Tuesday, October 27, 2020

When you're looking for a new season

November 6, I have a new Christmas novella releasing, A Season for Everything. The story is about two characters that are challenged to move on after having suffered through very difficult years. As you might imagine, the scripture used in the book comes from Ecclesiastes 3:1, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.”

I know many of us are growing weary in this present season of difficulties. At one point in the book, a character thinks it feels as if some seasons never end. There’s probably not one person on the planet who hasn’t thought that in 2020.

I first remember hearing this verse from Psalm 30:5 when it was quoted to me by a spiritual mentor more than forty years ago, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning."

There has been much to grieve this year―friends and loved ones who have passed, relationships that have suffered, too much time away from family, lonely days for many, political strife, a pandemic that just keeps going and so much more.

But friends, joy is coming. And not just in heaven. The great hymn writer, Isaac Watts, called the “Father of English Hymnody” once wrote in “Marching to Zion” (Come We that Love the Lord), “The hill of Zion yields a thousand sacred sweets before we reach the heavenly fields, or walk the golden streets.” It’s one of my favorite verses in any hymn. I find Watts included this verse so that the song might communicate both the joys of heaven and also “the blessings of God on earth.” One writer wrote, “This hymn gives us the opportunity to express the beauty of the life we are living, as well as looking forward to what is to come.” 

If these 2020 hills are going to yield something sweet, it’s because God’s people are praying and hoping and believing. God is at work this side of heaven, even when it may not seem apparent.

Of this I am sure―there truly is a season for everything.

May his joy be yours, friends.

The book cover for A Season for Everything released yesterday. Hoping this book brings a little bit of Christmas to you when it releases November 6. If you haven't read the other books in the series they are HERE. 

The preorder page for A Season for Everything has just gone live. It is HERE. 

 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

When life seems upside down or backwards

The eighty-five pound Lucy in the cat bed and the twelve pound cat, Wilbur,  in the dog bed.

I came across this post in the archives this week while searching for something else and Paul's words seem especially poignant for today. I updated the photo, which used to be Lucy and our poodle Charlie who is no longer with us. Some things never change as I found Lucy and Wilbur in almost the exact circumstance. And yes, during this politically charged pandemic, so much seems upside down, but his unfolding grace continues and what is eternal never changes. Many blessings, friends.

Ever had one of those weeks? Maybe it’s one of them now.

So what goes down the drain should stay down. Right?

Had some plumbing problems, and we thought they were resolved.

I went upstairs to straighten a closet, and in the few minutes I was gone,  when I returned downstairs, I found the washing machine had emptied twice all over the hardwood floors we installed only a couple of years ago. 

I waded to the laundry room, grabbed several beach towels, fell on my hands and knees, and started mopping gallons and gallons of soapy water toward the back door.

I didn’t even stop to call Jerry, only kept praying, “Oh, Lord, don’t let this water ruin the floors.”

A neighbor friend called. I answered robotically, “Can’t go for a walk--can’t talk--have to keep mopping.”

She arrived a few minutes later with a mound of towels in her hand and mopped, too.

When I finally had a moment to call Jerry, he came straight home and went to work unstopping the blockage that had evidently resulted because of our prior problem.

Exhausted, with the water finally pushed out, and windows and doors open to let air circulate, my neighbor and I had a few moments to sit.

Jerry turned on the water to a pulsing bulb mechanism he’d slipped into the plumbing, and the pipes bellowed wild moaning sounds.

Soaked to the skin from the knees down after becoming human sponges, my friend and I melted into laughter.

 The Apostle Paul wrote, “Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever (2 Corinthians 4:17 The Message).

A rainbow of assorted beach towels took two days to dry on the patio grill—the aftermath of our unfortunate plumbing fiasco. And though the hardwood floors threatened to buckle at some of the seams, after a few hours with a fan blowing on them and a little time to dry, they seem to be calming down a bit.

Someone will probably buy this house one day, rip out the floors we worked so hard to save and install the latest thing they’ve seen on HGTV. As Paul said, “…here today, gone tomorrow…”

In the future, I’m most likely not going to remember how important it was to rescue the floors, but I’ll remember the crazy vibrato of the plumbing, and the laughter my friend and I shared.

