Airports, Chickens and Mud Pies

firewood in snow 1 03 07 08When the ground is completely covered in snow and the trees stand stark against a gray sky, everything appears lifeless. No growth is visible. No fruit is being produced. No flowers are filling the spaces with color and fragrance. There seems to be no point in the season. Everything is dormant… in a state of rest. Ah! There is the point in the season. A state of rest.

It’s only in that state of rest that these plants can better establish their root systems… pushing those roots deeper and deeper into the soil, enabling the plants to better withstand the heat and the drought of the coming Arkansas summer. In the dead of winter none of the plants’ valuable energy is being used on outward, visible growth. It’s being carefully conserved, rationed and used to make a sturdier, healthier and more vigorous plant. That’s the kind of plant that will be most useful in the seasons to come. That is the plant that will bear more fruit, display more beautifully fragrant blooms, and provide garden visitors with shade and shelter.

redbud-in-snow-b-03-07-08Unlike these plants, rest is not forced upon humans by a change in season. We must choose to rest. In our hurried and busy world, rest is viewed more as a luxury than a necessity. Choosing to rest is choosing to be obedient. Choosing to rest is choosing to let God grow us and strengthen us in order that we may accomplish His purpose for us. Choosing to rest is choosing to come to Christ, because He tells us that’s the only way we can get rest. He gives it to us. (Matthew 11:28)

Choosing to rest takes work and planning. Rest is the only commandment where God actually set an example for us. He showed us how to rest. On the seventh day God rested. Not because He was tired from His work, but because He wanted to stress the importance of rest to us. Make an effort… choose to rest.

“Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” Hebrews 4:11

I have trouble shaking off my Pharisaical wardrobe when it comes to resting. Sometimes my attempts to rest are exhausting. I will try so hard to do nothing that my efforts become my focus. I really don’t think that’s what God intended when He commanded us to rest. He taught me a lesson in rest recently through airports, chickens and mud pies.

I’m not a big traveler. Between a demanding work schedule and my love of being at home with my husband it’s a rare occasion for me to travel, especially without my hubby. But I took a trip recently to visit some dear friends of mine in another state. I wanted to reconnect with them, but more importantly I felt driven by God to make this trip. Before I ever left the city limits of my hometown I felt God beginning to move in me in a way I had never felt before. It was a calm assurance that He was going to make Himself known to me in a new and different way. I realized that even though I didn’t understand it completely, He had ordained the timing and the events. I trusted Him and I followed His leading.

During my drive to the airport God continued to speak to me through the music I listened to. He especially spoke through a song by Brandon Heath called “No Turning Back”. I felt a determination from deep within that I would not turn back. I would not turn back to the ordinary run-of-the-mill Christian life that I had led for so long. No going back to the days before I took a bold step of faith and wrote the book I knew God called me to write… a step of obedience that changed my life more than I ever dreamed it could. God made it clear to me that He has more moving forward for me, but in the meantime He wanted me to settle in to a time of rest so that He could do a work in me.

I thought I had a good idea of what that time of rest would be like. There would be hours of quite reflection, completely undisturbed by anyone or anything. I imagined God leading me gently from times of quiet prayer alone, to times when I could resume my current writing project. My time away would include peaceful solitude. I smile now as I remember what I thought my season of rest would look like. It did not include flight delays and an unexpected overnight layover in a strange city. It did not include inventing games with hula hoops and sticks of firewood to play with a 3-year-old. It did not include making mud pies with a 6-year-old. It certainly did not include a trip into a chicken coop to gather eggs (you would have to know my fear of chickens based on a childhood experience to fully appreciate that). How could one possibly rest with flight delays, chickens and mud pies?

This was a kind of rest different than any I had ever experienced. It was an inner strengthening and a spiritual reinforcement. It was a lesson that life doesn’t have to come to a complete standstill in order to rest in God. It was a lesson that true rest comes when we are obedient to the calling God has for us, no matter how odd the leading may be, or how unusual and unexpected the circumstances.

