Sow Light

When my oldest daughter was six, she referred to Good Friday as “Black Friday”. And even though I know why we call it Good, her name for it often seems far more accurate.

Think about it from the perspective of the disciples. Jesus had told them that He would rise again, but so many things He had taught while on earth were in the form of parables – which had deeper meaning than what they seemed to at face value. It would be easy to believe that perhaps Jesus had meant something else other than literal resurrection – especially as one day stretched to two, and two to three.

Even had they known for certain that Jesus was being literal when He spoke of his return to life, it’s easy to wonder if we are remembering correctly when things don’t come to pass as quickly as we expect.

I was just sharing with a friend that there were things prophesied over me before I was even expecting my oldest daughter – who will be fourteen in August – that have yet to come to pass. Over the years, and especially over the last three, I have often wondered if it was simply emotion ruling both the people prophesying over me as well as myself. Other dreams that God placed directly in my heart seemed absolutely impossible from day one. But as things have changed over the last seven months, I am now seeing ways that God is opening up for these dreams and prophecies. God can open any door, even if it appears locked and barred to me.

For many people, Good Friday is easy to celebrate. Jesus died and rose again over two thousand years ago. We know the end of that part of the story. We don’t have to experience the agony of waiting and wondering what will happen next.

For others, it’s still a challenge. Yes, we know that Jesus died and rose again, but many are still waiting for their three days to be over. And those three days could be three months or fifteen years. I don’t know about you, but I am not good at waiting. Add in stress, pain, and the unknown, and the waiting becomes even more difficult.

But the truth is that although Jesus died and the three days that followed were excruciating for most – if not all – of his followers (including his own mother), but the story didn’t end there. Jesus did rise again. He kept His word. Which means we can trust that He will keep His word in our personal situations as well.

As I was doing my devotions today, I came across a verse that I’ve read a dozen times before. It isn’t one of the more well-known verses, but it impacted me today. Here it is:

“Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart. Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous, and give thanks to His holy name.” Psalm 97:11-12

How dark and terrifying Jesus’ death must have been! How dark and terrifying our lives can be now. But God’s Word promises us light and joy when we live for Him. We will not always feel light and joy, but it’s there waiting for us if we choose it. You will often hear me talk about choices, because I am a firm believer that our choices directly affect us, as well as the people around us.

When my day does not go as planned, I can still choose light. If I wake up in a lot of pain, I can still choose joy. When my finances are tight and I don’t know how I will pay for bills, food, or rent, I can still choose light. If someone chooses to try to destroy me with their words, I can still choose joy. And as you may have heard before, happiness and joy are not the same thing. Happiness is temporary and dependent on things outside of us. Joy comes from within – from knowing that our present troubles are far outweighed by what God will bring in and through us on down the road. From knowing that we have a place in heaven once this life is over. From knowing that God doesn’t waste pain.

Many will ask why God causes us to go through hard times, why “bad things happen to good people”. The truth is that He doesn’t cause us to go through bad things anymore than He causes us to burn our hands when we touch something that is really hot. He allows it – because that is how we learn not to touch things that will burn us – but He does not cause it. As we are healing (and after we are healed) from the burn, He enables us to use our experience of pain to help someone else. We can warn them away, or if we find them after they have been burned, we can empathize and help them to heal.

As you go through today – whether you see it as Black or Good – know that light and joy are not far away. Once you find them for yourself, I hope you will then sow them into the lives of others, so they may find them too.

It’s Okay To Feel Discouraged

Yesterday was not a bad day. It was my day off and I was able to get some things done before snagging a nap. I even got to talk to my mom for a little while (Hi, Mom!)

Around 3 in the afternoon, I started to feel really discouraged. God has been providing for us, but lately my financial situation has been overwhelming at times. Being a single mom can be really hard in a “normal” situation, and dealing with all we are going through makes it even more challenging for me.

At first I was irritated with myself. I shouldn’t be discouraged. God has brought immense healing to me and my girls, and He does keep providing. I immediately started thinking of ways to pull myself out of my funk, but then I felt a stillness that reminded me that it’s okay to feel discouraged.

