Bucket lists, God’s Plans, and the Redwood Forest

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 New Living Translation (NLT)

When is the last time you checked something BIG off your bucket list? This month, after years of dreaming about walking through the redwood forest in California, I finally did it. It was awesome.

Did you know California’s North Coast redwoods are THE tallest trees in the world? They are also some of the very oldest living things — some species are over 3,000 years old! Just let that sink in a minute…

The forest I visited was part of California’s Redwood National and State Parks. Wandering through this forest of towering green giants certainly provides a real life perspective on our small size in this big world.

On my trip, I learned some interesting facts about redwoods to share with you. These facts helped me think about God’s plans, not only for these redwoods, but for each of us. Come along, walk with me.

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. 

Coastal redwoods are hardy trees. They can grow just about anywhere. But, they only grow into their massive potential along the California coastline. Why? In California, the cool, wet, and foggy conditions allow the tree’s needles to draw in necessary nutrients from the air’s moisture which nurtures the tree to grow up, up, up. In other climates, these redwoods can only get nourishment through their roots. Tree circulation systems cannot pump high enough to sustain a huge coastal redwood elsewhere. Nutrients must also come from the environment to grow that tall.

Like the redwoods, God also places us in conditions for ideal growth. If we think back upon the events of our life, we can see how relationships, opportunities, and challenges occurred to strengthen us. We are different from trees because we can choose whether we soak up the nourishment around us — whether we look for and pursue God’s direction in our days. God provides the climate for us to grow into the tallest plans he has for us. He puts us in places that can help us reach our true potential. 

They are plans for good and not for disaster

With bark up to a foot thick on some trees, the coastal redwood is strong and tough. The denseness of its bark is just one trait among many which make this tree so unusual. When exposed to fire, the outer layer chars into a barrier or heat shield, protecting the tree from destruction. Pests, like ants and termites, find redwoods unappealing or poisonous, so they do not harm it. Even damaging floodwaters and creek beds are no match for this wood’s survival. Redwood resists water-related rotting; wood that is thousands of years old is found underwater by well drillers in sturdy shape.

California’s redwoods face enemies of fire, pests, and water, but they thrive regardless. Their natural composition allows them to survive and grow into the world’s tallest trees. Similarly, our lives are full of difficult conditions. But our God, the God who equips the redwoods for their good destiny, equips us to withstand this world’s trouble as well.

God does not wish disasters upon us. In this world we will have trouble (John 16:33). But, we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). God created us out of love and for a relationship with him. The strength of this relationship comes from faith in him. Faith gives us sure hope and prods us to seek God’s good through everything that happens to us.

To give you a future and a hope. 

Okay, so here’s the clincher: when a live coast redwood tree (Sequoia Sempervirens species) falls in the forest it can regenerate itself into new life. The fallen tree can keep growing through its limbs or branches. The upright limbs eventually turn into a new row of trees. Similarly, circular groups of new trees can grow out of redwood stumps. The genetic information in the cells of a new tree is identical to each of the others, and to the tree they sprang from. The fallen tree truly has everlasting life.

If God’s plans for the redwoods are good and full of hope, how could they be anything less for us? He has plans for our future, and he is never unsure about how to get us there. We can trust him.

As we grow in faith, the care and guidance he provides become more clear. He stays beside us when we muddle along, when we celebrate, when we endure, and when we mourn. God delivers hope through all conditions and ultimately, through Jesus’ sacrifice, he promises us an eternal life.

Do you think maybe the things we write on our bucket lists arise from inside us for reasons greater than we can imagine? I went to the redwood forest to see the tall, beautiful trees. I left inspired to think about God’s plans and the way he cares for us. He delivers messages in the most amazing ways.

I think God must smile big when we check something off our bucket list. Like he is checking something off too. Perhaps he planned it that way? He is so good. Press on in faith, my friends!

