Where Are The Blossoms?

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Daylilies refuse to not bloom!

Ever since I was introduced to daylilies by a neighbor in 2004, I have been smitten with this perennial. Daylilies are a no-fuss and easily maintained plant which produces an artist’s palette of colorful blooms. I look forward to my daylilies every summer.

With the warmer winter of 2017, my daylilies were off to a fast and green start. Buds formed with the promise of many blooms. I dutifully cleaned the landscape beds, fluffed up the mulch, applied plant fertilizer and waited for the glorious arrival of my daylilies.

In mid-June, I noticed that some of the leaves were turning from green to yellow and eventually to brown. I wasn’t too worried as this is the natural progression of the leaves during the heat of summer. However, other troubling signs began to appear jointly. The buds were damaged and white flecks appeared all over the plants.

An online search revealed that I had a bad case of aphids, also known as plant lice. The plants would be okay, but the blooms were in doubt. Most likely, I would have to wait another year to experience their beauty. I was crushed. In thirteen years, I have never witnessed aphids and their damage on my daylilies. As a hands-on gardener, I should have caught this threat earlier. Yet, I was blindsided by this unexpected enemy.

I treated the root cause of the problem and decided to be thankful for any blooms this year. Despite the insect attack, there were still blooms. Although the flowers were fewer and smaller, these plants bloomed with an innate strength I wasn’t aware of. Each flower was a reminder of beauty that outlasted difficult circumstances intended to destroy it.

Gardening is a fitting analogy for many of life’s experiences. There are good “years” and bad “years.” There are victories and failures. Some things we can control while other things seem to control us. We will be blindsided despite our best efforts. We will be rewarded for our hard work. The common theme is an enduring hope that beckons us to keep on keeping on.

A friend shared a quote by Lilias Trotter that captures the pain and beauty in the reality of life’s sufferings.

“Take the very hardest thing in your life – the place of difficulty, outward or inward, and expect God to triumph gloriously in that very spot. Just there He can bring your soul into blossom.” Parables of the Cross, p.17 (Lilias Trotter)

We are to look for the blossoms in our lives. Reassurance of God’s beauty accompanies those blooms. We are filled with anticipation for God’s glory to be revealed in the least likely of places.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, who willing subjected Himself to the cross, knew difficult circumstances and suffering.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

The victory became ours when Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead to define enduring hope. It is possible for our souls to unite with God’s beauty despite that which seeks to destroy us. Don’t give up! God is forming and protecting more blossoms that will prove His triumph anew. Refuse to not bloom right where you are at in life!

Garage Sale Blessings

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We hosted a garage sale this spring. Making some extra money is great motivation to sort, clean, and pass on stuff that we no longer need or have a place for in our house. The garage sale ended up being a lot of work for very little money.

I wasn’t surprised, nor was I upset. Past experiences from garage sales over many years have taught me to manage expectations. Besides, my faith has introduced new expectations as God provides a different perspective. It is less about the sales and more about the blessings. I have learned to expect God to reveal unexpected blessings through the garage sale. I pray for just the right people to come along. Excitement builds as I look for God to share His answers to my prayers.

The very first person on the very first day of the sale bought all my furniture odds and ends. The bulky stuff was gone! A group of construction workers took our old bathroom mirror, a “monstrosity” that measured five feet long by three feet high. The problem of how to properly dispose of the mirror was solved.

The blessings weren’t just for me. On the second day, sales and people were sparse. My husband suggested that we close early. I decided against it because we had advertised certain hours. Near the end of the day, a neighbor down the street stopped by. We had waved to each other in the past as I retrieved our mail, but we had never engaged in a conversation.

She browsed the sale and then picked up a brochure for Cancer Hope, the ministry that I am involved with. A very long conversation ensued as we shared our hearts and our faith. My neighbor concluded, “This is why God had me stop at your garage sale.” In that moment, I knew the reason why God prompted me to keep the garage sale open all day.

