“…to him who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine…” Ephesians 3:20

 

It seemed like just another beautiful day that afternoon when my cell phone showed a call coming in from my son-in-law, Sean.

“Hello.”

“I need your help.” The apprehension in his voice was heard above the road noise in the van as I was driving home from an appointment.

“What’s going on?”

Sean, weakly, “I can’t find Jack,” his and our daughter’s five-year-old.

“I’m in town, I’ll be there in fifteen minutes,” immediately regretting having chosen the longer scenic route home on gravel roads. Then I remembered the bridge was out on the road to their house from where I was, wasting more precious minutes.

Concentrating on staying on the road at 70 mph helped keep thoughts of the worst from getting into my head: they have three ponds/Sean has been looking for an hour/Jack lost his shoe in the pond mud a couple of weeks ago.

I mentally scanned my phone contact list to call for help in the search for Jack and discovered I didn’t have the number of my policeman neighbor who might be just getting home. When I drove past our neighbors’ who have three teen boys, I thought, “If I can see them outside down their LONG driveway, I’ll stop and pick them up.” Sliding on loose gravel rounding the 90 degree curve just before their place, I managed a quick look. No one.

An eternal four minutes later at Sean’s, I called him to ask where he was on their twelve acres. He’d been down by the big pond about 3/4 of a mile away earlier. “I’m north of the house.” He must’ve been running.

photo by Connie Hoogeveen

photo by Connie Hoogeveen

“What do you want me to do?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’ll drive to where you are.” In my rear view mirror, I noticed that Jack’s seven-year-old brother, Shannon, burst out of the house with his bicycle helmet on, jump on his little green bike and head down the driveway. I turned around and caught up to him going south on their road. “Where are you going?”

“We can’t find Jack. And I’m going to find Papa.”

“Papa’s that way,” I gestured in the opposite direction. “Put your bike in the ditch and get in.” We headed north and I was met by a car that stopped at my approach.

A middle-aged man shouted to me through his open window, “We found him! He’s at our house, fine but shaken up. Can you call Sean? I can’t find the paper I had with his number on it. Follow me to my house.”

I fumbled for my phone, redialed. “He’s been found!!!!!!!!!”

“Who..where was he?”

“At a neighbor’s, down the road….”

The neighbor man turned around and headed home. It hit me that I needed to get Sean, let him drive and I should stay at the house, since two younger siblings were napping, and would be waking soon.

As I pulled into the driveway, Sean came running toward us. “You drive,” I hollered as he approached, “I’ll stay with the kids.” But as soon as he reached the van he burst into shoulder-heaving sobs.

Seeing that he couldn’t drive, I opened the side door for him to get into the back beside Shannon, who by then was sobbing too. As I sped toward the neighbor’s house, Sean managed, “Slow down …. so we don’t scare him.”

As we crested the hill, we became part of this hoped-for-happy-ending scene:

Down the road on the next hill was a man standing beside his car in the middle of the road, front door open. About 20 yards in front of him strolling down the hill toward us was a woman holding the hand of a little boy, and a dog trotting alongside. Like it was just another beautiful day.

As we pan out from the scene, we see a van with all of its doors open, all of its occupants running toward the little boy with the dog. There is a lot of hugging. Then after a bit, five teary-eyed people hold hands and bow their heads, there in the middle of the road.

Zooming back in, we thank the just-met neighbors, climb into the van and head home to hold, hug, sigh and savor. Because it wasn’t just another beautiful day.

It was far beyond.

by Connie Hoogeveen

You know those name tags that we wear at corporate get-togethers or at certain parties or other functions? Those that say, “Hello, I am,” and then you write your name. Does that ever embarrass you?

It seems we are all too willing to tell all manner of people what we are doing on today’s social media sites, but there’s still something about being up close to another person and letting them know your name. Am I just imagining this?

Well, at any rate, I got to thinking about those tags. (Weird, I know.)

What if instead of our name we wrote how we felt or viewed ourselves?

“Hello, I am:” and then you put Lonely, Sad, Addicted, Depressed, Selfish, Argumentative, Opinionated….   You get the idea.

Wow, you say, who would ever want to do that?!? Nobody would fill out a tag like that! You’ve got to be kidding.

hellomynameis

But….

Wouldn’t it make our relationships more real, especially in church? I mean, church is the place where we are supposed to find solace and peace and acceptance.

