The sign shouting out what I had hoped and prayed for was growing right in front of me – and I almost missed it. Somewhere between the seeds being planted, our faithful watering and tending of the seedlings and the middle of a long, hot summer, I lost my focus and nearly missed the harvest.
The dusty farming village will always be part of me, along with the faces of friends who call it home, although it is now over a decade since we last visited. Tucked away in a far-flung region of SE Asia, this was our destination as we ventured out to explore the area on rented bicycles with our young children oh, so many years ago. We pedaled the lanes, smells so foreign to us either assaulting or enticing our senses, our eyes surely as big as saucers as the landscape of rice paddies looked to us like a Hollywood movie set. The locals, working in the fields, looked up and were, I imagine, as startled to see us as we were to see them, each wearing our own skin and hair color, not to mention the clothing of our native lands. We fell in love with this region and prayed fervently for it. At the time we had no way of knowing that within a few years we would be friends with many of the residents . No way of knowing just what our tears of intercession would cause to grow. Ever after, when we visited this nation we made a point to go this village, to check on, encourage and train local church leaders there. The people, the land matter to us and we tended it as well as we knew how.
These villagers, along with every other stop along our journey, served a dish of spicy cucumbers. To this day our mouths turn up in a smile and water when we think of those delectable cukes! In fact, Jim was so vocal about his love of this particular dish that on our last visit (though we didn’t realize at the time it was our last one – to date), the church members proudly presented him with a package of cucumber seeds so he could grow his own crop at home. We laughed together about it and many jokes went around about Jim growing cucumbers as we parted ways. Jim tossed the bag of seeds in his suitcase and apparently customs didn’t see them or didn’t care as they made it home with us.
Fast forward twelve years to the spring of 2019. Jim, organizing the garage following five moves in the past decade, came across this package of seeds. There were just a few still clinging to the bottom of the packet, which he took out and planted in the ground. Against all odds, we took a chance they would still produce cucumbers. These are the seeds which, having sprouted into seedlings, we watered and watched over this summer. And then, toward the middle of August, we became quite busy with lots of people and projects and the sun became so hot and we did well to remember to toss on a bit of water now and again. Frankly, cucumbers were not in the forefront of our minds and our expectation of harvest was pretty low. After all, we’ve planted fresh, new seeds developed for this climate in years past and nothing grew.
So I was shocked two weeks ago when, finally taking time to look and see what was happening, I found these beauties hiding underneath the leaves!
Some had grown down along the front side of the garden box, and others were small and still growing. The point is – they grew! There was life in the seeds, after all! And with some water, sun and even the smallest amount of attention from us, they have produced a good crop and continue to do so. We did our little bit and God brought an increase. But I had to turn aside, stop and look in order to not miss the harvest right in front of me. The way I see it, this is a lesson for navigating the mountains we face. A lesson taught long ago by God, Himself, to the prophet Jeremiah.
In the first verses of the book of Jeremiah we are given a glimpse into how God trained this young man to see and then say what he saw. We aren’t given a list of books he read or told the names of his teachers or schools attended. What we are told is simply this:
God chose Jeremiah from the womb to be a voice to his nation.(Numerous Psalms say similar things about you.)
His youth was no excuse for not speaking what he saw. (Pretty sure being advanced in years doesn’t get one off the hook, either.)
God’s word in Jeremiah’s mouth would uproot and plant anew in the nations. (This sounds like an expected harvest, to me.)
We are then given a glimpse into how God taught Jeremiah that he could, in fact, see. Sometimes we are able to see much more than we realize until someone points it out to us, which is basically what God did for Jeremiah. In verse 11 God asked Jeremiah what he saw. Now apparently Jeremiah was standing near a grove of almond trees, so when God asked what he saw, he stated the obvious: “I see the branch of an almond tree.” Seriously, Jeremiah?! You’re having a discussion with and being quizzed by the God of the Universe and that’s the best you can do? You can surely embellish your statement to include color or bees buzzing around – anything to sound a bit wiser! Did you mean to sound so simple? This might have been my response to Jeremiah. I suspect had I been there I may have been a bit embarrassed for him and his overly simple response. (Which is just one of many good reasons I was not there.)
