At Rest In The Presence Of The Lord

We laid my mother to rest today. I was up at 6 am this morning to start the preparations. I went to the cemetery, first thing, to lay the flowers and get it ready for our service. The sun was up, dew was still on the freshly mowed grass and a cool breeze blew. It was so very peaceful.

A verse came to my mind in the drive over. Romans 8:28. There have been many occasions where He has brought that verse to remembrance, mostly on occasions filled with anxiousness and uncertainty so I wondered how He would apply it today.

All things work together for good to them who love God, to them who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28

The headstone was placed on Friday. When I first saw it I was so emotional I did not realize until later that her last name was spelled wrong. Of course, they would replace it but not overnight. So I was inspired to look for a florist that sold headstone flower sprays. The very first one I called had just made two of them recently. I rushed over to pick one out and it could not have been more perfect. It was so beautiful and it hid the misspelling. Again I heard, “It will all work out.”

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A short time later I drove to the park to meet everyone who would help set up for our BBQ after the service.  I was thinking of how many times I have planned events months in advance. I would get to that day and my mind would be running through all the details, over and over, how I would manage and execute the plans made months or weeks before. This time it was different. There were plans but not the kind that would have to be orchestrated to the tee because a still small voice was saying, “It will all work out.” Or maybe it was my mom’s voice because she was always saying to me, “It will all work out.”

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Gary, the man doing the service messaged asking if there was an agenda. I replied, “I am too emotional this morning to say so I think we should just let the Holy Spirit do His work.”  And again the voice, “It will all work out.”

I had wanted to ask our cousin, Jeff, to sing but not sure he would be up for it due to some health issues. So I did not ask. But as soon as I saw him he told me he would sing a song for mom today! No words, God just working it out.

Special friends made the trip down to Desloge to celebrate my mother’s life with our family. It was her longtime friend and her family Julia, Jackie and Quinne, three generations loving on my mom and me and my family. Each of us recalling wonderful sweet and sometimes very funny stories of back in the day.

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Debbie, my sister Dannielle’s best friend from high school came. She kind of got lost and was heartbroken to have missed the service at the cemetery but made it to the park. She showed up and it made the day even sweeter.

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And then there is my sweet friend from my high school days, Penny. She came, even though she had just lost two very precious family members to cancer within a week apart this past month. She came for me! And that filled my heart to full! There were a few others that could not make it due to illness and life issues but sent their love and prayers for us today. And those I hold dear as well! I believe those prayers contributed to all the beautiful ways God showed His hand in our celebration.

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We met for the procession. We placed mom on the back of a dear friend’s bike for her last ride to her final resting place.  We lined up and began the drive. The US flag on one of the bikes furling in the breeze as we went. The oncoming cars pulled over out of respect.  One lady, who was not a part of the procession, pulled up alongside when we got onto the highway and put her flashers on so no one would pass us.  The people in the cars following the bikes stretched for a half a mile behind.  Looking in my rearview mirror, my heart swelled.

 

 

 

The sun was straight up overhead as we arrived at the cemetery. Friends and family gathered around to hear the message of Christ, to remember a woman who touched their lives in one way or another. We were there to honor the kind of person who said what she thought, cared about others with an honest heart and delivered her wisdom with a dry humor. The words spoke of her to me by others since her passing, “There was no better woman, I loved her.”

She loved bright colors, flowers and being among friends and family. I know she would have loved it all. I can say for certain her spirit was with us. I love what Gary said, she was not an angel sent to look out for us, to guard us. For angels were created to work for the Lord and each has a duty to do His bidding. She was not working today or any day. She is at rest in the presence to the Lord.  Shouting hallelujah and reunited with long-lost loved ones in Christ, whose headstones were representing, surrounding hers.  Perhaps she was looking down on us and smiling at the love and honor showed her this day, at least I would like to think so.

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We had the privilege of listening to a song sung by one of her favorite singers and mine, our cousin, Jeff. He has been there for our family through many wonderful events and sad occasions. He sang one of my mom’s favorites, The Lighthouse. At that moment, I was taken back to 1984, a moment when I had first heard it sitting beside my mother, in church, where Christ changed our lives.

And I thank God for the lighthouse,

I owe my life to Him,

Jesus is the lighthouse,

And from the rocks of sin,

He has shown a light around me,

That I might clearly see,

If it wasn’t for the lighthouse,

Tell me where would this ship be.

 

And for that memory and this day I was thanking Jesus for working it all out for good.

IMG_7519My sister, Amanda, and I left her a rose in honor of her but it also honored our sister Dannielle, who our mother was with today. I believe if my sister had been here she would have wanted to sing The Rose. She loved that song and loved singing it. She may have been singing it today for our mom, up in heaven, just maybe.

 

We ended the day with a lighted lantern. A good friend of hers surprised us with the lantern for Jo Jo.  It was a sweet and special moment for all of her friends for these past few years. And they wanted to honor her with a prayer sent up to heaven.

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Last but not least, which may seem insignificant to others, but it is a detail that no one else would know about but me and God. When we arrived at the park that morning to set up the pavilion, over to the right side was a US flag on a pole. It was up pretty high up and could not be reached. It was wrapped around the pole it was attached to. I had this uncanny desire to unwrap it and, to see it hanging correctly and flying in the breeze.  It was not until we were taking everything down and packing up that I noticed it was completely unwrapped and waving lightly. No small detail ever escapes God and He says in His word,

Psalm 37:4, ‘If we delight ourselves in the Lord He will give us the desires of our heart.’

I didn’t fret over the wrapped flag I thought to myself, it is what it is.

Before I left that place His breeze unwrapped the fabric of the red, white and blue. He blew it gently with his breath. He worked it all out.  For good.

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Rest in Peace, Mom.  Thank you for my life. Thank you for always being there. Thank you for showing me how to plan a good party! LOL

SIDE NOTE: she loved to text me at wee hours of the morning, 5 am sometimes, and one time her phone was broke and she could only type in capital letters. And when I type LOL I always think of her text

 

 

 

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I want to say thank you to Deborah Soucoucie, Dennis Sweet, Gary Leggans, Mel Brinkley, and Jeff Parsons for having a part in making this memorial happen.

