Fruit at Your Fingertips, and Strength When You Need It

This has been my year of abiding. I’ve written about it before – about how Ben tricked me into getting up early every morning, so that I would have time to pray, journal, and read my Bible before my family got up, because I read that when we abide, we give the Holy Spirit the chance to change us in ways we can’t change ourselves. My year of abiding is coming to an end soon, and I wonder how much has changed. It becomes clear how much I need a lifetime of abiding, not just 12 months, and maybe I’m not that different than I was a year ago, except for this: I’m aware of how much I need this time each day. I’ve felt empty on the few days I missed it, because of sickness, or the couple of times when the alarm didn’t wake me up.

So if nothing more, I’ve developed a habit of making time for abiding each morning, and that’s worth a lot.

When I’m finished my quiet time on the couch, I spend half an hour stretching and exercising while I listen to a message, usually from Bridgetown Church (if we ever have to move, please let it be to Portland!). I just started a fantastic series about the Holy Spirit (which you can find here), and it fits well with this year of soaking in God’s presence. It’s a different way of looking at things for me – less doing and trying, and more just being and quietly focusing.

A strange and beautiful picture came to my mind the other day as I was praying and thinking about living my day in the presence of the Holy Spirit. It was as though I was leaning against the trunk of a huge tree, and I could see massive, leafy branches spreading out thickly about my head, loaded with fruit, hanging there ready for me to pick whenever I needed the Fruit of the Spirit (give me all the “patience” apples!!!!). And when I looked down at my feet, it was as though I could see deep roots growing far down into the ground beneath me, giving me strength and depth, securely grounding me in all the power available to me in the Spirit.

It gave me a feeling that’s hard to describe – like the strength was already there, filling me up, and the fruit was so close, right within my reach at any time I might need it. In my mind, as I saw this picture, there was such a feeling of steadiness, security, and relief – I knew I didn’t need to do this on my own, it wasn’t up to me to try to produce patience, kindness, or faithfulness, because it was all right there, ready and waiting to be picked at any moment.

I’m trying to remember this picture everyday. One of my lovely, adorable children has decided to express all anger with screaming instead of words, and there’s often bad attitudes or conflict to work through with three kids in the house all day. I try to picture that fruit right within my reach. I try to remember the feeling of leaning against a thick, strong trunk, knowing those roots are beneath me.

This was the picture I got, but maybe it can be a picture for you, too. If you close your eyes, can you imagine that beautiful fruit, already waiting for you to pick it during those tough moments? Can you feel rough bark, a strong trunk to lean against when the craziness of getting back into the routine of the week is sapping you of all your strength? Do you feel the strength that flows into you because you are rooted in Christ, and He is grounding you, holding you steady, and keeping you strong in every single moment?

Let’s not pretend for a second that this always comes easily. I weathered an hour and a half long tantrum this morning – my sweet child was exhausted by the end of it, and so was I. It’s always difficult for me to be in the middle of a tense situation, and I tend to take on the emotion of people around me. But this morning was different. I kept leaning into that strength, and continued to remind myself to be the peace and calming in the midst of the chaos. I don’t always remember, but today I did, so we celebrate the progress, and know that if things don’t go so well next time, there is still growth.

So whatever your Monday holds for you today, know that you can picture yourself with that sweet fruit of the Spirit in your hand, its juiciness dribbling down your chin, and your feet firmly planted, because you are His, and He’s got you covered.

 

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Ready For Battle

I was reading Bible stories to Kaylia and Everett a few nights ago. We started at the beginning with the story of creation, and moved on to the Garden of Eden and the snake with the fruit. I’ve read those stories so many times, it’s easy to go into auto-pilot, and not even think about what I’m reading, but Kaylia pulled a question out from the depths of her mind which stopped me in my tracks. Our conversation went a little like this:

Kaylia: “Why did Eve listen to the serpent?”

Me: “Well, he lied to her and tricked her.”

Kaylia: “Does that mean I will listen to Satan, and he will trick me like he tricked Eve?”

Me: “Sometimes we do get tricked, but we have Jesus to help us.”

Kaylia: “But didn’t Adam and Eve spend time with God? Why didn’t He help them?”

Me: “Hmm. Well, yes, they did spend time with God – He went into the garden and walked with them all the time.”

Kaylia: “If He spent time with them, but they were still tricked, how will Jesus help me not to get tricked?”

