How Did You Sleep?

It’s a question Randy and I ask each other most mornings. For a number of reasons, we often have difficulty sleeping well the whole night through.  It’s a wonderful thing mornings when we both wake up able to say we slept well.

Last week we survived Hurricane Irma.  It was a challenging week leading up to her arrival and another challenging week after she did her worst and moved on. There were some nights we didn’t sleep well.  Mostly because without power it was pushing 90 degrees in the house day and night. Too hot to sleep.

The days leading up to the arrival of Irma were filled with hard work. The workers were hot and tired but kept on with the task, knowing we were running out of time to prepare. We were all grateful to fall into bed each night.

It was a sobering sight for us relatively new northern transplants to witness the preparations happening around us.  When we went out to get our final supplies we saw things we’d never seen before.  Many boarded up homes and businesses that had taken necessary measures to protect their belongings.

As the wind began to pick up we could feel the seriousness of the decision we’d made to stay. We were completely leaning on God’s mercy now.  There was nothing else we could do but wait.

The clouds rolled in and the winds blew and the rains beat against the house but we couldn’t see any of it as darkness settled in and we sat behind boarded up windows. We prayed for our safety as well as our neighbors and many others all over the state. Around midnight the power went out and the noises outside became loud and unrelenting. After about an hour of this we did the unthinkable.

We went to bed. Most of us slept through the storm. We woke to an eerie quiet. Our first glimpse of the aftermath was in the early morning just after dawn. Debris everywhere, downed trees, and then the sound of generators starting up all around us and sirens that were continuous for hours.

The days after the storm we still had much to do but the nights were not as restoring as they had been the previous week. While we were thankful to be alive and that we experienced very little damage, we were growing weary of the challenges we dealt with daily.  In a word, we really are…spoiled.  It was a struggle to figure out how to feed all of us without power. We ate a lot of cold sandwiches and even some cold Chef Boyardee. We grilled hot dogs and even made a pot of chili on the grill.  It was not what we were used to but we made it work.

We pulled together as a family and I was so proud of my boys who have become men and their wives who worked for hours to prepare this home and the supplies we needed to make it through.  We took cold showers and washed laundry in 5-gallon buckets. We spent a lot of time outside where we could at least catch a little bit of a breeze. And at night we stood on the patio and marveled at the beauty of the heavens with no electric lights to interfere.

 

When the power finally came back on Friday night, almost 5 full days after it went out, we heard a cheerful cry go up from all over the house. Loud “hallelujahs” were shouted without reserve. We had made it through. Praise be to God!

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. – Psalm 4:8 (ESV)

Is It Over Yet?

A few months ago, when things were so difficult with Randy’s illness, I remember saying to God, “Can we be done now?”  I imagine about the time you are reading this I will be saying the same thing. I’m writing on Saturday for a Monday morning post because I simply don’t know what the next 48 hours holds.

We would certainly appreciate your prayers. You may have more information about  what has transpired than I do at this point. But be assured, we are in God’s hands, no matter what the reports are.  I would love to believe that this hurricane will do as Charley did a decade ago and decide to turn at the last minute.  Only God knows.

A few things have come to mind as we have been counting the minutes toward this storm’s arrival.  So many times we let the unimportant things take precedence over the truly valuable things.  Even if we lose every material thing we own, will it matter if we have all survived? Yet we still try to be good stewards of what God has blessed us with. We have not been irresponsible. We have done our homework and learned as much as we could about what to do but it’s still not a perfect science. We still have to face the bottom line that all we have done could be for naught.

But none of that will matter in the end if we are all safe when it’s over.  I am so thankful for family. I was so proud to see my husband, sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren all working together to prepare.  We are so blessed to have this family.  They were out there sweating in the hot sun hanging heavy plywood for hours without complaining.  And on Saturday they worked outside to secure everything that could move.  We were as prepared as we could possible get. We trusted that God would take care of us.

As we watched the rain bands begin to arrive we had moments when we would just spontaneously pray. Randy and I stood in the kitchen before dawn, before anyone else was up, embracing each other and calling out to God to be our shield and our shelter in the storm.  It’s never a good thing to have to face such major threats, but it does do something to your life perspective. It makes you come to terms with what matters.  It makes you draw closer to God than perhaps you’ve been in a while. Those are good things.

Sometimes I think it’s actually easier to throw yourself at the mercy of God when things are so overwhelming than when problems are smaller. We KNOW there is nothing more we can do. We are desperate for God’s help.  He truly is our only hope.

