S A P

 

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When I think of the term ‘bleeding heart’, I simply look at one of our Ponderosa pines we planted over 25 years ago in an environment which they weren’t meant to thrive in. The prolonged drought which ended about three years ago almost killed all of them. Today, many bleed sap. Sap covering trunk bark is usually a sign of a tree defending itself against invasive insects and fungus’s. Pruning also causes sap to occur to cover the wounded trunk and branches. Since these pines are mature and were weakened by the lack of water and extremely hot summer temperatures, they are unhealthy. At this stage in their lives, there is little that can be done to make them thrive again. They have already exceeded their life expectancy for our temperate zone. They are not native to Kansas and are more vibrant when located in cooler and higher altitude climates. Yet, they have survived. Speaking of survival, pine tree sap is an excellent wound salve and has other beneficial medicinal uses.

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It is wonderful how nature protects herself. From a strictly vision perspective, the bleeding sap looks like an abstract painting of sorts. All of this gooey, slowly dripping sap gives the pine a fighting chance to survive another year. Although their branches aren’t as full as when younger, and the ability to withstand drought and pestilence aren’t as good as they used to be, these out-of-place trees know a thing or two about life and stress. They adapt. The sap is like liquid artwork to me-gradually changing color and shape as time marches on. Although I know something is wrong, I can’t help but admire the ever changing covering of bark. Strange, perhaps, but also encouraging.

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So, why talk about sap? Because it reminds me of people…of me. The bark of a tree provides an outer protective shield much like people do with their words and actions. Get too close and the bark may scratch. If one could peel off or bore into the bark then the tree (person) becomes vulnerable to a host of problems. Since sap is created to protect the tree when the bark has been damaged (much like people respond to pain and injury as they reveal their emotions in a myriad of ways)  a protective balm is produced. People  will do almost anything to protect their souls from being injured further.

Often, we lash out against those who have injured us-and in the process create more harm to ourselves by striving to keep them away. Sometimes we curl-up emotionally and drive away those who care for us by simply closing them out. If we understand our condition and desire healing we are usually clueless as to where to find it. So, rather than produce sap, we humans look to other methods to bring about wholeness. Occasionally, we get it right and bounce back, but this is not easy and usually requires the aid from others.

There is something magnificent about the human spirit…each unique spirit God has given to mankind. We so much desire to be vibrant. We desperately want to be noticed. We vie for attention and when we don’t get it from where it should come from we do all sorts of silly things. We want to be understood, and appreciated simply for who we are. It doesn’t matter if we are fifteen, twenty-two, forty something, sixty or eighty-eight. We all crave the same thing-to be acknowledged…to be appreciated…to be recognized (with or without fanfare). Validation. We simply want to be acknowledged and valued.

So, we instinctively protect ourselves when our egos have been walked on or our ambition has been perceived as arrogance. Whether we are hurt, belittled, misunderstood, have been treated unjustly or are ignored we struggle to deal positively with what has been done to us (or perceived to have been done to us). Hence, sap. Just like these pine trees striving to live-we humans go through all sorts of mental, emotional and physical exercises to survive, as well. Being very complex beings, most of the time our self-protective actions are misunderstood or self-destructive. Quite often, our defense mechanisms return to a default position that only ourselves or a few others are even aware of. How sad. How true.

So, rather than end this post on a negative note, I choose to flip the record over and play a happier song. Sap is a good thing. Period. If God didn’t give each human the ability to produce ‘sap’ then we would be doomed to a life of pity…often self-pity. This statement is not to imply that some injuries are beyond our control to heal. However, each of us experiences a suppository of defensive mechanisms to deal with the pain; whether they be crushed egos, betrayals, personal attacks, mockery, physical deformities or a myriad of other conditions. We are resilient.

My God has stated that we are the Apple of His eye. In other words, the most vulnerable place in the human body is valued by the Creator in such a way that He loves us and desires to protect us. I admit that I am not an expert in this area. I know His love, yet fight to make things better by my  own will. The result is usually not so good. However, when I release all to Him, the result is one of inner healing which, in turn, results in outer blessings for others. To be human means to be a family. It doesn’t matter what one’s philosophy is, nor what religion, nor what influence one may have achieved. I wish there was equality among all people everywhere, but such is not the case. We all know this.

