A Place Prepared

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning is SWIM. This is cheating, but in response I’m going to post a devotional article I wrote some years ago, back when I was keeping a betta fish.

Image by Rebecca Lehman — Pixabay

A Place Prepared

“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9

Alphie was a millet-brained betta fish. What did he know? His one-gallon fish bowl was the only world he’d ever experienced and he was content there. He had no clue that there could be a better environment, or that I was preparing one for him.

I’d learned that betta fish deserve a better environment than a fish bowl, so I was setting up a proper ten-gallon aquarium where he could enjoy life to the full. He’d have a heater and filter to keep his water fresh and pure. Bliss, betta style.

But this preparation couldn’t happen overnight. An aquarium needs to go through a nitrogen cycle to develop the right kind of bacteria in the filter so it will purify the water passing through. Alphie’s new home sat on the counter for over a month as it went through this cycle; during this time I added driftwood and various ornaments that would make his new world so much more interesting. Meanwhile he circled round and round in his little fish bowl, relaxed in the world he knew.

Then one day his new home was ready for him. I set his bowl beside the tank, then scooped him out in a small ladle. Now he was really confined! And scared, too; he squirmed and fought this new situation. Just a little fish; he couldn’t comprehend the big picture, or imagine a place where he could swim to his heart’s content.

Though the transfer was uncomfortable and confusing for him, it was accomplished quickly. I placed him in his new tank and his delight was obvious. So much room! So many interesting things to explore. Constant warmth and pure water. For a little fish this was paradise!

Most of us are fairly happy in this world. Some content, some not so content in our little lives, but it’s the only space we’ve ever known. Like my betta, we’re not very willing to leave it. For sure we’re not enthused about being carried out in a small box! Our comprehension of what waits on the other side is so limited.

Unlike my little fish, however, we can know God’s plans for us. Jesus has revealed them to His followers; by faith we can believe His words. He has prepared a place for a people who have prepared themselves: those who have placed their faith in his promises and their lives in his will.

“In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” John 14: 2-3

And we can rejoice like the Psalmist:

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” Psalm 23:6

Blackbirds in the Lilac Bush

The Ragtag Daily Prompt today was LILAC. I’ve been doing some serious thinking today and decided to share my thoughts in a story of sorts.

Image by koala0815 — Pixabay

The Lilac Bush

One day a lilac sprout appeared on this earth and began to stretch toward the sun. Soon the sapling attained a nice size and sent out branches, attractive and green, with the promise of a heavenly lilac scent every spring. As it bore larger leaves and spread out more branches people found it a sweet shade from the hot sun.

However, blackbirds passing by discovered the shrub and began using the branches as a regular perch. I suspect they saw themselves as ornaments. Mingling among the blooms the birds even picked up some of the lilac scent. But they were not happy campers, those blackbirds; they tended to be a contentious bunch. Some were especially harsh, constantly picking at the birds on nearby branches.

In time the lilac seemed so dotted with blackbirds that folks hardly saw the flowers. Here and there people may see a purple bloom, or catch the lilac scent, enough to realize there was a bush there. However, all those squawking, squabbling birds definitely spoiled the beauty of the shrub.

People started to say, “It’s ugly! Cut it down.

Others protested “There really is a lilac here and it is blooming. Can’t we rather shoo away those dreadful birds? Why should the world be deprived of the beauty of lilacs because there are blackbirds?

“But they like it so well. They’re always coming back to this shrub. Let’s get rid of it and we’ll be rid of the blackbirds.”

“Are you sure?”

Jesus told his followers that Kingdom of God was like a mustard seed; tiny when seeded, it would grow and become a great tree. So great that the birds of the air would lodge in the branches. (Matt 13:31-32) Over the years many different birds have settled in the branches of this great tree and claimed to be residents of the Kingdom, bringing many different dogmas and and so much strife.

Some years back John Lennon wrote a song about how wonderful it would be if we’d wake up one morning and there’d be no more religion. He was definitely thinking of all those squabbling blackbirds. But really, how much would change?

There are and always will be blackbirds. All-wise and inclined to squabble, many will perch in the tree of religion because it’s a handy shelter. If that tree were to disappear they’d find a different shrub. Race. Ethnicity. Color. Nation. Education. Military might. There’s always some reason to lord it over your neighbors and squash them.

However, don’t most of the world’s religions teach their disciples to respect your fellow man, at least in principle? I can’t speak for any others, but Jesus taught his followers to help those in need, care for the weak, turn the other cheek and live at peace. In spite of the extremists that make the headlines, virtue and beauty still bloom. People do get glimpses of the real tree; a bit of loving kindness still perfumes our air. Take that away and what would be left in this world?

