An Extraordinary Ordinary Life

17 February 2016

DSC04481 - CopyIt’s been 2 weeks since my mother passed away. Two weeks of remembering this amazing and precious lady. Two weeks of tears and rejoicing. But mostly, two weeks of realizing anew the blessing that has been mine to call Mary McGarvey, “Mother.”

I have a quote in the front of my Bible from Oswald Chambers that says, “It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God – but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people…”

Those words sum up my mother’s life. Her life was lived mostly on the ordinary streets among ordinary people – 7 very ordinary children included. But she lived that life in a quiet demonstration of the reality of the God she loved and served. She didn’t write a book, seldom did public speaking, never sought the limelight, but she, in her consistent walk with God, had great impact on many, many lives.

Towards the end, Mother’s speech became limited. Her clearest communication was when she prayed. We would catch frequent phrases about service, love, and she would often just repeat, “Wonderful, wonderful!” There was a part of her that wasn’t touched by dementia – a part of her that was still in vibrant communication with the God she loved and still bore testimony of that to those around her.

Mother’s funeral was triumphant. I don’t think I’ve ever used that word to describe a funeral before, but it’s the right word. Mother had chosen Scriptures to be read and hymns to be sung and so we honored her wishes to exalt God as we celebrated her life. There were 72 of her 75 children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren in attendance. Those lives alone are a tribute to the heritage of this godly woman.

The closing hymn, “Be Thou Exalted,” was chosen by my mother and expressed the deep desire of her heart. She never knew how wonderfully God honored that desire as she live a holy life on ordinary streets among ordinary people. And that is extraordinary!

Because of Christmas

22 December 2015

The following is a poem written by my father years ago. Yesterday we took it with us when we visited my mother and Peter read it to her. She had no recognition of this familiar poem – no memory that my father had written it. But what we did see was a precious identification with the truth of these words. She was so responsive to the message of the poem even though its origin and author were forgotten.

As I read over these words again this morning, I was struck by the realization that all of this is possible because of Christmas. God gave us the amazing gift of His Son, and we truly are “complete in Him.”


“You are complete in Him” Colossians 2:10 (NKJV)

In Christ I have a pardon full

From all the guilt of sin,

The fountain flowing from His wounds

Keeps cleansing me within.

In Christ access to God in mine

He lives to intercede.

Before the Father’s glorious throne

He brings my slightest need.

In Christ I’ve found a calm repose

While in His arms I rest.

The circling storms can hold no threat

Nor mounting waves molest.

In Christ I have a blessed hope

No earthly prize can dim.

The trumpet’s sound shall call me up –

Eternity with Him.

Nor have I ought, but what He gives,

And bowing at His feet,

This joyous truth enthralls my soul –

In Christ I am complete!

(Samuel W. McGarvey, July 7, 1948)


“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:15

Christmas After All

12 December 2015

DictionaryThis isn’t going to be a well-written, carefully planned blog. It isn’t even going to be directly about Christmas. Rather, this is just me sharing some thoughts from my own quiet time this morning.

I read these familiar words in 1 Corinthians 15:29… “so that God may be all in all.” As I was thinking about what that really meant, I decided to look up the word “all” in the dictionary. It’s not that I don’t know what all means, but I’ve found that it often adds new impact to familiar words when I look up their meaning.

I found a variety of definitions – “the whole amount; as much as possible; nothing but; entirely consumed; completely taken up with; absorbed by.”

Let me reverently rephrase that verse: “So that I may have as much as possible of God, and nothing but God. So that I may be entirely consumed by and with God; completely taken up with Him and absorbed by Him in the entire, whole amount of my being.”

I guess this really does fit in with Christmas after all. Colossians 1:19 tells us that God was pleased to have “all” His fullness dwell in Christ. He didn’t just send a part of Himself, but that precious little baby contained all of God – His fullness. What better time of year than Christmas to learn the true joy of allowing all of God to fill all of us?

Have a joyful Christmas – and may God truly be your “all in all.”



Is There Any Good News?

14 November 2015

I don’t think I have ever re-posted a blog before*, but after the news of the last few days I found great comfort in this reminder. I trust you will too.


Do the headlines ever scare you? It can be very unsettling – even frightening – to read a newspaper or listen to the evening news. More and more parts of our world are in turmoil and these are definitely days of “wars and rumors of wars.”

When you hear Christians discussing world events – especially the volatile situation in the Middle East – someone almost always mentions that it certainly seems like these must be the last days. The reality of Christ’s soon return truly is encouraging and offers great hope, but what about in the meantime. What about these days that we’re facing as things worsen daily in so many areas of the world?

