“What I lack, You are full of. Where I’m broken, You are whole. What I’m doubting, You are sure of. I’ll trust the lover of my soul.”
— Jonathan McReynolds
“What I lack, You are full of. Where I’m broken, You are whole. What I’m doubting, You are sure of. I’ll trust the lover of my soul.”
— Jonathan McReynolds
I am a biology nerd. Life, in all its forms and complexities, has fascinated me from very young. There is an order to the natural world that defies my human intellect and knowledge.
One biology lesson from early on I have always remembered has to do with trees. It came to me after I posted ‘Iceland Lessons’ and continued to think about the country (I must visit again!). The lack of trees. The soil erosion. The ongoing reforestation project of the country. Its not just the aesthetic of greenery which need to be restored; the roots are of paramount importance.
I always paid attention in Mr. Bernard’s science class. Side note: he looked a bit like Eddie Munster from the old show, The Munsters). He taught that roots are the lifeline of any plant. They take in air, water and nutrients, then distribute said items to the plant; functioning much like our human circulatory system. However, roots play an important role in soil fertility and preservation. Roots anchor the tree, help soil remain stable and stationary through rains, storms and other forces. No trees mean no root systems, which means soil erosion. Which, in turn, can leave the land susceptible to wind and barrenness. I also learned the more vast the root system beneath, the higher and wider the canopy of leaves can spread. There is no beauty above ground without the sure anchor beneath. There is no strength in whatever stature the tree can attain without the mooring below ground. And THATS where my spiritual eye opened!
What’s my heart anchored to? Where do I draw confidence from? What keeps me tethered to truth when faced with rejection? What keeps me standing when winds of turmoil are unleashed? Those are questions we each should ask ourselves. The answers should provide some insight into where our ultimate trust lies. I dont believe it a coincidence how trees and roots are often used as metaphors in the Bible; the natural world is used to illuminate the spiritual (1 Corinthians 15:46). Roots, moorings, tethering, anchors; they all guide and dictate the paths of our lives. I want to be like the tree in Jeremiah 17:7-8. ““But those who trust in the Lord will be blessed. They know that the Lord will do what he says. They [ME!] will be strong like trees planted near a stream that send out roots to the water. They have nothing to fear when the days get hot. Their leaves are always green. They never worry, even in a year that has no rain. They always produce fruit.”
Reynisfara Beach, Vik
I recently traveled to the “land of ice and fire”; Iceland. The land where disoriented puffins achieve clarity by being thrown like footballs out to sea (for real!). The land where people eat fermented shark (one small piece cleared my sinuses), as well as rye bread ice cream (soooo good). It seems to be a land of extremes. But ultimately, a land of utter natural beauty.
On our trip, My niece and I went on excursions to see and explore the island. And as I usually see and experience my world through a spiritually-tinted glass, one particular place stood out to me for just that reason (more on that in a minute).
Iceland, an island in the North Atlantic, is virtually, tree-less. One can panoramically see the horizon from any vantage point. However, this was not always the case for the country. Once upon a time, long ago, the island had thick forests. Vikings, the early inhabitants, cleared these forests to build dwellings, for farming and grazing pastures for sheep and to warm their homes. In a span of 400 years, according to our tour guide, these forests were gone, never to return. As a result, without the roots of the trees to stabilize the soil, Iceland suffers from soil erosion at a rapid pace. Another driving force of this erosion, due to its isolated geographical location, are the mighty (MIGHTY) winds Iceland is subjected to, which brings me to Reynisfjara.
Reynisfjara is a black sand (lava) beach, just outside the village of Vik, in Southern Iceland. Formed as lava raced to the ocean and cooled as it reached the water, the “sand” is actually black pebbles and stones. There will be neither sunbathing, nor swimming at this beach. The Arctic Ocean and the North Atlantic meet, and seem very angry to be doing so. The generated turbulent waves can be rogue; not following the pattern of lapping the shoreline and receding in a rhythmic , predictable fashion. Signs scream at you to be “ALERT” and “AWARE” of the water because in a few seconds you could be claimed by the sea and never seen again. (Four persons have lost their lives within the last five years here.)
