Seeing Broken Bits Multiplied into Blessings

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Photo and artwork belong to ComparisonTrap.org

This is the continuation of an earlier post about a Bible study in which I’m facilitating and participating.


Andrew spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small
barley loaves and two small fish,
but how far will they go among so many?”
Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.”
There was plenty of grass in that place, and they
sat down (about five thousand men were there).
Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks,
and distributed to those who were seated
as much as they wanted.
He did the same with the fish.
When they had all had enough to eat,
he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are
left over. Let nothing be wasted.”
So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets
with the pieces of the five barley loaves
left over by those who had eaten.
~ John 6:8-13

The Comparison Trap:  Week Three, Day Three… Some of my reminders and my takeaways from the daily devotional include:

For me, this is one of the most powerful devotions in the Comparison Trap study, so far.

I’ve been going through some things in my life… things that are uncomfortable, and circumstances which have pushed me to limits I didn’t know I had. I find hope in the Scripture above, even though the expectant hope and personal application I’ve found in it is somewhat outside the context of the verses.

Here are the three things which stand out the most to me:

  1. “Here is a boy…”  He’s a boy. Not a pastor, teacher, business man, or anyone who might stand out to others. He’s a boy.
  2. “Let nothing be wasted…,” said Jesus. I’ve always known He told the disciples to gather what remained, but I’ve never consciously read those words to the point that they’d stand out, even though my study Bible is an older New International Version (the same as the Scripture above).
  3. God provides, and He turns what we have to offer Him into blessings.

So here are my main takeaways from the three aspects which stand out to me:

  1. I am the boy. You are the boy. Whatever we have to offer Him, he can use. Am I willing to recognize that even a small offering can be a blessing? That He can use it for the good of others? That my faith can grow when I am willing to share the gifts He’s given me?
  2. God wastes nothing.  I’ve said this so many times to myself, and I’ve written about it, too. Yesterday, in a weepy breakdown, I just kept repeating this over and over to myself, and here it is in the Scripture today. He’s going to create a way for the broken bits and pieces of my life to be multiplied, shared, and gathered, because He is the One who commands that nothing be wasted.
  3. He’s ready to multiply my faith and turn it into blessings for me and for others. We don’t know the attitude of the boy who offered up his lunch, but we do know what was done with it. I need to keep reminding myself that this life isn’t just about me and my weepy circumstances; it’s about how He can and will use those circumstances for His good if I’m willing to lay them at His feet.

Sandra Stanley asks, “What did it do to the boy’s faith to watch Jesus turn his small offering into a blessing for so many others? What could it do to your faith to watch God do the same with what you can offer?”

She goes on to encourage us to fight the feelings that our little bits could never go far enough, and to instead, trust God to make our bits astoundingly more—immeasurably more, even.

In my weepy moments and in my joyous ones, it’s important for me to remember that He commands nothing be wasted, and that what I have IS less important than what I do with what I have. The impact is made when I’m willing to offer up what I have for Him to use.


 

Finding Hope in Removing What Is Dead

Fern

I couldn’t take it anymore. There was no real appearance of life, but I wasn’t ready to toss it in the trash.


A few years ago, my husband and sons bought me a beautiful, bushy fern for a long-empty pot and wrought-iron stand which sat in the foyer of our home. It was a Mother’s Day gift…one that was simple and full of life.

My history with indoor plants isn’t good. Look at any one of the six plants in my home, and you’ll see that I am not disciplined enough to care for them the way they need to be cared for. Their hues are various shades of decomposing green, there are always an abundance of “dried” leaves and stems, and all of them scream to be fed, watered, and nourished. Houseplants just aren’t my thing.


I’d had enough with the looks of this fern. It was now ugly and without much life. With scissors in-hand and a big trash can underneath, I began to cut away at the fronds. There were a few green sprigs attempting to emerge from one side of the pot, but it was more dead than alive. By the time I had cut away all that was dead, the plant looked like a hair style from the ’80s…back when large combs held large hair in place swooped over to one side of the head. (oh, the 80s!)