You see, the first part of this post was written long ago and posted when I first began my journey of blogging (the original post ended with the verse from Hebrews). I truly believe every word I wrote. But God has since taught me that rest in Him comes in many different forms. Sometimes He will call us to that quiet place of solitude, all alone and removed from everyone else and everything that could be a distraction. And sometimes He will call us to a place of airport delays, chickens and mud pies in order to speak to our hearts and empower us in ways we never imagined He could.

I had actually scheduled this post to publish a week prior to my trip. Divine circumstances that God would not allow me to intervene in, no matter how much I tried, prevented the post from publishing. I now understand why. He wanted me to have a more complete understanding of how I can rest in Him. I wasn’t going to get that unless I followed Him in obedience on this trip to visit my dear friends. It was a trip that was completely out of character for me to take, but I knew God was directing me to do so. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to spend time with my friends, it’s that I would normally find a dozen excuses not to do so… too much work, not enough time, too many other obligations that required my attention. I had a choice to make. I chose obedience.

Going back to restate a few words from the earlier part of this post… from words that were written before my latest learning experience on resting… “Choosing to rest is choosing to be obedient. Choosing to rest is choosing to let God grow us and strengthen us in order that we may accomplish His purpose for us.” In my newly discovered state of rest God strengthened my resolve to continue to move forward in obedience to Him. He taught me that as He leads me forward, my journey will occasionally take me beside the still waters where He can restore my soul.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. (Psalm 23:2-3, KJV)

That journey will continue on after my rest, but during my time of rest He wants me to continue to live, and to live my life for Him. And sometimes, situated right next to those still waters, there will be airports, chickens and mud pies.

The God Who Takes Away

water-garden-in-snow-2-03-07-08I’ll admit it. At times I still pout about giving up our water garden. It’s been a few years since we filled it in, but you will continue to see me mention it in a blog post occasionally because I still miss it. Despite the fact that it’s gone, I still hold on to my memories of it.

For a while I was a little put out with God over the fact that He would ask me to give up the water garden that we enjoyed so much, and I was more than a little hesitant to do what I knew He was telling me to do. That’s how we are when we’re asked to give up something we’ve come to love; hesitant at best, and oftentimes downright disobedient.

In hindsight I can see some of His reasons, as I shared in a previous post. But at the time I simply saw no reason for His request. I saw no reason for Him to take away something that brought joy and seemed to bring no harm to anyone. All I saw was a God who wanted to take away.

There’s a verse in the book of Job that comes to mind when I think of a God who takes away. It doesn’t really paint Him in a good light… at least not in my mind.

…”Naked  came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”  (Job 1:21, KJV)

Not one of the more uplifting verses that we’re drawn to when we need a word of encouragement, is it?

lotus-with-dragonfly-06-04-07My water garden was uplifting. The plants it supported and the wildlife it attracted put a smile on my face. It’s just no fun having things taken from us. No fun at all.

What seems even more unfair is having someonetaken from us. Having someone move thousands of miles away. Having someone incarcerated. Having someone disappear. Having someone die. Taking away hurts, God. Why do you take away?

There’s a contemporary Christian song by Casting Crowns called “Praise You in this Storm”. Based on the lyrics I’m guessing that the writers have experienced some “taking away” in their lives. The first verse goes like this:

I was sure by now

God, You would have reached down

and wiped our tears away, stepped in and saved the day.

but once again, I say, “Amen” and it’s still raining.

But as the thunder rolls

I barely hear You whisper through the rain, “I’m with you.”

And as Your mercy falls I’ll raise my hands

and praise the God who gives, and takes away.

The God who takes away. He can seem like a pretty uncaring God if we choose to see Him in that light. It’s not always easy for me to raise my hands and praise Him during those times. The God who takes away. Who wants to serve a God who takes away?

I heard the Casting Crowns song on my way to work one morning not too long ago, and this time God let me hear the words as they related to a particular person I was praying for. I was asking God to give emotional healing to a friend of mine. This friend was struggling with some things that I couldn’t bear the thought of them struggling with any longer. I was asking God to take those things away. I was praying to the God who takes away. I was depending on God for His ability to do something… something that I previously had been angry with Him about: taking away.

