Redbuds

My redbud tree is blooming.

Redbud 1It does every year at this time. As the days grow longer, the grass greener, the wind warmer, I see magenta-pink little buds dotting the brittle gray branches. And I’m comforted by the rhythm of seasons.

The dramatic seasonal changes in Indiana have taught me much about living and dying … and coming back to life. Spring, especially, reveals that the grave is not the end.

And bare branches blooming have taught me that no matter how bleak the winter, life stirs just below the surface.

Redbud 2 The change in seasons marches with regularity, like a predictable timepiece — not enough to set a watch by, but surely enough to develop a certain level of expectation. And somehow all the players in nature follow the plan — the robins, the grass, the buds — they all follow the score like a finely-tuned orchestra poised to strike the first note.

Somehow, I’ve also come to expect that when I make plans that seem to line up with what God is doing in and around me, they should unfold predictably — like I expect them to. Evidently, God doesn’t have the same expectation.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. (Is. 40:28)

Until recently, I assumed my plans and dreams were God’s plans and dreams for me — only that God’s were bigger and better (of course) because he has a better perspective. I didn’t think God’s plans for me would include grief and disappointment and darkness. So much winter.

Turns out, God’s plans are completely different than mine. Unsearchable, unquantifiable, unpredictable. Turns out, he’s asking me to know that he is still good even in the middle of night.

Oh redbud tree, teach me to bloom when my bark is stark and stretched from harsh winter freezes. Teach me to respond to the Son even when everything around me is fragile and dormant. And redbud tree, teach me to dance in the music of life rather than become entangled in the cords of death.

You’ve shown me life like that, redbud. You and Jesus. Yes, Jesus has shown me how to live that way, too.

Looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. (Heb. 12:2-3)

Redbud 3

Spring

I hear songbirds this morning, heralds of spring. The renewal of the earth is all around me… in budding trees, in chickadees, in green blades of grass pushing through dormant mats of brown.

 

And I’m forced to consider God’s promise to make all things new.

spring butterfly

Maybe God puts us in hard places, impossible places where the future is bleak, disease-ridden, and barren so he can show us what renewal really looks like.

One thing I know, our future depends on God being the incomparable, faithful, rejuvenating God he claims to be. Our hope is rooted in the character of God, who alone has the capacity to do something utterly new.

Lift up your eyes on high and see:

Who created these?

He who bring out their host and numbers them,

calling them all by name;

because he is great in strength,

mighty in power,

not one is missing.

Why do you say, O Jacob,

and speak, O Israel,

“My way is hidden from the Lord,

and my right is disregarded by my God”?

Have you not known, Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;

his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.

Even youths will faint and be weary,

and the young will fall exhausted;

but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,

they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

they shall walk and not faint.

Is. 40:26-31

Transplanted

It’s not the land of my birth, but it is the land of my growth, of my becoming… my forming.

Indiana.

Sunrise

I am formed by rich red kitchen walls tinged with splatters of bacon grease and pancake batter on Saturday mornings. Clinking silverware and stacking clean plates from the dishwasher remind me that early morning chores call as faithfully as the sunrise. And I am transformed by meals at the kitchen table shaping this family into one that loves good food and conversations that always end up about movies.

And I am formed by the Indiana clay under my fingernails as I plant and weed and tend red lillythe roses and lavender in my garden beds. The hostas in the shade and lilies in the sun have taught me about blooming and pruning… necessary ingredients for growth. The redbuds we planted out back with their spindly branches and magenta blooms never fail to enchant. Every spring, they tell me that new life lurks just beneath the surface, merely waiting for a warm sun-kiss.

I am formed by three boys whose ever-bouncing, climbing, running feet found mud puddles to splash and balls to kick. They saw forests and imagined new worlds. They saw boxes full of Legos and built spaceships. They saw me and knew I could be trusted. What a gift. And every once in awhile, I convinced them to slow down and notice the caterpillar creeping along a leaf… which fostered in me a bit more childlike wonder.

I am formed by sure-changing seasons, sometimes subtle, sometimes brash. By soft grass and smiling daisies and sticky humid days passed poolside. By falling leaves, apple daisies and lavendarpicking, and bonfire crackles in the crisp night air. By chilled still bare tree-patterns against stormy skies and the hush of fresh-fallen snow. And by robins digging, creeks trickling, and buds bursting while rain pitter-patters on the window. They’ve taught me to watch, listen, and expect beauty at every turn.

I am formed by family time on the olive green couches. Guitar strumming, scripture reading, hearts singing, quiet praying time — inconsistent, but forming just the same. We’ve sought to listen to each other and to God. Together. Sometimes questions go unanswered, but we ask them anyway. Our belief in the One who knows all is strengthened in the asking.

