Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Stone, Lord?

This past weekend, instead of going to church with the rest of family, I stayed home with a sick child. I suddenly found myself with something that I can scarcely recognize these days: a quiet home. A quiet home!!! It was a true blessing to be able to dawdle during my quiet time with nothing to distract me.

As I luxuriated in this time, I paused periodically to pray for anyone that the Lord brought to mind. It was during one of these pauses that He laid someone on my heart whose one month old daughter was just diagnosed with a heart condition. Already having a young son who has had to undergo open heart surgery to correct a hole, she was greatly alarmed when the doctors did not like the sounds that they heard when listening to her daughter's heart. Terror had gripped her, and she had prayed for good news. That the sounds would not end up being a hole. Unbelievably, the specialists ended up finding that the baby's heart had not only one, but two holes. She was due to see the specialists again the very next morning for another examination and to be given a prognosis. Sensing that I should pray at that moment, I obeyed without hesitation. As I prayed over the situation, I heard the Lord whisper the words of Matthew 7:9 to me: "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?"

I thought of this precious mother praying that her child would not have a hole in her heart. I remembered the devastating findings. My heart ached for this child of God who asked her Father for bread, but got what seemed like a stone instead. I was able to send an e-mail to her and share about the special time of prayer for her and the baby. I told her how sorry I was for her that it must seem like she got a stone instead of the bread she prayed for. I reminded her that if we, in our fallen state, want to do good for our children, how much more does the Lord. I encouraged her to cling to the hope that we have in Christ and to remember that His grace will always be sufficient for us.

As it turns out, it was a God moment. The e-mail was very needed at that particular time. As I reflect on this situation I am struck with a realization. I had been praying for my son's recovery and hadn't received it in a timely manner. Being forced to stay home with him had given me the time I needed to hear God and communicate with this mother. Had my son improved enough for us to all attend church that day, I would have missed the double blessing that resulted. It always feels so rewarding to see the outcome of something that you obeyed the Lord in. Conversely, it always feels so horrible to have that feeling niggling at you that you have not obeyed! I have found that if I do not obey with relative immediacy, the enemy is very skillful at causing me to second guess. I am so glad that did not happen in this case.

This instance has me pondering the times in my life when it has felt like I have received a stone instead of bread from my Father. It can be hard to see it the way the Lord does. I know that my thoughts are not like His thoughts. My eyes see something that I did not want, but maturity has helped me to see that it must be God's love gift to me. He only allows things to slip through His fingers into my life if He intends to use it for good somehow. He cares much less about my comfort than He does about my relationship with Him. And the truth of the matter is that we tend to forget Him when things are going our way. Oftentimes, the "stones" that we receive are the very things that draw us closer to the One who made us to know Him and love Him. He knows what we don't always know: whether the bread that we pray for will bring us closer to Him or pull us further away from Him. And He acts accordingly... always in love. How thankful I am for that!

I encourage you to take in the picture I have included. If you look carefully you will be able to make out that a flower has been drawn on the rock, probably with a Sharpie marker. The girls and I found it in the river on one of our hikes. I don't know who made it like that or how it ended up in the water for us to see that day. But, when I look at it today, it helps me to see God's mercy. It reminds me that the adversity I often experience has a way of causing me to blossom under His loving care. Though He hands me a stone from time to time, it is meant to be a beautiful thing.

Father, thank You for all of your good gifts. Sometimes they are the bread I pray for and other times they seem to me like stones. Yet, they are all your love gifts to me. I am grateful that You are so patient with me and that You delight in speaking to me the way You do. I pray that I will always have ears to hear what You say to me. Help me to always be quick to obey You before the enemy brings doubt and steals the work You have for me. Be glorified in me, please! In the strong name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Think About Such Things

This week was all about the vine in my devotional time. It all began to unfurl one morning while reading in Ezekiel 15 where Jerusalem is likened to a useless vine. For whatever reason, this particular thought captivated me. Up to that point the mention of a vine had always taken my mind to Christ's words in the fifteenth chapter of John: "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

Ezekiel talks about how wood from trees can be made into useful things, but vines are only used to fuel fires. I remembered seeing these relatively large-sized vines on my hikes at Munroe Falls earlier this year. Though quite large (for vines), it is true that they can't be used as effectively as wood from a tree. I thought of the huge quantity of dried morning glory vines that I had used for bonfire kindling. I mentally concurred that vines would probably be perfect to get a fire started or keep it burning.

That word, useless, kept speaking to my heart. I thought of the useless things in my own life: the fear, doubt, grumbling, impatience, reluctance to accept love. None of these things bring about what God desires in me. All of these things must go if I am to be more like Him. My thoughts jumped back to the useless vines fueling fires and I wondered if God might take my useless things and use them to fuel the fires with which He refines me.

Fast forward a few days to Thanksgiving. I had asked my prayer partner to pray specifically for this week as the holidays are difficult for me. I had happily made it through the day before relatively unscathed. Even with a sick child and a stressful cake baking episode, I had only spoken irritably one time. I had been able to check myself nearly immediately and enjoyed the victorious feeling. But then Thanksgiving.

I had done so many things ahead of time to ensure that I would have a better chance at coping with everything on the actual day. Unfortunately, things (and people) happen. Early in the day I began taking all of the serving dishes and pans out that I would be using. I organized my thoughts on paper and got some foods cooking. All went well for a few hours until it was time to prepare the turkey.

The turkey. The turkey that my Facebook friends had helped me find a great deal on. The turkey that I had begun thawing several days too early just to make sure that it would be ready. The turkey that I had checked nearly every day to guage its thawing progress. The turkey that I had neglected to check one last time before bed on Thanksgiving eve. Had I checked it, perhaps I would have noticed that my husband, for whatever reason, and after putting up with a lowered refrigerator temperature all week long, had decided to significantly raise the temperature setting. The night before.

