The Unplanter

The Unplanter

By Lydia Evelyn Thomas

(Copyright: Lydia Thomas 2016)

Once upon a time, there was woman who loved to plant seeds. Early each spring, she would rush to the market to carefully select the seeds she wanted to plant in the little garden behind her house. She especially loved looking at the pictures on the seed packets and imagining what her garden could be. Every year, after she had purchased them, she would hurry home to plant the different seeds in her garden, singing and skipping the entire way.

Like any good seed-planter, every year, she cleared the little plot of rocks and weeds and broke up the soil before painstakingly marking the rows where the seeds would go. Then she dropped the seeds into the dirt, one by one, and lovingly covered them with dirt.

In the days that followed, every year, she added fertilizer and water to the soil to make sure the seeds were getting the food and drink they needed. If it got too cold, she would cover the ground with blankets so the cold air couldn’t get to the seeds. And she always kept an eye out for weeds that might be trying to steal food and water from the seeds, or rocks that might be trying to keep the seeds from growing, or anything that might hurt the seeds.

She waited and waited, every year, for a week, at least, to see if anything would happen, and nothing ever did. She worried: were the seeds getting enough to eat and drink? Were the seeds getting too much to eat and drink? Were the seeds staying warm enough? Were they too warm? Was something hurting the seeds that she couldn’t see?

And so, every year, a few days after planting them, she dug up the seeds and returned them to the market.

“These seeds didn’t grow into anything,” she would say, spreading them out on the counter. “I’d like my money back, please.”

The man who sold her the seeds would frown, and every year, he told her this: “There is an old gardening term called staying.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that things have to stay planted in order to grow.”

The woman didn’t believe him, and so she continued planting seeds and digging them up for many years.

One year, early in the spring, the woman came to the market, excited as she always was to choose seeds that would make a beautiful garden.

“I’d like to see your seeds, please.”

The man who sold her seeds shook his head. “I’m not going to sell you any seeds this year.”

“Why not?”

The man shrugged. “It’s wasteful. You plant them, only to dig them up again. They can’t be used ever again after that.”

“I won’t dig them up this year, I promise. Please let me buy some seeds.

The man shook his head. He didn’t believe her. “We sell some plants in pots that have already been grown, if you’d like to buy some of those, but I cannot sell you any more seeds.”

The woman bought some pots in plants at his suggestion, but this year, unlike all the other years, she was not happy walking home from the market. She didn’t want plants that had already been grown. She very badly wanted to grow something of her own, from a seed.

Still, she set the plants on her front porch, and made sure to take care of them, every bit as well as she had taken care of seeds when she’d had them. One day, as she watered the plants, a man strolled by.

“Beautiful plants,” he said. “Did you grow them yourself?”

The woman sighed. “No. I bought them already grown. The market won’t sell me seeds anymore.”

“Why not?”

“When seeds don’t grow, I dig them up.”

“How long do you wait before digging them up?”

The woman put her hands on her hips. “I’ve waited as long as a week before.”

“Only a week? That’s not long enough!” The man smiled. “Seeds have to stay planted in order to grow.”

“That’s what the man at the market told me,” the woman said, “but what if something is wrong with the seeds? How will I know if I can’t see them?”

“Do you give the seeds food and water?” the man asked.

“Yes.”

“Do you keep weeds and rocks away from the seeds?”

“Yes.”

“Do you protect the seeds when it might get too cold or too hot for them?”

“Yes!” the woman exclaimed. “I do everything I’m supposed to do.”

“Everything except for letting the seeds stay planted,” the man said. “That’s the most important part.”

“But”- the woman protested.

“Seeds grow,” the man said. “It’s what they do. They just have to stay planted. I wish you could see it.”

“I wish I could see it, too,” the woman said, “but where will I get seeds? The market won’t sell them to me anymore.”

“I might have just the thing.” The man pulled a seed packet out of his pocket and held it out to the woman.

The woman looked down at it and frowned. “It doesn’t show what it will

be.”

“It doesn’t,” the man said, “but it’s the only seed I have.”

“There’s only one seed?” the woman asked, eyes wide.

The man smiled. “Only one, but legend has it that when it’s grown, it gives more seeds.” The woman just stared at him. “Plant it. You’ll see.”

“I guess it never hurts to try,” the woman said, taking the seed packet.