Let us become the Sap for the sake of others. Practice applying the balm of forgiveness, of understanding, of empathy, and sacrifice when it is called for. Go the extra mile as Jesus preached and surrender yourselves to the greater good…mankind. I speak to myself most of all. Do not despair, my friends, for there is a power far greater than our own which governs all things. In particular, this Power loves humans more than trees or sap. He loves each one of us simply because He chose to. You are wonderful.

 

Paradox ?

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I must admit from the start that this is an unusual post for me. True, I have submitted several posts about Carson over the past two years, but today is different. Obviously, I am (Cheryl is, too) crazy about this canine. At the same time he is a great source of occasional irritation…love him anyway.

The Paradox for which I titled this post may not be so much a paradox, but a simple reality.

We adopted Carson after he was a breeder dog in a puppy mill in Nebraska. There are these wonderful people who keep distressed dogs until they find a new owner. And, there are organizations which give folks like us the opportunity to see such dogs who need a home. In our case it is called Little White Rescue (we were interviewed before acceptance to bringing Carson home). So it should be.

We were told he was about three or so years old, but time has shown us that he was more likely six years old. Today, Carson is close to ten years…not a big deal for most dogs. However, he is 95% deaf, is developing cataracts so he cannot see that well, and has a terrible hacking cough as a result of an attack by a pit bull several years earlier. His trachea is collapsing so he has to take steroids more often than we like.

Now, for what I entitled as a paradox may simply be a matter of the circle of life, so-to-speak. Our two grandchildren are spending the night with us! Elliot is almost three and half years and Audrie seventeen months young. How fun, is right! I might add, exhausting, too. They are pure joy.

So, I walked today with an aging pupdog (as I call him) who may not be around much longer, and will engage with two very special children for the next twenty-four hours or so. The wonderful thing is that Carson has accepted the kiddos while they have learned to like and interact with a mammal of a different species. They really seem to like him. To watch their encounters together is priceless.

Well, there it is…my paradox of sorts (but not really). I simply love them all and want them to remain with us forever. We have had other animals we wish the same for, as well.

I am comforted by the words I read in my Bible which go like this, ” The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.” Isaiah 11:6.

So, I am encouraged that there shall be a reunion in Heaven with man and his beloved animals. This is not meant to be a theology lesson, but a point of hope for future blessings to abound. Thank you for reading and contemplating that which may be.

Rose of Sharon

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Hibiscus syriacus is a deciduous flowering shrub with large blossoms of various colors. These exotic looking shrubs can be found all over the world, and produce flowers from Spring to Autumn. They are a hardy plant and require little to no maintenance.

 Symbolically, in The Song of Solomon, Jesus is referred to as the Rose of Sharon. Sharon was a lush plain in Palestine at that time. The rose is considered by many to be the most perfect of all flowers. Since Christ is the only perfect man to walk upon planet Earth, the use of the rose in describing Him seems fitting. However, rather than Jesus (as the bridegroom) giving His people (the church) roses as a man would offer his beloved, He became the gift as well as the giver through His sacrifice.

 Hence, when I look upon our shrub producing a plethora of blooming roses throughout the warm Summer months, I smile and think of Him. Christ’s love and mercies-which are new every morning-refresh my occasional weary soul and remind me that life is a gift to be enjoyed daily. Just as hope springs eternal with each bloom, so His love endures forever. I hope you experience the Rose, and in doing so find peace and contentment.

 

 

Verdant

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Spring is such a vivacious season with verdant grasslands and forests. Along with this season of hope comes the longing to explore, to go outside and seek beyond what we think we know to be there. Or, we simply become invigorated with what we are familiar with, but only witness quarterly. This is true if we live in a climate where there are four seasons.For the longest time I have considered Autumn to be my favorite season, but when Spring arrives I fall in love with her energy, colors and aromas. Can we have more than one favorite season?

