Archives for : Hope for the Journey

What God Means to Me

Thanksgiving: From the Ridiculous to the Sublime by Sharon Sheppard     Last week I shared with you in alphabet form a lighthearted list of a few of my favorite things.  Some of them were frivolous, some not.

This week, I invite you to pull up a chair and sit down at my Thanksgiving table as I offer a rich feast from the pages of The Holy Bible.  The preparation has taken a while.  After losing my cherished husband to cancer several years ago, I spent a period of time grappling with what it means to be alone. Gradually I discovered in a new way some old truths.  One of the most profound is that I’m never alone!!!

What God means to me

He is my . . .

A      Advocate  1 Jn. 2:1a-2  If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins…

B       Burdenbearer  Ps. 68:19 Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.

C       Counselor  Jn. 14:16 & 26  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever…but the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things.

D       Defender  Ps. 27:1  The Lord is my light and my salvation—The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?

E       Encourager  Rom. 15:5  May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

F       Friend  Prov. 18:24…but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

G       Guide Jn. 16:13  But when he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.

H       Husband  Isa. 54:5 For your Maker is your husband—the Lord Almighty is his name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.

I        Immanuel   Mt. 1:23  The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel—which means, ‘God with us.’

J        Justifier   I Cor 6:11  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

K       King  1 Tim. 6:15b-16  God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.  To him be honor and might forever.  Amen

L       Lover  Song of Songs   Jer. 31:3  I have loved you with an everlasting love.

M      Messiah   Jn. 4:25-26  The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming.  When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”  Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”

N       Name-above-all-Names  Phil. 2:9-11   Therefore God exalted him to the  highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

O       Overcomer  Jn. 16:33  In the world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.

P       Protector   Jn. 17:11   Jesus said, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one.”

Q       Quietener  Zeph. 3:17  The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.

R       Redeemer Eph. 1:7-8   In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us . . .

S       Savior  Ps. 89:26   You are my Father, my God, the Rock, my Savior.

T       Teacher  Jn. 14:26   But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things . . .

U       Upholder  Ps. 37:24 . . . though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

V       Vindicator  Rom. 8:31-34  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?  It is God who justifies.  Who is he that condemns?  Christ Jesus, who died… is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

W      Way   Jn. 14:6   Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.

X       Example   Jn. 13:15   I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you….Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Y       Yoke-bearer  Mt. 11:28-30   Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Z       Zenith  Ps. 8:1ff  O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens….When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?  O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Thank You, God, for a few of my Favorite Things

At a time when complaining is rampant, I choose to be thankful, By Sharon Sheppard

Psst…One of the Secrets to Happiness is Gratitude

 

“Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

Thanks, God, For a Few of My Favorite Things…

A       Apple pie (the taste and aroma trigger warm memories of home)

B       Books (I just finished reading Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale:  It’s excellent!)

C       Chocolate (dark or light, gooey or chunky; brownies and Reeses Peanut Butter Cups)

D       Daydreaming . . .

E       Excellence in the art, music, and literature of creative artists past and present

F       Family & Friends: what a gift!

G       Grandsons!

H       Husband: sweet memories of the one who was my all-time best friend

I        Imagination

J        Joy…the everyday kind

K       Kisses: chocolate, or otherwise

L       Love: God’s unfailing love, and the love of others

M      Mother:  My sensitive, caring role model

N       Nature:  God’s creation: lapping lakes, flaming autumn leaves, stars against an inky sky

O       Offspring: Jonathan and Caroline, who bring me so much joy

P       Piano: from a childhood of yearning to an adulthood with time to play whenever I please

Q       Quietness: I lap it up and savor it

R       Rice Pudding (City Cousin Mary’s is the ultimate)

S       Sonnets, symphonies, and Scrabble

T       Thanksgiving Day: an annual reminder of what we should do every day

U       Unscheduled time

V       Variety

W      Writing, words

X       Xylophone:  a whimsical gift from my husband–and time to play!

