Saturday, February 18, 2017

Red Lights

(The following is an extra-long, kind of unorganized update of Life since Louisville. See, I actually started this post 3 or 4 months ago and just got around to finishing it--shocker! My own heart needed reminded of the things He taught me then, in light of the things I'm struggling with now, so the long version it is!)

Even before Pinterest made it famous, fall was my favorite season.

Of course, there are brilliant colors and the sweet smell of the leaves as they fall.  There are cozy sweaters, and hay rides, and delicious foods.  There's harvest and less humidity (hooray for better hair days!).  The air feels crisp and clean, and somehow it clears my mind and quiets my heart while waking me up inside.

And there's hunting season.  For someone who's never personally had a hunting license...I. love. hunting season.  You see, if you knew my dad, you know he had a deep admiration and respect for the care and power and wisdom of God that is expressed in His creation.  The outdoors is where Dad refueled.  And he passed that on to me, largely through sharing the activities of hunting season.  Hunting season meant walks with Dad, learning about the woods and the creatures that fill them. It meant late nights, working with Dad and the siblings to clean a deer in the machine shed.  It meant getting to skip school to traipse through a field, with out-of-state family members, in pursuit of a, "Rooster!" (For those who don't know, a rooster is a male pheasant, and when a bird  flies, you hope everyone calls, "Rooster!" because you're not supposed to shoot the hens.) 

Or sometimes, I'd skip school to be with the women at home.  On those days, we laughed, and cooked, and colored pictures, and cooked some more.  Evening would come, and the guys would bring home their birds and their stories.  As we shared a meal, we would relive the highs and lows of the day, as well as memories from previous hunts, before retiring in front of the wood stove, the tired dogs nearby and a good book in hand.

We learned a lot in those days.  About life, and love, and family.  About God's creativity and provision.

So fall is my favorite.  It's a piece of home. It reminds me of God's goodness, both in the past and in the days to come.

How fitting that God brought me to Louisville at the onset of fall.  For I knew quickly that this would be a very sweet season of life.

This summer, as I thought about moving to a new city, I tried to look forward with both excitement and a realistic picture of the challenges I would face.  For example: Yay for my sister, brother-in-law, and niece being nearby!! But...I'd have no idea how to get around. There would be concrete everywhere, and traffic. There would be people everywhere --but very few whom I actually knew. Clearly, two of my main concerns were that corn fields and cows would no longer be my closest neighbors and that making friends without being in school would be a great hurdle.

I sit here, nearly 6 months later, and am in awe of the ways the Lord has provided. Let's just begin by praising Him for GPS systems. Without them, many tears would have been spilled over trying to navigate this new land! Actually, I probably would have just stayed in most of the time.  Instead, I have been led to parks, and homes, and antique shops, and coffee shops, and church, and back to a cozy little townhouse I now call "home."  And in these places, my soul has been strengthened by open spaces, and laughter, and warm hugs, and rich conversation.  He is faithful and kind, indeed.

And you know what?  Had He sent me to Louisville and withheld every one of these tangible gifts, His faithfulness would not have been diminished one bit. One thing I continue to learn is that, though His visible gifts are wonderful and should be cherished, the sweetest thing God gives us is access to Himself. One of the pastors at the church I now attend reminded us the other day that, "Though God cannot be known exhaustively, He can be known truly."

So today, I returned to my favorite little table, at one of my favorite coffee shops, to take advantage of a slow day and the opportunity to know Him more truly. As I covered the table with my usual, unorganized collection of quiet time essentials and let my mind wander between what I was reading, and the traffic before me, and the bits of overheard conversations, and the truths I'm being taught at church, and the realities of the decisions I'm currently facing (further evidence of my father in me :) ), the Lord kindly synchronized these into a cohesive thought:

How impatient I become at the red lights of life! But in those days, as I am forced to sit and wait, the Lord continues working. He is clearing the path, making a way, actively orchestrating my life. Red lights are not a time to despair, to fidget, to rage. They are a time to rest, observe, reflect. To thank God for His protection, His provision, His perfect knowledge and ability. Lord, help me to rejoice in the waiting!

