Sowing Tears, Reaping Joy

Piano

Photo by Tadas Mikuckis on Unsplash

This originally appeared on my personal Facebook page as part of a writing challenge I participated in to stretch my writing:  Five Minute Friday’s 31 DAYS OF FIVE MINUTE FREE WRITES. This is spontaneous writing in only 5 minutes. The word for the day was “Practice.”

“Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy.” Psalm 126:5

I enter the room and it beckons me. I have walked past it many times throughout the day, determined to ignore it. I have refused to entertain the memories that the sight of it evokes, but I cannot avoid it any longer.

Sighing deeply, I pull out the bench, and sit down. I gently open the lid, and slowly, tenderly stroke the ivory keys of the piano.

My eyes mist, knowing that I am a poor substitute for the boy we are both missing. With a sob, my fingertips brush the keys and I articulate for both of us, “This house has been silent for too long.”

They worked in tandem, the two of them. He, forcefully, masterfully, pounding the keys and her, thundering in response, filling the house with resounding melody and harmony.

“You miss him,” I whisper. “I know. I do, too.”

I gently caress the keys, bringing forth a melancholy sound that barely plumbs the depths of our sorrow.

It has been too quiet, for too long.

He never had to be reminded to practice. Thoughts fly quickly back to when he was but seven years old, and the piano, a gift from a dear friend, entered our home.

The boy and the piano became fast friends, spending hours upon hours getting to know each other.

Then the boy was nine, and he challenged himself to memorize every piece of music his teacher gave him to practice, and he was not content until he could play unaided and without flaw.

Then the boy was eleven, and his fingers had grown stronger and he was given complex pieces to memorize, and all the while, the piano kept in perfect step with him, a swirling, breathtakingly beautiful dance of sound.

And then he left. He chose an adventure overseas, leaving a silent house in his wake.

“It has been too quiet, but he’ll be back,” I reassure her. I close the lid and run my hands fondly over the smooth mahogany. “He’ll be back.”

“You have taken account of my wanderings. Put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book?” Psalm 56:8

“You know when I sit and when I rise; You understand my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down; You are aware of all my ways.” Psalm 139:3-4

Wait

Wildflowers

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

This originally appeared on my personal Facebook page as part of a writing challenge I participated in to stretch my writing:  Five Minute Friday’s 31 DAYS OF FIVE MINUTE FREE WRITES. This is spontaneous writing in only 5 minutes. The word for the day was “Wait.”

“I wait for the LORD; my soul does wait, and in His word I put my hope.” Psalm 130:5

I have always loved wildflowers.  I love the mix of vibrant and muted colors, and the way they appear to be randomly strewn across the ground.  It’s like God Himself reached down with His hand full of flower seeds and scattered them where He wanted a splash of color.  There’s a wildness to them, tamed by no man, yet their beauty shines forth just as their Creator intended.

Have you ever seen a package of wildflower seeds?  A variety of seeds are all mixed together, and you have no idea what flowers are going to grow from the mix.  You plant and wait, and water and wait, and in time their distinct colors, shapes and scents are revealed for all to see.

I have an affinity for a succulent called Desert Rose.  They are my favorite flowers because they thrive on neglect…so even I can grow them.  They don’t bloom very often – mostly after a dry spell, followed by a few days of rain.  When you are fortunate enough to find them in the plant nurseries, they seldom have flowers, and the labels don’t indicate what color flowers will appear.  You take them home, plant, and wait for the surprise.

We are the same!  The times we have the most growth tend to be after dry spells, or times in the wilderness.  We are all in the process of maturing, and we won’t be finished until our time on earth is complete.

Look around and you will see people in stages anywhere from seedlings to mature, flowering shrubs.  We love to comment on the beauty of the fully formed flowers, but aren’t as enthusiastic about the seedlings and the shoots that are without bloom.  We can be impatient, can’t we?  We forget that we were once seedlings ourselves.

Wait.  Have patience.  God is not done with them…or you.

“For we are to God the sweet aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.” 2 Corinthians 2:15

“I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvelous are Your works, and I know this very well.” Psalm 139:14

“God writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, but on trees and flowers and clouds and stars.” Martin Luther

Reach

Sheep

Photo by Luke Ellis-Craven on Unsplash

This originally appeared on my personal Facebook page as part of a writing challenge I participated in to stretch my writing:  Five Minute Friday’s 31 DAYS OF FIVE MINUTE FREE WRITES. This is spontaneous writing in only 5 minutes. The word for the day was “Reach.”

