What Nakedness Reveals

Fall is the celebrated season to break out the flannel, boots, and pumpkin spice, yet it’s also a time to see immense change happen in nature. We’ve just watched what was once growing, green, and full of life burst forth with bold vibrancy before all-too-quickly fading into drab tones, weathered stiffness, and the preparation for dormancy.

The trees have been shedding what’s left of their leaves, and the storms which are due to arrive soon will likely finish off whatever remains.

Trees can be a window into our soul. It can be good to let go of dead things, but doing so can also leave us feeling naked, feeling exposed and feeling vulnerable. Being uncovered—and letting others see our realness—can be a challenge.

I’ve been gone from the visibility of published writings here for a time, and it may be a while until I post again, but I’m here now. Here…in the moment because of the trees. Much like the trees, life and change can be a process to shed what is seen by others while being brave enough to reveal broken branches, burls of curled wood, and scattered parts that were once full of life and purpose.

Don’t you feel like this at times?

Yesterday, I took a walk in the forest behind my house. The sound of silence from the trees contrasting with the crunch of the dried and fallen leaves beckoned me. To be able to look up, look down, and look around—seeing the divergence of what is alive, what is changing, and what is dead—reminded me of how we are much like these majestic creations that blend together in a forest. There is beauty to be found in every season—with trees and within ourselves, too.

It’s easy to see the forest, yet harder to see the tree within the forest. …that is, until we get up close to see the tree for what it is:

  • The tree is changing with the seasons of its life;
  • it’s letting go of that which is dead while standing strong;
  • it’s giving life to a network of tiny organisms resting beneath its cover;
  • it’s offering fruit to other living creatures;
  • it’s preparing to rest;
  • it’s patiently waiting for the next season;
  • it’s readying itself for rebirth…and growth…and beauty to come.

Those trees—and you—isn’t this what your life has been about, too?

“Trust the journey.”

It’s what I say to myself when forward progress is slower than it seems it should be.

Trust your journey.

Trust in the season in which you find yourself.

Trust in the seeds you have planted while getting to where you are today.

Trust in the change that has taken place.

Trust in the work you are doing to prepare for what is coming.

Faith is not a moment; faith is a journey.

Seasons change.
We change.
Life gives us opportunities to be the change.

As much as you might miss some of what’s been left behind, trust in the opportunity ahead that has been created by being willing for forge a new path after letting go of what may no longer serve the same purpose for you.

It’s okay to be naked and exposed for a while. 

It really is!

 


 

Dealing With a Barbarian

I have someone in my life who just rubs me the wrong way. This person annoys me, provokes me easily, and angers me. My reasons are valid, but my reactions are not.

I’ve allowed them to have far too much control over my negative emotions. 

They are an annoyance to my joy, they cause me anxiety, and I find it hard to shake the aggravation that spills over into other compartments of my life.

They are a barbarian…

…at least I think that’s what Paul says.


I started a new Romans study, and Paul smacked me right in the face in the first chapter. The book of Romans has a way of doing that. I’ve experienced it before, and last night won’t be the last time, I’m sure, since I’m only one day into this study.

Paul kicks off chapter 1 introducing himself, and then in verse 5, he reminds us of our role in the opportunity of the Christian life:

“…we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of the faith for the sake of his name…”

Paul is talking about himself and about those with whom he served. But how can we learn from him? How can we frame our life with the reason for his words?

We, too, have received grace for a reason. Yep. We’ve already been offered salvation, and we’re sealed into His saving grace through accepting the free gift Jesus has offered. But the grace Paul is speaking of here is probably an additional gift…the gift of being able to share faith with others.

Keep reading and you see that the gift of grace is being able to be someone who “…brings about the obedience of the faith…” Part of our purpose is to do that, and the best way to do so is through our own example…through our own life and the way we live.

Keep reading through the first chapter and you get to verse 14. Paul tells us about his obligations in the faith:

“I am obligated both to Greeks and barbarians, both to the wise and the foolish.”


Fabulous. Paul was obligated to that. As a follower of Christ, am I obligated to the same? Paul knew his role and appointment was to go and spread the good news of the Gospel, especially to those who weren’t Jewish.

But the barbarians, too? Yep.

I couldn’t help but pause to think over how these two passages stood out to me. Perhaps a part of my own purpose is to be an example to others…to show them a kind of faith that brings obedience to God’s leading…perhaps even to the barbarian in my life.

just a thought.

