The Beauty and The Fear

This seemed like an appropriate time to repost this gem from 2013, in a world that existed prior to Bedrocks and Borderlands. The past two days we have been experiencing the Houston Ice-capades of 2018 and I couldn’t help but revisit the wisdom the last real winter taught me.

Houston winters are fickle at best. One day you are traipsing around in sandals and shorts and the next morning, you are searching the deep dark corners of the wardrobe for your winter coat, the one you bought for that one trip up north.

Today is of the latter variety. Last night the thunder rolled in. Trees crackled and snapped all night. And I awoke to icicles adorning every branch and poorly placed power line in my backyard. As I drove, ever so cautiously, to work on the outskirts of this fine city, I began to notice the trees. From the highway, being eye to eye with the treetops in the distance, their adornment was stunning. It was as though they were wearing the most beautiful gown, hand-beaded by the most sought after designer. Their leaves and branches shimmered as the weight of the ice enhanced every curve and crevice of their magnificent figures. Beautiful.

But as I exited the highway and turned off onto the road that takes me daily to my work, I had a new perspective. I was no longer standing among the trees as though they were my peers. Rather, I was beneath their branches, and I felt small. Most days, I drive that road in awe. It is easily the best part of my commute. The way the sun streams through the branches…I am transported to a land of magic and fairy tales and legends of heroes defeating evil, my own personal Terabithia.  But today, those trees were not the guards ushering in life. Today, those trees were bent, heavy with the burden of slowness. This slowness is seen in the ice that weighs them down. It is only water, the very thing that they need to grow and stand tall. But last night, as temperatures dropped, those molecules of water slowed down and changed. Some trees held the weight well, took the change in stride. But, many others were bent so low that I feared that they might come crashing onto me in a moments notice. Others had already met that fate, limbs were strewn about the ground, evidence of a burden too heavy. And honestly, a drive usually marked by warmth and light, was marked today by heaviness and a little fear.

And I see myself in those trees. I see those of us who are shepherding others in those trees. Sometimes, we get into the groove of the normalcy of life, it’s bright and warm and full of the hope of a faraway land. We feel strong, like we could conquer anything in this light, and others see it too, this magical strength, this ushering in of life. But then, sometimes overnight, things suddenly slow. The things that have nourished us transform ever so slightly, molecules rearranged, and we bend under the heaviness. And bending is fine, we were made to bend. Our knees bend to absorb the shock of force when we jump or run. But if our knees are not strong enough, if the trees are not strong enough, too much force and weight will break them. And if we -leaders, parents- are not strong enough, too much of this slow burden will break us. Of course, strength doesn’t come from oneself. It never does, not with trees or people. Strength for those trees is developed over years, from the first sprout of the seed-the depth of the reach of roots and the nourishing quality of the soil they are planted in. Many trees can grow tall without ever growing strong. And you and I can as well. We can reach great heights but if our roots never reached great depths, or if we are not nourished by the soil of Truth and Life, we will be broken by the heaviness of the burden. And if that is our state, if we are not standing in a strength of faith having been built up over the years, we are a danger to those beneath us.

But, when we have grown up with the strength of The Lord soaking into our every fiber, when our strength comes from the Source, then everything looks different. We may bend, but when our view is from the heavens downward, the bending of the branches gleams with a beauty of the intricate work of the most glorious Designer, the Strong Creator, Elohim. He sometimes pours His light through our branches and He sometimes adorns them with the slowness of burdens. When He is our strength, the threat of danger is over shadowed by the careful work of His detailed and purposeful delight and design.

May we be leaders who soak in the gifts of The Light and the days that warm us so that we might stand when the tiny molecules of our plans are rearranged and become heavy.



Do you know what I love about a new year? It’s the same thing that draws my stomach into my throat. Anticipation. Is there anything better? Is there anything worse?

Anticipation brings the opportunity for hope. Bright eyes, looking out at a horizon full of potential and space to be filled with life. But, it can also induce stress. Anticipation can fill your ears with the whispers of “what ifs”. It’s a little bit room to breathe and a little bit waiting for the shoe to drop.

For me, I need something to keep me grounded between the two extremes of anticipation. If I’m not paying attention, I will swing all the way over to the bright side and start counting my eggs before they hatch. This of course tends to send the pendulum swinging back to the wings of worry when things don’t move in the direction or pace I had expected. And so, the word and verse for the year help steady my feet and heart as I move forward.


