The singing during last Sunday’s worship service made me nauseous. Literally.
A respiratory virus had triggered a mild recurrence of an inner ear problem. As the worship leaders began to play and sing, the lyrics were projected on a screen at the front of the sanctuary. Below the words was a video loop of waves, rising and falling, rising and falling. I tried to keep the nausea at bay by looking at the words and ignoring the rolling swell. The song began:
I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise my soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
I tried to concentrate on the words, but I still noticed the motion in the periphery of my vision. I sat down, unwrapped a nausea-calming Life Saver mint, gaze averted to the floor, but the queasiness continued. I remembered the advice from months ago: Look up. I needed to focus on something stable, unmoving. I stood and fixed my eyes on the wooden cross and let the music wash over me.
* * * * *
The boat was far from the shore. The wind was against the disciples, and choppy waves buffeted the boat as they sailed across Galilee. Just before dawn Jesus came toward them, walking on the sea. The disciples were understandably terrified.
Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “Master, save me!” Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, “Faint-heart, what got into you?” The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down.
Matthew 14:30-33 MSG
We often emphasize the fact that Peter’s faith drained away when he looked down, but I like to remember the impossible thing he did, even if just for a moment. Peter walked on water.
Then he lost his focus. His eyes dropped from Jesus to the terrifying waves underfoot. Like Peter, when we gaze intently on the true and beautiful thing that is right in front of us, the rest of the world becomes blurred and hazy, even if it’s just for a moment.
* * * * *
This week I read another set of lyrical words on another screen. I learned about crying, bleeding, stolen, marketed girls, nine-years-young girls, windward of the ISIS storm. Ann Voskamp’s post of the horrors in Iraq left me reeling.
I also read a gut-wrenching news story about the flood of sex trafficking in my own state. The statistics are sickening. I was reminded that the average age of entry into prostitution is twelve.
Letters swim, eyes cloud, and stomach churns. Mints can’t cure this kind of nausea.
Are we drowning in a flood of evil, feeling that we can do nothing against the black, oily tide of malevolence?
How can we make a difference?
How can we do an impossible thing? How can we walk on water?
Ann Voskamp challenged her readers to make contributions to Preemptive Love Coalition. Nearly a half million dollars has been given so far.
Wings of Refuge in Iowa focuses on the restoration of survivors of domestic sex trafficking. (There are probably similar ministries in your area.)
We can do impossible things.
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand
“Come” Jesus invites.
I will focus on Him,
step out of the safe boat,
and walk on water.
Photo of painting “Le Christ marchant sur la mer” by Amédée Varin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo of boat on water by Patricia Hunter pollywogcreek.blogspot.com/
If you live in or near a community that honors its Dutch heritage with an annual festival, you know that Tulip Time is here.
Early May is the time to celebrate all things Dutch: wooden shoes, parades, dancers in costume, street sweeping, Dutch pastries and sausages, and thousands upon thousands of tulips.
Tulips aren’t native to the Netherlands, and yet these flowers became an integral part of Dutch culture. Tulip bulbs became so valuable in the 1600s that they sold for more than a hundred times their weight in gold.
We may never know who began to cultivate the first wild tulips found in Asia, but by 1050 these flowers were already honored in Muslim Persia.
…of all the blooms in a Muslim garden, the tulip was regarded as the holiest, and the Turkish passion for this flower went far beyond mere appreciation of its beauty.
from Tulipomania by Mike Dash
By the 1500s the Turks began to cultivate tulips and breed new varieties with such expressive names as “Light of Paradise” and the “Matchless Pearl.” Rare and valuable tulips like these were grown in the interior gardens of the Sultan’s palace in Istanbul.
Later the Turks probably carried tulips west to eastern Europe via the Ottoman empire. Europeans who visited Istanbul were attracted to the flower’s bright colors and diversity.
Tulips began to spread to western Europe as nouveau riche merchants and Renaissance-inspired horticulturists both looked at gardening, and particularly the cultivation of the tulip, as a pursuit worthy of their time and money.
A Flemish merchant was unintentionally one of the first to introduce the tulip to northern Europe in 1562. Among the bales of cloth shipped back from the East, he found a package of tulip bulbs. Ignorant of their identity and oblivious to their value, he roasted them and ate them for supper.
