When Life Goes On and You Are Left

The journey had already been long, my legs were swollen and hurting, and we still had another five hours to go.  We all needed a break, including the dogs and so we stopped just west of Tallahassee to stretch our legs, all 14 of them, and use the restroom.

As I waited patiently for my husband and son, I gazed at the traffic whizzing by on I-10 — everyone in a hurry to their final destinations — preoccupied minds and hearts — all important.  Tears began to stream down my cheeks and I screamed in my heart and mind — loudly, I screamed — “STOP!” “Do you not see that she is gone?  Can you not see the hole left in my soul?”

Wanda 1

I begged a silent prayer, “Lord, please let the world spin back around — just this once, please?”  As my heart cries out all of the pain and missing and aloneness that it feels at that very moment, God softly speaks:

Tam — how far shall I spin the world back around?  Shall I go back a few months, a few years, a few decades?  For how long shall I suspend it there?  What will you do, say, or experience that I did not give you opportunity in the first rotation??  You, see, Tam — to spin the world back around will not buy you more opportunity — it will just prolong your grief.  Time cannot stand still — not even for love.  Then I remember James 4:14, “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

Lord, I understand — it’s just…that…” and my lip quivers and my heart heaves and I cannot speak and He says, “I know…”

I believe Him — I trust Him — I will find a way to rest in Him…in this world where grief grips and life goes on and we are left…BUT GOD does not leave, nor forsake, nor abandon.

I then realize that He gave me earthly relationships to teach me (and you)  — that when (not if) loved ones die and we grieve, we can learn to trust Him deeper and better and more deliberately. Then we can love each other deeper and better and more deliberately.  We can do this because Jesus is acquainted with our sorrows (Isaiah 53:3, “ He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”) and when his friend, Lazarus, died, it simply states, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35).

Oh, what a Savior!  Oh, what a Friend!




A Study in God’s Faithfulness as Witnessed by Abraham and Isaac

Dave Cotton
Genesis 17 through 22

In reading and studying Genesis 17 through 22, God began to reveal to me a few of the reasons that He not only asked of Abraham what He did, through Isaac, but also what lessons He wanted me to learn, as well. Therefore, I am sharing my raw analysis with additions in the future, as God reveals more lessons to me.
God told Abraham to make Isaac a burnt offering:
He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22:2)

Upon asking Abraham to do (what I would think is cruel and unthinkable), God knew the following:

1. Isaac is His promised son to Abraham;

The LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. (Genesis 21:1-3)

2. Out of Isaac would come God’s covenant, which is everlasting;

God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. (Genesis 17:19)

3. According to God, Isaac is Abraham’s only son. Notwithstanding his promise regarding Ishmael;

He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22:2)

4. Abraham loved Isaac.

He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22:2)

Abraham’s Response to God:


Abraham did immediately what God asked of him.

So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. (Genesis 22:3)


He took Isaac, servants, wood, and a knife and they went together.

So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. (Genesis 22:3-6)


When Isaac asked Abraham where the Lamb was for the burnt offering, not realizing that he himself was the sacrifice, Abraham told him confidently that God would provide.

And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. (Genesis 22:7-8)

Yet, with all of this, the question remained in my heart, “But why, God??” So, here are my thoughts on the “why!”

God was teaching Abraham about His own sovereignty and sufficiency!

1. God is all-sufficient:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless… (Genesis 17:1)

2. God is the Covenant-Maker:

…I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.” When he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham. (Genesis 17:2-22)

3. God is the Covenant-Keeper:

Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. (Genesis 21:5)

4. God will ask us to do difficult things:

He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you. (Genesis 22:2)

5. God will always provide:

And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. (Genesis 22:13)

6. God will bless obedience:

I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived at Beersheba. (Genesis 22:17-19)


I am to trust God’s sovereignty and sufficiency in all things, even when I don’t understand, I am to obey Him — Immediately, Deliberately, and Confidently — for He is the Covenant-Keeper.











Buttons, Sears Roebuck, and Apron Pockets



When I was a little girl, I would spend a couple of weeks each summer with my Grandma Keen in Richmond, Virginia.  I always looked forward to these visits with great anticipation!

Momma would pack my suitcase and we would start for our journey to Grandma’s house.  The ride there always seemed so long, as I peered out the window and watched pastures meld into concrete and sidewalks.  My exhilaration was almost more than I could contain and I would pepper Momma with thousands of questions.  If she ever grew tired of my incessant talking, she never let on.

