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.
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.
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.