Out of the corner of my eye I saw a yellow ball climbing a tree.
I saw it, but was listening to my daughter tell a story, so I kept my eyes trained on her. But as it ascended higher in my peripheral, I had to look again. Of course it wasn’t actually a yellow ball climbing a tree, but it was a squirrel with a golden apple clutched between its teeth scaling high branches and seemingly defying gravity.
I recognized that apple as the slightly mushy one that had been sitting in our fruit basket yesterday, as the one I’d tossed out the window, because I’m big on composting and small on mushy apples.
The squirrel must have been out of his mind with joy when he saw that giant feast in the midst of the bleak frozen January ground. I imagine he’d been foraging for anything—a piece of bark, a forgotten acorn, but this apple was something he’d never even hoped for. About two thirds of the apple remained. He’d clearly already taken large, ravenous bites.
I started laughing. My daughter joined me at the window, and we watched the little guy for several moments, teetering from the weight of the apple, yet clearly clinging to his prize. The heaviness of the fruit threw off his balance and hindered his climb upward, but he kept at it, swerving and stepping, uncertain of what to do next. After several moments of amazing acrobatic feats he set the apple down in the crook of two branches and continued his climb without it.
Every move of this squirrel was hilarious. It also seemed to be speaking directly to me.
Because if God unexpectedly drops a giant piece of juicy fruit on my path this year, I want to take a bite. I don’t want to pass it by, because it’s not part of my normal routine, because I’ve never had an apple appear on my trail before, because I was looking for something else, because it seems bigger than I can handle. I want to learn how to embrace the gifts and opportunities God sets before me, even if it means I have to alter my gait, or rearrange things to maintain balance.
But I also want to know when something is not from God and when God says it’s time to be done. When it’s too heavy, too burdensome, when something I take on is actually hindering living fully for Him.
When new things come my way, I get excited and often say, “I want to seize the day, change the world, make a difference, dream big, have bold goals, get busy, and I want to do it N-O-W!” But I also want to be conscious of allowing for down time, Sabbath. So, other days I worry about taking on too much and say, “Maybe that will be too challenging, demand too much from me or my family. Maybe we should just stay home, pop on our pj’s and watch a movie?” I live on both sides of the balance beam, so where does that leave me? I guess with a giant apple clenched between my teeth, not sure what to do next.
But, God knows exactly what to do.
So my prayer this year, is to check out those apples. And if I feel God has placed them on my path, then take large, hungry bites. But as I chew them, I want to ask God again, “Now what?” And if He says, ‘keep eating’ or ‘pick it up and run with it,’ then I want to do exactly that. And if it gets to a point where the apple grows burdensome and challenging, I want to ask God again. And if He says, ‘You can do all things through Me,’ or ‘Keep running the race,’ then I want to muster all of my energy and keep climbing fervently. But… if God says, ‘It’s time to put it down,” then I want to set that apple between the crook of two branches and walk away. No matter if that means that apple is now for another squirrel, or for me to come back to later, or so I can pick something else up, or for another reason altogether, great.
This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike, “What’s next, Papa?” –Romans 8:15
I think of life like walking along a balance beam, trying not to lean too far in either direction. But this doesn’t mean taking each step, methodically and measured. Yes, the end result requires balance, but the actual journey might mean sprinting full speed ahead until our sides hurt and then pushing ourselves even further, ravenously sinking our teeth into opportunities. Being feisty, scrappy and gulping down large swallows of life. But at other times it means sipping life sweetly through a straw, going for a quiet stroll, or just sitting still. It means experiencing the absolute freedom of setting down our burdens and exhaling a deep breath of relief. It means some nights making homemade pizzas with multiple toppings and dough that needs to rise all day and other nights ordering Papa Johns. At the end of a long day, both taste delicious. Both are satisfying. Both are sometimes necessary.
So no matter what God has in store in 2017—whether that’s picking something up or setting it down, let’s do it adventurously and expectantly.
