Are You Preparing

By Marcy Barthelette

 

God loves you just the way you are, but He refuses to leave you that way. He wants you to be just like Jesus. Max Lucado

Summer is winding down and my landscape beds have been looking quite untidy and, though it’s a little early for ratty-looking plants, I have found myself trimming back unwanted and dead foliage. Fortunately, the August heat has backed off a bit and early mornings provide a great window of opportunity to make some serious inroads into my fall preparations to help ensure a healthy landscape next spring.

Gardening success is no accident. A substantial list of preparations is necessary for both spring, fall, and even winter. And if I’m, to be honest, I left a lot to chance in the early weeks of this season. We had that crazy winter and then a very late spring that was blessed with lots of rain. That meant that we weren’t able to get new mulch out because the ground wasn’t solid enough to support the delivery truck in the back yard and though I enjoy God’s bountiful rain, when I don’t hand water my beds, I often miss the subtle changes that signal something may be amiss, such as an insect infestation or a destructive fungus growth. And, oh my goodness, did those weeds get ahead of me.

 

As the rain slowed and I found myself out early most mornings to water, I slowly began to regain some control over the abundant weeds and the grass encroaching at my perimeters. All too soon, I found myself knee-deep in mounds of dying foliage, but my work made Ken’s mowing easier as those troublesome daylily leaves bit the dust and no longer wrapped themselves around his trimmer. I still have a few things showing off their colors. My impatiens responded well to a good shot of Miracle Grow. Those two pots are overflowing with dancing coral blossoms and rich, green foliage. My Boston ferns have nearly taken over the front porch. And an assortment of sedums throughout the yard will show off in a week or two and they are so popular with butterflies and all manner of insects. I’ll add a few mums for bright fall color and the next thing we know, it will be time to rake leaves, the oaks becoming mulch to add acid to the plants that require it. Preparation!

In spite of my lackadaisical approach in spring, it’s been a pretty good gardening season. I’d recently been pondering the writing possibilities associated with my fall gardening experiences and then on Sunday morning, I listened to our daughter’s home church online where their pastor addressed the topic of making preparations and I knew where this whole thing was going. Just as I must prepare the soil, trim back the plants so they can develop stronger roots for future growth, and add a layer of protective mulch for a long winter’s sleep, so must we constantly make preparations for our time in eternity.

And how do we do that? We can begin by preparing our “soil” with good nutrients by studying God’s word. We add strong, hardy “plants” in the form of family relationships and good friends. Water those relationships thoroughly from the Living Water. Protect our investments of time with a thick layer of the Holy Spirit and sprinkle in a generous amount of prayer and worship.

We tend to prepare for things we care most about so we need to be sure the things we care most about are worthy. We tend to turn to God in times of trouble, but we may need Him more in times of plenty because that’s when we often forget Him and try to go it alone.

Don’t see your struggle as an interruption to life but as a preparation for life. Max Lucado

The word “prepare” is a verb, an action word. It’s time to take action. We don’t know where this life will take us but if we fill ourselves with all the qualities God wants us to have, if we listen carefully to His instruction and communicate with Him on a very regular basis, we can be assured about where the next life will lead us, right into the loving arms of our Heavenly Father.

So you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Matthew 24:44

So as you go about collecting bottled water, first aid supplies, and non-perishable foods in case of a storm or make reservations and explore special places to see on an upcoming vacation or arrange a carpooling schedule for your kids’ extra-curricular activities, remember to “prepare” your hearts and minds for a future at home with God.


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Building a Temple One Stone at a Time

By Marcy Barthelette

Don’t you know that you are God’s temple and God’s spirit lives in you? I Corinthians 3:16 CEB

I’ve loved to read for as long as I can remember. And, before I could read for myself, my mother read to me. When I was very young, Mom and I walked over a mile each way to the library so that there would always be books in our home. We lived in a very small house on a very sparse income, but there were always books at our fingertips  because of Mom’s love of reading.
 
As I grew older, my love of reading expanded to include creating new reading material of my own. Writing seemed a natural outgrowth of my fascination with the written word. Then life happened and the reading and writing were set aside. But as I matured, a lovely collection of books began to grow in my own home. There were times in my life when I could indulge my love of reading and times when the living of life interfered, but the books were a constant presence.  

