Overrun

It’s barely visible. It sits off the road a bit in a neighbor’s yard. But that’s not why Don had missed it time and time again. No, Don had missed it each time we rounded the block on our walk because it was camouflaged. But this time he noticed. “Look, there’s a swing in there.”

“Yes,” I replied. Underneath and in between the overflow of foliage sat a swing.

I imagine the original owner sitting there in the cool of the evening with his wife, rocking their cares away. Instead of the traffic we now hear zipping by, they hear the cicadas and woodpeckers and other animals rustling about. They watch the sunset, whispering about their day, holding hands underneath a beautiful arch of greenery and blooming, fragrant flowers.

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But now the home is vacant and the swing is overrun. It’s not functional. It cannot be used for its intended purpose. No one can sit and swing. There are obstructions, barriers. Because of the neglect of the owner, the plant life has taken over. The vines have intertwined with each other and the structure in such a manner that the swing is engulfed and unusable. It needs an overhaul. It needs someone to care enough to clear away the obstacles, to snip and chop and carry off the excess plant life.

If we aren’t careful, our lives can be overrun. We may allow something that was once beautiful to take over.  If we don’t keep things in their rightful place, trimming and maintaining, they may overrun us to the point of unusefulness.  We won’t function as we were intended. We must allow the Gardener access to the areas of our lives that may need reduced or shaped.

When we allow things around us to enhance us, to help and not hinder, we will thrive. We will be used by God and glorify Him.

What things, be they materialistic or abstract, are threatening to overrun your life?

Will you go to the Gardener and allow Him to trim it back?

Mary Was My Age

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Last night we saw a dramatic presentation of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion. It was seen through the eyes of several witnesses. One of those witnesses was Mary, Jesus’ mother. The actress, playing the part of Mary, stated she was “old.” Now I know old is a relative term, but it didn’t sit well with me. So I started doing the math.

Tradition states in Biblical times a Jewish girl could be betrothed as young as age 10 or 12. We do not know how old Mary was during her engagement to Joseph, pregnancy, and the birth of Jesus; but, based on common knowledge of the culture at the time, we could guess somewhere between 10 and 16.  What we do know is Jesus was crucified when he was 33. So I added 14 (possible age of Mary at Jesus’ birth) and 33 (Jesus’ age at time of death) and got 47. 47! That’s my age! (That’s NOT old!) But that’s not my point.

When I started thinking of that blessed mother as someone my age, something clicked. There was Mary at the foot of the cross watching her son die. My heart sunk. For Mary, He wasn’t only (as if Jesus could be described as “only” anything) the Messiah; He was the baby she had nursed and the child she had raised.

What if that were my son on the cross? The pain would be excruciating.

I wonder if Mary clung to the hope she had that Sunday was coming. That Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection was the hope for the world. That all Gabriel and Jesus had told her would come to pass.

As I walk through trials and hurts of life, I cling to the hope I have.

It may be Friday . . . but Sunday’s a comin’!

Merry Christmas, from Florida

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Don, Barb, Kenneth & Melinda Winters with Samuel and his fiance, Ashley

We miss God’s beauty in snow on the ground (a little) . . . but are basking in the 80 degree weather.

We’ve added one (Samuel) and lost one (JT) . . . but there are still five of us journeying together.

We miss our old jobs and co-workers . . . but are thankful for new jobs and those helping us through.

We miss celebrating Christ’s birth with our friends . . . but are meeting and making new.

We are reading our advent book in a different house . . . but it’s the same candles and the same story.

We will spend Christmas Eve outside with a different group of people . . . but it’s still for God’s glory.

We will spend Christmas Day with different family members . . . but it’s still the same celebration.

Some things change, but Christ never will . . . yesterday, today, and in tomorrow’s expectations.

Merry Christmas from the Winters Family

 

Transplant

Don bought me flowers. More pointedly, he purchased two hibiscus shrubs, each displaying one beautiful flower. New house. New yard. New plants. We loaded them into the van and drove them home.

We waited a day to transplant them, taking time to contemplate the perfect spot. Within those 24 hours, the ninety-degree heat took its toll and each lost its flower, its prettiness, its initial attraction. By the time we shoveled a hole and buried the roots, they were thirsty. So we watered; and watered some more.

We still water.

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As we water, I watch as many of the lower leaves turn from a deep green to yellowish-green to yellow. Every time I walk outside I pluck a newly-turned yellow leaf from the foliage hoping to stimulate and strengthen the plant, hoping to see new growth, new blooms.

I was told transplanting is hard on plants (it’s called transplant shock), but with proper care (trimming, watering, patience) they should bounce back and flourish again.

I am a transplant–most recently uprooted from IL and implanted in FL. As the transfer affected my new plants, so has the upheaval affected me. It seems my flowers have fallen off and my leaves are yellowing. My roots are searching for new ground to grasp. I am thirsty.

There is an appropriate time to prune and pluck and re-evaluate oneself–a time to go back to the Creator and ask to be cared for. This is my time. I’m on my knees. I’m in the Word. I’m worshiping. I’m listening. I’m waiting. My roots are long and healthy and I have plenty of deep green leaves, so I know I will eventually bounce back and flourish again.

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Maybe the sight of a big, bright yellow flower on my hibiscus shrub will inspire a small bud in my life.

Bread Crumbs and New Beginnings

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God began tugging at our hearts, individually and then, over time, jointly. We didn’t know where specifically He was leading, but we started to pay attention and follow the trail of crumbs He laid down for us. Books like True Religion: Taking Pieces of Heaven to Places of Hell on Earth by Palmer Chinchen and Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker brought us to our knees. We felt as if we hadn’t completely understood God’s directive to reach out to the brokenhearted. We weren’t connecting with the unchurched like we should.

