The Struggle of Being Pruned

A few years ago, I had an opportunity to join a community garden.  My purpose was to learn about growing my own edibles at home.  Joining the community garden would give me access to workshops, learn how to tend to my plot throughout the seasons, treat any pest issues naturally, and keep a healthy garden.  It was a tremendous success.  During that process, I began setting up my home container garden space.  Since I was growing plenty of veggies in the community garden, I decided that my home garden would start with herbs.

I set up the various pots, planted seeds for some items and starter plants for others.  I took all the knowledge that I learned and ended up with a gorgeous garden that produced enough herbs for myself and to share.   A year passed and I knew that I would need to amend or replace the soil in the pots to restore the nutrients that the plants had fed off of.  I prepared the new soil, removed plants, removed some of the old soil, replaced it with new soil, returned the plant to the soil, and pruned it back.  Anticipating the plants would experience shock, I was careful to water them frequently and remove anything that died off so that the healthy parts would grow.

Two weeks later, my entire garden was dead.  I was absolutely stunned and headed off to the community garden I once belonged to.  It was time to talk to the experts.  I walked through all of the steps, nods of affirmation assured me that I was doing things correctly.  The owner asked me a few clarifying questions.  “What type of soil did you use?” , “Where did you get your compost from”…. and I answered satisfactorily until the final question.

Did you prune the top of the plants and the roots?

That would be a big NO.  I sure didn’t.  I didn’t know that I needed to.

You see in the community garden, at the end of the season, everything goes.  You harvest what is left and all the remains of your plants are chopped up and tilled back into your garden bed and new fresh amended soil is added in to restore the soil for planting.  In the fall, you start fresh.  New seeds and new starters that you had prepared during the end of summer.

I was returning my plants to their original (or bigger) pots, I was transplanting.  This is different than pruning the plants that are in the ground around my home, where cutting back the top of the plant encourages new and healthy growth.   In transplanting, the gardener must not only trim back the top of the plant but also the roots.  Even if you are putting the plant into a larger pot, the roots still need to be pruned.

I started to reflect on things in my own life, where it seemed like the Lord was pruning me for transplant into something new.  I realized that indeed the Lord wasn’t just pruning the stuff I could see, and tangibly feel, from my life.  He was also working at the roots.  He was pruning away the roots that I had allowed to grow into unhealthy soil.  Some of this pruning would even send me into shock (just like plants).  It was sudden, and I had no time to prepare for it  Or, it hurt deeply and I didn’t understand why it had to happen in such a way  It may even have been an area I was quite comfortable in but it wasn’t where I was going to flourish.

When I prune back plants, I cut them back to a point where they are often unrecognizable to the average person.  Very little of what they once were remains, yet I wait in anticipation because I know that what is coming is far more beautiful or abundant than previously experienced.  The Lord knows this about us, too.  He knows what the outcome will be, despite the heavy pruning.  He knows that He is continuing a good work in you that was started the day your heart turned toward him.  Each time He prunes our lives, He does so because it is GOOD FOR US and the outcome will be GOOD FOR OTHERS.

The healthiest plants provide food for the most people.

Being pruned is hard.  It is a struggle.  It hurts.  It is confusing.  It is sudden.  It can be extreme.

But it is a very good thing, when it is done by a Loving God.

Ministering to Women, A Changing Face.

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I’ve been doing a lot of research lately about the roles of Women in Ministry.  Just these past few days I was really trying to look at women as a whole, who is it that we are ministering to?  As I google searched, and google searched some more… and went through the most recent women’s ministry books and resources…. we have a lot of work ahead of us.

  • Working women, working moms.
  • Stay at home moms, and housewives.
  • Grandmothers who are raising their grandchildren.
  • Mothers with adult children who have returned home.
  • Single moms, single working moms.
  • Mothers of children with disabilities.
  • Women who are widowed, or are married to a man with a terminal illness.
  • Women who are divorced.
  • Women who are stepmothers in blended families.
  • Women who adopted children.
  • Women who are lifelong single.
  • Women who have children.
  • Women who are infertile or have had miscarriages.
  • Women who have lost children or have a child with a terminal illness.
  • Women who have been abused:  physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and sexually.
  • Women who are disabled.
  • Women who struggle with addiction:  pornography, substances, and more.
  • Women who come from broken homes, women who were abandoned.
  • Women who are homeless.
  • Women who are struggling with their sexuality and gender identification.
  • Women who are struggling in their marriages.
  • Women who are married to non-believers.
  • Women who are struggling financially.
  • Women who are struggling spiritually.
  • Women who are suffering from depression and debilitating anxiety, who consider suicide.
  • Women who suffer from PTSD, from experiences in their life or serving for their country.
  • Women who are retired.
  • Women who are empty-nesters.
  • Women who are in, or previously were in prison.
  • Women who had abortions.
  • Women with serious or even terminal illness.
  • Women who suffer from eating disorders and body dysmorphia.
  • Women who are struggling, burdened, worn out by life.
  • Women who have faced racism, ageism, sexism in their lives.
  • Women who feel that they have no value, no importance, and are invisible.
  • Women who have been exploited in the sex trade industry, by decision or force.
  • Women who are young, trying to navigate the waters of adulthood and their future.
  • Women who are older, trying to move beyond the failures of their past.
  • Women who are mothers of prodigal children.
  • Women in the mission field.
  • Women on the battlefield.