It was only in recent years that the possibility of writing once again tickled my imagination, and I really wasn’t sure what to do with this rebirth of an old love until the fall of 2015 when Pastor Sarah asked if I would write a few articles for the new magazine-style newsletter appropriately titled The Gatepost. And so it began, an article here and another there. Before I knew it, other contributors to the newsletter had commitments that limited their time, and I was writing two to four articles every month. I especially liked the Spotlight pieces focused on individual member families. I met so many interesting folks and was able to place faces with countless names I’d heard during my years at Aldersgate.

Then along came COVID and technology took front and center in our worship experiences. I wondered what I could do personally to help keep our family connected, so when Casey Freeland spoke with me about writing an article for a new weekly electronic version of the Gatepost, I dipped my feet in the water. Okay … the truth is I needed the work. I was drowning emotionally as I read and listened to the news swirling around us. For years I had begun my day with devotions by many writers and now I sought tidbits of subject matter among those authors. I listened to online messages and almost always came away with a brief thought that led to a seemingly insignificant incident in my past and the words started to flow. Those little devotions were my lifeline.

As life would have it, our isolation lasted longer than most of us would have imagined and writing a devotion every week has become a very important aspect of my life. Here at home, I had very little personal contact with others, but by reaching out with God’s words, I hoped to be able to offer a small blessing to readers who might be having a tough time or bring a chuckle to someone needing a little joy. And wouldn’t you just know, it has gotten me through some less than stellar experiences and filled my heart with hope.

I guess what I’m trying to express is that we all have skills and can find opportunities to implement them. Each of us is effectively a Temple of God. We demonstrate that in the way in which we treat others, the way we live our lives when no one appears to be looking, the way we care for the resources given so freely to us with only one string attached; He wants us to love Him as He loves us. Of course, it’s wonderful when we can gather with family and friends to worship in like-minded faith, but much can also be gained by sharing our personal “temple” with whoever happens to enter our sphere. You could say it takes a village or perhaps a large temple (a building) built of smaller temples (you and I) scattered throughout the landscape of life.

You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundations of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord … being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22

 

I recall that day when Casey very casually mentioned that she had posted my devotion on the church blog. I thought, “What church blog, I didn’t know we had one.” So I checked and, sure enough, right there on the internet were the words God shared with me. Anyone in the world can read them if they so desire. I’m in the company of writers who are much more skilled and experienced than I but if any word in those devotions touches the heart of just one person, anywhere, my task is considered well done. It isn’t about who or how many, it’s about the one person, somewhere who really needs to hear the still, small voice of God and then becomes a stone in the greater temple.

And I must close these thoughts with a quote that expresses my love of all living things…

Don’t judge each day by the harvest that you reap but by the seeds that you plant.

 Robert Louis Stevenson


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Be Careful Where You Turn

By Marcy Barthelette

Thus says the Lord, “Stand by the roads and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the way is good and walk in it and find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16

The year was 2010 and it was hot in Missouri that August, really hot! It was hot over most of the eastern half of the country. We hadn’t seen rain for several weeks. For some crazy reason, we had planned a three-week vacation encompassing the Shenandoah Mountains, some time in DC, a short stop at Gettysburg which became longer, a few days in Providence, Ken’s childhood home, and a tour of the remaining New England states except for Maine. Our overnight stops were mostly reserved in advance, and we had assembled a lengthy list of attractions to visit.

In the midst of all this, a grandson was playing baseball at the Cal Ripken Complex in Aberdeen, Maryland. We had one free day to make the two-hour drive from our DC hotel to Aberdeen. We rose early to hear rain beating against our windows, but the forecast gave some hope for clearing in Aberdeen, so we trekked up the unfamiliar highway, found our family, and sat in their hotel suite all day. And I do mean all day. The rain never stopped, all the games were postponed, and we headed back to DC by late afternoon after a nice visit with the kids but no baseball.

Travel down I 95 was pretty light so we would get back to our hotel before dark, a very good thing as we were not comfortable driving in the busy and unfamiliar city at night. We decided to exit the highway to refuel our car and our bodies at some point along the way, but as we drove down a road that we had thought would lead us to gas and food, we saw no signs or businesses. Before we knew it, we were approaching an armed gate and signage for a secure government facility. There was no turning around….we were in the soup, so to speak, as the gate opened slowly! And if we thought it was hot in Missouri, it was about to get a lot hotter somewhere in Maryland.

