“O LORD, I give my life to You. I trust in You, my God!” Psalm 25:1 New Living Translation
What does your beginning look like? Or perhaps I should ask what brought you to Christ?
My mother taught me about Jesus from as far back as I can remember. She took me to the same church she attended as a child. I loved Sunday school and learned all the songs like Deep and Wide, Running Over, and I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy. But I only knew ABOUT Jesus, I didn’t really KNOW Him yet.
Everything surrounding Jesus was joyous and good. So I liked learning about Him. But one day The truth about His purpose on earth shattered my heart. I found out He came here to suffer and die in my place. It was hard to accept at age seven but I understood enough about the reality of Jesus to love Him and want Him in my life no matter what.
My father recognized the divine love of Christ that same year of 1970 and made a commitment to Him at a small prayer meeting. I decided if my father did it, I should too. And so I gave my heart to Jesus and began my adventure with Him. The highest praise we can give to God is to give our lives to Him!
So I ask again… what does your beginning look like? Someone may need to hear it.
“. . . This is what the LORD says: ‘When people fall down, don’t they get up again? When someone turns away, do they not return?’ ”
Jeremiah 8:4 New Living translation
How do you view success? Do you see it differently for others than you see it for yourself? Can you recall a time when you failed? How did you respond? Can you recall a time when you felt you succeeded?
In 1987 my father died suddenly. I was 24. My mother needed support financially and emotionally. I decided I should take care of her. We tried to sell her house and move where she could walk to work since she didn’t drive. It was a disaster and two years later I couldn’t take it anymore. I needed to move out. I failed in my plan to take care of my mother. I certainly didn’t FEEL like a success.
As I explained in Part I, I feared failure and any sort of risk. I lacked the knowledge and experience of independent living apart from renting a room when I moved away from home at 19. As with any new venture, alot of unknowns accompanied having my own place. But I was desperate to be independent and I chalked up the failure with my mom to lack of planning. I was not gonna let that happen again.
So I carefully counted the cost of moving out on my own. (Luke 14:28) After doing my homework and seeing my budget on paper I felt a degree of confidence. I prayed and moved forward finding a snug 2 bedroom apartment the week between Christmas and New Year’s.
Scheduled to move at the end of January made it difficult to find volunteers to help me. I didn’t have much money but I remembered I had an insurance policy I received when my father died. He had taken it out when I was born. I figured my first apartment was cause for cashing it in to help with the move.
The Prudential building intimidated me with its vastness. The insurance agent who handled my policy seemed kind and trustworthy. When he found out why I was cashing in my policy, he asked if I had help to move. I told him “No” and he immediately made some calls. He told me he and a few friends from church would help. Yes, I was naive to trust a stranger but I had no one else and so I trusted God’s provision.
The night of my move two big flat bed trucks arrived right on time. Two men and the insurance guy made short work of loading all my belongings onto the trucks. My middle brother also lived at my Mom’s and he sat on the sofa and watched while these men carried my possessions passed him time and again. He never lifted a finger to help and as I carried a box out, he said, “You’ll never make it.”
He said it with such a sneer that the pain shot deep in my heart. I could never forget his words and lack of confidence in my ability. Inspite of what he said, the Lord helped me to live successfully for 12 years in that apartment and then go on to buy my own house.
That failure with my mother became a bundle of lessons learned to help me move forward to succeed on my own. I worked hard through the lean times. I sacrificed when necessary. And no bills were ever late or unpaid. I felt good about what I had accomplished, just me and Jesus.
We can turn every failure into success with perseverance and the Lord’s help. Or put another way; “Whenever you fall, do it forward and get up again as soon as possible.”
So what is your definition of success? Please feel free to share it in the comment section. Here’s my favorite definition of success;
“To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The LORD’S loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.” Lamentations 3:22 New American Standard Bible
HE’S THE ONLY ONE WHO NEVER FAILS!
Anyone remember the old show “Wide World of Sports” and Jim McKay’s famous catchphrase? “The thrill of victory . . . and the agony of defeat?” No one wanted to be that poor skier shown in the footage representing the “agony of defeat”. As bad as it looked, Vinko Bogataj, the Slovenian ski jumper in the clip, walked away with a concussion and a broken ankle. You can watch it on YouTube if you’re too young to remember Wide World of Sports.
His failure made him famous and admired by athletes the world over. Muhammed Ali asked for his autograph in 1981 at the 20th anniversary celebration for Wide World of Sports. Vinko continued skiing competitively and then became a ski instructor coaching the 1991 World Champion Franci Petek. He went on to lead a full life with his wife and family and later discovered his talent for painting.
Think about failure in your own life. Have you had a lot?
I recently read an interview with a young high school graduate. She was asked, “What’s the worst thing about being 18?” In answer to this question, she said:
“Everything you do after you turn 18 counts, so there is no room or time for error.”
Think about that for a moment. This is an 18 year old ‘determined goal chaser’ as she calls herself in another section of the article. I admire her raw ambition and desire to make the most of her time to make a difference in our world.
I was blessed to meet this young woman named Danielle and she has quite an impressive outlook on life. However, I do want to caution her and others not to fear failure. Because for those of us who know Christ, failure is just a different tool in the hand of God to chisel us to perfection.
Each of us will come face to face with failure more than once in our lifetime, but we can benefit from it IF we look to our all knowing God. We can learn lessons from failure that may not otherwise be possible. If we determine to be teachable we can learn and grow from the experience of failure. We should expect it and not fear it.