The appointed time for me to begin on the turkey arrived. John lifted it out of the fridge for me and said, "Hmmm. This is a lot harder than I remember it being." Rock hard, to be exact. I felt my flesh rising and had to bite back tears. I began soaking the bird in cold water. I had heard about salt in the water helping to quicken the thaw when in a pinch so I liberally sprinkled some into the water and on the turkey itself. In order to keep myself walking somewhat victoriously, I decided to go to my bedroom for quiet time with the Lord. The plan was to give the turkey an hour, after which time I would check its progress and be on my way. The hour flew by. Unfortunately, the turkey bath water slowly leaked down the drain and it didn't soak the way I thought it would.

John got online to see what could be done with a pretty solid turkey and assured me that we could cook it that way since we were putting it into an oven bag. I explained that we couldn't do that because there were bags of the turkey's organs frozen somewhere inside. I had yet to get it thawed enough to even find them, let alone pull them out. Because the whole ordeal was his fault, John determined that he would get them out so that we could cook it as usual. I asked him to just let it set for a while and told him that we just wouldn't eat turkey that day if it came down to it. This, however, was an impossiblity in his mind. He would not be deterred. He battled with the turkey, slamming it around in the sink and making all kinds of noise in the kitchen. I went in shortly thereafter to find that he had, in fact, found a way to remove the bags of organs. He also managed to break the skin open in several places and pull one of the drumsticks out of socket so that it hung limply.

I looked at the pathetic turkey, a big misshapen heap laying on the cookie sheet, and began to cry. Something about it forced me to come face to face with a misbelief that I battle with. The enemy's voice began playing in my mind: "Just look at that turkey. It is pitiful and broken.... just like you." I knew it was a lie, but I was feeling sorry for myself and allowed it to stick a bit more than it should have. I thought of how I can't seem to get with it no matter how hard I try. How everything seems to be a struggle for me. How I am such an incapable homemaker. How I don't deserve to be loved. Thankfully, I was able to shake the thoughts from my mind relatively quickly. "No, I am dearly loved and redeemed. God has special plans for me. I am not pitiful and broken." I reminded myself of the verse that the Lord had given me during my quiet time when I had asked Him to help me be thankful that very day:

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things" (Philippians 4:8).

I began to take my thoughts captive and refute the lies of the enemy. The day was saved. Though I remained quiet for much of Thanksgiving, I was able to side-step what could have been much worse. In deciding to share my experience, I remembered this picture taken in the spring. At the time, it had spoken to me because of the circular shape of the vine. A circle. The shape of completion. It had reminded me of God's never ending love. As I look at the picture now, I comprehend the truth of that more fully. God, in His infinite love, has promised that He will complete the work He has begun in me. That means that He will faithfully continue to purge my life of the useless things in it that keep me from becoming more like Him. He can use these very things to show me how much I need Him. And He, in his goodness, will help me overcome. He is is worthy to be praised!

Thank you, Lord, that you never give up on me. Though I can scarcely believe it, you see so much more in me than I do. You delight in transforming hearts and lives, mightily using those which the world considers weak. Help me to more quickly refute the lies of the evil one and victoriously walk the path you have for me. Psalm 18:35 says, "You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me; you stoop down to make me great." Your Word is precious and alive! My heart overflows with thanksgiving for all You have done and all You will do. In the loving name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Haste the Day

I have an unmistakable leading about this particular picture, which was taken on a recent hike of the Springfield Bog. One of the newer Metro Park trails, it holds something delightful in every season. Sure, the other parks, do too, ... in a different kind of way. Prairie-like in its makeup, the wide open nature of its composition just feels markedly unique. We have enjoyed watching it from its infancy, rushing out to hike it on January 5, 2011, the very first day that it opened to the public. It has been interesting to observe its metamorphosis over the months.

From day one, there was talk in the Metro Parks publications that a man-made bog had been tucked away somewhere in the center of the property. Curious as I was, I could never quite catch a glimpse of it. I was aware of the general area that it must be located, but I just had to take their word for it. I guess that I had enough of the legalist left in me to prevent me from departing from the marked path and blazing a trail through the overgrown vegetation in search of the bog. So I waited... and wondered... and hoped for the chance to eventually see it.

Much to my delight, on our last visit, a wide swath of grass opened up from the side of the trail. Veering off the path, and gently sloping downward, it led in the general direction that I believed the bog to be in. Seizing the opportunity to finally investigate, we followed the new-found path a short jaunt away. Momentarily, we came upon what I had been waiting for. It was towards sunset and I was not disappointed by the beauteous sight that awaited us. There it was! I had known it was there, pretty much by faith, and it boosted my spirits to be able to see it.

So many things come to mind when I think of the spiritual parallels of this experience. I am reminded that God calls me to live by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Especially in the area of God's promises, I need to remember that what He says is true even when I don't see it. Just as I had hope that my eyes would one day see the bog in this picture, I can hope in the fulfillment of what is presently unseen, but true nonetheless. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12). One day I will see! Oh, how the thought thrills me. No more wondering, waiting, doubting, or fearing. I will know.

In closing, I echo the words of Horatio Gates Spafford: "And Lord haste the day when my faith shall be as sight..."