Once inside the gate, we were directed to move the car to the side and were approached by a large man in military uniform and armed with weapons. Ken tried to explain that we had made a wrong turn but that wasn’t cutting it. This soldier didn’t want to hear about our mistake, he wanted only to know our intention. Ken then shared his military service information, including his security clearance level, but that did not impress our intimidating guard. Frankly, I was terrified! I thought they were going to take us to jail and throw away the key. Ken was much more self-confident than I, but his bravado didn’t make any points in this situation.

Finally, after a half-hour or more of grilling, the “gentleman” soldier gave back Ken’s ID and sent us on our way with a stern warning not to return, as if we wanted a repeat performance. Upon re-entry to the interstate, we checked the exit signs and discovered that the one we wanted was very close to another which clearly stated, “NO ENTRY!” We were less observant than we should have been, and we paid a price for our carelessness.

Life often tempts us to follow paths that can be harmful. They’re often made appealing by promises of some amazing reward at the other

 end. After all, we thought we would find gas and food somewhere on our wandering path. We need to be cautious when choosing which path to follow. Do we take the easy, more traveled one that might lead us to make mistakes, or do we take the less traveled, yet tried and true path that will ultimately bring us face to face with God.

Like most of us, I’ve taken a few of those wrong turns and needed to be rescued. Truth be told, It will likely happen again. I’m certainly far from perfect. But I have His promise that if I come to Him with my failures, He will forgive. What have I ever done to deserve that? Absolutely nothing! Jesus did it all for me and for you over two thousand years ago and the promise has never changed. Take up His cross and follow Him. He’ll keep us on the right path if we can manage to keep out of our own way and let Him take the lead.

In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths.

 


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A Scent of Yeast in the Air

By Marcy Barthelette

Does anything smell better than fresh homemade bread baking in the oven? I can remember those cinnamon rolls my mom baked for the childhood version of me just like it was yesterday. I’d wake to the sweet-spicy aroma tickling my nostrils and nobody had to call me twice for breakfast. Mom’s cinnamon rolls were certainly one of the best things I had ever smelled or tasted in my young life and, though she’s been gone to heaven for more than thirty years, that memory remains stored away and I recall it any time I smell any kind of bread baking.

Over the years, I have experimented with many recipes requiring yeast, and I must admit to abject failure. Yeast and I do not enjoy a friendly relationship, a fact I have so often regretted. Even with the introduction of automatic bread makers and the myriad selection of mixes taunting my misplaced ego from the grocery shelf, my bread was still heavy and sometimes a little doughy. I couldn’t seem to create a light, airy loaf no matter what I tried. And as for cinnamon rolls, the only edible ones made in my kitchen came from frozen lumps of dough or a whomp-it-on-the-counter container. What a sad testament to my culinary skills. There are lots of things I can cook well but yeast products have never made the list.

Bread can be made with four simple ingredients: flour, warm water, yeast, and salt. Other ingredients may be added or substituted to affect taste and texture, but these four are basic. Water temperature can make or break your attempt at bread baking so it’s important to be sure it’s neither too cool nor too hot. I was taught early in life to make a well in the center of my flour and then add the yeast, water and salt, mix thoroughly to allow the yeast to do its magic, and knead until the dough was smooth and elastic. But no matter how many attempts I made, I never developed the skills to create really good bread and I think I’m beginning to see a metaphor here for my current state of mind. My “spiritual well” is sometimes like the breads I tried so hard to make; so heavy it weighs me down, a little doughy from all the distractions of everyday life, and sometimes just plain flat because it didn’t get the proper “kneading” to help it flourish.

Jesus taught this parable: What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough. Luke 13:20-21 NIV

In contemplating Pastor Dennis’ sermon from this past Sunday, I was struck by the idea that we are God’s “yeast” in the world and that it is our calling to grow that yeast and to share it with others. Right now, I’m finding that concept especially burdensome. After a brief respite from restrictions and because our area has become the epicenter for the Delta variant of COVID, Ken and I are back to avoiding crowds, wearing masks, etc. Yes, we are both vaccinated, but as we have heard, vaccinated people seem to be susceptible to Delta and we feel precautions are in order for us. Having to stand aside while a daughter struggles with the breathing difficulties that often accompany the virus has made us even more aware of its presence. So my spiritual well has taken a major hit. I need to stash a bit of spiritual yeast in my heart and mind and encourage it to grow. I need to talk with God and read His word and awaken my awareness to all the good things that still exist in my life.

