From my side of the fence to yours…

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First, let me just say that…

…my father-in-law is a Master Gardener and I have turned to him more than once for advice and assistance.  George does things correctly…the first time.  He has patience and experience; he is a builder of things.  He designed a special birdfeeder for my garden, and not only explained, but also got his hands dirty helping me “re-do” some potted plants that desperately needed to be, well….re-done.  In spite of my obvious inexperience, there was no chiding, only gentle and joyful condescension like a father to a child.

Our lives, our relationships, our families, and our own hearts are so much the same as my innocent garden with all its mess in the midst of beauty.  Who saw the divorce coming?  How could anyone have prepared for the accident?  Lost the house, what now?  Why does life have to be so hard?!

Master Gardener or invested amateur, navigating through life’s gardens takes more than the basics, even more than the best planning.  We, all of us, none excluded, need help, and usually more than a little.  We need the original Master Gardener Himself to walk through the garden of our lives, tending the soil, rearranging the environment, mulching, weeding and nurturing us.  And along the way, He makes us flexible, creative, patient, and attentive to what He supplies for our needs.

This is my offering.  A few seeds and grains of dirt from my life’s garden to yours.  I hope it helps good things to grow on your side of the fence!

—-dawnlizjones

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A gardener by any other name….

Not being a gardener by natural intuition, I have had a propensity to plant things in less than ideal places and in less than ideal conditions.  All a plant needs I learned in grade school science classes: dirt, sunlight, and water, right?  With this unimpeachable wisdom I have destroyed many an unsuspecting specimen of innocent flora.  And destroying plant life can become an expensive hobby.  My lack of foreknowledge and pre-planning has caused me a certain amount of anxiety over my green (sometimes brown) friends. As one insightful person once put it, rather than the conventional “ready, aim, fire!” kind of gardener, I tend to be more of the “ready, fire, aim!” variety. I like to think of my ‘scapes’ as controlled chaos, which at times may be more chaos than control. Then I get disappointed when I find my beauties are just not living up to my grand expectations.  Too much sun, too much shade, too much water, too little water; why does life need to be so picky?!  So I uproot my little designs to rearrange their environment, water others, improve the quality of the dirt overall, little by little.  I invest in soaker hoses, and then I can’t divine where I’ve planted them, so they end up with punctures and ruptures as I try to plant over them.  Does any of this sound familiar…to anyone?   Autumn comes and I’m happy about the plants that have survived the brutal late southern Missouri summers (as well as my decidedly lacking gardening prowess) , while other plants seem to just give it up and die off.

Sigh, yet another failure.  Mulch what I can to protect for the winter season and retire the tools until spring with a certain determination to try, try again.

Then March and April finally arrive, and with it tiny green things begin to emerge, miraculously, unexpectedly, where apparent death had conquered just a few months before!  And not only do they emerge, but explode onto the scene, taller, stronger and more vibrant than when first planted!  I guess some living things are just made to keep living, despite my inexperience and ignorance. And, of course, others don’t.  But I have an important hypothesis: if the roots are good, the plant will try again, because that’s the way it’s designed.

I have also learned, am learning, and will continue to learn, the importance of working with, not against, the natural environment.  I can increase the soil quality, I can irrigate (until my dear husband frets over the water bill), but I cannot control the sun, the rain, or the temperature.  God may have put me in charge of a few things, but the weather is not one of them.  And evidently working with the environment would include:  a) being flexible, b) considering my timing, c) increasing my creativity, and d) seeing the beauty and usefulness in what God supplies in my particular garden, even if at first it appears inconvenient or uncomfortable.  Incorporating these four components—skills they are actually—will not only increase the productivity and loveliness of my garden, but also decrease the stress and anxiety associated with my new hobby.

Hmmm…

Now, God has a time-honored way of communicating with us on what could be coined as a “natural level”, in the sense that what we see in nature corresponds many times with lessons that are extremely applicable to life in general.  The tangibles can help us to understand the intangibles.  For starters:

