Growing Older Together . . .

“She let it go. She was ready to vibrate higher and become a magnet for miracles. Now she is in this place where everything feels right. Her heart is calm. Her soul is lit. Her vision is clear. She is at peace with where she has been. And at peace with where she’s headed.”

“God will lead and guide us through each season of our lives. All seasons are beautiful and give us the opportunity to embrace change, to shed our old ways, and become renewed in spirit.”

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under Heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

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

“Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” Proverbs 16:31

“Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.” Isaiah 46:4

Growing older has really been on my mind and in my heat recently, especially since January of this year which is the year of my 65th birthday. I will turn 65 on July 23, and on January 1st I started being inundated with emails and snail mail that reminded me of the fact that I will turn 65 this year. Reminding me that I will be eligible for Medicare on July 1st, 2021. Almost every single day of this year someone has reminded me of my age, so how can it not be on my mind.

How could I possible be turning 65? My nephew has teased me for years about being old, but this is really it. I am getting old. It also really hit me though that if I am going to be 65 in July, then that means Steve will be 70 in October. Some might say we are in the winter season of life, but to me that has a negative connotation. I like to think that we are in the more relaxed, quiet time of life. We have a lot more time for each other, we enjoy the simpler moments, and we just enjoy being with each other.

With the realization that we are getting older, also came some self-reflection. Am I sad to be in this stage of life? Absolutely not! I have lived a very full life, I met goals I set for myself, I have achieved dreams I had as a young girl, and I have been loved, not once, but twice by two incredible men. I have worked since I was 15 years old, and now enjoy being retired. We raised three children and supported them through the decisions they have made in life. We have three precious grandchildren. Our life is too full of the many blessings God has given us and the things we have achieved to be sad about getting older.

My dream as a young girl was to meet the man of my dreams, fall in love, get married, raise a family, and grow old together. I am living that dream.

God’s plan for my life involved meeting and loving two men, starting a young family, saying goodbye way too soon to the first husband, saying I love you and forever to the second husband, blending one incredible family, watching our grandchildren grow, and growing older together with my love.

Growing older together with Steve is a blessing for which I am eternally grateful. Almost 33 years together has taught us many lessons about relationships. We have been growing together throughout our years together, growing in our relationship with God and with each other. We have grown our family together; children, their spouses, and grandchildren. We have grown through sickness and health. We have grown through life changes, death of loved ones, and emotional challenges. We have been growing together our entire marriage, now we are just growing “older together’ and my prayer is that we grow older together gracefully and give praises to God for all the blessings he has given us.

Life at this stage of life just looks different but it is still full of love, laughter, music, God, and family! Our granddaughter says, “Papa, your hair is white like milk.” She is right, it is pure white. I like to think it is white with delight in a life well lived, a family he loves, and a bright future together. After all, Steve says we still have about 60 more years together! ♥

We have learned over the years that a sense of humor is vital in a strong marriage, even more so as you grow older together. Steve and I laugh often, with each other mostly, although there have been times when I just laugh at him, right along with our grandson, because he is acting so crazy or singing a silly song. From the very beginning of our relationship, we have kidded around with each other. His mother used to get so concerned that I would get mad at him when he was teasing me, but the joking and kidding around with each other just shows how much trust we have in each other, how comfortable we are in our relationship, and how much we both understand the importance of laughter. When my mother lived with us, she would jump right in and kid around with him at every opportunity. She was so quick-witted, and their relationship was so special. I think I miss that most about her not being with us anymore, her laughter and her kidding around with Steve. Becoming my mother’s caregiver was a role we both accepted and committed ourselves too. Mother living with us for six years just made our marriage stronger and we are so blessed for having her love, her laughter, and the memories within our home and through our family.

As we grow older together, I think we enjoy the small, quiet moments more now than ever before. Just sitting with each other inside or outside on the deck, listening to music, driving places, having quiet conversations, or just watching TV are moments that after all the years of raising our children, working hard to provide for our family, and taking care of our home, we appreciate so much more now in this stage of our lives.

Growing older together comes with many more aches, pains, and groans than our earlier years. We cannot do all the things we used to do. Steve jokes that one day we will be riding around on our matching scooters racing each other, but the reality is that we both have moments of pain and discomfort that we did not have when we were younger. Some mornings our aches, pains, and groans are in perfect harmony with each other, and we just smile at each other, and ask each other if we can do anything to help. Usually, there is a little chuckle that goes along with the groans and the smiles. When one of hurts more than the other, then we encourage and support in whatever way we can. After all, we promised to love and cherish, in sickness and in health.

Through all the years that have come and gone, through all the aches and pains, through all the gray hair, and all the fluctuation in weight, Steve still says every single day, that I am the most beautiful woman in the world. He even has Alexa remind me every day at 11:30 on every Alexa in the house. He constantly tells me He loves me and that he never gets tired of looking at me or looking into my eyes or seeing the beautiful smile on my face. He makes me feel loved and cherished every day.

I fall in love with him more as time goes by – how could I not when he takes care of me and our family with such love and care? How could I not fall in love with him more each time he smiles at me or when he looks at me in that special way of his? How could I not fall more in love with him as time goes by when he touches my hand with his gentle touch? How could I not love him more each time we share those quiet, simple moments of life? The love he brought to my life in 1988 is still there every single moment of every day, and grows stronger as time goes by.

I remember watching my grandparents as a child and teenager, and thinking I want to be like them when I am older.

  • They were such hard workers.
  • They took care of each other.
  • They had a family that loved them and took care of them.
  • They loved Christ.
  • They loved each other.
  • They enjoyed the simple moments: swinging on the front porch, having family around, laughing, singing, dancing, and just enjoying each day.

Then there were my parents, and I remember the times I would catch them holding hands, hugging each other in comfort and tenderness, dancing with each other, or just the way they would look at each other. I remember the way they loved the Lord, and they lived it in every facet of their lives. I remember how hard they worked to provide for our family, but I also remember the enjoyment they had with each other in their later years, and that they just enjoyed their quiet moments. I would think I want that too in my older years.

Look at us now!

God brought us together!

It is His love for us that keeps us strong and in love with each other.

Growing older together is a beautiful place to be in life.

I am blessed to grow older together with the love of my life.

She Who Kneels Before God

Just Being Real

“Strength isn’t a place of perfection, but a place of perseverance.” Nicki Koziarz

“It’s where our own abilities and efforts end that God can truly shine through us in a way that impacts those around us.” Kim Sorgius

“If you feel unclean, unloved, unhappy, unworthy, or unwhole; Remember ‘all this is unfair about life can be made right through the atonement of Jesus Christ.’ Have faith and patience in the Savior’s timing and purposes for you. Be not afraid, only believe.” Elder Timothy J. Duches

“Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.” Romans 12:12

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

“So do not fear, for I am with you, do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

“She who kneels before God can stand before anyone.” Romans 8:37

“My daughter, you are worthy of being loved – not because of the personality, charm, or sense of humor that I have given you, but because you are so precious to me that I died for you.” God, @littlethingsaboutGod

              I have spent the last week reflecting on my life and to be real, to be honest with God and myself; and in an effort to be transparent and real, I am just going to put what I have learned about myself out there. This blog is titled, “She Who Kneels Before God, Being Real” and that is what I have found myself doing a lot of recently. Kneeling before God and being honest about my weaknesses and strengths, and my relationship with God. I realized this week by learning and recognizing these things about myself I have grown in my relationship with God. It has also given me the opportunity to accept myself the way I am and to know that God made me, He loves me, and He has a specific plan for my life. His plan included the events that have happened over the last week and His plan included the insights I have gained because of those events. He knew I would come to these realizations at this point in my life. I will admit that at the age of almost 65 it seems a little late in life to come to such important realizations, but just like the old adage, “Better late, than never’, I am thankful that I realized these important things before it was too late for me to change and grow.

              Here it is, me being real . . .

