Brown grass and an empty pond

 

I followed the familiar path, thankful for a chance to get outside. The air had a chill, but only the smallest patches of snow lay where the sun could not find them hidden beneath the shadows. Otherwise, the ground was dry.

In fact, everything was dry. The grass was brown and the trees stood bare. The leaves, the trees had dropped, crunched under my feet. There was little colour anywhere beyond brown, brown, and more brown.

I stepped through the fence and swept fallen leaves off the bench before sitting on it. I stared at the pond in front of me. It was empty. There was no water.

Our summer had been longer and more dry than most years. The pond that typically had at least a little water all year round – indeed, sometimes enough to skate on in the winter – now lay empty.

It was more than that, though. This fall, not only had the pond become empty, but the typically impassable gooey mud of the pond bed had dried out to the extent that the property owner was able to drive heavy machinery through the pond. I could still see the thick tread marks.

The heavy machinery had been used to push dirt around. A large mound lay to the side. Much of the pond bed was now raw exposed dirt.

Yet, as I sat there, I was not displeased at the sight of thick tread marks and mounds of dirt because I knew the purpose.

The property owner had dug the pond deeper. Why? To increase its capacity. When the winter snow melts and spring rains come, the pond will be able to hold even more water than before. This will make it less likely to dry out when the following summer turns to autumn.

This deepening of the pond bed was something the property owner could only do during the rare times when the pond dried up. Not only did the pond need to be empty for such work to be done, but the mud at the bottom of it needed to dry for long enough to support the weight of the heavy machinery without causing it to sink and get stuck.

I leaned back on the bench listening to the occasional bird call in the otherwise silent afternoon.

Surely there was something to be learned from this pond, a lesson I could learn.

A sober thought came to me.

It is only when I am empty that God can do the work of increasing capacity in me.

True, there are many ways God works in my life.

While the property owner could trim the bushes around the edge of the pond, or add stones to the path leading to it while it was full, there are some kinds of work he could not do until the pond was beyond empty.

Likewise, God can work in my life in many ways, but some kinds of deepening can only be done when I am empty – empty of myself.

So what is it that the Lord wants to increase my capacity for? Some things, such as His love, His joy, and abundant life, He wants to give everyone who believes. Not a problem-free life, but a life marked with the inexpressible joy and peace that only comes from Him.

In John 10:10b, Jesus said, “I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” (CSB)

Other translations say, “have it to the full.” (NIV2011)

Paul prayed that God would enable the Ephesians to “know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:19 CSB)

Next time I am feeling empty and surrounded by the browns of a winter not even brightened with snow, I hope I will remember not to panic. Instead, I ought to seek God and trust that this is the time when He can do His work of increasing capacity in me for more of Him.

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13 CSB)

Watering can behind title: You Don't Know What I'm Doing

 

A while back, I decided to do an experiment. With COVID-19 concerns circling around, I figured it would be nice to have a homegrown supply of fresh lettuce so that, if we did get quarantined, we could still have fresh vegetables to eat along with our non-perishable pantry items.

With this in mind, and since it was too cold to plant outside where I live, I found a planter, filled it with dirt, and planted some lettuce seeds.

For the following weeks, I kept an eye on the plants as I watered them. Sure enough, the seedlings came up, though not all of them. I’d known some of the seeds might not come up, so I wasn’t entirely surprised.

I kept watering and observing the plants as they sat in my kitchen window. A few weeks after the seedlings sprouted, however, I began to suspect a problem. They weren’t getting enough sun.

Once I realized this and began moving the planter to various windows throughout the day or leaving it outside when the afternoons were warm enough, the lettuce began to grow strong.

I tell you all this to set the backdrop of what I really want to focus on.

Because some of the seeds hadn’t sprouted, the planter had sections of dirt that were bare and not growing anything. I wanted to change that.

Having realized that the lettuce needed more sunlight than the window provided, I decided to plant something else in those empty spaces.

Radishes, I thought. They grow easily and quickly. Therefore, I found a few radish seeds and hid them in the dirt where nothing was growing.

