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

God’s Sense of Humor

God’s Sense of Humor,

There is a time to laugh and a time to cry

Ecclesiastes 3:1-14

“There is a time for everything,

    and a season for every activity under the heavens: 

a time to be born and a time to die,

    a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

    a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

    a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,

    a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

    a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

    a time for war and a time for peace.

What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet[a] no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.”

In my writing over the years, I have referred to God’s sense of humor as something that I am so thankful for. I have never questioned it, I just assumed that He has one because He made us in His image, and we have a sense of humor and we laugh. Genesis 1:26-27 tells us, “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So, God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” He created us in His image, our sense of humor must come from Him. Our lives are His plan, every moment is part of His plan, I can think of no other way to explain the things that have happened in my life, than to say I inherited my sense of humor from my Father, My Almighty God, because He created me in His image.

There is a time (or many times) to weep also, but God makes sure our lives have many times to laugh, mourn and dance, and love and hate. My devotion this morning focused on the times in life that God has given us to either laugh at ourselves or to laugh at the events he has placed in our lives. Events He placed just to see how we would handle life. Do we pass the test? Sometimes those things that happen in life we do not laugh at in the beginning, it takes days, weeks, months, or even years before we can look at the event and laugh at it. However, God places these events in our lives for a reason. Someone is always watching, and they are watching to see how we as Christians handle the events, the trials, and the challenges in our lives that God intentionally places us in. Do we pass God’s test? What do others see in those moments? Are we a testimony for God and His loving nature, or are we a testimony for Satan and how he uses those weakest moments to pull us away from God? It truly is our decision how we will handle the trials, the challenges, and even the humor God places in our lives.

There are days that I swear God, my parents, and Mike are just sitting up in Heaven and thinking what we can do next to drive her crazy! It is just so much fun watching her trying to figure life out!

A perfect example of God’s sense of humor and plan for my life would be July 20, 2020. “This morning started out trying to figure what Greenville County Schools and PEBA have done with my insurance. Then it was all the Atlanta Airport Officers who kept telling Steve and I to move when there was nowhere to go because of all the traffic.

But the best part was this evening . . . All I needed to do was return an Amazon item through Kohl’s and then go to Walmart. Kohl’s returns are in the middle of the store now to prevent possible spread of the COVID-19. Excuse me but how is creating a separate Amazon return desk in the middle of the store helping to prevent the spread of the virus? I just entered your store, walked to the middle of the store carrying a package I brought from home, met you behind a screen, placed my item in a plastic bag while you had on plastic gloves, yet everyone around me is not wearing a mask?!

Then I go to Walmart! You have a huge sign in the front of your store that says everyone must wear a mask! Yet, when I walked in with about 5 other people, I was the only one with a mask. Okay, I am not saying a word. Then comes the fun! As I am walking around Walmart, I get the feeling I am being followed. There is this friendly white-haired gentleman, riding one of Walmart’s scooters, just sitting there smiling. The funny thing is is that he is wearing the same kind of shirt and shorts that Steve wears, and is just riding around the store. Every time I turn a corner there he is, just smiling. I told Steve Murrell I saw his doppelgänger today. Literally, I could just imagine Steve doing this same thing every time he goes to Walmart by himself. This man never said anything, but he was literally there everywhere I went. Very spooky!

So, while trying to get away from the spooky guy on the scooter, I am in the back of Walmart trying to find the paper products. I find two young guys who are working on stocking the shelves, and I asked them where I would find paper plates, plastic forks, and spoons. They both look at me like I am an alien, and truly one of them says, “I don’t know, but we will help you find them.” Within a few minutes, I find the right aisle, but then I hear one of these young men say, “I found them.” The other one responds, “No, they are over here.” To which I join the conversation and say, “No, I have them” To which they both responded, “Are you sure?” They both walked over to the aisle I was standing in and realized I had found them. They both just smiled!

When it was time to go to the register, my friend on the scooter did not have anything, but he was up front. I went to a register as far away as I could get, checked out and got to my car as soon as I could.

However, it did not stop there. As I approached my car, I realized the car parked next to mine had a man sitting in it with the windows down, and the music blaring. He was genuinely enjoying his music, head just bopping to the beat, and just smiling. As I approached my car, he just started waving and smiling! I smiled back and then he wanted to start a conversation about the music. I mumbled something and got in my car as quickly as possible.

Then after all this wonderful fun, I get home only to realize my insurance is still not settled! Life is just so much fun!!! Thank you, God, for another blessed, but humorous day!”

Then there were the moments when as a teacher I just knew God, and probably my parents and Mike were sitting together in Heaven and thinking what can we do today to get Lynne to smile, to laugh, and just to enjoy the moment? Again, it was God’s intent to place me in situations to see how well I would represent the fact that He is the focus of my life. One example would be January 6, 2016 and a reflection I wrote at the end of the day:

“God is so amazing! He has such a sense of humor, an incredible sense of timing, and an unbelievable ability to know what we need in our lives, who we need, and when we need them. I kept seeing and feeling his presence all day. One of my precious girls came in this morning in tears, and obviously terribly upset!  She wanted to talk, so she stayed with me this morning while the class was in related arts, and we talked about her daddy, and how he must work out of state, for days at a time and how she just misses him. I told her about my daddy being a truck driver, and how he was often gone days at a time. I told her I have always been such a daddy’s girl, and I missed him so much. I still do. Before long we were just talking about our daddies, and she was smiling!

