Golden

The room was quiet. Her tiny, frail body lay somewhat lifeless under a pile of white blankets raising slightly with the rhythm of each breath. Two generations sat and waited for her to wake. Her eighty something year old body was tired so they let her rest. Soon she began speaking. Unable to see her face, it was assumed she was dreaming until her words became clear. She was speaking to her dear friend, the love of her life – she called Him Jesus. She spoke as if He was sitting with her, stroking her thin, wiry hair and holding her hand. Eventually, she turned to face her grandchildren. Upon opening her eyes and realizing her company’s presence, she sweetly smiled.

“Oh honey, don’t cry for me,” she said quietly to my niece who sat with tears falling slowly down her cheeks. “I’ve waited a long time for this. I’ve told everyone how good God is and I know He’s pleased with me. It’s time for me to go home.”

She told the truth. Everyone she met knew how much she loved the Lord. She lived a long life that wasn’t easy. She lost a child, outlived her husband and spent many years on dialysis because of failing kidneys. Yet she always had a smile on her face and welcomed any opportunity to tell anyone listening the good news of the gospel.

Until I met her, I had never seen a love story with Jesus like hers – such peace and to be able to state without any doubt “He’s pleased with me.” I knew I didn’t have what she had, but I wanted to get it.

I began praying every morning for God to speak to me and let me know He would use me. I asked for the relationship I witnessed in her example. I wanted to hold deep, passionate conversations with God. Knowing He speaks through His word, I followed each prayer with intense reading of the scripture. In the evenings, I read books by Christian authors designed to cultivate a deeper relationship with Christ. I listened to nothing but Christian music or sermons from well-known pastors. I watched little television, but what I did watch was found by surfing the God channels.  I wanted to soak it all in and begged God to somehow use something, anything, I was learning as a way to communicate with me.

Several weeks I followed this routine. Each week returned the same response from God.

Silence.

One evening, feeling like I could do no more, I stood in the kitchen over a sink full of dirty dishes. As the soapy water began to fill the sink, tears swelled in my eyes. I’ve gotten my answer from God, I thought as I began washing each dish. He won’t use me. I blew my chance years ago, and He’s done with me. My heart is no longer good enough.

As the tears flowed down my face, I felt a tug on my pant leg. Wiping my eyes, I turned to see my three year old daughter smiling up at me.

“Mommy, let me listen to your heart,” she said holding up her Doc McStuffin’s stethoscope. I dried my hands and bent down. She placed the plastic piece on my chest and closed her eyes. For a few moments she innocently stood with a sweet smile on her face while she listened.

“What’s it sound like?” I asked.

“Golden,” she whispered. With that she opened her eyes and looked into mine keeping the smile on her face before walking away.

Golden. The tears flowed again as I realized He wasn’t silent at all. I simply needed to listen.

Luke chapter 18 tells us of an unrighteous ruler who had no respect for anyone, yet he finally responded to the persistent pleas of a widow.  If an unrighteous man, who cares for no one but himself will respond to the persistence of a widow, how much more eagerly will our righteous, merciful Father respond to His children?

We are told to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), but it’s easy to become discouraged when God is silent after weeks, months or even years of prayer.  I pray if you are in a period of God’s silence, you will continue to seek Him and hold fast to scripture promising God won’t give up on you (Philippians 1:6). I look back at the time I felt He was ignoring my request. I pleaded to hear His voice and expected something grand ringing in my ears. After all, Psalm 29 says the voice of the Lord is powerful. The voice of the Lord is majestic. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars.

This time, however, the voice of the Lord was the whisper of a tiny little girl with blond hair, hazel eyes and a Doc McStuffin stethoscope.

 

 

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Multiple Sclerosis Blurred My Vision – Sharpened My Focus

Most people don’t know this about me, but after our youngest was born, I began experiencing uncommon postpartum symptoms. The left side of my body, from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet became numb. I couldn’t hold a pen or pencil without severe pain. I had trouble completing a thought and I could only see a small portion of whatever my eyes were fixed upon, the rest was blurred to a complete black.

I saw three neurologists during the months that followed and finally decided with the doctor I trusted most that my test results weren’t convincing. At the time I was on a diet high in soy, which we discovered my body doesn’t tolerate well. I had just delivered my third child, finished my Master’s and gone back to working full time. I made changes to my diet, rested more and began writing again to de-stress. Other than poor vision, which wasn’t great at its best, my symptoms left and haven’t been back. For now, I pay attention to my body for signs indicating I may need to return for more tests, but until then, we are holding off on any diagnosis.

