When It Comes To Loss

He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; He encircled him, He cared for him, He kept him as the apple of His eye.”

Deuteronomy 32:10 ESV

I have a bonsai that I treasure. I started it from a seed, and although that was probably a year ago, it is still not very big. This bonsai is called a desert rose, and someday will have beautiful blooms when it is in season. Thus far, it has only grown leaves, but they are shiny and smooth, and very pleasant to the eye. Over the course of the last several months, it has dropped its leaves many times. At times I was fearful that I would lose this plant that is so special to me, but with the right care, I was able to bring it back to full health each time. After this happened many times, I found out that desert rose bonsais hibernate when the weather is bad – dropping their leaves in order to survive what would otherwise destroy them. But as soon as conditions became conducive again, it would put out more leaves.

Over the course of the last several months, I have experienced a lot of loss myself. At first it was devastating, reaching a point where a broken fan made me weep. It was when we were moving out of the shelter into our own apartment. We had very few belongings while living in the shelter, but I had purchased the fan for the room we shared because we lived above the kitchen, and it got very hot in our room once winter began and the building’s heaters were on full force. The night we left the shelter for the last time, I had the fan and a few other belongings stacked on a small cart and was pushing it out to my car. The fan was not balanced well enough and tumbled to the ground. When I realized that it was well and truly broken, I felt all of the loss of the three months before slam into me like a wave in a turbulent ocean. I put the few belongings from the cart in to the back of my car and then I sat down in the front seat and wept. To be honest, it was a full blown panic attack. Because it wasn’t really the fan I was weeping over. It was the loss of the life that I knew, the loss of the innocence I had maintained in my naivety of how the world works, the loss of nearly sixteen years of my life. It was a reminder that no matter how positive I tried to keep my attitude, no matter how determined I was to overcome every obstacle, no matter how hard I worked to make life as normal as possible, I was not in control of any of it. But being broken like that made so many things easier from that point on. Once I finally realized it was all out of my control, I was able to surrender and truly begin to trust in God and what He was making out of my life. I began to see my life as the beginnings of a stained glass window – in order to become a beautiful piece of art for His light to shine through, my life first had to be broken.

The process of breaking hurts. It is a stabbing, stinging, shattering thing that you are surprised to discover you’ve survived when you look back on it. And many times we try to find a way to patch ourselves up – to get ourselves back to “normal”. But God is not calling us to be normal. Normal doesn’t change the world.

The Scripture at the beginning of the post is beautiful to me. It was a promise God made to the Israelites – His chosen people – after they had left Egypt, but before they made it to the Promised Land. He promised His people that He would love them and take care of them, even though He knew they would behave like spoiled, demanding children. There were consequences for their bad decisions, and many even died as the result of their sins, but God was always faithful to them. He was always ready and waiting to bless them once they returned to Him. He was there for them when their enemies threatened and attacked, and He fed them when there was no food to be found. He guided their every step and protected them from enemies and elements.

“He found him…in the howling waste of the wilderness….”

I feel this phrase in the depths of my soul. I have been in the midst of the howling waste. I have been buffeted by winds and waves and lashed by flying debris. And every time, I felt God’s strong hands surrounding me, lifting me up. Not out. Up. He didn’t rescue me from every situation, but He held me steady as I made my way through.

Almost everything I have lost, He has replaced. And the things He has not yet replaced, I believe that He eventually will. I don’t have it all together, but I know He does, and I choose to trust in Him.

I visited a friend’s church this morning, and they sang a song that resonated within me. I had heard it before, but today, it was an anthem declared from every fiber of my being.

If you are facing loss, are in the midst of it, or are close with someone in either situation, please know that this is not the end. And even if it feels like God is far away, know that I have been in your shoes, and I can promise you from experience that God is right with you, He loves you, and He will continue to meet your needs. It may not look like what you expect, but it will be what is best for you in the long run. Like a great artist, God can see the finished product and knows what needs to happen in order for you to reach completion. If you don’t have enough faith right now, rest on mine until you can find yours again.

It’s Not Always Me

Several years ago, I took my daughters to the park. Throughout the park were lovely oak trees. I harvested a few green acorns from the branches of one such oak, and took them home with me when the girls were done playing. I had researched how to grow an oak tree from an acorn, and picking healthy, green acorns fresh from the tree was the first step.

When I got home, I soaked the acorns in warm water, allowing them to soak overnight. The next day, I took some sawdust leftover from a project, dampened it, and placed it in ziploc bags. I then placed a couple acorns in each bag, and cleared a spot for them in my refrigerator. Four months I waited, checking every so often to see if any roots had begun to show. Their hibernation ended once each acorn had a tiny root. Each acorn was placed in a planter with good soil.

