Out On A Limb

Out on a Limb

The iguanas of St. John–

St John USVI Iguana

St John USVI Iguana

We were warned before we went: they’re all over the island; AND–they love red. We didn’t know why, I only knew that I’d  forgotten to change my RED toe nail polish…So, as we explored on our St. John trip, me and my red toes avoided the iguanas until we could find out more. We asked a St. John local and found out that the red hibiscus flower is the iguanas’ favorite treat. The red blossoms are absolutely intoxicating to them. Soooo–they associate all things red with intoxication and, like the moth to the flame, they feel drawn to pursue it. I wanted to keep my toes, so I continued to avoid the iguanas, but they are EVERYWHERE on the island!

And these guys are truly fascinating.

They look like a mini Jurassic World exhibit with their sharp claws, scaly, spiny bodies, their bulging eyes and slow blinking eyelids, their tongues that lap out like a lazy snake tongue and their whip-like tails.

What surprised me most is their agility.iguana dragon

Figuring me and my red toes were safe in the pool, I went for a swim. The Westin St. John’s main pool is lovely: the warm waters, the waterfall features, the mini oasis in the middle of the pool with a water bench shaded by the palm trees and foliage that it houses. It became my favorite hang out, until…

I flipped around on the bench and lifted my toes to prop them on the side of the oasis wall. This way I could semi-float and look up at the palms swaying in the Caribbean breeze. I saw people walking around the pool and floating on their floaties doing the same thing–looking up. I followed their gaze. Those iguanas apparently can swim. Not only can they swim, they can climb! My gaze locked on the iguana napping in the luxury of a large green palm frond about twenty feet directly above my head. And, if he swam out to the oasis, then my red toes were no longer safe just inches away from the dense foliage that could’ve housed many more of his camouflaged green friends!

We left this pool and found another Westin pool located on the hillside with nothing but time shares and concrete to threaten us.

As I sleepily floated around this tiny pool on my float, I looked up at the Caribbean clouds floating by and the branches of what appeared to be bare trees across the street up the hillside. My eyes popped wide open as I realized who was there—another tree top Jurassic friend! I breathed deep, relaxed and observed this creature from the safety of my pool float.

This determined dragon scaled the 30 ft up to hang out in what appeared to me to be a bare branched tree.  There were no red hibiscus flowers or luxurious leaves of green on its branch arms; just bare, spindly branches.  I understood the palm frond locale for an afternoon nap, but why hang out in a bare tree? I watched as he expertly made his way down one of the tree’s crooked limbs. As the breeze kicked up and he made his way toward the end, the branch bounced up and down. The elements threatened to blow him off or to be just enough to break the branch, but it didn’t. And he progressed.

I watched amazed as minutes ticked by and this daring creature patiently balanced his way almost completely to the end of the limb. His tenacious claws held fast to the branch; his long tail skillfully balanced the weight of his body; and my heart skipped a beat, as each whispering wind and movement bounced the branch beneath him. I thought surely, any instant, I’d hear a crackling and watch this amazing creature plummet to the depths.

LOOK CLOSE!

LOOK CLOSE!

I didn’t want to miss a thing.

I couldn’t tear my eyes away; witnessing the patience and determination of this creature!

What was worth this journey to the end? Why the risk? I focused in on him. Then, in the blink of an eye, his tongue whipped out and latched on to the tiny white flower that I hadn’t seen at the end of that tree’s limb. Wide eyed again, I swear I saw him smiling at me as he chomped and chewed the fruits of his labor.

Still not tearing my eyes away, I watched him, inch by inch, retreat and repeat this same journey on a different limb. I now could see the tree that I once thought was barren, housed at least a dozen lightly colored, teensy flowers at the end of its limbs.

I later learned that these guys do this to many trees and all across the island.

And, every so often, you’ll hear a crackling and the plummeting.

