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PRIORITIES, PROJECTS, PEOPLE AND PERSPECTIVE

My life this year has consisted of moving from one big project to another. It has been crazy as sometimes I tried to juggle two or three projects at once, and always, as soon as I finished one, I would move on to the next.
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I’ve written six books this year so far. I helped out with the family reunion and my mother’s and aunt’s 80th birthday party. I started a new hobby of making jewelry and have made quite a number of pieces as gifts and for myself. I took on a two-month study of the book of Revelations and read the Bible in 90 days. I did many projects for our pastor and the church, including doing the pastor’s weekly Powerpoint outline of his message, as well as four other major Powerpoint presentations. I put together two booklets for special occasions for our church’s 50th anniversary (a prayer guide and a pictorial history of our church), ordered and organized 5000 prizes for the church’s Springapalooza, headed up the missions booth for our ministries fair and wrote/and or designed several other smaller projects for the church. I wrote a weekly devotion for my blog. I sent three suitcases off to the Naranjos with various travelers, and if you don’t think sending a suitcase to Ecuador is a project, think again!
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In the last week or two alone, I have shopped for and packed one of those suitcases with Christmas gifts, things for the new baby and a variety of other things the Naranjos needed. I have also made some of those gifts and finished writing one of the books. Our pastor is the one taking the suitcase to them as he stops in Ecuador to visit them on his way to Bolivia. He is speaking ten times at a pastor’s conference in Bolivia and asked me to research and write bullet points for six topics in his syllabus, design the cover and also to do Powerpoints for his messages down there. I also put together two Samaritan’s Purse shoeboxes this week. At this moment, I am printing, laminating and binding 34 of my books—a huge task in and of itself. I am speaking to a creative writing class on Monday and discovered of the 42 books I have written, I only had 8 left on my bookshelf.
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I have several more projects standing in line that must be finished before the end of the year. Two more books to finish. A baby sweater, bonnet and blanket to crochet. The narrative for our church’s Easter cantata to be written. And of course, all the preparations for Christmas.
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Trust me—I am not telling you all these things to toot my own horn. There are pros and cons to all this. Yes, it is nice to look back and see all the things that have been accomplished this year. I may have done a lot of sitting on my backside, but I certainly have not been lazy! I love it that, although I cannot get to church much because of caring for Robbie, I can still have a ministry in my church and in missions. I cherish the ministry I have to our precious Robbie, but I also love it that, after eight years of quietly sitting at home with him, in the last two years my outreach has once more extended beyond the walls of my home. I find happiness and satisfaction in having an outlet for my creativity.
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The cons? Time spent on all these projects robs me of time for relationships with the people who are important in my life. Bob and I still spend a lot of time just talking or being together when he is home, but I am sure he could use more of my undivided attention. He’s been very patient, and helpful, but I know it would please him if I would make a little more time to get some other things done, too, like housework and laundry! It is hard to prioritize things like vacuuming or scrubbing toilets when so many of my “projects” seem to be so much more worthy in terms of ministry or eternal value. Pleasing my husband, however, ought to have highest priority since that is the role to which God has called me. Scrubbing the floor is pretty low on my totem pole, but if it makes my husband happy…
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Time sitting under the computer takes away time I could be playing with Robbie when he is awake, or time spent with my mother when I am able to get out of the house. People ought to take the priority over projects. Someday, will I look back with regret for all the time I spent on my computer or working on other projects rather than being in the moment with my loved ones? The time we spend with the people we love is ministry, too, and has great eternal value. Love is an action word. Time spent encouraging, helping, acting out love and kindness is never wasted.
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I know I’m not alone in this. You’ve been there, too, haven’t you? Whether it is projects like mine that keep us too busy, or a job that has precedence, or some activity that’s become an obsession, we need to be mindful of our true priorities. Most of us know the pressure and guilt of feeling as if there is just not enough time to do everything we need to do and that we are neglecting relationships because of it. Something has to give. But what?
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I guess it’s a matter of balance. I know I tend to get obsessive about the projects I do. I am an overachiever, I suppose, living by the motto “If anything’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well” and by the verse, “…whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31) Bob says I have tunnel vision when it comes to my work. Somehow I have to learn to balance the projects I am involved in with the rest of my responsibilities and with my relationships.
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It’s also a matter of perspective. If I could look at vacuuming and dusting as ministry to my husband, perhaps I’d be more eager to do them! If I bear in mind that every minute I spend with my mom or playing with Robbie is ministering to them, then my other areas of ministry will pale by comparison.
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I think of the story of Mary and Martha. Luke 10:38-42 tells us a little something about them. “Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
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I’ve always had a bit of a problem with this story. We women all know that someone had to feed all those men! Martha invited them into her home and she felt responsible to serve them. We understand that, don’t we? I’m sure she wanted to do her best for Jesus. She probably thought of it as her ministry to Him. I can see myself in that, can’t you? I know Jesus was grateful for her efforts, but He had a gentle reminder for her. Two reminders, actually:
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The first was that our ministry must be done with the right heart attitude. If we are grumbling and complaining, stressing and fretting over it, we may as well not do it all. Serving Jesus should be done out of hearts of love, joy, gratefulness and generosity. The second thing he wanted Martha to see is that the spiritual and emotional relationship is more important to Him than the physical busyness, even if she was “ministering” to Him.
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I need to find that balance and perspective in my life, and get back to putting people before projects. It means I am going to have to cut back on some things; maybe even give up some things altogether. I may even have to learn to say “no” now and then! That’s so difficult for me because I love everything I’m doing. I need to balance my time better. Most of all, though, I need to prioritize what is truly important in my life and put them—the people I love—back at the top of the list. My mother is a good example to me of this. People are her projects! Her time and efforts and money are spent on doing for others.
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I John 3:18 says, “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” Bob knows I love him. Robbie knows I love him. My mother knows I love her. I tell them all the time. But love is an action word. It’s time I set aside some of these other things and show them a little bit better.

