An Opportunity to Forgive

By Marcy Barthelette
It was an ordinary Tuesday morning. The nation was awaking to a new day. Workers crowded New York City sidewalks. Commuters were hopping the subway to settle in for their journeys, others were hailing taxis; coffee & newspapers in hand. Thoughts ranged from daytime projects to evening plans with family but all had one singular goal; getting to their destinations safely and on time. It was a Tuesday just like any other when the unthinkable happened. At 8:46 AM, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the north face of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
 
I was enjoying a quiet morning at home when my husband called to say that he had heard a news flash on the radio telling of a plane accidentally striking the World Trade Center. He asked me to turn on the TV and relay any updates to him at work. The images I saw were unbelievable and I hadn’t recovered from my impressions of the damage from that first strike when a second plane plowed into the South Tower leaving a sky filled with flames and smoke. It was when the third plane struck the Pentagon minutes later that I began to weep uncontrollably for a loss so profound that I could find no comfort. Images depicting the absence of human caring struck my very soul. By now the world knew that these were calculated attacks. How does one human do this terrible thing to another?
 
There first must be a painful experience for there to be a need for forgiveness. Think about that. God knew, when He gave us free will, that we would break the rules. Call it human nature or give it any other name you choose, we will make mistakes. We will hurt others and we will be hurt by others. God’s plan from the beginning was to send His Son to walk on the earth with us, to dine with us, to heal us, to teach us. But He also knew that wouldn’t be enough. There had to be an act of forgiveness so great that it could save us all because we couldn’t save ourselves. And so it was decided that God would sacrifice His precious Son and the Son would accept His assignment. From that day forward there was no sin too big to be forgiven.
 
Years have not erased the sting of the 9-11 attacks, but perhaps they have altered my perspective. Only now am I able to see that horrific event as the painful experience that opened a door to the opportunity for forgiveness. We don’t know if any of those who accomplished this deed changed their minds at the last minute and asked God to forgive them but we do know that, if they asked, forgiveness was offered, just as it was to the criminal on the cross beside Jesus.
 
As I see it, there are three types of non-Christians in this world. There are those who once believed and have turned away from Jesus. There are those who know the basics of Christianity but have never believed because of family tradition, environment, or other reasons. And there are those who have never heard the name of Jesus. The important thing to remember is that God loves everyone one of us and He wants each one to invite Him in, regardless of the path taken before accepting Him. There is no behavior or belief so bad that it can’t be forgiven if we come before God in true repentance. As followers of Jesus, we are offered an opportunity to carry the light of Jesus to the darkest corners of the earth and into the deepest recesses of our hearts. It is our calling to live as He did and show His love to all people and, in doing so, perhaps some will hear His call and answer. Where do we find that kind of love in the wake of an event so horrific as that on September 11, 2001?

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible,
so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves,
but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
Romans 12:17-19

  I will start by remembering those who died that day, those who perpetrated the attacks and those who fell victim. I pray that they knew Jesus in those final moments before death took them. I will remember the families of those who were lost and pray that, if they have not done so, they will hear the still, small voice of God and open their hearts to a personal relationship through the Son. I will remember the sacrifice of all first responders and remain aware that even today they are still suffering and dying from toxic exposures during the weeks that followed the attacks. They and their families will be in my prayers for comfort and grace.
 
I am certainly a flawed human and I don’t claim to have laid aside all malice toward those who hurt us so badly as a nation or even situations with a more personal connection, but I’m working on it. If there was ever a work in progress, I fit the description. My heart breaks every year when I see the images aired once more. It stirs feelings I want to put to rest. Like Peter and then Paul, my forward steps often falter. I find myself taking more steps back. But the opportunity is there for me to forgive and I’m trying because He asks me to and I don’t like being guilty of wounding Him more.
 
He was pierced because of our rebellions and crushed because of our crimes. He bore the punishment
that made us whole; by His wounds (stripes) we are healed. Isaiah 53:5
 
Forgiveness frees the giver! I know that sounds contrary to logic but carrying anger is a heavy weight that drags us down and creates a separation between us and God. It also hurts us and the ones who love us. By letting go, we free ourselves of that burden. The person(s) we forgive may never know because they are gone or are unwilling to hear our words. But God will hear us and that’s what truly matters.
 
