“What an unusual cactus,” I said. “Look how soft and fuzzy it is at the top.”
Fortunately, I was given some interesting and extremely helpful information before I got too close.
This variety of cactus is known by more than one name. It’s called Teddy Bear cactus because of the appearance of fuzzy arms outstretched. The name Jumping Cholla gives me a less friendly impression.
I was informed the sharp barbs would actually jump onto me if I got too close. It seems the arms detach easily and attach to passersby. I wouldn’t even have to brush against it before I would experience a less than cuddly teddy bear.
This was all the warning needed for me to keep my distance. It was also a good reminder that appearances can be deceiving. Sometimes the biggest danger is hidden behind an exterior that looks safe and welcoming.
Satan loves to tempt us with things that look innocent. When we express interest, sharp barbs get a grip on us. Before we know it we are ensnared in activities we have trouble detaching from.
When faced with temptation, my best course of action is always to talk to Jesus. He knows how to keep me from temptation and how to free me when my foolish actions place me in a dangerous situation.
Because Jesus experienced temptation when he suffered, he is able to help others when they are tempted. (Hebrews 2:18 GWT)
As a child, I loved to play outside with my friends. One of our favourite games was tag.
I would run and dodge, doing my best not to get caught. If tagged, I would become ‘it’ and have to chase the others until I got close enough to ‘catch’ someone.
It’s been a long time but I can still remember getting tired and needing a quick break to catch my breath. The only way to do this was to run to the willow tree in the front yard and have one hand touching the trunk. This was the designated safety zone.
The rules said I could only stop here for a few seconds, but that was enough to take some deep breaths in preparation for more running.
All these years later, I no longer play tag, but can still find myself running around and in need of a safe place to pause and regain my strength. Where can I find the renewal so badly needed?
My safety zone is found in the quiet time I spend with God. Rules of time don’t apply here. He provides me with what I need whether I ask a quick prayer for wisdom or spend extended time basking in his presence. However, the more time I spend with him, the more I find the rest, guidance and encouragement needed to step back into the race of life.
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28 NLT)
I was excited. We were staying in an RV park in Arizona and every lot had a fruit tree in front. There was an assortment of orange, lemon and grapefruit trees.
I had never picked and eaten fresh citrus fruit before and could hardly wait.
Under one tree we saw a box labelled Help Yourself and chose a large lemon. That evening I placed a slice of lemon in a mug filled with hot water. One sip was all I needed before gagging. It was terrible.
Maybe I’d have better luck with an orange. The one I could easily reach looked good but didn’t feel quite ripe so I stretched my arm deeper into the tree. The jagged interior branches scratched me and drew blood. I thought my prize would be worth the sacrifice but was mistaken. This fruit was dry and tasteless.
Sometimes life is like this experience. I reach for something that looks appealing only to end up injured and disappointed. Things are not always what they appear on the surface.
For the fruit, I asked a neighbour what trees I should pick from. Seeking and following that advice made all the difference in being able to enjoy juicy oranges and grapefruit.
A myriad of choices are before me daily. Picking the right one can be a challenge. Outside appearance does not give me enough information. I can’t see into the heart of the situation but know someone who can. My best option is always to pray and ask God for wisdom. When I do, my life transforms from dry and bitter to one that is fresh and sweet.
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. (James 1:5 NLT)
The date was March 31st. The sun was shining and the sky a clear blue. Mid-Afternoon my husband and I decided to walk to a nearby coffee shop.
The temperature had been chilly lately so I put on a heavy jacket but because the sunshine was so inviting, didn’t bother with gloves or a hat. We hadn‘t gone far before I realized the crucial mistake I’d made.
The calendar may say it is spring and the sky appears to indicate warmer temperatures but that was definitely not the case. In fact, the cold air was stinging my cheeks! A quick check on my weather app showed -9°C with a real feel of -17°C.
Sometimes appearances can be deceiving. My rational mind knew there was snow on the ground but the optimistic part of me wanted to believe the air was warm.
This is not the first time I’ve believed in something that was not what it appeared On first glance, my mind tells me to believe the positive. This is not always in my best interest. More investigation is required before I make a commitment.
How do I determine what is true and what is not what it seems? I need to stop and pray about it. Then I have to wait for an answer. Jesus sees past the surface and knows what is best for me. He will direct me when I rely on his guidance.
Just as I should have checked the temperature before I headed out for a walk, I need to check in with Jesus before I make any big decisions. He is the one I can fully trust.
In him our hearts rejoice for we trust in his holy name. (Psalm 33:21NLT)
When I registered for a writer’s conference I also requested someone to share the hotel room with me.
I was relieved to receive a message saying a roommate had been found so my budget didn’t have to stretch to cover the entire hotel cost.
The first day of the conference my roommate didn’t arrive. Later I was informed she wasn’t able to make it at all. My worst fears had been realized. I was solely responsible for the hotel charges.
Instead of worrying, I prayed. God must have a reason for this and I needed to trust in his plan.
When the conference ended someone came up and gave me twenty dollars, saying it wasn’t much but she wanted to help me out with my unexpected expense. My pride wanted to refuse the money. I felt God’s nudge and with tears in my eyes thanked her for her generosity.
That night I went to the home of a friend to do a book reading and discussion. The readings were well received and the discussion deep and satisfying. Several guests asked to buy copies of my books.
Later I counted the money I’d received and saw that it was almost half of my total hotel bill. God reminded of the twenty dollar gift and I realized the unexpected portion of the room had just been covered for me.
This was a reminder of God’s provision. God knows my needs and will take care of me. All I have to do is to pray and trust him. He doesn’t always answer in the way I would imagine but I have learned that when I walk by faith I am always rewarded.