I’m grateful for technology so that we can text or talk whenever we feel the need for an update on our daughter’s condition. I’m grateful that she married a good man who is sharing this journey with her at his own peril. I’m grateful for first responders, doctors and especially nurses who give when their personal well must be very dry. I’m grateful for hospital administrators who have to make the hard decisions that impact lives. I’m grateful for our church family which has remained connected throughout the trial we know as COVID 19. And every time I look out my back door and see tall phlox blooming in many colors and swaying in the breeze, I’m reminded of His constancy in my life.

We never know when our troubles will end but we do know where to find the liveliest yeast and a fountain of Living Water. So, along with me, drink the water and “knead” a little yeast into your heart. We’ll all be better for it and when we’re filled to overflowing, those around us are bound to be touched by the yeasty scent of God’s love.         

Dear God, help me — and all those who feel their well is dry — to feel the warmth of the sun on my back,

to see the glint of the light in the heavens, and to feel the joy of You blowing gently on my face.

Scott Walker, Daily Guideposts 2021 (unitalicized portion paraphrased)


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Just Go With The Flow

By Marcy Barthelette

A force much stronger than I grabbed hold of my body as I was enjoying a swim in the Atlantic Ocean just off Cape Hatteras National Seashore. I was powerless to fight the strong current that pulled me away from the beach and into a territory I hadn’t sought. For an instant, panic encroached. Somewhere in my consciousness, a quiet thought occurred, “Just go with the flow.” It’s what I’d heard experts recommend in similar situations and I knew I was an excellent floater, so I just let go. The current twisted my body and tossed me around quite a bit and in a few seconds which seemed like hours, it spit me out and I was able to swim back to shore. Sometimes swimmers who are caught in rip currents are not so blessed as I was. Panic can turn a pleasant swim into a tragedy in only seconds. The United States Lifesaving Assn (USLA) estimates 80% of its rescues are related to them.

A rip current is defined as a strong flow of water running from a beach back to the open ocean, sea, or lake, and any beach with breaking waves can develop rip currents. While many people connect them to weather, rip currents are actually created by the topography of the beach. This will encompass areas outside the water, such as dunes or marshes, as well as features within the water including sandbars, piers, and reefs. Rip currents often form around these features; in gaps between sandbars, piers, or breaks in a reef. The obstacles block the natural flow of the water back toward the ocean creating a new path for it to follow. Once it finds an opening, it’s much like a drain in your tub or a pool. The rip current flows faster than the water on either side of it and once it passes the obstacle, it loses pressure and stops flowing.

By letting my body go with the flow and not allowing myself to panic, I rode out the current and was able to swim safely back. I imagine I found myself in a short-lived rip current. Had it been a more persistent one, I may have been washed further out to sea and found it difficult to return on my own.

Although I had heard experts advise swimmers as to how they should react when caught in river currents back home in Missouri, I knew nothing about rip currents even though I felt comfortable swimming in the surf. In fairness though, my surf swimming had always been along the much calmer gulf coast. Even so, I thought I was ready for the Atlantic. And besides, it was really hot that day and the wind blew so hard that it drove the sand into your skin. I just wanted some relief from my discomfort and those beautiful waves were so inviting.

You could say I was careless, and you’d probably be right, but I’ll go with not being properly educated about ocean currents. The fact remains that at the moment when a decision had to be made, a quiet whisper crossed my consciousness and I truly believe that it was the still, small voice of God speaking to me. He said to just let go. He had my back once again. I’ve kept Him pretty busy during my lifetime.

This emotional event in my life calls to mind Peter, my favorite biblical character, who for an instant walked on the water toward Jesus.

 But then he noticed the storm raging around him, he lost his focus and had to be rescued.