  • I am not Wonder Woman, even though I have been called that more than once in my life. I am strong in my faith in God. I am strong mentally, emotionally, and with confidence. I will do all things within my power for my family. I can multitask like crazy, but physically I have limitations. My God gave me strength emotionally and mentally through many experiences. He also provided me with many opportunities to gain physical strength, but in my selfishness, I ignored those opportunities. Unfortunately, because of that selfish attitude, I was unable physically to help a family member that I love. Physically I was just not ready to give her the care she needed, and disappointed myself and other family members. I may be Wonder Woman in mind, emotions, and multitasking abilities, but physically I am not Wonder Woman.
  • I am stubborn! I am determined to do everything for my family by myself. I do not ask for help easily! I do not even ask God for help often. I am stubborn, hard-headed, and determined not to be dependent on anyone. Being this stubborn is a weakness, not a strength. Reflectively, this character trait started in January of 1987. I did not realize how dependent I was on someone until the sudden death of my first husband. He was killed in a helicopter crash on January 8, 1987. In a second, he was gone. After the shock cleared, the fear set in. Everywhere from banking and finances to putting gas in the car to budgets to hanging a picture on the wall was handled by Mike. Suddenly, he was not there anymore, and I was left to handle it all, even raising our son by myself. The fear was overwhelming, and I decided right then that I would never be that dependent on anyone again. I had no idea where to start with banking and budgets, or how to raise our son without his father. Yet, it is not even that I will not ask a family member or a friend for help, quite often I will not ask God for help, assistance, or guidance. I see it as a weakness to ask for help, I need to be strong and independent. Yet, I have come to the realization that this stubbornness also prevents me from seeking God’s guidance and direction when I need Him most. God is always there, He wants me to come to Him, and it is not a weakness to seek His help, His direction, and His guidance.
  • I love God, my family, and my country. I will never be embarrassed or ashamed that I fiercely love God, my family, and my country. Do not ask me to hide my love for any of these, do not expect me to be ashamed or embarrassed. When you walk in my home, you will notice several things. First, you will see the bibles of loved ones, my father’s bible and my father-in-law’s bible, both hold a place front and center in our home. Both of our fathers held a strong faith in God, and they lived that faith. Their bibles should hold a special place in our home. Second, you will notice pictures of family – our children, our grandchildren, our parents and siblings, and grandparents. Memories of those who have left us, and memories of special times in our lives and those we love. Last, but not least, you will see the flag of the United States waving proudly on my front porch. It will wave there every day! How could it not wave proudly every day? My daddy was a veteran of WWII, Steve’s father was also a WWII veteran. Steve’s brother was a veteran and so is Steve. I was raised to love my country, to respect the symbols of my country. I will stand for the National Anthem, and I will stand for the pledge of allegiance to the flag with my hand over my heart. I will love and respect my country and all she stands for.
  • I am perfectly okay with being retired and being available to my family 24/7. That is not to say I do not miss teaching, because I miss the students, the ‘aha’ moments, the smiles on their faces each morning, hearing their laughter, and hearing them call my name. I used to tease my students and tell them I was going to change my name, and not tell them my new name. They would just laugh because they knew I did not mean it. Yet, now I find myself just wanting to hear a student say my name one more time. What I would give to hear my students say my name, “Mrs. Murrell, Mrs. Murrell” just one more time. I miss the camaraderie between teachers. I miss watching my students grow and learn. What I do not miss is the multitude of tasks they add to a teacher’s life. What I do not miss is the putting undue stress on students to score that ‘score’ on the state test. What I do not miss is the undue stress they add to a teacher’s mind and heart for every student to pass those state tests and she is considered a failure if they do not meet ‘that standard’. What I do not miss is the constant change in mandated programs and curriculum, when the old tried and true methods worked well for all ‘those’ making the decisions now. I could go on and on, but I will end this part with this,
    • I love being retired.
    • I love spending more time with my husband and family.
    • I love being able to write.
    • But I do miss being in a classroom filled with students, their voices, their laughter, their smiles, their growth, and even hearing them say my name 14,000 times a day.
  • Then there is the final realization, and it occurred this morning in church. Isn’t God’s timing perfect, and doesn’t he have the most perfect sense of humor, it is as if He was sitting in heaven this morning saying, “Lynne, this is it! This is the moment. I saved the best for the last part of this journey you have been on this week. You are either going to laugh or cry, maybe both, but with either of those emotions, you are going to grow again in your relationship with me. I cannot wait to see your face and feel your heart.” Another weakness of mine is I hold grudges. It is not a pretty side of my personality, and it is one I am not proud of. But it is there – I do hold grudges. I have not watched an episode of 60 Minutes or 20/20 or even Barbara Walters since 1987 because of a grudge. I am not sure if I can ever get rid of this grudge but after this morning, I know I need to. This will be one of those moments when I throw away the independence and go to God for help and guidance. On my knees! There is another grudge I have held for about 10 years, I will not go into details, but just know that this grudge has caused me to be unsettled with a church family and being involved in church life. But that is not all, holding these grudges, holding onto the anger and resentment has kept me from God. These feelings have prevented me from putting God in the center of my life, where He is supposed to be! Here is the lesson God saved for this moment. His timing is perfect! We walked into church and there was a visiting minister. His message was “Full House: Remember the Lord” The sermon was presented by a minister I know very well. He was the youth minister at our former church, and someone Steve and I worked with very closely for about 14 years. He is also one of the ones I have felt resentment towards and held a grudge against for the last 10 years. The message of his sermon was all the things we let in our lives that push God to the margins of our lives, all the things we let into our hearts that keep God from being the center or our lives. “Okay, Lynne, are you listening?” As he began to speak and continued with the message God laid on his heart, I was reminded of the strength of the relationship we had when we worked together to guide the young people of our church family. I was reminded of how involved we used to be. He spoke directly to Steve and I and talked about how valuable we were in the student ministry. His words reminded me of the days, weeks, months, and years that because of the work we did to build God’s kingdom, God was front and center in my life. The message was about “Counting our days we have been fully with the Lord! Count your days in the Lord! Always remember Him! Count the blessings He has given you! Keep God front and center by serving others, by building His kingdom!” God used one of the people I never thought I would hear preach again, speak words God placed on his heart. He spoke God’s words eloquently, and whether he realized it or not there were many words he spoke this morning, that God intended specifically for me to hear. The minister looked right at me when he spoke the words God really wanted me to hear.  God moments! God’s plan! God’s timing! I do not always hear God clearly or maybe it is I choose not to be still and listen, but I listened this morning. I opened my heart and started letting the resentment and anger go! It is time to place God back in my life front and center. It is time to serve Him with gladness and to serve Him here in this community. It is time to set about building His kingdom. It is time to kneel before God and be real with my relationship with Him!

God is our Refuge

Finding Refuge in God

Refuge is defined as a shelter or protection from danger or distress. Finding refuge is like finding a safe place for shelter during a storm.

“I will say to the Lord, my refuge and my fortress, my God, is whom I trust.” Psalm 91:2

In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence, and His children will have refuge.” Proverbs 14:26

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.” Psalm 34:8

“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Psalm 18:2

God does not guarantee us a life free from troubles, He does not promise us that every day will be a rose garden; but He does promise us He will always be there. He does promise us that He will love us. He does promise to be our refuge, our comfort, and our safe place in times of trouble. He is the calm in the middle of the storm.

Life is filled with challenges and obstacles that make it hard for us to stay close to God and to know that He is in control; it is hard to see past the storm and remember that God is there, and He placed the storm right in front of us so we will learn to lean on Him, have faith in His presence in our lives, and to remember He is our refuge. He is our ‘ever-present help in times of trouble.’ How comforting is it to know He is always there!

The last few days I have been thinking about moments in my life where the storm was right there, all around me, and I know now that my faith in God helped me to lean on Him and find refuge with Him. I may not have realized it at the time, but I know now without any doubt, that God was there, and I sought Him out purposely for His strength, His comfort, His wisdom, and His refuge. Faith! Knowing He is there without seeing Him, I just know He is there. Each difficult moment in life, I seek Him out in my heart and in my mind. I seek out His refuge and strength! His presence is the stronghold that gets me through each challenge, each obstacle.

One of the most difficult challenging moments in my life was in 1987, when my first husband was killed in a helicopter crash. I write of this moment often, because it truly was the most life-changing moment I have ever experienced. God was my refuge for those first moments, first days, weeks, and months. He was my refuge for the ‘first times’ I had to do something or make a decision about something that I never imagined I would have to do at age 30. However, there is one moment that truly has never left my heart or my mind over the last 34 years. In this moment, the hurt was so overwhelming and had such an intense grip on my heart and mind, that I could not see or feel God’s presence. I failed to see Him at one critical moment! Mike’s father was not a Christian, and even though we had talked with him and prayed for him, he never professed his faith in Christ. On this morning, as my son and I were walking into their house to get ready for my husband’s funeral, Mr. McGinnis looked me in the eyes and out of his anger, he asked, “Well Lynne, where is your God now? What kind of God lets this happen?” I was stunned and still in shock and could not respond. I simply stared at him, stood silent, and then turned and walked away. Over the years I have gone over this moment so many times, and I know what I should have said, “My God is holding me right now. He is the only thing that is keeping me strong enough to stand here in front of you today. He is the one who is holding me in His arms and helping me through each moment. He is my shelter, and under His wings I find my refuge. He is one who will give me comfort and whisper words of encouragement this afternoon when I bury my 31-year-old husband and say my final goodbye.” But I said nothing! I still wrestle with that moment and the things I should have said. The things I could have said that may have made a difference in Mr. McGinnis making a profession of faith. However, my faith now is in my God and that He was able to work in Mr. McGinnis’s life before he passed away.

Life is filled with moments life this, moments where the problems, the fear, the hurt, and the anger feel more real than the truth. Those feelings are so strong, and so real that it is hard to see past them to see the truth – that God is the only truth we need. God is the refuge that will get us through all those feelings, all those moments. Staying focused on Him is hard, but when we truly find refuge in Him, we are totally immersed in His presence and I cannot thing of anything more incredibly comforting and beautiful than being totally immersed in God’s refuge, His presence, and His comfort.

Finding refuge in God comes to me when I immerse my heart and my mind in His word. When I surround my ears with songs of praise and worship. When I surround myself with the beauty of His creation. When I surround myself with family and friends who also know the truth of finding refuge in His presence. When I look into the sweet, innocent face of my granddaughter. God’s refuge, His comfort, His Love are there in each of these moments, in each storm of life.

