Be that Tree!

The mangrove tree makes its home on the shoreline of numerous countries in southeast Asia, particularly those closest to the equator.   No one on a mission to landscape a home or beautify a city would request a gardener highlight this particular tree as part of his plan. An obscure tree that is not particularly attractive, the mangrove tree is not known for its beauty, the mangrove tree is known for its roots.

The mangrove tree is not planted by the water on the shore, the mangrove tree is actually planted in the water by the shore.  Between each tree, seen resting on top of the water’s surface is a tangled mess of what appears to be sticks and debris, twisted and entwined to the place where it’s difficult to decipher exactly where the mess begins or where it ends.  This unattractive compilation of sticks and debris looks messy, neglected and unpurposed, but when you look a little deeper, you see the truth.  What is seen between these trees is not debris, not abandoned sticks.   The seemingly unpurposed mess you can see with your eyes above the water is one set of the mangrove’s roots.

On December 26, 2004, fourteen countries including Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia were hit with a tsunami history will never forget.  Two hundred and thirty thousand lives were lost in these fourteen countries.  Entire villages were destroyed as giant waves made their way to the shore, leaving a path of destruction behind them as they went. In the aftermath of the storm, as rescue teams were sent to these devastated countries, an amazing fact was uncovered.   While entire villages were taken away by the waves of the storm, villages on the shore that were positioned behind mangrove trees actually managed to sustain a degree of life.   Fewer lives were lost and less devastation took place in villages positioned behind these trees.

The mangrove trees were not stronger or higher than the waves they faced, but their roots were doing an amazing work hidden to those who could only see what was on the surface.

The tangled, twisted, unattractive, seemingly unpurposed root structure that could be seen above the water had been working an amazing purpose under the water for years.  In places that could not be seen, over the course of time, these messy roots had been collecting dirt and mud.  Sediment carried in the water found itself caught in the root structure of these trees and what was stuck in their roots became more ground.  Greater ground, more territory was being gained under the water.  In unseen places, the mess that could be seen above the water was working out a far greater purpose. This new territory around these messy roots became a buffer that took the first impact encountered by the storm, breaking the force of the waves, protecting the people positioned behind the trees, ultimately saving lives.  Those standing behind the trees rooted in the water with these messy roots endured the storm in a way that was not possible for those standing on their own.

The Word of God says in Psalm 1:3 that we are to be like trees planted by the river…

Planted in the waters, we are to be like trees.  We want to be the oak tree, standing tall and strong, or the cherry tree, beautiful to view when the colors of spring are seen…but how often do we look at our own lives and see just a tangled mess?  How often do we look at our story and see what looks like sticks and debris, events and circumstances that seem messy and unpurposed?  How often do take in only what our eyes can see and not go down deep to see the rest of the story?  If we would take a minute to look beyond…

We would see that what looks on the surface to be a pile of debris is really God growing our roots.

We would see that under the surface these messy roots are serving a purpose.  In places that we cannot see, these roots are working to gain ground.  These roots are taking what comes at them, using it for a purpose, growing stronger, increasing their territory and becoming a buffer so when the next storm comes, these trees will not fall and those behind them will experience life.

One tree standing in the waters can be a powerful force against the enemy…but what protected the people the day of the tsunami was not one tree standing.  The villages that had been protected that day were positioned behind lines of mangrove trees, hundreds of trees planted in the water. Groups of mangrove trees were planted together and created a force that the storm could not take down.  Each tree had its own messy, tangled, seemingly unpurposed root structure, but as the trees stood side by side, these roots started to get tangled up together. As the roots of one tree twisted into the roots of another tree the picture looked even messier, but under the water, new ground was being formed.  As lines of trees grew together with their root structure twisting into the other’s root structures, more mud and dirt were collected in the unseen roots, new territory was created, greater ground was gained.

So what did the countries of Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia do?  They have purposefully planted mangrove trees, forests of mangrove trees. Where did they plant them?  They planted them in the water, even closer together, so their roots could connect in a greater, closer way, so that while the mess of the roots we can see may look even messier, under the water, greater ground is being gained.

Ever look at the mess around you, or the mess around that tree positioned next to you?  Ever wonder why the chaos, why the unplanned circumstances?   Why are you positioned here, in the water, the place where quite often we feel like we are surrounded and unable to stand on our own?  Why are we positioned next to these other women?  Why are we called to stand together?

Perhaps all the chaos, all of the seemingly unpurposed mess we can see with our eyes is developing roots that God is using to increase us, give us greater territory and use our testimonies to protect those coming up behind.

Perhaps He has planted us close to each other because while we may not see it, we all experience similar things, we all have had struggles, none of our stories are pretty all of the time. Perhaps all of our roots are actually quite purposed.  In the places we cannot see, perhaps God is using these roots to gain ground, expand territory, and increase the Kingdom of God.