I love You, Lord. I am so grateful for your presence. Thank You for this tremendous mental image of walking by faith. Forgive me for the times when my faith has wobbled due to my inability to see. I pray that You will enable me to be counted among those You call blessed because they have not seen and yet believe. I believe, Lord, help my unbelief! Thank You for the promise that I will one day see.
In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Peace of God

I can't help but take a deep breath each time I see this picture. It evokes such feelings of serenity, causing relaxation to sweep over me. Being the visual person I am, I can almost imagine myself physically taking PEACE and wrapping myself in it the way we bundle up for sledding. There's nothing quite as satisfying as that feeling of being enveloped by peace.
Philippians 4:6 says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Thankfully, I've been inexplicably living this out first-hand more often than not lately. Truly, there are some days where I stand back amazed and think, "Okay, who in the world just lived out this day in my skin? Because surely I am not capable of functioning at such a level of simple obedience with my flesh constantly screaming for me to feed it."
God's Word has been my everything. I read it, I do it, ... and the peace settles all over me. He tells me to trust Him so I've got to trust Him. And all of a sudden I am living out Isaiah 26:3 - "You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you."
This consciously doing what He tells me has accomplished so much in me! When something doesn't make sense, I do it anyhow, because, well, He tells me to. He loves me and wants the best for me. I'm gonna need to cooperate with Him in order to maximize whatever it is He wants to do in and through me.
So... that means that when someone rudely dismisses me at a function (after I just spent the entire car ride over praying for their important role), I take it to the Lord. I give the hurt to Him, think about how I may have perceived things differently than they really were, continue to pray out of a heart of love, and ask for His strength. My end result ended up being a chance to bless this person in a tangible way - and I was so glad that I had put on the Spirit rather than the flesh. Though we have many differences, I now think of this person with fondness rather than with bitterness. God tells me in Colossians 3:13 to "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you."The same verse in the New Living Translation says to make allowances for each other's faults. I love that! We are to make allowances for one another's faults. How freeing! And because the Lord loves to bless obedience, I am the very grateful recipient of a new blanketing of peace each time I choose to do this.
We're into our fifth week of homeschooling. As it turns out, it's one of those years where I did not purchase one book. Some years are more bountiful than others with the schooling budget. It seems that some time during the end of our last school year the Lord kept impressing the truth of Matthew 6:33 on me: "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." So, how does that look in my life? Well, for starters, I've got a struggling reader. We've dozens of readers on our bookshelves and a library less than a mile from our home, but I sensed that I needed to trust Him in this area. The new reading curriculum for this particular child is the Bible. Period. We're working through Psalms and the improvement has astounded me. I've another child who struggles to speak the simplest of words. The cure? Praying with him always about everything. How it blesses me to hear him speaking in ways that seemed impossible not so long ago. The simple act of infusing everything we do with the Lord seems like it would be so easy, yet too many times He can be an aterthought as I seek my own kingdom.
We've been volunteering at a local mission on a monthly basis for two years. Circumstances have made it difficult for us to finish out the last few months of our commitment. It takes some doing to fill our spots with helpers each month because things pop up. Life gets in the way and my family is sometimes left to fill in the empty places. Recently, I felt burn-out knocking on the door to my heart. I went to the Lord about it and begged Him to help me finish strong in His strength rather than my own. I knew I could not continue and asked Him to step in and be glorified. I asked that He would help us to be a special blessing on that particular day. He loves it when we pray those kinds of things! As a result, we opted to go the extra mile and make our famous multi-colored cut-out cookies in the shape of a cross. They take a lot of work and we had to bring double the usual amount. Though we used to make them regularly, it had been many, many months since we had last done so. We all chipped in, reasonably cheerfully, and got the job done. I cannot begin to tell you how He blessed us! We had the opportunity to work with two residents who readily shared their testimonies with us. Everyone oohed and aahed over our cookies and the kitchen cook asked for the recipe. We were even invited to stay over to eat lunch. I departed with peace firmly cemented in my heart, the feelings of inadequacy and fatigue having been chased out. Praise God!
I could go on and on with other examples. Like making my husband's favorite meal rather than retaliating when we're butting heads. Or praying all of the time for a one-time close friend who has walked away from our friendship, wounding me deeply. Or thanking God when the temporary employment assignment ends, because surely He loves me and will bring something beautiful out of the pain of it all somehow. The bottom line is: peace can be mine if I rely on God's Word to guide me through each and every action throughout my days. I cannot just read it and not do it.
Father, I fall before you. I am humbled by the way You make yourself known to me and work in my life. You know how the enemy has been on a rampage ever since I first began making the connection between the peace I've been experiencing and consciously doing what You tell me to do in your Word. Strengthen me, your dearly loved daughter, to live simply for You, obeying You more and more. Cause my soul to follow hard after You, Precious Lord. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Bathed in Light

I love this picture! My youngest daughter and I noticed how beautiful the sky looked one evening last week. I, of course, wanted my beloved evergreens to be in the picture as well. I couldn't have been happier with the image that stared back at me from my camera after I depressed the button. It was one of those few speical ones that I capture from time to time.

As I write this blog entry, I have been largely disconnected for a month from the online community I once enjoyed. It was so hard at first, but I feel like the Lord had been moving me in that direction for quite some time. However, I had been reluctant to go that route until last month. So what has this past month been like?

For starters, I have had more time with the Lord. I knew that Facebook was taking up some of my time, but I don't think I realized just how much. It just wasn't my physical time either. I have realized that it was taking a lot of my mental time and energy, to the point of frazzling me! I found myself feeling all kinds of things that I don't think were helpful in my walk: fear, self-loathing (from comparison), frustration, to name a few. It seemed like my mind would never slow down.

All at once, I quit feeding all of that negativity and things began to quiet down. I had time to catch up on my work in the year-long Scripture memory program I had undertaken a while back. I had time to actually meditate on my devotions and Bible readings. Without the distraction of Facebook, I was able to concentrate more fully on taking care of my family and my home. In fact, over a period of two weeks, I taught my daughter how to swim and ride her bike. I have been able to consistently practice things that I have longed to do, but had somehow never quite gotten there.

