Friday, September 12, 2014

Seasons in the Garden

"But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in Him. 
He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit." - Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NIV84)

I'm sitting out on my deck in the most beautiful weather imaginable, and this strange part of me is trying not to enjoy the cooler temperatures. Sigh. I've been intentionally soaking up every last bit of summer, but my heart is still not ready for the coming seasons. Somehow as I've gotten older, it seems I've become more and more of a summer person every year. I love spending time with children, swimming, long days, flip-flops, and walking at sunset without coming inside until 9:00 at night. This year it's been even more exaggerated as the fun times and smiles from children enjoying the time out of school have brought joy and delight to my soul in addition to a much-needed respite from some of the heaviness of grief. But the dread of fall and winter is now greater, too--shorter days, colder weather, more time inside and alone, avoided business that must be tackled now, coming holidays. . . Please don't mention the holidays. . . There's a part of me that thinks the first cold snap could make me want to lock myself in a closet somewhere to hibernate and not come out until mid-March. But I know that isn't the answer. . .

August was probably the nicest month I've had all year. . . Lots of plans and a few different mini-trips with kids, fun, and refreshment. Even better was the fact that as soon as one trip or activity was completed, I had another already scheduled to look forward to. But my last little trip of the summer was the one I knew had to last me a while.

A friend and I went to Memphis a few weeks ago for a Living Proof Live conference with Beth Moore speaking and Travis Cottrell leading in worship. If you've never heard Beth speak or done any of her Bible studies, I cannot recommend it highly enough--The way she shares the Word of God and brings home immediate application to daily living can help change a person's life! So I knew it would be wonderful, but one of my constant prayers leading up to the conference was, "Lord, I need so much to hear a fresh word from You that will last, not just something for an uplifting moment. I know the times ahead are going to be so difficult. . . Please keep speaking Your life into my heart."

Of course God answered this and so many of my prayers above and beyond what I could have even asked. Beth's message for the weekend involved the Scriptures from Mark 5 and Luke 8 on the healing of the demon-possessed man. The first night she had four points on what an environment would look like if the devil had his full way, and the next morning had four points on characteristics when Jesus has His full way. It was so good on so many levels.

The part that stood out to me the most from the Friday night was as she expanded on her first point, "Where Satan has his way, people live among tombs." She was not in any way discounting grief and made it clear that she was of course not referring to people visiting burial places of loved ones, as that can be comforting and healthy for many. But in elaborating, she talked about how Jesus, at His point of deepest sorrow and grief, went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. She mentioned that in walking to that place with His disciples, they passed through the Kidron Valley, which was full of many tombs and graves. But He took His deepest sorrow to the Garden, which gave a visual of being surrounded by life in the midst of His grief. She encouraged us that even though we will pass through the tombs, we can take our sorrow to the garden and still be encompassed by life in the middle of it, even as we pour out our breaking hearts and tears to God.

Part of it was encouraging because I feel like that's what I've already been trying to do in many ways. I intentionally make an effort to surround myself with reminders of life and joy as God leads and provides. . . spending time with children, singing and praising the Lord, studying His Word, serving at church, volunteering with hospice. . . (Seriously, hospice is a ministry of life-- it's a huge blessing and joy for me to be involved in even a small part of that ministry.)

All of these things have been wonderful as God has used them to uplift my heart and keep me going. But I feel like her words were a huge reminder for me to hold on to that in the coming season as my heart was already starting to sink in its anticipation. . . When fall and winter come, and it looks like everything is dying outside and in, there is still life. There is still sunshine, even if it is more limited. There is still manna with God's provision every single morning. There is still joy if I open my eyes and seek the Lord enough to notice it. But I have to keep making the trek to get to that garden. I can pour out my soul and cry out my tears, but then I can get up and still see the life around me in this place.

The final point Beth made on the second day was, "Where Jesus has His way, people go and tell their stories." We see this in Luke 8:39 where the man went back home and "told all over town how much Jesus had done for him." And it's something I feel called to do in this season as well--it's been pressed on my heart over and over in different ways and situations. I even jotted to the side of my notes for that section, "WRITE!!" and have that in the margins of a couple of Bible study pages I've done over the last few months, too. The truth of the matter is I have no idea what telling my story is supposed to look like right now. Writing is a painstakingly slow process for me, and even this blog post is not at all coming together the way I thought it would. (You know that beautiful weather I mentioned at the beginning of this post? Well, that was Monday, and today is Friday. . . not to mention WAY too cold now for September!)

I feel like I'm completely in the middle of the tangled-up mess of processing grief and too much other life-change and relationship-shifting on top of it, but somehow I'm still supposed to share the hope and joy I have right here, with no pretty bows or tied-up answers. Because there really is joy here, even now. But if I'm not open about the heaviness and difficulty of it all sometimes, the gift of joy is not able to be as clearly recognized, either.

To be honest, I know how to do the "pretend everything is OK and put a fake smile on your face" kind of living. I learned it young, and I learned it well. And I can still retreat to it in a moment when I don't feel safe. This is way out of my comfort zone. (And WINGS girls, many of the things I write to you with our study are definitely WAY too out there for me, too!)

But I've learned that being vulnerable in sharing is necessary not only for my own health, but also in being able to minister to others. The people who have helped me grow in Christ the most are ones who I've seen be honest with struggles but continuing to seek the Lord in prayer and holding to faith in the midst of everything. It's hard to relate to someone if things seem too easy, but lots of people can relate to having some kind of difficulty where faith is tested but can also come alive more than ever.

So this blog post may have gotten way off track, but I'm going to be brave and post it rather than delete it and try to start over. It may not be what I had in mind, but it is a step in the process of telling my story and sharing what God is doing. I'd like to encourage you to think about what God is doing in your life right now, too, and how you might be able to share it with someone. Or if you don't know about having a personal relationship with God or how He cares about you and can fill your life, I'd love to tell you about that, too--you can ask me anytime.

There is so much more I really would love to share about the conference and the blessings of that weekend. . . Did I mention Travis brought his whole choir?? Do you know how much I LOVE choir??!! Just ask my friend who had to take a picture of how excited I was to sit just two seats and an aisle away from them the second day! :) . . . And then Beth prayed for the widows and those who were grieving in attendance that Saturday as well. It touched my heart so much. . . I even wrote her on Twitter about it, and she wrote me back! (Have I mentioned I love Twitter, too??) It's all more than I can really take in, which is another reason I need to write, remember, and thank God again for His provision.

But now in the middle of the grief as the changing seasons get harder, I will come to the garden and remember life. There is life here and there is even better life for eternity to come. There is also beauty in every season--I know this, but I have to open my heart to the possibility of seeing it. I want to be like that tree planted by the water. . . trusting in the Lord, letting my roots grow down into Him, having leaves always green, and never failing to bear fruit no matter the season. O Lord, let that be true of me--for Your glory. Amen.