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Belief: Is it bigger than butterflies?

“Do I believe that God is good even when His will and ways don’t feel good?”

This is the faith-revealing question I’ve been asking myself on repeat ever since Pippy passed away twenty days ago. As a devoted follower of Christ, I know that my response should be a resounding, “yes” but my emotions have tempted me to reply with a noncommittal, “I’m not so sure.”

And so, like a doubting Thomas, longing for confirmation to strengthen belief and faith, I prayed, “Lord, show me that you’re good. Send me a sign!” In short order, God answered my pitiful prayer with remarkable butterfly encounters.

My first butterfly encounter occurred just hours after Pippy passed away. It flew up in front of my car’s windshield and proceeded to do a little dance in front of the glass. That particular monarch lingered for quite some time and, as I watched her wings flutter, I felt the sadness in my heart lift. The butterfly delivered an overwhelming assurance that Pippy has gone home to Heaven where she is safe in the presence of God.

Over the next few days more butterflies arrived. In fact, not a day went by in the entire first week after Pippy past without a noteworthy butterfly encounter. Each day I was gifted a dazzling demonstration of God’s goodness winged its way into my world and, in response, I thanked God profusely for answering my prayer. I praised Him for reassuring me of His promises and vowed to keep looking up and out with an open heart and mind so that I would never miss a single butterfly blessing.

But, in recent days, something terrible has happened to my butterflies. They’ve disappeared. My world has become suddenly and dramatically butterfly-less. I’ve searched for them outdoors and even paused near bushes just in case God has one waiting in the leaves, but they’re no where to be found.

In the absence of the butterflies, God has turned the tables on the questioning. Instead of me asking Him to prove His faithfulness, He is asking me, “Even when you don’t see any sign of it, do you still believe I am good?

In the book of Hebrews, Paul wrote, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) If that’s what true faith is, then my questioning God and requesting a special sign was faithlessness. By asking God to prove that I have grounds for believing He is good, I make my faith evidence dependent instead of Jesus dependent.

Now I know why God gave and then took away the butterflies. He gave them because He loves me, and He took them away because He loves me too much to let me remain weak in faith. He is invested in growing and developing my belief in who He is, just like He was for the doubting Thomas.

In John chapter 20, right after Jesus rose from the grave, He gave His follower, Thomas, an opportunity to feel His hands and side so Thomas could have physical proof that the Messiah was alive. After Thomas affirmed his belief, Jesus made an important distinction about faith with sight versus faith without sight. “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

Jesus obviously loved Thomas – that’s why he made a special visit just to see him – but Jesus wanted Thomas to understand that the faith God desires doesn’t require the aid of a visual. The faith that receives the blessing is the faith that remains unshakable even when there is no hand to touch or sign to see.

As we know from scripture, Thomas’ living color experience with the Risen Savior was only temporary. And so it is  with my butterflies.

God’s removal of my butterfly encounters is a gift unto itself. It is a second chance to use this season of grieving to affirm my belief that, in all seasons and circumstances, God’s will and ways are always perfect because He is always good.

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Grief & the Power of Giving Thanks

I stood paralyzed in the doorway, staring at Pippy laying lifeless in a Rubbermaid box on the living room floor. To think that she would never again experience the wind blowing through her ears or prance at the park overwhelmed me with shock, disbelief and heartbreak. I cried, desperately hoping it was all a terribly bad dream – the worst I’d ever had.

But Pippy’s lifeless body couldn’t lie. This wasn’t a dream. It was real life.

I must admit that part of me wanted to pray and ask God for a resurrection miracle. He did it with Jesus, couldn’t He do it with Pippy? I knew that He could but, even in the midst of heartache, I knew in the depth of my soul that Pippy’s passing was God’s will. He had allowed her to leave this earth earlier than I had hoped but right on time according to His perfect schedule. It wasn’t my place to beg Him for a rewind and redo. It was my job to ask Him, “How do I glorify You in this moment?”

God’s answer came like a lightening bolt: “By giving thanks as you walk with me through this season of grief. That’s how you glorify me in this moment and every moment of suffering, pain and loss you will encounter as you travel down this road called life.”

At first, I was hesitant to give thanks. I was worried that by being thankful I would dishonor Pippy and minimize her importance. But God’s word spoke to me again, “Give thanks in all circumstances. That’s my will for you.”

