Delight In the Lord by Tara Randel

Last month, my daughter and I went to EPCOT for the Flower and Garden Festival. It was a beautiful day, as it always is when I get to spend time with one of my favorite people. Walking around the park, it was encouraging to see people out and about. Disney is really good about taking measures to protect their guests, which you can see as everyone wears a mask because they want to enjoy a day at EPCOT.

As usual, the garden displays were beautiful. The character topiaries are always fun to view. Every year they add more food vendors, so we were able to stroll the World Showcase, enjoy the scenery and eat some really good food along the way.

As we came upon the Mexican Pavilion, one of the cast members showed us an almost hidden path that leads to the side of the building. As we stepped inside, we came across the most breathtaking array of orchids. It was like finding hidden treasure. I didn’t realize orchids came in so many different colors. I have to say, it was the highlight of the day and I wanted to share these pictures with you.

Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them. Psalm 111:2

I hope these pictures brighten your day!

Tara Randel is an award-winning, USA Today bestselling author. Family values, a bit of mystery and of course, love and romance, are her favorite themes, because she believes love is the greatest gift of all. Look for her next Harlequin Heartwarming romance, STEALING HER BEST FRIEND’S HEART, available AUGUST 2021 . For more information about her books, visit Tara at www.tararandel.com. Like her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/TaraRandelBooks. Sign up for Tara’s Newsletter and receive a link to download a free digital book.

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Grateful for the Little Things by Bridget A. Thomas

In my normal routine, I drive to work Monday through Friday. My husband likes for me to call him when I arrive at work, to let him know that I got there safely. My husband will later send me an “I love you” text, which I answer. And I have friend who sends me a “Good morning” text message each day. On my lunch break, via my cell phone app, I get on our Furbo. This is a neat little device with which you can see your pets, talk to them, and even throw them treats. Then I call my hubby for a few minutes. When I leave work, I call my husband for a few minutes again. Then on the remainder of the drive home, I often listen to praise music, usually streaming from my phone. And on most days, my sister and I will also text each other about different things that are going on in our lives.

I recently had an odd week and wasn’t able to follow the routine on two of the days. On Sunday my phone had died. We live in a small town and no one was able to look at it, since it was Sunday. So my husband took my phone on Monday to see if it could be fixed. It couldn’t, sadly. Therefore, I had to get a new phone.

However, this meant on Monday I had to drive to and from work without a cell phone. While I don’t like being glued to my phone, as people are these days, it made me thankful for the technology we have. My commute is fifty miles one way. I felt uneasy about driving all that way without access to a phone. My husband did offer to drive me, but I knew my worries were a little farfetched, so I declined. He also offered to give me his phone. But we do not have a landline, so that meant he would have been without a phone. Therefore, I declined that offer as well. By the grace of God, all went well. On that day, I was especially thankful for a reliable car and for God’s protection.

But as James R. Coggins pointed out recently in his post “The Man on the Park Bench,” life these days appears hopeless when you lose your cell phone. This story that James shared has so much truth to it. And I felt the pains of it recently. Even when I did get a new phone, I had to stumble along as I added apps onto my phone, tried to remember passwords, and so on.

On Thursday of this same week, while on my way home, there was an accident on the interstate. I was stuck in traffic and even turned my car off for a while. I was thankful that I had a new cell phone, so I could tell my husband I would be late. Years ago when we didn’t have this advantage, spouses would arrive home late, while their mates worried about what was keeping them.

As I sat in traffic and thought about this, it also made me thankful for my husband and how much we communicate throughout the day. I realize not all spouses are like this. They might not even bother to tell their husband or wife that they are going to be late. They might not talk to their spouse every day on their lunch break or on their way home. And when I saw my spouse that evening, I was sure to let him know that I appreciated him.

I also have a few coworkers who drive this road. When one of us knows of an incident, we are usually good about sharing with each other. A few weeks prior, one of my coworkers emailed a few of us about an incident that caused traffic to be backed up. So on this particular Thursday, since I was parked on the interstate, I was able to return the favor. I was thankful for the technology to do so, and for knowing I had thoughtful coworkers who looked out for one another.

I was thankful for my sister, who lives hundreds of miles away, yet who stays in contact with me throughout the week. And I was thankful for my friend who texts me each day, just to check in.

These two incidents that happened within only a few days of each other have made me take note of the little things in life. We have so much to be thankful for, yet we often take many of those things for granted. I try to live a life of gratitude. Each evening I try to think of several things that I was grateful for within my day. But I too often miss the small things in life. These incidents have encouraged me to be more thankful for the blessings all around us. Will you take some time today to take note of all the little blessings God has planted in your life?

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. – Psalm 95:1-2

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

© 2021 Bridget A. Thomas

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Choose the Golf Club by Julie Arduini

If this picture could talk! This was how my teen daughter, nephew, sister, and I spent Good Friday. My sister and nephew now live in what was our mom’s home, and it is 300 miles from my house. When we discussed Easter, we knew one thing—we wanted to do everything as opposite from tradition as possible.

