Challenge 80: Water Your Garden

Flowers make me happy. Seeing them, smelling them and touching them excite my insides and make me smile. This has been the case since I was a little girl. Most neighbors on my block didn’t have flowers in garden beds or pots, but more than a few had lilac bushes, and we had one in our own backyard. I would pick and sniff the bouquets throughout the day between bouts of picking the petals in the little girl quiz of “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not” to determine if my crush indeed loved me too.

The lilac bush was the ONLY pretty thing in nature around our house because it was there when my parents bought the house. My mother was not domestic at all: Cleaning; cooking; nor crafting was her thing, and there was no reason for her to test external home skills by trying to plant some flowers. Though I cook and can clean well based on what she taught me, my interest in cultivating plants didn’t come from her. I learned from my grandmothers. My mom and dad’s mom both planted petunias and watered them daily, and the flowers grew large and pungent scents. After my husband, Flynn, and I bought our house, I wanted the beauty of flowers and feeling they bring, so Granny, Flynn’s grandmother, created flower beds complete with pavers, bought and planted flowers, and demonstrated and explained to me everything she did. I remember what she taught me, including the need to water plants daily in 80 plus degree weather. Though I learned well, I have not applied well these lessons this year.

This year I have two flower pots with mismatched flowers (I got one set from my neighbor) when I usually have five well-crafted flower pots and beds. And the flowers are only surviving from the rains we have every few days. The plants are yet holding on, but they could be thriving if I took a few minutes to water and fertilize them. A few minutes a day to water and another few minutes every few weeks to fertilize them would sustain their lives where their beauty and scents would always be prevalent. To get them to where they need to be doesn’t take much. But the question is, “Do I really like the look and smell of flowers as much as I say I do?” If I like the look and smell, why won’t I do what’s necessary to cultivate the look and smell for my benefit and the benefit of my neighbors?” Of course we can ask ourselves the same thing when we aren’t doing something to nourish what we claim to love.

Why won’t we make that green smoothie to develop the body we love? Why won’t we make that call to show that friend we care? Why won’t we study the Bible to grow in our knowledge of God? Why won’t we pray to grow in our intimacy with God? You know I could go on with all the questions to inquire about why we haven’t watered our various gardens, but I need you to ask yourself your own questions. You need to know what is keeping you from the few minutes daily and more intense times periodically to water your gardens. It is disingenuous to say we love something but don’t show that we love something. We know love when we see love, and we know that love is happening because some action is happening. We know when someone has taken the time to nurture something. Let’s strive to be that person who, when people see us, they know we have well-watered gardens. They know we have taken time to care for our bodies; they know we have taken time to invest in relationships; they know we have taken time to strengthen our spirits; they know that we often encounter God.

“Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God” (Ephesians 5:2 NLT).

Just as Jesus died because He loved us and His bodily sacrifice was “a pleasing aroma to God,” let us love ourselves and others so radically that we, like my well-cultivated flowers are to me, are a wonderful smell for God and the watching world.

Challenge 76: Fight Wickedness

Human Trafficking

Sin can be overwhelming, mine and the whole reckless world that only cares about self-satisfaction, fleshy needs that make the body feel good and line personal pockets at the expense of anyone, everyone, who can fulfill their desires. Some days the weight of this ugliness, this wretchedness falls heavy on me and I find myself wanting to lie down, pull up the covers and hide. But there’s no hiding from self and the world that grows more wicked by the minute and counts on people who care about folks being oppressed for their benefit simply rolling over and letting them flow in their wickedness.

But God commands His people to “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17) and we know that Jesus, whose hands and feet we are, came “to preach the gospel to the poor. . . .to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised…”

So I challenge you, like I have challenged myself today, to get actively involved (if you haven’t already) in actions that end wicked practices, like the global problems of human trafficking and modern-day slavery. One my friends, upon reading about the still missing 234 school girls in Nigeria who were kidnapped two weeks ago, said on Facebook, “Can someone recommend what else can be done outside of raising awareness about this travesty? These young ladies are no doubt being trafficked and abused. Feeling helpless.” So I suggest the following:

Read the blog series “Refuse to Do Nothing,” by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson, based on the book by the same name with the subtitle ‘Finding the Power to End Modern-Day Slavery,’ by Shayne Moore and Kimberly McOwen Yim.
Contact Minetta Hare or Sabrina Black to join forces with their work against human trafficking
Pray Psalms 10 and 82
Believe the Lord to move on our behalf (Psalm 73, 145:20)

We can never roll over and disconnect from what’s happening around us. We have the greatest power in the universe living on the inside of us. Let’s fight this battle in the spirit and see God’s power manifest through us. Fighting wickedness is undoubtedly a radical act of love.

