I want to be a good soldier in the army of my Lord.
Whether decked in full battle dress on the field or wearing the apron as I wash pots and pans in the mess hall.
Whether bending to listen to my littlest neighbor’s story or bending to help Sweet William put on shoes.
Whether with a full class of Truth seekers or alone in the morning quiet with the Father.
Whether at a filled church house or sitting at the kitchen table live-streaming a Sunday service.
I learned Onward Christian Soldiers as a child, and tears fill my eyes as I pray the prayer, “I want to be a good soldier,” because I am weak, with feeble hands and the knees that give way, struggling to go the distance some days. I don’t want to miss the purpose or what I’m meant to learn in this season. I pray for eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart that is open to the still small Voice, however hushed it may be.
My morning Bible reading takes me to passages encouraging me to “be strong.” God spoke it to His children, the ones fearful yet willing to put on His armor for battle.
He commanded it to the Israeli nation about to cross the Jordon and to Joshua as he prepared to lead them.
He declared it to David as he was on the verge of becoming king, and He repeated it twice to Daniel upon receiving a future vision to much for him.
So the Father whispers it to me this morning. “Be strong, daughter.”
It isn’t my physical stamina that will sustain me nor any talents or gifts I’ve been given. Only in abiding in my Lord will I find the strength I need for this journey.
Stronger than I think possible. Stronger than my physical ability. Stronger because He is strong in me.
I noticed the envelope in the mailbox, all bright and cheery, and it made me smile.
Young enough to be my daughter, she is a long-time friend, since a teenager, her with the enthusiasm for life that has not dwindled through the years. Together we shared Bible study, birthday parties, yard-sale treasure hunting, and cups of tea at the kitchen table. When she moved away, we kept in touch by letters. Hers were always so much fun, brimming with cute drawings, punctuated with her funny sayings, and filled with colorful stickers fitting her purpose. It was like a visit on stationery.
She is a mature young woman now with a husband, a daughter, and farm animals occupying her life. Letters are fewer between us. Finding one in my mailbox from this esteemed friend was a delight.
I always take my time, examining the envelope first, slowly opening it, and sitting down to read her missive. The contents are newsy and the words conversational, almost as if she were sitting across from me.
She and her husband feel the Lord’s leading in a new direction. I read of their journey thus far, anticipating a road of endurance requiring trust in the face of obstacles, one with an uncertain future. They believe this is their calling.
I breath prayers after I lay down the pages. This path will be hard, not for the faint of heart, but the faithful of heart. There will be mountains to climb, rocky and steep. There will be days when it seems their efforts are not enough. Knowing her, I expect she is fully aware, trusting in the God who leads us through uncharted waters with only Himself as the light. When the storms come, and they will come, she will learn to hold to an unchanging hand.
I send a message to her that I am just a phone call away and will be here if she sends out an SOS. I determine to begin a letter to my friend in the coming days, and I write their names on my prayer list.
The next morning Steven Curtis Chapman sings on the CD player, music lifting the atmosphere and turning our hearts heavenward and away from the burdens of life. As I help Sweet William prepare for the day, Steven is singing our song, “I Will Be Here,” and the words ring true: “When the mirror tells us we’re older, I will hold you, and I will be here . . . I will be true to the promise I have made, to you and to the One who gave you to me. I will be here.“
I remember the vows made, me in a white dress and him in a black tuxedo, making promises before God and the company gathered, not knowing what they would require of us. We both had on rose-colored glasses standing there in the church and for many months after. But eventually the rose fades and we see clearly that life is hard. God never turned loose of either of us, determined to pour out His grace and complete the work He planned.
Almost fifty years later, Sweet William and I cherish the vows we made to one another, knowing they have tested us, tried us, and kept us committed to one another in spite of ourselves. We were called to a hard obedience, a faithfulness only made possible by a faithful God infusing His strength in us by the power of the Holy Spirit.