“Just remember,” the man said. “It will only grow if it stays planted.”

The very next morning, the woman went back to her garden. As she always did, she pulled up the weeds, picked out the rocks, and broke up the ground. Then she thought about where to plant the one seed. Should she plant it on the edge? Near a corner? In the middle? In the middle, she decided, and dug a small hole. Pulling the seed packet out of her sweater, she took a deep breath, and crouched to the ground. She shook the little seed out into the hole. It was so small and dark, she could barely see it. Slowly, she covered it with dirt, before standing and brushing off her knees.

The next day, the woman went to her garden again.  As she had done with the other seeds, she gave them food and water, working it into the soil with her trowel around where she knew the seed was planted. That night, when the air became colder, she covered the garden with blankets.

And, day after day, she watched for something to show her the seed was growing. A week went by, and then a month, and still she could see nothing above the dirt. She grew restless, and began running her hands through the dirt near where the seed was planted. Remembering the man’s words when he had given her the seed – “It will grow if it stays planted” – she stood up, brushed off her knees, and went inside.

Months went by, and still the woman cared for the garden, waiting. One day, after the dead autumn leaves had fallen and blown away, as the woman spread mulch over the soil for the winter months, she saw a small green chute where she had planted the seed so long ago.

“Well, that will never last the winter,” she said, hands on her hips.

She thought about digging it up, but again, she remembered, “It will grow if it stays planted.

“I don’t see how,” she muttered, but she spread mulch around the chute, and left it where it was.

The air became so cold and the ground froze so that the woman could no longer work in her garden. In fact, snow began to fall and fall until it was too high for her to even leave her house. She was certain the chute would die in the cold, and it made her sad.

At last, the air grew warmer, the snow melted, and the ground thawed, the woman went out to visit her garden.

The green chute was gone!

In its place was the tiniest of saplings, barely a foot tall.

The woman clapped her hands and bounced up and down. She was growing a tree! A tree!

“I’m glad I listened to that man and didn’t dig up the seed.”

She was so delighted that she went to the market to buy more seeds now that she had learned the secret to growing them, but the man who sold seeds laughed at her.

“You’re the woman who digs up seeds,” he said.

“I’m not anymore,” the woman said. “Last year, a man gave me a seed.”

“Who would give you a seed?” the man who sold seeds asked.

“I don’t know,” the woman said. “He was just passing by, but he told me to keep it planted, and I did. Now it’s going to be a tree.”

Again, the man who sold seeds laughed. “I don’t believe you.”

“Come and see,” the woman said and led him home to her garden. She pointed to the tiny sapling at the center.

The man who sold seeds squinted at it. “That looks like nothing more than an overgrown weed.”

“It’s a tree,” the woman insisted. “I know it’s a tree.”

“You don’t have the patience for a tree,” the man who sold seeds said, turning and walking away.

“I do now,” the woman said. “Please, sell me some seeds. I’ll show you.”

“I will never sell you seeds again.”

The woman was very sad, because she loved to plant seeds, and now that she’d seen how they could grow, she wanted to see it again and again. How could she, though, if she couldn’t buy seeds?

Suddenly, she brightened. The man who  had given her the seed had said something about it making more seeds. A legend, he had said, so maybe it wasn’t true at all, but the idea gave the woman hope.

Throughout the spring and summer, the woman tended her garden as usual, watching the sapling for signs of seeds.  Then the air began to cool, and she prepared her garden for the winter. There were no seeds, but perhaps, like everything else, it just took time for them to come.

Years passed, and every year, the woman cared for her garden, and every year, the tree grew taller and wider around, until it far surpassed the woman’s height and width. It was majestic, with many branches, and green needles that never lost their color nor fell to the ground, no matter how cold the air became. Year after year, there were no seeds, and the woman began to think the legend surrounding the tree was just a story. Still, she was quite proud of her tree.

One year, small brown cones sprouted on the branches in the spring and fell to the ground in the crisp autumn air. The woman went through her garden plucking them up into a bucket, thinking they would decorate her house nicely, when she found a cone that had split open during its fall.

The woman knelt down to look closer at the split cone and gasped. Seeds of all shapes and sizes were spilling out of it! Seeds! The woman pulled a cone out of her bucket and pried it open. There were seeds inside of it, too!

“Those seeds aren’t good enough to use yet.”

