The Photo Challenge

Years ago, I was asked by my friend, Robin, to be part of a challenge and post a photo of myself that I thought was beautiful. I literally cringed when I read the request and told her I hate having my photo taken. She said that’s WHY she wanted to include me in the challenge. She was curious as to my response.
 
Robin, I’ve never forgotten. It’s taken me these past years to decide how to respond. I’ve finally got my answer.
 
This is the photo I chose. I know. It misses the point of the challenge. I saw others’ photos and they were truly beautiful. I understand I was supposed to find a photo that I felt was flattering or that I simply feel represents me well. I may have missed the first goal, but the second hopefully one nails it.
 
* This photo is of my wrist. A wrist with a bone chip floating around in it from a fall 6 years ago that has had flare ups since the accident. It represents that I am broken.
 
* The sun damage represents I am scarred. My life hasn’t been easy, but it has never been forsaken by God and for that, the intangible scars I have are being used for His glory and my good.
 
* The bead bracelet is the one we made and wore in Guyana last year and I’ve never ever taken it off since. We wore them to communities, churches and prisons to share the Gospel story of Christ told in colors as we tied them on wrists to all we met. Black = our sin, life without Christ. Red = His blood shed for the atonement of my sins. White = my new life in Christ by accepting Him as my Savior. Yellow = the promise of heaven for all who have accepted Christ and Green = our growing relationship with Christ every day.
 
* My $10 watch because #1 – I don’t store up treasures on earth that we can’t take with us and #2 – time is short. This life is not my own. I surrendered it to Christ and it is for God’s glory however He wants to use it. Time is short and I don’t waste it.
 
* More than anything, I don’t need my face (or my body, oh please!) to be remembered. I want His features, the fruit of the Spirit, to be remembered in me.
 
I didn’t post a photo of “me” because beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and beauty is also fleeting. As I age (which I will fight to the death) I want to become more beautiful in ways that time, age and experience cannot damage or destroy. I want to be a woman that, no matter what I look like, will be remembered for being beautiful because the light of Christ shone through me. And every time I blow it (embarrassingly often :O), let it be a beacon of hope to others that His grace and forgiveness is bigger and can cover any sin.
There ya go. A photo of broken & beautiful. Of scared and sacred. Of hope for today and for a time still to come and a passion to share this hope with others. ❤
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The blessing of waiting

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This moment caught my eye today. It represents eight months of waiting.

Bruce’s layoff was part of a company downsizing in May. Since then, he’s been working so hard building NEED POINT, Inc. while looking for work. He’s also been resting.

Resting.

After 34 years of working tirelessly. Working three jobs as a teenager. Joining the Air Force at 18 so he could pay for his college education while serving his country. Working day shift, mid-shift and night shift until he couldn’t see straight.

For 25 years he’s never taken his role as leader and husband carelessly. It’s always been his first priority.

We’ve seen companies come and go. We’ve experienced promotions, layoffs and a relocation.

He’s traveled to work by car, bike, plane, bus, carpool, trolley, taxi and on foot. He’s gone to work healthy and sick. He’s worked when there were celebrations and when there was sadness.

He received calls when I went into labor and when his dad passed away while he was at work.

He’s always put family first, which meant passing up promotions, travel opportunities and jobs themselves if it would be a determent to our family.

He is brilliantly genius. The best in his field. Technology courses his veins and there is no one better.

So these eight months have been a blessing and a burden. He has felt discouraged, down-trodden and depressed. A man of his talent and energy, and humility, can start believing the lies about who he is after this long.

Recently, when we turned the page of a new year, I had a moment. It was a gut-wrenching moment of realizing we were dragging the dreaded unemployment into a new year. The weight was crushing.

But then, something happened. God flipped a switch in my heart. I watched Bruce as he slept and prayed, “Lord, if you are not going to change his circumstance, change his perspective on it. Change my perspective on it.”

From that day forward, everything changed. We have found peace in the waiting. We know that God is working around the clock to bring everything together in His way, His time, for His glory.

We know for certain there is purpose in the waiting.

As my husband hammers out countless resumes, holds numerous phone and video interviews, and reaches out to every contact we know – all while still working on our non-profit – there is a new perspective which gives us the strength, peace and joy to meet each day while we wait.

We are living Isaiah 40:28-31 –
“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”

So when I saw Bruce resting on the couch as our city is shut down with winter weather, I smiled as I looked at living, breathing Scripture. God is giving him a much needed, long overdue, season of rest both as a respite from decades without a break and to rejuvenate him for the days to come.

