To Watch Over You

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Yesterday was a bad weather day where I live. All morning, the clouds gathered and I could feel the rain in my bones. A cold front quickly took over our area and the darkness of the heavens looked threatening.

Still, I had to go to physical therapy for my knee. I only have two more sessions before they will cut me loose to work on my own at home. So I drove under ominous skies and actually made it to PT before the bottom fell out of the sky and a torrent of rain beat upon the earth.

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The radio was on while I worked through my exercises and I heard emergency messages about tornado watches and warnings across southeastern North Carolina. Instead of listening to the music, I felt compelled to pray — not only for myself, but for everyone in the path of the storm. This is the scripture that came to mind:

He will put his angels in charge of you to protect you in all your ways. Psalm 91:11 (GOD’S WORD translation)

Over the hour that I was doing my PT, the rain dissipated and the skies began to lighten. “Would you like to ice your knee or do you want to skip it and head home?” asked Jackie, my physical therapist.

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I almost skipped the ice. I even picked up my keys and purse to leave. But there was this “niggling” (sort of a cross between “nagging” and “tingling”) voice in the back of my mind. “Ice that knee!” it seemed to be whispering. So, I lay on the table and let Jackie tend to my tired, sore knee.

No sooner had she gotten the ice on it and started the timer, than we all heard the most horrific noise. Out of the huge glass window front, we watched as a huge pick up truck, an SUV, and two other cars spun on the wet road immediately outside the doctor’s office on Ramsey Street.

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After the screeching of the tires stopped and the whirring of the police sirens began, all of us in the physical therapy room sat in stunned silence.

“That could have been you, Ms. Sandy,” Jackie offered, her voice wavering. “If you hadn’t stopped to ice that knee, you could have been in that mess.” My heart was already beating fast because this same thought had just come to me a moment earlier.

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Even after she took the ice pack from my knee, I sat and watched as EMS and police worked the scene. The people in the SUV were now standing on the side of the road, looking at little wet, but okay. One of the other drivers was leaning against his badly damaged pick-up, arms crossed, head shaking, but seemed to still be in one piece.

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As I pulled out of the doctor’s office parking lot and made my way home, I spent the entire ride praising the Lord for the angels I know that He dispatched to Ramsey Street that afternoon.

Bad news always make the news, so I perused today’s paper (The Fayetteville Observer) for a story about the accident. Since I could find no mention of deaths on Ramsey Street, it looks like those angels were working overtime yesterday afternoon.

You have earned your “Prayer Angel” wings!

Image Source: www.angelghost.com

And indeed, angels all over the United States have been doing God‘s work this week. My cousin, Sonny, is in stable condition. Although he’s still in the medically-induced coma, he seems to be responding to the presence of family around him. Doctors are unsure if he’s had a heart attack, but they do know he’s suffering from pneumonia that is a side effect of the chemotherapy. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU to each one who lifted him up on Monday. You, by association, have been doing God’s work as prayer angels!

Have you ever experienced a time in which you absolutely knew that God’s angels have protected you?

shr

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HCIKFS: What If His People Prayed?

Tonight, I am simply asking for your prayers for my cousin, Charles “Sonny” Cox.  He has been battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma and the chemotherapy has been hard for him.  This afternoon, we got a call telling us that he has been admitted to the ICU with a probable heart attack.  He is in a medically-induced coma.

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I have to tell you that Sonny is the most generous man — honest, caring, loving, and fun.  He’s called “Sonny” because his father was Charles Cecil Cox, Sr.  Even though his father has been dead many years, we’ve always called him “Sonny.”  Sonny and my Daddy are first cousins, but are closer than brothers. (That makes me his first cousin once-removed — don’t ask.  I barely understand that distinction myself, but I’m told that it’s correct.)  He and his wife, Linda, live in Dover, Florida.  He has three adult sons:  John, Rob, and Lonnie.  Please lift them up to the Lord.  I want you to pray these verses from Psalm 91 for him and his family.