I will update you as soon as I am able. Perhaps we will all be surprised by a miracle! If not, rest assured, our God is still bigger than Irma.

Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me? – Jeremiah 32:27

Waiting for Irma, the Uninvited Visitor

 

I’ve lost track of what day it is.  Doesn’t matter anyway. As we watch the hours pass bringing us closer to an unknown none of us ever imagined we’d experience, we continue to complete the last minute preparations. Windows are boarded up and the house has an eerie darkness in the middle of the day. This morning the sun rose, beautiful as always I’m sure, but we didn’t see it.

We’ve been watching Facebook for updates from our favorite weather guy. Each report seems a little more ominous than the last. What’s really strange is to see the posts from friends in other places talking about football and parties and all the activities they are excitedly anticipating for the weekend. It’s surreal to be wondering what will be left in the aftermath of this storm while in the rest of the world it’s “business as usual.”  It gives me a new perspective.  I think back to all the times I was absorbed in my own stuff while so many in other places are suffering. I pray that God will let this be a lesson to me to be more aware of what goes on outside my own little world.  I remember thinking the same thing though, when Randy was in the hospital and I would travel home at night after a long day and see people going about their business with no idea or care for what I was experiencing.  I guess I haven’t learned the lesson yet but I am trying to become less self-centered.  It saddens me to think I can still be so self-absorbed after walking with the Lord for over 40 years.  What have I been doing all that time? Lord, please make me more like Jesus. Help me see the suffering in this world as You see it.

So, if things look so bad, why did we choose to stay?  Why didn’t we just hop in the van and head out of harm’s way?  A couple of things influenced our decision.  For one, the storm was predicted to go much further east than it seems to be heading now. We expected some wind and took the necessary measures to protect against damage. Secondly, there are going to be 15 of us here and that’s a pretty large crowd to try to relocate.  Also, we are in a non-evacuation zone, not subject to storm surge. Being over 60 feet above sea level, we aren’t at risk of major flooding. We might get some localized flooding from overflowing storm sewers but nothing serious. The saying we keep hearing from officials is, ” run from the water, hide from the wind.”  That’s what we’ve decided to do, hide as securely as possible from the roaring wind.  I have to tell you that I am definitely not looking forward to hearing that sound outside for hours though. That was the worst part of the thunderstorms and blizzards in Iowa.  I hated the raging wind and this will be a much bigger deal I’m sure.

Another thing about deciding to stay was the massive evacuation going on all around us.  They have called for mandatory evacuations of the coast as well as all mobile home parks. There are millions of people trying to get out of  a state with a limited number of roads heading north. And to get far enough north is a challenge since the storm is headed in that direction.  There is no gas, no hotels, no way to know how far we would get and the idea of getting stranded in a vehicle to ride this thing out is something we had to avoid at all costs.

So, here we stay, hunkered down the best we know how.  Some of our neighbors have left and some have stayed. The older ones, who have lived though this before, seem much more proactive in preparing while the younger folks seem  less concerned. It has brought out the best and the worst of humanity already. Seeing folks helping strangers on the one hand and watching people fight over limited supplies on the other. The grocery stores have very little to offer and will all be closing this evening.  We are at the point of no return now. There is no place else to go unless we decide to head to a shelter, may of which are already full of people in much worse circumstances than we are now.

This is when we must decide if we trust God with our lives or we don’t.  Do we truly believe His promise to take care of us and be with us in the midst of the storm? I guess it’s time to take those promises literally.  It’s easy to say we believe those things when we aren’t facing any kind of threat.  Now is when it really counts.

 
I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant with joy; their faces will never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him from all his troubles.The Angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them…  The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry for help. Psalm 34: 4-7, 15 (HCSB)

 

It Must Be Nice

Have you ever said, “It must be nice,” when you hear about something good happening in someone else’s life?  Has anyone ever said that to you when you’ve shared a particularly wonderful thing going on in your life?

It may sound innocuous enough but it really isn’t.

When someone, anyone, responds to something good happening in another person’s life they have three options. They can respond with genuine pleasure that the person is experiencing something wonderful. Or they can be indifferent, having no strong feeling about it either way. The last way to respond is to be jealous.

Jealousy is what fuels a response such as, “It must be nice.”  It really means, I wish I had what you have instead of what I have.  We may think it’s an innocent phrase but it can be so much more.  It can actually be a form of coveting.  The Bible is clear about that.

Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor – Exodus 20:17 (HCSB)

If you take the last phrase of that verse and bring it to modern day it includes your neighbor’s car, boat, job, vacation, electronics, and anything else you can think of. God knew it would be a trap for us if we kept wanting what others have. And now, in the 21st century, it seems that’s ALL our culture is interested in.

People see public figures in the spotlight and can often wonder what it would be like to trade places with them.  It might seem fun to “see how the other half lives,” but do we really want to do that? When we get caught up in desiring what someone else has, we forget that there are things in their lives we might not wish to have.  When we look at the entire picture, we might just come to the conclusion that we’d rather just stay where we are.  All those tempting things we may see in someone else’s driveway come with the sorrows and struggles of the people who live there. It might not be as pretty a picture as you think.

The bottom line is that God has given you the life you have for a reason. He is molding you into the person He designed you to be while using the circumstances of your life to do it. So the next time you are tempted to say, “It must be nice,” perhaps the better option would be to say, “I’m so glad for you!” And then thank God for the life He’s given you. It really is a gift, you know.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9 (HCSB)

Has Your Life Grown Stagnant?

We once lived beside a home with a pond. It was a lovely place with a weeping willow tree on the bank and a wide assortment of wildlife. Fish, frogs and, much to the dismay of the owners, muskrats thrived in the water. A nice place to sit in the shade and experience nature.

Contrast that with a stagnant pond that was down the road a mile or so. This pond was green with algae. It had a slimy film covering the surface and if you had your windows open when you drove by you could smell it before you saw it. I can’t imagine much could live there except mosquitoes. Not a place where you would want to spread a blanket and have a picnic.

The definition of stagnant is “not flowing in a current or stream; not advancing or developing.”  Whatever it is, water, air or something else, if it isn’t moving in some way it becomes stale. If there is only input and no output it slowly loses its life. With water, if there is only input then the only way for the water to leave the pond is evaporation. That process continues to concentrate the minerals until the body of water cannot support life. It’s the reason the Dead Sea is dead.

The thing is, we are like a pond. God is constantly pouring into us wonderful things that He means for us to use. Resources that are for our benefit and the benefit of others. If we just sit there and soak it all in and never find a place to put those resources to use we become like that stagnant pond: smelly, uninviting, and avoided.  And if we get so full that there is no room for more we won’t be able to receive fresh infilling either. We will just continue to become more stagnant, not allowing God to give us fresh living water because we refuse to share what He’s already given us.

Is God doing a new thing in your life? Is He calling you to step out and share with others in a new way? I believe the Lord wants us to take a risk and let Him flush the stagnation from our lives. Ask Him to show you what He has for you to do and I’ll bet it will be the most refreshing thing you’ve done in a long time!

John 7:38 “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'”

James 1:22 “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”

Do You Have a Critical Spirit?

We all do it. Yes, even you. Even me. We all observe someone else’s behavior at times, and make an assumption about their character.  True, good character leads to good behavior. But face it, we are all human and have moments of poor judgment from time to time.

When we observe someone doing something “wrong” or “bad” we can make the mistake of classifying that person as “bad” too. We can then begin a sad downward spiral, thinking that the judgment we just made will predict future behavior from that person.  I am guilty of this.  We once had a neighbor who was prone to excessive drinking. The loud parties on their deck would cause me great anxiety. The language they used caused me to cringe as I realized my small sons were hearing it. I formed an opinion in my mind about these folks and then it seemed I could find something to be critical about concerning everything they did. Then one day I observed the man playing with his infant daughter and I realized there was a side of him I had never considered. Even with all his faults, that I could easily list if called upon to do so, I had to admit he had one fine quality. He loved his little girl.  What else had I missed as I so quickly concluded that the “bad” was all there was?

In the current culture, the first response seems to be to criticize anyone who doesn’t hold the same opinions as we do. And then begins the labeling. We can see it escalating on a daily basis right now. It’s as if we are sorting people and categorizing them based on what we perceive as flaws and then we proceed to cast them aside because they don’t fit our criteria.  The fact is, there are no disposable human beings. All are loved and wanted by God.

So when we find ourselves so quick to pass judgment, perhaps we should pause and examine our own hearts. Are we guilty of having a critical spirit? Do we first jump to conclusions and then allow those conclusions to form our opinions of others?

“But you, why do you criticize your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before the tribunal of God. For it is written:
As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to Me, and every tongue will give praise to God. So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore, let us no longer criticize one another. Instead decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in your brother’s way.” Romans 14:10-13 (HCSB)

Is there someone you are feeling critical toward? Maybe a spouse, or child or parent? Perhaps a neighbor or co-worker or maybe the President?  Are you quick to form opinions about someone without giving thought to what you don’t know about that person?

