Peace to you!

Today is the International Day of Peace.  What is peace but the absence of fear? I have heard many times that the Bible says “Do not be afraid!” 365 times – one for each day of the year. I used to share that fact with people in personal conversations and when speaking to groups. I may have even written about it in a blog post in the past. It was such an encouraging thought! Then one day I read that it wasn’t true. Now what? I decided to investigate for myself. I read through the entire Bible, writing down every verse that conveyed not to be afraid. The phrase “Do not be afraid!” does NOT appear 365 times. Not even close. However, verses that convey that message through a variety of wordings (trust me; be still; have peace, etc.) appear over 400 times! So there IS one for every day of the year – and plenty of extras for those days when you need more than one reminder that He is with you and will never leave you! Peace to you, friends!

Gabe Hood peace sign

A Tale of Two Fathers

Dad and Penny snow
My father Wilford L. Walters passed away on Saint Patrick’s Day in 2017. The following is the message/eulogy my little brother Eli Walters shared at my dad’s memorial service: 

I’m thankful today for my dad’s life. I always knew who he was. He’s there, in my earliest memories, and each day I could say, “That’s my dad.” He always lived in the same house with my mom, and my siblings, and me, as I grew up. And I almost always knew where to find my dad…typically either working to provide for his family or at home. I would often go to work with my dad. On those days, when I was really young, my job was mostly to stay out of harm’s way and entertain myself as he worked, but I got to watch him. And eventually, I was old enough to work with him. I don’t think I ever even filled out a job application until I was in college. I worked with Dad…all four seasons of the year…inside and outside…on roofs and on the ground…mowing, trimming, shoveling, plumbing, repairing, cleaning, painting. My dad pulled me — terrified — onto roofs. I got to ride tractors, push mowers, use propane torches, cut pipe, saw limbs, pet cows, touch electric fences, shoot guns, climb ladders…and on…and on. I got to do things with my dad that many children only dream of doing.

My dad worked for a lot of different people as I grew up, but it seemed that he spent most of his time cycling through the same short list of people. Mowing and trimming at Forsht Farm in the spring and summer and raking leaves there in the fall. Painting, cleaning, and letting the dogs out for Mrs. Delozier. The Mohrs, the Dells, the Claars, the Royers, Mrs. Zinn, this church. I recall many hours spent painting inside and outside this church with my dad. My dad was trusted, he knew how to do a lot of different things, he did good work, he cleaned up after himself, and he did it all at a very fair price. That likely explains why I never recall my dad lacking work. It seemed that there was always someone waiting for him to tackle another project.

And my dad was a hard worker. His endurance, in my mind, is legendary. When he would get into a job, he (which was frequently “we”) would often spend long days on it. On many occasions, I’m embarrassed to admit, I’d be pleading with him, “Dad! I’m hungry! Can we pleeeeeeeease go home?!?!” Typically, when he reached the point where he was ready to quit for the day, I was already passed out on the ground from low blood sugar and exhaustion. At least it some times felt that way. One of the last big projects that my dad and I completed together was the roof on my current house. We spent quite a few long days on that roof, and even at the age of 75, he would be pushing to go just a little longer, while I was suggesting that we quit for the day.

My dad’s stories made many of those long work days seem at least a little bit shorter. Especially when we’d both be painting in close proximity to each other, and it was otherwise quiet, he would tell stories. Stories from growing up, stories from his early working days, stories from his Army days, stories about the family before I was born into it. He told a lot of humorous stories. One of my favorites from his Army days was the story of how my dad was accidentally stabbed in the forehead with a fork while eating at the mess hall. The perpetrator had intended to stab someone…but my dad wasn’t the intended target. (We can reenact it downstairs during the meal.) But my dad also told a lot of serious stories. As the youngest grandchild on both sides of the family, I had missed a lot, and through my dad’s stories, I got to know people that I would never meet. I came to understand our family history and dynamics. Whether he knew it or not, my dad taught me and influenced me a lot through his stories, particularly his stories about remaining faithful to a certain young nurse-in-training back home, while he was halfway around the world in Korea.