The woman turned to see who was speaking to her. It was the man who had given her the seed.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“The tree isn’t fully mature yet,” the man said, “so any seeds it produces aren’t ready to be planted. If you put those in the ground, they’ll just rot.”

The woman’s lip quivered. “How long will it be until they’re ready?”

The man gazed at the seeds, picking some of them and holding them in his hands. “I’d say, about … five years.”

“Five years?” the woman whispered, eyes wide.

The man nodded.

The woman pointed to the seeds. “So these aren’t good for anything?”

The man smiled. “Actually, they’re quite delicious roasted with butter and spices.”

“You want me to eat them?” the woman asked.

“You don’t have to,” the man said. “It’s just a thought.”

After that, the man went on his way, and the woman continued preparing her garden for winter.

Once inside, she roasted the seeds as the man had suggested. He was right: they were tasty prepared this way. As she ate them, the woman thought that five years wasn’t so long with such good food on her table and such a beautiful tree in her garden.

Even so, the next spring, the woman had a heavy heart as she went to clear the weeds and rocks and break up the soil in her garden. Where it had always been something she loved doing, now it was hard. She took many breaks, and thought often of leaving the work altogether. The only thing that kept her working was knowing that she needed to keep the ground ready for when the seeds were ready.

It wasn’t much, but it held the woman  until, at last, the spring of the fifth year came. With a thrill, she hurried out to her garden. This fall, the seeds in the cones would be ready, and next spring, she would plant them. Throughout the summer, she watched the cones eagerly. Finally, autumn came, and the cones began to fall, slowly at first, then all at once. Out the woman went to her garden with her bucket to gather them. She soon found that one bucket was not enough for all of the cones, and gathered bucket after bucket until not one cone was left on her garden floor.

As the snow fell that year, the woman went to work opening the cones, emptying the seeds onto her table, and sorting them into packets. She sorted and packaged so many seeds she thought she might need a bigger garden. She wondered what all of the seeds would grow up to be – would they all be trees? She would have to wait and see.

When she finished, leaving just a handful of seeds to roast, the woman stored the seeds in a warm, dry cupboard until spring. Then, as she swept up the remaining seeds from the table to put them in the roasting pan, one in particular caught her attention. It was small and dark, just like the one the man had given her to plant so many years ago.

Excited, the woman ran to get one more seed packet, thinking how lovely her garden would eventually be with two such trees. She paused: maybe someone else needed this seed, like she had all those years ago. And so, the woman decided not to plant it, but to set it aside and get it to someone who needed it, instead.

It seemed like no time at all passed until the woman was looking over her garden the following summer.  Now, instead of just the tree, flowers, plants, and small bushes populated the garden. There were blooms and bulbs and fruits and vegetables of all kinds forming almost everywhere. There were still some areas where there were no signs of anything growing, but the woman knew there would be someday.

“It’s a beautiful garden.”

The woman didn’t need to turn to know it was the man who had given her the seed.

She smiled as he came to stand at her side. “It took long enough for it to come together.”

“The strongest, most beautiful things need that time,” the man said.

The woman pulled a seed packet out of her pocket.

“What’s this?”

The woman pointed at the tree. “A seed. Thought you might come across someone who needs it.”

The man smiled. “Actually, I think you’ll come across someone who needs it.”

“When?”

The man winked. “Soon.”

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

Waiting for the other shoe to drop. Legend has it that the expression has its roots in tenement style living, where people would hear their upstairs neighbors kick off one shoe and – you guessed it – wait for the other shoe to drop (Wiktionary).

And I’ve decided – I’ve decided it’s the very worst kind of waiting. After all, you know it’s coming – that other shoe dropping. You already know the thud you’re going to hear and the slight wince you’ll make at the sound. You just don’t know when it’s going to happen, because maybe your upstairs neighbor kicks off both shoes right away, or maybe he likes to mess with you, or maybe he just got distracted. The point is – it’s going to happen.

Metaphorically-speaking, I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop for a month-and-a-half now, maybe even closer to two months. I expect to hear it any time now. It makes me anxious, and I don’t know why, because I know exactly what to expect and I’ve already made up my mind how I’m going to handle it. It’s the tension, I suppose.

