No Upgrade Required

Your file is corrupted, your hard drive has failed, you reservation is lost, but God’s Word will never fail.

As I studied 1 Peter 1:3-4 tonight, the timeless relevance of God’s Word overwhelmed my heart. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. To an inheritance incorruptable and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.

Jesus poured out His lifeblood on the cross giving me an overwhelming, merciful promise of hope. That hope is living life eternal in Christ and through Him as a result of his sacrifice. That hope became living and breathing for me and for you, the moment Jesus Christ was risen from the dead.  You see, He poured out abundant mercy through His precious blood, when He died for me. Then, three days later, He was raised from the dead. It was at that moment that the hope of life everlasting, and the promise that God had fulfilled could never be corrupted. He says it is “incorruptable and undefiled and that does not fade away…”.

The mighty power of the shed blood of Jesus will never lose its charge or become unusable. No upgrade is required, and hope will always be eternal. Thank you Lord for the Cross.

Under Fire

I’ve been “under fire” in a major life’s storm for several months now. For a very long time, I focused my need for God to calm the storm. I was tired, battered, bruised, and ultimately broken by the end, yet never took time to consider the conditions that brought about such a cyclone. 
I looked at the person or people whose actions created the turmoil, but until tonight, I had not considered the root of the storm…sin. And it wasn’t just their sin, it’s is my sin too. The greatest blessing from having survived the violent winds and waves that pounded my life is that my endurance…persistence to survive, and drive to trust God to get me safely to shore will be rewarded by Him.  
My faith has grown, my trust in God to be my life-line is stronger than ever before, and my crown in heaven will show the reward of my commitment to the finish line…God’s finish line for me. Yes, there will be more storms in my life, for while in the flesh, I battle against sinful temptation. Yet while in this race called life, the storms will refine my character and teach me to walk a little more like JESUS each day.

He is my God

Nahum 1:1-5…God displays His mighty power. He alone is God. There can be no other. Idols before God make you His enemy. He will pour out His judgement upon you if you do not seek Him.  
My God is powerful…so powerful that the mountains quake and the hills melt away; so powerful that upon His command, the ocean and rivers become dry. Yet, His is patient…slow to anger. My God is jealous for time spent with me. I should desperately desire time with Him. His mighty power is displayed in tornadoes, hurricanes and storms. He loves me with that very same intensity of power. 
My God is bigger than any problem I may face. He is so big that the clods in the sky are simply the dust from His feet as He walks. That power! That mercy! That grace! That is…He is my God! 

A Pearl of Trust

Do you remember being a kid and playing the trust game with friends? I can remember turning my back to my friends and having to trust that they would catch me when I blindly began to fall backward. I also recall never being able to fully trust that my friends would catch me. I think it was the snickering from behind me that cause me to lack trust. There was something about their behavior that made this chick lack trust that they really would catch me.

Trust is a powerful word. It’s also multifaceted; trust is both a feeling and an action. Not only is it felt deep within your heart, but also resides in the mind. It’s about believing…knowing with certainty that someone will do what they say they will do. Trust can make and break relationships. I believe that is exactly why God placed this “pearl of wisdom” immediately following virtue.

Yesterday we strung our first “pearl”…virtue, onto the strand of wisdom each one of us should wear as godly wives. Virtue is all about being a woman of strong moral character. She is connected to God, intelligent, and capable. It is those traits that are rolled together to create the pearl of virtue, and in turn make a woman incredibly valuable to her husband. Today’s “pearl of wisdom” goes on to explain why virtue is so important.

Pearl two is all about trust. “The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain.” (Proverbs 31:11) A wife who is trustworthy provides her husband a firm confidence that his wife will do what is right. She is a faithful woman, both to God and to him. In his ability to trust, he will never lack anything of value in his life.  Why? Because trust is the most valuable ingredient in any marriage. Trust means that her husband can have confidence in her moral character. He knows with certainty she will always be truthful, faithful, and that she desires is to enrich his life.

