Of Spiders, Skeletons, and Saints

Just before writing this, I found a spider crawling on my shoulder. I’m not a big fan of spiders. This one wasn’t huge or furry or anything, but it startled me. I didn’t scream, but I did jump, and frantically brushed at my shoulder, and then stomped on the spider a couple of times for good measure as it tried to crawl away.

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Spiders are not uncommon. They eat other annoying insects, and many are not harmful to humans. But they are “creepy.” They have all those legs and eyes and they hide in corners and drop down from ceilings. Some of them jump and some bite. There are a lot of “creepy” creatures in this world– spiders and snakes, rats and lizards, worms, and bats, and scorpions, roaches and fleas, and more. “Creepy” critters startle us; they scare us in the ways that they move, in the noises they make, and in the threat of danger– diseases, poisons, filth…

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This time of year it is not unusual to see “creepy” creatures in movies and decorations and costumes for Halloween. Another type of “creepy” sighting involves things associated with death or near-death– ghosts, zombies, skeletons, ghouls, vampires…Their creepiness comes from the idea that Death has power over the living. The idea that Death stalks among us causes fear. Death is an enemy we cannot conquer. Everyone has to taste death and the unknown that follows. Everyone has a skeleton in life, but a skeleton walking without muscle or skin is terrifying to us. Everyone has a soul, but a soul without a body (or a body without a soul) makes us fearful–will that be our fate? What kind of existence would that be?

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I am not a big fan of “creepy” stories and horror flicks. I don’t like being frightened for entertainment, and I have never understood why such things appeal to others. Recently, though, I heard from someone an explanation that made me think. They said, “I enjoy watching horror films and reading scary books because I know, no matter how scary it gets, that Good will always win out in the end.” Well, all right. I still don’t want to watch spooky stuff, but I can agree with the sentiment of the speaker.

Not all frightening things in this world are “creepy.” Cancer, blindness, aging, loss of a loved one, job loss, homelessness, loss of reputation, betrayal, false arrest, slavery to addiction, abuse, starvation–all are scary realities that can leave us overwhelmed, afraid, and even feeling hopeless. Nothing we can do will eradicate the threat of hardship, suffering, and death that await us all. We can make plans to “cheat” death, or build walls against getting hurt or suffering loss. But we cannot banish the threat or the fear of “what if..”, nor can we slay Death.

The Good News is that Death doesn’t win in the end. Death seems like the final word, but we can endure even this, knowing that “Good will always win out in the end.” God has not destined us to be skeletons, but to be saints–awakened to new life, cleansed of all sin and disease, and eternally Alive in Him! I can be startled by the spider, “creeped-out” by a skeleton, and knocked down by a debilitating disease. But I can turn the page, open my eyes, look up, and keep going, knowing that God is on His Throne.

And there’s more good news–Life, Hope, and Love are always with us. No spider, skeleton, sickness, or other threat will ever find us alone; none will ever take God by surprise; nothing can separate us from God’s Loving Care.


18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 5:7-11 (NIV)
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6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Deuteronomy 31:6

6 So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”

Hebrews 13:6

38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

The Unchanging God

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As I look out the window today, I see an array of autumn colors–yellow, red, orange, green, brown, and even purple leaves against a vibrant blue sky. Autumn is full of changes; changing leaves, changing temperatures, changing wardrobes. I love living in an area where the seasons change dramatically. I don’t always like the drama, however. We’ve had warm days, wet days, cold days– sometimes all three in the same day! But I do like the variety– snow in the winter, colorful leaves in the fall, new life in spring, and summer trips to the beach or the shady woods.

It isn’t only the weather or the trees that change. The times are changing– literally–we will be turning our clocks back this weekend, “falling back” to conventional time after several months of “daylight savings time. Our neighborhood is changing–the bank down the street just changed its name, and a couple of new businesses are opening, as a couple others close. We are experiencing life changes. My husband and I are in the “autumn” of life– feeling the slow creep of age, in good ways and bad. We enjoy spending time with our kids and grandkids, nieces and nephews, as they embark on new adventures and challenges of “becoming.” We don’t enjoy the aches and pains and slower pace we now find ourselves adopting, but we appreciate the wisdom of life lived and learned. We have aging parents who are facing their own decisions, many of which will involve us in one way or another.

God watches over all these changes. He sees them, orders them, anticipates them. God is the master of renewal, redemption, and restoration. God can move mountains, heal diseases, restore relationships, and raise the dead! And, unless we allow God to change our very nature and give us new birth through His Son, we will miss the greatest change of all.