Now there is one way in which my dad abused me as a child. He forced me to watch the Steelers during the 1980s. It was truly cruel and unusual. But, God does work things together for good…I became a Green Bay Packers fan. My dad loved sports. Athletics was the most significant connection between my dad and me during my formative years. Other than working, we otherwise spent the most time together playing catch in the backyard. In those years, I don’t know that anything gave me more pleasure than throwing a baseball, and my dad did that with me. Spring through fall, from age 9-18, multiple days a week. Many tens of thousands of pitches were thrown in that yard. I had my dad, I had a baseball in hand, I had the smell of cowhide under my nose, and I felt…alive. During one of my dad’s last days, as he was sleeping, I took a picture of his left hand. I specifically wanted to capture an image of his crooked left index finger. I won’t take all the blame for that, as my dad worked with this hands all his life, but that finger took such a pounding from me over the years, pitch after pitch after pitch. So much of my own frustration and pain was channeled into that short 60-foot trip of a baseball from my hand to my dad’s catcher’s mitt.

My dad served other people. During my lifetime, he served this church in a variety of roles. My parents co-taught a middle school Sunday school class for many years. I recall my dad going off to evening Trustee meetings, and I remember many Sundays of counting the offering, sorting bills, rolling coins. And my dad served his family. I recall camping out in my Grandma Walters’s living room with my parents, as they helped to care for her in her final days of life. And my dad invested many hours into the houses that my brother, my sister, and I have owned. He helped to put a roof on two of them. He cleaned, he painted, he fixed leaks, and more. My dad also served his neighbors. When neighbors reached out for help, my parents always seemed quick to respond. He would always mow some extra grass and shovel some extra snow to help those around us. And he was known to keep most of 16th St Duncansville stocked with fresh-picked tomatoes from his garden during the late summer months. And through it all, I never sensed that my dad thought that put anyone in his debt…or that he expected many thanks for it. If anything, it seemed to be one of the significant ways that he knew how to express love.

And as my parents served and gave of themselves to the church, to family, to friends, to neighbors…as they very often tried to do what they thought right and best…I watched them, at times, be mistreated, insulted, and torn down. I mention that only because I got to see my parents dealing with some very significant wounds as I grew up. And I watched them wrestle with those things, with great anguish and with many tears…and understandably so. But, far and away, what stands out to me the most from the wounding and the hurting is not the expressions of pain from my parents. What stands out to me…what I carry with me…is the commitment to not return evil for evil. The commitment to forgive, even when it is the last thing that you feel like doing.

But my dad was far from perfect. I desperately wish that my dad had asked good questions and listened more, that he had been more gracious in responding to my mistakes, that he had been more affirming and encouraging. Maybe some of you can relate, as you think about your own dads. But when I dwell too long on any of those unfulfilled desires, I am reminded of the fact that my dad…my parents…lost two children. My brother Kerry to leukemia, at age 7, which was before my time, and my sister Peggy, at age 22, in a car accident. I wasn’t around at all for the first, but no one was closer to them than me for the second. And when I ponder those incredible losses for even a few seconds, especially now as a father of three young children, my focus turns from the ways in which my dad came up short to amazement at the miracle that my dad could move forward, that he could find a way to carry on after losing one child, let alone two. I marvel that he could find a way to work again, to tell stories again, to smile again, to laugh again…to do anything more than lay down and quit. I have no other explanation than the grace of God.

In telling you that my dad came up short, that he wasn’t everything that I needed him to be, I’m not saying anything that you don’t already know. If you are a dad, like me, you know this. We fall short of being all that our kids need us to be. If you are a child of a dad, which is all of you, you know this. No earthly father has been everything that his child needed him to be. Maybe you never even knew your dad, maybe he abandoned you at an early age, maybe he was physically present but relationally and emotionally absent. Maybe he did far worse. Or maybe he was engaged and active in your life.

Regardless of the specifics of our stories, our dads were not and are not perfect. They were and are something less than we need or needed them to be. Even at the age of 38, I continue to be in desperate need of a perfect Father. The good news, the great news, is that there is One.

