As a youngster I did well in school, and dare say I even enjoyed it! College and university days, though fraught with their own unique stresses, were even better. And seminary. . .well I'm still in the process of completing my Master's degree, now eight years in the making.
As helpful and necessary as formal education is, we all know there are just some things that can only be learned in the classroom of life. I feel as though my last 3.5 years here in New Zealand have been nothing but new learning experiences, ones for which no textbook could prepare me.
How do you support women who are the victims of domestic violence and pastor a church where nearly 50% of its members live in that reality?
What do you do when one of your own teens commits suicide and you are left to support her family and peers, speaking life into the situation when so much around you seems to whisper death?
What do you do when your closest friend is diagnosed with a brain tumor and you become a care-giver?
How do you support someone you love who has become the victim of a heinous crime and relives the nightmare of that experience every waking (and sleeping) moment?
How do you convince people that God is in fact alive and well, despite the incomprehensible suffering that would otherwise indicate he must be either dead or asleep?
You don't learn how to deal with this in school.
So how do you cope? What do you do? Where do you go?
You go to the Vine.
I have an absolutely gorgeous grapevine in my backyard that is currently "chocka" with grapes ripe for the picking! What is one to do on a sunny summer Saturday afternoon, but go to the vine to get some grapes? Go to the vine I did!
Under the archway I stood, with scissors and a bucket in hand, ready to steal a few of these sweet treats, when I was brought to tears. The demands of life lately have left my inner self feeling a bit like the back of my neck on a hot summer day: sunburnt, parched, and a bit hot to the touch. As I stood under that canopy of grapes, the Lord ministered to my spirit.
Jesus' words, spoken in John 15: 5 came to me,
5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing."
Wide-eyed and grinning from ear to ear I looked up at the grapes, astonished at just how plentiful they were! It seemed that the more I fiddled with the broad leaves of the vine overhead, the more bundles of grapey goodness I found! It was like being a kid in a candy store! (. . .Or if you're like me, an adult in a candy store! He he!)
Jesus soothed me with his reminder that despite the suffering I've felt and observed, there is much in life that is still beautiful and unspoiled. The blessing of His presence is exquisite and abundant, like the grapes whose juice was now dripping off my chin.
He told me that I was made to bear fruit, fruit that is sweet and nourishing to those around me, and not only that, but fruit that will last. These words renewed my sense of purpose in life, generating within me a sure hope for the future, and reminding me that He is my Vine and I can rest assured that if I stay close to Him, I will always have the capacity to give the love and care necessary to those who need me.
You don't learn these things in school. Sometimes you just have to go to the Vine.