Friday, October 28, 2016

Lessons From the Garden

Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, picking green beans meant going to the local Jewel and taking a can of Del Monte green beans off the shelf.  But this year, out of nowhere, this strong inspiration hit me to grow a vegetable garden. The fact that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing did not deter me.  Once the inspiration hit,  I was on a mission.

I bought an 8 ft x 4 ft raised garden bed kit at Sam's.  I located a spot in our yard to set it up. And then I bought soil.  Lots and lots of soil.  Bags and bags of MiracleGro Garden Soil, top soil, and manure.  It seemed that the more soil I added, the more I still needed.  Multiple trips to garden centers and home improvement stores.  Multiple.  It got a little embarrassing.

Finally, the bed was filled and the real fun began --  planting.  Reminder:  I have no experience.  But I did have a lot of faith in my little 8 x 4 foot raised garden bed.  So much so that I planted just about every vegetable plant I could find. 

I basically ignored all the instructions about distances between each plant, amount of sunlight needed, etc., etc.  My theory was, "the more the merrier," or rather, "the more plants I plant, the more vegetables I'll yield."  I was an optimist.  Definitely NOT a gardener. 

The other day I picked my last little tiny tomato and realized the growing season had come to a close.  And while I didn't grow enough to lower my grocery bill even in the slightest, I did learn a great deal.  And I'm hooked.  In spite of everything I did wrong, I loved the experience.  I saw so many incredible things and learned so many important lessons, I just have to do it again.  And again.  And again.

So, what did I learn?  There were spiritual lessons throughout this whole endeavor.  Every day there was something new to see -- something new to learn -- something new to remind me of God and His presence all around me.  I just had to pay attention.

So, here are the spiritual lessons I learned in my first try at gardening.  They might seem trivial.  And overly obvious.  Still, they were important reminders to me.  In no particular order:

  •  Watch out for the little guy.  When you put pepper plants in the middle of cucumber and zucchini, the pepper plants don't have a chance.  In the midst of big guys, little guys can easily get lost -- neglected -- forgotten.  There are lots of little guys in this world.  They're all around us.  And they're often getting lost in the midst of the big guys.  We need to stop that from happening.  We need to look out for them.
  • Every single day there is something new to look at.  Every day.  In the morning, and then often again in the middle of the day, and at the end.  God is always working.  God is always making new things, bringing new life to the world.  Miracles all around us.  Don't stop looking for all the ways that God is at work in the world. 
  • You can have too much of a good thing.  More plants do not always yield more fruit.  More is not always better.  It can be overwhelming.  Too many plants fighting over the same resources.  And in life, if you try to invest yourself in too many things, often you will do nothing with excellence.
  • Stay humble.  Admit what you don't know, and then ask lots of questions.  Gardeners love to share their knowledge when you humbly ask their advice.  There are people all around us who have incredible life experience.  Ask their advice. And then listen -- really listen.
  • Give things plenty of room to grow.  Sometimes space is a good thing.  Plants need their space, and so do people.  Sometimes the best thing we can do is just give someone room to grow.
  • Stop several times throughout the day just to ponder this incredible truth: we get to partner with God in His miracles.  Wow. 
  • Watch out for things that want to eat you.  There are nice bugs, and then there are plant-eating bugs.  Not everything is friendly in the garden, so keep your eye out for the bad guys. 
  • Learn from your mistakes.  Next year don't plant cucumbers 2" apart from each other.  Or zucchini.  Or peppers.  Now you know, so just make sure you do things differently next time. Learn.  That's what we're supposed to do.  Mistakes will come, but be humble enough to learn from them and don't be afraid to change your behavior -- change your attitude --  change your mind.

  • Be patient.  Everything comes in its own time, and you can't rush it.  Pick too soon and you'll lose the full potential of the vegetable -- the taste, size, texture.  Watch and WAIT.  Good things are almost always worth the wait.
  • You can't procrastinate.  The plants need watering NOW.  And then they'll need watering again tomorrow.  And the next day.  There's no room for putting things off.  Nature doesn't wait for your schedule to clear. 
  • Sometimes you just have to do the hard thing and pull out a plant that's not producing.  Hard things.  They are a part of life.  Whether you like it or not, they will come.  Sometimes, the best thing to do is also the hardest thing to do.  
  • There is a calm yet powerful rhythm to a garden.  Water.  Sun.  Growth.  Water.  Sun.  Growth.  We were also created to live in routine and rhythm.  It's healthy.  It's how we grow.  It's how we sustain our spiritual lives --  with a sense of routine and rhythm. 
I'm already excited about next year's garden.  I will do things a bit differently this time.  But I'm confident of this:  God will be there, showing me miracle after miracle as He creates new things -- in the garden, and in my heart and soul.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Who said you could leave the table?

Who said you could leave the table?


No, I'm not talking about the dinner table.  Although this phrase probably brings back lots of childhood memories.  I really like the "old school" approach -- where you had to ask AND receive permission before you were allowed to leave the dinner table. And somewhere in the asking had better be the words, "Thanks for the dinner, mom." 