In the wake of the Lord's clear provision after moving here, I've allowed my heart to become anxious at the remaining unknowns of life. I know I'll be here in Louisville this next year--that He is asking me to remain and grow in faithfulness and intentionality where I'm at...but that's it. I don't know yet how working and serving and relationships will look, and I find I'm pretty good at leaning on my own understanding to try and figure it all out. Meanwhile, He asks--even commands!--that I trust Him. He's grown me in the trust department through the obvious ups and downs. Now I'm learning to trust Him, actively, in the waiting.

That means, most of all, I continue seeking Him. And when I find Him--when my soul is refreshed by promises and evidence of His working in the waiting since the beginning of time--I find the waiting isn't such a big deal. I'm reminded that the Lord will have His way, His way is best, and He's always right on time.

That's all I have, really, but He's teaching me that that's enough. After all, through His perfect way and timing, "my greatest need has been met" in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He has called me by name and promises to complete the work He's started in my life. May we, as Christians, rejoice in the opportunity to serve Him in the day-to-day, and the assurance that He remains on His throne, today and forever!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Include the Grace

I want to begin this post by telling you a little about a lady name Elisabeth Elliot.  For those unfamiliar with her story, the short version is that she lost her first husband while they were missionaries in Ecuador.  He was killed by the tribe they had gone to serve. After her husband's death, she stayed there for two years, living out the Gospel to the very men who killed her husband.  She returned to the States, remarried, and lost her second husband to a battle with cancer. And she still had the courage to marry a third time. In the midst of it all, she became a well-known author and speaker, faithfully serving her Lord and Savior. Hers is a faith I want to know more about. 

So, over the past year or so, I looked at every thrift store, every clearance shelf, hoping to come across a book by Elisabeth Elliot.  Yes, I know...I could purchase one on Amazon or something super simple like that.  But for some reason, I didn't.  For some reason, I kept looking. And it worked out pretty well for me.  At the end of this summer, I came across one of her lesser-known books titled, "The Path of Loneliness."  Truth be told, this life-path without Mom and Dad, in a family and workplace full of married and dating peers, can be a bit lonely.  The Lord and I have been working on this one (recognizing, and trusting, and delighting in His presence) quite a bit over the last several years, so, I just chuckled, told my sister I'd found my book, and left super excited about my purchase. 

As I read these pages, I find priceless challenges and overwhelming hope.  Many of these finds have come from thoughts I've held in my heart being so clearly put to words by another who knows what it is to grieve. Many more have come from the transparency of Elisabeth's writing as she shares, from great wisdom and grace, about the lessons her Heavenly Father has taught her along her own path of loneliness and healing. 

One of the first things that hit me hard is this: "Those who only watch and pray and try to put themselves in the place of the bereaved find it almost unendurable.  Sometimes they weep uncontrollably, for their imaginations never include the grace." 

How true I have found this, both as others watched my siblings and I after Mom and Dad's death and as I now watch others begin their own journey of grief. I hate, more than almost anything, the moment I find out someone else is just beginning the grieving and healing process.  I remember the raw brokenness.  I know that soon, the rest of the world will go on as normal while the one hurting is trying to figure out what "normal" even means now.  I know the complexity of the path ahead.  I hate that others have to walk that path. 

And then I remember the grace. And I am faced, again, with the realization that I hate that moment because I place my human limitations on the Almighty God. I cast the shadow of my own weariness over the situation and forget that the God who saw me through is every bit as capable in this new situation, in this other person's life. 

The Lord reminds me that when news comes of another's loss, as believers, we must first pray. Believing that God is able, we must pray for His comfort to be experienced, His presence to be made known, His Kingdom to be advanced.  

We must also pray that we would use discernment in how we interact with those hurting most deeply.  Sometimes, we must act.  Through a meal, or a word, or household tasks, or a hug...sometimes, we must act. 

