Stressed out

"…And I pray that Mommy and Daddy wouldn't get so stressed out…" Shaking my head and looking at the engineer, I roll my eyes at this repetitive plea to God from a Christ-following golden head. I want to scream, Why are you choosing to be the reason for the stress? 
Sitting alone with God and my coffee, He speaks to me. Why do you see yourself  any better than they?  

But He was wounded for our transgressions;
He was crushed for our iniquities;
Upon Him was the chastisement that brings us peace,
and with His stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53:5
Just a sliver of Jesus' torture, for our benefit, is revealed to me through parenting. In parenting, I often feel rejected, despised, sorrow, grief and disrespected (v. 2). Yet because I love these golden heads, I carry these sorrows (v. 3) while they only see me "stressed out" and afflicted (v. 4). Upon the mother and father is the charge to teach them to be at peace with God (v. 5); to introduce them to God and disciple them. Jesus' sorrow, grief and beatings were extreme; mine are light in lieu of His, but my sin took Him there. Not just theirs. I am no less a sinner than they (v. 6). Yet, Jesus never opened His mouth to complain, yell or correct (v. 7). I open my mouth plenty. Too much. This is not helpful or beneficial to yell and complain. And so I find myself in confession: admitting sin, repenting and thanking Him for forgiveness.
For this sin and all sin, He was put through torturous grief and death (v. 10). Jesus offering His life as a perfect sacrifice for all sin gives me life and prolongs my days (v. 10). This was God's will because He is just (must administer punishment for all sin). Jesus' death sacrifice was our payment for our sin, satisfied God's requirement for justice and made a way for all to be great and righteous before Him (vv. 11-12). 
My sorrow and grief in training them, in teaching them how to be at peace with God is all so that they too might be righteous before God (v. 11). 
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 2 Corinthians 4:9-10
I am "stressed out" so the life of Christ might live in my golden heads.
What area in your life is stressing you? Does this give you a vague glimpse of Jesus at the cross? Do you realize that YOUR sin took Him there? Thank Him for His willingness to give His life and choose to live your life in service so others might find peace with God.

Master Gardener

Early in the spring, I purchased some violas; cold-tolerant, hardy and sometimes they return next year as perennials (a bonus for the frugal woman in me). I couldn't possibly go wrong. Except that it was so cool, I neglected to water them. Half of them are dead now and I admit, I am no Master Gardener.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23
I love this verse. It's always been a model of excellence I've wanted to strive toward. Many times I have pondered what attribute I need to increase or cultivate. What a friend has helped me to understand for the first time is that it is the Spirit doing the work, not me. The Holy Spirit is the Master Gardener. (And thankfully, He won't forget to water!) The Holy Spirit is God within me influencing and satisfying my life.
Another thing I've never gave thought: fruit is the metaphor for these sweet, desirable attributes. In Minnesota, we can't grow many fruit trees, but IMO our honey crisp apples are the best. A newly planted apple tree takes 2-5 years before you have any fruit to harvest. All the time and energy invested into that first yield is no small sum. There's pruning in the winter months, keeping it free of pests (bugs, worms, deer, ect), fertilization in spring and fall, extra watering during drought... A hailstorm would make the year a bust. A late spring frost could destroy the blossoms and yield no harvest in the fall. A strong wind storm could tear all the apples off the tree, thrashing them to the ground. An early fall frost might bite them before the gardener has opportunity to harvest or before they are fully ripened.  Left on it's own, I'm not sure there would be an apple harvest. Thank goodness for the gardener. And a final note about apple trees. They typically are fruit bearing every other year. Every fruit plant needs a time of rest or dormancy.
The attributes depicted in Galatians will have seasons and we need protection as well as provision. But we can't just try harder to make love, joy peace...describe our lives. It has nothing to do with us, but the Master Gardener. We must allow the Spirit to prune, protect and provide. Verse sixteen describes it as walking by the Spirit.
This is a continual and conscious decision: to give the Master Gardener control. Left on my own, I will attempt satisfaction by my own selfish desires.
For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. Galatians 5:17
I want to have self-control in my eating habits. But Satan knows me and he can use sugar to lure me into a binge. In a binge, I am not allowing the Holy Spirit to be my Master Gardener. But I have a choice in the matter. Naturally, I won't have self-control and will keep binge eating. If I don't consciously relinquish control to the Master Gardener, in essence I'm choosing sin to influence me.
The golden heads tucked in tight and prayed over, I walked into the kitchen. This is usually my biggest temptation to binge eat: celebrating another day of mothering accomplished. Empowered by this new revelation of choice, I said to myself, I am controlled and led by the Holy Spirit and walked out of the kitchen for the rest of the evening. Unfortunately, it will take many repeated choosing the Master Gardener experiences to replace my ingrained old habits but He who is in me is greater than the sin living in me (1 John 4:4). And The Master Gardener is faithful, He will surely do it (1Thessalonians 5:24).
Have you been trying hard to let your life be marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Spend some time thinking about the only One who can really do this work in your life. Then choose to repent. Turn away from your own way of trying and turn toward God, allowing the Holy Spirit to be the Master Gardener. If you consciously choose Him, He won't forget to water!