Those who go to God Most High for safety will be protected by the Almighty.  I will say to the Lord, “You are my place of safety and protection.  You are my God and I trust you.” God will save you from hidden traps and from deadly diseases.  He will cover you with his feathers,  and under his wings you can hide.  His truth will be your shield and protection.  You will not fear any danger by night or an arrow during the day.  You will not be afraid of diseases that come in the dark or sickness that strikes at noon. At your side one thousand people may die or even ten thousand right beside you, but you will not be hurt.  Psalm 91:1-8 (NCV)

I never ask people to re-blog anything I write because I figure if it moves you, you will.  Tonight, I’m asking you to re-blog this to your readers.  I want to get as many people praying for Sonny as possible.  The song that moved me this afternoon while I prayed for Sonny was “What If His People Prayed” by Casting Crowns.  I believe that prayer changes things.

Image Source:  http://wallpaper4god.com

Won’t you help me prove it?

shr

What If His People Prayed?”  (Casting Crowns)

The Number of My Days

Yesterday, I prayed for those who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attack on the WTC towers, in the field in Pennsylvania, and in Washington at the Pentagon.  As I watched family members read their loved ones’ names, I could not even imagine how losing someone like that would feel.

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Later, I watched at the news reported the murder of Christopher Stevens, U. S. Ambassador to Libya, and three of his staff members in Benghazi.  I felt a great sense of loss, even though I did not know these people personally.  I actually sat in front of the television and whispered, “Lord Jesus, come.  Come now.”

A burnt car is parked at the U.S. consulate, which was attacked and set on fire by gunmen in Benghazi September 12, 2012.    REUTERS-Esam Al-Fetori

The U. S. Consulate Attack in Benghazi

Image Source:  www.reuters.com

While listening to HIS Radio 90.1 before bed, I heard one of my favorite songs, “Where I Belong” by Building 429.  Here is the chorus:

All I know is I’m not home yet.

This is not where I belong.

Take this world and give me Jesus.

This is not where I belong.

The sense of urgency in my heart that I wrote about on Monday, seeing the clouds like stepping stones to Heaven, and anticipating His coming was heavily on my mind as I went to bed last night.  I was singing that chorus over and over in my heart this morning as I arose and went about my housework.  Then, I sat down to have my devotion.

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What started as an expedition to Psalm 34 quickly became a detour several chapters over.  The pages of my Bible (I’m currently studying through the “The Mom’s Devotional Bible” in the New Century Version.) are still fairly new and the static of turning the pages made them stick together.  No matter what I did, I simply could not get those pages separated.  So I “settled” for a reading of Psalm 39.  How blessed and fortunate am I to have had to take this detour! The chapter so intrigued me that I used my favorite website for Bible readings (www.biblegateway.com) to read it in several versions. ( I’m going to share the New International Version because I love the eloquence of these verses in that particular translation.)

Lord, tell me when the end will come and how long I will live. Let me know how long I have. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you.   Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure. Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;  in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth without knowing whose it will finally be.  Psalm 39:4-7 (NIV)

Despite what the days’ remembrances were for that awful time eleven years ago and the devastation of what followed in Libya yesterday, I realized that I still felt secure in my little corner of the world — not because I don’t think attacks of that kind are possible where I live(because I live fifteen miles from a military base that could be the target of attack at any moment), but because I know who holds my future.  In reading this psalm today, which I now feel was not a detour at all, but my true destination for devotion, I felt a new urging in my heart that had to come from God and here is what I gleaned:

  • I must watch and guard my ways.  (See Psalm 39:1. at www.biblegateway.com )  There is no boundary between me and the rest of the world concerning what I say, what I do, where I go, or how I act or react.  Everything about me directly affects my Christian influence.
  • I must acknowledge that life is brief and treat my time here with greater care.  (See verse five.) Max Lucado once said that it’s not the college degree in the walnut frame that we’ll embrace at the end of our lives, but the people we’ve loved and who’ve loved us.  Since God alone knows the time I’ll depart this world, I cannot bank on tomorrow.  In fact, I can’t even bank on my next breath!  So while I live, I must make my days count!  (“Here’s to making it count!”  Leonard Di Caprio as Jack Dawson in Titanic.)
  • I must recognize what makes me truly wealthy.  (See verse six.)  There are a gazillion ways to accumulate wealth, invest our money, and diversify our portfolios.  I have not found my way into financial wealth.  I don’t believe it’s in God’s plan for me. But I do acknowledge that my investment must be in people, not things.  Friends and family who have invested in me can see a small bit of return in their investment, and yet very little of what I do while I live can actually be measured as success in the eyes of the world.
  • I must invest my time wisely.  No, I won’t be holding that nicely framed college diploma or the clinging to the final numbers in my checking account.  I want to invest in PEOPLE.   If those I love will be the most important thing to me when I’m drawing my last breath,  they should be important to me now.  I won’t know until I stand before God’s throne what influence I may have had in my earthly life, but I certainly don’t want to stand before my Lord and be found in a deficit where my relationships are concerned.

