Tree signs: U r loved

How is it already September? How are we already five weeks into this seven-week tree sign series? For those of you who have followed the whole series to date, you may have sensed a thread running through all of the signs, a thread about how God views us and how God hopes we will view ourselves and others. Love is the prevailing theme in the tree signs, and this week’s sign states the truth as plainly as possible:

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For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. – John 3:16

We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for our brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. – 1 John 3:16-18

When I was searching the Bible for just the right verses, I noticed something beautiful and new (to me anyway): John 3:16 and 1 John 3:16 tell exactly the same love story. One looks at Jesus’ death from God’s perspective and the other from Jesus’ own perspective. Why say it twice? Quite simply: we all need to hear someone huge and important and unstoppable loves us.

Don’t we all have days when we feel unloved, or maybe unlovable? Days we feel alone or ignored or unappreciated? These are the days the 3:16 verses were meant for—the days we most need reminding that the greatest love in the world applies to each of us as individuals, not just some vague “others” in the world.

Whoever created the “U R Loved” sign wrote it using passive voice, often a bugaboo for this former English teacher. But I love passive voice here because it encourages you to fill in the inherent blank. Who loves you? U R Loved (by God/by friends/by spouse/by children/by family/by someone).

Driving by this sign causes me to make a mental list. I am loved by …

The length of my list is a blessing I try not to take for granted, and I hope those people on my list know how much I love them right back.

The last few weeks have been tough for several of my dearest friends back east, and it has been difficult for me to do much more than say, “I love you,” and “I’m praying for you,” and “I hope you heal quickly.”

But I also know the deep truth in the rest of the verses in 1 John 3. I wish John had written: “let us not love only with word or with tongue,” because sometimes words are the only way we can love. It has been hard for me to trust that my words are enough, that where I cannot show my love for a friend through my actions, others in my hometown can. There are others who can give the hugs. Others who can bring the meals. Others who can walk the dogs and pick up the kids from school and bring the toilet paper and laundry detergent. And the ice cream. Because sometimes, ice cream speaks joy and comfort and happiness and love all in one bowl. Right?


Want to remind someone that they are loved? I’d be honored if you’d send them this post. I’ll be sharing it on my Facebook author page, and you may share it from there or from the social media links at the bottom of this post. Or maybe you need to pick up the phone and call a friend? Or pick up some flowers for your spouse at the grocery store? Or pick a date on the calendar to visit with each other?

I’d love to hear your creative ways to show others you love them and also the beautiful ways others have reminded you recently that U R Loved.

Tree signs: Hug a stranger

We’re four weeks in with the tree signs series. If you’ve missed any, don’t fret. You may read them in any order.

Today’s sign is the first one I noticed while riding along the road with a neighbor, a new friend who went out of her way to make sure this “stranger” felt welcome.

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At once a biblical story came to mind: the story of the Good Samaritan.

But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied back and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt great compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?”

And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”

– Luke 10:29-37

This story has long been one of my favorites, a story easy enough even for a child to understand, yet complex enough for adults to stumble over.

Jesus told this story in response to a young lawyer’s question: Who is my neighbor?

It’s one thing to the love the neighbors who are like us, but the Good Samaritan story isn’t about the easy-to-love neighbors. It’s about loving and caring for strangers as if they were our neighbors, as if they were ourselves.

In Jesus’ time, Samaritans were untouchable in the eyes of the Jews, and that’s what made Jesus’ story shocking to his audience. He wanted them—and wants us—to get beyond deep-seated prejudices. The story of the Good Samaritan tells us that we are to help and care for each other regardless of our plans, our schedules or our prejudices.

Hugging friends is easy. Hugging a stranger interrupts us, maybe inconveniences us. But hugging a stranger can make all the difference to that person.

As I cried in the Atlanta airport earlier this summer, a stranger asked if I needed a hug. I had not been left for dead, but a migraine and the frustration of being stranded overnight made me feel miserable. Her kindness has stayed with me. Imagine if more of us were willing to step outside of ourselves to offer the simple gesture of a hug to a stranger.

Jesus never called us to be comfortable. He called us to do what is right, no matter how uneasy that makes us. Perhaps this modern day Samaritan will inspire you (and me) to step beyond prejudice and busyness.