Yet that is not the response the Lord gives. He was excited at what Jeremiah said he saw and applauded, if you will, his keen skills of observation. “That’s right! From this, know I am watching over My word until it is accomplished.” (verse 12). Hmm. Maybe this seeing and saying isn’t as hard as it’s been made out to be. Maybe just simply seeing and saying is all He requires.
The Eternal once again spoke (v 13) and asked what Jeremiah saw. Now we don’t know how much time had lapsed here, or how many times Jeremiah had practiced his gift: “I see a lake! I see a goat! I see a bowl of hummus!” Yay!!!! Way to go, Jeremiah! You’re seeing and you’re saying what you see and that is how we all begin. And a little encouragement goes a long way. So when Jeremiah was asked the second time that is recorded, he saw something far larger, greater, and more significant. This seeing catapulted him into walking in his call. This ‘second seeing’ was not seen with his natural eyes but with the eyes of his spirit. And THIS was the seeing for which he was created. May I propose that it is also the seeing for which WE are created?
You see, I can look at these cucumbers and with my natural eyes see a salad waiting to be enjoyed. Or, I can look at them with spiritual vision and see the faces of our friends who gave the seeds. I can see us as a family walking the dusty paths of many villages, planting the seeds of kindness and the knowledge of the goodness of the Lord. And I can realize that, though we have not been on these pathways for many years, others have come along to water and tend, and seeds planted in good soil produce exponentially. I can ‘taste and see’ that the Lord is good. My faith is strengthened to believe for a great work of God in this region of the world – all because I see more than long, green cucumbers. I see His faithfulness.
In whatever field you find yourself this week, may you SEE as Jeremiah saw. May you speak out the life and truth that lies beyond your natural sight as you hone the greater gift that lies within – that of spiritual sight. The Lord is cheering you on – “Well done! You saw it and you said it! That’s right, keep going!” His Holy Spirit and I, in my own little way, am cheering you on to Love Yourself to Life as you turn aside and SEE what He is bringing increase to. Watch and see and you’ll find your harvest, even that which is hidden under the leaves. I know the summer has been hot and long for some of you: for others, the winter has been dreary and cold. Some of us planted seeds so long ago we aren’t sure if there is any life that still remains. Rub the sleep from your eyes and SEE! The fields of souls are truly ripe and ready. We WILL seize our moment and enjoy these days of harvest! The Lord of Harvest, Himself, will help us see and say what is true and brings Him pleasure. The harvest just ahead IS going to happen and it is going to be a great adventure, as we speak to the mountains that can intimidate and they move out of our way . I can see it now…
This blog was written to complement 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.
Oh, to experience the vibrancy of truly being alive each and every day! To be alive is one thing, to be active and vibrant, another. Yet how easily we accept what is less than life! It makes sense because it is easier and requires less of us. Wax fruit in a bowl looks lovely and only requires an occasional dusting; silk plants don’t need fresh water or replacing. Our neighbor has artificial grass in his yard because he got tired of mowing the real. This is all helpful and good as long as we don’t begin to mistake the dead for the living.
When it comes to books, there are those that entertain, some that teach and some that frighten. However, not one is of value until it is read. I have some old books with pretty red covers I use to decorate my living room but I’ve never read any of the poetry within so they just sit there looking lovely, only now and then needing a quick dusting.
However, there is one book that is worth reading and reading and then reading again. Of course, I am referencing the Bible. The only book that is alive and speaks new truths each time it is read is worth so much more than just sitting and looking pretty, only needing a quick dusting now and then. I love the Bible and read it daily but I’m a fast reader so it’s easy for me to skip over passages and verses with barely a thought. The very familiarity of the stories is a call for me to slow down and read with intention. As I have worked at doing so I’ve been seeing new things, as when I recently re- read the story of Mary and Martha.
