Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Lesson of the Spider Plant

My spider plant has spent its summer outside on the picnic table beneath the trees. This morning when I sat down and opened my Bible, I noticed a cluster of tiny white flowers beginning to open.

I smiled and suddenly flew back in time to another spider plant someone had given me when I was much younger. 

Our house was full of children then and sometimes life was hard. The roof often leaked and so did the children.  How does one keep up with washing and then drying sheets draped behind the stove on rainy days?  In those days, a dryer was not an option.  And the children, the meals; so many needs, so little energy. Self-pity, resentment, worry, I struggled with them all.

But God wasn't silent in those years.  I believe that's why He sent the spider plant.  I remember the day I got it.  I put it on the window sill and stood back, enjoying the way it added a touch of grace to our battered living room.

Then it started to sicken. I tried watering it daily.  It didn't help.  I fertilized it.  The leaves grew even more yellow.  Then someone suggested it needed a new pot. 

I'll never forget what I saw when I shook the plant loose from the old pot. A rat's nest of tangled roots turned inward and left no room in the pot for anything but--you guessed it--roots. Those roots were literally wrapped around themselves, strangling each other, choking out life.

Kneeling on the living room floor covered with newspapers and holding that sick plant, I suddenly understood the lesson God was teaching me.  I saw myself as God saw me. Truth whispered in the depth of my spirit. "Eva, this is what happens to you when you let selfishness consume you. Your thoughts turn inward. Your energy turns to self-pity.  Bitterness and resentment begin to grow inside you, sapping you of energy and enthusiasm.  You no longer desire fruitfulness, holiness or godliness." 

I needed the object lesson of the root bound spider plant so long ago.  I still do. Why?  Because the roots of selfishness and self-pity--resentments and bitterness--are subtle and destructive.  They creep into our lives.  Instead of growing in godliness and fruitfulness, its easy to become self bound with nothing to give others.  But God shows us a better way.  How often over the years has He reminded me, "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness" (1 Peter 1:3).

"Everything, Father?" I ask.

"Yes, my beloved Daughter.  I have given you everything you need as you walk through this life.  Hold onto my Hand and we will walk together."

I close my Bible, look out at the yard, dappled in its coat of sunshine and shadow.  I think of the lesson of the  spider plant, and I smile.

Friday, August 26, 2011

That We May Find Joy

We often seek joy, but in this world, with its trials and tribulations, true joy can be illusive.  I thought about Naomi and Ruth.  Their lives had been torn and disrupted.  Yet they trusted God and followed His biding.  God loved them both.  He didn't leave Naomi and Ruth alone in their grief. The Great God who promised to nurture and sustain the widow and the fatherless would bring forth new life. From Boaz and Ruth's union came fruitfulness forevermore.  

Fruitfulness forevermore; I remember pondering those words when my grandson came home from the hospital.  My youngest son and his wife had named him for both his uncles -- tiny Mark Andrew would carry on our two oldest son's names.

Still ill from a lengthy bout of bronchitis, pleurisy and a lingering cough, I was afraid to hold, or even touch him. But I sat beside him and observed his long slender hands, his tiny face. His eyes were screwed tightly shut, he had his Uncle Dow's smooth dark hair and those pointy ears we'd laughingly called "Spock ears."

This little boy would never know the first Dow Andrew, but he will know him one day in heaven. A prayer left my lips. "Lord, Jesus, Saviour, Lord, bless this little one. Draw his heart close to Yours that he might love and worship You forever."

Even as I prayed a longing resurrected in my soul -- I was reminded again of the great paradox of Scripture; life comes out of death. The idea of fruit bearing is the same for me as for Naomi, the same as it is for the grain which falls into the earth in order to bring forth great harvest. Our Lord illustrated this when He said: I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:24-25 NIV).

The women said to Naomi, Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer.  May he become famous throughout Israel!  He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age.  For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth. (Ruth 4:14, 15)

God always keeps His promises -- When we trust the Master Gardener with the seeds of our lives, He gives us an abundant life filled with incredible fruitfulness and joy -- not just during this life here on earth, but the kind of fruitful joy which lasts for an eternity. 

Note to Joann and Mary - In the shuffle of getting caught up on past correspondence, your emails were deleted.  As I went to read your email--somehow I clicked on something which deleted them and I can't get them back!  Would you send your emails again?  I would so love to hear from you.  You have been such an encouragement to me.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Praise from the Pit

Just as the women blessed Naomi and praised God after Ruth gave birth to a son, so I have also been blessed by loving women friends.  Petey is one of them.  A deepening of our relationship came the year we shared a cabin  at the Oregon Christian Writers Summer Conference following my son's death. After we settled in, we spent time praying for our families and those who would be attending the conference. Then we talked about what God was doing in our lives. 

