Waiting on God

There is a story about a man who was driving around a conference center in a large city trying to find a parking spot.

Getting Back Home Was The Problem

Waiting, especially waiting in line, may be one of the most frustrating situations we encounter. This week Cindy and I went to Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, for a four-day mini-vacation. Also known as Rocky Point, the city sits at the northern point of the Sea of Cortez and is only 62 miles south of the U.S./Mexico border. We try to schedule our trips so that we avoid long waits at the border coming back into the United States.

Negative-Edge Pool in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.
Negative-Edge Pool in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

What was our travel experience this week? Great going down. Not so great coming back.

Many people travel to Puerto Peñasco from Arizona, especially college kids during Spring Break in early March. We avoided the early part of March as a result, preferring to take the four-hour drive on Monday the 18th with a return date scheduled for Thursday the 21st. Yet when we approached the border on our return trip there was a very long line of cars, longer than we had ever seen.  The weather had been wonderful and many other people had also gone on their own mini-vacations.

After about 45 minutes of snail-pace movement, a Mexican police car passed us on the right side of the road. Following him, surprisingly, were dozens of cars that had originally been behind us. Most had United States license plates on them. They streamed by for many minutes until there were now two lines approaching the border. We realized our wait time had just doubled from that point forward. After about 2 hours of sitting in our car, we finally made it to the border.

Waiting is no fun! Especially if you have an appointment to get to. We did, as Thursday evening is when we facilitate our GriefShare group, a support group for those who have lost a loved one.  We made it on-time, thankful to God for that.

The Miraculous Parking Spot

There is a story about a man who was driving around a conference center in a large city trying to find a parking spot. He was scheduled to speak to a large audience and feared he would now be late. So he prayed to God saying “Dear God, if you help me find a spot quickly, I promise You I’ll read the Bible every morning and do my very best to attend church regularly!” Right after finishing his prayer, he noticed a car miraculously pulling out of a spot just ahead. “Never mind, God,’ he quickly said, ‘I found one…”

Even though God knows that waiting is not our favorite activity, and knows that patience is often not our key strength, He asks us to wait. But more specifically, He asks us to wait for Him, to experience His presence in our lives, to watch how He will work in situations that we find difficult.

One of our favorite verses in the Bible is Psalm 46:10:

“Be still and know that I am God.” It is also translated as “cease striving”.

A Difficult Decision

One year ago, Cindy and I were in a very difficult position. We didn’t know which way to go. Our thirty-year-old son had gotten himself into a situation that was potentially life-threatening to him or others. We prayed and sought advice from the most respected sources we knew of. Yet everyone we spoke with gave us remarkably different courses of action to take. It was as bewildering as a winding road.

Winding Road in Colorado

There are three criteria that we look at when making a major decision:

  1. Is it biblical? Does it violate God’s commandments or conform to them?
  2. Do we feel a certain peace from God’s Holy Spirit within us that the specific choice is correct?
  3. What are the circumstances surrounding the decision? Do they tend to point to one decision being right, or in contrast does a door seem to close on any particular choice?

We heard many choices that fit the first criteria. But there was only one choice which fit all three criteria. That choice was to place our trust fully in God to work out the situation in His way and in His time. It was specifically for us to wait on God. In looking back, I can imagine God smiling at that point and saying “Now that you have stopped your anxious worrying, now that you have decided that I have the power and that I love you, please sit back and watch what I can do.”

Within days of our making the active choice to wait on the Lord, He moved in ways that were astounding to us! The situation was diffused, our son was safe and our faith in God was further strengthened. Thank you Lord!

Choosing To Wait Can Be Rewarding

The key point here is that waiting on God is an active choice. It isn’t at all like throwing up our hands in despair and doing nothing. It is intentionally placing our trust in the One who is able to do all things. It is faith in action. We learned a very important lesson that we will seek to always remember.

Yes, there are times that we are to take action with His leading and prompting. But also, there are times in which acting in desperation, without His guidance, will only serve to make matters worse. Sometimes, we just need to get out of God’s way and allow Him to act.

Your comments and thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

Photography by John J O’Leary

The Light of a Small Candle

No amount of darkness can overcome light, not even the tiny, flickering light of a small candle glowing in the hand of a child.