Then there is the fact, that my class has just had a wonderful 3 days back in school. We have probably laughed over 1/2 of each day but isn’t it wonderful that they feel relaxed and safe enough to do that in school. One of my students asked me today how students are chosen to be in my class, and I jokingly said Mr. Golden chooses students who he thinks will work well with the teacher. She thought a moment, and then asked, “So does that mean we are crazy too?” I answered, “Sure!” She replied, “Great! I want to be just like you.” God was either laughing out loud or shaking hands with Mike and my daddy! All a part of God’s plan!

This is always such a hard week for me, the anniversary of Mike’s death is Friday (Jan. 8th) and his birthday on Saturday, (Jan. 9th). It is hard to believe it will be 29 years this Friday. But God knows who we need, and exactly when we need them. Obviously, this year he thought I needed 17 of the sweetest 5th grade girls around, and all of them with a great sense of humor and such a loving nature! Life does not get any better, than when I am in my classroom with my girls!”

There was another day on January 17, 2017 that I honestly thought God was just laughing the day away at the events and students He placed in my life.

“I honestly think God has an incredible sense of humor, and today He was sitting up in Heaven just laughing at the plans He had for me today. I am quite sure He was tired of me feeling sad and worried, and was thinking “Okay, Lynne, if you are not going to have faith in me, I am going to make you laugh and shake your head so much today, that you will have no choice but to snap out of this mood you are in. You have too much in your life to be thankful for, so here goes!”

Another day of testing today had its moments of laughter. About 30 minutes into testing, I noticed one of my girls just sitting at her desk shaking her head. I walked over and whispered to make sure she was okay. Her whispered response, “Oh sure, I am okay, just trying to shake up all this knowledge in my head so I can answer all of these math questions. I know they are there somewhere. ” 😁 I told her just don’t shake so hard that they come out. She just smiled and said, “They’re not that loose. ” 😂

After testing was over, we were working on our decimal math lesson. My girls are struggling with just reading them, so we have been practicing just reading them without saying “dot” or “point” when we read them. Today was very frustrating, so I used one of “many voices” to illustrate how it should be said. One of my girls raises her hand, and asked, “Mrs. Murrell, just how many of those voices do you have? I think we have heard like 1,000. Don’t you get confused listening to yourself and all those voices?” 😂😂

Later in the day, a student brought me a bracelet she had made for me and it had my name on it. I asked her why she put my full name on it, she responded, “I want you to remember who you are when you get older.” 😂😂😂

During indoor recess, the laughter just escalated while trying to teach a small group of my girls how to play my mother’s favorite game, Scrabble. The whole idea of when letters touch, they must form one word simply just did not work for some of my girls, as is obvious in such words as “lowfits” (translation: low fence, “You know, Mrs. Murrell, some people have high fences and some people low fences.”) or “woajeep” (translation: “Whoa, jeep!” “You know, Mrs. Murrell that jeep is headed straight for you, and you yell, Whoa, Jeep!”). Then there was the student that obviously didn’t like her choice of letters, so she dumped them all out and started picking her own letters so she could make a 7-letter word and get the 50 extra points. 😂😂😂😂

Yet, when all is said and done, it was their responses to the morning message about how they can be stars on the test today that touched my heart, and then there was that moment in the cafeteria at lunch, when I watched every girl place her napkin in her lap before they started to eat, that made me smile and almost cry. Oh, my heart! I thank God every day for these girls! It is just sometimes my personal emotions try to distract me from my goal and purpose in life. Thank you, God for reminding me today!”

However, my best example of God’s sense of humor and how He uses the events in our lives for us to stand as a witness for him, a testimony to those that are watching, happened way back in 1981 when I was pregnant with my second child (I had miscarried my first child). This day, this moment is a moment in life I will always remember, and I am quite sure it was God’s way of saying, “Okay, Lynne, here comes another trial, another moment when we are going to see what you are made of, when we see how much you have learned from me and those I placed in your life. You can either laugh and move forward, or you can panic, cry, and get mad. Let us see how you handle it. “The day started our pretty normal, but soon changed as part of God’s plan. The year was 1981, the month was November, and the place was a farm in the middle of Mebane, NC. Mike and I were renting the basement of a house on 250 acres of land, from this sweet older couple, Mr. and Mrs. Smith. They were both retired, they built this huge house on this beautiful piece of land with a lake, and beautiful sunsets and sun rises. Other than the 30-minute ride to any civilization, Mike and I loved it! Mr. Smith had horses, cows, pigs, goats, and a bull! A huge bull! The basement we rented for $100.00 a month was beautiful, about 1500 square feet. They were such a sweet couple. I was pregnant, and of course both of our mothers were genuinely concerned about us being a good distance away from hospitals and doctors. I was working at Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Mike worked at the hospital in Chapel Hill. Everything was going great!

