The Lesson of the Peony

 

dsc_0060-copy

 

“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 –

Advertisements

Acorns, Caverns, and Me

oak-leaf

A bright-smiled young man explained to a group of us CollegePlus students and alumni about how his education experience was like a tree. He explained his tendency to want things to happen all at once, for the giant oak to just appear out of nowhere. “And then an acorn dropped on my head,” he laughed. That acorn reminded him that life is a process, not an immediate arrival.

It’s funny how something like that will stick with you.

I like to always have myself together. Forget the journey—I want to be at the destination now. I want the oak to spring into existence in front of me. Majestic live oaks sprawl across the Southern US. Branches tower and dip, stretched out like eternal arms and crooked low to create a bench. The solidity of these trees is astounding. Their girth is broad and deep and gnarled with experience.

But, in the awe of their expanse, it is hard to forget their age. Their bulk screams solidity, power, art, beauty—and also years and years of living.

I think it may be impossible to finger the knotted bark of a live oak and not vicariously experience the cut of the barbed wire half-grown into the side of the tree, the lightning that scorched one black branch, the gallons of raindrops that have washed in rivulets down the leaves, through the canyons of bark, all the way down to the roots.

When you look at a tree, you cannot help but see experience. Time. A process.

Then, somehow, I expect to roll out of bed and be sanctified, fully-grown, and perfectly stable in about 5 minutes.

“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.”

– James 1:2-4, CEB –

I expect that I’ll be grown-up, and pain won’t hurt anymore. Trials won’t surprise anymore. Joy won’t ache anymore.

In other words, I expect to get an oak tree overnight. 

When I think about that young man’s story about the acorn, I realize that I’m much closer to the acorn end of things than I am to the sprawling live oak tree. I am small, weak, unimpressive—and filled with unutterable energy, potential, and room for growth.

Near our home in the mountains is the most beautiful cave I’ve ever visited. Deep below the surface, winding trails are filled with incredible cave decorations: canopies and columns, soda-straw stalactites, channels and coral reefs of extruded rocks.

This cave was not carved out of rock overnight. Time, again, did the beautifying. In a complex pattern of yielding and standing strong against external pressures, the cave gradually took on the shape it is in today.

The slow work of rain. Dirt moving. Stretching up, hollowing out, yielding to change. Standing through lightning crashes or the roll of an earthquake. This is how a tree grows, or a cave begins.

Sometimes we think we have to get it right, right now. Life becomes more about understanding than waiting.

But that’s just not how it is.

When life hurts, I don’t have to be okay. I don’t have to quiet my tears, or hold back my feelings of loss, or try to wrestle my pain into subjection.

All I have to do is rejoice in belief.

People talk about the stages of grief because healing and growth are not instant things. God most often chooses to work through natural processes to do His work–and often, that means waiting. It means I do not become whole in a moment. It means you have to hold on to God’s promises and let Him work out the healing or growing on His timeline.

Rejoicing in belief means that I trust God with my process. It means that I learn to rest in the middle of inner turmoil. It means that, in my deepest places, I believe God with all my heart, even if my emotions are up and down. Rejoicing in belief means I choose to say “Your will be done,” I am glad that it will be done, and I hold on for when it will be done in full.

When you are stuck “in process,” remember that your Savior became a man and felt these same tensions and lived the same body-soul wrestling that we live. He knows, and He cares. And, best of all, He is able to make us stand strong in the uncertain growing.

Remember, little acorns, that you are not oaks yet, but you are becoming mighty and wise.

Remember, little caves, that the deep places of the earth were not carved in a night.

Remember, sweet sisters, that your heart is on a journey, and Jesus is walking the path with us, seeing His perfect work all the way to the end.

We’re works in progress. Believe, and let Him grow you strong and deep and sure. He is able to do it.


“Remember He is the artist and you are only the picture. You can’t see it. So quietly submit to be painted—i.e., keep fulfilling all the obvious duties of your station (you really know quite well enough what they are!), asking forgiveness for each failure and then leaving it alone. You are in the right way. Walk—don’t keep on looking at it.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis –

My Least Favorite Word

green-grass-1389455556r42

“Jesus replied, ‘You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.’ “
– John 13:7, CEB –

I get along quite well with most words, but there is one word I intensely dislike.

Waiting.

Not because I’m impatient (well, maybe a little…), but the word waiting is just so…dull. Lifeless. Boring. Blah.

When we talk about waiting–waiting to hear about a job, waiting for that scholarship board to make a decision, waiting for the right guy to come along, waiting for high school to end and college to begin–something settles over us.

When thoughts of waiting creep up on me, I think that I’m becoming discontent. Sometimes that is true, yes. But lots of times, I don’t think that is my problem. So, this is not a post about contentment. Sorry.

The word waiting seems so terrible because it takes my mind off the things God has me doing now, and puts my attention on the things God will do in the future.

The waiting isn’t the problem, actually. It’s not the poor word’s fault. The problem is ME. Even when I’m altogether happy with what God has given me to do in this season of my life, I can get wrapped up in the idea of waiting.