ANTICIPATION!

Laurie and I got to go shopping together this week! Well, sort of… I wish we could have actually been together, walking in and out of stores, stopping to get a bite to eat, spending some real girl-time together. Instead we were each in our pajamas, on the telephone and on our computers late at night surfing the internet together. It’s not quite the same as shopping in person with one another, but hey—it’s the best we could do and we had fun anyway!
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It’s not the first time I’ve done that with my girls. I’ve even gone house-hunting with both of them via the internet! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—I sure love modern tecnology! It has made it possible for me to stay so much closer with my daughters and grandchildren who live hundreds and thousands of miles away than I ever could have twenty years ago.
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This time we were shopping for a going-home-from-the-hospital outfit for the new baby and a nursing gown and robe for Laurie. I had been out shopping earlier in the week in the stores here in town and could find not find a single newborn baby dress or nursing gown. (Yes, we are looking for a dress, for the baby finally decided to let them get a peek at her during the last ultrasound and it is confirmed—it’s a girl! Their fifth girl! Three-year-old Matthew will retain his position in the family as crown prince!) Laurie had not been able to find anything in Cuenca, either, that she could afford (prices down there are two, three, even four times higher there than they are in the States) so we resorted to the internet.
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Laurie, especially, had fun doing that! She told me she felt like she was actually shopping in the US again, and the prices looked good to her after seeing how much they charged down there. We found what we were looking for and they are being sent to my house. Our pastor is going to Ecuador in about nine days to visit them and he said he would take a suitcase for me with the kids’ Christmas gifts, some things they needed and a lot of new baby things in it!
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We are so looking forward to this new baby! Once they found out the sex of the baby, and could start thinking of baby names in earnest, it just seemed to make it so much more “real.” They are thinking of naming her Amanda Laura (Fernando was dead-set determined to name this fifth daughter after his wife! It is a cultural thing, and he had wanted to do it from the first daughter all the way to number five.)
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We had all kind of hoped at first that it would be a boy so Matthew could have a little brother, but of course, we all said we would be thrilled with either a boy or a girl. All except for Matthew. He was pretty determined that it would be a boy and kept saying “Hi, Baby Michael!” to his mommy’s tummy. He was there when they did the ultrasound, and when he heard it was a girl, he said, “But I wanted a brother!” They told him God had decided he should have another sister and he actually accepted it with grace. Now even he is excited to have a baby sister!
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Laurie has gone through her baby things to see what she still needs. She did not have a lot left of the baby girl clothes or her baby equipment. They had given a great deal away, not expecting to have six children. What she has and what I am sending down to her will probably suffice until she comes home next August for a few months. We will get whatever larger size clothes she needs then so she won’t have to bring a lot in their suitcases, and hopefully be able to borrow whatever equipment they need. I started looking through crochet patterns so that I can crochet a baby layette (sweater, bonnet, bootie and blanket) for Baby Amanda, just as I have for all my other grandchildren.
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Anticipation! We still have another four months to go before little Amanda’s arrival! It is hard to wait, but on the other hand we don’t want her to come any sooner than she should. Remember the old ketchup commercial with the ketchup slowly, slowly coming out of the bottle and Carly Simon’s song, “Anticipation” playing in the background? Like the old saying goes, “Good things come to those who wait!” Or the quote I’ve seen in a lot of baby cards – “Nine months? It takes time to create perfection!” We have to wait—no getting around it—but in the meantime, the excitement and anticipation is building!
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There is someone else whose arrival I am eagerly anticipating! It seems the older I get, and the more I see this old world turning away from God, the more I long for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ! Jesus has promised that He is coming again and he tells us to comfort one another with these words. “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” (I Thessalonians 4:16-18)
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I don’t know about you, but I get excited when I read those words! I can’t wait! We wonder sometimes why Jesus tarries, why He has not come already. We wonder how this world can get any worse. Oh, but it will, and when it does, He will come and take us out of it. He said in John 14:3, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”
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It is so exciting to look forward to the birth of a new baby and to make preparations for her arrival. How much more exciting, though, is it to look forward to the coming of our Savior! No preparations needed to go with Him, other than trusting in His shed blood for my sins and your sins. He’s done all the work for us! All we have to do is accept it, but oh, the joy, when we share that good news and bring others along with us!
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These are my words of comfort and joy to you today—He is coming again! Look forward to it!

