A House in the Trees

I’ve been reflecting on what it means to love. What it looks like, how it feels, and how to live it out. Nine months of journaling and blogging, focusing on God’s redemptive love for me and my family. Looking at the way Jesus loved and served and allowing the stripping away the Lord wants to do to open my heart to the life and the love He has for me.

And then all at once , He puts a complete stranger on my path to show how she’s living out Jesus’ command to love her neighbor.

“It’s a treehouse in Oregon,” my husband shares. “It sounds awesome,” he continues, turning the computer screen my way so I can see the images he has been examining for the last several minutes.

After I take a moment to catch up, I have to admit, the idea of bringing our girls to a treehouse for a couple of days and escaping our day to day routine, sounds adventurous and wonderful. I imagine leisurely naps among the trees, exciting excursions through the woods, and meaningful family connection time.
“Oh, but wait! Are there beds? What about a coffeemaker? Refrigerator? Oh, and a bathroom?” I blurt out my barrage of questions before any more daydreaming.

“Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.” My husband reassuringly answers.

“Okay, so we aren’t really roughing it. Let’s do it!”

The day of our adventure arrives. The car is loaded with games, snacks, cozy blankets, and comfortable clothes. We head to Tigard, Oregon for the “House in the Trees.”

Driving way too long in our cramped car with two talkative, energetic kids finally brings us to our destination. Stepping out of the car, we are engulfed in lush green vegetation.. Tall, full, leafy trees hanging overhead. And, then I see our home for the next couple of days. Our house in the trees is awaiting us with all it’s charm and character.

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Hearing a door creak behind us, I turn to see a lovely woman walking towards us. The rest of the family seems to scatter to explore our surroundings, while I have the pleasure of talking with our host, the stranger sent to illustrate love. Within what seems like seconds we were beyond talking traffic and weather and down to things that truly matter.

Her eyes spilled over with tears as she boldly and lovingly shared about her family and the community building the treehouse for her son when he was battling cancer. She shared about the trial they had gone through; the ups and downs and how it had forever changed them.

The masks I have been noticing so many of us wear, didn’t seem to exist for her. She openly shared her heart. (Laying Down Our Masks)

Not only that, but she and her family openly shared their home, their life. In a day and age where people have multiple locks, security systems and cameras, our host family leaves their door unlocked to allow their guests into their home. We could come and go as we needed. No guard up, keeping people away. No guard around their hearts or home.

Our weekend in the trees, alongside such a loving, gracious family has me thinking about Jesus; about His love, goodness, hospitality, and generosity.

Jesus longs for all those He invites to come. To come to Him unhindered. There is no guard up. He is safe. We can lay down our masks and walls and just go to Him when He calls. And, all are invited.

Just as our host didn’t only allow family to be their guest and enter their home, Jesus allows all to come to Him.

In Matthew 22, Jesus tells about a king hosting a banquet. “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.”

Our treehouse host, the stranger exemplifying love for us, did just that. She gathered us at her home, shared her story of the Father’s love in her life, and distributed that love to us.

What about you? Are you sensing His call? In the quiet, are you drawn to Him? He’s drawn to you. The gracious host longs for you to enter His presence with confidence. He’s longing to lavish His love on you, to share life with you, and lead you in the ways you should go. 

Seed Among the Thorns

I cried out. I received salvation. And, I believed.

But, still so many thorns persisted.

The pesky, persistent thorns described in Matthew 13,

 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means:  When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.  But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.  But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

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The thorns in my life choked out much of the seed that fell. Growth of the good was slow. It was shaded and undernourished due to the overgrowth of thorns. Little tiny roots took hold, but years and years of thorns reached tall. Their roots held firm, established.

Thorns of fear, depression, anxiety, anger, disease, selfishness, pride.

But, the gardener…

He continued to tend to His seed. There was no negligence on His part. Only love and care. He remained close by, filtering what came to me. Oh, He prunes so lovingly. He pulls away the thorns, little by little as I let them release.