And that tension is why it’s a popular saying. Waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I’ve been in this school a long time. Different circumstances, but the same overarching theme: the pull between what is right now and what is going to be. And what I’ve learned is that you have to put that other shoe dropping – however inevitable – is that you press through the tension of not knowing when by engaging with what is. That’s not to say you have to deny what’s going to happen, or that you shouldn’t make a plan for what’s going to happen. The point is – you can’t  make it happen.

And when the shoe drops, you’re ready.

And you’re relieved, because the tension is broken.

Until then, though, you have to ride it out. Adapt. Re-adapt.

#WarfareWeek: The Weapons of Our Warfare

Hello, lovelies! I hope you’re enjoying Warfare Week as much as I am! It was great to talk about what God is working out in my heart with advocacy and I loved connecting with Emerald about her testimony about the fight to love yourself.

Today, I’m excited to welcome Kandi J. Wyatt, author of the incredible middle grade fantasy series, Dragon’s Courage, and medieval retelling of Hagar’s story, The One Who Sees Me. Right now, she is also sharing the Holy Week story from a unique perspective on her blog, which I’ve been really enjoying. To say the very least, Kandi is an incredibly gifted author, and I’m grateful to have her join me this week to talk about the ultimate spiritual warrior and some weapons for battle.

Please join me in giving Kandi a warm welcome!

***

When I think of a warfare, I think of a warrior—standing in the gap, willing to lay down his life for another, obeying orders to the end, holding out against all odds. Therefore, when I was asked to write about spiritual warfare, I immediately thought of a warrior—a prayer warrior. Phrases such as “Get down on your knees and fight like a man” came to mind as did the song, “She’s a prayer warrior down on her knees, wrestling with angels and principalities.”

My image of a warrior being in prayer formed early in life. I remember learning verses in Awana clubs. “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16) “Casting all your cares upon Him for He careth for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) These verses were emphasized through both Mom and Grandma. They taught me that Jesus was a friend that I could talk to at any and all moments. He was a living part of our home.

As I grew older, I was introduced to Frank Perretti’s books This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness. These novels added to my image of prayer as warfare. They give a unique glimpse into the angelic realm and portray angels as ready to wage war but waiting on our prayers to give them the victory! At the same time, my late teen years, I had three ladies who were my prayer warriors. They were either old enough to be my great-grandmother or in bed with cancer or both. They had not given up on life, however. They fought tooth and nail in prayer—prayer for me, prayer for our church, prayer for their families. I was about twenty-years-old when they died. I physically felt the gap from the loss of their prayers and said I would take up the banner and pray.

Being young and naive. I didn’t realize the war that took place when one is down on his or her knees. I have not been able to pray as earnestly as those three prayed for me, but I did find ways to pray. I’ve struggled and even now need to take my own advice and pick up the mantle to pray again.

In the hustle and bustle of our lives, I discovered it helped to pray when I had a specific list and a specific time. Living in a rural area, I found myself in the seat of a car on a regular basis. I drove past the homes of people I knew. I began to pray for them. My list began as I left the driveway, praying for my own kids. Then I moved on to pray for my extended family, from there, a person from church whose road I passed, then my son’s friend. Sometimes, I didn’t pass a specific person’s home, but a friend of theirs. To facilitate this type of prayer, turn off music until your prayer time is over, then you can add in some worship songs to finish praying. Know what to pray for. I prayed for salvation of loved ones, that they would be drawn close to God, that they would be kept pure for God and the one they would one day marry, for their marriages, for wisdom raising children, and if there was something specific going on that day or week. This type of prayer can also happen on a walk if you live in town and have a semi-regular walking schedule.

Another way my prayer life blossomed was through Moms In Touch, an organization that helped moms pray for their school age children. The format was intimidating at first—gather with other moms to pray for a full hour! Yes, you read correctly. Pray, not talk to your friend, but pray for a full hour. The more time I had with the group, I found we often had to limit ourselves to an hour. With the format it became easy to pray for that long. We began with praise to God focused around a specific verse. We would praise God for who He is based on an attribute or something He had done listed in scripture. Then we would have a time of silent confession of sin, again with a verse to guide our prayers. Next we would use a different verse for thanksgiving, thanking God for what he had done in our lives or the lives of our children that week. The meat of our prayers then focused on our kids and their schools. A verse guided our prayers. It is amazing the power of praying a verse for a person. You can pick it apart and pray many specific things for them. Finally, one person closed the prayer. The amazing thing with Moms In Touch was the way we prayed together. One person would pray a thought and someone else would pick up and echo or expound on that thought. It was a time that bound us together as moms. To this day, a lady at church still prays for my kids and I pray for hers.

