Christmas comes but once a year and when it comes, it brings good cheer! says an old song. If that is true, then I am filled to overflowing with good cheer.
The first of many guests arrived on December 15th, a group of three and a Shih Tzu. By the next evening, three more guests and a German shepherd joined us. Including my husband and me, that brought the number of folks staying at the Howerter Inn to 8 people, two guest dogs and two resident cats.
Good food and good cheer overflowed at our house. Our halls were decked with laughter and joy and an abundance of foods. I know our guests enjoyed themselves because one of them is still here on January 2nd, two others having departed last evening after dinner.
As the long holiday winds to a close, I cannot help but reflect on the past year. Do you ever do this? I mean, reflect on the past year?
If I begin my reflection at last Christmas, 2010, it begins with indescribable joy! After 18 months of unemployment and the selling of our home in April, 2009, my husband was given a wonderful job. He works for and with good people. God proved to the naysayers that anything is possible with God. Even giving a 50-something year old man a very good job. With God, never say never.
God generously and graciously bestowed a new house upon my husband and me. A beautiful house where our family and friends can gather and praise God for His mighty blessings.
I joined an on-line writers group of Christian women from numerous states. We check in daily and pray for each others’ needs. And even though we don’t get to see each other except at the writers conference in May, we have grown close praying for each other. We count on each other to encourage, offer advice, laugh, cry and pray.
The Lord sent me on a lovely trip to Williamsburg in February with my Aunt Betty Ann. Aunt and I had a wonderful time and we still reminisce and laugh about our memories. In March, God allowed me to accompany my daughter to Charleston on a business trip where we toured the beautiful historic city in the afternoons and evenings.
But just two days after arriving home, my daughter’s apartment was broken into and things she had worked hard to purchase were stolen by someone who chose not to work. Thankfully, my daughter’s schedule was changed at the last minute or she would have been home when evil came for a visit. The police detective told me that had my daughter been home at the time of the break-in, she most likely would have been raped and murdered.
We know it was Providence who changed her schedule unexpectedly. God spared her the violence that most certainly would have occurred had she been home. So in the face of evil, God kept His Word and good came out of it. We praise God with everything in us - how can you not?
While at the May writers conference in Asheville, North Carolina, I became very ill. By the end of the conference, I was too ill to drive the 8 hours home. I needed to leave the conference center, however, as there were no available rooms once the conference ended.
I asked God to help me find a nearby place where I could stay and recuperate until I was well enough to drive home. Help came the next morning in a phone call from our friends in Georgia. As soon as they heard how ill I was, they insisted I drive the two hours to their house. And even though they were leaving the next day on a previously planned trip, they stocked the refrigerator with foods I could eat and sent me to an area doctor. I stayed for days until I could make the lengthy trip home. God’s hand was on me.
Living in a new area, I became lonely. I will admit that I was slow to speak to my Father about this. Okay, so it didn’t even occur to me to speak with God about it until I was miserable with loneliness. And as a result, I was lonelier longer than I had to be.
But once I asked God to send true Christian friends to me, they began materializing, one at a time. How often do we miss out on blessings because we don’t speak to God about our situations?
I longed for a critique partner. So I prayed for one. See how I was learning to turn to God with everything? He sent me a gifted writer from Alabama whom I had met at the writers retreat in 2010. We email our work to each other, then critique the writing over the phone.
I longed for a writing mentor, and after asking God to send at least one mentor – if not several - they materialized in the form of talented women writers from West Virginia, South Carolina and Virginia.
From our unemployment experiences, we learned to thank God every single day. Even when nothing has occurred. Even when bad things happen. As I reflect over the past year, it is obvious that God was with my family and me. He protected us, He nurtured us, He encouraged us, He cared for us, He provided for us, He loved us.
Do you know God intimately? Do you have this kind of relationship with Him? I pray that you do. But if you do not, you can. Yes, you can! In fact, He’s waiting for you to invite Him into your life, your heart. Remember what happened when I didn’t ask God for his help? Nothing.
“The opening up of Your Word give light. It gives understanding to the child-like.” Psalm 119:130.
TO GOD BE THE GLORY
Cynthia Howerter © 2011Read More
What is your heart’s desire? Everyone has one. It’s something you would love to have, but it’s difficult, if not impossible, to obtain. Come find out how God fulfilled Grandma Alice’s heart’s desire one special Christmas.