The smile of my granddaughter’s face! The beauty in the flower!

Throughout my life there have been moments when I needed His refuge, and He was there every time.

  • A breast cancer diagnosis
  • The death of my father
  • The death of my mother
  • My husband’s surgeries and his life filled with pain and weakness
  • Watching our children go through difficult, challenging moments in life

Yet, I know that God’s presence in my life was the stronghold that I will always cling to, the strength that I will hold onto, and the refuge that I seek in His arms and with His whispers.

In today’s world, I find myself seeking His refuge more and more often.

I find myself looking for it in the smiles on a stranger’s face, in the politeness and the gentle words of an employee helping me in a store or restaurant, or simply the greetings from neighbors as they walk by our house. These simple moments seem further and further apart these days, our world seems to have drifted away from our beliefs in God and the way we were brought up to treat others.

Be kind!

Be respectful!

Love your neighbor as yourself.

Help others!

It is sad and heartbreaking to see the way we treat each other, and it is sad that I seek out a simple smile on someone’s face to have hope that we are not too far gone from where God wants us to be. When I see a smile or hear a kind word, my heart is thrilled, and I know it is God’s way of showing me He is still here, and there are many who still seek His guidance and refuge. God is still here with us, He is still the guidance and wisdom we need, and He will always be the strength and comfort we need to face the storms ahead. There will be many more storms and many more dark days ahead, without God, we cannot make it through. God is still our truth!

I have found myself over the last 18 months seeking God’s wisdom and strength more and more. I do not want fear and anger to take hold of my heart and mind. I want God to be my focus, my refuge, my strength.

“O Lord, my Strength and my stronghold,

And my refuge in the day of distress,

To you the nations will come,

From the ends of the earth and say,

“Our fathers have inherited nothing but falsehood,

Futility and things of no profit.”

Jeremiah 16:19

My prayer today, at this moment:

Dear Heavenly Father,

To you the nations will come!

To you we will see your truth and wisdom!

To you we will seek refuge and comfort during the days of trouble and darkness,

From you, and you only, we will inherit everlasting life and your love!

Thank you, Father, for your strength, your love, your comfort, your wisdom, and your refuge!

Thank you, Father for your Living Word!

Amen

God’s Living Word, my father’s bible

One Child at a Time

One Child at a time – one day at a time!

              The lessons we learn from our students . . .

1 Timothy 4:12, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”

Isaiah 58:11, “The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”

Philippians 4:9, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

“We learn something from everyone who passes through our lives. Some lessons are painful, some are painless. But, all are priceless.” -unknown

Just like the quote above, lessons learned along the paths in life can be painful or painless, but all are priceless. God places us right where we need to be, and God places the people in our lives (even 5th grade students) in our lives just when we need them. He makes no mistakes.

God gave me the gift of teaching, and even though I fought it for a while, I eventually understood and have been blessed many times by following His will and His plan.

As teachers our responsibility is to teach the students, who are in our classrooms, the curriculum, the standards, the subjects, and hopefully along the way life lessons. We are responsible for teaching each child, with all their unique abilities and disabilities, and teach each one using methods and strategies that accommodated their learning styles.

As teachers our responsibility to teach each child is driven by our desire and determination to help each child succeed. We teach because it is our heart to teach, to share knowledge, to observe those ‘aha’ moments, and because God has given us the gift to teach and guide others.  We teach because we understand the importance of a well-rounded education for each student. Yet, I am reminded that along the way as teachers we also learn valuable lessons, and quite often those valuable lessons are from our students.

On my desk sits a homemade gift given to me by a student about 7 years ago. She gave it to me during Teacher Appreciation Week. It is a reminder of a special young lady I had the privilege of teaching and the lessons I learned from her.

Before I talk about the gift though and its importance in my life, let me talk about the school setting and the student. The school I taught at for the last 9 years of my teaching career was a Title One school in one of the highest poverty areas of our city. I requested the transfer to this school because I felt God calling me to move to where I was needed more, where possibly I could make a greater impact. Little did I know that these students would make a greater impact on my life. This precious student and her younger student were being raised by their grandmother, because their mother was unable to care for them. The grandmother was determined to see these two girls grow and succeed in life. There was an instant connection between us when she walked in that first day of school with this student. There is still a connection between all of us, and I am so blessed by their presence in my life. At the beginning of the year, this student was very shy, soft-spoken, and could not maintain eye contact with any adult. In class it was difficult for her to answer questions out loud in class or even small groups. She just could not speak out in front of others. However, as the year progressed, I was witness to her gaining self-confidence, and eventually she became outspoken and a leader in class. It was amazing to watch the transformation and to still be able to watch her grow and develop into a strong, confident young lady. Every day I looked forward to her questions and conversations in class!

During Teacher Appreciation Week, she was so excited to present her homemade gift to me. After realizing the uniqueness of the gift, I was speechless. A lot of time and effort on her part went into this special gift. It was a “Quote Jar” filled with quotes from me or from our discussions in class, from our life lessons. Some were silly but most of them were serious life lessons. We laughed quite a bit in class that year, and were silly often, but a sense of humor is important in the classroom environment. There were about 75 colored popsicle sticks inside the jar and each one had a quote from the year. Imagine my shock when I started reading each stick, and realized she had been listening, paying attention, observing, and remembering things we had discussed or that I had directly taught throughout the year.

As teachers, we try to teach life lessons as well as the curriculum. I was fortunate to be able to teach an all-girls 5th grade class for the last 6 years of my teaching career at this Title One school. I was also fortunate to have an administration who allowed me to use some enrichment time to focus on manners, poise, self-confidence, and how to present oneself to new people. Some of the quotes in the jar were those life lessons I tried to instill in them –

  • Say please and thank you.
  • Better good manners than good looks.
  • Good manners = good karma
  • Your mood should not dictate your manners.
  • Keep calm and respect others.
  • Manners cost nothing.

But there were also those quotes that were just meant to inspire them and help them in life. The fact that she remembered them and gave them back to me in the Quote Jar became an inspiration to me to this day, which is why the jar remains on my desk.

  • Stars can’t shine without darkness.
  • Broken crayons still color. ♥
  • Every end is a new beginning.
  • It always seems impossible until it is done.
  • Never give up.
  • Everything is hard before it is easy.
  • Wisdom is the ability to learn from change. ♥

And probably the most important one for young girls to learn –

  • You do not have to be like anyone else. Be yourself! ♥

My mother instilled in me a love for learning. I never tire of learning new things, studying history, reading, and writing. I think effective teachers need to love learning so they can instill that same love in their students. Our students are always watching and listening, even when we are not directly teaching them. This student’s gift brought that home to me that year, and every time I see it on my desk, I am reminded of this beautiful child who came to me as a shy, soft-spoken little girl, and has now grown into a beautiful, self-confident young lady. I am reminded of the lessons I learned from her that year, that will desire and determination we can overcome the obstacles in our way. Its presence on my desk is a reminder of the transformation I saw in her that year, and the transformation I saw in myself that year as a teacher. I am reminded of how each student is observing, listening to, and learning from the people in their environment, the teacher they have each year in their lives. What an impact we have on their lives without even realizing we are we are having that impact.

Lessons learned through 28 years of teaching were many! I could write a book on the lessons learned from students and their parents. However, one vital lesson learned and realized that year was that students are sponges – they are soaking up everything that is around them, the positive and the negative, the direct teaching and the indirect teaching. As teachers, we need to make sure that what they are ‘soaking up’ from us is all the positive things we can teach directly and indirectly. We need to make sure they are learning from us, directly and indirectly, the things that will empower them to move on in life and be the best they can be.

I said at the beginning of this blog that God places us where we need to be, and He places people in our lives that we need to be around. That year, that one precious year, was part of His plan and I am so blessed by this student, her grandmother, and all the other students from that year. I have had the privilege to stay in touch with many of them and I am amazed by the growth and success I see in each of those girls. Their presence in my classroom was a blessing from God, and one I continue to learn from.

Clutter: Physical and Spiritual

Luke 12:15 “Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

Hebrews 12:1 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked for us.”

1 Corinthians 14:33 “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace – as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.”

2 Corinthians 5:9 “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him.”

2 Corinthians 7:1 “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”

Matthew 6:19-21 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

This week I have tried to focus on uncluttering my heart and mind during my quiet time with God, so I can truly be open to His words and guidance. Obviously, God was placing it on my heart because Thursday my devotion was titled “Clutter in your life”, and it spoke about the physical and spiritual clutter we have in our lives that take away our focus from the important things in life: God, family, and friends. Sometimes we complicate our lives by taking on things or holding on to objects or feelings that God has told us to release, to let go, and even to throw away. We add stress, confusion, and clutter into our hearts, minds, and lives by holding on to all the unnecessary things we need to release and let go. No looking back! I will be the first to admit that it is hard to let go – it is difficult to let go of hurt feelings, memories, and ‘things’ that we have held on to for so long. Typically, I do a pretty good job of letting go of things, I can throw away, donate, and give away anything I have not used or worn over a period of time; yet I am not good at letting go of the feelings and emotions that hinder my relationship with God. I need to let go of anything that clutters my mind and heart and prevents me from having a clear, focused relationship with Him.