I am most grateful to my dad for taking us to church every Sunday. I wasn’t always thankful then, but I am now. My dad made certain that I heard about Father God. My dad made certain that I heard that we were separated from our Creator because of sin. My dad made certain that I heard about Father God’s only begotten and perfect Son Jesus, who was born among us as a fully human baby and who lived a perfect life, despite being tempted in every way that we are. I heard that Jesus died a horrific death that we deserved because of our sin, and by his perfect shed blood on the cross, he wiped clean the sin-full slates of God’s children. I heard that he took our sin upon himself unto death, and his righteousness was credited to our accounts. I heard that, on the third day, Father God raised Jesus from the dead…that Jesus conquered sin and death, and now we too can walk in newness of life in Him. I heard that Jesus ascended into heaven, and he’s at the right hand of God, interceding for all those who believe. I heard that Jesus, God the Son, sent God the Holy Spirit to dwell within God’s people…to remind us of all that Jesus taught…to comfort, to encourage, to empower. I heard that Jesus will be back…to separate those who belong to His Father from those who do not. And all who belong to Him will spend eternity with Him. And I believe it. I believe it with all that I am. And on this day, my dad wanted to be certain that you would hear as well.

Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And Jesus also said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” So I’ll leave you with a few questions from my dad.
Do you believe?
Will you believe?
Will you call upon the name of the Lord Jesus, through whom you can have access to a perfect Father?

You see, my dad wasn’t everything I needed him to be. But he pointed me in the direction of my Father God, who is more than enough. I may have lost my dad, at least for a while, and I will mourn that loss again and again in the coming days. But I know my perfect Father, who is, who always was, and who will always be.

Please pray with me: Father God, thank you for my dad. Thank you for the ways in which his life reflected aspects of your nature. In your word, you have declared to us that we all have sinned and fallen short of your glory. Thank you that you did not leave us in that helpless situation. Thank you for sending your Son Jesus as the perfect and final sacrifice to save us from sin and spiritual death. Thank you for conquering sin and death through Jesus.

Father God, I thank you for those here today who believe on the name of Jesus, who have confessed their need for him and have thrown themselves upon your grace. Father God, by your Holy Spirit, work in their lives…work in my life. Reveal to us the areas of our lives, the places within us, where we continue to resist you. Bring us to repentance and surrender. Jesus, reign in every area of our lives. You have not just saved us from a future hell…come near, come now, bring order to our present chaos, give us abundant life and joy.

Father God, I thank you for those here today who do not believe. I can only ask today that you soften their hearts, that you remove the scales from their eyes. Holy Spirit, make their hearts new so that they may believe. Give them the gift of faith in the Lord Jesus, so that they may receive and experience your saving grace.

God, be an overwhelming comfort to my Mom in the days ahead. Let her know your grace, love, and provision more than she has ever known it before.

In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

 

This Way Out!

Trapped many stories up in a burning building, surrounded by smoke and flames, and having no idea how to escape, you are terrified, confused and hopeless. You drop to the floor and begin to crawl to what you hope is the exit, but you keep running into desks, walls, and other desperate people. Despair begins to overtake you. Then a calm voice breaks through, calling out, “Follow me! Come this way! You can escape using these stairs!” Intense relief, joy, hope, and an urgency to follow that voice to safety surge through you! You follow without a second thought. It is indeed the way to safety, and you rejoice as you run down the stairs and out of the building! That’s what happened to some very fortunate individuals who had been trapped after United Airlines Flight 175 hit the South Tower on September 11, 2001. That calm man, known then as “the man in the red bandana” and later identified as Welles Crowther, died rescuing others that day. He is – and will always be – hailed as a hero, and rightly so. Now imagine if Mr. Crowther had found the passable stairway, run down it joyfully to safety – and not taken the time to tell anyone else about it. Our perception of him would be far different. We would see him as selfish and wonder how he could look at himself in the mirror each morning, knowing that he had thought only of his own welfare.

