Acorns, Caverns, and Me


A bright-smiled young man explained to a group of us CollegePlus students and alumni about how his education experience was like a tree. He explained his tendency to want things to happen all at once, for the giant oak to just appear out of nowhere. “And then an acorn dropped on my head,” he laughed. That acorn reminded him that life is a process, not an immediate arrival.

It’s funny how something like that will stick with you.

I like to always have myself together. Forget the journey—I want to be at the destination now. I want the oak to spring into existence in front of me. Majestic live oaks sprawl across the Southern US. Branches tower and dip, stretched out like eternal arms and crooked low to create a bench. The solidity of these trees is astounding. Their girth is broad and deep and gnarled with experience.

But, in the awe of their expanse, it is hard to forget their age. Their bulk screams solidity, power, art, beauty—and also years and years of living.

I think it may be impossible to finger the knotted bark of a live oak and not vicariously experience the cut of the barbed wire half-grown into the side of the tree, the lightning that scorched one black branch, the gallons of raindrops that have washed in rivulets down the leaves, through the canyons of bark, all the way down to the roots.

When you look at a tree, you cannot help but see experience. Time. A process.

Then, somehow, I expect to roll out of bed and be sanctified, fully-grown, and perfectly stable in about 5 minutes.

“My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing.”

– James 1:2-4, CEB –

I expect that I’ll be grown-up, and pain won’t hurt anymore. Trials won’t surprise anymore. Joy won’t ache anymore.

In other words, I expect to get an oak tree overnight. 

When I think about that young man’s story about the acorn, I realize that I’m much closer to the acorn end of things than I am to the sprawling live oak tree. I am small, weak, unimpressive—and filled with unutterable energy, potential, and room for growth.

Near our home in the mountains is the most beautiful cave I’ve ever visited. Deep below the surface, winding trails are filled with incredible cave decorations: canopies and columns, soda-straw stalactites, channels and coral reefs of extruded rocks.

This cave was not carved out of rock overnight. Time, again, did the beautifying. In a complex pattern of yielding and standing strong against external pressures, the cave gradually took on the shape it is in today.

The slow work of rain. Dirt moving. Stretching up, hollowing out, yielding to change. Standing through lightning crashes or the roll of an earthquake. This is how a tree grows, or a cave begins.

Sometimes we think we have to get it right, right now. Life becomes more about understanding than waiting.

But that’s just not how it is.

When life hurts, I don’t have to be okay. I don’t have to quiet my tears, or hold back my feelings of loss, or try to wrestle my pain into subjection.

All I have to do is rejoice in belief.

People talk about the stages of grief because healing and growth are not instant things. God most often chooses to work through natural processes to do His work–and often, that means waiting. It means I do not become whole in a moment. It means you have to hold on to God’s promises and let Him work out the healing or growing on His timeline.

Rejoicing in belief means that I trust God with my process. It means that I learn to rest in the middle of inner turmoil. It means that, in my deepest places, I believe God with all my heart, even if my emotions are up and down. Rejoicing in belief means I choose to say “Your will be done,” I am glad that it will be done, and I hold on for when it will be done in full.

When you are stuck “in process,” remember that your Savior became a man and felt these same tensions and lived the same body-soul wrestling that we live. He knows, and He cares. And, best of all, He is able to make us stand strong in the uncertain growing.

Remember, little acorns, that you are not oaks yet, but you are becoming mighty and wise.

Remember, little caves, that the deep places of the earth were not carved in a night.

Remember, sweet sisters, that your heart is on a journey, and Jesus is walking the path with us, seeing His perfect work all the way to the end.

We’re works in progress. Believe, and let Him grow you strong and deep and sure. He is able to do it.

“Remember He is the artist and you are only the picture. You can’t see it. So quietly submit to be painted—i.e., keep fulfilling all the obvious duties of your station (you really know quite well enough what they are!), asking forgiveness for each failure and then leaving it alone. You are in the right way. Walk—don’t keep on looking at it.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis –

The Quiet Heart


“But I stand silently before the Lord, waiting for him to rescue me. For salvation comes from him alone.”

