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.

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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

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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!

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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.

Nehemiah and Me: 1, 2, 3

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I have something in common with Nehemiah, and I’d guess you do, too. Nehemiah who? Remember the faithful man who was cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes of Babylon, where the unfaithful Israelites had been taken as captives? The man who received the King’s permission to return to the land of his ancestors and rebuild the wall around Jerusalem? Still don’t remember? The Old Testament book of Nehemiah between Ezra and Esther? Oh, that Nehemiah!

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Like most of you, I’m a list-maker, penciling on paper scraps (or my planner) lists of groceries, errands, prayers, books to read . . .

Today’s to-do’s will become tomorrow’s recycling, but Nehemiah’s detailed lists have been preserved for over 2500 years.

He recorded lists of exiles who returned to Jerusalem after being in captivity. He counted their servants (7337), singers (245), horses (736), mules (245), camels (435), and donkeys (6720). He also kept track of donations (how much and from whom) of gold, silver, and garments.

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Although Nehemiah’s attention to detail amazes me, the list that has inspired me lately is his descriptive chronicle of those who rebuilt Jerusalem’s wall and gates. Although it isn’t in bullet points or enumerated “1, 2, 3,” he records the names of all who helped repair and rebuild the wall and its gates, in consecutive order starting and finishing with the Sheep Gate.

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Nehemiah lists the high priest and fellow priests, rulers, goldsmiths, perfume makers, merchants, men from small towns, and a few women. Some worked on a small section of wall by their home. Some rebuilt 500 yards. Regardless of class, occupation, or gender, people worked together to finish the wall in a remarkable 52 days. There were a few exceptions, and their names are missing from the list.

The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.   Nehemiah 3:5   NIV

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Every person repairing the wall of Jerusalem was needed and wanted. Every stone and brick fit together to make the whole: small stones, large stones, corner stones, capstones; gates done elaborately and gates constructed with only utility in mind. The only bad stone would be no stone at all.

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It is a picture of the church today, where each of us has a function. How sad that the noblemen of Tekoa thought they were above manual labor!

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.   I Cor. 12:27   NIV

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Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.  I Thess. 5:11   NIV

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Few of us will be sought-after pastors or in-demand speakers or best-selling authors. We all want to feel special and unique–and we are–but there is a great need for hundreds and thousands of seemingly similar bricks and stones. There is a great need for good mothers and fathers, good workers, good husbands and wives, good friends. We can serve our local body and our communities in so many simple ways.

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Imagine what we can build, together!

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Wall photos by Barb Briggs

Wildfires and Apologies

We all stumble in many ways.   James 3:2   NIV

Maybe I need to go back to school with my grandson, who will be starting kindergarten this fall. I seem to not be able to tell the difference between the “Save draft” button and the “publish” button on my blog.

So, again, I extend my apologies if you’ve received a draft version of this post. One mistaken click has had a cascade of regrettable effects: chasing down and deleting the lamentable words on various social media sites, answering emails from mystified readers, and rushing to finish today when I’d planned to post tomorrow.

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I am so thankful that the unplanned release of a few words on this blog are “merely” embarrassing (more like slap-my-forehead-and-groan “not again” humiliating) to me and not hurtful to anyone else. Since the first time I read Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, I have found hope in Anne’s rhetorical question.

Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet? –Anne of Green Gables

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I am waiting for a clean and fresh new day–literally. Smoke from lightning-sparked wildfires in northern Canada has been pouring into the Midwest, making the skies hazy with suspended particulates. Doctors have warned that those with breathing problems may be affected and urged them to take precautions.

This hazy photo was taken at 6:30pm, over two hours before sunset. This is the smoke from forest fires hundreds of miles away, not twilight or fog.

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Our words can be like sparks that lead to fires. They have consequences at the source of the blaze and downwind. James knew just how powerful our tongue can be.

A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke . . .   James 3:5,6   MSG

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In a post I read yesterday, Lysa TerKeurst reminded me of the verse later in James.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.   James 3:9   NIV

The question she posed to her kids applies to us all. Before I speak, I need to ask myself:

Are my words true?

Are my words kind?

Are they necessary?

                        

If my answers to these questions were being graded, I’m afraid there are days where I’m not working at an age-appropriate level. I should be back in kindergarten. I’ve listened poorly, spoken quickly, and chosen my words haphazardly. I’m not playing nicely with others.

I need to apologize and (try to) clear away the smoke.

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Perhaps you would like to join me in this prayer:

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
    be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.   Psalm 19:14   NIV

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As I write this afternoon, the wind has switched directions, and bits of blue sky are peeking out from grey, splotchy clouds. There’s hope and and a chance for healing.  Lungs will breath easier, and hearts will be opening as the smoke clears.

I’ll try to watch my words (spoken and written) and where I click.

Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh!
    Keep me from stupid sins,   Psalm 19:12   MSG

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Rose and Strawberry Moon

  Full moon June 2, 2015
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I settled the strap of my camera around my neck, stepped off my front porch, and crossed the yard to a treeless spot. I strolled across the lawn of mixed bluegrass, rye, and sweetly fragrant clover, whose white blossoms lie sprinkled like stars across the deepening green. Climbing the darkening clouds in the east, the full moon of early June began to cast shadows as the sun collapsed into a golden puddle in the western sky.

