anhinga chicksMy child, pay attention to what I say. … Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. … Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil. [Proverbs 4:20a,23, 25-27 (NLT)]

This past spring we watched an anhinga family who’d nested near the swamp boardwalk. At first, mom and dad provided around the clock nest service for their brood of blind and helpless chicks. When the chicks were about three weeks old, rather than returning to the nest with food, the parents would perch nearby. If the youngsters wanted dinner, they had climb out of the nest and hop along a branch to get it. As the babies grew, mom and dad perched further and further from the nest until, at about six weeks, their chicks had to fly for their supper. Within two months of hatching, the youngsters were flying across the pond and the nest was abandoned. Mom and dad, however, were never too far away; perched nearby, they watched their brood learn to fend for themselves around the swamp. I wonder if they worried about their youngsters becoming dinner for an alligator while they fished or sunned on a log. Nevertheless, mom and dad knew their young ones had outgrown the nest; it was time to let them lead their own lives.

Today, my eldest grand receives her high school diploma. An honor student, she’s a delightful young woman and I know her parents are immensely proud of her many accomplishments. That pride, however, is combined with a fair amount of apprehension on their part. Later this summer, this young woman will leave the nest and move 5,500 miles to London where she’ll spend her freshman year of college. Although her parents won’t be worried about alligators, there will be plenty of other concerns that might keep them awake at night.

Our children: we love them, teach them, correct them, encourage them, support them, lead them, and guide them in an effort to prepare them for adulthood. As a mama, I know how difficult it is to let our children go, but let them go we must. After all, parenthood is a job that is supposed to become obsolete; it’s when our children are confident enough to leave home that we know we’ve done our job well. Let us praise God when we see them spread their wings and fly. No matter how far away they go, however, we still have the job of acting as prayer warriors for our children and we’ll do that for the rest of our lives.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gift of children and the privilege of leading them into adulthood. Reassure those parents who are struggling with letting go; may their tears of sadness become ones of joy as they watch their children take their next steps. As we release our children to your tender care, we ask you to wrap your loving arms around them and protect them from the dangers of the world. May they always walk in your ways and grow in courage, strength and wisdom. Let your Holy Spirit fill them with faith, hope, and love. Teach them, guard them, lead them and lift them so that they soar!

A wise woman once said to me that there are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these she said is roots, the other, wings. And they can only be grown, these roots and these wings, in the home. We want our sons’ roots to go deep into the soil beneath them and into the past, not in arrogance but in confidence. [Hodding Carter]

My child, never forget the things I have taught you. Store my commands in your heart. … Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil. [Proverbs 3:1,5-7 (NLT)]

May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace. [Numbers 6:24-26]

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But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval. [John 6:27 (NLT)]

northern mockingbird

There once was a beautiful mockingbird who loved to sing from the branches of the forest trees. An old sly fox sat beneath the trees and licked his lips as he thought of devouring her. Every time he tried to snatch the bird, however, she would fly away to safety high in the oaks. One day he offered her a mouthwatering berry for the price of just one feather. Accepting his offer, she plucked out a feather, swooped down for the fruit and flew back up to the treetop before the fox could catch her. The next day, he made the same offer and the mockingbird, anxious to enjoy the sweet bite again, gave him another feather. The wise owl warned her not to play this foolish game with the fox but the bird, hungry for the tasty berries, ignored him. This went on for several days until one day, after giving the fox a feather and snatching the berry, the mockingbird tried to fly away only to discover that she couldn’t. Foolishly, in her desire for the passing pleasure, she had given away one feather too many. The fox had his meal and the mockingbird was no more—all for a perishable and momentary indulgence.

Berries won’t cause our downfall, but pursuing fleeting pleasures can. We don’t have a wise owl on a neighboring branch but we do have the Holy Spirit living within us. We must listen to his voice and live by his power. Best of all, even if we lose our feathers, all is not lost. Because of Jesus Christ, God’s final word is not punishment and death but grace, forgiveness, redemption and restoration.

But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) … Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. [Romans 8:9, 12-14 (NLT)]

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sunriseAfter his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” [Matthew 3:16-17 (NLT)]

 A little boy was busy with his crayons and a large sheet of paper. When his mother asked what he was drawing, he proudly answered, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” The mother tried to explain: “But sweetie, no one has seen God so we don’t know how he looks.” Smiling proudly, the boy continued coloring and reassured his mom. “Well, they will when I get done!”

That story reminded me of last Sunday’s sermon. In honor of Trinity Sunday, our pastor asked us how we picture God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Had there been any children present, I wouldn’t have been surprised if one had described him as an old gentleman with a flowing beard, wearing a white robe, and sitting on a golden throne. Actually, I was a little surprised that no one said they picture God as Morgan Freeman, George Burns, or even Octavia Spencer. Instead, people shared how they saw or felt God’s presence in things like babies, sunrises, rainbows, and sunsets.

