Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Sweet, Healing Words


Once in awhile when I am reading a passage of Scripture, I like to put myself into the scene and imagine what it would have been like to be there. I ask myself who I most identify with and try to see the story from that person’s point of view. Recently I was reading Luke 18:15-17; parents were bringing their children to Jesus so He might touch them. The disciples were trying to shoo the people away as if Jesus shouldn’t be bothered with their children.

Jesus rebuked His disciples and invited the children to come to Him. Even now I tear up as I imagine myself as one of the children in this scene. What would it be like to run into Jesus’ open arms, to be held, prayed for and to see the love in His eyes? What a beautiful place to be – a child, fully freed to be with Jesus, receiving His love without reservation!

As children clamored to be near Him, Jesus said to the disciples and others standing nearby, “. . . do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

The parents brought their children seeking something for them which they couldn’t give without Jesus. Jesus invited – they went into His arms to be touched, prayed over and blessed. It began as an ordinary day for these children and in just a few verses their significance increased as He wrapped them up into His story. And when I place myself into this scene, I am a child running into His arms; fully myself – free to trust and rest in His love. To imagine myself as one of these children is such a comforting thought.

Whispers of Rest, beautifully written by Bonnie Gray, is a loving invitation to come like a child into the presence of Jesus and rest. This 40-day devotional gently takes us on an interactive journey to deepen our intimacy with Jesus. I found myself growing more aware of His presence, as well as His love for me. Here in the space of a daily devotional I experienced Jesus in His Word, through prayer and creation. Like a child wrapped in His arms, this journey helped me enjoy His presence without reservation and discover my identity in His unconditional love. Whispers of Rest will help you create space to know Him better and see yourself through His loving eyes.

Bonnie writes of her first time being among the redwood trees, “As I jumped off the bus with giggling classmates, I felt what half-pint Laura Ingalls might have felt. Happy. Free. I looked up in the trees and felt small and safe. I could breathe.” This is so often how I experience Jesus; I feel small but safe. And the more I get to really know Him the more freedom and joy I experience. Prompted to experience this safe smallness, and to deepen my relationship with Jesus; I walked out of doors, sat by the ocean with my girls, took photos of His creations, picked flowers and explored His whispers in a journal.

Many times we allow our disappointments and feelings of shame to shut our hearts from His healing presence. Yet even, and especially in these moments, we need Him and are invited into His presence. Encouraging us, Bonnie nudges us with her words, “Experiencing shame won’t keep Jesus from you. He wraps his healing love around you. Keep stepping forward.” The children in Luke’s story didn’t withhold themselves, heads down, eyes to the ground; they were brought, He invited and they went. You have been invited by Jesus to receive His rest. 

Come along with us on this 40-day journey through Whispers of Rest. It is my hope and prayer that you allow yourself to experience Jesus with a child-like faith and enjoy His presence in the life He has given you this day. When we throw ourselves into His sweet presence we find our stories make more sense wrapped in His grander story. So, bring your heart and mind to Jesus and be prepared to experience restoration, joy and so much more than you can imagine. www.whispersofrest.com

Friday, May 5, 2017

Lessons From a Sweet Pea

There is something to be said for volunteers; people and otherwise. Volunteers just don’t get enough appreciation. I know I haven’t been very appreciative of some of the volunteers I have encountered, particularly the ones in our backyard. Since we compost, we have different plants voluntarily grow in our yard every spring. My husband is thrilled when a volunteer shows up and I am skeptical. I want to know what it is and how does it fit in with the everything else. I love to plan flowerbeds and my husband likes to put plants in random spots. Our yard is a blend of planned and random but the hardiest plants seem to be the volunteers – the ones for which neither of us can take credit.

