SHOWING THE WAY TO ETERNAL LIFE AND ABUNDANT LIFE

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Sharing Manna Garden: Special Address from Mary Jac Brennan of the Forsyth Cooperative Extension

Yesterday, the day after Sharing Manna’s fall planting, we had a special word of encouragement from Mary Jac Brennan, the Community Gardening Coordinator of Forsyth’s Cooperative Extension Service, where Sharing Manna Garden is listed. Here’s the transcript:

Thank you Ely, and thank you all for allowing me to be here and talk to you for just a few minutes. I’m not going to talk long, but my role at Cooperative Extension is to help community gardens get established and to continue. That’s my “official” role of working with Ely, although Ely is a friend of mine. I have enjoyed that relationship, and it’s certainly blessed my life, both Ely and Alfred.

When Ely came to me and talked about wanting to have a garden here, she did it in the very best way. She went out and trained herself, got herself educated about gardening; she volunteered in another community garden for a whole summer and saw how that worked. She was a hard worker in that garden that happens to be a garden I participated in at a church I go to in Kernersville. And the people in that garden came to love Ely and Alfred and were very concerned about what happened to your garden too.

So she did it in all the right ways. She helped, you all started [GreenTree’s garden] last year, and this year she went to Master Gardener training. That was a tough, long period of classes where you have to go and study and take tests and then you have to serve, it’s volunteer; you have to give back. Part of what she’s done with that is to enlarge this garden. What I’ve been really impressed with your church is how the garden has become such a part of your outreach. And that’s wonderful, because it’s not just serving the people here, but it’s serving the people in the community.

It was so unfortunate when, a few weeks ago, the damage happened to the garden. I was out of town at a conference when I got an email from Ely, saying that the garden had been damaged. When I got back to town, I came over the next day, and I was standing in the garden with her, and it was very sad. It was really, really sad, because I know how much love has gone into that garden. I was telling her, “Well, now, you can do this, and you can do that,” and I had this awareness that . . . you know what? This is a time when we need to reach out, not just in the good times, but in the bad times too. So we decided that we would reach out to the community and ask for help.

I’m a Christian, and I believe that that’s when, [in] our spiritual path, the rubber hits the road. When things are good, it’s easy to be loving, and caring, and do for others. But when our lives get tough, when we get those bumps in the road, or somebody damages a beautiful garden that has been such a source of love and giving, it would be easy just to say, “Well, we quit.” Some churches, some groups, would’ve said, “Well, we can’t have a garden anymore, because it’s just going to be a place where people come and do vandalism.” I don’t think that’s what the Christian life is about. I think it’s about moving forward even in those times of tribulation and the hard times.

So, my hat is off to you all, as a group, as a community, for moving forward with this. It’s been an amazing experience for me to be on the sidelines and watch the community come together and support this garden. I know that there were twenty-eight people who came to clean out the garden, and many of them had never heard of GreenTree before, didn’t know this place existed, but were happy to come and help. Then you had more people yesterday with the fall planting. I run into people all over the place just in my job about community gardens, and everywhere I go, people are saying, “Oh, that was so bad what happened in that garden; what can we do to help? Is there anything we can do to help?” I was telling Ely this morning, people at my church (because they’ve read the story in the newspaper, and they know Ely from working in the garden last summer) said, “Ask her what she needs, ask her what we can do to help.”

And so a very traumatic experience that has been handled very gracefully by your community is going to lift up the message of community gardening and probably lift up your community of GreenTree as well. I’m just thrilled to get to be on the sidelines and watch this happen, because it’s amazing what happens when people come together in one spirit. And of course, as a Christian, I know that there’s a major Power involved that we have no control over, and it’s just wonderful to be able to be a part of that. So thank you so much for the moment to speak to you; and keep up the wonderful gardening work. If you want to know more about gardening, Ely is a wonderful teacher, and she can direct you to some of us at Cooperative Extension: that’s our role, to teach people how to garden as well.

For more information about Master Gardening and the Cooperative Extension, visit http://www.co.forsyth.nc.us/CES/Gardening/ or contact Mary Jac Brennan at (336) 703-2850.

