Roots

From our first adventures as a couple, Tim and I have been independent, against-the-flow-of-traffic travelers. We want to see what no one else is seeing, take the alternate route, and figure it all out on our own. But traveling with kids has forced us to slow down and appreciate the value of the “guided tour”.

This summer, on our bus ride to the Maroon Bells in Aspen, Colorado, we were treated to 20 minutes of fascinating facts (complete with a full supply of dad-jokes) about what we were about to see. From history and geology to his own wilderness adventures, our bus driver made the ride turn from something we had to put up with to one of our favorite parts of the whole trip!

One of the interesting tidbits we learned was about aspen trees. On our own we would have hiked past these birch-like trees assuming they were just like every other tree. But thanks to our bus driver, we were made aware of just how different these trees are!

Aspen trees don’t exist on their own as most trees do. Instead, they grow in clusters, each tree sprouting from the roots of the other trees, making an entire grove of aspens a single living organism. One root system connects all of the trees, providing nourishment and stability to keep the whole cluster alive and growing.

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In his parting words to the leaders of the church at Ephesus in Acts 20, Paul, concerned he would not return again to this church he had planted, defended his ministry and warned them of what might be to come. Though he cared for the believers dearly and had worked through “tears” and “trials” (v. 19) to establish the church, Paul knew that he himself was not their source of life.

He states in verse 32, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” Paul knew that without his physically-present leadership, false teachers and divisions would arise, but he also knew that this was God’s church, not his.

In this statement, Paul was reminding the believers of the single root system of the church: “the word of his grace”. It was the gospel message of restored relationship with God through grace and grace alone that Paul built the church at Ephesus on, and he left assuring them that this message would be their continued source of nourishment and stability. If grace was the connecting factor, this cluster of believers would continue to thrive and grow, even in the face of hardship.

As members of the church today, we share this same root system. Though individual trees, we remain in clusters, connected by the understanding that we are not here of our own merit, but only because of grace. We are joined by the belief that God “saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9). And like Paul, we are given “thorns” to remind us that this grace is not just for the newbies, but we all must stay adjoined to this root system every moment of every day (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

Twenty years of working in the church have proven to me that though we have this head-knowledge, it’s incredibly hard to turn into life-action. Rather than grace, we tend to depend on other things to hold us together, only feeling ‘connected’ with others who agree with our political ideologies or parenting styles. Rather than seeing everyone as an equal part of the cluster, we elevate our pastors and leaders, cutting them off from grace and putting superhuman expectations on them – and then tearing them apart when they inevitably let us down. We expect grace to be extended for our sins and weaknesses, but slam down the criticism when we see others fall. And I can only say this because I’m just as guilty of it as everyone else.

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One of the other facts we learned about the aspen trees is that after a fire, they are often the first things to grow back. This is because, according to the National Forest Foundation, “even if the trees of a stand are wiped out, it is very difficult to permanently extinguish an aspen’s root system”.*

We don’t know much about whether Paul’s predictions of false teachers and divisions ever occurred at Ephesus, but if you’ve been around the church for very long, you can guess they probably did. Because fires happen. Grace gets buried underneath the flames of spiritual pride, hurt feelings, and unmet expectations. Instead of remembering our roots and extending forgiveness, we burn each other.

When I see those flames igniting or sense them sparking in my own heart, it’s time to go back to those roots and get some grace-perspective. And when the fires do happen – when only ashes remain and hope seems lost, I can remember that the grace of Christ can’t be extinguished.

The church will continue to grow because grace works. It has been and will always be the root system that God is building His church on. It may be the only thing we have in common, but it’s enough!

*https://www.nationalforests.org/blog/tree-profile-aspen-so-much-more-than-a-tree

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Fences

Hiking with kids is always an adventure. Once we get past the initial barrage of “Why do we have to do this?” and “How long is it going to take?” and “Why are you torturing us like this?” we settle into our “Desi-Let’s go!” groove and spend the next couple of hours trying to prevent our children from injuring themselves by engaging in risky activity.

On our “big hike” day in Yellowstone this summer, we set off from the Wapiti Lake Trailhead and made our way to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. This scenic trail wound through wide open where-the-buffalo-roam fields, a fascinating geothermal area, and two peaceful lakes (where, as we found out, the buffalo hike 😲). At the end of the trail, we were rewarded with a fabulous panoramic view of the canyon.

