I love the smell of…

jonquil-5Dirt. This gardener from the northeastern U.S. said her favorite smell is the smell of dirt. She’s pretty unique, with a completely different approach to gardening than mine. But, she has no choice. She’s totally blind.

I drank in every word of her interview as she talked about enjoying her garden in complete darkness, and I wasn’t surprised to hear her say how much she relies on her sense of smell. I just wasn’t expecting the smell of dirt to be her favorite. But, it’s the first smell she’s aware of after every winter’s final thaw, so I guess that’s why she cherishes it so much. It’s her signal that it’s almost time to get out and begin digging in the dirt.

That got me remembering some of my favorite smells. I was actually surprised at the ones that really stood out. Some smells were what you’d expect. You know, roses, freshly baked breads. There’s the perfume of honeysuckle spreading in a mass of tangles along the road to my dad’s horse barn.  But a scent with even fonder memories is the one of the barn itself.

I love remembering the heady smells of the things that brought the barn to life. The scratchy hay bales piled high in the hayloft where we played. The dust hung so thickly in the air that it clung to our sweat and coated us in mud after a few hours of playing in the heat of the Arkansas summer.

The sweet smell of the molasses in the blend of grains making the sweet-feed we fed our animals.

The smell of the horses that stomped and whinnied when we skittered through the barn, giggling and interrupting their afternoon nap.

The manure. Yes, I even have fond memories of the smell of the manure my sister and I hauled out of each stall. Using pitchforks to fill wheelbarrows we lugged the pungent poo to a pile my dad kept behind the barn.  All those smells married to create a fragrance I’d choose any day over french perfume.

The musty smell of freshly-picked cotton is another favorite. I remember it piled high like summertime drifts of snow in green metal trailers. My little sister and I played for hours in those drifts, tunneling through the fluffy mounds and building hiding places of forts and caves for cowboys and Indians. As a child, I couldn’t have told you cotton had a smell. But as an adult, a whiff of that dusty bouquet takes me back to when my greatest concern was convincing Mother to give us a few more minutes to play before time to go inside and clean up for supper.

So many beautiful smells. So many wonderful memories. But I wonder… what does God smell like?

Why shouldn’t there be a smell about Him?  His Word tells us we will someday see Him, and it gives us a hint of what He looks like. If we will listen, we can hear His voice as He speaks to us. When we draw close to Him there are times we can actually feel His presence. In the Psalms we’re told that if we take refuge in Him, we can taste and see that the Lord is good.

God must have some sort of smell, because the Bible actually describes Christians as spiritual diffusers.

fragrance of the knowledge of God 2 Corinthians 2.14

honeysuckle-a-05-18-10

God leads me to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Him to everyone around me. He wants me to smell like Him so others can breathe deeply of a fragrance they’ve never experienced; a fragrance they should want for themselves.  But, I wonder if those around me can detect “the fragrance of the knowledge of Him,” above the stench of my self-absorbed lifestyle.

I need a good, cleansing soak in Him every day so His fragrance will come through. If I’d remember that beautiful fragrance of the knowledge of Him, I’d cherish it. I would anticipate the life-sustaining fellowship that follows it… far more than the anticipation the sightless gardener experiences with the smell of dirt and the promise it brings of each new spring.

…and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.   (Ephesians 5:2)

A fresh drink of mercy

Sometimes I just get full of myself. And believe me, that’s never a good thing. I don’t mean full of myself in a feel-good kind of way. Not the full of myself like I’ve just accomplished some great feat, or feel like I’m on top of the world.

No, I get full of my failures. My shortcomings. My downright refusals to just do the right thing. Yeah, that’s what I get full of. And it gets stagnant and starts to smell.

Why do I fill myself with things like that? Because I don’t stop to purposely empty myself.

I learned a beautiful lesson about emptying myself from a dear friend a couple of years ago. We were getting ready to leave for a Christian women’s conference, so excited about getting our worship on. A day or two before we left, she sent an email to all of us planning to go, and she shared how God had spoken to her about emptying herself before she left, so she could be filled. (That email eventually became this blog post.)

That message has never left my heart.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:7)

I’m a jar designed to hold a great treasure, not to be filled with trash. But where there’s trash, there’s no room for treasure. I fill myself with the most ridiculous things, and it leaves no room for a Heavenly refill.

Even on some of my better days, when I may have given God my failures and shortcomings, I still find I’m full of myself. I’ll ask forgiveness and I’ll give God my bitterness. I’ll hand over my unforgivness. I’ll let go of my anger and my pride. But in the blink of an eye I’ve filled myself with other things. Things that might seem more noble, but take up precious space nonetheless.

