A Sincere Smile, A Warm Hello

img_3294A smile. A ‘Hello’. A short question of ‘How are you today?”

Have you ever answered a grocery clerk’s question of ‘How’s your day going?” with a ‘Good’ and followed by a “How’s your day going?”

Have you ever watched their face when you’ve asked that? They look up at you. Right at you. Most have a surprised expression or one of shock. They don’t expect a response. They don’t expect anyone to care how they might be doing.

Questions. Comments. Greetings. They all fall into the same category: a gift of encouragement. I learned how important this was when my husband and I went down to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina’s devastating flood. Hellos weren’t nearly enough. People wanted someone to sit and talk with them, pray with them, listen to them, show compassion to them, listen as they answered the question, “How are you doing today?” Really listen.

A few months ago, I posted an article on my Parkinson’s website about a drug that is life threatening to people with PD. It received a couple of comments, the biggest one being from a man who had just lost his father in-law who had PD and they mistakenly gave him this drug. The son in-law was writing to say thank you for the information and only wished he might have found it sooner.

That comment came at a critical time for me, as I was beginning to question whether what I write really does make a difference. It did for him.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this –

We are all basically the same. We hurt, we feel pain, we feel sad, we get down and we sometimes want our exit from this world to come sooner rather than later. But then – we go to the supermarket and someone says hi or smiles. Or maybe we go home and while we water our flowerbeds a neighbor walks over and asks us how our day is going and actually sticks around to find out. Perhaps we turn on our computers to check our websites and someone has left an encouraging comment on a post we wrote. And most likely, after being greeted, asked how we’re doing, or reading an encouraging comment after a blog post, we begin to feel better. All because someone took time to go a little further to show they really did care.

If just a small gesture can break up the dark clouds in someone’s day, I don’t want to hold back. I want to be saying my hellos, listening to the responses to my ‘”How ‘ya doin’?’’ questions, and leaving a comment when I’ve been encouraged or inspired. It’s not hard to do – you just have to care a little bit.
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My Superhero

img_0346Who Is Your Superhero?

My family and I were sitting around the dinner table, talking about how our day had gone. My youngest son, then 15, began to tell about an assignment he had been given by his teacher earlier that day.

He was to research a career choice that he was considering after graduating from high school and pursuing college studies in that field. He has held an interest in the medical field and has often talked about becoming a Physicians Assistant. Since this choice had already been taken and couldn’t be duplicated, he was asked what his second choice was, at which he promptly replied, “A Superhero”. At that point, his teacher informed him that he needed to take this assignment more seriously. To that, his response was, “What about all the little kids who need Superheroes?” Needless to say, he ended up doing a report on Lifeguards.

Everyone at the dinner table laughed. Except me. I admit that a slight smile did creep across my face, but given the mood I was in, I silently muttered under my breath, “I need a Superhero.” Within seconds, a small voice from within whispered, “I’ll be your Superhero. ”

A true friend will usually stop what they are presently doing and give us their undivided attention when we need it. Their words of comfort and encouragement can often be all that is needed for us to press on. Their words of advice may be just the key to solve our current dilemma. They can be just the vessel from which the wisdom of God will flow. But how often do we, in our cries of distress, seek out someone who we hope will rescue and save us from the doom and destruction that surrounds and threatens to destroy us? If we hang around long enough, we learn that our friends, our family – they aren’t Superheroes. They can’t remove the darkness. They can’t fill the void that was left by a loved one.

How desperately the creator of our hearts, our minds, and our souls, desires the place in our hearts that we give away so readily to others. When all our other resources have been exhausted, we often have the tendency to turn to the One who knows us best – last. The One who searches us, has examined us, knows us, understands and sees us – He who is intimately accessible – He is the one to whom we should most readily run to in our time of need. The One who sees the beginning from the end, who knows every turn, sees every obstacle. He is the One best able to help.

By the time dinner had ended that evening, I had already gone through my list of help in the last 24 hours. I had enlisted my husband, to whom I poured out my heart. I had confided in a dear friend and cried with my daughter. The darkness lay heavy upon my heart, with no hope of light piercing its clutches. Even my son, the “wanna-be Superhero” tried some counseling techniques on me. It is not until I cried out for a Superhero did I actually find One.

