April Showers

If April showers bring May flowers, what do Mayflowers bring? Pilgrims! I’ve always loved this little springtime joke. And though I’m not necessarily a fan of April showers, I do love signs of spring. Spring means more to me than a change in weather and new budding life on trees. It means summer is a-comin’! I’ve written often about my affection for the summer and all it happily represents for our lives and schedules. 

This April is particularly laden with must-dos. As Dolly Parton put it in Steel Magnolias, I’m “busier than a one-armed paper hanger!” If people are busy, does that make them important? No, it makes them busy. Perhaps it’s their particular season of life. Perhaps they don’t manage their time well. Perhaps they have too many part-time jobs (me!). There can be a myriad of reasons that someone is busy, but importance isn’t one of them. Can’t be. And here is why:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). 

At the foot of the cross, there is no black or white or rich or poor or busy or non-busy. No one is more important than another. If we are in Christ, our significance is secured by Him. To be in Christ is to be highly favored, beloved with a specific love, and called with an intentional calling. Those living in rebellion against His lordship not only forgo these benefits, they are also subject to His wrath. This may not sound politically correct, but it is biblically correct.

But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him… (Psalm 103:17).

As the people of God, we fall at the foot of the cross in humble gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice. We kneel in total reverence to His lordship. We submit to His authority. We surrender to His will. And we offer our whole selves in every season of life. Whether in the sorrowful puddles of April showers or the joyful dance of May flowers, we are pilgrims on a journey of incredible grace and incomparable hope!

Happy spring, everyone!

Hope in Christ

In Peter’s writings he explains that our hope is fully grounded in Christ. It’s not a temporary hope or a false hope or even a meager hope. The hope we possess in Christ is utterly satisfying and totally complete! This is true because it’s based on what Christ has done, what He is doing, and what He will do. Our hope in Him both inspires and enables our action. We live out our hope no matter what. Pandemics, disease, division, even war cannot thwart our hope in Christ! 

How are you living out your hope?

We put out a new worship song with each new sermon series at Harbour Shores Church. This Sunday we are excited to debut Hope in Christ based in First Peter. 

HOPE IN CHRIST
We are grass that quickly fades
We are flow’rs that fall away
Yet Your Word is faithful, make us strong and able
By the Spirit’s perfect sway

Hope in Christ
O my soul
Hope in Christ
O my soul
Hope in Christ
Hope in Christ

Tested by Your holy fire
Chosen people, Your desire
Once so lost in darkness, now Your light shines ’round us
Make this anthem mark our life:

Hope in Christ
O my soul
Hope in Christ
O my soul
Hope in Christ
Hope in Christ

May ev’ry word I speak
May ev-ry thought I think
May ev’ry choice I make
Be all for Your name’s sake
Your grace displayed in me
Christ, my identity
Your pow’r in all I do
With each breath I choose to

Hope in Christ
O my soul
Hope in Christ
O my soul
Hope in Christ
Hope in Christ

There will be more grace to come
When we see Your perfect Son
His eternal glory seals redemption’s story
Hope is ours, forever won

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which perishes though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:3-9).

We Have a Wonderful Guest at Our House

Our family recently lost a treasure as Patricia Jean Marshall (Aunt Pat) entered the Lord’s perfect presence, leaving behind this tired world of pain and suffering. If I’m honest, I’m a little jealous. I would give anything to catch a glimpse of what she’s seeing. She didn’t leave us empty-handed, however. Warm, vivid memories remain of her attention to beauty and her Christ-like love.

There are certain things that will always remind me of Aunt Pat. She taught me to love pimento cheese and lemon poppy seed bread. I remember beautiful breakfast tables with warmed plates. She also possessed the coolest refrigerator ever with a magic button on the inside of the door that served as a water dispenser. I recall a shopping scene when I’d fallen in love with a red Swatch shirt that I couldn’t afford, only to find out later she’d purchased it when I wasn’t looking. She was generous and “gifty” and a little bit sneaky—all qualities of the perfect woman!

Aunt Pat played a role in my singing career, often bringing me music when I was a young girl. Here are a few lyrics from a song I remember performing many times after she’d discovered it: 

We Have a Wonderful Guest at Our House
by Louis P. Leeman in 1955

We have a wonderful Guest at our house
He makes our home a heaven every day
And this wonderful Guest at our house
Has promised us He’ll never go away

He brought a lovely letter from His Father up above
And every day we read it, it tells us of His love
And when we go to sleep at night
He see that everything’s all right
This wonderful Guest at our house
He makes our home a heaven every day

I really mean it
He makes our home a heaven every day
His name is Jesus
He makes our home a heaven every day

I adored that “I really mean it” line—I felt so jazzy when I sang it! Aunt Pat taught me that faith is more than a feeling, however. She really meant it when she proclaimed God’s goodness. She really meant it when she prayed for me. She really meant it when she said, “I love you more.” I have known Christ’s love because of Pat Marshall. Watching her welcome the wonderful Guest into her house with such confident hope has shaped my faith.