One of the three doctors, however, immediately diagnosed me with the illness. After meeting with her, I began a short-lived blog focusing on what I believed was the beginning of my journey down a frightening path.  The following is a post written during that time.

I haven’t posted here in a while.  I’ve been busy with life – a good life.

When my father was diagnosed in 1994 with MS, he couldn’t walk, couldn’t control bodily functions, couldn’t complete a thought and was almost blind.  The doctors quickly figured out the source and started treatment.  Twenty years later, he’s walking (with only a cool limp), can see fine and is quite the thinker. 

We were discussing the disease a few weekends ago, and he told me something I wish I had heard sooner.  I said to him as I watched my oldest play football and my two toddlers play in the stands next to us, “You know, I just need fifteen years.  I have no symptoms other than the occasional tingly scalp and some difficulty in focusing – which could be the lack of sleep from being a mom of toddlers.  I just need fifteen years, and then the girls will be old enough to be OK without me being 90%.”  His eyes filled with tears, and he told me of the wife of a missionary friend of his.  Fifty years ago, she was six months pregnant with their youngest child.  She began having odd symptoms and was diagnosed with MS.  She lived without treatment for many years, but she never was able to hold her baby.  She never cradled him in her arms.  She never held him and gazed at him while he slept. She had to watch as others performed these “gifts” for her. 

  I’m asking for fifteen years and she probably would have been satisfied with an hour.

I thank God for what He has given me.  I run with my children.  Tickle them.  Hug them.  Bathe them.  Dress them.  Cheer for them.  Dance with them.  She simply wanted to hold them.

We can’t be sure of what tomorrow holds. Soon after my post I met a mother fighting an aggressive cancer. We spent several nights together talking while our girls practiced their dance routine for the year end recital. One evening I simply listened as she spoke about everything troubling her at that moment on her journey. She leaned forward and with watery eyes she whispered, “I know people have some really big prayers. All I’m asking for is about 15 years with my girls. That’s it. Just 15 years. Is that selfish? I don’t think that’s selfish.”  No sweetie, it’s not selfish at all.  It’s being a mother, a wife – human.

This was my last post on the blog or even in my more personal journal dealing with the illness. I shifted my focus from what could be to what was right in front of me.  We don’t always see the end of our long, winding path, but there are beautiful scenes all around us. Where ever your walk is leading, I pray you see the beauty in each step.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose – Romans 8:28.

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Curling up with the Good Book

For years I struggled with the lack of a desire to read God’s word. I knew as a Christian I needed to search and study scripture, but in all honesty, I just couldn’t want to.  I wanted to want to, yet I often found myself drifting off after only a few words and soon stopped picking it up outside of church all together.  Most of us have heard that it takes 21 days to develop a habit. I decided to devote 30 minutes every morning for a whole month to reading scripture. Each reading would start with a prayer asking for clarity, wisdom and a desire to continue, but in the beginning, my mind would quickly wander to unfinished tasks, previous day’s events – anything other than the words on the pages in front of me.

One evening I happened upon the book of Esther and decided to read a few pages while waiting for my daughter to fall asleep. The opening scene described the king’s banquet thrown to boast his riches. As I read, I imagined the drunken attendants lounging around tables overflowing with food. Their obnoxious laughs bounced off of the cold, stone walls.  The beautiful, sparsely clothed women seductively danced about the columns. I watched as King Ahasuerus’ face flushed from embarrassment then scowled in anger by Queen Vashiti’s refusal to display her beauty as demanded. I listened to his advisers convince the king to handle his woman and make an example for other wives who may have a desire to disobey their husbands’ commands too.

As the characters developed and the story unfolded, I found myself lost in the pages. The book ended, and I wanted more. I sat stunned at my reaction to Esther and wondered what other books were like this one. Then it dawned on me. I didn’t approach my reading of Esther with my bible tools in hand looking for God’s divine message to me. I simply read the book. What if I took this approach during my quiet time of reading God’s word?