The rest he planted in his garden next to the cabbages. When the tulips bloomed in the spring, the vibrant red and yellow flowers eventually came to the attention of a famous botanist (Clusius), who recognized their importance, and grew, studied, and gave bulbs to fellow horticulturalists. By 1593 this botanist, who had popularized the tulip, came to teach at Leiden University in the Dutch Republic and brought his valuable and vast tulip collection with him.
Tulips were embraced by the Dutch. They had found a home in Europe.
By the early seventeenth century
the tulip was an established favorite with many of the Dutch elite and the private passion of some of the most influential men in the republic.
from Tulipomania by Mike Dash
Tulips had become a status symbol.
The most desired tulips were quite rare and therefore very expensive. The magnificent variety called Semper Augustus was so coveted that records showed an offer of 12,000 guilders wasn’t enough to purchase ten bulbs. This was the beginning of what historians and economists call “tulip mania.”
Many Dutch saw that huge profits could be made in the tulip trade and so became tulip farmers. Tradesmen, desperate to better their standard of living, sold what they had to purchase bulbs. Weavers, for example, sold their looms.
As the demand for tulips increased, so did the price. The highest amount paid for a single tulip bulb was in 1637–an astounding 5200 guilders. At that time a carpenter could earn 250 guilders a year, and a middle class merchant might make 1500.
The Dutch even began to trade promissory notes for tulips in the ground, before they had bloomed–a futures market. Then the speculative bubble popped in the spring of 1637, and as quickly as fortunes had been made, they were lost. Growers were unable to sell even their most valuable and treasured bulbs.
* * * * *
In a postapocalyptic movie I recently watched, the main character was asked what the world was like before the cataclysm. He replied that people didn’t know what was precious and what wasn’t.
What is precious to us?
What do we treasure?
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:21 NIV
Is it money and power? Is it prestige and status? Is it clothes and houses?
The human heart is so deceitful, that at times I’m not sure what I really do value. I have to ask myself, What do you spend your money and time on? Are you willing to sacrifice to obtain what you say is important?
The deeply flawed protagonist in the dystopian movie had a treasure–a Bible, perhaps the only remaining one. Do I treasure God’s word? Do I study and memorize the Bible as if it were truly precious to me?
The law from your mouth is more precious to me
than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.
Psalm 119:72 NIV
Is God Himself truly precious to me? What am I willing to give up to gain the kingdom of God? Do I seek things of lasting and intrinsic value?
Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.
Matthew 6:19-21 MSG
My prayer for us all
that we may ask ourselves and honestly answer
Where is your treasure? Where is your heart?
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
Matthew 13:44-46 NIV
* * * * *
Photo by Martine Burrell
Photos by Barb Briggs
Semper Augustus was the most desired, most lauded, most rare, and, therefore, most valuable Dutch tulip of the 1600s. Of course, there are no photos from the time of “tulipomania.” Only written descriptions and paintings survive. The bulbs were so scarce, that few ever saw one. A man who owned a few of these tulips rejected offers of 2000-3000 guilders per bulb–a fortune! In comparison, the famous Dutch artist, Rembrandt, only earned 1500 guilders for his most famous painting, and a well-off Dutch merchant of that era might earn 3000 guilders in a year.
Semper Augustus was one of a group of fancifully colored tulips, exhibiting streaks, feathers, or veins of contrasting colors such as white or yellow. Common, solid-hued tulips that bloomed white, red, violet, or yellow one year might blossom the next in delightful new patterns.
These tulips were said to be “broken,” (the original solid color was broken up), and the process of change from a solid color to fantastic streaking was called “breaking.” Of two bulbs of the same color planted together in the same garden bed, one might bloom true, and the other would produce colors that were “broken.”
Tulip growers were mystified. They tried grafting, amending the soil, soaking bulbs in wine, all without success. They did notice that the broken tulips (which had smaller bulbs than standard ones) became weaker each year, until they eventually couldn’t produce a blossom.
Why? They were infected with a virus. Disease-carrying aphids fed on the tulips and transmitted the virus with each “bite.”
The famous broken varieties like the Semper Augustus are gone now, and the only tulips available with similar feathery streaks today are the result of cross-breeding. I find it ironic that the most celebrated tulip’s Latin name means “always” (semper) “majestic” (augustus).
