A spiritual blessing in the trees

Photo by Brian Forsyth on Pexels.com

I went for a walk yesterday and paid attention to the birds. The fairy-like flutter and zoom of six hummingbirds captivated me. I noticed the stately and intimidating silhouette of a Red-tailed hawk perched atop a dead Cottonwood tree. I realized innumerable Grackles and doves populate the gray sky, fences, wire lines and tree branches. And I saw a mockingbird sitting alone on the tip of an enormous Organ Pipe Cactus.

Because I set this week apart as a sort of sabbath, taking the entire week off work to intentionally rest my soul in God, I took a nap and awoke refreshed. I walked outside and felt the sun warm my skin in the chilled air. I watched a silky, black male Grackle sing in response to the song of another bird on a tree down the way. I sat outside with my goats for a while and noticed our rooster showing our young hens the nesting boxes, as though to say, “This is where you lay your eggs.”

Monday night in my church community group we talked about Ephesians 1 and how so many of us feel the verbiage of “spiritual blessings in heavenly places” is unattainable, ethereal, churchy.  We confessed our lack of thankfulness and awareness that leads to wonder. We ascend with our minds to the truth of Jesus being a blessing beyond our imaginations, like trying to capture a cup of water by standing under the Niagara Falls. But though we have a decreased capacity, we long to experience the reality of this truth in the here and now.  

Today after my walk the thought occurred to me, maybe those spiritual blessings in heavenly places aren’t so unreachable. Maybe we’re surrounded by them. 

Jesus said God showers his goodness on the just and the unjust.

 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have?

Matthew 5:44-46 CSB

As I think about my insatiable appetite for faithfulness; my desire to live and love faithfully, I wonder if one of the spiritual blessings in heavenly places is noticing what the Psalmist calls, “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”

I am certain that I will see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living.

Psalm 27:13 CSB

The goodness of the birds, in all their variety, color, shape and song. The goodness of the warm sun, and cool rain. The goodness of hens laying eggs and afternoon naps. The goodness of breath. All of these and more have become like white noise to us. We don’t notice. But they are tangible spiritual blessings of God’s goodness and faithful love.

Every morning when the sun bursts into the night with gold, red and purple light, God shines his faithfulness on everything and everyone he has made, whether we respond to his love or not. 

God is extravagant in his love for us, always giving us good. The spiritual blessing of his goodness and faithful love is in the heavenly places, yes. But if we’ll notice, it’s also singing in the trees and in everything he’s made.

The Lord is gracious and compassionate, 
slow to anger and great in faithful love.
The Lord is good to everyone; 
his compassion rests on all he has made.
All you have made will thank you, Lord; 
the faithful will bless you. -Psalm 145:8-10

Ash Wednesday is a perfect Valentine.

I’ve grown thick-skinned after 26 hard years.  At seventeen this small-town girl met a big-city boy and fell into infatuation. After two years of dating, and three break-ups, I married that rebellious, out-of-town boy who walked into my life wearing torn and bleached blue jeans, long blonde hair and a pink corduroy hat.  After 24 years of tumultuous marriage, nearly divorcing as many times as we broke up while dating, I find this pretty potted orchid by my morning coffee today.

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Over the years I’ve dreaded, ignored and been disillusioned by my silly hopes for Valentines day.  But in recent years I’ve despised the day.  Every pink, red or purple balloon/heart/flower was salt poured in my 26 year-hard-relationship wound. But this year Valentine’s Day is on Ash Wednesday, and I’m actually thrilled!  Not because I woke up to an orchid and my husband’s heartfelt note.  But because I’ve learned, still learning, that I’m dust and so is my husband. And I do good to remember that it is real love which compelled Christ to bear a cross for my dust so that I could bloom in his love forever.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent.  It’s the beginning of a fast to remember who we are, turning from clinging to our dust, living for ourselves, and to long for and look to the One who died in our place so that we might be free from the curse of sin and live for Him.  If I forget that I’m dust I might start thinking I’m a god and should be worshipped with offerings of shiny pink boxes or long-stemmed roses. If I forget that my husband is dust I might start thinking he should act like a god and sweep me off my feet and rescue me.  But if I remember I’m dust, married to dust, both of us in desperate need of the One who died to give us life, I’ll be embarking on the cross-carrying road real love is all about.

According to legend St. Valentine died for marriage.  This priest was put to death in ancient times for secretly marrying Christians. I’ve learned, still learning, to die for my marriage.  Any married person has to die a little, no a lot, to give marriage a chance to live. Jesus did not say, “You only live once so get as much good for yourself as you can now!”  He said, “If you want to really live, you’re gonna have to die.” (My paraphrase Luke 17:33).  Marriage is worth dying for.  It’s beautiful, all-be-it hard, painful and messy.  It’s meant to be a picture of the faithful love of Christ for the people who love him (the church). Christ died for those who love him to be like a bride to him.  He died so that human beings, who are but dust, could be made like Christ, living forever with the wellspring of life that comes from him filling us.  He died so that we could know what real love, real life, real hope, real peace, real happiness is. Christ is not a god who receives offerings of roses and chocolates.  He is the God who lays down his life so that we, the people he loves, might live.  Valentine’s Day is about dying to yourself so that marriage can live.

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Twenty four years ago I walked down the isle hand-in-hand with my husband, dust holding dust.  We were pronounced man and wife and I began my journey into dying to myself so that this big-city boy I fell for could see the faithfulness Christ has shown me.  It’s fitting, if not a bit prophetic looking back, that we walked down that isle into the world with the song Faithfully by Journey announcing the banner over our dusty union.  I hear the lyrics often in my head.

They say that the road
Ain’t no place to start a family
Right down the line
It’s been you and me
And lovin’ a music man
Ain’t always what it’s supposed to be
Oh, girl, you stand by me
I’m forever yours
Faithfully

My skin is thicker after 26 years.  I’m thankful for my husband’s thoughtful orchid and note this morning- a little good in the land of the living.  A little tenderness amidst a hard, dying-to-self, remembering-I’m-dust marriage. Today I’m turning again from trying to be a god who is satisfied by chocolates and roses and romantic gestures, and from trying to make my husband into a god who rescues me.  I’m turning to the God who laid down his life for my ashes.  There is real love.  Dust I am, but by the power of his love I am more, I am a little Christ.  His faithfulness reminds me he is giving me beauty for ashes.  His death reminds me that real love dies for the one he loves.

Roses may be red

Violets may be blue

But real love dies

For another’s life

And dust married to dust

Doesn’t expect much

But remembers

Her Redemers last words

“It is finished” he cried

For my dust he died

To give me life he bled

Now dying to self

I have beauty instead