Just in case you wonder, lemon trees are not indigenous to Colorado.In fact, unless one has a green house or a western facing window and lots of patience, it really isn’t possible to grow them here. So when we brought this little tree from California four years ago, we knew we were taking a long shot chance on it producing fruit. However, year after year it has had an abundance of lovely green leaves, fragrant lemon blossoms and each year we get to enjoy two to four sweet, juicy, Meyer lemons. No matter who came to visit, its unexpected beauty and bounty became a conversation piece. Then came 2020.
What do you see when you look at this picture of my tree? Two lemons are valiantly hanging on, doing their best to ripen into their full potential. But the leaves! The leaves are gone, and nothing remains but spindly little branches and two, little Meyers. It would be sad if it wasn’t so prophetically beautiful.
In Luke 13 we read the story of a man who went for a walk through his vineyard in which there was a fig tree that had not produced fruit for three years. He ordered the vine dresser to cut it down so it didn’t take up good ground and nourishment other trees could use. The grounds keeper asked him to leave it for one more season. He would feed it, tend and care for it, and see what happens. From this account as well as the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree that had an abundance of leaves but no fruit, we learn what matters most in the Kingdom. Leaves are lovely: fruit is the goal. In light of this, I’ve decided to give my Meyer one more year, as well.
My little lemon tree is not the only living thing that bears the marks of this crazy year of 2020. Each of us has been touched by the events of this year, some impacted more than others. I remember in the height of the panic, when it was all new and we really didn’t know what was happening or what to expect next, my heart would skip a beat when I realized – again and again – that it was not just OUR family, or our city or even our nation but, in fact, the entire globe that was being impacted. Each negative story or report that came along in those months left an imprint. In lemon tree terms, with each negative report, I lost a leaf. Now that we’re coming up on the end of the this year of unknowns and challenges, I hope I look like my lemon tree. I may not have all my leaves or look as in years gone by, but if I am producing good fruit that remains, I have done well. It is fruit the Master looks for when He comes. The fruit of faith that overcomes fear, the fruit of joy that brings strength. It may be time we each take a fruit inventory, before a New Year rolls around again.
A year ago, toward the end of 2019 (seems like longer than one year ago, doesn’t it?!), many people were talking and writing about what seemed to me the obvious concept of the Lord giving us 20/20 vision in this year. I remember having perfect vision when I was a child, to the point school teachers would comment on how exceptional both my close and distant vision were. That has changed with age and now eyeglasses afford me a similar benefit, though earlier this fall I had to get a new prescription and glasses as my vision continues to weaken a bit. However, the vision the Lord wants us to operate in is not just physical, natural vision but spiritual vision: the ability to see beyond what is happening in the natural. To see as He sees. To see Him more clearly than we’ve ever seen before. Thankfully, spiritual vision increases and sharpens with use and wisdom comes as we learn to see as He sees.
As I recently chatted with my friend Lenny, he shared something profound with me (and gave me permission to share the gist of the concept with you.) As the year began He asked the Lord how he was to navigate it and heard the Lord tell him to read John 20:20. He, too, was processing the idea of improved, in fact, perfect 20/20 vision and what that might mean or how it might come about. In this verse, the disciples are hidden away in a locked room (sound familiar?), afraid. The resurrected Jesus appeared to them, speaking peace over them. As He was speaking, He showed them the wounds in his hands and side, and it says the disciples began to celebrate as they SAW the Lord. There was something about seeing His wounds, knowing that He not only could identity with but in fact had carried their pain and stress and all the trauma of the uncertainties of those days IN HIS BODY, that unlocked their ability to bear fruit. They may have been ‘stripped of their leaves’, that is, their bravado and ego and posturing for power was gone – but when Jesus showed them that He was alive and carried all the ‘hard stuff they’d been through’ in His very being – they began to celebrate. Joy came and replaced fear. Relief washed over them and cleansed the trauma of all the unknowns and what if’s. In some versions the end of verse 20 reads, “it sank in that they were really SEEING the Lord.” In seeing, they were able to receive the peace He came to leave with them and went on to produce lasting fruit that we still enjoy today.
In this month of Thanksgiving here in the States, as we look forward to a Christmas celebration and the beginning of a new year ahead, I pray you will Love Yourself To Life by taking time to LOOK and SEE. Ask the Holy Spirit for fresh vision; for the ability to see beyond what the natural eye perceives. For when you do, you will see Jesus. Seeing His scars, remembering He has borne it all for and with us, the traumas and fears of this 2020 year will fade and heal and you will be restored to produce the fruits of the Spirit. And peace that passes all understanding will be able to settle in your soul, once again as you celebrate the God who is always, ever with us.