Don’t know about you but I was taught that if I fail at something then I AM a failure. I believed this lie for most of my life. For years I did all I could to avoid failure. Unfortunately unlike Danielle, my motivation avoidance was not commendable. Self preservation motivated me rather than striving to be my best for the sake of others. I did not want to look stupid at any cost. Too often in my past people were cruel and made fun of me and my ideas so I began to hide my ideas inside and not take risks.
As an adult if I was not fairly sure I could succeed at something I would not even try it. How many opportunities have I missed because of fear? What about you? Have you missed opportunities because of fear?
God in His mercy has scooped me up many times when I felt I could not go on. Then He’d take me at the moment of my failure and teach me useful things so I could move forward into other areas of life I never dreamed possible.
In weak moments fear sneaks in and attempts to rule me again but now I know the truth. That even failures I encounter may be part of God’s divine plan for me. So I turn my back on fear and lean hard into my faith in Christ. Because with His leading and help I can do anything and so can you!
“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13 New Living translation
Take time to enjoy the journey and FLURISH through any failures. And Danielle, as you head off to college remember, He’s got your back!
“I am lonely, like an owl living in the desert, like an owl living among old ruined buildings. I cannot sleep. I am like a lonely bird on the roof.” Psalm 102:6+7 Easy to Read Bible
Heart wrenching seasons of loneliness visit all of us. How do we FLURISH through these times?
As a child I spent a lot of time alone because my siblings were much older and my parents both worked. Every year I dreaded the summer months because it meant being alone for an extended period of time. I enjoyed the social aspect of school and wished it continued year round.
At an early age I recognized and invited Jesus as my Savior to come into my heart. Soon I began making up plays, dramas, dances and songs that I would perform in our backyard to an audience of one. I knew God was watching. I could feel His presence and pleasure. This greatly helped me through the lonely times. So Jesus and I went out to play together as often as possible.
But as I grew older I forgot these precious moments with my heavenly Father. I stopped spending creative times with Him. I even thought at one point in my life that it was just foolish child’s play.
As a young adult I spent 15 years living totally alone. It became agonizing at times. Then one day I remembered the loveliness of the moments spent as a child dancing and singing in His presence where I could be my complete self. Loved for exactly who I was. I realized what I did as a child was not foolish but something led by God. I needed to lay down my pride and begin to recognize His presence and respond to Him as I did when I was young.
I began believing what the Bible says; He is ALWAYS with us. (Matthew 28:20b) The Bible also says to “Never stop praying” in I Thessalonians 5:17. So if HE is always with us and we are to talk to Him all the time then we had better learn to practice His presence.
One of the first things I began doing to practice His presence was to pick out music that spoke to my heart. I’d crank the volume and dance around my apartment with a fair amount of abandon. Praising and jumping for Jesus’ sake. Sometimes I did cheering type moves or ballet. Probably only a God who is Love Himself could enjoy it? I do know it always released stress for me and gave me a supernatural joy. I could be a carefree kid in His presence. Of course this is easiest to do when you are alone because others might try to have you committed somewhere other than to Jesus, if you know what I mean?
Years later when I bought my first home I had an upstairs Rec room with laminate hardwood flooring. One day while having devotions, I felt a still small voice in my heart calling me to play. At first I dismissed it as my imagination. But it did not stop. So I got up from my sofa and put some funky praise music on my stereo system.
As the first notes hit my ears I felt like moving. In my pajamas and socks, I discovered I could slide across the laminate. Jesus was calling me to slide with Him. Laughing and zooming across the floor, we had a great time. Later, I rearranged the furniture so there would be maximum sliding room. I created a little track and slid around it with Jesus often.
When my young nieces and great niece visited, I taught them to slide with Jesus too. I didn’t care if they thought I was crazy. I was crazy about Jesus and He was the only one who filled the lonely void in my life. Being seen acting crazy about Jesus is nothing new. Consider King David:
“And David danced before the Lord with all his might, wearing a priestly garment. So David and all the people of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouts of joy and the blowing of rams’ horns. But as the Ark of the Lord entered the City of David, Michal, the daughter of Saul, looked down from her window. When she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she was filled with contempt for him.” II Samuel 6:14-16 New Living translation
Notice that David “leaped” and “danced” before the Lord. He simply delighted in the Lord and the return of the Ark to the City of David. David laid aside his royal garments to dance before his Lord. HE was willing to look foolish in the eyes of anyone for the Lord’s sake. That is a tight relationship. So powerful that it can destroy the chains of loneliness.
If you find yourself lonely take advantage of being alone, where no one can see you. Put on some music you love and surrender your pride as worship to your Lord. Dance, jump, sway just do whatever you can. Trust me, HE will love it and you may be surprised at the results on your end.
“God can’t give us happiness and peace apart from Himself because there is no such thing.” C.S. Lewis
Shine on. . .
“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.” Psalm 42: 11 New International version
My rambling thoughts cause twistedness and strife within my mind.
I want freedom. I want peace. I want purpose. Do I know that all these things can be found in You? My head knows it but my heart isn’t feeling it at the moment.
That’s when my faith must rally the courage to step in and take control of the helm of my soul. Faith must rise up and remember the God who has never failed me! The God who provides for me! The God who masters an entire universe and yet cares about me. The God who loves me when I hang on my last thread above the abyss of despair. The invisible God who I cannot see with my eye but who I believe remains even in my pain.
The God who whispers, “in all this I remain by your side and I will carry you ’til you can walk on your own again.”
“and in the wilderness where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, just as a man carries his son, in all the way which you have walked until you came to this place.” Deuteronomy 1:31 New American Standard version
“You go before me and follow me. You place Your hand of blessing on my head.” Psalm 139:5 New Living translation
May I trust You, knowing You are with me no matter what I face or feel today.
“Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.” Romans 13:1 New Living translation
In 1989 when I began work on the PA Turnpike, the uniform of the toll collector included a metal badge similar to a policeman’s badge. We wore it on our shirts in summer and our coats in winter. It was an important part of our uniform. It was a symbol of authority and the customers recognized and respected it.
Sometime in the next decade the badges were removed as part of the uniform. The effect produced more paperwork for the state police because customers no longer saw collectors as any type of authority. When a dispute arose, a State trooper was called.
Often I have customers who refuse to pay their fare. Some will demand to see a State trooper or some other authority figure. If my boss is unavailable, I tell them I can call a State trooper for them but I am careful to add that the State trooper will simply make them pay the fare. This is an attempt to spare the customer wasted time. Most customers listen to reason, decide not to involve the law and pay their fare.
However, there have been customers who insist on seeing a police officer. The officer arrives, listens to the customer plead their case, and then explains that they must pay the fare. After all, it is a toll road.
Occasionally I have witnessed customers arguing with the police officers after they’ve been told by the officer they must pay the fare. It seemed so ridiculous to me at the time. It happened only a few times in the last 28 years but I sense a wave of change coming.
I wrote all this to say our world is changing rapidly. Things have been going on recently that are so ridiculous they seem surreal. As followers of Christ we are commanded to submit to governing authorities as stated in the opening verse. The word submit means to accept or yield to a superior force or the authority or will of another person.
Whether referring to a police officer or the head of our country we need to take the Word of God to heart. He chooses who He puts in power whether in lower positions or the highest in the land. It is ultimately His call. He has reasons we cannot imagine because He knows eternity past, present and future. Our job is to recognize, respect and obey the position of authority, even if we personally dislike the individual holding the office.
As we have seen recently, the unrest is escalating. Ugly hatreds increasing. Attitudes of bold rebellion are cropping up at alarming rates together with violence. We must stand for what is true and honorable according to His word and be examples to our world. We must be aware of what the Last Days will be like. Read II Timothy 3:1-8 New Living translation
Verse 3 especially stuck out.
“They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good.”
Let’s make the upcoming fourth of July celebration here in the United States a marker, a reminder to begin to meditate and pray on our attitudes toward authority figures. If you live elsewhere choose a significant date for your country and begin the process to pray and appreciate the position. Let’s ask God for new ways we can be extra supportive and respectful of our governing powers upholding the law, i.e., members of the military, law enforcement officials, the President, his cabinet and our local statesmen and women. We need to set a standard for the world to see and pray they follow our lead.
Remember, these governing individuals have our heavenly Father’s backing and they should have ours. They could be the only thing standing between us and a world where chaos is king. Support our governing leaders and obey the command of God.
“Never make light of the king, even in your thoughts.” Ecclesiastes 10:20a
“A joyful heart makes a cheerful face, but when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken.”
Proverbs 15:13 New American Standard Bible
Do you have a healthy inviting smile? I’m not talking about nice white teeth or perfectly shaped lips. More about what your smile conveys to others.
At work one day an older gentleman pulls up to my booth and says, “My you have a beautiful smile! I’m a musician and your heart’s all over your face.” He circled his hand around his face as he said this.
The guy seemed sincere enough and not just blowin smoke, as they say. I don’t know much about music but I wonder if this musician could recognize a song in my heart from the smile on my face?
Recalling his words in that short exchange now reproduces a smile on my face and my heart because I know the smile I gave him that day was long in the making.
You see, you cannot give what you don’t have. I remember hope dashed every year when my school photos arrived. There I was in living color gritting my teeth or forcing out a smile. I hated the way I looked. One year I decided to do something about it.
I appraised my smile whenever I had a mirror available. I wanted it to be beautiful. My family made fun of me but their insults only reinforced my determination.
I experimented with varying widths of smiles. Mouth open, mouth closed. How many teeth to show etc., In Junior high I had no idea the reality of the problem had nothing to do with my mouth. No matter what I tried the smiles all came out forced and gauche. Why?
It wasn’t due to my awkward adolescence. It stemmed from a deeper issue of the pain and sadness occupying the space in my heart. At that time in my life no song played in my heart to filter through to my face. For years I thought I was smiling but my sad eyes revealed the truth of my private world to the public.
Only after I began allowing Jesus to take over and heal my heart, replacing the sadness with His joy did my smiles flow without effort. A song rang out in my heart and spilled onto my face.
This is a recurring favorite in my heart by Luther B. Bridges, 1910
HE KEEPS ME SINGING
“There’s within my heart a melody
Jesus whispers sweet and low,
Fear not, I am with thee, peace be still,
In all of life’s ebb and flow.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus
Sweetest Name I know,
Fills my every longing,
Keeps me singing as I go.”
Ever hear of a Duchenne smile? French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne conducted research in the mid-19th century on the physiology of facial expressions, specifically on smiling . He identified two types of smiles.
A non-Duchenne smile utilizes only the muscles around the mouth. Whereas, a Duchenne smile engages the muscles around the mouth as well as the eyes and is sometimes referred to as “smizing”, or “smiling with the eyes”. A Duchenne smile is uniquely related to positive emotion which emanates from the heart.
In essence when your entire face engages in the smile, that is a Duchenne smile. What a wonderful thing to have named after you!
So my smile issue began to improve in direct proportion to my heart issue. As my heart healed, the smiles widened.
So I ask again, do you have a healthy inviting smile? Are you sharing a song with your smiles?
