Promises Like Almond Branches

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I’ve been reflecting on promises quite a bit these days. Not just any promises, but God’s promises. And, well, to be honest it hasn’t been days, nor even weeks. It’s been months… which have gradually added up to a few years.

You see, there is this mystery about the Father’s promises – the ones He makes to us very personally. Not the “I will never leave you nor forsake you” kind (though equally mind-blowing!), but rather the very specific, “I’m going to do this or that in your life” variety.

And whenever I think of sitting down and writing about what I’ve been learning, I can’t quite bring myself to do it. Because there is still so much I have yet to grasp, and it just feels a bit beyond my reach. So I wait. And continue to reflect.

Today I decided that maybe part of the deeper revelation I’m looking for will actually come through documenting my meanderings. You know how sometimes retracing your steps leads to interesting discoveries of things you’d missed along the way?

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while (and kudos to you if you’re still with me, as I haven’t been the most faithful writer in recent times), you may have noticed that God speaks to me a whole lot through imagery, and in particular, through His creation. All that He spoke into being for our pleasure represents unique aspects of His character and, if we’re attentive, can teach us foundational principles that reflect the very essence of His being. What a gift!

Denny and I have the great privilege of living on a piece of land that hosts eleven different kinds of mature fruit trees: orange, tangerine, lemon, plum, pomegranate, loquat, fig, banana, carob, almond, and olive. As I have been observing them in their various seasons of life, I can’t help but notice how they mirror the process that we often walk through from the moment God speaks a promise to us to the point of its fruition.

The most significant of these is the almond, and it’s the first of the Algarve region’s fruit bearing trees to awaken from its wintry slumber. As early as late January, a mantle of white and pink blossoms begin to adorn its dark branches, a feast for the eyes of a warm weather lover such as myself.

1656204_10152201738161798_2000885261_nThe delicate flowers are a sweet reminder that there is yet hope. They assure me that, although certain promises whispered to me in times long past may appear to have been forgotten, they are merely dormant, at rest, waiting for their moment of glorious awakening.

fullsizeoutput_eccBy March, the almond tree is bursting with green, furry fruit nestled among its array of slender, shiny leaves. But don’t let all that hyper production fool you… those buzzards will take their sweet ole time ripening! Our plum tree flowers in April and yields delicious fruit by July.

IMG_20171003_192831Mr. Almond, however, matures ever so gradually, its hull turning a crispier brown in late August to early September, slowly cracking open and falling away to reveal that precious nut. And only as the last rays of summer light upon our skin, is he ready to be harvested and eaten.

Each year, as I observe the almond tree’s long and tedious process from precocious blossom to mature fruit, I reflect over and over upon that conversation between God and the prophet Jeremiah:

The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?”
“I see the branch of an almond tree,” I replied.
The Lord said to me, “You have seen correctly,
for I am watching  to see that my word is fulfilled.”
Jeremiah 1:11-12

God, the giver of language itself, actually used a curious play on words here, as the Hebrew word for “almond” – shaked – also means “to watch”. In showing Jeremiah the almond branch, the Father assured him that He was watching over His promise to make it happen, no matter how much time might pass, or how deeply Jeremiah might feel as if he’d been forgotten.

What do you see?

This biblical analogy of the almond branch creates such a vivid picture for me. Every January or early February, when I’ve just about had it with cold, dreary, damp weather (both inside and out, as Southern Portuguese homes are not very well insulated nor heated), and I’m struggling to see what God has promised, they begin to make their appearance. Those almond blossoms – a precious reminder.

My God has not forgotten me, nor His words of promise to me! He is watching over them, and He will fulfill them. Though I pass through seasons of apparent darkness, where life feels barren, as if it’s all but come to a halt, it is then that He is perfecting His very word within me. He is giving rest, strengthening my root systems, and storing up nourishment for the season to come – the one that will be rich with pouring out, with bearing tender fruit and patiently enduring as it matures.

fullsizeoutput_f03And although some promises declared long ago continue to hold their vigil, observing the passing of yet another winter season followed by the new birth of spring and summer’s fruitfulness, still longing to be fulfilled – I will not grow weary of trusting, of expecting and hoping in my Father.

