Wednesday, July 31, 2013

My Noble Knight and His Shining Electric Fence

By Brenda Black

The ability of a raccoon to know that my sweet corn is two days from perfection is uncanny. When I discovered the two ears tested and stripped from their six-foot stalks after the first night of invasion, I was slightly intrigued and a bit frustrated, but not too troubled. I figured a couple of pie tins swinging in the breeze and a bright yellow raincoat on a piece of rebar would keep the burglars at bay. Then came the second morning after a night of their garden dancing and dining near my tin-pan band. And it became WAR! A dozen ears demolished and as many stalks laid low. With ears still clinging, I had all the evidence I needed to call in the cavalry.

My garden this year is one of the most beautiful and fruitful I've ever produced. Every weed, every crumb of earth, every sprig of green pulled, turned or planted by hand – my hands. Blistered and calloused fingers and feet marked with a flip flop tan are proof of the hours spent tending my little patch of wonder.

My husband who has praised my efforts admirably was nearly as troubled as I over the corn field destruction. If I had a trumpet, I would have blown it as that man set out on his noble mission to guard my castle garden and his lady with valiant determination. Three strands of hot wire and an electric charger went up in a couple of hours – not just around the corn, but the whole green kingdom! The following morning I awoke to find all stalks, tassels and ears intact. The garden queen was quite happy.

As I surveyed the grounds, I pondered our two approaches to battle. While I searched for shortcuts for a solution, Alan attacked it with the best wall of protection. His method proved that some things are just worth fighting for. That man does love his corn, and maybe me just a little.

In God's kingdom, we often suffer loss to the one who comes to kill, steal and destroy. We can try silly tricks to outwit the enemy and find ourselves just amusing him and feeding his fury. Satan and sin are real threats that demand determined combat. Instead of taking shortcuts, we must build the fence tall and make it dangerously hot to touch. It's called a hedge in old world vernacular, but it's purpose is timeless: Protect the harvest!

Letters from the apostle John were filled with good advice for building a wall of protection to keep the good fruit in and the thieves out. Through his writings he intended to share the joy of fellowship; to help believers avoid sin; to warn them about deceivers and to assure them of eternal life. He wanted believers to grow in obedience and love and to know that God would protect them from the devil's evil intentions. In the closing words of his first letter, he clearly delineates the boundaries between residents of the kingdom and the great deceiver.

“We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one does not touch him.” (1 John 5:18)

Though I'm married to a noble man who strives to protect me and the things that matter to me, it is my King and Savior who guards eternally. I am so very thankful for two great defenders and an electric fence.  

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Multi Tasks of Trust and Release

By Brenda Black

Multitasking used to serve me well. I could conquer seemingly unlimited chores simultaneously with order and ease. Oh, those were the good old days when all the neurons were firing full force. Back then, a half dozen work projects and as many personal thoughts could occupy brain space equally. Now, I'm lucky if I can remember what I'm doing one duty at a time -- while in the middle of it! Forget the little details of life. If I don't write it down, it's history. And when too many tasks are tugging for my attention, sometimes I completely shut down and simply have to reboot.

Since the brain is slowing while awake, it strikes me as most aggravating that it would be alert when I'm trying to sleep. One night this week, I sprang awake at 2:00 in the morning with matters whirring in the gray matter that should have had the courtesy to wait till sunrise at least. Last night, it occurred three times! I think in the quietness my mind races ahead. Additionally, in those still moments worries seem to explode from their hiding place where they've been tucked behind the busyness of the day, conveniently ignored.

My jolt upright was alarming enough to wake my husband the other night, who wondered what had me so keyed up. "I don't know," I lied, fully aware of the fears and worries that had just wrangled my z's and stolen my sleep. "Just breathe. Go back to sleep," I coached myself. "You can't do a thing about any of it right now."

Though I am feeling frazzled and worn from a raft of commitments already conquered, and ones yet to face, it isn't the absence of a sound night's rest that troubles me. It's my lack of trust in the One who holds the days and nights and everything that fills them. Now, not only do I have a running list of deadlines and details clicking through my noggin, but bells and whistles are going off in my head! The alarm is blaring a warning about the pattern of thought I've succumbed to in the past several days. Fretting over too much work, too many bills and too little time gave me a headache. And when I allowed myself to mentally labor over even bigger matters beyond my control, I felt a heaviness of despair start to creep over mind, body and soul.

When the head is too full, it's time to listen to the wisdom of the heart. I know I cannot handle any of this alone. I need to trust the One who knows exactly what is needed and I must release the worries to Him. But that is often easier said than done!

