Thursday, May 29, 2014

By faith and a secret


Just after I began my walk with the Lord years ago, the life of George Muller captured me when I first read about it. Muller embarked on a journey to provide for orphans in nineteenth century Bristol England on faith and faith alone. He never made his requests known to others, but only to God in prayer.

Basil Miller, a biographer, wrote about him, “He realized that God alone was able, and in that realization the puny supplies of man dwarfed beside the reservoirs of God’s grace which he tapped by faith. He learned not to bind God by the limits of his own faith. He asked, knowing that God, Who heard, was able.”

Over the course of his lifetime, Muller was given over 3,000,000 pounds, and never made one solicitation for money. That’s an astronomical amount of money for that time. It’s reported according to this source that the number of orphans he cared for numbered over 10,000. Additionally he built schools and provided education for more than 120,000 more.

It’s true that God gives some a gift of faith, but even with the supernatural gift, how did Muller’s faith stay strong throughout such a large and enduring challenge?

I came across these words by Muller this week under a heading, “George Muller’s Secret.”: “It has pleased the Lord to teach me a truth, the benefit of which I have not lost for more than fourteen years. The point is this: I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord.”

With hungry children about to sit down at the breakfast table every morning, he saw his first aim every day as not to serve, but to have his soul nourished in the Lord.

How did his soul become “happy in the Lord”? He found that by meditating on the word first, this would most often lead to prayer. He did this with no aim toward ministry or preaching but as spiritual food.

Muller’s words are worth pondering. How often in ministry, do we allow the need to overcome our own spiritual encouragement and growth? How often do we let ministry determine how we spend our time?

Probably none of us faces the kind of challenge Muller did, and yet he saw the first order of business to “be happy in the Lord.”

As someone has said, this enables one to minister out of the overflow, not the undertow.

I read in Streams inthe Desert, “Christ becomes more real to the one who persists in the cultivation of His presence.”

The reality of God’s presence and the joy we experience in it are linked to the time we spend meditating on God’s word and communing with Him according to Muller.

My friends, that is a wonderful secret to know.
“The revelation of God is whole and pulls our lives together. The signposts of God are clear and point out the right road. The life-maps of God are right, showing the way to joy” (Psalm 19:7 The Message).

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Remembering fallen heroes . . .


Reaching into the archives today to rerun a post from a couple of years ago. So glad my dad wrote this poem when he did. It's very precious to have it.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the United States government did not begin sending the dead from World War II back home until 1947. For families carrying grief for a lost loved one, the opportunity to at last provide a burial helped them find closure. One of the soldiers returned was the first cousin of a teenager who later became my father. The soldier, killed in North Africa by a German bomber, was the son of a widow and attending his funeral left an indelible impression in the heart of a sixteen year old boy. Later my dad would himself elect for military service.
The soldier was buried in a church yard in sight of his boyhood home. My dad has remarked on this cousins's fine character and integrity. And as we all are prone to do, all these years later, he still ponders the loss.
 I’ve never known my dad to be much for verse, but that relative’s death has continued to stir in his heart all these years. So last year, a lifetime later, he commited his thoughts to paper in the form of a poem.

To honor my dad for his own military service and in memory of  his cousin, Melvin Green,  and all those who've given their lives for our country, I thought it appropriate to share a bit of my dad's poem on this Memorial Day weekend as we remember those who have paid as Abraham Lincoln said at Gettyburg, "...the last full measure of devotion..."




My dad during military service
The poem is  written from the my dad's vantage point while walking guard duty one night during his own military service.

"The bugle blows. Out the light.
I, one weary soldier tonight.
Remembering how not long ago
I stood at the funeral for a fallen  hero."

He hears taps played and remembers again the bugle sounds from his cousin's funeral, sees in his memory the soldier's boyhood home across the field from the churchyard, and feels again the sacrifice.



"That old house with boards astray
Is holding itself proud for this sad day.
It echoes the happy hours of birth;
Now it must watch as the man returns to earth. 