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After taking in the view, we continued on the canyon rim trail to two more overlooks – Artist’s Point and Point Sublime. This trail, though obviously well-traveled, was not for the faint of heart as the majority of it ran directly along the rim of the cliffs. Inches – not feet – separated us from sheer 1000-foot drop offs. And there were no fences along the trail at all. Talk about risky activity – and all we were doing was walking!

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As I was hiking, I spent the whole time wondering: “Why are there no fences? How is this possibly safe?”

But when we got to Point Sublime, where there was a fence, my questions were answered. Because this happened:

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Trail maintainers know this to be true: Fences, though creating a boundary, are only invitations to push the limit. We lean on them, climb on them, and hang over them because they give us an illusion of safety. With a fence in place, we don’t have to think too hard about the placement of our feet, because we feel separated from the danger.

But without a fence, a hiker is constantly aware of the danger that lurks just inches from their feet. Without fences, hikers have to focus on every step and aren’t as likely to push the limits when near the edge. If you’re a hiker like me, you keep your feet as close to side of safety as possible!

I like rules. They make me feel safe. They help me know what is expected of me and I (usually) don’t have much trouble following them once I’m aware of them. I like my rules to be obvious and specific, so there’s no guesswork involved on my part.

As a rule-follower, there are so many times where I wish God had given us a better “rule book”! I wish He would have fast-forwarded time and given me more specific guidelines on how to be a follower of Jesus in my circumstances in the 21st century.

As a professional trail-maintainer, though, Jesus said, “it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7) Instead of leaving me with a whole bunch of fences, He gave me something better: His Spirit.

Yes, fences showing me exactly how to handle certain situations, how to relate to every person, or how far is too far might keep me feeling safely separated from the danger of sin, but mostly they would only be invitations to push the limit.

Instead, Paul says in Galatians 5:16, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Notice that he didn’t give a double command, “walk by the Spirit [and do not] gratify the desires of the flesh”, but rather a cause and effect, “[If you] walk by the Spirit, [then] you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Because the “desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh” (v. 17), walking by the Spirit is the most effective way to avoid the pitfalls of sin.

When I am walking by the Spirit, actively engaging my heart and mind in Bible reading, prayer, and worship, the “works of the flesh are evident” (v. 19). I don’t need someone to tell me where the line is, because the Spirit was already leading me in the other direction long before I got close to the edge. With the Spirit nudging me toward the “do’s” of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (v. 22-23), the lists of “do not’s” become unnecessary.

When a fence is in place, it’s our human nature to lean on it and put ourselves at risk by depending on it. But God has given us His Spirit, so we can walk in confident dependence on Him instead!

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Shift

The beautiful thing about being on vacation is that time doesn’t matter. On our trip to Colorado and Wyoming this August, there were several days when I did not even know (or care to know) what day of the week it was. And time of day was judged solely on the *hangriness-level* of the children (or maybe the parents 😉).

But on our visit to Yellowstone National Park, we learned that time can be everything!

On our 90-minute tour of the Norris Geyser Basin, we learned all about the Hot Springs:

SHIFT Hot Spring

Steam Vents:

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Mud Pots:

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And, of course, the Geysers:

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that make Yellowstone the unique attraction that it is. Our tour guide, Rick, shared about the history of the park and its fascinating geothermal features.

During the tour, Ranger Rick asked our group a question: “Can any of these features change to become another kind of feature? Can a Hot Spring become a Steam Vent? Can a Geyser become a Hot Spring?” The answer was an obvious “Yes” in my head – it only made sense that over thousands of years things could change. But, as Rick informed us, things in Yellowstone can change overnight!

Change is an inevitable part of life. As long as the earth is still spinning, living things will grow, the ground will erode, buildings will deteriorate, metal will rust, paint will peel, and clean will become dirty. With every minute that goes by, technology advances, styles adjust, opinions shift, and feelings fluctuate. The passing of time always brings change.

I am not the same person I was a year ago and a year from now, I will not be the same person I am today. This is especially true when it comes to my relationship with Jesus. Like all relationships involving humans, shifting, fluctuating, and adjusting are part of the package. Even though I like to think it’s possible, I am never at a place where I am staying put – I am always shifting in one direction or the other.

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When Ranger Rick explained to us how things in Yellowstone can change overnight, we were surprised to find out the answer was… earthquakes! According to Rick, anywhere from 1 to 20 earthquakes occur every day in the park (yes, I was second-guessing my parenting and vacation location choices at this point!). The general public would never feel these quakes, but they are happening and with every one, the ground is shifting and things are changing.

