Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Ode to Cinnamon

Cinnamon, such a versatile spice!
It can be strong and nutty,
Or you can find it light and fragrant;
The flavor can burn, bitter against your tongue,
Or it can be sweetened into a refreshing bite like mint.

To God be all glory.

Gardening and Independence

Several summers ago, I attempted a garden.  The endeavor was something I thought God wanted me to do, though I wasn’t sure why.  I bought all these seeds and soil and planned (but didn’t study), tilled soil, planted, watered, and never harvested a single thing.  Most of it died in the July heat.  Only one head out of three rows of lettuce ever came up at all.  I discovered that oregano blooms.  I’m still learning things from the experience. 

When I had my garden, I did it all by myself.  I’m a naturally independent person.  I have my own ideas, and I can make them happen.  But in several ways I would have had a better garden if I hadn’t been so on my own.  First, I would have read or gotten advice on how to plan a garden.  Next, I would have asked someone else to water it for the week I was gone in July.  Finally, I didn’t care.  And the reason I didn’t care what happened was because no one else cared.  There was no one else looking forward to the produce.  No one else was putting in any effort with me.  No one even asked me how it was going, or praised me for my good idea.  Everyone who knew about it just watched with amusement at my new fad project. 

There’s a TV show that was made in Great Britain decades ago called The Good Life.  A husband and wife decide to become self-sufficient without leaving their home in the suburbs of London.  Part of what makes it so exciting is that they’re doing it together.  She wants to see his idea succeed.  He wants to impress his wife.  They make a plan together, talk about their goals and their problems and their failures.  He thanks her for the hard work she puts in.  She praises him for his improvisation. 

I’ve coached Awana teams in games and Bible Quizzing, been a camp counselor, gotten together to cook for people, sidewalk counseled.  Those were all things in which I got the benefit of feeling a sense of shared purpose and effort, of everyone doing their part and experiencing the outcome together.  Community is such a blessing. 

Sometimes I wish I had someone full time who would notice the work I do.  I know that the Christian ideal is to work heartily as unto the Lord.  And I can generally do that.  I just know that I do so much better when someone else is supporting me – or criticizing me – or excited about the reason I’m doing something enough to care whether it works out or not – and helping me evaluate or troubleshoot.  I want to help other people in the same way. 

My belief is that God made families for this purpose.  And on the spiritual side, He made the church to work together in the mission of making disciples.  When this level of community happens, it’s fun and exciting and fulfilling.  Don’t you want it, too? 

To God be all glory. 

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Given Away

“That’s ours flower pot.  We gave it to them.” 
– some little boys I was taking on a walk around their block

Once you give a flower pot away, it is theirs.  Once you give friendship away, it is theirs.  The moment is irreversible.  The deed has been done. 

I used to be very selfish in my friendships.  I wanted people to listen to me, to entertain me, to help me not notice that I felt timid or overwhelmed.  Back then, whatever I put into a friendship was seen as a necessary cost of having friends in the future.  When I graduated high school, most of those friendships changed substantially.  In a lot of cases, we weren’t really friends anymore.  All that lost investment left me feeling disappointed, and lonely. 

Some few years after that I realized that God commanded Christians to be loving to others without considering whether we get anything out of it.  I had been afraid to get to know people, to give them attention and consideration, to pray for them or praise them – because what if this doesn’t last?  What if they move away and we never speak again?  What if they aren’t there for me when I’m having a hard time?  What if that man isn’t the man I spend the rest of my life with?  The answer was clear and daring: walk the line of pouring yourself into people without demands. 

Give love away, and it’s theirs.  The character of your friends is forever impacted by how you bless them.  And at the very least, you were there to help them to survive, or excel, even if that is someone else’s role in the future. 

Loss and betrayal are excruciating.  And even as good friendships continue, there are some disappointments.  People aren’t perfect.  They will neglect you or say something harsh when you need comfort.  They’ll tease you instead of teaching you.  These things happen.  They hurt.  Pain is increased, the more of yourself you’ve given to them.  You’re more vulnerable, the more they know you. 

The Bible says “perfect love casts out fear.”  The things to be feared are still real: pain, loss, being taken advantage of.  But love says people are worth the risk.  Maybe they won’t take advantage of you.  Maybe they won’t move on or away or die before you.  It is only a risk.  Yet you’re willing, if you love someone, to lay down your life living or dying.  You say that whatever you can do for them is worth more to you than protecting yourself.  Being with them for this moment in friendship is more important than the things you fear. 

I’m abundantly grateful God has given me friends who likewise keep on loving me.  By His grace, He has made Christian community, when healthy and striving to please Him, to be mutual.  My friends are merciful to me.  We love being together.  They do give back, encourage me, listen when I’m discouraged or self-absorbed.  I do have friends who point me to truth.  They invite me to invade their lives with my needs.  It’s amazing. 

To God be all glory.