A few days ago, I walked outside after one of Iowa's frequent summer thunderstorms. The sun emerged from behind the clouds and this perfect rose glowed with beauty, the drops of rain still clinging between her petals.
It brought to memory one of my mother's favorite hymns -- one she would often quote when I had storms in my young life:
Back of the Clouds by Carolyn R. Freeman
Never fear tho' shadows dark around your path may fall;
Do not let your heart be troubled;
From His throne in heaven,
God is watching one and all,
He will ever care for you.
Back of the clouds the sun is always shining,
After the storms your skies will all be blue;
God has prepared a rosy-tinted lining,
Back of the clouds it's waiting to shine thru.
Winter long is over and the spring has gone her way,
Often has the storm clouds gathered,
But the rain has only made the blossoms look more gay...
Given earth a brighter hue.
Keep the light of hope eternal dwelling in your heart,
Rest upon the Father's promise,
And you'll find that care and trouble will depart...
Heaven's peace will enter in.
God never promises there won't be storms in our lives. But He does promise:
He will be with us in the storm: When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, And through the rivers, they will not overflow. Isaiah 43:2
He will give us strength to endure: He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Isaiah 40:29
His blessings never run out: This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord's loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail, They are new every morning; Great is thy faithfulness.
Whatever storm you are going through right now, may you have the peace of God's promises, and the assurance that, back of the clouds, the Son shines for you.
I recently had this photo made into a canvas print for our newly remodeled bathroom. I chose it because it is a lovely image of a trail in the woods, and no setting brings me more peace and joy. I remember the day I took it, a lovely fall walk with my husband and our beloved dog, Annie, in the Chequamegon National Forest in northern Wisconsin.
The print hung on my bathroom wall for a month and I gazed at it every single day. Not until this week did I notice that Annie is in the picture. She blended in with the yellow leaves of the maple trees so well that I believed this was a photo depicting only a path.
I was delighted to find her in the picture, and now it is impossible to not see her. I gaze at it and not only imagine being on the path, but being with Annie again.
I have a Heavenly Father who places me in living scenes, some of them peaceful and filled with joy, some with heartache that seems unbearable. But just like my photo of the trail, I am not seeing all of the picture.
God, with Divine Wisdom, only allows me to see part of what is happening in my life. Most of His plans and purposes for me are still hidden from my dim eyes. Someday, I will see clearly, and for all of those scenes I don't understand there will be an "ah-hah!" moment. I will see the Big Picture. For now, I have to trust that He is in control, He has a perfect plan for my life, and He will carry me through.
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12
How about you? Did you find Annie? And are you trusting God in the scenes of your life where you don't see clearly?
I have spent the last few months sorting through memorabilia from my husband's and my courtship and wedding. Those years were a time of great angst (yes, I was 18-20 years old!) because during the school year, I rarely saw this man with whom I was madly in love. So, I wrote sappy poems about missing him.
After our wedding, and during our working, raising children, busy time of life, I still missed Gary. He traveled for work--a lot--and I held the fort at home. When he did come home, he was tired and wanted alone time. I was excited and wanted together time.
Now, our life is reversed. We are together almost all the time, especially in this interesting year of the virus. I have to be honest, all the together time has, at times, been a bit much. We have both suggested, hopefully in jest, that perhaps the other one should take a trip.
But, fifty years ago, at the beginning of this journey, we made a commitment to love and honor "till death do us part." And on our spiritual journey, we learned that love is not the fluttery feelings that ebb and flow and sometimes don't even show up for long period of time. Instead:
Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails...but now abide faith, hope, love, these three, but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13
Love is how you act. I have to admit, we have not always done this well. Both of us have been impatient, unkind, arrogant. We have been provoked and kept a running account of the ways we have been wronged. But we kept trying. Marriage is truly the most difficult thing you will do.
But oh, the joy of living life with a best friend! The joy of watching your love expand--3 children, 7 grandchildren. And the joy of serving God together with your spouse. This has been a glorious journey.
I know too well, one of us may be alone again. My sister and several of my friends have lost their spouses. One has gone ahead, while one is left grieving and missing.
So, love well, my friends. Cherish the days that too quickly slip away. Cherish the quiet moments of love, the exuberant days of great joy, and even the shared times of sorrow.
Fifty years has held a lot of moments. And I love him still. Happy 50th anniversary to the love of my life!
My husband, Gary, and I will have been married 50 years this month. So we should have learned a few things about handling conflict. One thing I know, is that 5 months before my marriage, I had no idea. I wrote this paragraph in January of 1970.
