From palm trees to pine cones. I’ve been at a three day retreat in North Carolina. This year my birthday coincides with the glorious turning of the leaves into burnished bronze and amber gifts. I’m brazenly thankful.
Like a good introvert, I’ve stayed back from one of the outings to be silent and think. My thoughts dance around perspective, provoked by the visual richness around me.
I was sitting here drinking my green tea when I obsessed just a little with this. Take a look at the photo below.
See the reflection of the windows… cute, little, inaccurate?
They look like this in real life (IRL!):
If I only stare at my cute, little, inaccurate view, I’ll never know that the windows frame a tranquil forest, a fire pit, inviting chairs, a carpet of leaves and so much more. What’s more, if I continue to sit and stare at my cute, little, inaccurate view, I’ll never know that the windows open, that crisp air will clear my mind. That life is inviting.
I challenge you to remember this–that your perspective, my perspective, every single day, is limited.
Live life looking around, noticing details, looking for the REAL everywhere.
Don’t ruin relationships, or miss out on adventures and growth opportunities, or let bitterness weigh you down like cement shoes on a defunct wiseguy (where’d that come from?), because you failed to look around for the greater perspective on people and events in your life. Look up or turn around. Dig. Dig deep if need be. Ask. Question.
It is becoming a tradition that I post this every year! I have found that there’s always someone out there that needs it right around this time of year… could it be you?
I am sitting in a Starbucks thinking about growing things.
In 2003, when we moved into our house, there was a huge 60 foot (at least) Tree. It was a hub of zoological life in our back yard. A virtual Grand Central Station of flora and fauna. Squirrels, birds, foot long fluorescent green lizards, children… all were drawn to it.
In 2005 hurricane Wilma visited. For a day we watch it assault our beloved Tree. Through the night it howled, as our Tree and thousands of others fought a losing battle. We watched 20-foot branches weaken and begin to tear, giant invisible hands pulling on them until they fell with a crash, inaudible in the roaring storm.
Morning came; our Tree was devastated. By God’s mercy it didn’t cave in our home. It simply fell apart, becoming a pile of wood and leaves, taller than me, filling our entire yard, destroyed by an event totally outside its control.
I miss that big old shady Tree, so full of life. It made me feel safe. It gave me a sense of roots, of stability when we first moved here and were weary with transition.
The yard has been transformed. Grass grows where it could not grow before, because the Tree’s shadow used to lord it over all. A new tree now grows in its place. Not the same at all, but pretty. Several feet away I planted an avocado tree. Can’t wait to taste the fruit. On the rebuilt fence nearby morninglories grow. Always my favorite flower, because they are new every morning, just like the mercy of God.
And in an opposite corner, I have two papaya trees waiting to be planted. They were given to me as babies, six inches tall each. Now they are a few feet tall, and more than ready to be planted. I very much look forward to their fruit.
I’m planning on having lots of containerized trees also. Oranges, mandarins, lemons… and maybe a mango tree or two in the ground.
New things grow when old things fall apart. It’s the way things work. My big old Tree in an odd way was a special friend. I would look out the window at the kitchen sink, see its huge trunk enveloped with life, and feel safe. But its foliage, so beautiful, was too big.
It was top heavy and in the end that is why it could not stand the storm. Its presence fell over the entire yard, and a lot of other things couldn’t grow in its shadow.
When we hauled all the old branches out, and the stump was ripped out of the ground, I had no inspiration as to what would replace it. I didn’t understand why it had to go.
Now I do.
My thoughts drift to other places in life. More than once I have had cherished relationships torn apart by storms the hit us unannounced. Work situations, life situations, seemingly unnecessary situations…
But new things grow when old things fall apart. Always.
Two weeks ago we led a team to Peru. Our time there included hanging with some wonderful girls in a children’s home, working in some shanty towns, and going to visit and encourage a tribe in the Amazon.
We left our hostel at 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday to fly to Iquitos.
We flew to Iquitos. Then we circled above Iquitos for half an hour, only to hear that the airport was closed. They turned our flight around, and we headed back to Lima… The funny part was that some of our team had fallen asleep upon takeoff… and woke up upon landing, only to find they were basically still in Lima! We proceeded to have several more adventures that day, including two team members leaving their passports on the airplane, Peter getting physically assaulted (in a minor way) by an angry fellow passenger… and more! We made it back to our Lima lodgings, several hours later.
Thursday morning we took that early a.m. flight to Iquitos again. This time we were able to land. We then headed out to the “campamento” (camp) the local pastor runs, to get ready to head out to the Amazon. It is naturally rudimentary, set in a forested area, very beautiful.
Ben and Faith roamed free and explored the compound. We told them not to go into the forest. Or pick up snakes (with them, you have to make that clear!). They had a blast and got filthy. Met the chickens and the rabbits. And then Faith experienced something few others have experienced.
I was walking back up from a side path when I heard the commotion.
“The pit bull peed on her!”
“The dog peed on Faith! It just walked up to her, put its leg up, and peed on her!”
Yup, the male pitbull (I’m not really sure what the breed is) Faithy’s new friend, relieved himself on her.
She was unfazed, got cleaned up and continued to enjoy the day. Of the dog, she says, “He’s a nice dog. He has a lot of ticks, I picked them off and flicked them and made sure they were gone.”
