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For a limited time only, you can download the Kindle version of Growing in Godliness: 40 Encouraging Devotions. Get your copy before this offer expires! You can read it on your smartphone, computer, or Kindle device.
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 through 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, many 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)
I’m writing today from Iowa. My first trip back since we moved last December. I’ve done this before. I knew what to expect the first visit back. I clearly remember how I felt going back to Ohio after moving to Iowa in 2005. It was a bittersweet feeling. The sense that I’d come home…but not.
That trip back to Ohio was so filled with emotion and with grieving the life I’d left behind that I could barely stand it. I was so homesick! So when I got back to Iowa I began praying that God would make Iowa home. And He did.
Little did I know that I would have to experience the same tearing away again. Leaving Iowa last year was so hard! It didn’t help that I was leaving a son behind. I’d left one behind in Ohio too but there had been family there for him. My Iowa son was left on his own with no family within 600 miles.
So now, 10 months later I’m back. Back to visit my son and dear friends that I love and miss so much. Only a week to see everyone and experience all the things I miss about Iowa. To enjoy the beautiful Iowa countryside in the fall. To feel the crisp fall air. Such a joy!I keep comparing this visit with the one to Ohio long ago and finding similarities but also many differences. This time I came back to the same house that I’d lived in for 10 years. It’s my son’s home now. He’s made it his and I’m glad, it’s beautiful and fits him. But it’s hard. Hard to be in my home that isn’t my home.
Hard to be in my church that isn’t my church. To see friends that I’ve missed and see so much that has changed in their lives in just these few months.
It’s clear that this season, my Iowa season, has passed. Now I’m in a new season and if I cling too tightly to the old things, I can’t grow and experience what God has for me now. I remember learning that lesson with the first move.
So, I’ve tried to be in the moment. To enjoy the reconnection with friends but I’ve also tried not to allow myself to “go back”. You can’t go back. Even if God would call us to one day move back to Ohio or Iowa it would still be a new season, not a continuation of an old one. Life moves forward. Things change, people change. Sometimes I hate change. But I’m learning to let go and allow God to guide my steps.
Update: Now I’m back in Florida and finally finding time to finish up this post. It was a great trip. But it’s good to be home. In fact, I am happy to even say that it’s beginning to feel like home.
Yesterday I went to the beach with the grandkids. We had a wonderful day playing and enjoying the beautiful weather. I felt a peace that I’ve learned to recognize as God’s gift to me. A special sense of contentment even though there are always challenging issues all around me. I know I can find that peace anywhere, but being near the water, which I’ve always loved, makes it even more of a blessing.
Isaiah 66:12 says For thus says the LORD: “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees.
It’s no wonder water makes me feel at peace!
It happened again. Something very simple, that most people (including me) take for granted, was turned upside down. I was reminded to be thankful for something very necessary but something I don’t think I have ever actually voiced thanks for.
I came home from church last night excited about how the women’s Bible study had gone even though I had struggled through the evening because I have been having ear issues again. Sometimes my ears fill up and I feel like I am on an airplane. The yawning trick doesn’t work. Nothing works. I just wait it out. It, along with progressive hearing loss, is part of what people with Meniere’s Disease deal with. As I sat working on my computer, the fullness in my ears that I’d struggled with at church seemed to be getting worse, loud ringing made it hard to concentrate. Then I turned my head…bad idea. The room began to spin and I knew instantly what was happening. A full blown Meniere’s attack. The first and only other major attack I’ve had was when I was first diagnosed in 2005. Generally I just deal with mild dizziness and not this overpowering vertigo. I took some motion sickness medication, had Randy help me get into bed and then I tried to lay as still as possible. He had put a bucket beside my bed just in case! As I tried to relax, I started talking to God. I’d learned in our study at church that God’s strength is greater than anything I can possibly face in my life. I started thanking Him for His presence. And I also began thanking Him for everything else I could think of. It helped to focus on being thankful and not on whether my stomach was about to rebel.