We all experience approximately 1 to 20 earthquakes a day. They come in the form of moments, events, interactions, conversations, and decisions. I wish there was a way to predict them or see them coming, but there rarely is. Their effects range from imperceptible to drastic, and though some of these earthquakes are in our control, most of them are not. Regardless of their magnitude, these disruptions change us and cause shifts in our faith.

The good news is that the direction of these shifts is in my control. Psalm 92:1-2 tells me:

“It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, proclaiming your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night.”

Though I did choose to allow my family to camp on top of a dormant supervolcano (another questionable parenting choice), I don’t have to live on one. I have the ability to put my feet down every day on something that will never shift – the unfailing love of the Lord toward me. I can start each day acknowledging that I am fully and completely loved by God and then let that love support and stabilize me through the quakes. At night I can look back and declare His faithfulness and goodness in it all – no matter what tremors occurred.

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Near the end of our tour, Ranger Rick told us yet another fascinating fact about the geothermal features in Yellowstone. He said that it’s only because of the earthquakes that the geysers are still geysers! The water coming out of the earth in these features is filled with minerals that build up and threaten to close them up for good. But thanks to the constant shifting of the ground, the minerals can’t stay built up and the water is able to make its way through. In fact, Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest active geyser, which has erupted only sporadically over the last hundred years, has erupted 17 times in 2018!*

The moments, events, interactions, conversations, and decisions headed my way today may not be fun, but they may also be the very things that are shifting me closer to Jesus. The passing of time always brings change, but that change can be for the better!

*https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/steamboat-geyser.htm

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Repost: Clear

(Originally posted March 2017)

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There’s nothing like a cool August morning on Lake Groton in northern Vermont. You just can’t beat waking up in a lakeside cabin, grabbing a cup of coffee, and walking outside to take in the crystal clear view of green mountains reflecting in undisturbed waters.

One morning last summer, though, the view was anything but clear:

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Thick, heavy fog had completely covered the lake surface, making it impossible to see the other side – or even the lake itself!

When I first walked outside, the only things visible were the dock and chairs. But as the morning went on and the warmth of the sun evaporated the mist, things began to appear.

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With every minute that passed, more was visible. The trees became greener and the blue of the sky was increasingly revealed.

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After about an hour, the last of the low-lying clouds retreated and our view was fully restored.

Isaiah 44:22 says: “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.” This verse is such a fascinating picture of God’s work in our lives! The disorienting sinful nature we are born with continually clouds our judgment, leaving us in a fog when it comes to right and wrong. And not only that, it also obscures our view of God and His work in our lives.

But because of His great love, we who were once “strangers,” unknowingly “alienated from God” and “darkened in [our] understanding,” have had our eyes opened so that we might be “reconciled” and, therefore, “brought near”*. When our sin is “swept away” by the blood of Christ, our view of God is no longer hindered by its haze.

The thought that I – a tiny little human – could somehow be given a even glimpse of the splendor and majesty of the God of the Universe boggles my mind! Unfortunately, though, it’s hard to be content with a glimpse because I want to see it all – I so want to understand God and mostly, I want to know exactly what He’s doing in my life. But like the clearing of the mist, God’s revelation of His work never happens all at once.

In Mark 8:22-25, there is a story of a blind man whose sight was restored by Jesus:

They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”
He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”
Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.

Notice that Jesus’ work in the blind man’s situation happened in two stages. He was given sight, but at first he could only see partially. It was in Jesus’ continued work where the man’s vision was fully restored and he could see everything – including his Healer – clearly.

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!

(Romans 11:33)

God’s work in our lives is often exactly that – “unsearchable” and “beyond tracing out”. This is frustrating for us, but He doesn’t work like a television show where all the pieces come together, the answers are revealed, and the mystery is solved in an hour or less. Sure, we hear stories of people looking back and seeing clearly how God worked in a situation, but that doesn’t mean that’s a guarantee for us. There may be many things we never understand.

In Isaiah 44, prior to the verse mentioned above, God goes into detail describing the exact sin His people, Israel, were guilty of:

“The blacksmith takes a tool
and works with it in the coals;
he shapes an idol with hammers,
he forges it with the might of his arm.”

(Isaiah 44:12)

The idols God’s people had chosen over Him were gods made with human hands – they were gods originating in human minds whose ways fit into human understanding.

As author Peter Scazzero describes: “God is immanent (so close) and yet transcendent (so utterly above and far from us). God is knowable, yet he is unknowable. God is inside us and beside us, yet he is wholly different from us… Most of the time we have no idea what God is doing.”** If we’re going to call Him our “God”, then we must come to terms with the fact that He is not required to work only in the realm of our human perception!

