Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sharing Kindness

Over the past several months, I've done quite a bit of introspective thinking.  As some of you know, I've struggled with depression in very recent years.  It is a deep, cavernous black hole that fully envelops your entire being and chokes the life out of you...literally.  I'm not sure why some people fall victim and others don't...from what I can tell, depression is very indiscriminate in choosing its prey.  Unfortunately, it seems like one of the enemy's favorite methods of attack in my life; even when I'm doing well, I must be mindful not to allow negativity and bitterness to wrap their wicked fists around my heart and drag me back into the abyss. I suppose that my weakness is an eagerness to please.  I want to be liked.  I need to feel needed.  I like to have purpose.  I crave acceptance and approval.  I fear failure and rejection.  I am terrified of disorder and loss of control.  Sometimes I forget Whose I am and who He says I am, and I let those fears and the aching of my heart overwhelm me.

Over the past year, my husband has been my rock.  Whether he knows it or not, I have appreciated and loved him so much during all of my trials because he has never faltered in his love and endurance.  I've taken him through pain he didn't deserve, and yet he loves me.  I am so grateful.  One thing in particular that he has reiterated over and over in his words and actions in my life has been God's command to love one another.  Without conditions.  Without any expectation of praise or return on our investment.  Just love one another, period.

At the beginning of the summer, I committed to turning around my relationship with my little boy.  He is quite like me, yet totally himself.  His extremely strong will promises to serve him well as an adult someday, but it is not my favorite quality in any child, especially one for whom I'm responsible.  He is brilliant, and therefore never accepts any simple answer; he will inundate me with deep, complicated questions until he is satisfied that he fully understands a matter.  He marches to the beat of his own drummer, and I am sometimes mortified by his unique ways of expressing himself...why can't he just blend in sometimes?!  But God has been teaching me to slow down and appreciate Wyatt for who he truly is and to stop expecting him to be anything other than that.  To lower my expectations of his behavior to the 7-year-old-boy level instead of the highest forms of behavior I've seen in him periodically.  To recognize in him what frustrations and fears are causing him anxiety and help him to overcome those feelings rather than suppress them.

One of the ways God has shown me to help Wyatt has been to do some little kind something for him every day.  Some little gesture that shows him I love him.  It could be as simple as reaching back to squeeze his leg while we're driving.  Snuggling up on the couch and laughing at his favorite cartoons together.  Sitting down to make a mess with our art supplies at the kitchen table.  Letting him help prepare a meal.  Little things that, at the end of the day, add up to big feelings.  Feelings of love and appreciation and acceptance and approval.

Not to say I haven't had my missteps along the way, but overall, I've begun to reshape my attitude towards this beautiful, perfect little gift from God.  Instead of feeling forever inconvenienced and burdened, I feel blessed.  Blessed to see how incredibly wonderful this child is, and how insanely trusting God is of me to raise him.  Now, instead of seeing a behavior I don't like, I'm beginning to recognize a fear or insecurity or anxiety that is calling out for help in him.  Just like me.  Just. Like. Me.

As a result of changing my mindset and softening my heart, I've started to realize how broken so many of us are in our own small, private ways.  Perhaps our hurts seem too insignificant to share, so we just keep them inside, filing them away in the "put on your big girl panties" drawer.  We just keep cramming and shoving our brokenness into every nook and cranny until there's no more room, and the pieces begin to seep out into our lives.  We withdraw, we lash out, we harshly judge.  We forget to love one another.  And we forget how to be loved.

I've resolved to make every single day that God has given me breath into an opportunity to love.  To love every single human being I see.  Every day.  Every one of them.  This isn't complicated.  Lift someone up in prayer.  Smile a genuine, friendly smile at a passerby.  Sincerely compliment someone.  Let someone else go first.  Help someone with a tedious task.  Pay for someone's lunch.  Hold a door for someone.  Put quarters into the toy machines at the store.  Just listen to someone who needs to talk. Tip your server a little more generously than necessary.  Take someone a meal.  Write a sweet little note and slip it into the mail. The possibilities are endless, and if you keep your eyes open, they're obvious.  You just have to be looking.  And you have to be willing to follow through.

I invite you all to join me in this endeavor.  Together, we can all make a big difference with small gestures.  We'll remind one another that we're not alone on this journey called life.  Let's all be looking for ways to love one another.  I know that by doing so, we'll all be blessed.  And you truly never know who needs those random acts of kindness.  What seems like a small, unimportant thing to you might be the only bright light in someone else's darkness, and that one tiny thing could save a life.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

I Heart Faces Photo Challenge:: Beautiful Eyes

Anyone who knows my Wyatt knows how wonderfully expressive he can be!  His gorgeous eyes, along with that ruby red hair, have always enchanted me.  The light outside was so warm and delicious last night that we went out for some pre-bath fun on his new fort.  I caught this silly boy trying to scare me through one of the footholds.  He's a goober, and I love him!

