The Beauty of the Dandelion

Image result for dandelion

Hey TD!

Love One Another Night was a truly blessed time for all and something we will be doing more of in the future.  We have to.  The reports of blessing we’re getting confirm this.  But we shouldn’t be surprised at the blessing we got, for this what God promises us … “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” Proverbs 11:25
Kathy shared this poignant and meaningful piece with TD’s leadership after Love One Another Night.  We’d like to share it with you as well, in hopes it will both broaden and deepen your understanding of life.
by Vaneetha Rendall Risner

Sometimes I feel useless.

I once felt accomplished, serving others rather than needing to be served. I brought meals to people in need but now I can’t even make my own coffee, and sometimes my husband even helps me lift my cup. When Joel is out of town, someone needs to stay with me because I can no longer stay alone. Nothing seems easy anymore, and I look back on my days of independence with longing. At times, I feel I have little to offer.

I know in my head that usefulness isn’t what the Christian life is all about. God doesn’t need me, and I am not indispensable in the kingdom- none of us are. God delights in us, not because of anything we bring or do, but simply because we are his beloved children.

Additionally, usefulness isn’t for us to measure; God often uses us in ways that we never see or know. This life is not about our glory – the impact we make on this world – but about God’s glory. His grace is sufficient for us and his power is made perfect in our weakness. So when we look weak, we really are strong (2 Cor 12:9, 10b).

The dying dandelion, which is embedded in my logo and on my website, reminds me of strength from seeming weakness. While dandelions are unwelcome on my lawn, their beauty at the end of their lives has captivated me.

In its heyday, the dandelion is bright and rugged. It grows in harsh conditions, often in places where no one sees or knows but God. Some people see it as unstoppable, its bright yellow petals visible from a distance.

But as it is dying, being stripped of its strength, the dandelion is often hard to see. It has given everything and there seems to be nothing left; the vibrant color that once defined it is gone. In this stage, it is preparing to reproduce, doing its most glorious work.

Sometimes, like the dandelion, we feel we are most useful to God when we are sunny, strong and resilient. People notice us. But when our health changes and we feel delicate and dependent, we wonder what good our lives are. And society reinforces that doubt by ignoring the elderly, encouraging euthanasia, shunning the disabled, aborting the unwanted. It seems as though we must prove our usefulness for society to value us. And when we can’t, we may feel like a burden to others, wishing we could be more productive.

But when does the dandelion do its most important work? When it’s dying. When the fragile seeds are blown away by the wind. When it’s surrendered itself and is sowing seeds of new life. And the stronger the wind blows, the farther the seeds will go – to places that the lone flower could have never gone itself.

Lilias Trotter, an artist and missionary to Algeria in the late 1800’s said this:

This dandelion has long ago surrendered its golden petals and has reached its crowning stage of dying – the delicate seed globe must break up now – it gives and gives till it has nothing left… There is no sense of wrenching: it stands ready, holding up its little life, not knowing when or where or how the wind that blows with where it listeth may carry it away. It holds itself no longer for its own keeping, only as something to be given: a breath does the rest, turning the “readiness to will” into the “performance.”

In John 12:24, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” A grain of wheat may be useful and majestic when it stands tall and alone, but it doesn’t reproduce or bear fruit then. Its influence is only multiplied when it falls into the ground and dies. When it’s bruised and buried and the external kernel rots away underground, carrying the seeds of new life.

When we die, whether it be physical death or the death of our dreams or dying to ourselves, something remarkable happens. God brings new life.

No one looks forward to dying. Or being stripped bare. Or feeling useless. Most people say they want to die in their sleep when they are capable and healthy; they don’t want to face the ravages of aging and disability. But watching others trust God as they struggle with debilitating frailties is sacred. It inspires me in my own struggles. I know that God will be sufficient for me just as he has been sufficient for them. Their stalk may be bare, but it stands firm. And those people are a marvel to me.

I have the privilege of being in a Pain Pal group with friends who are enduring unspeakable physical suffering. Many of them have caregivers because they cannot care for themselves. Yet their radiance is profound; they speak of an intimacy and joy in Christ that carries them through the worst pain imaginable. They are my heroes. Their willingness to praise God and encourage others amid their own struggles has changed me.  Struggles like stabbing, mind-numbing relentless pain, waking up constantly through the night in agony (if they sleep at all), quadriplegia, multiple amputations, lying in bed in a dark room all day unable to do anything. Compared to most of them, I know nothing of suffering. And yet they constantly reassure me that my pain matters – all our pain matters.

These friends remind me of the dandelion. They are completely yielded to God and their lives are a testimony of his grace. They may feel they can do nothing but lie in bed and pray, but they are bearing more fruit than most do in a lifetime of serving. Their influence is greater than they can imagine, and the wind is carrying their witness to faraway places. It’s being carried by God who is using it for his glory.

Lilias Trotter has a sketch of the dandelion with a quote by Ugo Bassi beside it. It reads:

Measure thy life by loss and not by gain; not by the wine drunk but by the wine poured forth, for love’s strength standeth in love’s sacrifice, and he that suffereth most hath most to give.

SideBar-Vaneetha
Vaneetha Rendall Risner – http://www.vaneetha.com
Vaneetha was 3 months old when she contracted Polio.  Within 24 hours she was paralyzed due to a doctor’s mistake.  She has had a lifetime of immense suffering … and ensuing God-given joy.  Her blog Dance in the Rain is a powerful source of truth, sharing, honesty, vulnerability, and hope, as is her book, The Scars That Have Shaped Me
Advertisements

A Way in a Manger

the manger

Hi TD,

Let’s be honest. In the midst of this busy and commercialized season, we can easily lose sight of the true meaning and weight of Christmas. Perhaps we know the Christmas story so well that it has grown somewhat stale to us, or we think that the miraculous birth of Jesus has very little to do with our present life and troubles. After all, the event happened thousands of years ago in a land far, far away.