Challenge 71: Confront for Forgiveness’ Sake

This weekend I rose to the challenge. Not a challenge from my husband to do something around the house, not a challenge from a friend to conquer some long-time feat but a challenge from the Lord to carry out His word to reconcile a relationship. My friend and I weren’t estranged but there was a conflict, an issue that she had with my way of parenting, and though she never came to me directly I knew she had an issue. Her issue seeped out in conversations, and I wanted to shout “Say what you really want to say, why don’t you!?” But that would have been immature, attacking, and asking for a bigger problem that didn’t have to be. It would have also been easy for me to say, “She’s the one with a problem with me; she should come to me” and just wait for that to happen. But sometimes this won’t happen, even though it should.

And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1Thessalonians 5:14—NIV). Though the first command says to “warn those who are idle,” my friend, who thought my husband and I don’t provide my eldest with enough structure to combat his lack of diligence, wasn’t going to warn me of our idleness because “I didn’t want to offend you. Parenting is a touchy subject.” Because I know my friend doesn’t like confrontation, I knew I had to confront her. Even though she abdicated her responsibility, I, too, had a responsibility to fulfill.

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24—ESV).

The offering referred to here is the burnt offering, the one regulated in the Old Testament to be offered to atone for the sin of the one bringing the offering. So for the New Testament believer, this verse is saying that God will not receive you to forgive you if you know someone has something against you and you haven’t sought reconciliation with that person. So though my friend should have come to me, I was still obligated to go to her. Going to her was good for my emotional and spiritual health, and confronting those who should, but don’t, confront you is good for your emotional and spiritual health too.

Remember, we don’t just get to abort people or think they don’t deserve our love. God’s love demands that we confront them for our sake and theirs. When we confront them, we position ourselves for God to forgive us and we allow them to follow God’s command to confront (also see Matthew 18:15-35). Reconciliation with man is the way to proper fellowship with God.

Take a Risk Challenge: With grace confront someone that you know has a problem with you but has avoided confronting you. The results of reconciliation and fellowship with God come from confrontation, truly a radical act of love.

Challenge 30: Love Unconditionally

angry couple

Couple after couple sits, stupefied, unsure why they kept bumping into the same issues, having the same arguments, causing the same pains. They know they love each other. That’s why they got married, they say, but their actions look like those of vicious enemies out in the streets: Self seeking, list of wrongs keeping, slander slinging and the like are among the arsenal of these married couples seeking counseling and it’s simply because they don’t have unconditional love.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.—1 Corinthians 13:4-7

So one of my favorite assignments for couples who come to my husband and me for counseling and I see love violation after love violation is to have them fully embrace 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. I don’t care that they had the passage read at their wedding or the verses appeared on their wedding or reception program. I challenge them to go beyond cliché to study the passage and study themselves in light of the passage. I want them to see what they should be doing and how what they are doing is opposed to what they should be doing. I want them to take one aspect of love and intentionally practice it until it gets into their core. I want them to consistently check their actions against the actions of this scripture and make adjustments where necessary. I want them to love like the passage; I want them, I want us all, to love unconditionally.

Unconditional love (agape in the original biblical language)—is affection, goodwill, benevolence that is commanded of Christians to show toward others. This also includes giving people what they need and not what they want or what we think they deserve.

This definition can be hard to digest, but with the Holy Spirit and a proper attitude, we can fulfill it. My husband has a personal philosophy about exhibiting unconditional love that he shares with counselees. I believe his philosophy encapsulates most of the aspects of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and will help us walk in unconditional love: When your mate does something that offends you, don’t presume that your mate meant the worst for you. I know this sounds crazy if your husband’s calling you out of your name or some other egregious act directed right at you. But understand this: When you presume they meant the worst, you are likely to act YOUR worst. You will repay evil with evil and allow evil to conquer you; you won’t conquer evil by doing good, by loving unconditionally (Romans 12:17 and 21; 1 Corinthians 13:7).

This admonition is not just for married couples but for all of us in relation to others. Remember, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Of course Jesus understood that the ones who crucified Him knew they were crucifying Him, but He knew that they didn’t understand the depths of their actions. So often those who crucify us don’t know the depths of their actions. They simply respond out of emotions and don’t stop to think about all the ramifications of their actions. Like Jesus, we must believe they don’t know what they are doing and forgive them by loving them in spite of their actions.

Take a Risk Challenge: Intentionally practice one or two aspects of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 that are hard for you. Love like Jesus; love unconditionally, which is truly a radical act of love.