Need something a bit more scientific to convince you to hug a stranger—with their permission, of course? Here you go:

  • Seven reasons we all need hugs.
  • Our need for hugs is universal.
  • And because I’m really quite distracted with the World Track and Field Championships this week, this article’s “who” bullet really caught my attention. One of the enduring images from the games so far for me is of Jeff Henderson’s coach consoling him with a long embrace after Henderson failed to finish the long jump finals. The interwebs has let me down, though, and I can’t find a picture of their hug to share with you here. (If you find it, please share the link below.)

So how can we surprise ourselves by being the Samaritan? Can I make myself step past my own fears to hug a stranger? Can you? Have you ever been on the giving or receiving end of a stranger’s hug? How was that moment a blessing for you? I’d love to hear the stories of your hugs in the comments below.

Tree signs: Love never fails

Welcome to week three in the tree sign series. If you missed the first two, don’t worry. You may read them in any order.

This week’s sign comes straight from the Bible—minus the exclamation points:

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Love never fails. –1 Corinthians 13:8a

You may be familiar with the Bible’s “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13. It’s hard to go to a wedding without hearing verses from it. For our wedding, my husband and I wanted to avoid the cliché: “Love is patient, love is kind …”

We intentionally chose different verses for friends to read at our wedding, but we forgot to tell our minister why we were leaving out 1 Corinthians 13. Darn if he didn’t mention it in his wedding sermon. Oh, well.

Don’t get me wrong. These are powerful words, and we should read them with more care than we do. They’re just not my favorite ones in the Bible. I don’t know if I shy away from the passage because of its trite readings at weddings. Or maybe it was the teasings I took anytime a teacher covered it in my childhood Sunday School classes (hope‘s two appearances in this passage never failed to reduce the boys in the class to snickers and stares).

Whatever the reason for my wanting to avoid 1 Corinthians 13, this week’s tree sign sent me digging deeper, all the way back into the Old Testament.

Who will rise up for me against the wicked?
Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?
Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt
in the silence of death.
When I said “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
— Psalm 94:16-19 (NIV)

“My foot is slipping.”
Earlier today, I read a heartbreaking story from my hometown of a homeless, eight-year-old boy. He was hiding in a recycling bin to escape his abusive step-father, and when a stranger found him, his plea for help must have sounded a lot like, “My foot is slipping.”

God’s unfailing love protected that little boy, and now he and his infant brother are living with an aunt. She is rising up for him. The community is pouring out its own love, and there are ways we can all help them (see the end of the article).

A friend of the aunt said it best, “The fact that he survived, the fact that he is where he is and is able to articulate his story, and be brave—that speaks a lot about him and the plan that God has for his life.” Not just God’s plan, but also God’s unfailing love.

How many ways can we cry out to God, “My foot is slipping”? And how many more ways can God show unfailing love?

Sometimes it’s easier to see the ways humans fail one another than to see the ways we love and support one another. It’s even easier to become blind to God’s unending, unstoppable love for us.

That’s why this tree sign is so special. Love never fails!!! Yes, with the emphasis of three exclamation points. Love never fails!!!


Have you ever felt God’s support in response to your cry, “My foot is slipping.”? Do you have a story of unfailing love you’d like to share below? I would love to hear your stories of how “love never fails!!!” is true for you.

Tree signs: You matter

Today marks week two in the tree sign series. If you missed last week’s sign (kindness is free), be sure to check it out. Feel free to read the series in any order. Now for this week’s tree sign:

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Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. —Matthew 10:29-31

Do you ever feel a little lost? Uncherished? Set adrift? Ever wonder if God has stopped hearing your prayers? Or forgotten about you? This week’s tree sign and the verses Jesus spoke in Matthew 10 remind us that we are important to God, enough so that God even knows the number of hairs on our head.

Our culture tells us something different, though. It feeds on labels of success that make us worry about our worth. The number in our bank accounts, the retweets of our latest 140-character gem on Twitter, how many blog visitors we got yesterday, our number of friends on Facebook: all of these are ways the world tells us we matter … or don’t.

I have several friends who are facing an empty nest for the first time this week. For the mothers especially, this hard transition can cause not only tears but also fears about what purpose they have now. To you empty-nest moms (and dads) out there I say, “You matter.” You are important enough for God to know every detail about you, including what wonderful things you will accomplish now that your children have wandered out into the world.

To you fabulous young people who have left home for the first time or moved to a new school or a new city, sometimes you may feel as though the world is ignoring you or considers you too insignificant to notice. You may struggle to find where you fit in your new place, but don’t let a lack of a pledge bid or a tough class schedule or a feeling of homesickness make you feel unimportant. To you I say, “You matter.” God has exciting plans for your year ahead.