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….Matthew 5:44
 
However you choose to respond to the events of that particular day in our history, remember that any time we feel wronged or under any circumstances when anger or hurt fill our hearts, the door of opportunity to forgive is thrown open wide. Walk through and give those feelings to God. Forgiveness, sometimes slowly and painfully, breaks the chains of anger and frees the giver to take those important steps toward becoming more like Him.

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Painter of Masterpieces

By Marcy Barthelette

Thursday, August 26: Tonight God gave us another gift during our evening walk. It had been a day of especially hard news. COVID 19 cases were up definitively all across Missouri, the news cycle regarding unrest across our nation was certainly not encouraging and a couple of personal interactions had been disturbing. I was feeling quite irrelevant and more than a little helpless. A good brisk walk was just what I needed to clear my head and accomplish an attitude adjustment. Ken commented that there might be another good sunset but I was skeptical. Its beginnings were not impressive.

I had prayed hard that afternoon for clarity in all the troubles facing our world and for some kind of inspiration for my upcoming article. As we walked, something suddenly prompted us to glance over our shoulders. There, draped across the southeastern sky, stood the most incredible rainbow we had ever seen. Soon a second rainbow appeared to its right and finally, the arch extended all across the sky and came to rest above a field to our left. The colors intensified more and more as the sun fell toward the western horizon. We pulled our phones from our pockets and snapped image after image. As we turned to check for approaching traffic before stepping farther into the road, we were greeted by another splash of color across the western sky. I had thought the sunset would be unspectacular that night and I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was magnificent! We strolled in awe for probably 15 minutes, snapping photos first of the rainbow and then of the sunset. The gift was breathtaking and rare. The intensity of color and the extensive timeframe made it priceless. I knew that we had just experienced worship far beyond what any words can convey! I couldn’t help feeling a little like Noah must have felt when God made His covenant in Genesis 9:12-15….

And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow

in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds,

I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures

of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.

Science tells us that a rainbow is a meteorological phenomenon caused by reflection, refraction, and dispersion of light in water droplets that results in a spectrum of color appearing in the sky. Rainbows caused by sunlight always occur on the opposite side of the sky from the sun. A primary rainbow displays red on the outer side and violet on the inner side. Where a double rainbow occurs that pattern is reversed because of the way the light is refracted from the water droplets.

This, of course, is a simplification of the scientific process and I am grateful that men and women were given the gifts of discovery that have enabled the control or elimination of many diseases, the ability to travel into space, to understand the marvels of our natural world and the things we must do to protect it. But beyond all of that is the reality that God enabled all these things, he created everything that exists from absolutely nothing. Though we believe in His miracles, we don’t truly comprehend them. We have a thing called faith that allows us to believe His word that He will always be with us. I was certainly enveloped in His loving arms that evening in a visible display of His love for all mankind.

Though artists try to replicate His masterpieces, there is always a little something missing, so when He sweeps His giant brush across the sky in a perfect arch of amazing hues or breaks the dawn with a flood of light to brighten our days or paints the western horizon in twilight color bold enough to impress even the most skeptical of humans, remember that He promised to always be there and His promises are good.

I’ll end with my absolute favorite verse in all of God’s Holy Word, Jeremiah 29:11, in several different versions:

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 (NIV)

I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace not disaster,

to give you a future filled with hope. Jeremiah (CEB)

I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out – plans to take care of you, not abandon you,

plans to give you the future you hope for. (MSG)

What else is left to say?


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Root Out Those Stumps

By Marcy Barthelette

Early in the summer, Ken decided that two small trees needed to be removed from our yard, one was a redbud too near the house and the other a peach that just didn’t produce fruit. One day he went out to simply prune some of their limbs but, once he started, nothing would keep him from cutting both of them back to stumps about two feet in height. He decided to wait for cooler weather to dig the stumps. Along came several cool days and he set out with his arsenal of Ozark tools to complete his task.

We had just been blessed with some meaningful rainfall so the digging proved less difficult. The redbud stump was his chosen target on day one and he began to dig soil away from the roots. The two feet of stump he had left behind provided leverage for wiggling the roots back and forth. He clipped roots to free the stump and after a half-hour or so, he was able to pull the root wad from the hole. A few days later, the peach tree fought him harder and had many more roots that were twisted in every direction but he persevered and, once again, he prevailed. A little grass seed, some straw, and faithful watering have filled those empty spaces and we now have a smooth lawn.