Rusty Nail

A verse reflecting on the death of Jesus

A Rusty Nail

I ran a nail into my hand,
The wound was hard to heal;
So bitter was the pain to stand
I thought how it would feel,
To have spikes thrust through hands and feet,
Impaled by hammer beat.

Then hoisted on a cross of oak
Against the sullen sky,
With all about the jeering folk
Who joyed to see me die;
Die hardly in insensate heat,
With bleeding hands and feet.

Yet was it not that day of Fate,
Of cruelty insane,
Climaxing centuries of hate
That woke our souls to pain?
And are we not the living seed
Of those who did the deed!

Of course, with thankful heart I know
We are not fiends as then;
And in a thousand years or so
We may be gentle men.
But it has cost a poisoned hand,
And pain beyond a cry,
To make me strangely understand
A Cross against the sky.

–Robert William Service

Where Do You Hide When the Long Ships Come?

More Morning Musings

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been reading the history of the British Isles, mainly the border country between Scotland and England — and it has been a long a bloody story. Invasions by the Roman army, the Irish kings, the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, as well wars and raids between a long list of local tribes like the Picts and the Scotti. The original Celts slaughtered or driven into Wales, Ireland, and Brittany.

Over time it seems these mini-kingdoms came to some uneasy settlement, but then came the Vikings. The Danes, or Norsemen. Dozens of long ships would appear in the firth one morning…

Image by saramarses — Pixabay

I never knew the Vikings were so business-like in their enterprise. They knew where to find the richest plunder – the silver, gold, and jewels – so they hit the monasteries and churches. They knew the best time to raid was during some saint’s feast day, when crowds gathered to celebrate, bringing their offerings to the priests. Not only did the raiders grab the loot, but they captured slaves to be sold abroad. Apparently the slave trade was a hefty part of the Vikings’ business.

Considering how invaders captured people and sold them in Ireland, Europe, and even to the Mediterranean and Muslim lands, what a wild mixture the European gene pool must have become!

So how did the people of the British Isles cope with all of this? Letting my imagination run, I ask, “Where did they hide when the long ships appeared in the Solway Firth? Did they find caves in the hills? Did they hide themselves in a ditch or pit?

I can’t imagine how they coped emotionally, seeing their defenders –husbands and sons– slaughtered, their homes and churches plundered, their children and youths carried off to be sold as slaves? I must admit that whatever troubles this Corona virus invasion has brought to our world, I still live in a very safe place.

Danish invaders started moving inland, settling, and eventually controlled what are now the shires of Derby, Leichester, Lincoln, Nottingham and Stamford. One historian takes a generous view of the Danes’ arrival. While he mentions the continuing Viking raids along the coasts, he feels England not only gained a richer genetic heritage, but being under Danish rule helped make England a sea-faring nation. Perhaps, but I doubt folks living through those days saw things that way.

Do you think maybe two hundred years from now some historian will write about our era and say how the Corona virus was good for us, it brought about this and that? Being smack in the middle of the menace, though, we’re not seeing it in such an open-minded way. I’ll just be glad when this virus is history – and we can ditch these masks.

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning: DITCH

Shires and Such

Hello again. Here I am, sitting at my desk and working on my newly updated and fully functioning PC. Tra la la! But it wasn’t cheap. Anyway, I can access both my G-mail accounts now and the hard drive has had an upgrade that speeds it up a lot. So I’ve decided to give it a real test by posting tonight, something for my readers who love words and their etymology. I’ve been learning a few new ones myself.

I’ve been working my way through this book about the old Scottish and border kingdoms, from the earliest traceable Celtic people to the invading Roman legions, marauding Britons, Saxons, Jutes, Angles. There’s a lot of military history detailing all the cross-border warfare that went on amongst the kingdoms of northern England and all these invaders. I learned that Wales isn’t at all the local name; and they don’t refer to the rest of England as such. The Welsh word for England means “the lost lands.” With good reason!

He mentions well known figures like the victorious Authur — Moffat thinks he was a general rather than a king — and Merlin. He gives highlights of better-known Northumbrian rulers like Aedan, Aethelfrith, Edwin, Owen. He also details the expansion of the Catholic church in England. Thankfully the ancients weren’t illiterate and a few of them, such as the priest Bede, did set down the facts they’d seen or heard, so that a rough picture can be drawn.

The Faded Map: Lost Kingdoms of Scotland by [Alistair Moffat]
This author has done a thorough research on his subject.

