Thursday, March 30, 2017

Knowing Failure But Pressing On

Everybody fails sometimes. Some of you may be too young to remember my epic failure. It happened in 1982 and for more than 20 years I allowed it to define who I was. I still have a skinny folder that contains a bright gold campaign brochure, some newspaper clippings, and a photo of a young mother I hardly recognize. In a last minute attempt to have a Democrat on the ballot, I gathered enough signatures to run for Marshall County Supervisor as a 26-year-old woman candidate in a highly Republican, conservative county in rural Iowa.

The votes were stacked against me: Democrat, woman, inexperienced, yet I was all-in for six months of busy campaigning. I worked hard to overcome my shyness and develop a platform that I'm still proud of. I was all in. But once the votes were in, I lost. I was a loser. I failed. I was broken and became depressed beyond consoling. I had put my complete self-esteem on the ballot and I was rejected. I didn't know how to get past the loss. I allowed it to control my world and my whole being. Over and over in my head I repeated the negatives, and anything positive was buried so deeply that I couldn't remember it at all.

Yet, God was there and eventually His light shone through the darkness and His love became my life rope to cling to. If only I could have heard God's version of the story and how He would always be with me. If only I could have felt His great love for a child whom He had a future for. If only I had known that God's plan wouldn't end with this little loss, my life was just beginning.

The great Christian writer Oswald Chambers said in "My Utmost For His Highest",
"Never let the sense of past failure defeat your next step".

Joshua faced the failure of his sinful son, Achan, but God encouraged him to refocus and move on. "Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged" (Joshua 8:1 NIV). Be strengthened by your mistakes, confess your sins and move on! You only lose if you give up. Get up, focus on Jesus, deal with the problem, and move forward.

"Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13-14 NIV).

Whatever you may be facing at this moment in time, repeat the hope that is in Jesus Christ over and over in your mind. Let our goal be set on knowing Christ. We are forgiven for our past, put it behind and move ahead.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV).

Monday, March 27, 2017

Feed My Sheep

During my lifetime as a shepherd's wife I was asked to "Feed my sheep" several times. Besides the long walk down the hill and back usually at sunrise and sunset, the chores rarely took much time out of my day. It seems like yesterday that I'd enter the quiet barn to hear the lambs welcome me with their baaing. The sound spread through the barn from pen to pen as the sheep realized their 'feeder' person had arrived. Sometimes the mamas outside would see me coming and begin the singing response as a chorus that was followed by a stampede to the shed - single file, following the already worn path through the pasture.

The replacement chore person could please the hungry sheep with a few scoops of feed, a handful of hay and filling the water pail. But, the important part was paying attention to the animals. Did one stay off in the corner and not come to the trough? That one was probably sick. Did the littlest lamb get room at the feeder or get pushed away? Did both babies know how to suck and have milk in their bellies? Did a sheep lag behind or limp? Probably hurt her foot - better tell the shepherd. He would know what to do. As the substitute I could fill in for a day or two, but to really care for the sheep I had to spend more time learning the traits of each sheep and watching for changes. It was important to really know the sheep and care for their specific needs.

"When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, " you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep." (John 21:15-17 NIV).

When I agreed to do the sheep chores I was committing to do more than dump feed in the trough and fill the water bucket. I got into old clothes and boots because I knew I would get dirty and smelly. I had to allow time to take a shower afterward to get the smell out of my hair. I was careful to follow the specific directions for each pen or I could mess up the master feeding plan for the show lambs' progress toward fair readiness. It was a big responsibility to keep each lamb healthy and strong until the shepherd came home. And, heaven forbid a lamb would die on my watch.

Jesus came to the disciples for this last time after His resurrection and was asking Peter to continue His legacy once He was gone. Peter was only beginning to understand what Jesus was talking about. Was Peter really willing to dedicate his life to service, spreading the knowledge of Salvation through Jesus Christ to the world - for the rest of his life?

What is Jesus asking you today? Are there sheep to be fed in your life? What can you do today that brings Jesus closer to someone else, that allows someone to see Jesus through you?

Jesus is asking, "Do you love me, (your name)? Feed my sheep."

Thursday, March 23, 2017


Yesterday I had the joy of watching my youngest granddaughter, Piper, Build-a-Bear. It was a birthday present from her parents. She was so excited. We walked around the mall for awhile, waiting for the 10 a.m. opening. We arrived back at the store and she sat down in front of the glass door for the final minute before the doors opened. She surveyed all the colorful options inside almost bursting with anticipation.

The small store was wall-to-wall sensory overload. There were bright colors everywhere and so many choices for bears or other soft, cuddly animals and hundreds of outfits to meet every child's dream. She chose a pretty pink bear and watched as the form came to life as it filled with stuffing. She put in the heart and the bear was stitched shut. Then she took her bear to the washing station where she brushed and brushed the bear to make it clean.