But this post isn't about an actual dinner table in my home -- or yours.  It's about a different sort of table.  It's a table where we gather as believers in Jesus Christ and we talk to one another.  We agree and we disagree.  And when we disagree we might even get angry and frustrated and confused with each other.  But we don't leave the table.  We don't leave because Jesus told us to stay.  The "table" represents the Body of Christ, and no matter how much we disagree with one another, we must choose to love one another because that's what Christians do.  Followers of Jesus love one another, even when they disagree.

So who said you could leave the table?   Who gave you permission to leave the conversation?  Who gave you permission to decide that it is better for you to take your strongly held beliefs and go elsewhere?

You see, I thought we were supposed to figure out how to love each other ALL THE TIME, not just when we agree.  And I thought that our love for Jesus Christ was enough to unite us, to keep us at the table, even in the toughest of times.

And what do you hope to accomplish by leaving the table?  Don't you know there are others of us who also strongly believe in the same issues?  We agree with you.  And we're still at the table.  We're still at the table because we believe that what unites us --  indeed WHO unites us --  is far more important, far more powerful, far more worthy than what divides us.

Being in the world but not of the world is a challenging notion.  And yet that's what we are called to do.  That's what we are calling our students to do.  If our divisions and our demonstrations of disagreement and dissent actually helped further the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then perhaps we should all leave the table.  But instead, our divisions actually detract from the Gospel message.

So now what?  The rest of us are still at the table, still trying to figure it all out, still trying to love each other in the midst of the disagreements.  But we are seeking Jesus and the power of His love and resurrection as our greatest strength and uniting force.  And Jesus is enough to keep us at the table.  Jesus is MORE than enough. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Will They Know We're Christians By Our Love?

I've wept writing this post.  Yes, I can get somewhat emotional at times, but this is different.   I think I've turned some sort of corner in my life.  I'm holding more loosely to things that I once felt very important, while at the same time I'm finding the courage and conviction to actually fight for things that I believe are of paramount importance.  This is one of those things.

They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.
And we pray that all unity will one day be restored.
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
Yes they'll know we are Christians by our love.    (Peter Scholtes)

Like many Christians who grew up in the 60's and 70's, the song, "We Are One in the Spirit," brings back great memories.  Most of mine involve sitting around a campfire, strumming my guitar and looking around at a circle of people that I'd recently begun calling my brothers and sisters in Christ.  It was summer camp and we were learning what it meant to truly love one another as Jesus loved us.

It was the era of the "Jesus Freaks," and yes, I actually do recall riding around in a Volkswagen minibus on more than one occasion.  I loved these people, and I had no doubt they loved me as well.  We often talked about Jesus.  We studied the Bible together, underlining and memorizing verses about love and hope and forgiveness.  And we prayed together.  We prayed for each other and for the world, for those in need and those in pain, for the lost and lonely.  We felt the incredible love of God flowing through us and we knew -- we KNEW -- that this love was the most powerful force in the world.

"They'll know we are Christians by our love."  I was drawn toward Jesus Christ because I saw a group of people who truly loved each other and were willing to give their entire lives to God -- following in the footsteps of Jesus.     They invited me to join them and when I did, when I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ, I felt such an overwhelming sense of love and forgiveness AND belonging.  I now belonged to God and to the community, the BODY of Christ. 

There is NO doubt -- people will be drawn TOWARD Jesus by the way His followers love each other. The love we show to our brothers and sisters in Christ is the single most important way we demonstrate to the world Who Jesus truly is.

However, the REVERSE is also true.  The best way to damage the Kingdom of God is to treat fellow believers poorly.  The most devastating blows we can inflict upon the Gospel are those we inflict upon one another.  Who would want to join a movement in which the followers don't get along?  And not only that, who would willingly join a group where its members tear one another down, show favoritism, lack forgiveness, and are quick to judge each another?

Jesus said, "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)

The best thing we have going for us is LOVE.  But not just any love.  GOD'S LOVE.  It's available to us 24/7.  We simply need to CHOOSE it.  To PRAY for it.  To DEMONSTRATE it.

We don't have to agree with one another.  We DO have to love one another.  We don't have to attend the same churches.  We DO have to love one another.  We don't have to be in the same political party.  We DO have to love one another.  We don't have to like the same songs, or take the same stand on moral issues, or affirm the same interpretation of all Scripture texts.  But we DO have to love one another.

Truth is, the Church is often the first place we find judgment and the last place we find grace. We are not defined by our love anymore, but rather our divisions.  People within the body of Christ who are most in need of support and affirmation are too often met with stares, whispers, and even cries of disapproval and condemnation.

"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By THIS (our love for one another) everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

The world is watching us.  Our neighbors are watching us.  Our children are watching us.  They don't want to know how strongly we feel about an issue.  They are watching to see how we treat one another.  And so the question we MUST ask is this:

Will they know we're Christians by our love? 

