Growing in the Harshest Conditions

Cheyenne Zubler of Cheye Girl Photography

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a lover of God’s creation, especially plants that bloom! My family moved into our current home sixteen years ago. It sets on approximately ¼ of an acre. At the time we moved in, there were lilac bushes bordering two sides of the property, spirea bushes along the front and back of the house, a 16’ length of fence with blackberries, and six fifty year old trees (three pine, three maple). To most people that would be more than enough, but not for me! I have transformed our property to include fourteen flower beds, a 48’ x 24’ fruit and vegetable garden with an arbor wall, a pergola, and a 7’ x 20’ pond (4’ deep). My husband says that’s enough every time I add something new, but he is always amazed by the beauty and enjoyment it brings.

All of the beauty in our yard is always dependent on the weather. As I’m sure you know, the amount of precipitation, sunlight, and nutrients determine the growth of the plant. The environment that the plants are exposed to directly affects the end result. Each plant has its own needs in order to thrive. Some need dry soil, some need swampy, and yet some need a perfect blend. It can be a delicate balancing act that you ultimately have no control over. It is hard (sometimes impossible) to recover the growing season once the plant has been exposed to the harsh elements. A succulent that gets flooded and sits in soggy soil for extended time will just rot. A delicate impatient that is baked in the hot sun with no water for days on end will most likely shrivel and dry up to a crisp twig. Both will be lost forever.

If all the conditions are right in early spring, the Bearded Iris will begin to sprout from the rhizome sitting on top of the soil. The straight, blade-like leaves will grow up to 18″ tall. In a couple of weeks, you’ll start to see a stalk rise above the leaves, and buds will poke through and swell with glorious anticipation. Then one by one, as the air warms each bud’s petals, they will show their glory with a sweet scent. Weeks of growth comes to a beautiful climax that lasts just one day. That’s right, each iris bloom lasts just one day. Then, it begins to shrink and curl up. Thankfully, there are multiple blooms on each stalk giving you many days of beauty. But, sooner than later all of the blooms are gone and the greens wither away.

I watch my favorite flower go through this process year after year, and I am always amazed at God’s intricate attention to beauty. The hard, brown, ginger-like root produces one of the most delicate flowing petals bringing beauty to the garden. I would be remiss if I didn’t bring this back to the beginning when I spoke of the conditions needed for blooming and how this is so different from our ability to bloom in God’s glory.

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall.”
∼1 Peter 1:23-24

In God’s garden, we are preserved for eternity. Adverse conditions won’t inhibit us from blooming, and we don’t shrivel up after one bloom. In fact, God often uses those adverse circumstances to bring the most beautiful blooms of His eternal glory. In order to bloom in God’s garden of glory, the first mandatory requirement is that we are born again believers. Once God has sealed us with the Holy Spirit, then he can bring beauty to any of our circumstances in His will. He gives us nourishment and everything we need to flourish.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.”
∼John 15:16

Second, we must listen and obey. The lasting and meaningful fruit in our lives are not of our own accord. Have you ever tried so hard to make a situation thrive or recover it from despair only to find yourself busted and frustrated? Or, when we start to see it work just the way we want it, we see it wither away to nothing. In order to grow in God’s grace, we actually have to take in His living word and live by it.

God is the only one that can work blessings from hardships—blessings that will grow for eternity. Let me share how God tilled his grace into the garden of my life during some of the harshest conditions. My husband and I have been married for more than twenty years, and it has been a journey of love, joy, and adventures. But, like most marriages, it has had its fair share of trials, sickness, death, and despair. I became a born again Christian five years into our marriage. My husband grew up in the church but chose not to have a relationship with Christ. Our marriage was not created on the foundation of God and, until I became a Christian, neither of us cared.

I must have believed on some level: how could God fix something that he’s not fully a part of? My belief was full of unbelief. My fears continually won over my faith. A couple of years ago, we almost ended our commitment to each other. We had worked so hard through the years to save it by attending seminars and counseling and participating in exercise after exercise. None of our efforts made any lasting changes, until God stepped in when I finally stepped aside.

In my unbelief, I used to secretly ask God to give me an out. “Please, Lord, just make this long suffering end!” I longed for it to be over. I was so weary of trying everything known to man to save a relationship that seemed doomed from the beginning. Then, in the beginning of 2017, I had a complete breakthrough with God. I finally believed without a doubt, leaving no room for fear, that God loved me. This broken, bruised, tarnished, and tattered soul was actually whole, beautiful, blessed, without blemish, and strong. The circumstances in my life could not change it. No matter the outcome of whatever it is I face, I know that God has my best interest at hand. My Heavenly Father would not leave me.

