Tag Archives: growth

This is the Thanksgiving of Our Discontent

Over the last few weeks we have heard an onslaught of accusations and allegations of sexual abuse, sexual misconduct, and sexual harassment against famous and powerful men. Power players in Hollywood, politicians, comedians and actors, and now even well-known journalists and newsmen.

As a former victim of sexual abuse, you would think that I would rejoice to see the powerful brought low for their crimes against the powerless and the helpless, for their abuse of their power and how they use their money to cover up their crimes and silence their victims.

Strangely, no.

Instead I am disheartened and hurt.

Bill Cosby was a childhood hero, a funny man who made my parents and I laugh; a man who made me believe that good old family values transcended race and economic status.

Charlie Rose was a journalist and newsman that I felt restored integrity to the trade by avoiding infotainment and sticking to the actual news, reported with honesty, focusing on what was already known and not wild conjecture.

Al Franken was a comedian whose comedy I adored (ah, Stuart Smalley…you are good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people do like you!). I tended to agree with his politics, and I respected his choice to give up a lucrative career in entertainment to enter the ugly world of politics. I had high hopes that he would bring a voice of reason to what had become a highly conservative and reactionary Congress.

All fallen…them and a dozen more.

It hurts my heart to have trusted and believed in the integrity of men who proved unworthy of my faith and my admiration.  And yet…

I am reminded of the mighty statue with feet of iron and clay in Daniel 2:21-45.  In this passage Daniel interprets a dream for Nebuchadnezzer, and he tells him:

“As you saw the feet and toes partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom; but some of the strength of iron shall be in it, as you saw the iron mixed with the clay.  As the toes of the feet were part iron and part clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly brittle.”

I think Daniel might actually be describing the American government as it currently stands, but that is another blog post entirely.

Traditionally, the saying “feet of clay” is meant to convey the fragility of power and the ways that the powerful often fall when their flaws and weaknesses—their feet of clay—are exposed.  The weak clay, unable to hold up the gilded image of themselves they have projected to the people, breaks, and down they fall, disgraced and broken.

The mighty are often slain on a sword of their own making.

This has been weighing heavily on my heart for an entire week.

Then this morning I went to yoga. Yoga is an interesting workout because it is simultaneously active and meditative; you focus on your breath and on honoring your body and its limits while pushing that same body to the edges of its limits and holding it there.

Strength in peace and peace in strength all while honoring weakness and frailty. The perfect balance.

Our suggested intention for our practice was gratitude, and so I listed the things I am grateful for as I moved through the poses.

Family. Friends. A loving church family.

My husband. My children. The family that we have created. How that family has persisted in trial and trouble, and how we nurture each other during those times.

The health of my body.  The chronic illness that keeps me humble and mindful of my limitations.

Gray hairs, and a life long enough to see them begin to sprout on my head.

Then I moved beyond the obvious and began to think of all that had been dragging me down the last few weeks. I decided to try and find gratitude even in that and was pleasantly surprised.

I am grateful to live in a nation where half the country hates the president but trusts that our nation is strong and steady enough to endure the effects of his administration and move on to elect a better/different/equally flawed leader in the next election cycle.

I am grateful to be a part of a culture that is changing and becoming unwilling to endure endemic racism and sexism. I am grateful to have born two children into a new generation that has no patience to wait for changes to slowly come over time; in their mind it must happen NOW.

I am truly grateful for a society that allows its leaders to fall, to repent, and to find grace and place in society again.

I was born in the early 1960s, a time in this country’s history when there was great social unrest: race riots; a president and his brother had been murdered; a great social leader had been assassinated.  The whole country heaved and spasmed with change that lasted over several decades as people of color and women fought for equal rights and equal opportunities.  It seemed like the fabric of our country was being torn into shreds.

Yet here we are, fighting even more battles as we uncover abuses of power and continued racial and sexual discrimination and abuse.

God has made us stronger than we realize, and our greatest blessing is that we can not only endure such painful change but grow and become better because of it.

