The Holy Spirit Uprooting Racism

This morning I woke up thinking again about racism. I thought about all the hurt and all the sadness.

Then I thought about the Holy Spirit.

I thought about the presence of the Living Christ in a hurting world who brings about a new kingdom. I thought about God’s word and its transforming power to make a darkened mind full of truth and light.

I thought about how the real enemy isn’t racism or people but the evil that empowers it. I thought about Satan. We’ve made our enemy too small.

And immediately, I remembered Ephesians 6 and our weapons of warfare. I thought of 2 Corinthians 10:5 and what it might mean if, by the power of God’s Spirit, we learn to demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

We need new thinking and new living in our nation. I think about two incredible moments in scripture that show us a picture of Jesus fighting racism: when He engages with the Samaritan woman and when the Holy Spirit tells Peter to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. Both groups were excluded and even hated.

Furthermore, one of the reasons why Ephesians is my favorite book of the Bible is because of how it shows us the way to end division, hostility, and separation–both from God and from others. We once were dead and enslaved to evil, but God makes us alive in Christ and seats us together with Him and each other in the heavenly realms. Maybe we’ve made our solution too man-centered. On this day, I ask for the Holy Spirit to pour out and bring the spirit of unity again.

We are all seated together at the same table. We are part of one body. Jesus came to end the evil of separation and division and the pain of racism. He shows us a new way to live–one we cannot produce in our dead spirits. We need the Holy Spirit to do the true work of healing–the deepest and truest work that uproots evil like only Jesus can.

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To Mulch

Today, I mulched. I mean, I really mulched. I mulched for hours. It involved a wheelbarrow, pitchfork, and a big pile of mulch.

Mulch is a fun word to say. Mulch.

As a verb, to mulch simply means to treat or cover an area of the ground with some material (grass clippings, shredded bark, wood chips, sawdust, cardboard) in order to provide some wonderful benefits. In my vegetable garden (the one I weeded for days), I used cardboard and then a layer of triple-shredded brown mulch.

I prayed while I mulched. I talked to God about racism, about all the pain and protests in so many cities, and about how to become part of the solution to end racism. I prayed for my children. I prayed for whatever came to mind.

I worked until I couldn’t anymore. For a writer like myself, manual labor provides a special blessing of a different kind of work. It’s exhausting in a completely different way—physically and not mentally. I felt good to feel so tired.

I could pray because my mind was free to do so.

It occurred to me later that prayer is like mulching the heart. It’s a protective layer, a barrier against cynicism and hopelessness or apathy. It’s a covering. For a gardener, mulch keeps your soil moist and cool. It helps prevent weeds. It keeps pests and diseases away. It builds the soil’s health as it decomposes. And it’s also beautiful.

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The Lady Slipper Orchids Remind Us: We Need You

Today I discover the beautiful and rare Lady Slipper Orchids in the forest.

Back in 2011, I learned what they mean in a post I wrote called “Why You Belong Right Here.” It might be one of my top 5 Live with Flair posts. Enjoy below:

I’m walking with my neighbor in the woods.

All of a sudden, she cries out, “The Lady Slippers have bloomed!” She’s pointing to the earth, and at first, I do not see anything.

Then, I see them.

I don’t even really know what I’m seeing or why it matters.  

My friend tells me something wondrous. Lady Slipper Orchids are extraordinary.

It’s illegal to uproot them. It’s actually against the law to harm these wild orchids. I learn two amazing facts that explain why:

First, the US Forest Service reports that Lady Slippers depend upon a very special fungus in the forest that allows the seed to grow. The fungus cares for the seed–-passing on nutrients-–until it grows older. And when the plant matures, it then sends nutrients back to the fungus through its roots. That symbiosis will be destroyed if we harvest the orchids.

Second, I learn that the intricate system of orchid roots means that if you take even one plant away, you harm the entire network of orchid plants. 

Every single one matters. And the location isn’t an accident.

As I think about the impossibly complex design that allows these orchids to thrive, I consider my own community. Every single person nourishes each other, and we’re here for a reason. There’s nothing accidental about it. The conditions for our growth exist only here.

Doesn’t God tell us that He “searches out the exact places where we live” (Acts 17) and that we are “all part of one body”? (Romans 12)

You are here for a marvelous reason. We need you! And even when these growing conditions seem like, well, fungus, this is what we require to thrive.

Living with flair means really seeing ourselves as a community and knowing why it matters. We are part of each other. 

Finally, it took another person to reveal this beauty to me. I would have never noticed these Lady Slipper Orchids without her. Living with flair means that when our neighbors don’t see it, we show them. 

 

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A New Way

This morning I remembered Galatians 5. When I think of the pain happening all over the world through racism, hatred, division, and how we do not love our neighbors well, I think of how we cannot fix ourselves.

The Holy Spirit can fix what’s wrong.

Paul writes that we are to always “serve one another in love” and think of how the entire law is “summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’.” He warns that we will destroy one another if we do not learn how to live by the Spirit instead of our flesh. We need the Holy Spirit.

Consider the truth of God’s word in Galatians 5:16-26:

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. . . The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;  idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

I note how when we are out of step with God’s Spirit, the effects relate to the loss of harmony with ourselves and others. Hatred, discord, jealousy rage, dissension, envy, factions–these come naturally to us. But with the Holy Spirit in control, we become people of love, peace, kindness, and goodness. We can crucify the flesh and all its hatred, all its selfishness, and all its evil. Jesus saves us all from ourselves.

