A Season To Remember . . . .

What comes to your mind when you think of Thanksgiving? My thoughts go immediately to familyfood and giving thanks to God–not just for the “stuff” in my life but for His Divine Presence.

 I remember one Thanksgiving traveling to Grandma and Grandpa Hutcherson’s house from our home in the Los Angeles area. The three-and-a-half hour journey, North from LA to Bakersfield and beyond to Pixley (a small farming community where my dad grew up) was never boring.  As we (Mom, Dad, my brother Norm, and I) made our way out of the busyness of the suburbs, we watched the sunrise in the east. We followed the old Highway 99 Grapevine–tmountainous yet devoid of trees (except for the occasional cluster of black oaks scattered across the dry, grassy landscape– it offered a unique beauty. As we followed 99 down to the wide expanse of the Central Valley, where oil fields and farmland commingled, our excitement grew–we were more than halfway to Grandma and Grandpa’s house!

When we finally reached Pixley we were grateful to stretch our legs as we got out of our car and exchanged hugs all around. Throughout the day, as more family arrived, there were always more hugs and lots of conversation, often spiced with gentle teasing and an abundance of laughter. Grandma Grace, a farmer’s wife and the mother of 6 children, always had things well in hand by the time everyone arrived.The fragrance of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy wafting out of her kitchen had us all salivating as we eagerly listened for the magic words, “Time to eat! Once everything was laid out and the call made, we filled our plates high with Grandma’s fixings and the numerous side-dishes other family brought for our Thanksgiving Feast. Reflecting back, with my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles and several cousins now gone, it remains a little slice of heaven in my bank of memories . . .💝💝💝

This year . . . the year of COVID–Thanksgiving (and Christmas) will be very different from years past. The warm exchange of hugs will largely be missing and the sharing of food will likely be different too. In fact this holiday season will be one of mourning the loss of loved ones and facing uncertainty.  I don’t know about you, but with so much loss and the “restrictions” placed on many, the idea of any sort of traditional “celebration” seems almost impossible,

So how can we bring good (and perhaps discover blessing) during this tough, unexpected circumstance we find ourselves in? The wisdom of the Apostle Paul provides a timeless framework when it comes to living out God’s will in every season::

“Rejoice always, pray continually,
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

I Thessalonians 5:16-18

  • Rejoice that when life seems out of control, God is still in control.
  • Pray for your concerns with the confidence that you are heard!.
  • Give thanks to God for watching over you, especially in the tough times.
  • Remember that God sees a larger picture than we do, as He works out His good and perfect will, for our good and His Glory.

How can we work this out practically? How can we bring more light (and with it hope) into this holiday season as we celebrate God’s Sovereign Goodness? Here are some thoughts  to help make this years celebration, is a season to remember:

  1. To be more intentional in “unwrapping” God’s gift of each new day–confessing fears/sin while asking Him to help us see His blessing throughout each day.
  2. Use whatever means available to stay connected with people–especially people you can laugh with to keep your spirits up. (I participate in three different Zoom groups each week that help me take my focus off myself as I connect with others.)
  3. Start a special Thanksgiving Journal –covering the holiday season through Epiphany. Fill it with a log of daily praises (add to it a list of the blessings you have received or witnessed during the past year.) Also include concerns and insights gained that day through people as well as in Scripture,.
  4. Watch for ways to help the needy. (It’s a fact that when we help others we are also encouraged.)
  5. I still plan on decorating my home this Season–focused on the Birth of Jesus–in the hope of encouraging hurting neighbors and friends. (No schlock this year!)

This morning I found comfort in Lamentations that lend a helpful perspective on why thanksgiving to God is so very important this year:

“I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for Him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him,
to the one who seeks Him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.”
Lamentations 3:19-26

Yes, because of the Lord’s great love we have much to give thanks for. Please join me in giving thanks to Him for the hope that is ours in His Son.

What are some of your thoughts about celebrating the coming Season? Please share with the rest of us in the comments below!

All to His Glory!

On Coming Full Circle . . . .

Some of my fondest memories of my childhood are of the times when Dad and I stayed up talking all through the night about “life”, family and him fighting as a Marine machine gunner in Korea. He was 23 years old when he was drafted in 1950–having to leave my mom with a just-turned 2 year old little girl named Kathie and another baby (my brother Norm) due to be born in December.

