Tuesday, March 31, 2015

It you're thinking only a weed


I survey the mess of flowerpots I’d stored behind an outbuilding last fall. I hadn’t dumped them out, because I try to live by the advice given me by my former next-door neighbor, Mell. He always said, “Leave them and see what happens.” So I do. But honestly, I don’t expect much. This zone is too far north for annuals to live until spring. And unfortunately, even some of the so-called perennials call it quits when temperatures drop too often to the single digits (hold your hand up lantana).

A couple of chrysanthemums who are supposed to make it through the winter, now only have dry branches with no green shoots coming from the roots. Goners.  I toss them in a mulch pile. But another chrysanthemum has a few leaves at the base and shows promise, so I set it aside to repot  At first, another container seems barren but I see two little green points peeking through. They’re lilies. They, too, are expected to come back every year. I’ll put these in a bigger vessel with fresh earth.

The last pot in the group has turned over into a bunch of weeds. I pull it out, confident this one will join others in the mulch pile, but when I do, I see a long vine trailing from it, and it has buds. I realize it’s not just another weed.

It’s a clematis.

 

 
My son gave it to me for mother’s day last year. I’m not enough of a gardener to know what kind of clematis this is, or what I might have expected from it, because these plants vary greatly in their performance. But I do know, that this one not only made it through a long, cold, winter, but is about to burst forth in glory.

“The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling, a scrubby plant in a parched field. There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look. He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand (Isaiah 53:2-3 The Message).

It’s sometimes easy to forget with all the glory of Easter, that the Savior was seemingly like my clematis plant, just another weed, ready for the mulch pile.

“One look at him and people turned away.  We looked down on him, thought he was scum. But the fact is, it was our pains he carried— our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures. But it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins! (Isaiah 53:3-5 The Message).”

It turns out, we are the ones ready for the mulch pile, not him.  In our turned over lives, God is pulling us from the clutches of all that would squeeze the life out of us. Jesus was the way He was, because we are the way we are. He was a target of scorn because of our sins.

“He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises, we get healed. . . We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way. And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong, on him, on him” (Isaiah 53:5-6 The Message).

In the end, Jesus did pay it all to ransom our weed-infested souls, taking our punishment, pulling us from dark deaths, and dirty ditches, and destitute destinies.

“He was beaten, he was tortured, but he didn’t say a word. Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered and like a sheep being sheared, he took it all in silence. Justice miscarried . . . He died without a thought for his own welfare, beaten bloody for the sins of my people. They buried him with the wicked . . . even though he’d never hurt a soul or said one word that wasn’t true” (Isaiah 53:7-9).

We are the guilty ones, and we would have protested trying to save our own skin, “It’s not my fault. I didn’t do it.” But He offered not one defense on His own behalf.

“Still, it’s what God had in mind all along, to crush him with pain. The plan was that he give himself as an offering for sin so that he’d see life come from it—life, life, and more life. And God’s plan will deeply prosper through him (Isaiah 53:10 The Message).

 It is what God had in mind. Incomprehensively, he gave His most precious to suffer inestimable pain, all on our behalf.

So, the buds now, about to open.

They shout, “We’re saved. We’re saved.”

And all this glory going on and on.

Life eternal.

Read all of Isaiah 53 here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Your very own impossible true story


 
 


In the movie Secretariat, when the chestnut horse of the same name comes into the last stretch at the Belmont Stakes, there’s a pause in the music (brilliant move by director Randall Wallace, one of my favorite writers, directors and producers), and a narrator reads a portion of Job, which references a horse, “It laughs at fear, afraid of nothing . . .” (Job 39:22).

At this point in the movie, against all odds, Secretariat is about to become the first triple-crown winner in twenty-five years, winning the Belmont Stakes by an unbelievable thirty-one lengths. The tagline for the film is “The impossible true story.”

I recently finished a Bible study on Gideon written by Priscilla Shirer. In the last video, she prays over the participants so that fear might be broken, because really, that was the bottom line on Gideon’s story. With God’s help, he overcame fear to beat men who were "as numerous as the sand on the seashore" (Perhaps over 100,000) with only 300 men. Another “impossible true story.”

