Tucked Away Promises

I woke up yesterday morning to the faint sound of thunder, so I went first thing to my favorite window and saw this:

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What a beautiful sight any time of day, but to me a special morning blessing!  It only got better a short time later when I went outside and saw a faint second rainbow in the sky.

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Before long, the lightning got brighter and the thunder was louder.  Then came the rain.

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And after the rain, our rainbows reappeared.

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The same scenario repeated itself as soon more rain fell.

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I was up and down, inside and outside, and enjoying the rain with Gary as we watched from inside the garage.  Some of the lightning was close and scary.  Some of the thunder was loud and unsettling.  But we were safe.  And we were thankful for the rain, which brings growth and nourishment to our yard and gardens.

I was especially touched as I read once again the verses from Psalms that I had just read the day before:

“But as for me, I will sing about Your power.  Each morning I will sing with joy about Your unfailing love.  For You have been my refuge, a place of safety when I am in distress.”  Psalm 59:16

The rainbow that I first saw reminded me of the fact that it’s vital for me to have a grasp of God’s promises before the storms hit.  It’s so important for me to have that knowledge of what God has to say to me, found in the Bible, tucked into my brain and my heart.

I need to be reading His Word, remembering His promises, and learning WHO God is…..and doing this every day.  Days add up to weeks, then months, then years.  Looking into His Word, listening to God, talking to Him……just like looking up every morning and seeing a beautiful rainbow that catches my eye and grabs my attention.  That’s what I need to be doing with God’s Word.

Then one day…..BAM!!!  The storm hits, in whatever form that takes, and even though the beauty of the rainbow may be hidden by clouds, I can still trust that it’s there.  I can still trust that God is there, with His promises that are highlighted in my Bible and hidden in my heart.  I don’t need to be afraid, distressing and exhausting though my situation may be.  That’s because I’ve gotten to know God intimately over those days and weeks and months and years.

Not it’s time to put into practice what I’ve put away.  It’s not the power of positive thinking.  It’s the power of God’s promises…..of God Himself!!  He will give me comfort and safety in the storms.  He will be my place of safety in my distress.

And I could also sing this old wonderful hymn this morning in church:

          Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,

          Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above.

          Join with all nature in manifold witness,

          To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

          Great is Thy faithfulness!

          Great is Thy faithfulness!

          Morning by morning new mercies I see.

          All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided.

          Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

At the end of the day, I can see God’s hand all over my life.

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The Surprise

I was walking through our vegetable garden one day in early summer, looking at the pretty little plants growing so nicely where Gary and I had placed them.  There was the summer squash on the front row, along with some zucchini.  The tomatoes were already inside their tomato cages that Gary had put up, and behind them were our okra plants.  Cucumbers were on the side of the garden near the tall oak tree.  We have a simple garden this year, not as full as it sometimes is, but enough for us and hopefully some to share with others.

Everything was where it should be, growing as we had hoped at this point, with no visible bugs or other problems that I could see. Weeds hadn’t started taking over yet, either, so I felt content as I turned to leave the garden.

But wait.  What was this?

I stopped between the tomatoes and okra as I noticed a plant growing in a place where we had not put a seedling.  It wasn’t a weed.  It looked for all the world like……a cucumber?  But what would a cucumber be doing here, when the rest of the cucumbers were all the way over on the other side of the garden?

I hadn’t planted it there.  Gary hadn’t planted it there.  Hmmmmm…….

I stood looking at it, wondering what to do.  There are any number of ways that a cucumber seed from last year ended up under the soil and then growing again this year.  I’ll never know for sure.

But what I did know was that I would not have planted that cucumber in the spot where I found it.  It was too near the edge of the garden, for one thing.  It might get all tangled up in the okra or try to climb the tomato cages.  It might want to grow out into the yard where Gary mows.  It might not flourish under the sunflowers that were soon to be planted right there where its leaves had sprouted.

Bottom line……that volunteer cucumber was just not at all where I would have put it.  I didn’t want it there.  I could think of all the reasons mentioned above that I didn’t want it growing where it had sprouted.

It hadn’t been in our garden plan at all.  Now here it was, intruding in a place and at a time that I hadn’t intended for it to be.  I hated to uproot a growing vegetable plant, however.

