The Special Tree

The last day of school before adjourning for the Christmas holidays was always a time of both joy and sadness for our family of five. As a poor family, we didn’t have money for a Christmas tree or gifts. Other families concerned themselves with holiday baking, decorating and gift buying. Many of our school mates and neighbors would be traveling near and far to visit family, while our journey was in our home.

Even though our holiday was simple and barren, we always found pleasure in the spirit of the season. For a couple years, our dad, a part-time janitor for the local school system searched the dumpsters for a discarded tree; left behind by a teacher and students departing for the holidays. On one particular Christmas when Dad arrived home with our “re-cycled” tree, it was perfect. Dad had searched for the tallest tree, but this one was special. It was laden with glistening tinsel.

For several years, our traditional Christmas holidays included a trip to local roadside trees for a “mistletoe hunt.” Dad loaded us three children into the car, ladder in tow and off we went. When locating the tree with the most mistletoe, Dad retrieved the ladder from the car. Ascending the ladder rung by rung, each of us giggled with glee. This fresh mistletoe would be the finishing touch to our holiday décor. There were no bright lights in our windows, glowing candles atop our tables or joyous carols playing in our house, but we had a tree and mistletoe, brimming with love.

It was my task as the eldest child to bake our Christmas cookies. Because our pantry consisted primarily of government commodities; creativity was paramount. I didn’t have fancy-colored nonpareils to make the cookies glisten or chocolate morsels and nuts to create chewy and delectable candies.  However, because our family lived humbly, we cherished the smallest blessings of life; including recycled trees, freshly harvested mistletoe and plain homemade sugar cookies.

With the house decorated and the cookies baked, we lacked only one Christmas tradition; the annual play. As the eldest, I commandeered my younger siblings to present this as our gift to our parents for as long as they would tolerate the annual reenactment of the greatest gift. We would drape ourselves in tattered bathrobes and towels, using our frayed wicker laundry basket as the manger. My favorite doll was baby Jesus, while the three of us children portrayed Joseph, Mary and one “lone” shepherd. Because we had no friends or family to share in the joys of Christmas, this time of recalling the birth of our Lord brought special meaning to our family of five.

The memory and reminiscence of previous holidays is a treasure I cherish. Whether alone, as many of my Christmases are or with friends, there is warmth and gratitude for the most beautiful gift ever given.

NIV John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

It’s Just a Day

How often have you heard, it’s just a day? But is it really? Is it merely twenty-four hours on your calendar of days, weeks and months of the year?

For most of us that is indeed true. Yet, how often have we had those days that impact us for the remainder of our lives? When we were children those “big days” were monumental; birthdays, holidays and perhaps even family vacations, but then we became adults and those days were fewer.

Most of you reading this blog today, recall those days which became historical; assassination of our President, bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, 911 and countless natural disasters.  The list of days which impact us forever is lengthy. However, whereas some of those have made our lives more inconvenient due to all the new polices and regulations as a result of the actions of others, they may not directly affect us, nor change the person we are.

What about those days in our lives that changed us forever? Do you recall the day you had your first kiss? That was a normal moment in time for the world, but for you, it caused you to realize you were now on the threshold of becoming an adult. Your parents and grandparents kissed your innocent little faces when you were children. You might even have had a kiss on the cheek from a fellow classmate as a younger child, but oh the memories of that first “real” kiss!

Now you were dating and in time would find that “one” to spend the remainder of your life with.   Do you recall the day you were asked to become someone’s mate? Marriage was never “just a day. It changed you for the remainder of your life. You were a spouse and as God planned, two became “one.”

 Death or divorce may have ended that marital union, but it could never erase that day. You were eternally linked to that person. It became a part of the person you are today, whether a few months or many years you were a husband or a wife.

For those reading this whom are parents, that day is indelible on your hearts and lives. The joy when your children became one of your family will never be “just a day.” Whether those children remained in your lives can’t alter you were their parent. Becoming a parent is permanent. It isn’t “just a day.”

What about those days you aren’t experiencing some of these colossal occurrences? Is it “just a day?” You can make each day a memorable one, even if they don’t permanently change the person you are. You can sincerely make each day more than just passing hours.

Share your smile everywhere you go. We’ve all heard that we don’t know what others are enduring. Your smile may be their only ray of “sonshine” for that day. Offer a helping hand wherever you can. It can be as small as picking up litter which has blown into a neighbor’s yard. It makes your day special when you opt to make your hours more than “just a day.” NIV Romans 14:6 “whoever regards one day as special does so to Lord…”

How Are You Finishing?