Y       Yelp: The lively online opinions of customers who help me make shopping decisions

Z       Zest for life that nips in the bud any inklings of depression

 

The Journey from There

“The Journey from There” by Rev. Edwin Hollen, Guest Blogger

The “there” could be anywhere, but for me it was a little hamlet in the mountains. An older gentleman was once asked why he hadn’t gotten married. His answer: “In life, there are so many turns in the road.” How true that is for each of us earth travelers. Life reminds me of the mountain roads where I lived the young years of my life. There were no straight roads. If you weren’t careful, you found yourself back where you started after continually twisting and turning. To me, those roads well represented the adventures of life. I was born into a Dutch family of 10 living children in a small village where people made their meager existence by mining coal. We well knew the reality of the song “Sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt.” The mining companies owned the houses and the stores along with the places of employment. Perhaps we were the poor the poor talked about. That could well be true pertaining to this earth’s goods, but our home was rich in faith and love. My early years were spent with ragged jeans, bare feet, freckled face, red hair and a fishing rod. We spent nights camping along mountain streams; frog legs and trout waiting to go into the frying pan. I imagine we looked like orphans to the more sophisticated campers, but we fished the same mountain streams that U.S. presidents came to fish. Being very shy, lacking self-confidence, and having a speech impediment would not enhance the possibility that would take one to end up in public speaking. Unmerited favor is the only answer. There was one inborn trait that was favorable for the road ahead: of the ten children, I was always interested in what was over the next hill. That is still a part of my DNA. I humbly acknowledge God’s providence. He has used that trait through many years making it possible to follow the roads that have reached to all but two continents preaching the gospel. In this journey of many turns, a Dutch boy meets a Swedish/Danish blonde a thousand miles from his while attending college. Boy notices girl’s beauty and charm; however, it was not easy to make an entrance into a tight Scandinavian cultured family. Time and patience prevailed; the Dutch are known for that! Their road together begins leading into the field of Christian ministry. These past 62 years of marriage have resulted in great blessings: three children of deeply committed faith; three pastorates in Minnesota; missionary evangelism overseas; college teaching; the journey goes on. So from the back hills and roads of almost nowhere, the journey has unfolded. There is a lesson to be learned by all. The road that seems to go nowhere may be the one that leads you to the highest mountain in the world. May all of us be inspired to take the road that leads upward until we get to the end of the way.

Edwin Hollen, husband of another city cousin, Phyllis, who is proud of her heritage and kin.

Nothing Bad Ever Happens to a Writer…

Nothing bad ever happens to a writer  . . . By Sharon Sheppard

Writers have a whole different (quirky) way of looking at the world:  “No matter how bad life gets,” we say, “it’s all material.”

But grist for the writer’s mill notwithstanding, I’ve had a nasty week.  What I thought was flu turned out to be an infected gallbladder, so I had emergency surgery to remove the offending organ.  Not fun.

Afterwards, the surgeon presented to my anxious son and daughter color photographs of the whole mess.  No, I’m not going to show and tell.  What I do want to say is this:  A precious Bible verse that I memorized years ago once again became incredibly meaningful:

“And we know that all that happens to us is working for our good, if we love God and are fitting into His plans.”  (Romans 8:28, Living Bible)

Sometimes I’m tempted to question God, and ask Why??? But I’ve come to discover that He has a purpose for everything in my life.  As with many other things, I may never know why God allowed this. (Maybe because I ate too many sweets and greasy foods.)

But here are a few good things that have come of it:

*God gave me peace before and after surgery so I knew that whatever happened would be okay.

*This event has slowed me down and given me a welcome time of respite.

*Unstructured time has allowed me room to think.

*I’m savoring some reading that I may never have gotten around to.

*Though I am relatively new to this area of the country, I’ve discovered that I have more friends here than I would have guessed.

*Through my son and daughter’s loving care for me, I have a whole new appreciation for family.

My nephew said that as soon as he heard of my condition, he and his wife stood right there in the parking lot of Caesar’s Pizza, joined hands, and approached the Throne of Grace on my behalf.

After days of gracious care from my busy daughter, who stayed nights with me, took care of food, medications, and a host of other details, I said to her, “You’ve been so wonderful!  I could never repay you for all you’ve done.”

She replied, “And I could never repay you…”

And when I say to God:  “I can never repay you for redeeming me, for taking care of me in good times and bad,” He says, “You’re welcome.  It’s my gift.”

Happy Mothers Day? Not for Everyone.