All meant right there and then – even with Pippy’s lifeless body still in a Rubbermaid box.

All meant in grief, loss, sorrow, sadness, heartbreak and pain.

All meant in the face of life and in the face of death.

All meant that I couldn’t withhold my thanks on account of worries and concerns about hurting my deceased pup’s feelings.

All meant that I was compelled and commanded to give thanks right then and there in obedience to God.

And so, that’s precisely what I did.

I started by thanking God for blessing me with Pippy eight years ago and providing me with an incredibly loyal and faithful friend. I thanked Him for creating Pippy and filling her with gentleness, kindness and love – the very fruits of His Spirit. Then I thanked God for making Pippy a furry little teacher who demonstrated so perfectly priceless lessons on walking obediently with Jesus and following Him by faith and not by sight.

While giving thanks to God for my departed Pip, the pain of losing her was replaced with the joy I experienced in loving her. With each praise of thanksgiving offered up to God, a deeper level of peace and comfort descended on me from above. By the time I walked away from Pippy’s side, my Spirit was transformed by the very presence of my Father God.

What’s so incredible about the night Pippy passed is that, even in death, God was using her to teach me how to trust and obey Him. This particular lesson could have been titled, “Grief And the Power of Giving Thanks” with the objective being to understand that, by giving thanks, an open invitation is extended to the Holy Spirit. When we thank God, it is as if we are welcoming the Wonderful Counselor into our brokenness so that He can comfort and console us with His love and grace.

When grief threatens to crush my Spirit – and Heaven knows it will try – the way back to peace is always through the doorway of thanksgiving. As soon as I put God’s lesson on giving thanks in all circumstances into practice, my heart is opened wide to the Spirit of Christ and I am once again comforted by the assurance that Pippy is in a better place.

Although Pippy’s spirit has left this earth, she is not truly dead. She has gone to her heavenly home, experiencing more fullness of life than ever before. The good news that I am choosing to celebrate is that my best walks with Pippy are yet to come. I will rejoice and give thanks for the adventure’s we’ve had thus far while looking ahead to Heaven’s streets of gold, where an eternity of togetherness awaits us.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

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Looking Back with 20/20 Vision

Hindsight is 20/20.

When troubles and trials are dominating our reality, we rarely see past the pain they inflict. Our thoughts are so consumed with the sting of loss, hurt of rejection or sorrow of despair that it becomes nearly impossible to conceive of a happy ending to our anguish. The idea that there could be a good, redeeming purpose for our suffering is out of sight and certainly out of mind. In the heat of a trial our vision is darkened, and it is hard to picture the world ever looking bright again.

But, as anyone who has ever endured trouble knows, the pain subsides. Day by the day the sting, hurt and sorrow begins to diminish. It doesn’t happen all at once and, sometimes, that pain sneakily returns with renewed force for a brief time. But, slowly and surely, what caused us such grief begins to lose its power over us. Life keeps moving, changing our reality and our view of it.

Some people say, “don’t look back, you’re not going that way.” And I understand their point. Looking back can be a trap but only if we look back to grieve. Looking back can be a gift if we look back to grow. When we use our past pain as a treasure trove of experience instead of a load of baggage, those memories become stepping stones, not stumbling blocks.

I used to try to force myself from looking back and recalling my most painful moments in life. When old memories popped up that featured the sting of a breakup or the hurt of a massive failure, I tried to push them aside, reminding myself not to look back because I wasn’t going that way.

But then I drove past an old friend’s house – or what used to be her house. About a year ago my friend’s house burned to the ground in a tragic fire. Thankfully, everyone in the house escaped and no one was hurt. But the house was an entire loss. There was nothing left to salvage of her two-story home. As I pulled down the road where my friend’s house used to sit, I recalled what the scene had looked like in the days following the fire. Charred cars still parked in the burned-up garage. Black soot and ash covering the property. Busted out glass and empty windows. Loss – so much loss.

But as I approached my friend’s lot I was greeted with a beautiful sight: a brand-new house in the making.

It was seeing my friend’s new house, still in its framing stages, that got me thinking about how I look at the past. Do I look at it as destruction or do I look at it as the plot of land where a new house is destined to be built? When I consider what I’ve lost, do I mourn what was or do I thank God for it as I anticipate what’s to come?