“Well, OK,” I thought.  “I guess I’ll leave you here while I decide what to do.  You’ll probably die anyway and then I won’t have a decision to make after all.”

And with that, I turned and walked out of the garden……my garden that now held a stray cucumber plant.  A plant that messed up my plan.  One that, honestly, I didn’t want.

I watched that vagabond cucumber plant over the next days…..days that became weeks.  I left it where it was, more curious as time went on to see how it would fare.  And guess what?  My stray cucumber plant grew beautifully!  In fact, it grew better than the other cucumbers that I had so carefully planned and planted on the other side of the garden.

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It wasn’t long before I saw the first tiny little spiny cucumbers growing under its leaves.  I tended it carefully, pulling its curly tendrils away from the tomato cages…..guiding the growing vine out of the yard and back to the garden…..watching another of its vines growing up a tall sunflower stalk.

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The fruit of that unwelcome cucumber has been beautiful and sweet.  We’ve benefited from it very much, and so have others with whom I’ve shared.  I’m so thankful that I didn’t follow my first response and pull the cucumber from the soil!  I’m thankful that I stepped back, gave it time, let it grow, and then enjoyed the sweet fruit…..and the lessons it has taught me.

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One thing we all know, if we live long enough, is that life is full of surprises.  We can be going along just fine, things working out the way we had planned, when BAM!!  We hit the proverbial wall.  Suddenly, things are NOT going as planned.  Now what?

As followers of Christ, we’re certainly not exempt from those detours in life.  In fact, God does put situations and events and people into our lives for a purpose that sometimes only He knows.  Maybe He’ll share it with us and maybe He won’t.  So again, what do we do?

Do we try to fix it?  Get rid of it?  Ignore it?  And if we can’t do any of those, do we argue with God?  Get angry?  Get bitter?

I mean, admit it, there are things that happen to us that that we just can’t see any reason for.  Really, God?  I would NOT have done that.  I would NOT have put that situation in that place in my life at all.  I mean, maybe another time…..another place…..or better yet, not at all!!

So, God, this wasn’t in my plan.  I had my life pretty well mapped out, you know.  Grow up….college….job….husband….kids…..family…..

I didn’t plan on Aaron falling back into my arms that Sunday afternoon 25 years ago, seizing and bleeding and unconscious.  That was most unwelcome.  I didn’t plan on being given his further diagnosis of autism 7 years after that.  I mean, isn’t Epilepsy enough?  I didn’t plan on still being his caregiver when he’s almost 33 years old.  Don’t You know about empty nest?  How welcome, on many days, THAT would be?

So…..this plant that You have placed in my life?  Why did You put it there?  I might agree to it in some form…..over there, in another area, to a different degree.  Here….just let me decide where it goes and how big it grows, OK?  Really, I would never have put it there in the first place…..in case You want to know.

But oh my goodness, what God has taught me over the years from that little unwanted seedling that popped up where I didn’t plan it!

What I’ve learned can be summed up with one verse in one of my very favorite Bible passages.  Psalm 18:30:

“But as for God, His way is perfect.”

There you have it.  Eight little words that speak incredible volumes about God and His sovereignty.

It doesn’t say that His way is easy…..fun…..pretty…..popular…..understandable.

Or fast.  Gary and I are in this life with Aaron for the long haul.

We each have our own situations that God has put, just so, in our lives.  As we stand and look at whatever that is, we must choose whether to accept God’s placement in our garden or to spend our life hating it.

But let me tell you, when you accept that God’s way is perfect and you let Him be that Master Gardener in your life, you’re going to one day see fruit.  You’re going to see growth in your life that you never thought possible.  You’re going to see beautiful fruit like peace, joy, thankfulness, wisdom.

And best of all, that fruit is what you’ll be able to share with others…..especially others who are suffering.  Comforting as you have been comforted…..blessing as you have been blessed.

God does know what He’s doing, after all.  His way IS perfect, and perfectly placed, in each of our lives.

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Did God Say?

No matter the kind or the size of your garden……vegetable, flower, small, large, shady, sunny…..there is one thing that your garden will always have. 

Weeds. 

Pesky, fast growing, determined weeds.

It’s amazing how quickly they grow, even during times of drought.  We used to laugh when living in Arizona, telling each other not to pull the weeds in our yard because they were the only vegetation that was green!

