The Perfect Gift

Where can we find the perfect gift?

During this special season many of us spend time searching for perfect gifts for our loved ones. We fret over sizes and styles and suitable items; but when the season is over, we often re-gift the items we’ve received.

According to a children’s song by Ellen Woods Bryce, “The Perfect Gift” can’t be found in a store, and it can’t be bought.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above.” –James 1:17perfect gift imageIn the song “The Little Drummer Boy,” written by Katherine K. David, Henry Onorati, and Harry Simeone, a young musician is told he must lay his finest gift before the newborn King. The poor boy laments that he has no gift to bring, but he offers to play a simple song on his drum. This song, played from the heart, brings a smile to the baby’s face. The song costs nothing, but it is a perfect gift.

little drummer boy

Several years ago I received a perfect gift from my nephew. As a starving artist, he didn’t have extra money to buy a gift, but he spent time writing a beautiful song for me. The song cost nothing, but his time and his talent and his thoughtfulness were invaluable.

I remember another Christmas almost thirty years ago when my aunt and uncle gifted me with tulip bulbs. They not only spent time digging up spare bulbs from their own yard, but they also planted them in my yard for me. All these years later I continue to enjoy this perfect gift every spring.

These gifts of love can and always should be re-gifted.

Michelle Medlock Adams’ alphabet story C Is for Christmas reminds us that Jesus is the reason for the season. “At Christmas we send packages to all our special friends. But, Jesus is the greatest gift, the gift that never ends.”

C Is for Christmas

God gave us the perfect gift when He sent His son to save the world. All we have to do is give Him our hearts.

I wrote the following story based on true events revolving around a Christmas program at my church. It first appeared in the anthology Celebrating Christmas with . . . Memories, Poetry, and Good Food, published by Hidden Brook Press in 2011.

The value of a flashy gold jewelry box, $20

 The value of an innocent child’s wisdom, Priceless

The children had been rehearsing for the church Christmas pageant since October, and everyone appeared ready to present a great performance of “The Perfect Gift.” On the morning of the performance, Jeremy’s mom frantically cornered Miss Debbie before Sunday school and told her she would need to find a substitute wise man. Jeremy had been throwing up since early that morning, and he was also running a low grade fever. He would not be able to play his role as one of the three wise men.

Miss Debbie’s brain quickly started searching for a substitute. Her three-year-old son Jason had attended every rehearsal. It was a stretch, but maybe Jason could play the part. He had been singing all the songs for the last month, and the wise man had only one line to say. This might work.

That afternoon Miss Debbie shortened Jason’s nap and shared with him the good news that he would be playing one of the wise men in the church pageant that night. She called his two older brothers into the den to help with a quick rehearsal. After a short eye-rolling session, they agreed to help.

Jason not only carried his gift with a regal air, but he also said his line on cue: “I bwing you gold!”

Satisfied that Jason appeared ready to make his acting debut and that the night’s performance would go as well as could be expected, Miss Debbie dismissed her two older boys to play in the backyard while she showed Jason how to march in his bathrobe.

That evening the shortest wise man could not be seen by everyone in the church, but his mom was proud and knew he would be a good pinch hitter. As the march of the kings’ music cued their entrance, the assistant director handed each of the three kings his gift and pointed to center stage where they were to face the audience and sing their song.

Jason’s gift was an old jewelry box that had been spray painted gold and embellished with a few fake jewels. It was not the book he had used in practice earlier that afternoon. The three-year-old immediately became entranced by the gift he was holding. As the other two wise men sang their song, Jason focused all his attention on examining his box and, with great effort, trying to open its clasp.

gold box

When the song ended, the wise men were supposed to lay their gifts beside the sleeping baby Jesus and then say their lines. Following Miss Debbie’s whispered directions, the other two wise men presented their gifts and proclaimed their purposes. Jason, in the meantime, had finally succeeded in opening the clasp on his box when he cried out, “I can’t bwing any gold. My box is empty!”

After the laughter died down and the wise men were joined by the rest of the cast to sing their finale, the children received a standing ovation. Many people made comments like, “That’s the best program they’ve ever done,” and “Wasn’t that littlest wise man the cutest thing?” Miss Debbie herself was beaming with pride for her three-year-old wise man.

