Love Your Neighbour

I am a passionate person. Ask my friends and family – they’ll tell you I have opinions about things and I don’t hesitate to share them freely. To be honest, it has gotten me in trouble on more than one occasion but, thankfully, it has also allowed me to be a voice for those who have none.

The raging debate between Christians regarding whether to re-open their church doors or leave them closed during a pandemic is dividing congregations across our communities. Both sides make excellent points, but I’ve noticed a disturbing trend that is causing me to sit up and take notice of how I myself engage in this topic.

Jesus has called us to love our neighbour as ourselves. So just how do we love our neighbour well during a public health crisis? Is church attendance essential to being a Christian? Is the gathered body of Christ a priority when the current health recommendations are to be apart?

Wonderful questions worthy of vigorous debate.

Here’s the problem I am currently struggling through. 

I’ve noticed the tendency to measure spiritual maturity in relation to which side we fall on. And of course, we raise an eyebrow at those who don’t agree with our point of view. Those who want to gather are seen as immature and selfish people who are not living out Jesus’ command to love our neighbour. Those who are unwilling to gather at this time and choose to follow health guidelines are seen as cowards who are worshiping the government instead of Jesus.

Why are we doing this to each other?

“If you think church is a building, you don’t know Jesus.” 

“If you don’t want to gather with other Christians, something’s wrong in your walk with Christ.”

Two sides of the same hurtful, destructive coin. 

Can I offer a third way? What if we do the thing Christ-followers been called to do for centuries? Ephesians 4:2-6 says, 

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Tim Keller once said, “The church is not a museum for pristine saints, but a hospital ward for broken sinners.” Of which we all are. No one has the corner on perfect righteousness except Jesus. We are all wrestling through stressful circumstances with no real end in sight. Some have accepted pandemic life and are patiently waiting it out. Others believe if they were to do that, they would be compromising their beliefs. Is one more spiritual than the other? Some suffer struggles made significantly worse by isolation and are desperate for meaningful human interaction with their church family. Some suffer anxiety over possibly spreading the virus to the vulnerable and are paralyzed by the thought of a group gathering even if it means missing out on a part of their life they hold dear. Is one closer to Jesus than the other? We have been isolated from one another for so long, stuck in our echo chambers where it’s far too easy to paint the other side in a negative light. We have forgotten the call to be completely humble and gentle, to be patient, to bear with one another in love.

When presented with the opportunity to sin by self-righteousness and smug attitudes, let’s run the other way and choose to love our neighbour well – including our Christian brothers and sisters on the other side of this issue. Instead of passing uncharitable judgment on those whose needs and desires do not align with our own, we can praise the Lord that the body of Christ is made up of many different parts, and that each part has a purpose and a role in fulfilling the call of Christ to the greater community at this particular time in history.

Lord, forgive us for calling someone else’s faith into question when they don’t see this the way we do. Give us wisdom, patience and deep encouragement as we learn how to love our neighbour well in this difficult time.

(image: mine)

And Now, A New Year

The tree came down this week. It was our very first real tree as a married couple and I didn’t mind the mess of the needles one bit. I’ve been warned that I’ll still be finding them in June!

Our area has been under a no indoor/outdoor gatherings restriction for the past month, so Christmas was very different for our family. I fully expected no indoor gatherings, but the no outdoor gatherings rule was tough to adjust to. Once the shock wore off and the sadness blew through, I made the decision not to let my anger at the whole situation rule the holidays. For us, “making the best of it” meant organizing Zoom gatherings and leaving lots of space in our home for play and rest. Although I missed my people desperately, in the end, it was a gift. The slow pace, the long stretches of nothing on the schedule — after a long year of abrupt changes and periods of adjustment, it was beautiful. And every pine needle I find in my living room for the rest of 2021 will serve as a reminder of the difficult and wonderful Christmas we shared.

And now, 2021. 

Already — a shocking year. This morning at the breakfast table our almost 8 year old asked why God lets people die if He knows we’re going to be sad about it. From our first experience with the death of a pet or a loved one to the very end of our days on earth, we grapple with the hard questions that have no simple answers. Our discussion this morning revolved around the freedom to choose and what life would look like if that simply did not exist. We talked about how God knows things we don’t know — that’s why He’s God and we aren’t. And we were honest about the existence of suffering: the Bible doesn’t promise a pain-free life, but it also shows us that very good things can come from going through very hard things. As we were talking, a passage from 1 Peter popped into my head.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. 