With barren spots where the thorns were uprooted, the Sun can now shine on the seed, the good seed, with it’s little sprouts and thin roots growing deeper.

His fellow workers sowing more seed, teaching the truth, choking out more and more thorns.

The weeds the enemy scattered becoming smaller, withering away without anymore deceitful lies.

Suddenly, as if from nowhere, a little fruit emerges. It’s new, unexpected, beautiful. The root below was once thin, and is now strong, carrying life, victory, and the Kingdom through it’s cells, feeding the sprout.

The sprout reaches up to the Sun, while it shades out the thorns below. Now it’s the thorns that become thin and shriveled, while the fruit develops.

Because of the One who wore the crown of thorns, the enemy’s power in my life, the thorn bearer, now lies defeated.

 

Dear one, the Lord tends to us so lovingly, so patiently. Pruning, sowing, cultivating. His love is deep, nourishing, victorious. Let go of the old thorns and see the fruit He will bring into your life. 

 

 

Laying Down Our Masks

Placing the mask upon her face, she transformed before me. With just the tiger costume covering her little 5-year-old body, her demeanor remained the same. It was as if she had just put on her favorite cozy, fuzzy, winter pajamas. But, once she pulled the tiger mask down to cover her smooth, silky skin, she had changed. My daughter went from being her spunky, silly 5-year-old self, to a stalking, prancing, fierce tiger in the jungle. And, all it took was the mask. She began behaving differently from that moment on. From a distance, I couldn’t even tell she was the child I had studied so closely from the time I first laid eyes on her. Holding true to her character, she remained a tiger throughout her performance. Finally, the show was over and she escaped the cover of the tiger’s mask and head. I spotted the ear to ear grin I always see after a performance. She bounded over to us with all enthusiasm. The tiger was gone and our girl was back.

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Those masks. We carry them everywhere with us. Pulling them out when a friend calls. Or, when we go to school or work. Walking into an interview. Talking to the cashier at the store.

Even, when we enter church. The place we are encouraged to sing about grace. To lay our burdens at the cross. To seek and find freedom. Yet, the mask comes on.

The other day, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in years. Within minutes, she was sharing the most difficult part of her life with me.

“My son is addicted to drugs,” she said bluntly and her shoulders lowered. Her mask was down.

“Oh, is it bad?” I asked looking her straight in the eye.

“It’s really bad. We almost lost him a few months back,” she swallows hard. Taking a deep breath, she continues,  “I really thought it was the end. It’s heroin. It’s so bad. The police picked him up last week. They don’t usually keep them, but this time they did. Now he is in jail.” The mask drops to the ground as she tells his story.

Suddenly, she startles. Looks up at me. “Wow. I must really feel safe with you. I don’t normally tell people all of this. In fact, I have hardly told anyone. When I do, they just look at me and I feel…” her face trails off, and she considers picking up the mask.

“Shame,” I finish for her.

“Yes! Shame. I feel shame. Sometimes they say things that make me feel judged. Or, they judge my son.”

“It could happen to anyone,” I say. Her mask stays down.

“Yes!” she exclaims with tears in her eyes. “When they say it’s an epidemic, they mean it. It’s everywhere.”

“But, Lisa, if you could pray for him…” her voice fades with little hope.

“Yes, I will pray for your son. And, you know what, I will pray for you, as well,” she melts with tears and a beautiful vulnerability.

The Spirit was moving me to pray right then and there in the middle of  the busyness when we were interrupted. And, as  quick as a flash, she replaced the mask, complete with a smile and she was off to her next errand.

I hope to see her again. I pray that she was encouraged and her load was lightened even the slightest bit by laying aside the mask, even just for a moment. I hope she’ll trust again.

I also pray that the Spirit would lead me in the way of Jesus. Not to judge or shame. But to listen with love and compassion. To show my friends and family they are safe with me.

