Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Visited Earth

I've gotten out of the habit of taking walks lately, and today I remembered why that was a mistake. Somehow I had thought that looking at a beautiful afternoon through the window, from the comfort of a warm kitchen, would equal putting on coat and boots and hat and mittens and striking out into the muddy fields. It doesn't.

It looked like a pretty ordinary March day from the kitchen, but when I got outdoors, I realized that there is no such thing as an ordinary spring day. When I went out the door, I was thinking of the tragedies that seem to make up so much of life--tragedies of people on the other side of the world, and tragedies of people in my own closest circles. It seemed as though hope was a farce. But as I began my voyage across the soggy field, I was strangely unable to feel oppressed by these thoughts. Despair and springtime just don't go together.

The wind was sharp and cold, but so clean--it left the whole earth feeling scrubbed and fresh. It was good to remember that there is something clean left in the world. The sun was bright and warm and cheery, trying to make up for the chill of winter. It was good to remember that soon the world will be warm again. The ground was slightly muddy and springy beneath my feet where the frost has given way. It was good to remember that frozen things can become soft again. The brown fields are beginning to hint of green--maybe it's just my imagination, but it was a nice reminder that the world will soon be full of color.

And it was sure good to see the birds again. Several different species must be migrating, because they were everywhere! Some marvelously fat robins were parading pompously around on the grass--how do they manage to be so plump and resplendent despite their long journey? And whole flocks of some other kind of bird were perching in the trees or swooping wildly across the fields, chattering busily. Maybe they have reached their destination, and were discussing territorial arrangements. Maybe this is just a rest stop for them and they were planning the next leg of their journey. Or maybe, like me, they were just telling God how grand it is to have a Father like Him!

It made me think of Psalm 65:9-10, "You visit the earth and cause it to overflow; You greatly enrich it; The stream of God is full of water; You prepare their grain, for thus You prepare the earth. You water its furrows abundantly, You settle its ridges, You soften it with showers, You bless its growth."

God is visiting the earth in a special way just now. Don't miss it!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Without A Cause

Have you ever been hated?

Recently a dementia patient whom I was trying to help to take a shower, fought me away, hitting frantically at me in fear and rage. I don’t blame her. I would do the same if I were in her place, feeling trapped and not understanding why somebody had to invade my privacy. Even though I understood, it hurt a little for my loving care to be misinterpreted and rejected.

That doesn’t come anywhere close to being hated. But it made me think of the words of Jesus, speaking of His countrymen, “‘They hated me without a cause.’” (John 15:25)

Why did they hate Him, anyway? Why do you, or why did you at one time, hate Him? Of course, we say, we never would think of hating Him—that seems like far too strong a word. After all, we admire His teachings—but maybe we’re not willing to trust Him enough to anchor our lives to Him. Call it rejection, then—we admire Him but perhaps we have rejected His offer to save us from our sins. Why would anybody reject Him? Maybe we don’t even consciously reject Him, but just ignore Him. Why?

The Jewish people of Jesus’ day saw His miracles, saw Him heal the blind and bless the poor and raise the dead and have mercy on sinners. He promised them rest and comfort (Matthew 11:28-30), forgiveness of sins (John 3:18), and the opportunity for eternal joy with God (John 3:16).

But still they hated Him, a man who was full of good deeds and gracious words. He had a way of putting a finger on their pride, pointing out that maybe they weren’t quite as good as they wanted their neighbors to think (Matthew 23:27). Would we reject Him for the same reason?

Perhaps they hated Him for suggesting that they couldn’t meet God’s righteous standards by their own efforts. (Matthew 5: 17-28). Does it bother us to hear God’s Word that, “There is none righteous, not even one…there is none who does good.”? (Romans 3: 10, 12). Would we hate Him for that? Would we reject a Jesus who tells us the truth we already know deep within, that we tend to do the selfish, proud, willful thing even though we know better? Does anyone have a good reason to reject Jesus, or could He say of some of us, “they hated Me without a cause?”

But there’s something far more surprising than that mankind would reject the best Man who ever lived. It’s the fact that such a Man would love those who hate Him. That, while He was being tortured on the cross, He would look down at His murderers and pray, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) There was nothing in them, nor in us, to make us lovely to Someone who knows our every thought and motive. In fact, the apostle Paul pointed out that “while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.” But He loved them, even while they drove nails into His hands and ground a crown of thorns onto His head. And He loves us, with the kind of love that would die for us, die instead of us, being punished for sins that He didn’t commit.

