Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Pruning Process...

It's is summer, that wonderful time when teachers finally get around to doing all the stuff they put off during the school year. For me, today included pruning some bushes in my yard that were long overdue for some attention. My plan was to just shape them up a bit, turn my box hedge from a Walmart bag shape back to their intended box shape, then I planned to tackle the azaleas.

At first, I just tipped the edges, but a few branches were really getting in the way so I had to trim a bit more. That's when it became evident that I had a problem. When I removed those branches, the underbelly of the azaleas was revealed and it wasn't a pretty sight. A twisted maze of branches that really needed a trim. No wonder my azaleas haven't bloomed in years!

Now, don't get me wrong. My azaleas looked VERY healthy from a distance. They were huge! We even used them to decorate at Christmas. Well, sort of decorate. We'd toss some lights on top of them...our version of "spirit". But I was soon to find out our "healthy" bushes in fact weren't doing all that well at all.

Admittedly, I know very little about notoriety as a plant killer goes far and wide. I'm pretty sure there is a wanted poster of me in some plant post-office somewhere. Because of this, I asked a few facebook friends and they assured me that it was indeed the time of year to cut the bushes back. In fact, a good pruning could make them grow better and actually begin to bloom again! Armed with that knowledge and my clippers, I started the long hot process, and I learned a few things. This will be my clumsy attempt to explain my random thoughts for the day.

#1 - My plants hid a number of long forgotten treasures! There were two volleyballs and one soccer ball. The volleyballs just needed a bit of air, but the soccer ball, I'm afraid it had been forgotten way too long. It was hard as a rock!  In my life, I wonder what things have been forgotten in the seemingly healthy overgrowth of my life. For some, a breath of fresh air is all that is needed, but some may have been neglected way too long. Reminders of times past...only memories.

#2 - I also discovered 2 pens, a few shingles and a wash cloth. The shingles I can understand, but the other things? How did they get there? In the process of pruning in our lives, we may discover things that we have no idea how they got there. It's really not important how they got there, they don't belong and simply need to be removed.

#3 - As I pruned, I discovered a pretty feathery fern that I'm pretty sure blew in with Katrina. It may look harmless and delicate, but in the shadows of the azalea's overgrowth, it had choked out one rose bush and was in the process of overpowering another. The "healthy" azalea was hiding a very unhealthy problem! I have to wonder - what excess in my life is allowing some pretty little fern to destroy something I truly care about?

#4 - Some plants "bite" when you try to prune them. I now wear the scratches and thorns of a vicious vine that was hiding amidst the branches. It wrapped around my arms or legs and "grabbed". It seems in the pruning process, not everyone involved will think it's a good idea...especially those with evil intentions who don't want their "host" to change. (It's that whole, "we battle against spiritual wickedness in high places" thing.)

#5 - Now that the bushes are gone, I noticed the house really needs painting. It's not awful, but it's definitely noticeable. Is it possible that the excess in one area of my life "hides" some basic upkeep that I need to be doing in other areas?

In my yard, it's the azaleas. In my life, it can be any number of things. I have the potential for excess in so many areas of my life. Work, possessions, free time, money (okay - there's not a lot of excess there). It may look like things are great - even growing at impressive rate, but if they don't show "fruit", maybe they are just hiding some other, more important things. I want my life to show fruit - spiritual fruit. That means that at times, there's gonna have to be some pruning going on.

I'm pretty sure that if I had been pruning on a regular basis, it would have been a lot less painful and some of the "problems" I discovered would never have had a chance to grow....or destroy.

I'm so thankful for summer when I can stop for a moment and "prune."

John 15:2
He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn't produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.

Psalms 92:12-15
The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
    they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
13 planted in the house of the Lord,
    they will flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They will still bear fruit in old age,
    they will stay fresh and green,
15 proclaiming, “The Lord is upright;
    he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Why me?

This all started with summer. Like most teachers I look forward to getting AWAY from students during the summer and relaxing. Tough to do when you have two teenagers at home. Still I was determined to rest this summer. No kids, no sirree, not for me.

