September 7, 2019: I am starting to see tiny patches of gold leaves in a few of the trees. I don’t want to admit the truth: Summer is already ending.
It’s a beautiful concept — summertime in the garden and the rewarding work of preparing, planting, and enjoying the flowers or vegetables that result. But this was not that kind of year.
With snows lasting until almost the end of May and rain throughout most of June and July, part of the garden suffered from too little sun and too much water. June hailstones beat up blooms that are normally safe until nearly August.
But it wasn’t simply the physical side of gardening that presented a challenge, this summer. I discovered that this was the summer I needed to be putting more work into the “garden” of my 85-year-old mother’s life. Seeds and weeding, maintenance of a different sort needs to be taking place, and it is a process that will go far beyond the boundaries of normal planting cycles.
Psalm 28 states, “Blessed be the Lord, because He has heard the voice of my supplication. The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him and I am helped; therefore my heart exults, and with my song I shall thank Him.” (Psa. 28:6-7)
Like the cold of winter returning too quickly, this is not a season I am anticipating with any enthusiasm. I will have need of unfailing compassion and endurance, and trust my Jesus that this particular, drawn-out event, will bear spiritual fruit that will be of use and benefit to His body — “so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Cor. 1:4)
The shoes need to go on. The laces need to be tied. The road needs to be walked.
“But as for me, I will sing of Your strength; yes, I shall joyfully sing of Your lovingkindness in the morning, for You have been my stronghold and a refuge in the day of my distress.” (Psa. 59:16)
And Lord, let my days of distress be brightened and lightened by Your Presence, Your comforting touch, Your special measure of joy sprinkled — no, generously poured — over me as I walk through this valley shrouded by the shadow of death.
Welcome, Spring 2019. And the forecast so far: snow this week, snow last week, snow for weeks to come. The indoor Christmas cactus are blooming in colorful array. Matthew 6:8, in part, states, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” (NASB) The Lord knows the emotional perk-up I experience from the beauty of bright petals popping out from plain green stems…and here they come.
The flowering plants were a gift from a friend…a very beautiful gift that keeps on giving, often in unexpected seasons.
But let me jump back to Matthew 6:8, and share that same Scripture from The Amplified Bible, for it leads into a wonderful rendition of Jesus’ example of prayer: “This is your Father you are dealing with, and He knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this: “Our Father who is in heaven, reveal who You are. Set the world right; Do what’s best–as above, so below. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with You and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You’re in charge! You can do anything you want! You’re ablaze in beauty!”
Exalting God with the phrase, “You’re ablaze in beauty” speaks deeply to my heart. And every time I examine a new array of bright petals, that phrase flashes through my mind. My God, my heavenly-loving-kind-generous-best-friend Father…You are ablaze in never ending beauty!
September 15, 2018: although it’s still quite warm, there are fewer chipmunks scampering up our walls, I haven’t seen a hummingbird in a couple of weeks, and the Blue Jays are noticing a scarcity of easy-prey bugs and visiting the bird feeder more regularly.
But it was not a Jay to catch my attention one morning. I was watching an active little bird lean forward on the perch farther…farther…farther…until POP! right into the center glass cylinder he fell.
What had first appeared to him as an undisturbed time of feasting was quickly discovered to be a trap.
As small feathery wings flapped hard against the glass and its dark head flailed around in sudden fear of its unexpected predicament, I shook my head in disbelief even as I moved to set him free.
Even though birds have necessarily small brains–how could that bird not have seen what would come next? I asked myself, and then I chuckled, thinking how often we bring trouble onto ourselves through similar short-sightedness.
I wonder how often God has those similar head-shaking moments with us, as we lean farther…farther into something we want, something we think we will find satisfying, a perfect something — only to discover we have put ourselves in a pickle, so to speak, and are caught in a situation we can’t easily escape.
Carefully and slowly I worked on the rescue: off with the tightly-attached top. Twisting carefully and without shaking the glass, I slowly tilted the cylinder until just the right angle for successful flight was achieved. With a loud screeching chirp of either joyful success or total panic, the small chickadee flew out with a burst of great energy.
I watched the bird as it landed in a nearby tree, loudly chattering all the time in a language I wished I understood. And in the humor of that moment, I had compassion for the animal’s apparent fury, and I thought of Jesus’ compassion towards people who felt trapped and without hope.
As Jesus encountered large crowds of curious, questioning people, His internal response to them is recorded more than once: He “felt compassion for them, for they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matt. 9:36)
Then I thought about the concept of being trapped, and of Paul’s reminder to the Gentile Ephesians that they had been “strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” (Eph. 2:12)
Those two thoughts intertwined and seemed to be visually summed up in the little bird’s pitiful situation: trapped in a cylinder with no perch to climb out.
