I could stand in front of the mirror with arms outstretched, elbows and wrists and all joints bent at fractal-like angles to simulate tree branches, but no mangoes or oranges or bananas hang from my arms. A branch abiding in Christ WILL bear fruit, he said, but this is not the kind of fruit I can slice and artistically arrange on a platter. It’s not fruit I can sink my teeth into or cut up and serve to my children at breakfast.

So, I wonder and I question: Am I fruitful?

A good tree is supposed to bear good fruit. Am I really doing any good during my life on earth? Am I bearing any fruit at all? Then the questions turn into an odd, whining prayer: … ’cause if You’re going to leave me down here, Lord, then you might as well make me fruitful. And if I’m not doing any good here, Lord, then You might as well take me Home (yadda yadda whaa whaa).

It was time for Bible study with my son, so I printed out Matthew 7 and marked it up, as is my habit. Jesus was talking about fruit again:

“So then, you will know them by their fruits.”
(Matthew 7:20)

… and the old questions came nagging back. Am I fruitful? What is the fruit in my life? Am I of any use at all? When my eyes are off Jesus, confusion creeps in, and the meaning of fruitfulness eludes, evades, and becomes vague to my mind that wants all the answers in advance and in detail. What is this fruitfulness? Sure, I can sweep through the Scriptures and figure out something about hundred-fold harvests and love and patience and self-control, but I know that after that study, I will wonder again.

Lord, am I being fruitful for You?

And then, in the very next verse …

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”
(Matthew 7:21)

He who does the will of My Father, Jesus said. You will know them by their fruits. Obedience.

Obedience, all by itself, without regard to any result or consequence, IS fruit. To do God’s will is to ensure fruitfulness. No need to question. No need to wonder.

It would make a great tagline, wouldn’t it?
Obedience. It’s fruitfulness—GUARANTEED.

Father, I do desire to bear fruit for You, and I often don’t know what that looks like in my life. So I thank You for Jesus’ words which give me solid assurance that, at least in obedience, I know I am fruitful. Help me walk by the Holy Spirit, abiding in You and bearing much fruit.


Running with Endurance (How Jogging Helped Me Love)

Two days after Christmas, 2009. I fed my belly with too much lumpia, atole, chocolate cake…

I overindulged. Something had to change. That’s when I started running every day.

We live at the top of the hill, so those first days I ran half a block (downhill) and walked half a block (uphill), three times. Three times around the block wasn’t much. Still, each day built on the one before. Eventually I started running all the way to Oak Valley Ranch Park (a whopping quarter-mile—downhill), around the park some, and then back home (walking).

The momentous day I tried running uphill, I think I was “running” as fast as I walk. But I did it and did it the next day, too.

I’ve been running daily for more than two years now, working up from almost-negligible, to three miles a day. I still go slowly, but I go.

Earlier this year, someone close to me had hurt me. I was angry like a mad dog. That Wednesday and Thursday were the most raging days I could remember. I fed my heart with too much bitterness, resentment, near-hatred (or, if I dare to admit, just plain straight-out hatred)…

I overindulged in anger. Something had to change.

When I jog, it’s always a pray-run. As I jogged that angry Wednesday I asked God my standard question that works for any circumstance. It is a standing prayer: “Father, how do You want me to respond?” When I pray like this, I often get no neon sign, no immediate answer.

But this time it was immediate, in big, flashing neon:
Love her.

Impossible, I thought, feeling my upper lip wrinkle. IM-POSS-I-BLE.

Yet I chose to remember God’s works in my past, and the remembering was crucial. Though I felt the opposite inside, I prayed out loud in faith: God, I remember years ago when I thought it was impossible to forgive Daly. But you did the impossible and helped me forgive in that relationship. I believe you can do it again, in this relationship. (I spoke these words with my vocal cords, but inside I thought, yeah, right.)

I turned left, up Centennial Blvd (the steepest part of my running route). God brought to mind the run with endurance verses. I felt my leg muscles pushing off the pavement, steadily, and I realized I no longer consider that steep part difficult. There was a time, though, when I refused even to attempt that route, turning right instead of left because there was no way I could run up that hill.

But one day I tried it, and it was hard. After doing it every time it was not only possible but, beyond that, no longer difficult.

This brought new meaning to the phrase “run with endurance.” If I would try loving her just once, then, as I build up my endurance, repeating loving acts, then rather than seeming impossible, it would actually no longer be difficult. It would eventually become easy (the yoke of Jesus is like that).

In order to “run with endurance,” I first had to … start running.

Run a little now, and a little more tomorrow, and the endurance will keep building. The biblical run with endurance doesn’t happen at the first attempt; it happens over time, when I run over and over. It doesn’t mean I can wake up in the morning and, if I set my jaw firmly enough with a bullet between my teeth, I can finish any race, whether marathon or hundred-meter dash. Endurance is built up, not instant.

The transformative process is always done little by little, small obediences over and over.
Jean Fleming

I turned left to do the steep uphill in this relationship. My first act of obedience was to call her on the phone. A little later, I called her again simply to ask, “How are you?” I kept running up the hill, showing her acts of love, because my Father told me to love her.

