Thinking about you today and trust that you are experiencing the peace and presence of the Lord as you are either with friends, family or alone. The Lord is with you wherever you are.

Embracing Winter

Thursday’s warm temperatures gave me hope that our upcoming winter would be mild. But my hope was shattered as I awakened today to temperatures in the mid-20s. The over-night rain ushered in a cold front that dropped our temperatures significantly. So much for global warming!!! And we are expecting our first winter storm Monday evening. I must admit that I prefer 90-degree temperatures to ice and snow.

For some of us as widows, winter seems to fit our mood right now. We are navigating one of the stages of the grieving process and seem to be stuck. The beautiful summer flowers are gone; the landscape is barren; the gray clouds hide the sun’s warmth, and spring seems an eternity away.

How do we escape the doldrums of life’s winters? We don’t! We embrace them as part of the process and look for beauty even when everything around us seems dead. I’ve planted many bulbs and perennials in my gardens, and I know from experience that they are alive in that black dirt and even in the process of multiplying, although I cannot see one sprig of green.

I can’t tell you how excited I get when my daffodils peek through the snow. For me, this demonstrates that even when life circumstances are at their darkest moment, God is at work producing new life and beauty. When we see the smallest indication that we are passing though one of grief’s trials, we should rejoice. The warmth of praise will produce further growth. The apostle Paul exemplifies this in Philippians.

Paul was in a Roman prison for sharing the gospel. We are unsure in which prison he was housed during the writing of this letter, but we know he was suffering greatly. It was so difficult that he longed for death (Phil. 3). Incarceration then was nothing like today’s prisons. He had to provide for his own food and necessities, was often isolated from others, and conditions were unsanitary. He may have been confined underground, making it impossible to see light. The believers in Philippi sent Paul help several times, and he thanks them in this letter for their generosity (Phil. 4:14). Most of all, this letter reflects Paul’s attitude under very challenging circumstances: JOY.

If our life is rooted in Christ, we can maintain a joyful attitude even when we are experiencing deep pain. Paul found joy through praying for and ministering to others. He did not ignore his situation. He even labeled the world around him as “crooked and depraved” (Phil 2:15). Paul told the Philippian believers to “rejoice always” (Phil. 4:4). And, just like Paul, we are able to “shine like stars” (Phil. 2:15) as we face our circumstances without “complaining or arguing” (Phil 2:14).

A New Computer Program

Several weeks ago, I was presented with a new software package at my job. I was not frightened or anxious, but change is always a bit challenging. I knew the old program quite well, functioned in it comfortably, and thought the old program adequately met our needs. With a few clicks, I could solve problems and find answers. I could enter new data and combine it with the old for a complete financial picture. For me, there were no red flags indicating the program was malfunctioning or antiquated. I simply liked the program, with which I had become so familiar.

However, my boss learned that the program would no longer have technical support if we had problems, so we were forced to purchase new software. This is so very much like the process of widowhood.

We did not ask to be widows; we enjoyed our former lives and had learned to function well in the responsibilities. For me, it was my husband’s illness and then death that forced me into widowhood. For you, it could have been a car or work accident, or a disaster of some sort. Regardless of how well we liked the old life, it was gone, obsolete, no longer available.

Just as with my new software, a widow’s learning curve is steep. We make many mistakes, which require corrections. At times, we are even uncertain of simple tasks. When we need help, we feel foolish because we couldn’t figure it out on our own.

Learning a new program takes time. While there are similarities to the old program, functioning within the new one is completely different. In my new computer program, even some of the vocabulary is new. In navigating the new world of widowhood, much of life’s processes are different. For me, it even seemed that my relationship with my children changed.

My boss assures me that I’m doing well, and that each new day will bring more confidence. God’s Word tells us that He loves the widow and cares for her. He has promised to be a husband to us (Isaiah 54:5), that He is ever mindful of us and our needs (Psalm 68:5), and He heals the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3). Because of Him and His Word, we can gain renewed strength and confidence each day.

God’s plan for me did not end when my husband drew his last breath. God did not say, “OK, Tony is gone, we don’t need Miriam anymore.” The direction of my life has certainly changed; my surroundings are different; some of my friends are new. But God has been in the formation of this new life even before I was born. Tony’s death did not catch Him by surprise. It’s always been: Let’s continue with the plan. Our responsibility is to discover the plan through the leading of the Holy Spirit and then follow it. As God’s plans unfold, we will find joy and satisfaction even in widowhood. As with my new computer program, we may even find that some of the processes are better.