Then on this morning in November, Mike had already left for work. I was getting ready to leave and go to a doctor’s appointment, and then work. I am feeling great and then opened the door. Imagine opening your front door, and there stands a huge bull, striking the porch with his hoof, making snorting sounds, and truly looking like he is ready to charge. I looked at him right in the eyes and said, “Hi George!”, closed the door, calmly walked to the phone, picked it up, called Mr. Smith, and said, “Mr. Smith, I just wanted you to know that George is out of his pen. He is on my front porch, looks like he wants to charge someone, and I need to go to the doctor.” Mr. Smith chuckles and says, “We will be right there.” And they did come, Mr. Smith and 5 of his workers. It took them about 30 minutes to get George to move away from the front porch!

As I walked out about 45 minutes later to get in my car, Mr. Smith was standing outside, and he apologized greatly for George and hoped my doctor’s visit went ok. I looked out the corner of my eye, and there stood George. It truly looked like he was standing there with a twinkle in his eye and a smirk in his smile, as if to say, “Lynne, if you can survive a bull charging on your front porch, you can survive anything! You can handle whatever life throws at you.” And I have!

Later that evening when Mike got home, at first, he thought I was just making it all up, then he called Betty Kay McGinnis and told her what had happened. Within 30 days we had moved into a house, in the city, within 10 minutes of Alamance County Hospital! Patrick was born about 4 months later, which was about 6 weeks early of his birth date.

God truly has such an enormous sense of humor!”

Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

At the end of the day, it comes down to this. . . Everything that happens is part of God’s plan! So how do you handle yourself each day? With grace, understanding, empathy, a sense of humor, and smiles? Or do you get impatient, angry, or does hatred enter your heart? God has an incredible sense of humor! He gives love, grace, and mercy beyond measure! When you are blessed enough to receive the blessings from each of them, how do you respond!” Our lives, every moment, every second is a testimony to how focused we are on God and His plan for our lives. Those around us are watching, they are taking in every second, every decision we make in response to the events God places before us. What incredible opportunities we have every day to be a witness for Him and what He does in our lives, what He does for us. His grace, love, and mercy are there for us to shine for others to experience. His sense of humor is there for others to delight in and enjoy. Do we laugh at the events that challenge us or do we get angry and mad? Each moment, each event is an opportunity to show others that God is loving, merciful, extends grace to everyone, and that He definitely has a sense of humor.

God Moments

God places people and moments in our lives with a purpose.

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

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you, and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

There are so many moments in life that God gives us an opportunity to meet a stranger or just to reflect on the lessons He wants to teach us. Each day is a day that the Lord made, and each day has a purpose that is part of His plan. Each person we meet along the way is part of God’s plan, each person has a purpose in our lives. Let us rejoice and be glad in each person, each moment, and every single day of our lives. God knows the plan He has for us, and His plans are perfect. Rejoice and be glad in God’s plan, His purpose for our lives.

Rejoice in the moments in life that cause reflection, yet even more important that show God’s presence in our lives. Each moment reflects His purpose! Each moment gave me the opportunity to rejoice and be glad in God’s plan and purpose for my life. Each moment taught something especially important about God’s character, God’s plan for my life, and God’s grace in my lives.

There was the morning in the winter of 2016, when I went to a local grocery store to do a little shopping, and to get warm (we had been without heat for 24 hours), however, after my visit I decided God had other reasons for me to shop that morning. He just always places those people in our lives that bless us beyond measure. I had only been in the store for a few seconds, when I heard a small voice behind me, “Ma’am, excuse me? Could you help me?” I turned around and saw a small lady, probably late 70s, in one of the scooters, and she needed help reaching some things. I reached them for her, and she was so gracious and thankful for my assistance. She proceeded to talk about her recent diagnosis of cancer, and how they are treating her with an aggressive form of chemo and radiation. She was very weak but determined to get groceries.  She said this had really scared her and so she was going to make healthier choices. I asked her if she was by herself, and she told me her granddaughter brought her, dropped her off, and was sitting in the car waiting for her. I immediately wanted to go have a word of prayer with the granddaughter to find out why she did not come in and help her. However, God urged me to stay with the woman, so I helped her as we went through the store. She talked about how she felt, and how God was with her through it all. I told her I was a cancer survivor myself, and she asked if she could pray for me!! We prayed together in the store. Although we may have had a cold night and morning, I have so much to be thankful for. God has a way of reminding us of those blessings, and uses the sweetest, most thankful people to remind us.

Then there was the moment where I had traveled by myself to visit my daughter in California, and when traveling back and finally arrived safe and sound in Atlanta, where Steve came and picked me up, I began to reflect on the stress and anxieties of the trip home. I realized yet again though that it is not up to us to question why things work the way they do. God is in control. In the middle of all my anxieties and uncertainties about getting home, I sat beside a young mother and her three-year-old daughter on the way back, and we started talking. They still had to make a connecting flight to Charleston after landing in Atlanta. They had been in California, visiting her estranged father for the first time in 3 years (since her daughter was born), I did not ask why they had not spoken since then. It did not seem important. What was important was the fact she said her father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and he had asked to see her and her little girl, his granddaughter. So, she took her little girl to see her grandfather. You could tell she was still upset over the visit and her father’s health. So, we just talked. We were both teachers, so it was common ground. I told her about myself, my family, my experiences in life, and my faith in God and how it had gotten me through so much. God’s plan that day, absolutely! Get my mind off myself, and onto his mission. Planting seeds, setting examples, being a witness. If I had not been stressed, would I have reacted the same way. I do not know; I do not think so. I would have been comfortable, in my own world, and not looking for a way to get my mind off the stress. However, God knew I needed a distraction, and He knew this young mother and daughter needed someone to listen.