For Sharing Manna online, visit http://www.forsythcommunitygardening.com/SpecificGarden.aspx?GardenID=28

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We Tear Down, He Builds Up: Some Thoughts on the Recent Sharing Manna Garden Vandalism

Last weekend, Sharing Manna Garden was vandalized. Which means, in our case, that someone had mashed down the fence, pulled up stakes and thrust them forward in an angry heap, and sprayed a toxic chemical on the zucchini, green beans, and other vegetables and flowers that left them yellow and brown and full of holes, as if locusts had made a feast of it. Flower pots that had held happy things in bright reds and whites now held sprays of wispy stuff that looked like chewed-up paper. It was a sudden portrait of anger, or mischief, or maybe even hate.

When I found out what had happened to GreenTree’s garden, my first question—maybe it’s yours, too—was, naturally, “Why would someone do this?” The person whom this act probably had the potential to discourage most was Ely, our garden mentor. This cruel act could not have, of course, been meant for Ely, the cheerful, gentle Ely whose Portuguese accent soothes every conversation in which she engages….Ely, who leads a team of workers who quietly and happily dig, plant, gather, and bag up veggies for the community with unpretentious contentment, week after week.  But the question still begs for meaning…why? Why would someone do something to satisfy some self-focused primal urge, and not, for one minute, stop to consider who is being hurt?

But Sunday morning, as I walked to the back of GreenTree’s property and surveyed the damage and used my trusty friend the camera to make some pictorial sense of the chaos in front of me, and as I trudged through the dry mess along the drooping fence that held the sad, bowed-down tangle of dead vines, I dropped my cell phone.

And my cell phone reminded me of something. Something about me.

Just days before, in an already testy mood, I’d gotten irritated at someone I hardly knew. I’d misunderstood something someone had texted me. My sensitive pride had been jabbed in a very bruised spot and I lost all rational thought—and do you know what I did? In a matter of seconds I held my breath and deleted the person from my contacts list. Then I stuck my phone down onto the table as if it had been exposed to something poisonous. My pulse was racing as if I’d just stepped on a big spider and barely got it.

I tore down. In a hasty moment, I did something very stupid. I tore something down.

(Minutes later that day, I got another text from the same person, and my wild misunderstanding vanished when I realized my fears were entirely unfounded. I laughed at myself, and I added the person’s contact information back into my phone. But not without some disappointment. I had been so hasty to wipe out a person’s name, as if it had never existed.)

Now, on a Sunday morning, I was standing in the middle of a garden, torn down by a hasty act of anger, or perhaps wounded pride, or a completely crazy and irrational act based on some horrible past. Another example of a very sad fact:

WE TEAR DOWN.

The very first garden in the history of mankind, extravagantly and infinitely more beautiful than this one, did not last, because two hasty humans did one thoughtless act. Now plants die, they become yellowed, bugs eat them, trees fall, we dig, dig, dig, and sweat, sweat, sweat, for a few measly meals that keep us alive before we have to do it all over again.

I went inside with enough pictures in my camera to mark a memory for a year, and I spotted, seated in the main room, Ely Wakefield and Chryl McWilliams—two hard-working and loving women who were a little quieted by the messed-up garden but not angry. I stashed my camera away and joined them.

“I talked to my sister on the phone,” Ely remarked. “She said, ‘God will take care of it.’ It’s going to be all right.”

Ely said that she wasn’t angry. Neither was Chryl. “What would we accomplish by retaliating?” she asked. And with the lack of surprise that comes with maturity, Chryl pointed out that, although the original plan for the end of the summer was to prune everything back in hopes of having it reproduce foliage (instead of starting again from seed), this setback came near the time set aside for re-working anyway (near the end of August). They have a garden work-day set for August 18, a day when the workers will start over and move forward.

Both women understand something important. Sin is not surprising, and we all do it. Maybe we don’t ransack property, but we can tear down one another with our words. Maybe we don’t destroy plants with chemicals, but we could easily kill a day of productive work with a bad attitude. Maybe we don’t mangle pots of tender flowers, but we sure can extinguish a friendship with an unforgiving spirit.

