Freedom and Blueberries

My husband and I went blueberry picking earlier this week. The local blueberries are at the peak of their freshness and flavor. Our friends have a farm, complete with a blueberry patch, where you can buy farm fresh blueberries by the box, or you can pick your own and pay by the pound. We went early in the morning, while the dew was still on the berries. The day promised to be hot and muggy, but not until we had finished our labors among the bushes. We saw butterflies and heard the happy chirping of birds nearby; otherwise, it was quiet and we focused on gently rolling dark, sweet berries into our hands and dropping them into our buckets. We picked a little over 12 pounds of berries (enough for several pies!) in a little over an hour–a good harvest at a leisurely pace.

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I love visiting the blueberry patch. It brings back wonderful memories of visits with my mom and grandma, my sister, my husband, and even my oldest nephews. I love the feel of the berries as I gently pull them off the bush and as they roll into the bucket. I love the feel of the bucket pulling as it fills with fruit. I love measuring out the berries for pies or cobbler or just making sure we have several quarts frozen for later use.

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I’ve been picking blueberries for years. I’ve picked from several different farms in several different locations all around the area. Some years, the berries are huge. Other years, they are small and tend toward sour (still good for pies and baked goods, but not as tasty to eat by the handfull!) In all those years, I took for granted the wonderful freedom of being able to enjoy this activity. This year was different.

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There were two reasons for the difference. First, this was the year after COVID kept many people from enjoying “normal” activities– even outdoors–throughout most of the world. Even the ability to pick berries was limited by social distancing mandates and fears of catching COVID from other pickers or from touching the same bucket or being in the same weighing area as someone else. This year, I knew what it was NOT to be able to do something I considered to routine.

Secondly, we’ve been talking about freedom lately at church– the freedom we enjoy as citizens of America, but more importantly, the Freedom we enjoy as citizens of God’s Kingdom. As citizens of this country, our friends have the freedom to own their farm and grow whatever crops they choose. They also have the freedom and the opportunity to sell their produce as they see fit– commercially to stores or privately at a farm stand, or as U-Pick. They have the freedom to set their own prices and hours. And we have the freedom to choose from many such farms to purchase delicious, fresh fruit–and even to select the fruit ourselves! I had always accepted this as a “given.” But many people have never had this incredible opportunity, and I am so thankful for the many years I have enjoyed it!

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That’s an amazing thing– and I have spent a lifetime taking it for granted. But even more amazing is the Freedom I have through Christ. I am free to choose my attitude and behavior each day. I am empowered by the Holy Spirit to make the kind of choices I would not make in my own selfish mindset. I am free to live without the painful load of guilt and regret over the past– not because it didn’t happen or doesn’t have consequences, but because it no longer defines who I am or who I can be. Just like picking the plump, juicy blueberries from the bush, I can harvest the Fruit of the Spirit; I can have a life filled with Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-control! (Galatians 5:22-23) Just like being able to store up delicious fruit for the coming months, I can do what is required to please God– to act justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly with (my) God (Micah 6:8 paraphrased). Just like choosing which farm I will visit, I can seek out opportunities to reach out to people near and far with the incredible Gospel of Christ– in word AND in action.

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Who knew blueberries could be so powerful and so liberating! Thank you, Father, for blueberries. And thank you for the blessing of Freedom through Jesus Christ!

Praying for Happiness

A while ago, I was following a thread on Facebook. It was about good parenting, and the idea being discussed was about what a good parent would do to ensure their child’s happiness. Several of the people on the thread agreed that happiness was the highest priority, and that they would do anything to ensure that their child was happy.

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I disagreed, but I felt it was better not to argue as part of the thread. I never raised any children of my own, and threads on social media tend to pull out our gut reactions, rather than our studied ones. At first glance, it seems natural and good to want the people we love to be happy. I certainly don’t want my family and loved ones to be miserable! But is happiness the very best I can wish for– pray for? So often in life, true and lasting happiness is a process that involves going through struggles and periods of frustration and even failure. I don’t enjoy seeing loved ones struggling, but I want them to learn the life lessons that will help them become all they were designed to be.

I think of the life of Samson (Judges 13-16). Samson was set apart from birth to be a Nazarite. During his childhood, his parents followed the rules set aside for such a designation. The Biblical account makes much of the rule about never cutting his hair, but there were other rules his parents likely followed as he was growing up, such as keeping him away from grapes, wine, wine vinegar, or any other fermented drink, and keeping him away from defilement by dead bodies. It’s never easy to be “different” when you’re growing up. I’m sure Samson had many questions, and moments of unhappiness as a child. But somewhere along the way, his parents seem to have made Samson’s happiness more important than his character development.

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Samson grew to be petulant and spoiled. He seemed to think he was entitled to whatever whim took his fancy. Now the Bible is clear that some of Samson’s desires were part of God’s plan to confront the Philistines, but Samson’s parents put up only a token resistance when he told them he wanted to marry a Philistine woman. At the wedding feast, Samson posed a riddle which exposed his lack of respect for his Nazarite vows. Not only had Samson killed a lion; he had come back later and eaten honey taken from the lion’s carcass– a defilement that broke his vow. Later, of course, he would use the unclean jawbone of an ass to kill a thousand Philistines in a single incident. Samson could have made an offering and renewed his vow, but we have no record that he ever did.

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The most famous story of Samson is his infamous liaison with a prostitute named Delilah. Though she does little to hide her intention to learn the secret of his strength and betray him to his enemies, Samson toys with her, lies to her, and finally reveals his sacred secret. Once his hair is cut, Samson loses his great strength and is captured by the Philistines and tortured. Only when he is blind, imprisoned, and shamed does Samson seek the Lord and ask for God’s blessing.

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Samson pursued a life of pleasure, and gave full vent to his lust, anger, and other strong emotions. I’m sure there were many moments of happiness in his life, but there were also moments of pain, tragedy, betrayal, and shame.

I think the story of Samson is full of lessons for us today. One of those lessons is that even when we are not faithful, God can still use us for His good purposes. God used Samson to judge the nation of Israel, and to bring punishment on the Philistines for their cruelty toward them. God could have disqualified Samson for having broken his vows time and time again, but God used even Samson’s weakness to highlight His strength.

But another lesson, I think is that God showcased exactly what can happen when we place happiness, pleasure, and ease ahead of everything else. Samson caused his own unhappiness and torture. There is no record of Samson bringing happiness to anyone else– only shame, tears, violence, and retribution. God caused Samson to be a model of all that the book of Judges is about– at the end of the book, there is a significant verse, “In those days, Israel had no king: everyone did as he saw fit.”

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I don’t want my family and friends to be “happy” at the expense of their character, or at the expense of others. I pray that they develop Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control (Galatians 5:22-23). In the end, this will bring them a level of happiness that surpasses anything the world can offer.

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