But A Vapor

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Look at the walls in your home. Photographs of family. Plates a grandmother collected. Awards for achievements in a career. Colors of curtains, couches and rugs all coordinating. Some of the hand me downs aged with time and wear. Closets filled with boxes of keepsakes. Shelves filled with scrapbooks and photo albums.  Those are just things, memories of lifetime that will be passed on, sold at a yard sale or thrown into the trash. Why do we hang on to things? I believe it is because the person who owned it, touched it. They held it. They kept it to remind them of something.

We touch it, we hold it and smell it because it reminds us that they were here. That they were real. And we are not ready to let go of that thing that connects us to the living, breathing person that our hearts are longing to see one more time. Grief is a funny thing. it comes fast and hard at first. And then subsides long enough to catch a breath. When you are least expecting it comes on like the wave that looks small in the distance and then crashes down with a force that knocks you off your feet. Sending you tumbling head over heal while you are grasping to find the ground underneath you. It’s never what you imagine. And it never leaves you but it does quiet itself over time.

I have been feeling as if I have gotten old overnight. A little alone and lonely because of isolation, living out here away from the city, family, and friends. A bit melancholy but not depressed. Some of it is from all the news of death recently. Several celebrities taking their own life, a very close friend losing two loved ones within a week apart and then hearing two more soldiers, suffering from PTSD, taking their own lives this past week. I spent the day in bed a few days ago not feeling well and missing my dad, my sister, and my mother all at the same time. Wanting to talk to them but not able to. My mother was the most recent to pass. She left this world on New Year’s Eve. I began the new year with a loss. I did not know that this year would be filled with it.

All this loss makes me reflect on my own life. Makes me turn inward. It brings up memories I forgot were there in the corners of my mind. At moments it takes my breath away. It has haunted my dreams waking me up suddenly with my heart beating fast. Some of it is grief, the other part is the awareness that our lives are so very short. There seems to be an urgency to get the things done I have had a on list for years. I had a ninety-year-old woman tell me the other day that she was ready to join her husband who had passed twenty years before. I told her she shouldn’t say that maybe the Lord still had something for her left to do. She said I have done everything there is to do. And she asked me how old I was. “55, soon to be 56.” Feeling somewhat young at that moment in comparison. She said, “We have different vantage points you and I, I have been there and done that. And there is nothing else I want to do or need to do.”

I think she was saying she was lonely and she had no purpose. She was living day in and day out doing nothing. Her family was living their lives without her. She had been a strong independent woman, self-sufficient and a real hard worker. This tiny woman was mowing her lawn just months ago. She told me of some of the things that she had done back in the day. She replumbed and rewired her house by herself and at one time in her life, she could lift 100 lb tanks.  In the short time, I have known her she is not one for sitting still. She could still do all that in her mind but her body will not let her. And she is ready to go.

I left her house thinking, is that what the end of your life looks like? Waiting to die? Waiting for God to take you? I remember talking to my grandmother before she passed. She was not an easy woman. She was a proud woman and never let you see the vulnerable side of her. She was judgemental and very manipulative. She would spend her last days of her life being paranoid about those around her. Even on the day she passed, I spoke to her on the phone and she begged me to call the police to come and get her out of the hospital. She did not trust the doctors or the nurses. I was in a different city and I could not get home to her. She died with no loved ones around her.

My mother passed somewhat in peace. I was five miles from the hospital when she took her last breath. Everyone told me she heard my voice on the phone, telling her I was on my way. But in the Lord’s sovereignty, I did not make it. I missed her final breath.

All of this death should have me sad and depressed. It should have me in despair. I could ask all the questions most people ask God, even the ones that know Him when people leave us. What is the point to all of this?  Why did you create us to die? Why do you allow all the pain and suffering in our life? Why do you take innocent babies? Why do you allow cancer to eat up our bodies and anxiety to wreak havoc on our minds? Why do some people think that the only way is out to take their life?

Why?

I know depression is real. I know it is an illness. I know, because it runs in my family. It took the form of self-medicating, alcohol abuse, rage and dysfunction. It showed its face in PTSD, trauma and physical abuse. It was passed on like a photograph in a frame. I tried myself to say, “No more, it stops with me.” And for the most part some of it did. But not all. It crept in through others who came into my life and left its mark. I am not a victim. I am no longer in bondage to the things the enemy used to take us captive in our family. Because I found something better than a pill. I have a relationship with Jehovah Rapha. The Healer.

I know something about God that I did not know when I was younger. When I first came to know Him I was so unsure of who He was. I questioned so much about Him. His motives, His will, and His love. I read His word to find out how He thought, how He works in our lives. I studied his concepts & principals so that I could apply them to my life. I sought His mercy, His care, and His heart. Looking back I found something I would never have found if I had not been looking.

I found a God who wanted fellowship. Could it be that He was lonely? Could it be that God wanted to be loved? His word says we are made in His image. We desire to be loved and cared for. Our hearts desire relationship. We look for it our whole lives. Even when we think we found it we look for more. Our hearts seem to be a bottomless pit of want. And the irony is, in our creation, God put that desire in us. It was meant to cause us to look for Him. Because He is the only one that can fill it.

When He comes in, He fills it with His presence. It is then we become whole. We become loved. We become cared for. We become, slowly like Him. My thoughts become His thoughts and so I do not feel hopeless. And as my heart beats as His for my fellow man I should want to serve them, help them, and love them too. My soul is one with Him so  I am never alone or lonely. My strength is His strength working in me, through me and for me. I have nothing to fear, nothing to despair from and everything to look forward to.

The whys of life and death disappear in the light of His filling. You see He never wanted to control me like a puppet on a string. He never wanted me to be a mindless robot doing His bidding. He did not want our relationship to be based on terror. It was not about how good I was or am. It is not about punishing me for bad that I have done. It is and always has been about relationship.  And that is the purpose. For us to go out and create relationship with others and by doing so we show them who God really is. What love is, what purpose is and it gives us the hope of eternity with our loved ones.