The conclusion of both women: God will work it all out. “It’s God’s work,” added Ely. “This wasn’t against us, it was against God.” Tearing down the garden is tearing down God’s work, and He will take care of His work. “God will work it out”—not because we at GreenTree are some kind of righteous, do-nothing-wrong group of holy people who wear the white hats and deserve special treatment as members of the God-Team. No . . . God will work it out because He is loving, and merciful. And the same God who forgives us daily for our bad attitudes and hasty words and short tempers is the same God who will restore the damage from an act of mischief or anger strong enough at the moment to enflame a vandalism storm.

“He will take care of it,” as Ely Wakefield’s sister said. He’s the only one who can be trusted to do so. We may feel torn, and we may tear down, but He will build up.

 

Anne Gross

Community….Our Passion, Our Vision

Drawing together as a community. Sharing resources. Sharing relationship—not just in our little church circle, but in the surrounding society that forms our city—this is the vision of GreenTree and the work of the Community Center. The sense of a “community church” and “community center” started with our move to downtown Winston-Salem in the spring of 2006, and since then we’ve seen story after story unfold with opportunities.

At GreenTree, we are passionate about getting close and involved in our immediate society and even connecting the people of our region together as we have opportunity. This drawing-together, we have come to believe, is central to the heart of Christ and the vision of the Church. The early church shared everything:  their material means such as food and money (Acts 2), and their spiritual resources—encouragement, inspiration, wisdom, and help (I Corinthians 12).

In a little building on Broad Street, with two additional buildings and some land, we are able to share that biblical model and the outgrowth of a long-developing dream. We are now able to know what it feels like to experience togetherness in our city. Not only with one another as a church group, but in our interactions with our community and the neighborhoods around us.

For instance, Beautiful Things, a creative arts sharing group, meets once a month in the café of the community center. Each person in the group is invited to share a creative work (such as a poem, song, painting, drawing, dance, story, etc.), while the other group members offer encouragement and feedback.

Then there are the Zumba classes, taught by Eva Rieco. The parking lot gets filled up quickly every week as Zumba enthusiasts come in for a lively dance workout set to fun music and peppy encouragement from Eva. Chris Weeks, a Kung Fu instructor in our area, teaches a rigorous training class at the community center as well.

Sharing Manna Garden, overseen by Ely Wakefield, sits in a lush, green area in the back of the property, a ready place for all who want to share in the work or resources the garden offers.

Recently, a mental health advocate with a heart for those who have been stereotyped by mental illness labels has found in GreenTree’s community center a place to provide education, assistance, friendship, and encouragement. Laurie Coker, leader and founder for this group for recovery and support for people who struggle with mental illnesses, has now begun to hold meetings once or twice a week.

For the article from North Carolina Health News, with more information about Laurie Coker’s group at the community center, visit the following link: http://www.northcarolinahealthnews.org/2012/07/23/winston-salem-center-will-provide-support-for-mentally-ill/

Birthday parties, GED classes, baby showers, wrestling teams, church meetings, support groups, gardening days, coffee breaks with friends, game nights—there’s no end to the number of ways the people in our town can help one another and work as a team. And since we’ve been blessed at GreenTree with a multi-purpose building that’s useful for many different functions, we have the opportunity to share our space and to see a bit of “community” happen right in our little corner.

Redeemed Regret

Last night I had a wrestling match with regret. I don’t know where it came from, but after a simple conversation with my husband and a few minutes of thinking, regret jumped up out of nowhere and grabbed me by the neck like an intruder set on putting me out for good.

In the space of minutes, I saw in my mind a picture of myself with a loved one: how easily offended and selfishly sensitive I had been around a struggling, God-loving friend for years, when robust love and patience were what I should’ve given.

That led to another one (as the brain often goes). I regretted always letting my easily-upset, childish tendencies show with the person I love most: my husband.