Weeds themselves come in all kinds and sizes, shapes and colors. Some weeds are very obviously weeds.  One doesn’t even have to look or think twice before pulling them up, hopefully by their roots, like these weeds that were blatantly growing in our vegetable garden recently.  Lots of these weeds were either pulled or tilled over the past two days. 

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If you could take a look in our Rose of Sharon bushes, however, you would find another sort of weed.  You might have to look hard, though, to find the intruder.  Can you see it?

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The first time I noticed this plant was when I was pruning our Rose of Sharon bushes two years ago.  The Rose of Sharon bushes were growing well and blooming beautifully as I began to prune some of the dead branches away, as well as some of the growth that was in the way of the lawn mower. 

I saw the rich green and the pretty shape of these leaves.

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At first I was deceived by their beauty, thinking that they were a part of the Rose of Sharon.  But then it hit me.  Wait.  These leaves, pretty as they were, were NOT Rose of Sharon leaves. 

I investigated further, tracing the growth of this new plant, and soon discovered that this pretty plant with the lush leaves was actually a vine.  It was a vine that was curling itself around my Rose of Sharon branches.

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Two years later, I’m still fighting this same vine.  It wraps and wraps itself around each Rose of Sharon branch, insidious in it’s desire to choke out my bushes…….my flowering bushes with their pretty blooms of white, purple, and pink. 

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If I left this vine to do its crafty work, it would soon overtake my entire Rose of Sharon garden.  Every branch would eventually be choked and would die, leaving only the vine to prosper there. 

It’s my choice.  I can have Rose of Sharon bushes there, or I can have an area full of this vine. 

But this vine is a weed…..an intruder, as I said, that wants to destroy my bushes.  As pretty as the vine may be, it will only bring death to the bushes that I really want to grow.

So I continue to fight this stubborn vine.  I cut……I unwrap its tentacles from around each Rose of Sharon branch……I yank and I pull and I toss it in the trash. 

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Yet the only way to permanently do away with each new vine growth that I find is to pull it up from its roots.  I must locate the source of the growth and deal with it on that level……the roots.

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Weeds remind me a lot of sin.  Some sins are very obvious to us.  We may see certain sins in our life and have no doubt about the fact that they are wrong.  Just like the weeds among my vegetables, those sins we know need to be yanked up and thrown out of our lives. 

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But then there’s that other form of sin……the vine. 

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I think it’s interesting that the very beginning story of mankind occurred in a garden.  God designed this gorgeous place for His creation, Adam and Eve, as well as all the animals and plants that He so carefully created.  God gave Adam and Eve great freedom, along with a free will. 

We all know the tragic story, how one day Satan slithered into the picture.  He was captivating and wily, changing God’s words around ever so slightly to Eve in a way that made her doubt God. 

Satan was beautiful, and he showed Eve how beautiful the forbidden tree could be to her.  He would never have convinced her to sin if he had shown her the truth of his lies…..if he had shown her that pain and sorrow and death would follow her sin. 

We all know the tragic result, too, of this tragic story.  Look around today and we see it still, more and more as our culture continues to decline. 

Satan hasn’t changed one bit.  His method is still to deceive us by masking sin in beauty, much as my ugly weed was masked as a lush, lovely vine. 

Sin today is presented by the slick Hollywood version, all painted and desirable to those who can’t…..or won’t…..see beneath the surface, where broken lives and death prevail. 

The arguments are as old as Satan in the garden himself. 

“Did God say?” he whispers in our ear.  “God didn’t really mean it that way.  Those words may have been for a time long ago…..a culture far removed from our own…..but not for our progressive world today.”

“Did God say?” he softly hisses again.  “How hateful that sounds.  You don’t want to be known as a hater, do you?”

“Did God say?” he continues as we are lulled to sleep.  “God just doesn’t want you to be free to be you.  You should follow your heart, not those old words in that old book.”

“Did God say?” he again suggests.  “But you must find your own truth.  Your truth may not be what the Bible says.  Be who you are, without any regret.”

It’s so easy to listen to such charming words, especially when those words embody the popular ideas that are absolutely everywhere around us.  Our movies, our music, our classrooms, our books, our advertisements, are all jammed full of these world views. 