MY HERO!

There’s a new hero in my life! He wears blue spandex, red shorts and a cape. A big yellow star is emblazoned across his chest and he stands with his hands on his hips in a heroic pose, joining forces with God to take action!

Who is this masked man, you might ask? Not a bird, not a plane—it’s Blastman! AKA my mild-mannered hubby, Bob! Yes, he’s finally given in to his alter ego after forty years and donned his Superhero persona to fight for truth, justice and the American way!
Oh, wait a minute! Actually, Bob has come out of the phone booth to promote the Ministry Fair our church is having on October 24th. The theme is “Be a Hero! Take Action! Join Forces with God!” They asked Bob to be Blastman since 1.) He’s one of the few who could fit in the costume and 2.) He’s willing to really ham it up and make a fool of himself in front of several hundred people for the sake of the ministry. Bless his heart…
I have to admit, he was a bit reluctant at first. “I need to lose two or three pounds before I put that thing on!” he declared. “The last time I wore tights [as part of a costume, I hasten to add] was thirty years ago! I’ve gained five pounds since then!” I wanted to smack him!
We’ve had a lot of fun with Blastman all week. Last Sunday Bob stayed after church and put the costume on so they could do a photo shoot of him posing as a superhero. Then a few days later I cropped the backgrounds out, put in the backgrounds I wanted, and put together a Powerpoint presentation of Blastman encouraging everyone to attend the Ministry Fair, and even more than that, to be a part of the ministries in and through our church.
The Powerpoint turned out really cool, if I do say so myself! The pictures and backgrounds were great, the animations were fun, and the music I set it to really added excitement and that Superhero flavor to it! I used the theme from Star Wars—you know, the one that starts out Daaa-Daaa-Da-Da-Da-Daaa-Daa-Da-Da-Da-Daaa-Daa-Da-Da-Da-Daaa… (You know that one, right?)
Blastman himself will be at the Ministry Fair, encouraging everyone to be a hero and take action for God! Knowing Bob, he’ll be a hit with the crowd, and he’ll have a lot of fun himself. Of course, I’ve always known my husband is a superhero—now everyone else will know it, too!
From the time we were kids, we’ve all enjoyed superheroes and fantasizing about the supernatural powers they might have—the ability to fly, x-ray vision, being able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and so on. As we grow up we’ve realized that although superheroes are imaginary, there really are heroes among us. They may not have supernatural powers, but they use what they do have in extraordinary ways to accomplish extraordinary feats. We saw it on September 11, 2001 when hundreds of firemen and rescue workers rushed into the Twin Towers while thousands of others fled, knowing full-well that they might not come out again. We see it every time a soldier braves the bullets to go back for a fallen comrade. We saw it this week when a few construction workers rushed a man who was shooting at a schoolyard full of little children, and took him down.
We see quiet heroes every day—people who will never do great things in the eyes of the world, but who steadfastly, courageously do what has to be done against all odds, with determination and all the strength that they have. People who give of themselves sacrificially for others. People who are willing to stand for what is right, even if they stand alone.
What does it take to be a hero? What does it take to be a hero of the faith? Courage probably comes to mind first. Courage is not the absence of fear. As human beings, we all experience fear. It is part of our survival instinct. Courage, rather, is the ability to overcome our fear—to function and do what is right and necessary despite our fear. If we had no fear, why would we need courage? I Timothy 1:7 says, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” Fear is part of our human nature, but God does not want us to be controlled by it, or held bondage by a spirit of fear.
Courage means having boldness and the confidence to say or do what is true and right and just in the sight of God. Over and over again the people of God are exhorted to be of good courage, to be strong, to not be afraid for God goes with us and will not leave us or forsake us. “Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” (Deuteronomy 31:6) “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” (Joshua 1:9) “Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.” (Psalm 27:14)
Courage for the believer comes through faith. We cannot see the future. We cannot see what is coming at us next, and even when we do see the obstacle or trial coming our way, we cannot see how the Lord is going to handle it for us. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” God is at work, whether we see it or not.
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Scripture gives us one example after another of heroes of the faith. There is Noah who believed God and stood alone with his family for God when the rest of the world called them fools. That is faith, resulting in courage. There is Daniel who prayed at his window for all the world to see when he knew doing so could result in him being torn apart by lions. That, too, is faith, resulting in courage. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego obeyed God rather than man with a courage that was a result of their faith in God, and the Lord saved them from the fiery furnace. David faced a giant alone when the rest of the army hid. His courage came from his faith that God was with him when nobody else would stand with him.
Faith brings the courage to take the first step, but we need determination and strength to keep going. Faith gives us the courage to stand fast when necessary, but again, we need determination and strength to hang on. Determination is purposing to accomplish whatever it is God has called us to, regardless of the opposition. The book of Nehemiah gives an account of the courage and determination and strength of Nehemiah and a group of captives who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls. “Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me; as also the king’s words that he had spoken unto me. And they said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work…So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work.” (Nehemiah 2:18, 4:6) They strengthened their hands for they had a mind to work.
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The good news is that we do not need the strength of a superhero. God takes whatever little strength we have and multiplies it for the task that is at hand. He promises “…and as thy days, so shall thy strength be.” (Deuteronomy 33:25) Psalm 18:22 says, “The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.”
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Courage, faith, determination, strength—all these are traits of a hero. There is something else that is a mark of a hero, however, and that is sacrificial love. Our greatest example of this, of course, is Jesus Christ. “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (I John 3:16) John 15:13 says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Sacrificial love is selfless, putting others before self. That is why those firemen could climb the Twin Towers. That is why a father works so hard to put food on the table for his children, why a mother stays up into the wee hours caring for her family, why a missionary leaves family and home to take the Gospel across the world. It is sacrificial love.
We’ve had a (dare I say it?) blast with Blastman this week! I teased Bob, asking him, “So where has Blastman been for the last forty years of our marriage?” The truth, though, is that I don’t want a superhero. My husband is a real-life hero to me. Bob’s life and faith have always been characterized by courage and boldness, determination, faith and strength. He has given of himself sacrificially for his family and for anyone else he sees in need. He goes through life, not looking for recognition or reward, but just quietly being a hero.
We can all be heroes for our families, heroes for the Lord, heroes of the faith.

