Incoming!

IWAA7The college’s bell tower had not yet rung 6AM, and the sun was still coming up over the wheat that was drying out from the recent rains, which had at least brought in cooler weather.  So sipping hot tea on my patio while donning a sweatshirt in southern Missouri in mid-June was a real treat.  Birds singing, an occasional rooster (even though we live in town), and my big black dog was not panting yet.  Not bad at all for a summer Monday morning!

Until a bird decided to critique yesterday’s sermon notes: Continue reading “Incoming!”

#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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bring on the birds!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patio vs. Tree

From my patio
From my patio

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

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

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

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

Now, then, let’s fire up the grill!

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