I must admit it–I’m more like the pool iguana; choosing the comforts of a large, luxurious palm frond where, if I’m startled awake or if the branch breaks and I plummet, it is into a nice splashy pool where I can swim to safety.  This life can be quite exhausting. It’s really tough to beat a good nap.

But then there’s the daring, skillful, hillside iguana. My heart just beats faster as I remember witnessing him risking it all; traversing out on that skinny limb to secure the succulent flower bud for a snack. Time after time. More risky, but also yielding a reward.

Are we really that different than the iguana?

How often do we sit idly by, in the comfort of whatever palm frond, couch, job, relationship, etc., and not take the chance because of not knowing what is at the end of that branch? And what if you plummet?

Or, how often do we watch others taking great risk or making sacrifices, without understanding that what they are striving for is so worth it to them?

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.—Jeremiah 29:11

God has great plans for each of our lives.

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.—Psalm 37:4

God created us each with different dreams, ambitions, thirsts, skills and talents.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. –Romans 8:28

He will make a way for us. He clears the path before us and helps us when we plummet.

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.—John 15:7-8

Agile, swimming, risk-taking, hibiscus loving, daring, fascinating!

Agile, swimming, risk-taking, hibiscus loving, daring, fascinating!

I believe that God will place in you a tenacious hunger for something that will require a leap of faith.

Whether you are a risk-taker or not, I encourage you to use the God-given talents you possess to pursue what motivates you.

You have no idea who might be watching or who YOU might inspire.

Go ahead. Go out on that limb.

Because you know how many hillside, succulent flowers the napping “palm frond iguana” enjoyed and savored?

Not a single one.

I DON’T UNDERSTAND…

“You call me out upon the waters

The great unknown

My feet may fail

And there I find you in the mystery”

–Hillsong “Oceans”

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“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Malignant Melanoma.

We helplessly watched as cancer swarmed in on our father’s organs and took his last breath of life, dying in the battle against this disease. Our family saw the terror of treatments that seemed worse than the cancer that overtook him. We were in shock from watching. Why does this disease even exist? Why does it shamelessly attack grandmas, fathers, aunts and…children?

I didn’t understand.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

“In oceans deep

My faith wears thin”

–Hillsong “Oceans”

 

One month later, still reeling from the loss of our father, we lost my grandfather to dementia and lung disease.

I found myself in the depths.

“And I will call upon your name

And keep my eyes above the waves”

–Hillsong “Oceans”

 

That year I sunk deeper and deeper. I would be overcome in sorrow; brought to tears lying sleepless in bed every night, sitting at my desk at work, in line at the grocery store… Then, (it didn’t seem possible,) but things went from worse to worse.

The big “D” began visiting my house and he brought his other “D friend”.

These deaths, now divorce and depression—all in the same year; all as a faithful, praying, seeking Christian.

“Time heals all wounds…”

Really?! I wanted to just barf at the well-meaning people saying this to me.

It wasn’t fair. This wasn’t what I signed up for when I gave my heart to the Lord.

I didn’t understand.

But, I loved the Lord. I clung to him with everything I had. The Hope I had in Him, and His power to get me through, and to bring light into dark places, kept me holding on.

 “Your grace abounds in deepest waters”

–Hillsong “Oceans”

 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

And lean not on your own understanding.

In all your ways submit to Him,

And He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3: 5-6)

So, if I loved the Lord, and trusted in His grace to get me through the deepest of my despair, didn’t He also deserve my understanding?

“You’ve never failed and you won’t start now.

So I will call upon your name

And keep my eyes above the waves”

–Hillsong “Oceans”

 

A couple of years into the depths of this dark time, my Pastor, Jason Daye was preaching on the story of Elijah. (1 Kings Chapters 17-18)  What struck me most in the story of this great prophet of God were the three years of drought that the Lord sent on the land he was in. He endured such fear, such total need, desperation and reliance on the Lord for every single second, of every single minute, of every single day, of every exhausting week for three long years.  Three years of threats against him. Three years of having nothing, being stuck out in the cracked, parched desert and the only thing he had left, for all of his trusting in the Lord, was his life. He survived solely on the Word of the Lord.