A few years ago we had to cut down our huge, old pine tree; the California Five Spined Ips beetle killed it. Just a little over a year ago a bush, a type we had seen on our hikes, started growing in the ground next to the stump. Jim looked it up. It is a Laurel Sumac. I thought he said it would grow to about six feet, but it keeps growing. It took our yard two years to recover from the loss of shade when we took down the pine tree, and since then I have planted succulents requiring sunshine. The Sumac continues to grow and has gotten quite large. I looked it up and it can grow up to fifteen feet.

Have you had unwanted volunteers pop up in your life? Sometimes it is the small, unexpected disruptions that throw me off. But it usually takes a biggie to usher in skepticism toward God, planting doubts as to whether or not He cares about me at all. Things like cancer, the loss of a loved one, an old car in constant need of repair draining every spare dime from the bank account, not being able to get pregnant, a fractured relationship – not all of these things are equal but none of them are the seeds of hope I planted for my future.

I find something of myself and how I view life when I am outdoors interacting with the natural world. The garden is wonderful place to allow the Creator of the universe to dig around in my soul and transform me. My grandma once told me she used weeding as a time of confession and prayer; yanking weeds mirrored the removal of wrong thinking. The best way to fight against persistent, wrong thinking is weed it out and plant right thinking by meditating on the truths of God.

It goes without saying that weeds are persistent volunteers, as you pull a handful, ten times as many sprout behind your back. After a truly rainy winter the weeds had a party and invited all the relatives to our yard. It has been a struggle to rescue our yard from their takeover. In an attempt to attack one large patch of weeds, Jim decided to lay a tarp down. There must be certain types of plastic for killing weeds because I looked out our window one day and the weeds had lifted the tarp off the ground; underneath it the weeds had grown stronger. Jim had created a green house in which the weeds thrived.

It reminds me about a question I was asked recently concerning an unresolved hurt – a hurt undermining trust in a relationship. The question was: Should I just put it in the past like others have told me or work through it to a resolution and healing? Sometimes we cover up deep hurt and we truly believe we won’t ever face these ugly things again. Hidden hurts store energy and volunteer to come up at the most inappropriate times, like at a family dinner when your brother says something that triggers a mess of ugliness. Consider whether or not you can just let it go without creating a green house for strengthening hurt feelings and making an emotional hot house.

Jim saves seeds from our Sweet Peas. Early this spring he planted dozens of the seeds. They grew, but he didn’t thin them out right away, so no matter how much care he gave them they seemed to have stopped growing. But in the succulent bed... that’s another story. Sweet Peas volunteered and are snuggled up with the prickly plants, and it certainly looks as if the Sweet Peas rule. Two years in a row a Sweet Pea plant has controlled the succulent bed with its beautiful blooms and leggy, messy vine sprawled out over the succulents like a giant net holding everything in place. In spite of its lovely, fragrant blossoms I find myself frustrated by its audacity to show up where it wasn’t planted/planned.

Sometimes our lives get choked by excess and captured by the unplanned. How do you deal with an overloaded schedule? What resources do you have for coping with an unplanned event spreading out over all your days making it difficult to remember this is only one chapter, not the whole of your life?
Nature is designed for recovery and so are we. Scientists have discovered our brains are capable of developing new neural pathways. We were designed for recovery, for healing. When a fire destroys a forest, over time new plants grow up out of the ashes. Some plants only grow after a fire and not before; it is the great heat of the fire that brings life from these seeds lying dormant and waiting. We don’t like admitting it, but beauty often bursts forth from our lives when we invite increased intimacy with the Father on a painful journey. As we come out of a dark place, one in which we have held tight to His hand, we are transformed. Beauty truly can come out of the ashes of our lives when He holds the ashes in His hands.
In Romans 1:20 we are told, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” God has many ways of revealing himself to us and speaking to our hearts, but in this verse, it is made clear that we should not be able to miss Him when we are spending time in the created world. During these beautiful spring days make time to go outside and meet your Father there. You will not be disappointed, as a matter of fact you may be enlightened. You may even discover a volunteer that brings new beauty, fragrance, healing and grace to your heart.