Happy Mother’s Day? Not for everyone . . .
However, God can redeem anyone
By Mary Zigan
Excerpted from my book, An Upside-Down Heart
The sting of the darkest Mother’s Day weekend ever still burns in my mind. On Friday morning of that weekend, my husband, Don and I had been arguing about who knows what, but the verbal assaults and bickering escalated until there was a major blow up.
I retreated to my prayer closet, which was my lower-level office. I picked up my Bible, and wouldn’t you know, the reading was from Matthew. “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you . . . , go and be reconciled . . . , then come and offer your gift.”
I said out loud to God, “No! I’m always the first one who apologizes, and I’m not going to do it this time.” There is no way I am going to say I am sorry first. The nagging words from Chapter 5 were relentless, and I caved. I went upstairs to where my husband was seated on the rattan loveseat located on the deck. Quietly sitting down beside him, I reached for his hand, but he pulled it away.
With remorse I said, “Honey, I’m sorry for my part in this argument.”
Don quickly retorted with, “It’s too late. I’m going to the farm and when I get back, I’m calling my attorney.”
My reactions to these words were fear and shock! I thought, * After all we have been through, now you’re willing to throw in the towel? I could not believe my ears.
“It’s too late,” he repeated, and he got up and left for the farm. In a panic, I thought, what am I going to do? We had no cell phones or landline at the farm. I was completely cut off from him.
With my stomach churning I did what I would typically do. I went for a walk.
My heart was heavy, my tears were hot, and fear of the unknown welled up in me as never before. These heated, hostile encounters had become a habit all too familiar, but this time Don meant business. The unknowns ahead gripped me stronger that day than I think I had ever felt them. Yet, as I walked, I sensed a voice, a Still Small Voice, saying in my spirit, “Mary, you were faithful to go and ask forgiveness. I will bring blessing and abundance to your marriage.”
Desperate almost to the breaking point, I went through the necessary motions of ordinary life on Saturday. The house was quiet, but Don’s and my hateful words to each other still rang in my head. On Sunday, I arrived at church early, hoping that Elsie and her husband, Don, would be prayer ministers that day. Elsie was a faithful prayer warrior who believed God could do anything.
At the end of the service, I nearly ran to the altar for prayer. There Elsie and her husband gently prayed with me. They encouraged me to put my trust in God for whatever the outcome might be. When I left church that day, even though everything was still uncertain, a load had been lifted.
Don didn’t return home for several days. I had anxious and unsettled feelings of the unknown that were like a vice around my heart. I prayed that somehow our love would supersede our selfishness. God had been working in my heart, had He been working in Don’s? I wondered.
After nearly a week, I had hopeful anticipation that today might be the day he would return. Wanting to put my best foot forward, I took a bubble bath, perfumed, and pulled out a pair of shorts and a T-shirt that showed off my tanned skin, and I was careful to have my attitude in check. In contrast with last week’s blowup, I hoped a gentle, quiet spirit would win his favor.
Don did return that day, and I could sense by his subdued demeanor that he was feeling some remorse. We did not discuss what had happened between us, but there was an unspoken willingness, you might say a silent truce, to ease back into the normal routine we had had previously.
The weather was perfect that summer and God was gracious to give Don and me several opportunities for solitude at the place we loved the most—our farm. We had time to walk together, to talk together, to begin a friendship together, to forgive one another, to laugh and cry together. In a sense it was a courtship. There was tenderness, respect, compassion, and kindness. It became clear that Don and I more than loved each other, we were committed for life!

Author’s note: This Mother’s Day may not be all that you would like it to be. Maybe you have unresolved issues and pain in a relationship. God can carry your burden for you and empower you with His grace to see the trial through.
If you would like to purchase the book, An Upside Down Heart, or invite Mary to speak at your conference, retreat, or Bible study, you may contact her at: mzigan2442@gmail.com

He is Risen

He is Risen, Alleluia! Hallelujah!

On this Easter week, Christians around the world will rejoice together,

He is Risen! He is Risen!

Our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, through the sacrifice of His own death and resurrection, has raised all believers to new life. This rebirth is Good News that is for every believer in Christ, both here on earth now, and forever on into eternity.  Christ’s redemption has freed us from our sins, “all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3: 23) To be redeemed then, is to be forgiven, made holy, justified, free, adopted, and reconciled.

