Liberty

liberty – the quality or state of being free  

It’s that time of year again, when we celebrate our freedom with barbecues, watermelon, and fireworks. As I admire the crisp, red, white and blue flag proudly flying at our camp in Liberty, Mississippi, I can’t help thinking about freedom and wondering–what does it mean to be free?

I am an American citizen. That means I am privileged to live in a country that “hold[s] these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Yet, the most patriotic American can live a long life in pursuit of happiness but never be truly free. They might feel happy and free, but never know true freedom.

Many centuries ago, Jesus said to the Jews who had “believed” Him that if they would hold to His teaching they would find true freedom (see John 8:31-32). Yet, shortly after hearing Jesus say these things, they mocked Him and tried to stone Him. These were religious people, but religious people can fail to be truly free!

Even someone who really does hold to Jesus’ teachings can live without knowing what it means to be free. Shame from one’s past mistakes, regret over choices one made, dysfunctional relationships, etc., can leave a person feeling anything but free!

For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. 2 Peter  2:19b

Every human being, regardless of their citizenship, is born a slave. That’s right. We are enslaved to our own selfish desires. We are wretched creatures who need rescuing in the worst way! Thankfully, God has provided a way for us to be free–the blood of Jesus Christ, who loves us, frees all true believers from slavery to sin! (Rev 1:5)

For us to know true freedom, we must intentionally set our minds on God. See life with eternal perspective!

For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:6

I’m asking Him to show me areas in my life that I’m still behaving like a slave instead of walking in the freedom He has provided to me. I want to know what it means to be truly free.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

 

Blueberries and Muscadines

And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. – Genesis 1:11

A few years ago, we bought a camp on some land in Mississippi that we call Rhea Plantation. Technically it’s a pine plantation, but it came with a few fruit trees too. I can hardly wait for springtime each year as I anticipate the budding fruit trees and the appearance of tiny, abundant fruit. At the first hint of spring I begin curiously inspecting the trees, like a child looking at presents under the Christmas tree. I’m not a gardener. I can’t plant anything and keep it alive, despite my best efforts. The fruit trees I enjoy were planted and cultivated by another, years before I even knew they existed. I find myself literally enjoying the fruit of someone else’s labor.

For someone with such a brown thumb, this is quite a blessing.

My favorite fruit bearing plants at the camp are blueberry bushes. At first I thought they were too old and tired to produce. But they prove me wrong each year with an abundance of beautiful whitish-pink flowers that promise an equally abundant harvest of plump, juicy blueberries. It’s surprisingly fun to watch tiny berries form and mature week after week, until they reach a deep blue color, just right for picking.

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Don’t get me wrong, these bushes aren’t perfect. They’ve been neglected over the years. They have several dead branches and really need some expert pruning. Still, I am delighted by their colorful fruit that returns year after year.

My least favorite so-called fruit producer is a muscadine vine, which stands right beside the blueberry bushes. At one time, probably many years ago, a vinedresser planted these vines on a carefully crafted trellis. Over the years, the wood rotted and buckled under the weight of the twisted, gangly vine. Each year I hope for a harvest of muscadines, but I am always disappointed.

This year, the barren muscadine vine reached out and grabbed hold of the fruitful blueberry bush.  At first it looked like the muscadine vine and the blueberry bush were mingling nicely, working together to produce fruit. But upon further examination I realized the muscadine was not producing a thing. It’s vine was carefully, manipulatively twisting around the blueberry stems, even around the blueberries themselves.

It was as if the muscadine vine could no longer stand a shameful existence next to such a beautiful example of fruitfulness. It seemed to be cruelly reaching out to steal some of the blueberry bush’s glory, and to choke its life out in the process–to break the blueberry bush beneath its weight, like it broke the trellis that was meant to be its shelter and boundary.

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I hear Jesus’ words echoing in my mind as I consider these things. He often used visual objects in nature to teach His followers about life. I find that I am no different than they. Simple lessons sometimes are the most profound.

Like the blueberry bush and the muscadine vine, we have been created for a specific, God-given purpose. We can get lazy and ignore our calling, letting others carry our load, potentially destroying their effectiveness. Or, we can do what we’ve been called to do, realizing we cannot attain perfection this side of heaven. There will always be a need for pruning. There will always be parts of us that are dead weight, needing to be cut off and left behind. We must be wary of people who refuse to do what God has called them to do, those who live unproductive lives, jealous of other people. We must be careful not to link arms with people who just want to be like us, instead of just being who God made them to be. This type of relationship will seem good in the beginning but will ultimately choke us under its weight, and cause us to forget who God has called us to be. Anytime we go outside the boundaries of our God-given purpose, we forget who we truly are, rendering us unfruitful.

I don’t have any person or relationship in mind as I write this. I only know that I hear the Master Vinedresser warning and instructing me as I consider blueberries and muscadines.

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. – John 15:8

A Beautiful Life

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When the new year rolled in, I realized it would usher me into a year of many changes. One of those changes being the end of another decade of my life and the beginning of an entirely new one. I know age is just a number, but this decade is the one in which I will have the honor of becoming a senior citizen. I will soon be able to get a discount at restaurants because of my age. How nice.

I am already experiencing some of the consequences of living for a long time. Gravity and I fight for control over my skin, and some hormones have reached their life’s quoto and don’t want to contribute anymore–making the natural aging process evident in my life. Sometimes I question why I am here and wonder if I have anything left to give others. Sometimes I have caught myself feeling tired, worn out, old. I wonder if I would feel this way if life’s circumstances were different. I’ve had a difficult year, after all, full of unusually tense situations. No doubt, life seems harder now than it did in my youth.

Time keeps rolling on, and it’s now springtime. I’ve had the pleasure of watching trees bud and flowers blossom. Each colorful bloom seems to sing with joy as it radiates such beauty in its season.

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In all their glory, flowers often remind me of how short life is, cautioning me to make the most of every fleeting moment. One day they are brilliantly bright. Soon, they wither and are gone, always leaving me sad in their absence. (When I was a little girl I always got so sad about Delta Dawn’s faded rose from days gone by.)

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This Spring, the fading flowers taught me a new lesson. I was admiring a wisteria vine at sunset when I noticed some of its petals had already fallen to the ground. At  the end of the flowers’ existence, they gleamed magnificently in the setting sun. I quickly looked up at the vine and back down at the fallen petals, realizing the dying petals were more beautiful than their fully alive sisters still hanging on the vine.

I was instantly encouraged and challenged by the example of the wisteria. Society unintentionally sends the message that aging is bad, that we somehow lose our worth as we lose our youthfulness. When someone would tease my grandfather about getting old, he would respond, “You’ve got to live to get old.” He was right.

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These tiny wisteria petals, iridescent in the fading sunlight, are as magnificent as a colorful sunset. They compel me to run my race well and live a full, beautiful life, reflecting the glory of my Creator to the very end.

Tami

Jesus encouraged his followers to consider the lilies. Read His words here.