The Lesson of the Peony

 

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“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 
and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.”
 – 1 Peter 1:3-4a, NIV –

Today, my friend Lizzie and I drove back and forth across town on a wild treasure hunt for a flower.

I’ve never grown peonies before , but I’m reading Roots and Sky by Christie Purifoy and her Instagram photos of impossibly-delightful peonies inspire me. Fall is in the air, and with it, my dreams of fluffy, dreamy, extravagant blossoms awaiting in the next gardening year.

So I needed a peony.

Now, my town is quite small. Only the arrival of tourists a few times a year manages to tip us over 3,000 people. “Driving across town” only takes about ten minutes. And our gardening options were very limited. We started with our favorite all-American corporate chain, proceeded to a grocery store with a tiny, empty 8×8 greenhouse, checked the lumber store’s collection of plants –actually the most impressive thus far–then drove to the local farm supply. It was our last great hope. But alas. No peonies in the whole town.

We thought our search was in vain. I picked up a few discount packets of seeds in a distant hope of spring planting and waited in the farm supply line to check out…and then the lady standing next to us overheard us lamenting our fruitless search. “There’s peonies at the lumber store,” she says. We explain that we had already looked there, among the spring bulbs. “They aren’t displayed with the bulbs,” she tells us. “She has them in pots.”

Liz whips out her phone and calls the lumber store greenhouse. Sure enough, they have a whole collection of $12.99 peonies.

Back across town we go and there they are…a cluster of black pots with tiny, gnarled, crispy-leaved plants tucked into the top layer of dirt, poking up little wrinkled limbs well past their prime. The tag promises a giant, perfectly-coral blossom.

“They die back in the fall and go dormant in the winter,” the gardener explains. “They’ll come back in the spring.”

So I buy a big black pot with a tiny, crusty-edged leaf hanging on to a twisted root half-unearthed. It costs $12.99. Almost thirteen dollars for a dying hope that won’t blossom at all until later.

I hand over a $20 bill and continue to pepper the woman with questions about how to care for this tiny, twisted hope. “Don’t be surprised if it doesn’t bloom for a few seasons,” she smiles. “It has to get big enough first.”

I nod and let my mind wander to a possible planting place. I’m dreamy with thoughts of spring.

So Liz and I load up the almost-vacant plastic pot into the back of the van and drive home. We grin because our treasure hunt was not in vain. I think finding a treasure after a long hunt must be the best part of an adventure.

The peony plant is safely tucked into the garage now, waiting for me to decide on a sunny growing place for it to call home. As I go about my day, I keep thinking back to that tiny, twiggy promise of a plant. People look at it doubtfully, because it really looks like the dying end of something.

My heart keeps jumping when I remember that this is not a dead and dying thing. My peony is a living hope. It is quiet and sleepy and browning. But it is alive. Something stirs in me when I think that the whole glorious potential of a 3-foot tall bush brimming with giant coral blossoms lies dormant in this dead-looking twig.

My peony keeps telling me stories, because it is itself a story, and a tying-together of my story.

I have no idea what tomorrow brings, what I will do in a year, or what changes may crop up moment by moment. While still a fragile, uncertain thing itself, the potential of the peony teaches me about steady things that anchor us in the middle of the ups and downs of life.

Planting this little whisper of spring is like putting down my roots and saying, “I will be fully here, as long as I am here.” It is a reminder that what I do today lasts, even as the moments fade away. It is a reminder that my Jesus put me here now, for this season.

This peony teaches me that there is an overarching story to the moments that I string together like pearls. Unique and tiny as each moment is, it is adding up to something bigger.

Sometimes I think anxiously about the future, wondering what it will bring.

But something about the peony ties my today and my tomorrow together in a rhythmic strength. Spring will come, as long as the earth remains, and when that spring comes, this dead-looking twig will jump to life and burst up with joy and blossom out in abundance.

And I smile when I think that all this life is packed into the wispy, fading, half-buried root waiting in my garage.

Lizzie says that maybe we are not just planting the peony. Maybe the peony is planting  us, down deep into life. Deep into faith in One who chases winter away every year with a new resurrection of creation.

“Spring will come,” the peony whispers. “There is more life here than you could ever imagine.”

“Look, the winter is past,
    and the rains are over and gone.
The flowers are springing up,
    the season of singing birds has come,
    and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air.

 – Song of Solomon 2:11-12, NLT –

No Good Thing

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When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.”

– Corrie Ten Boom –


Help me trust you.

I DO trust you. But I also fear you, dear Lord. I, silly child, fear that this one thing will be kept back from me. One incredibly good thing, scooted away from the table’s edge out of the reach of my grasping fingers.

But You do not withhold any good thing from me, do You?

“For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
The Lord will give grace and glory;
No good thing will He withhold
From those who walk uprightly.” – Psalm 84:11, NKJV

I was praying this last week, struggling with fear. Fear that my plans would go awry and all my carefully-constructed life would go tumbling off into uncertainty.

I’m not sure this has ever happened so vividly before, but as I was praying–nearly crying–over my fear, this verse popped into my head. “No good thing will He withhold…” I suddenly thought. The words were immediate and forceful. Not a voice, but a sudden assurance.

It took me by surprise. What a good God we have! Not a moment after I confessed my fears, He allowed this perfect verse to jump into my mind.

I was immediately both calmed and convicted. A moment before, I had been almost panicking because I was not getting my way. Now, I breathed and realized something:

If something would be good for me today, God would have given it to me.

The fact that He held back this desire of mine doesn’t mean He is not good–instead, it means that what I wanted wasn’t the best thing for me right now. Maybe it will be good for me later. Or maybe it will never be a good thing for me.

