Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Spiritual Lessons in Home Horticulture: Roots

My mom put a clipping from my spearmint plant in a small bottle of water to see if it would root. In the past 3 weeks, it’s vine-like stem stretched and curved upward as it grew centimeter by centimeter, unfurling small triangular mint leaves along itself, bending delicately toward the small space between my kitchen window and the curtain in front of it. Doing the dishes today, I glanced down and saw the thin, filmy tentacles of diaphanous roots stretching downward into the bottle. Roots.

The insignificant wisp of a clipping didn’t nourish itself to the point of regeneration with water it conjured from nothingness. The water was provided, much without its striving. All it had to do was keep it’s bottom-most point submerged in the life-giving stuff. The life was sustained; the growth born out of remaining submerged; the offspring brought forth as a by-product; the roots forged as anchors to hold it fast to its life source.

Lord, submerge me in Your life-giving streams, like a tree planted by the water. Let my spiritual life be sustained; my growth come from being submerged; the fruit I bear be the consequence of that. Let my roots go down, deep, anchoring me to the hope of who You are and what You’ve done. I am Your workmanship, born again in Your Son for the good works that will come when I remain plunged beneath the quickening coolness of Your mercy stream.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.-Ephesians 2:10

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Variations on the Theme of Healing

I love the season of Lent. While my salvation is secured by grace through faith alone, I find that Lent affords me a period of time in which I have the opportunity to fast from the everyday in-and-out. I've considered setting a more frequent Lenten period for myself; why confine it to just once a year when every day I draw breath can be one devoted to fasting from the clutter and morass of all my life's stuff? 

But that is a level of commitment and discipline I've not yet reached. I'm great at ideas on paper but the follow-through needs work. 

I digress...Lent; a few weeks behind us now, though probably one of the most impactful I've experienced. I was looking for a different sort of abstinence. Rather than go without something physical, I wanted to fill up on something spiritual; abstain from the usual go-to wonts of the season. So I decide to memorize some scripture--one verse everyday. I chose the eighth chapter in Romans based on its having 39 verses. My choice was that simple. I figured chapter 8 had quite a few buzz verses already and if all scripture is God-breathed, then it was off to the races. Oh how much we underestimate the work of the Counselor in our hearts and minds!

I found the memorization process challenging and exciting. And it thrilled me when I would hear a sermon or lesson that referenced these scriptures. I even began to recall them as relevant and cross-contextual with other scriptures. He was sowing seeds in me and troweling out the next row for planting all at the same time. And at the end of Lent, I had a treasure that's still with me. For a season that's usually known for self-denial, it was an exhilarating indulgence.

On Easter Sunday, I was asked if I would be interested in participating in a Bible/book study group dealing with infertility. It seemed apropos; an answer to prayer. Yes, of course I would. Jumping before carefully discerning is a hallmark in my life so this wasn't any different. 

The week prior to the first meeting, God peeled back a layer of raw that smarted unexpectedly. The first meeting happened and with the journey begun I figured, well, a few raw nerves near the surface needed dealt with before the final healing. This "infertility struggle" was old news. I had found a peace about no more babies. I just needed to remember it.

After that first meeting, there was a tremor inside that I felt coming. I was unsettled and much to my horrific surprise, I felt the blaze of envy, jealousy, resentment, anger scrolling through the myriad of new baby pictures on social media. 
I say this in the spirit of explanation and transparency; I have wounds that need the light of day and deep cleaning by the Great Healer. I am ashamed of my flesh response. Please understand that this is not aimed at anyone in any sense of the word but rather a symptom of my own struggle. 

Like Eustace Scrubb, my dragon scales were being peeled away and it hurt. In my confused pain, comparison was all too close and venom in the form of selfish words poisoned an entire day. In the aftermath of that, I dove into my resources on infertility, finally recognizing the festering pain for what it was. And God, in His faithfulness, met me there with a Word; one that I already had germinating in my soul...
Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. -Romans 8:26:27
And again...
For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? -Romans 8:24
And again...
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. -Romans 8:18

It is a prodigious thing to stand in the middle of something God-planned. These ebenezer moments overwhelm me; the realization of how deep His mercy is astounds and humbles me. It is the moments that I've labeled as mundane, lately, that have been the most spiritually monumental.

I took a picture of a knick-knack in my friend's bathroom. I liked the little blurb in the frame. To be honest, I received it with the intent of passing it on to others who could really use it to learn something. Silly me.