I am formed by hospital beds and emergency rooms, by disease and unknowing. Struggles not just with tight budgets and traffic jams, but with temptations and tempers and immune systems. I have grabbed hold of Hoosier grit. It tells me that keeping on is better than giving up. And that friends who stand with you in the darkness love to celebrate with you in the light.

And I am formed by my partner in life. Marriage has taught me about giving and receiving Hand Holdingand how to be true. My dear one has loved me well and patiently listened while I railed against the hand of the One who loves us best. He stands beside me, stands up for me, stands to protect me, and stands with me in the place we’ve made home. His strength has softened me, and his softness shows me that loud and quick are not necessarily the only way to get something done.

Oh Indiana, I’ve still yet to mention homeschool co-ops and history clubs and milk runs to Rockville. Dunes camping, summer projects, tour buses, farmer’s markets, and state fairs are all part of life that has become mine. How you’ve changed me. How you’ve taught me. How you’ve welcomed this California transplant and encouraged her to grow.

Thank you.

fall trailside

The Face of a Friend

Hugging the path

My faithful friends are like an autumn breeze,

With gusts of laughter, buoyant on the wind.

Like rusty red and playful yellow leaves,

Our lives entwine entangled one within.

 

When autumn zephyr blows with forceful wail
And maple shakes and shivers in the blast,
The hustling, bustling, ever-changing gale
Sends foliage flying, fleeing – none outlast.

 

In the grass

But friends of mine do bare a softer stream:

With words they mend and tend to broken heart,

With sighs they stir my memories and my dreams,

With prayers they set unspoken needs apart.

 

Theses kindred souls surround me with their grace,
Unchanging, stand beside me face to face.

A Clear View

Growing up in the Los Angeles basin, on clear days, I had an amazing view of the San Gabriel Mountains… Mt. Baldy, Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear.  They would truly take my breath away on crisp February mornings dusted with snow.  Those mountains rooted me and made me feel secure.

Snowy-San-Gabriel-Mountains

I could orient myself by the mountains.  Heading south on the 57 freeway to Orange County, they graced my rearview mirror.  Heading east on the 10 toward Ontario, they stood to my left. Heading north on the 605 to Pasadena, they stretched out in front of me.  The mountains gave me something to measure against, unmoving and true.

I missed them when I moved to the midwest.  I miss them still in Orlando.  I need to look to other landmarks to get my bearings.

“… in view of God’s mercy…”  Romans 12:1

Is viewing God’s mercy a centering, grounding reality in my life like my view of the San Gabriel’s? God’s mercy tells me a lot about my relationship to him.  It shows me where I stand with him: not deserving, but receiving forgiveness.  It reveals the true character of my heart: bent toward sin, but set free in the Spirit.  It broadcasts the greatness of my salvation: nothing I did, but everything God did for me.

Fog

So do I have a clear view?

In LA sometimes the haze would settle in and obscure my view.  The mountains would look fuzzy or disappear altogether.  Well, they didn’t disappear.  They remained in their fixed position — unchanging.  I just couldn’t see them as clearly.

So what clouds my view of God’s mercy — fear of what others think of me, feeling like I don’t fit in, not taking time to rest and meditate on God’s goodness.    His mercy remains solid and true, but I fumble around unable to get my bearings.

Oh God, clear out the haze.  Let my view be crystal clear of all that your mercy means… today.  Thank you for holding true and never changing, no matter how thick the fog. 

What clouds your view of God’s mercy?

What’s Real?

I’ve been thinking about authenticity lately.  Not the precise, indisputable, dependable kind, but the genuine kind.  The honest-to-goodness, tried-and-true, take-me-as-I-am kind of authenticity.

It’s the opposite of fake.

Mama w:ducklingsPrecious baby ducks have been swimming around the pond in our apartment complex lately.  They huddle together following their mama, trusting her completely to lead them to safe waters and good things to eat. They don’t seem to worry about the fact that they can’t fly.  They don’t seem bothered by their stubby feathers or undeveloped quacks.  They are content to be ducklings.  What else could they be?

They barely resemble this blue rubber ducky.Blue Ducky

The Lord is near to all, to all who call on him in truth.  Ps. 145:18

Hmmm. I don’t think God wants my rubber ducky faith… the faith that is smooth and well shaped, but has no life, no room for growth.  He doesn’t want to see me pretending to need him, but secretly thinking I have to do it all on my own.

I don’t think my friends want to see that either.

