Bougainbiscus, Butterflies, Silly Songs and Jesus Loves Me

He shows up where and when I don’t expect Him!

It turned out to be just Sandy and me  yesterday, off to “hike” (definition: walking leisurely, talking about the Lord, and interacting with docents and people on the trails) at the botanical gardens and then the zoo, taking advantage of our respective memberships. We walked unintentional circles at the garden, enjoying some funny pumpkin “sculptures” like the poor guy painfully covered in cholla and a couple of gourd-os sitting at a logs only  campfire  toasting s’mores. One of the docents who struck up a conversation with us didn’t even know  the pumpkins were there, so we pointed her to, it turned out, the tail end of the pumpkin walk.

In our conversation there I shared a possibly too true insight a friend made in a Bible study group several years ago. He suspected one of the things that went unobserved and unwritten about all the times Jesus went off by himself to pray was (no disrespect intended) Jesus slapping himself on the forehead and crying out, “Oy vey,  these yutzes! Father, how am I supposed to work with these yutzes??!!” The fact that we’d steered the docent in the wrong direction only emphasized the likelihood of the Lord’s possible prayer …..

We  passed a beautiful red-flowered plant unknown to either Sandy or me. It looked like a cross between a Bougainvillea and a hibiscus, and though I don’t remember it’s scientific name, we decided it must be a bougainbiscus.  We listened to another docent manning a table of blooms, and he pointed us in the right direction to go see the butterfly pavilion, which was wonderful. Fluttering, flitting beautiful wings were all around us, and I state publicly that the fact it  takes four generations of monarch butterflies to make the round-trip migratory journey, and the great-grandparents of the returning lepidoptera aren’t around to tell their great-grandoptera where “home” is, clearly tells me there IS a Creator,Intelligent Designer, and Architect of all the wonders in the world. We wandered around trying to find our way out of the wildflower loop and drove down the road to the zoo.

More natural wonders awaited us on trails there: Komodo dragons, whose bite is venomous, so all they have to do is bite their prey  and wait for it to die; orangutans strong  enough to rip your arm off, but who spend their lives in the wild high up in trees and make “nests” in the  branches for sleeping; giraffes, and enough said about their incredible design. I truly enjoyed my two years of  working at the real zoo, after thirteen years of  substitute teaching in a very different ”zoo” setting. We encountered Hannah, one of Sandy’s friends from her church who works at the zoo while she’s attending seminary,  and since  she was being trained to drive  the  train (yes, pun intended) I told her about the songs I wrote for about ten animals the train passes. She said she’s be glad for me to send them to her.

We bought sandwiches for lunch, sat down on the benches around a shaded table, and continued sharing about some of the”God-incidences” in our lives., when an older woman pushing a young child in a stroller politely asked if she could shar our table, and we replied we were happy to share the shade.Since I know personally about the early childhood programs there, I asked if the boy was her grandson, and then told her about the wonderful breakfast programs that are an adult’s “ticket” to get up close to  some  of the animals in the zoo’s collection. I asked Paul, who’sfour, if I could sing a song for him, and commenced into, ”Keep rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ in your muddy hole ’n’  keep your body rollin,’ warthog ….” to a tune only older adults always laughed at.

Being a bit humorous and silly seems to break the ice. Noting the cross necklace the grandma wore, I asked,”Are you a Believer?”

“Believer in what?” she replied.

I held up my own cross necklace and said,”In this.”

“I sure am!” she smiled, and a new door opened up for us to share about our  faith. Even though we are in different denominations, Jesus’ sarificial death on the cross – God Himself paying the horrendous penalty for humanity’s rebellion against God’s Holy authority and Righteousness AND love for us all – unites Christians of every “flavor.” So together we said the opening line, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible  tells me so!”

And here’s what it says:

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Romans 3:23

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 6:23

BUT “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

And expanding on Romans:23 “Forallhave sinnedandfall short of the glory of God, AND  ARE JUSTIFIED FREELY BY HIS GRACE through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate His justice, because in His forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – He (God) did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have  faith in Jesus.” Romans 3”23-26

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.  Romans 5: 5-11 NIV

God is Just, AND God is Love. Neither cancels the other. Only one unites them both perfectly: Jesus,Y’shua, however you say his name in your language. Jesus said:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” Matthew 23:23 And after a long passage of “Woes,” Jesus cried out to Jerusalem with fierce love and longing to  bring everyone there into his loving, sheltering arms.

