Embracing the Sorrow in Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving.  The time of the year to reflect on all that we are thankful for.  Yet, for some reason, this year my heart is quite burdened.  While I truly am grateful for so much in my life, my heart can’t seem to break free of bearing the burden of so many close to us that are traversing through challenging times.  Cancer, illness, wayward children, suicide, financial hardships, addiction, bitter relationships…and all of that is just within the walls of my circle of friends.  Mingle in the sinful, divisive climate that bathes our society, and you have cause to feel the weight of the world.

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Allowing the Lord to Say No to Your Children

It was the summer before my son’s freshman year in high school, and he had one request of me:  “Mom, can I join the football team?”

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When Waiting on the Lord is Hard

Waiting patiently has never been one of my best attributes.  My trouble started early on.  As a child, I always knew where my mother kept our Christmas gifts hidden, and I made it a point, with great regularity, to spy and peek at the stash.  I simply could not wait until Christmas.

Continue reading “When Waiting on the Lord is Hard”

Following The Lord’s Will

For the past several days I have been contemplating the time that Jesus spent in the Garden of Gethsemane praying.   I’ve been struck by the words that scripture uses to tell us about the emotions of that evening.  I’ve combed through various Bible translations noting these words.

I’ve read through the same account found in Matthew 26:36-46 (below), Luke 22:39-46, and Mark 14:32-52.  These passages are filled with words and phrases like these:

  • distressed
  • grieved to the point of death
  • fell on His face
  • sorrowful
  • troubled
  • overwhelmed with sorrow
  • very heavy
  • deeply distressed
  • being in anguish
  • His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground

As Christ petitioned His Heavenly Father for this cup, the cross with its weight of sin, to pass from Him, His response in all three portions of scripture is the same:

  • Yet not what I will, but what you will
  • Yet not my will, but yours be done
  • Yet not as I will, but as you will
  • My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.

Soon after, Jesus’ betrayer comes on the scene.  Swords are drawn, but Jesus’ response in Matthew: 26:52-54  is this:

  • 52“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”

It seems that as each Easter season comes and goes, the Lord allows me to look at the accounts of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection with new eyes, each time, He meets me where I am, addressing my issues, my struggles, and putting them into perspective.

This year Easter reminds me of my Savior’s ultimate desire for the Lord’s will to be accomplished regardless of the cost.  The cost was great.  Arrest, mockery, physical beating beyond our comprehension, crucifixion, betrayal, abandonment, and death.  Greatest of all was the separation from His Father due to the sin that was placed upon Christ.  He willfully submitted to all of this because the Father’s will was best.

As I contemplate my life and the decisions that I face, I am left today asking myself this one question:

Is there any part of God’s will that I would be hesitant to accept?

Would I be willing to go where He leads?  Would I be willing to stay where I am?  Would I be willing to change course, step out of my comfort zone, and allow His perfect will to unfold?  Am I willing to wait?  Am I willing to accept the Lord’s will for my life?

As I said, the Lord has a way of putting things into their proper perspective.  As I contemplate what my Savior endured, as I allow the pain of His experience to truly penetrate my heart, as I realize that His willingness to submit, to suffer, and to die was for me, I am left realizing that anything, simply anything that I must endure in this life is nothing compared to what Christ voluntarily endured for me.

This Easter I am humbled by my Savior’s submission to His Father’s will.  I am left in awe of His great love for me.  I am moved beyond words as I contemplate the cost involved in bearing the full burden of my sin.  Oh, what a great cost for such an undeserving, yet ever so grateful soul!   And though my words simply cannot suffice, I thank you Lord Jesus for following your Father’s will.

Matthew 26:36-46

The Garden of Gethsemane

36 Then Jesus *came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and *said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. 38 Then He *said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”

39 And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” 40 And He *came to the disciples and *found them sleeping, and *said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? 41 Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

42 He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” 43 Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. 45 Then He *came to the disciples and *said to them, [a]Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Searching for the Silver Lining

I am prone to negativity.  When my tongue is unrestrained it lends itself to complaining, biting sarcasm, and criticism.  How’s that for a dose of honesty?  Similarly, my thoughts can easily meander down the same pessimistic path.  I’ve needed to fess up to this less-than-Christlike attitude and confess it for what it is: sin.  I am prayerfully working on changing my perspective. Decades of pessimistic practice have made this a hard habit to kick.  But I am thankful that the Lord has opened my eyes to it and given me the opportunity to change.