And again, more God-truth met me in the stories of other women who have walked this same path...
Barrenness, like nothing else, reminded me how far I was from believing the truths about God that I proclaimed, how far I was from leaning against Him the way I wanted a baby to lean against me.*
One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.        -Proverbs 27:7
I don't want to be a hungry soul just for a season. I want to live hunger. This is what draws me to Him. This is what fills every single bitter circumstance with the opportunity to know Him more. This is what brings me to the sweetness of His presence.*
My wounds are pangs of hunger, God-hunger that will find its deepest satisfaction in Him.
Over and over I learn that I don't need a physical healing to receive a heart healing.*
My heart is the most desperate healing I need. His healing comes like the sunrise, full and bright, coloring the sky with the warmth of its rays. Let me trade in lamentation for the hunger-satisfying presence of my Savior. Let me reach for Him in my pain, famished for knowing Him more deeply. He will meet me there with the satisfaction of His healing.

*Quotes from Everything Bitter is Sweet, Sara Hagerty

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


It is a new day; new mercies, new opportunity to live and love for Jesus, fresh and clean. 

It feels like a breath of fresh air after the dank and stale of yesterday. As much as I restate and restate the importance of defining the goodness or badness of day, not by individual good or bad events but as a whole, I think I can say, pretty certainly that yesterday was bad. It was one of those days when bouncing back wasn’t in the cards.

Refining comes with its fair share of discomfort. Harsh words reveal pockets of bitterness, selfishness, ugliness--like fire reveals the dross in silver.
Oh, I don’t mean to say that I’m some precious metal…no, I’m full of impurity and desperate for the transformation that my God, well-versed in His perfect alchemy, can afford me.

Knowing, I’m told, is half the battle. So now I know. These pockets, dormant for a time, needed the fire, the pressure to be exposed and curetted. 

All of this sounds vague…I mean it to be vague. Details are trumped by the truth that I am imperfect, a sinner in great need of the Grace that only Jesus can offer. In my imperfection, I can hurt, maim, and brutalize with that double-edged sword to which we wives fall prey too often. "I’m sorry" doesn’t seem enough but it begins forgiveness and any person made in the image of a Holy God is worth “I’m sorry," especially the one to whom I've bound myself.

We ask “why” when bad things happen. There are three possibilities: consequence of our own sin, hardship of living in a fallen world, or the work of our Adversary. The key is discerning which of these best fits our situation. It is an easy cop-out to blame all on the third option. Many, many times—let’s be honest; we’re down to brass tacks here—the first quite often has a huge lead on the others. 

But God in His goodness, when we belong to Him, doesn’t leave our side even when we screw up. The consequences of my obliterating tongue yesterday, reached into the corners of the day, tainting it. But in His goodness, He showed me that the words were born from a festering pool of bitterness, resentment, hidden wounds uncleaned. So He exposed them to me through the course of a bad day. They needed cleaned and today, are bandaged by His extravagant Grace. I can admit they still need rehabilitation. He will bring that in good time. 

Picture credit: http://stepsusan.blogspot.com

I sit here in the freshness of new, grateful for Grace and Jesus in my life; for His refining and healing work in me. Where I was not sure yesterday how to keep clinging to my confession or how to move forward in my life, today, He reminds me. 

I’m far from poster child--so, so far. But I am beloved child; forgiven child. I can rest in that. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Eating & The Sun

I’ve been meaning to write more lately…

Famous last words. Ha. My mind is a veritable mess of half-baked ideas and thoughts on this and incomplete diatribes and exhortations on that. And occasionally one (or several) of these comes floating to the surface. I suppose it’s a bit like shooting fish in a barrel…the question then remains, at which fish do I point?

I recently listened to C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity on audiobook. I love audiobooks. They give me the option of reading the way I no longer have time to do—two hours at a stretch. And since I also love to have not only fingers but also oftentimes full fists (and maybe even an arm) in all kinds of pies, audiobook lets me read while I’m doing other things that are unavoidable…like driving and dishes and cooking and bathing. But I digress.

C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity.

Wow, did that one pack a punch. That man had a mind that just astounds me. And the irony of being a Christian apologist after half a life as a self-proclaimed atheist just stands out as God’s work. He had a way of subtly yet effectively blending logic and faith, the physical and spiritual. Evidence to me that God takes our weaknesses and transforms them, molds them to His purposes and His will—if we’ll only let Him...