 


 

Seeing Broken Bits Multiplied into Blessings

CT.3-3
Photo and artwork belong to ComparisonTrap.org

This is the continuation of an earlier post about a Bible study in which I’m facilitating and participating.


Andrew spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small
barley loaves and two small fish,
but how far will they go among so many?”
Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.”
There was plenty of grass in that place, and they
sat down (about five thousand men were there).
Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks,
and distributed to those who were seated
as much as they wanted.
He did the same with the fish.
When they had all had enough to eat,
he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are
left over. Let nothing be wasted.”
So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets
with the pieces of the five barley loaves
left over by those who had eaten.
~ John 6:8-13

The Comparison Trap:  Week Three, Day Three… Some of my reminders and my takeaways from the daily devotional include:

For me, this is one of the most powerful devotions in the Comparison Trap study, so far.

I’ve been going through some things in my life… things that are uncomfortable, and circumstances which have pushed me to limits I didn’t know I had. I find hope in the Scripture above, even though the expectant hope and personal application I’ve found in it is somewhat outside the context of the verses.

Here are the three things which stand out the most to me:

  1. “Here is a boy…”  He’s a boy. Not a pastor, teacher, business man, or anyone who might stand out to others. He’s a boy.
  2. “Let nothing be wasted…,” said Jesus. I’ve always known He told the disciples to gather what remained, but I’ve never consciously read those words to the point that they’d stand out, even though my study Bible is an older New International Version (the same as the Scripture above).
  3. God provides, and He turns what we have to offer Him into blessings.

So here are my main takeaways from the three aspects which stand out to me:

  1. I am the boy. You are the boy. Whatever we have to offer Him, he can use. Am I willing to recognize that even a small offering can be a blessing? That He can use it for the good of others? That my faith can grow when I am willing to share the gifts He’s given me?
  2. God wastes nothing.  I’ve said this so many times to myself, and I’ve written about it, too. Yesterday, in a weepy breakdown, I just kept repeating this over and over to myself, and here it is in the Scripture today. He’s going to create a way for the broken bits and pieces of my life to be multiplied, shared, and gathered, because He is the One who commands that nothing be wasted.
  3. He’s ready to multiply my faith and turn it into blessings for me and for others. We don’t know the attitude of the boy who offered up his lunch, but we do know what was done with it. I need to keep reminding myself that this life isn’t just about me and my weepy circumstances; it’s about how He can and will use those circumstances for His good if I’m willing to lay them at His feet.

Sandra Stanley asks, “What did it do to the boy’s faith to watch Jesus turn his small offering into a blessing for so many others? What could it do to your faith to watch God do the same with what you can offer?”

She goes on to encourage us to fight the feelings that our little bits could never go far enough, and to instead, trust God to make our bits astoundingly more—immeasurably more, even.

In my weepy moments and in my joyous ones, it’s important for me to remember that He commands nothing be wasted, and that what I have IS less important than what I do with what I have. The impact is made when I’m willing to offer up what I have for Him to use.


 

Finding Hope in a Question

I’m usually a little out of sorts when I leave the prison. My head and my heart both seem to be going in crazy directions. When one has a family member tucked away from the world, aspects of life can seen hopeless, helpless and senseless. Last week’s visit was no different.


On the two-hour drive there, I noticed I’d need gas in my car at some point before heading home..

“I’ll get it at the station just outside the prison’s entrance,” I thought to myself.

There’s not a lot around the prison, but the gas prices at this little country store are typically about 10 cents less than the station in town.


Silence… that’s what my son and I shared as we exited the doors and walked toward the car. It’s awkward to feel like you have had a “good” visit with someone when you do your visiting with concrete and glass separating you and your loved one. But it was a good visit. It was better than many we’ve had to have, and we both knew it as we walked across the parking lot. My words were chit-chat, but my heart and my head were a mess.

“I’ll let you drive in a little while when we get on the straight stretches on the other side of town, and I need to get gas at that little station just down the road,” I told my son. It’s all I could really say.


I exited the prison’s driveway, drove down the road and pulled into the gas station at the country store. As I got out of my car to walk around to the pump, an old ’70s Chevy pickup pulled in right behind me. A gray-bearded man in a John Deere ball cap motioned for me to come over to his truck.

“Ma’am,” he said in a southern drawl, “What’s your license plate mean?”

“It’s a Bible verse, Sir. It’s a verse that means a lot to me. It’s Romans 8:28,” I said to him.

“Oh?” he asked inquisitively.

