A Riddle That Exposes Truth

IMG_1419A few years ago I read a story by Max Lucado that posed a riddle to illuminate a truth. The riddle went like this:

         “You’re glad I came when I’m gone, but you wish I’d leave when I’m there. It hurts when I help.  I stretch when I strengthen.  Who am I?”

You may already have guessed the answer. It took me awhile. I have never been very good at riddles and I needed to read the entire story illustration before I recognized the truth in this riddle. The answer? Growth.

In one moment we can say we want to grow, but in another we strain against growth because early in our lives we begin to understand that growth can be painful in many different ways. In childhood we might complain of our legs hurting and be told that it is just “growing pains”. That usually means little to us. We also might be told when we are acting in childish ways that we need to “grow up”.

We know growth is important and a necessary part of life, but what makes it difficult for us, even painful? What can cause us to resist it?

Perhaps we resist growth because it means change and even though we might casually say we are looking forward to a change or we need a change, change is rarely easy for us even though it is one of life’s constants. Change pushes us out of our comfort zones that may have cajoled us to believe we have some measure of control. Change requires us to learn something new or to adapt or to give up something we like or have grown accustomed to in our lives.

Changes require us to not only do things differently, but also to think about things differently, to get a new perspective, to change the lens that we have been accustomed to and know so well. Change is rarely easy. That is especially true when it involves something inside of us that needs to be adjusted.

Change produces challenges. Those challenges can come on more than one level at a time. We can be most acutely aware of that when we experience a significant loss such as loss in our own health, loss of a job, loss of someone we love, or loss of a home. Subtler changes of loss include aging, transitioning to a new position in our jobs, returning to school each fall. These subtle losses are ones we expect will happen at certain seasons, but the shift within us still poses challenges.

Challenges that we set for ourselves might be more acceptable, but challenges that we did not choose or cannot control test our metal. They can cause us to doubt our abilities, our experience, our understandings, our endurance, our strength, our faith, and us, but that seems to be what the Lord most often uses to develop greater levels of trust. It is precisely in these situations where we cannot move forward unless we do trust to a greater degree. It pushes us to trust in the One greater than us, to lean into and onto Him more heavily, and to believe His faithfulness to us with more certainty.

And what does that process produce? It produces growth. We can celebrate growth when the process has ended, the pain of it has subsided, but that growth and its rewards have a purpose we may not see. The purpose? That growth so fresh and new will equip us for the next change, the next challenge, and the next growth spurt ahead. The process is a key component of the Lord’s love for us. How? He does so by helping us to trust Him more as He equips us for the path ahead.

An Invitation

IMG_0782Inviting people to come to our home for dinner is something I very much enjoy doing. There is a special sense of connection that takes place around a table over good food. Somehow conversation flows so easily that often we never leave the table for more comfortable chairs in other parts of the house. Coffee cups get refilled multiple times and the lit candles on the table flicker as the evening progresses. We can easily lose track of time.

When the schedule is busy or I have worked all day or all week, I can still feel pressure to plan the menu, shop, clean the house, choose good music to play in the background, and choose the dishes and linens I most prefer.

When I was first married, the pressure I felt had more to do with proving myself somehow to the other Marine Corps officer wives at our table. Later, I felt an internal pressure to somehow make the preparation look like it was easy and that I “had it all together”. The goal was always to have everything done before guests arrived and that included me changing my clothes and touching up make-up. I felt I could relax when everything was in place. Of course, that didn’t always happen which tended to leave me feeling unsettled. Over time and years, the organization of such an evening became easier.

We were also blessed with one couple whose relationship with us grew to such a point that I didn’t worry if things were not ready because they would jump in and help finish while we all laughed and talked. The same would happen at their home as well. We were truly “at home” with each other no matter which home we were enjoying, no matter what had happened with a recipe, no matter whether the table was set or I still had flour dust on my clothes. What a gift!

