Show, Don’t Tell..

A fundamental piece of advice for writing fiction is “Show, don’t tell.” A good writer will use words to paint a picture or set a mood. Poets and songwriters are masters of this advice. Metaphors, analogies, figurative language, even alliteration– all create memorable images with very few words.

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Jesus (hardly surprising, as He is the Word of God) was a master storyteller, using parables that we still recognize and identify with today–mustard seeds and prodigal sons, good Samaritans and lilies of the field– Jesus didn’t “lecture” about forgiveness or holiness or love; He provided word pictures, even as He demonstrated each concept in His actions.

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When Jesus was getting ready to return to Heaven, He commanded His disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations.. (Matthew 28:19 NIV) He also said to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature..(Mark 16:15 NKJV). And as I review Jesus’ methods and actions, I see that I need to make some changes.

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I need to listen more and lecture less. I need to spend more time with those who are shunned by the “righteous,” but cherished by God. I need to spend less time defending myself and more time testifying about Jesus. And I need to spend less time “telling” and more time “showing” love, obedience, joy, mercy, peace, and hope.

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This doesn’t eliminate the need to talk and write and “tell” about God– but I want to learn more about doing it God’s way!

Salty Talk

With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in God’s likeness. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. It should not be like this, my brothers! 11 A spring cannot pour both fresh and brackish water from the same opening, can it? 12 My brothers, a fig tree cannot produce olives, nor a grapevine figs, can it? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

James 3:9-12 (International Standard Version) via biblegateway.com
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We live in a culture of complaint and condescension. We pass judgment on people we’ve never met, based on stories we read second- or third-hand on Facebook or in a magazine, or hear on a gossipy talk show. We complain about situations we’ve never been in, on behalf of yet more people we’ve never met. We take pleasure in tearing down the reputation and character of people who don’t even know we exist.

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And then we pray…

Our Father, who art in Heaven…”

I have caught myself in the middle of criticizing someone, as the Holy Spirit reminds me that God LOVES that person. Jesus DIED for that person, just as He died for me. Even if my criticism seems “valid,” it is not for me to pass judgment– especially to others and behind their back.

James (the brother of Jesus) wrote about our words coming out of our mouths like water pouring forth from a spring. We cannot pour forth pure, fresh water and brackish, salty water from the same spring. Similarly, we cannot pour forth praise and wholesome words, and turn around and trash-talk our neighbor–people will “taste” what pours out, and judge the whole spring.

This seems like such a small thing in our culture–surely a sarcastic comment about someone “everyone” dislikes can do no lasting harm, right? Yet an old proverb my parents taught me still rings true: “If you can’t say anything nice about a person, say nothing at all.” Imagine the difference it would make in the world if we all followed that advice. The silence would be deafening!

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Yes, it’s tempting to add our “two cents” to a conversation that is filled with criticism and complaint– but the price we pay in the long run is just not worth it! When we give in to temptation, snarling and sniping and slandering others, we ruin our own reputation. We become known for gossip and sarcasm, and ill-will. Like saltwater flowing from a spring, we bring a bad taste– and bad results to everything we touch. God wants us to bring forth pure water– encouragement, truth, and justice– when we speak. God knows each person — there is no hiding from HIS judgment. But He will not be snide, or clever, or nasty. He will be righteous and Holy in His judgment, not petty or vindictive. As followers of Christ, we should strive to do the same.

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Father, guide my tongue. Purify it, so that I speak words of life and healing; words that honor you AND those you have created in your image. Help me to remember that words matter. Words hurt, and words heal– words give life and hope, or they bring darkness and dissension. May my words reflect the True Word–Christ– in me. Amen.

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Planting Seeds

I live in Michigan, and our state is in the news, because our Governor has issued a new set of restrictions in light of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. There is a “Stay Home; Stay Safe” measure restricting travel and “non-essential” business until the end of April. But parts of her new executive order have drawn criticism–especially her restriction of gardening and landscaping activities. Larger stores are not allowed to sell plants and seeds and gardening implements, as they are considered “non-essential” (as opposed to food and medicine purchases). It is still unclear whether or not gardening centers or roadside businesses can still sell plants or seeds if that is their primary business.

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Thousands of residents are upset about these restrictions, and the slippery logic behind allowing liquor sales, sales of lottery tickets, and recreational marijuana, and allowing access to abortion clinics, while seeming to single out gardening, landscaping, home improvement (we can’t buy paint), and other reasonably “safe” activities, and prohibiting families from being with their loved ones– especially those who are dying of non-COVID-19 related causes.