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As the moon rose higher and brighter and as the sunset glow grew darker, soft shadows of darkest green began to form, twinned shapes of sentinel ash trees, motionless bushes, and fence posts at attention.  A moving feline-shaped shadow padded up to me and leaned her black, silky shoulder against my shin, twining around my ankles.

The breeze had dropped to a whisper of shushing ash leaves.  I could hear the neighbor’s cattle lowing from their pasture and the peeper frogs trilling in chorus. The peace and beauty of this moonlit evening wrapped around me like a blanket.

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Native Americans called this full moon the Strawberry Moon, for the time of not-quite-summer when wild strawberries ripened in the meadows at the sunny edges of woodlands.

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Watching the same full moon sail across the same gentle spring skies, the Europeans named it the Rose Moon, for the time when roses  began to unfold their fragrant blossoms from thorny stems.

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So which is it, Strawberry Moon or Rose Moon?  Sweet fruit or sweetly scented flower?  The choice is a false one.

When searching for full moon names and scientific names of fruit and flower, I found unexpected family ties. To the botanist strawberries are rosaceae fragraria and roses are rosaceae rosa. Both are in the rose family.

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I read the news about the nine from Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, who were shot and killed in their own church. I don’t know what to say or what to do, and the fear of stumbling awkwardIy in my response to such sorrow and such noxious hate can paralyze me.

Perhaps I can start with this: there is no “their church” and “our church,” no “them” to our “us.” There is only “us” because we are all family, brothers and sisters in Christ.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.   Ephesians 4:4-6   NIV

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I can cry with those who cry, recognizing that I will never truly understand the pain another suffers.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.   Romans 12:15   NKJV

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I can call sin by its name:  hate, violence, racism.

Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.   12:9   NKJV

I can celebrate the spirit of forgiveness that is Spirit born.

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I can pray for the families of those who were killed and ask the Lord that sweet fruit may come from bitter actions.

 Treat everyone you meet with dignity. Love your spiritual family.  I Peter 2:17   MSG

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In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female.

or black church and white church . . .

Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ.   Galatians 3:28   MSG

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Emanuel AME church, I send you my love and prayers. You are family.

GPS and Squirrels’ Ears

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 Have you ever wondered how farmers know when is the best time to plant each crop? Do they consult the Farmer’s Almanac and pay attention to the signs of the moon? Do they wait for the subtle clues in nature, codified in sayings like “plant corn when oak leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear?” Or do they get their guidance from crop experts?

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According to an Iowa State University agronomist, the temperature of the soil is the key to planting field corn. 50 degrees F at a depth of four inches is the “magic number.” Another agronomist from ISU compiled data from years of research and concluded that April 15 to May 9 is the best corn-planting window for our part of the state. Of course, farmers are also guided by field conditions. For example, is the soil still soggy after the last rain?

This year we planted soybeans in the field south of our house in the second week of May and corn in the field by the windbreak the last part of April. The oak trees and the scientists agreed.

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That’s the when of planting, and here’s the how:

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The large yellow bins (called bulk hoppers) on top of the planter hold the corn or soybean seed. Seeds are delivered to individual row units by a computerized system that controls the rate and depth at which kernels of corn or soybeans are  planted.

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The planter isn’t the only piece of computerized farm equipment. The fields have already been mapped out with software utilizing the GPS (Global Positioning System), and that information is used by the computerized steering system on the tractor while planting.

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The GPS guidance uses signals from four or more satellites to pinpoint exactly where the tractor is, enabling the tractor to drive itself while planting. The result? Perfectly straight rows with no hands!

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When we have a decision to make or a task to accomplish, where do we get our guidance? Thankfully, we have a God who is able and willing to help us.

The Lord will guide you always;   Isaiah 58:11   NIV

If we’re smart, we’ll seek and wait for His advice.

let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance

Proverbs 1:5   NIV

Sometimes I wish I could have my instructions for the day appear each morning on my computer and hear a loud beeping when a course correction is needed.

How do we receive guidance from God?

The Lord guides us

     through the wisdom and common sense He has already given us;

     through the advice of wise counselors, friends, and family;

     through Scripture;

     and through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Just as the GPS uses signals from four or more satellites, we may be directed by more than one source. God guides us with love and kindness, desiring to maintain His relationship with us, which wouldn’t happen if we simply read instructions on a computer screen.

 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;

  I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.   Psalm 32:8   NIV

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in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:6   NIV

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but whoever has understanding keeps a straight course

Proverbs 15:21   NIV

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Squirrel photo by Patricia Hunter at pollywogcreek.blogspot.com
GPS educational poster from GPS.gov

Walk on Water

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

Hillsong United’s Ocean

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.

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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

Amédée Varin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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 and focus on it, the rest of the world becomes blurred and hazy–even if it’s just for a moment.

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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. The reporter reminded viewers 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.

Jennifer Dukes Lee reminds us that “we are not powerless.” She summarized what we can do about Iraq, including using social media and giving to Samaritans Purse.

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

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“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/

Tulip Time, part 1: Where’s Your Treasure?

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Martine Lavender Tulip

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.

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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

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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

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Photo by Martine Burrell

Martine Lavender Tulip

Photos by Barb Briggs

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