This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 

1 Peter 3:3-9 (NIV)

These past twelve months have given us plenty of opportunities to live in a constant state of outrage. It’s exhausting! But the good news of Jesus is the oasis in the desert, quenching my anger-parched soul with fresh, clean, cool water.

In this broken world, there can be no true flourishing apart from Christ. He is the inexpressible and glorious joy that fills our hearts when it seems all is lost. He is the One in whom we put our trust. The hope He gives cannot be dashed, the love He offers cannot be lost, the peace He brings cannot be disturbed.

The most beautiful thing we can pursue this year is to grow in our faith in Christ. May it be the kind of faith that transforms both us and the places we find ourselves in! 

Happy New Year.

January Sky

The Christmas Plate

I don’t remember exactly where I got it. A second-hand store I think, a few years ago. But as soon as I laid eyes on it, I loved it because it was beautiful to me. Whenever I saw it, my heart swelled and my mind swirled with all the memories of Christmases long ago, when I was little and full of wonder and delight.

It bears a print of Currier and Ives’ “The Homestead in Winter”, with an old white farmhouse and a small red barn, the home of the little brown cow standing out front. The bare trees stretch their gnarly black branches into a wintery morning sky near a little, half-frozen pond surrounded by brush. In the centre, a couple drives a red sleigh with two white horses and a man in a blue coat carries an armload of wood, followed by his faithful dog.

The vintage gold-rimmed decorative plate hung on our wall for one or two Christmases then was somehow lost in my house, missing the next Christmas entirely. And then one day the following spring, I found it! My heart sang!

It hung on the wall for another Christmas, bringing me a sense of home once again.

One night a few weeks ago after the kids were in bed I carefully hung it up in the kitchen and smiled. I said to my husband who was in the other room, “I’m going to take a photo of my plate, just in case it gets broken sometime.” With four kids under the age of 10, things happen.

The next morning, one of my sweet kiddos immediately noticed the plate on the wall. “Mom! Where did we get that plate? It’s beautiful!” I lifted her up so she could see it on the wall and explained a little bit about it. And then, an amazing turn of events. Less than 8 hours later, I heard a loud crash, followed by a small sobbing mess of that same child running down the hall towards me.

“MOM!” she bawled, “I broke it! I broke your special plate! I’m so sorry, Mom! It was an accident!”

My heart sank, both for her and for my sweet Christmas plate. I gave her a hug and we went to inspect the damage.

Sure enough, there it was – on the kitchen floor, clean in two. One tiny chip was missing. We picked up the pieces and set them on the table, and then I held her for a minute.

“Mom, I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to…” her voice trailed off as she buried her head in my shoulder.

“Sweetheart,” I looked her square in the eyes, “I know it was an accident. And you know what? It’s just a plate.”

“But it was your special plate!” she wailed.

“Yes, it was special to me and I am very sad. But you know what? I know it was an accident. And it’s just stuff. You are more important to me than stuff! I love you. Besides, I think we might be able to fix it.”

She dried her tears and clung to my neck for a few more moments.

Last week I pulled out the superglue and managed to put the plate back together without gluing my fingers to it. It hangs in our living room now, away from the scene of the incident (just in case!). From afar, it’s good as new. But if you look closely, you can see the crack — and I don’t mind one bit.

I keep telling the kids that things don’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. This Christmas, more than any other year, I’m praising the Lord for His living presence in my life! Right there with me in the middle of broken plates, dashed hopes, fears and uncertainties, stress and anxiety, grief and pain. His grace sustains me in every moment because the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1), born through the hard reality of labour and delivery to unlikely parents in a stable of animals. 

He entered a world that didn’t even recognize Him — a world sick with sin, riddled with the stench of death, hopeless to save itself. The Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace laid His glory aside to live, die and rise again so that we could be reconciled to God forever. Sin and death defeated, not just once but for all eternity! Lord, let your Kingdom come!