Though this photo is stunning to me, it reminds me of something not as pretty: my own darkness. I see the silhouette of the trees in the light of the setting sun and it speaks to me. You see, the more I have bathed myself in God's light (immersing myself in His Word and endeavoring to really do what He tells me to do) the more I see my own sinfulness. I have such a long way to go, but I am thankful that He is perfecting me each and every day. I can only trust that I, despite my many imperfections, will look beautiful against the backdrop of His glorious light.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Onwards to Maturity

     The girls and I happened upon this interesting little wildflower while checking out a showier purple one beside it. Nearly walking right past it, my eyes settled on it as I made my way back to the trail. Recognition briefly registered in my mind causing my footfall to slow to a halt. Pineapple-weed? Could it be? On my mental list of wildflowers I hope to spy, I had seen it in my field guide many times. I excitedly snapped the photo, to use for final identification later.

     Upon returning home, I loaded the pictures and began poring over my books. It sure did look like what I was hoping for. I read about the characteristics of this wildflower. Apparently it would emit a strong pineapple scent if its flowers or leaves are crushed. Well I hadn't tested it that way! I'd have to go back the next day.

     We did return the following day, excitedly talking amongst ourselves in the car about who would be the first one to check for the smell. Upon further inspection, the flowers did, indeed, have a sweet pineapple smell when crushed. How exciting! A highlight in a dreary sort of week for me.

     I was thankful to hear the Lord "speak" to me concerning this plant. He reminded me about the beautiful fragrance that resulted from the crushing. Don't you forget, Tamra, how I do this in your life. Oftentimes you feel beaten down. Remember that the sweetness comes from the crushing. Okay, Lord, I hear You.

     The more I find out about this flower, the more fascinating it seems to me. Interestingly, it tends to grow in places where it is constantly trampled upon. Hmmm.... I think I can relate to that feeling! What I cannot exactly relate to, though, is that the rough treatment hardly ever hurts this plant. Its resiliency causes it to thrive in spite of the beating it routinely takes. Oh.

     Lord, You always meet me where I am. You know that I am discouraged and hard-pressed on every side. How thankful I am that I have You to cling to while walking through the valley! I want to be mindful of what it is You are doing in my life. Remind me on a daily basis how profitable suffering is in bringing me to maturity in You. Help me not to give up when it feels like too much. Cause me, through my crushing, to be a sweet aroma not only to You, but to those You would place in my life. I want others to be blessed through my experiences, Lord. Help me to persevere and even possess inexplicable joy for the journey. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What Love Does

The Lord has been convicting and comforting me with this scene from one of our recent spring hikes. On this particular day, I had wanted to beat the rain and search for wildflowers. All had proceeded according to plan until we reached the last fourth of the hike. At that point, the wind began gusting, dark clouds rolled in, and rain drops began pelting us. There was nowhere to go but forward - so forward we went! While hustling along, I turned to see how my oldest and youngest sons were coming along. My heart melted as soon as I beheld the sight that was waiting for me.

I came home and shared with my Facebook friends: "Well, it did rain on us. And this is what Love does..." Such a beautiful visual of how the Lord walks with us, loving and protecting us, every step of the way. I cannot tell you how many times this picture has popped into my mind since then - probably on a daily basis. It is comforting to dwell on the reality of the Lord walking with me through life's storms in this very way.

As is often the case, the Lord has continued to draw more and more out of this incident for me as the days have gone on. He has used one detail of the picture in particular to speak to me:  Levi's reaction to the unpleasant rain that is falling around him. You'll notice that his hands cover his ears, his eyes are cast down, and his head is bent. The more I study the picture, the more I cannot deny that I am looking at myself. How many times I do this!

Too often I find myself in this same exact posture as I walk through life. I clap my hands over my ears, rushing on, hoping the storm will soon end. The problem with this is that it is symbolic of me not listening to Him. Each situation has the potential to do such good in my life if I will just get over myself and open my ears to what He is saying to me.

My lowered eyes speak to me of my sometimes stubborn refusal to see what He has placed in front of me. Lately, I have been surprised to find myself grieving concerning things I thought I had dealt with to a greater degree than I have. I am now realizing that I most likely formed protective walls around pieces of my mind and heart rather than fully absorb the pain and accept what He had allowed to pass through His fingers and into my life. I guess it was just easier to do that than let my eyes drink in the reality of the present at the time.

I see a head that is bent under the weight of all that I carry in my heart. The sadness... the denial... the all-encompassing fear. As I trudge on, I can almost hear myself saying, "I don't like this! I don't want to do this! This isn't the life I dreamed for myself. Please, when is it going to stop?" Sadly enough, I find that I do this when the storm hasn't even arrived yet! I have a mindset that expects and dreads the tough things that must surely be coming my way. How this must hurt my Savior!

Father... what to say on days like this when I am faced with my own inadequacies? Thank You for my weaknesses. They really do make my life a stage that showcases Your incomprehensible strength. Forgive me for not practicing often enough what You so graciously teach me. The things I carry are too heavy for me, I know this. Please help me to lay them down and walk unhindered in Your love. Free me to see, hear, and feel all You desire for Me. Help me to embrace each and every step. You know how the enemy attempts to fill my mind - help me to refute his lies, searching for and finding Your Truth. You know what You are doing and I can tust You. Thank You for the assurance that You do walk beside me just like this, loving Me and showing concern for my welfare. You are so faithful to me, Your dearly loved daughter. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

Monday, April 2, 2012


Wow! We are really just days away from Good Friday and Easter. It seemed to come so fast this year. I couldn't stand the thought of my blues carrying over into this Passion Week, which prompted me to petition the Lord for some help. I did not want to gloss over what this week is all about without really feeling it. I asked that He help me even more to see Him everywhere. That I have eyes to see and ears to hear. As a result, I have been intentional about not missing a thing. If something bothers me, I have been digging deep to find something in it to thank Him for. It's amazing how this one thing has helped.