It’s BOTH Justice AND Mercy, in one perfect person to satisfy both. And how utterly amazing, relentless, selfless, pure and passionate is the heart of God who Himself teaches, leads, forgives, heals, bleeds, rises from death, justifies and redeems us!

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace  with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need… because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God  through him, because he  always lives to intercede for them. Hebrews 4:15-16, 7: 24-25 NIV

In Jesus we can drop the censure we hear and feel from ourselves and from others, and become, in praising and thanking God for his incredible gift of love, the incense in the censer held by our Great High Priest Jesus, rising up in a fragrant offering to the One who makes us pure, loved, and joyfully pleasing to God.

The pumpkins and butterflies and orangutans  and squirrel monkeys were fun, but sharing with “Mimi” and little Paul was pure joy!

My/your/our takeaway?  Jesus is wherever I/you/we go, and all I/you/we need to do is be open to him walking, sitting, driving, golfing, working, eating. being with us to share him with others.  That’s HIS joy! Behold what manner of love the Father has given us, that we should be called the children of God! And when Jesus drops into my life with connections like this, I feel the intense, outrageous love  that he IS! Love alive, love present, love embracing, love forgiving (oy vey!) and love overcoming.

a”…BUT…” to pray today: Father God, loving Lord jesus, sometimes I  don’t  sense your love for me. Sometimes I feel all too much my “yutz-ness” and all I sense is the censure of others, BUT you promise that your love never fails and you will never, ever leave me, ,so I’m asking you to show me your love, and you get to decide how, when and where. Feel welcomed into my life to surprise me,  Jesus! In your name I pray, and Holy Spirit, I’m listening, waiting AND watching __________________________________________________________

 

 

 

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This bears repeating: The Tree Swing

Ruth's Blessing

Grandma Ruth Miner,  and boy, did she  spread the love around on us!

Autumn and apple trees: caramel apples, bobbing for apples, apple pie all are practically synonymous with fall in temperate lands. But an apple tree holds a deeper meaning for me now.  Out behind the bedrooms of their tiny house,  in my Grandma Ruth’s backyard, stood a wonderfully full and tall apple tree. I can still remember the smell of green apples wafting in through the open window as I lay in the big old double bed with such a hollow in the center of the mattress  that I had to hold on to the sides of the bed to keep from rolling onto my younger sister. The best thing about the apple tree, though, was the rope swing with a board seat that hung from the thick lowest  branch. I loved to swing –  and in all honesty, I still do.  That’s why something the Holy Spirit gave me several years ago at the beginning of a long journey of loss is so precious to me.

Charity, the daughter of my dear friend Sharon, “took” us both on a “walk through the Father’s house” in a meditative inward reflection. The idea was to imagine you were in God’s house looking for Jesus. No way was I going to conjure up something from my own imagination; I wanted the Spirit to lead my thinking, or,I inwardly purposed, I would have no thoughts at all. Sharon was seeing a huge house with marble floors, gilded furniture, beautiful paintings; I imagined something like the Clampett’s mansion from the old TV show “The Beverly Hillbillies,” but the house I saw had no furniture at all, and I felt very strongly that I was looking in the wrong place. Up the stairs I wandered in my imagination, but no Jesus. Sharon was out in a beautiful rose garden, then saw a stream filled with beautiful jewels. Heaving a sigh, I decided to follow my first inclination and go out the back door, which turned out to be the faded green wooden screen door of my Grandma Miner’s house. The next thing I sensed was me sitting on the old board swing, and somebody was pushing me. Up into the branches I swung as whoever was pushing me did a run-under – something my own sons called an “Underdog,” and I flew even higher, brushing green leaves with my toes.

