Thursday, April 26, 2012

Strength Like a Redwood

CC image courtesy of OSU Special Collections & Archives
 on Flickr 

I've been fascinated by trees lately. During quiet times, I constantly find myself staring at the strong oak trees out my window. Swaying in the wind, bending but still standing strong after a storm. What's even more amazing are those redwood trees in California. Most everyone has seen a picture in a tourism magazine of the happy family standing underneath one. Perhaps, you've even been able to do this.

As I ponder the strength of the redwood and all trees, I am reminded that their strength resides in how deeply rooted they are in their foundations. Think about it--what destroys a tree during a hurricane? First the foundation must be saturated, weakening the tree's root system, and then the wind topples the tree. Aren't we the same? If not grounded in a foundation of truth, we can be easily swayed.

I was once mocked by an individual in my own life in regard to my dedication to a particular cause. The cause was human trafficking, and I was attempting to discuss how important it was to me. The individual I was speaking with asked rather insensitively how the fight was going in response to a comment I made about doing my part to "fight human trafficking." I wanted to say, "Well, it's rather discouraging as there are approximately 800,000 to 900,000 victims annually trafficked across international borders worldwide (Department of State). It's rather disheartening to think about as I freely get out of my own bed in the morning, put on my choice of clothes, and head out the door into my free world." I chose in that moment to be polite and forgiving, but the insinuation that was made in that one comment was meant to discourage me. Sometimes the people doing the discouraging don't mean to do so. They don't even realize they were used as tools of the enemy to kill, steal, and destroy a godly heart with a big dream. The simple reality was that the comment was meant to convince me that the money I was giving to organizations that combat sex trafficking, the mission trip I had been on, the shopping decisions I consciously make regarding fair trade, and all of my future goals to help combat modern-day slavery were all in vain...that I could not make any kind of noticeable difference. 

Oh well, perhaps I should just give up and accept the fact that poor little me can not really do anything to make a significant difference in the world. Now, there's an idea--that I am insignificant and minuscule in comparison to the evil that encompasses our world. Interesting thought, for without God, this is true. Thank God that He is great because I am small and can't do it all on my own.  As Christians, it's important that we know where our strength comes from. The minute we forget and let others convince us that we are not making a difference in the world by doing good, we open ourselves to negativity that can only distract us from our goals. Like trees, we can be uprooted from our foundation when the flood of negative thoughts, words, and actions come in.

Looking at the many challenges that lie ahead of me, I know I can't do great things by myself...and I'm ok with that. You see, I don't have to be the strong one that accomplishes good by myself. For, God is my redwood. God is my mighty oak. God is my strength, and together we will accomplish great things in this world. ("Believe me: I am in my Father and my Father is in me. If you can't believe that, believe what you see--these works. The person who trusts me will not only do what I'm doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I've been doing."
-John 14:11-12, The Message Bible)

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 
(2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

To provide for them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified. 
(Isaiah 61:3, King James)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Trails of Trial and Winds of Peace

CC image courtesy of pfly on Flickr 
I love hiking trails.  Even as a young girl, the very thought that someone, or something could leave a path behind for others to follow intrigued me,  not to mention jump-started my imagination.  One of my favorite pastimes was exploring trails in the woods with my dog, Ginger. Many hours were spent acting out adventure stories I had written in my young mind.  A favorite storyline revolved around me pretending I was an Indian princess that had been captured by a group of bad guys. In my imagination, my knowledge of nature and keen Macgyver skills always led to my inevitable escape back home to my native village.  A late bloomer with braces, something told me there was no use waiting around for Prince Charming in this game.  So, off I would run.  My adventures led me to cross obstacles such as fallen tree trunks, rocky terrain, flocks of wild turkeys, and badger dens.  However, the best obstacle by far was a large creek that ran through the woods behind my parents' house.  The body of water was usually small enough that one could easily jump across to the other side. Once the creek widened and the embankments grew taller, however, things became more tricky.  Knowing my short legs would never make it if I tried to jump across these wide sections of the creek, I stuck to playing on one side.  That was...until the day I discovered I could swing on a vine. I noticed it on a day when I was walking close to the edge of a tall creek embankment.  Suspended from high above, it almost smacked me in the face as I walked by. To my great joy, I found after testing it that the vine was so well-wrapped around a tree that I could swing on it.  Back and forth, I would fly, with the wind blowing through my hair. The thrill of testing my limits as I soared high above the creek made my heart feel so free. I continued to swing on the vine many times after that.

