The new dress, take 3

Who would have thought you could get so much spiritual mileage out of a gift card? Yet here I am with one final, albeit shorter, meditation based on my daughter-funded dress- shopping experience.

As recounted in the first installment of this trilogy, I had a specific image in mind – cut and fabric – when I set off for the mall in search of a new frock for the Rose Garden Gala. After perusing the selection at several retail establishments and finding nothing resembling the hoped-for design, I reluctantly accepted I’d have to compromise. I tried on multiple dresses, comparing each to my imagined ideal. I eventually selected one for the Gala and was quite content wearing it to the event, even though it wasn’t exactly what I’d envisioned buying.

I’m thankful no compromise is necessary when it comes to my image in Christ. As discussed in “take 2”, when God looks at me, He sees the righteousness of his perfect Son even though I continue to struggle with sin and temptation and will until I’m called Home.[1] Through the work of the Spirit, I’m being transformed,[2] conformed more and more to the likeness of Christ.[3]

And so it is for all who believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord. We have the assurance that He who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of his return[4] when we gather around the throne. There, clothed in our spotless garments, we will praise and worship him forever.[5]

In closing, I offer one of my favorite passages from The Valley of Vision:

“I have no robe to bring to cover my sins,
no loom to weave my own righteousness;
I am always standing clothed in filthy garments,
and by grace am always receiving change of raiment,
for thou dost always justify the ungodly;

I am always going into the far country,
and always returning home as a prodigal,
always saying, Father, forgive me,
and thou art always bringing forth the best robe.

Every morning let me wear it,
every evening return in it,
go out to the day’s work in it,
be married in it,
be wound in death in it,
stand before the great white throne in it,
enter heaven in it shining as the sun.

Grant me never to lose sight of
the exceeding sinfulness of sin,
the exceeding righteousness of salvation,
the exceeding glory of Christ,
the exceeding beauty of holiness,
the exceeding wonder of grace.”[6]

[1] See Romans 7:14-24 for Paul’s description of wrestling with sin.

[2] Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18

[3] Romans 8:29

[4] Philippians 1:6

[5] Revelation 3:4-5; Revelation 7:9-19; Revelation 22:14

[6] Bennett, Arthur,The Valley of Vision, A collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, Edinburgh, 1975, The Banner of Truth Trust.

The new dress, take 2

I remember the moment even if I can’t recall the exact date . . . the moment when I realized I truly wasn’t good enough.

A number of childhood experiences – an inconsistent relationship with my dad; often being described as “smart”, but rarely “pretty”; enduring a pudgy pre-adolescence during which classmates called me names – planted seeds of doubt deep inside. I was unaware of their presence. Focusing instead on navigating my teen and college years, I attempted to fit in and find acceptance. But by the time I reached young adulthood, the vines had grown into tangled masses, their tendrils wrapped tightly around my heart. I kept people at arm’s length, even those in my inner circle, fearful that if they really knew me they’d reject me.

I was married, a young mother of two precious daughters, when the Master Gardener said, “Enough!” As is often the case, the Lord chose a surprising method to begin my reclamation: a secular self-awareness workshop my then-manager encouraged me to take, paid for by my employer. The psychologist-led sessions were intense. Through the various exercises and discussions I came to recognize the subconscious message underlying my beliefs. In spite of my academic and career accomplishments, my loving family and a group of caring friends, I felt I wasn’t good enough to be loved or accepted.

Just as the restoration of an overgrown garden requires time and tenderness, there were many weeds of doubt to be removed before the seeds of understanding and truth could thrive. I turned to a counselor and pastor for assistance. The weeks passed and progress was made. The moment alluded to above, a bona fide epiphany, occurred as I was driving home from a counseling session. The reality flooded my being: “In myself, I’m not good enough, but in Christ I’m perfect!”

I’d been baptized and professed my faith some 17 years earlier. I trusted Christ alone for my salvation[1] and, with the Spirit’s help, tried to walk in a manner worthy of my calling.[2]  Nonetheless, the gloriously-freeing realization that God sees Jesus’ perfection when He looks at me became heart-not-head knowledge that day and continues to serve as a reliable rebuttal when the old misgivings resurface.