  • Lack of knowledge has a way of messing things up. I realize that is not a nice theological way of putting it, but if for any appreciable length of time you have been a card-carrying member of your local garden club, (or of the human race for that matter), you understand this concept. There is biblical precedent to back it up.  In the Old Testament, God said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” (1)  Yes, well, clearly this includes my plants.  But of infinitely greater significance, our lack of knowledge, wisdom, and insight can severely and adversely damage those around us.  Human relationships are costly, and foresight is expensive than hindsight.  I need help, I need correct information, but recognition of my need is the first step toward wise cultivating in my personal people-garden.  (For what it’s worth, one my on-going prayers is that God would grant grace to those who have to encounter me in any way today…)
  • I understand—yes, even me—that roots do more than hold a plant down should the gravitational pull of the universe change. There’s the hydration issue, the nutrition issue, and even the reproduction process in some plants is in the roots. I am told there are plants that, because of the way they are designed in their root system, are made to die off just up top, and relax for a while underneath the warm soil until it’s time to make their way to the surface again.  My husband, Bob, who has an alphabet of letters behind his name with his multiple science degrees, gave me a fancy name for this, but I’ve since forgotten it.  It’s the idea of programmed rest that I’m interested in—what appears to be dead is merely dormant, and given time and patience, and adequate supply for basic needs, it will return and flourish.  That’s the way it’s made.  People are amazingly resilient also…amazingly.  What seems to be dead, whether a dream or a vision or perhaps even a relationship, may only be dormant.  When God, as our Master Gardener, plants a root, we have only to nourish with faith and water it with patience, and what He has planned for that root will erupt.  That’s the way we are made.  I love how the Amplified Version puts it: “I [God] create the fruit of his lips, and I will heal him, make his lips blossom anew with speech in thankful praise.” (2)  It’s all about timing—God’s, not mine.
  • And concerning those roots, I sense that I have some responsibility in acquiring and properly using that aforementioned knowledge. This includes working WITH my environment, and not against it. Compromise is not always a bad thing, and as a wise wit once penned: “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall bend and not break.”  Jesus didn’t demand an air-conditioned conference hall and catered lunch for his hillside audience of 5000, but did just fine with rural setting and a few donated loaves and fishes. (3)  I would say that also qualifies as pretty creative.  And as much as I would love to have a full scale garden of blooming beauties, patience for the proper timing is part of the program.  So many times I want what I want…NOW.  How I thank my Lord for what I sometimes have regarded as a ball and chain, but has actually turned out to be a life-saving anchor!  Granted, it can seem inconvenient and heavy at first, but the benefits are enormous.

And so I love spring all the more as remarkable rebirth occurs sometimes to my delighted surprise, but I also find an increased appreciation of winter—not just a season of death as so many have unkindly marked it, but a season of rest and rejuvenation.  Such wisdom could only come from the mind of the Master Gardener, the One who planted the first garden, the One from whom I can learn as I dig about and get grass-stained in my own garden of life…if I will but make myself teachable.

–signing off for  now—-dawnlizjones

  • Hosea 4:6
  • Isaiah 57:19
  • Matthew 14:13-21

Shouldn’t I still be in bed?

IMG_clock

If my body had its way, I would still be in bed right now.  The alarm, however, announced my previous decision, which was to get up at 4:45AM.  Regardless of how much I wanted to stay under the flannel sheets next to my warm husband, embraced by quiet and darkness, and regardless of the fact that I didn’t need to be at work until 7:30AM, (which means leaving my home at 7:25AM—gotta love small towns…), yes, regardless of what most of my fellow humans would consider common sense, I am up at 4:45 in the morning and sitting on my patio in 40 degree weather.  And, oh!  It is so beautiful!

My old wool sweater and my brother-in-law’s army jacket keep me toasty warm.  The heated “corn pad” sits in my lap, and my steaming hot tea sits in my belly.  The Mighty Wonder Buck, our recently rescued 100% mutt, is happily content out here; with his thick black coat, this is his kind of weather.  Of course, the birds are singing, and somewhere off in the distance I hear the truckers moving their wares down the highway.

It’s a free country, as they say, and I could have changed my mind even after the alarm went off.  There are plenty of good reasons to stay in bed, even beyond the ones mentioned earlier.  Some of them are even arguably valid ones!  I need my sleep, especially at my age.  (That phrase, “at my age”, is becoming a great rationalization, by the way.)  It’s only Tuesday, and a long way until the weekend.  The Buck needs me to be more energetic when I get home from work.  Blah, blah, blah.

My brain wins the battle over my body as I stick to my original plan, pulling myself out of bed, rousing the dog, but usually not my husband, in the process.  I fire up the teapot and nuke the corn pad.  Within a few minutes, I’m wrapped up snugly in my patio chair.

There’s definitely something to be said for making a plan prior to the obstacles showing themselves.  It can be more than a little difficult to make qualitative decisions (especially moral ones) in the face of tempting circumstances, even when some of those circumstances are accurately anticipated.  The word is “commitment”, and it seems to have fallen out of favor these past several decades.

That’s just another reason why I love a good, old-fashioned church wedding ceremony.  I don’t just come for the cake with butter cream frosting, Aunt Sally’s butchering rendition of Paul Stookey’s Wedding Song (again), and the little ring bearer announcing loudly to his mom’s chagrin that he has to “go pee” just as the bride is ready to march down the aisle.  No, amid all the tumult and relative comedy that takes place in even the most formal nuptials, there are transactions far deeper, far more mystical, that take place.  One of those is commitment.  That is, prior commitment: making the decision to love and nurture prior to the financial fiascos, prior to the devastating accident or illness, prior to the disagreements over where to spend holidays.  Granted, some relationships are dangerous, and therefore not workable–most of us get that.  But in general, if commitment is just so dang hard, why even bother?