At one time or another in all our lives, we will encounter loss and the struggle to imagine how our ashes could possibly become something beautiful. But, take heart. If Jesus has overcome death, don’t you think He can overcome your pain and hurt? Since Jesus rose from the grave, shouldn’t we believe He can redeem our brokenness and restore what we’ve lost?

Jesus can turn our trials into testimonies, but we have to give Him the ashes and allow Him to work out the transformation. We cannot be afraid to look back nor can we be afraid to move forward. It is a great balancing act of faith and by the grace of God, it is not impossible.

When we look back at the men and women of the Bible who trusted God with their ashes, we are reminded that He truly did make them beautiful. Look at Abraham and Sara, Noah and the ark or Job. God was faithful to the men and women who bowed down and acknowledged Him as Lord. The people who entrusted their lives into God’s care were never disappointed. They encountered trials, troubles and tests but remained true to the Lord their God and He, of course, remained true to them.

If you’re carrying ashes around, why don’t you try giving them to God? Stop trying to ignore them or pretend they don’t exist. You don’t need to be afraid of them or worried that they are doomed to ruin your life. Once you give them to God, He’ll do something incredible with them and then give you His perfect 20/20 vision to see why the pain was for your good.

Loss has a purpose greater than shattered hearts can ever comprehend. In the hands of our Heavenly Father, He takes what has been reduced to ashes and makes them a beautiful masterpiece by the redemptive power of His Son. He takes what breaks us and uses it to bring us back to the Savior’s throne. When God is given control and authority over the past, we can look back on it and smile, knowing that, even in those painful moments where the sting was so intense we didn’t know how and if we’d survive it, God was there all along. He was there, working out the details of His glorious, grand plan.

That’s beauty from ashes but you can only see it if you’re willing to look back.

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The Hope of Heaven

Her body was shockingly skeletal and small. Her skin was pasty white and paper thin. As I stood in the doorway of her hospital room and saw her lying in the bed, completely still, I wondered if I’d come too late. Was she already gone?

I walked across the room to look for signs of life and found one in the shallow rise and fall of her chest. I let out a sigh of relief and then took a seat in the chair next to her bed. “Hi Lucy,” I said. “It’s Stephanie and I’ve come to read to you.” I knew she couldn’t respond, and I didn’t expect her to, but I was sure her heart would hear the word of God.

So, I opened up the scriptures and turned to my favorite Psalm – Psalm 23. I read through it slowly, adding special inflection to each line. I read the beautiful words as if they were golden honey flowing sweetly from a hive.

For the first five verses of Psalm 23 Lucy didn’t make a move. Her eyes were closed and breathing was barely visible. But once I reached the last verse of the passage and read “I will dwell in the house of the Lord,” something miraculous happened. Lucy’s leg leapt for joy.

My eyes must have turned into the size of saucers at the sight of Lucy’s physical response to the promise of Heaven. In her leg’s movement I could see her heart’s exuberance. Even though she lay trapped in a failing body, nearing the end of her earthly life, Lucy’s spirit was strong and her hope in heaven was healthy and well.

For the next thirty minutes as I read through many more scriptures, one word continued to strike a chord with Lucy: eternity. Each time I shared a passage about heaven and the mansion being prepared for her in that splendid place, Lucy’s legs moved in celebration at the new life to come. Over and over I watched as the joy of the Lord became her strength.

The great promise that we, as born-again believers have, is eternity. In this life we endure hardship, pain and suffering, but, through it all, we look ahead to the everlasting life to come.

With our faith securely established in the resurrection of Jesus, we can rest assured that no matter what becomes of our earthly tent, our true home in glory awaits us.

Although this world and every body will pass away, Heaven, where we are headed, will endure forever.

Within days, doctors expect Lucy to be gone from this world, but when her body passes away her soul will enter through Heaven’s pearly gates, more alive than it has ever been before.

So, before I left her hospital room, I told Lucy that I look forward to worshipping with her in glory because I know someday we’ll both be there, leaping for joy, praising Jesus forevermore.

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A Fertile Future

“If you can’t have kids, I’m not sure I want to marry you.”

His words cut like a knife. This was my fiancé, the man I was supposed to spend the rest of my life with, questioning whether or not he could spend the rest of his life with only me, not me plus kids.

Our engagement had already been on the rocks (illness has a way of putting relationships there) but this statement was the final nail in the coffin of till death do us part. Without missing a beat or shedding a tear (in front of him, at least), I flatly stated that I couldn’t guarantee I’d ever be able to bear children and couldn’t marry someone who required me to promise that as part of our wedding vows.