I reached for my sunglasses, where they’d been, hooked on the neckline of my top, but they weren’t there. I tapped the top of my head. Not there. Even though I was certain I’d worn them into Butterfield’s market, I still checked the console in my car where I sometimes set them and in the sunglasses holder up top where I should store them, and in the middle compartment. Nothing.
I got down on the floor of my car, in case they’d slipped. I picked up my purse and dug through it. Kleenex, coupons, and candy, but no sunglasses. By now, my mom and kids were back at the car.
“What’d you lose?”
“My sunglasses,” I mumbled.
“Did you check the register?”
“Are they in the greenhouse?”
We all went back inside and retraced our steps through mounds of dark orange pumpkins, crazy-shaped gourds, giant pots of mums, and bales of straw. They weren’t lying on the counter where I’d paid. The greenhouse, warm from the sun and fragrant with heady mums didn’t seem to be hiding them. We milled through the barrels of apples, bags of caramel corn and jugs of cider, but my sunglasses were nowhere to be found. What looked like an entire freshman corridor of college students trickled in for a hayride, making it difficult to even walk through the market, let alone continue my search. In one final effort, I left my name and number with the girl working the checkout, in case they turned up.
Have you lost something recently? Your keys? Your folder? Your phone? Some days I think I’m losing my mind. We search frantically on our way out the door for that cleat, that notebook, that bill we were going to drop in the mailbox. We scramble and scurry to find the things we’ve misplaced. We’ll stop everything to look for that one thing.
"If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won't he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost?” –Matthew 18:12
Jesus says we are the thing He’ll drop everything else to find.
You know how desperately you want to find your debit card? That phone number? The email you misplaced in your inbox? Your other earring? You know how you look and search and barely talk to anyone as you’re single-mindedly searching for it? That’s how desperately Jesus wants to hang out with us, the lengths He’ll go to to be with us, the extent of which He loves us. He’d stop everything to look for me? Yes. He’d stop everything to look for you, too.
When I got home I opened my trunk and grabbed a pot of crimson mums
“Mom! Stop! There they are!” My daughter yelled.
I looked down not registering what she was talking about. There were my sunglasses intertwined among the stems of flowers. Laugher. Relief. I snagged the shades and popped them back on my face.
And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn't wander away! --Matthew 18:13
Jesus rejoices when He finds us, when we let Him find us, when after hiding out among the flowers or the apples or the pumpkins we are finally looking at Him, listening to Him. He laughs. He sighs. He grabs us and pulls us close.
Envision a push up. Get down on the floor if you need to. Do one fast.
Down. Up. Done.
Now do one s-l-o-w-l-y. Dddooowwnn and then back uuupppp. Harder right?
My yoga instructor was talking about how when we hold a pose we actually work our muscles more intensely than if we go in and out of a pose quickly. She asked if we knew why that was. “Because otherwise we cheat ourselves,” I answered. And I didn’t want her to think I was cutting corners throughout class, so I followed up with, “we don’t mean to, but we do.”
And it got me thinking about so many aspects of my life where I don’t mean to cheat myself, but I do.
I grab a handful of chocolate chips, because I love them, but I shove them in my mouth as I’m on my way out the door, and don’t really allow myself to savor the richness of them, the way the dark cacao sets off the slightly sweet from the cane sugar. What if I ate one, and then another, and then a few minutes later one more?
There are hugs I pull back from too quickly from my kids, because we’re in a rush to get to school, to practice, to bed. What if I held on tighter? Longer?
As soon as my coffee is in hand, I chug the first sip, eager for my morning caffeine. What if I took a deep breath first, inhaled the intoxicating aroma of roasted beans?
There are days I rush into Bible study, sliding into my seat as our discussion begins, and slip back out as quickly as possible after the final “amen” without pausing to absorb something I’ve learned or to consider a question someone asked. What if I got there early? Intentionally stayed put for a full five minutes after everyone else stands up and let it all soak in?
What if I held the poses of life longer?