Then Peter got out of the boat and was walking on the water toward Jesus. But when Peter saw the strong wind, he became frightened. As he began to sink, he shouted, “Lord, rescue me!” Matthew 14:29-30

Just as Peter often turned his focus in the wrong direction, I was so focused on getting away from the heat and the driving sand, that I blindly swam into unfamiliar waters without proper research. I, too, had to be rescued. And my rescue came  in the form of a subconscious whisper.

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. I Kings:11-12                  

If you’re anything like I am, we all need to listen to that quiet voice much more often. Don’t let the noise of the world drown out the most important whispers and don’t let fear keep you from trusting. Just go with the spiritual flow of the one who always has your back.


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In the Shade of the Almighty

By: Marcy Barthelette

Living in the Most High’s shelter, camping in the Almighty’s shade … Psalm 91:1 CEB

We hadn’t been camping since September of 2019 so our first venture in May of this year was cause for lots of excitement. We were to meet our youngest daughter’s family at Bennett Spring State Park, the last place Ken managed before his retirement. It rained all the way there, but the skies dried out upon our arrival and after setting up our campsites, we gathered for a Mexican feast that was prepared at home. Our firewood was green and wet, but with a lot of coaxing we were able to enjoy a campfire and roast marshmallows, some of us indulging in s’mores. The next day, we headed over to the Mennonite community near the park and nearly bought out the bakery, checked out a few other shops, and shared some of the culture with our granddaughter. That evening, after a grand meal cooked outdoors, our kids fired up the Dutch oven and made a blackberry cobbler, this in addition to all those gooey baked goods we had acquired earlier. The kids went home on Sunday, but Ken and I stayed an extra night and really enjoyed hiking our old stomping ground and sitting by a beautiful campfire. Our dinnertime fare was less extensive than the previous evenings but was delicious just the same. A quick trip home the next day and life was back to normal again, except for those two freeloading ticks that hitched a ride, one on each of us.

We live within the shadow of the Almighty, sheltered by the God who is above all Gods. Psalm 91:1 TLB

 

Our next outing was not so lovely, though. You see, “camping” has changed a lot in the last year and a half. Everything is done by online or phone reservation, you even check-in online. And many people who turned to camp because they felt it was safer to be outdoors during COVID found they really liked it. A fair number of them had become accustomed to working from home so why not the camper, as well. All they need is a mobile hotspot and a laptop and the office is set up, with very nice natural surroundings and the whole family along for the adventure. This, of course, creates a strain on facilities because sites are now full nearly to capacity even on weekdays. That leaves little downtime to mow grass, deep clean restrooms, and other maintenance activities.

So begins the saga of our second camping trip of the year. First, let me be clear, it takes vigilance to plan a camping trip these days. I check routinely for openings in our favorite parks. The site we reserved just popped up one day as I perused the website and I grabbed it. We had no idea what it looked like beyond the online image and those are taken to optimize the appeal of the site. We arrived around 2 PM to find our site completely in sun. There were no trees near us to provide shade throughout the middle of the day. It was 91º, both inside and out and our AC didn’t stand a chance of gaining any ground until the evening cool down, so we went for a walk on the Lakeside Trail, hoping to find some shade and catch a breeze and we did. When we arrived back at our little RV, the shade had finally reached its side and the temperature had dropped to 86º indoors. Fortunately, I had made some nice, cool chicken salad in advance, so we were able to prepare sandwiches, chips, and fruit without needing to cook.

As we were enjoying our meal, a new neighbor pulled in beside us in one of the biggest fifth-wheel trailers we have ever seen. He backed in with ease but then decided he needed to be a little closer to the utility hook-ups. As he backed in for the second time it became clear to us, and a man across the road, that the driver was going to hit the power box. We couldn’t get his attention quickly enough and he ran right over it, then pulled forward and dragged it back the other way. He wasn’t concerned about damage, he just banged it back into a configuration that satisfied him and plugged it in. We hoped no damage had been done to the lines and that the power would stay on for all of us. By the time he was settled, his huge living area slide-out was hanging over our picnic table, the back of that behemoth trailer was seven feet from our fire grill and, of course, the view from under our awning, our only shaded place to sit, was not the great outdoors we came to experience but that gargantuan fifth wheel. Did I mention that it was so tall I wondered if it would clear an overpass?