Several years ago, when my husband and I made the decision to clean out his childhood home, renovate, and make the move to downsize; the cleaning out was the hardest part for him. This home had been neglected for about 12 years, except the family using it for storage of things. Every room was filled with stuff, from ceiling to floor, little walking room. The cleaning out had to come first, and it took several months and several tense moments when I would come across something I thought would be best if we threw it away, but my husband saw it as something that held some special memory. So many objects held memories for him, and it made it a difficult task. Yet, we persevered and two months later the house was cleared of the things we thought we could throw away or give away, and it left us with the space needed to start the renovations.

They say opposites attract and this is one area we are opposites. He is a SAVER – it is evident in his office, the garage and carport, and even his side of the bathroom. He just likes to save things because it holds a memory, or he might need it one day. To some degree, I am a saver also but usually just for those special objects that belonged to a loved one. Clutter in my house drives me crazy and he will tell you I am always after him because of his clutter! I mention it, he laughs, I laugh, and we move on!

During my quiet time, this past week and even this morning, the scriptures and quotes spoke to my heart about the clutter in my physical and spiritual life. After reading a quote by Peter Walsh I began to compare the clutter I have let into my heart and mind, to the physical clutter Steve and I have in our homes.

              “What I know for sure is that when you declutter – whether it is in your home, your head, or your heart – it is astounding what will flow into that space that will enrich you, your life, and your family.” Peter Walsh

His quote made me look at our lives and my life, and think back to when we decluttered this house, we now call home. Once the clutter was gone, we saw the beauty once again that was meant to shine for others to see. Life, light, and love flowed into all the spaces we cleared out when we got rid of the things that had taken up all the space in the house. The difference was amazing! The beauty we were supposed to see all those years finally came back and she welcomed us back into her beauty and warmth.

That is what I want to do with my heart and mind, and not just when I am in my quiet time with God. I want to declutter my life from the emotions and feelings that keep me from being open to God and His plans for me. I want to see what beauty will flow into my life, my heart, and my mind when I declutter. Just like the work Steve and I need to do to declutter our homes from the physical things will take time and hard work, I know that decluttering my heart and mind will take time and perseverance. It starts with me asking God to show me ways to simplify my life and then following his plan will take complete faith in Him.

There are days that the task ahead of us to declutter our old home is truly overwhelming, and I wish there was a ‘Bewitched’ moment when I could just blink my eyes and it would all be gone, cleared away, cleaned again as new, so others could see the beauty it once held, the promise it held for our new blended family, and we can look forward to moving on in life. Just like there are days when the clutter of my mind and my heart is so overwhelming that I pray that God could just wave His mighty arm and it would all go away. Instead, I pray that He has the patience and love to guide me through the decluttering, because I know I must do it myself. I can lean on Him and His guidance, but I am the one who must let go, who needs to release the built-up emotions and feelings, and move on. It is up to me to declutter and prepare my heart and mind to be ready for His eternal presence in my life.

It is funny I have been wrestling with this blog and these thoughts for several days now. It is not easy to write about and share your weaknesses, when you are someone who wants to be strong for everyone else, someone who likes to maintain a quiet confidence, and show constant courage for what life holds, yet God laid these things on my heart to be shared. Then the God wink moment comes!

Steve and I decided to take a quick trip to the beach, just to refresh and refocus our lives on each other. This morning I walked down to the beach, and as I watched the sunshine over the waves, I was in awe once again at those moments God gives us to let us know He is there, and He needs me to be still and let Him into my heart and mind and wait. Be still! In the stillness, God reminded me of all the times over the 32 years of our marriage that we have exchanged weekends with my younger sister so as adults we could have moments to spend time with each other, to refocus on our relationship, and to ‘declutter’. Isn’t God incredible? All these years, we have been decluttering all the other things from our lives whenever the chance presented itself, so we could refocus on each other and our relationship. During those moments, those weekends we refocused on God too. Without God, we would not be a couple, a blended family. We are His plan! Even retired and older, things still clutter our lives and take away from the time we have, just the two of us, and God. These moments are vital to a strong relationship with each other, just as important as the quiet, still moments are vital to my relationship with God!

We are strong in our love and faith for each other. We are strong in our love and faith in God. We have made it through many roadblocks and trials, and we will make it through the ones to come. Our goal now is to declutter our old home, but even more so it is to make sure we keep our relationship with God decluttered and our love for each other decluttered.

Ecclesiastes 3:6, “A time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away.”

“Out of calmness, comes clarity.” Trevor Carss

I Stand Amazed . . .

I stand amazed at God’s love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness!

I stand amazed at the second chance He gave me with Christ’s death and resurrection!

I stand amazed that He continues to give me chances to do His will and follow His path!

I stand amazed at the patience He has for me!

Psalm 40:5 “Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare.”

Ephesians 5:2 “and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Colossians 3:10 “and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

Matthew 3:8 “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Philippians 1:6 “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

A reflection from this old, retired teacher, Grammy, Christian, sinner, and one who God loves and gives so many chances.

This week I have been working in the yard around this 70-year-old home, a home my in-laws built for their family of three boys. As I worked to pull weeds, uncover the old plants, and plant new seeds and bulbs, and nurture the flowers that have been blooming for years, I started thinking of the work that God does for me every single day of my life. My husband and I started giving this home a second chance about 5 years ago, and when we first opened its doors and saw the dirt, clutter, and hodgepodge of neglected possessions, I was overwhelmed with the sad state of this home and the reasons why it had become such a mess. With a lot of hard work and patience, we now have a home filled with love, laughter, flowers, and memories that I feel my in-laws would love and enjoy, just like they did years ago when they first built this home. We still have work to do, but we are here to spend our retirement years, so every corner will eventually bloom and grow as it was originally intended. That is when I started comparing this home and the work we have done, and the second chance we have given it, to my relationship with God. Oh my, the patience He has shown me. The love He has given me! The work He has done!  The guidance He has shared with me! The many CHANCES He has given me to follow His plan and to bloom for Him, to bear fruit for Him! He never gives up on me! He is there every step of way, nurturing, pushing, guiding, and directing my path and my actions. He only wants what is best for me, just like I want this home to bloom and grow again and be all that it can be! As much hard work and money we have put into this home for the last five years does not begin to compare to the hard work, patience, love, and guidance that God has given me for these almost 65 years. I can do no less for this home than God has done for me. Just like these beautiful tulips planted by mother-in-law years ago that continue to bloom every year and grow more beautiful in their color, my relationship with God is worthy of hard work and devotion so that it will continue to grow and flourish day after day!

We are given many opportunities in life to bear fruit for God, and quite often in an area we failed in before. There have been situations in my life, and I am sure there will be more situations in my life, where I will fail God. I feel like I failed the people I was supposed to reach out to or show God’s love to, and yet God continues to place me in similar situations or with the same people, giving me more chances to bear fruit for him. His patience and determination for me to follow His plan knows no boundaries. God gives us multiple chances, and with each chance He gives us we get another opportunity to bear fruit for Him, to follow His will, and grow in our relationship with Him.

I look at all the second chances He has given me, and I am completely amazed at His patience and love. People have often asked me how I knew I wanted to be a teacher, and all I can think of is that at first and for the longest time, I did not want to be a teacher. I wanted to be a Baptist preacher! I know, right, a female Southern Baptist preacher. I took that desire so far as to major in Religion at college, and graduate with my BA degree in Religious Studies with a plan to go to seminary. Yet, God had other plans and through a series of events and due to His incredible patience with me, I went back to school but not to seminary. I went back and received my BS degree in Special Education. God was not through me yet though, and through another series of events I enrolled in Furman University and earned my MA in Education, Learning Disabilities. God’s plan! His patience and His many chances placed me in the right situation and were the beginning of 27 years of teaching and working with students of all ages, abilities, and races. God placed me in each classroom, and His patience helped me grow and mature, and hopefully bear fruit for him with those I taught and with my colleagues. I cannot tell you the number of times, the moments, the decisions made, or the actions taken where I believe I failed in bearing fruit for Him, yet each day I woke up with the determination and perseverance to try again, to be someone in His image, loving, caring, forgiving, and patient with each student, each parent, and each colleague.

Then there was the second chance in love. From marriage to my high school sweetheart, school, and starting a family to his death, and then to my second love, our family, and life together, God gave me second chances to grow and mature as a wife, a mother, and a grandmother. With each situation I was given second chances and opportunities to grow in my relationship with Him, and thereby bearing fruit for my children and grandchildren. There are days that I wonder how badly I failed in my relationship with my husband, my children, my family, and even my grandchildren. Have I lived a life as an example of God’s love, patience, and care for the ones He placed in my life? Again, I stand amazed at His love and patience with me as a wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, and sister.

Those are parts of the big picture in second chances, but just think about all the little moments that God has given me second chances. Daily decisions or actions, thoughts, and relationships. It is overwhelming to consider all the second chances He continues to give me every day! I stand amazed! Second chances reveal a God who is guiding and shaping us, molding us into His image. Second chances show us a God who loves us enough to encourage us to grow and bloom, to bear fruit in His image. I thank God every day for those second chances.