Several years ago, I read the book, Radical by David Platt. It explained how the American dream has filtered through to the church and its teachings. I was challenged to pray around the world. Being a literal type of person, I found the CIA fact book and began reading an entry each day and then praying for that country. If I knew missionaries in the land, I’d add them to my list. After a year or two of using the CIA fact book, I discovered a 10-40 prayer calendar. It gave a specific people group each day of the year to pray for with some detail of their needs at the beginning of the month.

Prayer calendars are handy. Besides the 10-40 calendar, I also have one for praying for your kids and one for praying for your spouse. These two give you a verse to pray each day of the month for the specific person.

As the years have passed, I have struggled with prayer. The routine gets old, the enemy whispers lies in my ears. I need encouragement. So, writing a post on prayer has challenged me to return to praying. What tools have you used to keep up a consistent prayer life? Please share. I’d love to hear them and let you know which one I pick up next.

Prayer Warrior

***

You can connect with Kandi on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And please show her some love by sharing the tools you’ve found helpful in your prayer life.

Thanks for joining us, Kandi!

#WarfareWeek: Would you take this case?

Hello, lovelies, and welcome to the very first ever #WarfareWeek. Spiritual warfare has been a theme in my walk with Christ, and it even makes an appearance in my first book, The Field. I wanted to do something to honor this theme here on my blog.

The topic for the week is “The Fight of Your Life.” I’m kicking things off today, and later this week I’ll be joined by Author Emerald Barnes and Kandi J. Wyatt, Author. Please join us and share if it resonates with you.

Warfare Week Promo

As those of you who have been following me for a while know, my word for 2016 is champion. Most of the things I’ve posted have dealt with the noun champion: a person who has defeated or surpassed all rivals in a competition, especially in sports (Google Dictionary).  And while victory is an important part of my year, today I want to talk about the verb champion: support the cause of; defend; advocate (Google Dictionary). And the battle I want to talk about today is not so much one fought in the trenches as it is in a courtroom.

Recently, a verse in Nehemiah struck me: “When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this [Nehemiah’s commission to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls], they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites” (Nehemiah 2:10 NIV, emphasis mine). The Israelites had a reputation at that time as far as the rest of their world was concerned: they may have been God’s chosen people at one time, but now they were deserted, desolate, and not cared for, and there’s little question of whether or not they earned their place in the world. Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Moses warned them: “Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut up the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the Lord is giving you” (Deuteronomy 11:16-17 NIV).  And even as Israel moved further and further away from God, He sent prophets again and to beckon them back, but they weren’t having it: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it…Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it'” (Isaiah 30:15 and Jeremiah 6:16 NIV). It doesn’t exactly seem like they deserved to have anyone come along and promote their welfare.

And yet. And yet, that’s exactly what Nehemiah does. When he hears that the people of Jerusalem are in “great trouble and disgrace” and the city’s walls are “broken down” (Nehemiah 1:3 NIV), it causes him distress. Seeking God with the situation opens doors for him to return to Jerusalem with the objective of rebuilding the city and restoring its people (Neh. 1:4-2:10). First, he surveys the damage (Neh. 2:11-17), and then the great task of rebuilding begins (Neh. 2:18). Not only did Nehemiah undertake rebuilding the wall and protecting it from further damage (Neh. 4, 6), he put an end to oppressive practices within the Israelite community (Neh. 5). Then he undertook the most difficult task of all: getting the Israelites back to God (Neh. 8-9), and keeping them on that track (Neh. 13). Nehemiah was an advocate, a champion of restoration for the people of Israel – people known as outcasts, desolate, and deserted – restoration not only to their rightful borders and boundaries, not only to their basic needs, but to God.

Most people probably wouldn’t take that case – the case of the guilty. Sanballat and Tobiah certainly wouldn’t have. So why did Nehemiah? Nehemiah remarks, “The gracious hand of my God was on me” (Neh. 2:8), and I can’t help but thinking that restoration was always God’s plan for the Israelites. After all, Jeremiah says, “The people of Israel are oppressed, and the people of Judah as well. All their captors hold them fast, refusing to let them go. Yet their Redeemer is strong; the Lord Almighty is his name. He will vigorously defend their cause so that he may bring rest to their land” (Jer. 50:33-34 NIV). God was just looking for a champion for His people, and Nehemiah – Nehemiah was willing.  