Dear God,

Thank you for the plans you have for us and for the many blessings you give. You place us in the best conditions for maximum growth. The people, events, and opportunities you place in our path encourage us to keep moving ahead. Help us stand tall, strong, and steady as we grow in relationship with you. Give us the courage to do what we need to and the patience to hope in your ways. Grant us wisdom to see how you are always working good, even through hard things. May we live our days here full of your peace, and forevermore in the glory of your presence. In Jesus’ Name, Amen 

Note:

I would love to hear about something on your bucket list. If you have checked something off recently, were there ways you felt God was there with you? Write me a note in the comments or on my “Contact Me” page.

Related Posts:

Embracing God’s Plan

Psalm 23: A Shepherd’s Meanings and Motivations

Where Joy Flows From

Inspiring Resources:

treesofmystery.net

A Candid Photo of Jesus

Snapshot Moments

“But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” Psalm 86:15 New International Version (NIV)

Photos. I’ve been immersed in photos this past week – sorting, deleting, and rearranging a multitude of shots on the computer. This work, eventually, will display a condensed year of  family life in a printed photo album.

In the midst of my choices, something occurred to me. Pictures taken when the subject is not posing, and he/she is unaware are my favorite. There is something special about these candid shots. What I sense behind the images, the character and uniqueness of the individual, draws me in.

For example, you may look at a photo of my daughter and simply see her reading a book. Looking at the same photo, I would sense her deep determination for learning. You may look at an image of my son and simply see him switching court positions with a tennis partner. I, however, would notice that upon crossing paths, their hands briefly tap together, documenting my son’s loyalty to his friend.

Candid photos like this catch loved ones unintentionally offering their goodness to the world. We deeply appreciate the sense of humor behind their smirk, the kindness accompanying their embrace, and the dedication backing their talent. I think these characteristics, observed in relaxed moments, are the same qualities God lingers over and adores. Aren’t we blessed to get a glimpse of THAT?!

So, imagine someone handing you a candid snapshot of Jesus. Jesus, God in human form, is someone we can picture in our mind. If you studied this candid photo of Jesus, what would you see? Can you see beyond the image, as you do when you look at photos of your loved ones? Do you smile at the truths you know about his character? Truths such as:

God loves you unconditionally.

You do not earn God’s love. It is given to you freely, no strings attached. He loves you right where you are, and as you are. Your bad behavior, faults, sins, and failures do not cause him to give up on you. He offers you forgiveness, acceptance, and infinite love.

God does not expect you to be perfect.

You do not have to be a perfect spouse, parent, employee, volunteer, or friend to delight God. He is delighted when you feel happy, and when you are not stressed wearing your many hats. Learning through mistakes only brings you closer to his plans for you. Finding balance and practicing restraint is his hope for you.

God has a purpose in mind for you.

The moment you were created God laid out his plan for your life. He strategically places events and people in your life to direct you. Difficulties may surprise you, but he never wavers in his care and protection. His perfect timing tests patience, but also builds faith.

God wants a relationship with you.

God longs to partner with you on this journey, but he respectfully yields to your gift of free will. Because your uniqueness is irreplaceable, he wishes to lead you to some surprising places. Bravely stepping out of the “comfort zone” prescribed by this world, and into the “God zone” always renders radical change. Always.

A candid photo depicts characteristics beyond the picture because of time spent nurturing the relationship. As in a relationship with a loved one, the more familiar we become with Jesus, the more we will understand his character. Truths, unseen to us before, begin to take hold of our hearts when we look at his image. Catch a glimpse of THAT, and you won’t want to let it go.

Prayer for this Week:

Dear Lord, Thank you for the blessing of candid moments, and for sharing with me what you see beyond the images of my loved ones. Lead me in strengthening my relationship with you, so that I can clearly and confidently see your truths as well. In Jesus’ Name, Amen    

Scriptures to Apply:

About Unconditional Love – Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (NIV)

About Imperfection – 2 Corinthians 12:9, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (NIV)

About Purpose – Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (NIV)

About Relationship – John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (NIV)

About His Character – Psalm 86:15, “But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” (NIV)

Questions to Help Make Sense of Life:  When looking at candid photos of my loved ones, what characteristics do I sense that strangers would not? When I think of an image of Jesus, how well do I feel I know him?

