Spiritual Sustenance~Old Things Made New

I love the gardens the Lord grows—uncultivated fields containing a variety of wildflowers, grasses, and insects, not usually seen in everyday vegetable plots or flowerbeds. Years ago, when we lived on a farm in Northern Illinois, we had a big garden that was surrounded on two sides by alfalfa fields. Because of the close proximity, we ended up with a small strip on the north side that could best be described as “wild.” It was filled to overflowing with milkweed, red clover, Queen Anne’s Lace, sunflowers (from a previous sunflower house project), and Daisy Fleabane (a plant related to the Shasta Daisy with much smaller flowers).Wildflowers thrived in our garden, and the only cultivation needed was an occasional yanking—roots and all—of an invasive goldenrod that would have completely taken over if left to its own devices.

One fall, a single milkweed seed dispersed from a weather-beaten pod took hold in what was my husband’s strawberry bed. I have loved milkweed ever since I was a little girl, so I wasn’t about to evict a lone straggler. But three years later, that single plant gave birth to more than 60 offspring—all in very close quarters! It was an impressive habitat, and I was fascinated with the insect life that the milkweed supported.

One of the most interesting things I observed about milkweed is the way the large pink composite flowers bloom in succession rather than simultaneously. As the stalks grow taller, the composite flowers open— one after another— over a period of five weeks or so. This abundant food source not only offers nourishment for adult insects, but developing young as well.

I nicknamed my milkweed “The Prairie Lilac.” When friends approached our garden patch, they were surprised to smell a fragrance similar to that of lilacs. The scent is heavenly and it’s no surprise that it attracts a wide variety of insects. My husband commented that he never knew milkweed smelled so good. I believe that’s probably true for most people.

By mid-June ants could be seen trying to sip nectar from the tight-fisted blossoms before the florets even opened. Soon they were joined by bright red milkweed beetles searching for mates. Honey bees performed a tap dance of sorts, gingerly pulling their legs off the sticky flowers as they, too, drank deeply of the succulent nectar. We also saw milkweed bugs, yellow and black swallowtails, a Great Spangled Fritillary (butterfly), Hummingbird moths, earwigs (they love to sleep like crowded sardines in the folds of the leaves), ladybugs (the larvae and adults), yellow jackets, bumble bees, wasps, flies, and dragonflies.

Monarch butterflies flitted and floated among the broad green leaves of the tall milkweed stalks secretively laying their eggs. It never ceases to amaze me how the tri-colored caterpillars delight the child in all of us. Whenever we found them, we would place them in ball jars and feed them fresh milkweed leaves until they underwent the miraculous change—the anticipated moment when shimmering gold chrysalises waxed transparent, revealing the newly formed butterflies within. After their wings hardened, we released them on the summer breeze to soar high above our beloved milkweed patch—far beyond the border of our state—southward across unfamiliar territory over hundreds of miles of rough terrain to their wintering grounds in Mexico. Seeing them fly skyward caused me to contemplate the journey of life, and the beauty of a changed soul.

“For I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me..”~Galatians 2:20

Yes, metamorphosis is the symbol of the Christian life—a journey across uncharted territory, over miles of rough terrain, through life’s circumstances—the chrysalis of God’s transforming power. And just as milkweed flowers bloom in succession, so too our hearts are changed, not in an instant, but over time as we look to our Creator for our spiritual sustenance and the miracle of old things made new.

Living in the Grace-Filled Now

The sound of their voices. My four children. I will never tire of the endless crescendo of their voices.

I am blessed beyond measure. My cup overflows.

The comradery. The laughter. The sparring.

27, 22, 18, 14.

My tears flow for the joy of being their mother.

I am never happier then when we are all together. Doesn’t every mother feel that way?

But I cannot keep them here, forever.

A wedding in September. Newlyweds headed for Seattle. This may be the last Mother’s Day we all spend together for a while.

The Lord tells me live in the fullness of this day. Don’t miss the grace-filled moments of this day. Delight in the irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind moments happening right now─today.

My mind turns quickly from the future back to the present!

I am ordered out of the kitchen. Breakfast won’t be served in bed I am told, but in the kitchen, instead, in a little while. We have to accommodate Grandpa, so everyone piling into the bedroom is NOT a good idea.

I retreat to my room and close the door, but all I hear are muffled voices.

I open the door so I can hear the banter.

“Are these cooked?” Claire says. “You ruined it now. You ruined it now!” she reiterates in a jesting voice. “Just put the lid on!”

I hear more ordering. “Go take a shower, now!” she says to Elizabeth.

I hear the water running. Suddenly, feet pound the hall.

“You literally have ten minutes!” Claire yells through the bathroom door to Elizabeth. “Ten minutes before breakfast is served!”

My hubby comes in the bedroom and stoops to give me kiss. “Happy Mother’s Day!” he says sweetly. And then he comments, “Too noisy!”

