grace opportunities

I went on a hike this last weekend with one of my best friends. While visiting this beautiful park in Eagan, one event led to a conversation and a thought process on my part during the remainder of that hike.

Early on in our hike, I had stumbled across a photo-op and stopped to take a few photos. Another group of hikers were right behind us, so my friend and I opted to step off the beaten path to let them pass. Just upon passing, one woman stumbled over a rock, or maybe it was the giant tree root, in the path and fell, face first onto the trail. I quickly prayed that she was okay.

She was, thankfully. The woman simply got up, laughed at herself and kept moving forward.

Her graceful flip onto the dirt trail and the statement/question that followed spurred the conversation that stayed with me the remainder of the day.

One of her friends — who had walked on ahead — returned to make sure she was okay. Upon seeing that she was, he teasingly asked, “Jane, were you trying to be graceful again?”

At that simple, teasing and lovingly spoken question, my friend and I both exchanged a look in the moment and burst out laughing the minute that group was out of ear shot.

I can so relate. I’m just about as “graceful” and my friend knows it. I trip up the stairs. I fall down them. I trip over inanimate objects. My family joked about my ninja-giftings in being able to trip over flat surfaces. All. The. Time. It doesn’t help matters much when my name – Anita – has the meanings:

1) Graceful One
2) One of grace; gracious one

When I informed my friend of the first, she laughed. Oh, the irony. (Personally, I prefer the latter one as I’m most definitely not all that graceful.)

Anyway, back to the point of this entry…

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Lebanon Hills Regional Park Eagon, Minnesota

As we journeyed along the path, I, too, did a little trip and caught myself just in time. My friend laughed and rather than call those stones, small boulders and tree roots (see photos) sticking up at random places on our hiking trail “opportunities to be graceful”, we called them “grace opportunities” (grace ops, for short) and after safely crossing a few of those opportunities, my friend pointed out how this could be used as a metaphor applied to our spiritual lives too. She was right and that got me thinking…

Life is a lot like a hike through the woods. The path isn’t always easy, but once we’ve reached that clearing and see the view, or catch a glimpse of God’s bigger picture, we realize that the struggle is or was worth it.

Each tree root or rock a person stumbles over symbolizes the things in life that trip us up — the loss of a loved one. grief. cancer. the loss of a job. disease. financial struggles and pressure — and more.

In thinking about this connection, I was reminded of the parable of the good Samaritan and a plethora of other scriptures, verses I had memorized as a child or maybe even read recently.

Luke 10, verses 25-37 reads as follows:

“Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. ‘Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?’
He answered, ‘What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?’
He said, ‘That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence – and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.’
‘Good answer!’ said Jesus. ‘Do it and you will live.’
Looking for a loophole, [the scholar] asked, ‘And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?’
Jesus answered by telling a story. ‘There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his cloths, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him, he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.
‘A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill – I’ll pay you on my way back.’
‘What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?’
‘The one who treated him kindly,’ the religion scholar responded.
Jesus said, ‘Go and do the same.’” The Message

Along with these:

“We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15 ESV

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ…But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” 1 Corinthians 12:12, 24-26 ESV

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to life him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ESV

We tend to laugh at the person falling and unfortunately, all to often,we do the same when one of us falls in life. We might even avoid that person all together. After all, who wants to get their hands dirty? Or even step outside the walls they’ve built to keep comfortable? 

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Lebanon Hills Regional Park, Eagan, Minnesota © Anita J. Brands. 2014

We’re quick to judge when we don’t even know the person living on the street or the single mom with three rambunctious kids living across the hall. We tend to think that they must have done something to deserve their lot in life. Some may even go as far as thinking “natural selection”. We’re thankful that it’s not us. Or what about when a person we don’t like falls into hard times? Be honest. We judge people based on how they live their lives, via outward appearances, when we should be loving them instead and we are harsh in our thinking and our acting out, which stems from our thinking.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan and God’s Word begs us to answer the questions:
“Who is my neighbor?”
“Who is God calling me to love today?”
“How can I love them?”
Which led me to think, “What if….?”

What if, instead of pointing out the fallen person or avoiding them all together, we used that opportunity to show them the grace and love of God and help them get back on their feet?

What if we took the time to really get to a know a person; not just know of them — and took the time to really make sure that they were okay?

What if we took the time to love them the way we’re called to? The way Jesus does? Selflessly an unconditionally?

What if God plans to use us where are at in guiding that person back to Him? What if we’re simply called to just be there in their time of need?

What if we really walked the walk and not just talked about it? What if we expressed compassion the way God intended?

What if?

What would that look like in your life? In mine?

I’ve been that person — the one who has stumbled over this giant rock in the path God has set before her.

My sister died.

Tragically and suddenly.

She’s gone home…

It’s easy to get lost in this Valley of the Shadow that is grief. So easy.

But God is good. He sent the rest of His local body to my aid. My home church in Minneapolis has been there; is still there.
My parents’ church back home, the same one my sister attended and was a member of, has been there.
My family — the very ones who are facing the same stumbling block I am, but in different ways — have always been and are there. Oh, to have been blessed with a family who values the things of God and believes that we can’t take our next step, our next breath, without Him.
My closest friends, fellow brothers and sisters in the family of God, have been and are there.
Some don’t know what to say but have there regardless.
Others tend to fill the silence with words…and that’s okay. Even those moments require grace.
It’s good and it’s needed.

Because of that, I can’t help but want to be there for others when they trip over life’s rocks and roots. The love of God covers a multitude of circumstances; it’s not limited to any one thing.

I’m reminded when I think of how that woman responded to her rendezvous with the ground that I get a choice too. I get to choose whether I will get back up and continue moving forward with my life with gratitude or if I’ll lie there and wait for the next bad thing to happen. I get to choose living life to its fullest over living in fear. I get to choose joy over self-pity and “woe-is-me” thinking. I get to choose to allow God to take what Satan intended for evil and turn it into something good; something for His glory — not mine. I get to make those choices with each new day and I can honestly say I’m excited to see how God will use this season of my life.

I now pose those same questions to you:
Are there people in your life who have hit rock bottom?
…who have had the rugged ripped out from under them?
Are there any who need a lending hand in getting back up?
Can you name at least one person who needs to experience the love of God?

And if you’re in the midst of having fallen, what will you choose? Will you get back up or will you stay down, letting Satan win this round?

I challenge you to lend a hand.
I challenge you to get back up and accept the support and love offered.

Think:
What if [you fill in the blank]?
What will I choose this day?

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Lebanon Hills Regional Park, Eagan, Minnesota © Anita J. Brands. 2014.

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Lebanon Hills Regional Park, Eagan, Minnesota © Anita J. Brands. 2014.

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Lebanon Hills Regional Park, Eagan, Minnesota – © Anita J. Brands. 2014.

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