This Christmas, we certainly don’t have everything we want. But we have everything we need.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:3-9 (NIV)

Merry Christmas. The Promise-Maker keeps His promises! May your heart prepare Him room this week.

The Christmas Plate

Even From the Very Beginning

The excitement of Christmas always arrives in our home around the middle of November. We talk about the things we’d like to enjoy together, and the discussion always circles back to why we’re celebrating in the first place.

Does the Christmas story start with an angel’s visit to Mary? In some senses, yes. The events are set in motion by a striking interaction between a strange visitor and a young girl. But these moments were planned long ago, before there was time.

This year we’ve begun tracing the thread of the coming Messiah through the Old Testament.

“And I will put enmity
between you and the woman
and between your offspring and hers
he will crush your head
and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

The first glimpse of future where sin and death are vanquished. Keep reading and you’ll see more glimpses of hope.

Isaiah 7:14 – “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

And Isaiah 9:6 —

“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.”

For some reason, I’ve found myself lingering in the book of Joel, and even here I’m seeing Jesus.

“You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
    and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
Then you will know that I am in Israel,
  that I am the Lord your God,
and that there is no other;
And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”
(Joel 2:26-29)

Thank you Lord! What a relief! In a world that feels random and chaotic at times, I am on my knees in worship of the One who has always had things in the palm of His hand.

Especially this year, I have desperately needed these reminders that the Kingdom was always coming, from the very beginning. It was always planned, from long ago. Jesus was always on His way the first time – and even now we can be confident that He will come again the second time. God is the ultimate promise-keeper. He will do what He says He will do — without fail. He always keeps His promises.

Jesus will come again in glory to bring His Kingdom in all its fullness.

In the waiting, we are Kingdom people in a world in need. We invite others into the life Christ has brought – into the reality that is beyond our wildest hopes. We live according to the ways of the King of Kings, the One who has come and is coming back again. 

He is the source of eternal hope, peace that passes all understanding, deep joy, and real love – the Way, the Truth and the Life.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Joy to the world!

Fog Rolling In

Fog. 

Nothing but fog.

The world had disappeared beyond our back fence, smothering my hopes of a fun family night of stargazing.

It’s one of the simple joys I remember about growing up in the country, where the winter night stretches out above you in an endless expanse. While you head to bed, the dark sky awakes with dancing fluorescent colours and millions of tiny, twinkling diamonds. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, you might catch a double-feature – a bright glowing moon casting its spotlight on the sparkling snow.

Stunning.

Living in the city, the streetlights interfere with the fullness of the experience. But if you can find a stretch of darkness, it’s still breathtaking. November’s early nights invite us into new ways of appreciating the world God has made, and this week the temperatures were mild enough to make stargazing a possibility for our little family.

And then, the fog rolled in.

I double-checked the forecast for 6pm. Clear skies, mild temperatures.

11am. Still foggy.

2pm — fog.

Finally, around 3:45pm, the sun seemed to break through. The fog began to dissipate, but the skies were still covered with thin clouds.

The evening forecast changed to partly cloudy skies. At about 5:45, I looked out the window. Stars! The clouds were moving away! We made hot cocoa, filled our travel mugs, pulled on the winter gear and headed to our little spot to see what we could see.

It wasn’t perfect. But it was incredible! Saturn and Jupiter hung low in the sky, nearer to each other than I’d ever seen. Mars glowed red, and the Big Dipper came into view. Vega, Polaris, the stars of Cassiopeia… the darkness surrounded us but our eyes were on the heavens, drinking in their beauty.

Psalm 147:3-5 popped into my head:

He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars
and calls them each by name.
Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
his understanding has no limit.

I need the reminder that the One who holds these stars is the same One who heals the deepest wounds of my heart. 

Truth.

Preach it to your heart when you wake up in the morning and the fog has rolled in. Preach it to your heart when you’re asking yourself if this could really be true: does the God of the Universe even see me at all? And preach it to your heart when the skies clear and the stars are shining again.

Frank E. Graeff was a Presbyterian minister in the late 1800s. He was called the Sunshine Minister for his contagious positivity. According to another hymn-writer, “in spite of his cheerful disposition, he was a man sorely tried by doubts and deep depressions.” It makes sense, then, that he penned these words which were later put to music.

