Appreciating the Subtleties of Surroundings


Cameras are good, but they can’t see the subtleties the eye can see. As I stood in the mountains and looked all around me, I saw waves and shadows dance across the tree-covered slopes and snow-capped peaks. Each time I raised my camera to capture a glimpse of beauty, I lowered it to soak in the reality instead. My camera lens has a boxed frame. Moving it a little to the left or right, up or down to include one more slice of beauty always eliminates another slice. Even when looking straight forward, my eyes include the subtleties of my peripheral vision, something my camera cannot capture. My eyes capture movement and gradual changes that my camera misses.

I love photography, but sometimes, I just sit back and let my eyes capture the best views possible. I let them place an imprint on my memory for later reference. Then I snap a few photos, not to accurately capture the view but to capture the moment, so I can remember the experience even better.

As much as I love photography, I love the way God allows me to experience the world around me even more. I think we can miss out on the subtle provisions He gives us to experience and live in the world. Instead of taking them for granted or looking for technology or other aids that will do a “bigger and better” job, perhaps we could sit back, look around, and enjoy our surroundings…and appreciate that God has given us not only the surroundings but also the means to enjoy them.

Have Your Most Important Today

Some things jolt our priorities into perspective. We, or someone close to us, receives a diagnosis. We hear of a shooting, terror attack, or unimaginable accident. We’re reminded to hold our loved ones a bit closer, set aside our worries that now seem mundane, and reach out to heal a relationship that has been fractured for what appeared to be important reasons but now seems trivial.

Life has a way of putting itself into perspective.

Instead of waiting for those life-altering situations to realign our lives, what if we realigned our lives a bit at a time every day? We don’t have to sit on the edge of our seats, clinging to our loved ones in fear of something happening. We don’t need to build bunkers to protect ourselves. I’m not talking about living in a dread or attempting to control everything in case the world ends tomorrow. But what about living in full color today to enjoy and appreciate what is right in front of us?

Why wait to ask forgiveness?

Why wait to forgive?

Why wait to be generous?

Why wait to accept someone’s generosity?

Why wait to be bold?

Why wait to be someone’s number one encourager?

We live in a “why wait” culture, where we feel as if we deserve to do what we want when we want it. That’s not the kind of “why wait” I’m suggesting. Instead, why wait before you get to the end of yourself, stripping away all the burdens, self-centeredness, justifications, unproductive pursuits, etc.? Why wait until everything that’s not essential is knocked away from your life with dramatic impact? Why not step up and let God start chipping away at it a bit at a time, preparing you for today and tomorrow?

Choose well right now. Be humble. Be willing. Be changeable.

You don’t have to wait. Today is important. Right now is important. Spend it well.

Fit Faith: Interval: Lost Bridge Trail

I have a favorite trail. I don’t get to walk it very often, because it’s almost an hour from home. It was built on an old railroad route. It’s straight and flat, which might not seem appealing to many, but the foliage is beautiful. Trees gently bend over the trail to make a canopy in many places. People who maintain the trail do an exceptional job of keeping the side foliage trimmed, so it’s not obstructive, which also clears the way to notice birds, squirrels and chipmunks beside and skittering across the trail.

One of the reasons I enjoy the trail so much is the memories I associate with it. My oldest daughter and I have walked it many times together. Even now that she doesn’t live at home, we try to find time to revisit it every now and then. We enjoy the length of the walk, talking along the way, and taking a short detour to our favorite restaurant for a break.

Another reason I enjoy it is that it’s not my usual routine. If I walked it every day, I don’t think I’d notice as many details. I don’t think I’d appreciate the sunlight filtering through the tree tops or the variegated colored-leaves fluttering in the breeze. I might not notice the pattern of wood on the floor of the bridge or the small pools of water in the tunnel. I might not find as much thrill in the small chipmunks, which I don’t usually see on my regular walking route. And even when I walk the same distance, I don’t feel the same sense of accomplishment when I finish one of my regular routes.