Waiting is not a bad word. The Bible talks about waiting on the Lord a lot. What I am talking about is the frequent use of “I’m just in a season of waiting,” as if we are not ALL in seasons of waiting. We’re always waiting on something, really. It’s not just a word for single girls to pull out to explain the lack of a significant other. In a constantly-changing world, there’s always going to be something coming up for us to dwell on. But that’s my point.

I would never tell you to stop thinking about the future. Single ladies, I would never tell you to completely stop thinking about getting married. Job seekers, I would never advocate ditching your career goals and living entirely for the moment. Mothers and wives, I would never tell you to stop thinking about when the kids will be grown-up, or when your husband will retire. That’s silly–the Bible commends wise planning and encourages us to look in hope to the future because God is in control (Proverbs 31:25; Romans 8:25; Romans 15:13).

However, I think the word waiting and I got off to a bad start because when I’m always thinking about what I’m waiting for, I lose the potency of the present moment. It’s good for me to smile at the happy things to come and to wonder what new bends in the road I’ll discover, but not at the cost of the Present.

You see, if I’m always focused on the waiting, I’ll never be able to concentrate on what God has given to me right now.

The concept of waiting has been rolling around in my mind for a while, and yesterday a novel I was reading helped me find the key. The book quoted from 1 Thessalonians 5:18:

“Give thanks in all things.”

Plenty of books have been written about giving thanks, but between a busy schedule and a large dose of forward thinking, it’s something I aspire to, but rarely do.

Do you know what else I’ve discovered?

Thanking is about trusting.

When I stop dwelling in the future and instead thank God for this moment (yes, even the hard moments), that is an act of faith. Deep down, I am declaring more than simple contentment. I am saying, “Lord, I have no idea what you will bring into my life tomorrow, but I trust you. I am not guaranteed one more moment than this moment, so in this moment, I praise you. In this moment, I choose to believe that You are good and faithful. With this moment, and every moment to come, I trust You.”

So…

Waiting is not really my enemy–but I refuse to make it my full-time job. Tomorrow holds adventure, it’s true. But I am not living in Tomorrow, I’m living Today. I will praise Him today.

God took good care of yesterday. I trust Him with today.

Tomorrow is in good hands.


“I do not know what next may come
Across my pilgrim way;
I do not know tomorrow’s road,
Nor see beyond today.
But this I know — my Saviour knows
The path I cannot see;
And I can trust His wounded hand
To guide and care for me.

I do not know what may befall,
Of sunshine or of rain;
I do not know what may be mine,
Of pleasure and of pain;
But this I know — my Saviour knows
And whatsoe’er it be,
Still I can trust His love to give
What will be best for me.

I do not know what may await,
Or what the morrow brings;
But with the glad salute of faith,
I hail its opening wings;
For this I know — that my Lord
Shall all my needs be met;
And I can trust the heart of Him,
Who has not failed me yet.”

– E. Margaret Clarkson –

 

Take Heart

Old alarm clock

Have you ever felt….

Like you’ve held your breath for months, years?

That you’re waiting for something that just won’t seem to hurry up? That the watched pot just sits around and simmers and those bead-bubbles don’t boil even when you crank up the heat?

High school or college graduation, that longed-for job, that latest book, that moment of saying “I do,” the day you drive home a car bought with your own savings, that day you cradle a child that’s yours, that day you finally figure out how to fit 28 hours into 24, someday when the eternal stack of books by your bed will be read, that one day when you don’t mess up?

Patience sounds like an awfully nice virtue—until you have to have some.

Waiting sounds like a nice, feminine, quiet thing to do—until you have to sit around and actually attempt it.

What is it about waiting that makes our skin crawl with angst?

I think I know.

That nasty little word.

Control.

I ache with frustration because—while I don’t usually admit it to myself—sometimes my emotions take over and want to shove God right out of the driver’s seat. Because I can’t see what’s coming up and I’d sure appreciate a chance to steer my life in the “right” direction.

But—do you ever find yourself here?—when I nudge my Savior out of the driver’s seat, I grasp the steering wheel between too-small, sweaty fists and look up to see what’s ahead….

And I’m too short to see the road. All I can see is the big, fat roundness of the steering wheel. My head doesn’t even clear the dashboard of this ride called life.

So what happens when you wrestle for the wheel only to find out that you can’t control the universe after all?

See, the reasoning is that if we control it all, it will be fine.

All the cards will stack up.

All the pieces of the puzzle will click into place.

The jobs will line up.

Happiness will be around every corner.

Everything will be just right, Pollyanna–style.

But that’s just not how life works.

And–you want the truth? If we could truly control it all, we’d mess this world up big time.

Tired of traffic–ah, clear it away with a flick of a finger. And while the economy fails because thousands of workers aren’t getting to their jobs, you can sip your Starbucks and get to your office on time.