Like seeds that remain dormant until the right conditions are present, concerns regarding my unworthiness reemerge from time to time. I expect they will as long as I’m in the flesh. Like Paul’s thorn, those consternations draw me closer to God, making me ever-dependent on his strength and assurances.[3]

Because of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice I am:

  • A child of the King. (John 1:12-13; Romans 8:16; 1 John 3:1)
  • A co-heir with Christ. (Romans 8:17)
  • Robed in his righteousness, without spot or blemish. (Colossians 1:22)
  • Forgiven. (Psalm 103:11-14; Isaiah 1:18; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:13-14)
  • Welcomed into my Father’s presence. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
  • Watched over. (Psalm 33:18; Psalm 34:15)
  • Provided for. (Matthew 6:25-34)
  • Promised an eternal dwelling place. (John 14:1-3)
  • Strengthened by the Spirit. (Romans 8:11; Ephesians 3:16; Philippians 2:13)
  • Irrevocably loved and accepted. (10:27-29)

By now you may be wondering about the title of this post, but I promise there’s a connection to my last one. As noted therein, my generous daughters gave me a gift card so I could buy an outfit for the Rose Garden Gala. Getting dressed up for a special occasion is an infrequent treat. I felt a bit like a princess as I left my house . . . then, unexpectedly, a joyful thought manifested itself: I am a princess, a beloved daughter of the King! What a contrast to my thought patterns before I attended that workshop and subsequently entered counseling 25 years ago. It’s been a long, sometimes arduous, but most-decidedly-fruitful journey since. The faithful Gardener continues to prune and till, removing pesky vines and noxious weeds before they gain purchase in the soil of my soul. The seeds of truth now flourish and his tender ministrations remind me who I am.

My prayer, fellow believers, is the same as Paul’s desire for the Ephesians: “may (we) have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that (we) may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”[4] For once we have even a glimpse of Jesus’ sacrificial, unconditional, eternal love for us our perspective is forever changed.

We may not look like much in the world’s eyes, but in our Father’s eyes, we’re perfect.

[1] John 14:6

[2] Colossians 1:9-10

[3] 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10

[4] Ephesians 3:14-19

The new dress

I hadn’t bought a dress in over six years! After all, I have a number of barely-worn frocks in my closet, leftovers from my former life in the corporate arena. Clothing acquisitions since my involuntary-but-oh-so-fulfilling retirement have been more casual and often suitable for gardening – think work boots, fishing shirts[1], wide-brimmed hats. Nonetheless, my thoughtful daughters provided motivation for me to deviate from my post-career-apparel shopping habits. The incentive came in the form of a gift card expressly intended for the purchase of a new dress for the Rose Garden Gala, the major fund raising event for the botanical garden where I volunteer.

Not only was I touched by Mary and Jessie’s kindness, I was genuinely excited about acquiring a new outfit. Armed with the gift card and a specific mental image of the preferred silhouette and fabric, I set off for the mall. Those who know me best are well-aware of the fact shopping doesn’t top my list of favorite pastimes. Aimlessly wandering through retail establishments is not my idea of entertainment. (Notable exception: strolling around plant nurseries!)

By the time I spent almost three hours trying on dresses I was frustrated and hungry. I’d also re-confirmed why I consider the phrase “shopping for fun” to be an oxymoron. However, I finally made it to Starbucks for refreshment triumphantly carrying not one, but three dresses, including the item I wore to the Gala. The night of the event found me buoyed by my perky new outfit as well as my daughters’ generosity.

Scripture doesn’t condemn dressing up, looking nice, applying make-up, but there are numerous passages that address inner and outer beauty from God’s perspective. For example:

  • Peter’s first epistle reminds us our beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. “Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”[2]
  • When Samuel was trying to discern who God had chosen to be Israel’s king, the Lord instructed him, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”[3]
  • Jesus decried the duplicity of the Jewish leaders exclaiming, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.”[4]
  • Jesus emphasized the importance of our inner condition yet again when he stated, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.”[5]
  • The phrase “good treasure” brings to mind Jesus’ teaching to store up our treasure in heaven where, unlike material treasure, it is safe for eternity.[6]

Even if a glance in the mirror didn’t confirm the veracity of Proverbs’ declaration that “beauty is fleeting”[7], 5-year-old Joshua’s occasional, “You’re really old, Grammie!” reminds me of the inevitability of the effects of aging. Compared to the smooth skin and lineless faces of his little sisters, my visage, etched with almost six decades of smiles, grimaces and furrowed brows must seem truly ancient to him. I was comforted by a passage in a book I’m currently reading. The author referred to the radiance promised those who look to the Lord, instead of dwelling on circumstances.[8] She went on to describe an “aunt who was still radiant in her nineties. If wrinkles can glow, hers did. Aunt Hazel had a way of making everyone feel like a special object of love.”[9]

IMG_3444 (2)I immediately thought of my own dear mother. Time has taken a toll on her physically, but her eyes are bright, her smile warm and inviting. Mom has always had an exceptional affinity for children.  The attraction is mutual and she’s forged a special friendship with 4-year-old Addie at church, as well as with a 7-year-old neighbor. But she befriends young and old alike with her kindness and encouragement. Mom speaks from the overflow of good treasure in her heart and I can only imagine how full her heavenly storehouse is as she’s laid up imperishable riches for years.

