Sunshine: The Art of Joy

Plants effected by light

Sunshine is absolutely vital to a healthy garden.  Plants that have no sunlight are sickly, thin, and die at the least provocation.  They are colorless and rarely produce anything worth while.  Plants take the energy from sunlight and convert it through a process called photosynthesis into energy that is usable by the plant for life and growth.  This is what sets apart a plant grown in full sunshine from a plant grown in darkness or only partial light.  Look at the photo to the left.  The first plant only gets some sunshine.  It’s lopsided and crooked, with spindly stalks.  The second plant got no sunlight at all.  It is pale and sickly, and some of the stalks have fallen completely over.  The third plant is full, healthy, and sturdy.  

Sunshine is vital not only to plants, but to humans as well!  We get the all important Vitamin D from sunshine which can help with so many things from lifting depression to strengthening bones and muscles.  There is something deeply healing and calming about simply sitting or laying in the sunshine for a while.  However, while there are many more benefits gained from sunshine than I can describe here, there is another kind of sunlight that is even more important to us as Christians: the light of the Son of God that shines into our souls and out through our words and actions.  This Sonlight creates a different kind of “Vitamin D” in our lives…an all-purpose healing agent that we sometimes call Joy.  

Joy…when a lot of people think of joy, they tend to define it as extreme happiness, but I believe it is something much deeper and more meaningful than that.  Psalm 16:11 says this: “You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever” (NASB).  In the presence of God is found something called the fullness of joy, what I have come to recognize as a deep sense of inner peace and contentment that bubbles up into something that resembles happiness, but without stings attached.  Joy is what sustains the souls and fills it with the ability to remain at peace even when the world is falling apart around you.  Another verse that defines joy is Psalm 27:6:

“One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD And to meditate in His temple.  For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle; In the secret place of His tent He will hide me; He will lift me up on a rock.  And now my head will be lifted up above my enemies around me, And I will offer in His tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the LORD” (vs. 4-6, NASB).  

Sacrifice with shouts of joy.  Sacrifice means giving up something, and it is often a scary word and thought.  Yet, David sought to dwell in the house of the Lord, knowing that he would be sheltered and concealed in the day of trouble, and lifted high above his enemies.  With this knowledge, he was able to go through anything with a shout of joy, a depth of peace that allowed him to praise God no matter what he faced.  

I believe that joy is one of those things a Christian can’t live without.  Just like those plants pictured above, the joy produced when God’s love flows through us will build us up, strengthen and grow us.  However, when we as Christians live without joy, we begin to fade.  Our life loses its color and it’s ability to produce any fruit.  Parts of our character begin to shrivel and droop, eventually becoming ugly blotches of dead foliage that blights and mars our beauty.  Without joy…we die.  

Make sure your life is exposed fully to the light of Jesus.  Bask in Him.  Immerse yourself in God’s Word, worship with abandon.  Absorb the brilliance of Christ’s light into yourself and allow Him to fill your innermost heart with a joy that heals every hurt and lightens every load.  

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You’re Beautiful Because I Love You…

Valentines Day?

Singles Awareness Day…Overly Commercialized Day When Retailers Make Way Too Much Money…

I hear the sarcasm dripping from the voices of many “unattached” people as they wake up on Valentines Day and bitterly realize that no one “loves” them.  You may shrug your shoulders, toss your hair, and proclaim that you are perfectly happy being single…but this is the one day of the year when there is no avoiding the truth: No one is going to buy you roses or bring you chocolates…unless it’s your single best pal coming over to commiserate.

No, I am not going to spend this post telling you to buck up.  I spent many years as a single young woman, and although I was perfectly content being single, there was something about walking through the store and seeing heart-shaped boxes of chocolate and soft, cuddly teddy bears hugging hearts that say “I love you” that makes a single person, no matter how content, feel just a little bit lonely and sad.  I can’t count the times when I would sigh and wonder if anyone would ever find me beautiful enough to fall in love with and bring me roses.  If you’ve read my post about our Love Story, you know that my Prince Charming found me just over a year ago…but until then, I’d spent every Valentines Day alone.

My commitment to stay single and not date until God brought the right guy into my life was not always easy, but it gave me the incredible opportunity to discover the true meaning of Valentines Day.  It is not, as commercialism would have us believe, all about cuddly teddy bears, roses, and heart-shaped chocolates.  It’s not even about hugs and kisses from the one person you love more than any other on earth.  Rather, Valentines Day is all about love.  True Love.  Love that cannot be defeated by sarcasm and the lack of roses.  Love that turns everything it touches into pure beauty.