After the sale, metal shelves and miscellaneous items were given to good friends. The wife commented, “It feels like Christmas!” The rest of the stuff was sorted, boxed up and labelled with the name of the charity to receive it. The household goods would go to a charity that serves homeless families by helping them get back on their feet and into their own homes.

Trinkets, decorations and costume jewelry were designated for the nursing home. Early the next week, I called to confirm that the nursing home could use my donation. The activities director replied that the items would be perfect for their auction where the residents bid on items with fake money. As more evidence of God’s blessings in the perfect timing: the auction was scheduled for three days later.

Was this year’s garage sale a success? It depends on your perspective. From a worldly standpoint, the answer is no. I had too much stuff left over and not much money earned. From a heavenly perspective, the garage sale was simply the means for blessings to flow. Here’s my answer: I have a little extra cash in my pocket and my heart is undeniably full!

John 1:16

From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. 

 2 Corinthians 9:12

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.

 

What Does Grocery Shopping Reveal About You?

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It was my last errand. I popped into my favorite grocery store for a few items. As I passed the meat counter, something caught my eye: bacon. In the spot where samples are normally offered were two paper holders with generous servings of bacon. All of a sudden, I was craving crispy fried bacon.

Each plate had two thick full-sized slices of bacon. I didn’t want to be selfish so I helped myself to just one slice. I have to admit I felt a twinge of guilt as if I was doing something wrong. These were not sample sizes, but I didn’t ask questions.

I walked away and ate faster as doubt filled my mind. What if these weren’t samples for the shoppers. My thoughts were interrupted by a store employee. I was so busted! I felt as if his eyes were searching for the telltale signs of a bacon-stealing shopper. With a smile, he asked if he could help me find anything.

The rest of the shopping trip was uneventful until check-out in the U-scan aisle when one item rang up incorrectly. I politely mentioned to the cashier that the item should have been on sale. The cashier checked it out and reported that it was an expired sale price. He then proceeded to ring it up for free. I objected and remarked, “I would be happy to pay the sale price. You don’t have to do that.” Even to my ears, it didn’t sound sincere. Who doesn’t want something for free? I watch our family budget and this was a clear windfall, even if it didn’t feel right to take advantage of a store policy over the fine print of an expired sale.

I learned some things about myself from that shopping trip. First, I have the tendency to be controlled by food and money. Second, a guilty conscience robs me of joy. I don’t want to blow this out of proportion. It was only one slice of bacon and a $3.99 item for free. There are certainly bigger issues in my life and in the world.

However, it was the trend, or rather my character-in-the-flesh that bothered me. I didn’t like how easily I was influenced by the things of this world. My mind had warned me to stop and ponder what I wanted to do. The flesh had other ideas and caused me to push aside any pangs of guilt. Once again, I am reminded that I need to be vigilant. Paul described the reality of the struggle in Romans 7:21-25a.

So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

We are to filter our daily decisions through the word of God with heaven’s perspective. I find that I can do the right things with the wrong motivations or the wrong things with the right motivations. My prayer is that my head, my heart, and my flesh will be aligned with God’s will. That’s when joy results! It is an ongoing process that oftentimes feels like work to transform my mind. Thanks be to God that He doesn’t give up on me or you because He wants us to know His joy!

In the meantime, I am avoiding bacon and reading the fine point!

 

What I Do Have!

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The request came in as an e-mail to our cancer ministry. The cancer survivor was an out-of-state resident with no personal connection to us. She must have googled cancer and our name popped up. She wanted support. We offer support. The only problem was that we don’t offer the type of support she was most interested in.

The person took the time to fill out our enrollment form. I admit that it was the most creative application I have seen to date. Her answers to varying questions revolved around money. Her specific prayer requests included a gift basket with gas and food gift cards from our church. Under favorite color, she replied “blue” tagged along with “quilt.”