My One Thousand Gifts List

My sister apologizing unsolicited for not keeping up with my writing ministry and thanking me for showing her grace
Being conscious of when I have failed to breathe
Flynn leaving the Elder Board meeting that ran over so he could keep his promise to have family devotion before taking Joshua to tennis class
Family devotion and everyone participating, even Nathaniel giving a thanks for Jesus, singing ‘Jesus Loves Me’ loudly and being quiet during prayer time
Kids waking early and excited to go to church
Seeing Stephanie B.
Being able to hear the sermon and take notes without interruption
My sister, mom and nephew visiting
My nephew falling asleep on my chest
Flynn taking Joshua and Nathaniel to Joshua’s tennis lessons

Challenge 11: Rejoice and Be Glad

Merry Christmas

We have one more day before the big day, Christmas. “This is the day that the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24-ESV). Perhaps we are looking forward to rejoicing that our favorite day is here; that we get to see the children cheer from their gifts; that we get a day off; or that we get to spend time with family. Or maybe we don’t look forward to Christmas because that special loved one is gone; we didn’t have funds to buy gifts; or we just hate how worldly the day is. Whatever our beliefs we must all stop and speak, “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Though we designate December 25 to celebrate the birth of Jesus, however we feel about Christmas we must celebrate Jesus because this is the day the Lord has made and we rejoice and are glad in it because we have seen another day. And because we are alive God wants us to rejoice. He wants us to rejoice because Jesus was born to die on the cross for our sins. He paid the price so we could have eternal life. He paid the price so we can have abundant life. He gave us another day to reflect on this, to sing His praises and be more like Him. We have that chance at Christmas dinner this year. We can die to ourselves and sit next to the family member we don’t like, buy that person a gift or a card, engage in a conversation without retaliation, or simply smile when they say something crazy. We have the opportunity to remember who and what matters and to focus on Him and His great gift. Let Him fuel our attitude and actions. Christmas truly is a time to rejoice and be glad. We should let nothing get in the way of that so we truly have a Merry Christmas!

Take a Risk Challenge: Spread love to that hard to love person on Christmas. Even if you aren’t celebrating with them, give them a call or a text and express the love of Jesus to them. Jesus is the reason for ALL seasons and spreading His love is always appropriate.

My One Thousand Gifts List

My EEW family showing overwhelming support for the loss of my granddad
Seeing beauty in ashes on route to and in the neighborhood park
Sitting on the porch with Flynn and the boys eating popcorn and enjoying the weather
God reminding me that I “value people” so I don’t harm them when expressing my disappointment
Being a witness to Charyse as I’m working through my anger and disappointment
Giving Charyse wisdom that clearly came from God
Tabitha calling offering to support me in the home and with the children after thinking how nice it would be to have her help this day
My back not hurting this day because of help from Tabitha enabling me to have a stress-free day
A literary agent lauding my book proposal and telling me that it would receive the agency’s rare gold badge because of its outstanding quality
Spending intimate time with Flynn in the afternoon and early evening

Challenge 2: Encourage the Ultra Miserable

I wish he were not so much like me, at least the way I used to be, my oldest son who frets when the day’s troubled events outweigh the ones he sees as good. He whines, complains, and then, with balled fists anchored by his thighs, huffs like an angry bull determined to take revenge on those who got in his way. And the day was full of stuff and people getting in his way: slow understanding and completing of math work; basketball teammates who wouldn’t pass the ball; preschool brothers fussing and shouting and running and asking and begging; and no naps. And I understand his frustration: my laundry’s half done, the entire house half clean and preschool sons rose earlier than expected, fussing and shouting and running and asking and begging; and no naps. But I chose to look toward the joy set before me—bedtime, a time God has prepared for me to unwind. And I laugh to help me stay sane before my rest comes, knowing laughter does the heart good like medicine and I need a constant cure for the unrelenting bustle of the day.

I share my remedies with my son, whose huffing has subsided but his gloom talk remains: “Everything is wrong with me. Nothing is right. I’m always a snail” and other all-inclusive words to describe “This is the worst day ever!” The more I seek to get him to see the glass as half full he insists it’s half empty. Now he has frustrated me and I tell him that I will let him mope, I can’t cope with his pitiful self and I’m set to jet but I remember how Jesus handled Peter and his nonsense: “Satan, get thee behind me” (Matthew 16:23). He knew that Peter’s talk was coming from Satan and spoke to the person behind the one he saw. This is what I did and jolted Josh back to the reality that we all have bad days that don’t change that we are still fearfully and wonderfully made, that our gifts and calling are irrevocable and joy comes in the morning. So we meditated and praised our way to the truth. Now when he tries to return to that dark place, he has what it takes to light his way.

Take a Risk Challenge: Encourage someone who is ultra miserable by helping them see what God’s word has to say about them. Bearing with them truly is a radical act of love.

My One Thousand Gifts List

Deciding to use the quiet time to cook instead of using it all to veg out
Watching Justus in Flynn’s arm and eating Flynn’s dinner
Justus sleeping through the night for a week straight and going to bed most nights without nursing
Justus hugging Nate to comfort him
Karen saying how much she loved my Cooking with Rhonda video
Vince being so selfless in helping me download my cooking video
Hearing God agree that “I can’t do this” and that was my issue—counting on my strength
Tabitha arriving earlier than expected
Not fretting over what to wear to speak at L.I.F.T.
Not worrying about not being able to practice my message again