What does this short lesson in stump removal have to do with anything? According to Dictionary.com, a stump is any basal part remaining after the main or more important part has been removed. In fact, stumps can be an unsightly obstacle and cause injuries to body or soul. Once we become Christians, life doesn’t magically discard all the bad stuff. It leaves behind a collection of stumps. Our walk with God is a constant tug of war between our will to follow His teachings as outlined in the Bible and all the distractions around us that reflect the sinful nature of humans. The sins of our former life reside in our minds as stumps that keep us from positive growth. Paul was very familiar with stumps and the first time I read this scripture I scratched my head with wonder. What was he trying to tell us?

For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what
I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. Romans 7:19-20 (NKJV)

A later look at a newer translation gave me a much better understanding of Paul’s dilemma. Here’s how the NLT says the same thing.

I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

We have all found ourselves in this same situation. We know what is right, but countless temptations lurk around every corner. Back in the 1990s, the familiar acronym, WWJD, seemed to be on everyone’s lips as well as the jewelry, T-shirts, and caps that became part of our everyday wardrobes. What Would Jesus Do became a household phrase in Christian homes and that reminder that we boldly wore encouraged us to ask the question each time we had a decision to make. In today’s world, that reminder may be even more important. Perhaps Paul had his own way of learning the truth:

For I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize I don’t have what it takes. The moment I decide
to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all
of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it,
they take charge. Excerpted from Romans 7:17-23 (The Message)

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope.
Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?
The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. Romans 7:24-25 (The Message)

The stumps we tackle daily are no different from the ones Paul faced. Our lives may have an outward appearance that differs from his time but many of the distractions that we face are very similar in nature.

Stumps in the yard create an obstacle we must always workaround. By removing them we create a clean palette where new grass can flourish. Stump removal within our hearts and minds creates a temporary void that is fertile for the development of something positive. Let’s root out those bright and shining distractions that keep us from positive growth and replace them with qualities that are real─not glitzy….or, in keeping with our theme, ugly as stumps!

“When we try to live in Jesus’ footsteps, things get put into perspective. The highs and lows that
used to turn our heads can begin to lose their power. And the quiet, still, unsung moments
can excite our hearts. The joy of Jesus creeps upon us.
Bear Grylls…from Soul Fuel


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Face Your Goliath

By Marcy Barthelette

Our evening walk takes us past a small neighborhood church with a message board out front that always bears a thought-provoking message. “For every Goliath,   there is a stone!”, the latest post, caused me to ponder where this theme could take me. The story of David and Goliath is one of my earliest Sunday School memories and I’m sure many of you share that memory. It’s made of the kind of stuff that stirs a child-sized imagination to amazing heights.

Everyone loves a story with an underdog and to everyone’s eye, David was the definitive underdog, a mere boy challenging an enormous hulk of a man whose nine-foot body was protected by an incredible array of armor. David found himself at the scene of a standoff between an army of Israelites and a much stronger army of Philistines. He was there because he had been sent with food for three of his older brothers and tasked to bring news of their condition back to their father, Jesse, who was a farmer and sheep breeder as well as part of the lineage of Jesus. All of his sons had taken their turns as shepherds but David, as the youngest, was now tending the sheep. A day off from those smelly animals to explore the scene of a mighty battle must have seemed quite the adventure to the young man, but what kind of situation did he find when he arrived?.

Goliath was a giant of a Philistine and he carried an assortment of deadly weapons. For each of forty days, he had come forward and called upon the Israelites to send just one man out to fight him. The winner would be able to claim the entire other army as subjects. David had heard the giant mocking God and so, when he was told of the challenge, David volunteered to meet the giant on the battlefield. King Saul, leader of the Israelite army tried desperately to convince David that a mere boy could not possibly confront Goliath. When he realized that David was determined to try, Saul offered him any armor that he needed but David chose to meet the giant girded only with the armor of God.

Then David took his shepherd’s staff, selected five smooth stones from the brook, and put them

in the pocket of his shepherd’s pack, and with his sling in his hand approached Goliath.

I Samuel 17:40

As he ran toward the giant, he raised his trusty slingshot in the air, armed with one of his chosen stones. His aim was true, it hit Goliath directly in the forehead and dropped him to the ground. The army of Philistines was so shocked to see their giant lying on the ground that they turned and ran. Israel won the battle because one young boy stepped out in faith.