Once again, I’ve been reminded of that very familiar Scripture: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

God Is With Us

Have you every felt worthless?  I have. Invisible? Powerless? Insignificant? Overwhelmed by daily responsibilities? I have! All of these are quite common for a widow. The “so called” experts tell us that feelings like these will lessen in time as grief is healed. However, I have found that they often recycle as daily circumstances remind us of what we lack. The negative feelings often surface because we no longer have a “sounding board” or a partner with whom to brainstorm, someone to remind us of good times and past victories, or we fail to consider the promises from God’s Word. Our frustration is much like Elisha’s servant in the Old Testament.

In 2 Kings 6:8-23, the king of Aram was angry because Elisha was telling the king of Israel how, when, and where the king of Aram was going to attack. It’s a fascinating account of how the Holy Spirit gave insight to Elisha. Even the king of Aram’s army knew that Elisha was warning Israel’s king of the battle plans.

The king of Aram discovered where Elisha lived and sent the Aramenan army by night to surround the city of Dothan to capture the man of God. When Elisha’s servant awakened in the morning and saw the army he said, “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” (v. 15). He was sure there was no way of escape.

This is just like us when we face circumstances beyond our control. We wring our hands and cry out, what are we going to do; how are we going to do it; where’s the money going to come from; who is going to help me? We recount all our woes to ourselves and, just like Elisha’s servant, we are sure defeat, bankruptcy, and loss are just around the corner. However, just because we are overwhelmed with feelings of negativity and defeat, doesn’t mean that God has forsaken us or that those feelings are true.

Elisha told his servant, “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (v. 16). Elisha had not one worry. It’s almost as if I can see him still in bed, and simply telling the servant not to worry as he turned over and tried to go back to sleep. Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.” (v. 17). At that very minute the servant’s eyes were opened and he saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire. These were ministering angels who were ready to defend Elisha and his servant. God’s army was in control of the situation.

When we are in the middle of a severe battle – whether it’s physical, spiritual, financial, or emotional – may the Lord open our eyes to see His ministering spirits surrounding us. In one of the darkest times in my life during my husband’s illness, God opened my eyes and allowed me to see His ministering angels around my husband. Even though things were difficult, I knew without a doubt that God was in control.

The apostle Thomas had doubts about Jesus’ resurrection since he knew the brutality of the beatings and the crucifixion. He told the other disciples that he would not believe unless he saw the nail prints in Christ’s hands and the wound in His side. (John 20:24-29). When Jesus appeared again to the disciples, including Thomas, Jesus asked him to touch His scared hands and side. Thomas’ response was one of complete surrender and faith: “My Lord and my God” (v. 28). According to verse 29, Jesus said, “[B]lessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

This is part of faith – believing even when we don’t see the results right away. God has promised that He will be with us, sustain us, meet our needs, and provide protection. He has even promised to be a husband to the widow (Isaiah 54:5). Trusting God’s promises also will bring the joy (Psalm 28:7) and peace (Isaiah 26:3) that we so need when problems arise .

Uncertain Times

Uncertain Times

From my yard

For more than a week, I’ve wanted to share about our weather extremes. I have daffodils blooming and my tulips and hyacinths are up several inches – good signs of spring. But for three weeks, we have experienced highs in the 60s for a day or so and then the temperatures would plummet. Ice and snow followed. Even two days after last week’s storm, ice covered more than half of the driveway and walkway to my front door. Again this week, our weather is shifting from beautiful to stormy. Although temperatures have not been in the balmy 60s or 70s as last week, we anticipate temperatures in the 50s tomorrow again. However, temperatures are forecast to plunge on Thursday night with a significant cold front, and our meteorologists predict snow.

I’m glad that God is certainly unlike our weather. At least 13 times, the Bible says that He never changes. (Three of the best known are Hebrews 13:8, Malachi 3:6, and James 1:17.) We can depend on His Word, His promises, and His character.

With developments in Ukraine, our weather problems became insignificant. I have never traveled to Ukraine, but as I looked at the photos of the people, buildings, and streets and heard their accent as they spoke English, I was reminded of my time in Romania. I taught in two Bible schools there – twice in Timisoara and twice in Oradea. Of course, there are differences, but I see similarities. The Romanian Revolution began in Timisoara in 1989. The bullet holes in buildings in the city’s center were never patched so people would remember the price that was paid for freedom. Oradea, just eight miles from the Hungarian border, also has experienced the horrors of war and loss of freedom, especially in the Jewish areas during WWII when most of the 40,000 Jews were sent to Auschwitz.

