It is amazing how things can creep into our hearts and grow in importance…until they eclipse what really matters and hide what God is doing in our lives. I hope you will be touched by the simple and powerful message in this blog written by my husband, Stan.
We’re married 22 years now, thanks be to God, and if I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a bazillion times from my loving wife… “Hold everything with an open hand.” When we first met I thought she was just recycling some ancient hippie dogma, along the lines of “If you love someone let them go,” or some other heady little phrase we long-haired (and often anethsetized) ‘60s love children were known to babble.
But I wasn’t raised that way. No, during my growing-up years the dictum in my house was, “Guard this with your life, because it’s the only one you’ll ever get.” It didn’t matter if it was a bicycle or a piece of clothing or a Clark bar. Lose it and that’s it. There was no hope of getting another one.
In my world you paid for losing things, and it really didn’t matter why they got lost. Whether you mislaid it, broke it, had it stolen from you, or it just plain wore out from old age, it was gone and somehow you were to blame. The price of losing something was much higher than just not having it any more. There was the shame of having squandered, through carelessness and irresponsibility… no, disrespect… an item of value, a thing purchased not so much with money, but with the blood, sweat and tears of my poor parents, who could barely afford to keep a roof over our heads, much less spend vital life-support funds on something nice and non-essential for me. Their looks said it all… I didn’t care enough about it to take care of it, therefore I didn’t care how hard they had to work to get it for me. Bad, ungrateful child.
As you can probably tell, in our household there was more than a little strife over material goods. Stuff, possessions, gifts, trinkets, goodies, were wonderful to receive, and horrible to lose. So I developed a militantly defensive attitude towards “things.” A stint in the Navy, which placed extra emphasis on taking care of and accounting for things threw a little more gas on this fire, so by the time I got married this state of mind had morphed from an attitude into a holy mission.
Before Barb and I were married I was a bachelor living all alone in a 3-bedroom house with a two-car garage. Every room in the house was filled with stuff, and I couldn’t possibly part with any of it. I had magazines from the 60s that were sacred, inventorized and not to be touched. I still had every paperback book I’d read in the past 15 years. I had a garage full of parts for cars I’d sold over ten years ago. I was even storing half the contents of my mother’s house, who had died five years earlier. If I watched over my own stuff like a hawk, can you imagine how obsessive I was with her things?
Into this maelstrom of possessions-induced OCD rode the fearless Barb, opining that we could certainly do without several truckloads of this old stuff. I looked at her like she had one large eye gleaming in the center of her forehead. The more she talked about my stuff like it was just… well, stuff… the more I started to worry that I had made a terrible marital mistake. What? Throw away Hot Rod Magazines from 1967 with Don Garlits on the cover? What planet are you from, woman?
Then it got worse. I met her kids. They were beautiful, well-spoken, funny, engaging, loving and fun to be around. They were also, I determined in short order, the two most irresponsible urchins ever to draw breath. Example: In eight years of business travel I had collected about five bathroom drawers full of little soaps, shampoos and other hotel amenities. My mother would have been proud, and I’m sure that she, sitting up in Heaven, saw me amassing this hoard, saying “Good Boy… one day you’ll run out of soap and shampoo and you’ll have this to fall back on.” Ten-year-old Amy found this stash one night and I told her she could use some of it in her bath. She was tickled. In three days she had run through all of it. She used it a dozen bottles at a time. What she didn’t wash herself with she spilled all over the bathroom floor, or left in the tub for her mother to clean up. When I, in one of my milder blind rages, confronted Barb with this wholesale squander of a precious resource, Barb actually said “What?”
“What do you mean, ‘What?’ Are you nuts? Eight years of little soaps and shampoos gone in three days? You’re okay with this?”
Barb said, “Who cares? She had fun with them. You didn’t pay for them. What’s the problem?”
I felt like my head was imploding. I couldn’t imagine anyone not wanting to severely punish a kid for such profligate behavior.
