Smoke and Fire in the Smoky Mountains

No photo needs to adorn this loss. It’s been in the news so frequently:

Out of Control fires in the Smoky Mountains and Surrounding Areas and Towns

And it raged on for days. While a good breeze and strong winds are sometimes a good and welcome turn in the weather, their timing in this area ended up having a disastrous influence on the fires. The winds exacerbated the flames and destruction spread with reckless speed.

Sadly, many of the homes in the areas were fully consumed down to their foundations, leaving only a lonely fireplace/chimney standing amidst the smoking dust. My cousin’s beloved green cabin was one of the casualties. In it mementoes and treasures were also consumed.

Then at last rains came. What a welcome they were, helping turn the tide of the remaining fires.

The fires have taken such a toll–both physically and mentally. When I first heard of the fires, my heart went out to all who were in the affected areas–the homeowners, the native animals, the firefighters. My prayers went up like the smoke with a request for rain and peace.

Then I remembered a favorite poem from years ago. I’ll share it here in hope that the perspective of this wise and historic Puritan poet might be a comfort to those who have suffered such a loss.

The poem is entitled “Verses upon the Burning of our House, July 10th, 1666.” Its author is Anne Bradstreet, one of the first female poets on what would years later become American soil. She was born in England in 1612 and immigrated with her husband and parents to the American colonies with the Winthrop Puritan group, settling in Massachusetts. There, she and her husband raised eight children and moved four times finally making a home in North Andover, Massachusetts. By then, many of her relatives (both older and younger than she) had passed and Anne herself was suffering from failing health, most probably tuberculosis.

It is this fourth house that burned to the ground. In the poem, she speaks of her loss and her memories, and she honestly recounts her regret. Even so, at the poem’s close, her pain and loss are overwhelmed by her faith in God and reliance on Christ. May God strengthen us to face loss with a similar perspective.

Be encouraged (and kindly be understanding of the 17th century speech and spelling):

“Verses upon the Burning of our House, July 10th, 1666”
 
“Here Follows Some Verses Upon the Burning
of Our house, July 10th. 1666. Copied Out of
a Loose Paper.
In silent night when rest I took,
For sorrow near I did not look,
I wakened was with thund’ring noise
And piteous shrieks of dreadful voice.
That fearful sound of “fire” and “fire,”
Let no man know is my Desire.
I, starting up, the light did spy,
And to my God my heart did cry
To straighten me in my Distress
And not to leave me succourless.
Then, coming out, behold a space
The flame consume my dwelling place.
And when I could no longer look,
I blest His name that gave and took,
That laid my goods now in the dust.
Yea, so it was, and so ‘twas just.
It was his own, it was not mine,
Far be it that I should repine;
He might of all justly bereft
But yet sufficient for us left.
When by the ruins oft I past
My sorrowing eyes aside did cast
And here and there the places spy
Where oft I sate [sat] and long did lie.
Here stood that trunk, and there that chest,
There lay that store I counted best.
My pleasant things in ashes lie
And them behold no more shall I.
Under thy roof no guest shall sit,
Nor at thy Table eat a bit.
No pleasant talk shall ‘ere be told
Nor things recounted done of old.
No Candle e’er shall shine in Thee,
Nor bridegroom‘s voice e’er heard shall be.
In silence ever shalt thou lie,
Adieu, Adieu, all’s vanity.
Then straight I ‘gin [again] my heart to chide,
And did thy wealth on earth abide?
Didst fix thy hope on mould’ring dust?
The arm of flesh didst make thy trust?
Raise up thy thoughts above the sky
That dunghill mists away may fly.
Thou hast a house on high erect
Frameed by that mighty Architect,
With glory richly furnished,
Stands permanent though this be fled.
It‘s purchased and paid for too
By Him who hath enough to do.
A price so vast as is unknown,
Yet by His gift is made thine own;
There‘s wealth enough, I need no more,
Farewell, my pelf [money], farewell, my store [possessions].
The world no longer let me love,
My hope and treasure lies above.
Source: The Columbia Anthology of American Poetry (Columbia University Press, 1995)
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God, Slow Me Down!

