Don’t Be Afraid of Taking It Slow

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When I was in fifth-grade, my class spent a day planting pine tree seedlings to fill areas of a local forest left bare by a lumber company cutting down trees. It was our Earth Day project and I was so excited to get out into the woods. I was even more excited when we were all given a few baby trees to take at the end of the afternoon so that we could plant them wherever we chose.

My parents helped me plant my bundle of pine trees on the border of our property. It wasn’t too long afterwards that we moved away from that house and that town…but my grandparents, uncles, and aunts remained there, living on that stretch of land where I’d ran so many times from my house to theirs. So, over the years, I’d go back to visit our family and always take a look at my trees, too. It felt good to have left something behind, something good that could keep growing; I didn’t live there anymore, but my trees did…so I felt like I was still a part of that land.

I remember when they were knee-high…I remember how impressed I was when they grew to reach my shoulders…I remember how delighted I felt, years later, when I first saw that they had finally outgrown me.

It sometimes feels like it wasn’t really that long ago when I first placed their roots in the ground, but since I’ve planted those trees? I’ve lived in no less than seven new towns, graduated from high school, moved out of my parent’s house to start college, got married and had three babies, watched my little sisters and brother grow up to start families and careers. My oldest baby started high school and my youngest is already 9. 

It has been twenty-four years since I planted those seedlings.

And last week, I stood in that old yard of mine and looked up in awe at those same trees. These trees of such fragile beginnings, once so carefully carried by my ten-year-old hands, are now strong and deeply rooted. They’ve survived snow and thunderstorms, the heat of twenty-four North Carolina summers. The fragile limbs I once knew are now thick branches — and they’re home to birds, to insects, serve as the playground of happy squirrels.

The same trees that I once held in my lap on the ride home from school now touch the sky.  

I haven’t been able to get those trees off my mind since I came home from that visit. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how many years have passed and all that was changing in my life while all the while, those trees were steadily digging roots into earth, drinking in sunshine and rain, stretching inch by inch, reaching higher and higher. They never tired of holding their ground. No matter how many days and weeks and years passed, they simply stood taller.

They had small beginnings, those trees. Little hands planted them and then I had to leave them, trusting them to my grandparents and to their Creator to watch over them as they grew. I can’t pinpoint when it happened, not exactly. I can’t tell you in what year they changed from seedlings or lanky adolescents into mature pines that thrive on their own. All I know is that they stand now in the fullness of what they were created to be.

It took time, and maybe that’s why I can’t get them off my mind — because it’s something I’m learning over and over again…the things that matter, the growth that matters — it all takes time and, usually, more than we expect.

It can be so, so easy to get caught up in looking for quick results. It can become a daily race to make sure we get the right numbers, the right boxes checked off, the right amount of accomplishment. There’s a feeling of urgency to succeed, a worrisome hum in the air that we’re going to get too old to matter, that there are too many people ready to take our place if we don’t out-speak and out-do them right now, right this instant. We feel guilty if we don’t finish our ideas or achieve our goals within the time-frame our culture (and our own panicked selves) expect of us…

But, most often, the truly good things in this life do take time.  The garden of nourishing greens, the caterpillar’s transformation to butterfly, a baby in the womb, a child growing day by day, long-lasting friendships, a forest filled with trees…real growth and real maturity requires time.

And while we grow frustrated with anything that feels too slow, God is patient. And although He can (and sometimes does) change things in an instant, He is interested in consequences that are eternal.  

He cares about the single seeds that are planted. He tends them, watches them grow, looks for harvest that endures.  

The earth is layer over layer, soil rich with yesterday nourishing today.

The stars go on further and there are more of them than we can imagine and not a one of them panics that their light isn’t significant. It takes a sky full to light up the night.

He tells His story through generation upon generation, never growing weary of reaching us with His love.

There is space for you, for us, for our lives. Don’t be afraid of losing your place. Don’t be afraid of running out of time.  

God has entrusted you with a dream, with the work in your hands, with the relationships in your life — be patient with these sacred gifts. Our time is in His hands…so don’t fear the passing of seasons. When we live surrendered to Him, He never wastes time. He uses it to help us grow…what He asks of us is that we follow His leading and do what He enables us to do in the day we are living now.  Offer your best while you entrust Him with the enduring and eternal harvest…He promises to finish the good work He begins in us.

When we believe that it’s all up to us and that it only matters if we get it done as soon as possible – and the sooner, the better – we will begin to live, create, and love surface-deep.

When we begin to believe that our words are important only if they’re the loudest in the room, we’ll get caught up in the clamor and miss the still, small voice that matters most.

If we believe that small beginnings aren’t worth our time and effort, then we’ll never see how beauty can grow.