“Yes, Sir. It’s a verse which tells me that no matter what my problems, no matter what my troubles and no matter what my challenges are, God is going to work them for good because I love Him.”

“Is that what it says?” he slowly pressed with more curiosity.

“Not with those exact words, Sir, but that is a sense of what it means,” I shared with him.

He nodded his head at me, and said, “Ma’am, you have a wonderful day. Thank you for telling me that.”

He smiled at me, gave me a wave and pulled his rusty ol’ pickup truck into a parking spot. I moved toward the pump to insert my credit card to pre-pay for the gas, but I saw him get out of his truck, look my way and give me a glance under the brim of his cap.


“What did that guy want?” my son asked from the passenger’s window while I put the nozzle into the tank.

“He wanted to know what my license plate means,” I told him.

With an eye roll, my son said, “And I’m sure you told him.”

“As a matter of fact, I did.” I said to my son. “I didn’t initiate the conversation; he did, but I did take a moment to explain it.”

“I’m sure you did, Mom…”


When I got back into the car, my son just looked at me with an “are you serious?” kind of face. We’re in a phase — and at a point in his life — where faith-based decisions and choices keep coming up. He’s struggling just a bit to submit to them with a cheerful heart, and he rolls his eyes at me quite often when I look at him and want to launch into one of my “there’s a lesson in that…” discussions.


“You know…” I started. “You know… maybe he needed to hear that today. Maybe he’s looking for some of the hope in that verse. Maybe I was supposed to stop here at the same time he was pulling in. We will never know… just maybe, Son.”

“Ok, Mom… whatever you say…”


Was I there to answer an old man’s question and give him some hope? Or was that old man there to ask me a question which would remind me of His hope?

Was I put there in that moment? Or was the old man put there? Or were both of us put there for different reasons and for different conclusions over the same conversation?

Was I in the right place at the right time to show my son how faith boldly intersects in every aspect of our lives? Or was he in that passenger’s seat in that moment to witness how, in fact, it does?

Was I there in that moment to get my thoughts away from my broken heart? Was I there in that moment to hear my own words and to really HEAR His words in the process? Was he an old man in a truck, or was he someone else?

We can never know how all of the incidences in our lives are woven together, but Romans 8:28 serves as a regular reminder to me for the things I do see and do experience.

Life has been a challenge over the last four years, but through it all, my hope is only growing in His ability to work ALL of it for good — my good, my son’s good, my family’s good, the good of others — and ALL of it for His glory. I do struggle in the moments and in the circumstances, but the precious chances where I find myself outside of the moments and circumstances and in the midst of how Romans 8:28 is being made reality are true blessings.


Dear gray-bearded man in the old, red Chevy… thank you for stopping to ask me about my license plate. I didn’t just tell you about Romans 8:28 in that moment, I experienced the beauty, the possibilities, and the reality of one of many ways it is being fulfilled. I found HOPE in your question.


Moved by the Music

Reaching - Copy

He was just a few rows in front of me on Sunday.

A little boy…probably seven or eight years old. He was sitting in the auditorium with his dad just a couple of rows from the stage.

I first noticed it at the start of the service, and it bothered me just a bit.
His motion was distracting.
It was tense.
It was filling the entire space in front of him.
From the start of the opener, he rocked front to back in his seat to .every.single.beat. of the music.

He stopped for the announcements. At the moment we were invited to stand for worship, he started again. Through the four worship songs, he just rocked in perfect rhythm with the beat…fast or slow…it didn’t matter.
He kept perfect timing.

About half of the way through the first song, I think I started to get it. In that moment, I felt awed. I think this little boy may have been autistic, and he was completely moved by the music. His daddy would glance at him now and again, but the little boy’s response to the music during worship was perfectly normal to his dad.

The beat of the music slowed for the last two of the four worship songs, and so did his rocking. By the time we hit the first bridge in “Oceans,” I knew the attitude of my heart during the service’s opener was way off base.

The lyrics to the bridge say:

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever you would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
By the presence of my Savior”    

Here was this wonderful little boy…he was fully immersed in worshipping his Savior. He was fully immersed in the beat of the music. He was fully immersed.

He was trusting.
He was out there walking upon the water.
He was going where he was called.
He was being taken deeper.
He was being made stronger.
He was sitting there rocking in the presence of his Savior.

The only distraction I was now feeling was how this little boy was worshipping so deeply and was serving as such an example for me.

It often takes the faith of a child to help us see where He’d have us go.


(Lyrics via MetroLyrics & Hillsong United – Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)