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I have carried seven children but have only given birth to four. My life profoundly changed with each one I lost. Sadness, sorrow, regret, and failure. Loss, mourning and forever wondering what would have been. While I have never gotten to see the faces of three of them, it was not until I beheld the face of my first little boy of how fragile and blessed life really is. Following the lines of his tiny face, hearing the cry of his little voice and feeling his little fingers curling around my one. Realizing now that God gave me a glimpse into His relationship with His children through the birth of one child and the loss of another.

Relationship. A mother and a child.

Love. I did not know him but I loved him because he came from my body. He was a miracle.

Purpose. At that moment I could not fathom what was ahead only that I would care for him, raise him and give him all that I had until the day that I die.

When he became a man I did not stop being his mother. I did not stop loving what came from my womb,  what God created within me. And just like God whose children walk away from Him for a while, I wait to hear from my son. To speak with him. To love on him. To have relationship with him. And when we do my heart is full! It is in the moments that I do not hear from him my mind can wonder if he still cares for me if he still needs me or will we ever be together again?

And so God waits to hear from us. To speak with us. To come back to Him. Our God did not create us to die. He did not cause us to suffer. Life is but a vapor and it is gone before it even begins because a man and woman in a garden wanted more than they had. They wanted to be independent of a God who would love and care for them. A God who would protect them by giving them all they would ever need. Yet they did not believe he was enough. They would choose their own way over a relationship with their creator. In doing so death & suffering came upon mankind as a consequence of their choice.

Death is not the end though. We will all live somewhere forever. Heaven or hell. But God in His love and mercy gave us a way back to Him. Back to a relationship with Him. And He let it be still our choice. Choosing Christ as our Savior takes us to Heaven, gives us a purpose beyond ourselves and can heal the despair and heartaches that come with living life.

He does not want us to do this alone!!! We are to stay connected, assembling ourselves with other believers. This is one way He protects us. Others looking out for us, comforting us, praying with us, loving on us and showing us Jesus in the flesh. When we draw away to be alone we are vulnerable to the enemy.  It is the enemy that will lie to us and lead us to destruction. Even unto death.

Depression, PTSD, and grief can be healed by Jesus. I have been a witness to and a recipient of healing so many times. We have to choose to want to be healed by applying God’s word, walking in faith and letting Him fill our hearts and minds with new thoughts and ways. Believing Him & trusting Him to walk with us through the darkest moments in our lives. Even in the dark days of loss and grief.

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I miss them all but I do not despair. I am sad but not depressed. I may still grieve their loss at times but it is only a reminder to me the day I take my last breath on earth  I will take my first one in heaven. We will all be reunited! And God does say He will wipe away all the tears. In the meantime, my purpose is to bring as many people with me to heaven as possible. Afterall, it is the only thing we can take with us.

 

Watching Paul Apostle of Christ

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2

imagesI read an article Mark Walsh wrote. It’s a review of the movie Paul Apostle of Christ. Click here to read his article. After reading it, I was kind of disappointed thinking the film would not highlight some of most significant journey’s Paul took in sharing the gospel with the world. However, after seeing the movie I was not disappointed, in fact, I was moved by how powerful some of the scenes were. The movie did seem slow in parts, but upon reflection, those were the moments that most affected me. I think if there had been a ton of action scenes you would not have been able to reflect on what was really transpiring at the end of Paul’s life. Of course, we can not fully know every detail. But to imagine is a powerful thing.

A vast majority of Paul’s lines were taken directly from scripture which was even more powerful. Especially if you knew those verses by heart. It was like if you were standing in front of the apostle and hearing him speak to you, speaking into your life. When reading the letters from Paul, we are often focused on his current situation, his surroundings, and his thoughts to us from his prison cells. We hardly ever think of the man facing death with all of the regrets and memories swirling around inside of his mind.

He said in Philippians that he forgets what is behind and reaches for what is ahead.

Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, 14 I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14

Why would he have to say that to us? To remind us that our past sometimes can plague us. That if we focus on what is back there, then we lose our focus on what God has given to us to do. His power in and through us comes in our weakness. And Paul reminds us over and over, we can do nothing without him.

The movie is worth seeing. Don’t go with any expectations. Let God use it to show you, where you are now in your faith walk, what He can do through suffering and sacrifice. I probably cried the last 30 minutes of the movie. It seemed to me that God used this film to show me how one day we all will have to make a stand for him. And it will cost us much. Will we be ready for the day, will I? Will we walk to it with grace? Will we give of ourselves with hands open or closed?

He drove home the point that Christianity is not something to mock or dismiss. It is not something we can pretend at or use as some magic rock to get things we want or to lift ourselves up as pious.

It is a calling. It is a way of life. It is Jesus Christ in you. In me!

Worth Far Above Rubies

Johanna Lee Pope.JPGYou know it is never easy, to sum up, a person’s life in a few short sentences or a list of words. I guess because when you lose them to the death your mind is flooded with memories from your very first memory to the last day. And as I think back over the years of my life the memories of a woman I called Mom are the woman who looked much like the woman in the book of Proverbs. While the woman the Lord speaks of is pretty much perfect I know my mother would say she was far from it.

I always described my mother as a pip. By definition, a pip is an excellent or a very attractive person or thing. And she was very attractive to many. “She was beautiful,” many have said to me. She was feisty, witty and could be stubborn when she needed to be. She loved to be with people. She definitely was a social creature. Whether at a party, a holiday gathering, playing cards, floating, camping, motorcycle rides or just sitting around with family doing nothing, she was happy.

She was loyal and loved her family. I saw my whole life how she cared for her mom and

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Larry, Wilma, Johanna, Elbert, Glenda Michelle and Dannielle 1967 Farmington, Missouri

dad. Her sister and brother. Her husband and her children. She was definitely a caretaker. She took care of us all. She always had a plan and she could make it happen. And I am pretty sure I got that from her. She loved, loved, loved having her family around her. I think that brought her the greatest joy. And just today realized I got that from her as well because having all my children and grandchildren surround me fills my heart to overflowing. I know that is what she expressed on her face when we all came home to visit her.

