Lessons From the Toad

I saw him out of the corner of my eye as I watered one of our back flower beds on a very hot afternoon. I wasn’t sure what it was that had drawn my attention and so I leaned down slightly to see what had created the slight movement that I had seen. And there he was, with his head and half of his body sticking out of his little underground home. A small toad! So now I knew what had been living in that mysterious hole that had been dug in the mulch among the pink Coneflowers. I was very relieved that it wasn’t a huge spider, for one thing, and I also thought that this wee fellow was pretty cute.

 As I gently sprayed the flowers in the summer heat, my small toad neighbor just stayed where he was. And as he sat there with a little mound of fresh dirt on his head, I observed some toad behavior that I had never seen before. He lifted his head slightly as the water softly fell on him and then shook his head a bit. He blinked his eyes but didn’t seem bothered by the water that fell over his face. In fact, I thought that he was enjoying the cool shower that was cascading over his hot, bumpy body. It certainly was a very stifling day and I could imagine that he was pleasantly relieved at this unexpected relief from the dryness and the heat.

 

 

As I watched my toad’s reaction to the cool water, I thought of the times in my life that I have felt completely worn out and depleted from the heat of life’s unrelenting ups and downs. At times I have felt dried up and burnt from the stresses that this life can bring. It seems that there is no relief as day after day of disappointments or worries beat down upon my unprotected head. Yet in my heart I know where relief can be found. I can say with David in Psalm 63:1 – “O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, My flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

Meeting God in His Word and in prayer is where my cool, refreshing relief is to be found. He is there to quench my thirst and His Word is there to revive my dry, parched soul. Then I can say along with the Psalmist, “This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your Word has revived me.” (Psalm 119:50) I want to let the refreshment that God offers me wash over my spirit. I want to lift my head, blink my eyes in wonder and praise, and let His Word revive me so that when the heat is on, my soul is calm and my spirit is renewed. Thank you, dear Lord, for the little bumpy toad You sent my way!

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.  

Psalm 46

Today on the radio I heard David Jeremiah talking about those times that we come to God with such heavy hearts that we don’t really even know what to say, and so we just ask Him to speak to us in a special way.  I guess hearing him say that has caused me to think today about one of the most meaningful times that I did just that.

In May of 2000, my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer.  He went through months of grueling chemotherapy and radiation, and was doing very well.  After four years we were all resting easier about his condition, praising God for His healing hand on Dad.

I’ll never forget the day in early November of 2004 when our phone rang.  It was my mom and dad calling me from West Virginia.  Some routine blood work that had been done a few weeks earlier had shown that some of his levels weren’t quite right.  On the phone that day, he and mom broke the news to me that a liver scan had shown that Dad had liver cancer.  It was inoperable, but chemo was once again an option.  However, we knew that this was very serious and possibly terminal.

None of our family was expecting this news.  We were all devastated, of course, and so sad on many levels.  The next morning after receiving this awful news, I sat at the table with my coffee and my Bible.  I was trying to find the motivation to work on a Bible study I was doing, but my heart wasn’t in that.  Finally, I just called out to God and said, “Oh God, You know that I am so sad and so hurt over Dad.  Please, Lord, I need to hear from You right now.  Please speak to me.”

I opened my Bible randomly.  I had nothing marked, nothing stuck in the pages of my Bible that would have caused it to open where it did.  I looked down to where I had opened it and saw Psalm 46.  This was a special Psalm to my extended family.  Verse one says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  Beside that verse I had written, “‘Dad, cancer: 2000.”  Then verse 10 is my mother’s verse: “Be still and know that I am God.”  I had her name written beside that verse.

It was a very special time of worship for me that morning.  I said, “Oh, thank you Lord, for reminding me of Who You were to all of us during Dad’s cancer in 2000 and of Who You still are today!”  And so I added the date of 2004 to that verse as a reminder of this wonderful word once again from God.

It was a Friday morning and I knew that back in West Virginia, Dad was at the Men’s Prayer Breakfast that he always attended.  That meant that Mom would be alone, and so she and I could really talk.  I called her and for a few minutes we talked and cried together.  Then I said, “Mom, God did the most amazing thing this morning.  I asked Him to speak to me and so I opened my Bible……………”   But Mom interrupted me before I could say anything else.

She said, “Wait!  Don’t tell me!  Was it Psalm 46?”

And I replied, “Well, yes, but how did you know that?”

And she said, “Yesterday when we got home from the doctor, your dad went back into the bedroom and stayed there a long time.  When he came out I asked what he was doing, and he told me that he was reading Psalm 46.”

Oh wow!  God was reaching down to us, so many miles apart, and showing us that He was there…….that He was aware of our need and of our hurt……..that He hadn’t forgotten us…………..that He truly was a PRESENT help in our trouble.

God gave us four more wonderful years with Dad.  We would often say to each other, “Remember Psalm 46!”

What a faithful and awesome God we serve!

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.”