The next day was just as hot as the first. We hiked again and our indoor temperature stayed in the mid-eighties during the heat of the day. We had brought cured firewood with us from home, so by evening, Ken set about building a very nice campfire, which we thoroughly enjoyed, though from a distance. The next morning, we’d had enough of the heat and the view. We headed home a day earlier than planned and relaxed in our nice, cool home.

You who sit down in the High God’s presence, spend the night in Shaddai’s shadow … Psalm 91:1 MSG

For obvious reasons, we have become a bit leery of this new camping world. The earlier version had been one of our greatest joys for most of our married life. But this little tale was shared to make a point. God has created some incredibly amazing natural wonders throughout this world, but we humans have a way of changing conditions to match our own wishes in the moment. The good news is that when we set aside our wants and establish our “camp” in the shadow of the Almighty, there will always be cool shade and beautiful surroundings. We no longer need to fret over the necessities of life. He will provide for us. Ken and I don’t know if the enjoyment will return to our RV camping experiences, but we can be sure of our “encampment” with Him. My prayer is that everyone could know the joy of the verse that I have sprinkled throughout this piece in several translations:

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1 NLT


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On Whom Do You Lean?

By Marcy Barthelette

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Matthew 6:26

I really thought we’d be finished with mating season by now but the robins in our yard are persistently working on a second or third family for the year. There is an early spring ritual at our home, whereby the robins continually try to build their nests above our downspouts and Ken must keep constant vigil so that he can remove the nests before eggs are laid. The trees are still bare then, and the birds seem to reason that the topside of a downspout provides the cover they need to provide a secure home for their young. I don’t get it, but then, I’m not a bird.

I believe God embedded the miraculous in the ordinary, and it is our task to discover it and celebrate it. Kent Nerburn

By this time of year, the process is quite different. The trees are fully leafed out and the birds finally seem to understand where they were intended to nest. They waddle through my landscape beds picking up dried daylily foliage, sail up into the taller branches of our trees and weave their treasures into an intricate and sturdy home for their tiny offspring. Soon the nest is filled with too many competitive tiny wings that flap but can’t yet fly and sometimes they become a little too boisterous.

Great opportunities to help others seldom come, but small ones surround us every day. Sally Koch, Author

This week, one of those little ones managed to fall from its nest into our yard well before it was ready to fledge. Whether it was shoved out by its siblings or just became too adventurous for its own good, this little one found itself in a perilous situation. I spotted the parent sitting on the ground while I was watering and wondered why it was there. That’s not typical behavior. When I edged too close, she flew away to distract me and there lay the baby. It had its feathers but was still unable to care for itself, so she was nestling it in the grass.

Ken was planning to continue power washing the driveway, his project for the week, and in light of the fact that he would be working about 18 inches from where the young bird lay, I knew mama robin was not going to be happy with this scenario. After some deliberation, Ken pulled up some of the daylily debris that is such a favorite nesting material for the robins and attempted to weave a makeshift nest. He placed it in a bush near the house and away from the driveway. He then gently settled the young bird in its new nest and went about his power washing task.

The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the creator. Louis Pasteur, French Chemist

Very shortly mama robin was flying in and out of the bush trying to care for her baby in very difficult and unfamiliar circumstances. We saw her continue her ritual for a couple of days but then she disappeared. We don’t know what eventually happened to the little one and we knew the odds were stacked against its survival, but we did what we could to help these little creatures in their plight.

Much like our tiny bird and its mama, we sometimes find ourselves in compromised situations, whether by total accident or by poor choices. And sometimes we have to reach rock bottom before we are willing to acknowledge our need for a helper. When that time comes, our Heavenly Father is only a breath away. That mama robin acted on her protective instinct and accepted a helping hand from two willing humans; when we are in trouble we only need to ask and regardless of what kind of mess we’ve gotten ourselves into, God loves us so much that He will forgive us. If he cared enough to bring me to the right place at the right time to discover that baby robin in its moment of peril and prompted Ken to do something as outrageous as building a nest, how much more will He care when we bring our mistakes and troubles to Him for a solution?

