“I’ll Be in the Garden”

So nice to be able to say “I’ll be in the garden.”  The irises have bloomed and faded, and it’s time to do some deadheading and cutting back. I take out a bag and a pair of pruning shears, and step onto our patio and yard.

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The Idaho sunshine is more direct now, and it isn’t long before some beads of sweat appear on my forehead. I can’t believe I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think of something to do outdoors, to break out of the exercise doldrums. I’m so used to living in an apartment on a major highway, I have forgotten how much I love a back yard.

“But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.”

Psalm 1: 2-3

I see many things I would have overlooked on any other day. As I clip back spent stems, I have a closer look at the ground covers that wind their way through the flower beds.

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I look up and see the plums on our tree, and the blossoms on the Japanese honeysuckle planted by the previous owner.

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I fill the bag with plant debris and head back to the patio, where a new bunch of daisies are blooming.

“The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them;

and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.”

Isaiah 35:1

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I shrug and wipe the sweat from my forehead with my arm, and gather some of the roses to take indoors.

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“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;

the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,

and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”

Isaiah 55:12

If it’s a Saturday afternoon, I’ll be in the garden!

 

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Book Review: This Beautiful Mess, by Rick McKinley

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When we picture the Kingdom of God, we may visualize a faraway place of perfection, where there are no troubles, tears or messy situations. In fact, it may be difficult to picture anything other than heaven itself. In his book This Beautiful Mess: Practicing the Presence of the Kingdom of God, Pastor Rick McKinley helps us see the Kingdom at work all around us, in our lives here on earth.

To illustrate what he calls a “revolutionary reality,” McKinley uses examples ranging from environmental stewardship and creation care to solidarity with the suffering. Chapter by chapter, the book shines a light on the Kingdom of God that is hidden, right in front of us. McKinley challenges Christians to preach with our lives. He reminds us that God loves the world, and that He created people from the earth. The book challenges the “my-home-is-in-heaven-so-why-care-about-the-world” way of thinking.

To me, This Beautiful Mess is a breath of fresh air. As a Christian who cares for God’s creation, I appreciate the emphasis on living in the Kingdom here and now. In one of my favorite parts of the book, Pastor McKinley encourages the use of the word “solidarity” as an expression of partnership and belonging.  I recommend This Beautiful Mess to anyone who is looking for solidarity with the Kingdom of God as they travel through this life.

Interested in this book? For starters, you can read Chapter One of A Beautiful Mess, and you can visit author Rick McKinley’s website.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for writing a review. I was not required to write a positive review; all opinions in this review are my own.

Book Review: Greater, by Steven Furtick

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What are you waiting for? What is holding you back? You were created for greater things than you can imagine — greater than money, popularity or fame. We’ve probably all been there — feeling stuck in mediocrity, unfulfilled, wondering if this is all there is. In his book Greater, Pastor Steven Furtick tells the story of Elisha as an illustration of how we can start where we are and begin a new life in faith.

Pastor Furtick points out that just as Elisha did when Elijah called him, we can “burn our plow” and break away from things that are holding us back. The key, according to the author, is to develop a trusting relationship with God for the journey. Pastor Furtick also offers encouragement for the times of grief or disappointment, when we wonder if perhaps we’ve “wasted our faith.”

I understand those fears about “wasted faith” all too well. Greater has helped me develop a new perspective about those bitter times. The lessons from this book give me confidence to I work with what I have, and to believe that God can work through me in His infinite power. I recommend this book for anyone who wants to take a step away from self-criticism and start living for something “greater.”

You can learn more about this book at the Greater website, or catch up with Pastor Steven Furtick on his website.

I received this book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. All opinions in this review are my own; I was not required to write a positive review.

Compassion International Bloggers in Nicaragua

Learn more about sponsoring a child.

This week, a group of bloggers is touring Nicaragua with Compassion International, the Christian child advocacy ministry. I’d like to invite you to follow these bloggers and witness hope in action.

One member of the Nicaragua tour is Kelly, who runs the  blog Faithful Provisions. She had the privilege of meeting seven-year-old Marcos, the child whom she sponsors through Compassion International. Marcos and his grandmother welcomed Kelly into their home and told her how much her sponsorship has helped him go to school and eat nutritious meals. Like many other sponsored children, Marcos now has plans and hope for his future.

