Relationships are messy and rarely escape being marked by disappointment. Friendships are fragile. It is hard to get over being hurt. What we intend is not always what we do. Failure can become an anthem of our life. We are all of us marked by the life we live each and every day. And the hard days, those that take your breath away, the ones that are burned in your memory playing over and over like a sad looped CD have forever changed you.
These exceptionally hard days, those that have altered our course have a way of making us into something great or turning us into something terrifyingly awful. And these very hard times are our own personal horror stories that have become our war stories. These hard times if we allow them will turn our souls to iron revealing strength in us we never could have imagined. Hard times give us a story to tell and give hope to those who hear, but they are not where we achieve true grit. Our battles or even our victory through those battles do not create our character. No that happened long before or in the many days following, but not from merely surviving.
For quite a while I have grappled with this notion that it is not the dark time, the horror story we survive that allowed us to stand strong and firm, but something far more innocuous something learned and practiced over and over and over again. We are all of us marked by life. We have all known failure horrible, terrible, rip-your-heart-out failure. What is it that allows some of us to rise often mightier than when we fell? How can we learn to not just stand again, but soar?
Fittingly, the verses the Lord continues to bring to mind as I ponder these questions are from Lamentations:
“The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I have hope in Him.”
I cannot help but think that if it were not for His mercies made new every day, if not for His amazing grace this day would be our last. The Lord did not just fling our world into motion and allow it to run a course. Oh no! He is actively involved, every day. Every day He shows Himself to us, new. What joy, what unabated joy comes from knowing this truth, this beautiful promise. It is as if the Lord whispers in our ear each morning,
“Do it again!”
Each day is a gift, no really a gift (I’ll forgive your eye roll at my apparent cliché). Each day is this wonderful opportunity for us to know hope and possess the possibilities that lies therein. A day is our chance to right the previous day’s failures. A day is our precious gift offering us the chance to perfect ourselves, to fulfill our mission or it is ours to waste.
So child of God what have you done with your day? When you walked through your door did you take a deep sighing breath and think, “I made it. And thank God it is over.” Or did you smile as you opened the door knowing that you had lived this day to its fullest. There are plenty of joy snatchers out there that will lay in wait for you and even more obstacles that will try to thwart your every move, but if God is our portion we have a joy that is unsnatchable. If our hope is in the Lord there are no real obstacles only those masquerading as such.
If every day I can awake with a prayer on my lips as I encounter Holy God I will develop true grit. I will be seasoned by Him and grounded in truth. This is the goal. This is our aim. Today as the Lord has made His mercy new so we will walk in the newness of the day and live, truly live. Today is full of wonderful opportunities don’t miss out on one of them, don’t waste another gift.
Good ol’ Hackberry
“Miss Brandi, Miss Brandi it was SOOO scary!”
“Yeah it was this horrible popping and we ran so fast to the porch and then ‘POW’ it hit the ground.”
“Wow girls, that sounds awful. Were you so scared?” I cringed inside as the three little blonde cuties who lived next door shared their near death experience with our tree—good ol’ Hackberry.
We had moved into our cozy little cottage just over a year ago. It was, as so many things in my life, a perfectly timed blessing from the Lord. With my “unreal” expectations and “impossible” list of wants/needs, the Lord had answered faithful and true as always. We had instantly fell in love with the big backyard (unheard of with a tiny house and yet here it is) complete with the most gorgeous century old tree that was just begging for someone to hang a swing from its lofty branches. But our poor old tree was rotting or maybe it was just a fungus depending on which expert with whom you chose to agree. This was the second time part of it had fallen and still it stood majestic and lush with its lovely greenish yellow leaves. Still glorious despite the fact that the branches that had fallen both this time and previously appeared to be sizable trees in their own right extending nearly fifty feet with a span of forty feet on the ground they engulfed nearly one third of our yard.