I suppose that’s one of the reasons why God chose weddings, and marriage, and family to represent so much of what He wants with us.  He tells us that, before God even created us, He knew that His Son, Jesus, would have to come and rescue us out of this messy, sinful separation from Him.  He knew we were going to tank the whole project even before the second generation came on the scene, and they didn’t exactly hit it off too well themselves either.  But, regardless of all that—all of that destruction, all of that disappointment, all of that pain—God stuck to His original plan.  He went ahead and made man in His own image, “in the image of God, He made him.”  The rest that followed is, well, history.

Right now, the owl is crooning, there is a faint lingering fragrance of someone’s wood smoke, and I can hear Buckley chewing on his bone—at least I think that’s what he’s chewing on… All things considered, I guess it’s okay, at least sometimes, to be counted with those whom others would question their common sense by sticking to a crazy plan.  I’m sure glad God stuck with His.

Patio vs. Tree

From my patio
From my patio

My patio is old.  But then, so is my whole house.  If new houses need maintenance, old ones need ten times more, or maybe it just seems that way.  Now, I love my patio because it’s old.  It’s one of those inlaid irregular stone jobs that was most likely done when the sycamore tree right next to it was merely a sapling, or maybe only a seed.  Well, the sapling grew up, and the roots not only went deep, they are also playing havoc with my patio, making the inlaid stones even more irregular than originally intended.  Before I began working with it, the stone walkway looked more like a stone carving of a seismic ocean wave than a place to gather in the backyard.  It was also a little dangerous, or at least not as functional as it was first made to be; that is, it appeared to be a little easier to twist one’s ankle if wearing something other than tennis shoes or Cabela’s high-top hiking boots.

There was only one thing to be done: dig up the stones and get the dirt out that was being pushed up by the roots of the tree. Some minor root trimming was also needed in the process, with no residual harm to the towering sycamore, before the stones could be refitted back into their proper place.  This was, and continues to be, a sweaty, dirty, mess of a job, but the patio looks so much better, is more functional, and is indeed, safer.  I also love the shade and the beauty of this aged sycamore, but its expanding root system also provides opportunity for some muscle building, back-wrenching toil.  As the patio stones and the tree roots try to prove what is metaphysically impossible—to occupy the same space at the same time—I play referee between the two, balancing their competition with cooperation and compromise.  In all, best to not hold a bar-b-que until the patio is transformed from a gale to a ripple.

Despite the inconvenience (and extra work), expanding roots do indicate growth. And growth helps to define life.  A few thoughts present themselves:

  • As growth in Christ begins and continues to take place, I can expect more than a little dirt to be pushed up to the surface of my life. As His heavenly roots invade my otherwise undisturbed soil, there will be displacement. Not so surprisingly, the dirt becomes more apparent and more accessible than ever before. Old habits of thinking, feeling, speaking, and doing compete with the Christlikeness that continues to grow inside of me. Needless to say, this process can create havoc with my inward patio, the place where fun and relaxation are supposed to take place.  (1)
  • Our life stones, those places that were once so convenient, can become now dangerous and disruptive, not only to myself, but to anyone else I invite onto my patio. Once I commit to the discipleship process, to truly “follow in His steps” (2), I suddenly have the potential to be a stumbling stone to fellow Christians around me. Like it or not, we all possess what can be termed a “hidden congregation”, certain people, or groups of people, that are eyeing our lives for direction and encouragement, people into whose lives we have influence. While it may be more comfortable to emotionally relegate this responsibility to “the pastor”, real life just doesn’t work that way.  Therefore, it is necessary, albeit sweaty, dirty work, to allow Christ to pull up those stones and clean underneath.  Only then can He replace the stones to make it a better, safer fit.
  • A last thought on the discomfort of this process. Analogies only go so far, and this one is no exception. Whereas I try to affect a balance between the burgeoning tree roots and the stone rocks, and this with my limited strength and vision, there is no such moral compromise with a Holy God.  His roots cannot be cut asunder, and His vision for us never changes.  Even though this may sound harsh, (and in our culture of pseudo-tolerance, over-indulgence, and self-defined entitlement, it most likely does), it is this root of God’s love that is alive and active in us.  The stones are dead things and can be displaced to the benefit of the patio: jealousy, envy, unforgiveness, self-pity, to name a few.  So as frustratingly painful as this root expanding process continues, it is a definite sign of life, and something to be joyfully and patiently embraced.  Besides, the pain is, after all, only temporary. (3)

Now, then, let’s fire up the grill!