She was also a peacemaker. Always trying to encourage everyone to get along. We come from a loud and boisterous family. There were many years of turmoil and upheaval that were hard on her. But she never quit trying to make things better. I remember just before going into the air force my mom and Bob started attending church. They both surrendered to the Lord and I began to see a change in them, in their lives. That change influenced me to make some changes in my life as well. Those changes for me would lead me to a faith in God deeper than I have ever known. A faith I would need in the years that followed, a faith that would change the course of my family’s life.

She loved being a grandmother. I watched her hold each one of her grandchildren with such pride and tenderness. Other than adoration I never knew what was going through her mind when she was holding them and baby talking to them until of course, I became a grandmother. I remember asking her once how come she never told me how great it was to be a grandmother? She just giggled. So I guess that was her secret.

She loved her children. And losing one nearly took the life right out of her. That was a dark time for our whole family. She did say she told me that she could relate to me because she herself had lost StitchSCAN1385-SCAN1391.JPGher brother tragically when she was 19. But I could never relate to her losing a daughter. The pain of that ran very deep. The joy in this day is that she is reunited with a brother she has not seen in 55 years and a daughter she has not seen in 11 years.

She was forgiving and kind. Always saw people for how they treated others. She did not see color or status. Make no mistake she could sum a person up in a few minutes, she was good at telling someone’s character. And if they were a bad egg she would warn you. One of the blessings of this day is seeing the number of folks that loved her and hearing them praise her for her kindness and compassion she had for others. So many people respected her. Another word that keeps coming up is fun; she was just a fun person. What a great friend she was to others and how much everyone valued what she said. I think I heard the ladies at the VFW called her the “Mob Boss.” And the picture of my tiny mother as a Mob Boss is precious.

She was so creative. Oh my goodness, she could create anything out of nothing. I love that I got that from her. I remember, as a little girl, her sewing teeny tiny clothes for me and my sister Danielle’s Barbie’s. She made ice candles out of milk cartons, wax, and ice and then would put it on a plate surrounded by leaves she picked up out of the yard. She loved to decorate. And everything had to color coordinate, even what she was wearing. She could put together an outfit and look like a million bucks. Some of the clothes she sewed from her own patterns back in the 70’s were amazing!!!

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2016 taken at the Jewel Box St. Louis Forrest Park

A few years ago the Lord had put it on my heart to do something for my mother for Mother’s Day. I had not spent Mother’s Day with her since the 90’s. She had been in and out of the hospital and I just knew we needed to create some new memories together. I wanted to treat her like a queen for the day. I planned a weekend away in the city with my mother, my aunt, my sister and our daughters. I made the announcements including the itinerary and sent them off. First, we would have dinner with a very old friend of my moms. A lady she had not seen in many years. Then we would be swept off to the city for Mani/Pedi, a photography session at the Jewel Box in Forrest Park, a stay at an exclusive historic hotel, order room service dinner, catch the Sound of Music at Fox Theater and topped off the weekend with a Mother’s Day Buffet at the top of the Park Plaza Hotel overlooking St. Louis Forrest Park. When it was all said and done she said, “This is the best time I ever had in my whole life.”IMG_7686.jpg

And you know today it is one of the best memories I have of my mom in my whole life. The intent was to celebrate each other, as a mother, a grandmother, a daughter, a sister and an Aunt. We each played one or more of those roles, we represented 3 generations connected by blood but more importantly by love. It was priceless.

Yes, my mother would tell you she was far from perfect and I would tell her that in her imperfection she exemplified that woman worth far above rubies. Her husband trusted in her. She worked with her hands to create beautiful things. She worked hard in her life and never quit providing for her family. She knew how to grow things and make life beautiful around her. She would make clothes for herself and her family. She gave to those around her who needed help without a hesitation. Her husband was known in the gates because of her strength and honor. She opened her mouth with wisdom and in her tongue was kindness. She cared for her household always and did not waste her time with idleness. And because of these things

Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.

Johanna Lee (Pope) Tomlinson

1943 – 2017

Online Obituary

Johanna was the direct descendant of the founding fathers of Farmington Missouri. Through Joel Zolman and Louisa Murphy.  See Pope Family Tree Page on Shell’s Space.

 

 

WHAT IS THE BIBLE TO YOU

open bibleI could not adequately describe to you what the Bible means to me. For to do so I would have to tell you my life story with all of its crazy twist and turns. And that would take hours upon hours to lay out before you. If you will allow me to try, here is my best effort.

God’s Word was practically unknown to me up until the of age fourteen. Though I remember going to a Baptist church when I was a little girl. Occasionally on Sunday morning my mother would dress my sister and me up in dresses and send us out the door to walk to a church about 5 or 6 blocks down our road. We would hear stories about Jesus and do little Sunday school papers. I do not really remember the stories, just bringing home the papers. There was an old brown piano and lots singing but don’t remember the words either.

I first clearly heard the Gospel while in a canoe on a lake, from my Uncle, while attending a summer church camp he and my aunt were assisting at. He told me the story of how Jesus gave his life for me, for my sins. He asked me to accept him as my savior. I prayed the prayer. I believed with my head but am still unsure to this day I believed with my heart at the time. Though it was the first knock at my door, from the Lord, He continually pursued me for years. At times He was close enough for me to hear his whisper of love but other times I would not know or care where he was.

My Aunt and Uncle had given me a bible I would pack around throughout my life. I would read the handwritten inscription which would nudge me to read a verse here and there but would never read the whole book. It was special because it was a gift. I treated it as a memento to save not “a prescription for life” as my Aunt and Uncle referred to in their words written to me on the inside page. I had not realized how big a gift it was until years later when I heard God’s voice again beseeching me to come unto him. It was loud and bold this time. So loud, in fact, I could not resist it.