Then it was time to choose some outfits for her bear. She had a budget but her mother wisely let her wander around the store gathering whatever caught her eye. They spread out the array of sparkly, silky, bejeweled clothes and accessories on the dressing table and Piper had to narrow it down to her favorites. The temptation was great. When she put one thing back, she saw other new options to pick. Everywhere she looked there were pretty things; such a dreamland for a four-year-old!

"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it" (1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV).

My daughter-in-law Laura is a talented seamstress and knitter. She helped Piper put back the yoga mat for her bear and decide against the slumber bag, offering to make some things for her at home. She provided a way for Piper to narrow her purchases and still leave with a boxed bear, new shoes and an extra outfit for her pink bear, and most important...with a smile on her face.

Very few of us can afford to go out and buy everything we'd like to have. If we did we would find ourselves with a big credit card debt and a bunch of stuff we really don't need.

Thank you, God, for teaching us to be strong in temptation and for giving us a way out. Amen.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Welcome Spring

It is official today; spring is here. Our days are getting longer with more daylight. The sun is moving closer to us so the warmth can begin to return. The earth will thaw from its long winter's sleep and awaken the roots that reach deep into the soil. Life returns to the trees and flowers and the bulbs burst open with beautiful green sprouts.

I'm anxious to explore our yard to look for signs of spring. We planted several new plants last fall and I'm hoping they made it through the dry winter. The branches on our new tree in the front yard are beginning to show little bumps where buds will appear. Bunches of tulip leaves have already burst forth on a hillside we drive by and I wouldn't be surprised if some of you have buds ready to open.

One of my favorite early signs of spring was the pussy willow tree. We had one in our yard years ago and we loved to bring in a clipping of branches to put in water and watch the fuzzy buds appear. Little gray balls of fluff would explode along the brown stems and tiny blooms of yellow would follow.

"Blessed is the man who is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers" (Psalm 1:3 NIV).

Spring is a season of refreshing. All that is gray and dingy begins to turn green and is ready for the April showers to wash away the winter's sand and grime.

I need some refreshing, too. I want to be like the tree planted by streams of water. I want to stretch out my arms and legs and breathe in the fresh clean air after a rain shower. I want to yield fruit that will glorify my Heavenly Father. I want to grow strong leaves that do not wither in the storms of life. I want to use my knowledge from God's Word to make decisions that will be pleasing to God. I want to use my life to prosper others and fulfill God's will in my life.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Mending the Broken Places

We watched an indoor track meet Tuesday at the Iowa State University Lied Recreation Center. Our grandson Calvin is coming back after a winter of healing his broken foot. We thought he wouldn't run for another month or so but something changed his mind and he ran in a heat of the 1600 meter race. He tells us that without the spikes on his shoes his foot felt really good when he ran. He didn't run full speed; he finished midway with the pack and wasn't even breathing hard. I'm sure he has some endurance to rebuild and time will tell how his foot handles the repeated pounding of daily practice. We were proud that he finished the race and glad it was without pain.

Recovering from something broken is a long, painful process. Sometimes it is very difficult to heal. Sometimes the re-strengthening is the hardest part. If a part of the body is broken and immobilized the muscles weaken considerably during the time of no use. It takes work to bring the injured part back to full service. Though I have never broken a bone I have watched how others heal. However, I do know emotional brokenness very well.

Psalm 31 is a song written by someone (David or possibly Jeremiah) who was suffering brokenness. He is crying out to God because he trusts God to be there for him.

"I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul" (Psalm 31:7 NIV).

How comforting it is to know that God hears our cries and knows the torture of our souls! The psalmist goes on to share his stresses and concerns with God, spilling out all that he is feeling.

"Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors; I am a dread to my friends-- those who see me on the street flee from me. I am forgotten by them as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery..." (Psalm 31:11-12 NIV).

But, he does not give up or crawl back into bed or close the shades and hide. He trusts God to see him through.

"But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, "You are my God." My times are in your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me. Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love" (Psalm 31:14-16 NIV).

If you have time, read through the complete Psalm 31. I could certainly relate to its cries and I found hope in his trust and praise for his God - and mine, too.

"Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord" (Psalm 31:24 NIV).

Monday, March 13, 2017

It's Okay; God is Amazing

Sometimes I feel broken. In fact, I'm not sure I am ever really whole. Life is hard sometimes. My heart is aching for the family and friends of a young father who recently died. Sudden death can be so difficult; there are no chances for goodbyes or last "I love you's". It is brutally crushing, yet life must go on for the living. But how? Everything has changed.

Most days I'm not that broken. I struggle with the pain of situations I can do nothing about. My heart hurts but I must continue to wait for time to reveal the future. I wait and pray and wonder. I ask for God's wisdom and attention to my need, yet I am unsure of God's will. He knows what is best; I don't.  He will bring good out of all the bad.

Sometimes my daily struggle is with physical pain. My physical body is old and tired. It is one pain after another and the challenge to find something to relieve it always escapes me. Others are in bed with an illness that has a cure. Yet, the day to day wait for healing is frustrating and painful. For others there are good days and bad days; burdened by emotional pain or chronic illness. Life is filled with brokenness, yet we have hope.

