Thursday, December 29, 2011

Wrapping Around Him

     It had been a tear-filled couple of days by the time Christmas 2011 arrived. As I had done the previous year, I decided to get out of the house and hike at a beloved park. I bundled up, grabbed my daughter, and headed out for some sunshine to help combat my blues. What a contrast this hike was to last year's hike on the same day. While snow was in abundance before, there was not a speck to be seen a year later. Walking on, I didn't miss the snow one bit. How I was enjoying the crisp air! Relaxation swept over me as my senses hungrily took in all that was to be had. We weren't too far into the hike when I came to the above picture. I could hear Him whispering to me, Look at how the tree has wrapped itself around the rock. Am I not your Rock? Will you wrap yourself around Me in the same way?

I filed His words in my head somewhere, reluctant to answer Him right away. The truth of the matter is that I felt as if I were already doing my best to trust Him in the midst of surviving some curveballs that had recently come my way. How I missed my mom and wished that this time of the year would not be a marker of her passing! Two separate phone conversations with family members had stirred up fear and sadness in my heart. The car keys were lost. The cold water wasn't working in the bathroom. The refrigerator was leaking and needed either fixed or replaced. There was the leaky faucet in the basement laundry room, necessitating the strategic placement of buckets to catch four different drips. A gift card had been misplaced with a sizable amount of money on it just in time for us to purchase items for Dmitri's first ever mission trip within the week.

His voice stayed with me that day, yet I still did not feel like answering. Instead, I stubbornly continued on in my sadness. I woke up the next day prepared to drag myself through the remainder of 2011, and disovered my command for that week in my Scripture memorization program: "Rejoice!" Really??? I was feeling pretty grumbly and not wanting to cooperate with whatever the Lord was up to with me. In spite of a bad attitude on my part, I rolled up my sleeves and got serious about memorizing that week's Scripture.

The next day I went into the basement and discovered a totally thawed out basket of food sitting on the floor. John had taken inventory of what we had to eat and had forgotten to put everything back into the freezer. Into the trash it all went and fear knocked on my heart again. I felt panicked as I thought, "Wait a minute, Lord! That's the food You provided for us when we needed it. Just like that it is gone and I am left having to put my faith into action. Do I really believe that You will take care of me or not?" Yes, I believed that He would take care of me, but I sure wasn't liking the way He was going about it! I remembered His question about whether or not I would wrap myself around Him, but I still didn't want to think about it just then. The best I could do was listen to songs that reminded me of who He is.

The next morning found us discovering that we had forgotten to turn the refrigerator back on after cleaning it. Many things were a mushy mess and went right into the trash can. How could this be happening again?!!! Hadn't I just shared with everyone on Facebook how He had met our needs? What, was I now supposed to go back and tell everyone, "Yeah, that thing about God taking care of my family? Well, you can just disregard that."? We would still have just enough food to eek by, but I could feel even the smallest bit of security I had left slipping away. I was not feeling particularly cheerful as I threw the last two meat items in the oven to use before they went bad. I thought about the Israelites and how they looked to the Lord on a daily basis to meet their needs. Again, the command to rejoice came to me and again the thought of wrapping myself around Him came to me. "Okay, Lord, okay," I relented.

So just how is this wrapping myself around Him supposed to look anyhow? I purposed to lock myself away in my bedroom with the Lord and not come out for an hour. I opened the blinds to let some natural light in and spread my materials out on the bed: Bible, three devotions, pad of paper, journal, pen, pencil, highlighters. I started by singing the prayer to the Holy Spirit and moved on with my devotions. A myriad of household noises made their way up to me, making it difficult for me to concentrate. No matter, I was gonna stick this out! Little by little, the noises became less distracting until I ceased to notice them at all. I sang choruses that He brought to mind. I doodled my memory verses in code, adding splashes of color to help me remember them. I prayed. I dug deeper into verses when He caused them to jump out at me. Oh, it was a glorious time, but the hour seemed to be up way too soon. I was left knowing that God wants me to trust Him enough to praise Him when things are not going well for me.The times that I don't feel my best and when I feel the most fearful. No circumstance that I face can ever change the fact that He is God and worthy of my praise. I could sit and write for months and months about His majesty as revealed in nature or His tenderness in transforming this heart of mine into one that beats for Him.

One of the greatest things He blessed me with during my time of wrapping around Him was new eyes to see Psalm 89:15, which says, "Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim You, who walk in the light of Your Presence, O LORD!"  Hmmm... I just had to look up the definition of acclaim. Acclaim means to praise enthusiastically and often publicly; applaud. As I grow in my faith walk, this business of acclaiming Him is something that I have gotten better and better at. And, praise God, there is a promise of blessing for me when I do it. Just like the verse says, it is something that is learned. It is giving the Lord credit where credit is due, even if it means humbling myself to share my failings. I'm guessing that having a heart that rejoices in doing that has a lot to do with my ability to walk in the light of His Presence. And I really want that!

