Lessons From the New Sprouts

 

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

 

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

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

Lessons From the Praying Mantis

 

Gary and I had been out in the yard on Saturday.  It was time to go in for lunch, so we called to Aaron and then headed for the house.  My new mums on the front porch were vibrant with the colors of fall, and bees buzzed around lazily between the mums and my still-blooming Crepe Myrtles.  It was such a beautiful day! 

 

Just as we were ready to walk inside the garage, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye.  I stopped to take a closer look, not moving from where I was standing.  I saw that the thing catching my attention was long and green and was perched atop my pretty Crepe Myrtle blooms, partially hidden by the growth around him.  A grasshopper!  An unwelcome intruder in my flower bed!  I didn’t appreciate him chowing down on my Crepe Myrtle leaves, or any of my other bushes or flowers.   

 

I told Gary about the grasshopper as I stepped around to the front of the bush for better aim.  I was ready to shoo that trespasser away!  That’s when I realized my mistake, thankfully before I rattled the poor creature’s nerves and forced him to fly off.  There sat a cute, medium-sized praying mantis.  Yes, I think a praying mantis is a cute creature.  Not only are they cute, but they are so very helpful in the garden.  They eat the garden’s enemies and they eat some of my enemies in various bug forms, so a praying mantis is very welcome in my flower bed.  I was so glad that I realized my mistake before I made him leave.  Gary and I showed our praying mantis to Aaron before going on inside and leaving our little guest in peace.

 

I’ve had similar times in my life…………….times when I’m enjoying the beauty around me in my life……….when things are bright and nice and going well.  But there out of the corner of my eye I see a perceived intruder.  Maybe it’s an unexpected event that is less than inviting, is even uncomfortable or causes me to struggle when I least expect it.  I recently had an accident that has resulted in a shoulder injury.  This injury is not only painful, but is just downright annoying as it slows me down and interrupts my sleep.  Because of this injury, I have had to schedule doctor visits, an MRI, and who knows what else still to come.  To top it off, we may not be able to take a special trip home that we have planned.  Yet I know that God is in control of even this minor situation.  This is an opportunity for me to see God’s good in the midst of my pain and disappointment…………to realize that I don’t have a destructive grasshopper perched on this branch of my life but a helpful praying mantis. 

 

We all have varying situations that are occurring………or will occur………..in our lives.  Sometimes it’s not an occurrence at all, but a person who comes into our life that we really don’t want to have there at all, if we were honest.  Whether it’s an event, though, or a person, let’s not be so quick to shoo it all away and be done with it.  If we stop to look closely and to let God work, we may find that this is exactly what God has given us in order to teach us some important lessons.  As believers, we know along with Moses that we can say, “The Rock!  His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He.” 

 

God doesn’t send destructive grasshoppers into our lives, even when we wonder about the things that we’re going through.  With God, His works are perfect.  He desires to teach us and to help us, just like my praying mantis was there to help me in my flower bed.  Lord, help me to take time to look at Your lessons and Your methods of teaching me before I rush in with arms flying, trying to brush off Your way of working in me.  May I look with clear eyes and see these times as helpful and learning times, not times to be done away with and hurried through.  Keep me still and quiet, observing Your miracles all around me and Your unusual ways of leading me. 

 

And thanks for the lesson You have taught me through this cute little praying mantis!

God is Great……..God is Good

 

Last night I enjoyed a beautiful light and sound show, thanks to our great Creator God.  Just as we were turning in for the night, a pretty significant Kansas storm was cranking up.  Aaron loves storms, and so he was getting all ready to sink into his covers and watch the lightning through his windows that he faces from his bed.  Of course, that was after he made sure that all of his covers were just right and that his clock that was flashing from a previous short power outage was reset – using my cell phone as his reference point since his portable digital clock is broken.  I hoped he was settled as I finally made my way to bed.
 
I’m sleeping in Andrea’s former room right now due to a shoulder injury that causes much tossing and turning on my part, along with pillows and grunts and groans that I feel will bother Gary.  The windows in Andrea’s room face the direction from which the storm was coming, and it’s upstairs so the open, rural view is perfect.  The blinds were staying up so that I would have a perfect, unimpeded view of the storm.  I knew exactly what I was going to do as I climbed into bed and turned the nightstand lamp off.  Worship.  And rest in God’s greatness and power on full display outside.
 