As our pastor spoke of finishing well I wondered how often we are akin to Paul, the focus of Pastor Chuck’s sermon. Paul was not always faithful to God. Paul criticized God and mocked Him. But then! He came to know God and was a faithful and loyal teacher of His words and life. As Pastor Chuck shared of Paul’s final days of life, Paul was concerned about his friends, not himself. As Paul walked to his death, alone and naked preparing to be beheaded, he had no regrets. God was walking with him.  Paul was “finishing well.”

Did we stumble and fall along the way? Whether our finish is with a family, marriage, career or any interest we may have, did we finish well? Did we give our best efforts to the conclusion? Were we concerned about those we might have offended or emotionally hurt?  I was recently visiting with a friend that shared how anger and hatred had been removed from previous relationships; that the “hatchet” was buried and forgiveness was paramount. Hurt feelings had been put aside so they could enjoy one another, making memories and “finishing well.”

Has a friend or family sought your forgiveness, but you not only refused their request, you don’t even have the courtesy to acknowledge them? Were you terminated from a career position and you have remained bitter and angry? Did you enter a sports competition or race and were not the victor, but  you carry a grudge against those that won?  You were unable to “finish well.”

Finishing well doesn’t mean winning. It doesn’t always mean we receive our desired outcome. How did we accept the conclusion? Can we smile when our hearts are breaking? Can we be kind to others that treated us rudely? Can we be courteous to the colleague that was promoted when we believed it should have been us?

I wasn’t always so accepting of God’s plans for my life. I was jealous and envious of others that seemed to “have it all” while I struggled with the basic needs of life. As a teen, I often wondered why my classmates had parents that supported, cherished and accepted them. Yet, I had parents who more readily criticized than accepted.

When I graduated from high school and entered college, I envied those that didn’t have to work multiple jobs to pay for their college expenses. As a new bride, I wondered why I didn’t a husband that spent time with me, loved me and gave the attention as my friends had from their husbands.  If I had grasped those early jealousies, I would never have been able to come to the latter chapter of my life, preparing to “finish well.”

Life has been arduous and brought many unexpected elements, but like Paul, I have no regrets I’ve followed God and trusted His ways. NKJ, 2 Timothy 4:7,” I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Gratitude for a Storm

Dear Readers:

I have previously shared some of my sorrows and in doing so have allowed you to know, I have many frailties.  BUT TO GOD I give all the glory. For without Him, I could not make it.

You know of my long strife to sell my home in Oklahoma and finally move to Texas.  I have shared of moving in and out of hotels while trying to locate a home in this extraordinarily inflated and competitive real estate market. I have bid on countless homes, each time offering the recommendation of my realtor, but losing the bid. Thus, I wait; living out of a small suitcase-praying that God will grant me peace during this extensive and challenging storm of my life.

The clouds rolled in nine years ago when I found myself alone and bewildered. Then when I learned the rationale for the abandonment, the thunder roared and the rain fell. The storm would grow more and more intense. Yet God reminded me He was right there with me.

As I opened one of my devotions recently, it “spoke to me” and was too valuable to not impart to you, my readers. These words caused me to pause, knowing that some day when I have resumed some aspect of normalcy to my life, I will recall this storm was also a time of renewal; a time to be wrapped in the blanket of God’s love.

As Chuck Swindoll shared, “Father, we all have hopes and aspirations. We all have dreams. And though there is nothing wrong with these, how easy it is to be driven by them. How easy it is to feel that if our dreams don’t come true, we’ve somehow not been loved by You…We acknowledge before You that this life is not about us or our expectations.

Thank You that You never miss a person. When it’s time for promotion, You won’t be late. When it’s time for rewards, You won’t forget… we bow before Your mighty throne. We acknowledge that You’ve been good to us… You’ve cared for us when we’ve been careless. You’ve loved us when we’ve been terribly unloving, and You’ve met our needs when we didn’t even stop to think about what we ought to be giving to You and Your work…We ask this so that we might become for You messengers whose message makes sense because our lives are like Your Son’s life—the One who is gentle and humble of heart.” (Chuck Swindoll)

When the storms of our life pass and the “son” shines, we can truly see “more clearly.” We can see the areas of our lives that needed the nourishment from the rain-those weakened spots in our lives that needed to be covered with clouds for a while, so we would not be burned by the strong rays of Satan. We will understand the storm was the greatest gift we could have been given. Psalm 121:7 NIV, “the Lord will keep you from all harm-he will watch over your life.”

