Don't attempt to walk across our backyard!
Recently my husband and his trusty chainsaw took on our elderly cherry tree. Branches as thick as my arm lay strewn over the lawn. One moss-covered log measures over six inches in diameter. Sticks abound.
Pruning. It's a messy business.
The thickest length of wood, while appearing much like the rest of the tree, is hollow, dead, lifeless. The other felled branches bear evidence of blossoms waiting to erupt, and yet they met the same fate. "For the health of the tree," I was told.
This tree holds a warm place in my heart as its accumulated yield of plump, juicy Bing cherries weighs into the hundreds of pounds over the years. Each spring we anxiously anticipate the size of our crop as buds become blossoms and white flowers give way to delicious fruit.
And more sentimentally, as I stare at our 30-foot tall, craggy family member, I see three little boys sitting in the crux of three strong branches. I remember little feet and hands eagerly scampering higher and then too high for me to watch. It's a faithful tree.
And for its good, we prune.
If we don't remove dead or damaged areas we risk decay and insects entering the tree. Thinning the branches increases airflow and allows sunlight to reach inner sections, preventing disease. Pruning is prevention.
I wonder if the tree will go on strike this year.
It has, after all, just endured a system-shocking overhaul. The energy typically used to grow little red clusters of joy may be needed for recovery. While it still looks like the same tree - just six-feet shorter and more airy - there is an inner working of regaining balance, healing and sealing its wounds, all acts of preparation for new growth.
Pruning comes at a cost, and like so much of life, requires the skillful hand of one who knows which areas to address, cutting off that which hinders to make room for increased fruit.
Are you being pruned?
With love and gratitude,
The 30,000 foot view is instructive.
Today I travel through Calgary for the 18th time in eleven months. Tomorrow will be number 19. I am confident I would not have believed this fact twelve months ago.
Years ago my trusted counselor noted, "Shelaine, at this stage of life, many women are spreading their wings to soar. Your wings have been clipped." The metaphor resonated.
The irony of my now extensive flight-life is not lost on me.
In the midst of difficult or confusing or painful seasons it is often a challenge to see beyond immediate circumstances. Sometimes doing the next thing feels like too much to ask.
When life is full and busy with rich, invigorating and exciting prospects we can become absorbed with our day to day and forget to look up. And, of course, most of life has elements of all of the above.
So what would life look like from 30,000 feet? In other words, is there a higher perspective on the particulars of today? And perhaps more importantly, how do things look with a step or two back? I find this discipline affords some objectivity, creates space for seeing more pieces of the puzzle, and, if nothing else, can be a mini vacation.
It's almost time to board again. May your view be unhindered by life's clouds today.
With love and gratitude,
In 2012, the Minnesota TMJ specialist went to look at my x-rays leaving me in the examination room with three young women, all dental school graduates now studying TMJ disorders. I broke the awkward silence by asking how they came to be specializing in jaw issues.
One replied, “I don’t like general dentistry so I think this will be better. I don’t enjoy looking in people’s mouths.”
Had my jaw been able to drop, it would have. “You don’t like looking in people’s mouths? How did you ever find your way into dental school?”
“It’s what my parents want me to do. I am too afraid to disappoint them.”
All those years of education resulting in a career chosen out of fear feels tragic to me.
Obviously I don’t know much of the other circumstances surrounding that young woman’s decision but the encounter has stuck with me and causes me to ask what fears I have that might be preventing me from embracing my vocation.
Smith says, “At this point, our level of honesty makes all the difference – honesty with ourselves, honesty about what we are feeling, thinking and wanting….we never will come to full purity of motive, in this life. But we can be diligent about what we are thinking and feeling, and it is never a waste of time to systematically review the hard questions that enable us to know if our peace comes from God.”