I knew I didn’t want to stay discouraged, but letting myself feel this hard emotion is healthy. We live in a drive thru world – everything must be now. I’m hungry and tired and I don’t want to cook? Let’s go through the drive thru. My kids are whiny and fighting and I know screens will keep them occupied? Let’s go through the drive thru. I don’t like how I’m feeling and it’s obviously a lack of faith? Let’s go through the drive thru. There are a lot of drive thru options here. Alcohol, binge-watching tv, taking a long nap, and even some that sound like good options, like reading the Bible, praying, or listening to worship music.

Please hear me out. There is nothing wrong with going through a drive thru (especially if you are buying God’s chicken at CfA) when you are hungry and tired and don’t want to cook. There is nothing wrong with letting your kids have screen time sometimes when you are about to pull your hair out and/or turn into The Hulk. And napping is good when you need the rest and recharge. And yes, reading the Bible, praying, and listening to worship music are very good things.

My point is this – those things may help short term, but they don’t take care of the underlying problem. We can only do this by allowing ourselves to feel. When we don’t, it’s like slapping a bandaid over a surgical incision. We need to take time to discover why we feel like we do before we try to pull ourselves out of it.

My fellow moms will be able to relate to this story. When my youngest, who is nine, has feelings she doesn’t understand or doesn’t know where they are coming from, automatically assumes it’s because a little girl in her class has been “so sassy” to her. Now, this little girl has hurt my daughter’s feelings before, but nine times out of ten, that is not the real issue. The real issue is much deeper. Maybe she is feeling insecure, or lonely, or feels inadequate in some way. Maybe the trauma she has experienced in her life is raising its ugly head and claiming territory in her heart. But the easy answer is that this girl is being sassy, because that is what she can see on the surface. And even now, our nine year old inner child is doing the same thing.

A friend of mine recently got on a low dose of medication for anxiety. I asked them if I could make a suggestion, and they gave me permission. I suggested they not get off the meds (with their doctor’s help) until they resolve the underlying issues causing their anxiety. Not their growing to do list, not the financial crunch, not the loneliness they currently live with from day to day. I mentioned that perhaps it was a subconscious feeling of inadequacy because they had not reached certain important life goals, even though they were successful in many other areas. I’m not a therapist, but I’m a pretty good listener, and even if I was off with the subconscious sense of inadequacy, I knew there was something deeper.

We need to stop going through the drive thru with our emotions. Let yourself feel. Discover what hides behind the emotion du jour. Only then can you truly deal with what lies underneath. Only then can you find a permanent solution.

So please, read your Bible, pray, listen to worship music. But let it be out of a heart of gratitude to God – not as a temporary fix. God will use these things to bring healing to our lives, but if we are unable – or unwilling – to deal with the deeper issues, it’s only going to grow our guilt.

Faith is not being perfect. It’s trusting in the One who is perfect.

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.

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The Journey Begins

Had the last twenty years of my life been made into a movie, one might be tempted to view it as a tragedy. Pain, my constant companion, nearly destroyed me. Were it not for grace, I would no longer be counted among the living – even had I physically survived.

For a long time, shame closed my mouth. Fear helped keep it sealed. I didn’t want to be judged, to be found as lacking as I thought myself to be. My pain was already enough, and I didn’t need anyone adding to it. It wasn’t until my offspring began showing signs of struggling with pain similar to mine that I found the courage to start speaking out.

Even then, much of what I thought caused my pain was incorrect. I thought there was something fundamentally wrong with me. It has not been until the last few months that my eyes have been opened to the truth. Pried open, in some respects, due to having preferred my blindness.

Now that the healing has begun, I have chosen to cease my silence. No longer will I hide the ugliness when transparency could potentially set others free.

Thus my invitation – grow with me.

We know we cannot plant seeds with closed fists. To sow, we must open our hands. – Adolfo Perez Esquivel

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