It looks pretty lopsided now, but I think it has a fighting chance at survival, as long as I can remember to water it a few times a week.

I didn’t want to throw it away. I’m glad I didn’t, because when I finished with trimming away what was dead, it reminded me of me. There was a little bit of life left in that pot. It was just enough with which to start over.

My life looks very little like it did five years ago. I thought I was alive and living a nourished life back then, but I’ve had the feeling my Caretaker needed to heavily prune and trim away what was dead. I, too, needed to do some pruning in my own life…pruning of habits, mindsets, expectations, unproductive hopes, people in my life, and some unhealthy emotions.

I pruned.
He pruned.
For a time, I wondered how I’d survive His pruning.

Can I regrow?
Can I bloom in new ways?
Can new life be reborn from what was dried up and ugly?
Can I survive the tearing away  
(it was more than a trim) of the old life in order to become more beautiful, more abundantly full, more nourished, and more prepared to sprout new life?

Yes.
I can.
With some help.
I am, and I will.

I have high hopes for my fern. It reminds me of me. 

I hope to one day look at it and proclaim that removing what was dead was exactly what needed to be done to bring about a second chance at living.

It reminds me of me.


Finding Hope in a Question

I’m usually a little out of sorts when I leave the prison. My head and my heart both seem to be going in crazy directions. When one has a family member tucked away from the world, aspects of life can seen hopeless, helpless and senseless. Last week’s visit was no different.


On the two-hour drive there, I noticed I’d need gas in my car at some point before heading home..

“I’ll get it at the station just outside the prison’s entrance,” I thought to myself.

There’s not a lot around the prison, but the gas prices at this little country store are typically about 10 cents less than the station in town.


Silence… that’s what my son and I shared as we exited the doors and walked toward the car. It’s awkward to feel like you have had a “good” visit with someone when you do your visiting with concrete and glass separating you and your loved one. But it was a good visit. It was better than many we’ve had to have, and we both knew it as we walked across the parking lot. My words were chit-chat, but my heart and my head were a mess.

“I’ll let you drive in a little while when we get on the straight stretches on the other side of town, and I need to get gas at that little station just down the road,” I told my son. It’s all I could really say.


I exited the prison’s driveway, drove down the road and pulled into the gas station at the country store. As I got out of my car to walk around to the pump, an old ’70s Chevy pickup pulled in right behind me. A gray-bearded man in a John Deere ball cap motioned for me to come over to his truck.

“Ma’am,” he said in a southern drawl, “What’s your license plate mean?”

“It’s a Bible verse, Sir. It’s a verse that means a lot to me. It’s Romans 8:28,” I said to him.

“Oh?” he asked inquisitively.

“Yes, Sir. It’s a verse which tells me that no matter what my problems, no matter what my troubles and no matter what my challenges are, God is going to work them for good because I love Him.”

“Is that what it says?” he slowly pressed with more curiosity.

“Not with those exact words, Sir, but that is a sense of what it means,” I shared with him.

He nodded his head at me, and said, “Ma’am, you have a wonderful day. Thank you for telling me that.”

He smiled at me, gave me a wave and pulled his rusty ol’ pickup truck into a parking spot. I moved toward the pump to insert my credit card to pre-pay for the gas, but I saw him get out of his truck, look my way and give me a glance under the brim of his cap.


“What did that guy want?” my son asked from the passenger’s window while I put the nozzle into the tank.

“He wanted to know what my license plate means,” I told him.

With an eye roll, my son said, “And I’m sure you told him.”

“As a matter of fact, I did.” I said to my son. “I didn’t initiate the conversation; he did, but I did take a moment to explain it.”

“I’m sure you did, Mom…”


When I got back into the car, my son just looked at me with an “are you serious?” kind of face. We’re in a phase — and at a point in his life — where faith-based decisions and choices keep coming up. He’s struggling just a bit to submit to them with a cheerful heart, and he rolls his eyes at me quite often when I look at him and want to launch into one of my “there’s a lesson in that…” discussions.