Beauty is fleeting, but as Proverbs goes on to say, “a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”[10] May we be women who live in reverent obedience to the Lord, cultivating an inner beauty that never fades away.

(Although written primarily for my female readers, I hope any men who read all the way to the end were able to glean a helpful spiritual nugget or two!)

[1] I could do a commercial for Columbia’s PFG shirts for women! SPF protection, light-weight, quick-dry fabric – not just for fishing, great for gardening too!

[2] 1 Peter 3:3-4

[3] 1 Samuel 16:7

[4] Matthew 3:27

[5] Matthew 34b-35, ESV

[6] Matthew 6:19-21

[7] Proverbs 31:30a

[8] Psalm 34:5

[9] Sara Ann Dubose, “Be Anxious for Nothing”, pg. 62, Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL, 2001, rev. 2015

[10] Proverbs 31:30b, note: “fear” in this case refers to reverence for and obedience to God, not “terror”.

Passalongs

Sharing plants is one of the many joys of being a gardener. The tradition is especially strong in the South. In fact, some varieties known as passalong plants aren’t readily available for purchase. Instead they’ve survived for decades by being passed along from one generation of horticulture enthusiasts to the next.

Although I don’t have anything particularly difficult to come by in my garden, I’m blessed to have numerous plants given to me by fellow plant lovers: hosta from an aunt who had the greenest of thumbs; a hydrangea grown from a cutting of a friend’s father’s plant; multiple trilliums dotting the woods, offspring of a lone rescue plant; mayapples, spurred violets, several varieties of ferns. The list would be quite extensive if I catalogued each leafy gift. And then there are all the treasured items Ray planted that continue to flourish some 20 years after his passing.

Tending these perennials and woodies, anticipating their return each year and watching them grow gives me a great deal of pleasure, pleasure which is multiplied by remembering the people and circumstances which led to them being in my garden. I also think of plants I’ve shared now growing in friends’ gardens and I smile.

As much as I relish exchanging plants, I recognize I’ve been entrusted with something much more precious to pass along: my faith. Although trusting God and acknowledging Jesus as Savior and Lord are gifts only God can give[1], He commissions us to tell others about his great love.[2] Our first responsibility is to our families. We’re advised to teach our children his commandments as we go about our daily lives[3] and to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.[4] But our mandate to reach others with the Good News doesn’t end there. We are to be light, living in such a way that we glorify our Father[5], always prepared to give an answer to those who wonder where our hope comes from. [6]

In fact, when we consistently live out our faith, God can use even the smallest details to reach others. I’m reminded of this when I recall a long-ago conversation with a business associate. I casually remarked I was glad our meeting had ended earlier than planned so I could make it to Bible study that evening. Several weeks later she asked if she could talk to me about my beliefs, having been encouraged to do so by my offhanded comment regarding Bible study.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul mentions different roles we might assume in others’ spiritual journeys. We may be called to sow seeds, to water,[7] to weed . . .

. . . Ok, I added the part about weeding, but I think its importance can be inferred from Jesus’ parable of the sower since the seeds that sprouted among the thorns were soon overcome by their weedy cohorts. Similarly, faith may be smothered by the worries of this life and become unfruitful [8], but I digress . . .

. . . In spite of the great privilege we have to labor in God’s fields, doing our part to ensure a plentiful harvest, Paul goes on to make it clear that God alone is the One who brings about growth.[9] Likewise, Jesus referred to himself as the true vine, his Father as the Gardener, and we, his followers, as the branches. As long as we abide in him we will produce much fruit, but apart from him we can do nothing.[10]

I cherish the passalong plants in my garden and the friends who gave them to me. Even more, I treasure those who’ve planted, watered and weeded my spiritual garden and the blessing of doing the same in the lives of my fellow sojourners. May we hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, considering how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds[11] as we make our way most assuredly back to the Garden, for He who promised is faithful.