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But God never changes. The same God who formed me in my mother’s womb is the God who will be with me as I take my last earthly breath. The same God who formed the oceans and spoke galaxies into being is the God who whispered frost onto the grass this morning. This God is faithful through every season of the year and every season of life. I will not wake up tomorrow to find that there will be no more winter or spring seasons, or that the grass has all turned purple, or that God’s word is no longer true and powerful. And there will never be a time when I cannot trust God’s Sovereignty, His Mercy, or His Love. God’s promises are eternally sure; His Faithfulness is everlasting; and His power is limitless. God will never quit; He will never grow tired; He will never be “confused” about the road ahead; He will never resort to “plan B.”

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Very soon, the colorful leaves will fall, the morning frost will be replaced with snow and ice, and my fall jacket will have to give way to my winter coat and gloves. In time, my gray hair will turn white, and my wrinkles will multiply. Someday, my great-grandchildren may find my name carved on a stone and wonder what I sounded like or what kind of person I was. But God will still be the same as He was in the days of Noah, and King Solomon; the same God who watched the fall of the Roman Empire, the horrors of the Holocaust, and the first Moon landing. That’s the God who hears my prayers– and yours. He can be trusted. He is faithful.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

Lamentations 3:22-24 (ESV)

When Nothing Else Could Help

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Philippians 4:6

Sometimes, I write because I feel as though I have received wisdom to pass on about prayer. But sometimes, like today, I write because I need to confess how much I still need to learn (or put into practice)!

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My mother has been in and out of the Emergency Room over the past few weeks. It’s not that she is experiencing actual emergencies–heart attack or difficulty breathing or broken bones or blood clots (though she has been checked for all of these at one point or another). Instead, she is experiencing pain and fear– fear that her pain is related to a larger issue that could be life-threatening. My mother is 88 years old, and there is a reasonable fear that her health is deteriorating and that death is closer than she wants to think about.

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The other day, I received a call from a dear friend and neighbor of my mom to say that she had stopped by to visit Mom and ended up taking her to the ER at the local hospital. Again, Mom was not in medical distress requiring an ambulance– this was not a “life or death” call; but Mom hadn’t slept well, she was hurting, and she just didn’t feel “right.” She had just seen her physician last week, and she had an appointment to see another doctor the next day, but she was afraid.

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I was very much less than gracious about receiving the call. My siblings and I are exhausted, frustrated, and worried. I can’t speak for the others, but I feel guilty about not doing enough, and guilty for doing “too much” all at the same time. My emotions were raw; my gut was churning, and my mind was a complete disaster. I couldn’t think clearly, and I couldn’t “feel” anything. As a “last resort,” I sent out a request via Facebook asking others to pray for my mom– I didn’t feel like I could even do that on my own.

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Of course, there is a power in prayer that goes beyond anything we can comprehend, much less explain. Within minutes, over three dozen people let me know they were sending prayers for my mom. But more than that, I received a call from my cousin–and he had just the words to assuage my false sense of guilt and refocus my thoughts and emotions. As time passed, our friend called with an update–Mom has severe arthritis in her back, and another minor issue that should respond to simple medication. She will still have pain; but now she has one less reason to worry about the cause.

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I can’t say that this is the “end” of the frustration, exhaustion, or even the worry about my mom’s declining health. We are still struggling with various questions and decisions she needs to make for the future.

But this episode reminded me that prayer should not be a “last resort” when facing the unexpected. It’s not that I haven’t prayed about Mom’s health recently– a lot! But in that initial moment of hearing about yet another trip to the ER, my first thought was not to “take it to the Lord in prayer,” but to worry and let my thoughts run everywhere but up.

Thankfully, God is eternally gracious and powerful– willing to give the doctors wisdom in dealing with my Mom, and willing to give me peace and restore my flagging faith. Mom still has to face pain; my siblings and I still have to face the looming reality of life “after” God calls Mom home, and the chaos and uncertainty in the time between now and then. But we can seek Him first, with confidence and hope, rather than letting worry sap our energy and steal our joy. God’s love and grace are more powerful than worry and doubt, fear and guilt.

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I’ve mentioned it before, but one of my earliest memories is of my Mother singing and humming an old hymn as my lullaby. Even as I watch her struggling with end of life issues, I am joyfully anticipating that this season will give way to being “lifted” by Love into eternal bliss. I am so grateful that this song is etched in my heart– even when I need a reminder. So I’m going to listen and let it be part of God’s comforting message to me. And I hope, for anyone struggling with stress, guilt, worry, or fear, that it will be “uplifting” for you today, as well.