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God summed up Psalm 39 in two words for me:  Pay Attention!  I must really see how God is working in my life, even in the minute details such as creating the static that wouldn’t allow me to get to Psalm 34 today.  It all matters to God — the big and the small.  More and more, I find myself not wanting to miss a single detail that God is in.  Please pray for me — that I will pay attention to the details to eek out every message God wants me to hear and that the number of my days will not be a labor of my own vanity.

What can I pray for YOU today?

shr

HCIKFS: Stepping on the Clouds

On my way to physical therapy today around noon, I was on a stretch of highway that allowed me to enjoy a broad expanse of the beautiful sky God had given me to view today.  I began to notice that the clouds were separate and distinct but clustered very close together.  It dawned on me that they almost looked like the individual steps on a staircase.

Image Source:  http://photocolin.blogspot.com

My heart beat just a bit faster as I thought, “What if Jesus were to come at this very second?”  That blue sky would open up and the King of Glory would swoop down, calling those that have already died first, followed by all His other children.  We’d be rising through the air to meet Him, gathering as the angel blasted the trumpet.

Image Source:  www.raptureintheairnow.com

As you can tell by the fact that I’m writing this at eight o’clock in the evening, Jesus didn’t come today, leaving my small, silver Aveo deserted on Ramsey Street in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

The Hoppers

Image Source:  http://southerngospel.wordpress.com

But I did come home and look up one of my all-time gospel favorites, “Stepping on the Clouds,” by The Hoppers.  I especially love this group because they are from a little town called Madison, North Carolina.  North Carolinians are extremely proud of their homegrown, award-winning talent.  (When I was young, they were known as The Hopper Brothers and Connie.  I would watch them on the Brother Strickland television show on Sunday mornings as our family got ready for church.) I love this song because it’s upbeat with a driving rhythm.  I can just imagine Jesus coming as they sing, as I’d walk all over the sky with my Savior.

Image Source:  http://breathecast.christianpost.com

A very important event is happening right now:  it’s National Quartet Convention Week in Louisville, Kentucky because September is Gospel Music Heritage Month.  I’d love to be in Louisville enjoying all the music and meeting my favorite Southern Gospel musicians.  For someone who only aspires to sing a little harmony for the Lord in my own church, it would just about be Heaven!

If you’d like to find out a bit more about The Hoppers and their music, check out their website at www.thehoppers.com.  Click on the link below and get ready to have a toe-tapping, cloud-stepping time.

shr

Stepping on the Clouds”  (The Hoppers)

Tag! You’re It!

I haven’t done a Friday Five in a while, so I thought I’d ask five questions, answer them myself, and then give you a chance to answer them in the comments section.  I pray that your weekend is safe and filled with the blessings of God!

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1.  Other than your salvation, your marriage, or the days your children were born, what’s the most significant day (or days) of your life?

When I graduated from Fayetteville State University in May 1984, I held a brand-new diploma with a degree in elementary/middle school education.  But not much prospect of anything else.  No job was on the horizon.  I wouldn’t even be able to interview for another month because school wasn’t over yet and no one knew where any openings were yet.  That was on a Sunday.  I got a phone call on Wednesday morning from the principal at Beaver Dam Elementary School, who wanted to meet with me about substituting for one of his teachers who had had emergency surgery.  He hired me that afternoon and I started the next day.  I completed the year, through the second week in June.  Little did I know that although Mr. Hendon wouldn’t be able to hire me for the next school year, his friend, J. Howard Ray, would have an opening for a fourth grade teacher.  With Mr. Hendon’s recommendation, Mr. Ray called me for an interview.  And it was the only interview I did because Mr. Ray hired me.  It was one of the very first times that I can remember God giving me something MORE than I had prayed for.