I find that when you prayerfully ask the Lord to help you put off an old way and replace it with a new, more Christ-like way, He’ll provide plenty of opportunities for practice.  Sometimes it’s not the practice we want.  We simply want change to occur without the practice part.  We want a snap-of-the-finger kind of change.  A wake-up-the-next-morning-and-be transformed kind of change.  Yet, most often, this is not God’s recipe for true and lasting change.

Ever pray for patience?  Ever sorry that you did?

God has been faithful and has provided me with plenty of opportunities for practice in this area.  He’s given me the opportunity to choose between searching for the silver lining in situations or the dark stained mire.

Back in November my oldest son accepted a seasonal job in a neighboring town about 15 minutes away from our home.   The business was located on a major highway not far from a very large mall.  Most days my son needed to arrive at work between 4:30 – 5:00.  Rush hour.  Traffic.  Dinnertime.  Christmas shoppers.  That’s all that I could think of.  I honestly was not looking forward to the back and forth.  It was just one more thing added to an already busy day, at a time where my day was supposed to be winding down from school.

On my son’s first night of work, we drove past a small, local airport and were greeted with the most spectacular sunset.  Both of us were taken back by its beauty.  Normally at home, sunsets are obstructed by trees and homes, allowing us to only catch a small glimpse.  Yet the openness of this airport allowed us to absorb the radiant beauty.  What a blessing!

You know what?  This scenario repeated itself nearly every evening that my son needed to work.  Each sunset seemed more splendid and glorious than the one before  Each opportunity for alone time with my son grew sweeter.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that the Lord was providing the opportunity for me to make a choice: focus on the craziness or find the silver lining.  I opted for the silver lining.

My husband is an early riser, not by choice, but by necessity.  His work day begins at 6:00am, so he is up at 5:00 and out the door by 5:45.  I am not a morning person, but for the nearly 22 years of our marriage, the Lord has prompted me to get up with my husband each morning.  Take my word for it, it’s not always pretty.  Messy hair, morning breath, and mumbled words usually are the norm.  I know that my husband appreciates a smiling face, a shared prayer, and a hug and kiss goodbye.  Those early morning wake up calls are worth it.

Sometimes in the dead of winter I have a really difficult time getting out of bed that early.  It is so dark and so cold.  The warmth of the comforter and the magnetic pull of the snooze button call to me.  I resist, and I get up.

One morning after my husband had left for work, I stood zombified in my kitchen, staring aimlessly out the backdoor.  I was greeted with a beautiful painted sky full of reds and pinks; it was simply gorgeous.  I began to wonder how many of these brilliant displays I had missed because I was too busy focusing on my fatigue.  So each morning I made it a point to watch out my back door to see what beauty the Lord would reveal.  Nearly each morning I realized that there was beauty to enjoy:  a colorful sunrise, the peaceful silence of falling snow, the calling of a bird, even a lunar eclipse – all things I would have missed had I been asleep.  The Lord was providing me with opportunities to shift my focus.  Would I continue to focus on my tired state or would I find the silver lining?  I opted for the silver lining.

My mother has dementia and is no longer able to stay by herself during the day.  My brother, her primary care provider, and I discussed our options.  We concluded that it would be best if I pick my mom up from my brother’s place of employment each weekday morning and have her spend the day with the boys and me.  This new set up meant no more breakfasts with my boys, a late start to school, and the potential for major disruptions during the day.  My mom and I have history, and our relationship through the years has been strained. While I’ve worked through these issues, I am still keenly aware of her tendencies.  In my heart I knew what needed to be done, but in all honesty, I did some silent kicking and screaming.

Each morning I make the one-hour, round trip drive to meet my brother, pick up mom, and head back home.  Driving alone has always been a much coveted time.  Those rare solitary drives give me time to think and pray uninterrupted.  After a few days of making the drive to pick up mom, I began to realize that the Lord had just offered up a daily invitation to spend time with Him each morning.  So now most mornings I spend my 30 minute drive talking to my Heavenly Father.  Uninterrupted.  Quiet.  Meaningful prayer time.  So again, the Lord provided me with a choice:  complain each morning or find the silver lining.  I’ve opted for the silver lining.

I don’t always opt for the silver lining.  Sometimes the silver lining is not easy to see because the mire can be thick and the pull toward negativity so strong.  But the Lord has shown me that when we let negativity be pervasive throughout our lives, we allow satan to dictate our day, not Him.  We allow opportunities for growth to be thrown to the wayside.  We perfume the atmosphere with a stench that affects all those around us, pulling them down into the mire alongside of us.  We become the darkness not the light that we as Christians are called to be.