My human struggle is nothing new to God. The book of Psalm, chapter 107 highlights the failings of humanity and proclaims the gracious patience of God who redeems and restores those who wrestle between feelings and faith. “Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way...they were hungry and thirsty and their lives ebbed away.” “Some sat in darkness and the deepest gloom...” “Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities.” “ their peril, their courage melted away...”

In every instance God meets the weary and wounded, the faltering and foolish with His great power and love. When they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, “he delivered them from their distress.” “He saved them...” “He sent forth his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave.” “He stilled the storm to a whisper.” “He lifted the needy out of their affliction.”

This particular song ends with “Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the Lord.” (Ps. 107:43)

 My multi tasks for today: heed and consider, trust and release. Then get some sleep. I pray you'll do the same.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Feeling “Malled”

By Brenda Black

I lived during the 70's. It wasn't pretty back then. Big chunky shoes, gaudy patterns and way too many gigantic stripes running all the wrong directions. Either the dresses were too tiny or they were tent-like. Jump forward four decades and a visit to the mall is blinding! It's 1972 all over again.

Gargantuan blooms in vivid hues and more horizontal stripes than the tiniest of figures can handle. They all screamed from rack after rack like a bad dream that just kept repeating itself. 

No matter the name on the store, the dress selections barely covered the derriere or they kissed the ankles. And heaven forbid if you looked for a mid length. The mullet dress was the only alternative. What a mistake! Whoever designed these train wrecks didn't know how to conduct business up front or have a party in the back.

I tried to find the least offensive options and wriggled in to a dozen or so with absolutely zero success. If the cut even came close to workable, good ol' polyester ruined the possibilities. I tried on one little number that weighed more than my hefty Labrador, it was so decked out in layers. I left feeling discouraged, far from stylish and basically mauled by yards and yards of ugly.

No dress. How about shoes? Again, an adventure of extremes. Either flat or frighteningly steep. I'm past the point of heels that make my nose bleed. My back can't take it, my calves cry and I've seen way too many young ladies who try to master them, end up looking like tight rope walkers without a balancing pole. I like cute, but I like my comfort also.

Maybe I'm just out of touch, but do customers really like this stuff or is it just all that is offered? Shopper after shopper hauled their hideous, over-priced goods out the doors much to my dismay, as I walked away, determined to appreciate even more what hung in the closet at home.

I'm far from hip. Don't consider myself a fashionista. But I do have the common sense to not spend hundreds of dollars on a dress that looks like Sonny and Cher's living room drapes. I won't always fit with the trends and probably seem a bit boring with my preferred monochromatic garments. I'm okay with that. I suppose I should live and let live when it comes to fashion flair or failures, but I can't wait until this 70s throwback is thrown away and something a little more tasteful and elegant makes its debut. I'd even settle for recycling a different decade, if only the styles were more flattering and less like clown suits.

Cultural trends tend to shift, and often with the upheaval, modesty and good sense disappear. Peer pressure pushes us in to corners of “I had no other choice” in matters far more serious than what we are wearing. These are the times in which we live, but it doesn't mean we have to succumb to only what the world has to offer. God still calls us to be set apart and make the kind of choices that honor Him. We need to go to our prayer closets and seek His opinion rather than go with the flow of the masses. There's always a choice about what you wear on the outside – more importantly, how you clothe your heart.

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

When you feel like the world is mauling you, look for the exit! Then run to the Lord and follow His timeless and perfect pattern.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Power in the Tongue of the Young

By Brenda Black

Careless words. Carefully guarded words. Profound words. When I asked my friends what they thought I should write about this week, I received a variety of ideas. Though most sounded quite isolated and unrelated, the Lord revealed something powerfully connected from among a sampling of opinions. The message: There is power in the tongue of the young – for better or for worse.

The bad news first. Youth culture has abbreviated the English language to fragmented acrostics and basically butchered spelling through rushed text messages and tiny keyboards. All too often, instead of setting a better example, adults begin to follow the contemporary habits of those younger. Like many things turned upside down in this world today, where once the spoken word made its way onto the typed page, now the type makes its way into oral conversation. My BFFs and those who like to LOL may find nothing wrong with such patterns. But it seems these days that everything is trivialized and casual to the extent that words lack deep meaning.

As one friend remarked, “One of my pet peeves is people saying 'good luck' or 'knock on wood.'” She sees the flippant banter as carelessness with words. “What do those words really mean? NOTHING! We've traded God's blessings for societal sayings that mean nothing.”