Have you heard the song “A Future Not My Own” by Matt Maher? He is a favorite Christian musician of mine and the song is on his Saints and Sinners album. In the song, Maher asks God to slow him down, pleads with God to chase his heart of stone, describes love as “a long and narrow road,” and concedes that we see only the beginning, but God sees the end. Then he goes on to cry what we all echo–the need “for a future not my own.” You can click on the song title to hear the actual song in another window: “A Future Not My Own”

I listened to that cd yesterday and, again, today.

As it turned out, yesterday I needed a little slowing down myself. My husband and I were on-the-go from morning through evening, happily running errands and doing various acts of service. It was exhilarating–until it came time to sit still in a class that evening. God slowed me down! Then I realized, “I’m exhausted!” That class was a sweet peace and, overall, it was a full and rich gift of a day.

This morning, the thoughts in that song fit in beautifully with my Bible study. Several dear sisters in Christ and I are doing the Beth Moore Entrusted study on 2nd Timothy. It’s a blessing. In this morning’s study, we were instructed to read a passage in 1st Timothy. 1st Timothy 1:5, to be exact. (I don’t think I’d ever soaked in that single verse before, scurrying on instead to verse 12 and beyond. Here it is from the ESV:

 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

So, over and over from yesterday through today, from a cd selection to errands and activities to my Bible study, I was hearing about love.

Love is the long and narrow road–the path set before me by my Lord. (Proverbs 16:9, 20:24; Jeremiah 10:23)

♥ Love is the impetus, the driving force for all action. (John 3:16)

♥ Love is the result of a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. (1Timothy 1:5)

♥ Love is the inevitable reaction of knowing Christ. (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)

Now, I’m not sure where you are, dear reader, but I’m not on a dirt road in Ephesus. So what does that love look like–what could it look like–on the asphalt roads in my life?

As I thought about how love could be the aim of all we do, I suddenly realized that LOVE ~

not the . . .  eb52c020-c145-440c-8445-911f133c0096

  or the . . .  hershey-almond

 

~ was the energy that propelled me to do all the things God gave me opportunity to do.

♥ God’s love for me propelled Him to send Christ.

♥ Christ’s love for His Father and for us propelled Him to suffer on a cross.

♥ My love for God and Christ propels me to love them with all my heart, soul, and mind–and my neighbor as myself. (Matthew 22-:36-40)

Yes, as Maher’s song recites, “love is a long and narrow road.”

That road will undoubtedly include green pastures, dark valleys, desolate ravines, and mountaintops. What lies around the corner? Only God knows where our love for Him will take us–there’s that “future not our own”.

Yet through it all, isn’t it a deep peace and an uncontainable joy to know that God has set our path before us, that our times are in His hands? Metaphorically, our names are written on the palm of his hand. (Isaiah 49:16) We rest and sing under the shadow of His wing. (Psalm 57:1, 63:7) He is faithful to be with us, and every step is a step closer to being with Him forever. Then we’ll worship at the feet of the one who loved us so much that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life!

What love?!!

That’s something to sing about and to go about with in our heart~

And dear friend, here’s hoping God crosses our paths ♥

“He Restores My Soul”

IMG_3198.jpgOur home has a small but lovely back yard and a wooden deck. I love the sound made when I walk across that wooden deck. Don’t know why! There are big maple trees towering overhead that offer bounteous shade and a sprinkling of autumn’s fall leaves. There’s a little table and two chairs, perfect for a quiet conversation. (We could enjoy some time together there, couldn’t we?) There’s a bench where I like to spread out my tea, my Bible, and my laptop. Here and there, flowers bloom in large pots. A rosemary bush scents the air. It’s beautiful to me. 

There’s just one problem:

When on the deck, there is NO internet connection!

(Cue thunder and threatening music.)

This might not seem like a terrible turn of events, and—in the big picture—it really isn’t. But at the moment, it was.

First, I grumbled, but of course, that didn’t do any good!

Then I decided to be pro-active and tried to s-t-r-e-t-c-h the internet booster out onto the deck. Sadly, the connection lines weren’t long enough. Technologically foiled!

So I took the only option there seemed to be. I closed the laptop and just sat there–on the bench, sipping my mug of hot tea.

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Have you ever felt like God just lit up His will in neon lights right in front of you?

