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

Blood…or bleach??

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Bleach.  I grew up with the fragrance.  It reminds me of my grandmother’s house.  I use it occasionally at home, and frequently at work it to decontaminate and “bathe” my CPR manikins.  And,yes, it stains, believe me, I know.  But then I’ve also had to deal with blood stains, oil stains, etc. It’s a really good thing that I’m into second hand clothes.  I don’t actually deserve new clothing.  In my line of work (school nurse) and with my lifestyle (somewhat sloppy), I’m just too hard on them, and they would worry me too much.

I think I’m in good company.  I’m currently reading the part of the Old Testament where Moses is setting up his brother Aaron and sons with the very solemn and important priesthood for the wandering nation of Israel.  This is a really big deal.  All kinds of preparations and sacrifices have been made exactly to God’s specifications; there have been many kinds of talents involved here: metal workers, artists, seamstresses, carpenters, and the list goes on.  For these new priests, beautiful clothes have been painstakingly designed and created (no sewing machines back then…OH! the things I take for granted!)

Then the ceremony begins, and I pick it up here, (and I quote):

“So Moses took some of the anointing oil and some of the blood which was on the altar and sprinkled it on Aaron, on his garments, on his sons, and on the garments of his sons with him; and he consecrated Aaron, his garments, and his sons, and the garments of his sons with him.”  (Leviticus 8:30)

OIL??  BLOOD?? Do you know how hard it is to clean oil and blood out of clothing? Even with our fancy 21st century chemistry, oil and blood are still high on the list of nasty stain-makers.  I can just hear Mrs. Aaron now.  “Aw, c’mon, guys.  I just finished that tunic.  Those men can never keep anything clean!”

Interestingly, it wasn’t the beauty of the garment that made them special. It may have been the high quality linen, the color and stitching of the embroidery, and the mastery of the craftsmanship that went into all of it that made it beautiful.  But it was the oil and the blood that made it holy.

I like the fact that the word holy comes from a root word meaning “whole”.  So holy includes the concept of the whole picture, the entire situation, even an eternal outcome.  It also adds the idea of wholeness to the motive, and the internal configuration of the person involved.  Holiness denotes a shift in the spiritual DNA producing a wholeness otherwise unaccounted for.  It causes a willingness to get dirty with humanity on God’s level, and not merely my own.

Take home lesson for me: even my finest “clothing”, that is, the things I wrap around my identity like projects, character traits, even relationships, must be “stained” with the oil of the Holy Spirit’s anointing, and the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice to be acceptable to God, or in other words, holy.

Otherwise, they’re just pretty clothes that will soon become stained by the effects of the world at large.  Kinda like my bleach….

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

The “Two-paw” Approach

I’m home from church this morning.  Wow, the things we take for granted.  I’ve been muscling through a serious migraine which hit at the tail end of some sort of viral illness, so basically my Spring Break from my day job as a school nurse has been pretty well tanked.  Tomorrow I go back to work, I hope.  But the church worship team I’m a part of, including my dear bass-player husband, must go on without me.  As usual, I’m feeling some twinges of guilt, kind of like the remainders of the migraine, which is in its third day.  The “coulda-shoulda’s”  try to creep up behind my soul like the subtle but ominous discomfort in the back of my skull.  But that’s another whole story.

Suffice it to say, I’m home alone now.  Well, not really.  Buckley is quite happy that he has company this morning.  Normally, he’s home alone at this time on Sunday morning, so he’s feeling pretty okay with this arrangement. 

But it’s Sunday morning, so I “could/should” be doing something, you know, Sunday-ish.  I’m out of my routine and my element right now.  So I tried reading, but got up to take some more migraine medicine after Bob left for church.  I’ve prayed, some.  Thought I could go out to get a little exercise with the Buck, as that can help the headache, but Bob took the “dog” car, and it’s snowing/raining/sleeting out with gusts up to 30mph, not that Buck would mind at all.  This year, March is blowing in like a lion, a very cold lion. 

So I sit with my tablet to read—a great book on prayer a might add, by an old guy named Andrew Murray—and Buck decides it’s time for, well, it’s just time for him.  First, he sits at my feet and gazes up at me with those big brown eyes.  Head strokes and smooches, but evidently that’s not enough.  I’m ready now to read, but next up comes the paw, and he has big ones.  This is, of course, only the precursor to the whole front half of a 60-pound mutt in my lap, which is not conducive to reading, much less praying.  We’ve decided that one of his superhero powers is his irresistible cuteness which draws your attention away from what you should/could (those words again!) be doing.  I succumb, not only for his desire for me, but for my desire for him.