Grandma would be waiting at the front door with her hair pulled into a bun and her apron donned.  I can smell her now, as I remember, Oil of Olay –she was all of 4’11, pudgy, and had skin as soft as Rose petals.  Her apron pockets stuffed with Kleenex and her rocking chair full of love.


There were two very special things that I enjoyed when I would go to visit Grandma…pulling out the coffee tin of buttons and retrieving last year’s Sears Roebuck & Co. catalogue she saved for me to cut out paper dolls.  I would spend hours on the floor with those buttons of all shapes, colors, and sizes — placing them into “families,” giving them voices and personalities — pretending they were old friends that I had not seen in a very long time.  Grandma would also give me an old shoe box that would serve as a home for my cut-out paper dolls — oh the wonderful outfits they would wear!

Sears Roebuck

When these memories came flooding over me a day or two ago, I realized that we no longer live in a place of such simplicity and innocence.  Gone are the days of coffee tins full of buttons, Sears Roebuck catalogues, and apron pockets stuffed with Kleenex.  We live in a throw-away society that has neither time nor inclination to save and replace buttons — if we lose a button, we just go out and buy a new blouse!  We no longer need a Sears Roebuck catalogue to shop with or cut out paper dolls because we have Amazon!

The simpler times — the coffee tins and buttons — taught us lessons of redemption!  They taught us to mend — not just blouse buttons, but relationships.  We harbor unforgiveness in our hearts — you know the old saying, “Burn me once shame on you; burn me twice shame on me.”  That is not what Jesus taught:

Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. Matthew 18:21-22

Does that mean we are to forgive them 490 times and then after that we’re done?  No!  Jesus was not telling us to forgive them a certain number of times, but over and over.  I know what you’re thinking, “But, you don’t know what they did to me…you don’t know how many chances I’ve given them…you’ve never been hurt or betrayed or used like I have!  Certainly, Jesus didn’t mean for me to keep being a ‘doormat’ or be used in such a way!  No, way!  I’m done with being treated like this or that and I won’t be a fool!”

Well, beloved, He most certainly did mean it and not only did He mean it, He demonstrated it by dying on the cross of Calvary to redeem us.  He, who knew no sin, became sin for us so that we might be forgiven.  We are redeemable — and for me, sometimes, that is hard to swallow because I know the wretchedness of my heart.  I praise His name for redeeming me — for not casting me aside as invaluable or useless to His Kingdom.

I will always remember the love of our Redeeming Savior when I see a mess of buttons or an old Sears Roebuck catalogue, or even a picture of my Grandma in an apron with pockets stuffed with Kleenex and the lessons God taught me on her parlor floor!




Resolute Obedience

Happy New Year and a Joyous One!

Each year about this time, we all start making our “New Year’s Resolutions” to only find out by February 1st that we kept maybe a handful of them and those aren’t holding up to well either!  I know that I can be the first to raise my hand and keep it raised.

As I pondred this perpetual dilemma that I face each year, I asked the Lord, “What can I do differently this year?”   Honestly, the answer didn’t come as an epiphany to me, but a gradual answer that He has been giving me for months.

…and, so, out of resolute obedience to Christ — here are my intentional goals for 2018:

  • Obey Christ…even to the point of death;
  • Be delibierate in all that I do in Kingdom Work;
  • Live authentically before God and others;
  • Be and make Disciples;
  • Give more than I take in all things;
  • Daily die to self — Christ FIRST…me last;
  • Be Jesus’ hands and feet;
  • Be more tender-hearted;
  • Put on Christ Jesus!

Resolutions are so easy to break — mostly because they are only made to ourselves.  However, to commit to Christ my all — well, I don’t want to EVER fall short in my commitment to HIM.  One day we will have to make an accounting for our works and that we were faithful in all that He asked of us, and I want to be found faithful in all things.

My prayer for you this coming year is that you will be obedient, intentional, and authentic in your relationship with Christ and with others!

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:12-21)


The Aroma of Christmas the Essence of Love

Jim & Ginger Shook Family

Christmas Eve always began with the hustle and excitement I anticipated all year long growing up in Powhatan, Virginia.  Our tree had been up and decorated right after Thanksgiving and the anticipation would build each day as Momma and Daddy would make the preparations for the best time all of the year.