A year earlier, at the age of twenty, sickness had forced my body to trade in its menstrual cycle for early menopause. I was a hot mess – literally – thanks to the added (and unwanted) bonus of hot flashes. Within a few months, the fate of my fertility (barring a miracle of God) was sealed.

Since I couldn’t guarantee future infertility reversal and my fiancé couldn’t unequivocally commit without such an assurance, I did one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I called off the engagement and cancelled all plans for our future together.

Sometimes, when I stop to consider that someone stopped loving me because of what I couldn’t physically give, it still hurts. He was supposed to be my forever friend and closest companion, but I wasn’t enough and what I could provide wasn’t enough.

Knowing that I am unable to carry a child has impacted my self-esteem, confidence and self-worth. “What man will ever want me if I can’t give him a child?” has been one of my most frequently asked inner questions. For answers and reassurance that my future is fertile (whether my cycle ever returns or not), I go to God’s word. On the pages of the Bible I discover who’s I am and that who I am is enough. God’s holy inspired love letter tells me that Jesus loves me just as I am. His affection and devotion is not dependent on what I am capable of giving because He does not derive His value from child-bearing parenthood potential. He derives value simply from personhood.

When I sink back into despair and my hope wears thin, it is the truth of who I am in Christ that restores my faith and joy again. I remember Psalm 37:4 that says those who “delight themselves in the Lord will receive the desires of their heart.” From that scripture I am assured that God is not only the fulfiller of my desires, He’s the knower of them, too. God sees what is in my heart. He knows the emptiness that comes from infertility and how I long to have Him fill it.

Over the past ten years spent in infertility God has used the time to bring me back to His all-sufficient, abundant love. In the presence of Jesus’ precious Spirit, I’ve learned that the most satisfying love does not come from a husband or developing baby. It comes from on High and dwells within.

The hope I have for future love and companionship is held in the hands of my unfailing Heavenly Father. Because Jesus loves me just as I am, I believe that, one day, I will be loved again – and not for what my body can give or do but simply for who I am in Christ.

To my infertile friends, remember that your capacity to love and be loved is not determined by your ability to procreate. You are worthy of love because God you created you in His image and sent His Son to rescue you with eternal life.
If you ever doubt that God has a fertile plan for your life, return to the pages of scripture. Read versus such as Psalm 37:4, Jeremiah 29:11, Psalm 40:5 and Isaiah 25:1. As you meditate on God’s truth your faith will be strengthened and hope renewed by the reassurance that God is good and faithful and He isn’t finished with you yet.

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Heart to Heart: A pen for every season

It took becoming sick to teach me how to talk to God. Lyme, pain, a pen and paper were a few of the choice tools God used to draw me closer to Jesus.

At first, I was resistant. Or, more accurately, I was distracted. The illness was my all-consuming obsession. I was fixated on symptoms, possible causes and an accurate diagnosis. The only time I picked up a pen was to write my medical history in a doctor’s office.

But then something shifted.

The sickness didn’t go away. It remitted – briefly – but then it got worse – much worse. I lost all control of my body and no amount of research could get it back again. Failed attempts at doctoring left me feeling misunderstood. I desperately wanted someone to listen, care and get what I was going through. I needed to vent, be real and know I wasn’t alone.

But what I truly needed most was help from on high; aid from the Great Physician who could carry me through the mystery that had become my life.

Although I had come to know Jesus years before my illness began, I didn’t know how to actually be in a relationship with Him. I had yet to rely on Him fully and in complete dependence. I was saved but I wasn’t walking with my Savior step-by-step and hand-in-hand. Jesus was definitely my friend, but He wasn’t my bestie.

But sickness changed that.

The seed of change that was my need took root in a pen. Writing was God’s gift to me – a communication method that helped me disconnect from the world around me and reconnect with His Spirit. Although the pen and paper, in and of themselves, weren’t the salvation, they were a vital tool God used to deepen and strengthen my relationship with Jesus.

After almost a decade of writing, I have accumulated boxes of notecards, stacks of journals and numerous files on my computer’s hard drive. Every word (some written on tear-stained paper) a testimony to Who sustained me throughout my sickness. The reason I kept fighting for my life and believing in the future is written on those pages. The Person that kept me even when I wanted to end my own life is revealed on a those reams of paper.