Satan has taken such a hold on our culture now that he is entwined in every area.  He has curled himself around our thought processes and our lives in such an invasive way that we hardly recognize him anymore.  It’s all so loving and so warm and so free to think this way…..to live this way…..until it’s too late. 

Satan would never want you to see the end result.  Paul told the Corinthians that Satan was an angel of light.  He comes at us with bright promises of a life lived the way we want, full of self-satisfaction and fun and acceptance.

But Jesus also said that Satan is the father of lies.  His lies sound so pleasant, so current, so loving and right.  But what he doesn’t show us is the death that always comes from sin.  Death of dreams, death of a relationship with God, death of living in God’s plan, and eternal death in hell. 

Satan and his lies must be dealt with at the root.  Go back to the source of his lies, the evil that he represents, and know that Satan hates God.  Satan hates me.  Satan hates all of us, and he wants us to die eternally.  He is a murderer.  And you and I are the ones he wants to murder.

Sin brings death, but Jesus came to bring life.  He took our sin on Himself on the cross, suffering for sins that He never committed.  Suffering so that you and I could be free….free to live in His grace and His forgiveness.

We don’t have to sin.  We don’t have to have Satan’s lies choke out the life God wants us to have.  Repent…..turn around from your sin and turn to the God Who truly loves you…..and accept His grace and salvation.  Follow Him.

And be wise to the ways of our enemy.  Lush green leaves among my Rose of Sharon were really there to kill.  So is Satan, with all his clever words and his compelling beauty. 

You might need to do some serious pruning in your life, but never will you regret the decision to let the right plant grow in your life’s garden.   

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The Plans I Have For You

I think most of the nation has had a milder than usual winter.  Here in Kansas, we really haven’t had a winter to speak of.  Trees were budding, bushes were bearing leaves, and perennials were poking out of the ground in February!

I shouldn’t have been surprised…..but I was surprised……to walk past my front flower bed one day in February and look down to see that my Salvia had made an appearance.  There were fresh little green leaves sticking up through the ground, unaware that the month was only February.  Salvia don’t look at calendars.  They only respond to the warmth of the sun and the mildness of the nights.

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Something occurs deep underground, in their roots, that awakens them and urges them to respond.  It’s God’s miracle of growth, not tied to the month of the year but to the environment around them.  And even though that environment can at times be harsh still at this time of year……at any time of year, really……their roots stir under the right conditions and so they grow.

I was tempted on that February day to lean over and clear off all the dead leaves that looked like a hindrance to the Salvia’s growth.  But I left the leaves for insulation against the cold nights, and the snow that I knew could still come.

I’ve watched the progress of my Salvia over the past few weeks.  The picture from this morning shows how much growth has occurred.  The dead leaves, old mulch, and other clutter hasn’t prohibited my Salvia’s growth at all.  The perennial nature of this flower is alive and well as those new leaves push through all the mess around them.  It just faithfully grows and grows, quietly but strongly flourishing.

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This morning in my quiet time with the Lord I read some verses that are very familiar to many of us.  They are words spoken by God to the nation of Israel, recorded by the prophet Jeremiah.

“For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”   Jeremiah 29:11-13

These are verses of such encouragement and hope for all believers, not just for the nation of Israel during the time of Jeremiah.  But do you know where Israel was when God spoke these words to them?  They were being held captive in Babylon.  They were not in their home country, living freely, but were held as captive slaves in a harsh land far from all they knew and loved.

In the ten verses preceding these verses above, God had given some instructions to His chosen people through a letter written by Jeremiah and delivered to the exiles in Babylon.  God told the people to settle in to their new life in Babylon.  He told them to build houses and live in them; to plant gardens and eat their produce; to take wives and bear children; to increase and not decrease; and even to seek the welfare of their new city, praying to the Lord on its behalf.

You know how long God told them to be faithful in their captivity?  Seventy years.  SEVENTY years.

So when God then said that He knew the plans that He had for them……plans to give them a future and a hope……He also knew that this promise wasn’t coming to pass tomorrow.  He laid it out there for them.   He told them to live as He commanded and to be obedient to Him, even in their dire situation, for seventy long years.

God’s promise was given to them in the middle of less than ideal circumstances.   It wasn’t to be fulfilled immediately.  But while they waited, God wanted them to live their lives fully and faithfully to Him.