“Your sovereign hand will be my guide

My feet may fail and fear surrounds me…”

–Hillsong “Oceans”

 

God was so near to him for every one of those seconds, providing for him by day and by night.

Those days and nights when I was feeling so lost and emptied, I fixed my eyes on Jesus.

The truth is, in looking back, even as I endured the storms and felt like I was drowning in the engulfing waves–this raw, pure need of feeling so broken and so desperate is when I have, like never before, felt so unfathomably and intimately close to God.

He was my anchor.

As I approached my own three year mark, I felt a foundation beneath my feet. I more often found myself “on shore” and was less and less frequently taken over by the waves. I was blessed with friendships that helped me along, blessed with help from all around me. Blessed to see how God provided for each day and each night.

Maybe there was something to this whole “time healing all wounds” thing.

Three years gone by–I am changed.

I appreciate more. I breathe deeper. I laugh more. I enjoy the sunsets, flowers, and “little things” a lot more. At a different place now, I trust God more.

Just beyond those three years, I took on an additional job and was learning a totally different profession, I was struggling in this new place.  Even after all that I had been through; I still recognized my deep need for God in the ordinary stuff of life.

I distinctly remembered praying to Him for Help.

Then she showed up; the “new hire.” A chance convergence of life paths at this job–Was she my help?

As we navigated the job together, we bonded like we women can do when thrust together in the trenches of life. We shared our stories.

If, as Shakespeare says, “Life is but a stage…,” then I believe that friendships are the musical underscore of this life; two distinctly different instruments, coming together on the stage and creating harmony, melody and rhythms. Creating music that makes us smile and dance, moves us to tears and fills us with laughter. What a joyful tune a new friendship is! And this hand-delivered, divinely unique relationship has become such a spirit-filled one.

Pammy and me

We no longer work together in the trenches of that job, but we’ve kept our friendship flourishing across miles, through life events and all around this stage of life.

Trusting like Elijah.

Then it happened to her:

Her father was diagnosed with cancer, and then died unexpectedly.

One month later, her grandfather passed away.

Then her marriage crumbled and now divorce continually slaps its waves at her face as I watch her sinking into a deepening depression.

All in the same year; all as a faithful, praying, seeking Christian.

I watch her tears flow freely at lunch, at the movies, at the grocery store and spilling across the stages of her life.

She doesn’t understand.

She can’t see above the waves right now.

I hug her. I tell her she’s not alone.

I refrain from telling her that “time will heal all her wounds.”

Instead, I tell her that I don’t understand either.

But, I do know One who understands.

He is our ever-present Help, the Anchor in our storm, the Living Water to quench our thirst and the firm Foundation of this whole stage we play out our lives on.

And I secretly watch her with a twinge of envy because I can see how close the Lord is to her right now. The Hands of God are cradling her. He holds her tears in His hands and draws her into an embrace like the sea around the shores.

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders.”

–Hillsong “Oceans”

 

Whether you are in a drought-scorched desert, a raging tempest, or if you may be cresting a mountaintop, May your trust in the Lord go beyond all the borders of our own understanding.

“This is your brain on…”

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“This is your brain on…”

For those of us growing up in the 80’s, we know this phrase all too well.  The commercial for a “Drug Free America” that began with a picture of a whole egg: “If this is your brain…” then they crack the egg and fry it in a pan. “Then this is your brain on drugs.”

The brain unraveled.

This last weekend I attended a seminar/retreat on Love and Joy (and getting more of it in life!).  The instructor, Christy Osborn, was a corporate trainer for over 20 years. She utilized studies of the brain to understand and train/retrain individuals in the corporate world.

