Although the calendar doesn’t say that spring is here yet, officially, you sure couldn’t prove that by the gorgeous weather that we have been enjoying. Days have been warm and sunny, birds are singing, robins have been spotted, and even that particular smell of spring has been in the air. My Salvia, Black-Eyed Susans, Garden Phlox, Peonies, and Shasta Daisies are all peeking out of the soil, showing off their fresh green growth. Many trees and bushes are budding, and I’ve seen Bradford Pears in full bloom as I drive around town. It’s a refreshing and peaceful time of year – a time of stretching and breathing deeply of the warm air, full of the smell of damp earth and the promise of warmer days ahead.
Two days ago the winds began howling, not at all unusual here in Kansas. These winds, however, began to change direction as night fell. Instead of blowing strong but warm out of the south, they started blowing out of the north. The temperatures dropped dramatically and then sometime during the night the rain began to fall. In the wee hours of the morning there was a different sound. No longer did we hear just the strong winds and the pattering of rain on the roof and windows. Now we heard the sharp pinging of sleet as it was blown against our window panes. The early alarm from my clock only made me want to hunker down further under my warm covers. I didn’t want to face the unwelcome cold that had intruded upon our beautiful spring-like weather, or look outside to see what sight might await me.
Sure enough, one look outside confirmed what I knew in my heart to be true. A light snow was falling, mixed in with stinging sleet – covering the emerging new growth of my flowers and the fragile little buds on the trees and bushes. The wind mixed with the snow and sleet made me cringe, not only for those who had to venture out in such a mess but also for the tender new growth all around me that was being hammered by such ugly weather. Later it was my turn to walk outside and face the cold, to clean off the crusty accumulation on the van, and to hope that I didn’t slip and fall on the icy cement. The sky was heavy and gray as I scraped off the van, and though the snow and sleet had stopped falling, the clouds looked like they would soon open up again and shower us with more of the frozen mess.
Yet in the midst of this wintry scene around me, I heard a sweet sound. Loudly and clearly from a nearby tree came the welcome song of a bird. It seemed that this bird was singing as confidently as he could, unaffected by the cold and the ice and the snow. He continued as I worked to free the van windows of the ice and snow, singing his sweet melody over and over. And with that beautiful bird song, I began to experience hope. I knew that this storm was only an interlude in the cycle of winter becoming spring, and that spring would soon triumph. I knew that we would be hearing many more birds, and that they would build their nests and fill them with eggs that would hopefully hatch to produce more beautiful singers. The pretty flowers and bushes would continue to grow, and before long we would be delighted by the gorgeous colors all around us. The stony grey and white of this cold day would be gone!
All of us have enjoyed many days of blessings and peaceful periods when life is relatively smooth. The minor annoyances that occur are not enough to upset the flow of daily life. But then one day the winds begin to blow and things become a little uncertain. Finally, the direction of the winds changes and life really is turned upside down. The rain that was falling but was tolerable suddenly changes to brutal, stinging sleet and snow. Our beautiful growth, our pretty new flowers, our fragile buds, are threatened by the harsh circumstances around us. We want to hide from the trials, to pull the covers up and not venture out to face what we know will await us outside. But face it we must………the sting of death, the hurt of betrayal, the fear of a doctor’s diagnosis, the grief of a wayward child, the certainty of aging, the loss of finances. Whatever has clouded our lives and covered us with icy reality cannot be ignored.
But oh, we have hope! Just as clearly as the bird’s song filled me with the certain knowledge, the hope, of a coming spring – so we have a certain knowledge that God will never fail and that He has so much in store for us………..so much beauty, so much joy, so much sunshine and peace. The prophet Jeremiah knew about suffering and hope. He said, “Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers, and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have HOPE. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul. Therefore I have HOPE in Him.” (Lamentations 3:19-24)
How powerful is that reminder from God through Jeremiah! As the bird reminded me of the coming spring, may we also be reminded of God’s faithfulness to us in every stinging storm that we face. And may we be faithful to sing out His praises and look forward with great hope to all that He has in store for us!