When asked about Jesus, no one described the man who walked the dusty roads of Judea, wept at the tomb of Lazarus, or reassured the doubting Thomas. Instead, they spoke of seeing Jesus in actions like love, sharing, forgiveness, service, and sacrifice. As for the Holy Spirit, people described hearing His still small voice in things like insight, inner conviction or experiencing a compelling force.

Our assignment for the week was to become more aware of our triune God’s presence in our lives. Early Tuesday morning, my husband called to me while I was reading Scripture in my windowless office. When I looked out the east facing window I understood his urgent call: the sunrise was absolutely majestic. As our Creator God announced Himself, remembering Sunday’s sermon, I responded to God’s proclamation by finishing my prayers on the deck while watching the sun rise. The show in the sky was accompanied by a heavenly chorus of robins, wrens, sparrows and cardinals. Our Triune God made His presence known and felt.

I had a pastor who used to start her morning prayer with, “Good morning, Lord. It’s so nice to see your face.” I hadn’t thought about the fact that she was looking out at the congregation when she said those words. Indeed, she was seeing God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in the sea of faces before her. We are, after all, made in His image, saved by His blood, and filled with His Spirit.

As for that little boy’s picture: I don’t know if he drew a grandfather, a sunset, a long-haired man in robe and sandals, a hospice volunteer, a breeze, or a dove descending from the sky. Perhaps he drew Jesus’ baptism when all three of the Godhead were present. The youngster is probably too young to understand the Trinity but I hope, in his own unique way, he found a way to incorporate three beautiful images into one. Praise Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. [2 Corinthians 13:14 (NLT)]

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. [Matthew 28:19 (NLT)]

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blue eyed grass- shooting star - rue anenome

I will bring that group through the fire and make them pure. I will refine them like silver and purify them like gold. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, “These are my people,” and they will say, “The Lord is our God.” [Zechariah 13:9 (NLT)]

The darkned soil, scorched bark, blackened remains of dead trees, and faint aroma of smoke indicated a prescribed burn occurred earlier this spring. But, even without those tell-tell signs, the abundance and diversity of wildflowers blanketing the forest floor told me there’d been one. Fire used to be a natural occurrence in our woodlands, prairies, and wetlands. Nowadays, we suppress natural fires, and invasive plants crowd out native flowers and grasses. Planned and controlled, these prescribed fires defeat non-native plants, stimulate the growth of native ones, restore valuable nutrients to the soil and, by eliminating leaf litter and dead wood, reduce the chance of uncontrollable wildfires. When brush and small trees are checked by the fire, flowers and grasses get enough sunlight to grow and the native plants regrow from their roots. Unlike invasive species, native plants have deep tap-roots and thick bark that enable them to survive the controlled burn’s heat.

When something similar to a controlled burn happens to us, the Bible often refers to it as refining and likens this purifying process to separating out precious metals from ore, such as silver from lead. After the ore is melted over a hot fire, hot air is blown across the surface which changes the lead to powdered lead oxide. When this dross is blown away, pure silver remains. Being more a naturalist than metallurgist, I prefer the analogy of a prescribed burn to smelting metal.

While necessary for a healthy habitat and biodiversity, I’m not sure the plants and animals appreciate the fire when it happens. I know I don’t appreciate it when God refines me. Rather than impurities like lead or invasive weeds, He wants to eradicate offensive behavior, false ideas, and bad attitudes. When weeds like jealousy, self-reliance, self-centeredness, pride, covetousness, selfishness, materialism, intolerance, or impatience invade my heart, God has a way of refining me. Rather than fire, He allows things like challenges, trials, opposition, disappointment, loss, and even illness to eliminate my invasive unwelcome weeds.

Like the native plants in the forest, I have deep roots. Not only will I will survive the trials of a burn, but I also will thrive and (like both purified silver and the renewed forest) be all the better for the experience. I can reach up to the Son’s light and blossom with the flowers of God-dependence, hope, humility, thankfulness, love, joy, peace, patience, tolerance, generosity, compassion, self-sacrifice, goodness, faith, gentleness and self-discipline.

Trials are medicines which our gracious and wise Physician prescribes because we need them; and he proportions the frequency and weight of them to what the case requires. Let us trust his skill and thank him for his prescription. [Sir Isaac Newton]

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. [1 Peter 1:6-8 (NLT)]

Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. [Colossians 2:7 (NLT)]

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Then God said, “Let the land sprout with vegetation—every sort of seed-bearing plant, and trees that grow seed-bearing fruit. These seeds will then produce the kinds of plants and trees from which they came.” And that is what happened. The land produced vegetation—all sorts of seed-bearing plants, and trees with seed-bearing fruit. Their seeds produced plants and trees of the same kind. And God saw that it was good. [Genesis 1:11-12 (NLT)]

Crowfoot grass - Dactyloctenium aegyptiumAs much as I enjoy the beauty of garden flowers, I search out the wildflowers. Recently, I spotted something that looked like it should be called “helicopter plant” since its florets look like a helicopter’s rotors. When I showed it to a naturalist, she quickly dismissed it: “Why, that’s just a weed!” Granted, what I call flowers may be weeds to other people but weeds are just flowers that tend to show up where they’re not appreciated. As it turns out, it was the floret of something called Egyptian Crowfoot Grass (officially Dactyloctenium aegyptium). While it may be just a weed to many people, it is a food in Africa and India. Although not a traditional crop, it is considered a “famine food” and provides valuable nourishment during times of famine. When its highly nutritious seeds are collected, roasted, ground into a flour, and used in a porridge, this unappreciated weed can sustain life.