When encountering a legend, be sure you are fully awake.
In this most interesting new era of time, it is important our senses are fully engaged. In the Bible we are encouraged to taste and see that the Lord is good. Those who have ears to hear understand His ways, and we are instructed that as the fragrance of Christ, we display His aroma to all those we meet. It is through touch, the laying on of hands, that we pray for the sick and see them healed.
So, when earlier this year the Holy Spirit began impressing upon me the necessity of keeping my senses alert, I knew to expect Him to show me something in a way I’d not seen it before. I had no idea He would teach me through a legend’s voice.
Having seen a movie on the life of Andre Bocelli last year, I was deeply touched by the story of this Italian opera star. Though the doctors encouraged his mother to abort this child they knew would be born with a genetic predisposition to blindness, she refused. Andre was born sighted and lost his sight at around age 12. He loved music and singing and the movie depicted how his mother would take him to venue after venue to sing, only to be told he was not good enough to make it as a professional. Those who heard him obviously could not see the potential of his gift as they listened. Ever since watching this movie it has been on my wish-list to attend an Adrea Bocelli concert, and suddenly in June that dream came true. Scrolling through the internet, a pop-up advertisement told me he was in concert that evening in Denver and within minutes I had purchased tickets for our daughter Beth and myself to attend. It was that evening, listening to Andre’s strong, mellow voice, that I was taught about how to navigate the mountains I face that seem impassable.
Arriving to our seats just in time for the concert to begin, I mentioned to Beth something I have noticed when I’ve seen Andre sing on videos: he touches the woman with whom he sings. There is neither hint nor whisper of anything inappropriate in this, but I had observed the soprano accompanying him will often hold his arm or he, her hand. I simply made a non-judgment observation.
Throughout the concert Andre was led on to the stage by the orchestra conductor. He would sing two or three songs and be led off, to be replaced at the mic by a soprano soloist or perhaps a violinist. The first note of the evening filled the hall and touched a deep place within. At intermission I posted on Instagram: “Raw vulnerability wrapped in power. Raw power encased in an earthen vessel. Andre Bocelli, your gift has touched my soul.” I had no idea what was yet to come.
The concert ended only to be followed by three standing ovations and therefore, three encores. During the second ovation, he and a soprano sang a song called, “The Prayer”. As the song built to it’s climax, the soprano joined in with her note just a hair of a split second late. Now, I neither pretend nor imagine to be a professional musician or music critic, but all of my senses were fully engaged in this prayer, and it is a song I am very familiar with as I have both listened to it often and watched videos of other well known singers perform it. As soon as she ‘missed’ her entrance, I held my breath and that’s when it happened – Andre reached for, found, and held her hand. And I cried, realizing I was witnessing a display of raw vulnerability in the same earthen vessel as raw power. Holy Spirit was teaching and I was learning, through the gift of this man.
You see, whereas other professionals turn to look into each other’s eyes at this high point of the song – to sync breath, beat, blood – their souls- in song- Andre is blind. Where his eye gate could not connect he and his duet partner, his hand, the gate of touch, could and did. Clasping hands, they finished the prayer as two voices perfectly harmonized as one. As prayers are meant to be.
They walked off stage following The Prayer and once again thunderous applause demanded Andre return. We were not done hearing. Our individual souls were collectively watered but far from satiated.
The conductor once again led Andre on for his final performance of the evening, which was concluded with as clarion a note as that with which it began. Now finished, the conductor led him to the far side of the stage so he could take his final bows there. As he did so, the conductor took a step back so as to not take any of Andre’s limelight. And as Andre turned to go, his shoulder bumped the conductor’s, who quickly stepped into place, taking Andre’s arm in a steadying, comforting, leading gesture. Together they walked across the stage and exited one final time.
But with that momentary, awkward shoulder bump, every sense in me was alerted and graphically aware: this remarkable, gifted, humble man whose voice took our collective breath away could not get himself safely off the stage.
Raw vulnerability wrapped in power. Raw power encased in an earthen vessel. Andre Bocelli’s life touched my soul and gave me great insight into how I am to navigate this new era. We were never meant to sing our song alone, never meant to find our own way. There is One who leads and guides us, One who is always by our side. And in walking together as His family, His children, His beloved, we are encompassed ’round about, always within easy reach. When one of our senses seems dull, we are invited to use another to ensure we stay in step, in tune, in sync. Jesus IS the Way across the mountains we face, and He has given us one another so we do not journey alone. His love for us and our love for and trust in both Him and one another as we make our way across the stage of life, through the seemingly impossible days, will keep us safe and sound as we Love Ourselves To Life. We will learn how to successfully and joyfully live the days we’ve been given, together.
