Pastures.

Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills. -Ezekiel 34:14 (NLT)

I live in Nebraska, where long stretches of open plains is the norm. If you have to drive to any other state or anywhere outside the Metro area, there’s a good chance that you’ll drive by a field of green. Actually, even inside the city limits, it’s not unusual to see a little pasture tucked away among the developments that pop up in suburbia. Needless to say, fields. Lots of fields.

Whenever I pass by one that includes livestock, there is something that always strikes me as strangely funny. First, it’s curious how the weather never seems to bother the animals. Have you ever noticed that? It can be way below freezing or sweltering, and there stand the horses and cows, just as they always have. Tails swaying, stationery, not too distressed about what’s happening with the weather. I can’t stand the hot, humid summers of the Midwest. For this girl, who was born with a head of wavy hair, the humidity is like a death sentence for any amount of time I spend trying to style my mane. I’ve tried every product, every technique. In the end, I resort to a ponytail for the work-week, and a ball cap at all other times in the summer. There are no other options. Still, I love the fall and spring seasons that come with living in the center of the US, so I take the good with the bad. But those horses and cows never seem to mind. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

The other thing I always notice is that those cows never stop grazing. Ever. Have you ever seen a cow who isn’t eating?? Now the horses are a more varied animal. Sometimes they’re standing, sometimes they’re casually plodding along, sometimes they are galloping around. But cows, they eat and sleep. Though I don’t witness the sleeping very often. It’s mostly eating. All. The. Time. Heads down, snouts nestled into the dusty earth, munching away at whatever they happen to find as they snack their way through the day. All this eating serves people well, for our purposes. Omaha is known for good steak, after all.

My sweet friend, April, and I were musing about this recently. About these cows who can’t stop eating long enough to lift their heads. And then it hit both of us at the exact same time—there’s a word to share, a devotional in that somewhere. I love how Father does that, falls onto pairs of people at the same time with His wisdom. The synergy is all kinds of invigorating and fabulous.

The Word of God says to feed on good things. 1 Corinthians 10:3 talks about eating spiritual food, and 1 Peter 2:2 compares the Word to the unquestionably nourishing and wholly perfect milk that newborns eat. Hebrews 5 says that the Word can be more like solid food for mature followers to sink their teeth into. Revelations 2:7 grants us food from the Tree of Life. If we ate junk all the time and never fostered our bodies with vitamins and minerals, we’d be messes. Riddled with disease and oppressed by fatigue, it wouldn’t feel much like living at all. Father’s master design was that we would feast on the rich and altogether perfect foods found in other parts of His creation. And any simple Google search will list for you the many ways each individual element helps to keep the body running like a fine-tuned machine. The lack of these would mean an early death to us. But our spirits need to eat too. And just like those trees filled with tasty fruit, made to care for the newly crafted bodies of Adam and Eve, God also designed His word to be exactly what we need to stay emotionally and spiritually healthy.

My Father also reminds us to keep our eyes lifted to the Heavens. And the reason is simple. It’s really hard to see anything else but the ground when you’re looking down. When we lift our gazes, we can see what’s right in front of us and follow a clear path, keep our balance, avoid falls. We’re also gifted with peripheral vision, so that those who would attempt to sneak up on us are thwarted. (I’m looking at you, enemy. He’s a creep.) And when we tilt our heads back and look upward, we can see FAR. The average human eye can plainly see the very distant Saturn in the solar system, which sits 1.5 billion km away from Earth. Think on that for a minute, folks.

Grass on the ground is good for cows. They were made to eat at a constant pace and they do it well. But looking down and feeding on junk won’t work for the sons and daughters of the King. We need more and thankfully, the King of all Kings has provided it. Our good Shepherd calls us in from the fields and prepares a place for us as His table with plentiful food. Today, I encourage you to do this: Look up, breathe in deep and eat your fill from the goodness of Him.

Looking upward,
Mande

Home.

When you work in ministry, you find that loss is a unique and regular part of your days. Losing loved ones calls for the comfort of pastors and churches and the reminder that we have much to look forward to when we leave Earth. While I never dealt with loss in my prior careers in banking or education, I certainly do now. And I’ve come to appreciate it a great deal. Nothing has the urgency and power to remind you of your present blessings like reflecting on what can be lost in an instant.

Nearly four years ago, my grandfather passed away and it was my first major loss. He was someone I knew well, someone that I had made memories with, and I was old enough to understand the poignancy of losing him. Since his death was not sudden or unexpected, I had the added experience of watching him slowly fade away, making it all the more heart wrenching. Y’all know how tough that can be. On the day he was moved into the hospice home, I remember being struck by how many lasts my grandfather must have been processing. The last time he slept in his bed, the last time he showered at home, the last time he dressed himself, the last time he rode in a car, the last time he went outside, the last time he saw his house. To bid farewell to what was and embark on a journey of ‘lasts’, to officially and forcefully close a chapter of your life and face the ending of it, is something I can’t begin to wrap my simple mind around. There must have been moments when he wondered if it was the last time he’d wake up to greet the morning or eat breakfast or see the setting sun. I take all those things for granted so often. We operate under this assumption that the supply is endless, but they are all dependent on the number of days we receive.