Isn’t it true that too often we hug ourselves close and don’t have any intention of letting people know who we really are. Especially at church. We are supposed to be perfect at church. Right?

You do realize that God knows exactly who you are and how you feel? Every second of every day. There is no hiding our true selves from Him.

And do you realize what else? God loved us BEFORE we became lonely, or depressed, or addicted. He DIED for us before any of our days came into being (Romans 5:8-10).

And…ready for this?

God MADE your personality to be what it is. He has a purpose for you–to use you to reach someone else that only YOU can reach.

There is sure to be someone else at church who is also lonely, depressed, sad, angry, addicted or….you fill in the blank. How will they find help unless someone reaches out to them and helps them.

I urge you to grab your inner self and drag it to the surface of who you are and LOOK for that other person. The Bible tells us to comfort others with the same kind of comfort by which we have been comforted (2 Cor. 1:4). That’s not just a tongue twister statement. It’s a statement for the purpose for our lives and for everything that has happened in our lives.

Pray that you will be a seeker, not just of what God can do for you. A seeker of others, that you may be a blessing to them!

by Cindy Best

“They crucified him, and with him two others.”  John 19:18

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?
Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?

100_1484

Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?
Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?

(African-American spiritual, public domain)

If you’ve ever tried to comb through a child’s long hair after a shampoo, you know it is tangled, sometimes into seeming knots, in various places. Conditioner and de-tangler is the only way to comb it without pulling the little one’s hair.

Tangles also come when they have decided to “re-do” their own pony tail or braids during the day. Yikes! Those knotted masses can bring tears and gnashing of teeth. We have to have them sit in front of us and then we can see the knots of hair and go ahead and work to untangle them.

Even my own hair gets matted into a nest when I have put it up and then sit in a recliner for a while. Ouch! When that happens, I have to carefully reach back and edge out strands of hair until I feel the lump begin to loosen. Then I continue to budge more and more hair loose as I feel around without being able to see it.

tangled

I thought about this as an analogy to our spiritual lives when I read a devotion written by Sarah Young in the book Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence. She wrote, “Let the Spirit take control of your mind, combing out tangles of deception.”

Sooooo right, isn’t it? When we try to untangle whatever has caused the knots in our gut, or emotions or head, we find we cannot do it. Our mind quite often is so messed up with what to do, how to do it, when and where, we simply can’t see a way clear.

Jesus told us to be like little children. We only need to sit in front of Him and let his Spirit rid us of the tangles of deception that have stopped us from having a clear view of Him.

God provides the way our feet should go on His path, and He gives us His strength to walk that distance with Him. He will hold our hands and guide our minds. His infinite knowledge has seen the future, and He knows the way we should go–whether we can see it or not. In fact He promises to make the path straight and smooth.

I pray that you will try to focus your mind on God and the fact that He has all things under His power and gives the Spirit the knowledge of how to help you in every situation you might find yourself.

Let Him untangle your life!

by Cindy Best

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
10 no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

14 “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”

New International Version

I watched a Discovery Channel program the other night about how our brain “sees” color. It was very interesting. One of the things our brain does, all on its own, is interpret what we are looking at according to the knowledge we have. In other words, as a child you were told that the leaves on trees are green, and that is how you will see them even if there is no sunshine illuminating them. Many people who have been asked as witnesses in an accident or other occurrence at night testify that they saw green trees, even though that is impossible. Our brain “sees” what it has been trained to see.
The neuroscience behind this is fascinating. Our brain is more than just an organic computer (info that goes in turns into knowledge). It processes the information input to a level that is not only split-second, but can make our bodies react in split seconds, too. Saving us from disaster at certain times.
But what I found fascinating was the explanation of how we see “color.” All our vision comes from the light that is reflected on what we are looking at. If you have ever been deep in a cave, where absolutely no light reaches, you will see absolutely nothing….not even your hand right in front of your face. It is impossible to see because there is no light at all.