In northern Arizona, there is a famous slot canyon called Antelope Canyon. It sits in Navajo land and has both an Upper and a Lower Canyon, both of which can be toured and photographed by permit. The Navajo name for Upper Antelope Canyon is “Tse’ bighanilini,” which means “the place where water runs through rocks.” The natural, sandstone walls have been carved into incredible, rippled waves over many years by erosion.  They have an orange coloring that glows as light enters in bright rays during specific times.  Shades of pinks and blues also grace the upper surfaces of rock.  It is, to say the least, impressive!

Some years ago I photographed both the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons.  I timed the visit so that the sunlight would be coming down through the vertical walls which can be as high as 120 feet above the canyon floor.  The featured image in this post is one of many that I took, and it is perhaps my favorite.  The verse from the Gospel of John came to mind immediately once I was able to look at the image on my computer.

In comparison to the exquisite light of Antelope Canyon, Cindy and I took our children into a lava tube near Mount St Helens in the State of Washington in the 1990s.  There, we walked through an ancient tunnel in which lava once flowed through, leaving a massive, hardened exterior of lava rock.  Once inside, you are confronted with total darkness.  It is absolutely pitch black and you can’t see your hand in front of your face or anything else for that matter.  You take headlamps and/or flashlights to navigate your way through the hardened, undulating floor of the tube which runs for over 2 miles.

The contrast between the two locales is striking.  Antelope Canyon’s brilliant light and colors are spectacular and exciting.  The lava tube, in contrast, was dark and oppressive, yet still quite interesting to see – although once was enough for me.

Light is an amazing thing, and how thankful we are for it. As a photographer, my goal is to capture images in which the light is at its best for the subject at hand. For landscapes, that is in the early morning or late evening. So I think about light a lot.

There are creatures on this earth that God has placed in areas of total darkness. Whether it be at the bottom of the ocean or deep inside caves, such creatures often develop unique characteristics over time where they might lose their natural pigmentation and eyesight or develop the ability to create their own light source. God obviously loves to create and I love all that He has given to us to enjoy with our eyesight.

How marvelous the blessings that we all can be thankful for, that we live in an age when we can see the wonders of the world through television or computer monitor, without the requirement to travel to remote corners of the world.

As the title of this post states, no amount of darkness can overcome light, not even the tiny, flickering light of a small candle glowing in the hand of a child. We pray that you will always be thankful for light. As a believer, remember that the light of God shines within you.

Consider the words of Jesus:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Your thoughts and comments would be appreciated.

Photograph by John J O’Leary

To Those Who Love God

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

One of the most popular, most comforting, scriptures in the Bible is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
~Romans 8:28

Some reading this may not know the Bible well and perhaps don’t know who Paul was. Imagine then, that you are a man who is highly intelligent and devout, having a set of beliefs about God that you not only cherish but defend. You are known as Saul of Tarsus by your Jewish brethren. You are a Jew and also a Roman citizen. From early childhood, you have spent your life studying the Torah, the written law of God. Your reputation is based on your beliefs. You have gone so far as to seek out heretics who are claiming that God has come in the person of a man from Nazareth, a carpenter’s son. Blasphemous! Later, you become a leader in the search for these heretics so that they can be brought to justice. You stand on the sidelines and watch as one of them is stoned to death. Then one fateful day, as you are traveling to a city called Damascus in your search, God stops you in your tracks. Literally. You are blinded. You fall from your horse into the dusty road and hear the voice of God: “Saul, Saul, why you are persecuting Me?”

Saul had been hunting disciples, or followers, of Jesus Christ, who had apparently proclaimed Himself to be the Son of God. Saul was known as “the Pharisee of Pharisees”. A Pharisee was one who was “separated from others” and they were often self-righteous and arrogant. You can imagine the outrage of such a man when confronted with people saying that this Jesus was supposedly God in the flesh.

There are 13 “Principles of Faith” that Orthodox Jews believe. The 12th states: “I believe with full faith in the coming of the Messiah. And even though he tarries, with all that, I await his arrival with every day.” There was a belief that a “Messiah” would come to liberate the Jewish people and bring world peace. He would be a powerful king, ruling here on earth! Yet when He came, instead of coming as a king here on earth, He came as a gentle, loving man who would say that His kingdom was not of this earth. Instead of being recognized as the Messiah, He would be mocked, beaten, spat upon, and crucified upon a cross. Then those who had been His disciples would be summarily hunted down and killed. And Saul was a leader of the pack of hunters pursuing them.