Then then I felt that nudge to help out at church with VBS. How could I say no? I had just returned from working with children in Cambodia, how could I possibly say no to those right here at home? So I volunteered. The leaders said "Great, all you'll have to do is..." By the way, when someone says "all you have to do" - it means you have to do it all! Seriously, it wasn't that bad, but I found myself in charge of teaching the daily Bible story and it was pretty complicated remembering a different story each day and trying to find way to make it come alive!

Next, I found myself headed off to camp with 3 other adults and 32 kids. "All I had to do"..... all I had to do this time was help watch over them on the trip there and back and have fun with them while they were there. It was good to be able to just watch the kids have fun without having to plan it all.

Now, I find myself about to embark on a week-long day camp for some "inner-city" girls. I saw a friend's post about needing someone to head up this endeavor for a week this summer. Again, I was struck with the thought of the children we met with Hard Places Ministry in Cambodia. Here I was begin presented with girls in my own town who struggle in their own "hard places." I wrestled with it for a while and then decided to just "ask" - after all, they wouldn't possibly choose me.

What was I thinking? I kept asking God to send someone else, but no one else came.  (For someone who is taking the summer off from kids, I sure am spending a lot of time with them!)

All this got me to asking "why me?" I began thinking about those whom God chooses to use. Immediately Moses came to mind, then Gideon. Like any good teacher, I wanted a third example....and what I got was me. So here goes. Here's my random thoughts on Moses, Gideon and me.

I was certain in all this, that God wouldn't choose me. I can give an entire list of reasons why. To begin with, I'm terribly unorganized. Great at starting things but not so great at finishing. I have absolutely no confidence in my own abilities. I have no real talent except maybe making people laugh....sometimes with me, sometimes at me. I'm pretty much a loner. I'm not as young as I used to be. The list goes on and on.

I wonder if Moses felt this way? (No, I'm in no way comparing myself to Moses, but I find comfort in knowing that GREAT leaders sometimes struggled like I do.) Moses had blown it. He'd had lots of opportunities and messed up big time. It's that whole, great start but lousy finish thing. Now he was getting on up in years (about 80 I think) and God tells him that he's going to be a leader. Yeah, right. Sheep maybe, but people??? Moses tried to talk God into sending someone else (sounds like me). His confidence in his own ability was God sent along some support....but God didn't change His mind about Moses.

Then there was Gideon...least of his brethren. A real nobody from nowhere. He wasn't a doctor or lawyer or business leader or person on influence...he was just Gideon. Like Gideon, I feel like a nobody. I'm just a teacher, and not an extraordinary one at that. I've never been teacher of the year or national board certified or published or anything important. Not sure why I feel that "just a teacher" isn't that big of a deal, but I know it's a common struggle among my profession. I have a friend who struggled because he/she felt looked down on in the family. This person has a sibling who became a doctor and yet he/she had chosen education, as if that were less of a calling. You know, in the Bible, you don't see doctors or lawyers or politicians held to a higher standard - teachers are! (Whoops...started chasing a squirrel there. Sorry.) Still, God didn't change His mind about Gideon.

Gideon and Moses both wondered why would anyone listen to them! They asked God to send someone else. They doubted their own ability (and perhaps God's judgment in choosing them!) I wonder if they started listing all the people who would do a MUCH better job at this than them. Yeah, I totally did that.

Moses, Did they ask God if He was sure about this like I have done? Did they stop and think, like me, that this is crazy? Surely there is someone who can do a better job! Did they, in moments of panic, think of backing out? Did God do with them as He is doing with me, reassuring that He knows what He's doing. Reminding them that He chooses the flawed, the weak, the cowardly to show Himself strong. That way, no one can get the glory other than Him.

Why me? I don't know. Maybe no one else was available. Maybe no one else was listening. Maybe God sees something I don't see. For whatever reason...this time it's "why not me?"

And why not you?

1 Corinthians 1:26 - 31 (Msg)
26-31 Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.”