Even though Jason was momentarily distracted by the shiny box he was holding and by its jeweled façade, his epiphany was a lesson to us all that we should not focus our attention on the shiny material things in life. If we do, we will find there is no real gold inside the box. Our lives will be empty if we focus all our energies on the things money can buy.

As you think about gifts this year, don’t worry about size or style or suitability. Consider a gift that money can’t buy.

So where can you find the perfect gift this Christmas? Try looking in a manger. Then look inside your own heart as you reflect upon the words of the song “In the Bleak Midwinter.”

“If instead of a gem, or even a flower, we should cast the gift of a loving thought into the heart of a friend, that would be giving as the angels give.” –George Macdonald

Luke 2; John 3:16

 

A Guest Interview with Jean Matthew Hall

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I first met Jean Matthew Hall at a writers’ conference in Memphis this past spring. I quickly learned that we share many common interests in writing, in perseverance, and in faith. I am honored to interview Jean about her newly released picture book with Little Lamb Books. God’s Blessings of Fall is the first in a series of four picture books highlighting the blessings God bestows upon us throughout the seasons.

jean matthew hall

Q: Welcome to my blog, Jean! I understand this is your first picture book. How long have you been a writer, and when did you start working on God’s Blessings of Fall?

A: I started writing for publication around 2007. I’ve been studying and having some success since then. God’s Blessings of Fall is my first picture book. So, that means 12 years. This manuscript was one of my first. I wrote the first draft in 2009.

Q: This is a beautiful book and the first in a series about the four seasons. What is your favorite season, and what inspired you to write this series?

A: I believe fall is my favorite time of year. The cool weather, the colors, the food and those cozy sweaters and blankets!

I am enamored with God’s created world. I enjoy observing the changes in the seasons. So, following the adage “write what you know,” I began a story about my four-year-old grandson running through the yard on a crisp autumn day.

The idea for a series came from my agent. And there you have it!

Q: Tell us about the illustrations in your book, and describe your favorite scene.

A: Olya Badulina did a wonderful job! The animals are realistic, yet cute. I think my favorite is the scene with the dirt road and the barn in the background. It just looks so fallish!

Q: What do you think children will like most about your book?

A: The sweet animal characters in the illustrations are sure to be a favorite, I think. But I hope they also love recognizing those same creatures in the world around them.

Q: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A: I had a hard time making up my mind! I wanted to be an artist. Then I decided to become an interior designer. By high school I wanted to be anything but a teacher—oh, my! My freshman year in college I decided to become a vocalist and music director for churches. God really fooled me after I got saved. I taught school for more than 20 years and loved it. After retiring, I started learning to write for publication.

Q: What do you like to do now when you’re not writing?

A: Hanging out with my eight grandkids is the best! The youngest is two years old. The oldest is twenty-three years old. When I’m alone, I read or watch old movies while I crochet. I study the Bible every day, too.

Q: What do you hope your readers and listeners will take away from engaging with this book?

A: That God is our loving Creator and Designer of this beautiful world and of us.

Q: Where is your book available, and how can readers purchase it?

A: They can order it online from LittleLambBooks.com, from Barnes & Noble.com, or from Amazon.com. Hopefully, it will also be available in local B&N stores. If not, please ask your local book dealer to order it for you.

Q: How can readers learn more about you and your future books?

A: They can visit my website/blog at jeanmatthewhall.com, and they can connect with me on social media: Jean Matthew Hall Author on Facebook, Jean_Hall on Twitter, and JeanMatthew_Hall on Pinterest.

Thank you, Joyce, for inviting me to chat.

Oh, one more thing: If you like the book, please leave a review on Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, or Goodreads. Thanks!

Thank you, Jean! We look forward to the future books in this series.

GBOF Cover

God’s Blessings of Fall reminds our children and us to appreciate the awesomeness of God’s creation. Let this be a reminder to you, dear Reader, to reflect upon your own blessings during this season. How do you appreciate God’s masterpieces that surround your world? Have you said a prayer of thanks today for God’s blessings?

