My Father

daddy

The other night we were at my mom’s, and when I got home, this picture was on my camera. Because my mom recently moved, my daughter had found this picture leaning in a room against the wall. She asked my mom who it was, and my mom told her it was her grandfather. I think she was taken with the thought and took the picture to capture it.

45 years ago today my earthly, biological father passed away. He was on his way to work and died in a car wreck. I was an infant. Though I’m confident he loved me (a realization that didn’t actually strike me until after I had my own children), I never had the opportunity to know him, and that is a certain loss in my life. I often wonder what it must have been like for my mother to walk through that day, to receive the call that he wasn’t at work, to have the policeman knock on the door, to arrive at the hospital to discover he was already gone.

I’ve never had thought to write about him, perhaps because my experience of knowing him was so brief. I remember during my childhood wondering what part of me was like him. I am a lot like my mom, so I wanted to know if there was anything about me that could connect me to him. But I didn’t know him, and I only knew life with a mom and a sister. It wasn’t sad to me that I didn’t have a dad because I knew nothing different, though at times I felt different from my friends.

It feels strange to write about him. Perhaps it’s something sacred that isn’t meant to be shared. Perhaps I don’t even know enough to write. And perhaps that is sad. But there are some things that I do know that I wouldn’t have known otherwise that I remember now with praise and thanksgiving.

Psalm 68:5 says, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” I can tell you that verse is true. God has been a Father to me, and I’ve always had a strong sense of Him being my heavenly Father, the one who loves and cares for me. His faithfulness to us has been so obvious, and His presence so near. He has watched over and protected me all the days of my life, and the absence of an earthly father made this reality more clear to me. I praise God for that.

My father’s family, though they did not live nearby, have always been involved in my life. We spent most Christmases with them growing up, and I would visit my grandparents frequently, particularly in summertime. They stepped in to love us and care for us, even though their son/brother was gone and we lived farther away. My parents were only married five years, but his family never lost touch with us, always sought us and invested in our lives. I know their love, and I love them, and that also is a gift.

Many men in our church stepped up to reach out to us – inviting my sister and me to father/daughter banquets or inviting us on activities with their families. What kind and generous thoughts. My best friend’s dad always showed me love and kindness, and her parents made me feel like one of the family. Others come to mind, a gift to know godly men who cared for us.

And then my mom remarried when I was 14. “Step-dad” hardly feels like the appropriate word for him as much as he was involved in our lives and how much he loved us and eventually my own children. He was a wonderful, godly man who went to be with the Lord four years ago now.

I’ve had the blessing of not just one father, but many father-figures, and knowing my heavenly Father most of all. On a day that could be reflected upon with sadness, I reflect on it with joy. As Job said in Job 1:21, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.” And He has given so much more. He has given me Himself.

Galatians 4:6, “And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, ‘Abba, Father.'”

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, that I know you as my Father, that you have loved me as your child, adopted me as your own, redeemed my life from the pit, and set my feet upon a rock. Thank you for caring for me so personally. You are this same heavenly Father to all those who believe upon your Son, who by faith trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, His death and resurrection, we are given access to you by faith. What was broken by sin was restored in Christ. And this Father/child relationship is the sweetest and most significant one we can know. Thank you that I can call you “Abba, Father.” In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Remembering is Believing

You know the old saying, “seeing is believing.” If something is so crazy or unbelievable, you might hear, “You just have to see it to believe it!” We’ve all probably used a similar expression both in jest or in full seriousness.

The disciple Thomas used this language in John 20:25. Jesus had appeared to the other disciples after His resurrection and shown them His hands and His side (verses 19-23), but Thomas had not been present. When they told him about it, Thomas said, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” Unless I see, I will not believe.

A friend, strong in his faith, recently was going through a time of legitimate suffering. He’s never wavered in his faith, but in the midst of his hurt, he said something along the lines of, “At some point, you just need to see God is there. It doesn’t feel like enough to just know it.” He knew all the right things, but understandably wanted to really see God’s active, visible power in the situation and experience anew His presence in it. He was articulating what we all can probably identify with and have perhaps felt in moments of acute pain.

As my husband and I listened to our friend, I could see the words “seeing is believing” in my head, words I have written along the page of my Bible in Exodus. The word “remember” came to my mind as a possible antidote to our friend’s questions.

In the Book of Exodus, which describes the Israelites “exodus” out of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites had no trouble believing God when they saw active, present evidence of Him, such as when the Red Sea parted or when the manna first fell to the ground. But even in the midst of such stunning wonders and awesome acts, they were tempted to doubt and fear, to lack faith that God would act again to save and deliver them. They were a forgetful people.