In summary, (or if you remember from science class) your brain communicates through a system of neurons and dendrites. Thoughts are neurotransmitters (chemicals) that travel from the neuron and through/out the dendrite. Picture a tennis ball at one end (neuron) and a stem coming out of it with a bunch of tree branches at the other end (dendrite).

When a negative thought happens (and test subjects were asked to dwell on negative things), the neurotransmitter (chemical) travels from neuron, down the stem and out through the dendrite where it makes paths to other nerve cells.

When your mind dwells on negative thoughts, it produces toxic neurotransmitters.

And it isn’t pretty–

Your brain on disappointment

Your brain on sorrow

Your brain in anger

Your brain in contempt

Your brain on bitterness

Your brain on unforgiveness–

Picture that tennis ball as a dried up prune and the extending branch as a dead and gnarly, blackened, spindly thatch of thorns.

It is a sickness that translates into our lives.

My sister calls this her “bad berry theory in management”—Those people who arrive to work in terrible moods, never smiling, always complaining, gossiping and grumping about everything. Their negativity spreads like a mold or a cancer through the workplace. It happens in life and in our bodies. When we dwell in the negative, our immune response decreases, our bodies are weakened and our pain tolerance levels decrease. We are more prone to illnesses when under stress; when someone dies, when we dwell in the negative.

And just a little more bad news—as it would turn out, those negative thoughts reproduce like a cancer. They stack up on themselves like a heaping, stinking pile of rotten produce.

Negativity perpetuates negativity.

Of course, we all will experience negative thoughts from time to time (the loss of a job, a divorce, losing a loved one, etc.,); the secret is to not get stuck there!

Ready for the good news?

Positive thoughts also reproduce themselves.

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

For positive thoughts, the same process occurs with the neurotransmitters traveling from the neuron to the dendrites–

Your brain on joy

Your brain in compassion

Your brain in forgiveness

Your brain in acceptance

Your brain in encouragement

Your brain in love!

Picture a robust golden apple and a stem emerging from it with branches loaded with a bounty of beautiful, shiny green leaves.

These positive neurotransmitters are like a shot of pure joy straight to the heart. They result in emboldening the immune system, increasing your tolerance for pain and strengthening your whole body and mind.

And ready for a little more good news?! (A good practice for that idea of MORE positive!) 😉

“I’m trading my sorrows. And I’m trading my shame. And I’m laying it down for the joy of the Lord.” Israel Houghton & New Breed

Remember that stinking, rotten pile?– It can be brought back to life!

 

The power of HOPE.

“And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” (Romans 5:5)

We have a God who knows everything we’re going through.  He knows our hearts and our minds. He created us! And with His power in us, there is nothing man can do to us that He can’t transform to good.

“In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me free. The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” (Psalm 118:5)

For the doubters, unbelievers or many who are just stuck in the negativity, there is a place you can take it all and be changed.

“Anything is possible if a person believes”…“I do believe, but help me with my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

Take your burdens to Jesus-He can handle your disappointments, your discouragements, your hurt, your pain, your unforgiveness and your unbelief.

“We take every thought captive so that it is obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

With his power, given to you by the Holy Spirit, you can overcome; you can trade in your sorrow, your hopelessness and your pain for hope, love and joy.

Retrain your mind by taking a negative experience and locating the hope in it and the negative can transform to positive!

How does this work? Here are a couple of examples–Knowing that with Jesus, though you sorrow for your loved one who left this world too soon; you find hope in knowing you will see them again!

Or, spreading hope in the walk of life by being there for a friend who is diagnosed with cancer. Helping guide her because you survived that same diagnosis.