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4: 16 (ESV)


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A Sweet, Sweet Fragrance

By Marcy Barthelette

For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. II Corinthians 2:15

Do you smell it? Farmers all around the area are baling and the scent of freshly mowed hay tickles the nostrils with a most pleasing summertime aroma. Unless, of course, you’re allergic. Allergies aside, our sense of smell is an incredible gift and one we should not take for granted, especially as we continue to deal with that thing called COVID, the loss of taste and smell being common symptoms.

Consider, if you will, the lilacs of early spring. After a long cold winter, their soaring fragrance heralds the promise of new life. This year their lovely purple clusters were covered in snow and yet their delicious scent filled the air. That’s quite a miracle in itself. And imagine yourself in an English garden where heritage roses waft their romantic perfume on light summer breezes. One of my favorite mid-summer garden fragrances is the Stargazer lily. Its spicy sweetness transports me to the open-air markets of the Orient.

I love deadheading my salvias throughout their lengthy season. Their pungent scent of sage surrounds my senses and brings my memory right to Thanksgiving Day when turkey and stuffing roast slowly in the oven. In September, when I visit our local market to find hundreds of mums filling the parking lot, I can only describe their fragrance as being immersed in fall. I know that scarecrows and jack-o-lanterns will soon make their appearance.

Consider the scent of icy cold watermelon on a warm summer day, hot dogs roasting on the open fire, and vine-ripened strawberries over ice cream. And who doesn’t salivate at the aroma of sizzling hot chili bubbling atop the stove in the cold of winter, or how about freshly baked bread or cinnamon rolls? Can anyone say no to a cup of hot apple cider or fudge just poured into the pan? Our sense of scent is truly a precious gift. 

His shoots will sprout, and his beauty will be like the olive tree and his fragrance like the cedars of Lebanon. Hosea 14:6

The Bible refers to fragrance several times as a positive result of our relationship with God. When we acknowledge Him, worship His name, and show His love to those around us, we offer to Him a pleasing aroma. When we allow the world to cloud our judgment and then behave sinfully, we offend Him with a sickening stench.

Oil and perfume make the heart glad, so a man’s counsel is sweet to his friend. Proverbs 27:9

I relish the thought that God likens our behaviors to scent. Whether savory or sweet, scent unlocks all kinds of mysteries in this life and even the offensive ones warn us to be wary of unseen dangers. Take a moment and close your eyes. Breathe in all the scents around you, see how many you can identify, and think about the kind of scent you would want to share with others and, likewise, with God. Do you want to resemble the skunk that carries its disgusting aroma everywhere it travels or do you choose to present yourself to God as a pleasing fragrance? He offers us the freedom to make the choice … I choose to try and be a lilac. What about you?

When we return to the greenhouse each day, it will restore us and bathe us once again in Jesus’ aroma so that people will know where we have been. They will glimpse Jesus in our faces, hear Him in our voices, and see Him in our actions; they will catch the aroma of Christ — His presence in our lives — emanating from us.

Tony Dungy and Nathan Whitaker, The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge


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Take Care of Your Grass

By Marcy Barthelette

A farmer went out to sow his seed … Matthew 13:3b

I’m not sure if it’s my imagination or if the grass in our yard is thinning as much as the hair on my aging head, but I recall many thick, lush areas during that first summer, some five years ago and now our once pretty lawn looks more like an unruly weed patch.

 

As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up … Matthew 13:4

It’s not for lack of trying. We’ve spent countless hours each spring and summer, digging dandelions, spraying chickweed and henbit, rooting out those thorny and obnoxious thistles and I mustn’t omit the huge patches of clover that are relentless. The only reward for my labor seems to be a generous sprinkling of insect bites. Between chiggers, mosquitoes, and ticks, it’s often hard to find an untouched patch of skin. For some reason, they don’t bother Ken as much and I must admit to a tad of envy but, despite all our toil, the weeds are flourishing.

Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly … but when the sun came up, the plants were scorched because they had no roots. Matthew 13:5-6 (paraphrased)

Why you might say, are they not building up the turf to choke out the weeds? We’ve tried that too, overseeding areas of established turf to add strength, and generously seeding reclaimed areas. But our efforts have been for naught, and we just haven’t made the leap to contacting a lawn service… we’re still in DIY mode.

Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Matthew 13:7

I suppose our approach has been something like the dieter, after seeing the number on the scale and saying, “Oh, well, I’ll start tomorrow,” and plunging right into that doughnut on the counter. And in truth, that pretty much sums up life. If we surround ourselves with negative people, we will find our own attitudes becoming negative. If we indulge in too many rich foods, we may not only find our clothing feeling smaller day by day but may also discover health issues creeping into our routine. If we hear bad language everywhere around us, those same words will begin to tumble from our mouths as well. If we follow the crowd that doesn’t appreciate worship, we will eventually, forget worship altogether and our lives just may become a tangle of obnoxious weeds and thorny vines.

We need to provide fertile ground for the positive seeds around us to take root. That means spending time with fellow Christians. It doesn’t mean we exclude those who need our help. Jesus spent a great deal of his time with those who were considered the misfits of his era, those who needed His healing touch or a comforting word. He expects us to extend a loving hand to those in need today. He also wants us to remember “whose” we are. Just one small weed quickly multiplies and becomes an uncontrollable mess. Guard your ground zealously and don’t let weeds take root.

So if your yard needs tending, approach it from a positive angle. Nourish the grass and it will eventually choke out those weeds. Likewise, if your life has become a little thorny, look to the source of all good things, immerse yourself in Godly conversations and then go out where you are needed and provide rich ground for strong turf to emerge.

Still other seed fell on good ground, where it produced a crop — a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Matthew 13:8


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Small Blessings are Often the Best

By Marcy Barthelette

For there is hope for a tree, (or a bush) if it is cut down, that it will sprout again, And that its

tender shoots will not cease. Job 14:7

We have an azalea bush that we believe to have been original to our 1993 home. When we moved here, it was looking a bit worn. It had no shape, and its foliage was sparse. I wondered if it was really worth saving. Should I just count my losses and ask Ken to drag out his Ozark digging tools?

My experience with the species was limited so I did a little online research and concluded that a twenty-something-year-old shabby azalea could actually be worth some effort on my part. A spring bloomer, it had to be pruned after it flowered so, in late May, I grabbed my pruners and set out to make this sad-looking bush a bit more shapely. I decided on a cautious course of action and removed only dead branches and the most unruly live ones.

Next spring, our azalea had a somewhat better overall appearance and bloomed profusely, but I had since become more daring and when blooming finished, I once again took my pruners to the branches. This time, however, I gave it a severe haircut and hoped that I had not gone too far. It began to sprout new leaves and soon was a fine, healthy-looking specimen. It was a long wait to see if it bloomed well, but my efforts were rewarded. We have enjoyed that azalea every spring since, that is, until this year.

As you undoubtedly know, our winter and even spring have been very challenging to plant growth. They’ve experienced extreme cold, late freezes, an abundance of moisture, and too little sun. Most of my perennials are taking it in stride but there are a few areas of concern. That beautiful azalea tops the list. When buds should have been sprouting, nothing happened. The bush appeared to be dead, but we waited (sort of patiently), and eventually, leaves began to appear at the branch tips. Then one day, I found the tiniest of leaf buds erupting among the seemingly dead wood. They are very slowly growing into foliage and, hopefully, by the end of summer, we’ll have a healthy-looking azalea once again.

Whatever goal you are trying to reach, break it down to the details and focus on them one at a time.

Don’t get sloppy and overlook the little aspects of life, because they add up to big things.

Tony Dungy & Nathan Whitaker, The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge

The best part of this little tale is that one day I glanced out the window and caught a glimpse of pink buried in that azalea. I looked more closely to be sure my old eyes hadn’t failed me and then I raced out with my phone to catch an image of one perfect bloom, nearly hidden by leaves.

I know it may sound silly to get so excited about one insignificant bloom, but here’s the thing … I had worked hard to save that bush because it was special to me. How much more do you think God celebrates when one of His beautiful creations says to Him, “Okay, God

, I get it! You are the light in my life and everything I have comes from you, especially forgiveness. I know that you gave your own son for me, and I want to try my very best to live the rest of my life for you.” Can’t you just imagine all the angels in heaven throwing the biggest welcome home party for that one imperfect person who finally discovered that he or she is a child of God? Any person or a

ny thing that seems shabby and worn one moment can blossom into something magnificent when God is in the mix!

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue

and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. — Philippians 4: 8 (NKJV)

Be aware of the goodness in those around you and cultivate the beauty in them.

  


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