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.

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 Cross Around My Neck

IMG_2129In its little velvet box, the gold cross on a chain appeared small and fragile. But I saw a royal insignia, a medal to wear into the fray, the emblem of a conqueror. It took three months of minimal payments on layaway at the jewellery store before I owned it. Working part-time and on a limited budget, buying a gold necklace seemed extravagant, but I knew it as a necessity. You see, my life was a battlefield, with my marriage gasping out its last dying breaths and my family scattered and struggling. Yet in the midst of the smoke and ruin God showed up, like a bright flower blooming in devastation. I needed the cross necklace as a banner for going into battle.

Before this, God and I were old friends who had lost touch. I thought of Him with affection and respect, but not someone I talked to often. Then His Spirit began stirring up a hunger in my soul. Like a starving woman, I consumed the bread and wine of His Word, longing for more. His voice drew me into deep, prayerful conversations. I craved time with others who knew Him, whose encouragement fortified me for what was ahead. I knew that God was preparing me for combat.

So why wear a cross around my neck? Some saw it as an archaic icon of a gruesome form of public execution, even a talisman to ward off evil. To me it symbolized the One who died on such a cross with His arms spread wide in love and sacrifice. I had come to believe that Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, gave His life willingly on that cross, was buried then rose from the grave to conquer death and sin, offering forgiveness and eternal life to those who believe in Him. I wore an empty cross, not one with Jesus still nailed to it, because I knew He was alive, just as I knew the battle I was facing would be fought in His strength.

“Stay focused; do not lose sight of mercy and truth; engrave them on a pendant, and hang it around your neck; meditate on them so they are written on your heart.”
(Prov.3:3 The Voice)

When I stood before a courtroom judge to fight for an equitable end to a dead marriage, I wore the cross.
While toxic chemicals flowed into my body to fight a life-threatening disease, I wore the cross.
As I battled abandonment, poverty, loneliness and more, I wore the cross.

Every morning as I fastened the chain around my neck, I felt fortified. It was only a little piece of gold, but it gave me a focus, a touchstone to wear into the day, reminding me that I faced the challenges ahead in the strength of Jesus, who overcame death on the cross. He promised in His word, “My grace is enough to cover and sustain you. My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor.12:9)

Jesus brought me through those long ago battles and for now the fields are green and peaceful. But I still wear the gold cross, although brutal in its origins, because it is the highest badge of honor displayed for the ultimate sacrifice given upon it by my Savior.

“It was God who brought us to life with Him, forgave all our sins, and eliminated the massive debt we incurred by the law that stood against us. He took it all away; He nailed it to the cross. But that’s not all. He disarmed those who once ruled over us — those who had overpowered us. Like captives of war, He put them on display to the world to show His victory over them by means of the cross.” (Col. 2:13-15)

 

©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.

“By Virtue and Valour”

Navy Dad-001I can remember the smell of the Royal Canadian Navy ship on which my father sailed, a pungent blend of diesel fuel, marine paint and salty sea air. Once a year the crew’s families were invited on board for a tour. My brothers and I clambered on the large guns mounted on the fore and aft decks, never thinking about what they were for. HMCS Mackenzie was a destroyer escort class warship, commissioned to the Pacific fleet of the Canadian Navy after World War II. She carried impressive armament and electronic equipment, ready to defend Canada’s west coast against enemy attack. But she was never called to do so. She had an uneventful career, spending most of her time as a training ship or performing general duties, such as port visits and naval exercises.

Neither the Mackenzie nor my father ever saw active war duty, yet they were both vitally necessary to the safety of the country. My father is recognized as a veteran because of the risk he assumed by wearing the uniform of the Canadian Navy and pledging allegiance to protect his country. The ship’s motto, “by virtue and valour,” set the standard for what was expected of him if war should break out again. He was to be ready at all times.

As a Navy veteran, my father was honorably released from service upon retirement, but those who serve under the command of Christ will never be veterans until they reach heaven. God has equipped us with spiritual weapons to prepare us for the ongoing battle against spiritual forces of darkness.