Several years ago, Gary and I were going through a particularly trying time in our lives.  I had been praying for Gary in specific ways as he faced certain stresses and frustrations that were weighing him down.  As I prayed for him, though, I didn’t really know what to pray for.  I just knew that I needed to pray for God to do a work in his life and in our lives together.  God did just that.  He answered my prayer……but not in the way that I would ever have expected, and definitely not in a way I would have wanted.   God moved in a way that caused much personal pain for both of us over a period of many months, and still continues somewhat today.  Yet through that rough time, God showed us more than we could have imagined.  He proved Himself faithful, and He caused us to grow in our walk with Him and in our relationship to each other, to our children, and to our dear family and friends. 
 
Gary and I had gone to Missouri one weekend to spend some time with Andrew at a racing event.  On that Saturday morning in our hotel room, while Gary did some studying for his Sunday School lesson, I opened my Bible randomly and looked down at Isaiah 40.  I began to read that chapter as well as the next one, and was overwhelmed with the reminder of just Who God is.  God was speaking to Israel, but the concepts of His greatness and power apply to all of us today as well.
 
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Reading about the pure power of God in creation had a profound impact on me as I sat on that hotel bed.  This God of mine holds the oceans in His hand!  Imagine that!  He measures the universe with the span of His hand!  He weighs the mountains!  He sits above the circle of the earth, and stretches out the heavens like a curtain!  He calls each star by name!  And to Him, we are like little grasshoppers; nations are like a drop in a bucket or like a speck of dust on the scales; rulers come and go at His command.  I could go on and on from these two chapters in Isaiah that spell out God’s might and our insignificance.  What really struck me was this thought:  How can I doubt God’s ability to handle my life, Gary’s life, or our children’s lives when I catch a glimpse of His unbelievable power and strength?  How can I question whether he can arrange our lives when I just read about how he arranged universes? 
 
When I pray with my eyes on my problems, then certainly I pray in my own weakness.  But when I pray with my eyes on this God of the universe, then certainly I pray in His strength.  And in that strength I can rest, knowing full well that He can absolutely do anything and everything.  When I think in my heart, “Well, I don’t know how on earth God can manage to do this thing that I’m praying about,”  then I am relying on my own power…………and I have none.  It’s good for me to return often to Isaiah 40 and 41, and to be reminded of just Whom I am praying to and relying upon. 
 
God does things that I don’t understand.  In these Isaiah verses, He also asks this question:  Who has directed or counseled or taught God?  No one has done those things!  Who could ever teach this great God?  Yet there are times that I try to take that place in this life and figure things out……make sense of situations……give God ideas of how to work, all the while wondering if He can really do those things for me. 
 
I don’t know why God made Aaron to have Epilepsy and Autism.  But I do know my wonderful God………the God that I worshipped last night as I was nearly blinded by His fantastic light show.  I know that He is sovereign and perfect, and that I can trust His plan for me and for Gary and for our Aaron.  I know that He will take care of Andrea in grad school and of Andrew in his senior year of college. 
 
God is great……..I am not.  That’s the bottom line.  God loves me and He loves my family.  These Isaiah verses also state that He does not become weary or tired; that His understanding is unsearchable; that He gives strength; that He will uphold; and that He doesn’t want me to look anxiously about me. 
 
I relished the time with Him last night, being reminded of His power with every dazzling flash of lightning and every boom of thunder.  I felt small and overwhelmed………but so protected by this all powerful God Who loves me with a fierce love.  He can do anything and everything.  He wants my time and my obedience and my trust. 
 
Everything else He can handle just fine.  

Lessons From the Dry Times

 

I was tired of looking at them……….the dried up remnants of my once bright and beautiful flowers in my two little flower beds off the back patio.  The extreme summer drought and heat had taken its toll on my flowers and had turned their former glory into black ugliness.  Long gone were the cheery yellows of the Black-Eyed Susans; the pretty pink of the Coneflowers; the stunning orange of the Tiger Lilies; and the soft purple of the Garden Phlox.  It was time to do some trimming………trimming that is usually left until autumn but was necessary now, in August.
 