“You know…” I started. “You know… maybe he needed to hear that today. Maybe he’s looking for some of the hope in that verse. Maybe I was supposed to stop here at the same time he was pulling in. We will never know… just maybe, Son.”

“Ok, Mom… whatever you say…”


Was I there to answer an old man’s question and give him some hope? Or was that old man there to ask me a question which would remind me of His hope?

Was I put there in that moment? Or was the old man put there? Or were both of us put there for different reasons and for different conclusions over the same conversation?

Was I in the right place at the right time to show my son how faith boldly intersects in every aspect of our lives? Or was he in that passenger’s seat in that moment to witness how, in fact, it does?

Was I there in that moment to get my thoughts away from my broken heart? Was I there in that moment to hear my own words and to really HEAR His words in the process? Was he an old man in a truck, or was he someone else?

We can never know how all of the incidences in our lives are woven together, but Romans 8:28 serves as a regular reminder to me for the things I do see and do experience.

Life has been a challenge over the last four years, but through it all, my hope is only growing in His ability to work ALL of it for good — my good, my son’s good, my family’s good, the good of others — and ALL of it for His glory. I do struggle in the moments and in the circumstances, but the precious chances where I find myself outside of the moments and circumstances and in the midst of how Romans 8:28 is being made reality are true blessings.


Dear gray-bearded man in the old, red Chevy… thank you for stopping to ask me about my license plate. I didn’t just tell you about Romans 8:28 in that moment, I experienced the beauty, the possibilities, and the reality of one of many ways it is being fulfilled. I found HOPE in your question.


Finding Hope in Knowing God Wastes Nothing

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I wish you could experience the richness, perfection of timing and incredible way in which the Lord pours out His love very personally to each of us. If you aren’t experiencing this in your life, please… get to know Him, as He desires to know you and walk with you in this way.

This past week marked the start of a “new” study for me. It’s a new study with a group of 23 women, but I did this study over a decade ago, shortly after I entered into a personal walk with Christ. I don’t remember much from it, except that it left me with a few incredible impressions about how God’s Word was completely woven together, and that His love and His message to us is poured out very intentionally in Scripture.

This morning, as I was working on Day 3 of the study, this sentence was on the page about Saul (who was later known as Paul):  “NOTHING in Saul’s life would be a waste unless he refused to let God use it.” …and, yes, that word is in all caps in the workbook.

Those in my closest circles have heard me say, “God wastes nothing.” They’ve also heard me say something along the lines of “…anything He allows, He intends to use for our good and for His glory, IF we will only let Him.”

I SAY this a lot, but I needed to HEAR it this morning.

Once again, the Lord showed up to give me a loving encouragement. He did it by using Beth Moore’s words on a page, right after I read Paul’s words from His Word in Galatians.

What she said in this sentence… this concept… these words… somehow, has infiltrated my life (maybe it started when I did this study years ago…I don’t know…), and it is now a part of who I am. But it doesn’t stop there… Because of His amazing presence in my life, I’ve incorporated those words and woven them into His words and His promises for all of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

The Lord truly does waste nothing. Every single thing we experience in life is something He has the capability to use for our good and for His glory, if we will only submit to Him and allow Him to do so.

There’s an action step here. I see it. Do you?

 


Monday’s Musings — Snowfencing & Life’s Filter

SnowFence.Filter.HS.Compressed.

The snow fencing is up! I say that with great enthusiasm…because it is finished!

The task is a family affair each November. It’s an activity that all of us dread doing, even though it only takes a few hours of our time.

We watch the weather forecast and try to pick the ideal time to put it up AFTER the leaves are off the trees and have been blown across the yard by the pre-winter storms but BEFORE the ground freezes solidly. If we don’t take both of these factors into consideration, then we will have a few issues present themselves.

