We each have a life story, penned without ink, read by the people around us. Who's writing your story?

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Community . . . Quietly Caring

Three police officers walked up my driveway to the patio where I sat with my daughter and her friend after supper. "Is there a Sarah Phillips here?" one of them asked. 

I slowly raised my hand to acknowledge my identity.

"Can we talk with you for a minute?"

The look on my face must have registered concern as I rose from my chair, apron still on, to meet them in the driveway.

"There's no cause for alarm, ma'am," the same man informed me. He then mentioned my dad's name. "Do you know him?"

Turns out, my dad's neighbors were concerned because they hadn't seen him for a few days. They did a little detective work, too . . . mail in the mailbox, car in the garage . . . and then they took action. 

I told the officers of my father's whereabouts - Indiana with my sister. I had checked on his house a couple of times, watered the flowers, and checked the mailbox. He would be home the next day.

In the end, I thanked them for their help. And later, thanked my dad's neighbors for their concern (and gave them my cell number). It meant a lot to me that other people were looking out for my 83-year-old dad. 

There's something to community . . . people quietly caring for people. 
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:4

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Forty Years . . .





Forty years ago today, 
I married my college sweetheart. 


After dating for over a year and a half and then waiting another two years after our engagement until I finished school, we finally tied the knot on July 14, 1979. We were young and in love, ready to face the world together. Barry taught Social Studies at a growing Christian school, and I practiced my homemaking skills and helped at the school and church. I fondly remember our first little apartment . . . 

When Barry graduated from college, he was debt-free with $40 in his pocket from mowing lawns, just enough to drive home and find work to save a little before the wedding. I still have our first budget, all laid out on a sheet of notebook paper.

We had no idea that God would bless us with three beautiful daughters and three little grandsons, that Barry would serve at Clarks Summit University for 20 years, and that we would be part of the same community for 32 years. 

Every summer around the time of our anniversary, we tried to get away for a couple of days, just the two of us. He always had a plan in place. I wonder what he would have had up his sleeve for our 40th.



Time provides perspective. Looking back, I see the faithfulness of God. 
Unmistakable grace!

July 14, 2012, Sharon's Wedding

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Slapping Mosquitoes

Bzzzzzz. Ouch. Slap. "Gotcha." Another one. Then another. Pretty soon, we feel itchy all over!

Like it or not, this is the season for pesky mosquitoes. Time Magazine says, "Mosquitoes really do prefer some people to others." Those with Type O blood or a certain chemical make-up attract these blood-suckers. Other factors that invite them include dark clothing and movement along with those who are sweaty from exercising. If you're looking for a healthy tick and mosquito repellent, we like this one from Beyond Organics. 

Sometimes life is a little like slapping mosquitoes. First one thing "bites" us, then another, then another. Pretty soon we feel like we're dancing an unwelcome dance that's exhausting. And there's no end in sight. Even in the night, the bzzzzzz of worry keeps us awake.

I've had a few "mosquitoes" buzzing around me lately. An unexpected car repair, several important decisions, the concerns of my kids, and most recently, a diagnosis of osteoporosis. I'm a prime candidate, I know, but the low T-scores still took me by surprise- especially since a healthy diet and exercise have been part of my routine. I've been researching and putting a plan in place to fight back, but the bzzzzz of concern and worry about any number of things follow me around like a hungry mosquito. 

You've been there, too.

There will always be mosquitoes buzzing around, but we have a "worry repellent" available to us. 
God is our refuge and strength, a very present and well proved help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its water roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
What are your current circumstances? Will you and I trust God with our stories . . . though we face health challenges? Though reasonable expectations turn upside down? Though change brings about uncertainty and unsteady steps? 
Be still. Cease striving, and know that I am God . . . the LORD of hosts is with us. (Psalm 46) 


There is a God in heaven who invites us to His throne . . . to bring to Him all our daunting and pesky problems . . . and to find abundant grace and help in time of need (Daniel 2:28; Hebrews 4:14-16). 

Photos from bing.com/images/freetouse

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Oops! When God Sees Our Mistakes

When was the last time you made a mistake? 

Mistakes come in all shapes and sizes, but the common denominator is the lack of realization that we have it wrong . . . until it's too late. A simple arithmetic error in the checkbook results in an overdrawn check. We lock our keys in the car and miss an important appointment. If we had treated a physical ailment earlier, we could have prevented present complications. We miss the ounce of prevention that's worth a pound of cure.