Where will God lead me? Us? It's curious and hard to trust completely. Gary is stronger than I, I think, and he doesn't worry. Sometimes I wonder what's ahead. It's exciting being a Christian, and giving Jesus your life. I've given Gary my life, too, or will be in June. That's why we need to be Christians, so we can be one, and there won't be conflicts, I guess. Two will go two ways - mentally as well as physically. One can only go one way.
Oh, how naive I was! I came to the realization rather abruptly in the months following our marriage that Christians are not immune to conflict. We were no longer 400 miles apart, and we argued about everything. We didn't know anything about conflict resolution. But somehow, we made it 50 years. Both of us valued the vows we had made, till death do us part, and we believed in commitment. We loved each other and our Lord. We weathered the conflicts.
And we continue to do so. Stay-at-home orders are not always a picnic with those you love. But we rejoice that God has given us so many years together, three wonderful children, a daughter-in-law, and 7 grandchildren to broaden our love, and adventures too numerous to count. So we still weather the conflicts.
This picture was taken at Christmas before our wedding in June. The man to my right is my brother and his son is on Gary's lap. That little boy was our ring bearer in our wedding.
The same weekend I wrote the paragraph on conflicts, I also wrote this poem:
Oh to be in your arms again!
Sweet heaven again.
It's been so long I've been away.
Tell me that you love me, love me, love me,
And I will stay.
Surely, I've never loved before -
This is, oh, much more.
Hold me, hold me, hold me,
And I'll not leave again.
Of course, I did have to leave. We both had our spring semesters of college to complete before June. But Gary had track to keep him busy, and I had wedding plans and preparations.
In 1969, if you lived in a college dormitory, this was what happened when you got engaged. Gary surprised me with a ring (after telling me he couldn't afford one, but secretly working at a bowling alley to make enough to purchase it.) His brother, Paul, got married in Cedar Rapids in October, and he was in the wedding and I was his guest. The Friday night before, he drove up to UNI. We went for a drive and he asked me to marry him. I said yes.
Did you capture all the warmth,
The glow, the joy,
Utter soaring ecstacy,
All beauty of our love?
Did you concentrate it, and set it thus
In a band of silver?
That must be why it sparkles, dances,
All light, all shine,
Little mirror of our love.
Gary was leaving for his second year of college at Emporia State Teacher's College. I would be leaving for my first year at University of Northern Iowa a few weeks later. We dated 400 miles apart, mostly through letters. I had no idea how much I would miss him.
This is the poem I wrote a few weeks after this picture was taken:
How many miles between us?
Let there be no miles tonight.
Wish on a star -
The star that touches the tree outside,
And I'll wish on the same.
Sigh to the moon -
The moon that caresses my window
And my sigh will be the same.
Whisper a prayer -
A prayer to the God that listens
And the same God will listen to me.
And your wish, your sigh, and your prayer
Will touch me
And you'll be here.
In a few weeks we will be celebrating 50 years of marriage. As a way of celebrating, I will be posting some of the poems I wrote for my future husband. Most of them are 60's sappy and not even good poetry, but all of them are a reminder of how quickly times slips away. Love well today.
These are lyrics I wrote 45 years ago. My very talented friend, Margo Edwards, set my words to music and together we directed a little children's musical about Noah and the animals on the ark.
Ever since, these songs come back to me at odd times, usually when I need to hear the message they convey. During my isolation the song Faith is Believing became an ear worm in my head. I spent a long time looking through boxes of old writing (yes, I did write many years on paper only!) for this particular song.
And, it seems an appropriate message for our pandemic-weary souls.
So this is for those of you that are overseeing children's schooling at home, for those of you working from home, for those who have been laid off, or had a business that closed, those who are working on the front lines, or just those of you concerned about all that is happening in our world.
Faith is Believing
Faith is believing in what you can't see,
Knowing that God will provide.
Faith is just knowing that He is in charge,
Always walking by your side.
Faith doesn't doubt Him or worry or stew,
Faith doesn't question why,
For God knows what He's doing after all,
He's smarter than you or I!
Faith is just building an ark when you're told,
And taking a long boat ride,
Knowing that God knows the "whys and the wheres,"
If you'll let Him be your guide.
These weeks do seem like a very long boat ride. But, I do know, like Noah, that all I need to do is build the boat when He tells me. He's in charge of where the boat takes me.
Cast all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7
Today we will walk with Jesus from the celebratory Upper Room into the more somber Garden of Gethsemane. Here Jesus walked with His disciples. And here he prayed.