When Christmas Eve came around, Momma had a mountain of presents ready to be loaded into our car for our journey to Richmond and time with family at my Aunt (pronounced Ain’t) Scarlett’s house.  We would make the 45 minute ride — each of us four kids chatting on about what Santy Claus was going to bring us — while Daddy would chime in reminding us that we had to get home and in bed in time or he fly right over our house and miss us!  We would cry and promise that we wouldn’t delay the ride home!  Not us!

Arriving at Ain’t Scarlett’s house was filled with fanfare and kisses and love — we would walk into her little house filled with family and friends we had not seen in awhile!  It would take a good 30 minutes or more to get in the house, get our coats and boots off, find Grandma to hug and kiss, while being stopped by Uncles and Aunts demanding their kisses.  Oh, but when Ain’t Scarlett kissed you and hugged you — the love oozed out of her and straight into your heart — you knew you were loved!

The house was filled with amazing smells — Ain’t Scarlett’s meatballs, ham, turkey, mashed potatoes, Ain’t Lorraine’s potato salad, Pinto Beans, Cornbread — and on and on!  The table was filled, every inch, and overflowing with all the Appalachian goodies I can remember!  And then, you turn the corner into the laundry room and the washer and dryer are covered in table cloths with pies and cakes of every variety…we never left hungry…and if you did…well, it was your own fault!

We never did get out of Ain’t Scarlett’s house any earlier than 1 a.m. and that was after Momma helped clean up — even then Ain’t Scarlett would take the left over mashed potatoes and make all of us remaining kids a potato cake!  Then, finally, Momma would helps us get our boots, mittens, and coats on for the long journey home.  We were tired and Daddy would always start encouraging us to look up in the sky, as we rode along the Richmond roads, to see if we saw him — that fat, red-suited elf — flying reindeer through the sky.

Sometimes by the time we arrived home, it had begun to flurry — we carried the many packages in to the house given by Aunts and Uncles and Cousins and Grandparents — Momma and Daddy would shew us off to bed and then they began their part.

I shared a bed with my sister, Angela, and I remember crawling in between those cold sheets and snuggling up under neath of the quilt that Mammaw Shook had made me — falling asleep and dreaming of the morning to come — so giddy with excitement.  We would strain our ears listening for that jolly ole’ elf to land on our roof, but usually sleep won over the thrill of hearing him and the hooves scraping the roof.

The fondest memory of all and one that brings such warmth to my heart is that of Christmas morning — waking beneath that warm quilt — and I could smell the aroma of Christmas.  It was that of Momma’s Turkey which had been cooking on low all night — it was the deliciousness of smelling Daddy cooking eggs and bacon and gravy and biscuits for breakfast — it was the essence of love permeating the house and sweetly reminding me that I was ever so blessed!

As Earl Hamner once said, “the family got not tokens of love, but love itself.”

We were abundantly loved and cared for and cherished.  We were not told this, but rather it was demonstrated to us through the aromas that filled our home.  God had blessed us — richly — with each other!


Calloused Knees — The Sojourner’s Last Mile – Part 3

It is raining hard as we make our way down I-95 South — the windshield wiper blades racing back and forth — crimson lights aglow in the stop and go traffic.  We have been on the road about two hours when Ivy awakens.  Our tummies are growing hungry and we decide it might be a good time to stop and satiate them and our emptying gas tank.

I see a sign for WaWa and decide that it is a safe and good place to stop for gas and as we do, we also see a Culvers — well, thank you, Lord, because Karen and I love Culvers and it will be a new experience for Ivy.  We order our food and take a quiet table so that we can get to know Ivy a bit a better and the conversation takes off.

As Ivy explains to us how she found herself stranded in Sanford — she tells us of all the people she has encountered — many not so willing to help her or even speak to her.  She looks at me and says, “Tam — why are you different?  Why were you willing to help me when so many others didn’t want to give me a place to even sit down and rest?”  I know Ivy isn’t asking a rhetorical question — she is asking from the deep places of her heart — a hurting question that begs an authentic answer — not an empty, callous one.