And then I heard this phrase run through my mind: But thanks be to God.
The rest of the scripture followed quickly. “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed.” (Rom. 6:17)
Paul’s phrase is recorded twice in the Book of Romans and four times he spoke it as he addressed the church at Corinth.
“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ…” (I Cor. 15:57)
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.” (2 Cor. 2:14)
Thanks be to God, who rescued us from the “cylinders” of our lives apart from Him, not simply tilting the container, but destroying it altogether.
“For through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and are of God’s household.” (Eph. 2:18-19)
Thanks be to God, indeed!
(previous post below: God’s Presence and walk with us through the different seasons and transitions of our lives)
August 15: the world has moved into August.
The pastel, jubilant blooms of June have faded and fallen. In their place, small flowery faces have emerged from foliage and the dark soil.
I have a sense of time’s cycle clicking forward a notch.
Although I am often annoyed by the random manner I hear parts of Ecclesiastes 3 quoted, as I look at the changing floral landscape, those same words echo in my thoughts: “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven.” The second verse states, “A time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.” (Ecc. 3:2)
I don’t plan to spend much time uprooting, but the changing colors and new growth definitely herald a changing season ahead.
“He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.” (Ecc. 3:11, NASB) The New International Version translates, “He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecc. 3:11)
I genuinely enjoy thinking about the concept of eternity being set in my heart. Although I admittedly will never fully fathom “what God has done,” there is much about His doing, His creating, His salvation, His Person, His love towards me that I can fathom. And that is cause to rejoice. It is cause to look beyond myself in times of challenging circumstances and blue-mood days to realize that though my current “blooms” are always in the process of fading and falling, He is constantly in the process of setting new buds in my life – and in yours – to come forth.
In Isaiah 43:13 the Lord proclaims, “Even from eternity I am He, and there is none who can deliver out of My hand; I act and who can reverse it?”
I act and who can reverse it…the verse that jumps into my thoughts is Paul proclaiming, “If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31-32)
I look back at my flowers in their ongoing cycles of blooming and dying. He freely gives us all things — during each of our seasons. During each of our transitions. Throughout all the different cycles of our lives.
(previous post, below: celebrating our independence from the grip of sin)
July 4: The Journal entry that would have been written here actually became my July post about “Shining On”….but there’s one more more brief statement I want to add about walking out our ability to be “lights in the dark.” Philippians 2:15 states, “Prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.” (italics added)
Our American Independence Day brings a special addition in meaning. As Paul wrote to the Romans, “Our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.” (Rom. 6:6)
We celebrate our independence from Great Britain….but as the fireworks go off, it is also a great time to think of how Jesus’ victory has give us independence from sin, a freedom that comes only from being in Him!
(previous post, below: watching expectantly to see God at work in our lives)
June 21: I was observing the profile of a particular soon-to-bloom daisy, the curve and angle of its lean, long stems. And I struggled to find just the word to describe their stance.
Then it came to me, with a chuckle. They looked expectant.
“Expectant” as in looking for something eagerly, earnestly leaning into the sun from its position of semi-shade. Firmly rooted in good soil and seeking the warmth and catalyst needed for growth and bloom.
Romans 8:15-17 has Paul teaching, “This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike ‘What’s next, Papa?’ God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are.” (The Message) In Psalm 119, the psalmist wrote, “For those who love what You have revealed, everything fits — no stumbling around in the dark for them. I wait expectantly for Your salvation.” (Psa 119:166, Msg) In Psalm 5, the author gives this testimony: “In the morning, Lord, You hear my voice; in the morning I plead my case to you and watch expectantly.” (Psa 5:3, Christian Standard Bible)
Watching expectantly…what a beautiful encouragement to embrace.
(previous post, below: God’s anticipation of our blooming with His fragrance and our beauty in His eyes)
JUNE 14: I am particularly fond of watching the Mtn. Lupine develop. First, the breaking of the soil and the tip of green pushing upward. Then the unfurling of small, jagged-edged leaves. A quick spurt of growth follows and the first-bloom structure forms.
I often think to myself, I see you coming up. I know what you will look like when you are in full bloom. You will stand taller and fuller than most of the other flowers and bushes around you — and oh, your beauty; that profuse growth of tiny little flowers encircling your stalk will create a magnificent display and provide a sweet, drifting scent.
I wait with anticipation…and I think that perhaps our Heavenly Father, who knitted us together in our mother’s wombs, thinks of us in the same way. He watches us with anticipation and expectation. He knows our potential, He knows the plans He will lay out before us, He knows the “good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10)
He walks beside us and, through His spirit, encourages us as He waits with anticipation and expectation for each day of our future together.