“He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what He has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord.” Psalm 40:3 New Living translations
“The Lord hears His people when they call to Him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles.” Psalm 34:17 NLT
But what if there’s no time to call for help? Have you ever been in that kind of danger? When something unexpected suddenly crossed your path? How did you react? Please feel free to share any stories you have in the comment section.
One year close to Christmas I decided to pay a surprise visit to my second Mom, EmKay. Preoccupied with carrying a gift and maneuvering the icy steps leading to her front porch, I hadn’t noticed that “Woozie” was out. “Woozie” was short for “Woozem’s Woo” the name EmKay lovingly chose for her black Chow puppy.
Earlier that year when “Woozie” first arrived, he was an adorable ball of fur resembling a miniature bear. I played with him out in the yard several times that spring and summer. Rolling around in the grass and hugging him close so he could lick my face. His cuteness unleashed my playful side. To anyone who knows me well, this would seem odd. I’m not known to be much of a dog person. But Woozie stole my heart.
Months later at Christmas time when I approached the gate giving access to the front porch, I heard a low growl. A large black shadow moved and bared gleaming white teeth. Another even lower growl emanated from the darkness. Woozie dipped into the light where I could see his fully grown form.
“Oh ‘Woozie’ it’s only me”, I said as I innocently reached over the gate to unlatch it. No sooner had the last syllable exited my tongue, then adorable “Woozie” leapt across the wooden deck floor. He snarled into my face, his paws pushing on the top of the gate. With one quick lunge he clamped his powerful jaws around my neck.
Scared out of my mind, not even a squeak could escape from my compressed voice box. Fortunately for me, the cold weather coaxed me to wear a heavy coat that night. This particular coat had a quarter inch thick collar attached that completely covered my neck. Woozie’s tenacious grip did not loosen as he rocked my entire body back and forth on the step. Only the wild scuffling of his toe nails on the wooden deck floor alerted anyone inside the house that there was a problem.
The small porch light came on and the front door opened with instant commands for Woozie to get down. He did not obey. He growled louder. EmKay’s husband had to grab and pull Woozie’s choker before he released his grip.
I tell this story because up until that day, I had no idea how I would react to sudden danger. At the mercy of the jaws of a large and powerful dog, I found myself helpless. However, the protective hand of God spared me. Woozie could have bit my uncovered face or hands or both. Instead he went for the jugular, the one area that was protected.
Some believe such things are only coincidence. I choose to fully rely on what the Bible says about His divine protection of those who trust in Him.
“The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm— He will watch over your life: the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” Psalm 121:5-8 New International version
How about you? What are you trusting in for protection as you travel through life? Our world is growing more chaotic than many choose to think about. Isis, MS-13 and other murderous threats here and abroad are rapidly increasing. Look to the only One who sees all and safeguards His own. FLURISHING cannot coexist with fear.
“For the angel of the Lord is a guard: he surrounds and defends all who fear Him.” New Living translation
March 2017 holds two milestone anniversaries for me personally. Ten years of marriage to Dwight and the first anniversary of this blog site. Both I consider wonders of grace provided exclusively by my heavenly Father. I am so grateful for His faithful love inspite of all my frailties and flaws.
This particular series “Lord of the Rings” is a declaration of His loving care and guidance. Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.” New Living translation
I have experienced the glorious truth of these words and I pray you have as well. If not, keep giving more of yourself consistently to God. His promises do not fail. You can trust Him and His care for you.
Dwight wanted to get married barefoot on a beach and I said fine if I get to pick the beach. I didn’t want a lot of fuss over the ceremony and details. I knew I needed to focus more on preparing for a “marriage” rather than plan a “wedding”. So we chose an all inclusive resort on a beach that provided wedding ceremonies in the package price.
I knew that two people from two different backgrounds successfully learning to live and love out the rest of their days together would take mutual commitment and intentional effort. So we carved time out of our schedules for marriage prep work.
Dwight and I signed up for an all day seminar for engaged couples. It proved to be a fun experience learning just how much we didn’t know about each other. We attended premarital Christ centered counseling regularly as a couple and took personality and temperament tests. We learned to pray together. We asked God to help smooth off each of our rough edges to make us ready for a tighter fitting bond.
Closer to the wedding date we sought out a special therapist to begin family counseling with Cortney. All three of us needed assistance in the upcoming transition. Any tools concerning marriage preparation we tried. We were committed to giving this union the best foundation possible (Matthew 7:24) which definitely included worshipping together.
During working hours, however, I daydreamed constantly about less important things. I was obsessed with a certain suite at the resort we booked. It had two large rooms and a bath with a private plunge pool and patio connected to the bedroom. The suite sat high the on bluffs overlooking the Carribbean sea. The view was phenomenal.
Unfortunately, the cost was phenomenal as well. An extreme luxury that we couldn’t afford. There was no way I could justify starting our marriage out in debt. The suite had to remain only a dream. Dwight and I were splitting the cost of the wedding/honeymoon package and our big splurge was to stay for 14 days. So we booked a regular room in the main building with a balcony area attached. This would be where our marriage began.
Seven months after our engagement, we got on a plane and flew to St. Lucia. We were like two teenagers brimming with excitement and hormones. I knew now why we traveled in packs as singles. Just so much easier to behave ourselves.
Dwight and I were committed to doing things God’s way. The first challenge was the two day legal requirement being in St. Lucia together before we could be married. Funds at this point were tight. Perhaps we should spring for two separate rooms? We decided since our room had an attached balcony area that Dwight would sleep out there until we were married. I appreciated His willingness and it saved us a bundle. Maybe not the wisest decision but by the grace of God this arrangement worked for us.