“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.” (2 Corinthians 1:4)

Hope is knowing that:

When chaos surrounds you, there is One that can calm the stormy seas (Matthew 8:24, Mark 4:35, Luke 8:22)

When things look their darkest, there is One who can light your way (John 8:12)

There is a safe place you can lay all your grief, unforgiveness, shame, anger, bitterness, negativity and contempt

There is nothing new or negative in this world that you can think up that He doesn’t have the power to transform for the good of those who love Him. (Romans 8:28)

Picture Jesus Christ betrayed, battered, bloodied and wearing that awful, thatchy, spindly crown of thorns, taking his last breath hanging on the Cross, paying the final debt for mankind and thereby enabling us all to live free from the negativity of sin–

That, my friends, is your brain on HOPE.

THANKSGIVING, FOOTBALL and THE GREATEST FAN!

Best Fans EVER!

Best Fans EVER!

Nothing says Thanksgiving like….FOOTBALL!!!!
(Except maybe Turkey, and Black Friday, and food coma, and family, and stuffing, and pumpkin pie…) But still, what better to do than to plop down in front of the t.v. after being stuffed with turkey, shopping ‘til you dropped and just “chillax” in front of a great football game?!
Love football?
I believe Denver Bronco’s fans are some of the VERY BEST FANS of all time.
Are you a fan? What does this look like?
How about:
You’ve had season tickets for 17 years.
You attend EVERY home game, rain, snow, sleet or shine (and sometimes all of the above on the same day—it is Colorado!.
You bleed orange and blue.
The original bronco emblem is tattooed on your left ankle.
The new bronco symbol is tattooed on your right shoulder.
Every game day you are fully decked out: the orange and blue jersey, orange face paint, foam finger, etc.
You cite Bronco’s stats like a wall street ticker.
Your dog’s name is Elway.
You serve only blue and orange foods at your house party for the away games.
You cried and fell into a depression for weeks after Dan Reeves was let go.
Game day you are cheering and screaming for each pass completion, touchdown, extra point and interception. You yell at the television like you were there. You have been known to invent words in your tirades against the ref’s poor calls.

Now picture being that same Bronco fan (fully decked out and on one of your historic rants) in a stadium of the most avid, amped up (and also fully decked out) Raider’s fans (or Patriots!;)). Black and white tattooed arms thicker than tree trunks surround you. You are all by yourself. And the score is 52 to 3. Broncos are losing.

Still a fan?

I think this is where that saying about “where the rubber meets the road” comes from.
Will you roll up your sleeves to display your tattoo? Still ready to defend your team, even when they’ve left the stadium and you alone remain? Are you really ready to bleed and find out if it’s truly orange and blue?

Now Picture:
You love Jesus. You attend every Sunday service (unless there is a Bronco’s game-Thank GOD for Saturday services!) You tithe your 10%, volunteer at the homeless shelter, attend bible study and can recite specific bible verses at the drop of a hat. You raise your hands in praise during every worship song, pray for your enemies, love your neighbor and have that icthus (the fish) bumper sticker firmly affixed to your Ford.

Now, take away your comforts, your finances, your marriage of 50 years, your career, your health, your family.

Still His fan?

When you’ve lost it all, will your heart fill with doubts? When the nay-sayers and well-meaning friends ask what you’ve done to deserve this, will you question His sovereignty? Will your mind spill over with unanswerable questions: “Why?” “Why me?”

Why do bad things happen to good people?

For many a heartache and wound that I have survived, I am able to look back and thank God for His growing me in those times. It’s those very same rough times when my relationship with Jesus grew deeper and more intimate. I can often look back and see a purpose to those pains and, in that “20/20 hindsight,” I can find some answers.

When I can’t, I rely on Proverbs 3:5-6:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

But why do innocent suffer? Why does evil often go unpunished?

Although I don’t have answers to many of these tough questions, I know One who does. I know that He will not waste a single tear and I rest my hope in the fact:
“…that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

God can handle your questions. And it may not be until you see Him face to face that you will have your “20/20 vision” and answers. So, until then, know that nothing can separate you from the love of God–
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38)

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.” Psalm 136:1

In losses, in pain, in heartbreaks, in failures and disappointments, in any circumstance from the beginning until the end: His love endures.

He is your biggest Fan.