I am not faulting those who are upset, and I won’t use this space to either fault or defend our governor. These are challenging times, and tempers flare, patience grows thin, and people are not always going to think or act at their best.

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My point is that we– all of us– are sowing seeds during this time. Maybe not vegetable seeds or herbs or flowers, but seeds of discontent, seeds of anger, seeds of bitterness, and seeds of pride. We don’t need soil or seed packets or starter plants to sow a crop of good or bad spiritual produce. We don’t need to visit a store or garden center to bloom where we are planted.

So today, my prayer is that I would plant the following seeds:

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  • Kindness–Words and deeds that show honor, respect, and love for those around me. Not just my friends, but also those who count themselves my enemies, and those with whom I disagree. Kindness multiplies and brings a fruitful harvest.
  • Joy–Not phony happiness, but true joy– the kind that doesn’t deny hardship, but gives strength in tough times. The kind that grieves with those who grieve, but offers hope and compassion. It is a sweet balm that brings healing and a lingering fragrance.
  • Patience–Waiting is not easy. It is not comfortable. But it is quiet strength that doesn’t give way to panic and anger. Patience is a “hardy” plant for any season.
  • Forgiveness– Forgiveness must be carefully tended in times of distress and uncertainty. We must prune away pride and hurt feelings and the desire for vengeance. Forgiveness is a rare and precious plant.
  • Gratitude/Contentment–I woke up today. That was a blessing. I opened my eyes and saw a roof over my head. I was warm and wrapped in blankets in a bed in a bedroom in my own apartment. I turned on a light, pulled clothes out of my closet, took a shower, and looked in the refrigerator where I had a choice of food to eat. I can breathe without a respirator, I can walk and use my arms and hands. I can speak and listen. Even in the midst of these times– even if I had no home or food, no running water, and I tested positive for COVID-19, or cancer, or MS–God is with me; God loves me; God knows everything about me; God sent His own Son to die for me when I was still a sinner! Gratitude is like a morning glory, declaring beauty, not because of its surroundings, but because that is its nature and its purpose. We can do the same!
  • Faith–I saw a meme the other day that said , “If a tiny virus can do this much damage, imagine what mustard-seed-sized faith can do! There is so much confusion, so much doubt, so much despair right now. But Faith, like a mustard seed, can spread and grow, even under (sometimes especially under) adverse circumstances. And Faith is another strong plant that can withstand the strong hot winds of adversity and weather great storms.
  • Love–Love is like a tomato plant– it just keeps growing and giving and producing. But, like a tomato plant, we need to watch out for blight and worms. True love drives out fear, overcomes, endures…you’ve probably heard all the cliches. But love also involves risk, rejection, and even pain. Make sure you plant your love in good soil and give it the supporting frame of faith in the one who IS Love.
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  • and finally, Prayer– Prayer is a root vegetable; it grows in good soil and where is can’t always be seen. Prayer can thrive in times of quarantine. It is (or should be) untroubled by what is happening “above ground.” It needs the “living water” of God’s Holy Spirit, and the good soil of faith. Its roots are deep, and it provides nourishment for the soul.

Hearts, Hype, Hatred, and Hope

Today marks the celebration of St. Valentine– Valentine’s Day. It is a day of hearts and flowers, romantic dinners and gifts, all celebrating love and marriage. Many people choose to marry on Valentine’s day; many more choose this day to propose marriage (my dad did, in fact, and he and my mom were married just a few months later in 1963).

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Gifts have gotten more elaborate and expensive over the years, though there are many who choose simple, homemade gifts or cards, as well. Advertisers promote their products as being perfect expressions of romance and love–diamonds, lacy nightwear, expensive candle-lit dinners, vacations, deluxe tool boxes, cars, spa treatments–if a new broom or pair of socks can be made to look romantic, look for them to be advertised as “perfect” for this year’s gift.

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I have a long and difficult history with Valentine’s Day. I remember, as a school girl, being forced to choose, sign, and address valentine cards for every person in my class at school. Some were easy enough, but I had to send cards to classmates I didn’t like; classmates who teased or bullied me, or were just “icky.” I think most parents did the same, but I noticed that I rarely got cards back from everyone, and sometimes, the “icky” kids only got two or three cards, which they hid away in their desk or threw away. I never knew if they were glad to have gotten the few cards, or if they were embarrassed and hurt (especially if they had no cards to give to anyone).

