In the Wake of the Storm

img_2323At some point that evening I went from being exhilarated by the fierce summer storm raging outside, to fleeing in fear to the only windowless room in our home. I huddled with my husband in the dark while the wind roared and shook the house as if it were too close to a speeding freight train. Finally sensing a lessening in the storm’s clamor, we cautiously crept out to witness the utter chaos left in the wake of its violent tantrums. Broken tree limbs and debris littered the lawn, but worse was the uprooted cottonwood tree stretched like a slain giant across our crumpled fence into the yard behind, barely missing the neighbor’s house.

In the following days as we cleaned up the wreckage from the storm, I mourned the loss of the cottonwood tree. On hot summer days we used to rest in our lawn chairs under its cool shade, lulled by the lyric rustle of its leaves in the breeze. It had been a green sanctuary to myriads of birds which we enjoyed watching splash in our nearby birdbath. Our grandchildren once climbed the lower branches, safe in its woody embrace. Now an ugly stump was all that remained, and empty space where once a friendly giant stood.

My husband took a more pragmatic view of the loss of the tree. He saw how its absence allowed more sunlight to reach his vegetable garden, especially the rows closest to the fence which always did poorly for lack of light. We observed carrots and parsnips gradually flourish with more sunlight to strengthen them.

In her book, “Roots & Sky”, author Christie Purifoy writes, “God does not erase our losses, those empty places in our lives, but He does something almost more miraculous. He fills the loss with a sign of His presence.” Losing a tree cannot compare to losing a loved one, or a marriage or a part of who you are, but for me it was a picture of how loss opens up room for a new work of God.

There was a time in my life when I lost everything I had ever feared losing; my marriage, financial security, health and family unity. In the midst of these devastating losses, I could not imagine a future when all would be made new, even better than before. But God could. “His mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of.” (Eph. 3:20 TLB)

God takes loss and turns it into abundance. In the ashes of my pain, I discovered the abundance of God’s love, His perfect character and His always faithful promises. When life left me hollowed out, He filled the space with His own presence. As I discovered, this is God’s specialty, giving beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. (Isa. 61:3 NKJV)

In the equation of loss becoming abundance, He uniquely illustrates for each of us His supreme renewal project, the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24 NIV) He was speaking of Himself as the Seed, abused, crucified, buried in a dark tomb. Then the Seed came bursting forth alive, His resurrection beginning a great harvest of souls for God’s kingdom. Death gave way to life. Decay became deliverance.

A mighty tree once stood in my yard where now there is just a weathered stump. However new light floods a healthy garden where many seeds now flourish in abundance. In our memory’s landscape, the scar of a loss does not need to be a place of pain forever. It may be remembered, even mourned, but more significantly, it is a landmark telling where God met us and how He brought restoration and renewal out of the darkest places of our world.

Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Seasons of the Spirit

Four Seasons

 

Winter is waiting on the doorstep with a foretaste of snow and clear, black nights in its breath. I can’t say I mind, for with it comes a sort of hibernation from the activity of fairer weather. Long evenings wrapped in the cocoon of a warm room with a cat on my lap and a book to ponder, I relish the repose of the winter season.

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven,”  pens the writer of Ecclesiastes. (Ecc. 3:1 NKJV)   Then he lists what he sees as the cyclical events of human life set forth in the providence of God. Birth and death, planting and uprooting, speaking and silence, war and peace; all have an appointed time according to God’s purposes.     “And He has made everything beautiful in its time.”  (Ecc. 1:11)

If there is a season for everything and a time for every purpose, then my spiritual life has seasons as well. My relationship with God is shaped more like an ever-widening circle than a straight line. This infinite curve is never static; it undulates with the tides of growth and dormancy, mountaintop and valley, passion and complacency. I can not say I enjoy every spiritual season but I am beginning to understand that each one is useful and necessary, and that God has a purpose for it.

In my spiritual fall season I sense a need to prepare, to store up the things of God in my heart so I will be ready for whatever the future holds. As a farmer spends fall harvesting and storing his crops to prepare for winter, so God leads me to store up for myself treasures in heaven to strengthen me for the winters of my life. When I look back at difficulties I’ve experienced, I see that God always gave me a hunger to learn more and go deeper with Him in the time leading up to those difficulties. Fall can be cold and bleak but it does not need to be barren when God provides abundant harvest for the soul to store up.