Someone recently asked, “Why are you Christians so obnoxious about sharing your beliefs?” And I immediately thought of the man in the red bandana. I have no desire to be obnoxious. I am one of those people who loves peace, wants to be liked, and would be quite happy to “live and let live.” But the stakes are just too high. I believe with all my heart that this life is not the end. When we come to the end of our earthly life, I believe we will go to one of two places – heaven or hell. And I believe there is only one way to enter heaven, by following Jesus there. Sometimes I hear people say, “I can’t believe in a God who would send people to hell.” But it isn’t a matter of Him sending anyone to hell. No one has to go there. The choice is yours. He sent His Son, Jesus, to rescue us and provide the payment for our passage into heaven. He gave His life to rescue yours! You can choose to follow Him, or you can choose to reject Him. He doesn’t force His will on us. If people ignored Mr. Crowther’s advice to follow him to safety, we would not blame him for their demise. They made their choice to go their own way. If you choose to reject Jesus, you will spend your eternity where there is literally nothing good – only evil – as God will be completely absent. It makes me shudder to think of being there. It makes me weep (literally!) to think of any of you being there. And so I am intentional about pointing you to the way of escape and praying that you will follow it. If that is obnoxious, I am okay with being labeled as such.

Today, the people who were rescued by Mr. Crowther sing his praises and love to retell the story of this heroic young man who gave his life for theirs. They try to live their lives more purposefully because they know another gave his life for them. They realize how close they were to death, so they take more joy in the things that many of us take for granted. That is how I feel about Jesus! He has not only provided a way of escape from hell, He has given me a life of joy, peace and purpose in the midst of this often very complicated and painful life. I have tried to find joy and fulfillment in so many other things, and I have never been successful! Jesus has rescued me from fear and shame, and He has filled that empty, longing place inside of me with His love! I want to sing His praises to everyone and introduce everyone to Him.

There is no choice of “live and let live.” If I choose not to share Jesus with you, I am essentially saying I am content to live and let you die. And I love you far too much for that! If we were in that burning building together and I discovered the safe passage, I would be screaming out your name, desperate to make sure you could access it as well. And the stakes are much higher when your eternal destiny is in question. That is why l tell you about Jesus, post about Him on Facebook, and share resources that tell about Him. It’s because I love you, I believe there is a burning building to escape, and I believe I know where the only passable stairwell is! I hope everyone will investigate to see if what I say is true. I really hope you will come to know Jesus as I do. Because I really want us to walk victoriously together in this life – and live in paradise together in the next life. I would so love to talk more with you about my precious Jesus and His plan to rescue you! So please don’t hesitate to ask me!

For those of you who already know Jesus, will you be the one calling out, “There is a way of escape! Let me show you where it is!”? Or will you be the one who joyfully runs to the escape and allows the others around you to perish? Can you really claim to love Jesus if you don’t love others enough to tell them about Him?

I love you so very much, dear friends! I am praying for you!

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17).

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” -Jesus

 

 

 

Truly Precious Moments

When I was younger, I collected a few Precious Moments figurines of those magical moments in life – engagement, wedding, pregnancy, first child, first Christmas. Today I realized that they are all of smiley moments. But some of the most precious moments in my life have been when I was crying my eyes out and a good friend cared enough to cry with me. If I could find a figurine of two women just bawling their eyes out (preferably with tears, mascara and snot intermingling as they run down the faces), I swear I would buy it and display it prominently in my home. Here’s to real friendships and how much beauty they add to this sometimes very painful life. #thankGodforgirlfriends

Happy Spring!

Happy Spring! After a winter of frequent illnesses, it is so good to fling open the windows and welcome the warm, fresh air to fill our apartment! Spring also brings Easter, the reason for our hope—the reason we can walk through this life without fear—no matter what is happening around us. I know what it is to be pressed down under fear, and I know what it is to walk in freedom with Jesus. It literally feels like heavy fetters have fallen away from me, allowing my spirit to run and jump and dance. (Oh, if only my body would cooperate!) This is one of many reasons why my heart burns with love for Jesus, and I cannot keep from talking about Him. He deserves our utmost praise, and I want everyone else to know this freedom, peace, purpose and joy.
This life is so very hard at times. But Jesus puts it into perspective. It’s like basic training for what lies ahead—life with Him, in paradise, forever. I know people who work jobs they hate in the hope of a good and comfortable retirement one day. Yet, they don’t even know if they will be here to enjoy that retirement. We press on in serving the Lord through whatever life and our enemy throw our way, with the assurance of the most amazing retirement plan ever imagined (actually “beyond all we could ask or imagine” Ephesians 3:20)! For this reason, we can take every step, no matter how painful, with a joy set before us.