They want to know I don’t have it all together.  The places I question if God cares, if God is listening, if he’ll come through.  They want to see my struggles… stubby feathers and all. In that authenticity, they can draw near.

It’s not pretty.  But, it’s real.

And if I ever want to fully realize the beauty in who God has made me to be, I have to learn to be OK with reality… I have to be willing to risk failure and show where I’m broken. Because, I’m learning, that’s how I truly reflect Jesus… how I truly show I’m his.  What else could I ever want to be?

 

So Father, draw near to me as I call out to you in truth.  The honest-to-goodness cry of my heart is that I need you.  I am truly lost without you. I ask you to reveal places in my life where I am pretending, where I’m offering you less than my whole heart.  Let every word and meditation of my heart be real before you.  Thank you, Father.  I’m yours. 

 

c Julie Sanders 2013

 

Hiding

Here’s another post from a fellow Cru blogger, Stephanie Reeves.  I love the way Stephanie draws life lessons from her everyday experiences.  This lesson on waiting for God’s best especially speaks to my heart these days.
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hermit-crabMy daughter and I have two hermit crabs. One of our original pair died a few months ago, and we replaced it shortly after Christmas. Just a day or so after we got the new guy, he burrowed under the sand in his crabitat, and we haven’t seen him since. Titan, the original hermie, decided to go with him.

That was at least 6 weeks ago. With the advice of my crab-aficionado friend, Robin, we decided to see if we could gently dig them up to see what was going on. So yesterday, with trepidation, I gently dug around in the sand. Much to my delight, I found Titan, hiding in a little hidey hole all by himself, alive and well. Next, the search was on for Alex. I found him across the tank. He was alive, but not as kickin’ as Titan. I brought them both topside, cleaned and refreshed the tank, and then left them to see what they’d do.

Within the hour, both were burrowed back under the sand.

I have no idea what that means.

But upon reading in “The Story” Bible this morning, I came upon this verse: “‘Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who  brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him'” (Exodus 32:1).

Moses had been gone on the mountain to meet with God for 6 weeks. The people grew impatient. So, taking matters into his own hands, Aaron collected their gold jewelry, he threw it into the fire, melted it, and formed a golden calf, which they then proceeded to worship.

Oy vey.

The Israelites grew impatient when Moses seemed to be hiding for 6 weeks. The result? A golden calf, God’s anger, and further judgement on Israel.

Abraham and Sarah also took matters in their own hands. The result was Ishmael–and today’s Arab nation, which has been at war with Israel for thousands of years.

Nothing bad happened when my impatience and curiosity prompted a search for my secluded crabs. If they had been in the middle of a molt, I could have further stressed them and caused their death. I am thankful that didn’t happen, but it could have.

“Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary” (Isaiah 40:31).

God’s plan is always the best. Pushing our own way gets us in trouble.

 

Stephprofile

Stephanie Reeves authors the blog Compelled. She lives in Orlando with her husband of 22 years, their three kids, and her mother-in-law, which, contrary to popular opinion, does not produce a lot of fodder for her blog. She has been a writer/editor and copyeditor with Worldwide Challenge, the magazine of Cru.
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hermit crab photo credit:  Dan Pearce at Single Dad Laughing

My Florida Nature

cypress growthSunday afternoon — I feel the pull to spend time outside “walking in the garden” with my Creator God.

A pale blue sky. Warm sun on our backs.  Florida scrub stretching on for miles.  Sharp saw grass carpets the sparse forest of scraggy pines.

men walking

Through the wilderness, hard pressed gravel gently curves and draws us on.  My men lead the way.  I am the minority gender in my clan.  I like it that way.  They huddle in a pack, swapping lines from Star Wars and The Princess Bride.  I hang to the rear, drinking in the sight of four sets of shoulders, four sets of feet and hands.  Strong.  They plow into the future… at least today.

Around a bend, the forest thickens and envelopes us under a canopy of Florida cypress. My men head into thicket, leaving the path in search of treasure.  I am struck by a treasure of another kind.

Growing in a stagnant stream, bell-shaped tree trunks stand silent, majestic.  Other worldly. They look to be storing up the water like a swollen elephant’s trunk.  Brown oval shaped leaves litter the forest floor, making the space appear untouched, forgotten. This wonderland was waiting for us to discover it… an off beat beauty reserved only for those willing to risk leaving the trail.

cypress grove

Central Florida wilderness astounds me, delights me.  I like the surprises.  What I see here is like nothing I’ve known in the deserts of Arizona, or the beaches of California, or the rolling hills of Indiana.

