Yield

I live surrounded by acres and acres of vineyards. Each year, I watch with great interest as the workers go out among the barren vines, braving the February chill. At first, this seemed odd- there was clearly nothing growing and it was still freezing at night.

Yet, each season without fail, a month or so after this pruning, I began to notice the tender shoots of green, then more and more until an explosion of verdant leaves filled the once bare cables and posts. It dawned on me that the preparation pruning was crucial to ensure the optimal growth of the grapes and in turn, yield the results the farmers’ long for- perfect grapes for a wine that delights the taste buds.

This brought a vivid word picture to mind: We are pruned each day and year for greater productivity and here’s the best part- the One holding the shears is The Master Gardener.

Now, don’t get me wrong: it is downright painful and I’m not advocating a love of affliction here. In fact, it is safe to say that for the better part of my life, I have held a tightly clenched fist so to speak. I have muttered scathingly under my breath, “Why, God?” or “Not this, God, please!” I balked badly at the shears and would pine away for the lost branches, even though they were clearly brown and dry.

Yet, these past few years a striking pattern has emerged- upon reflection, I see a purpose in the pruning- a grand design like nothing a mere landscaper could imagine. Sometimes, I have seen what I thought were even healthy branches tweezed off. This I know is no mistake.

You see, I trust a good God, a gentle God, a kind God, a loving God, a knowing God. He has the plan of my life exquisitely laid out before him. I am ignorant of it though so when I feel the shears snip, trim, lop off or tie up a branch, I chaff against it sometimes. But I am learning- learning to trust and lean and surrender, fully, humbly, peaceably, into the arms of a Savior who trims me faithfully and lovingly.

His master plan will make something beautiful, productive and flourishing, if only I yield to the shears.

one sure thing- an allegory

The water keeps coming. Waves drench me in succession. Over the sides of my small craft, they forcefully enter, unwanted. I am not sinking, although it feels eminent.

The storm has reduced visibility to next to nothing. Heavy fog has reached its tendrils into every space previously bathed in scintillating sun rays.

Frigid drops pluck away at my skin and head. My once dry layers of clothing are now drenched. The rain comes in sheets, then lightens, but the stinging never quits.

There is a driving wind. When a forceful gust comes, it envelops my already soggy clothes. Where they cling to me, I experience sharp dagger-like pains over every inch of me.

Then there is the surging; the continual up and down motion of the storm induced current. It is sickening. I am sure I’ll vomit. I want to in fact.

My thinking is muddled and fuzzy. Everything that seemed certain and unchangeable escaped me when this storm began. I am enveloped: mentally, physically, emotionally. My knowledge of sailing seems lost. Nothing makes sense; all the instruments that once made direction certain- my compass, maps and charts- are useless now.

These waters are uncharted.

There is one thing– one single surety in this deluge. I have an anchor holding my craft. Down in the murkiness, beneath the fog, it holds fast off the bow. Although I can’t see it or feel it, I still know it is there. One thing.

It feels like sanity right now. As I lapse in and out of utter despair, the anchor is hope– hope that I won’t be totally destroyed or blown off course, lost at sea forever.

There is nothing to do now but wait. Nightfall has made what already was difficult to see, impossible. The inky black steals into every inch of scenery.

I curl up in fetal position. It is my attempt to stave off the cold and shield my body from the driving elements. Suddenly a familiar tune, very faint, comes straining into the haze of my mind. The words finally come too.

When darkness veils His lovely face,

I rest on His unchanging grace;

In every high and stormy gale

My anchor holds within the veil.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand.

 

Soaked, chilled, deliriously worn and trepidatious, I am strangely calmed by this song. It assures me to hope in what I know, despite my current state. It reminds me that something (or rather Someone) greater than myself holds me. The storm will dissipate and the sun will shine once more.

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A Letter to the Shunners

Dear Shunners,

I write out of love. I write because I must. I write because I am tired of it.

