of them grew.  They called that tree Methuselah.  However, to get dates, you need both male and female trees, and so they tried growing more and they ended up with “Hannah” and “Judith.”  They also got “Adam,” “Jeremiah,” and “Jonah.”  Methuselah and Hannah ended up having baby dates which have been kept for research for the moment.

This story is not only an interesting experiment in plant science, but it is also a parable for the times we are living in. Imagine that! Something that lived in the time of Jesus is being resurrected in our days! I believe that God is resurrecting the truths that Jesus taught in His people all around the world today, and they are living them and bearing good fruit! When you look at it that way, it is so encouraging. Just like these women have persevered through the setbacks of their efforts, we have to do the same. We can be encouraged by all of the little things that God brings to us throughout the day to uplift our spirits. One day, we will be rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Psalm 126:6 He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.

This next Scripture is very interesting in this context. This seed has been lying dormant for 2,000 years. It was extinct and now it is coming back and will bear MUCH fruit.

John 12:24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.

You are enough

My students plagiarize. I teach ESL to adults at a local community college. Plagiarism has been an ongoing problem, but since the onset of Covid, it has become a major plague. Spring semester 2020 began in late January and was humming along normally (albeit with some worrying news from Asia) until suddenly Covid made a grand entrance into our lives in the U.S. You know the rest. Immediately after our spring break, all classes went completely online. Up to that moment, we had already been using computer programs and sometimes did assignments online, but in the blink of an eye everything changed and ESL students, especially adult immigrants with families who are frequently already stretched to the limit, found themselves struggling just to keep their heads above water. During the following fall semester and into spring semester of 2021, class sizes diminished dramatically. This semester especially, classes seem to be at an all time low. My current class started with just nine students (versus 24 a year ago). Three of those nine have since withdrawn from the class, two of them because they were going to fail anyway. There are yet two more of the remaining six who are still failing.

So, why are those two continuing to fail? Because they plagiarized. Why did they plagiarize? Because it’s convenient when students are already working online and because they are insecure about their abilities to know the right answers to questions on an online test and because they are not confident enough to think that they can express themselves. How many other students have either plagiarized by copying phrases from the Internet without me catching it or by asking their fluent relatives to write their online homework for them? I don’t know that, but again, why do they plagiarize? Because they don’t believe that they are enough.

It’s easy to catch them most of the time. Suddenly there is a word that I know they don’t know or maybe just a way of phrasing something that an ESL student wouldn’t do. I can copy and paste too. I just google it and presto, there it is. It’s easy to find fault with them, but many of us do the same sort of thing in our lives. It’s easy for God, or even someone we know, to catch us at copying someone else’s inspiration or life. Suddenly, they see us do something that doesn’t fit in with our character or we’re talking about a topic without being genuine since it’s not our life. Do we also think that we are not enough? I think that we could all ask ourselves that question. What happens in our daily lives that we feel is too much for us? Are we accusing God our Father of requiring too much of us? I have to ask myself that question. Is God not able to strengthen us? Do I trust his life in me? Honestly speaking, it’s often easier to look at what others are doing and copy their inspiration or their way of doing things instead of praying for my own inspiration and listening for God’s answer. Isn’t that the same as plagiarism? Plagiarizing is copying what others have said or done. Am I plagiarizing the lives of others? To rely on God in my own life to give me inspiration and guidance can seem daunting. It’s so much easier to follow the leader or to simply do what my neighbor is doing.

However, God is not asking me to be like anyone else. If he wanted me to be like my neighbor, why didn’t he just make a whole bunch of clones? But no, he didn’t do that. Not only did he give us unique personalities and gifts, but he also let us be born into different cultures and circumstances. We all have different life experiences and outlooks on life. He made each one of us unique and gave us gifts and talents that can be useful in the situations that we find ourselves in. Because I don’t have to live your life and you don’t have to live mine, I shouldn’t try to be like you or do things the way you do them. What is God inspiring in my life?