I knew the stirring was leading up to something big. I read Simple Living by Lorilee Lippincott and 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker and began purging my house of extra items in preparation of something, not knowing what.

On we followed, crumb after crumb, wondering and anticipating with excitement where the trail would lead. We asked questions, we perked our ears, we focused our eyes. We explored various new avenues of ministry. God led on, crumb by crumb. We narrowed our search, discarding anything not lining up with our thoughts and beliefs. And the phrase that kept surfacing out of discussions and books was “church plant.” He plopped church planting authors’ books in our laps. He put people in our path that were pursuing a church plant. Just as God had used people who had adopted, were adopting, and wanted to adopt to tell us to adopt, the topic of church planting came up so often we couldn’t ignore it. So we pursued it . . . bread crumbs.

And one day before the end goal had solidified (it was still quite fluid and abstract), I came face to face with my sinful nature of desiring comfort and stability. I came to the passage in Luke where Jesus asks some men to follow Him. Each had an excuse. Each excuse I had.

While Jesus had “no place to lay his head,” I had the comfort of a nice home with a newly remodeled (did I say beautifully remodeled?) bathroom & kitchen. And similar to the man who wanted to “bury his father,” I wanted to continue living within three hours of my mother so I could take care of her should she need me. But the hardest obstacle to hurdle was the last. The final man asked to “go back and say goodbye to his family.” And the weight of reality sunk deep. I did not want to say goodbye to the “family” I would leave behind: my 20-year-old son. His decision was clear. He would not go. He would stay back to finish his degree.

I wrestled with these excuses, these obstacles, these real-life issues. I knew I could not pursue God and continue to hold on to these securities. “Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.'” (Luke 9:62) So I let go. I wrote in my journal that day, “I know God is asking me to lay it all down for Him and His glory because of Him, because of His kingdom, for His children . . . in recognition that it is not about me. He cannot increase if I do not decrease.”

So we are going. Our bread crumb trail leads to Wildwood, FL . . . and a new church aptly named Hope Community Church. On August 1, four Winters family members and one new college graduate, Samuel Cutshall, will begin the process of planting. We have been warned it won’t be easy. But we are confident we are pursuing God’s plan.

I invite you to check out the church website HERE and like our facebook page HERE. I also ask that you pray for us as we transition and consider contributing a special gift or monthly gift toward the start-up of this ministry. If you would like more information, let me know.

Run on the Right Path

Fear motivates, and I run. What from?

A ghost? A memory? A potential confrontation?

A hard situation? . . .

People?

Instead of staying, I run. Instead of facing, I hide.

My desire: stop running from something. My choice: run to Someone.

When running from something, my head turns back. My eyes gaze on potential danger. My feet falter.

When running to God, my head stays forward. My eyes focus on Him. My feet uphold. The threat of peril disappears & safety abounds.

The environment persists. The situation continues. The potential confrontation lingers. But much has changed. Trust motivates. Truth triumphs. God prevails.

I am free to persevere through the trial as He leads or follow Him down a different road.

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Can I clearly see the resolution? Not always. But the path is unobstructed. As long as I follow Him, my feet are secure and the answer is in His hands.

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Corners are less menacing.

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The unknown feels adventurous.

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God’s guidance reassures—a friendly Presence.

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And, while tomorrow’s answers may be a mystery, the ultimate destination remains the same—Paradise.

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When faced with difficult situations, do you run from them or face them head on? What would it look like if you chose to run to God instead of running from something?

Back-out Barbie Battles Princess Barb

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My back went out.

That four-word sentence contains much meaning and significance.

I struggled with chronic back pain for nine years. Then in March 2011 I underwent back surgery. Until recently I would have said (and might still say) I was miraculously healed. I was the poster child for this type of surgery.

So three weeks ago, when I felt a familiar painful pull in my lower back, old emotions and fears rushed back as reality soaked in. Hence, my original statement that much meaning and significance are wrapped up in the short sentence, “My back went out.”

I am uncertain how this will play out. I could be back to “normal” in a month or two.

Or not.

My mind is reeling with questions, my body has a life of its own, and my emotions are out of control. In the midst of this roller coaster, it has been difficult to pinpoint what is so bothersome—maybe because there are so many layers to unravel.

However, I managed to identify one worry: I don’t want to be “that person.” You know, the person who always talks about some issue or ailment he/she has.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Back-out Barbie. I have back problems.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t pick that up. I’m Back-out Barbie, and I have back issues.”

“Could you hand that to me? I’m Back-out Barbie, and my back isn’t cooperating today.”

“My children are unloading my grocery cart for me because I’m Back-out Barbie, and I can’t bend over.”

I don’t want people to whisper, “There goes Back-out Barbie. She’s got a bad back, and her husband and children take care of her.”

Back-out Barbie feels guilt, self-pity, and disappointment.

On the contrary, Princess Barb walks in her identity as a child of God. She knows her hope is in Christ and this world is not her home. Princess Barb immerses herself in her Father’s love and acceptance and, consequently, reflects His love and acceptance to others. They say, “There goes Princess Barb. She looks so much like her heavenly Father. Even in times of distress she smiles and radiates His love.”

The vigorous battle between Back-out Barbie and Princess Barb continues. I don’t know who will emerge moment to moment.

But I’m certain who wins in the end.

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” Phil. 3:20-21

Are you having an identity crisis?

What false identity are you battling?