–  Psalm 62:5, TLB –

People just can’t see the inner workings of the soul.  And that’s okay. 

But that also means that on the outside, you can have it all together and on the inside be a nervous wreck.

For some people, emotional highs are like a shot of adrenaline. They start chattering when they get nervous or excited.

Often, I withdraw.

Mounting excitement or tension put my heart on red alert. I pull back and start conserving energy, a sort of emotional hibernation to prepare for the onslaught ahead.

I’m a strange blend of extrovert and emotional barometer. I pick up on people’s feelings quickly, and those emotions can easily impact my mood. When others start to squeal and chatter about an exciting event coming up, I absorb and brace myself. Not that I’m dreading it. I’m just getting my heart ready for impact.

Still, whether it comes out in nervous chatter or instinctive hibernation, a turbulent heart is not fun.

Yesterday, the day was dawning with uncertainty. I was nervous and excited and far from at peace.

I needed to quiet my heart.

This time, I wandered down the gravel drive and stared up at the golds and pinks beginning to brighten the clouds. The tension in my muscles started to loosen as I began to pray. I was a sight, all dressed up for church, but wearing tennis shoes in the gravel. It didn’t matter. I started to sing my prayers, alone with the Lord, as I walked. It may not have sounded so great, especially as I started making up words, “Quiet my heart,” I began to sing.

Peace began to steal over me.

A pair of donkeys wandered to the fence, silently begging for attention. I went and rubbed their peach-fuzz noses, mottled gray.  The female bowed her head as I found an especially itchy spot along her neck.

It was fifteen, twenty minutes. But it made a huge difference.

When life starts to drive you crazy, take a little time to breathe. Take a walk. Sing a song. Pray aloud in your car.

I don’t know exactly why, but Jesus often went away from the crowd to pray (Matthew 14:23). Early, while others slept, he walked off to the mountains to talk to His Father. Of course, Jesus did not have sinful anxiety in His heart. But there was a sort of quieting that must have come, a stilling peace away from the grabbing hands and raised voices of the crowds, and the bickering and questioning of his disciples.

It’s okay to rest a while.

“I have to get to the point of the absolute and unquestionable relationship that takes everything exactly as it comes from Him. God never guides us at some time in the future, but always here and now. Realize that the Lord is here now, and the freedom you receive is immediate.”

 – Oswald Chambers –

What difference do a few quiet moments make? For me, it gives me a chance to refocus on what is true. I get so caught up in all the rush and excitement that I lose sight of what I’m really living for. In the quiet of the morning, I can voice my thoughts aloud to God, letting all the other things fall away. I can tell Him, “Lord, I’m scared about this situation” or “Father, I don’t know what to do.”

I stared at the cotton-candy clouds yesterday morning and knew that the Artist of those clouds also designed me. My life is no secret from Him. Anything intimidating me is nothing to Him. He holds my days in His hand.

Quieting my heart came back to trust. In the end, I stopped my worry long enough to lift my eyes and see how He is still being faithful, reminding me that He alone is in control. Quieting my heart was a choice of faith–choosing to believe that He has it all in hand.

The turbulence and uncertainty faded as I vocally gave over of my cares to His keeping.

We all have stress. We all are faced with challenges, excitement, life-changing events, and unforeseen changes. When you feel your insides twist with worry or lurch with nervousness, take a step back and lift up your eyes.

Be still before your God, trust Him utterly, and let Him quiet your heart.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs, and don’t forget to thank him for his answers. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus.”

 – Philippians 4:6-7, TLB –

Brushing Shoulders


“Hospitality is when someone feels at Home in your presence”

 – Author Unknown –

A few words that she has probably long forgotten changed me forever.

When I was a young teenager, I looked at Tara with something like awe.

She was the epitome of who I wanted to be when I grew up — a 20-something glowing with joy and overflowing with encouragement.