Interval training usually has to do with short bursts of activity alternated with longer, more enduring work. For me, I consider my Lost Bridge Trail walks as interval training in a bigger picture sort of way. My regular walks are the longer, more enduring workouts. My Lost Bridge Trail walks include a different focus. I push myself in a different way along that long stretch of flat path. As much as I push myself, I intentionally look around and enjoy the sights and sounds. It gives me refreshment in my overall fitness. My body might be tired when I’m done, but I am rejuvenated.

Refresh my heart in Christ. (Philemon 1:20)

We must seek refreshment, not just physical but spiritual. In order to gain refreshment, we often feel exhausted through the process, but it’s an exhaustion due to pursuit and effort. It’s satisfying even with the sore and tired muscles, physical and spiritual.

What can you do today to differ your routine and invite refreshment?

Let’s not define refreshment selfishly. We don’t seek refreshment because we need things to go our way. We get tired of routine, and we think there should always be adventure and newness for us. That’s not the case. Commitment is important in our relationship with God. However, we can have variety within our commitment. You don’t read just one Scripture over and over day after day. You don’t say the exact same thing every time you pray. Every sermon you hear is not the same.

Appreciate the routine by putting a twist on your routine. If you have a committed place for your morning prayers or Bible study, take a break and go to a park or coffee shop. Visit another church to hear a different speaker and experience different music.

You don’t have to like every new thing you try. You also don’t have to compare it to what you’re used to. You can appreciate it for what it is. You can consider it in the larger picture of your spiritual growth and appreciate how God uses a variety to challenge and nourish you. Open your eyes, ears and heart and be attentive to what he wants to give you through varied experiences. He will always be present and never be silent.

In the process, you might find that special place, where you can visit occasionally and get rejuvenated, even if it takes effort to reach and complete.

Fit Faith: Frequency: My Special Day

Consistency is important, but sometimes it’s the special once-in-a-lifetime experiences that stand out. The very infrequency of something strikes it with a bright highlighter, illuminating it for later attention and recollection.

I rarely asked for anything special on Mother’s Day. I felt as if every day of the year was Mother’s Day, because I got to bask in the joys of being a mother. Yes, there were challenges every day, but in the context of the blessings, I could accept them and appreciate the opportunities I had.

One Mother’s Day, I surprised everyone by announcing there was just one thing I wanted: to load up everyone’s bikes and go for a ride on my favorite hiking path after church. No one was as excited about it as I was, but they entertained me. The girls weren’t very old, and they knew the bike ride would be long and challenging. Tim knew he wouldn’t be able to ride his bike at full speed with the rest of us along. But we packed a lunch and headed to the trail after church.

It was a glorious day for me, and no one else seemed to mind it much at all either. We rode five miles, stopped for a lunch break beside a small lake, and made the return trip. It was a gorgeous day.

Had I experienced bike rides with my family every weekend, I probably would have enjoyed some of the experiences and endured others – when someone would be grumpy or get hurt or the weather wasn’t ideal. As it was, I had one glorious day of memories with my family on our bikes on that path.

Something similar happens when we go on a retreat or attend a conference. We walk away rejuvenated and ready to tackle our lives with renewed energy and purpose. The infrequency makes these experiences impactful. We build time with God into our daily lives: devotions, prayer, accountability. While we benefit greatly from the consistenty, daily also means routine. When we’re at conferences and retreats, we step away from routine. While routine is excellent for discipline, occasional escapes encourage us to listen in fresh ways.

How can you capture renewed energy and purpose on limited time, money, and flexibility?

Here are a few thoughts:

Use your senses. Quietly reading your Bible is wonderful. Experiencing God’s Word through multiple senses helps us put an exclamation point on a verse. Consider how you can see, hear, and touch Scripture.

Use repetition. Carry your quiet time throughout the day with you. We too easy compartmentalize our time with God. Choose one key verse of the day and post sticky notes in places you’ll find them throughout your day. Set your cell phone alarm to vibrate hourly as a reminder to reflect and act on the verse.

Use social networking. De-compartmentalized your faith while engaging others. Tweet a verse each day on Twitter. Post a reflective question or action challenge on Facebook.

