Trifecta

The pain was real, even if the cause is now forgotten and buried in the dust of twenty-some years’ passing. But I do remember the heartache I felt that day–

pain that made me wonder if God cared,

pain that prompted me to cry out for assurance that I wasn’t alone in my sorrow.

God, listen! Listen to my prayer,
    listen to the pain in my cries.
Don’t turn your back on me
    just when I need you so desperately. Psalm 102:1,2   MSG

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Later that morning as I passed a window on the west side of the house, I saw three birds perched in the tall shrubbery:  a male cardinal, a male goldfinch, and a male indigo bunting.

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Was it a coincidence that these three birds, arrayed in primary-colored feathers, should be sitting

. . . in the same bush

. . . at the same time

. . . on the side nearest the window

. . . soon after I had prayed for comfort?

What are the odds?

Call to me and I will answer you.   Jeremiah 33:3

I called. God answered.

*           *           *           *           *

Sometimes He answers our prayers in a vibrant, multi-colored “yes.”

But what if God answers differently?

Sometimes, for our own good and the good of others, He must say “no.”

My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.   Psalm 22:2   NIV

Sometimes the answer is “wait,” and we learn to lean close to our Savior and rest, however impatiently, in his grace and loving-kindness.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,   Psalm 130:5,6   NIV

*           *           *           *           *

The word “trifecta,” (originally from the world of betting on horse races) now also describes a situation where three components come together at the same time 1 or an accomplishment that “involves three successful outcomes.” 2 

The cardinal, goldfinch, and indigo bunting’s appearance was an avian trifecta of reassurance during a painful time in my life.

God hears and answers our prayers with the trifecta of replies: “yes,” “no,” or “wait.” Each is a successful outcome of the prayer process.

My prayer for us all:

May we continue to turn to the Lord with our heartaches and thankful hearts. May we seek, recognize, and accept God’s answers to our prayers, confident in His great love for us.

I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.   Psalm17:6   NIV

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What I do, God, is wait for you,
    wait for my Lord, my God—you will answer!
I wait and pray. . .   Psalm 38:15   MSG

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Listen, God, I’m calling at the top of my lungs:
    “Be good to me! Answer me!”
When my heart whispered, “Seek God,”
    my whole being replied,
“I’m seeking him!”
    Don’t hide from me now!   Psalm27:7-9   MSG

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A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!   Matthew 15:22   NIV

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Answer me when I call to you,
    my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
    have mercy on me and hear my prayer.   Psalm 4:1   NIV

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Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!   Matthew 7:9-11   NIV

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I’ve thrown myself headlong into your arms—
    I’m celebrating your rescue.
I’m singing at the top of my lungs,
    I’m so full of answered prayers.   Psalm 13:5-6   MSG

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goldfinch photo by Mdf (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) via Wikimedia Commons
indigo bunting photo by By Dawn Scranton from Cornwall, Ontario, Canada (Indigo Bunting) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

three sunflowers photo by Barb Briggs

Apple Pie with a Scoop of Discontent

As I wash the copper-bottomed saucepan in the warm, soapy water in the kitchen sink, I gaze out the window at the apple trees in the back yard. The branches are bent low, nine-months-pregnant heavy, full of crimson fruit. I sigh, thinking of all the work those bushels of apples will be. How should I prepare and preserve them?

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As the dishes dry, I search cookbooks with worn spines and splattered pages:

     Apple pie, baked apples, apple juice, apple dumplings;

faded, dog-eared, recipes on 3″ x 5″ index cards:

  apple cake, apple roll, apple bread, dried apples, apple bars, pickled apples;

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canning and freezing instruction booklets, bookmarked to favorites:

     apple sauce, apple jam, apple jelly, apple butter;

and recipes, only a click away on the internet:

     apple cider, caramel apples, apple fritters.

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Should I freeze or can or dry or bake? There are so many apples . . .

What I should do is be content and thankful for the bounty God has provided. Usually I am discontented when I lack something, but today I am complaining about abundance. Paul experienced these extremes, too, and learned how to deal with them.

 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:12,13   NIV

I sigh again, this time with whispers of “Thank you” and “Give me strength.”

I know what it is to have plenty.

I think I’ll bake an apple pie, and while it’s still warm I’ll get the vanilla ice cream out of the freezer for those who like it à la mode.

But my slice? I’ll have a scoop of contentment, please, maybe two.