Some years, it takes weeks to land on a word. Cultivate came in the span of approximately 5 minutes. It makes sense. It has been a year of being stretched beyond the limits. God has been faithful beyond expectation. Now, He is asking for me to dig into the gifts He has given. He is inviting me to the slow, intentional process of partnering with Him in the growth of those gifts. I must admit that this word intimidates me due to the reality that every plant I have ever attempted to cultivate has shriveled up and died in a matter of days, weeks at best. I don’t have the best track record in the realm of cultivation, but maybe this will be the year the roots hold strong.

These year-shaping words always take on new meanings by December, so who knows how “cultivate” will unfurl across the field of 2018, but from my current view, here is the significance I see:

I will cultivate relationships. God has filled my life with people. I have a church, a community, and students that bless and challenge me. These relationships are not easy. They take work. They have thorns. But they are beautiful. What I discovered in 2017, or rather re-discovered, is that staying, being patient, and initiating difficult conversations pays off. It is easy to give up on people, ourselves and others. It is easy to leave. I will not leave. I will cultivate.

I will cultivate gifts and talents. I have a little more than a year of seminary left in front of me. I’m antsy. It’s taken longer than I planned. And still, I believe it is worth the time and effort. I will cultivate the lessons God is teaching me through grad school. And, I will cultivate my writing. I have committed to writing a study on a passage from Exodus and it scares the living daylights out of me. I’m great at starting. Not so much at completing.

I will cultivate responsibility and generosity.

I will cultivate patience and peace.

I will cultivate laughter and gratitude.

I will cultivate a faith in my God who does not fail.
Speaking of which, my verse for the year is Psalm 37:23-24.

The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
    He delights in every detail of their lives.
Though they stumble, they will never fall,
    for the Lord holds them by the hand.

Psalm 37:23-24 (NLT)

Unlike my word, this verse did take a bit of time to settle on. I was on the lookout for a verse of action. Some word of truth that would tell me what to DO. It seems that what I’m supposed to DO this year is trust. I mentioned in my year-end reflection that the Lord recently asked me to trust him for something that I had previously worked through to the point of being ok if the answer was always “No”. Even in the two weeks since, I have been totally disarmed in this area. I feel raw and vulnerable and my very loud doubts are certain that I am being set up for disappointment and failure. I literally said out loud to the Lord, “If you ask me to be open to this and it doesn’t happen, I don’t know that my faith will survive that.” Even as I spoke those words, I knew it wasn’t true. My faith is shaky at best, but the one who holds me up, He is steady and He will not let go. I believe God is going to ask for more of my trust and availability before I begin to see the result of what He is doing here. And I think that is why this is the verse He gave me.

There will be other reasons as well. Life in general is full of challenges. I love that verse 23 says, “He delights in every detail of their lives.” What a sweet picture! He cares about the details. He LOVES the details. He gets down right into the middle of the details.

I can guarantee that I will stumble this year. There has yet to be a year of my life where I haven’t. But, I get up and walk on because the Lord holds me.

2018. A year to cultivate and trust. What is shaping your year?


Well, here we are once again. It’s the end of another year. The other day I almost wrote 2016 on a document. I’m in trouble come January.

It’s been a quite year in the world of writing but I cannot miss the chance to reflect on the year. This year in particular has no shortage of blessings and difficulties to mine for treasures.

As I have for the last few years, I set a framework at the start of 2017. A word and verse to shape my perspective throughout the year.  My one word was “BEYOND” and my verse, Philippians 2:3-4, a verse about living beyond oneself and stepping into the lives of others. And it has certainly been 12 months of “beyond”.

As I was reflecting on 2017 the other day, I jotted down a short poem that has helped me unpack the past year.


Answers beyond my asking
Provision beyond my plans
Trials beyond my strength
Sight beyond the secondhand
And to finish out the longest year
He is asking for one bit more
Faith beyond the silent fear
That nothing lies beyond the door




For those who know me, you are likely aware that this was a year of finding the far side of grief. I knew there would be many changes in front of me as I stepped into 2017, and I was asking for particulars. Only, I was apparently asking small when God wanted to give big.

For example, I knew I would be moving and sane roommates are an important detail. And that is exactly what I asked for: a sane roommate. Only, God had more in mind. Not only is my roommate sane and self-aware, she is incredibly fun. We don’t tiptoe around each other. We don’t simply share space. We share life. It is the sweetest gift.

I asked to live near community. I didn’t imagine that community would live downstairs.

I requested to be near a certain area of town. I’m right in the heart of that area.