color
Colors are created by the type of light from the sun that is in the atmosphere. Besides the polarized light that bombards us, there is ultra-violet light, which humans can’t see without special lenses and adaptations, being emitted all the time. Many cats, however, can see ultra-violet light, and if you notice a cat staring intently off into nothing, it could be they are looking at something you cannot see.
The “color” white is in actuality the reflection of the entire visible light spectrum. Black is not a color at all: a black object absorbs all the colors of the visible spectrum and reflects none of them to the eyes. When you paint with water colors and dip your brush into one color, then clean that color off your brush in a bowl of water and get the next color and do the same thing, over and over, eventually the water will turn black because it has absorbed all the colors you have put into it.
Spiritually speaking, no wonder heaven is described as needing no sun or moon because God Himself is the light…He is the epitome of ALL the reflected light there is or ever could be. In fact, He is blinding in His radiance. Therefore, Heaven will hold beauty we cannot fathom, nor has “eye ever seen.”
Hell, with Satan the father of all Darkness, will be the exact opposite. Many people argue whether there will be flames that do not consume in Hell or not. Okay, debate that. What I do know, and our science confirms, is that without the Light of God, wherever Hell is, it will be totally pitch black. Twenty-four and seven. For eternity. I cannot think of a worse place than that. Never being able to see anything, anyone, forever.
That is why I know the darkness that fell over the earth at the moment our Savior died on the cross must have been terrifying. The moment God’s light was removed from the earth.
And that is why I praise God’s Mercy and Grace for loving me enough to give me eternal life with Him. He has provided perfect light and a perfect place for us to see His Glory. And we are to enjoy that Glory with Him, forever.

by Cindy Best

Am I ever glad this is a new month, a new week, and a new day. The past few weeks have been frustrating to say the least. You know how that is at times, right?

My Internet router went kaput a month or so ago…after I had gotten a totally new one in January. A visit with an online tech got it going again. Then three weeks later off it went, and this time the tech couldn’t get it running, so they ordered a personal visit from a repair person…in another week. Argh!

While messing with the router’s settings, something happened to the computer which totally messed up everything so that my writing documents were not showing up, and even worse, the word processing software was not showing up either! Yikes.

On top of that, the printer wouldn’t work, and still is not. Joys!

Then last Thursday evening our water heater had a pipe that broke (not found until Friday morning) and a few inches of water had sprayed into the basement. Luckily our 115-year-old basement floor tilts toward the drain, so most of the water was already running out; and it is not a finished basement, so no damage there. Just no hot water. We got a plumber to come out late afternoon on Friday and fix the broken pipe and fitting; however, he said we needed a new water heater since the bottom of this one had gotten wet and would not light and heat safely (this one was only 3 years old).

working water heater

Then Saturday morning (remember the record-setting cold air that swooped down last weekend?) we found out the furnace had apparently had some water spray onto it and it would not work. (House temp was 55.) We toughed it out–with the help of our gas fireplace and its blower and lots of blankets and a few floor heaters in the basement keeping the pipes from freezing–until we called a furnace repair company to come out. They got here on Tuesday, assessed the actual damage and said a new furnace was needed (this one was 15 years old).

On Wednesday, a new furnace was installed.

Thursday, got us a new water heater. And a new router.

So…..despite my husband’s right arm being in a sling from shoulder surgery three weeks ago, we are doing okay. But am I ever glad we have had electricity and gas throughout all this. Counting blessings despite the adversity of modern life conveniences.

But let me tell you, in the midst of all that turmoil, my attitude took a nose dive. Especially my inner desire to continue writing. I was at the point where I threw my hands up and said, “Okay. I’m just not going to write anymore. And computers are too much of a hassle. I’ll do email and Facebook on my phone and that’s it.”

And frankly, if it weren’t for my husband that may have happened. But I knew he really wanted a Wi-Fi network for his computer. So I trudged along waiting for the repair tech to get here on Thursday.

Sometimes life just gets overwhelming, doesn’t it?

Sometimes no matter what you do, things fall apart.

Sometimes you want to crawl back into that couch-cushion pillow fort with your coloring books.

But day-by-day, hour-by-hour, my “world” got straightened out. And I praised God that we had the financial ability to do what we did. We lifted prayers for all those who did not and for those who have problems so much greater than ours. We had “first-world” problems. Hot water, heat, and computer problems.

As the season of Lent is upon us, you may want to consider what you can do without in this First World. Some of my friends are giving up Facebook until after Easter. Some are going without sweets of any kind.

I wasn’t raised in a church that urged a “denial” of anything leading up to Easter, so it is really a foreign concept to me. But what I have focused on is what I need to ADD to my spiritual life.

I need to add a truly thankful heart for every single thing I have. And a big, extra-thankful heart for me is that my computer documents are all back again! Whew!  But I’m not thankful for just family and friends and “things;” but forgiveness, grace and mercy.

Without God being perfectly Merciful, full of Grace and showering His creation with Forgiveness, I would have no hope.