I thank God for this gift, as the hope for our future blooms a new bud in my heart. It is well with my soul. ❤

 

 

 

The path of a new year

New Year’s day seemed like the perfect time to take a hike. You know, fitness resolutions, take-more-time-to-experience life resolutions, all that jazz.

My husband and I went to a familiar park, but we decided to take a trail we’ve never blazed. This was an impromptu date, but we weren’t alone.

Just a short ways in, step-by-step, God began speaking encouragement over this new year. Receive it, friend.

Sometimes the path is uncomplicated and clearly marked.

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Sometimes it’s not.

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If I brought you to it, I’ll get you through it, under it or over it.

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I never promised the path would be easy. Keep walking even if you get dirty, really dirty.

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When the journey is effortless, remember me. It is my gift to you.

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Ask me when you don’t know which way to go. I will tell you.

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It’s possible I will bless either decision. I can do that. Include me.

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When you don’t know what’s around the corner, trust me and keep walking. I am with you.

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When life goes sideways, I’m still right here, walking with you. I haven’t left you.

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If the path seems exhaustively uphill, ask for my strength. I will give it to you. Just keep climbing.

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Sometimes I have a different plan than yours. Trust me. I know the best path for you.

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I am with you. Sojourners are also on the path. You are not alone.

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Leave your mark on the path…for my glory.

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I put people in your path for a reason. Some go before you to help blaze the trail…

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…others come behind you to follow it.

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Don’t be too proud to accept help. 

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You don’t always have to forge your own way.

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Follow my narrow path regardless of how narrow it gets.

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Sometimes you have to take a running leap of faith to stay on the path.

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When you’re between a rock and a hard place, my path will lead you through it.

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Look for my beauty along the path. It’s there to encourage you.

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In every season, follow me.

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Follow my path, but be smart about it. You don’t have to be the hero. I already am.

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A friend to walk with is a blessing from me.

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My children are rooted in me.

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The wind cannot blow over they who are grounded in me.

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 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

 

 

Staring Down the Giant

 

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…”Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight for you…” Deuteronomy 1:29-30

Every morning, the same feeling of dread washes over me. I have to pass a house that has a terrifying German Shepherd stalking its backyard. I am a huge animal lover, but we’re talking about a giant, beastly creature with long white teeth and incessant barking that reverberates in my chest. He lives behind a 6-foot privacy fence, but that doesn’t stop him from intimidating all who walk by.

Every time I pass his property, he jumps up and down barking with his head, full of snarling teeth, bobbing, running back and forth along the fence. I feel one day he may jump just high enough to clear the fence and come after me.

Each time I approach the house, I feel my blood pressure rise. Even if I’m talking on the phone or jamming to my favorite tunes, in the back of my mind I am hoping this isn’t the day he jumps the fence; hoping the fence gate is shut – and locked. Hoping this won’t be the day…as I read the “Beware of dog” sign posted nearby.

Recently, I turned the street corner with my dog and was distracted by something that had caught my eye. I looked forward and staring back at me was this beast – standing in the middle of the road, staring me down. With four legs braced, neck stretched forward and head bent low, his eyes locked onto mine.

I froze in my step and lost my breath.

There was nowhere to go. I know better than to run the other way. I’m not into playing chase, me being the fetching toy. I was stuck in the middle of this lonely road, just my dog, this beast, and me.

I had to walk past it. I puffed up my posture and squared my jaw. Holding my head high, with palms sweating, I prayed – hard. As my dog and I got closer it didn’t budge, not an inch. Visions flashed in my mind of this beast attacking my dog who is no match for him; visions of me getting tangled up in her leash and being caught in the middle of the two dogs; visions of it coming straight for me, and this dog stands as tall as me (easy) on his hind legs. I felt faint.

Walking slowly toward it, I prayed more and more and more.

Just as I approached it, the dog’s owner appeared from his garage. Nervous relief swept over me, and I felt a cold chill run down my spine as I passed by this beast. He called the dog inside and it reluctantly followed, but it never took its eyes off of me. I don’t think I drew a breath until I hit the next block.

Life is like this sometimes. We’re just doing our daily thing and wham! out of nowhere stands our Goliath. Like my fear of the beast getting loose, our worst nightmare comes true before our very eyes. A bad medical report, the pink slip of unemployment, a spouse packs up and leaves, a prodigal child disappears, death of family and friends, physical and psychological threats to us, our family, our country and there we are standing alone, staring at Goliath. It’s real. You can see it, hear it, and feel its presence.

