Having just referred to St. Aug’s comment re: “men’s souls hang on your gifts” and quoting the prophet Isaiah about pouring out “that with which you sustain your own life to feed the hungry and to satisfy the need of the afflicted”, Jesus’ somewhat uncomplimentary metaphor warning us to “not cast your pearls before swine” seems, at first glance, a bit harsh to our 21st century sensibilities. No doubt, it was to 1st century ears also, particularly considering the religious and social context of the day.
Here’s how I unpack it—
A short take: Everyone has influence, period. Everyone has a “hidden congregation” that’s watching and learning. They need what you have to give, which makes each of us responsible for finding out just what that is, and start giving it, even if we don’t know who “they” are yet. However, pearls take many years to form, and are an organic result of an irritation inside the shell. Therefore, they are more fragile than, say, a diamond. Which means you have gifts (sometimes born of inconvenience, irritation, or downright pain) that you might not even be aware of yet, experiences that others need, talents gained, hardships overcome. Jesus considers these things precious when placed under His care, and He knows who needs them.
Secondly, since they are precious (and admittedly, sometimes fragile), these gifts must be respected and treated with care. This is where heavenly wisdom is sorely needed. I see young teenagers giving their hearts and bodies away before they can barely read and write coherently. I see parents wasting their children’s childhood on drugs and alcohol, or on too many meetings at work (or church!) In these ways and more, pearls are crushed under muddy hooves.
And just a tangent thought: Jesus’ “casting pearls” comment also appears somewhat paradoxical, when compared with the whole “give up your life to find it” idea. That is one of the many things I love about the Bible. Like David Limbaugh so endearingly puts it in his book, Jesus on Trial, the paradoxes, the seeming contradictions in the Bible, are invitations to dig deeper to resolve them and thus, far from smashing our faith against the rocks of unanswered questions…
… they serve to help us walk on the water more confidently with Him who holds our hands.
Choices…consequences. If I eat too much chocolate, then I get fat(ter). If I pull the car into the garage too fast like my husband has repeatedly warned me against, then I rip off the mirror, busting the window into a gazillion shards of glass, costing us hundreds of dollars, and having to call my husband to tell him that I pulled the car into the garage too fast…again. You know, things like that.
We live and breathe if/then’s. Of course, we’re in good company–even our stone age ancestors had to learn that fire was good in some ways…and not so good in others.
Here’s one of my fave’s that’s really worth chewing on. It’s a quote from the book of the prophet Isaiah:
“And if you pour out that with which you sustain your own life for the hungry and satisfy the need of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in darkness, and your obscurity and gloom become like the noonday.” (Isaiah 58:10 Amplified Bible)
What do I sustain myself, my very heart and soul with? Okay, money is always a good indicator about where our hearts are, and I’m in total agreement that no matter how little one has, some of it has to be given away to help someone else. But how about the other things “with which I sustain myself”?
A big one for me is time. Is my life so full of chores and projects and responsibilities that I don’t have time to pause and listen to a friend in need? Or is a child’s hug somehow an interruption?
Another one is talent and personal skill set. Can you make music? Sing? Build a wall (or a new drum “cage”, as the case may be in our church)? Can you make people laugh? Cook? Okay, maybe these aren’t the things with which you bring home the bacon, but not everything of true value is recognized on Wall Street.
I think it was St. Augustine that said “men’s souls hang on your gifts”. Jesus, Himself, warns us not to bury what He has given us, but to invest it wisely. IF we pour out (not dribble, by the way) these things to help those in need–not just physically, but emotionally, spiritually, relationally–THEN our own personal clouds begin to dissipate as well. Interesting paradox, this whole “losing my life to find it” thing.
If I get up at 3:30AM to write this post, then I’ll probably need to sleep in. Good thing it’s Saturday….