This has stayed with me. Although I remember the conversation clearly up to this point, I can’t actually remember what I said in response to this, because I was suddenly aware of a new realization: I see myself as smarter than Adam and Eve. Somehow, in my great familiarity of this story, I’ve stopped putting myself into it, and started seeing myself above it. Obviously, I wouldn’t make the same mistake – I would see right through the lies, and choose to stay close to God instead! Wouldn’t I?!

But Kaylia’s question brought it down to the root of it all – how are we any different? Isn’t this the story of humanity? We long for God, but we have doubts. We start to think, “Does God really love me? Is He holding anything back from me? I need to take control, because I feel safer when I am at the wheel.”

How will we avoid Satan’s schemes and see through the little lies he whispers to us in those moments of weakness? It’s only by the grace of God, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. This is interesting, because in my mind, actually walking in the Garden of Eden with God sounds as close to heaven as we could get on this earth, and yet the Bible tells us it’s better to have the Spirit right inside of us. But how often do I take that for granted? The Holy Spirit covering me, protecting me, opening my eyes to truth, softening my heart, increasing my sensitivity, growing my hunger for the things of God, causing me to long for more awareness of His presence?

It’s the only thing making me any different from Adam and Eve. It’s the only thing, and it’s everything.

I’ve been stuck on the Armour of God passage in Ephesians for the last week, and Kaylia’s question has made me think about how I take God’s protection for granted. A wise friend of mine prays this passage over her family every day, and I’ve started to do the same – not out of fear, but rather with joy and confidence. How much stronger and more intentional could I be each day if I purposely, intentionally put on the protection of the Holy Spirit?

The passage starts with this verse: “Finally, be strong in the Lord….” Not my own strength. The point was never to make it on my own. I stand firm against the devil’s schemes because I’m ready for battle. I’m not smarter, I’m not stronger, I’m not more deserving. I’m just ready, because I have the Holy Spirit.

strong in the Lordsource

I love how The Message says it:

“So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way….Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them.”

Tools waiting to be used, set out before me, available at any moment. But I’ve taken God’s truth and peace for granted, and I haven’t been using these weapons to their full potential. I do use them, but not the same way a seasoned warrior would – not with the same earnestness as if I were really seeing this struggle as a fight, every moment. But thoughts, temptations, little annoyances and frustrations of life are all able to pull me away from the presence of Jesus, to distract me from what truly matters, and get my attention off the things of Christ. I don’t want that anymore. I want to be strong, focused, intentional, while still being joyful, peaceful, and full of grace. Isn’t that such an interesting combination?!

I was reading a book about a warrior to Kaylia last night, and it described him as feeling fully alive and charged up as he prepared for a fight, because “it was what he’d been made to do.” He didn’t feel fear or doubt and uncertainty. He felt the rush of adrenaline and confidence as he got ready for what was to come, fulfilling his destiny and purpose.

So this morning, like every morning, I take up my weapons. I choose to focus on the feelings of joy and confidence, because the final battle has already been won, but there’s these daily fights I need to rise up against. I’m made to do this, with the Holy Spirit inside of me, and God’s weapons laid out for me. It’s a good fight.

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Growing These Large, Luscious Peaches

I heard a beautiful analogy in church the other day. We were watching a video by Pastor Rick Warren, and he was talking about focus. He shared how he loves to grow his own fruits and vegetables, and has a big, beautiful peach tree in his backyard. He described how the previous year, his peach tree was completely loaded with hundreds of peaches – each branch was heavy with the weight of countless little peaches. “You would think that many peaches would be a good thing, right?” he asked.

But then he went on to share how so many peaches on each branch is actually a bad thing. The energy of the branch has to be divided into growing each of those little peaches, and as a result of the growing power being spread so thin, the peaches don’t grow very large. In order to produce nice, large peaches, it is necessary to pluck about two thirds of all those baby peaches off the tree. The result is less peaches, but bigger fruit, because all the energy can go into growing plump, juicy fruit.

This speaks so beautifully to where I am in my life right now. I love all of the things filling my life, but everything starts to fall apart pretty quickly when I stretch myself too thin. I’ve been saying yes to a few too many exciting opportunities – all those beautiful baby peaches of new possibilities have been luring me in. Everything I’ve added to my plate is something great and worthy of my time, which is what makes it hard to turn down. It feels wrong to pick perfectly good little peaches and throw them away. What a waste!

