Friday, July 21, 2017

Making it Through


Making It Through
Evelyn Falco

            The Lord has been with me through three losses which greatly impacted my life.  Faith in the Lord has helped me to overcome hurt, disappointment, and the feeling of failure.
            One such ordeal was when my three grandchildren were taken away from me.
They had been living with me because their father was in prison and their mother had died after battling breast cancer.  I had a notarized power of attorney legalizing my care for them.
            One morning after I sent them off to school, their mother's sister (their aunt) and her fiancĂ© went to court and obtained an ex-parte court order that stated I was an unfit grandmother which was very untrue.  The judge granted them custody and gave them a court order allowing them to take them out of school with a sheriff's escort.  The school had to release them.  This aunt had only known the older of the three children - a girl 14 years old who refused to go with them so she was returned to me. I was unable to even say good-bye to the other two before they were taken to live in Louisiana.  I cried and prayed day in and day out seeking the Lord's help.
            I travelled back and forth between Florida and Baton Rouge, Louisiana to be able to see the children.  I spent lots of money on traveling, lawyers, courts, and counseling.  I felt so helpless, so useless, like I was a failure. I thought I would lose my mind and, perhaps, not be able to endure it.  I would give all my problems to God, but then I would take them back.  I did this many times.  Finally I asked God, "Why me?"  and I heard his answer, "Why not you?"  I had forgotten He was still present.  I started to realize God was in the midst of what was going on and knew what was going to happen before I did.  I began to realize the truth that this was the way because He had allowed it.  I was able to stop the tears when I recognized that God had me in His hands.  I have not seen or heard from my grandchildren in almost 9 years, but I know that God keeps them safe and sound.  And they will find me when God says it's time.
            My second trial came when my longtime and dear friend was snatched away from me.  After my husband had died and Otis had divorced his wife, we began to communicate often with one another.   He lived in Charleston, South Carolina and I lived in Winter Park, Florida.  I would visit him there from time to time.  Although neither one of us had any desire to get married, we were friends for many years.  In time he began to show signs of dementia. I was able to help him keep track of his business affairs.  He actually even mentioned the possibility of marriage at that time.  His daughter became fearful that her father would be giving me too much control over his life.  For this reason, she formulated a plan to keep us from being in contact with one another.  She took his cellphone away - telling him he had lost it.  She then sent him to live with people in New York who were strangers to him.  He was, however, able to sneak out and call me.  We both missed the companionship we had shared for so long.  Once he even ran away for days, but, Praise God, he was found!  He loved the Lord with all his heart, and he had remained in His care.  After all this, I came to realize that God was still in charge no matter how hurt or disappointed I was.  I began to feel the Lord's presence - knowing he was still with me.  I went through and conquered this storm with the help of God once again.
            The third and last episode was very different.  I now trusted right away in God providing needed strength and His knowing the plans for me.  I no longer asked why.  Due to financial problems, I had to leave my home of 25 years.  However, having to relocate was hard since I had felt very secure and comfortable with my life the way it was.  Even so, I passed through this happening without falling apart - believing it was all for good even if I did not understand.  I have since come to recognize that God did not say yes to this, but did let it happen - because it was a different life I was to live.  I had to give up some independence in order to become more humble as we are supposed to be.  Since my relocation, I am now aware that there was a good purpose in all of this. 
            These occurrences in my life have helped me to learn these lessons.
            Put God first in your life and do not lean unto your own understanding.

            Trust in the Lord always.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Love They Neighbor


Love Thy Neighbor
Ann Cooper

            About 10 years ago I moved from Florida to Tennessee.  My home is now located on Christmasville Road, next door to my daughter. I did not get to know the neighbor on the other side of me right away. 
            We finally met one day when we both went to our mailboxes located along the roadside next to each other. Evelyn was a tall, slender lady - immaculately groomed who appeared to be in her 70s.  She told me she would have visited me sooner but was afraid of my two, big dogs.  I assured her they were very friendly.  She then became a frequent and welcomed visitor in my home.
            As we got to know each other, I learned that she had grown up in a coal mining town in West Virginia and that she didn't have much of an opportunity for getting a formal education.   In fact she had only learned to read simple things - just enough to get by.  Evelyn also explained she suffered a partial hearing loss as a child which had made learning difficult for her.  In addition, hearing words indistinctly had caused her to pronounce them incorrectly.  However, over time, she learned to read lips a bit. Evelyn told me that she had never lost the great desire to read on a higher level.
            As for myself, I had been fortunate enough to receive a college education.  The ability to read and write has given me so much joy in life.  However, in my early 80s, I was declared legally blind.  This makes reading and writing very difficult for me, and I even have to use special magnifiers.
            The more that I began to know Evelyn, I wondered, "Is there some way - even with my limitations - that I can help my neighbor read on a higher level?"  Evelyn and I talked about it and decided we'd find some way to read together.  I accessed Evelyn's skill by listening to her read. I discovered that she had difficulty reading multi-syllable words and Biblical names.
            Together we made a plan.  We decided to pick out some reading materials.  She would read as far as she could.  Then she would stop and spell out the word she didn't know.  I would divide the word into syllables, pronounce it, and then define it for her.  And away we would go.  Each day we'd read from daily devotionals and the Bible.  Evelyn likes Amish novels, and I enjoy history books and mysteries, so sometimes we'd read from them as well.  In addition to these, we would read our mail.
            We have helped each other in this way for over three years. Evelyn is now at the point where she can read almost everything on her own; I am no longer able to read because of my failing eyesight.  She now reads to me, and we continue to share this daily bond with one another.

