Something shifted on the global axis. and personally, in my world. Our national sense of security was forever shaken.
InOctober 2001, a severely damaged tree was discovered at Ground Zero, with snapped roots and burned and broken branches. The tree was removed from the rubble and placed in the care of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.
From the charred and broken tree, signs of life and hope emerged. Under the watch–care of thecrew, the Callery Pear Tree began to thrive. After its recovery and rehabilitation, the irrepressible tree was returned to the Memorial in 2010.
New, smooth limbs extended from the gnarled stumps, creating a visible distinctionbetween the tree’s past and present. Today, the Survivor Treestands as a living reminder of resilience, survival, and rebirth.
A few years ago, on the cusp of becoming an author, I visited the New York Memorial for 9/11 with my editor. We walked by the tree and celebrated its survival; two stunned strangers in a strange landscape igniting a friendship beside the signs of unnatural life. When did your towers fall? What signs of life are emerging from the debris? Make a list, and inventory of the new branches, new leaves? So many upheavalslately. And yet. And still. That hushed and tranquil tree stands in Manhattan. In the spring, it’s the first to bud and the last to lose its leaves in the fall. Your root system is stronger than you think. The network of support all aroundyou is a social mazeof amazingness. Arich tapestry of connection.A matrix of life. We, like that tree, are a living narrative of joyous entanglement.
Bodies, are strong, aren’t they? But, like all armor, they have their weaknesses. It’s what’s inside that matters. Simone Biles’ personal struggle reminded the world of this at the 2020 Olympics.
We protect life at all costs and with all instincts when it is our own. Our defenses become skilled, honed, bolted on. But, I think that is what the irony of the Biblical message is, “How beautiful are the feet of them that bring good news” – because reaching out to help others in need is foot bloodying, callus making, dehydrating, painstaking.
Any Olympian knows those gnarled feet are not that beautiful after the long run. It is the message carried in the soul, or in the outstretched hand, in the much-needed funds or supplies, in the scroll or in the book which is so beautifully life-giving.
When there were no postal services, there were the human runners. To greet such a message bearer at the door, to receive the message or item and offer to wash and bandage those feet, is to tend to them with joy and tears.
Judging fourteen-year-old Quan Hongschen with consistent tens blew the Olympic diving record out of the water today. She didn’t do this so much for herself as for her mother’s life. For her chronically ill mother, the achievement brings crucial medication by allowing Quan to afford to fund her mother’s care in China.
Athing Mu raced like a gazelle to the gold in women’s middle-distance running. She is a record-breaker, a testament to the value of refugees who build America.
It is usually only the recipient of the good news who says, “How beautiful these feet!” “What a sight for sore eyes!” “What a savior, you are!” “Such an answer to prayer!” “Your value is a work of art – apples of gold in settings of silver!” “You have saved my life!”
Beautiful Feet Because of the Beautiful Feat
When the servant at the door loves the master as much as the servant arriving with the message, these are the words of one servant to another. “Let me bring you water. Sit here. Lie down. Oh, your wretched feet! They are so beautiful.”
Words are so powerful, and so are the illustrations of the expression. How many times have I put together a piece of furniture or used a piece of software, or read a book that I would not comprehend but for the illustrations? Maybe this is why I love children’s picture books. Maybe this is why I love to include those few pertinent illustrations in the books we publish at Capture Books.
The irony is lying ill from the wildfires permeating the air we must breathe, and opening a bottle of medicine you can take because someone thought to prepare you with it.
The irony is watching an arrow sink into the opening of someone’s armor, and watching words of life pour out, like butterflies from the soul. Blood – butterflies – words – illustrations – help – honor.
During worship, our church sang, BE THOU MY VISION by the 8th Century lyricist, Dallan Forgail. The subject of the message was worshipping God in our daily work.
The words hit me like they never had before. Goading me from the perspective of a fairly unknown author and editor in today’s market, struggling to find the needed footholds, the lyrics of this ancient hymn reminded me of my priorities and of the substantial rewards offered by the Lord.
