Chasing God's glory through all circumstances

2019 March

How pruning clears the path for new growth

Posted by | family life, flourishing, grief, Incourage essays, kids, self-care, Stories, Uncategorized | No Comments

I saw the most gorgeous tree the other day at my kids’ school. She stopped me in my tracks with her huge blooms that were fuchsia on the outside and blush pink on the inside. Just a few weeks ago, this very tree was naked, seemingly dead and dry. Now, she sang of new life and was flourishing.

We are in the throes of transition from winter to spring in Central California where I live. That means some of the trees are stark and barren, while others are bursting with colorful blooms like the one I saw on the school campus. This also signals the time when fruit trees, roses, and vines must be pruned.

One of my dear friends lives on a property in a town about thirty minutes from my house. She and her husband have 2.5 acres with an extensive organic garden and a small grove of fruit trees, including peaches, nectarines, and plums.

Mary taught me a little about pruning. When she and her husband prune their fruit trees, they have three goals:

1) cut back all the branches to instigate growth,
2) trim excess smaller branches that steal nutrients from the main branches,
3) cut the lower branches to train the tree to grow upward and outward.

When Mary explained this about pruning, I couldn’t help thinking about one of my favorite passages in Scripture when Jesus talks about the concept of pruning. He says,

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
John 15:1-2 (NIV)

These verses do not say to cut back just the dead and sinful branches. Jesus says every branch must be pruned for the purpose of greater growth. If we apply the same principles of pruning to our own lives, it means we have to consider cutting back all our branches or commitments.

In our culture, it’s so easy to say yes to too many activities, too many good things, too much busyness. The hardest part for me is choosing what to cut back. I have to open my hands before the Master Gardener and ask Him if there is anything that needs to be removed, trimmed, or shaped in each new season.

After my husband’s death in 2014, I felt like God was asking me to step back from working with the non-profit organization we had started in Haiti. This was a difficult decision for me because I had been serving there for many years with my late husband. I had nurtured deep friendships and felt a strong sense of identity within that ministry.

God asked me to lay down my pride and empower others to step into leadership of the organization. This required courage and vulnerability, but I knew it was the right decision. I needed to make space for grief and be present for my three daughters in their grief journey.

In other seasons, Jesus has prompted me to step away from leadership roles or commitments that were taking too much time. He wanted me to choose margin and rest. This past fall, my daughters were starting at a new school. Our family started attending a new church. It was also a busy time for my new husband in his job. As much as I was eager to jump into new opportunities, God asked me to prune back my involvement in volunteering at church and attending Bible study.

I needed space and silence to listen to where God might be leading me in this new season. This also afforded me more quality time with my family to help them through their transitions.

Every new season is an invitation to reevaluate and prune our lives for greater growth. And in a pruning season, it is critical to abide in Jesus.

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
John 15:5 (ESV)

That word abide means “to dwell or remain.” In this verse, Jesus invites us to sit down and spend time with Him so He can root us. He reminds us that apart from Him we can do nothing. We have to hand over the pruning shears and our control to Jesus.

Pruning is often painful. Jesus understands pain and suffering, and that’s why He’s the perfect person to walk with us through that process.

Pruning can also bring grief. Sometimes we need to give ourselves permission to grieve what we are stepping away from or losing. Christ offers comfort and peace when we lean into Him.

Pruning requires courage. It’s hard to say no to good things. It’s difficult to step away from groups and commitments that have been meaningful in a certain season of our lives. It’s a challenge to pivot away from something that was our passion or made us feel successful. Jesus serves up strength and provides confidence when we dwell with Him.

Friend, let me encourage you to embrace the pruning today. Let’s trust the Master Gardener who cares deeply about each one of us and also sees the big picture of His garden.

What do you need to prune in this present season
to make room for Jesus and new growth?

 

*Dorina has written more about pruning and how God has designed each of us to flourish in her Bible study, Flourishing Together: Cultivating a Fruitful Life in Christ. Details here.

 

Book review: Taste and See

Posted by | abundance, book reviews, cooking, food stories, friendship, world travel | No Comments

For more than 8 years, my husband and I hosted a Cooking Club at our home for 10 couples. We gathered monthly to try out recipes across various themes. Whether it was rolling fresh Italian pastas, hovering over salmon on the grill on a blazing summer day, or reading a detailed recipe for some French delight we couldn’t pronounce, it was always an adventure.

We discovered exotic spice blends like berbere and curry. We learned the nuances of working with phyllo dough and puff pastry. We also tried out a whole myriad of cooking gadgets.

There was something magical about inviting people into my kitchen to prepare food and gather at the table to eat our creations and do the dishes together. Through the years, we swapped stories, celebrated births, mourned deaths, dished about parenting, dug through political topics, and grappled with our faith together.

In those years, I discovered that food was my love language. I love to gather my people in the kitchen and at my table. My favorite way to love on others is to bring them a meal when they are on bedrest or to arrange a meal list after a new baby is born.

I know I’m not alone. I’ve met other people along my life journey who share this love – not just for eating, but for connecting deeply over food.

In her new book, Taste and See: Discovering God Among Butchers, Bakers, and Fresh Food Makers, Margaret Feinberg points out that God was the original foodie. He handcrafted humanity to need food and designed a plethora of delectable options for us to choose from.

Taste and See is a culinary adventure, a food memoir, and a spiritual journey. The premise of the book is that food plays a significant role in helping us taste and see God’s goodness in our lives. This book is an invitation to the global table (with recipes included!)