Lord, You are entirely faithful! You have cared for me in every way, always drawing me nearer to Your heart. Thank You for the precious promise that You will bless me when I acclaim You. Help me to always proclaim who You are and what You are doing in my life. Forgive me for allowing earthly concerns to harden my heart, causing me to stop up my ears to what You would say to me - the very things that would bring me relief. How thankful I am that You never give up on me! I am Yours, Lord, use me as You will. Only please soften my heart to accept (with joy) whatever ways You choose to work in me and through me for Your glory. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

God's Love Gift

     This time of year always finds me in a reflective state of mind. During the month of December I especially focus on keeping my mind stayed on my beautiful Lord. There are many things to tug on me: that balance between doing too much or too little, the sadness that accompanies memories of my mom passing away at this time, the stories recounting man's depravity and our need for a Savior....
I have made it my practice to consciously look for God's love gift to me each day. In my neediness I find it necessary to remind myself that I am dearly loved and that He likes to lavish me with good gifts. Most of the year I keep them hidden in my heart, but I let my guard down enough to share them with friends during the month of December when so much of the world is focusing on Christmas gifts. Believe it or not, I can be a very private person, which means that sharing can be hard for me. I can never quite shake the feeling, though, that the Lord likes to use me to show other people how He loves and that we don't have to have it all together. So I obey Him in sharing my successes, failures, fears, embarrassments... and always His goodness.

     The picture I am sharing is one of  His love gifts to me. I had been walking with the kids down our street to the neighborhood VBS with a million things on my mind. I was feeling the stress of hoping to make VBS happen for our special needs son.... wondering how he would do even with me by his side the entire time.... wondering if they would show him Christ's love at this church. I was thinking about my husband being out of work, my oldest son getting ready to start college, and about where we would live since the court had ordered our divorcing landlords to sell the home we lived in. I was thinking about what I needed to do to pull everything together for a new homeschool year. On top of those things, there was that constant underlying uneasiness about all of the robberies that were taking place on our block... so much so that we didn't even like to leave the house. We felt like prisoners, yet we were blessed to have a place to live... who knew where we would be going and how long before we would need to go? There are probably tons of things that I am forgetting these months later, but I've tried to give you a snapshot in that moment of time concerning where I was in my head as we made our way down the street.

     My daughter's voice broke into my thoughts in such a way that made me shake myself back to the here and now. "Look!," she was saying. "Look at that!" I briefly paused to investigate what she was so excited about, fully expecting to give the Go-To response that we moms use way too much: "Uh huh... that's nice." My eyes tracked the place that she was pointing to in the sky, and fell on this gorgeous heart-shaped cloud. Stopped me dead in my tracks and brought tears to my eyes. I get it, Lord, I get it. You love me. You will take care of me. You KNOW. You are with me. It's gonna be okay. What a beautiful gift for me at the exact moment that I needed it.

     As we wrap up 2011, I realize that I cannot even number the gifts He's blessed me with. In all honesty, I wouldn't have chosen many of the gifts that He lavished on me. :o) He knows so much better what I need than I do, though. I find myself in an incredibly sweet place of utter dependence. I am amazed at all He's done in my life... the way He blesses when I obey... how He patiently reminds me of His love for me... the work that He continues to do in me.

     Speaking of the work that He continues to do in me... recently, I've been shocked by another of His love gifts to me: I am becoming a hugger. Yes, you read that correctly... a hugger. Unbelievable, isn't it? The truly great part about that is His revelation as to why it's such a love gift: it shows that His loving is winning me over. Praise God! Hugging is such an intimate thing requiring one to allow others to be close to them. A person with fear and trust issues, such as myself, often times wants to run in the opposite direction when it is time to get to hugging. I don't know how it happened, but I've been noticing that I hug more often than not now... and it makes me happy! He has shown me how it is His love spilling out of me to others. The more I have filled my heart with His Word and the things of Him, the more love I have had for others. And the more I fill my heart with the things of Him, the more I am able to trust Him... and trust Him enough to love others like He tells me to. Sometimes it means giving a listening ear, while other times it means humbly sharing my weaknesses. Sometimes that even means giving a big hug! It has been an amazing transformation and I give Him all of the glory for it

     Lord, thank You for loving me as You do. In your lovingkindness, You have given me abundant reasons to put my trust in You more fully. You never cease to bless me when I obey You, just like You tell me You will do in Your Word. I love that You are my shield (offering protection to one who oftentimes feels unsafe) and my very great reward. You say that You will reward those who diligently seek You, and I now see that, ultimately, the reward is the finding of You. What a blessing! I love You, Lord. Thanks for loving me, too.

Your dearly loved daughter, Tamra.



Friday, October 14, 2011

The Dying Season

I've been a bit mournful during these fall days that are bringing me closer to winter, or The Dying Season, as I prefer to call it. A recent hike found me looking around the woods at all of the browns that are so prevalent during these months in Ohio. I couldn't help but miss the bright blooms of spring and the carefree feel of summer. Willing myself to think positive, my mind turned to the hiking I had enjoyed last winter. I had learned to appreciate the cool air, the evergreen trees, and the neat animal tracks in the snow. I reminded myself that there is always something to delight in if I will just be intentional about looking for it.

