The Work of God’s Hands In The West Virginia Mountains

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Although my husband and I have hiked in West Virginia for many years, I never tire of the beauty found in the mountains. Each turn on the trail is a promise of more beauty waiting to be discovered. One can find a carpet of ferns, a panoramic view of mountains touching the clouds or a splash of color displayed in the flowers. The work of God’s hands is all around us!

Take a hike with me through Old Testament scriptures…

Pendleton Point in Blackwater Falls State Park

Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep. – Psalm 36:5-6

 

We weren’t the only ones enjoying the beauty on the Rohrbaugh Plains Trail!

I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine. – Psalm 50:11

 

Following the Rohrbaugh Plains Trail in Dolly Sods

You broaden the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn. – Psalm 18:36

 

Mountain Laurel

Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants. – Deuteronomy 32:2

 

View of Clouds from Rocky Ridge Trail in Dolly Sods

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. – Psalm 19:1

 

Rhododendron

It will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God. – Isaiah 35:2

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What Fears Are Shaking You?

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This snake and I surprised each other on a West Virginia trail!

My husband and I were enjoying the day in West Virginia with a hike. There were many sunny spots on the trail, but this one in particular stopped me in my tracks. The snake directly in front of me was enjoying the same day by soaking up the summer sun.

Of course, the snake was bigger in my mind’s eye than in reality. I am not embarrassed to admit that I have a fear of snakes. I know this because of my reaction. I didn’t scream or run in the opposite direction as I was taken by surprise. I simply froze in place and began to shake uncontrollably.

Rational thinking does not change my response nor eliminate my fear of snakes. I know that snakes exist in the mountains of West Virginia. I understand that most likely I will not encounter a snake. In over 25 years of visits and hikes in West Virginia, we have seen only a handful of snakes in their natural habitat. Despite the statistics, stepping on a snake is my number one fear when we hike. Fear doesn’t have to make sense.

For many years, I was not interested in hiking the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area of West Virginia. I can trace my reluctance back to a casual comment from my husband’s grandmother. In her younger days, Grams picked blueberries (huckleberries) in Dolly Sods and occasionally would see a rattlesnake or two. Since 2015, my husband and I have explored Dolly Sods with day hikes. It is now my favorite place to hike when we are back for the yearly family reunion. Fear affects my choices.

Snakes are not my only fear. As an empty nester in a later season of life, the unknown future can instill fear. Will our money run out in retirement? Will our health hold up? Fears are a part of life. Yet, we don’t have to be afraid of fear. Fear doesn’t have to control us.

Fear is real, but God is even more real as we recognize His presence and lean into His reassurance. Fear doesn’t have to define us. Fear doesn’t have to steal our joy.

Scripture shows us how to handle fear in our lives.

Seek God.

I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears (Psalm 34:4).

Trust God.

 When I am afraid, I will trust in you (Psalm 56:3).

 Live out your identity in God.

 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15).

And a personal reminder for me: Stand and not be shaken.

I have set the LORD always before me.  Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken (Psalm 16:8).

 

Where Are The Blossoms?

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Daylilies refuse to not bloom!

Ever since I was introduced to daylilies by a neighbor in 2004, I have been smitten with this perennial. Daylilies are a no-fuss and easily maintained plant which produces an artist’s palette of colorful blooms. I look forward to my daylilies every summer.

With the warmer winter of 2017, my daylilies were off to a fast and green start. Buds formed with the promise of many blooms. I dutifully cleaned the landscape beds, fluffed up the mulch, applied plant fertilizer and waited for the glorious arrival of my daylilies.

In mid-June, I noticed that some of the leaves were turning from green to yellow and eventually to brown. I wasn’t too worried as this is the natural progression of the leaves during the heat of summer. However, other troubling signs began to appear jointly. The buds were damaged and white flecks appeared all over the plants.

An online search revealed that I had a bad case of aphids, also known as plant lice. The plants would be okay, but the blooms were in doubt. Most likely, I would have to wait another year to experience their beauty. I was crushed. In thirteen years, I have never witnessed aphids and their damage on my daylilies. As a hands-on gardener, I should have caught this threat earlier. Yet, I was blindsided by this unexpected enemy.

