Tree signs: Forgive

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!


“USA! USA! USA!” Those chants filled my TV yesterday, as I watched the US team succumb to Belgium in the World Cup round of death. I’ve never been a soccer fan (can’t quite call it football yet), but for some reason, this year, I watched as many of USA’s matches as I could. Maybe it was because of the hilarious commentary from Men in Blazers—a British duo that made me laugh and comprehend and hope for a long Team USA run in this World Cup. They seemed more patriotic about American football than most Americans I know. They made me crave cupcakes, too. (Fortunately, I haven’t caved to that craving yet, as I’m still trying to shed pounds from that cheese-laden trip to Vermont.)

But y’all know by now that soccer isn’t likely to replace my favorite sport: track and field. My husband and I journeyed to Sacramento this past weekend to see the US Track and Field National Championships. This is considered an off year because there are no Olympics or World Championships later in the season. It’s the only year in a four-year cycle that this happens. Nonetheless, we enjoyed attending this championship meet.


The women’s 10,000 meter race. Kim Conley (in the coral shorts, hip 17) won the race.


The men’s 5,000 meters. Bernard Lagat (hip 8, 4th from right) went on to win the race.

Some of the races are harder to cheer for than others. I mean, how do you cheer for one runner when there are three or four you’d love to see win? The men’s 5,000 was like that for me Friday night. If we had stayed for the men’s 1500, that race would have been even harder for me to pick who to cheer for.

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What I meant to say

As a writer, I always have ideas and plans and words swirling around in my head, but sometimes, when I actually sit down to write, I forget details I meant to say. Last week’s post is a perfect example.

In talking about resolutions, I wanted to delve into whether our resolutions arise from a sense of lack or a sense of gratitude, but I completely forgot about adding that part in as I sat writing the post. Happily, I remembered for this week’s post.

In thinking of resolutions within the framework of gratitude, an example may help. For instance, if I say that I want to run faster this year, I need to determine whether that desire stems from a feeling that I’m inferior to other runners and should try to catch up or a more healthy desire to challenge myself with a new discipline and goal because I’m running well at my current level but am also blessed with the feeling that I could get even better. Do you see the difference? To the outside world, the result looks the same, but what’s at the heart will determine whether my plan to get faster is worth pursuing.

Toward the end of December, I came across two different discussions about the concept of gratitude that made me think about how and why we make resolutions.

The first came in a newsletter for ZOE, an amazing organization whose mission is “helping orphans and vulnerable children in Africa.” ZOE is all about empowerment instead of hand-outs: helping children gain skills and keep their families together through training and loans that forever change the trajectory of their lives.

I never read one of ZOE’s newsletters without feeling deeply moved and without taking away some piece of wisdom from the children themselves. In this newsletter, a ZOE participant in Mutare, Zimbabwe, said, “I thank God for giving me the opportunity to be enrolled in this great program. The elders have a saying, ‘Kusatenda Huroyi’ (it is a sin not to appreciate good things).”

His statement made me wonder how differently we would live if we embraced Kusatenda Huroyi, if we made it essential to appreciate the good in our lives, even the simple good, instead of taking so much for granted or assuming these things are our right to have.

This week alone, I’ve found myself grateful for (among many) a coat and gloves, a warm home, pipes that didn’t freeze, and a flexible schedule that allowed me to run when the polar vortex was not at its punishing worst. There’s a much longer list of things I’ve overlooked but should be openly grateful for.

The second place where I encountered a new take on gratitude was in C.S. Lewis’ novel Perelandra. Perelandra is the second in Lewis’s space trilogy and takes place mostly on Venus (aka Perelandra), where the trilogy’s hero Dr. Ransom meets and converses with a beautiful lady, who, though she thinks of herself as young and naive, has a lot of wisdom to offer Ransom and us:

“One goes into the forest to pick food and already the thought of one fruit
rather than another has grown up in one’s mind. Then, it may be, one finds
a different fruit and not the fruit one thought of. One joy was expected and
another is given. But this I had never noticed before—that the very moment
of the finding there is in the mind a kind of thrusting back, or setting aside.
And if you wished—if it were possible to wish—you could keep it there.
You could send your soul after the good you had expected, instead of
turning it to the good you had got. You could refuse the real good; you
could make the real fruit taste insipid by thinking of the other.” (p. 59)

How often do I do that in my own life: barely register or even completely miss the good in my present circumstances because I’m so busy reaching for the “good thing” I’m expecting or hoping for? How often do I let my soul turn after the good I expected instead of the good I now have? How often do I make the real fruit in my life taste insipid?

So maybe “presence” needs to be my resolution for the year, a greater awareness that makes me recognize and acknowledge and celebrate all that is good in my life instead of endlessly fretting over the many supposedly better things that I want.

I’m not suggesting that you toss out your plan to run more miles this year or finally organize your closet or exercise at least three days a week or watch less television or whatever other resolutions you have made. I’m simply asking that you look at the why behind your resolutions to see if there are ways you might be missing the good that you have got.

One more thing before I go
By the way, if you’ve read Perelandra, I’d love to discuss it with you sometime (not here, of course, because I don’t want to ruin any surprises for its future readers). There are images that haunt me from it, usually revisiting me when I’m out running and thinking. It’s not action-packed, but it is a beautifully crafted tale.

Lewis had such a gift for capturing our imaginations with fundamental truths that resonate because we know them to be unerringly correct. He was a master at holding up the beautiful mirror to reality that was his fiction, and in so doing, revealing concepts to us that we might have ignored or misunderstood in his nonfiction. But I’m grateful that he wrote both.