Do you realize you were Jesus’ joy as he faced the cross? Hebrews 12:2 says, “For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross.” He knew what crucifixion was. He knew what He was going to endure. This is why He was in so much anguish that He sweat drops of blood as He asked the Father if there could be another way. Yet He finished with, “Not my will, but Thine be done.” And then, with the joy of providing a bridge to God for you and for me, with joy in paying the penalty for our sins, He endured the cross. And now He intercedes for us constantly! I wonder how many times He has said of me in my follies and failures and sins, “She is just dust. And she was bought with my blood. She is my pure, white, spotless bride.” Truly amazing grace it is!

A Peek at Yourself through God’s Eyes

I know so many beautiful, intelligent and fascinating women. Yet I can’t name one of them who does not struggle with self-concept in some way. Perhaps we need a new set of glasses when looking at ourselves. This passage from The Resolution for Women by Priscilla Shirer gives us a glimpse of ourselves through the eyes of God. I invite you to take a peek at yourself through His glasses!

“Last night on television, I heard a world-renowned celebrity being interviewed. She looked beautiful. Charming. Every bit the prominent, accomplished, acclaimed public figure we’ve all seen on the stage of her profession. And yet even this woman—admired by millions, rewarded with great wealth, status, and fame—said something I really didn’t expect. Responding to one of the interviewer’s questions, she answered, ‘I’ve never had a very healthy self-esteem. I don’t even know how a person gets that. I’m desperately trying to figure out where to find it.’

“Huh? Her? Not happy with who she is? I was shocked. A woman with so much talent and prestige, now in her mid-fifties, having known little other than position and prominence her whole adult life, revealing an inner struggle she’d battled for years and years—the longtime attempt to discover, enjoy, and celebrate herself.

“We know from revelations like this, just as we know from our own struggles with the same kinds of feelings, that our true, lasting value must be based on something besides the visible and exterior.

“Not just something else but someone else.

“Hear it explained in His own voice as He speaks to a young man who’d similarly lost touch with a health self-concept. Seeking to encourage the young prophet Jeremiah, God said to him, ‘I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born. I appointed you a prophet to the nations’ Jeremiah 1:5.

“Read that verse again. Hear those three staggering declarations with the ears of a daughter listening attentively to the voice of her loving Father. ‘I chose you.’ ‘I set you apart.’ ‘I appointed you.’ This is truly who you are. A woman chosen. A woman set apart. A woman appointed. You are not here by accident at this moment [reading this]. It is no mistake that you are living right now with your own set of circumstances, dealing with your specific set of issues, all while working within your personalized set of skills and abilities. God made you you and has placed you here. On purpose.

He chose you. You are involved in a divinely designed, carefully calculated, and eternally significant plan. For reasons you may not fully understand or even agree with, God selected you as His own. This was not a quick, halfhearted decision on His part. It was a deliberate, volitional act of God Himself, made with thoughtful consideration and wisdom.

Choosing, as it is used in this verse, denotes a knowing. His choice of you was based on a deep, intimate knowledge of who you are. So even if you simply cannot fathom why God would choose a person like you to participate in a particular activity, He Himself is well aware of His reasons. He has selected you, and everything about you, to participate in the work He is doing at this point in history. Like a coach who methodically considers which runner to put on the track at particular stages of a relay race, God’s choice of you for this leg of the marathon was by design. That’s why you’re here. In this position. Facing that project. Married to that man. Involved in that friendship. Dealing with that issue. Living in that neighborhood. Spearheading that committee. Participating in that activity. Mothering those children. Living this life.

