Oh, those persistent #conesflowers !

I love wildflowers.  There is a reason why they grow wild, more than one really.  But the main one that I am interested in has to do with their persistence, how well suited they are for the areas wherein they thrive.  The pale-purple Missouri cone flowers, one of my favorites, can be seen all over our area both in fields and well as in cultivated gardens.  The wind blows the seeds to different areas, and the birds, (I suspect mostly the finches who love to dine on the dry cone seeds) unknowingly drop a few here and there, and suddenly one season without any formal preparation, there erupts another garden of cones!

Another most interesting characteristic about some of these wildflowers has to do with nature’s preparation—the process called “stratification”.  This was a new botanical concept for me. The potential flower must first undergo a traumatic period of freezing and cracking of the outer shell for the seed to be brought to life.  Without this cracking of the hard shell, which has now served its purpose in protecting the seed within, the whole seed would simply rot in the ground.  But as the outer shell’s protection is no longer needed, and through the unpleasant stratification event, the required germination can take place and a new flower makes its way onto the scene.  Truly awesome!

Most of us in the human race also have an outer shell.  We’re not born with it, but unfortunately through years of hurt and fear, we allow ourselves to be encased, our true selves hidden away for safe keeping.  At least it feels safer than the alternative of emotional honesty.

  • Sometimes we lather ourselves with a goodly dose of self-pity by accepting the role of victim instead of grasping the responsibility for our future in the light of the reality of our past.
  • Or we lock our true desires, interests, longings and even deep concerns far away in the vault of our hearts, for fear of reprisal or ridicule. It’s happened before (whatever “it” is), so why go through that again?
  • We feel safe in being shy, or brash, since each characteristic helps us to keep others are arms’ length, a safe distance from getting too close to the truth, our truth.
  • The twin sisters of bitterness and unforgiveness make convenient hiding places since they shut people out of any chance for reconciliation—surely it’s easier than the effort it takes to rebuild trust,

…or maybe it just seems that way…?

Whatever our method of perceived self-preservation, this outer shell remains stubbornly intact.  The problem is, unless that casing is broken open—stratified liked the wildflowers—the seed of our true selves may eventually rot.  And the true life is in the seed, not the shell.  The potential to push the dirt aside and grow toward the sun is given only to the seed, not to the seed’s casing.  Once full grown and blooming, new seeds are then formed that serve to feed other life, or to plant new life and start the process over again.  But it won’t happen that way, unless as Jesus says, the grain falls into the ground and “dies”, thus “producing many others and yields a rich harvest” (1) 

Unfortunately, in human terms, stratification hurts. And it usually comes in the very form that caused the shell to mold around us in the first place.  How can we learn true courage if we are not forced to face fear?  How can we show true compassion if we do not first endure pain?  And how can we truly love if we are not first tempted to truly hate?  For us, the shell that encases us is one made of our own choices, that is, our responses to life’s harsh realities and circumstances beyond our control.

Jesus, on the other hand, promises that we can bear fruit, and fruit that remains. (2)  That is exactly what we are created to do!  But as fruit comes only from the seed and not from the casing that houses the seed, so we are to recognize that the true identity within us is an identity provided for us in Christ.  We are destined for specific tasks and undertakings that have tags with our names on them, (3).  However, these will never be fully realized, or fully bloomed out, until our outer casings are split apart.  Only then will the old shell eventually wither away as our new growth pushes through the dirt of our lives, and into the air and sunshine of His purpose and direction.

There’s just no way around it: we must allow for, and even embrace, God’s tearing away—His holy stratification—of our outer shell to allow our true life to emerge.  Otherwise, new seeds will not be formed for planting, those people around us that need the nourishment of our talents and gifts will be deprived of them, and scariest of all,

…our “protective” shell will end up becoming our tomb.

(excerpt from God Loves Gardens, by Dawn Jones)

  • John 12:24
  • John 15:16
  • Ephesians 2:10

#morningperson vs. #nightperson !!

Perhaps there was something prophetic in the fact that my parents named me “Dawn”, since clearly I am not a night person.  Unlike my husband, Bob, and our eldest daughter, Jessica, both of whom are summarily nocturnal, I tend to rise with the sun and start winding down at dusk (if not before).  This fact was recently re-confirmed when I attempted to stay up at night waiting for Jessie availability to video-chat regarding plans and arrangements for her upcoming wedding.  However, there was one important glitch concerning our e-date: she lives in California and we are in Missouri, which is a two-hour time differential not in my favor. 

Even though I downed yet another cup of black tea late in the evening, and watched mindless television, (since reading at night rapidly puts me to sleep), finally my brain and body reneged on our plans.  After texting Jessie my apologies and need for a rain check, my head hit the pillow.  Unfortunately, I had unsettling dreams—was it the TV, the extra caffeine, or just being off-schedule?  Either way, I didn’t pull myself out of the sack until after 7AM in the morning, which was definitely sleeping in for me, and being the morning person that I am, meant that a fair chunk of the best time of the day was already gone!