Plans started with them coming to Ohio instead of us traveling to Upstate NY. We decided to kick our long weekend off by visiting Fits of Fury, a rage room type experience at a nearby mall.

When our mom first became ill last September and one minute the doctors are preparing for her to pass, only for them to come in and talk discharge, and that bounced back and forth for weeks, we were fatigued in every level. We sure didn’t want her to pass, but the toll of saying goodbye and mentally preparing for it is excruciating. Then she was home and we were caregiving her through months where her pain level was heartbreaking. She received a diagnosis of h.pylori and that addressed the pain, yet other challenging things were happening. Just when she rebounded and was basically back to her old self driving, shopping, getting her haircut—she was gone. Just like that.

I don’t care how strong your faith is, that roller coaster will mess you up.

—Julie Arduini

I’m no exception. When I entered that room with carefully chosen plates, glasses, mugs, and even a hard drive and monitor, I thought about 2020 and these last months. I was separated from my husband and kids for almost nine weeks. I missed out knowing the daily in their lives and it was only when I returned did I realize what a huge impact that was for all of us. Certainly none of us regret my leaving to stay with mom, but it was a hard, hard time.

My sister eyed the glass as a daughter, a single mom, and a teacher. Through all of these months she had to pack her son up and drop him off different places because of remote learning. She was expected to be ready for anything as a teacher with news changing last minute and resources rarely at her disposal because of protocol. She was there when mom fell ill and needed transport and again, because of protocol, wasn’t allowed to join her. We never saw mom again.

We had the choice of a hammer, sledgehammer, baseball bat and golf clubs to use on these items. We wore protective gear and took turns. Sometimes just hurling it against the wall was enough.

For me, I found the most damage—and healing—came from the golf club. Although actual golf is my husband’s game, I had no trouble picking up that club and taking a swing. Once things shattered, I hit again and again to take those big pieces down to slivers.

It felt good.

Obviously this experience is not the same as a counseling session, a time of prayer, or anything that can be classified as therapy. Yet, it was therapeutic if that makes sense. My nephew showcased a powerful swing with the bat and it helped him get some pent up emotions out. I know I felt the same way.

Days later I had to drive mom’s car from NY to Ohio where my son and his fiancee will use it. The emotions that spilled out as I drove it across state lines surprised me, and I honestly would have done near anything to trade that drive for a return to the rage room. I sobbed, and just depleted myself of words and tears.

When I arrived home and cried some more as I unpacked her things, I focused on much needed sleep, but ran to His word. The Bible is my comfort and guide and when it’s extra busy, I miss the reading plans I have in place. I couldn’t wait to get back to it. It is in the Psalms, and the prophets where my plans have me that are helping me heal.

But if you want affordable entertainment where you can swing out some frustration, I definitely recommend the experience. For maximum damage, use the golf club!

PS

In the picture we were supposed to give angry faces. My sister and I were so excited to be there we just look goofy. But the younger ones, they gave a great game face!

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When God Says Wait…

They say there are three answers to prayer: Yes, no and wait. I’ve been in a holding pattern for a very long time. I remind myself that when Saul became Paul he was sent off to study for 11 years. During that time the man who knew Judaism better than anyone was suddenly called to preach to the Gentiles. I really identify with Paul at this time. I’ve been training for something with all the books I’ve written: Romance, Chick Lit, a non-fiction title about a missionary in Iraq who lost her husband to the people they were witnessing to…and yet, I feel like God is doing a new thing in my life. I’m not sure if it will include the written word or not. And since I don’t know which way to go, I stand still and wait.

Well, I’m not exactly standing still. But my purpose is definitely changing and I’m having to listen to that still-small voice that doesn’t shout, “Do this!”

I’ve seen enough of God’s work to know that even if I make a mistake, He will direct me to the right path eventually, but for now, He is saying, “Rest in Me.” And for someone from Silicon Valley who has been a go-getter all my life, it is not an easy place, this rest stop. I want to go. I want to do. I want to hear what’s next, but I keep getting pushed back. So for now, I’m resting in it. I’m figuring out what I like to do while relaxing and going in that direction. For now, the only word I’m getting is, “Be still and know that I am God.”

I suppose we are all in this wait pattern a bit with the virus lockdowns, but it’s good to remind ourselves that God’s timing is always perfect.

This is my dog Fiona on Lake Tahoe. My daughter is getting married there next Summer. It’s our “go-to” place and the perfect environment to wait for God’s answers.

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A Test of Trust by Nancy J. Farrier

We had a wild and crazy end to our past week. One of those times when you wish you could hit rewind and have a chance to change events. But that isn’t an option. Instead, you have to move forward and trust God to get you through the good times and the hard times.

I did find out how hard trusting can be in those excruciatingly difficult moments, hours, even days.

On Thursday, my husband took me for an eye doctor appointment, over an hour drive from our house. After the appointment, we stopped for lunch when a neighbor called. He said there was a fire behind our house and our whole neighborhood had been evacuated.

