Change

Change 2

Change has never come easy for me especially when I’m happy and content where I am. So, a couple of weeks ago when my pastor talked to us about change, I was reminded of a change I had to make 10 years ago–a change I was none too happy about at the time, but a change that turned out really well for me.

I was a productive member of an active church in Rome GA, growing spiritually under the preaching and teaching of a self-proclaimed good old boy with a doctorate in theology; singing in a huge choir; and coordinating the prayer ministry. I had retired from 20 years of coaching and teaching tennis, and my days included long walks with God and my dogs through the woods on our property out in the country.

My walking trail ended at what I called my “prayer tree” that stood beside a fenced pasture where I could see sheep on one hill and cattle on another. As I sat beside my prayer tree and looked in the distance, I was always reminded that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and these were just two of them. At that time in my life, I was content and at peace with the world.

But circumstances change, and peace flew out the window when my husband came home from work and announced that he was retiring at the end of the month, and we were moving to Tims Ford Lake. It didn’t matter to me that we had already built our retirement home there or that we had discussed and planned the move for 12 years. I just thought that day would never come. But it came, and he was adamant. And, I was angry.

I’ve heard that all great changes are preceded by chaos, and that’s where my mind was–in chaos. As my situation changed, so did my attitude.

Those peaceful walks in the woods turned into three weeks of stomping through the woods; and the Lord let me stomp until I was worn to a frazzle and confessed my anger.

Knowing that I couldn’t change my fate, my attitude would have to change. So I said, “Lord, if You really want us to make this move, You’ll have to change my heart about it because it is not right with this move.”

I could almost hear Him say, “No kidding.”

Confession changes things, too. So does praying in God’s will.

Immediately, the burden lifted, and I was at peace as I walked out of the woods and back to the house in a much better humor. That Sunday when I went to church I told my Sunday School class we were moving, and I put our house and property on the prayer list for a quick sell. God must have been sitting on ready for that prayer. We had a buyer before I returned to church that night.

My next conversation with God went something like this: “Okay Lord, You know I don’t want to do any church hopping, so where do You want me to go to church when we move?”

Since the Lord had obviously approved our change in residence, I felt sure He had a church in mind, too; and He did. He called me to Marble Plains Baptist Church located inside Tims Ford State Park.

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Now I’m celebrating, yes celebrating, 10 years at the little white church in the wildwood where the church family is welcoming and loves others the way Christ loves His church; and the pastor always preaches under the influence of the Holy Spirit and pastors his flock much like the Great Shepherd pastors His.

I am blessed with a spirited neighborhood brunch bunch that supports each other all year long.

My peaceful walks in the woods have been replaced with long walks along lake roads and hours on the water with my dogs, my camera, and my Gheenoe. So you can see how God changed my heart about change.

Only He knows the plans He has for us and the path He wants us to walk; and when we walk it with Him, even when it includes change, we discover it’s lined with blessings.

God changed my heart about change. It isn’t all bad. Change is all good, if God is in it.

 

Beyond the Sky

Sam's morning sky
A Sam Stoltzfus photograph.

 

Being a positive and upbeat person, I’m rarely brought low by the weight of depression. But recently I felt a gradual pervasive darkness trying to set up house in my mind. Although the darkness took me by surprise, God wasn’t surprised at all. He knew it was coming and had already laid out a path before me that would lead me back into the light of His Presence.

Several days before, a friend had given me a Fernando Ortega CD called “Home.” I first heard Ortega’s music at an Anne Graham Lotz speaking event several years ago where he opened the evening for her. His music spoke to me, so I bought one of his CD’s.

His music still speaks to me in a haunting, other-worldliness way that often just whisks me away into the heavenlies, and on this particular day that’s where I desperately needed to be. His words in “Beyond the Sky” described exactly how I felt.

“When darkness falls over me,
This promise, it’s like a fire inside
Burning the dark away.”