  • Titus—the entire book!!
  • 1 Peter 2:21
  • 2 Corinthians 4:17

Bring on the birds!

I tend to frequent my garden patio in the early morning, as will become repetitively apparent in subsequent entries.  I appreciate the quiet of my rural, small town setting. I love to hear the birds wake up and start singing.  I also enjoy actually seeing the birds I am hearing.  I’m learning them little by little, with my color picture book close by, to recognize a few species, including by the music they make.  My husband and I are true bird-admirers.  Not real bird-watchers, mind you; the true Audubons are the ones that can confidently identify, say, a loggerhead shrike from a Northern shrike…and enjoy it.   But I do, at least, like to be able to see those who are gracing my morning with their songs.  I have learned that, generally, to attract birds, you must have a bird-attracting environment.  They are all around me, because I can hear them, even if I can’t immediately see them.  But to seriously bring them into view I must entice them with something they want.

Many of my patio variety songsters are not particularly picky eaters, thankfully.  A fifty-pound bag from the local feed store does nicely, especially for sparrows and junkos and an occasional cowbird or catbird.  However, I have learned that certain species are encouraged to frequent my garden depending on what I choose to put out.  Cardinals like their black-oil sunflower seeds.  Finches love the seeds on my dry coneflowers.  Hummingbirds go for red. Downey woodpeckers prefer the suet in the hanging cage.   And grackles, well, I guess they eat anything, and a whole lot of it!

What I also find noteworthy is how these fabulous creatures find their way to the food.  It is such a natural, unfeigned, unpretentious process.  The more I set out, the more they come around.  And even if I don’t get around to filling the feeders, and maybe there are only a few kernels just left lying around a pile of empty hulls, they still seem attracted to it, pushing through the junk to find the valuable seeds.  But the converse is also true.  No food, few birds.  For them to stay around in abundance, and close enough for thorough enjoyment and study, they must be welcomed and wanted, and they must be drawn.

With all respect, the Holy Spirit is a bit, just a bit mind you, the same way.  As we provide the proper enticements (like faith), and make Him feel welcome (like humility), He comes more into view, becomes easier to see, and His ways are easier to identify.  And why?  Because what God is interested in most is the environment of my heart:

  • He looks deep within my human soul, the real me, the sometimes (oft times) hidden me, and invites me to come and take a good look with Him, since most of us are not even fully aware of what’s really going on in there anyway. And though He sees the “me” in my entire self, and though He recognizes so much beauty that could be, yet He patiently waits and constrains Himself, for even God must be invited, welcomed and wanted. One of the Old Testament songwriters put it this way, “I sought Your favor with all my heart;
    Be gracious to me according to Your word…” (1)
  • Although God is everywhere at once, yet He makes it clear that we get His attention by a humble heart, and a prayer of faith, even if it’s just a little faith mixed with a whole bunch of questions. It’s an easy and common deception to think that we are too far gone, too messed up, or have too little faith for God work His wonderful restorative power in our lives. A little faith is still faith, a powerful entity in God’s kingdom, even if it’s mixed with a bunch of empty husks known as doubt and the used up hulls we call fear.  God is just powerful enough to dig through our questions and circumstances to find the little seeds of faith in our prayers and our lives, even when we ourselves aren’t aware of their existence. (2)
  • The proud heart, on the other hand, the one that says it does not need God, that refuses to agree with God’s assessment of the situation and His answer to the problem, (possibly because it refuses to acknowledge that there IS a problem), this heart the Holy Spirit grieves over, since there is nothing to bid Him welcome, nothing to make Him feel wanted. (3)

My early morning “patio compadres” make my garden more than just a quiet place to sip my tea while the rest of the town wakes up.  Not only do I love having them around for their beauty and song, but they are part of the very livelihood of my garden!  So does God’s Holy Spirit infuse His life into the garden of my life.  Every day is another opportunity to invite Him into my world, my mind, and circumstances, and my heart.

Then I can sit back, and listen for His song.

  • Psalm 119:58
  • See Mark 9:24
  • See Psalm 51:17, James 4:6

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

The early bird gets the….eewww! Really??

I tend to frequent my garden patio in the early morning.  I appreciate the quiet of my rural, small town setting, and I love to hear the birds wake up and start singing.  My husband and I are true bird-admirers.  Not real bird-watchers, mind you; the true Audubons are the ones that can confidently identify, say, a loggerhead shrike from a Northern shrike…and enjoy it.  But like my more learned comrades, I have fun actually seeing the birds I am hearing, and I’m learning them little by little,(with my color picture book close by), to recognize a few species, including by the music they make.   I have also learned that, generally speaking, to attract birds you must have a bird-attracting environment.  They are all around me, because I can hear them, even if I can’t immediately see them.  But to seriously bring them into view I must entice them with something they want.   

