Watermarks: 2018

It is May 2019 and I have just sat down to write my reflection of 2018. Though we are not quite halfway through this year, the last year feels like a completely different era. One which, I quite frankly, would be happy to not remember aside from the very unavoidable reality that it has shaped who I am becoming. This is true of every memory, of course, but it lays particularly heavy on the memory of 2018.

It would be easy to just skip over this post and my 2019 Framework post since it is so late in coming. However, if only for the sake of tracing the work of God for myself, it seems valuable. Better late than never. I’m tempted to tell more of the story since we are months removed from the events of 2018, but I won’t. I will reserve this post for reflection on the past. The present and future are reserved for another time.

As in past years, 2018 was given a framework:  a word and verse to shape my perspective throughout the year.  My word was “CULTIVATE” and my verse, Psalm 37:23-24.

I entered the year with a hopeful bewilderment over the word CULTIVATE. I am known to some (mostly the unkindly realistic voices in my head) as the Botanical Butcher, mass murderer of all plant-life. Still, I knew this was the framework through which I would observe and engage in 2018.  And Psalm 37!  He delights in every detail! He directs my steps! What a promise!

I would surely see life emerge from the dust in 2018. I was sure of it. And I was so very right and so very wrong.

The first half of 2018 was delightful. I was settled into my new teaching job and experiencing such joy and inspiration in the classroom. I was settled into community and watching the boundaries of that community expand. Cultivation was happening intentionally. It did not come without struggle, but was so rooted in joy that the struggle felt more than worth it. Opportunity to invest in others and myself abounded. People spoke life over me. Doors opened for me to write and lead and teach.

Yes.

I had told the Lord that I would say yes to every opportunity to grow in my writing and teaching. I was doing the work, cultivating the seeds.

Then a man entered the picture. He seemed to be the fulfillment of long-awaited promises and recently refreshed hope. He felt like a best friend. And I continued to cultivate. I did my best to invest in that relationship with the same intention as the other opportunities of life. And he supported me in my other pursuits. He wanted to know what I know, to learn from and with me. And I wanted to learn from him, from his story, his life, his faith. There were struggles that concerned me but I was listening to The Lord and hearing Him more clearly than ever. Plus, He delights in every detail. He directs our steps. I believed. I trusted. I invested.

Much of the cultivation of 2018 led to visible fruit. Journeying with the women of my church through The Exodus Gospel was by far the highlight of 2018. It was hard work. There was dirt under my nails and blisters on my hands from the tilling and planting and patiently tending. And it bore the sweetest fruit of new friendships, communal growth, and Kingdom impact.

Then there was the cultivation that did not produce, despite the promising beginnings. The man left. From words of devotion to complete disregard in a matter of moments. I was heartbroken. This is the first romantic heartbreak for me, and it is debilitating. Without going into too much detail, the likes of which are reserved for those who walked with me through it, the second half of 2018 was marked by pain. Every glimpse of healing was bowled over by storms grief, which came barreling through without notice, destroying again and again the garden I’d so carefully cultivated.

Long story short, cultivation did not yield the fruit I’d expected. The life I was so sure I’d see rising from the dust instead seemed to wither away. The Botanical Butcher at her finest. Of course, things are not always as they seem. There may be a seed sleeping beneath the surface waiting to spring forth in new life in the right season. We shall see.

Oh, and it turns out that the promise of Psalm 37:23-24 I would be resting in was not the delight or direction, but rather the determined grip of a God who holds onto our hands when we stumble.

(Stay tuned for Framework:2019. Surely it shall be posted before the year is halfway gone.)

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.

Framework:2018

2018.

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.

CULTIVATE.

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?