This is not the first time Ukrainians have fought for their freedom, and the tension between Russia and Ukraine has deep roots. After World War I, Ukraine endured brutal Soviet treatment. In 1921-22 and again in 1932-33, the Soviet Empire “engineered” two famines in Ukraine, which killed more than 8 million people. During World War II, nearly 8 million Ukrainians died in German/Soviet fighting. The Ukrainians have not forgotten and do not want to be under Soviet rule again.

This also is a religious battle. In 2018 and 2019, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church declared its independence from the Russian Orthodox Church, with its more traditional orthodox teachings, and aligned itself with Orthodox Church in Constantinople, which has more western leanings. Putin is determined to reunite the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches.

We live in uncertain, desperate, momentous times! God’s Word gives us insights into the challenges of today. Jesus said that “wars and rumors of wars” would mark The Last Days. “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains” (Matthew 24:1-14). Luke records it this way: “When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away” Luke 21:9. We are truly experiencing the signs of The Last Days.

It’s easy to be terribly frightened when listening to the news and seeing the atrocities. We can’t help but think what if this were happening here. Our only hope is to keep our eyes on Jesus, the Prince of Peace and continue to pray for Ukraine, the surrounding nations, and the U.S.

Last Thursday night the Slavic churches in our area gathered with our church for a prayer service for Ukraine. It can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIUUwwhjVu0. And today we continue to pray: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew6:10).

The Backdrop of Matthew 1

Matthew, chapter 1, is an important chapter, but I think I’ve only heard one sermon on it in my life. And it’s rarely included in Christmas messages. It’s significant to us as widows because three of the four women mentioned are widows.

The apostle Matthew was not a typical Jew. Before he joined Jesus as an apostle, he worked as tax collector for the Roman government. Thus, he was hated, treated as a social outcast, considered a liar and cheat, regarded as a sinner, and may have been refused as a worshipper in the temple.

Since his Gospel is directed to a Jewish audience, Matthew traces Jesus’ lineage from Abraham and King David to Joseph, Mary’s husband and Jesus’ earthly father, because it was customary to trace a person’s lineage through the father. The Jews also knew the biblical prophecies that said the Messiah would be in the line of David. Thus, Matthew presents Jesus as the rightful heir to David’s throne.

It’s significant that Matthew mentions four women, especially since three of them participated in sexual sin (Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba), two had no Jewish lineage (Rahab and Ruth), and three were widows (Tamar, Ruth, and Bathsheba). Women were not highly regarded in that culture, although Jewish culture treated women with more respect than pagan cultures.  Their inclusion in the genealogy says to me that God recognized women’s role in His redemptive plan and that God chooses imperfect people, like you and me, to do His will. It also demonstrates that Jesus identifies with sinners, since He came to seek and to save the lost.

Tamar’s story is found in Genesis 38. According to Jewish law in that day, when a woman’s husband died, her brother-in-law was required to marry her, and her first son would be considered the son of the dead brother. When Tamar’s husband died, she married her brother-in-law, but he refused to give her a child. When that man died, her father-in-law refused to give his third son to Tamar as her husband. She took measures into her own hands, played the role of a prostitute, and became pregnant by her father-in-law. Both of her children are listed in the genealogy (Matthew 1:3).

Rahab was a gentile prostitute (Joshua 2). Because of her actions in helping the Jewish spies, her life was preserved at the destruction of Jericho. She married into a Jewish family and became the great grandmother of King David. God does not look at our pedigree, our status in society, or even our wealth. God uses the person who forsakes her old way of life and chooses to live by God’s standards.

The Book of Ruth, one of my favorite books in the Bible, portrays a widow’s wonderful love story. She, a gentile, was a gracious friend to her widowed Jewish mother-in-law. God blessed Ruth with another husband, which then leads to the lineage of Jesus (Matthew 1:5). Ruth’s story teaches us that God works something good out of the challenges in our lives. God’s provision for her of work and food shows God’s care for widows.

Most people know the sordid story of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11), the fourth woman in our list. She had an affair with King David when her husband was in David’s military. Some feel she was a victim; others feel she was a willing participant, since we have no record of her trying to reject David’s advances. Her father, Eliam, was one of David’s warriors (2 Samuel 23), and she possibly knew David when she was younger.

While the names in Matthew 1 may seem like laborious reading, the stories of the people listed teach us significant principles. God cares for us as widows; He keeps His promises; His redemption and His plans are worked out even through imperfect people.

Encouragement in the Darkness

The sadness from this two weeks’ events in Afghanistan have been almost overwhelming. My joy has been drained like the wringing of a wet dishrag. I’m especially heartbroken about the women and young girls who face dangerous conditions under Taliban rule. Despite this week’s political failures and national embarrassment, I’ve been encouraged.