So what was I thankful for last night? The first thing I thanked God for was my balance. I’ve taken balance for granted. I shouldn’t. Last night was debilitating. I couldn’t move by myself at all. Even with help, it was very difficult. Today things are a little better. I took a shower by myself this morning. Do you ever thank God that you can take a shower without help?
The next thing I thanked God for was that I can hear. Even though it’s gotten progressively worse, it’s been 11 years since I was told I could lose my hearing and I can still hear!
I enjoy a quiet house where I can turn on whatever music I choose and can listen from every room while I move about the house. I could do that yesterday because the house is quiet. It’s quiet because all the little people have gone on an adventure in Ohio. I’m thankful for the quiet.
But I miss them. I will be glad when they return. Even a quiet and peaceful house is no match for the joy I get interacting with my grandchildren on a daily basis. Some days I long for peace, but when I have it, I realize it comes at a great cost. The precious moments I have with my Treasures are priceless.
I’m thankful for the special relationships I’ve built with each of these little ones. Gwenny comes in each morning and asks to smell my candles then asks, ” may I have a little lotion?” I give her just a dot of lotion on her tiny hand and she rubs her hands together and grins. It’s our special routine that I miss when she’s gone. And the little boys come ask me to read some books to them. And I find on my pillow, little folded up papers taped closed that when I finally get them open say, “I love you Grandma! Love, Ian.” And the times spent with the older girls doing tea parties, crafts and reading together are so special too. So many wonderful memories being made every day. I am so thankful for this season!
And finally, as I lay there wanting so much for the spinning to stop, I thanked God for the opportunity to practice what I was learning about His strength. Thanked Him for reminding me that in the midst of this latest trial, His strength is still available. He has not changed. He is still a very present help in time of need. For this, Lord, I am truly thankful!
Psalm 46:1 God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.
My first experience with a tropical storm. Well, not exactly. Last August when Alex, my youngest, and I were visiting Florida we briefly thought that Ericka was going to pack a punch but she fizzled out and didn’t do much at all. Then we had a little visit from Colin this spring but that wasn’t too bad either. The weather experts didn’t get too excited.
This week has been interesting as the experts watch the storm develop and make guesses as to what will happen. Not unlike the way they tracked blizzards in Iowa, actually. It still amazes me how many people expect the meteorologists to have perfect forecasts. And how nasty people can be when the predictions turn out to be off the mark. How did we become a society that doesn’t allow for mistakes and adjustments?
Yesterday we got over 5 inches of rain. It rained all day. It was actually only about 75 degrees which was a nice change from the constant 90s we’ve experienced all summer. We even opened the windows for a while. The smell of the rain was wonderful!
As we heard reports of road closings and church and school cancellations we knew it was time to take action. The growing pond in the back yard was also becoming a concern. Finally the guys left to get some sand bags and non-perishable foods incase we lose power. One discover they made was that there aren’t many choices of foods that don’t require refrigeration that don’t wear the label of “junk food.” They managed to find sardines and tuna salad kits as well as some fresh fruits and raw veggies that will get us through if we need them. Of course, they had to make sure we had some pop tarts too!
In the afternoon, after it had been raining for hours, we realized that one of the downspouts wasn’t working. All the water was gathering at the foundation of the house. Several of the adults went out and took turns climbing on the step ladder with various tools to try to clear away the blockage. After much laughter and good natured teasing about how this wasn’t how they had planned to spend the day, getting soaked and dirty, the water began to run freely. There were victory whoops that I’m sure the entire neighborhood could hear!
This morning things are calm for the moment. The rain has stopped temporarily and if you didn’t know what was coming, you might just think the worst was over. The only indication that things are still changing is the slight increase in the wind. I guess this is the calm before the storm. It makes me think about how life is that way too.
We can go along completely content, never realizing that the storm is approaching. Then suddenly we are caught off guard. I guess it’s a good thing we don’t know what’s ahead all the time. God protects us from some difficult things in the future on purpose. Still, He does tell us to be prepared. He gives us many warnings about the general direction we are headed and asks us to trust Him and heed His warnings. We have things to do to prepare for the future. We would be wise to do so now, while the rain and wind are still off shore.