Most likely you know the story. It is so common and we are so used to it being told we are likely to give it just a quick dusting as we pass by. Jesus liked to stay with sisters named Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus when in a town called Bethany. Luke tells us that Martha welcomed Jesus into her home, so it seems she had a gift of hospitality. Martha and Laz had a sister called Mary, who sat at Jesus’ feet to listen to Him speak and teach. This is pretty remarkable as women were not typically included in the teachings of Rabbis, but she was obviously welcome in Jesus’ home group.
On this particular day Martha got busy serving Jesus. Perhaps she loved to cook and entertain – or perhaps she felt obligated, especially with her sister doing nothing to help, just sitting there hanging on every word Jesus said. Can’t you imagine Martha stewing over the stew as she mumbled and grumbled about her unfortunate role and Mary’s oblivion to how hard she, Martha was working? Have you ever felt this way about something? Of course you have! We all have, which is what makes this story so relevant. Finally Martha just couldn’t hold it in any longer and pointed out the injustice to Jesus. His response was not what she expected. Instead of rebuking ‘perfect’ Mary, he rebuked her: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” Oh great. Just great. Now Jesus was ‘taking Mary’s side’ which most likely did nothing to calm Martha’s temper. The three words used in this story to describe Martha are distracted, worried and troubled. Ouch! Sound familiar in anyone’s life but Martha’s and mine?
Truth is: we all can relate to how Martha must have felt. She felt used and put upon with all that serving and her anger came from self-pity. Then Jesus Himself rebukes her and praises her sister (talk about fuel on a fire!). I wonder if at this point Martha hated who she was? You know what I’m talking about. “If only…” If only I were more calm: more like Mary: kinder: less type A: able to keep my mouth shut. I wonder if Martha thought that of course it would be easy for Jesus to love Mary and hard to love her? I wonder if there is a person on earth who has not had a similar thought about themselves? How impossible it is to Love Yourself To Life when you don’t even like yourself and it is hard to like yourself when Jesus doesn’t defend your self-imposed misery.
HOWEVER! There is more to the story than meets the eye. If I stop reading here I walk away thinking Jesus really didn’t like Martha as much as Mary. Let’s be real: I walk away sure Jesus loves quiet, studious Mary more than bold, loud Martha. Good for me if I’m quiet and studious. Not so good if I’m bold and loud. This mindset justifies the mistaken belief that Jesus loves another more than me. Let’s not so easily accept the ‘dead’ (lie) for the ‘alive’(truth)!
Thankfully John tells another story about this family at a later time when Lazarus is sick and dying. Both sisters sent a message to Jesus to come quick and knew He would when they reminded Jesus of how He loved Lazarus: “Lord, he whom You love is sick”. Then comes a sentence filled with wonderful, power-packed, marvelous truth: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Do you see it?! It doesn’t say, “Now Jesus loved Mary who was perfect and Lazarus who was sick and oh yeah, Martha, too.” Martha is the first one mentioned and John didn’t even mention Mary’s name. The emphasis this time is on Jesus’ love of Martha. Martha! The loud, impatient, bossy, distracted and worried one – Jesus loved HER! For the love of Lazarus, for the love of Mary, and yes, for Martha whom He loved, He came to Bethany despite the fact there were men there wanting to kill Him.
Each member of this family had their own unique ability, personality and story, just like your family and every other, and Jesus loved each of them uniquely, personally and fully. I had not previously seen this truth that tells me of Jesus’ specific love for Martha. Seeing it, I have hope that, just as for the love of Martha Jesus risked His life by returning to Bethany, He loves me that much as well, even in my imperfection. On another day not long after this, for the love of Martha, for the love of you and me, He GAVE His life so we, the worried, troubled and anxious ones, might live in joy and peace.