Does his baby cry still echo
In this country church from years ago?
Does the child’s foot print still show in the sand
Or has it given way for that of the man? 

That bugle, it cannot blow
As hearts here are breaking so.
For each,  this man has given all
May we never let our country fall. 

The bugle sounds. The final rites,
I’ll remember this all my days and nights:
When eyes will not close,
I’ll remember fallen heroes."



My dad, Steve Chitwood, on furlough from the Air Force,  February 4, 1952

Across the years, one of the ways our family has observed Memorial Day  is by tuning in to the National Memorial Day Concert . Always emotionally moving, it's held in Washington D.C. each year. I remember again words from Psalm 105, “...they fell heir to what others had toiled for...” And certainly every American is beneficiary of not only what others have toiled for, but what others have died for. May we be truly grateful.

Links:
Fallen Heroes Project

Honor the Fallen

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Interviewed over at Laura Hilton's Blog

You can find me today over at author Laura Hilton's Blog, Lighthouse Academy.

Please drop by.

Read here.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

When you need the sun . . .


Darkness had shredded the light and seemed to encase the whole situation in a shroud.

I couldn’t take my eyes off how bleak everything looked--how hopeless and how helpless I felt.

Then I read these words once uttered by that great preacher, Charles Spurgeon, more than 100 years ago:

“If some dark providence has beclouded thee, use thy God as a “sun”; if some strong enemy has beset thee, find in Jehovah a “shield”; for He is a sun and a shield to His people. If thou hast lost thy way in the mazes of life, use Him as a “guide’’ for He will direct thee. Whatever thou art, and wherever thou art, remember God is just what thou wantest, and just where thou wantest and that He can do all thou wantest!”


 
 
Where were those verses about God being a sun and a shield?

I found them in Psalm 84, that favorite of Psalms penned by David. The one that begins with the words Brahams put to such beautiful music, “How lovely is thy dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts . . .  .

David longs to be in the courts of the Lord and seems to envy even the birds who have built their nests there. The image of passing through the valley of weeping and making it a place of springs always speaks to my heart. Then, one of my favorite verses in the whole Bible, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere . . ." Next we read:

For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
    from those whose walk is blameless. Psalm 84:11

Before I leave Bible Gateway, I click over to The Message translations of these verses:

All sunshine and sovereign is God,
    generous in gifts and glory.
He doesn’t scrimp with his traveling companions.
    It’s smooth sailing all the way with God-of-the-Angel-Armies. Psalm 84:11 The Message

The shroud seems to lift as I ponder how God is a “sun” in the current vexing situation. I latch onto Peterson’s translation that I am God’s “traveling companion,” and I don’t feel so alone in this mess. I pray for faith to believe that God can as Spurgeon says do “all I want.”

The eyes of my heart, which before only saw inky shadows, now see the sun of God’s light shafts, and I have hope again for all that he will do.

“For the Lord God is a sun . . .”

Monday, May 19, 2014

If you feel stranded and your next of kin


If you live in the Northeast Georgia area, I'll be signing copies of Home to Currahee at the Carpenter's Shop in Athens this Friday, May 23, from 4-6. Would love to see you there.
In my daily Bible reading, I come across these words in Isaiah 63:

In all their distress he too was distressed,
    and the angel of his presence saved them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them;
    he lifted them up and carried them
    all the days of old.”

A date, 5-22-00, is written beside these verses.

Even when I get another Bible, I go through the old one and transfer dates like this to the new one, so that I don’t ever forget how God moved in a particular situation.

In this instance, that May date was just three days after I was diagnosed with cancer. At the time, I had questions like, “Has the cancer already spread like a wildfire?” and “Who would take care of my children?” They were only seven and eight. I felt a bit stranded in my suffering.
 

However, the message God sent through the prophet Isaiah, was that God felt my pain and was carrying me.


“In all their troubles,
    he was troubled, too.
He didn’t send someone else to help them.
    He did it himself, in person.
Out of his own love and pity
    he redeemed them.
He rescued them and carried them along
    for a long, long time.”