In fact, many of those Israelites would never see the promise come to pass.  They would die in Babylon.  Yet God still commanded them to be obedient and live the way He wanted.

How about us?  How does God want us to live every day?

He wants us to follow the example that He continually sets out there in His Word for us to see.  He wants us to be faithful to Him, to obey Him, and to grow no matter what is going on in our lives.

We may be going through awful times so full of grief and stress that we wonder how we can get out of bed every day.  God knows.  He understands.  He loves us.  He provides what we need.  He promises us a future and a hope.

But relief may not come today.  It may not come tomorrow.  Or the next day, or the next.  But like He told His people in Babylon, He says to you and to me today.  “Call upon Me.  Pray to Me, and I will listen.  For you will seek Me and you will find Me when you search for me with all your heart.”

It’s simple, really, but so difficult to do sometimes when our surroundings are bitter and hard and scary.  Call upon Him.  Pray.  Seek Him with all your heart.

Read His Word with an open heart to hear what He has to say to you.  Ask Him to lead your steps.  Obey what you know He tells you to do in His Word.

God will speak to you.  He will lead you to Himself.

And in the middle of your pain and your stress, you will grow.  Just like my Salvia in the middle of deadness all around it and the coldness of some nights…..still pushing through and growing, as God intended.

God loves you.  He truly does have a future and a hope for you as you follow Him, but not always…..in fact, seldom……without the suffering and sadness of this life.

But what a beautiful work He is doing in you and in me as we faithfully respond to His love and to His word in our lives!

So grow!  Grow where God has put you!

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Possess Your Possessions

Last summer we enjoyed a fabulous tomato crop in our little home vegetable garden.  It was, by far, the best tomato growing season in the 17 years that we had lived and gardened in Kansas.  We picked buckets and buckets of tomatoes, much to our great delight.

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We ate fresh tomatoes with our meals.  We ate fresh tomatoes by themselves.  We ate fresh tomatoes on sandwiches.  We gave tomatoes away to neighbors and friends.  I canned delicious salsa.  I also canned 34 quarts of tomatoes.  And Aaron gave tomatoes to his friends at his day group, which made him very happy.

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Now, I could have stood at the edge of our garden every day just enjoying the sight of those tomatoes on the vines.  I could have talked about how many were growing there, told everyone about them, and taken some pictures to share.  But what good would any of that have been?

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In order to really partake of my tomatoes, I needed to take possession of them.  That meant, in this case, to go to the garden with my bucket in hand and then pick each tomato off the vine.  It meant putting the tomatoes in my bucket, bringing them in my house, washing them, and then using them in whatever way I wanted at the time.

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I read an interesting verse one day.  The verse is Obadiah 17 (only one chapter in Obadiah).  This verse is referring to a future time, even future for Israel today, but a time when Israel would finally enjoy the fullness of God’s plan and blessings.  What jumped out at me was this phrase:  “And the house of Jacob will possess their own possessions.”

So how do you possess your own possessions?  I mean, if they’re your possessions, don’t you already possess them?

Well, it’s kind of like my tomatoes in the garden.  They were my tomatoes……my possessions……but I didn’t POSSESS my tomatoes until I really TOOK possession of them.  There is a huge difference in looking at those tomatoes, and really taking possession of them in order to fully partake of and enjoy them.

God made a covenant with Israel, one in which he promised to be their God and that they would be His people.  He promised them a land and many blessings.  God’s covenant is unbreakable and will never change.  But full enjoyment of all the benefits of that covenant, and of God’s full blessings, hinged on one word…..one sometimes very difficult word.

“Now then, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall by My Own possession among all the peoples…..” (Exodus 19:5)

See the difficult word?  It’s the word “obey.”  God wasn’t referring to covenant status here.  His covenant itself depended only on Him.  But covenant enjoyment depended on obedience.

God said, “All these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you IF you obey the Lord your God.”  (Deuteronomy 28:2)

Obedience equals blessing.

God repeatedly told Israel that obedience is better than sacrifice.  He told them over and over that the land and the enemies therein were their possession.  But they couldn’t fully possess their possessions until they obeyed God.

Obedience equaled full partaking of God’s promises and His blessings.

Possessing their promised possessions.