As I sat there, knowing that gentle whisper to be the heart of God, shame quietly filled my soul as I realized in my own efforts, I had sought answers in my own way to help ease the pain that I was experiencing. While thinking about God in the midst of the battle, I hadn’t seriously called upon Him to instruct me. He is a God who sees the smallest details of our lives, sees the beginning from the end, makes the earth shake and the mountains tremble. He has the power to turn every pain into a purpose. Surely – surely – this God, my God, can win this battle for me. Surely my God can zap my foes and turn them around, running for cover. In that moment of truth, as I confessed my sin of having other gods before Him and neglecting to call upon His power first, a supernatural strength empowered me. Hope was restored and peace permeated my heart and destroyed the despair that hung over my head like a raging Godzilla. The demons disappeared. My Superhero had saved me.

Sometimes when we cry out for help, the answers come simply.
Yes.
No.
Go.
Get out.
Problem solved.

Sometimes we learn the answers are not so simple and can be hard to understand.
Stay.
Persevere.
Trust.
Endure.
Wait.

Sometimes the answers do and will come through the voice of a spouse, a friend, a pastor or even a stranger. It is clear that God places special people in our lives, whom He supernaturally enables to help us through the hard times, but they are there as a catalyst and not as our cure-all. Only God has the power to do such supernatural things. Only He brings the comfort that eases the pain and heals the hurt. It is best to call on Him first and then allow Him to bring to us those who can best be used for His purposes.

I AM. To Moses who floundered in his doubt, he said, “I AM THAT I AM”. He is a shield, our protection from the storm. He is the light in the darkness. He is the Almighty, the great Comforter and Healer. He is all that is needed. He Is.

Simply Incredible

 

Bleeding Heart Photo by Sherri Woodbridge
Bleeding Heart
Photo by Sherri Woodbridge

Father, it is hard for me to understand Your ways –
the way You created the world
out of nothing.
It is incredible to me.
Simply…
Incredible.

The way You provided a sacrifice for Isaac.
At just the right moment.
Out of nowhere.
Miraculous.
And Abraham knew that you would!
Simply…
Miraculous!

The way You parted the Red Sea.
The way You allowed the Israelites to cross over the dry sea.
The way You brought the waters back down to the earth.
To protect Your people.
How merciful You are.
How mighty.
How just.

You allowed Joseph to undergo persecution from his own brothers –
You allowed him to be bent low in order to raise him up.
There is always something greater,
always something better,
always something someone will not understand.

It is hard for me to understand,
how You became a man –
why you would choose to dwell down here with us on this earth,
among our dirt and our grime.

It is hard for me to understand,
why You would choose to sacrifice Your life for me.
I know who I am.
I know what I am.
You know even better.
And yet you love me –
That is hard for me to understand.

And yet, how grateful I am!
How deeply thankful that You don’t ask me to understand!
Just to believe.
Just to trust.
And that is,
simply…
incredible.

Ordinary to Extraordinary

Just Peachy Photo by Sherri Woodbridge
Just Peachy
Photo by Sherri Woodbridge

“Things may not be logical and fair, but when God is directing the events of our lives, they are right.” ~Chuck Swindoll~

The Apostle Paul.
Queen Esther.
Rahab.
King David.
What do all of these people have in common? Well, apart from all being mentioned in the Bible to one degree or another, they were all simply, unlikely characters used to serve God’s purpose.

The Apostle Paul started out as Saul the Roman soldier until one day, while making his way down a dUstinov roadway toward Damascus, God spoke to him and it changed his life as he had known it and his life was instrumental in changing the world. He went from persecuting Christians to preaching Christ as Lord and Paul is credited for authoring 13 books in the New Testament.

Queen Esther was a young Jewish woman who had lost her family and lived with her uncle until one day she was removed from her home to join hundreds of other beautiful, eligible women to appear before King Xerses as a possible replacement for “queen ship”. She is chosen and she risks her “queen ship” and her very life in order to save the Jewish people from being annihilated. Her plan worked.