I’m latching onto His unfolding grace and keeping what’s eternal in my sites even and especially in this upside down, backwards week. Because Paul’s right, this stuff doesn’t matter compared to what God’s bringing in our future.

 It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas for me. The release date for my new Christmas novella, A Season for Everything, has been changed to November 6. I am so thrilled for this and am looking for a team of people who will help me promote the book. If  you like writing book reviews, are on social media, and would like an advance free digital copy of the book, please contact me through my website HERE, private message me on my author page HERE, or contact me through Instagram @BeverlyVarnado. Spots are limited, so thank you for responding quickly.

The Cover Reveal of A Season for Everything is coming October 26. 


Tuesday, October 13, 2020

20 Years and Counting


That photo above taken a couple of days before I had the big surgery to deal with my breast cancer diagnosis captures a moment frozen in time for me. That day, so many questions hung in the air. Would the surgery deal with the problem? Would there be a reoccurrence? Was this a hereditary cancer? There were many more riddles, but the one that loomed largest in my mind was would I live to see those children reach adulthood?

And here I am. Twenty years later and counting. The answers to those questions are yes, no, no, and a great big YES.

Every year, I try to write at least one post in gratitude for all God has done and as an encouragement to those just being diagnosed.

As I wrote last year in my Relay for Life post, when I was first diagnosed, I needed to see someone who had made it awhile. I searched for survivor sashes at Relay with multiple pins. Today, my sash is heavy with pins. I want that to be an encouragement to those of you who are living with many questions as I was the night that photo was taken.

It is for sure because of the grace of God I am here, but I must give a shout out to incredibly skilled doctors who set me on this course―doctors whom God is continuing to use to save lives. I also salute researchers who are in the labs day after day, year after year doing work that no one sees at the time but has the potential to change everything. I was one of the first in this area to benefit from sentinel node mapping which has saved many women from dealing with lifelong issues surrounding lymph node removal. Research at the John Wayne Cancer Institute led to this remarkable discovery.

The actual twenty-year anniversary was back in May but at that time we were dealing with many issues, it seemed the wrong time to write a post like this. But, now, even though we are still dealing with much, I felt that I would be remiss in not posting during breast cancer awareness month. In my area, because of Covid, preventive mammograms were suspended for a time, but now they are up and running again. I’ve just scheduled mine. Early detection gave me such a good prognosis, so if you women haven’t had yours this year, please do so.

One of the verses God gave me at the time of my diagnosis which brought me much hope was, “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; He drew me out of deep waters” (Psalm 18:16). We know people at this moment who are in those deep waters. Our continuing prayer for those of you in that circumstance is that you would sense God’s hand on you and that He would indeed draw you out. With him, nothing is impossible.

For the rest of us, let’s put on our pink shirts, schedule our mammograms, and encourage those who might be dealing with a diagnosis. Due to the pandemic, many of the research related fund raising events were canceled this year, so you might consider donating to one of them.

So, thank you Jesus, for these twenty years. Glory be to God!

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas for me. The release date for my new Christmas novella, A Season for Everything, has been changed to November 6―a month earlier than originally planned. I am so thrilled for this, but the time to prepare is short. I’m looking for a team of people who will help me promote the book. If  you like writing book reviews, are on social media, and would like an advance free digital copy of the book, please contact me through my website HERE, private message me on my author page HERE, or contact me through Instagram @BeverlyVarnado. Spots are limited, so thank you for responding quickly.

The Cover Reveal of A Season for Everything is coming October 26. 



Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Wobbly knees and when it's all over but the shouting

I'm reposting this piece I wrote several years ago. As we face these challenging times, I thought it might resonate. I love the pictures of these 150 year old live oaks on the Georgia coast that have stood through many storms. The hard winds have blown against them but they are still reaching for the sky. Good images to have in our minds as the winds blow against us. 
The prophet Isaiah wrote about knees. So did the apostle Paul. They knew there’d be times when our limbs would quake. We’d open our eyes to the events of the day and find it hard to stand.