During the two days prior we kept busy with our friends who were honeymooning at the resort and agreed to be witnesses to our wedding. We ventured to the local market area and bought souvenirs and explored the vast grounds of the resort. We set up some couples spa treatments and other excursions for later in the trip. We had meetings with the onsite wedding coordinator and told them our ideas for the ceremony. And then the big day arrived.
My dear friend Sue curled and styled my long hair in the bedroom of their beachfront bungalow. Hyperactive butterflies beat their wings inside my chest as I thought about what would transpire in the next few hours. Part of me remained steadfast knowing I had done my best to prepare for this day. But another part from my past cowered in the shadows attempting to overwhelm me with fear. I realized at this moment, as Sue gently added the sparkly barrett to my hair, that I was grateful we travelled so far to get married. Being here away from all that was familiar forced me to lean on Jesus for the unknown like never before. Marrying Dwight in a few moments would be just another step of faith with Jesus holding my hand.
The ceremony in the garden gazebo floated along with my steps to Karen Carpenter singing “We’ve Only Just Begun” and looking more like my mother than I wanted. Dwight looked incredibly sweet in the gauze shirt we picked out together and his favorite ripped jeans. The sun shone brilliantly through the purple and pink bougainvillea climbing the trestles of the gazebo. We read our heartfelt vows that were open, honest and realistic. Dwight sang “You’ll Always Be Beautiful in My Eyes” and when he got choked up, we finished the song together swaying with the tune and Joshua Kadison.
Then we travelled down to the beach for the second part of the ceremony. Dwight stopped on the steps to sweetly help remove my white sandals so we could walk barefoot together across the warm sand.
The ceremony on the beach exceeded all my expectations. I was living in my own fairy tale that had “only just begun”.
After the wedding we were asked to see the resort manager before heading out to a special celebration dinner. Turned out due to an error by the manager we were being upgraded for the duration of our stay. Where do you think we spent the next 12 glorious nights? You got it, the very suite I dreamed about! God is so good to His children. In my heart I felt it was God’s special blessing on our marriage. A divine wedding gift. I knew then He would take care of us the rest of our lives if we kept our marriage focussed on Him.
We just celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary and our love and marriage have bloomed more colorful every year as we remain rooted in Christ. He continues to care for and provide for us through the good and bad that find their way into all our lives. Even the rough patches haven’t seemed too bad because of His amazing grace. May each of you also FLURISH because of His blessing in your lives and never stop seeking to know Him more!
“And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to Him must believe that God exists and that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6 New Living translation
“. . . I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” Jeremiah 29:11 The Message
Now it was time for the rubber to meet the road. Could I successfully hold up my end in a healthy relationship? Doubts continually attacked my thinking, but I pressed on in faith. I accepted the ruby ring and began walking into a relationship with a man I hardly knew. In the beginning I found everything deliciously exciting.
Dwight and I planned many events together for Christian singles. Hikes, dinner theatre, pool parties, etc. Two of my favorite events were a Pajamarama Cereal Social where everyone brought their favorite breakfast foods. We wore pjs, while watching movies and eating cereal into the wee hours. Dwight decided to design a logo and made T-shirts for those who attended. He even ironed everyone’s logo on their shirts during the gathering. He had such a servant’s heart.
The other event I called a Decade party where everyone dressed up in clothes from a certain decade. Dwight chose the 60s and I chose the 90s. We played decade music trivia, staged our version of the Dating Game and attempted the game of Twister. The costumes were a hoot.
Dwight took me on many day trips in the months that followed. Sometimes with the singles group and sometimes alone. Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, Washington, D.C., South street in Philadelphia, Ocean City, N.J. were a few stops. I traveled more in those few months than in my last 20 years. He loved to drive and I loved seeing new places.
Every other weekend we had Cortney with us. Being a Tweenager at the time, her moods were anything but stable. We attempted to include her in our adventures, but she had a love/hate relationship with this new arrangement. She truly struggled giving up first place in her father’s life. Looking back, I wish I could have been more mature myself and assured her that I was not trying to take her father from her. Of course in reality, I did not want second place in Dwight’s heart. Unless it was to Jesus. So Cortney and I danced through power struggles for Dwight’s attention that first year. It became a season of growth for all three of us as we slowly merged toward becoming a family.
In September of 2006, I drove to Dwight’s place after work on a Sunday afternoon. When I arrived I noticed he seemed exceptionally giddy. Laughing about almost everything I said. I spotted a fresh gash in one of his fingers so I inquired. He downplayed it and chuckled to himself. Tempted to become suspicious, I told him I was hungry and he said “patience is a virtue”. That did not go over well. Frustration began to form. I told him I needed food asap. He invited me to get in the car.
We headed toward the next town but then began driving around in circles. My agitation increased. “Why aren’t we stopping to get some food,” I demanded.
“Wait. Wait.” Was the response.
Finally he pulled into WaWa and parked. “Just a minute,” He said as he jumped out of the car. I rolled my eyes in exasperation. I heard him bumping around in the trunk.
What is he doing back there, I wondered?
Momentarily he appeared at his open car door with a glowing white candle and a leather satchel. He carefully placed the glass ensconced candle in between our seats and opened the satchel revealing two champagne flutes and a bottle of sparkling grape juice. He pulled a wrapped package from the roof of the car and handed it to me grinning all the while.
I began opening the package to find a journal inside. I thought it was for me to use to write so I didn’t open it. Dwight prodded me to open it and perhaps I should let the photos tell the rest of this story. . .