When we try so hard to keep up with the pace of the crowd, we will lose step with Him.

Let’s be brave enough to get quiet and listen. Let’s be brave enough to take our time. Let’s move to the rhythm He sets for us, His melody of grace.

Let’s be brave enough to trust Him.

Day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year – keep digging roots deep into love, keep nourishing your life with Light, keep drinking in the water that you never have to fear will run dry, keep reaching out toward the heavens.

In this simple way, with patience and perseverance, we will hold our ground through every storm and the change of every season…through it all, our Creator will sustain us and we will bear the fruit He intends for us to share.  

Steadily, inch by inch, we’ll keep growing into the fullness of who our God has created us to be.

They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.-Jeremiah 17:8

Sustain

Rather than resolutions, some people find a word to focus on throughout the year…a single word to dig into, to learn from. I don’t always do this, but I picked a word this year – or, rather, the Holy Spirit led me to this word in the last days of 2016: sustain.

To sustain is to give support, to supply, to nourish, to keep up, to support, to bear up under, to buoy up…and as the new year dawned, I thought about God’s promises that He is all of this for us, our very present help in every single day.

We can’t know what’s around the bend of time. We can’t plan for what we don’t know is coming our way.  What we can do is lean into His love, listening for His voice and following when we hear Him.

And when the difficult moments show up, He has gotten there first. He is already holding us steady. It is beautiful when we can see it, when we can see how God has already prepared us for whatever may come.

These six months of 2017 have been full of uncertainty, crossroads, grief, and holding onto hope. These six months have taught me more about give us this day our daily bread…I’m learning how to depend on the presence of God to sustain for today, for this moment, for this need.

I’m learning to trust that He has already shown up, already made a way before me.

And what is there to fear if He is the One promising to sustain me every step of the way?

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Maybe it has been a few weeks, maybe a month – I’m not sure how much time has passed since I’ve started playing this song a few times a day, sometimes over and over again. Sometimes this happens. A song will plant itself firmly into my heart and the words will grow into protective branches over my heart, lyrics like leaves of shelter.  And when moments come that would bring anxiety to my heart, the words of truth and grace are already growing wild there, leaving fear no room to grow.

I hope it reminds you, too, that His love has always shown up first and always, always will.

 

 

 

A Morning Story

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Confession: I woke up cranky today. I was impatient with my kids, griping about what they had or hadn’t done and short-tempered with inanimate objects like a box of cookies that wouldn’t easily open while I was packing lunches. I was stomping around and sighing deep and bitter sighs over an accidental apple juice spill when the Holy Spirit tapped me on the shoulder and reminded me that it wasn’t my kids’ fault I stayed up too late and then overslept as a result of it. It wasn’t my kids’ fault that I was feeling anxious about spending most of today in a dentist’s chair (). It wasn’t my kids’ fault that I hadn’t gotten my ideal morning routines done, but it certainly was MY fault that I was behaving badly and starting their day off with Grumpy-Mom. He reminded me of gentleness, patience, and self-control. He reminded me that it is my job to teach them what it looks like to reflect Jesus even when emotions don’t measure up and circumstances aren’t perfect.

I stopped fighting with the uncooperative box of Oreos and apologized to my children. Without hesitation, they forgave me. They were sorry I was having a hard day and they wished me a better morning. They loved me so well in their compassion. Their kindness humbled me — and showed me a glimpse of God.

This is His way, to not only forgive – but to forgive with abounding love and mercy, encouraging us to move forward in His grace without condemnation lingering on our hearts. His forgiveness is whole and His redemption power fully covers our sin.

So, all that to say- if you happen to have started today or this week (or even this year!) on the wrong foot — stop. Take a breath. Make the apologies you might need to make, to your people and to the Father. And then move forward in His grace and in the unfailing kindness of His love. Know you are forgiven and it’s the next moment that matters. Leave behind what has been and press on, trusting that He is ever-transforming us into His image if we keep surrendering our hearts, our minds, and even our crankiest of mornings into His keeping.

I am grateful today for mercy. I am thankful for love that keeps on loving, never giving up on us.

“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness.”
-Lamentations 3:22-23

Sunday Morning

It is still early here. The sun isn’t showing its face quite yet; when I peek through the window, all I can see is darkness draping the front yard. Street lights burn in their spaces, a porch light is a pool of light across the street…but around these points, darkness reigns.

But I know the light is coming. I know, at the right time, the sun will begin to dispel the darkness. I know the strength of that bright star will end the night. Even now, even as the darkness seems to cover us, the sun is on its way and so I do not fear. Its power has never been overwhelmed by the night; instead, darkness flees from its presence.