This week is Holy Week, and in the Church, we are celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are celebrating that moment when Jesus looked at our guilt in rejecting God and said, “You know what? I’m going to give you the best possible life anyway. Life with My Father.” Jesus died to promote the welfare of a race that rejects God, a race in ruins; He rose again to advocate, plead for, and champion people who can do nothing for themselves, who walk away from Him again and again and again. First John 2:9 says, “If anybody sins, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ the Righteous One” (NIV). We have a Champion – Someone who wants to make it right for us, and everyone around us.

And again, most probably wouldn’t take that case – the case of righting a wrong that wasn’t theirs to begin with. Often, we readily advocate and champion restoration for those we perceive deserving of it, but we often neglect restoration for those who have made their beds and are now lying in them. We would give them a life sentence and leave them right where they are, bearing the consequences of their sins into eternity.

I wonder if we understand how contrary to God’s Word this attitude is. And while Jesus is the Ultimate Champion, I wonder if we understand that God is looking for more of His people to rise up and advocate restoration of the guilty to Him.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21 NIV)

In Him, there is no wrong that cannot be made right. There is no sentence that cannot be mitigated – no, lifted.

I believe that for you, and I believe that for me.

Let’s start taking more cases, like Nehemiah and Jesus. Let’s start seeking God about the cases that need our attention, and how we can best go about fighting for them. Let’s get real about the damage, and then let’s get busy rebuilding. Let’s take a stand against oppressive practices. Let’s point people to God. And let’s start seeing Him right those wrongs and lift those life sentences.

Shake Before Using

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“Did you shake this?”

“Yes.”

My dad eyed the salad dressing critically. “It doesn’t look like you shook it.” Then he took the bottle into both hands, held it out, and shook it vigorously.

Well, yeah, I suppose compared to that, I had only swished the salad dressing around a little.

I didn’t understand that the salad dressing had elements that naturally separated, and so it had to be shaken before use to bring those elements back together to balance the taste.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how, sometimes, people need to be shaken before they can be used, too. I just finished reading The Curate of Glaston by George MacDonald, which is all about that kind of shaking, and one passage particularly stood out to me: “Sometimes a thunderbolt, as men call it, will shoot from a clear sky; and sometimes into the midst of a peaceful family, or a yet quieter individuality, without warning of gathered storm above, or lightest tremble of earthquake beneath, will fall a terrible fact, and from the moment everything is changed. That family or that life is no more what it was – probably never more can be what it was. Better it ought to be, worse it may be – which, depends upon itself. But its spiritual weather is altered. The air is thick with cloud, and cannot weep itself clear. There may come a gorgeous sunset though.” And so recently, I’ve been reflecting on the seasons during which my own spiritual weather has been altered.

I remember meeting with a friend several years ago, and as we discussed our lives, she said, “I don’t feel like I’ve had the one great trial of my faith yet, do you?” I didn’t really know how to respond. Even then, before I had really gone through much in my walk with Christ, I felt like my faith was never too far from one of those thunderbolt moments – those seasons when everything was shaken, sometimes even what I had thought were the most foundational elements. I never believed it would be just one great trial, one great thunderbolt, one great shaking; I thought it would be more like a video game, where I would graduate to levels of greater and greater difficulty. I was, however, slightly jealous that someone could have the somewhat romantic notion that there would be just one great trial of faith, when I didn’t have that luxury.

They are not bad things, these spiritually-altering seasons. They often feel like bad things, because everything that can be shaken will be shaken, and how everything settles after that shaking is outside of our control.

[F]rom the moment everything is changed. That family or that life is no more what it was – probably never more can be what it was.

That’s not to say we don’t try to control it – to short-circuit the thunderbolt, to try and hold things in place as they are coming down around us.

We don’t understand we’re often better off going through spiritual alterations and releasing the shaky things. It produces value within us:  “We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame” (Romans 5:3b-5a NIV). This thunderbolt passage in Curate is about Helen Lingard, a character who has little in the way of passion – described as someone who doesn’t really think for herself, doesn’t fall in love, and whose face doesn’t show much. Without being shaken, she would have gone on, just as she was, and of course, there would have been no story and no character worth mentioning.