This week, when those moments of insecurity come: when you realize you can’t be as holy or good as someone else: when you need some reassurance that perfection is not your qualification to be loved, bring to mind Martha. Remember that the Bible took space to specifically say that Jesus loved her and in doing so, offers a reassuring hug to each of us as well. Put your name in place of hers and let the truth of His love for you sink in. Knowing and accepting His acceptance of you enables you to recognize the living reality of how valued and loved you are and is a sure-fire way to
All throughout Ireland are pilgrim paths of yesteryear. Literal walking trails where saints of old once walked as they made pilgrimage from one place of worship and study to another. Along nearly every road and trail throughout the land grow wild black raspberries, a welcome and satisfying refreshment as one walks. An Irishman once told me the berries are there for whoever finds them and each pilgrim knows to only consume as many as one should, being sure to leave more than enough for those who follow. This is a good proverb for much of life.
Pilgrimages take many forms. Reading of pilgrimages of days gone by tells me that they were difficult and cost a great deal. The cost included leaving all that was loved and familiar, sleeping in beds and eating food not one’s own. Days of gainful employment were left behind as the pilgrim set out knowing that loneliness and being misunderstood was part of having said yes to go seeking. Some things haven’t changed all that much.
As we recently journeyed through the Argyll region of Scotland it struck me that while the word ‘pilgrimage’ has lost much of its meaning and therefore power in our day, pilgrimages themselves happen every day. Viewing a pilgrimage as setting out into that which is unknown, seeking a fresh encounter with God, I was reminded of all the people who either vacation or move house from one place to another to seek Him. Religious schools of every flavor and belief imaginable abound because of those who make pilgrimage seeking truth, longing for a fresh touch of His presence. Instead of walking for weeks or months as did the ancients, now flights are booked and housing arranged as east goes west and west flies in every direction imaginable. Some pilgrimages are walked along ancient routes, retracing the steps of those who long ago set aside time from the hustle and bustle of their day to seek a God encounter. Today most pilgrimages are made by flying somewhere to sit under the influence of a respected teacher, and perhaps the greatest sacrifice made is turning the cell phone to ‘off’ in order to concentrate and break the habit of needing to know what everyone else is doing instead of be-ing, just oneself and God.
For that is the essence and fulfillment of pilgrimage – to find what one seeks. In terms of Christian pilgrimage, to place oneself in a situation that is unfamiliar so that leaning on and trusting Him in deeper and more urgent ways is vital, listening more closely and thereby touching a facet of His vastness as yet unexplored and unknown. To learn to just BE with just Him.
Our recent pilgrimage helped restore our faith in mankind. Time after time we witnessed unexpected kindness and strangers being helpful and giving to other strangers. Perhaps we are not as wicked a people overall as the evening news would have us believe. Each of us on the team found ourselves at a loss for words to express what we were seeing with both our physical and spiritual eyes. We went seeking the Lord’s heart and expression not only for ourselves but for nations. What we found left us changed and speechless. Thankfully Holy Spirit’s groans speak heaven’s language and even the inexpressible in us is worship.
This coming Wednesday Jim and I lead a pilgrimage to Ireland and Iona, retracing the steps of Columba who lived in the 500’s. I have finally given in and joined the world of Instagram and hope to post there, so if you’re an Insta-grammer that’s where you may follow along. I’d love to hear from you! Also, I’m delighted to be a speaker at the Gather Conference here in Colorado Springs, September 28-30. Hope many of you can join us; for details check my Bespoken Facebook page. Now on to this week’s blog:
So many good and wonderful things find life in the rain.
This month we say farewell to someone I met in the rain many years ago. Twenty years, to be precise. Twenty years ago this very month I met a young man who was to become a son and brother in our household. Now two decades to the month later, apart from a miracle intervention we bid adieu. He is in a coma in a hospital on the other side of the globe, totally inaccessible to us. I don’t know if it is raining there today, but I know it is raining in me as the storm of grief settles in. It won’t stay: I won’t allow it to remain long enough to identify me, but it has marked me and I will feel its raw ache long enough to maneuver the valley of the shadow of death. And I will come out the other side rejoicing.