I went on in my imagination to sit by the edge of my Grandma’s garden with Jesus, but the imagery of the apple tree stuck with me, so tender and personal.  Two months or so later I was reading the Bible in my morning devotions, curled up  sitting sideways in my favorite wing chair. Yes, guilty as charged, there is still a core of childhood in me and a bit of tomboy lingering from the close relationship I had with my older brother Dave. But there is grown woman in me enough that my heart raced as I read a passage from Song of Songs 2:3. The beloved speaks about her lover: Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my lover among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade . . . .  I drew in an astonished breath remembering Jesus pushing me on the swing under my Grandma’s apple tree.  I know it’s debatable what sort of fruit tree the original Hebrew in that verse refers to, but to my heart, apple tree meant apple tree and the tenderness of a Savior who doesn’t discount or take lightly or dismiss as childish the things He knows touch our hearts so deeply, individually. I should say child-like rather than childish, and what could come more from the Father’s heart than something that delights his child?  At the same time, Song of Songs is a deeply passionate love story. Who loves us more passionately and fervently than Jesus?

Three years later I mentioned this experience on my Grandma Ruth’s swing in a morning devotional message at a women’s retreat.  I was amazed and humbled beyond words when one woman said during our closing circle, “I came hoping for God’s Spirit to move or speak in my life. It didn’t happen Friday night. It didn’t happen on Saturday. it didn’t happen until this morning when I heard the words “my grandmother’s swing.’” Jesus, you did it again: connected something so intimate in my life with something so personal in another’s! It isn’t just my heart you know; you know every heart in unique loving detail. Scandalous love!

My musings continued as I remembered my younger son  telling his Grandma, my mother, that he was going to take apple seeds with him to Heaven when he died so he could plant an apple tree there for her. My mother had such an intolerance to sugar that even eating the fructose in an apple would give her a migraine headache. Ethan knew she’d have no headaches in Heaven and knew how much she missed the sweet crunch of a ripe apple.

Will there be apple trees in Heaven? I don’t know. If Ethan has any say in things, there will be for Grandma. I do I know there are trees in Heaven: the tree the apostle John saw and related to us in Revelation 22:1-2:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

I know those trees – because, tomboy that I still am, I climbed a tree with Jesus that morning and realized with a sudden flash of insight just what tree we were sitting in. I realized just as quickly what tree we all stand at the foot of for our healing: the cross of Calvary. 1 Peter 2:24: He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds we are healed.

I suspect it’s no coincidence that I feel such healing love when I remember sitting on the swing under that apple tree. What kind of god from any story of mythology, from any other faith, exudes such passionately personal love as the One God made flesh in Jesus, offered up willingly out of the greatest heart that beats at the center of all creation, for all of His creation? My heart, still so broken for my human beloved, finds healing from the Lover of my Soul under the tree.

A “. . . BUT . . . ” to move:  Jesus, people disappoint me, even betray my deepest trust and confidence. I betray myself sometimes and disappoint others, BUT your love for me is so intimate, so tender, so powerful, so profound, that I fall to my knees in humbled wonder saying ______________________________________________. Take me to that secret, special place you share in my heart, and I share in yours: _________________________________.

A Smidge of Midge

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This would likely be a Midge-ism too

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I’ve probably known Midge since 1992 or so, when she almost certainly  became the favorite “Aunt” figure of every woman at the Joy women’s retreats. Midge worked for a Christian publishing company as a representative, and boy, did she have the stories to tell when she spoke on Friday nights or Saturdays, giving a short devotional talk before our sessions that moved us every time. Midge’s voice was and is warm with a twinkle, gathering you into what you knew must be a great secret she was about to share with you. I still remember, though the details are sketchy so many years later, Midge talking about walking one day up on the Mogollon Rim in Arizona and the eagle she suddenly saw flying high above her, a sign from the Lord she loves that He was with her.

I don’t know how long Midge has been a widow, nor do I know how many grown men look to her as a truly loving Mother/Grandmother figure who very likely touched and turned their lives around while they were incarcerated in the city jail. That’s no doubt where Midge’s humor, common sense, and deeply faith-filled light shone the most brightly, as light does in the midst of darkness.