We all know that "ugh" feeling. We should have known better, we moan. But, the fact remains, we didn't know. What happened was unintentional. Once again, our humanness got the best of us, and we're left with regrets and even guilt. We missed the mark in appraising situations, making decisions, and/or nurturing relationships. And in the process, we did the less-than-best or even the wrong thing.

I'm reading the Old Testament through this year. It's full of stories, laws, and worship guidelines for God's people, the Israelites. The death and resurrection of Jesus has replaced and fulfilled the sacrificial system and the seeming endless list of rules the people were to follow. I know that. Yet, as I'm reading, I'm looking for themes. Themes that speak to the character of God. And what I'm finding is both sobering and comforting.

God was swift to judge unbelief and disobedience just as He consistently rewarded obedience and faith. Over and over again, the text speaks of forgiveness. 

What popped off the page were the paragraphs that begin with these words, "If you sin unintentionally . . ." (Leviticus 4; Numbers 15:22-29; Hebrews 9:7). God understands our propensity to make mistakes, to display weakness (1 Corinthians 2:1-5),  or to "sin" and not even realize it until later. He made provision for His people's shortcomings in Old Testament times, and He understands our humanness and offers forgiveness today (1 John 1:9). He is strength in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) and sovereign over all (Colossians 1:17).

This reminds me of King David's words in Psalm 103: "He knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust" (verse 14).

So maybe it's okay to make an innocent mistake, to accept our humanness, to lean into God's gracious perfection. And then when it's needed, to ask forgiveness, to make restitution, and to learn what God has for us in this moment. He is, after all, much bigger than our best efforts . . . and our worst mistakes.



Photos from bling.com/images/free to use

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Travel Fatigue?

I turned the key in the lock and swung the door open, all the while wrestling my bag over the threshold and into the breezeway. Bone weariness and achy shoulders told the story of a long afternoon of travel in and out of the rain. The familiar surroundings and scent of the house welcomed me home. "Thank you, Lord," I breathed.

I'm sure you, too, can relate to the old saying: It's good to go, and it's good to come home." 

The past few months the Lord has opened up a number of speaking opportunities for me . . . from small groups to women's events and even a quilting retreat. I have been able to share our story and offer encouragement and hope from God's Word with women of all ages. The best part often comes after my talk . . . the hugs, the sharing, and even the tears as we chat about trusting God with our stories. I marvel at the tenacity of many who tell me what they are facing. I pray for them all the way home. What a privilege.

At the same time, travel fatigue is real, especially for homebodies like me! 

Certain Scriptures have popped off the page during the weeks I've been coming and going. Like the verses in John 4: "[Jesus] had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar . . . Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well (italics added)." In another instance, He slept through a stormy boat ride until his disciples woke Him up (Matthew 8:23-27). 

Later, when Paul the apostle wrote to the believers in Corinth, he reviewed some of his experiences. Right in the middle of his list describing all kinds of dangers, hardships, and shipwrecks, he includes "on frequent journeys" (2 Corinthians 11:24-28).

How blessed we are in the 21st century. The modes of transportation available to us far surpass walking for miles and miles. And we usually don't worry about severe opposition, lurking danger around every corner, hunger, and exposure to the cold. 

There's a bit of comfort knowing that Jesus and Paul also felt bone tired as they traveled and served God. When I think about them I gather courage, purpose, and perspective.

It's been said, "Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap." I'm not usually a nap-taker, but I am grateful for a quiet place to rest and reflect. I sometimes think of the verses in Mark 6 when "the apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, 'Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while'" (Mark 6:30-32).

Jesus understands travel fatigue. He invites us to rest.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

A Flip Flop Kind of Walk?

How many pairs of flip flops do you have?

This is the time of year when we tuck away our sweaters, heavy coats, and gloves, and trade our boots and wool socks for lightweight fabrics, short sleeves, canvas flats, and FLIP FLOPS!

Did you know that flip flop style shoes have been en vogue since at least 4,000 B.C.? They've been worn across the globe and throughout history. Egyptians constructed their flip flops from papyrus and palm leaves. In India, they used wood. Rice straw was used in China and Japan. Tribes in Africa wore rawhide flip flops. The British Museum displays a pair dating back to 1,500 B.C.* This is about the same time Moses discovered the burning bush, and God told him to take off his sandals because he was standing on holy ground.

It appears the flip flop is the definition of timeless fashion for men, women, and children!

But there's a problem. Flip flops don't offer much foot support. A google search revealed that wearing them too much can cause overpronation, flat feet, blisters, ankle sprains, and even broken bones. We like the way our feet look in them, but sometimes our feet aren't too happy. And the older we get, the truer this statement is.