Ha! I laugh to myself. If he only knew what I was writing!  He tries to close the door.

“Leave that open, please,” I say.

Eric yells in decibels intended for Grandpa’s hard of hearing ears alone, “If you eat fast (referring to his bran cereal), there’s good food coming – eggs, sausage, and crepes!

Muffled voices become a little more distinct. “I thought you were going to help!” Eric says to Claire. “If you want to help, do the dishes!”

Suddenly, Anna pipes up, “This is my plate. I’m sitting here.”

“I always sit there on holidays,” Claire says. More discussion ensues…

Then Claire announces, “Okay, Mom, you can come in now!”

I arrive on the scene wearing pearls and my mother’s huge silver earrings─ one of the few pieces of jewelry I have of hers. In honor of Grandma Reid and the day, I strike a pose. “Ta da!” I say.

I sit in my usual seat across from Grandpa and ask if he remembers Grandma’s earrings. He says, no.

During the meal the kids continue sparring, and in-between their teasing, I receive the blessings they have lavished on me─a lovely meal, heartfelt presents, and handmade cards graced with  scriptures I need to hear.

And what do I hear? What is the theme of the day?

Love. Unconditional love.

I don’t deserve it. Despite all my failings, they love me. They are God’s grace in my life─His unconditional love poured over my soul.

And I love them right back, unconditionally.

I wish everything could stay the same, but do I really?

No.

I embrace the changes that are to come and ask that the Lord use my children to glorify Himself.

I lift them up.

My grace-filled, live-in-the-day cup is full.

My Eyes Are Ever Toward the Lord

Have you had your spiritual breakfast this morning?  Did you come to God’s table with an appetite – for Him? For His word?
2 Corinthians:5 sets a banquet before us so we don’t have to go through the day malnourished.

I especially like verses 6 and 7: “Therefore we are always confident knowing that while we are at  home in the body [our mortal flesh], we are absent from the Lord, for we walk by faith and not by sight.”

Have you ever wondered what it means to walk by faith and not by sight? Does it only mean to ask God for what we need and to wait without wavering until He comes through? Or is there more to it than that?

In the Greek, the definition for ” faith” is (pistis): a persuasion and reliance upon God, especially a reliance upon Christ for salvation, – truth itself – a firm persuasion. The definition for ” sight” is the word (eidos): to see, the act of seeing, the act of looking upon external appearances.

What have you been looking at today? Your circumstances? Your children? Your spouse? Others? Have you set your eyes upon temporal values and forgot about the One True God who promises to supply all of our needs?

Have you been looking at you?

I encourage you to examine your heart. If you’re overwhelmed by life and all of its demands, shift your focus onto the Lord – His faithfulness, His strength, the truth of His word.

Psalm 25 says: “My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for he shall pluck my feet out of the net.”

Become firmly persuaded to look to the Lord. Walk by faith and not by sight.

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s a light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
Over us sin no more hath dominion—
For more than conquerors we are!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

His Word shall not fail you—He promised;
Believe Him, and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Hidden Treasure

The first flower to emerge out of last year’s curled and decayed leaves was a snowdrop. A single bud blossomed on the first day of spring and lingered for a couple of weeks like a miniature ambassador heralding the long-awaited season of rebirth and growth.

As winter storms subsided and the sun began to warm the earth, we searched and waited. Would we be fortunate enough to see the delicate paper-thin petals, or be disappointed – as in years past, when we had missed the unpretentious pageantry altogether?

Then Elizabeth spied the green leaves sprouting among the silvery weather-beaten remnants of last fall’s foliage.  She ran into the house and announced that a snowdrop had finally arrived. “Is there more than one?” I asked, knowing how few there have been in the past. “No, there’s only one,” she said. One, I thought. Well, thank you, Lord, for that one!

The little girls waited patiently over the long winter months for the warm days to return. And with every bud, flower, or bug they discover, they hurry to tell me about their new-found treasures, as if seeing them for the first time. The caress of the warm breeze on their cheeks, the soft grass underfoot, and the promise of green growing things makes spring their favorite season. Once again they are free to run and enjoy the simple pleasures of God’s creation, unencumbered by bulky coats and mittens. They can breathe, and feel, and be a part of the world of nature around them as it is born anew.

I am reminded by the girls’ sheer delight in a humble snowdrop that, I, too, can rejoice over the gifts that God gives daily─gifts that remain hidden from view if I let the child-like wonder for life stay buried underneath the remnants of old thought patterns and decayed thinking. Sometimes we adults have to force ourselves to push upward and out of the dirty soil of everyday routines to receive the gifts that our heavenly Father wants to bestow upon us─hidden treasure He lavishes upon those who have eyes to behold the “One and only God” and whose delight is in Him.

For if you cry for discernment,
Lift your voice for understanding;
If you seek her as silver
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
Then you will discern the fear of the LORD
And discover the knowledge of God.