That led to the if-onlys. If only I had started intentionally obeying God like the young facebook friend whose blogs I like to read, who harnesses her heart to praise God while in great pain. When I was her age, I only wanted to build a better life for myself.

If only I’d worked hard and helped save money when Tim and I were younger, maybe Tim wouldn’t have had to work so hard now. If only.

I got myself so upset that I ended up crying, “God, let me make up for it. I’ll be cheerful and encourage Tim every day. I’ll be more patient with the ones I love. I’ll stop whining. I’ll stop being negative.” I had visions of a transformed Scrooge running through the street after his bad night, spilling out money to the poor, sending a turkey to Bob Cratchit’s house, showing up at his nephew’s door a changed man. Not being Scrooge anymore.

But in the space of a minute, I knew it just didn’t work that way. So, after leaving my drama-queen tear-pond, I ended up whinnying, “Lord, just help me,” as I fell asleep.

That was my little trip into regret.

Now, this is my little trip out.

This morning I woke up and the first word that came into my head was, “Abortion.” What?

I sat straight up, and a picture came to mind, that of a strong and godly woman I admire, who never lets her younger friends sit around with otherworldly illusions about her—she has told us more than once, “When I was younger, I had an abortion. Now I wish I hadn’t. I deeply regret it, but I do not stay there. God has a perfect plan, I will see that child one day, and I live in His grace, and I move forward.” She has a job to do, she shows peace, strength, and love on her face, and she does not embody the destruction of regret.

“Okay,” I thought. “Not looking behind, pressing forward. The words of the Apostle Paul.” And although abortion is seen as a controversial topic, terrorism is something we all hate. Paul had been a terrorist. Okay.

But what about the lost time we all live with? How can we have the heart to move on if we can’t make up for it?

What do I tell my older friend who didn’t receive Jesus until he was 65, who left behind a long vacuum of wasted time? What do I say to the mom who alienated her children and who never hears from them now? What do I tell myself, for that matter? All of us get tangles of regrets in our laps that beg to be unknotted. All of us at GreenTree, to different degrees, have memories that spell I-F-O-N-L-Y. I hear many stories of wasted time among the members of our group. Many of us have been too passive; some of us have been in jail, some of us have destroyed another person with our words, used other people for their bodies, let our children grow up with wounds we inflicted, cursed God for years with our destructive behaviors. What about the lost time?

If the lost time could be magically redeemed somehow, maybe then we could have the heart to press forward.

I was talking to my dad on the phone today about this very subject. He pointed out two things that can completely obliterate regret over lost time:

“We don’t have to start well. We just need to finish well.”

He was thinking of the Parable of the Generous Employer in Matthew 20, in which a landowner paid those he’d hired in the morning the same wages as the people he’d hired later in the day. My dad said, “It seems like God doesn’t count how much we do or when we got started. It’s just what we do with the time we have now. So we don’t have to have regrets.”

It’s another example of the backwards math of the kingdom, I guess. Kingdom Math seems weird, unfair, and encouraging all at once. Sometimes it’s our only hope.

“God can do great and mighty things in a short time.”

That’s what someone told my dad once when he was discouraged about lost time. God isn’t bound to time. He binds Himself to forgive and completely forget when we repent, and He can stop time and stretch it if He wants to. He loves doing what we aren’t capable of. Ask people who have walked with God for any length of time, and you’ll begin to hear story after story of growth spurts and sudden opportunities.

Maybe our tales of regret aren’t so different from those Old Testament stories in which God whittles down His armies to small numbers. He does seem to favor downsizing the human-credential phenomenon we Americans tend to like so much. Maybe mistakes, sins, and lost years are only opportunities for God to show off. Maybe if it’s not about us, we’re free.

It’s a new day, GreenTree friends. No regrets.

~Anne Gross

Green Beans From Home

“Here. Want some green beans?”

That was the voice of Ely Wakefield on Sunday morning, after church, bags in hand, vegetables on the café table; she was doing her Sharing Manna Garden Mentor duty.