He is not only the God of great promises, but also the Lord of the seasons. In His timelessness, all things mature to perfection. I need only to adjust my vision, to behold what He’s envisioning, to see correctly.

So, as I wait, I choose to hope against all hope, strengthened in faith in the One who has the power to do all that He has promised!

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed
and so became the father of many nations,
just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.
Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead
—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.
Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God,
but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God,

being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.
Romans 4:18-21

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In the Palm of His Hand

Last Sunday, after leaving our church’s morning gathering, I found myself driving towards Faro with little desire to go home. The sun shone brightly above me, resisting the scattered clouds’ attempts to squelch its warmth, as occasional gusts of wind orchestrated their pearly procession across the sky. Denny had been away since the Tuesday prior, and the idea of returning to an empty house was unappealing.

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I decided to make my way to a relatively new eatery I’ve been wanting to try called The Woods. Right in the center of the city, across from the marina, it has a rooftop terrace – the perfect place to enjoy a light meal, relax, people watch, and catch some rays on this gorgeous day.

Finding my way to a small table with a fabulous view, I ordered one of their huge salads and a fresh fruit and veggie juice, and gazed out at my surroundings. The wind had picked up a bit, and I had to keep my elbows propped firmly on my recycled paper placemat, to prevent it from being whisked away.

It was then that it caught my eye, as it always does: the stork’s nest in the roundabout.

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I should tell you that the White Stork is quite common in the Algarve region of Portugal, making its home here every Spring, after spending the winter season in Central Africa. A monogamous bird, it returns to the same location year after year, to mate with its lifelong companion.

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Photo credit: Whitney Hurst

 

Together, they build their massive nests, measuring one to three meters in width, in the most precarious of places: from chimneys to church steeples, bell towers and street light poles. Rendering this feat even more amazing is their meter-tall (3.5 foot) height and their wingspan of two meters (nearly 7 feet)! It’s as if they intentionally choose to defy all odds, raising their family, quite literally, “on the edge.”

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As I dug into my salad, the stork in the roundabout, (alone in its nest, clearly awaiting its mate’s return), stood firmly on its long, spindly legs, facing the marina. The wind rose playfully to the challenge, delivering a forceful gust that caused the banner below the nest to swell brusquely. Mr. Stork’s fellow fowl glided gracefully through the air above him, but he chose instead to stand his ground, unfaltering.

I pondered this great mystery: a bird so large, with such long, thin legs, somehow feeling safe nesting atop a street light’s pole, high above the ground, fully exposed to the blasts of wind hurled its way by an unmerciful sea. And as I watched him standing there unfazed by the tempest, I recognized something familiar in the shape of this particular lamppost and the resting place of that nest. It was as if it were being held in the palm of an immense hand.

I took you from the ends of the earth,
    from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, ‘You are my servant’;
    I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41: 9-10

How often are we called by this God, who created the universe so vast and infinitely amazing, to “build our nest” in the most unlikely of places? And immediately we begin to calculate our likelihood of success or the multiple reasons why this choice would not make sense: we’re too “big” for that, our “wingspan” is too wide, the location’s unduly precarious, the “height” too challenging, our “legs” aren’t sturdy enough to withstand the wind and exposure to the elements. And raising children there? Let’s not even think about it!

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Photo credit: Whitney Hurst

What we fail to see is the most obvious marvel of all. When we obey His voice, He holds us in the palm of His hand. And all those scary bits that we factor in? They will never, ever compare to the beauty of resting in the Father’s embrace.

