On more than one occasion his apartment caught my attention as I drove past. He was often out front cooking on the grill, surrounded by beautiful sunflowers that towered near the height of the building. Some token Bird of Paradise plants and an array of cacti in various sizes were scattered about as well. It was one of those houses that looks out of place amid its current surroundings. The tropical oasis was in stark contrast to the bleak landscape of run-down buildings, homes long-neglected, and others that had been abandoned, all in drab, washed out colors. Yet there he stood, smiling through the smoke of the grill, with relaxed company sitting around him. It appeared to represent a group of people living their best life.
Each time I passed by, my curiosity peaked a bit more, and I wondered about this man's story. In my mind I had come to refer to him as Mr. Green Thumb. On one particular day, in the persistent heat of early fall, I was pushing my daughter in her stroller. Just down the street from this man's home was a store that was delayed in opening. As usual, Mr. Green Thumb was in his yard, and I decided to stop and ask about the store. While I asked my question and pointed down the street, his dog barked at the door, eager to join the conversation. Seemingly well-informed, this gentle man shared about the latest news in the neighborhood. As I thanked him for the information and proceeded to continue on my way, he tipped his hat and said to me, "Peace be with you, and God bless you."
Within the course of a five minute conversation, I had sized up the posture in which he lived his life. "Peace be with you." Peace radiated in his kind and respectful demeanor. It was evident in his tender care of the plants that grew and thrived under the scorching sun, that peace was in his heart. It showed in the way he celebrated with those he loved. The peace in his spirit emanated in the beauty that outshone the lackluster surroundings that were the neighborhood. Firsthand, I experienced his peace because he was willing to engage with a stranger, and then send me off with a blessing: "Peace be with you, and God bless you."
Over time I have learned that engaging in small talk with a stranger has led to some of the most interesting conversations I've ever had. I have also learned that people are often much kinder than I realize; more willing to engage than I might expect; much lonelier than I had known. Through my own experience with tragedy and grief, I have learned that no one is exempt from pain in this life, even though our stories may vary greatly. Through the passage of time, and seeking the Father for strength and healing during difficult periods of my life, I have learned that God gives my heart rest and contentment even in the midst of my unwanted seasons.
There is a matter that Paul wrote about concerning how he looked at life, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength." Philippians 4:11-13 (NIV)
I have come to believe that the secret Paul speaks of is about facing the hard stuff in life. It can be a challenge to deal with grief, injustice, and unanswered questions, while not becoming embittered by it. Paul references "the secret of being content in any and every situation." In other words, no matter what we are facing, because of Christ, there is contentment to be found. Perhaps it's knowing, in the depth of my heart, that God is for me and not against me. Even when life is falling apart, and my current landscape and future both look bleak, God has my back. It has been my experience that this kind of contentment gives me the ability to walk in peace during absolute chaos, even with a whole lot of things unknown. In all of these spaces and places, God gives me strength beyond what I have on my own, in order to face the moments in my life that I long to escape. His strength gives me the ability to endure and trust in His timing to achieve the change I long to see.
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:
I have learned, through my seasons of difficulty and suffering, that the secret of contentment is to possess the sacred treasure of a deep trust in the Father. The One who is the embodiment of goodwill towards humanity is with you and with me. He is peace, even in the midst of the chaos. He is with me in the brokenness and pain that make up this lifetime. Our hearts can rest, and when our hearts find rest, we can live out that peace with those in our lives who are in the broken world around us.
Father, thank you for the strength and peace you provide as I walk through difficult times. Help my heart to find rest in you, and to be the light you have called me to be to those around me. Amen.
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