Depending on where one lives, Summer may be all we know such as in the Amazon Basin of Brazil. On the other hand, if one lived in the southern Chilean Andes, all we would know are the wonders of winter-like conditions supplemented with a short period of semi-warmth. Or, consider the vast Sahara desert with thousands of square miles of sand. In these areas of the world, seasons aren’t considered quite the same.

However, the world I know enjoys multiple seasons, and each season has it’s own appeal, as does each geographic profile; be it desert or arctic landscape, mountain or rain forest, plain or rolling hills. They all teem with stimulating life and beauty. The key is in the seeking to discover, for it is only then do we really notice what God has given us via his creation. I haven’t even mentioned the oceans or the skies!

My wish is that this season…this month…this day, may reveal something new and remarkable to you. As you walk the pathway of this season of your life, be encouraged, for there is beauty even among the dreariest of circumstances and environments. Seek.

 

 

Success: One More Definition

“Success is achieving my full potential while fully surrendering to God”.     J.B. Wood

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When I came across this quote, I was taken back by its simplicity, and at the same time, its profoundness. Hence, I decided to share it. I realized that this quote relates to the first success quote I shared in my previous post. That definition by Whit Hobbs is about excitement, confidence and the joy of being enthralled with something you love to do, and do well. The first part of this definition concerning achieving one’s full potential corresponds well to what Whit described.

It is the second part of J.B.’s definition which makes me pause. I believe his statement is biblical, and is also necessary for God’s people to grow in their faith. But, the term ‘surrender’ doesn’t sit well with most of us. Don’t we equate surrendering with defeat, weakness, loss of power, and the removal of one’s personal rights and privileges? That form of surrender is anathema to our survival instinct and sense of well-being.

Of course, God quite often puts a different spin on many ideas and principles we are familiar with. When Jesus walked among us, he turned the culture upside down by making proclamations which were often difficult to comprehend or were in conflict with current thought and practices. As an example, he said, “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect”. Taken at face value, most of us know intuitively-and by experience-that this imperative is impossible for man to achieve. Ultimately, he was implying that we should strive to be perfect by following his lead and seeking his help. Perfection comes later.

Hence, we come to the meaning of surrender as Wood used it. His intent is positive rather than negative. To surrender to God is to place one’s self directly under the power and influence of an entity far greater than mere man. God is nothing less than the Creator of the universe, as well as our personal friend if we chose to accept him as such. Anyone who can create an atom or cause an embryo to be formed in a womb must, by deduction, be able to govern all things far better than even the wisest of mankind could ever do. Where God is infinite in all things, man is finite. He is superior while we are inferior. Nevertheless, we struggle not only with this concept of surrender and putting it into practice, but also with the very concept of an all-powerful, all-knowing God.

If we believe that achieving our full potential leads to a form of success, then we are on our way to something good. If we realize this potential while submitting and surrendering to God, we will achieve something even better than good…something  extraordinary. I have been trying to meld the two together most of my life, and still struggle with both parts of Wood’s statement. However, I am not without hope. I am not alone.

 

 

Expanding My View

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Ever wonder if you have viewed life through too narrow a lens? Ever felt like you missed something significant because you were rushing to get somewhere ‘important’ while something beautiful was just around the bend? Does the “Life is passing me by” cliche seem familiar? I’ve felt like that and missed significance, but I’ve also learned to slow down to see what’s over the next hill or beyond the horizon-and I’m glad I did.

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Expanding my view is how I describe living more in the moment. The opposite is life in the fast lane (guaranteed to blow your mind as one band described it). Expansion requires discipline and developing a ‘new’ set of eyes, but it is worth the effort. Clearer vision results in seeing something that was there all along, but has been often overlooked. Once I expanded my view the scene I was looking at takes on a whole new perspective. I begin to grasp the beauty of each sunset and marvel at the complexity of God’s creation. Sipping coffee with a friend takes on a deeper meaning. Watching a bird build a nest becomes fascinating. As I begin to comprehend this dynamic, I begin to flourish within myself…at least that is how it seems…and I like that feeling.

