God IS Good, and He will draw us to Him

Journal entry of 25 August 2014

So, I've been saying all day today that I'm going to write this. So, I'm writing it. (Happy, God? . . . Good. lol)

Last night, I attended the first night of the Kingdom Culture event at Hidden Valley Worship Center. HVWC is the laboratory where the Lord taught me who He truly is . . . the things I've read so far in the first four Lectures on Faith are all familiar to me because of what I've heard preached in this place. This is the church where I received the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, when a visiting pastor laid hands on me, prayed over me (including putting into words some things I was experiencing at that very time that I hadn't yet been able to put into words) and then said, "Be filled!" This church has been the place where I can come before the Lord and pray and worship without thought for what anyone will think, where I have been prayed over and healed, where I have been snatched from severe depression through the prayer of three incredible prayer warrior women. I've had experience after experience that has shown me that they operate in the Holy Spirit, according to the mind and will of God.

The worship portion of their services has always been super powerful in my life. From the very first service I attended, coming up on three years now, I have been filled with the Holy Ghost over and over as I've worshipped with them, in music, prayer and shouting praise. (Psalm 100)

Just over a week ago, I mentioned to some friends online I was feeling heavy-hearted. Well, you could definitely call it that. I had been brought down to absolute desperation, feeling so overwhelmed and powerless, so distant from my Lord. The love of my husband couldn't pull me out of it. During two of the days at the end of week before last, I cried out in desperation over and over, "Jesus, where is Your comfort? Where is the comfort You said You would send? Jesus . . . please . . . "

And I heard no answer.

Nothing.

So I held on, because that's all I could do . . . just hold on through the incredible darkness of that time. Too many little people depend on me for me to do anything else. I KNEW Jesus heard me. I had so much evidence, such an overwhelming preponderance of experience that He hears me. Always. I just didn't know why I was feeling the way I was, why the depression had come back with such a vicious vengeance, and why He wasn't banishing it when I cried out for relief, why I couldn't hear His answer.

A week ago yesterday (which was two Sundays ago), I went to the morning service at HVWC. It was the first time I had seen any of that part of my church family in more than two months, between my own LDS leadership calling me in, family visiting, our trip to Utah and further south for Denver's talks, etc., and oh, how I had missed the strengthening, the invigoration, the refreshing in the spirit I receive when I'm able to go and worship there. I got there late, missing every last bit of worship. But the sermon was like it was designed wholly for me--even down to one point where Pastor Chris really got his preach on, leaving his notes, preaching according to the spirit for a few minutes, detailing exactly what I had been struggling with over the last few days, what had been running through my mind as recently as the early morning hours that very day as I struggled and journaled and wept.

After the service was over, I said hello to a couple of people, chatted for a minute, gathered my things up, and as I made my way down the aisle, I stopped to say hello to Sharlene, who has been such a blessing and good friend to me. Then Naomi walked over and said hello. We were joined by Donna, and as we stood there, Naomi looked at me and said,

"Would you like to pray with us for our county?"

I said, "Sure."

Then the four of us, Naomi on my right, Donna across from me, and Sharlene on my left, began to pray.

Naomi led, praying first. Then Sharlene. Then Donna. I knew I was there to add my faith and agreement to what they said, but wasn't moved to pray at all. It was beautiful prayer, and I felt so grateful to be part of it. When Donna finished, there was a pause, and then Naomi began praying again. For me. Totally unexpected. As Naomi began her prayer, she said "God, I just pray protection over Annalea," and I felt incredible heat on the crown of my head, as if a high-wattage heat lamp had been turned onto me, as though Jesus came and laid His hands on my head, the strength of His presence radiating steadily down throughout me as the praying continued.

Naomi reached out and put her hand on my right shoulder, continuing to pray. She declared peace and healing and strength, and so many other things. The Holy Spirit grew and grew, and the love of Christ filled me and overflowed. I began to tremble, first my throat, then my hands, then my legs, as Naomi continued to pray healing and restoration over things that I had been struggling with, things she had absolutely no way of knowing anything about. (I hadn't seen or talked to her in two months--nor with with Sharlene and Donna.) Sharlene reached out and put her hand on my left shoulder, praying next. She prayed over different aspects of my struggle, releasing in my heart healing and forgiveness and so much more that the Spirit placed on her heart to pray for me. And the love of the Lord grew and grew within me and my own gratitude grew exponentially. My bff LeAnne came up behind me and put both hands on my back. Donna reached out and put her hand on the top of my bowed head as she then prayed in turn, again, praying words that she had no way of knowing I needed, but that addressed yet more aspects of my struggle, and that ushered in yet more of the healing and comfort for which I had cried out in the depth of my despair.