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post first published September, 2013
    

The Teeth (and Claws) of the Lion

“May we dig up dandelions in your yard?”

 “Please?”

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My grandmother always asked permission, and, of course, we always said, “Yes.”  Who wouldn’t be happy to have someone uproot weeds from your yard?

Grandma and Grandpa weren’t offering to help because they were embarrassed by the weedy condition of our lawn–they planned to cook and eat the dandelion greens. I assume they acquired a taste for them from their parents and grandparents. I, however, found it hard to believe any part of a dandelion could be flavorful until I read Euell Gibbons’ Stalking the Wild Asparagus and experimented with a spring salad of dandelion greens, lambs’ quarters, and violet leaves.*

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The secret is to gather the dandelion greens before the plant blossoms (before the leaves turn bitter), so you need to be able to identify the dandelion by its jagged, incisor-tooth-shaped leaves. The French phrase dent de lion, tooth of (a) lion” is the source of our English word “dandelion.”

So is the dandelion a weed or desirable plant? Do you consider it a nuisance in your grassy lawn or see it as a nutritious food source?

The dandelion was certainly more highly thought of in the past. It was so prized that Europeans intentionally brought it to the New World. Imagine a time before neighborhood grocery stores were stocked with spinach and kale, when there were no bottled vitamin supplements. Those who were feeling ill in late winter due to vitamin deficiencies were advised to eat the vitamin-rich dandelion and often improved. Europeans also used the plant to treat a wide variety of ailments, from fevers to fluid retention, from warts to the plague, and so the common dandelion was given the botanical name taraxacum offincinale, meaning “the official remedy for disorders.”

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We live in a world today that has rejected the dandelion and considers it a wild and unwanted weed.

We live in a world that has rejected more than just dandelions. It dismisses Jesus as an unwanted weed. Our post-Christian world has rejected the God who is Himself “the official remedy for disorders” and who has the ultimate healing power over our sin sickness.

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;  Mark 12:10   NIV

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We live in a world that has (in part) rejected God because He comes with “teeth.” We cannot contain or always explain Him. He is not a “tame lion.”

 God is the lion of Judah.

Look—the Lion from Tribe Judah, the Root of David’s Tree, has conquered. Rev. 5:5   MSG

In the C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the tiresome, dragon/boy Eustace tells Edmund about his encounter with the huge lion,  Aslan.

I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. . . . The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the [dragon] skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know — if you’ve ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy — oh but it is such fun to see it coming away. . .

Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off. . . And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me — I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on — and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again.

Our God, like Aslan, is the lion who roars, the lion with sharp teeth and claws. And he is the Lion who heals.

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He forgives your sins—every one.
    He heals your diseases—every one.
    He redeems you from hell—saves your life!
    He crowns you with love and mercy—a paradise crown.
    He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal.
    He renews your youth—you’re always young in his presence.

Psalm 103:3-5   MSG

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*          *          *          *          *

* If you decide to try a new-to-you food like dandelion, be careful of allergies and drug interactions. Be sure to correctly identify plants and find out whether the area has been sprayed with chemicals. Wash greens thoroughly.

*          *          *          *          *

also linked with Words With Winter at Me,Coffee and Jesus

Ragweed, Thistles, and Onions

Most people might feel a little depressed on a gray, rainy day. But me? Give me brilliant blue skies, emerald grasses, snowy clouds, and I throw myself a pity party.

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Tuesday was a “10” on-a-scale-of-10 kind of day, but I grumbled.

I complained.

I envied those who could walk outside on such a day without fear of bee and wasp stings and allergic reactions. I decided to get my dissatisfied self out of the house and try to enjoy the scenery through the windshield of my car. I drove a couple miles north of our farm, then west, and continued to meander around our part of the county. I wasn’t done with my discontented murmuring yet, though.

Why don’t people take care of their weeds? All that ragweed pollen will make me miserable. And thistles! Did you ever see so many thistles? And they’re going to seed!

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As I continued the circuit of fields and farmsteads around our house, I started snapping photos. The scenes were aesthetically pleasing, I grudgingly admitted.

My self-pity began to erode as I stood in the middle of the gravel road with camera in hand, and I heard the beginning of a song on the radio: He Reigns by the Newsboys.

It’s all God’s children singing
Glory, glory, hallelujah
He reigns, He reigns

Ah, yes, Lord. Forgive me for being ungrateful.

Melt my stony heart.