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Looking back, that morning at Lake Groton was anything but disappointing, because even in the fog, the view was still worth looking at! The process was beautiful and in rushing it we would have missed out on an amazing experience.

Clearly, God is more interested in the process than the product because, as Jesus illustrated in His healing of the blind man, the process involves the greater thing. The experience of His loving touch as He continues His work in our lives will always outweigh the lesser product of our understanding of it.

*Ephesians 2:12, Colossians 1:21, and Ephesians 4:18, Acts 26:18, Colossians 1:22, Ephesians 2:13
**”Emotionally Healthy Spirituality”, p. 129

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Repost: Stickers

(Originally posted February 2017)

Their stickiness is irresistible – setting them apart from simple, plain, boring pieces of paper. Glittery stars and hearts, or better yet your favorite Disney characters, and you can attach them to things!

As a mom, I have a love/hate relationship with stickers. They are a fun prize, an easy activity, and our motivation to survive those long waits in the doctor’s office. But when they don’t do what they’re supposed to do – when they don’t stick because they’ve lost their stickiness (after being moved 17 times in the car ride home) – they result in great frustration!

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One of the hardest things about growing in our faith is that the things we learn seem to have a hard time sticking. We listen to a sermon, read a quote, or hear a song that moves and inspires us. We are reminded of a truth about God or see ourselves in a new way because of what He’s done and we know we’ll remember those words forever!

But by the next day (or even the next hour) the details of life and work and family have invaded and we’ve moved on. I always have really high hopes after I read the Bible in the morning that “THIS time I’m gonna make it stick!” And then the next morning I open to where I left off and realize I never thought about it again!

Mark 8 tells the story of Jesus miraculously transforming a small amount of food into enough to satisfy several thousand hungry people. We love this story because not only does it prove that Jesus had God’s supernatural power, but it also shows that He embodied God’s great compassion.

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” Mark 8:1-3

Jesus knew that with this many people in such a “desolate place,” (v. 4) His supernatural power was their only hope for food – so He made it happen: “And they ate and were satisfied.” (v. 8) Amazing! Everyone was not only fed, but they were full!

So now it was time to settle in and let Jesus continue teaching, right? That’s the picture I always had in my head, but verse 9 says that after they picked up the leftover food, “he sent them away”. He gave them the food so that they could go!

As we see from verses 1-3, the provision was meant to prepare them for the journey. They couldn’t stay there forever with Him – not just for logistics’ sake – but because His words for them were not meant to just be heard! They were meant to stick by being applied to their daily lives.

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One of the true marks of motherhood is going out somewhere, noticing that people are looking at you a little strange, and realizing there’s a random sticker stuck to your arm or better yet – in your hair! It may be embarassing, but it also makes me smile to think of my girls and wonder who decided I needed to be decorated that day.

A couple months ago, I committed to praying daily for a specific list of people in my life. I’ve never been good at remembering to pray for others, so I decided to set reminders in my phone every hour or so throughout the day. This seemed like a great idea, but after a couple days I was beginning to get overwhelmed as I thought about how I could best pray for each person. I knew if I didn’t make a change soon, I would just end up giving up!

One day, after closing my Bible and having a “That was so good! I hope I remember it all day!” thought, my first prayer reminder notification went off. I was in a hurry, so since the thoughts from my study were fresh in my mind, I decided to pick one, narrow it down to a simple phrase, and pray that for the first person on my list. Then I used the same phrase for each person I prayed for that day.

And guess what? You can’t pray the same phrase 12 times in a day without remembering it and without thinking about how it applies to your own life. All of a sudden what I read in the morning was finally sticking throughout my day!

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This weekend we had company coming from out of town, which called for a kids’ bedroom cleaning. If you’ve been upstairs in our house, you know this is big deal! Our three girls share a room and the bigger they get, the more stuff they accumulate – which means the floor of their room is a rare sight.

When things were picked up, I stood back to take in the view (because it may only last a day) and noticed at least seven old stickers stuck to the wood floor! For all the times you want something to stick and it won’t, these stickers are stuck because years of daily life have walked all over them. They are pretty much ground into that floor and not coming off anytime soon!

“Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.” (Psalm 119:97) God’s words can not only satisfy our hearts and minds as we read them, but they also have the ability to remain in our thoughts as we go. It may take some effort on our part, but when we apply His words to the mess and chaos of daily life (especially when we feel like life is walking all over us), that’s when they really start to stick!

