A few weeks ago, my brother, sister, and I, as well as some other family members visited, (probably for the last time), the home our mother grew up in near Garrettsville, Ohio. After my grandparents, the house passed on to my uncle and then to his son and now after over 100 years, it has been sold out of the family. The first thing I and my siblings said to one another as we entered, is that the house is not nearly as big as it seemed to us as children. My brother, who is older and wiser than I am, also pointed out during another conversation, that we think our childhood memories are accurate—until later we may discover, they are probably not. Our personal perceptions and interpretations of events, as well as faulty judgements shape our views of everything including our memories.
This can be disappointing to someone like me who likes to be right, to win arguments, and has held to many memories for years that I am realizing as I age, are simply not quite correct. At the age of 71, I am now realizing the folly of sticking to things the way I remember them instead of gracefully, accepting how others remember and with their input, together concluding a more accurate description of past events. There is tremendous value in listening to others, especially our loved ones, instead of blasting through life thinking we know more and remember better.
“ Our personal perceptions and interpretations of events, as well as faulty judgements shape our views of everything including our memories. ”
Curt Thompson writes in his book, Anatomy of the Soul: “What you pay attention to is what you remember, and what you remember is what you will anticipate in the future.” So it is important to notice everything we are seeing, to pay attention to all of it, to try and get the whole picture even if we have to put it together with the help of others.
I have to say that when we live seeking God first, He brings many things to our attention in a single day. There are wise quips like the one I just mentioned from my brother, the books we read, the sermons we listen to, the songs we hear, the beauty of nature, the people we speak to, Scripture echoing inside our heads—so much everyday stuff that God uses to grow us. To remind us that He is with us. These providential circumstances happen over and over again, and just like we tend not to stop long enough to smell the roses as we pass them, we often don’t see these direct sign posts from God for what they actually are. It’s not always easy in the heat of the day to remember that He is working all things together for our good, for those that love Him. (Romans 8:28).
There are God-designed chains of events in our lives, too, some which we are aware of, others we are not. Recently, in my life is a personal story of a house selling, another provided, moving, and a virus, all connected in such a way, it was clear God was in the midst of it all. The story of Gideon also comes to mind. It first intrigued me during a Bible study I was in years ago. Since then, whenever I read Gideon’s story in Judges, I seem to see something new to identify with. (That’s the beauty of God’s Word. It never gets old.) Last December, I was reading it again and meditating on how while Gideon was hiding away in secret from the enemy, God told him he was valiant and then patiently encouraged Him to learn it himself, through the faith and strength that God conferred upon him.
“ It’s not always easy in the heat of the day to remember that He is working all things together for our good, for those that love Him. ”
Later that night back in December, I shared the story with my son who listened intently. Soon I forgot entirely about our conversation only to be reminded by my son a few days later. God had kept it tucked in his mind to give him strength at the perfect time in his own life. It’s important to talk about God and Who He is and His Word and what He’s done for us, even if we think it will fall on unappreciative ears. My pastor is currently preaching through Judges and last week that son was visiting and heard a sermon on Gideon. But yesterday’s sermon was also on Gideon and the fact that when he finally realized how God was working things together for victory in his life, his first reaction was to worship. That verse was underlined in my Bible, so I had noticed it before, but it struck me anew yesterday because I am becoming more and more aware that worship should be my immediate reaction whenever I see God bringing His presence in my life to my attention. Which is so much more than I am aware. Just like the way I have felt smug about having a great memory, I often don’t see Jesus because I am paying attention to the wrong stuff—usually something centered around me. I am too often my main focus.
I suppose I felt a bit like Gideon when all signs pointed to God calling me to be a pregnancy resource center director. It seemed a bit removed from anything I had ever wanted to do. In my mind it wasn’t something in my field, neither was it something I was familiar with. I didn’t feel qualified or knowledgeable. I would have to train staff and volunteers to do jobs that I myself was hesitant to do. But no other jobs were available. The upside was that I had more people praying for me than ever and I felt their prayers. That’s not just a line I’m borrowing. It was very real. Very humbling. My take away from that job was that it changed me more than I ever thought possible. It happened slowly, every day, by the continuous interactions with my staff, clients, community, through conversations and preparation for work as well as the work itself. It all worked together, a little at a time, so you can’t say it was any one thing or any one person but simply God using all of it for my good.
What is best is that God never stops with these lessons. We never will “arrive” until we pass out of this life into the next. The quickest way to learn is to not only notice His sign posts along the way, but to stop and think about them and worship when we realize the message is from Him. Through the years, I have often not been very fast at figuring out what might stand between me and my daily relationship with God. Some days are good, some not so. But that the “not so’s” might be because of sin in my life—I just don’t like going there. Except I have learned avoidance is never the answer. The only solution is to plow right through it.
