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Monthly Archives: August 2014

Sticky Notes from God [Excerpt]

Espressos of Faith is committed to posting excerpts from Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day in the weeks leading up to publication. (This is Excerpt #2.) Many of the stories within Not Just on Sundays are inspired by trying to view life through the small moments of life, by zooming in on something we might otherwise miss, much like my photographer friends do through an actual lens. Sometimes the greatest blessings and lessons are in the simple things. I hope we all look more each day to find those “sticky notes” God sends just for us, often blessing us through other people.

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Sticky Notes from GodA dear friend of mine from my island days came to visit; sadly, I was away at the time, so she and her husband hung out with Salad Boy* and the kids without me. She was unaware of the incidents I encountered the week I was gone, but when I came home, she had left me sticky-note messages all over my house, reminding me of God’s love and her friend love. She had no idea the heart returning home needed to see and feel something tangible that was the very definition of love (my own family also reminded me of that). God knows what we need, and He sends messengers to deliver the messages. We are not always tuned in to see it, but He does this. And I love it! Open my eyes to see it more, Lord! You are awesome!

So, I got to thinking how God also leaves us sticky notes. They are all over our Bibles, sure, but they are also penned by those who love us, like my sweet island friend. Salad Boy and I don’t write each other notes a lot in the everyday rhythm of our lives. I wish I could say, being a writer, that I wrote him long confessions of my love, daily, but alas, I do not. But in a rare moment when he felt inspired, as he left for work, he said: “Have a great day at work, Honey.” I don’t work yet for regular pay. Not yet. But it doesn’t matter if it is a writing day or a “keeping house” day or a “running around on errands” day, he gets it. He gets every bit of it, and I just love him to pieces for it. He was my sticky note from God that day. It was verbal, but it was a blessing.

Sometimes we are the ones writing the sticky notes. One day, this was my sticky note to a friend of mine who did not share my faith. Life had taken her down a road where she had taken a bite out of the bitter apple one too many times. Don’t we all get to that place some days? I wanted to speak some of God’s Truth to her. She didn’t magically embrace my faith. We often need a whole stack of sticky notes speaking truth to undo the hateful, untrue ones we have received.

Dear Friend:

I have many thoughts, and I probably can’t get them all down, but I do hear you on feeling betrayed, abandoned, disappointed. I think when so many people have poorly reflected back to you your worth, it is easy to think they are reflecting God as well with their awful choices to be devastatingly hurtful. I can understand why that feels like it is God acting (or not acting in some cases). This is a great discussion for a time when I can go more in depth, but I encourage you to realize humans failed you over and over again, but God knows that and has a heart that aches for you. This may not make sense right now or feel real. I had to spend a lot of time getting “human” out of my way of seeing God. Humans can really disappoint and screw it up sometimes. They kept getting in the way of me seeing God. It’s hard to distinguish. It’s hard not to feel left out in the cold at times, especially after all of your rotten experiences. I hear you on feeling like you “did all of the right things” or “followed all of the right rules.” I am sure He sees that. The coolest part for me in my faith (or perhaps the biggest relief) is that, while I want to do all of the right things because I love Him, my relationship with Him isn’t dependent on that. I don’t have to be perfect or measure up.

I want to be praying for you that the lies and untruths that all of those people (those who abused their responsibility to “tend your heart and soul”) spoke to you will scatter and that God’s love for who He made you to be will be the only voice you hear. I am still clearing out my own cobwebs and telling old tapes playing in my head to stop, but each time I do, I see myself through God’s eyes more clearly. It’s the only version of me I fully love—because He does.

Blessings,
Bonnie

Where can we see God reaching us through another person’s love or act of compassion today? Where can we be that sticky note in someone else’s life, speaking blessing and encouragement, bringing hope?

*My affectionate name for my husband because he’s on a fitness/health kick

**Update: Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day published October 1, 2014.

This blog was shared at A Little R & R.

 

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Waiting for the Telephone Call

My father has struggled with cancer since the early 1980s. He was actually told his first one was terminal. My mother didn’t accept that diagnosis, given at a local hospital, and took him for a second opinion. And here he still is, decades later, because of her persistence—but also because of our faith community, which rallied in prayer. (And I know not everyone’s story of healing plays out this way. We each have our own story. This is just ours.)