So this Thanksgiving, after you express your gratitude for your obvious blessings, express a little gratitude for the mess that things seem to be at this moment because God is still working on that mess, and only God knows what good He will bring out of it.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you and yours!

 

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Holy Discontent, Batman!

Do you remember when I told you that I had a case of the BLAHs? I realized that God had placed some holy discontent into my life to get me out of my rut and move me forward.

Things were getting better there for a while.  I got a workbook about burnout and compassion fatigue. I started reading it and took the tests to see just how burned out I was, how badly beaten and fatigued that my compassion had become.

Guess what? I’m not burned out and I don’t have compassion fatigue.

Apparently, the longer you are a practicing counselor the more likely you have let go of unrealistic beliefs about what you should be able to achieve and have accepted that you will have unlimited capacity for compassion and giving.

I took those tests and discovered that I was just fine, scoring somewhere in the range where folks who’ve been in the industry over 10 years tend to score.

It was great relief.

I also started doing things that bring me happiness just to do them. I started baking regularly and trying new recipes for weekend dinners.  It was fun! I love to bake and I love to watch baking shows.

I was starting to smile and laugh and feel human again and I felt like my holy discontent was lifting.

And then…

A colleague gave me some feedback that was very uncomfortable, and while I’m not sure it’s accurate, I’m also not sure that it isn’t right on the money.  I have chewed on this feedback for more than two days now, and I’m beginning to find streaks of truth that I want to understand more deeply.

It’s not fun. I’m teary and uncomfortable. I feel vulnerable and exposed. I don’t like this one bit.

On the other hand, I told you that God has this kind habit of putting people in my path to help me discern His will, and then I asked Him to break my heart and set me on fire for His Kingdom.

Well…my heart feels a little broken and this person was definitely in my path.

As much as I don’t like it, I do believe God is answering my prayer.  And while it isn’t comfortable, answers to prayer are always good news.  I also know that following God’s will can be profoundly disturbing when you first start down the path, but God always works amazing miracles around us and in us when we submit to Him fully.

It appears the holy discontent train has left the station with me on board and I am on my way.  I’ll keep you posted as things develop.

God in the Grocery Aisle

I spend a lot of time with anxious people.

Some of them are anxious because they have anxiety disorders. Some are anxious because they are dealing with PTSD and trauma. Some are anxious because they have an addict in their household and they are exhausted from trying to save that person (and their entire family) from the consequences of addiction.  These folks have really good reasons for their anxiety, and learning to deal with the anxiety is about learning to accept what can’t be changed and address what can be changed (usually the answers to those two questions are ‘other people’ and ‘your own behaviors and attitudes’…but that’s another blog post entirely.)

Lately though, I have been seeing a woman who is anxious because…well, because…

Of life. She is anxious because…career, boss, bad friends, what now?  She is anxious because of life.

She’s a great lady and I love working with her. She’s really serious about the change she’s trying to achieve and actually remembers what we talk about and tries to work on it between sessions. She is what we counselors call a YAVIS client: young, attractive, verbal, intelligent, and social. Personally, I’m guessing she’d be really thrilled to know that I label her as a YAVIS client, first because she’s a little older than I am, and second, because YAVIS clients are usually there to see a counselor because they are having an existential crisis instead of serious mental health issues.

existential crisis:  a moment at which an individual questions the very foundations of their life: whether this life has any meaning, purpose, or value.

During our last session, my client brought me a list of what she thinks she needs to be working on in counseling.  One of her goals was to work on finding a purpose for her life, a larger reason for being. She felt like her current career, while it earned her a good living, was not very meaningful and did not provide her with sufficient purpose.  She wanted to find her purpose in life so that she could get busy living out her purpose.

That was when I put on the brakes.

You see, what I heard my client saying was that God’s purpose for her life was something other than what she was doing right now and that she wouldn’t really be living out her God-given purpose until she found that purpose and then began to fulfill it, daily.  In other words, “I’m not doing what I need to be doing and my life has no meaning or purpose until I do the thing I need to be doing.”

Wow…that’s a troublesome idea.  And I’m betting that my client is not the only person who has this idea.