These seasons will also bring us closer to God if we let them. I am frequently reminded of something C. S. Lewis said in A Grief Observed, after his wife passed away: “…My idea of God is a not divine idea. It has to be shattered from time to time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence?…” God Himself says, “In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come” (Haggai 2:6-7 NIV). The writer of Hebrews expounds upon these sentiments: “The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain” (Hebrews 12:27 NIV). With every shaking, I get closer to Him, and His nearness germinates His life within me.

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, and in the patron saint of the Irish we have a great example of someone who was shaken before use. As a young man, he was kidnapped by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland as a slave. After making his escape, he felt a call to return to Ireland to walk among the Irish, so he studied to become a priest. Even then, the Church refused to back his calling because of his youth and inexperience. He opens his Confession this way: “My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many.” He remarks about his calling, “So I want to give thanks to God without ceasing. He frequently forgave my lack of wisdom and my negligence, and more than once did not become very angry with me, the one who was meant to be his helper. I was not quick to accept what he showed me, and so the Spirit prompted me. The Lord was merciful to me a thousand thousand times, because he saw in me that I was ready, but that I did not know what I should do about the state of my life … Indeed, I was not quick to recognise the grace that was in me; I know now what I should have done then.” If he hadn’t been shaken, St. Patrick would never have ministered in Ireland the way he did.

What will come of my being shaken today? I hardly know, except I will be brought closer to God, and in His closeness, I will become more. And I believe with my whole heart there is a gorgeous sunset in my future.

How Far Gone Is Too Far Gone? An Open Letter to the Prodigal I Forgot

Gosh. How long has it been? A little over three years, I think, since we last talked, and probably two years since the last time you crossed my mind. A little over seven years, I think, since I first started praying for you, and about four years since I stopped. And almost exactly five years since I plucked up the courage to be completely honest with you.

Until about two weeks ago, it never once occurred to me that you might think about and check in on me, although with me having a public platform, I suppose it’s easy enough for you to do. You said you were done and you seemed like you were done, and I guess I believed you more than I thought I did at the time, because in all of those searches of “Lydia Thomas blog” my analytics tell me have brought people to my blog, I never once thought it might be you.

I just … have not prayed for you or thought about you in years. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess.

I don’t say all that to make you feel small. I say it so you understand that for three years, I lived the pain. I cried myself to sleep over it more nights than I can count. I prayed, pleaded with God, and finally, railed at God in absolute rage. And I laid flat on my back, numb, until He extended a hand and pulled me up. And since then, it doesn’t hurt me anymore.

But I understand – I understand – it’s your turn now. I find myself both sorry for what you are experiencing right now, and not sorry at all. Sorry, because it’s got to hurt like hell, and not sorry at all, because you finally looked down.

You see, about six months after I plucked up the courage to be completely honest with you, I plucked up the courage to be completely honest with some other people who were involved as well. On the day I went to them, the preacher talked about how our society doesn’t like to feel pain and he brought up a medical condition called neuropathy, that is, a condition that causes people to lose their sense of feeling. In illustrating his the condition, I remember he said, “These people could be walking across a field of glass and be bleeding to death and not even know it.” And completely unbidden, a thought came to my mind, Unless someone tells them to look down.

And after that, when I would pray for you, I would ask God that you would just look down. I had a vision of myself standing on the edge of that field, pleading with you to turn around, and you laughed at me, because you were fine. “You’re bleeding!” I cried, but you laughed again. “If I was bleeding,” you said. “I would know it.” And as a last ditch effort, I pleaded, “Just look down.” Because if you would just look down, you would know you were bleeding out.

And I often tell people, that vision turned into a blog post, and then into an allegorical short story, and then into a novella. One of the hardest plot decisions I had to make was whether one of the characters who had spent most of the story in a forbidden field would look down or not, and what would happen when she did. Would she stay in the field or would she come out?

I’m not going to tell you what happened with her, but I want to tell you, what you’re experiencing right now? It means you’ve looked down, and you’re seeing everything is not good, you are not good. And now, you have a choice to make: keep pretending like nothing is wrong and press on or come out and begin the healing process.

