What Do I See?

Aaron and I were coming out of the grocery store recently.  Suddenly he veered sharply to his left, leaned over, and proudly held up his prize find.  A penny!  He was so happy to have snatched this treasure!  He proudly held it up for me to see before stashing it safely in his pant’s pocket.

This is so routine with Aaron.  Everywhere we go, he spies items on the ground that most people don’t even see.  Or if seen, most of us wouldn’t think they are worth our time or attention. But not Aaron!

We’ve had to teach him over the years that some things he sees are not treasures and are not even safe.  Things like cigarette butts…yuck!  Or random hair bands, bobby pins, or combs.

Last week, he and I walked out onto our driveway after a rain.  Before I knew it, there he was, leaning over to look at what had caught his eye this time.

“MOM!!  LOOK!!” he exclaimed.  “It’s a worm!!”

 

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A worm.  Aaron just had to look closer at this worm and touch it.  Again, to me it was just another worm, if I even did see it.  But not to Aaron.  To Aaron, this worm was a find worth investigating…worth stopping for…worth his notice.

This is such a strange and difficult time we are in right now.  There is so much to absorb…to hear…to try to understand about this virus and about its dangers.  We are besieged with so many changes and challenges.

What do we see when we look around us?

Fear?

Hardship?

Loss?

Stress?

Certainly, most of us can say yes, to one degree or another, to all the above.

But there’s something else we really must keep sight of.  David said it perfectly in Psalm 26:3:   “For Your lovingkindness is before my eyes…”

When my eyes dart here and there in such unusual times as we have right now, may I see…above all else…the lovingkindness of God.

Another version says:  “Indeed, Your covenant love stands right before my eyes…”

God’s love for us is right before our eyes, every day and every moment of this scary and trying time.

Sometimes I just don’t see it, though.  I don’t see God’s love because I’m too focused on looking way ahead at what is yet to come, usually with trepidation instead of trust.

This verse continues this way:  “Indeed, Your covenant love stands right before my eyes…and I have walked along in Your faithfulness.”

It’s not MY faithfulness that is being talked about here.  It’s GOD’S faithfulness to me that matters!

We say God is love.  We know God is love.  But sometimes when life is overwhelming, we don’t see His love through eyes of faith.

We don’t understand why we’re being besieged by COVID-19.  Why is God allowing this to happen?

We can’t say for sure, but what we do know for sure is that God loves all of us, and He wants each of us to know Him and to walk along in His faithfulness.

Sometimes I just need to stop, like Aaron so often does, and bend over before God as I look at His love.

When I observe His love and think of His deep love, I know peace that passes understanding.

Peace even in the middle of panic all around.

Then I can stand up again, sure of God’s love right before my eyes, and take off walking again.

Walking in God’s promised faithfulness through the uncertainty.

God’s love for each of us is worth our time and worth our notice.   God makes THE biggest and best difference to me when I’m stressed.

It’s great to stop at some point each day right now, and just ponder the treasure I see right before me.

Thank you, God, that Your covenant love stands right before my eyes!

Trust and Trouble

As of today, March 27, Aaron has been home and not going to his day group for two weeks.

Two.  Weeks.

But who’s counting?!

What a strange world we are living in right now!  So many lives on hold.  So many lives lost.

How can we even make sense of all this?  We can’t, really.

But as believers, we can trust.  We can trust that somehow God is allowing this time on earth and that there is a reason far beyond our understanding.

I was enjoying a beautiful morning sky one day last week.  The puffy clouds were so pretty.

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I was going about my morning.  Soon I glanced outside again and noticed some thickening of the clouds.

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Darker clouds were moving in quickly.  What a change from just a short time earlier!

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I was surprised at how suddenly the sky changed.

The deep gray clouds soon choked out any sign of the blue sky behind them.

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A spring storm was certainly brewing!

When the storm clouds were starting to form, I snapped this picture.  Can you see what’s out there, in the clouds?

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A small rainbow!

A sign of God and of His promises to us!