So there I was, then, sitting at my desk, just too tired to arrange myself on the patio as usual.  The bike ride I had planned with my husband for later that day was tanked also.  In fact, after a lovely and productive time the day before, I was having some motivational difficulty as this particular one wore on. 

Jessie and Bob are night owls…I love to see the sunrise.  Jessie and Bob love to celebrate her home visits with late night chats and cheesy monster movies…I love to serve them surprise breakfast in their beds the next morning.  My eldest daughter and her father can discuss a topic in great detail to its utter encyclopedic conclusion…I tend to prefer synopsis, just the crib-note version, if you don’t mind.

There are many ways in which our differences can be considerably inconvenient, even downright irritating—that’s a given.  Several times when my husband has (finally) come to bed, he inadvertently wakes me up, but rather than quietly getting under the covers, it seems like his brain tells him, “Oh, good, she’s awake!” and he proceeds to pontificate on some deep personal revelation or travail.  Of course, loving him as I do, my brain says, “You need to listen; he needs you,”  like I should somehow allow myself to be drawn into this conversation lest he be left alone with his thoughts.  My body, on the other hand, disagrees.  Naturally, if I listen to my brain rather than my body, chances are by the time the conversation is over and we are both lying in bed, and I be wide awake as I hear my Beloved breathing sonorously and peacefully next to me…sound asleep.  And my work alarm goes off at 5AM. 

So, in this sense really, where is Jessie when I need her?

As I write this, I am sitting, as usual, on the patio, having had an unusually warm and early spring.  It is only late March, and the trees are already leafing, the daffodils are already done, and I have plants poking through the soil by several inches.  My gardening friends and I are holding our breath hoping the frost won’t reappear!  I’m realizing yet again the marvel of my garden’s diversity, as I’m rethinking some of my planting designs (using the term “design” loosely).  I might put the tomatoes in a different place where they will get more sun, and enjoy deeper more fertile soil.  I might plant more salad greens where the tomatoes were last year—I want to try the Swiss Chard somebody suggested.  Not sure if the new hostas got enough shade last year so I may need to revisit that plan.

I am re-reading a beautiful book by Linda Dillow entitled Calm My Anxious Heart, and I’m in the chapter on being content to be me. Mrs. Dillow comments wisely regarding a favorite Old Testament song, Psalm 139.  In this Psalm, King David was expounding on the uniqueness of our birth and plan for our lives, among many other fascinating truths regarding God’s design and intent for putting me here, in this body, this place, and this time. 

Just as I am thankful that God created so many different plants for all types of gardens, whether for sun or shade, whether for cool, spring temperatures or hot mid-summer Missouri Julys, so also He has wisely and lovingly provided a massive diversity of traits in people. 

  • Some of us are up front, on stage, and in the spotlight; some are hidden in seeming obscurity. One is tempted to covet the other’s quiet and anonymity, while the other may pine away for what she perceives is a lack of appreciation.
  • Some of us are bold and outspoken, completely un-intimidated by what others may think or feel; their counterpart is diplomatic, a person of few words, and sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of other. The first tends to regret speaking rashly, while the second longs for the courage to speak out more.
  • Some of us have physical disabilities that prevent us from doing the things that come so easily to others—they feel they are missing out on so much fun! Others of us have perfectly functioning bodies, but struggle daily with emotionally or mentally crippling disorders such that, to be rid of, we would gladly give our right arm.

The grass is always greener…I know it’s not an original thought, but still one that’s all too true.  Like our garden plants, God makes His people all different to fit us into His grand design.  In one of his letters to the early church at Corinth, Paul writes that we are to no longer look at people from a worldly point of view, but from God’s point of view.  Regardless of whatever “defect” at which the rest of society points their finger in regards to someone’s personality or property, or their body, or  their bank account, God sees them differently, and His opinion is really the only one that counts. 

So also am I to see myself. Paul encourages the church at Corinth to “lead the life which the Lord has allotted and imparted to him and to which God has invited and summoned him.” (2) We can rightfully infer from that truth that God has “allotted, imparted, invited and summoned” us all to a life of service in Jesus within our circumstances, our personalities, and even with what the rest of society might think of as defects.   After all, God is the One Who is capable of turning our “defects” into delights. 

The NCAA basketball tournament is in full swing, and March Madness has once again infected my husband. I wonder what time he’ll be to bed tonight?  No matter. The garden will still be here tomorrow when the sun comes up, and so will I.

(Excerpt from God Loves Gardens by Dawn Jones)

  • 2 Corinthians 5:16
  • 1 Corinthians 7:17 (Amplified)

Hate those #weeds !