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Repost: Aha!

(Originally posted February 2017)

When my friend Sue and I drove into Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah, we were in need of a break. After three days of driving, crowded parks, and catching up on each other’s lives, these introverts needed some quiet time – and Sue’s “Secrets of the National Parks” book showed us exactly where to go.

The trail to the “White Rim Overlook” was a short 8/10 of a mile to a majestic view of the canyon. Most people visiting parks like this head straight for the “famous” views or hikes, so the parking lot for this trail was almost empty. There were no people in sight and it was remarkably quiet – Perfect!

We quickly parked, grabbed our stuff, and headed out. After seeing the sign for the trail, we continued on, following the small rock tower ‘cairns’ that marked the path.

After a few minutes, though, we started having trouble. In our experience thus far, the National Park trails were well marked – at every turn there was a cairn and any place you might be tempted to veer off was blocked off. But this trail was all over the place and the markers seemed few and far between!

At one point our hike came to a halt – we couldn’t see a trail marker anywhere! Since we were not interested in getting lost that day (especially when no one else was around), we had a couple options: Keep moving and risk getting lost or retrace our steps to find the trail again.

I’m not one to give in and go back, so I took the next step in front of me and “Aha!” – there it was. That mere 2 and 1/4 feet (or whatever my stride length is) made all the difference – the next cairn was now in plain sight and we were on our way!

What do you do when you don’t know what to do? I know I have moments every week where I feel at least slightly lost, overwhelmed, or just unsure of what the right choice is. I always wish in that moment that I had someone who could show me – with 100% assurance – what my next step should be.

When Paul prayed for the church at Collosae, he knew that one of the things they needed most was God’s direction and guidance, so he prayed that they would “be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9). Paul knew that God was the only one with that 100% assurance and His desire was to “fill” His followers with His perspective.

The thing is that it’s not just about knowing what to do – it’s about actually doing it. As Paul went on, he mentioned why God would give the knowledge of His will: “so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him: bearing fruit in every good work” (Colossians 1:10a). The knowledge, wisdom, and understanding they received from God was meant to define their stride as they walked.

And then if they did that, something really cool would happen – they would end up “increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10b). It turns out that it’s a cycle: God gives the knowledge, we act on it, and then He gives us more! “Aha!” Knowing what to do in the unclear only becomes clear after we do what we already know to be true. As Ellicott’s commentary suggests: “Do and thou shalt know”.*

Recently, I was at an event for one of my kids and in my sitting-there-forever-waiting boredom, I opened Facebook (mistake number one). It had already been a stressful day, so I was hoping for some fun pictures of my friends and their families to make me smile (why would I ever think that?). But instead, I clicked on something I never should have clicked on (why do I do these things?) and read words that I could never unread.

I quickly spiraled into panic-mode. I was trapped in a room full of people and I couldn’t get in touch with my husband (who normally calms me down in these moments). I couldn’t stop the words from running over and over in my brain and I felt totally lost – I was overwhelmed and I didn’t know what to do. I prayed and prayed, “God, why is this happening? What do I do? Please help! I need Your peace!”

But a few minutes later, instead of feeling peace, I started feeling like God was telling me to go talk to another mom at the event. “Are you kidding me?” I thought, “I’m a mess! I don’t even know her and You’re expecting me to do this NOW? You give me the peace first and then maybe I’ll do it.” I sat there stubbornly for the next few minutes thinking I must have heard Him wrong – surely He wouldn’t expect this socially-awkward introvert to do something like this on a day like today!

But… I did it anyway. And guess what? Half an hour later I had pretty much forgotten about my stress – I had had a wonderful conversation, learning about someone else’s life instead of focusing on my own, and “Aha!” – it was there that God gave me the peace.

There are so many times that we don’t know what to do – times where we feel lost and overwhelmed and we want God’s help! We want Him to fix the problem or at least show us what we need to do to fix it! Last week, as my friend Emma and I were studying this passage, she said, “Sometimes we just can’t let go of our stressful situations because we don’t think we can move on until it’s all fixed. We have to get THIS taken care of first! But maybe it doesn’t work that way.”

The problem is that God’s “will” is not my happiness and comfort. His will, according to Colossians 1, is Jesus. So instead of the peace we’re expecting, according to author and speaker Jill Briscoe, “He gives you courage”.** And every time I use that courage to obey the next step He has put in front of me, even if it’s just one single stride, and even if it’s in a completely different direction than I first thought, “Aha!” – He opens my eyes up to even more of who He is.

