Stronger

New photo by Lauren Varney / Google Photos

I took this picture a few weeks ago, after dragging myself outside to tend to my tomato plants.  It was truly a gift, a meaningful gift.  You will understand why as you read this post.

I’m coming out of a rough summer.  Sickness joined forces with sadness, frustration, disappointment and discouragement and they got the best of me.  Recently the clouds began to lift and, for the first time in a while, I began to feel more like myself.

In the midst of all of this, I was drawn to the pocket in my prayer binder that I use to save meaningful papers.  I pulled one out and began to read it.  It was a photocopy of a church bulletin that a good friend gave to me when we lived in Vermont.  On this page, Father Tom, who I have never met, wrote something he titled, “Be Proactive”.   I began to read it again.  I am amazed at God’s timing.  This time, it was more than a meaningful devotion shared with my by a friend.  It was a personal letter of wisdom and encouragement that came directly from God, through Father Tom, at exactly the time that I needed it.

Here is what he wrote, word for word:

“Every day in our daily life there is a lot of problems and fear along with physical and mental distress.  We are many times reactive to the problems in life.  We start to accuse and curse everything and everybody, even God.  But Jesus calls us to be proactive.  I grew up on my father’s farm where we grow pepper and tea.  One day as I was helping my father to collect pepper, I saw a butterfly cocoon hanging on a twig.  I clipped the cocoon with the twig and took it home.  I kept watching it and after a few days I saw some movement in the cocoon but the butterfly did not emerge.  The next day I saw some more movement but the butterfly did not come out.  And the third day the same thing but the butterfly still did not come out.  I decided to to help the butterfly to get out of the cocoon.  I took a knife and slip the cocoon.  The butterfly crawled out.  I was surprised it didn’t have fully developed wings and couldn’t fly.  So I asked my father why the butterfly could not fly.  My father explained, “God arranged it in such a way that a caterpillar must struggle to get out of the cocoon.  It is the struggle that causes them to develop and that is how they get their strength and beauty but now you have destroyed its life by helping it.”  Similar things happen with us. God allows us to struggle in our lives.  It is His way to help us grow strong.  God arranges things so that at certain points in our life both spiritual and physical, we must struggle. That does not mean He is not with us, he is with us but still we have to struggle to be better Disciples of Christ.  So let us not try to run away from the struggles we may have in our life or react to it but take it with a proactive mind and prove what we are.  God watches us close so that He will never let us fail, for He knows that everything has a reason.  Like the familiar poem says, “For every pain we must bear, for every burden, every care, there is a reason.  For every grief that bows the head, for every teardrop that is shed, there is a reason.  For every hurt, for every plight, for every lonely pain racked night, there is a reason.  But if we trust God as we should it will turn out for our good.  He knows the reason.”  God wants us to be like the lovely butterfly, He wants us to fully develop into His own beautiful image accepting and facing our daily struggles.”

-Fr. Tom (St Mary Star of the Sea, Newport, Vermont, 2014)

Thank you, Father Tom, for your words of wisdom.  I’m passing on your blessing in hopes that it will encourage someone else in the midst of their struggles.

I’d also like to share a song that goes along beautifully with what Father Tom shared.  Take encouragement from the words of this song if you are currently in the midst of struggle and pain, and especially these words:

“When the waves are taking you under, hold on just a little bit longer.  He knows that this is gonna make you stronger.”

“Stronger” by Mandisa

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3TPq8ZSvTk

Blessings,

Lauren

 

Little By Little

Lessons From the Pineapple and the Poppy

“Fruit bearing is a beautiful process.  First there are leaves; then the flowers; then the fruit.  God provides the water from beneath and the sun from above.  Day by day the branches develop; day by day the fruit is produced.  If you are looking for instant fruitfulness, you will be disappointed.  Fruit must be cultivated.”    – Warren Wiersbe in his book, “The 5 Secrets of Living”

I have a print of poppys that was given to me by my best friend after her mother died of breast cancer.  It has traveled from home to home with our family as one of my treasured possessions.  I treasure it because Peggy’s mom, Beverly, painted it and her mom has a special place in my heart.  When we moved to Vermont, we bought a home with flowers galore.  As spring arrived and plants and flowers started to bloom for the first time I was so thankful for the beautiful flowers that kept appearing, and also frustrated with the many weeds that grew alongside of them.  One of the struggles I have always had in weeding is knowing what to pull and what not to pull.  Someone once told me that if I don’t like it, just pull it. One day, as I worked in a small bed on the side of our deck I noticed a prickly ? weed.  Though unsightly, perhaps because it was ‘different’ to me, I left it alone and forgot about it.  I’m not really sure how much time passed after that, but it was long enough that when I walked past this same flower bed some time later I was shocked to find this, my one and only poppy.  The others never had a chance to bloom because I pulled them, thinking they were weeds.

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My other story is about a pineapple.  When we lived in Guam, my neighbor was a master gardener.  She told me that I could take the top of a pineapple, put it in the ground and grow a new pineapple.  I took her advice one day and there the pineapple sat in the dirt for what seemed like forever.  When our house flooded and we had to move I went back to my old garden to see what I wanted to transplant to our new home.  The pineapple wasn’t on my list, but my friend, Cindy, later took it and planted it at her house.  A loooong time later I was visiting her home and this is what she was so excited to show me:

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I guess my point is this: Growth takes time, and it takes patience. It is so easy to desire so much of ourselves and then to place expectations on ourselves to, in our own strength, make change happen overnight.  Whether our desire is to eat better, exercise consistently, stop raising our voices at our children, start praying every day, stop eating junk, or whatever change or desire is pressing on our hearts, if we are looking for instant fruit we will be disappointed.  Most of the time (there are exceptions, praise God!) change doesn’t happen overnight, but rather one step at a time and one decision at a time.  If we tell ourselves that we’re going to change overnight, and then we don’t, or if we don’t like the ugly in ourselves that is revealed to us along the way, we’ll be tempted to give up on ourselves and the growth process that WILL yield fruit in time.  There is beauty in change and beauty through change.  Rather than setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves, let’s expect great things from God in time as we grow in relationship with Him, ask Him to show us our next step and, in faith, take it.

I want to share a little known children’s song with an amazing message.  After you click the link, play song number 3, “Little By Little.”  It’s a message not just for our children and about our children, but for us and about us as well.

http://tidido.com/a35184373620293/al55d60ab913b521ef223e5de5/t55d60aba13b521ef223e5e0a

Phillippians 1:6  (NLT) And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.