If your spirit needs a lift, if you need to have the darkness burned away, if you need to be reminded of the tender transforming love and care of the Father and the home that awaits His children, listen to this beautiful beckoning into the light of God’s love and refuge beyond the sky. Perhaps this song will lift your spirits and lead you back into the light of God’s Presence, too.

Click here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ny0TSPpMd3k&list=RDNy0TSPpMd3k to read the lyrics and hear Fernando Ortega sing Beyond the Sky.

Second Chances

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People are still talking about the Seahawks’ last play in Super Bowl XLIX. Second-guessers, Monday morning quarterbacks, and even the stylists in my hair salon were of the same opinion: a more effective play might have been to run Marshawn Lynch in Beast Mode into the end zone; or call a keeper with Russell Wilson out-foxing and side-stepping his way to a touchdown. But alas, Seahawk fans, the choice was not ours to make.

Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell opted to throw from the one yard line with 26 seconds remaining in the game, and head coach Pete Carroll agreed. Maybe they didn’t have access to all the stats that told them they converted into first downs or touchdowns a whopping 81 percent of their third or fourth down power runs and goal-to-go situations from two yards out.

In the Super Bowl game alone, they had given the ball to Lynch four out of five times in similar situations resulting in a touchdown and a first down. The only throw in that situation resulted in an incomplete pass, defended by Patriots’ Malcom Butler, who also intercepted the ill-fated pass that ended the Seahawks season on a sour note.

What can we learn from the Seahawks last play?

1. Go with your strengths. For the Patriots, their strength was their running game. For Christians, our strength is Christ. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Apart from Him we can do nothing, because in Him we live and move and have our being.

2. Run your race to win. If the Seahawks’ receiver had run his pass pattern and met the ball with the same intensity as the defender, he would have bumped him out of the way and caught the pass. For Christians, don’t let anyone cut in front of you and highjack God’s truth or keep you from pursuing the path God has for you.

On the football field and in any given situation in life, only one gets the prize. This year’s Super Bowl prize went to the Patriots. Hopefully you also enjoyed a victory in your life this week. But if you didn’t, like the Seahawks, you’ll get another chance.

The result of every choice we make shows up in the win/loss column of our lives. Thankfully we serve a God of second chances. The Seahawks are already looking forward to another chance next season.

We, too, can learn from our mistakes and look forward to a do-over. When we allow the devil to cut in on us and disrupt God’s plan for us, we can get up, dust ourselves off, and get back on the path laid out for us before the beginning of time.

When you go with Christ as your strength, you’ll win the race you’re running.

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Talk about a Super Bowl!

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Are you ready for the Super Bowl?

You’ve already enjoyed–or survived–the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Peach Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, and 31 other college bowls. Yeah. There’ve been that many. Oh, and don’t forget the North-South, East-West bowls, and the pro bowls. The only bowl opportunities not cashed in on at this point are the Campbell’s Soup Bowl and the American Standard Toilet Bowl. I wonder why they haven’t thought of those yet.

But there are a few more bowls that are more important than football bowls. The ones mentioned in Revelation 5 really caught my eye. These super bowls are called Golden Bowls.

Did you know that these golden bowls are “full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people?” They are held at the throne of God by 24 elders and four living creatures.

Will you pray more knowing that your prayers are always held in God’s presence?

Personally, I wonder how those few bowls can hold all of my prayers, much less yours and mine. Maybe the bowls are bigger than I imagine. Or maybe they are in a form that’s beyond my imagination. But this I do know: God listens to our prayers; He answers our prayers; and He knows our hearts while we pray.

God also knows that the frequency and content of our prayers held in those golden bowls reflect…

– Our trust in Him as the One greater than ourselves;

– Our humility in His Sovereign Presence;

– Our need for His forgiveness for all our sins;

– Our thankful hearts for His presence, protection, and provision;

– Our loyalty to His Lordship over our lives;

-The depth of our faith; and

– The closeness of our relationship with Him.

