Some Things About Spring

Spring on the farm is one of my favorite times of year. In Iowa long winters are the norm, so when the days grow longer and the sun tickles my face with warmth once again, I am more than eager to put cabin fever behind me.

Here are a few of the things I look most forward to this time of year:

  1. black baby calfMy favorite thing about spring on the farm is baby calves. There’s nothing cuter than watching them take their first steps and then run and play in the pasture with all their little buddies.
  2. Spring wouldn’t be the same without planting a vegetable garden. Each year I swear it will be smaller than the year before, but so far that hasn’t happened. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment. Or, maybe that saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” comes into play here.
  3. petuniasFilling my planters with colorful flowers and waiting from them to overflow the pots always adds a bright spot to my day (literally.) The flowers on the ground in the picture were all volunteer last year. Though the ground is covered with small landscaping rocks, I rather liked the effect and hope they pop up again this year.
  4. bird houseWatching the birds flit around and tease the cats is always fun.
  5. tire swingA tire swing hanging in the backyard reminds me of youth and all the days our kids spent playing on it. Kids and swinging on a warm spring day goes hand in hand.
  6. cat and litterOf course, spring on the farm wouldn’t be complete without a new litter of kitties. Aren’t they just too stinkin’ cute?

What are some of your favorite things about spring?

 

My neighbor’s daffodils

Is there anything that says spring as much as a cheerful bouquet of daffodils?

I’ve always loved this happy, sunshine-y little flower that promises warmer weather and new life after a cold winter. This year, I was determined to have a whole host of yellow daffodils right outside my front door. I cultivated my little flower bed, planted my bulbs, and waited.

And waited.

I wondered if my bulbs were old, or somehow defective. Maybe they didn’t like the soil, or I didn’t water them enough. Maybe there weren’t getting enough sunshine.

Neighbor's daffodils
My neighbor’s blooming daffodils, as seen from my driveway.

As I waited for my daffodils to bloom, I noticed green shoots start to appear in my neighbor’s yard. Pretty soon, those shoots grew into tall green stems, and a few days later, buds blossomed into dozens of yellow and white daffodils. They could be seen from across the street, from down the block, from the backyard. They were beautiful.

Meanwhile, my daffodils had only sprouted into teeny, tiny little shoots that could only be seen from a few feet away.

I tried watering them more, putting extra soil around them. Nothing enticed them to grow any faster than they already were. To make matters worse, my neighbors are not people who do any sort of gardening. The daffodil bulbs were inherited with the home when they bought it, and the only yard work they ever do is mowing the lawn. They haven’t done anything to encourage the growth of their daffodils at all.

Tiny daffodil
My first (and so far only!) mini daffodil bloom in my front flower garden.

Do you ever feel your dreams are like those daffodil bulbs? That you’re just waiting for them to bloom? I do. I feel like I’m waiting for my writing career to take off, I’m waiting to be a mother, I’m waiting for all those things I dreamed of happening someday to actually happen today. Try as I might, the seeds of dreams that I’m cultivating in my heart just don’t seem to be blooming.

And just like I covet my neighbor’s daffodils, I covet the dreams of others who seemingly haven’t done anything to make those things happen. I’m jealous of people who seem to have it all without putting in the hard work. I’m envious of friends who have babies to cuddle and kiss. I hate knowing that life isn’t ever going to be fair and some people seem to live charmed lives.

But you know what? Everything happens in His time, and for a purpose. Some dreams (and daffodils) just take longer to mature. Some seeds need more nurturing, more cultivation, more attention. Or maybe they just need to be transplanted somewhere else.

Just yesterday, the very first daffodil opened up in my little flower garden. It’s tiny, and a fraction of the size of my neighbor’s blooms, but you know what? It’s mine, and I cherish it that much more because of the work I put into coaxing it into life.

And God is watering and nurturing the seeds of my dreams, and when they finally bloom, I’ll cherish them even more because of the time and effort put into making them come true.

 

Planting Seeds

Spring is a time of rebirth for the earth and for our lives, and nothing reminds us more of that than watching trees going from buds to blooms or seedlings pushing their way through the cold earth. All of this reminds us of the importance of planting seeds both figuratively and literally.