            Evelyn and I both thank God each day for the gift we have been able to give to each other.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Life on the Edge


Life on the Edge
Tom Hubbell

            About 57 years ago, I joined the Navy and was assigned to an oiler, which is a huge ship that replenishes other ships with fuel while at sea.  It was during this time in my life that something truly amazing occurred.
            My ship had left the African coast and was heading back to the United States.  One morning I opened the hatch and went out to sit on a deck bench.  I was all alone.  As I sat there, I saw a storm approaching.  I continued to watch - fascinated by the sight - until gale winds began to blow creating waves at least 40 feet high.  I knew then it was time for me to go below.
            When I stood up, one of the huge waves rocked the ship causing me to loose my footing.  I began to slide to the opposite side of the deck.   Just as I was beginning to go overboard, I heard a voice say, "Throw up your hands!"  I did - just in time to catch hold of the railing that surrounded the edge of the deck.  Although my body from the waist down was over the side of the ship, I was able to save myself by holding onto the railing and pulling myself up.

            There was no one around when this happened - not one other person.  No one could have heard me scream and given this command.   I have no doubt but that it was the voice of the Lord speaking to me.  This event remains indelibly etched in my memory affirming His care for me.     

Friday, June 30, 2017

It's A Time to Heal


It's a Time to Heal
Karl Stephens

            Is anyone among you in trouble?  Let them pray.  Is anyone happy?  Let them sing songs of praise.  Is anyone among you sick?  Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up.  If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.  (James 5: 13-15 New Testament- NIV Version)

            On a Thursday evening in late summer in 2003, I was visiting my cousin's church in Longwood, Florida.  I was invited to attend their Bible study.  I was going through a really rough time in my life, and an impending period of incarceration was just a few short months away.  I was in really bad shape emotionally and spiritually, and most of those present knew this.    
            The small Bible study quickly turned into a prayer service that evening... for me.  I had opened up about my personal struggles and fears, and the church group, being led by the Spirit, began to pray for me.  Present were the pastor and his wife, a friend of mine who at that time was an elder in the church, three or four of the senior members, and myself.  They all gathered around me and laid hands on me. They prayed like I have never heard praying before. This went on for thirty or forty minutes, and I was exhausted.  Tears were flowing from my eyes, but I didn't want to stop because at that very moment I knew that my life would never be the same.
            Most of my adult life has been spent battling drugs and alcohol.  In fact, it was my addictive behavior that had me in the predicament I was in that evening in August of 2003.  A feeling of hopelessness and despair had become the norm for me. As I sat in that church, I felt if God didn't do something for me at this very moment I knew that this night could be the very end for me...so I cried out to Him.  As the church group was singing  the song, "What a Mighty God We Serve," I was praying, "Lord, help me."  It was then that I finally experienced the nearness of his love for me.  And as I continued to keep my eyes closed and cry out, I could feel the group laying hands on me; the elder began to anoint me with oil.  Then we all prayed another prayer that I thought would never end.  The Pastor was speaking in tongues, and my dead and sick spirit began to come alive.  I knew a change had come over me.  I knew then that God had done for me what I could not do for myself. 
            I remember everything that happened to me that night, nearly fourteen years ago.  I remember because it definitely changed me, as well as prepared me for the journey I was about to embark upon.  I could never have loved the person I had become, but God loved me up one side and down the other.
            I've been drug and alcohol free since that night - not once having the desire to go down that path again.   Instead I began thanking God for His mercy and love.  Now while being incarcerated, I have been attending A.A. meetings for the last decade.  I have not done so out of fear of a relapse, but because it is just one of the places where God meets me.  I have also been allowing God to use me, in a way that produces an effect upon my environment. 