His first cancer was a liposarcoma in his leg. I remember that one well. I was about 9 years old, and I’d come home to find him in his bathrobe laying on the couch airing out the leg that went through radiation. The pastor would come, sometimes an elder (leader) of the church, and there would be prayer. A lot of prayer. Sometimes they would invite me to come over to the couch to talk or join the prayer. I also remember a spaghetti dinner brought over by a neighbor; she made it with pepperoni in it, and I was consequently really happy every time she was slotted to bring a meal. When you’re 9 and your strong father is home sick and weakened in your family room, pepperoni in spaghetti makes your whole day. I think I may have played barber shop with his hair a lot while he was so sedentary. He tells me now, years later, he really didn’t mind. And I believe him.

His second cancer, only a year later, involved the colon. And back then, colon cancer victims very regularly ended up colostomates, where they have to redirect the waste to exit through an opening (called a stoma) out the front of the body into a pouch. Dad has been managing that lifestyle change now for over 30 years. In my ninth grade year, I wrote a paper on living with an ostomate, and it went into the Ostomy Quarterly. But that wasn’t so much about getting published. It was about taking the biology class I was in and finding direct application. It was about honoring my father.

Somewhere during Cancer 1 or Cancer 2, I wrote him a song and sang it into an old tape player so my mother could take it to him in the hospital. I remember that my grandmother was there, intermittently, while Mom had to go between hospital and home. A part of the song went something like this:

“Waiting for the telephone call, bringing all the news,
Remembering the Bible says that Jesus died for you.
God the Father, God the Son is all I think about
I know the Holy Spirit; there never is a doubt.”

Originally the part about “Jesus died for you” was “Jesus was a Jew” because I was 9 or 10, and that rhymed, and I saw Jesus being a Jew as a good thing (and it is!). But Mom asked that we readjust that so it wasn’t accidentally taken as some kind of slur or mocking in our culture, or be misunderstood by the man next to Dad in his room when they played my song. That was probably wise on Mom’s part. At this time, I remember my childhood pastor talking to me. I have no idea what he said, but he ministered to me as Jesus would a child who approached Him. He saw that this whole sick family member thing was about each of us: my parents, my sister, and me. It made a lasting impact on me that he found me worthy to stop, in the middle of talking with adults in crisis, to address my needs.

And then there was reprieve, and in 2002, in came bladder cancer. And at first, the BCG treatments kept it at bay. Dad was fortunate; the bladder was spared, although he had years of uncomfortable procedures to make sure the beast kept its teeth out. But back it came in 2013 and again in 2014, a very unwelcome companion.

And last night, my father lost his bladder.

But he didn’t lose his life.

Or his faith.

Or his God. He walks with Christ, the hope of glory.

Colossians 1:27, Apostle Paul speaking

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

And I’m convinced God has used this journey to not only build my father’s faith but to build the faith of so many around him. Because while God doesn’t cause the yucky things of life, He promises to take them and bring them to good purposes for those who love Him.

Romans 8:28, Apostle Paul speaking

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Good-bye, bladder. We’re very sorry to see you go, and we have certainly mourned your parting. But your part of the story is over now. And the disease within you has not stopped a very real God from inspiring people through a previously-very-red-going-slowly-white-headed, 6-foot-tall man who, through the power of prayer, has lived beyond three different cancers and five tumors into his eighth decade. Nor have you slowed down his impact on this world—because the God he serves is so much bigger than you, or any yucky disease for that matter.

[Dad, earlier this year, with three of his six grandchildren.]

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Slice of Freedom: Eating Pizza for the First Time

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I was at a meeting at the dance studio the first time he said, “Can I have some pizza?” I had to ask him to repeat what he said because I was incredulous. He had been set free, through prayer, of his dairy (and other) allergy for a while now, but fear still sometimes prevented him from trying to take in too much. He had been medically tested to back up (for school purposes) what happened through prayer, and we took a cautious approach, introducing a small amount at a time. A tiny smear of cream cheese here, a piece of shredded cheese there. But pizza had not been of any interest to him up to this point.

Backing up…a lot of people who are bold in their faith of healing prayer encouraged us to have him chug glasses of milk. Actually, we had him rub it into his skin first, on the day of the prayer, and then let him swallow a bit of milk. At that point in time, before prayer, he would break out into hives just from his hand touching spilt milk and projectile-vomit any swallowed milk. On the day he was prayed for, he was fine on both counts, but we did not press him to take in more than he wanted to. And while other people’s faith seemed greater on our behalf, and I’m so thankful for them, we ourselves were only just starting to not clench too hard to the epi pen in moments like this one. For better or worse, we needed more faith history in this. And for a while I beat myself up for not wanting to feed him a dairy-only diet for the days following to prove something to myself and to strengthen my faith, but I didn’t need to prove anything to God. He knew my slow unclenching of the epi pen and testifying to each brave new step we took was me yielding, submitting, and learning to trust Him more. Had I rushed into it, I would have missed steps along the way where I needed to learn more about Him. Others may embrace this boldly because their lessons were already learned. For us, there was a story of trust and deep faith being written, and we were the main characters in it.