I think of my friend starting a new journey into the unknown, and I recognize obedience will be required, when things are going well and when they are not. God will be there in it all, calling forth His strength in them when the task is beyond their own.
When I’m feeling loved and happy, when I’m feeling all alone When I’m failing to remember all the love that I’ve been shown Every beat of my heart is another new place to start to know This is a moment made for worshipping
And I wonder if the hard obedience, the moving forward when God calls us to follow, the days we press on by sheer grit, tenaciously believing God is with us in this . . . can this be counted as worship?
When we keep trying though we are weary . . .
When we get up after falling down yet again . . .
When we love by our actions because the feeling is faint . . .
When the tears flow down because we don’t understand the plan . . .
When we follow not knowing where He leads . . .
When we’re tempted to give up but know that only Christ Jesus has the words of Life . . .
The hard obedience, counted as worship. May it be so.
Spring presses herself onward while winter clings with a tight-fisted hold.
I walk the yard and notice the signs of beginnings. The crocuses by the front porch surprise me every year. Buds on branches are full. The forsythia bush opens tender flowers despite the cold. And daffodils by the side of the house bloom enough for a bouquet on the kitchen table
I listen to the sounds of the season, early bird choruses, frogs croaking in puddles, geese fluttering as a pair, abandoning the flock, preparing to nest.
The trees in my yard are winter bare, awaiting the surge to bring forth life again, except for one oak by the drive. It clings to last year’s leaf collection, all dry and brown, unwilling to turn loose.
Like the oak tree, I sometimes cling to an old and lifeless past. I bear scars, but wounds are meant to heal. What happened cannot be undone, only forgiven. I may wish I’d made a wiser choice, used better words, walked a path less traveled, treasured a relationship, opened my heart, but I cannot ask for a do-over.
Sometimes I long for what was but is no more, binding me to yesterday, unable to move forward or rejoice in today. Or I simply crave another’s perceived Facebook life, assuming it is better and easier, seen though my lens of discontent.
I’m clinging to dead leaves.
Old journals and picture albums stir memories and the emotions of life events: birthday celebrations and holidays, vacations and family gatherings. Remembering is good. The past shows where God led me. I was there. Now I am here by His grace. There’s no turning back or retracing of steps. The road leads forward, and I must press on, laying aside weights and sins, regrets and longings, that are heavy like a burdensome backpack.
” . . . when I hold on to the wrong things, the wrong things hold on to me.” — Emily P. Freeman
I’ll be observing my oak tree, watching as it swells with spring’s energy, laying bare its branches in readiness for the new and fresh. It will release winter’s hold and open to creation’s beauty.
I pray to release what cleaves to and hinders me as I walk with Christ in what still feels like a winter season. I ask the Father to refill me with the Holy Spirit’s renewing life force, the energy and power of a God who knows no boundaries or limitations. His grace is strength for the journey.
Before daylight, the birds appear on the deck, cold and hungry. They come for the seed I scatter on these frigid days. They flit all happy, glad to find food, sometimes skittering across the icy deck railing.
For this simple effort, they reward me with joy in the midst of long, hard days.
Early mornings find me in my rocker by the fire, coffee in hand, while Sweet William sleeps a little longer. The stillness is solace, the Holy Word is food, and its ancient phrases become my petitions.
I wrap my prayer shawl around my shoulders, knitted for me by one of my young friends. It is a work of art, the white and blue yarns beautifully woven into a pattern of stripes and ending in fringes at each end. As I bow to pray, I pull the shawl over my head and enter my personal sanctuary of sorts, blocking out distractions to commune with my Lord.
I withhold nothing from Him for He knows my heart like no other. I confess, I ask, I give thanks, I weep before the One who knows where I am, the One who has allowed this path and plans to bring good from it. And I ask Him “how?”
There is a place of service that is not seen. No stages, no classroom podiums, no music studios, no gathering of people to say, “good job.” I’ve been given the privilege to participate in such projects. I did the best I could, accepted the accolades, and received my reward.