Oh, but the true amazement comes when you consider the second chance He has given each one of us! Before Christ Jesus, I was broken, and living in sin. Yet as John 3:16-17 tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” I am not worthy of such a sacrifice, but I am worthy in God’s eyes. You are worthy! God’s love knows no boundaries, it is endless and unconditional. Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and through His atonement on the cross we were given a second chance. He took away our sin so that we can begin to experience Him, so we can experience a relationship with Him, and grow each day in His image. How incredible! We are God’s children! He has given us everything, His love, His forgiveness, His mercy, His grace, and He gave us life! I often wonder how He can be so patient with me, and John 3:16 is all I need to remember. He loved the world, He loved me, so much that He gave us his one and only Son. With that love comes patience, grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

I stand amazed at His willingness to die for my sins on the cross.

I stand amazed at His love for me, His love for each of us!

I stand amazed at His forgiveness for my sins, our sins!

I stand amazed at His grace and mercy for each of us!

My heart has been heavy lately with feelings of hurt and even anger! Hurt and anger directed towards those I love and have known a lifetime. The heaviness in my heart has caused sleepless nights and sad moments. The other night I went to bed in tears because of these feelings. As I laid down though, I felt a comfort and a touch that let me know I was not alone, and it gave me a peaceful night. I let go of the hurt and angry feelings and began to think more of how God would have given me second and third chances in these situations, and as a Christian, as one of His followers I can do no less. Just as God is patient and forgiving with me, I need to be just as patient and forgiving with those in my life. Do not let me fool you though, forgiving is hard. Letting go of those hurt feelings is difficult. Yet, as I worked in the yard this week, I started thinking about how small these situations are compared to the situations I have been in and God has forgiven each one. God has bestowed such forgiveness towards each one of my transgressions, how can I do any less towards those I love? Just like the flowers, the plants, and this home – all of whom needed a second chance, I can do no less than to work hard, with patience and determination to set things right with the ones I have found it hard to forgive.

Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

God’s Grace

Ephesians 2:4-5, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

Romans 5:1-2, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God.”

I have been reminded once again of God’s grace in our lives, first through my devotions this week, then from items belonging to Mrs. Murrell and my daddy, and finally from conversations with past students.  

Several of my devotions this week focused on God’s grace and the significance of God’s grace. The words from my devotions and from Scripture really spoke to my heart, and this is my takeaway, “Grace releases supernatural strength to help us through pain and suffering. Grace echoes in our spirit that God is with us to be our friend and Savior. Grace keeps pointing us to God’s goal for us. Grace reminds us that our Father enables us to become stronger in faith and in our relationship with him. Grace assures us that God is in control and sets limits on what we can become. Grace awakes our faith with conviction that God will see us through whatever the trial is. Grace is His favor, His blessing, and His kindness. God’s grace can be found in His beautiful sunrises and sunsets, His grace can be found in the smiles we meet every day, His grace can be found in the words of a gospel song and in His Word. His grace can be found in relaxing moments surrounded by God’s glorious creations in nature, fun, laughter, and camaraderie with friends and family. Grace is God choosing to bless us rather than curse us as our sins deserve. God’s grace is everywhere we are, whenever we need it, and it carries us through. God’s Grace just IS!”

This week I came across an old hymnal that belonged to my husband’s parents, and even though I have looked at it before, this week I looked at it with a different view. As I looked through the hymnal, I found several songs that had been marked with a turned down corner, as if marking its significance or special meaning for them. Each song that was marked brought back memories of my own childhood, but also sweet memories of my mother-in-law and how much she enjoyed singing praises to our Lord and Savior. “Victory in Jesus” “In My Heart There Rings a Melody” “In the Garden” “Leave it There” “Never Give Up” and “Jesus, Lover of my Soul” However, one song was marked with a turned down corner and a piece of paper folded into the crease of the page, with one word written on it, “Grace.” This song made me stop and thank God for the gentle reminder, “Grace Greater Than All Our Sins.” How truly remarkable is God’s timing and Grace.

I also found my daddy’s bible which was given to him in 1936 by his aunt, he would have been 11 years old. It is worn, and the cover is falling off, but it is a treasure. His handwritten notes can be found throughout the bible, and those handwritten notes make his bible irreplaceable. Through the wear and tear it is obvious that a lot of time was spent in God’s word, the handwritten notes speak of the thoughtfulness and reverence he held for God’s word. Several notes in the bible reference God’s grace and forgiveness.

However, the words that spoke to my heart most were the words he had written in the front cover. Such an eloquent description of God, with such beautiful adjectives and words that I would love to be able to speak with my father once again and ask him about this description of God. In the front cover of his bible, he referenced Psalm 139 first,

“O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether. You have hedged me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it. Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?  If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” Even the night shall be light about me; Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, But the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You. For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book, they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them. How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand. When I awake, I am still with You. Oh, that You would slay the wicked, O God! Depart from me, therefore, you bloodthirsty men. For they speak against You wickedly; Your enemies take Your name in vain. Do I not hate them, O Lord, who hate You? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?  I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies. Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.”

Then he wrote, “God is eternal. He is the Great I Am. He is absolute limitless, sovereign, independent, universal, eternal, self-existent, transcendent, perfection of perfectness, reason and explanation of all enigmas; uncaused cause of all causes, antecedent of all perfectness, the effulgent beam scattering all darkness, the invisible All swathing of all creation in the radiance of his glorious perfection, the origin and supply of all life. God is free, intelligent, Holy, wise, loving, merciful, good, just, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Paul preached that God is a person, the sovereign Lord of Heaven and Earth, unlimited. He dwelleth not in temples made with hands (Acts 17:24), self-existent (Acts 17:25), the source of life and being. God is a God of personal presence. God is essential to our being. (Acts 17:25-28) God is Man’s sustainer. (Psalm 3:5, 55:22)” (My daddy referenced R.G. Lee as the author of these words. Dr. R. G. Lee was an exceptional biblical scholar.)

Even though my daddy did not write these words himself, they had to have special meaning for him to handwrite them in the cover of his bible. The descriptions of God just spoke to my heart amid this week of focusing on God’s grace, just listen to words and let them speak to your heart. “Perfection of Perfectness”, what better way to describe God and His Grace and Love for us. Perfection of Perfectness! “The effulgent beam scattering all darkness.” I had to look up the definition of effulgent, and thought how perfect – ‘shining brightly, radiant.’ God does shine bright, He is radiant, and he does scatter away the darkness from our lives. His Grace and His Love shine bright in our lives through our faith in Him. The phrase that really spoke to me though was “the invisible all swathing of all creation in the radiance of His glorious perfection.” Just an absolutely beautiful description of God and His presence, His perfect presence in our lives.

Then I was reminded of God’s grace from past students and the trials of life they are going through, and yet they do not let the trials stop them from moving forward and turn away from their faith. Once again, the students have taught this old, retired teacher a thing or two about God, His Grace and Mercy, and his presence in our lives. Recently I had a conversation with a past student who has had several obstacles in her life over the last couple of years, and instead of using them as an excuse to give up, she kept her faith in God, and overcame. She is a senior in high school, and has just been accepted into three colleges, and with a smile on her face, she looked at me and said, “I don’t know the reason for my cancer, my surgeries, and everything else I have gone through, but I do know that God has a plan for my life, and he isn’t finished with me yet. He has great things planned for me.” All I could think of was, “You are so right! God’s grace and mercy have been with you every step of the way, and he has a plan for you. I can’t wait to see what you do and where you go in the name of our Lord and Savior.”

Then other memories came crashing through of sweet, innocent conversations I have had with my grandsons over the years about God. They are both such a blessing in my life and over the years I have been able to spend time with them through Vacation Bible School and other moments where God was there, true God-moments.

During VBS one year, they asked the children to draw or write on posters some way they saw God today. Brayden’s sentence, “It isn’t just today, but God gave me my family because he loves me so much!” During the lesson, they also asked the children what having courage means, and Brayden’s response was, “When something really scares you, but you are brave and do it anyway.” This led to another conversation with Cooper on the ride home, about the lesson that God gives us courage when we need it most. Cooper asked me if God had ever given me courage, and I said “Honey, most definitely, so many times.” “When, Grammy?” “Oh honey, more times than I can remember, but when Uncle Patrick’s daddy died, when changes in my life happened.” And in his innocence, he responded, “I just want him to give me courage during the next thunderstorm. They really scare me, Grammy.” They really do scare him. So, that night I prayed that God would give him courage to face those storms.

Then there was another VBS when we were collecting pennies to send to other countries so they could have clean water. Cooper and I had the following conversation on the way to the church,  

Cooper, “Grammy, why are we doing pennies all the days?”

              Me, “Because we are trying to help children have clean water.”

Cooper, “Who is going to take the clean water to the children?  God?”

Me, “No, we will send some people and God will go with them.”

Cooper, “Can’t God go by himself? “

Me, “Well, yes God can go by himself, but he likes to go with us, sort of inside of us protecting us and helping us!”

Cooper, “Are you serious?”

Me, “Yes, I am very serious! God is always with us!”

Cooper, “I thought so!”