The Lord is reminding me that we pass through many seasons in our lives. Sometimes we experience the joys and hopes of spring. Sometimes we walk through the dying time of late fall and winter. What is important to remember, though, is that the spring would not seem as sweet if we hadn't just emerged from the winter. Would we really appreciate the wildflowers and green surroundings if we experienced them day in and day out? I don't think that I would. It just wouldn't mean quite as much to me.

The above picture is that of Sulphur Shelf, which I usually spy while hiking in the fall. By that time, the woods are beginning to die back and this bright splash of color is always so inviting. It is important to note that this fungus is usually found on dead trees, though sometimes it occurs as a parasite on living trees. The Lord seems to be stressing to me that this striking mushroom would not be possible without death and dying. It would not look half as beautiful if so many things weren't dying all around it.

I thank You, Lord, for caring enough to speak comfort through this aspect of Your creation. I pray that You would help me, even today, to recognize the beauty that You've placed around me during this season. I don't want to miss anything that You have for me! Please give me eyes to see what You have for me. Grow in me the ability to see the good in all circumstances so that I may be an encouragement to others. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Stolen Joy

     Over the past few weeks, the Lord has been revealing a definite theme for me at this point in my life. I guess it all started with my realization that the trying circumstances of the present have really taken a toll on me. The Lord's been specifically speaking to me about the joy I am to have in Him despite what is going on around me. Recently, the Bible passages that contain the word  joy have seemed to jump off the page at me. I have been assigning memory verses to one of my daughters for the last two weeks that mention  joy. The Lord's voice has been unmistakable and inescapable, "You are to have joy. None of this matters because you have Me. Look to Me - I am enough! I can and will fill you with joy in My presence."

     I have been willing myself to be positive and thank Him in all things, but it's never far from my mind that perhaps I shouldn't have to work so hard at it. My mind is constantly flooded with uncertainties and the temptation to worry or fear. The enemy causes me to doubt my Lord in sneaky ways by twisting the truth to serve his diabolical purposes. So many times I am so mixed up that I don't even know what to think. I've found that the only thing I can do during those times is constantly remind myself of who He is and how He loves me. I remind myself about what I know to be the truth and I hold onto that for dear life.

     I have discovered that the more steadfast I cling to my Lord, the more the battle rages. I don't know what else to do except hold on tight. I think of when disciples were deserting Jesus and He questioned the Twelve, "You do not want to leave, too, do you?" I can so identify with Peter's response: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." I find myself thinking the same thing. There is no alternative to living my life for Him. There is nowhere and no one to go to but Him. So what about the joy part of the equation?

     Now here's where I finally get to the picture at the top of the page. It's a Morel mushroom. Until this past spring, I had never even heard of one. A chance blurb and picture of one on Facebook by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources began my education. My brother called me not too long afterwards and began discussing them with me. I remember thinking it strange that I was hearing so much about them all of a sudden. Imagine my surprise when, a few days later, I happened upon one during a spring hike. It is an understatement to say that I was excited! I snapped the photo and went on my way, only to gush about it to the very next hiker I ran into. Since she had never seen one either, and wanted to, I beat a path right back to the Morel with the woman in tow.

     I thought I knew exactly where it had been, but it suddenly seemed to have evaporated into thin air. Puzzled, I mentally retraced my steps. Then it came to me... the man! I had seen a man carrying a bright orange five gallon bucket, wearing a headband with what looked to be some sort of eyepiece attached to it. My curiosity about his bucket had almost prompted me to ask him what he had in there. It all became clear to me now. He had been in the park illegally hunting for the tasty mushrooms that so many thousands seek out in the spring. I was disappointed and so was the lady I had brought along to share in the joy of my discovery. My joy had been stolen right along with the mushroom.

     It might not seem like much, but this incident really saddened me. Like so many other things in my life, it seemed like it was yet another joyful thing that was being snatched from me. A few other examples include the jobs that have enabled my husband to provide well for us that have disappeared. The one step forward in marriage, that is quickly followed by what seems like three steps back. The joy of motherhood that feels replaced at times by the fatigue of parenting a special needs child. The many hopes and dreams for life and ministry that seem as good as dead due to life circumstances . Even something silly like trying to make the yard look pretty to help with depressed feelings is met with the lawn mower dying unexpectedly.

     I'll give one more example that may bring a smile to your face. Two weeks ago we were driving on what looked to be our last tank of gas. Utilities were quickly coming due and there was no hope of money in sight. We went to church and I gave our very last dollar to my daughter to put in the offering plate. I did so joyfully, rejoicing in the fact that I now could identify with the widow in the Bible who gave all she had. Yes, our situation was dire, but I had this one thing to lift my spirits. Well, wouldn't you know that my husband took a folded up piece of paper out of my purse a few days later and two dollar bills slipped out. I was disappointed that I hadn't given my very last dollar after all!!! I know, I know... I thought I had at the time, and two dollars isn't exactly a fortune. I just wanted to show how my brain is wired to feel joy based on my circumstances - particularly in them going the way I would like them to. I am guilty too often of thinking I know best about how things should go in order to keep a steady flow of joy pulsing through my being. Inevitably, things go differently, and, "Poof!" goes my joy with them.

