Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD… (Psalm 40:4)

Always Remember…

Once again the memories stir. We all have them – those of us who were aware of our world on September 11, 2001.  These are mine.

It wasn’t exactly a normal day. The state Office of Refugee Resettlement was coming to visit the agency where I worked. “Be at your best. They’ll come see your class before break.”

I spent the morning as I usually did, teaching entry-level English skills to refugees from a variety of lands – people who had fled to the U.S. for safety. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, a refugee is a person who has left their country of nationality and is not able to return due to “a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” Each of my students came to us with their own story – one that they rarely chose to share – of danger or persecution. They came from many countries – Russia, Ukraine, Bosnia & Hercegovina, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia. They came from widely diverse socioeconomic and religious backgrounds, leaving their homes and families for the dream of safety and peace. In my class, this microcosm of the world worked together to learn enough English to get jobs and rebuild their lives.

Break time neared and the agency director poked her head in the door. Our visitors were here … but no, not yet. There was something else. “A plane has crashed into one of the Twin Towers in New York City. Let the students go on break and come upstairs.”

Because my students understood so little English, I drew a picture on the board to let them know what was happeningWhat_I_drew_9-11 – a tall building, an airplane colliding. It was all I could draw – it was all I knew.

How they must have wondered what was going on! Break always ended on time, but that day it stretched on. Upstairs in the office, the staff and visitors were glued to the television – watching as another plane crashed into the Pentagon, watching as yet another flew into the other Twin Tower. I turned away as the cameras showed people jumping from the upper stories. We gasped in horror as the towers began to crumble.

It was late.  We called all of the classes into my large room. In hushed voices, we began to explain, “Another plane… terrorist attack… thousands dead…”

Then one man stood. Quietly he said, “We are so sorry this tragedy has come to your country.” Of course! They all understood! We Americans were the only ones in the room who had never known the sudden attack, the stranglehold of grief, the evaporation of security and safety. My heart ached for my students even more than for my unborn child, none of whose worlds would ever be the place of safety that mine had seemed for so long.

In coming months and years, much would be made of the fact that the attackers were Muslim, believing that they fought a holy war. But I shall never forget that the man who most profoundly expressed empathy for my raw grief that day was also Muslim. The empathy and compassion of my students are forever part of my memories of this day.



It was only a suitcase – just a case holding 40 pounds of my earthly possessions. I held it there, balanced against my knee, waiting pensively for an opening to get out of the crowd and make my way through those swinging double doors, trying to figure out how to move both of my cases all the way to those doors when I could only lift one at a time. Somehow I had gotten them through customs and into the waiting crowd, but the walk to the door, and through it to my domestic flight, suddenly seemed insurmountable.

He never even knew it – that man who brushed by, bumping into my suitcase, knocking me off balance. He never turned around to say, “Koh toht. I’m sorry. Are you okay?”

Whew! Nothing broken, not even my pride since it was too crowded to fall. Nothing broken indeed – nothing except my heart.

What am I doing here? I don’t belong!” cried my heart.

Focus,” I told it. “There’s work to do.

Unable to catch the attention of a passing luggage cart – all too full to add my cases anyway, unwilling to stand and wait until I missed my connecting flight, off I started on my own. Jaw set, determination in my eyes, moving one case forward a few feet, then reaching back for the other. Like an inchworm, moving forward, pulling together, on I trudged toward those double doors that promised the last leg of my journey home.

Home! Family waiting at the other end of my next flight. How glad I would be to see them again after so long!

Home?” cried my heart. “Home is there, back across the sea, back where others are waiting for me, back where I fit in like a long-lost piece of some vast puzzle – different but somehow finally the same.

How?” cried my heart. “How can this be home – this place where people practically knock you over and move right along, with never so much as a backward glance, a ‘Sia chai,’ a ‘Pardon me’? How can such a place be my home?

I slept then, finally at the gate for that final flight that would take me home to the arms of my loving family.

“Wake up, lady! Your flight’s boarding.”

“Thank you so much!”

I slept then, for days, for weeks. Jet lag … “She worked so hard over there.” … “Is something wrong with her?”

Two years,” I had told myself. “It’s time to go back home. I know that’s what God wants me to do right now. But two years… I’ll pay off my student loans and then I’ll come back. Jobs back home pay well. It won’t take more than two years.


“But what work have you done here in the U.S.?” asked employer after employer.

“I kept financial records for a project with a budget in the hundreds of thousands,” I said.

“But not here,” they replied.

“We’ll call you if we need you,” they lied.

A temporary agency? Receptionist for a crew of land surveyors? Secretary in a law office? What happened to those high-paying jobs I thought were here?

I don’t belong!” cried my heart. I look just the same, yet I’ll never be the same.