For my mother’s family, Christmas during the Great Depression was non-existent. By the time my mother was six years old, she and her siblings had never received a Christmas gift nor had a Christmas tree stood in their house. It wasn’t that Mother’s parents didn’t believe in celebrating Christmas. Rather, a severe lack of finances prohibited it.
As Alice went about her chores in the days following Thanksgiving, the celebration of Christmas weighed on her. She knew all too well that there was no money to buy a Christmas tree at the lot in town, so she didn’t bother to speak with her husband about that. No sense making Ed feel worse than he already did that he couldn’t purchase a tree let alone gifts for his wife and children. But there was someone whom Alice could speak with and she earnestly confided in Him.
All she wanted was to buy a Christmas tree for her children to enjoy and maybe a small gift for her husband and her children. It was alright if there was no money for a gift for herself. It was her family that she wanted to bless in a small way.
For days, Alice prayed for a miracle – for extra money to come to her and Ed. But now it was the week before Christmas and her prayers were unanswered. She knew that God hears and answers all prayers, sometimes saying “yes,” other times ”no” and at times “wait.” She wiped a tear and resigned herself that the answer to her request was a no, and she asked God to give her the grace to accept His Will.
As she worked in her kitchen, a thought came to her. Their elderly neighbor, Mrs. Martin, had a grove of pine trees on her farm. Fresh pine trees! And some of those pine trees would make perfect Christmas trees. Alice spoke to the Lord about those pines and her heart’s desire.
The next morning, she hurried into the kitchen and after mixing some yeast dough, she set it aside to rise. By the time breakfast was over and the kitchen cleaned, Alice worked her magic with the risen dough. Before her marriage, she had been a cook at a local hotel and was known far and wide for her excellent culinary skills.
When the cinnamon rolls were cool, Alice covered them with a cloth and put them in her market basket along with several dozen sugar cookies shaped like stars and a hatchet. Alice quickly glanced out the window. It was beginning to snow. She filled the cookstove with wood so the kitchen would be warm for her little ones, then gave the children some books to look at with the admonition to stay inside and away from the stove while she was gone. Ed was working inside the barn and wouldn’t be able to see her leave.
Pulling her worn coat around her, Alice hurried down the lane to the dirt road. Lowering her head against the biting wind, she realized that she’d forgotten her gloves but she was too far in the journey to go back.
Mrs. Martin opened her door and invited a snow-covered Alice to step inside, happy for the company. Alice handed the cinnamon buns and cookies to Mrs. Martin and asked if they could serve as payment for a small pine in the grove. Her four little ones had never had a Christmas tree, she explained.
Mrs. Martin looked at Alice in amazement. A recent widow, she, too, was suffering the effects of the Depression and was out of flour and sugar. The rolls and cookies were an answer to her prayer for some baked goods for Christmas.
It wasn’t easy chopping down a fresh pine with a hatchet, especially with the snow making the ground slippery, but God gave Alice a determined spirit. By the time she arrived back in their lane, the heavy snow was deepening and weighing down the pine. Alice’s fingers were numb and her stockings were in shreds as she prayed for strength to finish her task. It came in the form of her husband who rushed to her and took over pulling the heavy tree as four little faces, pressed against the kitchen window, watched.
After Ed shook the snow from the tree and carried it into the kitchen, he and the children filled the air with squeals of excitement.
That afternoon, Alice and the children sat at the table and made paper ornaments and strings of popcorn. Ed joined in, too, once the chores were finished. As Ed lifted the children to the top of the tree so they could hang the last of the decorations, Alice realized that even though life was difficult, God could be counted on to provide for them. And even a little extra like a heart’s desire.
What heart’s desire have you had that the Lord provided? Share it with us!
“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.” Psalm 37:4.
TO GOD BE THE GLORY
Oh, Lord, my times are in your hands.
Cynthia Howerter © 2011Read More
Ever experience a terrible boss? One who made you miserable? One who held your raises and promotions captive while crossing every t and dotting every i so his own would come through?
Do you still wonder how you could have handled him or her differently? Perhaps you’re currently in this situation and you don’t know what to do. Well, then, let me tell you about my friend Chris.
For 8 very long years, my friend Chris worked for a terrible boss. An industrious, diligent worker, Chris completed assignments on time, if not ahead of schedule. If a project required extra work and longer hours, Chris was your go-to person. Every good boss wants a teamful of people like Chris.