My God is mighty and faithful. I can trust Him at all times. In my life it is my desire that my husband feels the same about me. I want him to know that he can always trust me.  Trust provides a sense of security for him, and a confidence that any decision I make for our family always has his best interest at heart. Yes, I’m not perfect. Yes I mess up and sometimes drop the ball, or burn the biscuits, but because of the way I live my life my husband always knows that I do my very best to be like Jesus, and that he can confidently trust me.  Oh, and when I do happen to burn the biscuits, he incredibly forgiving about ordering pizza because he knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that it wasn’t intentional…because I take pleasure in being faithful to him.

 

Pearls of Virtue

Reflection can come in many ways. Today I found myself reflecting on my parents’ marriage and my upbringing. Mom is one strong lady. She endured so many years of control and abuse, and yet is an amazing, strong, virtuous woman. As I went to my Bible tonight for study, God led me back to Proverbs 31 with a new goal…reflecting on pearls of virtue.

Pearls are something that every woman typically owns. Whether authentic and expensive, or imitation and cost-effective, that are beautiful. Pearls have always been a sign of purity, class, elegance and beauty to me. Simple but beautiful, pearls can adorn nearly any attire. They make a statement…just like the pearls God left for women in Proverbs 31:10-31.

I sat down with my Bible, a notebook, my colored pens, and my Bible Gateway app on my phone. I absolutely love using that app when I study because it allows me to look at other versions of the passages I am studying, in turn helping me to better comprehend God’s message for me. So, tonight it made sense to begin at the beginning. Verse 10.

“Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies.” (Proverbs 31:10 NKJV). I’ve read this verse many times before, but tonight I decided to break it down even further. It was time to look at the meaning of virtuous.  You see, over the years I found myself somewhat intimidated by the idea of being a Proverbs 31 wife. I did not bake my own bread, cook elaborate meals, or sew my own clothes. For some reason, my mind always took me to those places and continually made me feel inadequate as a wife. For some reason tonight, as I considered Mom starting over in life on her own, I found myself wanting to be sure that my dear husband was getting the wife that he deserves. Reflecting made me think about the legacy that I would want to leave for him, and our son if God calls me home before my hubby.

So, I put my pen to paper and wrote out Proverbs 31:10; first in the New King James Version (NKJV), then in the New Living Translation (NLT), next in the Amplified version (AMP), and finally in the New International Version (NIV). As I began to compare the versions, virtue stood out to me…what did virtue really mean? There it was…a shining pearl of wisdom in God’s word. Morally excellent. Being a virtuous woman suddenly wasn’t at all intimidating. It had absolutely nothing to do with baking bread or washing clothes with homemade detergent. It is all about being moral! In order to be a virtuous wife, step one is to be a woman with moral excellent. A woman who is spiritual, capable, intelligent, strong, and has worth.

Tonight, I can put pearl number one down with excitement and enthusiasm. Why? Because being virtuous is attainable! It’s truly about being a woman who does her best to obey God, live like Jesus, honors and loves her husband…and does all with her whole heart.

As I look at my sweet husband’s handsome face tonight, my heart is warm and full.  Every time I think about him or see him I feel that way. Yep, he’s a pretty special guy. Tonight, there’s an added warmth to my full heart, it’s the pride I can feel as I reflect on the wife I have been, and the wife I strive each and every day to be…knowing that through God I’m doing the very best I can to be virtuous. Pearl one is in my crown, and being that Proverbs 31 woman isn’t so intimidating after all.

Tomorrow…pearl #2.

Newness of Spring

Warm weather finally found its way to North Mississippi, just in time. It had nothing to do with Mother Nature, or the movement of the earth, and everything to do with God’s message for me on this beautiful spring day.  Sunshine brightly washed over our screen porch, and a warm breeze stirred as our clowder of cats sat upon their favorite warm weather perches.  As I stood in the doorway, God put a message upon my heart that will forever change my perspective of spring.

Today is a new day. After months of supporting Mom in caring for Dad during his final battle with cancer, and his passing on Sunday, God sent me a message on this new day.  He sent me a message about Spring.