The Soul of a Coffee Shop

Tuesday's CoffeeWhile visiting a well-known-chain coffee shop during the Christmas holiday, I decided to sit for a while and enjoy my drink rather than scoot out the door to my next destination.
The cacophony of sounds which embellished this locale reminded me of an orchestra tuning their instruments prior to a performance. At first the sounds seemed like unorganized noise – and could even be considered annoying if in a grumpy mood. But since I slowed down that morning, I heard instead, a strange harmony.

As I listened, I heard eclectic Christmas music playing through the overhead speakers; steamers making hot milk and froth for lattes and cappuccinos; employees taking and repeating orders; a middle-aged man talking with a younger man about weekly events and faith (a Bible lay on the table); two men sharing stories at a perimeter table; the gentle clicking of a young woman typing away on her laptop; the shuffling of the morning newspaper; and the constant stream of people coming and going while exchanging pleasantries and orders with the staff. And, of course, continuous texting.

Most of the customers were in a hurry, but a few not so much. They seemed to be the frequent visitors known by manager and employees alike. There were somber-looking people and joy-filled souls, and preoccupied folk from all walks of life. Some ordered regular coffee, but most selected specialty drinks, custom-made to their particular tastes. Many of these specialty drinks are rather expensive, too, but this is an affluent community and the average customer wants for little materially. Nevertheless, there are needs…there always are.

As I sat listening and watching the steady flow of consumers and busy staff, I realized that this coffee shop (like most) represents a cross-section of our current culture. Some of the people I witnessed could be on the verge of a collapse: emotional, relational, career-wise, health related or possibly financial. Most, I suspect, struggle with something. I certainly do. This much I know…everyone has a story. Some are tragic while some are remarkable and inspiring. Most fall somewhere in between. Perhaps this is why we are drawn to the exceptional, the heroic, and the inspirational. Average can seem so boring.

If we are honest, the majority of us see ourselves as average – and we probably are. There is nothing wrong with that, for without average, we wouldn’t have exceptional. Those who are exceptional-who excel above most-are flaunted and often placed on precarious pedestals of admiration. To be considered the best or most popular at something is alluring. Haven’t we all thought what it would be like to be the best athlete, musician, surgeon, writer, race car driver, entertainer, etc.? And yet, if we actually achieved this vaulted status, we would become susceptible to a host of potential problems, such as loss of privacy, inflated egos, self-absorption, detachment from average people and average lives, forgetting those in poverty, and the list goes on. We’ve all read stories of celebrities and athletes who still struggle to find love and acceptance, despite having achieved fame and worldly success. So many dream of achieving some sort of remarkable status or gaining peace of mind, but, instead, find ourselves miserable, especially during the holidays.

I think most of us try too hard in just about everything we do. Whether at work, at home or at play, we push-push-push until we have nothing left to give. Life becomes a balancing act, and peace and contentment are forced out of the daily equation. We miss out on the simple act of living-of being alive. There is this constant striving for that piece of golden fruit which is just out of our reach. When we fail to secure it, we panic inwardly and ask ourselves, ” Why not me?”. When some of us do grab onto it, it soon loses its luster and we become dissatisfied again. We humans are masters at repeating this cycle.

With the world seemingly spinning out of control, we become even more anxious. This tension leads to lives devoid of hope, and ultimately, joy. I know about anxiety and striving and even self-pity. I don’t come to you as one who possesses exceptional anything or as living a care-free life. On the contrary, 2015 has been a very difficult year for many reasons. Yet, I awakened today. No chalk lines outlining my body. Inward wounds perhaps, but I am still alive and have eternal promises spoken to me by the only One who can legitimately offer and secure them. Yes, this source is Christ. His love is extravagant, and far better than any of the gifts we may receive or give.

My Christmas wish for all is to find Him who seeks us. By doing so, all of our problems won’t vanish immediately, but our souls will be renewed, and a sense of peace and joy will eventually take residence. This world has nothing close to compete with this gift of love filled with grace. His fruit will never tarnish nor fade. Merry Christmas !

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