Wish you could stop waiting for that new car–why not get it now? Of course, then that lesson in God’s goodness won’t be of any use. Then, of course, your pride might just swell out of proportion. Then, of course, you might miss something even better.

See what I mean? We’d mess this world up royally if we could make everything go our way.

So here’s the thing: My way is not the best way. Not for me. Not for you. Not for anyone.

I have a confession. I’m selfish. I don’t like waiting. I like to have everything laid out, listed neatly in my best cursive on a floral day planner, perfectly categorized. I don’t like interruptions. I don’t like changes in the plans. I’m not so thrilled with the curve balls that God likes to throw. I like to see nice, neat checkmarks that tell me my life is counting for something.

Know why I’m okay with telling you this? Because you’re just like me.

Because we all have this bent back to the self-seeking, this from-birth craving to fill ourselves up with something–anything, really–that will satisfy.

So–maybe–when we’re so tired of waiting, we’re really having trouble believing that God will really fill us up?

Perhaps, when we try to wrestle control from an all-loving Father, it’s because we don’t really believe He’s good? Down deep, where our actions spring up?

Ann Voskamp, in her book One Thousand Gifts, says this is Satan’s lie, the trap that our first parents fell into:

“I wake and put the feet to the plank floors, and I believe the Serpent’s hissing lie, the repeating refrain of his campaign through the ages: God isn’t good. It’s the cornerstone of his movement. that God withholds good from His children, that God does not genuinely, fully, love us.

Doubting God’s goodness, distrusting His intent, discontented with what He’s given, we desire…I have desired…more” (page 14).

When we get tired of waiting for God’s good things, we’re saying that we’re not so sure that He’s really good. We’re not so sure that He really gives us everything we need for today. We’re not so sure that He is enough.

Elisabeth Elliot writes:

“‘My people have committed two sins,’ says the Lord in Jeremiah 2:13. ‘They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.’

Discontent dries up the soul.” (Secure in the Everlasting Arms, pages 134-135)

In the waiting, is this not what parches us? This soul-drying that happens when we reject God’s gifts and abundance and go to hacking at the dirt with our own dented shovels, forming wells so broken that there’s no way to fill them?

This is how Satan fell–wanting more than the best there was, wanting to rip control right out from under his God.

This is how Adam and Eve fell–lusting for more than God with them.

This is how we every-day fall–rejecting the most glorious Gift, God with us again. No, we may not right-out reject Him. But in every-day living, we put on the brakes and jerk at the wheel and whine to God to let us take a spin at controlling this life.

So, now, we must fall again–only this time to our knees. Crying out for forgiveness, for grace for these hard hearts.

Again, Elisabeth Elliot says,

“And so it may be…God’s order is the reverse of what we expect. He is in each moment, in us , with us….Should we expect to see how things are working together for our good? No, not yet. We see not yet. We only know.

….In the barren places of my life I can be assured that God is there as He is when life is fruitful, and that the time is coming (give me patience, Lord, to wait!) when He will fulfill His word: ‘I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set pines in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together, so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this’ (Isaiah 41:19-20).

Like little children on Christmas Eve, we know that lovely surprises are in the making. We can’t see them. We have simply been told, and we believe. Tomorrow we shall see. (from Secure in the Everlasting Arms, pages 176-177)

So, waiting isn’t just hard. It’s necessary.

It’s not just necessary. It’s what is best for us right now.

Absolutely best.

Don’t chafe against His call to wait. Some of the best things are coming up. But if you don’t wait, you might miss even better things now.

Waiting doesn’t mean standing still.

Sisters, let’s embrace our times of waiting–whatever we may be waiting for–as times to pour ourselves into knowing our Savior.

Because He is always enough.

And that Psalm 84:11 promise–that He will withhold no good thing from His upright ones?

That Isaiah 40:28-31 promise–that He will make us run without weariness if only we wait?

These God-breathed vows are rocks to build a life upon.

So, wait.

So, rest.

Today is given to us to live, not to pass the time until the next thing comes.

Let’s rejoice in His gifts for today–they are the best ones we could have at this time.

Lift up your chin and smile at the day–God’s made it just this way, crafted it just so, just for our good and His glory.

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord  in the land of the living.

Wait for the Lord;
  be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.

– Psalm 27:13-14, NIV, emphasis mine –

In the movie Fireproof, John Waller’s lyrics come through strong:

“I’m waiting
I’m waiting on You, Lord
And I am hopeful
I’m waiting on You, Lord
Though it is painful
But patiently, I will wait

I will move ahead, bold and confident
Taking every step in obedience
While I’m waiting
I will serve You
While I’m waiting
I will worship
While I’m waiting
I will not faint
I’ll be running the race
Even while I wait.”

We worship here, girls. While we wait. We serve, here. We give all, here.

Our Jesus, precious Savior–give us grace. Grace for this day.

Thanks to Elbambolo Bambolina and Public Domain Pictures for the lovely photo!

Wishing for more encouragement to be content in this God-given time? Check out Ann Voskamp’s post about the only true happiness we can have!