And then there was the moment when Cooper and I were riding home from his school one afternoon, and after a few minutes in the car, out of the blue he says, “Grammy, what do you think it would be like if we could see God right here in front of us?” (Inside, I am still trying to figure out where this conversation came from.) I responded, “I haven’t thought about it, Cooper, but I am excited to see him when I get to Heaven!” He said, “I know, but wouldn’t it be cool if we could see him now? ” “Yes, it would Cooper, it would be great. Why were you thinking about that?” He responded, “Sometimes, I dream about God, and he is sitting in a big chair moving the clouds and starting the rain. It is so cool to watch him in my dreams, I just want to see him.” I asked him what God looks like in his dreams and told him I always imagine him as being big, having long hair, and a beard. He just laughed, and said, “I really don’t know what he looks like in my dreams, I am too busy watching him play with the clouds and the rain.”

Then one night when Cooper was small and spending the night with us, I had just finished reading a Bible story with Cooper, and he said “Grammy, do you need to talk to God?” Amazing! I said yes, I do. He looked at me and said, “I tell mommy all the time she needs to talk to God.” Out of the mouths of babes, yes, we need to talk to God all the time.

So, after a week of focused devotions, a lot of time in God’s word, treasures found from loved ones, conversations with students, and memories of conversations with my grandsons, once again I am reminded of God’s grace, His love for me and His creations. I am reminded that without Him my life would be dark and empty. I am reminded that God is even there with our children, when they are going through difficult times, he is touching their hearts and minds, letting them know, even at such an early age, that He is ever-present in their lives. He is walking with them, He knows what they are facing, He understands, and He will carry them when the road gets rough. What a comforting thought – My God is amazingly strong and always there!

What better way to close this blog than to use the words of the song I remember singing many times as a small child. A song that my mother-in-law marked in her hymnal with a simple turned down corner and a piece of paper with the single word, Grace, written on it. A song referenced in my daddy’s bible, “Grace Greater than Our Sin”

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,

Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!

Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,

There where the blood of the Lamb was spilled.

Refrain:

Grace, grace, God’s grace,

Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;

Grace, grace, God’s grace,

Grace that is greater than all our sin!

Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold,

Threaten the soul with infinite loss;

Grace that is greater, yes, grace untold,

Points to the refuge, the mighty cross.

Dark is the stain that we cannot hide;

What can we do to wash it away?

Look! There is flowing a crimson tide,

Brighter than snow you may be today.

Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,

Freely bestowed on all who believe!

You that are longing to see His face,

Will you this moment His grace receive?

What marvelous grace is the Grace of our Lord and Savior!

Exodus 34:6, “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,”

The Greatest of These is Love ♥

Song of Solomon 2:16, “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.”

Song of Solomon 3:4, “I have found the one whom my soul loves.”

1 Peter 4:8, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”

Romans 12:9, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.”

Colossians 3:14, “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

Mark 10:9, “Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Romans 12:10, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”

Ephesians 4:2, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-8, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”

Corinthians 13:13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Several years ago, I shared my remarkable love story with a local TV station in honor of Valentines Day. They came out to my house and interviewed myself, my husband, and our children. It was such a sweet story. Then last year I shared my love story again through the Storytellers Project, where I spoke in front of a live audience and spoke about how love changed my life. In honor of the month of February and Valentines Day, I want to share my remarkable love story again but with a different focus.

Today we seem to use the term ‘love’ so freely, that I wonder if it is somehow losing its significance, its importance for our lives. I love coffee! I love chocolate! I love pizza! I love sleeping! I love The Sound of Music! I love reading a good book! And we do love these things and more, but not in the same way that the Word of God speaks to us about. That love should be remarkable, unconditional, and perfect. Let me start by sharing my love story, a love story written by God!

“My remarkable love story is a story I share every chance I get. I have been blessed not once, but twice, and that is rare. My husband will tell you I am truly a romantic, I love the happily ever after stories, and love watching or reading any love story. However, I will tell you that I feel that way because I do live the happily ever after love story, not once but twice.

My first love story started in high school, your typical high school sweethearts . . . dated for 4 years, started college, got married, both of us stayed in college, graduated, and had a beautiful baby boy. However, it ended tragically soon after we celebrated our tenth anniversary, when he was killed in an air ambulance crash in North Carolina on January 8, 1987. He was the chief flight nurse on the helicopter, and the crew was trying to save a baby. Everyone was killed in the crash, and our world changed forever. I never expected to be a widow at 30 years old, and I was so worried about my 4 1/2-year-old son and how this would affect him. God never fails though, and He made sure we had a family who loved, supported, and protected us for years to come.

Fast forward a little over a year later, in March of 1988, and God sent my second love. We had an extraordinarily strong connection from the very first phone call. So many things in common that just made the connection even stronger – our strong faith in God, our love for family, and our ability to laugh at life brought us together from the very first moment. With our very first date, we had a chance to see the laughter in the lighter moments in life, for example when he drove up to my house and my very protective neighbors were all hanging outside in their driveways, and just staring at my house. I got a call from one of my neighbors to tell me he was here, and he was carrying a rose. It was all quite funny, and just what was needed to help overcome any awkwardness that might have normally come with that first date.

My husband, Steve, had been married before also. He had a daughter from his first marriage, and it was obvious from the beginning that she was the apple of his eye, just the way it should be with a father and his daughter.

From that first date, our romance was a whirlwind. We started dating in March, in April we were engaged, and between June and August, we sold two houses, built another house, and got married in August. Now 30 years later, we are still married, in love, and getting ready to retire this year, so we can spend even more time with each other. We have three beautiful grown children, and three wonderful grandchildren.

I have often called Steve my ‘Knight in Shining Armor’ because he has always been there to rescue me, support me, encourage me, and to be my shoulder to cry on. About a year after we were married, I realized that I truly had not gone through all the grieving I needed to, and I went through a lot of anger and guilt. Steve was my rock! He understood every outburst, every tear, and every period of silence. When the hospital that my first husband worked at, built a memorial in his honor, and wanted our son to come and be a part of the program, Steve went with us, helped Patrick pick out a tree, and helped him plant the tree in his daddy’s honor. When I was given a diagnosis of breast cancer about 15 years ago, Steve was there through all of it. He never left my side, and once again was my rock to lean on. When my mother had a stroke, and we had to make decisions about her care, Steve was the first one to say she is coming to live with us, and she lived with us for 6 years, until she passed away a year ago. It was not just that he invited her to live with us, but he went the extra step and learned how to help with her care, her medicine, and even giving her insulin shots. Steve and my mother had a special relationship, and for that I will be forever grateful. Her last six years were filled with family and love, both are things that meant so much to her.

Steve and I truly have the kind of love that everyone should experience in their lifetime. It has not always been easy, but it has always been worth every minute of blending our two families and creating memories to last a lifetime. I truly have been blessed with love in my life, and for that I will always be thankful.”

Steve makes me laugh, he makes me feel loved every second of every day, and he believes in me! He supports my thoughts and decisions, and he encourages me to be a better me every day! This year we celebrate 33 years of marriage, 33 years of love, laughter, tears, frustrations, sadness, happiness, successes, changes, blending families, and now retirement. Thirty-three years and we are more in love now than we were in 1988. Steve often talks about us being together for at least 60 more years, and I laugh and tell him I do not think we will live that long. However, I know in my heart that if it were physically possible for us to live until we were well over 100 years old, we would still love each other, we would still be laughing with each other, we would still be holding hands whenever possible, we would still be driving each other crazy at times, and yes, we would still be together in marriage!

This morning, as I thought about our life together and reflected on how much love I have in my life because of Steve and God’s plan, the only thing I could think of were the words to the song by James Taylor, “How Sweet it is to be Loved By You.” Truly how sweet it is and how sweet it has been for 33 years to be loved by Steve Murrell. He truly is the love of my life and my Valentine.

How sweet it is to be loved by you

I needed the shelter of someone’s arms

And there you were, Steve Murrell

I needed someone to understand my ups and downs

And there you were, Steve Murrell

With sweet love and devotion

Deeply touching my emotion

I want to stop and thank you, baby

I close my eyes at night

Wondering where would I be without you in my life

Everything I did was just a bore

Everywhere I went it seems I’d been there before

But you brighten up for me all of my days

With a love so sweet in so many ways

I wanna stop and thank you, baby

How sweet it is to be loved by you

Life has given me many opportunities to love and be loved:

  • The love of my parents
  • The love of my grandparents
  • The love of my sisters and brother
  • The love of aunts, uncles, and cousins
  • The love of dear friends
  • The love of two husbands
  • The love of in-laws and extended families
  • The love of my children
  • The love of my grandchildren
  • The love of my students and their families
  • Even the love of my pets

Yet, all these opportunities for love come from the most remarkable love of all! God’s love for me, God’s love for us, ALL of us! I am thrilled and delighted knowing Steve loves me and always will. His love is complete, our love is complete! Our love for each other carries me through life every day, through the ups and downs, and through the frustrations of life and the successes of life.

Yet, I am in awe and fall to my knees with thankfulness knowing God loves me and always will! God loves me, He loves all of us with a love that saved me, and saved you, and gives us eternal life. God loves me with a love that is unconditional, forgiving, and merciful! God’s love is everlasting, eternal! How incredible is His love, How incredible is God! God’s love gives me strength, wisdom, guidance, forgiveness, and grace! God’s love for me gave me two loves, children, and grandchildren. God’s love gave me the gifts of teaching and serving, and a career where I could use them for 28 years. God’s love gave me a childhood filled with Christian leaders and guidance so rewarding and unforgettable. God’s love is immeasurable and everlasting!