This weekend was Christmas at our house. Well, not really but we had to find some way to break up the endless 95 degree days with pop up thunderstorms every day. Listening to Christmas music helped change the mood for a while.
On Saturday we baked six kinds of our traditional Christmas cookies. We have about fifteen varieties that we make every year in December. This was just a sample. This time we had a special treat. Aaron’s girlfriend brought homemade Italian Cannoli that her father made for us. Delicious!
On Sunday, after church, we watched Charlie Brown’s Christmas and also the old Mr. Magoo Christmas Carol. We cooked up a small sampling of the foods we enjoy at our family Christmas Eve celebration. It’s a spread of dishes made with recipes that have been with our family for at least three decades. Everybody helps cook. And of course everybody helps eat!
After our meal was enjoyed and cleaned up the real fun began. This year we had 16 people packed into the living room. In the middle of the room was a pile of plainly wrapped white elephant gifts. 32 of them. We had a great time opening and then stealing from each other. Lots of laughter, lots of bargaining and mostly happy people. We had one little one who melted down for a moment when his gift was stolen but quickly recovered when he realized he could steal from someone else!
One of the things I love about our current living arrangement is that when we have these kinds of celebrations nobody has to go home! Of course there is a certain amount of chaos but by now we are used to it for the most part. What I love is that we are making memories that come as a surprise. I never imagined we’d have this opportunity. On the days when the challenges seem almost insurmountable I remind myself what we are building. I think about the memories we’ve made. Some of them have come from not such great circumstances, like the backed up plumbing
On December 12, 2015 we left Iowa and drove 1400 miles to our new home in Florida. I can’t believe it’s been four months already! It seems like we just got here but the fact is, we are pretty well settled at this point.
Our household of 15 is still functioning pretty normally. Of course by normal I mean that there have been some rough moments. The iron sharpening iron concept is alive and well and we’ve had some sparks flying at times.
Over all, I think we have managed pretty well. That’s not to say that there aren’t still many opportunities for lessons in maturity for all of us. I think our biggest challenge has been communication. It seems like most of the issues we have had to deal with have been misunderstandings that could be cleared up by a simple conversation. The reason the conversations don’t happen sooner and avoid the conflict is because of assumptions and expectations that we tend to make. And those assumptions and expectations tend to be birthed out of selfish motives. So, our biggest hurdle to peaceful living is of course, our inability to die to self.
I’ve been praying daily that God would open my eyes to opportunities to serve my family. I have also asked for wisdom so that my words would be received as intended and would build up my family. God has been teaching me to be quiet more and listen more. I have spent more time in prayer in the last 4 months than I have ever done before. So even though there are still some challenging things about living in a house with this many people, people with very definite opinions about how things should go, I am seeing God bring good from it in my daily life.
There are many times that I have had to surrender my expectations to God when things don’t go as I thought they would. After having my own home for 34 years, it’s hard not to overstep my place and try to make decisions that are now not mine to make. It’s not easy but it is getting easier. At times I feel my anxiety rising because I am being stretched and then I take a deep breath and ask myself,”is this an issue worth fussing about?” The answer is almost always, “no.” It’s not easy to step away and let it go but I keep asking for God’s help and He is faithful.
We have settled into a good church and I have tried to get connected even though it’s hard for me to move outside my comfort zone. It would be easier to just sit in the back row on Sundays and slip out unnoticed but that isn’t the best way to build community. The thing that makes this a little easier for me is that I’ve already been through it once. I had a great community of friends in Ohio before I moved to Iowa and I saw God do an amazing thing as He built new connections for me in Iowa. I know that if He did it before, He can do it again. But I can’t stay in my shell and expect anything good to happen. I have to trust Him as I move forward.
It’s still strange to be in Florida. Randy and I still say to each other regularly, “we live in Florida,” like we’re still trying to convince ourselves that it’s real!
I keep thinking of the words God gave to Isaiah.