Yes, I have three children and yes, they are all unique and varied individuals. Right now, only one of them is an adult and free to make choices that are many times in direct opposition to what we believe, as his parents.

If you know him and see how he has changed this last year, it may sadden or shock you. But what you can never know are the conversations we have behind closed doors; when no one else gets that intimate glimpse into his heart or sees the confusion and insecurity in his eyes. Nor can you hear him wrestle with the magnitude of what it means to grow up, the fear of having to take responsibility and become financially independent.

To those that don’t know him and have either listened to juicy morsels of gossip or taken advantage of moments when in a quest for transparency or vulnerability, I’ve shared too much, shame on you. You are culpable for making a judgement call based on a snippet of information. Your limited knowledge has gone to your head and given you license to shun- him, our other children and maybe even us. Just so you understand what I mean, here’s what shun means: avoid, evade, eschew, steer clear of, shy away from, keep one’s distance from.

Perhaps you didn’t mean to do these things. Maybe you shun because you are afraid of a rebellious child and the implications of it on your own child/family. I understand the fear. I used to feel that way before providence would have it that we would need to love our own prodigal of sorts. Or perhaps you have forgotten the priority of Jesus’s message was to seek and save the lost- not shun and avoid the lost. This is the message we carry to the world.

So, I lovingly plead with those who cannot empathize with us or him during this season, to stop. Stop shunning. Stop standing in your high and lofty place as judge of our family, our parenting methods, or especially our son. And please stop assigning guilt to our other children based on the struggles of one.

Most of all, be mindful of self-righteousness, a lack of grace and the tendency to eschew someone whom you perceive as a rebel. Recognize that no matter what decisions our children make- good or bad- our love for them remains zealous and unchanged. Our fierce sense of protection still wants to “assault” those with intent to hurt them.

We don’t make excuses for wrongdoing. We accept culpability for mistakes we have made in parenting. Conversely, we embrace in gospel love those who think differently than us, look differently than us, live differently than us- especially when they happen to be our own flesh and blood.

Grace will reach farther and soften a heart more than shunning ever could. Grace will lead the rebel home.

With tenacious boldness,

Jane

Not-So-Manic Monday #1

Today I started a book whose subject matter I’ve been preaching to myself for over two decades. Yet, every once in awhile I need a refresher course- a reminder to embrace a principle that was imperative and central, but seems to have gotten lost or set aside in the shuffle of life.

The book is called, “One Way Love” with the subtitle of, ‘Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World’. Try as I might, I often find myself on the performance treadmill, striving with all my might to get it right, get it done, “be all things to all men (women and children)”, or at the very least earn favor with someone (namely God). Then I am acutely aware of how stupid, self-deprecating, exhausting, and pointless this is.

If you are at all like me, I hope this quote will renew your mind to carry on in God’s lavish GRACE: 

“Grace doesn’t make demands. It just gives. And from our vantage point, it always gives to the wrong person. We see this over and over again in the Gospels: Jesus is always giving to the wrong people- prostitutes, tax collectors, half-breeds. The most extravagant sinners of Jesus’s day receive his most compassionate welcome. Grace is divine vulgarity that stands caution on its head. It refuses to play it safe and lay it up. Grace is recklessly generous, uncomfortably promiscuous.”

~ Tullian  Tchividijan

Bland and Lukewarm

I tasted the cookie dough. Yeah, yeah, I know, raw eggs. Salmonella risk be cursed. It melted in my mouth like a bit of sweet bliss. The sugars were balanced perfectly with buttery goodness and the chocolate chips still “crunched”. Oh, but something was off. Hmm, what was it? The sea salt. Yes! That teaspoon made an enormous difference in the melding of flavors and balance of sweet and salty.

You see, salt is meant for a purpose. In its simplicity, it adds a depth of flavor unmatched by other spices. The absence or overuse of it can render a dish unpalatable.