Let me back up just a few months to December. Each year, beginning in December, I pray that the Lord will provide me a word by which to live for the coming year. It’s not a new years resolution, rather it’s a word on which to focus…study, and live by. This year was no different from the last several. I began praying for God to show me my word. Of course our mighty God provided a word for me, just as He always does. 2017 would be “Grow”.

The word grow can mean many different things for different people. For me, this was my first full year as Women’s Ministry Director in our church. I assumed grow was going to be in relation to ministry. Never could I have seen the other way God would use the word “Grow” to speak to my heart, and to change my life.

During the months Dad was ill, I often found myself being stretched in many different directions. God was stretching me. He would lead me outside of my comfort zone, and teach me to grow in ways I hadn’t before imagined. Then, came March 19, 2017…the day my Dad passed from this life. It was the last day of winter. The last day of a season…or so I would discover when I awoke the next morning.

March 20, 2017 marked the first day of Spring. The day that God would send me a message that would forever change my life. You see, late on the 19th, I spent time in study and prayer. I needed God to comfort my heart. There were so many emotions rolling around as I processed the reality that a chapter of my life had ended. God provided me several scripture passages as a precursor to His message for me.  Each one speaking deeply to the corners of my heart.

“In the same way I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born,” (Isaiah 66:9) began to speak to my heart. God was telling me that He would never allow the pain that I had experienced in my life to happen without a purpose. His purpose was something new…a new beginning. Immediately following my time in Isaiah God led me to 2 Corinthian 5:17. I’m not sure how I ended up there. Clearly it was His divine plan. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new.” There was the message of newness again. This time new was accompanied by the message that the old has passed away, and before me was something new. But God wasn’t finished yet.

Back to Isaiah God led me. Right to Isaiah 43:19. I’d never read it in the way that I did this time. “Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” There it was! It was so clear. God’s message to me was one of rejoicing for He had a plan that came right down to the very day he ended the battle.

It would be about spring, newness, and growing! You see, God ended the battle on the last day of winter. He ended the battle on the very last day of a season. Then my almighty God provided me a new season of life…on the very day the Spring, a new season, would begin. Spring is a time of newness, rebirth, and growth. There it was! “GROW!” Yes, the old life had passed away, the battle had ended, and a new season of life was springing forth. A new season of growth, and of rebirth as Mom and I would begin to navigate life without Dad. This new season would be about growing in God.

It will take time to adjust, and time to heal. Just like a new baby, time is necessary for that baby to grow. Oh, but when that new-born baby springs forth, everything is fresh and new. It was on the first day of Spring this year, God met me at the end of the roadway He had created for me to navigate the wilderness, and He was showering me…and Mom, with a new season. A season in which we can GROW.

It Seems Surreal

It seems so surreal. There was a battle going on for his soul right in front of our eyes.  The enemy fought hard and this side of eternity, we will never know the true results. Yes, we can speculate. Maybe the sunlight that washed over his face after he took his final breath was a sign from God above. Be it a signal of his salvation, or a sign that the enemy within was defeated by the mighty power of God…one day we will know.

The battle for his soul was waged long ago. Nearly 80 years ago a baby boy was born, and the battle for his soul began between our almighty God and the enemy. The enemy fought hard in the battle of circumstances that unfolded in his life…Dad’s life.  Yet one way or another God would be victorious. He always will.

Dad, who is by birth my step-father but in life the only father I ever knew, faced his share of difficulties in life. Abandoned by his father at a young age, and left to survive the depression era, life was not easy as a young boy.  Granny remarried a sweet man who faced a battle of his own in his lifetime. Grandpa had polio. For my entire life I recall him always walking with crutches. His poor body had been crippled from the disease. I remember him to be a kind, old, white-haired man; they called him “The Great White Father.” Grandpa stepped in with Granny and raised the kids as his own; Dad and his two sisters. Before long, a new little brother joined the family. Life was all that life could be for a family with four children 70 years ago.  That is a story for another time.

Dad’s life wasn’t tragic at this point, rather just more confusing for a young boy. Why had his father left? I believe he always somehow blamed himself. Even up until nearly two short years ago, Dad still wondered why his father had left; even greater was his wonder of how he died. Some things will never be known.

