Always Today

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Photo by Kim Lance (Used by permission. Click image for more of Kim’s work)

Today… Did you know it is always today? Yesterday was today. When tomorrow gets here it will be today. Today is all we have.

Really, we only have right now. This moment. When the next moment gets here it is this moment. See what I mean?

I used to live in yesterday and tomorrow. I was either regretting what I had done in the past, trying to figure out how not to do it again, worrying about tomorrow, or dreaming about a wonderful future I never thought I could have.

No more. Over the years, the Lord has gently taught me that right now is where I can be happy. Right now is where I can live. Right now is where I can feel His sweet presence.

I remember the day that He showed me how vital it is to enjoy now. Not as in living for the moment, do whatever you want kind of enjoy. But being aware in each moment.

If I am doing something I don’t really enjoy, He reminds me that He is with me in it and that I can talk with Him about anything I want. If I am doing something I enjoy, then He usually reminds me of the same thing – He’s with me in it and enjoying it with me.

I can’t describe to you how that simple truth took so much pressure off of me. Gone was the worry about tomorrow and the regret about yesterday. Now, right now, I can breathe freely and relax in how much my Heavenly Father loves me and loves to spend now with me. He is the God of right now.

I used to long for a time when everything worked out the way I thought it should, when everyone I love was well and happy, when I had time to relax… Yep, that didn’t happen often. Even when it did, something interrupted it.

The Lord always has a better way – a way that cannot be derailed or interrupted. He surrounds us with His mighty protection and whispers His gentle peace through us. No matter what things look like on the outside, nothing can disturb the unshakable peace He gives us in the now.

The only thing I can equate it to is being in a noisy room full of people. You don’t want to be there. All you want is a little peace and quiet. You start to feel the noise close in on you like a trash compactor.

Then, you look up and find someone you love more than anyone in the world looking at you with such radiance, such tenderness, such devotion. He is unmoved by everything else in the room. He sees only you and He loves you.

He is looking at you – Jesus, who loves you more than I have the ability to describe. Right there in His gaze is where now is. Right there is where we can live. Right there we hear nothing but the unspoken “I love you” and feel the magnitude of what that means in our heart.

Live in His peace. Live in His love. Live in His now, my friend. And you’ll never miss another happy moment or another happy today.

Phyllis Keels

Finding Your Strength

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This is a week when I needed to hear this message again. I pray it ministers to you too, dear reader.

***

There is a white squirrel that lives near me. Sometimes he comes out of the woods and gathers acorns in my yard. The other day, he came up on my deck to get a drink of water from the dish I leave out for the birds.

He’s so pretty. He’s not an albino, but a white squirrel. I call him Gabriel because a friend of mine said he was the angel squirrel.

Of course, when he came up on the deck the other day, my dog almost lost her mind. You know how the squirrel taunt of, “You can’t catch me! You can’t touch me!” drives dogs crazy enough to claw their way through a solid oak door.

I love being surrounded by trees and animals. It feels like this is the way life is supposed to be. At least for me. I guess that’s the way the Lord made me: listening for the wind in the trees, watching for the animals, looking for the sunshine.

Life’s not always that way, though. We all go through things that feel like the gray, barren landscape of winter; the bone-chilling and biting north wind, the long overcast days when it seems the sun will never shine again.

I’ve noticed something about this point in life where we’re just about to quit the race and just coast the rest of the way. It’s the point where things get so difficult that we start to lose hope that life will ever turn out the way we want.

It’s the moment when the hero has been beaten to a pulp by the villain, and he is just about to give up. Then something happens. The villain taunts him one more time.

The taunt is always the worst one, isn’t it? “Your mama is a donkey.” Or “Your daddy was a coward.”

What I always wonder is, why does the hero wait until that point to find his super-human strength? Why not go into the fight knowing your enemy is going to fight dirty and just knock him out with the first punch?