Kelly’s story reminded me of a verse I read on the wall of the kitchen at a women’s shelter where I lived five years ago:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

Whether you are a homeless person in the United States or a child living in poverty in Central America, people often do not want to look you in the eye. It’s too real.

Compassionate acts really do make a difference! As the organization states in its mission statement, Compassion International works to release children from all types of poverty: spiritual, social, economic and physical. There are many ways to get involved, including sponsoring a child or following and sharing the Compassion Blog Tour.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Matthew 5:6 (NIV)

Book Review: Home Tonight by Henri J.M. Nouwen

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It is difficult to drown out the criticisms, labels and rejections that make us feel inadequate and lost. In Home Tonight, Henri J.M. Nouwen teaches us how to find our way home to our true identity as a deeply loved child of the Creator. The book is a collection of the late author’s writings based on inspiration from Rembrandt’s painting The Return of the Prodigal Son.  To illustrate the power of forgiveness and God’s unconditional love, Nouwen guides the reader through a series of practices: listening, journaling and communing with God.

After reading Home Tonight, I realize that I still cling to old hurts, and that I need to shake off old labels. As Nouwen points out, security in God’s love gives me freedom to love without fear of disappointing others.  The book encouraged me to walk in freedom, knowing that even if another person rejects me, there is One who’s love never fades. I especially like the emphasis on building a relationship with God, who loves each of us as a unique creation.

For anyone who has faced rejection, disappointment or resentment (and who hasn’t?), Home Tonight offers a breath of fresh air. Nouwen’s gentle approach makes a surprisingly dramatic impact. I highly recommend accepting the author’s invitation to this journey of healing and homecoming.

You can find out more about Home Tonight and Henri J.M. Nouwen here, and read Chapter One of the book here.

I received a free copy of Home Tonight by Henri J.M. Nouwen from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for writing this review. I was not obligated to write a positive review.

Book Review: The Fourth Fisherman by Joe Kissack

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A person does not have to be stranded at sea in order to feel lost. Sometimes our loneliest moments take place in familiar surroundings amid close friends and family. Joe Kissack’s book The Fourth Fisherman takes us on parallel journeys of loss, despair and recovery. Kissack narrates his personal story of dizzying success as a Hollywood executive and his eventual descent into addiction and depression. At the same time, three Mexican fisherman struggle for months stranded at sea, surviving on a diet of sea turtle. The common thread in both stories is the faith that sustains Joe and the fisherman.

I related in some ways to both stories. I have been physically stranded and homeless as well as spiritually stranded, clinging to unimportant things. Sometimes a certain verse in the Bible will provide a way out, but it takes a leap of faith to reach for that lifeline. Kissack captures that scary transitional moment when he writes “I had to let go of the idea that I had to understand it all.”

The Fourth Fisherman held my attention from beginning to end. Kissack shares important life lessons as he weaves a suspenseful tale. I especially appreciated the attention given to each of the fishermen, their backgrounds and their stories. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants a new perspective on hope and recovery. Whether I face real physical danger or predatory sharks of the imagination, I will think of the stories in The Fourth Fisherman.

FTC disclaimer: I received my copy of The Fourth Fisherman for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing group through Blogging for Books for this review. I was not required to write a positive review and have stated my own opinions in this review.

You can find out more about The Fourth FIsherman by Joe Kissack at the book website, and you can read Chapter One here.

Recognize the Thin Places

There are moments when the boundary between heaven and earth, or the physical and the spiritual, seems to dissolve. The ancient Celtics and Celtic Christians referred to such glimpses of the eternal as “thin places.” Many authors have written about thin places, and where such places can be found. I recognize my thin places when I feel a particularly strong connection to the past and its teachers, to the point of almost “being there.”

It could be a river carving through a valley…

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Or it could be a sacred place…

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Or maybe a gathering storm.

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The important part is to recognize the thin places and keep those moments with me. They have given me hope, inspired lyrical poetry and even sustained me through months of sleeping in a park. When I need strength, inspiration or peace, I thank God for these times and places, which remind me that He meets us where we are and knows our deepest desires before we even ask.

Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Isaiah 30:20

Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.  For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”           Luke 10:23-24