(Excerpt from God Loves Gardens, by Dawn Jones)

Weeding.  Yuck.  Why is it that during a drought, weeds still grow? 

I love the flowers and the plants; I love the tomatoes and the fresh herbs.  But let’s face it, weeds are the pits.  Some of their roots go so doggone deep!  And they spread, underneath the surface where you can’t see them, until they pop up somewhere else.  They suck up water, a precious resource by any definition, but especially “tres chere” during July and August in southern Missouri, and especially this year.  Weeding is in the “not fun” section of my gardening book.

“Not fun” is, however, usually a prerequisite to “fun”. 

I now have certain pieces of equipment to take care of said weeds:

  • Thickly padded knee pads. This shows that I mean business. I hate to admit it, but getting down on my knees is not as convenient as it was 20 years ago.  And then there’s the getting up part.  So “knee work” takes effort, as well as, at times, more than just a little discomfort.
  • Weed fork. At least that’s what I call the wicked looking thing. It has sharp little fangs that penetrate deeply into the weeded area to help pull up as much of the root as possible.  It’s a merciless piece of metal, probably invented by someone without knee pads who wanted to spend as little time as he could on his knees.
  • Chemical herbicide. Yes, I know, not exactly eco-friendly, but you don’t know the extent of the weed habitat in my yard. I don’t use it much, sparingly, but it is part of the heavy artillery in my arsenal.
  • Sometimes I wear gloves, but even with those, I always—I mean always—manage to get dirt under my fingernails. So really, I should also here mention my fingernail scrub brush, which sometimes even itself doesn’t fully complete the cleaning up job 
  • Timeliness – rather than put it off until another day, telling myself that I’ll do it all at once, (ha!), it is so much better to see a weed, and pull it on the spot. When it comes to weeds, procrastination only allows them to grow deeper and sprout additional “weed-babies”.

Weeds are a pain, no doubt, but they must be dealt with unless I want to allow them to dominate the garden.  And that includes the weeds in my life-garden as well.  Unforgiveness, bitterness, jealousy—these are some big ones.  Then there’s deception, slothfulness, and gossip.  Unkind words are really ugly weeds whose roots can really go deep and pop up when and where we absolutely don’t expect them.  All of these, and more, (since there are many species of “life-weeds”), suck up the precious water of our existence and threaten to dominate our days…unless we take diligent action.

  • Weeding in our life takes commitment—commitment to the point of discomfort, and often times, more than just a little. The writer of the book of Hebrews warns that “for the time being, no discipline brings joy, but seems grievous and painful”—now there’s an understatement! But he goes on to say that “afterwards it yields a peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”  Okay, I like that part.  If makes sense that if I don’t want the weeds listed above, or any other species of unwanted harvest, there is only one person responsible for eradicating them—me.  The same writer then adds this encouragement: “So then, brace up and reinvigorate and set right your slackened and weakened and drooping hands and strengthen your feeble and palsied and tottering knees.”  (Has he been spying on me while I’m gardening??)   Although that may sound a bit harsh to our sensitive 21st century ears, it’s actually quite helpful.  There are time when, oh yes, I can feel very tottering and weak, even discouraged when I work, and work, and yet keep seeing things in my character and personality with which I am sorely displeased, a weed popping up when I thought I had taken care of it or a new unknown weed that I’ve never seen before.  What the writer is saying here, however, indicates that this courage, this strength is, in fact, available to me.  So brace yourself (or pad yourself!) for the impact, expect the pain, but know that the results of our hard work will be rewarded. (1)
  • We need to go as deeply as possible to the root of the problem. Surface weeding may allow the garden to appear well-tended, but as the saying goes, looks can be (and usually are) deceiving. I think of my weed fork, a sharp and menacing-looking tool that, in the right hands and wielded skillfully, can bring up roots while yet sparing the precious soil. This kind of deep life-weeding takes time and effort, and we may need the help of a friend, or sometimes even a professional.  It is here that we must be willing to allow God to search and reveal as only His light can do. As the Psalmist said, “Search me thoroughly, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me…” (2)  And then let Him have control of the tool.
  • We must not disregard the heavy artillery of spiritual warfare. As Keith Green so aptly illustrated in a song that is supposed to be Satan himself singing to us:

                          I used to have to sneak around,

                          But now they just open their doors! 