What a lesson we can take away from the mangrove tree.  Nothing messy is unpurposed in the Kingdom of God.  Let’s stand together, maintain our positions and grow those roots!  Let’s be that tree and watch what God will do!

He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. 

Psalm 1:3-5

Share Your Struggle

Share Your Struggle PICI am usually pretty good at packing a suitcase.  This summer, however, it was a whole different story!  For our 25thwedding anniversary, my husband and I went to Rhode Island to tour the old mansions and enjoy the tastes of the waterfront.  We travel for food and we are not ashamed to say it!  We arrived at our hotel, threw down our suitcases and headed out to explore the town. It wasn’t until we stopped back at our hotel that I realized I had done the unthinkable!

When I unzipped my suitcase and opened it up, what I saw took me by surprise!  Inside of my suitcase, there were NO clothes!   There were no clothes in my suitcase!  I clearly remembered getting my clothes together, I just never had that moment when I put them in the bag!  I was on my 25thwedding anniversary trip and I had forgotten to pack my clothes!

I stood silently staring into my empty bag, hoping that I was just seeing things, unsure of how to break this news to my husband.  Shopping on vacation is definitely not his idea of fun!  In a quiet voice, I shared with him the truth I had just uncovered.   He looked at me, not knowing what to say, shook his head and out we went!   We walked into a clothing store, found the clearance rack and started looking for my size.  A lady from the store asked me if she could help me find anything.  She had no idea what was coming her way!

I smiled at her and said, ‘Yes, please.  I am here on my 25thanniversary trip…’  She interrupted me to congratulate me.   I thanked her and then continued… ‘My husband and I just arrived today, and when I opened my suitcase to unpack, it seems I forgot to pack my clothes.’   You can only imagine the response.   She had no idea what to say, no idea where to start, no idea what to suggest.  She said she would be right back, went to the front desk and shared with her co-worker the mishap of the woman shopping on the clearance rack!

Within a matter of minutes, everyone working in the store that night knew my story, and everyone shopping in the store did, too.  I mean, really, it is not uncommon to forget a thing or two, but to go on vacation and forget allof your clothes?  While the news of my packing fail was going around the store, I found a pair of shorts and a few t shirts that worked, got in line, and that is when the conversation began.

One woman behind me asked, ‘Are you the one who forgot to pack your clothes? Oh, you must have children, I understand how that could happen!  I bet you were running around trying to take care of them before you took care of yourself…’

Another woman said, ‘You doing this makes me feel so much better about myself, I forget things all of the time and I thought I was the only one who would do something like this!’

Another woman opened up by saying, ‘Oh that reminds me of the time when I did something so similar….’

One by one the women in the line started sharing their experiences, sharing their failures, times when they had not met the standard, times they didn’t get it all right.  What started as a conversation about clothing became a conversation about life, because let’s face it, we all struggle!   No one gets it right all of the time.

Sharing my story allowed others to share theirs.  Sharing my weakness led to women I had never met telling me things about themselves that I would never have imagined.  Sharing my struggle became a launching point to start conversations with women around me.  Everyone in the store began talking, no longer about me, they were talking about them.

Women were connecting.   An invisible thread was being sewn as one by one we laughed, shared our weaknesses and encouraged each other because women were created to connect.  There is a piece of us that longs to connect with other women, to share our struggles, the places where we are vulnerable, to have someone listen, to hear us and then to pray.

Women struggle.  Who knows how many women in our churches, communities, in our families are struggling with feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, fear, anxiety and would be encouraged by the honesty of another woman saying it’s alright, I have been there, too.   I have had my share of failures and mistakes, but let me tell you about Jesus and how He set me free, and the conversation begins.  One woman ministering to one woman…who will in turn minister to one woman…and on and on it goes.

It takes just one woman to be real, but it requires a first step, that first courageous conversation, the moment when we let down our guard and let God use our struggle for His glory.   There is just something beautiful about women connecting with other women.  Women who share their struggles can be game changers in the Kingdom of God. 

As I walked out of the store that evening, women working, women in line and women still shopping waved goodbye and wished me a happy anniversary.   People who were strangers upon entering the store were now conversing as if they had always planned on being there together.  The atmosphere in the whole store had changed, all because one woman shared her struggle.  It can happen in our churches, in our women’s programs, in our communities and in our homes.

In a world of filters and perfect posts, it’s okay for us to be real!   God used one empty suitcase to impact a store full of women.  Just imagine how many hearts He can impact through your struggle today!