Recently, I learned that another person I know has walked away from faith, no, not just walked away, but become an apostate- an outspoken zealot for making a case against God. This makes 4 people in the past 5 years. It just doesn’t gel in my mind. I am left questioning: how could the faith that once seemed evident and thriving in these “friends” now be replaced with a fist raised towards God? I am affronted; left with a mixture of pity and disbelief.

The offense gives way to pity for those who have left the path of faith to follow the great deceiver- Satan- who has sought and devoured yet another person whose disingenuous belief crumbled under the weight of the cares of this world or even disillusionment with God Himself.

Then, almost in the same moment, I am drawn to my knees in abject humility: mindful of my own lukewarm faith, my own lack of zeal, my own fickle heart and emotions.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:13:

“You are the salt of the earth. But suppose the salt loses its saltiness. How can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything. It will be thrown out. People will walk all over it.”

And again in Revelation 3, He says to the church of Laodicea:

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So because you are lukewarm- neither hot nor cold- I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

It’s like my saltless cookie dough: it may be good, but it lacks balance. Its blandness renders it useless as a dessert. Or it’s like taking a drink to refresh a parched mouth, but the water, which is meant to be cool and quenching is lukewarm and unpleasant.

Have you become a saltless, lukewarm Christ follower? Have you lost your spiritual fervor, your first love? My own fervor wanes, but hearing of this apostasy has caused me to realize that my faith takes work. It is a continual, deliberate, concerted effort to not lose my first love, to not allow “life” to wash out the flavor of Jesus in my actions and words.

Just like salt must be preserved to retain its flavor, so we must be persevering in our faith, moving forward, not becoming lukewarm. Because we are easily distracted, often too busy or perhaps covertly deceived by our own wandering minds, it means we have to PASSIONATELY pursue spiritual things to love God first and best.

By grace we have been saved and by grace we carry on, while continuing on the relentless renewal of our minds through God’s word and prayer, flavoring the world around us with the love of Jesus.Salt by Salt Shaker   Original Filename: 6507-000073.jpg

My Overflowing Cup

True to my “go against the flow” side, I have not partaken in the Facebook trend to write a daily “what I ‘m thankful for” ditty, but as I was looking up some recipes this afternoon (for absolutely obliterating the healthfulness of sweet potatoes by adding copious amounts of sugar and butter), it struck me that indeed, my heart brims over with gratitude.

I promise you won’t walk away and think I have some peachy keen life full of sunshine and flowers. In fact, I hope to reveal that some of my most profound thanks is born out of loss and despair.

So here is my (brief) gramercy list in no particular order:

~ Thankful for parents who took me to church and raised me to know who God is so that I wasn’t left searching the void when my young adult years came.

~ Thankful for parents who stayed married so I never had to endure the pain of divorce, yet whose poor communication and lack of friendship made me realize early on the immense priority those things must be in my own marriage.

~ Thankful that my mom and I had 24 years together. Her death caused me to be acutely mindful that each day of life is a gift to be treasured and that the influence a mother has on her children is life long. Death doesn’t scare me anymore.

~ Thankful for a husband who has endured many rude, disrespectful words from my lips without retaliating, also that he stuck by me through seasons of depression and loved me when I was so unlovely.

~ Thankful that we have “lost it all” materially speaking because this revealed my heart of greed, sense of entitlement, misplaced worth, lust for earthly treasures and lack of compassion for the poor.

~Thankful that God gave me the distinct privilege of being a mother to my 3. Thankful that the intense pain and intense love of motherhood balances me out and reminds me of the great love God and mercy has for me.

~ Thankful that, after being part of the conversation between a partially hearing and a deaf person, I have my five senses (for now). To see the beauty in creation, to smell the rich brew of espresso, to hear the notes and tempo of my favorite song, to taste the creamy sweetness of crème brulee`, to touch the strong hand of my husband- these are the spice of life!