It is interesting to me – although not all together surprising – that the chapter on discerning vocation is summed up in this way. Take an inventory of ourselves and our circumstances, pay attention to thoughts and feelings (particularly noting fears and anger) and then in peace, take one small step. I appreciate Smith’s perspective that the “distant future does not need to be a burden to us…but neither does the distant past need to be a burden.”
I have adopted a line from this book as my prayer regarding vocation and I trust that “…we can embrace the present moment with faith, hope and love, and as God enables us, we can act in such a manner that we seize this opportunity of the joy that is set before us.”
With love and gratitude,
Excerpts this month are from The Voice of Jesus by Gordon Smith.
“Then what matters most is humility, the willingness to accept who we are and embrace the full significance of that identity. What we seek is the grace to take responsibility for our strengths and abilities, to live with contentment within the skin that God has given us rather than aspire to be someone other than who we are. This is humility, and it is liberating in that by it we are freed from the burden of pretense.”
Gordon Smith makes this statement after addressing the need to assess “who am I?”, concluding that once I have taken stock of myself my job is to accept those realities and ask God for the grace to live within them. God did not make me to be someone else. Whew.
In my coaching role I would often describe career decision making as a two-fold process, know yourself, know your career options. In his chapter on vocation, Smith widens the second aspect to be know your world. He says, “If we are to discern well, it is imperative that we see the world as it is, not as we wish it were. It is a matter of facing up to the circumstances and opportunities as they actually are, not the circumstances or opportunities for which we hanker.”
I’m fond of reality-based living. By personality, I’m not naturally wired to be a dreamer or big-picture visionary so I tend to do fairly well with this portion of discernment. In my teaching I used to have clients complete an activity called Practical Realities where they answered questions like how much money they needed to earn to sustain their current lifestyle, did they desire to work full or part-time, how far were they willing to commute, would they relocate for a new job. It was a blending of knowing themselves and then seeing how that fit with the available options.
Being realistic about my world takes my head out of the sand. And, when I can accept that some things are out of my realm of possibility it narrows my field of choice. I will also have to grieve those closed doors, some with more tears than others. I simply can’t have everything I want in life.
I appreciate Smith’s thoughts on our need to willingly live in this unfair world. “But God’s call is always within the particular, and consequently the limitations we experience are always the context in which God will call us and enable us to experience his grace.” How often have I found this to be true! I would not be writing this post today were it not for God’s grace through difficult circumstances and his gentle leading into a world I never expected to enter.
Smith says, “Part of accepting our world and seeing our circumstances in truth is accepting the opportunities that are given to us rather than bemoaning what is not there.” That is my prayer for this day.
With love and gratitude,
Last week I ended with a list of questions from Gordon Smith’s book, The Voice of Jesus, that feel designed for a fireside chat with a trusted friend while sipping tea. I have found that engaging in meaningful conversations with people who know me well can be very helpful as I seek to make decisions. It can also be confusing.
I recall many a client sitting in my office saying some version of “I don’t know what I want to do but my husband/mother/uncle/sister/dog thinks I should…” I empathize with the tricky balance of weighing the input of others, not wanting to disappoint people and taking ownership of my choices.
I appreciate Smith’s perspective. He notes that while what we long for is to hear the voice of Jesus directing us, “Something else needs to be emphasized. No one else will make these critical decisions for us. They might try to do so, but they cannot. Vocation is necessarily something about which we bear personal responsibility.”
Nothing drives home the message that I am responsible for living my own life more clearly than chronic pain. People can be supportive and provide encouragement. Others can empathize and help out in practical ways but ultimately I had to be the one to quieten my spirit and attempt to hear how God wanted me to live each day.
“We choose how we will respond to this set of circumstances. And no matter how limiting a set of circumstances may be, we still can ask, how am I being called to respond to this set of circumstances at this time and in this place?”
My life since those pain-days has radically changed and yet these principles are no less fitting. Each day is a fresh opportunity to ask God what He would have me do with my time. “At this point and in this place, what is it that I am being called to do?”
With love and gratitude,
In The Midst