How about you? Are you texting during a movie and missing beautiful lines that would make you weep? Typing an email while on the phone with someone else so you can get more done, but missing an idea the person you’re talking to is trying to share? Skimming through the book for book club just to get to the end without savoring the depth of the characters or a description of a breathtaking blue jay? Are we going through the motions so quickly that we’re cheating ourselves of the moments that nourish our bodies, stir our hearts, inspire our souls, and challenge our minds?
Are our mouths open? Are our eyes open? Are we allowing ourselves to be wowed and changed and loved by God?
I don’t want to cheat myself of any of those things. No. I want to taste every morsel of chocolate, breathe in every snuggle, smell every cup of coffee, learn as much as I can, understand better, grow stronger and more aware, be more in tune, and less tuned out. This week is the perfect week to challenge myself to this. There are apples to be tasted, leaves to crunch underfoot, a visit with my mom to enjoy, soccer games to cheer at, a date with my husband to flirt with him, a pot of pumpkin chili to prepare, and the music of my son playing in the worship band to listen to. I don’t want to miss a single beat or bite or breath. Will you join me? In tasting and seeing the goodness God has prepared for us?
What do you have in store this week and how can you savor it?
While grabbing an apple in the kitchen to fight off a mid-day stomach growl, I heard an erratic banging from the dining room. I peeked around the corner to spy a large black bird flapping his wings and flying straight toward one of the windows--crash—hitting it so hard, he fell back to the ground in a feathered heap. Was he dead? How long had he been down here? How in the world did a bird get in our house?
The bird quickly answered my first question—he was not dead—by rearranging his body, raising his wings and aiming straight toward another window, only to repeat the whole crashing and crumpling scene. A close-up wild bird is very different than gazing at one flittering through the trees. He appeared so much gawkier, louder, and infinitely crazier. My instinct was to get him OUT! But he was like a lunatic, also probably severely concussed, so I avoided his hysterical flapping (I did not want him plummeting into me) by ducking through the hallway to open the front door. I swung the wooden door in and the storm door out, sliding the catch so it would stay open, all while talking to the bird as if it were a toddler, “Come on bird. Here’s the door. You can go outside now. Here you go.” But where did he go? He was nowhere in sight.
I followed my ears to the clatter of colliding and flapping in the living room. He must have snuck in this room, like one of those secret passageways in Clue—where you can go straight from the Conservatory to the Lounge even though they’re on opposite ends of the game board. He had tricks up his feathered sleeves, and he was now head-banging against the window in his new room. When he fell to the floor. Again. I rushed past him to open the back door leading to our screened-in porch “Alright, bird. Come on out to the porch. I’ll get this door open for you too, or the front door’s still an option. Either one works for me.”
I got the screen door open and finally remembered to breathe as he soared onto the porch. Brilliant. Until he crashed straight into one of the screens. I now know the origin of the word “birdbrain”. I closed off the porch, so he couldn’t get back in the house, and kept talking to him while shooing him time after time in the direction of the exit. After several crash and burns, he flew outside. I slammed and latched the door behind him.
Finally free of the problem of having a large bird flopping around my home, I pondered how he ever got so misplaced that he ended up here, that he thought he wanted to be in our house instead of out in the open where he belonged? How did he get so confused, distracted that he couldn’t distinguish glass or screens from air, from wide-open spaces? I considered how the more exhausted and anxious he got, the more he seemed to spin out of control.
But I do it too. Do you? Do you ever run into the same wall time and time again? Trying to do it all by yourself, ignoring the voice coaching you out to freedom
Instead of embracing the trees and sky where God has placed you, do you ever seek something you’re not suited for, somewhere unbecoming of the beautiful being God created you to be? Have you ever banged your head on the glass thinking it might be a way out, crashed into a screen when you’ve flown a little too high or too low?
Like that bird, we all get off track sometimes, misplaced, confused about where we want to be, where we should be, what is truly important. We find ourselves someplace we never imagined, and we can get trapped there. Appearances, brands, numbers on the scale, on test results, on the scoreboard, or in our checkbooks distract us. We get tired and stressed, which confuses us and we start making bad, frantic decisions. But how do we get back on track, back to our true selves, our true reflections?