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2.  What’s your favorite meal?

I love summer vegetables:  squash with onions, new potatoes, turnips, mustard greens, corn, butter beans, peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, and homemade biscuits.  My Granny Brook first taught me that I could make a meal of vegetables alone.  Today is the anniversary of her birthday.  I miss her so.

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3.  What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you?

When a college friend of mine found out that she was pregnant during our first year as teachers, I was thrilled for her.  That first year of teaching was filled with so much work and stress.  Since Sue worked on the opposite side of the county we kind of lost touch.  At the end of the school year, all first year teachers had a meeting and a shared a meal at the Educational Resource Center of the Cumberland County Schools.  I greeted my friend, patted her ample belly, and asked, “When is the baby due?”  She burst into tears and walked away.  Another teacher who was with her shot me a menacing look and practically spit, “She had the baby six weeks ago!”  Needless to say, I hid during the meeting.  Just a few weeks later, I found out that her husband had deployed and she was living back with her parents in Texas.  We never talked again.  I hope that one day God gives me the chance to apologize to Sue.

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4.  Is there a television show that you could watch in perpetuity?

There are three shows that I could just watch over and over again: I love “7th Heaven,” “Gilmore Girls,”  and “Jeopardy.”

One Direction

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5.  My daughter is totally infatuated with the British group “One Direction.”  Since they won everything they were nominated for during the Video Music Awards on MTV last night, I was just wondering — who were YOUR teenage crushes?

Over the span of ages nine to sixteen, here are my crushes in the order they appeared in my life:  David Cassidy, Bobby Sherman, Donny Osmond, Shaun Cassidy, and Barry Manilow.  However, from the age of eight till even now, I have always loved The Carpenters.  I think one of the saddest things ever was that Karen died so young.  What a beautiful young woman with a remarkable voice.  *Sigh*

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Now it’s your turn to share!

shr

God in a Box

Do you ever put God in a box?  By that I mean, do you decide before you even ask that God cannot accomplish something that you need or desire?  I don’t do it as much as I used to, but even after all He’s done to show me His greatness, I take His power for granted.  And yet, He manages to look past my small-minded faith and show me that He is still in control.

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Recently, God blew the sides off of a box that I had wrapped up tightly with layers and layers of emotional duct tape.  What happened is surely proof that nothing is impossible if God has His hand upon it.

Ask, and God will give to you. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will open for you.  Matthew 7:7 (NCV)

After my second back surgery in March 1992, I was never able to go back to my job as a public school teacher due to chronic pain and nerve damage.  I was distracted from that because in December 1992, God sent us Martin and Steven.  Motherhood helped fill the void somewhat, but there was always a part of me that felt like I was meant to do something more.

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In other posts I have shared that I’ve been a lifetime writer.  From childhood, I have written poems and stories and kept journals.  I was the editor of our literary publication in high school.  I was a contributor to Facets, a creative writing publication at Fayetteville State University, my college alma mater.  I’ve written for our local newspaper, The Fayetteville Observer.

Image Source: www.writingforchildren.com

In 1998, I found a correspondence course outline entitled “Writing for Children and Teens” at The Institute for Children’s Literature (ICL) of West Redding, Connecticut.  After much prayer and discussion with Kelly, we paid the money for the course tuition.  The course materials arrived and that little piece of me that longed for “something more” was fulfilled.

I loved the fact that, within reason, I could set my own timeline for writing.  This was perfect for me because I could not always gauge the kind of pain day I was going to have.  (And to this day, I can’t gauge what kind of pain days I will have.  My plans are always tentative, at best.)  Once I started the course, the writing juices began to flow and I loved it.  I had just finished my fourth assignment for the ICL when the proverbial hammer slammed against the anvil of my life.