Can a mother forget the baby
    who is nursing at her breast?
Can she stop having tender love
    for the child who was born to her?
She might forget her child.
    But I will not forget you.
I have written your name on the palms of my hands.
Isaiah 29:15-16

So as God lovingly presents us with new challenges, beckons us to greater heights, and chooses us for tasks that threaten to dismay us, let us make an essential choice. Sure, we can focus on all that stands to defeat us. But He has spoken promises over us that no man nor foe can undo.

I have not rejected you.

I am with you.

I am your God.

I will strengthen you, help you, uphold you.

I will not forget you.

I have written your name on the palms of my hands.

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Teach me, Lord, to trust and obey;

to rest securely in the One who breathes life into me;

for where better to build my house, than in the palm of Your mighty hand?

The Path of Surrender

God has led me down the path of surrender this summer. Yet again.

IMG_20170920_133228The beauty of traveling this road is that I never walk it alone.
The Master is always before me to show the way, beside me to encourage, behind me to push a bit,
above me to protect.
His love for me runs so deep
that I cannot fathom it.
It overwhelms me.
His river of life – now running
like a torrent
that threatens
to sweep me away with its power,
now as a babbling brook that whispers, igniting my senses –
is constant,
never leaving
me dry.
I may wander off at times, but my God is a jealous pursuer.

Surrender. Yes.

It’s that place I so often find myself called to these days, as I sit before Him. Just when I think that its well has been sufficiently dredged, I find Him beckoning me once again. “Let’s dig this a little deeper,” He whispers, as He envelopes me in His love.

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And there, in my Lord’s presence, I am undone. How can I say no to the One who breathes new life into my nostrils with each dawning day? The Father who ordered my steps long before I was even a dream in my parents’ heart (or maybe a surprise, already in the womb)?

Over the past years, He has asked me many questions, and each inquiry implores much more than a simple reply.

Would you lay down your life for me? Allow your husband to die for me?
Lose your children for the sake of my Kingdom? 

Would you abandon all that is now your normal life – to go, to do my bidding – whatever that might be?

Each requisition has been met with much meditation on my part.
Quieting of the mind. Searching of the heart. Baring of the soul.
Wrestling with my own desires.

And then surrender. Yes.

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How could I respond with anything less?
His plans for me are good. He desires for me to prosper. His path holds no harm for me.
It brims with hope. It gives me a future.
It is life itself.

A few days ago, Denny and I had an interesting experience. In the mid-afternoon, while folding laundry upstairs, through our back window I noticed heavy, billowing smoke rising in the distance. Behind our house, there are about ten kilometers (just over six miles) of pine forest that run to the ocean, with a few houses scattered in between. The woods were clearly on fire.

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We watched with interest and then concern, as the wind picked up, blowing the blaze in the direction of our house. The sound of sirens filled the air, while fire helicopters began to invade the sky, dumping massive buckets of water from the nearby Atlantic on the angry flames. Our upper balcony gave us the perfect vantage point, and it all felt surreal.

IMG_0547Not being prone to panic, we observed, monitoring the wildfire’s progress carefully. Denny videoed and took photos. We prayed and rallied our praying friends and family through social media, crying out to Jesus to rebuke the wind, as in Mark 4:39:

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves,
“Quiet! Be still!”
Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

 

IMG_0537We implored our God to stop the advance of the fire, as it continued to make its way towards our property.

The wind died down, but the flames were already fairly close to our home. We decided it would be best to make preparations, should we need to evacuate. I moved from room to room of our house, scanning the contents to decide what I wanted to take with me should we have to flee – should all the rest be consumed in the rogue.

In reality, I was pleased to discover that there wasn’t much I felt I needed. A few handmade gifts from our kids or friends, that held special meaning, some photos, the delicious goodies we’d recently brought back from Italy.

I realized that, at the end of the day, I would have been fine with leaving almost all of it behind – to have piled into our motorhome with Denny and our dogs, and those few things we need to survive, firing up our old Fiat Punto to take along, as well.

