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?

Thankful for trees and books and a book about trees

I’ve got exciting news this Thanksgiving Eve! My book The Flourishing Tree is available for purchase.

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Available now at Lulu.com

It will be available only through Lulu until sometime early in the new year, when it will be widely available (Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc.). For those of you who prefer electronics to paper, you may purchase the eBook through Lulu, too. To celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, the eBook is on sale for $3.99 through Monday (it’s regularly $8.99). The paperback version is on sale for 20% off.

Thank you for your support
How many of you remember the Bartles & Jaymes commercials from many years ago? You know, the ones with the two old guys who always ended by saying “Thank you for your support.” Well, let me quote them here: “Thank you for your support.” Those of you who follow this blog have encouraged me and lifted me up and helped me get here today. I am deeply grateful for you.

If you like the book, would you do me another favor? Would you rate it on Lulu? Would you leave some feedback for me here? Or at hopesquires.com? I’d love to hear how this book touches you.

My hope for the book
I hope those of you who read the book will walk away with a renewed sense of God’s unfailing love and grace for you. I hope you’ll be encouraged in your faith journey. I hope you will experience a new (or renewed) excitement for pursuing a relationship with God. And I hope the book will fill you with God’s light.

Together, you and I can be bearers of the light. We live in a broken world, and it is easy to feel overcome by the strife and despair and sorrow and violence in this world. Yesterday morning, the morning after Ferguson erupted in fresh riots, I was out running with my dog. Two chickadees dropped to the road from a high limb of a tree, hitting the pavement with a loud “thwack.” I thought they might be babies falling from a nest, but they were full-grown and in full fight mode. Their battle made me despair, “If even the birds are at war with one another, what hope is there for humans to heal their differences?”

Yet God calls us to let our light shine and to love one another. In the days to come, may you find moments that heal the broken places inside of you, and may you encounter ways both tender and loud that shine through with the light of God’s love for us all.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all. I hope your travels will be safe and cheerful. I hope you find yourself in the company of those you love. I hope your bellies and your hearts will be filled with all good things.

 

The fragility we’d like to ignore

Newtown, Boston and now Moore force us to confront issues we often prefer to ignore. But seeing the devastation of the tornado that swept through Oklahoma on Monday and trying to explain that level of loss to ourselves and our children make us face the fact that life is fragile.

We’d like to ignore this inconvenient fact, this fragility of life. Some ignore it by sky-diving or bungee jumping or participating in other extreme sports. “Hah! See. I have cheated death.” Others fight this fact by diving into medical research to find cures for incurable diseases. Others by trying to create stronger safe rooms that can withstand the fury of an EF-5 tornado.

I think on some level, we all try to deny this fragility of life by simply getting out of bed each day and going about our normal activities.

But how do we respond when the evil in humankind (Newtown and Boston) or the power of nature force us to stop and look head on at how quickly life can change? Some travel to the site to help physically. Some donate money. Some read news stories looking for nuggets of hope, such as the news of a lower death toll than originally reported in the tornado’s aftermath and videos like this interview with a woman who is reunited with her dog during a news interview.

Those of us who are believers pray. We turn to God for answers even where we know there are no easy answers. We trust that though life is fragile here in this earthly place, there is a heaven where life endures, where cancer doesn’t grow and kill, where murder never happens, where tornados never tear communities apart.

I’m not Catholic, but there are times that I deeply appreciate the Catholic church’s rosaries and candles and other physical reminders of God calling us to prayer. After all, in prayer, God can strengthen us. In prayer, we acknowledge our fragile lives. In prayer, we remember that nothing can separate us from God.

I leave you today with images from San Jose Mission in San Antonio, Texas. This beautiful place brought me peace on a hot, baking day this past weekend, and I hope the pictures will be for you an invitation to prayer.

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Notice the sign: Please do not climb on this tree. It is fragile.

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An angel watches over passersby, detail on the exterior of the mission

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A much more ornate altar than I expected to find in this place

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A small statue of Mary tucked away in a corner

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Candles of prayer and petition

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On the grounds of Mission San Jose