Changing Seasons: The Joy of Harvest

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To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted; 3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build p;a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to gain, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away;7 a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.  Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NKJV)

One of the challenges in life is learning how to transition from one season to another with grace.   Gratitude for a season that is ending ultimately needs to replace the sorrow of losing its treasures; unfortunately for many of us, sorrow over loss can easily overshadow the gratitude for those treasures we held before we lost them.   Similarly, joyful expectation of the new season needs to overshadow any fear of the unknown; however, fear tends to rule our thoughts when we do not really know what that new season will hold.

We may not wish to move from winter to spring, or from our roles as students to new tasks as teachers, or from childhood to parenthood, because we have grown familiar with our roles in the old season. Indeed, it is a bittersweet experience to send a child to the first day of kindergarten or to admit the season of hands-on parenting is over when that child leaves for college. However, if we insist on remaining in familiar places where we are comfortable, we risk missing the joys of the next part of the journey.

The Church is entering a season of unprecedented harvest, if we will only be willing to position ourselves in our assigned part of the harvest field.   People who do not know or understand the Gospel are not flocking to us; instead, we must go to them.   The question is:  are we willing?   God makes us able, but we must be willing and obedient.   If the Body of Christ insists on remaining cloistered in the four walls of the church building, seemingly stuck in the old season of being fed and focusing on her own personal spiritual growth, she will be ensnared in self-absorption and will completely miss the rewards of the next season, the rewards of harvest.   

Training, teaching, and equipping are good practices to follow, but, at some point, we need to put that training to use by actually practicing it on someone other than ourselves and those in our comfortable circles.   Jesus commands us to go, not stay where we are.  The harvest is ripening at a giddy pace.   If we do not put on our work clothes and run to the field, we will never experience the joy of giving away what God has put in us during our training!

In the case of harvest, most of us have never actually experienced the intense season of labor a harvest entails, nor have we experienced the joy of the crops safely gathered in.    Perhaps we are afraid of the field (the people we will face or the location to which God might send us), or of the level of commitment requisite for the task, or of our own inadequacies.   We forget that the joy of the Lord is and will be our strength, and that His power is made perfect in weakness.  

However, the harvest is PREPARED, and the fields are ripe.   The Lord is calling us there now.  Father, show me the plot of land you are inviting me to harvest, for THERE is my true inheritance!   Empower me to take a leap into the field You have appointed for me!

 

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Vision Repair

example-vision1Over the years, I have learned that reality does not always correspond to what I see with my physical eyes.  As a child oblivious to my own nearsightedness, I remember being completely shocked when I found out that what I saw on the blackboard was not actually what the teacher had written.  Many of the math problems I had correctly answered had been marked wrong, as I had copied them incorrectly and had worked the wrong problem. After a seemingly magical eye exam  and acquisition of  a pair of glittery red frames for my new glasses (frames only an eight-year-old girl could possibly find attractive), I marveled at the new view available to me through those glasses.

Over the years, I became increasingly nearsighted but always felt confident in what I could see with my glasses, and — by the age of fourteen — high-powered contacts.  In my early thirties, when I could no longer be corrected with glasses (for some then-unknown reason), I remained nonplussed, as my contact lenses were extremely effective in correcting my vision.  

Even when I was diagnosed with keratoconus in my mid-forties, I did not worry too much, as specialty contact lenses could be ordered to bring the multiple images I saw into focus.   However, I became concerned when I began to experience challenges with reading (rather than only with distance).  It turned out that I was seeing double images on a regular basis and did not even realize it.   My eye doctor had to prove it to me in her office by compelling me to gaze at a series of single images with both eyes open; in every instance, I saw double images instead of single ones.  I was flabbergasted!  She explained to me that the brain has an amazing capacity to compensate for vision malfunctions and override such things as duplicate images.   Fortunately, a simple surgical procedure corrected the double vision issue (but not the ghost images characteristic of keratoconus), and I was up and running again in short order.

More recently, I suffered a retinal detachment and underwent emergency surgery to have it repaired.   Again, what was surprising is that I had no idea that the small blind spot in the corner of my field of vision was due to the retina beginning to detach.   Although I continued life as usual (carrying heavy book cartons, running up and down stairs, hopping on a couple of planes) for over a week, the expanding tear did not reach the macula — for which I am grateful!  When I finally called the eye doctor, she summarily ushered me off to emergency surgery with a specialist.   This procedure, while highly successful, has caused me to experience life with vision in only one eye for an extended period of time.   Whereas vision is slowly returning in the operated eye, it is obscured and quite blurry during the healing process.   