These days are different, confined to home, keeping company with Sweet William and Maisie and the physical therapist who comes twice a week. Friends and family provide meals, milk, fruit, and donuts. Regularly, a text pings with “I’m going to be out. Do you need anything?” Twice we’ve had our ramp cleared of snow and ice. Often someone messages, “I’m thinking of you, praying for you,” and I am overwhelmed by the kindness, these acts of service that are not documented except in my journal and Heaven’s records.
At my dear friend’s funeral recently, I was reminded how quiet service makes a difference in people’s lives. She was not a teacher or speaker, not a musician or singer. She was a tranquil servant, doing what she could wherever and whenever she could. She left her mark on many, though she probably didn’t realize how her life impacted them.
I want to be like her.
In the mundane, repetitive tasks of the days, the bone weariness and the aching knees, I pray for grace sufficient. I count on fresh mercies each morning. I trust the name of Immanuel – God with me, with us, on this journey. I beseech the Father to produce healthy fruit in me, the result of the Holy Spirit’s working out His purpose in and through me. I pray to cooperate with Him, “for it is God who works in me, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)
I remember that Jesus washed feet. I can wash feet too.
Precious in the sight of God is the death of His saints. — Psalm 116: 15
I awaken to the thought, another sweet friend left this earth and made her way to the eternal home, the place Jesus promised He was preparing for us.
We make many acquaintances during a lifetime. Some deepen into friendships, kindred spirits and companions. There is the rare blessing when friends become family.
We met at church, our children small, and the relationship developed over years of gathering in the house of the Lord. Bonds of love grew as we united in worship, in learning the Bible together, and in experiencing the Holy Spirit in all His mystery. We played music together for hours upon end. No wonder Scripture admonishes us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. Friendship blossomed.
Many years ago, I worked with a group of teens, and my friend’s youngest was part of the group. He was a character, funny, unpredictable, a challenge to the structure I was trying to provide. It was like herding cats, and I loved him. He became more than his teachers expected. We wrote letters while he was in the military. He is a strong and capable man today, and I’m proud to know him. He was my friend’s baby boy.
She and I talked about our children, our grandchildren, music lessons, weight watchers, and anything else that came to our minds. She was quiet and reserved in a group, but she laughed easily and opened up with a few close friends. This morning I remember her laughter and the happy expression on her face.
Friends who become family, these are the ones who come for the celebrations, pitch in when there is work to be done and stay until it’s finished. Friends who are family show up when tragedy strikes – the sudden hospitalization and unexpected diagnosis, the house fire that devastates, the illness that lingers long, and the news from across the world of a young life suddenly snuffed out. They come when only silent prayers are prayed, and they remain, their presence a comfort that needs no words.
My heart hurts this morning for the sister/friend missing from my life, for the richness of her loyalty, for the love she showed me. I grieve for her husband who faithfully walked with her and sat beside her bed until the final breath. I ache for her three strong sons, for their wives and for the grandchildren she dearly loved and delighted to talk about.
God’s ways are not my ways. His thoughts are higher than my thoughts. I struggle to understand what He does. I cannot fathom the greatness of His plan that encompasses the whole of creation, of which I am a small part. I experience the goodness of His grace as well as the pain and suffering of a world marred and broken by sin.
I feel the loss this morning, the long days ahead of missing one so dear, the empty place she leaves in the hearts and lives of those she loved and who loved her.
Today we weep. Our Father knows our aching hearts. He sees the tears and does not disregard them. He offers Himself as Comforter. One day He will wipe away tears. Until then, He promises a hope, a future, a Home with Him that will outshine the stars. We wait for it.
Home. That’s where my friend is today. She will be waiting for us.
Life is a journey, and years ago I chose to make it my aim to enjoy the ride, wherever that takes me. I believe that even on the roughest roads, I might notice some wildflowers. Don’t call me an optimist, only one who fought for joy when the way was especially wearisome.