David tells us that God “made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting.” —Psalm 104:19

Solomon states, “There is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.” —Ecclesiastes 3:1

According to “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “He prayeth best, who loveth best; All things great and small; For the dear God who loveth us; He made and loveth all.”

These lines from Coleridge’s poem possibly inspired Cecil Frances Alexander to write the hymn “All Things  Bright and Beautiful.” In this hymn Mrs. Alexander references God’s seasons. She says, “He gave us eyes to see them, And lips that we might tell How great is God Almighty, Who has made all things well.”

Take a moment to marvel at His sunrises, His sunsets, His mountains, and His meadows. From the tiny fallen acorns to the majestic oaks towering against the sky, we are surrounded by His wonderful works!

Take a moment to pray with a child today and thank God for His mighty acts.

Blessings,

The Literary Lyonesse

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” –L. M.  Montgomery

“No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face.” –John Donne

“I Think I Can!”

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Life isn’t always easy.

When life gives you lemons, I hear you’re supposed to make lemonade. When life throws you a curveball, you’re supposed to let the good ones go and swing at the bad ones, right?

Okay, I’m not crazy about lemonade, and I’m not much of a baseball fan, but I’ll try.

I have recently been dealing with an unnatural disaster situation in my house, and I’ve been forced to make adjustments to the usual comforts of home.

I’ve been reminded to let go and let God.

In the big scheme of things, my inconveniences are hardly worth noting. I’m not homeless. I haven’t been diagnosed with a catastrophic illness. I haven’t lost a loved one. I have income. I have a roof over my head, food in my refrigerator, and clothes in my closet. The sun is shining, and it’s a beautiful day!

Even though life is a little off-kilter for me right now, I can manage. Like The Little Engine That Could, I have been repeating her mantra, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” Watty Piper’s tale of optimism reminds me to have faith.

little engine image

Yes, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”! —Philippians 4:13

In Romans 12:12 Paul encourages me to “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

Faith is the direct result of a prayer and a possibility!

Because life does happen and because life isn’t always easy, we should be mindful that we are not alone in any situation.

When my own engine runs out of coal, I know I can rely on God to help me over the mountain. He also provides me with family and friends and fellow believers who offer me encouragement to “think I can” do whatever I am called to do.

When the unexpected detours in life cause you to feel frustrated or try your patience or doubt your ability to cope, remember that “suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”—Romans 5:3-4

In the foreword to Madeleine L’Engle’s book Walking on Water, Christian artist Nichole Nordeman offers some great advice on faith:  “Be encouraged. Close your eyes and let go. Remember, as Peter did, what it felt like when nothing was sustaining you in the small space between your feet and those daunting waves but the power of an unrelenting Love. And walk on.”

So, the next time you find yourself overwhelmed by life, have faith. Enjoy a little lemonade, or throw some baseballs with your nephew. God’s got this!

 “Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!” So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit

Isaiah 40:31; James 1:12; Proverbs 3:5-6

#gratefulitwasntafire #justbreathe

 

Giving, Not Taking

fountain image

Now that it’s “back to school” season, it’s a perfect time to re-visit some commitments to good works. After several lazy, hazy weeks of summer, students have probably gotten out of the habit of reading and disciplining themselves to do homework.

As a family, you may have also strayed from some of those commitments you resolved to follow earlier in the year.

That’s okay. God rested when He saw that His work was good.

We all deserve an occasional break to regroup, refuel, re-prioritize; but are we taking those breaks before we see that our work is good? Are our priorities where they need to be?

According to Forbes Media, only eight percent of us keep our New Year’s resolutions. Staying committed to personal goals, professional goals, and spiritual goals with only an eight percent success rate is a sad statistic.

What might happen if we committed ourselves to giving more than we take?

giving tree

The classic children’s story “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein illustrates the happiness that can be found by giving and not taking.

In this story a tree and a boy develop a loving relationship by spending time together. Their commitment to each other nurtures their friendship.

The tree gives unconditionally to the boy, but the boy eventually chooses to focus only on his own needs and wants.

“I want to buy things and have fun,” the boy tells the tree.

He believes money and material things will make him happy; so the tree agrees to give him her apples, her branches, and her trunk. The boy takes these gifts and then focuses on himself.