As I reflect on my decades-long history of vision limitations and corrections, I am reminded of how vastly different God’s vision is from ours.   My human vision, even when corrected by brilliant physicians, is still far from perfect.    Moreover, even when I think I am seeing everything well, I have a tendency to automatically compensate for my  vision shortfalls to the point that I fail to recognize my own impairment.   Certainly, using only one eye the past several days has required me to acknowledge my insufficient range of vision and has made me painfully aware of the perils of being essentially blind on one side of my body.   

What have I distilled from these challenges?   I must make a concerted effort to rely on the Holy Spirit to empower me to see people and situations from His perspective, as He sees and understand things that are invisible and incomprehensible to me.   As the Lord explains in Isaiah 55:8-9:   “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”declares the Lord “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (NIV)

Yes, my human vision is miserably inadequate, but God promises to grow me in seeing things His way.  In I Corinthians 13:11-12, Paul states, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.  For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.”

I thank You, Father, that You are Lord of my vision — both physical and spiritual, and You are able to make blind eyes see, both physically and spiritually.  Be Thou My vision, O Lord of my heart!

 

 

 

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Re-Defining Home

d12edeb1a0bce4778fefb21e1ecc327cGrowing up, I was never from a particular place, as we never lived anywhere more than three years.   We learned to associate “home” with where our little family happened to be; home was more a relational concept than a locational one.   I grew up without ever feeling connected to a hometown and occasionally felt envious of friends who actually had an association with a physical place and context   However, my home was always connected with my parents and sisters and whatever friends happened to gather wherever we happened to be living at any given time.  The house was full, and my parents were charismatic and generous; they attracted people to themselves like a flame attracts moths.   I thought this phenomenon was normal; it never occurred to me that it was unusual.

When I married, I was attached to my husband and did not care one bit where we lived; however, after giving birth to three of our five children in Norway over the course of over seven years in that breathtakingly beautiful land, it was a challenge for me to move back to the States.   Moreover, I didn’t feel very “at home” in the tiny Texas town to which we were transferred.  As a result, my sense of “home” remained  relational rather than physical — connected to my husband, children, and parents (who always were several states away from us).

We set about building a sense of home, rooted in traditions but designed to reflect our personality as a couple and as a growing family.   Over the course of decades, we have hosted hundreds of people in our home from all manner of nations and backgrounds.  After all, that is what I was taught to do!  As wanderers, we included other people as a matter of course, people who were different from ourselves.

Ultimately, my parents retired and moved to the Rocky Mountains, where they personally shared some history.  They built a beautiful home on six acres of land — their dream home after decades of moving around the country — and welcomed us and whoever else wanted to visit them.   Unfortunately, my mother began an arduous downhill spiral not long after their much-anticipated move to the Rockies.  It seemed one affliction struck her after another, and soon the family gatherings were tainted by her pain and our collective concern about her health.

Through all the challenges, my father remained resolute in supporting my mother in word and deed.  When her infirmity became psychological and neurological, he did not waver.   Much later, we finally realized that she had been tormented for years with progressive phases of dementia; after several trying years, Dad reluctantly admitted  he was no longer able to care for her, and we assisted him in placing our mother in an assisted living facility two miles from the house they had so excitedly built together.  There were many tears, and our father was left alone in a hollow house replete with memories, yet with the love of his life absent.

Undaunted, my dad visited my mother faithfully every day; he was resolute and unwavering in his devotion.   When he entered her assisted living apartment, she would briefly snap out of her doldrums and beam in recognition.   As she weathered the trials of a fractured hip and a broken femur, as well as multiple bouts of pneumonia, he was always at her side, only returning home at night to eat and sleep in the empty house that echoed with the memories of long-evaporated dreams.  During this time apart, he adjusted to Mom’s absence and the sense of distance created by dementia, and he faithfully cleaned the house, learned to cook for himself, paid the bills (always my mother’s job), and grew familiar with a life of relative solitude that revolved around his daily visits to Mom.

Recently, the time came when Dad could no longer live alone, despite his valiant attempts to manage everything himself.   His own health had deteriorated, and my sisters and I suggested that perhaps he should join our mother in her apartment.   He could no longer drive and spent his days fretting about how he could visit her, worrying about how she was faring, and desperate to be with her.   Ultimately, an emergency situation prompted his physician to recommend he not be left alone in the house any longer.   Reluctantly, he relinquished his independence and chose my mother in her little apartment over the beautiful home full of memories and majestic mountain views.