To show you how almost every phrase or thought in the song became animated for my soul, I’ll highlight the phrases for you.
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart; Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art Thou my best Thought, by day or by night, Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight; Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight; Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower: Raise Thou me heavenward, O Pow’r of my power.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise, Thou mine Inheritance, now and always: Thou and Thou only, first in my heart, High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun! Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.
So, I’ll ask you, writer, or new author without a “platform,” how do you see your writing?
Is writing your passion, like a spiritual enigma?
Is writing a hobby?
Or, is writing your life’s work, your career?
Frank Viola advises that a writer who is not willing to invest in marketing and publicity to boost their products to the intended audience is only a hobbiest. But, even a hobbiest seeks out models and YouTube how-to videos for patterns and best practices.
People do invest in hobbies. They buy tools, a table, the supplies, and sometimes we invest to see where the market lies for their products. But, a hobbiest doesn’t really expect to see a profit from doing something that passes the time in interesting and enjoyable ways. A hobbiest, though, can also leave a legacy of the things made for others.
Some people also invest in a career if they are entrepreneurs or just good and loyal servants of a company. College diplomas are earned so that a person can prepare for the prerequisites of work and learn the elements of a career.
But, sometimes a passion is a thing we give ourselves to without any expectation of reward. We call this attitude altruistic or philanthropic.
Insert Foot In the Comedy Door
I have a friend who needs to pay for her property and way of life, suddenly, after divorce. She doesn’t have office skills or a college degree. She has some acting and comedy skills, and she had been writing and practicing her schtick.
She invited me to listen to a staged comedy routine she was required to perform as a final assignment for her comedy class and provide feedback. She was preceded by six people whose routines were so vulgar that I wondered whether I could continue to watch and wait for her turn. The atmosphere caused me to pray for her strength and buoyancy.
When it was her turn, she spoke from her own life and perspective without bitterness. She displayed a flowy hand movement and there was an elegance about her. She did not cuss or use sex, genitalia, or potty jokes like the others had. She was dignified in her storytelling. Her jokes were original. I called her on her way home to congratulate her and give her my perspective. Her courage. Her persona offered something unique to build on.
She was crying behind the wheel. “I don’t know why I’m crying,” she said. “I had fun, I felt like I was funny and people laughed, but when it was over, I was alone. The rest of the performers were eating and drinking together, and I was alone, so I came home. But, you know what? I want to be righteous. And, I think the Lord was honored.”
My heart lept for her. I am confident that God will make a way in or outside of this wilderness called comedy clubs.
Drinking from an Empty Well?
I want my writing and my business of publishing to be a big part of my legacy. Sometimes, I’m willing to sacrifice income by putting my books down to .99 cents while investing in a promotion. But I don’t like to devalue my books by leaving them at that price or by giving them away for free. Others are willing to hand out their books or booklets for free. They post their writings freely on social media hoping to minister to someone that day.
Sometimes I struggle with the idea of regular writing for business or even part-time income when the present costs and sacrifices are more than I want to give. Oftentimes, the costs are far more than I have to give. If I try to drink from an empty well, the hope is futile. In that case, there is no decision to be made.
Sometimes I struggle with the idea of writing for spirituality because my own spiritual practices are non-quantifiable. They may be very different than others’ ideas and practices.
Then, when my work is ignored or rejected or marginalized, I wonder if I have the spine to withstand these disappointments. They return my goodwill and investment like a bucket of dust from an empty well.
From Whom Do We Seek a Reward?
There are earthly rewards promised in Scripture to those who do certain things.
We can read about the rewards of faithfulness, and the rewards of self-denial, and the rewards of integrity.
Some rewards are miraculous like when God comes through for a King who is faithful and obeys the Lord beyond reason or by denying other’s ungodly counsel.