Sometimes the path is hard. And it is winter.
Sweet William and I have been in a season of difficulty. It is common to every person to weather the experience of winter, spring, summer and fall again and again through life. Spring brings hope of newness and refreshing while summer is hard work, planting and cultivation. We enjoy the abundant fruitfulness of an autumn only to find ourselves shivering in the icy winds of winter as the cycle repeats.
And it is winter. On some cold nights, I sat at the kitchen table alone and wept, my only prayer, “Jesus help.” There were no other words. The ever-pinging texts from friends and family, declaring their promise to pray, were lifelines of hope. Competent nursing staff and doctors coupled with kindness made the days a little brighter. Time was irrelevant as days slipped into weeks, leaving us asking, “How long, oh Lord?”
In the deep mid-winter, Sweet William and I found ourselves wandering and wondering. Important days of Christmas, then New Year, and our 49th wedding anniversary were not what we planned at all. Celebrations wait for warmer days.
Winter life can be lonely, dreary, and somber. Night falls too quickly and a chill penetrates the bones. We long for the sunshine, birds building nests, and waving at neighbors in the greening yard. I tell myself to keep moving through it, and look for the signs of spring.
There are lessons in a winter journey we cannot learn any other way. There’s a Presence in the wilderness we often overlook in the lush valleys of our busy lives when planting or harvesting are the focus. In the barren landscape when the quiet chill settles, the Voice I long to hear speaks, and I hear His whispers. He speaks hope, peace, love, and I’m assured of His faithfulness.
I would not have chosen this winter travel, but it gave me perspective. When we have no one, there is Someone with us. He, the One and only, knows the hurt of the heart, the confusion of the mind, the ache of the body. When darkness settles on the soul, He is the Light. When questions have no answers, He is Wisdom.
The days of January near the end, and I notice how the sun rises a little sooner. Sometimes the birds sing a little more fervently. Though winter seems long, there is beauty if I have eyes to see it. The snow came and made everything clean and bright. The frost sparkles on the deck railing in the pre-dawn. Ice on the lake across the road shimmers in sunlight.
I pray this:
Father of all I see and what is yet unknown to me, be Thou my vision. Give us grace for this journey. Infuse us with courage and strength to endure like good soldiers. As You are ever faithful to us, provide Your power through the Holy Spirit to be faithful to You. Teach us lessons of compassion, patience, kindness, and love over all. Warm us in Your Presence during this season, and let us not forget Your wonders of mercy when the weather changes and warm breezes blow. To everything there is a season, and You are everything we need in each of them. As your beloved child, I ask these things in the Name above all names, Jesus my Savior and Lord. Amen.
Sitting in my rocker by the fireplace, window open to the every-changing Kentucky weather, I listen to rain drops and the chirping of birds in the little woods. A few hours in the comfort of home are not taken lightly.
Sweet William and I spent the closing holidays of 2020 in the hospital. Like many, this is a year of remembrance, its strangeness not ceasing even to the final day.
I recognized the seriousness of his health in the months leading up to a sudden doctor’s visit that began a roller coaster of emergency activities and a surgery we didn’t expect. We were on a ride controlled by something other than ourselves and our plans were laid waste.
Christmas presents sit unopened.
It’s interesting how schedules, lists, to do’s and obligations stagnate when life takes a sudden turn and all one can do is take the next step. It was survival mode for days, texting family and friends for prayer, weeping and leaning hard into Jesus. I kiss Sweet William’s cheek and tell him, “You are a warrior.”
Scripture is a promise to hold. Praise music permeates my atmosphere, driving out the darkness and turning my eyes to the One who is strong when I am weak. And I feel so weak, like a child needing to be held in her mother’s arms.
Great is His faithfulness.