Behold, I will do something new, Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, Rivers in the desert. ( Isaiah 43:19)
God certainly is doing a new thing in the Maxey family. We are all being changed. The key for me is to remember that even though sometimes it feels like a wilderness and a very dry place, God is working. it’s kind of ironic when I look at how lush and green my surroundings are and how easy it is to get to water! It just proves that things aren’t always as they appear.
This week I got an email from a friend. We’d been friends in Iowa and went through a period where both of our husbands were looking for new jobs. We were able to encourage each other as we travelled the same road. Little did we know that the road would lead to Florida for both of us! Both of our families moved to Florida in December. We moved in with Andrew’s family and my friend moved into a temporary apartment and began the house hunting adventure.
As we’ve both been adjusting to our move we’ve communicated about the challenges and the joys. One of the things she said in her recent email was that now that she’d moved into her new home she felt the “chains of stuff management” take hold again. I understand completely!
I mentioned in my post Learning to Be Content in the Big things and the Small Ones Too that I had downsized from our large home in Iowa to a bedroom in Florida. While that’s true, it hasn’t been as much of an issue as it could have been. God began teaching me about being content a long time ago.
But lately He’s been speaking about much more than the amount of stuff I have. Now it’s about my time and where I focus my attention. And the question comes down to this. If God has promised to meet all my needs then what do I do with my time?
One thing this season is about is serving my family. I have decades of experience in so many areas, I can offer to help my family in a million ways. Or…I can become self-absorbed, spending my time fussing about trying to find my place and how difficult it is to adjust to my new life.
Another thing I feel strongly about is that this season is about using the gifts God has given me. I mentioned that in my previous post. Then on Sunday our pastor preached about the parable of the talents (Matthew 25). One of the main points was that God gave each of us resources to use to multiply His kingdom and we cannot be faithful and “play it safe” at the same time. We have to take risks. Just like the servants in the story, we have to invest what we have in order to see an increase. We can’t just hide in our room and hope for the best. We must DO something with what He’s given us.
If you know me well, you know that I am the QUEEN of playing it safe. I don’t like the unknown. I don’t like risks. I like to know all of my ducks are in a row, even though some days I can’t find a duck to save my life. I’m learning to trust God, but some days it feels REALLY risky to do so. What if He has a plan that it’s just too far out there? Just too scary?
Then I look at my life and realize I have taken TONS of risks. I’ve lived through every one of them. My life is better because of them! God has never left me in a position that wasn’t exactly right when I look at it from further down the road. He has always supplied everything I have ever needed for whatever was going on at the moment. He is faithful. He is a good Father.
So the question, “what do I really need?” can be answered easily. I don’t need a house, I don’t need stuff, I don’t need all my problems solved immediately and I don’t need to stay in my comfort zone to be happy. What do I need? Only God. That is all I REALLY need. He provides everything else.
Philippians 4:19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus
We had a guest speaker at our church yesterday. His name is Albert Mohler and he is the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. One of the largest seminaries in the world. Dr. Mohler is an excellent speaker and author and has a long list of accomplishments. He is also two months younger that I am.
I could look at him and ask myself, “why has he accomplished so much is a lifetime the same length as mine and I’m still waiting to feel like I am making a difference?” Or I could ask God, “why have you blessed him and not me?” But both of those questions would be the wrong question.
The right question is, “how can I stir up the gifts God has given me and do what He created me to do?” That’s what Dr. Mohler has done. He has grasped the vision for his life and faithfully moved forward in it.
Isn’t that what God wants all of us to do? We don’t all have to be some great personality that everyone knows. We don’t all have to accomplish astounding things to feel like we are successful in our lives. We just need to seek God and ask Him what He would have us be doing while we are on this earth.
Right now, by the world’s standards I am not really contributing much at all. But in this season of my life, I am investing in my children and my grandchildren. Perhaps reading a book to a four year old for the hundredth time doesn’t seem like much but I can be sure that the minutes spent with a little boy in my lap are not wasted time.