Rahab was a prostitute who was instrumental in helping the Israelites capture the city of Jericho by hiding two spies in her home. Rahab and her family were saved from death because she was willing to risk her well-being in order to help the Israelites reach the Promised Land. Rahab goes on to marry and gets herself  into the very lineage of Jesus Christ, by becoming the mother of Boaz and wife to Salmon .

David was a king, but also is probably known  as an adulterer because of his relationship with Bath-sheba and in trying to make his mistake just ‘go away’, he arranges to put her husband at the front lines of the current battle so he will be killed. After all was said and after all was done, David put pen to paper and wrote most of the Psalms, conquered Jerusalem and brought the Ark of the Covenant there. He was also known as “the friend of God”.

Do you notice a commonality?

God took ordinary people – a soldier, a shepherd, a prostitue, a young woman known by no one – and put them in extraordinary leadership roles.

A shepherd bevokes a king.
An unknown woman bevokes a queen.
A soldier becomes an apostle.
A prostitute becomes a paragon of virtue and finds herself in the lineage of Jesus Christ.

I think about our choices for the upcoming election for president and I guess I look at these two individuals as God’s pawns. No matter who gets in, God can and will accomplish His purposes through whoever,  however, and whenever He chooses. He remains in control no matter the circumstances that seems to threaten  darken our doors and He will be glorified.

If we truly believe that God is sovereign, faithful to His word and the promises He has made, we need not fear what is next. The situation we are in as a country is no surprise to an all-knowing, all-loving Father. He knows what is coming. He can see around the corners that we are blinded to. All we have to do is trust Him, pray without ceasing, and keep moving forward. He will do the rest.

Psalm 9: We Are But Men

Cabinet Mountains Photo by Sherri Woodbridge
Cabinet Mountains
Photo by Sherri Woodbridge

A paraphrase of Psalm 9

I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart;
I will tell of all the wonderful things You do for me.
I will be glad and rejoice in you;
I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.

Because you go with me, my enemies turn back;
they stumble and perish before you – You are to be feared.
You have upheld my right and my cause,
sitting enthroned as the righteous judge.
You are holy and just.
You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked;
you have blotted out their name for ever and ever.

The way of the wicked leads to death and destruction.
You, oh Lord, have already destroyed the enemy,
the memory of them and what they have done.

Why? Because you reign forever;
You have established Your throne for judgment.
You rule the world in righteousness,
in fairness, impartiality, and justness.
You, oh Lord, are a refuge –
a safe place to run to,
a place to hide
for those who are,
for those who have been,
and for those who will be
oppressed,
filled with sorrow,
abused.
You are our hiding place in times of trouble.

Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.

Sing praises to the Lord,
tell others what he has done.
For the One who fights for us remembers;
He does not ignore the cries
of the afflicted
of the hurting
of the oppressed

The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug;
their feet are caught in the net they themselves have hidden.
The Lord is known by his acts of justice;
the wicked are caught by the work of their own hands.
The destruction of sinners is of themselves.
God remains in control.

All the nations that forget God –
they will live an eternity of torment.
But our God will never forget the needy;
the hope of the afflicted will never perish.

Arise, O LORD!
Do not let mere mortals defy you!
Do not allow them to ignore and disobey any longer…
Judge the nations!
Strike them with terror, Lord;
 let the nations know they are but men.

Job and His So-Called Friends

IMG_6930.JPGI began to read in my Bible, the book of Job, chapter 42. When I came to verse 10, I decided to read the whole book of Job again. Once again, I was amazed at the insensitivity of Job’s friends.

Here is a man who is down and out and yet, his friends have nothing but bitter, condemning words to offer him in his time of need. Their so called ‘friend’. Reading through this book, it made me look into my own heart and examine my relationships, past and present, where I have felt confused and hurt by words or actions of others, and it also made me examine how I could have been a better friend in some of those relationships.

When we get hurt in a relationship, we often end up feeling that it was the other person’s fault. It often takes tears, soul-searching, and honesty on our part to realize that we had something (even if perhaps it was just a small part) to do with the break down of that relationship. It could be anything from not being sensitive enough to the others needs, to saying something out of line. It is in times like these that to do anything less than searching our hearts, would be to fall into the trap where Job found himself. Only – Job didn’t realize he was there.

