"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'"  

Luke 15:4-6

July 4, 2007


To celebrate our anniversary this year, Jon and I decided to take a day trip and go floating. This is something that Jon thoroughly enjoys, but he hadn't gone in twelve years or so. I had never been in a canoe! Jon didn't push the issue and let me make up my own mind on whether or not this was something I really wanted to do. My oldest nephew convinced me that I would have a good time and enjoy it. I don't know how to swim, so wanted assurance that I would be safe. I went online and found a trip that would be fairly calm with no white water.

My brothers-in-law and nephews have all gone canoing several times, and throughout the years I have heard them come back from float trips talking about how many times their canoe flipped over. I think I had this picture in my mind of the boat being very unstable and tipping over anytime you barely moved. I didn't realize that sometimes you might hit rocks or limbs underneath the water that will cause the boat to flip, but the main reason the guys had tipped the canoe over was because they were playing around and wanted to get the other person wet.

Jon and I drove to Tahlequah, OK and went on a five hour float trip down the Illinois River. We had an absolutely wonderful time. The place where we rented our canoe took us down river and dropped us off, and we floated back to their place where our car was parked. Jon sat in the back of the boat so he could navigate, and I sat up front and helped paddle when he needed me to. (By the way, I got very good at using the paddles and even impressed my husband. We also both wore life vests!) The boat kept leaning to the left and for the first five minutes or so, Jon kept asking if I could scoot over to the right so the boat would level out. Then he told me to sit still and not move around so the boat would stop leaning and it would be easier to navigate. I was holding myself as stiff as I could and was trying not to move. I was thinking to myself that this was going to be a really long trip! Finally, Jon noticed that the bottom of the canoe had a place that was bowed in, which was causing it to lean to one wasn't his wife!

After a while, I relaxed and started enjoying myself. We saw a deer right beside the water that let us get close to it. We also saw a beaver and several different kinds of birds. The scenery was beautiful and for most of the trip we had the river to ourselves. Jon was going to try to teach me how to swim, but when we got into the water it was really cold! But the river and the day were very peaceful and we both had a great time.

We only had one little incident the whole trip. There were some huge rocks in the water and Jon was trying to get the boat through them. We both were concentrating on what we were doing, and neither of us noticed a big rock beneath the water on the left side of the boat. The next thing I knew the canoe flipped over, and I was in the water underneath the canoe. It took place so fast and caught us both off guard. This was the one thing that I had feared happening.

Surprisingly, I never panicked and kept calm and level headed the whole time. We were only in about three feet of water, but it was moving very swiftly right there. I was thinking clearly and I knew exactly what to do. It was like I had a voice in my head giving me step by step instructions. I thought, “You're okay. Get out from underneath the canoe, then stand up. Walk over to Jon and let him know you're okay, then help him grab the cooler, paddles and all your things.” So I did just that. I got over to Jon and told him that I was okay (he had a look of panic on his face and was worried about me), grabbed the cooler, then my feet slid out from under me and I fell down in the water. I had stepped on a rock that was covered in slime and moss and was slick. I fell forward and hit my shin on the rock. I started laughing because I thought, “I was fine when the canoe tipped over, and now that I'm safe, I fall down.” Jon dumped the water out of the boat, we got everything back in it, and took off again. We had a couple more hours left, and reached our destination without anymore incidents occurring.

After the boat flipped over and we survived the incident okay, I wasn't afraid anymore and knew that should something else take place, I had what it took to remain calm and handle it. The next day, I had huge bruises all down the front of my left leg where my shin bone had made contact with that rock, when I fell. I have a couple more bruises on my knee and there's a bruise underneath my big toenail. I told Jon that I feel kind of like a little boy who gets a black eye and wants it to last as long as possible so he can show it off. When I look at all these bruises on my leg, it reminds me what happened and my response. I wear these bruises proudly!

In life, we all face situations that had we known ahead of time about them, we would have thought that there was no way we could have survived them. Many times, I have heard individuals comment that if they had to deal with what they see someone else going through, they wouldn't be able handle it. It looks so overwhelming, and we think it would be absolutely impossible to survive that person's situation. But I whole heartedly believe that God gives each of us what we need, at the time that we need it. I don't think that most of us realize the depth of our strength and courage, until we need it.

I have a good friend, who has seemingly gone through one thing after another over the past few years. We were talking one time, and she mentioned someone and that she was glad that she doesn't have their life, because she doesn't think she could handle it. I told her that I look at her life and am thankful that I don't have it, because I don't see how she has been able to endure everything that she has. She seemed surprised and said that she guessed she just took it one day at a time, and didn't think of her life as being that bad compared to other people.

My mom passed away when I was a sophomore in high school. About a year or so later, another girl in our school lost her father. I was in the cafeteria one day, and overheard some of the students at the next table talking. They said they didn't think they would be able to handle losing a parent. I remember thinking to myself that no one expects that to happen, nor do they ever want it to occur, or are ever ready for it. But when it does, you somehow get through. God gives you the comfort you need and heals your emotions.

The Bible speaks about enduring temptation. Whatever that may mean to each of us individually, when we are faced with temptation, God will equip us with what we need at that time, in order to resist.