It was timely that last week I was slowly reading and studying through Psalm 26.  In verse 15, David said:

“My eyes are continually before the Lord, for He will pluck my feet out of the net.”

David was full of confidence in God and in God’s ability to take care of him, and to protect him.

Yet in the following verses, hear some of David’s comments:

           I am lonely and afflicted.

          The troubles of my heart are enlarged.

          Bring me out of my difficulties.

          Look on my affliction and my trouble.

         Look upon my enemies, for they are many and they hate me.

David went quickly from trust to trouble, as Dale Ralph Davis says.

“Sometimes in the middle of that nexus of trust and trouble, the trouble will intensify and multiply.  We don’t like to talk this way, at least not in church, but sometimes when we trust (v. 15) and pray (v. 16) things get much worse (v. 17).”   (In The Presence of My Enemies)

But why is that?  Is God being mean?

We know He’s not, if we truly KNOW Him!

God is working a great work, both in our world and in my own heart.  And sometimes His work and His ways are best taught…and best seen…in the most difficult of situations.

We see Him better then because we are forced to trust Him more.

When things are totally out of my hands, I realize that I must place them into His hands.

At the end of the day, God will still be in control.  His plan will still…and always…be behind every headline and every press conference.

Let’s remember that God is writing this story and has ordained these times.

We had best be sure that we know Him as our Savior, and then trust Him to take care of us in all these troubles.

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The Cold Snap

We have a little bush in our front flower bed, a perennial that we planted probably 17 years ago.  In fact, I can’t even remember the name of this little bush, so I just call it that – Little Bush.  This hardy bush keeps its leaves on all year long, which is part of its charm.  In the summer the leaves are green with some maroon mixed in, and in the fall and winter the leaves are mostly maroon.  Small berries also grow among the leaves in the fall, so by Christmas it seems to be all decorated for the season.  I really like my Little Bush!

Last year, though, probably starting in March, I noticed that Little Bush didn’t look so healthy.  Its leaves that always stay were falling off, until finally only stark, naked branches were there.

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This was quite unusual, and I was worried.  Was I finally going to lose my long lasting little bush?  Was there something that I could do to save it?

I kept looking at Little Bush, wondering what had happened.  Then one day an article in the newspaper caught my attention.  The headline said something about how certain trees and bushes in Wichita were losing their leaves.  I read the information with interest because of my little bush.  The writer explained that earlier in the winter we had experienced several nights when temperatures had dipped to -10 degrees or lower.  These frigid temperatures had damaged some trees and bushes that normally held their leaves all winter.

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There was my explanation, I thought.  This cold snap had damaged Little Bush.  Then the article went on to assure gardeners not to worry but to be patient…that most trees and bushes would begin to grow again in the warmth of spring because their roots were not damaged by the extreme cold.

So I waited and I observed.  I checked my little bush routinely and sure enough one day I saw tiny new leaves emerging on the empty twigs.

 

As time went on and the days passed, the warm spring sun and the rains did their restorative work.  Little Bush grew…

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And grew…

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Until finally Little Bush was back, as pretty as ever!

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I’ve had some cold snaps in my life, too…times and events that came unexpectedly and with little or no warning.  Everyone has.

Cold snaps hurt.  And they take many various forms.

An illness.  A diagnosis.  Sudden death.  Lingering death.  Rejection.  Accusation.  Betrayal.  Job loss.  Divorce.  A prodigal.  Regret.  Guilt.

I remember my dad’s victory over lung cancer…how relieved and thankful we were when treatments were complete and he was in remission.  But before the five-year mark came the blood work and the testing and the phone call…liver cancer…inoperable…four more years of chemo…hospice…

Cold snap.  Recovery.  Then another cold snap.

But through it all, our family verse brought us each the warmth and the hope that we needed: “God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in trouble.”  (Psalm 46:1)

Sometimes our hard times…our cold snaps…make us feel like David when he said, “My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long – “Where is your God?”  (Psalm 42:3)

Where is God in our pain?  Oh, He hasn’t gone anywhere!  He’s a very PRESENT help in our trouble, remember?  He’s right here with us.