Forgive me for being like the children of Israel who, after being delivered from Pharaoh, complained about what they missed, instead of being grateful for what they had.

The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.  Numbers 11:4,5   NIV

As I drove and when I stopped to take photographs, I sang “Glory, glory, hallelujah. He reigns!” The act of singing transformed my mood from grumbling to thankfulness. I remembered that God was present in my praise.

But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.   Psalm 22:3   KJV

I saw the echoes of His glory in the beauty of creation: color, form, plants, and animals.

White puffs of cumulus floated across an azure sky, dragging shadows behind like a wedding dress train–Glory, Glory!

A pair of turkey vultures drifted over the timber, buoyant on warm updrafts–Hallelujah!

Venerable monarchs searched for sweetness in pink clover blossoms–He reigns!

Journey with me. This is what I saw, and this is what I heard, and below are the words I sang.

Press play to listen, and then watch the slide show.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“He Reigns” by the Newsboys:

It’s the song of the redeemed
Rising from the African plain
It’s the song of the forgiven
Drowning out the Amazon rain
The song of Asian believers
Filled with God’s holy fire
It’s every tribe, every tongue, every nation
A love song born of a grateful choir

It’s all God’s children singing
Glory, glory, hallelujah
He reigns, He reigns
It’s all God’s children singing
Glory, glory, hallelujah
He reigns, He reigns

And all the powers of darkness
Tremble at what they’ve just heard
‘Cause all the powers of darkness
Can’t drown out a single word

When all God’s children sing out
Glory, glory, hallelujah
He reigns, He reigns
All God’s people singing
Glory, glory, hallelujah
He reigns, He reigns

The children of Israel complained because they craved onions (among other foods), but the Lord was still protecting them and providing for their needs.

My prayer for us all: that we choose to dwell on what God has done for us, is doing for us, and will do for us instead of the “onions” we’re missing.

I Am Not

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Look Behind You

Check your mirrors.

Take a gander over your shoulder.

Reconnoiter the rear.

Be aware of what’s in your wake.

However you phrase it, it’s a good idea to look behind you, and this week I have–literally and chronologically.

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Last Sunday I was so engrossed in viewing the rosy sunset–hurriedly pulling on my boots, grabbing my camera, snatching a hoodie off the entryway peg–that I almost missed the spectacle in the eastern sky.

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The warm air of the humid, summer day had transformed into a thunderstorm.

The high tops of the clouds were dazzling white in reflected sunshine, while the lower sections were shadowed blue.

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I couldn’t see any lightning or hear any thunder because the storm was too far away. I was safely in a top-row “bleacher seat” where I could watch the cumulus bloom, the anvil-head form, and the rain pour down in gray sheets.

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Weather “events” (a meteorologist’s  euphemism) like this can yield destruction as well as beauty. This storm didn’t produce tornadoes, but thunderstorms that same evening in other parts of Iowa did.

Here are more storm photos from an Iowa news station.

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The stories of our lives (as individuals and, collectively, as churches and nations) are a similar compilation of contrasts. When we look behind chronologically, we see glowing beauty and destructiveness, benevolence and the ugliness of self-centered choices.

We examine our past and realize we are crowned with glory and honor and yet only dust. All parts of our past have something to teach us. We need to look back and remember.*

God told the Israelites to recall their story as a people, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced, 1 Chronicles 16:12   NIV

God wanted them to remember the marvels of their past.

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there Deuteronomy 5:15

remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt. Deuteronomy 7:18

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years Deuteronomy 8:2

Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb. Deuteronomy 4:10

The Lord also wanted to jog their memory of their unfaithful ways.

When our ancestors were in Egypt, they gave no thought to your miracles; they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea. Psalm 106:7

Remember this and never forget how you aroused the anger of the Lord your God in the wilderness [worship of the golden calf]. Deuteronomy 9:7

They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them Nehemiah 9:17

the Israelites . . . did not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side. Judges 8:34

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Look behind you. Remember what God has done in the story that is your life.

I remember the teacher who assigned a book that led me to try to understand the motives of the first century Christian martyrs. I recall the intern pastor who prayed to Jesus as if He were a real person. I remember friends who introduced me to a church where people valued the Bible and respected its authority. I am inspired.

I look back and remember other times, even though I knew better, I was unfaithful and disobedient. I am thankful for God’s forgiveness.

I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. Psalm 77:11

I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done. Psalm 143:5

What do you remember about your faith journey?