                          You know, no one’s watching for my tricks

                          Because no one believes in me anymore! (3)

One of the enemy’s main tactics is deception.  Our Lord uncovered this by describing Satan as a liar and even the father of lies. (4) This age-old adversary will try to convince us of everything from false guilt feelings lingering after true repentance, to thinking we have committed the unpardonable sin.  Yes, I’ve been there too.  But God says otherwise.  We must arm ourselves for continued battle, and learn to use this critical piece of spiritual artillery. There is much well balanced writing on practical, Biblically based spiritual warfare.  In our culture, we are many times uncomfortable with this aspect of what used to be assumed in the early church as a normal part of Christian life.  The Bible makes it clear that it still is. (5)

  • Certainly, we cannot be afraid to get our hands dirty while we dig about in our lives, removing the weeds with the help of our Holy Gardener Himself. Sometimes it’s also a matter of getting our hands dirty helping weed around someone else’s life, after which are just as concerned with keeping ourselves cleaned up! Paul, in writing to the church at Corinth, reminds us as he reminded them, to be careful to watch ourselves, especially when we think we are doing well.   We are just as prone, whether we like to admit it or not, to lapse into tempting thoughts and behaviors as the ones we have been helping.  Maybe not the same temptations, but sinful dirt under our nails nonetheless.  Our Lord promised to wash us clean when we bring this dirt to him, and surely it pleases Him to do so! (6)
  • And, of course, when the Master Gardener points out a weed, we must not delay in getting it taken care of as quickly as possible, so that successful growing time is on our side, not the weed’s. When God calls us to a specific repentance to a particular life-weed, procrastination is not a good idea. The longer we wait, the deeper it grows, and the more resources it wastes on itself. Most gardeners have seen this happen over time in flower beds that are habitually untended—yuck!   And one of the unhappy consequences of such neglect is that the seeds of the weeds float into my yard, (and honestly, I have enough of my own to deal with), then I have to tend to those as well!  Gossip, for example, spreads into others’ minds and hearts and begins to root (very quickly, I might add) unkind thoughts concerning the victim being gossiped about.  Another culprit is irritability—that one spreads like dandelion seeds!  (7)

In seasons of plentiful water, or in times of difficult drought, weeds seem to flourish both in our gardens, and in our lives.  Yet we are not without the proper tools to deal effectively with them.  The alternative is to ignore them or to pretend they don’t exist.

And, really, a weed would love nothing better… 

  • Hebrews 12:10-12 (Amplified)
  • Psalm 139:23-24 (Amplified)
  • No One Believes in Me Anymore, by Keith Green, c. 1977
  • John 8:44
  • 2 Corinthians 10:4, Ephesians 6:11-12 (For a good resource in this area, see Neil Anderson’s Victory Over Darkness, and The Bondage Breakers, both from Harvest House Publishers. Another good resource is The Handbook of Spiritual Warfare, by Ed Murphy from Nelson Publishers.)
  • 1 Corinthians 10:12-13; Ephesians 5:26-27
  • Proverbs 15:1

Dirty Hands… Happy Heart

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

Between the #wax and the #web

(Excerpt from God Loves Gardens, by Dawn Jones)

As I sat in the early morning darkness, I had lighted a citronella candle—one of my several strategies to prevent mosquito bites from occurring—when I observed a common moth drawn to the light of the flame.  Moths are so fragile and beautiful, and are so unaware of both their fragility and their beauty that they are vulnerable to flying too close to the flame…as this one did.  I looked down into the pot, and there he was, overpowered by the flame he was inexorably drawn to, and now I have a moth carcass stuck in the wax!

Again, I observed another moth flying playfully around the patio light.  Granted, there was no live flame to endanger him on this occasion, but I could see what he could not—a craftily woven spider web all but hidden and well within the range of the carelessly ignorant moth.  He was potential breakfast for this spider, and he had no idea.

We are quite credibly akin to moths; that is, our generation, our culture, and certainly all generations prior to us:

  • We are beautiful, even if we are considered “common” by others or in our own estimation. So called “common” moths, though they may not be as popular as their Monarch cousins, are certainly elegant and a marvel of delicacy and intricacy in their own right. As the moth was unaware of his beauty, so are we often lacking in our own self-awareness.  Frequently we esteem ourselves as merely common, not much to look at, especially when compared to our older sister, or best friend, or the prom queen, or….most of us are painfully familiar with the mantra. This common deception, however, is decidedly contradicted by God Himself when He prompted King David to pen that fabulous Psalm 139, which tells of how we are each “fearfully and wonderfully made”.  (1) King David continues to expound on the wonders of birth and life and God’s overarching plan for each of our lives.  It’s a good read, especially when looking in the mirror first thing on a Monday morning!
  • We are as fragile as we are beautiful, and more than we care to admit. In today’s American culture, teenagers are typically pegged as being risk-takers. While this may certainly be an honestly acquired reputation, it behooves us all to reflect on our very mortal frame.  And of greater significance, I must remind myself that there are areas which are more tender to the flame and fire of life than just my skin.  The heart, the mind, the personality, the spirit, the intellect—all of these are not as resilient as we would hope, as is sorely personified in the lives of young people struggling with eating disorders, addictions,  and the various pitfalls of 21st century survival.  (2)
  • Despite our own beauty, and in ignorant disregard for our wound-able condition, we are compellingly drawn toward the things in life that seem to sparkle and shine. And most of these bring a promise that, somehow in owning them, will supposedly cause us also to sparkle and shine. We crave “bling” for our relationships, our reputation, as well as in our possessions.  Jesus spoke directly to this hedonistic mindset, when He said that a person’s life is more that those things which he possesses, and this includes all the bling and sparkle and shine that the world has to offer. (3)