MY GOD SINGS!

I started the day with singing this morning! Before my feet even hit the floor we were on the phone singing Happy Birthday to our little Katie. She’s turning seven today! She’s always been such a tiny little thing; it’s hard to imagine her getting taller and older. She was soooo excited about her birthday this year! She called me every couple days the last few weeks to tell me what the countdown was to her birthday. Oh, how I miss those kids! I wish so much I could give Katie a big birthday hug and kiss.
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I was just thinking the other day about how greatly our lives are touched by singing. We begin life with lullabies, and then our childhood years are filled with hundreds of little choruses and ditties by which we learn and play. Most of us continue our love affair with music—even if we cannot sing ourselves—into our teen years and beyond. And then we mark so many of the events of our lives with music, don’t we? There’s the birthday song, of course, year after year—after year. Many of our holidays have music attached to them—“The Old Rugged Cross” at Easter, “Stars and Stripes Forever” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” on the Fourth of July, and literally hundreds of Christmas carols and songs! We get married to Wagner’s Bridal Chorus (also known as “Here Comes the Bride”) and Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, and are buried to “Amazing Grace.” And throughout our lives, the great hymns of the faith and other Christian songs uplift us, comfort and encourage us and help us to worship our Lord.
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I love to sing. I don’t have a great voice, but it’s good enough for me! I can carry a tune, at least. I sing all the time. I credit that to my mother. She wasn’t a great singer but she sang (or whistled or hummed) around the house as she did her housework or washed dishes as I was growing up—the old-time hymns mostly. I can’t hear “We’re Marching to Zion” or “Beulah Land” without thinking of my mother. Now I do the same thing.
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My grandchildren tell me, “Grandma, you have a song for everything! We say something, and you break into song about it!” The girls have even challenged me from time to time while we’re driving in the car. “We’ll think of a word, and you have to sing a song with that word in it, Grandma.” They almost never stump me.
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The brain is an amazing thing. I often start singing a song, word-perfect, that I haven’t heard in thirty or forty years and I wonder, where did that come from? I can’t remember where I put my glasses, keys or the telephone two minutes ago! Ah—the power of music!
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I don’t know too many people who don’t like music. Even if we can’t sing, most of us like to listen to it at least. Even Robbie sings! He’s always had a love for music, and actually has a very discerning ear for harmony and good music. Every now and then he tries to sing himself. It’s so sweet. Here is this person who can’t talk, but he gets a happy look on his face and sings out “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!” I call him Mr. Johnny One-Note because it is only that one word, sung in one note, and held out for as long as he can until he needs to take a breath, and then he starts again—usually upping the volume as he goes! I say, “Are you singing Robbie?” and he beams and nods his head and keeps going. Sometimes it is alone; sometimes he accompanies me when I’m playing the harmonica for him; sometimes I join him and we sing a duet. “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!”
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Music and singing are gifts from God. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights…” (James 1:17) What a blessing in our lives! They are also important to God. Singing is integral in our worship of Him and we are told over and over throughout Scripture to come before Him with singing. “Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.” (Psalm 100:2) “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.” (Psalm 98:4) “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;” (Ephesians 5:19) Even the earth itself sings praises unto God! Isaiah 49:13; 55:12 say, “Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the LORD hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted…For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”
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Singing is so important in our lives—in my life—and to God! That is why it was a jaw-dropping shock when Bob came to me last night with a question that I had never heard before: Can you think of a place in the Bible where it says that God sings? In my fifty-eight years I had never wondered once if God Himself sings! We know we are made in the image of God. We know many of the attributes of God—He is holy, omnipotent, omniscient, just, gracious, merciful, loving and so on. We know He must love music for He made it and desires it. But I had never wondered before if God Himself ever breaks out in song, and I could not recall a verse that said He does. Bob handed me a card with a Scripture verse on it:
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“The LORD your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”
(Zephaniah 3:17 NKJV)
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What a beautiful verse! I instantly fell in love with it. Yes, I know in its context it is speaking of Jerusalem, but I believe it must be true for all whom He loves. God, the Almighty God, is right here in the midst of us and will save us. He rejoices over me! (What a blessed thought when I am feeling down on myself.) When I am in distress He quiets me with His love. (The peace that passes all understanding.) And He sings for joy over me! Isn’t that amazing! God sings! He sings for joy over those He loves! The picture I get in my mind is of a loving Father tucking his child into bed—protectively guarding His child; rejoicing in that child; covering him with His love and singing a lullaby of love and joy and peace. How can we not rest in that verse, and find comfort in His faithfulness and love and just that fact that He is singing for joy because we belong to Him?
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I hope I will always be able to sing—or at least be able to make a joyful noise unto Him! It brings joy and blessing and comfort to my soul when I sing. “My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing unto thee; and my soul, which thou hast redeemed.” (Psalm 71:23) It is a witness to the unsaved. Psalm 126:2 tells us, “Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The LORD hath done great things for them.” It is a testimony to those who follow after us. “I will sing of the mercies of the LORD for ever: with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 89:1) It brings worship to God. Psalm 21:13 says, “Be thou exalted, LORD, in thine own strength: so will we sing and praise thy power.” As long as the Lord gives me life, I pray He will give me breath to sing unto Him! “I will sing unto the LORD as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.” (Psalm 104:33)
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Today I am praising God for music and the ability to sing! And I am praising Him for helping me to realize for the first time that He Himself sings as well—and He’s singing over me!