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*           *           *           *           *

Of course, I am simply proposing an honest assessment of one’s life. If you are under care of a counselor for past trauma (or should be), follow their advice on how best to deal with those issues.

Surprise!

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Surprises are a mixed bag. Some are welcome, some not:

an unexpected birthday party,

a positive pregnancy test,

a letter from the IRS, months after you’ve paid your taxes,

a bouquet of flowers when it’s not your anniversary or birthday,

a deer that leaps in front of your car at 60 mph.

This week I was surprised–pleasantly–by sunflowers.

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Six feet tall, seven at the best–that was all I expected. According to the description on the back of the sunflower seed packets, these varieties shouldn’t be this tall.

The Mammoth Russians I knew would grow eight to twelve feet high, but I was surprised to be looking up at the Evening Sun and Autumn Beauty sunflowers towering four feet above me, reaching into the eaves of the garage.

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When I get more than I bargain for,

more than I expect,

more than I deserve,

it warms my heart, triggers happy tears, and drops me to my knees.

These are the surprises that amaze and astonish.

And the greatest surprise, the epiphany that prompts hands raised in praise?

I am surprised to be loved by God.

I am in awe of the great wonder of Jesus’ saving grace and His startling love for me.  It is more than I could expect, more than I deserve.

But me he caught—reached all the way
    from sky to sea; he pulled me out
Of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos,
    the void in which I was drowning.
They hit me when I was down,
    but God stuck by me.
He stood me up on a wide-open field;
    I stood there saved—surprised to be loved!

Psalm 18:16-19   MSG

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God continues to bless me with the wonder of the unexpected. This week, as I photographed the sunflowers (those I could reach), I noticed the scarlet shape of a male cardinal sitting on the garage window sill, half hidden behind the thick stalks. Then I startled into flight a bright, mating-season yellow goldfinch, that had been perched on a ripening seed head.

I had received another surprise, a gift wrapped in beauty with a “card” signed, “your loving Father.”

We’ll never comprehend all the great things he does;
    his miracle-surprises can’t be counted.  Job 9:10

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My prayer for us all:

May Jesus himself and God our Father, who reached out in love and surprised you with gifts of unending help and confidence, put a fresh heart in you . . .              2 Thess. 2:16-17   MSG

How has God surprised you this week?

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*          *           *           *           *

My thanks go to blogger Walter Bright. I was inspired by his post “Surprised by His Love,” commenting on Psalm 18:16-19 MSG.

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Dots and Dashes

The diagnosis,

the “I do” that changes to “I don’t,”

the 3 am phone call,

the job that evaporates,

the no-win choice,

the friend’s betrayal . . .

The deep hurts that

make us ask

   Why is this happening to me?

make us plead

   Take it away. Make it like it used to be.

make us groan

   It makes no sense. I don’t understand.

make us yearn

   I need to hear from you, Lord. I strain to hear your voice.

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 What if God is taking the seeming chaos of our lives, the heart-aches, the disasters and making them into something beautiful, but we couldn’t see it from where we are? What if we’re too close to our problems?  What if we lack long-term perspective?

What if the Lord is trying to speak to us through the crackling interference of our stormy lives? What if we need to listen and then listen some more to learn to recognize the Savior’s voice?

 *          *          *          *          *
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Sunday afternoon on the Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat (nineteenth century, French, Post-Impressionist)

Georges Seurat’s most famous painting, Sunday Afternoon on the Grande Jatte, is nearly 7 feet tall by 10 feet wide (2 x 3 meters). In order to take in the entire scene from a park in the 1800s, you might need to stand back, across the room.  If you were to walk closer to this famous work of art, you would see that it is painted with tiny dots and dashes of oil paint. From a distance the small spots of color blur together into different tones. Tiny bits of blue next to yellow will be seen as green–your eye does the mixing. Seurat is famous for this technique of painting, called pointillism, from the French word for points.

dots and dashes

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Detail from Seurat’s La Parade de Cirque

We can’t stand far enough back to see the whole painting of our lives. All we often see  is a canvas full of splotches of oil paint. We can’t make out the pattern and have to trust that God is making exquisite art of our days, and that someday we will see and understand it all.

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
 I Cor. 13:12   NLT

*          *          *          *          *

dots and dashes

If you’re a ham radio operator or a Boy Scout, you might have learned Morse Code. Some of you might even recognize the SOS distress signal because you have seen it in a movie or read it in a book:   . . .   – – –   . . .

