Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Lesson from the Pumpkin Patch

It's no secret my favorite season is Fall.  I love the slightly cooler weather, the changing colors of the trees, the decorations, and of course the smells which depict the season.  Even now, the smell from crunching fallen leaves in the woods can bring back memories of jumping in leaf piles as a little girl.  By far one of my favorite smells of the season is that of pumpkin.  Every Fall, my usually frugal self rushes to Yankee Candle to purchase the best pumpkin spice fragrance in all of creation... I admit I'm a bit biased. If it's a really good day, I make a Starbucks run just to order their famous Pumpkin Spice Latte.  With my new fall candle in one hand and the best seasonal coffee drink in the other, I can believe for a moment that the whole world is right.

This Fall, God nudged me to study pumpkins further.  No doubt, there was something to learn about Fall's famous fruit.  After researching a bit, I found that the main thing that God wanted to show me was that pumpkins are nourished by the vines which they are attached.  So, it seems the pumpkin is a perfect picture of the first few verses of John 15.  “Dwell in Me, and I will dwell in you.  Just as no branch can bear fruit of itself without abiding in the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in Me.  I am the Vine; you are the branches.  Whoever lives in Me and I in him bears much fruit.  However, apart from me you can do nothing.”  (John 15:4-5)  Just as the pumpkin gets its nourishment from its vine, we must get our nourishment from God, through the power given by the Holy Spirit which comes from believing in Christ Jesus.

The scriptures in John 15 had special meaning for me this week, as I have recently interacted with more rude people than I care to count.  Realizing that I can not love on my own but must draw nourishment from the “holy vine” is definitely a requirement when dealing with non-loveable people.  If we can remember where we draw our nourishment from in difficult times, surely we will grow to our fullest potential and produce much fruit. When we bear much fruit, Jesus says God is honored and glorified.  Not only that, but we show ourselves to be true followers of Jesus. (John 15:8)  As a Christian, isn't that the point?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Ponies and the Presence of God

CC image courtesy of david.nikonvscanon on Flickr

~  Sitting on the bow of the pontoon boat looking into the face of the wind,  my anticipation grew.  My husband, Jeremy and I had boarded Daisey's Dockside Nature Cruises earlier that morning holding the promise of a brochure,  which boasted some of the greatest opportunities for viewing island wildlife.  The journey was to be the highlight of our trip to Chincoteague Island,  Virginia.  Made famous by its wild ponies depicted in the children's book,  Misty of Chincoteague,  the island was a welcome retreat for travelers who just wanted to escape the daily grind.  Filling my lungs with the Chesapeake Bay air,  I could see why.  For myself,  being so close to the ocean brought childhood memories flooding to the present.  Memories of visiting my grandmother when she lived by the sea both refreshed and nurtured my soul.  The intrigue of the island ponies only further excited the little girl living inside of me.

“Woof! Woof!” Bailey barked,  running up to the bow.  His owner, Captain Tom had trained the little dog to scout dolphins,  much to our amusement at the beginning of the trip.  However,  while barking had attracted the curiosity of dolphins,  silence was needed as we scoured the island for wild ponies.  Captain Tom shushed Bailey before informing us that the ponies were being allusive that morning.  “They're usually in three places,” he explained.  My heart sank a little as our guide further informed us that we had already visited two of the animals' grazing spots.

Now as I sat at the front of the pontoon boat,  my eyes scanning the horizon,  I let my heart gain hope again.  Nearing land,  Captain Tom suddenly cut the boat's engine.  As the boat glided to a halt,  everyone stood up to see the main attraction they had paid to see that day.  Handing me his binoculars,  Jeremy smiled and pointed.  Being a bit uncoordinated with the device,  I stared up into the sky and down into the marshy land before pointing it in the right direction.  Finally finding my target,  I was delighted to observe two ponies through the lens—one tan and white,  the other a dark chocolate.  Nearby,  a bush rustled and the head of a blond pony peaked though the foliage.  A few seconds later,  it moved to reveal the rest of its beauty.  All the while,  the small horses' manes whipped wildly in the wind,  and I was left to wonder in awe at these mysterious inhabitants on a peaceful island.  The brochures were right—the sight was breathtaking.

As Captain Tom slowly started the engine,  I sat down with the satisfaction of knowing I had just witnessed a very special part of God's creation.  With that knowledge,  I knew God also had a message to teach me.  A few days after my trip it soon struck me that sometimes we look and look for God,  while it doesn't always seem like He is there.  I have experienced such seasons of life,  in which God seems too far away. Sometimes,  I become so caught up in my circumstances that I no longer see Him or feel His presence.  In those moments,  I believe we must remember to not lose hope.  You may have heard the motto,  “Don't get your hopes up.”  If you're like me,  you may have lived that motto.  I did so to protect my heart.  That way,  I would never be disappointed if someone didn't come through for me,  or if something I wanted didn't come to pass.  While many of us may still use this defensive thought process to prevent ourselves from uncomfortable heartache,  I think it is important that we remember not to apply it to God.  On the contrary,  we must always continue to get our hopes up when it comes to God.  For,  while things may still happen that we do not understand,  one thing is certain--God's nature always has and always will remain constant and good.  (Numbers 23:19, Psalm 34:8)  While we may feel like His absence surrounds us in a moment,  we can not allow ourselves to forget that He is always with us.  (Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 13:5)  Sometimes we only need to refocus our spiritual binoculars to see Him.  ~

Bailey the First Mate helping us look for ponies
"Misty of Chincoteague" statue

Jeremy enjoying the cruise

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Oh Deer, God! Teach me how to rest!