Truly, it seems that I've been seeing Him everywhere I look and in everything I do. Just today we were poking holes in an orange to make a pomander ball and I kept thinking how Christ was pierced for our transgressions. This was what I wanted when I asked Him for help: a renewed awareness of the sacrifice He made. I want to remember. I didn't want this week to be like all of the others.

Little did I know how different this week would be. It seems that I have been granted a reprieve from the fog that had descended. My eyes are seeing. Praise God, my stopped up ears are hearing. I guess that perspective really is everything.

I've two special things to share about the first few days of this week. The first concerns my precious Levi. Usually a day doesn't go by without the cold finger of fear tapping on my shoulder concerning him. It's pretty relentless and exhausting. There is always lots for me to talk about with the Lord when it comes to him. Being ultra aware of the meaning of this week caused me to dwell on the fact that Levi is not at that point mentally. I wondered if he ever would be. I had one of those honest times of prayer where I laid this particular fear of mine before the Lord. I begged Him to give Levi an awareness of the Gospel. "Cause him to understand, Lord," I begged. As soon as the words left my mouth, I was horrified as a new thought pummeled me. "What if he gains the ability to comprehend the salvation message, but rejects it? Then it would have been better if he hadn't grasped it in the first place! I thought, "What are you praying? You can't pray stuff like that casually!" Oh, Lord, please let him embrace You! Let him understand, but more importantly, draw Him to yourself through Your Spirit. Cause Him to love you deeply." I was so relieved to have "caught" that and covered it in prayer. 

The very next morning found me sitting in on Levi's Sunday school class because of an impending transition that is to be made. I was able to observe him in this place where servants give of themselves each week to teach little ones about the love of God. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Levi sat for what seemed to me a lengthy amount of time for a lesson. The teacher held up pictures and walked the kids through parts of the Easter story. Levi sat. They listened to the rest of the story on a CD.... and still Levi sat twisting his lip as he often does. And then something happened that made my heart jump in my chest. The voice on the CD said, "And then the soldiers took Jesus and nailed Him to a cross." Immediately, my somber faced little boy, with much sadness, uttered one quiet word: "NOoooo."

No what??? No, I don't want to sit here anymore? ... No, I don't like that? ...No, I don't want to listen to this anymore? Or maybe it was, "No. They shouldn't do that bad thing to Jesus. He is nice. He loves me.... and I love Him." Just maybe awareness is dawning. Jesus is an everyday part of our lives, but we never know how much of it Levi is understanding. It is such a burden to carry the weight of your child's eternity around in your heart. And with Levi it's different because there is so much that I don't know. But I can be sure that God knows! And I think that this little instance was kind of like a reassuring hug from Him reminding me He loves Levi, His strength is unlimited, and He is capable of working in his mind and heart.

The second instance occurred during a hike with my daughter today. We had a wonderful time, but as we drew near the last fourth of the hike we encountered a trail closed sign. We had to turn back and return a different way that we had never walked before. Surprisingly, I wasn't grumbly about the change and took the opportunity to keep my eyes peeled for whatever He might show me. It wasn't long before we came upon the flower pictured above. Just one of them. It is a Large-Flowered Trillium and it was a love gift to me today.

I had just been thinking about this flower a few days ago and had hoped that I would come across one soon. You see, this particular flower is perfect for Passion Week as it always makes me think about Christ. It is a dazzling white, reminiscant of His purity and the cleansing of our sins. Additionally, it always makes me think of the Trinity because it has three petals. I heard His whisper as I paused to admire and photograph it: "A gift for you along this detour that you find yourself on." And suddenly I could see a small glimpse of the bigger picture. "Daughter, you become discouraged when things don't go as you would choose. You wonder why you have to go along the way I lay out before you instead of the way you would go. If you had finished this hike the way you planned, you never would have come upon this flower that you've been longing to see. And so it is with many of your prayers. There are things that you ask of me that cannot be found along the paths that you would tread, but only along the way that I lead you in. Yes, the way can sometimes seem long and scary, but I am always with You.  Let this remind you that detours often contain wonderful surprises. Look for beauty in all of your circumstances because it is there to be seen if you really look for it. 

I don't think that I'll ever look at another detour the same. I hear You, Lord. Yes, I'll look for the beauty. I'll obey You in this thing. You amaze me with Your wisdom - it's too much for me to even comprehend. Thank You for a renewed sense of hope this week. Please use me to bring Your hope to someone else this week. In the Saving Name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

Saturday, March 31, 2012


We found this adorable Spotted Salamander on one of our nature challenges not too long ago. I loved her the moment I saw her!!! Truly, a huge smile always finds my face whenever I see this picture. At first, I thought that it was solely due to the fact that it was a special night full of memories, but it didn't take long for me to hear that all familiar whisper.

Thank You, Lord, for speaking to me wherever I look - even days after I've seen something.

Yes, this was a beautiful night. Thinking that the weather conditions might be right for the salamander migration, my daughter and I ran over to the site at the last minute. Although a bit creepy on the hike down, we eventually ran into friends on their way home and were reassured. We pressed on and were rewarded with an almost exclusive tour of the migration that was happening just as we got there! It was so cool to finally see these mysterious creatures on the move. When I got home and saw this picture, I thanked God for such a memorable night with my daughter - a love gift from Him.

Thank You, Lord, for all of the gifts that You bless me with on a daily basis that reassure me of Your love for me.

It only took another day before this picture spoke to me in a different way. I looked at it and realized that it needed a caption saying, "Smile! Jesus Loves You!!!" It was another reminder from Him about the joy I am to have in Him despite my circumstances. There were things that I was feeling less than joyful about, and seeing what looks to be a huge grin on that salamander's face caused me to think (again) that I have plenty to smile about because of Christ.