No one wants to think about losing a family member, hardships or problems within the family, health problems or difficulties, dealing with catastrophes that result in the loss of your home or finances, facing temptation, etc. But as long as we're on this earth, those things will happen. That's not very encouraging or uplifting, but that's just a fact of life. Life situations happen to Christians and sinners alike. The difference is, those who know God can lean on Him when hard times occur. None of us are guaranteed an easy life with no difficulties or problems. Not a one of us really knows what to expect from one minute to the next. But God will give us the strength, energy, and wisdom we need to handle each of the circumstances we must endure.

A while back, I was gone three days from home to visit and help out family. I left here on a Tuesday morning and met a cousin of mine and his wife for lunch. We had a great visit and enjoyed our time together. My cousin was working that day and stopped by to see me and have lunch. I was coming back home on Thursday, and got a call that morning that this particular cousin had had a heart attack the day before and was in the hospital. When I had seen him on Tuesday, he was feeling fine. Only God knew at that time, what was going to take place the very next day. Life is filled with unexpected events, and none of us knows if or when it will affect us personally or a family member.

Does this mean that we should live in fear of the unexpected? Absolutely not! We need to cherish each moment and live life to the fullest. We need to laugh, have fun, and enjoy ourselves. We should embrace each moment and make each day count. Don't worry about what might or could happen. Don't waste time fretting over what could go wrong. If or when something does happen, God will equip each of us with what we need at that time.

I could have missed a great day floating down the river with my husband because I was afraid of what might happen. I could have chosen to let fear hinder me from experiencing something new. I could have gotten into that canoe and been panicked and scared the whole time that something bad was going to happen. Instead, I chose to relax and enjoy myself. I decided that I was going to make the most of the float trip and have a good time. I chose to enjoy seeing the different wildlife and all the scenery, and appreciate all the beauty of God's creation. I consciously chose to not allow fear to overcome me and hinder me from having a good day. Even with the canoe flipping over, I ended the day telling my husband that I had a great time and would like to go floating again someday.

Psalms 46:1 tells us that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of need.” Does that mean that He's not present except when we're in need? NO! God is always present in our everyday lives. But when we do face unexpected circumstances, God will be right there at that time to give us exactly what we need. Whatever that may be for each of us individually, God will be present in our life to equip us will all that is necessary for every situation. We can ask God for help anytime of the day or night. In Him, we can find safety, strength, and help. Take heart, be encouraged, and know that whatever life may bring, God will be a friend that sticks closer than a brother and will never leave or forsake you.


Jesus said, “The rain will fall on the just and the unjust alike.” I'm not sure if He means that rain is a bad thing like it is in Oklahoma for about three weeks straight and with terrible flooding elsewhere. Or He might mean that rain is a good thing like it would be in other areas experiencing terrible droughts. Like so many verses in the Bible, I think it means both. God being with us doesn't mean that we won't have any problems. Instead, it means that He will be with us to hold our hands, comfort us, and equip us with what we need to get through it.


Homemade Salsa

1 gallon ripe tomatoes – peeled and cored

3-4 cups chopped onion

1 cup chopped green peppers

2-3 large jalapeños - chopped

whole head of garlic – minced (or less, if desired)

1 cup tomato paste

¼ cup vinegar

¼ cup lemon juice

3-4 tbsp. canning salt

¼ - ½ cup sugar

cilantro - optional

For thicker salsa, put the tomatoes in a strainer and drain a lot of the juice off (unless you want really juicy, thin salsa).

Chop ingredients and mix well. Put all the ingredients in a large pan and cook to desired thickness (about ½ hour).

Put salsa into canning jars and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.


Can you believe the year's half over?! Some people start thinking about Christmas ideas around this time, while other people wait until a couple days before Christmas to begin shopping (like my husband!). My family is so big that my sisters and I only buy for our dad and stepmother, then our own individual families. This year we decided that we wanted to do something special between just us sisters (husbands are not included, this is girls only!). One of my sisters found some big quilted bags on clearance for $3.00 each, and picked up one for each of us girls. We all took one, and are going to fill our bag up between now and Christmas. When we get together around Christmas, we will number the bags and draw for them. We're not spending a lot of money, but are putting in handmade items or whatever we come up during the next six months. I know that one of my sisters has come up with a theme for the items in her bag.

If you have sisters or a group of friends, this is a fun way to do a gift exchange without it costing anyone very much. Also, starting this early gives everyone plenty of time to make homemade items or to keep an eye out for sale/clearance items when shopping.


Many years ago (probably at least 30 yrs ago), my family decided to go camping one 4th of July. One of my brothers-in-law had found a private place beside a river and got permission from the owner for us to camp there. My dad had an old truck with a big flatbed that we were all going to sleep on. I think one of the brothers-in-law had a little tent that my parents slept in. At that time only two of my sisters were married, and their husbands planned on fishing late that night. We woke up early the next morning to find the two men asleep in one of the cars, with the windows rolled up. While they were fishing, they had heard some kind of noise and ran back up to the campsite. When all the women started teasing them about it, they said it was probably just an animal they heard, and they weren't scared but were just tired of fishing. Their reason for sleeping in the car was that it was more comfortable, and they rolled the windows up to keep the mosquitoes out. Still yet today, the two guys are still occasionally given a hard time about getting scared and sleeping in the car with the windows up and doors locked, while all the women and kids slept outside; and leaving them all out there with whatever it was making that noise. Of course, the story has probably grown a little over the years!


Someone always has to pay the price for our freedom!

Jesus gave His life for our spiritual freedom.

Throughout history, men and women have fought and given their lives so our country could be free.

Have a safe, happy summer!

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Loretta & Jon Gray