Well, not exactly. Really, Ely was just being a friend, at home in the garden, sharing stuff, the thing you do when people stop by and visit. It’s what my Grandma does when I drive to her house in Virginia (although Ely isn’t my grandma’s age). By the time I’m ready to leave, I’m loaded up with jars of Grandma’s famous pickles, plastic bags full of mustard greens, and some cucumbers for my salad. It’s not a duty; it’s love. It’s home.

This vegetables-in-the-café phenomenon has been going on lately, ever since the soil and seeds in Sharing Manna Garden started doing its springtime dance with the sun and the rain. Whenever we’re at GreenTree, we now see something green, yellow, or red on the café tables or counter, and we can’t help but pick up something and turn it over. Wal-Mart bags aren’t too far away, either. That’s because we’re free to grab some things to take with us, because it’s love. It’s home.

I got that feeling Sunday morning when I saw Ely talking with some visitors. A couple of new friends had come after being part of a chess tournament that one of our GreenTree friends had hosted Saturday. There was also a mom with a cute toddler-aged daughter.

“Want some green beans?” Ely asked her, grinning and arranging the beans in neat piles.

“Sure, that sounds good,” the young mom said. “How do I cook them?”

I can’t help but think I’m correctly speaking for everyone at GreenTree when I say that there’s something nice that happens when you see piles of green stuff—food—life—on the tables and counters of a place where people come to see what’s going on with “this church group.” It says that we’re home. It says that it’s not about some kind of program, or a race to see how “successful” we are based on our group numbers. It says that life happens here, that love grows here.

Home is where we’re not just polite and only offer customary smiles, or enroll people in fix-it programs and hustle them in like cattle to be added to our herd. Home doesn’t always match the ministry brochures of what a successful church is supposed to look like. Home sometimes looks messy. Home is a place where arguments come up, because the energy it took to be out in the world all day falls away in a big tired breath of relief, and our real selves emerge, and sometimes it’s not pretty. Home is where you rest so that you can face the world again. Home isn’t where you go to get a bulleted list that outlines your life; it’s where you get a hug and a bag of green beans.

If you stop by GreenTree any time soon, you can look directly through the parking lot to the back and see how lush and full the garden has become. Ely and her helpers have skillfully cooperated with God’s natural world and brought forth results as pretty as my Grandma’s ruffled rows in her back yard. It’s not perfect; no home is. There are a couple of groundhogs that are making a pesky nuisance of themselves right now, as a matter of fact. But we hope you’ll look at it and think of home. And please stop inside: we’d love to have a good chat over a bottled water or a Pepsi, and chances are that there will be some zucchinis or tomatoes if you’d like to bag up some to take with you.

Your Opportunity at GreenTree

On Sunday, June 3, in his sermon based in Romans 12, Pastor Tim challenged GreenTree friends with an important opportunity. This invitation also applies to anyone who hasn’t found his/her niche in a church family and ministry outlet. If you haven’t heard the challenge in the sermon or would like to refresh your memory, we’ve adapted it here in blog form.

I have a question: where are you in relationship to your church? Every now and then we need to stop and draw a map in our minds of where we are in life. I’d like to say some things to three different age groups in relation to our church. These ages aren’t a clean-cut division; these categories are meant more to reflect where you are.

Age 18 to 35.

If you are age 18 to 35, you may very well be single. You may be a student; you may be considering a career or starting a career. If you are married, you haven’t been married for very long. It’s quite possible that you don’t yet have any kids, especially if you’re on the younger end of this age spectrum…or you may have young kids. There’s a good chance that you’re nearly broke because you’ve just started out in life. It’s possible that you’re renting; maybe you’re still living at home, or maybe you are just now buying a house. You’re still asking and answering a lot of big life-questions, especially if you are still in your 20’s: you’re still becoming who you are going to be.

Ages 36 to 55.

There aren’t very many of us in this age bracket at GreenTree. We have more people who belong to the  upper and lower end of the age spectrum and not as many in the middle. But if you’re in this middle age bracket, you’re probably married or you’ve been married; maybe you’re divorced or even remarried by this point. You may have a career established. You probably own a home now, if you’re ever going to.