There are times in life when the rug is pulled out from underneath you. You fall with a thud. You are in shock from the impact and confused as to why or how you ended up there. And that is how it was with me. I was not sure what to do or where to turn. And this is when God whispered, “I am here to pick you up.” It was a whisper heard through the words of a friend. “Michelle, maybe you need God.” I heard it but I did not know how to reach out to Him. In the pain and heartache, I experienced, I just began to move forward out of necessity for my children. And in moving forward, I had a desire to go to church for the first time in my adult life. Strange things began to happen. He immediately opened doors I would have never walked through and met people I never considered speaking to about God.

He orchestrated a new life that I never imagined for myself.  One day I found myself sitting in a church, hearing a preacher say I have to know that I know that Jesus saved me.  And before I knew it I was rising to my feet walking down an aisle surrendering my life to the one and only, Savior, Jesus Christ. I finally believed in my heart what was believed, in my mind, those many years ago.

I opened God’s Word to read the instructions that would put my life back together. His words would lead me down paths I never knew existed. His Word saved me and inspired me to make changes for the good. It would give me breath when I could not breathe on my own. It would give me a song when all I could do was cry. It would bring me comfort when sorrow weighed me down. His words gave me knowledge and wisdom when I felt helpless and ignorant. They would give me hope when I was in the rut of sin and I thought my failure would end me. God’s word became the light of a path that was dark and unknown. It would become the lifeline to sanity from the midst of confusion. It was a rope to freedom from the discouragement of life.

His word was the love I desperately craved from youth. It was the hope I cringed at in darkness for fear it was not real.  It was the rescue I cried out for in depths of grief. It was the fresh air I gasped for in days of panic and fear. It was the enveloping hug in the silence of loneliness. It was and is the personal note, letter, and poetry from the lover of my soul!

Little did I know that that words inscribed by my Aunt and Uncle would become prophecy. For God’s Holy Bible is indeed the prescription for all my illnesses and problems, keeping me healthy and happy! And the best news of all, I will live forever with Christ in Heaven!

Dear Shelly,

This Book is a prescription for life. Take a little every day. If you’ll follow the instructions you find it will cure all illnesses and problems you’ll ever have. It will make you very happy and healthy and you’ll live forever. 

With deepest love, 

Pat and Gail

gift bible 1976

Proving God’s Goodness

Monday was the day! We officially have gotten rid of all the junk! After a few days of transition (replacing all the traditional American diet stuff to whole food plant based – WFPB – items) we finally said, “Ok, let’s jump!”
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It really was not scary because God has given us both confidence in our new journey. We both watched the show, Forks Over Knives, on Netflix and heard some very disheartening information but also some encouraging news. So afterward we both came to an agreement, we needed to make a change. Making that decision together is half the battle in a home. My husband and I are determined, of course. I began to pray about the best course of action and low and behold God gave me a verse in my bible study the day after we made the decision. To me, it meant God’s final nod to me that we are walking in the right direction. It seemed to be an answer to a prayer I prayed weeks ago, “Lord, make me a clean and pure vessel for your service.” He almost always speaks through his word.
“And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly;
and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Thessalonians 5:23
Do you see ‘sanctify you wholly’ and ‘whole spirit and soul and body be preserved?’ Watching the show Forks Over Knives seemed kind of random at the time but it made clear to me what I had been learning for some time through the scripture. It nagged me, the connection between food and man.  The numerous diets programs, the different messages coming from different health organizations and the habits we formed from childhood led to so much confusion as to what we should be doing.
The bible states so plainly, we are God’s creation. In Genesis, before the fall, mankind was eating the whole food plant-based diet. And after the fall we immediately started to decay, to die. We became meat-eating humans which meant animals would die to satiate our hunger and our comfort. I know the theology of it. The first animal dying, the first blood sacrifice for the covering of sin, the animal skin covering Adam and Eve which is way more than I want to go into. Suffice it to say, the message all connected in my body, spirit, and soul. There had to be a connection to the diet after the fall and the diseases that have crept into our everyday lives.
And let me say first nothing is random in God’s time and secondly, I am not going to lecture about the inhumanity of killing animals or the effects on our environment from raising and processing animal fat and meats (that may be for another day). It is not the reason we decided to do what we are doing as far as our diet goes. The main reason is for the health! We are sick of taking medications and being overweight and lacking energy! We do not take near the medications that our parents do, nor some of our friends and family, but if there is a way to not take them at all and it has to do with changing our diets then we are willing to try.
The money spent on doctor visits, medications, and hospital stays are so astronomical not to mention the danger of it all. If you could avoid all of that, wouldn’t you want to try???? I watched both of my parents go through heart surgeries and complications. Being connected to machines, depending on humans to know what they are doing and to do it in the right way. Sometimes guessing at what might be the matter. To see them both struggle with breathing, wearing oxygen masks to get through the day. That is not what I want for myself or my husband. Heart disease runs in my family and so does diabetes so why wouldn’t I do better for myself and my family? I know things happen that are beyond our control but most of our health is within our control. Our daily choices, to get informed and get off our butts, make some changes in planning, prepping and shopping.  From all the information I have read and studied so far it is proven that it can be done and done well. To the benefit of all.
whole foods
Another thought inspired by God’s Word is from one of my favorite verses in the bible and one I truly attempt to live out on a daily basis is Romans 12:1-2 “I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
During my study of the books of Thessalonians these past few weeks, I was struck by the fact that Paul often repeats himself when making a point. I found a repeated thought in his letter to the Thessalonians, Chapter 5 verse 21 ‘prove all good things; hold fast that which is good.’ Here he is telling us to prove something is good as he told us in Romans to prove that which is good. Christianity is about living out the Word of God, living out what Jesus lived out when walking on earth. He was proving God’s goodness, proving God’s ways are good and His ways will work if applied, He was proving God.
When we walk, act out and/or do God’s Word by applying His principles, we are proving to the world, as Jesus did, His ways are good, His ways work and thereby prove God’s love. Afterall love is not just a mushy feeling one feels, it is action. You can hear Paul pleading with believers in Romans 12: 1-2,  (paraphrased) ” I am begging you to give of yourself, your whole body, spirit, and soul, to God. Which is the right thing to do and if you keep yourself separate from the world in body, spirit, and soul you will prove the goodness and the ways of God”
 body soul spirit
So you see how it all fits together? Praying and asking God to forgive you of your sins and save you from hell brings you to salvation. Praying and asking God to make you a vessel fit for service brings you to emptying yourself out to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Praying and asking God to make you healthy brings you to make choices about what you put into your body. When we pray for God’s direction we need to be able to watch and wait, while actively seeking and moving forward in what He already tells us to do. We pray, ask and take action.
“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”
Jeremiah 29:13
I have heard friends say to me, “I am not sure what God wants me to do. I am waiting but not sure which direction He wants me to go in.” And then they literally just wait for God to magically put up a door that says “walk through here.” I kind of believed that at one time. But it has been my experience that when we take steps of faith toward something we desire or something we believe God is telling us to pursue, He will either close the door of opportunity or open the door opportunity. He will make it clear one way or the other.
If we sit and wait, how will we find the doors if we are not going out there looking for them? God’s Word tells us to seek and then it tells us we will find. You can’t find anything sitting and waiting. There must be action.
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This seeking and knocking can be disappointing or exciting depending on what it is you believe God is saying. And that, my friend, is where praying in faith comes in. You pray and BELIEVE God wants His very best for you so you trust whatever door He opens for you! And remember sometimes He has to bring many things together before we even get to the door. Yes, it may take some time. But never stop seeking! Because that door may just be around the next corner!