I thought of tiny Midge going into the jail, sharing her faith with criminals, and I was amazed. She went where we suburbia-chained girls feared to tread. Oh, we’d make up food baskets for the needy, sew clothing for orphans in other countries, but GO THERE? Go to the homeless, the hungry, the dirty, the war-torn, the drug addict, the time-serving burglar or grand theft auto thief? No, no, no, that was for trained seminarians and counselors, not for us clean-living ladies. But hmmm…….

…. Where did Jesus go?  I honestly admit it took tragedy in my own life to help me accurately answer that question by driving me into the arms of Abba God when nothing I could do could change my circumstances. The ocean of love I found there, passionate, fiery, giving, relentlessly forgiving, gave me new eyes to see others, I hope,  as Jesus sees them, and the weird thing is, that takes away your fear of the “differences” between you and them and closes the distance between you.

Midge, you inspired me! You are one fearless lady, powered by the love of God, and you showed me that age is no definer of purpose; God’s purposes throw off the “be sensible” constraints of “age.”

“Listen to Me, O house of Jacob,
And all the remnant of the house of Israel,
You who have been borne by Me from birth
And have been carried from the womb;

Even to your old age I will be the same,
And even to your graying years I will bear you!
I have done it, and I will carry you;
And I will bear you and I will deliver you….

Remember this, and be assured;
Recall it to mind, you transgressors.

“Remember the former things long past,
For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is no one like Me,

Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things which have not been done,
Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,
And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’ Isaiah 46: 3-4, 8-10 NIV

So gray hair doesn’t mean sidelined, benched when you’re on God’s team?  MAYBE it also doesn’t mean I’m “entitled” to simply sit on my lawn chair on the beach at Club Med and watch the waves roll in or play Bocce with buddies  in my comfortable 55+ retirement community in while people whose lives matter to God sit discouraged, angry or filled with shame in the city jail, while shoeless children have to stay home from school in my own town, while the hungry homeless sit on park benches and wonder if they matter to anyone, while kids in the neighborhood of my church flounder in school because their family can’t afford a reading tutor?

Maybe my life can still have great meaning and purpose even after I qualify for the senior coffee at McDonald’s? Maybe my life can have great meaning and purpose BECAUSE I qualify for discounts at the movie theater. I think I know where Midge would NOT want to end up

“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green ( full of sap and very green {NAS}, healthy and flourishing {KJV 2000}) , proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him” Psalm 92:12-15 NIV

I didn’t notice that punctuation until this morning. Not “like a cedar of Lebanon planted in the house of the LORD,” but “like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish ….” That sounds pretty doggone intentional to me, like maybe God meant for us to be vigorous, green, bending like young saplings when we need to, standing for God’s Truth when we need to, knowing the difference and speaking the truth always out of and in love, getting over ourselves to see others through YOUR eyes and rub shoulders and love them like YOU would. Sigh, even senior-coffee-qualifying I have been planted by the Heavenly Gardener in God’s garden in order to flourish and bear fruit even in (ugh to youth-conscious Americans) my old age.

When I interviewed for a night job at the zoo that was filled mostly by college students, I honestly offered, “I know I’m older than anyone applying for this job, but if it doesn’t bother you, it sure doesn’t bother me.” Oddly, I got along just fine with those men and women 40 years my junior, and we had fun together!

Oh, Midge, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone as vibrant as you, unless it’s your buddy and mine, Sharon, who treks off to Guatemala with those cute pillowcase dresses for girls that the suburban ladies DO make out of love and plants herself into the dust of their villages with an infectious smile on her face. Midge, you rubbed off on us!  If I call you “sappy,” I know you’d giggle your giggle and get it and be proud to be “sappy” for Jesus!  Midge, Sharon, can I join your club? And hey you out there, the one with the cheap cup of coffee in your hand while you’re reading this, ask God if it’s time for you to be “sappy” for Him somewhere you didn’t imagine.  And hey you out there, young person, can you take a new look at those “sappy” old people you’ve been praying it will take you a LOOONG time to look like, and commit to God’s “sappy” purpose for your life right now?

I want a smidge of Midge in me forever! (And yes, I held snakes,cockroaches, skinks, and nice bunnies …. who’d a thunk?)