 
“Strengthen the rubbery knees,” Isaiah writes (Isaiah 35:3 The Message). Paul echoed Isaiah’s words in Hebrews 12, “. . . strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.” Perhaps it’s a time of discipline that’s left you wobbly, as it was when Paul wrote these words to the Hebrews. Or maybe, it has nothing to do with a choice you made. Maybe, it’s a boatload of stuff you didn’t see coming at all. One event after another blindsided you —a health diagnosis, a financial reversal, a family heartache. You’re tottering, looking for something to hold, trying to breathe. Maybe, you face a challenge larger than anything you've ever dreamed, and overwhelmed doesn't begin to describe the way you feel.

Isaiah went on with consoling words for those who are having trouble staying upright. “Tell fearful souls, ‘Courage! Take heart! God is here, right here, on his way to put things right.’”

He’s right here. He hasn’t lost your address or forgotten he made you. Though your knees are shaking, you’re still standing. In that critical chapter Paul wrote about putting on the armor of God, he says, “ Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet”(Ephesians 6:13).

Years ago, when the tragic loss of a friend to suicide coupled with a trauma from the past led to posttraumatic stress, one of the first and the most enduring symptoms I had was shaking knees. And though God has brought immense healing to my life, still today, if a piece of my armor gets loose, and I don’t allow God to shoulder burdens with me, that symptom sneaks back in. It’s a way God allows my body to indicate I’m not allowing the Lord to do what only He can do.

So, friend, like you, some days with my wobbly knees, I’m just standing. But, when it’s “all over but the shouting,” standing for the glory of God is a great thing, and remember, He's right here.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas here in September for me. The release date for my new Christmas novella, A Season for Everything, has been changed to November 6―a month earlier than originally planned. I am so thrilled for this, but the time to prepare is short. I’m looking for a team of people who will help me promote the book. If  you like writing book reviews, are on social media, and would like an advance free digital copy of the book, please contact me through my website HERE, private message me on my author page HERE, or contact me through Instagram @BeverlyVarnado. Spots are limited, so thank you for responding quickly.

The Cover Reveal of A Season for Everything is coming soon!!! 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

How Laura's 1919 pandemic thoughts can help us

In my to-be-read pile, I came to a book a few weeks ago, which I bought second hand at the library sale. Oh, the treasures I’ve found there and this was to be another one of them. It’s a collection of articles by Laura Ingalls Wilder before she wrote the Little House books. 

Spanning the 1910’s and 1920’s, she touches on a variety of topics including forest preservation, the benefits of electricity, how hard farm families work, women’s voting rights, integrity, the struggles during WWI, and how to find joy. Laura was a surprisingly progressive woman for her time and though she did not have much formal education, she was an avid reader, and this extensive reading informed her writing. These articles were previously unpublished for modern audiences.

The kids and I on the front porch of Laura's little house on Rocky Ridge Farm in the Ozarks where she wrote the Little House books.

As I read, I realized this woman also lived through a pandemic. The Spanish Flu pandemic overlapped WWI by six months. In one piece, she writes, “The influenza epidemic has been particularly hard on farm folks, coming as it did just at the close of the season’s work when country people were beginning to relax from the strain of raising the year’s crops. It is at this time we usually meet one another and become acquainted again. There has been so much depending on our work, especially for the last two years, that we have attended to our business even more strictly than usual, and we were really lonesome for some good times together. But, being advised by the doctors not to gather in crowds, we have stayed at home as much as possible.”

Sound familiar? Aren’t we at this point all lonesome for some good times together? In another piece, she writes, “We have been working unusually hard for two years and have been under a nervous strain besides. We have each adjusted our burden so that we are more or less able to carry it, but a little addition to it makes it, in some cases, unbearable. It was the last straw in the camels’ load that broke his back, you know.”

What I experience and what I hear from others is that we are all somewhat on edge and “under a nervous strain.” The editor of Laura’s writings footnoted the “Nervous strain” as referencing the War but of course, the editor didn’t know how nerve wrecking a pandemic could also be back when the book was published in the 1990’s. Sometimes just one thing will nudge us in the wrong direction. For myself, I spoke sharper than I normally would have to a friend this week and felt terrible for it. Even though my apology was accepted, I still hated that it happened.