My challenge to you is to think of a person you have been guilty of judging and spend time this week praying for their wellbeing. Not a prayer that God would change their opinions to make them agree with yours, but a prayer for the individual. For their needs and fears, for their health and for their families. You might just come away remembering that they are all human beings created in the image of God and loved with the everlasting love of a Heavenly Father.

A wise quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln says, “If you look for the bad in mankind, expecting to find it, you surely will.”  

Perhaps its time to step away from the ways of the world and begin to look for the good in people.  We just might find it.

When the Road is Made Smooth

You have driven down roadways in great need of repair. You persevere through the potholes and the bumpy, rocky pavement. Then you cross a county line and suddenly the road stretches out in front of you, a smooth, black, freshly paved ribbon of asphalt.  You let out a sigh of relief and prepare to enjoy the quiet comfortable ride ahead.  After that less than enjoyable stretch of road you just left, you are now content to believe that you have made it through and you will never again have to endure the torture of rocky roads with potholes that could nearly swallow your vehicle.  That’s what you think right? No? You mean you don’t believe, now that you have finally found a smooth path, that you will never have to experience the frustration of a rough road again?

That sounds like nonsense doesn’t it?  Who would be dumb enough to think that?  Then why do we look at life that way?

Why do we struggle with a rough time and then hit a smoother stretch of life’s road only to be upset and disappointed when hard times come again?  Do we really think that somehow we suffered and paid our dues and now it will be easy street from here on out? Have you heard yourself say,”can’t I EVER get a break?”

If you’ve been following this blog over the last couple of years, but particularly the past five months, you know we have had an extremely rough ride. There were times I thought our vehicle would be swallowed for sure.

But we’ve crossed some line and now things have smoothed out a bit.  The terrain alongside this road doesn’t really look any smoother, it still contains the same issues it did. Serious illness, challenging finances, struggling relationships, and change (which has always been very difficult for me).  The issues haven’t gone away. In fact, there are new ones to deal with. We just said goodbye to a son moving 1300 miles away. I know they will all move on and live their own adult lives, independent from me but it’s never easy to have them move so far away.  And another big change for me is that my youngest child becomes an adult this week.  My job of parenting, which has lasted 34 years, is coming to an end. Not that I will no longer be able to provide guidance for them, but the rules have changed.  I have to hand over control to them. I have to let them fly.

All that said, we are enjoying a relatively smooth road at the moment. Randy’s health issues have stabilized for the time being. We are looking forward to a wedding in September and anticipating some wonderful family time (and the special blessing of getting the rare family photo with all of us present).

But that doesn’t mean life will be a breeze from here on out.  We know there will be bigger and more difficult challenges ahead. We have made a decision, as a family, not to dwell on the future which is unknown. We are choosing to focus on the present and to be ever so grateful for the blessing of good days and a family who stands together.  If you had seen us on Saturday, standing on the front porch, blubbering and praying and hugging as we sent David off to his new adventure in Iowa, you would have seen that we are truly grateful.

This life is not an easy one, for any of us.  We need to remember to pray for one another whether we are walking a rocky stretch of the road or a smooth one. After all, our family is not that much different than yours.  We all have moments that are unspeakably hard. But we also get those smoother moments. No guarantee how long those will last, so we are trying to make the best of each day. Isn’t that how we are supposed to live anyway?

“I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars.”  Isaiah 45:2 (NASB)

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:4 (ESV)

Maxey Memory #9 -Christmas in July

Christmas, in July, in Florida. 90 degrees with a chance of thunderstorms.  A typical summer day….but with Christmas music in the kitchen and the Muppets Christmas Carol movie playing on the television.

We gathered in the kitchen to prepare a few of our traditional Christmas foods. Not all of them, that would be messing too much with the real Christmas! There is always some shenanigans that go along with the preparation. This year, Randy and Maggie decided dancing was in order.

Problem was, neither of them wanted to lead!  Don’t you just love Randy’s festive shirt?

