The Garden of My Heart

The Garden of My Heart

gardenbloomMy flower gardens bring my husband and I great joy. They were planted strategically and have spread over time. Easy care perennials bring color at various times of the spring through late summer and annuals show a more consistent pop of color. A bonus to the flowers are the birds and butterflies that have come to our back yard. It is amazing to watch the little hummingbirds flit about, giant butterflies visit and we watch the brilliant goldfinches in our birch tree. Several neighbors have been beneficiaries of bouquets of flowers for their tables.

Taking care of a garden and keeping it healthy takes a little TLC and a watchful eye. My neighbor has a huge vegetable garden that has tripled in size this year. We watched as he built new raised plots, carefully planted, staked and screened in the new beds. He has invested a great amount of time and energy in protecting, watering and weeding .  If it’s so much work why do Gardeners garden?  The answer is, FOR THE HARVEST!

Living the Christian life is like a garden. We need to invest time and energy to nurture our souls and be careful of the things we allow into our hearts and homes.  Social media lacybybugscan steal that precious time and allow a lot of anxiety, negativity and even anger to creep in and eat away. I was not watchful while some insects quietly munched away on my hibiscus bush leaving the leaves looking like lace. Weeds are subtle because they grow slowly and often look like the plant they are next to. To be our best selves we need allow God to work in our hearts, carefully dead heading the things that don’t belong. If we are not careful to read “The Master Gardeners manual” we cannot tell the difference when Satan’s lies blend with the truth.

I think God loves gardens. He placed Adam and Eve in a garden with many kinds of foliage and fruit- not at a seashore resort. Jesus told the parable of “The Sower and the Seed” (Luke 8) to warn against the condition of our hearts and other scriptures are filled with life giving encouragement to help us grow strong.

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Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers.2 But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night.3 They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.              Psalms 1:1-3 (NLT)

Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing,29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?       Matt 6:26-30 

What is the Kingdom of God? 31 It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds,32 but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.        Mark 4: 30,31

Despite the circumstances we are now facing, we all  have a job to do. We can be water bearers to those who are dry and weary. We can give shade and assurance to those who are confused and angry. Let us share the flowers and fruit of compassion and kindness and be a beautiful bouquet drawing others to Him.

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All Lives Matter

All Lives Matter

I grew up in a family that accepted people of different color as all part of the same human race. We were taught to care for those less fortunate than ourselves and that all life held great value. God created the heavens and earth and filled them with diverse and wonderful creatures.  But mankind was specially created in His own image, male and female. God breathed life into them and they became living souls.  (Gen. 2)  God also gave us free will and the ability to love and be loved. Animals were given to us for food but it has never been acceptable to kill another human being.

Protesters in our streets are carrying signs that say, “Black Lives Matter” and I agree they do!  But Asian, White and Native American lives matter too. Unfortunately in our society and around the world there are many castes, hierarchies and prejudices that pigeon hole a person into what they can do or become.  We in our own wisdom decide if life is valuable or not in quality and quantity of years.

The very definition of infanticide is the crime of killing a child within a year of birth yet we have legislators that feel it’s ok to kill a living infant in a failed abortion attempt or “partially” birthed. How cold, cruel and unfeeling we have become to life!  Eighteen percent of pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) in 2017 ended in abortion – that’s approximately 862,320 in the USA.  Didn’t their lives matter?  Or do we think somehow they don’t matter because they were an accident, a mistake, unplanned and unwanted.

A well beloved surgeon I worked with learned that I had a son with disabilities. He said, “Well, you’re a better person than I am. My wife and I decided that if we knew anything would be wrong with our baby, we would abort.”  I smiled and said, “It’s hard sometimes but so worth it. We have gone places we never would have dreamed of and have met the most amazing people.”  Our son’s life matters and so do the lives of his cognitive and physically disabled coworkers and friends.