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.  2 Corinthians 4:7 (NLT)

Created to be Filled

created to be filledThere’s a picture frame in my office on a shelf.  I bought it a few months ago, and I am almost embarrassed to say, it’s never been filled.   I had a plan when I purchased it.   There was an empty space on the shelf that needed to be filled.  So I ran to my favorite discount store, found a great frame that matched the office, brought it back and filled the space…

…but that filling created a new space, a new empty space.  The frame was empty, and now it needed to be filled.

The Bible begins in Genesis with a chapter full of empty spaces.  Continue reading “Created to be Filled”

I Cling to You

Many years ago when my daughter was in preschool, I attended a mom’s group with some girlfriends at a similar place in life.  Our children would play together and participate in various activities while we studied The Word and prayed for one another.  It was one of those rich circles of friendship God knit together as we encouraged each other to follow Him.

Many of the women in the group thought that my girlfriend, Lori, and I looked a lot alike.   We are both fair, have similar hairstyles.  We have similar personalities and we get excited about the same things.  The women in the group were not the only ones who thought Lori and I resembled one another.  It quickly became apparent that her three year old son, Andrew, did too.

When Andrew needed some comfort or a reassurance, like all three year olds, he would run to his mom, grab ahold of her leg and cling to her.  His eyes would turn upward, looking for her reassuring smile that said he was loved and that everything was going to be alright.

Without fail, at every mom’s event, Andrew would confuse me with his mom.  We could see it coming from across the room, but there was no easy way to stop it.  Andrew would see what looked to be his mom from a distance.   He would run to ME, throw his arms around MY leg, and CLING to ME!  Continue reading “I Cling to You”

She is Strong

Mom she is strongI heard the news that I was going to be a mom in a rather unconventional way.  My husband and I were waiting to board a flight when we decided to call home to check the answering machine one last time.  There was a new message waiting for us and when it hit my ears, it grabbed my heart. The adoption agency we were using to start our family had left a very short message.  It simply said, ‘Please call us back.  We have identified a baby girl for you.’  The call I had waited years to receive had finally come!  It was the moment that changed my life forever.

Because of the path I walked on my journey to motherhood, I love to read about women in the Bible who walked a similar path…Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth, and Samson’s mom.  Notice something different about Samson’s mom.  We are not given her name.

Samson’s nameless mom received the news that she was going to be a mom in a very unconventional way!  She was met by the Angel of the Lord with a message that after years of wanting a child, she would have a son.  She would be the mother of the next deliverer, a strong man who would begin the path to freedom for his people from the Philistines. It was a dark time in Israel’s history.  The Bible says the days were evil and everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes… Continue reading “She is Strong”

Come Here and Listen

come here and listen 1As women who seek to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, hearing the still small voice of God through the written pages of His Word is something we crave.  There comes a time in life when hearing anything other than His voice is no longer enough, a time when we long to be in His presence, when we need to come close and listen to His voice above all the distractions and chaos of life.  In those moments, God calls us from where we are, to where we will be.  For me, that moment was in the winter of 2011.

We had recently moved into a new house and I was trying to establish a new routine.  I know many of us have been there.  Boxes, boxes and more boxes were piled up crying out to be emptied while at the same time my family was crying out for food, laundry and some normalcy in life!  So many things were calling out for my attention, my focus.  The chaos in life was loud.   I was feeling stressed, overwhelmed and just plain exhausted.

For years, I have had the habit of spending time with God first thing, early in the morning.  It has been a priority in my life that I treasure. Time set apart with Him before I have time with anyone else, including Facebook, texts and email, has been critical for direction for the day and developing a deeper relationship with Him.  Continue reading “Come Here and Listen”

Gaze upon the Cross

GazenowordsEver gone star gazing?  I mean not just stepping out into the night and casually noticing the stars, but really intentionally star gazing.  There is something extraordinary about the stars that turns our gaze up.

Last month, I had the incredible opportunity to spend some time living on a sheep farm on the coast of New Zealand.  During the day, we spent our time on shepherding excursions, but at night, when the sun went down and the stars came out…and so did we!   Led by a professional New Zealand star gazer, we were taken to the pinnacle of a cliff on the coast and what a magnificent display of God’s creation we saw!  Against the dark of night, millions, if not billions of stars were visible to the eye as our gaze was fixed up.

Our guide pointed to the sky, naming constellations and connecting their stars with a very high powered laser pen.  I watched, amazed, as I considered the stars.  Each constellation seemed bigger, or clearer than the next as he drew across the sky in front of us.  When he came to the final constellation to our right, our guide set his laser on a set of very bright stars.  He said, ‘Do you see these five stars that are shining the brightest?’  It was not difficult to see these stars.  He used his laser pen to connect the dots…to connect the stars…into a very familiar, powerful picture.  One by one, these stars created a cross shining brightly in the dark New Zealand sky.  And then he went on…. Continue reading “Gaze upon the Cross”