But I’m reminded once again to pursue quality, not quantity. My family and our home are worth turning down some opportunities for. I want them to get my full focus, energy, and attention. I want to take care of the details so we can do this well.  Ann Voskamp once wrote that you can have it all – you just can’t have it all at the same time. Our culture is obsessed with being busy, and doing it all, and yet when I pray about what to spend my time on, I feel God whispering to me, “You have the opportunity to say ‘no’.” I always connect “opportunity” with saying yes, but these days, I’m being led to think the opposite. As hard as it can be to say no, there’s a little spark of excitement and anticipation in me at the thought of taking things slow. We can’t rush the growing season, and I’m thinking it’s time to sit back and enjoy the long days of ripening fruit.

So I pull baby peaches of opportunities off my tree, and I trust with all my heart they aren’t wasted, because these sweet peaches of mine are worth the sacrifice. For every time I say ‘no’ to opportunities, I’m saying ‘yes’ to something else – yes to rest, yes to family, yes to slowing down, yes to noticing the little things, yes to more space and time with Jesus. The growing is good and the fruit is juicy!

Everett and Kaylia

 

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Come and Get It

A friend once shared with me how a family tragedy taught her about spiritual roots. She talked about how deep personal darkness left her without energy for pursuing God – all she could do was try to survive, and in the midst of all the heartache, He was there. Because she had done the work before the hard times hit, she found that her roots went down deep, and kept her steady even when all she had energy for was hanging on to Jesus, one day at a time.

I’ve often thought about that since – I love the idea of finding enough grace and strength to survive because we put in the work and grew the roots deep ahead of time.

roots

Having a baby is no tragedy, but these last two years have been spent in survival mode. During the months I struggled with postpartum anxiety, I saw a counselor who told me, “Give it until your baby is two – you’ll feel normal again. Life will become manageable, but give yourself time.”

She was right – Everett turned two this fall, and while life is still full and crazy, things seem to have fallen into place, and we have come out of survival mode. God started stirring me up and making me long for more growth.

During the last two years, I found little snippets of time throughout the day to read my Bible or a few pages of a good book. There were short times of prayer, and lots of hanging on to Jesus, but this fall, it was as though God was saying, “It’s time for the next phase.”

I was having a great conversation with two of my dearest friends one evening, listening to them share about all the things God was teaching them. It was so inspiring to hear all the ways in which He was revealing Himself to them, through His word, and prayer, and great books or podcasts, and I loved hearing all they had to say. But part of me was also getting hungry, and I found myself wanting more of what they had.

I asked God, “Why aren’t you moving in my life that way? I want you to be teaching me and speaking to me like that. Why am I not experiencing more of you?”

Right in that moment, He said to me, “Come and get it.” Immediately, it hit me – it was time for me to get out of survival mode. It was time to get to work. Everything my friends were experiencing was available to me – I just needed to do something about it.

My first excuse was classic, though – “I don’t have time for more!” I thought I was already giving all I could. But as I thought about it, I realized there were little steps I could take – set the alarm 15 minutes earlier, use a Bible reading app instead of Pinterest, get intentional about jotting down the things God was saying to me, even if it was just in Evernote on my phone, here and there throughout the day.

 

Bit by bit, I started carving out the time. The more I did it, the more I wanted it. It felt good.

But I’ve still been a bit disappointed – I wanted to see more results. I’ve been hoping those times of connecting with Jesus would result in a greater ability to be patient. To be a kinder, gentler mom. To show more love to my family. To have greater self-control with my tongue.

I felt these were reasonable expectations – I wanted to see the fruit of the Spirit. It made sense that spending more time with the Spirit would lead to more fruit of the Spirit. Where was my fruit?! I wanted to see more apples on my tree!

Fruit of the Spirit

I shared this frustration last week with those same friends. As one of them prayed for me, she said something about the work that is unseen, and suddenly, I saw a picture of tree roots. It was as though God said to me, “The fruit is coming, but right now, we’re working on the roots.”

It was exactly what I was needing to keep going. I keep tiptoeing down the dark hall to our living room each morning, carefully avoiding the places where the floor squeaks so Everett won’t wake up. I keep putting in that time with Jesus because there is no way I can do this all on my own – two-year-old molars and homeschooling and potty training and explosive emotions and bills to pay and food to make and laundry to fold and all the rest are teaching me that I need to press in closer to Jesus.

Graham Cooke says, “Our circumstances are sent to us to improve the quality of our relationship with God.” I think about that a lot, because weathering a 30 minute tantrum over a pair of pants looks different to me when I see it as an opportunity to improve my connection to Jesus. I love my kids, I love my life, but there are parts of it that are just really hard. Can I remember to take all those hard parts, and depend on God to save us all? To redeem and restore, and bring peace and calm to our frazzled selves?