            Sometimes it's hard for me to believe that I have come this far.  But I realize that I couldn't have done it without His guidance, and strength.  I am so thankful for those that were present at that Bible study turned prayer service.  They were living the Word as spoken through the Apostle James that I quoted at the beginning.  I am also grateful for every opportunity that God gives me to tell this story because it is not really a story about me, but about His love and mercy...  in spite of me.  Mine was a sickness not of the body, but a sickness of the mind and the spirit.  God reached down into my very being and brought a healing into my life.  So many people ask me how I am doing, and I usually respond, "Better than I deserve."  I say this because it is the truth; no one knows this better than myself. In my remembering, I will never forget the impact God's love had on me!   Without it, my whole life could have turned so very differently! 

Friday, June 23, 2017

In My Distress


In My Distress
Joy Sutton
            The intracoastal waterway runs along the east coast of Florida.  This waterway is separated from the Atlantic Ocean by barrier islands.  In-between these islands are inlets, channels of water that join the waterway to the ocean.  When the ocean tides are changing, the narrow channel ways have very strong, swift currents of water flowing through them.   Knowing this will help you understand what I am about to tell you.
       One Sunday, some 35 years ago, I was with my husband, sister and brother-in-law fishing in the Sebastian Inlet.  Our boat was anchored.  My brother-in-law Victor was fishing off the front of the boat.  I don't like to fish so I was just enjoying myself in the back of the boat.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Victor drop something in the water.  Shortly after, I saw it go floating in the water by me.  I foolishly decided to jump into the water to retrieve it which was not a smart thing to do as I am not at all the athletic type!  And I am certainly not a good swimmer!  I immediately became aware that the current was extremely strong as I began being pulled away from the boat.  Being such a weak swimmer, I could sense the trouble I was in.  At that same moment a voice within began to coach me, "Don't panic. Stay calm.  You have been taught how to tread water.  Do that and calmly ask them to throw you a life preserver."  I did just as I was instructed.  No one in the boat really thought I was in any real danger since my request was so calm.  Again the voice within said, "Remain calm.  Ask again."   I did as I was told.  Again - no response from those in the boat.  I asked a third time.  This time my brother-in-law realized the situation I was in as I was drifting further and further from the boat.  He told the others, "She is not fooling!  She needs help!"  Tying a rope around his waist and getting a life preserver, he dove in and swam to get me. 
            My husband and sister raised the boat anchor and came to get us both.

            I know it was God's still, quiet voice that kept me from panicking.  Otherwise, I could have so easily gone under.  If I had tried to swim towards the boat, I would have panicked, since as I mentioned before, I cannot swim well at all.  I am so very thankful that my brother-in-law finally sensed my need for help in spite of hearing the calmness in my voice which God had directed me to use.  Had I not heard God's instructions, I have no doubt that I would not be writing this today.  

