Recently, I faced a circumstance that brought that women back to my memory. I thought of her with new understanding as I dealt with something that made almost everything within me want to turn inward, to build a fortress around my family, to "protect" my husband and kids. There is no telling what that sweet woman had faced through the years, what her husband or family had endured, or even what she was currently dealing with, but I was facing very real thoughts of enough is enough. I have enough people in my life. There are enough people in our church. There is enough work to do. There are enough problems to deal with. Enough. Taking those dark thoughts captive felt like a work-out of heavy weight lifting. My heart muscle is still a little sore from it all.
"I am the vine and my Father is the Gardner. He cuts off every branch in me that doesn't bear fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." John 15:1-2
Did you know that when a church is pruned, the leaders are probably also being pruned? It is good, painful, stretching, pulling, holy work for both the church and her leaders. The result: new, fresh, beautiful fruit. In my own life, I can see the buds of the fruit of new, fresh, beautiful desire to have more and more new people in my home and around my family, but with a deeper, richer dependance on God with my eyes set on him. I am working to learn to trust that as he uses my family to be hospitable, he will be the fortress around us, that he will truly protect my husband and kids. Sweet relief.
"I am the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me and I remain in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:5
And for Second Mile? Well, we are growing! There are so many new faces each Sunday that it is difficult to meet everyone, and Second Milers are engaging with these people! It isn't left on Chad's or my shoulders. In fact, we can hardly meet anyone new because so many people are talking with them! It's fresh, beautiful fruit! I'm thankful and waiting with a holy awe of what God is doing among us.
To top it off, we just finished our annual week of prayer and fasting. More people than ever fully participated as we prayed for wisdom, for potential changes, for the ability to be radically hospitable. After our prayer gathering I was standing around 5-7 young people in their twenties, all of whom had fasted for an entire week. Rich, beautiful, God-pleasing fruit.
"This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." John 15:8
In my very biased opinion, Chad has been bringing it on Sunday evenings! I think his teaching is getting better and better. My friend, Anna, once said about Chad's teaching, that she loves the times when it is obvious when Chad is talking but she knows it's actually the Holy Spirit speaking. I love it, too. If you want to learn more about Jesus through the book of Hebrews, I encourage you to watch or listen to the series.
However, in the spirit of learning to allow God to be my protector, I'm going to take this opportunity to defend myself. Wait. What? But in all silliness, in Chad's amazing teaching there have been a couple of times recently that he only half represented me to all the new people that are coming to Second Mile which brought good laughter from the crowd. I want to finish off this post by offering the rest of the story, an extra piece of fruit, if you will. Don't worry, I am not hurt in the least. If you listen to Chad talking about me and can't tell that he loves me, you aren't really listening.
A few Sundays ago he was talking about my ability to relate with people. He often greatly encourages and praises me for my relational skills. I love when he points out some way I've specifically loved someone. He's my biggest fan. My family calls me Barbara Walters because they constantly witness people I don't even know telling me very profound things about their lives and crying as they speak to me. It's true. People often cry when they talk to me. I like to think it is because they know I'm safe, that I genuinely care, that they are laying down some of the burden they carry. Chad decided he should tell everyone on a Sunday night that if they talk to me, I will make them cry. Fantastic. People avoided eye contact with me the rest of the night. Just kidding. Sort of.
This last Sunday Chad announced to everyone that I'm especially gifted at telling my kids they deserve death and hell. That's it. Mr. Detail left out the important details! It was in the middle of good words, and there was appropriate laughter. But, listen, there is a reason this is one of my life mottos. That's right, "I/we deserve death and hell" is a life motto and, in my opinion, for a very good reason.
Our culture is such an entitled, selfish, bratty, obese creature, so to remind myself I don't "deserve" anything, but instead remember that all good things are gifts of God's grace to me, when I get greedy and selfish I tell myself what I could be getting (death and hell) and then start to thank God for the bountiful goodness that I have. So when my kids rear their selfish sides and try to tell me what they "deserve", I simply and calmly ask them what they actually deserve (death and hell), and then ask them to tell me some things they are thankful for. My hope and goal is to raise humans that are grateful, thankful, and content instead of little "I deserve" monsters. Capeesh?
What's the point of these words spilling out of my heart? A few things:
Pruning in me is producing a deeper dependance on God with a commitment to love people and serve the church. It is good and I like it.
Second Mile is growing. People are going deeper in their own faith, and many new people are blessing us with their presence. I'm hoping people will want to link arms with us and do big things for Jesus in Tucson and the world.
If you are new, I will try really hard not to make you cry or tell you that you deserve death and hell.
What about you? Have you experienced any pruning lately? What are you learning? Do you having any funny quirks you would be willing to share with us?
Much pruning and many blessings to you!