Coupled with the water danger, is that mighty wind I spoke of earlier. I have never experienced wind so strong and determined. I found myself being pushed to the shoreline through no effort of my own. At first, I didn’t realize where the wind was taking me. I just marveled at the force of it, my inexperience of it and the power of it. And isn’t that like life? When we find ourselves in situations we cannot even trace the origins of? We can be pulled along by the inertia of circumstance, unaware of the dangers to our emotional, mental, and sometimes, physical health. Just going with the flow because we are tired or bored or just worn down by the routine. When a wind gust caused the black sand/pebbles to pelt my face, I snapped out of the trance. I realized where I was headed. “Oh, no you wont! I will live and not die!” (Psalms 118:17) I said it in a joking manner, but I meant it!!!! I had to change my position, physically and mentally. I had to turn my body into the wind and purpose my mind to get back to a safe distance, safe from harm.
Now, I am not a petite, delicate flower of a woman and I struggled to walk against the wind. It was a fight. It was the OPPOSITE of the ease of going with the flow. You and I are called to be sober and diligent, in our respective fight, so we are not devoured (1 Peter 5:8). You and I are called to suit up for battle, armed with the right weapons (Ephesians 6). You and I are called to fight the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12). You and I are called to stand (Ephesians 6:13). When the wind was too strong for me to make headway going forward, I just stood, braced and facing it. After a moment, guess what? I was able to push through. And you will too. When I reached the tour bus, I felt like I’d gone a few rounds with a heavyweight. I won though. And you will too.
When I was a girl, I had a hard time swallowing pills. It could become an ordeal for me and my mom. One of tears (on my end) and frustration (on hers). I remember standing in the kitchen with her looking at me, as I nearly hyperventilated from crying, and I am almost sure she was thinking “Lord God in heaven, why is this child making this so hard?” In my defense, this wasn’t the sweet, deliciousness of St. Joseph’s aspirin as it dissolved on my tongue. It was usually some horrific, chalky, antibiotic horse pill I had to somehow swallow over an enlarged tonsil and the crying fit I mentioned earlier. She would usually end up crushing it and putting it in my beloved Apple Jacks cereal or in a cup of juice of some kind. Thus, ending the ordeal for the moment. Looking back, I see how the longer I lingered with the pill, the bitter taste of it dissolving, made it even harder to swallow.
When hurt lingers, when betrayal happens, feelings and emotions can fester and ferment. I use the word ferment for a reason. The process of fermentation usually produces a bitter product. The nerd in me has to give the dictionary definition now: “Fermentation is a metabolic process that converts sugar to acids, gases or alcohol.” Microorganisms, such as yeast and bacteria, are the catalysts of the process. They turn what was once sweet into something sour, such as wine, yogurt or beer. When the human heart undergoes the process of becoming bitter, one catalyst may be unforgiveness.
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord when someone won’t stop doing wrong to me, how many times must I forgive them? Seven times?’” Matthew 18:21 (ERV)
Peter. Quick-tempered, quick at the mouth, and I also assume, quick to cut you off, if you crossed him, Peter. He wanted to know the “Jesus-approved” limit for forgiveness. How many times do I have to eat it when someone does me wrong and still be in your good graces, Lord? When can I stop forgiving and set it off on this person?
“Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, you must forgive them more than seven times. You must continue to forgive them even if they do wrong to you seventy-seven times.’” Matthew 18:22 (ERV)
“Even if they do something wrong to you seven times in one day, but they say they are sorry each time, you should forgive them.’ The apostles said to the Lord, “Give us more faith!’” Luke 17:4-5(ERV)
I believe those answers made Peter shake his head. Peter is often portrayed as being quick to respond in the moment. Yet here, the scriptures do not detail any response on his part, even though he asked the question. I think he pondered Jesus’ response. I’m sure he thought to himself “What!?! Maybe the Son of God can be taken advantage of or walked over repeatedly and forgive but I don’t know if I can ride with him on this one?” The apostles collectively said they needed more faith to be so Christ-like to forgive repeated hurts or offences. It does take faith to forgive. The deeper the hurt, the more faith has to be relied upon. For God does not tell us to do anything which we cannot do, with his help (Phil 4:13).
And oftentimes, the person who needs to be forgiven most is the one reflected in the mirror.
The night of the Last Supper, Jesus tells his apostles before the night is over, they will all be “offended” (lose their faith) because of what happens to Him. Peter, true to form, responds quickly to refute the statement of an already, all-knowing Jesus.
“But Peter said unto him, ‘Although all shall be offended, yet will not I.’” Mark 14:29 (KJV)
Somehow he believed his devotion to Jesus greater than that of his counterparts. He holds to this belief even after Jesus informs him of how he would deny Him, three times, before the dawn. He even gets annoyed that Jesus would even say such a thing and proclaims he would never deny him and would die with him (Mark 14:30-31). Not so.
“…I’m sure this man was with him, because he is from Galilee. But Peter said, ‘Man, I don’t know what you are talking about!’ Immediately, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed. Then the Lord turned and looked into Peter’s eyes. And Peter remembered what the Lord had said…Then Peter went outside and cried bitterly.” Luke 22:59-62 (ERV)
When I read those scriptures and try to imagine how low Peter felt when Jesus looked at him, it’s visceral for me. The disappointment. The hurt. The insult to injury. Peter saw the miracles, sat at His feet, listened to His teaching, ate with Him, knew His momma, and gave up everything to follow Him. He knew who Jesus was — “…Thou art the Christ.” (Mark 8:29) Nonetheless, on the hardest night of Jesus’ life, when Peter felt afraid for his own life, he turned his back on Jesus. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) With his quick words, just a few hours prior, Peter felt for sure he could live this verse. However, with His actions, in the coming hours, Jesus would embody the verse for Peter, you and I.
Because Peter knew who Jesus was, I believe he also knew he would be forgiven of his actions. The harder part would be forgiving himself. And isn’t that usually the hardest part for us? It’s hard to forgive others, yes, but we don’t have to deal with others 24/7. When you can’t escape, for even a moment, the person who needs to be forgiven, the person ALWAYS looking back at you in the mirror and being bombarded with insidious whispers of fault and hurtful memories, I believe it is exponentially harder. Now I don’t know if mirrors were plentiful in Peter’s day, but the idea still holds true. And what I find most ironic is the person who was so concerned with putting a cap on forgiveness would have to be able to forgive HIMSELF seventy times seven, if need be.
When the women went seeking Jesus at the tomb and were told He was not there, the angel gave them information and instructions:
“…he is risen, he is not here…But go your way, tell his disciples AND Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.” Mark 16:6-7 (KJV) (Emphasis mine)
He singled Peter out from the others. He named him specifically. I think he did that for a reason. Maybe in his distress, Peter didn’t think himself worthy any longer to remain a disciple. Maybe the others thought his actions were reprehensible and he should NOT consider himself a disciple any longer. For me, it’s as if Jesus is saying “Peter I know you messed up and I STILL love you with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3). I forgive you once and for all. Forgive yourself, seventy times seven, if that is what it takes. But I know who you are. You are still the rock I will build my church on to spread my message of love, redemption and restoration.”
So, although the pill of forgiveness is not always easy to swallow, once it is, the heart can stay or return to tender. The sweet can remain or revert from a sour state. The miserable soul can be affable once again. Like the little girl scared of pills at the beginning, we just have to get it down somehow. With Apple Jacks or orange juice, you decide.