Petey's words almost tripped over each other when she described what the Lord had been teaching her about the high praises of God. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, my back braced again the edge of the bed, I leaned my elbow on my knee and cupped my chin in my hand. 

My friend's excitement was palpable, as she drew a folded piece of paper from the pages of her Bible.  I listened as she read aloud what she'd written:  

Determined to praise the Lord in spite of being in the pit, I sat in the Sunday worship service obediently, but joylessly rasping out my praise to God. As I blew my nose and blended my quavering voice with the congregation, the Holy Spirit reminded me of the verse, "Let the high praises of God be in their mouth." (Psalm 149:6 KJV).

She looked up and smiled at me. "I've never understood what high praises are," she said.  "and if there are high praises, are there also low praises? What is the difference?" She turned the page over and continued reading. 

"What are high praises, Father? Your throne is fixed in the heavens. As I praise You from earth, doesn't my praise always rise the same distance to reach You? Why is some praise 'high praise'?

"And then I thought of Joseph (less his coat of many colors), who praised God from his pit. 'You are like Joseph,' God seemed to say to my spirit. 'You are alone in a pit of confusion and pain, unable to climb out of your sorrow. When you offer the sacrifice of praise from the deep pit place it must rise higher to reach My throne. It becomes high praise-most precious in My sight.'"

Struck by the truths she had gleaned, I leaned forward. "I've done that," I whispered, "I mean praised Him from the pit. Except it wasn't me. " 

I remembered the last two hours of my son Dow's life.  His girlfriend Jane and I had been at his side, doing what we could to ease his pain and agitation. We assured him of our love and our hands were gentle as we cared for his needs. When he took his final breath Jane and I bowed our heads and wept. The first words that poured out of my mouth were from the Holy Spirit. "Thank you, Jesus, thank you, Jesus. Bless Your Holy Name."

I had barely finished my story when Petey was beside me.  Her hands touched my hair, my forehead. The prayer and blessing she spoke wrapped around my aching heart. "Lord, bring healing and peace to Eva's mind, heart and spirit, even her whole body. Grant her Your Blessing from this time forth and even forevermore." Then she hugged me. 

As my Friend held me in her arms, I realized the words of thanksgiving I had prayed to Jesus the morning my son died had been a sacrifice of praise.  The words of thanksgiving which flowed from my lips the day Dow flew away to heaven were the kind of praises the Psalmist David wrote when he penned the words, Let the high praises of God be in their mouth..." 

Some of you have experienced terrible pain and the unspeakable darkness of the pit.  You may be languishing in the pit right now.  To you, dear ones, I speak God's blessings, sending healing and peace to your aching broken heart, in the name of our Lord. 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Wings of Blessing

There are many blessings scattered all throughout the book of Ruth.  The harvesters blessed Boaz (2:4),   Naomi blessed Boaz (2:19,20),  Boaz blessed Ruth (3:10),  the elders and all those at the gate blessed Boaz and Ruth (4:11-12) and the women blessed Naomi (4:15)   

A thought finds its way into my mind.  Our Lord wants us to bless others.

Last week as I rode the Max train to teach a writing class in Tigard, an  elderly lady who had just moved to our town sat across from me; it was her first time on the train and she was apprehensive. For awhile we talked about buses and schedules then she began telling me her story.  A full blooded Cherokee Indian, lonely, handicapped at birth, she had gone through many hard things. But life was better now; she proudly showed me her engagement ring as she told me about the Irishman who had asked her to be his wife. 

The train pulled into my station and I stood up. "Your stop?" she asked

I nodded and held out my hand. "I'm glad you shared my morning." Then the very words that God had given me as I'd meditated on His Word spilled out from my lips. "May God bless you, my friend."

A blessing given. A blessing received. She reached for my hand and clung to it, there  was emotion in her voice,  "My  Sis," she said, "my sister."

Those  simple words, "May God bless you," have colored my days these past few weeks.  I remembered again how God used them to comfort me following our son's death nine years ago; a hand on my shoulder, a whispered, "May God bless you, my friend, may He bless you and your family."

I have sometimes imagined blessings as wings of truth God has placed deep within the soul. A blessing sets those wings into motion.

For a moment tears mist my eyes.  May God bless each person for whom You have me to pray as I look back, remembering. . . .