I need deep roots. I need the fruit, too, but I can understand how the roots come first, so I keep putting in the time. I used to think my failures as a mom meant I needed to try harder. Now, I’m seeing how I just need more time with Jesus. I’m trusting Him to change me. His job is to bring about growth, fruit, and change. My job is to come and get it. It turns out, it’s always going to be found sitting at His feet.

When God’s Definition of “Effective” is Different From Mine

Quote from Secrets of the Secret PlaceEvery morning, I choose to believe this is true. I take the chance that waking up an hour before the rest of my family, and using that time to do my devotions and exercise will be more beneficial than the extra sleep. I trust that reading my Bible and praying is the absolute best use of my precious quiet time each morning, so it’s the very first thing I do when I get out of bed.

Then I have a day like I had yesterday, and I doubt everything about those words. Everett woke up half an hour early, teething and grumpy, so I got no exercising done, which meant I had a raging headache by lunch. Ben needed help with something before heading out the door for work, so I had to drop everything for what he needed. The girls woke up and didn’t like what we were having for breakfast. Everybody needed the usual morning routine to start, but I wasn’t ready for any of it.

Inside, I was kind of ticked off – I had made the better choice! Where was my extra blessing?! I was supposed to feel calm, peaceful, and productive. I had stepped out in faith, and it was feeling as though it would have been better to spend that precious time in the morning getting a head start.

But in the end, the necessary stuff all got done. Some things had to get left behind. I had to change my expectations for the day, and let go of my to-do list. I needed to remind myself that God defines “effective” differently than I do. His “to-do list” usually looks very different from mine.

And so I do still believe that quote is true, but I needed to be reminded that as the Spirit fills me, it’s an opportunity to become more flexible and open to the circumstances I find myself in, and to the things God brings into my path, rather than get more rigid in my own demands of the day. It had become a trade in my mind – I’ll give you my time if you give me the perfect day! That sounds ridiculous now, but in the moment, it made sense to me!

It’s not a trade, though – it’s an offering. I need to give it without the expectation of getting anything back. The awesome part is that while yesterday was rough, there are also many days when I can see the benefits – verses are coming to mind more readily, or I remember to pray more throughout the day when something comes up, like a decision to make, or a tough parenting situation. Giving God my first hour of the day would be a great thing to do even if I saw no personal benefits, but God in His wisdom and mercy lets me see those, too!

 

 

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Looking For Ways to Show Honour

We’ve been talking about honour in our home recently. I listened to a podcast a few weeks ago about how it’s even more important to show honour than obedience. Obedience can happen even if the heart is angry, but honour happens when we value someone’s heart, and are motivated to obey by a deep desire to bless others with our actions.

It’s a tricky thing to teach, because it’s a heart thing. Obedience and honour can look the same from the outside, but it’s the unseen that I’m more concerned about – with my kids, and also with myself.

A synonym for obedience is compliance, which can mean simply going through the motions. A synonym for honour is reverence, and to me, this speaks to the fact that each of us is created by God, made in His image, and we honour Him when we value each other.

I was trying to explain all this to Anika one day, and searching for ways to make it easier to understand, when a memory popped into my head. Sometimes it’s easier to understand what honour looks like when we think about what it does not look like, and although there are many sad, horrible examples in the world around us, I thought she’d enjoy my memory.

I was in college, and I met a boy who was convinced we were meant to be together. I did not share his conviction, and although we were friends, there were many reasons why I was not interested in pursuing a relationship with him.

He had a lot of trouble understanding this, and kept asking me out so often, I started keeping track, just for amusement. He reached a total of 17 times, which is a testimony not of my ravishing beauty or charming personality, but rather of his amazing persistence.

I finally asked him why he wanted to date me so badly, and his reasons were as follows: I didn’t have pierced ears (which he considered a rare novelty, for some reason), I had long hair, and it wasn’t long distance to call me.

That was it.

I remember having a very mixed response to this. I thought it was ridiculous, I couldn’t wait to get back to dorm to share this with my friends to give it the mockery it deserved, and deep down, I also felt really… yucky. I felt like an object. I felt like all of who I was – my thoughts and ideas, my sense of humour and creativity, my dreams and fears, joys and sorrows, whatever all combines within me to make me who I am – had been diminished to a phone number. His desire to be with me was based on an area code. He thought I was cheap and convenient.  He didn’t really care about me or what I wanted, he didn’t value all of the things that made me Kendra. He did not honour who I truly was.

