A Spring Chicken

 

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Spring comes too slowly to Northern Colorado.

I’m still not used to the lingering brown landscape and blustery winds that buffet our wood fence and wrestle with the American flag struggling to stay secure on our front porch flagpole. Back “home” In Oklahoma, the landscape is greening up. Daffodil and tulips litter yards and gardens as if casually tossed by the Supreme Gardener. My hometown is green and daffodil yellow and tulip red. There is still no color in my new hometown. I keep waiting and watching for the bulbs—so carefully placed by my husband in the fall—to show a little green. Nothing yet, but I’m hopeful.

Spring is a time for beginnings. Much more than the first of a new year—at least to me. I’m one of those visual folks who long to see change—color—shapes—textures. The unending brown unnerves me a bit. My soul is expecting color, but my eyes see bare brown branches.

But I know that inside the trees and inside the bulbs magic is happening. The blue sky resists the clouds’ attempts to hide it. It peeks out—a watercolor azure mixed with pure white.

A Light exists in Spring

Not present on the Year

At any other period —

When March is scarcely here…”

(Emily Dickinson).

This is my 60th spring. Last week my dental hygienist reminded me –gently—that even though I had just turned 59, I was now living in my 60th year. So…my 60th spring.

Flashback to the 1960’s. I remember fresh Toni perms on otherwise straight white-blonde hair. The stink. The burn. The fuzzy white curls my mother loved. An Easter dress in pale green with a white apron. White anklets and white patent shoes. I loved the shoes. I enjoyed the egg hunt at my grandparents’ farm. Unfortunately, what I liked best was taking OFF all the Easter apparel and getting into comfortable, rowdy clothes. My poor mother—she wanted me to look cute all day; I couldn’t give her more than three hours.

If my life runs according to seasons, I guess I’m in late autumn. I’m not the ubiquitous “spring chicken.” My mirror and my body remind me I’m not young anymore. It’s so weird—time is. I feel like I did at 30 and 40, but my body is slower. More awkward. My balance shifts too easily. Words slip away from me, so conversations with my husband become like guessing games:

Me: “You know—it’s that thing… you put on at night…it covers you…”

Husband: “Hmm. A cover? Pajamas? Blanket?”

Me: “Yeah—blanket.” Sigh of relief.

And yet…and yet my mind whirls with ideas and thoughts and plans; it doesn’t remember that I’m living my 60th spring. I’m not a finite creature—I’m an eternal one. The 19th century writer, George MacDonald, said: “We don’t have a soul. We are a soul. We have a body.” I love that. This body may age, but my soul keeps learning. And God keeps moving me and teaching me. His Word still compels me to read and study and learn. I’m not used up yet.

I’ve been studying Genesis since before Christmas. Begin at the beginning. I first thought, “Good grief—I’ve studied this so much—I know the stories. I KNOW the words. What else could the Holy Spirit teach me?”

Of course I was wrong.

I grew up in the church. A Southern Baptist church. The doctrine of that denomination is centered on the truth of the Bible. I love that about it. As denominations go, it is solid. God’s Word is inerrant. Trustworthy. Infallible. Being grounded by that church experience helped me through divorce and disease and disillusionment.

As a part of that Southern church culture, I was baptized when I was seven. It was a natural progression for me. I believed that Jesus was who He said He was. I believed the Bible. I trusted in God’s truth and promises…as much as any seven-year-old little girl could.

–How does life get so messy between 7 and 59? How does it get so filled with failures and sinful decisions and endless consequences?

So this time as I read through Genesis, I saw it afresh. I saw it with springtime eyes and 59 years of life. I saw how beautiful and perfect God intended our world to be, and I saw how quickly we fell. I noticed how Satan twisted God’s words into something that tickled Eve’s ears and played with her pride. I noticed that prior to The Fall, even the serpent was “good.” The serpent wasn’t Satan—it was used by Satan, and since it was already in the Garden, Eve wasn’t caught off guard by its presence.

IMG_4129That’s how temptation and sin slips into our lives so easily. It comes to us easily. Comfortably. It twists God’s words just a bit—just enough—that we get caught off guard just like Eve. We start thinking God is petty tyrant keeping us from good things. We start seeing Him as a master manipulator and not a good and loving Father.

Re-reading Genesis and really examining the Hebrew and wrestling with the tension between God’s Truth and what a secular culture sees as foolish mythology grounds me even more in faith while changing my perspective. God shifts the lenses in my glasses and helps me see the world as He sees it—as He saw it. Through my study of Genesis, I don’t see a petty tyrant god—I see the God who warned Cain that “sin was crouching at his door” because of his jealousy towards Abel, his younger brother. In Genesis 4, God notices that Cain countenance—his body language—exhibited anger. He questions Cain as to the reason, though He knows the answer.

He tells Cain to be careful—to master his feelings. But Cain ignores God’s warning and lets his emotions move him to murder.

Like Cain, I sometimes ignore God’s warnings and let my pride and self-righteousness fuel my responses to life. More often though, I let my feelings of purposelessness and loneliness fuel my anger. I miss my family. I miss my grandkids. I miss the feeling of “home.” And if I let these emotions take hold and ignore God’s urgings to rest in Him and trust in Him, I say something I regret. Or I dive into depression and self-pity.

The temptations come insidiously—wrapping truth in half-truths.

When I fall like that, it takes awhile to recover that intimacy with God that I long for more than anything else. It takes repentance. It always takes repentance.

The writer, Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, reminds us that repentance comes before grace (Openness Unhindered). Winter before Spring. The bare branches of my life bowing before an almighty God—El Elyon.

My journey through Genesis continues; I’m up to the life of Joseph. I have a composition book full of notes and charts I’ve drawn trying to get a new perspective on what my Lord was doing as He was building a people group out of Abraham. I have seen the good, the bad, the ugly, and the unspeakable.