They will still bear fruit in old age, they will be full of sap and very green ), proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him…. For I am (HE is!) God, and there is no other; I am (HE is!)God, and there is no one like Me (HIM!), declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My (GOD’s!) purpose will be established (in YOU), and I will accomplish all My good pleasure (IN  AND THROUGH YOU!)’ the Rose Paraphrased Version

A “…BUT…” to pray: God, I know I’m __________________________ years old and not getting any younger, BUT that doesn’t mean my life is pointless. Right now put a “smidge of Midge” in me and point me to Your purposes for me, wherever and with whomever you plan to plant me, maybe ________________________________ to be “sappy” for Your Kingdom reasons! In Jesus’ name, and Holy Spirit, I’m listening _____________________________________________

 

 

Long-Distance Love

Long-distance grandparenting – ouch! Sadly it’s the norm for many families today.

Some families move across town, some across the country, and some across the globe.

Our only two grandchildren live literally on the other side of the world. Our son and daughter-in-law work for a non-profit humanitarian agency whose home leave policy is three months at home for every year on the field. Most families in their agency save up leave to come home for an entire school year. For us that year was last year, ten months packed with intentionally made memories large and small, from camping at the Grand Canyon to geocaching in the parking lot of our neighborhood drugstore to just plain babysitting so our son and daughter-in-law could have real “date nights,” a hard-to-come-by commodity when they were on the field.

So much fun meant so much heartache saying good-bye. Though our grandchildren were only three and six, they knew they were going back to another far-away country and culture. The anxiety of leaving family spilled out of our grandson’s heart, eyes and conversations during the final month of their home visit: “Grandma, I wish we could stay here with someone until Mommy and Daddy are finished with the work they have to do.”

“You can stay with us!” my heart cried silently, protesting the words coming out of my mouth, “I know, but you’d miss Daddy and Mommy. I’m sure your friends there have missed you, too, and can’t wait to see you again!” Over my heart’s objections, true love told me I needed to do something to help our grandkids make the transition, so through my tears I wrote a poem – with a bow to Dr. Seuss – to tuck into their carry-on bags along with toys and treats for their 32-hour journey – a fun surprise for them and therapy for a grieving Grandma’s heart!

I’ve been blessed to visit them three times since, to see where they live and share in some of their adventures and favorite places in the towns they’ve lived in. I am so proud of my son and daughter-in-law for providing love, grace, shared faith, strength and the stability of love for both of these kids we share in family love, wherever they are!

back on good bed at Suan Bua

Home is Where the Love Is

On the grandkids’ moving day, they were scared to move away,

So Grandma called them on the phone to say, “You’ll never be alone.”

“No matter where the road may wind you, know my love will always find you.

If you move to Timbuktu, I’ll still come visit you.

If you fly to Zanzibar, my heart won’t think that is too far.

If you’re as close as Nacogdoches, I’ll come hug you so ferocious!”

“If you wake up in Jingxi, you both mean the world to me.

Take the bus back to Nanning?  Call on the computer and we can sing.

I’ll send you packages in Key Largo, even though it’s farther than Fargo.

If you drive to Jodrell Bank, my love will fully fill your tank.

If you stop in Honolulu, my love won’t stop; it will pursue you!”

“Ride a camel to Kyrgyzstan, and I’ll still be your biggest fan!

If you get hot in Madagascar, Gram still thinks you’re cool – just ask her!

Sail a boat to Truk or Yap? My heart won’t even need a map.

Cruise the Strait of Kattegat? My heart always knows where you’re at.

Stuff your backpack for Hong Kong? You’re carrying my heart along.

Forget you in Ulaanbaatar? No way!  My thoughts are where you are!”

“Across the globe while you are sleeping, I’m awake; you’re in love’s keeping.

When I sleep and you’re at play, your hearts are just a dream away.

Around the world we’ll rendezvous because I think the world of you!

It’s true, no matter where you dwell, your Grandma loves YOU. Can’t you tell?

From east to west, Cape Town to Nome, where family love is, there is home.”