When the hurting came to Jesus, He didn’t share a Bible verse with them. He didn’t judge. He didn’t turn them away.

He loved.

Matthew 5 shows us His heart for the hurting,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    For they shall be comforted.”

As Christians, we are not called to judge, shame, or condemn. But, our great commandment is to love. Read the Gospels and read the accounts of Jesus healing, forgiving, loving. Let that be fresh in your heart as you face the day today. Show someone you are safe and watch their mask fall.

Our world is so desperate to lay down the mask and receive love.

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I Will Seek You in the Morning

My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord;
In the morning I will direct it to You,
And I will look up. Psalm 5:3

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Morning is a gift from the Lord. To wake up once again, open my eyes, breathe another breath, stretch out my limbs, and begin another day, is a gift. How often do I forget to enjoy this gift of time given to me by the Lord? How often do I just go into automatic mode, put my head down, go about my morning routine, barreling through? But, when the girls are still sleeping, the house is completely peaceful…this…this is the time the Lord has given me to use. No distractions. No stimulation. Just time for me to hear from Him and be still.

Teaching the pre-K Sunday school class at church leaves me tired and happy. The goal each class is to gain their attention and hold it long enough to teach and encourage them in even the smallest of ways.

The cheerful chatter fills the tiny room. Girls reconnecting after a long week apart. Boys knocking blocks to the ground. The hugs. The sharing of toys. The whispers between friends. The excitement dwindles slightly and I sense my opportunity is nearing. I do some crazy song and dance to get their eyes and ears to turn my way. Got it! Okay, here we go! Let’s pray! Short, sweet prayer, don’t want to lose their attention now. Jump into the Bible lesson, while I still have the majority of them looking in my direction.

Eager hands are raised to share their thoughts about the Bible lesson. Some have questions, both on topic and off topic. Many want to share what they know about Jesus and the Bible. All come with prayer requests.

Entering distracted, but now fully engaged in learning the Word, the 4 and 5 year olds  soak up all the knowledge. Although challenging to gain their attention, once they become engaged in God’s word, they are captivated.

After pouring my coffee, my automatic, mindless routine is coming to an end and I sense the Lord calling me. Beckoning me to turn my heart and mind to Him. Asking for my attention.

How do you want me to spend this quiet, Lord?

In My presence.

Seeking Me.

Receiving from Me.

Growing in Me. 

Just like the distracted preschoolers, my attention isn’t automatic. I see the distractions around me. My eyes focus all around the house. But, the One who knows what I need to start my day off prepared for the Spiritual battle that awaits, doesn’t stop calling to me.

Once I open my Bible, close my eyes in prayer, or even just simply utter the first words to the Lord for the morning, I am hooked. Just like the preschoolers. I want more. He’s got my attention. My thirst is quenched. My dry bones are filling with life.

Is it dark where you are? Are you full of dread for the upcoming day? Is each day leaving you drained and empty?

Can you give Him your morning? Your first moments awake? Can you look to the sky, above your own situation, to Someone greater? Someone who holds the answers? Holds the peace you seek?

Someone who is calling to you.cherry blossom

 

 

Restoration

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. Galatians 6:1.

…restore him gently

While reading chapter 6 of Galatians, the first words draw me back over and over.

…restore him gently

My heart softens and peace fills me as I allow the words to fill my mind. This filling only happens when I am still and quiet before the Lord.

Restore: to bring back into existence; to bring back to a former, original or normal condition; to bring back to a state of health, soundness or vigor. 

Gently: kindly; gradually; not severe.

Paul was giving instruction to the Galatians who had strayed from their original teaching on faith. But, this morning, it was instruction for me. During my quiet, undistracted time in my prayer closet, something beautiful happens.  The Spirit opens up my mind to the truth.

The leading, guidance, correction…restoration I read about in the Lord’s Word, brings me back to the restoration of my heart.