This week, our church experienced plenty of loss, with several funerals. Each funeral means that we say a temporary goodbye to a member of our forever family. And it means that their loved ones experience the crushing weight of loss too. Having someone at one point in time and then not at all, whether sudden or expected, is a massive thing for our psyches to process. It aches, it depletes us, it comes with waves of emotions that are raw and overwhelming. Caring for people in that delicate season of life is an astounding privilege, giving us the opportunity to be near the brokenhearted, just as Father God is.

Being a Jesus girl, I think of death as the much-anticipated call for those who love Him to go home. And what a home it is. There is a sentiment we sometimes say, ‘Home is where the heart is.’ What we mean is that if you strip away all the trappings of a ‘home’, all the creaky beds and cozy kitchen tables and doors and well-worn rugs and fading wallpaper, you’re left with the people inside of it. All the good and bad memories, and the perfected rhythms of daily life that are so unique to our own little tribe of people. The life we build with our families becomes a sort of country with its own culture and language and traditions. Those are things we can carry in our hearts, regardless of the structure we dwell in at the time. And so that saying expresses our belief that homes are really a possession of our hearts, far more than a structure or the tangible things we might fill them with.

I think there is Biblical backing for this concept too.  Ephesians 3:17 reminds me that ‘Christ will make his home in your heart as you trust in him.’ (NLT) In this verse, Paul was revealing to the Gentiles in Ephesus God’s mysterious master plan, the Good News of salvation for everyone who belongs to Christ. He prays that Christ would move into their hearts to live and that each of them would have a rich realization of God’s deep-wide-long-high love.  And he says that from this realization they would be made complete. It is His love that completes us, His love taking up residence in us that completes us. Just like the beds and couches and clothing and clutter could never be the things that make our houses a home, neither can our hearts be wholly fulfilled without the love of God living in us. Home is indeed where our Jesus-filled hearts are.

Luke 12:34 says that ‘The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.’ (MSG) The place I most want to be. The thought of sitting at the feet of my Father, being loved with perfection and not a hint of dysfunction or condition, with a serious glint of delight in His eyes at the thought of ME, and to know that THIS is my life forevermore, with no other place to be or obligation to fulfill, to just BE with my Creator and my Treasure in adoration….can you imagine? Doesn’t that just make your heart nestle in to rest with a nice deep breath? If home is where the heart is and the heart is where my Savior resides, then I wait with confidence and longing for the place where I most want to be. Just the thought of it makes me exhale with anticipation, ‘Home, home at last.’

Looking toward home,
Mande

 

About Bears.

“BEAR with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
~Colossians 3:13 (NIV)

I have read this verse many times. My eyes have always fallen on the last part, about forgiving. And that part is nothing to sneeze at. The art of extending forgiveness takes serious guts. I would count it as one of the hardest skills I’ve ever had to learn.  But it’s important, foundational and can revolutionize lives.

Recently the word ‘bear’ caught my eye. Bears are known for protecting their territory. Equipped with claws that can tear, teeth that puncture, substantial weight, and surprising speed and agility, bears know a thing or two about safeguarding. Their loyalty to their own knows no bounds. Mama bears, of course, are famous for this.

Would it surprise you to know that bears have almost no predators? Their design makes their biggest enemy other bears. That’s ironic, folks. Because it reminds me a lot of us, the sons and daughters of the King of all creation. We sure know how to cause strife and dissention with each other, don’t we?  This isn’t to say that we aren’t also fearfully and wonderfully made, beloved and shining cities perched atop hills. We most certainly are. But my Father made sure that we had a path to follow when the grievances came. He knew it wasn’t a matter of if, but WHEN the grievances and disputes would begin. It didn’t take long for Cain to plot the first murder. Praise God for the master plan that would save us from ourselves and all our missteps. Sweet friends, what if we preferred each other with as much ferociousness as your average bear? What if we protected and covered one another that way? Wouldn’t that preference and favor make forgiving that much easier?

Recently my family encountered an unexpected and heartbreaking challenge. It was 76 days of gut-wrenching, bring-you-to-your-knees attack. I’ll tell you all about it sometime. Over coffee. Lots of coffee.  We never lost hope of deliverance. And in those moments when we were tempted to forget, we had a small but powerful group of people circling us. Oh, you guys. How they charged the enemy for us, stormed the gates of Heaven in the name of Jesus, on our behalf. They texted and called every day, all of them. They sent verses that were always exactly on time and perfect. They sat next to us as the tears dropped onto the collar of our shirts and cried too. Our friends offered wise counsel. Even now, they’ve continued to cover us, keeping the enemy at bay and ensuring that healing can come full circle. There are few things as precious as a gathering of saints who bear with you in all-out, unreserved, unrestricted, unconditional love.

Who has God GIVEN to you to BEAR with? A spouse you love….children you adore…a church family….Pastors, friends, extended family. I have all of those. And I want to hold onto them with bear-sized hands, swatting away the Enemy and his schemes, declaring them precious blessings in my life. Worthy of all necessary forgiveness and committing to bear with them for the glory of my Father, who always bears with me. When the enemy stalks and challenges lurk, bearing with one another is a command from the One who designed us to withstand the onslaught together.

Bearing with all of you,
Mande