August 11, 2015

Storm Warnings

Today is a stormy day here in Phoenix. I mean that both literally and figuratively. We are under a dust storm warning, and hopefully, we will get some much needed monsoon rain here shortly. I hear thunder overhead, and the skies are gray and filled with dirt (yep, life in the desert during monsoon season). While I am excited for the possible storm, I am feeling stressed over many things. This morning, I woke up feeling rather blah, not horrible or in pain, but just with this feeling of dread hanging over me. I guess it is the realization that school will be starting in less than a week, and that means that my fall semester, my last FALL at Regent University, is about to begin. I have blogged about my upcoming semester and how this is my last round of courses in my communication program. I am set to tackle the two most intense courses (Theology and Philosophy) AND I am also teaching 3 classes at GCU and ACU (down from 4 as I lost one last week). My heart is panicking a bit, but I know that all is well, that all WILL BE WELL. I have to pass through this valley before I can scale the mountain of exhilaration in order to graduate with my Ph.D! Thus, as the tension mounts for for me, I am feelingly the pace quicken as I prepare for next week. In truth, I have two weeks because my schools start a week a part. Still, it is the fact that it is August 11, and that means school is just around the corner! Sigh!

Sovereign Lord, please HELP ME stay calm and be prepared for what lays ahead!!

In addition to school beginning in the next week (weeks), I have to be prepared for my Mom's radiation treatments which will begin next Tuesday. Mom successfully endured her cancer surgery, and praise to God, she is cancer free. The next step in her treatment plan is scheduled radiation, and that means that for 17 days, she will be receiving a daily dose of intensely focused radiation to ensure the cancer doesn't return. Mom's condition is already difficult. Her Leukemia is progressing, and she suffers severe fatigue. Furthermore, her memory is failing rapidly. She hasn't lost her longterm memory, but it is her short-term memory that is gone. She forgets what she is doing within 5-10 minutes of doing it, and she repeats things constantly. I know it is not as bad as with my Aunt, who is now in a nursing home because of her dementia and stroke, but it is so eerily similar to what happened 10-15 years ago. My Dad is doing his best to keep everything under control, and I am living in the balance, in between their life and my own. I want so much to be free to go and live my life as the Lord leads, but I feel restrained at present to remain where I am, at least, for the next year.

Psalm 107:28-30 says, "Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, And He brought them out of their distresses. He caused the storm to be still, So that the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they were quiet, So He guided them to their desired haven." I love this passage from Psalm 107 as it is a reminder of the faithfulness of God during times of stormy weather. Yes, the Lord calmed the seas, and He guided them to their desired destination. I love this word picture because it tells me that no matter what the storms of life contain, the Lord is always on guard, always captaining the ship, and maneuvering His children through the rough seas and onto their final resting place. No matter what we encounter, our God reigns. No matter how high the seas swell, our God is in control. No matter how afraid or weary we may be, He is with us. It is an assurance from Scripture to remind us that God is always at the Helm.

The Storms of Life

I remember reading somewhere that it is in the storms of life where our true or real character shows forth. It is when we are hard pressed that our faith shines. If our faith in God is weak, then it is in these times that we falter, struggle, and often fail most easily. If our faith is strong, conversely, we will withstand the buffeting of the winds and the harshness of the rains in order to endure and pass through the storm unscathed.
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:11 ESV)
When I was first married, I wanted to garden, to grow my own vegetables, and can them for winter use. My sister-in-law at that time was an avid home maker. She was a school teacher too, and she was incredibly crafty, a good cook, and an excellent seamstress. It seemed she could do practically anything she set her mind to do, and she always did it with great success. I sort of idolized her back then. She and my brother had a lifestyle that I wanted, dreamed about, and longed for. It wasn't that they had the "happy family," but rather it was the kind of lifestyle that seemed to call out to me, that represented what I wanted most in life -- a home.

