Linger a Little Longer

This is the first in a weekly blog series leading up to Thanksgiving. Join the conversation at #3WeeksofThanks.

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“That opportunity to choose to be thankful in the middle of difficulty is good for us. It leads us to the understanding that our thanksgiving needs to be anchored in something much greater than our circumstances or the changing times we live in. We’re not thankful because of what we have or don’t have – we’re thankful because God is good, all the time, and He will always keep His promises.

As Christians, we understand God’s Word to be His revelation of who He is and the primary way we get to know Him. Creation reveals Him as Creator, Jesus reveals God as Father, His Word reveals His character, and when we put our faith in Christ and become filled with the Holy Spirit, He is revealed through His very presence in our lives.

That’s how to begin to cultivate a heart of thanksgiving, no matter what we’re facing.”

I had no idea how these words, my very own from around this time last year, would help me put the past seven months into better perspective. 

I’m wrapping up the first week of #3WeeksofThanks. I created it a few years ago so that I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to embrace and participate in a season of Thanksgiving in my life and in our home. I love Fall, and Thanksgiving came and went so quickly that I wanted to linger in its vibrant colour and crisp air a little longer. And yet, this little project has proven to be one of the most challenging things I’ve ever attempted! I suppose it’s because a heart of thanksgiving doesn’t cultivate itself.

Especially this year.

It’s easy to dismiss our disappointments or minimize our sufferings because someone always truly does have it worse than we do. And yet, our pain is still our pain. Our frustrations and challenges are uniquely ours. And all our feelings about it tell us that we may have to stop and sort it all out.

And that’s okay.

Early this morning our seven year old daughter came to our bed. We talked about all the changes we’ve been experiencing. “This pandemic,” she said. “Why did it even have to happen? Why doesn’t God just stop it and we can go back to normal?”

A thought I’ve had several times over the past months. 

We held her and discussed the things we know that are true about God. We discussed how He is good, loving, holy, just, compassionate, all-powerful, all-present and all-knowing. And how hard it is to understand why He allows certain things sometimes. We talked about how we know we can trust Him and how He is with us in everything we go through. We talked about how He can see things we can’t see. And how He knows how to bring good things out of very bad things, and how we can’t learn to trust Him if we never go through times when we have to trust Him.

And we talked about how hard that is sometimes. 

Then we prayed together. Because when we don’t know what to do, or we don’t know how to feel or we don’t understand our situation, we pray and praise. And when we’re filled with thankful feelings and are rejoicing in our hearts for the good things God has given, we pray and praise. And when everything is simply ordinary and uneventful, we pray and praise.

We pray and praise, all the time. 

Because He is good, all the time. 

Even in 2020. 

Especially in 2020.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (NIV)

Garden Lessons

I don’t garden because I am any good at it.

In fact, you might say the opposite is true.

Nearly everything I planted this year got eaten by insects, birds and critters, drowned by torrential rain and hail or wilted by weeks and weeks of extreme heat, despite repeated waterings.

A few weeks ago I noticed a business meeting taking place in the backyard between three robins and two magpies. So strange, I wonder what they’re doing, I thought. The next morning I opened the curtains and scanned the fence. This year I planted a beautiful giant sunflower, even tenderly nursing it back to health after the wicked wind broke it in half as a young shoot. Toothpicks and packing tape, a stake and some twine and she found the strength to grow five feet tall. 

My eyes searched for the large flower, ready to bloom as it followed the sun from dawn til dusk. Except, it wasn’t there. The stalk stood tall and strong, but the entire flower head was gone.

Maybe it was the Gang of Five. Maybe it was that grey squirrel I caught digging in my peas on my deck. Either way, the sunflower will not bloom.

Sigh.

Rabbit and squirrel food. That is what I grew this year. 

My beloved rose bushes, the ones that grow heavy with roses from June to October, were the victim of some sort of insect that ate the leaves into lace. I tried watering and feeding, and in a last-ditch effort to bring them back to life, I pruned them down to the ground a few weeks ago. I knew they might not make it, but it was worth the risk.

This morning I stepped outside to soak in the freshness. It’s a chilly fall-ish morning with the promise of a warm, golden, late summer afternoon. The growing season is slowly winding down, but these little rose bushes never give up. One, two, three new shoots.

They even have buds.

I don’t garden because I am any good at it; I garden because it reminds me of things my heart knows are true, in nature and in life.

Even when I don’t see it, I know He is working.

The sunflower stalk still stands, three smaller flowers popping out from the leaves. The rose bushes are steadily filling out with smooth shiny leaves and precious little buds. Pansies I planted two or three years ago have re-seeded themselves and are spreading through one corner of my flower bed, thriving with yellow and white and purple joy.

It makes me think of that passage in Isaiah 35 (NIV) —

The desert and the parched land will be glad;
    the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
    it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
    the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
    the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the feeble hands,
    steady the knees that give way;

say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
    he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
    he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.

The burning sand will become a pool,
    the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
    grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there;
    it will be called the Way of Holiness;
    it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
    wicked fools will not go about on it.

No lion will be there,
    nor any ravenous beast;
    they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,

    and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
    everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
    and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Thank You Jesus that You do not abandon us in the darkest and most difficult seasons of life. You are the Life-Giver! We live in the now and not-yet, where glimpses of resurrection fill our hearts wth hope. You breathe life into what was dead. Wilderness and deserts won’t last forever. Burning sand and thirsty ground will pass away. Desolate jackal-haunts will be transformed into lush, fertile land.

This world and our life in it is incredibly beautiful, and at the same time, filled with imperfection and evil. I can’t pretend it’s not the case. I’ve just learned that some of the most faithful missionaries from my childhood church are enduring one of the deepest griefs imaginable. Please pray for them as they mourn.

Following Jesus does not guarantee a pain-free life.

But it does guarantee that pain will come to a permanent end. Gladness and joy will overtake us. Sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Hallelujah!

Resilience