Some personalities in the Bible never appeared to lack confidence. They seemed to know innately that God’s life in them was enough. Joshua and Caleb declared to the children of Israel: We are well able to defeat the giants in the Promised Land. David knew beyond the shadow of doubt that God in his life would slay Goliath. He demanded, “who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sa 17:26) In Philippians 4:13, Paul writes: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

In the end, we are all well able to take on God’s plan for our lives if we believe that he has given each one of us, his children, the right gifts and talents to do the things that he wants us to accomplish in our lives. He didn’t give me the talents to accomplish what someone else needs to do. He gave me the talents to accomplish events and plans along the road in my life, and what he is asking of me is not so far off that I need to plagiarize someone else’s life or reach into the sky or into google or ask Alexa for the answer. No, his answer is very quiet and close at hand. It’s right in my mouth and in my heart. It fits right in with the personality and interests that he gave to me. Truly, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?  Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?  But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.

Deuteronomy 30:11-14

Working things out in life takes time

Time is such a blessing. Recently, I was trying to help a friend who was in distress about some difficulties in her life. I consulted two other friends who love God and care dearly for this friend. What could we do to help our friend improve her situation? I was completely blown away by the helpful ideas they had. They were inspired and uplifting with no selfish motives at all in the mix. One focused on spiritual help and the other focused on practical ideas to improve the situation. I was thinking about it all afternoon and it gave me a sense of awe at the gifts of God and how specific and kind He is. He only wants to help and uplift. However, when I approached the friend in trouble with some of the ideas, there were mixed reviews. Obviously, the person in trouble was still reeling from the repercussions of the situation and was still immersed in the difficulty. Her situation was in fact quite complex. For the rest of that day, I found myself a little flummoxed. The suggestions seemed so inspired and practical and I had felt so inspired by them. Then suddenly it all seemed to fall flat. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t instantly make sense to the person involved, that is, until I thought of Daniel and the angel’s answer to his prayer about Israel. The angel said (Da 10:12, 13),

Then said he unto me, Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words.

But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia.

It’s true that my friend’s situation didn’t improve instantly, but over the last few weeks, it has slowly been working itself out. Some of the ideas that were discussed don’t really fit for her, but others do and are starting to take shape. We continue to pray for her, and bit by bit, positive things are happening. It reminds me of a situation my dad was in for many years. He had a brother who was a pill for nearly his entire life. My dad always took care of his younger brother and prayed for him throughout his brother’s life. When his brother was about 75 years old, his doctors discovered a new drug that helped alleviate his behavioral issues. For the first time in my dad’s life, he was able to sit down and have a normal meal with his brother. His brother died a few years later, but how kind of God to work things out for the two of them before the brother died.

My lesson learned is that God inspires us either through our own gifts or the gifts of others around us, but it often takes time to work things out in this natural world. So many times this natural world puts up barriers, both natural and spiritual, to impede our progress. However, as my mother often used to say, “Patience is a virtue.” I never really liked that saying when I was young, but our experience teaches us that time to work things out is really one of God’s greatest blessings.

Our God is eternally kind and works overtime to bring everything into a better state. Let’s try not to get weary when things don’t work out immediately, but let’s maintain our love and our prayers and be grateful for the gift of time to work things out.

Galatians 6:9 And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

At Eventide

From Christmas Eve night into most of Christmas day, the skies over our small part of the world were very dark and out of them poured deluges of wind driven rain, carrying away every speck of a white Christmas and leaving some in nearby towns without power. Finally, as Christmas evening arrived, I saw a golden hue from my window. I grabbed my phone and rushed out onto the porch to find this spectacular sunset.

The sight of it reminded me that our darkest days have the potential to bring the most spectacular results in our lives. How kind of God to remind us of this encouraging fact in the midst of our troubling times.

We should not fear the darkness, but search for meaning and for ways to overcome as we travel through it. I wish all of the WordPress family many happy adventures and much overcoming in 2021 and may we all remember the simple lesson of the rainbow after the storm or the spectacular evening sunset that follows the darkness. Let this be our hope.