It’s easy, if we’re willing to take a deep breath, get our bearings and listen. God is opening doors and windows giving us fresh opportunities and new chances, shooing us to the openings, to the ways out of bad situations and into wide-open spaces. He’s talking to us saying, “Look over here!” We just need to listen.
And when we pull ourselves out of our heaps and fly to the beautiful places He’s providing for us, we can stop feeling scared, lost, overwhelmed, or incapable, and spread our beautiful wings and soar as He designed us to do.
Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you. Galatians 5:1
Have you ever eaten an apple from Walmart? Sure all of the apples in the ready-to-go, easy-to-carry, plastic bag are the same shape and size. They’re even all the same color. Even if they’re multi-colored apples, it’s uncanny how they manage to package eight apples with the exact shade and portion of yellow marbled into the exact hue and percentage of red all in the same bag. But once you bite into one of those look-alike apples, you forget you’re eating an apple. Instead you get a mouthful resembling mealy cardboard.
Have you ever picked apples in an orchard? Off a real, live tree? Or at least purchased apples from an apple farmer, at a roadside stand, or a farmer’s market? They’re all unique. One might have a ding. Another an uneven spot. You might find one with its stem and leaf still attached. Their surfaces aren’t as smooth or shiny (translate waxy) as the ones at Walmart. Even apples from the same tree are different sizes with distinctive curves. Ever bitten into one and experienced the layering of sweet and tart, crisp and juicy, like crunching morsels of cider? These apples are like ambrosia. It’s almost blasphemy to use the same word to label this fruit as the kind they’re calling apples at Walmart.
God created us to be orchard apples.
Not Walmart apples.
He designed each and every one of us in His image. He knows exactly how much water we need, what kind of fertilizer we require, how to keep the pests away. He appreciates us when we are seeds, seedlings, beautiful pink blossoms in the spring, and as we grow into solid fruit. He doesn’t judge us along the way, try to grow us in a rush, pick us too early, or stuff us in a plastic bag and ship us before we’re ripe. See, God made us; therefore He loves who we are at every stage of our life, our dings, our rough spots, our natural surfaces. He doesn’t ask us to be anything we’re not, or try to cram us into a bag, force us to like someone else. No, through His love, God helps us become the best versions of ourselves. Much like those fresh from the orchard apples. Some of us are sweet, and some of us are tart, and some of us are a mix of both. We are red and green and gold and pink and all kinds of swirling combinations.
A Granny Smith does not want to be like a Golden Delicious, she’s too sassy for that. A Pink Lady has no aspiration to be a Honey Crisp, because she’s amazingly sweet and crisp and beautiful just like she is. Each apple just tries to be itself, because that’s who it was made to be. Us too. We need to relish in who we were made to be our Creator. Remember you are an orchard apple, not a Walmart one, so delight in the layers of your personality, your one-of-a-kind shape, size and flavor.
I love to bake. One of my family’s favorites this time of year is Apple Crisp. The secret to this recipe is to use a variety of apples. The different degrees of sweet and tart, crisp and soft all meld together when they bake into something unbelievably scrumptious. We deal with gluten and nut allergies, but this dessert is safe for all of us to savor. It is warm and sweet and spicy. Top it with some vanilla ice cream that melts over the crunchy topping, and you’re pretty close to this side of heaven. You don’t need any skills to make it, just a great variety of farmer’s market apples and a peeler.
7 medium-sized apples peeled and sliced thinly. A variety is best, some gold, some green, and some red. Mix it up.
1 cup dark brown sugar
½ cup melted butter
1 ½ cups gluten free rolled oats (you can use regular, but don’t use steel cut, they don’t work as well)
½ cup gluten free flour (I use a ready-made blend, but you can make your own blend, or use GF oat flour or use regular flour. They all work the same.)
½ tsp. Cinnamon
Vanilla Ice Cream or if you’re feeling festive, whipped cream
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
What's your favorite way to serve apples in the fall?
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