My step-dad restores cars. The cars enter into the driveway, rusted, gutted, shells of past greatness. My mom sees the pile of metal approaching their lives and wonders what they have gotten themselves into. But, Jan, my step-dad envisions the masterpiece it will be. No wheels, little paint, no windows, no mirrors, no steering wheel, no seats. But, Jan is able to see the potential. He sees what it once was and is confident it will shine once more.

For months, Jan spends tireless hours, carefully modifying the chassis to accept the new style engine. Months are spent making the body structurally sound and preparing the body for the new paint. There are times when we go visit that we are not to enter the garage because it is set at just the right temperature for paint to dry or some other critical transformation to take place.

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The instruction for gentle restoration to the Galatians is for every believer. We are to restore our brothers and sisters gently. Much like a fragile old car is to be brought back to life, this restoration brings life to the believer.

If you are like me, you may struggle with the gentle part. Especially in parenting.  I can point out the flaws…got that one down. I can teach the correct way…yep. I can discipline when the sin just continues over and over…uh huh. But, add in the gentle restoration? How Lord? Will they listen? Will it make an impact?

Rereading the verse once more, I am reminded of the Holy Spirit as my teacher, granting wisdom and understanding. Whenever I ask, “How”, the Spirit reminds me that I am not alone.

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. John 14:26

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. James 1:5

The Lord graciously shows me how He “restores me gently” each morning when I come to Him.

I come to Him broken, rusty, and needing repair. I come to Him with a focused, quiet mind, I am open to His restoration. He lovingly shows me what He has for me that day.  Through His word, He reveals to me what needs cutting away or building up.

Just like my step-dad, so carefully and gently restoring his cars in just the right conditions, the Spirit works on restoring my heart in the quiet of my prayer closet…just the right conditions for growth.

Also, like the effective restoration of a car, one area is restored at a time. Jan doesn’t paint, install the seats, and rebuild the engine all in one day. And, the Spirit doesn’t overwhelm me with the restoration He has for me. He reveals one or maybe two areas that need restoring. Or, He may call to mind something He worked to restore months ago which needs attention once more. There are times, I mistakenly think an area of sin is behind me, just for it to creep up once more. Just like when the car engine once more needs rebuilding. It was working well last year, but now, alas, it needs attention once more.

I am so incredibly grateful for this gentle, loving restoration. It’s all for my good. He never leaves me the same. And, He never overwhelms me.

When I come seeking, gradually, the Spirit brings renewal.

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Child-Like Faith

The stage lights shut off and the auditorium lights brighten. Standing up from our seats in the large auditorium, Mikayla notices a young woman sitting alone in her seat.

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“Mom, I feel like I should go talk to that woman?” my sensitive, heart of gold girl says.

Amongst the hundreds of people in the room, I have no idea what woman she was seeing. Before I had a chance to really focus on who she was talking about, my inquisitive Abby began her rapid fire questions, “Where are we going now, mom? Can we swim now, mom? I am hungry. Can I eat something?”

We slowly rise from our seats and begin the gradual exit from our row. Turning my head the direction I last saw Mikayla go, I see the most beautiful sight. Mikayla is leaning towards the crying young woman she had spotted earlier, with her hand on the woman’s shoulder. Both have their eyes closed, heads bowed. Praying to the Creator. The Comforter. The Counselor.

After Jesus was crucified, resurrected and then appeared to the disciples, He explained the power the disciples held by abiding in Him, the power we hold, and the power Mikayla called on when praying for the young woman.

Mark 16: 17,18: And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.

Mikayla laid her hand on the young woman, and called on the power of the Holy Spirit to comfort and strengthen her.

This week at AMTC (Actors Models and Talent for Christ) Shine has been a whirlwind. We watched our 11-year-old, Mikayla, act and model all week in front of hundreds of spectators. Our family saw her smile and enjoy herself doing something she loves: perform. She came alive in front of the camera and audience.