When the day came for the transition to her apartment, he worried she might reject him.   He wondered where he would sleep.   We assured him there was plenty of room in that apartment for the two of them, and, intending to comfort him, we reminded him that Mom had been sleeping in the recliner of late.  He responded wistfully, “I wish she would sleep in the bed with me.”   That statement brought tears to my eyes.

The first night after installing him in the apartment with our mother, the two of them slept together in the bed they had shared decades before, on the same sides of the bed we remembered them sharing when we were children.   It was as if they had not missed a day together, and the four-and-a-half year gap when they had been separated by Dad’s inability to care for Mom at home simply evaporated.   Now they are together every day, all day.   Although Dad is a bit bewildered at times by what is happening with the physical property that was their home for twenty-five years, he is not looking back.   He has clearly chosen our mother over their physical house.   He belongs with her, and he does not question that.

Nothing means more to me than watching my father gaze admiringly at my tiny mother (who is gradually losing her teeth) and proclaim, “You look so pretty today!”   Sixty-five years of absolute devotion, commitment, respect, and admiration far exceed any physical house anyone could ever build.   My father has chosen well, and he loves my mother unconditionally and forever, whether she speaks his name aloud or not (and sometimes she does).  Instinctively, she knows he is home; and HE knows he is home.   And I know that I have inherited matchless treasures.   My heavenly Father is revealing His Kingdom to me, this side of heaven!  “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Matthew 6:21 (NIV)

My father chose well — his treasure was in relationship, not in any building or possession. Just as Mom had left many friends and houses behind when Dad’s job repeatedly required  re-location over the course of their life together, he forfeited all for her and never looked back.   May I be as devoted as he — first to My Savior, and second to my earthly husband!  Thanks, Daddy, for an invaluable heritage and your priceless example!

 

 

 

 

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Loss, Legacy, & Life

20170121_081936Recently I made an unexpected trip to assist my father in conjunction with a move based on safety issues and health concerns.   As usual when in my mother’s kitchen, I decided to bake my dad a pie.  During the process of rolling out the crust on my mother’s time-worn, decades-old pastry cloth, I suddenly found myself overcome with waves of sorrow rooted in the realization that this banana cream pie was the last pie I would ever bake for my dad while he was actually still living in the house he had shared with my mother for many years.   As the pangs of loss threatened to overwhelm me, I realized that, although my parents might be slipping away from me, they were leaving me an invaluable legacy that not even death will be able to plunder.

Baking a pie is really a simple pleasure and an easy task — or so I had thought when I was a small child.  My mother could be found baking pies in our various kitchens (we moved often) two or three times a week.  I did not find that remarkable at the time, as that process was a normal part of life for our family.   When my dad was out of work, my ever-resourceful mother continued to bake pies using the rhubarb that grew wild in the back yard.   One of my friends even preferred watching my mom bake pies to playing with me, which hurt my tender feelings.   I could not understand how such a routine activity could fascinate my friend to that degree.  (I discovered years later that her parents were alcoholics, and her mother never baked anything.)

When I was about ten, we were eating in a diner (a rare treat), and I insisted on ordering a piece of my favorite pie (sour cherry).  Despite my mother’s polite warnings that it might not taste like what I expected, I ordered that piece of pie.   To my chagrin, the crust was leathery, and the filling consisted of a few artificially-colored red cherries floating in a sea of corn syrupy, gelatinous liquid.   The light was dawning….

My sisters and I grew up by my mother’s side and learned to bake and cook as part of the ordinary rhythm of daily life.  Friendly and inclusive, my parents both came from large families and believed in including everyone else in our family.  That process involved hosting many overnight guests, inviting everyone imaginable to dinner, and even preparing food for parties of various types in our home (including my father’s office events).  There was nothing my culinarily curious and talented mother could not do, and my sisters and I considered this lifestyle of cooking and hospitality as normal.   It never really occurred to me that few people ever reciprocated, or that it was possible  NOT to know how to bake something as simple as a pie with a good crust.  Cooking and eating together were ordinary and fundamental parts of family life.

Ultimately, I grew up and realized many of my friends could not cook and bake or were afraid to try preparing anything new.   Their mothers had never allowed them in the kitchen, or their family circumstances had not been conducive to inviting people over.  I also noticed that most of the meals my husband and I enjoyed as young adults were in our own home, to which we immediately invited people not long after our wedding day.  Rarely did someone invite us to dinner.  What was the simplest and easiest dessert for me to make?  Pie, of course!  (I have learned to prepare many delicious desserts, but pie is still my favorite!)