What about me?

As a follower of Christ, God has given me many great and precious promises (2 Peter 1:4).  He promises peace, power, wisdom, strength, and so much more.  These are my possessions in Christ, but not fully possessed by me until I walk in obedience.

Repentance of sin and walking in obedience are the keys to fully possessing all the wonderful possessions that I have as a believer.  It’s really very simple, but also very difficult.  Difficult because I so often want my own way.  Simple because God is full of forgiveness when I repent.

So I can stand on the edge of the garden, so to speak, looking in at all the beautiful promises of God given to me in His Word.  But only when I choose to read my Bible and learn of God’s will and His ways for me…….and then choose to obey……will I be fully in possession of all His promises for me.  I’m not talking about salvation.  I’m talking about living a full life the way God intended for me to live as His child.

I love the often unsung fourth verse of the old hymn, Trust and Obey:

But we never can prove the delights of His love,

until all on the altar we lay.

For the favor He shows;

For the joy He bestows;

Are for them who will trust and obey.

I don’t want to just look at God’s favor and God’s joy.  I want to possess God’s favor and possess God’s joy……to partake of those promises, fully.

Possess my possessions!   

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The Scary Place

Gary and I looked at lots of homes when we were house hunting here in the Wichita area over 17 years ago.  Has it been that long?!  The house we are in now was the second house we looked at during those rushed few days.  We at first dismissed it because the inside of the house needed lots of work.  No other houses were right, though, and so we were pulled back to this house for a second look.  I remember standing in the upstairs window in what became Aaron’s bedroom, looking out over the back yard.  At that time there was a large, beautiful pool in the back as well as the big yard.  I was so surprised when I was told that the whole area out back was part of the house’s yard.  And for me, that was largely what sold me on this house.  That yard……

That yard has offered us room for running young children; for walking and playing with our dogs; for endless hours of swimming with family and friends before we covered up the pool; for our vegetable garden; for parties and fireworks; for ball throwing and bean bags and even boomerangs (we ended that idea pretty quickly!); for enjoying wildlife; and for a measure of privacy that we have enjoyed.

The look of the yard has changed with time, just as we have.  The pool is gone; dozens of dead pines and other trees have had to be cut; fences are not there now; and once young trees are now tall and strong.  But our back yard, despite the changes, is still a place that is home to us.  That yard beckons us, whether it is to work or to play; to sit or to walk……our yard is home and is a place of comfort to us.

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There are two big evergreens at the back of our yard, visible from our house but not too near.  I sometimes think of our yard as ending there because you can’t really see around those big trees.  You must walk around them to see what lies out there in the very back part of our back yard.

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There is simply a small area out there that is our property, where Gary mows and where more trees grow to both sides.  And it is there where a finger of the neighborhood lake weaves in a curve.  This part of the lake is dry for a good part of the year, but is full of water when the rains come.

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It is this section of our yard that is, to me, fairly creepy.  There are some trees there, one especially, that is wild and untamed.  Its branches are tangled in a mass of knotted wood and long thorns that threaten if you get too close.  It’s a dark place, especially in the summer when leaves and underbrush are growing.  I feel cold in this area, even though this is still our yard.  It isn’t warm and welcoming like the rest of our yard, but is a little ominous and foreboding.  I like to walk back around those large evergreens where I can see our house and the rest of our yard, safe and welcoming.

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I was standing in this area of our yard a few days ago while Aaron and I took our Great Dane, Jackson, for a walk.  Aaron was having fun exploring the dry creek bed, and Jackson was sniffing everywhere and everything.  I still didn’t want to linger long here, but as I did stand there I was reminded of one of our favorite Psalms and of the very wonderful lesson we learn from it.

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We often think of Psalm 23 as the one we read at funerals.  But David wrote this Psalm from his life as a shepherd, before he became a king.  He compared our God to a shepherd, a life that David knew well.  Our Shepherd makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us beside still waters.  But…..He also is with us during those times that we must walk through dark valleys.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.  Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” 

Often shepherds in Bible times found themselves in desert areas, where there were deep valleys.  Those valleys were full of danger.  Danger could come from bandits, from sudden raging floods, or from wild animals.  The valleys were frightful…..a place of threat to the sheep.  But the good shepherd kept a close watch, using his rod to beat off wild animals and his staff to gently guide the sheep away from danger.  Sometimes there was no other way to go but through the desert valley, but the sheep knew that they could trust their shepherd to guide them through the dangers.