Even though the tree is the giver, the boy, like us, is the taker. The tree gives selflessly, but the boy takes selfishly.

When the boy grows old, he returns to the tree to find happiness; but he has no teeth with which to chew the apples and no strength with which to climb the tree’s branches.

Like the boy in this story, if we constantly focus on our own wants and needs, we often fail to realize how happy we could make God by taking less and giving to Him more.

Romans 12: 2 tells us not to be conformed to this world (not to allow technology or other temptations to rule our lives), but to make our lives acceptable to God (to commit to those personal, professional, and spiritual goals).

If we would make serious commitments to these matters, our schools would not need testing accountability, our divorce rates would plummet, and our church pews would overflow.

People in today’s society often claim they are entitled to rewards without putting forth effort. However, as former Major League Baseball player Rex Hudler advised, we should all try to “be a fountain, not a drain.” In other words, be a giver, not a taker.

As this new school year begins, I pray for each student to give 110% effort to learning. I also pray for each teacher to share genuine passion for the education profession. It’s hard work, but try to stay committed.

I pray for family members to love each other unconditionally and to think of others more than themselves.

I pray for the community of believers to re-commit themselves to church and Sunday school attendance.

Your commitment to spending time with God will bring happiness to Him and to you.

Like the boy who developed a loving relationship with the giving tree, we can find happiness when we commit ourselves to giving more than we take.

“Let your heart therefore be wholly devoted to the Lord our God, to walk in His statutes and to keep His commandments.” 1 Kings 8:61

“Love sought is good, but given unsought is better.” –Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

Acts 2:42; Hebrews 13:7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spreading Joy

joy

Bubbles! I love bubbles! Even the word sounds happy!

July is a great month to play with bubbles, by the way.

When we blow into those suds-soaked bubble wands, we surround ourselves and those around us with bubbles. These bubbles, carried by the wind, reach out to everyone nearby. The joy of the bubbles is contagious.

On the other hand, if we blow our bubbles into a paper bag and close the top, the bubbles quickly disappear. No joy is spread, and the bubbles die.

Like the children’s song “This Little Light of Mine,” we can spread joy and other fruits of the Spirit by letting our lights shine and by letting our bubbles blow.

For example, have you ever witnessed a child whose tickle box has been overturned? You can’t help but smile and giggle with that child. The joy is contagious. It spreads like wildfire!

bubbles image3

According to the old camp song “Pass It On” by Kurt Kaiser, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going, and soon all those around can warm up to its glowing. That’s how it is with God’s love. Once you’ve experienced it, you spread His love to everyone. You want to pass it on.”

I recently attended a revival service where I witnessed several people sharing their testimonies. Their faith-sharing spread like wildfire throughout the congregation. I felt the power of the Holy Spirit in that sanctuary, and I saw the bubbling over of joy.

Pollyanna, an icon in the 1913 children’s book by Eleanor H. Porter, spreads her feel-good attitude to everyone in her community. Having learned a spirit of optimism from her father, Pollyanna teaches a disheartened group of townspeople to see the good in every situation.

Pollyanna finds her rationale from the Word. She reasons, “If God took the trouble to tell us eight hundred times to be glad and rejoice, He must want us to do it—SOME.” Her advice is well-received, and her joy spreads like wildfire.

The theme for this summer’s Kentucky Christian Writers Conference was based on Acts 13:49: “The word of the Lord spread like wildfire through the whole region” (MSG). Hallee Bridgeman, coordinator for the conference, encouraged participants to share their words and allow their gifts from God to “spread like wildfire.” She used Paul and Barnabas as an example. When they began sharing the good news about Christ, an entire city showed up to hear more.

So go ahead. Blow your bubbles, let your light shine, be like Pollyanna and Paul and Barnabas, share your talents. You can make someone’s day brighter. An entire city might want to hear more.

“Go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”Isaiah 55:12

“Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy.” –Shakespeare’s Sonnet VIII

Psalm 47:1, Philippians 4:4, Galatians 5:22 

 

A Reader Review

riverjordanbook

River Jordan’s latest book, Confessions of a Christian Mystic, clearly connects with my heart and soul. Her words speak to me like a faded photo album from my own childhood.