We hated Him without a cause. He loved us without a cause. Don’t we have good cause to love and trust and obey Him?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Not Even Close, Solomon!

2 Chronicles 1:15 says that Solomon the king made silver and gold as plentiful in Jerusalem as stones. Pretty impressive. But God blew Solomon's glory out of the water the other night, when He blended a little rain with cold temperatures and we woke the next morning to a world that was so brilliant you could hardly stop squinting!

I went out to take a lot of pictures and when I came home and looked at them, I thought I hadn't gotten any good ones, because the dazzling splendor of the real thing was still upon me. But when I looked at them a week or so later, I realized that I captured maybe 30% of the beauty in digital form. :)

These pictures are kind of dark because I had to adjust the metering a great deal in order to be able to see any detail.

Even the clothesline was covered with beauty. I think there's something profound about that, don't you?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Covering Love

Today I cared for a remarkable patient. She was unable to talk to me, but her family told me bits of her story. This patient never throws away curtains, clothing, and other things that have stains or rips or worn spots. Instead, she makes heart shaped patches to cover up the spot. As a result, her home is full of hearts--places where she made a blemish into decoration. The time when Jennie spilled juice on the tablecloth, or that Charlie ripped the curtain, are recorded only by the heart that covers the blemish.

Wouldn't that be a lovely way to live? We can allow frustrating people, personality quirks, faults, and annoyances, to spoil life, and rather than seeking to salvage those tough situations and uncomfortable relationships, toss them into the discard pile. Or, we can turn them into opportunities for love to triumph and to beautify life. Each of those choices is like a heart-shaped patch, reminding us of when love gained the victory, and surrounding us, as the years go by, with fond memories instead of aching regrets.

"Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins." 1 Peter 4:8, the Bible

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

To prove I haven't forgotten about my blog... :)

Hello folks! My apologies that it's been SO long since I posted on this blog (I'm sure you've been waiting with bated breath :). Life has been so busy and so full of lessons that I haven't processed enough to share on a blog, that I haven't been writing or photographing much at all. And I do miss it! So to make up for it, here's a really loooooong post. :( Sorry for being so wordy!
I was sitting in the dining hall when one of my instructors came in the door. His eyes scanned the room, deciding where to sit. Then he hung his coat on the back of a chair at my table and went to get food, saying, “I’m think I’m going to sit right here, because you look like you’re enjoying what you’re doing!” Unfortunately, I was doing nothing more inspiring than munching on a delicious, pulled-pork sandwich.

But his statement struck me as unusual—is it unusual for people to look like they enjoy what they’re doing?

This little incident returned to my mind during a long drive to Maine. I had been driving for several hours and was accumulating a pile of used tissues as a result of a drippy cold, and was pondering the deep matters of life. I’m pretty sure I did not look as though I enjoyed what I was doing. However, the beauty of the day began to drown out the misery of a snotty nose, and it dawned on me how much of God’s creation DOES look like it’s enjoying what it is doing. This world has been cursed because of man’s sin, and the Bible describes it as groaning while it waits for the day when “the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21). And yet, have you ever noticed how much of joy and exuberance seems to be hard-wired into nature?

Humans seem to be more capable of apathy toward life, than any other part of creation. Have you ever heard a bird sing apathetically? Rather, the notes tumble out like a hearty giggle. Goats jump on and off of rocks just for the sheer fun of it, often adding another lithe twist and kick in mid-air simply because they can. Horses, dogs, and sometimes even cows, can be seen running through the grass, not because they need to, but because, it seems, their overabounding exuberance must come out somehow!

Even the inanimate things are full of vigor, intensity, and joy. God has built it into the bounce of tall grasses beneath the wind, into the tumbling of streams and the roaring of a waterfall, into the waving of tree branches in a gale, and the crash of waves upon rocks. Why else would He make dandelions such a brilliant yellow, and poppies a luscious red, and young ferns a fluorescent green, and mushrooms an audacious orange? Did God really mean for living to be so mundane and humdrum as we seem to consider it?