And while there is beauty in sharing one another's burdens, while it is good to hurt when others are hurting, we must always keep an accurate view of the sovereign God.  He is still the Provider of peace that makes no sense.  He is still our good Father.  He is still wise, and loving, and so very active.  Therefore, rather than despair, we must always include the grace. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016


#Strong.  #Young.  #Beautiful.  #Adventurous.  #Bold.  #Independent. 

Right?  Isn't this what we are striving for? 
Or are at least supposed to want? 

What if our #goals looked a little different?  What if they were more like
#Gentle.  #Wise.  #Confident.  #Obedient.  #Courageous.  #Dependent. 

Can this second set of #goals even co-exist in one human being?  And who really wants to be known for these things?  Don't they just make me a stuffy carbon copy of what my legalistic Sunday School teacher expected me to become?  Or worse yet, don't they make me boring? weak? insufficient?   

Let me back up and give you a little context. 

I'm a 22-year-old female.  College graduate.  Single.  Outgoing introvert.  Love for new cultures and the outdoors.  Learning each day to walk more closely with Jesus. 

The world at my fingertips!!
At least that's what they tell me. 

Lately, though, I've noticed some...issues....  Some fatal flaws in myself that are not fun to deal with--for me or anyone living with me.

You see, the sometimes-subconscious pursuit of the first set of #goals has produced in me an ugly six-headed monster, born of pride.  Its heartbeat is nothing more than fear, which sends selfishness coursing through my veins, fueling my actions and thought processes.

Pride, fear, and selfishness don't look nearly as good in an Instagram post as strength, beauty, and the rest.  They are the filth we conceal behind a freshly-painted door and a well-manicured lawn.  They are often subtle, easy to dismiss or justify.  But they are no less present and real. 

And they are dangerous. 

They are dangerous because they steal our joy, our enthusiasm for life.  They build a wall between us and the people we love.  They prevent us from seeing situations and other people through the eyes of the One who came to give us abundant life. They destroy our understanding of purpose, security, and grace. 

I imagine most of us have experienced at least one of these, to some degree.  So I want to switch gears.  Enough of the doom and gloom.  On to the effects of the second set of, seemingly-less-exciting-and-goal-worthy, #goals. 

Because you probably forget what they are, I'll list them again.
#Gentle.  #Wise.  #Confident.  #Obedient.  #Courageous.  #Dependent.

What if we laid down our pride and decided to pursue gentleness instead of strength?  I'm not talking about the strength that holds onto right when wrong seems to be winning, or even the physical strength that allows us to accomplish the tasks set before us.  Please, hold onto those kinds of strength!  I'm talking about the strength that always says, "I've got this--alone.  And don't second guess me because I'm right.  I know it."  I think, if we chose gentleness, we would find ourselves and those around us far more at-ease, encouraged to walk in truth, comforted by a kind of security that says, "You're home here." 

Wisdom instead of youth.  Well, we wouldn't make so many stupid decisions, for one.  But we'd also realize that life is short, and laughter is beautiful.  And in pursuing Godly wisdom, I think we would find ourselves more balanced, with a perspective that eases some of the pains of daily life and increases the simple joys. 

Confidence over beauty.  Is there even a difference?  Haven't we been told that the most beautiful girl is the confident one?  There's some truth to that.  As long as the source of our confidence is Jesus Christ and the purpose with which He made us.  Confidence in ourselves and our abilities is prideful and temporary, binding us to the fear of not measuring up.  Newsflash: we're all gunna get old (if the Lord allows) and find ourselves wondering why things don't come together quite like they used to.  Second newsflash: we already have plenty of "flaws."  So if our confidence lies beyond ourselves, in the finished work of Christ on the cross and the fact that He loves us and chooses us, that He is able even though we're not...we'll be much better off. 

Here's one for ya--obedience before adventure.  I'm not sure why we let this one trip us up--myself included.  My obedience has brought me to the greatest, most memorable, most picturesque adventures of my life.  The most difficult ones, too?  Yep.  And, of course, to the ones that seem like they had absolutely no point.  But obedience always brings us peace before God so that we can fully enjoy the adventures. 