CC image courtesy of Izuen Gordelekua on Flickr

~ This week has been a busy one.  Swamped with extra work at the group home, tending to a leaky roof on the homefront, celebrating Jeremy's birthday with family, helping my husband send out book proposals, all while trying to fit in my other errands has proven difficult to balance.  God tried to grab my attention to slow down earlier in the week.  Have you ever noticed how He does this?  For me it happened when my husband and I were going shopping.  Sitting in the passenger seat, daydreaming about my future while checking off a list of shopping items in my head, I gazed out the window.  I don't know why I looked up in that particular moment.  Houses, houses, then a bridge overlooking a construction zone, then...what was that in the distance?  I couldn't believe my eyes.  Deer resting in a small clearing just alongside a wooded lot. How contrasting their graceful brown bodies looked against the cold hard steel of the bulldozers and busy dinner time traffic rushing by us!  How and why did I look up in time to see that sight?  Reflecting only a moment before getting swept back into the rush hour traffic of my own mind, I knew exactly what God was trying to say.  Be still and know that I am God.  It was that simple.  Slow down, little one.  Rest in me and renew your strength.  Ephesians 4:23 tells us to "be constantly renewed in the spirit of your mind [having a fresh mental and spiritual attitude]." (Amplified) What a great reminder for all of us!

In accordance with this message, my post will not be a long one.  I'm learning how to rest.  I'm also learning what's most important in life.  The more I listen to those wiser with more wrinkles than me say, "I wish I had spent more time with those I loved than on mundane tasks",  the more I am compelled to find this rest which the Bible speaks.  Today,  I am learning how not to be everything to everyone.  If my house is a little untidy, so be it.  If my hair is a bit unkept, who cares?  I'm tired, and I'm renewing my strength like deer resting in a meadow.  Won't you join me? ~

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Shake It Up!

 Last week's post influenced by the hurricane stole this post's thunder.  Oh well, better late than never:

CC image courtesy of Jaymi Heimbuch on Flickr

~ I am pleased to inform you I survived the 2011 Virginia earthquake with little to no story to report. Building structures sustained little damage, all in all. More importantly, there were minor injuries and no reported deaths, making the 5.8 East Coast earthquake a relatively well-behaved one in my opinion. No, this geological phenomena wasn't God pouring out His wrath on a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah. However, while news teams focused on logistics, statistics, and the random local story of a supermarket customer getting hit in the head by kamikaze soup cans, I believe God was broadcasting His own “Breaking News” coverage. The question is, Are we tuning in to His frequency?

If you think I'm going to say God has something to teach us through an earthquake, you get a gold star. While earthquakes don't have the greatest reputation, they are undeniably a part of creation. FEMA defines an earthquake as “a ground shaking caused by a sudden movement of rock in the Earth's crust.” More specifically, Earth has tectonic plates which move around under its surface, sliding past and bumping into one another. The edges of the plates are rough, causing them to oftentimes get stuck while the rest of the plate keeps moving. Over time, this causes friction and pressure to build up between the plates. The plates are held in place by friction along a fault, or fracture between two blocks of rock. When a plate finally moves far enough, its edges unstick.  This motion causes a sudden amount of energy to be released in the form of seismic waves, which travel through the earth.  The shaking that we feel is the movement of the seismic waves under the Earth's surface.  In the case of the recent Virginia earthquake, reports that seismic waves could be felt as far north as Canada and as far south as Georgia caused jaws to drop.  After all, while a 5.8 earthquake is significantly great for the East Coast, it shrivels in comparison to the popular tremors of its West Coast sister, or the devastating 9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake.

Then God spoke to me:  Size doesn't matter in the kingdom of God, Amanda.  The Lord then reminded me that He calls the small and insignificant to do big things in this world.  Stories that model this lesson for us fill the Bible.  The names of Joseph, Rahab, David, Esther, and Ruth are only a few of the “smaller” people that God used for bigger purposes.  If we look at what each of these characters had in common that led to them being honored by God above others, we will find one simple answer: They each had a humble and willing heart.  Because of their ready hearts, the Lord was able to greatly manifest His power through their lives.

One thing that I have learned from the Bible is that earthquakes can occur when the power of God is upon us. Matthew 26:51 describes an earthquake occurring immediately at the point Jesus gave His spirit to be with the Lord in heaven.  In Matthew 28:2, we read that an earthquake occurs when Mary of Magdala and the other Mary go to look at Jesus's tomb, only to find He had risen and an angel sitting upon a boulder.  As I ponder what a modern-day earthquake has to do with us, the thought strikes me that when an individual has God in their heart and seeks to do His will on Earth, magnificent things can happen. God can cause that one willing person to cause a rumbling in the spirit.