I read about Ezra’s situation today in the book named for him. Ezra was leading back the remnant of God’s people to Jerusalem to build the city and the temple. King Darius had ordered that he be given everything he needed to finish the work. In the course of their correspondence, Ezra proclaimed, “The hand of the Lord will protect us.”
The journey for Ezra and his people was monumental. They hadto travel about 900 miles, a trip that would last three orfour months. The journey wasextremely perilous. Travelers in Bible times would often meet withrobbers, and Ezra’s group carried with them large amounts of gold, silver, and valuable vessels (Ezra 8:25-30). Ezra realized how helpful it would be to have aroyal escort of soldiersand horsemen to protect his vulnerable people on their arduous journey. No doubt, the kind King wouldhave granted such arequest, even as Nehemiah later enjoyed the benefits of a royal escortfrom this very samemonarch (Neh. 2:9). And yet, Ezra was too ashamed and embarrassed to make such a request (Ezra 8:22). Why thehesitancy? It wasbecause God’s Name was at stake. Ezra had already told the King that the hand of God was upon them andthat God would take care of them (Ezra 8:22). To ask for help at thispoint might send a message to the King thatthey didnot really believe that God could protect them. So instead of asking the King, Ezra proclaimed a fast and asked the King ofkings to protect them (Ezra 8:21,23). God wonderfully answered: “The handof our God wasupon us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy andof suchas lay in waitby theway” (Ezra 8:31). They safely arrived in Jerusalem (Ezra 8:32).
The Blessing of Keeping a Holy Vision
Christian authors and writers write to present themselves and their material in such a way that the name of the Lord is not dishonored. Sometimes, they are unsure of how to go about this and make mistakes, but as God did for Ezra, who ran to Him with a petition for provision and protection, the Lord will continue to be faithful to His children today.
He will provide.
He will see us through.
Though the journey may be perilous, God’s hand covers us.
Whether we appeal to a king or appeal to an audience, when we appeal to the Lord, He is faithful.
Honoring our Maker and our Redemer is always the priority and over-arching goal. Even when we write about perilous times and situations.
Moses authored Psalm 90. His prayer is “May Your work be shown to Your servants and Your splendor to their children.” It is when our intentions make it into our handiwork and products produced that things begin to happen. When writers are writing to display God’s handiwork, Moses’ continues:
New International Version
“May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands.”
New Living Translation
“And may the Lord our God show us his approval and make our efforts successful. Yes, make our efforts successful!”
The Lord does see you thinking, processing, writing, editing, publishing, and He sees you closing that circle by pursuing the need of others to see, read, or hear what you have written. He is actively ordering your steps and delighting in your journey. Psalm 37:23 says, “The steps of a man are ordered by the LORD Who takes delight in his journey.”
May the blessing of Moses give you a great heart for the journey.
May the prayer of Ezra remind you to dedicate your embarrassments to the Lord for His redemption and honor.
May the lyric of Dallan Forgail, create a deep stream from which you will dip your refreshment. No matter what, may the Lord be your inheritance, now and always. May He be your dignity and your delight. May He be your shelter, your high tower, and your undergirding power. May He be your wisdom and your true word.
I am currently reading the book Rare Leadership by Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder.
Because I am still praying and processing the information contained in Rare Leadership, I am hesitant to wholeheartedly recommend all the material. There is, however, a portion of the book that includes maturity assessments. I was reading one of the assessments and feeling proud that I had the items discussed in check. Then, I realized that the assessment was for child-level maturity.
The older I get, which also means the longer I am in ministry, I realize more and more that ministries are only as healthy as the people who lead them. It is a trickle-down effect. As a leader, if I am unhealthy emotionally, my teammates and those I lead and teach will be affected by my lack of emotional maturity.
Proverbs tells us that spiritual zealousness without maturity can be dangerous.
According to Warner and Wilder, there are four qualities of emotional maturity that can be used as a guide to assess our own maturity and also the maturity of others with whom we engage.
Do you avoid conflict?