At the end of our White Rim Overlook hike, Sue and I stopped to look at the trail sign that we had blown by in our rush to start the hike. “Aha!” There was a good reason for our confusion – we had taken the wrong path! We assumed the trail went straight ahead when, in reality, it went to the right. Thankfully, in our confusion and wrong turns, the paths had met up and we did not end up on the 2.7 mile “Gooseberry Trail”!

I love these verses from the book of Job: “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?… Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand… Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!” (Job 38:2, 4 & 21)

In our limited human knowledge and wisdom we tend to think things should be done a certain way – especially when we’re overwhelmed. But when we ask God for His knowledge, we can expect His direction might differ from the way we thought we should go. It may even be completely the opposite!

What situation do you need God’s guidance in today? The word for “understanding” in Colossians 1:9 comes from the idea of two rivers meeting – it means “a putting together in the mind”.*** So ask God to pour into you the knowledge of His will, meet it with a step of obedience, and get ready for the “Aha!” on the other side!

*http://biblehub.com/commentaries/ellicott/colossians/1.htm
**IF:Gathering 2017
***http://biblehub.com/greek/4907.htm

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Repost: Timing

(Originally posted January 2017)

Now that the holidays are over, it’s time to think about one thing: Summer! It’s almost here, people – warm weather and outdoor adventure are right around the corner! Or at least we can dream about it, right?

Every July our family has the huge privilege of being able to spend several weeks in southern Vermont. We love being able to escape the Pennsylvania humidity and experience the beauty of those Green Mountains!

Last summer, my mom introduced us to a rope swing she had discovered on a creek near her town. Far from the old-piece-of-knotted-string-tied-to-a-questionably-stable-branch you may be picturing, this swing was the real deal – complete with a wooden handle and attached securely to the bridge above. The kids had a blast swinging off the rocks, letting go, and plunging into the water!

But no matter how much fun it was, it was also an accident waiting to happen. An adult needed to be in the water directly below the swing – not only to catch the handle and get it to the next kid – but also to stop any kids who didn’t let go from careening back into the rocks!

If you’ve ever been on a rope swing before, you know that timing is everything. There is a very small window at the peak of your upward swing where you must let go if you want that optimal high-flying-plunge experience. Letting go too early just leaves you with a lame slip into the water and holding on for too long can be outright dangerous!

Another thing we’re all thinking about at this time of year is change. There’s something about the start of a new year that gives us hope that things will be different – or at least that we’ll be different. We’re ready to grab that handle and step off the rock, hoping that this will be the year we take that perfect high-flying-plunge into life.

But timing is everything.

If you’re human like me, you have regular moments of crisis – moments where you’ve done something you regret or where the Holy Spirit has revealed to you a pattern of sin or selfishness in your life. Man, it hurts to feel like you’ve betrayed yourself and those “I want to be a better person” and “I don’t ever want that to happen again” thoughts can seem to overwhelm for hours – or even days.

But no matter how badly we want to change, if we don’t take a proactive and practical step toward change within those hours or days, the ‘crisis’ will fade and we will default right back to the way we were before.

In preparation for our high school small group study this January, I’ve been reading through the book of Mark. One of the unique features of this book is the sense of urgency portrayed in the text. The words “immediately” and “at once” are used over and over, emphasizing the movement of Jesus as He traveled, taught, healed, and led.

But it wasn’t just about His action. Mark 1:16-18 shows His followers acting with similar urgency:

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

The window of opportunity for this change in their lives was very small – there were no days or even hours to weigh the options, pray about it, or just hope for the best. A decision needed to be made right away and if they had held onto their nets for even a few moments longer, they would have missed out!

Anyone who’s been on a rope swing before will tell you that that hardest thing to do (if you’re even able to hold on in the first place 😉) is to get yourself to let go at that critical point. It always feels safer to hold on for just a little bit longer!

In order for change in our lives to be real and lasting, a proactive and practical step must be taken at that critical point. But like Simon and Andrew – taking that step can’t happen while we’re holding on to our nets. Our lives only have so much room, so adding that new habit or taking a step toward changing that pattern is always going to require letting go of something else.

For me, I’ve noticed several instances over the past month where instead of being “quick to listen and slow to speak” with my family, I did the exact opposite – most of the time because I was distracted by the device in my hand. So starting today, after school time is no-phone time because something’s gotta go!

As we jump into this new year, have you sensed the Holy Spirit leading you to make a change? What’s one practical step you could take today to make that change a reality? What’s one thing might you have to let go of in order to take that step?

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