Our middle daughter was interested in cartography even as a young adolescent. She loves travel, and I suppose that has fueled her love of maps. She would sit in the back seat with the Rand McNally or AAA or some other paper route open in her lap while her sisters were typically reading or sleeping as the old family car rolled merrily down the interstate on one of our many long road trips. That was, of course, somewhat before the days of ubiquitous GPS cell phones which, even at this writing, her father and I have yet to own. My husband’s usual position was in the driver’s seat (traditional, right?) and if we were lost, his usual position was to stubbornly plod ahead instead of “wasting time” by asking for directions (typical, right?). Bob has on numerous occasions referred to the “map in his head” and is incredulous that I clearly don’t possess such a gift. I imagine that growing up as one of four boys, and having three daughters and no sons of his own hasn’t helped that perception much. Nevertheless, I am usually content to be a passenger/navigator. Of course, then there was the time we were coming home from yet another family vacation/reunion somewhere out West, New Mexico as the story goes. We had a suburban full of girls (nieces included) winding our way toward our Missouri home when, somewhere in the Oklahoma panhandle, my beloved pilot misinterpreted his psychic guidance signal (as well as the signage in a small town). Ten miles down the road, we were met with a billboard welcoming us to…
Okay, in his defense the signs on the town square to which our highway had led us were numerous and confusing, and most importantly, no expletives escaped his lips, even when after stopping the car to turn around, the engine wouldn’t start. Shades of the Twilight Zone… Many have liken life to a journey, an adventure, a road, all carrying with the metaphor a sense of moving, preferably forward. It bears worth repeating, (because God repeats it many times in various ways), that for the Christian, not only are we very susceptible to untoward detours, but we are even more so provided with ways back onto the right path. Consider:
Just as road signs can become jumbled and confusing, what we expect to be signposts and guiding arrows in life can let us down. A personal mentor leads us astray, a trusted relationship is not as trustworthy as we once thought, a spiritual hero falls off the pedestal. Before we realize it, we may be in the wrong moral lane and miss our turn off. Our cause and effect expectations of “if-I-do-this-then-this-will-follow” don’t pan out as promised. Promised? By whom? Perhaps this is the first question to answer, and answer with uncompromising (if not painful) integrity. • Then, getting past the blaming game, which is simply another way the Enemy helps us to waste valuable time, we must move on to fixing the situation. Time does not wait for us to have a pity party. This reminds me of another little family holiday when traveling a familiar way to see loved ones at Christmas. It was the way we usually went, but unbeknownst to us this particular passage over the railroad track was out of service and someone had prematurely removed the crossing barrier. Of course, it was covered with snow, so if anything looked out of sorts, it was adequately hidden. As in the past, we innocently started to drive over the crossing, only to get stuck about three feet from the track! (Same car, by the way.) There was a train scheduled to roll down this way, and so time was of the essence. Similarly, we should never waste time getting back on God’s road, even if it seemingly wasn’t our “fault” for getting off in the first place. • The first step in finding our way back to the correct road is to admit
we’re on the wrong road. Our Father, Who loves us dearly, has many creative, oftentimes humorous, but certainly provoking ways of getting our attention. Some may be as large as the billboard announcing our arrival across state lines heading back toward the Rockies! Some may be more subtle. But God knows how to speak our language, whatever it may be. Our part is to pay attention, to listen, and to be honestly wanting His direction. Or at least wanting to want His direction. One of my personal favorites is from Isaiah: “Your ears will hear a word behind you, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right or to the left.”
