Brown Moss

IMG_4830 edit.jpgHave you ever made a judgement of something or someone, only to find out later that you were entirely wrong?  I’m going tell you one of my own such errors, the tale of me and a bank of moss.

I’ve walked past this side of a hill many times.  It’s the kind of open spot in an otherwise forested area where it’s painfully obvious that it was at one time scraped into by some large piece of power equipment, leaving a gaping scar in the earth.  Over time, as God blessedly made it to do, vegetation had slowly crept back in to attempt to heal the wound.  In this case, that vegetation was moss.

But the poor, dry soil seemed had gotten the better of it, and it was mostly rusty brown, dead moss!  I always rather pitied that ugly mossy hillside and hurried past to prettier things.

And then, one day, I decided to take a shortcut to where I wanted to go and actually walk straight up that hillside.  I expected the wasting moss to crunch and crumble beneath my feet, my feet to slip in exposed clay.  But to my utter surprise, what I found instead was a soft, thriving, cushioned carpet of lush rusty-brown very-much-alive moss!  What from a distance had appeared brown and dead, wasn’t dead at all!  It just happened to be a naturally reddish-brown variety!IMG_4821 edit.jpgAfter that, I forgot what I was going to do on the other side of the hill.  I was down on my knees, then on my stomach (sorry, baby), an explorer in magnificent new miniature world.  I’ve always loved the world of fungi, and it was exhilarating to meet varieties I’d never seen before in person for the very first time.

And I felt rather foolish.  How many countless times had I walked past, loftily thinking I could accurately judge what I saw from a distance, never taking the time to actually get up close and fact-check my judgement?IMG_4826 edit.jpgThere is the judgement between right and wrong, truth and lie, meted out by courts of law, mothers weighing out eye-witness accounts and facts to determine who actually took the cookies, and by God at the end of the world.  This kind of judgement is good, righteous and necessary for order and justice.

Then there is this kind of judgement I made on this mossy hillside.  Not the justice kind, but the writing off kind.  That moss is brown, I thought, therefore it could not possibly be anything but dead.  I based this “fact” off of past experience and (what I thought) was a good understanding of moss.  But it was not a fact, it was an assumption—and even though it was an educated assumption, I was wrong.  This is called “leaning on my own understanding”, which the book of Proverbs warns against and is basically thinking so highly of our own discernment and knowledge that we ultimately end up making fools of ourselves.

I’d like to say this is the only time I’ve ever made this mistake.  That I’ve never misjudged anything or anyone more significant than a bed of dead-looking moss.  But I’ve made plenty of other such errors.

I’ve assumed I wouldn’t like certain foods because my parents didn’t.

I’ve “judged a book by its cover” without ever cracking it open.

I’ve failed to shop at a store based on it’s exterior, without ever entering.

Though I may have missed out on enriching experiences, these too-quick judgments will likely not affect my life negatively in the grand scheme of things, of course.  There’s one kind of mis-judgement that I truly regret, however.  It’s that I’ve sometimes based how I think of a person off of stereotypes, other people’s prejudices or my own pre-conceived notions instead of finding out what they’re really like for myself.IMG_4831 editI’ll never forget the time my wise father encouraged me as a young person to reach out to another new young lady at church.  Without having ever spoken to her, I had already decided, in all my youthful “wisdom”, that we probably wouldn’t have much in common and had foolishly written off the idea of friendship.  Out of respect for him, however, I agreed to make the effort to introduce myself, though I expected little to come of it.  And what do you suppose happened?  You guessed it: we not only met but became good friends, and a relationship blossomed that would be a tremendous blessing to me in upcoming times of unexpected loneliness.   I often think about how much I would have missed if I had followed my foolish inclination to write her off instead of stepping outside of my comfort zone.  It’s a lesson with a happy ending that I will never forget.

Can you think of something or someone in your life that you might be making this same mistake with?  If so, I hope my stories might make you consider going back to double-check your facts.  You never know: you might discover a new variety of moss or even make a new best friend.

“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)

“…you shall investigate and search out and inquire thoroughly.  If it is true and the matter established, [then]…” (Deuteronomy 13:14)

“…the honour of kings is to search out a matter.” (Proverbs 25:2)

Stand Still and See

IMG_8295.JPGIf you walk out into the middle of the woods and stand very still for a while, a very delightful thing will happen.

The forest will slowly come alive around you. You may have thought it was alive before that, but the truth is, you haven’t actually experienced the half of it.

First, you will become more distinctly aware of the sounds of the more extroverted creatures of the woods.  A woodpecker beating sharp staccato, the twittering of newly-returned robins, the distant honking of geese.

But keep waiting, because there is more to come.

After a few minutes, a grouse will drum on a nearby log.  A stick will crack in the woods, then another, as the cautious deer who froze at the sound of your footsteps decides it’s safe to move on.  And then will begin the rustling in the leaves, and you will realize that it is not the breeze at play, but squirrels and mice and tiny birds.

As your ears become more attuned, your eyes will also become more aware of details.