I loved our through-the-night-chats because I learned so much about my dad:

  • Dad and I – November 14, 1970

    He talked about growing up on a farm during the Depression in California; seeing impoverished-looking people move into the state looking for work.

  • Dad talked about how special it was the night I was born–the only girl in the nursery with five baby boys. Dad insisted that the other fathers were “jealous” that he got the only girl!
  • He also talked about fighting in Korea: about how poor the people were who were running for their lives and about many of the young men he served with who, “Didn’t make it home.” 

It was during one of those all night chats that Dad spoke about the future decisions I would face as an adult. One conversation that remained vivid in my mind took place when I was about 11: “Kathie, there will come a time when you will tell me you are in love and want to get married. At that time I will tell you whether I approve or not. If I don’t approve I will tell you only once. If you decide to go ahead and marry anyway, the choice will ultimately be on you. Just remember that you will have to live with the consequences of making that decision for the rest of your life.”

That conversation stayed with me for years. It influenced who I dated, especially who I brought home. When Marshall and I met the attraction was almost instantaneous. When we wanted to get married, we announced our decision rather than asking for permission. Both our families seemed to approve and we started making plans for our wedding.

It was on the night before our wedding that things came full circle. Dad and I had finished work at our family business and were headed over to Marshall’s parents home where the Rehearsal Dinner was going to occur. (The idea was that we would meet at their place, go to the church together for the wedding rehearsal and, when finished, the entire wedding party would go back to enjoy the dinner Marshall’s mother had prepared.)  It was after Dad turned onto Marshall’s parents driveway that he suddenly slammed on the brakes and looked over at me. Because it was in mid-November it was dark, so I couldn’t see him very well. Yet the gentleness of his words washed over me powerfully as he said, “Kathie, your mother and I are very proud of you and of Marshall. You definitely have made the right choice.”

In that moment, the 11 year old girl in me, who so wanted to please her daddy, suddenly felt whole. It was if a soothing balm suddenly made how I saw my future even brighter. I remember little of the rehearsal or the dinner, but I absolutely do remember standing in the beautiful old stone building while holding onto Dad’s strong arm–knowing I had his approval.  I also remember entering the candlelit sanctuary with Dad, and the wonder of seeing the smiling faces of so many family and friends who came to witness Marshall and I say our vows. Most of all I remember the joy of seeing Marshall waiting for me to begin our own new circle.

Fifty years later, having raised three amazing children and continuing to enjoy our 7 grandchildren, I feel as if we have in many ways come full circle. As we celebrate, we do so with gratitude to God for His faithfulness in keeping us together, soothing the rough places with His Presence and making us whole. After sharing five decades of life, the wisdom of Solomon has become increasingly precious to us:

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Do you have a “full circle” story you can share? I would love to hear it in the comments below . . .❤️

All to His Glory!

The Hope of Easter . . . .

One of the benefits of living in uncertain times is that we stop taking life for granted. I can still remember the vividness of 9/11–the shock of watching the television screen, trying to make sense of the tragedy inflicted on so many people. Throughout that day I cried out to the Lord,

“Help me! I don’t know how to make sense of this!
What would You have me do? How would You have me pray?”

Throughout that day and late into the night, as I watched and prayed. I felt helpless and overwhelmed. When I went upstairs, carrying the heaviness of that awful day, I slowly got ready for bed. Then just as I began to pull the covers on my bed back, a most gentle voice spoke to my heart: “Hate what is evil. Cling to what is Good . . . GOD IS GOOD.”

I remember looking around my bedroom, trying to figure out what had just happened. No one else was there, but I realized that a peace had settled over me that was inexplicable. Nothing had changed . . . the world was still an awful mess . . . but a quietness of spirit settled over me that provided rest for my soul and much needed sleep.

The next morning I opened my Bible and found this verse in Romans 12:

“Love must be sincere.
Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.”

(Verse 9)

Since that moment I have carried that message in my heart and mind through dark and light days. Many times it has rescued me from fear as it has reminded me of God’s faithfulness in all things.