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name.”( Hebrews 13:15)

The tough news next. Our young people face a hostile culture where wrong is glorified as right and right is shamed into suffocating corners. Their words, no matter how kind or true or meaningful can be stifled by ignorant and hateful intimidation.

A story related by friend number two tells of a 14-year old girl from California. In one afternoon, the adult learned just how much pressure this girl endures. “She had some of the best questions about current news events that I'd been asked lately. She wanted to know my opinion about DOMA, the Zimmerman trial and race relations in this country. She expressed that growing up in California and going to public school that she had to watch that she didn't express her conservative religious views to the wrong people! I couldn't help but see how much it really bothered her to watch everything she said or be taken out of context.”

May godly wisdom be this child's armor so that she doesn't fall prey to wickedness. I pray she dwells on Psalm 141:3-4 and follows the instruction to “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil, to take part in wicked deeds with men who are evildoers; let me not eat of their delicacies.”

Lest you think American youth are the only ones who face pressure, then you haven't seen the powerful interview of a 12 year old Egyptian. Ali Ahmed lives in the midst of a revolution, but stands for what he knows is right. As an opposition protestor, he explains with amazing eloquence why over 20 million Egyptians have taken to the streets to protest Mohammed Morsi's government. He calls out ignorance, bad politics and misguided social behavior. You can view his highly intelligent and insightful interview below. 

As yet another friend said, “We are blessed to be sheltered from this turmoil, but at the same time our children are busy with stupid things. He knows more at 12 than most adults here.”

“For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.” (Matthew 12:34b-36)

Our children need adults who'll speak truth and talk of things that have eternal value. And they need courage to carry that verbal baton for the next generation and not falter. Paul advised a young follower many years ago to watch the tongue. “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith.” (1 Timothy 6:20-21a)

And he closes his thoughts with the same blessing I extend to our youth – “Grace be with you.” May you use your words for good.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Powerful Storms and Personal Scars

By Brenda Black

Giant trees uprooted. Branches strewn across a freshly cut lawn. Leaves and twigs litter a stretch along either side of the highway about a half mile long. No news will cover this small swath of a summer storm's havoc. No volunteer help will come from two states away to saw through fallen timbers or rake scattered leaves. Only a few homes are affected. No big deal.

I don't know the folks who hunkered down inside their old farm houses and heard the howling winds rip over their homes. I have no idea how many years ago they planted those lovely trees, full of bloom and beauty. So, whether the damage came by tornado or straight line winds is irrelevant. If it only ravaged their few acres and missed a nearby city far more populated doesn't matter. The gaping holes in the ground once filled by sturdy roots still leave scars. The fear brings real tears, regardless of the scope of the storm.

Usually only news of big, bad stuff that impacts multitudes is brought to the forefront. In the meantime, every human endures their own small storms; winces from their own scars. Every one of us is broken or uprooted in some way. And each time, it is a big deal – to the broken one and to the One who heals brokenness.

I passed those storm-hit homesteads early one morning. By evening, when I drove by, headed the opposite direction, I noticed a contrast between neighboring properties. Obvious clean up at one and nothing at the next. A big fallen tree in one yard transformed in a matter of hours into stacks of firewood with the help of friends and family. Scattered limbs became brush piles through the work of many. Next door, the yard remained covered in shattered remains. No activity. No help. No change.

Inevitably, storms will slam into our lives. The mess they leave will demand our attention. We can go it alone and take longer than necessary to clean up the clutter. We can call for help and hasten the healing. Or we can ignore it and let it lay in our lives and wilt and wither or slowly rot and kill the green grass underneath.

Honestly, there is no excuse in the body of Christ to ever endure the hard things alone. Often, the best help comes from someone who's been through a similar storm and knows exactly what you need to pick up the pieces. Jesus calls us to be His hands and feet, His heart and His helper. He also calls us to reach out and receive. It's a two-way street.

“Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” (1 Peter 3:8)

That's heavenly advice. And it comes in pretty handy when neighbors are in crisis. Harmony makes the work easier. Sympathy soothes an aching heart. Love just makes the world a better place and certainly covers over a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8). Compassion goes a long way in a broken life because we just need to know that someone cares and understands. Somehow that makes it possible to press on and shapes the family of God into the Father's image.

 The final act is humility. Living in a world with hurt may call on us to sweat a little and haul some wood or we may need to sit and listen and pray unselfishly. You can't care about the trial in someone else's life if you are consumed with your own real or imagined tragedies. Sometimes, the best medicine for brokenness is to help somebody else mend. You just might find your small gesture is a very big deal in the middle of someone's storm.