Every Day Counts

Tomorrow, my mother will celebrate her 87th birthday. Her life spans an incredible period of history. She can remember times of poverty and hardship during the Great Depression. She remembers hearing about the attack on Pearl Harbor on the radio, and worrying about her father in the Navy, and her mother working long hours in the factory. As a young wife, she sent a husband to fight in Korea, while she awaited the birth of their son. In her day, she cooked on a coal-fired stove, attended a one-room schoolhouse, wore poodle skirts and saddle shoes, and used outhouses. She has lived through the age of television and the internet– she watched a man walk on the moon (in black and white) and watched the World Trade Center towers burn and collapse (in color) on TV screens in real time. She learned to take shorthand in pencil, to type on a manual typewriter, and has done data-entry on a desktop computer.

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Mom has seen a lot of changes in her life. But years ago, she developed habits that have not changed. Every day, she reads a passage of scripture, and every day, she spends time in prayer and meditation. That doesn’t mean she is perfect–some days she misses, due to illness or unexpected interruptions–and this practice, in itself, doesn’t make her a “better” person than anyone else. But daily habits do matter. When Mom lost her parents and her only sister in a matter of nine months, and then lost my Dad just three years later, her faith was tested. But it never wavered. When she had to undergo heart surgery a few years ago, her faithful habits made an impression on the hospital staff, as well as her friends and family. Throughout the recent COVID-19 lockdown, when Mom has lived alone and had to deal with cancelled doctor’s appointments, limited access to medicines, changing her routines, not being able to socialize, not being able to attend worship services, losing a close friend, etc., she has shown resilience, patience, and faith that set a marvelous example to anyone who knows her. Whether her day turns out to be momentous, boring, disastrous, or just ordinary, Mom determines to spend part of it connecting to, and worshiping, her Savior.

This seems like simple advice, but it takes practice and determination, and help from the Holy Spirit. It is tempting to look at our lives in hourly increments, trying to fill each moment and each day with meaningful activity. It is tempting to make prayer and Bible study “part of the plan,” two of the many activities in our busy schedule. And when things don’t go according to our plan, we wring our hands and lament the “waste.” Even when things go “as planned” we still consider worship and meditation one of many routine practices, like exercise, or dusting, or taking a shower. But each day is a gift– each moment is more than an opportunity to be busy “doing” and “making plans.” Each day– even the ones we think of as failures and wasted time–matters. Every day is a new opportunity to see God or to hear His voice–whether in the beauty of a sunrise, or the tears of our children; in the aftermath of a disaster, or an unexpected promotion at work; in stillness, or the noisy commute; in success and in setbacks.

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Daily habits like prayer and Bible study won’t change the circumstances that come our way; they won’t necessarily help us make plans that make life easier or less frustrating. But they will teach us to place our focus where it truly belongs–on the One who is with us every day and every moment, through good times and bad–on the One who holds today (and tomorrow) in His hand. It doesn’t matter that we fill out a chart, or make a certain goal of pages read or half-hours spent on our knees– it DOES matter that we make it the cry of our heart to seek God every day that we can. Seek His wisdom, seek His mercy, seek His glory. Today.

We Are Family…

The Bible is filled with images of family–long lists of “begats” and genealogies, parables about sons and fathers, brothers, weddings, brides and grooms…God is even described as our Father, with Christ as “the son.”

One of my hobbies is genealogy– tracing my family’s roots back through several generations and several different places. While the Bible warns that we should not get caught up in “endless” and vain genealogies that lead to false pride and foolish divisions (1 Tim. 1:4/Titus 3:9), there are many good reasons to pay attention to families, family histories, and family dynamics.

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First, the family is God’s design– God instituted marriage, parenthood, and family units. It is God’s will and purpose that we should not live in isolation and self-absorption, but learn to depend on and be responsible to others. Families honor, protect, love, provide, comfort, teach, encourage, build and work together. Even in a broken world, filled with dysfunctional and chaotic family relationships, the purpose and design of “family” is still part of God’s good and perfect plan for living. Broken families and toxic relationships are not a failure of God’s plan– they are the result of Sin’s power to distort and corrupt the Good that only God can create. The great news is that God also has the power to restore and redeem individuals and families; offering “rebirth”, adoption, and an eternal “inheritance” within His family!

Second, families can teach us about the astounding and limitless love of God. There is something about the bonds of familial love that stretch us beyond our regular capacity to hope, to sacrifice, to share, to grieve, to endure, and to forgive. Who has seen a mother or father go hungry so their child can eat; or a sister or daughter donate her kidney or bone marrow to help heal a family member? Or a father carry his son who could not walk, or a wife who visits her aging husband when he no longer knows her face? How can we see such devotion and not be struck by how much greater, wider, deeper, and more eternal the Father’s love is for each of us?