~ Thankful that my few lifelong friendships give me a depth, solace and acceptance that is irreplaceable and for the friendships that come and go- they are precious if only for a short season of time.

~ Thankful for a sister who, despite our very different personalities, is my dearest friend, confidante, cheerleader, prayer partner.

~ Thankful for a hip disease that humbled my youthful pride and for the surgery that took a year to heal from, so that I can empathize with diseases/illnesses that debilitate other people. I am mindful of this every time I run, jog or walk.

~ Thankful that my husband and I are committed to each other through the ups and downs of life (and there have been many downs), that he values our time together and dates me “just because”.  His laugh and smile make my world a brighter place.

~ Thankful for a God with whom I have full acceptance, a Savior who knows the nuances of humanity, and the Spirit He gave to empower us supernaturally; also for the Bible- the beautiful words we have that reveal His plan for the world, comfort our hearts and direct our steps.

Give thanks. Today. Everyday. For the rest of your days.

Help for the Journey

We recently heard a message about what it means to know and follow Jesus by daily cross-bearing. Then this past week, our challenge was to take a hard look at things, people or pastimes, that we bow down to instead of God.

Double whammy! Makes me squirm in my seat just thinking about it… Nothing like a healthy dose of “wake up and rearrange your thinking”.

I have, for many months been thinking, rethinking, and analyzing many things- (parenting tops my list right now), but particularly how I LIVE OUT my faith in light of life’s circumstances. Now, I just cannot get this image out of my mind:

Daily I have to die to self, take up whatever cross God gives me and follow the Master, Jesus.

A cinch? NO. Not for me. Not for anyone. Oh sure, we will follow Jesus if He takes us along a pleasant, air-conditioned, dust free, path. And at moments, life can feel that way; all the planets align and our world resembles the chocolate river scene from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”: deliciously easy, delightful to the eyes and overwhelming the senses with pleasantries.

But follow Him AND cross bear? At the same time? Even when the path I have to tread is full of jagged rocks, all uphill, the weather is humid and every ounce of my strength is gone? Could this really be what God wants from us? Yes and yes.

We can do it because Jesus did it before us and that after He had been beaten with a razor sharp whip, spat upon, goaded, slapped, mocked, ridiculed.

But here is the beautiful part. Ready?

Jesus, in His human state of physical, emotional and mental weakness, had help. The 30-40 pound wooden beam proved to be more than He could bear. A man named Simon came and finished carrying it to the place of crucifixion. Even Jesus did not bear His own cross without help.

We don’t have to either. There is a plethora of assistance right near us. In fact, it is also right INSIDE of us. Yes. The power of the living God, creator and upholder of the universe and every person, dwells IN US: the Holy Spirit! Then there is the word of God at our fingertips: the Bible. Not only that, we have the ability to commune with Him on a personal, gut wrenching, heart rending level through prayer.

He will never shrink away from us, disgusted by our stench. He will never blow us off, preoccupied with bigger, better things. He will never balk against us asking for help, thinking our weakling state beneath Him.

And here is the more beautiful part: we may here bear a cross, but one day it will be replaced by a crown!

Beautiful Brokenness

Sometimes, for what seems like no apparent reason, a theme weaves itself intrinsically into my life. That has happened to me a lot over these last few weeks. Over and over again it plays like a song, with a few variable notes.

 

There is beauty in brokenness because what comes with it is: an irreplaceable sense of dependence (on God) and a complete emptying of self-reliance.

 

I have watched it unfold in my friend’s life as she deals with the pain of a daughter who has spurned the family. I have experienced it when my son makes a choice that shames us and goes against everything we have tried to teach him. I have friends whose family is being torn apart by divorce. I have seen several kids who are walking away from the faith and into a lifestyle of drug abuse or sexual exploitation.

The notes may be different, but the chorus is the same: all around me are lives bruised and battered by poor choices or grief from poor choices those we love are making.