Everyone enjoyed the story of P.T. Barnum glamorized in the musical “The Greatest Showman” because “ it fosters hope in dreamers and a sense of inclusion in outcasts, projecting a message that is desperately needed in today’s society. Barnum saw possibilities and beauty in the misfits and outcasts of society and gave them a sense of family.”*** The movie crosses barriers of all kinds and the powerful lyrics to “This is Me” topped the charts. Why?  I believe we want a world of inclusion and peace deep down in our hearts. We want to belong and feel like our life matters.                                                  **quote from Jen Piekarz review

God Himself declares all life to be sacred and planned for a purpose.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 15  My  frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.            Psalms 139:13-16 (ESV)

The gospel is the most inclusive doctrine in the world and has an open invitation for all. While Jesus was on earth he lived the greatest example of sacrificial love, compassion and inclusion.  He healed untouchables (ex. lepers), ate with “sinners” of all kinds and hung out with a mixed group that included uneducated fishermen as well as a tax collector. He was not afraid or too proud to speak with half breed Samaritans or Roman Centurions.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life     John 3:16 (ESV)

 Jesus came for ALL. If we could love each other like Jesus there would be no more hatred, inequality or dismissing people as less than. Bullying would cease and understanding would increase.  If only we could grasp the truth that ALL LIVES MATTER.

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A simple song I learned as a child says it all.

Jesus loves the little children

All the children of the world

Red and yellow, black and white

They are precious in His sight

Jesus loves the children of the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discrimination vs. Inclusion

Discrimination vs. Inclusion

Our media has recently been flooded with anger and protests against racism and inequality and we as a nation should be outraged by what happened to George Floyd. But as a mother of an adult son with cognitive and physical challenges I mused that there is always one group that is still left out of the conversation. Even the unborn have a voice protesting for their right to live a full life.

People with physical and cognitive disabilities are still the most marginalized group in the world.  The definition of marginalize is to treat a person or group as unimportant, insignificant or of lower status within a society. When we assume someone will act a certain way based on stereotypes about their identity – aspects such as race, gender, sexuality, disability. Discrimination against disabled people is both subtle and overt and often widely accepted and integrated into our society.

Raising one son with mild cerebral palsy and a daughter with dyslexia we have learned much about acceptance, advocating, educating, perseverance and inclusion.   My daughters’ playmate asked me, “What’s wrong with his feet?” pointing to my son wearing the heavy leather and steel braces when he was little. Not an insult – just a question. I explained that he needed special shoes to help him walk and that was enough. When my daughter was five, she came in from playing with two neighbor boys and asked, “Mom, Danny is black and we are white. Right?” “Yes”, I answered as she ran back to play.  Children see differences but learn prejudice or to marginalize and exclude.

I would highly recommend watching the movie “Wonder” the story of a 10 year old boy born with facial deformities. He was home-schooled due to his many surgeries but his parents feel it is time for him to join regular school and all that entails. The book is not written about an actual person but from a true experience of the author. When her children were small they saw a girl with a facial deformity at an ice cream store. One of her sons began to cry so she just turned and left in a hurry. The author was so mad at herself for reacting that way she wrote the book for 8-12 year olds to learn about prejudice, bullying, acceptance and friendship.

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There are stories of marginalization in the Bible too as there were many reasons to be considered an outcast from society and often disability was thought to be a punishment. Sometimes this attitude remains in present day society.

Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?” 3 Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do.    John 9:1-3 (MSG)  –  The New Living Translation states, “so the power of God can be seen through him.”

While raising all three of our children we have “looked to see what God would do” and we have been blessed and amazed.  We learned that some people just need to learn differently and need different tools to aid them – our daughter actually has the highest IQ in our family and earned a Masters degree in Special education. We have learned to see people and encourage abilities through sports thanks to involvement with Special Olympics. Our son sings bass and is included in our church choir on his own merit.  I believe that because we have always looked to see what God can do – he was given the opportunity to sing the National Anthem at Fenway Park on Special Olympics night a few years ago. Yes, I am bragging but also praising God for something we could never dream of.  I also realize that this is not a reality for the majority of persons living with disabilities. Daily life can be very difficult.