And me? I’ve come back to the place where I was five years ago: the edge of the field. Why? I am here for you, no longer begging and pleading, but cheering. you. on. Because where you’ve been is not good enough for you, no matter how much you tell yourself it is. Because even though there’s not hope for this one thing you’ve been secretly been holding on to, there is hope for you. So I’m here to cheer you on, through every painstaking step out of the field, through everything you think you have to lose, through the cleansing of those old wounds, until you can say, “I’m good,” and it’s true.

“But he knows the way that I take;
    when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).

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(Photo Credit: Three Rivers Deep)

 

 

In honor of my #KidsMin bestie…

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Everybody, meet Beth. I met Beth about twelve years ago when my family was preparing to move to Texas. Her family had to Texas from Georgia. (She still talks about going back to Georgia. Crazy kid.) Having been involved in the same church and many of the same ministries for several years, we became fast friends, and today, although we don’t get to talk or hang out often, I’d say she’s one of my closest friends.

Of the many things we’ve done together, one of my favorites is children’s ministry. We’ve been fellow Sunday school teachers, Bible club leaders, and VBS leaders/volunteers. Beth has great vision for everything she takes on – just out-of-this-world and imaginative – something the kiddos love, not to mention the artistic teams she supervises. (Seriously, I wish I had pictures to show of the VBS themes she’s executed and how she decorates her classrooms. If you’re ever running low on ideas, I highly recommend checking her out on Pinterest. She is awesome.) She’s does an amazing job leading the kids in music, taking the time to help them understand and be excited about what they’re singing. Although she’s a few years younger than me, she is always inspiring me to think bigger.

And so, when God laid it on my heart to undertake writing a curriculum from the book of Proverbs after teaching some littles a lesson on Solomon a little over two years ago, Beth was actually the first person I talked to about it. And when Small, But Wise was ready yesterday morning, she was the first person I sent the link to. Of course, I sent her the link to the corresponding Pinterest board, too, because we’re both Pinterest junkies. I really wanted to share it with someone who has been in the trenches with me before anyone else, and so I did.

Along with Beth, I’ve been thinking about children’s ministry life, so I thought I’d share some things that have made the trenches a little bit easier, more robust, and adaptable.

Picture Bible(s). Consider purchasing a picture Bible. It’s good to have something for your visual learners. My personal favorite is The Children’s Bible from Golden Press, but I also recently picked up God’s Love for You, a Bible storybook by Rich and Renee Stearns (the World Vision people). If a picture Bible isn’t an option, look for visual aides on Pinterest or Google Images and show them to your students on your smart device.

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Bible Coloring and Activity Books. Yes, there are TONS of craft and activity ideas out there, but believe me, for those times when life comes up and you don’t have time or energy for activity and craft prep, a coloring or activity sheet is a perfectly acceptable fallback. I like Zondervan’s The Beginner’s Bible SUPER DUPER MIGHTY JUMBO Coloring and Activity books because you can run off copies royalty-free for classroom use.

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Have the basics on hand. Children’s ministry crafting staples include: construction paper, poster board, yarn, beads, scissors, glue, crayons, markers, and colored pencils.

Start collecting children’s ministry crafting fodder. You know, cartons, paper and styrofoam products, newspaper, and cardboard tubes. The sky is the limit with crafts when you have supplies on hand.

The dollar store is your best resource for craft materials. The goal with crafts is to help students develop fine motor skills while expressing creativity, so the materials don’t have to expensive or high-quality.

Get on Pinterest. After today, y’all are going to think Pinterest is paying me to talk about them so much, but there are millions of ideas on there for every kind of craft, activity, and project imaginable. Many pins link to additional website and blog resources, like most of the pins on the Small, But Wise board link back to the curriculum.

And for the love of all that is good and holy, find yourself a ministry buddy. Find someone to share thoughts and ideas with. It doesn’t have to be someone at your church, though that can be helpful. Beth and I haven’t been in church together for about two years now (and it was on and off even before that), but I still feel comfortable approaching her when I need someone to chat with.

You may not know me from Adam, but I am always here as well. To prevent spam, I shut comments down on posts after two weeks, but you can always visit my “about” page or email me at lydia.evelyn.thomas@gmail.com. I am thrilled to chat and answer any questions you might have, children’s ministry-related or not.

Be blessed, and happy Thursday!

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(And since it’s Throwback Thursday, here’s this oldie-and-terribly-unflattering-but-goodie)