Thankful, Tender Hearts

I wrote the following post in 2016. Yet I feel it is just as important today when I think about celebrating all I have to be thankful for. May God bless you and yours this Thanksgiving.

“There are many people in our country and the world today that are suffering. The pain, fear,and loss they are facing leaves little room to be thankful.

Here I am, looking forward to the arrival of some of our children, grandchildren and friends tomorrow. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because I enjoy the family gathering, the food, and the focus on being thankful.

Yet I know many are not blessed the way I am. Recently, friends from church lost their college aged son in a tragic accident. A school bus crashed this week causing the loss of five young children. What is there to be thankful for in these situations?

A dear young mother recently shared in our women’s Bible study group that she was dealing with reconciling the fact that –

God is good,

God is faithful,

Yet the pain of the loss of seemingly senseless death lingers.

We are studying Ezekiel, a challenging book heavy with judgement. Yet this young mother shared that she felt challenged by the following verse. Ezekiel 36:26 –

26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.

“Do the situations around me cause me to harden my heart, or soften my heart?”

When my young friend said this – I realized – that is the challenge for me as well.

Will I allow situations around me, and personal suffering to harden my heart? Will I allow God to give me a new, tender heart that is able to see and feel His presence in the midst of suffering?

We have much to be thankful for, yet the suffering some face is very real.

The book Defiant Joy, the Remarkable Life and Impact of G.K.Chesterton by Kevin Belmonte recounts that during a period of utter despair, Chesterton “was filled with both an enormous sense of thankfulness, and an enormous need for someone or something to thank.” (p. 218) This insight caused Chesterton to embrace Christianity. He went on to become a critic and writer that greatly influenced the lives of C.S.Lewis among countless others. “The test of all happiness” he wrote, “is gratitude; and I felt grateful.” (p. 221) The defining quality of his life as described by his contemporaries was JOY. Thankfulness leads to joy.

Notice that it was “during a period of utter despair” that Chesterton came to the point of recognizing his need for God. He had a change of heart.

As we gather this Thanksgiving, let us remember to pray for those throughout the world who are suffering in loss and fear.

Pray that we would have tender, thankful hearts to experience God’s faithfulness and love in the midst of all we face.”

Good Work

Three of our grandsons helped load fire wood Saturday as part of Cullowhee Methodist Church’s service to the elderly in Jackson County. Volunteers cut wood, split wood, load the wood on trucks, and deliver it to folks all over the county.

What a blessing!

It is a blessing to those who receive wood, and it was certainly timely with the cold snap we are experiencing. But, it is a great blessing to all who work serving as well. I was so pleased to see four generations of folks represented among the volunteers.

Serving has no age limits.

Which leads me to the purpose of this post – good work.

Work can have a negative connotation for our children and grandchildren. “I have a job for you” is a statement that is often met with wails of distress from children who would rather be playing, reading, using an electronic device – anything but work. That same statement, “I have a job for you”, has a totally different response from someone who has been out of work and is LOOKING for a job.

Meaningful work is very important for us as humans. It gives us a reason to get out of bed each morning. We need a purpose.

In Ephesians 2:8-10 Paul is explaining to the Church that we are not saved by the works we do, yet God does have work for us to do.

 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

God has prepared good work for each of us! Our attitude toward work is an example to our children and grandchildren.

  • are we thankful for our job?
  • do we see our job as a way to serve others, or just for a paycheck?
  • do we do our best at work, or just enough to get by?
  • are we honest, faithful, and joyful at work?

Working alongside our children and grandchildren is the best way to show them the blessing of work. These boys have worked with their Mom and Dad in the Hope Garden, a community garden which helps those in need.

Good work can be fun, especially when done together. Milkshakes afterward don’t hurt….

 

 

 

Bulbs – Potential That Requires Patience

Now is the time to plant bulbs.

But you won’t see any results for four months at least. Bulbs are NOT for those who want instant gratification. Bulbs require patience. They must be planted before really cold weather so that the bulbs “harden” which allows them to bloom in spring. I waited too late one year when we lived in Cullowhee and in the spring only leaves came up – no blooms. The next year though – surprise – they did bloom. That was a test of patience.

You may look closely at a bulb, but you cannot tell what color the future bloom will be. You must have faith in the packaging, or be willing to be surprised. For those of us who love those first blooms in spring – it is worth the wait.

Bulbs are like children.

The similarity is more than the fact that parents must wait 9 months before a baby is born. Even after birth, maybe even more after birth, one must wait to see how a child or children will grow and develop. Sometimes it seems to go very fast, other times changes occur at an agonizingly slow pace.

There is a reason some of us are called “late bloomers”….

This growth process requires patience. Just as weather patterns affect the timing of bulbs blooming, children’s growth is affected by life circumstances, health, environment, a myriad of factors. Just as I can’t control the weather, I can’t control all the influences on my children’s lives. I work hard to make my garden as accommodating to the growth of the bulbs as possible, but many factors are out of my hands. Rain, temperature…

As a mother, and now as a grandmother, I work to create a nurturing environment that encourages healthy growth for our children. So Many circumstances are out of my hands.

I must be patient.