Who’s In Charge ?

Anna Jarvis of Philadelphia, whose mother had organized women’s groups to promote friendship and health, originated Mother’s Day. On May 12, 1907, she held a memorial service at her late mother’s church in Grafton, West Virginia. Within five years virtually every state was observing the day and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson recognized Mother’s Day as a national day of honoring mothers-and so we honored our mothers yesterday.

Mother’s Day is celebrated in countless ways. For some mothers these are days of joy and festivity with their family. For others, they are melancholy and remorseful; reminders of the children they desired but were unable to conceive or children they conceived but are no longer a part of their lives through death or estrangement. Some mothers reared children alone without the fathers of those children. The stories of each mother and her child/children are as diverse as the individuals.

How poignant when our pastor’s sermon on Mother’s Day, was not directed to mothers, but to parents. We know God’s plan is there should not be a child without both a mother and a father. Today was not a tribute to mothers or fathers, but to families. I was grateful and appreciative our pastor recognized that sometimes addressing such a day while focusing on mothers and their children can be emotionally painful.

The Pastor reminded all parents of the responsibility each has in rearing the children and of making a Christ centered home joyful and peaceful. No, not a perfect home-there can not be such when each person in the household has an earthly and sinful nature.  A Godly home is one in which the father chooses to lead the family as Christ leads the church, while the members of the family love and care for one another

Pastor T. also borrowed Dr. Dobson’s additional requirements for a successful marriage and home; the fathers treat the mothers with tenderness and kindness, while the mothers grant the fathers respect and esteem. It is far more important for children to see love from one parent to the other than for parents to provide children with a luxurious and affluent life. Will a child honor a parent who provided them wealth, but never love or will they cherish the parent that didn’t have a lot of prosperity, but gave them boundless devotion and support?

I was reared in an abusive and poor home. Yet, the poverty would have never been a concern had there been love and encouragement from my parents. The deprivation of needs was exacerbated with the chronic, physical abuse. Children are resilient, but love is an essential component for that child’s success throughout life.

As I’ve observed my adult children with their families, I’ve been proud of the traits from their upbringing they brought to their children, but sorrowful for the situations they deemed unworthy of passing on to their own family. Some say it takes a village to rear a child. No, it takes the desire of parents allowing God to lead to rear the children. Who is in charge of your family? Proverbs 22:6 KJV, “train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Walk or Sink?

After arranging my clothes in my suitcase, re-shuffling the few groceries I brought, I settled back on the sofa in the hotel, watching Sleepless In Seattle for the seventh or eighth time, perhaps more. When I spent hours in prayer asking God to remove me from His waiting room of trying to sell my house, little did I know He had another waiting room. This waiting room consists of being homeless.

I came from a deflated real estate market to a war, the war of bidding on already inflated prices. I see-I bid-I pray-I wait and now after several lost bids, I continue to pray and wait! But God! How often have I shared, “but God” knows and He remains in control. I’m always reminded as I read devotions and hear sermons on the times we feel God has forgotten us, He has not. He is always near and He truly does hear us.

As with the “now history” of showing my house more times than I can count, promised offers which never came or even those offers which were insultingly low, that part of my life is now history, as this “homeless” stage will be too when God brings me a house. This period alone has allowed me to spend time with my daughter and her family which was seldom and infrequent before moving to Texas. I’ve been able to hug those now young adult grandsons, as they came home from college, also to savor the joys and daily life of my grandchildren still living at home.

I’ve had time to participate in outings with car enthusiasts and frilly cowgirls, which I would not have been able to do, had I been busy settling into a new home. But most of all over these past years of trials, I have learned to “be still and know” that God is there, and He is always in charge of my life.

I chuckled silently during the recent sermon when the pastor spoke about keeping our eyes on the Lord when He directs us to do something. Just think about Peter-he took his eyes off the Lord and began sinking. Thus, I’m too tired, weary to “sink”, so I must keep my eyes on the Lord.

Do you ever find yourself in times like this when you say, “but God, why?” Why does Sally have a life filled with such joy? Why does Joe seem to be blessed and successful? Why do the Smiths have such a happy marriage? These “but God why’s” can cause us to sink. I do not understand the situations of my life, but I do know for certain that God is in charge.