Please bear with me as I paint a spiritual earthquake parallel of sorts.  As a Christian, you may notice that oftentimes when trying to step out and be who God called you to be, you are met with resistance—much like the plates that move back and forth against one another under the Earth's surface.  People may discourage you by saying you can't do something that your heart is set on.  Others may try to persuade you to live a different life if you are choosing to live opposite of their “normal.”  If you feel pressure, don't lose heart.  That's just the Earth calling out for you-- the sons and daughters of God-- to arise.  Keep pressing toward God, straining forward to the prize. Sooner or later, you're going to push so hard toward your destiny and calling that one day you're going to feel a break.  There's going to be an “unsticking” of plates, if you will, in the spiritual realm as you move away from the norm and into the higher things to which God has called you.  That breaking away is going to cause a rumble in the spirit.  People will be affected by you as you step boldly into the shoes of the person God always called you to be. There will be no turning back then.  People will feel the effects of God's energy flowing through you to them no matter if they are near or far.  You're capable of creating seismic waves, yourself, beloved.  It doesn't matter if you are a 1 or 10 on the Richter Scale.  The point is that you have a willing heart that is focused and determined to shake things up for God's sake.  Does this mean we do things a little differently than the rest of the world?  Of course, but no worries lest we forget that Jesus also caused waves.  Some people didn't like the way Jesus shook things up, but that didn't stop him from accomplishing the mission God sent him to complete on Earth. (Thank God!)

As we follow our Heavenly Father's voice which leads us to accomplish our own mission on Earth, we would be wise to look to the model He gave us.  Jesus, himself, teaches us to pray for God's will to be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.  (Matthew 6:10)  If you will, take a moment and contemplate these words before asking yourself,  “What exactly do we think is going on in Heaven?”  Lots of joy?  Sure.  Peace? Absolutely.  Worship?  Yes.  The power of God?  You'd better believe it.  Jesus isn't simply reciting pretty words that we can repeat in church service...He is instructing us to pray that the things in Heaven be brought to Earth!  It doesn't matter how insignificant you think you are.  The power of God is what will change the world.  The question is do we have a ready and willing heart which He can move through?  I hope so, friends because one things for sure...

God is ready to shake things up! ~

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricanes and Human Trafficking

CC image courtesy of jinterwas on Flickr

The day after Hurricane Irene barreled through my Virginia town, I awoke not knowing what I may find in its wake.  I had already thanked God that a tree had not fallen onto the house the night before.  Part of our roof had leaked throughout the storm, but as news reports of injuries and deaths poured in it became increasingly evident that things could have been much worse.  Opening the door and stepping onto the front porch, I stared grimly.  While the storm responsible for the second largest power outage in our state's history had departed, one look outside proved that Irene had left an “I was here” message on creation.  Walking the perimeter of the yard, I viewed a blanket of tree branches and leaves.  The bushes and trees that had managed to remain intact looked as though they had been in a fight, their once upright branches now draping their arms of bark over waterlogged ground.  My heart sank as I caught a glimpse of flower petals stuck in mud.  My beautiful wildflowers that once stood so tall were thrashed so badly by the wind they now laid defeated on their sides.  I sighed as I noticed that a particular flower once adorned by a radiant headdress of colorful petals now practically appeared bald.  There was no denying it-- Life had definitely taken a beating the night before.

Suddenly my mind flashed to a memory from eight months prior.  In the memory, I was riding in a van with nine other women through the streets of Chiang Mai, Thailand.  We were participating in a mission trip under the umbrella of Zoe Children's Home and were en route back to our hotel after visiting an orphanage outside the city.  It was around 10pm, and we were exhausted from the events of the day. However, as our driver sped along toward our comfortable hotel beds, it soon became evident to us that some individuals were just beginning their day.  From inside our van, my vision fixated on several Asian women walking up and down the sidewalks.  While slender and beautiful, they appeared cheaply decorated to me in slinky tank tops, short skirts, and high heels.  Some looked very young.  In the shadows, I noticed men sitting at cafe tables.  As my brain processed what I was seeing, I heard someone in the van whisper, “Red Light District.”  While I did not want to stare, my spirit would not allow me to ignore what we were passing by.  Tracing their makeup lined faces with my eyes, I wanted to cry out for God's creation in that moment.

If I had not known how tightly human trafficking was woven into the world of prostitution, my heart probably wouldn't have cringed so badly at the sight before me that January night in Thailand.  However, the veil had been lifted from my eyes about two years before, and I was now very aware of the statistics. Let me share some of them with you:  According to the U.S. Department of State, there are an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 children, women, and men trafficked across international borders annually.  Eighty percent are women and girls.  Seventy percent are forced into prostitution.  The typical age of a girl that enters prostitution is between twelve and fourteen.  Thailand is a "source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking."  (humantrafficking.org) 

Friends, human trafficking is truly creation under assault.

