Sunday, March 15, 2020

What If?

This morning, with churches closed, I told my wife, Julie, that I was going to the woods to pray. Our Australian Cattle Dog, Teke joins me for these excursions. What began almost four years ago as a ritual to exercise my dog, has turned into not only a great time spent with her but my house of prayer.  It has proven to be a great prayer closet. There is no physical door to close behind me. Just the world.

Julie chose to join us. We prayed for our families and our leaders. For those who have already lost loved ones to this virus.

I posted on Facebook this weekend that as for my family, we would be cautious but we refuse to live in fear. Psalm 91:1 came to mind. I posted this after we went to see I Still Believe, Friday afternoon. Jeremy Camp's story. One of my favorite songs is Walk by Faith. Imagine the pain he endured to write such a poignant song.

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Each day, I want to walk in faith, and yes, I come up woefully short many days. But I do believe Jesus when he said this...

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I prayed particularly for people who are living in fear of the coronavirus. People who have chosen to hoard toilet paper and other supplies. They are taking from their neighbors in an attempt to calm their fears. I doubt very seriously that a supply room of toilet paper is going to abate your fears. And if this has you terrified, how many other things do you routinely live in fear of? I suspect quite a bit.

And while I am the least of the least in the Kingdom of God. I want to tell you that you don't have to live like this. There is another way and it is not through any religion or even a certain denomination that makes you feel comfortable. I have news for you. Jesus did not call you and me to be comfortable.

How can you not surrender to fear? Simple. Ask Jesus into your heart. Will you never be afraid again? No. But that moment when you feel his presence and you know that he is real. It shapes you for the remainder of your days. Regardless, of where you go or the choices you make.

One of my thoughts this morning is how we make God so complex. We forget how simple Jesus made it for all of us. Imagine if we lived this, especially today.

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What if today we chose to do the following?

Heed President Trump's declaration for a national day of prayer.  

Forget about whether you are a Republican, Democrat, or Independent.

Turn off FOX NEWS, MSNBC, CNN & all the rest. Just because the channel of your preference shares what you tend to think that does not mean they don't slant the news. Some people spend the majority of their lives arguing politics on social media. Calling each other names because you view politics differently. Is that your calling in life? What are you accomplishing? Have you changed anyone's viewpoint by name-calling? If you are indeed a believer is that loving your neighbor as yourself? 

What if we all chose today to put aside our differences and pray for our nation, earnestly and sincerely?

Full disclosure I feel like Julie and I  have been in a season of testing, in the desert, for over two years. I can recall the moment I knew it was coming. Have I been frustrated and shook my fist at God wondering where he is? Yes.

But I still believe. 

I am here today. I am praying for our nation and for the world. I am praying some good comes from this. I am praying for this virus to dissipate.  What if we all unplugged from the news, from social media, for a time of your choosing and sought God, not just for ourselves, but for our nation? For the world?

What if we let go of our fears and considered our neighbor?

What if you even offered to share that toilet paper you have hoarded in the supply closet?

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And my comfort is this. If I contract the coronavirus tomorrow and I die before the week is out.

I still believe.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

7 Days Before Christmas

Christmas is such a time of reflection for me. I think of the years I loathed Christmas. I was broken-hearted, sad, and for a few of them mired in the black hole of depression. But mostly, I was just disappointed in my life. The season reminded me that I was once again in a place of unrealized dreams and I would spend one Holiday Season hoping that the next one would prove better.

I remember those that are no longer with us. Last year, my childhood friend, Nicky died two days after his 62nd birthday, less than one week before Christmas. The man that taught me more than he could know and would take no credit for. He spoke into my life that being encouraging to others was the greatest of the spiritual gifts. I believe that with all that I have. 

It has proven a trying year in many aspects and I can't tell you how many occasions I wished I could have reached out and talked with Nicky about what was happening. To hear his wise counsel summed up in a few words after he listened carefully to what I had to say. 

Even last night, when I mentioned to my wife, Julie, that it was Nicky's birthday, I began to cry. I told her his death continues to hit me harder than I thought possible. 