It got no better. From lost overcoats and shoes, to wrecked cars, to broken dishes (all family heirlooms, to be sure, even the Corelle dinnerware at $3.00 a plate), the steady depletion of stuff from my house (without a doubt all due to carelessness), was alarming. I bemoaned every single thing I had to throw away, even thirty-five year old hand tools that had worn out. Every time something went in the trash can, or worse, went missing, I felt that oh-so-familiar parental damnation… “You’ll never have anything nice as long as you don’t take care of the stuff you have.” I finally resigned myself to this fate.
And that’s where this story starts.
I’ve mentioned before that when God wants to talk to me… I mean really talk so that I’ll listen… he gets me out in the yard. So today God says to me, “Stan, what’s say we take a little walk in the garden. There’s something I’ve been meaning to talk over with you.” He led me to the part of the garden that had been hit hard by freezing weather this winter. Most of our garden came through this freeze unharmed, but a few hibiscus that I had planted years ago, of which I was very proud and possessive, looked like they wouldn’t survive. But I refused to believe this. I pruned them, prayed over them, laid hands on them and invoked every promise about “restoring the garden” I could find in God’s Word to bring them back. To me, losing these plants was just like losing my bicycle in the 6th grade. As they turned brown and withered, I suffered the same old recriminations… “Why didn’t you cover these plants better? How could you let such nice plants die?” Finally, I accepted the fact that they weren’t coming back, no matter what I did. So today, appropriately ashamed, I got out the loppers and started cutting them down.
As I did so, God came to me and said, “Take a look at what’s underneath all this dead stuff that’s never coming back.” It was new growth, from a plant that I had planted several years ago, before I had ever put in these big hibiscus plants. It was Mexican Petunia. My wife loves this plant. It grows fast and produces massive amounts of pretty purple blossoms that fall in the evening, renewing itself again each morning. Barb actually finds something of a Kingdom message in the behavior of this plant. Underneath the old hibiscus you couldn’t even see it, yet here it was, already starting to thrive under the dead limbs of the old plants.
As I looked at this new growth, God said, “Do you see how there’s a new blessing hidden behind the old one? Can you see how when one blessing runs its course, I already have another one ready to blossom? All it takes is for you to reveal it, and accept it, by letting go of the old one.”
He continued. “It’s that way with everything. Some of my blessings are eternal. Some are for a season. But the act of my blessing you is continuous, and will follow you to the end of your life and beyond. What did you have in this place before? Nothing but grass. Then I gave you the hibiscus, and you were blessed. Now I’m giving you another blessing, and it pleases me to do that. You see, unlike your earthly father and mother, who were afraid and didn’t understand so well about my provisions for them, I have plenty to make sure that you stay blessed. I hurt for your mother and father, because their burden was so heavy. They never asked for my help, or trusted My Word to be true. I doubt if they even knew the part where I said “Prove Me, and see if I won’t pour out a blessing so big you won’t be able to contain it.”
“Stan, I’m sorry you had to grow up believing their message of lack, and I’m doubly sorry that you made it your message for so much of your life, but I think now you can hear this: THERE IS NO LACK IN ME. THERE IS NO HUNGER, OR HURT, OR CONDEMNATION IN ME. THERE IS ONLY LOVE, AND BLESSING AND JOY AND COMFORT. And if it ever looks to you like I’m taking away a blessing, just look underneath it for the one I have already brought to replace it. It will be even bigger and better than the one you have been enjoying.”
“Remember,” God said as I put away my tools, “when you’re working in My garden, expect blessings to flow. Be faithful in your work, listen for My voice, don’t forget that the first part of everything is Mine, and rely on Me for the rest. Got it?”
“Yes, Father,” I said. “But just one more thing… what about my Mom and Dad?”
“They’re fine,” God said. “They get it now. And your Mom says she’s okay with whatever you want to do with her stuff. Actually, she recommends you bless other people as much as you can with it, because she knows what I have in the pipeline coming to you.”