My friend, take a lesson from my dog. No matter how many times a squirrel comes on the deck, my dog launches off the sofa and gives the same booming series of endless barks as she did the last forty times that happened.

My dog is prepared to finish the fight as soon as it starts. Not once have I ever seen her give a half-hearted bark or give up. If I ever opened the door, she would chase that squirrel until she lost sight of him.

Sure, we all know that a yellow Lab is not fast enough to catch a squirrel, but my dog doesn’t know that. I don’t think it would change her determination even if she did know it.

My point is this: the last leg of a race is where many people give up, and we run many races throughout our lives. Push through the last part and you will find your strength. That’s because your strength really comes from another source, when you let Him give it.

Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” All things! Paul knew it was Jesus’ strength that carried him through and that it wasn’t his own.

Go into the fight knowing that the strength will be there. Trust in your Heavenly Father who is faithful. Know that He will do it, because He loves you, my friend. He loves you so very much.

Phyllis Keels

Happy Winds-Day

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Photo by Kim Lance (Used by permission. Click image for more of Kim’s work.)

Happy Winds-day, as Winnie the Pooh would say. It most certainly is Winds-day lately. My hair looks reminiscent of a five-year-old child who just got out of bed, after a restless night of tossing and turning. Got the picture?

No matter. It was really nice to feel the warm sunshine yesterday. I needed it. I needed it a lot.

I needed the blue sky to remind me that my Heavenly Father is always shining His smile on me whether I feel it or not. I needed the warmth of the sun to remind me that He holds me close whether I can feel it or not.

When life gets hard I feel the cold blast of wet winter storms. I see the dark skies and the oppressive clouds obscuring the light I long for.

But what we see and feel is not necessarily truth. I know it’s real; it’s just not truth. It is feelings.

We were born to rely on our feelings, but that is only beneficial when we are babies. Not when we are adults. If it were, we would never do anything we didn’t really feel like doing. And that includes a long list for most people; well at least it does for me.

Feelings change. Truth does not. And the truth is: your Heavenly Father loves you all the time. Not because you are good or you do well, but because of Jesus.

If Jesus is our sacrifice, then His payment for us is complete. And that means there is nothing else needed for us to be accepted by our loving Heavenly Father who sent Jesus as that payment.

Whether the wind blows cold and is bitter or whether it is gentle and sweet, the truth is you are a beloved child of the Most High. You are valued because of the price of the One who took your place in death. And you are blessed not because of what you do, but because Jesus is our payment. Period.

So let’s all walk around knowing that we might feel like that five-year-old with the wind-blown hair, but in truth we are deeply loved and highly cherished children – loved by a Heavenly Father who really is that good.

Phyllis Keels

The Good Long Way

Today I was thinking about how often we get tempted to take the easy way out. It happens all day long. Cut this corner, skip that duty, do what I want instead of helping someone else who needs something…

I usually don’t take the easy way out anymore. I used to when I was younger, but my dad was the king of the good, long way. After watching him persevere for years and put our needs above even his own comfort, I knew he was a treasure and a living example of the Lord Jesus to us.

My dad’s life is a kindness from the Lord. Through many ways, the Lord guided his feet into the way of peace; the long way that builds strength and brings great joy.

Now it’s my turn. It’s my turn to give and bless, and I can tell you that it makes me so happy to be a blessing to anyone who will receive it.

It’s hard though. Sometimes it’s really, really hard because you love your loved ones so much and it’s terrible to see them suffer. Yet you keep going.

Then you get tired and discouraged. It all starts to seem like a dark valley that has no end.

Over the years, the Lord has shown me that this feeling of being alone in a dark valley is really just an illusion. It’s a trick of the enemy. Don’t ever fall for that trick.

Especially when you feel the discouragement, because just when you think you can’t stand the pain anymore, when you can’t take one more step, the sunlight streams in and warms your face.

Then you see the truth: the valley may be long, but it is not dark. It is green and lush and filled with living water. It is a place of growth and of resting in the strength of the Good Shepherd who walks with you through the whole thing.