Is negativity a problem for you?  Find yourself complaining, griping, and criticizing on a regular basis?  I would encourage you to bring this before the Lord in prayer.  Pray that He will allow you to see this tendency for what it is:  sin and a tool of satan to drag you down.   The Lord has far greater plans for you, and with His help, you can change.

Here are a few verses that serve as both reminders and encouragement to me:

Ephesians 4:29

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Philippians 2:14 – 16

 Do everything without grumbling or arguing…Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life

 

 

 

Does God Have a Plan?

Life has been busy and complicated of late.  Seasons like this sprinkle the timeline of our lives like snow (sometimes like a blizzard).  Busy doing what needs to be done…what has to be done.  Running to and fro.  Dealing with the challenges life has.  Aging parents.  Health concerns.  The future.  It seems as though everything else gets pushed aside.  Our good intentions become just that, intentions; things dreamed of or planned, but never coming to fruition.  The out-of-control elements of the day dictate its course.  Sometimes we simply feel like we are bobbing on the waves, being pushed to and fro, struggling to keep our heads above, at the mercy of the tide.

But then there is Christmas.  And there is Christ.  The reminder that the God of all the universe is mindful of me.  He knows of my struggle.  He knows my frame.  There is the reminder that through it all God has a plan.  He has a plan and purpose for all of the ups and downs of this life.  He is in control and always has been.  Nothing comes to pass in my life that has not already been permitted by His hand.  Permitted for His purpose, ultimately for His glory and my refinement.

And in the times where doubt grips my soul, in the moments where I wonder if God is there, is He hearing, is He seeing, does He know, I am reminded that God has always had a plan since the dawn of man, since His beginning, of which there was none.  He heard the cries of His people.  He saw their great need for redemption, and He knew the course that needed to be taken.  He always had a plan, and that plan began with Christ.

This Christmas I am reminded that God has a plan.  His plan not only meets the challenges of my day but my greatest need of all.  This plan to bring a Savior is the heart of Christmas.  It is the coming of Christ.  It is God in human form, coming to live among men, coming to die, coming to conquer sin and death, coming for me.

So if this season, be it the Christmas season or this season of life, has you wondering if God has a plan, know that yes indeed He does.  His plans are unfolding with each new day, with each new breath He gives.  He sees the grand picture and is piecing it together in His perfect timing, in His perfect way.

Let this Christmas be a reminder that God, who has orchestrated the redemption of  my soul, is working out His perfect plan in this day and the days to follow.

 

When Christmas is Hard: Cobwebs and Christmas Trees

Our family has always enjoyed having a real Christmas tree in our home.  There is just something about the fresh smell of pine that draws each of us in.  We typically frequent a local garden center to select our tree.  But one year we ventured out to a tree farm to cut down our own.  Unfortunately, I was unable to go because of a commitment at church, but my husband and boys joined my brother-in-law and his children on a tree-cutting adventure.

I remember the day well; it was very cold and snowy.  My husband and I rushed around to find warm clothes, gloves, and hats for the kids;  I was trying my hardest to get out of the house on time while looking somewhat pulled together.  We went our separate ways, which I must admit made me very sad.  I knew that I was going to miss out on some family fun.

Later that afternoon we all met up back at the house.  The boys were very proud to show me the tree that they had selected and cut down themselves.  It was covered in a blanket of powdery snow and tightly bound in netting.  We placed it into a bucket of water and left it out on the porch to dry for a few days.  In short time we prepared our living room and made room for our tree.  Each of us had waited with great anticipation for tree decorating day.

When we went to bring the tree inside we noticed a number of insects flying about on our porch.  Normally, there aren’t any bugs flying about on a cold December day in New Jersey.   We took a closer peek and found that our tree was housing quite a number of bugs.  After my husband broke the news to the boys that we were not going to decorate the tree that day, he asked me to meet him in the backyard.  He then told me that we needed to unwrap the tree and shake it really hard.  We did.  Then we began to bang the tree up and down on the stump.  Finally, for good measure, we tossed the tree around the yard a few times.  I can only imagine what our neighbors thought.  We live in a neighborhood where all of the homes are within close proximity of each other.  What a show we put on for them!  Regardless, we gave that tree a good shaking and hoped that we had evicted all of the insects.

The next day we set up the tree and enjoyed our decorating time together.  The tree was beautiful.  It was full, lush, and perfectly symmetrical.  It was just about the most perfect tree anyone could hope for.