That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I hope that reading this blog post by Vaneetha Rendall Risner can help us come to the Christmas story in Scripture with fresh eyes and enlarge our hearts to adore the Child born King who meets us in our trials and troubles today.

Vaneetha Rendall Risner is a freelance writer and regular contributor to DesiringGod.org, who is well acquainted with suffering, having experienced 21 surgeries by age 13, multiple miscarriages, the death of a child, unwanted divorce, just to name a few. The pain and disappointment she writes about in this particular post is about her diagnosis with post-polio syndrome, which involves increasing pain, weakness, and limitations in her body.

– Kathy

A WAY IN A MANGER

I chipped a friend’s china plate as I struggled to put it on the counter. My arms are failing and I can’t quite gauge what I can and cannot do. I wanted to help clean up, to make things easier, but instead I made things worse.

I spiraled downward after that, regretting going to her house in the first place. When I surrendered my life to Christ, I felt He was going to use me. But I expected to serve out of my strengths. Not my weaknesses.  It’s hard to serve when you feel inadequate.

In the midst of my disappointments, I started reading the Christmas story, trying to imagine how Mary felt.

For Mary, carrying the Son of God was costly. No one would have believed she was a virgin. Her premarital pregnancy was scandalous, bringing disgrace to everyone affected. Yet God had called her to this. He had entrusted her with carrying His precious Son who would reign over the house of Jacob forever.

Mary had been given an incredible honor. So she might have expected something notable to happen before Jesus’s birth. Earthly kings had fanfare associated with them. How much more the Son of God?

So Mary may have felt disheartened as she trudged, in the last stages of pregnancy, to Bethlehem, about eighty miles away.  With no one to help her but Joseph, her betrothed.  The Bible does not mention her even having the donkey we like to imagine her riding.

Where was Joseph’s family? They must have gone to Bethlehem for the census too, but they don’t appear to have accompanied the young couple. Were Mary and Joseph not welcome with the rest of his family? All we are told was that the couple went together with nowhere to sleep but a stable.

And as she was delivering Jesus, did Mary wonder why God had not intervened? Scripture does not record that this birth was anything other than ordinary. Messy, bloody, the way all babies are born. And then wrapped in swaddling cloths according to the custom.

And where to lay him? In such a familial society, surely most women would be surrounded by relatives, eager to rock a newborn baby. But Mary and Joseph were alone and exhausted. So where in a draughty stable of beasts do you lay your newborn infant?

They chose a manger. A crude feeding trough for animals. It was the best they could do under the circumstances.

I wonder what Mary thought as she placed Jesus in a manger. Was she hesitant to put him there? Did it feel safe? Did she and Joseph have to shoo the animals away as they came to the manger in search of food? Did seeing the manger highlight for her the desperation of her situation?As she watched her sleeping baby, did she wonder if this was really what God had planned?

And then the shepherds came. They told the young couple all that had happened. Angels proclaimed his birth and sang of God’s glory.

It must have thrilled Mary to hear the shepherds account. Though she and Joseph had been alone at his birth, heaven had been rejoicing. And the heavenly host had sent the shepherds to come and worship Jesus, confirmation that her sleeping baby was indeed the Son of God.

And how did the shepherds find them? How did they know it was the Savior?

The manger. The shepherds knew it was the Christ-child because of the manger. That was their sign from God. The angels had said, “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

There might have been other babies born in Bethlehem that night. And they may have been wrapped in swaddling cloths. But no other child would have been laid in a manger.

This manger, this messy, dirty, smelly feeding trough, was the sign that God used to show the shepherds where the Savior lay.

Signs in the Bible were significant. Gideon’s sign was the wet fleece and dry ground and vice versa. Hezekiah’s sign was the shadow that went backward. And Ahaz’s sign was that a virgin would conceive. All of these were miraculous. Extraordinary. And unnatural.

And so as Mary put Jesus into the manger, it must have felt unnatural for her as well. No one would expect to find a baby in a manger. Let alone the Son of God. It was as remarkable as the other signs.

When the shepherds told Mary of their “sign,” it must have been an amazing confirmation for her. One that she treasured. The manger had been God-ordained all along.She hadn’t escaped God’s notice.

Perhaps Mary needed a sign just as much as the shepherds. To know that she was in God’s will. That God was still with her. That she was being used by God.

We all need that sign. We want confirmation. In our natural world, we think confirmation of our decisions is that things go well. They fall into place. They get tied up with a bow.

But what if the confirmation in the kingdom of God is that things get increasingly hard? The opposite of what we wanted? More humbling than we ever expected?

What if the confirmation is that God is with us in our desolate places? What if the confirmation is the manger? 

When our dreams and plans are falling apart, and our life feels humble and obscure when we were hoping for something prettier, maybe we are exactly where God wants us to be. Where He can use us most.

So as I mourn my weakness and disappointments, I remember the manger. My suffering is not glamorous. No one’s suffering is. It’s messy and painful and humbling. And yet God is glorified in it.

The manger highlights the way God uses our deepest pain, our humiliation, the things we wish were different, the despised and the lowly, to bring Him the greatest glory. God’s kingdom is upside down. The last shall be first, the weak shall be strong, and the foolish shall shame the wise.

And God incarnate will be laid in a manger.

And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.

Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!

Vaneetha Rendall Risner