A statement she made during the study continues to ring in my ears. “God doesn’t call us to hard things. He calls us to impossible things.”

We’re so inclined to do it ourselves even if it’s hard, but God will allow us to get in impossible circumstances. When we can't do it ourselves, we cry out to him, and the glory only goes to Him for the results.

But we need to deal with that fear thing.

In Home to Currahee, one of the themes is “Do it afraid.” Often, God asks us to move ahead, despite what we’re actually feeling.

Don’t you want to have the courage of that horse God spoke about in Job―to laugh at fear?  And don’t you want to run your race like the triple-crown winner Secretariat, whose thundering hooves might still echo along the track at Belmont, and whose world record time has never been touched? Would you rise up like Gideon and get your 300 together to win a battle over the Midianites, even if God sends you out with the unlikely weapons of just a pitcher and a trumpet?

Don’t you want to do impossible things?

I think we all just shouted “Yes.”

God has an “impossible true story” for each of us.

And to live that story, we have to decide fear will not, must not win.

"Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together. I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears" (Psalm 34:3-4).

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

All the way home


One Christmas Eve during the years I worked as a buyer for a department store, as usual I didn’t get off work until the evening and then faced a long drive to my hometown to spend Christmas with family. That night, temperatures were predicted to be in the low teens, and the precipitation forecast was a bit sketchy.

I received a phone call in the late afternoon from my dad. “I’m coming down there to follow you back home,” he said. Very few people had car phones back then, and I was not one of them. With most businesses closed on Christmas Eve, and not many cars on the road, Dad was concerned I might get stranded in one of the rural stretches I drove through and have no way to contact someone for help.

I hated for him to get out in the cold and drive needlessly for hours, and of course, I was in my bulletproof years, so I protested, “But Dad, I’ll be fine.”

He was unrelenting. “I’m coming,” he said.

As long as I live, I’ll never forget driving home on a cold Christmas Eve, with my Dad’s headlights in my rear view mirror―with me the whole way.
 
 

This morning, my dad faces a medical procedure. At 86, he is in a slow decline fighting prostate cancer and his brilliant mind has been ravaged by the effects of the treatment. He’s confused about what he’s having done, and he’s been digging in his heels against it not understanding the consequences. Sometimes we’re at a loss to know how to help him.

One thing is for sure, though. Just as my dad was with me that dark winter night to make sure I arrived home, we’ll be with him during the winter of his life.

But there is a place we can’t go, and things we can’t do. And where our ability fails, I believe with all my heart, God will help him in the ways we can’t.

So Dad, don’t worry, with God’s help, just like you did for me, we’ll be following you all the way Home.

“And I’ll keep on carrying you when you’re old.   I’ll be there, bearing you when you’re old and gray. I’ve done it and will keep on doing it, carrying you on my back, saving you” (Isaiah 46:4 The Message).

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

If change is in your future


On my son’s birthday, we set off to help him find an apartment, so he could move out of town to take that real job.

He’s had many jobs, during college. He worked in museum security, did data entry for a research project, moved hay, etc. Pretty much anything he could do to make money and still go to school. Most recently, he worked in a shipping, printing store. In fact, the largest printing store of its brand in the U.S. He learned a LOT about making brochures.
 
So, naturally, he was very excited about this new opportunity, this foray into a real career.

Outside, the wind chills were predicted to be in the teens during the day and that night near zero. Really cold for this part of the south. As I thought of him moving, after his brief stint at home between his college apartment lease running out and his new venture, I was excited for him, but my heart was a bit chilled, too,with sadness.

I went through this empty nest thing when he went to college, and now here I was again.

June Callaway, the protagonist in my book, Home to Currahee, saw she’d reached the point in life where missing people she loved would be a constant.

And missing people I love is a HARD constant, too. All of my family except my husband lives somewhere else, now. It feels like I’ve come full circle, because when I moved to this town, I came here alone with all my family living elsewhere.