This love I am talking about transcends earthly affection and romance.  It is the kind of love that endures pain, rejection, hatred, jealousy…and continues to love anyway.  It is the kind of love that would cross the Sahara Desert and swim the Pacific Ocean for the one beloved…or the kind of love that would leave heaven and descend into the darkness of earth to live, suffer, and die to save His beloved.

Have you ever watched Rogers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella?  If you have, perhaps you will remember the song Cinderella and the Prince sang minutes before the clock struck midnight:

“Do I love you because you are beautiful?  Or are you beautiful because I love you?”

This scene is so sweet and wonderful.  I don’t know any girl who can listen to Brandy and Paolo Montalban sing their lovely duet and not sigh somewhere deep inside, wondering if she is truly beautiful, if she is worthy of that kind of love.  Is she beautiful enough to be loved like that?  Maybe if she had a sparkly enough dress?  Or a fairy godmother??

Let me tell you this: God does not love us because we are beautiful.  In God’s holy sight, no one is beautiful, no not one.  All are stained as ugly as sin, and that is not a joke.  Sin disfigures and destroys anything and everything that is lovely about us.  With this in mind, none of us deserve a fairy tale like Cinderella.  However, something wonderful happened when Jesus came to earth and gave Himself on the Cross for us:  He loved us.  And He didn’t love us because we are beautiful.  No, we are now beautiful because He loves us.  He loved us so much that He left His princely throne in heaven and came to earth to live a lowly life and die a horrific death to provide a covering for our sin-scarred selves.  That covering is His blood, and it washes away sin, cleansing and beautifying us as nothing else can do.

To me, this is what Valentines Day is all about.  When you look around you and see red and pink and hearts everywhere…don’t feel sad!  Don’t feel lonely!!  Feel beautiful as you remember the sweetest Valentine of all was given 2000 years ago–for you.  It was carved in wood, etched deeper than any lovers’ initials on a tree.  It was stained redder than any foil-wrapped chocolate.   It was signed by your truest Valentine, the Lover of your soul, Who doesn’t love you because you are beautiful, but Who made you gloriously beautiful beyond compare by His love.

You are beautiful because He loves you!  And that knowledge is what will sustain you through this day.  It is not a day to be made extra aware of how unloved and single you are, but a day to recognize and realize the meaning of God’s deep love for you!!

The greatest Valentine

Happy Valentines Day!

Fenced In

BOUNDARIES!!!

Boundaries are interesting things.  We both hate them and love them.  We need them…yet we don’t want them.  A boundary can be found anywhere, in any part of life.  Boundaries are those weird scanner things at the store that go BEEEEEEEP!!! really loudly if you attempt to walk out of the store with some item with an activated security device.  Boundaries are the white and yellow lines on roads.  Boundaries are the walls around your house.  Boundaries are the clothes you wear.  Boundaries are fences.

Although all of the above are legitimate boundaries in varying forms, today I specifically want to discuss fences.  If you’ve been reading my blog at all, you will have noticed that all of the recent posts have to do with gardens and gardening, so talking about fences should make perfect sense:-)

Like any other boundaries, fences are only effective if they are strong enough to keep unwanted and unnecessary things out and wanted, good things in.  Check out the following picture:

This particular fence was built by my father to protect our garden.  It is at least 8 feet tall, and surrounds the entire area of our vegetable garden, plus many flowers and a few fruit trees (I’m making a wild guess that the area surrounded is just a little less than an acre).  It is a very strong fence, embedded in cement, and reinforced with barbed wire.  This fence is very effective in its purpose: keep the deer from eating all of Mom’s flowers and veggies!!

This is where it gets interesting.  Visitors to my parent’s property are usually granted the wonder of seeing at least 2 or 3, and often as many as 10 or 15, deer wandering through the yard grazing on the grass.  Most people gasp in wonder, point out the window and yell, “Look!! A DEER!!!”  At which point, all new visitors congregate around the window and stare for several minutes at the wildlife.  When they get over their initial awe, we then have to explain that although the deer are cute, they are pests, and because of them, we had to build our massive fence.  We enjoy the deer…to a degree, but consider them more of an inconvenience than anything else, since everything we want to grow has to be fenced in and protected with ever increasing creativeness as the deer indiscriminately munch pretty much anything floral or green.

