I learned another important lesson from my garden about what happens when someone bears fruit too soon. I planted my pumpkin seeds way too early. I’m learning the heat of early and mid-summer makes the pumpkins shrivel on the vine. I do have other pumpkin seeds I planted much later (for a fall harvest), so I’m tending to these plants now. These will thrive in late summer and in the cool of early autumn.
Seeing the shriveled pumpkins reminds me why we often do not bear fruit in the season we want in our lives. God knows we cannot handle it. The timing matters. Our character or very lives might shrivel under the weight of our good works. We might not be able to avoid the temptation of wealth, fame, or anything that comes with the fruit we might bear. We might not really have the time, either. We might need to wait a long time, for a more favorable season of life, to see how God has set us apart for certain good works.
I look at my shriveled yellow pumpkins that fall off the vine and remember the danger of not waiting on God’s perfect timing.
I just received a message from my neighbor who asked if I would like to stop by to taste her homemade blueberry cheesecake ice cream. She prepared four little cups with spoons for my family to enjoy her ice cream later. She uses fresh blueberries and the most delicious crumbles of crust to make it seem like you’re eating the most amazing treat! It is so good.
This is the neighbor who makes homemade ice cream for people every summer.
As I left her house, practically galloping home with joy, ice creams in hand, I thought of how much I love having a neighborhood with neighbors who serve and love one another. There’s the neighbor who makes Polish Cabbage Rolls for us, the neighbor with the smoker out back to smoke meats and fish for our block party and who always seems to have firecrackers on hand for the kids, the neighbor who makes mulled cider for New Years Eve, and the neighbor who, without fail, drops off treats on my doorstep just because she feels like baking.
I love thinking of each house and saying, “That’s the neighbor who. . .” Every neighbor plays a special role.
It’s a challenging sentence to complete if you wonder what people might say of our home, of your home. Are you the one bringing meals, offering a helping hand, or organizing an event? Are you the neighbor who gathers? What would we want others to say of us?
I want to be the neighbor who listens and encourages and stands ready to bring food for hurting families. As I grow older and and my children leave, I could be the neighbor bringing treats to the younger children. Who knows? I think of the uniqueness of us all and all the ways we might bless those around us.
I’m reading the Bible in the English Standard Version after nearly three decades of using the New International Version. I recommend reading the Bible in a different translation at some point in your life. You’ll read the same stories with fresh eyes. You’ll find new insights because of a change in wording, even if the Greek or Hebrew word is the same. For example, in my reading of Exodus this morning, I loved the simplicity of Exodus 2:25. The people are crying out to God because of their slavery and oppression and Egypt. And we read this:
God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.
That’s it. That is all. God saw and God knew. I just love that. I love that we can trust that God sees and God knows everything concerning us. Other translations say that God saw and was concerned, that God saw and took notice, or that God acknowledged the Israelites. All of these ideas come through for me in the simplicity of “and God knew.”
Every year, I reread the book of Job, especially the parts where Job and God speak. I love Job because of the reality of suffering. Good people suffer, and we don’t always know why. I underlined this passage in Job 42 and sent it to my family. These words contain more wisdom that we can imagine:
Then Job replied to the Lord, “I know that you can do all things, and that no plan of yours can be thwarted.”
This moment in Job marks a moment of forthcoming repentance. We do not know how to make sense of our lives when difficult things happen, but we know two things for sure: 1. God can do anything. 2. Nothing can stop His plan.
This verse comforts me when I cannot make sense of difficult things. You might have come to the same wisdom: God is all powerful and He is allowing this hard thing as part of a good plan I cannot yet understand. Job himself cries out: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” and he repents in dust and ashes.
We submit ourselves to a sovereign, all-powerful, loving God.
This morning before church, I started the book You Are Not Your Own by Alan Noble. I loved the dedication to a man described like this: “a man who lived his life imperfectly but earnestly–not as his own, but as a gift to his family and friends.” I love thinking of our lives as a gift to others. We can live not for ourselves, but for others. It changes the focus of our heart. Then, I read at church the idea of being a “living hymn” in reference to the way Brother Lawrence lived in his book The Practice of the Presence of God. I considered how a life could exist as a song of praise to God. No matter what’s happening, we think of our lives as a hymn of worship. How beautiful! We life today as a hymn and as a gift to others.
Sometimes people ask me for help in their spiritual lives. They want wisdom for how to build their adult lives and what kind of practices they should adopt to help them stay strong in their faith. I tell them it’s not anything complicated or terribly insightful. Read the Bible. Pray. Memorize scripture so you can apply it to your life. Confess sin. Practice surrender. Do things that require faith. Talk about Jesus to other people.
But today I remembered something that helped someone in a fresh way. I asked this person something a mentor had once asked me: When you think about your future, what will the temptation be for you? What will trap you? Get ahead of this. Start thinking of how to avoid the temptations that will surely come your way.
I like thinking of how to strengthen myself against future temptation, in whatever form it could take.
Years ago (back in 2012!), I wrote a few devotions for campers and counselors at Camp Greystone. One of my devotions is featured today on how God see our tears. My teen daughter (even though she’s not a camper) signed up to receive the Greystone devotions each day because she loves reading them! I highly recommend them. I read them every day. Sign up here: https://devotions.campgreystone.com/blog/2022/6/tears
I also collected my devotions for children in a little book called 30 Things You Need to Know that same year. I compiled these for my daughters to read through when they were in elementary school. We read them together every morning in the summer. You may have these as a free gift to read with your children, too. You can find them on my Gifts for You page: http://heatherholleman.com/gift-for-you/. Enjoy!
Today I visited a high school class in Paraguay via Zoom to talk about writing personal essays for the college application. What a thrilling time to connect with brilliant students and offer my favorite prompts for their portfolios of personal essays. We enjoyed talking about these prompts based on what I hear people caring about most on the college campus: curiosity and human flourishing. So I asked these questions:
What is the story of how you first became curious about something and your process of learning more about it?
What do you do every day to improve your own well-being?
What do you think helps people belong? When did you feel like you really belonged somewhere? How will you help others belong in college?
I also had everyone finish this sentence: “When I’m a student in college, I intend to add to campus life by________________.” It works as a variation of my favorite Name Game question of “What changes when you enter a room?” In other words, what changes on the college campus with you there?
In the past 25 years, I’ve helped with hundreds (if not a thousand) of college, graduate school, internship, and job applications. I shared with students my insights into the current trends on campus to care deeply about belonging and human flourishing. I also shared my best tip of all: Tell a college (or job) why they need you, not why you need them. Tell them how you will add value and contribute to the goals of an organization and not what the organization must do for you.
I loved connecting with younger students at the beginning of their college journey.
In Psalm 107:9, I found this beautiful sentence about God: For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.
I spent some time thinking about the difference between a longing soul and a hungry soul. A longing soul feels more profound to me–like a soul with deep, deep need that only God can meet. When we long for something, it feels like a far-off dream. It’s something we know we want, but maybe it’s not something we need to survive. But the word hungry feels more urgent, practical, and needy. I love that God meets both needs: our soul longing and our soul hunger. He knows everything we need, both practically and existentially.