Friday, June 16, 2017

His Divine Order


His Divine Order
Faye Hobbs

            Recently I suffered from a bad case of the flu and could not seem to recover my energy or my will. My body was depleted; my mind and spirit were depressed. I began to wonder why God was keeping me alive. I felt no value or purpose in my life at this time.  I prayed and asked others to pray for me.  Finally I turned it over to God to show me the path he would have me take.
            Then... came the call from a dear, sweet friend of 50 years asking me to please come visit her. Jean wasn't feeling well and needed my support and love. I really wondered how I would have the energy or the money to honor this request. But as the week went on, I felt more inclined to make the decision to go - even though I was still not totally well.  I found myself looking up "cheap tickets" online and found one available.  I called her daughter and asked if the time of my arrival would work. She said it would so I booked the ticket on my credit card. Another friend offered to take me to the airport at 5:30 in the morning.  God was taking care of all the details.
            I arrived in Atlanta to find that my friend had been in the emergency room all evening and was still there with an obstruction in her intestines. When Jean was finally able to get into a hospital room, we were able to have some privacy.  Knowing so well my background in Hospice, she told me about her wishes with clarity and conviction. I listened, and we prayed for God's guidance.
            With her daughter and me present, my friend also talked with her doctors and informed them that she had decided to stop all dialysis treatments and other interventions that would prolong her life. She had been struggling for 19 years with ailments and pain. She had undergone 11 years of dialysis treatments - three days a week. She was exhausted and ready to let go. That night she had the most peaceful sleep she'd had in years. She stopped struggling to hold on and being brave for everyone. She knew it would not be easy for her or her family.  However, they all agreed it was for the best, as she would only get worse as the interventions continued.
            I spoke with my friend and her family about what needed to be done, and we notified her family to come as soon as possible. I was scheduled to fly out on Friday morning, but when I got to the airport, I realized my backpack containing my wallet and ID was missing. I couldn't get on the plane! I asked the Uber driver to take me back to the hospital to see if someone had turned it in. Although I was given little hope of it being found, I felt it was God's way of letting me know - I was still needed here; it wasn't time to leave yet. So I trusted this was a part of the Divine Appointment that was to unfold. 
            Jean was so relieved to see me return and to be there with her loving family. It lightened my heart to sit there watching her great granddaughters - ages two and four - lovingly curled up with her and her grandson holding her hand.  The tears of joy and sadness flowed from all.
            That night Jean was given a shot of morphine to help with the pain.  An ambulance arrived at 10 pm to transport her to the Hospice facility where she wanted to go.  Since her family had other obligations that evening, I went with her - sitting in the front with my arms full of gorgeous lilies as she rode in the back sound asleep. All during the rest of night I sat vigilantly listening out for any special needs she might have.  At dawn she awoke fully conscious and alert. Alone, the two of us sang very quietly together, "I come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses." We knew we would meet again someday. Later that morning her daughter and son-in-law arrived with pots of tulips in bloom which brought a smile to her heart and eyes! It was spring coming in February. Jean was always at peace in a garden.
            That afternoon I was to catch another plane home. Before leaving, I told my friend how much I have loved her.  Soon after my leaving she went into a coma.  Other family members flew in from different parts of the country as well as many others who came from so many places and from all walks of life! My friend remained in a coma for a week.  During this time her daughter told me that she and her siblings spent time bonding with each other.   This would have made Jean so happy!
                        [Oh, yes, my backpack was found. A lady visiting her sick husband at the hospital had kept it safely for me.  The airline put me on a flight on Saturday at no charge to fly home where another friend came and picked me up!]
            When I returned home, I saw a beautiful single rose blooming on my bush.  I cut it and brought it into the house.  It remained just as beautiful until the day Jean died.
            I am convinced that my part in all this was another Divine Assignment.  God had plans for me - I just had to listen and follow them with trust and gratitude.  I have been entrusted with such assignments many times before in my life. Though I was so very depressed before this all happened, I now felt hopeful and joyful.  My faith reaffirmed!
            Thanks be to God for his Divine Order! 


Friday, June 9, 2017

Expectations



Expectations
Chris Berriman
            Expectations.  I was reminded of them at church and the emotional havoc they cause when they are not met.  The pastor challenged us to identify where we have placed expectations on God and been disappointed.  He told us to write them down and examine them.  This prompted me to consider the many expectations that I have.  Usually I place them on people, places and things. And when they do not pan out, I sometimes become disappointed, hurt, and even angry.
            I certainly did not expect my life to turn out the way it has.  I did not expect to be 49 and on my second marriage with no children.   I did not plan on becoming an alcoholic.   My childhood was normal; my parents were wonderful to me.  I went to church, attended private school, and I wanted for nothing.  I had a college education and a good job.  No trauma or tragedy occurred.  So why did I become an alcoholic?  It has a lot to do with the fact I cannot drink like other people.  And it has to do with control and expectations.  I drank because I wanted to be in control; I wanted people to do as I expected.  When they did not, I drank. 
            During the time when I was an alcoholic, I hated myself and figured God probably did too.  I had long been gone from God and the church.  Then I started attending Celebrate Recovery, an international Christian-based 12-step recovery program.  After that, I started going to AA and also returned to church.  At first I did not expect God to want me back.  It took me about 2 years to really believe that God could and would forgive me.  I thought my sins were the worst.  I can look back now and see how prideful that was.  I am truly grateful that my expectation of God in that time was not met.  He did want me back.  I was 38 when I got sober. 
            However, I still face daily challenges at home.  My husband is a nonbeliever and dually addicted to alcohol and nicotine.  He is a decent man with a deadly disease.  Although he is supportive of my journey, he does not want to stop drinking or smoking. My hopes are that his seeing the changes for good in my life will make him want to change as well.  That has not happened yet.  Perhaps, some day...
                Now when I get angry with God and question why I must endure this hardship, I return to scripture to help me cope.  Jeremiah 29:11 says that God has a plan for me.  Jeremiah 32:17 says that nothing is too hard for God.  He is Sovereign.  He gives me His Word which provides instruction on how to pray (Philippians 4:6, 7) and how to trust in and lean on Him in all things (Proverbs 3:5, 6).  I believe His Word.  I trust Him.  He gave me a new life, and I know that my purpose here is to serve Him in all circumstances.  I am grateful today that I can be reminded of how expectations can affect my life.  I can examine them and know that God is in control.  Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done.