The fence and the deer are a simple illustration of a much greater truth: fences are absolutely necessary if you want to grow a lovely garden.  Otherwise, deer will trample through your hard work, pulling out tender plants, munching a few bites, and leaving a trail of havoc wherever they go.  The same is very true of the beautiful garden of our souls.

We all have “deer” that trample our souls, tear up our beauty, and leave havoc in our hearts.  Unfortunately, many of us (girls especially, but this applies to guys as well!), have no idea how to protect ourselves and end up getting torn up and trampled again and again and again.  This is why boundaries are so very important, even if they are sometimes inconvenient and annoying.

For us girls, this means that we must put a lot of thought and effort into guarding and protecting our hearts.  When I was just entering my teens, I remember making some pretty wild decisions.  One of them was that I wasn’t going to date until God brought Mr. Right into my life (for me, that meant waiting until I was almost 27 years old).  Another of them was that I was going to dress modestly instead of following the fashions of my friends.  Another one was that I wasn’t going to hang out with people who tried to influence me in negative habits like smoking and drinking, or pushed dating and intimate guy/girl interactions.  These decisions set me apart from most of the other young people I spent time around.  I had to go through several years of being lonely and “weird” before God showed me that there were a lot of other young people out there who believed in boundaries too!

There are a lot of influences out there that will tell you that boundaries are bad, or at the least unnecessary and limiting.  They limit your fun, they limit your potential…they limit your life.  Those are all lies.  Boundaries do not limit, they protect.  I do not regret any of the boundaries I set in place around my life, nor do I resent any of the boundaries my parents set in place for me.  At times I was irritated by the boundaries, wanting to stretch out past them just a little…but all it took was one little nibble from a deer and I was happily back inside my fence.  Well, no deer actually bit me, but there were a few times when I chose to push the limits just a little and step outside some well-placed boundaries for a few moments, and I always ended up seeing right up close exactly why those boundaries were important.  Looking back now, I am so grateful for every one of those boundaries.

The heart of a woman is something truly beautiful, and it should be guarded and protected jealously.  Proverbs 4:23 says: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (NIV).  Your heart is the center of who you are, it is what truly defines you and sets you apart from anyone else in the world.  It makes sense, then, to carefully guard and protect your heart, does it not?  However, like the visitors who see the deer as adorable little lawn ornaments, most of us don’t realize that those cute little “ornaments” are about to destroy the beauty of what God created us to be!  It takes discernment to recognize that what may appear harmless and cute when it’s outside the garden is cruel and destructive when it gets inside.

Stop for a moment and consider this: Why would anyone choose to leave their most vulnerable and precious sanctuary open to be trampled, torn up, and devoured?  It just doesn’t make any sense, does it?  Why, then, do so many young women choose to open up their hearts to be beaten, trampled, torn, broken, and even devoured by the enemy of our souls?

What are some things that you need to guard your heart against, and what are the boundaries necessary to protect your precious heart?

Faith

Fertilizer…it’s kind of a weird word, but oh so important to a healthy garden!!!  Very few soils have enough nutrients for plants to grow and produce to their absolute best.  Especially delicate, beautiful plants!  Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, hydrogen, carbon…big fancy words for those invisible things that help plants grow strong and healthy.  A good gardener will do everything she can to make sure that her garden soil has all the necessary nutrients for all flowers, fruits, and vegetables to grow and produce the best possible harvest.

Whenever you buy cut flowers in the store, they always come with these little packets of strange smelling powder that you’re supposed to put in the water with the flowers.  This is usually MiracleGrow, or something similar, and it is a form of fertilizer.  This little packet holds a plethora of nutrients that help keep those flowers beautiful and blooming for as long as possible.

So.  What lessons can be learned from fertilizer?  It isn’t absolutely imperative for plants to be fertilized…most of them will grow, at least a little, without being fertilized.  However, every plant will grow far better and yield much healthier blossoms or produce if it has the right nutrients.  In the same way, fertilizing our inner gardens will produce much lovelier characters than a soul that hasn’t been fertilized.  I believe the most important way to fertilize your inner garden is a simple little thing called faith.  I don’t just mean faith in the sense of religion, but faith as a character quality.  Other words for faith include “loyalty,” “fidelity,” and “devotion.” Faith can be described as “complete trust,” or “sincerity of intentions.”

In the Bible, faith is what set God’s people apart from everyone else.  Just like a fertilized garden will be different from a non-fertilized garden, a Christian with faith will look very different from a person with no faith.  Hebrews 11:1 defines faith this way:

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (NKJV).