He yearns to see the beauty and savor the scent that will be created.
(Previous post, below: the eternal significance of ‘spiritual watering’ and the encouragement we can bring to others)
JUNE 9: It was nearly midnight and I was quite tired. Yet I found myself watering these lovely flower-filled pots, making sure an even flow from the stretched-out hose reached each one of them. Tomorrow I would leave them all in someone else’s care for several days, with a future forecast of hot days and no rain.
Leaving. Returning. Starting their week off with a healthy drink that would nurture them, refresh the dryness of their soil and roots before the relentless heat pressed against them again.
And in that odd time and place, as I thought about giving these flower pots a portion of refreshing, cold water, I thought of Jesus breaking bread with His disciples at the Last Supper: “While they were eating He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it, and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take it; this is My body.’ And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, ‘This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for any.'” (Mark 14:22-24) …His prayer in Gethsemane for those disciples and all the ones to follow: “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word…”(John 17:20)
Jesus poured over them a healthy portion of Living and Life-giving water for strength and courage as they would endure the withering heat that was to come.
I find the physical act of watering to be personally restorative even as the water benefits that which receives it. Proverbs 11:25 states, “The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters himself will be watered.” Most of the time I do not leave the garden area with wet feet…however, I do experience a certain satisfaction in knowing that roots will grow deeper, stalks and stems will grow stronger and taller, blooms will continue to blossom and display their intrinsic beauty — all because they have been nurtured and prepared to face the heat and dryness ahead.
We live in a universe of natural and spiritual parallels. The proper “spiritual watering” of people yields dramatic and potentially eternal results. The people you and I encounter are encouraged, refreshed, emboldened as we share His Living Water, roiling around deep within us. Words of encouragement, kindness, the sharing of godly perspective and affirmation of worth in the Father’s eyes. Holding up an umbrella of His Word when we encounter the hottest of days — “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” (I John 4:4)
We each have a role to play in each other’s lives. The apostle Paul taught, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.” (I Cor. 3:6)
Do you plant? Do you water? Do you cultivate or add nutrients? God is working in partnership with us at every step of the process.
(previous post, below: transformation, His glory in our earthen vessels, repeated blooming in the seasons of our lives)
MAY 25, 2018: Spring in the shadow of Pikes Peak sometimes creates a beautiful display in the nature around me…and sometimes less beautiful, depending on the snowfall/rainfall of the previous months. In my corner of drier-than-usual Colorado, it has been a year of the less-beautiful heralding of Spring. Nearby fields of grass are already looking autumnal and wind-blown, despite the fact that the official start-date of summer has not yet begun.
Nevertheless, whether surrounded by a dazzling — or less-dazzling — display of Spring, I eagerly anticipate the arrival of hummingbirds, flowers, butterflies, baby chipmunks. The dark garden soil in my large planters pulls apart to reveal familiar friends, as well as playing host to the roots of fresh, new faces.
This aspect of Spring transformation is part of what makes me anticipate its beginning…from barren, uninspiring pots of brown earth come glorious displays of the most wonderful kind. Two scriptures come to my mind as I meditate on the changes, the growth, the beauty.
2 Corinthians 4:7 states, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.” (NASB)
Earthen vessels. We are each an earthen vessel of some sort. There are seeds in each of us waiting to sprout forth into glorious bloom. Like my perennial Asiatic lilies, there are also plantings of the Lord in each of us that bloom repeatedly, season after season. Each one may resemble the last one, but at the same time, the “sameness” is swallowed by the newness. Same plant…fresh bloom. Fresh aroma. Fresh color.
The second scripture that comes to my mind is in I Corinthians 15. The apostle Paul states of seeds, “You do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds, a body of its own.” (I Cor. 15:37-38, NASB)
Today I planted some sunflower seeds. I will see no sign of growth for several days, but I expect that the soil will soon reveal very small green stems and leaves sprouting forth…and what I first see will not resemble the bloom to follow in several weeks. Likewise, the tiny yellow flower of my newly planted pepper plant does not represent the slender green pepper to follow.
We are all in process. We all experience seasons of spiritual springtime, burying seeds from His Spirit deep in our lives…and what He has planted may look different than what we expected, as it is fully revealed. This is part of the cycle of our lives.
The apostle John shared, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” (I John 3:2, NASB)
Right now, we primarily see us. Sometimes, when we peer closely into the mirror, we can see a faint resemblance of Him. As what has been buried continues to mature and be formed by His hands, His imagination, His love, we will see how He and we are more similar than we now imagine.