This weekend as you watch the Seahawks and Patriots battle for the Super Bowl, add your prayers to the golden bowls for the safety of all the players, officials, and fans in the stadium. And as you fill the bowls from your kitchen with chips, dips, and veggies, don’t forget to also fill the super bowls in heaven with prayers of praise and thanksgiving for who God is and all He has done for you.

Prayers as Incense

 

The Key to a Peaceful Life

 

Peace 2

Have you ever wondered why people write what they write, or what event prompted their writing about it? The psalms always peak my curiosity like that.

This week as I studied Psalm 91, I discovered it was written in celebration of God’s defeat over the Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunites which occurred during the reign of King Jehoshaphat of Judah. The story is told in 2 Chronicles 20 and provides the key to living a peaceful life in spite of life’s trials, troubles, and battles. Here’s what happened.

Jehoshaphat, an ancestor of Jesus Christ and king of Judah from 872 – 849 BC, was a king who mostly did what was right in God’s eyes. Mostly. But like us, not always. In his case, he didn’t worship other gods, but on occasion he made alliances that did not garner God’s approval.

As we look at his story, we discover that at this particular time in his reign, he found favor in God eyes. When Jehoshaphat was told that a vast army was on the way to conquer them, he gathered all the men, women, and children of Judah and Jerusalem and proclaimed a fast. The people came together for a “national day of prayer.” All the people sought God’s help while Jehoshaphat recalled God’s faithfulness to them and cried out to the Lord, “We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You.”

While they were praying–I love that phrase. It’s found several times in the Bible–the Spirit of the Lord came on Jahaziel, an inspired Levite, with a message from God.

“Don’t be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. The battle is not yours but God’s. March down, take your position, stand firm, and see the deliverance the Lord will give you. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.”

Isn’t it nice to know that the battle is the Lord’s. All we have to do is be still and let God handle it.

When Jehoshaphat heard that the Lord would deal with the approaching army, he bowed down with his face to the ground, and all the people fell down and worshiped the Lord. Some of the Levitical priests were so thankful, they stood up and shouted their praises.
Early the next morning, Jehoshaphat told the people of Judah and Jerusalem to “Have faith in the Lord, and you will be upheld.”

As a man of faith himself, Jehoshaphat appointed singers– not warriors suited up and armed for battle–but singers with their vocal cords tuned up to sing to the Lord and praise Him for the splendor of His Holiness before the battle began.

Did you get that? BEFORE the battle, they sang and praised the Lord. Before they knew the outcome, they thanked God because they trusted Him to provide the deliverance He promised them. That kind of trust only comes from being still in God’s Presence and acknowledging His sovereign will.

And while they were praying [there it is again], praising, and singing to the Lord, the Lord set ambushes; and the Moabites and Ammonites destroyed each other.

When the men of Judah came to the place that overlooks the desert, they saw only dead bodies. It took three days to collect all the plunder from that vast army. On the fourth day they assembled in the valley of Beracah (means praise) and praised the Lord; then returned joyfully to Jerusalem, and went straight to the temple of the Lord to thank and praise Him.

After that, their enemies all around them feared the Lord; and the kingdom of Jehoshaphat was at peace because God gave them rest on every side.

Would you like to have rest in all areas of your little kingdom? Then place your unwavering faith in God, lean on His promises, and do what He tells you to do.

“Don’t be afraid or discouraged… The battle is not yours but God’s. Take your position [in Him], stand firm [in your faith], and see the deliverance [from the problem] the Lord will give you. Go out to face [your problem], and the Lord will be with you [to do battle for you].”

That’s the key to a peaceful life. When you know that God is ready, willing, and able to answer your prayers–maybe not in the manner you imagine because He isn’t limited by your imagination–and you’ve learned to trust Him, then ask for His help and thank Him ahead of time. He will answer your prayers, too. Even while you are still praying.