“So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long.” – Eph. 6:10-18 The Message

Every weapon God has given us is battle-ready at all times, supernaturally created to vanquish the enemy of our souls. But we have a part in this battle too, which is to be prepared to put them to use. My father’s naval duties involved many days of battle exercises; “playing war”, as he called it, so in the event of a real conflict at sea, the crew would know what to do. The same is required in spiritual battle. Often in my own prayer time I pray through the passage above, figuratively donning the armor of God, preparing myself for whatever battle the day may hold. And I know without doubt there will be battles. But I also have an advantage which helps me when the combat heats up, and that is the knowledge of who wins. Before Jesus gave up His spirit on the cross, He declared, “It is finished.” (John 19:30) His death and resurrection brought about victory over death, the weapon of the enemy. “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Cor. 15:57 NIV

I am thankful my father never had to engage in active battle during his naval career, but I am also proud that he would have done so readily if needed. He was trained, equipped, and fighting fit, ready to defend his country with his life. There is something for me to learn from him, about doing spiritual warfare “by virtue and valour”. It is by Christ’s virtue and Christ’s valour, not my own. I just need to be a willing volunteer.

© Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2015. 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.

A Question of Love

IMG_1277“Why do you argue when all I want to do is bless you?”
The question dropped into my mind fully formed, almost audible. After years of struggling against a current of numerous personal crises, the tide had turned, bringing resolution and happier prospects. The let-up of relentless negative pressure felt strange, causing me to doubt the possibility of better days to come. So I argued with God.
Can this truly be your will? Do You actually want me to marry this man and start a whole new life or is it just my own desires taking over? Then He asked me the question which changed everything. I quit arguing and answered yes to His overflowing blessings.

The questions of God have a way of making those He asks look at their situation in a different way. God doesn’t pose questions to find out the answers. He is omniscient, all knowing, the One who looks into the heart and sees the end from the beginning. His questions are always succinct, probing and worded to challenge a present thought process.

The first question asked by God in His Word is still relevant to us now. Our reply to this question determines our present journey and our eventual destiny. Adam, a man previously free and unashamed before God, disobeys His command and goes into hiding. But God does not abandon Adam in his sin. He comes near, walking in the garden in the cool of the day, calling to him, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9 NIV) God knows exactly where Adam is, physically and spiritually, but He asks this rhetorical question because Adam needs to see himself where he is. God’s question makes him realize he is hiding in shame … trying to cover up his wrongdoing … avoiding God for fear of punishment … making excuses … passing blame. And man’s first conscious awareness of guilt is exposed in the revealing light of God’s query.

If He asked you the same question, how would you answer God? The answers could be numerous but there are only two that really count. If you answer, “I am far away from You, not even sure You exist,” then remember how God walked in the garden to draw near to a man whose sin distanced him from perfect love, and know He provides a way through the sacrificial death and resurrection of His son, Jesus, to bring you close. If you answer, “I am here, Lord, close to your side as your beloved child, but You know how easily I wander away,” then remember He will never leave you or forsake you. No matter how fickle your heart is or how easily your eyes stray from His face, He never loses sight of one He calls His own.

God asks questions to help us see ourselves in light of where we are in relation to Him. Self-examination can be painful but when done in the presence of God’s redeeming love, it reveals areas of our life needing a touch from Him. We don’t have to find the answers alone, for He walks with us through the process, providing guidance in His Word and by His Spirit. God already has an answer for His own question. He just wants you to search and find it for yourself.
“He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered Him, “You are the Christ.” ~ Mark 8:29

© Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2015. 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.

Not-So-Fond Farewells

IMG_1739The quicker, the better is my motto when it comes to saying good-bye to someone I love for a long time. I dread the moment when I will have to release them from my arms and watch them walk away. It feels like a part of my heart is being torn out, leaving a big aching hollow. I am not so fond of farewells.

This summer has been one of good-byes. My daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter moved to Africa for 3 years with little prospect of trips back home. And after I said good-bye to my son when visiting him in a distant city, he sent me a note within the hour saying he missed me already. Every parting takes a piece of my too-tender heart with it which, I’ve come to realize, is the price for loving completely.

Of all the imperfections and missed marks in the world, this is the one I find the most arduous, sometimes to the point where I don’t want to say hello because I know a good-bye must follow. We say too many good-byes in this transient society where jobs require transfers to other cities, and rending divorces result in constant partings between parents and children.