As usual, it hits me when I’m not looking for it, that realization that God is trying to show me something despite my best efforts to come up with something on my own:

  • God wants us to “bother” Him, to “interrupt” Him. Of course, He probably wouldn’t use those words to describe our coming to Him as such. I am reminded of the non-Jewish woman who reverently but assertively approached Jesus for her child’s healing.  At first, Jesus seems to divert her by mentioning something about “throwing the children’s bread to the dogs.”  Now c’mon, really.  If that had been said in our 21st century hearing, it would have been plastered all over the news media as one of the biggest political gaffs ever!  Anti-discrimination suits would abound, effigies would be ignited, sanctions would be imposed…and we would have all missed the point by a long shot.  Jesus had no intention of denying this caring mother of what she was so desperately seeking .  But He did need for her to see for herself how desperately she wanted it.  Was she willing to persist in the face of humility?  Was the love for her child more important to her than her own pride?  Thank God, the answer to both soul-wrenching questions was a resounding YES.  In dog-world, to which she was compared by the Lord Himself, when the one-paw approach was not enough, she went to the “two-paws-in-your-lap” strategy, and the Son of God loved it.
  • We are irresistible to God, our Father. Yes, even though Buckley’s adoration of his humans has much to do with providing his food and his fun, it’s apparent that there is something more that sparks his furry love for us. All it takes is for my husband to walk into the room for a thump-thump-thump with the tail to begin, and as we say in our house, “the tail does not lie”.  Likewise, even when we come to God from a beginning point of need, that beginning point is accepted and irresistible to Him.  Now granted, maturity of relationship demands more than the Santa Claus mentality.  Even our dog has learned that, and has learned to enjoy our companionship beyond mere provision.  Sometimes this maturity takes an “in-Your-lap” technique, a heart-after-Your-heart attitude, an “I-don’t-care-what-the-final-decision-is-or-how-long-it-takes-just-let-me-be-with-You-no-matter-what” approach.  To heaven, such a determination is, well, irresistible.

The March snow is still falling at about a 45 degree angle, and the service at church starts in about sixty seconds.  That’s too many numbers for me to deal with right now.  Besides, I think I just did what God wanted me to do at this time for this morning.  The Buck sleeps peacefully on the floor next to me as the antique school clock hanging on my wall ticks steadily on.  It reminds me that school starts again tomorrow, but this morning I have alone-time with God, with both paws in His lap.

Excerpt from God Loves Dogs, by Dawn Jones

#Godlovesdogs #relationship #mutt

Shouldn’t I still be in bed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still pouring….

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There’s a small(er) town near here with water that, um…smells.  Water isn’t really supposed to taste, much less smell, at least in my thinking.  I would go on record by warning anyone who visits this place to definitely not buy a fountain drink in town.  I am told that our town used to have water-plus also.  Sometime in the semi-recent past, the town fathers decided to go with something called “third-stage water treatment”.  I don’t know what that means, and although I still like to have bottled water in the house when we have guests, I’m definitely okay with drinking our H2O for myself, especially after visiting our little neighbor a few miles away.  Water of course, even the odiferous kind, is life-sustaining. Perspective, I guess.

Water is an apt comparison that Isaiah uses when he speaks of “pouring out that with which you sustain your own life”, as mentioned in last the couple of blogs.  We have important talents and experiences and qualities that help make us who we are, and we need to unafraid to share those when the opportunities arise.  But here’s an additional thought:

Lest I think Isaiah’s encouragement is giving me carte blanche for making my big splash in the world, a cautionary note is in order.  It can be quite tempting, after identifying  what seems to be a special talent or personal  “pearl”, to allow (or even worse, promote) myself as the focus in the situation.  I love the account of Peter and John after Jesus had risen, hung out for a few days and then returned home.  These two newly renewed men were walking into the temple when they saw a beggar, lame and sitting by the building asking for money.   Now lots of us grew up with the Sunday school song that was Peter’s reply, “silver and gold have I none, but such as I have, give I thee: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”  And the end result was pretty cool.

But what a lot of us old time Sunday-schoolers might have missed, is actually the first thing Peter said to the beggar.  He said,

“Look at us!”

After which, he proceeded with the other words (although I doubt that he sang them….)  My point is this—the reason for any attention being on me is not about me, at all.  I may have the best tasting, thirst quenching water ever created, but the water itself belongs to the One who created it; in fact, to put it succinctly, Jesus calls Himself the “living water.”  Now, I am to allow myself to be “seen”, which speaks to a certain level of vulnerability of course, but this personal visibility is to be immediately reflected upon God, who alone knows how to utilize the gifts He so wisely puts within us.

So, yeah, bottoms up!

Pigs and Pearls

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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.