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Third, family (particularly the idea of genealogies and long family histories) teaches us the eternal nature of God. We live our lives as part of three or four generations– a span of 70 or 80 years for many of us–and we concentrate our efforts on “making our mark” for less than that entire span. But even the longest of our lives are so short in the span of God’s plan for His people. We have one lifespan to play an important role in the story of centuries. When we fail to understand that role, we can miss our sense of purpose in life. Sometimes, we overestimate our own importance or miss the significance of our own legacy. Even “important” people are forgotten, or have their legacies tarnished or rewritten in the pages of history. And those people who never made the history books are often the inspiration for actions and movements that span generations and change nations. When I study the history of my own family, I find lives that were cut short by war or disease– yet these lives shaped the lives (or were the lives) of my ancestors, and without them, I would not be who or how or where I am today. Maiden aunt, baby brother, empty seat at the table– every life touches others in ways that God alone truly comprehends. “Coincidental” meetings, “unplanned” children, migration patterns, epidemics– all loom large in a single generation, but they all become part of the fabric of each person’s “history.”

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Lastly, genealogy reminds us that we are all one enormous family! There is so much talk on the news and online about all our differences– language, culture, skin tone, beliefs, skills, abilities, interests, even diets!– and it is important to note that God loves variety and created us each with unique and precious differences to reflect His infinite character. But sin twists our differences into conflicts; sin spreads lies about God’s character, and thus, about how we (or others) reflect, honor, understand, acknowledge, or obey our amazing creator. Differences may cause division in our broken world, but they do not cancel God’s mercy or limit the reach of His love for us all.


This was brought home to me in a small way this past week, as I was preparing for two important reunions. My high school class celebrated the 35th anniversary of our graduation in 1984. I saw friends and classmates I hadn’t seen in weeks, months, or, in some cases, 35 years! But it struck me that our class is very much like a family– we grew up together; we learned to get along (most of the time), to share, to work together, to understand and appreciate our differences and our unique gifts–we send birthday greetings and share pictures, we laugh together, grieve together, share fond memories and special connections with one another. We pray for one another, argue with one another, encourage one another, and challenge one another. There are some who have distanced themselves–whether through physical distance or emotionally– from the rest of us. Some have even ended their earthly journeys. But that doesn’t make them any less a part of our class/our family. We are short and tall, thin and stout, hairy and bald, dark and light complected; we are single, married, divorced, and widowed– some with children still at home; some with no children at all. We are rich and poor, healthy and ill, walking around with scars and wounds and unresolved questions, arrogant assumptions, or chips on our shoulders. And we are optimists and mentors, healers and teachers, helpers and protectors. We are loud and quiet, social and task-oriented, driven and laid-back, dreamers and doers. And in my genealogy research, I have made genetic and marriage connections to about 1/3 of them! We really ARE family, and I can show how we are related! How small would this world seem if we looked at our brothers and sisters across the world, and realize that those connections are so much greater than the differences that divide us?

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The second reunion I attended this weekend was “family.” All of us descended (or married to descendants, or adopted by descendants) from my great-grandparents. Not all of us were there– in fact, this was mostly just one “branch” of the family, and a few “twigs”. We estimate that there are nearly 500 people who can claim the same ancestral “roots” from the same two people, and this “branch” contains over 250 of them! Once again, we don’t all look , or act, or think alike– some are tall, some are tattooed, some are old, some are newborns, some argue about college football teams, or politics. But we love each other, encourage each other, and many of us share our prayers and concerns and joys and pains. My great-grandparents (and all their children) left a legacy of love and faith that continues to influence and inspire the fourth, fifth and sixth generation to follow!

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When we pray for others, we are always praying for our family! Praying for our neighbors and classmates and co-workers– we are praying for family! Praying for our enemies, for strangers, for those who look and speak differently than us–We are praying for family! May God give us eyes to see and hearts to love our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, cousins and even the “long lost family members” and lift them up in prayer to the One who loves us and wants to bring us all into His family!

Hannah and Her Rival

Hannah is a Bible heroine. Her story is an inspiration to many women who suffer, whether from infertility, depression, or being misunderstood. Hannah is a popular girl’s name.
Peninnah, on the other hand, is a name you rarely hear today. No one wants to name their child after a bully, and a rival to a Biblical matriarch.