Once, Tara smiled at me and exclaimed to me that God’s glory was shining in my face. I was so floored that she would say that to me! I wrote her words in my journal, to imprint them on paper the same way she had imprinted them on my heart.

That was about 10 years ago, and my heart still warms when I recall her kind words. We were never close friends. But, as she brushed shoulders with me, she left a little of herself behind.

Six months ago or so, a close friend reminded me of when I first met a mutual acquaintance. “She said you were the first one to welcome her to our church,” my friend told me.

I was stunned that something I barely remember made such an impact on this girl that she was still telling people about it 3 or 4 years later. It makes me smile, how God so often uses the everyday words and the casual moments to change the world. Maybe that sounds too general, too ambitious–maybe “changing the world” has been claimed so often that we’re cautious to believe it could be true.

But isn’t it true, that in some small way, Tara changed the world for me that day a decade ago? It wasn’t loud or obvious. No fireworks or cannon shots or fanfare announced it.

She didn’t know–I didn’t even know–how deep her encouragement would nestle into my soul over the years.

I’ve been learning about hospitality, and it’s been something of a revelation.

I don’t have to wait until I’m a homeowner, or turn a particular age, or reach a certain level of wisdom before I can “invite people in” with my life.

Because hospitality is about creating a space around you for others to be refreshed.

So ministry is not something you go to; it is something you take along with you. Hospitality is more a way of thinking or a way of being, than a certain behavior at a certain location.

It is about an others-centered life–a life so filled up by communion with God that, in abundant overflow, it extends to others.

I recently realized that I more easily succumb to self-centered thoughts rather than self-important ones. My adopted grandma told me this was how she used to think, and I immediately realized it fit my approach to life perfectly. I will readily admit to you my own sinfulness…but I will also spend a great deal of every day consumed with my reactions, my thoughts, my approaches, my conscience, my theology, my mistakes, my sins. Even things that can be good–like confessing sin or analyzing doctrine–ensnare me because I get so wrapped up in my own inner life that I become radically centered around myself, without knowing it. 

This is the opposite of the attitude of hospitality. Hospitality springs out of a heart of service, a heart focused on the good of others–even others that do not deserve it. Just like Jesus washed his disciples’ feet–even the feet of the man only hours from denying Him and the man who had just sold Him. (For more lessons from Christ’s Upper Room teachings, you might enjoy this sermon series by Sinclair Ferguson that my church is currently studying. It inspired part of this post.)

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

 – Philippians 2:3-7, ESV –

So this mindset, which is “ours in Christ Jesus” is this attitude of selfless serving, a grace-fueled outpouring of love.

Tara showed me hospitality, even though I never ate a cake she baked or stepped a foot into her home. Her speech made a little shelter for me, right where we were. Her kindness created an indelible memory for me, in that moment. I have no recollection of where we were when she spoke to me. I just remember the hospitality of her presence.

There is a meeting of souls that takes place when we, like Jesus, take off the outer garments of station or occupation and kneel in service at the feet of another, whether that person is a believer or an unbeliever, a John or a Judas. Taking off the external barriers and putting on the towel of humility creates the atmosphere of life-changing hospitality.

Tara put on the towel of humility by bowing to the level of a young teen and investing in a person she barely knew.

“It’s likely that every day presents an opportunity for you to practice radical hospitality to someone with whom you cross paths. There is no shortage of people who could use the fit of a caring, welcoming person in their life. How awesome would it be if, in a time of need, the first thing people would say is, “I need a Christian!” If you expect to be that person, you’ll be surprised at how often the opportunities come along for you to show love through radical hospitality.” – Thom Schultz –

Radical hospitality can be done anywhere. Whether you are at home or on the go today, pray that God directs you to speak and act in ways that bring life to those around you.

Today, may your presence be a place of grace, where the Gospel comes alive.  As author Mabel Hale says, be a “sunshine maker.” His wells of joy are yours for the filling.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.”