May the LORD bless you, dear Friends.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Letting Go -- God's Unfolding Grace

I'm reading Ruth chapter two--a Book found in the Old Testament of the Bible.  But I don't get far and I know why.  When Ruth asks Naomi to allow her to go into the fields of Bethlehem and glean grain it's hard for Naomi to let go.  But listen to her words.  "Go my daughter."

I read Naomi's words aloud and tremble.  I know what it's like when fear reigns and everything in you wants to hold tight to the ones you love. With her lips Naomi says, "Go, my daughter, go," . . .  But what about her heart? My imagination takes over.  Go, my daughter, go . . . . into the fields where the hot sun will scorch your shoulders? Where backbreaking labor will tax your strength as you stoop, again, and again, and again as you gather the occasional stalk of ripened wheat and thrust it into your mantle.

Ruth, the young Moabite widow, steps out of the house and onto the road as Naomi watches, silently holding back her tears.  Oh, Ruth, my daughter, I would go with you, but this is something you must do alone.  I am too old, too tired and the reapers are young.  You, my daughter, an undefended foreigner will certainly be a target for abuse and I-

Naomi smiles and lifts her hand. Go my daughter, go, and may the LORD be with you . . .

But for me it was, "Go my son, go." The summer following the death of our oldest son, quite unexpectedly our sewer suddenly backed up and backed up and backed up some more.  We had no recourse, but to put in a new drain field.

It was a huge undertaking.  My husband rented a back hoe and our youngest son drove it into the backyard.  In spite of his height, he looked small and inexperienced sitting atop the giant machine teetering precariously on the uneven terrain.  His hands fumbled with the gears and fear shot through me.

My wound was fresh, it was gnawing a hole at my insides.  Oh, God, I can't bear to lose another son. I can't --  I bowed my head.  Lord, I can't watch. 

My Lord spoke deep within my heart.  It's okay my daughter. Let go. I'll watch your son for you.

I lifted my face, smiled and raised my hand to our son in an A-okay.  The triumphant smile which spread across his face warmed my heart.  His hand lifted high as he returned my signal.

The back hoe moved forward, lurched.  My son sat tall, his shoulders squared, head held high.  I turned and went into the house.  As I did, I understood a bit more of what it means to let go.

God's grace unfolded to me, just as it did for Naomi and Ruth as they entered the "safe place."  Boaz spoke of it in Ruth 2:12 (NIV):  " . . . may you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge."  Listening to the heart beat of the Lord Most High, Ruth and Naomi were safe and secure in the shadow of God's eagle wings.

As Naomi let go, God's grace unfolded. Together Naomi and Ruth entered the place of acceptance and trust, a place to heal and grow close to the heart of God.  He  is the refuge to whom we can go and find healing for our souls.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

From Ashes to Beauty

This winter our pastor began a sermon series on the book of Ruth. I faced it with mixed emotions; it was the book God had used to help me through the time of my son's death. "Lord," I said, "I don't really want to go back."

But go back I must and I'm not quite sure why He wants me to remember again my journey toward wholeness. I only know that it would be for me a step of obedience.

I start in the first chapter of Ruth and as I read marvel anew at the many times the phrase,"go back", whispers across the page to confirm His Word. Like Naomi I need to go back.

God had been faithful during our son's first battle with testicular cancer. After two surgeries and six months of chemotherapy the prognosis had been positive. "If it doesn't come back in six months he has a fifty-fifty chance it will never recur. After five years he'll be considered cured."

Twelve years later I stood beside my son in the emergency room. He clutched a basin in his hands and his knuckles were white against the white sheet. His dark blue eyes fringed in those long dark lashes we all loved so much, looked bigger then ever.

His voice was hoarse. "They took pictures, Mom. The doctors think the cancer's growing again. Only this time, this time--it's probably in the liver."

The cloud of concern which had shadowed me for several months as my son had complained of frequent back problems darkened, became ominous. I didn't know what to say, except, "We love you, son. Never forget, we're praying...."

Later that afternoon I went to work at the church where I was secretary. The sun crept close to the horizon by the time I took the recycle bin across the street. I set the container on the curb, then turned. I heard the screech of tires. I looked up. A city bus loomed above me. I could have reached out and touched the hard cold metal.

For one wild moment I wished that bus hadn't stopped. Lord, I don't want to go through what's ahead.. The chemo-again-the nausea-again, the waiting after each blood draw. Will the cancer count be the same, or down, or will it be on the rise?

I caught the bus driver's eye, spread my arms in a gesture of apology and stepped back. I could imagine his thoughts. Crazy woman. Why don't you watch where you're going? Why, I could have run you down.