Decades later, we realized my mother was suffering from a form of dementia; one of the saddest, most telltale signs of her decline was the day she called me and asked me for her own pie crust recipe.   I felt a deep sense of loss at that moment as I explained her recipe and method to her.   I knew something serious had happened in her mind, as pie-baking had always been instinctive for her.

Back to the counter and the crust for the banana cream pie:  while contemplating the fact that this pie would be the last pie I would prepare for my father before he moved out of the house, as the undertow of grief threatened to swallow me up, the Holy Spirit revealed to me that a simple pie represented a tremendous, enduring legacy of hospitality, inclusion, life, and love — a legacy that no one can rob from me — a legacy of caring about others, a legacy of good food and laughter, a legacy of sharing simple pleasures, a legacy of conversation and fellowship, a legacy of giving.   How could I ever have regarded THAT as boring or ordinary?  As a child, I had taken all those things for granted and failed to realize what treasures I enjoyed on a daily basis; of course I appreciated them, but I had considered those routines normal.  As an adult, I recognize what a priceless inheritance my parents imparted to me, an inheritance that reaches beyond possessions and bank accounts.

Gratitude flooded my heart.  “Besides,” I thought to myself, “I will be able to bake Dad a pie when we visit the house and bring him home for dinner.”   I pray I will bake hundreds more pies for people in the years to come; my mother would do so, were she able.

Moreover, I have begun to search my heart with this question:   “How many treasures in Daddy God’s Kingdom have I taken for granted and considered ordinary?”  I am asking the Holy Spirit to reveal His legacy to me, in me, and through me to others as I navigate the remaining days of my own life.   May I not overlook the priceless gems lying in the ordinary places of day-to-day life!

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Managing the Manger?

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What is it, in fact, that confounds us when we are confronted with the Baby Jesus, God-With-Us?  Does God always answer your prayers in the ways we expect?   Does He come to us in ways we would prefer or imagine?   Typically, no!   We often have difficulty recognizing His ways and certainly are challenged in understanding His timing.  In fact, sometimes I haven’t been terribly thrilled with the answers to my prayers.  

 

At the time of Christ’s birth, the Jews had been waiting for centuries for their Messiah; under the oppression of a Roman emperor, they were groaning (yet again) for deliverance and political freedom.   I would imagine that the promise of a Messiah who would rule and reign forever, with the government on his shoulders, must have sounded pretty appealing.  They certainly had good reason to put faith in the promises of their prophets for the advent of the King of Kings. 

 

Yet – no!  He came as a baby, in human form, fully God yet fully man in fragile flesh.   Although the newborn baby was, no doubt, endearing and precious, there is something frightening and disarming about the power of God’s almighty, earth-shaking Presence resident in that cute swaddled bundle!   Suddenly, despite being drawn to the Baby in the manger, I have found myself shaking and frightened.   Had Jesus first appeared to me as a warrior king, I would have applauded and cheered.   Instead, He stole in quietly, completely disarming and disconcerting me, leaving me wondering (and worrying) what He actually had in mind. 

 

Is this the devil-defeating, earth-quaking Creator of the universe?  What are the implications of His intervention in my life?   What does it mean to truly yield myself 100% to this Savior whom I hardly know, certainly did not immediately recognize, and yet who knows me better than I know myself?   Yes, I am disconcerted and a bit fearful of Him, and I myself feel defenseless and exposed.   

 

Maybe that is why we sometimes feel tempted to simply leave Jesus in the manger until Easter.   Maybe that is why we dread confronting Who He really wants to be for us:   we dread the exposure attendant to a real relationship with the awe-inspiring, all-powerful, living God.   Sometimes it is hard to remember that the Holy Spirit only exposes for the purpose of healing our hearts and minds, as we are so accustomed to the enemy exposing us to accuse and condemn us, and we are already woefully familiar with our own faults and shortcomings.  

 

Will I pick the Baby Jesus up and own Him and allow Him access to my heart?   That is the question.   Will He grow in my life, or will I insist He stay in the manger until time to be nailed to the cross? 

Father, I thank You for the gift of Jesus Christ, Your only-begotten Son, my Savior and Redeemer.  May His presence and character expand in my heart and mind and spill forth in a way that will attract others to You and Your goodness!

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Is the Yoke on You?

yoke-modelRecently I heard an excellent devotional prepared by a friend on the subject of yokes.  As I meditated on her words, I began to realize that it is very easy to take on a heavy yoke without realizing it.