     God's Word tells me, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10). I am keenly aware these days that the enemy is seeking to steal my joy. I tell myself that I must resist him so that he will flee from me. I remind myself that these irritations are very small in the grand scheme of things and that the Lord is using them to make me more like Christ. I ponder how desperately I rely on Him and how there is not much I can do for myself beyond loving Him. I think that's right where He wants me to be for now while He teaches me some more about His love, provision, grace, and good plan for my life.

     In closing, we had the rare opportunity to begin the study of a new book of the Bible in our ABF this morning. What might this book be? Phippians. After wrestling with these thoughts about my joy being M.I.A. these days, I should have guessed that the Lord was taking me somewhere with it. My teacher pointed out to us how the Apostle Paul had tremendous joy no matter what his circumstances were and that we should, too.

I hear You, Lord! This ought to be a fun ride. I confess that my joy is too often linked to external things. You know that the enemy tries to beat me up about that, accusing me of not being a good enough follower of You. Help me to best distinguish Your voice, and to immediately recognize and decisively push the voice of the enemy from my mind. Please renew my spirit and return to me the joy of Your salvation. In the precious name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


     Look closely near the center of this picture at the teeny tiny sunflower. It is located right smack in the middle of our brush pile. Choking and invasive plants such as Ivy, Bittersweet Nightshade, and Morning Glories can be seen growing among and around the twigs and plants. Pebbly soil is underneath, while shade from a giant oak tree is overhead. Not the best place for a sunflower to grow!

     You can see the same little flower in the bottom third of the picture. Now lift your eyes to the top right corner of the picture to see the sunflowers I transplanted along my fence a few months ago. They had been volunteers the same as the tiny one, but I had moved them to a place where they could thrive. And thrive they did! They look between six and nine feet tall. I smile inside each time I see them, and the birds love them. Don't we all kind of crave those kind of optimal conditions in our own lives?

     The lesson for me comes from that little one, which looks to be about two feet tall. Everything about its surroundings seems all wrong, yet there it is bravely blooming in spite of it all. I want to be like that flower! Don't you? Don't you want others to see the beauty of the Lord emanating from you no matter what "stuff" is making it a struggle for you?

Lord, thanks for patiently speaking to me day after day. I see You everywhere, and You are such a comfort to me. You know that my circumstances would not be considered ideal by many, including myself. I want You to know that I trust You with what You're doing. And, Lord, could You strengthen me to bloom "in spite of" just like that little flower? I want to bring glory and honor to You.  In the beautiful name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Eyes of the LORD

     Anna-Frances and I dropped off a covered dish this morning for a funeral luncheon at our church. A 25 year old servant of the Lord is gone too soon. I read today of a man who was attacked and killed as he walked home from his neighbor's house to flip his steaks on the grill. A month ago, an 11 year old Akron girl was fatally wounded by a stray bullet as she sat watching television with her family inside the apartment of a family member. Unfortunately, we are bombarded on a daily basis with these unsettling kinds of stories.

     Difficult enough to bear on their own, these things are accompanied by a myriad of other ills. I find myself weaving in and out, up and down, through a life littered with mines. Each and every step could potentially bring pain. I look around and see tattered marriages, terminal illness, poverty, misunderstandings, crime, family pressures, lies and other effects of sin being in our world. It can be downright disheartening at times!

     On a recent hike, Dara-Grace pointed out the berries of this wildflower, White Baneberry. They are interesting to look at, but poisonous if eaten. You will most likely not die from ingesting them, but you will definitely become ill. While I do feel sickened by all of the pain that surrounds me, I will not center this devotion around that thought. Instead, I will share that this flower is also known as Doll's Eyes, which made me start thinking about seeing.

     It is easy to feel alone or discouraged as I trudge through life. Sure, there are blessings along the way, but I often find myself feeling swallowed by the trying circumstances that seem to blow in uninvited. It is then, when the depression wraps itself around me, that I want to ask the Lord, " Do You see what is happening? Do You see how I am trying to be faithful to You in the midst of this? Do You see my pain? Do You SEE... me..., God?"

     As I ponder this, I immediately think of the Biblical account of Hagar. Having suffered at the hand of Sarai, she fled into the desert and encountered the angel of the Lord. She shared her woes, was told to return, and was given the promise of many descendents. She came away from this personal encounter with a new name for the LORD: "You are the God who sees me." I love that! I can just imagine how meaningful and precious that was to her.

     I am comforted by other verses:

"For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him" (2 Chronicles 16:9).

" But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love," (Psalm 33:18).

     No matter what we may be going through, we can be sure that God sees us. He cares and He has a plan. The pain and sorrow sadden Him, too, and it won't always be this way. For now, it has to be enough for me to know this as I wait for the day when He will wipe away every tear.

Lord, thank You for the assurance that You do see me. You know. You are good and I can entrust myself to You. The NKJV of 2 Chronicles 16:9 promises that You will show Yourself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are loyal to You. I cling to that as I trust my today and tomorrows to You. In the strong name of Jesus I pray, Amen.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Falling Down

The Lord had lots to say to me when I found my Pokeweed in this sad state today. Only yesterday it had been standing tall and straight, stately and strong. As I pondered its condition, I thought of the factors that had brought it to this point: weight and rain storms.