He took Peter, James and John with Him as He walked farther into the garden. He made one request of them: Remain here and keep watch with me. Matthew 26:38
But they'd been partying, they'd had a big meal, and it was late. And when Jesus returned to them, He found them sleeping.
And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying, that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." Matthew 26:40-42
The Message version paraphrases the passage this way: Jesus said to Peter, "Can't you stick it out with me a single hour? Stay alert; be in prayer so you don't wander into temptation without even knowing you're in danger. There is a part of you that is eager, ready for anything in God. But there's another part that's as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire."
All of our dogs loved the fireplace. They would stretch out on the rug in front of it and sleep, oblivious to all the commotion in the world around them. It is tempting for me to do the same thing. Sometimes the hurts and evils in this world overwhelm me. I would love to stretch out and sleep and forget. But Jesus has one request of us today, "Keep watching and praying."
So today, find time to spend time with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Pray for our world, pray for your world, pray for a new awakening during this, the strangest of Easter Seasons.
Don't be an old, lazy dog!
Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving. Colossians 4:2
Let's walk today with Jesus into the Upper Room, the day He would face arrest, beatings, and ultimately the cross.
I want you to picture yourself as one of the disciples, sitting there, enjoying a meal with your best friends. Maybe Peter has just told a joke and you have your head tipped back, laughing.
Then Jesus stands up, picks up a basin, fills it with water, sits beside you and washes your feet. Those crooked toes, bunions, toe jam, and stinky feet. They're dirty because you have walked through the filthy streets of Jerusalem in sandals to get here. But the soon-to-be Savior of the world, cradles your dirty feet tenderly in the hands that will be pierced by nails, and washes them clean.
Do you speak as Peter did? "Never shall you wash my feet!"
Then Jesus reminds you, "If I do not wash you, you have no part of me."
Because we need Jesus to wash us daily. We need to cleansed of the sin, bitterness, greed, anger, worry, gossip, impatience, griping, and all the rest of the filth we accumulate in this life.
So today, invite Jesus into your personal Upper Room. Let him sit beside you and cleanse you of all that makes you dirty.
Then, pick up the basin to wash someone else's feet.
"You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you." John 13:14-15
Jesus not only cleanses us of our sin in the Upper Room, he gives us a beautiful picture of serving. Our Lord, in His darkest hours, put out needs before His. We need to selfishly serve others.
In our present situation, your serving may look different. Many volunteer opportunities are no longer available or in the best interests of our communities. Be creative! Your elderly neighbor might appreciate a phone call, the young family without work might love a carry out meal delivered to them, a friend who lives by herself may need a Skype or Zoom visit so she doesn't feel isolated. Put aside your own anxiety, boredom and frustrations, pick up the basin and serve someone today.
"Therefore, encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing."
1 Thessalonians 5:11
The last week, facing the unspeakable horror of the cross, what did Jesus make a priority? Fellowship! (hanging out, socializing, or a get-together) The picture above is our little group of bicyclists at a restaurant in Missouri.
Jesus met with his friends in Bethany for a dinner party. (John 12:1-2, Matthew 26:6-7) We know Jesus showed his love for his friends in many incomparable ways, but here I picture Him as “one of the gang,” small-talking, telling jokes, laughing till his sides hurt, and, of course, listening to the others.
He also met with his closest, most intimate friend group, the apostles. That dinner is called The Last Supper or The Lord’s Supper, but to the disciples it was a holiday meal with their best friend.
Luke 22:14-15 tells us what Jesus said to them at that meal:
14 When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. 15 And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves;
I love that phrase “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you.” I believe Jesus wants us to earnestly desire fellowship with our loved ones as well. We were created to live in community.
Our current circumstances have forced us to fellowship differently. But, in preparing your heart for Easter, don’t forget to “gather” with those you love. Text, video chat or Facetime, make telephone calls, visit someone through a window. You just may be a "day-maker".
Today, make a plan to "visit" someone.
I believe, too, that Jesus earnestly desires to spend time with each one of us. So fix a meal and visit with Jesus. Tell him your fears, your frustrations, your anger. Thank Him for all that is good in your life. And then, laugh with him.
Job 8:21 God will not reject a man of integrity...He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouting.
Susan Lawrence taught elementary school for 33 years before hanging up her chalkboard to write and speak. She writes novels for both adults and middle grade children. Susan lives in Iowa with her husband and short-legged Lab, Molly. She has 3 children and 7 grandchildren who love to hear her stories.