Friday, November 9, 2018 comes the rain

When we first moved to the farm, I tried to grow a garden. I had big plans for fresh veggies, and I planted a lot: tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and honeydew. The lady we bought the property from had scattered seed for lettuce.

I harvested a handful of tomatoes, a single head of broccoli, maybe two honeydews, and a lot of the lettuce...the one thing that I didn't plant.

I guess I should have known how it would work out. When I was in school I helped my mom plant flower bulbs along our front walk. Not a single thing that I planted even so much as sprouted.

Mom told me that I have a "black thumb" instead of a green there's that.

It hasn't changed a lot as I've gotten older. I killed a cactus. I've had a peace lily and a pothos both die at my hand (yes, I know--the easiest house plants to grow).

I don't know a whole lot about growing plants, but I do know one thing: if you want a plant to grow, you need to water it.

Growth. It is something all of us want. We want our faith to grow stronger, but we tend to want that to happen through times of ease and peace. We want the sunny skies to make us grow, but we forget that the rain is required every bit as much as the sun.

"Since we have been acquitted and made right through faith,
we are able to experience true and lasting peace with God
through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, the Liberating King.
 Jesus leads us into a place of radical grace
where we are able to celebrate the hope
of experiencing God’s glory.
 And that’s not all. We also celebrate in seasons of suffering
because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance,
 which shapes our characters.
When our characters are refined,
we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness. 
And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need
because the Holy Spirit that was given to us
has flooded our hearts with God’s love."
Romans 5:1-5

"Seasons of suffering"--the rain in our lives that lead to growth. It's the hard times that sink into us, that get to our roots and sink into our core. When the rains come, they teach us to endure (or persevere, which is probably the word you're more used to hearing in that passage).

When we learn to endure, that's what changes our character. I don't know about you, but I haven't mastered the concept of celebrating in my sufferings. I struggle with my focus--I see the storm instead of remembering that the rain brings growth.

I want to be someone of character, someone who can be counted on to do what God wants no matter the circumstances. Here's the issue, though--to make sure you will do what God wants in every circumstance, you have to actually be put into those circumstances and required to make a choice about what to do.

That's the part that's not so much fun.

It's easy to say that I will trust God with my life when I haven't had to rely on Him to preserve it. It was easy to say that I trusted God's plan for my brother in Iraq...before that plan was revealed to those of us who were left behind here. It's easy to say that I trust God to have a plan for my life until my future doesn't play out quite as I expected.

The only way I can be known for the character I want to be known for is if I develop that character. As Helen Keller said, "Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved."

And here's the real kicker: the development of our character isn't even the end goal. We learn to endure so that we can develop character, but then we still have to go a step further.

Character has to be refined.

When you refine something, you get rid of any impurities in it. For a lot of things, that means putting it through the fire.

Even after I develop the character that I want to be known for, that character still needs to be refined. God wants to rid me of all the impurities in my heart and mind. He wants to burn off all the doubts, fears, and self-reliance. He wants me to fully trust in Him, no matter what gets thrown my way. He doesn't want me to be swayed by my circumstances.

Dear God, help me to remember that rain leads to growth. Help me to see the challenges in my life as opportunities to endure and to develop the character You want to see in me, the type of character that points to You. Keep me on my toes, so that I don't slide into complacency. Remind me that You are there with me, even when the refinement fires come. Keep me focused on You, no matter my circumstances...and thank You for not giving up on me when I mess up.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Do I know God?

Dear God,

I hear You--really, I do. I'm sorry that I haven't been listening, but thank You for repeating Yourself over and over (and over...) so that it finally got through my thick skull.

Remember, I tend to be a "lesson from a 2x4" girl. The subtle stuff tends to get lost on me, even though it would be a lot easier if I could just learn to hear You when You whisper.

You keep telling me to let go, and I don't know why I find that so incredibly hard to do. Everything and everyone around me lately is reminding me that I need to stop worrying and start trusting.

I know You're greater than anything I can imagine. I know that Your promises are true. I know all the right words and all the Sunday School answers...

...but I've realized that I must not truly know You, because I haven't been truly trusting You.

If I knew You, I would know that my fears are pointless and unfounded. I would know that You have me--You've written me on the palms of Your hands--and there's nothing that can pull me away.