Now go read Psalm 91. It will make a whole lot more sense to you now that you know the back story. And, praise the Lord for giving you peace in the midst of your daily battles.

Peace 1

 

Mystery at the 165 Mile Marker

Mile Marker 165

Have you ever seen something that you weren’t sure if it was real or not–something that made you wonder if you were seeing things? I experienced such an occurrence recently and would like to know the truth of the matter. Perhaps you could help solve the mystery for me. Here’s what happened…

A dark overcast sky hung low over town before I left for a week of vacation. I felt as if the dark cloud enveloped me too and found it difficult to look forward to the trip. The thought of traveling the same road that Earl rode on his last motorcycle trip left me with an eerie feeling. Yet I felt compelled to travel that road and face whatever the trip had to offer.

Thankfully, as I left town, I could see where the dark sky ended and blue sky began. I felt as if I were coming out of a pervasive darkness and into the light. My mood lifted immediately.

When I hit the 127 down ramp onto Interstate 24E I decided to document the drive because it was Earl’s last trip. I wondered what he saw and how he might have felt. Somehow, I thought it might help me understand what happened between the time he left that morning until he rode into heaven an hour later.

Traveling east toward Chattanooga, Earl’s path took him over Mt. Eagle, home of Sewanee and the University of the South, and down across the Sequatchie River before heading into the valley. Once past the huge Tennessee-Alabama Fireworks located in the median between the east and westbound lanes, he started a long downhill stretch before heading back up again to the lengthy bridge crossing the Tennessee River and ending at the 161 mile marker. It was the last river Earl saw on this earth, but in four more miles–or minutes–he would meet his Maker and enjoy his first view of the beautiful river that flows from the throne of God.

At the 162 mile marker, the Interstate began a winding, rustic drive typical of the terrain in middle Tennessee—a good motorcycle ride even for the Interstate. I wondered if he enjoyed leaning into the curve and seeing the train trestle high above.

Traffic picked up as I got closer to Chattanooga. At the 164 mile marker there was another overpass, and in one more mile…

I wondered if he felt okay, if he experienced chest pains, or if he just wanted to get where he was going and rest. I wondered if he had any inkling of the massive heart attack that would be his ride home.

Evidence of construction that had slowed traffic that day lined the shoulder of the Interstate. Still thirteen miles from Chattanooga, I saw the 165 mile marker where Earl went down.

Oh my goodness! There’s his name. It’s painted on the shoulder of the road! EARL WINN. Capital letters. White paint. First name stacked on top of the last.

I can’t believe it! I drove by it so fast, I don’t know if it was real or if I just imagined it. Or maybe…was his name there just for me to see? I don’t know.

When I returned home, I called Timer and his wife, Doris, to see if they’d been to Chattanooga since the accident. I wanted to know if they’d seen Earl’s name in the vicinity of the 165 mile marker.

Doris said she’d seen something but wasn’t sure what it was because traffic goes too fast to see it clearly. So it’s still a mystery to me.

Perhaps you can help solve the mystery. The next time you drive I-24 E toward Chattanooga, would you keep an eye out for Earl’s name written in big white block letters on the right shoulder of the Interstate anywhere close to the 165 mile marker?

Even though knowing one way or the other will generate another whole slew of questions, I’m ready to know the truth of the matter. For now I’m just pondering the fact that God works in mysterious ways.

The Glory of God

Glory of God

After Earl’s death, the first words I heard when I got in my car came from a Hillsong CD. Darlene Zschech sang, “…and I will never be the same again.”

I thought how ironic that the music would begin at that point in her song.

I won’t be the same again either–for a lot of reasons. There are many other occurrences in my life that changed me as a person. So I think the most important thing I can do is to look at my life from God’s perspective. I will never be the same again–not because of my circumstances or because of Earl’s death, but because of who God is and all that He has done for me.