You’ll realize that there’s delicate frost from a chilly spring morning lacing the strawberry leaf by your feet that you very nearly trampled.IMG_8293 You’ll note a tiny clump of British soldier lichen clinging to the edge of a mossy stump that would have only registered “green” in hurried passing.IMG_8300-1.jpgYou’ll tip your head up and see the beginning of the swelling red of the maple buds overhead, fanned against the sky.IMG_8283.JPGYou’ll notice the delicate lacy veins of last year’s leaves, splendidly illuminated in the morning sunlight, and also the way a certain flap of simple birch bark is catching the sun just right to make it glow.IMG_8290IMG_8286.JPGYour eyes will follow the slant of a fallen log down to a hole and, well, look!  The very culprit of the rustling himself appears.IMG_8311There is no shortcut to the gifts that come from being still, but they are always incredibly, beautifully worth it.  And, incidentally?  The same is said for the soul and the best gift one could ever ask for.

“Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD.” (Exodus 14:13)

No doing.  No striving.  Just simple, trusting, expectant stillness.

An Autumn Hike

 

IMG_5179Where do you look when you are hiking through the autumn forest?

Do you look up at the soaring arms of the great pines raised to the sky in praise?  At the sunlight filtering in soft curtains of light down through the crimson and salmon maples?IMG_5190.JPGDo you look straight ahead, at the path winding mysteriously out of sight and beckoning you on?  At the receding layers of craggy barked tree trunks marching along its edges, with the occasional surprise mushroom accessory?  Or at the jaunty straw hat and satisfyingly fall-ish plaid shirt of a walking companion ahead?IMG_5193Or do you look down?  Down at the dainty trailing vines between the tufts of orange pine needles, and the tidily capped wee mushrooms springing whimsically up along the damp mosses of aging stumps?  At the calico of autumn leaves softly layering over the creeping cedar and wintergreen?IMG_5187While I was hiking with relatives recently, we talked about this, and discovered that our answers differed.  Some in our hiking party were more inclined toward one than the other, therefore each bringing their own unique perspective to the commentary that enlivened our exploration of the forest.

As I was thinking about this the next day, I realized that it was actually a pretty accurate picture of the body of Christ, particularly that living, breathing organism that is the local church body.  We walk the same trail as believers, reading the same Bible, loving the same Savior, but our perspectives can be astonishingly different.

Some are more likely to look ahead, seeing with vision and wisdom.

Some watch the edges and condition of the trail, wary of spiritual pitfalls.

Some are more likely to look up, calling attention to heavenly perspectives when other’s eyes waver toward the earthly.

Some look down, noticing the details that others forget or overlook, like the lonely newcomer or the overflowing garbage can.

IMG_5146 IMG_5181The Bible calls these things gifts, and they are.  Sometimes, though, I think we can lose sight of this in the nitty-gritty of real life.  It can be easy, for instance, to get annoyed with that other person who is always worried about mowing the grass (looking at mushrooms) when you’d rather be discussing the accuracy of the latest Bible translation (looking down the path)—or vice versa.  However the fact is that each perspective is valuable and needed, and they’re all meant to weave together in harmonious balance, not at odds with each other.

Or sometimes, even if we do appreciate the unique contributions of each person, we just forget to say so.  So since I’m being reminded, I’d like to say thank you myself.

Thank you for being you.  Thank you for the very special, irreplaceable gift that your gift is to your brothers and sisters as we walk with Jesus and endeavor to make Him known to the world.

Thank you for the things you do in private, the mundane and not-so-glorious, often unseen and unacknowledged.  Thank you for the things you do in public, against the odds of criticism, embarrassment, and greater scrutiny.  Thank you for speaking out to say the hard things, the kind things, the wise things.   Thank you for the quietness of your inner prayers, wordless hugs, silent generosity.  Thank you for perseverance when you’re misunderstood, for faithfulness when no else is.

And if you’re one of those hiding shyly in the corner, hesitant to use your gift, perhaps afraid to share it because it’s different or less popular than someone else’s, I hope this will be a gentle encouragement to you to be hold back no longer.  Please, in love, let it flow out for the enrichment of the Body of Christ, because it surely will.

We need you!IMG_5205“Just as each of us has one body with many members, and not all members have the same function, so in Christ we who are many are one body, and each member belongs to one another.

We have different gifts according to the grace given us. If someone’s gift is prophecy, let him use it in proportion to his faith; if it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is giving, let him give generously; if it is leading, let him lead with diligence; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” (Romans 12:4-8)

“And as each individual part does its work, the body grows and builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:16)

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Vacation Vignettes: Mountain

IMG_3083It took six hours of driving to get there.

Six hours in a truck with no air conditioning on an 80+ degree day (nothing a few rolled down windows couldn’t cure).

Six hours of “I Spy” scavenger hunts with melting M&Ms doled for prizes (a distraction tactic for restless little travelers that worked marvelously).

Six hours of this question from a certain small person in the back seat:

“Is that a mountain?” 