This had probably not been part of David’s plan for the day and he was certainly not saved by his skill with a slingshot, though he may have been quite proficient. The giant was conquered by David’s faith that God would be with him. David knew that he might die but he would do so proclaiming the sovereignty of God the Father. How do we stack up in that situation? Are we willing to stand tall for God even if it means we may die and, for that matter, what sort of Goliaths do we face in today’s world?

The term Goliath has come to be equated with conquering our demons, overcoming great odds, and becoming the victor. We hear stories of a rescuer plunging into the water and saving a drowning child only to lose his own life in the effort. Firefighters enter burning buildings to extract trapped victims and succumb to smoke inhalation. Field medics enter the line of fire to treat wounded soldiers at peril to themselves. We don’t know if these heroes were believers in God but we do know that God is in control of every situation. We don’t always survive the circumstances in which He places us but he is there beside us every step of the way and if He chooses to bring us home to Him, we will go.

So, what are the giants in our everyday lives? Debt? Illness? Fear? Depression? Addiction? Guilt? It’s time to defeat them. Put on the full armor of God and trust Him to be there for you. He has a never-ending pocket of stones to hurl at that giant. Have faith! He’ll take good care of you, either here on earth or, when He chooses,  in His heavenly kingdom.

         It is for us to make the effort; the result is always in God’s hands. Mahatma Gandhi

Faith is the most powerful of all the forces operating in humanity and when you have it in depth

nothing can get you down. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale

(To study the full story of David and Goliath, please go to I Samuel 17.)

 


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Surprise!

By: Marcy Barthelette
When we moved into our current home a few years ago I was feeling a little bit of regret over leaving our lovely landscaping at the previous home. We had developed it from scratch and I was more than a little attached to my perennial friends. Our new lawn had a good selection of perennials as well, the previous owner having been an avid gardener herself, but I just missed my personal touch. There always seems to be a sense of loss when moving from one place to another, but we can’t let that dampen our enthusiasm for new adventures to come.

Though I had been able to recognize many old favorites still hanging on in the fall, the spring brought a bounty of surprises. Grape hyacinths were the first to arrive and I’d never had them before so that was a real treat. Daffodils soon nodded their pretty heads. The three giant hydrangea bushes produced a show all their own but there was one area of the yard that just had a neglected appearance. We have a corner lot and the east end of our home faces the busiest of the two streets. It was nothing more than a hodgepodge of plants that had been thrown in the ground with no planning. It was an eyesore for everyone who passed by and I was on a mission to change that.
 
Those lovely grape hyacinths were there and their cheery purple blooms would form the base around which the rest of my new plantings would live. This area doesn’t get a lot of rain because it is away from the prevailing winds and has a large overhanging eave so I needed to make choices that would not only look nice but require less water. The obvious selections included sedums and salvias along with some variegated iris that came with the property and added color when nothing was blooming.
 
Everything was growing nicely but the following spring I noticed some long strappy leaves near the house that I hadn’t planted, nor had they appeared the previous year. I left them to see what might materialize and they just simply died back so I removed the debris and forgot about them. In late July, I noticed a strange-looking head poking through the ground just where those leaves had been. It quickly grew and rewarded us with several lovely pink lily blossoms. Surprise! Each year it has multiplied and this year there were three very prolific stems of blooms. I had to enjoy them quickly because they don’t stick around very long.
 
Their scientific name is Lycoris Squamigera. They are part of the amaryllis family and are sometimes called Naked Ladies (because of their lack of foliage), Spider Lily, and Resurrection Lily, but most of us just know them as Surprise Lilies. They thrive in poor soil and pop up in the middle of yards all over the area. Our neighbor has a row of them across his back yard. He doesn’t even allow their spring foliage to grow. His lawn is always clipped short and nothing is spared by his mower. But the lilies not only survive, they flourish! Neglect is their mantra.
 
You all know by now that I love natural nature, but I also find many parallels with our human world. We often neglect our closest personal relationships but with the addition of some Living Water, we usually experience surprising results. But how do we learn to respond positively to the many surprises in our lives? We all have them; some are large and some are small…we know that things of value often arrive in small packages. They may be wonderful surprises or perhaps they’re devastating. The key is to recognize them as a part of our life plan and pray through them, good or bad.
 