Growing to the height of seven to ten feet tall, it had long ago surpassed my five foot tall frame. This is one large plant! My eyes easily find them when I am hiking, and I always marvel at their size. As they continue on in the growing season, they grow bigger and heavier. But I'll get back to today. For some reason, I was surprised to find it toppled over like this. I never thought about the possibility of it ever sharing the same fate as some of my weighty sunflowers. And hadn't it been standing just fine only yesterday?

I thought about this some more and remembered the heavy rain we have had recently. Of course! The pelting it had taken from the showers had been enough, when coupled with its already heavy condition, to cause it to succumb to the plunge downward. I wished that I had thought enough to place something near it to help hold it up.

Then came that unmistakable whisper to my heart: "Tamra, don't you see? That plant didn't have a chance without support. It didn't have anything to lean on. Your burdens have become increasingly heavy over the past few months. You, too, will topple like that plant  in the storms of life unless you swallow your pride and lean on not only Me, but the Body of Christ during this difficult time."

So here's the deal: we need a lot of prayer right now. My husband lost his job almost two weeks ago and we were already struggling before then. Just about everything that can go wrong has been going wrong. And it's been very disheartening. I hate this familiar path! I have been slow to share where we are because I worry about what people will think of us. I do not want people to judge us or wonder why we just can't seem to get it together. I fear that people will wonder if we are sinning and God is punishing us as a result. I fear, I fear, I fear....

And the Lord says, "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" (Isaiah 41:10)

and, "Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe" (Proverbs 29:25).

and, "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up" (James 4:10)

I think I need to confess that two dear friends of ours brought groceries today because we were a day or two away from having nothing. And wouldn't you know that I was still reluctant to accept help? I was still hoping it could happen some other way.

Besides the job situation, I will share another big area that we need prayer. We're going to have to move and this really grieves me. Again, the job loss came at what seemed like the worst possible moment. Our landlords divorced not too long ago, and could not reach a financial agreement about the house we are renting. The judge ordered them to sell it and split the money, which has been quite stressful for me. We are not in a position to buy and I can only imagine how difficult it may be to find someone to rent to us if John isn't working again by that time and there is no employer to check in with. A friend reminded me today that it's not my job to think (okay, worry!) about those things - it's God's.

Pray for peace for me as we will have people walking through our dwelling place when the property needs shown. We came home from church today and were surprised to find cars and people here. As it turns out, one of the landlords is having work done to improve the property value for the sale. It was a bad reminder of how unsure and insecure things appear right now. I so crave security, yet I am aware that I must not make an idol out of it.

The bottom line is that I am humbling myself and bringing these prayer concerns to those in the Body who happen to read this. We need prayer and lots of it. These are the two major things, but there are tons of other things as well. Things like me needing God's help to speak kindly to my family members when I am overly stressed. Things like the vacuum and lawn mower dying, Dmitri starting college tomorrow, and Levi being home and busy ALL of the time now. :o)

Thanks for listening.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Not in Vain

     I happened upon this wildflower, Moth Mullein, along my walking route last year. Like many wildflowers, it does not appear remarkable at first glance. At one inch across, the bloom is not so big as to catch your attention. However, if you take the time to make a closer inspection you can begin to appreciate its hairy stem and the tinge of purple found at its center. Further study provides two more interesting tidbits: it is so named for the purple hairs on its stamens, which resemble the fuzzy antennae of a moth, and its seeds remain viable for more than one hundred years. I am so delighted by the attention our Creator has given to this wildflower and to each of us.

     After reading all of that, I bet you are wondering how the Lord spoke to me through this wildflower! Well, it was the part about the seed, but I'll provide a bit of background to better explain. I have continued on the "narrow path" the Lord put me on last year. It has taken some adjusting to along the way, but I think that I've done pretty well. Lately, though, I have begun noticing that I am feeling a bit lonely and isolated. I spend my days pouring myself out for my family, at times sacrificing more than I'd like if I'm totally honest with myself and you. The reward seems so minimal when I look at it in the here and now. I mean, it's sometimes hard to see the bright future in the midst of sibling quarrels and hearts that seem reluctant at times to embrace attitudes that glorify the Lord. It's easy to wonder at times if any of my hard work is even making a difference.

     As always, whenever I get off track, the Word is there to redirect me. How thankful I am for that bit of protection! The Lord began to faithfully minister to me with verses such as the following:
  • "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up" (Galatians 6:9).
  • "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Ephesians 5:1,2).
  • "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men" (Colossians 3:23).
  • Titus 3:1 tells us "to be ready to do whatever is good."
  • The end of Hebrews 11:6 tells us that "he rewards those who earnestly seek him."
     I could go on and on with verses like the ones I shared. Ultimately, the Lord drove the point home by reminding me of the spiritual seed that I sow into my children's lives. Sometimes I can see that things are sprouting and taking root in their hearts. Praise God for that! Other times, I have to fight the temptation to tap my foot in impatience as I wait and wait for anything to grow. The fact that the seed of the Moth Mullein wildflower  remains viable for one hundred years speaks to me of how far reaching our seed planting efforts extend. I may not see certain things now, or even in my lifetime, but that does not mean that my work was in vain. If my memory serves me correctly, I heard in a sermon once that we are not judged immediately after our death because our works, whether good or bad, live on after us. Wow! That thought is both awesome and scary at the same time. Who knows when something I said or did will pop into my children's minds, causing them to live more fully for Him? Who knows who they or their children or grandchildren will influence for the Kingdom because of an unselfishly planted seed by their mother.

