On What Would Have Been My Father’s 91st Birthday

Things I saw often:My daddy as a young boy!

Holding hands with and kissing my mom…often. My whole life.
Forgiveness.
Humility.
Consistency.
Love. The willing-to-sacrifice-his-own-rights kind.

Things I heard often:

Let’s see what the Bible has to say about that.
What is that to thee?
Let God take care of it.
His grace is enough.
I love you.

Things I felt often:

Respected.
Appreciated.
Cherished.
Honored.
Loved.

He’s worshiping his Lord face to face now, but if he were here on this day, Friday, February 5, 2016, the day that would have been his 91st birthday, I would not only wish him a heartfelt “Happy Birthday, Daddy,” but I would tell him what I told him nearly every day (either by phone or in person) for as long as I can remember: “I love you.”

“The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me” (Psalm 16:6, NASB).

 

 

Lessons from the Queen…and King

Petals from the Basket - Brenda StrohbehnThrough a gift from a dear friend, I recently acquired a DVD of the movie War Room. As I watched it with some of my family members one evening, tears streaming down my cheeks at times (okay…many times), I was reminded of the importance of acknowledging my need for—and my sole reliance upon—God. And trust me, coming from a woman who, as a caregiver and as someone with no spouse in her house, often has to be “independent” and a “take-charge” kind o’ gal, that’s so much easier said than done.

But on December 30, 2015, only a few short weeks ago, I said, “No more. I’m done trying to plan how I think things should go; I’m done foolishly trying to remove the specks from others’ eyes while I’m walking around with a redwood tree in my own (Matthew 7:5); I’m done giving God a list of selfish demands and failing to see that He has abundance ready for me along the path He wants me to follow; I’m done blaming my spiritual failures on the perceived failures of others; I’m done with thinking that in even some small way, I’m in charge. Done!”

And in that very moment, it was as if God said, “What took you so long? Let’s get started on this process of renewal!” No, not everything has been peachy keen since then. No, I’ve not suddenly been transformed into a woman who wholeheartedly makes right choices. But God is at work. And what He does is good…sometimes painful…but always good.

When speaking with one of my sisters about how God was giving me new opportunities to mentor others in their walk of faith, I spoke of this renewed knowledge of the power of prayer and how I was trying to pass that along. In her reply, she in turn mentored me as she shared an important reminder through this illustration [I have presented the true story as if in her words, for the sake of condensing our conversation that day]:

“When I was in England, touring the palace, we were reminded of an important element of protocol. When someone receives an audience with the queen, he or she doesn’t walk in, greet the queen, and begin stating his or her request or offering comments. The queen speaks first. The person who is privileged to be there must begin by listening. The queen must always speak first.”

So often I begin my God-and-I-Time with my prayer list. I enter my personal “War Room” (i.e., place of prayer) with sincere and appropriate petitions on behalf of myself and others. But I forget that I must first listen. The King of kings has given me His own unchanging words of truth, guidance, teaching, admonition, and love, forever recorded in the Bible. He wants me to read them, to know them, to live them…to listen.

It seems that the proper order should be: He speaks, I listen, and in prayer, I respond.

Even the petitions He tells me to bring to Him are offered in response to my first listening to and believing His promises to hear and to answer. So yes, I will continue my journey of fighting my battles in prayer, of focusing on intentionality in my prayers. But more importantly, I will sit at the feet of Jesus and learn…and listen.

I will begin with obedience to His command: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10, NIV).

Because the King speaks first.

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Did you know that you can literally listen to God’s Word on BibleGateway.com?
Simply click on the links to the Bible verses above (or search for your favorite chapters and passages) and select the “audio” icon in the box that appears.

Inspired by Amy Carmichael…and a Fountain Pen

Amy Carmichael’s book If may be little in size, but it packs a powerful punch. Miss Carmichael used “if…then” statements to reiterate the overwhelming beauty, power, and grace found in the love that Christ demonstrated at Calvary. The reminders contained in its pages cannot be skimmed over lightly or read in their entirety in one brief sitting. They must be absorbed, pondered, grasped, and implemented one by one.

Several years ago I began writing down my own “If” musings, and while I have occasionally shared a few of those entries as Facebook posts or in letters to friends, they have been so personal at times that I have protected them as if they were a private prayer. Until recently, the entries were sometimes written on note cards and then inserted into the otherwise bound pages of a daily journal; other times, they were written on the pages of my daily planner, on Post-it notes, or on the backs of sermon notes.

With the arrival of 2016 a few weeks ago, I determined to use my smartphone for the purposes for which it was created and not for those which are often attached to it: it is not my best friend, the only means by which I can connect to or interact with others, my security, or the source of my identity. I even went back to wearing a watch so that I would no longer have to keep looking at my smartphone for the time, because I found that I was often becoming distracted by the notifications or options it offered me with each glance.