[1] Ephesians 2:8-9

[2] Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15

[3] Deuteronomy 6:4-9

[4] Ephesians 6:4

[5] Matthew 5:

[6] 1 Peter 3:15-16

[7] 1 Corinthians 3:5-6a

[8] Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23; Mark 4:1-9, 14-20; Luke 8:4-8, 11-15

[9] 1 Corinthians 3:6b-7

[10] John 15:5

[11] Hebrews 10:23-24

‘Tis so sweet

Probably not the heading you’d expect for a reflection on two decades of widowhood . . . at least not until you complete the title of the cherished hymn, ’Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus and recall its first verse: “’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, Just to take Him at His word, Just to rest upon His promise, Just to know ‘Thus saith the Lord.’” [1] As I’ve contemplated writing this memorial post, the refrain of that anthem has come to my mind repeatedly: “Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him! How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er! Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus! O for grace to trust Him more!”[2]

This time 20 years ago I was in a daze, a protective state of shock. On some level I recognized the need to make decisions regarding my 39-year old husband’s services – visitation, funeral, burial. So many decisions brought about by his sudden death the night before. But more than anything I just felt numb. My thoughts churned. “How could he have gone to work and not come home? Surely he’ll drive up any minute now, won’t he?” My mind and emotions grappled with the surreal situation I found myself in.

It was a Sunday and my house was full as friends came and went all day. Many heard the news at church, where we would normally have spent our morning had the unthinkable not occurred. Visitors came bearing food and encouraged me to eat, but I had no appetite. All I wanted was to be with Ray, to somehow help him, to know he was ok. When I finally got to see him on Tuesday afternoon, the knot in my stomach began to relax. I know that sounds contradictory, but in viewing his lifeless body I knew he was beyond any help I could offer. Furthermore, I was comforted to know his spirit was with the Lord. He was much more than ok. He was Home.[3]

Decisions were made, relatives and out-of-town friends made arrangements to attend the services – visitation Wednesday evening, funeral Thursday morning, burial in North Carolina on Friday afternoon. I can recall the events of that week in vivid detail. The people who gathered around us; prayers so abundant and fervent I could feel them; numerous gestures of support. I remember and am thankful.055

The flurry of activity and visitors eventually subsided and my daughters, ages 10 and 7, and I were left to contend with reality. I don’t recollect how many nights passed before one or more of us didn’t cry ourselves to sleep, how long it was before my subconscious stopped expecting Ray to come home from work, or when a “new normal” finally took hold. The raw pain of loss eventually diminished, but the longing to talk to Ray, to have my wise and loving partner by my side remains to this day.

So much has happened since that warm week in April, the daily ins and outs of life plus birthdays, graduations, weddings and the arrival of grandchildren. These momentous occasions were bittersweet without Ray to share them, but there has been much joy nonetheless.

Because God has never forsaken us![4]

From the second we heard the devastating news in a tiny room at Kennestone hospital to this very moment, God has been a faithful defender of this widow and a Father to her fatherless girls.[5] As I’ve thought about what to write on this 20th anniversary, each hardship that came to mind was met with a “but God”. A few examples: He made it possible for my parents to move to Georgia to help me raise Mary and Jessie, provided friends who’ve faithfully prayed for us and offered other assistance as needed, and he allowed me to be gainfully employed all the years my daughters were dependent upon me and my income. In addition there are the over-and-above gifts, like getting to go back to school to study horticulture.

I’ve often said if there’d been a signup sheet entitled “Get to know God better by losing your Husband”, I wouldn’t have put my name on it. Yet God sovereignly saw fit to add the roles of widow and single parent to my resumé. I have no doubt I’ve come to know him far better than if I’d had my earthly husband and provider to depend on. And so I can say as Louisa M.R. Stead did in the last stanza of her hymn, “I’m so glad I learned to trust Him, Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend, And I know that He is with me, Will be with me to the end.”

God owes me nothing, including explanations. Although I don’t remember ever being angry with God, I have wondered on more than one occasion why he took Ray so young. I’d reason it made no sense because he was a kind, caring spouse, parent, friend. But God sending his perfect Son to die in my place doesn’t make sense either.[6] Moreover, it is ample proof of his infinite and unconditional love. Yet He constantly pours out reminders, blessings both big and small.

Although my girls and I bear the scars of losing a beloved father and husband all-too-soon (at least from a human perspective), the Lord has comforted us that we might comfort others.[7] He has bestowed upon us the oil of joy instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.[8] Some who’ve witnessed our journey comment on our strength. May they recognize that apart from the Lord we would have none.[9] We are a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor[10]. Truly all praise, glory and honor belong to him alone.