The assault is much like that of a hurricane.  Human life that was intended by God to stand strong and glorify Him is beaten and bruised by torturing winds of cruelty and evil.  Battered physically, mentally, and emotionally, human trafficking victims are much like flowers in a hurricane.  If I was saddened when I saw my lovely wildflowers pushed mercilessly to the ground by a hurricane, how much more must God's heart ache when He sees His most precious creations abused in such a way?  Psalm 34:18 tells us that “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and He saves those crushed in spirit.” (New International Version)  The Message translation of the scripture right before that (34:17) states, “Is anyone crying out for help?  God is listening, ready to rescue you.”  Friends, as children made in the image of God, our hearts should  be positioned in such a way that they reflect the heart of our heavenly father.  Are we close enough to hear the cry of the brokenhearted?  Listen closely, for their voice is often silent.  Furthermore, will we do our part to save these worthy creations from the destructive gale force winds of evil?

For more information about human trafficking and how you can help, click on the “Blogging for a Cause” page above. Together, we can rescue "wildflowers in a hurricane."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fog of Faith

CC image courtesy of marfis75 on Flickr

~ Perhaps you’ve heard of sayings, such as “He looks like he’s in a fog” or “I’m feeling kind of foggy.”  These statements lead us to believe that fog is most often a bad thing—something that causes an impairment of some kind.  Lately, God has been showing me that sometimes he allows fog in our lives for His glory.  Let me explain:

I am a person who loves envisioning the big picture. I think big.  I dream big.  Though a person of short-stature, I have come to accept the belief that God has made me (and others) to be someone who does big things in this life.  Jesus himself said, “if anyone steadfastly believes in Me, he will himself be able to do the things that I do; and he will do even greater things than these…so that the Father may be glorified.” (John 14:12-13)

God loves a big heart that longs to live life doing great things for Him.  However, God is a good father that knows what we are capable of handling.  There have been times in my life that God has only let me see one thing at a time without showing me the end result. Take this blog, for instance.  I have no idea what the effects of writing it will be.  I can always guess, but all I truly know is that God told me to write it.  So, in obedience I write.  If God had told me the whole picture of what I’m supposed to do and who I’m supposed to be, I may get ahead of myself and go forward to accomplish the task independently without consulting God any further about the matter.  Therefore friends, I believe God sometimes puts a fog of faith in our paths so that we can only see so far ahead.

Meteorologically speaking, fog is nothing but a very low stratus cloud.  Sometimes this cloud even touches the ground.  Science tells us that when there are winds, fog near the ground can become thick and reduce visibilities to zero.  Have you ever driven at night when there is a cloud of fog in your path?  One of the scariest times of my teenage driving years came when I took a wrong turn on a country road coming home from a friend’s house.  The night was pitch black and the road was curvy.  To top it off, a thick fog had settled on the road.  I remember bats darting through my low beams.  Feeling panicked, I thought back to my driver’s education lessons and what little I knew about God.  Gripping the wheel tightly and driving slowly, I used the edge of the road as a guide and prayed a very poignant prayer that went something like, “Oh God, oh God, oh God!”  I made it home safely, but must say it was quite an experience for a new driver!

Our journey of life is similar.  If left to our own devices, no doubt we are going to get ourselves lost.  God will always lead us if we lean on Him.  However, to make sure we know from where our strength comes and to who the glory is attributed, He may only let us see what’s right in front of us at any given time.  After we accomplish the task at hand, He will allow us to see a little bit more.  Instead of letting this frustrate us, how much easier would our lives be if we learned to embrace this fog of faith, keeping our eyes fixed on Him and trusting that He will lead us to our destinations? ~

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Rain Dance with God

CC image courtesy of lighthack on Flickr

~ Does anyone remember dancing in the rain as a child?  "Play rain," as my mother called it, was rain that came down in spring or summer which was unaccompanied by lightning.  My mind drifts to memories of running gleefully outside in a bathing suit just to lift my hands and twirl under the often tepid bath water temperature of rain droplets on my skin.  If a bathing suit was unavailable, I would endure the feel of a wet t-shirt and shorts.  The worst feeling was being in a place where I could not partake in a play rain soaking.  Such times included riding in a car when all I could do was wistfully stick my hand out a window.  Attending a formal occasion in which wet clothing was not part of the dress code also made the list of times when I felt like a wallflower on the sidelines of a missed rain dance opportunity.

As I sit on a porch now and watch a summer downpour, I feel God's invitation to dance in the rain once more.  If not physically...certainly spiritually.  Meditating on the pitter-patter of rain droplets hitting the ground, I become acutely aware of another pitter-patter at the door of my heart.  God was once again trying to impart wisdom through nature.