After the war and pandemic had passed, Laura wrote, “As the years pass, I am coming more and more to understand that it is the common, everyday blessings of our common everyday lives for which we should be particularly grateful. They are the things that fill our lives with comfort and our hearts with gladness—just the pure air to breathe and the strength to breath it; just warmth and shelter and home folks; just plain food that gives us strength; the bright sunshine on a cold day; and a cool breeze when the day is warm.”

Laura learned to focus on the simple things. Good advice for us today.

Her Christian faith undergirded her life and carried her through many, many hard times. These included her family almost starving to death one winter when she was a child, the death of her own child, the loss of their home in a fire, severe illness, the loss of a farm claim, and the challenges of a being a farmer’s wife as she worked as hard and long as her husband Almanzo did. 

Her writings and life give me hope for the times we are in. One night when she was a child, she was worrying over a difficult financial circumstance her family faced. A friend writes of her that as she was praying, “gradually she had a feeling of a hovering, encompassing Presence, of a Power comforting and sustaining her.” This reminded me of 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

I know that there are those of you reading who are facing a difficult health diagnosis for yourself or someone you love. Some of you have what seem insurmountable financial issues. Some are grieving. Some have circumstances in your family that are taking your breath away. And all of that is in addition to dealing with the strain of a pandemic that just seems to go on and on. I am praying for you all the supernatural presence of God in these times that like Laura you would sense that “hovering, encompassing Presence, of a Power comforting and sustaining” you in these days.

God bless you all.

The name of the collection I referenced is Little House in the Ozarks, The Rediscovered Writings and appears to still be in print from online sources.

Related Articles

If you need a word of encouragement in your wilderness

On the Prairie with Laura Ingalls Wilder 

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas here in September for me. The release date for my new Christmas novella, A Season for Everything, has been changed to November 6―a month earlier than originally planned. I am so thrilled for this, but the time to prepare is short. I’m looking for a team of people who will help me promote the book. If  you like writing book reviews, are on social media, and would like an advance free digital copy of the book, please contact me through my website HERE, private message me on my author page HERE, or contact me through Instagram @BeverlyVarnado. Spots are limited, so thank you for responding quickly.

The Cover Reveal of A Season for Everything is coming soon!!!

 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Blessing

Every Sunday afternoon when I was in high school, I attended a Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF) meeting at my church. I spent over 200 hours in those meetings, but the years have eroded much of what I remember about them―who taught, or what we studied. But what is not forgotten are the sweet young faces of those who attended and a particular prayer we always prayed at the end of our meetings.

“The Lord bless you and keep you.

The Lord makes his face to shine upon you,

And be gracious to you.

The Lord lift up his countenance upon you

And give you peace.

Amen.”

This is the Aaronic blessing―what God gave the priest, Aaron, to pray over the Israelites and is found in Numbers 6:22-27. I’ve reflected on the couple of hundred times my friends and I prayed that blessing over each other. I’m sure many times it was prayed in apathy, or distraction, or a “let’s just please be done” kind of attitude. 

Yet, my heart overflows in gratitude in how I believe God has honored those words in my life. God has kept me even through early years of rebellion. He has made His face to shine upon me not because of my works but because of what Jesus did on Calvary and because I am His. His grace toward me has been beyond imagining in restoring my life and giving me purpose. I love how Eugene Peterson translated that last sentence, “God look you full in the face and make you prosper.” God has given me a lasting peace, which transcends any earthly understanding.

As far as those lessons I don’t remember―when people tell Jerry they don’t remember what they read in the Bible, he tells them they don’t remember what they ate for breakfast on Tuesday a month ago either, but it still nurtured their bodies. The same is true with the lessons and scripture we hear and study. It still nurtures our souls whether or not we can always recall it. So a big thanks to those who took the time to lead and teach a bunch of teenagers back in the day. Your time was well spent and you blessed us all.

A few months ago while driving, a song playing on the radio brought tears. It was by Elevation Worship and titled simply, “The Blessing.” It was the prayer we prayed at MYF.

Also included in the song are other blessings from the Mosaic Covenant (Deuteronomy 28:6 and Exodus 33:14 for example).