I treated the root cause of the problem and decided to be thankful for any blooms this year. Despite the insect attack, there were still blooms. Although the flowers were fewer and smaller, these plants bloomed with an innate strength I wasn’t aware of. Each flower was a reminder of beauty that outlasted difficult circumstances intended to destroy it.

Gardening is a fitting analogy for many of life’s experiences. There are good “years” and bad “years.” There are victories and failures. Some things we can control while other things seem to control us. We will be blindsided despite our best efforts. We will be rewarded for our hard work. The common theme is an enduring hope that beckons us to keep on keeping on.

A friend shared a quote by Lilias Trotter that captures the pain and beauty in the reality of life’s sufferings.

“Take the very hardest thing in your life – the place of difficulty, outward or inward, and expect God to triumph gloriously in that very spot. Just there He can bring your soul into blossom.” Parables of the Cross, p.17 (Lilias Trotter)

We are to look for the blossoms in our lives. Reassurance of God’s beauty accompanies those blooms. We are filled with anticipation for God’s glory to be revealed in the least likely of places.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, who willing subjected Himself to the cross, knew difficult circumstances and suffering.

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

The victory became ours when Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead to define enduring hope. It is possible for our souls to unite with God’s beauty despite that which seeks to destroy us. Don’t give up! God is forming and protecting more blossoms that will prove His triumph anew. Refuse to not bloom right where you are at in life!

Superstitions: Silly or Serious?

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Note: My blogging friend, Annie of Freedomborn suggested that I write a post about superstitions. I accepted the challenge below.

Growing up, I can remember going through a short phase of avoiding every crack. “Step on a crack, and break your mother’s back,” was not a superstition I wanted to test. I quickly learned that cracks were everywhere and unavoidable. Friday the 13th didn’t mean much to me until elementary age when my school artwork project disappeared without explanation. The memory that stuck became an enduring example of Friday the 13th bad luck. As a teenager, I can remember reading my horoscope in the newspaper. It was kind of like a game to see how well the predictions described my teenage life and angst growing up in a small town.

My husband’s grandmother was a wealth of old wives’ tales. While visiting, I would be gently scolded for doing something that was a source of bad luck. Grams always said it with a smile so I was never quite sure if she was being silly or serious. I meant to write down her many sayings before she passed away, but never did. Family has helped me remember the more common ones Grams shared. “If you forgot something at home and return to retrieve it, you have to go back inside, sit down, and count to ten for good luck before leaving again.” “See a pin, let it lay; you will have bad luck the rest of the day.” “If someone gives you a knife as a gift, you need to pay them (a penny or nickel) to avoid harming the friendship.” The old wives’ tales can feel homey because they remind me of being back at Gram’s house and hearing stories of bygone times.

In recent years, a friend and I were catching up while enjoying a local festival. She suggested that we stop at a booth for Tarot card readings. I have to admit that I was curious to see what the fortune teller had in store for my friend. However, my sense of uneasiness was stronger and I declined. A warning from a former pastor’s sermon over 12 years ago came to mind, “If you play with fire, you will get burned.” Besides, I don’t need to pay someone to tell me my future. Revelation, the last book of the Bible, reminds us that God wins and as Christians, we are on the winning team! Jesus already paid the price for my future.

To close out 2016, our family experienced a string of bad luck. I broke my favorite Pampered Chef stoneware. A few days later, my husband accidentally ran the microwave without any food inside. To top it off, I discovered that important documents needing to be returned weeks earlier were misplaced in a paper pile. There is no doubt that we had much to do with our year-end bad luck. At this point, I was simply looking forward to 2017 and a clean slate.

My favorite quote about bad luck was shared by a nurse when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. To answer the question “Why me?,” she replied with a quote she heard from a doctor. “Breast cancer can be caused by bad habits, or by bad genes, but mostly, it is bad luck.” It seems that bad luck can affect every aspect of our lives.