Well, there weren’t any neon lights on the deck, and there was no special message in the Cape Cod towns written on my mug. It was Psalm 23, the Lord’s Prayer; it flooded my mind, especially verses 1-3:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.”

Last week was close to overwhelming (although I’m sure it wasn’t the “valley of the shadow of death” David writes of in verse 4 of Psalm 23). I did, however, feel like I was barely keeping my head above water. Have you had weeks like that? Not that I wish that for you, of course, but I hope you can empathize! The activities were mostly good ones, but they were numerous:

  • Work
  • Grocery shopping
  • Meal prep
  • Bible study
  • Walk the dog
  • Run errands
  • Clean bathroom
  • Paint upstairs trim
  • Purchase fall plants
  • Plant fall plants
  • Pick up ordered items
  • Help a friend
  • Tutor students
  • Do laundry
  • Entertain friends
  • Write letters
  • Make phone calls
  • Do Sunday school preparation and
  • Clean rug (Our dog got sick on our family room rug—bring on the baking soda.)

There were some hard decisions in there, too. Throughout the week, I had prayed and prayed for direction and for peace, and I prayed that wordless cry of the soul that wells up from deep inside you, accompanied only by tears.

But this was different. There were no tears now.

I sat.

I took a deep breath of fresh air.

I watched a small nuthatch at the bird feeder.

I watched a hummingbird seek out one of our last geranium blossoms.

I felt the soft breeze drift over me, gentler than cashmere,

I heard the rustling tree branches overhead.

I heard the plunk of hickory nuts falling on and rolling down our neighbor’s roof.

I smelled the sweet, complex scent of my tea. (Sloane Tea’s “Heavenly Cream”—seriously!)

I released the worry and stress I had worn like accessories, increasingly added throughout the week.

I loosened my grip on my list of self-imposed “to-do’s” and thought about what was really most important—to love the Lord my God with all my heart, with all my mind, and with all my soul and to love my neighbor as myself. (Matthew 22: 34-40)

Now this isn’t brain surgery, but once I took my eyes off that list of self-determined to-do’s, I could sense the complete sufficiency of Jesus which superseded the whole list. Decisions and priorities became clear.

The Lord restored my soul.

Only then, did I come back inside, jot down some notes, and then pop back out and snap a couple photos.

Now it’s time to give my Mom a call and text a couple of college students. Then, I’ll make a second attempt at rug cleaning! The laundry, painting, and planting can wait for another time.

May the Lord restore you, too, dear friend!

For Deeper Insight. . .

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Mass Market Edition - By: W. Phillip Keller I heartily encourage you to check out A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, by W. Phillip Keller.

It’s an eye-opening book that unpacks the 23rd Psalm in an accurate, contextual, and most meaningful way. (It is also undoubtedly one of my favorites!) It makes a wonderful gift at Easter or anytime.

It’s available in many formats. Here’s the link to read more about it and purchase it at Christian Book Distributors: A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller 

To-Do or Done?

OK. This is a confession. I’m running in circles and not getting anything done! It feels like I am the Road Runner from that old cartoon–and I keep stopping to look at the coyote! Sometimes, in spite of my best intentions, I just don’t get everything done that I intend to.

Here is my kitchen counter (which I snapped when I should have been dealing with each of the items photographed):

counter 1. Lamp shade to be painted.

2. Mug to be washed.

3. Light bulb to be put away.

4. Printer ink cartridges to be refilled.

5. Paint and paint thinner for a furniture project.

6. A paint roller for a room that will be painted.

7. Cilantro that must be used tonight or be tossed.

 Is it any wonder all that sent me outside, to sit on the bench on our deck?!

But from the deck, I saw the car. Sigh… Call it more red lights or longer to-do lists, but in spite of running errands for over FOUR hours, I still have four things left in the car to return or drop off.

Between that lingering thought and the mosquitoes buzzing about my ears, the deck was not the sanctuary I’d hoped it would be. Plus, I started sneezing.

Retreating inside, I plopped the laptop on the counter–bravely right next to those misplaced items. I grabbed a tissue to soften the sneezes and thought–how great to have tissues! (We’d been out for a week or so.)

Then it hit me.

Instead of being overcome by the myriad things left to do, what if I think about the number of things I have done!

Weight off my shoulders! Peace and joy!