I heard someone say last Thursday that the church in Afghanistan is the second fastest-growing church on our planet. I also heard that believers there are strong in their faith and will not buckle to surrender to Islam. They have found true freedom in Christ. The fastest growing church also is facing great persecution.

In 1979 all missionaries were kicked out of Iran; Bibles were banned, and believers suffered greatly. Some were martyred. Today, Iran is the fastest growing church in the world. It is estimated that the church in that nation numbers more than a million believers. (About 83 million people live in the nation.) God is faithfully fulfilling His promise in Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

We in America have become lazy Christians. Possibly because we have faced little persecution until recently. When my grandmother was a young adult, she learned about a struggling Pentecostal church and decided to attend since she was hungry for more of God. The building was not much more than a shack in a deteriorating neighborhood, and people threw rotten eggs and rotten tomatoes at the building. Believers were faithful and that struggling small group grew larger and even planted churches in neighboring towns. Today that church is in a lovely building, and the people are well-respected members of the community.

I’ve also been encouraged by words written more than 100 years ago by Ada Ruth Habershon. These old words have become a modern, well-loved hymn: click here

He Will Hold Me Fast

When I fear my faith will fail, Christ will hold me fast;

When the tempter would prevail, He will hold me fast.

I could never keep my hold through life’s fearful path;

For my love is often cold; He must hold me fast.

Chorus:

He will hold me fast; He will hold me fast;

For my Savior loves me so, He will hold me fast.

Those He saves are His delight, Christ will hold me fast;

Precious in his holy sight, He will hold me fast.

He’ll not let my soul be lost; His promises shall last;

Bought by Him at such a cost, He will hold me fast.

For my life He bled and died, Christ will hold me fast;

Justice has been satisfied; He will hold me fast.

Raised with Him to endless life, He will hold me fast

‘Till our faith is turned to sight, He will hold me fast.

The Lord wants to comfort you as He has me. He may bring a different hymn or Scripture to your memory. Or, He may prompt a friend to call you, or you may listen to a sermon on the Internet that you sense was especially meant for you. God has many methods to help His children. May you sense His comforting presence today. 

Who Do We Trust?

We have a new guest who visits just beyond my privacy fence: a doe is bringing her new fawn to feed outside my neighbor’s fence since they put out corn and a salt block. Evidently the fawn was lost or in distress last evening since I heard bawling. (I looked up deer sounds on the Internet to learn what the sound was.) The sound was unmistakably a distress signal. In my mind, I could envision the mother deer rushing to her “child’s” rescue when I heard the bawling stop.

When we are in distress, like that baby deer whose legs are not strong yet and who doesn’t know the way to the designated resting place, we call a friend or an adult child to ask for his or her input. We look on the Internet for information and instruction. I’m the type of person who buys a book on the subject to learn the ins and outs of a dilemma. Sometimes we are helped and other times, we are seemingly more confused. Finally, we cry out to God—where we ( I ) should have gone first—for help, guidance, and solace.

The wisest person who has lived, Solomon, said, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths (Proverbs 3:5, 6).

In these days, we have many people giving us a lot of different information on what to do, how to do it, and when it should be done. How do we know who to believe or who to trust? As widows, this can be very confusing. We read an article with what we think is good information, but the next article tells us that what we learned previously is misinformation. A widow friend told me how very much she misses her husband’s wisdom, since he seemed to be able to sort out misinformation.

Those of us who had wise husbands were truly blessed, but the only One who is fully trustworthy is God. Each of us is human, imperfect, sinful, and make mistakes in what we say and do. The psalmist David said, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man” (Psalm 118:8).

I can only imagine what it was like for Jesus’ disciples when He began telling them He would not be with them any longer. Jesus had provided for them, taught them, and was their companion for 3 and a half years. They had left everything to be with Him and serve Him. How could they live without Him? The apostle John even tells us that the disciples were “filled with sorrow” because Jesus told them of His departure (John 16:6). John also gives us some of the instructions Jesus gave these men in distress. Jesus said the Holy Spirit would be with them to “guide [them] into all the truth” (John 16:13).

We have access to the same Holy Spirit that the disciples experienced. More than once I’ve sensed the Holy Spirit telling me to do something or not to do something. When I’ve obeyed, the Lord has worked things out in remarkable ways. When I’ve not obeyed, I’ve suffered the consequences or have been disappointed that I did not obey.

Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, (John 10:27). May each of us be sensitive to hear what Jesus, our Good Shepherd (John 10:11), is saying to us when we ask for help.

When God Is Silent????

Everything around us is changing.