We were struggling to figure out what to do. Neither I nor my husband had ever owned a home let alone dealt with tree issues. Do we make last ditch effort and bolt the low crotch (apparently this was the greatest issue with our tree—who knew trees’ had crotches) to save the tree? Pour rot treatment on it? Or, do we do the very thing we could not bring ourselves to consider—chop ol’ Hackberry down and have him removed? We researched and discussed the issue over the course of the following months. And then as life has a way of doing the decision was made for us.
I was at work when the receptionist said, “Your neighbor is on the phone.” I drew a deep breath. I knew exactly which neighbor and I knew precisely why she was calling—to tell me the bad news. Even with this third fall ol’ Hackberry remained strong and resolute though he was just over half his previous glorious size, and this time his mighty branches had stretched so far they landed squarely on our dilapidated garage that was now no longer so square and far more dilapidated.
And so in a matter of a week ol’ Hackberry who had stood glorious and mighty for a century came down. It was a great undertaking at least it must have been it took all day and part of the next and cost a small fortune. I couldn’t watch. I was heartbroken. All I could think was that ol’ Hackberry had made that yard offering the only shade and refuge. He had looked rather grand with the new bed I had created around his mighty trunk. I couldn’t go in our backyard for a month I was so upset. Our backyard is just another room in our house in which we spend a lot of time. And there is something deeply troubling about losing so grand a tree that has with stood so many storms, droughts, winds, tornados and looked out on the many families and parties that had happened just beneath its branches.
When I finally forced myself outside I of course was shocked being able to look so far beyond my fence. Our yard was dramatically different. There were stubbles of grass peeking up through the ground that had once refused to grow any no matter how hard we coaxed it. There were these mighty stumps sitting in the yard. “I thought you might want to use them for something,” my husband told me. There was firewood stacked so high along the fence. I started doing yard work and rolling the giant stumps, ol’ Hackberry’s former branches around to different parts of the yard. I loved the idea that he would live on in our yard in a small way. The stumps made excellent accents to several of our beds and ideal spots for potted plants. As time went by we would enjoy an evening in front of the chiminea warmed by the tiny branches of ol’ Hackberry and again I was happy to think that ol’ Hackberry still was adding to our yard and our time spent in it.
We have given away much of the huge stack of firewood save for the tiny pieces to use for our late night fires. I wanted to do something else with the wood, something useful. So we chopped them down into coaster size bits to use to set candles on or keep drinks from leaving a ring. Rustic wood coasters that I could share with friends, coasters that will serve as a reminder that even when the worst thing happens, the very thing we can’t or don’t want to consider that there is beauty and purpose beyond the loss.
I think of Stephen so full of the Holy Spirit who was faced with an even greater decision, whether or not he would back down from sharing the Gospel. As he stood before the council already a condemned man in their eyes he boldly declared what he knew to be true and in so doing he lost his life. But many would say and I think our current body of believers confirms that in the horrible loss of Stephen so much more was gained. In losing this saint we gained the spread of the Gospel. Immediately following his death persecution of believers intensified and they were forced to flee and in so doing took the Gospel with them.
Sometimes when things don’t work out as we had hoped or when all hope seems to have floated away we feel defeated. We wonder where God is. We wonder why He didn’t stop this horrible thing from happening. And we forget that He is God and there might be, no there definitely will be rough patches and sad moments, disappointments far worse than ol’ Hackberry that rock our worlds and still we are defeated. God can redeem any person or situation. He can make beauty from ashes and life from death. He does it all the time. He is God and with Him our loss has a way of equaling gain.
A dear friend shared a frustration with me today. She can’t understand why no one has time to help her. She sees her friends and knows that she would be willing to help any one of them if they asked, but somehow they are all unavailable to help her. “Why?” she wonders, “it’s just so frustrating.”
Busy. We are all so very busy. We are over extended with more tasks and responsibilities than we could ever manage even if we had help or a little more time. We are tapped out. Our giving well has long ago dried up and we are in a time famine.