Back to where we were on the day that changed dietary history in our home with just a simple slice of pizza: We had broken from our event planning meeting (for an upcoming fundraiser) to order some pizza. And Little Man decided this was the day he’d like to try it. I have to admit, 7 months after being released of these allergies after years of them ruling our lives, my first thought was to look to see if the epi pen bag was with us. Knee-jerk reaction. If that shows a lack of faith, I guess you could consider me still a work-in-progress then. I’m just being honest. We lived in fear for years. We were still pushing fear out the door. God had taken it, but we still thought we saw the phantom of it taunting us for a long time.

So, with two of my good friends as witnesses, Little Man took a few bites of that cheesy goodness. Nothing. No belly ache, no vomiting, no hives, no difficulty breathing. I actually think we started with crust, but he convinced me to move on to the cheesy part—my reluctance and not his. This is how I knew in that moment that God was offering peace. Because my son not only expressed interest but was peaceful and eager to ingest something formally seeming like poison to his physical body.

So, I think we let him have two pieces that day. I’ve never seen a kid so happy about anything—not Christmas morning, not a vacation, not the swimming pool opening for the season. He had just discovered pizza at 7 years old for the very first time, and he was head-over-heels in love.

What followed were about 10 days of nonstop pizza eating. I admit that I indulged it. I gave it to him anytime he wanted it: at breakfast, Ellios frozen pizza, Dominos, local pizza places, etc. Every few days we tried a new topping. He was caught up in some kind of heavenly experience. He talked about it at bedtime: “Mom, what kind of pizza can I eat next? Should I try sausage or pepperoni?” It was so fun to watch.

But what also followed were 10 days of his body learning to process the pizza. Mostly our house just needed a lot of air freshener and open windows in those days. I’ll leave it up to your imagination. He wasn’t sick. I liken it to a new baby trying a new food, and for a few days, the bowel does some funky things with it. I told my kids to be patient, that this too shall pass (excuse the pun), and that this is an amazing victory in our lives.

It also meant not packing a special lunch to go to pizza birthday parties with. It opened up a whole new world.

What can be celebrated in your house today? It might not be of this magnitude every day. But any time we can do something we couldn’t do before, it’s an amazing moment for thankfulness. Running that marathon (or half-marathon). Strengthening those abs. Conquering that Rachmaninoff piece. Having something taken off an IEP. Or going off the IEP altogether. Getting through that tough year with a teacher/instructor you didn’t jive with. Training those puppies. Learning better food intake self-control. Choosing not to rage in traffic. Making that career change. Choosing not to gossip when the rest of the room is.

In our family, we thank God for these moments because we feel incapable of making such amazing changes in our own strength. We feel it all comes from Him. We are responsible for our choices, but at the end of the day, we like to look up to thank Him for guiding us.

Which victory in your life can you celebrate today?

James 1:17, James, brother of Jesus, speaking

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

Isaiah 53:5, Isaiah the Prophet speaking

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

 

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Yelling My Way up the Highway

Yelling My Way up the Highway

Overall, I am not a yelling kind of mom. I have my moments, but overall, I am not too bad on the temper. But this title tells it exactly as it was a few months ago. I yelled my way up the highway. On the phone. To the two family members at home who were not going to therapy, while I went to therapy with a different one. Screamed my way right up to our appointment. Yes, yes I did. To share how I got to this lovely place, let me back up.

So I picked up the child who is dealing with some ADHD-based anxiety. This required me having everything else in place for the two other children during that time. It meant making sure that they had snack to get themselves, managed homework, and were ready in dance/karate clothes by the time I arrived home to take them to their activities. It meant getting to the school before the buses lined up and getting on the main highway traveling one state over before traffic jumped on with me.

But it also meant catching a pastry and frappuccino with the one headed to the appointment. And sitting there getting some work done while soothing music played in the waiting room, eucalyptus scents pumped in the air from somewhere, and chairs were comfy. It meant quiet, calm, taking a deep breath, and something to build good things into my child.