You know, I have never regretted putting aside my own desires in order to bless someone else. I’ve never regretted spending time I didn’t think I had to minister to someone else. I’ve only regretted not doing those things.

Jesus walked and walked all over Israel for over three years and hardly ever had a minute to Himself. He preached, taught, and healed all who came to Him. He was thronged by crowds, had no place to lay His head, and had to get up in the middle of the night to have time to talk with His Heavenly Father. And yet, He did all this with great calm and perfect joy because He came to deliver all who were oppressed of the devil.

Blessing others is not about giving up things we want. It’s about getting to travel a higher way – the long, good way that is the way of peace. Traveling in the way of great joy of watching Jesus minister to those we love, and seeing them blossom in the unwavering love of God.

…how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. (Acts 10:38, NKJV)

Phyllis Keels

The Eldest

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I saw a picture on a social media site of three T-shirts, each with a different caption.

The first one had, “I’m the oldest. I make the rules.”

The second had, “I’m the middle. I’m the reason we have rules.”

The third had, “I’m the youngest. The rules don’t apply to me.”

I laughed so hard! It’s true, isn’t it? At least it was in my family.

I’m the oldest. No surprise there. I never thought that I made the rules. I just knew I had gotten in trouble for not following the rules, and wanted to help others learn from my mistakes.

I felt responsible for everyone and everything. I guess that comes with being the oldest.

Today, I realized that this feeling of responsibility is very, very, very deeply ingrained in me. While I was praying for my family (which I do a lot). First one person comes to mind, and then another, and then another.

Before long I’m overwhelmed by the needs of everyone in my life. So many people (more beautiful than the lovely daffodils above), so little time. I want to give them the loving care and attention they deserve. I want them all to be well, happy, and know the love of God every moment.

Then the Lord showed me something.

I’d been feeling like if I don’t stay focused on praying for my family, then the Lord won’t take care of them and their needs. Like my Heavenly Father doesn’t love my family even more than I do…

That, of course, is ridiculous.

I learned a great lesson today. While the Lord wants us to intercede for each other in prayer, the process, the outcome, and the responsibility are His. Otherwise, He would not put it on our hearts to pray.

I think sometimes the reason we don’t see results from our prayers is that even after we ask the Lord for help, we keep trying to fix things. We won’t let go of the responsibility.

I learned today that I really, really want to do things the Lord’s way. His way is perfect, and His love is true. He wants good for me and for my family, and I want what He wants.

The only way to peace and freedom from worry is to let my Heavenly Father bear the responsibility, because He is Lord. He is the eldest. And because He loves me!

In a nutshell, I am to pray, leave it, and follow His leading. He doesn’t need for me to do everything. He wants me to believe that He loves my loved ones infinitely more than I ever could.

Phyllis Keels

Lean in While You Wait

This is one that I needed to read again. I pray it is a blessing to you too.

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Photo by Kim Lance (Used by permission. Click image for more of Kim’s work.)

A couple of years ago I discovered something interesting while waiting and waiting for the figs on my tree to ripen. I checked every day and saw only hard, green, unripe figs or figs that needed another day or two before being picked.

One day in mid-summer, I looked out the window and saw a squirrel sitting on the rail of my deck, right in front of the fig tree. He was eating a fig. From my tree. On my deck…

I had to laugh. At least the mystery was solved. The squirrels were getting to them right before I did.

That memory helped me today because it seems in our spiritual lives we wait and wait for “fruit” – for results, for growth, movement, relief, don’t we? I know I do, and when I don’t see any, I get discouraged.

Most of the fruit I’m looking for is for someone else’s benefit – my family, my brothers and sisters in Christ, friends, co-workers. I want more than anything else for them to be happy in the Lord. I want them to be blessed and have great joy and peace.

It’s hard to see people you love struggle and be in pain. But that just makes me pray for them even more. It makes me lean into my Good Shepherd for His strength, His comfort, His wisdom. And that’s not a bad place to be at all.