“Your lovingkindness, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.” Psalm 36:5

I will never forget a picture that I saw once that portrayed Jesus reaching one of His hands down to retrieve a lamb who had wandered off and gotten stuck in in a tangle of branches. The picture spoke volumes to me about how we have a tendency to do the same, and how He is still reaching out to rescue us.

The Bible says that all of us, like sheep, have gone astray. At times we might not even notice, as we take one step here, another step there, away from the path we know has been laid out for us. Before long, we look around at our surroundings and wonder how we ever got that far away from where we were supposed to be. I’ve been there, and chances are you have, too. It’s part and parcel of the sinful nature we were born with.

We don’t have to stay lost, though. The Savior will always come for us, seeking us and finding us, if we are willing to be found.

The sheep can choose to continually wander, but away from the Shepherd he is in a lonely, vulnerable place, an easy target, and so are we.

If this is you, cry out to Him. He will hear your cry and come to your rescue. He can reach you, wherever you are. You are so precious to Him.

“My eyes are always on the LORD, for He will free my feet from the net.” Psalm 25:15

Blink

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LORD, what is man, that You regard him, the son of man that You think of him? Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow. Psalm 144:3-4

I knew I hadn’t written in awhile, due to many life changes over the last year, but I had no idea that so much time had passed since I last sat down to write.  It seems like I blinked, and here I am.

My last remaining grandparent left his earthly body on the 4th of July.  He was 99 years old.  My youngest son and I had plans to go visit him and my parents, who live in another state, in August. In the Father’s Day card I sent my grandfather, I expressed my excitement to see him soon, but that was not to be.  Instead, on the night we celebrate our freedom here in the United States, he was set free from the earthly body that was worn and tired.  A night of celebration across the country.  Was there celebrating in heaven as well?

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business, and make a profit.” You do not even know what will happen tomorrow! What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord is willing, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15

My grandfather was a WWII veteran, and proudly wore a WWII veteran hat whenever he left the house.  The small town he lived in during his senior years is a military town, and they treat their veterans very well.  It was not unusual for him to go out to dinner and have his entire meal, including tip, paid for anonymously.  When I was with him out in public, I saw how appreciative people were, often stopping to thank him for his service.

Some of my best childhood memories include my grandfather.

He and my grandmother lived on a lake when I was growing up, and he would take me fishing early on the mornings when I was visiting.  He taught me how to bait a hook, cast the line, and wait quietly and patiently until we had enough fish for breakfast.  We would come home with our catch, where he would clean and cook it.  The two of us would eat our delicious breakfast on the back patio with a view of the lake.  If the weather was bad and we couldn’t fish, he would make pancakes, and he always had strawberry or blueberry syrup in the pantry.  Breakfasts with my grandfather are my favorite memories of him.

My grandfather taught me to swim, and tried, unsuccessfully, to teach me to water ski as well.  He taught me how to drive a snowmobile, and told me to never say, “I can’t.”  He hung a wooden swing with rope on a huge tree for me, where I spent many hours singing songs and thinking about life.

My parents and grandparents came to one of my elementary school music performances.  I was just learning to play the saxophone, the very one my grandparents had purchased for my dad when he was in school.  I was so nervous, and looked out often to see the familiar faces of my family for reassurance.  My father and grandfather both worked in construction, and my grandfather had been involved in the building of my school.  Throughout the performance, he kept looking up at the ceiling, proudly declaring it a job well done.  And it was.  If anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

It seems that I just blinked, and he was gone.

Wisdom is found with the elderly, and understanding comes with long life. Job 12:12

My youngest son is visiting from overseas, and he will leave for a country in Africa with his father when the summer is over.  It has been a busy summer, but in the quieter times, I have reflected on how quickly time passes, and have been thankful for the Lord’s constant presence and guidance throughout the years.

It is not easy preparing for my son to leave again.  He celebrated his 15th birthday here with family and friends.  It seems like just a few years ago he was born, the dark-haired little bundle who was brought to my hospital room.  He was wrapped tightly in a blanket, and he wrapped himself just as tightly around my heart.