"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" (Isaiah 41:10 NIV).

I've read this verse many times before but today it really spoke to me and filled me with hope. I was taken aback by "do not be dismayed, for I am your God". He seemed to be saying to me, 'Come on Gloria, you know Me and you know that I love you. I am your God, you can trust Me. You shouldn't be so surprised! I've got this!'

It is okay that I am broken. God knows I am a sinner, that is why He sent Jesus to be our helper. Yes, He is with me, holding me in His hand, watching the world hurl dangers and frustrations my way. Sometimes He bats them away before they reach me and other times He is there to be my Comforter and Healer. God will strengthen me and help me and hold me up in His loving hands.

It is okay. God is amazing!

Thank you, God.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

March Madness

I love March madness. Being retired during March madness is the best; almost as good as being retired during the Olympics. Of course, my number one team is the Iowa State Cyclones but I can even bring myself to cheer on the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten tournament. The excitement started back when my two boys were at home and their father got them interested in the games. After several decades, I, too, became hooked on watching college basketball. I love the competition and watching the teams battle it out on the court. I love watching the individual who can't miss a basket. I love a great pass that leads to a score. I love a game that comes down to the final minutes to determine the winner.

But, basketball is just a game, right? It's not life or death. Though there are broken hearts sometimes when you lose, you can go on to live a fairly normal life. The world won't stop revolving because of the result at the final buzzer.

Faith, however, is about choosing eternal life or death.

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Hebrews 11:1 NIV).

I may have faith in my Cyclones but sometimes they let me down. Sometimes Matt Thomas misses a three pointer. Sometimes, though rarely, Morris will commit a turnover. Sometimes even Hilton Magic fails us - I know, hard to believe, but true.

"Then Jesus told him, 'Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed'" (John 20:29 NIV).

I am confident that God will keep His promises. They are written in the Bible and I believe. My faith in Jesus Christ as my personal Savior is strong and unyielding. Though I still have more to learn, I trust God to lead me to greater understanding as I continue to seek Him through His Word.

"Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him" (Hebrews 11:6 NIV).

March is also a great time to seek God's Word and walk through the Lenten season fully armed with the tools of faith.

May you be blessed with strong faith in God, and a win for your team today.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Survive Being a Dirty Rotten Human

I've been reading through Leviticus and Numbers in the Bible and watching as the Israelites continue to mess up, yet God gives them yet another chance. It is easy to think about how foolish those people were. Sinning against God, time and time again, being punished, suffering setbacks, repenting, then turning around to fail God again. What is wrong with those ungrateful folks? Always complaining about the food and the lack of water! Grumbling about being brought to this place to die. Chapters and chapters of conflict. And poor Moses; taking all their dissension to the Lord; pleading on behalf of those dirty rotten humans.

Then I step back from the story and think about my own life. I'm just like those Israelites. How many times have I come to God praying for His guidance and direction, to only weeks later take a side road in the opposite direction? Getting myself so far off track that I have to stumble and fall then come crawling back to God, begging for His forgiveness and asking once again for His help...failing to learn from my mistakes, forgetting what happened the last 10 times.

"God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?" (Numbers 23:19 NLT).

I can almost picture God, sitting on His Holy throne as I beg for His help once again. He must shake His head and think, "Here she comes again. Why can't she get it right this time? My uniquely created humans just don't get it. I gave them Jesus and the Helper and sometimes they still can't make the right choice."

Jesus came to satisfy my debt and to bridge the gap between God's perfection and my humanness.

"See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first" (Hebrews 3:12-14 NIV).

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Sharing the Hope

"For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good" (Titus 2:11-14 NIV).

I have been giving blood for many years, starting back when I was a student at Marshalltown Community College. The Phi Theta Kappa sponsored blood drives each year in the MCC cafeteria. It is one way I can do something good for the community as a volunteer. My hemoglobin often runs low so sometimes I am not able to give. That leaves me feeling disappointed. I come home and take iron for the next ten days then usually I am able to give again. That makes me feel good.

Isn't that the way it is, though? When we do something for someone else that is genuinely motivated from love and care, it makes us feel good. Almost to the point of feeling better than the one who received the gift of caring.

I am overwhelmed by the kindnesses individuals show to others. For a long time I kept a folder called "encouragements". This goes back way before I went to college, back to when I only dreamed of being a writer. When someone sent me a note of encouragement regarding my writing, I would file it so I could refer back to it on the days when I was knee-deep in rejection letters or depression. Those comments by friends or family kept my hope alive until I was strong enough to actually seek out a job and pursue my education.

Hope can be a lifesaver. Without it life becomes too difficult to continue. Who around you needs the gift of hope today? A kind word? A loving hug? An understanding ear? Reach out to them today and share the hope you have in our Savior, Jesus Christ.

"If the Lord delights in a man's way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand" (Psalm 37:23-24 NIV).