Some people are a little like Crowfoot Grass and the rest of the unique and  unappreciated weeds I think of as flowers—they have hidden value and are worthy of love and respect. Like weeds, they don’t grow in rows like the rest of the garden plants and, being different, they don’t seem to belong where they’ve been planted. We could describe them as unorthodox, unconventional or quirky. Saying they march to a different drummer, we label them as odd ducks or eccentrics but we also use words that aren’t nearly so nice. We tend to define “normal” and “conventional” by the way we choose to live; someone else might think we’re a bit odd ourselves!

I think some of God’s best work is evident in his wildflowers and the same might be said for their human equivalents. Following God’s instruction, Isaiah went around naked and barefoot for three years, Jeremiah wore an ox yoke, and Hosea married a prostitute. John the Baptist strictly adhered to the asceticism of the Nazirites, wore camel’s hair garments, and ate locusts and wild honey. Odd ducks all, but they were some of God’s best.

Let’s never make the error of failing to appreciate the value and beauty of those special people who are out of the ordinary—the ones who, like weeds, aren’t like the others around them. Take the time to look for and appreciate the wildflowers growing in the ground and the wildflowers that you meet in this garden called life.

 A weed is no more than a flower in disguise, Which is seen through at once, if love give a man eyes. [James Russell Lowell]

Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them. [A.A. Milne]

 O Lord, what a variety of things you have made! In wisdom you have made them all. The earth is full of your creatures. [Psalm 104:24 (NLT)]

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God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life. Don’t throw me out with the trash, or fail to breathe holiness in me. Bring me back from gray exile, put a fresh wind in my sails! [Psalm 51:10-12 (MSG)]

Corkscrew swamp - cypress - dormantEarlier this year, upon seeing the browning and nearly naked cypress trees at the bird sanctuary, the visitor asked if Hurricane Irma had killed them. I explained that the bald and pond cypress weren’t dead, just dormant. Being deciduous, they shed their leaves annually and were just enjoying a much needed rest during the shorter days and dryer conditions of winter. I reassured her that, in a month or so, their bright green needles would return and new growth would sprout from their branches. Today, the forest is verdant throughout the swamp.

While it is possible to force trees to evade dormancy by keeping them inside and controlling the light, temperature and water conditions, it would greatly shorten the plant’s lifespan; they’re not meant to leaf and branch continually. Dormancy is vital for the survival of deciduous trees and the way they withstand unfavorable growing conditions. When better conditions return, the trees wake up and start to bud and blossom again.

While dormancy is good for trees, dormancy is not usually considered a good thing when applied to Christians. A study in Great Britain found that 55 percent of those who identify themselves as Christian never read the Bible, 29 percent never pray, and a third of them don’t even attend church; it called these people “dormant Christians.” When God’s word isn’t growing in our hearts or we fail to bear the Fruit of the Spirit, some people say we’re in “spiritual dormancy.” Superficial, uncommitted, wilting or dying faith like this seems more a case of failure to thrive than dormancy. Just because growth isn’t obvious when a tree is dormant doesn’t mean nothing is happening. Dormancy is when the tree gathers strength, prepares for leafing and branching, and is the best time for pruning in preparation for new growth!

I’ve seen too many people lose their zeal for Christ because they haven’t taken a rest from their busyness for Him to spend time abiding in Him. It’s often when they’ve forgotten to spend time in His rest that their spiritual lives go dead. Sometimes, like trees, we need to retreat into dormancy to rest, do some pruning, and prepare ourselves to take our next steps in God’s ministry. Even Jesus took time away from His ministry for prayer and guidance.

During these next few months, my husband and I will be travelling a great deal. While I remain committed to prayer, worship, study, and journaling, there will be times when writing and posting will be difficult, if not impossible. Last year, I solved this problem with some “summer re-runs.” Knowing how refreshed and enthusiastic I felt upon my return to writing, I think dormancy is a far better term. So, like the cypress trees that go dormant in adverse conditions, I will take a break when circumstances are not conducive to writing. Unlike the trees, however, I won’t change color or shed my needles in preparation for dormancy. Instead, I’ve selected a few old devotions to repost and, with over 1,500 devotions from the last four years, I have plenty from which to choose. Throughout the next few months, they will be scattered in among new ones. So, if you see a devotion you’ve read before, don’t worry; I’m not dead, I’ve just gone dormant!

God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing. You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from. True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction. [Psalm 23:1-3 (MSG)]

I’ll refresh tired bodies; I’ll restore tired souls. [Jeremiah 31:25 (MSG)]

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