Dandelions are out; Tulips are in

A confession.

Until we put our house up for sale last year, I can’t say that dandelions ever bothered me very much.

So they were weeds.   So others didn’t like them.   So what?

I barely noticed them.  When the grass got cut, the dandelions got chopped down, too, and that seemed like enough.

When I wanted someone to buy our house, though,  I suddenly felt motivated to keep  my yard weed-free.

That’s when the war started. and I’ve brought the battle from the old house to the new, only this time I refuse to give up any territory.

These dandelions have overrun yards all over my new neighborhood, but not my yard.  Not this time.

I  pop those dandelions out by the root every time I take a walk or get the mail or just  head out the door to  the minivan.

But while I’m warring against the dandelions, I’m also choosing to fight for something else.

The whole time I’m digging out weeds, I’m cultivating tulips, watching over them like a mom does a newborn baby.  I marvel at every single hint of growth. I point out the first sprouts of green to my kids, and I wait expectantly for the first blooms  to appear.

In my old house, I planted tulips nearly every fall because I love their vibrant colors. They didn’t grow, though.  In the 13 years we lived in that house, I probably only had tulips bloom two of those years.

They were eaten. That’s why.   Apparently tulip bulbs are a high-class delicacy to voles, who tunneled all through the yard and snacked on my plants through the winter.

I’m determined, though–determined to keep the dandelions out and determined to keep the tulips in.  So I clicked my way through Google searches to find some tulip- growing remedies.   Then I headed out to the garden with a bag of crushed oyster shells and containers of garlic powder and  chili powder.  I mixed that fragrant little concoction up and dumped  it into the holes before I dropped the tulip bulbs in the soil.

The garden smelled like garlic for at least a week.

Now,  it’s spring. The tulips are about to bloom and I finally see the results of all that effort.

I have fought against and I have fought for.

Maybe that’s what I need to know spiritually, too.  That battling against is fine and well and good, but it’s incomplete if we aren’t also cultivating what is beautiful and right and enduring in its place.

James wrote:

16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and every evil practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without pretense.18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace (James 3:16-18 CSB). 

We dig out envy, pride, and evil.  We grow peace, gentleness, and mercy.

Paul told the Galatians:

 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy,outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, 21 envy,drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar (Galatians 5:19-21 CSB). 

But that’s not the end.  It’s not enough to be rid of the flesh or pull out the sin; we need the Spirit to do a new work within us, and the fruit of the Spirit is:

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23 CSB). 

I can deal with sin, take it seriously, talk about sin, focus on sin, try to conquer sin, determine not to sin, read about sin, listen to preachers preach about sin, recognize my sin, and constantly declare that I’m a sinner.

But I’m still missing out.  James moves past that.  Paul moves past that.

It’s fruitfulness they describe and it’s fruitfulness I really want.   I want more than a yard without dandelions.  I want the beauty of the tulips.

And that doesn’t happen if I’m focused on myself, my own efforts,  my own failures.   Fruitfulness requires abiding in Christ, lifting my eyes from my self to my Savior.

That’s when my life begins to bear fruit, His supernatural peace, not just the absence of worry, but a heart that loves peace and pursues peace with others.

That’s when He helps me to love even when it’s hard.  That’s when He grows gentleness, mercy, kindness, and goodness within me.   That’s when I have an abiding joy that isn’t determined by circumstances.   This is the Spirit’s work.

No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:4-5 NIV).

 

 

Having Hope When You’ve Been Stepped On

My daughter was about two-and-a-half when she stepped on a butterfly.

We do this every spring as we prepare for Easter, order a cup of caterpillars and follow their journey to new life.  We watch the change, marvel again at the miracle: how the tomb doesn’t always mean death; maybe it means resurrection.

We remember that we are the ones who die to self and then gain new life in Christ, like caterpillars willingly spinning themselves into tight dormancy only to be made new.psalm 31

We watched those caterpillars climb all over the tiny plastic cup for about a week.  Then they scaled the sides of the cup, flipped themselves upside down and wrapped themselves into a chrysalis.

They looked dead for a week.

One morning, I shuffled around the kitchen, moving through routine with my eyes barely cracked open.  Poured cereal. Made tea. Oversaw teeth-brushing and hair-brushing.

Then I saw the wings.

The chrysalis had cracked open and there in the morning light sat our first butterfly, fanning his wings slowly, testing the air, while the other caterpillars remained entombed.

Over the next day or so, the other new butterflies pushed their way out and flexed their wings.

We squeezed drops of sugar water on freshly cut chrysanthemums and watched the butterflies strengthen.  First they sat in stillness.  Then they hopped to the bottom and explored.  Then they started flying around in circles, eager for freedom.

So, we set them free.

We gathered into the garden in the warm sun of a spring Saturday and one by one released each butterfly into our garden.

But we forgot to explain the difference between butterflies and bugs to my youngest daughter, I suppose.

When one of the butterflies flew up and then back to the ground, she squashed it.  Quick as any reflex, she just stomped down her tiny foot on the ‘pest’ just like we would any spider.

We all tried to stop her.  It was like a slow motion moment in a film, with us leaping to try to rescue the butterfly and prevent the impending doom, but failing in the end.

Amazingly enough, that butterfly still lived.  We eased him and his bruised wing onto a flower where he could enjoy some food without needing to fly.

Maybe you’ve been that butterfly.

Eager to fly.  Excited for freedom.  Hoping for beauty.

Then crushed, bruised, broken.

Maybe you’ve started this year with anticipation, holding your breath for that first sign of good news.

And you’ve already felt like a giant foot has squashed you to the ground.

Maybe it seems like nothing ever changes even though you desperately long for it to change.