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But, the moment that took my breath away, was watching Mikayla pray with a woman more than twice her age. Encouraging the woman in the way the Spirit led her. After this powerful encounter, Mikayla joined us in walking out into the lobby. No mention of the selfless act she just performed. The performance from the week I can just imagine caused God to smile with delight.

With jam-packed days, with people always around, I am embarrassed to say, it wasn’t until a day or two later that I followed up with Mikayla about her encounter with the woman. When I did, I couldn’t hold back the tears.

“Mikayla, I keep meaning to ask about the lady I saw you talking to the other day in the auditorium.”

“Oh, the woman, I prayed with?” she casually asks.

“Yes. Is she okay? What was wrong?”

Mikayla sensitively begins, as if she’s right back in the moment with the hurting woman, “She said she just wants to feel closer to God again. She said she feels like she wants to have faith like a child again, to just trust God. So I prayed with her, mom.”

My body fills with a flood of warmth. Tears instantly stream my cheeks.

Isn’t that just like God? To bring a faith-filled child to pray and encourage a young woman in need of child-like faith? 

Oh, God. You know our needs. You know the best way to meet our needs. You know the best time to meet our needs.

Of all the proud moments I had this week, I was never prouder than seeing my 11-year-old following the lead of the Spirit, forgoing her flesh without a thought, and reaching out in faith and love.

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Peace on Election Day

Many Americans woke up this morning feeling anxious, uncertain about what this day would hold. Many have professed they will be moving to another country depending on the results at the end of the day. Some of have been holding on to November 8th, full of dread.

My question is, how is this day really any different than any other? Which of us knows what any day ahead of us holds? If we are facing this day with fear and hopelessness, we must be facing each day that way. 

When my husband and I went to see the movie, War Room, my heart was opened up to the power of prayer. I saw how Miss Clara approached God with boldness, both with her words and her stature. While in her prayer closet, she used scripture to claim God’s promises. Miss Clara was never doubtful when praying and she was never surprised when God answered her prayers. Prayer was her lifeline.  It was her first defense as well as her first form of attack against trouble.

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Wow. I had been missing opportunity after opportunity to communicate with the King of the world. I had been praying weak prayers. This had to change.

I went home that afternoon, took a look at my walk-in closet and immediately began bagging up clothes I no longer needed. 5 bags later, I had plenty of space to begin creating my very own War Room.

“Don’t you need those clothes?” my youngest daughter asked.

“No. I like some of those clothes, but I really like the idea of having a special place to talk to God even better.”

I hung pictures of my family and Bible verses on the walls. I placed some cozy pillows on the floor, as well as my favorite blankie. My daughters painted me some pictures. One is of a beautiful sunset with a cross on a hill. Another is of the night Jesus was born complete with the star of Bethlehem. And, another has the acronym PUSH, Pray, Until, Something, Happens. I have devotionals, study Bibles, and notepads. I love my space. But, what I love the most is how God meets me there.

This morning, November 8th, election day, was no different. I walked into my closet for my morning appointment with God and He met me. When I woke up, I didn’t stop and think about it being election day. But, once I got in my prayer closet, I saw my note that read, “Pray for wisdom, respect, humility” my note reminding how I want to pray for the candidates. My eyes wandered to the verses I have taped on notecards on the wooden shelf in my closet.

Exodus 15:2 “The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

Isaiah 6:3, “And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

James 5:16, Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

When I approach each day, reading aloud about where my strength comes from, about God’s reign over the entire earth, about my need to confess my sins, and about the power of my prayers, I am equipped to face what lies ahead.

Today was like no other. I woke up a human being, full of pride, weakness, and sin. But, before jumping into my day, I asked God to fill me with His Spirit and I spent time in communication with the King of the world.

Whether I am waiting to hear test results from the doctor, waiting on God’s healing for a loved one, or waiting to hear who the next President will be, I still have the same need: to be filled with His power, peace, and providence.

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