Imagine a small boy who has prayed for a puppy over and over again but the time has never been right. One day, he comes dragging home from a hard day at school and a barking little fuzzball meets him at the door. Surprise! Maybe a couple has tried for years to have a child but all they have to show for it is a chain of miscarriages. Then one day, they are greeted by a red, wiggly, wrinkled, hairless little human who instantly steals their hearts. Surprise! Or someone has been out of work for weeks and doesn’t have two nickels to rub together. He has no idea how he can pay that stack of bills on the counter but God meets him at the mailbox with an unexpected refund check that just happens to cover the amount of his bills. Surprise! A mom has prayed fervently for her wayward daughter to rediscover the faith of her childhood and the phone rings. A breathless voice says, “Mom, I just met Jesus in the sunrise”. Surprise!
 
In their hearts, humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. Proverbs 16:9 (NIV)
 
We are surrounded by surprises. Sometimes they come in beautifully wrapped packages and sometimes they jump into our laps dragging our favorite shoe, a newly chosen chew toy. Your surprises may be large or they may be small, they may be good or they may seem not so good. Embrace them all, for you see, it’s the times of trouble that help us to experience the Light of His goodness! No surprise there!
….the language of the love of God comes in more colors and shapes and melodies
than we could ever count. Brian Doyle

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Let Go of Those Words

By Marcy Barthelette

As a writer, words are pretty important to me. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing at some level, I even tried poetry but my attempts were less than stellar. If I’m to be honest, I am often guilty of using far too many words while making a very simple point. Our youngest daughter and her husband both have engineering degrees from Missouri S & T. Their math and science skills are incredible but each insists they are not very good at writing. I’m not sure I agree with that assessment, but they are certainly entitled to their opinion. We humans are usually inclined toward either creativity or the sciences.

If you have school-aged children, you will likely be familiar with the term STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). It’s a program specifically geared toward students who possess those skills and/or plan to seek a career in one of those fields. If you’re on the fast track to a future in the sciences, your writing skills are less important and, in fact, you are taught to use fewer words and be very concise.

I have concluded that I often need to take a lesson from the STEM curriculum. A case in point is communicating with my husband. Ken has a hearing loss that he acquired while working on giant diesel engines in the Air Force. He wears hearing aids and when he first got them, both of us were called back for an orientation session with the audiologist. I was surprised to be included but quickly learned why. I had to learn how to speak all over again. Unfortunately, I don’t always remember to look directly at him when I speak or even to get his attention before I speak. This always leads to frustration on both our parts because he thinks he hears a certain word but it’s really something entirely different. I not only have to start over with his full attention, but I also have to use different words to remove from his memory the ones he thought he heard. I also need to keep my words to a minimum so he doesn’t need to hear so many different sounds. If I offer him a lengthy explanation of something, he soon shuts me out and when I ask if he heard me, he says he thought I was just “babbling”, a word that has since become an icebreaker in our home when my vocabulary gets out of control..

But I believe this lesson needs to apply to many of our conversations with each other and also with God. To be a good listener is an art itself and one that many of us don’t enjoy. I have to confess I sometimes find myself talking when I should be listening. One of the greatest gifts we can give to others is to really hear what they have to say and show a sincere interest in their concerns. When Jesus was delayed in arriving at the bedside of his good friend Lazarus and found him already passed from this earthly life, He took time to hear Martha’s complaints that He could have saved her brother if he’d just come sooner. After comforting Martha, Jesus brought her brother back to life, but He listened first. Our encounters won’t be that dramatic but we can always listen to someone else’s words when he or she is hurting or confused or lonely. 

I have a necklace with a very succinct translation of John 3:13. It reads, “He loves, He gave, We believe, We live”. The message is clear and just might resonate better with an unbeliever than a lot of fancy words. Sometimes we need to get back to basics.

Before I close with fewer words than usual, I’d like to add this little adaptation by Rudolpho Lamas in his book, The One Hour Bible titled The Bible in 50 Words:

God made, Adam bit, Noah arked, Abraham Split, Joseph ruled, Jacob fooled, bush talked,

Moses balked, Pharaoh plagued, people walked, sea divided, tablets guided, promise landed,

Saul freaked, David peeked, prophets warned, Jesus born, God walked, love talked,

anger crucified, hope died, Love rose, Spirit flamed, Word spread, God remained.

Of course, all the other words between the beginning and the end create a rich spiritual tapestry, they are a symphony to our yearning ears. Maybe where the Bible is concerned, more is better. Share God’s word with someone today.