Recently, we were having new friends to our home for dinner and I had chosen a simple menu, which ended with my homemade pie. Homemade pie has been something I have become known for and usually I manage it with ease and the results are fairly predictable. I was in the midst of making the cherry pie when everything began to fall apart. The crust had rolled out perfectly. Now to make the filling. The thickening agent I usually use was not working at all and suddenly I was racing about trying to sort out what I could do to accomplish the job. What had started out as a simple task I have done hundreds of times became a mountain to be conquered and it took much more time than usual to do so.

I suddenly felt like Martha racing about the kitchen and I could almost hear Jesus admonishing me to look at what was important regarding the evening. From that perspective, the cherry pie filling did not meet the criteria of what mattered most.

We are encouraged to practice Christian hospitality, but that really isn’t about how perfect the food turns out, whether or not we eat from china or paper plates, use fine linens or paper napkins, have the house in order with no dust lingering or have stray magazines or toys left on the floor.

What really matters is the love, warmth, and kindness we extend. That is what sets the stage for the lingering conversation around the table, the sense of community, and the enjoyment of deepening relationship. That is also what allows those we invite to feel valued, relaxed, and free to enter into the time together.

Tell Me About Your Love

PPP 018I sat in my office across from Lisa as her words of brokenness and disillusionment tumbled out of the depths of her heart. Too many people had spoken of loving her only to betray her trust as she entered into relationship with them. Her father had been the first to break her heart when he abandoned her and her mother when she was not yet eight years old. During high school and college one boy after another said words her heart was aching to hear, but she learned too late the words did not mean what she so longed to know.

These wounds caused her to mistrust almost any expression of love and even to doubt the Lord loved her. When her words ended, she looked up at me through her tears and said, “I don’t really know what love is.”

My heart was aching as she had been speaking and she noticed a tear that silently trickled down my cheek when she looked up. I had heard so many stories of brokenness and disappointment and I wanted to find some way to convey to her what I sensed the Lord wanted her to hear. How could I possibly find the words?

Over the rest of the hour we were together, I sensed the Lord leading me to words, scripture passages and a prayer that seemed to comfort her.

When I was alone in my office after she left, I said to the Lord, “Tell me about your love”. I knew about His love, believed in it, could not comprehend it and yet accepted it as truth. My heart was still full from the time with Lisa. I needed to hear more about love from the One who WAS and IS love.

As I seemed to sense His whispers to my heart, I felt as though He had wrapped His arms around me and held me close to His heart. I jotted down what I felt I was hearing. I wanted to share them with Lisa when we next met.

The words seemed to flow from His heart to mine, “When you feel your heart warming and your words reach to touch the wound at the core of another person, you have sampled only a small fraction, a small taste of my love. When your eyes well up in tears as you listen, you have felt only a small taste of my sorrow and my passion.”

“My passion and love are as mighty as the highest waterfall and gushing river, as sturdy as the most majestic mountain, but as delicate as dew upon a rose, or the softness of a baby’s cheek. It was my desire and my design for you to experience it all the time, to know unveiled, unclothed intimacy and to know love more certainly than breathing.”

Tears welled up in my eyes as I recognized in a new way the cost of sin to me, to Him, to all of us.

My heart and spirit leaned closer to listen more carefully and I picked up my pen once again.

“I would have you speak often to me of love for it is the teacher, the most powerful and strongest thing in the world—more than pain, hate, anguish, terror, or even death itself. Love unleashed releases me and all of who I am to another. Such love gives you ‘hind’s feet in high places’ and lets us dance upon the mountaintops and see things more from my view. Feel my embrace. Feel my heart.”

I knew with fresh clarity what He longed for Lisa to know, but I also knew it at a depth that went beyond words and overflowed into the deepest recesses of my being.

It has been sixteen years since that day with Lisa and His words telling me more about His love still overflow within my heart.

Savoring Summer

IMG_0468August’s full glory displays itself in my garden as every flower planted in spring now sends out rich fragrances and an array of breath-taking blooms exploding in bright paint pots of color. Hummingbirds and butterflies sip sweet nectars. Birds drink deeply from the birdbath and other gardens not far away provide long-awaited tastes. Ears of corn bursting with row upon row of juicy kernels, sweet watermelon and peaches, deep red vine-ripened tomatoes, and assorted varieties of squash and beans add to the bounty of my table.

I delight in this season every year.

