So, I’m going on a hike in 3 weeks. Not just any hike. This hike is 16 miles total: to climb Half Dome in Yosemite and back to the trail head. When my brother offered me this opportunity, I didn’t hesitate to say “yes”. I am thrilled to see God’s handiwork from that lofty view point! At the same time, it is daunting to think I will carry my pack of supplies and climb to over 8000 feet! I’m 52. I live in Houston. It is sauna – I mean summer. There are no mountains nearby to “practice” hiking for the altitude. Did I mention I’m 52? I haven’t done any serious hiking since I was 16. My heart and soul keep thinking of the communion with God during the hike: no TV, cell phone, ipad, etc to interrupt. Just hiking with God as my tour guide. It’s pretty awesome to be able to do this with one of my brothers – they are ALL older brothers. If he can do it, so can I. Selfie stick photo at the summit? Maybe not – I’d have to carry it the whole way. Did I mention I’m not a serious hiker? So all these thoughts are running through my brain, but how do I train? My brother is retired. He can hike 13 miles a day. I go to work for 6 hours of daylight. Did I mention it is summer in Houston? What to do, how to train, how not to die from the heat? I purchased the necessary equipment and borrowed a few things. First, break in the hiking boots. Check. Next, I put bottles of water in the backpack. Check. Find a good friend who will walk with me at 6 A.M. while I look like a homeless woman carrying her life’s possessions – and walking 2 dogs. Check. Add more weight to the classes at the gym. Check. Next, take backpack and hip-pack (btw: loaded) spend 1 hour on the treadmill or stair-climber before class at the gym. Check. Did I mention I’m 52? OK, I’ve done that and I can still move! Ask same good friend to walk inside (sans dogs) at the local hospital’s inner mall. It’s air-conditioned. Check. “Dear God, please don’t let me have an injury from training! I SO want to make this trip.” This has been my process. I know I can talk with God anywhere, anytime. Life can be busy and distracting. Reconnecting with Him while in nature is restorative, at least for me. It reminds me that He takes care of the birds and He takes care of me and my family. It gives me time to peel back the layers of everyday stress. So, my countdown has begun. I leave in 18 days. I have several theme songs: Superchick- “Go One More”, Tobymac – “Give Me That Funky Jesus Music”, and the song lyrics “put one foot in front of the other, and soon you’ll be walking cross the floor, put one foot in front of the other, and then you’ll be walking out the door” (from a Christmas kids’ special). For now, I am still 52 and going to hike Half Dome. Stay tuned for the aftermath!
A good farmer knows how to prune his fruit trees, rose bushes, nut trees, etc. It’s work that’s done in the non-growing season. The tree ends up looking quite bare, almost dead. This past winter, I pruned my rose bush down to a 6 inch stub. Afterward, I was concerned that I had pruned too much and actually had killed the rose bush. Within a few weeks, I saw new shoots coming out of it! Now, I have beautiful roses blooming.
This is what God does to us. We aren’t always in a growing season. When the “off” season hits, that’s our pruning time. God is the Master Gardener. He uses skilled hands to tenderly and lovingly remove branches for maximum growth. And when spring comes, beautiful blooms. He takes off the things that are holding us back: complacency, un-forgiveness, hatred, gossip, etc.
For me, this pruning is not always fun. In fact, I like staying in my comfort zone. I have come to realize, that He knows what is best even when I cannot see spring on it’s way. Sometimes, I don’t get it until much later when I can look back at the difficult pruning.
I pray that I allow the pruning and it produces His beauty in me.
Sometimes life provides insight in unexpected ways. Currently, we are working on evicting the “upstairs neighbors”, code for rodents living in the attic. This began a couple of years ago when we first discovered there were squatters in the attic. We hired a company to help. They put out poison and that’s about it. (Ideally, the rodents – this case rats – eat the poison, get thirsty, leave in search of water, and die outside somewhere.) Because the access points weren’t sealed, we have the same issue again. Now the treatment is to bait/catch the perpetrators and seal the openings. Anyone see where I’m going?
