Beyond the Garden

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A 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 symphony 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 permitted 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, clean 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 laid buried. Then a supernatural germination occurred; a transformation of earthly body to glorified. Life shed 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.

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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.

The Scent of Water

dead tree with green shootThe trunk is split and gray, dry as sun-bleached bones. Leafless branches stick their skeletal fingers in the air, some broken and hanging like fractured digits. It is obvious there is no life in this old tree spindly on the edge of a cabbage field. Yet it stands steadfast through the seasons, drawing my eye whenever I pass.

I feel a slight sadness when I drive by it in spring. While it’s fellow trees are flaunting fresh, green leaves, the dead tree remains bare. Until one day I notice something different where a section of its trunk has broken away and fallen. Slowing down, I see green shoots sprouting out of what looks like dead wood. Tears prickle behind my eyes and my heart swells with something like hope.

I am reminded of what Job said. Heavy-hearted under the hand of God, occasionally Job speaks a glimmer of hope into his melancholy musings. In chapter 14 his thoughts are on the brevity of man’s troubled days, numbered by God and soon over. Then ….
“At least there is hope for a tree. If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail. Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant.” (Job 14:7-9 NIV)

I see this as a picture of Job’s deeply buried hope. “Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble,” (Job 14:1) he states gloomily. Then he uses the image of a dead tree putting forth green shoots at the scent of water. This is such a vivid picture of growth sprouting from decay, hope from hopelessness, new life from death. And what calls forth this green shoot? The scent of water.

Can a tree detect the scent of water? It seems impossible if it is dead, yet somewhere deep inside its mouldering wood a dormant cell senses life-giving moisture then begins to multiply. Can a soul dead in sin conceive of a life beyond this present world? God planted eternity in the heart of man, imbued it with an awareness of life beyond this conscious one now lived. At the scent of water our heart is called. Drawn by the scent of living water welling up to eternal life, water which symbolizes the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I offer water that will become a wellspring within you that gives life throughout eternity. You will never be thirsty again.” (John 4:14 The Voice)

What is the scent of living water? It is the fresh fragrance of forgiveness by God, who alone is able to pardon your sins. It is the perfume of perfection emanating from the Savior who calls you to be perfect, as He is perfect. It is the incense of sacrifice rising from His life laid down for you, no greater demonstration of divine love existing.

I was once like that bone-gray dead tree on the edge of a field. No green shoots, no new leaves; no life within my spirit. But then the scent of living water drifted across my heart, drawing me to the One who satisfies all my longings, filling me with His love. I bud with vibrant spiritual life, putting forth shoots new and green. The scent of water is now the River of Life flowing strong.

 

A Solitary Seed

amaryllis1-300I was given an amaryllis bulb as a gift one winter. When I planted and nurtured the bulb, it produced a long stem with four large, red, lily-like blooms at the top. I enjoyed the exotic flowers for several weeks before they died off. In order for the bulb to produce flowers again it needed to have a dormant period of several months in cool darkness without water. Having never grown an amaryllis before, I found myself checking the bulb as it rested, sure it must be dead. But when replanted and cared for, it grew and bloomed again even more beautifully.

Within the darkness of a garden tomb lay a Seed, fallen to the ground and dead, like a kernel of wheat. “I tell you the truth: unless a grain of wheat is planted in the ground and dies, it remains a solitary seed. But when it is planted, it produces in death a great harvest.” (John 12:24 The Voice)

This Seed, called Jesus, endured vile abuse and death. His body was not dormant; not in some inactive state of reduced metabolic activity. He was actually dead. For three days His corpse lay cold in the darkness of the grave.

Then in the hidden depths, a supernatural germination occurred; a transformation from earthly body to glorified. Life shed the husk of death, bursting forth like a fresh green shoot. Stale air was stirred with an intake of breath, the whisper of a burial shroud discarded on stone. The Seed, planted in death, was now unleashed to begin a great harvest.
“But God raised Jesus and unleashed Him from the agonizing birth pangs of death, for death could not possibly keep Jesus in its power.” (Acts 2:24)

Because of His resurgence after death, we too are given opportunity for new birth. But not without dormancy. First our spirit, that part made to be responsive to God, is dormant. Muffled in darkness, cold to His breath of life upon us, sin’s inertia keeps us stuck in the dirt. When a crack of light seeps into the darkness, we begin to rouse, to stir to the hardly believable possibility of life beyond this confining skin. The agony of cracking open the dry shell of our earthly existence is a small but necessary death. Offering the brittle roots of brokenness to God, we minutely share in His crucifixion. It is what is necessary to absorb the life of Jesus into our own, thereby living anew.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20 NIV)

Without dormancy, the amaryllis would not bloom again. Without the death of Jesus, suffered willingly so we might be restored to God, we would never bloom in new, eternal life with Him. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15)