Running the other way doesn’t make Goliath any less real. We must approach it.

What changed for me in that moment was the beast’s owner making himself visible. Instantly, he was the one in control of the situation because he controls the beast.

As a believer, we are not left to fend for ourselves in this big, scary world. We have God who fights for us, Jesus who intercedes for us, and the Holy Spirit who encourages and comforts us. We are never alone.

Bad things happen to everyone, but nothing happens without it passing through the Father’s hands first whether we understand it in this lifetime or eternity. If we live, may we live for the sake of Christ’s salvation. If we suffer, may it not be in vain, but be a testimony to others that God alone is enough and Jesus is worth it. After all, He believes we are worth the suffering He endured. If we die, may it not be for nothing, but somehow God will get the glory through it so others would come to know Him as their one true God.

Believers don’t get a pass on the bad stuff. We endure illness, unemployment, broken hearts, loss, and betrayal. We suffer, get angry, wrestle with forgiveness, feel lost, get frustrated, and question the future. But, God is right there, every step, talking us down from our ledges. He is our sanity in this insane world. Christ is hope. Courage. Joy. The Holy Spirit is right there to remind us of times that God was faithful to us, even when we were unfaithful to Him.

What’s your Goliath today? If you’re staring it down by yourself, ask God to come to you through the saving grace of Christ. Let Him go before you. Whether or not He calls off the dogs, you will not be alone.

No matter how big our Goliaths are, God is bigger. He is stronger and His strength in us is enough to stare down our giants.

God is always fighting for us. Sometimes He battles our giants for us. Other times He calls us onto the battlefield with Him where we overcome – not only our giants – but our own fears and weaknesses as well. And that, friend, is a double victory.

With God, we can look past the Goliath standing in front of us and focus on our hope in Christ.

<<CLICK HERE for this blog’s Tunes page for a great song to see hope, not Goliath, in life’s scariest moments.>>

 

* photo credit

 

 

 

Say something, God

Say something, I’m giving up on you.

The first words of this song pierce my heart. This extended rendition, a remix by WorshipMob of the original song by Ian Axel (A great Big World), is a beautiful exchange between God and person.

I cannot give up on God because we cannot be separated, but lately I find myself praying, crying, pleading with Him to, SAY SOMETHING!!

Like a frightened child, I need reassurance that He’s right here with me. I need to feel the touch of His hand, the warmth of His presence. I need Him to sit with me in the silence. Speak to me when I lose my words. Cry with me. Bear this pain with me. Remind me He will never leave me. Remind me that He understands, He’s been there.

I need Him to hold me.

This is a season of life when I sit empty and tired. Despair whispers into my ear that hope lost and fear has won.

What I thought I understood about this world we live in has been turned upside down. The table I sit at, my life, has been flipped over and things that used to sit neatly stacked on my table lie scattered all over the floor. I don’t know how to begin to pick them up, and if I did, where I would put them. I sit silently and stare at it all. It’s all I have the energy to do and dare not assume I know anything about any of it.

So I sit in silence. No long prayers. No long speeches. No ideas or answers. No fight left in me. I sit and wait for the Father to come to me.

Like a child who has tried her hardest to color a beautiful picture, only to stop and look at it with all its mistakes, she drops her crayons and looks away from the picture. Folding her arms, she bows her head and cries in frustration.

God, come.

This music video brings to the surface a conversation hidden deep in my heart. So thankful for those who had the creative insight to produce the real, raw exchange between God and us.

Click here for the music video. May it reach you today.

photo credit

DYM’s blog posted the lyrics:

“Say Something”

(Original Lyrics/Cry To God)

Say something, I’m giving up on you

I’ll be the one, if you want me to
Anywhere I would’ve followed you
Say something, I’m giving up on youAnd I am feeling so small
It was over my head
I know nothing at allAnd I will stumble and fall
I’m still learning to love
Just starting to crawlSay something, I’m giving up on you
I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you
Anywhere I would’ve followed you
Say something, I’m giving up on youAnd I will swallow my pride
You’re the one that I love
And I’m saying goodbyeSay something, I’m giving up on you
And I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you
And anywhere I would’ve followed you (Oh-oh-oh-oh)
Say something, I’m giving up on youSay something, I’m giving up on you
Say something…
(Worship Mob’s addition/God’s Response)
I have been watching you child,
Still learning to love, starting to crawl.
And I am waiting here now,
will you open your heart, I’ve been here all along.
You say Im not giving up on you,
You say Im still running after you.
Everywhere I have been there with you.
Child I will never give up on you.
You say Im not giving up on you,
You say Im still running after you.
Everywhere I have been there with you.
Child I will never give up on you.
Child I have given my given my heart to you.
Child I will never give up on you.