     Father God, thank You that I can always count on You to reign me in and remind me of what is true. Your Word is alive and gives me everything I need to live each day successfully for You. Let Psalm 63:8 be true of me in that my soul clings to You. Help me to surrender my days to You, trusting in You and not leaning on my own understanding. Help me to look past myself and what I want to You and what You want. Thank You for encouraging me that the seeds I sow now have not been sown in vain and may come to fruition somewhere down the road in Your perfect timing. I recognize my need to obey You in the next thing in every part of every day, and to trust You with the rest. I humbly look to You to provide whatever grace is necessary to accomplish that. In the precious name of Jesus the Christ, Amen. 



Sunday, June 12, 2011

Christ in me the hope of glory

The Lord has graciously been speaking to me through this beautiful Evening Primrose flower. I know that He loves me, but sometimes I am just wowed by the way He initiates a deeper walk with Himself. I am so thankful that He enables me to see his handiwork all around me, and hear His voice through His creation. He is good!

I have always liked this flower in my garden. It started as a single bloom from a friend and is now like a bush. I never much liked yellow flowers until I was introduced to this one. There is just something about it! It stands out, bright and cheery, next to the other flowers in my flower bed, earning praises from neighbors and friends. I am not usually in a position to purchase gifts for those who are special to me, but this flower has proved to be a remedy for that. On a few occasions it has become a wonderful parting gift to send with anyone who admires it.

The Lord showed me this week that I am like the Evening Primrose. Yes, it is true that He has made me to stand out amongst other women. Every Christian is called to be different, and it benefits us to ask ourselves if there is enough difference between us and the world. This is a nice reminder, but not what He spoke to my heart.

It took a bit of digging to glean all that He would have me hear from Him. When I searched for information, I discovered that this flower is found in poorer environments and grows best in disturbed soils. He certainly had my attention now! I thought about that and began to hear, like a tape recording, all of the Scriptures that speak of the benefits of living in the midst of "disturbed soil." How often I can say that things have not gone as I would have chosen! Inevitably, the way is much harder and gives ample opportunity to fear. Looking back, those are the very situations that teach me to trust Him more. Those are the times when I grow and even thrive in the midst of the uncertainty. And all because of the very things that I dread the most.

One more neat little thing about this plant is its stigma. Look at it in the picture. It is cross shaped. A two-fold reminder for me: I have Christ within me and I will sometimes be called to identify with His suffering. Who knew that the Lord would have so much to say through a simple flower? He never ceases to amaze me!

Lord, You are so very good to me! Thank you for the reminder that great things result from the bumps that I encounter along the path You have me on. I am in awe of Your creativity, Lord! I cannot fathom the intricacies of the things You have made. I praise You because You are worthy to be praised. I lift up my heart to you and humbly ask that You keep me close to You. In the beautiful name of Jesus I pray, Amen.


Thursday, April 14, 2011


     My girls and I had the opportunity to participate in a Metroparks volunteer effort to help eradicate the invasive garlic mustard plant. Populations of garlic mustard can spread rapidly, advancing an average of 20 feet per year. Each plant produces anywhere from 350 to 7,900 seeds. If left unchecked, the garlic mustard plant will crowd out the native plants that we enjoy seeing on our hikes.

     We arrived early,  fitted our hands with the bright blue nitrile gloves, grabbed some black trash bags, and set off with the others to get to work. The first area we passed through was very manageable, with a smattering of plants here and there that were easy enough to eliminate. This had been an area of focus last year, and it was encouraging to see the dwindling numbers of garlic mustard. My daughter began jubilantly pulling the plants and saying, "You thought you had won, but WE defeated you!" It was quite cute.

     We moved further down the trail and our eyes were met with green as far as we could see. Not green from trees, grass, or wildflowers. It was a sea of garlic mustard. It was everywhere! We sat our bag down and purposed to get to work on it. Little by little, we began clearing out our area. It started to feel like we were actually making a difference. But then we'd look up and it'd be the same sea of green for as far as we could see. Ugh! It was quite discouraging.

     As we pulled, I shared how garlic mustard is like sin. Sin has an ever increasing nature that we must go to war against daily. If we are not vigilant in pulling it, root and all, from our lives, it will spread and take over. I don't want my heart to be overrun by things that are not of God. Sin is never content to stay small! It will always begin to take over and crowd out those things that are pleasing to my Lord.

     Heavenly Father, I thank you for speaking to me today through the garlic mustard plant. Lord, You know that I want to glorify You with my life. Help me to be quick to identify areas of sin in my life so that I can pull them out before they grow and try to take over. Even as I write this, I can think of a few strongholds in my life that need to be uprooted. I humbly ask for your help with that, too. I pray that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, I may keep my heart cleaned of the sin that so easily spreads. By doing this, I know that I will have more room for the things that You desire to see abound in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. In the precious name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Look Up!