Beautiful Love of God Through A Beautiful Human Heart

A woman I have never met face to face but has been a part of my life for almost a decade has said her goodbyes to family. She is currently in a nursing home and from all accounts may be nearing the end of her life. Her daughter is posting updates and each one breaks my heart.  We met online in a blogging community that started on MSN Spaces. I began blogging in mid-2006 and it would be a year or more before I would meet Nita.  MSN closed their blogging portion down in late 2010 and several of us migrated over to WordPress or Blogger but most of us ended up on Facebook. Those of us who were regulars in our blogging circle eventually found each other over on Facebook and began following one another. Facebook was a whole other ball of wax. It was not as intimate or blogger friendly and had to keep your posts short and sweet. We also got to see more of each other, picture wise!

pic1-a47When we were on MSN Spaces we each had our own approach to sharing bits and pieces of our lives and those crazy words that run through our minds, especially in the middle of the night. We were somewhat masked over there on our blogs. We could pretty much write what we wanted, post the pictures we wanted without much interference except for the occasional comments left by our counterpart bloggers. Those were the ones we made friends with and frequented their spaces to see what they were thinking that day or experiences they wanted to share or a memory from the past. Sometimes a funny story or maybe a sad story and I think there were a ‘vent’ or two.

Several of us shared some painful days on there, loneliness, the celebrations in our lives or a stirring from some inspiration. Many of us had faith in Jesus Christ in common. Some of us had, single parenting in common and some were just very talented, interesting writers.

1One such friend, I found was Nita. She and her daughter were both on there. I found a kindred spirit in Nita. She was from across the pond, England. She was a mother, grandmother, and sweet lady with a heart for the Lord and loved her children and grandchildren fiercely. How do I know this? From her correspondence and her many comments left on my site.  I found her comments endearing and so very encouraging. I came to know her daughter, Amanda, as well. I remember it was about the time I was becoming a grandmother for the first time and it was a precious thing to share with others, with her. She loves being a grandmother and it showed in her posts, pictures, and comments.

As I was reading the latest Facebook post about her status I thought back to when I first met her online. It all seems a lifetime ago, spending time writing words, sharing lives in cyberspace. To me, it was a Godsend. It brought me out of isolation and gave me a place to find some healing.  To journal out loud so to speak. I was fortunate to find others who were encouraging and kind.  Each one of them impacted my life in such a way that restored my faith in humanity. If that sounds cheesy well so be it. When you have been disappointed and damaged by another human you tend to withdraw from others. I did not want to be that person. Bitter and isolated from life, from the world. So I reached out. And she did too.

Nita was one of those humans.  Even though we never met face to face, we both said we would meet in heaven someday. Both of us were heartbroken that they were shutting down MSN Spaces because of the connections we had made with the circle of ‘humans.’  She always had words of encouragement and always left something to let me know she was ‘listening.’ But more importantly, we were communicating and fellowshipping across thousands of miles, across an ocean in between us.  How amazing is God to give us friends from so far away?

One day I wrote a post called “Filler’ Up,” it was about the guilt you feel in the choices you make as a parent and experiencing pain and regret so deep you can’t even breathe. God gave me the verse Jeremiah 17:8 that encouraged me in my faith. I was inspired to share it with others on my blog. Nita’s comment humbled me in that what I was going through I was not alone and God allowed both of us to see that and praise Him together.

“hi shell, as so often, I can relate to much of your blog. I needed to read that scripture this morning, so thank you – I have many things to be anxious about, children, grandchildren, my own health, where our place of worship should be.  I could go on, but I won’t, I prayed and tried to put it all in a carrier bag this morning and leave it at the foot of the cross. So from one anxious inadequate guilty feeling mother, grandmother, child of God, too, it seems another – OVER TO YOU LORD- God bless you and yours – nita.” – September 30, 2010, Comment on Filler’ Up

After all isn’t that what we needed. To agree to see God in the midst? To confirm that we both needed to turn it over to God? To let Him lead us in our lives as mothers and grandmothers? God did not create us to be islands. Isolated and off on our own. He created us to be in fellowship with Him and with others. He gave us holes in our hearts that only He could fill. And sometimes He uses others to help fill those needs. To be needed and to be wanted. To be of use, to have a purpose. He created us for love. To love and be loved. Make no mistake we are to go to Him first for those very things. And once we do He fills them. And I think in some cases He fills them with a kind word from a stranger or sweet comment from a fellow blogger!

“ The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

 Zephaniah 3:17 

On another blog, she commented that she was excited about the journey ahead in her life, though a little worried too, aren’t we all? What she said told me our experiences are universal. When we take time to share them with others we move them to think about their life in light of the scripture or the truth in it. She gave me an insight into her heart. She encouraged me by revealing her willingness to have faith in her day to day walk with Jesus. Which by her words was very real and exciting.