We need a fundamentally new way of being and living that the Holy Spirit produces in us. It’s what we most need right now. It’s what we need always.

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What You Need

I read in Matthew 6:8 about praying simply. But what strikes me afresh are Jesus’s words that “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” I think about how God knows what we need already, even if we do not know what we need.

Sometimes we don’t know what we need. We think we know, but we don’t. Or we are sure we know, but we’re off the mark. We think we need this or that provision or this or that to happen, but it’s actually not what we need.

I’m learning to ask God to guide me to pray for what I need because He already knows. How wonderful! Imagine coming to God and saying, “I’m not sure what I need! I’m confused and unsure. But You know. Help me to pray for what I truly need.”

I have found that what I truly need has everything to do with more of God’s presence, but sometimes what comes to mind is more of something in particular or less of something else. The Holy Spirit will teach us in prayer what we need and what we don’t need. It’s a marvelous mystery that God searches our hearts and knows us better than we know ourselves. I wish my college self knew this better. What a confusing and turbulent time! I would tell her to simply ask God to lead her into the abundant life He’s designed since she cannot possibly know what she truly needs.

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Wading

Today, the temperature reached 88 degrees (so hot for Pennsylvania this time of year!). I walked by Spring Creek and then, of course, decided to walk in Spring Creek.

Sometimes, you must get into the creek just as you did when you were younger. The water was refreshing and cold as it raced around my feet. A spotted river trout had just darted away.

I suppose nobody can truly measure the unseen effect of nature on the body and soul. I think that while the water rushed around my feet it did much, much more.

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No Parade. No Pies. But We Were Free.

For the first time, we didn’t travel down to the Boalsburg Memorial Day. We didn’t eat hot dogs from the Boy Scouts, listen to the band, or watch the dancers in square. We didn’t eat winning pies from the annual pie contest. We didn’t wander the streets and greet all our friends and neighbors.

But we were free. I was free to read my Bible. I was free to cultivate the land around the home we own. I was free to walk outside. I was free to listen and watch what I wanted to, if I wanted to. I don’t take this for granted.

My daughter made an apple pie from a recipe she learned how to make from her 6th grade teacher all those years ago. Sarah was free to learn and go to school. My husband grilled the hot dogs and worked in the garden as a nice break from the work of building our online summer mission for graduate students. He is free to talk about Jesus without persecution. I don’t take any of it for granted. I put the flag out. I cut watermelon. I cleaned the corn. Every year, it’s a simple life, and this one seems even more pared down. And it never felt more free.

I am so thankful that others lost their lives so I can live like this.

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Settle Down. Plant.

Because I’m spending so much time gardening, I’m tending to notice all of the gardening imagery in the Bible. It all began with Jeremiah–a book I read last week as part of my chronological reading plan (which I highly recommend!). I was beginning to make all sorts of comparisons to our current reality as a form of living in exile. Jeremiah writes a letter to encourage the Israelites during their exile to Babylon.

In chapter 29, Jeremiah offers simple instructions to those living far from their ideal situation. He says this: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.”

Settle down. Plant gardens.

And I did. These past ten weeks, I settled down and planted a garden. Then, as I finished Zechariah this morning, I noted this beautiful promise of God about His people. He says, “The seed will grow well, the vine will yield its fruit, the ground will produce its crops, and the heavens will drop their dew. . Do not be afraid, but let your hands be strong” (8:12-13). I think about how the blessing of God had so much to do with planting and harvesting and the fruitful reward of joyful work. Garden has felt like a connection to an ancient pathway to an original blessing.

I also let the weeding and planting and the growing and the harvesting symbolize all the blessings of God: that truth planted in the heart does grow and produce fruit.

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Walk After Rain

My friend and walking partner told me that a beautiful mist had settled over Spring Creek. It was evening–nearing 8:00 PM–but my oldest daughter and I ventured out with umbrellas and hats to walk along the creek just as the rain stopped. I wanted to walk along a misty creek just for the enchanted feeling of it.

The creek did not disappoint, even in the rain. I remembered that some gifts only come through rainy seasons. Yes, the rain came, but it also brought the mist. It cooled the humid air so rapidly that water droplets stayed suspended over the creek. The enchanted look of it was a form of something being held in place, still and quiet, until the temperature warmed again.

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Little By Little (Again)

I know I’ve reflected on the concept of little by little growth and little by little living. But today, I think of it again as I’m building a new course for the Honor’s College at Penn State. Because no one can predict what will happen yet in the fall semester, I’m designing week-by-week modules where students can access everything they need remotely. Each week features key objectives, the homework for the week, the things to read and watch, and discussions to post. It’s a laborious task. Each week takes a long time to build, so when you think of sixteen weeks, it’s overwhelming.

But it’s not overwhelming if you simply build day-by-day. The day-by-day turns into the week-by-week, and soon, the whole thing works. But each time I sit at my desk, I tell myself that I only need to build little-by-little, maybe even only one week a day.

It’s how I weeded the garden. It’s how I even clean the kitchen. I have to start in a really small space, do that thing, and move on to the next really small thing. And it all adds up to finishing the Big Thing–whatever that thing is.

So start small today. Do a tiny little bit.

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