Do you know what my wise wife said to that? She said, "How blessed are you to have a friend that you still are mourning so deeply over." Her point was everyone does not have even one person in their life like that. And I am blessed to share other close friendships with people who are still with us. As usual, my wife is right.

Last weekend, Teke, our Australian Cattle Dog and I were walking in the woods at a nearby park. It is a special daily time together. But it is also a time of devotion and has become my best prayer place. 

As I thought about Christmas past and the times of sadness and disappointment, I began to thank God for rescuing me. Has the year been trying? Sure it has. It probably has been for most of us. But, I love Christmas again. It is no longer a time of disappointment. I have so much to be grateful for. My wife loves me. She believes I am far better than I can see. She believes in me when I don't. Yesterday, when I unexpectantly stopped by Julie's workplace-she was sitting in her car eating lunch and when she spotted me, she got out of her car and ran to hug me with this huge beautiful grin etched upon her face. How priceless is that?

I was grateful for the wonderful dog that was glad to be in the woods with me. For my wonderful son, Micah, who will arrive Christmas Day and make our immediate family complete and the close friends I have that are a phone call away if I need anything. 

But I am most appreciative of a Savior, who never left my side, despite my decades of anger towards Him. I have cursed Him in more ways than I can recall. He was just waiting for that moment when I said, "Okay, Jesus, You take the wheel. I will go where you say go. Even if it is not what I want." At the time, I thought that meant my two biggest and longest dreams were possibly being relinquished. No, He granted both in less than two years. 

I will not pretend to know how a relationship with God works for you. But for me, I knew He was waiting for the day I truly placed Him first. Now, do I fail at times in that endeavor? Absolutely, I do, but I return quickly to where I want to be. The best example I can think of is that I would love for my writing to lead to a real career. But I don't want any success or financial gain from it unless He is on board. I won't enjoy it otherwise. Believe me, that is a dramatic shift for the man in the mirror of almost nine years ago. 

As I walked in the woods, reflecting upon all of this and thanking God for the happiness in my life, I began to cry with tears of gratitude. From all the broken pieces, He put me back together. 

While I am most grateful I never want to forget how shattered my life once was. It is probably because of this that my heart is for the broken. Sometimes, I think our churches could do better at trying to encourage the broken, especially during the Holiday Season. Maybe instead of being concerned with putting on the best Christmas service-complete with the music and candlelight, the greater emphasis could be reaching out to those that are hurting. Some of those people may be walking through those church doors for the only time all year. Maybe they need to be offered prayer and encouragement more than a well planned Christmas Service.  But then, I know I could do more to help as well.   

It is easy for people to feel forgotten at Christmas. Even forgotten by God. They may feel this way even if they are surrounded by family. 

In the hustle and bustle of the next week and during your Christmas Eve service at church. Let's keep an eye out for those that have the defeated look of life in their eyes. Offer a word of conversation. Let them know you have time to listen to them. Family and dinner plans can wait.

What could be more important than encouraging a broken person? 

I know what my friend, Nicky would say.


Friday, October 26, 2018

Getting Out of the Way

My wife, Julie, has been faithful in her walk with Jesus for most of her life. I on the other hand, have spent decades chasing my own desires and in the process shook my fist at God in anger for much of it. I wanted what I thought I needed first without Him because deep down I trusted myself to know what was best for me far more than I trusted God.

One failed relationship after another and I still sought what I desired the most.

Psalm 37:4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

I quoted this often back to God but like it often is with some of us we leave a key word out. In this case the word is delight. I asked two men that I respect what that term meant to them.

Kim: Dwelling contently and assuredly in His grace, mercy and love.

George: I think of how blessed I am that I have a close relationship with the Lord and that I find favor with Him and I can delight in knowing that He has found favor in me.

I was not experiencing this kind of delight because I continued to place myself first but early in 2012 I took a big step. There was no altar call or raising my hand in church to signify my coming home. I was driving on College Road when I simply stated this truth.