Then there are those innocent moments with a sweet child that do not happen often, but when they do, you know God is speaking to you and He is using that moment to tell you something. It is those times where we truly need to be still and listen. A moment when a cute little, dark-curly haired girl stops right in front of you on the beach and says, “Hi, my name is Sara, and I am two. What is your name?” I bent down to start talking to her, and her mother said she has never talked to a stranger, she did not know why she picked me to talk to. I told her I knew why. Then I looked at the little girl, and told her my name was Sara, and my mother’s name was Sara, and I have a niece named Sarah. She looked up at me and said “Cool!  Look at the beautiful shell I found.” Just like that the God-moment was over in this little two-year-old life, but in my life, it was such a special God filled moment, one that will live with me forever, and just what I needed.

There are also those moments when you realize life and its moments are truly gifts from God and when you follow His directions, the blessings will be ten-fold, if not more. Steve and I were in local store one day, when I caught a glimpse of a familiar face, but I just was not quite sure. It had been 20 years! Then she turned around and smiled, and I knew it was one of my students from teaching at Carolina High, when my teaching career just got started. At Carolina, I taught a very mixed class of students with varying disabilities and it truly was a test of my patience, my ability to teach, and the beginning of my motto, “You just have to laugh as a teacher, if not you will cry every day or pull out all your hair.” This student was one of the sweetest, most caring, compassionate people I have ever known. She had a severe learning disability as well as a physical disability, but it did not stop that beautiful smile every day or that sweet spirit. When she realized it was me, she literally cried, and it took her breath away. I cried too and just hugged her! I have thought of her often over the years, and she told me she thinks of me all the time. She was with her husband and her 6-year-old son, and my heart just skipped a beat again, just knowing that she is doing well, and she is happy. Thank you, God, for your blessings! Thank you, for letting me know that past students are doing well and that they do not forget their teachers! She asked for my number so she could call, and we could catch up, and I did not hesitate! This is someone who touched my heart years ago, and I cannot wait to be able to sit down and talk with her!

I will never forget the day I substituted in a kindergarten class, and at first questioned why I agreed to substitute in an environment I had no real experience in. Yet after a short period of time in this classroom I knew God wanted me there that day and he was determined I would feel at ease and just enjoy the day. It began as soon as the students finished their morning work, they could draw or write anything they wanted to while they were waiting. The first little boy called me over to see his picture, I told him it was a great helicopter! He said, “Thank you, but did you notice it is an ambulance helicopter?” Yes, it was! Ok, God, I am listening. Then there was the little girl who brought her paper to me so I could see the words she had written, right there in front of me, “love God.” Yes, I am listening! Yet, another little girl comes up to me and said, “Mrs. Murrell, my nose really hurt last night.” “I am so sorry, what caused it to hurt so much?” Her response, “I had a really big booger in it, and I couldn’t get it out. I kept pushing, but it just wouldn’t come out!” “I just hate it when that happens.” She just smiled and said, “I do too!” and walked away. Thank you for the laughter and innocence of the little ones, God. Reflection at the end of this day, a day in the life of a teacher from a completely different grade level is always eye-opening and, in this case, very educational. God does not place us in places or classes without a reason or purpose. It may not be for our benefit initially; we may be there for someone else’s benefit. Yet, when we follow his plan we are always going to be blessed! As different and maybe just a little frustrating as that day was for me, I truly was blessed by their sweet smiling faces, their laughter, their hugs, and their enthusiasm for life.

Thank you, God!

There are also the days I was absolutely amazed at the way God spoke through my students. They did not even know He was doing the speaking, but as soon as I heard the words and got passed the chills, I knew it was God. One moment began with Social Issue Book Clubs reading groups. The social issues varied from homelessness, losing a loved one, discrimination, women’s rights, to as simple as protecting our animals and the environment. As they read, I walked around the room, sat, and talked with different groups. One conversation still resonates very personally with me. On this day, the conversation turned personal, very personal. It also eventually included the whole class instead of just the small group.

Student, “Mrs. Murrell, when you married Mr. Murrell, did you say the ‘to death do you part stuff, promise to love and honor?'”

Me, “Yes, I did!”

Student, “Did Mr. Murrell say it too?”

Me, “Yes, of course.”

Student, “When you got married the first time, did you both say it too?” (My students knew about Mike dying in the helicopter crash.)

Me, “Yes, we said it then too.”

Student, “Did he love you until he died? Did you love him? Would you have ever left him? Would he have left you?”

Me, “Yes, he loved me until he died, I loved him too! No, we would not have left each other. We promised to love and honor.”

Student, “So, Mr. Murrell loves you too and you love him? Would you leave him?”