“He has risen, just as He said!”

In times such as these, we are forced to face our own mortality and to reassess our priorities. It is then that we realize the importance of our relationships with others, and with God . . .❤️

So why am I writing this post? It may seem a bit early to be writing about Easter since it’s a couple of weeks away, but I was inspired by a drawing posted on Facebook by a friend of mine. Done in soft pastels, it depicted a wooden cross that had a lily and other flowers draped around it and the opened Scriptures declaring,:“Christ is Risen!”  The greeting at the bottom of the drawing, “Happy Easter” initially startled me as I wondered, “Did I miss Easter?” But then tears came with my next thought, “That’s exactly what we need right now, the Hope of Easter!”

So what is the Hope of Easter?  I like the simplicity of Matthew 28, as it depicts this hope through two women who went to the the tomb where Jesus body was laid after His crucifixion. When they arrived, the large stone that had closed the tomb had been rolled back. As they approached, an angel spoke to them saying.

“He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead,
just as He said would happen.
Come, see where His body was lying.”

(Verse:6 )
(New Living Translation)

Can you imagine the wonder and excitement generated in the hearts of those women who, just days before, had witnessed the battered, lifeless body of Jesus being taken down from the Cross? But the blessing did not stop there. As they ran from the empty tomb, they were stopped again:

“Suddenly Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ He said.
They came to Him, clasped His feet and worshiped Him.
Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid.
Go and tell My brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see Me.’”
(Verses 9 & 10)

The Scriptures do not tell us what the women said to each other as they ran to tell the disciples what they had seen and heard.  I imagine there were assurances exchanged between them like, “Did you see what I saw? Was it really real? Do you think anyone will believe us when we tell them about seeing the angel and Jesus?”  

It was in such encounters that Sunday morning that the Hope of Easter was born. Centuries later, the Hope of Easter remains in the promises of Jesus, fulfilled in His resurrection from the dead.  Had Jesus not overcome death on that third day after His crucifixion, we would have no such hope. But because He DID we can enter each day with this wondrous hope:

“He came to that which was His own,
but His own did not receive Him.
Yet to all who did receive Him,
to those who believed in His name,
He gave the right to become children of God—
children born not of natural descent,
nor of human decision or a husband’s will,
but born of God.”

John 1:11-13

Like many of you, I am missing the traditions of advent leading up to the celebration of Easter in my church right now:

  • Hearing the Scriptures faithfully read each Sunday that remind us of the events that took place as Jesus headed toward Jerusalem for the last time.
  • Receiving Communion in small groups around the Cross draped in purple on Maundy Thursday . . .
  • On Good Friday, seeing the Cross draped in black while listening to the account of Jesus’ suffering as the candles are snuffed out one by one ,. . .
  • Then on Easter Sunday, the joy of seeing the Cross covered in fresh flowers as we celebrate Christ’s victory over sin and death for our redemption as a church family . . . oh the wonder of it all!

We do not know what the immediate future holds as to when things will get back to “normal”, but we hold fast to the faithfulness of Jesus as we live each day looking for ways to glorify Him. I write this to encourage you to embrace the Hope of Easter–Christ’s redemption won for all who place faith in Him.

Perhaps the best way servants of Christ can truly encourage one another, is to  daily (starting NOW) exchange the greeting traditionally shared on Easter morning:

“Christ is Risen!”
“He is Risen indeed!”

I challenge you to join me in taking hold of the Hope of Easter in these uncertain times, by embracing  the truth that, Christ has indeed risen and He’s coming again!

All to His Glory!

 

Seasons . . . .

“To everything there is a season,
and a time for every purpose under heaven:
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 break down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh . . . .”
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-4

Some of my fondest memories of growing up are tied to being part of an outstanding high school choir.  There was no “magic” associated with our excellence, except for the relationship between choir director, Leonard Cesene–who clearly enjoyed and respected his students–and the students who worked hard to please him. Five mornings a week we met to learn and practice a diverse variety of music that ranged from popular tunes to the deep richness of the sacred. With every opportunity  to perform, there was an almost palpable electricity that connected each choir member, as we watched for the nod of Mr. Cesene’s head and the movement of his upraised arms that signaled us to begin.  As the modulated, energized sounds were delivered, Mr. Cesene’s eyes danced with approval as the audience enjoyed our singing almost as much as we did.