Before the blossom

Why is it at Mother's Day, Christians pull out Proverbs 31? The woman described seems like the ideal model. She's amazing: a blessing to her husband "all the days of her life," works hard and willingly, provides for family, friends and the poor, creates a home and clothing to protect her family and therefore has no worries for her family. She's wise, in shape, in the marketplace, disciples her children, works in ministries, is dignified, fears the Lord, teaches, proactive, prays…. How in the world?
I think what comes first is clearly at the beginning,
"She is far more precious than jewels," (v. 10b). 
She knows who she is. She's not just someone's wife, mom or mentor. She's in Christ. The Proverbs 31 woman knows that she is the jewel of her heavenly Father's eye. She knows, He rejoices over me with gladness; He will quiet me by His love; He will exult over me with loud singing (Zephaniah 3:17). She is in Christ.
Planting season is upon us. Peering through a book from the library, gaining tidbits of knowledge, I noticed a tip for planting annual seedling: "Pinch off any flowers or buds so the plant can focus it's energy on getting it's roots established rather than flowering, then water well." This Proverbs 31 woman, establishes her roots in Christ. She knows she is fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). She knows she is the apple of God's eye (Psalm 17) and that she is His treasured possession (Deuteronomy 7:6), she's forgiven (1 John 1:9), gifted (1 Corinthians 12:7), and blessed (Ephesians 1:3). After she's grounded in Christ, she can focus her energy on the rest of her attributes and blossom.
Establishing her identity in Christ, is only the beginning of her spirituality. If you noticed, in my gardening book, the last phrase was, "then water well." I think the wise Proverbs 31 woman waters in verse 15:
She rises while it is yet night
and provides food for her household
and portions for her maidens.
Rising "while it is yet night" is her daily multi-vitamin. Solomon was not referring simply to physical food. He was also speaking of spiritual food. When the alarm goes off at 5am, I'm not always excited to jump out of bed, but I know that if I don't, I'll regret it. If I wake early, spend time marinating in God's Word, I'm ready to give. Contrary, if I hit snooze for an hour, waking the same time as my family, I am like a dry wilting, stressed plant, and it's ugly. The wise Proverbs 31 woman knows she needs a daily spiritual vitamin. This rich time of fellowship with God in the morning, feeds our spirit throughout the day and gives us energy to blossom.
Read Proverbs 31:10-31. Which attributes of this Proverbs 31 woman convicts you the most? She is overwhelming! Select ONE area that you will focus on this week. Can I suggest you begin with establishing your worth in Christ or nourishing your spirit with Him daily if these are areas of conviction?


He sent from on high, He took me;
He drew me out of many waters.
He rescued me from my strong enemy,
from those who hated me,
for they were too mighty for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a broad place;
He rescued me, because He delighted in me. 2 Samuel 22:17-20
When I ponder the oceans of life, I see troubled times, sorrow, hard times and new daunting tasks. I think of Jesus calling Peter out on the water in Matthew 14:28-33. If Peter kept his focus on Jesus, he literally walked on water. When I keep my eyes on Jesus, He will pull me up, just as I am sinking and I can walk on the figurative waters. This past week, called to a new ministry, I found myself in uncharted waters. But I knew Jesus had called me out on the water.
One week ago, I woke in the middle of the night, and a small voice told me, "Isaiah 6." Trying to fall back to sleep, I willed myself to remember Isaiah 6 in the morning. When I woke, I recalled the voice. Why Isaiah? I have read the book of Isaiah before. I'll be honest; I don't like it. I don't understand it. I get lost in its imagery. As I open God's Word to Isaiah 6, I'm struck that it contains Isaiah's encounter and commission from the Lord.
First, Isaiah's encounter with the Lord is a calling to be transparent before Him, exposing sin. The angel touches Isaiah's lips or mouth to forgive his sin and takes away guilt. Interestingly, Isaiah's ministry (and typically our ministry) relied on his mouth (speaking). Then, Isaiah is sent to prophecy. Isaiah's response is, "Here I am, send me!" How could mine be any different? Immediately, I agree, Here I am, but not me, You through me. Speak through me.
In my task this week to teach God's Word, the enemy lurked his head: doubt, a cloudy mind, disrespectful children, silence on the home front. "But the Lord was my support." I've never received so many encouraging words. He supported me through my circumstances physically and through the words of His children to me.
As I rose to deliver my teaching, or rather His teaching, I realized He had brought me to a broad place. Here I was surrounded by people that wanted me to succeed, win, to do a work to which He called me. And why would He allow this? "..because He delighted in me." This blows my mind!
Who am I that He delights in me? I feel inept most of the time! Interestingly Moses asked the same question (Exodus 3:11) when God sent Him to Pharaoh, and David asks God the same question five times. Over a month ago, I journaled a paraphrase of David's response to God's blessing in 2 Samuel 7:18-22,
Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my name and family worth that you have brought me this far? And yet what you've done in my life is so small compared to all you are capable of. You have promised a legacy for all eternity because I am Christ's child. So what else can I say? I am your humble servant! You are great and have promised great, wonderful things. And in your giving you have revealed to me mysteries. You are great and unique, truly no one compares to You!
As I've watched God work mightily in my life this past week, I know it's all Him. And I am on guard, that pride doesn't sneak in, that I fully depend on Him using me. Not myself. My pastor brother-in-law shared a prayer from a book of Puritan Prayers, Valley of Vision,
Destroy in me every lofty thought, 
Break pride to pieces and scatter it to the winds, 
Annihilate each clinging shred of self-righteousness, 
Implant in me true lowliness of spirit, 
Abase me to self-loathing and self-abhorrence,  
Open in me a found of penitential tears, 
Break me, then bind me up; 
Thus will my heart be a prepared dwelling for my God...
Often we find ourselves in more than just one water. As I struggle through parenting and worshiping idols, I feel the wind in the water. Praise God I can recall victories, the broad places, so I can trust while I'm in the other waters.
What waters is He bringing you through right now? Acknowledge that He alone can come from on high and support you. Expect His deliverance, marveling in the fact that He rescues you because delights in you.