So with this said, the night that my husband forced me to leave our home I had first thought, “Well, this is my out.” But was it? I was not even completely out of the driveway when I felt this sinking feeling in my gut that said this was wrong. I knew I was not to be leaving. I felt it at the core of my being. I knew that I could not just turn around and walk back in, but I also knew that it wasn’t going to be forever. The very thing that I had been begging for to end my marriage was going to be the one thing that healed it.

Within the next few months, God brought women into my life who were going through similar struggles. We started meeting weekly as a group to encourage each other, pray for each other, and support each other. We cried a river of tears and laughed so hard we cried again. We began seeing blooms through the ice as pictured in Isaiah 35.

Photography by Trisha L. KnaulThe desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.”
∼Isaiah 35:1-2a

Joy and gladness returned where there was only sorrow and strife. But what changed? Our circumstances were still the same. Our lives were full of the same struggles. Then what made the difference? It was our obedience to God. God used a group of five broken women to bring blossoms of beauty in the most arid of desserts.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
∼Galatians 6:2

I encourage you to join me in God’s garden. If you allow him to give you living water by his word and feed you with his Holy Spirit, I can promise you that you will be blessed. The blessings may not be exactly what we want, but if we look between the thorns, we’ll see the beautiful rose blooming for all to see.

Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.
∼Psalm 31:24

 

 

 

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International version®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Foolish or Faithful

This year Ash Wednesday fell on Valentine’s Day, and now Easter will fall on April Fool’s Day. Two Christian holidays overlapping two non-religious holidays. This year I can’t avoid talking about the irony of Easter being on what the world celebrates as a day for acting like a fool.

Easter is the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, the source of our faith. It is a day of faith and love. At almost the opposite end of the spectrum, April Fool’s Day is a holiday giving opportunity to play pranks and jokes on people, a day of fools and folly.

Christians celebrate Easter on the Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. This is why it changes each year. We don’t have an exact date when Jesus died on the cross, but we do know that his death was on a Friday around Passover which makes three days later the Sunday after the vernal equinox full moon.

The origin of April Fool’s Day is debated. Some people believe that it dates back to 1582 when France switched to the Gregorian calendar from the Julian calendar. On the Julian calendar, New Year’s day was celebrated around April 1 and with the Gregorian it was changed to the current date of January 1. When people celebrated the beginning of a new year on April 1 that year, they were called fools. And you could say the rest is history.

So now that I have the when explained, I want to talk a bit about what Easter is and why it is marginalized and commercialized by so many. I believe 1 Corinthians 2:14 explains it perfectly. It states “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”

In contrast to “the person without the Spirit”, a person with the Spirit is a born-again Christian. Someone who has been sealed by the Holy Spirit because they have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. God has the Holy Spirit speak to us to give us his wisdom and guidance as told in John 16:13-14 (Jesus speaking), “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.”

Why do some “not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God”? In my experience the things of God have been the exact opposite of my selfish desires so I considered them utter foolishness. I thought why would I want to do something that would get me nowhere, give me no credit, and give me nothing tangible? I was fooled by the commercialized fun of April Fool’s Day and the sweet treasures of the Easter bunny. The bigger the trick the better the fun. And I didn’t know anyone who didn’t love to be the “winner” by finding the most eggs and getting the biggest basket with the best gifts.

Then somewhere in my 20s I started wanting something more. I started questioning if there was more to this man they call God. Being raised by parents who only followed a worldly religion of celebrating commercial holidays, I was only exposed to the storybook fantasy of a god who swoops in and saves the day. I soon found myself disappointed and lost when my sinful actions took over my life. I questioned the purpose of life. I began to regret the wasted time I spent living for myself.

I became a Christian in my 30th year of life. That’s a LOT of years following only my selfish desires and having little regard to how I achieved them. I started accepting the truths of God because I was able to discern them from lies but only after I accepted that life on earth was hopeless without the guidance and wisdom from my Creator. I began to realize that I was trapped by thinking I was a pretty good person and didn’t need anyone telling me any different. This selfishness was holding me back from healing from past hurts, overcoming strongholds, and most of all, it was keeping me stuck in sin. But as Jesus said, the Holy Spirit guided me through the muck and showed me that life is beautiful when you give it to God.

I am beyond thankful that God captured my heart. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect by any means. I still do foolish things but I have hope because Christ died on the cross, and God raised him three days later to then ascend to sit at His right hand. Why does that give me hope? Well frankly because I lived a full life without God as my savior and through his grace I survived. It is only because of God’s grace that I am alive and able to share my life with others. God is my father, Jesus is my savior and the Holy Spirit is my guide.