“All the detours, roadblocks or roadside emergencies are necessary for us to appreciate the actual destination.” – somehow, Shell, that sentence stands out to me most from your blog – I am feeling tonight that on my journey with the lord, all the detours and roadblocks and the endless roadside emergencies have been necessary – as will be the ones still to come, for me to appreciate the actual destination. Please, keep blogging about your journey, I for one always appreciate your blogs – I will also try to put mine into words. Tonight I feel excited too, if a certain trepidation, but Jesus travels with us, before, with and in front – what a marvelous thought.”  – May 2, 2010, comment on An Unexpected Trip

One of the things I miss about our blogging community was the intimacy with which we could discuss the thoughts or our insights. There were times when life would stop for a few minutes, in the night, when the loneliness was overwhelming, you could turn on the computer, go to your blog and read the comments left by someone who had spent time with your words. It provoked a thought or an emotion in them and in return they would leave a gift, a comment about what touched them or what they saw from their side of the life. And that, for me, was priceless. And they won’t even know how healing that was for me. I share that now because I wished I had shared that then.

I had written a post about Easter and the week leading up to that day. My life had gotten so busy and so full of the ‘cares of this world’ that I had not stopped to think about what we were going to celebrate. Nita had read it…she wrote several different comments on that one so I knew something spoke to her…and I can’t help think about the journey she will take soon…and her words from one of those comments echo what I know is in her heart but she cannot currently say…

“I have been left feeling this Easter that I just cannot fully comprehend, the incredible, the indescribable price my Savior paid for my sins on that cross – I cannot fully comprehend the room he has secured for me in heaven, with no more tears, no more pain. I cannot seem to get my mind off of circumstances and self-comfort and onto Him and have faith and realize that we are in a battle (well I do realize that) and we are fighting from victory, not to victory,  but with his help, I will!” nita  – April 3, 2010, comment Step He took To The Tomb

Did you catch that? “We are in a battle and we are fighting FROM victory, not to victory!” Wow! She gave me the truth right there and that my friend was a gift straight to my heart that night! And can I tell you that God makes no mistakes in whom He brings into our lives. If you need encouragement, a friend to help you stand against the battle or if you need to hear a word ‘fitly spoken’ to lift you out of your pit, He can and will bring ‘humans with skin on’ into your realm.  Or He will use a laptop computer and blog.

Having prayed for Nita this past year, I selfishly prayed I could talk with her and let her know what a blessing it has been to have her in my life, even if it has been from afar, by computer only. What a privilege it has been to see her pictures and hear stories about her life and family. And to be able to see God do some amazing things in their lives. I hope she knows she is loved by so many. So many are praying for her and posting their love for her!  And that she is woven into my memories, my story.

In her words from one of her first comments to me, “We have Jesus to hold our hand and the Holy Spirit to light our way,” here is the context…

“hi shell, wise words, as I read them it reminded me among other things to watch my tongue, sometimes it gets the better of me, also I am sometimes judgmental, or appear that way, without really meaning to – it is a journey, full of pitfalls and mountains and as a friend of mine would say, learning curves – praise God, we have Jesus to hold our hand and the Holy Spirit to light our way – God bless – nita”  – August 30, 2007, comment on Words, We All Have Them

What a great encourager and a sweet friend.

god-heartWhile I can’t sing it and they would not want me to, I dedicate the words to this song to her and her family. May God give Nita peace and comfort, may He wrap his arms around her loved ones! Thank you, Nita, for all your words of love, wisdom, and encouragement to all of us!

Lyrics for You Are My God by Nicol Sponberg

Breathe in breathe out

That’s all that I can do now

Hold on somehow

My world has come crashing down

And I cannot understand

How this could be your heart

Still I’m lifting trembling hands

Help me trust in who you are

 

You are my God

Here in the darkness in the night

You have never left my side

You are my God

Even when I can’t see your face

I know I’m held in your embrace

You are my God

 

I’m weak I’m torn

My tears like rain fall to the floor

But peace my Lord

You have whispered in this storm

And this is still your plan

That you would have my heart

Help me rest in who you are

 

You are my God

Here in the darkness in the night

You have never left my side

You are my God

Even when I can’t see your face

I know I’m held in your embrace

You are my God

 

Where else can I go

And who else can I turn to

Your word is eternal life

And I’m not letting go

I’m holding on to you

 

You are my God

Here in the darkness in the night

You have never left my side

You are my God

 

Greater than all the world combined

Let everything else be left behind

You are my God

 

I long to be lost in your embrace

I’m turning my eyes up to your face

You are my God

 

 

 

New York, New Home

Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. – Isaiah 43:19

There comes a time in each of our lives when we are faced with transition. The moving from one place to another resulting in change. I have been in this place so many times in my life…well, I could count but the number is far too high. I moved around several times when I was a kid and a teenager. Yes, they were stressful, mostly because of the unknown. As a young adult I moved several times in an effort to maintain rent control…basic roof over your head stuff.

moving-truck-and-boxes-1200x800Then I joined the US Air Force. Need I say more? I came to Houston in March of 2001. I remember having many ambivalent feelings about coming here. We were a military family and having to live in the civilian world. We would not have all the benefits of living close to or on a Military installation.  That was a major adjustment.

We found a church home to attend in August 2001. We were there the Sunday before 9/11 and Jerry Falwell was preaching that particular Sunday and it was eerily a timely message. Little did I know then how God would move in my life, turning everything I knew at the time upside down and inside out.

Several years afterwards I would find myself a single mother again, only this time of 4 children, having to go back to work. I was a stay at home mom for 12 years and this was a ‘transition’ I was not ready for. I was devastated that I had to leave my kids each day to drive across Houston and spend 9 hours a day away from them. I believe I cried for 6 months straight, during the commute, because I had leave them. I imagined every disaster under the sun happening to them. God really had to build me up and strengthen my faith!! He did.