Creator God, thank you for showing me beauty in my Florida surroundings.  Thank you for strangeness.  You’re teaching me to trust you and receive the unfamiliar from your hand.  Soften my heart so I can receive even more.

Beyond the blue

 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourself to be my disciples.  John 15:7-8

 

Do you see the flow?

Remain in Jesus… ask… given.

Father’s glory… fruit… disciples.

Earlier in this passage, Jesus clearly says that we will only bear fruit by remaining in Him, that we can do nothing apart from Him.  That’s a spiritual truth that’s so much easier to understand than it is to live out!

But the flow of this passage separates the remaining and the bearing with asking, receiving and Fathers’ glory.  God’s glory. He is glorified in the asking.  He is glorified in fruit bearing.

God’s glory — His shininess, His brightness, the brilliance of who He is comes forth more clearly when I ask Him “whatever I wish.”

Amazing.

Why don’t I ask more?

When the sky’s the limit, it’s hard to know where to start.

First, I want to know Jesus more.  The remaining, abiding, staying He speaks of… it often alludes me.  In the quiet of the morning, when my thoughts are accompanied by the tick of the wall clock and the hum of the frig, even then, it’s work to keep my mind and my heart fixed on Him.  I wander.

Then, when the day becomes crowded with grocery lists, laundry, and algebra, how do I then really remain in Him?  Short words and judgmental attitudes crowd Him out.

Second, I want to ask for more — fruit. Because, it seems that the fruit I bear is what points others to Jesus.  The fruit I bear is my marker that I belong to Him.  The fruit I bear comes to play in my relationships — not my bible knowledge or how many years I’ve been on the ‘payroll’ at Cru. The proof that I belong to Jesus resides in my love and joy and peace, my patience, kindness and goodness,  and my faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.

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So, I’ll start here with my asking… Father, I want to know how to remain in Jesus.  I want you to be glorified in me and through me.  I want the fruitful life you promise to those who follow you… not just for me, but for my husband and my boys.  Show us, Father, what this life looks like.

It starts today.  Here in the quiet, teach me to “remain.”  I ask for it all, Father.  All the fruit that you are glorified to give, the sky and beyond.

 

Do you know…

…you’re beautiful?  Do you know that you were put together with precision and care?  Do you know that the Creator of the Universe takes absolute delight in just thinking of you?

You wonder how I know.

I know because God saves the best for last.

At the beginning of time, when God started speaking this amazing world into existence, he pulled water molecules together and made “ocean” — teeming with manatees and clown fish and sea coral — he said, “It is good.”

 

 

And when he stretched out majestic Rocky Mountains, made towering Sequoias touch the sky, and painted the nuances of orange day lilies, he said, “It is good.”

 

 

 

And even when he launched Mars, Venus, Neptune, and Saturn into space and speckled the sky with stars and galaxies far beyond our comprehension, even then, he said, “It is good.”

But before he was finished, when God wanted to crown all the good things he had created, to add the piece de resistance, he reached down into soil and created human — the one God image-bearer.  He touched and moulded and pulled and shaped the first human body into existence.   Then, to add the spark, God breathed into human’s nostrils and oxygen filled lungs, blood flowed in veins, consciousness infused brain matter. (Gen. 2:7)

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

And God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. (Gen. 1:27, 31)

 

So from here you may still be wondering, “Ok, Julie, so God was pleased with the first man and woman he made.  But they messed up big time.  They rejected God’s plan and got entangled in sin.  And ever since then, men and women have been making a huge mess of this amazing world God made.  How does that make me beautiful?”

One question.  Of all that God created, which piece did he choose to rescue?  For which bit of creation did God choose to die?  To which segment did God offer eternal life? (Ok, so that was 3 questions.)

You.  He rescued you.  He died for you.  He offers real life to you.

So, that’s how I know you are beautiful.  Because the Creator of the grand canyons and lady bugs looked at you and said, “She’s worth it.  Yes, she’s made mistakes and she is sometimes a little selfish or impatient (ok, maybe more than “a little.”)  But she’s mine.  I don’t want to live without her.  I’m dying to have her near me.”

He didn’t do that for rocks and rivers, no matter how spectacular.

So, the next time the beauty of a sunrise takes your breath away.  Or the next time you are taken in by the intricate pattern of a butterfly’s wing, or enraptured by the nuzzle of puppy… remember.  In your Father’s eyes, nothing else in all of creation holds a candle to you.  Nothing.  He’s crazy about you.

He thinks you’re beautiful.

So you are.

Period.

 

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I’m learning the power of writing in community.  Check out this amazing post about diving in deep to face our fears from my new blogging friend, Jennifer Dukes Lee at Getting Down with Jesus.