I’ll fill myself with projects. I’ll fill to overflowing with commitments to other people because I can’t bear to tell them no. I’ll cram in a few extra duties that make me look like a really good person. And with every other thing I shove in my jar, I know it’s not something of God. It’s me again… full of myself.

That’s when I find myself overwhelmed. That’s when I have trouble squeezing in my prayer time. That’s when I discover it’s been a few days since I sat quietly alone with God, listening for His direction and waiting for His guidance. Because I’ve been too busy cramming more stuff in my jar.

That’s when I cry out for mercy. I need a fresh drink of mercy, God! I need that kind of mercy Jeremiah wrote about.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

olive jar overflowA study of the Hebrew words used in those verses gives the most glorious picture of an overflow of God’s mercies. It’s like taking the kind of clay jar the Hebrews would have used to store fresh water, and filling it to overflowing with sparkling, fresh water. But, it goes even beyond that. It’s a freshness like the jar was emptied completely of any remaining water and filled with a fresh, new water of a quality never experienced before. And the refilling is constant and ongoing. Always the fresh flowing through until it overflows.

But I can’t get that fresh drink of mercy. Not because God won’t give it to me. I can’t get it because there’s no room for it. I haven’t emptied myself of my filth. I haven’t emptied myself of myself.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8, ESV)

If the very Son of God saw fit to empty Himself to make redemption available for me, shouldn’t I see fit to empty myself for Him?

empty myself to be filled lamentations 3.22-23All those things I’ve been hanging on to for so long, refusing to give to God because it meant admitting my sinfulness. Refusing to give to God because it meant giving up my agenda for His. That’s why there’s no room for His mercy.

When mercy is all I have, it means I’ve emptied myself of everything meaningless.

Yeah, that’s where I want to be… where mercy is all I have.

I want out of the weeds

Like a bolt of lightning, it nearly stopped me in my tracks. Then in a matter of seconds it was gone, and I was left with a white-knuckled grip on my steering wheel, struggling to gather my wits and finish my drive to work. Work. That’s where I was headed and that’s what consumed my thoughts until the hawk swooped earthward across the highway in front of me.

Field of weedsI swerved to miss the massive bird as it crossed my path and plunged its talons into a rodent in the weeds along the roadside. My thoughts no longer splintered among the myriad of overdue projects on my desk. All I could think of was the powerful force of the hawk as it soared above the treetops with the same ease it had made its earthward dive.

I watched it soar. I longed to soar with it. I ached for the freedom it must have felt, gliding effortlessly across the early morning sky. I wasn’t soaring. Just like that rat that had been snatched up in a split-second; I could no more see an escape than it did. I wanted to be plucked out of the weeds. I wanted to soar.

Words of advice from so many well-meaning friends rang in my ears.

“You’ve got to pull yourself up and not let it get you down”

“Just do what you can and the rest will wait.”

“You have to rise above this. Don’t let it get the best of you.”

The truth is, it had gotten me down and left me with no energy to get back up. The rest of the work wasn’t waiting; it was being shoveled at me with increasing urgency. The weeds were too tall; I couldn’t rise above.

But that hawk; nothing was holding it down.

As my heart rate slowed and normal breathing resumed, one constant began to settle into my still-swirling thoughts.

woman holding feathers“They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary…” How could that happen with me? I needed to know what preceded that verse. I needed to know what the conditions were that Isaiah had laid out in order to soar. My arms aren’t wings and they are flat out too tired to try to flap.

The minute I got to my desk I pulled up my favorite search engine and typed in the words “soar”, “wings”, and “eagle”. I skimmed through the other verses containing those same words and my eyes settled on the verse I was looking for.

… but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

There it was, the condition for those who would soar. That promise was given to those who hope in the Lord. Not for those whose hope was in an extension on a deadline or the cancellation of a meeting. I glanced at the other verses that contained my search words and my eyes rested on one that gave me even more encouragement.

“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” (Exodus 19:4)

I don’t have to fly myself out of the weeds. I’m lifted up and carried out on the wings of the Father.

bald-eagle-flyWith a power and speed far beyond what I saw from that hawk, the very hand of God will reach down and lift me out of the weeds. He positions me where He wants me so I can be carried on wings and brought straight to His throne. The very thought of it took my breath all over again.

I don’t have to stay in the weeds.

I can soar. On wings like eagles.

weeds Psalm 71.20