Right after David said his tears were his food, he said, “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.”  (Psalm 42:5)

My little bush had hope because its roots were secure, and so do we who know and follow Christ.  We have hope in our despair because we know that God is sovereign…He is in control…He has a plan…He is present…and He has a purpose for the cold snaps that rock our world.

“I called on Your name, O Lord, out of the lowest pit.  You have heard my voice.  Do not hide Your ear from my prayer for relief, from my cry for help.  You drew near when I called on You.  You said – “Do not fear!”  (Lamentations 3:55-57)

God is near in our pain…near in our pondering…near in our praise that arises even out of hurt and unanswered questions.

I love these lyrics of Jeremy Camp’s song, He Knows:

 

All the bitter weary ways

Endless striving day by day

You barely have the strength to pray

In the valley low.

And how hard your fight has been

How deep the pain within

Wounds that no one else has seen

Hurts too much to show.

All the doubt you’re standing in between

And all the weight that brings you to your knees.

 

He knows

He knows

Every hurt and every sting

He has walked the suffering.

He knows

He knows

Let your burdens come undone

Lift your eyes up to the one

Who knows

He knows.

 

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Changes Ahead

If you know me, and especially if you are a Facebook friend of mine, then you know that I love sky pictures.  I have taken hundreds of sky pictures from our upstairs bedroom windows that face the western sky.

Sunsets:

 

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Storms moving in:

 

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Sunrise reflections:

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Even a Great Horned Owl that used to perch on the top of our big pine tree (sorry for the fuzzy picture):

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The view changes depending on so many factors.  Weather, the time of year, the time of day, trees that have been cut down due to disease, and so much more.

On a recent morning, as I finished my quiet time, I looked out the window and was drawn to the pretty sky outside.  But as I prepared to snap some shots of the sky, my eyes also saw this.

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Can you see it?  Where we once had a farmer’s field across the road from us, we now have a future housing development being built.

Civilization is encroaching upon us.  Some call it progress, but we are not exactly happy with how the building of 300 homes will change not only our view, but our traffic and so many other things as well.

But do you know what won’t change?  The sky itself won’t change.

I can still relish our beautiful sky, no matter what’s happening on the ground below.

Change is a fact of life.  Some changes are exciting and wonderful, while others are sad and fearful.

What’s looming in your view today?  Are changes possibly coming in your life that leave you unsettled and scared?

Our focus in those times is vital to our peace.  I can choose to be filled with apprehension or to be filled with peace.

Just like I can choose to look at the houses being built, or I can choose to gaze at the sky above…so I can choose to center my attention on my problems ahead or to center my thoughts on God above.

I control my eyes…my thoughts…my focus.

Psalm 123 states this fact perfectly.

 

To You I lift up my eyes,

O You who are enthroned in the heavens! 

Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master,

 As the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,

So our eyes look to the Lord our God,

Until He shall be gracious to us.

 

God is sovereign over our circumstances.

God is also sufficient for us, whatever is our present or our future.

One more thing.  The word “gracious” carries the meaning of someone stooping down in kindness to an inferior.

Just like God stoops down in His mercy to me, time after time, to hold my hand and show me His kindness, so He will do over and over as I walk this path of life.

This is my prayer for myself, to keep my eyes on God and not on what is around me or ahead of me.

I control my eyes.

I am so thankful that it is God Who controls my life.

 

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The Skies From My Window

Many of you know that I love taking pictures of our pretty Kansas sky.  My favorite place to take those pictures is from the window in one of our upstairs bedrooms.  This bedroom will always be, to us, Andrea’s room – even though she moved from home several years ago.  When I see a particularly pretty sky I will run upstairs, open the window and lift the screen, and fire away with my phone camera.   

As I look back on these pictures, I find that no two are the same.  Absolutely every shot of our sky, on every day that I took those shots, is entirely different……if there are clouds involved, that is.  I don’t usually take pictures of a totally blue sky, though blue skies are nice.  But after a while, completely blue skies would be a little boring. 