Me, “Absolutely not! We made a promise, we meant that promise, we made a vow! We will be with each other always.”

Student, “Are you sure, Mrs. Murrell?”

Me, “Yes, I am sure!”

After a few quiet moments, she spoke again (or God spoke through her as a gentle reminder).

Student, with a big smile on her face, “Then, Mrs. Murrell, you are really lucky, aren’t you?”

Me, “Yes, honey, I am lucky. I am blessed, truly blessed.”

Student, “You really are, because you have us too!”

Welcome to my world and the insights of 5th grade girls, who do not have the blessings of strong families.

Other moments in time came through loud and clear when we decided to renovate his childhood home and make it our home. I began a blog when we started on this journey, and I wanted to share the moments during this time that God used so many moments and people to speak to me and give us His blessings for this journey, His plan for our lives.  “In February, we went over to Steve’s childhood home, with the intention of cleaning it out, fixing a few things, and either renting it or selling it. I went in, thinking, “Finally, we will get it clean in a couple of weeks, get it sold, and have one less thing to worry about.” Little did I know how much life would change because, I fell in love with the memories, I fell in love with the details and handiwork that it took to make it a home, and I fell in love with the quaint little neighborhood that it was built in. My whole attitude changed at that moment. Every time I walk in its doors now, I look at it with different eyes and think about all the possibilities and all the good that will come out of this move for Steve, mother, and even myself. So the walls are going up, the ceilings are being repaired, the new floors are going in, cabinets are being built, appliances have been ordered, paint colors selected, yard work is being done (by yours truly), and the excitement is growing! Even my children come over to see the progress and are amazed and excited over the changes. The amazing thing though is that they come over to visit and make comments, like “I am glad you are not changing this because it was always special, or it was the one thing I remembered the most.” It validates our decision to do this when they recall the memories from their childhood, and they are sweet memories for them too. We added a special little something this weekend – a cute little blue golf cart, thinking it would be great for going downtown, going to Kmart or the grocery store, or just little rides around the neighborhood. Steve and I rode all around the neighborhood streets Thursday night, and it was wonderful. So peaceful and quiet, friendly neighbors waving as we rode along, and seeing houses I have not seen before and streets I had not been down yet. It was such an enjoyable thing to do on my birthday. Just ride around, enjoy each other in the simplicity of the moment. Life does not get much better than that! However, the best time was this afternoon when we took mother for a long afternoon ride, on the golf cart, around the streets she grew up on. Listening to her talk and reminisce about her childhood was incredible. We rode by her old houses (and even though they are old and run down, to her they hold incredibly special memories), her church, and up and down the streets she walked as a child and teenager. She talked about walking and playing on those streets as a child, walking and flirting as a teenager, and walking to the mill when she went to work. When we started this journey, I was looking at it through my eyes, and today I looked at it through her eyes. Life is so much different when you look at it through the eyes of those you love. I honestly believe this is part of God’s plan. As we have been going through the frustrations and holdups of reconstruction, there have been days I have questioned our decision to do this.  Today, the affirmation that we are doing the right thing came through loud and clear as I listened to Steve and mother talk about their memories of days gone by. Such a sweet connection for the two of them, one that I am anxiously waiting to be a part of.” I am sharing all of this simply because today once again God used a stranger to confirm we have followed His plan for our lives. As I was working in the yard today, a sweet lady walked by, shouted out “Hi!” and then continued with “I am so glad I saw you out here today. I have been wanting to tell you how beautiful your home is again, and how lovely it is to see it well cared for again.” I walked to her and we started talking about how she grew up in this area, and she remembered this home as a child and teenager and how it was always so charming. Then the years of neglect were so sad for her and her family to watch. She talked about the streets she grew up on and the schools she went to. Her and her husband live right around the corner, and her children are grown. She talked about how her daughter talked about the changes and how much they loved everything we have done, and that we had brought charm back to the street. I could just feel Valoree and Johnnie smiling! At the end of our conversation, we shared names and she was so surprised when I told her my name was Lynne. She told me that was her daughter’s name, although her daughter says her name is really Sara! It was my turn to be shocked, when she told me her daughter’s name is Sara Lynne. Quite a chill from that one, so I had to ask how she spelled her name. “Sara Lynne”. God truly works in mysterious ways! She said she could not wait to get home and call her daughter.

There are so many moments, places, and people I could talk about. Moments, places, and people God has placed in my life that are all part of His plan. Each moment, each place, each event, and each person have blessed me beyond measure! God moments! Quite often I know I take those moments, those events, and those people for granted. That I do not look at the reason or the purpose that God placed them in my life.

My goal for this New Year of 2021, is to make sure I rejoice in each day God gives me, that I rejoice in each simple moment and with each person and event He places in my life.

“This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you.” Exodus 12:2

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21

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

Thank you, God, for the moments, the people, the places, and the events you have placed in my life and that you will continue to place in my life. Help me to never forget to rejoice your plans, your purpose, and your name. Help me to always remember “Your grace is all I need!” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Christmas Memories:

Luke 2:1-20

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to their own town to register.  So, Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”  So, they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

I love this time of year, Christmas, the birth of Christ, families coming together, the sights and sounds, the food, and the memories from Christmases gone by.