Many of my patio variety songsters are not particularly picky eaters, thankfully.  A fifty-pound bag from the local feed store does nicely, especially for sparrows and junkos and an occasional cowbird or catbird.  However, I have learned that certain species are encouraged to frequent my garden depending on what I choose to put out.  Cardinals like their black-oil sunflower seeds.  Finches love the seeds on my dry coneflowers.  Hummingbirds go for red. Downey woodpeckers prefer the suet in the hanging cage.   And grackles, well, I guess they eat anything, and a whole lot of it! 

What I also find noteworthy is how these fabulous creatures find their way to the food.  It is such a natural, unfeigned, unpretentious process.  The more I set out, the more they come around.  And even if I don’t get around to filling the feeders, and maybe there are only a few kernels just left lying around a pile of empty hulls, they still seem attracted to it, pushing through the junk to find the valuable seeds.  But the converse is also true.  No food, few birds.  For them to stay around in abundance, and close enough for thorough enjoyment and study, they must be welcomed and wanted, and they must be drawn.

With all respect, the Holy Spirit is a bit, just a bit mind you, the same way.  As we provide the proper enticements (like faith), and make Him feel welcome (like humility), He comes more into view, becomes easier to see, and His ways are easier to identify.  And why?  Because what God is interested in most is the environment of my heart:

  • He looks deep within my human soul, the real me, the sometimes (oft times) hidden me, and invites me to come and take a good look with Him, since most of us are not even fully aware of what’s really going on in there anyway. And though He sees the “me” in my entire self, and though He recognizes so much beauty that could be, yet He patiently waits and constrains Himself, for even God must be invited, welcomed and wanted. One of the Old Testament songwriters put it this way, “I sought Your favor with all my heart;
    Be gracious to me according to Your word…”
    (1)
  • Although God is everywhere at once, yet He makes it clear that we get His attention by a humble heart, and a prayer of faith, even if it’s just a little faith mixed with a whole bunch of questions. It’s an easy and common deception to think that we are too far gone, too messed up, or have too little faith for God work His wonderful restorative power in our lives. However, a little faith is still faith, a powerful entity in God’s kingdom, even if it’s mixed with a bunch of empty husks known as doubt and the used up hulls we call fear.  God is just powerful enough to dig through our questions and circumstances to find the little seeds of faith in our prayers and our lives, even when we ourselves aren’t aware of their existence. (2)
  • The proud heart, on the other hand, the one that says it does not need God, that refuses to agree with God’s assessment of the situation and His answer to the problem, (possibly because it refuses to acknowledge that there IS a problem), this heart the Holy Spirit grieves over, since there is nothing to bid Him welcome, nothing to make Him feel wanted. (3)

My early morning “patio compadres” make my garden more than just a quiet place to sip my tea while the rest of the town wakes up.  Not only do I love having them around for their beauty and song, but they are part of the very livelihood of my garden!  So does God’s Holy Spirit infuse His life into the garden of my life.  Every day is another opportunity to invite Him into my world, my mind, and circumstances, and my heart. 

Then I can sit back, and listen for His song.

  • Psalm 119:58
  • See Mark 9:24
  • See Psalm 51:17, James 4:6

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

#QuietTime In #NewYorkCity

(“…one of these things is not like the other….”)

I have noticed that if I am going to be outside in the garden, I must apply myself to the task of becoming “acclimated”.  Heat, sweat, cold, rain, bugs—they are all part of the “outside” experience, and I will make appropriate (and sometimes creative and/or humorous) adjustments and provisions according my level of commitment.

I have layered on the clothing to go out in the early pre-dawn hours, even before the birds wake up, when it’s only in the 40’s or so.  This means long johns (to preserve my heat) and steaming hot tea in a pump thermos (to preserve the tea’s heat).  I have used so much bug spray that I’m thankful I am no longer of childbearing age.  I have set up a fan in the corner of the patio and even purchased an adjustable umbrella for when it’s hot, and when that isn’t enough, can be seen festooning said umbrella with kitchen towels draped strategically to provide shade from the inconvenient angle of the sun.  There is just something healing and healthy for me when it comes to spending sizable quantities of time out of doors, and I consider it a bit of an adventure to finds ways to fulfill this need.