Do you avoid people who upset you?
Do you use negative emotions (shame, anger, fear, disgust) to control people and outcomes?
When conflict arises do you make people choose sides or do you reach out to those who oppose you?
Acting Like Yourself
Do people walk on eggshells around you?
Do they feel safe disagreeing with you?
Do people share honest opinions with you?
Do people avoid bringing their problems to you?
Can people expect a tender response to their weaknesses?
Do you reveal your own weaknesses and ask for help?
Do you fear people discovering what you are really thinking and feeling?
Do you present yourself stronger than you really feel?
Returning to Joy
Do you know how to quiet yourself when you’re upset?
Do you isolate yourself during upsetting emotions?
Do you reestablish connections quickly after upset emotions?
Do you help others return to authentic relationships quickly from their unpleasant emotions?
Do you see moments of upset as opportunities to strengthen relationships?
Do you stay annoyed with people who trigger your emotions?
Do you ignore people when their emotions are not in sync with yours?
Do you help your group maintain an identity that is resilient in the face of difficulty?
Enduring Hardship Well
How much stress does it take for you to avoid relationships?
How much pressure can you handle before you snap and turn into a different person?
How much can you handle before you disappear and turn to your cravings for comfort?
I know that I am sharing a great deal of information. Some of the questions included above could have pages of discussion written just about one item. My goal in sharing about emotional maturity is not to cover things completely but to build a platform for us to evaluate on a basic level, and then pray and discuss with others how we can grow emotionally.
Here’s to emotional health and well-being!
Tonya is the co-founder/director of Strong Cross Ministries (SCM). She and her husband currently reside in South Africa, where they assist local leaders in helping their communities. She is also an author of two novels and the co-author of a resource book for women in Christian leadership. Tonya is a national and international speaker. She is especially passionate about helping women grow in Christ.
Even in the moment of utmost magnificence, the realities of life cast a cloud over it all. Have you noticed?
This is truth, the here–and–now is what we hold in our hand this moment. We savor the taste, the scent, the love, the sight, the feel.
The Japanese term “mono no aware” is often applied to flowers.
It means “they. . .won’t last forever.” For English speakers, it’s tough to translate, but it’s a relatable idea. ‘Mono no aware’ describes beautiful but perishable things. Mono no aware becomes a human anthem, our song of recognition: Every moment counts.
I choose to live in this moment, right here.
The exquisite beauty of the Japanese language describes “an empathy toward things”, evoking both a transient gentle sadness, a wistfulness at their passing, as well as an underlying poignancy about this state being, the reality of life’s ending in decline and death.
We’ve traveled a lot of road together, and this is so real, so true, it’s difficult to find the language to describe it.
Even as gardens, yours and mine, are carefully tended and watched over, the beauty of nature is fleeting. All nature. We, too, come with expiration dates. We are colorful and thriving and being woven into glorious patterns of symmetry and contrast.
We are carefully tended and watched over, many of us blooming far into the future.
Embellishing options, we keep planting new life, new blossoms in new seasons. When we face the ending of one season, we water new seeds, and graft or adopt or improvise in the faith of growing new sprouts for another season.
In drought, we include the defense of closing ranks with friends and allies. We help each other. We punt for each other. We dress each other in the coverings of costumes and smile at the future. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness are the friendship fertilizers. Doing good, being faithful, being gentle, and having self-control in the face of temptation. These are the ribbons of bouquets.
It’s an aspect of being created in the image of the Creator, that we thrive best in community, rubbing shoulders. Out of one garden, another is already blooming. That bloom of friendship. Bridges through passages become the colorful things that matter. Relationships can trump protocol, can trump rules, can trump law. Friendships can trump financial resources and other competition. Grow the garden of love, and you’ve grown the blossoms of a heavenly kingdom.
I choose to travel this road with other transients. It’s a bumpy road, filled with detours – but its ours and we’re on it together. The scenery right now is breathtaking.