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)

Squeaks, Creaks, and Clicks and Other Unusual Sounds

The view from my desk looks out onto the deck and across our back yard. I love the natural light, the birds, the trees–even all the fallen leaves like reminders of blessings at this time of year. Today, I was happily typing along on another project (an inexorable book submission proposal) and I kept hearing the oddest clicking sound.

Does your house make funny sounds? Our house is an older one, so funny sounds do echo about now and then. Certain floorboards creak an achy “Hello” when I walk over them. One light switch in particular makes a loud, grouchy CLAP when I switch it on like it would much rather continue sleeping in darkness. Even our newer washer and dryer call out their own version of a Revolutionary War song each time a cycle ends. It’s a rollicking time!

But this was a new sound. Of course, at first I thought it was a drip in the sink. Nothing stirring there–not even a soap bubble. Was our family’s furry friend chewing on squeaky toy or a crinkly Hershey bar wrapper? No, he was dozing in the sun on the hall rug.

Still the clicking continued–and so the plot thickened.

Into the kitchen, I went. Yes, I’d completely turned off the gas on the stove after heating my lunch. (It was vegetable soup–wish you could’ve joined me!) The clock on the shelf was quietly ticking, definitely not clicking.

I headed back to my little desk, flustered and out-of-ideas, and sat down in the chair. My eyes drifted out across the narrow deck, to the ivy,

AND THERE HE WAS!  (And then he wasn’t.)

img_3248The cutest little chipmunk ever. (Aren’t they really all cute and little!) I’m afraid you’ll have to imagine the little imp, just to the right of the fern, nestled in the leaves, and looking straight at me, for he turned and dashed right into the ivy in a blink. Guess he had been carrying on an in-depth conversation and telling tales of the best nut storage spots and the latest news from the acorn beds–all with no one attentively listening. That’s rather sad really.

There’s a listening time that could be even sadder though–for each of us. There have been times I’ve missed “the still small voice” of God, as I busily made my own decisions, pursued my own designs. Ever found yourself in that same position?

Now I’m not equating God or Jesus with a chipmunk, even though the Maker did create them. It’s just that finally locating that click-happy, verbose chipmunk made my ears perk up.  It made me remember that sometimes I need to look and listen–

to REALLY LOOK–at God’s Word and

to REALLY LISTEN–to the words of Jesus Christ.

“Come to me…” (Matthew 11:28)

“Abide in me…” (John 15:4)

And that brings us to a beautiful promise: “…rest unto your souls.” Matthew 11:29)

I don’t know about you, but I could really use some rest for my soul!

Every concern. Every worry.

Every dream. Every desire.

Every minute. Every hour.

Every day. Every night.

Come to Jesus and receive His promise.

Abide in Him and know His rest, His peace.

Thank you, Lord!

(And thank you also, Lord, for intriguing sounds and bashful chipmunks that bring out thoughts back to You.)

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.

img_3199

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 

The Last Day of Summer

I am at a loss. Why? The end of summer is upon us! The month has dwindled down to a drop–

a day.

img_3186

Today, Wednesday, September 21, is THE LAST FULL DAY of summer.

More precisely,

(with a little help from “ye” Old Farmer’s Almanac)
Old Farmer's Almanac

tomorrow–Thursday, at 10:20 AM–is the last moment of this summer.

Gone are the days of. . .

ice cream Image result for ice cream cone

Image result for lazy summer morning lazy mornings

being poolside, dockside, or beachside Image result for public domain lake with dock and chair

Image result for chasing fireflies public domain  chasing lightning bugs

overflowing gardens  Image result for bountiful flower bed public domain

Image result for jumping through sprinklers public domain  jumping through sprinklers

barefoot walks in soft green grass  Image result for public domain feet walking in grass

Image result for watermelon slice public domain  watermelon

fresh tomatoes   Image result for beefsteak tomatoes public domain

But weren’t they wonderful? (And who says ice cream is only for the summer? I have a dear aunt who would strongly concur!)

I hope you were able to enjoy some special times this past summer, dear friend. Did your garden bloom beautifully? Did your friends rejoice with you? Did you share sparkling morning sunlight and evening starlight with someone special? Did you walk increasingly more closely with Jesus?

Among His many characteristics, God is a god of relationship. Look at the friendships of David and Jonathan, of Paul and Barnabas and Timothy. Look at the marriages of Adam and Eve, of Abraham and Sarah, and of Joseph and Mary. Look at the kinship of Jesus and His cousin, John. Look at the bonds between Jesus and the apostles–and Jesus and you.

Relationships span time and seasons. They are important, in every season. So, let’s be thankful for the summer days we enjoyed and praise God for those moments and memories.

But what about difficult days? Have the hottest summer days been accompanied by trying and soul-strengthening trials? Have you been through a personal summer thunderstorm?