During the next two weeks the Inkspers will be sharing about the seeds they will be planting (or have already planted) this spring. Some may share their plans for reaping a beautiful garden, while others may share a seed they’ve planted in someone’s heart. Join us to see what kinds of seeds we are planting and share your own cultivation stories, too!

Seeds of Love

Bailey napkins
All members of the wedding party pitched in to help fold napkins, while I had a crew in the other room setting up the reception tables.

The last few weeks in our extended family have been fixated on a solitary event. My niece Bailey’s wedding to Joe.

All hands were on deck. My brother, her father, made a beautiful wall filled with tea light candle holders as a backdrop for the ceremony. Bailey’s uncle performed the ceremony. My 16-year-old daughter made 300 cupcakes for the event–peanut butter cup, red velvet with white chocolate frosting, and pink lemonade. My other niece, who is a professional photographer, did all of the pictures. My son was the DJ. I helped with coordinating the event and did the flowers. Her mother, of course, truly pulled it all together.

The wedding party--7 bridesmaids and 7 groomsmen. The lights were off for the ceremony which made it more romantic.
The wedding party–seven bridesmaids and seven groomsmen. My daughter Caroline is the third from the left. The lights were off for the ceremony which made it more romantic.

It was a lovely ceremony and everything looked beautiful, but the real beauty radiated from the couple as they gave glory to God for bringing them together. Theirs was a love, as the groom said in his vows, that “no one saw coming,” and yet, it’s hard to imagine them without one another now.

Mr. and Mrs. Joe Davis
Mr. and Mrs. Joe Davis

God planted a seed of love and it’s bloomed into a beautiful flower. I feel blessed to be part of the celebration of seeing the Master Gardener at work.

Freedom of Speech?

Amendment 1: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. 

If you’re comparing the persecution we in the United States face with that of other countries, we do have it good. Our First Amendment ensures we will have on freedom of speech, religion, and the right of  the citizens to assemble peacefully and petition the government.

We shouldn’t have any problems then, should we?

Well, that was the genius vision of our founders, but those freedoms are being whittled away, and too many of us are okay with that.

While on a long drive this week, I heard a news story about a dentist in Michigan who played Christian music in her office. That dentist is now being sued by former employees because of that music. I was skeptical about the news report, so once I arrived at my destination, I looked up the story. Here’s the headline from the Washington Post, not exactly a gossip rag: A Dentist is Being Sued for Harassing Staff by Constantly Playing Christian Music.

Seriously? Having Christian music playing at a private business is harassment? Did those employees not consider that if they didn’t like the atmosphere, they had the freedom to secure a job elsewhere? If patients were bothered by the music, wouldn’t they find a different dentist? If my dentist played rap music while working on my teeth, I would absolutely go somewhere else. Enough customers leaving would hurt the business and likely compel the owners to change their way. That’s called free market.

The suit hasn’t gone to court yet, but the fact that someone is suing over a freedom of speech issue is downright frightening. I should mention that the article obviously doesn’t give all the details, so there are a lot unknowns, but the very foundation of the lawsuit is contrary to the First Amendment.

Then consider your daily lives. How often have you held your tongue–or your pen–afraid of being tagged as intolerant, hateful, prudish, or any number of other mouth-binding labels? I admit it happens too often to me.

Yes, we do live in a free country, but if we keep letting others bind us, those freedoms will slowly disappear.

The Road God has Placed Before You

When we hear about missionaries in other countries, we are amazed at their bravery, and sacrifice, and in awe of the adventure they experience each day. What can we do, here at home in the USA? Are we really making a contribution to God’s plan if we never leave our hometown?

Actually, Jesus gives us a precedent for this. He  first chose His very close disciples, who went everywhere with Him, and then, in Luke, Chapter 10, he appointed seventy more. In modern terms these were his “advance men”. They were to go before him, to test the waters, to prepare the community for His arrival.

Verse 3 acknowledges that Jesus knows these secondary disciples would endure persecution. “Behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves.” But, He also tells them how to decide where they should do their work. He says they are to enter each house with these words from verse 5: “Peace be to this house.” If they are met with acceptance, with peace, they are instructed to stay. Verse 7 says: “Remain, eating and drinking such things as they give; for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house.”

The workers are to stay, healing the sick, telling the townspeople that the kingdom of God is coming.