Soon after our decorating day, I began to notice a few cobwebs beginning to form in various areas of tree.  I swiped them away as best I could.  I hoped that the lights and ornaments and all their sparkle would cover over the cobwebs so they wouldn’t be noticeable.  Christmas is supposed to be full of beauty and happiness and joy, right?  There’s no room for spiders and cobwebs.  However, every few days new cobwebs appeared.  I continued to brush them away.  I finally broke the news to the boys that the tree would need to go out to the curb the day after Christmas.  So, as promised, we undecorated our tree on December 26th.   Once all of the ornaments and lights were removed, we could clearly see the magnitude of the problem.  There were spider webs all throughout the tree, on every side, on the top, on the bottom, on the outside, on the inside.  Everywhere.   Our Christmas tree looked like a twisted scene from a scary horror movie.  We quickly sent the tree to the curb for pick up and promptly began cleaning the living room from top to bottom.

It’s was all rather funny…that is except for the small yellow spiders we found throughout the house for the next year.

Our cobweb filled tree serves as a good reminder to me that sometimes underneath all the glitter and lights of Christmas, something is hiding.   For many, sadness and loneliness are a regular guest at Christmas.  While most are busy laughing, smiling, and being merry, many people are left trying to swat away the cobwebs that keep reappearing.  Relational problems, financial stress, sickness, the absence of a loved one, and loneliness seem to be magnified during the holidays.  What should be a joyous season is often one of the hardest to endure for many.

This Christmas season I would encourage you to be on the lookout for ways to extend love to those who are struggling to swat away cobwebs.  We often know who they are, but in the awkwardness of the situation, we rarely reach out.  Take the time to embrace someone and acknowledge their sadness.  Share their burden.  Cry with them, encourage them, show them the love of Christ.  Open up your home to someone that you know will be spending the holiday alone.  Wrap a simple gift.  Make a homemade treat.  Invite someone to church to hear the good news of Christmas.  Remind someone that you will be praying for them.

I’m reminded that Christ came so that one day the sadness, loneliness, and hardships of this world would be no more.  He came as a babe to be victor over sin and to give us hope.  He came to bind up our wounds, dry our tears, and to save us from the depravity of our sin.  So while we share this life together where happiness and sadness mingle together, let’s be light, let’s offer hope, let’s extend love, let’s share Jesus to the people who need it most.

Experiencing Peace In Times of Uncertainty

Life is uncertain.  Changes and challenges often rattle us to the core with little or no forewarning.  Sickness.  Brokenness.  Rebellion.   They’ve all stepped over the welcome mat and entered into our lives as uninvited guests.  They provoke us to fear and anger, bring disappointment and doubt, and cause us to fret and worry.  Can there truly be a sense of peace and calmness amidst the storms and trials of this life?

A few weeks ago I felt prompted to make an appointment with a cardiologist.  With such a long-standing bout of Lyme Disease and the full knowledge of its potential effects on one’s heart, I felt the need to get a baseline reading on my heart health.  It’s funny, sickness and testing are not foreign to me.  I’ve never experienced true stress and anxiety at the doctor’s office or during testing.  However, this all changed the very moment that I opened the door to the cardiologist’s office.  I was overcome with such a sense of panic, like none I had ever experienced before.  And, if you didn’t realize, there is absolutely no way to mask or hide anxiety at the cardiologist.  After my initial visit, the doctor arranged for a whole host of tests to be completed over the course of the next several weeks.  One by one I completed the tests, all coming back as normal.  The last of the tests was scheduled to be completed at the doctor’s office.  This last test did not produce such stellar results.  The doctor speculated as to the cause and requested further testing.

This normally strong woman simply fell apart as she left the office.   I emerged back home a blubbering mess.  For the remainder of the day I felt such a cloud of darkness hovering over me as the tears flowed.  I didn’t pray.  I didn’t open God’s Word.  I didn’t recall the many verses I knew.  I didn’t remember God’s goodness.  Instead I chose to question, doubt, and allow the seeds of anger to spring to life.

The next day the doctor’s office called asking me to come in again for additional testing in a few days.  Once again fear enveloped me and held on with an intense grip.  Realizing my weakness, I reached out to a few friends asking them to pray for me.

With a few days to wait for my testing, the Lord laid these thoughts on my heart.  I’ll call them  “The Six R’s of Resting in God When Life is Uncertain,” and they have served as a good reminder to me.