Why do we ask so small? Our God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). And yet, for some reason, I constantly fear asking for too much. As though I’ve used up my fair share of God’s goodness and should leave some for others. Pro tip: There is no limit to God’s goodness.


Ms. Woods. Until this year, the only people who called me “Ms. Woods” were bank tellers and insurance salesmen. Now, in the span of a day, I hear my last name approximately 900 times more than my first. That is because I am a teacher. Wait. I need to write that again. I am a teacher.

I had a short stint of teaching a few years ago, but my students called me “Ms. Erin”. Now, I am “Ms. Woods” or sometimes “Mrs. Woods” because when most of your teachers are Mrs., it can be difficult to remember Ms. I get to teach 5th and 6th graders God’s Word. It’s pretty great. Not without its challenges, but nonetheless sweet.

This is provision beyond my plans because I never planned to be a teacher. Not in this sense. However, when the calling you felt when you were 12 takes some sharp turns and derails, you sort of approach the professional world with open hands. I applied for a billion ministry positions and was constantly met with “We love you and you are most definitely made for this job, but we are hiring someone else.” That is always an interesting  conversation to process. All of those really affirming (totally serious) rejections led me to substitute teaching, which in turn led me to a full-time position in the world of education.


The first half of my year was marked by social anxiety and fear and grief and internal battles like I have never known. Typically, I speak to strangers as though we’ve grown up next door to one another. Social anxiety was a completely new experience. It is especially strange to recognize exactly what is happening and have no earthly idea how to come to that moment differently.

I had gone back to the church I attended prior to my years in youth ministry. It was a church I helped plant. A place where I knew so many people. So many knew me. And yet, I felt invisible. I showed up over and over, bringing all I had to bring, and just could not find my footing. A lot changes in 3 years. The church had grown and changed. I had grown and changed. It was as though I was attempting to plug in a lamp while being blindfolded. I couldn’t find the connection and feared that grasping around for it might end poorly…fingers in a socket is an unhealthy connection.

It was incredibly isolating and painful to feel like a stranger in a community I was so sure I should be easily sliding back into. Even more isolating was the feeling of being a stranger to myself. Who was this woman who feared meeting people and who floated through days wearing a mask? But, that was the first half of the year. Now, we are here, on the far side, and things look much different. Brighter…the lamp is plugged in, and I am finding more and more of the woman I recognize.


There isn’t a ton of ways to unpack this part. In short, much of this year was, and is, learning to see beyond what I feel in the moment. I’m a 4 in the world of the enneagram, which in short means I feel things fully. I once had a counselor explain my emotional experience (and frustration with those who do not seem to understand it) in this way: “You are sharing your experience of painting with oils. There are textures. Your colors blend. It is a rich and complex painting and you are trying to help people recreate it. The problem is that they don’t have the tools you do. They are working with crayons and will never be able to see what you see.” Mind blown. Now, this is in no way meant to belittle anyone. We are all wired differently. I feel everything and am willing to feel every bit of it until I find the treasures buried in the experience. Knowing this and embracing it helps me to also recognize when I am missing out on valuable moments and relationships because I’m stubbornly refusing to look beyond the emotion.


The details of this beyond are for me and The Holy Spirit to know and sort out. What I will say is that the Lord snuck this in at the wire. He is asking me to be available to things that I apparently had decided were not available to me. This should be fun and incredibly terrifying.


“Lift your heads to extend love to others…Get beyond yourselves…secure your neighbor’s interest first.”

Do any of us have this figured out yet? I sit;l have much to learn about getting beyond myself. Living in Houston in 2017 provided plenty of opportunities to learn. Our entire city was under water, for days. And somehow, not one member of my family lost a thing in the flood. This told me one thing: Erin, you are free to help someone else. There was nothing keeping me from wading into the lives of my neighbors and anything that was, purely stemmed from selfishness. But let me tell you, there is such joy in coming alongside your hurting neighbors and helping them clear space for new life. It’s messy and hard work and sometimes awkward, but it is also sweet and powerful and good.

There were other opportunities for learning. Some, I recognized and leapt into immediately. Some, I recognized and pretended to not notice. And some, I just didn’t see. There is much room for growth and I look forward t continuing to get beyond Erin’s little world. There is so much life to be shared.

2017, you were a year to remember. A roller coaster. Terrifying turns and steep drops I was sure would send me soaring into the nearest grave. And squeals of delight with feet dangling and hands in the air. And just like the end of the roller coaster ride, the fear seems like a faint memory and the child-like giddiness courses through my veins.