"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!'"
May 3, 2017
Have you ever done a connect-the-dots puzzle? You start at number one and draw a line from one number to the next, and when finished it makes a picture. This is a good exercise used for children to help them learn their numbers and how to count. If done incorrectly and the lines aren't drawn in order consecutively, or some numbers are skipped, then the finished picture will be skewed and a mess. If the puzzle isn't completed and the person gets distracted halfway through, moving on to something else, then the full affect won't be realized.
A few nights ago I had a dream where God showed me how the dots have connected throughout my life. I cannot clearly remember the dream in detail, but when I awoke, I knew exactly what God had graciously demonstrated to me while I was sleeping; and He showed it to me in the form of a connect the dot type of puzzle. When I was thinking about it the next morning I thought, "Why hadn't I seen the pattern and connected all these various situations/events in my life prior to this?!" I think it's because we live life as it comes and don't take time to see how God has orchestrated our journey to fulfill His purpose. Perhaps we also view it as merely doing what needs to be done at the time, and don't attach any particular significance to it. That was pretty much my perspective and I had never stopped to connect the dots.
Here are the dots that God connected for me in my dream:
One of my uncle and aunts had a baby girl that was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, when their older son was around three years of age. She was in and out of the hospital quite often during the three years of her life, so their son, who was the same age as I was, stayed with us during the times his parents were at the hospital with their daughter. Kelly and I spent hours together putting puzzles together and playing, and we became very close friends. Tamera passed away when we were in first grade, and Kelly didn't stay with us as much after that. But I think perhaps that was the very beginning of God using me to be a companion, a friend, a helper to someone who needed me.
Mama was diagnosed with cancer when I was eight years old, and for the next seven years she had times when she still gardened and was able to go to church and do what she loved doing. But there were also times of great pain and suffering. Throughout her illness, she went through four surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation. I remember many times during those seven years coming home from school and Mama would be lying on the bed. I would lie beside her and tell her about my day and we would spend time together talking. Looking back, I'm sure that there were days when she didn't really feel up to chatting with me, but she never made me feel that way. Chemotherapy gave her really horrible headaches that sometimes lasted for several days, then later the radiation made it difficult for her to sit up. But as a kid and pre-teen and teenager, that was always the favorite part of my day; coming home to lie beside my mama and talking to her. Honestly, I'd like to believe that it was something that Mama looked forward to, also, and was a special part of her day. I was never her actual caregiver, due to being in school during those last few months when she required so much care; but a couple of my sisters did an incredible job of fulfilling that role. But that is the second dot on the puzzle of my life; being someone who was available to give love, support, and time to someone who was in need and hurting. Perhaps I wasn't able to give her physical care, but I'd like to think that I offered emotional care to Mama.
Then in the spring of 1984, an uncle asked if I would come and stay with my aunt during the days while he worked. She had stomach cancer, was quite ill, and was on a liquid diet; and he didn't want her left home alone. I would mix up the special liquids she had to drink, do some cleaning, and cook supper for my uncle some evenings. She would share memories of the early days of their marriage, of my parents, and other family members. It was a special time for me. I gave her someone to talk to and share memories with, and I was able to give my uncle peace by her not being alone. So that was another dot that connected in the picture of my life.
At some point after that, I stayed with two different elderly women during the daytime while their families worked. I believe each of them had been in the hospital and couldn't be left alone until they became stronger. I cleaned and cooked for them, and offered them companionship. Another dot to connect.
When I was around age twenty or so, I worked in the housekeeping department of a nursing home for several months. None of the other workers liked the rotation of being in the locked Alzheimer's unit. I didn't mind cleaning that unit, so that's where I spent most of my time. While cleaning, I would visit with the various residents and listen to their stories and tried to offer kindness to them. Yet another dot in my life puzzle.
Another aunt was in a nursing home for a short time leading up to her death. The weekend prior to her passing away, her husband and son asked if I could come down and stay overnight so that they could go home and rest. A daughter-in-law ended up being there with me part of that time. I was there overnight, as well as several hours the following day. I would sing to her, which seemed to offer her comfort; as well as brought great comfort to my uncle and meant a lot to him whenever he was there. Another line was added in the puzzle of my life's picture.
