The Grace of A Garden

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Some days the weight of the world presses into spaces that leave me breathless and numb, untethered from what holds us all together. The division, the distress, the wars displacing the most vulnerable, the marginalization of those who have already suffered so much among us, the unbelief of those hearing stories of the abused, the seeming triumph of the oppressor, it all tightens the vise around my very existence. I struggle to stay rooted in what I know in my head but don’t yet know in my heart, that the good and beautiful in this world outshines the darkness creeping along the edges. I struggle to believe in the depths of my being that grace and love really do make a difference, that they bring light and life.

Those are the days I simply need to step away and spend some time in my backyard, freeing my flowers from the jungle of weeds and poison ivy threatening to squeeze the life out of them. Some days the best way to be grounded is to dig in the dirt, allowing the basic common denominator among us all to sift through my fingers and to repair the holes in my soul. It brings me back to my humanity and the humanity of my neighbor, be they near or far. I’m reminded that we all are dust, and the whiff of a breath on a hand can send us floating on the breeze. I’m reminded that I’m as fickle as they come, blown about and trying to figure it out as I go. I am reminded that I often don’t know where I’ll land, much like my neighbor may not know where they will land. I’m reminded that grace and love do go a long way in this world short on both.

At ground level the muted greens and browns sooth my eyes and my heart with their earthiness and the reality of what is. When I glance up, the world explodes in yellow, blue, white, pink. Lilies poised against the sky become stars set in space and I’m reminded of the smallness of me in a universe ever expanding. The pink of sweet peas vining into an evergreen, sending delicate sprays heavenward remind me that beauty leaves its mark on the world no matter where it’s found. Airy Queen Anne’s Lace, appearing uninvited yet waving cheerfully in the breeze reminds me that welcoming the stranger brings joy I didn’t know I was missing.

These days, I find myself in my garden more than usual, maybe in an attempt at bringing some order to my little corner of the world. Honestly, that’s about all I can handle right now, although it doesn’t seem like enough. I know it starts here, in my own tiny space. I just don’t know yet where it will lead. Or where I’ll land. But for now, it is enough. I will free my garden to be what it is meant to be – a space of beauty in a harsh world that is determined to conquer it. Today the grace of a garden will heal my soul a bit more and give me courage to look up once again.

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Missing Jesus

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It’s been an unsettling couple of weeks. Yes? For you too?

If you hang out on the internet for any length of time at all, you’ve been privy to the rancor and the line-drawing, the judgment and the derision coming at everyone from all sides. I wanted to walk away and I did for a little while. But I knew I had to come back. There is too much at stake to stay away. I will not ignore and pretend I don’t see the suffering and the marginalization of my sisters and brothers, here and around the world.

I am about to get real personal here, and to be honest, I’m real scared. I know many of my readers may not see things the way I do. And that gives me pause. But there is too much at stake. There are many pressing concerns in the time and place in which we find ourselves. There is no way I can address everything in this short piece that might concern any of us, so I’ve had to choose just the one or two that are occupying my mind most.

I have seen an awful lot of rhetoric and posturing from some who claim to be followers of Jesus that looks and acts a whole lot like unbridled fear and a mischaracterization of Jesus, who incidentally was always, always on the side of the marginalized and oppressed. The executive order on immigration and refugees has revealed what in my mind is the dehumanization of image-bearers, which is necessary to justify and defend turning away desperate and traumatized people from what is supposed to be a place of compassion and freedom. This is not a reflection of the Jesus I know. Furthermore, when we turn away refugees and immigrants, we turn away, we refuse, Jesus. Every man, woman and child on the face of the earth bears the image of God in them, and when we refuse them, we refuse Jesus.

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We often think that if we had lived in Jesus’ time we would surely have recognized and embraced him. Surely WE would have seen him for who he was. Surely we would have seen his compassion for the woman at the well, for the blind man, for the “other.”  But would we really have seen him for who he was? Do we even see him for who he is now? In the ways he appears to us today? Because he comes to us now in the broken, the downcast, the oppressed, the immigrant, the refugee, the LGBTQ, the homeless, the differently-abled, the physically, emotionally and mentally ill, the foreigner. He comes to us in ways we could not have imagined and we do not recognize him. Have we been blinded by our prejudice, our privilege and our judgment? We think we know Jesus when we see him, yet we refuse him and turn him away when he does appear to us.

We turn him away because we do not love him – because we have not fallen in love with Jesus. When we’re in love with Jesus, when we allow him to love us and we in turn are able to love him, we no longer have anything or anyone to fear. As long as we fear anything or anyone, we do not have the love of Christ in us. The love of Christ is fearless, because nothing and no one can separate us from that love. The worst thing that can happen is that we die because of our love, and why wouldn’t we be willing to do that when he who loved us first loved us to death? He died for us. Because of his love for us. He gave his life for us, while we were his enemies. Who are we, that we would not die for our enemies, real or perceived? What if dying, literally, is the seed by which others come to know and receive the love that Jesus has for them? I know, this is hard to take in, to embrace, this life of literally being willing to die. But until we are willing to go there, to be willing to give our literal lives, maybe we don’t really truly love the Jesus we claim to follow.

What if we came to the place where we could say with Paul, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain?” What would it take to get to this mindset, where living is for Christ and His kingdom, and to die is for Christ and His kingdom? It makes no difference. It doesn’t matter. To live is to live with Christ and his power in us. To die is to die and be in his presence. So it makes no difference; either way there is nothing to fear. Nothing to fear. Because we’re crazy in love with Jesus.