As I think of Christmases of my childhood, I remember my family coming together with friends and just enjoying each other’s company. Memories of driving to South Carolina first thing Christmas morning to visit my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Memories of our pastor visiting us first thing on Christmas morning, having a cup of coffee, seeing the surprises from Santa, and then he would leave to visit all the other families of our church. Memories of waiting nervously for my daddy to get home from driving his truck in time to celebrate Christmas with us. Memories of singing Christmas songs around the piano. But the most cherished memories are of my daddy reading the story of Jesus birth to us on Christmas Eve as a reminder of the real reason we celebrate. I remember when Christmas was simple, and the focus was Jesus and family.

As I think of Christmases from my teenage years, I remember my high school sweetheart and how much he loved Christmas! It truly was his favorite time of year. Memories of his first Christmas as a Christian, and the reverence with which he read the Christmas story for the two of us. Memories of how he would decorate his parent’s attic with a tree, lights, and even one of those cardboard fireplaces, so we could sit upstairs in front of the ‘fire’ and look at ‘our’ tree. The memories are there like they just happened yesterday. That fireplace traveled with us through four of years of dating and our 10 years of marriage, and through 12 moves. It was in front of that fireplace that he proposed after accidently losing the key to the cabinet where he had placed my ring. Memories of our first Christmas together, married, a couple. Memories of making our first Nativity scene. Memories of working together to build a stable for our scene, and the tradition began of it being placed in the center of our Christmas decorations every year. That Nativity scene is still placed in the center of my Christmas every year, for 44 years. Memories of the two of us traveling to his parents’ house and then my parents in South Carolina for Christmas. It was what we did. Memories of family coming together. Memories of some Christmases without everyone, memories of a certain sadness, yet happy, cherished memories also. Those memories were soon even more cherished with the first Christmas after becoming parents. He was more excited than any of us, and we still had the fireplace. He insisted on a real Christmas tree every year, and he insisted on ‘snowing’ the tree. Memories of the aroma of that fresh Christmas tree, mingled with the smell of the ‘snow’ on the tree will forever be there. Memories of Mike reading the Christmas story with our son. Simple, precious memories.

Memories of a first Christmas without Mike were the hardest. Memories of our new home, memories of new friends, memories of a new puppy, memories of my grandparents coming to our house, and memories of being surrounded by family to help with the pain. Memories of sadness, loneliness, and still a twinge of anger clouded that first Christmas without him. Memories of a faith so strong in Jesus Christ, the reason for the season, that brought me through that first Christmas and all the days ahead. Memories of tears, yet memories of laughter, hugs, smiles, and love too!

Then came the new memories of a woman stronger than ever before! Memories of a new family, memories of new Christmas traditions mingled with the traditions of two families before that became one. Memories of families coming together to blend into one. Memories of our children growing up and a living room filled with presents, laughter, and family on Christmas morning. Memories of two of our children not so patiently waiting for their sister to wake up so we could go downstairs as a family to see all that Santa had brought. Memories of Grandma Murrell being a part of our new Christmas traditions each Christmas morning. Memories of the story of Jesus’ birth being read to our children by their father, and sometimes by Grandma Murrell. Memories of later years, after my father was no longer with us, of my mother sharing Christmas traditions with us. Memories of stories being told by my mother and Grandma Murrell to our children about their Christmases growing up. Memories of my children growing up, moving away from home, starting families of their own, and now it is their turn to ‘come home for Christmas.’ My heart hopes those times will never just turn into memories of past days.

Now we are in the stage of our lives where we are retired and we are grandparents, and I am all about creating memories for them. I want them to always have special memories of coming to Grammy and Papa’s house for celebrations, for Christmas, and just because we are family. Each time we are together I try to create memories for my grandchildren, but for my children as well. I want them to know they are loved, and that Jesus is the reason for the season, but He is so much more. I want them to know and always remember that it is because of Jesus Christ and his birth in a manger and his death on a cross, that we are all saved. I want them to remember that it is because of God’s mercy and grace, and His plan for all our lives, that we are together as a family because of His intervention and His plan. There is no other explanation for us coming together and creating this blessed family. I want them to remember the truths they were taught as children, I want them to remember the family get-togethers, the laughter, the music, the food, the sights and sounds the way I remember all those memories from my childhood, teenage years, and even into adulthood. May the memories always be a part of my heart and my mind, and may they always be a part of their hearts and minds.

The season and memories on FB reminded me of a conversation I had with Patrick when he was 5 years old, almost a year after his daddy died.  Such an innocent conversation, yet here I am almost 34 years later still remembering it, like it was yesterday, and the impression it left on my heart.