Courage and boldness.  Though they sound much the same, there is a difference--at least in the way I'm using them here.  Boldness says, "I've got to stand out!  Make an impression they can't forget!"   Courage is sometimes that loud, but other times it's quiet.  Courage often enables that first step of obedience.  Other times, courage puts us face-to-face with our inner-most battles so that there is finally victory, or at least progress, that brings us freedom. Courage says, "It's not about me, anyway.  What have I got to lose?"  

Finally, the one I've struggled with most here recently.  Dependence.  Why on earth would I, in light of all I already told you about myself, promote dependence over independence?   Because, like nothing I've experienced before, my "independence" fuels selfishness that says, "My day, and everything that fills it, is about me."  That means how I treat people is about what's most convenient for me.  It means that how other people act towards me should obviously be  It means that when problems or weaknesses appear, it's up to me to figure it out.  Yikes. 

Also, dependence is what God intended for us all along.  From the beginning, God gave Adam access to Himself and a life to be shared with Eve.  Dependence.  Community.  Psalm 62:7 explains it a little further.  "My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge."  That means that my standing with God, and with man, depend on God.  What a mess I create when I try to live by my own strength, my own ability. 

Furthermore, I shouldn't be shocked, or even discouraged, when I discover yet another thing that I'm not especially good at.  God created us to be in community.  He created us to need one another, to use the gifts and abilities He's given us, and to value and partner with people who are great at the things which we lack. 

Dependence is not a sign of weakness.  Life with God is not possible without full dependence on who He is and all He's done.  Life with people is possible with independence...but it's so much sweeter when we are willing to let down our guard, reach out a hand, and live life thankful for those around us. 

So from now on, I want my #goals to look less like envy for another person's appearance, relationships, and adventures.  Let's make our #goals actually mean something.  Let's lay down our own agendas, pick up our Bibles (and read them, of course), and go into the world, our lives proclaiming the difference made by dependence on Christ.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Fear Not

February marks four years.

Four years since life as I knew it radically changed.  Four years since I said my final, "See you later," to the two most influential people in my life.  Four years since Mom and Dad went Home....

So very much has happened in these almost-four years that my head spins at the thought of trying to capture even the skeleton of it.  But I'll try.  Because I know I need to face it head-on to bring the next phase of healing, I'll try. 

That first year after Mom and Dad died was the most difficult I have known. The shock, then raw pain. The wondering if I would ever be okay again.  Life was hard, but God was working.  I'll never forget waking up one day and realizing I was going to be okay...that life is still beautiful.  I'll never forget the release of letting my imperfect self accept the love of Jesus while choosing to love Him back.  That first year was difficult, no doubt, but growth comes from dirt, after all. 

The second year was a bit better.  College was way more fun! New friendships came more naturally, and God provided me with some of my best friends to date. Yet there was an emptiness--a longing to belong that was heightened by great insecurity. And in that season of feeling so unsettled, the Lord patiently taught me, and gently reminded me, that He made me the way I am with purpose. Not just on purpose, but with purpose. He graciously allowed me to see the beauty within myself...He taught me about me so that I can focus on others.  In that time, my love for people and teaching and adventure was quietly rekindled. 

Year three.  Year three was crazy!  A whirlwind of love, and laughter, and tears, and vulnerability, and conviction, and hope as He sent me packing to Bolivia and Montana.  Year three, God allowed me to put into action the work He had been doing in my heart.  And though I still mostly felt a mess, He showed me that my heart had at least received enough healing to once again hurt for other people.  Year three, my heart was tattooed with images that do not stop at brokenness.  No, the images so clearly imprinted in the core of my being are images of hope and healing that only Jesus can give...and that I have the opportunity of sharing.  Year three, I was convinced that the greatest honor and joy I could ever know is knowing and loving God and, as a result of that, loving the lost and broken, encouraging my brothers and sisters.  