And as I named each thing (Luke 5 study, a friend’s encouraging text, our son’s handy help, my husband’s smile, pick up this, drop off that, hardware store, fabric store, outlet store, and lunch with our daughter), I put those pesky items in their rightful places. Ah…a smile with each thought AND a cleared counter.

As I think about it, it occurs to me that that’s kind of how God looks at me–not as a long list of sins or even as a check list of good deeds, but as His forgiven and redeemed child because of Jesus Christ. I hope and pray you feel the same way!

Just consider John 1:12:

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

and Colossians 1:11-14:

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Now that is a weight off our shoulders. That is the truest peace and joy.

And now it’s time to start dinner–using that cilantro that’s waiting on the cutting board. I will be thankful and appreciative and enjoy time with family this evening. In fact, I may not even post this for a few days–giving you time to enjoy your family and friends as well.

I hope you do. Treasure all the moments our heavenly Father grants us–trials for the refining of our souls and triumphs for His glory, remembering all along that we are His, cleared of sin like a clean counter top.

Peace and joy!

 

 

It’s Bee Sting Time Here!

You’d think taking the clothes out of the dryer would be a simple and stress-free activity, wouldn’t you? Imagine this…you pull the clothes (or sheets, in this instance) out of the dryer. Although the basement is cool, they are warm and cozy. You pull them to you, in one soft armful.

And then something else comes out of the dryer and falls on the small rug in front of the washer and dryer. What could it be? You bend over to get a closer look… (more…)

Recycling: It’s Not Always What It Seems

Early in the evening the other day, I headed over to our town’s area recycling center. The back of our Subaru Outback was filled with three overflowing bins. One held plastic, a second held paper, and the third held a combination of steel, glass, and aluminum. I’d made the trip many times before and it was always pretty straightforward. Therefore, I fully expected to unload and sort the recyclables and be back home before dark.

Well, remember that verse in Proverbs, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps”? (16:9) In a nutshell, that’s what happened! (more…)

This is the Day!

This is the Day. More specifically, “This is the Day that the Lord has made.” I woke up this morning with that song in my head. “This is the Day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” The words of Psalm 118:24. It filled my head in the shower and, once out, I hummed along with blow dryer accompaniment. Later, I moved a load of towels into the dryer and they rolled and thumped along like a band.

Then I walked into the dining room.

IMG_2452

This is the day that the Lord has made??

I will rejoice and be glad in it??

Do you see this dining room table????

On one surface are items to be returned to a store, items that need a home, paint color swatches, paint color samples, a mirror, a book, a bowl, photographs–suffice it to say–A LOT. And that’s only the dining room table! Just multiply that by at least three surfaces in every room. PLEASE tell me you periodically have surfaces like this!

But this is the day that the Lord has made. I will remember that.

(To be honest, the paint color samples have substantially narrowed down.)

THIS IS the day that the Lord has made.

(I will praise Him and pray first; the world won’t end if the dining room table isn’t clear by sundown–and if it does, it won’t matter!)

This is the day that the Lord has made. I WILL rejoice.

(I will rejoice even amid mess and teetering objects, spilled juice, and transitory clutter. David wrote this psalm after being under intensely stressful circumstances, praying to God, and then receiving help from Him. “They surrounded me like bees,” he writes. “They went out like a fire among thorns; in the name of the Lord I cut them off! I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the Lord helped me” ~ verses 12 and 13.)

Ever felt surrounded by bees? (Or a swarm of disorganized chaos?) Ever felt pushed hard? (Or pulled in eight different directions?) Ever felt like you were falling? (Or overwhelmed and uncertain?) But when we pray, the Lord does help us, doesn’t He?

This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and BE GLAD in it!

(“I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” ~ verses 21-23. 

Let’s zoom into the New Testament and read more about this image of a rejected cornerstone. Acts 4:10-12 holds the key: “Let it be known to all of you…Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead…This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Whatever our situation, whatever our circumstances, whatever our surroundings: “THIS IS the day that the Lord has made. LET US REJOICE and BE GLAD in it” ~ verse 24.

Jesus Christ, the cornerstone of our salvation.

Now, let’s cut off those swarms of bees in the name of the Lord!

Let’s push hard, relying on the Lord’s help!

Let’s rejoice and be glad in our salvation!