We were over an hour from home. Our pets were there. No one would be able to get them out but us. A weight settled on my chest as I thought of the cats trapped in a house that might be burning, or our dog who could go in and out of the garage but would be so frightened at the flames roaring. Breathing became a chore as we contemplated what we could do from so far away.

I prayed on the interminable drive toward home. I wanted to trust God with my pets, with the people, with the homes in the area but I had trouble letting go and finding peace. That heaviness persisted, like a boulder resting on top of me.

By the time we got within two miles of our house we were stopped by a roadblock. Many of our neighbors were waiting by their cars watching the thick cloud of smoke boiling above our homes. Sudden bursts of black smoke in the midst of the gray and white plume told us something else caught fire. A home? A vehicle? 

I argued with the men blocking the road, telling them we needed to check our pets. They wouldn’t let us in.  we waited until after eight at night when they said we would not be allowed back in that day. We ended up driving forty-five miles that evening to spend the night with our brother-in-law. On the way, I prayed more, realizing we had no change of clothes, not even a toothbrush or toothpaste.

The next morning we were scheduled for our second Covid shot. As soon as that was done, we headed home. As we travel, we normally listen to an audiobook but this time neither of us could concentrate on the story. I spent the time praying.

The fire was still raging. We hoped to see less smoke but the thick cloud was the same with the intermittent black burst that spoke of some new structure catching fire. 

We checked in at the command center and were told they were escorting people to their homes one at a time depending on the area you lived in and if it was safe. We waited for an hour before our turn came. I had argued with them (politely) that we wanted to go in and be at our home. One of the men we talked with tried to stop the officer from taking us home, but he was too late.

When we got to our place, we would have fifteen minutes to check on our pets, feed and water them, and gather a few things. My husband started checking things immediately while I talked with the deputy who followed us to our house. I told him we were going to stay unless they would arrest us. He had to call in to see what they said, but they couldn’t arrest us, although they would not come back in to rescue us either.

He was not happy with our choice. He pulled out a notebook, wrote down our address, and asked for our names. He said, “That way we know who you are when we have to come back and scrape you up.” I laughed. I assured him we would be careful and thanked him for doing his job.

Somewhere during the past day, my prayers had changed my attitude. Trust had settled in, easing the weight from my chest. I knew God was there. I knew He had our best interests in mind. We had previously lost two homes to disasters, and I knew that no matter what, God would see us through.

That was a long day. We had no power or gas service so my husband set up the generators to give us minimal power and water. No hot water, but that was okay. We checked on neighbors who had chosen to stay. We drove around in the evening to see the damage and were horrified at the number of houses destroyed completely.  We knew many of those who lost their homes and it’s so sad to see. (In all a dozen homes in our small community were destroyed.)

What did I learn from this experience? I learned that neighbors are good people who pull together and help each other. (We had a fire start in the overgrown lot behind our house. The neighbors on the other side saw the fire and carried their pool water to put it out. Otherwise, we would both have lost our homes.) 

I saw the sovereignty of God in action. Not all homes were spared but all lives were spared. 

And I learned that trust doesn’t always come immediately when we pray. Sometimes through a lot of prayer that trust trickles in unnoticed until you are resting in His grace and mercy and have no worries even when the flames are licking high and breathing the smoke hurts your chest.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” Prov. 3:5

There is no way my understanding can grasp why this happened. But I am thankful for the prayers of family and friends that carried us through. I am thankful God was there even when my trust in Him faltered.

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” 2 Cor. 4:7-9

These words from Paul in 2 Corinthians wove through my thoughts this past weekend. The picture above is one taken of our white house and barn by the Forest Service and Fire Management people and shared across the internet. When I saw the flames right there, I knew only the power of prayer and the grace of God kept our home from burning. 

Why were others not spared? I don’t know. But I am grateful to learn this lesson of trust and grateful to all God taught me through this experience.

Trust in God. He is worthy.

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Nora’s Review of: Burden of Proof by Davis Bunn

The Burden of Proof 

By Davis Bunn 

Published by Revell 

320 Pages

NORA’S REVIEW: If you love John Grisham’s intense courtroom drama and stories about second chances, you will love this novel. The characters and their situation grabbed my heart and never let it go. Ethan comes to terms with the fact doctors gave him a few months to live. Just when he was coming to terms with his new reality, in walks his estranged scientific Professor sister-in-law with an opportunity he would not have considered if cancer were not eating up his body. It is an out of the box, wild option but what did he have to lose. He would be her human lab rat.

This story had throwback elements from the 1980’s on Coco Beach Florida, there were no cellphones, no internet, no video games, and the Nasa Program was in it’s heyday. Life was simple back then. One thing remained constant, how people prepared for hurricane season. Ethan loved to surf, and the best surfing could be had on Coco Beach during dangerous times. I enjoyed surfing with Ethan and his friend.

Another fun thing is the Back to the Future elements sprinkled throughout this intense page turning novel I could not put down. This would be a wonderful book club pick. There is so much to discuss. If you have not read a book by this author, I highly recommend this one.