God loves me so much that He gave His one and only son that whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

The words to the chorus, Oh, How He Loves You and Me describe simply how much he loves us:

“Oh, how He loves you and me, Oh how He loves you and me. He gave his life, what more could he give?

Oh, how He loves you; Oh, how he loves me; Oh, how he loves you and me.

Jesus to Calvary did go, His love for sinners to show. What He did there brought hope from despair.

Oh, how He loves you; Oh, how he loves me; Oh, how he loves you and me.”

He gave His life, His one and only Son! Jesus went to Calvary to die for our sins because He loved me, He loved each of us! His love brings hope into the world! His love brings hope into our lives!

As a small child, I grew up singing many gospel songs that described His love for me, His love for us. One of my favorites also describes the love I have for Him, Oh, How I Love Jesus.

There is a name I love to hear

I love to sing its worth

It sounds like music in my ear

The sweetest name on earth

It tells me of a Savior’s love

Who died and set me free

It tells me of His precious blood

The sinner’s perfect plea

It tells of One whose loving heart

Can feel my deepest woe

Who in each sorrow bears a part

That none can bear below

Oh, how I love Jesus

Oh, how I love Jesus

Oh, how I love Jesus

Because He first loved me

God, Jesus, Savior, Holy Spirit, Immanuel, Prince of Peace, Lamb of God, Counselor, Shepherd, Lord of Lords, King of Kings, Messiah, Word of God, and so many more are names of God. Each one of His names I love to hear, I love to speak, I love to sing, because His names truly are music to my ears. His name means love, the love of a Savior! His love fills my deepest sorrows and grief. His love is the precious blood of His Son! His love set me free! How can you not love to hear His name and to speak His name?

February is the month of love, we celebrate by giving each other cards, chocolates, flowers, and hugs. However, God’s love for us is not contained to one month! His love for us has no containment! His love is just there, always, everywhere, and with no conditions. How we show our love for Him comes through our faith, our belief, and our love for others! John 15:12 tells us, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

              How incredible is His love for us! How simple is my love for God – I love Him because He first loved me and continues to love me unconditionally, every moment of every day!

Happy Valentines Day to the love of my life, Steve Murrell!

Happy Valentines Day to all of you!

Dear God, I love you every second of every day!

Thank you for loving me!

“I leave you the best of myself.”

“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, The fruit of the womb is a reward.” Psalm 127:3

“For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.” Romans 14:7

“How blessed is the man who fears the LORD, Who greatly delights in His commandments. His descendants will be mighty on earth; the generation of the upright will be blessed.” Psalms 112:1-2

Over the years I have had experiences with ‘spirits’ of who I believe are loved ones who have left this earthly home and moved on to be with God. For the most part these experiences have been positive, although at times unnerving and overwhelming, they have mostly been loving and tender. Two days ago, I had another experience that has left me thinking about the legacy we leave for our loved ones, and how they know what that legacy is. I am not talking about physical possessions; I am talking about true legacies. Do they understand what our legacy is?

Friday night my husband and I were watching a movie that was his typical thriller genre, and full of twists and turns. At the very end of the movie, a phrase showed on the screen.

              “I leave you the best of myself.” (Denzel Washington, Equalizer 2)

As soon as the phrase appeared, I felt a slight chill and the slight whisper of my first husband’s voice, “I left you the best of myself, our son, Patrick.” It was a moment of realization and affirmation. In my grief and anger over Mike being taken from us so early, I truly never stopped to think about the legacy he left me. I know the legacy he left the field of nursing and medical transport teams, but at that moment I saw Patrick as something so much more than our son, he truly is the best part of Mike. That was the way Mike always thought, our son was the best part of both of us. Psalm 127:3 tells us that our children are a heritage from the Lord. He is the best part of both of us because he is a heritage from God. I thought on that most of the night, just so thankful for the moment I heard Mike’s voice but also for the realization of the legacies we leave – parts of ourselves. The next day, my husband and I were cleaning out the house we built and started our marriage in, and the house I had my first experience with Mike. As I was upstairs cleaning, there he was again. Just standing there with a smile on his face, happiness radiating from him because he was given that opportunity to remind me of his legacy – Patrick, the best part of him. He was gone as quickly as he appeared, but it was long enough for me to have a peace and understanding that I have not had in a long time.

Since that experience I have been thinking a lot about other loved ones that have left us, and the legacy they have left. I am amazed that I never thought about it in these terms before. Then I thought of the stories each loved one told and lived before they left us, and I am thankful to God for their legacy and for His love for us.  Steve Saint said, “Your story is the greatest legacy that you will leave to your friends. It’s the longest-lasting legacy you will leave to your heirs.” Oh, the stories they have told us, the stories they lived. Maybe that is why I have had the visits all these years, they want to remind me of their stories. They want to make sure I do not forget their stories. They know my love for storytelling and how much I love to share stories with students and anyone who will listen. Shannon L. Alder said something similar, and this one I love. “Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.” Carve your names on their hearts, not on tombstones. Their legacy is the stories we remember, the stories we share to future generations, so they will always be remembered.

In each one of us is a legacy from our parents, grandparents, and those before them. In each one of us are parts of their stories, the best parts of them because they loved us and taught us about God, life, love, and they shared their stories.

I like to think that my parents left the best of them in myself and my sisters and brother. The best of them means a love for God, a love for family, compassion for others, and a sense of humor to carry us through life. Their legacy though started with their devotion to God, and what was in their hearts and how they lived their lives. As their children we were exposed to their lives and their stories every day, and the impact, their legacy is the best parts of them. How incredible is that! I visit their graves, and I place flowers there on a regular basis. It is bittersweet to see their names carved on their tombstones, but it is moving to understand that they carved their names, their stories on my heart way before we carved their names on the tombstones.

Then I think of my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and the legacy they carved on my heart. The lessons taught and the stories told all a part of the legacy they left behind, the best parts of them were carved on my heart before we ever thought about carving their names on a tombstone.

However, what is even more incredible to me is the opportunity I have had to see and learn the legacy of Mr. Johnnie William Murrell, my husband’s father who passed before I had the chance to meet him. Yet, I know him. He has visited me, and he made sure I would be the one to find the legacy he left here in this house. His personal possessions were here for years, and no one found them, no one even knew they were there. It was his legacy for me, someone he knew would appreciate it and use them as an opportunity for him to carve on my heart the best parts of him that otherwise I would personally not have had the opportunity to know. His legacy is not worth millions of dollars or even thousands, but it is worth so much more than that. I know his stories; I have heard them (sometimes from him) and I have read them. His legacy, the best parts of Mr. Murrell are in the letters he wrote to his parents and sister while he served as a Marine in World War II. His legacy is in the pictures he took and saved to show pieces of what being a Marine was like. His legacy is in the newspapers and magazines he saved because it shows how great our country is, his love for his country, and his respect for history. His legacy is in the reverence and respect in which he addressed his parents, especially his mother when he wrote letters or sent home special items. His legacy is in what I saw in Mrs. Murrell’s eyes every time she spoke of ‘her Johnnie’. His legacy is in this house, in the love in which it was built. His legacy is in his son, my husband! Steve is the best part of Mr. Murrell. Even though I never met him, I see him in his son. I see him in the way Steve loves me and treats me, because it is the same way Mrs. Murrell described the love and care in which Mr. Murrell showed her. His legacy is in his son because Steve observed and learned so much from his father. His legacy is in the way Steve always talks about his father, with love and respect. His legacy is in Steve’s love and devotion to God because Mr. Murrell carved that in Steve’s heart. His legacy is in Steve’s love and devotion for his family, because Mr. Murrell set the example of a Godly husband and father. I never got a chance to meet Mr. Murrell, but I know him well because of the legacy he left, the legacy he carved on Steve’s heart, and the legacy I have learned since moving in his home.

Mrs. Valoree Murrell’s legacy is here too. I have had the opportunity to learn even more about her and her legacy since moving in her home. She visits too. Her legacy is here in the kitchen with me when I am cooking because I feel her presence, I see her smiling, and I hear her humming. She is always humming those gospel songs she loved so much, and she sings when she is happy and at peace with her love for her family. Her legacy, the best part of her is in her son, my husband, too. The best parts of her were her love and compassion for others, especially her family. Steve has that same love and compassion for others. He is the best parts of his parents! Her legacy is in the plants that continue to bloom and grow every spring. Her legacy is in the details of our home, their home. Her legacy was carved on my heart when she welcomed me and my son into her family, way before we carved her name on her tombstone. Her legacy is in our daughters and the way they love family, and the way they love each other just like she loved her sisters.

Mr. and Mrs. Murrell’s names are carved on a tombstone, but more importantly they are carved on our hearts too. Their legacy lives through their son, and even through our daughters and grandchildren. Their legacy is their love for God, their love for family, their love for our country, and their willingness to work hard in life.