When the lyrics of the song sound from my car speakers now, I began praying those words over my children, my grandchildren, as well as other family members and friends. I’m calling out their names as I’m wheeling down the bypass. Praying blessing over those we love is a powerful thing.

Maybe you, too, prayed the Aaronic blessing many times back in the day. It might be for you, as it has been for me a time of giving thanks for how God has honored that prayer. And if that wasn’t your experience, pray it from now on. The blessing goes beyond us from generation to generation.

Today, I offer these words in prayer over you dear ones who are reading.

“The Lord bless you and keep you.

The Lord makes his face to shine upon you,

And be gracious to you.

The Lord lift up his countenance upon you

And give you peace.

Amen.”

I often sign my email "Blessings." Today, from the bottom of my heart I say, “Blessings friends, with love from Bev.”

“The Blessing” from Elevation Worship.


Books HERE


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

What a kalaidoscope has to do with hope and power

I keep a kaleidoscope on my desk. I suppose it’s an odd thing for a person to have around that gets so much mail from AARP. I bought mine in the gift shop at the state botanical garden. I think it was meant for children. Sorry kids, grandma has your kaleidoscope.

When I become stuck on a story I’m writing or I'm trying to come up with a topic for a new article, I sometimes grab the kaleidoscope and view my surroundings in a new way. This tube with mirrors at the other end provides one of a kind images as fast as I can turn the scope. The mirrors multiply the image in amazing ways. Those pictures cheer me and help bump my brain out of a stall pattern.





So instead of one lantana bush, it’s a hundred. Instead of one marigold plant, it’s fifty. Fifty spools of thread turn into a thousand. For 500 post-its, I get 5000. And instead of one Wilbur, fifty of them are lying around. All in the most amazing designs. By the way, I’d have to move out if there were fifty Wilbur’s. It would be a blessing turned into a curse.

Call me a kid. I don’t care. Right now, more than ever, we need to tap into the kid in us. We need to delight in small things and find joy in our ordinary circumstances. Of course, ordinary may be in the rear view mirror. Let me call it our new normal. For a while, anyway.  

What we need, though, so much more than a toy kaleidoscope is a spiritual one. In Ephesians 1: 18-20, Paul is praying for the folks at Ephesus. It reads, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raise him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms . . .”

To face these times, we need our heart’s eyes to see the hope Paul is writing about―hope to which God has called us―hope, which paves the way for extraordinary power. Hope that already is. We just have to see it. 

In the Message, the phrase “incomparably great” referring to God’s power is rendered “utter extravagance.”

Extravagance way beyond a hundred lantanas or a thousand spools of thread is that power God gives us. In fact, what God is saying is as believers, we have the same power in us that brought Jesus out of that tomb―enough to break us out of any seeming grave we may feel we’re in. If that doesn’t rock our worlds, I don’t know what would.

The multiplication on the other end of my toy scope is not real. But the extravagance through God's lens is real. If we would just see.

So, maybe you want to buy a kaleidoscope and have fun with it. By the way, those pictures came of holding a smart phone camera lens to the kaleidoscope and snapping. But so much more than this, let’s pray God would open our heart’s eyes to see the immeasurable hope and power He has for us in these hard days.

 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

What you might not know about those backyard hummers

I sat outside watching the hummingbirds this week and remembered this post. It seems during this pandemic we are all doing really hard things. This tiny bird that accomplishes such a mammoth feat inspires me to keep going and reminds me we can "do all things through Christ" who strengthens us.

I stalked the hummingbirds for days trying to get a picture.

Me with my point and click trying to get one good photo of those lightning fast wings before they head off for points south.
 
 
 
 
  

I wondered, where do they go in the winter?

Far away, I found out―southern Mexico and Panama.

When they get ready to migrate back in the spring they’ll stop off at the northern Yucatan coast to gas up on insects and spiders. They’ll need that extra layer of fat when they leave at dawn to begin a nearly 500 mile nonstop flight, which takes around twenty hours to complete. According to this source, they may weigh six grams when they start and only 2.5 when they land on the Gulf Coast.