This blog was written to compliment a series of video blogs in process. To access those blogs, check out our Facebook page at Bespoken International or click this link: https://youtu.be/nAbczD9CXCw .
To partner with Bespoken in providing these videos and written blogs, you can give through these links: Venmo: BrendaVanWinkle@Brenda-VanWinkle-2. PayPal: Bespokenint@icloud.com.
Ours is a hungry world. Hunger is not a negative, hunger is a necessity for without hunger we would not eat and without eating we would not live. Yes, there are those in our world who lack nourishment and sustenance and are hungry for even one wholesome meal a day. But there is another hunger that is common to us all – the hunger of our souls. The hunger to know we will be fed, cared for, sustained and enabled to flourish. The longing to know we belong in time and space, to Someone. To know that our desires are legitimate or, if not legitimate, able to be healed and made right by Someone greater than ourselves. A hunger that aches for purpose, meaning.
We are in the week of Passover. A time to remember, a time to reflect, a time to make sure we are ‘under the blood’ of the One slain so the death angel will pass over our lives. A time to rejoice in the keeping, delivering power of God. A time to feast on Living Bread and Healing Wine, His body and His blood given for us. A time to be hungry and to be fed. To fan the flame of our hunger for God. To feast on the nourishment of the Lamb that was slain and celebrate His saving blood.
These past months Jim and I have taken communion together on a daily basis. We have done it because we sensed the Lord encouraging us to do so. In taking those few moments each morning to remember Him, what He has done and what we are therefore able to do through Him, our faith and our courage have been made stronger. Each day as we stop and thank Him for the price He paid for our freedom, we are aware of yet another dimension of who He is and our soul hunger is satisfied – until the next hour or next day or next moment when we once again hunger for Him. In the natural we eat and then get hungry again: it is the same in a healthy spiritual life. The more we know Him, the more we ‘consume’ His word and enjoy His presence each day, the more our spirit and soul appetite for righteousness is expanded and awakened. The more we long to taste and see and know that He is good.
There is another joyful ‘discipline’ I’ve been enjoying lately. I put ‘discipline’ in brackets intentionally, because we tend to think of discipline as punishment, that which must be endured in pain. My meaning is not that but rather, the art of being a disciple of Jesus. One who sits at His feet and learns, one who develops a routine that causes me to hunger more and more for Him. This discipline I’m employing is singing the scriptures. As I sing to Him this ‘new song’ I learn so much about Him and myself! I am so encouraged to listen for heaven’s truth as I sing out that which I didn’t know my heart held. For instance, Psalm 23 has been the main scripture that comes to mind as I sing to Him. We are all familiar with this passage and I thought I was, until I heard myself singing:
‘You prepare for me a table filled with all I need.
My soul is fed and I am served
Where my enemy can see.
He with empty soul and cold heart
Must watch as I am fed.
I am healed, empowered, restored as by
Still waters I am led.’
And another time:
‘The Lord has prepared a feast for me
and my enemies must stand and watch me as I sit and feast.
They are starving, dying for lack of blood, lack of bread
While I flourish and feast on Him.
My weakened enemy has faltered and is falling, falling down’.
It isn’t about rhythm and rhyme but rather, about what He wants us to know that our deep soul is already aware of. I sing over Ireland, I sing over America, I sing over so many things and in it all He feeds me with truth that HE is able. HE is near. HE has offered all His sheep need to eat and be fully filled, while our enemies are weakened as they hunger without the Truth that sustains and gives life.
In this Holy Week, I invite you to join with me in taking communion in the quiet privacy of your home. Give space and time for Him to speak to you deeper truths than what you have known. Sing His word over yourself, family, neighborhood, nation. Feast on His presence and be filled. Then, like the Hebrew nation of old, walk out of your slavery and into the freedom of being a daughter, a son. And celebrate! Day Three is here, and He is risen, indeed.
Beside Still Waters
Within this blog is a prophetic utterance for Ireland. Psalm 23 is the shepherd’s psalm, and in the natural yours is a land known for sheep and shepherds. The time is NOW for you to be nourished, Ireland, for the deep longing of your souls as individuals and as a nation, to be met. As you pause to seek His face in these critical days He is hearing and has heard your cry for that which nourishes and sustains not only yourselves but the next generations. Feast with Him – the table is prepared for you. Be hungry –feast on Him and become hungrier still until you see yourself sitting at His banqueting table under His banner of love, as your enemies perish and fall. This is your moment. Day Three is here, dear Flourishing Land. Live!