I wanted something sweet that day. Although I do not own a sweet-tooth, I crave the occasional snack at my desk. A muffin would do. But on my way to buy said muffin. I thought about my favorite cookie at work, double chocolate chip, and my muffin search hit a brick wall. My step perked up. A slight smile came to my face…cookie it is! Alas, when I reached the cafeteria, no more double chocolate chip cookies. [insert sad face here]. I guess the muffin would really have to do after all. No big deal, I said to myself. I entered the pantry to make a cup of coffee. I saw someone had placed a tray of cookies, leftover from a conference room, on the countertop. Oatmeal raisin. Butter. Chocolate chip. Peanut butter. And guess what was sitting there on that tray in all its wonderful deliciousness? ONE SINGLE SOLITARY DOUBLE CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE! I chuckled to myself. God put that cookie there for me and I said thank you, out loud.
“Really?” some might sarcastically say to that or even “God leaves cookies just for you when you want them?” And I’d say yes, He did put that cookie there for me when I wanted it, just for me. It would be hard to believe for some. It is a great stretch for many to believe that God wants to be so personally involved in every aspect of our life. Yet, Psalms 139:17-18 says “How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand…”. He is ALWAYS thinking about you and I. Who can count grains of sand?!? Definitely not me, can you?
Now, I change my hair often. Yet my Bible tells me in Luke 12:7, “Indeed the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not be afraid; you are far more valuable than many sparrows.” No matter the color, the hairstyle, whether or not the winter chill is making it shed or if I did in fact get a trim last week, He is aware of the number on my head at any given moment. We are ALWAYS on His mind. Isaiah 49:15-16 tell us “…I will not forget you. See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”
I thought my sister was a knitter. She promptly corrected me. She said she crochets but does not knit. Ignorant to the difference, she went on to explain to me how knitting is a much more difficult and intricate process. You have to be focused and exhibit a high level of skill to complete the work. One misstep and hours of work can be ruined and irretrievable. This brings to mind Psalm 139:13-“You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” God took time on us. He focused all His love into knitting us together, making us who we are, likes/dislikes, personality, etc. No missteps on His part when it came to us. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you (Jeremiah 1:5). This tells me He had blueprints for you and I before time even began. That is a thought which my human brain could never truly fathom or understand, but it makes me smile and feel immensely loved, nonetheless.
I craved a snack, but God craves me. God craves you.
He tells us to “Cast all [our] cares on Him because he cares for [us] (1 Peter 5:7). He cares about the job you need, the crumbling marriage, the wayward child, the sickness in your body, the broken relationship, your struggle with an uncertain future. We tend to consider those as “big” cares, worthy of His concern and involvement. But to our Almighty, Creator of the Universe who uses Earth as His footstool (Acts 7:49), it is all small. If it concerns us, it concerns Him. I believe He can and will orchestrate circumstances during my day just to bring a smile to my face. Even if it’s just a double chocolate chip cookie on a particular day.
I asked God this morning why does it seem like evil is overwhelming the world? Even though Christ is the ONLY way, other religions seem to have greater followings? I believe He told me “relationship”. There are many in the body, but not many have true relationship with God. True connection to Him, the Vine. He tells me in His word, I can do nothing without Him (John 15:5). That goes for all of us. If we aren’t connected to the Vine, in true and genuine relationship, we have no power. We bind his hands with unbelief and disobedience and “having a form of godliness but deny[ing] the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5). This is why it seems evil is winning and appears more prevalent. Satan is the prince of the air, this world (Ephesians 2:2); men are lovers of themselves (2 Timothy 3:2-4). These are the last days, and Solomon said “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9). I believe it was just as perilous in ancient times, if not more so. Maybe an ancient ancestor of mine asked the very same questions I did this morning when looking at his/her world condition.
So maybe its about looking on a smaller scale. It starts with me. I have to obey His word to become who He wants me to be; to fulfill my purpose on this earth and His will for my life. When I do that, I’m affecting more than i know or can see, because I am in the correct position in God’s grand tapestry of humanity. To trust that ideal, I need to trust in Him. Ultimately, what is the hallmark of trust? What does the telltale sign of trust in another person (entity) usually mean? You have, and are in, a relationship.