Picture a beautiful day in Burlington, NC and mother and son were driving back to visit his grandparents. The sky was a beautiful blue, with clouds scattered through the sky. When suddenly from the back seat, Patrick asked, “Mommy, what do you think God and my daddy do in Heaven all day?” Truly taken by surprise, it took me a few seconds to respond, but the only response I could think of was, “Well, Patrick, knowing your daddy the way I do, they are either talking about the medical profession, running, or his family.” Patrick was silent for a few seconds and then responded, “But mommy, do you think they are sitting side by side, or walking around Heaven?” My response, “I am not sure. What do you think, Patrick?” Patrick’s response, “Well, mommy, I think God is sitting in his big chair, and daddy is sitting in his not so big chair, and they are watching me!” Me, “Patrick, you are probably right. Sounds exactly like what they would be doing.” Patrick’s response, “Yes, mommy, they are watching over us and smiling. But mommy, how do the chairs stay on the clouds and not fall through?” Me, “What do you mean, Patrick?” His response, “Well, mommy, chairs are heavy. How do they sit on the clouds? And mommy, do you think they get tired of the sun shining all the time? And mommy, do you think daddy misses me?”

And it was about that moment we reached the driveway at the McGinnis’ house, and I prayed a silent prayer of thankfulness. Patrick was so curious as a child, still is. I truly could not respond without bursting into tears, so Memaw and Pepa standing outside with arms wide open were the perfect response to his innocent questions.

I think back about that day, and the days before when we were dealing with Mike’s tragic death, and how much we went through. I praise God for providing us with the family and friend support we would need. I praise Him for giving me the strength and wisdom to make it through those moments, those days, months, and years to get to where we are today.

The Christmas season is such a reminder to hold our family and friends close to us, to celebrate with them and because they are in our lives. We are not promised tomorrow. Christmas was Mike’s favorite holiday, and every year 34 years later, it brings back so many memories of our time together and a reminder to be thankful and praise God for what we have . . . God, love, family, happiness, health, and each other! That is what this season is about. Notice the small moments, really listen, and pay attention, because I guarantee you that God will use those moments later in life to remind you of the blessings He gives, the mercy and grace He bestows upon us, the unconditional love He shows, and the protection He showers over those that follow His will. He does everything with a purpose, and everything He does is full measure. Never doubt His love, His timing, or His purpose for each of us.

Merry Christmas to everyone! Spend time with your family. Show everyone love and care. And know that we are not promised tomorrow. But know that one day you may wonder yourself exactly what God and your loved one do all day in Heaven. I like to think they are sitting in their big chairs, on the clouds, smiling down at the loved ones they left behind, the loved ones they are so proud of here on earth!

The simple cardboard fireplace seems to symbolize so much about my life and my memories.  Yet, I hope my friends and family see so much more to the significance of the memories of my life. They are all a part of those memories.

The Heart of a Woman

Psalms 34:18 “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Job 11:18 “And you shall be secure, because there is hope; yes, you shall dig about you, and you shall take your rest in safety.”

Prov. 3: 5 – 6 “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

Psalm 28: 7 “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.”

              Scripture tells us the heart is central. “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Proverbs 4:23. God knows that our heart is core to who we are. It is the source of all our creativity, our courage, and our convictions. Our beliefs, our faith, and our trust in God is held and treasured in our hearts. In Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, the brain is not mentioned once, whereas the heart is cited 826 times. www.csun.edu The Bible uses the word ‘heart’ to refer to the whole person, the ruling center of the whole person. Look at the importance of our hearts in the scriptures above. The most impactful one to me is Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” The trust we have in God, is held in our hearts. How powerful is that!

              There is something fierce in the heart of a woman. Think about it, scripture tells us in Genesis 1:27, “God created man in his own image . . . male and female he created them.” Scripture also says in Genesis 1:31, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning, the sixth day.” Woman was created to be with others, to help others, to nurture, and to care for others.  In our hearts we want to possess a beauty that is worth pursuing, a beauty that glorifies God, a beauty that is core to who we truly are. WHO WE TRULY ARE!

              Recently, I have wrestled with feelings of not quite living up to God’s expectations, His purpose for my life. When I look at the gifts, He has given me, I question if I have fully used all of them. I think of who I am, the relationships I have, and the choices I have made and reflect on how I have lived through those. Was I an example to others and if so what kind of an example? My struggle with my sense of worth points to something glorious God has planned for me, something He designed me to be. I am still living in this earthly plane, so my heart tells me that I have not reached that glorious plan quite yet. God is still working with me, and still preparing me for His ultimate plan. My heart fiercely wants to fulfill all God has planned for me, and as a result I started writing. God gave me the gift of teaching, the gift of nurturing, the gift of hospitality (and a mother who was a true example), the gift of serving, the gift of knowledge, and the gift encouraging and evangelism. I believe He also gave me the gift of writing, to enhance the gifts of encouraging and evangelism. I cannot always speak in front of a group of people, but I can write and share my faith with others as a way of encouraging and sharing my testimony. A few days ago, I found all my journals and writings from over the years. I read through each of them, and the tears flowed quite often. Writing has always been a source of comfort for me, yet recently it is more an expression of my life and the lessons learned. My desire now, and I believe part of God’s plan is to use my gift of writing as a way to share my testimony with others.  

              How we nurture relationships with friends, family, and even strangers are part of that testimony. God has placed me in many relationships too. These relationships and how I have lived through them reflect God and what are in my heart. These relationships are my testimony. These relationships are who I am, who God created me to be!