 

[1] Louisa M.R. Stead, lyrics; William J. Kirkpatrick, music, 1882

[2] Ibid

[3] 2 Corinthians 5:1-9

[4] Deuteronomy 31:6

[5] Psalm 68:5

[6] 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

[7] 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

[8] Isaiah 61:3a

[9] See, for example Psalm 46:1-3, Psalm 73:25-26 and Isaiah 40:28-31

[10] Isaiah 61:3b

He didn’t have to do it

I’d reconciled myself to the fact I probably wasn’t going to make it to The Pocket this year. Weather, friends’ schedules, my commitments – things weren’t aligning favorably and the window for making my annual trek was closing . . . but then came last Sunday.

It was a beautiful Sabbath day, perfect for a field trip. As I awaited the start of morning worship, I contemplated the brilliant blue sky, the backdrop visible through large windows behind the pulpit. It wasn’t difficult to imagine the wildflowers calling to me, beckoning me to return to the place I’ve come to refer to as “God’s Garden”. I knew I would be sorely disappointed if I didn’t go. And so, after service, I invited a friend to accompany me, scratched my plans for the afternoon and headed to a truly amazing place.

The Pocket at Pigeon Mountain, located in Walker County, Georgia, is home to a dazzling array of wildflowers.[1] When I first had the pleasure of visiting in the spring of 2013, one of my initial questions was, “Did someone plant all these flowers?” When I was informed the plants had sprung up and flourished there due to advantageous conditions, I was overwhelmed. To my believing heart, I recognized and embraced it as an incredible gift from a loving Father, the Almighty Creator. That sense of awe has accompanied every visit I’ve made since.

As I’ve alluded to in previous posts, when I began to study horticulture I was astounded at the number of different kinds of plants that exist. So much variety and diversity! Consider, for example that there are approximately 600 species of oak trees and 250 species of camellias.[2] I suppose God could have created one kind of tree, a solitary selection of shrub, a single type of rose and left it at that. But he didn’t! I wonder if the vast array of plants (not to mention people, animals, insects . . .) isn’t at least partly a result of the sheer joy of creating and God’s desire to instill joy in us as we observe the complexity and beauty in the world around us.

IMG_3023To be sure, life in this world can be difficult.[3] From personal hardships to international conflict, we don’t have to look very far to find trouble. But we don’t have to look far to find evidence of God’s abiding love either. My heart sings when I’m at The Pocket, but it also soars when I find a returning trillium peeking out of the leaves in my woods, watch my granddaughter take her first tentative steps, or listen as a friend shares how God is working in her life.

Before the foundation of the world, God knew the choices we’d make, how we’d turn away from him. Nonetheless, he spoke this amazingly beautiful world into existence. He created men and women in his image and placed them in a perfect garden.[4] Yet Adam and Eve tried to usurp his rightful place[5], something their progeny have desired to do ever since.

Complete in himself and lacking nothing, God could have turned away from his ungrateful creatures. But he didn’t! Instead he sent his one and only Son to save us.[6] Jesus was pierced for our transgressions, his punishment brought us peace, his wounds healed us.[7] Therefore, we have the promise of abundant life now[8] and eternal life in his presence when he returns to restore all things.[9]

Until then, may we gratefully recognize the multitude of gifts surrounding us, ever thanking the Father for his lavish love.[10]

I hope you’ll enjoy this sampling of photos I took Sunday afternoon:

 

 

[1] For additional information on The Pocket, check out the US Wildflowers Journal site: http://journal.uswildflowers.com/spring-wildflowers-at-the-pocket-at-pigeon-mountain/

[2] Information on oaks from Wikipedia, on camellias from the American Camellia Society.

[3] John 16:33 – Jesus told us to expect trouble, but to take heart because he has overcome the world.

[4] Genesis 1:1-31

[5] Genesis 3:1-7

[6] John 3:16

[7] Isaiah 53:5

[8] John 10:10, Romans 5:17

[9] Revelation 21:1-5

[10] 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

The impostor

I’ve killed my share of plants over the years . . . and I’ve cared for a few longer than I should have.

My garden is home to a beautiful stand of native columbines, offspring of plants my late husband started over 20 years ago. Like a number of other gardening tasks, ensuring the survival of the columbines was something I had to learn-by-doing after Ray passed away suddenly one warm April evening. As I cut back the spent flowers later that spring, I realized they were laden with seeds. Many spurted out when I cut the dried stems, dotting the ground and decorating my shirt. I decided to sprinkle more around for good measure. And sprinkle I did, shaking pod after pod of dried columbines.