Christ made us in his image, which makes our hearts yearn with an inner longing, ever seeking this living, giving Source as our nourishment. The deep longings we have are springboards from which we grow into more and more intimacy with God, reviving, redeeming, and resurrecting our hearts, all the while awakening us to the wonder of God’s great provision. We cannot help but lift our hands and hearts in praise and shout together: Alleluia! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord with all our being for He alone is worthy to be praised.

 

Amen!

 

Love Stories

Love Stories . . .

By Sharon Sheppard

 

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about love.

I suppose it started around Valentine’s Day when lovers of all ages came out of the woodwork, and the media reported romantic accounts of lovers who met young, married someone else, then later, when widowed or divorced, found each other and fell in love all over again.

And there were heart-warming stories of extraordinarily long marriages, sacrificial love–the works.

On a personal level, Valentine’s Day tends to bring pangs of missing the only man I ever dated—the one I married young and would marry again in a minute, given the chance.  The one I lost after his extended battle with cancer—a rollercoaster of pain and hope: chemo, stem cell transplant, dialysis.

So I’ve recently been reflecting on many kinds of love—between parents and children, siblings, and dear friends.  I think about people donating their kidneys, sometimes to strangers.  I think about the response of those good-hearted police officers in California where some Girls Scouts were robbed at gunpoint while selling cookies outside a supermarket.  Local officers showed up and bought all the rest of their cookies and donated $1,000.

I cherish the memories of the warm and loving marriage my parents modeled as I was growing up.  My mother was in her fifties and a patient at the University Hospital in Minneapolis, where she struggled with serious health issues.  My dad had to work during the week, but he would drive down from Northern Minnesota to visit her on the weekends.

“When your dad walks into the room,” my mother said, “He makes the sun to shine.”

When my sister-in-law, Marlene Moser, was caring for her elderly parents, who were well into their nineties, she told me of going to their new assisted-living apartment to see how she could make them more comfortable.  She rearranged the furniture, placing a small table between their recliners so they would have a place to set their coffee cups while they watched TV.

But when Marlene returned for her next visit, the couple, who had been married 70-plus years, had rearranged the furniture to their own liking.

“We moved the table,” her mother said, “because it’s too hard for us to hold hands with that table between us.”

But as precious as these stories are, there is a love that far exceeds any other.

Lent began on March 1, and as I ponder Good Friday, yet to come, to be followed by Easter Sunday on April 16, my mind is awash with a different kind of love—the Greatest Love Story Ever Told.

The sacrifice of God’s only Son to atone for our sins was an act of love so immense that it stuns me.  And it was so willingly bestowed that I can’t begin to comprehend it.

Never were gift recipients so undeserving. 

Never has the cost of any sacrifice been this lavish. 

Never have the eternal consequences been more monumental.

“While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!” Romans 5:8

 

I cherish this costly act of Love that made it possible for us sinners

(that’s ALL of us!) to have the chance to approach a holy God and take

Him up on His offer of salvation through faith.

This is the ultimate HOPE FOR THE JOURNEY.

 

 

 

 

The Case for Solitude

The Case for Solitude      By Sharon Sheppard

Now that I’m settled in the Pacific Northwest after a lifetime in Minnesota, one of the things I miss most is the gentle quietness that settles in after a snowstorm.  Six or eight inches of fresh snow leaves an enchanting cushion of welcome silence.

It’s a wonderful equalizer.  After a generous snowfall, everyone’s yard looks pristine.  Even the most unsightly mess is now artistically blanketed in white.  Roofs sport puffy mounds of sparkling white that transform even the humblest of homes into quaint-looking gingerbread houses.  And when we venture out, bundled in boots and mittens and parkas, we inhale the fresh, cold air and discover that the outside world has become a fairyland.

Something about this scene transports me from the present to the cozy northern Minnesota home of my childhood.  I can almost smell Mother’s beef stew, a favorite cold weather supper dish, bubbling on the old woodstove.  The stew is a smooth, creamy brown gravy—a tactile treat for the tongue–with chunks of savory beef, carrots, and potatoes.  The bowls are set out, and loaves of bread, hot from the oven, are cooling on the kitchen counter.