The prayer I’m tempted to take back

 

Copyrighted photos for Real Deep Stuff - Page 207

While preparing to travel abroad for mission work this summer, one day I felt particularly daring and prayed a prayer I will never forget…

Lord, I don’t want to be comfortable or safe, I just want to be equipped.

Since then, I have eaten those words a hundred times.

Oh I was sincere alright. So sincere that God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, heard me and accepted the challenge. I had no idea what I had done.

You see, this prayer didn’t stop with mission work. He has carried it over into every facet of my life! While millions of Christians around the globe spend their quiet time in the mornings reading Scripture, meditating on his Word, writing prayer lists, reading thought-provoking devotions, writing thought-provoking devotions, sitting in reverent silence, worshiping in song, snuggled up in their comfy chair or nestled on the subway or somewhere in between, my quiet time was anything but quiet.

My mind was about to explode. With my heart beating out of my chest in stress and distress, I could no more sit quietly than I could have sang a worship song. So much angst swelled up in me that the taste of bitter adrenaline filled my mouth as sweat poured down the back of my neck. I had a morning chat with God and it went something like this (all caps intended) –

WHERE ARE YOU?!?!?!?!? EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. THIS HAPPENS YOU DISAPPEAR! WHY AM I LEFT TO DEFEND, AND FEND FOR, MYSELF? 

AREN’T YOU SUPPOSED TO BE MY GOOD FATHER? I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THAT LOOKS LIKE! BOTH OF MY FATHERS QUIT AND WALKED OUT ON ME DECADES AGO! I THOUGHT YOU HAD MY BACK!

WHERE ARE YOU? WHY DON’T YOU MOVE. ACT. SAY SOMETHING WHEN THIS HAPPENS!!! WHY AM I LEFT ALONE IN THIS!

(With shoulders tight and nostrils flared…)

I CAN’T TAKE THIS ANYMORE! EVERY TIME THIS HAPPENS, YOU JUST STAND BY SILENTLY! I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE! WHERE ARE YOU!

That was my prayer time. I was fuming mad at God and was screaming so loud in my head I can’t believe people nearby couldn’t hear me. My jaw was clenched shut and gave me a headache. I ended my prayer time madder than when it began.

Later, all that stress and anxiety and anger welled up again when the situation returned. This time, I didn’t have the fight in me.

Through hot, salty tears I prayed with head hung low in despair – with a broken, bruised and bleeding heart –

Why God? Why are you letting this happen over and over? I’m not strong enough to handle this.

His response, You wanted to be equipped, not comfortable or safe. 

Well yeah, but come on!

Didn’t you want to be equipped? Isn’t this what you prayed for?

Yeah, but why do I have to do it alone?

You’re not alone. 

I don’t have the strength. 

Yes you do. Philippians 4:13. It’s Christ’s strength in you.

But where are you in those dreadful moments? I don’t hear you. See you. Nothing. I call to you, but I get silence.

I’m not silent. I’m just not working in the ways you want me to. You asked to be equipped. What you want is for me to fix the problem when frankly it may be you who I am concentrating my work on in the moment..to equip and all.

Then God reminded me of how far we’ve come together. Things that used to break me don’t anymore. What used to send me to tears doesn’t anymore.

My emotional stamina, if you will, has been greatly strengthened one giant-slaying victory at a time.

This time it was about spiritual stamina.

When the enemy is foaming at the mouth, spewing lies and taunting me. When he plays dirty and takes no prisoners. When he knows exactly which buttons to push and which weaknesses to press his heel into and knows precisely which tangible mediums to work through, how do I respond?

Do I fold into a lump on the floor and give up? Do I give in? Do I run away?

This time. This day was different. Where before I responded in those ways, this time I closed my eyes and recalled Scripture. All that came out was something like, God is good all the time. He knows. He sees. He saves. He is Truth and is who I am going to listen to.

I may not have fought back with tangible means, but I picked up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and fought back with all my his might.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

The battle was gruesome. Raw. Emotionally bloody. The enemy took aim at me and released the hounds of fear, incompetence, failure and discouragement. I am here to say he was defeated.