Months passed. Raising two young daughters alone and trying to find my footing in a world turned upside down consumed much of my time and energy. But winter waned, warmer days returned and the garden beckoned me. A reconnaissance stroll yielded a number of finds – tiny plants emerging from their winter slumber. “Hmm”, I wondered. “What could all those leaves springing up in the front bed be?” Then I remembered scattering columbine seeds everywhere. It worked! I’ve continued the sprinkling tradition ever since and each year I’ve been blessed with a bumper crop.

IMG_2890

A young columbine on the left with a weedy wannabe on the right.

When I was first taking stock of the returning plants, I noticed some leaves that looked almost like columbine foliage with a similar growth habit. Not wanting to pull up desirable plants, I decided to let them develop until I was sure. Big mistake! By the time I realized they were weeds, they’d put down roots, matured and reproduced. The imposters return each spring alongside the columbines, hiding out, hoping I won’t spot them. But after almost two decades of observation and careful scrutiny, I’m able to readily detect the difference, even when the plants are still very small. I pluck them out before they have a chance to get established and take over valuable garden real estate.

 

Just like my early dealings with the weeds, it’s easy to let questionable behavior or dubious conduct gain a foothold. We rationalize, “Looks like a good thing. I’m not sure, but it won’t hurt to try it out, at least until I’m certain. I can redirect later if need be.” By the time we recognize the situation for what it is, it’s much more difficult to handle than if we’d been more spiritually discerning from the start. Unlike the weeds which really aren’t out to get me, we have an adversary bent on our destruction. Though he knows his ultimate defeat is certain[1], he prowls about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may destroy.[2] He masquerades as an angel of light[3], tempting with promises that seem oh-so-reasonable, all while minimizing potential consequences.[4]

Fortunately, there is a way to resist him. We must draw near to God[5], making use of the mighty armor He provides for us.[6] As we think on his powerful word, described in Ephesians 6 as the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, our minds are transformed and we are enabled more and more to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.[7]

4-5-2015, Columbine 1As the colony of columbines has become more dominant over the years, there’s less room for the pesky intruders. Those that do appear don’t get to stay around very long since I can now easily identify them. Just as I’ve consistently sprinkled columbine seeds and studied the resulting plants’ appearance, let us liberally sow God’s truth in our lives and meditate on its teachings. In so doing, may we weed out temptations and lies before they have a chance to entice and entangle us.

 

[1] 1 Corinthians 15

[2] 1 Peter 5:8

[3] 2 Corinthians 11:14

[4] Genesis 3:1-5

[5] James 4:7-8

[6] Ephesians 6:10-17

[7] Romans 12:2

Dust moments

My mood was as gray as the rainy day. I thought I got up on the right side of the bed, but a series of small frustrations throughout the morning pushed me to the edge of tears more than once. I made my way to an afternoon appointment safely and was looking forward to a stop at Starbucks afterwards. Sadly, there would be no tea and pumpkin bread for me.

Nothing happened when I tried to start my car . . . absolutely nothing. There are so many things we do without really having to think about them – starting a car is one of them. But when no humming of the engine resulted from my mindless procedure, I began to look at each component of the process. Finding nothing wrong with my method and making note the lights were working indicating the problem most likely wasn’t a dead battery, I gave up and called the car dealer. A service advisor talked me through a few more attempts to start it, to no avail. I’d have to have it towed.

As I awaited the arrival of the tow truck, I did my best to stave off a full-blown pity party. I exhorted myself with truth: “It’s a car.” “It can be fixed or replaced.” “This isn’t what you planned, but you’re not in a hospital with a friend who’s undergoing her last-chance chemo treatment”, which is exactly where one of my dear sisters in Christ was at that very moment. [1]

The tenuous calm I’d talked myself into was short-lived. As the tow truck driver loaded my car, he told me he’d already picked up five of the same make and model that day. In describing what was most likely wrong, he went as far as to say, “Get it fixed and sell it.”

My mind was in turmoil. I like my car A LOT, even though it’s almost 8 years old. It’s sleek and fun to drive. I was hoping he might have been embellishing the situation a bit, but some Googling that evening confirmed a defect so prevalent one consumer group has been pressuring the car maker to issue a recall. So far they’d only extended the warranty on the faulty part to six years, which did me no good. Furthermore, the repair was a pricey one.