The problem with this idea is the way we tend to define purpose.  Purpose is a big, weighty word that implies something deeply meaningful, something incredibly impactful…our purpose is supposed to be the thing we do that makes a difference in the world.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? And for most of us, our purpose is tied in pretty heavily with our careers or our daily jobs.  I’m guessing that any job that helps us fulfill our God-given purpose is going to be something impressive, like a teacher, a civil rights lawyer, or a doctor; a trauma counselor, or a pastor or maybe a person who works with the disabled.  There are plenty of careers that will fill our lives with purpose and give us a chance to make a difference in the world.

Actually, it doesn’t matter what you are doing as your career or as your current job…if you are out there, living your life, doing your best to be good human being then you are fulfilling your purpose right there, where you are, and that’s all there is to it.

Personally, my favorite job that makes a difference in the world is…

The cashier at the grocery store.

Yep…you read that right. The cashier at the grocery store.

A couple of years ago, I went grocery shopping and was just overwhelmed with the sheer amount of stuff I needed to get done that day. I was harried and in a bad mood, wishing that I could clone myself so that the work would get done quicker.  When I got to the front of the checkout line I immediately started writing out my check (okay…it was probably closer to 20 years ago) and didn’t even look at the cashier. He greeted me with a casual “How are you today?” and I answered truthfully “Harried.”   He immediately replied “I know! Doesn’t it make you feel really alive when you’re busy like that?”

That was when I looked up at him, thinking I was going to find myself face to face with Happy Elf, or The Grocery Unicorn, or some other mythical creature of that sort.  Instead I was greeted by a man obviously going through chemo. He didn’t have a strand of hair anywhere on his head and he was bone thin and pale.  He was grinning at me, genuinely happy to be ringing up my groceries and talking with me. He radiated joy.

It was an instant attitude adjuster.

I didn’t feel guilty or shamed. I didn’t feel like a bad human being. I just suddenly recognized how profoundly lucky and blessed I was to be standing there, totally healthy, buying groceries for my growing family. I was blessed with sufficient funds to feed my children without worries. I had a list of tasks as long as my arm because my children were healthy and active, and because both my husband and I had full-time jobs which meant that I had to do all my errands and shopping on the weekends.  I was very busy…and it did make me feel alive. Burdened, but gloriously alive.

Talk about making a difference in the world!  This guy had his purpose nailed and he was living out that purpose, right there, ringing up the groceries at the Albertsons.

The key to fulfilling your purpose to know, first and foremost, that you are able to fulfill your purpose in life exactly where you are, doing what you are doing…right now.  You don’t have to wait until you finish your degree or until you change careers or until you get married or get divorced or…anything.  You are valuable where you are right now, doing whatever you are doing.

If you want to fulfill your purpose in life, start by being yourself…be who God created you to be, all the time, and give your gifts to the world whenever you can. Be the best version of you that you can, and do your best to draw out the best in others.

And if God calls you to a bigger purpose, or to express your purpose in a different way, know that you have been living a meaningful, purpose-filled life every minute until now and are about to go on an adventure to see what other great things God can do through you.

Enjoy your adventure!

I’m sure enjoying mine.

Ragamuffin Me

When my oldest daughter Alex was 5 years old and in kindergarten she finally had her first “best friend”.  Her friend’s name was Jessica, and Jessica was a beautiful little girl.  Black hair, bright blue eyes, big smile…Jessica was truly gorgeous.  She was popular too, and sometimes Alex competed for Jessica’s friendship and approval.  Some days Alex won and she came home from school feeling on top of the world.  Some days then other little girls won Jessica’s attention and Alex came home from school sad and quiet.  Then there were days when Alex came home sullen and silent, refusing to eat or be cuddled.  I finally got her to tell me what was going on: sometimes, when the other little girls won Jessica’s attention, Jessica would be mean to Alex and tell her that no one wanted to play with her.  She would tell Alex that her clothes were ugly and that she was stupid and that no one liked her.  And then Jessica and her friends-of-the-day would go off and play.