It was Jesus. Always and only Jesus.

I’ve often wondered what will happen when I’m not sick anymore. Will I keep writing? Will I still rely on this pen and paper to communicate with God? Will this still be a key tool He uses to meet and chat with me?

I don’t know the answer to those questions. Only God knows what He has planned for the next seasons of my life. But I do know this: Jesus will be there and He’ll keep providing plenty of tools to connect with Him along the way.

Whether or not God uses writing, I know He’ll keep revealing Himself. With or without the use of a pen and paper,  He will continue to show His love by faithfully making His spirit known in incredible and unexpected ways.

In my heart, I sure do hope He keeps using writing to draw me closer to Jesus but I trust that Father knows best. He knows my desires and, more importantly, He knows just what I need in every season of my life. He will provide in the future just like He has in the present and past. Because God is good… He is faithful… And He isn’t finished yet.

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A Table for Two

It was six o’clock in the evening and time for dinner. But I didn’t feel like eating alone…again.

As my tummy grumbled, my heart did, too, longing for someone to share a meal with. For a few pathetic minutes, I sat frozen at the kitchen counter, wishing there was someone to sit across from me and exchange conversation between bites of food. As I glanced at the empty chairs, I silently lamented the fact that no one would be arriving to fill them. “Oh, how I wish I did not have to eat alone anymore!”

My inner dialogue was interrupted by inner rumblings of hunger. So, to satisfy my need for food and desire for company, I hopped in the car and drove to my go-to place for a bite to eat. “At least there will be people around,” I told myself.

Twenty minutes later I found myself seated at a round table with three chairs and only one person to fill them. My purse took a seat and I took another, then I prayed over my cup of chicken noodle soup and began to eat.

As I filled my spoon and ate my dinner, nothing visibly dramatic happened. I didn’t spill my soup bowl or run into anyone I know. It was, by all outward appearances, an uneventful meal. But, on the inside, an attitude-altering transformation was underway.

The change occurred when I opened my Bible and began to read Philippians chapter three. In his letter, Paul wrote about living as a citizen of heaven, not a citizen of earth.

“Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20-21)

And that’s when it dawned on me: loneliness is always an earthly emotion.

Loneliness is not of God. It is of man. It is a self-absorbed feeling that has nothing to do with eternity and everything to do with what is temporary. Loneliness is a sneaky trick of satan used to distract God’s children from enjoying fellowship with Jesus. It is an emotion born out of self-pity – “Poor me, I’m alone again.” Not born out of thanksgiving – “Praise God, I am never ever alone!”

Whenever I am lamenting loneliness, I am always focusing my attention inward and downward. My forlorn feelings arise when fixating on myself and what I want. But, praise God, He does not abandon me in my pathetic, self-absorbed state. The way out of lonesome sadness and sorrow is found by refocusing outward and upward, on Jesus and who He is. The crippling grief of unwanted solitude is supernaturally dispelled by the cheering gratefulness of God’s unfailing companionship.

The moment I turn from my lonely lament and let Jesus satisfy my desire for companionship I am always relieved to discover that He was right there all along. The third seat at my table was never empty. The table is always full because God’s Spirit is always with me. He is my faithful friend who never fails or leaves me. He is with me every step of the way and seated beside me for every bite of every meal.

Because my citizenship is in Heaven, my company is, too. My faithful friend, my Savior, Jesus is always with me and I am truly never alone.

 

My table is never set for a party of one.
There are always at least two seats taken – one for me and one for God.
Jesus meets me at every meal and walks with me every moment in between.
He never leaves me nor forsakes me. He stays with me through thick and thin.
At times it may appear that I am all alone but don’t be fooled by the earthly view of my companionship.
The truth is I am always in the best company – the company of my Savior.

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But what about Saturday?

Every year during the week of Easter, my thoughts turn to two events in the life of Jesus. His crucifixion on Good Friday and His resurrection on Sunday. But what about Saturday?

On the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Jesus was dead and buried in a tomb. He was neither seen nor heard from. The day before He had been crying out from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” but on Saturday His voice was silenced. His spotless, blameless, nail-pierced body lay still and motionless in a dark, lifeless grave.

For the followers of Jesus who loved Him and were witness to His death, Saturday was a day of confused heartbreak. They loved Jesus and believed He was the Son of God, the Messiah they had been waiting for. They left behind families, possessions and livelihoods in obedience and dedication to Jesus. All of their hope and trust was in the person of Jesus

But how could they believe in His power to save if He was dead?