With that backdrop of a man who was vehemently against Jesus and His followers, how on earth is it possible that he would be the one who would risk his life innumerable times to tell the story that Jesus was, in fact, the Son of God? Wouldn’t God have struck him down with a bolt of lightning, killing him on that road to Damascus to show others what would happen to them if they persecuted and killed his followers? Wouldn’t God smite those who had killed His Son, Jesus?

God is God, and His ways are not our ways. That’s a very good thing indeed. Instead of killing Saul, He dramatically showed him the error of his ways and turned him from his path of self-righteousness and destruction to a path of true righteousness and salvation. Saul would come to be known as Paul, as his life would take a complete reversal in direction. He would go on to write many letters, revealing the story of Jesus Christ and declaring His message of love, grace, and sacrifice.

The longest of Paul’s letters would be to the Romans. It was when Nero was the Emperor. His letter to the Romans was written around 57-58 a.d., while Paul was most likely in Corinth. Paul had never met those he wrote to but knew of their faith in Christ based on the testimony of others. They were of differing backgrounds. Most likely there were Jews among them who believed in Jesus. Others would have been heathens who had also come to believe in Him. There would have been contentious beliefs about how to be a follower of Christ. Paul’s letter would be written to encourage them and instruct them on his inspired knowledge of the sinful nature of man, the sacrifice that Jesus made in our man’s behalf, and that salvation is through faith alone.

When we read that “God causes all things to work together for good”, we must recognize that this pertains to just one group of people. It is “to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” No such statement is made to those who do not love God and who are not called according to his purposes. Nor is Paul saying that we can cause things to work together for good. Only God can do this. “Looking on the bright side” may be helpful to us, but that is not what Paul is saying here.

What does the verse mean? How can we apply this in our life? First, we should love God.

There is a scripture in Mathew 22 in which Jesus had been asked a very important question by the Pharisees. When they hoped to entrap him, asking Him what the great commandment in the Jewish Law was, He replied:

“ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment.”
~ Matthew 22:37

In 2004, several months after the death of our son, Brian, I was in my car on the way to work. It was early morning and I was alone on a highway. I felt very alone indeed. My thoughts were of Brian and how much I missed him. I thought of Matthew 22. Understanding what it meant, knowing the scripture, was one thing. Being able to do it, I felt, was something altogether different.

Speaking out loud, I asked God “How is it possible for me to love you more than I love Brian, Daniel, and Katie? More than I love my wife? More than I love my mother and father, my sister? More than my friends? More than the amazing beauty of this world with its majestic mountains, rivers, ocean beaches, sunsets, and wildlife? More than starry nights, the twinkling of fireflies, the feeling when a large trout takes my fly in a Wyoming stream?” I stated emphatically “That is not possible for me God! I can’t just want to love you more than all that, it isn’t simply choosing to love. I have to really love You that much to obey that commandment!”

It would be misleading to say God answered me. More accurately, I believe He gave me a revelation that would change my understanding. I suddenly understood it as if He had said out loud to me: “John, every person and everything you just listed are gifts that I have given to you in your life. You love my gifts, can you not love Me, the One who gave you every good thing?” That was eye-opening for me. God had given me everything I had ever loved, ever cherished, throughout my entire life. And yet, here I was asking Him how I could love Him more than those people, those things. He had given me those things out of love for me. I was very appreciative of the gifts. But I had been missing the opportunity to love the Giver.

Cindy and I would see many evidences of God in our lives. We would be told that the forgiveness we had shown after Brian’s accident would be a blessing to others, and had even been shared by missionaries on trips to other countries. Cindy would tell the murderer of her brother to his face “I forgive you, I forgive you…” He would break down in tears as she said these words.  He would also go to prison for many years.  Perhaps her words would lead him one day to seek to know God, to surrender his life to the One who actually was in control of it?  We would see God working, bringing good out of the loss of our son, out of the loss of her brother. Yet the pain was also real, and the healing took a long time.