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As a young woman, I disliked Valentine’s Day for its way of sorting out the “loved” from the “unloved.” I was loved by my parents, and liked by friends and colleagues, students and neighbors. But every 14th of February, I was reminded painfully that I was not considered “loveable” by the young men buying candy, flowers, or engagement rings. Year after year passed with no gifts, no dates, nothing to signify that I was worthy of romantic love or attention. As I write this, I know there are millions of young women who are facing pain and rejection today, where they might feel confident and happy on any other, normal, day.

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This year, Valentine’s Day seems like a bad joke– talk of love and romance rings very hollow when I see the amount of hatred being spread on social media. Should I feel “loved” if I receive a card from someone who spews hatred and death wishes for people they barely know because of something they said about politics or the environment? If I followed my parents’ rules and bought valentine cards for everyone at the office, would I be brave enough (or foolish enough) to send them?

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The original St. Valentine (though this is disputed and there may be more than one martyr with the same name from around the same time) is believed to be a young martyr who was beaten, stoned to death, and beheaded for marrying young Roman soldiers against the mandate of his emperor. It was felt that soldiers would fight better if they were unmarried and unencumbered by family ties, but soldiers who had converted to Christianity wanted to live pure lives, married to one woman, and faithful to their vows. St. Valentine was committed to helping these men and women live their new found faith and show love for each other, and for God. For that, he was jailed and sentenced to die a horrible death. There were no greeting cards, no diamonds, no spa treatments on that day. There was suffering, death, sacrifice, humiliation, and loss. And plenty of hatred.

But St. Valentine’s death had quite the opposite effect than the emperor intended. God’s love has a way of shining brighter for being targeted, tormented, and beaten down. Real love doesn’t show itself in new clothes, hothouse flowers, or candle-lit dinners. It shows itself in a pouring out of self, and being willing to suffer for others– even those who do not love us back.

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This Valentine’s Day, I live in hope that Christians around the world will demonstrate the true love that comes from God– a love that practices Grace, Kindness, Forgiveness, Humility, Patience, and Joy, even in the face of Hatred and Evil. Hatred shouts and raises its fists. Let Love whisper and reach out hands of service. Let Love kneel and pray for our enemies, and bless those who curse us. Let love be ready to die rather than spread hatred and return evil for evil.

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Love One Another (1 John 3:11-24 ESV)

11 For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, brothers,[a] that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

19 By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God,[b] and God[c] in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

Praying it Forward

Have you ever been the recipient of a small act of kindness, and “paid it forward” by doing something nice for others? It doesn’t have to be an extravagant gesture–someone holds a door open for you, so you do the same for someone else when your hands are free; you give someone a compliment, and as you walk on, you hear them complimenting the next person they see. It doesn’t even have to be the same action–you may see someone pick up trash along the sidewalk, and later you make a small donation to a local charity that collects gently used items for needy residents…

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The idea is that when we see good things happening, we can be inspired to join in and “spread the good.” In a world full of things that are not so “good”– bitterness, greed, hatred, pushing and shoving, name-calling, apathy, sadness, shame, and evil–good deeds stand out. Even the smallest kind word, smile, or simple act can have an exponential impact when it gets passed on.

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Have you ever considered “Praying it forward?” Not as a substitute for “paying it forward”, but as a supplement? When you see someone doing a kindness, or when you are the recipient of that kindness, you can pray:

  • Thank–of course, if you have the opportunity, thank the other person first, but then thank God for HIS goodness and kindness; thank Him for the person you’ve seen or interacted with; thank Him for giving you eyes to see (or ears to hear, etc.) the goodness around you; thank him for others who have blessed you in the past
  • Bless–if you have the opportunity, bless the other person with a smile, or a reciprocal act of kindness, but then ask God to bless the other person–and/or someone else who is on your mind.
  • Ask– ask God for opportunities to “pay it forward”, or just to spread more kindness! Ask how you can show kindness, mercy, and love to others throughout the day. Even more, ask God to intervene (or help you intervene) in places and lives that need more than a small act of kindness.
  • Confess/Repent–sometimes a small act or word of kindness will convict us, reminding us of a time when we have withheld mercy, or have been the means of causing harm or destruction. Use this time to confess and seek to make amends (if possible), or seek forgiveness.
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May today offer you opportunities to “pay it forward”, and then to “Pray if forward!”

Small Gestures

My mother is famous (in our corner of the world, at least) for sending greeting cards–hundreds each year for birthdays and anniversaries.  Nearly every day, she sits down and chooses birthday cards, signs them, puts them in envelopes, addresses them, stamps them, and dates them to put in the mail box.  She has learned over many decades just how long it takes for cards and letters to travel to various parts of the country and world, and times each card to arrive as close to the actual date of the event as possible.