If I knew You, I would know that Your plan will be accomplished in my life (in spite of my efforts, as the case may be). I would know that Your words do what You say they will do--You aren't just speaking to hear Yourself talk.

If I knew You, I would realize that if You know when a sparrow falls, You know all the difficulties in my life. I would know that if You take the time to keep track of how many hairs I have on my head, You will keep track of me.

If I knew You, truly, I would stop wearing myself out with stress over the day-to-day struggles of my life that are so insignificant in the long run. I would stop worrying over all the things that are so far out of my control--but firmly in Your hand.

So God, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for doubting Your power and Your plan. I want to know You. I want to draw close to You. I want to trust You.

*I don't own this song or the pictures...

Friday, October 12, 2018

Let go?

I'm a stubborn and highly independent person. I want to always be able to do everything myself, and I've been that way since I was little. I hate having to rely on anybody else for anything--if I'm not capable of taking care of whatever needs to be done on my own, then I make it my goal to figure out how to do it.

Sometimes that's a good thing. Sometimes, though, it gets me into trouble.

I've talked quite a bit about how I have a hard time trusting. The thing is, lately I've realized that my issue isn't with trust, exactly. Instead, what I have a hard time doing is giving up control. When things start to go wrong, I grab on a little tighter. When life knocks me for a loop and I slide down to the end of my rope, I put all my strength into holding on with everything I've got.

But what if I'm not supposed to hold on?

We drive by Rule Baptist Church on Sunday mornings, and last week this is what their sign says:

At the end of your rope
is the hem of His garment.

If you don't remember the story about the hem of Jesus' garment, here's a quick reminder: Jesus was in the middle of a crowd of people when He stopped and asked who touched Him. I'm sure the disciples thought He was being a little crazy. After all, there were people all around them. So you've got Peter (I brought him up again, I know) who opens his mouth and says, "Okay, Jesus, that's a pretty weird question. You've got this huge crowd around You, and all of them are bumping up against everybody. What do You mean, who touched You?" ...okay, so I paraphrased a bit.
Jesus, though, says, "That's not what I meant. Somebody touched Me, and I felt power flow out." ...again, a bit of a paraphrase.

So this woman speaks up. She knows she's been found out, so she steps forward and falls at Jesus' feet. She tells Him that she had been bleeding for years, and she knew that if she could just touch the hem of His robe, He could heal her.

Down in the dirt, at her lowest, she stopped trying to control everything herself. She stopped searching for the next cure, and she reached out for the hem of His robe.

Maybe, when I'm at the end of my rope, I'm not supposed to be desperately struggling to climb back up. Maybe I'm not supposed to be focusing all my strength on getting back to where I think I'm supposed to be.

Maybe, when I'm hanging by a thread and straining to maintain my grip--maybe that's when I'm supposed to let go.

Maybe I'm supposed to let go of my desperate attempt at holding on to control and reach out for the hem of His garment.

"When struck by fear, I let go,
depending securely upon You alone."
Psalm 56:3

Friday, September 28, 2018 of little faith

The first time I ever remember Pop getting mad at me, I was sitting in a tree. I can't tell you exactly how old I was, but it was early elementary school some time. I was on a limb, wanting to get down, so Pop reached up fro me and told me to jump.

I wouldn't.

He kept telling me to jump, assuring me that he would catch me--I had nothing to worry about. All I needed to do was let go of the limb and push myself forward. Instead, I was in tears, sitting in a tree. No matter how many times Pop assured me that he would catch me, I couldn't do it. He had never let me down, never given me a reason to think he would let me fall.

I couldn't just trust him.

Trust. That's something I still struggle with, despite all my efforts. I know that God is worthy of my trust. I know His promises are true, and that when His word says that He guides my steps--well, that's true, too.

The problem is, I just can't get my feelings to line up with my knowledge.

We just finished talking about Joseph at church. A few years ago, Pop sent me a sermon series by Tony Evans about Joseph called "Detours to Destiny." It was 2014, and I felt lost. Grad school wasn't going according to the way I had planned. I felt like somehow I had messed up God's plans for me, and I was going to miss out on His purpose. I felt like a huge failure. I had uprooted my family and moved them to Toledo, Ohio, to pursue what I thought was God's clear plan for my life. I was going into Medical Physics, which seemed like the perfect fit for me.