We loaded a few boxes and some food into our home on wheels, pulled the car out our front gate, and felt we’d be ready to leave, if necessary.

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In my heart, there was a certain excitement, as well. I said, “God, here we are. You gave us this house and land to rent; this motorhome, this car to own. It’s all yours. If you still want us here, as we believe you do, stop this fire now. But if this is your way of showing us that our time in this place is up, then so be it. I’m ready to go where you want us to go; to do what you want us to do, wherever you desire.”

The advance of the wildfire was halted four hours after it began, within a few kilometers  (just a couple miles) of our yard. It took 165 firefighters – to whom we’re very grateful, 45 fire vehicles on the ground, and four fire helicopters, to dominate it. But none could have stopped it, had it not been the desire of our God. He is Lord of all the elements – of the earth and the sky.

Surrender. Yes.

As I reflect on these last days, I know I will continue to choose it. It’s a narrow path, which few care (or dare) to travel – often treacherous, seldom simple. I am well aware that the grooves in the compact dirt that delineate it have been left by those who’ve gone before me – testimonies of how worthy our God is that we should renounce all that we consider our own for the sake of His Kingdom.

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O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!
I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me.
I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night
but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you.
You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.
How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up, you are still with me!
– Psalm 139:1-18



Enduring through the Heat

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In mid-November, when we returned from our whirlwind month of travels to Germany and the USA, we found our garden transformed. The bounty of Autumn rains and the somewhat cooler temperatures had caused crunchy, brown grass to give way to gently rolling hills of bright green clover. Our thirty plus citrus trees were heavily laden with wonderfully scented fruit, their branches bowing to the earth under the weight of such a profuse harvest. It was a sight to behold.

What a pleasure it was to come home from weeks of stimulating meetings, wild celebrations with family and friends, intense speaking engagements and visiting, to the quiet of our yard. I could almost hear the Father calling my name: to come and walk with Him, to disconnect from that frenetic pace, and pause to breathe in life, to reflect.

As I strolled around, moving from tree to tree to relish each one’s beauty and inspect its produce, I came upon something quite unexpected. A tree whose branches were so incredibly full, just brimming with tangerines that glistened in the sunlight… and sadly, beneath its outstretched arms, lay an almost equal quantity of fallen fruit. Fading, decaying, teeming with insects.

My first instinct was to save the fallen fruit. I began to pick up tangerines one at a time, inspecting them to see if any were still good, collecting those we might still eat. As I did this, my mind drifted to Luke chapter 10, verse two – one that’s so often associated with harvesting:

The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.
Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.

Continuing my gathering, I began to pray: to ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers. Not to the fields of our orchard but to those here in Portugal, in Faro. We have been praying for this for so long now, Denny and I. Pleading and waiting for others to come join us in reaching out to this city, beloved of God. I believe the harvest is plentiful in this place. And I won’t stop crying out for workmen and women to come bring it in.

My musings drifted to the possible reason for so much fruit to have fallen to the ground this early in the season. I’ve discovered that the same natural laws and principles that govern our practical life, having themselves been established by God, often mirror significant spiritual principles.

We’d had an extremely hot summer this past year, with temperatures hovering in the mid to upper nineties most days, and generally always above the average highs for this season. And, as always, it had been dry. Looking back further still, our winter had been very mild, even warm at times, and precipitation had been minimal. Season upon season of harsh and unusual conditions… and here was the result in front of me, rotting on the ground.

I felt like God was speaking to me about perseverance… a recurring theme in my meditations these days. Hmmm. Do you ever experience what feels like scorching heat because of circumstances in your life? Day in and day out, the temperature doesn’t seem to let up. The ground beneath your feet feels incredibly dry and hard. And there’s no refreshment to be found, no soothing. Just rock hard reality.

I have experienced this quite often. Yet what is the wisdom that my God has to share about these times in my life, in your life?