AUTUMN MUSINGS

It’s official, and it’s real. Fall has arrived. It doesn’t happen very often that the weather makes a dramatic shift right on time with the date on the calendar, but this year just as September 22nd, the first official day of autumn, crept upon us, the temperatures dropped and at last—ahhhh! Beautiful, cool autumn days are here again! At least here in my little corner of the world. It was still in the nineties down in Alabama, but take heart, Julie, this week your highs will drop ten degrees, too.
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I am so ready for fall! We had such a hot summer this year that the cooler temperatures are a welcome relief. It is wonderful to turn off the air conditioning and enjoy the cool breezes coming in through open doors and windows again! I’m sure I’ll be singing a different tune in February and March when we’re all ready for spring to spring but for now I’m enjoying cool.
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My favorite things about fall: The leaves changing colors. (They haven’t started yet around here but they will soon.) Making a big pot of homemade soup. (I made two different kinds this week.) Pumpkins. Apples. Pies made from pumpkins and apples and cinnamon and spice. Popcorn balls and caramel apples. (Are you beginning to see a pattern here?) Getting out the sweaters and sweatshirts and long-sleeved shirts. Bonfires. Hayrides. (Bob and I met on a hayride.) Thinking about Christmas coming soon and sneaking out the Christmas CD’s because I just can’t wait to start listening to them again. Thanksgiving. Kids going back to school. Watching (and hearing) Canadian geese and ducks flying in V-formation over my house as they head south. Seeing the little squirrels in my neighborhood getting fatter and fatter as they prepare for winter.
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I dream about living somewhere where the weather is “perfect” all year long, but really, I think I would miss the seasons if I didn’t have them. I love the beauty of God’s creation, but even more, I think, I love its variety. What an awesome God to have planned and created all this for us, and then to hold it all together by His power! “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible…all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” (Colossians 1:16, 17) How some people can believe this all happened just by chance is beyond me. Only an omniscient and omnipotent Creator could have designed it all to work together so beautifully and actually brought it into being.
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He is not only our Creator, but he is our faithful Creator. When Noah came out of the ark and built an altar to the Lord after the flood, God promised “While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:22) As long as the earth exists, there will always be seasons; faithfully like clockwork He brings them about. Psalm 104:19 tells us, “He appointed the moon for seasons…” and Daniel 2:21 says, “And he changeth the times and the seasons…” He created them and He changes them.
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And though the Lord may change the seasons, He Himself does not change! “For I am the LORD, I change not.” (Malachi 3:6) More dependable than the sun, moon and stars, more dependable than the seasons or time or anything, because He created them, He is faithful. The Bible tells us in James 1:17, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” His love and kindness are forever. “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” (Jeremiah 31:3) His mercy and grace are eternal. “It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22, 23) His promises are true. His salvation is secure and everlasting. “For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us. Now he which establisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” (II Corinthians 1:20-22) “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life.” (I John 513)
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I chose this morning to simply reflect on the arrival of autumn, and to praise Him for it and for all the beauty and variety of His creation. I praise him for His faithfulness to us and all that that means—His steadfastness and dependability, His eternal truthfulness, His unfailing provision of salvation and every other blessing we have in this life or eternity. It’s a good thing to simply pause and praise.
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I’ve shared the words of one of my favorite hymns before, but I want to do it again today—Great is Thy Faithfulness. They are so true and such a blessing to me.
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Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.
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Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
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Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
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Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