Best wishes in 2021!

We are weighed in the balances and found wanting

The other day I was listening to a local radio talk show.  The guests and the host were discussing the problems in our state and lamenting the downturn in business and the difficulties suffered by restaurants and other small businesses.  I think that we all agree that this is a horrendous situation. The speakers on the show were mostly blaming our governor and other officials who are using this world wide tragedy as a platform to bring in more restrictions and limitations on free speech.

I listened and thought on that for a while.  On the surface, some, or even many, of these allegations may be true, but then God showed me another way to look at it.  The citizens of our country have had the liberty of free speech for several hundred years.  We have had much freedom and many opportunities to build businesses and create schools and hospitals and libraries and so many other avenues of expression and enterprise for ourselves.  What have people done with this great freedom of speech and opportunity?  Has God been magnified?  Have our enterprises uplifted others? Has it been clear to the world that the blessings that we have enjoyed come from the living God whom we serve?

It’s true that some of these freedoms have been successfully used for the benefit of mankind and our country has been very generous to charities that do uplift many.  In the past our country was like a beacon on a hill, calling to the world’s oppressed and mistreated.  However, that same freedom has been used to mock God, destroy his worthy name and create businesses that lead many down a road of debauchery.  We have also used this freedom to build ourselves magnificent homes, go on luxurious vacations, and create entertainments that fill our lives with godless meaninglessness.  We have become a country of overabundance and wastefulness. Our magnificent Father, God, has been relegated to a small and insignificant corner of many lives, and even kicked out of most daily activities.  It’s clear that we have had freedom of speech and have abused it.

So, why do we blame our leaders for what is happening?  Why do we continue searching for scapegoats?  It’s our own fault.  In the days of Daniel the prophet, King Belshazzar was in his palace drinking wine and praising the gods of gold, silver, and brass etc.  Just then, he saw part of a man’s hand writing on the wall.  It wrote, “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.”  No one was able to explain it to the king, until the queen told the king that there was a man named Daniel, full of wisdom and understanding, who could explain it to the king.  Daniel was able to translate the whole sentence, part of which – tekel – meant “thou art weighed in the balances and are found wanting.”  When the main desires of our lives are to yearn for more and more money or more and more material goods and beautiful houses filled with expensive furnishings, are we any better than King Belshazzar?  Perhaps we have been weighed in the balances and found wanting.

We should not look for others to blame.  We should look inside of ourselves and see what it is inside of us that is wanting in God’s sight.  Why did God give us free will?  Why did He allow us to pursue freedom of expression? What if He were to let us continue going on down this same avenue? How bad could it get? Would the actions of the majority make it impossible for the increasing minority of those who truly love God to continue?

God never allows difficulties in our lives unless He intends them to produce something good. Could He be allowing this to happen to us so that we have the opportunity to change? Just because we are found wanting does not mean we have to stay that way. Therefore, we should not look at this pandemic as a curse, but as an opportunity to look at ourselves and change the negatives into positives, to turn from those ways and seek God.  We can pray for our country, help our fellow citizens and pray for as many as possible to look within and to see where we need to change our motivations, after which both our individual and collective behavior will follow suit.  Because we will turn our hearts to God, we can then pray to Him and He will listen and heal both us and our country.  (2 Chronicles 7:14)

How can this guy be best friends with everybody?!

No one alive today needs someone to tell them that these are really difficult days to be alive on planet Earth. For most of the world it has been about eight or nine months (ten if you’re in China) since we last felt normal. We don’t know when or if normalcy will return. Many of us have lost loved ones, jobs, and/or the companionship of friends and family. We’re collectively lonely. Everywhere.

Personally, I miss my children and wonder when they will be able to come for a visit again. It’s not easy for them to come since they live quite a few hours away by airplane. Of course, we have the facetime chats, which are greatly appreciated, but it’s just not the same. Normally, when they visit, we would be heading to the local coffee shop for a cup of tea and a chat, or perhaps heading out for a drive in the northwest hills of our state (with more tea and more chatting).