Photo Challenge Submission

Monday, September 1, 2014

Weeding the Garden of Your Heart

In only a few short days, these weeds have overtaken my dianthus flowers so that you can't even see their foliage!
For the first time in what seems like forever, the temperature outside this morning was almost chilly.  I decided to take advantage of this blessing and spend some time pulling weeds from my poor, neglected garden.  As I'm sure is the case for many an avid gardener, I often have the best conversations with God in the peace and quiet among my flower beds.  And because I love tangible results in anything I'm doing, pulling weeds is an extremely satisfying task.

Since it's been a few weeks since I've set foot in my garden for anything other than watering, I had quite the mess on my hands.  The only thing to do was to start on the far end and work my way to the other, one green invader at a time.  As I started making progress, I started realizing the parallels between weeds among our flowers and the weeds of sin on our hearts.

What are weeds, really?  When I was a kid, I always heard the old-timers refer to weeds as something growing where you didn't want it to.  But they're more than that.  True weeds choke out beneficial plants, robbing them of the nutrients they need to bear mature fruit.  Weeds grow much more aggressively, entangling themselves around other plants until it becomes difficult or impossible to separate the two.  Weeds aren't picky; they'll grow rampantly in the poorest or richest of soils, and make do with whatever water and nutrients they can steal from their surroundings.  In our hearts, weeds are not so obvious and easy to identify.  They spring up from burying ourselves in the cares of this world, getting trapped up in the allure of material things, or placing the pleasures of the world above God's will for our lives.   

As we read in Matthew 13:25-28, the seeds of the worldly weeds in our hearts are sown by the enemy.  As these seeds germinate and grow, they distract us from our relationship with God and take up the space in our hearts for godly thoughts.  If allowed to take root, they can slow our spiritual growth, sometimes even stop it altogether, and prevent us from producing mature spiritual fruit. 

The top photo is a weed.  The bottom is one of my favorite plants, purslane.  Aside from the flowers, they're nearly identical! 
Some weeds look just like the plants I've purposefully planted in my garden, and I sometimes question whether they're truly weeds or just a friendly little volunteer seedling.  The weeds in our heart are just as sneaky.  Satan doesn't come to us looking like himself.  He disguises himself in light, looking very much like everything we've ever wanted.  And that's how he gets his foot in the door.  Remember, he is a thief.  He wants to distract you from God and His will for your life.  He wants you to dwell on things that are no good for you.  He wants to steal the nutrients of your heart meant for bearing good fruit.

The good news is that God has lovingly provided us with His own special blend of weed killer.  In Philippians 4:8, His word tells us, "finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."  When you nourish those thoughts, they will grow and flourish.

A pretty little periwinkle trying to make its home in the rocks of my patio.  If I leave it there, it will grow for awhile, but it will soon need more space and the heat will be too intense, and it will die.

It's very important to tend to the garden of your heart (hopefully more frequently than I do my actual flower garden, by the way).  Carving out time each day to spend in God's word is the most important maintenance your heart requires.  God craves you.  He rewards those who diligently seek Him.  His deepest desire is to be in relationship with you.  Matthew 13 presents the parable of the sower. If your heart is not properly tilled, the seeds that God sows there through His word will at first be joyfully received, but without the proper soil, the roots won't be able to take hold, and those sprouts will never fully develop.  You hear the word, and while you believe it, when troubles and hardships come your way, the soil of your heart isn't fortified with the nutrients it needs, so you quickly abandon the hope that is yours for the taking. Don't just be hearers of the word, be doers.  Believe and trust in Him who is able, the Great I Am.

This sweet little celosia apparently overwintered in my flower bed!  I haven't planted any celosia this year, and this plant is an annual, so it shouldn't have survived.  I love it when I find these little gems every year!

In Proverbs 3:3, we're reminded to "let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart."  When you spend time in God's word every day, impressing His truths upon your heart, those seeds of love and hope will settle themselves in the soil of your heart.  During the trials of life, you'll be amazed to find that those seeds have germinated into full-grown vines of hope and truth.  What you may have forgotten you'd tucked away will now sustain you.  All of God's seeds grow into perennials!  They just keep coming back, time after time, to remind you of His love and faithfulness! 

This purple basil started out as a tiny little sprout this spring.  I found it inside of the pot of another plant I'd purchased at a nursery, and transplanted it to this spot.  Not kidding, it was two inches tall at the time.  Within a few weeks, it grew to a 5-ft tall shrub!
Another amazing thing about God's fills up the space in your heart until it overflows!  The more time and energy you spend filling your heart with God and His truth, the richer the soil of your heart becomes.  Luke 6:45 teaches us that "a good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart."  

Friends, our God in Heaven loves us so much.  So much that He sent His only begotten Son to take our place on the cross.  To pay the wages of our sin.  To tear the veil that separates us from Himself.  All He wants from us is that we seek a relationship with Him.  And as we seek Him and grow in Him, He will sanctify us, bringing us closer and closer to His side, and refining us until we are more and more like Jesus.  And one day, we will walk together with Him in His perfect garden.