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.

Nine lights that used to shine

This wasn’t the post I had planned to share with you today, but sometimes, life interrupts us and won’t let us go back to “normal,” won’t let us forget what we still need to address and honor and remember. So today, I lit nine candles for nine lights that used to shine in Charleston.

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Notice how the light dances and spreads. Even with only nine flames, there are far more points of light in the picture. But blow out the candles, and the light leaves not only the candle’s wick but also the places where it had previously shared its light.

I’d like to honor each of the nine lovely men and women of Charleston who died too soon, who died because of the color of their skin, who died in a holy place, who died studying God’s word for them, who died because we are a country unwilling to curb our appetite for guns, who died because of a white man’s poisoned heart and mind, who died at the hands of one to whom they had shown kindness and hospitality, who died because sometimes hate wins a temporary battle here, who died confident they were bound for glory.

I have chosen verses for all of them based on what little I have learned about them this past week. They all lived lives worth celebrating, and I hope these verses help reflect the love they felt for God and the love God feels for them. May they rekindle some light in us all.

Susie Jackson, 87: “Her children rise up and bless her; … A woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her the products of her hands, And let her works praise her in the gates.” (Proverbs 31:28, 30–31)

The Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sr., 74: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39)

Ethel Lance, 70: “Therefore you too have grief now, but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” (John 16:22)

Myra Thompson, 59: “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:9–11)

Cynthia Graham Hurd, 54: “The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.” (Revelation 3:5, NIV)

The Rev. DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49: “I will sing of lovingkindness and justice, to You, O Lord, I will sing praises. I will give heed to the blameless way. When will you walk with me? I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart.” (Psalm 101:1–2)

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7–8, NIV)

The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41: “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, … proving to be an example to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:1–5)

Tywanza Sanders, 26: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:12-14)

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John 1:5 has been a favorite verse of mine for many years. Some translations use the word overcome instead of comprehend. I love it either way, because it delivers a message of hope, of love, of power, of triumph over evil.

Do you have a verse that has helped you this past week? If so, I would love for you to share it in the comments below.


Please come again next week for an update on last week’s owl post. I won’t have forgotten the  important events in Charleston, and I hope you won’t either. But the owl’s is a story I want to share with you, too.

For my nephew and his bride on the eve of their wedding

My dear nephew and his bride,

Your wedding is tomorrow. You won’t have time to really read and take this in today, but it’ll be here when you do.

It’s hard to imagine that the little blond baby I fell head over heels in love with at the hospital not that long ago is ready to take a bride, but the two of you have declared your intentions to walk together from now on. Your new life as husband and wife begins tomorrow.

To wish you well along your journey together, I’ve asked some friends to share their advice with the two of you. I’m including some of my own thoughts, as well as some “white wedding-y” flower photos, all taken since you two first met.

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You may hear, especially this first year, that the first year of married life is the hardest. That may be true for you, as your final year of college will bring its own special kind of stress and difficulties. But don’t get complacent after you’ve made it through the first year: it’s not necessarily true that the first year is the hardest. Marriage will always take effort. Expect ups and downs throughout your marriage. There will be good days and bad days, good years and tough ones. Agree from the start that you will weather these together.

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Marriage is not a contest or a competition. At times, one of you may bring more to the relationship than the other. Accepting that you won’t always contribute 50-50 will save you from many tears and frustrations.

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You are at the same time still young but also grown and ready to make life-changing decisions. Know that you will both change—possibly a lot—in your twenties. Your hopes will change. Your dreams will change. Your goals will change. May you grow stronger together as you encounter these inevitable changes.

Because you are marrying now, before you have figured out your vocations and avocations, you will likely have to make sacrifices for the happiness of your spouse. It may feel too hard sometimes to put your personal dreams on hold, but expect there to be times (maybe years at a time) when your personal goals and dreams do not get to come first.

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I know it’s hard to imagine not wanting to be together all the time, and you should enjoy each other’s company and enjoy many of the same hobbies and activities. But also give yourselves time and space to cultivate interests that you don’t both necessarily share. Think of this space in your marriage as a way to bring out the best in each other. As counterintuitive as it may seem, these differences can enrich your marriage and make you stronger together.

