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.”

Lessons From the Loaded Truck

Gary and I appreciate how our neighborhood association has a designated clean-up weekend twice a year. The association rents a huge dumpster and puts it in a field that’s just around our circle from us. It’s the perfect time for us to unload any large unwanted items that are allowed in the dumpster. Our big goal, though, is to cut and trim many of our branches, bushes, and trees that have gotten out-of-hand or have died. This last clean-up time a couple weekends ago was no exception. The weather was perfect in every way for Gary and I to head outside and begin our chopping and sawing. It wasn’t long before the piles were growing all over our couple acres. It was time for the dying cherry tree to go, as well as an old long-dead spruce. Our huge Crepe Myrtles needed to be cut down low, and the violet bush badly needed some work. Off came the bottom branches of our evergreen that we lovingly call our Gumdrop Tree as we try to save it for one more year of Christmas lights. And there were many, many other branches and limbs and parts of trees that needed to be sawed down and disposed of.

We used to use Andrew’s old truck for these days but now that he’s off to college we pile the mounds into Gary’s truck. What a blessing to have this means of hauling all that mess down to the dumpster! We drag and lift and load over and over again. It’s amazing how many loads we haul away! The truck is filled as full as it can be with each trip, that’s for sure. Gary has it down to a fine art of how to load the truck and it works very well. We pile it high, and then Gary uses a rope to tie it down before he drives off around the circle to unload. I either ride down with him to help unload, or I stay back at the house to do other things until he returns. One thing I’ve never done is to run along behind him, yelling for him to stop so that I can take some of the load off and carry it myself; or telling him that I need to rearrange the load; or offering to ride on top of the load to help hold it down. No, that would be silly! The truck is able to carry the load perfectly and the rope holds it secure. I have every confidence in the ability of Gary’s truck to do the job and do it well.

As we loaded Gary’s truck, I was reminded of what I had read in Isaiah 46 recently. God began that chapter by talking about how the Babylonians would load their false gods onto donkeys when they were being attacked. However, soon both the donkeys and the false gods were taken into captivity. Neither was able to help the other. Then in verses 3 and 4 God reminded Israel: “…….you have been borne by me from birth and have been carried from the womb; Even to your old age I shall be the same, and even to your graying years I shall bear you! I have done it, and I shall carry you! And I shall bear you and I shall deliver you!” What an amazing promise that is true for believers today as well! It’s true for me and for you! God will be the same for our entire lives, from birth til death. He desires to bear me and to deliver me! He wants to carry my loads and bear my burdens! Just as I could trust Gary’s truck to carry the weight and the amount of our limbs and branches, so I can trust God to carry all the weight and the amount of my troubles and my burdens.

Peter said in I Peter 5:7: “Casting all your cares upon Him, because He cares for you.” This carries the idea of throwing my cares upon God. Just as I threw those branches and limbs on the truck, so I can throw my cares upon God. And just as silly as it would be for me to chase Gary around the circle and try to carry the limbs myself, so it’s silly for me to throw my cares upon God but then try to take them back. Yet that’s exactly what I’m doing every time I pray but still worry and stew over my problems. Why is it so hard to just leave my burdens on the God Who WANTS to bear them for me? Why do I think that by losing sleep, or talking and talking about my issues, or continuing to try to solve my problems myself, or reading the next self-help book – that I can in any way accomplish any more than the donkeys and the false gods did in Isaiah’s time? Oh God, may I throw my worries and hurts and fears and pain upon You, fully upon You, and allow You to bear them and to carry me and deliver me!

Just like Gary’s good old truck!

Lessons From the Battered Plants

On Thursday evening we stood helplessly at our windows and watched as the hail fell and the wind blew ferociously. The hail wasn’t huge but was relentless and seemed to go on forever. When the storm was over I stepped outside and felt very disheartened at what I saw – leaves that had blown off of trees and plants were plastered everywhere; branches were snapped and smaller twigs were scattered all around; flowers were shredded; newly purchased hanging baskets were twisted and broken; our vegetable garden partly flattened and mangled. I didn’t even want to deal with it after weeks of planting, nurturing, and then beginning to see the fruits of our labor that we noticed even as we walked around the yard and garden minutes before the storm started.