Those teeny tiny little creatures that zip around my feeder are right now getting ready to launch on a big excursion. Interestingly, in the fall, more cruise the Gulf Coast back to their winter grounds than in the spring, but some still make the big trip.

And if they live an estimated nine years, they may make a dozen and a half of these trips. Alone. Hummers don’t fly in groups although they may join other flocks of migrating birds.

I sat for a long time wondering how God doesn’t worry over these little fellas doing such seemingly impossible things. I have to confess if I were a mama hummingbird, I’d be fretting my head off over an offspring facing such a challenge. “Did you eat enough spiders?” I’d ask. “Let me feel your middle to see if it’s fat enough.” “See if you can find an oil rig to land on for awhile. You know you need your rest.” Better yet. “Forget flying the Gulf, just cruise the coast. Lots of places to stop off for a fly snack.”

But God doesn’t fret. That’s because he knows how he created them. He knows they can do it.

When we face the impossible, He doesn’t worry. He knows how he made us, too, and that we are by his power totally equipped to face the seeming five hundred mile treks before us.

“Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am” (Philippians 4:13 The Message).


 

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

I thought there was no hope. I was wrong.

Every time I hear Lauren Daigle’s song, “Still Rolling Stones,” it takes me back.

Way backforty years.

That’s because she has a line in it that indicates she thought there was no hope for her because of all the things she’d done. I’ve been there.
Photo of the Garden Tomb, Jerry Varnado

Forty years ago this week I fully surrendered my life to the Lord. When I wrote Faith in the Fashion District, I said it this way, “I had surrendered my life to God after a few years of wandering in a far country of rebellion. The altar had been the side of my bathtub. I knelt, bowed my head, and let the water from the overhead shower wash over me while God also washed away the sin that had so firmly gripped me.”

In that book, I don’t tell it all because it doesn’t fit the tone of the story, but at that point I had lost hope believing that I had done too much, too fast, and too far out to be redeemed. I don’t mention two years of nightmares, one of standing on the side of a vast ravine unable to get to the light on the other side. I don’t talk about the drinking alone and the not being able to figure out how I was ever going to get out of the bombed out mess I’d made.

I committed to the Lord years before as a teen but that commitment devolved into a “show-your-face-on-Sunday-read-a-devo-every-now-and-then-slide-into-heaven’s-home-plate” kind of life. Can you say “hypocrite?”

I hadn’t sold out to God. I was afraid He would take away my happiness. I laugh to think of it now.

Finally, I was so miserable, so down, so hopeless, there was no happiness to take away. I felt old, worn out, and uselessat twenty-five, younger than my children are now. And I didn’t know if God could or would forgive me. I didn't understand the word “grace.” Don’t think I’m overly dramatizing the situation. When I say I was at the bottom, I was. That night I slumped in the bathtub, broken and distraught, it seems a world away in one respect, but in another, it seems as if only yesterday. I prayed, “Lord, I’ve made a disaster of my life. I don’t feel as if there’s anything left. If you can use it, you can have it.” I would later read in C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain, “He (God) is not proud. He stoops to conquer, He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him, and come to Him because there is ‘nothing better’ now to be had.”

That was where I’d beenpreferring everything else to God. That evening in the bathtub, there was no flash of light, the heavens did not part, and an angel did not descend. The next morning I rose, took a stab at reading the Bible and a devotion in the Upper Room Magazine I happened to havea habit that has continued these forty years. In those days, I read on my knees with tears streaming down my face, because the words were so convicting. However, they were also hopeful. Because the Upper Room was important to me early on, it has been one of my greatest joys to have my own devotions appear in its pages.

There were pastors and their spouses, who came alongside to help heal my brokenness, Warren and Jane, Gary and Diane, Grady and Doris, Walt and Martha. Thank you all for loving me when I was so unlovable and so broken. In every book I write, I hope to honor you by mentioning you as the ones who helped bring me back from disaster and despair. In fact, a Christmas novella releasing in December, A Season for Everything, is dedicated to Grady and Doris.

In addition, this is the thing that is so very hard to explain. In the days, months, and years, ahead, my life opened to wonder in a way it never had before. It’s not that all my problems went away. It’s not that my circumstances weren’t still hard, but the way I experienced life changed. And joydid I mention joy? Did I say that my heart felt as if it had been made new?