Still, it took a few days for anything green to poke up through the dirt. And when those tiny plants finally emerged, they were fragile little things – so different from the towering oaks that they came from.

I babied them along until they were about six to seven inches tall. I gave one to my dad, but the rest I transplanted into larger planters. My dad let the tree grow some more, but after a little while, he planted it in the ground, in his backyard.

He started by digging a deep hole (compared to the tiny tree). When he placed the tree in the hole, only the top half could be seen. He filled in the dirt and watered it.

It soon became apparent that his oak was growing considerably faster than mine were. I had given a few more away during this time, so I only had three left. We planted them in our yard, and even though they continued to grow, it was nothing like the growth we saw in my dad’s tree.

There are so many life lessons I could pull from this story. First, whatever seeds we plant must come from the source. We can trust that whoever it is that God wants us to show His love to, He will bring our way. I don’t mean that we don’t need to go out – the Bible makes it clear that we are to go. But we don’t always have to go far away. And it’s not like an Easter egg hunt, where you go out and your entire focus is on finding people to tell about Jesus. And I am talking about an extreme here. Have you ever heard the saying “they are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good”? I simply mean that when we obey and we go out, God will bring people across our paths.

When we surrender our lives to Christ, we also surrender to potential suffering. Jesus was tortured, spat upon, and killed. So many people believe that if they surrender their lives to God and obeying His word, life will be easy and chill from that point on. That’s not how Christian life works. It’s not miserable all the time either, but acknowledging that we will have challenges makes them at least a little easier to deal with. Jesus promised that in this world we would have trouble, but to take heart because He has overcome the world.

Sometimes God places us in what may feel a little like hibernation. We are called to a certain job, or church, or mission field, but then it doesn’t happen. We start to wonder if maybe we heard wrong. Or perhaps we said or did something that messed it all up. Reality is that God sees the big picture, and He knows that either we’re not ready, or someone else isn’t ready for us. His timing is perfect, even if it seems completely off to us. Sometimes it’s enough to tempt us to doubt God. I have given in to that temptation, and my life was so much more miserable without Him than it is with Him. But that is a story for another day.

If you are anything like me, you probably pray that God would help you with areas in your life that you struggle with. Maybe it’s jealousy, or a critical spirit. It could be an addiction – to food, drugs, alcohol, or pornography. Whatever it may be, you know it needs to change, and you do your best to change it – but you know that you need God’s help. It’s easy to get yourself motivated and tell yourself it will be different this time. You expect that things will change quickly, that your wrong desires will just disappear. Sometimes God moves quickly, but more often than not, He allows time and experiences to help us to grow. We want to be that towering oak, but we are still just a fragile green thing that is just starting out.

In order to grow, sometimes we may feel buried. We may be working in the background while others are in the spotlight, or we could be in a period of rest and recuperation. These phases are important too. Jesus told the parable about the rich master who went on a journey, leaving a few of his servants with some of his money. The point was that those that can be trusted with little things can be trusted with much. Don’t despise the little stuff. Don’t be jealous of those in the spotlight. Enjoy the time you have in the quietness of the dirt. It gives you stability.

Finally, once we finally reach the place where God can use us to influence other people’s lives for the better, don’t lose courage. We may plant a million seeds and never see growth from a one of them. But that doesn’t mean that we failed, that we haven’t somehow influenced their lives. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” I planted that acorn, but my dad watered the tree. It took us both to grow the thing. I am fortunate that my parents still live in the same house, so I get to see how that tree is growing from time to time. The others I have no clue about. But my dad’s tree still offers shade and safe place for birds to nest.

Do not lose faith. Hold on to hope. Whatever season God has you in, you can trust that it is for your good.

My dad’s tree today, April 11, 2019.

The Pain of Pruning

I currently have two bonsais growing – one that I started from seed and one that I started from a cutting that was sent to me. The growth in the picture above are from the cutting.

Both bonsais are very important to me.

My desert rose, which I grew from seed, is a little particular sometimes. To be honest, I am very fortunate that I even have her, because most of the desert rose seeds I have purchased ended up not actually being desert rose seeds! Thankfully they were ridiculously cheap, so the only real loss was the disappointment at growing grass instead of the bonsai I thought I had planted.