It was August 1997 when our family moved itself to a country a world away. What an adventure! We prayed and planned and packed for months and months ahead of time until The Day arrived. I remember that our son slept for much of the 14 hour flight and when he woke he was crying even before his eyes were open. How my heart broke for him. I would rub his back and assure him it was going to be ok, that he was going to be ok, that his life was not ruined. He would fall asleep then I would cry. Loving enough to risk everything for the very ones you love the most requires all one is and has. Loving that much hurts. It is scary. The outcomes are not predictable and the challenges feel overwhelming. Fear and doubt nip at one’s heels and questions of ‘is it worth it?’ bow only to remembering the conviction of having heard the voice of God say, “Come, follow me.” Love like that is wild and rare and oh, so very, very worth it.
These past months have been quiet ones for me in terms of writing and travel/speaking. At the same time they have been some of my busiest in years, what with a wedding and three moves to new houses and/or locations with us and two of our daughters. During these months I have had a very deep and desperate call to prayer for the generation that follows my own. Even a cursory look around shouts the reality that what we have been doing, “The way we’ve always done things”, is not working. Though we love God with all our hearts and long to express His goodness (which leads to repentance) through our life and actions we often find that our message goes unlistened to. That it is not wanted or able to be received in the way we know to express it. At time it feels irrelevant – how can this be?! – the very Good News that God is love and Jesus came to rescue us from sin and death – and it feels irrelevant? The cry for mercy, for understanding and the ability to make a difference to a hurting world, an orphan generation, is deep and profound within me, as I know it is within many of you.
How grateful – beyond thankful – I am to say that my son (and the rest of us!) did survive our assignment all those years ago. Each of our grown children walk with God and our family is strong and we love and honor one another: God is so faithful. When we lived overseas a man I honor and respect very much, Gary Russell of China Harvest, told me that Psalm 126 was a scripture I would see lived out in my life. It became ‘my’ psalm, a life-line of sorts to hang on to in both good times and bad. That which began in the rain so long ago is coming to a close with weeping and with joy. The years ahead will unfold with shouts of deliverance as I carry my ‘sheaves’, those I love and for whom I have laid down my life – with me. They are the treasures I will one day lay at the feet of the One my heart loves most.
So, if this finds you wondering if saying “yes” to the call of Jesus is worth the price, my prayer is that you Love Yourself To Life to the degree that you cannot help but love others with all that is within you and give Him your Yes. That which you sow in tears will one day be reaped in joy – that’s the promise of Psalm 126.
Psalm 126 The Voice Bible
Remember when the Eternal brought back the exiles to Zion? It was as if we were dreaming – Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues were spilling over into song.
The word went out across the prairies and deserts, across the hills, over the oceans wide, from nation to nation:“The Eternal has done remarkable things for them.” We shook our heads. All of us were stunned – the Eternal has done remarkable things for us. We were beyond happy, beyond joyful.
And now, Eternal One, some are held captive and poor. Release them, and restore our fortunes as the dry riverbeds of the South spring to life when the rains come at last.
Those who walk the fields to sow, casting their seed in tears, will one day tread those same long rows, amazed by what’s appeared. Those who weep as they walk and plant with sighs will return singing with joy, when they bring home the harvest.
“One must wait till evening to see how lovely the day has been.” It is 6:30 in the morning Pacific Time and I’ve just had an evening moment.
Funny, isn’t it, how one innocent little movement can unexpectedly stir one’s soul into awakeness and awareness. This morning it was the pool skimmer that did it and this quote I read recently flooded over me and ran down my cheeks. Though my eyes, filled as they were with tears could not see, I suddenly saw many things my heart had not noticed in the heat of the day. We’re back in Redding for our daughter’s wedding and we are staying at a guest house built by the new owners on the property we once knew as home.