• It is to be expected that, the second we even consider the possibility that we are going the wrong direction and seek to recalculate our bearings, there will be opposition from an Enemy that will throw everything he can in our way. Just like our old car refusing to start after Bob pulled over to confirm where we were and how to get back, when we realize a change is needed, frustration, agitation, and fear are ready to open the flood gates for discouragement, doubt, and spiritual malaise. As difficult as it may be, getting back on track must be accomplished. Summoning all the resources that are made available to us, there is nothing more important at this juncture that to be on the road with God. If Bob had ignored the road sign, we would have ended up in the Pacific, rather than back home in Missouri. Even if it meant calling a tow truck, we must go the other way! • Which brings up another thought. My husband was not the only one in the car, going the wrong way. He had the six of us girls with him, poor lad. (Anyone who has ever road tripped with women can fill in the blanks on this one…) This is important to consider in that since he was at the helm, we were somewhat effected by his navigational decisions. If this doesn’t strike a little fearful respect into leadership, then the followers should be forewarned! In other words, making sure our road is God’s road isn’t just about “me”. • It was helpful in our case to backtrack from where we were to where we got off track and go from there. That might not always be the case in life, but it does present a potential option in some circumstances. What was the first wrong turn? And therefore, what can I do to prevent THAT from happening again? Do I need a more readable map? Do I compare the map with the road signs? Or (as is sometimes to my discredit in the passenger seat) do I need a better navigator to interpret the map with the road signs? It is said that knowledge is power, and prevention is very powerful knowledge indeed. • Even if the car won’t start again, or the bridge is out the way we came, one thing about this journey with God: there is always, always, a way back to Him. All we have to do is to look down the road toward Him, and we will begin to realize that He is already looking at us, and always has been. The way back may not be easy, but with Him, it will be sure. It was really good to pull into our driveway, even after (especially after) our little detour. Thankfully, the old car started up after a brief rest on the side of the road at the Colorado border. And no tow truck was necessary (well, this time anyway).
Not being a gardener by natural intuition, I have had a propensity to plant things in less than ideal places and in less than ideal conditions. All a plant needs I learned in grade school science classes: dirt, sunlight, and water, right? With this unimpeachable wisdom I have destroyed many an unsuspecting specimen of innocent flora. And destroying plant life can become an expensive hobby. My lack of foreknowledge and pre-planning has caused me a certain amount of anxiety over my green (sometimes brown) friends. As one insightful person once put it, rather than the conventional “ready, aim, fire!” kind of gardener, I tend to be more of the “ready, fire, aim!” variety. I like to think of my ‘scapes’ as controlled chaos, which at times may be more chaos than control. Then I get disappointed when I find my beauties are just not living up to my grand expectations. Too much sun, too much shade, too much water, too little water; why does life need to be so picky?! So I uproot my little designs to rearrange their environment, water others, improve the quality of the dirt overall, little by little. I invest in soaker hoses, and then I can’t divine where I’ve planted them, so they end up with punctures and ruptures as I try to plant over them. Does any of this sound familiar…to anyone? Autumn comes and I’m happy about the plants that have survived the brutal late southern Missouri summers (as well as my decidedly lacking gardening prowess) , while other plants seem to just give it up and die off.
Sigh, yet another failure. Mulch what I can to protect for the winter season and retire the tools until spring with a certain determination to try, try again.
Then March and April finally arrive, and with it tiny green things begin to emerge, miraculously, unexpectedly, where apparent death had conquered just a few months before! And not only do they emerge, but explode onto the scene, taller, stronger and more vibrant than when first planted! I guess some living things are just made to keep living, despite my inexperience and ignorance. And, of course, others don’t. But I have an important hypothesis: if the roots are good, the plant will try again, because that’s the way it’s designed.
I have also learned, am learning, and will continue to learn, the importance of working with, not against, the natural environment. I can increase the soil quality, I can irrigate (until my dear husband frets over the water bill), but I cannot control the sun, the rain, or the temperature. God may have put me in charge of a few things, but the weather is not one of them. And evidently working with the environment would include: a) being flexible, b) considering my timing, c) increasing my creativity, and d) seeing the beauty and usefulness in what God supplies in my particular garden, even if at first it appears inconvenient or uncomfortable. Incorporating these four components—skills they are actually—will not only increase the productivity and loveliness of my garden, but also decrease the stress and anxiety associated with my new hobby.