It is also a time when school supplies are stacked to the ceiling in most stores and children linger as long as possible into the evening shadows, knowing these summer days will end soon as they return to classrooms and studies put away for the summer. They too are savoring summer and resisting bedtimes, shoes, and the loss of unscheduled hours in the sunshine.

We tend to give the summer season a higher rating than other seasons. We anticipate its arrival again soon after it leaves us. When we are young, we nearly always choose it above any other time of the year. Despite the spectacular colors of fall, apple cider, toasting marshmallows, and hayrides, we often resist the beginning of autumn despite knowing the festive holiday season will soon follow.

Once we have put away the gifts, the tree, the trimmings, and the trash from the holidays, our thoughts wistfully turn to summer sunshine so many months away. The grayer, colder, snowy days of winter seem to s-t-r-e-t-c-h our patience as we are confined inside behind frosty windowpanes, bogged down with slushy slippery sidewalks and streets.

Spring gives us a glimpse of what will follow so we note the tulip and crocus while yet straining forward toward summer. We nod at the rain and clouds of April while yearning for the sunshine and summer once again.

I savor summer, but I am reminded that each season in turn is a gift and brings its own delights, treasures, surprises, and rewards. Perhaps the greater issue is the struggle to be content where I am and in whatever season it may be, to trust and rest in the assurance that each one has a purpose, a design, and a pattern to shape and mold me, align my character, adjust my perspective, challenge my thinking, and stir up my spirit.

So as summer marches forward, today I remind myself to savor the season, but not look to it as my source of contentment. Instead I am nudged to remember Paul’s words in Philippians where he speaks of learning to be content in every season. He knew the truth. He knew that long-lasting contentment could not be found in the things of this earth, no matter how wonderful, because they pass, change, evolve, and slip away. My contentment can only come when I rest in each season in the arms of the One who creates and monitors each one for His purposes, His glory, and my good.

Today I savor summer and rest in contentment about tomorrow.

Chorus at Sunset

Song-birdIn the spring, summer, and early fall, I love reading on our deck overlooking the back lawn after dinner in the evening. It is a time of settling at the end of the day. The breezes catch the lush fragrance of our sweet bay magnolia blossoms as the sun begins to slip down in the western sky. The pages of the book in my lap invite me to venture into other worlds, places, and ideas as the sunlight retreats into shade across my shoulders. It is a gentle time of the day as I sit sipping my tea.

In summer, fireflies gradually begin to appear across the lawn, but before they make their appearance the summer evening chorus begins. Across the lawn and the neighborhood, birdsong echoes and reverberates in serenade. As I listen, I wonder which bird is making the song. I know that if my youngest granddaughter were at my side she could likely tell me. Her great love of birds and knowledge about them astounds me. She knows their habitat, their eating habits, their song, and so much more. In this, she reminds me of the extent of the details about every created thing and I am awed by that evidence of our Creator.

Listening to the chorus, I consider what a gift their melodies create. Even though they sing at many other times, it is at this time of the day when I have stopped rushing about that I hear them best. Why do they sing then?

A search online gives some clues about their singing habits. I discover that many birds are diurnal and governed by the rhythm of light and dark. In the morning, it is the robin and redstart that begins the chorus, with many sparrows and finches being the last to join in. As the sun begins to descend in the evening sky, the chorus begins again but this time it is the sparrows and finches that begin with the robins and other birds joining last. Later, the nocturnal birds pick up the refrain.

Some of the songs relate to feeding or mating. Some believe they are calling out to let all know that they made it through the day and are alive, well, and in the area. Some believe they are communicating they have found a good place to roost while others believe it is because night predators will soon pose a risk and they are calling their kind back to their nests to roost. Even so, the potential deeper meanings are not understood.

Perhaps it is creation’s lullaby for the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve and serves as a reminder of God’s presence. Perhaps it serves to remind us to call those we love to return to the safety of home. Perhaps it serves to remind us to allow our own voices to celebrate the day and reminds us we have made it safely.

I am not sure it is so important for me to know why they sing, but instead that I enjoy the chorus with its crescendos and decrescendos and offer praise to the One who created the song.