The legacy continues with future generations. Mike’s legacy lives on through Brayden and Lydia, they never met their Grandpa Mike, but they will know his legacy and that the best part of him lives in their daddy, and in each of them. His compassion for others and his love of knowledge is in Brayden. His curiosity, his love for life and family, and his need for thrills and adventure lives on in Lydia. I see the legacy of my parents in my children and grandchildren. Each one has some small part of the best of each of them. Lydia has so much of my mother in her, yet she was only a month old when we said goodbye to my mother. The same is true of Mr. and Mrs. Murrell, their legacy lives on in each of their children and grandchildren. A small part, and I like to think some of the best part, of both is carved on my heart and will live as a legacy to the love they had for God and each other. I believe God’s plan was for Steve and I to live in their home, so I could find Mr. Murrell’s legacy and read his stories.

We each have a legacy to leave those we love. The legacy we leave is the way we live our lives. The legacy we leave is in each of them, a small part of each of us, hopefully the best parts of each of us is carved on their hearts while we are still here in this earthly home. Our legacy lives on in those we leave behind. What is your legacy? What stories have you told and shared so that others will always remember you?

Your legacy is in every life you have touched, every story you have lived. Live the legacy you want others to remember! Carve your legacy on their hearts!

Faith

“Faith means being sure of the things we hope for and knowing that something is real even if we do not see it. Faith is the reason we remember great people who lived in the past. It is by faith we understand that the whole world was made by God’s command so what we see was made by something that cannot be seen.” Hebrews 11:1-3

“Without faith no one can please God. Anyone who comes to God must believe that he is real and that he rewards those who truly want to find him.” Hebrews 11:6

“We have around us many people whose lives tell us what faith means. So, let us run the race that is before us and never give. We should remove from our lives anything that would get in the way and the sin that so easily holds us back. Let us look only to Jesus, the One who began our faith and who makes it perfect. He suffered death on the cross. But he accepted the shame as if it were nothing because of the joy that God put before him. And now he is sitting at the right side of God’s throne. Think about Jesus’ example. He held on while wicked people were doing evil things to him. So do not get tired and stop trying.” Hebrews 12:1-3

My faith in God still stands and will forever stand!

The scriptural definition of faith states “Faith is the assurance that the things revealed and promised in the Word are true, even though unseen, and gives the believer a conviction that what he expects in faith, will come to pass. … In other words, it becomes so tangible that you now possess it.”

The dictionary definition of faith states “When you have faith, you trust or believe in something very strongly. … This noun comes from the Old French word feid, meaning “faith, belief, trust, confidence, pledge.” It’s often used when describing religion or the supernatural: people have faith in God, or actually refer to the religion they practice as their faith.”

Billy Graham once made the following statement about faith, ““I have never been to the North Pole, and yet I believe there is a North Pole. How do I know? I know because somebody told me. I read about it in a history book, I saw a map in a geography book, and I believe the men who wrote those books. I accept it by faith. The Bible says, ‘Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God’ [Romans 10:17 KJV].”

God speaks in the most incredible ways, and I find it so reassuring to know that the message he is sharing with me is so important that He shares the same message with others at the same time. This morning my devotion was on faith, my faith, and the faith of others from the Bible that lived lives of great faith. At the same time, He was speaking to me this morning, He was obviously speaking to some of my friends and relatives, for they all shared their thoughts and devotions of faith this morning. How incredible! And how important it is for us at this point in our lives and in the history of our country to grab hold of that faith we used to start a nation and share it for all to see.

Faith! I have heard my entire life about faith, and how vital it is to have faith in God. I have witnessed some of the strongest believers in my life live faith every day, and through some of the toughest trials in their lives. I grew up listening to the stories in the bible about people whose faith was so strong it led them through life’s challenges and obstacles, and their faith was stronger than ever. In Hebrews 11, there are many examples of those who lived by faith. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Joseph, Isaac, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, David, Samuel, and many more are some of the greatest examples of those that lived by their faith in God. My own faith has carried me through some of life’s toughest trials because it was faith in God! God carried me through and gave me strength to face each trial.

My faith is in God! There is no one else incredible enough to believe in, to trust! I am assured each day that I read God’s word that He is there, He is always there, He has always been here from the beginning, and He will always be there! In this day and time, we need to look to Jesus, to have faith, and to know that God’s plan and timing is perfect. We cannot see what is ahead, but nothing that has happened or will happen surprises God. He knows. My faith is in Him and what He can do, and what He will do. “Think about Jesus’ example. He held on while wicked people were doing evil things to him. So do not get tired and stop trying.” Hebrews 11:3. Just think about Jesus’ example every day. Even though things and events in our country today seem dark and dim, hold on to God. Hold on to Him, do not get tired, together we must continue to try to make our country whole again. Make us one!

In 2018, Facebook seemed to be flooded with statements like “we need God back in our schools.” I wrote in response to what I was reading the following,

“Quite often, I see on FB pictures and images where people state we need God back in our public schools. As a teacher of 24 years, and the last 7 in a school where I truly feel God wants me to be, I am a witness to the fact that God is very present in our public schools. He is there in the teachers that truly want to make a difference, He is there in the sweet students who want to do well and be successful, He is there in the support staff within our schools who truly want to make a difference, He is there in the members of First Presbyterian Church who dedicate their time to support our children, He is there when members of my church come to read with my students, He is there! We may not be saying a prayer out loud in our classrooms every day, but I guarantee you that prayers are being said – every day by teachers who love their students, by students, by administrators, and by parents! He is there in the innocent free time of my 5th grade girls, who during their indoor recess today, had the interlocking blocks out building churches for their neighborhoods – CHURCHES!! Their choice! He is there when after almost 6 hours of testing yesterday and 4 hours today, 11 of my 17 girls showed remarkable amounts of growth in reading despite the things they deal with at home. He is there when at the end of the day 17 girls come to give me hugs and tell me thank you for being their teacher. He is even there when walking out of the cafeteria, one of my girls looks at me and says, “You know, Mrs. Murrell, we have worked really hard for two days, and tomorrow we have two unit tests to take. Don’t you think we deserve some hot cocoa and something sweet?” I told her I do not know, we will see. And then she looks at me and starts this, “Dear sweet Jesus, please talk to Mrs. Murrell tonight and ask her to bring us hot cocoa and a sweet tomorrow.” I just looked at her and asked why she thought a prayer would work, and her response, “Because I see the way you act and how you treat us, Mrs. Murrell!”

God is still in our public schools. He is in our classrooms because we have teachers who genuinely care and truly love what they do. He was also in my kitchen tonight, because despite being totally exhausted and concerned about Steve and my grandson, I made cupcakes for my girls and yes, they will be served with hot cocoa and marshmallows. For those of you who do not get to be a part of our public-school systems, believe me – God is still there. How could you doubt it? God is everywhere, all the time! He never went anywhere! We, WE, forgot Him – He did not forget us! I see Him every day!”

I see the same thing today except it is more that we need God back in our country, in our lives. God did not leave us. God would never leave us. We are the ones that have left him, we took Him out of our lives as if we can do everything on our own. Believe me, we are not in the mess we are in today because God left us, we are in this mess because WE left Him! He is there waiting for us to believe in Him again, waiting on us to have faith in Him, and waiting on us to give everything to Him because He is in control.

I see Him every day. I see Him in the sunrise and the sunset! I see Him in the health and life He has given my family and myself. I see Him in our front-line workers giving 200% every day! I see Him in the smiles of strangers when walking through the store, their smiles shine through their eyes behind the masks, even more proof that God is there with them too. I see Him in His creation every day – earth, sky, trees, flowers, and even the dirt. I see Him in the tears flowing down faces as they lose their loved ones. He is there! I hear Him in the wind. I hear Him with the songs of the birds in my backyard every morning. I hear Him in the sounds of my puppies and cats sleeping and playing. I hear Him in the gospel songs and hymns that are being sung by those who love the Lord. I hear Him in the words of our pastors during these trying times. I hear Him in the soft-spoken voices of caregivers taking care of their loved ones. He is everywhere. I feel His presence in my home. I feel His presence and His touch when I am sad or concerned about those around me. I just feel Him always close. I know He is there, surrounding those I love and those who have faith in Him.

My faith is in God! God is in control! Are we brave enough to give it all to Him? Think of the strength and the courage it took Moses, Abraham, David, Noah and so many more to have faith in God and follow His path! Just think of what it took each of them to take those steps of faith and follow God! For us to become united again, to love and show forgiveness and understanding towards others, we must have faith in God and give it all to Him!

It is Well With my Soul, a song sung many times as I was growing up, around our piano and in our church. I thought of the words this morning and several times over the last few days. God placed the words on my heart as a gentle reminder that all things ‘are well with my soul’ when my faith in God is strong and tenacious. My faith in God soothes my worry and concern, and fills my heart with a peacefulness that is overwhelming. Are things well with your soul?

When peace like a river attendeth my way

When sorrows like sea billows roll

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say

It is well, it is well with my soul

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come

Let this blest assurance control

That Christ (yes, He has) has regarded my helpless estate

And has shed His own blood for my soul

My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought (a thought)

My sin, not in part, but the whole (every bit, every bit, all of it)

Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more (yes!)

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight

The clouds be rolled back as a scroll

The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend

Even so, it is well with my soul!

It is well (it is well)

With my soul (with my soul)

It is well, it is well with my soul