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After almost seven years of chronic pain management, worker’s compensation decided to put me through what I can only call hell.  They attacked my integrity and said I was lying about the pain.  They abused my body by sending me to company doctors who never had my well-being in mind and put me through unnecessary tests and procedures.  One doctor did surgery on me without ever looking at a single MRI or x-ray of my back…and he ADMITTED this to me.  It was their job to send me back to work, whether I actually could do it or not.  It was only after one of their hand-chosen doctors said, “Enough!  This woman is who she says she is and she is suffering even more than she can tell you.  Shame on you for making her jump through your hoops.”  And with that little speech, the hell ended, but not before the damage had been done.  I tossed my textbooks and other course materials in the garbage and sent ICL an email explaining that I was withdrawing from the course.

I stopped writing.  I stopped singing.  I stopped reading my Bible.  I stopped praying.  Basically, I just stopped living.  And I blamed God for it all.  Thankfully, God did not “stop” on me.  It took me two years to come back to what I call a normal, responsive human being.  With the help of a Christian therapist and a family that loved me unconditionally, the fires of that hell left only minor burns.

Image Source:  www.biblepost.com

Fast forward ten years.

Three weeks ago, I was sharing this part of my life with Claire.  She said, “Mom, you should really see if you can finish that writing course.”

“They wouldn’t even have my files after twelve years,”  I said.  “I wasted that opportunity.  Let that be a lesson for you — sometimes, you just don’t get a second chance.”

After she went to bed, I prayed and asked God to give me the strength to never waste another opportunity as a long as I live.

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Fast forward twenty-four hours.

I opened my email account and found an email from Judy Paige.  I don’t know a Judy Paige and I almost sent it to spam without a second thought.  Instead, I opened that email and find that Judy Paige is the student services coordinator for ICL.

I felt a chill down my back, as if someone had slipped an ice cube down my shirt, and I held my breath.

Ms. Paige informed me that she was reviewing student files who had withdrawn from the course before completion.  Since my tuition had been paid in full, she wondered if I’d like to re-enroll and complete the course.  ICL would even send me new course materials, if I chose to do this.  If this was something I’d be interested in doing, I would be allowed to start with assignment five, having previously completed assignments one through four.

Yes, everyone who asks will receive. Everyone who searches will find. And everyone who knocks will have the door opened.  Matthew 7:8 (NCV)

Don’t be afraid to ask.  (But be prepared for answers that you could never conceive.)

Don’t be afraid to search.  (But open your eyes wide so that you don’t miss what God puts before you.)

Don’t be afraid to knock.  (But know that if God opens it to you, it is an opportunity not to be missed.)

Guess what?  My new course materials arrived yesterday.

shr

HCIKFS: The Anchor Holds

I’d like to welcome my husband, Kelly, as my guest blogger today.  He was the lay speaker at our church yesterday and his message was so wonderful, I knew I had to share it with you.  I cannot tell you how blessed I am to have him as my husband.  Enjoy his testimony and I will be sure to invite him to share again.  shr

Image Source:  http://crossandcutlass.blogspot.com

Faith means being sure of the things we hope for and knowing that something is real even if we do not see it. Faith is the reason we remember great people who lived in the past. I t is by faith we understand that the whole world was made by God‘s command so what we see was made by something that cannot be seen.  Hebrews 11:1-3 (NCV)

The Anchor holds, though the ship is battered. 

The Anchor holds, though the sails are torn. 

I have fallen on my knees as I faced the raging seas. 

The Anchor holds in spite of the storm. 

This is the chorus to my favorite song, a song written by Christian artist Ray Bolt.

I first heard the song at Judson Baptist Church.  It was performed by Ken Hancock, who sang it at a Sunday night song service.  It had a real effect on me and I couldn’t get it out of my head.    I wondered what it was about the song that touched me so much and then I realized it was because it was so real — it was real life stuff.  Life is not always easy.  Life gets tough. It is not always smooth sailing.

It also became a very personal song to me.  It didn’t just apply to real life it applied to MY LIFE.  The only way I have ever overcome the struggles, trials, and storms in my life is by finally turning them over to God.  No matter how hard I worked or schemed or struggled, my problems were only solved when by FAITH I trusted God to steer me through the rough waters.

“The Anchor Holds” is all about faith.  It relates the importance of living by faith through tough times; a faith that comes through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ; a relationship that is forged through laying a firm foundation that we can fall back on when the storms rage all around us.