“ It all worked together, a little at a time, so you can’t say it was any one thing or any one person but simply God using all of it for my good. ”
Recently I came across this quote from Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “You will never make yourself feel that you are a sinner, because there is a mechanism in you as a result of sin that will always be defending you against every accusation. We are all on very good terms with ourselves, and we can always put up a good case for ourselves. Even if we try to make ourselves feel that we are sinners, we will never do it. There is only one way to know that we are sinners, and that is to have some dim glimmering conception of God.” I have learned that my sin becomes clearer to me as I grow to know and love God more.
Before receiving the Lord’s Supper, we are told to examine ourselves. I’ve often just blankly sat there during those moments, mumbling some very general wordage to myself. Recently I’ve learned through signposts along the way, that the daily examination of myself, confession, repentance and worship, in that order, will provide me with plenty of material to ponder as I receive communion. But if I refuse the daily call to speak to God and to listen to Him about what is on my heart, then it becomes easier to silently move away from Him and not notice His mile markers along my way.
Such sinful nonsense goes on in our heads, keeping us away from the felt presence of our Savior. But He never forgets us and is all the more merciful and gracious to us, drawing us back to Himself, every time using all the particular sign posts that He has designed especially for each of us. This Scripture read this day, this line from a book another day, that person calling me right then to say just what I needed to hear, the urge to email someone on my mind that I hadn’t heard from in months. I cannot comprehend how He does it. What a marvelous God we have!
“ I have learned that my sin becomes clearer to me as I grow to know and love God more. ”
What I mean for all this to lead up to is that this is the third anniversary of Living Letters. What initially began as some ideas in my head and a chance to write for an audience on a regular basis in order to eventually write a book has taken off in directions I didn’t plan or expect. A chain of events leading to where I am three years later, with not enough time to write as much as I’d like to. Additionally, the book idea grows and asks to be written, so beginning in October, we’ll only be doing 2 blogs a month instead of three. One will always be someone’s story and the other will be whatever it happens to be that month. There might even be months it will just be one blog.
Still, writing Living Letters has been such a wonderful experience. I have loved sharing stories of people. Many, I have known for years from my pregnancy center work and it was a delight for me to share their stories with you. Some of the stories have been about people that I have meant since moving to Virginia. The November 2020 story comes to mind about the local pie shop and the 104-year-old woman whose children ran the business while she greeted the guests and shared her faith with them. What a delight she was to interview and just a few months later, her Savior called her home. But her children still make the most delicious pies and have ready testimonies as to what God has done in their lives.
“ But He never forgets us and is all the more merciful and gracious to us, drawing us back to Himself, every time using all the particular sign posts that He has designed especially for each of us. ”
The story of the mountain pastor in southwest Virginia, came from a book I found at a local bookstore. What a joy it was to visit one of the churches he started close to a century ago and meet folks who still remember him and to talk to the current pastor of the church. The story about the granny who does prison ministry is another remarkable story about how God can turn lives around (April 2021). I had worked with Lois Spees many years on the prison devotional she was instrumental in placing in prisons. There was no one quite like her. She was always so encouraging to talk to over the phone but I had never met her in person until I wrote the story about her. She too, is no longer doing ministry on this earth, but just last month, she went home to her Jesus.
The links in the blog story chain have each been fastened together by God in his timing. In the fall of 2020, I wrote a story about a Christian foster agency, the Bair Foundation, that had an interesting beginning in Pennsylvania and is now licensed in nine states, including Virginia. My daughter, Kim, who moved to Virginia with me, had come here with the desire to foster. That story inspired her to call our local Bair office and become a foster parent. Her first foster son is now a part of our household.
I would also like to acknowledge three people who help in unseen ways with Living Letters. My son-in-law, Michael, from the beginning took care of getting a website, a URL, and setting it all up. His wife, my daughter, Hannah, faithfully proofreads and edits every blog as well as often brainstorms ideas with me. The beautiful graphics and all the Facebook posts are designed very competently by my good friend and sister in Christ, Beth. As it turns out, God has chosen August and September to enlarge both Beth’s and Hannah’s families, so I guess we could say they will be out for awhile on maternity leave.
“ The links in the blog story chain have each been fastened together by God in his timing. ”
For these months, we are taking the opportunity to run some old blogs. During August, the three most viewed blogs will repost and in September, I have chosen my three favorite stories. I hope you enjoy these and if you ever wonder about all the blogs that ran in the past three years, please feel free to roam around Living Letters website. If you’re reading this, you’re there right now.
Thank you so much for following Living Letters and for your encouraging comments to me from time to time. My prayer for Living Letters is this: That what you read here will encourage you in your own journey wherever God has you right now and that we might together with the help of God’s Spirit continue “building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God,… speaking the truth in love, [that] we …[might] grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13). Amen.