Now, God has a time-honored way of communicating with us on what could be coined as a “natural level”, in the sense that what we see in nature corresponds many times with lessons that are extremely applicable to life in general. The tangibles can help us to understand the intangibles. For starters:
Lack of knowledge has a way of messing things up. I realize that is not a nice theological way of putting it, but if for any appreciable length of time you have been a card-carrying member of your local garden club, (or of the human race for that matter), you understand this concept. There is biblical precedent to back it up. In the Old Testament, God said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” (1) Yes, well, clearly this includes my plants. But of infinitely greater significance, our lack of knowledge, wisdom, and insight can severely and adversely damage those around us. Human relationships are costly, and foresight is expensive than hindsight. I need help, I need correct information, but recognition of my need is the first step toward wise cultivating in my personal people-garden. (For what it’s worth, one my on-going prayers is that God would grant grace to those who have to encounter me in any way today…)
I understand—yes, even me—that roots do more than hold a plant down should the gravitational pull of the universe change. There’s the hydration issue, the nutrition issue, and even the reproduction process in some plants is in the roots. I am told there are plants that, because of the way they are designed in their root system, are made to die off just up top, and relax for a while underneath the warm soil until it’s time to make their way to the surface again. My husband, Bob, who has an alphabet of letters behind his name with his multiple science degrees, gave me a fancy name for this, but I’ve since forgotten it. It’s the idea of programmed rest that I’m interested in—what appears to be dead is merely dormant, and given time and patience, and adequate supply for basic needs, it will return and flourish. That’s the way it’s made. People are amazingly resilient also…amazingly. What seems to be dead, whether a dream or a vision or perhaps even a relationship, may only be dormant. When God, as our Master Gardener, plants a root, we have only to nourish with faith and water it with patience, and what He has planned for that root will erupt. That’s the way we are made. I love how the Amplified Version puts it: “I [God] create the fruit of his lips, and I will heal him, make his lips blossom anew with speech in thankful praise.” (2) It’s all about timing—God’s, not mine.
And concerning those roots, I sense that I have some responsibility in acquiring and properly using that aforementioned knowledge. This includes working WITH my environment, and not against it. Compromise is not always a bad thing, and as a wise wit once penned: “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall bend and not break.” Jesus didn’t demand an air-conditioned conference hall and catered lunch for his hillside audience of 5000, but did just fine with rural setting and a few donated loaves and fishes. (3) I would say that also qualifies as pretty creative. And as much as I would love to have a full scale garden of blooming beauties, patience for the proper timing is part of the program. So many times I want what I want…NOW. How I thank my Lord for what I sometimes have regarded as a ball and chain, but has actually turned out to be a life-saving anchor! Granted, it can seem inconvenient and heavy at first, but the benefits are enormous.
And so I love spring all the more as remarkable rebirth occurs sometimes to my delighted surprise, but I also find an increased appreciation of winter—not just a season of death as so many have unkindly marked it, but a season of rest and rejuvenation. Such wisdom could only come from the mind of the Master Gardener, the One who planted the first garden, the One from whom I can learn as I dig about and get grass-stained in my own garden of life…if I will but make myself teachable.
Wow! And here I thought I had sorta crested the first hump on my very slow ascent up this mountain into the blogsphere. Admittedly, I’m a little out of breath up here, and now people are asking how to “follow my blog”.
Well, that’s a good question. Let me pour myself another cup of tea (left over from this morning, nice and potent that way), wake up the website genie and see what he says. Hold on, I’ll be right back….
Hmm. Not sure that helped. I signed up Google Plus, but my “new” facebook account is being contrary. I’m thinking there must be a button somewhere that I’m not pushing that would make the process easier for any aspiring “social media followers” to this project. Haven’t found it, yet.
Now, before anyone under 35 starts rolling their eyes at an old woman’s technological ineptitude, please understand that I’ve “come a long way, baby”, (to quote a commercial that played long before many of you were born.) Case in point, a few years ago, a tech person was on the phone talking me through some problem solving steps for my computer at work. I knew they were speaking English, I just knew it–had the right American accent and everything. But alas, communication was a bit of a challenge.