Our excesses do not just apply to our exceeded credit limits and over indulging appetites they stretch deeper and more devastatingly into the most precious of our gifts, our time. And today my “busy” almost cost me a moment, a God ordained moment.
I HAD to make the dreaded Walmart run. Oh Walmart how I love you and despise you all at once. You with your super-center greatness and bargain basement prices—the frugal penny pincher in me finds you too irresistible despite the fact that you are also the place where decorum, sanity and humanlike behavior are checked at the door. Walmart seems to beacon souls from the bowls of society to loiter inside its doors creating their own viral phenomenon. But my husband, the usual victim for quick shopping runs is sick and we were in dire need of chicken soup and eye cream. And so, I begrudgingly gather my bag and slink to the door knowing that I have a long list of to-dos tonight and none of which included the one stop shopping mecca.
After making it to the express lane with all the items I came for, along with two must have DVDs I fished out of the bin, I carefully place my items on the counter and hand the unenthused checker my shopping bag. She obliges and begins scanning my items and dropping them in my bag. I then begin to explain to her my eye cream dilemma (she is captivated, truly). This battered box is the only one on the shelf and I really need it, because I have been scraping the last drops from my current bottle. She nods on cue. I get to the point, “will you sell me this damaged one for a discount?” “I’ll have to ask my manager.” “Okay, I’ll wait.” (only slightly annoyed she walks off to find her manager). My patience is clearly not admired by the surly couple waiting in line behind me.
She returns with the happy news (at least it was for me). “I can give you 10% off.” “Perfect.” “But I don’t have a calculator…” (no worries I am a former math wiz) “that will be a $1.99!” “Great.” (said with less excitement than one would expect with that word). We exchange the southern good-bye pleasantries and I wheel my cart away. Being the frugal shopper I am I double check my receipt to make sure she did give me my $1.99 discount to discover that she had actually charged me $1.99 for this $20 eye cream. Dilemma. Do I return to the dreaded store and wait to explain my situation to an unenthused manager while wrangling the people of Walmart or do I say score for incompetence and $1.99 eye cream? Before the thought even completes in my mind the Spirit within me prompts me to right this wrong. I was stealing. Knowingly stealing and feeling justified because I did not have the time to deal with it. But Dave was languishing at home and thanks to those bargain bins I had already lingered far too long.
I decide I need to take Dave his soup. And I’m also thinking I’ll tell him what happened and if he thinks it’s not worth bothering over I’ll forget about it. (a.k.a. justify my sin). And still the Spirit whispers Brandi you will need to come make this right after dinner.
Dave listens to my story as he prepares his soup and says, “Wow a 90% discount, yeah you need to take that back so they can adjust it.” After dinner I’m trying to will myself to make the trek back and finally manage to drag myself to the car, again. I wish I could say that I walked in and no one was at the Customer Service desk, after all it was 9 pm, but then again, it is Walmart. And so, I wait in a line that moves like a slug across the hot concrete. Painful. As I’m waiting I can’t help but overhear this old man’s problem. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be a bother, but I TOLD the guy I needed to put $2 on my debit card and pay $15 in cash.” “Yes sir, I think I understand. I just don’t know how to fix it.” And so we all wait as she waits for the other worker to help her figure it out. His voice is kind, but full of anxiety as he explains that he really needs her to put the money back because he doesn’t have but $3 or $4 in his checking account.
And there it is—perspective. This whole evening I have been focused on my to-dos along with my list of don’t-want-to-dos including trying to “give back $17” that was wrongfully given to me. I am annoyed that I have to wait in line to honestly pay for my $20 eye cream and this dear man is worried about how he is going to pay for his $17 groceries. The Spirit begins to whisper, it isn’t about your $20 eye cream, it’s about you helping this man, about you giving $20. Make time. Take time—for others.