I remember our daughter Abigail telling me that she and her daughter, Rachel, had planted sunflower seeds in early summer. Rachel kept asking – “Where are the flowers?” A life lesson in patience. They did finally bloom!

In James 5: 7-8, James is encouraging the early Christians to be patient as they wait for Jesus to return. We must be patient for that glorious event as well! Patience is a fruit of Holy Spirit dwelling in our lives and a quality we must nurture and exemplify.

Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return…

Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring.

They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient.

May we be examples of patience in the midst of this “instant” world.

 

# In My Garden With God – 23

 

Scattered Seeds

I was out raking up leaves and the dead parts of plants this afternoon. It was such a beautiful day! I came across the seed pods from butterfly weed and marveled again (as I do each year) how many seeds burst forth from one pod!

The silk carries the seed off in the breeze to find a resting place to germinate, if conditions are agreeable. Human intervention sometimes helps, or interferes – depending on one’s viewpoint. I usually take a handful of silk and seeds and find a sunny spot with loose soil and bury a few. I did so today.

Below is a picture of the butterfly weed in our yard when it was in bloom this summer – with the butterflies it attracts. It fascinates me when a butterfly the same color as the flower lands on one of the blooms.

Plants are finishing their growing cycle this time of year. If we weren’t familiar with this cycle it would be easy to assume that plants were dead or dying. Leaves fall off, no new blooms open up, stems turn brown and brittle.

Yet think of all the potential life there is in that small seed!

Sometimes our lives are like plants. We seem to be doing well, growing, producing flowers and fruit. Then situations and circumstances change and it seems that everything that was so full of potential and growth has now become dead and useless. The winter of life has arrived.

Jesus addresses this very issue in John 12: 24, 25. I like how the Message interprets these verses –

24-25 “Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.

There are times in our lives when we must let go of things or situations – in a sense let them die. Yet, that is often the very chance God has to renew that area of our life – even reproducing many times over what we thought was dead. Letting those seeds spring to life!

Just as I rake and throw away the old dead foliage in our yard, I must allow God to enter every area of my life and get rid of the old dead attitudes and habits so NEW life can take root.

 

In My Garden With God #21

Trimming Back

It has cooled off here in the mountains so I have started working outside again. I love it! Fall is such a lovely time in our area and the cool air just makes me want to stay out in all the beauty and soak it in.

Phil got me a new tool – a battery operated hedge trimmer. It has been so easy to use and I have been trimming up a storm. Some of our shrubs haven’t been attended to in so long that I had to trim in stages. I would cut back a bit, gather the trimmings so I could see what was left , then cut some more. The end result is plants that look neater, but are also healthier.

The old dead stuff has been cut away.

As I was doing this work in our yard, I felt a Spiritual lesson being impressed on me. (This is often the case with me – I feel God’s presence so closely in my garden)

What old, dead stuff am I clinging to?

In thinking about this, I realized that we humans can cling tenaciously to traditions, beliefs, and even forms of worship that no longer bring life to us spiritually. That is because once a branch or limb is disconnected from the trunk or stem, it starts to die.

If our spiritual life is not connected to Jesus, the True Vine, what may have once been spiritually beneficial will soon die.

In John 15:1-4 Jesus is instructing His disciples just before He will be taken to die on the cross. Jesus wants these 12 men He has poured His life into to REMAIN connected to Him, even as He dies, is buried, and rises again.

So, Jesus says –

15 “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

The challenge for me is to remain connected to Jesus, and allow Him to cut out anything that won’t produce fruit.

A Legacy Lives On

It has been a year since my Mother passed on to her eternal reward. As others who have experienced this loss, you know how you miss your mother every day. So many thoughts pass through my mind, and an instant response is “oh, I need to tell Mother”. I see something and I think, “oh, Mother would like that.”

Yet I am so thankful for all the wonderful memories I have and treasure. Esther Barker lived 90 blessed years!

Mother loved Bible study. While visiting our daughter Hannah recently, I started working on my study of Hebrews while I was waiting for the rest of the children to wake up. Our granddaughter, Adella, asked me what I was doing and when I told her, she went and got her Bible and said she would help me. She certainly did! After looking up a passage and reading the question, Adella came up with very good answers.

I noticed Adella had highlighted verses and I asked her about that.

“Mom said I couldn’t underline in my Bible any more so she gave me a highlighter to use instead.”

After seeing where Adella had underlined, I understood my daughter’s concern. (she had drawn lines right through the words instead of UNDER the words) Adella showed me her favorite verse in Psalms and I showed her my favorite verse, Romans 12:2.

I had forgotten my Bible in the car, so I found Hannah’s old Bible. She had used this Bible while in college and she had written many notes and underlined verses special to her.

So, the legacy Mother left of Bible study and loving God’s Word is living on in myself, our three daughters (who all attend Bible studies) and on to the next generation as well.

Psalm 119 states –

73 You made me; you created me.
    Now give me the sense to follow your commands.
74 May all who fear you find in me a cause for joy,
    for I have put my hope in your word.

103 How sweet your words taste to me;
    they are sweeter than honey.
104 Your commandments give me understanding;
    no wonder I hate every false way of life.

105 Your word is a lamp to guide my feet
    and a light for my path.

We are blessed!