I began seeing things differently on the pages. I saw the anguish on Pilate’s face when he realized the innocence of the Man standing before him – the Man whose life was hanging on his decision. I watched him pace about the platform, scratching his head in confusion as the crowd demanded the release of a murderous villain and the crucifixion of a humble Teacher. Later, I saw the same crowd beat their chests in remorse when they realized what had truly transpired at the place called The Skull.

The pages became alive. Questions stirred as I put myself in the middle of the words. What did Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego talk about with Jesus in the fiery furnace? How did Aaron keep from having a meltdown when he saw his two sons struck dead for not taking God’s instructions seriously? What was it about Jesus that enticed Peter and Andrew to immediately stop everything and follow Him?

The more I read, the more questions came to mind- the more questions, the stronger my desire to dig deeper into the Word to find the answers. There is still a need for a “bible student’s” approach where the text is examined and studied, but sometimes it helps fan the flames to grab a blanket and curl up with the Good Book.

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Words Count

“The mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Pretty powerful words. Jesus said this (Luke 6:45). He had a lot to say about our words. Everything that comes out of my mouth is a reflection of the condition of my heart. Everything. Sometimes my own words convict me.  I begin talking with someone and a discussion starts that I know I shouldn’t have. That voice of reason – the Holy Spirit – starts telling me to shut my mouth and walk away, but the topic at hand is something I just can’t keep to myself. We all fall victim to our words at some point or another. We are imperfect, and if the mouth speaks what the heart is full of, imperfection will flow from our lips. As Christians, it’s important to work on those imperfections and transform our hearts so we can tame our tongue.

We are accountable for everything we say. “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgement. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” Matthew 12: 36-37.  Every careless word? A slip of the tongue? A little white lie? These things seem so insignificant. I know I’m guilty of speaking carelessly. Knowing that every single word spoken by me will be recalled in the day of judgement makes me rethink what comes out of my mouth.

A few years ago a FaceBook friend from Bastrop, Texas posted a video of the events leading up to the destruction of her home. In the beginning, it simply looked like a normal, windy day. Leaves were blowing. The gate to their entrance was slightly bouncing in the wind. A few minutes later an individual could be seen scurrying around a vehicle. There was a sense of hurriedness in each step. The vehicle, loaded with as many belongings possible, backed into view and pulled away. A short time later, the cause of the individual’s apparent stress was seen with a tiny flickering light in the corner of the screen. In a matter of only minutes, the flicker became flames destroying everything the family owned.  She took a picture several miles away from her home. It was a beautiful Texas day, but her picture showed no blue sky. Billowing smoke filled the entire frame. I stared in amazement at the image.  Jesus said the tongue is like that fire (James 3:6). If we aren’t careful, even seemingly insignificant words – tiny flickering lights – can spread destruction quickly with the “smoke” permeating and ruining everything left standing. What the fire doesn’t completely turn to ashes will forever have scars of the event- be it visible charring or the ever present, faint smell of smoke. Words last too.

Bastrop, Steffani Motyka

Photo used with permission from Steffani Motyka.

With his mouth, the godless man destroys his neighbor (Proverbs 11:9). We are called to love and encourage our neighbor. Actually, Jesus said to love the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind and to love thy neighbor as thyself (Matthew 22:39). He says the whole moral duty of man is summed up under these two categories, love for Him and love for our neighbors. Doesn’t this fall under the golden rule? Do to others what you would want done to you. Talk to others the way in which you want to be spoken. Talk about others the way about which you hope to be talked.

Many are calling the upcoming Presidential election the most critical election the US has seen in years. The time is now upon us when candidates across all parties resort to slinging some mud. While there may be truth found in the muck, do the words spoken reveal the condition of their own heart? More importantly, what do my words say about the condition of my heart? I pray we strive to remember every word counts.

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Running the Race in the New Year

For the first time in my life, I participated in a marathon. By participated, I mean I sat in my pj’s wrapped in a blanket, sipping coffee viewing the 55’ screen from the comfort of my couch, but participated none the less. The cameras focused on a group of professional runners attempting to qualify for a spot on the Olympic team.  It amazed me that these individuals were actually running for such a long distance. The amount of training and science that must contribute to such a feat is unfathomable to me.

A few miles short of the finish line, one of the runners fell a distance behind the group. It looked to be over for him.  Each stride he took seemed to do nothing to narrow the gap between him and the men he had been rubbing shoulders with only moments prior. As I watched him continue his pace, I thought about the similarities between the runners and followers of Christ.