  • Remember
    • Remember the many promises of God.  Call to mind the portions of scripture that you have hidden in your heart for moments such as this.  Rehearse them.  Recite them.  Reflect on them.  Repeat again and again.   Our God is a promise keeper.  He is unable to do anything less than keep the promises  that fill His Word.  Here are but a few:
  • Reach 
    • Reach out to the Lord immediately without delay.  He knows our troubles before we ourselves do.  He is concerned for us.  He is near to us.  We need only to call out to Him.  Push aside all the other voices of fear, doubt, and anxiety and come before the throne of the Lord.
      • The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  Psalm 34:18
    • Reach for His Word.  Read the familiar promises in His Word, but delve further into the scriptures to uncover new truths and promises that may have previously gone unnoticed.  Pray that the Lord would open up His Word to you in new and exciting and comforting ways.
    • Reach for trusted friends.  Be honest.  Take down the facade of strength and ask for faithful friends to uphold you in prayer.  Tell them in what ways you are struggling.  Share specific requests.  Set aside pride and ask for prayer.
      • For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. ” I Peter 3:12
  • Release
    • We are all human with God-given emotions.  Our initial response to hardship is not to celebrate.  If you are anything like me, I need to let out one really good and hefty cry.   God understands our frame; He knows our weakness.  Cry out to Him not in anger or frustration but as a child coming to their parent for comfort.  I literally envision the arms of the Lord wrapped around me.
      • For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.”  Hebrews 4:15
  • Reflect
    • Think back and remember all that the Lord has already done for you.  Look back to past valleys and see how the Lord has walked with you through those times.  Remember His faithfulness.  Remember His strength.  Remember His goodness.  Let memories flood your mind.  I often marvel at how the Israelites second guessed God and His power.  They had gazed upon miracles with their own eyes, yet they doubted God.  In my own moments of weakness, I’ve realized how easy it is to forget what God has done.  His work at times can become a distant memory.  Bring them to the forefront of your mind.  Remember and reflect on all that He has done.  He has been faithful and will continue to be.
  • Resist
    • The evil one would like nothing more than to fill your heart with doubt, depression, and despair.  We leave these doors wide open when we turn away from our Lord during challenging times.   The moment we divert our eyes from our Father, the devil will be quick to catch our gaze and to fill our hearts and minds with blatant lies.  We will question the goodness of God, doubt His love, and question His sovereignty.
      • Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  James 4:7
  • Rest
    • Find rest and peace in the Lord.  He alone is in control.  He alone is sovereign.  He alone cares for His children as no other could.  Hand this over to Him.
      • You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.”  Isaiah 26:3 
      •  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:6-7 
      • “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

So, can there indeed be peace in the midst of the storms and trials of life?  Without God, peace will be elusive.  But with God, all things are possible.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Spaghetti squash is one of my very favorite vegetables.  It is incredibly versatile and a great way to enjoy a spaghetti-like meal without the carb overload.   So last year I tucked a few seeds away and planned to plant them in the garden this summer.  My son and I did just that, and we’ve enjoyed watching that plant grow and grow and GROW!  It has spilled over the garden bed and fence and onto the driveway.  It has literally taken over the side of my house, as squash plants tend to do.  It’s beautiful, lush, and full of blossoms.

The other day my neighbor commented on the abundance and beauty of those yellow blossoms.  “You must have so many squash growing in that patch,” she said.

“Not one,” I lamented.

As beautiful and lush and full of blossoms as that patch is to the casual observer, there is something that has gone terribly wrong, for not one squash has emerged.   After doing a bit of detective work and research, I discovered that there is likely a problem with pollination.  It seems that the local bees are not doing their job.  Hmph!  So the likelihood of our family enjoying spaghetti squash from our own garden is slim to none.

Of late I’ve been tempted to yank the entire plant out of the garden.  It is simply taking up too much space and serves little use other than giving the false impression that my garden is flourishing and thriving.  It bears no fruit and has little benefit aside from its outer beauty.

Then there are my green bean plants.  I’ve lost count as to how many bowls full of beans we have picked and eaten.  The eight or so plants that I have continue to produce a healthy, useful harvest every week.  If you were to take a closer look at these plants, you would see plants that are far from lush and beautiful, and to the casual observer, one might assume that these plants are not producing fruit.  There are small weeds scattered about, yellowing leaves, dry brown parts, thinness, and evidence of damage from insects.   Beauty is certainly lacking.

Yet, when you stoop down and take the time to push aside the leaves and stems and weeds of these plants, when time is taken to look below the surface,  a treasure trove of beans awaits.  These plants, though outwardly not as attractive as my billowing spaghetti squash vine, have yielded much fruit.  Even though one would assume that a beautiful plant would yield a beautiful crop and a homely plant would yield sub par fruit, these plants have shown me otherwise.