As I thought more about that verse in Job, I thought about the wording… about what Job said about God.  Sure, Job said that God takes away. But, he also said that God gives. He’s the God who takes away, but He’s also the God who gives.

God is all about making exchanges. That’s really what redemption is. He takes something away, something that isn’t worth very much, and He exchanges it for something precious. That exchange requires taking away before the giving can take place.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor. (Isaiah 61:1-3, NIV)

Those are some pretty impressive exchanges. A crown of beauty for ashes. The oil of joy for mourning. A garment of praise for a spirit of despair. Those are some trades I’ll take.

Why all the talk of a God who takes away? Because it’s a “take-away” anniversary. On January 8, 2011, God took a dear friend from me. He took a dear friend from a lot of us when He took Martha Farrell from this earth to be with Him. In just a few days I’ll face another “take-away” anniversary. On January 13, 1996, God took my daddy from us. On those days it was all I could do not to shake my fist in anger at the God who takes away. How selfish of me. How utterly and completely selfish.

God took away, alright. He took the pain and suffering from my friend and my father. He removed the awful effects that cancer had wracked their bodies with. And He made some beautiful exchanges. He exchanged suffering for praising. He exchanged pain for joy. Forgive my selfish soul for ever having begrudged that.

lotus-b-06-05-07The sadness of missing a water garden can’t begin to compare with the sorrow that still occasionally comes from not having my friend and my father here with me anymore. But I’ll always have my memories. I’ll always be thankful for that. And I’ll forever be grateful for a God who takes away.

[John testifies about Jesus] The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29, NIV)

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. (John 10:27-29, NIV)

The thief comes only in order to kill and steal and destroy, I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, til it overflows) . (John 10:10, AMP)

water-lily-2-06-04-07

A little more light, please

coleus pineapplePoor lighting drives me crazy. I want a room that’s well lit. Turn on every lamp and light; open every sunny window. Give me light and lots of it. I think that’s why this time of year can be so draining on me. There just isn’t enough light.

I wake up very early every morning, so regardless of the time of year it’s never daylight when I awake. But walking out of my office and going home at the end of a workday in darkness gives me the feeling that I’ve missed something. I feel like I’ve been robbed of hours that were meant for something else. For a visit with a friend, running an errand or two, or catching up on life with my husband.

I know the hours are still there. The lack of daylight hasn’t reduced a day from 24 hours to 18. But it sure feels like it. It’s dark. It’s cold. My energy is gone. I need a little more light, please.

hellebore-3-03-08Pretty much everything requires at least a little light. Some more than others. The plants in my garden are like that. I have some plants like hostas, ferns and hellebores that can’t tolerate full sun. Then there are those like my roses and ornamental grasses that wouldn’t thrive without huge doses of it.

I know that without light my roses wouldn’t flower. My vegetable plants wouldn’t produce vegetables. Those plants have to bloom before they can bear fruit. It’s the same with us. We need light in order to bloom. We have to have light if we want to be fruitful. We rely on The Light.

Not only do we need light, we are expected to live out that light. It lights paths… for us and for those around us. And it produces fruit. Until recently I never really considered the fact that there is fruit that comes from light. It was another of those instances when I read a passage of Scripture that I had probably read a hundred times before, but this time I saw something different.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible – and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.  (Ephesians 5:8-13)

There is fruit that comes from light. I already understood the fact that light is necessary for fruit production, but I didn’t really grasp the concept that the fruit comes from the light. I only understood the concept of the fruit coming from the plant. Even in a spiritual sense.

bignonia-capreolata-buds-a-04-12-10I’ve learned from many valuable lessons God has taught me as He has let me see myself as a plant, or at least as a part of a plant.  Just like in the book of John when Jesus tells us that He is the True Vine and we are branches in that vine. But this verse in Ephesians helped me see something completely different: something very liberating.