I blinked, and was in Mongolia at a crossroads with my ex-husband.  Would our young son, seven at the time, live with him and travel or live with me near family and have more stability?  I prayed and prayed, planning what I would say in my defense.  When the time for a decision came, I said not a word.  I could not, and need not.  His father stated that he thought it best that our son be with his mother at that young age, and we would arrange summer visits with him instead.  My heart rejoiced, even in the midst of the grief that I felt over our marriage ending.  I knew the Lord had intervened, and I was thankful.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

I blinked again, and was back in Florida, where my 12-year old son was preparing to go live with his father in Barbados.  I felt like my heart was being ripped from me.  It wasn’t supposed to be this way!

God hates divorce.  The devastation that it causes was never meant for us to experience.  We cope, and God can mend our hearts, but there is still pain along the way that He would spare us from.

I struggled with letting him go, but in the end, the Lord made it clear that he needed this time with his father, and so I had to let him go.  It was agreed that he would return for the summers, but the Lord has been SO GOOD to me that He orchestrated it so that I have seen him multiple times over the last three years!

It has not always been easy, but the Lord provides the grace for everything that we encounter if we but ask for it.  He is our comforter, our refuge, and our strength.

The steps of a man are established by the LORD, and He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, because the LORD is the One who holds his hand. Psalm 37:23-24

I blinked again, and now prepare to say goodbye again as he travels with his father to the other side of the world.

He has grown in ways that he would not have here with me.  The experience of being educated in an international school has shaped him in ways that cannot be measured.  It has been a necessary part of his development and I believe this is all going to be used by the Lord in ways we can’t even conceive.  Although I miss him like crazy when he is away, I know this is God’s will for him, and that gives me peace.

Goodbyes are hard, whether we’re saying goodbye to someone who has lived a long, full life or someone who has not been with us long enough.  While we have them with us, we need to love them well, pray for them often, and keep entrusting them to the Lord.

If you are facing a similar circumstance, I pray that you will seek the Lord for His comfort and His peace.  I cannot imagine going through these trying times without His constant presence.  He is only a whisper away.  Talk to Him.  Let Him in the middle of your pain.  He is faithful.  He will walk with you and guide you if you but ask.  He loves you so much.

Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts before Him. God is our refuge. Selah Psalm 62:8

Friends by Michael W. Smith

Focus

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Photo by redcharlie on Unsplash

I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.  Psalm 16:8

I was in my bedroom one afternoon, looking out at the backyard through the sliding glass doors.  The doors have old, cracked, and peeling window tint to help keep out the heat from the hot Florida sun.  The sun beats down on this second story room for most of the day, and the window tint helps significantly.

I watched the branches of the tall palm trees in the backyard as they swayed with the breeze.  It was so beautiful, and so peaceful.  After awhile I began talking with the Lord, thanking Him for His provision and the many blessings in my life.  Soon I began pouring my heart out to Him about the challenges I was facing. This was such a difficult season of my life.  It’s hard to admit, but at times I even questioned whether I would make it through.

As I continued gazing at the branches, the Lord opened my eyes to something right in front of me that had somehow gone unnoticed.  He showed me that when I focused on the peeling window tint, the beautiful palm trees faded into the background, just a blur, and barely noticeable.  When I focused on the palm trees, the cracked window tint faded and I saw the splendor and magnificence of the stately palms.

His lesson that day?  What we focus on can completely change our perspective.

So what are we focusing on?  And Whom are we focusing on?

When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, O Lord, I shall seek.” Psalm 27:8

My mother is an amazing woman.  When she turned 50 years old, this quiet homemaker decided that she was no longer content riding on the back of my father’s motorcycle, so she enrolled herself in a motorcycle course and learned how to drive one herself.  After successfully passing the course, my father rewarded her with a Harley Davidson motorcycle of her own.  We were all so proud of her!

During the course, one of the points the instructor kept drilling into his students was WYLIWYG – Where You Look Is Where You Go.  He reminded them to keep their eyes on the road ahead, and not be distracted by the things around them.  After a few mishaps, they learned the lesson well.

That lesson is for us who are Christ followers as well.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2

Yet the problems of life loom large at times, blocking our view of everything else.  We lose sleep, we lose our peace, and the problem in front of us seems to grow bigger with each passing day.  We know the Lord could step in and fix it, remove it at any time, and we question His goodness in letting it remain.

What if we were able to see past the problem, and focus on the presence of God instead?  And what if we stopped worrying about the worst that could happen and instead focused on His promises?  His promise to never leave us nor forsake us.  His promise to never give us more than we can bear.  His promise to provide what He knows we need to eat, drink and wear.  His promise to work all things together for our good.  God is not a man, that He should lie, and He can be trusted.  He truly can.  He is faithful, day in, day out, and always, always keeps His promises.