“No, not yet,” we’d patiently reply.  “After we get there, we’ll take you to see a mountain.”

Six hours of that question, over and over again, of every slight protrusion in the landscape.  And we smiled every time, because it was far too endearing to be annoying.  By the time the day of the promised outing arrived, I think we were looking forward to it almost as much as she was!  IMG_3136.JPGThe bad news, however, is that when we arrived at the much-anticipated first scenic viewpoint, all we could see was white.

Where were the mountains?  Completely obscured by a smothering blanket of heavy fog, that’s where.  Anti-climactic would be an understatement.

So, what’s a parent to do to save such a day?  Well, you find the shortest trail to the highest point in the area, get out of the vehicle and start climbing.IMG_3152IMG_3155.JPGIMG_3165-1.jpg IMG_3228IMG_3258IMG_3192-1IMG_3087Because sometimes, you just need to go higher and then everything becomes clear.

In those days, Jesus went up to the mountain to pray, and He spent the night in prayer to God. When daylight came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also designated as apostles.” (Luke 6:11-13)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

White Water

white water / rejoicing hillsWe stood on the dam, peering over the edge.  The roar was deafening.

“Dat water is white, Daddy!” our little girl observed.

“Yes, honey.  That’s how you know the water is going very fast.”

I was thankful for the tightly secured chain link fencing on both sides of the walkway as she stood at the very edge, surprisingly unafraid, watching in fascination as the water spewed tight through the spillways and churned free into the river below.  It was all very exciting, her three-year-old mind oblivious to the warning signs and hazard lights blinking danger all around us.  Daddy and mommy were there with her.  What did she have to fear?

She didn’t know that white water also meant trouble.river's edge / rejoicing hillsI thought about a conversation my husband and I had had earlier in the day, about the trouble in the world and all around us.

Sometimes it can be terribly discouraging, especially when it seems to heap up and come at you from all sides.  You can feel like you’re being tossed around as relentlessly as the tight angry waters in one of those spillways, battered hard against the concrete walls, and all you want is the relief of finally being spewed out the other side so you can find some quiet pool downstream where you can rest and breathe again.

It made me tense and weary just to think of it, and I was relieved when we moved off the dam, and onto a tiny winding trail that followed the river’s edge.  I liked this better.  Here, there were delicate ferns clinging to mossy rock walls, birch trees leaning gracefully over the calmer ripples at the water’s edge and a soft autumn carpet of warm lacy brown oak leaves underfoot.  The roar of the dam faded away in the distance, replaced by the gentle sound of water lapping against rocks along the shore and the whispering breeze in the trees.  Ah—these were the restful places I had in mind.brown oak leaves / rejoicing hillsrocks in the water / rejoicing hillsIMG_1392 editOr were they?

I stumbled as I clambered down a rocky side path to get a closer look at the pretty little ferns.  The thick carpet of oak leaves had been deceptive—what I had thought was solid ground was not.

Was there no escaping trouble?  No, I realized, shaking my head over the irony of it as I regained my footing and continued on more cautiously—there really wasn’t.  If it wasn’t glaring in your face, it always seemed to be hiding where you least expected it.

This was no secret to Jesus, which is why He once stated to his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble.”  He knew it was not just a possibility or a maybe.  It was a certainty.  If it wasn’t clear cut persecution, it would be the enemy inside you, that wearying war between the flesh and the spirit.  If wasn’t trouble of your own making, it would be trouble of someone else’s making, purposeful or unintentional.  If it wasn’t any of these, it would just be the stark reality that we live in a fallen world where there is sickness, and death, and the struggle to survive, and where the sheets we got as a wedding present wear out and rip clean through.  (Yep, just this morning.)  And then there would be fear, the thing that can get you even when nothing is actually wrong.

fern on rock face / rejoicing hillsIMG_1388 editSo what did He mean when He followed up that statement with this one?

“But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Obviously He didn’t mean that we’d escape all trouble by following Him.  If anything, He warned elsewhere that there would be more if we did.  But then I thought back to the beginning of the verse, before He even comments on the certainty of trouble:

“I have told you these things so that in Me you might have peace.”

That phrase “IN ME” jumped out at me, and then it clicked.  So the picture of the peace He was talking about was really right back up on that dam. The two of them were back on it now, making their way slowly across the walkway.  The small girl in the gray jacket walked calmly next to her daddy between the chain link barriers, the late afternoon sunlight highlighting all the little hairs escaping from her braids.  She stopped periodically to look over the edge and ask questions.  In the midst of the noise and turbulence, the calm voice of his explanations and the reassurance of his presence were all the security she needed.ferns / rejoicing hillsThis was peace.

Not in finding our comfort in our circumstances but finding it in the One who walks beside us.  The reality of trouble will never be any greater than the certainty of His presence.  It’s as astonishing and simple as that—and my little girl knew it better than I did.

I stepped up onto the walkway myself, and my steps quickened as I hurried to catch up to my family, hardly noticing the white water churning below as my heart flooded with renewed peace and the determination to learn from her example.

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:20)