Plenty of Room…

14 1-4 “Don’t let this rattle you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.” Thomas said, “Master, we have no idea where you’re going. How do you expect us to know the road?” 6-7 Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!”

John 14:1-6 “The Message”

My mother is fast approaching that time in life where she may no longer be able to live independently. Her health issues and failing eyesight mean she can no longer drive, and her house in the country, while familiar to her, causes her anxiety– What if the furnace breaks down in the winter? What if her pipes freeze? What if she can’t get back and forth to her mailbox, or falls down in the bathroom?

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My siblings and I are facing questions, too. Are any of us able to provide room for Mom to stay with us? Can we provide proper care? Can any of us “be there” when she needs us? Where can she go, if she can’t stay in her own home? How will she manage if she has to go “into care” somewhere? Will they provide for her needs?

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These are questions that plague us during our lifetime. I remember looking for housing after I left college and got my first job. Where would I stay? Could I afford rent? Would it be safe? Noisy? What about maintenance and utilities? When I got another job– Could I find another place close to my new job? How would I get moved? Would I be able to fit my furniture into the new space? Would I need to buy new appliances? Would the neighbors be friendly?

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One day, we will “move” to our eternal home. If we have trusted Christ’s promises, we don’t have to worry about any of those questions. Our new and everlasting home has been prepared especially for us by our Loving Father. There is plenty of room, and it is rent-free! We don’t have to worry about the location, the safety, or the utility of our Heavenly home– it comes with an eternal guarantee.

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Jesus gave this promise to His disciples during the “Last Supper.” Preparations had been made for them to eat the Passover meal in an “upper room.” Jesus didn’t own a house; He had no apartment or condo or even a hut where He could invite His friends or family to join Him for a meal. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20 ESV) This is the same Jesus who was born in a stable “because there was no room in the inn.” (Luke 2:7) This is the same Jesus who was “in the beginning” creating the whole of the universe.

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We can trust the promise of Jesus– there is “plenty of room” in God’s Kingdom. There is room for all who come to the Father’s house. No one will have to wonder or worry about heat or light or plumbing. No one will have to wonder about food or clothing, mobility issues or health concerns. No one will have to worry about the neighbors or the neighborhood. All we have to do is follow the “road” laid out by Jesus Christ.

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Jesus came into a world that had “no room” for Him– a world that rejected Him– so that we could have plenty of room with Him, forever.

Even though we may have decisions to make about finding a temporary “place” for Mom, we can be very sure that God’s already prepared a place for her– better than anything we can plan for or imagine! 

Seasonal Prayers

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It is supposed to be springtime in my neck of the woods. We’ve had two days of snow this week, chilly winds, and frost/freeze warnings. Fruit farmers are worried about losing the fragile blossoms that we need for apples, peaches, and cherries later this year. Many of the spring flowers are also in jeopardy. People are joking that we need to “unplug” springtime and “reboot” it, because it seems not to be working! The seasons seem “out of time.”

Sometimes our lives seem the same. We expect a season of growth or warmth, only to feel the cold winds, or we experience drought when we expected rain. Our prayers will change as the seasons come and go– young parents pray for patience as their days are hectic; aging parents pray for visits from their busy children and grandchildren. We go through seasons of success, seasons of stress, seasons of forced immobility, seasons of grief, and seasons of distracted activity.

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Throughout the Psalms, David and the other psalm writers sang of woes and wonders, praises and problems– sometimes within a single Psalm! We have seasons of questioning, and seasons of confidence. Sometimes, we feel close to God; other times, we wonder why He seems so far away. Our “songs” and prayers will change over the course of our lives and according to our moods and circumstances– desperate, worshipful, even indignant. Yet God hears them all– He wants us to pour out our hearts in all seasons!

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Our seasons may change, but God is Eternally Loving and Sovereign. Our moods and changing circumstances cannot remove us from His watchful eye or His tender care. Our momentary anger and doubt are not beyond His willingness–even eagerness– to forgive and redeem! God is Lord of all the Seasons– seasons of snow and sunshine; seasons of joy and sorrow. Even when our seasons seem “out of time,” we can lift our voices to a God who never changes.

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When God Doesn’t Answer…

Prayer is a conversation with God. But sometimes it can seem like a one-sided conversation. We have pressing needs for healing, or strength to bear up under stress or oppression. Sometimes, we pray for our loved ones’ struggles against addiction or wrong choices. And God seems silent.