When you live in NYC and take the subway, you have a decision to make each day. Should I take the local or the express train. A few factors may influence your choice: Am I in a hurry? Am I late? Do I want a seat on my journey? Do I want some extra time to read my book (or watch an episode of “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”)? Decisions, decisions. Since I am lucky enough to LIVE at an express stop, I face this dilemma, like clockwork, every five to six weeks.
You see, I am committed to my hair appointment in Brooklyn. So much so, I make my appointments for the year (dont judge me!). Sometimes I hit the jackpot and get a ride but usually I am relegated to taking the A (express) or C (local) train to Utica Avenue. When Im headed to the shop, Im not conflicted about which train to take. Whichever one rumbles into the station first is the one I will embark. Simple. The dilemma I spoke of above comes into play for my trip home. Task accomplished, head full of freshly-twisted locs looking fab, I want to head uptown as soon as possible for some reason. I allow myself to be seduced by the elongated ‘S’ sound (like Mowgli was by Kaa in Disney’s “Jungle Book”) in the word “express” and I endeavor to wait for the A train.
It’s usually early afternoon and there are always a good number of fellow travelers to keep me company on the platform. One particular day, the incoming train alert sound goes off and the local C train soon after pulls into the station. I hear the Jeopardy tune start to play in my head. “Stop it,” I tell myself, “Im going to wait for the A train.” But the tune gets louder. I see my platform companions moving toward the soon to stop train. They position themselves, just so, in order to be in perfect alignment when the doors open. Therefore raising the probability of acquiring a prime real estate seat. Never mind that the riders already on the train need to exit and cannot do so with oncoming riders pushing past them to enter the train and why dont they see this is sheer madness? *SIGH*…I digress. I feel myself leaning out to look into the black tunnel for a sign of my train. Nothing. Still have time to catch the C train. The doors are open as the conductors voice comes through the speakers announcing the current station stop, the upcoming station stop and the final terminal station stop. Jeopardy tune is still playing 🎶. I’m unconsciously walking to the local as a monologue of thoughts unfold in my mind. “You might as well get on this. Why are you waiting? Its here now. You better get on it now! NOW!! Who knows how long the A is gonna take? Its seats on there too. Why is it always the local that comes first? *sound of sucking teeth* This is ridiculous!!” (On that last question, my human mind, in the moment, cannot fathom that my arrival to the train station does not dictate which train arrives first.) Im distracted with anxiety, based on my thoughts. I take a few more steps, then I stop. The C train closes its doors and, with a hiss of machinery, pulls out of the station. Im left standing on the platform feeling like I missed the last train that will ever head uptown.
Not three minutes later, the A train comes screeching into the station. And I got a seat…BOOM! As the train sped by the local station stops, I saw that C train I thought would be the last train out of Brooklyn. The train I endeavored to wait for amidst temptation and fretting, did arrive, and was now overtaking the other. I had lost nothing and, in fact, would come out ahead. In that moment I heard the word “impatience” and instantly saw a spiritual correlation. I chuckled to myself because I understood. How much peace do I forfeit by my impatience? How much stress do I inflict upon myself with worry or fretting? Matthew 6:27 tells me worrying and fretting serve me naught. Whereas, patience is a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). One comes naturally, the other takes practice. In this fast-paced life we live, immediacy is now the norm. If something takes time and has to develop, it runs the risk of being cast aside as useless for more readily available results. God doesn’t work that way. And Im glad He does not. He’s never rushed nor in a hurry. He IS time and the definition of patience (2 Peter 3:8-9). If He starts it, He will finish it (Philippians 1:6). On that day, my train ride dilemma reminded me to be patient. I will get where I need to be. I dont have to worry about missing the train. I know the conductor.