I've left behind the daily grind to write full time and to figure out what my own flourishing tree looks like. I'd love to help you flourish and grow along the way, so that you, too, can cultivate a life that pleases God.
I’m taking a break this week from my normal routine, but I still wanted to meet you here in this space. Want to fix a cup of coffee and spend a few minutes together?
What do you think fuels our fascination with the coffee break?
Not long before moving away from North Carolina, I discovered a love for the coffee at a bakery within walking distance of my house. Because of a food allergy, I had shied away from the bakery for years. But one day I met a friend there for a coffee date and could have kicked myself for all the time—and coffee—I missed.
Here in my new California home, I’ve been making plenty of my own tea and coffee, but I’m also determined to learn from my mistake. I’ve tried several local coffee shops and have fallen in love with one in particular.
The shop is quiet, even when it’s full (a boon for a stay-at-home writer who needs to get out of the house from time to time). The baristas are friendly. The coffee is delicious. And you can get it in a paper cup to go or in a glass to stay.
Most of my visits, I get the glass and sit down at one of the small tables to write. Some days, this shop is the only place where I can get any writing done. I hate to be the stereotypical coffee shop writer, but the amount of work I can accomplish here is worth the price of admission.
How about you? Whether you work in an office or at home, what draws you to step away from your desk and head to your favorite coffee shop? Do you have a favorite local coffee shop whose praises you’d like to sing? Do you prefer to go by yourself or meet friends? Do you have a favorite coffee drink? Or take tea instead? I’d love for you to share your favorites in the comments below. Wait … I’ll go grab a cup, and we can sit together here for a bit.
You’ve seen the images over the last several weeks: devastating fires in the west, unimaginable flooding in the east. One part of the country is desperate for rains to fall while another begs God to dry up the floodwaters. Whether it’s fire or water, whole communities have been wiped away. Precious lives have been lost or irrevocably changed.
In these environments, heroes emerge. Not loud or showy. Not with super powers. Not wearing capes. Instead, they come with helmets and gloves and boots. They arrive by helicopter or boat. They bring with them strength and hope. And food and water and shelter.
This is National Fire Prevention week, which probably seems foreign at the moment to those in South Carolina dealing with a 1,000-year flood. There are heroes in both fire and flood, and I want to celebrate them today.
I attended an airshow this weekend and saw both Canadian and U.S. air force flying demonstrations. These are easy heroes to cheer and celebrate.
However, the real heroes of the hour (so to speak) didn’t get to appear on stage. Instead, they waited in the background, perhaps because they had to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. Extremely dry weather, high winds and the threat of thunderstorms with little rain brought a red flag warning Saturday, and the Cal Fire units that had been set to participate in the day’s events stayed behind the scenes, quiet and waiting.
A helicopter of heroes
In the last few days, Cal Fire finally reached 100 percent containment of two raging fires, one that burned up 76,067 acres and another that burned 70,868. So I am not exaggerating when I tell you these are my heroes.
For flood and fire victims alike, heroes may come in many shapes and sizes. The fireman who returned the day after a fire to corral several horses and make sure they had fresh hay. The vets working to save burned animals. The National Guard troops keeping flooded areas safe. The countless volunteers staffing shelters, cooking meals, donating time and supplies. These are the heroes that emerge in disasters such as these.
While many of us may not be able to go to the front lines of the fires and floods, we can still help the heroes who are there. Here are two great organizations that would welcome your support:
I love a good airshow, but even more, I love the ways capeless heroes rush to save lives, property and the natural resources that make this such a beautiful country.
Four Canadian Snowbirds deliver a message of love.
How will you help these heroes? Do you have other go-to organizations for helping when disasters strike?
If you have a hero story to share from flood or fire, please add it to the comments below. And if you’ve been affected by these recent natural disasters and would like prayer, I’d be honored to lift you up in prayer. Simply put your request in the comments below.
As I walked the dog last night, I heard a strange sound in the sky, a mix between a purr and a chirp. I looked up to see a flock of birds flying in three loose V formations. I decided to count, and the dog cooperated. She had a bit of a wait.
They headed south and merged into one V formation, too high, or perhaps too small, for me to tell what kind they were. Long necks, but not Canada geese with their awkward clanking. These birds’ purring chirps provided a soothing melody to accompany the clouds and a few turning leaves.
I continued the walk and, too late, thought, “Camera.” I found the flock one more time—broken apart, drifting up into the sky like bits of ash breaking apart. I would have missed the moment had I dashed in for the camera.
Change is here. The light is shifting. Fall is in its early stages, and there’s a promise in the skies.
The sky yesterday evening. Clouds are starting to return, and with them, the promise of rain.
I love the golden light of fall.
A fine harvest and one yellow leaf
A welcome sight and a contrast to the brown leaves of summer’s drought
The giddiness of rain-soaked red leaves.