Does Jesus care when my heart is pained
Too deeply for mirth or song,
As the burdens press,
And the cares distress,
And the way grows weary and long?

Does Jesus care when my way is dark
With a nameless dread and fear?
As the daylight fades  
Into deep night shades,
Does He care enough to be near?

Does Jesus care when I’ve tried and failed
To resist some temptation strong;
When for my deep grief
There is no relief,
Though my tears flow all the night long?

Does Jesus care when I’ve said “goodbye”
To the dearest on earth to me,
And my sad heart aches
Till it nearly breaks,
Is it aught to Him? Does He see?

O yes, He cares, I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary,
The long night dreary,  
I know my Savior cares.

Through stars, through Scripture, through songs, and even in the middle of the fog, I know my Saviour cares.

Praise the Lord. How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him! (Psalm 147:1)

Image: Stephen Rahn/Stocksnap

Thanksgiving is Different

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

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Last week my 9 year old declared this to be the worst year ever! She’s turning 10 in just a few months. With big plans for her first double-digit birthday, she’s worried that it won’t be all she is imagining, thanks to the pandemic. We don’t know what things will look like a few months from now but if the past seven months are any indication, I’m thinking we’ll have to be creative!

In the past few weeks, when these kinds of tough moments have come up, we’ve sat together and cried over the things that have changed and the things we have lost. And then I gently remind them that 2020 is the year of doing things differently, and that different can be refreshing!

I’ve even taken them to the history books to give them a little bit of perspective. According to historians from Harvard, the year 536 was the worst year ever. After a volcanic eruption in Iceland plunged the world into darkness and famine for 2 years, the bubonic plague began to spread.

Yikes. 

And yet, even though the world has been through awful things in generations past, we still feel the losses 2020 has brought and held out hope that things would turn around before the holiday season.

This weekend is showing us that we’re still in the thick of things.

I know several families who will not be gathering this weekend, breaking decades of tradition. For some, this may be the last holiday they would have spent with loved ones who are battling terminal illnesses. Others want to hold new babies and bless new parents with encouragement and amazing food. Others would have travelled to spend time together, and instead find themselves at home, away from children and grandchildren. Still others are relieved that they don’t have to go to an awkward family gathering but are missing a great meal with friends.

For others, Thanksgiving has always meant being alone.

If you’re greeting this weekend with a heavy heart, I’m praying that God’s presence will bring you comfort and that you would find that even in seasons of disappointment, He truly is enough! This year, we are finding space in our tight schedules for something different – something refreshing. Something that we would never otherwise have had the opportunity to do. Something that shifts us away from the perfect turkey and sharpens our focus on the Giver of Life.

I love the invitation from Hebrews 13:15-16 (NIV) — 

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

It’s amazing to me that a sacrifice of praise isn’t only words – it’s actions too. Who can you do good for and share with? Who is God bringing into your life right now that you can bless?

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. I’m thankful that God is good – all the time.

Thanks for joining me this year for #3WT!

A Full Moon

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

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The most remarkable thing happened this week.

The full moon rose in a clear sky.

Most months I don’t really pay attention to the phases of the moon, but the first full moon in fall is my favourite. Paired with the brilliance of rose-gold sunrises and brilliant coral-red sunsets, a harvest moon on a clear, warm night is just one of the most incredible beauties of the year.

We got the kids out of bed the other night and took them to the backyard to catch a glimpse.

“Whoa, that’s huge!” they marvelled.

We stood for a few minutes in the chill of the evening, barefoot on the grass, soaking in the beauty of the night sky. Then it was back to bed.

As I was tucking them in for the second time, one whispered, “Thanks for showing us that cool full moon, Mom.”

My heart swelled. “You’re welcome, sweetheart.”

This morning I peeked out the window to see the moon was full and pale, on its way to bed, with Mars for its sidekick. “Hey kids, come check this out!” I said.

At first they couldn’t see it, but then their eyes filled with disbelief. “That’s Mars?!”

We pulled out an iPad app that confirmed our suspicions and they rushed off to tell their dad what they had seen.

It was remarkable to see the gorgeous harvest moon and Mars in the morning light, but it was even more remarkable that these created things point our family to the One who made everything and holds it all together.