Chris’ boss – let’s call him Steve (not his real name, of course) – had a rock solid reputation within the company of being an arrogant, pompous, controlling bully. And on those occasions when it was glaringly obvious that he had erred, no apology ever slipped past his lips. The way Steve saw it, everyone who worked for him wore a bull’s eye and he was the arrow.
Steve was notorious for giving his subordinates bad annual performance evaluations - if he even submitted them at all. And because performance evaluations determined an employee’s yearly merit raise, his own people were forced to work hard with little to no hope of receiving this important pay increase. Steve let it be known to his department that he felt performance reviews were a waste of time. His time, to be exact.
Before Steve became the department head, Chris had always received excellent performance evaluations which had resulted in significant annual merit raises. However, during the 8 years that Steve was in control of her department, Chris received infrequent evaluations. Those she did receive contained poor reviews of her work. Reviews that Chris knew were inaccurate.
The end of the fiscal year was approaching. This was when the annual performance reviews were to be submitted to the personnel department by all department heads. Chris received an email from Steve. He wrote that Chris’ annual performance evaluation was attached and if she agreed with it, she should sign and return it to Steve.
Steve’s email went on to say that if Chris did not agree with the evaluation, she needed to make an appointment with him.
Chris leerily opened the attachment. On the very first category, Steve had given her the lowest score a person could receive. Chris didn’t read any further. Tears streaming down her cheeks, she printed the evaluation and put it in her purse.
Chris didn’t look at the evaluation again until she got home from work. After reading through it, she was certain that there had to have been a mistake. The lowest score for every category had been circled. This couldn’t possibly have been her performance evaluation. She knew she had given outstanding effort.
Anger took over Chris. She began rehearsing what she would say to Steve. The rest of the evening was wasted as Chris, consumed by anger, prepared her speech.
Steve wasn’t in the office the following day, so Chris was unable to speak with him. However, she scheduled an appointment with Steve for the following morning. That evening she attended a Bible study, and, while there, she had a revelation that she was handling Steve’s evaluation of her the wrong way. It became clear to her that she was preparing to fight a battle that she wasn’t equipped to handle.
Chris realized that when she had rehearsed what she planned to say to Steve, she was actually trying to take control of the situation. Chris repented of her anger and laid it at God’s feet. Then she asked God to help her.
The morning of the scheduled evaluation with Steve, Chris and her husband prayed that God would give her guidance and the right words. Although her evaluation was scheduled for 8:30, Steve didn’t materialize for two more hours. This was another way he demonstrated his power and control to his subordinates.
When he finally arrived and told Chris to come into his office, she prayed, “Okay, Lord, let’s go.” You see, Chris had come to realize that she didn’t have to fight this battle alone. As she walked into Steve’s office, Chris felt the calmness of the Holy Spirit come over her.
Chris told Steve that she had read her performance evaluation and that her first impression was that it had to be a mistake. She then talked about what she’d done over the previous year, including taking on additional duties.
When she finished, Steve said that she had raised some good points. This was a highly unusal comment for Steve to make. He then picked up a pen and crossed out every low score and replaced it with a high score, offering no explanations for either score.
He looked at Chris and apologized – something he had never done to anyone in the department for 8 years. Even when he was blatantly wrong, Steve never apologized.
Chris immediately recognized God’s hand in the matter. She had just witnessed a powerful bully apologize, change every low score on her evalution to a high mark with no explanation for the bad review. What she witnessed, in fact, was God changing Steve’s heart right before her very eyes.
Within a very brief time after Chris’ meeting with Steve, he left the company. No explanation for his departure was issued by Steve or the company, but Chris knew who had orchestrated it. It was The One who took control when Chris admitted she had none.
“I also gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Do all that I command so that good things will happen to you.” Jeremiah 7:23.
Do you have a tendency to handle bad situations without first talking with God?
When you charge ahead and take control of difficulties, are the results what you hoped they would be?
When you think about it, isn’t talking with God and asking Him to take charge of our problems much easier than wasting our time with futile actions?
God is right there. Waiting for you to talk with Him. Waiting for you to ask Him to take control. Once you do, sit back, be patient and watch what HE unfolds.
Do you have a story you want told? If so, please leave me a message and I’ll be in touch.
Cynthia Howerter © 2011Read More
I used to listen to women talk about their mothers-in-law. I heard them speak about going to lunch together. How they took cooking classes together. The way they planned family holiday dinners together. And I always felt so left out.
You see, my own mother-in-law was a person who had favorites. And I wasn’t one of them.