I found some wonderful words of encouragement in Scripture recently. I was raised in a denomination with a strong emphasis on missions so the words of Matthew 28:19 and 20 are very familiar. Often referred to as the Great Commission, these words give us instructions as to what we’re to be doing as we wait for the Lord’s return. But the words that stood out to me today were these…“And surely I am with you always…to the very end of the age.” God promises us His presence right to the very last minute that we’re here on this earth.

What a wonderful reminder. God Himself not only assures us of His return, most likely soon, but promises that no matter what these uncertain days bring, one thing is certain – He will be with us! And I think that’s really good news!

*Original date 11/6/12 titled “Good News!”

Time for Fellowship*

8 October 2015

Jesus KnockingRecently I picked up an old copy of The Deeper Christian Life by Andrew Murray and was immediately impacted by his opening sentence. “The first and chief need of our Christian life is, Fellowship with God.”  I think of all the things that have changed since those words were first written in 1895. We live in a society that bears little resemblance to Andrew Murray’s life at the turn of the century. The culture of today is vastly different due to amazing advances in technology that Andrew Murray couldn’t have imagined. The values and philosophies that influence our lives today are also vastly different. And yet these words remain as important and significant as when they were first written over 100 years ago. They are, quite simply, true.

We probably all agree with this, but do we live our lives as if this is true? Do our days include time for uninterrupted fellowship with the Almighty? I don’t mean a quick devotional reading, and time to pray through our list of needs, but time to just be together. When you read the biographies of great Christians who have gone before us, many of them had incredibly busy schedules, and yet they seem to have found the secret of unhurried time with God.

I think it’s interesting that Christ makes it clear that this is what He wants.  Christ shares in Revelation 3:21 that He is knocking at our heart’s door waiting to be invited in to eat together – to have fellowship*. In New Testament times, eating together often meant reclining over a relaxed and unhurried meal. When was the last time you enjoyed unhurried time with the Lord?

I have to be honest and say that I haven’t gotten very far in reading The Deeper Christian Life. In fact, I haven’t gotten past that first sentence. Andrew Murray is absolutely right! My first and chief need is fellowship with God, and I’m learning that many of my other needs are met when I make this my priority.

I’m sure the rest of Andrew Murray’s book is excellent…and one of these days I’ll get to it. But, in the meantime, I am so thankful for the wonderful and convicting reminder of his opening sentence.


*I realize that “fellowship” is rather an old-fashioned word, but it is one rich with spiritual significance. For more thought on this you can go to The Sweet Side of Suffering, p.77 – “Fellowship is More Than a Party.”

An Important Question

16 May 2015

man-born-blindI was struck this morning by a question Jesus asked.  As He was leaving Jericho, there were two blind men sitting by the road who called out to Him. In response, Jesus stopped and asked them,“What do you want me to do for you?” They responded based on their obvious need. “Lord, we want our sight.”

What struck me was the thought of how I would answer that question. What if right now, this very minute, Jesus were to come and sit beside me and ask, “Esther, what do you want me to do for you?” How would I answer? These men answered according to their need. What do I need that only Jesus can do?

As I sat and thought about this, a number of answers came to mind – things I deeply desire. Help me to please the Father. Help me to desire God’s will above all else. Help me to be completely and joyfully yielded to His will. Sanctify me. Make me holy. Make me a servant. Help me to be truly humble. Help me to glorify God. This is probably a list not much different than yours would be, but which would we choose?  What I realized as I thought through those requests was that they could all be summed up in one response. If I could only ask one thing of Jesus, it would be, “Make me like You.”

I think we can learn a lesson from those two blind men. They were persistent, they were bold, and they knew what they wanted Jesus to do. May we have that same boldness and persistence as we answer Christ’s important question: “What do you want me to do?”

It’s Not in Vain

1 May 2015

imagesI just watched an incredible video from the aftermath of a bomb that destroyed buildings in Syria. A group of men were on their hands and knees busily scraping away at the dusty remains of a building. It seemed futile. They had no tools and were only able to remove small bits and pieces of debris. I’m sure, in the midst of a situation like that, there must be a feeling that you just have to do something – anything – rather than give up.  But very quickly everything changed. They found a small child trapped in the mountain of debris and dust. They instantly began to dig frantically – not caring that their hands were becoming scraped and bruised. I watched with tears in my eyes as one man spoke tenderly to this little one as the others worked feverishly until they could release the body of this baby. All that work – one precious life. I don’t think one of those men would ever regret their efforts.

And then I thought of a story I read of a missionary couple that served in a very difficult area for years. They faced opposition and sickness.  After years, there was just one convert – a small boy who worked for them in their home. Finally, after the death of the young wife, the husband took his little girl and left for home – discouraged and defeated. Years later, when that little girl grew up, she was able to return to visit her mother’s grave and found a vibrant church of 600 hundred believers. That one little boy had been influential in leading the whole village to Christ.