Something very calculated and sinister occurs when we are unable to get a grip on how God sees us in our very own uniqueness.  Likewise, we can predict a common response when we underestimate our weaknesses.  It is that we will eventually tend to give our attention, and indeed ourselves, to the world’s definitions and promises of success. In so doing, we fly perilously close to the web of deception and compromise, and to the flaming wax of consequence. 

And invariably, we get stuck.

  • Psalm 139 (the whole chapter!)
  • Job 4:19; Psalm 143:4,5
  • Luke 12:15

Fire Up the Christmas Tree…in #March

(Excerpt from God Loves Gardens, by Dawn Jones)                                     I let the dog out on this beautiful Sunday morning as the sun was coming up, the birds were waking up, and the new flowers are starting to push their way up.  I look across my yard to the unsightly large black spot next to the fence where I finally got to burn the annual Spring cleaning—leftover leaves, twigs and branches, and, yes, even the old Christmas tree. But I don’t have to see the blackened area to remember my efforts from the day before.  My 50+ year old frame is reminding me enough!   Initially, the left over burn pile looks like an ugly scar on my landscape, until I realize what it represents.  This spot will be where I plant my tomato starts again this year.  And they will become monster bushes due to the wonderfully fertile soil provided by the after effects of my efforts from yesterday’s hard work.

We know that burning adds the nutrients into the soil, and this can be likened to the process of consecration, A.K.A. dedication, of ourselves to God. (I like the word “consecration”.  It’s a good old-fashioned churchy sounding word that’s packed with meaning.)  It’s only when we are truly consecrated to God that we become pretty useless TO the world; that is, the world cannot use us for its own purposes, and we become liberated from the shackles of their devices, such as the need for popularity, status, wealth…fill in the blank. Not that these things are intrinsically evil, but the “need” for them sure is!   Likewise, it’s when we are completely devoted to God—His honor, His plan and purpose, His timing—that we are, in a very real and spiritual sense, burned up to Him in a way that we become “the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place” described by Paul, and we become useful FOR the world in the way God intends.  And lastly, if we neglect this consecration process, this burning sacrifice of our lives to God, then we can be assured that we will, indeed, be burned out by the world and its effects upon us.

Having said that, as I contemplate the black spot in my garden, several things come to mind:

Leaves: (many of which have been sheltering the gardens to keep the roots warmer over the somewhat brutal winter we just had)  We also can tend to hide under some of our past comforts for fear of the winter storms in our lives  Life is cold at times, bitterly so.  We naturally seek to protect our inner selves.  But I also knew it was time to rake away the leaves, because they were now preventing the full warming rays of the sun to nourish the new plants.  Same with our souls.

Twigs and branches blown down by the storms which are no longer able to produce life:  Left to clutter the yard, they will make it easier to trip and fall, and more difficult to mow, to play with the dog, and do the things that a yard is for.  Like the personal offenses held onto and residual guilt feelings of my own past offenses forgiven, yard waste is simply in the way of progress.

Muscle aches from the effort:  I can’t sit inside and expect it to just happen on its own.  Similarly my personal cleansing is a cooperative effort with God.  The word effort is important here.

My burn pile is ringed with stones and brick to contain the burning process:  I also watch over it carefully, spraying outside the stones as need should the fire jump into the grass and spread where it is not appointed to go.  Personal boundaries are important.

The ongoing process – just as each new season here in southern Missouri brings more leaves and twigs to be processed, so our lives are a continual cleanup project.  Pull out the rake!

Hey!! Where’d the #moon go??

I love the night sky.  I love sitting under a quiet canopy of stars in the early pre-dawn morning before the tree frogs have stopped their singing and the birds kick in with their own.  When I was a kid, I thought I wanted to be an astronaut.  I grew up with Captain Kirk, and the Starship Enterprise, and “live long and prosper” and all that.  Forget Barbie and Ken; that final frontier was what I was about!

That is, until I told my mom, to which she insightfully replied, “Oh, so you want to be an engineer?”  That’s all it took to crush my dilithium crystals to smithereens. 