PS…allow me please to thank each of you who have left an encouraging comment on the church blog or sent a personal text or email. Your support is greatly appreciated. I’m learning as I go and as long as God keeps sending me words, I’ll keep serving Him with the gift He has given. Thank you.


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Embrace Your Silver Linings

By: Marcy Barthelette 
The summer heat has changed our exercise routine considerably. We head out just before sunset and as long as we keep moving those pesky little mosquitoes leave us alone. Though we were at first reluctant to climb out of our daytime rut, we have been rewarded with spectacular displays of God’s creativity as sunset’s colors journey across the sky. How could the human mind witness such wonder and doubt the presence of God. Last night we beheld blue and purple clouds framed in a fine line of silver as splashes of orange and pink danced from west to east. What a show!
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. Proverbs 25:11
We’ve often been told that behind every cloud there is a silver lining. We witnessed that saying in the literal sense on our evening walk but, of course, it also applies to life in general. As humans we often experience cloudy times in our lives…we’re currently in the midst of several huge ones and they seem to have no end. But there are always rays of sunshine peeking through the darkness. We may need to search for them but they are there.
Rachel is a gift to our family. She was a silver lining before she drew her first breath. Her parents had been unable to conceive a child, so they were honored when an opportunity to adopt a baby girl was offered to them. They had several months to prepare and our daughter was in the delivery room. She cut the cord and has been Rachel’s mom ever since. She is our tenth grandchild and one of only two girls so that made her even more special. When she smiles, her whole countenance lights up and she gives the best hugs in the whole world. Is she perfect all the time? Of course not, she’s a normal child but she’s close enough to perfect for me.
We haven’t seen her since February when we helped celebrate her ninth birthday, but she calls to tell of her adventures and her sweet voice is certainly a silver lining in this time of isolation. When she says, “Guess what, Grandma?”, I know I’m on a journey with her that will bring rounds of giggles to both of us. She’s even getting pretty good at telling jokes. Sometime our phone signals are weak because they live in the country so she’s learning to text very well. She will always communicate in some manner. I look forward to the day that we can all go camping again when we can embark on exciting journeys of discovery in the natural world. She loves the outdoors just as we do. Until then, I’ll have to settle for those memories that we’ve made in the past until we can make more.
Our other grandchildren are farther away and older but we get a call or text now and then. Our fifteen year old recently texted, “You’re the best!” Our 22-year-old college graduate wrote to thank us for our support over the years and for being there for him, even from a distance. Those are sweet silver linings. Each grandchild is precious in his or her own special way.
The other place where I find silver linings in my back yard. The intense colors of the flowers and the intricacy with which they are constructed never cease to amaze me. During my chores I sometimes frighten a little bunny who has taken shelter under leafy plants and sometimes she just lays there, all stretched out on her belly to take advantage of the cool, damp soil. If I look up I may see a squirrel spread-eagled on a branch, searching for a cool breeze on a hot summer day. In spring and early summer, there are caterpillars of all sorts. They spin their cocoons and re-appear as beautiful butterflies throughout the late summer and fall. At about that same time, tiny praying mantis youngsters climb to the top of the plants to escape the flood of water from my hose. One of the most interesting insects is the giant garden orb. Yes, it’s a large spider and it forms the most fascinating webs with a zipper right up the middle. Its webs often reach a six-foot span or greater and I never bother them because they eat my unwanted bugs and I enjoy watching them so much. And let us not
forget the birds who flop in puddles to catch a quick bath before all the moisture is absorbed by hot breezes or the tiny hummingbird, flitting from bloom to bloom at lightning speed to catch every drop of nectar. My friendly little garden snakes like to surprise me by slithering past my feet and, sometime during each season, I’ll find a skin left behind as they grow and shed, another of God’s miracles.
These lovely little silver linings take my mind off the worry about today’s difficulties for a while and I’m
grateful. My garden is my happy place!

 

Just contemplate the spectrum of tiny miracles that occur in nature every day. If God can do all of that
for His tiny creatures, imagine what He will do for us. Losing that job that paid the bills but offered no
personal satisfaction may lead you around a corner to something meaningful and challenging. The
house you bid on but didn’t get may have had some undetected problem and the right one will come
along when you least expect it. Maybe you did have a losing baseball season but you made some
great new friendships along the way. So the publisher didn’t like your book but there may be a much
better deal just waiting to announce itself.
We all experience silver linings, both large and small ones, and God is right there in the midst of each
one of them. He promised to be with us through thick and thin and He is. Just look for Him in your
own unique silver linings. If you truly seek, you will find Him! After all, He is our very best silver lining.
Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the
art of life is to get the message. Malcolm Muggeridge, journalist  

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Is Something Missing From Our Puzzle?