We often speak of God as a personal God, because we can know Him, have a relationship with Him. He is also personal to us, in that when we are suffering, He is with us. Really with us. An element of the meaning of “redeemed” in these verses has in the original Hebrew to do with acting as a “kinsman, do the part of next of kin, act as kinsman-redeemer.” He doesn’t send someone else, but as our “next of kin” and by the presence of his Spirit, He comes alongside to comfort, rescue, and carry us.

God has carried me now a long, long time.

Fourteen years after I penned that date in my Bible, I read these verses in Isaiah while dealing with another heartache. One that caused me to cry out to God day after day, and left me feeling helpless. But, I’m reminded I have every reason to believe God’s dealings will follow the same path as before. He feels my pain. He comes in person. Out of mercy, he redeems and rescues. He’s willing to go the distance. As my next of kin, He won’t leave me stranded halfway out in the lake without a paddle to get home.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, in the middle of a vast body of water, hurting, scared, and seemingly alone, remember Isaiah’s words and take comfort. He’s your next of kin, too, and he won’t leave you stranded.

 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Oh, the joys of writing fiction!


I headed down a country road to a family reunion held at the school my dad started attending during some of the hardest years this country has ever known—The Great Depression.

Updated a bit from that time, the building now serves as a community center, but used to house nine grades in six rooms.


 

“Girl’s bathroom used to be that way,” Dad says and points toward a wooded area grown over now with kudzu as we walk toward the schoolhouse. “The boy’s was up there on the other side of the school.” I follow his gesture and see another path indiscernible because of sixty or seventy years of disuse.

“Had two basketball courts, both of them dirt.”

We pull open the screen door, enter the center hall, and turn right into a large beaded board paneled room. He takes a seat at a long table of relatives. “Used to sit right over there.” He points to an area by a window. “Had to bring in the coal for the potbellied stove.”

My dad in 1933
I scan the crowd around me, and see the mostly gray heads, and wonder what will happen to the gathering after this generation passes. The current generations hardly know each other as they are several times removed from those eleven whose births bridged the turn of the last century.

I read my ancestor’s names on the genealogy chart my cousin Iris has made—Buford, Hollis, my grandfather Silas, Otis, Ides, Luke, Dillard, the twins Paul and Hall, the only girl, Lorena, and Gettis. All of them gone now, and few of their children remain.

Makes me a little teary.

However, I found a way to keep some of these close to me.

 I named a character after my grandfather, Silas, in Home to Currahee. I gave the protagonist the last name of Callaway, another family name. In addition, the character Jubilee,  is one of my ancestors, too. Even used a variation of my dad’s name in the book. For my cousin Iris’ trouble of making the genealogy, I named a character after her, too. I shamelessly used my mother’s name, my aunt’s name, and my grandmother’s name among many other cannibalizations of my family’s monikers. Now, the characters in Home to Currahee are fictional people, but their names remind me of those I’ve loved or those that were loved by someone I loved.

When I open Home to Currahee, I’m sitting right in the middle of a family reunion. Oh, the joys of writing fiction.

I find it good to be home.

“Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in” (Hebrews 12:1-2 The Message).

 

Monday, May 12, 2014

If you're wondering if He really does have the whole world in His hands . . .


A fine weekend.
 
Even fireworks.

The dark clouds rolling overhead held back from dumping the moisture they held, though just to the west those same clouds had been unrelenting in their assault.

United States Senator Johnny Isakson spoke at the UGA graduation ceremony this weekend, and it was as compelling a speech as I’ve ever heard.

I woke up the next morning recalling his six silent secrets to living a happy and fulfilling life:  learning, respect, ethics, love, faith, and dreaming. He referenced that rule we call golden in dealing with others, and I had to wonder how the world might change if those 4,000 graduates seated between the hedges or the 30,000 of us looking on in Sanford Stadium really took those words to heart.

When the conferral of degrees took place, I watched as my son stood with the Warnell School of Forestry alongside  the rest of those twenty or so, young men and women who would superintend the care of our forests, fisheries, wildlife, and other natural resources in the decades ahead. Among such a multitude of graduates, there were so few of them.