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!
The autumn day was beautiful. Sunshine abounded, warm temperatures cheered our spirits, birds were singing, and our home was full of activity as we prepared for Thanksgiving. Andrew was home from college and was busy helping Gary haul off our old dining room set and then do some work on the trucks. We were carrying in groceries that would be used in a couple days to prepare our Thanksgiving dinner, all the while dodging our big Great Dane who was happily moving from one to the other of us as he enjoyed all the excitement and bustle. It was the kind of day I love – a day of togetherness, of accomplishing tasks, of anticipation of having the family together for Thanksgiving.
Yet in the background were other noises – sounds that we couldn’t drown out, even in the midst of our joy and activity. There was the grinding sound of the chain saw, the shout of the tree cutter, and the unmistakable thud of a dead branch hitting the ground. When my eyes left the scene of happiness in our front yard and wandered to our side yard, I couldn’t ignore the scene that was being played out there. It was a scene of death; of destruction; of ending. This was the second visit that our tree cutters had made to our home to take away not one, but now two of our beautiful pine trees that had succumbed to the deadly nematodes of Pine Wilt disease. The first dead tree further down on our property had been cut down and carted off several days earlier. This second tree that was being cut on this gorgeous day was right outside our back door, just off the patio area. Our large, perfectly shaped pine tree had been destroyed by the unseen, hidden little nematodes that had eaten away at the very heart and life of the tree.
The two young men worked diligently at their task. Starting at the top of the tree, Jordan used his chain saw to cut each section and branch down. His co-worker on the ground would then carefully stack these portions onto the truck to be carried away. Then they would return to repeat the process until finally the entire tree was disposed of and hauled away. I walked outside at one point while they were gone and just observed the sad display of this once magnificent tree. There it was, stark against the pretty blue sky – a dark, bare, useless trunk. What a picture of loss! This once productive tree was now only a memory of its former glory and usefulness. Those horrible little nematodes had, unknowingly to us, been eating away at our beautiful tree and had finally accomplished their purpose. Our tree was fit for only one thing – to be cut down and taken away, never to be of any use again.
How interesting that this once sturdy tree had stood strong against the outward, visible attacks that had come against it during the many years of its life. Fierce winds had whipped its branches; tornadoes had come way too close; snow had piled on its limbs; thick ice had caused some of its branches to snap; drought had tried to deplete it – yet still it stood, proud and strong. What felled our tree was the tiny, unseen nematodes that were working inside its massive trunk and extending into its many branches. These intruders methodically destroyed the inner life of our stately tree until finally we could see the outward evidence of inward death, and had no recourse but to demolish our tree and have it carried away.
We all face many storms in our lives that bombard us with stress and grief. At times it’s overwhelming, but I know that for me these fierce storms have driven me to my knees and the Word for guidance and comfort. I have grown even in the pain of these trials. However, what causes me the most damage, it seems, are the hidden sins or hurts that lodge in my heart. No one can even see them or be aware of the damage that they are causing in my spirit. It’s easy for me to hide my attitudes or my pain from those around me, at least for a period of time. Eventually, though, the destruction that my inner destoyers have caused will begin to show outwardly. It becomes more evident, not only to me but to those around me, that I am not the person I used to be. My effectiveness for Christ suffers as I allow my inner attitudes to take away my joy, my peace, my testimony, my service.
Perhaps you have allowed some of the sinful nematodes of life to take residence in your heart. You have not been like the Psalmist who declared: “He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:3) You have allowed inner hurts to take root and prosper instead; or perhaps pride; maybe bitterness over situations that you cannot control; lost ministries that you miss; children who embarrass or disappoint…………..the nematode possibilities are endless, but all are devastating. They burrow inside and take away your very life until you are a former shell of what you used to be. Oh, may we instead be like Paul, who said, “…….but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14). Oh God, purge our hearts from the sin that so easily takes control, and strengthen us to reach forward and press on toward the goal that You have for us!