It’s been cold here since mid-November; probably longer. The icy blasts of the polar vortices hit us more than once. The temps around here have fluctuated some, though, and we have days of bitter cold and days of damp cold and days of plain old cold. But it isn’t the cold that is a bother.

I have found an honest-to-goodness love for each season in its time. I love a good snowfall as much as a reddening maple, a hot blue sky or an undulating hill of buds bursting into bloom. But during the cold months here, I have noticed that there is one element without which I wither: the sun. Give me a day that’s 20 below and as long as there is sunshine, I’ll snuggle in with a warm cup of something and revel in it. Without the sun, I’m afraid I become gloomy, hermit-ish, achy, tired, unmotivated.

I won’t go as far as to malign the winter. It is no more the fault of the season for being what it is than it is the fault of a table made of wood for being hard and sturdy and the cause of a painfully stubbed toe. Also, as I am learning, God made it and what He made He called “good.” I can hate the way I feel when I don’t see the sun. But I have two choices: I can be sour: sour-faced, sour-spirited, sour-behaved. Or I can be thankful.

And if you’re dubious about thankfulness in the face of something you so despise, allow me to share my current favorite verse that flies in the face of rank ingratitude and teaches us a better way:

One who is full loathes honey,    
  but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.  –Prov. 27:7

I love all of the object lessons and allegories in the Bible built around food. Maybe it’s because I love to eat… or maybe because food and God both sustain and bring pleasure. There is something to experiencing a good meal and experiencing God. The very way He asks us to remember His son is by eating and drinking. The Bible talks about feasts in Heaven. One of the most poignant times Jesus spent with his disciples—his friends—was at a meal.

I, like you, am so limited by my physicality. We experience the world largely through our five senses. It’s one of the reasons I think spirituality can be such a difficult concept for us; maybe even why we lust so hard after doing—it proves something to us. If we can see it and hear it; taste, touch, and smell it then it IS and we have left our mark. But God is spirit. And if we want to worship Him rightly, we must worship in spirit and in truth.

If I am full, I am not hungry, and vice versa. When I am hungry, physically hungry—or, as the original Hebrew root tells it, famished—even something that I would consider mildly unappetizing or unsatisfying would satiate my hunger.  Remember that old guilt trip we heard as kids? “There is a child somewhere in the world who is starving right now who would love to be able to eat what you’re refusing!

We fed our 2 male cats a diet solely of canned cat food for a brief period. It was not the top shelf stuff. And the ramifications were disgusting. It was as if we were feeding them the cat equivalent of Cheetos and Taco Bell…everyday…for every meal. They gobbled it down like it was manna from Heaven every time we fed them. But their bowels were in a terrible state.

Filled up on contempt, rage, bitterness, ingratitude, & complaining like they’re rare ambrosia, we grumble, we judge, we mock, we hold grudges, we look for what we hate and we no longer desire the sweet and satisfying goodness that comes with joy & thankfulness. Our relationships suffer the spiritual waste products.

But the opposite is also true—filled up on joy and thankfulness, we see clearly all that we’ve been given and we feel joy, penetrating & steadfast. Sometimes, joy and thankfulness are bitter medicine. But in thanking God for what seems unthank-able, we find that the bitter becomes sweet. That sounds far simpler than it is. Immediacy is not the way of Heaven but constancy is:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  –I Thessalonians 5:15-16
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. -Hebrews 10:23
Pain is a constant, not a variable in this life. I know that. Yours and mine…they are different. I won’t pretend to know yours. But this way is a better way no matter the type of pain. I have glimpses and moments of an intense & enduring joy that is beyond my comprehension; thankfulness comes easy then. But the other end of that stick is being thankful when I haven’t seen the sun in days (weeks?) because God uses it to show me things about myself. And even the physical sun won’t help me if I don’t let the power of the spiritual Son be made perfect in my weakness. It isn’t pretending that something is good when it is not good but being thankful that God will use what is not good and make it something good.

Grousing is as easy as a 3-minute microwave dinner. But thanking through prayer and the strength of Jesus, though it costs an effort that is often greater than I can muster, presents me with a 5-course feast that leaves me filled and warm and content. This is my sunlamp til the gray-white world melts into the green-gold glory of spring.