– Romans 12:10-13, NASB –


Joy at the End of the Rope

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My least favorite thing in all the world is rappelling.

My deep dislike probably has something to do with the fact that I once agreed to strap on a harness and soon found myself hanging upside down from a small cliff, held up by only a few pieces of rope and metal. That brief moment of suspension was more than enough for me. No more carabiners, climbing walls, or Swiss seats for me, thank you.

I’ll keep my feet on the ground where it’s nice and solid.

I tend to approach the rest of life in the same way. Only invest in the sure things. Don’t take too much risk. Don’t lean out over the edge too far. Don’t risk loving if you might get hurt. Don’t risk failing if you might not succeed.

Apparently, God has other plans for me.


It has always seemed so feathery, so unhinged from reality. I embraced it as something valuable and necessary to my relationship to God–for “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

But still, faith always seemed like something slippery and hard to define, intangible as a cloud, transparent as a window pane. I knew it was more than illogical hoping or wishful thinking…but I didn’t know how solid faith could be.

When we grow up, life is often harder than we thought it was going to be–but hard realities make believing the truth more precious than ever.

Adulthood has bared my heart to a slew of new fears and hurts and possibilities and people to love. It has hurt. Each time I face a fear, part of me has to die as I lay myself down at Jesus’ feet again. Every time I step out and risk loving something or someone that may not ever love me in return, my faith muscles strain.

“Are You sure Lord?” I whisper. “Is loving really worth it?” And in the ache of loss or the tension of waiting, something deep and powerful visits me. As long as I hold on, as long as I believe that love is worth the cost, as long as I cling to Him above all as worth every ounce of this struggle, a strange filling comes. 

Maybe it is that when every firm thing is stripped away but the Lord, faith becomes a foothold. It is becoming my lifeline to the most solid thing I know.

Faith is clinging to an unseen reality. Faith is having the eyes to see that maybe the visible is the uncertain thing and the invisible thing is the most secure. I often put my trust in people to satisfy me, or in circumstances to fulfill me, or in feelings to comfort me. But no person, no situation, no emotion can offer security. The only safety is being tied to God.

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”

 – 1 Peter 4:12-14, NASB, emphasis mine –

When life is difficult, we see how great God’s sufficiency must be. If we thought grace was great when we were children and life seemed easier, what about now?

How deep must God’s peace be if it will calm such heavy doubts and fears? How much sufficiency must He have for His children, if mortal hearts can break so much for the pains of this world? How much grace must there be if it is to run over when we are so empty?

It is easy for me to believe when life is easy. But that is not really faith, is it?

There are times in life when truth is a nice, gentle, steady thing. Other times, it is absolutely the only thing left to hold on to. When is truth more precious? When it is easy and cliché and powerless? Or when God is the one immovable thing in a life of unceasing turbulence?

This past week, I was listening to an audio recording of “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom. Before the war, Corrie loved God. She believed in His goodness. She was comforted by His word.

But Hitler’s war came and Corrie’s faithfulness brought her down into a Nazi prison camp. Unspeakable horrors, unimaginable shame, pain that seemed to never end–these circumstances were the teachers that changed Corrie.

God’s provision wasn’t merely a nice sounding, Sunday School idea any more. It was rock-solid reality–the only reality that she could count on. And faith became real to Corrie, because it was all she had to hang on to.

As I get older, life expands for me. In the past few years, I have felt depths of joy and pain that I never dreamed existed–and I am glad for both. The past few years have been speckled with doubts and battles to trust God, and over and over again entrusting my life into His hands. Real life seems to lend itself well to such lessons, doesn’t it?

It’s like my dread of rappelling. 

In life, I can totter on the edge of living. Or I can lean back trust the ropes–trust the Lord who loves me–to carry me through the challenges life always brings.

Stepping over the edge can be incredibly hard. But, trust me. It is also incredibly worth it.

There is joy in hanging on to the end of a rope, if God is at the other end.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

– 1 Peter 5:6-11, ESV –