In fact, it’s the best place, because it’s a place of rest.

When we’re waiting for something, anything, time seems to drag and drag, doesn’t it? Well, I’m going to use that time to enjoy being in the arms of my Jesus. He is so kind to me!

I’ll use it knowing that His timing is perfect, and while it doesn’t seem like anything is happening on our side, it is. More than we know. The most important things in life are unseen, and the evidence of them may appear years later. By then, we’ve usually forgotten what we were looking for.

But we can trust the Lord’s heart of love, and His beautiful plan for us and our loved ones. He never gets tired of working on our behalf. Never. Just lean into His love while you wait on His timing, my friend.

In addition, just like the “missing” figs, somebody’s being fed, even if I don’t see it. And that gives me a whole lot of peace.

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)

Phyllis Keels

Through the Tree

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Now when they had fulfilled all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb. (Acts 13:29, NKJV)

…who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24a, NKJV)

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” (Galatians 3:13, NASB)

His Name is Jesus.

Phyllis Keels

The Eye of the Storm

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Photo by Kim Lance (Used by permission. Click image for more of Kim’s work)

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be in the place where this photo was taken? I would just sit and look at the trees and the hills and the grass. Oh, to be where there is no phone, no computer, no TV in every single building we enter from a medical clinic to a restaurant. No people, no planes flying overhead, no cars driving by. No noise.

Just the sound of the wind in the trees.

I guess I’d have to travel back in time a few hundred years to get that kind of quiet. Yep. I’ll get right on that.

Believe me, if I could have done it, by now I would have done it. Maybe that’s why I like to write stories set in past times. In my imagination, there is the quiet that I long for.

Sure I use technology and man-made contraptions. That doesn’t mean I like them. They make so much noise.

Maybe noise is so repulsive to me because it tends to distract from what is real. It keeps us from hearing the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit. It drowns out the whisper of wind and the stream. It seems to be a bully that forces its will over the sweet sounds of God’s creation. It tramples on our minds when we try to think about the Lord.

If you’re not quite sure how I feel…

The worst of it is this: we grow so accustomed to noise that we don’t even think about it anymore. Sometimes we’re even frightened when we do have a few moments of quiet. We think something is wrong. We’re left alone with our thoughts!

I’m not condemning anyone who doesn’t like quiet. We are who we are and we like what we like. I just wish there were a quiet place to be found nowadays. Even if we turn off every device we own, there is still plenty of noise around us.

So maybe the answer is in the eye of the storm. The world will be noisy until Jesus physically returns. Until then, I can rest in the quietness of His presence within me. Maybe the problem is that I’ve been looking for external quiet when I could be enjoying the unshakeable internal peace of being the Bride of Christ the King.

Jesus loves me. He always loves me. His strong, comforting presence is always with me no matter how much noise is going on outside. What place could be more beautiful than that?

Here in the eye of the storm is the real place where I can hear the wind in the trees and the song of the stream. Here in His arms, where I can hear His whispers of kindness; where I can rest my head on his chest, and thank Him for loving me so much.

Phyllis Keels

A Beloved Herd

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Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

I will get to see some horses this weekend! (A belated birthday present from my dear best friend)

I’m so excited! Thinking about horses reminded me of this post about the beautiful Lipizzaner horses – the Legendary White Stallions.

They really are magnificent, and a beautiful picture of how our relationship with the Good Shepherd can be. I hope this blesses you, dear reader.

***

I don’t often watch documentaries about animals. If you know me, you might be thinking, “Why not? She loves animals!”

Yes, I do. Very much. But, I can’t bring myself to watch anything where they get eaten by a predator, or they are being hunted, or they go through hardship.

Even if nothing bad happens to them, I’ll find that the show is about how tenderly a mother cares for her baby or something sweet like that, and I’ll end up crying my eyes out.

That pretty much limits my options.