My sister-in-law inherited her mother's home, a very fine older home in a well-established neighborhood in San Jose. It was lovely. It was a smallish home, modest in its design, but set on a very nice lot. The lot had mature oak trees and ivy covered areas in front and back. My sister-in-law was a gardener extraordinaire, and their yard was filled with flower beds and pots sporting the most brilliant of flowering plants. Inside their home, their modest furnishings were offset by polished hardwood floors, crown molding, and a fine assortment of antiques. Their home was very "homey" in that it was always a place of welcome, a place where anyone and everyone was made to feel welcome.

I met my sister-in-law in 1987. My brother had been married previously, and unfortunately, his first wife was not a nice woman. I mean, she had issues, major issues, mostly stemming from her controlling and manipulative and alcoholic father. I knew her and her younger sister from high school, and generally, I didn't like either of them. They were not "nice" people, if you know what I mean. They were the type of girls who would back-bite and "B*****" at everyone, especially other girls, even if they didn't know them well. I tended to stay clear of them whenever possible, and it was awkward because my brother was dating the sister all through high school. In 1979, he married her, and he knew right away he had made a huge mistake. Of course, she ruined his life, and stole from him the very joy that made him such a great guy. That marriage lasted only 3-4 years.

After their divorce, my brother lived with us for a time and then started his life over again. Unfortunately, he used drugs and alcohol to num the pain of his failed marriage, and that in and of itself, was a nightmare. However, when he met my SIL (#2), he seemed to find someone who was a positive influence on his life, and in time, he turned over a new leaf, attended AA, got sober, and became his old self again. In those days, my brother and SIL seemed very happy. They had this idyllic life. They either were at home working in the yard or house or they were camping, boating, or fishing. It seemed that they were always doing something fun -- visiting antique fairs and malls, going to Santa Cruz for the day, or just hanging out having a good time.

I wanted to be like my SIL for a couple reasons. First, she was a self-made woman. I mean that in this way -- she put herself through college, made a career for herself as a school teacher, bought her own condo, and lived frugally (yes, very frugally) in order to support herself on a meager teacher's salary. Second, she made her own clothes, cooked and canned vegetables, and performed all sorts of maintenance on her little place. She could do most anything, and she had this very old-fashioned attitude about not needing help, not asking for help, but relying on one's own abilities to be responsible. She said it was her Scottish roots, and to me, her approach to life and her way of being in control was appealing. Third, I loved that she was so sturdy, so solid, so dependable.

To me, my SIL, represented everything I wanted in life back then -- house, home, and family. I wanted to be like her, to be able to do things like she did, and to be able to be solid, dependable, and able to do things, just as she did. It was under her tutelage that I learned how to garden and plant flowers, shrubs and vines. In fact, her normal gift for birthday or Christmas would always be a grapevine, a rose bush, or some other garden "thing." I loved that about her. She would make me a basket and put goodies in it, things like garden gloves, little garden gnomes, seed packets, old catalogs, and treats from her garden. Her special gifts were magical because they always made me think about next season, think about what I wanted to do in the yard, how I could make it better, more manageable, more pleasing to look at and enjoy.

In the course of days, months and years, learning how to live off the land (she raised chickens, she would have had farm animals too if San Jose would have allowed it), I came to understand what it means to be "hardened off." In gardening lingo, to harden off a plant means to train it to resist damage by the elements. Hardening off is something all gardeners do in order to ensure that their seedlings develop strong root systems and a solid internal structure. If you do not harden off your plants before the heat of summer or the dense rains come, you will most likely lose most of them. What's more, if they do survive the hard times, they will be poor producers of fruit, suffer from rot, or linger on as shriveled and withered plants good for nothing but the compost heap.