The world appears inert in the deep cold of winter, when in fact it is dormant, in an inactive state in order to survive adverse environmental conditions. There is purpose in dormancy, even dormancy of the soul. “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10) If all I know when my heart is cold is that God is God, then that is enough. I remember when I was in such deep distress all I was able to hang onto was that one truth, God is. Those two words kept me from the abyss. There is life in spiritual dormancy, deeply hidden, inactive, yet life all the same. When God breathes warmth back into that miniscule spark of life, the ice of winter begins to thaw.

The words spring and hope go naturally together in my mind. When spring stirs and stretches, my spirit rejoices in the resurgence of life which speaks of hope and continuation. Spiritual hope projects all the way to eternity, not as a possibility but as a surety, an anchor of my soul because God’s promise in Jesus Christ is not a maybe thing. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” (Heb. 10:23) The hope contained in the prospect of eternal life with Christ, perfected in His presence, fills me with joy and energy, like a spring lamb bouncing around a grassy field. That kind of hope removes fear of death, opening up the endless possibilities of heaven. Although it is not always so, it should be spring in my spirit all the time.

I live in a fruitful farming area where summer reveals fertile land bursting with crops of vegetables and grain. I never tire of seeing the abundance of provision growing on the land. A spiritual season of fruitfulness can contain many aspects, like varied rows of vegetables in a garden. There is the personal fruit of intimacy with God, the fruit of selfless labor and sacrifice, the fruit of encouraging others in their spiritual walk, the fruit of sharing the truths of God with those who don’t know Him and the fruit of prayers offered up for those you love, to name a few. Spiritual fruitfulness depends on staying connected to Jesus. “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” (John 15:4) I know I cannot be fruitful on my own, so sometimes my spiritual summer is short or yields little because I have drifted from the Vine.

Even when the spiritual season I am in is difficult I try to remember that God has a purpose for me being there, then I try to discover what that purpose is. The thing about spiritual seasons is that they always come around again, bringing more opportunities to discover the things God has made beautiful in His time.

 

© Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Occupied With Gladness

IMG_0731-001My back yard is aglow with autumn leaves not yet fallen, the sun flaming their lemon yellows and pumpkin oranges with lively light. The garden is mostly put to bed for the year, with just a few carrots and potato hills to be dug. On my way to town I see wheat fields tilled and vegetable crops harvested. This season is a rewarding one for those who toil on the land.

The author of Ecclesiastes writes, “It is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labour under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.” (Eccl. 5:18-20 NIV)

The writer, Solomon, believes this is the best strategy to handle the universal fact that all come into this world empty-handed, and leave it the same way; to enjoy this life in the here and now, occupied with gladness of heart. Nothing much has changed since the days of Solomon, has it? The world continues to pursue possessions and pleasures, living on the horizontal without much thought for eternity.

May I suggest it is possible to recognize both? God has bountifully heaped this earth with so much to occupy me with gladness of heart. He delights in giving His child good gifts. Every recognition of these gifts, giving rise to thanksgiving to the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, takes me from the horizontal to the vertical, lifting my heart upward to Him. When I am occupied with gladness of heart, then I am occupied with God.

When every day offers abundant shining moments of God-awareness, this very earth pulls me heavenward to praise and thank Him. Sunshine on my face, love light in a dear one’s eyes, joy bouncing through a child, beauty in a single flower. For me there is an organic connection. The physical gifts of God instantly link my spirit to His because He sings in every one. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Rom. 1:20)

From finite earth to infinite God, my thoughts soar to all He has gifted to me which cannot be perceived by the senses, but only by the spirit. These vast, indescribable gifts of forgiveness, mercy, redemption, reconciliation, eternal life and grace are realized in one Person, His son, Jesus Christ. To be occupied with Him gladdens my heart above all else.

  ~ But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. ~   1 Corinthians 15:57

 

© Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Autumn Season

031Days are becoming shorter, the air cooler, and winter hovers around the corner. Skeins of geese stitch chevron patterns across the blue-washed sky, plaintive honks punctuating their flight. I survey the landscape glowing with a myriad of autumnal colors. In a palette of yellow, orange, russet and ruby, nature shouts a last hurrah before its winter sleep. In my back yard I rake up the fallen leaves, once fresh and green, now dry and brittle. Was it only a few months ago I watched them unfurl on the branch, verdant with spring sap and rustling softly in a warm breeze?