Today I stepped out on the back patio, gathered the hanging baskets together, and started trimming the dying and drooping limbs. I then turned to the two flower beds in the back to do the same there. And I noticed something amazing. In the midst of the damage there was new growth. There among the pock-marked leaves and shredded blooms were new blooms waiting to open, new leaves unfurling, and bees buzzing about. Life!! And you know why? Because these plants were not uprooted. Their root systems were intact, receiving nourishment from underneath the ground as well as stability to remain standing. Sure, they bear the marks of the storm, and some look very tattered and worn. But there is growth; there is an anchor in the soil; there is hope.

How many times I’ve been battered by the storms of life! All of us have endured the sting of trials in so many areas of our lives. Many trials are prolonged and seem to never end. I’ve felt beaten, defeated, discouraged, scared, tired. But through it all I know in Whom I have believed. My roots are firm in the God Whom I trust. Jeremiah said it very well in Jeremiah 17:7-8: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is in the Lord. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; But its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.” I may bear the marks of the sufferings of this life but as I remain rooted in God my life can continue to grow, to prosper spiritually, to yield the peacable fruit of righeousness, to have peace and usefulness. I have hope as I anchor my roots in Christ – “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and stedfast…..” Hebrews 6:19.

And so I pray that I will bear the marks of my trials and hardships to the glory of God. I pray that I will continue to grow, to bloom, and to bear fruit despite the scars that may mar my leaves. I pray that through the heat and fierceness of the storms to come I will remain rooted in the Lord with no fear or worry, being fed by Him, and looking forward to the sure and stedfast hope that He provides!

 

Lessons From the Little Black Ant

Let’s face it – life isn’t easy for any of us.  God has allowed Gary and I to be in a place we never even thought about as new parents to our beautiful baby Aaron over 32 years ago.  One summer I wrote some thoughts about persevering as we carry the burdens we face.  It involves an ant:

If you had driven by my house this morning you would have seen me standing in the front yard under our maple tree, watering hose in one hand and coffee in the other, with my hair blowing crazily in our Kansas wind. And to make me even more noticeable, I’m sure, was the fact that I was staring up into our maple tree for a long time. You see, God has often used my gardening as a time to teach me. Object lessons abound and this morning was no different. So I was observing God’s lesson for me this morning in the form of an itty bitty tiny black ant. An amazing itty bitty tiny black ant.

There he was, this little ant, carrying a white load that was bigger than he was. As he climbed up the tree, defying gravity with his load, he never wavered from the task at hand. Other ants were barreling down the tree, passing him as they went merrily on their way, seemingly oblivious to the load he carried. Several times he bumped into rough, curling bark that threatened to stop his progress. Then the wind blew and it buffeted him terribly. He would swerve and I wondered if he was going to fall down to the ground, but he never did. He pressed on and on until finally I could barely see him. I don’t know if he made it to his goal today or had to start over, but something tells me he accomplished what he set out to do. I know that God used that little oblivious ant to accomplish a work in my heart.

We all face those loads in life and I’m no different. I remember some of them in particular as milestones in my life. Usually the loads are painful, for that is when I learn the best. Aaron’s diagnosis of Epilepsy and then several years later of Autism were particularly hard loads to bear. Our frequent military moves were often painful as we once again said goodbye to family, friends, and ministry that we loved. Receiving the news of my dad’s two cancers, and then losing three of our parents in 14 months was at times too heavy to bear. Watching family that we love go through terrible trials takes a toll as well. That out-of-the-blue phone call that came several years ago that changed our lives and has impacted our children continues to be difficult.

I admit that lately I have become discouraged with it all. I have wanted to throw the load down and head merrily back down the tree to a life where things aren’t so burdensome. I’ve become tired of the impediments, the rough tree and curling bark. The winds of doubt and of feeling unused threaten to blow me off course. Worry, concerns, injustice – it all crowds in during the dark hours of the night when sleep won’t come. But today God spoke to me. Not with a mighty voice or an awesome miracle, but He allowed me to “consider the ant” and to be uplifted and blessed.

James said that we can know “that the testing of our faith produces endurance.” Endurance, which means abiding under difficulties. Not dropping the load and running back down the tree but living under the difficulties, pressing on toward the mark, and counting it joy. Thank you, God, for the strength that you promise; for the joy that you give under the loads of life; and for the little black ant that you sent my way today.