It occurs to me that, now, I don’t consider this a hard path. Not anymore.

Father, thank you for teaching me how to run with endurance. Get me started in the areas I still haven’t tried the hill. Keep me going in the areas I have.

…and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…
(Hebrews 12:1-2)

(Linking with Ann Voskamp, who hosts a community of those who share about Love. Click on the Holy Experience badge below to read more posts on Love!)

Know and Do

Wise and Otherwise is one of my favorite board games. It’s similar to the “dictionary game” (you’re given an obscure word, then you make up a definition that you think others will vote for), except instead of being given a word, you’re given the first half of an ancient proverb from a different country. Then you invent the rest of the proverb, hoping others will vote for yours.

An example:
Continue reading

Like a Boy and His Rat

Tear stains on a Bible tell us that someone in grief fled to the God of all comfort.

Coffee stains on a Bible tell us that she sat with the Word over morning coffee—a date with God.

Rat-urine stains on a Bible tell us that . . .

Well, this is a story that tells how I find spiritual rest.

A fifth-grade boy arrived to Sunday School early, so we had time to chat.

“My rat peed on my Bible again,” he shared.

My first thought: Again? I imagined the scenario: he took the rat from its cage to play with and pet it. The rat, free to roam, then wandered onto the bookshelf and had an accident on the Bible.

Trying to be helpful, I suggested, “Maybe you shouldn’t let your rat on your Bible anymore.” (That just made sense to me.)

“Yeah, I guess I need to quit having quiet times with my rat.”

In my spirit, party-noisemakers rattled in loud celebration! Internal fireworks brought a joyful rush to my heart rate, for I thought not of the rank odor nor of the defaced, unsanitary reading material. I thought of the fact that this boy has quiet times! This boy feeds his hunger for God’s Word!

Rat urine on a Bible. I never knew the thought could thrill me so, but I was thrilled! That boy is well on his way, for even now he is getting to know God better through His Word.

(Don’t worry, he said the rat thing won’t happen again.)

I come to God every afternoon, sitting at His feet, eager for His Word in the Book open before me. This is how I find spiritual rest (just like the boy—minus the rat).

Fast-forward to several weeks later. I remembered this conversation again but this time wondered: What if this happened not with another person’s child in a church classroom, but with my own child in my own home? Would I have rejoiced?

I live with myself, and I know how it would have been. I would have been angry. I would have been annoyed at the mess. I would have been in a rage at the ruined Bible, the very special one that we presented to him upon entering first grade.

Thank God—truth hurts, but it also makes aware and, perhaps surprisingly, is another way to find rest for my soul. When I’m on the wrong path and God shows me the right one (and I follow), I go from inner tension and angst to peacefull stillness and rest. Obedience leads to rest.

Father, help me as I want to be the parent you want me to be. Help me rejoice in the blessings and to see the causes for celebration, even in the midst of ugly messes. Thank you for your mercy on me. Help me to see with Christlike vision.

And Father, thank You for the blessing of Your Word revealed to me, and for the fact that I can own and read the Bible openly and without fear. Thank you for the ways You give me rest.


Resting in Obedience

“Spring Break” comes too late for my liking, so every year we take a week off in the winter. A winter break is one strategy to avoid the annual spring almost-burnout I used to experience.

Every year, we always take one week off in Febrary/March, and we always go to Grandma and Grandpa’s. It’s the ideal vacation spot: the price is right (free food and lodging); the boys get grandparent time (one highlight is getting to do the horse-poop chores with Grandpa!); I get to cook to my heart’s content and not do any dishes; and they live near The Black Canyon of the Gunnison (cross-country skiing!). On top of that, Ouray with its Hot Springs pool is only forty minutes away.

On day four of vacation I awoke in my in-laws’ guest bed, always nice and heavy with the warmest of blankets. The grandfather clock ding-donged 7:00 in the morning. Grandma was making her famous sourdough waffles (I could tell just by the sounds) while our boys played with Lincoln Logs and Legos (again, I could tell by the sounds). Yet in spite of these things, somehow my spirit felt stressed. How could this be? More than halfway through my longed-for winter break, I still felt an inner unrest. What was going on? Why the restlessness in an ideal situation of rest?

Thus says the LORD,
“Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths,
Where the good way is, and walk in it;
And you shall find rest for your souls.”

(Jeremiah 6:16)

The promise is that I will find rest for my soul if I walk in the right and good way. That is, obedience results in soul-rest. The deepest rest follows obedience.

This, like much of what I find in the Bible, seems counterintuitive. Jesus said to take His burden and yoke, and then I will find rest. The result of a burden is rest?

Rest is not always what I think it is. Rest does not automatically happen when I remove myself from daily responsibilites and go to Mom and Dad’s. Rest does not require a getaway but can happen right in the middle of day-to-day tasks. My soul finds rest when I walk in God’s paths. I know, because thus says the Lord.

Father, I stand by Your ways. I see Your movings and doings. I ask for the eternal paths, where Your good way is. What is Your path, Your way? Father, I take the steps on that path. I will walk in it. Thank You for Your promised rest for my soul.