Sometimes the pictures are simply beautiful, like the one I snapped last night.  Isn’t this just breathtaking?

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Some inspire awe, like this one.

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Sometimes I see life.

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Other times the seasons show themselves.

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This one view, from the same windows…..the same vantage point……is anything from being the same, day by day. 

It’s a lot like my circumstances in life……like yours, too, I’m sure.  Our circumstances change, sometimes often and other times less frequently.  At times the changes are dramatic.  Other times the changes come subtly, but they come regardless.

Our circumstances may be pleasant, and some of the changes we go through can be happy and pleasant as well.

But other circumstances are painful or shocking, involving deep hurt……fear……dread. 

Last week I found out about two friends who were just diagnosed with cancer.  And I took another friend for some testing after an X-Ray showed something suspicious.  We are still awaiting her results.  Some have already received disturbing news…..others are still waiting, with dread, on what may be.

My circumstances……my surroundings……can on one day fill me with peace and on the next day fill me with worry.  It’s like my view of our sky from the upstairs windows.  Sometimes peaceful…..

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Sometimes stormy……

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I’ve been reading through the book of Exodus.  Moses certainly experienced a variety of circumstances in his life……plenty of high’s and low’s.  From a basket in the bulrushes to the palace.  From the palace to the desert.  From shepherding sheep to leading a nation.  From the parting of the Red Sea to the grumbling of that unhappy nation.  From speaking to God on the mountain to confronting idol worship at the foot of the mountain.  From obedience to anger. 

After the Israelites had given up on Moses and turned to worshipping the golden calf, Moses and God both were pretty angry.  Moses went back to God after things settled down a bit and he prayed.  He said, “God, let me know your ways that I may know you….” 

God’s answer? “And He said, My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.” 

God’s presence is all that His people needed……and it’s all that you and I need.  He’s promised to be with us, and He’s promised to give His children rest. 

Two things I’ve learned in the years that I have lived.  First, don’t look to my surroundings for rest…..even in the good times.  When life is going well, with sunny skies and soothing views ahead, those things should not be the source of my rest and peace.  I’m thankful when life is pleasant, but pleasantness is not the source of rest.  Only God is to be my strength and my peace.  Knowing Him and depending on Him, following Him and trusting Him, is still the number one thing I need to do when the skies are sunny and beautiful.

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Second, I’ve learned to also not let my surroundings…..my circumstances……pull me down and rob me of rest.  This happens so easily when skies are stormy and life is stressful.  Bad news…..stressful relationships……more bills than we have money……wayward children……    We all know what it’s like.  Life is full of the hard times, unfortunately, and they often happen suddenly.  At other times we live under the stresses day after day as they gradually take their toll.  But still, the rough times are to be a time of rest……..and they can be if we know the same God that Moses knew. 

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For God’s promise to Moses is our promise as well:  “My presence shall go with you and I will give you rest.”  (Exodus 33:14)

Remember I said that pictures of blue skies would get boring?  I love blue skies, but honestly the best pictures occur when clouds are present. 

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So it is with us.  I believe the best lessons are learned when we have some clouds in our lives.  Deeper trust and greater joy have been my experience during the stormier times of life. 

Those clouds also bring a more intimate walk with God, full of so much beauty.  Hopefully I can reflect Him more as I walk closer beside Him. 

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And I can rest.  I don’t know today how God will give me rest, but He has said He will and I believe Him. 

Rest, and enjoy the view, because with God life is stunning.

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The Battered Pepper Plant

Written a few years ago:

Weeks ago, we had a strong storm during the night.  It was a Kansas storm, full of bright lightning, loud thunder, and very strong winds.  When I was able to get out in the garden several days later, I was disappointed to find that my only pepper plant that had done any decent growing was now toppled over.  I stood there staring down at it as it lay on the nearby zucchini, whose leaves had also been tossed around during the same storm.  I stood there, tempted to just uproot the battered pepper plant and be done with it.