After all, Jesus did say, ” These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation [trouble]; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NKJV)  Challenges and troubles do not magically vanish from our lives merely because we are Christians; on the contrary, we can expect trials and tribulations from time to time.   Of course, we believe that Jesus has overcome the world, and with it all the attendant troubles, but sometimes we do not feel very victorious!

The key to overcoming those challenges is how I manage them.  Often, I am overcome by the weight of the problems I confront; in seeking to resolve them righteously, I tend to bear the burden without remembering that the main part of the load is something Jesus promises to bear.   Peter encouraged us to give all our worries and cares to God Jesus, for He cares about us (1 Peter 5:7, NLT).

Although Jesus told us to expect tribulation in this life, He also tells us His yoke is easy:  

Is Jesus contradicting Himself?   He promises we will face trials, urges us to cast our cares on Him, then tells us His burden is light.   How can that be?

If we remember that Jesus bore the weight of all the sins of the world on the Cross, we can understand that rolling the weight of our troubles onto Him is equivalent to placing those situations on the Cross.   As a result of His resurrection, the weight of our sins, challenges, trials, problems, and pain is no longer heavy or burdensome, not even to the Lord of Heaven and Earth, as He already bore that weight for us.

Seemingly identical objects manufactured from different materials can have very different weights.  For example, an enamel-coated aluminum pan would be far easier to pick up than an enamel-coated cast iron pan of the same size.   We might not even notice the difference until we attempted to pick them up!

I have discovered that this same principle is operative for me in regard to my burden-bearing tendencies:  often I begin to respond to the call of the Holy Spirit to pray for someone, resolve a complex spiritual problem, give advice, or intercede for a very dark issue, only to find myself pinned under the weight of the problem I thought I was responding to in a righteous manner.   When I find myself paralyzed with the heaviness of the troubles of this life, it is because I have unwittingly picked up the wrong yoke!   It LOOKED like Jesus’ yoke, but it was not at all light or easy.

Father, show me where I have shouldered burdens you already paid for at the Cross; help me to lay down counterfeit yokes (which are always too burdensome for me!) and pick up YOUR yoke.  Your yoke is easy, and Your burden is light.   Thank You for hitching me to Your yoke with You, Jesus.   You are able to pull me through any trouble we face!

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Shed the Shroud

alisha041Perhaps it comes as no surprise to most of us that even dedicated Christians find themselves subject to depression, sorrow, and shame.  What’s more, the burden of guilt for feeling depressed, sorrowful, and ashamed is often worse than the feelings themselves.  After all, aren’t Christians supposed to be the happiest people on earth?  Based on God’s Word we can be confident that Jesus has set us free from sin and released us into a new life permeated with His Presence.  By His Holy Spirit, He is readily available to us — as near to us as the breath we breathe.

Yet somehow, many of us labor under an all-too-familiar shroud of sorrow and shame that we cannot seem to shake.   In fact, we tend to think that that sorrow or shame is part of who we are, our cross to bear, our thorn in the flesh.  As such, we endeavor to simply cope with the heaviness and own it as our just due, as something unchangeable this side of heaven.  

However, that shroud is a cloak of death thrown over us by the enemy of our souls.   His goal is to choke off the joy God has made available to us and to blind us to God’s perspective on our lives.  The enemy blankets us in darkness and hopelessness; he loves to convince us that his heaviness is, in reality, part of who we are, a part we are powerless to change.   

When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He called him forth from death into life. Lazarus emerged from the grave; however, he was still clothed in the grave clothes in which he had been wrapped prior to burial.   Jesus instructed Lazarus’s friends and family to remove the grave clothes and let him go (see John 11).   Sometimes I think I neglect to ask others to help me remove the shrouds that the enemy persists in tossing over me.  I think I should be able to toss them off by myself — which I only rarely am able to do!   Often, I muddle through a week or so without recognizing that the shroud is NOT part of me, my personality, or my calling.  It is a dark cloak of death that suffocates everything the Lord has breathed into me!

Jesus, help us to speak life to one another and remove the shrouds of futility, hopelessness, depression, sorrow, fear, and shame that so readily block our vision and drag us down.   We choose to step out from under the heaviness of those grave clothes and into Your marvelous light!   Thank You for delivering us from the undertow of our past and the dark thoughts that would like to chain us to darkness.   You are truly our Deliverer! Empower us to shed the shroud and to yank it off one another!  Thank You for Your resuscitation station that enables me to shed the shroud of darkness and shun the shame!  You are glorious and full of hope, and I thank You for Your light and life that conquers every shred of darkness!

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5 NLT)

 

 

 

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