So just as I got on the road, the first child off the bus obediently called in to let me know he had arrived. Twenty minutes later, the second child called. I asked about her day, cheerleaded her on about the list I hoped would be done by the time I came home, and quickly got off the phone, knowing my peeps were home safe and had locked all doors behind them. But then—but then. The phone rang again two-thirds of the way into the next state, and here came that Mama Know: that feeling that trouble was afoot. And indeed it was. There was a control battle going on between the one with homework to do on the computer and the one using it for game-playing who got on first.

And they couldn’t work it out themselves.

And I was driving in traffic.

And I didn’t want to be a parent right then.

I wanted my drive with the other child to be peaceful, expectant, and free of anything at home. But it never is when we are responsible for others, even when they are not physically with us. So, I ended up so frustrated and disappointed with their behavior, after several rounds of the innocent act on both of their parts via phone, that I did what every traffic-crazed, frustrated, stressed-out parent wanting five minutes of peace to him/herself does: I barked out a bunch of consequences, made the recreational-computer-use one get off the computer, drew a boundary that I would not hear any more about it (I’m a boundary junkie, after all), and hung up. But in the meantime I had yelled my way up the highway, and when I hung up, there was complete silence. Not peace, but silence. I think even the radio knew to turn itself off.

The child traveling with me shared the silence with me for the last 6 minutes of the ride. I think he knew better than to mess with me in that moment. But as I pulled in and said I was still angry because of an issue the siblings were having over the computer, this one quietly piped up: “That’s what I figured.” And, BOOM! It hit me that we were on our way to THERAPY, for crying out loud, looking for some peace in a few areas, and I yelled our way there. How’s that for anxiety levels? Blood pressure? And I could just imagine him sharing with the therapist how Mom yelled all the way there. Oh wow. I half-expected her to invite me in to the office as well. But this child, despite the anxiety, put calm into his words. He was gentle, yet strong. He reassured me just by tone of voice.

And God does this. He takes the rage in us and quiets it—when we ask Him. He settles the matter by speaking into the storm. He doesn’t take on the anger of the storm itself or fight with the wind. He just tells it to be quiet. His calming-yet-commanding voice alone has the power to defuse it. Jesus, please tell the storm in me to settle. My rage needs to lick a shut-up-sicle. In Your presence, all chaos must settle and peace usher in.

Mark 4:35-41, Apostle John-Mark narrating

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the Jesus Tells the Storm to Be Quiet
other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

I am not proud of this moment, but  am glad that there are second chances at these times, that the other child didn’t go into his appointment permanently scarred by Mom’s rage, and that I can take my lack of peaceful parenting and give it to God, and when He gives it back to me (assuming I fully let go), He will help me do better the next time. He will teach me and humble me.

And He will for you too.

*This blog has been shared at Women With Intention Wednesdays and A Little R & R.

 

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Eating Pipe Cleaners

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It’s true. My dog eats pipe cleaners. There’s no need to call the dog authorities. I hide the craft supplies my younger children enjoy, but Samson the Ornery Shih Tzu manages to find them anyway. I usually have an intense eye on him because of his puppy superhero abilities to be everywhere at one time, but the truth is, one or two small wound-up ones (wound-up circles that used to be antennas? or eyes? on some odd project in my house) came out with the other contents of his stomach. They are so balled up, they aren’t scraping anything on the way down or back up again, but I have to wonder: Why, Samson, why?

It completely perplexes me why he would keep trying this. When I have a rough experience with a local food chain burger, I don’t tend to repeat it for a while.

But then I think about the human tendency to feed ourselves things all of the time that are not good for us, and we know it as we consume it. And I’m not just talking about food.

I’m a crime show freak. I have not one scientific thought in my head pretty much ever, but forensic shows fascinate me. In and of themselves, they are not bad. But I know sometimes I consume too much of the macabre, the darkness of the crime, the visuals that television provides. And it seems to me, at times, that I’m eating pipe cleaners.

Then there are those people in our lives sometimes that spew negativity. Are we wrong to be their friends? No, they need friends too, so that hopefully they once in a while respond to encouragement and look up to the Light of God instead of sitting in their pit of dark. But if we give them permission to define us, our moods, our time, our thought lives—there we go eating pipe cleaners again.

How about the comparison game? I feast on that from time to time. In fact, I make a regular meal of it. Super-Career-Mom-Does-It-All-So-Why-Can’t-I? with a side of Rehearse-My-Failures salad with Her-Family-Lives-Nearby-and Watches-Her-Kids-All-of-the-Time-for-Her dressing. Swallowing down some major pipe cleaners there.