And now, she is a guest in His house, realizing all she believed of her Savior was but a drop in the bucket of His true worth and glory. I am thankful for my godly heritage, the things taught to me by this special woman. I still really love pimento cheese and lemon poppy seed bread, but I am most grateful that I have a wonderful Guest at my house. 

This Covid Reality

I have not entertained the idea of writing about the COVID-19 disaster until now, but as I recover from my second round of it, I feel it deserves some decent reflection. We’ve all watched as the entire world has responded to this pandemic. The fear that began in each heart soon turned to frustration and division for many. People have expressed blame, anger, even hate. Division is rampant, even amongst close family members, concerning governmental methods or opposing views on the vaccine. Most of us have also known the sorrow of losing someone. At the minimum, plans have been interrupted and dreams have died.

Covid is no small blot on history’s calendar. We will undoubtedly tell of its horrors to the generations to come. I recently joked with a friend, “I hope when we’re in a nursing home together that we are saying ‘Do you remember Covid?’ and not, ‘Birtha next door has Covid!’” Who knows how long this will last, how it will continue to shift, and how its effects will play out over the years? These thoughts probably provoke in you an opinion to share or a joke of your own. 

My grandest thought about it all can be summed up in two words: He knew. 

Does any believer who understands the sovereignty of God doubt that He knew this was coming? Dare we argue that He ordained this? If God is indeed who He says He is, then we must admit that this was allowed by His almighty hand. And therefore, we must conclude that it perfectly fits into His perfect plan for His people. So! The last step in my reflection on this Covid reality is to trustingly voice this simple prayer:  I am thankful to You, Father, for how You will use Covid in my life.

Have you thanked Him yet? Paul says to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and James tells us to “count it all joy” (James 1:2) when we endure trials. There is a steadfastness being produced in us as we submit to God’s sovereign rule and choose thankfulness, especially in the throes of disaster. 

Christmas Surprise

This year, I decided to wrap presents as I purchased them. On the night we finished putting up our tree, Patrick took the girls to ballet and the house was all mine. I went to all of my hiding places and gathered the wrapped boxes and placed them perfectly under the tree. When my family came home, they were delighted to see all the fun that awaits them on Christmas morning.

I am most happy when I am plotting a surprise, whether small or large. I realize some people do not enjoy being surprised. Walking into a dark room and having 50 people yell “surprise!” is their worst nightmare. However, everyone appreciates a gift that is surprising, the kind that proves they are loved, seen, and understood.

When the Father gave the Son, the world was taken by surprise. We could not comprehend the true value of such a gift. But as we individually receive His grace, we realize we are loved, seen, and understood. We are called from darkness and are rescued from the chains of sin and death!

The gift of Christ is not to be celebrated like some treat under the tree. Rather, His presence is the present of all presents! It is an eternal gift of matchless magnitude and grace. May we never cease to be surprised by it.

Merry Christmas!

The Pursuit of Friendship

I have spent my life in pursuit of friendship. I’m fortunate to have known the pleasure and fruit of that pursuit with many precious relationships. Every season of my life contains a list of close friends, and I still keep contact with many of them. 

Of course, I’ve also known the sting of lost relationships. In fifth grade, my best friend Roberta moved away, and I’ve never been able to find her, even with today’s technology. People move on. Some have left me, though their physical address has not changed. Some have betrayed me. I’ve lost others through the separation of death. Though friendship can mean the joy of companionship, it can also mean the sting of loss.

Through the years, I’ve made many friendship blunders. I now understand my own capacity for relationship and the pitfalls that come with it. I’ve learned what others can manage in their personal capacities and how to meet their needs accordingly. And though this learning process has been wrought with trial and error, I wouldn’t trade what I’ve gleaned. May my contentment always be grounded in what I can give more than what I can receive.

As I analyze my current understanding of friendship and the value of true and tried relationships, I find myself coming full circle to the truth behind my personal pursuit of friendship: I want to be loved and appreciated by others. Though this is my fleshly desire, the truth is I was made for companionship. We all were. May my actions always be grounded in how I can love more than how I can be loved.

Whether I am left behind or even betrayed, there is One who understands this kind of pain and who has promised never to be the cause of it. Christ is, and always will be, my ultimate best Friend. May my heart always be grounded in the pursuit of THIS friendship.

Perhaps you’re eager for a faithful friend. Perhaps you wonder if it is even possible to have one. With Jesus, there is no perhaps. Lean into your Companion with the full weight of your trust, for He will not fail you. He will not betray you and He will never leave you.