FROM THE BACK COVER: Three weeks after his twenty-third birthday, Ethan missed the chance to save his brother’s life when he was murdered on the steps of the courthouse in Jacksonville, Florida. Ever since that fateful day, Ethan has sensed a deep disconnect between the man he should have been and the one he has become. His days play out a beat too slow, his mind replaying the scene of his failure again and again.

But when his brother’s widow appears, asking for his help in uncovering what was really behind his brother’s death, Ethan is stunned to hear that she and her late husband were involved in a much larger case than he knew–one that threatens the global power structure. As Ethan joins the search for answers, he will enter into his own past–and discover a means of redeeming his future.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have received a complimentary copy of this book by the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”

Nora St. Laurent 

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Mea Culpa by Kathy Carmichael

One of the complaints my family makes about me is that I’m too literal. Essentially, it’s part of my nature and try as I might, I can’t seem to change this leaning toward the literal. And the exact. And facts. And how it works. You see my point.

It doesn’t always get me in trouble, but when it does, it’s often a doozy. 

Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@bethlaird?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Bethany Laird</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/s/photos/bible?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Unsplash</a>

In general, all I want, besides our Heavenly Father and my family and friends, is either a good book read or writing materials so I can write my own good book. I’m not deep enough to sit and plot anything other than stories, and I’m shallow enough that my internal thoughts are mostly all about me or all about the Lord. Sometimes they focus on worry over a loved one, but that’s about who I am in a nutshell.

And because of this self focus and my literal attitudes, I made a pretty bad misstep recently. Mea culpa. Or, as my son would say, “My bad.”

If someone’s religious doctrine differs from what you believe, who is right? Does it matter?

I once told a friend that I thought the Bible (or God in inspiring the Bible) was intentionally vague in places, thus allowing it to resonate with more people, leading them to becoming believers. We need a little flexibility.

My friend told me that I was wrong. The Bible was consistent and specific. Okay. She’s allowed to believe that, but I think I’m allowed to believe as I do. I didn’t argue with her but I still think there is some give, especially when it comes to certain details — often lost to history and the passage of time.

An example for me is that we are commanded to remember the Sabbath and to keep it holy. Yet it doesn’t specify the day of the week nor does it specify exactly how. I personally believe the Sabbath is the day we designate to keep it. Some people believe it must be Sunday and others believe it’s Saturday. Yet, one size doesn’t fit all.

If you choose Wednesday as your Sabbath, then you would rest that day in Honor of all the Lord created. (After all, Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. — read Matthew 12.) You might elect to find a worship service on that night, or you might attend a Bible study that day. You may honor it with hymns, worship or prayer. How you honor it is up to you, but the fact you are honoring God’s labors, and how Great He Is, is what it is about. In my humble opinion.

This is what I mean by doctrinal differences. You may believe completely differently, and that is good with me.

So based on my core belief I was recently shocked to find that I was judging one of my sisters for not believing exactly what and how I believe.

Thankfully Holy Spirit stepped in and corrected me. (I’m so grateful He stepped in, but it makes me flinch to realize I need that sort of correction — yes, I’m a sinner.) Holy Spirit reminded me of what a Godly and devout Christian my sister is. She is so much better than me! And He reminded me it’s not my place to force my beliefs on others. God loves her as well as me and these small differences aren’t important in the big scheme.

The next day I apologized to her and thanked her for bringing up a subject I found to be controversial. I honestly don’t remember exactly what our disagreement was, but I needed to hear and learn that someone can be devout and not endorse the exact same things as I believe. They are beloved by God because they sincere believers. They are good and Christian. I don’t need to attempt to argue them around to my way of believing.

This was an extremely important, and timely, lesson for me. Let’s just say that I’ve been living this and receiving barbs for not believing the exact way as some others. I found that hurtful, and now I’m over being literal. God loves us all. And we need to love one another. That’s all we need to know and do.

I so very much needed the reminder. Now I’m including a request in my prayers to open my eyes and ears so that I can welcome learning, and loving those who differ from me. It’s what our Heavenly Father and Jesus asks of each of us. I’m just a little later getting on board than I had thought.

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Easter Again by James R. Coggins

Once again this year, in spite of COVID and the attendant restrictions, the Christian church has celebrated Easter. Why do we keep returning to the same themes year after year? The reason is that there are certain foundational Christian doctrines, central biblical themes, which are the basis for everything else. Christmas and Easter are at the heart of these central themes, and we neglect them at our peril. We dare not become so absorbed in the fine details of the Christian life that we overlook the foundations.

Consider, then, three great themes of the Christian faith.

1. Creation

Occasionally we get involved in debates with evolutionists about the origins of the material universe, but, other than that, I’m not sure that a lot of us spend much time thinking about creation. Yet it matters vitally that we have been created by God, in His image—and that we have been created for God. The fact that the universe has been created by God gives us a profound respect and responsibility for the world around us. Moreover, the fact that we ourselves have been created gives us an identity, value, meaning, and purpose. Going even further, the fact that other people have been created by the same loving God leads us to value them; this is the basis for love and respect in all human relationships.