Still preaching truth to myself – “We’re not supposed to worry. Trust God for the details!”[2] – I went to bed praying I’d sleep through the night in spite of my troubled mind. Alas, I woke up around 3am and try as I might to pray myself back to sleep, I was still awake when my alarm went off at 6:30am. I listlessly made my way through my morning routine, wondering how I’d ever have the energy to care for my three grandchildren all day.

As I was preparing to walk out the door, my phone rang. My service advisor called to let me know my car was ready to go, repaired at no charge to me under a recently-issued recall. As I thanked him and hung up, I dissolved into tears of gratitude . . . and remorse. Once again I was praying, this time asking God to forgive me for worrying and trying to piece together solutions in the wee hours of the morning. And just as quickly, I felt my Father’s embrace and his sweet assurance that he knows I’m dust.

IMG_2930Psalm 103 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. Verses 13 and 14 are especially dear to me: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers we are dust.”[3] Even though I’ve walked with the Lord for over 40 years, I still have anxious times of hand wringing, speak words I later regret, behave in ways unbecoming a daughter of the King. I’ve come to refer to such episodes as my dust moments.

IMG_2929My devotional reading that night included these insights from James Packer: “There is unspeakable comfort in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love, and watching over me for my good. There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love toward me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me.”[4]

As two tumultuous days drew to a close, my Father wanted to make sure I got the message: “Don’t be so hard on yourself. I know you are dust and I love you anyway. I always will.”

 

[1] Please see “Thrashing about, epilogue” (Archives, February 2016) for more thoughts on keeping things in perspective.

[2] Matthew 6:25-34

[3] NIV translation

[4] James Packer, “Your Father Loves You”, March 8th, Harold Shaw Publishers, Wheaton, IL, 1986.

Bearing all things

One of my favorite things about living in the South is the relatively mild winters. We generally have a handful of bitterly cold days each year, but we’re just as likely to get days with above-average temperatures and early glimpses of spring. This year is no different. We were iced-in the first weekend of the New Year, but have been blessed with many warm, sunny days since. The moderate weather has coaxed a number of plants from their slumber, including daffodils, quince, spirea and my tiny trout lily. I’ve passed pleasant moments strolling around various neighborhoods, my little property and Smith-Gilbert Gardens relishing the re-awakening.

Unfortunately, this is also the time of year when I’m confronted with the results of crape murder, the practice of severely pruning lovely crape myrtles, sometimes back to their main trunks. Oh the carnage! Observing these maimed specimens makes me cringe.

img_2811

One of this year’s victims.

I watched the abused tree whose photograph I featured in the February 2015 post, “Prudent Pruning”, as I passed by it almost daily last summer. Sure enough, it put out new growth, though sadly out of scale with the remaining base, and even bloomed. Such is the case with most crape myrtles. In spite of being mercilessly whacked-back, they persevere and bring forth flowers.

 

As I observed and pondered, I reflected on how some people are much like the crape myrtles. Frequently wounded and taken for granted even by those they love, they nevertheless bear the fruit of the Spirit[1] and the sweet fragrance of life.[2] They faithfully serve, knowing Whom it is they ultimately seek to please.[3]

1 Corinthians 13 is often referred to as the “Love Chapter” and is frequently read at weddings. Verses 4 through 8a describe love as follows:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”[4]

Many years ago a Bible study leader suggested to our group that we try reading through these verses using our name, e.g. Patsy is patient and kind, and so forth. We laughed uncomfortably knowing we couldn’t meet those high standards, at least not consistently. Then our leader suggested we substitute “Jesus”. We were quiet as we contemplated the beauty and perfection of our Savior, God’s gift of love incarnate.

He was rejected, misunderstood and beaten. He was betrayed by a kiss from one disciple[5] while another denied ever being with him.[6] Yet he bore all things, most importantly our sins[7], that we might become like him, beloved children of the King, co-heirs with the Son.[8]

Jesus made it clear that the current world order will be turned upside down when he returns – the first shall be last, the least shall be greatest, the meek shall inherit the earth.[9] As we await his promised return, we can be confident we’re not alone.[10] Even now he is seated at the right hand of God[11] interceding for us.[12] Therefore, may we not grow weary in doing good, regardless of the response we receive now, knowing that in due season we will reap if we do not give up.[13]

[1] Galatians 5:22-23a

[2] 2 Corinthians 2:14-15

[3] Colossians 3:23-24

[4] ESV translation

[5] Judas’ betrayal is recounted in Matthew 26:48-50, Mark 14:44-45 and Luke 22:47-48

[6] Peter’s denial is recorded in Mark 14:66-72 and John 18:15-18, 25-27

[7] Isaiah 53:4-6

[8] Romans 8:14-17

[9] See Matthew 20:16, Matthew 23:11-12 and Matthew 5:5 respectively

[10] Joshua 1:5b, Hebrews 13:5b-6

[11] There are numerous references to Jesus’ place at the right hand of God including Luke 22:69, Colossians 3:1 and Hebrews 8:1.