In Exodus 14:10-12, the Israelites, who had fled from Egypt after the Lord sent 10 plagues to cause Pharoah to let them go, now stood before the Red Sea being pursued again by Pharaoh. What they saw (“seeing”) caused them to fear (“believing” they would die): “The children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them. So they were very afraid…. Then they said to Moses, ‘…have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? … For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.’” (emphasis mine)

Rather than remembering that the God who had just delivered them with 10 plagues could now deliver them again, they doubted based on what their physical eyes could see.

“And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.’” (Exodus 14:13-14) (emphasis mine).

You know the rest of the story: The Red Sea parted, and the Israelites were saved, and “the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea” (Ex. 14:27). Moses and the children of Israel sang a song of praise to God in Exodus 15. But how long would they remember?

The next scene (Ex. 15:22-27) after their praise to God takes them three days in the wilderness with no water. They began to complain, and God gave water. Then there was no bread (“Oh, that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Ex. 16:3). And the LORD rained bread from heaven for them.

There were no limits to the miraculous acts the LORD could and would perform on their behalf, with great patience and mercy, and yet, there were continued complaints and lack of faith. For “seeing is believing” and whatever the present moment brought dictated the faith they had.

What if remembering – recalling to mind who God is and what He has done – is a key to ongoing belief? Rather than following the example of the Israelites or Thomas, needing to see to believe, I offered the thought to our friend that perhaps he needed to remember. Maybe he should write down all of the times he had seen God act and known His presence. Maybe he should also write down the promises of God given in Scripture. And then maybe he should cast his eyes upward to see the God who does act for good and in love for his people, even as we live in a sin-sick world experiencing the pain and suffering the Bible acknowledges we will and tells us to expect.

Jesus was gracious to give Thomas that opportunity to see His hands and side eight days later (John 20:26-29), to which Thomas responded, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

In the wilderness times – and at all times – we can go beyond seeing our present circumstances to remembering, and as we do, we can pray and expect and believe and look up and hope and praise. God is there, and we will see Him even as we remember and look to Him again to answer our cries in the way that He knows is best for His glory and our good. Remembering – recounting His awesome acts and presence with us – is an act of believing.

The Patience of God

My high school friend Terri hosts an Advent reflection group on Facebook each year, and she asked me to write something for one of the days. This was what I submitted.

In this season of Advent, we wait with expectation for the coming of Christ at Christmas. We reflect again on his coming to earth in the form of a baby to live life as a man (fully God, fully man), die for our sins, and be raised again. During Advent, we prepare our hearts to make room for Christ (“Let every heart prepare him room” as Isaac Watts penned in “Joy to the World”). We turn away from the things – even good things – that would draw us away from Christ in this season, and we focus on Him. We ponder the true Gift Giver, God Himself, and the gift of salvation (and much more!) that is ours in Christ.

We also remember that there is a second coming of Christ, one to come, and we consider how we are preparing for that coming. (“Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit.” Luke 12:35)

We wait. We wait for our King’s arrival! We wait for His return!

In this season of our waiting, I began to reflect on a God who waits. Is there evidence in Scripture that God waits for us?

Look at these verses:

“Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you….” (Isaiah 30:18)

“Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4)

“…God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared,…” (1 Peter 3:20)

“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

“And count the patience of our Lord as salvation…” (2 Peter 3:15)

christmas oldMy husband and I are part of a couples’ “small group” in our church. We meet every month, rotating homes, to fellowship and study the Bible together. Several years ago, while we were at our small group in a time of animated discussion, I was listening to everyone share and fully engaged in the conversation. While we were talking about whatever our study was that week, several words flew across my mind, interrupting my thoughts: “I waited for you.”

It’s hard to explain as this kind of thing has only happened a couple of times in my life and perhaps it sounds odd. But while my attention had been fully focused elsewhere, not trying to imagine something God might say, those words cut right through the conversation and spoke (though not audibly) to my heart: “I waited for you.”

I remembered that when I was a little girl, there was a verse in the Bible that said something about God being patient so that many would come to salvation as He did not want people to perish. And in my young mind, I had wondered about that, thinking, “Yes, Lord, but the longer you wait, the more people are born, and so the more people are probably actually going to be lost because there are so many more people!”

After our small group, my husband went out to the movies with the guys, and I went home and got down on the floor with my Bible and prayed, asking God about this. “Where is that verse?” “And are you speaking about that verse to me?”