I am not an expert on diversity or inclusion but we can eliminate discrimination by changing our own perspectives first. It starts with you and me. Instead of seeing race, color or disability do we see a person first? The golden rule is to “do unto others as you would have them do to you” and if  variety (diversity) is the spice of life, I can guarantee that inclusion will greatly enrich your life.

 

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Social Distance is an Oxymoron

Social Distance is an Oxymoron

I am sure that I am not the only one who has been clearly confused at how we can be alone together. Being in small crowds as our only choice has left us feeling weirdly normal and in some ways like the walking dead. Another side effect of the quarantine has been overeating as I now look like a jumbo shrimp.

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The word social by definition means; someone or something that enjoys being with others or has to do with people living or gathering in groups.  Distant means separated, far away or not immediately connected.  The very definitions are opposites and don’t belong together but are a new social phenomenom .

As a registered nurse I understand all the rationale for quarantine and precautions and I do comply. My heart has a hard time seeing empty churches– they were built for corporate worship. Playgrounds were built for playing in, beaches are for swimming and exploring and parks to picnic in etc…. Isn’t it amazing that a tiny virus – invisible to the naked eye – has temporarily turned the whole world upside down?

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From the beginning of time God created us for community. He states in the book of Genesis that, “it is not good for man to be alone”.  God created us for a relationship with Him and each other. Adam and Eve also tended The Garden – maybe that’s why I love spring.  He also created the Sabbath for rest and in today’s culture – we don’t often take it.

It has been so easy to be distracted and depressed during this time because it is not normal.  The dreary weather did not help our state of mind.  Our usual schedule has been disrupted by restrictions and additions. Now we have the extra time we always wanted but can’t go anywhere! Frustrating!

King Solomon stated that nothing is new under the sun.  He was right! There have been plagues throughout the centuries and various responses to them. Economies have risen and fallen while people groups have been separated and humanity has lived in fear and uncertainty.  But fear is a great energy gobbler and serves no purpose if we do not do something.

We cannot change our circumstances but we can choose to change our response and attitude. We cannot be alone together – it’s an oxymoron – but we can keep in contact due to technology (zoom zoom). But be careful, I know that I am guilty of wasting too much time with electronics. We also need to be very aware of what we read and repost on social media because it is not all true or unbiased!   It is important to choose wisely what input is allowed into our over taxed brains.

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What have you learned?  I learned that most of us have far more than we need (like hoarding toilet paper) and I do not have to be on the go all the time.  I am trying to be grateful and content in all circumstances (it’s hard).  I have enjoyed walking more and playing board games and alternative learning. I enjoy watching the birds return and plants grow. What have you enjoyed during this shut down?

God is in control – He sees us, hears us and knows us by name. Hold tight to His promises and trust in His love and faithfulness for He will guide you through this amazingly awful and bittersweet time.

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Peace and Joy in Difficult Circumstances

Peace and Joy in Difficult Circumstances

Do you ever have times when a particular theme keeps reoccurring? Maybe you just read about a topic and then you see a sign about it or hear a song on the radio that reminds you again. God has been whispering in my ear… “Child, pay attention”.

I just finished a month long study on the book of Philippians. One of the main themes is Joy and another is Peace. Joy is not a fleeting or a superficial and soon forgotten feeling but a deep inner emotion that lasts and is remembered. Russell M Nelson stated, “The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.”

In this pandemic crisis and world of social distancing it is hard to feel joyful. Instead,we are afraid, depressed, sad, overwhelmed and over worked. Our brains are tired from adjusting and trying to live with new restrictions, changing rules and new expectations. Remember, the apostle Paul was writing from prison when he challenged the early Church.

                    Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice        Phil 4:4

We are to make the Lord our focus and not our circumstances. He is the source of our strength in each new day.  Our relationship with Him needs to take higher priority over anything else. It’s easy in times like this to reverse that order but we will only feel more exhausted. When I am “too busy” to read my Bible and pray I end up with a bad attitude and more stress.