[12] Hebrews 7:25

[13] Galatians 6:9-10

The letter

As I’ve admitted in previous posts, I’m a keeper, especially when it comes to things with sentimental value, mementos associated with the numerous trips I’ve taken throughout my life and items that might be useful at some point in the future. After nearly six decades, I’ve accumulated a lot of stuff that fits into one or more of those categories. Hence I’ve decided to start cleaning out bit by bit, box by box so my dear daughters won’t have quite so much to wade through later.

Since making this decision several weeks ago, I’ve managed to sort through approximately half a carton of keepsakes from the years I spent in Argentina. Pitifully slow-going to be sure as day-to-day demands are more pressing than dealing with boxes in the attic and basement.

img_2777Upon opening the aforementioned carton, I spied the beautiful scrapbook given to me by my 6th grade Spanish teachers, Señor Alvarez and Señora de López. It’s full of postcards and photos accompanied by my notations of dates and places. But, placed inside the front cover, I found a long-hidden treasure. It was the letter Señor Alvarez wrote to go along with the gift. Reading his kind words of affirmation and good wishes for future success affected me far more than flipping through the pages of the scrapbook itself. His words were the real gift, one that touched a 13-year old girl as well as the woman she became.

I have other similar gems tucked in boxes and drawers and files. Meaningful, heart-felt notes from family and friends, received on various special occasions or for no reason other than to reach out. Birthday cards, expressions of sympathy, thank you notes. From childish scribble to elegant cursive. Each in its own way says, “You matter to me.”

Written or spoken, our words can have lasting significance for good or for harm. Scripture instructs us to encourage one another and to refrain from unwholesome speech.[1] Proverbs 12:18 states, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing”, while Proverbs 16:24 declares, “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”[2] James tells us man’s anger is contrary to the righteousness God desires[3] then goes on to explain in great detail how difficult it is to tame the tongue and how much damage it can cause.[4]

Furthermore, we don’t know when we’ll no longer have the opportunity to tell someone what they mean to us or to apologize for an angry word spoken in haste. After I read the letter eloquently penned in Spanish so many years ago, I longed to tell Señor Alvarez how much his words meant to me and how my life has turned out since he wrote them. But time and distance make that impossible.

Sometimes death is the cause of separation. On occasion it comes quickly and without warning. I need no reminder of this, having unexpectedly lost my husband to a heart attack shortly after his 39th birthday. Nonetheless, every so often the reminders come. Such was the case last week as I attended the funeral for a dear woman I worked with years ago. Her brother, a pastor, conducted the service. He eulogized his sister and shared fond memories, including how she ended their last conversation in her customary way, “I love you Brother.” Marcie was my age and her sudden passing has given me reason to reflect, once again, on the brevity of life; to remember we don’t always know when last goodbyes are being said.

Believers look to the Bible as our only rule for faith and practice, recognizing the sufficiency of Scripture[5] as well as its supremacy.[6] Yet the all-powerful Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.[7] Jesus’ coming was promised immediately after the fall[8] and foretold throughout the Old Testament.[9] The Gospels proclaim his birth and detail his earthly ministry. Revelation gives us a glimpse of eternity in the presence of God.[10] And so for me the Bible is a love letter from beginning to end. A divinely-inspired account, full of promises kept and assurances of promises yet to be fulfilled by an Almighty Father who will never forsake his children in this life or the life to come.

As we await Jesus’ return or our own summons Home, may our words be helpful and healing rather than reckless and angry, beneficial to those who listen[11] and expressed in a timely manner[12] for we do not know the final day or hour.[13]

 

[1] See Hebrews 3:13 and Ephesians 4:29 respectively.

[2] Both Proverbs verses are quoted from the NIV translation.

[3] James 1:19-20

[4] James 3:1-12

[5] 2 Timothy 3:16-17

[6] Hebrews 4:12

[7] John 1:14

[8] Genesis 3:15

[9] See for example Isaiah 53 and Zechariah 9:9

[10] Revelation 21:1-4, 22:1-5

[11] Ephesians 4:29

[12] Hebrews 10:24-25

[13] Matthew 25:13, Mark 13:32