One weekend I was visiting my daughters in New York City. One of them had graciously found a studio apartment for myself and her sister, Jessica, who had flown in from Los Angeles. This delightful little domicile was located within one of the tiniest of NYC buildings, which means it was only seven or eight stories high. (In my town, the tallest building is maybe four stories, and is itself dwarfed only by the local grain elevator.) I was very thankful for the accommodations, and mildly amused that it was right next to a similar building that sported a huge “Hell’s Angels” sign outside—no one in their right mind would bother us that night!  At any rate, since Jessie is not a morning person, I was determined to find a slice of time to myself in the quiet of dawn.  But does such a thing exist in the “city that never sleeps?”  Early in the morning, my Bible and I found ourselves determinately mounting the several flights of stairs to the rooftop, a place, I have come to learn, which is frequented by the veteran city dwellers due to the lack of space elsewhere.  Sitting at a table that faced the Empire State Building, I could feel the occasional rumble of the subway far below, but even so the relative quiet and solitude was blissful.  That is, until it started to rain.  Not a typical Midwestern downpour, mind you, but a New York City drizzle, just enough to dampen my expectations, as well as my T-shirt.  Looking around for suitable protection (mostly for the book more than for myself), I found an old blanket and threw it over myself, just enough so I could stay up on that peaceful outdoor rooftop a few minutes longer. 

Creative resiliency is also an important aspect of our relationship with God.  When we embark on our journey with Christ, He forewarns us that a certain “acclimation” is to be expected:

  • The rumble of life under our feet, the sprinkles and downpours of sorrows and disappointments, are all part of staying in the game and embracing the identity that He provides. It is comforting to know that, regardless of how we feel, we are never alone in this adventure. There are those who have gone before us, and there are those who will experience the same things after us, and in it all, God has promised that He is with us, and will never, ever leave us alone. (1)
  • Sometimes it takes creativity to believe in what possible goodness lies beyond what we can presently see (it’s called faith), or creativity to imagine that God has options we are not even aware of (it’s called trust), or creativity to rearrange and manage our lifestyles to spend time just getting to know Him better so we can increase our faith and trust, (it’s called an alarm clock…) If anyone needs a little nudge of encouragement in this direction, check out the account of a guy named Gideon. (2)
  • We douse on the bug spray of wisdom and obedience which certainly makes us less attractive to the world’s ways, and sometimes doesn’t particularly smell so great to us either, at least at first sniff. This “world-repellant” comes in the form of doing what God says for us to do, (obedience is very activity oriented), and will probably afford us less popularity, less attention, but will also mean fewer uncomfortable bites! The sting of personal/spiritual/moral compromise is worth avoiding at all costs. (3)
  • Sometimes God even sends His angels in the most unusual and unexpected forms, like big bikers with tattoos (gotta love ‘em!) to ward off my would-be attackers, or an old cast-away blanket to protect God’s words and promises that have been written on the pages of my heart from smearing off in life’s rain. (4) 

Being outside isn’t always easy.  In Missouri, they say that if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes and it will change.  But it is well worth the effort to be surrounded by God’s creation, and even more so be surrounded by God’s graceful plan for our lives. 

So grab your cap, and your can of Deet, and let’s get going! 

  • Deuteronomy 31:6, Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 12:1,2
  • Judges 6 and 7 (One of my favorites!! I have to meet this guy in heaven!)
  • Proverbs 8:1-14
  • Proverbs 4:23, Hebrews 1:14 and Hebrews 2:1

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

#Snowstorms?? No worries…

pixabay
pixabay

July fourth!  Freedom Day!! I have been watching the hibiscus grow from the stems I was convinced were long dead from the winter freeze.  This past season we had a real blizzard; I mean, a blizzard as meteorologically defined by the National Weather Service.  Here in town it looked like about 18 inches of fluffy white fell from just this one storm; it was beautiful, but brutal.  The storm passed, the mountains of snow plowed from Walmart’s parking lot finally melted, and as the year progressed, I talked with some of my gardening friends at work when I noticed that my hibiscus wasn’t resurfacing.  Oh, they said, they always bring their hibiscus plants in for the winter season.  (Great. Now they tell me.) Their precious plants live securely in big pots that are easily transferable throughout the seasons.  Mine lives in the ground, or so I thought.  Sure, they continued, they turn a little yellow and lose a few leaves while inside, but they survive, which was currently more than I could confidently posit for my new little plant.

Yet another one bites the dust.

Winter eclipsed into spring, and I was about to dig up the place where my hibiscus lay in permanent repose, remove what was left, and make the area available for another try at…well, something.  But what I soon observed stayed my hand: I noticed small green shoots coming up from where the “dead” plant was. Over the next several days I watched, at first somewhat incredulously, then excitedly, as the shoots continued to defy the harsh winter blast by pushing up tenaciously toward the spring sunlight.  Soon, the shoots became as thick as my thumb, and eventually provided a harvest of hummingbird-tempting, bright red blossoms as big as my hand, all from the plant I thought was gone for good.