As the winds of year three subsided, I realized that God is faithful...and I have trust issues.  Through year four, I've been learning to trust again.  My head thought I was, and my mouth proclaimed it, but...the fear that gripped my heart told another story.  The truth of the matter was that I didn't want to trust God with my future because so far, nothing has gone as planned, and the detours have been rough, and who knows when or how God will decide to fulfill my heart's desires for the remainder of my life.  Yet the faithfulness of God has become one of my favorite attributes about Him.  How?  I'm not really sure.  I guess because He gives me what I need when what I want is stupid...but He never tells me I'm stupid for wanting what I do.  Instead, He shows me what's better, opening doors I never would have chosen, providing opportunities I never could have dreamed.  And He gives me peace.

I have no idea what year five will hold, but this I do know: our God is real and alive and powerful and loving, and because of that--because He is God--He is deserving of trust.  This is what I am learning.  This is what I am clinging to.  While there is still back-and-forth with how well I feel I'm doing, I have confidence in my God.  There is hope through His faithfulness, joy in His works, and peace in His arms.  And I pray that my life is seen, not as a picture of perfection or some "goal" to achieve, but as a testimony of what happens when man's deep brokenness collides with God's greater grace. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Moved by Compassion

I never thought I would write a post that has anything to do with "politics" or our world's current events.  Not because they're not important...I simply don't feel qualified, and all of the hubbub stresses me out!

But how can we, as Christians, claim to be living as God wants us to, without concern for the broken world we live in?  And not just concern that makes us feel sympathy or righteous anger when we hear of another injustice...but concern that moves us to action.

I was convicted of this as I read in the book of Jeremiah this morning.  Now, my personality is much more comfortable with mercy than justice, so the first, ooooh, 28 chapters of this book have not been what I would call enjoyable. 

You see, the first part of Jeremiah is talking about the Israelites--God's chosen people--and how they constantly turn to other gods, and God has about had it.  Exile, death, and despair are on their way.  Sure, they deserve it.  Yes, God is God and what He says goes. But it still makes me uncomfortable.  I have to wrestle through content like this.

Yet I kept reading because I wanted to get the whole picture. 

And this morning, I saw God's justice and mercy collide.  And it all makes a little more sense. 

First, we must not forget that God has been patiently, lovingly sending them prophet after prophet to warn them of the coming destruction if they do not turn back to Him.  But they don't.  God has been begging them--for years!--to repent and be saved.  But they haven't.  (This is where the "they deserve it" comment really comes into focus.)  How often this is us. 

Then today's reminder:
"'Is not Ephraim my dear son,
the child in whom I delight?
Though I often speak against him,
I still remember him.
Therefore my heart yearns for him;
I have great compassion for him,'
declares the Lord."

Woah.  God is delighting over a "dear" son who has lived in years of greatest rebellion.  That's love.  Of course our holy, perfect God has been speaking against them.  They're a wicked mess.  But in His talk against them, His heart is not hardened towards them.  No, instead, God's heart breaks over their condition.  He longs to have them back, living as He always intended. 

I have to think about where I fall in all of this.  First, am I walking as one of God's children, or am I one stuck in rebellion?  Second, if I am walking with God, does my heart break for the lost? 

Do I reject and scorn the lost, or does my heart yearn for them?
Am I moved to bitterness, resentment, disgust, or superiority because lost people are living like lost people? Or do I have compassion because the lost are lost? 

Compassion leads to action.  We must get our hands dirty so that hearts may be made clean.  This does not mean living in sin to "identify" with people.  It means walking into the desert, having real conversation, making real relationships, offering time and resources, loving despite rejection, and pointing people to the life-giving water that is Jesus.  We do not save them, but we introduce them to, and reflect, the One who can. 

I, personally, have failed to do this.  We, as a church, have failed to do this. 

I don't recall reading about Jesus sitting and complaining with His followers about the state their world was in.  Last I checked, He acted.  He ate with sinners.  He offered hope to prostitutes.  He welcomed children.  He set examples among His followers by washing their dirty, tired feet.  He taught.  He healed.  He prayed. 

It's time we stop singing about Jesus without acting like Him.  We must be in close relationship with our Father, and from that, in whatever act we are called to, we must step out in obedience. 