So the LORD must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the LORD is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help. (Isaiah 30:18 NLT)
What is that, I wondered? Is it some type of cactus? Or, maybe it’s a tree. In silent awe, I watched as a few of these large plants, scattered through the desert landscape, became an unusual forest of vegetation.
Eventually, I turned to my husband and said, “I’ve never seen anything like those before. I wonder what they are.” He had seen a sign saying we were on the Joshua Forest Parkway and suggested maybe we were looking at Joshua trees.
I took a picture as we drove so I could research them later.
Not only did I confirm that these were indeed Joshua Trees, I also learned some interesting facts. The Joshua tree, also known as a yucca palm, is an evergreen plant belonging to the lily family.
Even more interesting to me was how they got their name. Legend has it that in the mid-nineteenth century, a group of Mormon settlers crossing the Mojave Desert came across these plants. The erect branches reminded them of the biblical story of Joshua, reaching his hands up to the sky in prayer.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were like Joshua trees and our appearance reminded people to lift their hands in prayer and praise? Unlike the trees which only inhabit a specific area, we can move about impacting others with the message of love and hope found in the Bible. So, if you see me with my arms lifted high, you’ll understand why.
“Pray in the Spirit in every situation. Use every kind of prayer and request there is. For the same reason be alert. Use every kind of effort and make every kind of request for all of God’s people.” (Ephesians 6:18 GWT)
We planned to stop for gas in a more populated area. However, when the gas light came on, we knew this wasn’t going to be an option and took the exit for the next small town.
The first thing we saw as we entered the quiet street were two dogs were running down the middle of the road.
When we drew nearer, one of the dogs moved to the left shoulder. The other stayed on the centre line. We slowed down to pass this animal but it had other ideas. The dog stayed close to the front wheel, barking as if it were chasing us out of town.
This dog was fearless and kept up with us for several blocks. We didn’t want to risk hitting it and it quickly became clear the animal and not the vehicle was setting the pace.
The dog did not give up until it was satisfied we had been chased far enough away. Only then did it stop.
I wondered about the times I have been on my way to a calling the Lord has given me, only to encounter a version of this barking dog. The obstacle could be disguised in many forms. The only certainty was the desire to change my direction. How did I react?
Did I slow down, unsure if I should keep going? Perhaps I turned around, thinking I might be on the wrong road. Or, maybe I prayed for guidance and kept moving forward.
My friends, we face an enemy who doesn’t want to see us succeed in the name of the Lord. He has already been defeated but does his best to convince us he is in control. This is only the case if we believe the lie.
He would not be nipping at my heels if I weren’t a threat to his plans. When I remember this I am not easily chased away. Instead I increase my focus on the Lord, knowing I am definitely on the right road.
“Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7 NLT)
As we end one year and embark upon another I’d like to share with you a poem my mother passed along to me many years ago. Every year I read it and appreciate what it has to say. Unfortunately, I don’t know who the author is. My prayer is that each of you will be blessed this way in 2018.
NEW YEAR PRAYER
May God make your year a happy one,
Not by shielding you from sorrow and pain,
But by strengthening you to bear it, if it comes.
Not by making your path easy,
But by making you sturdy enough to travel any path.
Not by taking hardships from you,
But by taking all cowardice and fear from your heart.
Not by granting you unbroken sunshine,
But by keeping your face bright, even in the shadows.
Not by making your life always pleasant,
But by showing you where man and his cause need you most,
And by making you anxious to be there, and to help.
A change in weather during our tropical vacation forced us indoors.
The wind lashed the rain against our windows. It didn’t take long for the deluge to fill the tracks and overflow, forming pools on the tile floor. The water was noticed before it spread far enough to do damage. We mopped up and kept an eye on the offending area.
After the storm subsided, no evidence of the excess moisture remained. We were lucky this time.
It would have been easy to put this behind us and forget it ever happened. However, someone will need to take care of the necessary maintenance to the window track. If not, the problem will reoccur. Maybe not this week, or even this month, but the consequences could be worse next time.
Regular maintenance is also necessary for our lives. Storms lie ahead for each of us. We don’t know when, or how hard they may hit. The better I prepare myself in the good times, the less damage there will when the tempests of life strike.
The ability to survive the tough times is gained through my relationship with God. Spending time in prayer and reading the Bible enables me to build a shelter I can trust. God has promised to keep me safe in the trials of life. When I walk closely with Him, I know any storm damage will be lessened.
When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. (Isaiah 43:2 LT)
During a walk on a frosty day, an unusual sight was seen. The pond was almost frozen over. Ice started around the shoreline and was reaching towards the centre. There, huddled together in the small area of remaining water, swam a few geese.
“Why hadn’t they flown south yet?” I wondered. It was only a matter of days before the ice would completely cover the pond. They were certainly leaving things until the last moment.
The scene made me think of the number of times I’ve acted like a silly goose. Signs of an impending freeze in my life have been ignored. If I don’t acknowledge what’s happening around me, maybe the trouble won’t materialize. After all, there’s no immediate danger so I may not have to take action.
This type of attitude has not served me well. Often the reason I put off making a decision is that I’m not sure which direction to take. What if I make the wrong choice? I fail to realize that making no decision is still making a decision!
I don’t know what the future holds but I do have a personal relationship with the One who does. God has promised to teach us what to do. I just need to call out to him in prayer and listen carefully for his response.
With this kind of power available to me, not to seek his guidance would make me as silly as those geese.
The Lord says, “I will instruct you. I will teach you the way that you should go. I will advise you as my eyes watch over you.” (Psalm 32:8 GWT)