No hope.

None.

Zip.

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!”

by Cindy Best

It’s been a long winter.  Okay, I know I say that every year, but this winter has been a record breaker.  True, it hasn’t been the snowiest, but our number of sub-zero days has been impressive.  The Midwest isn’t alone, either:  winter has hit hard in nearly every corner of our country, and in most of the places in between.  Everyone is weary of winter.  Where is spring?

Despite the continuing Arctic cold, there is hope.  Robins are returning, and the days are noticeably longer.  Such small signs whisper a promise that winter will eventually move along to the southern hemisphere, and warmer weather will rush in to take its turn.  The ice and snow will melt, green shoots will emerge from the thawing ground, flowers will bloom, and gardeners who have been fighting the urge to get out and dig in the dirt will finally be able to plant their seeds and seedlings.  I can already see tulips and daffodils in my mind’s eye!

robins

When we look around, we find that the state of our world can seem like an unrelenting winter.  Evil is rampant, and people are suffering.  War, rebellion, disease, and violence are so pervasive that we run the risk of becoming numb to them.  But movies, games, and television shows are also full of such things, and although many people look to entertainment to escape the unpleasant realities of the world, they might find themselves becoming saturated in them instead.  Where is God?

Despite the chaos and evil in the world, there is hope.  At the local food pantry, volunteers are serving those in need, helping them to feed themselves and their families.  Donors are financially supporting organizations that help people pay their heating bills so they aren’t stuck in a frigid house.  During the snow storm in Atlanta, fast food servers were taking food and other supplies to motorists trapped in their cars, and businesses opened their doors overnight to allow people who couldn’t get home to sleep in a warm safe place.  International aid organizations can help the desperate around the world because enough people give their money to make it happen.  Everywhere you see the evidence of God at work.

Why would I say that the good deeds of people reveal the hand of God?  Some say that the abundance of evil and suffering in the world proves that there is no God or that if there is a God, he obviously doesn’t care about us.  They dismiss altruism, saying that people do good only because it gets them something in return, even if that something is only a warm fuzzy feeling.  But let’s look at human nature for a moment.  We are essentially self-centered.  Our biological imperative is anything that ensures our survival.  As individuals, we should be competing for resources for ourselves and our families; we should be guarding our territories and making sure that our genetic line continues.  Sharing with others outside our families makes sense only as long as it preserves the security of the community we live in and allows us to survive and prosper.  Giving to strangers, especially strangers on the other side of the world, goes completely against human nature.

Let me say that again:  caring for others outside our own families goes against human nature.  So why do we do it?  Because we are so much more than just our own humanity.  Genesis tells us that when God created man, he breathed life into him.  Although our bodies are flesh, the spirit of life in us is divine.  That is what moves us to care for others.  That is what brings us to tears when we see need and suffering.  That is what spurs us to action when we see injustice.  The Spirit of God in us can elevate us above our humanity if we let him.

After a long, cold winter, or a long period of pain or bitterness, our hearts might need some thawing before we’re able to notice and respond to the need all around us.  The good news is that Jesus is a heart specialist.  He is able to thaw a frozen heart or even break and restore a heart of stone.

A winter like this can make us lose hope for spring.  A world like ours can make us abandon hope for God.  But look around:  spring is not far away, and God is already here.

My grand-daughter has begun participating on her school’s archery team. I can’t tell you how proud I am of her! She and her mom began archery skills almost two years ago…when she was just seven. Their biggest enjoyment came from doing something together outside or inside…either at targets in a field or at an archery range.

And I learned a lot about the sport I did not know. There are re-curved bows, crossbows, and “guideless” bows. She has learned how to shoot bows with sights/guides and without. Her form has to be different for each one.

The fact that she wanted to join the school’s team when she was only 8 years old blew me away. She has gone to three competitions so far and scored better each time. This Saturday she will participate in a State of Iowa meet at Johnston High School. Two weeks ago, she participated in the Greater Des Moines Metro meet with over two hundred other kids.

When I saw her picture at her first meet…8 years old…standing between kids who were a good head and shoulders taller…my heart swelled with pride. That takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there where everyone in the stands can see how you do, or don’t do. It’s a solitary sport, even though you are part of a team from your school. You stand there, by yourself, aim the bow all by yourself, use your own strength and steadiness of eye and hand and let the arrow fly.