How simple! And yet, my heart was so comforted by remembering the God is not a hard taskmaster scheming for my misery. How often do we picture Him that way, just waiting to squelch our dreams?

He is not like that at all! He is a loving, indulgent Father who delights to bring us joy…but He also delights to strengthen our character. Sometimes that means doing things that we don’t particularly understand or even like at the moment. But it will end up for our ultimate joy and good.

“My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing. But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask.”

– James 1:2-5, CEB –

That is my big struggle, how about you? To believe that “God is up to something good for us in all our delays and detours” (John Piper). Because, honestly?

They just feel like plain ol’ delays and detours. And dead ends, sometimes, too.

But I believe they are so much more than that. Today, I chose to smile at that precious verse–that reminder that God will not withhold one single good and lovely thing from me. And I choose to trust that His definition of “good” is a lot more accurate than mine.

Take a deep breath. Isn’t that freeing? Today, God has given me every gift I need. Because He is so good.


“Outside of the will of God, there is nothing I want, and in the will of God, there is nothing I fear.”

 – A.W. Tozer –

 

A Grace of Superlatives

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“Grace, on the other hand, means that God is pursuing you. That God forgives you. That God sanctifies you. When you are apathetic toward God, He is never apathetic toward you. When you don’t desire to pray and talk to God, He never grows tired of talking to you. When you forget to read your Bible and listen to God, He is always listening to you. Grace means that your spirituality is upheld by God’s stubborn enjoyment of you.”

Preston Sprinkle, Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace for Us, p. 76, emphasis mine –


There are some things in life that I can’t explain.

Like God.

I cannot explain God.

When I read 2 Corinthians 9:8, my mind will not wrap around the verse. I hold it like I’d hold a sparkling diamond. It’s glorious in its shimmer. It’s costly beyond belief. It’s beautiful. And I have no idea just how much it is worth.

In this passage, Paul is speaking to the willing and repentant Christians in Corinth. He’s urging them to follow through on their previous promise to assist struggling Christians in other cities. After he explains the virtue of giving from a cheerful heart, he makes this powerful statement:

“And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8, NKJV).

Every time I read this, this verse stops me cold. What kind of promise is this? What kind of love and glory is this? I don’t understand. This is extravagant. This is more grace than I deserve.

~ Ability ~

“And God is able….”

Wow. Think about that for a minute. God. Is. Able. 

This God of ours can do ANYTHING. He is not held back. He is not bound by our misconceptions, limited perspective, or fears. He is God. He is Able.

He is “able to make all grace abound toward you…”

God is capable. What, then, holds us back?

~ Always ~

“…always having all sufficiency…”

Always? Always? From childhood, we’re taught to be suspicious of words like “always” and “never.” But when it comes to our Heavenly Father, His unchanging nature is our anchor. He is always the same. Always steady. Always love. Always justice. This is the kind of always that we must believe in.

He promises eternal sufficiency. Always: not sometimes, not occasionally, not every other day. His supply of grace is bottomless. Oh, Lord, give us this grace of Yours. Give us hearts to ask for this grace every day! I know You will never run out of it–but I run dry every moment. Fill me with your always-ready strength.

~ All ~

This single verse blows me away every time. One thing in particular stands out: one little verse–only 28 words long–uses the word “all” THREE times! Three!

God has His own perfect reasons for how He breathed His inspired words into Paul in just this way. But I like to think of it this way: God knows that I am forgetful. No sooner do I discover His glory than I forget my glimpse of Him. James 1:23-24 says, “Those who hear but don’t do the word are like those who look at their faces in a mirror. They look at themselves, walk away, and immediately forget what they were like” (CEB). I’m just like this. I see, and then I immediately forget God’s staggering greatness. As song writer Andrew Peterson writes:

“It’s easy to not have the heart to remember
That I am a priest and a prince
In the Kingdom of God”

– “Fool with a Fancy Guitar” –

I think that is why God directed Paul to write “all” three times in this small verse. It is there so it can ring true in my soul.

All. All. All.

I have no excuse to think that God is neglecting any of my needs. I have been equipped with absolutely everything necessary for my life to glorify Him. His promise is more than “some,” “nearly,” or “most.” He offers all.

~ Abundance ~

The title of this post is “A Grace of Superlatives.” In English grammar, superlatives are words that describe something as above all others: best, smartest, loveliest, richest, most wonderful. These are superlatives.

Just like the superlatives of our language, Paul lavishes this kind of overflowing terminology on the Corinthians, using the words “all,” “always,” “abundance,” and “every.”

This is who our God is. He doesn’t half-do things. He doesn’t give half a gift, or just enough grace for us to limp along.

He pours blessings. He lavishes riches. He showers with love. He writes us a book full of Him, so brimming with His own power and extravagant nature that our language bulges at the seams to try to convey even a portion of His glory.

I just wrote a blog post about how unable I am to write a blog post that sufficiently captures this grace.

I don’t get it.

All I know is that when I read this verse, I am staggered by a God who saw the filthiness of my soul and yet chose to make me His. I am amazed by the God who knows my forgetful, wandering heart and still calls me upward, closer to Him. I am humbled and awed by a God who lavishes me with grace and sufficiency and unimaginable reserves of strength–and I have barely tasted a drop of His supply.

“Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”

 – Hebrews 7:25, NKJV –

This is a grace of superlatives. This is a grace that can get me through any dark day, or joyous night I could ever have. This is a grace that is more than enough for you. 

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,  to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

– Ephesians 3:14-21, NKJV –


“Grace is eternal because it will take that long for God to spend inexhaustible stores of goodness on us.”

– John Piper –