The Bible tells us in Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” The starting line for a Christian. Confess and believe. But it doesn’t stop there. In the Great Commission, Jesus told his Apostles to make disciples of all the nations. Once we cross the starting line, we are to become disciples so we can make disciples and thus begins the marathon.

Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine” (John 8:31).  BELIEF gives salvation but disciples (what we strive to become) are produced by remaining obedient to the scripture. The ultimate test of Christianity is endurance.  Let me be clear. Endurance does not save but is proof of a genuine believer.

How do we increase our stamina and endure to the finish line? We follow the athlete’s lead – train and be encouraged.

Train

Study God’s word every day. It sounds so simple, but can be so hard. Jesus tells us, however, we can’t be disciples if we skip this step. He said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32 NASB). We hear it preached constantly to read God’s word. There are numerous Bible plans available and apps to help you get a few verses in before you start your day.  It is imperative to spend as little as 10 minutes in God’s word every day, but do we make time to study?

What does it mean to study?  Google says, “The devotion of time and attention to acquiring knowledge on an academic subject, especially by means of books.” For the past few years, I thought I was a good Bible student. Every morning I would wake at least an hour earlier than necessary to get all of us ready for our day. I spent the hour reading according to a Bible plan left on a table for our church members. I also enjoy reading books from Christian writers aimed to deepen our spiritual relationship with the Lord. I balanced my time (and still do) reading scripture and reading these books. A little less than a year ago, a book by Rick Warren opened my eyes to the necessity of true personal study.  He said,

“If, on the other hand, a person went to Sunday school regularly from birth until age 65, he would only have had a total of four months of solid bible teaching.  Is it any wonder that there are so many weak Christians in Western society? We have to discipline ourselves and make specific time for Bible study, and not let anything get in its way.” (1).

His statement hit me hard. Four months for the 65 year old who hasn’t missed a morning of Sunday School since birth. I’m not 65 and all of my 20’s saw very few Sunday School rooms. What is the math for me? I don’t want to know. I know it isn’t what it needs to be.

From the day I read the statement forward, I have made a solid routine of studying God’s word. As a student, we need tools to assist us. In addition to my study Bible, I purchased and use regularly:

  • An encyclopedia of the Bible
  • A Bible dictionary
  • An exhaustive concordance of the version of my Bible (NASB).

I now find myself spending at least 3 hours in the Word before I begin our morning routine. As a result, my eyes are opening to scripture I have never seen before and my stamina is increasing.

As I began my journey down personal, in-depth studies, I was reminded by the great Martin Luther King, Jr. it is our moral obligation to gain knowledge.  “Let us never forget that our Lord and Master was nailed to that cross because of human blindness. Those who crucified him knew not what they did.” (2)

Encouragement

Professional athletes and even serious amateurs usually have one thing in common. They have a coach. Coaches not only assist in improving techniques, but they provide encouragement (or the successful coaches do).

“But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end” Hebrews 3:13-14.

How many times have I heard, “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” This is a true statement. One does not have to go to church to be a Christian. God doesn’t love me any more because I attend church. He doesn’t love others any less because they don’t. While we are called to encourage other believers, sometimes we need encouragement ourselves. I know I do.

When I decided to deepen my relationship with Christ a few years ago, I knew I needed to get back into a bible believing church. The first Sunday morning was hard and as I dressed myself and my children, I thought of several reasons why we should just wait until the following Sunday. Knowing God had started me on this path, I pushed those thoughts out of my mind and took the girls to Sunday School.

After I dropped them off with their teachers, I decided to find a class the pastor was starting designed to read the Bible in two years. I walked into a hallway I thought may house the class when a petite woman with shiny, bouncing hair came to me with outstretched arms.

“Are you looking for a Sunday School class?” she asked.

“Well, yes I am looking for –”

“Good! Come in here and have a seat!” she said so enthusiastically. I couldn’t tell her I was looking for a different class. I followed her into her room where she sat me next to someone and introduced us. I don’t remember that lesson, but I do remember about 20 minutes into her speaking, I realized that seat was exactly where God wanted me to be.