So many years later, I still appreciate the blessing of having been part of something so special in the awkward season of my teen-aged years. For me, the balance of respect and discipline under Mr. Cecene (as well as the wonderful exposure to sacred music) positively impacted future seasons in my life.

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:25

When I first read Mother Teresa’s observations on the seasons of life, I felt that same intense excitement of performing so long ago:

“Yesterday is gone.
Tomorrow has not yet come.
We have only today.
Let us begin!”

I like the way she set the stage, with three simple truths:

  1. “Yesterday is gone.
  2. Tomorrow has not yet come. 
  3. We have only today.”

Then, with a soft yet theatric, WHAM! . . . her words, “Let us begin,” reflect the divine call of Scripture:

“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 out for us . . . .”
Hebrews 12:1

It is a passage that speaks to the rhythm of seasons ebbing and flowing as God’s people seek to live their lives by faith. That call continues to echo across time and generations to Christians today.

Two thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul wrote to convict and encourage some friends who were in trouble. They had been duped by false teachers who entered their ranks after Paul left them.  He sought to encourage them with this wisdom and call:

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”
Galatians 5:25, 26

Paul also wrote to warn them:

  1. To NOT lose sight of what they had been taught and
  2. To remember Christ’s promise of the Holy Spirit who was there to help them with every step they took.

Following up on the importance of the Holy Spirit’s availability to help them (and you and I), Galatians 6:8-10 warns of the pitfalls as well as the goal of living life well before the One who saves:

“Whoever sows to please their flesh,
from the flesh will reap destruction;
whoever sows to please the Spirit,
from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
Let us not become weary in doing good,
for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people,
especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

But how? How are we to enter into the rhythm of such a life? The answer is remarkably simple:

  • By treasuring Christ as the Source of all that is good.
  • By putting off old patterns–confessing our sins as forgiveness is sought.
  • By putting on the newness that is ours in Christ, when we receive Him into our hearts through faith.

No matter what season in life you find yourself–in plenty or in want, in stability or in a season of uncertainty–God is right there to help you. Consider the reassurance, encouragement and hope offered by God in Jeremiah 29:13:

“You will seek Me and find Me
when you seek Me with all your heart.”

It is your faith in Him as the Shepherd of your heart, that will provide the courage needed to carry you through whatever you are facing.

As I remember Mr. Cecine’s eyes that encouraged us to give our best with every note we sang, I can also picture the eyes of a loving Shepherd who will lead His flock safely home . . .❤️

All to His Glory!

 

The Fine Art Of Speaking Truth In Love . . . .

A quote posted on social media weighed heavy on my heart last week:

“Don’t waste your words
on people who deserve your silence.
Sometimes the most powerful thing you can say
is nothing at all.”

It struck me that the perspective of not wasting words on those who deserve our silence, reflects a haughtiness of attitude that is lightyears away from God’s call to love.  In fact, to say nothing at all, effectively denying the worth of the other individual, underscores the chilling observation of Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel,:

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”

The truth is, silence is never golden when love is absent.
Instead, silence combined with the absence of love kills
and has great potential for hardening hearts–
yours, mine and the one being ignored.    

God calls us . . . .

The problem is not new. The Apostle Paul wrote about conflict in relationships and how Christ’s followers were to handle such:

“We are no longer to be children,
tossed here and there by waves
and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men,
by craftiness in deceitful scheming;
but speaking the truth in love,
we are to grow up in all aspects
into Him who is the head,
even Christ . . . .”
Ephesians 4: 14, 15

So what does it mean to speak truth in love?  Is it to follow wisdom of Thumper in the classic movie, Bambi? 

If you don’t have anything nice to say,
don’t say anything at all.”  

While that may be a sweet notion, God calls His own to go deeper in our relationships . . . much, much deeper.

To speak truth in love is not about niceties.  It often requires:

  • Sacrificial kindness–a willingness to risk being misunderstood for the good of the other.
Speaking truth in love is a process that requires intentionality. The key to working out that process is given us in Ephesians 4:22-25,

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life,
to put off your old self, which is being corrupted
by its deceitful desires . . . and to put on the new self,
created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and
speak truthfully to your neighbor . . . .”
  