I could have never imagined that in little more than a year I would hear an attorney give his testimony who also had a life changing experience almost exactly the day I did. He would ask me for a date a few months later. Happy “giving our lives to the Lord” anniversary, Jerry. Can you believe forty years?

So, when I hear this millennial, Lauren Daigle, sing the song, this boomer feels as if it could be her song. God is “Still Rolling Stones.” He is still bringing dead people out of tombs of their own making. He is still giving hope to the hopeless. If you’re in a place where there seems to be no way out, look up. Confess your sin. Give your life to God. He can open a window to heaven and deliver you into unimaginable joy.

I know. I am living proof. With a heart overflowing with gratitude, I say thank you, Jesus. Thank you for doing what only you could have done. Thank you for this amazing life I never imagined I’d have because I thought there was no hope.

I’m so grateful I was wrong. To God be the glory.


 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

14 Verses of Hope


How many times in recent weeks have we heard someone say or write, “In addition to the pandemic, we are dealing with . . . “? Insert any number of financial, relational, or health problems. To use a football term, it feels like piling on for so many. Hope sags.
 
I’ve been waking in the a.m. and instead of worrying, which is what my flesh wants to do (I am so very good at it), I’ve been focused on memorizing scripture. Before I get out of bed. Before I read anything else. It helps immensely to begin my day that way. So, toward that end, I offer these verses as possibilities on which to meditate and perhaps commit to memory.
 
I’ll resist the urge to comment on them here, but as I was typing these references into the labels I noticed that I've written previous posts on all but about two of them. So if you want to read more, just scroll down and click on the various scripture references in the labels or if on mobile, click for the web version at the end. As you read these verses, ask the Lord to speak to your heart through his word, which is “alive and active.” Praying our hope will only increase, friends.
 
Photos were taken last week at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. Love that place.

 
“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Lamentations 3:22-23
“Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known. . .”
Habakkuk 3:2
 
 
“Why my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
Psalm 42:11
 

“But now, this is what the Lord sayshe who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy one of Israel, your Savior . . .’”
 Isaiah 43:1-3



 
“Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?”
Psalm 85:6
“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.”
Psalm 130:5
 
“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Isaiah 40:30-31

 
 

“Is anything too hard for me?”
Jeremiah 32:27

 
 
“Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.”
Luke 18:1
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
Romans 5:3-5
 

“For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”
Romans 8:24-25
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Romans 15:13

 

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Ephesians 3:20
“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Faher, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.”
2 Thessalonians 2:16-17


 



Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Cold water and good news

When I read the news article, this verse came to mind: “Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land” (Proverbs 25:25).
 


Exactly five months to the day after we went into lockdown, finally more good news than bad news pertaining to the virus surfaced in my news feed.

To summarize, it seems we may be closer to herd immunity in some places than first thought. Instead of needing 75 to 80 percent of people to be exposed, new research indicates we may only need 45 to 50 percent. That means the spread of the virus would significantly slow and places like New York City which were so hard hit early on, may not see resurgence. Next, more recent studies show immunity may last much longer than originally thought. And in a hat trick of good news, lower numbers of flu in the southern hemisphere this year may mean we will avoid a “twindemic” here in the U.S. this winter.

As I read, it felt as if I was in a misting tent like the one they have at Sanford Stadium on hot games, just a continual spray of cold water to help with the heat.

One of the big challenges in this pandemic is that what we think we know is ever changing. So what I shared above is a switch from earlier thinking. We constantly have to reset expectations. In addition there's hardly been any light at the end of this tunnel. We really need to pray for those scientists and researchers who are working tirelessly to discover the truth in the seeming maze if this pandemic.

Jerry often says, “People aren’t looking for good advice, but they are looking for good news.” So true. In fact, I think these days, we’re desperate for that blast of refreshment. We’re all weary of dealing with this virus.

So for that reason, it’s especially important we focus on the unchanging good news found in scripture. It is not subject to new research but as the Psalmist wrote, “Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89). It is truly good news from the “far country” of heaven, unlike any country on earth. And God’s good news is brought to us by prophets, and forerunners, and God’s son, Jesus.