Count it all joy, my brothers,when you meet trials of various kinds,
for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
And let steadfastness have its full effect,
that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James 1:2-4

For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass;
its flower falls, and its beauty perishes.
So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial,
for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life,
which God has promised to those who love him.
James 1: 11-12

When it comes right down to it – to that place where the rubber meets the road – I’m not interested in an earthly crown, nor of the riches this world has to offer. When Jesus bids me to follow him through trials and suffering, I want my eyes to remain on Him alone, and on that crown of life that He has promised to those who love Him. He is my treasure.

So, as I set my gaze on the Father, I will not allow the blistering heat that I feel on my back nor the ardent thirst from my parched throat to cause me to lose heart. I can trust in Him… and as I do, He will not allow the precious fruit that adorns my life to fall to the ground and perish. His promise to me in Jeremiah 17:7-8 is this:

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But blessed is the one
who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him. 

They will be like a tree
planted by the water
that sends out its roots
by the stream. 

It does not fear
when heat comes;
its leaves are always green. 

It has no worries
in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.

 

 

May my confidence always be in you, my God! I have no need to fear when the heat comes, nor to worry in years of drought. By your Spirit, you will keep the leaves of my life green and I will never cease to bear fruit! So be it.

You Alone

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Photo by Whitney Rae Hurst

No matter how deeply
I may be cut
I will still bleed hope

These veins
though weary
are daily refreshed
by the One
who gently courses
along their pathways:

Red with passion
cleansing
releasing
convicting
discerning
restoring
igniting

And though
the turns of this world
drip
drip
drip
like acid
on my heart’s chambers

You speak:
“I am”
“Be still”
“It is finished”
And realms unseen
fall to their knees

I am desperate
for you
for you alone

Stepping into New Places

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Photo cred: Jonathan Morgan

We are stepping into new places, Denny & I. And stepping requires volition; it calls for action. If I don’t lift my foot and place it in front of where it currently is, I won’t move forward. I’m no physicist but I do know this much to be true.

This week, one of our three children is getting married. The first of our kids to marry, as a matter of fact. It will represent a big change. And although Alana has been living on her own for some time now, marrying means that she is stepping into a new covenant and will be living under a different covering – that of her husband. While as parents we will always be there to love, encourage, protect and care for her, this will no longer be principally our role in her life. It will be Charlie’s responsibility and honor. In the same way, Alana steps forward into a deeply significant commitment to do and to be the same for Charlie, as she embraces him in marriage.

I recently came across a quote that I had heard before from my friend Daniel Tocchini:
It seems that change is inevitable while transformation is intentional.  Isn’t that the truth!

Alana & Charlie’s marriage is, more or less, inevitable: they have made this choice after much time, prayer and consideration together. They’ve planned every detail of their (wild and wonderfully unusual!) wedding ceremony and party with great care and commitment. Walked lovingly (and maybe painfully, at times) through months of marriage counseling. And next Saturday, it will happen. They will become one flesh.

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A big change is coming for both of them, and for our families and those surrounding us. But will we allow ourselves to be transformed by it? How will Alana & Charlie permit God to use this in their lives? In what ways will Denny & I let Him grow us through it? And the rest of our family? We are acquiring a loving, generous and creatively unique son! I have no doubt that he will transform our lives, and we shall do the same with his. But we must be intentional about this! I don’t just want our lives to be changed in terms of this new “relationship status”. I desire transformation from our Father… the One who is a giver of good gifts.

Denny & I have been in a season of many other major shifts, in which God is asking us to step into very new things, to move in unfamiliar spaces and inhabit fresh environments with unfamiliar people. Shifting is not always easy. Yet as we step and move and inhabit, there will no doubt be transformation. In our lives and in the lives of those around us. And this is what we desire.

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I don’t want to
become sterile
or barren, just because I’m moving on in years. God hasn’t blessed me with this wealth of life experience and growth in Him just to call me to sit down in a proverbial easy chair and bide my days away. I want to see new life birthed from mine! I want to be continually transformed and to allow my precious Lord to transform others through me!

So although I will admit that with the passage of time, major life shifts become somewhat more challenging to navigate, I will continue to be willing and allow my Lord to make me able. While my amazing God is unchanging, He is NOT static. He doesn’t stand still. He desires the very best for his children and his deepest yearning is for the redemption of all creation – his creation. I want to play whatever role I can in that: whatever role He asks me to play.

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Photo cred: Marina Bolobon

I see that once again
I must affirm it:
this life of mine is
not actually “mine”
at all.
Almost forty years ago,
I placed it in the hands
of my Savior,
my Rock,
my Master.
And when He asks me
to take a step,
I choose to do it.
I may waffle a bit,
even wrestle with
questions and uncertainties.
But once I know
beyond any doubt
that I am hearing
his voice, I move.
Denny and I together –
we move.

Why would I want to be anywhere besides that place where my God desires me to be? No matter how challenging or unseemly or contrary to logic it may appear.

So lead me, my Jesus. I am yours. Hide me under the shadow of your wings. Transform me and make me new every day. I want to bear a deeper reflection of your glory, so that when this world looks upon me, it knows that I have been with you.

My Hope. Their Hope. Come, Lord, and overtake me.

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Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High 
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord,
“He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. 
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day, 
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
Psalm 91:1-6

When Fear Comes Knocking

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There’s an intruder who’s been coming around the past couple weeks, knocking insistently at my door. I knew him well in my younger and less experienced days, when I would often open at his bidding. I’d invite him in, entertaining him under the guise of being cautious, concerned or more organized. And truly, those are all noble sentiments and endeavors. Yet more often than not, I’d find myself giving him free run and reign of my mind and heart. And before I knew what had hit me, he would rob me of all peace: heart racing, sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, as if I’d swallowed a brick; tension rising and temples beginning to throb.

Fear. It’s one of the enemy of our soul’s favorite playmates.

As I move on in years (just past the half century mark, as a matter of fact) and have faced many a challenge that has stretched me far beyond my own capacities, I’ve learned a thing or two about fear.

No matter how tenderly or fervently he knocks, I can choose not to open. And I have become cognizant of his many disguises and tactics. While perceiving fear’s presence and desire to bust in and take over isn’t necessarily sufficient in warding him off, it is most certainly the first step. When I recognize what’s going on before I’ve been overwhelmed, I can choose to lean into the One who has my back, the God who knows me intimately – shortcomings and all.

Each time I give heed, as fear opens his mouth and whispers in my ear, I start focusing on all those things that feel out of control… or over which I really have no control. My mind begins to ponder how I can escape them, dominate them or whip them into submission. And, as my breathing becomes labored and suffocation sets in, who is at the center of it all? Me, of course.

My sufficiency.
My ability.
My strength.
My courage.
My reputation.

My failings.
My weaknesses.
My lack.
My brokenness.
My suffering.

img_1644So
precious
God, persistently patient Father,
this day,
every moment,
I turn my eyes to you.
When my walls feel like they
are crumbling down,
You
are my sufficiency,
my ability.

When my legs feel too weak for me to stand upon, and my strength and courage are sorely fading, you are my rock, my fortress and my deliverer. You are the safe place that I can run into.

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How sweet are your words to my taste,
    sweeter than honey to my mouth!
I gain understanding from your precepts;
    therefore I hate every wrong path.

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
    a light on my path.
Psalm 119: 103-105

When I’m feeling confused and overtaken by fear, God’s Word is both my nourishment and my weapon. It provides me with the truth that I need to dispel the darkness, while skillfully cutting through it like a honed, carbon steel blade. It not only speaks wisdom to my heart, but it packs a powerful punch: accomplishing its purpose, tearing down lies, shining light in the darkness. His Word is living, and is as life-changing today as it was before it was ever spoken.

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Fear, take your knocking fingers elsewhere. I will not be opening up to you today. I will instead put my trust in the One who gave his Son for my redemption. And with a heart of thanksgiving, I will leave my worries at the feet of my God, exchanging them for his precious peace. The peace that guards my very heart and mind in Christ Jesus.

Do not be anxious about anything, 
but in every situation,
by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving,
present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, 
which transcends all understanding, 
will guard your hearts and your minds
in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

 

When you Plant and Others Reap the Harvest

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I was back out there weeding our fruit and vegetable garden the other day, and so pleased to see little baseball-sized melons coming in among the vines. They had been planted last Spring, along with the rest of our garden, by our friend Fábio. I watered and nurtured them as they grew, and then the friends who stayed at our house from June through August faithfully continued. They should be ready for harvest around October. I love fresh melon on a hot day and as I tended their delicate vines, I savoured the thought of eating them in just a month or so.

Then I realized we’ll probably be away when they ripen. You see, we’re flying up to Germany on October 11 for Steiger’s annual gathering of its leaders and workers from around the world, and then continuing on to the US for our daughter’s wedding, which will be followed by some visiting and speaking. We’ll only return to Portugal in early November. Other friends, who have so graciously offered to stay here at our house and care for our animals during our absence, will hopefully get to enjoy the melons (though there still may be some around in November)!

When we planted the garden back in March and April, our intention was to be here throughout the summer to enjoy its fruits. The first radishes, lettuce and strawberries were ready to consume in May, while Denny was on tour with No Longer Music. I was here at home alone then, and relished each plant’s yield! I so enjoy eating the fruits of our labor, fresh from the ground!

But summer plans radically changed, as they sometimes do when you live a bit like the wind and are willing to go – or stay – where and when you’re needed. We had intended to be at Steiger’s Missions School for ten days in June and then return to Portugal. But due to an unexpected chain of events, we were asked to remain there and help out on staff until the third week of August… and we accepted. Because of this, the remainder of our lovely garden’s harvest – the abundant tomatoes of many varieties, the carrots and zucchinis, the rest of the lettuce and strawberries, and a couple trees worth of figs – all matured while we were out of the country and were enjoyed by others.

img_20160911_191233As I considered the fact that we would now also miss out on eating the melons (all the while carefully pulling away the weeds winding themselves around their vines), I thought of how often we’ve experienced this in our lives. Over these past thirty-one years in Southern Europe, we have faithfully plowed, sown, planted, watered, weeded and pruned. We’ve tried to be obedient to all we’ve felt God calling us to, always hopeful and expectant of the fruit to be harvested – of seeing young people’s lives impacted by the Gospel of Christ, transformed by His grace and mercy. But we are pioneers. And more often than not, just when things begin to get rolling and the fields become white for harvest, we are called onward to begin to plow some other rocky terrain.

img_1336When I reflect on the great fathers of our faith: those who went before us, risking all, trusting God,
following where He led,
walking in faith – often blindly – towards what He had promised, I’m reminded that they too
did not personally reap
the harvest nor enjoy the fruits of their labor on most occasions. Yet they obeyed and they went where and when God called them, grateful and joyful to have been chosen by the Giver of Life for such a task. Hebrews 11, verse 13 tells of them:

All these people were still living by faith when they died.
They did not receive the things promised;
they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance,
admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 

It may not often be our privilege to reap the harvest and enjoy those tasty, freshly gathered fruits, but I am so thankful for the life we have been given to live. I know I write that here quite often, but it is absolutely the truth. Denny and I gladly prepare the ground wherever we are, digging out the stones and pulling up the weeds, planting, watering and pruning. And without a doubt, there has been many a time when others have come, as our friends did this summer, and tended the garden on our behalf, preventing those tender plants from withering away due to thirst or from being choked by weeds, when we were unable to do so.

Each of us has been gifted and called. And whether we’ve been commissioned to a glorious and very visible task, or simply to mop up a mess or clean up the debris left behind by a storm, we are privileged to serve the one true God and to walk in His footsteps, to obey and to carry out his bidding. What a joy to be co-workers in the service of the Master Farmer, the one who makes things grow!

 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything,
but only God, who makes things grow.

The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose,
and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor.

For we are co-workers in God’s service;
you are God’s field, God’s building.
1 Corinthians 3:7-9

Thoughts that Can Slowly Suffocate Us

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Having returned home to Portugal at the end of August after almost three months away in Germany serving at Steiger’s Missions School, I’ve often found my mind racing like a runaway freight train. There’s the processing of all that I saw God do in and through the students and volunteers – and us, the staff – during the school itself. The many things He spoke to me and challenged me in during these intense months. The unpacking, cleaning, reorganizing, scheduling and attempts to catch up that go along with repatriation after a long absence. And the reflections about the future when stepping into a new season: important choices and decisions to make for the coming year, propositions to consider, travels to plan including our upcoming trip to the US for our daughter Alana’s wedding. The list goes on. And on.

KA-BOOM!

When my thoughts threaten to take over, to squelch my daily times of restful meditation with God and of listening to what He is saying, our garden is my “happy place”, my refuge. Somehow, quite magically, when I begin to weed and prune its plants and trees, as I dig my hands into its soil, the cacophony in my head is silenced. My ears are opened to listen, my soul stilled by the Prince of Peace.

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So on this particular day,
I set out to weed our melon patch and its surroundings… and I found it to be overrun by thin, tendriled invaders.
They were almost beautiful
in their delicate appearance, some sporting
pretty white flowers.
Yet the tenacity with which
they wound themselves
around every branch –
clinging to, even choking them – was truly impressive.

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I began to reflect on the subject of thoughts…
how easily we can allow these predators to wrap their slender arms around us, circling and circling, until we find ourselves trapped.

I have always loved and referred back to the scripture verse in the second book of Corinthians, chapter 10, verse 5. It says:  “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

I must remember this. Because I belong to Christ, and I have been redeemed by His amazing sacrifice and resurrection, I can demolish arguments and every ridiculous pretense that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. My thoughts try to do this all the time… those crazy, freight train thoughts that are so readily fueled by the frantic pace of this world. They would love to derail me, to send me on some ridiculous path of worry, fear and uncertainty; to wrap their slender arms around me and choke the life out of me. They set themselves up against the knowledge of my incredible God. And that’s when He asks me… no, better still – He empowers me! To take those thoughts captive and to make them obedient to Christ. HE is my Lord. HE directs my steps. Not my fears or worries. Not the absurd pace of the world around me. Only Jesus rules my life. And He will lead me in the way that I should go.

I cannot tell you how grateful I am for that. All that I am belongs to Him alone, so I am not the victim of this world’s freneticism. I can choose… and my God gives me the power to walk in that choice.

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Steiger Missions School – photo cred Marina Bolobon

You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.

 

 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
 I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.

Psalm 32:7,8

 

Thirty years plus one

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So long ago
thirty years plus one
we stood together
quietly promising,
loudly proclaiming
before our people, our tribe.
We knew not the road
that lie before us,
hands open
with fear and trembling,
joyful, expectant,
hearts clasped
embracing the call
to step forward as one
into the unknown.
Armed with the assurance
that you our God
walked with us.
Our strength, our truth, our all.
The author of love itself.

Here we stand today
thirty years plus one
quietly confident,
loudly declaring
before the world and our God.
We know not the road
that lies before us
hands open
with grace and confidence,
joyful, expectant,
hearts intertwined
embracing You,
we step forward as one
wherever you lead.
Firm in the assurance
that you our God
hold us in the palm of your hand.
Our life, our breath, our all.
Wealthy beyond imagination
with the riches
only time
and your goodness
can bestow.
Thirty years plus one.

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