Under the Tree

Autumn and apple trees: caramel apples, bobbing for apples, apple pie all are practically synonymous with fall in temperate lands. But an apple tree holds a deeper meaning for me now.  Out behind the bedrooms of their tiny house,  in my Grandma Ruth’s backyard, stood a wonderfully full and tall apple tree. I can still remember the smell of green apples wafting in through the open window as I lay in the big old double bed with such a hollow in the center of the mattress  that I had to hold on to the sides of the bed to keep from rolling onto my younger sister. The best thing about the apple tree, though, was the rope swing with a board seat that hung from the thick lowest  branch. I loved to swing –  and in all honesty, I still do.  That’s why something the Holy Spirit gave me several years ago at the beginning of a long journey of loss is so precious to me.

Charity, the daughter of my dear friend Sharon, “took” us both on a “walk through the Father’s house” in a meditative inward reflection. The idea was to imagine you were in God’s house looking for Jesus. No way was I going to conjure up something from my own imagination; I wanted the Spirit to lead my thinking, or,I inwardly purposed, I would have no thoughts at all. Sharon was seeing a huge house with marble floors, gilded furniture, beautiful paintings; I imagined something like the Clampett’s mansion from the old TV show “The Beverly Hillbillies,” but the house I saw had no furniture at all, and I felt very strongly that I was looking in the wrong place. Up the stairs I wandered in my imagination, but no Jesus. Sharon was out in a beautiful rose garden, then saw a stream filled with beautiful jewels. Heaving a sigh, I decided to follow my first inclination and go out the back door, which turned out to be the faded green wooden screen door of my Grandma Miner’s house. The next thing I sensed was me sitting on the old board swing, and somebody was pushing me. Up into the branches I swung as whoever was pushing me did a run-under – something my own sons called an “Underdog,” and I flew even higher, brushing green leaves with my toes.

I went on in my imagination to sit by the edge of my Grandma’s garden with Jesus, but the imagery of the apple tree stuck with me, so tender and personal.  Two months or so later I was reading the Bible in my morning devotions, curled up  sitting sideways in my favorite wing chair. Yes, guilty as charged, there is still a core of childhood in me and a bit of tomboy lingering from the close relationship I had with my older brother Dave. But there is grown woman in me enough that my heart raced as I read a passage from Song of Songs 2:3. The beloved speaks about her lover: Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my lover among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade . . . .  I drew in an astonished breath remembering Jesus pushing me on the swing under my Grandma’s apple tree.  I know it’s debatable what sort of fruit tree the original Hebrew in that verse refers to, but to my heart, apple tree meant apple tree and the tenderness of a Savior who doesn’t discount or take lightly or dismiss as childish the things He knows touch our hearts so deeply, individually. I should say child-like rather than childish, and what could come more from the Father’s heart than something that delights his child?  At the same time, Song of Songs is a deeply passionate love story. Who loves us more passionately and fervently than Jesus?

Three years later I mentioned this experience on my Grandma Ruth’s swing in a morning devotional message at a women’s retreat.  I was amazed and humbled beyond words when one woman said during our closing circle, “I came hoping for God’s Spirit to move or speak in my life. It didn’t happen Friday night. It didn’t happen on Saturday. it didn’t happen until this morning when I heard the words “my grandmother’s swing.'” Jesus, you did it again: connected something so intimate in my life with something so personal in another’s! It isn’t just my heart you know; you know every heart in unique loving detail. Scandalous love!

My musings continued as I remembered my younger son  telling his Grandma, my mother, that he was going to take apple seeds with him to Heaven when he died so he could plant an apple tree there for her. My mother had such an intolerance to sugar that even eating the fructose in an apple would give her a migraine headache. Ethan knew she’d have no headaches in Heaven and knew how much she missed the sweet crunch of a ripe apple.

Will there be apple trees in Heaven? I don’t know. If Ethan has any say in things, there will be for Grandma. I do I know there are trees in Heaven: the tree the apostle John saw and related to us in Revelation 22:1-2:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

I know those trees – because, tomboy that I still am, I climbed a tree with Jesus that morning and realized with a sudden flash of insight just what tree we were sitting in. I realized just as quickly what tree we all stand at the foot of for our healing: the cross of Calvary. 1 Peter 2:24: He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds we are healed.

