2011 was a very busy year. With a new position (Department Chair), new responsibilities, and an already busy conference schedule, I knew the 2011-12 academic year would be a challenge. By late September, 2011, I had already attended three conferences–all in different cities and states. My brain was not only weary, it was so full of great words, lessons and things to apply to myself, my counseling and my teaching, I thought it wise to sit down and write out some of those in order to remember them. Thankfully, I saved what I wrote because I am finally, in this new year and at the beginning of a new semester, committing them to a post.
The first conference I attended was in San Diego, CA, at which I was privileged to present a poster session, Hope in the Aftermath of Trauma. While in San Diego, I was able to meet with two of my four siblings for lunch and spent some priceless and precious moments with my critically ill brother, Bill. San Diego presented me with the gift of siblings.
I was home from the first conference just long enough to spend the night and accompany my husband to an important doctor’s appointment the next morning before driving to the second conference in St. Louis, MO where God kindly lifted the veil with which I had cover my eyes to ignore my sin. I was legitimately shamed to discover how much I curse others–not swear at with four-letter words, but with a geyser of foul and violent, silent curses that spew contempt on drivers, mall shoppers and innocent folk out for a nice meal in a restaurant. Because it is silent, the victims are unaware of the horrible, vile, corrupt thoughts that leap into my mind and calculate curses on everyone and everything. In fact, I realized I seldom bless others unless I am purposefully seeking to do so, asking God to pour His kindness into me so I can offer some semblance of Him to others. The realization of how totally bankrupt I am of any expression of agape love was staggering. At the conference in St. Louis, blessings–not cursings–were spoken over me, and the experience changed me.
My husband accompanied me to the third conference in Nashville. The American Association of Christian Counselors was held at the beautiful Gaylord Opryland Hotel–a city of plush rooms, hallways and walkways through beautifully manicured and maintained gardens of trees, flowers and shrubs that accent streams, waterfalls and fountains. There are also restaurants and pools (indoors and out), and exquisite exercise room, sauna, whirlpool and spa. It is a wonderland. In this hotel city the climate is a constant 72 degrees during the day but lowers to mimic a “chill in the air” when the sun sets and the lights of the city emerge to twinkle with delight. It was magical. The conference presented a rich feast of speakers, symposiums and book tables that threatened to leave attendees stuffed with knowledge to absorb and ideas to implement. What one thing could I possibly take away?
Our God is a wise connoisseur of wisdom who intimately knows my heart and fed me in perfect proportion to my spiritually deprived palate by calling me to eat and drink of Him. The spirit of cursing clamored for my heart in the very first meeting when a woman boldly asked to sit in the chair right next to me onto which I had carefully set my Christian conference bag in a way that screamed, “Do not sit in this chair!” She wasn’t listening so I reluctantly moved my bag. I think I might actually have snarled. I silently bowed my heart, “Lord, I can’t do this without You…not a single session. Please come Lord.” In an instant I felt the Father’s strong arms lift me to a seat at the King’s table where I could feast on His bread and wine.
The bread was in the form of a message from a speaker whose name I don’t even remember. The subject was pruning. He had recently researched horticulture in preparation for authoring a book about our lives being pruned so that the best buds of the plant can grow. A rose bush can produce more buds than the plant can sustain, he explained. Although they are all good buds, they are not all the best buds. Without pruning, the flowers of the plant will never open and blossom to their fullest potential. Comparatively, he continued, the best buds in our lives are the passions that wake us in the middle of the night and call us to action. These are the prize-winning buds in our garden and, in order to fully flourish for the Kingdom of God and His glory, all other buds of involvement or interest must be snipped away so our lives will produce the fragrance God uniquely designed us to produce–the fragrance of Christ through us to our particular world of influence.
One power sip of wine was extracted from the list of speakers and presenters–but it quenched the deep thirst in me. God offered me this sip from the life and wisdom of Dr. Diane Langberg. The taste was indescribable and the courage and resolve it radiated as it slid down the palate and into the belly invited me to drink deep of the Spirit of God. Dr. Langberg offered one scripture, John 21:, “Peter, do you truly love Me?” (John 21:16). Her emphasis was not on LOVE as I have often heard its exegeses. Rather, her emphasis was on the pronoun ME. God used Dr. Langberg’s brief words to put a question directly into my heart, “Christine, do you truly love ME?” I was reminded that it is only in Him that I find the love, wisdom, courage and resolve necessary to love and feed His sheep. I have nothing in and of myself to bring others that feeds. I fact, you will recall, I only have vile curses. But as I turn my face to Him in adoration and praise, He provides all I need to love and feed His lambs. We are only sheep leading other sheep. We, therefore, run the risk of eating the lambs to sustain our efforts to produce what only He can provide. The question, “Christine, do you truly love ME?” still resonates.
As I reflect back on the important lessons of 2011, I choose to tarry this year in the garden while the Master prunes away the busy buds that keep me from growing into the full fragrance of His design for me. I want to love Him more completely, follow Him more faithfully, and live for Him more honestly. My word for 2012 is growth–not growth that produces busyness, but growth of soul love for God, the Master Gardener. It is this love for Him alone that produces the sweet fragrance of Christ. I truly love you, Father God. Please teach me to love You more.