River’s talent as a writer oozes through her “dancing swirl of words” in her description of the serenity surrounding her Nashville home. Her observations reflect an inner peace relatable to me as a Christian and, I hope, serve as a witness for those who might be looking for a relationship with Christ.

Skeptics of the term “mystic” need not be disheartened. River believes a mystic is “someone who desires to live and breathe and move in the presence of the divine.” Her story attests that she is doing just that.

Her analogies paint delightful pictures of the people in her life. I can easily imagine an Episcopal priest “as grand as Gandalf” and a guy “channeling James Dean.” Her references to pop culture from the last several decades make her story relevant to Baby Boomers as well as Gen X, Y, and Z.

River Jordan reveals her humanness in this book. She gives an honest and beautiful account of what a real Christian should confess to be: a flawed, but fueled-by-the-Holy Spirit child of God. She reminds us that all Christians, mystic or not, should show tolerance, empathy, and forgiveness.

I often pray for strangers because of River Jordan. Now, I will be more aware of the “company I keep and what conversations and influences fuel [my life].”

Who You Are and Whose You Are

writing desk

Several of my former colleagues retired from teaching this year. Bless ‘em!!

I understand their paradox of emotions as they have made this decision. Panic, relief. Fear, trust. Sadness, joy. Doubt, hope.

“Should I, or shouldn’t I”?

“Will I stop being useful”?

“Teaching has been my life. How can I stop being a teacher?”

That’s just it. We never stop being a teacher, a carpenter, an engineer, a salesman, a banker, a parent, a sibling, a friend, a child of God. Our positions, our circumstances, our roles may change; but God continues to have a purpose for us all.

God has a plan for each of us at every stage of our lives. If we will let go and let God, He will use us to fulfill that purpose.

For example, the book of Esther tells us about a young woman who was uncertain about her future. When King Mordecai reminds Esther to relinquish her own desires, she turns to prayer and fasting and places her trust in God. Esther learns that she has been created “for such a time as this.” (See Esther 4:1-17.)

Emily Dickinson’s “I’m Nobody! Who are you? /Are you nobody, too?” is a sad commentary on an agoraphobic poet who felt she made no difference. But look at how the world sees her now!

Sooki, the beloved saggy, baggy elephant struggles to understand what kind of animal he is, but he eventually learns that God has a purpose for everyone.

In “The Tale of Three Trees” by Angela Hunt, three saplings dream of growing up to be beautiful and strong and tall. All three trees suffer great disappointment, however, when they are eventually cut down, never to reach the heavens. They believe they have failed in their usefulness. After time has passed and dreams have been forgotten, the first tree discovers she has been fashioned into a manger to hold the Christ child. The second tree realizes her value as a fishing boat carrying Christ and his disciples. Finally, the third tree finds herself holding the Savior as He shows His love to the world by making the ultimate sacrifice.

God had a special purpose for these trees just as He has for you and me.

manger

To all the teachers and others who find themselves at a crossroad, you will find your purpose. You will never stop being.

Even though I have retired, I continue to sub and work part-time at my old school. While recently completing paperwork to qualify as a testing proctor, I was asked to identify myself as a “teacher,” “administrator,” or “other.” I wasn’t sure how to answer the question; so I consulted the testing coordinator.

His reply: “You will always be a teacher.”

My response: Misty eyes, a lump in my throat, and so much appreciation for those words.

“And when I am forgotten, as I shall be, and asleep in dull cold marble, where no mention of me must be heard of, say, I taught thee.” –William Shakespeare

“For we are His workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.” Ephesians 2:10

Philippians 2:13; Proverbs 19:21

It’s May!

 

rosebushscript

“It’s May, it’s May,” sang Guinevere in Camelot, my all-time favorite movie.

The earth’s alive, and everything’s abloom. If you’re an allergy sufferer, then bless you. I hope you can still savor the season.

Springtime, this season of rebirth, represents a season of hope. It’s what the world needs now. Yes, it needs love, sweet love; but it also needs hope.

According to naturalist Edwin Way Teale, “All things seem possible in May.”

Henry David Thoreau labeled this month “an experience in immortality.”

When I walk around my subdivision or work in my yard during this season, I sense the glory of God. The sights, sounds, and scents coming from my limited world of flora and fauna inspire me.