Of course, we humans encounter a lot of sorrow and difficulty that the animals and trees never face. We are designed so that our natures will not be satisfied apart from meaningful relationships, with other people and especially with God, who made us to know and enjoy Him. But this should mean that rather than being doomed to a doleful existence, we have been given an even greater capacity for delight and joy—for did not Jesus die in order that our relationship with God could be restored through faith in Him? Therefore, those who have trusted Him can enjoy not just life, but eternal life which, as Jesus described it, is “that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3)

Why, then, are we not perpetually exulting along with the rest of God’s creation? Why do the rivers clap their hands and the mountains sing for joy (Psalm 98:8) while we go through life with long faces and consider it childish to clap and sing for sheer happiness? There are many reasons, of course. One is that we are too burdened with cares—although Jesus pointed out the birds and flowers as examples of those who leave their needs in God’s hands and live in rejoicing splendor. (Matthew 6:25-29). Another reason is that unconfessed sin fills us with guilt and therefore, and until those sins are brought to Christ for forgiveness, we don’t have freedom in our souls to rejoice.

But don’t you think that often we simply don’t remember to enjoy life? We focus on the few things that are difficult or annoying, and forget about the hundreds and thousands of things that are truly wonderful. That breath, for instance. Wasn’t it great? You didn’t even notice that you breathed, it was so effortless, so satisfying of your body’s need for oxygen.

Sometimes I find it’s a useful exercise to look at my life the way it seems to other people. Have you ever noticed how other people’s lives look so much more pleasant than your own? And it irks you when they say, “You have such a nice home,” or, “How nice of your inlaws, to babysit the kids,” or “it must be so nice to be able to spend that time with your grandparents!” –and you think, “if only it was all as great as it looks.” Well, isn’t it? Isn’t this house a blessing, even though the kitchen ceiling leaks, and the wood stove is hard to start? Isn’t it wonderful to be with my grandparents, even though I do trip over the walker or find Grammy’s stuffed animals in the middle of my cooking area?

But beyond all the stuff I have and the things I can do, isn’t it just intoxicatingly wonderful to be alive, today, seeing this glorious sunshine, alive to see the beauty of another day, healthy enough to be outdoors and to see what fun the Lord is having making the clouds dance in slow motion. Isn’t it splendid to see the snow driven by the wind, to feel the energy of the wind itself, and the gentler vigor of warm sunshine?

And beyond all that, far, far beyond all that, is the glory of knowing that I’m loved, personally and tenderly, by the God Who created all this beauty. There is the intense freedom of knowing that He has put all my sins out of His memory because of the blood of Jesus Christ. The rest of knowing that all my minutes and days are in His hands, to weave them together into something beautiful and joyous and useful. The anticipation that some day soon I’ll see His face and rejoice in union with Him for all of eternity.

And when you start to think that way, it seems impossible to contain the surging of joy and delight that starts from within. If I could draw it, the colors would have to include the whole rainbow and then some. If I could translate it into music, I would need a rollicking fiddle and a laughing banjo and then a clash of drums and cymbals, Tchaikovsky-style. If you could smell this joy, it would be pungent like citrus and cinnamon, and it would taste like them too, only with a dash of zesty pepper and the tang of mint. And how it would feel? Like standing in the wind on top of a mountain (the best place on earth to be, when you’ve had to work to get there), and like that exhilarating gasp that comes when you jump into a refreshing stream, and like sinking your hands into warm, moist bread dough, and like sprawling on a warm, sandy beach, and like diving into a field of fragrant grass.

Really, people, REALLY? Do we have good reason to go through day after day as though it’s not a miracle that we’re alive at all? To plod along as though life is boring and allow the dandelions and squirrels and—good gracious--even the crickets and frogs, to out-rejoice US? I sometimes want to shake myself and any other people who, when we have so few REAL troubles, live life with a long face and a plodding step. If I were God, I would feel as though I had a whole set of pouting kindergarteners on my hands!! Do you suppose, when He has promised to carry our burdens, that He wants us to carry them anyway and allow them to blind our eyes to the furious joy that He’s painted all across our lives? When He has promised to give us deliverance from our sins, does He want us to hang onto them because we are afraid of losing a little fun? Or, when we have confessed and forsaken those sins, does He think it spiritual for us to continue feeling guilty for them, and thus to miss out on the thrills that He embeds into life for those who trust and obey? Don’t you think that He made sunsets to be noticed and reveled in, that He made roses to be smelled and mountains to be climbed and forests to be explored and bird-songs to be listened to?

Don’t you think God WANTS us to enjoy what we’re doing, right down to eating a pulled-pork sandwich?