Jesus, the True Vine

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“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.” John 15:1-4

I’ve been doing a lot of gardening lately – and by that I mean, I’ve been pruning and cutting and pruning and cutting… Because I have a two year old – my gardening is often haphazard and never really complete. I often have to abandon my landscaping tasks with pulled weeds, cut branches, bush trimmings and pruned flower stems strewn all over my yard. The next day I will venture out to clean up the previous day’s trimmings and will find them browning and wilted. 

prune
[proon]
verb (used with object), pruned, pruning.

  1. to cut or lop off (twigs, branches, or roots).
  2. to cut or lop superfluous or undesired twigs, branches, or roots from;trim.

In the same way, when we remain close to Christ, He will prune down the unnecessary parts of our lives. The word prune literally means to cut off things that are undesired.

It brings to mind my beautiful crabapple tree in my front yard. The blooms on this tree initially drew me to our condo and were always the signal that spring was here – new life was on its way. This year, the blooms came and fell almost immediately. The leaves that were left wilted and bore brown spots that signaled the tree was sick. I’ve had to find as many dead and infected branches as possible and cut them off. I have to gather all the fallen leaves this autumn and burn them and then treat my beloved tree in the spring with a special fungicide. This process is long and painstaking. But the tree will die without it. Similarly, without Christ cutting the undesired parts of my life away from me, I would die. Im learning that I’d much rather look back and see parts of my flesh wilting away without connection to the vine, than to remain apart of who I am and weaken my soul.

Book Review: Downside Up by Tracey Mitchell

“Rejection reveals, alerts, exposes, defines, confirms, and is one of the greatest motivators in life.”

This is one of the opening points Tracey Mitchell makes in her book, Downside Up: Transform Rejection Into Your Golden Opportunity. This out-of-the-box view on rejection is an example of how Mitchell takes an alternative look at the role adversity can play in life.

Mitchell relates to the reader from personal experiences in her own life and those she’s encountered. More importantly, she draws relative stories from Scripture to show that rejection is an emotional wound Christ can heal.

The end of each chapter offers a list of “Chapter Principles” to not only serve as reinforcements for Mitchell’s main points, but also as references the reader can easily access in the future. Following the chapter principles are “Words of Wisdom” which consist of Scriptures and famous quotes that relate to each chapter’s main points. Finally, building on her principles and Scripture, Mitchell offers a “Plan of Action” for the reader to directly apply to their personal life in tangible ways that will last long after this book has been read.

Downside Up, by Tracey Mitchell, is not like any other self-help book I’ve read. My pen went dry from all the notations and underlining I did throughout this book. The amount of ah-ha moments made me take this read a bit slower so I could ingest all the extraordinary points being offered.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through the BookLook Bloggers. program. I was not required to give a positive review.

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You can purchase Downside Up: Transform Rejection Into Your Golden Opportunity by Tracey Mitchell here.

Pure Spiritual Milk

“Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for the nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.” 1 Peter 2: 3

My son loves to eat!

LJ EatingHe knows when he sees me holding a fresh bottle that something wonderful is about to happen. He will cry for that bottle – and, until I get it into his mouth, he is unsatisfied.

It’s amazing to me the overwhelming amount of peace and contentment that comes over his body as he begins to drink. He literally goes from a state of total meltdown to sleep the moment a bottle is put into his mouth. He relishes in getting his craving for nourishment fulfilled.

And so, I read this verse from 1 Peter with new meaning this morning…

I read it with a stark visual representation in my head of what it means to crave pure spiritual milk…

To cry for the Lord’s kindness and interaction with a fierceness that isn’t calmed until the craving has been met…

To experience instantaneous peace and contentment upon entering God’s presence.

This is what my days should be centered around. Much like my son’s daily mission is to get nourishment – mine is to find that pure spiritual milk and to not accept any substitutions.

To My Under-Appreciated Husband

Dear Husband,

I want so badly to be the wife you deserve…

A wife that greets you at the door, when you come home for work, emotionally stable with a smile on my face.

A wife who could manage our son’s doctors appointments on her own.