In a year where we were distanced from each other, we were comforted from afar by ones we hold dear. Reassuring texts promised prayer and told us we are loved. Sounds of familiar voices, a little laughter and stories were a balm in Gilead. An actual visit in the hospital entrance found me sitting with two who were determined to feed me potato and ham soup that nourished body and soul. Another friend brought two bags of goodies: real tissues, gum, snacks galore, socks, and sanitizer, surprises I needed but didn’t know how to ask.
Hospital staff are kind, behind masks of protection, caring for Sweet William tenderly and competently. The attendant at the cafeteria gave me a cup of coffee yesterday, at first me not understanding when he said, “Just take it.” It was a welcome gift.
And I am awed at the love of God shown us through people. It is His way, His hands extended through His church, which is not a building or a denomination but flesh and blood, in the marketplace and in the corridors of everyday life. The body of Christ is active, living out His commandments to love God and love people. I have seen His glory, shining brightly in the moments of our days.
This morning I write in my joy journal because the gifts are many.
Friends who take care of Maisie while I’m away from home, loving her, feeding her, letting her out as needed, assuring me she is OK. Music to lift my spirit heavenward, reminding me of God’s everlasting love and faithfulness. Caregivers in hospitals who work with diligence, even on holidays and weekends, with a cheerful heart. Sweet William’s doctor, his expertise and skill, his determination to do what was needed. Greeters at the hospital who recognize me and speak kindly. Security guard who walked me to to my car late one night. The newlyweds who brought me a Christmas dinner plate on a frigid night. The ancient recliner in Sweet William’s room where I slept somehow. The little black Honda that gets me where I need to be. The comfort of a good dog. Neighbors who watch over the house while we’re gone. Family who are a treasure to this only child, who took us in to the circle of love many, many years ago. Our dear ones, miles away, brought near by their tenderness and love, and a cell phone with video chat. Ongoing texts from the multitude who promise to pray, who assure us of their love, who are life-giving to us in these hard days. The often written promise, “If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to ask. We are here for you.” Those who come, show up, do what I don’t even know what to ask for. Learning to love better through the actions of these good people.
It is a new year to remember. I take time to reflect on the past and look toward the future. I have no idea what is to come. What I do know with certainty is my Lord and Savior holds all things in His hands. His is trustworthy and faithful. I have seen it with my own eyes.
I’ve reminded myself of God’s message in the night hours before the frantic days of this last week.“Hope in God.” My good Father prepared the way before me, sent me His Word of invitation. I reach for Him and rest in His promises.
On the first day of winter, the wren sings loud and defiant at the dawning of day. I hear him and smile.
Today marks the longest night of the year, 14 hours of darkness. It also brings the sure hope that tomorrow the daylight hours will increase incrementally, pointing me in the direction of spring.
There were the days (the years?) I fought for joy. Because joy is worth the struggle. I counted gifts with determination, sometimes words of “breathing in and breathing out” were all I could write. I set JOY before my eyes, hanging from window latches, resting on tables, reminders to battle on.
Christmas is joy, and cards in the mail reiterate the songs, their sparkly designs a visual rejoicing. I receive them and I mail them, thankful for people we call friends. They are gifts.
Joy and sorrow are parallel tracks of a train.
There are lonely souls in crowds and broken bodies in hospital beds bearing the weight of heartache even while the world hangs ornaments and lights on a tree. The homeless in my home town scuffle toward a back alley on the cold night. People suffer while the music blasts Have a Holly Jolly Christmas.
As I read the Advent devotionals aloud to Sweet William, I am confronted with truth. Jesus came in the harsh reality of a people sad, sick, scratching out a living. They were looking for consolation, the hope of Israel, a redeemer and savior to take away all the suffering and oppression.
Mary and Joseph felt the heaviness too. The babe bearing down in Mary’s womb. The responsibility bearing down on Joseph’s shoulders. Hurrying to Bethlehem, they hoped for a warm room with a bit privacy for the coming of a child.