Lord, as we approach this Passion Week, thanks again for the reminder to stay my focus on You. Let me fully grasp and appreciate what you have done for me. I pray that thanksgiving will pour out of me, evidenced by a joyful countenance.

Fast forward another week or so and the Lord continues to speak to me through this picture. Approaching holidays tend to bring my melancholy nature to a full boil, and lately has been no exception. I don't like feeling sad - it's no fun! Well, it's even less fun when someone lashes out at you for lovingly encouraging them to consider whether some parts of their life are matching up with how He tells us to live in His Word. Yucky words from upset people are no fun! God in His goodness reminded me, "Remember that passage you just memorized, but couldn't relate to? You know, the one about rejoicing when people are mean to you because of Me?" He was right! (Of course!) It did give me occasion to rejoice. And His Word was once again alive to me in a new way - a way that causes me to appreciate Him all the more.

What would I do without You, Lord? You are my everything. I stumble through this life and You are the One who anchors me securely. You are my firm foundation when the ground feels crumbly beneath my feet. Thank You for taking such pains to speak to me so incrementally through this picture. You are so patient with me! I smile to think of Your tender love towards me. It's a small, gentle smile, unlike the broad "smile" on this lady salamander's face, but I'm counting on You to transform it and me. Fill me with JOY in Your presence, Lord, so much so that my smile will make this salamander's pale in comparison. In the name of Jesus, the Name above all names, Amen.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

One Becomes Two

Appropriately enough, I came across this tree while hiking with my daughter recently. It immediately stood out to me, causing my mind to search for what it was that the Lord was speaking to me through it. As clear as could be, I heard the whisper: "This tree is like you and Anna-Frances." I paused to snap the shot, telling her, "I like this. It reminds me of us." Being the attention-starved middle child, this statement caused her to fairly glow and I was rewarded with a dazzling smile. As I walked along with her, I thought of ways that we were like the tree, sharing each with her. Needless to say, it was a very special time!

I thought aloud about how she had started off inside of me, and how she had come into the world, now suddenly apart from me. One had become two. Thankfully, little ones really depend on us for a good while and I somehow always felt for the longest time that my daughter was an extension of me. I think it did help to soften the separation a bit. In so many ways, we've shared moments of "being one" and I am truly thankful for that.

A few things have caused me to think back to when she came into our lives. I was so excited to finally have a daughter. The Lord showed me right from the start the importance of training her in the things of Him. If anyone were to ask me when my prayer life was at its strongest, my answer would be during my pregnancy with her. It seems like all I ever did was pray. It was a time of steady growing in my relationship with the Lord.

As I grew in Him, I thought of this baby growing within me. Soon she would leave the protection of my womb and enter this world. This place where life can be so hard. In an almost desperate act, I vowed to get God's Word planted in her before she was even born. I dug out my husband's ancient cassette tapes of the Bible and played them to her in my belly while resting, doing devotions, or spending time in prayer.

Inevitably, things slowed down for several years after her birth. We still prayed and went to church, but life was beginning to get in the way. We were deeper into our homeschooling and facing different life circumstances. It seemed like curve ball after curve ball came flying our way. I think that the Lord, knowing how I missed that quality time with Him and that "oneness" with her, laid it on my heart to begin reading through His Word with her. He is so wise!!! Our five-year journey through the Bible was truly one of the most rewarding things I've ever experienced.

I reminisced about all of these things while walking with her, realizing how she has begun shooting off from me like the tree pictured above. I know that we have only gotten to where we are today by His grace and strength. I could never have done all that it has taken in my own strength.

 My heart overflows as I think of the many times that we've prayed together or when she has been very in tune with the Spirit. I remember how I rejoiced when she made the decision to show publicly that she is His through baptism. And I am thankful to see fruit in her - evidence that she does, indeed, embrace Him as her Lord. Though I will continue to pour myself into her, it really feels like she has reached a place where her faith is her own and she is walking the path He has for her. How exciting! And so we've become two.

Lord, in this quiet moment I bow before You. I am utterly humbled by Your grace. To think that You would bless me as You have fills me with awe. Not only that, but You have instructed and equipped me! You would never call me to something that You did not plan to strengthen me to finish. You are amazing! Thank You for the gift of this precious daughter and for impressing it upon my heart to be intentional about teaching her of the things of You. I am grateful for Your Presence guiding me in the way I shold go. Continue the work that You have begun in each of us, Lord. Let us shine for You, never compromising, always growing in grace and abounding in love. I know that You are able to do more than I could ever ask or imagine. I can't wait to see what You'll do! In the strong name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Love Story

This Valentine's Day has me dwelling on the love story God wrote for John and me. I so clearly see His hand in bringing us together. Truly, if it were up to either of us, we would never have crossed paths. I marvel when I think of how He frustrated each of our plans in order to lead us to one another.

You see, John originally planned to go into the army. Despite a fear of heights, this husband of mine thought it'd be a fabulous idea to earn a few extra bucks by jumping out of airplanes. God had other plans, though, and the army evidently was not a part of them. With that possibility eliminated, John considered working on a cruise ship. I chuckle when I remember this since he absolutely hates water and cannot swim a lick. You guessed it - that idea didn't pan out either. As a last resort, he ended up working at the amusement park Cedar Point.

As for me, I graduated highschool and went away to the University of Toledo. I planned to be an elementary school teacher. That is, until people began discouraging me about how little compensation I'd receive in this field. What if I ended up raising my kids alone like my own mother had? I really should pick a job that would afford a comfortable life if that were the case. Many people encouraged me to go into the nursing field and the pay really was pretty good. I talked to my adviser about switching over to classes needed to enter the nursing field. And what of my germ and fear of blood issues? I was sure I would be fine once I started to get used to it, afterall I needed to do everything I could to ensure that all elusive security. Of course, God had other plans for me that did not include becoming a nurse or even gaining security. After two semesters of college, I discovered that I needed to earn money to continue my education. My step mom "happened" to spy an article in the newspaper that spoke of an upcoming employment fair at, you guessed it, Cedar Point.