My belief is that we take so much for granted in this life and our love for God is far too shallow. We have expectations that things will go well, especially if we think we are being “good people”. We have simplistic views on the things that really matter, such as where we will spend eternity and the purpose of our very existence. We must remember that God causes all things to work for good – “to those who love God.”

Can we not cry out to God to help us out of the depths of His love?

“Lord, help me first to love You in a more profound way!”

“Open the eyes of my heart Lord!”

“Help me to see beyond the material world and the daily grind of activities and chores, so that I can see You at work in my life and the lives of others.”

“Help me to understand the depth of Your love, a love that would cause You to sacrifice Your Son to save a sinner like me.”

“Help me to love others, to extend Your love to them, and to not be focused on myself.”

“But most of all Lord, thank You! Thank you for loving me and for all the gifts you have given to me throughout my entire life. I am eternally grateful.”

My encouragement to you is that, no matter what has happened in your life prior to now, you are free to choose to follow after Jesus Christ at this very moment. Humble yourself, recognizing that you really aren’t in control of much in this life. But you can make choices! You have the freedom even in the midst of the most hostile countries in the world to choose to believe in Jesus, that He is the Son of God who came to take away the sins of the world. My sins. Your sins. You can believe that He rose from the grave after three days and sits at the right hand of God. You are free to turn from sinful ways and follow Him, trusting Him with your very soul.

Blessings in Christ,
John

Photograph by John J O’Leary

What if? Avoiding the Trap of Guilt

How do we respond when tragedy strikes a member of our family?

How do we respond when tragedy strikes a member of our family?  

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Islamic terrorists attacked Americans with our own commercial airplanes. They were part of al-Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden. The result? The deaths of 2,996 innocent people with about 6,000 others injured. The terrorists also died that day and ultimately Osama bin Laden would be killed in retribution. There were huge financial damages and the event would change security procedures for planes and airports around the world. The families of 2,996 Americans mourned for their lost loved ones and they miss them still today.

The 9/11 Disaster, as it would be called, had other results. We would see the incredible bravery and selflessness of the first responders. We would see an American flag being raised by a group of them at Ground Zero later that day, thanks to a photograph by Thomas E. Franklin. We would hear of the passengers of Flight 93 attempting to subdue the terrorists on their flight and of one, Todd Beamer, saying “Let’s roll.”

On Sunday, four days after the attack, churches across America were full. It was a wake-up call to many people, realizing that they could die while sitting in an airplane or sitting at their desk at work. My family of five attended Scottsdale Bible Church in Scottsdale, Arizona. The church was so full there were many in the lobby standing during the service. The Senior Pastor at the time was Darryl DelHousaye. He stood in front of a congregation of people shocked at what had occurred that week. Although I don’t recall his sermon after so many years, I do recall one statement he made. In his confident manner, with faith in God a cornerstone of his life, he stated the following:

“Many of you today are no doubt concerned about getting on an airplane any time soon. That’s understandable. I get that. But we know from God’s word in the Bible that our days are numbered and that God is in control. So if tomorrow is your day and you decide not to get on an airplane, you are just going to get hit by a bus.”

It was the humor we all needed and the congregation collectively laughed along with Darryl. Yet there was wisdom in what the Pastor had stated and I’ve told this story to many grieving people over the years. Why? Because when we lose a loved one we start looking to cast blame or guilt, and that often means we end up blaming ourselves and asking the dreaded “What if?” question.

Here are a few examples:

  • “What if we had taken her to a different doctor? She still might be alive today.”
  • “What if I had insisted he stay home from working at the World Trade Center that day? He wasn’t feeling well and I should have convinced him.”
  • “What if we wouldn’t have argued that night, would he still have committed suicide?”
  • “What if we didn’t allow our son to have a motorcycle? We should have told him more often to be aware of the potential for someone to pull out in front of him when he was on his bike?”

The last question was ours. Of course, we questioned whether we were to blame. It is normal. But it is also painful when we start blaming ourselves. Having heard that a relative made a comment that ‘they should never have allowed their son to buy a motorcycle’ didn’t bring any comfort to us in our grief. However, we saw multiple pieces of evidence of the Lord’s hand in the days leading up to his death and afterward. We believe that the Lord called Brian to his home with Him and that there was nothing we could have done to extend his life one day further. And we know that he was doing the one thing he enjoyed most in life, riding his motorcycle.