Sometimes it’s not even social media, an empty nest or a quiet dorm room that can make us doubt our value. Too often, those in our workplaces and even in our own homes can make us feel invisible, useless, worthless.

Maybe you have a micromanager at work or a superstar coworker who gets all the glory. Maybe you’re a teacher heading back into a school with an unsupportive administration, parents who expect As for their children whether learning happens or not, and children who don’t want to learn. When you spend day in and day out with these challenges, you may start to believe you don’t matter. To you I say, “You matter.” I pray God’s protection over you as you live out your calling.

Or perhaps it’s your home where you struggle. An emotionally distant spouse or a surly teenager who has perfected the eye roll can break your heart and make you feel like fleeing from your own home. To you I say, “You matter.” You mean so much more to God that many sparrows, and even one sparrow doesn’t fall to the ground without God noticing. You matter.

The thing I love about this tree sign is not only that it lifts me up, but it also reminds me that the person driving the car in front of me matters, too. If you matter (and you do), so do those around you.


How can you remind yourself of this? Wherever your place of greatest challenge may be, post a “You matter” sign there (print out the photograph above, or make your own). Tape it to your computer screen, or put it on your bathroom mirror or the dashboard of your car or on your desk at work. Wherever you need reminding most, put the sign: You matter. You matter to those around you, but even more, you matter to God.

Do you have a friend or family member who could use this reminder, too? Forward this post, tag them in a tweet that says #YouMatter, write a card, pick up the phone or meet for a coffee date. Do something to help this person know that, at least to you and to God, they matter.

I’d love to hear the results of your reminders, whether they’re for you or for others. In the days ahead, what are some of the ways you are remembering that you matter?

Tree signs: Kindness is free

There’s a road near me I especially like, not necessarily for its narrow lanes and twisty, windy curves but because trees surround and shade it so well. A well-shaded street seems like a rarity here, and so on especially hot days, this road offers respite from relentless sun beating down on me as I drive.

There’s also a magic quality in tree-lined roads, too, and I’ve discovered what makes this one even magical in a unique way. Someone (I picture an aging hippie) has nailed signs to a few of the trees encouraging us and reminding us all to be better people. These signs cheer me, make me think long after I’ve driven past, and—whether intentional or not—promote some great theology.

So over the next seven Wednesdays (all we have left of summer), I’ll share these signs and related Bible verses with you. First up:

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But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things, there is no law—Galatians 5:22–23

I’m a woman who likes lists. I like to write out to-do lists, often because I’ll forget something if I don’t but also because I like the sense of accomplishment from checking items off a list.

This fruits-of-the-Holy-Spirit list, though, more often than not leaves me with a definite feeling of inadequacy. Quite the opposite from any smug sense of completion, my mind and my heart feel pierced. The list convicts and reminds me that I still have a lot of work to do in my walk with God and my shared journey with those around me.

When I look at this list, I see attributes I could freely offer:

  • love
  • joy
  • peace
  • patience
  • kindness
  • goodness
  • faithfulness
  • gentleness
  • self-control

I can also see a cost in each fruit’s opposites: emotional, relational, physical and even monetary costs.

For example, why, oh why, do there have to be so many delicious varieties of vegan donuts at Whole Foods out here? There’s a list I could give you. The vegan donuts aren’t free, nor do they encourage healthy eating, a healthy body or the self-control to stop at just one. (Don’t even get me started about the stores that sell containers of vegan donut holes.)

I may be light-hearted about the donuts, but I’m lacking in other fruits of the Spirit that are less laughable. On particularly rough days, I may lack every free fruit on that list. I am not proud of such days. Do you have days like this?

Verse 23 ends with another reassurance of how free these fruits are. Not only do they cost us nothing, no law exists to stop us from practicing any of them. The tree sign is right: Kindness is free. Truly, really, completely free. And freeing, too.


I’m going to challenge myself to find ways to practice each of these more, to develop them as first-response habits. I’ll need God’s help—and some accountability from loved ones—to achieve this.

How about you? Will you work on cultivating these fruits? Which ones are more of a challenge to you? What steps—big or small— can you take to be freer with kindness and the other fruits?

I hope you’ll share your challenges and successes in the comments below. And I look forward to sharing another sign with you next week.