God speaks to me in the changing seasons. Spring heralds new life, summer sees its full blown maturity, fall prepares for rest, then winter sleep descends. I see my own life gradually moving from season to season, each one with its joys and heartaches, its accomplishments and respites. I am in the autumn season now, when the sap runs slower and I’m getting a bit brittle of bone, but I glory in the final burst of color before winter.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the source of all life; those who believe in Me will live even in death.  Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never truly die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25  The Voice)

I am like a tree awaiting winter when the coldness of death will overtake my body. Yet the seed of my soul will be ever green. Within these decaying limbs lives my risen Savior, Jesus Christ, who is the Resurrection and the Life, so I will never truly die. Do I believe this? Absolutely.

If all I had was a burst of color before death, I would be living without hope. But I do not, because I hold the promise of Jesus — ceaseless life with Him. Each passing year the autumn leaves whisper this assurance. “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” – (Col. 3:2-3)

In this season before winter, I want my earthly life to glow like the autumn leaves, heading toward dormancy only in body, but not in spirit. While in the prime of growth, leaves take in and store up nutrients to keep the tree alive through the winter. I am thankful for those things of God stored up within me, resting in the knowledge they will see me through the coming winter, and I will bud and leaf again in a heavenly climate.

“Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God, for He has given you the autumn rains because He is faithful. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before.” – (Joel 2:2)

Beyond the Garden

Hatley gardensA garden offers up its secrets generously, whispering renewal in scent, color, fruit and loam. A quiet garden, when listened to carefully, teems with stems stretching, buds unfurling, roots reaching deep; a cacophony of life discerned below the surface of hearing. When I walk in a garden, some primal echo of perfection and innocence resonates within me.

 “The Eternal God planted a garden in the east in Eden—a place of utter delight—and placed the man whom He had sculpted there.”(Genesis 2:8 The Voice)

In the song of soughing breezes in tall aspens, Eden beckons.
Cool grass beneath bare feet marks a path to Paradise.
The very breath of Heaven sighs from sweet roses.

In a garden I begin to remember a place of utter delight. And just when that ancient memory stirs within, death overshadows. I see the weeds, smell the decay, know the serpent of sin hides beneath the leaves, waiting to deceive. In the cool of the day God walks in the garden of my soul, calling, “where are you?” Naked and ashamed, I have allowed perfection to be marred. But not beyond hope. Because there was another garden.

 “At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.” (John 19:41 NIV)

In the shadow of the hill on which Christ was crucified grew a garden belonging to a rich man in whose own tomb the body of Jesus was laid. From the stark, sun-baked heights of Golgotha, Jesus was brought down to the cool, sweet air of a garden grove. By law he should have been given a grave with criminals outside the city. Instead he was returned to a garden, much like the place where the ancestors of those who crucified him were created.

The kernel of his dead body was pressed into the tomb, like a single seed into dark soil. For days it lies buried. Then a supernatural germination occurs; a transformation of earthly body to glorified. Life sheds the husk of death, bursting forth like a fresh green shoot. And because of the death and resurrection of this sacred Seed, many will live to know perfection in eternity.

    “Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:19)

In a garden, the cycle of life/death/life speaks to me of deeper truths. When the earth appears lifeless in frozen midwinter I remember the garden in summer, alive with flowers, trees and birds, and know I have been given the sure promise of new life with Christ. Someday the dead shell of my body will be laid in the ground, but my spirit will thrive forever in a place of perpetual bloom. Paradise found because of a singular Person given in perfect sacrifice.

“For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.” (Isaiah 61:11)

Our True Selves

stock-footage-newborn-baby-held-by-young-mother Carried under my heart for months and now in my arms, my newborn daughter fascinated me. How the whites of her unfocused eyes were almost blue, her tiny fingernails like pink seashells, the top of her head sweet-scented. The warm weight of her small body held within it all that she was destined to be. This captivated me more than her outward appearance. Who will she grow up to be? How will it be to witness the unfolding of her personality, to celebrate her strengths, to worry about her weaknesses? I had no other agenda for my daughter than to guide her toward faith in God and teach her to be a contributing member of society. How she accomplished this would depend on the revelation of her true self and her response to her Creator. I may have conceived and nurtured her within my body but the seed of her particular identity was still a mystery germinated by Someone Else.