The dry heat from the wood-fired range comforts, and my stomach growls.  The trudging has made me hungry.  I cup the palms of my hands around the tips of frigid ears, where my hood hasn’t totally protected them from the sharp wind.

The fresh snow comes with tacit permission to hibernate.  After the stew has warmed us inside we move to the living room, where the barrel stove has been stoked to capacity so it throws rays of heat to comfort our outsides, and we feed our minds with books or crossword puzzles or sections of the Minneapolis Tribune.

The snow continues to fall.  Softly, silently the drifts grow taller.  We look out the window, and we know that tomorrow morning the radio will confirm that school buses won’t be running.

We have permission not to work.  A middle-of-the-week Sabbath.

Author Gladys Taber (1899-1980) said, “We need time to dream, time to remember, and time to reach the infinite.  Time to be.”

Mother Teresa said, “We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness.  God is the friend of silence.  See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence…We need silence…”

Psychiatrist Thomas Szasz said, “Man cannot long survive without air, water, and sleep.  Next in importance comes food.  And close on its heels, solitude.”

And God said, “…the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” (Hab. 2:30)    We don’t need a snowstorm to find quiet.  This year let’s resolve to seek a bit of solitude each day to meet with Him.

 

 

 

Thanksgiving – It’s Not About the Food

Practice Being Thankful.  It’s a good deal!

By Sharon Sheppard

As a freelance writer and former teacher of writing, I’m occasionally asked to help people write letters.  I’ve never been asked to do a love letter or a “Dear John” letter, but one of the most extraordinary letters I’ve helped with did have to do with the heart.  Not a valentine, but the kind of heart that pumps.

While my husband was at Mayo Clinic recovering from a stem cell transplant, I met Scott, a young man in his 30s who had just undergone a heart transplant.   I asked whether I could interview him and write his story, and he agreed.  After the interview, he said, “I need to write a thank you letter, and I don’t know what to say.  I mean, it’s such a huge gift, how do you say thanks for a heart?  I don’t know where to begin.”

The family who donated their teenager’s heart had declined to meet the recipient of this gift, but the thank you letter was required by Mayo, and they would deliver it to the family.  Scott came to me with a rough draft, which needed only a little tweaking.  It was sensitively written and filled with abundant gratitude, as he expressed how important it was to him to be able to live to help raise his two little boys.  He had been at death’s door, and only a donor heart could save his life.  In his letter he told the grieving parents of the donor that his goal was to get out of the hospital in time to walk his five-year-old son, Chase, to school for his first day of kindergarten.  It was the most genuine and profound thank you letter I’ve ever read.

Most of us will not be required to write a letter of that magnitude, but we are constantly showered with gifts:  air to breathe, food to eat, stunning scenery and natural wonders we often fail to give more than a passing glance.   Many of us take the Creator and His work for granted.

Not long ago Forbes Magazine published an article written by Amy Morin, in which she cited a number of scientifically proven benefits of gratitude—physical, emotional, and even social.  Studies show that people who practice gratitude have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, higher levels of optimism and happiness, fewer physical aches and pains, and feel less isolated.  That sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

There is a Donor who gave His life for you and me.  It was an amazing act of grace—incalculable in value.  It was the act that made it possible for us to be forgiven for our sins.  No medication or treatment or white-washing of our sins could make us whole.  He died so we could live.  If we offered only one prayer on Thanksgiving Day, it should be this:  Thank you, Jesus, for dying in my place!  I don’t deserve it, but I accept your Gift!

The Apostle Paul gave us this recipe for happiness.  It’s found in I Thessalonians 5:16-18:

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

 

Hope for the Journey

 

Hope for the Journey

The more I know God, the better I know myself. The more I know myself, the better I know God. It’s funny how that works. The willingness to expose myself before a loving God is scary, but as I trust God to love me in my darkest self I learn to love myself and live in my truest self.

The journey in seeing the false self is painful, yet God is right there, loving and encouraging me. The benefit of the journey in is living in the light! When I walk in this truth and face myself honestly in the presence of my Loving God I am transformed. The love of God transforms me. The unconditional love of God transforms all who expose themselves!

Hope is a beautiful thing!

Terri Johnson
Life Coach & Addiction Counselor