Needless to say, I was quick to RSVP yes to this invitation.

Margaret presents food as not merely functional for survival, but also as a source of deep pleasure and a vehicle for building community. She unpacks how food is both sacred and symbolic, playing a prominent role in the most spiritually-significant moments throughout the Bible.

“When we gather to eat, God wants to nourish more than our bodies: he wants to nourish our souls with transcendent joy and supernatural community and divine presence,” writes Margaret. “When we feed our physical appetites in community, we open our hearts for God to feed something deeper as well.”

Taste and See is divided into 8 parts, focusing on 6 types of foods that are abundant in the Scriptures. Through Margaret’s descriptive prose, we learn about fish, figs, bread, sea salt, olives and lamb chops. I love how this book offers us a new lens to view the Bible.

Margaret takes readers from a fishing expedition on the Sea of Galilee to a fig orchard in Madera, California (which, by the way, is practically in my own backyard). She invites us to mix dough for matzo bread with a professor at Yale university and to harvest olives with a family in Croatia.

One of my favorite tidbits Margaret reveals is that the fig tree will continue to produce fruit for eighty to a hundred years after it is planted.

“That’s Christ’s vision for us,” she writes “that we will continue to yield the fruit of Christlikeness and find our satisfaction in him long after gray hairs sprout and crow’s feet nestle near our eyes.”

This is just one example of how this book takes us from the savory to the sacred.

The book concludes with an invitation to a Passover feast enjoyed at a table in the Holy Land. Margaret helps us taste each intentionally-prepared bite of the seder, the ceremonial dinner that commemorates the freeing of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery.

These words speak life to my foodie heart: “God is waiting around every table, in every pantry, in every backyard garden. You just need some fresh ingredients, some time, and a friend or two.”

 

*I regularly recommend and give away books to my Glorygram subscribers. Join my tribe here

**I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to amazon.com. There is no additional cost to readers.

 

What to do when you’re not “joyful in hope”

Posted by | book reviews, hope, sharing faith, Stories, struggle | No Comments

I met Shauna through the online writing community I am a part of called Hope*writers. I had the opportunity to read her first book, Remarkable Faith, and write a book review on it. Her writing captivated my imagination as she illuminated stories from the Bible with cultural context and details. I am honored to invite Shauna as a guest on my blog today. She is sharing on a topic dear to my heart – hope.

***

Guest post by Shauna Letellier

When I wrote my first book, Remarkable Faith, I felt like I had made a pioneer discovery. I saw a pattern in the gospels that demonstrated a biblical truth, and I wanted to share it with everyone. Like a child wide-eyed over a fossil dug from a backyard sandbox, the matter of faith as dependence rather than performance had always been there. But I was just discovering the vivid illustrations in the people Jesus met.

Writing my second book, Remarkable Hope, was more of an investigation. Not so much, “Hey! Look what I found!” but more “I wonder why that is?”

The apostle Paul wrote to his friends in Rome, “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12: 12). Faithful in prayer and patient in affliction, I understood. Keep praying and trust God in the hard times. But “joyful in hope” struck a dissonant chord, like a toddler banging on the bottom three keys of a piano.

If we’re called to be joyful in hope, I wondered why I inwardly rolled my eyes when I said, “I hope so.” Hope sounded more sarcastic than joyful. “I hope so” felt like ineffective fairy dust sprinkled on an impossibility.

I went to my Bible to discover true hope, to learn from the folks who saw Jesus face-to-face and still experienced severe disappointment, even despair. It didn’t seem to harmonize.

My own usage of the word “hope” was throwing me off. My definition was the eye-rolling, doubt-filled sarcastic verb I had been employing.

I hope I don’t get sick.

I hope we make it on time.

I hope it doesn’t rain.

Much of the time I ended up wet, late, and sneezing. In my mind, hope was more akin to doubt than joy.

But biblical hope, the kind written about by Paul, Peter, and John is active waiting for a good future you can count on. Its fulfillment is not predicated on weather or timing or health. It is held in place by Jesus’ finished work for us. His timing, purposes, and plans are sometimes confounding and, in our minds, disappointing.

Even people in the gospels—who met Jesus, who ate with him and hosted him in their synagogues—even they experienced differing degrees of disappointment. But after studying eight of those people, I can confidently declare with the apostle Paul that “our hope does not disappoint us.” (Romans 5:5)

Remarkable Hope: When Jesus Revived Hope in Disappointed People, is the result of that study and reflection. It retells the stories of eight hopeful people in the Bible who appeared—at first—to be disappointed by Jesus. Their stories reveal a pattern of being surprised by him in drastic ways. As we observe Christ’s faithful commitment to them, we will be wowed by his unseen plan and revived by his enduring presence.

With unexpected methods and surprising gifts, Jesus transforms disappointment into the certainty of remarkable hope. Not only for them, but for us too.

 

Shauna Letellier is the author of Remarkable Hope: When Jesus Revived Hope in Disappointed People. Drawing upon her degree in Biblical Studies, she weaves strands of history, theology, and fictional detail into a fresh retelling of familiar Bible stories in her books and on her blog. With her husband Kurt, she has the wild and hilarious privilege of raising three boys along the banks of the Missouri River where they fish, swim, and rush off to ball games.

{This article was first published at www.shaunaletellier.com and is republished here with permission.}

**I’m giving away a copy of Remarkable Hope, which releases on March 5, 2019. Simply subscribe here for my weekly Glorygram newsletter and you will be added to the giveaway drawing. A winner will be announced on Friday, March 29, 2019.