Truly, rain is a life source. Every flower, tree, and shrub needs it.  Even animals need the rain, for when the creek beds dry up they must search for another place to drink.  Just as plants and animals need water to live and thrive, so we as humans need a life-giving source.  As the ground must be soaked when it is in dire need of being quenched, so too do our souls need to be satisfied when we are beat down and stressed out.  A Christian that has experienced how life-giving God's Word is knows there comes a point in his or her Christian walk when a Sunday church service once a week, or a Bible verse here and there just doesn't cut it anymore.  How many flowers really thrive with a little sprinkling of water every now and then?  Just as plants look quite shriveled and downtrodden from lack of water, so do our spiritual lives look when we lack quality time with our heavenly Father. Psalm 42:1-2 speaks clearly:  "As the heart [deer] pants and longs for the water brooks, so I pant and long for You, O God. My inner self thirsts for God, for the living God." (Amplified)

Rain reminds me of how all-consuming God is... just as not a leaf is untouched during a heavy soaking, so nothing in our hearts is left untouched by the hand of God.  I must tell you friends, that once you accept God's invitation to dance in the rain He will leave no stone in your heart unturned.  I tell you this from personal experience... There is no half-way with God. You either give yourself up to His ways entirely, or you are left living a life less full than what God desires for you.  If we choose to die completely to ourselves and live for Him, He will not stop pursuing our wholeness as He soaks us to our cores.  This is because He wants to fill every ounce of our being to overflowing with His Holiness.  Did you know that rain cleanses?  Any pollen sufferer can tell you this.  So too does God want to cleanse us of our imperfections.

Photo by Jeremy Conrad

Now that I'm older, I realize how peaceful and refreshing play rain is.  When God ushers Himself in, it's like a cooling breeze.  In fact, the first time I realized God was in play rain I was driven to my knees to worship.  Isaiah 55:10-11 says "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."  (New International Version)

Friends, when was the last time you danced in the rain with God? ~

Thursday, August 4, 2011

To Love a Mockingbird

CC Image courtesy of Chuqui on Flickr
~ Until recently, the mockingbird really wasn't my friend. Let's face it--once you've been dive-bombed by a bird, you're never quite the same. Just last summer, a mockingbird decided to build its nest close to an area in the yard where I park my car. Every driving excursion soon turned dangerous --or humorous-depending on whether we're talking about my experience or the experience of those observing me. A ritual developed, which usually included me making a mad dash for the car. Sometimes I would make it to the point of safety undetected. Other times, I would get half way across the yard before hearing a squawking "war cry" from above. Much to my horror, the mockingbird would swoop down toward my head. This was usually followed by a flailing of arms and squealing on my part, much to the delight of passer-by drivers.

Another year has passed, and I believe the same mockingbird has returned. It has built its nest in the same spot as before, and I am wise to park elsewhere. I've also noticed that this year it seems to have brought a few more friends. While spending time with God and reflecting on nature, I was drawn to these creatures as they sang multiple songs and flew from one tree to the next. I just knew in my spirit that God had something to teach me through them.

Over the next few weeks I studied other things in nature, but my spirit would not let go of the mockingbird. One day I was walking around my yard when I heard high pitched cheeping coming from a mockingbird nest. Peering up, I caught a glimpse of baby birds being fed by their mother. After this observance, I began to allow God to minister more wisdom to me regarding this animal. No doubt, they are among the most territorial of bird species. "Why was this?" I pondered. Their nest is their territory and in it is their lifesource. God's answer hit me like a ton of bricks. As I listened further, God drew me to Proverbs 4:23. "Keep and guard your heart with all vigilance and above all that you guard, for out of it flow the springs of life." I breathed deep. If God (through King Soloman) says the heart must be guarded above all else, it must be our most valuable possession--much like a nest is a mockingbird's most valuable possession. Look at a few scriptures regarding the heart:  Matthew 5:8 says "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God!" The Lord told Samuel that "the Lord sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward apearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." (I Samuel 16:7) Having a pure heart is one of the ways which a man may receive blessing from the Lord (Psalm 24:4-5). No wonder King David asked God for a clean heart! (Psalm 51:10) Why wouldn't God instruct us to guard it above all else?

"But what are we guarding our hearts against?" you may ask. Well, like the mockingbird has enemies from which to protect its nest, as God's child you too have an enemy. Apostle Paul tells us: "Be vigilant and cautious at all times; for that enemy of yours, the devil, roams around like a lion roaring, seeking someone to seize upon and devour." (I Peter 5:8) It always amazes me when I hear about Christians who do not believe in spiritual warfare. Some are even deceived to think if they leave the devil alone, he won't bother them.  Friends, let us not kid ourselves. There's a reason God uses the picture of a lion to portray the devil instead of say, a sloth...but that's for another lesson. Ephesians 6:16 is quick to instruct us how to "extinquish all the flaming darts of the evil one." (English Standard Version) This verse lets us know attacks will come. There is no question about that. Even the mockingbird knows it must protect its nest from a predator.  Oftentimes, as seen in my own personal story above, one is unable to pass through the vicinity of a mockingbird's territory without being chased away. Turns out, a mockingbird is wise--it knows it can not just sit by and do nothing when a perceived enemy is nearby.  I am humbled as I meditate on this, for how many times do we as Christians sit by and refuse to fight when our enemy the devil prowls near our territory? How many times have we been caught sleeping spiritually while the enemy sneaks up and takes our ground?

