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).

 

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Just A Plate Of Cookies?

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Thumbprint Cookies

As a brand-new wife, I was eager to please my husband with my cooking abilities. I had big shoes to fill since my mother-in-law was an excellent cook. In early December that year, I decided to make my husband’s favorite cookie: thumbprint cookies with buttercream frosting.

Before I started, I called my mother-in-law to make sure I did everything the way she did. I used the right combination of butter, margarine, and shortening. A sample batch helped me to determine the perfect baking time. I bought the flavor of frosting that my husband said “made the cookies.” If effort and care ensured success, I knew these cookies would be a hit with my husband.

Frosted cookies covered the counters and the kitchen table. They looked just like my mother-in-law’s cookies. My husband was the willing taste-tester. He sat down with cookies and milk. I anticipated the kudos he would heap on his bride. I eagerly watched as he took the first bite.

That’s when my perfect scenario of wedded bliss fell apart. “What did you do to these cookies?” I didn’t hear the expected confirmation, but rather an accusation. It didn’t take long to figure out where I went wrong. I bought the wrong flavor of frosting! To this day, I swear my husband said his favorite cookies were thumbprint cookies with sour cream frosting. My husband would have never said sour cream frosting as his mom always used buttercream frosting.

This distinction was noted on the recipe for future reference. I have not made that mistake again since my very first batch of thumbprint cookies twenty-seven years ago. It was a good lesson for us as newlyweds: communication is more than just words. It is making sure that the other person  heard and truly understood what was said. Good advice for our marriage and especially for the thumbprint cookie recipe passed down in our family!

It was an easy fix for the thumbprint cookies, but it is not always so easy to fix other things in our lives. We can follow directions, consult with others, do our best, and still fail epically. In God’s eyes, this often describes the efforts we employ to fix our spiritual condition. It doesn’t work and it will fail every time because it is dependent on us.

Ephesians 2:8-9 explains the reason for our failure: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. The best paraphrase I have heard for these verses is: Saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. No amount of striving, competency, or resources apart from God will save us. The part we are responsible for is faith in Jesus Christ. Genuine faith puts us on the path of salvation and guarantees our place in heaven.

We celebrate Christmas because God’s hope for us became flesh and blood. The Christ child grew up to be the Son of Man who died on the cross as the Son of God to save us. As Christians, may we share this sweet victory and include generous servings of love!

Psalm 34:8

Taste and see that the LORD is good, blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

A Sweet Surprise

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Bruised, misshapen and downright ugly: a good friend offered me a bag of mid-summer Lodi apples. I was skeptical at first. What would I do with these smaller-than-normal apples? What would I want to do with these apples that were characterized by their imperfections?

My friend raved about the applesauce made from these summer-ripened apples processed through a food mill. She convinced me that the time and effort were worth it. All I needed to do was quarter the apples and remove the bigger bruises, bug trails and stems. The food mill would do the hard work and separate the peel, seeds and “junk” from the desired smooth applesauce. The result was surprisingly wonderful. The applesauce was tangy with just enough sweetness: a unique flavor all its own.

We can go through life and end up with evidence of attack, bent out of shape and feeling small. God still accepts us, even embraces us with our imperfections. God is able to bring sweetness out of the ugliness and into our lives. It may seem a far-fetched possibility, but the result is always based on God’s character, not ours.

At times, we need someone to remind us of the vision and reassure us of God’s goodness in our lives. Jesus Christ on the cross speaks volumes about the love that makes it possible. Let’s reach out to God in the ugliness of life, knowing that His presence is the sweetness and His glory is the proof of the results.

Psalm 34:8

Taste and see that the LORD is good, blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

2 Corinthians 2:14

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. 

 

 

 

When Do You Stop Praying for Physical Healing?

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When do you stop praying for physical healing?

My gut reaction is never. My faith response is to never ever give up on God who can deliver the unexpected and last minute healing. For our God is always hopeful, always powerful and always merciful. God’s heart is for healing!

In the past, I have been asked to pray for the peaceful passing of others’ loved ones that suffered too long in the body. I politely declined to pray in that manner. But twice now, for close family members, I have asked God to give my loved ones the healing found only in heaven.

I have thought long and hard about my answer to that question, “When do you stop praying for physical healing?” It was a gradual and emotional process that carried me from the denial of death to the acceptance of God’s healing redefined.

There were signs along the way. The doctor shared, “Depending on your faith, she is already gone.” The nurse remarked, “Sometimes, it doesn’t matter what (end-of-life) decisions you make, the decision has already been made.” The pastor prayed, “Any decision made in love is the right decision.”

Your heart screams “NO!” as God pulls you closer to Him. Without words, God reassures your spirit that He has “got this.” Am I willing to trust God for everything in life and for everything in death?

I knew when it was time to stop praying for the physical healing. It was the moment I let go of my loved one and asked God to fill my mouth with praises for Him. It started out with just drops of praises that turned into a trickle. God was present in the midst of doctors, nurses, monitors and tubes. Family was huddled together around the hospital bed keeping watch. We could sense that the physical pain of our loved one was finally easing as life ebbed before our eyes.

I know that time and hindsight will bring the rush of praises, but in the moment it is difficult to muster. Letting go of my expectation for physical healing didn’t make death any easier. But it did help me to keep moving forward in God: one baby step at a time and one praise at a time.

 

Psalm 34:1

I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.

 

Daniel 3:16-18

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

A Chocolate Connoisseur, I Am Not!

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Although I didn’t have any plans to travel out of the country for Christmas, I bought a passport. A chocolate passport. It was advertised as a chocolate adventure for the taste buds. Ten bars of dark chocolate, single sourced from localities around the world. The descriptions were inviting with lines like, “Deep chocolate aroma with floral and fruit notes,” and, “Marked fruity taste with a touch of spice.” Teasers that filled me with anticipation. And oh the chocolate was wonderful. I savored each bite and concentrated on the undertones, the notes and the touches, but I didn’t get it. Maybe I am just a chocolate lover and not a chocolate connoisseur. It was not the first time that the finer things of life were lost on me. I remember when I first became interested in the Bible as an adult seeker. As with any good book, I started at the beginning. It was an exciting read with many story lines in Genesis and Exodus. Then I reached Leviticus with all the laws foreign to my senses. I was thrown for a loop as I simply didn’t get it. Fast-forward ten years in my relationship with the Lord. Now those same passages spoke volumes to my heart. I loved the foreshadowing of Jesus in the Old Testament. The connections between the Old and New Testaments reinforced God’s plan for mankind and for me. The difference was that I had the Holy Spirit inside of me. The Spirit that reveals the deeper truths. The Spirit that expresses faith with nuances. The Spirit that proves over and over how sweet our life is in God’s hands. .

Psalm 34:8

Taste and see that the LORD is good, blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

Psalm 119:103

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!