The truth is, we were not designed for good-byes. In the perfection of this world before sin entered, God made man and woman in His own image. And God walked companionably with His creations in the garden in the cool of the day. (Genesis 1 – 3) God’s original intention was for an everlasting relationship with man, no good-byes required. Don’t you think it wrenched His heart to send Adam and Eve out of the garden? To say good-bye to the creatures He designed for relationship with Himself? The sin which broke man’s connection with God continues to throw good-byes in our path, causing hearts to break a little with each one.

So I wonder, how do I navigate those good-byes? Do I withhold myself, protecting my heart from painful partings? Not possible. I love those I love without reservation, making vulnerability part of the package. So I’ve decided to live in the good of the moments I have with each one I love. Some moments may be longer and some shorter before parting but each one is precious in and of itself. After His resurrection, Jesus spent 40 days saying good-bye to His disciples because they were so slow to believe and understand what He had done. During that time He made special memories with them, walking and talking on the road to Emmaus, visiting them in the upper room, making them breakfast on the beach. The disciples would have those memories to warm their hearts when He was gone.

Good-byes are an infinitesimal portion of my time spent with those I love. I choose to make that time rich, full of love and laughter, shared experiences, long talks and lots of hugs. It will still be hard to say good-bye but only because our love for each other will have deepened in the time we are together. Good memories don’t need good-byes.

 

 

© Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2015. 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.

Postcards from France …. Paris in a Day

Waterlogue 1.1.4 (1.1.4) Preset Style = Illustration Format = 6" (Medium) Format Margin = Small Format Border = Sm. Rounded Drawing = Technical Pen Drawing Weight = Light Drawing Detail = Medium Paint = Natural Paint Lightness = Normal Paint Intensity = More Water = Tap Water Water Edges = Medium Water Bleed = Average Brush = Natural Detail Brush Focus = Everything Brush Spacing = Medium Paper = Watercolor Paper Texture = Medium Paper Shading = Light Options Faces = Enhance FacesHow is it possible to see Paris in a day? For that is all the time we had during our brief visit to France. I decided rather than trying to squeeze in as many sights as possible, I would be open to absorb all I could of this famous city’s atmosphere.

Coming up into the heart of the city from the underground metro station, my feet stopped and my mouth dropped open. The sheer energy of Paris hit me in a wave of wonder. My attention was immediately drawn across the street to the opulent façade of the Palais Garnier, made famous as the novel and theatrical production setting for Phantom of the Opera. Gilded and bedecked like a wealthy French heiress, it set the precedent for the many architectural marvels I would see that day.

My senses could hardly soak up all they were experiencing. Ornate architecture, both ancient and modern, verged the streams of traffic flowing down broad avenues. The distinctive honk of Parisian taxi horns punctuated lyrical French conversations swirling by me on the sidewalk. Passing by shops and restaurants, my nose caught whiffs of rich chocolate, fresh baguettes and other culinary delights I longed to sample.

From the vantage of a double-decker bus, I viewed the major sights for which Paris is so well known. Notre Dame Cathedral, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre Museum, and the Eiffel Tower, to name a few. Admittedly I know little of Paris’ past other than snippets about the French Revolution and some of its famous citizens. But I sensed the sheer weight of history it contained pressing down into the soil beneath. The permanency of Paris makes an impact.

However, I think I have been ruined for feeling a long-term connection to any city in this world, no matter how impressive. The feats of man may inspire awe, but because of Jesus I have become a citizen of another city, a city not of this world.

“For as long as we are here, we do not live in any permanent city, but are looking for the city that is to come.” (Hebrews 13:14 The Voice)

Because the spirit of Jesus, the risen Lord, dwells in me I am a new creation, temporarily residing on earth wherever I want , but designed to live permanently in the city God has built in heaven. That city is described in the book of Revelation as having gates made of pearls and streets of gold. It does not need sun or moon, for the glory of God gives it light and Jesus is its lamp. A river flows through it, flanked by life-giving trees with healing for the nations in their leaves. (Revelation 21 & 22)

Paris is reportedly the most visited city in the world and I can understand why. I am glad I had the opportunity to go there and see its amazing sights, even for just a day. But someday I will go to the City of God, not just for a visit but to live there eternally in the presence of Jesus. Then I will be truly home.

 Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2015. 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.