“Not because it has accidentally happened like this but because you have been known and chosen by the one Coach who sees you as uniquely suited, equipped, and capable of carrying out such amazing plans with such intricate precision.

“You are the one, my friend. You. Are. The One.”

 

Queenly

Today is the day a beautiful and amazing woman entered this worldthe unforgettable Judy McClure. Sadly, I cannot call Judy to wish her a happy birthday, nor can I share a birthday treat with her. Instead, I asked God to wish her a happy birthday from me. But I can still raise a birthday toast to her and keep her memory alive by telling you a bit about my dear friend.

Judy

I first met Judy in a Bible study class. I liked her right away, and I think my admiration for her grew every time I saw her. She made me feel like a queen. Whenever she saw me, she would yell out my name in a voice that showed she was thrilled to see me. It always warmed my heart.

Judy was an enigma. In some ways, she was like a queen. She knew how things should be done and wasn’t afraid to give instructions to others or to tell them what they were doing wrong. On the other hand, she was the most encouraging, humble, down-to-earth and generous person I knew. She loved people and animals, and sacrificed a lot to serve them. She was the kind of friend who heard our family was ill and showed up at our door with a big pot of home-made chicken noodle soup and a decadent dessert. She encouraged me as a mother. Whenever I was frustrated with how my boys were acting, she would always say, “Those boys are just the right combination of sweetness and mischief!” She was always surprising us with presents—the latest Buzz Lightyear toys for the boys, coffee for my husband, and hats, jewelry and journals for me. I will never forget the day I was walking across the church parking lot when Judy pulled up beside me in her car. She seemed especially excited to see me that day, and told me to get in her car. As it turns out, she had discovered an adorable hat while she was shopping. Knowing that I loved hats, she wanted to get one for me. But she explained that she couldn’t decide which color to get. “So, I got one of each,” she happily declared as she plunked four hats on my lap. She waved off my thanks and drove me back to my car so I could put my hats away before entering the church. I was so excited about my hats that I didn’t even look down when I stepped onto the ground, and I stepped into a pile of mud. In a flash, Judy was out of her car with a rag in her hand. She grabbed my leg, lifted it up and wiped the mud from my shoe, seemingly without thought. She simply lived to serve and bless others.

On another Sunday, Judy came up to me and asked me if I liked her earrings. They were made up of tiny purple beads, hanging at different lengths. I thought they were adorable and told her so. She promptly pulled them out of her ears and handed them to me. She explained that she bought them to help a friend who sold jewelry for a living, but that they weren’t her style. She had decided to buy them, wear them to church and give them to the first person who complimented them. As no one had complimented them by the time she ran into me, she made a point of asking me if I liked them. She was determined to bless someone with those earrings. They continue to be one of my favorite sets!

One year on Mother’s Day, Judy went blind in one eye. Shortly afterward she went deaf in one ear. We learned that she had a brain tumor and advanced cancer. Judy learned all of her options and decided to seek treatment at an excellent hospital in Boston. After all the testing was completed and the doctor came to give her the results, she told the friends who were with her, “If I get bad news, don’t cry.” The news was bad, and Judy herself cried as she realized she would never watch her grandchildren grow up. But she decided to end her life with dignity, and she prayed that God would allow her to live through one more Christmas. He granted her request. From her chair Judy dictated the Christmas prep work—from how the cookies should be baked to how the tree should be decorated. She requested her favorite foods, even though she knew she would only be able to eat a few bites. She spent the last days of her life thinking of how she could bless others. Her daughter said she giggled with delight as she decided to bless some people with surprise gifts of money in her will.

Judy loved Jesus and loved to worship Him. Even when she was very weak and unable to get out of her wheelchair, she insisted on being taken to church for the worship services. I would always look for her, so I could share a hug with her.

I was given the privilege of representing Judy’s friends by sharing at her memorial service. As I wrote out my thoughts for the service, I pondered what to wear. I remembered the earrings Judy gave to me and decided I simply had to wear purple, the color of royalty. Nothing else seemed fitting for remembering my wonderful, queenly friend—and the King she now worshipped face to face!