In chapter 32, a new voice is heard after the reprimand Job’s friends bring to him. Job, throughout the book up to this point, always comes back to stating that he has done nothing wrong. That his life is blameless. He is convinced that his plight is due to the fact that God has left him, is angry with him, has turned away and forgotten him. He wonders what he has done to deserve his state of condition..

Elihu, this ‘new voice’ that is heard towards the end of the book, begins telling his opinion of the plight that has befallen Job.

“…My words come from an upright heart… my hand should not be heavy upon you. But (speaking to Job) you have said… ‘I am pure and without sin; I am clean and free from guilt. Yet God has found fault with me; he considers me his enemy…’

By this time I imagine Job was feeling rather picked upon. Elihu, however, brings to light a different perspective of Job’s lament.

He begins, in chapter 34, to remind Job of the words that had come out of his very mouth. In verse 5 Elihu says to those listening, “Job says, ‘I am innocent, but God denies me justice. Although I am right, I am considered a liar; although I am guiltless, his arrow inflicts an incurable wound.’ Elihu goes on to say, “what an is like Job, who drinks scorn like water? He keeps company with evildoers; he associates with wicked men. For he says, ‘It profits a man nothing when he tries to please God.’

You must remember the Lord never slumbers nor sleeps. And so, He is listening to this conversation. I wonder if finally, in verse 38, God finally says, “Okay, that’s enough. Time to get involved.” He comes ‘out of the storm’ (verse 1). If He came out of the storm to speak to Job, does that mean that all the while, He was actually in the storm with him? Was He in there, being tossed and turned with each cry of despair? Does it mean that He never did forsake Job and that there was a purpose in Job’s suffering that the human heart could not perceive?

I wondered that as God began to speak to Job. I also thought, if it was me in Job’s place, I’d be shaking in my shoes, at the very least. God begins by saying, “Brace yourself like a man.” I can just picture being blown away at that point and all areas of me were exposed for what they were. For three chapters, God reminds Job that He is speaking, and in no uncertain terms, just who He is. In chapter 40, God gets even more serious. “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer Him!” Then Job answered the Lord: “I am unworthy – how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer – twice, but I will say no more.” I can just picture Job at this point, wanting so bad to say something, then thinking better ofit. Following that reply is the Lord’s answer and again it is, “Brace yourself like a man…”

After listening to God for what probably seemed like an eternity, Job replies to the Lord. I have to admire the courage of this man. He was not afraid to be candidly honest with the Lord. He knew the Lord had heard his every word, good and bad and there was no sense in hiding from him now. There was nothing to hide. All had been exposed.

“I know that you can do all things… Surely I spoke of things that I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know…. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Confession and repentance. Job began his trial as righteous and blameless. Through his trial, his pride got the best of him and God called him to the carpet. He recognized his sin and confessed it with a repentant heart. God was pleased and restored him. However, the story didn’t end there.

God turned to Eliphaz, one of Job’s “friends” and said that he was angry with him and the other two hooligans because of what they had said about Him was not right. The way out? Job was going to have to pray for his friends. And, he did.

I wondered, how many times have I been hurt and scorned by friends and the last thing I felt like doing was to pray for them? I do remember though, at an early age, the importance of that lesson by a high school teacher. I was confiding with him how I was having a difficult time with a peer in one of my classes. He told me to start praying for her and having no reason to doubt his advice, I did. After many weeks, I am not sure that God changed her heart or that He changed mine, but we ended up becoming really good friends.

“After Job prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before.” That is the verse I started at before I went back and started again at the beginning. It was the part of how Job had prayed for the friends that had given up on him. The ones that only added to his pain and suffering. The ones that were ready to walk out on his life and give him up for dead. Instead of casting off their friendship after all was said and done, he obeyed as God commanded and prayed for his friends. It is only after that act of obedience that God blessed him. Was it because he obeyed? Was it because there was total forgiveness toward Job and his friends, brought on by Job interceding on his friends’ behalf? It is rather difficult to pray for someone whom you have a grudge against.

Friends don’t condemn and berate. They support each other and pray for one another. And when they do that, they are friends forever.