We’ve been back numerous times as the new owners are dear friends. The kind of friends with whom one takes great risks as hearts, by the Spirit, choose trust over legal documents in the buying and selling of home. Coming back has never been difficult for me and last night as we left the big house to walk out to the little house they have so lovingly built here to house guests I made the comment that living here seems like a long-ago dream. Like something I thought of once but I’m not sure ever really happened. It is a dream house on a dream property in a dream location and somehow ‘dream’ is all I felt.
Then this morning, coffee cup in hand, I walked out into the lush paradise of the back yard. Noticing the normal bits of leaves and pollen on the pool surface I automatically did what I used to do each morning, that is grab the pool skimmer and begin to clean the surface. That’s when the salt-water rain began. The tears I’d not shed for the past two years could be contained no longer and I skimmed and I remembered and I wept. The sudden awareness washed over me that I’d never really said a proper ‘goodbye’ to home. In the final weeks of our packing to move in early 2016, our little grandson Eli James, a three-week old at the time, became suddenly quite ill and this grandma was needed in Colorado. Thoughts of Eli consumed our days and the actual packing up and moving is but a blur. From Colorado to Ireland to California to Colorado to Ireland to Colorado – back and forth for two years in a near constant flurry of motion. Why? As Steven Curtis Chapman sings in a not-not-so-new song, “We will abandon it all for the sake of the call.” Has it been worth it? YES. Would I do it again if that’s what it took? YES. For the sake of the call but for the love of the Savior I say “YES” ever and always.
Has it been worth it? Eli is now 18 months old and as healthy and funny and active as an 18 month old boy should be. We live ten minutes from he and his siblings, our son and daughther-in-law and within two hours of each of our grown children. Worth it? Worth more than gold.
Has it been worth it? Last night as we sat in the living room of the big house we recalled evenings a number of years ago when a group of friends, many of them students from Ireland and Northern Ireland, came to our house to pray for an assignment the Lord had given: To see His Kingdom come in a town called Drogheda on the eastern coast in Ireland. We prayed, we worshipped, we cried out for the Lord to have mercy on this town which none of us had ever seen. We obediently did all we heard Holy Spirit ask of us, then Jim and I took a team to Drogheda to worship and prayer walk and bless. Again, having done all we knew to do, we left there trusting Jesus to do all He promised:
This past Friday, the day before we left to drive to Redding, we received a skype call from friends who live near Drogheda. They called to tell us that in the past months over 300 people have given their lives to Jesus – in Drogheda! That a church there is alive and growing and preparing people to go to the nations with the gospel – that the Kingdom is, indeed, coming in power and Presence to this town so far away from both Redding and Colorado Springs, the places we have known as home in the intervening years.
This morning my tears are watering the grief and reality of what we once had and no longer own, softening the blow of letting go once and for all. But mingled in are tears of gratitude and worship that the One who loves us most is so very good. So faithful. So longing for people everywhere to come home.
Sometimes, one must wait till evening to see how lovely the day has been. It has been a lovely day, indeed.
Definition: To ask for in advance. What this means to us: What we do in intercessory prayer.
Definition: To make arrangements. What this means to us: Preparing and equipping people to live fully alive in the Father’s embrace.
Definition: To speak, to address. What this means to us: Using our voice to teach and train, to worship.
Definition: To show, indicate. What this means to us: Holy Spirit signs and wonders following, showing forth God’s goodness.
Definition: To declare or foretell. What this means to us: Doing prophetic words and acts that shift atmospheres.
Definition: Tailor made clothing. What this means to us: That which is made to fit a particular person. Bespoken International is taking part in ‘bridal preparation’ as we help clothe the Bride of Christ in purity and joy for His coming again.
Father, Creator God spoke the world into being. He also spoke identity over each of us as we were knit together in our mother’s wombs. Therefore, we are sons and daughters, children of God. His Word, spoken and declared over our lives, evokes hope; defines and sets in motion our destinies and future. As Bespoken, we rely on Holy Spirit to release the voice of His Bride, the church, in worship, praise, prophetic declaration. To unlock language to define and create destiny.