I can't even detail how crazy my last ten days have been! Just when I thought that things were sure to level off, they'd intensify. The enemy has tempted me lately to just let go and vent about the craziness. To be honest, I really have thought about it at times. When it seems I'm nearing the breaking point, I think, "Oh, how I'd love to sit down and write, minute by minute, what my typical day is like!" But for what?

Sure, I could detail the enormous strain that our household faces even without the extraordinary happenings of late. However, what purpose would that serve? When I think of letting go with a tirade, I can hear the Lord whispering to me, "Would that bring me glory, or would you be giving the enemy the attention he so desires? Instead of that, why don't you just rest in me and trust me to use these circumstances for your good? Let me use your life for my purposes and glory."

I do want my life to glorify God. I want to be found faithful during the crazy times when I feel like I can't take another second. I want to look to Him each day to supply me with whatever strength I'll need for each circumstance that I face. I want to cling to the truth that He is in control no matter how out of control things feel at times. I want to have my gaze fixed upon Him, knowing that I might not see clearly now, but I will one day.

It's really all about perspective. I can look at things right now and grumble about how stressful and horrible they are. Or I can look at it differently and say, "You know, Lord, I don't love going through this, but I believe that you're gonna bring great beauty out of it. I don't feel like I can humanly handle any of this, but I thank You that this opens the door for an awesome display of your strength." Then, somehow in all of it, the enemy will have lost out and God will have received the glory. Now I need only pray that I can obey Him in this when I feel like complaining!

These two pictures remind me that outlook determines a lot. They are the same subject, photographed within a minute of one another. What made the second one prettier? It was because I shot it from a different angle, namely looking up! And so our circumstances can look different to us if we will just look up and to Him.

The Narrow Way

I am in a strange place right now. A place where my walls have drawn inward and I recognize that my world has become much smaller. Like the picture, the path that my feet are on is narrow and strewn with rocks. The wonderful part, though, is that the path leads up! Like always, the Lord whispers to me, "Take my hand and walk with me. Stay close to me for I will help you! I will be your light. I, myself, will show you the way. Trust me, dearly loved daughter."

A few months ago I really felt the Lord speaking to me about priorities and focus. Like many of you, I truly desire that my focus be fully upon Him. Yet, the things of this world, good and bad, clamor for my attention...

I am the type of person who gives my all to everything I do. If you are talking to me, I will be with you. You will not find my eyes darting around to other "more important" people that I think I need a word with. If I am hiking with you, it will be all about taking that chunk of time to enjoy one another and soak in God's awesome creation. If I commit to something with you, I will be faithful and will involve myself to the brim. Though things try to crowd my mind, I purpose to give my all to each situation I find myself in.

At the present time, I have a few important things on my plate that require a lot of time and energy. In order to keep the Lord at the forefront of everything I do, I have found it necessary to keep my world small. If you have not been hearing from me, it is because I am focusing primarily on Him and the tasks He's given me. I know that the smallness of my world is just temporary and will eventually expand once again. Knowing this, I have been praying that the Lord will give me wisdom in enlarging my territory. There are so many good things jockying for a place in my life, but I only have so much space to put them in. So, which ones would He have me include? My heart's desire is that I only welcome the things that He is clearly leading me in.

Father, the path You have me on right now is narrow. You have blessed me with some success in this present smallness, yet I know that it will not stay small like this forever. I pray that you would help me make wise choices about what belongs in my world. I pray that my focus will always be on You and that I will not lose sight of what You are calling me to. Strengthen me, Lord, to do Your will. Guide me along the paths that You would have me on. Give me ears to hear what You speak to me and a fierce determination to obey You. In the precious name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

More Than Meets the Eye

I think of so many things each time I see this picture. I knew the minute I snapped it that I would some day write a devotion for it. I've wanted to draft it on at least a few occasions, but the timing has just never been quite right. Until this morning. I was blessed to have a wonderful moment with the Lord where He suddenly made it all crystal clear to me.

My first thought when I came upon this tree was, "Oh, Lord, this speaks to me! I think that I must know exactly what it feels like to live out this particular visual." You see, this tree is exposed. Uncovered. Vulnerable. Its roots should be buried securely beneath the soil, and yet they are out in the open and unprotected.

Do you ever feel that way? I always remind myself that God is my perfect covering, but that doesn't always stop those nagging thoughts. "I feel vulnerable. I don't feel safe. I feel exposed rather than covered. This doesn't feel good!" I have to mentally gather myself and will myself to trust that the Lord is, in fact, in control. Though I don't always feel it, He is covering me in a most loving and perfect way. He loves me, knows me through and through, and is interested in every detail of my life. And so the mental tug of war continues, "You are so precious to Him, Tamra. Trust Him that everything will be okay. Don't be afraid of what may come. He will prove Himself to be faithful no matter what comes your way."