Our broken world will not be instantly fixed.  But heaven rejoices over the salvation of just one lost soul, the return of just one wandering brother.  May our hearts be moved to compassion.  May our compassion always lead to action. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Designed for Desire

"Keep breaking my heart."

I find myself bringing this unnatural plea before the Lord as I realize how far I have sunk into natural habits.  These past couple weeks have left me humbled by the realization of how much my life has become about serving me--making me happy and successful.

In my mind I see a healthy me in the near future, surrounded by adoring students who are eager to in ideal housing, an active part of a thriving church, growing in relationship with a man who loves the Lord and has chosen me, surrounded by true community, with time to spare on the weekends for additional socializing or exploring.  Oh, and all of this is, of course, done with an abundance of energy and enthusiasm!

Are these dream bad? No.  Are they realistic? Possibly.  How about beneficial in the long run?  Yep.

So what's the problem?   ...The problem, is that they miss the whole point.  Not because of the dreams themselves, but because of my heart behind them.  These dreams have become my idols.  My motivation and the reason I put the extra hours behind that difficult project, even if it means getting 3 hours of sleep. So I find myself quite the opposite of happy and successful.  I am tired.  I am stressed.  Weighed down by the relentless pressure for a perfect performance.  I am reciting the right answers while my heart is aching, begging for the day to return when I won't feel like I'm faking it.

But in the process of breaking my heart over how far I've strayed and the over-attention I've given to dreams that have not yet come true, God is restoring hope.  He is giving me a new desire for these things, but with the right heart behind them. He is reminding me how much more beautiful dreams are when they are placed in His hands.  He is reminding me that the whole point is an active relationship with Him.

He is reminding me that these dreams are nothing compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Him.  When we surrender, letting go of selfish ambitions, He is free to have His way.  We must not forget that God will have His way in the end--He is God, afterall. So why do we fight it?  Why drown ourselves trying to swim upstream when God offers a guided whitewater trip down, full of adventure, and support through the fear, and laughter along the way?

Throughout time, people have done all they can to create a god better than God.

Isaiah 40:18-20 says,

To whom, then, will you compare God?
What image will you compare Him to?
As for an idol, a craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it.  A man too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot. 
He looks for a skilled craftsman to set up an idol that will not topple.  

The human heart--the life-beat of you, and me, and the broken girl on the corner--has always longed for stability.  If we could just create, or find, the one thing that will never change or fail us, everything would be different. We would never ever go back to the things that have let us down.  Right?  Wrong.  At least in my life, that's been wrong.

How easily I forget that the God who created my heart, so full of desire, is the creator and provider of everything I've ever wanted.  His provision may not always look like I expect it to, but that's part of the beauty of it...when we let Him, He gives us what we need long before He gives us what we want.

...A friend of mine recently built a cross for me to use as in illustration with the girls in my prayer group and to it, he attached a note that reads,

"As I make this cross, I reflect on what it actually symbolizes.  We wear the cross around our necks, place it in our homes, see it on walls, and never reflect on how much it means to us.  The King of the world stepped off His throne, and knowingly took His place on the cross for you and I.  Not simply for you to enter Heaven, but He made 'the way' for us to have a relationship with Him.  The choice is ours, will we spend our lives at the foot of the cross, living in the presence of our Creator?  Or will we venture out looking for something better. I choose to stay here at the cross where I am promised eternal life with God."

Eternal life starts today, right now, and God wants us to spend it with Him.  No more idols.  No more fuss over things that don't matter.  Not blind to the desires of our hearts, but daily surrendering them to our gracious Father, trusting that He will provide what we need, when we need it.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, "My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God"?   Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.    -Isaiah 40:27-31

We often miss that those beloved verses come right after those mentioned earlier in this post.  We may search for something better and spend all our days and resources trying to create what it is our hearts desire, but it will never measure up to God. It will never be God.

All the striving and stress had crept in where God's peace is supposed to reign.  But not today.  Because of what God has done, because of who He is, my life again rests in His hands, and my heart's desires along with it.