For some of those areas I eliminated through this decision, I chose instead to pick up…get ready for it…a fountain pen and a journal with pages begging to be the recipient of its ink. (If you haven’t tried one, start with an inexpensive disposable fountain pen like the one you’ll find here.) There’s something about being reunited with your fountain pen that prompts you to write from the depths of your heart. And for me, when the contents of my heart met the flow of the ink, I felt the need to begin an official If journal (as opposed to randomly jotting my “if…then” statements on whatever form of paper was near at the moment).

Some of these, I will share on this website; some I will share on the Petals from the Basket Facebook page; some will remain private prayers. Today’s will simply serve as an introduction for those who are unfamiliar with Amy Carmichael’s book, the original example and inspiration for these thoughts of my own:

If, when my path crosses that of one whose journey does not mimic my own and whose transgressions may seem more public than those I have privately committed, I do not offer the grace I have received, the understanding with which I have been blessed, or the forgiveness that was on me so freely bestowed, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

~BLS, from my personal If journal, inspired by Amy Carmichael

Control

Okay. So…I messed up. I tried to control what wasn’t mine to control. I said what should not have been said. I tried to change what only God can change…if it even needed changing in the first place. And in so doing, I blew it. But God, in His transforming grace and infinite love, is greater.

Greater than all of my pride.

Greater than my impatience.

Greater than my harsh judgments.

Greater.

I don’t know if He will choose to repair what I broke or if He will simply continue to use my brokenness to change me. I only know that He has lovingly, and with the forgiveness He promised, opened my heart to a level of yieldedness I didn’t know I needed but that I’m grateful to put into action. Hands off the control panel. He’s got this!

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NIV).

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10, NIV).

Leaving My Regrets in 2015

Are you leaving 2015 in a few days with no regrets? Oh, trust me, I have regrets from 2015: I messed up. I sinned. I got angry. I was selfish. I was proud. I was impatient. I was…a whole list of things. And I regret that. But I’m moving forward into 2016. By God’s grace and with His help, I’m turning my open hands heavenward and asking Him to fill them, to teach me, to change me, to prepare me, and to create in me more possibilities for growth, accomplishment, outreach, and love than I would have thought possible—all because of the lessons learned from those regrets. But because of His amazing grace, I’m not taking them with me!

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12–14, NIV).

A “Long Obedience”?

Do you ever hear a phrase or expression, think it sounds beautiful, and know that it must mean more than you’re grasping, because, in spite of how eloquently it rolls off the tongue, you just don’t quite “get it”? In my ongoing promise to be honest and transparent with you, I’ll confess that, at the age of 54.972, I awoke at 4:21 this morning, and by 4:25, I thought: “That’s what that means!” The second that is the descriptive phrase: “a long obedience in the same direction.” The first that is what I will attempt to share with these words.

Friedrich Nietzsche is generally cited as the originator of the expression and is quoted as saying, “The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction.” On his secular (as opposed to faith-based) leadership blog, “Leadership by Soul,” Jonathan Wilson states it more succinctly than I could come up with:

Nietzsche had a rather narcissistic and exploitative view of what is “worth living for.” Nevertheless, I believe the overall principle he states is correct. Influence may begin with a leader’s courageous initiative to do the right thing, but it is unlikely to reach its potential unless the leader practises “a long obedience in the same direction.” Leadership that influences does not only begin with courageous initiative: it is the long, arduous and often wearisome repetition of multiple acts of courageous initiative. To succeed, leaders have to persevere unstintingly; and to the end. —Jonathan Wilson, Leadership by Soul

This morning I awoke with the same sense of urgency I have had in recent mornings to pray for a friend who is battling this very thing: not in the area of leadership but in the walk of faith. But, as is usually the case with me, I ended up saying, “Lord, before I can pray this for my friend, I must pray for myself in this same area.” And…BAM…that’s when the clock struck 4:25, my aha moment.

You see, it’s easy to cling to Christ when I am able to set aside possessions, people, position, and prestige and realize that Christ is all I truly have and all I truly need. Herein lies obedience: obedience to His command to seek His kingdom first, to set my affection on things above, and to love my Lord and my God with all my heart, soul, and mind.

But then complacency, double-mindedness, and a lack of two-way communication with my loving, forgiving Creator set in…yet again. My crisis is resolved; my urgent need no longer exists; I’m settled back in to receiving the temporary salve of that which makes me feel better…about me…and my direction begins to shift. Sometimes the change is dramatic and seemingly sudden. But more often than not, it is gradual, subtle, and easily denied. After all, I tell myself, “I’m still a Christian who believes in God; I’m still going to church when my schedule permits; I’m still praying eloquently when called upon to ‘say grace’ before the meal.” Oh yes, I’m still moving forward; I’m just moving in a different direction now—complacently wavering instead of fervently worshiping.