“How exciting that you lived in Thailand!” my friend gushed. “Can I see your pictures?”

“Of course,” my heart sang. “Look, this is Suk. She works in our office in Bangkok. She’s so sweet! Once we… Oh, and this is the Mekong River, the view from my bedroom balcony. And this is…”

“Oh, look at the time! So sorry. Got to go! Maybe I’ll look at more another time…”

I don’t belong here!” cried my heart. “Lord, why am I here? My friends are the same, yet never really the same.

God,” cried my heart. “I don’t know if I can take this! My plans are falling apart! It will take forever to pay off these loans at this rate of salary. … Maybe I should just go back. If I work for a development agency, they’ll delay my loan payments again. Maybe I’ll just go back.

And so I tried.

And so I was there – there when they played the film about culture shock, there when I heard that still small voice. “Cheryl, this is not from Me. You’re hurting, I know, but this is not the answer. It’s always harder coming home, but I’ll walk through it with you.

And so I stayed. And so I learned to trust Him more, to become a part again of the puzzle from which I came. Just the same … yet never the same again.


(c) 2014 Cheryl Tarr

Tyranny of the To-Do List

But the Lord said to her,
“My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details!
There is only one thing worth being concerned about.
Mary has discovered it,
and it will not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10:41-42 (NLT)


“Okay!  I’m up, I’m up!”

      “My child…”

“Yes, Lord.  I’m listening.  I’ll go add those things to my to-do list right now.”


“Yes, Lord, I’ll write that down too.  Oh, the baby’s starting to fuss.”

      “My dear child, that wasn’t Me.  I just want to tell you how much I love you.”

“You mean it’s not You yelling at me to get everything done – and NOW?”

      “No, my child.  But I do want you to come spend some time with me.”

“Can I bring the baby?  He’s really fussing now.”

      “Of course, my child! Come as you are. I’m always here!”

When Jesus went to visit Martha and Mary in Bethany, Martha longed to be a good hostess.  There was so much to do to prepare a dinner fit for the Messiah.  How I can relate to her flurry and fluster!  I may not have important guests on their way, but the daily tasks of life can fill my to-do list in a hurry.  Oh, and how it shouts!  Such a bossy thing it is!

Jesus never intends for my to-do list to be my tyrant, though.  As good and right as it is to serve my family or perform my duties well at work, none of those is the most important thing.  Jesus told Martha that only one thing is worthy of our focus – the thing that Mary chose, sitting at His feet.  When I choose to take time in my day to sit at the feet of Jesus, hearing from Him in His Word and pouring out my heart to Him, He reassures me of His presence and love. He renews my mind for the opportunities of the day, so that I can see them without hearing them shout.

 Lord Jesus, thank You for calling me into Your presence
and reminding me of Your love.
Please help me to keep my mind attuned to You throughout the day.

Personal Note – I wrote this to submit to a devotional for parents.  I’m beyond the baby stage, but the dog is often whining to be let out. 🙂  And for my personal friends who are wondering who Jenny is, the name is a stand-in for any one of you whom I love but don’t always talk with as much as I’d like.  😦

Fresh Vision for a New Season

The view outside my window shows the subtle signs of a new season.

Change is coming!

I’m sitting here looking out my window at the beautiful green trees.  In New Hampshire, where we lived for many years, September is a time of change.  The trees are already beginning to dress up in their autumn colors.  Where I sit here in North Carolina, the leaves are mostly still green.  Ah, but there are some signs of change if you look closely enough – a hint of red near the leaf stems on one tree, with some beautiful red berries forming.  Autumn is on her way!

I once read that we as women live our lives in seasons – seasons marked in large part by our relationships and roles. As we move from season to season, God may use us in fresh ways and give us fresh vision and goals.  But the stirrings of change do not always wait for life-changing events like the birth of a child or an empty nest.  God’s timing is His own.

In my own life, God began sending signs of a new season a little over a year ago.  He laid it on my heart to resign my full-time position and seek part-time work.  At the same time, he gave a dear friend a message that He wanted to use me to speak into others’ lives of His faithfulness and trustworthiness.

At first the changes came slowly, like the subtle hints of red in the leaves outside my window this afternoon.  My new job was a part-time position doing the same thing as my former full-time job, with the same employer.  The idea of writing was an appealing friend with which I sat and pondered life from time to time – but nothing more.

Slowly more changes began to unveil this fresh vision.  An opportunity arose for me to attend the She Speaks conference in the coming summer.  Then I received notice that my job was ending and I would need to reapply.  After prayer and consulting with my husband, I chose not to return to the same position. What?  No job?  Lord, what do you want me to do now?  So I applied for part-time jobs and waited to see what God would open up.  Or maybe He would provide in some other way if this was to be a full transition to the role of writing.