A short time later we piled into our colorful bus and headed off to board our Amazon boat. A boat which, by the way, immediately had an engine failure. More on that later…
Today, I remembered the “pit bull peed on Faith” story (and the aborted landing, and failing engine, stories) as I sat in our staff meeting.
Our leader spoke about how real life, in the real world, isn’t fair. He is so right.
I wish I always reacted to unfairness as Faithy did – just pick off the ticks, and enjoy the day. But I don’t. How do you react?
I asked the question about racism because no matter how much we talk about it, I don’t think we quite grasp the absolute evilness of it. As I said in the comments section yesterday, what is so wrong about racism is that is misrepresents God’s intentions to man. It alienates man from God by telling him that the color of his skin is a factor in determining just how much God values and loves him.
In South Africa, for decades the Dutch Reformed Church had as part of its doctrine (I apologize to theologians if this is a oversimplification, but it is in effect accurate) that black people were cursed because of the situation with Ham and Noah (you can study that later!). In other words, the religious leaders, who were supposed to represent God, told an entire continent that it was “less than” others.
Apartheid had a profound effect on my husband’s family, in ways that I can’t even get into here. Suffice it to say they suffered discrimination, had acres of rich wine land (and therefore legacy) confiscated because someone dared to cross the color barrier… And so much more. On a personal level he had to get special permission to go to white university because the “coloured” university didn’t offer the engineering courses he wanted. The “coloured” schools were inferior, the students had to pay for their own supplies (unlike the white students in the white schools). He saw friends arrested and in fact himself protested through street theatre. His was the generation of the township riots. When he first came to the States, he had a physical reaction of fear even at a traffic stop.
And here is a salient point – he was classified “coloured” not “black.” Mixed race people were considered coloured. What the black people suffered was far more extreme than what he and his family suffered.
And this system was propped up by religious leaders.
Why do I tell the story (and partially and poorly at that)?
South Africa did not dissolve into civil war because of people of faith. What never made it into the news in the States or around the world, is that for years before the dissolution of apartheid, Christians gathered in ground-breaking multiracial prayer meetings to pray for peace. In Cape Town, believers gathered faithfully, week after week, at Table Mountain to pray for justice and peace in the nation. Churches opened in public places, like malls, so all races could attend. All that while, Nelson Mandela sat in prison on Robben Island, reading his Bible and growing in wisdom and strength. God changed his heart from violence to forgiveness. And his ability to forgive, based on the understanding of God’s unconditional love for him, led a nation to a peaceful transfer of power. It was the power of prayer and the testimony of people of faith that started the transformation.
It is up to people of faith to communicate to the world that God’s love is the same for every people group and race. Which brings me to Barack Obama. Whether or not you, or I, voted for him is irrelevant. As I watched him at the concert on Sunday yesterday, it became evident to me that he already is carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. That is a figure of speech, true, but it is almost literally true, because it is the weight of the world’s expectations. His responsibility is massive, and to me unimaginable, as the leader of the free world. Make no mistake about it, there is still a “free world” and an oppressed world, yearning to be free.
To bring this full circle to my original point, today there is a statement being made – to a people that were told they were “less than” because of the color of their skin. Try, please, to lay ideology aside to hear my heart. There are little boys in Africa, much like my Peter many years ago, running in the streets barefoot, who will find a new power within to rise above their circumstances. It is no small thing to awaken a continent to its potential.
And we, people of faith, must rise to our potential. We must work night and day to make it clear that our God not only loves people of every skin color, but gives each and every one the opportunity to succeed or to fail, to lead or to follow.Our God is an equal opportunity God… let us be equal opportunity people.
It is now a season of finishing the several books I’ve been reading for the past couple of months. First to the finish line is A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss. It is uplifting and heart-strengthening, though not a quick read. I have been almost done with it for weeks…
Timely. All about loss. Not stock market loss. Not prestige or status loss. Catastrophic loss – loss of a loved one, or perhaps the loss experienced by the suddenly disabled, the irreversible loss a rape victim suffers, or that wrought by hateful violence or even emotional abandonment.
Jerry Sittser, the author, lost his wife, mother and baby daughter in a tragic accident, to a drunk driver, and had to raise his surviving young children as a single father. He wrote this raw and inspiring account of that journey. Very very honest. He concludes:
“The supreme challenge to anyone facing catastrophic loss involves facing the darkness of the loss on the one hand, and learning to live with renewed vitality and gratitude on the other. This challenge is met when we learn to take the loss into ourselves and to be enlarged by it, so that our capacity to live life well and to know God intimately increases. To escape the loss is far less healthy – and far less realistic, considering how devastating loss can be – than to grow from it. Loss can diminish us, but it can also expand us. It depends, once again, on the choices we make and the grace we receive. Loss can function as a catalyst to transform us. It can lead us to God, the only One who has the desire and power to give us life.”
If you have suffered loss, the kind that feels like acid sinking through your pores and a million screams bouncing off the insides of your heart, be it emotional or physical or both – my heart is with you. Breath, take one step at a time… and email me if you need to talk.
If you have not suffered such loss, be thankful, and ask that God make you a conduit of His love to those that have. They are all around you.