With so many ideas of COVID-19 and loneliness and election craziness running through my head this morning, I thought, “Lord, we need you to be close more than ever.” Right away, I realized the error of my ways. The Lord is always close to us. It’s us that need to be close to him. It sounds a little trite to say it, but yes, we need him. Obviously.

We need more than a distant, two dimensional “facetime” chat with him. He’s real. We need to sit down and have a cup of tea and a chat with him. There are so many issues we need help with. He can give us the patience to wait out the vote counting process, the faith to accept whatever the election result, the love to fill our loneliness, and the strength to bear up through these difficult days.

He’s not a boring God. He’s very personal. If we like gardening, so does he. If we enjoy reading or writing, he loves it too. If we love a long bike ride on a Sunday afternoon, he’s always up for it. Sewing? Knitting? Yup! He’s great at it. He would love to come along, no matter what we’re doing, and fill our hearts and minds with inspiration and ideas about living a complete and whole human life.

Take him to work and he’ll give us ideas on how to do things better and be more efficient. He can show us answers to problems that we have not been able to resolve. If we’re going out for a walk or to work out at the gym, he’s already dressed and raring to go. He can’t wait to help. Getting ready to cook dinner? He has the perfect choice and is always careful not to let food spoil or go to waste. It’s going to be tasty and healthy with a bit of a treat now and then. He really is our best and most loyal friend.

Try it! He never disappoints! How can this guy be best friends with everybody? Well, he’s God! 🙂

How excellent is God’s name in all the earth!

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Psalm 8:1  Lord, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth, Who have set Your glory above the heavens!

Verse 3  When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained,

King David, as a youth, spent many hours and days and nights out in the field with his sheep.  He came to appreciate his natural environment.  He could lie down and look up at the sky and observe all the magnificence of the Milky Way above him.  He spent his days looking for fresh green grass for his flocks and most likely appreciated the shade given him by the trees.  Because of his situation, he developed an appreciation for the natural creation.  As an older man, he was able to express his admiration for God’s creation in the psalms that he wrote.

Many people today live in large cities built by men (or women).  They see very little of God’s creation during their day and the night time skies are completely blocked out by the city lights.  They have no time to contemplate the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly or the movements of an ant.  They forget how unique and marvelous God’s creation really is.  They don’t know how it all works together in unison and functions perfectly when left alone, untouched  by man’s unthinking hand.  They get ideas to ‘tame’ and change the earth to suit what they think will be beneficial to their schemes.  Then once one thing is changed, they find out perhaps years later how necessary that element was and how it had been part of a whole that sadly no longer exists.

We need to go out into nature and take our children out to experience it.  We need to sit and marvel at the miracle of a tree and appreciate the wonder of the night sky.  When we do, we, like David, feel how infinitely small we are in the midst of this vast universe and we can wonder, as David did, “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?  For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor.”  We can receive a true spirit of humbleness and of awe at the creation we live in and our place within it.

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Fighting the good fight

In the battle of life, we should never, ever give up.  Life has seemed like a battle lately for many, perhaps even for the whole world.  During a physical battle in World War I, an important French general, General Ferdinand Foch, is famous for having possibly said:

“My center is giving way, my right is in retreat; situation excellent. I shall attack.”

I love that attitude.  Whether he said these actual words or not is not important, but in his life he made it a priority to maintain a constant positive attitude.  He did not let the confusion of the battle or the situation overcome him.  He stayed focused and in control.  He did actually say the following:

“A lost battle,” he proclaimed, “is a battle which one believes lost. A battle won is a battle we will not acknowledge to be lost.”

Hang in there.  We should not be attacking one another.  We are not the enemy.  The enemy is the hateful thoughts, selfish attitudes and angry feelings that we harbor.  We should attack whatever demons are hiding in our closets that are holding us hostage.  When we feel as if our center is giving way, our right is in retreat, we should remember General Foch.  The situation is excellent.  Time to attack.  Attack the negativity with positivity.  It will soon disappear.  With the help of God, we can overcome.  With such confidence, we are well able to gain the victory.