Over the years, I have babysat.... a lot. Sometimes for babies, and sometimes for kids not yet old enough to be left alone without adult supervision; although I wasn't actually an adult some of those times when brave parents left their children with me!
I started babysitting occasionally when I was probably 12-13 years old. One summer when I was about 14, I babysat my cousin's three little boys ranging in age from a baby to maybe age 4.
I stayed with my oldest four nephews from time to time; sometimes overnight if their parents had a ministerial thing they needed to attend.
Nowadays, it's some of my great-nephews and great-nieces that I get to love on and spend time watching!
About 9-10 years ago, a nephew and his wife had a 2 year old as well as a newborn. The wife then had to have gallbladder and thyroid surgery soon after the birth of her second child. They needed someone to come and stay for a week to help with the babies so she could recuperate and get some rest. I was able to go and be that help for them.
These past eight years, I've been able to help out another niece and nephew by giving their children part-time childcare while they work. I get to love on and spoil the kids, and it's a blessing to their parents to know that someone who truly cares for their little ones is taking care of them.
So all those babysitting caregiving experiences are sprinkled in amongst the dots. Being a caregiver and giving much love to the kids, which in turn blesses their parents.
When my brother-in-law, Jimmy, was diagnosed with brain cancer, I helped my sister with his care during the following year, until his home-going to heaven. I tried to be the support and encouragement that she needed, do what I could to make things as easy for her as possible, run errands, and offer what help I could. Another line on the dot-to-dot puzzle of my life.
Then over these past four-plus years, I've tried to be the support and encouragement and help that Jon's parents needed during his dad's journey through Alzheimer's. During this past month, Jon and I have spent nights when needed and done what we could to try and ease the burden for his mom and to offer comfort to his dad. I held my father-in-law's hand, sang to him, talked to him, prayed with him, and tried to make his end of life battle as easy as possible. I endeavored to give as much comfort and encouragement and support to Jon and his mom, as I possibly could. That's the last dot, to date, that has had a line drawn to it on my life's puzzle.
I had never pieced it all together, how often God has used me in the position of being a support, caregiver, encourager, and help to others. All of those various events that I've listed above did not seem particularly noble or significant at the time; and honestly doesn't particularly seem to be particularly noble or significant now. But over and over again, God has used me in these areas. As the dots were connected in my recent dream, I realized that God has gifted me to be a caregiver, support, encourager, and help many times over the years. I found it somewhat amazing; because I had honestly never seen myself in that light.
Romans 12:6 (NLT) says: "In His grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well." I also viewed my gift as being musical. Singing and playing piano have always been such a huge part of my life, and I always thought those things were my gifts. God has given me those talents; but perhaps there is a difference between talents and gifts. (That thought just came to me, so I'm going to have to think about that some more!)
Verses 6-8 say: "So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly."
I Peter 4:10-11 (NLT): "God has given each of you a gift from His great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God Himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it will all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to Him forever and ever! Amen."
I think the bottom line is to use our gift for the right reason; so that everything we do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. It's not to elevate us in the eyes of others or so that we can be prideful in ourself, but using our God-given gift for the purpose that God intended; and to do it with the right attitude.
We often look at people in the Bible, whom we consider our heroes and whose stories we enjoy reading, and glamorize their lives. Yeah, they may have had hardships, but we often skim over that and focus on how strong they were or how faithful or how heroic. We are able read the outcome of their stories, so zone in on the positives. In doing so, we tend to get the perspective that their lives were absolutely filled with daily miracles and excitement. The truth is, no one in the Bible had lives such as that. They all had days, perhaps even years, when they were getting by from day to day, doing what was necessary to care for their family, home, crops, cattle, etc. Their stories highlight the good and bad, but not the day to day monotonous activities. The accounts were written after the fact, perhaps even towards the end of their journey through life. They wrote a synopsis of their story, the highlights; not "I got up, cooked breakfast and fed the kids, washed dishes, did laundry, went to the market, cooked supper and fed my family, got the kids in bed, went to sleep." Then the same thing over and over again, with a few variations for the following days and months. We would find that quite boring; as they probably did at times! No - they looked back and wrote about those things that stood out to them, the events and activities that impacted their lives (good and bad), or happenings that meant a lot to them or brought about change, or the miracles and/or encounters with God.....