Contrary to popular opinion, Christians do not have to have it all together. It’s okay to feel burnt out, confused or frazzled….or whatever emotion you may be feeling. And it is okay to have good days and bad ones. That is the only thing normal right now. Most Moms weren’t planning to run their own one room schoolhouse. Most service people weren’t expecting to be facing a health risk on the job. We were created for community not isolation. Every day we are facing a lot of uncertainty and it is stressful but we can choose our focus and adjust our attitude.

Anxiety is a joy robber. It’s been said that “worry is like sitting in a rocking chair – you think you are moving but it doesn’t get you anywhere.”

 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.      Phil 4:5-7

Remember “the Lord is near” : we need to live with an awareness of God’s presence (read Psalm 139:1-12 and Joshua 1:8,9)  Other translations for “reasonableness” are; be considerate, gentleness, forbearance, work together. God gave us our emotions so it’s okay to talk to Him about how you are feeling. Get it off your chest – He already knows anyway. When we leave our fear and doubt at His feet we exchange those negative feelings for inner peace. He will guard our hearts and minds – our attitudes, emotions and thoughts.

Our problems are real and won’t go away instantly but our hearts can change. Faith is exercised when things cannot be seen. We can have peace and joy in difficult circumstances when we remind ourselves that God is Sovereign and in control. We choose to trust in His faithfulness and promises for each day – one at a time.

 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you       2 Cor 13:11

 

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Second Chances

Second Chances

Have you ever felt as if you missed an important opportunity?  Have you had a falling out with a friend and feel it is now a lost cause? Maybe you said or did something that cannot be taken back. Sometimes by grace we are given a second chance.

Our Pastor just finished a series on the book of Jonah. Jonah liked when things were going well and his way. He rejected the assignment God gave him to preach to the ruthless pagan city of Nineveh. He refused to go, hopped on a ship going the opposite direction and as weJonah know got thrown overboard and swallowed by a great fish. Vomited by the fish – Jonah was given a second chance. He did go and give God’s message of repentance to the city and they responded. What preacher gets angry when people do what he tells them to do? Jonah did!  Sadly, the story ends with God questioning Jonah because he had received great mercy and compassion but his heart for others that were different had not changed.

The disciple Peter had been one of the three closest to Jesus. He witnessed most if not all of Jesus’ miracles and Jesus spent a lot of time at Peter’s house in Capernaum. Best buddies, right?

After following the crowd to the court yard to watch what was happening, Peter ended up denying even knowing Jesus. Why?  Fear can cause us to do terrible things. Peter’s guilt and shame was overwhelming but there was no way to take it back. Later he was with the disciples when Jesus appeared to them and understood there was more to learn. But in the meantime, he and some of the others went back to what they knew best – fishing.

It was in the fishing village of Tabgha that Jesus greeted the disciples with a cooked

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breakfast on the shore.  Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love ME?” and Peter each time replied Yes Lord – you know my heart. The reply to “feed MY sheep” was his mission. God was not finished with Peter and was giving him a second chance.  Peter had been told he would be the “rock” of the Church, one of the founders –and that had not changed because he messed up.

That little beach has an eighth century church built on the rock where it is believed they ate.  It is called “Mensa Christi” – “Our Lords’ Table”.  The Church is known as “The Primacy of Peter”….Peter was forgiven, restored and called to special service for the Lord as Head of the early Church. He obeyed God’s calling with great courage and fervor. We have copies of his letters to the early believers which hold great teaching and truth for us today. Peter used his second chance to change the world by preaching the Good News.

This should be a great encouragement for us. No matter how far we have gone or what we have done, God is full of love and mercy. We can come to Him with humble hearts and ask for forgiveness. No, not everything broken can be fixed. God often gives us something new and better to reach for with our second chance.

From Veggie Tales – Second Chances

You see God’s a God of mercy

God’s a God of love

And right now, He’s gonna lend

A helping hand from up above

Praise the Lord, He’s the God of second chances

You’ll be floored how His love your life enhances

You can be restored from your darkest circumstances

Our God is the God of second chances!

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