It’s that shift in focus—that one-second glance away from the cross and the depth of meaning that it holds—that’s all it takes. In that singular moment my spiritual compass gets off course and leads me in a direction that seems so inviting, welcoming, and exciting that I tell myself I haven’t changed; I have only progressed. I’m so caught up in its “benefits,” that I neglect to see that Christ, previously the focal point of my endeavors, is no longer in view.

Sadly, it often takes yet another crisis, another eye-opening event to awaken me to the fact that I have not only changed course, but, in doing so, I have been disobedient to the One whose simply stated command was, “Follow Me.”

But along with an aha moment at 4:25 in the morning comes the reminder that there are fresh mercies for me to claim and apply today! As the old hymn states, He offers “grace that is greater than all my sin.” Wow. Just wow! His forgiveness is already there. He just opens His arms and with His unconditional love embraces my return as I confess my disobedience and repent of giving in to the distractions and the change in direction they produced. And I find there a more inviting, welcoming, and exciting depth of joy than all I had dreamed possible only a few short moments before.

“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” (Lamentations 3:22–23, NIV).

And in that moment I choose Christ. I take His hand, determined through its strength and by His grace to retain my focus, to know Him more personally, and to walk beside Him with a “long obedience in the same direction.”

 

Betty Henderson: Life Touching Life

She had a bookshelf that held special treasures and favorite books, and she used it as a room divider in her small apartment, separating the sleeping area from the “living room.” As we sat on the floor and ate popcorn out of plastic bowls that evening, which also left an indelible impression on my young mind, she told me about her boyfriend, and I was enthralled with her stories of their long-distance romance. I was ten years old, and she, in her late twenties, was my babysitter for the evening. During her daytime hours, she served as my father’s secretary at the church.

That’s when it began: life touching life; mentoring by example; soft-spoken, powerful leadership; the Titus 2 relationship of an older woman teaching a younger woman.

I was an elementary-aged child, but she wrote personal greetings in the fronts of the books she gave me—notes that reminded me that she was thinking of me, had chosen this book specifically for me, and that always included a Scripture verse or a promise straight out of the Bible.

I was a pre-teen, yet she chose me—me!—to be one of the guestbook attendants for the wedding ceremony when she married the boyfriend she had let me giggle with her about since that “girls’ night” in her Indiana apartment.

I was a teen, but she wrote me postcards from the travels she enjoyed as she and her husband, an airline captain, saw sites I longed to someday see. She always signed her letters, her post cards, and her notes with, “Love, Betty.” And I knew she meant it. She lived that love by her actions, her words, and her encouragement through both.

I was a young adult with the sorrow of a lost love, and she wrote me a most precious letter, focusing my thoughts heavenward and reminding me that my amazing God loved me with an everlasting love.

I was a writer with a dream, and she sent me a book that she did not know I wanted but that she knew I would enjoy, and she wrote in the front, “I hope this will encourage you in your own writing…because you can!” And I believed her.

I was a Sunday school teacher for the women in my church, and she mailed me a copy of her brand-new, hot-off-the-press Bible study for women. And yes, she included a handwritten note in the front, thanking me for being her friend. How overcome I was with gratitude. And how overwhelmed I was that she thanked me. But then, she always turned the attention to the other person—always.

I was a woman in my fifties and suddenly unemployed, questioning what God wanted me to learn, and she sent me cards filled with His promises, truths about His unfailing love, and a check to help me over the rough spots.

I was grieving my father’s inevitable departure from this earth, and she sent me Facebook messages, cards, and loving notes with sweet memories that reminded me that a life lived for Christ leaves a thumbprint a mile wide. And in so doing, she shouldered my weary soul.

I was a grown woman with a secret crush, and she listened intently, as I had done with her those many years ago in her little apartment. And when I finished telling her about him, she looked me in the eyes with those beautiful eyes of hers that glistened at every turn and said, “Woo hoo! I’m gonna be praying about this one!” And she did.

I was wiping away a tear at the dinner following my father’s funeral and burial, and as she honored me by allowing me to sit next to her at the table, she simply reached in her purse, handed me a clean tissue, and said, in her sweet middle-Indiana drawl, “We love you, honey.”

I was praying for her this morning to be healed from her ongoing medical struggles, and she was. She is now healed for eternity, with the Lord she loved, served, lived for, and died for.

My precious lifelong friend Betty Henderson left “forever lessons” in the hearts of hundreds, if not thousands, of people over the years. She would have been the first to have said that she wasn’t special; she was just willing to say, “Whatever You want, Lord. I’ll do it.” And she did.