So especially during this Christmas season, I choose not to remember my loss, but to rejoice over all I have gained through the birth of the Savior. He gave me new life, new hope, and new purpose. He is the underlying joy that fills my life; the unseen hand that orchestrates the events of each day; and the rock that strengthens me to stand in the face of whatever comes my way.

As I continued listening to the song, Darlene sang of the reason I won’t be the same again… “The Glory of God fills my life, and I will never be the same again.”

When you let the Glory of God fill your life, you won’t be the same again either.

So come! Let us adore Him. Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. Remember Him this Christmas.

 

From Rescue to Redemption

 

Kissing Mac (2)

My dear sweet Mac entered his final sleep last month. He was my love.

Mac bounded into my life as a happy, energetic rescue. Along with Bo, Mac was one of the dogs I wrote about in Happy Tails: Inspirational Stories for Dog’s Best Friend.

At the heart of Happy Tails is the story of their rescue, restoration, and adoption and how it parallels the testimony of all believers who have been rescued, restored, and adopted into God’s family and the permanent, loving home He has prepared for us.

Their stories mimic ours in other ways too. Bo was chained to a tree for five years before his owner turned him over to English Springer Spaniel rescue. His message is one of freedom with his master.

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Mac’s story of rescue began with his being hit by a vehicle and left on the side of a busy street in Atlanta with a broken hip. A “good Samaritan” took him to the vet for hip repair and an owner search. When no one came forward to claim him, Mac was offered to us. We discovered right away that Mac was a runner and usually found trouble, so his theme is one of forgiveness.

mac_s_message

Bo and Mac both found a permanent loving home us, just like the one promised to us on the other side of eternity. And maybe when “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21), I’ll be united with them both again. Till then I have wonderful memories of the unconditional love and faithfulness we shared together.

Rest in peace, boys. Mama loves you.

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To order Happy Tails, a gift book from Thomas Nelson, in paperback or the Kindle edition, click or copy and paste http://www.amazon.com/Happy-Tails-Inspirational-Stories-Friend/dp/1404175741/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1418262565&sr=1-1&keywords=Happy+Tails%3A+Inspirational+Stories+for+Dogs+best+friend.

To order a signed hardback edition, email me at lhwinn@comcast.net. $15 includes free shipping.

 

The Rosary

rosary

I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Exodus 23:20

Do you believe in angels? I do. Not the chubby little cherubs with little white wings protruding from their backs that we see depicted on cards and in magazines, but the spiritual beings God created as His messengers to assist, protect, and deliver His people.

Psalm 91:11 says, “For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” I believe God did that for Earl… and for me.

Every time Earl left on a motorcycle trip, I wondered if it would be the last time I saw him. But this time, it never crossed my mind. Odd when I think about it.

With all my heart I believe that God blocked those thoughts because He knew Earl was going to ride his motorcycle all the way to the other side of eternity.

I believe that God spared me the anxiety of anticipating the reality of his death.

I believe He orchestrated the events of that day to ease Earl’s transition from here to there without causing harm to anyone else.

And I believe He surrounded me with His hand-selected people to comfort me and ease my transition from life with Earl to life without him.

I can’t imagine that God’s handling of Earl’s passing from this world to the next could get any better than that; but it did. As if to assure me that He ushered Earl all the way home, God sent Earl’s riding buddy, Mitchell, back to tell me about an interesting occurrence after Earl went down.

He said a little black lady appeared out of no where and placed a rosary on Earl’s back and prayed for him as he lay sprawled on the Interstate. Then she simply disappeared. He didn’t know where she came from and didn’t know where she went.

The Bible says that sometimes we are not aware that there are angels in our midst. Could she have been an angel? We may never know; but the medics, hospital personnel and funeral home folks made sure that the evidence stayed with him until I received it with the rest of his belongings.

To me, that rosary represents God’s faithfulness to Earl in sending an angel ahead of him to guard him all along the way to the place God prepared for him.

And I believe with all my heart, as a friend reminded me, “Earl is no longer seeing through a glass dimly but has a full view of God and His glory.”

