Right Stuff Wednesday:New Growth

grape hyacinth“No great wisdom can be reached without sacrifice.” The Magician’s Nephew – C.S. Lewis

I have a flower garden in my front yard. Well, technically it’s true. I have a spot dedicated to growing flowers, but my roses are dead. The trees growing in them saw to that. And I’m pretty sure my hydrangea has decided against life this year. I knew better than getting plants that need constant care and attention. I’ve never been good at remembering to feed, water, and prune my flowers. Due to lack of care-taking most things I plant end up dead.

In fact, the only thing even close to growing in my garden is a sprinkling of grape hyacinth. Even these grow outside the borders of the garden. And they come up each year through no help from me. They are remnants of a garden past.

Before the rose bushes and hydrangea I had the brilliant idea of planting a bulb garden. I love tulips, iris,and daffodils. Not only are these beautiful flowers to look at, they are also flowers you can plant once and not have to replace each year. For a non-gardener it was a definite bonus.

I planted my garden and waited until the next spring, eager for the bright spots of color. Nothing happened. My mother assured me it can take a couple years for bulbs to really take root and grow. The next year brought only a couple flowers. The third year offered no more than the previous two.

It was around year four I decided bulbs were just not meant to grow in my garden. I dug them up with a vengeance. I pulled each bulb from the dirt and tossed it into my yard. Then, I planted my roses and hydrangea. Good riddance to the bulb garden that wouldn’t grow.

Imagine my surprise when the next year, my bulbs began to come up. A few rogue bulbs must have hidden beyond my spade in the garden’s soil. Grape hyacinth and crocus peeked from the dirt in early spring. And outside the garden’s borders? I didn’t think I had planted that many flowers! It baffled me.

In the years the bulbs were planted in the garden, I weeded and watered the spot. I made sure the area had adequate sunshine. I thought it was everything my bulbs needed, but I was wrong. The soil had settled. Left on its own the ground I expected to grow my bulbs became their tomb. Little could get through the packed dirt. My bulbs needed the soil surrounding them shaken up. Only when I loosened the dirt did my bulbs finally begin to grow.

Sacrifice, change, adversity. These are events in our lives that often cause fear and anxiety. The unknown (or the known we perceive as negative) seems far beyond our control and the idea that the end could mean unavoidable disaster is unsettling to say the least. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The circumstances in our lives may very well cause pain. They shake loose the dirt around the carefully constructed garden of our lives. They leave us wondering if it would be better to simply start over. But God is a master gardener. He can use those times in our lives to get to the seed of faith within and get it to grow in ways we never imagined.

God promises to use all situations in our lives to bring good if we will let Him do His work. It may sound cliche because we hear it so often, but this scriptural promise is truth. It’s not saying God will make the rain disappear and allow only rainbows and sunshine. The rain is needed as much as the sun. And God knows how much of each will create the perfect blossom in our lives.

If you wonder how this can be true, take a look at David. Hunted at times by the current king and later his own flesh and blood, there were definite storms in his life. But in those times, God was shaping David into the leader He wanted. David’s heart of worship was poured out in the creation of several psalms during these times. Not only did these words bring peace and hope to his life, but they’ve survived centuries to bring the same to our lives.

Look at Esther. She was plucked from her people and subjected to a beauty contest. The prize was marrying a difficult king she didn’t love. Though she found favor with him, her people were threatened with genocide. She had to go against the required royal protocol and put her own life in jeopardy in order to bring her fears to her husband’s attention. The end result? God used Esther to safeguard the nation of Israel. He used her to unite the people in prayer. He used her to show His chosen people He would be with them wherever they went.

These stories are only a couple of the many from the Bible and our lives that bring to life the truth of the scripture we hear so often. They give us hope when life gets tough. They remind us that this is how our garden of faith grows.

What I’m Reading -Brunch at Bittersweet Cafe

macaronsSometimes it’s the name of the author or the back cover copy. This time it was the cover. The title is written in a fun, laid back script. The woman is blurry, but her hands are not. And those hands are holding colorful macarons.

Before Brunch at Bittersweet Cafe, I’d heard of Carla Laureano. You can’t follow authors on social media without hearing about her. The Saturday Night Supper Club was everywhere I looked for a while. Now, this second installment is taking it’s place in all the posts. I’ve still not read the first book. I considered it, but this one was on sale. It made my decision easy. My only concern was whether or not I would be lost reading stories out of order. I didn’t need to worry. I had no trouble keeping up, and I don’t think you would either.