The desire to fall to my knees, and then upon my face, was nearly overwhelming. I was kept standing only because I was circled about by these women, whose hands supported and steadied me. I was so full . . . and I was healed. The darkness, gone. I was once again filled with the presence of my Jesus, and I knew that He answered my cries as soon as He could; that for whatever reason, my body and spirit had been weakened to the point where I couldn't receive on my own what He needed to give me, and so He gathered these women together to do the work I needed mortals to do, to bridge the gap I was too weak to cross, to be His hands and His mouth for me. And I broke down completely, sobbing at the incomprehensible mercy and grace and love that Jesus extends to us . . . that He extends to me. That He would save me, who am so miserably error-prone. Who would let my own devotions slide, amongst the busyness and demands of life, to the point where the enemy could isolate me, and, like a circling lion, prepare to devour me. I had been encircled about with the chains of hell--of separation from God--and I was set free, covered instead in His loving presence.

Yesterday evening, a week later, I worshipped in that same sanctuary. I was having a wonderful worship experience, full of so much joy and rejoicing. Then they began to sing "I'm a Lover of Your Presence," and LeAnne (who was on the worship team) began to sing. (If you can, go start that playing while you read the rest of this.)

"Let this be a sacrifice
let me dedicate my life
to worship You

Let this be a sacrifice
let me dedicate my life
to worship You"

Suddenly something broke open in my chest, and I started to sob. The song went on:

"I'm a lover of Your presence
I'm a lover of Your presence
I'm a lover of Your presence"

The feelings of gratitude, humility, of utter helplessness in the face of my situation, and then being snatched from it by the Lord's own good pleasure came rushing back, and I could finally fall to my knees for that, and pray. And the song continued:

"A passion's stirring deep inside,
You're all that really satisfies;
we worship You"

"We're lovers of Your presence
We're lovers of Your presence
We're lovers of Your presence
And it's all we want to be,
it's all we want to be"

And then kneeling wasn't enough. The enormity of what Jesus had done for me, of the price He paid to gain the victory He had won, the sweetness of fruit of it in my life, a sweetness above all that is sweet, sent me to my face, once again crying out, but this time in love and praise and utter amazement at the extravagant riches of His love poured out for me.

"I was made for love,
I was made for love,
I was made for loving You
I know that I was made for love,
I was made for love,
and I was made for
Loving You"

I don't think I've ever been more vulnerable, or more safe, than I was in those minutes, as I sobbed out my gratitude and my love for Yeshua, my Jesus, my Beloved God. It wasn't a performance, a demonstration for anyone to see. I wasn't doing anything that isn't well-known in that place during worship. That sanctuary truly IS a sanctuary, where the Holy Spirit directs all things.

Today, I now know just a little of what Denver feels like when he says, "I'd really rather NOT be doing this." I'd never consider sharing something like this in a forum as public as this. One-on-one, when prompted, no problem. But this honestly makes me (the written word over-sharer) a little antsy. I'm sharing these things with the desire in my heart that it will touch someone, and open a heart to be touched by the Living God more than ever before. The things that happen in the scriptures when the presence of an omnipotent God collides with mortal flesh are accurate. It's not an overly dramatic culture, or a different cultural expression of spiritual experiences. The Lamanites weren't a more sensitive genetic strain, prone to to fainting spells.

When God shows up, people fall down.

They pass out.

They speak in tongues and prophesy.

Injuries--physical and spiritual--are healed.

People fall to their knees, or upon their faces, and rise up new creatures.

Our bodies are marvelous instruments. When we use them in our worship, it allows the Lord to reach us in ways He simply cannot if we're sitting passively, just listening, or singing half-heartedly, or singing to anyone else besides Him. Our bodies are not only megaphones for the Holy Ghost, but they amplify our own ability to express ourselves before Jesus and reach out for Him.