The truth of creation has been simplified into catchy slogans such as “God don’t make junk.” Yet that is how it is with the great truths. They are simple but very far-reaching. They change everything. How the world needs to hear this truth of creation! Meaninglessness, despair, purposelessness, hopelessness—these are the characteristics of our modern society. How people need to hear that they are created by a loving God, that they have value, meaning, and a purpose!

2. The Fall

There is a common argument in the LGBTQ community that “I was born this way.” In church contexts, LGBTQ members sometimes say that God has created them with “a diverse sexuality” and loves then “just as they are.” But the concept goes way beyond that community. How often have you heard someone say, “Don’t mind me. That’s just the way I am”? The assertion can be used to excuse any number of faults—a critical attitude, irresponsibility, a bad temper, dishonesty.

People who assert that God loves them in spite of their faults have grasped the reality and significance of creation, but they fail to understand another foundational Christian doctrine: the fall.

We are created in God’s image, but we are also fallen. We were created good, but our nature has become corrupted by our decisions to sin, collective and individual. We are subject to immoral desires, anger, hatred, fear, and corruption. This is why the argument “That’s just the way I am” doesn’t work. Some of us are child molesters, gossips, murderers, thieves, complainers, and liars—but that doesn’t excuse it. The answer is that we shouldn’t be that way.

The problem goes beyond individual human beings to creation as a whole. How many times have we heard atheistic scientists talk about the “balance of nature” as if it represented the most ideal of worlds? The reality is that nature is fallen too, that the whole creation is groaning and suffering (Romans 8:22). A nature that stays in balance by the cruel devouring of some animals by other animals is not ideal. Such cruelty and fear represents a fallen world that is badly out of balance. This is not how God’s creation was originally intended to function.

3. Redemption

Many people—surprisingly, even many non-Christians—understand the fall. They know that the world is an evil place. They know that they themselves are broken. They have been badly damaged by the words and actions of other people. In turn, they know that they have messed up their own lives and hurt many others in the process. They know by experience that they are unable to control their evil desires, their anger, their hatred, and their petty cruelties. Yet that is all they know. They may have been created, but that is overshadowed in their minds by the reality of the fall. They know they are abject failures, and they despair. Often they try to correct the situation by blotting out the source of the problem: themselves—either quickly by suicide or slowly by drugs and alcohol.

Yet the foundational Christian beliefs do not end with the fall. Thank God they do not. More astounding than God’s creative power, more awesome than God’s perfect holiness and justice, is the reality of God’s redemptive love. God made a perfect creation, we have ruined it horribly, but somehow, for reasons we cannot fully understand, God still loves us and redeems us. And He doesn’t just redeem us—He redeems us at the cost of His only Son.

That also is something the world desperately needs to know. We have messed up our lives and the lives of those around us, but God has redeemed us. He offers to save us from our evil desires, our immoral motives, our cruel actions, and our sinful pasts. In Christ, He restores us to meaning and purpose and to loving relationships with Himself and our fellow human beings. He will ultimately re-create the heavens and the earth so that they are perfect once again, a place where the lion will lie down with the lamb. He will ultimately perfectly restore us as well, making us resemble Him again. It seems to me that that truth is worth celebrating again and again. And that is a good reason to celebrate Easter.

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Come To The Table

As we celebrated Easter Sunday recently, my family gathered around our table after the church service like we have so many times in the past. Among the delicious food served was a wealth of cherished memories.

If I close my eyes, I can picture all the Easters that have passed, and I see the ones seated around the table from my childhood. Almost all are gone now. Parents. Grandparents. Uncles and Aunts. Brothers.

When I grew and moved away from my childhood home, had a family of my own, I became the grownup hosting the holiday meals. New faces were seated around the table and passing years became filled with new memories.

Eventually, there were more vacant seats. More loved ones celebrating this blessed holiday with the One who sacrificed everything so that we can have a seat at God’s table.

No matter who is seated next to you this year, whether you are surrounded by loved ones or it’s just you, know that you are always welcomed at God’s Table thanks to His Son’s amazing sacrifice.

So, Come To His Table.

My latest book, Shielding the Amish Witness recently released in e-book. It comes out in print on April 13th.

Here’s a little about the book:

Seeking refuge in Amish country puts everyone she loves in danger.

On the run after discovering her brother-in-law was behind her husband’s murder, Faith Cooper can think of only one safe place—her Amish grandmother’s home. But when danger follows Faith to the quiet Amish community, her childhood friend Eli Shetler is her only protection. And their survival depends on outlasting a relentless killer…one who has nothing left to lose.

All the best…

Mary Alford

www.maryalford.net

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When Things Don’t Work Out as We Think They Should by Vicki Hinze

Things often don’t work out the way we think they should, or when we think they should.  That doesn’t mean they don’t work out.  It only means that our view isn’t as big as God’s plans. 

It’s easy to find doubt creeping in on things of which we once were certain.  It’s easy to talk ourselves out of our certainty or of what we had supported, but these we should recognize for what they are:  tests of faith.  