The gash in Dwight’s finger occurred while he made this book earlier in the day. The ring inserted in the last page is the same one I wore for the murder mystery almost a year before. Dwight contacted the owner and made arrangements to purchase the one of a kind ring I loved.
The Lord not only provided this gorgeous ring to be available, He also provided Dwight with the money to buy the ring. HE is our loving provider and LORD of the Rings! So of course I accepted the ring!
“It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, He had His eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose He is working out in everything and everyone.” Ephesians 1:11&12 The Message Bible
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During the next ten days I did some serious soul searching. I poured out my heart to God. I shared my fears, my joys and concerns. The trivial as well as the serious. I believed He cared about all of it. I wanted to move forward in HIS plan not stumble around mindlessly following my nose.
I kept hearing words repeated in my head from a christian leader during a singles conference I attended a few weeks prior. I spoke to him intentionally during a break about my desire to date only Christian bachelors. His response shocked me. “You will greatly narrow your pool of choices. Sometimes bachelors already in their forties are single for a reason.” Was I being foolish setting my standard for bachelor’s only? This particular man of God thought so. What do YOU think God, I wondered?
The following week Becky and I attended evening church like normal. The service was about to begin and the place packed with excited worshippers. Becky noticed Dwight and his daughter Cortney getting seats several rows behind us. She waved. I turned and smiled. The service began. I admit I had a hard time focussing on the message that night. I kept wondering if Dwight got my note? Did he understand it? Would he talk to me at all now? Lord, forgive my distracted mind.
After the service, Becky and I exited the main auditorium which spilled into a large gathering area next to a snack cafe’. The singles hung out here in packs before and after services like clockwork. I loved these informal group fellowship times.
Tonight, however, was a bit different because there was a full table already buzzing with energy before we arrived. Seven women gathered around a very tanned Dwight who was showing photos from his recent trip to California.
I pushed my way in and his eyes met mine. His lips curved into a smile but he said nothing. The women were peppering him with questions about desert nights in southern California. His photos showed beautiful sunsets and scenes of Palm Springs. I stretched to see each photo and our eyes kept meeting as if we were talking telepathically but neither of us spoke to each other. The women droned on but we were in a world of our own.
At that moment Cortney approached carrying two half helmets. One woman who I didn’t particularly care for exclaimed the obvious.
“You rode tonight?”
Dwight smiled and that opened up a can of motorcycle worms! The women wanted to know what type of bike he had and when he would take them for rides on it. Something inside me snapped to attention as I felt my blood begin to boil. I didn’t know what was happening but I knew I didn’t want any woman riding on his bike with him.
What was the matter with me? Why did I care? Was it because I did care? Because I somehow knew he was part of God’s plan for my life but had been denying it out of fear?
Dwight got up and took his helmet from Cortney and began telling everyone he had to get Cortney home. After all, it was January and when the sun set the cold would increase.
I had to act fast. I was not going to lose my chance to some motorcycle babe. I moved through the crowd to hug Dwight. He hugged me back and I whispered in his ear that I would call him when I got home. He grinned and he and Cortney made a hasty exit.
Immediately the group broke up and Becky and I left for home. I dropped her off, headed home anxious to make my call. I shed my heavy coat and dialed the number from our small group list assigned to Dwight.
The phone rang four times before it was answered and the voice on the line was not what I anticipated.
“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” Proverbs 6:23 New Living translation
I had off the day before the NYC trip and busied myself prepping the outfit I planned to wear. The phone rang in the kitchen so I scampered downstairs to get it. It was Dwight asking if he could drop by in an hour to give me something to take along to New York the next day. Completely flabbergasted, I nervously agreed. When I hung up, I panicked and called my second Mom for advice. She prayed with me over the phone for courage, wisdom and protection. I told her I’d come over to see her after he left.
I ran back up to my bedroom and dressed myself in casual attire. I prayed some more and tried to keep busy until Dwight arrived. I had no clue what he intended to give me. He mentioned going ice skating at Rockefeller Center several times so I thought maybe he had ice skates? But how would he know my size? Truly a mystery.
Turns out Dwight received an unexpected bonus at work. He felt he should share his good fortune with others. So with some of the money he bought me a Coolpix digital camera with charger and rechargeable batteries. I was speechless. Never had I received such an extravagant gift.
I told him I couldn’t accept it but he insisted. Said he didn’t feel right keeping all the money for himself. He wanted me to record my birthday in the big apple through photographs. The first photo taken on that camera you see here. Also the first photo taken of us together. I felt funny about the whole thing but my second Mom told me to accept it with grace.
The trip to NYC exceeded my expectations although we never did ice skate. We decided early on to forego the chance of any injury ruining the day for everyone. Settling for watching seasoned skaters at Rockefeller center and at Bryant Park, I attempted to avoid hanging with Dwight. I mingled with my other guests but I needed his help a lot with the camera. Somehow I think that was part of his plan.
Walking in the city, seeing the famous naked cowboy, riding the horse drawn carriages through Central Park, touring Madame Tussauds wax museum, and an NBC tour were a few of the highlights. The day ended at Mars 2012 for an out of this world meal served by aliens.
All fourteen of us were seated together at a long table in the underground restaurant. Some opted to arrive by spaceship to experience the full effect. I sat next to my niece but was surrounded on all other sides by male friends. The crazy ambience made for some interesting dinner chat.
At the end of the meal a green extraterrestrial delivered to me a warm chocolate lava cake glowing with a candle on top. I thought maybe Kelly, my neighbor had ordered it for me but when I asked her she said she hadn’t. One by one all 13 guests including the driver denied ordering it. Dwight finally fessed up. Was this guy for real?