A couple of days later, as I went to water the lettuce, I poured the water where the lettuce plants needed it, then I poured water on those blank empty spaces of dirt.

In my head (I don’t think I said it out loud, though I may have) I told the lettuce plants, “You don’t know what I’m doing, but I do.”

It seems like a silly statement, especially when addressed to plants. Yet, when I think about it, I believe I can learn something from it.

From the lettuce’s perspective, I’d just given them the water they needed. Then, for no apparent reason, I poured water where no visible plant was growing.

It’ll probably be a few more days until the radishes show their heads. Until then the lettuce will continue to wonder why I would water the lifeless dirt rather than just watering the plants.

I wonder how often God has used me to water what to me appeared to be empty lifeless dirt?

It could be a random conversation I had with someone at the bus stop, or a smile I gave the woman who was clearly having a hard day. Perhaps it’s even a Facebook post with a Bible verse. I don’t know.

Some of these moments seem small and insignificant to me. Some of them feel random and impulsive, but maybe, just maybe, God is using those moments to water the unseen seeds that will begin to sprout one day.

I might wonder at what God is doing, and why He pours the perfectly good water on the lifeless dirt. It might appear to be a waste, but with God, nothing is wasted.

God knows what He is doing.

My job is to trust and keep following Him.

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58 CSB

An eagle soaring behind title: The Eagle's Rest

Camp. I love being involved in helping put on summer camp. Still, there are days when exhaustion tries to kick in.

Have you ever volunteered at a summer camp or helped run a VBS? If your answer is yes, then you probably understand.

This past summer, it was on one of those tired mornings that I found a moment to slip away for a bit of quiet by myself before the busyness of the day began.

I made my way down a familiar trail through the quiet woods. A bird chirped overhead and a squirrel chattered.

I stepped out onto the rocky beach that lined the little river. The sky was clear blue with a few white clouds. There was a fresh morning chill in the air that I knew would fade quickly once the sun peeked over the treetops.

Finding a large rock, I pulled out my Bible and notebook. I only had a few minutes, but I was unlikely to find time for personal Bible reading later in the day.

I opened to the Psalms and began to read.

Suddenly I looked up. I blinked and looked again. It was unmistakable. A bald eagle came gliding along the river valley.

I watched its apparently effortless flying as it soared along. Then it shifted course and landed on the tip of a tree along the river.

I sat amazed watching it. In all my years of being at this campsite, including many mornings of slipping down to this very beach, I had never seen a bald eagle there.

After a minute or so, the eagle gracefully returned to the air and glided down the valley and out of sight.

I couldn’t help but smile at having witnessed such an event. Of course, my mind at once went to a very familiar passage: Isaiah 40:30-31.

“Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.” (NIV 2011)

I know there are pastors and others who have gone deep into eagle’s behaviours and what these verses mean. I am not an expert on eagles, so I cannot rightly do the same, but I do know what I observed that morning and how fitting it was for me that day.

The eagle’s soaring looked effortless. It was graceful. It was calm and collected. God can give me strength to be like that, even in the midst of the busyness of camp.

At the same time, the eagle did pause for a moment. Likewise, if I want that strength, there must be moments of pause – moments of reminding myself where my hope is.

Is my hope truly in God? Or am I hoping in something else? Perhaps my hope is in the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions. Perhaps my hope is in my finances. Perhaps my hope is in my health.

Like the bald eagle I saw that morning, I must pause and turn my focus to the Lord. He will renew my strength when my hope is in the right place.

If you are feeling weary and tired today, I encourage you to take a moment to pause and turn to the Lord in prayer, then read through the passage again, but this time start at Isaiah 40:28. (Here’s a link if you need it.)

How wonderful to be reminded that God does not grow weary or tired no matter how tired I get!

Today, may I place my hope securely in the Lord, for He will renew my strength.

Want more Encouraging Christian blog posts? Then you might like S. J. Little’s other posts including:

Raspberry bush behind title "Distracted for the Better?"

 

I recently spent a week volunteering at a summer camp. It was a blast as always! This summer we played a game we call “Leader Hide and Seek.”