So it is with you and I as we live this life.  Honestly, if left up to me, I would have chosen some different paths than those that God has chosen for me.  But God knew best for me, and He continues to know where I need to be and what circumstances need to be around me.  He has proven Himself undeniably faithful and loving to me, even…..and especially…..in the very hard times.  He has a reason, a purpose, for every dark valley and every unwelcome event in my life.  He may choose to let me know the reason now, and He may not.  That’s where trust comes in…..the trust of me, a sheep, for my loving Shepherd.

I have dear family and friends who have been in, or are still in, one of those dark valleys.  To each of you I say that God, your great Shepherd, is with you.  He will protect you and He will comfort you as only He can.

To Paul and Goldie whose daughter, Jennifer, went to heaven only a month ago after such suffering.  To Janet, my dear friend who is fighting cancer.  To Nancy, whose sweet father was just put on hospice.  To Steve and Dona, whose lives have been radically changed when Steve suffered a massive stroke over a year ago.  To Dan and Wendy, who face untold stress and grief as they watch their precious Elijah suffer from severe seizures.  To Sarah, Anna, and Kyle, who have had more loss this year than I can fathom.  To Linda and Laura, who will always grieve the tragic death of their son and brother.  To Kurt and Jill, whose son Nicholas just endured yet another infection and brain surgery.  To my sister, Mary Beth, who somehow goes through each day with a smile as she struggles with a muscle disease.  To Karen and Bill, who have heartache that just can’t be told.

And to so many more of you, each with your own battles……your own valleys…..your own dangers and fears.  Let God be your Shepherd.  Know Him and trust Him.  Know that He has a reason for every path that you take, and His reason is one that is born out of deep love for you.  Someday we will understand.  And in the meantime, we need to trust our Shepherd to have our good nearest to His heart.  For he truly does.

“Surely goodness and mercy (lovingkindness) will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” 

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A Light In the Dark

It had been a dark day here.  Clouds were thick with not one peek of sunshine all day.  The outline of the bare trees was stark against the grey sky.  The big oak tree out back looked dull, even though its leaves were still clinging to its branches.  It was just a heavy day in the way that often happens at this time of year.

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And then suddenly everything changed.  I’m glad that I looked out the window when I did.  The change, though stunning, was very brief.

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Somehow the sun did shine through that thick layer of clouds.  And what a difference its appearance made.  Color returned to the world outside my window!  Greens, golds, rusts, and even blacks were so beautiful in those few moments.  And those moments showed me that the sun was there behind the clouds, still shining even when the clouds hid its brightness again.

I don’t know why sometimes God allows His children to endure prolonged periods of heavy, dark days.  I do know that suffering makes us more like Christ.  Suffering is the tool that God uses to form us into His likeness……to show us Who He is……to bring Him glory.  Sometimes it just doesn’t make much sense, though.  And it hurts, deeply hurts.

There is hope.  God hasn’t gone anywhere, even when we can’t see His light.  These few words that I read recently say it very well:

“Light arises in the darkness for the upright….”  (Psalm 112:4a)

This is so much more than our human wisdom.  This promise isn’t, “Just look at the bright side!”  Sometimes there is totally no bright side to see anyway.  Please don’t tell me to try to find one.

The light that arises in our darkness is the Light of the World.  The baby that we celebrate this time of year is that Light.  John called Him the true Light.  But baby Jesus was born into a dark world in a dark manger.  His life was hardship and ended in horrific pain….all because He was the Light.

His light shines into all my dark places today, not only to expose sin, but also to show me the way and to show me that He is there in the darkness.  He is there to comfort……He is there to provide…….He is there to love.

I don’t have to “find” Him.  He shows Himself to me in sudden ways, sometimes even brief ways, like my burst of sunshine on that heavy day.  He brings sweet answers to prayer.  He fills my heart with peace.  He brings a friend to cheer me.  He reminds me of my many blessings.

The dark days grow my trust.

The light that arises in that darkness reminds me of the One in whom I trust…..that He is there and He is faithful.

The light shines best in the dark.  May I remember that truth on every dark day.