CC image courtesy of jack_g on Flickr

However, as the months continued and I grew bigger, the vine one day decided it no longer wished to support the weight of a 90 pound girl. I clearly remember the fall.  It happened in slow motion. One minute I was watching the sky peek out from patches of tree branches. The next, I was balancing precariously on the edge of the creek bed.While the vine had dropped, it was still attached to the tree and now served as my rope to safety. Funny as I reflect. Even then, God was there to catch me when I fell. Even more interesting was how I welcomed the physical obstacles in the trail back then. My attitude was always to  push ahead with full abandon and joy, choosing to think of my problems as opportunities.  I'm 31 now, and I must admit I no longer make games out of how fast I can cross a fallen tree trunk without losing my balance.  My steps are a bit more cautious and weary.  Certainly, age, health, and experience play a factor. Even so, I can't help but notice a connection.  How many times do we as adults grow frustrated and angry when things don't go our way?  Leaving the house to run errands only to realize once we've arrived at our destination that we forgot the grocery list, or letter to be mailed is an example of the daily trials we face. Perhaps the condescending comments made by a certain person in your life are making it hard to remain positive. While these are small trials compared to some, it is safe to say the obstacles we face in this life are endless. I will be the first to admit that I often wish all the trails of my personal journey could be flat and smooth.  However, as I reflect back on that carefree young girl with a heart for adventure, I realize I can learn something from her.  

One thing I love to do when I hike now is listen for the sound of the wind in the trees. Something about the silence of the woods and the sudden rustling of leaves causes me to look up and marvel at the sight of huge sturdy trees bending forward under the weight of the wind. Who is this mighty God that even the trees bow down to worship him?  Ecclesiastes 11:5 answers me simply. "As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother's womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the maker of all things."  Though I can't understand or explain everything that happens in life, I can comprehend the peace I feel as I watch God's breath blow through the I feel His presence whisping through my fingers, my hair, and my life. This wind is the same wind I felt rushing past me as I soared high above a creek so many years ago.  As I breathe in, I realize that I love this facet of creation even more than I did then. Experiencing the peace of God in the midst of an obstacle or series of obstacles in your path is truly exhilarating.  I don't ever want to forget the peace of God--the trust that comes from knowing He is is control of everything that I do not understand. What freedom that is!  I love that a gentle soft breeze has the power to refresh me even when I'm tired and weak from hiking. Likewise, when I feel I can't possibly climb another hill in the seemingly never-ending twisting and turning trails of life, I will choose to trust in Him.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." 
-Proverbs 3:5-6.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Sunrises and Resolutions

Another new year is upon us. Resolutions have been spoken, and another New Year's Day has gone by where I rebelled against Southern tradition.  Yes, mom. If you're reading this...your little girl forgot to buy collard greens and black-eyed peas AGAIN. To those of you who aren't Southern, or who are just plain unaware, this is a tragedy according to superstitions that date back to the American Civil War.
I'm sorry you had to find out this way, Mom...

On a more positive note, I start this year's first blog post with a New Year's resolution to write at least one blog post a month. This decision comes on the heels of a two-month stint of non-posting. Yes, the Field Trips with God blog was beginning to look like just an empty barren field in the blogosphere. I do apologize to those of you who actually look forward to reading my posts.  Truthfully, the word "resolution" bugs me. Something about it sounds so final...something you can't back out of once you've declared it. Personally, I would much rather call it an "attempted goal." This is because I've noticed we often set huge goals higher than we can attain in the beginning instead of setting smaller realistic goals to accomplish along the way. (This is how I got to the place of not writing, by the way. I wrote weekly blog posts that were so long my husband constituted them as sermons.) When we fall off the wagon, or get burnt out from trying too hard all at once we often get discouraged and quit. We've all heard or experienced it... "I'm going to get out and enjoy the outdoors more this year--NO MORE Prime Time television for me", "I'm going to lose 10 pounds this year because I'm going to exercise EVERY SINGLE DAY", "Only steamed vegetables--NO fried foods for me this year"...The list goes on, and more often than not the end of the year finds us carrying the same 10 pounds, with a remote in one hand, and a KFC bucket in the other. I'm sorry...the truth hurts me, too.

