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!

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

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

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

#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)

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

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)

“Do you want to see the #bird ?”

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pixabay

 “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

#Snowstorms?? No worries…

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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

#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.