We are surrounded by a great cloud of people whose lives tell us what faith means. So let us run the race that is before us and never give up. We should remove from our lives anything that would get in the way and the sin that so easily holds us back. 2 Let us look only to Jesus, the One who began our faith and who makes it perfect. He suffered death on the cross. But he accepted the shame as if it were nothing because of the joy that God put before him. And now he is sitting at the right side of God’s throne.  Hebrews 12:1-2 (NCV) 

Tough times come eventually to all of us and unfortunately that’s the only time that some of come to faith or come back to our faith.

I consider myself lucky.  I was lucky enough to grow up the son of Betty Rosser and as a child of God being cared for by the congregation of Culbreth Memorial United Methodist Church. (www.facebook.com/culbrethmemorialumc)   My mother taught me the bible, FORCED Me to come to church, and loved me unconditionally, just as did everyone she ever knew.  To the people of Culbreth Church (you know who you are) who taught me in Sunday school and Vacation Bible School, corrected my behavior when needed (I am sure it was needed plenty!) and loved me as one of God’s family, I owe the deep roots of my faith to you.

When I was twelve or thirteen, I walked down the aisle during a revival and started my Journey of Faith.  It certainly has not been without pitfalls, setbacks, and times when I wandered far away from the will of God.  But God was still there waiting with the unconditional love of a parent for me to come home so he could calm the rough waters and steer me safely through the rapids.  My ship has certainly been battered and the sails have been torn, but I am not any different from anyone else.  Every person here has been through hardships and struggles.  Thanks be to God for being there for us and not leaving us out there on our own.

Most of you know of my struggle with leukemia.  The last two and a half years have certainly been full of raging seas.  When I was in the hospital going through treatment I thought about this song a lot.  I titled my CarePage (with the UNC Cancer Hospital CarePages website) “The Anchor Holds.”  I would listen to this song or sing it in my head and think about my faith and the foundation of faith that had helped to mold me into who I was.  In my life, I had witnessed some great examples of living in faith that I could turn to.

I thought of my Grandmother Smith, my mother’s mother, and her struggle with cancer.  I remember visiting her as she lay in a bed she had been confined to for months and what I remember most is that she still praised God.  I remember asking her if she got lonely lying there by herself and she told me that angels came and comforted her.  She knew her time to go was near and she said that she could hear choirs of angels singing to her.  She would sing along and tell me that she wished I could hear it because it was so beautiful.

I thought of my uncle, Joe Rosser, who died of leukemia.  My Uncle Joe was a big strong man who threw big truck tires around like they were nothing (he owned a tire store) and laughed all the time.  He was one of my favorite people.  He was also a true testament of living by faith.  When he was sick and I watched him grow weak and suffer, I saw that his faith never faltered.  I never saw him act like he felt sorry for himself and his example taught me when I became sick not to ask “Why me?” but “Why not me?”

And then every day, I got to see Sandy, who has been my rock.  She suffered through everything I did.  She was with me every day.  When I would begin to feel sorry for myself, I only had to look at her to see evidence of God’s love.  When I would get frustrated or depressed she would pick up the bible and say “Let’s do our devotional” or “Let’s read some Psalms.”

Every person at Culbreth Church, many other family members, and people in the community have had an impact on my Journey of Faith and I want to thank you.  Every person in this church could probably tell of others who have had an impact on them.

I feel sorry for those folks who laugh at us because of our faith and say God is for people who are weak-minded.  I feel sorry for them because they do not know the peace that we have in times of trouble through our faith in the unfailing love of Jesus Christ.  They have nothing to hold onto when times are rough, they cannot stand up to raging seas because they have no anchor to hold them firmly in place.  It seems to be such a meaningless and joyless existence.  I want to know that when times are tough and I fall on my knees, I will have Someone to call upon.

Sandy and I made the decision long ago that our children would grow up in church and that they would see our faith in Christ through the lives we lead.  Now believe me, I am not breaking my arm patting myself on the back, because I have failed miserably on many occasions to be the man God expects me to be.  But I keep trying and I hope that we can all strive every day  to be better people, better Christians, and be more faithful in our walk with God.

Thank you for helping me in my Journey of Faith.  The ship may be battered, the sails certainly feel torn, and even though the raging seas will come again, we have the assurance that Christ will be there with us in spite of any storm.

The Anchor Holds” (Ray Boltz)