We were tired.
Having spent a week with some beautiful people in a tiny little village in Guatemala, our hearts were full, but our bodies were empty. A fellow team member was more than tired. Having had a forbidden swig of water to brush her teeth, she was riding through the airport in a wheelchair holding a small trashcan.
We all just wanted to get home!
Coming through customs, one of my bags caught the attention of a TSA worker.
“Ma’am. It appears you have some fruit in your bag. Apples, is it? We don’t allow you to bring fruit in from another country.”
“(Nervous laugh) Those are just wooden apples.”
“Are they the wooden apples you can eat?”
“Ma’am? Ugh, no, ma’am. They are wooden apples; decorative.”
“Oh. Okay. Fine then.” And the agent rolled the bags on through without a search.
There were a couple of nuggets in that short, sweat-inducing exchange. First, I did not know there were edible ‘wood apples.’ There are, and you are welcome. And secondly, decorative wooden apples look like the real thing if we don’t examine them closely.
That last statement found a spot in the attic of my mind. I have too often heard it making noise, begging me to have a deeper conversation. So I let it have some room.
“Wooden apples look like the real thing if we don’t examine them closely.”
And I wondered out loud, “How often have I offered God a bowl of wooden apples?” I am pretty sure too often.
Between the upper room where they ate and the Garden where He prayed, Jesus told His closest friends that He was (is) the vine and they were (are) the branches. Apart from Him, they could do nothing. Bear no fruit. And in the same breath, He encouraged them to abide in Him. To stay connected. (John 15)
For years, I hyper-focused on the little word do. I was action-oriented; project-oriented. And if I am being honest, I was project-over-people oriented. Oh, I loved people. But too often, I prioritized what I was doing for them, for God, over loving them well.
So, when the wooden apple idea kept clamoring for attention, I decided to focus on what Jesus meant by fruit. So I dug a little deeper.
Stay connected to me. I’ll work through you. Anything you do apart from me, on your own, will have no eternal value.
Your fruitfulness brings glory to God.
And you will be filled with my joy!
Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, described an abiding life. As the Gift who came after Jesus ascended, the Holy Spirit empowers us to live as Jesus lived, to love as He loved. A life lived surrendered to the Holy Spirit is a life abiding in Christ. And the fruit that grows from this abiding is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Confession. I have been planning to write this little piece for over two years. So proud of how far I had come; my perspective was going to be from the other side. A proclamation of progress, even if not perfection. I had come to a peaceful place of abiding. And my fruit a pleasing offering.
I began writing on Monday morning. I didn’t get very far because my Monday, and the days following, were filled with opportunities to love others in action. But on about day four, I felt a change. Feeling the angst of my holiday to-do list, coupled with some GiGi duties and little interruptions, my heart started leaking. A slow drip turned into hemorrhaging.
It might have been subtle. But there it was. There I was. Apart.
“Apart from me…”
How do I know I was apart? My self took center stage, and I began thinking (worrying) about all the things I wouldn’t get done. (Even now, I’m fighting the urge to peck out the list to have you affirm me in my whining.)
Panic may be too intense a word, but my anxiety began rising. I wasn’t going to have enough time to check off my list. Things would not get done. Thanksgiving would be a haphazard mess, and Christmas wouldn’t get off the ground in time. People were counting on me, and I was sure I wouldn’t keep my commitments. Not in the fashion I wanted.
Apart. Clearly, apart from Jesus.
And in this state of mind (heart), I only offer God wooden apples.
But progress has been made. My jaunt down the rabbit hole of despair did not last too long. For one thing, I was in the process of writing to you, my friends. (wink, wink)
And secondly, perhaps I have learned a few things to be true in the last few years.
Does anyone want to take a deep breath with me? Because that’s what I did.
Deep breathing has physical benefits. Abdominal breathing triggers the vagus nervous system and helps you calm down from within, allowing you to think better thoughts intentionally.
I took five deep, counted breaths.
- I made a list of what I thought I needed to have gotten done this week.
- I made a list of what I did get done, including those irritating interruptions.
And it was true. Some things on the first list got bumped by others on the second.I would have less time to tackle the to-do list. But I reminded myself of the reason for the lists.
To love others with the same love Jesus loves me.
In that same conversation, when Jesus instructed His disciples to abide in Him, He followed with “when you obey my commandments, you remain in my love.” And He didn’t open an ancient scroll and read out of Exodus. Or Deuteronomy. Or Leviticus. He said to love others as He had loved them.
So, did I want my grandson to feel seen and delighted in or simply tolerated?
Did I want my husband to feel like I was his partner in everything or just when it was convenient timing?
Do I want to make my family feel loved and celebrated or do I want to celebrate what I have done for them?
Do I want to love my party guests well or do I want to impress them?
Asking and answering (honestly) these questions adjusted my to-do list. It also painfully adjusted my heart.
Oh, I am sure I will fight the demons of perfectionism and control every day I live on this earth. But I am learning to surrender both. And for me, abiding begins with surrender.
Surrender. Abide. Do. My helpful little trio.
Surrender: my motives, ideas, control
Abide: remain in Jesus, choose His way of loving others
Do: I do what is necessary to demonstrate the love of Jesus. And only after abiding can I be trusted not to confuse my version of love with His.
When I abide in Jesus, I can love others well. Because we are so deeply connected, it is Him loving others through me. This is how I bear much fruit that brings Glory to God and fills me with His joy!
What about you?