I look at Ivy — I really look at her and see what others are afraid to see and at that very moment I decide to make myself vulnerable — and not pull any punches — because Ivy needs to see Jesus and not Tam…and, I start:

Ivy — most people are walking around life with a great deal of hurt.  Most have gaping wounds that I cannot even begin to understand.  When life has served you up every raw deal that exists — when you’ve been abandoned at every turn — when it took every ounce of energy just to show up that day — most don’t feel that have anything left to give — they bearly have enough to get through it themselves.  I am talking about that young lady who has nowhere to go — maybe her Daddy threw her out on her backside because she announced that she’s pregnant and the young man has left her to handle it all alone — or the single parent who is not even sure how to fill their babies bellies that night and tomorrow is not looking much brighter — how about the gentleman that walked out of the doctor’s office with the stark realization that he has about six months to live and now he needs to go home and tell his wife the life-time they had planned together has been cut short by about 40 years.  I am thinking about the woman sitting on the couch in the  pastors office — weeping — life has been a struggle — never easy — since the age of 5, when for the first time a man touched her in a way he never should have — she doesn’t know how to put the pieces of life together and really doesn’t want to put them together —she only wants to end her life — it is just too difficult to breathe.

You see, Ivy, everyone has a story — everyone is approaching each day from a place of hurt — and many start developing callouses on their hearts.  They allow the callouses to become an armor or shields to protect them from being hurt further.  Often, then, they cannot see people’s hurts because of their own.

Ivy, I am not immune to such hurt either — but I’ve allowed Christ Jesus to soften the callouses of my heart…to take suffering and use it to help others when He can.  Romans 5:3-5 says,

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

It’s a choice, for me, Ivy — I want God to use me and so I choose to have callouses on my knees rather than my heart!

We reach our destination with Ivy and leave her in the hands of her son.  As Karen and I start back, we are reminded of a verse in Hebrews regarding angels unaware — we are encouraged to help them, who are sojourner’s in a weary land — we might be entertaining angels.  I don’t know if Ivy was an angel, but I do know that God is good to entrust Karen and I with her for a short time!

Be ready with a meal or a bed when it’s needed. Why, some have extended hospitality to angels without ever knowing it! Hebrews 13:2


Calloused Knees – The Sojourner’s Last Mile – Part 2

As it is almost 4:00 p.m. and Miami is over a 3 and a half hour drive from Sanford, Karen, Ivy, and I get into the car to begin our journey.  Ivy is exhausted after being up for the past 48 hours and we encourage her to just sleep, while I drive.

Ivy stretches out in the back seat of the car and settles in for a long nap and Karen and I begin to softly talk about how God works out His purposes for us all…having a willing and ready heart to do as He bids…letting fear go and trusting.  Ah, trust — that’s a big one!

How do we trust God that the woman, all 100 pounds of her, does not have evil intent toward us?  I watched her in the rearview mirror, as she leaned over the back seat into the way back of Karen’s car, and fumbled with her suitcases.  Unzipping this and zipping that and all the while my mind unzipping fears — “Lord, what is she doing?”

Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in you.  Psalm 56:3

We snake our way along 46 trying to make our way to I-95 and are overcome with the flood waters.  Hurricane Irma’s remnants have turned the pasture land into a virtual swamp — we are stunned that it is still so high.  The cows have been displaced — horse stables are washed out — lives still floating in a sea of uncertainty.  That seems to be the theme for the day — Ivy’s life sure was floating in a sea of uncertainty too.

I can hear her heavy breathing, as she trusts — trusting that we do not have evil intent toward her either.  Resting in chaos — exhaustion pulling you beyond your boundaries — having nowhere else to go — surrender — how when life has thrown you a curve ball and you have nothing left and you’ve been left?  You are broken and at the mercy of strangers — spent.

As we continue to make our way, we see more of Hurricane Irma’s destruction — death!  There is an alligator on the side of the road that has been hit by a car.  The rising waters had carried him beyond his safe boundaries — then a turtle who has met the same fate as the alligator — and an armadillo — all crushed and left for the vultures to clean up!

I have been forgotten like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel.  Psalm 31:12

I am certain that Ivy felt crushed and left too.  Finally, the sign for I-95 and the onslaught of rush-hour traffic.  We make our way onto the on-ramp, accelerate, and I think of the line from Peter Pan…” Second star to the right and straight on to morning.”  We still have more than 3 hours to go and Ivy continues to breathe heavily…we continue to talk softly…and God continues to weave a story, while we trust Him and all that He is doing.

Tomorrow I will continue Ivy’s story, please come back!