But I’ve also seen a covenantal God who bases His promises on who He is and not on who we are.

 Abraham was not perfect. Neither was Isaac. Neither was Jacob (who became Israel). And yet…and yet because of God’s graciousness and steadfast love (that phrase moves through the Old Testament), He forgives and stays true to His promises. The promised perfect seed that would crush the head of Satan (Genesis 3:15) comes from these imperfect men and women. Jesus Christ. The Messiah. The Son of Man. The Son of God. The Lamb.

Today my 60-year-old branches are bare and bowed down before my Father, but the sap is running. Something is budding inside me that may be small and insignificant in the eyes of the world, but it is true and brilliant in the eyes of God: Obedience.

When viewing my soul through the lens of eternity, I’m still a spring chicken.

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What Spring will look like in my backyard…eventually!! God delights in His creation!

 

photo credit: 2-Dog-Farm <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/22473940@N00/496713941″>a bird in the hand</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>
photo credit: sandklef <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/63114905@N06/29772652554″>Lonely tree branches (explored)</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Soul Patch: Contentment

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A very content Nana! Holding my newest grandchild. 

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-12

During my last back surgery, I came out of anesthesia quoting the last part of this verse. I just kept repeating the phrase, “I can do all things through Jesus…” Every time a wave of pain rushed over me, I just kept speaking the verse like a mantra.

But it’s not a mantra. And the pain didn’t dissipate (until they shot me with some drugs again). And the surgery didn’t work. That was in June of 2016. What followed was hard. Infection. Daily antibiotic infusions. Then a gall bladder surgery. Everything finally stopped in September 2016. I healed and rested and enjoyed my children and grandchildren. Now, however, In less than two weeks, I’ll undergo a lumbar fusion surgery. I’m not happy. I’m not content. And I’m not sure I can do it. I keep telling God, “Nope. I’m scared. I know what’s coming this time.”

Knowing makes it harder. Knowing it can get worse makes it much harder.

But…whining is NOT a godly attribute. When Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control—“whininess” is not sandwiched in between goodness and faithfulness (although it has a nice ring to it).

So how do I get back to a place of trust and contentment? It’s ultimately between me and God and His Word. No amount of human consolation will help.

Contentment is a battle warred between my natural fears and God’s supernatural plan for my life.

If anyone (other than Jesus) deserved to be whiny, it was Paul: Imprisoned over and over, flogged, stoned and left for dead, shipwrecked, and eventually beheaded in Rome during the reign of Nero. A tentmaker and Pharisee. A Roman citizen. And the man Jesus chose to give the Gospel to the Gentiles.

Why would anyone choose to suffer like that unless he was certain of his purpose and the truth of the Gospel?

I admire Paul, but I’m not that strong. Maybe that is why God is refining me. Maybe that is why God refines all of us. We are the salt and light of this world. If we aren’t purified, His glory is diluted–a weakened solution that has no “bite.”

A little over a year ago, I started a prayer journey. I’ve already written about it, but in hindsight, I can see that through prayer and the desire to be molded into a “woman of God,” I have been brought low—almost to a place of despair.

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this [Paul’s thorn in the flesh], that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:8-10.

There’s that word again: content. Here the word “content” is used as a verb: “eudokeō.” I wish I knew biblical Greek, BUT I do have Zodhiates’ The Complete Word Study Dictionary for a Deeper Understanding of the Word! (Could he have made his title any longer?) I like looking at this book because it provides connotation rather than just denotation—it provides the intention of the writer, who in this case is Paul. The definition is:

“Content:eudokeō.: To be well-pleased, to think it good. It means to think well of something by understanding not only what is right and good, but stressing the willingness and freedom of an intention or resolve regarding what is good” (Zodhiates 2106).

So Paul—like all of us at some point in our lives—had a “thorn in the flesh” that never went away. He never says what it was, but he prayed three times that the Lord would remove it. This was not a small irritation—the Greek word for “thorn” in this case is “skolops”—a pointed piece of wood; a stake; the point of a hook. This was not just a minor irritation, but one that God allowed in order to keep Paul from becoming boastful or conceited (read all of 2 Corinthians 12 to fully grasp what Paul is saying). When Paul is writing this chapter, he is referring to a vision he’d had 14 years earlier—so he’s probably had that “thorn” for the entire 14 years. A God of healing did not heal. Why? For the sake of Christ. Paul recognizes that his suffering is nothing compared to glories of Christ Jesus, His Lord. When Paul is weak, God is strong.

When I am weak, is God strong?

The paradox. Can I accept that my thorn is given for a godly purpose? How do I do that? How can we be “content—well-pleased—think it good” when suffering pours into our daily life drowning our faith and trust in a good Father?

IMG_6280I don’t think there is an easy answer. Contentment is a choice. I’m choosing to look at the blue sky today and recognize the creator God’s gift to His children. I choose to memorize scripture and focus on God’s larger purpose for my life. Only He knows what that is, but I can trust in the character of God. He doesn’t change; He is good and just and righteous. He loves steadfastly. I waver; He doesn’t.

If you’re in a “refining fire” right now, choose contentment. Realize God’s good grace is enough for each moment. Rejoice. Rejoice that we are eternal souls temporarily confined to fallible flesh. George Macdonald (a notable 19th century writer who influenced C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien) said, “We don’t have a soul. We are a soul. We have a body.”

My thorn is temporary. Our thorns are temporary. We have the assurance of living in the presence of our Lord when we pass from this body.

Thus I must say, “It is well with my soul.”

“I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of; for to have been thought about, born in God’s thought, and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest and most precious thing in all thinking.” George Macdonald