That next week my mind and heart were in turmoil. I went to my Monday night ladies Bible study and asked for prayer for direction. A day or so later I decided to put myself on a “Male Sabbatical”. I could think clearer and listen more closely to God without the interference of any guys around. This was truly a first for me since I seemed to need a man’s approval to breathe.
Now the painful part. I had to inform the handful of men who had thrown their hats in the ring, so to speak, of my intentions. The toughest task had to be handing my “Male Sabbatical” note to Dwight. I hated disappointing anyone let alone someone who had been so kind. So chicken me slid it into his Bible while he talked with some other group members. Later that week I knew he would be flying to the West coast on business. I wondered if he had found the note?
“I planned to drop this by your booth on Christmas day but UPS was late. It only arrived today. I felt bad you had to work on Christmas,” Dwight said smiling and blushing at the same time. He handed me a flat box tied with a beautiful red bow. Cortney huddled close under his other arm.
I stood there rather dumbfounded a moment. I didn’t know what to say. Such a kind gesture but I didn’t want to lead him on. Overcome by awkwardness, I asked them to come in but he explained they had his other daughter, Theresa, in the car and had to get her back home. Theresa needed special care because of multiple disabilities. So I thanked him and smiled at Cortney. She looked away and tugged on his coat. In a flash they were gone.
I closed the door, looked down at the package and sighed as I slowly pulled the ribbon to open it. Inside the box I found a leather bound copy of “A Tale of Two Cities.” My heart wrenched. This man paid attention to me when I spoke. Somehow he remembered this was my favorite story from a casual meeting over six weeks ago. Wasn’t sure how I felt about that?
2006 began on a bright sunny Sunday morning. I determined to get myself to church even though I had been out late ringing in the New Year with the singles group. Applebee’s, bowling, movies and midnight munchies could not deter me from what I really craved, God’s direction.
Dwight may have had the same idea? I saw him from across the gathering area. I knew he wanted to sit with me so I motioned him to join me.
I enjoyed any time shared with Dwight whether it was small group Bible study, or fun stuff. So I didn’t mind him sitting with me for worship. I told him afterwards that I planned to rent a 15 passenger van to take to New York city on a day trip to celebrate my birthday in 2 weeks. I’m sure he wondered who I intended to invite and if it included him.
Since I am not one to play head games I asked him if he was available for the trip. He was sure he was and appeared quite eager for the opportunity. I rattled off the names of a few of the other people I wanted to invite. He listened with eyes riveted on my face and a big smile on his. His smile was hard to ignore.
A few nights later after returning from visiting my mother, I found a detailed map of New York City on my porch. Hmm, that’s odd, I thought. I wondered if Dwight put it there?
The night before my birthday loneliness hit me hard. I caved to my emotions. I said ‘yes’ when Mike asked to take me out for supper to celebrate. He treated me to an inexpensive hamburger joint because we both like cheeseburgers. Unfortunately, we had a huge fight afterward. We truly cared for one another but were on such different pages in life. I struggled to accept this. I wanted us to be a couple but it never worked. I cried for hours that night and felt awful the entire next day, my birthday. The day’s steady rain mirrored the dreariness of my emotions.
When I got home from work and pulled in the driveway there were balloons tied on my garage door with a small package. I jumped out of the car and ran over to it, hoping Mike had placed it there.
A large Lindt swiss chocolate candy bar hung attached to the balloons with this beautiful custom made card. I suppose you can only guess who it was from? My heart sank. Why couldn’t Mike be like this guy, I moaned to myself.
Mike did call later that night to smooth things over. That gave me peace for I truly valued Mike as a person as well as an old friend. But God was finally getting through to my damaged heart. When Mike suggested going out for a nicer birthday dinner I said “No” and that I would be going out with my friend Becky. It felt great. It felt freeing to finally follow God’s leading and stop putting myself in painful situations.
I called Becky right away and arranged to meet her at the local smorgasbord. We talked and laughed through the evening. My soul as well as my stomach was satisfied on my 43rd birthday.
I returned home later to many birthday messages on my answering machine. A very sweet one from Dwight and I knew I had to return his call and thank him for the Birthday surprise. I prayed for wisdom. I needed to be careful. I didn’t want to give him false hope because I simply did not want to involve myself romantically with a divorced man raising a young daughter and having several older children to boot. The poor guy had no clue how terrified I was of him.
The next few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas held tons of excitement. Becky and I attended a Christian singles group for awhile but felt uncomfortable. It reminded us of a meat market rather than a safe place to meet and connect with other people of like faith. So I decided to plan special group events for Christian singles myself and pooled people from the various churches whom I met over the past few months.
Movie theme nights, bowling parties, midnight munch sessions, indoor rock climbing, and pick-up volleyball games kept me busy. I was meeting so many new friends. It was an exciting time for me, so different than the last 22 years.
The downside soon reared its ugly head. Men began asking me out on dates. I didn’t feel ready or comfortable outside of a group setting. And saying “NO” to unwanted dates stressed me in many ways. I did not want to hurt anyone. My boundaries needed to be built and strengthened fast.
I continued to struggle to let go of every last drop of feeling for Mike. Until that happened, I refused to go out except in group dates. It was a safe way to get to know people. By this time, I met about 35 or so new people. And then I had an idea.
There were several popular reality tv shows at the time where a person needed help figuring out who to date. Parents or friends would meet the prospective dates, grill or test them and then give their advisements. So I devised my own evaluation arena through a special party. A ‘Day after Christmas’ party when most people who are alone can become blue. I employed family members to come as servants and rate all the guests both male and female.