I suspect it’s no coincidence that I feel such healing love when I remember sitting on the swing under that apple tree. What kind of god from any story of mythology, from any other faith, exudes such passionately personal love as the One God made flesh in Jesus, offered up willingly out of the greatest heart that beats at the center of all creation, for all of His creation? My heart, still so broken for my human beloved, finds healing from the Lover of my Soul under the tree.

A “. . . BUT . . . ” to move:  Jesus, people disappoint me, even betray my deepest trust and confidence. I betray myself sometimes and disappoint others, BUT your love for me is so intimate, so tender, so powerful, so profound, that I fall to my knees in humbled wonder saying ______________________________________________. Take me to that secret, special place you share in my heart, and I share in yours: _________________________________.

Sandwich Hugs

Children speak so eloquently straight from the Spirit.  Smelling the cinnamon rolls my older son was baking for breakfast, I showered and dressed for church on Mother’s Day morning at his house. From the master bedroom I heard my six-year-old granddaughter’s invitation, “Grandma, come and cuddle!”  She’d spent the night in the big king-size bed with Daddy and Mommy so I could sleep in her bed overnight, and that’s where I found her curled up against my daughter-in-law.

Dressed or not, how could I refuse such a wonderful request? I crawled under the sheet and snuggled up next to Elsa for a big hug.

“Hey, we’re making an Elsa sandwich,” I laughed. Elsa is well acquainted with sandwich hugs, securely squished between Daddy and Mommy, and often with her brother Evan as part of the “filling.” Sandwich hugs were part of our family ritual on weekends when my boys were growing up, too.

On guided tours, night camps and during summer camps when I worked at the Zoo, we always made “instructor sandwiches” to keep the groups of children safely between us adults so no one got lost. I told the children they were the peanut butter, jelly, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, pickles, salami, onions, olives, mustard, mayonnaise – whatever they wanted to be, and they always called out plenty of disgusting combinations to make things fun. I enjoyed encouraging them because it built camaraderie between us. No, we didn’t bunch up into one big hug, and granted, the “filling” tended to ooze out the sides, but we never lost a camper when they stayed between us.

I asked Elsa what kind of filling she was, and she replied, “Cream cheese.” We put our heads together, literally, and tried to decide what Evan might be. “Jelly? Or bologna (or rather, baloney)?” I joked. We tried to figure out how to fit the entire family into one sandwich hug and decided the best “bread” to be between is God our Father and Jesus the Bread of Life.

“One day we all WILL be!” I offered. “Hmm, but what about the Holy Spirit? Are we a triple-decker sandwich? ”

“Oh, he’ll be sprinkled on top of us like poppy seeds,” Elsa smiled, “or like olive oil!”

What a hug that will make with the oil of the Holy Spirit poured out on us! And yes, I do believe in a God so intimately loving as Father that he probably can’t wait to have us all safely in his arms. I suspect that’s where we are in this life too, when we make him our Father, whether we feel it or not.

Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders.  Deuteronomy 33:12

Then Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty . . . All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.” John 6: 35-39

Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you . . . He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”  John 14: 20-21.

Do I feel lonely since I lost the man I loved? Yes, of course I do, painfully so sometimes, and I long for arms to wrap me again securely in faithful love. But till that time, and even after, I sometimes do truly feel God’s presence and always will believe the one with me is the One who reminds me, “The one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders.” He doesn’t want any of us lost.

I call that a hug to be cherished, don’t you?

Six-year-old arms are pretty wonderful, too: “Grandma, you and Mommy are blueberry bagels today.”

A “ . . . BUT . . . “ to move:  God, I feel so alone sometimes. Even in the middle of a crowd, and even in the middle of family, still I long to truly feel your arms around me. I want all my family with me in that hug, BUT no matter how far they are or how far I feel from you, I’ll let you be the bread of life and dare to believe that you want to ____________________________________________________________________________________. Scandalous intimacy, I know, but a scandalous love wraps me in an eternal sandwich hug!

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