Speaking truth in love becomes an art form over time when we remember Christ’s call to us:

“I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.”
John 8:12
It is when we take our focus off ourselves and look to Christ as Sovereign and Good, that we begin to understand the value of words.  It is when we begin to choose our words prayerfully that we will bless our friends, neighbors and even that irritating individual we would otherwise be tempted to ignore.
Yes, relationships ARE hard and and at times even draining.  But when we keep Christ’s call in the center of our thinking as we use words to bless others, life becomes an adventure that is interesting and full of meaning.
All to His Glory!

How to Make Joy in Your Journey a Reality . . . .

There is a small sampler hanging in the entryway of my home.  Few people notice it (probably because it is surrounded by pictures of family) but I quite enjoy its depiction of a colonial home with a tree along with a beehive with bees framed by flowers and greenery typical of a colonial sampler.  Yet, as lovely as it is to look at, for me, the best part is the message it proclaims:  “Blessed is the life that finds joy in the journey.”  

Blessed are those who find . . . .
Blessed are those who find . . . .

JOY.  The Bible mentions joy frequently, but in ways that a world focused on itself cannot understand:

“Consider it PURE JOY, my brothers,
whenever you face trials of many kinds . . . .”

 James 1:2

“Do not be grieved,
for the JOY of the LORD is your strength.”
Nehemiah 8:10b

“But REJOICE . . .
as you participate in the sufferings of Christ,
SO THAT YOU MAY BE OVERJOYED
when His glory is revealed.”*

I Peter 4:13

Holding onto joy in the journey can often elude us in our ever-changing, increasingly upside-down world.  For more than twenty years I have been privileged to come alongside people fighting personal battles large and small in the Counseling Room.  As we have looked to the Scriptures for wisdom and perspective, God has faithfully spoken to each hurting, hungry soul. Repeatedly, I have witnessed God’s faithfulness in shepherding the hearts of those faithful to do their Journey Notesas the assurance of His Presence and Purpose being worked our in their lives, provide a quiet JOY that settles in their hearts.

So, how can we receive JOY when life hits hard?
By giving thanks to God IN the hard places.

An even better question to ponder is:

How can we retain JOY throughout our journey?
By give thanks to God FOR the hard places.

I met a young woman recently who, though shattered by infidelity in her marriage, told me about how God had softened her once angry and bitter heart.  She confessed her own failures as she expressed her determination to be reconciled with her husband.  She admitted that she almost canceled our appointment except for one remaining question: “Is there anything else I can do to encourage my husband to want to re-build our marriage?”

I responded with a question that burned brightly in my mind as soon as I heard her question, “Have you given thanks to God for your husband’s life and for your marriage?”  I went on to explain, “You have testified to me about how God has brought about change and spiritual growth in your mind and heart.  GIVE THANKS,  for the blessing of God’s divine purposes being worked out in your heart and life–a maturing, humble faith.”  She nodded with a thoughtful smile as the wisdom of what was said settled in.

What lesson can we learn from this?  While the world touts “happiness”, God calls us to go deeper as we choose JOY as a reflection of our trust in Him.

The Apostle Paul wrote to encourage his friends about the basis of his JOY from a prison cell:

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.
I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation,
whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
I can do all this through Him (Christ) who gives me strength.”
Philippians 4:12, 13

If you are looking for a formula for Joy/contentment in your circumstances, this acronym for JOY will serve you well: put Jesus first, Others second and Yourself, last.  

True Christ-centered JOY, chooses to trust more in His love for us,
as we give thanks that we are never alone.**

 Christ-centered JOY remembers the all-surpassing love of the One who came expressly to save us from ourselves . . . for Himself:

He died for us so that,
whether we are awake or asleep,
we may live together with Him.
Therefore encourage one another. . .
build each other up,
just as in fact you are doing . . . .
Rejoice always, pray continually,
GIVE THANKS IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES*;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I Thessalonians 5:10, 11, 16-18

ALL to His Glory!

*Large capitalized letters, emphasis mine.
**Psalm 139