Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bottomless Bucket

The mother and daughter laughed excitedly as they tried to corral the avocados rolling in opposite directions on the conveyor belt that bore them relentlessly to the cash register. “We’re making guacamole,” the mom explained. “It’s on our summer bucket list.” Suddenly they remembered they hadn’t bought the makings for dinner, but I reminded them that after eating a whole bag of corn chips with the sure-to-succeed experiment, they wouldn’t be hungry for it anymore anyway. Still laughing they headed off to cross off another item on their vacation to-do list, leaving me to realize that with the summer one-third gone I hadn’t even taken the time to write any such items down.

Maybe their words caught my attention because I had a week’s vacation coming up, seven days as yet unplanned. I didn’t want to waste them. Yet I knew that if I left them to chance, they’d fly away like dandelion seeds in the wind, uncatchable, irreclaimable…unremarkable. I wanted to make them count.

And so I got a mental paper and pen and got ready to write. The first draft looked a lot like most of the “bucket lists” I’ve looked at online – things I wanted to see or experience before I ran out of time. In this case it was my week-long vacation time, but the same principle applies to our individual summertimes, and especially to our lifetimes. The emphasis was heavy on the word my. My wish list, for my life and my time.

Suddenly it occurred to me that I could take those seven days and donate them, that I could plan each day around doing something for somebody else instead of concentrating only on what I wanted to do myself. Of course, college students have been doing exactly that for years, spending their spring breaks on mission trips or building houses for homeless people. Without having seen the movie The Bucket List myself, I read a synopsis of the plot and learned that two terminally ill men who started off as complete strangers ended up as friends who helped each other cross items off their lists. Even the popular TV show The Buried Life about a group of friends on a mission to accomplish items on their bucket lists includes a segment each week of how they helped a complete stranger realize a particular dream of his own.

Suddenly I understood why God has been nudging my heart about this topic of late. It’s because my life is not my own anymore. It belongs to Him. And so perhaps my determination to make my time on this earth count for something should lead me straight to His “bucket list”, the purposes and plans He has for the people He loves, while there’s still time to accomplish them.

All this talk about buckets got me to thinking of one in particular I’ve seen at the entrance to the lodge at Hueston Woods State Park. It hangs under a faucet that delivers a slow yet steady stream of water, gradually filling until the weight of the water inside tips it over and dumps the contents into a basin below. Then the empty bucket swings back into an upright position and the running water starts to fill it once more. The process repeats itself over and over again.

I smile at the thought that maybe God’s “list” has just one item on it! Perhaps His sole desire is that before we “kick the bucket“, as the saying goes, we position our own in such a way that our lives become so filled with His goodness that they can’t help but spill it all out on the people around us, over and over again.

“…Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If a man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’” (John 7:37-38 NIV)

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Pot of Petunias

I planted a pot of petunias today. Just one. I’ve learned that that’s all I can handle.

Death and destruction have pretty much followed my gardening attempts in years past. One year I enthusiastically planted flowers along the fence of our Texas home, dreaming of bright blooms bobbing their heads at me whenever I looked out the window. When the weeds grew bigger than the desired plants I resolutely began the process of pulling them, only to be chased inside by the bite of the fire ants, the persistence of the bees and the suffocating summer heat. I decided the flowers would simply have to fend for themselves. When they did not, and what was supposed to be a fence line eye-catcher became a backyard eyesore, my husband mercifully employed the lawn mower to erase my mistake. Since then I’ve left any outdoor gardening to his more capable hands.

I likewise have a long history of killing houseplants. In my single days I was determined to have greenery of some sort in my apartment, yet soon noted that I was buying a plant a week to replace one that had died in the preceding seven days. My budget couldn’t stand the strain. More recently I’ve been banned from indoor watering chores because of a tendency to either water too heavily or withhold the same till the brown and brittle foliage indicated that a once-thirsty plant had gasped its last. I was beginning to believe that the “green thumb” I thought I was born with was instead as black as could be.

That all changed quite by accident some years ago. A son’s graduation party coincided with Memorial Day weekend that year, and my mother-in-law bought a pot of red, white and blue-ish petunias to help decorate our back deck. It looked fabulous…until that first round of blooms faded. There was no second round of flowers to follow. Our back deck was overshadowed by the trees on the property and the plants simply didn’t receive enough light to thrive in that location. On a whim I set the pot on the front step which was normally bathed in afternoon sunshine. The flowers returned in abundance.

And suddenly I remembered how I had always wanted flowers on the front step, that it was something I noticed about the town when we first visited it with the thought of moving here so many years ago now. While my husband had pondered the practical considerations of driving distances to work, locations of freeways, churches and restaurants, all I seemed to see were white plaster flowerpots on porches all over town. The place seemed to be thick with them. I vowed that if we moved here we’d have flowers on our front step, too.

That idea got lost in the busyness of moving and working and raising a family. My husband was content with flowers in the ground under the front window and in various places around the yard. He didn’t see a need for a pot on the porch, particularly. And I eventually forgot about it, as well. Yet amazingly, God didn’t forget! How incredible that our Father loves us so much that He doesn’t forget the unspoken desires of our hearts, even those that matter so little in the grand scheme of things. Yet because we matter to Him, He makes them a reality in our lives in a way that draws our hearts to His more closely than perhaps if the wish had been granted when first expressed.

I’ve had flowers on my front step in one form or another every year since then. Their bright beauty does more than merely welcome me home from wherever I’ve been each day. They’re a reminder of my search to find the spot in God’s Kingdom where I was meant to bloom. We each have one, you know - a place of service where the gifts and talents God’s placed within us function at their best to accomplish His purposes. Finding that perfect spot, however, is the challenge, and too many of us give up before we do. I remember how frustrating my own search was, the many ministry opportunities I experimented with, only to seemingly discover one position after another that was not where I was meant to be. Then one day a simple request by a program director opened a door to an option I had never before considered, and suddenly joy and peace bloomed in abundance. I quickly cleared my plate of other commitments so I could concentrate my efforts on that which I finally realized I’d been called to do. When I looked back I realized that I had carried the makings of my ministry from birth. I hadn’t considered before that I was created to enjoy certain things that God later intended to use in His employ!

Once we’re born again there’s a longing in each of our hearts to serve God in some capacity. Too often we listen to the whispers of the enemy who says we’re not qualified to do so because of what’s in our past, our seeming lack of ability or time in the present, and our doubts about our commitment in the future. What changed things for me spiritually was illustrated for me physically. I simply moved my potted plant from the shady backyard to the front step where the sun shines. We likewise need to find that spot in our lives on which the Son is shining, and center our efforts on what is blossoming there.

“The desert and the parched land will be glad, the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like he crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy...”

(Isaiah 35:1-2 NIV)

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