My role in this task has changed over the years. These days, it is my responsibility to mark where the rows of fencing will be placed and to drop the posts on the grass. I used to have to share in the responsibility of pounding the oh-so-many stakes into the ground, but having two strong, teenage boys, my husband can now turn to them when his shoulders need a rest.

The fence makes a difference. It’s a filter for the wildly blowing snow and regular white-out conditions that happen around here. Without it, the winter squalls would put our snow blower to even more use just to get anyone into or out of our driveway.

As I watched my husband and boys put up three long rows of the fencing last week (after doing my part with the posts), I got to thinking about how it works. You see, each year is another opportunity to experiment with the placement of the rows and the distance between them to maximize the amount of snow that is stopped short of the driveway. I’m convinced I still haven’t found the perfect formula, so — much to my husband’s chagrin — I adjust the placement a tad each year.

The slats in the fence works as a filter to stop the blowing snow. The slats slow it down so the snow will drop after going through them. Having three, set-apart rows stops most of it before it makes its way to the driveway, but it doesn’t capture the snow that falls…only the snow that blows. It works very well in reducing the amount of snow we need to blow or plow from the driveway, but the effects are usually gone by the end of January when the fencing is, typically, almost covered by the snow it has been stopping for two months.

How about my life’s filter?

Does it work well?

Do I periodically need to re-adjust the filter to maximize the amount of “stuff” that gets through?

My filter is my faith and my daily walk with the Lord.

Many years ago, my Sunday filter looked a little different from my Monday-through-Saturday filter. My church clothes, my church attitude and my Sunday morning routine stopped some of life’s challenges from getting through, but it didn’t stop enough. Too much was able to get through for six-and-a-half days a week, and the Sunday morning filter was pretty porous.

There came a time when my Sunday morning filter also became a Sunday afternoon filter and even a Monday filter. Those two full days became the days I looked forward to the most. I don’t think I quite realized why at the time, but, looking back, I can see why now.

The number of filtered days continued to grow, and within those days, there were certain times of the day in which I found myself CHOOSING to see life through yet another new kind of filter. I wanted more of it. I wanted more of life to look that way…the way it did when it passed through the new filter.

Life is not perfect, nor will it ever be. The Filter I use today is able to “stop and drop” many of the challenges which come into my days, but not all of them. That filter is my faith and my daily walk with the Lord. It is here I find His Truths and His hope for my life.

John 16:33 tells me there will be times of trouble, but it also tells me that in Him, I can find peace. I need to trust in this.

Although there is a futuristic aspect to Psalm 46, I can and do draw strength from it…especially verse 1, where I am told He is an ever-present help:

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”
I need to trust in this.

Then, there is the verse that has become a foundational source of my hope. It is a promise from the Lord which speaks the loudest to me in my daily walk. I’ve learned to rely on Him and apply it so I can live in such a way where it’s okay for me to surrender my hopes to Him, because I can and do trust He is working ALL of my circumstances for my good and for His glory:

Romans 8:28:  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

There are some challenges which make their way through my Filter and need a little more focus to lessen their potential damage. And, yes, there are some happenings that are pretty tough for me to deal with. One filter won’t stop some of these; but the second and third filters in place can help to lessen the impact. I’m thankful for the people, the worship, the truths, the mentors and the reminders which act as filters in my life.

Remember that falling snow? The fence only stops what is blowing, not what is falling. There are still times in which we’ll need to clear away the snow. There are still times in which we’ll need to deal with the challenges directly.

What is YOUR filter? What is your snow fence?

If you aren’t sure, or if it seems fairly porous and allows too many challenges through, or if you really don’t have one, I’d gently encourage you to take some quiet time to think about it. Life on this planet will never be perfect for any of us. Never. Struggles are guaranteed…even struggles in which we did not bring upon ourselves, but ones which still impact us because they impact loved ones.

When we have a filter in place — and it is reliable and less permeable — then we can always have hope.

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