As I prayed and flipped through my Bible, I found the verse in 2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”  (2 Peter 3:9)

face to faceI asked the Lord if He would keep showing me this verse and teaching me through it if this was truly from Him. Three days of that next week, God brought me this verse through various devotionals and books. One had come in the mail that week from a conference I had attended, and the devotional was about 2 Peter 3:9. I also occasionally work through the book Face to Face (it guides your prayer with Scripture), and 2 Peter 3:9 was listed as one of the verses for the day. Then there was a third source, as well, another day. All three unseen beforehand, placed and timed perfectly that week to show me this truth.

The thought was quite powerful. God had waited for me. Before I had believed Christ and trusted Him with my life and for the forgiveness of my sins, He had been waiting for me. Once it became personal, I suddenly threw out all of the mental mathematical work on that verse that I had done as a child! God had waited for me. I ponder each of those words. Our God, the Creator of the universe, the Savior of the world – waiting – for me, small though I am, sinful, unworthy, yet even for me, He waited.

Do you know this King that is coming? The One who has come and will come again? Can you imagine that He might be waiting for you? If you haven’t trusted Jesus for your sins, why not do so this very day, this Christmas season, and experience a rebirth even as we celebrate His birth.

The Bible tells us that if we confess with our mouths the Lord Jesus and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, we will be saved (Romans 10:9-10). I pray you know this Jesus as your Savior and Lord, and the abundant, eternal life He wants you to have. And may we celebrate with joy a God who is so personal, who loves us so dearly, that He would send His Son into our brokenness and sin to suffer in our place so that we might know His righteousness and be reconciled to God. What a gift! What a Savior! What a King! Praise the Lord!

Entering Heaven

I may try in the next days to share why I’ve not been blogging lately! All good things. But for now, I am remembering 4 years ago this week when my grandmother “MaMa” died. All of my other grandparents had died when I was young, and she was the only one to live so long. As she aged, she had what seemed like Alzheimer’s (though I don’t know that it was diagnosed that way).

MaMa was from south Mississippi, and we grew up visiting her every summer. My sister and I often rode the Greyhound bus from Memphis, and she would give my mom a much needed break. I’m sure losing her son (my dad) when he was 27 in a car wreck was something she never got over, but not something she spoke of.

So 4 years ago, I was in Memphis when I learned that she had had a stroke and wasn’t expected to live much longer. I wanted to try to go down to Mississippi and see her, but wasn’t sure if I would make it in time, didn’t think she would be conscious, and didn’t know about leaving my kids to travel alone. But if I could have the opportunity, I wanted to talk to her about Jesus and heaven. She had always been quiet about her faith, so I somehow wished I could encourage her in these things at this time.

When I did decide to go, I got in the car, still unsure of the decision, and began praying about what I was doing because I didn’t have any clear answers, but was just feeling led. After praying, I turned on the radio, and this was the song that was just starting. It said,

“Let it be said of us, While we walked among the living,
Let it be said of us, By the ones we leave behind,
Let it be said of us, That we lived to be a blessing for life.
Let it be said of us, That we gave to reach the dying,
Let it be said of us, By the fruit we leave behind
Let it be said of us, That our legacy is blessing for life.
This day You set life, you set death right before us, This day
Every blessing and curse is a choice now, And we will choose to be a blessing for life.
Let it be said of us, That our hearts belonged to Jesus
Let it be said of us, That we spoke the words of life,
Let it be said of us That our heritage is blessing for life
For your Kingdom, for our children, For the sake of every nation.”

The words as they played were so perfect – go and be a blessing to the dying (my grandmother) and choose a legacy of blessing.

When I arrived at the hospital around noon, my aunt and uncle were there. (My dad was 1 of 3 children — he had had a brother and sister.) When I saw MaMa, she never opened her eyes, and she seemed gone already. I began to wonder why I had come all this way.

I went outside to call my mom, and I was telling her how gross this hospital was and how I knew the Lord did not call me to be “comfortable,” but to obey, but this was hard to be there all day, just sitting and waiting for death. As I was talking, I noticed a car sitting out in front of me waiting, and I peered through the side window and noticed that this lady’s t-shirt said, “Believe in Miracles.” Like a poster board for me, how weird, I’m standing there, second guessing what the Lord would do, and when I saw that, I wondered if that was a reminder!

We found out that my grandmother might live another week or so, even as sick as she was, so everyone made plans to leave that next morning and come back when it was over. I spent the night at my aunt’s house and just prayed that God would guide my steps, even when I didn’t know the ones to take.