Spring is such a beautiful time of the year. My redbud trees were in their glory for several weeks, the hyacinths’ fragrance and beauty brought joy even on cloudy days. The tulips bloomed just in time to add extra beauty to Easter. Despite these special blessings, I’m feeling a heaviness from the sadness, confusion, and darkness in our world. A friend mentioned the other day that 8 or 9 families connected with our church have experienced loss in the past few weeks, and within the past several weeks, I’ve attended five funerals or visitations. Only one was COVID related.

We have repented and prayed for God to intervene in our nation’s problems, but things are seemingly getting worse. We have interceded for some of our friends who have been ill, but they are now with the Lord. Many are saying, Why hasn’t God answered our prayers? I’m sure we could make some guesses, but we don’t know why. We have very few answers. Possibly you prayed for months, even years, for God to heal your husband, but it didn’t happen. And you’ve had other requests, but the heavens seem brass. What do you do when God is silent?

I know a person who feels that God is too busy to answer her requests. Another person told me that God’s silence proves He doesn’t exist. In Psalm 13, the Psalmist David said that God had forgotten him and hidden His face from him. Some would call this a spiritual drought, or the dark night of the soul, or spiritual desolation.

David was sure at this time in his life that his enemies were going to win. But in verses 5 and 6, David reaffirms his faith: “But I will trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord for he has been good to me.” David knew that God had always been with him in the past and that God would continue to be with him. So, he was determined to continue to trust. So, our first defense when life is difficult is to continue to trust God’s love and faithfulness.

It is reported that Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Of course, as a famous baseball coach, he was referring to baseball. But it’s true in life, so giving up should not be an option. We must pray until we see an answer. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 7), Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who ask receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” The tense of the Greek words for ask, seek and knock refers to a continual action— keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking.

Luke 1:18 says, “Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.”  A widow constantly went to a judge “who didn’t fear God or care about people,” (v. 2) but because she continued to ask for justice, he finally granted it. Then Jesus said, “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?” Be assured God has not left you alone in your struggles.

1 Peter 3:12 says, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are open to their prayers.” (See also 1 John 5:14, 15) According to John in Revelation 5:8, God keeps our prayers as incense in golden bowls. God is hearing your cries. When we feel God is silent, we should keep on asking Him for our deepest needs and trust in His constant care.

The Answer to Discouragement

Not everyone becomes depressed, but everyone on our planet becomes discouraged or sad at one time or another. It’s simply a human malady. Your hours at work are cut; the stew burns, bills are more numerous than usual; your children are going through a hard time; a valued relationship seems broken. Maybe you’re discouraged about the direction our nation is heading, and you see no resolution. Maybe you are stuck in your grieving process, which is making you downhearted. We could go on and on to describe times when sadness and discouragement feels like a heavy blanket over us. Life is simply complicated.

The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk began writing with these words, “How long, O Lord must I call for help, but you do not listen?” These words reveal the prophet’s discouragement, and he had many reasons to be upset. Although the date of the prophet’s writing is uncertain, it may have been when Nebuchadnezzar took the first group of captives to Babylon. Judah was reeling under God’s judgment, evil in Judah seemed to have the upper hand, and the Babylonians were closing in.

So Habakkuk pours out his heart to God as he expresses his heartaches, offers his questions, and waits for God’s answers (1:13). Why God are You tolerating the evil? Why are you silent, God, while the wicked prosper? Why are our prayers unanswered?  Why are you silent when disaster surrounds us?

God gives Habakkuk several answers: [T]he righteous will live by his faith (2:4); things will eventually be made right (2:14); and God is still on His throne (2:20). God also tells him that judgment is coming because of greed and aggression (2:6-8), injustice (2:9-11), violence and crime (2:12-14), immorality (2:15-17), and idolatry (2:18-20).* While this may seem like a very dark picture, Habakkuk’s next prayer is full of worship and faith.

He asks God to send revival and remember mercy (3:2). It’s difficult to pray in faith when everything around you is falling apart. In these times of great challenge, God is drawing us closer to Him. He wants us to get our eyes off of our discouraging circumstances and focus on His sustaining faith and His power to deliver. Habakkuk says, “I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us (3:16). Babylon was eventually destroyed in 539 B.C. when King Cyrus of Persia came to power. It was Cyrus who made it possible for the Jews to return to Israel after their captivity.

Habakkuk’s book begins with questions and discouragement but ends with praise and affirmation of who God is (3:17-19, NIV).

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.

As we wait for God’s answers, I hope our prayers in these discouraging days will be full of faith in God’s care and provision for us. May the Lord also give us joy, as He did with Habakkuk, as we grapple with life’s disappointments.

*Notes from Life in the Spirit Study Bible, p. 1367.