Life Application

Hardening off, then, is a process whereby the farmer or planter, tenderly cares for his plants so that they have the best chance of surviving difficult conditions in life. Hardening off plants is the process "of moving plants outdoors for a portion of the day to gradually introduce them to the direct sunlight, dry air, and cold nights" (GrowingGardens.org, 2015). This process is necessary to "give plants a chance to grow from seed to mature, fruit-bearing plant(s)" (GrowingGardens.org, 2015). Thus, hardening off is crucial to ensure planting success. Furthermore, "Hardening off gradually exposes the tender plants to wind, sun and rain and toughens them up by thickening the cuticle on the leaves so that the leaves lose less water. This helps prevent transplant shock; seedlings that languish, become stunted or die from sudden changes in temperature" (About.com, 2015).

Throughout the Word of God, we see stories that offer life application using gardening or planting parallels. God is often described as a Gardener or a Vinedresser. The Word is referred to as Seed. The soil is often an analogy for conditions of the heart. God chose to provide life instruction through gardening metaphors because gardening, planting and harvesting were all "known" activities in the ancient world. All people, no matter their status, age or ethnicity, would understand earthly seasonal changes, the processes involved in growing food, and the way in which the farmer or land manager would work the land or manage the livestock. These metaphors helped the ancient world grasp spiritual connections, and in a similar way today, modern day believers understand the importance of nature and the reality of the magnitude of its power.

Therefore, when the storms of life come our way, and they will, it is vital that as believers we are "hardened off" in order to withstand the changes in temperature, the scope and magnitude of the power of the wind, rain and other elements. We must be brought to maturity, to be made strong and sturdy so that we can bear much fruit (John 5:1-15). The Word says it this way in Ephesians 4:11-16 NIV,
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
It is God's design for His children that they attain a full stature or come to maturity in order to prevent them from being carried away by false doctrine, the trickery of men, and decietful schemes. We are, in short, to grow up from seedlings, new babes in the faith, and to become strong, solid, sturdy plants that bear much Godly and Holy fruit. What is more, the Word tells us that the fruit we bear will be good, attractive, and will help other people to know in whom we place our faith. Matt. 7:16 says, "By their fruit you will recognize them" suggesting that our fruit, our spiritual fruit will be something that will demonstrate our testimony and witness to the world. Again, in Matthew 12:33, it says "Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit." The Lord allows the storms of life to come down upon us in order for us to learn the natural process of "hardening off" so that we will become strong, sturdy, and mature believers in Christ Jesus.

Reflection

Today as I stop and think about the approaching storm (which by the way has brought some rain!), I wonder how the Lord intends to use the stress and strain of the "hardening off" process to help mature me, to grow me into a solid, sturdy, and sober Christian woman. I long to be that kind of woman, a God-honoring woman who loves the Lord will all her heart, mind, soul and strength. I long to be significant -- but not in just any ordinary way -- but rather in the way the Lord leads me. Whatever He has in mind for me, I pray that my life would be significant. I would ask that the work He assigns to me would be worthy of His name, and that my efforts, as futile and flawed as they are, would bring Him honor, praise, and ultimately glory. I know that I can do nothing in my own strength, for it is through Christ that I am able to be successful, to be steady, and to be strong. Yet, I long for a day when I can be significant in the lives of my students, in my home, and in and among my family. May my life count, Lord, in whatever way you desire. May it be fruitful, and may my work be good, productive, and prosperous to the Kingdom. I want to be the woman of your choosing, a woman after God's own heart, a woman who desires above all else, to live her life fully, authentically, and supernaturally for God and for His Kingdom.

In all things, I lay my life down, my desires, my dreams, and all my deepest secrets and petitions in order to do the work the Lord has for me this good day. I know that too often, I get in the way of His work. It is too often that I fall, I fail, and I flounder as I diligently attempt to produce good works. Yes, I try my best to do good things, but my human endeavors will never be pleasing to the Lord. No, I know that it is only those works, the works produced through Holy fruit, that will stand the test of time.

I ask now, in Jesus' merciful Name, to be shown the right and proper way to go so that I can measure up to the full stature of a man on that day when the Lord returns for me or He calls me home to be with Him forever. May the Lord's Name be praised, may it be blessed, and may it be worshipped this good, this very good (and wet and soggy) day! Selah!

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