Most of us, however, would have no idea what a series of dots and dashes mean.

– – .   – – –   – . .       . .   . . .       . – . .   – – –   . . . –   .       (God is love)

Morse Code teachers found that students learn better when the code is taught as a language that is heard, instead of read. We  need to listen repeatedly to the dits and dahs of letters and words in Morse Code to begin to make sense of it.

In Morse Code, if “CQ” is broadcast, it means “seek you” (I’d like to converse with anyone who can hear my signal).  God is sending out a “CQ.” He wants to talk with us, to guide us, to be with us during the dark and painful times.

When we listen and listen and listen some more, we begin to hear letters and words take form from the garble of dots and dashes. We begin to recognize Jesus’ voice because we hear it so often.

I learn the pattern of your righteous ways.   Psalm 119:7   MSG
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My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.   John 10:27   NIV

My prayer for us all:

May God take the dots and dashes–the small, the painful, the messy bits of our lives and make something beautiful. May He change the static and indecipherable patterns into the clear truths spoken by the gentle Shepherd’s voice. May we have eyes to see and ears to hear!

 *          *          *          *          *

shepherd and sheep photo by Barb Briggs,

taken at Foreside Acres farm

Iowa, Beautiful Land

 As children in elementary school, we were taught that the word “Iowa” meant “beautiful land,” and Iowa is a beautiful place in early summer. Rosy, morning skies and gilded sunsets punctuate the days. Fat, cumulus clouds tumble across acres of corn and soybeans. Golden oat fields sway in afternoon breezes. Wild roses, half hidden in the grasses, unfurl pink petals to uncover a yellow heart. Meadowlarks’ liquid calls pour over the fields. All this beauty speaks to me of a Creator, the Holy God.

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Just as the weather vane on the top of our big shed points to the direction from which the wind is blowing, creation points to its Maker.

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I speak to you continually. My nature is to communicate, though not always in words. I fling glorious sunsets across the sky, day after day after day. I speak in the faces and voices of loved ones. I caress you with a gentle breeze that refreshes and delights you.

I speak softly in the depths of your spirit, where I have taken up residence. You can find Me in each moment, when you have eyes to see and ears that hear. Ask My Spirit to sharpen your spiritual eyesight and hearing. I rejoice each time you discover My Presence. Practice looking and listening for Me and more of your moments. You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me above all else.

–Jesus Calling: Enjoy Peace in His Presence by Sarah Young

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Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory in the heavens.

Psalm 8:1-4   NIV

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The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.   Psalm 19:1-2   NIV

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Look about you: the beauty of the rose or the glorious sunset–these and others are meant to                             proclaim His Presence in the world. –Sarah Young

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And [the seraphim] were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
    the whole earth is full of his glory.”   Isaiah 6:3   NIV

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My prayer for us all:

that God may sharpen our “spiritual eyesight” so that we may discover His presence in a world full of His glory.

Rescue (corrected)

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An open letter to survivors of domestic s.e.x trafficking, who are being restored to Light and Life at centers like Wings of Refuge:

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Dear brave Sisters,

I don’t know your names, and you don’t know mine, but that’s ok. I have heard about your courage and the hard work you’re doing in your journey toward healing. Please, don’t quit. Stay on the path even when things get rough.

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Verses in the first chapter of Colossians  (9-14) express some of what I wanted to say. I paraphrased and elaborated:

Since the day I heard about you, I have been praying for you and asking God to fill you up to the brim with understanding of His will for you.

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I pray for wisdom, too, so that you will know how to live your life, how to make good decisions about your future.

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I pray that you will be like a beautiful tree in a garden, bearing fruit and growing stronger and taller each day.

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When the road get rough, I pray the Lord will give you endurance and patience. Then one day you’ll be walking down the path and realize joy is there, walking with you.

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The Lord has rescued you (and me–all of us, really) from the domain of darkness so that now you can live in the kingdom of Light.

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That kingdom belongs to God’s Son (the Son He loves), and we get to be part of it because we have forgiveness in His Son, Jesus.

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The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace.

Numbers 6:24-26   NIV

I pray this blessing for you, one of Light and Love and Peace. Amen.

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*           *          *          *          *

My sincere apologies to those of you who received a draft version of today’s post again. I am so embarrassed!

Thanks to Barb Briggs for sharing her photos of crocus and the crown of thorns.

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