God wants my heart – ALL of it; NO SQUATTERS! When I let God into my heart, the current inhabitants must leave. Things like fear, doubt, bitterness, unforgiveness, hatred, etc. BUT, if I am not diligent in keeping God’s promises, His words and His fellowship in my life, the old inhabitants can easily creep back into my heart. I strive to seal the access points with prayer, fellowship, scripture, and worship. Matthew 12:43-45 comes to mind:
43 “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it.44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order.45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”
So often I feel like a work-in-progress, a puzzle with pieces in the wrong places, a house in need of renovation…
My father was, among other things, a farmer. He knew how to prepare the land, plant the seeds, cultivate and harvest many types of plants. He learned to prune trees for bigger and better yields.
Trees may look “good”, but still need the pruning for growth and health, to keep the fruit from being to crowded. After pruning, a tree looks barren. This reminds me of a shaggy dog after being shaved! EXPOSED! The dog’s hair will grow back without knots or tangles, for a time. Then it will need grooming. I am that way too – minus the knots and tangles!
I may look good, but maybe I’m not growing the way I should be growing. That’s when Sculptor God reshapes. Reshaping includes changes that: won’t be fun, pushing me out of my comfort zone, things not going the way I prefer, exposing. Yes, sometimes it hurts to grow. Ever heard of growing pains?
God sees the final piece of art. His eye evaluates the piece of art that is me. When something isn’t quite the way it should be, He redirects/sculpts/prunes. This is to help me grow and produce healthy fruit.
Have you ever felt like a work-in-progress? Join us at our January 22nd meeting. More information in our Events tab.
Lyrics from Laura Story’s “Blessings”
‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the achings of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise
Have you ever thought “God won’t use me because I’m nothing special?” I have, and I think most humans with a faith in God have thought and felt that! I’ll come back to this…
This season can bring me blues, but I love Christmas time! My parents and one of my siblings are no longer on earth. Those siblings who are on earth live far away from me in opposite directions! Being the last of eight children, I was accustomed to large holiday gatherings (not just at Christmas). At Christmas, Mom would make tons of treats: divinity, fudge, frosted cookies, gingerbread men. You get the idea. Then, on Christmas Eve around 9 p.m., we would gather in the living room. Dad would read about the birth of Christ from one of the Gospels. We would sing songs like “Away in a Manager” and “Silent Night”. After this devotional time, we would munch on goodies and open our gifts. That was our family tradition.
As my family changes, tradition changes too. As I struggle with conflicted emotion over adult children and lost family, I desire God’s peace and joy daily. And, I wonder how God can use me in this season? I am an average person. Does God use the average?
Let’s look at the history of the song: “O Holy Night”.
Placide Cappeau was born in France 1808. Around age 8, he had a hand amputated. I am sure the other kids called him names and ostracized him. He grew up in spite of that hardship. He became a merchant of wine and spirits. He was known for his poetry, not his church attendance, although he did attend church irregularly. In 1847, the parish priest asked Placide to write a poem for Christmas mass. He agreed and using Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth he wrote “Cantique de Noel”. Placide felt it would make a wonderful song. So, he approached his friend (and well-known composer) Adolphe Charles Adams to compose the music. Adolphe didn’t celebrate Christmas or Jesus as Messiah. But he accepted and three weeks later, at Christmas Eve mass, the song was performed. Knowing how popular the song is now, it is easy to imagine how well-received it was by the church. It became a staple of Catholic Christmas masses.
Then, two things happen: Placide left the church to become part of the socialist movement; and church leaders found out that Adophe was Jewish! Although the song was still popular, the Catholic Church decided not to sing it anymore.