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Your marriage isn’t all about you. You are part of something greater than just the two of you. I hope you’ll find a way to bring your strengths as a couple to share with those around you. And I hope you’ll lean on your faith to help you learn how you are to love yourselves and others as fully as possible. Henri Nouwen wrote it beautifully:

… I have love to offer to people, not only here, but also beyond my short, little life. I am a human being who was loved by God before I was born and whom God will love after I die. This brief lifetime is my opportunity to receive love, deepen love, grow in love, and give love.

Finding My Way Home, 139-40

Speaking of faith, I hope you won’t ignore its importance in your relationship. God’s love is a perfect love and can teach you how to love each other even when you don’t really much like each other. A faith community is also a vital way to grow together, develop abiding friendships, and find mentors and other couples who can hold you accountable for your actions within your marriage. Many of my friends who married young attribute their successful marriage to a strong faith and the communities of faith that have supported them in difficult times.

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I could ramble on, but I’ll stop here. I wish you joy. I love you. I pray you will, together, be exceptional.


As promised here is some advice from friends across the country. Some have had long and happy marriages. Some have learned hard lessons in divorce and remarriage. All have walked the road ahead of you and have wisdom to share with you.

On changing (for good and for bad)

  • “My grandmother told me when I got married (at 19 years old) that whatever they do when you get married they will keep doing. Whatever they do NOT do, they will continue NOT doing. Don’t expect people to change when you get married.”
  • “We are always developing as individuals and as couples. Never stop trying to ‘get to know’ your partner. You are both new people every day.”

On inevitable fights

  • “Using slogans such as ‘How important is it?’ would have resulted in fewer stupid arguments and less resentments resulting from the petty stuff we might notice when we are younger.”
  • “Pick your battles. Everything is NOT worth a disagreement. This advice has helped us to have almost 20 years of happiness.”
  • “I think the word ‘blame’ should be eliminated from the vocabulary. The idea of blame is intrinsically crippling. That is why it is spelled B LAME.”
  • “My mantras: 1. Accept and embrace imperfection, in myself and others. 2. Refrain from personalizing—other people’s feelings are usually not due to you. They are feelings. 3. Pause before reacting. 4. Choose encouragement, not criticism. 5. In discussions, say ‘I feel’ rather than ‘You should’ 6. Approach your days with kindness, savoring and gratitude. 7. Give as you would like to receive. (an iteration of the Golden Rule, of course!) 8. Let go. Let love.”
  • “You don’t always have to be right. In 35 years it won’t matter anyway. When we got married our theme was ‘Divorce is not an option.'”
  • “My advice is to be honest and truthful but not hurtful in the process. Remember, the person you are speaking to holds the other half of your heart. So treat it with care.  There is a gentle way to address all situations and you can NEVER take back words said in spite disguised as honesty.”

On compromise

  • “Marriage is a compromise where things don’t turn out like she or he wants, but instead how the couple, as one, wants. It’s worked for 32 years and counting. There’s no more you and me; it’s now us and we.”

On your future together

  • “Talk about money, and save money together. Start now, not later.”
  • “Do not hurry to have children.” [I would add: be willing to revisit your decision not to have children, as your desires may change over time. They may not, but be open to an honest conversation on this huge decision.]
  • “Make time to do things together. Plan mini vacations.”
  • “Remember that in marriage there are many ups and downs. There will be days you wake up and are so in love with your spouse and others you can’t seem to stand to look at them, but these times are normal and will ebb and flow. It doesn’t mean the love is gone; it returns! Stay patient and work and remember it isn’t always easy, but with God in the center of your marriage, you can conquer all!”

On luck and blessings that will keep your marriage going

  • “I know this isn’t a very Christian perspective, but I feel extremely ‘lucky’ that our marriage has been what it is. We were so young and naive.”
  • “These are the only things I can think of that are authentic and sincere: May you laugh together every day, find things you love to do together and separately, and grow up together.”

To all the rest of you reading this, what advice, blessings or well wishes would you add to send off this young couple into their marriage?