 I was just sharing with someone this week how sometimes it’s difficult to stop having certain thoughts, but we can substitute other thoughts. The best way to do that is to meditate on a verse that ministers to us and let it take the place of those dark thoughts that can dog our heels. As we practice this, we’ll find our thoughts lock in on what cannot be shakeneternal truth.

So here’s to hope. Let’s all stand in the misting tent of God’s unchanging good news together.



 


 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The smell of new toys and an opportunity


I love this picture of our grandchildren. That little fellow missing the front teeth is headed off to college this fall and our granddaughter is in high school now. Where did the years ago?

They were helping me put together my Operation Christmas Child boxes a few years back. And no, it’s not too early for me to be talking about that. I'm giving you some lead time, because given the circumstances, it may take a while to put your boxes together this year. I checked the Samaritan’s Purse site, and despite the pandemic, they are still a go for collecting the boxes this November. The need for them will be perhaps even greater with the virus and other disasters ravaging so many places around the globe. Again, shopping for those boxes could be more challenging.

Here’s why it’s worth the effort.

I’m an alumnus of Young Harris College, and when I received my monthly magazine this summer, I was thrilled to find a story about a student there who has personal experience with Operation Christmas Child. Dasha Vander Maten grew up in an orphanage in the Ukraine where she received one present a year. It was a box from Operation Christmas Child.

An American family adopted her along with her two biological sisters when she was twelve and now she is a student at YHC. Remembering those yearly gifts she received, last fall she set out to raise money and donors to provide 100 boxes for Operation Christmas Childa goal she more than exceeded. She said, “I remember the smell of the brand new toys when I opened the box (as a child). When packing these boxes myself, it brought that smell back to me.”

Great story, right? There are so many Dasha’s out there. And every child who receives a box is invited to participate in a discipleship program called The Greatest Journey.

As I’ve shared before, my sister and I try to put together around twenty-five boxes each year. In order to do that, I shop all year, so the cost is not prohibitive in October and November. I found a few things on sale after Christmas and Valentines’ Day this year, but of course quarantine hit and all shopping came to a halt. Because we try to limit our trips out, my trips out now are mostly to the grocery store and art and hobby stores. But, even with those limits, my boxes are almost finished.

Here are a few tips.

Maximize your grocery store shopping. Matchbox cars are one of the biggest thrills for boys and many grocers offer them at great prices. Stock up while you’re buying your toilet paper. School supplies are at their best prices now and a must for the boxes. At my grocery store, I can buy four composition books for a dollar. You can also grab soap and toothbrushes in the toiletry aisle. The toy section in many grocery stores provide great choices for the $5 wow toy Samaritan’s Purse asks we provide. At hobby stores, I’ve found stickers, stamps, bolo paddles, balls, and other items all at tremendous savings as stores have been clearing out summer merchandise. If you pick up a few things every week, you can not only fill the boxes you usually do, but perhaps add to their number. Also, you can pick up a few things online as well, but shipping can add to the cost.

A few years ago, I let go the premise that all boxes have to be alike. My boxes will likely not even go to the same town, much less the same country. Just use what you can find, but try to cover the main categories: $5 wow toy, toiletry items (no liquids or toothpaste), school supplies, and fun toys.

As I’m packing my boxes, I pray for the children who will receive them. This year, I’m going to take advantage of the tracking Samaritan’s Purse provides when you make the shipping donation online. I think it will be fun to see where each one goes. But really, only heaven will reveal all that comes of these gifts we send. John Wesley once said, “I judge all things only by the price they shall gain in eternity.”


Let’s give more kids like Dasha the smell of those new toys and the opportunity to find Jesus.

"Give away your life; you'll find life given back, but not merely given back--given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting is the way. Generosity begets generosity" (Luke 6:38).


If you're looking to do a little early Christmas shopping, Grace Publishing has an anthology called Merry Christmas Moments. I have an article in it about my Operation Christmas Child boxes entitled, "Sharing the Gospel from my Exploding Closet." Authors receive no royalties from this collection. Instead, proceeds go to Samaritan's Purse. HERE if you'd like to order.
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