We were told to lean not to our own understanding, warned that God’s ways are not our ways.  And yet we judge developments and events by our ways and our understanding.  When we’re hit with a curve ball, the first thing shaken is our faith. Often it is taken as truth and is the first fatality.

We doubt we understood, interpreted correctly, had misguided intentions or that spiritual warfare is at play—and all that might be true.  More might also be true.  But faith is hope in the unseen, right?  So isn’t this—the times of doubt and frankly fear–exactly when faith should be stronger not weaker?

Isn’t that when we affirm or confirm that our leaps of faith truly are leaps of faith?

My point isn’t to say that when good sense intervenes, and our every instinct tells us that we’ve veered off path not to turn around.  My point is to say that when we feel we’ve veered off path and are considering the wisdom of turning around, we first act in faith.

In other words, we hit our knees and seek guidance and counsel and wisdom first and not as a last resort.

We are never without God, or in a place where His wisdom and guidance is beyond us.  That’s important to remember.  One of our greatest challenges is in that leaning to our own understanding and not into His counsel and instruction.

Unlike ours, God’s timing is perfect for His plan.  It is incumbent upon us to determine as best we are able His plan and to follow it.  We won’t always hit center-target at it.  But if we can teach ourselves to seek Him first, to do so with a constructive and positive mindset—an open mind and heart—and to listen to the small still voice inside us which is a major communications hub between us and Him, we’ve done our best, and that is all that is required of us.

Often with good intentions, we think we’ll do our part and God will do the rest.  That could be.  But given a choice between that and going to God first, we see the benefit of guidance from the start of His plan.  Even when we don’t see the path, we are sure as certain He does.  Which action not only confirms the leap of faith but provides the surest path for the most productive (and constructive) journey?

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A Prickly Lesson by Nancy J. Farrier

I love growing cactus and succulents. They are prickly but they have the most beautiful blooms and are such unique plants. I love how they adapt to environments where many plants would not survive. 

The problem comes when I have to do transplanting or weeding. Ouch! Even when I wear gloves, I end up with stickers in my fingers. No matter how careful I am, one little move will have the prickly end of a cactus spine reminding me of their nature. 

Sometimes it’s easy to remove that spine, but some of them are so small and they blend in with my skin to the point that I can’t find them to remove them. I have to wait until the wound shows up and gets sore to be able to remove the sticker.

I am reminded of these cactus spines and the way they aggravate me when I read this story in Judges:

Then the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel; and He said, “Because this nation has transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers, and has not heeded My voice, I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died, so that through them I may test Israel, whether they will keep the ways of the Lord, to walk in them as their fathers kept them, or not.” Judges 2:20-22 (NKJV)

God allowed testing by leaving these nations to become a thorn that poked at the Israelites. What would they do? Would they turn to God for help? Would they succumb to temptation and embrace foreign gods? Would they be drawn away from the one true God, the God of their fathers or would they stay true to Him? What would the testing of those annoying stickers, the nations around them, bring?

Likewise, we have those things in our lives that bring testing. We have those around us who are not walking with the Lord. We have many distractions outside the church and within the church that can lead us away from our walk with Christ. We harbor little impurities within us that cause problems.

Is it a superior attitude as we settle into our secure Christian life looking down on those around us who don’t know Him? Are we blinded to what God wants us to do or to become because we are confident in our beliefs? 

Is it the comfort of our material possessions that makes us forget our calling, or the importance of sacrifice? Maybe we need to cut back and ask God what He wants us to do. Think of the rich young ruler who walked away sad when Jesus asked him to give up the one thing he treasured most – his wealth. What is God asking each of us to sacrifice?

Maybe that thorn is an actual person and God is using them to refine our character. We must learn to love with God’s love and to trust in His grace and mercy. Loving is not always easy.

Having a sticker that is painful can keep us humble and reminds us of God’s goodness just as this thorn did for Paul.

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Cor. 12: 7-9a (NKJV)

God’s grace is sufficient. We can depend on His strength when those thorns of life poke at us in uncomfortable ways. Through prayer we can have an attitude like Paul demonstrated:

“Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Cor. 12: 9b-10 (NKJV)

As I work with the cactus in my garden, I know I will get spines in my fingers, but I can be reminded that my weakness shows God’s strength.

Let’s learn to be thankful for those trials, those painful moments of testing. Instead of complaining, we can praise God that He is the strength we rely on, not anything else.

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An Easter Prayer by Bridget A. Thomas

When I was growing up, Easter Sunday was a fun day. After church, we had an Easter egg hunt with hard-boiled, dyed eggs (indoors since I grew up in the north). A basket filled with sweets awaited us, courtesy of the Easter Bunny. My sister, who is three years older than me, would sample this and that from her basket. Being a little sister who wanted to do whatever her big sister did, I tried to keep up with her. But I usually had to quit because I wound up feeling sick with all the candy.

Nowadays, Easter looks different. We don’t have an egg hunt at my house, because we don’t have any little ones. And I rarely get much, if any, Easter candy. But the most important difference is my focus. When I was younger I knew what Easter was about. But now that I am an adult, I have more of an appreciation for the true meaning of Easter. I don’t put my attention on what the Easter Bunny will bring me this year. Instead, the emphasis is on what Jesus brought for all of us over 2,000 years ago.