What does the word of God teach about this?

“Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.”
~ Psalms 139:16

The Bible tells us that our days are ordained by God even before we are born. We encourage you not to blame yourself if you have lost a loved one. Even if there was something you believe you could have done that would have directly saved their life, recognize that God is the one who is actually in control and not you. He will bring you or your loved one home to Him when He pleases. He is God. He has that right. Yes, it hurts to lose someone out of our life. A lot. Losing a child, a spouse, a sibling, a loved relative is one of the hardest things you will endure. But God’s grace is sufficient to carry us through. We know that. He has done that for us.

“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”
~ Billy Graham.

Gifts From God

We are both taking for granted things that others can only dream of…

As I write this, and as you read this, we are both taking for granted things that others can only dream of. It is not material possessions that I refer to. How many things, for example, are in my possession simply allowing me to write my thoughts down and my words to reach you? Just a short list would have to include the following:

  • Language skills
  • The ability to type/write
  • Hands
  • Eyesight
  • Access to the Internet
  • Freedom of Speech
  • Freedom of Religion

How often do we pause to consider how truly blessed we are? Using the word “blessed” implies that I have been given something. Think on each item in my short list above. Did I create any of those? Did I choose to be born and raised by a family living in the United States with the financial ability to provide me with an education? Did I fight for the right to freely express my opinion?

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I believe that every good thing I have now, or have ever had in my entire life, has been a gift from God. Even if I “earned” things, my very ability to earn them was due to prior gifts from God. Is that biblical?

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

~ James 1:17

How thankful should I be? A loving wife, three children, parents who loved me all their lives, a caring sister, friends, church, good health, an amazing dog named Baxter, on and on and on. I could literally go on for hours. But so could you!

How long is your list of things to be thankful for? Your life may be extremely difficult. You may have cancer. Your parents may have been cruel to you. Your spouse may have passed away recently. You may live in a country ruled by a dictator with oppression all around you. Yet, can you not still be thankful for many, many things?

Here is a thought to ponder: If you only would have things in your life tomorrow that you thanked God for today, what things would you start thanking Him for right now? I’ll pause here and give you the rest of the day to put your list together.

May God bless you richly! May we all recognize the many gifts we have been given and be thankful.

Your comments and thoughts would be welcome and we thank you for them in advance.

Photograph by John J O’Leary

Tribulation Brings About Perseverance

”And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
~ Romans 5:3-5

This scripture verse was written by the Apostle Paul to the young church in Rome.  His words outline a chain of events, starting with tribulation – difficult times in our lives. These are the “dark threads” that God weaves into our lives.

Perseverance is to be our response to such difficulties. To persevere means to persist in anything undertaken; to maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, obstacles, or discouragement; to continue steadfastly. The key here is “in spite of difficulty”. We don’t give up! It’s obviously easy to persevere when times are full of sunshine, warmth and laughter. But we grow by persevering when the fiery trials come. It builds “proven character” which leads to “hope”.

Our prayer is that you face tribulation head on, persevere and look forward to the blessings that will come when you do.  Turn to Jesus Christ, the Risen Savior, for help when you feel you no longer have the strength to continue.  He is an ever-present source of strength to those who believe in Him.

Photograph by John J O’Leary

Welcome to “The Weaver’s Hand”

My wife Cindy and I have experienced deep, personal loss.  The loss of a son. The loss of a brother. Watching relatives’ lives devastated by drugs. Yet through God’s grace and our belief in His Son, Jesus Christ, we have weathered these and many other storms. We are experiencing His joy in our daily lives.  He has given us the strength needed to persevere during trials and tribulations.

The scriptures teach us that persevering in difficult times is the way to grow one’s character and faith. We have created “The Weaver’s Hand” to encourage others through such scriptures and through the experiences of others. We will share personal stories of how God’s grace strengthens those who put their faith in Him.

Let us know your story. How has the Lord carried you in the midst of storms in your life? Your comments and suggestions will also be welcome and we pray that this site will be a blessing to you!

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Romans 5:3

Psalms 23:2
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.

Photograph by John J O’Leary