To witness the ongoing revelation of my daughter’s character is joyous, sometimes heart-wrenching, yet always heartening. Does our Father wait in anticipation for His purpose to bloom in us, as a parent watches a child become their true selves? He planted the seed of who we are to become before the world began.
 “For You shaped me, inside and out. You knitted me together in my mother’s womb long before I took my first breath. I carry this knowledge deep within my soul. You see all things; nothing about me was hidden from You.” – (Psalm 139:13-14  The Voice)

When God created a unique personality for each human, He lovingly designed traits and talents to be used to bring Him glory. He also gave us the freedom to choose our own path, leading towards Him or away from Him. In John 15 Jesus uses the vivid picture of how we, the branches, need to be implanted in Him, the Vine, in order for His life to nourish the fruit we are designed to produce.
“I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you abide in Me and I in you, you will bear great fruit. Without Me, you will accomplish nothing.” – (John 15:5)

Our spirit, the essence of who we are, is a given when we are born. Our personality is shaped by genetics, environment and choices. If we choose to ignore the One who reveals Himself in every atom of creation, we sabotage the positive destiny designed for us by God. We become merely self-focused creatures occupied with satisfying our human desires. But when our lives are nurtured by the Vine, His life empowers us to become our true selves, intended to produce fruit pleasing to Him. Our generous God not only uses us to bring Him glory, He lavishes us with joy in the process.
“You direct me on a path that leads to a beautiful life. As I walk with You, the pleasures are never-ending, and I know true joy and contentment.” – (Acts 2:28)

There are a thousand masks we may try on, roles we can play, destinies we think we desire, but it is only when we inhabit our true selves as God designed us to be, will we be fulfilled.

“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God.
This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” 

  – Brennan Manning

A Heart’s Harvest

There is a richness to the harvest season on the prairies which speaks of bounty like no other. As warm summer air cools to the crispness of fall, lumbering combines reap the grain from swaths of golden wheat and farmer’s markets abound in bright  pumpkins and baskets of rosy apples. This is the reward for months of  preparing the soil, planting the seed, and nurturing the crops. Cultivation is a long, slow process requiring patience and perseverance before a crop can be harvested.
Think of the human heart as a barren field. God’s desire is to see that field produce a harvest of righteousness and peace. (Hebrews 12:11) He longs to walk in union with hearts releasing the sweet fragrance of the fruit of the Spirit.  But much work is required before such a harvest will be realized.
A fallow heart needs cleaning before it can be planted. The weeds and rocks of sin can only be uprooted before the Lord, who purifies us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) Our confession and repentance plus God’s forgiveness gives Him an uncluttered heart in which to work.
A prepared heart is ready to receive the seed, the word of God. (Luke 8:11)
Seeds cannot be planted without human help; neither can the word of God be planted in a heart without the human decision to open a Bible and read it. Seed scattered on top of the soil is soon blown away or eaten by birds. It needs to be pushed into the soil where it can receive nutrients and moisture for it to germinate. A light sampling of the word of God is not enough to germinate a fruitful spiritual life.  But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. (Luke 8:15)
A dedicated farmer spends time assessing the development of his crop. Throughout the growing season he walks between the rows of sprouting seeds, checking soil moisture content and if fertilizer or insecticide is needed. A crop doesn’t grow well without this daily attention. Neither does the heart produce a harvest without being nurtured daily in God’s presence, meditating on His word and cultivating intimacy through prayer and worship. Think of a private devotional time as “fertilizer” for the heart, vital for healthy spiritual development.
Some growing seasons are long, requiring perseverance before a crop is produced. From spring planting through summer growth, a farmer waits patiently for the harvest season when his careful cultivation will bear fruit. The harvest of a heart cultivated for Christ is an orderly, peaceful life, fruitful in service to others and spreading everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. (2 Corinthians 2:14)
The farmer does not keep his crop for himself. He harvests and sells it to help feed others around the world, then he cares for his own family’s needs with his income. Our own heart’s harvest produces for us an ever-deepening intimacy with our heavenly Father plus an abundant surplus to give away to others. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Luke 6:38)

What is your heart producing?