The game is simple. Eight or so leaders hide throughout the campsite. The campers travel as teams trying to find the leaders. When found, the leader signs the campers’ signature card. The campers then continue hunting for the other leaders. The team of campers with the most signatures at the end wins.

They gave us leaders a head start while they explained the game to the campers. As I trotted away from the group, I pondered where to hide. The trees near the cabins worked well last time I played, but I saw two or three others heading that way. Perhaps I could duck behind the fire pit walls? No, the campers were sure to find me there.

Instead, I headed toward the teepee. However, again, several leaders were heading the same direction. Perhaps the long grass in the poplar tree stand would give me enough cover. When I got there, the grass simply didn’t seem thick enough. Perhaps that was due to the hot, dry summer we’d had.

I frowned. There had to be a good hiding place around. I eyed the nearby clusters of bushes. They had sparse wild raspberries growing around the outside, but in the middle, thick stalks of a bush with large leaves would serve me well.

As I burrowed my way into the largest bush, I was glad I’d worn long pants and a long sleeve sweater with a hood since some of the plants were prickly. I found a clear enough space inside the bush where I could crouch down, hiding even my face from sight.

By now, I could hear campers on the move. I stayed motionless as some drew near on their way to the teepee.

When their voices drifted away, I allowed myself to sit up in an attempt to relieve the numbness from my crouched legs.

Again voices drew near. I lowered myself and crouched motionless. It seemed one of the teams was arguing amongst themselves.

“Come on.”

“But I want to pick some raspberries.”

I froze. If they paused to pick raspberries, they’d likely spot me. Maybe I’d chosen a bad hiding place!

Another teammate spoke up. “We need to check by the teepee.”

“But I want raspberries.”

“Don’t get distracted. We need to stay focused and find more leaders.”

“Oh, fine. One more raspberry, then I’m coming.”

I didn’t dare release my breath until all their voices had faded considerably. That had been close. Their teammate’s distraction had almost led them to their goal – finding a leader.

I laughed at the irony of it. We typically consider distractions to be bad. They are what keep us from reaching our goals. This time, however, the distraction of raspberry picking nearly led them right to their goal.

As I sat quietly in my hiding spot waiting for someone to find me, I pondered the irony of it. The distraction, quite the opposite of being a hindrance, had so nearly enabled them to achieve their goal.

I wondered if there might be an allegory for me to learn from. Are there things in my life which I class as distractions that are actually the key to succeeding if only I’d give them space?

Now, please don’t misunderstand. There are many bad and destructive distractions that exist to sidetrack a person and reek havoc in their life. Therefore, careful discernment and weighing of good and evil in light of what the Bible teaches us is necessary.

Having said that, I do believe there are times when what I classify as a distraction from reaching my goal, is actually the very best thing I could be doing to help accomplish God’s goal for my life.

In Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV we read,

“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.'”

Sometimes, perhaps far more often than I realize, my primary goal or plan is not what God has in mind. His plans are better.

Perhaps the clearest example of this we find in the Bible is the story of Mary and Martha. I’ll summarize it here, but to read the whole story go to Luke 10:38-42.

Martha welcomed Jesus and His disciples into her home. She hustled about busily serving her guests. Her sister Mary, however, did not help her. Instead, she sat near Jesus listening to His words.

When Martha asked Jesus to tell her sister, Mary, to help her, Jesus replied,

“‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; but only one thing is necessary; for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41b-42 NASB)

Martha’s goal was to serve and host Jesus and His disciples. From her perspective, Mary was distracted. Rather than helping Martha accomplish her goal, Mary sat idly listening.

Jesus’ perspective was different. He knew that, while there are times to serve, there are also times when the very best thing we can do is pause to listen to His Word.

So what do I classify as a distraction?

At camp there were times when I had somewhere to be and a job to get done, but a couple of the campers wanted to chat. Did I brush them off as a distraction? Or did I pause in my busyness to take a few minutes to connect with them?

What about in my daily life? Do I take time to read the Bible? Do I allow myself needed rest? Do I pause to connect with those around me even when the dishes are begging to be washed?