The mockingbird knows it has life inside its nest to protect. Likewise, we also have life inside our hearts to protect. As we discover and accept all the truths and promises God has spoken over us from the time we were first formed in our mother's womb, our hearts become f
orever changed. We obtain godly confidence in who He says we are. With God's guidance and this newfound confidence, we are able to live the kind of life He intended for us to live all along. From our heart, this God-influenced life will begin to flow out-- as Proverbs 4:23 tells us-- thereby changing all it comes in contact with. As a son or daughter of God, you are meant to bring life into the world just as your heavenly Father brought life into the world. "God formed Man out of dirt from the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life." (Genesis 2:7) Jesus tells his disciple, Thomas in John 14:6, "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life." I love that Jesus is vocal about who He is. He is certain about who God created Him to be, and He's not ashamed to proclaim it boldly.

Interestingly, the mockingbird is known for being one of the most vocal bird species and can oftentimes be heard singing throughout the night. More than that, the mockingbird is famous for using mimicry to copy the bird calls of other species--some of which are its enemies. I love the picture of the mockingbird learning the voice of its enemies and proclaiming loudly what it knows. Shouldn't we too learn the voice of our enemy, so we may be able to answer his accusations with words of truth? Isn't that what Jesus did when he was accused by the devil? May we become so keen at discerning the voice of our enemy that we are never caught off-guard. Ephesians 6:18 teaches us to pray at all times in the Spirit, keeping alert and interceding on behalf of others. Just as the mockingbird sings all day and well into the night, let us not grow weary when it comes to spiritual warfare.  When the "evil days" come (Ephesians 6:13),  may we be vocal and bold to proclaim who God says we are. Let us never be shy to remind the enemy that we are aware of his whereabouts, and if he so much as steps near our territory we will be ready to protect it like a mockingbird. ~ 


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sunflower Stance: Part Two

Hello, Sunshine!

~ The very word, "Sunflower" comes from the scientific name, Helianthus.  Helios means sun and Anthos means flower.  The French word for Sunflower is tournesol, which literally means to "turn with the sun."  From our previous study, it's easy to see how the sunflower lives up to its name. Its actions speak for itself.  Likewise, look at the word "Christian."  It is derived from the greek word Christ.  Shouldn't our actions exemplify those of our Savior?  I believe that the world should be able to look at a person and tell whether or not he or she is a Christian.  So many times, though, Christians compromise their name by getting caught up in the ways of the world. Their thoughts are often, Well, everyone else is doing it. It's no big deal.  These souls have forgotten who they are, or perhaps they never even quite knew who they were. Jesus spoke to the Father regarding believers before entering the garden in John 17:16.  "They are not of the world (worldly, belonging to the world), [just] as I am not of the world." (Amplified)  Friends, let us remember we are not of this world. Let us always keep at the forefront of our minds who the head of our family is, for we have a mighty heavenly Father.  Let us take the Romans 12:1-2 verses seriously and represent Him well.  "So here's what I want you to do, God helping you:  Take your everyday, ordinary life--your sleeping, eating, going to work, and walking around life--and place it before God as an offering.  Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him.  Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.  Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out.  Readily recognize what He wants from you, and quickly respond to it.  Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you."  (The Message) ~  


Poem to a Sunflower

I see you there in glory shining bright,
Following the sun and its path of light.

Standing tall above all others in the field,
You grow, conquer, and do not yield.

The little birds take great delight
In playing round you, from day to night.

With your petals of yellow and leaves of green
How very easily you are seen.

But there is more to you than first sight,
More than beauty and grander to delight.

Every beautiful aspect that appears,
Gives praise to the Father dear.

He made you a part of creation,
And you praise Him in glorious celebration!

The beauty that within you is expressed,
Gives testimony to his greatness.

Sunflower, how I long to be like you!
Glorifying God in all I do.

Following the Son and His path of light,
To worship Him in His glory shining bright.

I can learn from you, my friend,
With every breath, praise to God, I might send.

With all of His creation telling the story,
Might I, with you, proclaim His glory.

~By Katherine R. Lane (April 19, 1995)~

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sunflower Stance

Sunflower in my backyard :)
~ Yesterday was a bad day. Friends, I have noticed since I started working on this blog I have been stricken twice with a terrible feeling of depression. This is something, with which I would greatly appreciate prayer. I've been fortunate to only have experienced this depleting feeling a few times in my life. Don't get me wrong...I've certainly experienced hardships and feelings of sadness before. I'm just usually able to handle negative situations with a positive outlook. Generally, I am a joyful optimistic person. However, as some of you may know more than I, depression is more than sadness. In fact, it feels so oppressing that there might as well be an elephant sitting on one's chest. It can be overwhelming, accompanied by panic attacks. It is also very debilitating, making it difficult--if not impossible-- to accomplish anything. What brought on this feeling, you may ask. Quite simply, distractions and lies from the devil. I had become distracted by worldly issues--the things I could only see with my physical eyes. I forgot my faith, and soon--like Eve-- came into agreement with the lies that were being thrown at me like darts.

