Friday, October 14, 2011

The Dying Season

I've been a bit mournful during these fall days that are bringing me closer to winter, or The Dying Season, as I prefer to call it. A recent hike found me looking around the woods at all of the browns that are so prevalent during these months in Ohio. I couldn't help but miss the bright blooms of spring and the carefree feel of summer. Willing myself to think positive, my mind turned to the hiking I had enjoyed last winter. I had learned to appreciate the cool air, the evergreen trees, and the neat animal tracks in the snow. I reminded myself that there is always something to delight in if I will just be intentional about looking for it.

The Lord is reminding me that we pass through many seasons in our lives. Sometimes we experience the joys and hopes of spring. Sometimes we walk through the dying time of late fall and winter. What is important to remember, though, is that the spring would not seem as sweet if we hadn't just emerged from the winter. Would we really appreciate the wildflowers and green surroundings if we experienced them day in and day out? I don't think that I would. It just wouldn't mean quite as much to me.

The above picture is that of Sulphur Shelf, which I usually spy while hiking in the fall. By that time, the woods are beginning to die back and this bright splash of color is always so inviting. It is important to note that this fungus is usually found on dead trees, though sometimes it occurs as a parasite on living trees. The Lord seems to be stressing to me that this striking mushroom would not be possible without death and dying. It would not look half as beautiful if so many things weren't dying all around it.

I thank You, Lord, for caring enough to speak comfort through this aspect of Your creation. I pray that You would help me, even today, to recognize the beauty that You've placed around me during this season. I don't want to miss anything that You have for me! Please give me eyes to see what You have for me. Grow in me the ability to see the good in all circumstances so that I may be an encouragement to others. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Stolen Joy

     Over the past few weeks, the Lord has been revealing a definite theme for me at this point in my life. I guess it all started with my realization that the trying circumstances of the present have really taken a toll on me. The Lord's been specifically speaking to me about the joy I am to have in Him despite what is going on around me. Recently, the Bible passages that contain the word  joy have seemed to jump off the page at me. I have been assigning memory verses to one of my daughters for the last two weeks that mention  joy. The Lord's voice has been unmistakable and inescapable, "You are to have joy. None of this matters because you have Me. Look to Me - I am enough! I can and will fill you with joy in My presence."

     I have been willing myself to be positive and thank Him in all things, but it's never far from my mind that perhaps I shouldn't have to work so hard at it. My mind is constantly flooded with uncertainties and the temptation to worry or fear. The enemy causes me to doubt my Lord in sneaky ways by twisting the truth to serve his diabolical purposes. So many times I am so mixed up that I don't even know what to think. I've found that the only thing I can do during those times is constantly remind myself of who He is and how He loves me. I remind myself about what I know to be the truth and I hold onto that for dear life.

     I have discovered that the more steadfast I cling to my Lord, the more the battle rages. I don't know what else to do except hold on tight. I think of when disciples were deserting Jesus and He questioned the Twelve, "You do not want to leave, too, do you?" I can so identify with Peter's response: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." I find myself thinking the same thing. There is no alternative to living my life for Him. There is nowhere and no one to go to but Him. So what about the joy part of the equation?

     Now here's where I finally get to the picture at the top of the page. It's a Morel mushroom. Until this past spring, I had never even heard of one. A chance blurb and picture of one on Facebook by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources began my education. My brother called me not too long afterwards and began discussing them with me. I remember thinking it strange that I was hearing so much about them all of a sudden. Imagine my surprise when, a few days later, I happened upon one during a spring hike. It is an understatement to say that I was excited! I snapped the photo and went on my way, only to gush about it to the very next hiker I ran into. Since she had never seen one either, and wanted to, I beat a path right back to the Morel with the woman in tow.

     I thought I knew exactly where it had been, but it suddenly seemed to have evaporated into thin air. Puzzled, I mentally retraced my steps. Then it came to me... the man! I had seen a man carrying a bright orange five gallon bucket, wearing a headband with what looked to be some sort of eyepiece attached to it. My curiosity about his bucket had almost prompted me to ask him what he had in there. It all became clear to me now. He had been in the park illegally hunting for the tasty mushrooms that so many thousands seek out in the spring. I was disappointed and so was the lady I had brought along to share in the joy of my discovery. My joy had been stolen right along with the mushroom.

     It might not seem like much, but this incident really saddened me. Like so many other things in my life, it seemed like it was yet another joyful thing that was being snatched from me. A few other examples include the jobs that have enabled my husband to provide well for us that have disappeared. The one step forward in marriage, that is quickly followed by what seems like three steps back. The joy of motherhood that feels replaced at times by the fatigue of parenting a special needs child. The many hopes and dreams for life and ministry that seem as good as dead due to life circumstances . Even something silly like trying to make the yard look pretty to help with depressed feelings is met with the lawn mower dying unexpectedly.

     I'll give one more example that may bring a smile to your face. Two weeks ago we were driving on what looked to be our last tank of gas. Utilities were quickly coming due and there was no hope of money in sight. We went to church and I gave our very last dollar to my daughter to put in the offering plate. I did so joyfully, rejoicing in the fact that I now could identify with the widow in the Bible who gave all she had. Yes, our situation was dire, but I had this one thing to lift my spirits. Well, wouldn't you know that my husband took a folded up piece of paper out of my purse a few days later and two dollar bills slipped out. I was disappointed that I hadn't given my very last dollar after all!!! I know, I know... I thought I had at the time, and two dollars isn't exactly a fortune. I just wanted to show how my brain is wired to feel joy based on my circumstances - particularly in them going the way I would like them to. I am guilty too often of thinking I know best about how things should go in order to keep a steady flow of joy pulsing through my being. Inevitably, things go differently, and, "Poof!" goes my joy with them.

     God's Word tells me, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10). I am keenly aware these days that the enemy is seeking to steal my joy. I tell myself that I must resist him so that he will flee from me. I remind myself that these irritations are very small in the grand scheme of things and that the Lord is using them to make me more like Christ. I ponder how desperately I rely on Him and how there is not much I can do for myself beyond loving Him. I think that's right where He wants me to be for now while He teaches me some more about His love, provision, grace, and good plan for my life.

     In closing, we had the rare opportunity to begin the study of a new book of the Bible in our ABF this morning. What might this book be? Phippians. After wrestling with these thoughts about my joy being M.I.A. these days, I should have guessed that the Lord was taking me somewhere with it. My teacher pointed out to us how the Apostle Paul had tremendous joy no matter what his circumstances were and that we should, too.

I hear You, Lord! This ought to be a fun ride. I confess that my joy is too often linked to external things. You know that the enemy tries to beat me up about that, accusing me of not being a good enough follower of You. Help me to best distinguish Your voice, and to immediately recognize and decisively push the voice of the enemy from my mind. Please renew my spirit and return to me the joy of Your salvation. In the precious name of Jesus I pray, Amen.