That full view of God and His glory awaits all of us if we only believe.

 

I’m So Thankful

For over a year now, I’ve been praying Deuteronomy 33:25, one of Moses’ blessings, for both Earl and me.

“The bolts of your gates will be iron and bronze, and your strength will equal your days.”

God answered that prayer for Earl, and for that I am thankful.

Earl had been through a rough patch for months with A-fib and said he didn’t want to live like that. He tried all the meds available before insurance would approve an ablation procedure to correct it. The procedure worked beautifully, and Earl enjoyed his active life again and looked forward to getting off the clot-preventing blood thinners so he could resume his motorcycle rides. He’d been riding for six weeks when he and Mitchell planned a trip to Florida for a motorcycle show.

The morning he left, our conversation was different from the usual. In the past, he always told me his itinerary, where they had reservations, and when I reminded him to be careful he always responded, “That’s the plan.” But he didn’t have this trip mapped out; he had not made reservations anywhere; and I don’t remember his saying, “That’s the plan” when I told him to be careful. He seemed distracted when I reminded him to call me when they settled in the first night. He didn’t respond with even an, “Okay,” so I said, “Call me tonight.” Still no response.

Two hours later when the Tennessee Highway Patrol car parked in my front yard and the sheriff pulled into my driveway, the expression on their faces told me that they were not bringing glad tidings of great joy. They simply said, “There’s been an accident.”

I’ve been told many times that I don’t respond to situations the way most people do. This time my mind fast-forwarded beyond the overwhelming sadness of Earl’s death to my concern for Mitchell, his riding buddy, and for the two officers who had to deliver the bad news. That couldn’t be an easy job, but they were so helpful and said Mitchell was not involved in the accident.

I’m so thankful for the many kindnesses shown me by the law enforcement officers. They called the hospital and put me in touch with the medical examiner who saw Earl when he was brought in; made arrangements with a local funeral home to bring Earl’s body back home; and even called to find out where Earl’s motorcycle was taken.

I’m so thankful for the kind medical examiner who answered all my questions and comforted me with the information that Earl had a massive heart attack before the crash, and there wasn’t a scratch on him. The medical examiner even called to check on me later that afternoon.

I’m so thankful that my dear friend Teresa arrived while the officers were still here and stayed with me all week until my family came.

I’m so thankful for Mitchell who had to ride back home alone after seeing Earl go down on the Interstate; and I’m so thankful for his visit that afternoon when he shared what he knew and his later phone calls to check on me.

I’m so thankful for Earl’s good buddy Timer, who came as soon as he heard and continues to call and check on me.

I’m so thankful for Jeff and Mitchell who drove 60 miles to retrieve Earl’s motorcycle and bring it back to Jeff’s shop to repair and resell.

I’m so thankful for my brunch bunch friends who fed my entire family the whole time they were here.

I’m so thankful for my church family, Earl’s church family, his long lost cousin, and all his motorcycle buddies who roared in to his memorial service on their motorcycles to pay tribute to their friend.

I’m so thankful for good neighbors and men friends who continue to meet my needs before I even know that I have them. They’ve reminded me to close the vents under the house, cover the outdoor spigots, and check the antifreeze in the car before the big chill hits. They’ve recommended getting AAA roadside assistance, flashlights for all rooms, and jumper cables for the car.

I’m so thankful that Earl sat me down two months earlier to tell me where all our important documents are and to make a list of things to do when he died.

I’m so thankful that God gave Earl strength for the number of his days and was merciful in the way He took him home. In doing so, He was merciful to me, too.

I’m so thankful to know that to be absent in the body is to be present with the Lord.

I’m so thankful to know Earl’s spirit was in heaven before his head hit the highway.

I’m so thankful that I’ve learned to give thanks at all times and in all circumstances.

And I’m so thankful to You, Father, for the life and the love of Earl Winn.