God Doesn’t Do Rush Hour

The Open Road

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12 New International Version (NIV)

It’s Monday, another week, and another 168 hours to get something done. Hearing these words can conjure up images of to-do lists, tighten chests with anxiety, and tie stomachs in knots. The weeks of our lifetimes seem to cruise by with increasing speed the older we become.

Catching our breath, we notice conversations littered with common phrases such as “so busy”, “don’t know where the time goes”, and “gotta run”. We read books on developing more efficient habits, watch programs on time management, and hire services to help organize our lives. Clearly, the quest for using time wisely is important to us.

We can learn how to eliminate nonessential tasks and how to prioritize the remaining items. But, what if, even after cutting back, our list still leaves us with a feeling of dread? Maybe, it’s not only the number of things to do, but also the approach in doing them that needs tending.

In Garth Stein’s wise and witty book called The Art of Racing in the Rain, he writes: “In racing, they say that your car goes where your eyes go. The driver who cannot tear his eyes away from the wall as he spins out of control will meet that wall; the driver who looks down the track as he feels his tires break free will regain control of his vehicle” (83).

Applying this, if we regularly set our sights on busyness, we have no direction or control when a wall shows up. However, if we look ahead and visualize driving through life’s crazy course of events with diligence, then we can continually regain traction. Our distracted society makes it easy to go with the flow of never getting enough done. Living in busyness, without a focal point, is like driving in rush hour; we get nowhere. God calls us to vigilantly search the horizon for worthy purposes and focus attention in that direction. A welcome sense of peace comes when we live our lives focusing on a purpose, instead of distractions.

Turning attention away from upcoming walls requires slowing down and noticing our surroundings. Last week, while shopping at Target, a preschool age girl with sparkly silver shoes darted in front of my cart to get a better look at a display of the newest toys adapted from the Disney movie Frozen. “Oh my goodness, oh my goodness…would you look at this?!” she squealed exuberantly. Her father, I noticed with amusement, seemed unfazed as she rattled on. His focus was ahead, towards bath necessities and groceries.

Perhaps, the little girl’s unbridled enthusiasm is a daily pattern of life for this father. Maybe, that particular day, it was a notable distraction from the direction his “eyes”, and thus his “car” really needed to go. Understandable. I wonder, though, if like the rest of us at times, he needs reminders to slow down and become more aware of the gifts in front of him? Allowing for moments of mindful appreciation help us remain present and grateful for God’s direction in our lives. These breaks in our day give us space to breathe and to think about where we are headed.

Clarity regarding how our time is spent comes easier when we focus, slow down, and remember to involve God in our decisions. We often forget to ask him for direction when we are rushing about. He gave us free will to make choices, but he never intended for us to feel alone in making them.

His directions are the gut feelings we get about whether something is right or not. It’s what drives people to do great, big things like put a man on the moon, end a war, and research cancer cures. It’s what drives people to do smaller scale, kind acts like visiting an elderly neighbor, helping a struggling child learn to read, or sending a care package to a Syrian refugee.

All of these acts matter. None are considered insignificant. God places a different call in each one of our lives; spending time with him is how we figure out what that call is for us. If we slow down long enough to identify what we are aiming for and ask God for direction, our time here will be more fulfilling.

Invite God along for the ride. Listen for his quiet instructions to set your gaze down the track. And, remember he prefers the scenic route.

Prayer for this Week:

Lord, thank you for the blessing of the hours in this week. Help me remember to include you in the process of making my plans and to ask for guidance in prioritizing my tasks. Show me how I can better serve others for you. Keep my focus on finding and following your directions for my life. Bring my attention back to your goodness through moments of pause. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Scriptures to Apply:

Psalm 90:12, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (NIV)

Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (NIV)

Proverbs 20:5, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.” (NIV)

Questions to Help Make Sense of Life:

How often am I overwhelmed by my own busyness? Can I prioritize my to-do list so that I move at a steady pace, focusing on my task while still appreciating the gifts that surround me? Can I remember to ask God to help me figure out what he is calling me to do and listen for his direction in my day?