Needless to say that I never pursued my dream—no, I should only refer to it as a fantasy—of galactic exploration.  Even so, as I said, I still love the night sky, that time of the earth’s rotation when we get a glimpse of spatial eternity.  As I look up, the moon is a mere sliver of reflected light in the sea of dark nothingness.  At first glance, it would seem like the moon has been disappearing.  Now, if someone had been enjoying the night skies for the first time over that past thirty days or so, this apparent lunar exit could cause several things in the uninitiated observer: disappointment, fear, frustration and confusion, to new a few.  How unfair for such a beautiful thing to only last but 30 days!  But to someone with even a very limited experience with astronomy, like me, this phase is, well, just that,..a phase… 

…which brings two thoughts to mind:

  • Although I can barely see it now, yet because of my history with the moon, I know that this illuminated piece of rock will come around again. Actually, it has never left; it’s still up there. In fact, it’s still up there in its entirety, just hidden, and only temporarily at that.
  • Secondly, the waning of the moon isn’t the end of the moon. It’s only the present completion of the moon’s natural progression. It’s not dying, not disintegrating.  On the contrary, this progression is an important part of its existence, its identity.  The moon is preparing for the next appointed phase.

Writing this very sentence, I am 53 years old.  (I just had a birthday this month, thankfully, as they say, considering the alternative.)  By this time in my tenure on the planet, I have learned a little about phases.  Some are inevitable, some are not, but one thing remains true of both—they pass.  We can learn to recognize and navigate through them by learning from experience (that of others or simply our own).  Or we can deny their existence and pretend nothing has changed.  Either way, similar to the “immutable changes” of the moon, phases will come and go, and will inevitably leave the marks of change in their wake.

This is where it gets sticky, this change thing, since we tend to cling to the emotional status quo, even if the status quo is toxic.  Change brings uncertainty, which in turn, if we allow it, can breed fear.  That is another reason why some things in our lives must be as immutable (and in this case, more so) than the moon itself:

  • With God, sometimes our “seeing” Him, sensing His involvement and His control over our circumstances, is eclipsed by other things. Whether our spiritual senses are dulled by physical/mental components such as fatigue, stress, (or even hormones), or whether the cause is more seditious, like sin, God is still Jehovah Shammah, the great “I Am Present”. (1) And He promises to never leave us or forsake us, as we continue to cling to Him. Period. (2)
  • Like the progressions of the moon, the God of the universe is always progressive. Not that God changes, as He is Himself unchangeable. (3) He doesn’t go through “phases”, but He knows that we have to.  It is a necessary component of who we are.  If a project or a ministry or a relationship has seemingly disintegrated before our eyes, it is wisdom to “fret not”, (it doesn’t do any good anyway), and to remain faithful and humble and, yes, maybe even courageously inquisitive as to what God is doing and going to do on our behalf.  This will allow God, in His loving sovereignty, to take us through the progression He has designed for us.

The unfortunate one viewing the waning of the moon for the first time is unfortunate only if he believes that what he sees happening if all there is and ever will be of the moon.  His perception, as is ours, is tainted with inexperience and impatience.  Giving in to our limited perception (and the emotional response that frequently accompanies it) is like turning my eyes from the night sky forever, since there will obviously never be another moon.  How silly!  No…how tragic.

Patient waiting, as for the return of the moon, is the mark of someone who understands the concept of phases.  Because God is always preparing, never retreating.

  • Ezekiel 48:35
  • Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrew 13:5
  • Malachi 3:6

So Who Needs Crayons??

Here‘s the scenario: I’m in the back yard early in the morning trying to have some undistracted time with the Lord, but my attention is consistently drawn to the sensate beauty around me.  Albeit my patio garden couldn’t hold a citronella candle to some of the other gardens around in this area, yet the songs of the birds, the wind in the trees, the morning sunshine dappling through the leaves, the color and contours of the flowers and the cool of the morning air all combine to lure me away from exercising the discipline I had intended.  Adding to that, my imagination now wanders to various projects I would like to work on next to improve certain areas of my little spot: weeding, fertilizing, installing liners to prevent runoff when the summer rains make their appearance.  So, yeah, I’m definitely having some difficulty staying mentally on my original task this morning.

Then it hits me—wait a minute!  This is how God Almighty thinks of me!  Psalm 139 tells me that His thoughts are continually toward me, and that if I could count them, they would outnumber the sand!

He sees me as more beautiful than a garden’s beauty, more distracting (if that were possible for God) than the delights of my own current diversions.  His mind is consistently excited about the work He intends to accomplish in me next: shoring up the new plantings of faith and growth so that the inevitable rains of life will not wash the progress away, rooting up the weeds of shame and fear that cause damage to the mind and heart, watering and feeding for greater growth, and, yes, pruning, which is necessary for new branches to appear and for increased productivity.

But what is even more amazing is that this work of the Master Gardener is NOT due to any anger or frustration on His part.  It is, much to the surprise of many who would consider themselves “religious”, an expression of His joy, just as it is a joy for me to work in my garden!

