Saturday, March 29, 2014

No Wearries!

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9, NIV)
Who doesn’t like harvesting? Whether it’s plucking fresh vegetables from a backyard garden, standing in a cap and gown harvesting a diploma after years of hard work, or playing a difficult musical selection flawlessly after endless hours of practicing, harvesting is fun. It’s satisfying. It’s payoff. It’s gathering what has come to fruition after work is done. What’s not to like about that?

The harvest is great motivation for putting in the hours required to “raise the crop”-- whether it’s healthy kids or political office. Counting days until harvest keeps us moving through the long growing season of things-worth-doing. It makes it easier to hang in there when we feel like giving up.

I so get that. When the sun sends sweat streaming down my face, and I’m only three plants into a weed-filled garden of a dozen --- thinking about biting into a fresh, juicy tomato keeps my hands and legs moving. No doubt about it; knowing that the payoff will come helps. Look at the investment I am making. I want to know when I will see a return!

Who waters a tomato plant with no idea when it will bear fruit? Who studies to pass tests without knowing when they will graduate? Who runs a race with no idea when they will reach the finish line?

For followers of Christ, the answer is, “all of us.” We are to pour our lives into those around us for as long as we are told to. God makes that clear. But after working hard and growing tired, I should get to harvest. Totally logical.

So what’s the problem? Galatians 6:9 is the “problem.” It clearly states that the harvest WILL come. But harvest is only guaranteed ”at the proper time.” Only God knows when “the proper time” for harvest is coming, and His idea of the proper time is usually later than mine.

So many times, it feels like time to wrap up. But then something happens. God says that it’s not harvest time….it’s still giving time. Setting the proper time for harvest is not my decision to make. My job is to keep doing God’s work.

One Sunday morning, years ago, I had been pulled off of Praise Team because the nursery was critically short of workers. I’d had a rough weekend and the stress and energy involved in juggling a gaggle of babies was taking a heavy toll. As I dragged my tired feet back and forth across the nursery floor, trying to comfort a fussy infant, another mom showed up at the door with yet another screaming baby.

I realized she was a friend from another church that I hadn’t seen in years. “Are you a member here?” she asked. “Yes,” I said. “Usually I’m playing on Praise Team, but today I’m filling in here.” She sighed as she stroked her now-happy baby daughter’s curly hair. “I seem to always end up in here, no matter what church we visit,” she said sadly.

“You know, that happened to me a lot when my kids were babies,” I said. “But, looking back, I think I got just as much out of sitting in the nursery talking to other moms as I did from the sermons!”

Years later, I saw that woman sitting in a nursery rocking chair, soothing a baby. I joked about that long-ago Sunday.

She grew quiet and looked thoughtful. “I’ll never forget that Sunday, she said. “I always felt like such a failure because I kept having to leave the sanctuary during the service. But you made me feel comfortable just being in the nursery taking care of my child. I thought I was missing something not being in the sanctuary, but you made me feel like I was in the right place after all.”

That morning I saw a harvest. And God used my simple words to help her grow roots.

Now, when I grow weary, I remember that friend and God’s guarantee. There will be harvest, but not until the time is right….His time, not mine. Until then, all I have to do is water, weed, and make sure there are “No Wearries.”

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Covered Cabins

Last August my husband and I bought a cabin in the north Georgia mountains. It is a small piece of paradise perched on a steep mountainside. For the first few months, we were totally surrounded by lush greenery. It was like living in a tree house. We loved the isolated location; four miles from the gated community entrance. Every drive back to the cabin took us past less than a dozen houses, with the closest neighbor in sight over a half mile away. We loved that we could look in any direction and see no sign of civilization. Trees, birds, and streams were our only companions.

Once fall’s majestic colors faded, however, we were in for a surprise. Suddenly we saw dozens of houses that we didn’t know were there! The neighborhood was still sparsely populated; only 295 houses spread among 5900 acres.  But now every turn seemed to reveal another dwelling; tucked away in another corner of the woods, there all the time…but we had no idea!

Driving to church from the cabin early one Sunday morning, I was deep in thought about how to handle a really tough time in my life. I struggled to find answers and faced things I had never faced before. I just couldn’t find the strength to overcome them. But as I drove, things suddenly came into focus, and I saw a weakness I had never before realized within me. In that moment I knew the weakness stood between me and the strength…and solutions…that I needed so badly.

Just as the coming of winter stripped away the beautiful green leaves that hid those cabins, going through my hard time forced me to reach past the pretty “leaves” that I used to cover my weakness. When life was easy, I focused on everyday life and avoided what lay beneath the routine of the expected. But when forced to deal with my unexpected crisis, surviving became anything but routine. That tough time forced me to reach deep down into who I really was; to find a foundation solid enough to stand on. To find my way to the other side of my struggle, I had to push aside the pretty branches of comfortable normalcy and take a fresh, deeper look into myself. What I saw was a weakness; there the whole time, yet hidden.

Just like those cabins. Hidden in the summer, yet so easy to see in wintertime’s leafless wonder. Hiding my weakness didn’t make it non-existent; it just made it easier to ignore. But once the covering was stripped away, I couldn’t ignore it! I took a deep breath, asked God to make His strength perfect in my weakness, and turned to face the things that needed to change.

A few seasons (and many steps) removed from the first moment I brushed aside the branches, I have come to appreciate the beauty of life’s barren “winters.” Life’s struggles force us to abandon the fluff with which we cushion our lives. As we watch the fluff fly away, we grab for the part of us that can hold fast and true as the cold winds of trial rage in our soul.

Though never pleasant, these times are also never dormant. The work of growth toils beneath the surface during these times. Grow we must; otherwise we are tossed away and crumble like just another dried leaf.

Because I turned toward what God revealed during that tough time, I now find His voice easier to hear. Standing on the ever-firmer foundation built within, I find peace closer at hand. And I find beauty in the barren landscape of leafless seasons.

I don’t want to tarry there; the first touch of a lighter, warmer day and scent of a new season draws my heart like the first spring flower reaching above the snow. But as I shake away the last tatters of what was, and leave behind the weakness that just doesn’t fit any more, I smile to think of the beauty that lies around every bend…no matter what tomorrow brings.