And so, by way of apology, I offer this olive branch:
There once was a broad from Ne-VAA-duh,
Who could really grow a to-MAA-duh
But it was really a slog
To follow her blog
And quite a bit irritate-ah. (Okay, so YOU find something that rhymes with Nevada, as in Missouri!)
Now, if that doesn’t scare you off this site, then you are either made of stout stuff, a glutton for punishment; or a family member. Granted, I’m not a poet; that would be my husband. In my defense, however, I have just self-published a fun, short devotional book entitled God Loves Dogs which can be viewed on Amazon (paperback or Kindle version). My mom bought one…..thanks, Mom.
In the meantime, I will continue to try to find an easier way to “follow” this blog, in case anyone is interested. Kind souls please feel free to send technical suggestions. Creative souls please find another word that rhymes with, you know, Ne-VAA-duh.
One of my New Yorker daughters signed me up for a Hobby Club, hosted by one of her work buddies, Tyler Riewer. (That’s rEE-ver, for the uninformed, a very nice Germanic name, very much unlike Jones, which is so common as to be utterly boring…more on that another time.) Mr. Riewer’s Hobby Club gives all the members a chance to experiment with new and different activities, one for each month of 2015. Included on his website (check it out—it’s really fun!) are instructions for each undertaking after which we are invited to post our Instagram photos so we can all enjoy laughing at ourselves and each other.
This month of January, we delve into the floury depths of breadmaking. Now, this is not an altogether unexplored territory for me, since I already make most of our own bread for health reasons anyway, whole wheat, no salt, no white refined sugar, all that. But what this club is doing is taking the breadmaking art to a new level for me—they actually expect me to use (gulp!) measuring cups and a receipe!
What Mr. Riewer doesn’t know is that Instagram is, in itself, a new and different activity for me. As are many of the other cultural changes that have come about secondary to the birth of the internet. I have embraced a somewhat love/hate relationship with the web, for example, but I suppose each new discovery and invention presents its own opportunities for good or bad. Kind of like money, or guns, or parental authority; it’s all about the choices of those that use it.
But some things do not change, at least for me. Like the joy of seeing my grandchild, (even if it is only on a video chat instead of in person). Like the sound of football on in the family room. And of course, like the smell of fresh bread baking on a cold January day. ‘Nuf said. I need to go make that baguette.
Just to make it clear from the start, we are a dog family. My business-minded daughter, Robin, set me up with an Esty site to sell some things I had made out of yarn, and suffice it to say that, although the page advertised the items being from a “smoke-free” home, we definitely could NOT say that our home is a pet-free zone.
At this post, we are on our fourth, not to mention a few visitors that have come and gone. My husband bonds excessively with his canine compadres, so after #3 expired, it took me a whole year and a half to convince him that it was time for another. Such is the emotional connection we allow ourselves to get into with our pets, and as difficult as good-byes can be, those “live in the moment” times (something are dogs try to teach us, I suppose) are well worth it.
In fact, there are many good lessons our dogs can teach us. By the way, I might as well confess in this first endeavor that our dogs talk to us. Yes, I suppose that’s what I would call it. It’s not unusual for someone to talk to their dog, being such good listeners and all. Our dogs, however, have a propensity for verbal response, and many times somewhat uncouth ones at that. I have, as yet, been unable to train them to behave themselves in their choices of conversational topics, particularly with company present, and have resigned myself to thier unfeigned social inappropriateness.
Despite that, and at times because of it, dogs have added emmensely to my family’s collective personality as, if you choose to continue in this “category”, you will soon share…
…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!
Posted: MOM FOR HIRE, used but in acceptable condition. Still capable of giving unwanted advice, making you wear a hat in the cold, and generally being an embarrassment in public. Does not do windows. Inquire below–
That title is almost as pretentious as tagging myself as a “writer” in the new facebook page that still trying to link to this site! But if so, it’s probably of little consequence, due to the nature of the blogosphere. It’s not like being in high school when you had to read something and do a book report (I wonder if they still do that??) And I know that this post is mere nano-particle in a galaxy of worm holes and flashy comets (yes, I was a Star Trek fan back in the day–the original version, to be clear.)