God bless you all, as He has blessed me, a stubborn and prideful, lazy and foolish girl.

Mercy and Grace

Generally speaking, the acceptance of things as they currently operate in the LDS Church follows a basic premise: "God brought beauty and blessings out of the painful/sad/horrible/difficult/wrong/abusive/sinful thing that happened. Therefore, what happened was His will." That, combined with quotes like this gem from Marion G. Romney, seal the submissive acceptance of whatever does happen:
“I remember years ago when I was a bishop I had President Heber J. Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting I drove him home. … Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: ‘My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.”
What this well-intentioned brother is talking about is God's mercy. His mercy is what turns trial into testimony, burden into blessing. In His mercy, Jesus holds back the punishment that justice demands, and blesses us, instead, hoping we will turn to Him in our extremity. Mercy happens, and can only happen, when we justly deserve a whole lot more consequences than we're getting . . . i.e. when we do something wrong, or stupid, and our merciful, loving God finds a way to turn that to benefit His work and to bless us.

Now, mercy is a distinctly different animal from grace. Our own LDS leaders define grace very well, in addition to the link I just provided. The church's website states: "grace is an enabling power".

When someone is gracious, they extend favor to someone who does not deserve it. It is the gracious response of a hostess that ignores the mud tracked onto her pristine floor by the shoes of the farmer's daughter who came to her home in town, or passes it off as nothing when it is noticed. It's the civilized response to another's discomfort, embarrassment, or pain. It is unmerited favor.

God's grace becomes active in our lives when we are following Him. His grace makes us more than we ever could be on our own . . . but it takes faith in Him. True faith, faith unto salvation. It takes us hearing God's word for us when we are turned toward Him, and then accepting that He has already provided all we need, will help us where we are weak, and perform amazing things through us--weak vessels though we may be. It takes us stepping out in faith--sometimes into total darkness, sometimes off a precipice into an abyss--for His Grace to become active in us. 2 Corinthians 12:9 tells us why:
"My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness."
I'll repeat myself: grace makes more of us than we could ever be on our own. 

We have to venture into territory where we are unequipped--not because we have no talent or ability, but because our mortal nature and intelligence falls short of the task at hand. It takes us trusting God enough to move forward despite Him calling us into areas of our weakness. Our weaknesses are what allow us to even SEE God's strength. In my 35 years of Molly Mormonhood, I felt such deep devotion to God, and would cry regularly as I shared my testimony. And yet, I never let Him fill my weakness. I gave Him no quarter in which to show forth His power, because I did it all myself.

Do we deserve either mercy or grace? Definitely not. Christ's sacrifice and victory give Him the right to extend them to us. The question is, which power do you invite into your life?

Can we grow in situations where God's mercy is alone manifest? Absolutely. Can we learn deep truths, beautiful things, and be changed for the better through His mercy? Absolutely. But can we learn as much through the operation of God's mercy as we could through the operation of His grace? 

No.

Can we rise up as on wings of eagles, be made into new creatures in Christ Jesus through the baptism of fire that precipitates receiving the Holy Ghost, can we prophesy, heal, cast out devils, move mountains, or work any other work of the Lord Jesus Christ through mercy alone? 

No.

That takes faith, which calls down God's grace.

It's nothing special for a group of people to claim blessings have come to them from God. It's no different from any other group of people anywhere--believer or not. He blesses all people, as often and as richly as He can. He makes the rain to fall, the sun to shine, on the evil as well as the good. The wheat and tares grow up together, and He blesses them all with what they need to survive, and even thrive.

But Mormon gave us a key to know when a people have true faith in Jesus Christ:
"[H]as the day of miracles ceased? Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has He withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will He, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved? Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain. For no man can be saved, according to the words of Christ, save they shall have faith in His name; wherefore, if these things have ceased, then has faith ceased also; and awful is the state of man, for they are as though there had been no redemption made."
Contrast that with what Jesus Himself told His disciples:
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father."
Please. Take a look at your life. Are you doing the works that we "see", recorded in scripture, that Jesus did? Are you empowered by His grace, and His Spirit, to do even greater works than He did?

Or are you instead living according to this gem from N. Eldon Tanner?
"When the prophet speaks the debate is over."