Last Easter we were all in the throes of the pandemic, so my husband and I watched church on television and then we watched The Passion of the Christ. This movie is such a genuine depiction of what Jesus went through. It can be difficult to sit through this movie without tears, or at least a deep sense of mourning for what our Lord and Savior had to suffer for each of us.

Even reading about Jesus’ death in the Bible will bring remorse. But when we keep reading past the pain that Jesus faced on Good Friday, we find the joy of Easter morning. With Jesus’ death and resurrection, He paid the price for our sins and He bridged the gap between our Heavenly Father and us. We can never repay Jesus for what He did. But we can use our time to worship the Lord, to remember what Easter is all about, and to give Jesus our gratitude. Let’s take a moment to do that now. Let’s thank Jesus for what He did for us on the cross. Will you pray this Easter prayer with me?

Dear Jesus, how can we begin to thank You for what You did over 2,000 years ago? The words “Thank You” will never be enough. In fact, no words could ever fully express our heartfelt gratitude. We are deeply humbled to think about what You did for us and for all who would accept You. You, who knew no sin, took on the sin of the world. You knew each and every one of us would stumble and fall. But You still loved us all so much that you went to the cross for us. You paid our sin debt that we could never pay on our own. And as a result, you washed us clean. You made us as white as snow. You redeemed us from our sins. You saved us from death. You gave us the gift of salvation. You gave us the opportunity to have a relationship with You. And this relationship is more precious that anything we will ever know on this earth. Nothing compares to the price you paid for us. But today and everyday, we give You our hearts. We surrender all to You. We honor You. We worship You. We love You. You are our Redeemer, Provider, and Shepherd. We praise Your Holy Name. May our lips praise Your name every day of our lives. In Your Holy Name we pray, amen.

If you have never accepted Jesus as Savior, I invite you to do so today. If you want to know how, you can say the prayer found here. This will be the best decision you ever make. This will bring true contentment into your life. And this will bring you hope. In these uncertain times, we all could use hope. And the only way to find true hope is through Jesus.

I pray you all have a blessed Easter!

© 2021 Bridget A. Thomas

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Spiritual Reminders by Tara Randel

He says, Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. Ps. 46:10

The beginning of this scripture has been my go-to for a large part of my life. It is simple, yet at the same time, so very deep. What I love is that when you meditate on these words, there are many layers of understanding and devotion. As I get older and look back at my life, I see that this scripture helped me refocus in so many life experiences when I needed to be grounded and reminded that I can’t do everything by myself, no matter how many times I try to prove otherwise.

The first time I really felt the impact of these words was a period when I was overly stressed. My husband and I own a business and at that time, our children were young. I was also working, so between the three responsibilities, I felt like I was hanging on by a thread. We had a specialized truck we used in the business that had to be serviced. Of course, the only garage capable of doing the work was over an hour away. My husband left early to drive it over, then I was to follow after getting the girls to school to pick him up.

I remember being wound tight, my mind racing with the tasks that awaited me later that day. Even that week. I started talking to God, whining about my busy life, how I needed a moment to slow down, but countering with, if I did, nothing would get done.

Does that refrain sound familiar?

As clear as a bell, I recall the Spirit saying. “Be still.

Well, that caught my attention. What I translated was, “Stop talking and let your mind dwell on Me.” So I did. I abruptly halted my internal dialogue and waited. In the time that followed, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart, reminding me that no, I can’t do it all. Nor do I need to. Spending time with God is more important than anything on my to-do list. This was a moment in time I still call to mind when I get overwhelmed.

Years later, when my oldest daughter died, there was a long period when I spoke to God but didn’t really hear anything. Looking back, I think this was because I had a lot to get out of soul. A lot of grieving. Once I was ready to listen again, a peace came over me when I waited quietly enough to acknowledge that God’s presence had never left me during that terrible time. He was patient, always listening to me, and when it was my turn to listen, His wisdom and love helped me heal.

Flash forward to the present. Now that I have established a career as an author, I still allow the same types of struggles to overpower me. Deadlines that are too close together, along with the ancillary things that go with promoting a book. Worrying about getting that next contract. Balancing time between work and my quiet time with God. All the day-to-day worries, even if you work in a different profession, that we all go through. And when the dust settles and I step away from the noise, the words that comfort me are always the same. Be still and know that I am God.

I finished a project last week. In my devotion time , I realized I’d let myself get wound up again. Instead of focusing on God, I was planning for the next few months and making myself worn out before I started. I’ve since taken the past few days off to slow down and listen. To savor the special time I only experience when I am quiet and hear from the Spirit of the Lord.

As I was reading a book, I came across another scripture that caught and held my attention this week. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; Psalm 37:7a.

See a theme here?

My point is, we all get busy. We all have too much on our plates from time to time. We still think we can do it all. And once we realize that God is bigger than any of our problems or stresses, that ultimately He is in control, these words from scripture are a beautiful reminder of how much God loves us.