"Lord, I have messed up everything I have touched. I will follow you, even if it means it is not what I want." It was simple and it was sincere. My image of that moment is God calling the host around His throne and saying, "Okay, let's go to work. I have his attention."

Later that year, Friday, October 26 my life was altered with a first date. Julie and I had talked about getting together for coffee previously, but I never followed through. At the time she was 38 and I was 55.

It was a lot of age difference to me. I was dooming it as a failure before I even took a chance but each time we talked the conversations were so easy. But I kept thinking there is no way that this young, pretty, genuine, warm, woman had any real interest in me. Today, I joke with her that Match.Com would have never matched us up.

We met at Hugh Macrae Park by the pond area. Three hours later she asked what time it was. Three hours that seemed like  thirty minutes. Coffee led to lunch. It was almost five that afternoon when we parted ways. Today it is referred to as the, "Seven hour coffee."

We laugh today often about that first date. It was a beautiful fall day. Julie says the time by the pond was like a movie scene with the director saying cue the leaves falling and the rustling sound of the ones already on the ground. The ducks walking by.

We parted that day and Julie said, "If you ever want to do this again just call me."

I drove home and whispered to God. Is this it, Lord? I was finally at a place where I did not want to charge down any road that He was not part of. Before I made it home to Carolina Beach, Julie had sent a text. "This was the best day I have had since I can't remember." I tease her about playing hard to get but we never played games with each other.

We went to lunch two days later after church and again spent the afternoon together. But it was the following day, on our third date that God did something that I was most grateful for.

Back in May of that year, while I was in the shower, I heard as clear as day. "Get your house in order." I had no idea what it meant and in time I kind of forgot until that day of our third date.

We had met at Carolina Beach State Park and hiked to Sugarloaf. Later at my house, she was sitting at the kitchen table when I recalled what was spoken that day in the shower. I shared it with her. Her eyes grew distant and she said nothing until she said adamantly, "Say that again, just like you said it the first time."

I did and she began shaking her head. "Does that mean anything to you?" I asked.

"I have heard that same thing multiple times lately." She held back one little detail. Later, when we were secure in our relationship and where it was going. She said when she in frustration asked, "What does that even mean, Lord?"

She heard this. "Because the man I have for you is coming and he is coming quickly."

God was not telling us to run out and get married immediately. We had to walk things out. We had to share and at anytime we could have said this is not for me. But what I know without doubt is that God was saying, "If you merge these two paths to one. I will be with you."

The pressure was off. This would not be a mistake. God was showing us that He would be with us. It was okay for us to fall in love and boy did we fall in love. More so with every passing day.

Sometimes in the quiet of night as Julie sleeps soundly, I will look at her and I can't believe that God sent someone into my life that not only loves me when all is well. I have had that many times. She loves me when that dark hole starts pulling at me. She fights for me. She sees more good in me than I ever do.

And as I whisper my thanks to God. I thank Him also for the broken relationships that I thought I needed so badly. I thank Him for the heartache, as difficult as it was. Because Julie, exceeds all the dreams I ever had in a woman. And that is no small feat.

Happy Anniversary, Baby. I know you forgot this date again. Our wedding date is the anniversary that is most important to you but I think I will keep October 26 as mine.

The day it all changed.


P.S. As for the past and the heartache. As Rascal Flatts sang, God Bless the Broken Road.

I set out on a narrow way many years ago
Hoping I would find true love along the broken road
But I got lost a time or two
Wiped my brow and kept pushing through
I couldn't see how every sign pointed straight to you
That every long lost dream lead me to where you are
Others who broke my heart, they were like northern stars
Pointing me on my way into your loving arms
This much I know is true
That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you
Yes it did
I think about the years I spent just passing through
I'd like to have the time I lost and give it back to you
But you just smile and take my hand
You've been there you understand
It's all part of a grander plan that is coming true
Every long lost dream led me to where you are
And others who broke my heart they were like northern stars
Pointing me on my way into your loving arms
This much I know it's true
That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you
And now I'm just rolling home
Into my lover's arms
This much I know is true
That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you
That God blessed the broken road
Ooh, ooh
That led me straight to you