As I read, I learned the origin of the word SHERIFF. This was once two words: SHIRE REEVEthe administrator of a royal shire. According to Lexico the Old English word scirgerefa. is composed of the Old English scīr ;‘care, official charge, county’, Germanic in origin, and the OE refa. In English and Welsh counties, the SHERIFF is the chief executive officer of the Crown, having various administrative and judicial functions. Some English towns still have a SHERIFF, an honorary officer elected annually. In Scotland a SHERIFF is a judge.

Another thing I learned concerns the area where my ancestors came from: Penninghame in Gallowayshire. Ham is the old English word for home, the “ing” denoting beside. So Penninghame are the homes beside the Penn. If I knew the topography of southwest Scotland I’d know what that means. 🙂 And nearby KIRKCUDBRIGHT is named after St Cuthbert, famous missionary-monk and later leader of the early Northumbrian Church. Kirk is church, so, Saint Cuthbert’s Church. You need to hear a local pronounce the district name, Kirkcudbrightshire — I’ve been told it doesn’t sound anything like it’s spelled. 🙂

And that’s enough meandering in the murk of word origins. It’s great to be back at my old desk, though. Take care everyone.

Monday Musing

Rain. Blessed, Beautiful Rain!

We are getting the precipitation the weatherman has been promising for the past two months. Our rain gauge has registered an inch –2.5 cm– so far and more coming down. Joy, joy! 🙂

I can hear some of you groaning as you read this title, since some places are getting way too much rain, but let’s face it: Earth is not a fair place when it comes to weather. Or resources. Or troubles.

This brings to mind a quote I’ve heard many times through the years: “The Lord doesn’t give you more than you can handle. Do you believe that?

I’m inclined to think the only people who say “God never gives you more than you can handle,” are those who have led fairly peaceful, secure, well financed lives. But tell that to someone who’s just lost their job and is about to lose their home. Or someone like my aunt Sadie who’s lost two sons and a son-in-law in a fiery crash. When her husband committed suicide a year later, I think she had a LOT more than she could handle.

Lately I read a little story: a woman (I’ll call her Dot) who worked very hard at her job and then in her spare hours she did what she could to help her sister and family. When Dot was already at the far end of her handling ability, her sister had some health crisis and needed Dot more than ever. Run ragged now, Dot sighed as she told someone, “They say God doesn’t give you any more than you can handle, but I wish He didn’t have such a good opinion of me!”

Christians often comfort one another with these words, assuming that God tailor-makes every event in our lives. Other folks say, “How can that be? God must be cruel to send some people all the trouble they have.”

A thought occurs to me: If we could always handle all the troubles that come our way, who would ever need God’s help? It’s usually when we realize we’re helpless to deal with the storms of life that we turn to Him. So I think the Lord does allow folks to be overwhelmed by trouble at times, by their own making or circumstances beyond their control, just so they will turn to him and seek his help. He has a strong shoulder we can lean on when we’re weak. He can see things so much more clearly. His gentle voice can guide us around the whirlpools and quicksand that swallow up so many who go it alone.

But I don’t think for a minute that God plans every trouble that comes our way. Our Father in Heaven is not cruel; He doesn’t “send” people murder, mayhem, abuse, famine, accidents, and sickness. Most of these things are caused by other people. We may wish He would reach down and slap someone who’s making the wrong decision or doing a harmful thing, but his warnings are gentle. He doesn’t force anyone to listen, though at times He does put a definite roadblock in someone’s path. Thinking back, we may wish He would have slapped us before we did what we did, but He lets us decide and carry out our plans — then suffer the consequences.

Solomon, with all his wisdom, writes, “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.” Ecclesiastes 9:11

Rain happens to pour down in some areas — cause flooding even — while other lands cry out for a drop of moisture. Some people live in an area where the only jobs available — coal mining and fishing, for example — put their lives at risk. Some people are genetically disposed to arthritis or diabetes; some are blessed with longevity. Diets and habits put health at risk. When my sister was dealing with lung cancer, she was pragmatic about it. “I’ve smoked since I was a teen. What can I expect?”

My own opinion, after about sixty years of observation, is that God has set this world in motion and the laws of time, genetics, gravity, climate and commerce carry on — unless He directly intervenes. And there are times when God does miraculously intervene in order to look out for his children, or those who look to him for help.

The Bible is full of examples of how Jehovah intervened to save His chosen people, and others, from some trouble. “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.” I Chronicles 16:9

I also believe that when we are overwhelmed, He invites us to bring our sorrows and troubles to him. He will make a way through the storms of life. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28