If you have children, they are probably already teenagers or young adults. You could even have very young grandchildren. You’re probably dealing with aging parents. You’re beginning to accumulate some wealth by this point—or if not, you’re becoming very concerned. But all in all, you’re probably much more settled than you were in that 18 to 35 bracket.

You may be re-thinking long-held beliefs; this is a time in life where you’ve already pretty much settled what you believe but now you might be saying to yourself, “Wait a minute; maybe not.” Maybe you’re having a mid-life crisis; you’re starting to wonder, “Am I ever going to amount to anything?”

Age 56 to Heaven.

Of course, an 80 year-old is in a different place in life in life than a 56 year-old, but if you’ll just humor me, we’ll group you into this general stage in life if you fit in this age category. You are established financially by this point, or (as Dave Ramsey says) you’re thinking about buying a copy of One Hundred and One Ways to Fix Dog Food and Like It. Your marriage is in the golden years. Or perhaps you’re a widow or widower. You’re most likely retired, or you’re working and really feeling it. Maybe you’re playing with hobbies, playing with grandchildren, or playing with great-grandchildren. You’re advising your adult children (or trying to and pulling your hair out). You’re not likely at this point to make any big life changes that you’re not absolutely forced into.

The Oldies: Your Great Opportunity  

Many of you in this final age bracket have shown great loyalty to me over these dozen years I’ve been the pastor here. And you are, except for a few exceptions, the ones who are giving the significant amount of money that goes into funding the church, and we appreciate that greatly.

We want you to engage the rest of us. I don’t mean nag us; I don’t mean preach at us; but we want you to interact with us. We need some advice. We need some direction; we need, sometimes, even some rebuke. And we want you to show some leadership, while letting us take some leadership.

The Youngers: Your Great Opportunity

You have unique resources here. Those of you in the younger category have incredible opportunity in terms of your church. You have a church, with older people with a unique quality here: they have withstood great changes. Many people in the older age bracket just don’t do it. They can’t take it when a church goes through the metamorphosis that GreenTree has undergone. What’s more, you have a group of older people willing to fund the church and willing to help you move forward. And you have a church that has no debt, and small utility bills, even though it has a small budget. It’s very workable. You have the best of both worlds: the freshness of a church plant and the facilities, people, and structure of an old church. You have a pastor who is willing to maintain a good relationship with the older people while looking forward. You have the opportunity, young people, to make this church whatever it needs to be to reach out to your generation.

But the older group has something to say to you, and they’re saying it kindly:

We want you to get some skin in the game. We know you don’t have very much money; give a little bit. Take some leadership. Show up. Commit to doing some things. Dream up something that you love: bring it to us. We’re willing to fund it for a while if we see you making an effort to take some ownership. Now, we know that might mean we’ll have to put up with some things that are just a little bit “too young” for us. But we’re willing to do it if you will take some ownership. Young people, you have an incredible opportunity.

Now, all of us need to get “skin in the game,” don’t we? All of us need to make some commitments, to make church life what it ought to be. And you have an opportunity to take a small church that’s wide open to all different kinds of ideas, and make it into what will be necessary to meet your needs, to have you involved, and to meet the needs of those that are your friends and your peers.

If you’d like to learn more, go to the Sermons Page and explore with us in Romans 12, learn a bit about the kinds of commitments that God asks us to make. And let’s ask and answer this question, in relationship to your local body of believers: How will your church impact your life, and how will your life impact your church?

Guest Blog: Growing in Love with God

This guest blog is written by Laura Goodman. Laura is a teacher at Community Bible Study, which meets at Pinedale Christian Church on Thursday mornings. Leaders at Community Bible study yearly write a personal devotional piece to share with the group; this is part of Laura’s devotional writing, about her personal experience with the desire to grow in relational closeness with Jesus. If you wonder what it means to “grow closer to God,” and want to know how that’s done, take this refreshing blog post as an inspiration and encouragement to begin with God right where you are.