By: Marcy Barthelette
Puzzles captured our imagination a number of years ago and we always have one laid out on our table in what we affectionately call the puzzle room (aka spare bedroom). Thankfully, we had a variety of puzzles and they have challenged our tired old brains during many hours of the pandemic. Our latest endeavor was a very whimsical depiction of Noah, the Ark and all the animals, many of which were very small. It was one of those puzzles that requires the use of the cover picture because colors and shapes changed so frequently that the parts didn’t seem to make any sense. Unfortunately, the picture on the box was very small and hard for me to study because of scar tissue in one eye resulting from a past surgery. Each evening after trying to place pieces, my eyes felt like sandpaper, but I kept at it until we were able to offer each other a high five for a job well done, a complete picture with every piece in its proper place.
One thing that really irritates us is running out of pieces before the puzzle is complete. We buy a lot of our puzzles from flea markets and garage sales so we know we’re taking a chance on them but the prices are just so much better than retail! Sometimes, however, the previous owner isn’t as careful as we are and we find pieces that have been chewed by an animal or small child. Sometimes they’ve come apart because of rough handling and sometimes we find part of someone’s snack on them. A few of our “bargains” do end up in the trash can. As a sidebar, all of our current bargain puzzles were acquired before we had heard of COVID 19. But the most disappointing of our discoveries is when pieces are missing. No matter how pretty the picture may be, an empty space makes it incomplete.
It occurs to me that life is a very large puzzle and each of us is an individual piece of the whole. If one or more of us steps out of the puzzle, we leave an empty space(s) that no one else can fill. Each of us is unique and equipped with very special gifts so it takes all of us to complete the tasks for which we were chosen. The church family serves God in many ways and each of us has a role in God’s plan for life. However large or small your role may be, step up to the plate and do your part. We’ll all be better servants for the effort.
 
Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. Romans 12:4-5
Oh, and one more thing. As Paul Harvey would have said, “Here is the rest of the story”. When our crazy Ark with all its occupants was complete Ken happened to open the box and found a poster of the puzzle inside, a poster that was about four times bigger than the picture on the box. I had seen the paper in the box but it was folded and the side that was turned up just indicated the manufacturer name so I thought it was an advertisement. The moral of this story is that we should always dig a little deeper to learn the bigger picture before we start a new project, offer an opinion or sit in judgment of others. Every story has more than one side and every puzzle needs every piece to be complete. And this old puzzler with less than perfect vision will always check the boxes for posters in the future!
We’ve been given only one piece of life’s jigsaw puzzle. Only God has the cover of the box.
 Max Lucado

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Cultivate Your Sunflowers

By: Marcy Barthelette
Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow. It’s what sunflowers do. Helen Keller
I have loved sunflowers for as long as I can remember but my affinity for these giants of the flower world became even more real to me one summer a few years ago as we drove to Billings on a little flea market jaunt. Halfway there we encountered one of the most amazing views I have ever imagined; acres and acres of blooming sunflowers. Move over flea market….sunflowers have taken center stage. I was absolutely entranced. We checked out the fields from every possible angle and, thanks to digital photography, we took dozens of photos. My love affair with sunflowers took on a whole new perspective.
We returned to try and relive that first encounter but the peak beauty only lasted a short while. We also learned that these fields had become a popular hot spot following TV news reports and newspaper articles about them. Each year we’ve hoped to be greeted by those happy faces once again only to be disappointed. Perhaps the farmer was not as happy with all the traffic near his fields as we were with his golden beauties. Though I’ve never seen them again, I have my memories and my photos. I’ve even raised a few sunflowers of my own.
Why am I so enamored with sunflowers? First, they’re bright yellow, along with some hybrids in other colors. Yellow is a happy color. I love yellow T-Shirts, yellow kitchens, and bright yellow goldfinches hanging upside down on bright yellow sunflowers. That brings me to the second point, birds love the multitude of seeds produced on each flower head. Humans love roasted seeds as well. And thirdly, bees seek out the abundant flower pollen for their honey. Sunflowers provide beauty, put a smile on my face, and provide a valuable food source for critters and humans. That’s a sizeable contribution to our ecosystem. So where do you suppose we could find some figurative sunflowers in our lives and how might they influence the way we live?
The sunny faces of family members would surely count as sunflowers. They bring us warmth and security and nourish us with rich relationships. A career wisely chosen offers a different kind of beauty and brings a sense of satisfaction. Our homes offer an oasis from the world. They comfort and strengthen us. Friends offer happy smiles and encouragement when we need a little lift on an ordinary day.
Faith keeps us going when the going gets rough when the mountain seems too tall to climb. Hope awakens possibilities we hadn’t seen before. Humility keeps us on track when we might be tempted to stray. Love for each other creates a bond that extends beyond our own families and into an environment that may be different from our own. Serving and giving promotes a sense of brotherhood and help bring God’s message to a hurting world.
These are a few of the things that I see as sunflowers in our lives. I’m sure you’ll have more. Whatever you see as a sunflower, cultivate it well. Water it and feed it until it is ready for harvest. If you’ve tended that sunflower well, the harvest will be great!
Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up. Galatians 6:9 CEB If you live according to my rules, keep my commands and do them, I will give you rain at the proper time, the land will produce its yield, and the trees of the field will produce their fruit. Leviticus 26:3-4 CEB The sunflower reaches toward the sky to grab every nourishing ray of sun it can. It even turns itself to face the sun. We could take a lesson from the lovely sunflower and look to the Son for our nourishment.