Tara Randel is an award-winning, USA Today bestselling author. Family values, a bit of mystery and of course, love and romance, are her favorite themes, because she believes love is the greatest gift of all. Look for her next Harlequin Heartwarming romance, STEALING HER BEST FRIEND’S HEART, available  August 2021. For more information about her books, visit Tara at www.tararandel.com. Like her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/TaraRandelBooks. Sign up for Tara’s Newsletter and receive a link to download a free digital book.

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The Man on the Park Bench: A Short Story by James R. Coggins

The man on the park bench looked utterly forlorn. He was sitting with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands.

“Good afternoon,” I said. “How are you doing?”

“It’s hopeless,” he said. “It’s hopeless.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said, sitting down beside him. “I’m an outreach worker with Downtown Mission. I’ve been able to help a lot of people. Maybe I can help you.”

“There’s nothing you can do. It’s hopeless,” he repeated.

“Why don’t you tell me what the problem is, and I’ll see if I can help. Do you have a job?”

“Yes. I just moved here a couple of months ago to accept a new job as sales rep for Nolix Corp.”

“Well, that sounds good. What is the problem?”

“I’ve got a long list of contacts I’m supposed to be meeting this afternoon and later this week.” The man caught his breath and continued. “But I lost my cell phone. It has all of my contacts’ information. Now I don’t know where I am supposed to go or who I am supposed to meet.”

“Why don’t you go back to your office at Nolix?” I suggested.

“I guess I could, but I don’t go there very often, and I would probably need my GPS to find it.”

“So, use your GPS.”

“It’s on my phone,” moaned the man. “And so is my pass code for the employee entrance.”

“So, use the public, customer entrance.”

“It wouldn’t do any good. I don’t have any back-up files in my office. All my client info and my presentation materials were in my cell phone. That’s why I don’t have to go in to the office very often.”

“Do you have any friends or family members you could call to help you?”

“I don’t have any family close by. I have friends, but I don’t know their last names or contact info. All of their phone numbers and addresses were in my cell phone. I didn’t memorize their phone numbers because I never had to dial them.”

“Do you have a car?” I asked.

“Yes, but how could I turn off the security lock and get into it without my cell phone?” the man complained.

“What about a home? Do you have a home?”

“Yes, I have a home in the suburbs, but I only moved in a couple of weeks ago. It’s in one of those neighborhoods where all the streets twist around and go off on angles. I don’t remember the address, and I need my GPS to find it.”

“That’s too bad,” I said.

“Besides, even if I got there, what good would it do?” he asked. “Without my cell phone, how would I turn off the security alarm or open the garage door or the house door? How would I turn up the heat or turn on the lights or start up my entertainment system or program the stove to cook dinner? How could I order groceries to be delivered or food from a restaurant?”

I sat there beside the man for a few moments deep in thought. The man was right. His case was hopeless.

I stood up, mumbled a half-hearted goodbye, and headed down toward the next park bench. There were a couple of homeless, long-term drug addicts there. Their situation was undoubtedly far more hopeful.

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How’s Spring Look Where You Are At?

Saturday was the first official day of spring and here in Texas the signs are all around.

I spotted my first bluebonnet yesterday, a sure sign the rest of the wildflowers are soon to follow.

The trees are beginning to bud, the fields are turning green. And the first mesquite tree on our property has bloomed. My father-in-law was a wise man. Though he only made it to the eighth grade in school, he was blessed with common sense and one thing he always said; when the mesquite trees bloom, winter is done. That was one of the many words of wisdom that he taught me through the years.    

Spring is a wonderful time of the year. A reminder of God’s promise of renewal. He renews our spirit daily. And just like springtime, he showers us with His blessings and restores our strength.

But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

Just seeing the new life blooming all around me definitely renews my spirit. It’s been a long hard 2020 and more than ever I think we all need our spirits renewed.  I pray that wherever you are—whether spring is popping its head out for you to enjoy, or winter is still holding fast—God will renew your sprit and help you run and not be weary. Walk and not grow faint.

Happy spring!

Today, I have a new Christian Suspense release entitled Firestorm, book eight of The Courage Under Fire series.

Here is a little about the book:

To save her brother’s life, Sarah Hancock must risk everything to find the one man who can bring Blake home. Former Navy SEAL, James Cooper.

Amidst talks of peace and the rise to power of Daniel Pamphili, the unthinkable happens—an attack like no one in Strike Force could have predicted proves the depths in which Pamphili is willing to go to silence Strike Force.

After a daring attempt results in Blake’s rescue, Pamphili steps up his attempts to find Strike Force.

Hiding out in the wilderness of Wyoming, Sarah’s and James’s relationship grows stronger. With the world quickly moving toward unprecedented times, Sarah knows she loves James and she’ll spend whatever time they have left here on earth loving him.

When Pamphili announces his pledge to rebuild the Jewish Temple, he sets in motion events that will mark the beginning of the end.

And the countdown clock is ticking down to zero!

All the best,

Mary Alford

www.maryalford.net

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