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.

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)

 

 

 

 

The Treasure Flower

I have a treasure in my garden. Not jewels or gold coins, but a simple flower called a gazania, or treasure flower. The vivid colors of this South African plant bring a touch of the exotic to the garden, showing symmetrical daisy-like faces during the day, then modestly folding up when night comes. It has become my favourite annual to plant each year, not only because of its brilliant flowers, but because its common name reminds me of a spiritual treasure I’ve been given, of inestimable value.

“The God who spoke light into existence, saying, “Let light shine from the darkness,” is the very One who sets our hearts ablaze to shed light on the knowledge of God’s glory revealed in the face of Jesus, the Anointed One. But this beautiful treasure is contained in us—cracked pots made of earth and clay—so that the transcendent character of this power will be clearly seen as coming from God and not from us.” – 2 Corinthians 4:6-7  (The Voice)

God’s glory in the face of Jesus, the Anointed One. That is the treasure I’ve been given to carry around in this cracked pot made of earth and clay. Will I ever wrap my head around it? It leaves me dumb with wonder every time I think that God, revealed in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit, has chosen to take up residence in this lowly body.

In Jesus’ time, making pottery was a lucrative business as clay pots were the necessary vessels for everyday use. Rather than throw a cracked pot away after firing, a dishonest potter would fill the cracks with wax then cover them with paint or glaze. The way to check if a pot was sound was to hold the pot up to the sunlight, which would reveal any wax-filled cracks. Makers of fine pottery marked their goods with the Latin words “sine cera”, meaning “without wax”. Our English word “sincere” comes from this root, meaning genuine, honest, true.

When the cracked pot of my human life is held up to the Son shining from the darkness, His light streaming through the cracks will reveal my brokenness by the purity of His radiance. I am just the vessel, and a most imperfect one at that. My frailty will all the more show what a beautiful treasure I have been given, because any goodness or kindness or sincerity will be coming from His transcendent character.

My gazania flowers love the sun, opening their vibrant petals to soak in heat and light. They tolerate mild drought, require little tending and are known to attract butterflies. Whoever called them treasure flowers named them well because they offer a treasure of pleasure for so little care. I learn from them about soaking in the Son, absorbing the life He gives so I can give joy to others. I learn to not be demanding, but attractive in a way which will draw seekers to the beauty of  Jesus. I learn to close my spirit to protect it from the darkness, just as they close their petals at night.

This simple little flower teaches me I am abounding in spiritual riches because I know “…the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” – Colossians 2: 2b-3 (NIV)

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?