If you, or your church, is wondering if a Women’s Ministry is needed…. I hope that list answers the question for you.

It’s a resounding YES.

We also need something new, because our needs changed…. our ministries haven’t.  We need women who are not just willing to lead fellowship events and bible studies, we need something new.  We need women who are equipped to Minister To Women.

The face of women in our church is changing, it’s time Women’s Ministry catches up.

BOOK REVIEW: BEFORE AMEN (Max Lucado)

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I am a huge fan of Max Lucado.  In fact, one of the very first books I read when I became a Christian was “He Chose the Nails”.  As a parent, I would introduce my kids to Max Lucado through “Hermie & Friends”.  I was also very excited to see Max Lucado speak at my local Women of Faith event, several years back.

When Family Christian gave me the opportunity to read “Before Amen”, I jumped at the opportunity.  I admit it, I am biased.  I new I’d love it, because I have always found Max Lucado’s writing credible, honest, easy to read & understand, and poignant to season in my life I am reading it.  Now that I have finished the book, I totally understand why it was chosen Book of the Year.

I’m going to let you in on a secret, that I have hidden from my kids, I write in books.  Yes, the very thing I tell them not to do… I do it.  Endlessly.  Without shame.

My bible…

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My books….

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As I was reading through “Before Amen”, my pen was being put to serious use.  In fact, I am pretty sure if the book had been about 10 pages longer, I’d have run out of ink.

A new Christian may find themselves in that awkward moment, where they want to talk to God… they know they should pray.  However, they don’t know how.   How do I begin?  What do I say?  How do I end?  How long should it be?  And, truthfully, if you google prayer formats, you can find quite a few suggestions.  Start with this, follow with this, etc.  Yet they are still confusing to a new believer.   For example, the A.C.T.S.  format (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) … a new believer will have no clue what “supplication” means.  They find themselves needing a dictionary just to understand how to pray.

When the Council at Jerusalem met, one thing they concluded is that we shouldn’t make faith difficult for new believers.  (ACTS 15:19)

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New believers, they need a simple prayer.

Perhaps though, you are a seasoned believer.  You have been praying all your life, but you find yourself in a moment of crisis, disaster, and you can’t find the words.  Your heart, your soul, LONGS to pray… but the words escape you.  Pain & confusion fill your mind, and your sorrow falls with your tears onto your pillow.  Others have the words to encourage you, the scriptures you should cling to.  Yet, you are unable to speak them or read them.  The tears fall, a silent prayer, when words escape us.

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Seasoned believers, need a simple prayer.

That is what “Before Amen” helps us all, new and seasoned believers, to find.  That simple prayer, when we don’t know what to say, or how to say it.  A prayer that acknowledges our God as our father, who loves us.  A prayer that says “Daddy, I need you”.  A prayer that say, “They need you”.  A prayer that says “Thank you” even when we are in our moments of doubt, lack of understanding, and pain.  A prayer that calls on the authority of the Heavens, on our behalf.

It is here, in my car, I have my conversations with God.

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They don’t always start out with “Dear God” and don’t always end with “In Jesus Name”, but they are moments where I pour out my heart to God about things I can’t grapple with.  This isn’t my formal prayer time, but it is sacred time to me.  It’s an uninterrupted time to wrap my head around the things going on around me.  I know God is there with me, but surely He’d prefer me to be quiet more, and listen more.  This conversation, that may last 15 minutes or 1 hour, isn’t enough.  It isn’t a simple prayer.

It is here, in this corner, where I was broken… beyond words…. crying out to God.   Tears staining my cheek, fingers wrenched around my cardigan, words escaped me.  But, I needed God

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I needed a simple prayer.