Then there was the memory of the bewildering statements the Messiah made before the crucifixion. Jesus explained to His disciples that He had to go to Jerusalem and suffer unto death before being raised to life again. These words were beyond His followers’ comprehension.

Why would their Savior have to die and how could He rescue them from their sins if He couldn’t rescue Himself from the cross?  

Although Jesus clearly described the events of His rescue mission as they were to unfold, it was such an unlikely way to save the world that even His closest friends struggled to understand it. And so, on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Jesus’ disciples and followers mourned, fearing that all hope was lost. It was a still, silent, sorrowful Saturday indeed.

In this post-resurrection world, we have the blessing of 20/20 vision and can look back on the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to read about what happened after Saturday. Jesus most certainly did come back to life.

On Easter morning the stone was miraculously rolled away, as explained by a radiant angel. Jesus did walk along the road and talk to His followers, encouraging them with the truth of scripture. He even helped His disciples catch fish and prepared a place for them to partake of it.

When Jesus rose from the dead He not only redeemed the brokenhearted, He removed any need to fear the silence. At His resurrection, the Son of God proved that stillness does not signify hopelessness. Just because Jesus was silent did not mean that God was absent. Even while Jesus lay behind the stone, in a dark and empty tomb, God was at work accomplishing the impossible, orchestrating His redemptive plan, reviving the dead in spirit with new, eternal life.

Although as post-resurrection Christians, we live as children of the Risen, Ascended King, we will still encounter days of silence. There are destined to be seasons when we will not see the visible evidence of God’s promises in the circumstances of our lives. At times, the covenants we received from God will appear to be dead and buried.

But those who have been purchased by the blood of the Lamb have the assurance of Easter Sunday.

As God’s redeemed children we need not endure our still, silent seasons with hopelessness and sorrow because we know that, behind the stone, God is working all things together for our good and His glory. We can obediently and faithfully praise Him on Saturday knowing that, when the time is perfect and right according to His will, God will miraculous open the grave and reveal His resurrection power.

As followers of the risen Christ, may we spend each and every silent day and still season worshipping God with hopeful expectation and the full assurance that He who promised is and always will be faithful.

 “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” – Jesus [Mark 9:31]

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A Message From a Tree Stump

Freshly cut tree stumps abound across the northern post-winter landscape and they’re delivering an unexpected message of hope.

Every year there are trees that don’t survive the winter weather. Some come crashing down under the weight of snow and ice. Others succumb to the pressure of fierce winds. Then there are trees that, although still standing at the end of the winter season, are in such a bent or cracked condition that they’re a hazard. Since it is better to be safe rather than sorry, those trees must be leveled, too.

The result of all this tree damage and destruction is a very busy season for stump grinders.

In early spring, before the surviving trees have sprouted the buds of fresh foliage, the stump-filled landscape looks desolate and depressing. The gapping holes in the ground where tree trunks once stood stand out like sore thumbs. Without new leaves to cover the bare spots, the absence of the demolished trees is too obvious to be ignored.

But, every year, I am reminded that this barren early spring scene will not last forever. The landscape never stays bleak for long. Life always returns to the earth and, when it does, the stumps aren’t so glaring. In time, the demolished trees will become a distant memory.

In the freshly cut tree stumps there is a message of hope for the brokenhearted:

God is faithful and full of grace. He never has and never will abandon His own.

Even if the landscape of your life appears barren today, look to the Tree of Life that is standing eternally victorious. Fix your eyes on the truth of Jesus’ resurrection and rejoice in God’s power to restore, redeem and renew even the most desolate of conditions.

Though stumps may abound for a season, God is always at work beneath the surface, cultivating fresh root systems and bringing forth new blessings upon the landscape. Remember that through the door of death, God ushers in new life. In the perfect timing of His providential seasons, God will transform the landscape of your life with the lush leaves of His goodness and a bounty of foliage that testifies to His redemptive power.

Trust Father God as He develops the buds of His Spirit upon the branches of your soul. Submit to His pruning. Wait on Him with hopeful anticipation and full assurance. Rest in the promise that God has wonderful plans for you and a future of abundance that will bring restoration to the landscape of your post-winter life.

 

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelations 21:5

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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.