However, if they are rejected,verse 11 tells these workers  to move along, literally wiping the dust of the city off their shoes, while repeating the warning that the kingdom of God is coming.

In our day and time, we are met with rejection quite often when we try to share the Word of God. We learn to follow Jesus’ advice, to move along, repeating our message, until we find someone who does listen. Not all of us are called to be missionaries to foreign lands. For many of us, our harvest can be made right where we live. At school, at work, in our own neighborhoods. We spread His message of love and peace to every house, spending time with those who accept us, brushing the dust off when we are rejected. In this way, we gain the reputation of persistence, of peace, of God’s love. There will be no doubt that we are preparing the way for the Kingdom of God. Jesus has gone before us, and He is always with us. We will walk the road he chooses for us with a cheerful heart, knowing that a wonderful reward awaits.

Traveling 7,843 miles to Find God

When we think of missionaries serving in other countries, we don’t often think of them reaching American citizens. That, however, is exactly what happened to someone very special to me.

In 1981,  my husband David left the U.S. as part of the International Foreign Youth Exchange (IFYE), an international 4-H program for college-aged young adults to learn about other cultures and exchange knowledge. He was 21-year-old at the time, fresh from college, and had scarcely been out of his North Dakota home. (Does visiting Minnesota from North Dakota count?)

Thailand 3David flew to Thailand, 7,843 miles from North Dakota, for his 2-year stint as an IFYE representative. But before he could begin his work teaching agricultural programming to the Thai youth and their parents, he needed to speak the language.

He began attending language school with a three other IFYE representatives, a missionary from the States, and his family. The missionary family brought this group of homesick Americans into their home–and they had peanut butter! When you’re submerged in a new culture, little things like peanut butter are a God-send.

It wasn’t long before the missionary led these directed these young people toward the Bible and the Gospel of Christ. David studied and felt as if his eyes had been opened. He was baptized in the shallow end of a pool by the missionary. Because David is 6’6″ and the missionary was much shorter, David had to stand on his knees.

thai-village2

The missionary and his family didn’t stop there. During David’s years working  in rural Thailand, he went to their home in the city on the weekends for church services and to spend time with them. Now able to speak Thai fluently, Thailand became David’s home, and this missionary family became his own. David loved the Thai people, their culture, their country, and their hot, spicy food, but I think he loved this family the most.

Thai desserts wrapped in banana leaves Traditional Thai sweet food, steamed rice dough with sweet coconut stuffing in banana leaf . also called "ka-nom-sai-sa i" on wicker basket in culture market at Thailand
Thai desserts wrapped in banana leaves Traditional Thai sweet food, steamed rice dough with sweet coconut stuffing in banana leaf . Also called “ka-nom-sai-sa i” on wicker basket in culture market at Thailand.

When he returned to the States and took a job at the National 4-H Center, he began to worship with a church that sponsored another Thai missionary. Later, God brought him to Iowa and to me, where God has used him to touch the lives of hundreds of young people.

You’ve probably heard the song “Thank You for Giving to the Lord” by Ray Boltz. It’s song about a person’s dream of going to heaven and meeting all the people he’d unknowingly influenced for Christ.  In it there’s a part that says, “Remember the time a missionary came to your church and his pictures made you cry. You didn’t have much money, but you gave it anyway. Jesus took that gift you gave and that’s why I’m here today.”

I cry every time I hear that song, and so does David. I still find it amazing that God had to take a young man from North Dakota to Thailand to reach his heart, but I am so incredibly grateful that he did.

 

What’s Your Mission?

Mission work has always been a dream of mine, but so far it hasn’t panned out. At least not in the traditional sense of the word. Working in an orphanage, helping build homes and churches, or ministering to people in third world countries is sort of what I had in mind but until, or if, that day comes there are plenty of ways to minister to people in my own backyard, if I talk to God and really listen to what he has to say.

Being a missionary doesn’t mean we have to go overseas. Sometimes God wants us to simply use the gifts and talents He has given us to minister to people right here at home. No matter where we live—city, small town, or rural area—we will find people who need to feel the love of God. Teenage pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, imprisonment, loneliness and depression are just a few of the problems found in all corners of the world. The people experiencing these tragedies need someone to share God’s love with them, especially those who haven’t yet heard the Word.