A wife that could spend time pouring over recipes to make you the perfect dinner each night.

A wife that didn’t nag or snap at you.

A wife who didn’t need you to immediately take our son after a long day of work.

I yearn to be a wife that is nurturing, selfless and thoughtful.

I’m humbled each day when…

You come home from work greeting me with a smile and asking about MY day as you take our son into your arms to give me a break.

You take time in the middle of your busy day to attend EVERY doctors appointment you can for our son (usually having to work extra to make up for the time.)

You make your own lunch each day and pick us up dinner every night.

You support every weight loss program I try, wake up early so I can sleep in…

…change poopy diapers while getting ready for work, don’t criticize me for wearing cut off pants, crocs and a puke stained shirt in public with you (yes it really happens), and listen patiently as I rant and rave that you aren’t being attentive to my needs (clearly not the case).

Thank you for your unconditional love.

Thank you for providing each day for our family above and beyond what we need.

Thank you for making our son laugh so hard.

Thank you for being an incredible man of God…

…and for giving me a family I never dreamed possible!

Love your incredibly grateful wife.

Learning to Cook…at 31!

I’ll be turning 32 next week – and as I look back over the last year, I’m amazed at the things I have learned through this year’s changes. Each day has brought its wins and losses that have helped to mold my “evergreen” self, but nothing could have prepared me for the following lessons I’ve learned through these major changes:

We bought a condo! – Having lived in apartments since college, the adjustment from renter to owner was large. From the moment we closed on this home, we watched the dollars in our bank account get smaller and smaller as we took on the necessary renovations to make this place our “home.” It felt like, for the first time, I was putting on my big-girl pants and taking a step into the real world of responsibility. There was no longer a handyman to call about holes in the wall or broken ceiling fans – these had to be fixed by our own two hands (with the aid of  my father-in-law and a lot of YouTube videos). I learned that it’s okay to pull carpet off the floor and not to be afraid of a large bucket of paint (despite the fact that I still can’t paint a straight line).

Grow, Grow, GrowingWe got pregnant! – Well, I think this one speaks for itself. Except for the fact that Josh and I weren’t planning on kids. At most, I was working towards convincing him we needed a dog! But along came our little guy – growing so fast inside me. This life change has created a domino effect of subsequent changes both physical and emotional. And while the lessons I am learning every day during this pregnancy continue to grow in number, the most important one is that life is ever-changing. Concrete is not an adjective that can realistically describe any person’s life. This may seem like an easy concept that everyone is fairly aware of – but it still shakes you when the solid foundation you thought you were building is torn up to create a new (and often better) one. Needless to say, we are ecstatic about our son’s arrival this December!

I quit my job! – Work was, well…my life. My days and nights revolved around it. If I wasn’t busy in the office, I was traveling for business. Both my husband and I shared our work-a-holic lifestyles. I found my identity in meeting the daily challenges I faced at work. I defined success in my professional accomplishments. I honestly thought nothing would take the devotion I had towards my vocation until I became pregnant. Immediately, I became territorial of the time others would have with my son and knew I wanted to be the one to raise him. While I feel fairly new towards caring for a newborn, I know that no one can love or care for him like I can. This major life change has taught me that we can’t tie our identities to the things of this world. I learned that  jobs will come and go, but Christ is forever and He is who my identity must be tied to. I am most grateful for this lesson because it wouldn’t have been fair to shift my identity from work to my son – he needs to be his own person and both of us will find who we are in Christ!

I learned to cook…at 31! – Don’t judge me for this. When you work as much as I did – domestic responsibilities tend to go out the window. Cooking never appealed to me – why would I work all day to come home and work more? My husband and I found many restaurants we liked and were happy with that lifestyle. But, going from two incomes to one changes how you spend your money. Additionally, with the recent change of me not working, I now have time to prepare meals that are both cheaper and healthier than eating out. I can’t say I’ve mastered this art yet – but I am working on it (again with help from family and YouTube videos). I’ve learned that you can’t have enough cooking spoons and to only make what you will eat (as opposed to cooking enough to feed an army).