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As we read through the story in 1 Samuel, https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Samuel+1&version=NIV it seems hard enough that Hannah is barren. Especially as it is revealed that God is responsible for her condition. It seems unfair and harsh. But her trouble doesn’t end there. She has a rival–Elkanah’s other wife– who provokes, irritates, and taunts her, making her cry and keeping her in a state of anguish and stress. Peninnah has many children. She has reason to be joyful and proud. Yet she spends her time harassing and hurting Hannah, a woman who is already “beneath” her in society.

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Rivalries tend to bring out the worst in us. Catfights, gossip, taunting, undermining others–books, movies, and even TV series have been built on such pettiness. Whether rivals at school, rivals in romantic relationships, rivals in business, or rivals in our own inflated egos, we allow our world to be narrowed to focus on two people who don’t even exist! We magnify our rival’s faults, twist her motives, and hold grudges over what she “probably” meant when she said “that.” And we justify our overreactions, our grievances, and our tendency to see ourselves as innocent victims.

In the case of Hannah and Peninnah, their world was already small. They were sharing a husband and a household, and likely somewhat isolated from the kind of society with which we are familiar. We live in societies where polygamy is illegal and wives do not (generally) live together. Our families tend to live in single units of husband, wife, and children. However, we also live in a society where fidelity is becoming more rare. Marriages break down, couple break up, and “sharing” a husband, if not a household, is more common than we might admit. Even in divorce and remarriage, we may find a rival in our husband’s ex-wife, or our ex-husband’s new partner, or our partner’s ex-mother-in-law (or our current mother-in-law) or among our step-children.

Elkanah is not an innocent bystander in all this. We don’t know why he has two wives, and the Bible doesn’t say that Elkanah did NOT love Peninnah, but it makes a point of saying that Elkanah DID love Hannah (suggesting that he might have been indifferent to his other wife). Also, the Bible is silent about whether or not Elkanah was aware of the rivalry going on under his roof. He seems totally oblivious and largely absent. Even though he loves Hannah, he doesn’t take care to protect her from Peninnah’s spite.
Once again, we find parallels in our own situations– husbands who feel overwhelmed or blind-sided by the rivalries going on around them; husbands who ignore the firestorms; even men who revel in being the focus of so much attention.

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But, before we label Peninnah the great villain of this story (or turn our anger on Elkanah for letting their rivalry continue), let’s be careful not to rush to judgment. The Bible doesn’t call Peninnah a villain, merely a rival. It says that she provoked Hannah, and taunted her, and even made her cry. However, the story is focused on Hannah. Her reaction to this taunting was to do what so many of us do– to let it heap up on her and push her down into anguish. Hannah doesn’t fight back. But neither does she stand up to her rival. If Peninnah is trying to make Hannah feel worthless and depressed, she succeeds because Hannah allows herself to believe it.

I think there are several key lessons here, and I think God tells us the whole story because there He wants us to see these lessons.

  • Rivalries and conflicts WILL arise in our lives. We shouldn’t pretend otherwise or refuse to deal with them. If you have a rival in your life at this moment, stop and think of ways you can seek peace. Pray, reach out, seek help. This is especially important where children are involved. If you have a rivalry with in-laws, ex-spouses, your children’s step-parents, it WILL impact all your relationships. It will be the way your children learn to relate to others. Whether you are the “bully” or the “middle man” or the “doormat”, you have a responsibility to make an effort to restore harmony. You cannot change the other person, but you can (with God’s help) change the way you build your legacy. And God can change everyone involved.
  • While Hannah did well not to react to Peninnah with her own spite and malice, she let her rival “win” by saying and doing nothing. Jesus teaches us that we are not to ignore those who hate or despise us, but to love them and pray for them. Hannah could have offered to reach out to Peninnah and her children, but she remained isolated. Maybe that was because of Peninnah’s actions or bitterness, but the Bible doesn’t say that Hannah made any effort to end this rivalry, either. She didn’t seek help from her loving husband, and she didn’t seek help from her loving God until she was at the end of her rope.
  • Spite, malice, bitterness, or even self-righteousness (or whatever else may have prompted Peninnah’s nastiness) not only hurts others, it hurts us and blinds us to the opportunity to do good. Peninnah had many children and lived in the same household with Hannah. Instead of taunting her and causing her grief, she could have opened up her heart to allow for a happy, unified family. Peninnah’s hurtful actions are her legacy to every generation that reads this story. She may have been a wonderful mom, a talented women, a real beauty– but she will always be known as the rival who made Hannah miserable. Our actions, even in our own household, have eternal consequences. Small acts of pettiness and spite can follow us for the rest of our lives, destroying our reputations, and blotting out all our “good works”.
  • Our abilities, skills, talents, status, or fertility DO NOT define our worth. God closed Hannah’s womb– he never closed His heart toward her. He gave her a husband who loved her and provided for her. He kept his eyes on her until the time was right to bless her in a supernatural way. God had opened Peninnah’s womb, but she kept her heart closed, and bragged about her children as though she alone were responsible for them. God had provided Peninnah with a husband who provided for her and created a family with her. She had children and a secure home, and reason to sacrifice to God with thanksgiving, yet her focus, even during her visit to the tabernacle, stayed on destroying her rival.
  • What makes Hannah a heroine in this story is NOT the way she bears up under bullying. Even though she didn’t get sucked into anger and malice, she fell victim to despair and depression. Hannah’s victory comes ONLY after she turns everything over to God in prayer. Peninnah’s pettiness is crushed by God’s miraculous provision.
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May this be true in our lives, too– That we would turn to God, and replace bitterness, pettiness, pain and rivalry with His joy, fulfillment, and grace.