My heart broke.  I wanted Alex to hate this girl, to reject her, to refuse to have anything to do with her.  But that’s not how it works.  Alex desperately wanted to be her friend, and so all I could do was encourage my pretty little girl to stand up to her friend and tell her that she was being mean.  I told Alex to tell her that there is never any excuse for being mean.  But Alex refused to stand up for herself. Alex was terrified of what would happen, fearing that Jessica would reject her for good and never play with her again.  I told her that it was her choice, but that it made me sad to think she was friends with someone who made her feel so badly.

The funny thing is that I was having my own private battle with Jessica.  Actually, it was with Jessica’s mom.

You see, when I would take Alex to Jessica’s house for play dates, I would show up looking like the harried mother of two children who were both under six years old.  Because I was a full-time student in graduate school, I spent most of my days with my hair in a ponytail, wearing very little makeup and a t-shirt and shorts.  I’d get to Jessica’s house and there was Jessica’s 24 year-old mother, beautiful and young, wearing designer jeans and a delicate blouse, with her hair styled and spiked to match the latest trend. Her house was spotless. Her car was a Mercedes.  Her husband drove a Mercedes as well, and he looked just as perfectly dressed and styled as she did.

I’d walk into their home and instantly feel like an old rag: dirty and crumpled.

I’d sit and make conversation with Jessica’s mom…after all, that’s what moms do.  I’d be polite and ask her questions about herself and her spouse, about Jessica and their plans for other children, about her plans for her own life and career.  I’d shared with her that I was in school…in seminary, actually, and on my way to becoming a minister…and then I’d talk about my former career and how nice it had been to actually have money back when I was still working. We’d chat for a few minutes when I dropped Alex off to play, and then I’d head home only to make a return trip later to pick Alex up and bring her home.  I tried as best I could to be friendly and kind to Jessica’s parents, and to be patient with Alex’s desire to be Jessica’s friend.  I really understood her pain: Alex felt ‘less than’ around Jessica, and I felt ‘less than’ around Jessica’s mom.

One day Jessica’s parents came by our house to pick up Alex.  They were taking Jessica and Alex out for dinner and a movie to celebrate Jessica’s 6th birthday.  Jessica’s mom stood at my breakfast bar, watching me cut vegetables and meat as I prepared dinner for the rest of my family.  She stood there in silence, watching me, and then suddenly she proclaimed:

“God I wish I could be like you!”

My brain came to a sudden, screeching halt.

“You…want to be…like ME? Why?”

She looked me in the eye and spoke what appeared to be a very painful truth.  “You always know what you’re doing. You have a purpose and you’re doing things with your life.  I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing.  You know who you are, and I have no idea who I’m supposed to be.  I look at you and you are so comfortable in your skin. You know what you’re about and why you’re here. I wish that I could be like that.”

Suddenly I realized that I had felt inadequate because I had been comparing my outside to her outside.  What an idiot I was!  She looked at me and looked right past my outside and through to my inside, where things actually matter.  It made me sad to realize just how empty she felt, especially in comparison with what I felt inside. The truth is that she was right. I knew exactly who I was and what I was about. I may have felt fat and kind of ugly when I compared myself to her, but the rest of the time I was truly comfortable in my own skin. I had a purpose and I knew where God was leading me.  I felt solid in all of the major choices in my life: my marriage, my children, and my choice to give up my career and become a minister.  In her eyes I had everything wrapped up in a neat little package and it was the perfect package.  I had everything she wanted to have and didn’t know how to get.  In her eyes, I had it all.

That was such an epiphany for me!  I wish I could say that I never compared my outside to anyone else’s outside ever again, but that would be a lie.  I did, however, learn to value and find greater joy in being me.  I had to learn to let being me be enough to establish my worth, no matter how I looked on the outside. The other lesson I learned was that being flawlessly beautiful doesn’t grant you any peace in this world. I should have known that intuitively, and I guess I knew it at an intellectual level, but I had never really accepted that truth all the way into my heart.  After that, I found myself looking at beautiful people and wondering if they felt like Jessica’s mother on the inside.   How horrible and painful it must be to feel empty, to feel no comfort in your own skin, no love for your innermost self.