JUGGLING

Robbie never ceases to make me laugh. He can’t talk, but I can read the expressions on his face like a book (most of the time)—and he has a very expressive face.
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It’s been over three years, I think, since Robbie began his love affair with apples. He can’t eat them, but he loves to hold them. He is rarely without an apple in his hand during his waking hours, and I frequently have to try to sneak his apple away when he is asleep. I say try because his fingers clamp down like a vise if he senses someone is trying to steal his apples. He plays a mean game of Keep-Away with his apple, too, during playtime.
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Last fall I bought him one of those tiny pumpkins that are about the size of an apple. I wondered if he would accept it in place of his apple. Oh yes, he accepted it—in addition to his apple. There was no way he was giving up his beloved apple!
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Well, it’s that time of year again. Bob came home from one of his trips this week with a surprise for Robbie. “Robbie! Daddy has a present for you!” he sang as he shook a bag in the air. Robbie got so excited! He leaned forward eagerly and held his arms out. Bob gave him the bag and held it open so Robbie could reach inside. He pulled out a tiny pumpkin! Whoo-Hoo! Then he reached inside and pulled out something else—a small orange and yellow striped, pear-shaped gourd! Robbie was thrilled!
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There was just one problem. He had the pumpkin in one hand and the gourd in the other. His apple was in his lap. Three treasures. Two hands. What to do? He put down the pumpkin and picked up the apple. Ooo-but he really wanted that pumpkin! He set down the gourd and picked up the pumpkin. Wait a minute! I want that gourd, too! his face said. This went on for several minutes as Robbie tried to figure out how to hold three precious playthings in only two hands.
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Bob and I were cracking up. His eyebrows were going up and down. He was grinning and frowning all at the same time. We could just see the little wheels turning inside his head. And then Mama had to throw something else in the mix. “Robbie,” I said eagerly, “Mama’s going to buy you some more pretty gourds—all shapes and colors and textures—and another pumpkin, too, and you can have a whole basketful of fun things to play with!” (Can’t let Bob outdo me when it comes to pleasing our boy!)
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I’m not sure how much of that he really understood, but he turned and looked at me with such a look of dismay! “Mom!” his face seemed to say, “Can’t you see I only have two hands?”
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I laughed a few days later when I was sharing that with my ten-year-old granddaughter Melissa. Her response was, “So you’ve got Robbie juggling now! Maybe instead of more gourds, you should buy him more hands!” That tickled me. Robbie—juggling?
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Robbie could never juggle, but we’ve certainly all been there, haven’t we? Our hands are full, but we need to fit something else in somehow. We feel like we are doing a juggling act and something is going to fall at any moment—or maybe the whole thing will come crashing down! We are stressed out, dashing back and forth, trying to keep our eyes on the ball and everything going smoothly. We’re overwhelmed and crying out, “But I only have two hands!”
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I don’t know how some of the women I know do it. They are working jobs, taking care of children or grandchildren, cleaning house, cooking, doing ministries outside the home, home-schooling, being a help to their husbands, and on and on. I live an easy life here at home compared to them, but it never really stops around here, either, with Robbie to care for, writing deadlines to meet, projects to do for our pastor and church, as well as caring for home and hubby. It is a fact of life in our modern American lives. We are too busy, too stressed, too exhausted.
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Let’s face it—juggling not only saps our strength, it also saps our joy. Our most precious treasures become liabilities; demands on us that wear us down and wear us out. Instead of enjoying our children to the fullest, we snap at them or push them away with, “Not right now! Mommy is busy!” Our husbands often get put on the back burner, the last to get our attention. And remember the old chorus, There is Joy in Serving Jesus? Where’s the joy when our ministry for the Lord turns into just one more duty I am obligated to perform?
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I think sometimes at the end of the day when we fall into bed exhausted, that we feel as Solomon did in Ecclesiastes 2:11, “Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.” Well, I got through this day. Tomorrow it starts all over again.
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You may remember the old commercial, “Calgon—take me away!” David, in Psalm 55:6, said it like this—“Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest.” Well, we don’t have wings to carry us away, and a Calgon bath will help for only a few minutes. What is the answer then?
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There are some things we simply must juggle—family, home, serving the Lord. Some of us simply have to work outside the home—not for the little extras, but just to put a roof over our heads and food on the table. Some things, like home schooling, are a conviction, and we know that it may not be right for all families, but it is God’s will for ours. All of these things are important; many of them are precious treasures. How do we juggle them and at the end of the day end up tired, maybe, but still joyful?
