It seems it’s my year for finding marvelous things in nature. The baby woodpecker has returned mornings and evenings to visit us from his perch in the winterberry bush. The garden cat, of course, now won’t make his rounds during those times. I’ll keep him inside so he doesn’t terrorize this bird.
Meanwhile, I discover a beautiful turtle on a hike. Then, I find an enormous bullfrog. The discoveries keep coming, and I keep marveling.
I walked outside to the backyard to check on my blackberries and raspberries. I wanted to ensure my “scare tape” was working. As I circled the yard, I noticed a small bird hopping my way with a determined look on his face.
So I sat down in the grass to watch him. He kept hopping. He hopped closer. Then he hopped right into my lap. I held my breath. I felt like Snow White. I felt chosen. I watched him blink his eyes and tilt his little red head as he took me in. Then, he started to peck my leg with his little beak. I noticed his spotted wings.
He was a downy woodpecker, probably just fledged. Or maybe he was injured. I gathered my daughters to see the marvel of him, and we quickly made a tiny birdbath, piled up some birdseed, and spread some peanut butter on a branch of the winterberry bush. He was in heaven as he gobbled the snack and bathed in the birdbath. He stayed all evening and even into the morning. I imagine he’ll fly away sometime today.
Do you remember the Warm Welcome and the after school snack platters? Well, we also firmly believe in the “Arrival Platter” for anyone coming to visit our home, especially if they’ve traveled far.
The Arrival Platter: fresh fruit, cheese, nuts, crackers, pickles, olives, hummus–anything for quick refreshment and munching as people greet one another and settle in.
If the arriving guests aren’t hungry, it doesn’t matter; the Arrival Platter sets a mood of welcome and nurturing. You can tuck the platter away for a later snack, but the guests know it’s there. And they feel loved.
I love this little moment in John 49-50 as Jesus talks about Himself and the Father. He writes, “For I did not speak on my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is what the Father has told me to say.”
In other words: Jesus knew what to say and how to say itbased on whatever the Father told Him. And He knew these words would lead others to eternal life.
As we become more like Jesus, I pray this for us as well. We can listen to the Holy Spirit to learn what to say and how to say it, especially when talking to people about God or when we’re communicating spiritual truths in any setting.
Jesus’ words about Himself in John resonate with the words He tells the disciples in Mark 13:11. He comforts them as He says, “Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”
Do not worry. You’ll be given the words to say. And it’s not even you speaking; it’s the Holy Spirit.
As you move into new projects that involve communication as you start this fresh, new month of July, ask the Holy Spirit to speak through you and to tell you what to say and how to say it.
This morning as I read the book of John, I felt so refreshed in my faith in Jesus. In fact, the book of John is a great place to start if you are new to reading the Bible or just beginning your faith journey. I love the clarity and beauty in this book. I highlighted some faith-building statements we might ponder and memorize:
For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him (John 3:34-36).
I remember that God gives the Holy Spirit without limit. How amazing! I also love the gospel message summarized: We believe in Jesus for eternal life and to save us from wrath.
I also note Jesus’ words in John 5:24.
I tell you the truth, whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.
I think of the transaction within the soul, this coming alive (Ephesians 2) out of spiritual death. I think of what it means to cross over from a kingdom of darkness (1 Peter 2) and escape the tentacles of death in all its forms as we now belong to a new kingdom of light, life, joy, peace, and righteousness. We have a new life in Christ, one we can hardly even fathom.
When you feel uncertain in your faith or unsure of what to believe, always return to Jesus. Return to the statements He makes about Himself in the book of John. Remember who He is and claimed to be. Remember the miracles. Remember the resurrection. Remember His offer of salvation for all who believe. And then worship Him. He will lead you and care for you as a Good Shepherd, no matter where you are or how desperate your life feels. The promise of the gospel message extends to you right now. As you embrace Jesus with your whole heart, He begins to work in marvelous ways.
This morning, I reflected on Psalm 143 and the cry of David when he feels hopeless and depressed. It’s written from a cave where David must hide from the murderous Saul.
Imagine David’s fear, discomfort, and sense of feeling trapped. Imagine all he’s lost from those days of shepherding sheep as a boy. Did he miss his family? Did he miss the life he had? How lonely was he? How sad? How desperate?
From this position, we find perhaps one of the most encouraging prayers to the Lord. A hopeless David writes this:
Answer me quickly, O Lord; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit. Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Rescue me from my enemies, O Lord, for I hide myself in you. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.
– Psalm 143: 7-10
Notice what David does when he feels his spirit failing: He knows he needs God’s presence. He knows he needs God’s encouraging love. He knows he needs to put his soul in God’s hands. He knows he needs to hide himself in God.
The Psalm reminds us: The Presence. The Love. The One to Whom we Surrender. The Hiding Place.
What does David know about God that would cause him to take this position before God instead of anything else he might do? Why didn’t he just give up or run far away from his calling? I see how David knows God gives direction, provides rescue, and continues to lead His people.
I find my soul also praying that each new morning, we find a fresh word of God’s unfailing love. I also pray that God’s good Spirit leads us on level ground. God was faithful to David and will deliver us as well. He will teach us to do His will for our lives, too
I love the daily practice of writing–even if I don’t know what I’m writing all the time. It’s good just to sit down in front of the blank page. It’s good to contemplate. It’s good to sift through your own mind and see what’s there. It’s good to just begin.
If you do this every day, you’ll connect better to your written voice. The person you are inside will come out to play. You’ll find expression right here outside your inner world. It’s a great gift to articulate a thought into something you out there can read. Ander Monson writes when we read essays, for example, it is “as close as we can get to another person’s mind.” Writing is a way of getting close to your own mind, too–as Joan Didion famously said she writes “to know what [she] thinks.”
So keep coming to the blank page. See what you’re thinking.
I’m still in a season of listening, learning, and praying about everything affecting our lives during this time–whether in debates about COVID-19 or how to combat systemic racism in truly helpful ways. I ask God for wisdom every day. I ask God to position me as an agent of blessing, proclamation, and reconciliation as I attend faculty meetings, prepare for fall teaching, run my household, and live as a citizen in my county.
I don’t feel despair. I feel hope. I feel BIG HOPE. We’re in a liminal state in so many ways. I’m in a liminal state as a parent sending a child off into her adult life. I’m in a liminal state as I think about a new social order of anti-racism. And I’m in a liminal state as I grapple with a changing educational model of online learning.
Liminal states! They are purifying, reorienting, and root-growing times. I’m thankful.
It’s not a cherry. It’s not really a tomato. It’s a hybrid form of something salty and sweet, and it’s delightful. I am finally beginning to harvest the ground cherries. Inside the papery lantern, a tiny yellow blueberry-sized ground cherry awaits!