At my aunt’s house the next morning, she had a bracelet on her shelf that said, “Expect a Miracle.” Even though I was convinced MaMa would never have another wakeful moment and my faith was failing, there was just a small thread of belief and wondering about those reminders and saying to myself, “keep standing.” But overall, I was ready to go to Memphis and forget about it!

Everyone started getting ready for the day, and I had about decided to drive back to Memphis without stopping by the hospital. My cousin told me I should just run by and say good-bye to her mom (my aunt), and somehow, my sister ended up coming with me.

When we arrived, my aunt had gone home to shower, but my grandmother’s one eye that was not paralyzed was open! I knew this was my time to talk to her. I asked my uncle if I could go over and talk with her or did he or my sister want to. My uncle said they had had times like that earlier in the week, and for me to go ahead, if she could even hear me.

I went over and began talking as though she could hear, see, and understand. I began to quote Scripture, everything I could think of from Psalm 23 to things about heaven. I told her that she didn’t have to be afraid and that Jesus would take her to heaven if she had trusted in Him. As I talked to her, she got her other paralyzed eye open, and she squeezed my hand. Her hand went from being gripped tight to loose in mine, and her forehead and brow began to move and furrow. I can only believe she heard and understood.

My sister would periodically come over and say a word or two about childhood memories and how she loved her. My uncle went in and out of the room. When I would ask him if he wanted to talk, he would say “no” and wanted me to keep talking to her.

Everything about those moments seemed sacred to me. Had my aunt been there, I wouldn’t have had the courage to speak so boldly to my grandmother because I would have been intimidated. God put the right people there at that right moment.

Finally, the nurse came in and said they were going to give her a bath and we should leave for a few minutes. As we exited the room, the thought came so clearly, “say anything else because this may be her last conscious moment.” I leaned down close in her ear and whispered, “I love you.” With that, I followed my uncle and sister out of the room. It seemed within seconds of getting out of the room that the light above the door began flashing on and off. People started running in and out, but didn’t say anything to us. We waited on what we thought was the bath, but also had a funny feeling. My aunt arrived, and we waited.

They finally came out and said she was gone. She had died the moment after we left the room. We all went back in, and there we stood, my aunt, my uncle, and my sister and me (representing my father). We hugged and cried. She was truly gone; there was no life there.

What a blessing to be the one to stand beside her and walk her as far as a human could walk, to say Scripture and pray and say the last words of “I love you.” God gave me everything I asked for and more, even though I didn’t deserve it. I praise Him for that, for these memories this week, for the many other ways He acted that I wouldn’t even have time to detail here. He was so gracious and merciful and revealed His presence so clearly. Thank you, Lord!

Happy Mother’s Day

Proverbs 31:30 “Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.”

This is my mom with my son last Easter in Memphis. The verse above applies to her! I’m thankful to have a mom who fears the Lord and who has always been an example to me of living a life devoted to Him. She is full of compassion and love for others, selflessness about herself, and always seeking to direct people to the Lord, their source of hope, and His truth.

My mom has not had the easiest of lives, but she has a fruitful and joyful life lived in the Lord. When I was 2 months old, my father died in a car wreck. My mom was 25 years old, a young widow with two daughters. She moved back to Memphis, her hometown.

3 years later, my mom lost her mother to cancer. She did get to see her mother come to a saving faith in Christ 2 weeks before she died! When I was 7, my mom’s father died. We adored him. When I was in college, her sister and only sibling died. I’ve always thought it must have been hard to lose those closest to you in such a short span of time and still while relatively young.

This last year, my mom lost her second husband suddenly, only about 2 weeks after losing a dear friend. She’s still figuring out life with his absence.

In all these losses, her confidence in the Lord has never been shaken. She is grounded in the Bible and trusts the Lord for each day, and He has always provided. There are so many stories of His faithfulness to her and to us through the years.

Through God’s grace, faithfulness, and provision for us, we never lacked a thing. My sister and I both attended a Christian school for 13 years that gave us a solid foundation and stability. I have no idea how that worked out precisely, but I am grateful. We always attended the same church where I was baptized, married the preacher’s son, and had my children dedicated to the Lord.

While her life is a story of God’s faithfulness, on this Mother’s Day weekend, I want to thank her for choosing to follow Him, for her consistency and the choices she made that brought us stability and a solid home life. It could not have been easy to do that alone, to have to go to work each day, to be a single mom, but she did it with grace, without complaint, with joy.

Thank you, Lord, for my precious mom!