It would take a book to tell you all that happened from that day to this and maybe I will write it someday. But I can tell you every single event and every single transition has gone through the fingers of God! The devastation, the losses, the blessings, the miracles, the mind-blowing answers to 20-year prayers and the absolute unexpected twists and turns of the direction of my life have brought me to a faith in God that I would have never imagined having back then. (does that make you curious to read the book? LOL)

I and a few ladies from my church have just gone through an 8 week study called “Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free” by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. We had one woman accept the Lord as her Savior and several of the women resolve major issues in their lives. I am praising God for the opportunity to get to know each one of them and see the Lord work in each of their lives…for this to was an answer to prayer.

Tomorrow I begin a new study with these ladies + a few more. It is called “A Woman’s Heart God Dwelling Place” by Beth Moore. Though I have done this one before, I am excited to go through this study again for several reasons. One, when watching the introduction video Beth mentions having updated the study. She explains how she went back through the whole thing. She was worried at first about doing so but soon came to realize it was all new to her again.

Second, when I first arrived here in Texas the very first bible study I was doing on my own was this very study. I can not tell you all the ways it blessed me then other than it really cemented in my mind what our relationship with Jesus is supposed to look like. She shows you, through the Tabernacle, how God plans every single, intimate detail of His fellowship with us. (That is when we finally commit to having a relationship with Him) The study really helped me to see the intricate devotion He has when it comes to providing for us, comforting us, leading us and ultimately loving us. He used this to prepare my heart and mind for what lay ahead in the coming years.

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All this brings me to the reason for this post…I am heading into another transition in my life. My husband and I have been empty-nesters for a few months now. And recently we got news that we would have to relocate. So after 16 years in Houston, Texas I will be moving to Niagara Falls, New York. I will be leaving my wonderful job of 12 years. Leaving friends and family to head North East. I have never been there before. It is all going to be new. There is some sadness in leaving and saying goodbye. (more on this in an upcoming post)

I know God is in this too. He confirmed it for me just yesterday. Again, as I was watching the Introduction video to the bible study it occurred to me that I am doing the very same bible study I did in 2001 coming into Houston. So when she said it was all new to her, it thrilled me because if I know one thing its that His mercies are new every morning, His word is living and always speaks to you where ever you are in your life and as promised He is doing a new thing!!!

Going into this study expecting the new and exciting things God has to show me through this study is so very overwhelming.  But the anticipation of what new adventures, what new places to explore and what new place to serve Him is the answer to the prayer, “God move me!” Of course when I prayed that I meant ‘move my heart’ after months of feeling kind of stuck spiritually….not my home!!

But isn’t that just like God to take me literally? 🙂

Grace to you,
Shell

Emotions, Who Can Trust Them?

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So I have to share with you how God is just so amazing. How personal and sweet His grace is. Normally, I would not want to share my emotional melt downs on social media but I am convicted by some of the truths we learned in our bible study this week. This week our lessons were on the lies women believe about our emotions. One of them being, we can not control our emotions. Well I am here to tell that this one has been a hard one for me for many years…we can and we should because we can choose to.
Easter Sunday was an exciting day for our church in that we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection and we provided an Easter Egg Hunt for the children. I was super excited for them all. I brought my camera (I am not a professional and am still learning the settings) and proceeded to take pictures of everything. I recorded one of the older boys helping me lay the eggs in our roped off area, the kids coming out to the area with their Easter baskets. I took shots of families walking, talking and laughing. I tried to snap every kid picking up eggs and I even took some family portrait shots by the tree with the “Happy Easter” sign. I was so excited to see my images. And then on the very last picture of the day, I thought, I will just check this picture.
When I tell you my heart fainted, it would be an understatement. I had taken some pictures the day before on Manual settings for low lighting and forgot to change back to Auto. So every picture I clicked was still in my head because they were completely white on my camera. Tears welled up in my eyes because I was completely deflated. I made a big deal about it for several minutes.
Of course my special friend, you know who you are, teased me about missing their kid on his most special day. LOL And others were supportive and kind. My daughter and another young lady immediately said they would send me the pictures off their phones. And so I acquiesced. It was done and there was nothing I could do about it. But I was so disappointed I could not stop talking about it.
What did I do? I cleaned up, put everything away and proceeded to cry on my ride home. Don’t ask me why I cried. I really could not say, other than I built this whole thing up in my head and was super excited for this day. It was our first egg hunt, there were families that had not had a holiday together for a long time. And my grand-daughters were there. I wanted it to be special and it was.

I said all that to say this…When I finally received all the pictures from the ladies who took the pictures, I got to see the kids faces, I cried again. Oh boy. I went to post them on our church website and in searching for a verse to speak to the event of the day I found one and it spoke directly to ME!

11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
The Lord will give grace and glory;
No good thing will He withhold
From those who walk uprightly.
12 O Lord of hosts,
Blessed is the man who trusts in You!
— Psalm 84:11-12
He fills us with warmth and love, (He gives us gifts to use for Him) He protects us (from ourselves and others) He gives glory and grace (through all the blessings we receive) God withholds no good thing from those who love Him (He provided the pictures through others) He blesses those who trust in Him (the smiles on the kids faces and the parents smiling watching them)
Can you believe it?
Yep, that is my God!

By Him

For by Him were all things created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions or principalities or powers: all things were created by Him and for Him.

Colossians 1:16

heaven and earth

Where are you God in the land you ordained?

We look up, eyes to heaven.

Where are you God in the people you dwell?

We look out, eyes to man.

Where are you God in the dust you formed?

We look down, eyes to earth.

By His creation He says “I am here.”

When will you lift your hand of protection?

We hold on, faith in God, The Father.

When will you come for your Bride?

We hold on, worshiping the Son.

When will you leave the lost to themselves?

We hold on, trusting in the Holy Spirit.

By His Word He says “I am the Great I AM.”

Why do you wait for all to come?

He gives hope, our only way.

Why do you forgive when all have sinned?

He gives mercy, His only way.

Why do you sacrifice one for many?

He gives love, The Only Way.

By His gift He says “I am love.”

by Michelle M. McMillen 
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