I am a six year cancer survivor and a one year leader for a cancer ministry. Without fail, the top two prayer requests are for healing and for the family members that accompany the survivor on his/her cancer journey. Gift cards and pretty things fall much further down the list of prayer necessities. Nonetheless, I get it. Cancer is expensive even with good health insurance. People going through cancer oftentimes experience financial hardships.

I replied to the person’s e-mail and acknowledged her financial need. Sharing our mission statement, I explained that we are not able to financially support her. Rather, we “provide hope, encouragement and love through a community of support so no one battles cancer alone.” In my mind, I patted myself on the back. I took her request seriously and responded appropriately. With an extra dose of mercy, I decided to reach out to her with a personal phone call if I heard anything back via e-mail. All I needed was a brief response like, “Okay” or “Thanks.”

I didn’t hold my breath and I wasn’t surprised that my e-mail sent was the end of our interaction. Only it wasn’t the end of it. I should have filed away the paper application, but I couldn’t bring myself to do so. Her form sat on my desk for a over a week. God kept bringing this woman to mind. The more I tried to find closure, the more I thought about this woman and her situation. Specifically, God kept bringing me back to Acts 3 in the Bible.

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” (Acts 3:1-6)

That’s when I knew that I didn’t do all that I was supposed to do. I had already said a prayer on the woman’s behalf. What was the next step? A clue was on her application. Under activities and interests, she mentioned something that tied in perfectly with a gift we send to those served through our ministry.

I called the volunteer who mails that particular gift and explained the situation, including the God nudges I felt. I had to smile at the volunteer’s confirmation. She replied that her mother had a saying, “It doesn’t matter what is in their heart. What matters is what is in your heart!” We sent the gift.

We expressed the love of Jesus Christ to a stranger. The name of Jesus was shared with someone who needed to hear His sweet name.  I don’t know the response or the result because we never heard from the person again. Nonetheless, I knew that I could finally file the application. We  had offered the very best of what we do have: the name of Jesus.

 

 

 

Just A Jacket

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It arrived many years ago in a brown grocery paper bag with a string tied around the bulky package. My mom had found the winter jacket at a garage sale and thought of me. It was an extravagant gift. My mom didn’t have much money during that period in her life and had stopped buying gifts.

The jacket is worn out now with a tattered lining. I was at least the second owner and it is obvious that the jacket was loved and worn, even before my time. The jacket has outlived its purpose, yet it hangs in my closet taking up valuable space.

I know the reason why I keep it. It was unique. Whenever I wore that jacket, I could count on at least one stranger complimenting it. As soon as I arrived home from running errands, I would tell my husband that another person liked the jacket. It was a long-running joke between us because I loved everything about the jacket, the fabric, design and color, whereas my husband never cared for it.

I know the real reason why I keep it. It is a jacket that my mom lovingly picked out, touched, and sent to me as a surprise of her love. My mom has been gone for four years now. That jacket is still a connection to my mom in the flesh. I imagine my mom spying the jacket at a garage sale and remarking, “I know my daughter will love this!”

As we downsized houses and sorted through too much stuff, the subject of getting rid of the jacket came up over and over. I would put it in the donate pile one day and take it out the next day. My husband finally told me to keep it. We would make room for the jacket. Something as ordinary as a coat captured my heart.

The prophet Isaiah speaks of the ordinary and then reminds us of the extraordinary beauty of Jesus Christ that captures our hearts.

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him (Isaiah 53:2). But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5).

The ordinary became the eternal definition of love expressed. The unique gift from our Father in heaven is a garment of salvation that always looks beautiful and never becomes tattered in the hearts of His children.

I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels (Isaiah 61:10.)

Jesus cloaks us with God’s extravagant love that transforms the ordinary and changes hearts with the extraordinary. We wear God’s love as a garment that holds us in His loving arms and never lets go. Make room. You are loved!

 

 

 

 

What Do You Do With The Bad Days?

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I just wanted the week to be over and done with. That particular week in January had not been on a good course. It didn’t seem to matter what I said or did because I could not get my week back on track. I felt like a bit player in my own life.