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There are four principles, I think, that can help us be successful, joyful jugglers! The first is so simple, and yet so hard to remember sometimes: Start the day, and continue all the way through, with the right attitude. Psalm 118:24 says, “This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” God gave us these treasures to be blessings in our lives, not burdens! Rejoice in the little ones clinging to your leg when you are trying to cook dinner; in the teenagers wanting a ride to the youth group activity; in the husband wanting his share of attention, too! Think how empty your life would be without them! Praise God for the home that has to be cleaned, the food that has to be cooked, the job you have to go to. Think how many millions of people in this world go without those very basic things. Thank the Lord for the opportunities you have to serve him with a heart of love and gratefulness for all that He has done for you. He gave you a new day! Praise Him for it! And keep the gratitude going all day long.
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The second principle goes along with the first: Do whatever it is that you have to do in God’s strength, not your own. I say it goes along with the first principle because both should be a matter of prayer before we hit the floor running. Colossians 1:10, 11 says, “That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness.” So many times I have failed when I have tried to take on something in my own strength! When we pause to read a portion of God’s word—even if it is only a verse or two—we are “increased in the knowledge of God.” When we first praise and thank Him, and then ask for His power to get through the day with patience and endurance and strength, He gives it to us and we come out at the other end of the day with joy at all that the Lord has given to us and done in us and through us.
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The third principle is this: Don’t try to be a Super-Woman! Wait a minute! you might be saying right now. What about the Proverbs 31 Virtuous Woman? She certainly had a lot on her plate to juggle! Look at this: “She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens. She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night. She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet. She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple…She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant… She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness…Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.”
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Wow! Super-Woman? Maybe, but I think there are a few sub-principles that she can teach us. First: Don’t try to do it all alone—Delegate! It seems the woman of Proverbs 31 had maidens to help her. (vs. 15) Sure, the responsibility rested on her, and she jumped right in there with her own two hands and did her share, working from before dawn on into the night, but she had help. Second: Don’t try to do it all at once. I believe there are seasons to a woman’s life. When our children are young, they need us and we may have to postpone for a few years things that we would like to do in order to care for their needs. When we are old, we may not have the strength or physical capabilities that we once had, and we may have to give up things we once enjoyed. I cannot say for sure, but I doubt that the Virtuous Woman did all of this at the same time. She cared for her children when they were young, providing food and clothes for them. When they were older, perhaps, she entered the marketplace and helped the needy. Third: Whatever you do, do with strength and honor, wisdom and kindness, trusting and obeying the Lord. Verses 25-26, 30 say, “Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.” When our hearts are right with God, no matter what He has called us to do, we will rejoice in time to come.
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The fourth and last principle I want to mention is this: Be content with less. Ecclesiastes 4:6 says, “Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.” Part of our problem as modern American women is that we think we have to have more and better—a vacation or two every year, far more clothes than we could ever wear, a big nicely furnished and decorated house and so on and so on. We think we have to do more—run the kids to every activity imaginable, take on this project and that, have the perfect home and family. We add so much to our plate that it is no wonder we can’t keep up. If we could only realize that we can get along with far less, relax a little more when we demand less of ourselves—think what a burden that would lift!
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Psalm 90:17 says, “And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.” Our hands are filled with treasures. We have to juggle sometimes, but we can do it with joy when we do it in the Lord—with praise and thankfulness, with contentment and in His strength.
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Oh, I’m still going to get Robbie that basketful of gourds, little pumpkins and apples, but I think I’ll give them to him just one or two at a time!

GREAT LADIES IN THEIR EIGHTIES

It was a weekend to remember! In my mother’s words, no other weekend could ever surpass it. My aunt (my mother’s twin sister) told me it was her best birthday ever. “Bonnie and Connie’s 80th Birthday Party” at Spring Mill State Park in Indiana was a huge success, especially for the Birthday Girls. Almost all their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were there to celebrate with them—over fifty of us altogether. We were happy for our mothers, and excited about spending the weekend with our siblings and cousins and their families.

It is a wonderful thing to see twin sisters make it to their eightieth birthday together. We’ve always enjoyed seeing them together (and yes, indeed, they fooled us sometimes as to who was who), but now they’re just downright cute as a pair! All weekend long we remarked at the likenesses and funny little traits they shared.