Whatever your approach, seek renewed energy and purpose with occasional escapes from routine. Listen to God in fresh ways. Open your ears to hear from God.

Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway. (Proverbs 8:34)

Fighting for Air

After accepting the Ultimate Climb Challenge for the American Lung Association Fight for Air, I’ve determined one thing: becoming a world-class stair climber is not one of my life goals.

Oh, I’ll likely do it again! It was definitely worthwhile. I enjoyed interacting with and watching people. And I learned a lot. Next time, I’ll wear gloves and keep cough drops in my pockets. The biggest lesson I learned is that there are places in my lungs that rarely get air. I think I used every miniscule space in my lungs that day. I managed alright and had no light-headedness or heavy coughing, but my lungs were definitely fighting for air.

I now better appreciate not only my body’s ability to take in and process air but also the availability of breathable air around me.

Air is filled with life-sustaining nourishment. God created me with the capacity to physically take it in, process it, and efficiently use it. He also created me with the capacity – the need – to spiritually breathe. He gave me the Holy Spirit to invite, yield to, and allow to nourish me to do God’s will. Without the Holy Spirit, I am a shell of who I could be. My life is incomplete and unsustainable. God breathes life into me through the Holy Spirit.

Yielding to the Holy Spirit is challenging. Sometimes I feel as if I’m fighting for air. I want to grow, but it feels like an uphill climb. My legs and lungs burn from the effort. God doesn’t say life purposed for him will be easy. In my own efforts, I’ll collapse on the first landing or procrastinate getting started. I’ll try to determine the right pace and rationalize the distance of my goals. And it still won’t be easy.

With God, I have purpose. I can yield to the right pace. I catch glimpses of the goal. I notice people cheering me on. I encourage others along the way. I don’t overextend myself nor do I underextend myself. Whether I feel overextended or not becomes secondary to letting God define where I am and how I’m doing. He determines my ability and progress. He determines my pace and purpose.

In what areas of your life are you most fighting for air?

Are you fighting for air on your own or are you trusting God to guide your every breath?

Accept God’s ultimate climb challenge. The journey is worth every breath.

So let us run the race that is before us and never give up.  (Hebrews 12:1)

We’re All In This Together!

There’s a group of people I only see a couple times a year. We typically work together at a couple large conferences, and the schedule is exhausting. We all fly in one evening. We know we need to be up early the next morning to set up, but we typically stay up late, catching up with each other. With Facebook and Twitter, you’d think we’d already have all the details we need, but face-to-face is different. We get to have conversations in real time, and we take full advantage of the opportunity.

After three days of connecting with people passionate about ministry, scurrying out for meals together, and trying to discuss and fix all the issues of the world, we’re exhausted. We usually have morning flights, so we typically flop into our beds the last night and try to get any amount of sleep that will help us return to our regular routines of families, ministries and all the things that don’t pause even when we’re away from them.

During our last trip, we set aside sleep the final night and went to Ghiradelli’s in Downtown Disney for late night ice cream and hot cocoa. Despite our exhaustion (or perhaps because of it), we got a renewed burst of energy once we squeezed around a small table and consumed our overloaded sugary treats. We laughed over goofy videos a few people on the team had made during a quick trip for supplies. We discovered the packed table next to us had similar ministry interests, and we shared stories and needs and took a photo right in the middle of the bustling restaurant. (Yes, we were those annoying people in the restaurant. A nearby table of teenagers gave us a couple eye-rolls and looks of disgust.) We shared a common cup of hot fudge despite most of us either being health-conscious or germaphobes.

And we sang. Yes, we sang. Who cares if the only line we could remember from the High School Musical song was “We’re all in this together…”! If you sing it over and over, it resembles a complete verse! (We committed to at least learn a couple more lines before we’re together again.)

We sealed the experience of being together for a common purpose (serving in ministry together) with an experience of being together for a common purpose (building relationships). We set aside sleep and made memories instead. We set aside everything going on in our personal lives and our preferences for answering emails, working out, taking a warm shower, or whatever else we wanted to do in order to share a brief window of time together.