 
 
So few to take care of this great wide world of ours. Yet, I knew their passion was unmatched. I’d heard one of their representatives, Trevor, speak at an earlier ceremony, and he quoted  several scriptures, one of which was Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

I sensed that his faith was strong, and that he was not depending on himself for such a huge task, but on a great God who shapes our tomorrows.

If I had any doubts about who was looking after the future of the red cockaded woodpecker or who would care about the decline of the hemlocks due to the hemlock woolly adelgid, I was encouraged to know that God had it covered. These young men and women were up for the job, so that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren wouldn’t grow up in an ecologically impoverished world consisting of only of carp, crows, and Chinese privet.

I remembered the song my children and I used to sing in the minivan as we taxied from soccer to ballet: “He’s got the whole world in his hands . . .   I didn’t realize that one day, it’d be that little boy singing in the back seat who’d be among the few God would choose to help watch over His creation. 

Yes, it was a fine weekend. God gave me reassurance of a “hope and a future,” and if you're wondering if He has the whole world in his hands, He does, indeed.

 
 
 
 

 


 

 


Thursday, May 8, 2014

My boy and when dreams really do come true


Another milestone this weekend.

When I first started this blog, I wrote a post about my son beginning his freshman year at the University of Georgia. This weekend, four years later, he’s graduating with a bachelor of science in forest resources from the Warnell School of Forestry—emphasis in wildlife sciences and will walk away a certified Wildlife Biologist.

We saw it coming. When he was just a baby, I read The Animals of Farmer Jones so much, the back came off. His assortment of plastic animals kept growing and growing until one day when he was  four I peeked into the playroom, and he sat in the center of epic circles of wildlife—wave after wave of species.
Mostly horses here!!
 
His grandparents gave him a subscription to a set of wildlife cards that came in the mail every month, and he began memorizing them immediately. Eventually, he could roll off anything you wanted to know about the creatures in Australia, the wildlife on Galapagos, or whether there were venomous snakes in Montana.

His favorite became reptiles--plastic snakes everywhere. So much so, that when a real snake made its way into the house, it took me a few moments to realize it wasn’t fake. It seemed we always had some sort of reptile in our "reptile ranch." At any given time, it might be a tree frog, a snake, or any one of various lizards.
We supported him as much as possible, even attending the yearly Snake Day at a local nature center. Everyone there seemed to have a cold-blooded coil wrapped around their arm. With tanks of venomous Copperheads and Rattlesnakes, I’d stand there with chill bumps rolling up my arms pretending I was as fascinated with them as my son was.
He once found a green racer in the front yard, wrapped it around a pencil and brought it inside. “Oh, Mom isn’t he cute?” he said as he poked it right in front of my nose.

Game face.

We kept a large king snake in the back yard for years. Even named him Blackie. Then a neighbor chopped his head off. I was surprised at how upset I was. It seemed my son’s love for snakes was rubbing off on me.
 

When he was in middle school, my husband took him to an exquisite low country wilderness to hunt wild Russian boars. If any doubt remained as to what direction his life would take, that sealed the deal.


 
On the way to school, the day after he returned, he said, “Mama, going hunting with Dad has changed the way I see the world.” He pointed to a clump of brush on the roadside, “Before those were just bushes, now, I wonder if there might be some pigs in there.”
He recently finished a months-long senior project in which he evaluated a large tract of land for deer habitat.
Caught a picture of him just after he made his final presentation.
 

On Friday we’ll be cheering him on as he receives that diploma for which he’s worked so long. So proud of him. We’ll be thanking God for the dreams he plants in the hearts of our children. We’ll swell with gratitude that God does indeed order our steps.

If you’re out and about and notice a young man cruising timber, or catch a camouflaged figure in the early morning stalking through the woods, or maybe see a guy with a camo hat turned backwards wearing a University of Georgia shirt walking a big brown dog named Lucy—that might be my boy. Say hello, and be reminded that dreams really do come true.

“The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him” (Psalm 37:23).

Cross references:Related:

Monday, May 5, 2014

When the winds blow . . .


 
We awoke to debris hitting our house one morning last week. Winds that I later learned were gusting to over forty miles per hour dislodged sticks, branches, and pinecones. Fire truck, emergency vehicle, and police car sirens blared. What was going on?

As I peered out the window, debris swirled in the air. I listened for weather alarms, which were installed when this community was decimated by tornados decades ago. There’d been a test a couple of weeks ago, so I knew they worked. However, amidst all the other screaming noise, I didn’t hear their distinctive drone. After only a few minutes, the road and my front yard were littered. The power flickered. Trees bent and swayed.

This went on for nearly an hour.

A couple of hours later at a dentist appointment, my hygienist said that on her way to work, she looked in her rear view mirror and saw a power pole sparking as it fell right behind her car. A close call. What we experienced was a rare localized wind event churned out of a huge system that had moved through here earlier—something meteorologists call a “wake low.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about change lately. When those winds cranked up, my pondering went into high gear. We often speak of the “winds of change.” As I listened to the howl, and watched the mounting effects of this gale, I knew we were experiencing change—some hard to understand. Those emergency sirens I’d heard earlier had been vehicles rushing to the scenes of accidents cause by trees falling on vehicles and roadways. People were hurting.

When the “winds of change” blow through our homes, sometimes people get hurt. Sometimes, we suffer loss. We wonder how we’ll deal with the fallout. Even blessings that bring change can be difficult to navigate. I heard recently that people who have opportunity to fulfill a dream of starting their own business often want their old jobs back a short time later. Because it’s hard. Because they couldn’t imagine the challenges. As much as we love someone, getting married brings with it built in change. A joy and yet, hard. I know a woman whose family was remodeling a home. I’ll never forget her sharing about the challenging process. “It really is a blessing,” she said as tears streamed down her face.

It’s good to know that always, always, always, God is with us. He doesn’t change.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

Early in my walk with the Lord, my biggest mentor, a pastor, was moving and leaving town. Winds of change. I cried all night one night. I didn’t know how I could deal with such a significant loss. In his final sermon, he left us with this verse. ““Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever(Hebrews 13:8).

At about the same time, I found a refrigerator magnet with the verse on it, and that magnet stayed on my frig for many years. When I longed for that former mentor, I remembered that I had someone with me who never moved away, no matter what else changed.

It’s not a matter of if the winds will blow. The winds will blow. But those who cling to Jesus will hold steady no matter what the weather brings.

 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

National Day of Prayer and if you don't like the music


 

At a National Day of Prayer event in our community this morning, the speaker was  Bobby Joiner the Road Chaplain for the Christian band Newsong, and Tour Pastor for the wildly successful Winterjam. He's more commonly known at our house as one of my husband's college fraternity brothers.

Joiner reminded us of the importance of reaching our youth for Christ. He quoted Luke 18:16, words that are actually etched into the Washington Monument. "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these."

One of the ways our youth respond to the message of the gospel is through music.

Here’s where a bit of culture clash comes into the church.

He spoke about the times he’s been rebuked by those who felt the music he supported was not in keeping with Biblical standards or complained because the decibel level was too high.

“The words are biblical,” he said, “And the Bible tells us to sing unto the Lord a new song. “

He paused a moment, “No where does it say in the Bible to sing an old, soft song unto the Lord.”

Laughter erupted in the audience, but we all had to note the truth of his words.

We often make the music in the church about us. We want to be comfortable when we worship. We want familiarity. But often, God is wanting to move us out of our comfort zone and do something new.

So, as we’re praying today on this National Day of Prayer, let’s pray for our youth, but let’s pray for older generations, too, that we all would be willing to do whatever it takes to win the hearts of precious young men and women to Jesus.


My newest book, Home to Currahee, available now by request at your Christian bookstore or at:  Amazon Barnes and Noble Booksamillion Parable Cokesbury
  


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