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Embrace Your Freedom

By: Marcy Barthelette
This past weekend we celebrated Independence Day, the day we declared our country’s freedom from British rule. A bit of trivia: Independence was actually declared on July 2 but the Continental Congress took two additional days to discuss edits and the document was ratified by all 56 members on July 4. Apparently the original congress had trouble agreeing…does that sound familiar?
I would venture to guess there were those in our country who did not feel terribly free on this July 4th. Many of us still feel sequestered in our homes hoping to discourage COVID 19 from paying a visit. A wave of violence has overtaken our nation and there are those who don’t feel free to walk their own streets. Some feel they have never been freed from the discrimination that began in the roots of slavery. The monuments to our history are being defaced and destroyed daily. In some cities, officials are removing them in order to discourage controversy.
So how do we, in the midst of all that is happening, experience freedom? It’s a simple matter of saying yes to Jesus. You see, He gave us freedom when He took His final breath on that brutal cross. At that very moment, the temple curtain which had always been in place to separate people from the presence of God was ripped in half and the doorway opened to a new relationship with God our Father. No more did we speak to God through an intermediary. We were suddenly and irrevocably free to speak directly to Him. Our freedom does not come from an earthy authority. It comes from the supreme ruler of heaven and earth!
 
When the Roman captain standing guard in front of him saw that he had quit breathing, he said, “This has to be the Son of God!” (Mark 15:37–39 MSG)
 
Some would say that Christianity is a relic of the past, but we know that it is alive and well in the hearts and minds of those who engage in open communion with the Father.
What Jesus gives is an eternal fountain of life, love, freedom & mercy. It pours down from the cross, from His open hands, onto the hearts of men & women. Bear Grylls, Soul Fuel
 
We can’t say when, or even if, this movement sweeping across our nation will diminish or if it will become the new law of the land. We don’t know if there will be a cure for COVID 19 or if it will mutate causing another pandemic. But it doesn’t matter, our future is in the hands of the Almighty. He knows every act before it happens and the answers to our questions will come in His good time.
 
So turn off the news and free your mind of all the chaos around us. Enjoy time with family and friends, even from a distance, and be thankful for the technology that allows us to visit one another even in the midst of a pandemic. Look out your window at the natural beauty all around. Get up early to embrace the sunrise. Chill a watermelon and fire up the grill. Relish your meal and stay outdoors to be immersed in the colors of the sunset. Do something that makes you smile. God wants to see your beautiful smile. We may not be free to travel everywhere we’d like to go but we do have the freedom to bask in God’s unfailing love, His mercy, and His goodness.
 
Freedom comes from filling your mind with God’s thoughts. Erwin Lutzer, Pastor, and Author.
The Lord is the spirit, and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
II Corinthians 3:17 The Daily Life Bible
Those who enjoy great freedom must also be willing to accept much responsibility. It is our task to be the human eyes and ears of Jesus, to walk the path He walked and to be ready to reach out and lend our hands and feet in the continuation of His ministry.

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