If in this past summer you experienced some bitter or difficult times, remember God does not leave us without comfort. We have His Word. We have His ear. We have His Spirit. We have those relationships. Like that gangly last tomato plant, continue to lean on the firm support that only Jesus Christ is. He came and died and rose making that relationship possible–all for you!

Remember

  • how very much He loves you,
  • that He is in control, (and that He is in control), and
  • to humble yourself and concede, “Thy will be done.”

With that attitude, we can be thankful for the summer days and for the fall days just around the corner. We can look forward with great expectation to see the unfolding of His good and perfect plan for our lives. We can be encouraged to walk even more closely with Jesus as we enjoy. . .

Image result for fall leaves public domain Colorful leaves (and leaf piles to jump in!)

Uniquely shaped gourds and pumpkins Image result for pumpkins gourds public domain

Image result for public domain thanksgiving dinner Thanksgiving dinner

Hot mulled cider Image result for public domain mulled cider

Image result for public domain pumpkin pie Pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin butter, (pumpkin ice cream?)

Crisp air  Image result for public domain fall in the blue ridge

And when we don’t know what will happen or when we pray and pray and PRAY for something or someone–let’s commit to wait with expectant eyes to see the realization of the wonder that is God’s will.

Let’s be awed and amazed with. . .Image result for public domain fall heart leaf

each uniquely colored fall leaf,

Image result for public domain breath of mountain hiker  each breath of crisp air

Image result for public domain hands making heart shape

each day He gives us.

This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

In Hot Water?

Have you ever felt like you’re about to be in hot water? You know that feeling: Your name’s about to be called or all eyes are on you or you’re plunging headfirst into img_3174uncharted territory. There’s a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. Your breathing repetitions increase. A seemingly logical dread swamps your thinking.

And then nothing bad happens.

Or maybe something bad does happen.

Whichever outcome, there’s hope in Psalm 51, verses 11 and 12.

In this deeply repentant song, we see David’s heart–repentant, sorrowful, honest. And talk about deep water. David’s deep water incident had just become known to the prophet, Nathan, and Nathan had just confronted David with his sin with Bathsheba. David felt very humbled and very convicted that he had sinned against God. Click on the blue link and you can read the whole tragic story narrated in 2 Samuel 11 and 12.

Now let’s look back at Psalm 51. In verse 1, David opens with a searing cry for mercy based on the steadfast love of God.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin!”

Have you ever cried out for mercy in the middle of that hot water moment? I certainly have. Sometimes it’s been through tears. Sometimes it’s been with eyes wide open. Mercy. Lord, have mercy on me.

Now let’s look further down the chapter at verse 12.

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”

Isn’t our greatest plea for mercy answered most wholly with restoration? And the most wonderful restoration of all, which is the restoration of the joy from God’s salvation. We see that joy of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. Acts 4:12 and numerous other  New Testament verses attest to that. The latter half of the verse asks God to grant us a willing spirit to bolster us on. How can we be assured of that?

We just have to read verse 17. Here, David illustrates the sacrifice that pleases God, and shows his heart of hope:

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

When we have those moments  when we’re about to fall into that pot of boiling water, so to speak, or even trials of more temperate natures, a broken and contrite heart and a sincere prayer to be upheld and given a willing spirit, is heard by the God of lovingkindness and steadfast love. Our broken spirit, our broken and contrite, sorrowful heart is the evidence of and the reason for our cry for mercy. And it is answered in the restoration of forgiveness and the assurance of joy that comes from knowing Christ, our salvation.

Then, we might just realize anew that God can bring something good even out of boiling water trials. (img_3175Remember James 1 and Romans 8:28?) Sure, our dinner was tasty, but I mean something more. Deeper faith. Wisdom. Remembering God is good and faithful even in hot water times. Remembering Jesus Christ is our deepest, truest joy in all times.

 

Hitting the Nail on the Head, so to speak

Each morning–or honestly I should say, most mornings or at night!–I read a short devotional from Life-Changing Moments with God: Praying Scripture Every Day by David Jeremiah. Each day’s reading begins with a succinct summation IMG_3161followed by a compilation of verses from the Bible and closes with a short prayer and then the verse references.

This morning? Do you see that hammer? Well, the reading today left me amazed and humbled at yet another time when God’s Word makes a direct hit on the tenuous, weak spot in my heart. I won’t go into all the details; the details aren’t really what’s important. What’s important is. . .

(more…)

Happy Sunday!

 

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Happy Sunday, dear friends! Whatever day you may have, know “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!” (Psalm 118:24).

Have you been able to worship with fellow believers? I hope and pray so! That is the best of times and a glimpse of heaven.

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Cooling off in the Heat

Long time, no post, right?! Don’t think for a moment that I forgot about you; I’m ever thankful for the opportunity to encourage and strengthen you.

It’s just summer, with its extra activities and odd schedules.

But now I’m sitting in part shade (very important in these hot summer days) on my old wooden bench outside. Sit down a moment with me. Let’s see if we can cool off and be encouraged together.

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