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Sometimes, it’s better to get an answer we don’t like than no answer at all. When I was younger, I prayed for a family– a dream family with a handsome husband (preferably wealthy), three adorable and well-behaved children (I already had names picked out..), and maybe a beloved family pet, all living in a beautiful house with a big back yard, and maybe a small woods. I waited and prayed; prayed and waited. When I was in my thirties, still waiting and praying, I found out that I have several health problems– none of them life-threatening, but they mean that the chances that I would ever have had children are slim to none. I would never have the pleasure of watching my own children grow up; never know the joy of having a little voice calling me “mommy.”

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But God had not abandoned me. In my careers as a teacher and a children’s librarian (careers I had begun before I knew I couldn’t have children of my own), I had the joy of working with hundreds of children across a spectrum of ages, from nearly newborn through college! My memories are filled with a choir of voices calling me Miss Toney or Miss Lila (as I was known then). God had not closed the door on my dream– he had opened a window.

It wasn’t the answer I had hoped for, but it was an answer. However, I was still single. I didn’t want to be single. I didn’t feel it was what God wanted for my life, yet He didn’t seem to be listening or giving me any sign that He heard or understood. There was only silence. No promising relationships– only a few scattered dates over the long years–a few budding friendships, and many lonely days and nights.

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There were many helpful friends and family with suggestions, ideas, advice, comforting thoughts, or “explanations.” “God is waiting for you to become more mature in your walk with Him.” “God is saving the best for last.” “You’re too picky (I was never quite sure what that meant in light of the scarcity of dates, but…)” “You need to ‘get out there’ more–have you tried on-line dating? (I did. It was ‘meh’..).” “You should change jobs– single men are not hanging out at the library.” “You should change churches– find one with more single men.” But God stayed silent through my thirties and into my forties.

I did take some of the very good advice I received. I signed up to do short term missions trips. I traveled when I could, with family and friends, and even on my own. I read and went back to college. I spent time in the woods and at the beach, meditating, singing, or just enjoying God’s nature. I got “involved” in various volunteer opportunities. I joined the church choir. And I continued to pray.

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By the time I was squarely in my forties, I had decided to stop praying for a husband, to stop hoping, and praying, and seeking, and dreaming. And God said nothing. But I began getting phone calls from an old friend– someone I had known in childhood–in fact, the very first boy I had ever dated, nearly 30 years before! At first, I listened to his voice-mail messages, but didn’t return his calls. I was annoyed, and even a bit angry. After all this time, was God laughing at me? Did He really expect me to go all the way back to the very beginning and start over?

Finally, I let go of my pride, and my ancient dream– I decided to give David a chance. Maybe it would lead to another (renewed) friendship. Maybe it would be another disappointment. But it led to a new dream. It led to marriage, and a huge extended family, including David’s wonderful children, and three adorable (and mostly well-behaved) grandchildren. My husband is kind, and honorable, and Godly. He is a treasure. And God’s timing is perfect, even as it is mysterious. God didn’t withhold marriage as a bargaining chip to get me to “grow up,” or grant it as a “reward” for going on a couple of mission trips. God was silent–but He wasn’t absent. He saw every teardrop, rejoiced in every busy child-filled day at work, smiled at every snapshot of every natural wonder, every Teddy Bear picnic, every Bible School. He want along on every date, kept track of all the hundreds of books I read over the years, and hovered over the dinner table set for one every night. I committed my life to serving Him– whether I was single or married, alone, or surrounded by children. His ways are higher, and better, and wiser than mine.

I may never understand why God allowed me to travel the roads that have been set before me. And my roads could have looked much different. I could have married young, unaware of my barrenness, and ended up bitter and feeling guilty about my body for years before I was diagnosed. I might have had a child (or children), and become proud and controlling and fearful. I might have made idols of my “dream” husband and family.

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I know many dozens of people who are praying into the “silence” and waiting for God’s answer. Some are praying for healing. They may pray for hours in the hospital, only to lose their loved one. They may pray for weeks or months, as their child battles chronic illness. They may pray for years as they battle depression and loneliness. God may seem silent. But He is never absent. His ways sometimes lead to a happy ending in this life. Sometimes, they lead to a legacy that we cannot see this side of death. He does not promise us the answer we want, when or how we want it. He doesn’t promise us an easy or “happy” answer. What He does promise is that He will never forsake us. Long after we have been tempted to give up, to doubt, to turn away, God will still be waiting– sometimes in the silence– for the perfect moment, the perfect justice, the perfect word, the perfect solution.

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