Until we are willing to love Jesus recklessly, with abandonment, we are going to fear. We are going to self-protect. We are going to hunker down with our prejudice and privilege. We are going to divide people into groups of “other.” We are going to dehumanize the “other” in order to reject and turn away Jesus in the name of Jesus. We are not going to be willing to lay down our lives for our perceived enemies. We are not going to be the force of love this world needs right now. We are going to continue to marginalize and oppress the marginalized and oppressed. We are going to continue to forget that we are human too, and flawed, and imperfect. We are going to try to prove we don’t need the grace and mercy of a loving Savior who loved us and gave his life for us. And we will deny him once again. Unless we love Jesus with all our hearts.

Refugees and immigrants are our brothers and sisters. The differently-abled are our brothers and sisters. The homeless are our brothers and sisters. Those identifying as LGBTQ belong with us. Whether we believe in the same God or not, we are brothers and sisters. Whether or not we are the same color, religion, ethnicity, ____________, you fill in the blank, we are brothers and sisters because we, all of us everywhere, carry in our being the image of God. When we turn the other away it is because we do not see the image of God there, and we do not recognize Him because we do not love Him.

We dare not look away now. We must press into these places of suffering and pain. We must see as Jesus sees, and love as Jesus loves. There is too much at stake. Real people’s lives are at risk and not only those fleeing war and poverty and death. Our own very lives are at stake. We risk losing our lives when we turn away those who are most in need, the most destitute, the most unloved, those who bear the image of God in them. It is a matter of life and death for everyone, not just the those who have been marginalized and oppressed. It is a matter of life and death for those of us who want to be safe and protected in our privilege and judgment, for those of us who have the power to show compassion and love, and to meet the most basic needs of those most desperate and unloved.

God help us all.

Reflections on Reading Scripture

This morning as I was doing a bit of reading, I thought back to all the years when I would come to Scripture feeling like I was under pressure to make sure I got out of it exactly what God wanted me to know. I would read every word carefully, slowly, hoping some giant revelation would leap off the page and into my heart. That rarely happened, if ever. Because I didn’t know the heart of Jesus so much as knew the words in the Bible, reading appeased the Pharisee in me and verified what I already thought I knew.

When we have an intimate relationship with Jesus – and by that I mean living in His love and grace – we don’t have to worry so much about understanding what each and every word means; we can simply let them flow over our parched souls and let God bring the meaning He wants us to understand. We can trust that He will show us what He wants us to know and experience.

Here’s to less trying and straining, and more of trusting Him to do the work in me.

Personal note: One thing that has really helped me to be able to come to Scripture in a fresh way is to read it in an unfamiliar translation or paraphrase. When I already know the next word or phrase, it’s easy to zone out. Read it in words you’re not familiar with and just let it wash over you. And don’t over-think it.

Be blessed today!

What has helped you read the Bible with fresh eyes and in new ways? Leave your ideas and experiences in the comments – it may encourage someone today.

When I Desperately Want a Harvest, Not More Seed Planting

Every spring I am inspired anew to plant and grow the most beautiful garden ever. I make a trip to the local greenhouse, perusing and buying seeds and seedlings to set out in soft, fertile soil. It’s so exciting, and sometimes I manage to drag my reluctant family into the adventure. The sun is shining so brightly after a cold, dark winter and the breezes are so refreshing, carrying the scent of spring, that I can’t help but hope in new life and the promise of a harvest.

The promise of a harvest.

When I get to planting it’s an act of faith, really – putting seeds in the ground and covering them up, believing they will die so new life will sprout. I watch, often impatiently, for the tender shoots pushing up through the soft earth. Then comes the tough part – waiting. And weeding. And watering. And weeding again. Waiting still longer. Watering a bit more. Sometimes I get tired of it and I walk away for a while. But eventually, all the hard work pays off. A harvest. What we’ve been waiting for.

I have found that when I plant seeds spiritually, I also do that with hope and faith that there will be a harvest. When I water, I am trusting that God will give the increase. But I have to confess, sometimes I grow weary of planting and watering. Sometimes I so very selfishly long to see the harvest. And sometimes, I may be looking at the harvest without knowing it. I know I’ve got blinders on and seldom see what God sees. I wonder if I don’t often miss the harvest because I don’t recognize it when I see it.

But my point is this – am I willing to be the planter and the water-bucket-carrier and let God work out the rest? Am I willing to be faithful here, now? Am I willing to be person number 4, number 11, and number 57 in a long string of planters and waterers in the life of one person? Am I willing to be just one of many gardeners in the life of one? Am I willing to plant and water, trusting God to give the increase?

I have an enormous propensity towards “closing the deal” so that I can feel like I really made a difference the life of another person. My flesh wants to take the credit. It’s hard work to plant and water, to wait for the harvest, to journey with one who has the deepest, darkest hurts you could ever imagine. I long for a break-through, for the harvest. And yet, God has called us to something bigger – to walk with those who need love, compassion, mercy and grace the most. To wait with those who hardly dare to believe in a tiny glimmer of hope. To allow God to give the increase. To believe that He will. And to believe that if the harvest is not for me to witness, God will do it in His time and in His way.

Are you willing to be the water-bucket-carrier today in the life of someone right in front of you? So often we think we have to go looking for one to carry water to, when they are really already right in front of us. Who has God put in your path today?

Be faithful, here, now.

We work for the harvest we may never see.

And while we wait and work, faith and trust grows in our own hearts.