This Easter I’m guessing there will be parents pranking their children with tricks in their baskets. I pray that there are even more parents that glorify the name of God by sharing the true reason we celebrate Easter and how we can honor him for his sacrifices.

So how about you? Will you be foolish or faithful? I leave you with the encouraging words from 1 Peter 4:1-2, “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of his earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.”

 

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/april-fools-tradition-popularized

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International version®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Because of What You Say

“He told me everything I ever did.” That was it. Her testimony of Jesus. 7 words and yet that was all it took. (John 4:39)

An outcast so disgraced she didn’t even go to the well to get water till all the other woman were gone. Everyone knew her. She had sinned horribly, and no one wanted to hang around her. She probably tried to make as little a splash as possible wherever she went. Suddenly she started going through town telling about this man who knew everything  she had ever done. Wouldn’t you be amazed and perhaps curious about this man? (You can find the Samaritan Woman’s story in John 4:1-42.)

“So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his words.” (John 4:40) These people were amazed by her story. They wanted to see Jesus to try and find out for themselves if what she said was true. Because of this many believed.

Even if what you say isn’t making people believe, just making them curious can be enough to start them down the path to belief.

“They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the savior of the world.’” (John 4:42) The people believed at first because of her unbelievable actions and words. They had to go see this guy; then, they believed for themselves.

When I was younger I trusted my parents so I believed them when they told me about God. As I grew up and realized my parents were fallible, I not only started to doubt them but also God. You see, I believed through my parents’ faith, not my own faith. It took a lot to make me realize this. It took even longer to find my own faith in God. In other words I now believe because I have seen for myself and found that he is indeed the Savior of the world.

It is important that we tell our story but in a way that makes people want to believe for themselves not through us.

(As we explore how to Tell Your Story, each contributor will share a part of their God story with us. Leah’s Story is here.)

What do you think:

How can you interest people and point them toward God?

What is it about your story that would make people curious about Jesus?

Is there anyone in your life who is believing through you?

What can you do to encourage them to believe for themselves?

 

First post in series: Tell Your Story
Previous post in series: Go Home. Tell Your Story.
Next post in series: “I’m not going anywhere” -jesus

 

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International version®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Who Touched Me?

Picture in your mind shopping on Black Friday. You are in a very crowded mall. There are people everywhere, and you almost feel claustrophobic from all the bumping and jostling around. People are pressing in more and more. Then you hear someone say, “Who touched me?” What would your reaction be?

This is the story we read in Mark 5:25-34 and Luke 8:43-48. No, it’s not a crowded shopping mall on black Friday, but it is a crowded space with people pressing in on all sides. This dear lady had been bleeding (the Bible says hemorrhaging) for 12 years. Wow. She was in a desperate situation. She had tried everything she knew to try, and there was no one who could help.

She had heard that there was this man, Jesus, who could heal her. She quietly walked up behind Him through the crowd, not wanting to disturb the teacher at all. She may have been thinking, “Maybe, if I just touch His garment I can be healed. It’s worth a shot. What could it hurt? Nobody else can do anything.”

She did just that. She got behind Jesus and touched the hem of His garment. Scripture tells us that immediately Jesus felt the power go out of Him and said, “Who touched my garment?” (Mark 5:30) Did you catch that? Jesus felt the power leave with the touch of the garment. The disciples were rather shocked at Jesus. They started asking “You see the crowd pressing in on You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” (Mark 5:31)

As soon as she touched Jesus’ garment, the woman felt the hemorrhaging dry up. She was healed. When Jesus asked who had touched Him, she knew it was her, and she came in fear and trembling, falling before Him and confessed it was her and why she had done it. Jesus told her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” (Luke 8:48).

The disciples were shocked that Jesus was asking this when there was such a crowd. Hadn’t they been with Jesus long enough to know that He would know? The woman was healed. She was humbled. She confessed. Jesus said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” (Luke 8:48)

What about you? Have you ever been in such a desperate situation where you would do almost anything to positively change that situation? Where did you turn? Who did you go to with all of those burdens? Would you be willing to risk everything to touch the hem of the garment of the One who could help you? Turn to Jesus.

(As we explore how to Tell Your Story, each contributor will share a part of their God story with us. Cindy Snyder’s story is here.)

 

We’ve been talking about how our stories affect others, so in addition to the questions above, think about:

How does this woman’s story affect you?
Why did God choose to include her story in His word?

 

First post in series: Tell Your Story
Previous post in series: Get Up. Take Your Mat. Go Home.
Next post in series: Go Home. Tell Your Story.

 

Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible® (NASB),
Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. www.lockman.org