* * * * *
The white dinner plate slipped out of my soapy hands and crashed to the kitchen floor, breaking into hundreds of tiny shards. There was no repairing, no gluing it back together. I swept the pieces into a dustpan, emptied the fragments into a box, and set the box out by the garbage.
Beyond repair. Useless. Garbage. That’s how we feel sometimes, broken by the weight of our own bad choices, cracked by the pressure of sin that has followed us all since the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve took their disobedient bites, they spread the disease of sin and death into the world. It wasn’t God’s original plan, but it wasn’t the end either.
God doesn’t discard us when we are broken. He is moved to compassion. He reaches out to us in tender, loving kindness with a new plan.
Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice. Psalm 51:17 MSG
There is hope for us. We are living creatures, and God can make us into grow into something beautiful. He can take the worst of circumstances and use them.
Remember Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers, carried away to Egypt, and yet became second only to the Pharaoh? The Lord was able to take the hatred, violence, and estrangement in Joseph’s family and transform it into a miracle of God’s providence. Joseph recognized the Lord’s hand in the brokenness of his life:
Don’t you see, you [brothers] planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people.
Genesis 50:20 MSG
He can heal our brokenness of spirit. We can bloom beautifully, like the broken Dutch tulips. We are like the Semper Augustus–desired, unique, treasured, even if the virus of sin lives in us. We are so valuable that God sent his only Son to buy us, to save us.
The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:18 NIV
Refrain: You are strong
In the broken places
I’m carried in Your arms
You are strong
In the broken places
There’s healing in these scars
Broken Places, from Exhale by Plumb
Thanks to Barb Briggs and Martine Burrell for sharing photos.
My apologies if you received a draft version of the upcoming Tulip Time post.
The “Save Draft” button is awfully close to the “Publish” button.
Words are interesting and their definitions intriguing, not as fixed in meaning as you might expect. Their definitions may change through time and due to where the speaker lives. These little pieces of language have history, and sometimes their antonyms tell us as much as their synonyms.
During these last few weeks I’ve watched spring come in small, seemingly weak ways, and during this time, God (who is Word himself) has been teaching me about one particular word:
“puny,” a funny-sounding word which means
1. of less than normal size and strength; weak
2. unimportant; insignificant; petty or minor
When I encounter a phrase once–I think nothing of it, twice–I think it’s interesting, but three times–I begin to pay attention. I had been “feeling kind of puny,” an idiom used more in certain parts of the USA than others. It means that I felt ill, so I had been reading more books and watching more movies than usual. I reread Jan Karon’s Mitford series and was impressed by Father Tim’s indefatigable housekeeper, Puny Bradshaw, who was anything but weak.
I watched a movie in which puny, frail, would-be World War II soldier, Steve Rogers, turns into the superhero, Captain America. In another film based on Marvel Comics, the antagonist, Loki, asserts that humans and superheroes are beneath him and declares, “I am a god.” Then the Incredible Hulk thrashes Loki as if he were a rag doll and pronounces him to be a “puny god.”
Jesus, too, must have seemed to be a weak, unimportant god as he hung on the cross. The religious leaders and one of the criminals crucified next to Jesus mocked and insulted Him:
save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God! Matthew 27:40 NIV
One of the criminals hanging there made fun of Jesus. He said, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself! Save us! Luke 23:39
In another telling of the Gospel story, C.S. Lewis’ Aslan (in the Narnia tales) gives himself up to be tortured and killed. The White Witch believes she has won and that the “forever winter” of her rule will continue. But the seeming debility turns out to be Aslan’s– and Jesus’–great strength. Aslan’s death and return to life breaks the “old magic.” The crucifixion prepares the way for the Resurrection, just as spring pushes up through the debris of winter.
but we preach Christ crucified . . . Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. I Corinthians 1:23-25 NIV
As I watched the false “god” Loki overpowered by one of the “superheroes,” I remembered some of the words from songs we had sung just last Sunday in our worship service: “Mighty is our God” and “He is mighty to save.”
Sometimes knowing what a thing is not helps us to know what it is. “Mighty” is the opposite of “puny.”
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name. Luke 1:49 NIV
Our God is not a puny God.
He is a mighty God, who rose from the dead and saves us.