Abram believed the Lord, and it was counted to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:6

None of our lives are perfect.  We are all works in progress, and the process is messy at times!  Sometimes things in our lives may look pretty rough – cracked and peeling even, but that can’t be our focus.  We can and should do some clean up work, but the Lord helps us with it.  He instructs us what to do and how to do it, and brings along the tools to complete the work.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

Lord, remind us, over and over if necessary, that You are our ever present help in times of trouble, and that You are with us always.  When we have a tendency to look at what is wrong, or broken, remind us that You are a miracle working God with a master plan, and that You are working in the background and will bring deliverance at just the right moment. Help us to trust You even when it looks hopeless, because with You, there is always hope.  Help us to look beyond the cracks and see the beauty in our lives.

If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

He is Enough

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How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.  Psalm 36:7

I so long for the simpler, easier days.  I long for the days when my house didn’t need repairing.  I long for the days when the floors were easier to keep clean (though we love them all, we had fewer pets).  I long for the days before my youngest son went to live with his father in another country.  I long for the days when I was debt-free.

Those days were good.  After the emotional roller coaster of divorce and the slow but steady re-building of our lives, it was good…peaceful…and as I clung to the Lord, our relationship grew deeper and sweeter.

I look around me now, still in the midst of a house renovation that seems to be taking forever, missing my son more than I ever thought possible, and I have to wonder…what happened to my peace, and my joy, and my contentment?  When did they leave, and how had I not noticed their absence before?

Pondering this, I cry out to the Lord, “When did You stop being enough?”

The answer comes swiftly.  It was when my focus shifted from Him to my circumstances.

Ouch.

Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Matthew 14:28-31

Peter went from walking on the water…walking on the water…to looking at his surroundings.  He saw Jesus, Yeshua, walking on the water, and he did the same…until he looked away, and his eyes told him that what he was doing wasn’t possible under those conditions.

Did you catch what happened next?  When Peter took his eyes off of Jesus, he began sinking, and when he called out for help, Jesus immediately reached out for him.  Immediately.

Isn’t that so reassuring?  What He did for Peter, He will surely do for us.

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence. Psalm 42:5

The Lord fills our lives with good things.  Family, friends, pets, jobs, and homes are good.  We enjoy these gifts, and thank Him for them. If we’re not careful, though, we can allow them to become idols without even realizing it.

You don’t think that can happen?  I didn’t, either, until the word divorce came up and I was suddenly faced with the possibility of separation from my youngest child.  The Lord was so gracious to me.  He showed me my heart, and it wasn’t pretty, even though it already belonged to Him.  I had to give my son completely to the Lord, even if it meant separation from him.  It wasn’t easy, and I cried many tears, but I felt such freedom afterwards, and peace like I had never known before.  In His mercy and kindness, the Lord allowed my son to live with me for the next five years.

When we allow anything to take the place of our Savior, when we hold on to anything tighter than we hold on to Him, we err.

The Lord allows it, too.  He allows us to fret and fuss and become miserable until one day we reach the end of ourselves and know we cannot continue down this path any longer.  And so we repent.  We return to the lover of our souls, no matter what we have to let go of in the process.  His peace, joy, and contentment then return.

For thus the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said, “In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.”  Isaiah 30:15

Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me. Psalm 131:2

Is there anything you’re holding onto tighter than you should?  Is your focus on your surroundings or someone other than the Lord?  May I encourage you to let it go, and readjust your focus?

Jesus, Yeshua, is enough.  He is more than enough.  He is truly all we need, and in the end, our relationship with Him is what will matter.  Truly.  Call out to Him, and He will come, immediately, and stretch out His hand to you and rescue you.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

Lord, thank You for Your patience with us.  Please keep a tight grip on us so that we won’t wander, but when we do, thank You for bringing us back and reminding us how deeply loved we are, and how freely You forgive us when we ask.  Help us to let go of the things that hinder us, or keep us from fully following You.  Help us to keep our eyes firmly fixed on You, for You are more than enough.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30

There is Freedom in Surrender

But from eternity to eternity the LORD’s faithful love is toward those who fear Him, and His righteousness toward the grandchildren of those who keep His covenant, who remember to observe His precepts. Psalm 103:17-18

My church is nearing the end of a 21-day church-wide fast.  I have fasted with close friends before, but I’ve never fasted with a large group of people.  Our pastor said at the beginning of the fast that we would all be changed by the end of it.  He was certainly right about that.