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As a girl growing up, I found this ritual time-consuming, wasteful, and bizarre.  The calendar was a crowded mass of names, copied faithfully from last year’s calendar and crammed full of new births and recent marriages.  Once the card had been chosen and signed, Mom would have to look up addresses in an ancient address book crammed with scraps of paper and index cards with changes, notes, and other esoteric information.   Mom sent cards to people I had never heard of or met– old friends she knew from school, people my father knew from his army days, distant cousins, people who used to live in the neighborhood from before I was born.  Each year, there would be cards returned to sender as people we barely knew moved and mom lost contact with them, often for good.

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When I was old enough and sassy enough, I asked her why she bothered.  What value did she see in doing something so simple, yet so complicated– who cared whether someone they had never met (or barely remembered) sent them a 2-cent greeting card?  She patiently answered that perhaps no one cared (though she hoped it meant something), but she did it because one year, when she was young and times were very tough, she had received a beautiful birthday card from an unlikely source– the only card she received that year.  It came from her “uncle” Ralph, who was not actually her uncle, but a dear friend of the family.  “Uncle” Ralph had grown up in an abusive home, and had lost two sisters in childbirth.  He knew the pain of being forgotten on his own birthday, and wanted to make sure it didn’t happen to his “niece.”  Mom’s birthday wasn’t “forgotten” that year, but there was no money for fancy cards that year– just enough for a small, unfrosted cake and many good wishes.  Mom faced other “tough” years as a young wife and mother, when she couldn’t afford gifts or cards for birthdays.  This one small gesture so impressed my mother that she made it her mission, when she could afford to do so, to send as many greeting cards as she could to as many people as she could.  As a follower of Christ, moreover, she does it from a heart that wants constantly to show love to just one more person for whom Christ died.

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In the many years since my impertinent question, I have seen the incredible ministry my mother has had, and have heard from some of the many lives she has touched with her cards and her kind thoughts.  Time after time, I have heard of people who were strengthened and encouraged by her example and her thoughtfulness.  She is the living extension of God’s heart as she lovingly signs each card, walks it out to the mail box, and sends it on its way.

Many people have stopped sending greeting cards– we are more likely to send a text message or tweet a birthday greeting– if we think about it, or if it pops up in our news feed and we can just click a button. Yesterday was my birthday…I received three actual paper greeting cards (and yes, one was from my mother, one from my mother-in-law, and one from the ladies’ group at church).  I was blessed and touched by each one– and by the dozens of on-line greetings and random birthday wishes in the days before (and probably after), as well as the hugs and special time spent with my husband and other family members.

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I don’t send cards through the mail as my mother does, but I find myself typing Happy Birthday greetings on all my friends’ news feeds– sending happy thoughts to them,  their children and grandchildren; their spouses and cousins (though I’ve never met them)–and each time, I am reminded that even a seemingly small gesture can make an enormous difference in someone’s life.  And, because of Mom’s example, I write every name in my prayer journal.  As I turn the pages each day, I see the names of two, three, or even ten precious souls– all infinitely and passionately cherished by the creator of the universe–and I have the honor to lift each one up in prayer to the One who knows and loves them best.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

I saw an interesting site the other day about “Plant (ing) Your Spiritual Garden.”  Spiritual Gardening

I’ve seen different versions– one version had some rows of “P”s, instead of “peace”– Peace, Prayer, Patience, and Positive Thinking.  Another talked about keeping Be’s near your garden– Be Faithful, Be Loving, Be Kind, Be Anxious for Nothing, etc..

yellow bee on white flower on selective focus photography
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I love figurative language– parable and metaphor and such– the Bible uses it generously.  Jesus used parables about gardens, planting, fruit trees, harvest, and vineyards throughout his teachings.  He knew that we can listen on two levels and that we remember concepts better with visual and figurative examples.

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Prayer is something we must cultivate–we can grow and produce fruit if we develop the pursuit and practice of prayer.  Remember to pull out the weeds of busyness and doubt.  Plant seeds of praise and trust, dig deep in the fertile soil of faith; allow for the key ingredients of the light of God’s Word and the Living Water of daily fellowship with Him.

There are a lot of other great tips to keep healthy growth happening.  Need some more tips– check out this page.  Proactive Prayer Points

If you have other tips, I’d love to hear them– please leave a comment or suggestion!

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