Proverbs 13:12 says:

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

Hope isn’t a fickle whim, a fanciful impression that maybe good things will come your way.

Hope is a steadfast knowledge, an anchor of truth that without a doubt you know: God is good and He will take care of you.

And when you feel a little bruised and battered, like a butterfly crushed at that first taste of freedom, hope can feel a little shaky, a little elusive, a little hard to see in the deep of the dark.

Surely Noah must have had those days, floating on that ark long, long after the rain had ceased and the world was covered in a blanket of endless water.

How long, Lord?  When will this end, Lord?  Will we ever get off this ark, Lord?

Are we stuck here forever?  Will we walk on dry land again?  Can we please live without the stench of a floating zoo in our nostrils day and night?

He started sending out messengers of hope: ravens and doves.

He was desperate for the sign, the assurance of dry, solid ground.

The dove brought him an olive leaf.  More than that, the dove brought him renewed hope.

Max Lucado writes:

“An olive leaf.  Noah would have been happy to have a bird but to have the leaf!  This leaf was more than foliage; this was promise.  The bird brought more than a piece of a tree; it brought hope.  For isn’t that what hope is?  Hope is an olive leaf—evidence of dry land after flood… (From A Love Worth Giving)

And so, when we are weary and defeated, we can seek hope.  We can send out those doves and ravens and ask God for a sign of dry land after flood.

And so, when we are strong, we can be the dove for another.  We can bring olive leaves to the hurting. We can bring reminders of hope and God’s faithfulness to those who can’t see the solid ground.

Do you need an olive leaf today?  Do you need to bring an olive leaf to someone else who is hurting?

Here are 30 Bible Verses on Hope to help.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2015 Heather King

What Caterpillars Know That Sometimes I Forget

There’s always a rebel.

This cup of caterpillars arrives in the mailbox and I set it up high so we can watch them grow.

And do they ever grow.photo by frugo

Within a few days, they start scaling the walls of the plastic cup and demonstrate their acrobatics by clinging to the lid and hanging upside down.  First one caterpillar, then another.

Every year, this one lone caterpillar delays.  All four of his roommates hang over his head and tuck themselves right up into a chrysalis.

The rebel caterpillar enjoys the food down below, munching at leisure, no more competition for the bug buffet.

Sometimes we wonder if he’ll ever climb on up there already!!

But inevitably he does.  One morning, he pads his way up to the top and drops himself upside down just like the others.  He wraps himself in the brown chrysalis and waits for the change.

Now all five of them hang in their mesh butterfly house, waiting to emerge.  Mostly they rest there, perfectly and completely still.

They look dead.

Totally, completely devoid of all life.

But we move their home just slightly and we see one caterpillar wiggle and squirm inside the chrysalis.

A sign of life now and a sign of life to come.

Could it be these insects know more about hope than we do? 

That even in a season of waiting, a time of rest, a moment of seeming-death, still they cling.  They submit to the dormancy for the beauty that is to come.

Maybe they know there is something more.  That hope and future God promises us, that’s why they climb on up, that’s why they hang themselves right upside down.

Because of what is to come.

And in the middle of the death seasons, the long waits and the God-mandated resting, sometimes we forget this.  We can abandon all hope of future, of promise, of new life and the return of joy.

It’s Holy Week.  Yesterday, we waved those Palms and we sang, “Hosanna!”  Today, I prepare my heart for the Good Friday to come, for Communion and remembrance and meditation on the cross.

I read this morning:

Jesus “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2 ESV).

Jesus knelt in that Garden and He prayed, “not my will, but Yours be done” despite the pain, and the humiliation, the torture, and the death because of the joy to come.  He submitted because of resurrection hope.

And we have this.  That empty tomb is our hope, too.  Our God, who defeated death and the grave, has a plan and a purpose, a hope, a future.  We are never alone.  We are fully loved and redeemed, forgiven and set free.

All that is dead can become life in His hands.  All that is broken can be beautiful.  All that is lost can be found.

He can make all things new.

Even the impossible becomes possible with Him.

That is resurrection joy.

Those caterpillars don’t abandon hope of life.  They don’t linger in that tomb of a chrysalis.  In due season, they push right on out and stretch and dry those wings so they can fly to freedom.

Jesus didn’t die on that cross hopelessly uncertain of the future.  He had his sights set on Sunday morning and the “joy set before Him.”  That’s why He endured that cross.

But we sometimes lose hope.

Naomi walked through that time of deep loss and life-shattering grief.  Her husband dead.  Her sons dead.  The mourning overshadowed her.

She couldn’t be herself any more.  She felt broken beyond repair.  So, she changed her name: Mara or “bitter” (Ruth 1:19-21) because she thought surely God couldn’t transform her tragedy and bring new love, new life, and a Redeemer.

There’s that demon-possessed man, too. When Jesus and the disciples met him, “for a long time …he had not lived in a house but among the tombs” (Luke 8:27 ESV). 

He lived life in the tombs.  Maybe the sorrow felt more comfortable than the joy?  Maybe death felt less painful than life?

He preferred the grave.

And then there’s us

In seasons of waiting, maybe of sorrow, perhaps even of death, do we abandon ourselves to the bitterness and make ourselves cozy among the tombs?

Or do we cling to Christ because of resurrection hope? Do we hold on for dear life to the Savior who defeated death?

Do we hide away in the shadows and settle into the despair or do we run like crazy into His arms when He calls us out of darkness and into light?

So I remember what the caterpillars have known all along: even what seems like death is truly just waiting on new life.  Hold on tight, dear one.  He brings new life.  He brings beauty.  He brings you wings so you can soar.

 

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2014 Heather King