  • I’m not angry at my garden because of the weeds and the poor soil, or the rocks in the wrong places. Of course, I don’t want it to stay that way. So also does God Almighty, in His wisdom and sovereignty, make decisions about what needs to be changed and rearranged in my life to fit His grand, overall design. Now, I can submit willingly to His decisions, or I can choose not to.  Have you ever had a weed that “fought back” when you tried to pull it?  When it didn’t just slide out with the first yank, what happens next?    When the weed refuses to be pulled, it gets uncomfortable for the weed, as well as all the ground around it, at least for a while.  Ouch.
  • I certainly don’t give up on my garden during the winter seasons of dormancy, but cover up the roots to keep them warm and alive until the inevitable return of spring. Neither does my Heavenly Father disown me in the winter seasons when it “appears” that nothing is happening, or it looks like all the former beauty of passion and enthusiasm has withered away and disappeared.
  • It is my pleasure to work in my garden heartily to spread the ashes of “recycled soil” from my burn pile to other areas for increased nutrition. Ashes are not pretty; and the burning process gets pretty hot, and then smolders for a long time creating even more ash. The pile itself isn’t much to look at, but the soil is some of the most fertile in my entire yard.  So also does my Father consider when He views the ash piles in my life—the heartaches, the disappointments, the bad decisions, even the sin and corresponding consequences— to give me “beauty for ashes”.  (Isaiah said that…)

Here’s to the beautifully distracting colors of spring!  And the reminder that we are even more beautiful to our Gardener.

Why Wait??

(full read at dawnlizjones.wordpress.com)

I am quickly becoming of the opinion that there is no better way to celebrate than to have friends over into the garden.  So far, I have had a small family reunion dinner, my oldest daughter’s “Skype” bridal shower (she was in California and one sister was home in Missouri, and the other sister was in New York City—hurray for technology!), a private evening bistro with my husband and his poetry, and a bluegrass birthday party.  One day, I thought I would ask a few girlfriends to come over for an “open air” breakfast in the late morning.  Two of these ladies are quite accomplished and creative gardeners, and my spot of earth was far behind what they have mastered.  In fact, there was still dirt laying around in various spots from fixing some of the stones in my yard.  But is a garden ever truly completed?  I tend to think that, since it is made of living things, then a garden must be viewed itself as a living organism, ever changing, ever challenging, fluid as opposed to finished.  It would be a shame to put off entertaining until I had enough…enough what?  Enough flowers, enough bird feeders and butterfly attractions?  And what for?  To impress them?  Not on my budget or expertise!

I wonder how often we fall into the same restrictive and lock-step way of thinking in other areas of life:

  • Can’t have the boss (or pastor, or in-laws, or fill in the blank) over until the house is big enough.
  • Can’t have children until we can pay to put them through college.
  • Can’t take a vacation from my job until the next deal is closed.
  • Can’t give money to my church until I get a raise.
  • Can’t play with the kids until the dishes are done. (Oh, I beg of you not to make that mistake!)  
  • And here’s the really big one: can’t tell someone about Jesus until I get my own spirituality together.

Our can’ts are camouflaged as responsibility, when in reality they may be precariously postponing what is really important for what is merely urgent (at best), or selfish (at worst).  Please don’t get me wrong; boundaries—whether they be relational, emotional, financial, to name a few—are important, but so is our choice of who (or Who) is Master of the garden gate.  I need to remember the story of Mary and Martha, two of Jesus’ good friends.  Martha was concerned with preparing to entertain Jesus, and Mary with actually entertaining Him by sitting attentively at His feet.  Who was being most productive?  Would Martha’s house ever be “good” enough to entertain the Son of God?  And yet, when the opportunity was presented, she was in danger of missing out on the best house guest ever!  Obviously, Jesus did not expect perfection (by cultural expectations) before making Himself gloriously and generously at home.