…He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER ABANDON YOU,” so that we confidently say,

“THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID. WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME?” (Hebrews 13:5-6)

The Rise of Fall

If you’ve read my annual fall posts, you know my sadness over the changing weather. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the magnificent handiwork of God in the beautiful array of colors at every corner. It’s not that I don’t love a bowl of warm grits after a long night of rehearsals. I can even appreciate a nice sweater. The reason I dread the rise of fall is because I mourn the passing of summer. I love heat. Daily walks with the sun beating down on my shoulders is pure delight. 

I also cherish the summer freedom we experience as musicians and as parents of two busy girls. No choirs to direct or accompany, no orchestra rehearsals or performances, no ballet classes, no school activities or homework, no, no, no.… Though we cherish these things and can do them “in our sleep,” we enjoy literal sleep! 

Now, that being said, this past summer was intense! Thirteen weeks of launching Truth Matters was no small undertaking. In fact, in many ways, this fall comes as a welcome relief! 

But here’s the truth of this matter: I desire to be a grateful woman in every season. I want to radiate trust in Christ whether juggling a cold hectic schedule or basking in the warmth of rest. I aspire to be thankful, whether it be in the rainy seasons of trial or the difficult seasons of waiting. I will listen for His voice in the sprints and in the pauses, for He is certainly in both. 

Lord, let’s do this fall thing. I’m ready.

May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
May the Lord rejoice in His works;
He looks at the earth, and it trembles;
He touches the mountains, and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
May my praise be pleasing to Him;
As for me, I shall rejoice in the Lord. (Psalm 104:31-34)

True Love

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

God, in His perfection, does not change. He is, however, interested in our change. We are in the sanctification process because we need change! And despite this great need, perhaps even because of it, He gives good gifts to us.

I’m a huge fan of Christmas and birthdays. One reason for this grand affection is the presence of presents. I thoroughly enjoy giving a “good” gift to others. I also find it deeply satisfying when someone puts equal effort into a gift for me. To my heart, this translates as genuine love. Sure, the verbal expression of love has great value, but when action accompanies those words, I more easily accept them as true.

I’ve come to realize that I doubt people more often than I believe them. I’m still getting to the bottom of this skepticism, but I wonder if this is because of the comparison I make between our efforts. Since my effort feels grander, my love for them must be grander than theirs for me, right? This theory fails more than it succeeds, but that doesn’t stop me from dwelling in its doubt.

Whether or not my silly heart theories have merit, the reality is God’s good gifts come to me from His hand of true and perfect love. I cannot measure His boundless love, therefore I cannot doubt it. His sacrifice will always outweigh my puny efforts. Every single time my human expectations are unmet, He reminds me that my every expectation is met and exceeded in Christ.

The Father’s perfect good gift of His Son settles my heart wonderings. Why search for satisfaction in human gifts or affection? Why try to prove the value of my love for others or theirs for me? The spiritual and physical gifts He bestows on me every day are not merely enough for me; they are all to me. I am cherished, adored, even owned by the King of True Love. And His good gifts are not only offered to me, they are fully mine.

A Rhyme for the Grieving (Gotta Retrain the Brain)

Sandra Sue Swindell
(September 12, 1942 – July 27, 2021)

If I think too hard, I’m sad
If I think really hard, I’m mad
If I don’t think hard enough, I’m numb
If I don’t think at all, I’m dumb
So how does one have a regular thought?
Retrain the brain not to seek what was sought
It’s the only way to think differently
Put on new thoughts, try new activity
But then those things should include her too
So I’m back to the old, out with the new
I guess what I need to do with each new day
Is do the next right thing and include her in some way
She’s here in memory, she’s here in heart
Yes, that’s what I’ll do, keep her in part
Knowing she’s whole and wouldn’t trade
Her Savior’s presence for this world He’s made
So Father, hold her there and we’ll gently hold on here
That way we keep what we once held near

Liliana Gabriel

My Lillie is flying to New York today. She’s off on a week-long, grand adventure with two close friends. This trip was a surprise for her fourteenth birthday. I know I have only four short years till she starts her real-life grand adventure. That one won’t last a mere week. I already deeply dread it.

I remember when my parents dropped me off at college. I was ready to face the giants, but I still felt the sting of their goodbye. It’s a launch into adulthood that almost seems cruel. “Okay, you’re 18, time to go flap your wings!” I realize many people don’t start flying on their own at this young age, but I’m sure my Lillie will.

Moments after she was born, my mother held her and commented, “She’s already smarter than I am.” She did seem like an old soul: wise, calm, and already able to fly. I don’t know what the Lord will do with this daughter of mine. I just know whatever it is, it will be very special.

Sometimes I wish she were still a toddler, carefree and light. And yet I wouldn’t trade these teen years for anything. They’re the grappling, grasping, growing guts of life. Four years. That’s it. Sigh. Thankfully, this time is saturated in God’s goodness and grace. And that kind of saturation will mean more than mere flying for Lillie; she will soar.

Train up a child in the way he should go,
Even when he grows older he will not abandon it. Proverbs 22:6