I kept encouraging Alex to stand up for herself when Jessica was mean to her and one day she came home and told me exactly how she did it.  It was one of those days when the other girls had won Jessica’s favor and Jessica was busy telling Alex how stupid and ugly she was and how one liked her.  Alex said that she marched right to Jessica and told her that she was being mean, and that there was no excuse for being mean and then Alex said that she wouldn’t accept that behavior out of Jessica anymore.  She told Jessica that she could be kind and they could be friends, or Jessica could be mean and find her friends elsewhere.  I was so proud!  Then I asked Alex what happened, and she said that Jessica admitted to being jealous of Alex, specifically of how comfortable Alex was with playing by herself or sitting alone and reading a book.  Jessica admitted to being afraid of being alone, and Alex promised that if she wasn’t mean anymore, she wouldn’t have to be alone because Alex would be her friend.  Like mother, like daughter I guess.

I could tell you never to compare your outsides to someone else’s pretty, shiny outside, but I know that you will anyway.

Instead, I’m going to encourage you to spend time making your insides beautiful. Feed your spirit!  Spend time finding meaning and purpose in this life.  Spend time becoming comfortable with who you are as a human being, accepting yourself for both good and bad.  Do all you can to increase the good, and limit the bad.  Know who you are and what you are about, and invest in this.  Spend time cultivating yourself and your personality like a lovely garden, because once people look past your skin, they will see the garden that is you and want to wander inside that garden for hours and hours. They will find peace and refreshment in the garden that is you, and you will become a haven for everyone who loves you.

Never underestimate the power of a beautiful soul, and the allure that it has to others who need a little beauty in their life. And just as birds of a feather flock together, a beautiful soul tends to draw other beautiful souls to itself. What a way to find your friends!

I wish you beauty on the inside.

On Being a Tree

“For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.  Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”   Isaiah 55:12-13

“The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap, showing that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.”  Psalm 92:12-15

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.” Luke 6:43-45

I love trees.  I grew up in the Midwest, where the trees turn color in the fall, lose all their leaves for the winter, and cover themselves in green buds and red sprigs in the spring.  And every fall, we would go to New York state to see my father’s parents and to stare in awe at the forests of maple trees.  Nothing is as beautiful as a maple tree in the fall.  We would drive all night to get from our home in Illinois to this tiny town in New York where my grandparents lived.  I absolutely loved the forest covered mountains of New York. Leaves in every color—pine trees to add in just the right amount of green—just enough wind to make the leaves shimmer as they moved.  It was beautiful.  I didn’t think I could ever see anything as beautiful as that.  Of course I hadn’t seen the Grand Canyon yet, or Sequoia National Park, or Bryce, or Zion, but that’s another story.

Now that I’m a homeowner, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with trees.  Anyone who’s ever had a Palo Verde or a Mesquite in their yard knows all about branches that come crashing down in the middle of monsoons, and little flowers all over the yard, and trees that grow so fast and so large that you have to trim them to keep them from growing across the roof and lifting up the roof tiles.  Yet I still love trees.  They’re so solid, so steadfast, so ordinary and yet so unique.  I wish could be more like a tree.

If I were a tree, I’d be taller by now, and probably thinner, and that would be great!  Every year I would grow taller and more majestic, and it wouldn’t matter if my bottom was kind of big—which it is—because a big bottomed tree is a good thing—nice, sturdy, not likely to blow down in a windstorm.   And if I were a tree, adolescence would have been so much easier.  I have yet to see a tree start to hate itself for how it’s trunk is changing, or end up with low tree-esteem because it looks different from all the other trees.  Trees are totally comfortable in their tree bodies—they seem to be just fine with how they grow, how they look, how they express their unique “tree-ness” in a way that is kind of like other trees in their species, but not exactly like the other trees of their species.  And growing old would be easier if I was a tree.  Old trees might not look as nice as younger, neater trees—their bark might be a little ragged, and they might not fill out their crowns with leaves quite like they used to, but an old tree is a respected tree.  We know that, and I think that the trees know that.  They seem to know deep within themselves that growing old is just a part of the cycle of living, and they go with the flow of it, accepting each phase of life as it comes.