One day, my heart so broken, I asked God to send me a new mother-in-law. Someone who would love me. Someone who would find value in me. Someone who would want to do things with me.
“Oh, and God, don’t get rid of Tim (my husband). I just want a new mother-in-law – not a new husband.” I didn’t know how God was going to pull this one off, but I had every confidence in Him. “And one more thing, God: hurry. Please. From what I hear, I’m missing out big-time.”
What a tall order, huh? Well, I had a big need. I prayed a lot, but an entire year went by, and no new mother-in-law appeared.
Ever notice how slowly God answers some prayers? Well, don’t give up on Him. When He doesn’t answer right away, it just means He’s working behind the scenes.
One day, out of the blue. Oh, come on. Who am I kidding?! With God, there is no out of the blue! My phone rang and it was Jean, the mother of Patty, one of my husband’s childhood friends. Jean and Patty had lived on the same street as Tim’s family, and Jean was like an aunt to Tim. Jean had never called me before. So why was she calling now?
“Did I have time to talk?” she asked. I half-whispered an “Uh huh.”
“Well, honey, I just wanted to say that I think of you and Tim often. I’ve known Tim since he was a baby, you know. Because you two live so far away now, I thought it would be nice for you to know that Patty and I miss you both.”
Jean had such a soothing voice. I could have listened to her talk all day. And she had a gift for conversation. She knew just how to draw me in and make me feel good. When she was ready to hang up, she asked if she could call back in a few days.
That was the start of it. Jean kept her word and called back several days later. We talked and talked. We began calling each other frequently and soon learned that we had so much in common.
She asked me to come see her and I traveled five hours to do so. We talked and laughed and went to lunch and dinner together. We sat on her lovely shaded porch and talked for hours.
On 9/11, my mother and I spent the entire day with Jean at her house. We were glued to the television as we watched horror unfold in our country. I had brought my mom to Jean’s so we could celebrate both of their birthdays. Instead, we huddled together in Jean’s family room for hours. Although we spoke very little that day, we felt comfort in being with each other.
Jean had traveled all over the world. She and I oohed and aahed over her photographs. Her stories of adventures in foreign lands were mesmerizing. She gave me a photo of her riding an elephant in the jungles of Thailand. She was in her 70′s at the time. The picture continues to inspire me to keep reaching, to keep growing no matter what my age or circumstances.
She wrote beautiful letters to me telling me how much she loved me, how I’d brought joy to her life, how proud she was of me.
My daughter, too, had felt a void. If only she could have two grandmothers like her friends. I took Megan with me to visit Jean and my daughter was quickly smitten with her. From that time on, she was ”Grandma Jean” to Megan.
One day I realized that Jean had been handpicked for Megan and me. You see, the Master Himself had carefully selected her. God knew that Jean had a tremendous gift for filling voids.
The love and joy and devotion that she has brought to our lives can never be measured. And no one could ever take her place. She is the perfect mother-in-law. My lovely, wonderful mother-in-law.
Jean always says that we are making memories in whatever we do or say.
Jean turned 91 years old on September 3. Make that years young. Someone like Jean never really ages; they just become more precious.
God, I knew You were up to the task. Thank you.
Who has a void that you can fill? Ask God to show you. And when he does, don’t be afraid to reach out.
“If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10.
TO GOD BE THE GLORY
Cynthia Howerter © 2011
Yesterday’s article was about Doug Birkhimer’s battle with a rare and deadly cancer and a lone mourning dove that God sent to let Doug know that he would survive. Today’s article deals with the way Doug’s story had a profound effect on my life.
My husband unexpectedly lost his job right before Christmas in 2008. With no income and two kids in college, we knew our cash would be depleted quickly. We were not in an enviable situation.
Several months earlier, Doug had shared his dove story with my husband, Tim, and me. It’s the kind of story that stays with you long after it’s told. So, full of fear after learning of Tim’s job loss, I asked God to send a dove to me as a sign that things were going to be alright.
No dove appeared, but parts of a Bible verse from Isaiah swirled in my head. I heard the words “Those who wait upon the Lord shall soar like eagles” over and over as though they were being engraved into my memory. I called our minister at Hampton Presbyterian Church, Ted Martin, and asked him to explain what “wait upon the Lord” meant because I wanted to clearly understand what God was telling me. Ted explained that it meant to keep my focus completely on God through prayer and scripture reading.