…(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)…

Goodness, righteousness and truth. Those are fruits that are difficult to produce. But as Christians we ought to be bearing them in abundance. Now here’s the beautiful revelation from Ephesians 5:9. Here’s the enlightenment God gave me. I don’t have to produce it. It’s not the fruit of Janet. It’s the fruit of the light.

It’s the fruit of The Light. All I have to do is bear that fruit. All I have to do is hold out that goodness, righteousness and truth on my branch as I remain in the True Vine. All I have to do is let the Light be the Light. Let it shine. Let it illuminate. Let it reveal. Let it give life. Let it drive away all fruitlessness.

… – and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. (Ephesians 5:13b)

Hmmm. I am a light? Why, then, is there darkness around me? I think I may have begun to grow a little dim. I think I may have failed to notice my instructions in this passage.

… but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. (Ephesians 5:8b-10)

Live like the light that I am. Find out what pleases the Lord. Get in His Word and understand what it is He has for me to know and to live out. Not just in a general sense, but on a day-to-day basis.

But if I’ve been illuminated and I have become a light, why don’t I automatically illuminate others? What prevents me from automatically shining? It’s that light switch called free will. God gives me a choice as to whether or not I will shine. It’s called obedience.

In 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul pens the words of instruction God gave him for the church. In that chapter we get more insight concerning the light we should be and how we can shine.

You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:5-8; 16-24)

We have some direction here as to how we can continue to shine our lights. First of all we have armor to wear. My first thought was that armor is going to block the shining of the light. But the more I considered that armor, the more I thought about the reasons for needing armor, the more I understood that it’s a battle to keep on shining. We are in a battle against darkness and the Enemy would love to dim our light, or at least prevent us from switching it on.

Secondly, we see that we have a brightening switch. Rejoicing, praying and giving thanks makes our light shine brighter and brighter.

Next we see what can cause us to turn off our illumination switch. God tells us specifically, “Do not quench the Spirit.” Our holy light shines through the Spirit living within us. When we have accepted Christ as our Savior we have been given that Light to live within us. There’s nothing we, or anyone else can do to extinguish that Light. But we do have the capacity through our disobedience to prevent it from shining. We can choose to live a disobedient lifestyle that will quench the Spirit… that will turn off the illumination switch.

We also see that through our continued disobedience we build up a vile film that coats us with grime and prevents our light from shining as brightly as it should. That film of sin can only be removed through sanctifying us through and through. It’s like Windex for the soul.

Finally, we get some of the best news ever. We don’t have to do all the work. He will do it. The God of the universe will sanctify us through and through. He has called us. He is faithful. He will do it. His Word promises us.

I am a light. I have a purpose. God provides me with an abundance of goodness, righteousness and truth that will not only sustain me, but also will benefit those He puts in my path everyday. He shines His illuminating goodness through me to help light the way for those who stumble and fall.

Another reason for my failure to shine is that I may have grown a little unconcerned – strike that – considerably unconcerned about those who are in darkness. I forget what it’s like to live in darkness. I forget about the frustration and aggravation that comes from fumbling around without enough light. I forget what it feels like to be blanketed in the heaviness that calls itself darkness. I forget the fear that accompanies it. I forget its capacity to drain every ounce of energy from body and soul. If I were more mindful of those things I would be much more prone to shine like the luminary I’ve been created to be.

Someday I won’t have to battle the frustration and confusion that comes from inadequate light. There will be a day when there will be no more darkness. The One True God of light and life will forever drive it away. The Light of the World will forever reign. Until then, let me ask The God of Brilliant Lights at the beginning of each new day to empower me to shine a little more of His light, please.

Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with Him. On that day there will be neither sunlight nor cold, frosty darkness. It will be a unique day – a day known only to the Lord – with no distinction between day and night. When evening comes, there will be light. On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter. The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and His name the only name. (Zechariah 14:5b-9)

When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of His servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God. (Isaiah 50:10)

(In honor of my dear friend Jennifer, who keeps me ever mindful of the Light, and who shines faithfully on everyone around her.)