I had been studying the sunflower and really wanted to share in my blog what I had learned. Unfortunately, the depression was inhibiting my ability to write. Instead of sitting in front of my computer, there I was--laying in bed--feeling quite defeated. The truth is that I was in a position of defeat. I had prayed, but my prayer was symbolic of a newborn Christian prayer. It went something like, "Oh God, please take this depression away!" Why do I say this was a newborn Christian response? Let me explain... Newborns can not do much for themselves. They rely on their caregivers to do everything for them--feeding, changing their diapers, cleaning up their messes, etc. However, as a child grows, they begin to model what their caregivers teach them. Soon, they are able to feed themselves, go to the bathroom independently, and clean up after themselves quite well. Wouldn't it be the same for Christians? Wouldn't it make sense for God to spoon feed us everything we need when we are young believers, but to train us to take independent steps forward toward Him as we grow stronger in our faith? I began to realize that my crying out to God to take the depression away was much like a baby that cries out when they have wet themselves and are in need of a diaper changing...a very humbling revelation, may I add. While the kind of prayer I prayed works very well when we are nonbelievers, or infant Christians, I believe God eventually grows us up to a place where our prayers and actions become more mature than when we first began to learn how to walk with God. Perhaps I should have prayed for God to help me stand and grow through the situation. This response would have been much more mature than laying in bed, simply asking for Him to make the problem disappear. It would require a different stance...much like a "sunflower stance."

Let's look at the sunflower's response to the sun: While all flowers need sunlight to grow, not every flower follows the sun. Only heliotrophic flowers move their plant parts toward the sun throughout the day, taking in as much light as they can. This daily motion of plants was first described by Leonardo da Vinci, and is now more often called phototropism. Sunflowers are heliotrophic, which is why people report seeing a change in the growing young flower's orientation from east to west during the day. How does this happen? Well, sunflowers produce a plant hormone called auxin, or indoleacetic acid. The auxin serves as a growth regulator. At night the auxin can be found throughout the plant. However, in the morning it migrates to the shaded west side of the sunflower, which causes the stem to stretch gradually to the east. In the afternoon and as the sun is moving, the auxin moves. This causes the stem to stretch toward the west, making it appear as though the sunflower is "following the sun." As the sun sets, the sunflower resets itself back to facing the east. When a sunflower is mature and the stem becomes woody, it stops moving with the sun. This is why most blooming sunflowers can be seen only facing their sunny faces eastward. Isn't it interesting that the sunflower always goes back to facing toward the east? Didn't Jesus appear to the wise men after they followed a star which first rose in the east?  "...Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child." (Matthew 2:9, The Message) I'm also reminded of the song, (East to West) by (Casting Crowns) (2007). If you get a chance, spend some time listening to the lyrics of that song. You are sure to be encouraged!

As I pondered the information above, I realized the actions of a sunflower portray a great picture of how we are meant to position ourselves before God. Just as the sunflower grows the best when it can "see" the sun, how much taller spiritually do we stand when we are facing God and His Son? What significance does our life really take on when we set our face like flint on God and are unhindered by distractions? I believe God is looking for a people that are really serious about facing Him. When we are facing God, or setting our minds and hearts on the things He sets His mind and heart on, I think we will be amazed at the beauty our life begins to take on. ~


"Keep your face to the sunshine
and you will not see the shadows."  ~Helen Keller


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dragonfly Food for Thought

CC Image courtesy of New Orleans Lady on Flickr

~Wow! So, over the past few days I've noticed there are tons of dragonflies outside. Everytime I try to open my front door, I have to pause to wait for one to fly away from the door knob. Reminds me of the time I used to have to stop my car in the middle of the road in our apartment complex to wait for the mommy mallard duck and her ducklings to cross the street so they could get to the pond on the other side. That's nature... It's almost as if God's creatures are saying, "Hey, slow down! Look at me! Take a moment out of your busy lifestyle to view how magnificent I am." Or, perhaps that's another mighty voice we're hearing... Elijah said we would hear God in "the sound of gentle stillness as a still, small voice." (I Kings 19:11-12) Colossians 1:16 further tells us all things "exist for Him." (Amplified) I believe along with being created for God's great pleasure and delight, the dragonfly--like all of creation--exists to magnify His glory. Just as I knew Christians could teach others about our great God through actions and by being who He created us to be, I believed the dragonfly also had some wisdom to impart.