We like things neat and tidy. We like obedient children. We like comforts and harmonious relationships. We like things and stuff and baubles. We like people who smell nice and act nice; people who are like us and people who like us.

But then, people mess up. They reject us. They give up on us. They let us down. They put us down. They get all stupid on us.

We mess up. We get in a funk. We succumb to worry, anxiety or despondency . We don’t love how we should. We get caught up in the pursuit of meaningless things.

We get broken. Sometimes we get down right shattered to pieces when problems come like falling dominos.

And, you know what? It’s alright. Truly, it is.

We are like rocks in a tumbler. Did you know that it takes between 3-5 weeks to tumble a rough, ugly rock into a lovely polished gem? It is a several step process that involves abrasion of several kinds and being cut as well. Bad things have to happen for these rocks to become a lovelier version of themselves.

So it is with us. Coming to the end of ourselves, the end of our expectations, the end of our selfishness, the end of our solutions for solving a problem, the end of hoping to make someone be something they are not, is precisely the climate that cultivates change. The abrasions, nicks and grittiness have their purpose.

The beauty comes when we can cling to nothing else except God. He is the constant that remains unchanged when we are shattered. He will mend what’s been broken.  He will transform us into something lovelier.

An old Puritan said it best:

“Adversity is the diamond dust Heaven polishes its jewels with.”- Robert Leightonweb-tumbled rock

How I’ve Screwed Up Parenting and Other Idiotic Mistakes

I hate the expression, “If I could do it over again, I would….” because, well, we CAN’T do IT OVER AGAIN! Sad, yet true. But a little introspection never hurts either. That’s what this post is about: the raw emotion of coming to terms with mistakes I’ve made; good ideas done with wrong intentions or motives and a fair bit of kicking myself squarely in the arse.

Mercy me. At this point in my parenting, I can assure you that, whatever I thought I knew before, I now realize I knew nothing of the complexities I would face and if I did, I may have just run off into the sunset as a DINK (dual income, no kids) with the hubby.

Who signed me up for this job anyways???

It began with breast feeding only and organic homemade baby food. Yep. No feeding on demand though. No rocking my babies to sleep. No siree! That would “spoil” them, make them too dependent on me and make our home a child-centered place. Assinine me bought into these ideas hook, line and sinker. {Just for the record- I am still a HUGE fan of breast feeding-  total La Leche mama over here.}

God laughed at my foolishness and gave me a first born with a will like iron, who has pushed every boundary from the get go. I read a few books that were so misguiding, I can hardly contain myself thinking of them. “Spank them till they break.” Oh, o.k. 5,000 spanks later, no will broken, just fomented anger in my child and in myself. Great idea. NOT. Stupid, abusive idea. Not what God’s intentions were when He tells us to “withhold not correction”.

Sending them to school daunted me. The idea of my kids being surrounded by a bunch of trash talking heathens for 6 hours a day?! No way! Home schooling would be the insulating blankie we could wrap them up in. Yes, no prob. This way, I can teach them my worldview AND make darn sure they don’t hear the “F” word.  (At 7, my oldest comes home and blurts “FUK” out after playing at a church friend’s house-oops.) Foiled again.

For all the good it was having them at home 24/7, it had its down falls. One thing for sure is, my strong suite is not patience. I am a tiny bit “Tiger Mother” by nature and that is not a quality of a great teacher. I tended not to look favorably on childish behavior or the inability to apply oneself to the glories of handwriting and computing arithmetic problems. My hypocrisy was such an ugly thing and I modeled it for them like a pro at moments- teaching them the Bible one minute and yelling at them the next!!

Presently, I am coming to terms with the fact that in two years I will have 2 “adult” children. OH. MY. GOODNESS!!!!!!  Just recently, I realized that somehow, somewhere along the path, I had overlooked something so important, I have pretty much been doing continual face palms since it dawned on me- I neglected PRAYER- the everyday, without ceasing for each and every situation kind (not just in moments of crisis or peril). And most of all, unceasing PRAYER for God to save them! I was too busy believing that if I just taught my kids the gospel message enough, they would in turn embrace it whole-heartedly and never look back. Wrong again. For all of man’s efforts, do not change the heart of a child. Only God does. Plain and simple.