Fast forward ten years: American Abolitionist John Sullivan Dwight made a personal connection with the lyrics. He translated it into English: “truly He taught us to love one another, His law is love and His gospel is peace. Chains shall break free for the slave is our brother and in His Name all oppression shall cease”. The song was embraced by Americans, especially The North during the Civil War.
You might think that’s three ordinary people that God used to bring a beautiful song into so many lives; THE END. Wrong! A violin-playing chemist and professor, Reginald Fessenden, designed a more efficient way to broadcast using radio waves. On December 24, 1906, he played “O Holy Night” on his violin during a radio broadcast for many to hear.
Now to recap: a purveyor of wine and spirits, a Jewish man, and a chemist-professor (no this isn’t a poorly written joke) were used by God to bring the story of Jesus’ birth to millions of people! Sometimes I need the iron skillet to the head for something to sink into my brain. God will use anyone who is obedient! I want to be obedient! Do you?
As you ponder that this Christmas season, ask God to reveal how He is using you – an ordinary person!
I am stubborn. (Some of you are going “duh!”) Often, I think of how stubborn the Israelites were: they didn’t want to leave Egypt (even though slaves – they were in a comfort zone), they didn’t want to trust God would provide food, shelter, land, etc. They wanted to do things their own way. When reading the stories of their travels and trials, I think to myself “they just wouldn’t learn! Time and time again, they wouldn’t trust God.” Then, a gentle voice whispers, “look at your own stubbornness.” I think I am at least as stubborn as they were.
Things I have in common with the Israelites:
I like my comfort zone – the Israelites knew what to expect in Egypt, not necessarily comfort, but a certainty of food and shelter.
I want things in my time and my way – the Israelites wanted food and water when they first felt hunger and thirst, not waiting for God’s timing. Lack of trusting that God won’t let me down.
I fool myself into thinking my ways work, when they don’t. The Israelites created a false god. That certainly didn’t work out well!
I give everything to God, but keep holding on with one hand. The Israelites kept after Aaron (in Moses’ absence) for the back-up plan.
I’m not a good passenger. I like the control of being the driver. I know when I will brake and turn and accelerate. As a passenger, I am left guessing. In case you didn’t notice, it’s all about “me”! “I” this, “I” that. That’s part of my stubbornness: I want to be in the center of everything and the one in control. Even though God’s ways are higher, I still take over; sometimes I don’t’ even realize I have!
All that being said, I WANT God to be my pilot! Not the co-pilot or navigator! In the perspective of a parent to an adult child, I can see how God knows things I am unable to see. I watch my adult children and want to advise them and help them avoid the pitfalls. But it has to be their choice, not my choice. That’s how God is with us. He is Abba Father. We have free will. We must willing hold on to Him as He is holding us!
Romans 2:4, “God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.” (MSG)
John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (ESV)
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2
The other morning, I stopped at my regular Starbucks for my morning coffee. I have frequented this coffee shop on a regular basis since it opened more than five years ago. For the first time, I saw someone was washing the glass storefront. This young woman was diligently working, checking her work and moving on to the next pane. God whispered to me “give her a bottle of water”. It seemed silly since she could ask for ice water inside and get it for free. Thankfully, I was obedient. I ordered my coffee and purchased the water. I took the water outside to the woman and gave it to her. She turned to me with the most beautiful smile! and said “thank you”. Her smile is etched in my memory. Who is the angel here? I cannot say if I was her angel or if she was mine that morning. Is it always as simple as a bottle of water? It can be… I.E. moving a shopping cart, letting a car into your lane, helping someone with car trouble. Or, it may require more of your time and money… I.E. buying groceries for a homebound neighbor, visiting the hospital (does anyone like the hospital?), driving someone to an appointment completely out of the way. I can make it complicated. I am not always obedient. It is NOT about me, but I make it about me. It is about obedience to God’s nudging. So, try it today. Take notice of God’s nudging and be obedient. You may be someone’s angel!
The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me.” Matthew 25:40