Exhausted, I tend my wounds and ask God to heal those that need the touch of the Master Surgeon. But I am in tact. Stronger. And I am finally starting to get it.

God heard my original prayer forsaking comfort and safety in his name, if only I would be equipped for his work. I have learned this prayer is not for the faint of heart, of which I have been countless times.

He is answering me through tough training. Brutal battles. Yet he is also giving me eyes to see exactly where he was in those moments. He makes sure to point out his hand in the fight, just to reassure me that I am not alone.

I can’t deny his works. He is right. He is there in every moment. Every. Single. Moment.

I am learning what I thought I already knew – God will not only get the victory, but he wants me to share in it so I am strengthened by him and through him and because of him.

With that strength he is equipping, yet it is anything but comfortable or safe.

Unexpected blooms

I do not have a green thumb whatsoever, but wish I did.

Every spring, my husband and children give me a potted Easter lily. In the beginning, I enjoyed them until they died from a lack of water (my bad) in the foil-lined plastic pot with a large ribbon tied around it. One year, thinking I had nothing to lose, I planted the lily. Five years later, I continue to plant my special gifts with fingers crossed.

Nearby, I wanted to spruce up a small corner of our yard so I planted Calalilies. Truly, if anything is going to live on our property it must be pretty much self-sufficient, drought-proof and frost-proof.

About this time every year, I am AMAZED when these little beauties pop up and show off their gorgeous colors and form.

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As I stood and stared at them today, I had a thought.

Is this what it’s like, God? Is this what happens when we put just a little work into our hearts? It’s like You take our effort and multiple it beyond measure! When I forgive someone. Ask for forgiveness. Help someone. Seek You. Decide one more time not to quit the race. Love the unlovely. Bite my tongue. Give it all over to You. Ask for wisdom. Worship You.

Salvation is not earned by works. God doesn’t love me more or less depending on my actions and words. His grace is steady. Faithful. Unwavering.

But, like with the prodigal son who decided to return home, and his father saw him far off and ran to him and prepared a banquet (Luke 15:11-31). The widow’s son collected jars for the oil that kept flowing and flowing (2 Kings 4:1-7). Moses took the first step out of Egypt (Exodus 12:31-42). Abraham packed up and moved to a place he’d never been (Genesis 12:1-9). Mary believed the angel who told her the good news of great joy about the baby inside her virgin womb (Luke 1:26-38). Peter followed Jesus even after Peter admitted his own inadequacy (Luke 5:1-11).

Just like the plants I planted in the ground, so God sees His children trying to follow Him. Our hearts, like my garden, are rich to receive Him. After all, they were made to be His temple.

A little effort in an area on our part and God runs with it to produce something beyond our wildest dreams. Our effort is our obedience.

Looking at these flowers every year, I am encouraged and challenged to keep pursuing God. To continue letting Him perform heart surgery on me, if you will, in the areas that have grown dry and hard. When I let Him til the soil, pull the weeds and cut back the overgrowth of sin, He has space to grow something beautiful that I could never imagine.

I write this today with a garden in bloom in my heart. Is my life perfect? Absolutely not. However, buds and blooms burst forth in shapes and fragrances I never knew it could by way of healed forgiveness, unexplained peace, raptured joy, and rest knowing God truly is love and is sovereign.

Some of these blooms have taken years to take root. They’ve taken A LOT of surrendering while God tilled and tilled and tilled the weeds and rocks out of my heart. It’s taken me holding my breath while He pours from heaven the grace and mercy I’ve needed for certain buds drink in to thrive.

I’ve learned, and continue to learn, that God really is trustworthy (2 Samuel 7:28). He really does work all things good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). He really is looking over the world to see who He can encourage (2 Chronicles 16:9). He truly doesn’t forget us or our pain (Psalm 34:18). He is faithful when I’m not (Psalm 89:7-8). Loving when I can’t (Romans 5:8). Strong when I am weak (Psalm 18:2). He is good all the time – even in the midst of baddest bad (Psalm 86:15; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Just like the blooms that take me by surprise each year, so does the gardening that God continues to do in my heart. Although I’ve left the lilies to fend for themselves, God has never – will never – leave me or you (Deuteronomy 31:6).

So what’s the point of all this gardening He does in our hearts?

We will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor (Isaiah 61:3) in colors and fragrances and forms we have yet to imagine. When people look at our lives they will see the hand of the loving Gardener who makes us beautiful.