What do superstitions, old wives’ tales, and bad luck mean to me? I believe that King Solomon’s wisdom in Ecclesiastes 3:1 sheds some light on the subject. “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens.” Look at the list of times and we can see that bad things happening are just a part of life: “time to die, to uproot, to kill, to tear down, to weed, to mourn, to search, to give up, to throw away, to tear, and for war.” (Ecclesiastes 3:2-8)

One thing I know for certain is that God is still in control of my life and the world I live in. I don’t have to fear those times of “bad luck” because God will bring me through it to the times “to plant, to heal, to build, to laugh, to dance, to embrace, to mend, to love, and for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:2-8) I don’t have to fear man’s words of what will or won’t help me to enjoy life’s good places. God’s plans for me are already good. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

God repeatedly warns us about idolatry and witchcraft. Do we recognize His warnings in our life? More importantly, do we take His warnings seriously? We should because our Father in heaven truly knows what is best for us. We have an adversary in Satan who will manipulate whatever is handy to take our focus off of God and place it firmly on anything else other than God. Superstitions can start out being silly and quickly become something serious depending on our responses.

I choose the blessings of God’s promises over the curses of man’s superstitions. I choose God’s word to guide my life rather than man’s words which lead to chaos. I choose God!

 

Just A Piece of Paper?

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We were in-town visiting my in-laws in mid-December. There was an appointment to take my mother-in-law to and preparations to be made for a family Christmas party a few days later. We sat down to a Costco dinner when I saw the slip of paper on the kitchen table. It would have been easy to miss in the menagerie of food, dishes, papers, and medicine bottles scattered in front of me.

It was just a slip of paper announcing an “Advent Spiral Walk” for that very night in less than an hour. The title caught my eye because I had never heard of an Advent Spiral Walk. I suggested that we check it out. My mother-in-law did not want to go if it was held outside in the cold. I wasn’t sure about driving in the dark in an unfamiliar town. Wouldn’t I rather just stay put and unwind in front of the television for the evening? Still, something tugged at me to go, if simply for the fact that it was nearby and free. Curiosity won out.

My in-laws’ church is small, but big on ideas for fresh ways to encounter Jesus. I didn’t know what to expect, but I felt twinges of excitement and anticipation. We entered the church and were greeted by angels. They were the human kind with white robes, tinsel halos and genuine smiles. An angel led us into the sanctuary decked out with greenery, red bows, and lit candles everywhere. A Christmas tree towered over us as the sentinel for the ceramic nativity scene. The Christ family was huddled together in the stable on one side of the room. The wise men were travelling from afar on the opposite side of the sanctuary.

The crowd was sparse as the pianist played Christmas carols and the audience sang along. It was the perfect atmosphere to be still and let the rich words of well-known and new-to-me Christmas songs settle deep in my soul. After a while, the angel invited us to the Advent Spiral Walk held in a different part of the church. We walked into a darkened room with the flicker of candlelight outlining the spiral and edges of the room.  Pine branches comprised the spiral and beckoned us in.

We were given an unlit candle to carry as we began our journey. The Advent Walk was designed to be savored, not rushed. Candlelight guided our path as our eyes, minds, and hearts were illuminated. Each step and each candle were a reminder that Jesus is the Light of the world and in the dark recesses of our hearts. In the center of the spiral, an angel lit our candles and instructed us to place our light on the path. Future spiral-walkers would follow our light just as we were guided by the light of others before us.

Just a slip of paper? My answer is no. That piece of paper was an invitation to remember the reason for the season. It was my permission slip to slow down and enjoy the moments leading up to Christmas. It was an opportunity to reflect and prepare my heart in the midst of a very busy month. The paper was a reminder to experience Christ as I celebrate Christmas.

Jesus’s light shouldn’t be obscured by the busyness, presents, baked goodies, cards, shopping, parties, and distractions of achieving that perfect Christmas. Jesus is the perfect gift and the perfect Christmas. Jesus is the Son of God who became flesh so we can personally receive God’s gift of extreme love.

Seek the light, be the light, and share the light this Christmas season!

John 8:12

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Acts 13:47

For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

Psalm 119:105

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

 

Celebrations on Earth and In Heaven!

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The weekend began with much anticipation after months of planning. The day was surprisingly beautiful for mid-November. Eyes were drawn upwards as the sunshine highlighted the stained-glass depictions of Jesus’ life. There was a smile and hug at every turn in the church. My younger son said, “I do!” to the most important woman in his life. The marriage between my son and new daughter-in-law became official.

The celebrations continued and held the promise of memories that would last a lifetime. Those special moments were captured from every angle and the perspective of old and young alike with tweets, cell-phone video, Facebook postings and pictures galore. I will be able to savor the many details that made this wedding day perfect.