My experience with my hidden hibiscus, though at first disappointing but then elating, gives me pause in a few other areas:

  • Pastor Lawrence Wilson has said that a vision must first die for it to be properly resurrected. 18th century theologian Matthew Henry would seem to agree, and writes concerning the gospel of Christ, (but which can also be appropriately applied to any dream we have with God): “The good seed of the gospel sown in the world, and sown in the heart, both by degrees, produce wonderful effects, but without noise…so it is with the gospel, when it is sown, and received, as seed in good ground. It will come up; though it seem lost and buried under the clods, it will find or make its way through them.” (1)
  • How quickly I was ready to give up on my hibiscus! And what a waste if I had given up too early and dug up the plot just when it was working hard under the dirt getting ready to surprise me! And how quickly I can be to give up on more important dreams, or people, in my life.   
  • Many times God works silently, despite the harsh cold of evil in our circumstances; He works relentlessly, pushing through the painful shame that tries to hold us in seclusion. Consider: Paul gave up on John Mark; that’s the same Mark that went on to later write the second biography of Christ, thanks to his Uncle Barnabus’ kind intervention at the time. (2) God’s right-hand-man, Job, gave up on himself, until God put his circumstances in a higher perspective. (3) And God Himself seemed to be having second thoughts about this wayward group of vagabonds called Israel, and allowed Moses to “change” His mind. (4) In all three historic events, something that looked dead, like a dream, a relationship, even an eternity, made an amazing comeback. 

What disappointments do you have in your life—can you name one right now?  (Yeah, I know, probably more like ten or twenty.)  Have you given up on something, or someone?  If you have, then you’re actually in good company.  What hopes and dreams do you have for your family, your children, yourself?  What vision has been seemingly buried under a brutal life-blizzard?  You are invited to join the team.  Rest assured that we are being observed by “so great a cloud of witnesses” to rejoice as the fresh new shoots rise from the cold dirt.(5)  

The challenge, the invitation, is to commit to God the hopes and dreams that I hardly dare to recall, even after the blizzard abates. Patiently, may we let God’s timing have its way with the roots, and come spring, we may be surprised. 

Green will return!
Green will return!
  • Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible
  • Acts 15:36-39
  • Job 42:1-17
  • Exodus 32:11-14
  • Hebrews 12:1-2

“Do you want to see the #bird ?”

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 “Do you want to see the bird?”

That’s the question that came into my mind early one morning as my attention was drawn away from the task at hand while sitting at my “outside desk”.  This is a fairly frequent occurrence…not the voice, mind you, but the diversion from the task at hand.  The variety and beauty of God’s creation, even in my little back yard, is amazingly distracting!  My eyes are consistently opened to new experiences about, well, anything that grows.  I can recognize a few of the birds; that is, more than the robin and the cardinal—those were staples even in my limited aviary repertoire when I was a kid back in Indiana.  Now I can add several more, just by observing and looking them up in my husband’s very old (but not obsolete!) Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds that he has saved since his high school years.  In addition that, I am even beginning to identify some of their songs—the catbird, for instance.  I was able to point out that peculiar sound for my daughter when she was home visiting.  She actually thought there was a cat nearby! 

On this particular morning, here was an exquisite song!  And a fairly new one for me.  The problem was that the sun was only thinking about waking up, so it was still too dark for me to see the singer. 

“Do you want to see the bird?”

Now, was that really God’s voice?  Or was I just thinking it?  Either way, as I was looking intently for the source of the song, it looked as if the bird had already flown away.  Okay, so that was a disappointment.  But the bird’s premature departure moreover presented me with a mildly perplexing challenge:  if, indeed, God had spoken to me about this lovely part of His creation, why had He not shown it to me when it was in His power to do so?  He is not Someone Who holds a piece of candy in front of us only to cruelly take it away, of this much I was confident.  From cover to cover in the Bible, the basic foundation of all life is the understanding that God is love, (1).  This truth assures me that even the disappointments in my life, whether large or small, have both reason and purpose that are founded in His love for me.  These higher plans of God to work in my disappointing circumstances, and sometimes in the especially painful ones, also include what He desires to accomplish through me to benefit others.

Hmmm…

Then it hit me.  (I can be a little slow on the uptake, but thankfully not this time.)  There are times when God, in His loving wisdom, does not immediately provide for my request, at least in the way that I am requesting it.  It seems that one of the divine reasons for this apparent refusal, which may be merely a delay rather than a flat out “no”, is so that I can see for myself just how badly I want what I am requesting. 