When have you sacrificed yourself for a group experience?

What benefits are there to individuals coming together for a common purpose?

When you get together with others, do you usually only do so for “work,” or do you fit in some fun as well? Or perhaps fun always supercedes work for you. Do you need to focus a bit more on the benefits of having a group of people together and the possibilities of progress a group can accomplish?

I’ll be the first to admit my default setting is not to jump into the middle of a group of people just for fun. I enjoy people. I love the relationships of my life…but I also like my alone time. I need some retreat time to think, recharge, and to be productive with the responsibilities I have. But one of the responsibilities I have is to build relationships with others.

I need to seek relationships.

I need to maintain relationships.

I need to keep relationships healthy.

I need to invest in relationships.

I need to celebrate relationships.

I need to appreciate relationships.

Take a look at your relationships. Are they balanced? Are you seeking relationships with new people or simply investing in those you already know? Are you actually investing or just maintaining? Are you appreciating relationships or taking them for granted? Are you keeping relationships healthy or keeping status quo?

You’re in this life with someone…a whole group of someones. Do relationships intentionally.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another. Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)

Sit Up Straight!

How many times did Mom tell me to sit up straight? Let me count the ways. It was so annoying, and slouching was so much more comfortable. I had enough things to do without having to think when I sat!

Then one day I glanced down at my shoulders, exposed by my sleeveless shirt, and noticed how they seemed to jut forward ever so slightly. I tried to roll them back. They still stuck out a little bit. Panic washed over me as I wondered if I’d done permanent damage to myself by not heeding Mom’s advice. In reality, what I was noticing was probably just something about the way my body’s built. Sitting up straight is more about my spine than my shoulders (try slouching your shoulders while keep your spine upright). But I was scared enough to pay attention to my posture for a while.

I realized I actually had pretty good posture. I’m glad I learned something from Mom’s advice (a.k.a., correction) even when I ignored it. All her “Sit up straight!” instructions came back to me recently when I was travelling with a friend who observed as I worked on my laptop and commented on how “properly” I sit and hold my hands and arms while typing. Mom gets part of the credit. The rest goes to a very traditional and disciplined high school typing teacher. (Yes, I’m old enough to have learned on an actual typewriter. We thought we were privileged and advanced because we had new electric typewriters!)

Sometimes we learn things even when we try not to. We learn by observing or by hearing something over and over. It’s like learning by osmosis. People often use the phrase of learning by osmosis when they need to know something they don’t want to take the effort to learn. They wish there was a simple way – like soaking it up through the brain by sleeping on a book. News flash…it’s not going to happen.

But perhaps we learn “by osmosis” in another sense. It’s a gradual assimilation of information. If you hear or see something enough times, you’re going to learn it. There are many things I learned from Mom not because she stood beside me and led me through every step but because I was around her when she did it many times. I’ve learned the same way from other family members, friends, coworkers, teachers, and people on television. I’ve learned useful things and trivial things. I’ve learned good habits and bad habits.

What about you? What’s something you cringed to hear when you were younger but appreciate now?

What’s something positive you’ve “learned by osmosis” from someone?

What’s something negative you’ve “learned by osmosis” from someone?

Many of us would like to learn Scripture by sleeping on our Bibles and having it seep into our brains. We want to know Scripture, but it takes time to read and study it. And we don’t seem to be able to remember it sometimes anyway. If we can’t remember it, how can we apply it?

Choose a word that describes something about your life right now. Conflict, struggle, doubt, change. Or what you want more of in your life. Joy, peace, growth, discipline. Use a concordance to look up verses in the Bible containing that word. Choose one verse to live – not just learn – this week.

Write it on sticky notes in several translations. Each time you see a note, read the verse aloud so you hear yourself say it. Watch for God to highlight the verse in your daily life. Journal your experiences. Share with a friend. Plant God’s Word in your heart and mind, water it with experiences of all your senses, and God will nourish its growth.

I planted the seed, and Apollos watered it. But God is the One who made it grow. 1 Corinthians 3:6