Monday, June 8, 2015

On the Journey: Holding On AND Letting Go

On the Journey: Holding On AND Letting Go: Most of life is about letting go.  This has been a recurring theme in my heart and mind for months now, and while it might have something...

Holding On AND Letting Go

Most of life is about letting go.  This has been a recurring theme in my heart and mind for months now, and while it might have something to do with the fact that my daughters just graduated from high school and my son is somewhere in the middle of Texas and I just watched a great group of our college seniors walk across the platform at graduation -- I think it's mainly because it's true.  

From beginning -- to ending -- it's about letting go.  And when we forget that --  when we try to deny it --  when we hold on too tightly or put up too many enclosures or try to fortify our ranks and rules and restrictions or just flat out live in denial -- it only makes things worse.  

Sometimes we just have to

The truth is, we entered this world with nothing, and we will leave it with nothing.  From the time of our birth we were completely dependent upon God's grace.  God's grace in the form of people who cared for us and nurtured us and taught us.  We did absolutely nothing to earn any of it.  It was given freely to us by those who benefited from the same selfless acts of others when they were young.

They gave, and now it is our turn.  What was freely given to us, we now have an obligation to freely give to others.  "Freely" means with no strings attached.   No strings, but hope --  hope in the future of our children, our students, our friends.

But that is SO unnatural for us.  "Look at all I've done for you!"  "Look at all the sacrifices I made so that YOU could succeed!"  "Who paid for all this?"  "Who was there for you when you were sick?  Who took you to the doctor and stayed up all night with you?"  "Who drove you to your practices, came to all your games, and did all your laundry?" "Who came to every single play and concert you were in and recorded most of them?"   "Who helped you with your homework?"  "Who held you when you cried?"  "Who has been your biggest fan all these years?"  "Who never gave up on you?"  Who???  Who???  ME, that's who!!

Life is about letting go.

And God said, "Who created you?  Who knows the number of hairs on your head?  Who knows every tear that has fallen from your face?  Who has held you in your darkest hours?  Who believed in you when no one else did?  Who absolutely delights in you and loves you completely?  Who sacrificed everything for you -- even My Only Son?  Who? Who?"

 And yet it was God who came up with the whole idea of letting go. What a crazy idea.  Giving us everything and then ON TOP OF IT ALL, giving us the ability to CHOOSE.  Free will.  Letting go.

 Someday we hope that those we love will return to us -- older, wiser, deeper, stronger -- living the dreams they dared to dream with God.

But for now,  it's time to hold on to the Truth that God loves my children far more than I ever could and their future is in His most capable hands, so I can, and must,  LET GO.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Take It In...

Mari Alexis Schaeffer

Yesterday, my friend and I attended the funeral of a recent graduate of Greenville College.  Beginning a post with that sentence grieves me deeply.  A recent graduate.  Class of 2012.  She was 26 years old, and suffered from an illness that, until just a few days ago, I'd never heard of and even now can't pronounce properly:  scleroderma. Scleroderma, or systemic sclerosis, is a chronic connective tissue disease generally classified as one of the autoimmune rheumatic diseases.  As with most chronic diseases, the effects of scleroderma range from mild to severe.  For Mari, the disease took her life.

They called her funeral a "Celebration Service," and the family's faith in God was inspiring and contagious.  This precious child who had suffered for so long is now free, in the arms of her Savior and Lord, awaiting the arrival of all those who will follow after her.  Those who led the service reminded us often of Mari's desire that all would come to know and love Jesus.  For Mari, showing people the way to Jesus became her life's goal.  She turned her suffering into a platform for showing others the love and mercy of God and the hope that is ours in Jesus Christ.

Since yesterday's service I've found myself deeply in thought about Mari, about her journey, and my own. I suppose it just makes sense -- the longer you live, the more you experience all the "stuff" of this mortal life.  All the stuff that makes us human and vulnerable in so many ways.  All the stuff that makes us laugh and cry and grieve so hard and so deeply that we think we will die ourselves.

I've discovered something along this journey.  While we cannot avoid suffering and death, disappointment and anger, rejection and sorrow, we DO have a choice.  We can choose not to let it all in.  We can choose to protect ourselves from it.  We can put up some pretty elaborate defense mechanisms.  We can rationalize and spiritualize it all.  Or, we can choose to FEEL.

A precious young woman has passed from this life to the next.  I could have gotten to know her better when she was a student, but I didn't.  I knew her, but I didn't REALLY know her.  How I wish that I could change that, but I can't.

What I CAN do, is choose to let life in, the good and the bad, the joys and the sorrows.  I can choose to let PEOPLE in -- with all their pain and sorrow and suffering, all their passions and dreams and visions.   

It will most certainly hurt.  No one knows this better than Jesus Himself.  Jesus took it all in, which is really the only way to truly love people.  And He's asking us to do the same.  To really love each other.  For His sake.  Because He loves each and every one of us.

Take it in.