 

 

I bent over and gently lifted it, realizing then that the main stem of the pepper plant was unbroken and was still safely in the soil.  “Why not just leave it and see what it does?” I thought.  And that’s what I did.  I left it to grow if it would, knowing that if I messed with it and tried to bend it back up, I would just break it and kill it for sure.  So I let it remain where it was, bent over and not looking too promising at that point.

 

 

This past Saturday, I went out to the garden to harvest the last of the zucchini and squash.  They have now fallen prey to heat, lack of rain, and bugs.  Their brown vegetation only served to accentuate what I now found as I stared down at my pepper plant, still bowed down in the dirt.  Though my pepper plant was stooped low to the ground, its leaves were bright and green.  They were quite a contrast to the brown ugliness around them.  And there, under the leaves, were peppers……peppers that hadn’t been there when it first fell to the ground in the storm.  They had grown since the plant was blown over in the storm.  Firm, pretty green peppers that were the fruit of this plant that had been pummeled in the storm, yet still survived.  And not only survived, but was producing fruit there on the ground.

 

 

I don’t remember a time when I’ve seen so many people suffering in one form or another as I have in recent months.  I routinely communicate with or receive prayer requests from those dealing with serious health issues themselves or with someone they dearly love; others are going through divorce and single parenting; parents are struggling with children who are living apart from the Lord and how they were raised; others are very lonely and are feeling set apart; some are grieving the death of someone they love; and of course, I know many families who are weighted down by the particular challenges of raising a child with special needs.  So many heartaches from so much suffering!  What’s a person to do?  And primarily, what’s a follower of Christ to do?

 

James opened his book of the Bible with this very issue.  He didn’t waste time in laying the subject of suffering out on the table.  “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.”  James said what?  Consider it joy when we suffer?  I love that the word “various” here means “multi-colored.”  Doesn’t that describe our life’s struggles so well?  We all encounter many different forms of suffering in our lives on earth…..many multi-colored afflictions.  Sometimes I wish my life was a bland, constant egg shell color myself.  Yet we all know that bland isn’t how our walk on this earth turns out.

 

James goes on to tell his readers why we should consider our trials with joy.  He explains, “Knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

 

When James talks about testing producing endurance, he uses a Greek word that means to bear up as we abide under difficulties.  Notice the word “under.”  Not to bear up as the trials are removed, or the suffering is lessened, or the answers are made clear.  No, we are to endure UNDER the suffering…..while the suffering is going on in our lives.  Then James says that this endurance will produce maturity and full development…..its perfect and complete result in our lives.

 

Considering suffering to be joyful is not a trait that comes naturally.  How do we do that, anyway?  Like my pepper plant, down in the dirt and buffeted by the storm, we sometimes find ourselves bent over with the storms of life.  Tired, defeated, scared, and just lying in the dirt.  But our roots are in Christ, and it’s from Him that we draw the strength to “consider it all joy.”  We may not feel joyful on many days, but we can in obedience thank God for our trials and for what they are teaching us.  We can say the words even if we don’t feel it in our hearts.  That’s called faith.  Faith that God is indeed working all things out for our good.

 

I saw those green peppers growing on that pepper plant, despite its pitiful condition.  And despite my pain and my doubt, when I trust God with my situation and I praise Him in the storm, it won’t be long before I’ll also see fruit growing.  James talks about some of that fruit as he mentions maturity and development.  He also says that I will lack nothing.  My faith will grow, my thankfulness attitude will mature, my patience will increase, and peace will rule my heart.  Maybe not every second of every day, but for most of the time I’ll see the fruits of being joyful in the bent days of my life…..the hard times…..the days that seem unending.

 

Like the hymn writer said:

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

 

When darkness seems to hide His face, I rest on His unchanging grace.

 

 In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.

 

On Christ the solid rock I stand.  All other ground is sinking sand.  All other ground is sinking sand.