DO NOT GIVE UP!

Love and weddings in these stressful times – a story

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For young people in love

Coming home from another stressful trip to the grocery store, the music on the radio turned to love and nostalgia.  It made my heart feel weepy and my thoughts turn to other days of stress and turmoil long past when young people were in love.  Just as there were in those days, there are today so many young couples who would like to get married, and so many long planned weddings that were to take place this summer, but big weddings have all been put on hold.  Maybe romantic movies have changed our expectations of what a wedding should be, but I would like to tell you a different story.  It ain’t about the weddings, my darlin’s.

To Ken and Marie

My parents were young and in love in the early 1940’s.  Dad joined the army before Pearl Harbor.  He had aspirations to be a pilot, but a small problem with color blindness kept him from it.  In the early spring of 1942, he proposed to my mother, his Marie, by long distance phone call one day when she got home from work.  He had sent the ring to Mom’s mother, but Mom had already intercepted the package and knew what he was going to say and what her answer would be.  There was no time for long engagements then.  Pearl Harbor had come and gone and there were plans for Dad’s unit to be shipped overseas.  A quick and simple wedding was all that could be arranged.  To marry her sweetheart, her Ken, Mom bought a new blue suit and traveled to North Carolina by train with her mother and best friend.

The day of the wedding was a day of torrential downpours and it also just happened to be the first day of gas rationing.  Dad had forgotten to fill up and they ran out of gas on the way to the church.  Someone helped them out, but the new blue suit got wet.  At the church, they had to hop over a puddle in the middle of the center aisle.  They each had one attendant.  Mom’s maid of honor was her best friend, her brother’s wife.  Dad’s best man was a friend from the army.  My grandmother and the priest were the only others there.  They got married, spent a couple of days together and then Mom had to go back to Michigan with her mother.  Not long after that, Dad got orders to ship out to England.  So Mom went back to North Carolina to see him before he left.  So many of the guys had their wives visiting them that there was no place to stay.  Most of the young couples, my parents included, spent the night in the woods near the base.  The second night, someone Dad knew arranged for a room for them.  Then he was off to England, and Mom went back home to spend the war years with her parents and her sister-in-law.  My parents did not see each other again for two years.

While working and crying on each other’s shoulders, Mom and her best friend, my aunt Mary Ann, waited anxiously for the letters to come and for any good news about the war.  Dad was not in immediate danger because he had done shorthand and typing during his high school years and so he spent the war as a secretary, traveling first to England, and then eventually to the Rock of Gibraltar and Italy.  His unit helped to plan the invasion of North Africa and then he was with the British in Italy.

Returning from the war in 1944, they finally had a honeymoon in New York City.  Life after the war was also difficult, but they began their family, bought a house on the GI Bill, and made a life for themselves.  Their marriage lasted for 75 years until Mom passed away two years ago at the age of 96.  Dad is now 99 and misses his “Marie” every single day.  In their elder years, they always held hands as you see in the picture above.  Their marriage survived economic hardships, the crazy sixties and seventies, sons in the army in Vietnam and Thailand, illnesses, caring for elderly parents, marriages, grandchildren and so much more.

So, you see, love is more than a wedding.  Love is a lifetime commitment to uphold each other, encourage each other, see the best in each other, help with the worst in each other and maintain an everlasting faith in the God who brought you two together and who will get you through the worst and the best that life has to offer no matter which way the road leads you.  And in the end of it all, you will look back and be astounded at all the way that the Lord has led you.  A wedding without love is just a party and a big waste of money, but love, even without a big wedding, will stand the test of time and keep you feeling young at heart all of your life.  Yes, you will cry and yes, you will laugh, but most of all, your love will continually grow.

Don’t be afraid to marry your sweetheart even in troubling times.