This, then, is the gift that is often times greater than my original request—

  • that God would show me myself: the true reasons for my desires, unearthing any selfish ambition that lies hidden beneath years of impoverished thinking. (2) It may that I need to be shown my motivation in requesting the gift, which may need to be reworked, (the motivation, that is, not necessarily the request itself), before I can be on the receiving end. (3)
  • that the gift of waiting would stimulate and produce in me a more clearly defined and better focused desire (4).
  • that He would prepare my heart and situation to properly receive from Him. (5) I am reminded of what kind of king the Jewish people of Jesus’ day were looking for, and because of their expectations, many missed Him completely. (6)
  • that I would learn to keep seeking, keep asking, keep knocking. (7) One of the characteristics of true faith is its persistence.
  • that I would keep trusting His love to provide what He feels is best. (8)

Actually, the end result—or I should say, the intended main objective—is intimate relationship with God.  At least, that’s God’s main objective.  Which means it would behoove me to make it mine as well. 

I’m still not sure what that bird was.  Maybe a warbler or a wren.  It matters not, because I hope I have received the greater gift, not of connecting with the singer, but of connecting with the Voice.

 (From God Loves Birds, by Dawn Jones)

  • 1 John 4:8
  • Romans 12:1,2
  • James 4:3
  • Romans 8:26
  • Isaiah 64:4
  • John 1:10
  • Matthew 7:7-11 (Amplified)
  • Matthew 6:33

Remembering #summer …eventually

It’s the thick of summer now.  This morning, the locusts are humming and the humidity is high, and it’s not even 7:30!  I have just returned from the last of three sorties out of state, and as I lay in bed last night, trying to get to a place of much needed slumber, I began feeling an inward fatigue.  Not exhaustion – yet – but a red flag, a warning to be aware of what I was sensing internally.  I’ve never scored high in what some might call self-awareness, so this was an important signal for me. 

All three trips were not only tiring—how many miles in the car total?  But they were also very relationship-building and relationship-affirming with other family members.  As much as I truly love them all, and am so thankful for them all, it was still quite a time of “out-giving”.  Now as I lay in bed, I began to feel overwhelmed by “the List”—all the things clamoring for my attention, and none of them wanting to stand in line and wait their turn. 

Now, as I sit on the porch, I pray,

I cast all these cares upon You, Lord Jesus.  Thank You, Holy Spirit, that You are my Guide, Comforter, Teacher.  Thank You for grace for the moment.  Show me how to fill up my soul’s tank, to be honest with my limitations and merciful with the limitations of others.  Lord, protect me from over-responsibility and taking on what is not mine to do, not just in projects, but in people.  Bless the works of my hands and the words of my mouth, because they are Yours.  Show me how to open myself so that You can fill me up.  Then, and only then, can I honestly pour out to others!

As if in response to my prayer, a yellow swallowtail butterfly lights to rest in the bush only a few feet away from where I am sitting. He spreads his wings, a living stained glass window, and I am reminded that pausing to admire and to attend to such beauty is, in itself, an act of worship to its Creator.  Wait, and listen, and watch, and in these things, worship occurs.

 Another one arrives and joins his twin!  This second one I would have missed if I had not been paying attention.  There is no nectar with this green bush, no feeding or pollenization happening.  Nothing that business-as-usual would classify as “productive”.  There is only the cool shade in an already dry, hot, and promising-to-be-hotter morning.  And an important mystery begins to be revealed to me: all creation needs rest.

Is it possible to make a credible connection between rest and worship?  Or is worship merely something we “do” when we sing on Sunday morning, and rest something we’d secretly rather be doing on Sunday morning?  What if rest and worship can each be classified as a both a discipline and a joy?

The need for rest is not merely a consequence of the original Fall of man.  No!  It was indisputably God’s intention from the beginning of creation that we should take time for rest, not only physically, but in every other way as well. The Fall of man is, in actuality, reflected in our cultural attitudes typified by statements like, “Sleep is highly overrated.” Granted, sleep and rest are two different things, but everyone needs both.  It is no accident that the Bible specifically records the 7th day of creation! (1)

Rest is a requirement for health in all areas of our existence.  And rest requires patience, as we allow time for the brain itself, the actual physical organ that sits within in our skull, to recuperate from various levels of trauma, which include individual definitions of stress and overload.  We want quick fixes, like emotional M.A.S.H. units providing temporary patches rather than complete healing and recuperation. 

Now here’s the interesting connection: rest, and its companions—waiting and patience—are skills to be nurtured, even practiced.  And these skills are exercised when we take time to worship God by purposefully diverting our attention from our lists to His beauty.  Significant worship occurs in rest and reflection, as we are attentive to what God is providing for this moment.  (2) Worship does not need to be boxed into a few songs during a worship service, but is expressed when we admire what God is doing right in front of us—in the smile of a child, in the gift of my friend’s big sunflower, or in the lighting of a pair of butterflies in the shade.

I guess even butterflies need rest.

  • Genesis 2:1-3
  • Psalm 84:1; Psalms 23:1-3

(excerpt from God Loves Gardens by Dawn Jones)