My willow, grown from a cutting, will one day be a beautiful miniature tree. I was nervous when I received it. It looked like someone had cut a thumb-thick branch off of a tree, wrapped a damp paper towel around the base, and sent it to me. However, I read and followed the instructions (to place the base in two inches of water), and within a day or two, roots began to grow. A few days later, leaves appeared. I was so excited. My little branch was really going to turn into a tree!

The instructions has also said that the leaves/branches should be left alone for several months unless I was pruning the ones too close to the base. Those instructions seemed like no big deal and I filed them away in my brain. But when leaves and branches began to grow too low on the cutting, I realized it was time to remove them. Again, no big deal right?

Right. With one problem. My plants are like my little green babies, and although I’m fairly certain they feel no pain, it pains me to remove bits of them that are so healthy!

I knew the cutting would grow better if I pruned these bottom leaves, but I hated (gently) pulling them off. Somehow it seemed wrong to remove these vibrant, green leaves.

As I held the excess leaves in the palm of my hand, I felt that knowing that I have experienced many times before. It’s nothing mystical. It’s more like a light bulb coming on in my head. A spark fanned into flame by the Hand that placed it there. The still, small Voice that reminds me that He really does know best.

Many times in my life, I have had things I really wanted to keep stripped away from me. They weren’t always bad or unhealthy things either. Sometimes, they were really great things – such as living close to my parents and being able to spend time with them on a regular basis. And other times, they were things that really were detrimental, but I couldn’t see that they were. Like staying in a marriage that I legitimately should have left years before.

And even though my plants aren’t likely to feel any pain when I prune their excess leaves, I felt significant pain in losing what I so desperately wanted to keep.

At the time it was excruciating, and I couldn’t understand why God had allowed certain things to be ripped away from me over the years. I trusted Him and I obeyed Him, but He tore away the leaves I had held on to so tightly. Sometimes this made me angry, and sometimes distrustful. I couldn’t see why He would take and take and take!

But the reality is that even though He knew it would cause me pain, He also knew that the pain would be so much worse if He left those things in place. He saw the bigger picture, and He knew exactly what He was doing.

Don’t get me wrong – God does not harm us in the hopes that we might grow as a result. The saying “everything happens for a reason” is bogus. God allows painful things to happen in our lives for a couple of reasons – one, because He gave us free will, and to remove all of the pain would be to remove our free will; two, because as I mentioned a moment ago, He can see the big picture. He knows that in order for us to reach our full potential, something has to go.

I can look back now and see that the removal that I so hated at the time was exactly what I needed. I can see that had those things not been removed, my life would be miserable – and that is if I were still amongst the living.

It’s been probably a week or two since I removed those bottom leaves and stems. It’s amazing the healthy growth I have seen in my willow since her pruning. See for yourself:

In time, more leaves will have to be removed. Several months from now, I will have to start training the branches. But in the long run, I can see that she will be a beautiful bonsai, and it will all have been worth it.

Perhaps something is happening in your life and you have prayed – begged, even – for God to act in a certain way. Perhaps His decision not to answer the way you have requested has you wondering if He really does love you after all. I can tell you from my own experience – He knows exactly what He is doing (or not doing). You may feel dissatisfied and hurt right now, but someday you will look back and realize that He did things the way they needed to be done in order for you to become the person you needed to be.

Keep trusting. Even when it all feels wrong, trust.

Beheaded

I don’t like to over-spiritualize things, but when I took this picture, I felt as if it was another small reminder from God. Let me explain.

This plant is a spider plant. It used to have long, healthy leaves, but it was root-bound, and so unable to grow. I tried to transplant it into a larger planter without damaging it at all, but it was *so* root-bound that I accidentally beheaded it. When I finally got it out, it was just a bunch of roots.

Spider plants are self-propagating, so I decided to plant the roots in the larger planter anyway. I wasn’t sure anything would grow because of how badly I had damaged it, but I wanted to at least try. A couple days ago, a tiny little green thing popped out of the soil/river rocks. Today I checked again, and there are three little green things now – and the first one is even starting to put out leaves!

Sometimes our lives get root-bound. Sometimes we can’t grow any further because we’re stuck. Sometimes it takes giving up everything and starting all over to become the person you are meant to be. I never expected my life to take this path, but I am so grateful that I have never been alone. I am grateful that I am growing again and finding new confidence.

Maybe it doesn’t take something drastic. Maybe all you need is to move a little outside your comfort zone. Maybe there are only a few little things that need to be pruned away. Make those changes now, before you find yourself root-bound.

What looked like the end was only a new beginning. Don’t give up. ❤️

*Originally written February 12, 2019