Until life happened, and I couldn't make myself fit.

I can look back throughout my life and see how God has worked, even in the hard times. I can see how things that I thought were going all wrong worked out to put me right where I should be at the right time.

So why in the world do I still think I'm messing up God's plans?

There's a quote I ran across a while back:

"If you think you've blown God's plan for your life, rest in this.
You, my beautiful friend, are not that powerful."
~Lisa Bevere

When Joseph's brothers decided to sell him off into slavery, they were pretty sure they were keeping him from a destiny they didn't like. They didn't want to bow down before their little brother. They sold him off, and that was the end of things.
Here's an excerpt of the post I wrote when I finished listening to that sermon series:

"He wouldn't have been able to provide for his brothers if he hadn't been second in charge in Egypt.
Joseph wouldn't have been second in charge over all of Egypt if he hadn't interpreted the Pharoh's dream.
He wouldn't have interpreted Pharoh's dream if he hadn't met the cup bearer and baker.
He wouldn't have met them if he hadn't been thrown in the dungeon.
He wouldn't have been thrown in the dungeon if he hadn't been falsely accused by Potiphar's wife.
He wouldn't have been falsely accused if he hadn't been put in charge of Potiphar's household.
He wouldn't have been put in charge if Potiphar hadn't bought him.
He couldn't have been bought as a slave if he hadn't been sold to Egyptian slavers.
He wouldn't have been sold if his brothers hadn't thrown him into a pit.
He wouldn't have been thrown into a pit if his brothers hadn't been jealous of him.
His brothers wouldn't have been jealous if he hadn't been showing off the coat his dad gave him."

God works out all the details of our lives, even when we can't figure out what's going on. Proverbs 16:9 says,
"We can make our plans,
 but the LORD determines our steps."

I don't know why trust is such a hard thing for me. I get so hung up on trying to control my life, and I forget that control is just an illusion. I make plan after plan, searching for purpose, but I lose sight of the fact that God is the only One in control. He has a plan for me, and who am I to think that I can change that?

"So it is when I declare something.
My word will go out and not return to Me empty,
but it will do what I wanted;
it will accomplish what I determined."
~Isaiah 55:11

I wonder how often He looks at me, shakes His head, and says, "You of little faith. Why can't you just trust me? Why do you always try so hard to control everything, despite all the times I've shown you that you can't? When are you going to learn that My plans are best for your life, and I will make them happen? Just jump when I tell you to, and trust Me to catch you."

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

spring follows winter

"Those who trust in their wealth are headed for great disappointment,
but those who do right will sprout like green leaves in the spring."
Proverbs 11:28

Spring doesn't last forever. Life isn't always full of cool breezes, bright sunshine, and new flowers. Instead, spring only comes after the winter. New life only follows after the old life has died. Green leaves come after the cold winds, after the trees have had to stand against the barren winter.

Too often, it seems people think the Christian life should be one of ease and comfort. We have the thought that God's promises mean that our reward starts here and now--our work should pay off and our every effort should be blessed. We even hear it preached--God wants us healthy, wealthy, and wise. It's the prosperity gospel in a nutshell.

Yes, we are promised new life--but that only comes after the old life has died. We are promised the spring, but that doesn't mean that we won't have to face the winter. Sometimes the circumstances of our lives become cold, harsh, and barren. We watch as everything dies around us: finances crumble, relationships become strained, dreams fade. The "winters" in our lives are hard, lonely times.

But we aren't alone in that. We are called to live a life modeled after Christ, so why are we surprised by the winter? Jesus faced a winter in His life that most of us can't even fathom. He was betrayed and abandoned by those closest to Him. He was beaten, mocked, and spit on. He faced the agony of the cross, even though He could have stopped the pain and suffering in a heartbeat. He was buried in a borrowed tomb--He didn't have a home of His own, let alone a burial place. He faced a winter so bleak that Creation was plunged into darkness in the middle of the day as a result.

Yet on the other side of His winter, Jesus found spring. His new life sprouted on the other side of death.