When we have faith, it simply means that our complete trust in God shines through into our everyday lives providing clear evidence of our faith worked out in our words and actions.  The people mentioned in Hebrews 11 are far from perfect people, but their faith in God’s Word and His ability to work in and through their lives set them apart.  Their lives blossomed with God’s love and character in a way that faithless lives cannot.

So how do we get this special little miracle grow for our souls?  Read the Bible and seek God’s face through prayer.  Ask Him to begin fertilizing your life with more and more faith.  And then stop living mediocre, colorless lives and start living in the vibrancy of faith-fertilized life!

This entry was posted on February 7, 2012. 2 Comments

Weeds

Growing a beautiful garden takes a lot of work, and so does growing a beautiful life.  If you’ve ever been around a garden, I’m sure you are familiar with one of the most common gardening tasks: weeding.  

A particularly nasty weed!

As a child, I remember hating pulling weeds, but it was something that had to be done, and I couldn’t get out of it, no matter how hard I tried!  My hands would get dirty, grunge would get under my fingernails.  Thistles would leave invisible slivers in my fingers, and my knees and back would ache.  It was such hard work, and I despised the process.  However, there was nothing more gratifying than the moment when I finished and stepped back to survey a clean, cultivated patch.  

And weeds just keep growing!  So no matter how many weeds I pulled one week, in just a few days they would be back!!  I’d clean the weeds out, clear the patch of anything but the flowers or vegetables that were supposed to be there.  Then I’d wander off to do something else, but less than a week later, those annoying little green monsters were back in full force!!!  

As a kid, I never connected weeds to real life, but as I pondered the idea of the garden of life, I suddenly realized how much weeds are like those sinful things in our lives that need to be rooted out and discarded.  You all know what I’m talking about.  We each have our own particularly nasty weeds:  pride, hatred, fear, discontent, jealousy, anger, spitefulness, deceit…the list goes on and on and on.  These weeds start out small and insignificant, but if allowed to grow can choke out the beautiful things in life, leaving behind a tangled, ugly mess.  Consider these verses from Matthew:

“A farmer planted seed.  As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it.  Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds.  Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams” (Matt. 13:3-8, Message).

The weeds completely strangled the good seed, ruining that part of the garden.  Think for a minute about your life and the weeds that are growing in you.  What is it that chokes out your good seed?  Which weeds are flawing your character and ruining the beauty of your wonderful garden?  Take some time to seek out those weeds, identify them, and begin to pull them out!  

Deeply rooted sin

Remember, however, that weeds don’t just go away.  They are persistent.  Some times you have to dig very deep to find all the roots of a particular weed.  If you ever stop the process of weeding, your garden will soon be overgrown again!  Unlike good character habits, weeds don’t need to be tended to grow.  They seem to come from nowhere and take off on their own with no urging, wrapping around and choking out all the other plants.  In order to nurture your life into a beautiful garden, you must be serious about getting rid of your weeds.  Pull them out mercilessly, and be sure you discard them far from your garden so that no nasty seeds fall back into your life and cause more problems!  

This entry was posted on February 4, 2012. 2 Comments

Gardening Tool #1

How do we grow green grass and lovely flowers?  In my last blog, we looked at the old saying “The grass is always greener…” and pondered the idea that so many young women look at other’s lives and wish that theirs looked like someone else’s life.  Today, I would like to look at the first of several ways we can grow our own lives into flourishing gardens, lovely enough to bring joy and satisfaction not only to ourselves, but to those around us!


There are many things that go into growing a healthy garden, or cultivating a lush, green lawn.  The same is true for our lives.  The more effort one puts into one’s life, the happier and healthier that life will be.  Continuing to use the gardening simile, let’s call these things “tools.” 

Tool #1: Water

One of the most important gardening “tools” is water (or the watering can or hose used to convey the water).  Every plant must have sufficient water to grow properly, and so every life must have sufficient water to be all it can be!  Through watering, plants receive the necessary nutrients to grow and flourish.  There are many things in life I could compare to water, but for now I will call our “water” intellectual stimulation.  Watering our souls is deeply important.  This particular tool will provide knowledge, understanding, wisdom, life perspective, and so many other vital “nutrients!”  

Watering Life

I believe that it is essential to read and study, listen and learn on a daily basis.  Before you panic and think I am talking about “school,” let’s think this over.  The first watering tool is reading.  Read widely, both fiction and non-fiction.  Read the Bible to familiarize yourself with God’s Word, as well as with a broad range of wisdom that has endured for thousands of years.  Read informational books and papers to learn new skills and information, read stories to learn about how people act and react in many situations.  Read histories to learn from the past, and read for fun as well as for information.  The more you read, the more you will learn, the broader your knowledge and comprehension will be, and the more you will know about the world you live in.  