The Lord brought this picture back to my remembrance this morning as I spent some time with Him. The same thoughts came to me about the tree roots being bared and how I can relate to feeling that way so often. And then the Lord spoke to my heart. I could feel Him impressing upon me the truth of that picture and the reason why I have been so drawn to it from that first moment. Why it has resonated in such a way within me. As is often the case, what He meant to teach me is nothing like what I thought He wanted to teach me.

He showed me this morning that what I can see with this tree's roots is only part of the picture. With perfect gentleness, He whispered, "Daughter, what you see here is not the reality of the matter. There is so much that your eyes cannot see. (Wow!) These are not the only roots that this tree has." I went on to do a little research on the matter and discovered that the roots grow in varying depths and directions. The roots that are shown in this picture probably only make up a very small percent of this tree's root structure. The reality is that this tree is way more secure than I realized. In all likelihood, it has many roots running horizontally in the first two feet of soil for quite a distance. I was surprised to discover how firmly anchored this tree probably is, which was totally not what I was assuming.

As I meditated on these thoughts throughout my day, I was reminded of the story of Elisha and the Arameans in 2 Kings 6. Though surrounded by hostile forces, Elisha told his servant, "Don't be afraid, those who are with us are more than those who are with them." One of my favorites parts of the Bible comes next: "And Elisha prayed, 'O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.' Then the LORD opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha." They were not nearly as vulnerable as the servant believed them to be based on what he could see! The LORD showed up for them with a mighty display of His power. I am learning more each day, and am becoming convinced, that things are rarely the way I see them.

Thank You, Lord, for speaking to me today about this picture that has been on my heart for a while now. You are awesome! I thought I understood what it meant, but You had something totally different in mind. I love how You are always patiently teaching me what You want me to know. Help me to remember that seeing is not always believing. Lord, I want to consistently look to You for the reality of my situation! I pray that You will continue speaking to me, teaching me, and drawing me deeper into Your Word. Cause my heart to never stop seeking You. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

The Beauty Within

On a recent hike with friends, one of the moms asked if I had ever looked inside a sycamore fruit. I guess I had never thought to break one open before. When I did, I could have cried. It's an amazingly intricate design that resembles a honeycomb. It so obviously points to our Creator, and I'd had no idea.

This image of the sycamore fruit was still with me the next day as I heard more whispering from the Lord. In the same way that He placed this amazing sight in this fruit, He has tucked away beauty inside each of us. He has lovingly hand-crafted each of us, the crown of His creation. If He cared enough to make the inside of this sycamore fruit a thing of beauty, I am awed by what He must have done in each of us. It was just another of those moments where He reassured me about the way that He sees me - how special I am to Him and the worth He has assigned to me.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


What does God tell me when I look at the Touch-me-not? Certainly, I think of my need to not touch sin, or else risk giving the devil a foothold in my life. On an emotional level, though, I am reminded of my childhood. I look back now and think of what a sight I must have been. Just a frightened scraggly little girl. I lived in THAT house where the music could be heard blaring all the way down the street, police visits were frequent, and drug deals abounded. Knotted hair and stained clothing. No idea of what it was like to have a traditional family or parents who had any time for me. Oh, it's not that I wasn't loved - I know that I was. It's just that Dad had his own life apart from us and mom had to work so very hard to take care of us.

I think that others surely must have seen my neediness. I imagine that they may have been full of disdain at the idea of getting their hands "dirty" in having dealings with me. So they looked the other way. This is a pet peeve of mine in the Body. How many times are we afraid of getting our hands dirty doing Kingdom work? I thank God that He, in His infinite mercy, brought a few special teachers into my life. They didn't seem to mind if I left smudges on their lives. Their investment in me helped me in more ways than I can list here.

Do you know what's fascinating about the Touch-me-not? When its seedpod is touched, it will burst open, throwing seed in all direction. My life was touched by these teachers. Like the flower, I have been able to expel the seeds that He has planted deep in my soul. They go where He directs them and are used for His purposes. It thrills me to know that He has plans for me and that He has a part for me to play in other people's lives. How thankful I am that those teachers were not afraid to get their hands dirty by touching my life!



I had changed my profile picture not too long ago to this one of the wildflower Indian Pipe. It is quite a unique flower in that it always appears white because it lacks chlorophyll and cannot produce its own food. It receives its nourishment from dead or decaying plant materials. Indian Pipe is also known as Corpse Plant. Its bright white color reminds me somewhat of bones, giving me a visual reminder of this second name. It would certainly never be mistaken for a beauty in a traditional kind of way. I do think that it is strangely beautiful, if not a bit odd.

Some of my best "conversations" with God have been when He speaks to me through His awesome creation. In the midst of recent spiritual warfare, God pointed out to me that I, like this flower, would have to associate myself with death. Some things need to die in me. Praise God that some things are dying in me as I fight on. We tend to have a fear of death and pain, but it produces such beauty and freedom if we will just entrust ourselves to Him. Have I loved the dying moments I have encountered? Certainly not! I could not run away fast enough. My loving Father, though, has a wonderful way of getting me alone with Him and lavishing me with His love and faithfulness. He is so extraordinarily patient with me as I fear the kind of surrender that He is waiting for, but each small "death" along the way draws me nearer to that goal.