The time came for the She Speaks conference and what should be in my email that first morning but an invitation to interview for a part-time job – the only response to all the applications I had completed. “So what about writing, Lord?  Do You still want me to do that or am I here so You can show me that this is not Your plan for me?”

In the days that followed, I interviewed for the job and received an offer – all the time asking God if this was the direction I should go.  “So, Lord,  I’m supposed to work now and postpone the idea of writing?”  Well, maybe not!  On the day I was offered the job, I also received an opportunity to contribute to a devotional book.

So this is my new season so far – a new part-time job doing what I love and the opportunity to obey God by writing about Him.  Oh, and the renewed assurance that He will lead as I seek to follow Him and commit to saying Yes to Him.  I’m looking forward to finding out just what changes lie ahead in this season of my life.

Are the stirrings of a new season appearing in your life?  Trust our Heavenly Father, who makes all things beautiful in their time (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  He will lead you as you seek and obey Him.

See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up;
do you not perceive it?
Isaiah 43:19

Heavenly Father, as the seasons change, both in nature and in our lives, may we trust in Your unfailing love and faithfulness to reveal the beauty of each new season.  May we focus on You as You bring about new things in our lives.

Sticking With It

This week’s focus in the What Happens When Women Say Yes to God online Bible study has been “Stick with it!”  How timely!  In the midst of so many distractions, it can be hard to stick with our decisions to listen to and obey God’s voice.

Let me tell you about some of the distractions that have been clamoring for my attention in the past two weeks.  A week ago Monday I started a new part-time job.  It’s an hour away, more than doubling my commute time.  But it’s part-time so that should be okay, right?  Well, when you’re a teacher in a new school and classes are about to start, the words “part-time” lose their meaning.  There are new procedures and curricula to learn, a website page to set up, colleagues to meet, lesson plans to prepare, paperwork to fill out, records to set up… And then come the students!  So now there are new names and faces to learn, new personalities to get to know, more paperwork to prepare and process, beginning assessments to score… The lists seem endless.

Add to that the fact that my 11-year-old son started school this Monday – his first year in middle school.  So along come an orientation meeting, supply shopping, clothes shopping, getting back into the school-year morning and evening routines … and then all the paperwork from his school for parents to sign.

Oops!  Forgot the laundry – and picking up more milk – and doing my Bible study…

We’ve all been there, in these busy times when the clamor of life tries to pull us away from our focus on God.  It’s not my first rodeo, so to speak.  But this time there’s a difference.  Why?  Because God has gotten my attention through this Bible study and refocused my heart and mind on Himself.  I’ve made the choice to say YES to Him, no matter what.  (Okay, you may know me well enough to know that I don’t get this perfect – but that is the desire of my heart.) So even though I got sidetracked from doing my online Bible study for a few days, He has continually called my attention back to Himself.  How?

  • At many such times in the past, I have “taken a break” from my daily time of prayer and reading the Bible.  By His grace, I have said YES to Him each morning through this hectic time of change.
  • When faced with the pressure of getting to school on time when I don’t know how long it will take in school-year morning traffic (and I left a few minutes later than I wanted), I could feel the anxiety growing inside me. I could hear the call to give up, stop trying to do this crazy thing, just go back to what is comfortable – and in the past I have let such thoughts dominate my emotions.  But then I heard the voice of my Savior.  “Praise me.”  Okay, Jesus, here goes.  And songs of praise lifted my anxiety and assured me of His strength to get through this.  (Oh, and I got to work on time.)
  • After getting behind on the Bible study, my natural inclination would have been to say, “Well, I guess this is just not a good time to do this right now, what with the new job and all its demands on my time and attention.”  But thanks be to God, He placed in my heart an eagerness to dig into the study this morning when I had some time off.  And there He spoke His encouragement to my heart… not to give up, not to live in my “I can’t” world, but to follow Him in His strength.

But He said to me,
“My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
2 Corinthians 12:9

Thank You, Lord Jesus, for Your great love that calls me from where I am into Your presence, into growth in my walk of faith with You.  Thank You for forgiving me when I mess things up and forget to trust You, and for gently calling my attention back to Yourself.  Thank You that when I am weak, You are strong in and for me.

I Did It!

   Ever since attending She Speaks 2013, I have felt that God has been telling me to start a blog.  #SayWhat?  This is new territory for me, and I’ve been putting it off.  I’m a very private person, and it’s not easy for me to open a window to my heart. This week, however, our What Happens When Women Say Yes to God online Bible study has challenged me to say YES and get on with this step of obedience.  And here it is – my very own blog.  I’ll start by posting what God is telling me through the Bible study and see where God leads from there.  I am #PalmsUp waiting to see what God has in store.