I stood on the side of the road, stunned at what had almost happened. I gazed up at the faces of the passengers peering down at me from the windows, then turned away. Fear of the future pierced my soul. My pain was fresh, eating a hole in my heart.

Even as I wrote these words, I relived the bitterness I felt in my soul that day.  But time has since gentled the agony and where there had been only pain, there is now a sweetness. Is it the presence of my Lord?

The honey of God's Word drops gently into my soul and becomes my song:

Your righteousness reaches to the skies, O God,
you who have done great things.
Who, O God, is like you?
Though you have made me see troubles,
many and bitter, you will restore my life again;
Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel,
who alone does marvelous deeds
Praise be to his glorious name forever;
may the whole earth be filled with his glory,
Amen and Amen

(Psalm 71:20-21; 72:18-19)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Giving Thanks

Today I am remembering my children and grandchildren from Thanksgivings past.  Some of our grade school and high school aged grandchildren are now grown and although new ones have since entered the world, circumstances manage to keep us apart. Thanksgiving this year will be quiet, maybe even a bit lonely, but reading journal entries from the “Thankful Book” encourages my heart.   I read on, remembering joy and gladness:

*  I'm thankful for life going on after the towers fell . . . for God showing His face in America.  I'm thankful for another peace filled day.  I'm thankful for my best friend . . . *grandpa*  . . . FOR FAMILY!  FOR WHAT JESUS DID FOR ME!
          ~ Granddaughter KN
*  I am thankful for: trees and leaves, wind and gushing rain.  My dad, my Mom, my special loving family, coffee and pie.
        ~ Daughter LG
* I am thankful for music and my children singing.  I am thankful for Dow's whimsical smile and huge hair,  walking, fall leaves, snow and my sister's smile.  I thank God for all things, good and bad . . .  God has given me so much.
         ~ Daughter BN
* I am thankful for something for Christmas and I know what it is!  I'm thankful for the song I played and I'm thankful for having fun!
       ~ Grandson SN
* I'm thankful for my grandpa Bud who went into World War Two and fought for our country and I'm thankful for my old dog named Bull.
       ~  Granddaughter GG
* I am thankful for my experiences in my new school. . . . my friends and family, and my little Bible (thanks again Mom and Dad!).  . . and the chances I've had to mirror Jesus.  I am especially thankful for the trust and safety I have found in God.  (P.S. And don't forget blissful mud!)
       ~  Granddaughter JN 
* I'm thankful for all the relatives being nice to me at the thanksgiving we had with my Dad.  All the people were also very nice.
       ~  Granddaughter VG
* I'm thankful for cats and apple juice; for warm blankets and soft beds . . . which is where this very stuffed bird is going to land in a few minutes.  Oh, and I'm thankful for smiles and back rubs, too.  At the very top?  Thanks for love.
       ~ Daughter CG
* Thanks giving, waking up every morning to the next day of my life, for children, grandchildren and a faithful wife and about everything I ever wanted. A full life of memories and love, thankful I can be me.  Thankful the LORD has given me 72 years to enjoy it in. 
       ~ Grandpa BG

Though I miss my family -- those who cannot be here with us -- I walk into this day of Thanksgiving with joy because my Shepherd holds my heart next to His.  He is my help--this beautiful One whose healing ointment of comfort fills the aching places in my soul.  “For You have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.  My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.”  Psalm 63:7

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Our Thankful Book

I looked at the calendar this morning and marveled. November with its gifts of bright leaves, baked beans and bowls of crisp colorful apples had arrived. For a moment time stood still as memories of happier times brought back memories of past Thanksgivings. I even smiled as I remembered noticing our old journal book tucked in a corner of the bookcase.

It was still there; I pulled it out, blew off the dust and opened it. For a number of years our family had captured memories on its pages with family members and friends writing down what they were thankful for each Thanksgiving day in that flower covered journal. We'd entitled it “Our 'Thankful' Book” first dated November 26, 1998, Thanksgiving Day.

Family members and friends who were present, but have since gone on to heaven, had left words to touch my heart. My husband Bud's youngest brother made me smile “Every day above ground is a good day any more. All of the family is a blessing to me,” Joe C. Gibson. The Following year he wrote: “I'm still here and am amazed as ever, and as thankful.” From Bud's sister, much loved aunt and my faithful friend, “I'm thanking God for all the family. For the fun and humor,” Aunt Peggy.