And speaking of growth, have you noticed that trees are willing to take as much time as they need to grow?  Some trees grow quickly, others take years and years to look like much more than a skinny sapling, and the trees don’t seem to be bothered about this at all.  Of course, we humans are not quite on board with that concept.  We plant a sapling, and we want a big tree next year.  After all, we are the folks who invented “Miracle Grow.”   We seem to want everything quickly, and the quicker the better.  Instant coffee, microwaves, fast food…   And if we can’t have it right now, we want it at an accelerated pace.   We advertise weight loss products that speed up our weight loss, even though it took us years to gain the weight.  We look to relationship gurus who are supposed to fix us in the space of a one-hour television show when it took much longer than that for the relationship to grow into disrepair.   But the place where we really mess ourselves up is that we expect accelerated growth of ourselves in areas where there is no such thing as accelerated growth.  You cannot become mature overnight—it is a long journey through adolescence and into young adulthood.  Deep abiding relationships are not built overnight unless you’re in elementary school.  Truly close friendships develop over months and years.  It should be no surprise that you cannot become spiritually mature overnight either. If you want a deep, abiding relationship with God, it is going to take time.  And every day you will reap the benefits of that deepening relationship, but you will have to keep working at it, day after day, month after month, year after year.  In fact, spiritual maturity seems to take longer than physical maturity—despite being almost 52 years old, I could swear that I am a spiritual teenager.  I say this because of all of the resistance that I seem to give the Lord, and that “I-know-what-I’m-doing” attitude that I can cop when God is trying to give me direction.   I’m hoping to grow out of my spiritual adolescence soon, but I just said that there is no such thing as accelerated growth, so…

I think I want to go back to talking about trees.

We’ve all seen deciduous trees—in other words, trees that lose all their leaves in the winter.  When I moved to Arizona I was surprised to discover that there were evergreen trees that weren’t pine trees.  In Arizona, many of the trees are evergreen and don’t lose their leaves in winter and I like it that way.  When I lived in the Midwest, I couldn’t stand the bare trees during the winter because everything looked dead. And don’t think that snow made it look prettier for more than one day after a fresh snowfall.  Within a day or two, the snow looked dirty and the landscape went back to looking dead.  That happens at some points in life, doesn’t it?  The landscape of your life starts looking dead.  Everything looks bare, or barren.  It gets kind of hard to live at those points, because you start thinking that it will stay like that forever.  Yet every winter the deciduous trees lose all their leaves, and they seem to hold on just fine despite their barren look.  They seem to know that there are cycles of life that are kind of bleak and bare—times in life when things look totally dead and wasted.  They seem to trust that spring always comes, and that life is renewed—the trees sprout and life looks green and alive again—filled with new growth and new possibilities and new beauty.  I think the trees count on that—that God always manages to renew life.  I think it’s that resurrection thing.  And the trees that don’t make it through the winter, the ones that actually do die—well, maybe it was their time, maybe it was a bad year, I don’t know.  The other trees don’t seem to be bothered by this; they just get on with budding up and getting green.

We need to be more like those trees. Sometimes a certain part of our life just needs to die off, to be laid to rest.  I don’t mean that some person needs to die.  What I’m talking about is the parts of our life that aren’t sustainable, the things whose time is up, that no longer work in our lives.  God removes those things, and it doesn’t always feel good.  On the other hand, maybe letting a few things die is what makes spring and all that new growth possible—some things die, and some things live, and some things grow by leaps and bounds like never before.  Trees seem to have no trouble accepting that. I wish I had more of that grace.

You may have noticed that the scriptures at the beginning of this post are filled with references to trees.   I think sometimes that the Lord compared us to trees so often because He wants us to be more like the trees.  And you’re sitting there thinking “Exactly how would that work, Tina?”