The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir sings a song that I find so encouraging. “It’s not in vain, it’s not in vain. What you do for Jesus Christ is not in vain.” What those men did in Syria was not in vain. They saved the life of a little child. What those missionaries did for God was not in vain. So often we get weary of what seems like just endless work that’s getting nowhere. But don’t give up. What we do for Jesus Christ is not in vain! He knows what’s under the rubble, and He knows what He can do with the life of one little boy.


31 January 2015

As I child I was told that “selah” meant “stop and think about it.” By that definition, I found a “selah” verse this morning – one that needs time to just sit and absorb the depth of meaning and significance it has for daily life.

The words of this verse were definitely God’s voice to me this morning and so I used it for one of my radio blogs. I’ve never done this before, but I’m going to just post the script from my radio blog below (or you can go to “Radio Blogs” to hear it). I trust that you can take a moment – a “selah” – to allow God’s Word to encourage your heart as it did mine.


I’ve had some discouraging days recently, and not without reason. Scripture tells us many times to not be discouraged, but I was having a hard time climbing out of this one. But, as always, God doesn’t tell us to do something without helping us, and I found my help, once again, in His Word.

Listen to the words of 2 Corinthians 9:8:  “And God is able…” Those words alone bring hope. God IS able – no matter what we face, no matter how difficult the circumstances, no matter how hopeless things appear – God is able! But the verse goes on to give us the specifics of what God is able to do. He is able to make all grace abound to us. All grace – not a limited supply that will run out while we still need it, but more than enough…and He’ll make it abound to us. I love that word. The dictionary says that it means “to be present in great quantity.”

And then God gives us the reason for that outpouring of grace. It’s so that in ALL things, and at ALL times, having ALL that we need, we can abound (there’s that word again) in EVERY good work. There is just nothing half-hearted about this verse. We have an abundance of grace for all that we need in any and every situation.

My response to that was to realize that I was without excuse. These words (God’s words) had pulled the rug of discouragement right out from under my feet and placed them solidly on His promise of grace sufficient for my situation – for my needs.  And it is for yours also.


A Good Reminder

15 December 2014

DSC03882I have a group of old Christmas Carol books on my piano – part of my Christmas decorations. The other day I picked one up and began to play through some of the unfamiliar Christmas songs.  It was quickly apparent why many of these are not still being sung. When was the last time you heard, “Lullay Thou little tiny Child, By, by, lully, lullay; Lully, Thou little tiny Child, By, By, lully, lullay”? Then there’s the 3rd verse that just exudes Christmas cheer. “Herod the King, in his raging, Charged he hath this day; His men of might, in his own sight, All children young, to slay.” Imagine our toddlers singing that in a Christmas program.

However, the title of one of these Carols really made me stop and think. It offers this timeless challenge:  “From Earthly Tasks Lift Up Thine Eyes.” What good advice for this time of year when so many things demand our focus. The irony is that most of the “earthly tasks” that preoccupy us are related to Christmas, and yet those same tasks are often a distraction to the real wonder of this season – “unto us a Child is born.”

While the song may be old, the words are still applicable and meaningful.  I would encourage each of us to do exactly what the song advises – to make a deliberate choice to occasionally lift our eyes from earthly tasks – even as we wrap gifts or bake cookies – and focus on the amazing reality of Christmas.

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given.” That’s a truth that’s still worth singing about!

Have a wonderful and worshipful Christmas!

Service Redefined (Sequel to Worship Redefined)

1 November 2014

71c6 (aka Still Learning)

Recently I spoke at a women’s conference in western PA. I spoke Friday night and three times on Saturday to over 200 women. I signed books, and listened to women as they shared their hearts.

Today I will care for a 96-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s. I will help her brush her teeth, go to the bathroom, walk with her, and find ways to occupy her time. I will listen to the same comments and stories – yet again!

What a difference between these two activities! And yet what God has been showing me is that there is no difference between these two activities. Both are service. Both are His choice for me. Both are days He has planned. Both are ministry, and both are important in His eyes. He’s also been showing me that the words I speak to one older woman are just as important as the words I speak to many women at a retreat or conference. They also need to be words that have His anointing and are seasoned with grace.

Christ spoke to multitudes, and He washed the disciple’s feet, but it was when He washed the disciple’s feet that He said He was giving us an example. I wonder – is washing the feet and clipping the toenails of a 96-year-old an even greater opportunity to be Christ-like than when I stand before a group of women and speak?

It was a privilege to speak at the Titusville Ladies’ Conference, but it’s also a privilege to serve one older woman in my home. I don’t always remember that, but I’m still learning.

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