Of course, I went to the job fair, secured a position, and everything was perfectly lined up to meet John. Not only did I meet him, but I did so on the very first day I moved in. His friend was dating my roommate and they had come over to visit. That was on March 31st and we began dating on April 19th. One year later we got married on April 19th, the anniversary of the day we began dating. It wasn't long before we learned that our first child was on his way - I had gotten pregnant just three weeks after our wedding day! We figured it was time to lay down roots in John's home town of Akron. From that point on, any thoughts of school for me would sit on the shelf while I poured myself into being a wife and mother.

Though I can see without a doubt that God meant for us to be together, I've got to say that it has been terribly difficult. Both of us came into our relationship as very broken individuals with enormous amounts of baggage. Add to that the fact that we did not have the advantage of living a life submitted to Him for the first half of our years together, and you've got a ticking time bomb. I cringe to remember the times when we have given up on one another and our marriage, even to the point of going to the courthouse and picking up divorce papers. It is a true testament of God's grace in our lives that we are still together just weeks away from our 20th wedding anniversary.

This brings me to the story that goes behind the picture for this post. Since we have struggled so desparately in marriage, it has given us a degree of hypersensitivity towards the struggles that others have in this area. Having been there ourselves, we have compassion. Knowing how we felt, we can relate. Being aware of what has strengthened us aids us in praying for those facing struggles. And pray we do! It has become a sort of ministry for us. We like to tell people that we will go to war for their marriage. To date, we have stood in the gap and done battle for many a couple. Out of the ashes of our nearly exterminated union, has risen a very beautiful prayer ministry. We love to pray for marriages! If you know us, there's a good chance we've prayed for your marriage. If you don't yet have a spouse, there is a good chance that we have prayed for your future marriage - for Him to prepare you and your future spouse for the time when you will be one.

There was a time, not too many years ago, where it seemed that divorce was everywhere we looked. I think we counted twelve or thirteen marriages that had ended in divorce or were heading that way. Even more disheartening was the fact that the majority of them were Christian marriages! One particular day, I ran into a friend who I had been trying to encourage in her marriage. I had been calling, praying, and sending little notes... but she had been avoiding me like the plague. I was thrilled to run into her and spent some time talking with her and asking some tough questions. She answered truthfully, but her mind was pretty much already made up by that point. I got into the car discouraged, shaking my head in frustration. I lamented to John how I had been fighting hard for this couple's marriage, but she didn't even care. I brought up a few more couples that I had been fighting hard for and who seemed to not care either. I looked at him and said, "There is no way that we should even be together after all that we have endured, yet here we are. Why are we here, but they aren't at this place of reconciliation? I fought for them!!! Who fought for us that we should be here?" John just looked at me and said, "I don't know. I guess we just fought for each other." That pretty much ended our conversation, but my heart remained heavy until the next day when I was reading in my Bible. I had come to the place at the end of Joshua's life as he was addressing Israel. I nearly fell over when my eyes came upon Joshua 23:3b: "it was the LORD your God who fought for you." Tears flooded my eyes as the beauty of the words soaked into my heart. Of course! It had been the Lord who had fought for us all along. How could I not have seen it sooner?

The above picture is one of the wildflower Skunk Cabbage. When I came upon this shot, I immediately thought of how it looked like an army. Today, as I reflect on the love story God gave to me, it reminds me of how He fought for my marriage... and I am thankful.

Heavenly Father, I praise You for the good plan that You are working out in my life. Thank You that You know better than I do what is best for me. I trust You to open and close doors in my life in accordance with the path You want my feet to walk. Thank You for the doors that You have slammed shut up to this point, steering me where You would have me go. Help me to always be mindful of You at work in my life, Lord. May I always be thankful, never grumbling, about each new circumstance, fully recognizing Your sovereignty. Lord, I thank you so much for providing just the right husband for me. Thank You for fighting for us when we would have given up on one another. I am comforted that You have kept us these twenty years and I cling to the promise found in Exodus 14:14 that You will fight for us; we need only to be still. Help me to be still - to tune my ears to what You would whisper to me. And always, help me to obey when I hear You.

Your dearly loved daughter, Tamra.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Set Apart

I received a 4:30 AM wake-up call from the Lord this morning. When it became plain that I was going to be awake for a while, I slipped from beneath the covers and crept downstairs. I took advantage of the first hour or so to do some housework, shooting arrow prayers up for friends as He brought them to mind. I was eventually able to sink into the couch with a hot cup of tea, my Bible, and devotions. I would not let this precious chance to be with Him slip away - especially since He had arranged for me to have it in the first place!

I happen to be finishing up the book of Leviticus in my daily reading. To be honest, this particular book of the Bible probably ranks near the bottom on my scale of likeability. I respect it as God's Word, but I've found myself on several occasions petitioning Him to speak to me through it and make it come alive for me. I have discovered that He loves those kind of prayers and is usually more than happy to oblige. This morning was no exception as I asked and He delivered. I knew I was hearing from Him as soon as I read it: "Be holy because I, the LORD your God am holy" (Leviticus 19:2). I was excited to have heard from Him and filed it away until the time when He would reveal more to me.

I came across the tree in the above picture a bit later while hiking with friends. I paused in front of it, admiring its beauty. As I began snapping pictures and really soaking it in, I couldn't shake the feeling that He was speaking to me. But what?  I sensed that I would be writing something about this tree and even told my friend so. It wasn't until hours later that I finally "got" that He was reaffirming the Scripture He had given me that morning.