That's because we're always growing to be more like God. While we are growing, we will no doubt fall. However, Proverbs 24:16 reminds us "Though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again." Every morning the sun reminds us of this verse. For, every morning no matter how late I sleep in,the sun always rises. To take it a step further, I think the very nature of the sun is a representation of the nature of God...always good and constant, always there--to bring light and clarity to a situation, or simply a warming presence. There will certainly be times of trial and darkness in this life, but how encouraging to know that God's sun will rise again to bring light and hope to people. (If that isn't a play on words, I don't know what is...)  What if the darkness is too much? So much that it seems it will never lift? That's when we must keep our attention focused on God, remaining hopeful to see His shining face through the clouds of despair and to rest in the warmth of His presence. Some may ask, "How do I rest during those times of trial?" The best answer I have to offer is "Rest assured." Even though we can't always feel it in a dark moment, rest assured He is a light at the end if the tunnel, or a beacon in a stormy night. If we ignore the negative circumstances swarming around us and focus intently on His promises to us, we will surely see the light of His goodness. Did you know there is a place called Barrow, Alaska where the sun doesn't rise for two months in the winter? As we speak, the next sunrise for this northern city is in nine days. Do you know how hopeful those inhabitants must be becoming? I imagine people watching for the sun expectantly...perhaps another good picture of how we should anticipate God even when things look bleak.  To be sure, God always shows up at the appointed time, and if we keep our eyes fixed toward Him we will not be disappointed.  For "weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning."  (Psalm 30:5)

We should remember this display of God's faithfulness when we struggle with resolutions made throughout the new year. If you find yourself falling away from your goals, don't fret. Forgive yourself and simply focus on the strength of God and His son. With His help, you will surely rise again.

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat." 
(Psalm 19:1-6)

Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” – Hosea 6:3

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Lesson from the Pumpkin Patch

It's no secret my favorite season is Fall.  I love the slightly cooler weather, the changing colors of the trees, the decorations, and of course the smells which depict the season.  Even now, the smell from crunching fallen leaves in the woods can bring back memories of jumping in leaf piles as a little girl.  By far one of my favorite smells of the season is that of pumpkin.  Every Fall, my usually frugal self rushes to Yankee Candle to purchase the best pumpkin spice fragrance in all of creation... I admit I'm a bit biased. If it's a really good day, I make a Starbucks run just to order their famous Pumpkin Spice Latte.  With my new fall candle in one hand and the best seasonal coffee drink in the other, I can believe for a moment that the whole world is right.

This Fall, God nudged me to study pumpkins further.  No doubt, there was something to learn about Fall's famous fruit.  After researching a bit, I found that the main thing that God wanted to show me was that pumpkins are nourished by the vines which they are attached.  So, it seems the pumpkin is a perfect picture of the first few verses of John 15.  “Dwell in Me, and I will dwell in you.  Just as no branch can bear fruit of itself without abiding in the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in Me.  I am the Vine; you are the branches.  Whoever lives in Me and I in him bears much fruit.  However, apart from me you can do nothing.”  (John 15:4-5)  Just as the pumpkin gets its nourishment from its vine, we must get our nourishment from God, through the power given by the Holy Spirit which comes from believing in Christ Jesus.

The scriptures in John 15 had special meaning for me this week, as I have recently interacted with more rude people than I care to count.  Realizing that I can not love on my own but must draw nourishment from the “holy vine” is definitely a requirement when dealing with non-loveable people.  If we can remember where we draw our nourishment from in difficult times, surely we will grow to our fullest potential and produce much fruit. When we bear much fruit, Jesus says God is honored and glorified.  Not only that, but we show ourselves to be true followers of Jesus. (John 15:8)  As a Christian, isn't that the point?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Ponies and the Presence of God

CC image courtesy of david.nikonvscanon on Flickr

~  Sitting on the bow of the pontoon boat looking into the face of the wind,  my anticipation grew.  My husband, Jeremy and I had boarded Daisey's Dockside Nature Cruises earlier that morning holding the promise of a brochure,  which boasted some of the greatest opportunities for viewing island wildlife.  The journey was to be the highlight of our trip to Chincoteague Island,  Virginia.  Made famous by its wild ponies depicted in the children's book,  Misty of Chincoteague,  the island was a welcome retreat for travelers who just wanted to escape the daily grind.  Filling my lungs with the Chesapeake Bay air,  I could see why.  For myself,  being so close to the ocean brought childhood memories flooding to the present.  Memories of visiting my grandmother when she lived by the sea both refreshed and nurtured my soul.  The intrigue of the island ponies only further excited the little girl living inside of me.

“Woof! Woof!” Bailey barked,  running up to the bow.  His owner, Captain Tom had trained the little dog to scout dolphins,  much to our amusement at the beginning of the trip.  However,  while barking had attracted the curiosity of dolphins,  silence was needed as we scoured the island for wild ponies.  Captain Tom shushed Bailey before informing us that the ponies were being allusive that morning.  “They're usually in three places,” he explained.  My heart sank a little as our guide further informed us that we had already visited two of the animals' grazing spots.