What Spirit are We of?

"When the days were approaching for His ascension, He was determined to go to Jerusalem; and He sent messengers on ahead of Him, and they went and entered a village of the Samaritans to make arrangements for Him. But they did not receive Him, because He was traveling toward Jerusalem. When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, "Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But He turned and rebuked them, [and said, "You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." ] And they went on to another village." (Luke 9:51-56 NASB)
James and John loved Jesus. Tremendously. If you have a mother or father in the faith, someone who helped to lead you to the Baptism of Fire, you'll have the beginning of an idea of how they felt. Like good, loyal friends, they wanted an eye for an eye when the Lord they owed everything to was turned away, the Samaritans so blatantly breaking the laws of hospitality.

I love the Son of Man's reply, the reassertion of His purpose, and of the new law He gave to those that follow Him, in John 13:34-35:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
What are my responses, when I come across someone who does not make the same choices I would make? What is in my heart: a prayer for their well-being, or an avenging desire to right what I perceive as a wrong? (Does Heaven even see the offending thing as wrong? What does scripture actually say about it?) What spirit animates and motivates me? Is it the Spirit of Christ, that lifts and liberates, unstintingly generous in the outpouring of His love, or is it a different spirit, that entices me to demand conformity, or exact payment in kind for the perceived offense?

Father in Heaven, thank You for sending Your Son. Thank You for all He did, for all He offers. Thank You so much for the mercy and grace that supports me from moment to moment, and the absolutely free and open outpouring of Love, and forgiveness!, from You and from Him, that You offer constantly, all day, every day, to those who will open their hearts to receive it. Thank You for changing lives, for drawing all unto You, and for the beauty of Your work: to save lives. In Jesus' name, amen!

Redemption: I do not think it means what you think it means.

"25 Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.
27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself." ~2 Nephi 2:25, 27
Now, every LDS seminary student has heard these verses a thousand times. Most Mormons folk have heard them nearly that much. They're Scripture Mastery verses, intended for memorization, just two of the 25 passages from the Book of Mormon course.

Such a stellar job had been done of teaching these two verses that I had never paid much attention to what lay between them on the page: verse 26.
"26 And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given."
When I read that, I did a triple-take. Did that just say what I think it said?

I read it again. 

And again. 

I stared, then stared some more. And I saw this looking back at me from the page:
"And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day . . ."
There it was! The doctrine of grace, explained. In the Book of Mormon! The way my own baptism of fire taught me to understand it! I was seriously stoked for days about this discovery, and told at least a half dozen people. (And have continued to share it ever since. I'm still pretty stoked about it. lol)

You see, this verse is what informed my understanding of salvation for most of my life:
"23 For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do." 2 Nephi 25:23
Until the baptism of fire, I had understood the underlined words to mean we had to work our behinds off during our lives, and then, after it was all over and we left this life, THEN Jesus saved us, because we still weren't good enough. (Remember King Benjamin's "less than the dust of the earth"? Yeah. That.) 

We were saved by grace after we've done everything right we could possibly do right on earth. That's what "after all we can do" means, right?

Wrong.

All my life, I had ignored verse 20:
"20 And now, my brethren, I have spoken plainly that ye cannot err. And as the Lord God liveth that brought Israel up out of the land of Egypt, and gave unto Moses power that he should heal the nations after they had been bitten by the poisonous serpents, if they would cast their eyes unto the serpent which he did raise up before them, and also gave him power that he should smite the rock and the water should come forth; yea, behold I say unto you, that as these things are true, and as the Lord God liveth, there is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ, of which I have spoken, whereby man can be saved." 2 Nephi 25:20
 This verse speaks in a context of grace. The story of the brass serpent is such a powerful example of this . . . they only had to believe enough to look! And the water springing from the rock: Moses only had to ask. And even then, when he messed up and hit the rock instead of speaking to it, the Lord still gave His people the water they needed.

Key elements of 2 Nephi 25:26 have different meaning for me now. Here they are:

1) Redeemed from the Fall.

The Fall sent Adam & Eve out of the Garden of Eden, and out of the presence of God. It was the introduction of sin into the world, of mankind's willful following after of his or her own nature. So what does "redeemed from the fall" mean?

It means we have been brought back into the presence of the Father & Son.