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In moments like these, even words like those above elude us.  The good news is that in “Before Amen”, Max Lucado points us not only toward a simple prayer, that has an enormous amount of power, but teaches us the importance of each sentence.  It’s a prayer we can write down on a card to display in our bathrooms, tuck into our purse to access throughout the day, or to share with our friends and loved ones.  A simple prayer that acknowledges our Father, and calls on the authority of Jesus.

In the scriptures, Max Lucado points out, the only thing that the disciples actually asked for a tutorial on… is how to pray.  That is how important prayer is; not only did they want to know how, but that Jesus took the time to teach them.   He set the best example on prayer life.  How, when and where.

“Before Amen” introduces us to this simple prayer, and the chapters that follow expand on each sentence of the prayer.  Why is this portion important?  How do we do it?  How does it help us?  Others?  Everything pivoting on our personal relationship with our Father God, it is a pure and sincere prayer that isn’t congested with fancy words, platitudes, illustrations and ideas.

We get an opportunity to explore how God answers prayers, and how to work through those prayers that are seemingly unanswered.  All of our prayers are important and answered by Him, but in His timing; our prayers for healing, forgiveness, safety, understanding, peace… the joyous and the tear stained.

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Within the final chapters of “Before Amen”, we are left with a very special gift….  A STUDY GUIDE!   Whether for your own purposes, for use in a small group, with friends or even with your spouse; these pages contain practical application questions, scripture reading promptings and guidance to help you span the gap between prayer in theory & prayer in practice.

The study guide in “Before Amen”, is well written and can be explored in a few sittings or spread out over time; to allow you to really reflect on the questions & suggestions.  It also helps us to identify our strengths in prayer, directs us to Bible Prayer Heroes that we can relate to, and gives us suggestions on how to strengthen in other areas of prayer.

Some great quotes, from the book “Before Amen”:

“When we invite God into our world, he walks in.  He brings a host of gifts:  joy, patience, resilience.  Anxieties come, but they don’t stick.  Fears surface and then depart.  Regrets land on the windshield, but then comes the wiper of prayer.  The devil hands me stones of guilt, but I turn and give them to Christ.”   (Max Lucado, Before Amen)

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“Travel to the Wailing Wall if you want.  But prayers at your backyard fence is just as effective.  The One who hears your prayers is your Daddy.  You needn’t woo him with location.”   (Max Lucado, Before Amen)

“Prayer changes things because prayer appeals to the top power in the universe… It is the yes to God’s invitation to invoke his name.”  (Max Lucado, Before Amen)

We are all running the good race, together.  We may find ourselves in those last few yard praying… Daddy, you are good to me.  I know you can.  So please, help me.  Help them.  Thank you. In Jesus name, AMEN.  

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And then we fall into his arms, because He was running with us the whole time. 

If you are looking for a good book to pick up, to start 2015 out right, I highly recommend “Before Amen”Too many books give us a complicated how to, that seem bigger than we can handle.  “Before Amen”  keeps it simple, to the point; it offers tangible and realistic steps that will transform your prayer life, and in doing so will transform you & the world around you.

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WHEN FACEBOOK WINS

I can’t even qualify today as “one of those days”.  It really stunk.  From the moment I woke up, it wasn’t going to be my best day ever.  Regardless of what type of mindset I was trying to get myself in.  And it grew more difficult as the day progressed.  In fact, I sit here at the end of my day with eyes red and sore from crying.  Not recent crying, but that all day long crying.

This isn’t a bout of depression, or the deliverance of some horrific news.  It’s a response due cumulative events, that overwhelmed my heart, mind and soul.

It felt like the only time I wasn’t crying this evening, was in that moment I fell asleep because crying had exhausted me.

Then, as I sat down to eat some marshmallows, with some sort of notion that would make me feel better, I decided to peruse Facebook.  And, Facebook … for all the complaints that can be said about it… today, it won.

Because, all things can be used for the glory of God.

It started when I saw this:

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And then this:

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And it just kept coming:

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The timing couldn’t have been more divinely appointed.  They were the reminders I needed, the things I needed to hear.

Reminding me:

  • I am not alone, in having bad days.  Someone wrote these, because they too had a bad day.
  • I am not alone, on my bad days.  Friends, family and GOD are always with me.  Just a phone call or a silent prayer away.
  • God’s promises are a part of my good days and bad days, I can rely on Him, He is my peace.
  • I may not be able to control things, but God can.  I just have to trust.
  • I may not understand the why, but I can understand the WHO that will help me through it.

God sees our tears.  He hears our cries.  His heart breaks, when our heart breaks.  He knows what is happening.  He will go before us, and follow behind.  For my God provides for the sparrows of the fields, and I am far more valuable than they.