Instead, there was a cave, a stable for animals, smelly, dark, damp. Maybe they wondered if they’d taken a wrong turn, wondered if they’d understood the angel’s message, wondered what in the world God was doing?
I have wondered the same.
In a night of deep slumber, I awaken to words spoken to my spirit, “Hope in God.” Through my sleepiness, I recall the verse and in the morning I turn to Psalm 42 and 43 where the composer repeats this: “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.”
The Word is familiar, words I learned as a child, rehearsed in my growing, and cling to now. I encourage myself in the Lord like David, the sweet singer of Israel.
At the little thrift store I frequent, there on the top shelf, is the sign for sale in large letters, “HOPE.” I pick it up, hold it to me, purchase it, and set it before me as a reminder. It is an Ebenezer stone.
The hope written in the book of Hebrews is not a penny thrown in the wishing well. It is an anchor for my soul, a sure proclamation cast into the Holy of holies where Jesus, my High Priest, intercedes for me.
” . . . we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever . . . ” Hebrews 6:18-20 NIV
Hope is my memorial stone in this season, though the darkness stays long. I set it and mark it. I repeat it to myself. I cling to its message. Hope in God.
Luke tells us of that an old man named Simeon went to the temple, as was his custom, and he saw the common young couple with the newborn baby. He knew, felt the quickening of his spirit – this child was the promise, the Consolation of Israel. He took the infant Jesus in his arms and blessed the God who is our hope, whose promises are true and will come to us, even when in the waiting.
Though the night lengthens, though the heart is heavy, though the body weakens and trembles, though our prayers appear unanswered, there is a hope, an anchor. There is a Savior who came to us. He came for us.
We put our hope in Him. Jesus, the Hope of the world.
The first snow of the season welcomed the last month of an incredible year. Its beauty made our little part of the world look clean and pure, hopeful even.
Driving home in the early darkness the last several weeks, I notice houses decorated well before December 1. A week before Thanksgiving, one of my piano students excitedly told me that her family was decorating the Christmas tree that very night. Lights shine from windows and brightly decorated living rooms are showcased on social media.
We’ve endured difficult confinements, weekly changing regulations of how we live, do business and attend church and family gatherings. Teachers had to learn new ways to reach their students through computer screens while parents act as surrogate instructors and work from home too.
It has been challenging to say the least. I need peace on earth and goodwill toward all people. I need Christmas.
And then I think of the first Christmas, the very beginning of the reason for this season.
In a small village, a young girl found herself pregnant, and the angel-visited-and-now-I’m–with-child-story she told is outlandish. A virgin birth? Who can believe such a tale? Certainly not her parents, her neighbors or her betrothed. Her life was in danger since the man to whom she was pledged prepared to divorce her privately, taking no responsibility for this so-called miraculous conception. His honor was at stake, the reputation he had built and protected.
The place and the time of this old story were fraught with problems for the people of the living God in the land of Judah. Regulations changed without warning, harsh rulers cared little for man, woman or child. Taxes were unreasonable and only got worse. Scratching out a living just to survive was their way of life.
When Joseph took Mary as his wife, they traveled a long, hard journey on foot. They found no lodging upon arriving at Bethlehem. A dark, damp cave provided shelter. Possibly no midwife attended Mary, with Joseph her only help in birthing her first born.
Perhaps like me, these thousands of years later, they needed a little Christmas. And He came, tiny and helpless, crying for comfort and a mother’s milk. It seemed a strange way to save the world.
It still does. And yet it is the way of a loving God, come to the wanderers, the lost and dying, the confused and tired. He came to turn an upside down world right side up.
It doesn’t look like the world is right side up. The work is not completed. The children of the living God still struggle but with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Life is hard but not without hope. Death comes but with the promise of resurrection.
Jesus said there would be troubled times until He comes the second time. When He returns it will not be as helpless infant but as King of kings, Lord of lords. The Lion of the tribe of Judah will roar with power and authority. He will make all things right.
And we will sing Joy to the World, the Lord has come!