If we're going on a walk or a run, common sense tells us to opt for footwear with more support: the stable, sensible, dependable sneaker!

This reminds me of the New Testament phrase, "We walk by faith, not by sight." The Amplified Bible says it this way, "We regulate our lives and conduct ourselves" by faith.

The walk of faith is not a flip flop kind of walk! It's an intentional, courageous, conviction or belief in God's truth when we see His faithfulness in our lives and when we can't see Him working. That's what faith is: to believe without seeing.

Sometimes, on our walk of faith, we're in a good rhythm. We're making progress. We enjoy many bright and beautiful blessings along the way. Maybe we have a walking buddy to encourage us along. The course is going well.

In other seasons, the path winds uphill and then plunges down. We trip over our own shoe laces. We're out of breath. The ache in our side and pain in our legs feels overwhelming. We fall so far behind, we wonder if it's worth it to keep going. Or maybe it's all we can do to put one foot in front of the other. Or we even find ourselves crawling forward inch by painful inch.

Can you relate?


As many of you know, God has given me the opportunity to write our story down. I'll always remember the day I received Penned Without Ink in the mail and showed it to my writing critique group. As we sat around the table, one of them said, "And look, they even put a cross on the cover." 

A Cross? Where? The rest of us studied that cover for several minutes, and not one of us could see it until Jo Ann pointed it out. Now it's the first thing I see. (Can you find it?) The design artist did a masterful job communicating that in the midst of trauma and crisis, even when we don't see it, we are surrounded by grace. God's grace.

Let's take courage today and lace up our sneakers. We have a God who sees us in our walk of faith. He hears our cries. He surrounds us with His love and care. Even when we can't see Him, He promises never to leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5-6).  


**Photos from bing.com/images/free to use

 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Reading Between the Lines

For months now, I've eyed that quiet shelf in my office closet, the third one down, with a lifetime of journals and prayer notebooks arranged in order by date. Over the years I've moved them from place to place as we've repurposed and rearranged, but not once did I crack one open to read the chronicles within.  

If you've followed my journey, you're familiar with my occasional yet repeated references to simplifying and downsizing. I've spent the last four years wading through a lifetime of accumulated "stuff," highly motivated by my desire to spare my children the weight of it all.

It's one thing to toss 1984 homeschool catalogs, donate dozens of VHS documentaries, and find teachers and students who gladly receive Latin and Spanish curriculum. It's quite another to decide what to do with decades of handwritten stories. Stories about family, events, celebrations, school days, worries, fears, regrets, life lessons, and well . . . whatever else happened to come to mind on any given day. Memories recorded in black and white . . . someday to be remembered in living color.


On my birthday last September, I decided it was my job to take care of these volumes in one way or another. In March, I finally mustered up the courage to begin. Page after written page, I read. Sometimes I found myself smiling . . . like the time one of the girls danced around the living room singing, "I can read! I can read!" Or when said daughter couldn't decide on which socks to wear to make her "shoes feel good." Or the day she got her head stuck in a chair at school. Another of them dressed up like Polly Pepper, and at Thanksgiving, a native American, complete with fringe and papoose.

I found the record of when we paid off our house and the season we harvested 49 quarts of strawberries and canned umpteen quarts of tomatoes and pickles. I noted the day when Patches the Guinea pig died and how Daddy helped bury him in the garden under a stone painted yellow. I leafed through the celebratory stories of birthdays and end-of-the-school-year-parties, prayers and baptisms, swimming lessons and family outings.

But lest you think our lives were mostly idyllic, my eyes also traveled over pages of weary fatigue, frustration, busyness, uncertainty, and desperate prayers for wisdom and guidance. I scribbled, "God, where are you? I'm trying so hard. Why does it seem I will never be enough? Please take care of my girls." Tears sprang to my eyes as I laid the book down. 

Can you relate?

I happened to mention my bittersweet experience to a friend who parroted back to me what she and I had talked about in times past. "What is true?" she reminded me. "Read your journals as an act of worship as you recall God's work in your life. Let go of the pages that are no longer beneficial." 

An act of worship. Letting go of the If Onlys leaves room for us to read the grace of God between the lines. His unfailing presence. His steadfast love. His promise of redemption. He brought us through those days . . . the learning days . . . the growing days . . . all for His glory. 

It's been good for me to review my life through my own pen. Humbling, really. Words have a way of representing a more accurate picture than memory. All these years later, I find myself worshipping God with a sweeter appreciation for His faithfulness . . . and for His readiness to listen to the broken, hopeful prayers of a mother's heart. 




Behold, I am doing a new thing . . . 
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
Isaiah 43:19