Outward appearances can certainly be deceiving.

I suppose this applies to our world today.  How quick we can be to make determinations and judgements about people based solely upon what we see on the surface.  We often take little to no time to actually look past what we see. We assign good qualities to those with beauty and poor qualities to those with a humble or even rough appearance.  Superficiality is the name of the game in our society.

The Lord reminds us that the only way to truly know someone for who they are is by the fruit that they bear.   Appearances are of no value to Him, but the heart is.   In the busyness and craziness of life, we often leave little time to look at people at the heart level.

I’m thankful for the little reminders that the Lord sends to me through my little garden.

Giving of Your Best

They were there to gather donations to fill the shelves of a local food pantry.  The boys, dressed in their troop uniforms, were greeting customers as they entered the grocery store.  Each patron received a flyer detailing what items were needed and then were sent on their way with a smile.

Many gave generously that day.  They maneuvered the aisles, their thoughts on those less fortunate, on those who were in need of even the most basic of supplies.  One cart after another was filled.  Cars were loaded with bright yellow shopping bags.  Many made cash donations.  It was a good day…a very good day.  The kind of day that renews your hope in humanity a bit.

How encouraging it was to see a group of young men working to benefit others, working to meet the tangible needs of those they may never meet face to face, may never speak to, may never know.  It was good to see their excitement, good to see their zeal, good to see their hard work.  It was also good to see the generosity of the local people.  They freely gave.  Some gave much, others gave little, but all gave.

That evening, my husband, who was assisting the troop that day, told me about an interesting encounter that he had earlier that day.  A middle-aged man had approached him during the course of the food drive.  After asking how much longer the boys would be working, the man made this comment:

“I will be back in just a bit.  I have some expired food at home that I’ve been looking to get rid of.  I’ll bring it back to donate”

My first instinct was to ask my husband if he was kidding.  He’s known to be a jokester.   But no sly smile crossed his face; no elfish grin emerged.  He was serious.

In all honesty, I instantly judged, criticized, and condemned this unknown man.  How insensitive and callous he was.   How blind he was to the needs of others.  He saw nothing wrong with tossing his leftovers, his expired goods, his garbage bound food, to those who had the simplest yet greatest need. Why not just go into the store and pick up a can of vegetables instead?  Why not simply walk past the collection sight like many others did that day?  Why would he offer less than his best?

One year has come and gone.  And as the troop prepares for this weekend’s food drive, I am reminded of that man.  With knee jerk reactions and condemnation  put aside, I turned my gaze inward.  Was I any different than that man?  Was I willing to give less than my best to others?  I didn’t have to ponder for long.

I remembered the time that I was rummaging through my boys old clothes.  I wanted to clear out everything that no longer fit or was in poor condition.  I systematically sorted the clothes into two piles.  One pile contained clothing that was still in good condition; I had planned to pass these pieces along to a friend.  The second pile was filled with everything else: stains, tears, wear, fraying.  I must admit that I bagged up that second pile of clothes and dumped them into a collection box.  I never gave thought to the young man that would be wearing that stained shirt or the woman who would be modeling those frayed pants, or the child who would be dressed in rags.  I gave them my garbage and never thought otherwise.

I was no different than that man.

Imagine if I had simply gone to the store and picked up a new piece of clothing…tags still on.  It wouldn’t need to be fancy or expensive.  I’m a great bargain shopper.  Surely I could have picked up something nice for merely a few dollars.  I’m sure we could have forgone a bag of chips that week or a cup of coffee.  Imagine the reaction of some one in need, someone who likely never has worn a new piece of clothing.  Imagine them, imagine the look on their face and the swell in their heart.  I wish I could have retrieved my less than best bag and substituted it with one new item.  I can’t look back, but I can look ahead.

Keeping the best for ourselves is nothing short of selfish and completely out of step with how the Lord wants us to live our lives.  The Lord who gives abundantly, who showers us with blessing upon blessing, who provides for each and every need, has not created us to live selfish, self-centered lives:

  • And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Hebrews 13:16
  • My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. John 15:12
  • not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  Philippians 2:4
  • Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord,  and he will reward them for what they have done.  Proverbs 19:17
  • The generous will themselves be blessed,  for they share their food with the poor.  Proverbs 22:9
  • Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.  Romans 12:13
  • You must present as the LORD’s portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you.’  Numbers 18:29

Give of your best and nothing less.