Lessons From the New Sprouts

 

Yesterday was a beautiful first day of spring.   The bright sunshine belied the fact that we may get some snow this weekend.  Ah yes, spring is a fickle time of year for sure!  By this time of year, everyone is ready for the cold, gray days of winter to give way to the bright colors of spring.  We are ready to listen to the happy chirping of birds and to enjoy the fresh smell of spring that is somehow in the air.  Snow is not something that we look forward to when everything in us is longing for warmth and for open windows and walks in the great outdoors.
 
I’ve become used to looking outside and seeing our brown flower beds.  They are full of faded mulch and the ugly stubs of once pretty flowers.  I didn’t get the dwarf crepe myrtles trimmed back last fall, so those tall dead limbs stick up as a constant reminder that they have had no visible life for several months.  Crunchy dried leaves are piled among the straggly remnants of last year’s growth.  Almost everything is dusty and crunchy, a drab brown and gray palette that does nothing for the senses.  It’s a scenery that is a reminder of what has been……….of what once was………. but now of uselessness and decay and death. 

 

Yet as I drove to an appointment, I saw what looked like the beginnings of buds on some trees.  I saw some pale yellow daffodils blooming beside some one’s house.  Later, at home, I went out with our Great Dane and while he explored the yard, I decided to do a little exploring of my own in one of the flower beds.  I bent over and looked closely.  Then I gently moved aside some of the dry and faded mulch.  And there, under the all the dullness of the mulch and the dirt, I found the tender green shoots of our garden phlox poking through the soil.  Behind me, as I searched some more, I found the young sprouts of our tiger lilies coming out.  Jackson and I walked to the front yard, and there as I did some more gentle digging I found the fresh green of my salvia showing among the dead growth of last summer.  In the corner of that flower bed, without any digging needed, was the unmistakable soft and fuzzy newness of my lamb’s ear.  From a distance, the scenery was still dull and lifeless.  But when I took the time to look, I could see the beginnings of new life.  I could see the hope of a beautiful spring starting to emerge from the seemingly lifeless ground. 
My journey on this earth is full of ups and downs………..the seasons of life shift and change as time goes on.  There are seasons of growth, seasons of calmness, seasons of joy……….and then there are those seasons when I feel a chill in the air, seasons of storms when the sun is hidden, and seasons when I feel that around me I only see the fading of what was.  The drabness of my current sad situation threatens to overtake my vision.  Looking out the window of my life only reveals a dusty mess.  We all have these seasons of life.  Sometimes the seasons change suddenly.  In a flash, we go from happiness to despair.  At other times the shifting is more subtle.  Days and months flow by, and we begin to slowly realize that life has altered and there seems to be no way to get things around us back to the growing, thriving standard that we once knew. 
 
I know that in the dreary days of winter, my perennials in the flower beds around our house are safe underground.  They are alive, though not seen, and they are being fed by the moisture that comes.  Even the cold, harsh snow will give them the sustenance they need in order to survive.  So it is in my life…….in your life…….as we follow Christ.  The seasons where we only see gloom and coldness are really the times that we have an opportunity to rest under the care of our heavenly Father.  Let Him nourish us with His Word, with how He speaks to us in the listless times through the Holy Spirit, and how He uses friends to encourage and lift us up.  The reasons for our dark times don’t even always need to be understood or explained.  Many times, God just wants us to be still and to let Him work as we lay buried in Him.

Then one day without even digging, we will see the sweet evidence of growth.  New shoots will be emerging from the gloom of our lives…………shoots of hope, of joy, of peace………the fruit of many lessons learned.  Isaiah may have been talking about the millennial kingdom in Isaiah 61:11, but I believe we can claim these verses for our lives as well:  “For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.” 
 
Just as sure as I know that my garden phlox and salvia and lamb’s ear will return, so I know that God will cause His righteousness to prevail and His praise to spring up in my heart once again.  No matter what stress and change and disappointment we face, we can know for certain that God has a season of growth ahead for us………a season of beauty……….a beautiful spring up ahead.  

Lessons From the Icicles

 

It’s been another very mild and very dry winter here in Kansas.  It’s felt and even looked more like spring than winter this year.  While it’s been nice not to find ourselves maneuvering over slick roads, we do need some moisture.  And boy, did we get it!  A huge storm plowed into Kansas this week, leaving us in our part of the state with at least 14 inches of beautiful snow.  We woke up to a world of glimmer as the sun shone brightly on the newly fallen snow.  The ground is encased in a sparkly white wrap, fresh and mostly untouched in our big back yard. 
 
I also noticed another result of our massive snow storm as I looked out of our upstairs windows.  There hang long rows of icicles.  They have their own unique beauty, all clear and shiny like hanging crystals.  No two seem to be the same shape as the once dripping water has frozen into various forms and sizes.  Icicles are fascinating to observe and can be very pretty when the sun is shining on them, causing them to gleam in the light.  But icicles also have another aspect.  They can be sharp and dangerous as well. 
  
This morning I saw that the icicles hanging on the front of our house were starting to drip.  They were melting because they were facing east, where the morning sun was beating down upon them.  There was not a cloud in the sky and even though the temperature was cold, the warmth of the sun was still able to reach into their icy coverings and begin the melting process. 
Soon I walked into another bedroom on the west side of our house, where the sun was not yet reaching.  There hung another long row of icicles, still firm and cold in the shadow of the morning.  The sun had not yet touched these frozen fingers of ice, so they were still solid and stiff.  They didn’t really even appear as shiny and beautiful as the icicles that were being touched by the sun.  These hanging jabs of ice seemed colder, even more harsh, than the icicles in the front that were warming in the sun.
 
These icicles reminded me of some of the lingering results of personal storms in my  life…….especially times that have involved the hurt inflicted by others.  I imagine that you have had those hurts as well.  We all experience that pain at some point in our lives.  If we’re not careful, those wounds can develop into icy slivers of bitterness in our hearts.  Where there was once the flowing warmth of relationship there is now the frozen stab of disappointment that has pierced our heart.  Sometimes the situation is private and no one knows about it but us.  Other times the hurt is very public and embarrassing, misunderstood and whispered about by others.  The results are the same, though.  The pain created by these wounds is still very intense regardless of how they occur.
 
Solomon wrote about these matters.  In Proverbs 14:10 he said, “The heart knows its own bitterness…..”  No one but us knows what is in our hearts.  We may appear to be fine and normal to others, but those icy shards of bitterness have frozen our hearts.  We dwell on the situation and rehash the hurtful words and scenarios over and over again.  Our heart knows its bitterness, so very well, and we become numb in our pain……….and numb to the other Person who also knows what is in our heart.  God knows…..and He does care very much about that chill that has encased us and frozen us. 
 
In Ephesians 4:31-32, there are several sins that God tells us to put away.  The first one listed is bitterness.  Then God says to “……be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other…..”  So how can I be kind and tender and forgiving to those that have hurt me so deeply?  How can my heart be warmed again when it is so frozen with injustice and pain?   Well, it’s not easy, but God tells us here that the first way to start is to remember that we are to forgive “……..just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”     How can I be unforgiving when I have been SO forgiven by God?  I am forgiven……..and I must be forgiving to others. 
 
When I take this first step and realize my position in Christ, then His light will begin to thaw that immobile, cold heart of mine.  Forgiveness here carries the idea of releasing.  I need to constantly release to God the people and the situations that have so chilled my heart.  Let Him bear my pain and let Him warm my cold heart.  And if those people are still present in my life, then I am to show kindness and tenderness.  Look for ways to serve, to be kind, and to be tender hearted……..not hard hearted with a frozen heart but to be tender and loving.  It’s not easy, but God will enable and give grace to do what is the most difficult. 
 
Soon l will hear a dripping noise and realize that my once solid, icy heart is thawing out under the warmth of God’s love and His enabling.  He won’t force me to allow His light to shine in my inner being, but if I open that door and allow Him in, then the melting will begin.  Slowly but surely the damaging icicles will dissolve as I focus, not on the other person or on the pain that they have caused, but as I focus on the light of God’s forgiveness and love in my once cold heart.

 

 
Shine Your light in my heart, O God, and let the melting begin!

Lessons From the Stray Flower

It’s the time of year to call it quits – as far as my flower gardens, that is. My beds of beauty at this point on the calendar are mostly dead or dying beds of brownness. I had noticed for days that I really needed to buckle down and get it over with. All the areas that had once provided color and beauty were now dull and ugly. My flowers had done as well as they could during our history-making summer of stifling heat and drought. Now most of them looked spent. Not only tired and exhausted, but many of them positively dead. The garden would be lovelier without the dead growth, and our eyes would be pleased to look upon beds that were bare rather than beds that were full but wasted.