I am God’s child,

I am a Christian,

I am a daughter,

I am a daughter-in-law,

I am a sister,

I am a wife,

I was a widow,

I am a sister-in-law,

I am a mother,

I am a grandmother,

I am a friend,

I am retired,

I was a teacher,

I was a co-worker,

I was a caregiver,

I am a survivor,

I am a woman,

I am a woman with a fierce heart for God!

              Women tend to define themselves in terms of these relationships and the quality of their relationships. This is not a weakness in women. It is a glory. A glory that reflects the heart of God, and of a woman with a fierce heart for God. A woman’s desire to fulfill these relationships relates to God’s vast desire to have relationships with each of us. A woman’s capacity to have relationships or to be defined by her relationships reflects God’s capacity and ability to have relationships with all his creations, man, and woman, and all the earth.

              God endows women with certain qualities that are essential to relationships. He gives us qualities that speak of Him: inviting, vulnerable, tender, embodies mercy, fierce, and fiercely devoted.     God also gives us women in our lives that serve as examples of these qualities and serve as mentors to us as we grow and mature in our relationships with Him, the most important relationship.

              As I think back on my own childhood and teenage years, I can think of many women who served as examples to the woman I am today, they are the women who helped me grow and mature in my relationship with God and in all the relationships I have experienced in life. For each of them I am eternally grateful God placed them in my life.

              My mother and her friends were some of the first examples of Godly women I had in my life. Helen Chandler, Diana Hearne, Frances Allison, Ramona Glenn, Peggy Tilley, Viola Phelps, and so many more. A church family that gave me so many wonderful examples to learn from and to model after. Ethel Smith and Catherine Farrell were probably two of the most incredible women in my life.

              Catherine Farrell was such an incredible woman of grace and poise! She was my Sunday School teacher, GA leader, and church leader. She had a heart so fierce for her love of God and the heart of a servant. Her strength and courage were so amazing, her and her husband served as missionaries in Africa for several years. I remember as a young girl being in awe of her and the way she carried herself, and the way she spoke with such quietness yet with such strength and assurance in each word. Her words were from her heart, they were from God. She used her own experiences to teach us, to help us understand the part God wants to play in our lives. When she spoke, God was in each word, and you just knew she was speaking from her heart. I used to think I wanted to be able to speak like that, I wanted to influence others the way she influenced me. What I admired the most about Mrs. Farrell was her desire to teach me poise, grace, and patience. She exhibited those qualities every day. She never gave up on me. I often wonder if now she looks down on me and thinks, “Finally, she has poise, grace, and patience.” I pray that I exhibit those same qualities to others, my past students, my children, and grandchildren, and even to strangers. My last nine years teaching, all girls, at Hollis I often thought of Mrs. Farrell and my desire to instill in my girls those same qualities. I used to reflect back on those lessons, and think “Look, at me, Mrs. Farrell! I am teaching young girls how to use a napkin, how to set a table, and how important manners are.” Oh, my goodness, the impact this woman had on my life.

              Another incredible woman and one so responsible for me being the woman I am today was Ethel Smith. Oh, the lessons I learned from her. She had such a demanding presence, yet a presence of a woman with such a fierce heart for God. I truly believe God knew I would need such a fierce, strong woman in my life to help shape and mold me to be the woman I am today. This woman was so knowledgeable of God’s word, but it was not just that she knew God’s word, literally every word, but she believed every word with her whole heart. There was never a doubt of her love and faith in God. The most incredible quality of Miss Ethel was that even though she was fierce and devoted in her knowledge of God’s word, we all knew she loved us and her one purpose in life was to share God’s word with us and to help us become women of God! She wanted that with her entire being. I think back with fondness now, but growing up as a young girl, tomboy and stubborn, I used to think she was my worst enemy, but now I know she only wanted me to know God and to have faith in Him. Today, I am so grateful for Ms. Ethel Smith’s presence in my life. I am sure she looks down on me in wonder, yet at the same time, with pride in the role she played in my life.

              These two women, as well as the other women of my childhood church, gave me strength and courage to survive, to grow in my faith in God, and to hopefully be an example to others around me. God gives us the people we need to help us become the person He wants us to be. He is there always, knowing exactly who we need to help us to follow His plan for our lives.

              God knows that our hearts are the core of who we are and who we are to become. God knew that I would need certain women in my life to help me build the relationships I would have, to help me overcome the struggles I would meet, and to help me be a testimony to those around me. From my mother, to Diana Hearne, to Peggy Tilley, to my grandmother, and even to Ethel Smith; they were all placed in my life at the exact moment He knew I would need them. What incredible examples of women I had in my life, that each played their role in bringing me to this point in life. For each of them I am forever grateful!

              The heart of a woman is a beautiful thing. It is fragile, yet so very strong. It is delicate, yet resilient. The heart of a woman is fierce. It is fierce in her faith in God. It is fierce in each relationship she cherishes. It is fierce in her devotion to her family. It is fierce in love! It is fierce in her determination to see things through. It is fierce in desire to do her best in all things. It is fierce when it comes to protecting her family. It is fierce in surviving and overcoming obstacles in life. It is fierce in following God’s plan for her life. A woman’s heart is amazing! A woman guards her heart, nourishes it, and opens it wide to love others God places in her life.

              Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”