When we read about the story of Jesus, there is nothing that is even written about Him from the age of twelve until He began His ministry at the age of thirty. Perhaps He was attending school, learning carpentry work as He worked with Joseph and doing chores at home for Mary, and dealing with the day to day activities that every other teenager and young adult faced during that time. Perhaps it was nothing particularly exciting or miraculous. That's an 18 year gap where we don't really know anything about what was going on in Jesus' earthly life. Even when Jesus began His ministry, there were days when He was walking from town to town or boating from one side of Galilee to another. Not every single day of His three years of ministry was documented.
It's the same with our life story. A line may not be drawn from one dot to the other on a daily, monthly, or perhaps even a yearly basis. But when we look back, we can highlight those events and activities and moments when God used us... when needs were miraculously met... when heartache occurred... when our faith was tried through circumstances... family time that meant the most and fun and precious memories.... pivotal moments that influenced our lives or brought about change....marriages, births, and deaths....moments when we see God using our lives for specific purposes. We can look back and see how something happened in our life that God later used to be an encouragement or help to someone else; or events that prepared us for something that occurred at a later date in our lives. We can see how things were connected, by God, for a purpose.
All of the dots have yet to be completely connected in the story of my life, because my story has not yet come to an end. I don't want to run hither and thither, making a mess of the picture that God has designed for my life. I also don't want to quit early, not allowing God to complete the work that He has begun in me. But when my life comes to an end and that final line is drawn to that last dot, I want the finished picture to be something of beauty and character; to be the exact picture that God designed and created for my life.
What does your life's picture look like? Are you following the path that God has designed for you, so that when that last line is drawn to complete your picture it will be exactly what He created for your life?
One of my favorite scriptures is Jeremiah 29:11 that says, "'For I know the plans I have for you,' says the Lord. 'They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.'"
When we were being formed in our Mama's womb, God was writing the story of our life and already knew the plans that He had for each of us. They were plans to give us a future and a hope. Let's all live out His plans!
That's a great image Loretta described. I can also picture that Loretta's line crosses and weaves with mine. We can't see what it makes till we are done, though. I guess it's like we're drawing it out over the curved Earth, with no mountains or planes to see it from above.
This past week, I've had something like a summer cold or flu. This morning was pretty good. I was able to drink and eat without pain, but couldn't speak. Now, I can speak a little, but not for long, and it only hurts when I cough, swallow, turn my head too far, or breath.
It occurred to me that if I hadn't worn myself out by spending so many nights with Dad, and most of the final 48 hours, that I probably wouldn't feel sick right now. But honestly, I wouldn't go back and change it. I'm glad God gave me the gift of the patience, strength, and kindness I needed to get through those weeks. Without them, I wouldn't have been able to stay.
So, now, I'm praying for the gift of healing. Either to heal my body directly or for someone else to lay hands on me and heal me. I don't care. I'm so sick of being sick! Amen.
Crash Hot Potatoes
12 whole new potatoes
3 Tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
Rosemary (or herb or choice)
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add in as many potatoes as you wish to make and cook them until they are fork-tender.
On a sheet pan, generously drizzle olive oil. Place tender potatoes on the cookie sheet, leaving plenty of room between each potato.
With a potato masher, gently press down on each potato until it slightly mashes; rotate the potato masher 90-degrees and mash again. Brush the tops of each crushed potato generously with more olive oil.
Sprinkle potatoes with kosher salt, black pepper, and fresh chopped rosemary (or chives or thyme or whatever herb you have available).
Bake in a 450 oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
Over the past several days there have been many needs brought to my attention that needs prayer. I'm still continuing to pray for comfort and strength for my mother-in-law as she grieves the loss of her husband; as well as for Jon and his siblings and other family members. Jon started running a fever and became sick the night of his father's funeral, and was ill for the next several days. I've seen reports and pictures of flooding and bridge outages and blocked highways and damages caused from the torrential rains over the weekend; and some of the those pictures are close to my hometown.
I'm sure that everyone who reads this newsletter has needs in their lives or in their family or community. It's so very important that we truly pray for one another and for situations that are brought to our attention. That's one of the main purposes of brothers and sisters in Christ -- to pray for one another and encourage and help each other. Let's pray for others as we would want them to pray for us!
Fear not. You are stepping into the unknown with a known God.
He's never failed before and He won't start now! - Christine Caine
We love you!
Loretta & Jon