On the first day of the fast, we were each given a sheet of paper that contained a list of prayer topics and verses for each day of the fast, and throughout, we have been provided with frequent encouragement via text as well.  This has proven to be very beneficial, as we are covering many needs for ourselves and our church family, as well as our communities, our country, and the rest of the world.  I will be writing about some of the things the Lord has shown me during this fast, but today I want to share about the very first thing that He began speaking about.

Submission.

The Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines submission this way:

1. The act of submitting; the act of yielding to power or authority; surrender of the person and power to the control or government of another.

2. Acknowledgment of inferiority or dependence; humble or suppliant behavior.

3. Acknowledgment of a fault; confession or error.

4. Obedience; compliance with the commands or laws of a superior.

5.Resignation; a yielding of one’s will to the will or appointment of a superior without murmuring.

Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments. Deuteronomy 7:9

We are to submit to God, to the government, to teachers, to supervisors…basically to anyone who is in authority over us. The Bible talks about wives submitting to their husbands, and children to their parents.  I am only writing today about submission to God.  Total, complete surrender.

What does submission look like to me?  What should it look like?

To me, it looks like writing when I don’t necessarily feel like writing.

It looks like fasting, when I’d much rather go get a plate of food, or even a little snack, right now, to satisfy my growling stomach.

It looks like continuing to pray when I don’t see any results, especially when the prayers include the salvation of loved ones.  God’s heart is for all to come to the knowledge of Him.

It’s not saying the first thing that comes to mind when someone has either wronged me or I have perceived a wrong.

Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips. Psalm 141:3

It looks like speaking to a person I barely know because He has prompted me to do so, taking me out of my comfort zone.

It’s setting aside my plans for the future, which include staying in my current home, if the Lord is calling me to move.

It’s being content in whatever circumstance I’m in, and not constantly whining to the Lord about my desire to get out of it.

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. Philippians 4:11

It’s allowing the Lord to be my wedding planner, as He moves things around in His way and in His time, instead of mine. Let me explain.  One day, when I was talking with the Lord (okay, maybe it was more like complaining), asking when the time will be right for my beloved and I to get married, He clearly spoke to my heart that He is my wedding planner.

Sometimes submission comes easily, and sometimes it’s a struggle.

I’m reminded of a pastor I heard once who was speaking on the topic of obedience, and, as he was wont to drive fast, said that his right foot was the last part of his body to get saved.  I confess that I laughed right along with everyone else, while at the same time sympathizing with him.  See, I have secretly believed that I was meant to be a race car driver.  😊

Thankfully, if we belong to the Lord and have surrendered our lives to Him, we don’t have to struggle with this alone.  We have help with submission and everything else we struggle with.

If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. John 14:15-17

Those promptings to help us make good decisions, that’s Him.  The strength to not eat while fasting, or the ability to not retaliate when someone wrongs us, or the courage to do what seems impossible – that’s Him.

And the best part is – when we submit and obey those promptings of the Holy Spirit, the Lord says that He will reveal Himself to us! I don’t know about you, but that is my number one desire.  Jesus (Yeshua) said:

The one who has  My commands and keeps them is the one who loves Me. And the one who loves Me will be loved by My Father. I also will love him and will reveal Myself to him. John 14:21

The Lord has given me the word Freedom for this new year.  I’ll write about that another time, as the Lord continues to speak to me about it, but part of His revealing process was to continually bring to mind a song from many, many years ago that I hadn’t thought of in a very long time.  The song was made popular by Debby Boone, and is entitled Surrender.  You can listen to it here.  The entire song is beautiful, but the part that has been most touching to me is the chorus:

For the freedom I seek is the word that You speak

Running deep as a song of my soul

To be totally sure, and totally Yours, and totally surrendered

The Lord’s message to me this week:  There is freedom in surrender.

I pray that there is nothing I haven’t submitted to Him.  What about you?  If there’s anything you haven’t surrendered, will you pray this with me? The Lord can do far more with whatever we’re holding onto than we can.

Lord, if we are holding anything back, we repent, and surrender everything to You now. Help us to submit even when it is difficult or painful. We thank You for forgiveness, and ask for the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives to help us obey in everything.

All the LORD’s ways show faithful love and truth to those who keep His covenant and decrees. Psalm 25:10

Here’s something else I wrote about Freedom.  Check it out!