It’s a pretty harmless example of not being honoured, but I’ve been thinking a lot about this since telling Anika that silly story – about how such a tiny example of being devalued still affected me. And yet, how many times in a day do I not value people around me, even in the smallest ways?

When I’m in a rush to get to an appointment, and I don’t want to let someone into my lane because I don’t “have time” – I forget there is a person driving that car, who is living a life, like me. They are not randomly driving their car around the city of Winnipeg just for fun. They also have places they need to be, a schedule I’m completely unaware of.

When I brush off someone’s opinion because it’s different than mine – or even get offended by the things they say – I forget they are on a journey, like me. They go through stuff, they feel things, they have their own junk to work through, and things that make them happy or sad. They have reasons for thinking the way they do, and I forget to find out what the story is behind those reasons.

The grumpy clerk, or the annoying salesperson is living a life, and they didn’t get up that morning with the intent of making my life frustrating. They have their own frustrations – can I honour them in the way I treat them?

I once had someone try to sell me something that was supposed to change my life. It was going to fix all my problems. Only problem was, they didn’t take enough time to actually understand what my problems were, or what I had already tried. They had the answer, but they didn’t listen to my questions. They didn’t wait long enough to hear my whole story, or to understand this crazy journey I’ve been on. It made me not want to listen to them, because I didn’t feel like my experiences were valued.

I want to learn how to honour people. I want to value where they are, where they’ve been, and where they dream of going. Anytime these things are forgotten, things start to fall apart.

I’m trying to pray about that – to start my day with asking God to show me how I can honour my family, or the people I come in contact with throughout the day.

There are so many examples in the news and in the world around us of ways in which people are being devalued. Things are a mess, but I wonder if the first little step to take is remembering the life behind the person, and looking for the smallest ways to show honour.

I found this quote which seemed to sum it up well:

love

source

Maybe we just need to take a little more time to see the other person’s heart, and honour what we see.

 

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Trusting God to Make a Way, When There Seems to Be No Way

I’ve always liked the Bible story about how God leads Samuel to Jesse’s house to find the next king for Israel. My favorite verse has been the one about how man looks at the outside appearance, but God looks at the heart.

As I was reading Everett’s “Jesus Storybook Bible” to him the other night, however, a completely different part of the story caught my attention. Isn’t it awesome when that happens?! Because it’s the living Word of God, there’s always something new, something to penetrate into our hearts. His Word is so powerful, even the children’s version can capture my attention in a whole new way!

Bible Story

This is the passage that got me:

Jesse showed Samuel his next oldest, tallest, strongest son. But God didn’t choose him either. In fact, God didn’t choose any of the seven sons.

Samuel said, “Is that all?”

Jesse laughed. “Oh, well, there’s the youngest one, but he’s just the weakling of the family, he’s only teeny — ”

“Bring him,” said Samuel.

Jesse’s youngest son came running up, and God spoke quietly to Samuel, “This is the one!”

My favorite part is when Samuel says, “Is that all?” What struck me about it was that God had led Samuel there, but then it looked as though there was some mistake. Samuel passed by all seven of the sons Jesse presented before him, and not one of them was the one God had chosen as king.

Samuel could have started questioning and doubting – was he at the right place? Had he heard God correctly? Was one of the seven sons really supposed to be the next king, but he had missed God’s voice, or misunderstood?

But he didn’t do that – instead, he asked Jesse if there were any more sons. He had faith that God had led him there, and one of Jesse’s sons was supposed to be king, so there must be another son somewhere.

I’ve thought about that a lot since reading it. Listening to God’s voice is such a tricky thing. There have been times when I felt as though He spoke to me, but it didn’t make sense, or it seemed impossible. I started to question what I heard, and tried to figure out, in my own small, very human way, how God was going to make the impossible work, and when I couldn’t see a solution, it was easy to feel doubt.

But the more God speaks, and the more He provides, the more my faith grows, so that even when things seem impossible, or don’t make sense, I’m starting to trust there will be a way. There’s another option not yet before me.

I want to be like Samuel, and have the assurance that something has yet to be revealed, rather than start to doubt, and think there’s been a mistake.

It reminds me of a great quote I once heard Andy Stanley share from his dad:

If I know God said it, I need to live like I believe it, and keep trusting that He’ll make a way. The hole will appear, another son will come forward, because somehow, the answer will become clear. God always provides.

It can be very unexpected, and look a lot different than what I might imagine, but He will be there, showing me a way through.