And yet, there is something to be said about starting my twenties by having three babies and ending that decade with selling Girl Scout cookies while putting their father through grad school. (I.U.-Bloomington, go big red!) My thirties were filled with prepubescence and flaming adolescence, braces, sporting events, and the task of helping the girls “find themselves”. That’s right, we have no sons, and I was informed that our house rules were “strict” by their friends’ parents’ standards. My home became know as “the Convent” and I was nicknamed (affectionately, I hope) “Mother Superior”.
Forty-something was the transitioning from a full house to my little goslings flying off to college one at a time. I remember the night of my actually “empty nest” experience. Our baby girl, Heather, was on her way out the door for her first night in her new dorm room. Now granted, all the girls spent their first two years of collegiate existance at the small college where their dad is a prof. Basically, down the street and around the corner. But still, this was a bit of a milestone…at least for me! Goodbye hugs, etc. No more Boom Boxes competing on different levels of the house. No more choir concerts, band concerts, and various awards ceremonies at the high school. No more prom dresses, monthly allowances, or staying up waiting from someone to make it home by curfew. Wow.
The college starts their year like most, in August. Here in southern Missouri, August is not the most pleasant month, unless you’re a tropical iguana. Naturally, Heather’s dorm was un-airconditioned, and she was living (as I recall) on the third floor. It wasn’t long (a few hours, max) before I picked up the phone for a request to bring herself and two or three of her new friends “home” to spend that night in the cooler air.
The empty nest can be a bit overrated anyway…
People tend to refer to life stages as “seasons.” My life is better described as “spasms”. I am now in my mid-fifties, gray-er, somewhat more experienced. I have grown to appreciate my parents, who are now in their 80’s, and the humor through which they process life. I have grown to value my past struggles and mistakes, and embrace whatever God has for me (and my family) for the future.
So that. If you are over-heating in life, or even if not, I invite you to join my blog-nest, thoughts (and responses) from a well-used mother, from my home to yours. —- dawnlizjones
Hello, blog number one. Not even sure that anyone would care to read the scratchings of this old woman, but no matter,… at least for now. I’m experiencing the dual thrill and frustration of “surfing” through the different “themes”, setting up “widgets” and “categories”, and figuring out (thus far unsuccessfully) how people can “like” me on some page of a book with my face on it. This is evidently what my New York City thirty-something-year-old middle daughter refers to as Life Skills. Hmmm…
I am now at a stage of life where I find myself using phrases such as “stage of life”. Back in the day (there’s another one!)Life Skills had to do with balancing your check book, the family budget, and your children’s academic and extracurricular activities. Life Skills were defined as learning to maintain a job, a car, and a marriage, generally in that order, and usually for longer than twelve months.
This original conversation began with my daughter when my husband (her father of thirty-something years) and I upgraded phones, called 4-G, whatever that is. (I have to buy us identical phones because he goes into a sixty-something tizzy if I ask him to answer mine when he doesn’t know how.) Bob could care less about all the bells and whistles on “our” new phones. His remains parked on the dresser in the front room, lonely, blinking its little light but totally ignored. Our daughter must have thought this beneath her dad’s intellectual prowess, considering her world of Instgrams, Four Squares (that used to be playground game…), and Tweets.
Life changes quickly, our culture just about as fast. If I’m going to learn to blog, which seems more or less like a public diary (for those chronologically challenged, a diary was a book of our deepest secrets that was kept under lock and key…back in the day, so to speak), then I guess I should just settle on my current WordPress Theme, throw in a few widgets, and have at it for a spell.
My husband remains delinquent in his Life Skills, but is now enjoying his sporting events due to his new HDTV signal. He sure learned how to use the remote without too much difficulty…definite Life Skills for his gender.
Now if I could get him interested in the new dishwasher…