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.

Finding home in a garden

My mother asked recently what was blooming in my new garden, and her question provided the initial inspiration for this post.

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These yellow flowers have been blooming since we arrived here.

The beautiful early spring weather has also encouraged me to share some photos with you. While locals assure me this is too early—February can still bring freezing weather—spring is here nonetheless. I plan to celebrate even if winter resurfaces later.

I still find myself unsure about planting anything given our extreme drought, but I must tend the garden that surrounds me, coaxing it to be its beautiful best. Even if I don’t plant something new, the gardening chores—pulling weeds, picking up spent camellia blooms, trimming dead blooms—invite me to put down roots of sorts, to invest my time and make myself at home in this garden.

I’m excited to see what will spring up. Perhaps this is a tulip magnolia?

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Will this unveil itself as a tulip magnolia?

I’ve discovered mint, and the lavender continues to bloom in force. A variety of yellow flowers bring cheer as they open, and several camellias are showing off.

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The most prolific of the camellia bushes

Familiar plants remind me of home and remind me that this new home is not so foreign after all. There are unfamiliar plants, too: smaller, quieter blooms I cannot yet identify but welcome with eagerness.

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I carried my camera on this morning’s walk, hoping to capture the early spring in pictures. Cheerful birdsong filled the air, a hopeful soundtrack to accompany the beauty budding out on trees and along the ground.

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This tree started blooming a week or two ago and stopped me still mid-stride when I noticed its first blooms, stark against the dark limbs.

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Little purple flowers grow amid grass and rocks by the trail.

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My favorite moment came as I readied the camera to take a close-up of the purple ground-cover flowers. I heard the deep buzz—the kind that rattles your brain in a way a bee could only dream of doing—before I saw the motion. A hummingbird reveled in the purple flowers, too, and I just managed to click the shutter before it sped off, too shy of the dog and me to linger longer.

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Not my best shot but my favorite surprise of the morning.

Before I left Raleigh, one of my dear friends prayed for God to show off for me out here. This morning felt like God delighting in the early spring “garden” and wowing me with hummingbird moments.

Is it humanity’s origins in the garden that cause us to crave what gardens provide? Though not all of us enjoy the feel of cool dirt caked under our fingernails, God can speak to us and make us feel at home in the “gardens”—cultivated or wild—surrounding us.

Some of you may be grumbling that spring seems impossibly far away, but know that the earth is at work even under ice and snow, preparing a showy display of spring for you, too.

And all too soon, I imagine I’ll be wishing to trade places with you to escape the scorching heat and drought of this place. To shore up my spirit and embrace Jeremiah 17:7-8 (flourishing like the tree that doesn’t fear when the heat comes), I need to drink in these beautiful moments so I can call upon God’s showy, golden, thriving spring garden once it is just a memory.

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How do you see God showing off for you these days?

Flourishing Trees

I walked along the greenway with my dog, both of us banished from the house in the middle of the afternoon so strangers could walk through and decide if this would become their new home. I tried to make myself at home with my thoughts, as we crunched leaves underfoot, the dog and I.

I picked up one of the biggest leaves I’ve seen this season—a perfect fall blend of red, yellow and green—and looked up to find the towering tree that shed it. Through the canopy of smaller trees, I spied it, the old giant. I decided to take its leaf home and see if, along the way, I could find its tiniest counterparts. It became a game, and my dog relished the extra stops (more nose-to-the-ground time).

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Fall leaves … giant and small

I’ve finally found the tree that sheds a different sort of huge leaf into my yard every year. It eluded me all these years, shedding its leaves before the shorter, smaller trees shed theirs and therefore making it impossible for me to know which tree dropped the large, brown leaves. The tree lives in a neighbor’s yard and freely shares its leaves with us all.

Frost said, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” and this tree is one of those somethings, caring not one whit for fences or boundary lines or yards that have been freshly raked.

You may not think of trees shedding their leaves this time of year as flourishing trees, but that’s exactly what they are. They’ve learned that to survive the cold and dark of winter, they cannot fight nature. So they shed what they don’t need for a season.

One by one, with a gentle letting go, they drop away burdens they no longer need to hold, should no longer cling to if they want to flourish in the year ahead.

Ah, to be as wise as these trees—beautiful and trusting—as they let go of what is no longer their own. As they prepare for winter, they are also preparing for the coming spring.

Dear God: Please help me be more like these flourishing trees in their season of change. Amen.

I fling up this prayer in hopes of laying down some worries and fears of the season ahead for me … so that after the winter, I will be flourishing, too.

Is there something you’re holding on to that you could let slip gently away? A concern or burden that is no longer yours to carry? Will you let these things drop away from you like so many fall leaves?

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An especially flourishing tree that has covered my recently clean driveway with a golden leaf pile

Drop me a line in the comments below to let me know if you’re able to let go of any worries troubling you. And drop by next week, when I hope to share an exciting announcement about a different sort of flourishing tree.