My own dear mother whom I cared for the last year of her life left these memorable words: “I am thankful for family, all so different. I'm thankful for the bubbling ones, for the quiet serious ones. For the little ones, too. May we all grow closer to the Lord where ever we're at in our lives right now.” She signed her name, Gramma Jenny. Then she added, “Most of all I'm thankful that I belong to the Lord. May we all be together in Heaven to praise You forever.”

My own entry, this one on 11/22/01:  “A lovely sweet spirit was present here today—I think it was the presence of the Lord. So much to be thankful for . . . Dow's thanks and his being able to eat a whole plateful of food . . .”  

It was to be our son Dow's last thanksgiving on this earth, but we still remember. Those who've gone before have left heart prints across our lives, which continue to remind us of thanksgiving, hope, praise and love.  As you celebrate Thanksgiving, treasure each moment with those you love--those precious moments are fleeting.  

There are times I sorely miss those who are no longer with us--remembering rollicking Thanksgivings of the past.  Sorrow breaks my heart and tears flow down my cheeks.  Then I read the Psalms, "Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.” Psalm 100:4, 5 “It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD, and to sing praises unto Thy name, O most High.” Psalm 92:1 (KJV)   

And I smile through my tears.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Strawberry Jam Loving Kindness

Early this month my daughter Beth and I were asked to speak at a women's retreat at Camp Morrow in Eastern Oregon. I went with fear and trembling, it had been a long time since I'd spoke before an unfamiliar crowd. Would I tangle up my words? Embarrass myself or worst of all embarrass my daughter?

None of these things happened, or if they did it didn't matter to that delightful group of women. What an evening—we laughed together, cried a bit and let our Lord wrap us tight together in His great big arms. The first day and my daughter and I were already experiencing the reality of our Lord's loving kindness.

Later that evening I remembered an illustration I had heard years ago. “I think maybe we could work it into one of tomorrow's sessions” I told my daughter. And then I told her the story I had never forgotten.

'Do you know what loving-kindness is?' a Sunday school teacher asked her class. The room was silent for a moment and then a small boy lifted his hand. 'I know what kindness is,' he said softly. 'If I was hungry and you gave me a piece of bread, why that would be kindness. But,' a big smile slowly spread across his face, 'if you put strawberry jam on it before you gave it to me, why, that would be loving-kindness.'”

At midnight as I walked across to the bath house I looked up. A moon pinned onto the curtain of night reflected onto the lacy edges of clouds scattered across the sky. Stars dipped low, more brilliant here than at home and I could see their glory in the Milky Way as I hadn't seen in a long time. “Lord,” I whispered, “You're bringing out the strawberry jam aren't You?”

Deep within my spirit I heard His Word.  "Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, with loving kindness I have drawn you and have continued My faithfulness to you."  (Jeremiah 31:3) 

Friday, July 2, 2010

Joy in Life's Shadows

This spring, here in Oregon's Willamette Valley, has brought us many unseasonably cool and cloud-filled days.  Maybe that's why this verse caught my attention. "And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way." [Exodus 13:21]

It seems that cloud and pillar of fire are bound up in Scripture with thoughts of guidance.  When Israel was wandering in the wilderness, each new day began with the sight of this impenetrable cloud. What would this day bring? Would they journey forward or would they wait another day in the camp?

It seems as though, following our accident a year ago, my husband and I have spent a lot of days waiting for the cloud to move. Yet looking back I see the cloud which overshadowed us did move, but it was according to our Lord's timetable, not ours. Days in the hospital, then with our youngest daughter in Albany, our eldest daughter in Independence, at the end of September our own home in Wilsonville. 

It seems like we're still following the cloud, but I continue to read Exodus.  When Moses lingered at the foot of  the mountain, he heard a voice of his Friend calling.  Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there... Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. [Exodus 24:12, 15 ]  In the cool darkness of the cloud Moses beheld the glory of the Lord and heard His voice.

It is so with us.  Day by day, as we look forward into the hours which rush up before us, we see not clear skies but a cloud.  Then a Voice we know calls softly, "Come up to Me, and be here."  The cloud of the unknown, then becomes for us the over-shadowing wings of the Lord; "I have . . . hid you in the shadow of my hand," [Isaiah 51:16].

We sit under His shadow.  His shadow is greater than our life's shadows.  His presence is real. "With great delight I sat in his shadow and his fruit was sweet to my taste." [Song of Solomon 2:3].   This fruit we first tasted in the dark alone with Him, will be ours to share with others.  "What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs." [Matthew 10:27 NIV]

There is JOY in the shadow, a purpose for the pain.  God never wastes our tears--they are precious to Him.