Proverbs 2:3-5

 

 

copyright 2008-2011 by Jill Novak
All rights reserved.

 

Open the Floodgates

By mid-February, the warm breath of God melts the remains of a 100-year blizzard. Within hours, the huge snowdrifts, sculpted by an invisible finger of icy wind dissolve – leaving behind pools of nourishing moisture to replenish the earth. As the temperature fluctuates, the snow quickly recedes and the ground becomes saturated. The cycle repeats: first cold, then snow, then thawing wind. And then, by some awesome miracle, the grass emerges and greens under the sun-warmed sky.

Just as the snow melts and replenishes the earth, our tears replenish our souls.

How blessed is the man whose strength is in You,
In whose heart are the highways to Zion!
Passing through the valley of Baca (weeping) they make it a spring;
The early rain also covers it with blessings.
They go from strength to strength,
Every one of them appears before God in Zion.
Psalm 84:5

The valley of Baca is a valley filled with tears – tears from trials and testings, from traumas and tragedies. Once we fall prostrate in this valley, we may wonder how we will ever regain the strength to continue on life’s journey. But God’s word tells us while passing through the valley of Baca, we are to make it a spring from which we may dip freely from pools of blessings especially in the midst of our greatest grief and pain. In a season of deep sorrow, we are to draw close to God and receive His grace for the journey.

Even Jesus cried.

“In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety (reverence and love for the Father). Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation…” Hebrews 5:7-9

Jesus prayed, cried, and agonized. And God heard.

Given time, tears cleanse and purge our souls from sin. They prepare us for dying to our flesh and awakening to new life in the spirit. And in some miraculous way, just as the snow nourishes the ground, our tears saturate the soil of our hearts, making the conditions right for new growth.

When last did you weep before God? Have you ever felt His overwhelming presence in a floodgate of tears?

Washington Irving said, “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not a mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition and of unspeakable love.”

Over our lifetime, we will find ourselves many times in the valley of weeping, but remember, we’re only passing through. The circumstances that cause us to agonize and shed tears matter to the merciful God of the Universe who is intimately involved in the minutest details of our lives. Our Savior will draw us close to His heart as we journey on. We do not wander or weep alone.

“You have taken account of my wanderings; Put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book?” Psalm 56:8.

 

Be Still My Soul

Beneath the snow, my garden lies waiting for the rebirth of spring. For months, there have been no visible signs of growth – no change, no movement, no life. Frigid and cold, the world outside my window appears locked in a state of suspended animation.

The sunflowers stoop low under heavy caps of crystallized snow. The bean trellises and toppled tomato cages take on magical forms as the flakes stack quietly, softening the rigid contours. The rest of the landscape is indiscernible. Boundaries between hedgerow and field have merged under an insulating blanket of white. From one storm to the next, the snow drifts deeper, accumulating, stretching far to the horizon.

Just as winter has gripped the landscape, I, too, have been gripped by life’s circumstances. In the call of duty, boundaries once clearly defined have become indistinct. My joy is gone, my cup half-empty. Hopelessness stretches far out before me. I fight the day-to-day sameness – despair over God ordained limitations. I cannot change my life’s circumstances any more than I can tell the southerly breeze to blow and melt the winter’s snow. But unlike my garden, I resist every effort to be still, to wait upon the Lord to provide what my thirsty soul longs for.

How long, oh, Lord, how long? How long will I have to endure this season Thou hast ordained for me?

To everything there is a season, but this season is particularly long. Will spring ever come? Will hope ever spring eternal? Spring and autumn pass quickly, summer lingers, but winter is longer and harder to endure.

But then I am reminded of a passage of scripture from the book of James, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Let endurance have its perfect result.

There are two Greek words for the word endurance. The first is prosdechomai,  pros-dekh’-om-ahee which means to await (with confidence or patience): accept, allow, look (wait). The other is hupomone hoop-om-on-ay’ which means cheerful (or hopeful) endurance, constancy: enduring, patience, patient continuance (waiting).

In order to find joy, I have to let endurance have its perfect result. I have to be still. And finally when I allow my soul to be stripped of its defenses – its busyness, its escapes, its pleasures, finally when I cease to strive, the words of comfort come in the truth of the familiar hymn, given by a loving heavenly Father who knows, who cares about the minutest details of our lives.

Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Even when it appears there are no solutions, in the stillness He speaks. And through the hymn writer, He reminds me to bear patiently my cross of grief and pain. Wanting so desperately to escape my circumstances, I fail to acknowledge all the grace-filled moments that exist within them.

Some spiritual seasons are longer than others.There must be a time of inactivity to experience growth. There must be time of near death, for life to teem again. I embrace the lessons my garden gifts me even in the dead of winter.

I choose to lie hidden in my Maker, awaiting rebirth – my heart dead to its own will, slumbering through a long cold winter of the soul. Grace is here, waiting to be received.

Take comfort my soul; the Lord is on thy side.

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