This doesn't mean that if we try really, REALLY hard, we'll be brought back into the presence of the Father & the Son. It means we already have been brought back into the presence of Ahman and Jehovah. Their presence is all around us. Always. 24/7/365. Never a minute that we're not literally swimming in their presence. We're just deaf & blind to it, utterly unaware because we haven't been taught it's there . . . or even that it's possible to be in God's presence.

I'm reminded of a phrase from the 80's movie "Better Off Dead" that I watched on TV in the 90's, (since I was only nine when it came out), when Lane & Charles are at the top of the insane ski run. Lane is psyching himself up to take off down the mountain, and crazy Charles is freaking out about the snow that's everywhere, all around him, throat tight with excitement and nearly guy-screaming: 

"This is pure snow! It's everywhere! Do you have any idea what the street value of this mountain is?"

We're all in that very same situation, surrounded by the presence of God . . . and we wander around, wondering when we'll ever get to experience these things we've heard so much about, possibly even shushing those who, in their excitement, are trying to tell us about it. We have so many barriers in our minds, so many "I'll be worthy when's"  that we don't open our hearts & minds to what's available to us right now.

There are different levels of the presence of God, from spiritual awareness, to hearing, feeling or seeing in the Spirit, and then on to hearing, seeing and feeling in the flesh. But no matter which of these different ways you experience being in the presence of God, you're in the presence of God! Isn't that awesome? Amazing? Wonderful?

As our hearts become more open and willing to accept Him, to submit to Him, we can experience the presence of God more fully. For some, like King Lamoni's father, Paul, and many others, it's nearly immediate. For some, it takes more time as we figure out how to soften our hearts and leave behind the unbelief and unforgiveness, the fear and anger that shuts Him out. (More on unbelief/fear and unforgiveness/anger later.)

But whether the wind-up is long or short, the forgiveness we are told to receive is instant, complete, and changes us fundamentally.

2) Knowledge from Fall + Jesus' Atoning Sacrifice = free forever
Knowing good from evil*  is where humankind was up until Jesus won. When He claimed the victory and was seated in heavenly places upon His Father's throne, He then claimed the right to forgive everyone.

Everyone.

Forgiveness isn't simply not wishing someone harm, or even saying you wish them well. It is opening your heart to God fully, not keeping in reserve any corners of anger or pain, so His love can flow through you totally and fully for others. Forgiveness is allowing that love to flow through you for the person you have forgiven, in fullness. Nothing hindering or redirecting that gift that God gives so freely to us, and that we must give freely to all if we are to receive it in any measure.

Jesus loves everyone, unconditionally. He forgives everyone, totally. The only unknown quantity here is who will turn to Him and totally let go of what they're holding in their hearts so they can receive what He has to offer. Receiving a remission of your sins is instant. The Baptism of Fire and the Holy Spirit comes and burns it all away. You really do receive not only a remission of your sins and become a new creature born from the ashes, but can receive visions and feel as though you're surrounded by warmth. Some feel surrounded by fire, but not burned, or even uncomfortable.

*(We come to know good from evil as we make wrong choices and mess up. how else do you actually know what wrong is, until you've done it? You can know about wrongdoing, as Adam & Eve did after being told by God to not eat the fruit of that tree, beause they would die. But they didn't know what all that really meant, didn't know what the sorrow or consequences really were until they experienced them.)

3) We will NOT be acted upon until "the great and last day" of judgement.
Up until Jesus' Victory, God was required by justice and according to the law to strike people down. A whole lot of them, if the Old Testament is any example.  But since the battle was finished and Christ was seated on His Father's throne, the mercy of God has held sway. Mercy is what sustains us in our current state, what allows us to have access to the Love of Jesus Christ despite our uncleanness before Him. 

People still bear many of the consequences of their actions according to natural law and the agency of others, but God no longer is required to actually mete out direct punishments, like the earth opening and swallowing hundreds of the camp of Israel. Yeeee-ahhh. I'm so glad Jesus won. Aren't you? ;o)

We are not saved by grace after we've done everything. We are saved by grace, despite all we can do.

So.

What are we waiting for?

(We'll talk about that next . . . )

Spring Will Prove

I went out this evening and sat for a few minutes in the quiet of the van, stuffing the shopping bags back into their little pouches and folding the ones that didn't stuff so they'd all fit into one bag. It was warm, and the quiet felt velvety in my ears.

Looking out over the yard, I watched the white pines sway in the breeze, gratefully soaked in the residual heat collected by the dark green metal during the brief sunshine today, and yet felt overwhelmed. There's so much to do, so much to do to finish the house in time to finalize the mortgage on schedule, in addition to the heavy load I carry as a wife, mother, homemaker and homeschooler, and the tears came back. I thought of the house, upstairs, of the clutter partying on every flat surface and the dust and dog hair that collects in the corners faster than I've ever seen, anywhere, in my entire life.  My gaze fell on my little Japanese maple, and I remembered planting iris rhizomes from my mother-in-law last spring. 

And God whispered to me, "Go look at it."

I left the soft warmth of the van and walked through the crisp breeze toward my tree. When I drew close, I could see them . . . the tiny beginnings of this year's iris that might (just might) bloom this year. Not all of them survived the transplanting, but there are quite a few new shoots coming up around the base of the tree.


While I stood, looking, I found a few roots that had been pulled up by deer, or cats, or frost heave. Most were mushy and empty, but one felt heavy when I touched it. Picking it up, I found it wasn't completely soft--one end was firm and smooth, with two tiny sprouts starting from it: one root-colored, and one leaf-colored.

I began pulling at the soil with my fingers, and made a shallow trench. Setting it in place, I thought to myself that while the odds weren't all that great, it now had a chance. Irises are tough critters.


I stood and looked at the ground under the tree, and saw the brambles and weeds that were beginning to take over the area we'd carefully cleared, and felt the immensity of the work before me begin to descend once again. I turned away, back towards the house, the discouragement pulling at every step.

Once again, my eyes fell on another gift: a hydrangea that Vern & the children gave me last Mother's Day. It has looked pretty sad all winter, and we wondered if it had made it. God said, "Go look at it."

I walked up to the wire enclosure we put around it to keep the chickens off, and looked down at the uninspiring rags of last year's growth, wondering what I'd see. 

And then, I saw.


Just barely, as they weren't that visible from the top. Little buds, pushing up from the base of the hydrangea amongst the old branches.


And then, looking closer, I saw that those old branches weren't all dead after all . . . some of them were showing green underneath the papery bark, for as the branches swelled and grew inside of it, the dried and brittle covering split. God whispered, "I will make it grow." And I knew it would be beautiful again . . . gloriously so.


As I looked at the rest of the plant, wondering how much had survived, God whispered again, this time in a complete thought without words, that we would need to let the plant grow and bud and leaf out a little, to see what was yet quick, and what was dead. We needed to let that new life prove itself by its growth.

And then would come the pruning.

I stood there, seeing the ravages of winter, and the damage the new growth had done to the protective but unyielding sheathing on what had survived. I saw the upper branches, gnarled and straw-like that would most likely fall under the shears in a few weeks, and God whispered that I was seeing myself.


I've been through a hard wintry season in  my life. A season of trying, and testing. A season that has threatened everything I have ever believed, ever trusted, everything I thought I knew. And now that Spring is returning, one lovely moment and one Spring rainstorm at a time, I'm seeing new growth budding from the parts of me proven through my circumstances . . . the very innermost heart where God lives.


Through that wintry season, He was the Master Gardener. And now, as Spring returns and His plans are coming to life in me, the pruning will come . . . once the dead and dying wreckage can clearly be distinguished from the vital, new, living creature in Christ that He has made me.

It's alternately nerve-wracking and exhilarating. Sometimes I'm pretty sure I know what is good, and what has survived . . . but I'm not always right.

When I came back with my camera, to better share this with you, He showed me the branches of my little Japanese maple, showing the same symbolic pattern as the hydrangea.



Sometimes it's proving to be the larger, more impressive branches that have died back, while the smaller, more tender branches survived.


It's kind of a tangle, really. But this I know: my God isn't just the Good Shepherd, He is the Master Gardener, and He knows a true branch when He sees one. I can trust Him, for even though He will ask for things I have long loved, or in which I have found temporary comfort, He will not ask me to relinquish anything that I truly need to make it back to Him. 


And in that, I rejoice.