Now as I sat at the front of the pontoon boat,  my eyes scanning the horizon,  I let my heart gain hope again.  Nearing land,  Captain Tom suddenly cut the boat's engine.  As the boat glided to a halt,  everyone stood up to see the main attraction they had paid to see that day.  Handing me his binoculars,  Jeremy smiled and pointed.  Being a bit uncoordinated with the device,  I stared up into the sky and down into the marshy land before pointing it in the right direction.  Finally finding my target,  I was delighted to observe two ponies through the lens—one tan and white,  the other a dark chocolate.  Nearby,  a bush rustled and the head of a blond pony peaked though the foliage.  A few seconds later,  it moved to reveal the rest of its beauty.  All the while,  the small horses' manes whipped wildly in the wind,  and I was left to wonder in awe at these mysterious inhabitants on a peaceful island.  The brochures were right—the sight was breathtaking.

As Captain Tom slowly started the engine,  I sat down with the satisfaction of knowing I had just witnessed a very special part of God's creation.  With that knowledge,  I knew God also had a message to teach me.  A few days after my trip it soon struck me that sometimes we look and look for God,  while it doesn't always seem like He is there.  I have experienced such seasons of life,  in which God seems too far away. Sometimes,  I become so caught up in my circumstances that I no longer see Him or feel His presence.  In those moments,  I believe we must remember to not lose hope.  You may have heard the motto,  “Don't get your hopes up.”  If you're like me,  you may have lived that motto.  I did so to protect my heart.  That way,  I would never be disappointed if someone didn't come through for me,  or if something I wanted didn't come to pass.  While many of us may still use this defensive thought process to prevent ourselves from uncomfortable heartache,  I think it is important that we remember not to apply it to God.  On the contrary,  we must always continue to get our hopes up when it comes to God.  For,  while things may still happen that we do not understand,  one thing is certain--God's nature always has and always will remain constant and good.  (Numbers 23:19, Psalm 34:8)  While we may feel like His absence surrounds us in a moment,  we can not allow ourselves to forget that He is always with us.  (Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 13:5)  Sometimes we only need to refocus our spiritual binoculars to see Him.  ~

Bailey the First Mate helping us look for ponies
"Misty of Chincoteague" statue

Jeremy enjoying the cruise

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Oh Deer, God! Teach me how to rest!

CC image courtesy of Izuen Gordelekua on Flickr

~ This week has been a busy one.  Swamped with extra work at the group home, tending to a leaky roof on the homefront, celebrating Jeremy's birthday with family, helping my husband send out book proposals, all while trying to fit in my other errands has proven difficult to balance.  God tried to grab my attention to slow down earlier in the week.  Have you ever noticed how He does this?  For me it happened when my husband and I were going shopping.  Sitting in the passenger seat, daydreaming about my future while checking off a list of shopping items in my head, I gazed out the window.  I don't know why I looked up in that particular moment.  Houses, houses, then a bridge overlooking a construction zone, then...what was that in the distance?  I couldn't believe my eyes.  Deer resting in a small clearing just alongside a wooded lot. How contrasting their graceful brown bodies looked against the cold hard steel of the bulldozers and busy dinner time traffic rushing by us!  How and why did I look up in time to see that sight?  Reflecting only a moment before getting swept back into the rush hour traffic of my own mind, I knew exactly what God was trying to say.  Be still and know that I am God.  It was that simple.  Slow down, little one.  Rest in me and renew your strength.  Ephesians 4:23 tells us to "be constantly renewed in the spirit of your mind [having a fresh mental and spiritual attitude]." (Amplified) What a great reminder for all of us!

In accordance with this message, my post will not be a long one.  I'm learning how to rest.  I'm also learning what's most important in life.  The more I listen to those wiser with more wrinkles than me say, "I wish I had spent more time with those I loved than on mundane tasks",  the more I am compelled to find this rest which the Bible speaks.  Today,  I am learning how not to be everything to everyone.  If my house is a little untidy, so be it.  If my hair is a bit unkept, who cares?  I'm tired, and I'm renewing my strength like deer resting in a meadow.  Won't you join me? ~

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Shake It Up!

 Last week's post influenced by the hurricane stole this post's thunder.  Oh well, better late than never:

CC image courtesy of Jaymi Heimbuch on Flickr

~ I am pleased to inform you I survived the 2011 Virginia earthquake with little to no story to report. Building structures sustained little damage, all in all. More importantly, there were minor injuries and no reported deaths, making the 5.8 East Coast earthquake a relatively well-behaved one in my opinion. No, this geological phenomena wasn't God pouring out His wrath on a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah. However, while news teams focused on logistics, statistics, and the random local story of a supermarket customer getting hit in the head by kamikaze soup cans, I believe God was broadcasting His own “Breaking News” coverage. The question is, Are we tuning in to His frequency?