You see, I did some right things, very good things even. Teaching my kids at home had its sweet, memorable moments and I do know they heard the truth of God from the beginning. BUT, my motivations were a bit askew and definitely wreaked of spiritual pride.

Yes, I DID pray for my kids, but not nearly as fervently as I should have. I should have spent concerted effort on bent knee before the feet of Jesus and less time applying the rules.

I am majorly humbled as I write this; saddened by idiotic mistakes I’ve made and by seeing the folly of my own prideful ways.

If I may be so bold, I would shout it from the mountain tops: “PRAY, PRAY, PRAY FOR YOUR CHILDREN!” Don’t trust in human efforts: in organic eating, or clean living, or home schooling, or spanking, or church programs, or being a godly example even, or anything- BUT GOD. Check and recheck your motives for everything you do to make sure that pride has not crept in in place of true humility and utter dependence on God each and every day.

Resisting the Gift

Imagine this:

I sat and admired it. The gift. The paper was patterned with stripes, elegant but not frilly; neat as a pin, not a crinkle or pucker to be found. For what the paper lacked in pomp, the bow was over the top, blue and gold and glittery. Nothing about it was modest. The voluminous loops were just begging to be untied, for if the outside was this extraordinary, surely the contents were more.

But I just stared at it with a combination of timidity and fear. My resistance was not calculated. I just felt unworthy, fearful that the present was SO lavish, I did not deserve something like it or perhaps once opened, it would change my life in ways I could not fathom.

Maybe this is you. This was me (and still is at moments).

We may have accepted and embraced the gift of gifts, salvation, but we have a hard time receiving the others, particularly the gift of GRACE- which 2 Corinthians 9:15 says is THE INDESCRIBABLE GIFT! Grace is so amazing that it is hard to find the adjectives for it!

Staring at the gift instead of opening it is the perfect set-up for legalism. Yep. That was me too. I like to follow rules {most of the time}. It makes me feel all comfy, cozy inside. It is easy on the brain, but hard on the heart because in the end, it breeds resentment. When you look around to see everyone else who tore into their package subsequently basking in the delight of its contents, you feel short changed, gipped or unloved. At some point, the resistance became a self-imposed spurning of the gift of grace.

Conversely, some of us just sit there and say, “Oh, no, I couldn’t open that. I am so undeserving and unworthy of it.” Maybe we feel like we have not earned it and frankly, we haven’t. Quite the opposite- it by grace we are saved (and kept), not something we do ourselves- it is a GIFT from God- and He keeps on giving it over and over and over again.

Imagine your child on his birthday, just looking longingly at the package in front of him. We  wait with joyful anticipation, knowing how the wonderful present will delight him. It is just what he wanted and has been dreaming about. Suddenly, he slides it away and declares himself unfit for such a thing. In the history of children and birthdays, I doubt this has happened even once! Matthew 7 tells us that even we who are sinful know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more lavish, decadent and over-the-top will our gifts be from our FATHER WHO IS IN HEAVEN!

For far too many years I spent waiting to unwrap the gift of grace. Maybe this is you, unwilling or unable to bask in the goodness of the Father who knows and loves you. Whatever the reason for resisting, we are missing out. For as beautiful as the packaging is, the gift within is more grandiose, awe-inspiring and life changing than imaginable.

Opening it was for me the pivotal point of my spiritual journey. It set me on the path of freedom. It changed my view of God Himself. It has continued to work thankfulness and repentance in my heart. It gives me hope to carry on through the valleys of life. It allows me to lavish others with it.

So what are you waiting on? Go ahead and tear into the gift! It is more amazing than anything else you’ve ever received and it comes from the perfect extravagant Giver.

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