So, with a curious and determined mindset to learn more, I hurried outside toward one of my favorite places to talk with God and observe nature--underneath an apple tree in the backyard. From this location and for the past two days, I had observed many dragonflies swarming in the same open field. There could easily have been about fifty of them, if not more--it was truly an amazing sight! By doing a little research, I learned that they were having a "feeding frenzy." Dragonflies love to eat mosquitoes, which immediately gained my respect since I'm a magnet for those little blood-suckers. They also feast on gnats, termites, and other small insects. When you see multiple dragonflies swarming about, chances are they have located a large quantity of prey. It seemed that this field was like the all-you-can eat buffet at Golden Corral! Another interesting thing that drew my attention was the fact that not only did these creatures come to the same location each afternoon, but they also showed up about the same time. It never failed: 3:30pm-5:30pm seemed to be their prime meeting time in my backyard. The previous day, I had come out about 2:30pm and had seen no sign of them... too early. The day before that, I had been watching them at 5:00pm for quite some time before returning inside to do some housework. After about an hour, I curiously went back out to see if they were still there. They were not...too late.

Funny--the dragonfly was smart enough to know the best location and time of day for which there would be the greatest harvest to choose from. This is attributed to instinct, or "a largely inheritable and unalterable tendency of an organism to make a complex and specific response to environmental stimuli without involving reason." (Mirriam-Webster Dictionary)  The creation of instinct validates my belief of how much God cares for the things He created. It reminds me of Matthew 6:26-28, which speaks of God's concern for the birds and flowers. It made complete sense that the dragonflies would know when and where the best time to eat was. These creatures had been blessed by God with a "timer." As I pondered this, God began to minister to me about the importance of timing. "Timing is everything", He said. Oh how true I knew this was. I reflected on my own life and the many times I had rushed into something too fast, only to regret my anxiousness later. There were also the times I had been too slow and missed out on a good opportunity. Then my mind drifted to the magical times I had gotten it just right. It's those times we must hone in on, my friends. As we draw nearer to God and our relationship with Him grows stronger, His spiritual nudges become easier to sense.

What of the times we feel we misinterpreted God's voice and direction? Are those wasted? Certainly not. God doesn't waste anything. When those times occur, I thank God for His amazing grace and for Psalm 37:24, which reminds us, "Though he [a good man] falls, he shall not be utterly cast down, for the Lord grasps his hand in support and upholds him." (Amplified) Another way to look at it is this: When a baby is learning to walk, how many times does he/she fall down? Do we yell at the child for not walking perfectly upright the first time? What about the second? Third? 30th? I am certain a good parent would never get angry at their baby for falling as they learn to walk upright, no matter how many times they have to try again. How then must God view us as we are learning to walk upright, or righteously toward Him? As we study the Bible, we find verse after verse of His unfailing love for us. No doubt, God wants to make sure we know who He is and how much He cares for us. He also wants to make sure we know who we are--His sons and daughters, who are to be holy as He is holy. (I. Peter 1:16) Truthfully, I believe those spiritual nudges are God's way of training us to be like Him. He is training us to be so in tune with him that our timing matches his...almost like a dance--one in which He is the leader. When He speaks, we speak. When He moves, we move. The goal is to be one and the same with God, just as Jesus was one and the same with God. "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does." (John 5:19 NIV) Friends, isn't it time we heeded what the Great Teacher modeled for us so long ago? Just as Jesus was the Son of God, you and I are called sons and daughters, or "children of God" (John 1:12-13) Jesus's above words not only serve to teach us who Jesus is, but to remind us of who we are!

Going back to the dragonfly, I want to share some interesting facts I learned about his sight and movement because I believe there is a correlation between the above verse and our educational model. Dragonflies have large compound eyes. Though we can not see them with the naked eye, each of its compound eyes are made up of thousands of tiny cone-shaped simple eyes. The dragonfly's eyes allow it to distinguish between colored, ultraviolet and even polarized light. It also enables it to detect reflection in water. Because of their large, multifaceted eyes, the adult dragonfly is able to see nearly 360 degrees around it at all times, which is bad news for its prey. Dragonflies also have superior movement and speed, often flying upward of 30 miles per hour. Further, their four wings and flight muscles allow them to move as a helicopter--sideways, backward; they can even hover in place. They can do all of these movements quickly and accurately, which makes them well suited to eat other insects right out of the air. What a picture of following God! Shouldn't we also be like the dragonfly with its 360 degree eyesight? Whatever God is doing, we are alert and ready to follow suit. And what of the helicopter movements? May we be as agile and flexible as the dragonfly, especially when God's timing requires us to move sooner than we would have chosen--or worse for some of us--to wait.

Truly-- just as God's gift of instinct tells the dragonfly to flock to the countryside filled with small insects, we must discern the move of God and flock to where He is leading us through all the phases of our lives. Sometimes it can be difficult to listen to God if He seems to be telling us to do something that is not in accordance with our life plan and agenda. However, I've noticed that it becomes much easier to heed God's gentle nudges when I remember "His plans are to prosper me and not to harm me" (Jeremiah 29:11). Let's face it--He's our Heavenly Father, and He knows best. If we succeed in listening to His voice and timing, there will no doubt be rewards to reap, just as Jeremiah 29:11 promises. Such as the dragonfly who goes by obedience to the nudging of something within that seems to say, "The harvest is ready. The timing is now," so we too must listen to the still small voice within each of us. ~


Dragonfly Research References: