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Spring will Spring Again

 I’m mad at winter.

And when I say “winter,” I don’t mean the earth’s meteorological season. Although I’m not particularly loving late winter’s lingering chill, it’s not nearly as infuriating as my body’s persistent season of sickness. That’s the winter that really has me hot (sweating) and bothered.

It was almost two years ago to the day that I received a Lyme disease diagnosis and began treatments to reclaim my health and life. The healing process has been incredibly intense, exhausting and, seemingly, never ending. Regaining my health has been more of a long slog than an early spring. Frigid, gray days have, by far, outnumbered the warm and sunny. This season of fighting Lyme has felt like a perpetual winter.

By now in my Lyme journey I had expected my illness to have thawed. Two years in I knew it might not look like summer quite yet but I at least expected it to feel like late spring. I never imagined I’d still be waking up in the midst of winter’s dark and dreary gloom.

It’s been so long since my body has experienced a true spring that sticks around for more than a day or two that I’ve been tempted to question whether or not my physical condition will ever change. Will I be stuck in this season of sickness for the rest of my days on earth? Am I destined to a lifetime trapped in winter? 

As He so often and so graciously does, God answered my doubts and questions by showing me the wonder of the earth’s spring. He pointed to a twig on a tree and said,

“Spring has always been your favorite season and with good reason. You love it so because spring always comes right after winter, on the heels of brutal cold, snow and ice. That’s when I step in and bring the dead earth back to life!

Spring is such an incredible miracle and it thrills you each and every year when I make it happen! As soon as I command the seasons to change, I hear you oh and awe as if you’ve never seen a budding flower before. You gaze at them with admiration and wonder – just like you’re doing to the one I’ve formed right here on this delicate twig set before you.

In your twenty-eight years of life I have never failed to deliver spring. Not once. I have always put an end to winter. I have always renewed and redeemed the earth. Remember my faithfulness. Rest in my righteousness. I am trust worthy and my promises are true. I will end your winter and bless you with the most beautiful spring you’ve ever seen!

Do not lose hope, little one. Just have faith and believe.”

While fixated on how faithfully God cares for the foundation of the earth and every flower that grows upon it, the Holy Spirit   descended into my wintry soul to strengthen my faith and renew my hope.

Even though my season of sickness has been brutal and long, God has not abandoned me in body, mind or soul. All along He has been orchestrating His plan to renew and restore me. While trapped under the snow and ice of symptoms and illness, Jesus has been protecting the root of my spirit so that, when the time is right, I will bloom like a beautiful flower.

To my Father God all I can say is, “Forgive me for hating on winter and lamenting the length of this sickness. Teach me to live with the joy of salvation in each and every season. Restore me with the hope of heaven that renews my spirit with the promise of eternal spring. Not my winterless will, Lord, but yours be done – no matter what the seasons may bring.”

“Your promises have been thoroughly tested,
and your servant loves them.
Though I am lowly and despised,
I do not forget your precepts.
Your righteousness is everlasting
and your law is true.”

Psalm 119:140-141

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Sea Gulls & God’s Provision

I love when the birds return in spring, especially after a long, brutal winter like the one we just had in northern Pennsylvanian. The blessed sound of birds chirping and singing their joyful song reminds me that even the coldest winter will come to an end. Warmth will return to the earth. Spring will always spring again.

But some birds don’t suddenly reappear in late winter because they never left in late fall.

While most birds – robins, blue jays, geese and many others – are “snow” birds, meaning that they head south before winter hits, sea gulls stay put. They are weather warriors, enduring the elements of all four northern seasons – polar vortexes included.

During a northern winter it isn’t unusual to see dozens of sea gulls gathering in snow covered parking lots, causing me to question their habits. Why do sea gulls stay here all winter while other birds go south? How do sea gulls obtain food when the ground is frozen solid and snow is piled high?

While walking along the bay on a late winter’s morning, my questions were answered by a flock of sea gulls perched on a mound of ice. There were at least thirty of these silly birds huddled together in one clump looking, as usual, cold and out of place. But, as I got closer, I realized that the sea gulls were congregating around a break in the ice so they could go fishing.

From my vantage point, the area of broken ice didn’t look like a prime fishing location since the opening was in shallow water. I couldn’t imagine many fish would be swimming that close to land. Not to mention that the icy opening appeared too small to provide fishing space for such a large gathering of birds. Yet, in just a few short minutes, I saw sea gull after sea gull dip into the frigid waters and return to the ice mounds with breakfast in their beaks.

The sea gulls fishing on the ice provided a powerful picture of God’s provision and reminded me of Jesus’ words. “Look at the birds of the air;” He said. “They do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:26-27)

Watching the sea gulls taught me two important lessons about trusting God.

First, the scene taught me to never assume my way is the best way.

Take, for instance, sea gull migration. If it were up to me, sea gulls would fly south for the winter to escape the snow, sleet and ice. But God has a better way. He specifically designed the sea gulls to endure winter’s storms. Because God is in control, I don’t need to understand the “how’ of the sea gulls’ survival. I just need to trust the “Who” of their survival. And the “who” is God. He who creates the birds, sustains the birds.

The same is true of humans, like you and me. Although with my limited understanding I often think life would be better if I could simply “migrate” away from troubles. I’d be so much happier, healthier and content if only I didn’t have to endure the storms of life – or so I think.

But God has a better way. God knows that it is by way of suffering that perseverance, character and hope are cultivated in His children’s heart (Romans 5:3-4). The fruits of Christ’s spirit grow most hardily when the conditions compel us to cling to the cross in the midst of the most harrowing storms. When we stay faithful through the trials and lean into Jesus, His Spirit transforms us into faith-filled warriors in the Lord’s Army.

Secondly, from the sea gulls, I learned to never underestimate the sufficiency of God’s supply. Although the hole on the icy bay was small, God supplied it with plenty of fish to meet the sea gulls’ needs. He made much out of not much.

In my own life I’m prone to believing I need more to be satisfied. More funds. More strength. More resources. But God says that His grace is sufficient for me because His power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). God’s strength and might is best displayed in weak and needy vessels. The more dependent we are on God’s provision, the more miraculous it is when our only hope is for Jesus to show up with His resurrection power (and He always does).

As God’s beloved children, you and I can confidently follow Jesus wherever He goes without fear of provision or concern for the conditions because where God guides, He always provides.  

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Sleep 101

In theory, sleep should be the easiest activity on earth.

Still your body; close your eyes, drift off to dream land.

But sleep isn’t always that simple.

Prior to becoming ill, I was a champion sleeper. But when Lyme took hold of my life it took hold of my sleep too.

The sleep disruption began almost a decade ago with nighttime muscle spasms that attacked my legs. Thank God, a year into my Lyme treatments those nightly disruptions ceased. But that wasn’t the only tormentor troubling my sleep.

For years my ears have been ringing nonstop. During the day the ringing doesn’t bother me because I can drown out the buzzing/ringing/zapping sounds but when night time comes the ringing becomes a problem. In the silence the noises in my head appear to be turned up a notch or two. I used to keep the TV turned on to drown out the sounds, but the light has its own ill-effects on sleep.

Next, I tried thinking happy thoughts and imagined the ocean waves gently washing ashore on a relaxing beach. But visualization didn’t help me in my quest for sleep.

I’ve even counted white fluffy sheep, like those featured in the Serta mattress commercials. But by the time I’m done counting one hundred sheep I’m more frustrated than when I began.

But, fear not, for my sleep disruption story has a happy ending. I have discovered a remarkable cure for every sleep malady: prayer.

Instead of counting sheep, talk to the Shepherd. Start a dialogue with Jesus. Converse with the Lord. He truly is the ultimate sleep remedy.

There is no specific prayer you need to say or lines you need to repeat. You don’t even need to specifically ask Him to help you fall asleep. You’re in bed and God knows your heart. He knows that you want to sleep.

But perhaps, before He lets you fall asleep, God wants to talk to you. 

The Holy Spirit is known to speak the loudest in the silence. Often times, He is heard most clearly when there is no competing noise and the world around us is quiet.

By turning to God in prayer, my sleep disruptions have been transformed from a bother into a blessing. While lying awake in bed, seeds of prayer have been planted in my heart and mind. When I have stopped trying to distract my mind with empty thoughts, I’ve had the incredible experience of being filled with fruitful revelations and an abundance of Christ’s peace.

So next time you are lying awake at night, unable to sleep, don’t turn the TV on in an attempt to fill the emptiness. Don’t count sheep in an attempt to distract and deter your thought life. Instead, tune into the Holy Spirit and talk to your Heavenly Father.

He’s always listening.

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Old Dog, New Tricks

Pippy is stuck in a rut.

On our daily walks, Pippy insists we stop at exactly the same spots so she can conduct her regular sniffing routine.

First, she demands (via stubborn pulling) that I stop at her favorite corner where the scent of a particular pine tree tickles her nose. Then, one block later, she pulls again next to the tall bush with an earthy aroma. Pippy finds this bush intensely enticing.

After she sniffs for a moment, I give her leash a tug and direct her back to our walk but, less than a minute later, she yanks on the leash again. This time we’re near the rusty mailbox. Pippy loves this rusty mailbox. By her frantic sniffing, I suspect there is gold underneath all of that rust. Or maybe rust just has a tantalizing scent to a dog’s keen nose.

On our short fifteen-minute walk around the neighborhood Pippy encounters at least a dozen of these specific stop and sniff locations. This is her habit and, for years, I’ve allowed it to become ingrained in her doggie brain, controlling the pace and pauses of our walk.

But that’s about to change.  

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but I’m determined to prove “them” wrong by teaching Pippy how to live free of her routine.

After some at-home dog psychotherapy exercises, I discovered that Pippy doesn’t actually need to stop and smell the same patches of grass every day. She doesn’t use these stops to fulfill the basic needs of her bladder. She just wants to stop because she’s used to stopping. It has become her habit. Routine sniffing is Pippy’s rut.

But Pippy isn’t the only one stuck in a rut. I’m stuck in one, too.

Like Pippy, I do the same things over and over again, day in and day out. I go to the same places, at the same time. I think the same thoughts on repeat. I speak the same words to myself day after day after day.

The truth is, I’m no different than Pippy. I’m trapped in a well-engrained cycle. I’m stuck in a rut.

But I’m confident that this old dog can learn new tricks.

Teaching Pippy to break her stop and sniff habit is helping me get unstuck, too. While walking Pippy I’ve discovered that my will power is key to reforming her behavior. If I am halfhearted and weak, Pippy is bound to pull me back to the same sniffing spots she has a thousand times before. In order to change her pattern and teach her how to walk obediently I must hold firm and keep walking (even when Pippy is pulling so hard on the leash it feels like my arm might pop out of its socket).

The same principles of determination and will power apply to breaking free of my own rut.

In order to get unstuck I must surrender my will to God and follow Jesus, not my habits and hang-ups, with determination. I must let obedience to Christ dictate my day, not my routine. I must cease trying to take the lead and let Him order my every start and stop.

While trapped in the rut of my routine I will never be a fluid follower of Jesus. As long as I’m caught up in my habits I’m doomed to a life of stubborn rigidity. Like Pippy yanking and pulling on the leash, my walk with God will be unpleasant and short on peace until I release my will and let the Holy Spirit direct my life.

Jesus must be my pack leader. He must be the one who is telling me when I can stop and go. When He says, “pause,” that’s when I pause. When He says, “walk this way,” then I need to be free of my rut so I can heed the call.

Outside the confines of my rut and routine is a great, big, beautiful world and God will show it to me if I will just stop yanking on His leash. As soon as I relinquish control of my habits and hang-ups and let Christ renew my routine, He will amaze me with awe and wonder as He daily rewrites me a new, wonderful normal.

Pippy and I are both getting older but we are never too old to learn new tricks.  

 

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”

Galatians 5:25