She has become my mentor.  I don’t even know if she realizes the impact she has on me. I spent a little over a year in her class before I was asked to help in a children’s class. I was worried saying yes would hinder my spiritual growth and felt I wasn’t ready to leave her room. But before I began the first Sunday back in church, I made a deal with myself that I would serve wherever the church needed me to serve no matter how much it frightened me.

This is now my second year helping with the children’s class. I am still growing. In fact, God is using this class to reteach His basic, fundamental stories to me. But even apart from her class, I am still encouraged by my former Sunday School teacher. She reaches out to me often, checking on me, ministering to me, encouraging me.  Without her knowing I was watching, I became overcome with tears seeing her minister to tornado victims after a recent storm. She listened to them. Hugged them. Cried with them. Loved them. She didn’t even know them.

“Likewise, teach the older woman to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good” Titus 2: 3.  We need Titus 2 women to encourage the younger (physically as well as spiritually) to learn and follow what is good. Watching her, I was encouraged to stay the path, to impact someone as much as she was impacting the strangers she treated like family – as much as she was impacting me.

Remember the runner who fell behind? After a few minutes at the slower pace, his speed increased. Each stride began to narrow the gap. Finally, he was right back in the middle of the small pack. He crossed the finish line only seconds behind the winner. He endured to the end.

“You will be hated by all because of My Name, but the one who endures to the end will be saved” Mark 13:13.

 

  1. Warren, Rick. Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods: Twelve Ways You Can Unlock God’s Word. Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 2006.
  2. King Jr., Dr. Martin Luther. A Gift of Love: Sermons from Strength to Love and Other Preachings. Boston : Beacon Press, 1981.
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This Little Light of “Ours”

On December 26, 2015, my daughters, two stuffed unicorns, a Mini Schnauzer, the head of an English Mastiff and I crowded into a tiny shower.  We sang songs about Jesus and played with a flashlight while tornado sirens blared in the background. My husband stood on the porch of our two bedroom renthouse constantly asking if we were ok.  I knew when his tone changed, he was witnessing something big. A devastating tornado hit our little town destroying homes, farms and taking lives. Our neighbors south of us were hit the hardest.  When the sun came up on the 27th, the extent of the damage was visible.  Until that day, I had never seen such loss in person.

Day four after the storm and my community is stronger than on December 25th. Strangers are missing work to help clean up homes and search rubble for anything salvageable. Donations are so large that the drop off locations have more than they can hold. Fundraisers are being held to cover funeral expenses.  Dogs and cats are being taken in by homes and treated as family until their owners are found. Churches are staying open around the clock to provide meals, beds, showers, charging stations – you name it.

As I witness the aftermath unfolding, the hope in me is stirred. Though our televisions, tablets, phones and monitors show the world growing eerily dark, my eyes see the Light shining brightly.

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Who’s Encouraging My Children?

I’m working to move a lot of my personal, pen and paper journal to this blog. This post was from my journal and was written to me from me.

As a Christian parent, I am often moved by the supporting roles in the bible – the parents. John the Baptist was born to Zacharias, a priest who was married to Moses’ niece Elizabeth. They followed God’s commandments but Elizabeth was barren.  When God sent His angel Gabriel to tell Zacharias they would finally have a son, they were told,  “He will be great in the sight of the Lord… and will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.  And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God.” (Luke 1: 15-16).

As parents who loved God, it must have been exciting to know their child would play a key role in “turning back many of the sons of Israel.”  When Elizabeth sang him to sleep at night, did she whisper in his ear his importance in God’s plan?  Did she watch him play in the afternoon and wonder how God would use him?  Did she constantly encourage him and tenderly say, “I can’t wait for what God has in store for you!”  I imagine she did.  I can almost feel her pride as I think about her watching him grow into a man.

Would we raise our children differently if Gabriel visited us to tell us God’s plan for our children?  Would our choices in music, television, books, or every day speech be different?  But God actually says throughout the bible He has a plan for all of us.  All of us.  That includes my children.  As I watch them grow, I should be equally excited for my children as Elizabeth was for hers.  It should inspire me to see the sweet, humble spirit of my athletically talented son, or the compassionate heart of my bubbly middle child or the protective nature of my toddler.  As a mother, I should encourage my children and constantly remind them that God has a plan for them. For so long I’ve wondered what God’s plan is for me.  What if it is something so simple as being excited for His plan for my children? I pray God uses me to gently guide them in His direction.

Jeremiah 29:11

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