Anyway, back to the colorful macarons. I’ve never had a macaron. In all my amateur baking, I’ve never had occasion to make them. But they definitely caught my attention and convinced me to check out the blurb on back. Finding out the story centered on a baker pushed me over the line from curiosity to “buy this now”. With the button successfully pushed, I began the story.

Brunch at Bittersweet Cafe follows Melody Johansson, a dreamer that feels locked into her life. Her hopes of owning a bakery seem impossible. Her desire for a love life where she’s good enough is an even bigger impossibility. Her track record is awful, and she’s decided she can’t trust her heart to lead her to the guy God has for her.

This is where Justin Keller enters the story. Their attraction is immediate, but he decided long ago that lasting love and the pilot’s life can’t coexist. He won’t go for anything more than a casual date, and he won’t go after any woman who might want more. And Melody definitely projects wanting more.

Circumstances throw them together, and against their better judgment they both seek more time together. As they come to the place of hoping for a future with each other, Melody finds the pieces of her life coming together in unexpected ways. A cutting loss allows her the opportunity to follow her dream and open a bakery with her best friend. Her roots are quickly becoming firmly planted in Colorado.

But Justin’s are taking him to Florida. He’s agreed to go in business with his brother-in-law for the sake of his sister’s health. It’s the roadblock he’s ignored as he and Melody get to know each other. As his plans force him to consider a swift end to their relationship, Justin knows neither heart will escape unscathed.

The bitter and the sweet events of the past have shaped both their lives and outlooks. They’ve also worked together to bring Melody and Justin together, whether for a time or forever.

Isn’t it the same for us? Bitter and sweet mingling together to create the story of lives. And isn’t it encouraging to know the One who is working to create that life knows exactly how much of each is needed to create the most beautiful story possible?

Right Stuff Wednesday:Adventuring with Alice and the Pevensie Children

alice“It’s no use to go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.” – from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carol

Think about the life of your favorite book character. What draws you to that person? Do you see a bit of yourself in them? Can you relate to their struggles? Or do you find a challenge to be more than you are as you consider their life?

Whatever draws you to them, one thing is certain. The best characters grow throughout their story. It’s story writing 101. Your character develops as your story progresses. A stagnant character is more than likely a boring character.

The same circumstances will change each character in a different way. Consider the four Pevensie children in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. They faced the same circumstances, but their own personalities shaped how they saw those experiences and their reactions. The end result was four children growing in ways unique to them.

This personalizing of the character’s responses and their individual growth may be part of what draws us to one character over another. I may relate to and learn from Lucy while you may aspire to be like Peter. Of course, maybe you’ve felt like you had to prove yourself and come up on the failing end one too many times. If so, Edmund’s journey from failure to redemption may be the most inspiring part of the story for you.

To see a beloved character revert to behaviors they’ve previously grown out of can break a reader’s heart. We want more for the characters we love. They’ve changed. We know they have, and we know it is pointless for them to return to the more immature version of themselves. Who they were yesterday has no place in their today. They’re different now.

As frustrating and heartbreaking as it can be for a reader to see this happen in the fictional world an author has created, it’s worse when we see it in our own families. The consequences in a book end with the last chapter. The consequences in the real world can continue for generations. Especially as a spouse or parent, watching our loved ones fall into old patterns of behavior hurts. Seeing the pain they inflict on themselves can cause our own emotions to bounce between disbelief, anger, disappointment, and hurt.

If it’s this way for us, imagine what it’s like for God. We are His creation. When we accept God’s forgiveness and salvation through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we are reconciled to God. But He doesn’t stop at offering us a Savior and saved relationship. God adopts us into His family. He makes us His children. And He doesn’t leave us unchanged.

Scripture is filled with examples of the need to grow as believers. We’re compared to babies as we start our faith walks, but we’re encouraged to learn and grow into spiritual adulthood. We’re instructed to be dead to sin and our old self and alive to God. We’re told to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. God tells us we are new creations and the old us has passed away.

God’s word also warns us that we will battle the old self. Paul speaks of wanting to do the things that please God but finding himself doing the opposite. We are not slaves to sin anymore, but there are times we live like we are. We are human, and we fail. We revert to old patterns. We forget who we are and whose we are. We slide back into the old self, and we pay the price. Our witness is weakened and our relationship with God becomes strained. Those are just spiritual effects. Depending on what we slip back to, there can be physical consequences for us and those we love.