Sunday was their birthday and we had a special luncheon to honor them. The Lakeview Room looked out on a forest, rather than a lake, but it was pretty with its tables decked in pastels, a fully loaded gift table, and the cake with their pictures at age sixteen as the centerpiece. The food from the Inn’s special Sunday buffet was delicious and plentiful. The company was relaxed, and the fellowship was sweet, and both our Birthday Girls were beaming!

We could not let this special day go by without some spontaneous tributes given by their children, grandchildren and children-in-law. My brother called them the “grand matriarchs of the clan.” Their reputation as pranksters was mentioned. Their love, encouragement, help and generosity were appreciated. They were lauded as wonderful mothers, best friends, special grandmas, and over and over—the best mothers-in-law there ever were! I think what struck me most, however, about these heartfelt, sometimes-teary and sometimes-comical sentiments was how many times Mom and Aunt Bon were referred to as women of faith and prayer. The spiritual heritage they have laid down and their prayerful support of their children and grandchildren had made an impact in all our lives, and helped to make us the people we have become—for now and all eternity. They have been found faithful in the calling God has given them as wives and mothers, and we are all eternally grateful and love them deeply. Proverbs 31:28-31 fits them perfectly: “Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.” (Proverbs 31:28-31)

It is hard to see our parents growing older. We see them slowing down, suffering from more and more physical ailments, sometimes even suffering mental disabilities. And always looming overhead is the knowledge that we may not have many more years left with them. For those who know Jesus Christ as our Savior, we know that the Separator called Death is but for a short time and then we will be reunited in Heaven some day, but still it is a grievous day when we have to say goodbye. We treasure the days we have left with our mothers and pray for many more years of good health to come.
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The Bible tells us to honor our parents and those elderly people around us. Leviticus 19:32 says, “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.” Ephesians 6:2-3 reminds us of one of the Ten Commandments: “Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; That it may be well with thee, and thou may live long on the earth.” Proverbs 23:22 tells us to “Hearken unto thy father that begot thee, and despise not thy mother when she is old.”
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Although it may not feel like it sometimes, old age is something to be proud of, and a blessing from the Lord. Many times the Scriptures speak of old age as “a good old age.” And although I have sworn to cover my gray hairs until the day I die (!) gray hair is a badge of honor! Proverbs 16:31 says, “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.” and Proverbs 20:29 adds, “The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old.” I still have my gray hair, of course, hidden somewhere—I just refuse to look older than my husband!
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With old age come many blessings. Mom and Aunt Bon would tell you (and I agree!) the greatest of these are our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. You just can’t comprehend how wonderful it is to be a grandma until you become one yourself! Someone has said that “being a grandmother is your reward for having been a mother.” Someone else has said, “Grandchildren are God’s way of compensating us for growing old.” Whether or not we’ve earned them, the Bible says in Proverbs 17:6 “Children’s children are the crown of old men [and old women!]”
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Hopefully, with old age comes wisdom. Job 12:12 tells us “With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding.” and Job 32:7 adds “…days should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom.” Old age also comes with promises. Isaiah 46:4 tells us that God does not forget us in our old age, but will carry us through: “And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.” He is faithful in providing. “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” (Psalms 37:25)
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God also tells us that He does not set us on a shelf in our old age but that there is still work for Him that we can do. Psalms 92:14 says, “They shall still bring forth fruit in old age …” The elderly are to be examples of holy living and teachers. “That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things.” (Titus 2:2, 3) Prayer and intercession are vital ministries the aged can have. 1 Timothy 5:5 says “Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day.” The elderly are also a testimony to the generations that follow. Psalms 71:18 tells us, “Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come.” Eunice and Lois are examples of the impact we can have on our children and grandchildren. “When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.” (2 Timothy 1:5)
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It is God who determines the length of our lives. Job 12:10 says, “In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.” Oftentimes he blesses the righteous and those who are obedient to Him with long life. He said of David in Psalms 91:14, 16, “Because he hath set his love upon me … because he hath known my name…. With long life will I satisfy him…” 1 Kings 3:14 also says, “And if thou wilt walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments … I will lengthen thy days.” Proverbs 3:1, 2 tells us to “… keep my commandments: For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee.” and adds in Proverbs 9:10, 11, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. For by me thy days shall be multiplied, and the years of thy life shall be increased.”
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Psalm 92:12-14 gives us a picture of the beauty of old age in those who love the Lord. It says, “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, He [or she] shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those who are planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be fresh and flourishing.” I see beauty in my mother and Aunt Bon, and I know the Lord does, too. What a testimony they are to lives lived for Him and for their families! Many years ago I sent a poem to my grandmother—their mother. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating for it describes my mother and my dear aunt Bonnie—lovely in growing old. I hope I will follow in their footsteps.
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Let me grow lovely, growing old—
So many fine things do:
Laces, and ivory, and gold,
And silks need not be new;
And there is healing in old trees,
Old streets a glamour hold;
Why may not I, as well as these,
Grow lovely, growing old?
-Karle Wilson Baker-