With this information, you can begin to filter what is right and wrong, what is good and evil, what you want to incorporate into your life and what you don’t.  

There are many other ways to water the soul as well: talk with people to discover their beliefs, the life wisdom they have learned, and the character qualities that make them who they are.  Observe the world, watching people’s actions.  Listen to music, learning to comprehend the heart-cry of many artists and composers who express themselves through song.  

The most important concept to walk away with is the deep need each person has to connect beyond themselves spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically.  I believe that many young women today limit their knowledge to what they see and hear through media and the input of those they admire.  They never look beyond this to see what is real and what is false, what will help them and what will harm them.  

We live in a world where information is readily available, yet few people really take advantage of this availability! Growing up, I read avidly, and I still do.  I love to read, to study, to learn, but important, I love to grow, and that is what watering my soul does for me!! 

Take a moment to reflect on your life.  Do you water your soul regularly, or are you slowly dehydrating your life by limiting the nutrients you take in?  Watching certain movies and reading glamour magazines can be fun and informative when mixed in with a balanced lifestyle of wisely-chosen information-gathering, but alone, these things do nothing more than give us a twisted, unhealthy outlook on life, similar to the young lady who watched her neighbor’s garden grow in my last blog post.  Be certain that your life is well-watered with a healthy variety of nutrients, and you will begin to discover that you are developing a well-rounded, vibrant character with many varied qualities.  

What are your favorite ways of watering your soul? 
This entry was posted on February 2, 2012. 1 Comment

The Grass is Always Greener…

A friend on FaceBook recently shared this quotation: “You may think the grass is greener on the other side.  But if you take the time to water your own grass, it would be just as green!” (anonymous).  I don’t remember now who shared it, but I was struck by the implications of this simple statement and have been thinking about it ever since. 

Girls, in general (and I definitely speak from experience here), have a tendency to gaze longingly at what someone else possesses and desire it for themselves.  Have you ever seen a picture of a girl on the front of a magazine at the checkout stand, and thought something along the lines of “If only my hair was gorgeous like that!” or, “If only I had such flawless skin!” or, “I wish I could be a little skinnier…or curvier…or taller…or thinner…” or any other variation.  Maybe you envy someone’s eyes, or their perfect teeth.  Maybe you long for different clothes and shoes.  I obviously don’t know the inner heart of every female on the planet, but I’ve spent enough time with young women to know that even the most self-assured girl longs for her “grass” to be a little greener than it is.  We gaze across the fence into another’s life and are sure that somehow that person has it better than we do. 

Unfortunately, this longing gaze causes us to neglect our own grass.  Imagine along with me for a moment:

Garden

A carefully tended garden

A young woman is put in charge of a garden patch.  She doesn’t know much about gardening, but she starts out excited by the possibilities.  Next door is a lovely, flourishing garden, and she can’t wait until hers look the same.  Every day, she hurries to the fence to see how the neighbor’s garden is doing, and every day, she is thrilled by the new blossoms and wonderful scents that come from it.  She watches as the neighbor waters her garden, pulls out the weeds, fertilizes, and trims back the dead foliage.  Imagine that our young lady continues her vigil for a month.  Day after day, she sees the wonderful beauty of the garden next door, and finally turns back to survey her own garden with disgust: overgrown with weeds, flowers dead or dying from lack of water, the smell of decay more prevalent than the smell of lovely roses…

Of course, this is a fanciful flight of the imagination, but I’m sure you understand where I’m going with this idea.  This young lady’s garden could be aptly compared to the lives of many young women in the world who see something in someone else’s garden and want it, desire it, even lust after it…but never do anything about their own gardens. 

Somehow we’ve tricked ourselves into the mindset that our lives are just going to be a miserable mess.  That girl on the other side of the fence is just naturally gorgeous!  That actress is just lucky to have men falling all over her.  The popular girl at school just happened to have the right looks, or possessions, or charm.  Notice, however, that I used the word “tricked.”  Yes, life sometimes throws difficult circumstances our way, but that should never stop us from attending to our little garden/lives. 

Carefully water, weed, and fertilize your own life, and I think you will be surprised at how remarkably beautiful your “garden” can become! 

Note:  In the next week or two, I will be sharing some of the ways I have discovered to take care of my little garden called life.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas, as well!