Dad married young, and had a little boy. By this time in life, his need for control and apparent addictive and abusive personality was already showing itself.  The battle was raging within. His marriage ended, and along the way Dad and his son Jeffery moved on.  I remember the stories of how he used to beat Jeffery with a belt. How most certainly he would have been charged with abuse in this day and age. Then something changed.

Along the way Dad met a woman, Susie. I really can’t tell you what she was truly like, for he had put her upon a pedestal speaking rarely of her unless it was a Memorial Day or Christmas. It was then that we set out to adorn her grave with flowers. Never in his life could he ever truly get beyond her passing.  She became ill with cancer and she too left his life. In the midst more tragedy, Jeffery became ill with leukemia and passed away at the age of 6. I’m not sure which came first, the passing of Jeffery or that of Susie, but the reality is this; The battle for his soul raged on. The enemy striking deeply at his heart…and Dad began to press the door to Christ closed…more and more tightly.  His father, his first marriage, his son and his wife. Blow after strategically positioned blow the enemy pounded at the door to Dad’s heart. More and more tightly Dad pounded it closed. Would he open it for Jesus?

Lost, angry and hurting he continued to seek the life he so desperately desired. Happily ever after seemed forever elusive, as an apparent alcohol addiction and explosive temper was taking hold of  his life.  Maybe one day happy would be found. One day it was, or so it appeared.  In some time he met a woman who herself had come from a difficult background, one shrouded in fear, tragedy, and brokenness. This story is one on which I can most accurately narrate. For this woman is my mother, and soon the man would become my step father.

The only father I knew fought with anger, addiction, and an overwhelming desire to control every possible thing in his life. Yes, the story is dark and the story is long. Too long for this time, but one day you may desire to hear it.  It is filled with war. Spiritual war that was waged by our mighty and loving God; against a powerful, evil and deceitful enemy. A war that Mom and I watched through 42 years. A war that in the final weeks became so very apparent.

Today, just 53 days before his 80th birthday, Dad’s war finally ended as he took his final breath on this earth. The journey has been tumultuous and dark, sprinkled with cracked rays of light shining through some of the darkest days. Today as his shriveled and ever so fragile body finally succumbed to several months of  battle between mind, body and soul…the mind desperate to control its destiny finally would be defeated by the beast the cancer had become.

The sun washed beautifully over the trees as the warmth of the day reflected in the accumulation from the recent snowstorm. It shone strikingly through the windows, casting a warm glow to a body soon to be returned to the state in which it began. As his breathing labored loudly, he struggled for his final breath. The sun disappeared; perhaps behind the clouds or perhaps taking a breath before the final blow in the battle. The room suddenly turned so cold that the nurse adorned her jacket. And then it came. Calm. Stillness. Quiet. At last the journey was finally done. The battle had come to an end.

Moments ticked away as the nurse watched and waited; checking to see if the time truly had finally come. As she confirmed it was in fact his final breath, sun broke through the skylight above. A sunbeam gently washing his face. Did it mean that he had surrendered to God in his final hours, or was God promising us that the battle was won; His mighty strength, power and mercy will always win. For He alone is God.

As I close my eyes tonight filled heartache and a flurry of emotions, I remember God’s promise found in His word. “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven” a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plan, and a time to pluck what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4). Today is in fact a time to mourn, but even in the tears I find laughter and in the mourning there too is a time to dance.  For God, “He has made everything beautiful in its time…”(Ecclesiastes 3:11a).

 

He Goes Before Me

I’m not exactly sure when it happened, when the reality of His never-failing presence truly settled into my soul. I’ve always remembered, “Be strong and courageous” and “do not fear”. Yes I’ve read “He will not leave you nor forsake you” a bazillion times before, but this time it was different.  This time it became more real than anything ever before in my study time. This time, it became true.

As Dad is spending his final days…maybe even hours on this side of eternity, I began to grasp for God to speak to me. Why is he lingering so? Why is he continuing to deny he is dying? And the biggest why of them all; why is a dying man…a man obviously on his death-bed, unable to communicate or move, why is he continuing to refuse Christ as his Savior?