I know my friends back east are sick of rain, and I can understand why. There’s talk of record-breaking consecutive days of rain. And the usual jokes about Noah’s ark. And now, to add insult, an approaching hurricane.
But I hope those drenched, east coast friends will forgive my giddiness here in the west, as clouds move in, as rain falls today, lightly for now but with a promise of more to come.
What promises of fall (inside or out) are you embracing these days?
I’m not sure what a typical autumn looks like here in California, but with the extreme drought, I am sure this is no typical year. I long for the crisp days and bright colors of leaves turning on the trees. To be honest, though, I’m really praying for rain and trees that can survive after this long, hot summer.
A friend back east posted a picture on Facebook yesterday of one of my favorite trees just beginning to turn. I don’t just mean favorite kind of tree. This tree is one of my favorite individual trees. When I saw my friend’s status update, I felt joy and a pang of homesickness at the same time.
I photograph this tree every fall, and each year, I’m grateful it has stood another year. To me, this tree is grace, strength, beauty, endurance.
I photographed it last fall on a quiet, foggy morning:
I may not get to visit it this year before the leaves are all gone, but in the meantime, I’ll enjoy the photos friends post of it as it transforms into its most glorious orange color.
Do you have a favorite tree in fall? What other signs of fall do you enjoy? Pumpkins? Hot chocolate? Sweaters? Chilly nights? Football? Would you share them below?
Whatever brings you joy this season, let me wish you a happy fall full of those things.
Before we get started with the final sign of the tree sign series, I’d like to ask a favor. Wherever you live and whatever is pressing on your heart, would you please lift up a prayer for the fire fighters, the residents displaced, those who are grieving a loss of home or beloved animals or livelihood because of the California wildfires? Would you also pray for quenching rain to fall on the flames?
Now back to the final tree sign of the series.
I knew this last sign existed, but the day I walked along the road to take photographs for the series, I could not find it. I knew which direction it faced but looked and looked and looked. The road is not the sort of road that’s safe to walk along, and despite picking an especially quiet morning, I had to give up and go home without a picture.
My sweet husband drove along the road later that day while I sat in the passenger seat with camera in hand. We had to make a couple of passes before I finally spotted it, high up and partially hidden in prickly leaves.
I’m not sure it’s coincidence that this sign is so elusive. Its word is hard for us to grasp and can be covered in prickly emotions:
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has also forgiven you. – Ephesians 4:31-32
Forgive. What does that word conjure up for you? A moment, a memory, an act, a hard thing, a blessing?
In Old Testament times, God’s followers had to follow specific rules about sacrifices that would earn God’s forgiveness. The New Testament brought change to the need to exchange sacrifices for forgiveness: Jesus’ death became the ultimate sacrifice.
I’ve written about forgiveness both here and in my book. It never ceases to be one of the most difficult concepts for me to tackle, perhaps because I don’t enjoy thinking about those I have yet to forgive and those who have yet to forgive me. Yet forgiveness lives at the heart of faith and is essential to our relationship with God and one another, and to our own emotional well-being.
Why does it have to be so darn difficult?
Some of us cannot believe God forgives certain sins (and sinners). Sometimes we ourselves have committed “unforgivable” sins. Sometimes we look at others and deem their sins unforgivable. The uncomfortable truth of a life of faith, though, is that we must forgive one another. In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis reminds us there’s no escaping this requirement to forgive, but he also offers excellent advice on how to tackle the challenge of forgiving others.
I have to admit: knowing someone as amazing as C.S. Lewis struggled with the concept of forgiveness makes me feel better. If forgiving others were easy, our faith might remain weak and simplistic. Instead, learning to forgive builds strength, character and a reliance on God for help.
If forgiveness is a struggle for you, I highly recommend Forgive & Forget by Lewis B. Smedes. I’ve reviewed his book here before (scroll to the last bullet of the post) and cannot say enough good things about it. It’s one of those books I imagine I’ll go back to again and again throughout my life, ever needing to learn how to forgive, and ever needing to beg for forgiveness from others.
It feels like the Bible contains a bazillion “forgive” references, and choosing one for this week’s sign was a good exercise in reminding myself of God’s requirements and great love and sacrifice for me. So why did I choose these particular verses? Quite simply, the ideas of letting go of bitterness and anger, embracing kindness, and being tender-hearted fit best with the rest of the signs. These two verses provide the perfect ending to the series. If we could remember and live out all seven of these every day—kindness is free, you matter, love never fails, hug a stranger, u r loved, peace = kindness, and forgive— how would we change as individuals? How would the world around us change?
Just for fun before we leave the series, would you let me know which post or sign you liked best? Did you miss a couple along the way? You can catch up on all of them here.
If you could add any sign to this road, what would it be and why? Please leave your answer and any other thoughts about forgiveness and the other signs in the series in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from you!