Well, let’s see.  “All the trees of the field will clap their hands.”  This isn’t the only time that this is mentioned in the Bible.  In fact, Psalm 96 says that the trees of the field will sing for joy!  Apparently, trees are relatively comfortable being public in their praise of God.  When they have something to praise about, they do things that are outside of their normal character, stuff that no one expects—they sing, they shout, they clap!  What do you do when it comes time to praise the Lord in public?  Do you sing?  Do you shout?  Do you mumble “Praise the Lord” under your breath so low that only your best friend notices?  Hmmmmm.  That public proclamation thing—that’s a rough one, and I understand that.  Getting all public with your faith is risky—you never know how people are going to react.  But God didn’t say the trees did a can-can down the road, or that they started a traveling revue, either.  God said that they clapped their hands, that they sang for joy.  We’re not talking televangelism here.  No one wants you to become Franklin Graham, God bless his soul.  One Franklin Graham is enough!  God is just looking for a little acclamation, a little jubilation—when the time is right, God is looking for some public celebration.  Say it out loud—GOD IS GOOD, ALL THE TIME!  ALL THE TIME, GOD IS GOOD!  Don’t be afraid to tell your neighbor.

And what did the gospel of Luke say?  “There is no good tree that produces bad fruit; nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit.”  What fruit are you growing? Most of us, when asked about the fruit we produce, look to Galations 5:22-23, where it lists the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, kindness, faith, and self-control—and we start asking ourselves—am I patient?  Am I kind?  Do I really have peace within?  Yes, those are the fruit of the Spirit, and when the Spirit is within, those fruit do grow.  But those are kind of private fruit, meant to fill our own spiritual cupboards with good things.  There are other fruit as well—a kind of public fruit—like the fruit of ministry, the fruit of witness, the fruit of mercy and mission.  What kind of fruit are you bearing there?  Because when the fruit of the Spirit is growing on the inside, there tends to be some more fruit that grows on the outside.  Or maybe I should say that when the fruit of the Spirit is filling up your spiritual cupboard, you start providing some tasty pies and jams for the public to consume.  Things start happening—fruits become works—and works build the Kingdom.   Not that I believe in a salvation of works—but the proof is always in the pudding.  Fruits growing on the inside yield works happening on the outside.

And speaking of fruits growing, in Psalm 92, we read that “The righteous man will grow like a cedar in Lebanon planted in the house of the Lord…they will still yield fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap and very green.”  Apparently, age is an illusion.  Long after our bodies become old and begin to fail us, our spirits remain young and vital, continuing to grow towards a maturity that our bodies passed a long time ago.   As long as we remain connected to the Holy Spirit, the fruit just keeps on coming.  Unless you step away from the wellspring, the growth just doesn’t stop.  What an amazing consolation, because as human beings it is hard to grow old.  It’s hard to be witness to the slow fading of our health and our vitality, to lose our stamina and our prowess.  We tend to view ourselves as physical beings and see our purpose as rooted in what we can do.  Makes sense—just a moment ago I said that fruit on the inside bears works on the outside—and works are expressed through what we do. But what we do for God is merely an expression of who we are in God.  As trees of the Lord, our roots are planted in the house of the Lord, not in the soil of the earth.   Our feet are planted in Heaven even though we are standing here on the ground, so let’s not invest too much time and energy into the illusion that the riches the world can offer us are important.  We spend a lot of time trying to make our mark in the world, trying to become somebody.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use the gifts you’ve been given, but remember, the accolades your looking for are coming from on high, not from this world.  Our treasure is in heaven.  Our home is in heaven.  Our feet are in heaven because that’s where our roots are and all this is just the trappings of the physical world.  Remember: in it, not of it.  Keep your mind where your feet are.

I wish I had some brilliant ending for this post, but I don’t.  The truth is that sometimes you just have to say what the Lord sets before you, and this week, He sent me trees, and so that’s what I have brought to you—thoughts on how to be a tree.  I wish I could say that I have all this tree stuff in my own life, that I’ve got this all sewed up, but I don’t.  I’m no more a good tree than the next guy.  But I do know that the Lord doesn’t ask of me what the Lord does not make possible for me.  So I’m planning on spending a little more time in my backyard, sitting next to my grapefruit tree, listening for the word of the Lord on how to be a better tree.  I suggest that you find a tree close by and do the same.  We could do worse, you know?