My heart is so confused by all of the emotions swirling around my soul. No, not because I’m loosing my Dad. Truth is, we didn’t have a great relationship. Dad was a lifelong, mentally abusive man. It’s all I had ever known for the last 42 years of my life. And yes, there were times I prayed God would just take him. But God never answered that prayer, at least not in my time. Yet one thing I never did was pray that God would inflict this degree of suffering on the man who raised me. Even now, my heart breaks to know that he hurts so profoundly.

I found that the only way to walk through this journey in life…this storm speeding headlong for me was through God. It is only in Him and through Him that I can find strength and courage to stand facing the wind as the power of the storm batters my tired body.  “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them, for the Lord your god, He is the one who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6-8)

I read over it just like I have so many times before, and then the mighty power of the Holy Spirit yanked hold me and forced me to see! “Yes child! Read it again!” I could hear that small still voice…God’s voice strong and steadily commanding me to read it again, and this time, listen. Back to Deuteronomy 31, and there is was…verse 6, “He will not leave you or forsake you.” Verse 8, “…He will not leave you nor or forsake you, do not fear nor be dismayed.” It washed over me like a tidal wave. He will not leave…me.

Right there in verse 8 was the reality of what I had been needing…what I was seeking during this storm in life. I was not to be dismayed…shaken. God spoke it clearly to me as I watched the words on the page jump off at me. “Tonya, there is no reason for you to be shaken. I put your feet on solid ground. I go before you, I stand behind you, I walk beside you. I have hemmed you in my child; I will never leave you.”

No matter how many times in my life I’ve felt unworthy, worthless, or alone, I never have been. Not for one solitary moment! Just as God freed the Israelites from bondage and led them through the wilderness, He has done and continues to do, the same for me. He is my protector, so there is no reason to ever fear. He is my strength, so courage is a gift from Him. He is my protector.  I keep saying it over and over because it’s new; sort of like the new Easter dress that I would twirl the skirt in as a little girl. New and exciting, satisfying, beautiful…He will never, He has never left me.

I may not see God in the form of a pillar of smoke by day, and a pillar of fire by night like the Israelites did was they wandered the wilderness, but He leads me.  On this side of eternity I may never have the answers to the “why” questions with which I’ve showered my Heavenly Father, but one thing is certain. He is my Shepherd. Just as the shepherd brings out his sheep, opens the gates for them to guide their paths, and leads them along the right path in John 10:2-1, God does the very same thing for me today…and every day. Forever. How do I know? Quite simply because my Abba told me so.

 

The Sweetest of Fruit

God’s children are known to the world by their fruit. When the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our heart and soul, what should be visible is fruit. Specifically fruit of the Holy Spirit. This comes in the form of unselfish and unrestrained love for fellow man. 

Joy…abounding from the soul. Not only in the good times, but also in life’s storms. Joy that comes only from God. These are accompanied by a soul filled with peace, which is evident even to those outside looking in. So many more “fruits” are to be harvested when the Holy Spirit lives in us. Patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. When we abide in the life changing power of the Holy Spirit, all of these fruits grow, producing a human spirit that is nurtured by the Holy one. 

 Are you living in His Spirit? Are you walking in it daily? Is there evidence of such beautiful fruit when another looks at you? That fruit sets us apart from all others. Can you taste the sweetness of the fruit of the Holy Spirit? If not, maybe it’s time to sit in the garden with Him and let Him water your garden with Living Water. Cultivate your relationship with Him. Only then will you enjoy endless bushels of Spirit filled fruit.

Thoughts from my study time in Galatians 5:22-23

Sticks and Stones

Wounded deep to the pit of my soul, that’s how I spent most of my life. The tongue is a deadly weapon dear sister.  It pierces deeply, leaving gaping wounds that sometimes never heal. In one swipe, it can bring a woman to her knees.  In one stinging attack, a woman may melt away…broken.