For some of us, our spring will start on this side of death. Some will get to see the end of the cold, harsh winter and the blooming of new lives. Some will see earthly prosperity and the wonder of dreams fulfilled. For others, spring may come like it did for Christ--on the other side of an earthly death. Either way, God's promise is the same.

...those who do right will sprout like green leaves in the spring.


Thursday, September 20, 2018

14 years...

Grief is a funny thing sometimes. This year was the first year I wasn't in classes on the anniversary of Michael's death. I thought that was going to make it really hard--I wouldn't have anything to distract me, and usually that means my mind goes into overdrive. The thing is, that didn't really happen.

I have to admit, it felt a little strange when I thought about it. I felt a little guilty, to be honest, because it was almost as if that day came and went without the memory of Michael's death bothering me. And then my thinking changed--maybe it was a good thing. Maybe I was learning how to deal with the loss (after 14 years...I know that may sound crazy, but it really is just a start for me, even after all this time).

So that was a Wednesday.

Sunday rolled around, and I wasn't thinking about anything that had to do with August 15th. It was a normal Sunday morning at church. We started with coffee, breakfast, and doughnuts while everyone sat around and talked about how life is going. I have to tell you, I really love my church family. We are a small group (around 20 people), and that lets us all dig deep into each other's lives. Our mornings start with everyone sitting around the table, just talking about anything and everything that is happening.

Then we moved into our normal routine: somebody reads a Psalm and opens in prayer, we sing, somebody reads a verse that meant something to them during the week, we sing again...

During the first medley we sang, a specific song caught me off guard. It wasn't a sad song--but all of a sudden I was choked up and couldn't sing. What, you may ask, was the song that suddenly ripped my heart up into my throat and made the tears well up in my eyes?

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms. I know--a real tear-jerker, right?

The thing is, when we were teenagers sitting in the pew and singing that song, Michael and I would lean against each other (maybe that should say "push against each other with our shoulders but pretend we were just leaning") every time the word "leaning" came up.

So there I was, choked up over a song and the memory it stirred up.

And remember, this is 14 years after the fact.

I'm part of a Gold Star Siblings group on facebook, and the other day someone posted something that broke my heart a bit. She was talking about the loss of her sister, who will be gone for a year this December. Read that again--1 year this December. She was worried because she's still having a hard time dealing with this loss, and the rest of the world seems to think she should be "over it" by now.

Less than 1 year later.

A relationship with a sibling is something no one else really understands...and as a result, the loss of a sibling fits into that same category. It isn't something you "get over," especially in less than a year. My goodness, 14 years later a simple song still brings me to tears (and that's not even talking about the songs I still can't listen to in public). If you've lost someone, please hear me: you don't have to be "over it" in any arbitrary amount of time.

Sometimes, "leaning" can still choke you up 14 years later.

Friday, July 27, 2018 all hinges on a tree

In the Garden of Eden, God put everything in place to take care of His creation. He gave us the fruit of every tree except one--the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan knows Scripture, and he knows humanity. He twisted God's command, playing into the idea that God is keeping the good stuff from us and setting up a list of rules we have to follow. He preyed on human pride--you are smart enough to decide right from wrong; you don't need God to tell you what to do.

With the fruit from that first tree, sin entered the world. all hinges on a tree. The blood poured from the raw, open flesh on Jesus' back and soaked into the wood of the cross that He was forced to carry to Golgotha. The sacrificial Lamb took on the weight of all the sins of mankind and carried that burden to a second tree. His death bridged the gap between humanity and God that had been created when sin entered the world.

With His death on that tree, sin was paid for. all hinges on a tree. In the new Jerusalem, a river that shines like crystal flows out from the throne of God and of the Lamb. This river flows down and splits the street. A more spectacular view in my opinion, though, is the tree of life. This tree is so big that it straddles the river and stands on both banks. Its leaves provide healing, and it grows 12 different types of fruit that grow all year long. Throughout eternity, we will no longer have to toil under the curse of sin.

With the fruit of that tree, God's children will live forever with Him. all hinges on a tree. comes the rain

When we first moved to the farm, I tried to grow a garden. I had big plans for fresh veggies, and I planted a lot: tomatoes, peppers, brocc...

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