 I cling to sameness, but with God, change is what it’s all about.

Abraham could’ve said, “No, I’m comfortable right here in Ur.”

The disciples could’ve declared, “Let’s just stay together here in Jerusalem, and wait for Jesus to come back.”

But Abraham and the disciples as well as so many other Biblical characters allowed God to disrupt their status quo.

God‘s fluid movements are sometimes hard to understand, but he will often pluck us from comfortable sameness and people we love to plant us elsewhere. Or, he will pick up people we love and move them.

Somehow, we have to allow him to do it.

If like me, you struggle with squeezing the daylights out of familiarity, I’m here to tell you that God will persist, so It’s better to unfurl those fingers sooner rather than later. 

Like a pond with no outflow, we will become stagnant and cease to be spiritually vibrant, if we don’t allow God to do the new thing in our lives.

“Forget about what’s happened; don’t’ keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands” (Isaiah 43:18-19 The Message).

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

If your God is too small


As I sweep paint across a canvas measured in feet, it feels so strange. For decades, I've used a small brush to move color around on a watercolor block often as miniscule as four by six inches.
 
a watercolor block next to a canvas I'm about to use
 

The transition from small to large has been liberating. I will always love the intricacies of watercolor, yet I am finding new joy in these broad spaces.


J.B. Phillips in his classic book, Your God is Too Small: a guide for believers and skeptics alike, writes, “Whatever a man’s reaction may be to the idea of the terrific size of God, the point to note is that his comment is this: ‘I cannot imagine such a tremendous God being interested in me,’ and so on. He ‘cannot imagine’ which means simply that his mind is incapable of retaining the ideas of terrifying vastness and of minute attention to microscopic detail at the same time. But it in no way proves that God is incapable of fulfilling both ideas (and a great many more).

Did you get that? We have a God who simultaneously embodies “terrifying vastness and  . . . minute attention to microscopic detail.”

The first time I read Phillips book, I was flying alone to some distant city. The ascent into the endless sky seemed to reinforce the idea of God’s greatness as if I were being given a God’s eye view of the world. Yet, the God presiding over the vastness through my window came along side me at that very moment to help with the thing I struggled with, my flying fears. Me, one small dot on the planet, and yet he cared to give me strength to face my fear.

God is big enough for all of it.

In a biography of Phillips, I remember reading that at one point in his life, he faced a life threatening illness. The doctors told him, that he wouldn’t make it. During one acute episode, in a coma, he seemed to be crossing through the refuse of life, and he could see someone a distance away in a beautiful place. All Phillips wanted was to reach that place, but when he neared, he was told he had to return.  He awoke crying and the nurse by his bed said something like, “Why are you crying, you made it. You’re going to live.” But, he had seen the other side, and he wanted to stay there.

Phillips did live and began a fresh translation of the New Testament during World War II when believers all over the world needed new insight into the Word of God. And perhaps it was that experience of near death that helped him write Your God is too Small, because he had seen the vastness and beauty beyond.

I’ve just purchased another one of those large canvases, because I think God is teaching me something. This side of heaven, we tend to stay in small spaces, but I believe God is trying to move us into bigger spaces, to allow God to be God, instead of us always trying to keep him contained.  

In my novel, Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees, a quote from Sydney Lanier sets the trajectory of the book. “As the marsh hen secretly builds her nest on the watery sod, I will build me a nest on the greatness of God.”

Sometimes, we box ourselves in because of fear, and God has to push us out of our confinement into that larger space. It’s scary, because if we fail, we fail big.

If you’re like me, you don’t like failing big.

And there’s the fear again.

But, God calls us to build our nests on Him, the one who is bigger than our ideas of Him.

Yet, at the same time, concerned about every detail of our lives.
"To you, O God, belong the greatness and the might, the glory, the victory, the majesty, the splendor; Yes! Everything in heaven, everything on earth;the kingdom all yours" (I Chronicles 29:11)
 

 

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