How must God feel when He sees us revert to our old selves? He knows more completely than any earthly parent the harm those ways cause. He knows how much better the path He sets out for our lives is for us. He wants His best for us and sees us choose the refuse of our old lives over and over again. Can you imagine the disappointment and hurt that must cause?

But also consider the joy when we choose to be who we are today instead of trying to be who we were yesterday? Nothing brings me greater happiness than seeing my children learn from mistakes and grow into more of who God designed them to be. Through grace and mercy, failure is not once and for all. They can find forgiveness and turn away from the person they were yesterday. When they do, my mother’s heart celebrates. God’s joy is more complete than my own, and it isn’t reserved for our children. It’s meant for His children and that includes me and you.

Like Alice we need to understand that being who we were yesterday is not an option. We need to keep changing and growing.  In stories it’s called character development. For us? I’d have to say it’s character development too.

 

 

Right Stuff Wednesday: Making Rainbows

“Finally the Rainbow Fish has only one shining scale left. His most prized possessions had been given away, yet he was very happy.” – The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

It’s easy to get distracted by the things we don’t have. According to the society I live in, I don’t have a lot of worthwhile material possessions. I’ve never owned a new car. I’ve never been to Disney World or Ireland which are the two very different places topping my dream vacations list. I have doors in my home that need replaced, not to mention the flooring and a couple ceilings with water damage. My emergency savings consists of a prayer for God to keep emergencies away just a little while longer.

The tricky thing about material possessions is that rich and poor are all in the eye of the beholder. Even down the road, there are those who are far worse off than my family. My home doesn’t leak (mostly). I have running water and electricity. I have a television and internet. My car may be well-used, but I own it. My clothes may be old, but I have warm clothes for winter and cooler ones for summer. If I need a gallon of milk, I can empty my change jar and go buy one. I have all I need and then some. To some people I am beyond rich in my possessions, and you don’t have to go to a third world country to find those people.

If these things are the things I prize most, I’m missing out. God has blessed me, but it goes far beyond whether or not I own a television or a car. God has given me a family to love that loves me back. My husband, children, children in-laws, parents, grandparents, siblings, and cousins overflow the holiday dinner table when they all show up. And even though I’m no social butterfly, God has blessed me with friends at work, home, church, and various ministries. All these people provide support, encouragement, and challenge to me in my life and faith. Laughter or tears, it doesn’t matter. These people are there for both. But even these are not the greatest blessing in my life.

God has given me all these wonderful things and people, but He has also given me Himself. God looked into my life and saw my sin. My failures were evident to Him. He created me, and He knows my propensity for getting it wrong when I want to get it right. But God looked into my life and saw someone He loved no matter my mistakes. He saw someone He wanted a relationship with. He saw this, and He saw my hopelessness. He knew I could never do anything to fix the relationship sin had broken between us. But he didn’t leave me to wallow in the results of my sin. Instead, He chose to send His Son to take the punishment for my sin. He extended mercy and provided the way to forgiveness, the way to reconciliation with Himself. He gave me the way to be friends with Him again. And He didn’t stop there.

Once I accepted God’s gift of forgiveness, He chose to bless me further. He sent the Holy Spirit to live inside me to guide, teach, and correct me. He gave me His word to learn how to live like Him. And He gave me the opportunity to use my interests, talents, and the lessons He teaches me to encourage and challenge others. He lets me be part of letting others know about His gift of love.

God allows me a place in His plan, but it isn’t because of something wonderful about me. 2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”

It’s all about Him working in and through me. These are the greatest blessings in my life. The other things will wear away or fail me at some point. But the treasure of God’s love and salvation won’t wear out or fail me. That’s the kind of possession to treasure above all else.

That’s why it’s important for me to take a lesson from the rainbow fish. He didn’t hoard his treasure. He gave it away. It made his world a better place for others and himself too. I need to remember that in my life of faith. I could hoard all I receive from God, but there is enough of His love for everyone. I need to share His love in my words and my actions. I need to love others the way God loves me. When I give this treasure away, God becomes clearer to those around me. They seek Him, the salvation He offers, and the love He freely gives. As others come to know God, their lives and the world we live in are changed for the better. And that’s something we can all be happy about.