I suspect that in every season of my life there will be something I am tempted to classify as a distraction, when really it is the very thing God would have me make time for.

What about in your life? What have you deemed a distraction which may actually be the very thing God wants you to be doing?

Painting of tree by S. J. Little in background of title

Have you done much art? I enjoy art, but with everything on my schedule, I rarely make it a priority. Recently, however, when Covid-19 restrictions were lifted enough that I could visit some relatives, we enjoyed having a paint night together.

I decided to do a landscape, since painting people is far more difficult.

We used acrylic paint. When using acrylic, the typical strategy is to start with the furthest back part of the picture. From there, each new layer can be added on top.

In my case, the furthest back thing was the sky.

I knew I planned to put a tree in the foreground. I hoped my tree would resemble an Elm. I knew the sky would be visible through the leaves and between the branches of the tree. Therefore, I wanted more than just a flat blue sky.

I took my time, trying several times until I was satisfied with the gradient from deep blue at the top of the sky, to light blue at the horizon. Then it was time for clouds. I added wispy white clouds.

That done, I moved on to the next layer – mountains. At first I made them flat, but that was too boring, so I added shadows and highlights. Much better.

Time for the grass. I spread plain green across the space. I added a little more variety to the green, then left it at that for the time being. Later I would add more details.

Stepping back, I examined my painting. The bright colours and my hard work had paid off. I was pleased with my background.

The next question: where to put the tree? I frowned. Did I even want to add the tree? The background had turned out so beautifully. Would adding a tree in the foreground harm the beauty of it? What if I did a poor job of the tree?

Despite my fears, I knew the picture would look empty and incomplete without something in the foreground.

I squeezed some brown paint onto my palate. Taking a deep breath, I added a tree trunk. Then I added branches and leaves. Finally I added texture to the grass.

Eyeing my painting, I considered adding something else to the foreground on the other side. Perhaps a road or a creek? Yet those same fears crept up again. What if I did a poor job adding it. All my work on the background would be negated.

This time I decided that my painting was complete.

As I considered the process of creating this painting, I marveled at the importance of background. Much of my time and effort had gone into forming the background with great detail. Had I neglected the background, it would have been an entirely different painting.

Indeed when watching a pro artist, it can be astounding how much detail they put into the background.

Is there a life lesson I can learn from this?

Yes, I believe there is.

Sometimes it seems as though so much of life is background stuff. Washing dishes, doing laundry, writing emails, buying groceries… the list could go on.

At times, I feel anxious to get on with the “big stuff.” I want to do things that feel important and belong in the foreground.

At moments like that, I have to stop and remind myself of the importance of the background stuff.

In Luke 16:10 (ESV) we read, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.”

I find it helpful to switch the words “faithful” and “dishonest” with other words to help drive home the point. Am I being diligent in the very little things? Am I being intentional and wise in how I handle those little things? Am I a good steward of what I’ve been given, no matter how small or background it feels?

In the Bible, I see lots of the “big” moments – David defeating Goliath, Moses leading Israel out of Egypt, Jesus’s time of ministry. If I pay close attention, though, I can also see snippets of the background stuff that enabled these “big” moments to be handled well.

David faithfully tended his father’s sheep, including fighting off bears and lions (1 Samuel 17:34-37).  Moses was “instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds” (Acts 7:22 ESV). “Jesus, when He began His ministry, was about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23 ESV).

Each of these had years of little stuff that served as a background to the big moments of their lives which the Bible tells about.

Sometimes, I find the stuff that might seem big, is indeed a compilation of many small things that add up to a big thing. To be a pastor or Christian camp director, for example, is largely made up of doing lots and lots of little things well.Tree painting by S. J. Little

What about my life? Is all the daily background stuff going to one day culminate in an unmistakably big moment? I don’t know.

What I do know, is that God has called me to be faithful with what He has given me to do here and now, no matter how menial.

As I am faithful with the little things, He will unfold His plans for my life. Perhaps there will be a “big” moment in my life, but perhaps not. Regardless, may I seek to be faithful that one day I may say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7 ESV)