God has given each of us gifts and right now He is using my love for books to encourage reading in my grandchildren. If I look at this as a small accomplishment I am missing the point. God has given us each gifts that he wants us to use for good. He intends to use those gifts and passions for His purposes and when we try to predict when He will use us and how it will look we can get side-tracked. We can also get distracted by all the activities that crowd into our day and completely ignore the gifts God has given.
This morning I read this verse in 2 Timothy.
Therefore I remind you to STIR UP the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. (verse 6)
Some translations say “rekindle” or “fan into flame.” So what does it mean to “stir up the gift?” It means to not neglect the fire God has put inside of you. Stir those embers and use the things God has given you to make a difference. Don’t worry about how big or small the impact may look to you. Remember whose you are and that He has a purpose for your life. He designed you with a particular set of gifts and talents that may only be combined in that exact way for one person on earth. You.
Sometimes I get discouraged about writing this blog. I wonder if anyone even reads it. Then I get feedback from one person who says, “that is exactly what I needed today.” If I take the position that being faithful to write these thoughts isn’t making any impact, or if reading to a four year old grandson isn’t having an impact, then I am missing the blessing.
If today, God wants to use you in just one person’s life, in perhaps what appears to be a very small way, don’t walk away! Stir up the gift and make a difference!
Yesterday I stayed home to do some work on the computer. I could have gone to the beach with the grandkids. It turned out that I didn’t get done what I wanted to anyway. I should have gone to the beach. I felt something familiar to all of us. Regret.
I regretted my decision. I missed a great opportunity with my Treasures. They grow up so fast. I should take advantage of these opportunities. But instead, I let something else distract me.
At church a couple of weeks ago, they sang a song by Matthew West. The song is called, “Hello, My Name is.” The verse that caught my attention goes like this:
Hello, my name is regret
I’m pretty sure we have met
Every single day of your life
I’m the whisper inside
That won’t let you forget
I am finding there are a lot of opportunities for regret to whisper in my ear lately. This move to Florida has brought huge changes in every area of my life. Changes that take time to adjust to and cause me to feel like I want to turn back the clock and go back to what was familiar and comfortable. I remember feeling the same way when we moved from Ohio to Iowa. There were times when I was especially homesick where I would start second guessing our decisions. I’d wonder if we had made the wrong choices. On the most difficult days I would yearn for the opportunity to go back and change things. I could close my eyes and see my old home, know exactly where everything was in my memory. See the view from my window, hear the familiar sounds, and know that it was home.
But it’s not home now. God has started a new chapter. If we really pay attention, we will find that He is doing that more frequently than we realize. Life is about growth and for that to happen we need new experiences. We can’t keep looking over our shoulder at the “old days” and wishing to go back. We have to move forward even though it’s hard. Of course we don’t have to ignore the memories, but we can’t live in them.
I have always tried to teach my boys to make choices that don’t bring regret. Things like mending relationships and taking the time to tell the people you care about just how much they mean to you while you still have them with you. I also try to help them to recognize opportunities and to take full advantage of every one they can.
I guess I should listen to my own advice! If I had done so yesterday, I would have had a lovely time enjoying the sun and the waves on a beautiful 80 degree day in February.
But I didn’t. And now I have to live with my choices. It does me no good at all to dwell on the fact that I missed it. I can grouse about it and wish it had been different but I can’t change it. I just have to move forward and learn from my experience.
The dictionary says regret is ” to feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over (something that has happened or been done, especially a loss or missed opportunity) Regret is about the past.
The Bible challenges us to take a different view. Isaiah 43:18-19 says, Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
If I am constantly looking back and wishing to return to the way of life that was familiar I will miss what God wants to do from here forward. I will become stuck in the past. I will constantly be comparing where I am with where I was.
Ecclesiastes 7:10 says, Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
Today I am asking God to give me wisdom so I may see the hope for the future and not be tempted to remain in the past, whether it’s the distant past or just in the regrets of yesterday.
Ask God today if there is something in your past that you need to leave there. Maybe it’s a choice you made or perhaps it’s a choice someone else made for you. Either way, God wants you to find joy in this day and hope in tomorrow. He’s already there and knows the way. Keep your eyes on Him.