And I will miss her, but I will honor her by striving to honor our Lord as she did: with my desires, my words (written and spoken), and my life.

You Go, Gideon!

I found my kindred spirit. And I found him in the Bible. We think alike. We react alike. And we pray alike. Besides, what woman isn’t naturally drawn to a man who was called “a mighty man of valor”—by the angel of the Lord? Wow!

But he’s often “picked on” in our efforts to fit his story into our teachings about the need to trust God. My poor friend Gideon. I totally get where he was coming from. In fact, I am pretty much a Gideon-etta!

Gideon starts out in Judges 6:13–15, asking why and how and when. But I need to give you the backstory first: Gideon’s people, the Israelites, had been overtaken by some evil icks, the Midianites, who were taking their land and their possessions and their food. So Gideon–ah, that Gideon–goes into a sheltered area, a winepress, where no one will see him threshing wheat in secret so that his family will have food to eat. While he’s there, a messenger from God, an angel of the Lord, greets him by reminding him that the Lord is with him, and that he is “a mighty man of valor.”

Gideon doesn’t waste time on empty pleasantries. He was working hard, probably dripping from the heat, and undoubtedly miffed that these evil icks had made it so that he had to hide out in a winepress and thresh wheat where no one would see, or they might steal it right out from under him. I kind of gather from his immediate response that his mind was already on thoughts of what his grandparents and parents had told him about God’s miraculous hand rescuing them from Pharaoh in Egypt those many years ago. He had been watching for those same miracles and that same deliverance, and it wasn’t happening. So he was, it seems, a little worked up over it before this situation even took place.

So as he began his why, how, and when questions, the angel told him that he, Gideon, the one hiding out so that he wouldn’t be seen, was not only a man of valor, but he was also the one that was going to be used by God to be the earthly deliverer for his people.

Here’s where it gets fun. Stick with me!

Jump with me to Luke, where Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, was greeted by an angel. (Luke 1:26–38.) Mary was not only fearful and “troubled” by his sudden appearance, but when she was told that she, a young, sexually pure virgin, was going to have a baby, she immediately asked, “How can this be?” It was out of the ordinary, and faith prompted her to ask for an explanation.

Now pop back over to my friend Gideon and his very similar reaction. He told the angel that this whole leadership thing was pretty unlikely, because not only was his clan the weakest in Mannaseh (i.e., they were the lowest on the proverbial totem pole), but he, Gideon, was the lowest man within that clan.

But the angel bottom lines it and tells him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man” (Judges 6:16, NASB).

Well now, Gideon–ah, that Gideon–basically said, “I’ve heard about God’s amazing acts, but since I’ve never seen them in the midst of these Midianites and the trouble they’ve brought with them, I’m going to need something to show me that it’s really you. So you stay here, and I’m going to bring out an offering of some of the best things I still have available.”

Without scolding him or giving him a three-point outline on how to increase his faith, the angel says, “Sure, I’ll wait.”

Now, this was not a five-minute, run through the drive-through kind of thing. Verse 19 gives us a realistic view of the timeline and of all that Gideon did: “So Gideon went in and prepared a young goat, and unleavened bread from an ephah of flour. The meat he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot; and he brought them out to Him under the terebinth tree and presented them. [The man prepared a goat, made fresh bread, and whipped up some broth! Yep. He’s my kindred spirit! But I digress.]

After all that work, here’s what happened in verses 20–21: “The Angel of God said to him, ‘Take the meat and the unleavened bread and lay them on this rock, and pour out the broth.’ And he did so. Then the Angel of the Lord put out the end of the staff that was in His hand, and touched the meat and the unleavened bread; and fire rose out of the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. And the Angel of the Lord departed out of his sight.”

Because God had created Gideon, had his hand on Gideon, and had a purpose for Gideon, He just showed him–right then, right there–that this message had come from Him. He knew Gideon was a visual person. He knew that Gideon’s past disappointments, failures, and fears made him hesitant to jump into something until he was certain. God knew…and so God provided a personality- and experience-based response just for Gideon.

Oh, friend, God knows you. He knows what you need in order to make a decision. He knows that your faith might not be of the kind that jumps but is the kind that has faith to ask for proof that you’re really supposed to jump. And so He’ll answer in kind.

As you may or may not know, this was just the beginning of Gideon’s need for a visual confirmation of his choices. So I’m going to do the next set in the next blog post. But until then, allow the lives of my kindred spirit Gideon and of Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, remind you that God may not choose to lead you in the same way as someone else. Exercise your faith in the way He created you, because He made you that way for a reason, so He’s not going to be upset with you for asking Him to make the way clear for you to see!