Posted in Personal Helps, Proactive Faith

How to Kill a Plant in 5 Easy Steps

I love plants, especially houseplants that don’t involve 95-degree sunny days, red clay, or mosquitoes. But I have a problem. Some people have “green thumbs” and can grow anything, but my thumbs are wrapped in angry yellow “CAUTION” tape. In my dad’s garden, I’m allowed to pick anything that’s visibly ripe, but otherwise, for its own safety I leave the garden alone.

Since I’ve moved to Indiana, I’ve been replacing some of the houseplants I had to leave behind – but I’ve been smart enough this time to buy only the ones I know I can’t kill too easily – pothos, Janet Craigs, dwarf palms. After a little humbling analysis, I’ve discovered what makes me the serial plant-killer I am… and they’re exactly the same problems I’ve had to address in my Christian life.

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Posted in Encouragement, Personal Helps, Stories & Studies

Unspoken Request

Do you have an “unspoken request”?

It’s so unspoken that you’ll never raise your hand in prayer meeting about it. You rarely speak of it, although those closest to you may suspect it. It feels foolish to express it aloud, or someone’s bound to launch into a clichéd pep talk. And honestly, your desire is something everyone else already seems to have. How did you get left out? Was God passing out “dreams-come-true” and skipped you somehow?

Hannah, in I Samuel 1, just wants the most commonplace, ordinary thing a woman can have – a child. She lives in a culture in which you prove your worth and preserve your legacy by raising children. Her peers all have kids already. In these days, bigamy is still legal, and her husband’s other wife has already given him several children. Hannah has clearly got a lot going for her – not only has she earned first place in Elkanah’s affections, she’s also a God-fearing woman during a godless period wracked with idolatry and civil war, when every man did that which was right in his own eyes. Of all the women to miss the boat, why Hannah?

She’s discouraged and frustrated, and continually provoked by the other wife. This dream that never came true is a constant sorrow to her. Elkanah tries to cheer her up – “Look on the bright side! You have me, right?” (Observation: men haven’t remotely changed in the past 3,000 years.) And she does have a lot to be thankful for. It’s a good life, secure, free from poverty and danger. And, if her peers are anything like some of mine, she’s frequently reminded how easy and carefree her life must be without all the responsibility of children. Be happy, Hannah! The grass is always greener, girl! She’s in the temple beating down the doors of heaven for an answer when Eli the priest catches sight of her. Eli doesn’t even recognize fervent prayer anymore; at first he mistakes Hannah for a dysfunctional trainwreck like his own kids out on the temple steps.

God needed a new priest to stand as a critical turning point in Israel’s history, rock-solid enough to survive the carnality of Eli’s house while he was being trained. Raising such a child was an enormous task that had to be done within a couple of years. The mothers of Israel were churning out godless, ungovernable children. This was a task, not for the ordinary woman, but for someone already completely yielded to Him. Hannah missed out on normalcy because she wasn’t the “norm”.

And, beautifully, God fulfills His own need by fulfilling Hannah’s. At last He gives her a son, Samuel, “Because I have asked him of the LORD.” Hannah has finally been given everything she desired, the dream fulfilled, the validation of who she is as a woman, the culmination of everything she’s ever wanted to do… but she still won’t be “living the dream”. She’s already determined to hand the whole thing back to Him.

Somewhere along the way, at some point during that long sorrow, she realized what her own “unspoken request” really was. Had she really desired a child to fulfil her natural craving? To fit in and live a normal life? To create her own legacy? Her prayer of praise in I Samuel 2 seems odd for a new mom – God the great Leveler, the ultimate Judge who weighs the actions of mankind. But she’s beginning to see through His eyes – the one who has learned to value what others take for granted, is the only one who can give it all back as a willing sacrifice.  “…We know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. … And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:26-28) Her unspoken request had made room for His.

What is your “Samuel”?

What’s it worth to you? Is it worth handing back in its entirety, with nothing for you to keep? Hannah would get to see her son every year, but she’d always leave him behind, knowing that his guardian had raised these perverts she was stepping past on her way into the temple. This wasn’t a one-time sacrifice. This would last the rest of her life.

I don’t know why God says “No.” I don’t know why He says “Not yet.” I don’t know why sometimes He says neither and leaves you wondering if He heard you at all. But I do know, in Hannah’s words, that “There is none holy as the LORD: for there is none beside Thee: neither is there any rock like our God. Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth: for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.” Wait and see – perhaps He is holding back the ordinary life because what He needs is the extraordinary.

Posted in Encouragement, Personal Helps, Proactive Faith, Stories & Studies

I Saw a Ghost on Galilee

I have to laugh when kids come dragging into school in the morning complaining that they’re still tired from things that happened two days ago. Every day is recovery from the day before, and every mistake made is simply blamed on being tired – regardless of having more energy at this age than they ever will have again. In our college naiveté we used to dream of the days when we could “set our own schedule” and sleep ten hours a night and not have to be responsible for twenty-seven things at the same time. (We’re still dreaming.) And life is busy and frankly exhausting, if you’re living it well. “Tired” is a fact of life, whether you’re a student, a mother, a caregiver, an employee, or anything else. In a proper cycle of expending and restoring energy, it’s a good thing.

But when the cycle is unbalanced for too long and we end up overworked, sleep-deprived, and bumbling like zombies from one task to the next, the brain starts doing some odd things. You make

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Posted in Personal Helps, Quotes & Verses

Do I Know You?

I started college back in 2007 when cellphones had hinges, calls were free after 9pm, and you called your parents to apologize if you accidentally went online. The rich kids had texting. For the rest of us, though, texts were ten cents apiece. So, trying to replicate the grand experience of texting, a classmate and I would Continue reading “Do I Know You?”