I cherish the lily of the valley, azaleas, rhododendron, and knockout roses currently in bloom around me. Every year around Mother’s Day, my peony bush bursts open and reminds me of my paternal grandmother’s colorful spring yard.

lily of the valley in yard

As a child, my sister and I watched our mother lovingly care for a garden of gladioli, and we often played in the shade of our maternal grandmother’s Rose of Sharon bush. Now my sister’s own green thumb produces beautiful roses and hydrangeas every spring.

RoseofSharon

From the squirrels that scamper through my towering oak trees to the tiny acorns that fall, I revel in the majesty of the One who made them all.

treesquirrel

Yes, Shakespeare, “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, where oxlips and the nodding violet grows.”

The month of May gives me hope. I agree with Robert Browning: “God IS in His heaven, and all’s right with the world.”

In today’s world it’s easy to get caught up in the negativity and deceit and sinfulness surrounding us all. However, those things have always been a part of us.

I am often overwhelmed by the leaves blanketing my yard during fall and winter. I imagine life would be much simpler without all my trees. Then suddenly my trees are filled with song. The season of spring reminds me to change my perspective, to look for inspiration, to believe in newness.

birdintree

The apostle Paul urges his friend Timothy to flee from evil and fight the good fight of faith. (See 1 Timothy, Chapter 6.)

Philippians 4:8 tells us to focus on “whatever is true, whatever is honest, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good report.”

Springtime can be a mood booster. Allow yourself to bask in its beauty.

If you can, take a walk around your home, your street, your local park. Soak up the sounds and scents and scenery. Breathe in the new. Let go of the old. Find the hope.

The movie Camelot revolves around the theme of good versus evil, the same good and evil present in our world today. There is betrayal, but there is also forgiveness. Lancelot and Guinevere take the tonsure and the veil for their sins; but, most importantly, Arthur forgives them.

Arthur believes in the power of forgiveness. He sees hope in a young boy, a boy who has a vision for the future.

We may have been through a rough winter, but spring is upon us. It gives us hope. Let’s hold on to it!

If April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring? Pilgrims!!

By the way, the Pilgrim’s ship was called the Mayflower because it was scheduled to set sail in May, and the word flower was added to symbolize the hope of finding a new opportunity in a new world.

Romans 12:12; Song of Songs 2:1; Matthew 6:25-27; Psalm 104:12

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Spring of Hope

Ah, Spring! Thou hast returned, and none too soon!

(Note: Spring is capitalized in the preceding sentence only because I have personified the word. According to Harbrace Rule 9a: “The names of seasons—spring, summer, fall, winter—are not capitalized.”)

Yes, Tennessee has endured a seemingly endless wet winter, but the new season of spring has now awakened a sense of hope after a period of short gray days and long cold nights.

But we must endure the bad to fully appreciate the good. “April showers bring May flowers,” right?

chaucer opening

In his prologue to “The Canterbury Tales,” Geoffrey Chaucer praises the many elements of nature that herald a beautiful time of year. He references the April rains which bathe the flowers’ veins, preparing the way for nature’s rebirth.

In the late 1700’s William Wordsworth wrote the lyrical poem “Lines Written in Early Spring.” He must have been influenced by the April showers as well as the flowers that follow the rains.

As a religious man Wordsworth believed communing with nature allowed him to commune more closely with God. This poem, however, presents a paradox of emotions: the pleasures of experiencing the beauty of God’s creation and the pain of knowing the miseries of humanity.

Spring caused the poet’s pleasant thoughts to drift to sad thoughts, and his heart mourned to think “what man has made of man.”

While Wordsworth’s thoughts were likely tainted by the cruelty of the French Revolution, our thoughts can also be easily turned afoul if we dwell on the myriad problems of our modern society.

Like Wordsworth, my heart also grieves “to think of what man has made of man.” But today, I choose to have hope. Instead of dwelling on the cross, I choose to focus on the crown.