Because I had asked God to send a dove to me as a sign that everything would be okay, I looked everywhere for one. Days, then weeks, then months went by. Not one dove. Anywhere. Only parts of a scripture.
Tim and I felt the Lord telling us to sell our house. It sold quickly. We felt certain that God would provide a job for Tim by the time we had to move out. But when our settlement date was only days away, we realized that a job for Tim was not in God’s immediate plans for us.
We were rattled, unsettled. We had believed that God had wanted us to sell our house and we had obeyed. But now that the house was sold, we had no job and no home.
My widowed aunt who lived halfway across the state invited us to move in with her. We put our possessions in storage and left our beautiful house, our neighbors, our church, our friends, our community and our life as we had known it. It was extremely difficult to understand why God wanted us to leave everything and everyone we knew.
Life with my aunt was challenging. She had never had children and had lived alone for a long time. Suddenly, her house had two adults who never left. Tim searched daily for a job. The days turned into weeks then months. We knew my aunt wanted us to leave, but we had little money and no place to go.
Tim and I not only read the Bible, we studied it. I prayed almost constantly while Tim looked and looked for a job. Our Christian friends stayed in close touch and regularly encouraged us. I struggled with patience. We had been at my aunt’s for over a year.
People began telling me that Tim would never get another good job. They said that Tim was too old, over-qualified and that he had been unemployed for too long. They said that we needed to face reality and accept that we were going to be poor for the remainder of our lives. With all the remaining strength left within me, I replied to each naysayer that Tim and I serve a powerful God who is not confined by Tim’s age, abilities or length of unemployment.
Then there was ”the look” in our children’s eyes when they came for visits. “Where is God?” they sometimes asked us. “Isn’t Dad ever going to get a job?” “The story isn’t over yet!” I told my crying daughter one day as I struggled to keep from crying myself.
One day, I laid flat on the floor, face-down in deep humility, in our bedroom and I surrendered to the Lord as poured out my heart to Him. I said, “Lord, our home is gone. Our entire way of life is gone. All we have left are our possessions. Go ahead, take those, too, Lord. I understand now how truly meaningless they are. If what You want is my full attention, God, then it’s Yours. And even though there’s no end in sight to our misery, I praise You, God. I praise You. Because I know You are right here with Tim and me and I know You love us.”
A bit later, I looked out the kitchen window. For a minute or two, I watched it underneath the birch tree before it dawned on me what I was seeing. A dove. A beautiful mourning dove. Just like the one God sent to Doug Birkhimer to let him know that he would survive his battle with cancer.
Just like Doug, I, too, was exhausted and I was in desperate need of hope. People were telling us to accept the worst and even though Tim and I believed that God could still get us out of our terrible situation, we were struggling to keep hoping, to keep persevering.
As I stared at the dove, I asked God if He had sent it to me. I asked God if this dove meant that Tim and I should keep believing God for a job, for a miracle? I felt an immediate conviction that this was the case. I kept my eyes on the dove until it finally flew away and then I hurried to tell Tim what I had just seen and experienced.
Our hope was renewed. The appearance of the dove when we were at our lowest could not be a coincidence. After all, with God, there is no coincidence. We praised God mightily for the hope that came with the sighting of the dove. It wasn’t long before Tim and I began seeing it regularly in my aunt’s backyard. And each time we saw it, the peace of God came over us and we felt great joy.
Finally, my husband was scheduled for a job interview while I went to the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Retreat near Asheville, North Carolina. On God’s Mountain, I received the phone call. Our months of unemployment were over! God had given Tim a job. Not just any job, but a wonderful job that would allow us to have a place of our own once again. Proof that, with God, nothing is impossible! (Luke 1:37).
I had promised God that I would lay on the floor and shout praises to Him when Tim finally got a job. And even though I was in the middle of a crowded public lobby, I did just that. At first, people wondered why that woman was lying on the floor shouting and crying praises to God, but when they learned the reason, everyone began praising God! It was a moment I will never forget.
Every now and then when I’m facing an overwhelming challenge, I will look outside and see a lone mourning dove. I cannot help but think of Doug Birkhimer and how God used Doug’s suffering to give Tim and me Godly hope in the midst of a terrible situation. Tim and I went through a terrible fire, but we’ve come out with a faith that has been tested and highly refined. I know that God is with me, with Tim, and that no matter what we face, no matter what happens to us, God is with us and we are His.
Cynthia Howerter © 2011Read More