I look forward to the day I can write in my blog, I have a new address. Until then, God said “come here Jane” and I’m following, not looking down or saying “Oh God, the storm is raging.” For if I did, I might sink. Psalm 46:10 NIV, “He says, Be still and know that I am God…”

You Have An Offer

“So here I am to worship; Here I am to bow down. Here I am to say that You’re my God.”  These were the words from this song touching my heart and lips today, as God was filling my “blessing basket.”  I have shared in my previous blogs, I have prayed and trusted God for almost five years, for a buyer for my home. I’ve had countless realtors and some way too-low offers, but I knew God would sell my home in His time.

I previously shared the words of my pastor, “we can’t change God’s plans and we certainly can’t stop Him when He begins His work.” A couple months ago, I felt God’s hand beginning to work when I sold my much-loved China cabinet.  I realized when God provided me a new home, it would be smaller than my current and the beautiful piece of furniture would be too large. As with my home, it had taken awhile to sell. The buyer was thrilled, as was I. I was sad to see it leave, as it was a part of many family holidays and special occasions.  Nonetheless, like other aspects of my life, that was then-and-this is now.

Another situation showed God’s hand in my life. The very day I was purchasing a car to replace my beloved VW beetle convertible which was totaled in an accident last summer I received a call- buyers desired to return with an offer. I chose not to purchase the car as it would have required costly expenses to relocate and taxed again when moving to another state. The potential buyer chose not to purchase my home, but God had been in the details of all events that day.

A couple days ago, I awakened with what I believed would be a routine day. “But God!” I received not one, but two requests for my house to be shown. Within minutes of the first arrival, the realtor telephoned with an offer, but it was too low. I knew God had the right buyer, with the right price. I never imagined the very next showing would result in an accepted contract.

Why should I be surprised? Aren’t God’s ways far too perplexing to us? Not only did God bring me His buyers, but they are the kindest people I could have imagined. Last night a lovely card of grateful sentiments and a beautiful floral arrangement arrived at my door; thanking me for accepting their contract without changes.  Both the buyers and I realized God was truly in the details on this transaction. I had no desire to change what God ordained.

I have reflected God’s rationale in not allowing my house to sell earlier. I have realized I met people I might never have met, but the greatest gift was the revelation of why my marriage dissolved; my then husband’s love for another. I would not have known this, had I sold my house in my time, rather than God’s. So, the words of the song are powerful to me, “You’re my God.” Jer. 29:11 NIV, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, plans to prosper you…”

A Borrowed Gift

From the time I was a young girl until days before I married in my twenties, I delighted in the moments I could baby sit.  I longed for the days I could be a mother. I had love for my children long before God chose them for me. My mother had shared numerous times during my childhood that she didn’t desire to be a mother, but it was “her duty.”  As a result, for the duration of my life I felt the pangs of knowing I was not loved, but merely tolerated. All those years of never having love from my own parents was “saved” for my then husband and any children God would “gift” us with.

I was beginning to believe God was not going to bless us with a family. I spent countless hours praying for children. My prayer was solely for healthy babies. The 1970s was a time where the majority of all babies were a “surprise.” Ultra sound for determining the gender and reveal parties to share with family and friends, would be in the future, but not when God opened His arms to present our children.

 God’s plans are perfect even when they seem so imperfect at times. When our daughter was a few months old, God brought us another “gift.” Our children would be a little over a year apart. However, God’s plans were to take that life to be with Him. I grieved the loss of that baby.

But God with His perfect ways, brought us a new blessing less than two years later.  When I heard, “It’s a boy”,   the joy I had was beyond words. My knees seemed raw at times, from kneeling in prayer for a son and a daughter. Even though healthy babies were far more important than the gender, I desired to experience the joy in rearing a boy and a girl or boys and girls. I would have loved to have more than two children, but like the entirety of my life, that was not God’s plans for me.

As I was conversing with someone recently, God didn’t give us parents or children to like or dislike. He gave us family to love and cherish; people that will be there for us no matter what comes. If only we could have mulligans for children rearing, perhaps things would be different when they become adults.

Yet, life and circumstances bring us trials and challenges we never expected and certainly could not foresee.  My love for each of my children is as great today, as the day the nurse placed, that beautiful, perfect, innocent newborn baby in my arms. And so today, I say Happy Birthday Dearest Son. I knew from the day I held you, that you were a borrowed gift. God allowed me to be your mother, but I dedicated you to Him. You are always in my heart and prayers, as you are truly one of the greatest gifts God gave me. James 1:17 NIV, Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…”

No-No-No!

“No”, I don’t want to-‘’No”, I don’t like-“No”, I won’t! How often have you reached out to a friend or family with an offer for a “gift”; doing something for them- a trip, dinner or even assisting them, but they returned your kindness with “no”?