Pass It On

The county fair is on this week– seven days of community-wide activities, including, but not limited to:

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  • Carnival rides
  • Games
  • Concerts
  • Exhibits of home arts, fine arts, craft items, and locally grown produce
  • Carnival food booths– pulled pork, corn dogs, elephant ears, ice cream, sno-cones, cotton candy, caramel corn, sausages on sticks, fried cheese curds, fried veggies (with ranch dip), cinnamon buns, fruit slushes and “shake-ups”, pizza, steak wraps, fried rice, tamales and burritos, craft root beer, funnel cakes, popcorn, caramel apples, and so much more to choose from!

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  • Farm animals on display everywhere– pigs, chickens, cows, horses, ducks, geese, turkeys, goats, sheep, rabbits, pigeons, cats, a burro, an emu, and probably more that I missed–perhaps a mule or an alpaca!
  • Youth competitions for animal showmanship, arts and crafts, etc.
  • A quilting competition
  • Commercial and community booths featuring local businesses, churches, political groups, schools, and services
  • Tractor pulls, horse pulls, Motocross, a Demolition Derby, and a Monster Truck show
  • Free live entertainment venues
  • Antique and new tractors on display
  • People– lots of people…some of them who live in the area, and some who visit from neighboring counties and states.

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What does the County Fair have to do with prayer?  I suppose for some, there is no connection.  For me, there are two ways prayer goes hand in hand with the County Fair:

  • The local Fair is a long-standing tradition, tying the community together and celebrating its heritage and hope for the future.  All around the fairgrounds, there are banners and plaques honoring people who have given of their time and talent to this community– farmers, teachers, civic leaders, doctors, police officers, pastors, donors, veterinarians, business owners, parents, coaches, and helpers.  In each generation, people pass on their knowledge, enthusiasm, passion, and excellence to those who will use it, expand on it, modify it, and pass it along to others.  In the same way, prayer warriors of the past have inspired and led people to the knowledge and love of Christ– many of the names at the fair represent people who poured love into, and prayed for my generation.  They discipled, taught, cared for, and inspired me and so many others.   We don’t worship them as idols or honor them in place of God, but we honor the way God used their lives as examples for us to follow.  Even those who were not Christ-followers had talents and wisdom that they shared, and God used, to help others.  This is a tradition worth celebrating, remembering, and continuing.

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  • The County Fair is a great place to see people I know but don’t always get to talk to
    • Classmates from school I haven’t seen in ages.
    • “Children” (now grown with children of their own) I used to babysit.
    • Former students, from when I was a schoolteacher.
    • Former neighbors, friends of my family, and people I knew from the church I attended as a child.
    •  Family and extended family who still live in various parts of the county or surrounding counties.
    • People for whom I have been praying– because I have heard of their needs or seen an e-mail or FB post or talked to a concerned family member.
    • What an honor and a privilege to spend time (even a short minute or two) to catch up, encourage and be encouraged, or even share a smile or a memory!  I might meet up with someone who needs a hug, a simple assurance, or even an “on the spot” prayer.  I might also have the opportunity to reconnect, restore a relationship, or even meet a new friend.  In addition, I see exhibits with names of people I know– people I can be praying for with joy and gratitude for all that they mean or have meant in my life.

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I hope, for anyone reading this, that you can think of times or opportunities when you can connect, reconnect, or form connections with others in your community.  Think of ways others have challenged, inspired, or encouraged you.  Take a minute to lift them up in prayer, and, if you have the chance, to pass on (or back) some of what they have given you along the way.  Imagine what even the smallest connection can do to spread God’s love to others.