You see, one of the thoughts I had when I came upon this tree was that it resembles camouflage. That word, camouflage, kept coming to me. "Camouflage, Lord? You want to talk to me about camouflage?" He wasn't giving me any help. I tossed it around in my head a bit and thought about how people and animals use camouflage. "Okay, they use it to blend in." Do you remember the verse I gave you this morning, Tamra? Be holy because I, the LORD your God am holy. That was it! I had felt Him impress upon my heart the importance of being holy and set apart. He reminded me through this tree's appearance that He has not called me to blend in with this world. I am not to fly safely under the radar undetected. If I live the way He wants me to, it is guaranteed that I will stand out. People should recognize that there is something different about me and be drawn to the One who continues to transform me. Amazing!

Precious Lord, thanks for encouraging me to live my life for You in a way that causes me to stand out. I realize that You telling me to be holy (and set apart) does not mean that I should wall myself off from those who are not like me. On the contrary, I am 100% positive that You have been calling me to love others in a more radical way over the past several months. Choosing not to blend in with those around me does not hinder my ability to love like You've called me to love. Help me to love like that, Lord. Strengthen me to live for You in a such a way that others take notice. When they do take notice, I ask further that You would give me just the right words to explain the reason for the hope that is within me. Please keep my heart soft towards You and my ears sensitive to anything You would speak to me. When I hear from You, I pray that I will quickly obey You. Help me decrease so that You can increase and do Your thing through me. In the strong name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

He Knows My Name

     As is often the case, I came across this striking wildflower while hiking last summer. Not recognizing it, I snapped a picture, planning to look for it in my field guide when I returned home. After a bit of investigation, my guess would be Great Lobelia, though I can't say that with certainty. I'll eventually get around to checking with a naturalist to see if I've got a postitive ID. I find it incredibly exciting to discover names for the different things I encounter in nature. Beyond nature, I find satisfaction in knowing people by their names. I am that geek who reads through directories and will ask you five times what your name is until I get it. Why is that? I think it can be connected to the desire to know and be known.

     I recently found myself in a postion where someone was trying to envision me without the benefit of a picture. She read my name, Tamra, and thought that perhaps I was black. It's funny how these type of things can jog our memory. This particular speculation took me back twenty plus years to my time in college, where my roomates, having seen my name listed, expected a young lady of color to walk through the door. I've never thought of my name as having a color attached to it, so both of these experiences have been surprising and a bit funny to me.

     These two name-related thoughts brought others to mind as well. All of a sudden, thoughts concerning my name changed from a drip to a steady stream. Remember how you got your name, Tamra? Oh, yeah, that's right. My mom loved the name Meghan and really wanted to name me that. My dad, however had different ideas. He had friends with a darling little girl named Tamara. He thought she was the cutest thing ever and decided if he had a daughter she would carry that name minus the middle "a." He won, of course, and Tamra I am.

     But the thoughts didn't end there. The idea of my dad naming me reminded me of the special circumstances of my birth. You see, my mom somehow managed to sleep through her labor with me. By the time she awoke, there was no way they were making it to the hospital in time. My dad got on the phone with the hospital and a doctor asked him to describe what he saw. The doctor then told him to go wash his hands because he was going to be delivering a baby! Other instructions included: put water on to boil, get sheets, towels, and blankets, and find and sterilize some sort of string to tie off my umbilical cord. And so my father followed the doctor's step by step directions on the phone to bring me into the world. I did not breathe right away despite him cleaning out my mouth three times. Finally, his nerves getting the better of him, he jerked me up by my arm, which elicited a tiny cry from me. All of this happened with my six year old brother waiting in the car to go the hospital.... in the wee hours of the morning... on the Fourth of July. I shake my head in wonder about what an incredible bonding experience that must have been. And, always, disbelief sets in as I remember how my dad left us just five short months later. I always want to say, "What?!!!" It just doesn't make sense.

     So here am I, named after another by the one who insisted, yet didn't stick around. True to my personality, I have tried to look upon my name in a positive way rather than a negative one. I once had an extra credit assignment in the sixth grade consisting of finding the meaning of my name in a baby book. I learned way back then that my name means 'palm tree.' I am floored by the things I have learned over the years about the palm tree and how they relate to my Christian walk.

     To name a few, the palm tree bends but does not break. Tropical storms can pummel and drive it towards the ground, but when the wind and rain subsides it will stand right back up, stronger for the storm. It is flexible and resilient. It grows a deep taproot to seek out water during droughts. It can survive and, yes, flourish despite tough conditions. Even its sap runs deep within it, not close to the surface like other trees. So much about the palm tree speaks of it going deep! It's my desire to go deep with my Lord and those He gives me to love.

It's been neat for me to learn that the palm tree is an evergreen - a picture to me that God's love for me never changes. I also found out that the dust from the desert doesn't stick to the palm tree. In the same way,  the "dirt" of this life is not to cling to me because I am called to put off sin and offer my body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Who would have guessed that He would have so much to say to me about my name?

          Lord, I am awed by the way that YOU picked my name out especially for me through an unbelieving father. You know the end from the beginning, nothing is hidden from You or takes You by surprise. I love how You constantly take things that bring me sadness and faithfully redeem them. You are so very tender with me! I cannot comprehend how you gave me a name before I even came to be, knowing that its meaning would parallel my life. Isaiah 49:16 reminds me that You have written, engraved, or inscribed my name on the palms of Your hands. I am thankful that You call me, Your sheep, by name and have written my name in the Book of Life. You are so very good to me! Finally, thank You for the promise held in Psalm 92:12 that, "The righteous will flourish like a palm tree..." Strengthen me to live in a way that will enable me to flourish for Your purposes and glory. In the name of JESUS I pray, Amen.