If you think I'm going to say God has something to teach us through an earthquake, you get a gold star. While earthquakes don't have the greatest reputation, they are undeniably a part of creation. FEMA defines an earthquake as “a ground shaking caused by a sudden movement of rock in the Earth's crust.” More specifically, Earth has tectonic plates which move around under its surface, sliding past and bumping into one another. The edges of the plates are rough, causing them to oftentimes get stuck while the rest of the plate keeps moving. Over time, this causes friction and pressure to build up between the plates. The plates are held in place by friction along a fault, or fracture between two blocks of rock. When a plate finally moves far enough, its edges unstick.  This motion causes a sudden amount of energy to be released in the form of seismic waves, which travel through the earth.  The shaking that we feel is the movement of the seismic waves under the Earth's surface.  In the case of the recent Virginia earthquake, reports that seismic waves could be felt as far north as Canada and as far south as Georgia caused jaws to drop.  After all, while a 5.8 earthquake is significantly great for the East Coast, it shrivels in comparison to the popular tremors of its West Coast sister, or the devastating 9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake.

Then God spoke to me:  Size doesn't matter in the kingdom of God, Amanda.  The Lord then reminded me that He calls the small and insignificant to do big things in this world.  Stories that model this lesson for us fill the Bible.  The names of Joseph, Rahab, David, Esther, and Ruth are only a few of the “smaller” people that God used for bigger purposes.  If we look at what each of these characters had in common that led to them being honored by God above others, we will find one simple answer: They each had a humble and willing heart.  Because of their ready hearts, the Lord was able to greatly manifest His power through their lives.

One thing that I have learned from the Bible is that earthquakes can occur when the power of God is upon us. Matthew 26:51 describes an earthquake occurring immediately at the point Jesus gave His spirit to be with the Lord in heaven.  In Matthew 28:2, we read that an earthquake occurs when Mary of Magdala and the other Mary go to look at Jesus's tomb, only to find He had risen and an angel sitting upon a boulder.  As I ponder what a modern-day earthquake has to do with us, the thought strikes me that when an individual has God in their heart and seeks to do His will on Earth, magnificent things can happen. God can cause that one willing person to cause a rumbling in the spirit.

Please bear with me as I paint a spiritual earthquake parallel of sorts.  As a Christian, you may notice that oftentimes when trying to step out and be who God called you to be, you are met with resistance—much like the plates that move back and forth against one another under the Earth's surface.  People may discourage you by saying you can't do something that your heart is set on.  Others may try to persuade you to live a different life if you are choosing to live opposite of their “normal.”  If you feel pressure, don't lose heart.  That's just the Earth calling out for you-- the sons and daughters of God-- to arise.  Keep pressing toward God, straining forward to the prize. Sooner or later, you're going to push so hard toward your destiny and calling that one day you're going to feel a break.  There's going to be an “unsticking” of plates, if you will, in the spiritual realm as you move away from the norm and into the higher things to which God has called you.  That breaking away is going to cause a rumble in the spirit.  People will be affected by you as you step boldly into the shoes of the person God always called you to be. There will be no turning back then.  People will feel the effects of God's energy flowing through you to them no matter if they are near or far.  You're capable of creating seismic waves, yourself, beloved.  It doesn't matter if you are a 1 or 10 on the Richter Scale.  The point is that you have a willing heart that is focused and determined to shake things up for God's sake.  Does this mean we do things a little differently than the rest of the world?  Of course, but no worries lest we forget that Jesus also caused waves.  Some people didn't like the way Jesus shook things up, but that didn't stop him from accomplishing the mission God sent him to complete on Earth. (Thank God!)

As we follow our Heavenly Father's voice which leads us to accomplish our own mission on Earth, we would be wise to look to the model He gave us.  Jesus, himself, teaches us to pray for God's will to be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.  (Matthew 6:10)  If you will, take a moment and contemplate these words before asking yourself,  “What exactly do we think is going on in Heaven?”  Lots of joy?  Sure.  Peace? Absolutely.  Worship?  Yes.  The power of God?  You'd better believe it.  Jesus isn't simply reciting pretty words that we can repeat in church service...He is instructing us to pray that the things in Heaven be brought to Earth!  It doesn't matter how insignificant you think you are.  The power of God is what will change the world.  The question is do we have a ready and willing heart which He can move through?  I hope so, friends because one things for sure...

God is ready to shake things up! ~