I remember the rhyme from my childhood, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  Oh how wrong that was.  Broken bones will heal. Broken hearts…that’s a whole different story.  As a woman who spent more than 40 years dodging the fiery bullets fired by my stepfather’s assault tongue, I was broken deeply. Burned…often feeling like a pile of smoldering ash. I was certain my soul would never heal, and I was convinced I really didn’t deserve for it to anyway.  Then a decade ago Jesus came storming into my life pouring out His Living Water on the fire that burned in my heart.  He put out the flames of pain, hurt, and guilt. Mighty Jesus provided this parched woman a drink that would forever change my life.  A drink of Living Water.

Finally, the painful fire was extinguished and I began to live again.  No longer was my soul a cracked desert land, for Jesus had forever quenched my thirst. Yes, I think about the life I lived in abuse…more so right now as I navigate this time of life. Dad is in his final days of life in hospice care…lost.  Somehow I look at him and feet pity for him. Somehow the fire in my soul has lost its flame. There he lays bed-ridden day after day, barely clinging to life. A life that was filled with lostness, anger, bitterness and countless hurts.  A life spent hurting the ones he loves by wielding his mighty weapon of choice…the tongue. My heart is confused. Joy comes from the end of a horrible storm in my life, and yet horrible pain…pity comes from knowing where he will spend eternity.

My soft heart comes only from a place of forgiveness that God poured upon my soul. The reality is bleak. Unless Dad cries out to Jesus in his final days, his eternity will be spent in hell…thirsty. Eternally thirsty. What a horrible thought.

Much of my quiet time is now spent in prayer seeking God to comfort Mom and me. Sometimes begging God to stop the suffering for us all. Yes, I even question God about His purpose for this storm in life. I know it is not for me to know or understand, and yet my humanity still questions. God still answers.

Today I opened my Bible to Psalm 39. God called me there for an intimate time of study with Him. I didn’t know it when we began, but my how He opened my eyes today.  Stop complaining jumped into my mind as God tells me to “guard my ways.”(v.1) “I will restrain my mouth with a muzzle”(v.1) illustrates how strong the lock on the weapon…the tongue, must be placed.  Yet David, the writer of this Psalm, points out that while he was silent, his heart was in turmoil, “…hot within me.”(v.2) How many times has my heart done the same? I ducked as the tongue fired round after round of its assault, but I did not escape injury. My heart was full of fire, I was ready to wage my own attack.

David realizes that his time on earth is brief, “Lord make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my days.”(v.4) He says what I now say everyday…”God, help me to pick my battles. For life is too short to be consumed by anger.” I never owned that reality for myself…my own soul, until Jesus poured His Living Water upon my soul. When He quenched the flame, I saw the reality…life on earth truly is a vapor. I assuredly am simply a traveler passing through this earthly life.

The joy abounds when David says in verse 7 ,” …My hope is in You. Deliver me from all my transgressions; Do not make the reproach of the foolish.” My only hope is in Christ Jesus. He is the one who can rescue me from all of my sins, saving me from the mocking of foolish people. The mocking of lost people…even my Dad. No, that rescuing me from mocking may not be on this earth, but that’s ok because this life passes in a blink. Rather, Jesus has rescued me from the hurt of sinful man for my eternity. He has forgiven me for my sins, and has shown me how to forgive others who have hurt me because no longer can I have that fire in my soul. No longer can I allow a my soul to burn with fire.

My life on this earth isn’t perfect. No, I still live in flesh and sin. I may even continue to use my tongue as a weapon at times, even though I know far better than to do so. But my Lord will forgive me when I call to Him. He will quench the fire of my soul.

I have forgiven Dad for the attacks on my heart with that fiery tongue for so many long years. Jesus provided the path for forgiveness. Today my heart hurts for Dad as he faces eternity consumed by fire, forever separated from his family. Most importantly forever separated from God. I pray he mighty finally cry out to God. Thankfully, my wounded soul has cooled, and God has pieced together my broken soul, I pray that Dad’s heart will change. I pray that his suffering will end. Most of all, I pray that he can experience the amazing quenching the Living Water provides to a dry and weary soul.

Thank you Lord for saving me. Help me Lord to put away the deadliest of weapons…my tongue.