It is easy to indulge the pity party when bad days become a bad week. God reminded me that His invitation is always better. One evening, I opened my devotion book to the words that articulated my emotions: frustration and anger over lack of control. God clearly showed me my current state of my mind and then reassured my heart of His presence. God spoke to me when I needed it the most.

The very next day, I received a return phone call from someone I left a voicemail with weeks earlier. As part of my ministry work, I often ask to pray with people before we hang up. It is not unusual for me to pray over them. However, it is very unusual for the other person to ask, “How can I pray for you today?” God orchestrated all the details to bring me special encouragement when I needed it the most.

I find that sometimes frustrations and fears lose their power when I verbally express them to other people. By admitting what was really bothering me deep down, I gained clarity in the various situations that comprised my bad week. I am thankful for trusted ones that listened without judgement and then faithfully prayed for me. First, I had to be honest enough about my own failings and insecurities to ask others for help. God provided fellowship with other Christians when I needed it the most.

I was glad that difficult week came to an end and I had a clean slate for the new week. As much as I wanted to forget about the bad week, I couldn’t. I realized that the week served a good purpose. God reminded me that He is active in every aspect of my life and responds with nudges to look up to Him. I can count on those closest to me and even unexpected phone calls from strangers to pray me through the hard times. As I react to bad days with faith, I grow in confidence of God’s will for my life. God showed confirmation of His path when I needed it the most.

God leads me through the valleys to the next peak. God’s view helps me appreciate the beauty of the rolling hills behind me and yet in front of me. January’s bad week made me realize what I needed the most: more of God!

Isaiah 35:2

Yes, there will be an abundance of flowers and singing and joy! The deserts become as green as the mountains of Lebanon, as lovely as Mount Carmel or the plain of Sharon. There the LORD will display his glory, the splendor of our God. (NLT)

Isaiah 40:4-5 

Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Who Are The Sinners In Your Life?

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“You don’t live in the real world.” It was a comment that stung. I have to share the context in order to explain the personal meaning behind that comment. My son and I made a trip to the grocery store in a metropolitan area. As we stepped out of the car, a panhandler asked us for money. My son politely declined, which prompted a tirade of cuss words as the panhandler walked away.

As we checked out with our groceries, the bagger got upset and scolded me with a cuss word. I had simply moved the cart to allow our cashier to help the cashier one row over. Trying to make the best of an awkward situation, I smiled and wished the bagger a good evening when we walked away.

In the car, my son remarked that my smile for the bagger was backed by an attitude. I had to admit that there was some truth to his observation. The entire grocery shopping trip made me uncomfortable and left me feeling offended. Hence, my son gave his opinion that I don’t live in the real world.

Maybe he is right. I live in the suburbs, and I haven’t worked a full-time job outside the home in 24 years. My circle of influence includes family, friends, and as the leader of a cancer ministry, volunteers with similar goals for cancer survivors. I know “my people.”

My shopping trip experience came to mind again when I studied Jesus’ calling of Levi (Matthew) to be His disciple and the subsequent dinner with “sinners” and tax collectors.

Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” were eating with him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the “sinners” and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:13-17)

We are called to follow Jesus into new territory: Territory that is outside our comfort zone. Territory that increases our spheres of influence. Territory that might scare us for an array of reasons. As Christians, we are redeemed sinners who are called to reach out to other sinners.

While I wait for God’s direction, I’m praying that God fills my heart with compassion for people that offend me or make me feel uncomfortable. I pray that my smile and well wishes will reflect Jesus and not an attitude of judgment or rejection. Before I go for God, I recognize first that I am a sinner in need of God for my life. To be genuine, I have to be genuinely touched by the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

Who are the “sinners” in our lives? Who do we need to bring to Jesus? More importantly, who do we need to go to in order to bring the good news of Jesus Christ? Each one of us is a sinner who God reached out to when Jesus died on the cross. Now it is our turn to pray it forward. The real world with real people awaits us!