I gathered the tools that I needed for the job. Small pruning shears, large pruning shears, garden gloves, rake, broom, and my trash container. I walked out back to the two flower beds at our patio and got to work. I bent over and began clipping with the small pruners, being careful not to pull the perennials up by their roots. Hopefully next spring these once beautiful flowers will grow again if I leave their roots intact. I worked among the Black Eyed Susans, the Shasta Daisies, and the Garden Phlox first, snipping and cutting. The trash container was filling up fast, so I emptied it into the large trash can and came back to continue the cleaning. When I came to the Tiger Lilies, I grabbed the large shears and began whacking away at the tall, tough stalks. They fell over the area where once they had stood tall and regal in their bright orange blooms. I’d scoop them up, toss them in the container, and begin again with the pruning. Death was all around me. Everything that was once full of beauty was now only brown and crisp. Dust was puffing up around me, getting on my clothes and in my hair. It was a place of dryness, of has-beens and what used-to-be.

And then I saw it. The little pink blooms laying on the ground caught my eye in an instant as I cut some dead stalks away. They seemed so out of place amidst the drab decay all around them. I paused and looked at them laying there so sweet and still. They were small but their beauty was enormous next to the ugliness all around them. They made me pause and catch my breath as I drank in their beauty and enjoyed the message that they gave to me. I smiled, refreshed in a special way, and then continued with my task at hand as I kept them in my sight. I tried not to disturb their blooms that reminded me of the beauty of the past and promised me of more beauty yet to come in the spring.

 

I have had times of great joy and beauty in my life. I thank the Lord for the memories of those times, and for the daily blessings and moments of happiness that still occur in my life every single day. But as is true with every one of us, I have had times of bleakness. Times when all around me things appear to be full of sadness, heaviness, and pain. The chopping and the tearing away take such a toll on me. I get so tired. The dust swirls around me and I long for clean air and a refreshing touch. That’s when God bends down and speaks to me the clearest. There in the midst of the uncertainty and the heartache I hear His voice. His still, small voice speaks to me in sharp contrast to the darkness all around me. Through His Word, as I read and meditate on what He says, I am refreshed and encouraged. I remember His promises and His blessings of the past, and I know that He will be faithful yet in my future. God is like that little stray, blooming flower – catching my attention with His beauty and soothing me with His presence. Oh Lord, may I, like David, say: “Why are you in despair, oh my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.”

Lessons From the Battered Plants

On Thursday evening we stood helplessly at our windows and watched as the hail fell and the wind blew ferociously. The hail wasn’t huge but was relentless and seemed to go on forever. When the storm was over I stepped outside and felt very disheartened at what I saw – leaves that had blown off of trees and plants were plastered everywhere; branches were snapped and smaller twigs were scattered all around; flowers were shredded; newly purchased hanging baskets were twisted and broken; our vegetable garden partly flattened and mangled. I didn’t even want to deal with it after weeks of planting, nurturing, and then beginning to see the fruits of our labor that we noticed even as we walked around the yard and garden minutes before the storm started.

Today I stepped out on the back patio, gathered the hanging baskets together, and started trimming the dying and drooping limbs. I then turned to the two flower beds in the back to do the same there. And I noticed something amazing. In the midst of the damage there was new growth. There among the pock-marked leaves and shredded blooms were new blooms waiting to open, new leaves unfurling, and bees buzzing about. Life!! And you know why? Because these plants were not uprooted. Their root systems were intact, receiving nourishment from underneath the ground as well as stability to remain standing. Sure, they bear the marks of the storm, and some look very tattered and worn. But there is growth; there is an anchor in the soil; there is hope.

How many times I’ve been battered by the storms of life! All of us have endured the sting of trials in so many areas of our lives. Many trials are prolonged and seem to never end. I’ve felt beaten, defeated, discouraged, scared, tired. But through it all I know in Whom I have believed. My roots are firm in the God Whom I trust. Jeremiah said it very well in Jeremiah 17:7-8: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is in the Lord. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; But its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.” I may bear the marks of the sufferings of this life but as I remain rooted in God my life can continue to grow, to prosper spiritually, to yield the peacable fruit of righeousness, to have peace and usefulness. I have hope as I anchor my roots in Christ – “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and stedfast…..” Hebrews 6:19.

And so I pray that I will bear the marks of my trials and hardships to the glory of God. I pray that I will continue to grow, to bloom, and to bear fruit despite the scars that may mar my leaves. I pray that through the heat and fierceness of the storms to come I will remain rooted in the Lord with no fear or worry, being fed by Him, and looking forward to the sure and stedfast hope that He provides!