The wedding festivities didn’t disappoint. Joy and unity were themes for the entire weekend. I recognized pure joy in the bride’s and groom’s faces. I felt unity as family and friends came from near and far to be a part of the celebration. Two people became one in marriage and now two families are linked together for what the future holds.

At least for one weekend, all was right with the world! In life, we long to go from milestone to milestone with many reasons to celebrate in-between. In reality, we know that this world is more a mix of rejoicing and sadness, hopes and disappointments, successes and failures, and ultimately, life and death.

Examples of these juxtapositions can be found even at a wedding. We rejoiced with those who were present while intercessions were made for deceased loved ones who couldn’t be there. In-memory-of-pictures and votive candles were placed alongside wedding pictures of the newlyweds’ parents and grandparents.

Although I was unplugged from technology and the world for the weekend, life and death didn’t take a break. I was reminded of this fact as I returned to my normal routine and responsibilities for a cancer ministry. One of our cancer survivor’s family made the difficult decision to place their loved one in hospice. Three other survivors and a leader’s stepmom passed away. I enrolled two new survivors recently diagnosed with cancer. All in the same week.

The wedding weekend was a mountain peak followed by a valley of unexpected sorrow. Revelation 19 connects the themes of weddings, eternal life, and death:

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:6-7)

John’s words in Revelation evoke the same emotions in me that I felt at my son’s wedding. The wedding was even more special because I had a genuine relationship with and closeness to the groom. Joy united the guests invited to the wedding banquet. The bride was beautiful in her dress. I knew I was blessed by God to be an intimate part of the wedding festivities.

The wedding is over. My two sons are married to women that I am pleased and excited to call my daughters-in-law. There are no more weddings to plan or prepare for in our immediate family. The excitement of wedding festivities will gradually fade as the memories take root in my heart.

The Bible reminds me that there is one more wedding in my future that I can look forward to as an honored guest. My faith in Jesus Christ guarantees that I am invited to the wedding of the Lamb and His bride, the church. I will join people from every tribe, language, and nation united with one heart for our Lord.

There will be no last song as the marriage celebration will never end in heaven. Memories will not be necessary as we will have all of eternity to soak in the wedding joy. God’s people will be overwhelmed by the love the Bridegroom has for His bride. We will see that love in His eyes and feel it in His hugs. We will dance with Jesus and never let go.

Hallelujah for celebrations on earth and in heaven!

 

 

 

Is The Door Really Locked Shut?

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A friend at church was assigned a different office along with added responsibilities. I promised to stop by and check out her new location. It took me weeks to finally find her. The doors were always locked or so I thought.

My friend worked in a section of the church where I was unfamiliar with the layout. I had to ask for directions to find the general area of her office. She works part-time and I tried to visit on her off days. I learned her schedule and the best times to stop in. Even though I knew where to go and when to go, there was still one big stumbling block: the doors.

I tried to turn a door knob and met only resistance. I pushed on another door and it refused to budge. The doors were always locked. Signs during worship service reminded me that the doors remained locked. In sharing my frustration and the numerous attempts to visit, my friend reassured me that I could go through the doors to reach her.

The solution was as simple as pushing on the (literal) right door of the double doors that opened up to the hallway access. I had tried only the left door which is always locked. My mindset told me that the right door also must be locked because that had been my experience with the other doors.

My understanding and experiences confirmed my thinking that the doors were always locked. Eventually, my mindset believed that I could not get past those doors to visit my friend. How often does this happen in our spiritual walk?

We know where we want to go, but a stumbling block prevents our forward progress. We see closed doors and walk away feeling dejected. Perhaps we feel the nudges and encouragement to enter new territory, but we meet resistance along the way. Or our circumstances don’t budge and we remain stuck in our current place.

Do we seek out God’s timing? God gives us signs, but are we paying close enough attention? Do we interpret the signs with our understanding or do we examine signs through the lens of God’s word? Sometimes our mindset closes out God’s possibilities that are within our reach. Oftentimes, I need to think bigger!

We are to persevere which means to keep asking, keep pushing, and keep trying. Let’s not be deterred from God’s best. We can tend to view doors as something that keeps us out. God gives us open and closed doors to guide us. What are you waiting for? See what is on the other side of God’s door for your life!

Revelation 3:20

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

Luke 11:9-10

“So I say to you; Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”