Jesus said in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” We are now living those days of Christian persecution, but God calls us to use our gifts and passions to help those who need it most. In 1 Corinthians 4:12 our Lord commands, “When we are persecuted, we endure it.”

Now, more than ever, we must live for Him and share His love to all, even our enemies–as hard as it may be.

Christianity, Persecution, and the Modern World

This weekend, it was announced that Pastor Saeed Abenini,  who’s been imprisioned in Iran since 2012, has been released as part of a prisoner exchange.

We rejoice with Saeed, his family, and all those who have faithfully prayed for him. His release, however, also reminds us of the persecution that Christians are facing worldwide.

For the next two weeks, the Inkpsers will be focusing on mission work, martyrs, and the persecution facing the faithful.

Worst Year for Persecution in the Modern World

According to the 2016 World Watch list from Open Doors, Christians throughout the world suffered more persecution than at any other time in the modern world. Every year, Open Doors provides a list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. For the last 14 years, North Korea has been at the top of the list. Other countries, like Iraq, are certainly vying for the position.

Here are some worldwide facts to keep in mind:

  1. Over 7,000 Christians were killed for their faith this last year. This figure doesn’t include Christians killed in North Korea or parts of Iraq and Syria. It’s nearly impossible to get accurate figures from those places.
  2. According to Christianity today, “Up to 70,000 Christians are in labor camps” in North Korea.
  3. The number of churches that were attacked or damaged has doubled from last year. Sixty percent of the churches attacked were in China.persecuted prison
  4. The lead cause of persecution in 35 of the 50 countries listed is Islamic extremism.
  5. The Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa are the two hubs for Islamic extremism.  Numerically, more Christians are being persecuted in parts of Africa than the Middle East.
  6. Since 2012, persecution has risen and spread in Africa, where 16 of the 50 countries on the Open Doors Watch List are African. This is greater than the 14 countries in the Middle East and Persian Gulf. If the list went up to 65, another nine African countries would be on it.
  7. In Nigeria, 4,028 Christians have been killed for their faith and another 198 churches attacked or destroyed. However, the numbers may be much greater and the attacks may be under reported.
  8. Christianity is on the verge of extinction in some places like in the Syriac Christian town, Sadad.

Persecution covers many areas. It is more than just physical violence. “It’s a complex, multifaceted phenomenon that involves many aspects,” according to World Watch Research, “such as various forms of cultural marginalisation, government discrimination, hindrances on conversion, hindrances on participation in public affairs and restrictions on church life.”

If you’re like me, this information can seem overwhelming. There seems little we can do from our homes for those suffering on the other side of the world. However, I believe that is what Satan wants us to think.

persecution chains

So, what can we do?

PRAY-Keep Christians in these areas in your daily prayers. Pray for God’s will to prevail. Pray the for the release of imprisoned Christians.

SUPPORT – We can support organizations like Open Doors, which serve persecuted Christians, with financial contributions and with prayer.

ADVOCATE – We can be the voice for the persecuted. We can sign petitions and support legislation in regard to how our countries are interacting with those on the Watch List.

VOLUNTEER – We can write notes of encouragement to missionaries and their families. We can educate our churches about those being persecuted.

Always remember, God is in control. More people have come to Christ in times of persecution and suffering than in times of peace.  We need to pray Revelation 12:11  for those Christians who face death on a daily basis.

“And they overcame him, by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they loved not their own lives, even unto death.”

It Happened on Fifth Avenue

I discovered a channel that only airs old movies this Christmas. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. I watched a lot of TV (bad) but I found myself absorbing classic storytelling techniques (good). I viewed some new-to-me movies this month — like this one:

inks2

Made in 1947, I didn’t even recognize any of the actors but what a sweet story.  New York City hobo, Aloysius McKeever, spends his winters in the boarded up mansion of a multi-millionaire who goes south for the season. It’s a great little scam until he invites a down and out ex-GI to share his posh digs. That GI has a couple of struggling war buddies with families who can’t find affordable housing in the city. Then there’s the mysterious young woman who is running away from something and ends up staying as well. Pretty soon Aloysisus quiet squatting days are over and he becomes an unexpected father figure to a patchwork family. There’s comedy and drama as well as two sweet romances. And a cute dog. Perfect holiday fare.