  • I would hope that the people with whom I associate will choose to identify me by my character, rather than by the square footage of my property. Let me honor God with the property of which I am His steward, and leave others’ opinions up to Him.
  • Certainly we have financial obligations to our people, but care must be taken to not overburden ourselves with future concerns over which we have little or no control.
  • Someone who is married to his job can find his marriage to his spouse dissolve without him being aware of it until it is too late. A vacation doesn’t have to be a long expensive undertaking, but a regularly planned evening away—ALONE—can bring health and vitality into not only a relationship, but also into the job as well. And a caution to stay-at-homes: this means you, too!  Check the chatter about the kids with your coat at the restaurant and focus on some exclusivity with your one and only.
  • We somehow feel that giving money to God is a chore, like getting our teeth pulled. We have to psych ourselves up for giving what we think we can’t afford, or for beating back the guilt feelings when we don’t. An Olympic diver doesn’t start learning his craft by jumping off the high dive.  Start small.  It’s okay to ask God to increase our salary, but I should ask Him to increase my giving first. 
  • Yes, dishes need to be done, and we are not to use any excuse for a slovenly lifestyle, but that whole “cleanliness is next to godliness” is not in the Word of God. Our children are a gift from the Lord, more than our dishes. They need us to let them know that in very tangible ways, and the most important is giving them of our time.
  • And, of course, the perfection of our lives is not the witness that Jesus is looking for. It is the consistency of love, and constancy of attendance on Him, of sincere repentance with corresponding behavioral decisions. It is His perfection of character that engulfs the flaws of mine.  Good grief!  How can I adequately bear witness and represent a Holy God!?  To feel any remnant of adequacy to this task is the epitome of pride and hubris.  No, I must not wait until I esteem myself a “better person”, and wholly rely on His Holy Spirit’s adequacy within me.

What opportunities are presented to us today? I want to be extremely careful to not allow them to pass by because of short-sighted nonsensical statements that include “can’t…until.”  On the contrary, I want to challenge myself to evaluate every self-imposed restriction that would threaten to put off what would bless someone—

—and many times that someone turns out to be me!

 

 

Somebody cut me a stick for this marshmallow, please.

(Full read at dawnlizjones.wordpress.com)  I have mentioned the “bush that ate Nevada” previously.  This gorgeous spectacle of botanical proliferation still, at this writing, thrives at the end of our driveway.  Its blooms are, unfortunately, not quite as astounding as in the past.  Some of the inner, older core of the bush/tree have died away, but not before sending out plenty of new shoots in every direction. Of course, these new shoots, which have now redefined the bush itself, are impinging upon other places that, well, should not be impinged upon.  The end of the driveway, the asphalt itself, seems to be sprouting forsythia (life is so tenacious), and it had become a safety hazard when attempting to pull into our street, since my beloved, little $5 sapling has succeeded in semi-hiding oncoming traffic.  There was only one thing to be done—prune. 

Even the most uninitiated gardener may have some cognizance of the first advantage of pruning; that is, it only makes for a thicker, more luxurious plant.  I will admit that I probably have not been as consistent in my pruning process as needed, so when I did “get around to it”, it would generally be a fairly massive, (and messy),  project.  Getting rid of at least some of the dead wood, recovering at least some of the driveway, and clearing visual space for motor vehicle safety— these took some serious effort.

We all know about God’s pruning in our lives.  Sermons are preached on it, we are encouraged to recognize and embrace the process.  But it doesn’t make it any easier.  Sometimes the pruning project isn’t even about us personally; it may about an organization, a group, even a church.  As God allows a particular entity to prosper, the core sends out new shoots to continue the work of the bush as the older core finishes, having done its previous part.  And sometimes the old needs to be pruned away so that the new can redefine the life of the bush—new wine in new wineskins, and all that.  Now, this is not to say that the old is useless; no, far from it!  Although the old branches may not continue to produce the bright yellow blossoms as in the past, yet they are extremely useful in other and very important ways, (and this is where our culture misses it so often!)  The old branches on my forsythia still support life—nesting and hiding places for the birds, support for the new living branches, and when placed in the fire pile, they help become dirt for the other areas in the garden.  How we so often waste the precious resource in our zeal to accomplish so-called “greater” things!  Oh, that we would recognize and reap the benefit of what the older generations have to give to us!  We frequently prefer the flashy over the stable, the things that catch our eyes, rather than the things that enlighten our hearts. 

Additionally, God’s life-pruning process also includes a safety factor.  Sometimes our quest for big-ness prevents us from seeing oncoming danger.  I can think of more than one specific plan I had that was not allowed to happen, due to one circumstance or another, and I praise God (from this side of the idea) that it was not allowed to happen!  What we sometimes see as road blocks to may actually be God’s “bridge out” sign, and we are wise to heed it. 

One last thought about the Bush-That-Ate-Nevada.  Our cycling club had a nighttime ride that ended at our house for a marshmallow and s’mores bonfire.  So much fun!  However, I did not have enough roasting sticks for everyone.  What could be done?  I trimmed off several green limbs from my mega-bush, some that even had multiple “ends”, and we could roast two or three marshies at a time on one stick! 

Shouldn’t we allow our Master Gardener to do the same thing? We may be planted and growing and producing what is “normally expected”, and He may come along and seemingly cut us down from what we anticipated His work through us to be. The main bush still survived, but the severed sticks have been commissioned for a new project, and are exactly what is needed.  But rest assured, it is only so that He can use us in a different, more creative capacity.  He promises that, “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which He prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” How wise is our Gardener, and how perfect is His plan! 

(The s’mores are really good, too….)