And she had to shoot FORTY arrows…at targets put out at varying distances. That’s a lot of pulling back against the “pull strength” of your bow string. And a lot of aiming. And a lot of remembering your form and stance. All by yourself.

That takes a lot of guts…fortitude…confidence. And she did it!

taking aim

Her mom did a great job in telling her that first time that the goal was simply to shoot forty arrows. Hitting the target was not the object. Just being able to pull that string and get those arrows down the lane was the goal. We were proud of her simply for doing that.

Also, her mom gave her something she could repeat to herself as she stood on the line, “Back to the Basics: S (stance) T (target) A (anchor) R (release)…STAR.”  And when one round of arrows didn’t quite go where they could have, mom saw her moving her mouth telling herself, “Back to the basics.” Then she turned and planted her feet in the correct stance, and went on from there. What a great thing, to know you know inside yourself what to listen to and succeed!

The Olympics continue this week, and I feel for those athletes who are skiing down a mountain…on their own. Figure skating…on their own. Cross-country skiing…on their own. The luge and skeleton competitors, hurtling down an icy track…on their own.

When I look inside myself, do I think I have to do this thing called “life” on my own? Do I have to pick my goal and plan my path and practice what I’ve chosen…on my own? Thank God, the answer is, “No!”

Life takes guts, no doubt about it. But I am not alone. I have not gotten off on the wrong path and left God somewhere behind me. He is with me every step of the way, and He can give me strength, guidance, a calm spirit and the insight to get me through. I only need to quiet myself and listen.

by Cindy Best

We have many blankets in our family room. In the corner is a basket home for them (as if we actually fold and put them away). No, they’re usually strewn about… on the couch, the green and gold afghan my grandma crocheted for me when I was a senior in high school (its colors a timeless reminder of how I never ended up going to Baylor. Plans change). On the ottoman is a black and orange Valley fleece blanket my mother-in-law made for one of the boys a few years ago. On the floor, an ugly, rough, south-of-the-border blanket I’ve never liked, although it still hangs around. On the beanbag, a grey souvenir blanket we got on an (unseasonably cold) music festival cruise to the Bahamas a few years ago. It makes me smile. These are joined by a half dozen others, various styles and origins, all ready for movie night or a football game or just cuddling up with a book.

I love these blankets. They feel especially good when the cold wind howls outside, but truth be told, we cover up with ’em year-round. It doesn’t matter. Maybe we just find them comforting. Warm. Protective.

photo-1 blankets Angie S

I’m knitting a blanket for Trevor to take with him when he goes to college this fall. (It’s purple, so it’ll work whether he chooses UNI or Truman State.) I figure, if I brought him home from the hospital in a blanket 18 years ago, I might as well send him off in one, too. If he should get homesick, maybe it’ll be the touch of home that brings comfort.

My mom gave me a quilted blanket this past Christmas, made with squares of some of Dad’s shirts that she couldn’t part with after his death two years ago. This quilt is a great remembrance piece. I remember Dad wearing these shirts. I haven’t actually used the blanket yet; it sits folded on top of our cedar chest, with the shirt fronts folded to the inside. I think the day will come when I use it, but for now, maybe I just don’t want the sadness wrapped around me.

Thinking about these blankets got me pondering the intangibles we wrap around ourselves every day… feelings and emotions, our outlook on life, our defense mechanisms. How we face each day depends on what attitude we put around our shoulders when we get out of bed in the morning. We choose our outlook more subconsciously than I might choose a blanket for TV night, but it’s still a choice.

photo-2 blankets Angie S

Many days, I can be all too comfortable wrapping myself in the wrong things. Cynicism. Pride. Some days, I’m smothered by my own self-doubt. Maybe you can relate. God’s Word warns us to resist getting too cozy with these things. There are others. Worry. Fear. An unwillingness to forgive. But just because these might be comfortable and familiar doesn’t mean we have to keep choosing them over and over. They never end up protecting us like we think they will. They just grow heavier over time. Maybe Jesus had something like this in mind when he talked about his yoke being easy and his burden light. I like this translation of Matthew 11:29-30: “I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (The Message.)

Light blankets are my favorite ones. So, in the spirit of the metaphor, I can appreciate this.

What, then, can we drape around us that won’t weigh us down? Here are some ideas from Colossians 3:12-14: “Dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it” (The Message).

Today, may you be wrapped in comfy blankets and, even better, in the lightness of this kind of spirit God has in mind for you.

by Angie Schmitt

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