May we recognize that He is God, and He is better.  May we allow the earthly desires of our hearts to always draw us closer to our heavenly Father.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Just Keep Growing

Sometimes God reveals His love and power and grace through another flawless sunset.  Sometimes through the roar of waves upon the sand.  Other times through the encouragement and hug of a friend.  Often through His very Word.

A couple weeks ago, God reminded me of who He is through dirt and a crooked little tree.

After an emotional week, I knew I needed to escape to the woods and take a walk.  So I did.  The walk began with frantic steps, my heart desperate to escape the weight it had been carrying.  As the sun filtered through the trees along top of the ridge, I began soaking in the warmth it offered, my heart encouraged by the way the light danced before me.  And I began to pray that the light of Christ, and my desire to run along the path God has created for me, would remain constant in my life.

My head began to clear as I ran, and my heart with it.  Then I stopped.  And I just sat on a rock in the middle of the trail, and I rested.  As the quiet of the woods overtook my clearly-need-to-run-more-often breathing, the smell of the earth became more and more noticeable.  As I got up and began walking again, I noticed, not for the first time, the sparkly rocks and their pieces that decorate the otherwise-brown trail I walked. Now, my mind tends to function in similes and word pictures.  So as the sunlight brought out the beauty of these glittering rocks, a thought hit me.  Our lives are like that trail, and the blessings God sprinkles along the way are like those rocks: easily missed among the dirt, yet never difficult to find if we adjust our focus.

So that was a cutsey little thought, cheesy as it was.  But my mind kept going back to the dirt.

There is nothing glamorous about dirt.  It just sits there on the ground.  We grumble when it's tracked into our homes, yet it always finds its way there.  Dirt is messy, and it stains our favorite shoes, and it seems to find joy in causing us to slip after a good rain.

Yet it is in the dirt that things grow.

After a seed has died, it must have dirt in order to take root and become something beautiful and new.

Things like this poor, crooked, little tree.

At first glance, it's pretty pitiful.  Ok, even second glance.  But it's not.  You see, this little guy did not just wither and die when the bigger trees around it blocked the sun light.  It did not refuse to grow in the place it has been planted.  No, it did just what it was created to do.  It grew.  At the expense of becoming tall and proud, like the trees most recognized and desired, it grew crooked.  It did what it had to to reach the sun, its source of life.

Are we willing to be like this little tree and just grow?  Forget about glamour and recognition and pride...and just grow...?  It won't always be easy.  There will be drought and flood, scorching heat and bitter cold.  But will we take the dirt that surrounds us and the nutrients that lie within it, find our glimmer of light, and just...grow?

I hope so.  With all my heart, I pray that we look not just past the dirt of our lives, but within it, so that we may know that the struggles never have to be wasted. It is in the middle of our mess that we are most stretched, sharpened, shaped, into all that we are capable of being.  It is in the dirt, that we grow.

So though we never need be ashamed of our humble beginnings, no matter how insignificant or messed up they may seem, we also must remember that we are made to grow.  And the beauty of being human, and not a tree, is that even if we start out wimpy and lopsided, there is hope.  There is hope--even the promise--that as we walk with Jesus, soaking up the life He offers, we will become stronger.  Tall and straight, an example of perseverance, a picture of what Jesus can do in a life that is surrendered and committed to falling, over and over again, into the arms of grace so that we may drink of His never-ending riches.  Even more beautiful is the truth that Jesus has already done the hard work.  Because of His sacrifice on that tree at Calvary, we need not fix ourselves.  We cannot fix ourselves.  We can no more open the heavens and make the rain fall than we can dig ourselves out of the mess we are in.  Thankfully, Jesus is a pretty good gardener.  Our only options are to either let God water us right where we're at, or let Him transplant us as we trust that He knows which will be best for us.  

Jeremiah 17:8 (ESV) says, "He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit."

And who is "he?"  Jeremiah 17:7 (NIV) tells us it " the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him."

May we trust.  May we choose confidence.  And may we always keep growing.