Still, when the PBS special called “Legendary White Stallions” came on, I couldn’t resist. It was about the world famous Lipizzaner horses, after all.

Despite weeping through almost the whole show, I stuck it out. Most of the draw for me was just seeing those breathtakingly beautiful stallions, but part of it was something else.

I had forgotten how much like horses we are. The longer the show went on, the more I realized how important it is to know the Master.

Lipizzaner are raised to do what they do. Throughout their lives, they never know a time when they are not being cared for, tended to, and loved by their masters. Because of this, they are never afraid of what their masters ask them to do.

Because they have been under the loving, consistent hand of the trainers, these beautiful horses will do maneuvers that most horses would never attempt to do. All because these horses trust their masters.

Why? Because they know they are loved. It’s as simple as that.

You think animals don’t know when they are loved? Oh, they know. And they know when they are not loved.

My dog trusts me because she knows me. She knows that I would never intentionally harm her. She knows that she is loved – greatly loved. Because she knows, she does what I ask, even when she doesn’t understand why I’m asking.

When I thought of how these magnificent horses (and my dog) relax in the love they are given, I could see so clearly how happy they are. This is such a lovely picture of allowing the Lord Jesus to “handle” us.

Whether we know it or not, whether we like it or not, we were made by the Master. My friend, I can tell you from a lifetime of being “handled” by the Lord that we understand only a fraction of that love. His love for us is beyond comprehension.

While He may ask us to go through things we don’t understand, things that are uncomfortable, or even painful, they are for good. Not so that He can put on a show, like with the Lipizzaner, but so that we will know how greatly we are loved.

All of this is so that we will know Him.

If you haven’t felt like you’ve been in the beloved herd all your life, do not fear. Whether you’ve been aware of it or not, you have been cared for, cherished, and valued all your life – by the Master who gave His life for you, because He loves you.

Yes, you. Jesus really does love you, friend. Let Him be the Master, and then relax under His loving hand.

Phyllis Keels

Looking for Peace

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When I was a kid, my favorite thing to do was to pretend. I could imagine being on a raft in the middle of the ocean, riding a horse over an open plain, being a beautiful movie star, or being on a secluded island.

The island thing was my favorite. Maybe it was the “Gilligan’s Island” influence. To this day the thought still sparks all kinds of happy childhood memories.

I’m not sure what the attraction was or still is. Maybe it’s the thought of being away from civilization and away from all the danger and turmoil in the world. Finding a place of peace. To the mind of a child, being surrounded by water where no evil could come sounded a lot like paradise.

Now I know that the peace I was looking for is not a physical place. It is a person. It is the Lord Jesus.

Think about it. He is the Prince of Peace. That means He is the ruler of the “place” called peace. And in the Hebrew, peace (shalom) means so much more than the absence of strife. According to Strong’s Bible Concordance, it means: whole, sound, tranquil, secure, safe, healthy.

Somehow the English word “peace” doesn’t do justice to the full meaning of shalom.

My friend, don’t let anything rob you of what Jesus wants you to have. Don’t settle for less than what He died to give you. Don’t fall for any counterfeit that will only be temporary.

Go after the eternal, original, perfect peace. The peace you long for is not found in a place. It’s not on an island, or in any human relationship you could ever have. It is not found in the abundance of money or things or the best career.

It is found in the intimate, loving relationship with the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

So how do you get it? You get it when you get Him. He is peace. Simply tell Him that you want Him. He will bring the shalom with Him. Jesus wants you to have His peace even more than you want to have it.

Once you have it, you won’t be afraid of what is going on in the world. Not that you won’t care – it will not disturb your peace.

I know that the New Testament was written in Greek, but Jesus would have spoken the following words in Hebrew or Aramaic. So let me show you what He said to His disciples, and is saying to you today:

Shalom (wholeness, soundness, tranquility, safety, health) I leave with you, My shalom I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27, NKJV)

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have shalom. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NKJV)

Phyllis Keels