My oldest brother acted as the butler receiving all the guests and their wraps. He observed the personal hygiene and apparel choices of each guest. His wife served as maid keeping the food and drink filled. All the while she carefully observed each of the guests eating habits and the food they chose to bring to share. My cousins were in charge of games which I devised to discover each guests level of playfulness. My oldest niece was an undercover mole planted among the guests for close observation of conversations between them. Lastly, my second Mom portrayed a Mrs. Claus type character named Mrs. Jingle. She questioned guests throughout the evening concerning their ideas about Christmas and what it meant to them personally. She recorded their answers to provide insight into their hearts concerning Christ’s coming.
Oh what a night of fun to see this whole scheme unravel without a hitch. 26 single guests arrived at 6pm, 13 men and 13 women. Most left at midnight but some remained until I had to literally chase them out in the wee hours of the morning. Definitely a night to remember!
And the result was much more intriguing than speed dating. I discovered which people were fun, which were stuffed shirts and which were absolutely delightful. Some of the answers Mrs. Jingle acquired revealed character traits that amazed me in both positive and negative ways.
My family weighed in on all their own observations. There was a difference of opinion over the best food presentation. One guy totally impressed my brother, the butler, by bringing deviled eggs in a pampered chef self chilling egg tray. My sister in-law, the maid, was leaning toward another guys more artistic presentation. It consisted of sweet baloney cream cheese wraps and tri-colored cheese slices on a bed of green garnish surrounded by cherry tomatoes. And, it was not store bought. Certainly had some impressive dishes from the men. Who knew?
Everyone agreed on the winners of the best dressed category. My neighbor Kelly took the prize for the women and Dwight won for the men. I must admit he was not hard on the eyes in his white textured button down shirt and well fitting carpenter jeans.
My family weighed in on each guest and gave marvelous recommendations. I had a lot to think about and consider prayerfully heading into the New Year. What did the Lord have in store for me in 2006? Would I like it?
The next evening my doorbell rang about 6:30pm. Who was stopping by on a Tuesday night right after Christmas, I wondered? I peeked out through the powder room blinds to see Dwight and his young daughter Cortney standing on my porch.
“You’re my cave to hide in, my cliff to climb. Be my safe leader, be my true mountain guide. Free me from hidden traps: I want to hide in You. I’ve put my life in Your hands. You won’t drop me, You’ll never let me down.” Psalm 31:3-5 The Message Bible
“Aquila, Priscilla, and the church that meets in their house say hello.” I Corinthians 16:19b The Message Bible
A week or so after the Murder Mystery my small group had a celebration dinner just before Thanksgiving. Each of us brought a covered dish. My new friend Becky and I carpooled. We arrived early and met Dan in the kitchen. He had some photos he wanted to share with me from the Murder Mystery. So Becky and our fearless group leader, also named Becki set up the incoming foods in the kitchen and dining area while Dan and I checked out the photos on his disc in the computer room.
After perusing the photos, Dan and I came back to the dining area where the rest of the group had now gathered. A new guy stood in the entry way holding a cherry cheesecake. Becki introduced him as Dwight. He smiled and Becki led us in a prayer before everyone scrambled for seats. Nine of us crammed around a tiny table for four.
I noticed everyone making connections with Dwight, especially the women. He was a likable sort. A few people discussed the recent baptism service and Dwight shared his feelings of being deeply moved by the testimonies. The women were amazed at his sensitive openness. I found the progressing dinner conversation amusing and decided to join in.
“You didn’t make that cheesecake did you, ” I questioned Dwight?
“Honestly, I did,” he answered.
“I don’t believe you. It looks too perfect,” I teased.
“What can I say, I’m a perfectionist to a fault,” he grinned.
I still didn’t believe him but I was more interested in the Dove chocolates on the table than further chit chat. Conversation buzzed round the table and I could tell everyone liked the new guy.
After dinner we played some games in the living room. I sat between Becky and Dan. Becki the leader posed a question for each of us to answer: What is your favorite book? One person said “The Bible,” and Becki named a few favorites since she was an avid reader and had trouble choosing only one.
That’s a snap, I thought. “A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens,” I said during my turn. A few others responded with war novels and romantic book series. When we got to Dwight, he laughed and blushed before saying, “I read Super Chevy magazine.” We all got a good chuckle which we shared with him and not at him. He seemed a good sport and a good fit for our group.
Becky and I left early because I overloaded on chocolate and my sugars were dipping dangerously low. Even so it was a diamond evening for me because my circle of friends was growing. I went home fat and happy in a chocolate haze.
A few days later I decided to send Dwight a welcome card from everyone in the group, hoping he would continue to join our meetings. I forged everyones signature but my own so it wouldn’t look like I was interested for myself. I actually thought he completed our group in some way.
Thanksgiving eve I came home from seeing my mother and my answering machine was blinking. On it I heard a long message from Dwight expressing his gratitude for the group and our friendliness toward him. He wanted us to know he looks forward to seeing everyone again but that he would be gone on a road trip over the holiday and miss our next gathering.
Immediately I called Becky to tell her about Dwight’s message. She shared my excitement on his plans to continue with our group. Like most of the other members, Dwight knew the pain of divorce and the difficulty of single parenting. In those respects, he could relate much better than I could to other members of the group. Attractive, kind and open, I figured he’d be married again before too long. Lots of women at our huge church were already interested in him. However, I was not one of them. My stubborn “bachelor’s only need apply” mentality disqualified him.