 
Taking my pruning shears and my garden gloves, I headed outside and was soon filling up my pop-up container with the dry, dusty remains of my flowers.  As I clipped, I wondered if any of these perennials would return next spring, even as I noticed places that were already bare – where death had already sunk deep into the roots and destroyed the visible plants as well.  Two summers of severe dryness and burning sun had indeed claimed many flowers and trees and vegetables.  Even with what watering we did, nothing could replace refreshing rain and kinder, cooler temperatures. 
 
My garden shoes crunched over the brittle mulch as I bent over to cut away the deadness.  And as I clipped the useless remnants of my flowers, I noticed that even in the seemingly lifeless garden, some creatures and plants continued to live.  Here and there were weeds……..a chickweed growing against the brick border……….a clump of crab grass nestled in the dry mulch.  How do weeds manage to live even in the midst of such drought?  Around me I saw grasshoppers lunging up as I disturbed their hiding places.  As if my struggling flowers needed any other detriments to their growth, I thought.  Those ugly grasshoppers would eat any remaining life out of these poor flowers for sure.    The life that I was seeing in my flower garden was not the kind that I wanted to see at all!
 
 
Yet as my shears stripped away the dull remains of my flowers, I saw some color.  There, nestled amidst the blackness, was the welcome sight of a yellow Black-Eyed Susan; a bright pink little Coneflower; a softer pink Garden Phlox.  They were both a reminder of what had once been and the hope of what could very possibly come again next spring.   Dryness and death doesn’t have to be the norm, I thought.  There is always hope that the rains will come again; that the sun will be kinder; that replanting or reseeding can occur.  In the meantime, here and there a flower still grew, and the purpose of these seemingly dead plants was evident in the midst of awful circumstances. 
 
I’ve experienced dry times in my life.  We all have those seasons…………or will have if we live long enough.  Prolonged stresses and disappointments just suck the life and the beauty out of our very souls.  Days are long and nights are longer.  The heat of our worries and trials beats us down, blacken our outlook, and steal our joy.  There seems to be no evident end in sight………no welcome rain cloud to provide moisture or to shield us from the sun’s burning rays.  And in our weakest moments, we see weeds sprouting up around us………..weeds of worry, of bitterness, of anger, of blame, of defeat.  Or the hopping grasshoppers of our thought life, hopping to this conclusion or to that decision that is not in God’s plan for us at all. 
 
David experienced these desert seasons as he ran from King Saul.  Here was the future king of Israel, appointed by God, yet hiding in caves and running for his life.  He was falsely accused, thrust out, tormented, and unwanted – with no end in sight to his suffering.  In Psalm 63, David poured out his heart:  “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.”  What did David do in that dry and weary land in which he found himself?  Did he worry, complain, become bitter, or throw a royal fit?  No!  He sought God earnestly – and not for what God could do for him, but because of WHO God is.  He thirsted and yearned for God, “……to see Your power and Your glory.”

 

How did David seek God?  “Because Your loving kindness (grace) is better than life, My lips will praise You. So I will bless You as long as I live;  I will lift up my hands in Your Name.”  (Psalm 63:3-4)   David took action!  He didn’t sit there and allow ugly weeds or grasshoppers to clutter his soul.  He used his lips to praise God and he lifted his hands in worship of God.   He opened the way for God’s beauty to fill his being even in the midst of a dry desert and a dark cave.  Just as my little blooming flowers shone in my ugly flower bed, so David’s praise and worship was a shining light in his own heart and to those around him…………a light to reveal the great God Who loves us and delights in our praise even in the dry seasons of our lives…………..ESPECIALLY in those dry seasons!
 
It’s up to us…………..will it be ugly weeds and destructive grasshoppers?  Or will we lift our hands in worship and open our mouths in praise in the middle of the heat and dryness of our prolonged trials?     (Psalm 63:5)

Lessons From the Spring Snow

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!

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 Destroyed Pine

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!