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I’m turning my eyes this morning to the One who is steadfast, to the God whose strength always, always overcomes the darkness. Our prayers are heard by the God who reigns above all…our God who is able and good is still with us — even when it seems like our situation is dark, even when it seems like the night is long.

I do not fear because He is faithful.

I know that He is bringing a Day that will chase away the darkness forever. I know that, one day, night will be no more.

In the meantime, we let Him shine through us. We are the porch lights and the street lamps and the candles and the stars. In our lives, darkness has no hold.

Lord, let us shine ever brighter and ever bolder. Let our lights shine until others see Your glory, Your love, and Your power even in the night.

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Even now, the darkness is thinning and the sun is changing my view…before it fully shows its face, I know that morning has come.

Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge Him. As surely as the sun rises, He will appear; He will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.-Hosea 6:3

The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.-Romans 13:12

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Together We Follow: Genesis 16

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Genesis 16 is a heartbreaking twist in the lives of Abram and Sarai. Although God had shown His faithfulness already to them, there was a promise — the promise Sarai had been waiting to see fulfilled — not yet made reality. After years and years of waiting, her arms were still empty. It isn’t hard to understand how fear, doubt, and grief filled her heart. More than anything, a child was what she wanted. More than anything, she wanted to be a mother. She wanted to see Abram hold his son, an heir to all of their love.

With the promise of God to Abram of a great number of descendants, hope was sparked in her soul after, most likely, she had nearly (if not completely) given up on the idea of motherhood. But the years kept passing by and still there was no child…and she let the spark die into ashes.

She began to doubt that this promise was meant for her. In an attempt to fix the situation, looking for a solution of her own making, she sent her maid into Abram’s arms. It was not long before Hagar had something that Sarai did not have: life growing in her womb.

Sarai was unhappy, Hagar was unhappy, and although we aren’t told how Abram felt at that moment — it seems safe enough to guess that he was unhappily in the middle of this conflict. Because Abram and Sarai made this choice, together, to ‘fix’ their problem instead of waiting on God to fulfill His word to them, everything became more complicated.

I can put myself, at least a little bit, in each of their shoes and understand how hard it must have been in that season of their lives. I have tried so many times to make things happen in my own power and ended up in a mess of regret and shame…I have doubted God’s timing…I have wondered if it was too late for me to see His purposes fulfilled in my life…I have been on the other side of someone else’s mistake, living with the hard consequences of decisions I didn’t make for myself.

But in the middle of all these doubts, bad choices, and fears…we find a beautiful moment.

Hagar ran away from Sarai’s presence, ending up in the wilderness. She was alone, pregnant, and scared…but not for long. An angel met her there because the Lord heard her affliction. In her moment of need, in her time of despair, God reached out to her and let her know that there was a plan for her, there was hope for her future.

God saw her anguish and cared about her pain…and that’s what Hagar called Him: “You-Are-The-God-Who-Sees”.

Wherever you are today – He is still the God who sees. He sees me. He sees you. He is the God who hears our cries and meets us in our wilderness.  He is the God who draws near to the broken-hearted, the God who bears our burdens on His own shoulders. He is the God who knows you by name, your life of immeasurable worth to Him. He is the God who redeems us. We might have sparks of hope and faith that we’ve left to fade into a pile of ashes  — but He is the One who blows fresh life into us, making even what was dead live again.

Friends, whatever your situation might be – He knows your affliction and He isn’t leaving you alone in it…He is our ‘very present help in time of need’.

Hagar still had a hard road ahead of her…and, sometimes, so do we. But from that day, she could walk with the knowledge that God knew her and that He cared for her…she knew that He was making a way for her life…and that’s the truth we hold, too. We are loved – and He will walk through every wilderness, every hard-to-understand season with us. On the other side, we will be able to say with certainty: The God-Who-Sees works all things together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.

Hold onto your hope.

You are not forgotten.

You are not discarded.

You are not useless.

You are not abandoned.

You are never, ever alone.

Genesis 16

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar.  So Sarai said to Abram, “See now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai. Then Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan. So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes.

Then Sarai said to Abram, “My wrong be upon you! I gave my maid into your embrace; and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes. The Lord judge between you and me.”

So Abram said to Sarai, “Indeed your maid is in your hand; do to her as you please.” And when Sarai dealt harshly with her, she fled from her presence.

Now the Angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. And He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

She said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.”

The Angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.” Then the Angel of the Lord said to her, “I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.” And the Angel of the Lord said to her:

“Behold, you are with child,
And you shall bear a son.
You shall call his name Ishmael,
Because the Lord has heard your affliction.
 He shall be a wild man;
His hand shall be against every man,
And every man’s hand against him.
And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.”

Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, “Have I also here seen Him who sees me?”  Therefore the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; observe, it is between Kadesh and Bered.

 So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.

Together We Follow (Genesis 15)

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Genesis 15

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”

But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!”

And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”

And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.

Then He said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.”

And he said, “Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?”

So He said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying:

“To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates— the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”

There’s a lot going on in this chapter of Genesis. The covenant between God and Abram sets a story into motion that is still happening even now, so it’s an important moment in for us to understand. (You can find a reminder of what the word covenant really means when it comes to humanity and God here). We will come back to this chapter again, zooming in on a few details, but for now I want to focus on this: God initiated this relationship. He offered His presence and His promise for the future to Abram – and Abram didn’t have to accomplish some feat of valor to receive God’s blessings. He didn’t have to become worthy in his own goodness or strength.

What did he do?

He believed.

He took God at His word — and this faith of Abram’s was ‘accounted to him for righteousness’. It pleased God that Abram chose to trust Him.

Upon this foundation of faith, God made a covenant with Abram: his descendants would be given land, a home, a place to belong.

In the time of Abram, covenants or agreements were made legally binding in this way: the two involved parties would “slaughter some animals, carve them up, and arrange the pieces in two lines. Then both parties would join hands and solemnly walk together down the middle of the path. By so doing they would pledge in the presence of blood and suffering and death, their intention to keep the terms of the contract.” (Willmington’s Guide to the Bible)

You read today that Abram did, in fact, follow God’s instructions to set up this formation to confirm their covenant. But afterwards, Abram did not walk down the middle of the two lines. Instead, God – His presence represented by fire – passed through alone.

God was both extending the covenant terms AND taking it upon Himself to fulfill it.

The promise of Home for the descendants of Abraham became an unconditional covenant sealed by God Himself.

This stream of grace is the same that flowed from the garden and continues to flow into the salvation we are freely given — the salvation extended by the Father and accomplished by Jesus for us.

And just like Abram, we receive this gift by choosing to believe. Just like Abram, we put our faith in the Father and find ourselves at Home. His grace invites us into His heart, gives us a place to belong.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us.-Ephesians 1:7

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.-Ephesians 2:8

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.-Titus 2:11

 

Together We Follow: Genesis 14:17-24

We last saw Abram in a moment of victory. With improbable odds, he took on a rescue mission to save his nephew, Lot, from kings who had conquered and kidnapped the people of Sodom.

Despite the greater number of men, weapons, and experience that his men faced, Abram was victorious in the battle.

We pick up after the victory, when Abram meets Melchizedek – priest of the Most High God, King of Salem (a place later to be called Jerusalem).

 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said:“Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”

And he gave him a tithe of all.

Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.”

 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’—except only what the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who went with me: Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.”

As I’ve thought about this moment in time, I tried to put myself in Abram’s shoes. This is not a period of time in which many know the Most High God. Abram came from a family and a place that worshiped idols…. we aren’t told that he encountered anyone else on his journey so far who professed a relationship with the God he had come to know.

What encouragement, then, it must have been for Melchizedek to come to him. What unexpected grace and confirmation of God’s faithfulness it was to have this priest of the Most High minister to him.

We can’t know what Abram was feeling or what, exactly, his heart was in need of after facing such a battle to win back his family.

But even while Abram was still in the fierce fight, God was already moving to spread a table before him…God was already guiding Melchizedek to prepare for Abram’s visit…God was already providing what Abram would need.

Melchizedek gave nourishment for body and soul — bread and wine, blessing, reminder of the One who had given Abram the victory.

And so when the king of Sodom offered Abram the spoils of battle, Abram said no. He knew the One who was making a way for him in this strange new land. He was seeing, day by day, the power and goodness of his God…and he wanted no confusion about the source of his strength.

I believe that our Father takes delight in preparing good things for us, in being the One we look to for what we need. Whether we are in the heat of battle, in a place of peace, in a moment of victory, in the day-to-day paths we walk — God is the One who nourishes us, who knows what we need before we can even realize it ourselves.

God sent Melchizedek to meet Abram, to refresh and encourage him…as I thought about how loving this was, it dawned on me — for you and I, God came Himself. Through the work of Christ on the cross and the coming of the Holy Spirit into our lives, we have an ever-abiding comfort and sustaining power. The Father looked ahead and saw our needs…and for us, He prepared an open invitation to His table, to His Word, to His presence, to the throne of Grace.

This is the love of our God toward us — He Himself became our bread and wine, our living water that satisfies every thirst, our blessing, our portion.

It’s my hope that we will center our trust and our dependence upon Him so that we will understand, more and more, His faithfulness to sustain us…and when anyone looks at our lives, they will know – everything we have and everything we are has come from our Father.

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