He drives his motorized scooter away so they can void his transaction and ring it up the right way. As the Lord and I are having our discussion the clerk says it’s my turn. I begin explaining the over sight and she is rather mystified, “Wow, not many people would come back to do that.” I don’t have time to tell her how truly I wanted to be included with those people and that I’m not here to help Walmart, but I’m trying to figure out where the dear man has gone. I ask if I can use my debit card so I can get cash back, “sure.” But then the transaction completes and doesn’t allow me to get cash. “Well, never mind,” I say. The Spirit is not letting go, but I don’t know where he went or how I’m going to help. I never have cash.
I hear a motor and look up to see him wheeling out the store. “I can do this! I can catch him.” This time, surprisingly, there is not a soul at the express lane. I grab a drink from the cooler. The cashier hands me my cash and I’m off trying to catch a motorized cart in a dark parking lot where the cars don’t stop. I see him. He is directly in front of me and has just gotten in his car. “I can still make it. Please don’t let him think I’m a deranged loony trying to hurt him…”
He is about to pull away as I tap on his window. “Umm, sorry sir, but I heard your story and that you used the last of your money and well I have extra…so here.” I hand him the cash. His face softens and he starts to tremble as he takes it trying to say something, but failing. “Ma’am I don’t know what to say…you are going to make me cry.” “Oh no, don’t do that, God bless you sir.” I pat him on the shoulder as he says, “I’m an ordained minister and I just didn’t…” his words trail off and I pat his arm again and say, “Well the Lord is taking care of you right now. Take care, bye!” And just like that I dart off, knowing that wasn’t my moment to shine, but the Lord’s. I gave my time and allowed myself to be available and the Lord used my time to meet the need of one of His servants. What joy.
I’m not busy. Never too busy for people, especially the Lord’s servants.
How is knowledge wrapped up in discipleship?That is, if knowledge is a basic element of discipling then how should we precede in our discipleship relationships? One of my rather brilliant seminary professors wrote this statement that continues to challenge me, “Jesus does not say ‘teaching them to know,’ but rather ‘teaching them to obey.’ Discipleship is education that results in life changing obedience.” Knowledge is a funny thing. It offers power to those who possess it. And yet, it can enslave us just as easily as grant us power. I look around at those of us who walk with God and strive to be more like Christ and wonder why we fail when we should be empowered. We have the greatest knowledge one can ever hope to possess—that God created us, loves us and despite our inadequacies He chose to redeem us through His son Jesus Christ who conquered death and in whom we now have all power and authority. And still we struggle. I think we have grown spiritually fat. We have consumed knowing what it means to be a Christian or what it can mean and failed to obey what we have learned. To walk in obedience according to what we know rather than feeling rather self-righteous and entitled in what we believe is the difference between being empowered verses enslaved. As I ponder on this thought one of the images that play through my mind is that of the character Eli from the movie “The Book of Eli.” Eli has so dedicated himself to the work the Lord has entrusted him to protect. He has memorized it word for word and yet when Solara interrupts his mission Eli responds not as one who is well versed in The Word. Eli’s spirit is pricked. He has violated the very essence of The Word he agreed to preserve that is to love others well and to serve them. Knowledge makes us a slave when we allow ourselves to delight in the power of knowing, but knowledge brings forth power when we submit ourselves to what we have learned and walk in obedience. This is The Way of the disciple of Christ. This is how we grow in knowledge and yet increase in love for others and service to them. As we live out a life of faith our lives will be messy because we are inviting in people. We allow them into our hearts and our lives. And people are messy—full of quirks and oddities that mark us all. As we obey and teach others to obey our lives will be forever interrupted. Knowledge can lead us on some remarkable adventures if we are careful to use it, it will change our lives and the lives of those around us. We must be ever diligent to protect ourselves from growing fat in knowledge all the while starving ourselves from the work it ought to be preparing us to do. May you use your knowledge well today acting on it rather than reclining on it. Grace and peace to you beloved.