Especially this week, when the grief of loss and disappointment grips us at different times in different ways. We’re rolling along through our new and very different routine when all of the sudden we remember that this pandemic life isn’t what we signed up for but here we are and what do we do with all these big feelings?

Creation serves to remind us that this life is not some random collection of pointless events that end the hollow emptiness of death. There is order and design delicately woven together with intricate, breathtaking beauty. Isn’t it a gift that we’ve had to spend so much time outside in the past six months?

Yesterday after another amazing ruby-red sunset, my 9 year old daughter teased me, “Mom, I know your favourite season is fall. Every time we drive anywhere you’re always like, ‘look at the beautiful colours! Or look at that awesome sunset’! Like, we get it! You love fall!”

I laughed, but I just know that one day the kids will remember their how cheesy mom loved to show them things in nature. And I hope that in 20 years when they see an ordinary hillside suddenly ablaze with fall colours or sit under a giant harvest moon, or look up to notice even a tiny star winking in the darkness, they’ll remember these little moments when heaven touches earth and makes the ordinary extraordinary. I am praying that this collection of memories, paired with the things we’ve taught them and the experiences they’ve had will remind them that there is more to this life than our difficult circumstances.

In the words of my wise mother, “This too shall pass”. For millennia, the world has turned on its axis and revolved around the sun. And every generation has faced its challenges, some much more devastating that our current experiences. And yet, stories of hope and resilience shine through. Why is that? Because God did not make the world and abandon it. He is here, He is working. He always has been and always will be.

Colossians 1:15-17 (NIV) spoke to my heart this week: 

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

In Him, all things hold together. Think about that for a moment. If He is the key, even now, even in this moment in history, we have nothing to fear.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7)

Harvest Moon, October 1, 2020 – from my backyard.

Linger a Little Longer

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

***

“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

Do Not Be Anxious

We may have experienced the final true blast of summer heat this week and boy was it sweaty. Determined not to complain my way through the short few days of intense temperatures, I decided to pretend we were on a tropical vacation. We ate ice cream for lunch and takeout on the deck, avoided our chores, spent early mornings at the park and had a huge water fight in the back yard.

Belly laughs are good for the soul.

A few weeks ago we took a little day trip into the foothills of the Rockies and found a little green-blue pond nestled among trees. As we were exploring the area, we discovered a dry riverbed with a gentle rolling river, shallow enough at the edge to dip our toes in the cold water. It was so cold we could only stand it for a few seconds! But the breathtaking beauty all around me filled my heart with joy.

I treasure these summer memories, knowing they’ll ground me when the weather turns cold and physical distancing guidelines prevent us from gathering with our people indoors.

August is always bittersweet. Summer is winding down but September holds new beginnings with amazing possibilities. We’re setting new goals and launching ourselves into unfamiliar and exciting things.  At the beginning of every school year, I always have a sense of dread for the cold and flu season I know is just around the corner. I’m terrible with worst-case scenario thinking! This year, though, I’m dealing with the added anxiety that the sniffles might be more than just the sniffles.

The pandemic.

The very thing we hoped would be long over and done with is still with us in a very present way.

For families with young children, we know that September to March is pretty much just runny noses, fevers, coughs and the occasional GI bug thrown in. If you can get through with more healthy weeks than sick ones, it’s cause for celebration!

In 2020, we have the “extreme heat warning” version of dealing with childhood illness: constant temperature and symptom monitoring and covid testing for kids who don’t even want their noses wiped, let alone their throat swabbed with a giant q-tip.

Jesus, be with me in this season! It’s hard to pretend this isn’t a big deal. And it’s even harder not to give into the anxiety it brings. Perhaps that’s why Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV) has been returning to my mind over and over this week:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I am so thankful for God’s Word! I lingered in Psalm 36:5-9 this week:

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
    your justice like the great deep.
    You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
    People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
    you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light.

In this suffocating heat of pandemic protocol and current events, we long to dip our toes in a cool mountain stream, to remember that there is more to life than anxiety and fear. Let’s quench our intense thirst for truth and hope in the Fountain of Life! Only in His light can we see light!

Lord Jesus, You are King of Kings and Lord of Lords. May we live today with that truth alive in our hearts and find our peace in You!

Cold mountain stream