 

 

The Legacy of a Praying Father

My father was a quiet man.  He loved music, and jokes, and animals, and peaceful summer nights listening to crickets and sipping tea on the front porch.  My father was not a man of lengthy, eloquent prayers.  His prayers were often short, and sometimes punctuated with emotional tears.  But my father prayed.  He led our family in prayer and devotions; he prayed in church on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings.  He spent much time, head bowed, talking silently with his Savior.

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I spoke of a mother’s prayers last month, and they are important.  But fathers play a different role.  My mother’s prayers always seemed to wrap me in a cozy blanket of affection and hope.  My father prayers were more like an umbrella– spreading out over our family to seek God’s protection and grace.  Even if Dad’s voice wavered in prayer, his vocabulary was bold, filled with a rock-solid faith, and a deep sense of God’s power and wisdom ready to be poured out on our family.

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But the most lasting impression I have of my father’s prayers is that of Dad’s reverence for God.  I never, EVER, heard my father take the Lord’s name in vain.  (Not even when his favorite baseball team was losing– again!)  I never heard him express doubt of God’s care, His provision, or His wisdom.  He approached the throne of grace with awe and deep gratitude.  He never lost his sense of wonder at God’s creation, or his sense of awareness of and need for God’s mercy.

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We need men of prayer.  I am so grateful for a husband who prays– regularly, fervently, compassionately, and boldly.  What would happen in our world if more men prayed daily in the quiet of their homes or places of work?  Our society makes fun of men who pray on public platforms, praising themselves as much or more than they praise God.  It denigrates prayer as weakness and hypocrisy, but what if more men of faith led their families in daily prayer?  What if, with trembling voices, more men sought out wisdom and strength to meet the challenges they face, instead of putting on a brave but false face of independence and self-sufficiency?  What if, instead of excusing vulgarity and cursing, more men took the challenge to clean up their language and set better examples.

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If you know men of faith– take some time this weekend to let them know how much their good example means.  Encourage them to finish the race, to keep going, and to leave the kind of legacy that matters most.  And don’t forget to lift them up in prayer!

The Power of a Praying Mother

Mother’s Day is coming, and I wanted to say a few words about the mothers in my life and their legacy of prayer.  My Mom is a prayer warrior.  I blog about prayer, and I pursue a better prayer life, but my Mom is a seasoned soldier,  and the daughter of another mighty woman of prayer.  Most of what I know about prayer, I learned through the examples of my Mom and Gram, but I have also been blessed by the godly examples of my mother-in-law, sister and sisters-in-law, aunts, cousins, and many more.

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From my Mother, I learned to pray from the depths of my heart.  I have seen and heard her pray through pain, grief, and despair– not just her own, but more often that of someone else.  I have caught her holding back sobs over relatives and neighbors who don’t know or aren’t following Christ.  I’ve seen her pause in silent prayer over the plight of a person who is facing a lost job, or chemotherapy, or a migraine.  She very seldom offers to pray  aloud,”in the moment”, but she prays fervently, nonetheless.

 

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From my Grandmother, I learned to be patient and consistent in prayer.  Gram was quiet and unassuming, but she had an unshakable faith.  She prayed for years over situations that looked hopeless; often for people who or situations which never changed.  I asked her once how she kept from getting angry and frustrated.  She looked me straight in the eye and said, “We can’t change somebody else, and we can’t make them do what’s right.  That’s not our job.  Our job is to love each other, pray for each another, and let God deal with the rest.”  She died never seeing answers to some of what she prayed for, but that didn’t stop others from taking up the banner, and it never stopped her from earnestly and joyfully “taking it to the Lord in Prayer.”  She never gave up, never lost hope, and never stopped showing compassion.

 

There have been many other prayer warriors in my life– women (and men) of great faith who sought the Lord, and whose lives and words have had an unimaginable impact.  My family, members of my church family, classmates and friends from school or college, neighbors through the years…some of them have held my hand and prayed with me face-to-face; others have prayed on their knees in private; some have prayed for special needs and circumstances; others have prayed at the Holy Spirit’s prompting, never knowing why, but bowing in obedience.

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Praying mothers are a treasure.  If you have one, or had one, don’t underestimate the value of her example.  And don’t just say, “Thank you”…Pay it forward.  Pray for family, neighbors and friends.  Pray early, pray often, pray without ceasing.  We all need more praying mothers, fathers, cousins, neighbors, co-workers, etc.  If you did not have a praying mother, you have a golden opportunity to become that good example to someone else.  You also have the opportunity to adopt a prayer partner– a surrogate praying mother–to pray with you and for you.

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