I had to say “good-bye”! – I am fortunate enough to say that I’ve never lost a person close to me. However, amongst the changes of buying a new home, becoming pregnant and quitting my job – I had to say good-bye to my kitty, my buddy of 9 years who never left my side. This loss was both unexpected and massive. Losing Miracle left such a hole in my heart. Watching life seep out of an animal you have loved and cherished changes you forever. I learned that making large decisions, like when to put your animal down, are hard and mucky.

I’m not sure what this next year will bring – but I know that I will take it head on knowing it’s important to roll with the punches, trust in God and just take a deep breath from time-to-time.

Drawing Near to God

It’s raining in life right now and I long to be as close to God as possible, under His umbrella – sheltered from the storms raging around me. Everything feels incredibly uncomfortable and uncertain. The term “day-by-day” keeps surfacing making me wince because I know how horribly I manage things on a day-by-day basis. I like for life to be concrete and set in stone…for any changes that come my way to be pleasant and not life altering. And so, here I sit, undergoing the largest and most life-altering events I can imagine:

Almost 7 months pregnant with my first child - my husband and I have gone from the mindset of "we aren't having children" to "we can't wait for this little boy to arrive!"

Almost 7 months pregnant with my first child – my husband and I have gone from the mindset of “we aren’t having children” to “we can’t wait for this little boy to arrive!”

Accompanying my unexpected pregnancy, we've decided it would best for our baby if I stayed home from work to raise him. So, after five years of dedicated service to the corporate business world, I am not working.

Accompanying my unexpected pregnancy, we’ve decided it would best for our baby if I stayed home from work to raise him. So, after five years of dedicated service to the corporate business world, I am not working.

My cats have always been my passion - their kind of steady devotion has always made sense to me and now I am facing the possibility of saying good-bye to one of them as she is very sick.

My cats have always been my passion – their kind of steady devotion has always made sense to me and now I am facing the possibility of saying good-bye to one of them as she is very sick.

These storms seem to strip me of an inner peace my soul is yearning for – making it imperative I draw as near to God as I can, so he can draw near to me. The only way I know how to begin this process is to go to His word:

  • James 1: 2-5  “…when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”
  • Joshua 1:9  “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
  • Philippians 4:19  “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”
  • 2 Corinthians 4:7-10  But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; ppersecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”
  • James 1:5 “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.”
  • Philippians 4:12-13  “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

 

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Do I Belong Here?

One day, when I was in 5th grade, my teacher handed out a test explaining there were no wrong answers – so we should pick what we felt was best for the question. Something about the look of that test made me feel it was important. I scrutinized over each question – trying to accomplish whatever the goal of this activity was to the best of my ability.

I remember feeling anxious as my classmates, one-by-one, walked past me to hand in their finished exams.  I wondered why it was taking me longer than everyone else.

Was I doing it wrong?

Or maybe, I was the only one doing it right?! Finally, I finished! – Days went by, and as the rest of the class moved past this experience, I fixated on it. There was never a time I received that test back with my results.

Did I pass or fail?

Eventually, I prodded enough that I found myself in a small room one morning, before school started, meeting with my teacher and the Principal. They explained this test determined our IQ – those whose results were above a certain number were going to be participating in a special program at the public library once a week. This program would provide challenging tasks so students could further develop areas in which they excelled at.

I was not one of these students in need of further development. At least that’s what the test said.

So, naturally, I asked to join this group. I rode that bus each week to the public library – and I sat with these students…my classmates…my friends…and stumbled along as we were asked to build bridges out of toothpicks and solve complicated math equations.

Most of that experience is a blur to me now – except the unmistakable feeling that I didn’t belong. That insecurity has sat on my shoulders, whispering in my ears throughout my life. I’ve endured unbearably hard math classes, college lectures and business meetings hunkered down, hoping I wouldn’t be found out for being in the wrong place.

Then I heard this TED talk on the TED News Radio Hour. Amy Cuddy’s story spoke to me. It resonated somewhere so incredibly deep within my spirit – it caused the mountain of negative rubble to shake loose and allow rays of hope to break through. So, I’m sharing this with you – hoping it does the same.