I’m not sure what it is I think is going to happen when I do that, but I know I don’t have too many more brain cells functioning than Samson does when I continue to consume that which isn’t a diet that nourishes. And after a while, if Samson keeps eating rolled-up pipe cleaners, they could straighten and scrape. So can things we take in or feed on. We know they really aren’t to feed our minds, hearts, souls, or bodies, but we do it anyway. And we scrape ourselves along the way.

What pipe cleaners can we stop chewing on today?

Colossians 3:1-2, Apostle Paul speaking

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

 

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Top 10 Reasons I’m Sad to See Those School Buses Roll In

Top 10 Reasons I'm Sad to See Those School Buses Roll InUm, what? Did you say sad?

This may seem like an unusual twist on the usual, slightly negative countdowns to the start of school by frantic parents like myself who are ready to restore order to the summer chaos, get their houses cleaned up, get back to a schedule/routine, and experience a little bit of daytime quiet. I’m right there along with everyone else. There is a part of me holding my breath until the buses roll in and nobody is running around putting half-filled cups on the coffee table, leaving used socks strewn all over wherever they took them off, expecting to be fed at noon, asking for nonstop snacks, and bickering over whose turn it is for “screen time.” Yes, yes, I could easily do that top 10. I practically just did.

But I decided to look up instead of down, to challenge myself to think about what I will miss the most when the buses roll in one after the other in the morning. And I spent a lot of time on this because the joys of summertime with three of God’s amazing blessings are hard to nail down. There are so many things I could name. Which ones are the most significant? Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2014 in Teens, Tweens/Children

 

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When the Gardener Comes [Excerpt]

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With Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day just weeks from publication, I thought it might be fun to post an excerpt, especially because I am once again in a season of “pruning” in my life. This summer our family let go of some things; some were big, and some were small. It’s not always easy to do that. It can be very painful. But we also opened our hands to new things, and we learn every time that God never leaves us in void. He may not always replace the exact thing we let go of, but He always gives us direction, even if it’s a completely new one. Sometimes someone has to pry what we won’t let go of out of our hands because we are clenching tightly, but once we relax an open palm, prayerfully, He fills us again. We don’t have to be empty-handed. We just have to be willing to let Him hand us what He chooses to give. I feel He does this whole pruning thing in my life quite regularly before each next big step. Like a mom cleaning last year’s clothes and shoes out of the closets, God gets us ready for what is next. I need to get better at remembering that He does this, and it always turns out for the better when my hands relax and stop clenching. So, here I am now, in this moment, and here I was during a different season of pruning, a while ago. What follows is a little piece of my upcoming book, Not Just on Sundays. Whether or not you are a Christian believer, I think we can all understand Jesus’s gardening analogy and draw incredible wisdom from it.

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John 15:1-8, Jesus speaking

“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. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

Ah, pruning.

We may have all the right intentions or even accreditations in the world in wanting to help people, fix a situation, or “do good,” but, for the believer in Christ, bearing real biblical fruit comes only in trusting in Christ, remaining in the Vine. And with that comes an entirely different side: a willingness to be pruned.

As the verse suggests, we are pruned to be even more fruitful. But it doesn’t say that part is pleasant or fun. I’ve read it several times looking for that, and it simply isn’t there.

At times, the signs are all there for quite a while, but when we finally allow ourselves to see a disappointing situation in its fullness, one that we had tried so hard to make better, it can be almost crushing. But the best part of it is that on the flip side, there was so much hope, so much love (within us), that kept us going in the first place, that we can look back and say: “I honestly gave that my all. I gave it the best of me, always hoping and praying for the best.” We don’t have to stop hoping and praying for the best, but we absolutely need to check now and again if our hope is in Christ or in ourselves. That’s the difference between being connected to the Vine and being a branch dying on the ground, completely cut off from its life source.

More frequently than I care to share, I feel the dead fruit being pulled off the branches for me. And it hurts—a lot. Sometimes it costs me a relationship or something I enjoy. But whenever that happens, I know a lighter, more productive time is ahead. It’s a guarantee. After all, mourning dead fruit in my life is a pointless exercise, even though I fall into the trap of wanting to cuddle it for a while before letting it drop off. Dead fruit is not life-giving when it’s hanging dead on your own tree. If you think about it, it’s only dead because it didn’t remain in the Vine. It didn’t get nourished by the Gardener. It’s not as if He were passive about it. He actually cut it off. I don’t always like that, but I can trust it. When the dead fruit falls off, suddenly the branches bear more fruit and grow to welcome other birds—other life—to perch there. Do we want dead fruit, or more room for new life to perch there? The Gardener knows exactly what He is doing, and it’s a beautiful, loving example of both healthy boundaries and incredible growth.

 

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