And where would we be without Bella’s cool Christmas socks?  We went all out for this celebration including a little decorating of the house. I just love the way my boys relate to each other. It’s always so much fun to have them together. We don’t get the whole gang together to often, but I have learned to be thankful for the ones who are here and not spend too much time wishing for a perfect family get-together with all of them. I’d spend all my time wishing and never enjoy what I have.And our celebration wouldn’t be complete without the white elephant gift exchange.  I ended up with a box of Swiss Cake Rolls. But there were some true treasures among the prizes.   This one was the favorite. A dog toy, actually, but the humans had a good laugh with it and fought over it until Randy finally ended up with it.  When you give it a gentle squeeze it oinks and a strong squeeze makes it squeal. Do I need to say more?

We love doing things that make for great memories. This Christmas in July was a perfect event to add to the list.

When You Pray, What Do You Say?

When you are about to have a conversation with someone important you might rehearse what you want to say.  Imagine you were going to be introduced to the Queen of England. Wouldn’t you be a little nervous about saying things right? You might try hard to stay calm and not make yourself look stupid or uneducated.  After all, this is the QUEEN we’re talking about. She doesn’t have time to waste listening to you stumbling over your words.

But talking to your closest friend is quite different.  You already feel loved by that person. You’ve let your guard down and can speak freely and naturally. They know you well and you’re not concerned about impressing them.

So what about prayer?  Prayer is communicating with the Creator of the Universe. Yes, this trumps the Queen. By a long shot. And yet, God loves you more than your closest friend.

During my hardest days, raising seven sons while my husband traveled extensively for work, I was fighting depression and feeling all alone. I had little energy to think through eloquent prayers. I remember standing beside the washing machine loading the boys’ clothes and all I could say was “Help me, God. Help me, help me, help me.”  That’s as far as I got that day. The words didn’t really matter. I didn’t give God a list of directives in how to help me. No specifics at all. Just crying out for help, knowing He would answer and do what was best to help me.

Even though He is God, even though He is higher than anyone assigned a position of importance by men, He is something else. He is our Heavenly Father and He loves us like no one else can.

You may have heard teaching that says you must be specific when you pray. You should to tell God exactly what you need. That’s true to a point but the fact is, sometimes you have no words. Sometimes you are in a place where you are just desperate for God to show up and you can’t even find the words to ask Him. Does that mean He won’t listen to you and answer?

Do you really think the specifics are so important that if you can’t find the words, God will not pay attention? Perhaps if you choose the perfect words and put them in some special order, like some sort of secret code, it will unlock God’s ability to help you?

God already knows the specifics. He knows the cries of your heart better than you do.  Prayer is more like talking to your best friend than it is like trying to impress some dignitary.

On those days when all you can do is cry for help and leave the rest to God, be assured He has heard and is already sending what you need.  He knew before you asked.

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” – Romans 8: 26-27 (NIV)

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” -Psalm 121:1-2 (NIV)

Sometimes I Just Can’t Keep Up

Things sometimes move so fast it’s hard to keep up.  This week I was thinking about all the changes in the works within my family.  With 7 sons to keep up with, the challenge can be overwhelming at times.

So I have been feeling a little overwhelmed lately and after thinking about it, I realized it wasn’t surprising at all.

Here is a brief summary of what is happening with the Maxeys.

One son just got a new job, one will turn 18 in a couple of weeks, another is buying his first home, another is moving to a new apartment.  One is getting a new job, another is getting married soon and another is moving out of state.  It’s no wonder I feel a bit overwhelmed! There’s so much going on, so many changes, so much growing on their part. But for me? The mom?

I think it’s a little like labor pains all over again.  Something new is being birthed in all of them at the same time.  I can do nothing but watch and pray.

Although my parenting job is coming to an end, as a parent, I will always be available for advice, (when asked!) and definitely for prayer.  I am blessed by the number of times my boys come to me and just ask me to pray. They are learning to figure out their own lives but are wise enough to know they can’t succeed without God’s input.

As for me being overwhelmed, I only have to stop and remember that God isn’t surprised by any of it.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned raising these sons, it’s that the job has ALWAYS been bigger than I can handle on my own.

When our kids are grown, we graduate from being a parent in the technical sense. But our influence and wisdom can still be of use to our kids.  And that verse that we all know so well from Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” says it clearly. We invest what we can and then trust that God will help them take it the rest of the way.  The key word in that verse is a little one. It’s the word “go” and that is exactly what they do. They are with us for a while and then they go. Off to experience life on their own.

If you are a parent, in any stage of the process, be encouraged that God has your kids in his sight. Pray for each one today, that they would walk with God.  Even when they are out of your sight, they are never out of His.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.  Psalm 127:3-5 (ESV)

All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children.   Isaiah 54:13 (ESV)

 

 

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