A beautiful song entitled “Mercy Tree,” written by Krissy Nordhoff and Michael Neale, illustrates the bittersweet experience of death and resurrection and the hope that springs eternal.

mercy tree

On a hill called Calvary, there stands an endless mercy tree. Every broken, weary soul, find your rest and be made whole. Stripes of blood that stain its frame shed to wash away our shame, from the scars, pure love released, salvation by the mercy tree. In the sky between two thieves hung the blameless Prince of Peace, bruised and battered, scarred and scorned, Sacred Head pierced by our thorns. “It is finished” was His cry! The perfect Lamb was crucified. The sacrificed, our victory, our Savior chose the mercy tree. Hope went dark that violent day. The whole earth quaked at Love’s display. Three days silent in the ground, this body born for Heaven’s crown. On that bright and glorious day, Heaven opened up the grave. He’s alive and risen indeed! O praise Him for the mercy tree! Death has died; love has won. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Jesus Christ has overcome; He has risen from the dead. He’s risen from the dead!

The sweetness overcomes the bitterness. The Son shines in spite of the pain. We can appreciate the sunshine because we’ve endured the rain.

The crab apple trees in full bloom at this time of year also offer a perfect metaphor. These trees have beautiful blossoms but bear bitter fruit.

Bask in the beauty, not the bitterness.

crabapple-tree

If you are in a season of despair, have patience. Your season of hope is imminent.

Song of Solomon 2: 11-12: “For behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.”

Zechariah 10:1; Isaiah 35:1

The Meek and the Wild

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According to an old English proverb, first referenced by John Fletcher in 1624, “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.”

Robert Schlueter, journalist for The News-Democrat, believes the basis for this proverb lies within the heavens. Schlueter avows that the constellation Aries the Ram (aka lamb) can be seen in the Western night sky on March 1. On that same night Regulus in the constellation Leo the Lion is visible in the East. Thus, the astrological Aries (the goat) follows Leo (the lion).

Not being a fan of astronomy, I prefer to think of the March weather adage as a poetic juxtaposition of the meek and wild.

Although many people misquote Isaiah 11:6 and refer to the lion and the lamb lying down together, this passage actually describes harmony between the wolf and the lamb. Nonetheless, the prophet is referring to a peaceful co-existence of all creatures when Christ returns, a time when the meek and the wild can walk side-by-side without conflict.

I believe humans today should be more like the proverbial lion and lamb. Even though we possess opposing views, why can’t we dwell in harmony together?

The Message translation of Isaiah 11:6-9 describes this harmony as a “living knowledge of God”:

The wolf will romp with the lamb,

            The leopard sleep with the kid.

            Calf and lion will eat from the same trough,

            And a little child will tend them.

            Cow and bear will graze the same pasture,

            Their calves and cubs grow up together,

            And the lion eat straw like the ox

            The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens,

            The toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent.

            Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill on my holy mountain.

            The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive,

            A living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.

 

Like the lion and the lamb, British poet William Blake (1757-1827) juxtaposes the meek and the wild in his collections called Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.

As a devout Christian, Blake believed innocence to be a state of childlike love and trust toward everyone and everything. He saw experience as a state of disappointment and disillusionment with the world. Blake pondered over these two contradictory states of humanity and concluded that experience provided epiphany, thereby allowing him to achieve a sort of cleansing in order to return to a state of innocence.

In his poem “The Lamb,” Blake writes, “Little Lamb, who made thee? Dost thou know who made thee? . . . He is meek and he is mild, He became a little child.”

In “The Tyger” Blake asks, “Did he smile his work to see? Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”

Image result for images of william blake's the lamb

The Lamb created the little lamb.

God made both Blake’s lamb and his tiger, and He created them in His image. He created Christ to be a sacrificial lamb, and He will one day summon His return as the Lion of Judah.

In the meantime, the world must experience balance. God provided the juxtaposition of winter and spring so that we can better appreciate the beauty of His creation. He gave us all things: the day and the night, the sound and silence, the elephant and the donkey, the toddler and the serpent, the animal and the human, the lion and the lamb.

I propose that we take a step back to better appreciate the contrasts in God’s handiwork. By taking a moment to breathe in and breathe out, we can allow our differences to complement each other, not catapult us apart.

Whether your March is meek or wild, may you experience joy in the midst of your tears.

–The Literary Lyonesse

Matthew 5:5; Revelation 5:5-6