 

So when we are tossed around by all that we meet in this life…..when we see for real that the ground around us is just sinking sand and that nothing in life is constant…..when the winds of deep trials come our way…..let’s consider it joy.  Let’s lean into Jesus even as we lean down with the weight of our circumstances.

 

And just like my bent pepper plant, we can still see that we are alive in Christ and that He has not left us alone.  He is still using us and still producing His fruit in our lives……..fruit which will benefit others, and give us joy and maturity.

 

It’s so good to know that God is in control.  He both sends the wind that sometimes bends me down, and the strength to be joyful as I stay rooted in Him.  May all of us grow fruit for Him and for others to see as we live in the struggles and storms of life.

 

 

 

 

What Am I Cultivating?

I sat on our patio one recent morning, enjoying coffee while watching birds and dragonflies flitting all around.  The mowed yard, the green trees, the blue sky…it was all so pretty and pleasant.  But then my eyes wandered over to our garden plot.  UGH!!  So much for looking at beauty!

Why?  Because for the second year in a row, Gary and I did not plant a vegetable garden.  Rain…two out-of-town trips…schedules – it all added up to once again, no garden.

Now our  small garden area is a huge mess, full of overgrown weeds and sad neglected old tomato cages.  What a difference to have gone from this:

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To this:

 

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Same ground, but different cultivating.

I read this verse around the time I was thinking about the comparison in our little piece of land from one year to the next.

 

“Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.”  (Psalm 37:3)

 

God’s desire for Israel was for them to dwell in the land He had promised to them.  He told them over and over that dwelling in the land successfully and fully would require their total obedience to Him.  In Deuteronomy 30:15-20, God told Israel very clearly what their choice was:

 

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it.”  (v. 15-16)

 

God told them that disobedience would bring death and a curse.  He urged them to choose life by loving the Lord, obeying His voice, and holding fast to Him.  And not just life but life AND prosperity.

In other words, to cultivate faithfulness.

This same principle is very true for me today.  I have a choice to make.  God won’t force me to make the right one, but He has told me what the right choice is and how to make that choice.

It’s simple, really.  Choose to love God, choose to obey Him, and hold fast to Him.  Hold fast by hanging onto Him when life is crazy and tiring and disappointing.

I get really tired sometimes.  I know we all do.  Just as I began this blog, Aaron called me from his day group.  I knew he had been having a hard day, and his voice and manner on the phone confirmed it.  I ended up just picking him up early today to avoid any further meltdowns at his day group.  This change in my day was not in my plan.  His attitude today makes me angry and tired.

And guess what I saw before all this happened?  Beautiful beach vacation pictures.  When I hung up from talking to Aaron, I was wanting to just hang up this life with him too, quite honestly.  For a fleeting minute, I wanted to give in to my beach thoughts…have a pity party…and allow myself the “luxury” of wallowing in the wishes for a life I don’t have.

I just HAD to be writing a blog today on faithfulness, right?!

You see, God has put me right here where I am.  This life with Aaron is not what I had planned, but I must see and trust that this life with Aaron is what God planned…for me.

And in this life that He planned for me, I really do want to live it in victory and joy. I want to cultivate this:

 

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And not this:

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It truly is up to me which picture will be the picture of my life.  I choose what to cultivate by choosing whether to love God…obey Him…and hold fast to Him.

I love Him by praising Him even when I don’t like what’s going on around me.

I obey Him by reading His word and finding out what exactly it is He wants me to do each day…and then DO it!

And I hold fast to Him by not allowing my thoughts to digress into selfish wishful thinking and all those “what if’s?” and asking Him to give me grace to love and handle Aaron correctly.

I should know that when God burdens me with a blog, then He’s going to hammer it home to me in a very personal way!  😊

So, wherever you are today…on a public stage or stuck at home…reeling from an unexpected diagnosis…planning a funeral…facing life alone as a single…hurting from unfaithfulness…starting all over in a new life or new church or new friends…losing your job or needing a new one…raising your grandchildren…raising special needs children…

Whatever is your situation, just remember:

CULTIVATE FAITHFULNESS!

And just watch what God will grow in your life!

 

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