The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.
Zephaniah 3:17 NIV
* * * * *
If you’re a fan of the Little House on the Prairie books, you’ll remember the blizzard that forced Pa to tie a rope connecting the house and the barn, so that he wouldn’t get lost when he went outside to care for the livestock. White outs aren’t fictional; visibility in a snowstorm can be reduced to feet instead of miles.
In blizzard country, it can snow and blow until you lose sight of the horizon, as it did here two weeks ago. I measured the increasing severity of the storm by objects I lost sight of–first the horizon, then the neighbors’ houses, then the road, and, last, the trees in front of our house. A white out. A foot of snow fell overnight and into the next day, and the wind whipped the tiny flakes into drifts four feet high.
It’s easy to lose perspective when your world becomes smaller and smaller, when all you see are the storms of life roaring around you, when the barn disappears.
Maybe a loved one has died.
Maybe you face a seemingly endless task of caring for family members.
Maybe your financial situation is precarious.
Maybe the results of the latest lab test are disheartening.
Maybe family members who should have loved you, haven’t.
Maybe the doctors are mystified and can’t figure it out what “it” is.
Sometimes I feel like Laura, peering through the frosted window, struggling to see the barn during a white out. I begin to doubt God’s love and care for me when I am in the middle of great trials. At times I empathize with Job, thinking that God
. . . would crush me with a storm
and multiply my wounds for no reason.
Job 9:17 NIV
Eventually, storms end. Skies clear. Howling winds subside. What is left behind?
Drifts of sparkling snow,
gorgeous blue shadows,
bright, moonlit nights.
What is left when our personal trials pass? If we cooperate with God and allow him to work in us, the beauty of a changed character remains. God can take the inevitable storms and use them to transform us.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:2-4 NIV
James speaks of a joy during trials, a joy that is hard to imagine when we are in the middle of a difficult time. But this joy isn’t the same as gleeful happiness. In fact, we may actually be in pain.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
I Peter 1:6 NIV
We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!
Romans 5:3-5 MSG
Who wouldn’t want to be more patient, more mature? Who wouldn’t want to persevere and have a stronger faith?
Me. Sometimes. I can get so tired in the middle of the blizzard, I lose my perspective, and I don’t want to move forward. Those are the times you can pray for me, and if you get disoriented and weary during stormy trials, I’ll pray for you. And during the next white out, let’s follow that rope to the barn.
* * * * *
I listened to the weather forecast, hoping for warmer temperatures, but the meteorologist predicted the frigid air mass would remain over the Midwest for the next two days. It wasn’t just bitterly cold (a wind chill of -30 to -40° F), it was dangerously cold. A temperature of -10° combined with a wind of 10 miles per hour produces a wind chill of -28°. Frostbite can occur in 30 minutes in these conditions.
School was cancelled. Church services and meetings were postponed. Any necessary outside work required wearing multiple layers: down coat, hat, scarf, insulated gloves and insulated pants on top of layers of socks, sweatshirts, and corduroy pants.
Arctic blasts can bring beauty, as well as danger. During these days of extreme cold, I was able to see sun dogs at sunset and at dawn. This optical phenomena forms as the light of the sun is refracted through hexagonal ice crystals in the atmosphere, creating bright spots (sometimes with rainbow colors), each arcing beside the sun.
Sun dogs are also known as “mock suns,” but their scientific name is parhelia (one is a parhelion), which comes from Greek words para and helios meaning “beside” and “sun.”
Sun dogs always appear 22° on each side of the sun and at the same elevation as the sun. The source of the term “sun dogs” is obscure. Is it from a Scandinavian word resembling “dog” or from Norse or Native American mythology? Is it simply because the bright spots follow the sun as a dog follows his master? Dictionary.com merely says the origin is uncertain.
* * * * *
Along with many other bloggers, I wanted a single word from the Lord for the new year–one word to inspire me, to teach me, to challenge me. My word for 2015 is “close.” As I contemplated what this word might mean for me, I was rereading a book in which one of the characters refers to these verses in Acts:
Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. We live and move in him, can’t get away from him! One of your poets said it well: ‘We’re the God-created.’
Acts 17:26-28 MSG
God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’
Act 17:27, 28 NIV
I am a sun dog, existing only because of the light of the sun.