While recently reading one of my devotions, the reflection of this was validated with Chuck Swindoll’s words, ‘’Are you striving to promote your perspective, demand that your way be accepted, or your voice be heard above others? Are you in the middle of a conflict with someone you love that, unless one of you stands down and defers to the other, is only going to intensify and cause lasting damage? Listen to Jesus. It’s time to turn from selfishness and strife as you embrace the way of the Cross. Lay down your rights…”

Have your ever chosen not to try new food, go on an adventure or perhaps take a trip because you were “afraid” to try? I’ve never forgotten the words of someone whom had chosen for years not to try pecan pie because he didn’t like “how it looked.” After much persuasion, he finally took a bite and realized he missed years of enjoyment due to “fear.”

We often withhold faith when we say, “no.” Max Lucado states, “I think this a time where we need to be feeding our faith,”… “If you feed your faith, your fears will starve. If you feed your fears, your faith will starve. Our tendency is to feed our fears. We have to do intentional things to feed our faith.”

I think of faith missionaries possess when they must partake of something which appears “fearful.”  Yet they realize they will diminish their ministry by not tasting a food or being involved in an activity which they deem undesirable.

I share in my upcoming book of countless times I did things I had no desire to do. Some were mandates when I could not say “no.” Other situations I chose to do because of my love for another.  I believe the positive may outweigh the negative when we release our fear and step out in faith.  For the duration of my marriage, I resided in homes I despised because I wanted to appease the husband I loved; homes he chose for us. Yet, if I had said “no” our son might never have had life-long friends which remain over four decades later. If I had said “no”, to the countless corporate moves my then husband mandated, yet I loathed, I might not have experienced some of the adventures in residing in other areas of the country.

“No”, even though a short and simple word, is powerful and controlling. It frequently tells the recipient they are of little or no value to the person offering the “gift.” Faith is a gift which God grants us when our fears overcome us. 2 Timothy 1:7, NIV, “for the spirit of God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

We Have Now Boarded

I sat back in my seat prepared to enjoy the last leg of my journey after an extremely stressful arrival.  The first leg of my flight was scheduled with a forty-minute delay. I had passed the security check and had only to board the departing plane and return home. While waiting, the flight was delayed further. We finally departed a full 1.5 hours late, but then I had the task of the connecting flight at the next layover.

As we landed, the airline staff noted, I had less than fifteen minutes, to arrive for the next connection. Murphy’s Law, I was at the back of the plane and unable to knock down all the other passengers to scurry off the plane. Dragging the items I had removed from the carry-on luggage, my coat falling from my drooping shoulders, I heard the announcement on the intercom,  “will the passenger for Flight 6007 hurry to gate 24 as we have now boarded?” What? How?  These old, feeble legs were already walking as rapidly as possible, but now I picked up the pace to a slow “run.”

I was at least 25 gates away from the next connection with all kinds of shopping and dining between, so the destination seemed as though it were miles away. My heart began pounding with the discomfort which is “well known” when there is great exertion, but most of all the prayers were rising! I was praying aloud as I dashed with two bags, wearing heavy boots and a down coat causing more heat and perspiration than if I were in 110 degrees in the middle of summer.

I arrived at the empty gate, looking as though I was taking my last breath. The agent queried, “Jane Woods?” Yes, I sighed. I ran all this way. Then as I entered the quiet tunnel, the pilot walked toward me, reminding me to “catch my breath” as they knew I was coming. He also reminded me he knew I had walked a long way. Walk? No, I was in a slow run!

As I boarded the plane, the stewardess announced, “you must condense all those items into your two bags.” Any explanation of not being able to re-pack the items was not accepted. I couldn’t get on the plane with those “flapping, flying” additional objects.

 I would sit down, catch my breath, read my book and just relax. A few pages into the book by Grant Gaines, the words had to be in error, “Some realities in life logically rule each other out…if you have a sibling, you can’t be an only-child. And if you are a God-fearing, Spirit filled Christian, you can’t dislike dogs.” What?!  I know many Christians that don’t like any animals. I love animals. After all-I had just spent a full week with 3 dogs, 2 bunnies, a tortoise and more experiences with them than I have time to write about. Continuing to read the book, I realized the author had penned the dog comment in jest, but he also reminded us life is uncertain. With the kind of day I had endured, it caused me to reflect on how unpredictable life can be. We think we have things planned out, God says, “no, this isn’t what I have planned for you.” So, we can only, sit back, relax and “enjoy the flight.”  NIV Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”