Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Lucy and Holding On

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“Go get the paper, Lucy.”

These words are said almost daily at our house. Then the big eighty-pound chocolate Aussiedor flies, as much as a ten year old dog can fly, and fetches the paper—a trick I taught her when she was a puppy.

She trots back to the door, a treat in mind.

If the Lucy video fails to load, you may go HERE. 

What you don’t see in that video is she’s learned that her humans can get distracted and forget to give her the dog biscuit she’s earned, so she holds onto the paper until the very, very last minute to be sure a treat is in the human hand.

Smart girl.

It seems almost every day and from every direction this past week, we’ve received news of serious and difficult situations that require much ongoing prayer. I’ve been reminded of Lucy's holding on and need to take a cue from her so that I, too, hold on and persist in prayer.

In years past, we used to use a phrase in the church called “praying through.” It meant to continue in prayer until we saw God move. This doesn’t mean that we try to manipulate God into getting the answer we want, because so many times, the answer will not be exactly what we had in mind, but it does mean we don’t offer up a quick prayer and go to the next. We are changed through our intercession. I’ll say that again, WE are changed through the prayers we pray for others.

As we're on our knees, transformation occurs because we are emptied of our own desires and allow them to align with what God has in mind.

The Amplified version cites Jesus’s words in Matthew 7:7 this way, “Ask and keep on asking and it will be given to you; seek and keep on seeking and you will find; knock and keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you.”

God reminded me again this week, that some of the most incredible things I’ve seen God do had nothing to do with my own actions, but how He acted when I was able to persist in prayer.

So, my friends, let’s keep holding on in prayer. I know there are some who may be feeling things are sliding off the mountain right now, but God gets the last word. Let’s pray through and see what He will do. 

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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Hope Carries Me

Some of you may remember a post about a year ago, in which my friend Andrea Flanagan Edmunds wrote about losing her eighteen year old special needs daughter, Presley. Today, after a year of grieving in addition to living through a pandemic as a mom and teacher, she is back to share about her journey. She exudes the strength and joy of the Lord and I am confident her post today will be helpful to anyone dealing with a similar tragedy. Welcome back to One Ringing Bell, Andrea, with much love. 

One hour. That’s how long doctors gave my daughter to live at birth. My family and friends hoped and trusted that God had a plan for Presley despite her tragic circumstances. I clung to her life verse, Jeremiah 29:11, a promise of “hope and a future.” Presley went on to live for a precious seventeen years, seven months, and nineteen days. A total of around 154,584 hours. 

On top of Presley’s passing a year ago, we have experienced covid, which has been a barrier between my family and the up-close love, hugs, and support that one in mourning usually receives. My family faced many difficulties this year, but God keeps His promises. My hope in Christ continues to carry me.

Meriam-Webster defines hope in one way as “to cherish a desire with anticipation” and in another “to expect with confidence: TRUST.” I trusted during the darkest periods of my life, and though there have been many challenges, God has not disappointed me. I have found his word true in Romans 5:3-5: “...we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” 

Hope does not disappoint!

I know that I am not alone in my grief. This past year so many have experienced loss of some sort, and like me, have shed many tears. Maybe you, too, have lost a child or someone close. Maybe it’s been a financial loss. Friends, have hope in the Lord.

My personal takeaways from reflecting on this one-year anniversary of sorrow and loss may help you at this time. They are:

 1)      The God of hope is with me. “The Lord is close to the                 brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm      34:18 NIV). Prayers and love washed over me, helping to mend         my crushed spirit this past year. God uses people around you, His      word, and His presence to save you.

2)      Hope allows rest. Grief without hope weighs heavy on our heart and soul; it can weaken your spirit. Matthew 11:28-30 promises gentle “rest for your souls” if we only come to Him, for His burden is light.

3)      Hope in the Lord never disappoints. We can face tomorrow without fear, but with fresh mercy! Romans 5:5 says “Now hope does not disappoint...”  And in Lamentations 3:22-23, His “compassions never fail. They are new every morning.” 

4)      Hope brings joy and peace. Knowing Presley is in heaven gives me peace. Romans 15:13 reads, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” 

5)      Hope carries me. It is not in my own strength that I live. If it weren’t for God’s grace and mercy poured out to me, I would not have been able to exist after my daughter died. “...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 40:31). 

I have hope He will also do this for you.

Since April 22, 2020, I have been grieving Presley’s absence. When I worked in Brazil teaching English as a second language, I found the Brazilians have a phrase that encompasses what I feel. In Portuguese it is “Tenho saudades.” The translation is “I miss [her].” The meaning is so much more. I read an article by Celinne da Costa that described what my heart was feeling. She writes “I believe that the magic of this word lies in its bitter sweetness. How good it is to love someone or something so much that you could feel a part of your heart missing when they’re gone.”  My grief is bittersweet. 

The bitter: Presley passed away from this earth. She’s not here for me to care and love on her. My heart is broken. The sweet: Presley is in heaven without pain or sorrow, fully whole and able.  My pastor, Jerry Varnado at her celebration of life, summed up this bittersweet. He said, “On earth, Presley was a little girl with special needs. Now in heaven, she is just a special little girl.” 

I love how The Message writes Psalm 30:5. “The nights of crying your eyes out give way to days of laughter.” 

The trust I have in who God is and in His promises gives me joy and hope. God’s hope carries me through as the days of crying my eyes out surely will give way to days of laughter.

Andrea Flanagan Edmunds is a mother of three and teaches fourth grade. She enjoys reading with a pup by her side and going for treks in the woods. 

Andrea's post from 2020, "Healing is Hers, Joy is Mine" HERE.



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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The Unlikely Story of How a Daytime Talk Show Changed a Life

I’ve been reminded recently that we need to be telling the stories unique to our experience. Because if we love Him, God wants to use everything in our lives for good (ref. Romans 8:28). He has given us those experiences to encourage others.

One of these stories in my life happened years ago when I directed a crisis pregnancy center. Our goal in that ministry was to offer women abortion alternatives. We didn’t pressure anyone but tried to support them and give workable alternatives to ending the pregnancy.  

A young woman I’ll call Maya, in her twenties, came in wanting information. A single Mom already, she had issues with her first pregnancy and expected this one to be no different. I spoke with her, but I could tell she was overwhelmed.  When I accompanied her to a doctor, he thought it best she consult a specialist in another part of the state that could provide medical care at no cost.

Later, when I tried to phone her, she didn’t take my calls. Usually when I encountered radio silence, it meant a woman had opted for abortion. But I, with a group of prayer partners, continued to pray for her as well as others we were working with (names were not shared, only circumstances).

In a few weeks Maya reappeared at our door wanting assistance. I asked her to come in and take a seat.

“What happened to you?” I asked as she settled in.

She said, “I was going to have an abortion.”

I leaned forward in my chair. “What stopped you?”

“My grandmother learned about my plans and persuaded me not to do it, so I came back. But I’m scared. I’m afraid I might die having the baby.”

At that point, I didn’t have children, but even with my limited knowledge, I could sympathize. So, I committed to walking through the process with her, so she wouldn’t be alone. The father of the child was nowhere to be found.

I tried to encourage her as she was a believer, but I could see fear aimed to swallow her.

When the time came for her appointment with the specialist, we sailed along the highway, yet things in the car weren't so smooth. She was anxious, so I tried to distract her and asked about her dreams. I found she had educational aspirations, but was concerned about how another child might affect them. Despite her grandmother's intervention, I still continued to be concerned whether she would actually follow through with the pregnancy.

Later at the medical facility, while waiting for her appointment, a daytime talk show played on a tv near us. I’d never watched it, but I associated the host with programming of little value. But today, this show featured several women sharing how they were told they would die if they had their babies. I couldn't believe it. Then the host would have the children born to these women walk out on stage. As we watched story after story unfold, Maya nudged me. “Did you have someone put that show on this television.”

I was shocked she thought I had that kind of power. “No, I don’t know anyone here. This is just the show that’s on television today.”

We continued to watch until her name was called.

Later we talked about the timing of the tv show. We both agreed it was no “coincidence” but God intervening to let her know things were going to be okay. Maya was afraid she would die because of what happened in the last pregnancy, but from that point forward, she had newfound faith in God's guidance.

Sure enough, when the baby was born months later, there were no complications.

We stayed connected for a long while, and I saw pictures of that beautiful child as she grew. I was able to find educational opportunities for Maya to help get the ball rolling, but Maya did all the work, and went on to get her degree.

When I reflect on all that came together that day—the timing of the appointment, the timing of the show, the content of the show—I shake my head in wonder. God wanted to let Maya know in an unforgettable way that He was with her.

I learned something from that experience, too. Sometimes we underestimate what God can use. I would have never guessed a program I deemed of  such little value would be used by God in such a mighty way. That experience taught me to never underestimate God’s ability to use whatever he chooses to accomplish his purpose.

That’s my story today. What’s yours?

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

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Tuesday, April 6, 2021

God Is So Good

For various reasons these days, I’ve been especially thinking about our dear friend and mentor Dr. Charles Boleyn.

But then again, he was such a great influence in our lives, there’s always been much to remind me of His life and legacy. Even small things like a box of Whitman’s chocolates brings him to mind, because every Christmas, he’d show up at our back door with a box for us. Jerry often quotes these words from him, “If you want to get anything done, you’d better do it before you retire, because after that, you won’t have time.” So true.

You can see Dr. Boleyn's sweet demeanor in this
photo taken at a church event in the early
 days of Jerry's ministry.

I came to know Dr. Boleyn when he "retired" from full time ministry as a pastor and moved back to our town to start his own ministry, “Power for Living Today.” He wrote a weekly column in the newspaper, preached revivals, and filled in for other pastors. Reference the "too busy" quote above. He was a humble, gentle man who was much loved and much sought after. In his quiet way of mentoring, he was responsible for so many coming to know the Lord in a deeper way including several who went on to have global ministries and one who became the president of two large Christian universities. The value of his legacy is inestimable.

These days, I’m thinking of one of his favorite songs. If he preached  and I was at the piano, I would almost always know the closing song was “God is so good,” even if something else was planned. And of course, we’d sing the other verses like, “He cares for me,” “I’ll do His will,” and “I love Him so.” Improvisations on the song could just keep going, but we’d always get back to “God is so good.”

These days as flickers of normal seem to be returning, bluebirds are nesting, and the azaleas are blooming, “God is so good” might be easier for some to say. But God is so good even when we are still struggling, grieving, and agonizing over seemingly unsolvable personal and sometimes private problems—when things don’t appear to be turning out the way we want.

God’s goodness isn’t dependent on circumstances or outcomes. Dr. Boleyn knew that no matter what is happening to us, God is good, and we can choose to focus on our blessings instead of our problems and disappointments. In a collection of his articles, he wrote. “There are bruises and there are blessings, and there is the attitude within us that chooses to make one of them uppermost in our lives. If bruises come first, if we are always preoccupied with them, probably our lives will be one continued complaint . . . On the other hand, if blessings are uppermost in our minds, we have a different kind of attitude toward life. We have a continuing sense of indebtedness to others and to God. Our lives are not self-centered; they are others-centered. Our spirits are lifted by the magnitude of goodness which has come our way.”

Our dear Dr. Boleyn is an example of the “magnitude of goodness” that has come our way and though he has been gone now for over twenty years, he lived a life of such profound influence, Jerry and I often share how we miss him and discuss something he taught us. He proved those four words, “God is so good” in every encounter I ever had with him and God is using his legacy to remind me today to continually focus on God’s goodness.

No matter what is happening.

No matter what might be lurking.

God is so good.

“Oh, give thanks to the lord, for He is good! His mercy endures forever” I Chronicles 16:34 

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