I want to follow God as closely as a dog follows its master.
I am a parhelion, distinct from God, yet wrapped up in His glory, always a mere 22° away.
I am para helios, close to the sun, a term that implies relationship.
My prayer for us all: that we may learn what it is to be close to the Lord and how He is already close to us.
* * * * *
Twenty-two thousand miles in space above me, in a geosynchronous orbit is a satellite. Combined with the dish on the roof of my garage, I now have access to the internet again.24 hour so
I can check my email, shop, catch up on friends and family, watch a video on appliance repair, or publish a new blog post.
I can accomplish all this because the satellite is always there.
It is always sending and receiving signals
on clear mornings,
as well as partly cloudy days,
on foggy mornings,
when the sun is shining,
and even when it’s not.
I sit at my computer and type, having faith that the words I enter will always reach a satellite that I can’t see, much less understand. I believe it is there because people (whom I will probably never meet) designed it, built it, and launched it on a rocket into space. It’s too complicated, too advanced for me to understand completely.
It is, after all, rocket science.
I also have faith that God exists and communicates with us, and we with Him, even though He is unseen (except in the incarnate form of Jesus).
The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. Hebrews 11:1 MSG
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1 NIV
I believe the satellite exists because I see the results: news stories, new account balances, follow-up emails, invoices for packages that arrive in a few days.
I also have faith in the Lord, who is an unseen Spirit. I have faith in what I cannot see, because I see the results of the Spirit’s working in my life and in the life of others.
“You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.”
John 3:7,8 MSG
Neighbors with a similar dish have warned us that heavy snow covering the dish will interfere with the signal. During such a snowstorm, the satellite is still there, still functioning, but the problem is on the receiving end. A quick brush with a soft broom should enable reception to return.
There’s often a problem on my part, when it comes to connecting with God, too. I am like the man who wanted healing for his sick son, but found his faith wanting. He pleaded with Jesus.
‘Oh, have mercy on us and do something if you can.’
‘If I can?” Jesus asked. ‘Anything is possible if you have faith.’
The father instantly replied, ‘I do have faith; oh, help me to have more!’ Mark 9:22-24
Jesus did have mercy on the man and his son and healed him.
Faith–it’s rocket science. I don’t have to understand or see everything to believe it.
My prayer for us all:
May our faith increase!
“Because you’re not yet taking God seriously,” said Jesus. “The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy seed, say, you would tell this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn’t be able to tackle.” Matthew 17:20 MSG
* * * * *
satellite and rocket photo from exede.com, night sky photo by freedigitalphotos.net
* * * * *
We’ve been without internet, but should have access in a week or so.
Hope to “see” you soon.
The house had been bulldozed, burnt, and buried weeks ago, and I’d never noticed.
I drove past this home every time I went to our nearby town, and still I hadn’t realized it was gone.
The contractor’s progress in building a bigger, new house a few yards away had distracted me. Am I like the proverbial ravens, attracted to shiny, new objects?
I try to pay attention to the old, the dying and dead,
but do I only notice the sparkling, the new, the contemporary?
Do I neglect to see the beauty and meaning in the small, the quiet, and the ordinary? A new day’s light illuminating grassy seed heads dipped in dew is still a miracle.
The geometry spoken into the heart of a flower is no less perfect because the flower is called a weed.
Are things too small to merit my contemplation, like the millions of dust particles that turned the western sky into a burnished sunset?
Do I look, but do not see? Is it a rebellious heart that overlooks the wondrous that surrounds me?
“Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people. They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people. Ezekiel 12:2 NIV
Have I failed to thank the Lord for the vistas revealed this fall because they are so “ordinary.”
Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? Mark 8:18 NIV
Have I failed to pay attention to the glory at my feet, because it is expressed in common garden flowers and weeds growing in dusty gravel paths?
Have I neglected the everlasting love of God that surrounds me because I wasn’t paying attention?
Pay attention, come close now, listen carefully to my life-giving, life-nourishing words. I’m making a lasting covenant commitment with you, the same that I made with David: sure, solid, enduring love. Isaiah 55:3 MSG
My prayer for us all:
that we may have undistracted eyes to see
the physical beauty, the everlasting love
in all things, old and new, great and small.
* * * * *