As I look back, I realize that I was stuck in a spiritual rut for years without knowing it. I was stagnant. I would give God whatever time I had at the end of the day, right before bed, sometimes ending up falling asleep within a few minutes of opening my Bible. Worship at church on Sunday mornings was great, but only if we sang the songs I liked. The pastor’s message was moving, but I mostly thought it was just what everyone else needed to hear.

I was a fairly new youth pastor’s wife at the time and I wanted people to know that I had it together. That worked until I volunteered to teach a High School girls’ Sunday School class. What a challenge that was. Did I mention that my co-teacher was the most godly woman and the most gifted teacher I knew? I was put in my place, and I quickly figured out that I could do NOTHING without Jesus. It was a huge lesson learned as I realized I didn’t know quite as much as I thought I did and not nearly as much as I wanted to. God was so gracious to me, and through much humility, He gave me such a hunger and thirst for the Word that I had never experienced. It proved to be a pivotal moment in my walk with Christ.

But something was still missing. During a sermon our pastor asked the question, “If Jesus was all you had in heaven (no mansion, streets of gold, no reuniting with loved ones, etc.), would you still want to go? Would Jesus be enough?” Fear gripped me as I sat there, and I knew the answer was, “No, Jesus was not enough.” I had what I thought was a strong faith and a hunger for God’s Word, I loved Jesus for what He did on the cross for me, but I did not have a deep intimate love for Jesus that, in my human mind, would last for eternity. I think we can have great faith but still miss our True Love, and that is where I was. As I wrestled with that, I was determined that I would love him more, seek him more.

In the book Pilgrim’s Progress, the character Christian and his friend and fellow sojourner, Hopeful, go through numerous depressing and hindering trials, almost costing them their lives at times on their way to the Celestial City. When they finally get near the City, this is what they experience:

“. . . The beauty of the City and the radiance of the sunbeams coming from it were such a glorious sight that Christian became sick with intense longing. Hopeful also was stricken with the same affliction, and because of their pangs they lay there for some time crying out, ‘If you find my beloved one, tell Him that I am sick with love.'”

That is the intimacy I desired, and I immediately knew that my quiet time was the first thing that was going to have to change. The core to any relationship is quality time. In my previous quiet times I was not being silent before the Lord to listen, confess sin, to worship Him, and meditate on what I was learning and what He was teaching me. But where was I going to find the time when I wouldn’t be distracted by kids or fall asleep? I decided I would have to get up, exercise to get myself awake and then do a quiet time.

The first week was so hard. I would start off feeling great, but by midday I was tired, which made me cranky and tired for the rest of the day. But I stuck with it and now I don’t function well without it. It is a habit; it is a part of me. I enjoy that part of my day the most.

But not every day do I feel like worshiping Him early in the morning. On those tough days, my quiet time starts like, “God, I will praise you today even though I don’t feel like it because you alone are Worthy and if I won’t, the stones will cry out.” That very statement helps bring me into a worshipful state, and I am blessed even more those times because it puts me in my place. It helps me to see how much I need Him and how I really can’t do anything successfully without Him.

So now my daily prayer is that I would fall more and more in love with Him every day. I still am processing what that looks like by asking the question: “What is your part, God, and what is mine? You have to do the revealing and fill me with your Love if I do the seeking, right?” For I have figured out that surprise, surprise, I can’t do it on my own!! Although it has been a steady and somewhat slow process, I feel so much closer to my Lord and Savior than I have before, I have a growing love for Jesus that I have not experienced before. The greatest part about it is that I am never satisfied; I just continue to want more.

Maybe you have struggled with this too. Maybe I am the only one, and that’s okay. I am so thankful that God did not leave me where I was. May we be constantly humbled to have the experience of being drawn close to and loved by a sovereign and intentional God. May we all love Jesus as deeply as we see in Song of Solomon:

“For your love is better than wine.” Song of Solomon 1:2

“My Beloved is mine and I am His…” Song of Solomon 2:16

“…If you find my Beloved tell Him I am lovesick.” Song of Solomon 5:8

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