Rooted, Built, Established & Abounding In Thanksgiving – Thanksgiving Blog #5

Fall-foliage-Boston-MAThat time of year is here again.  We have said goodbye to another summer and are now in the dwindling days of fall. If you live in Northern Michigan, I think we skipped over the last half of fall, and we are now knee deep in winter! Fall is one of my favorite times of year.  The leaves changes, the sun takes on a different glow, there is a crispness in the air, and my thoughts turn to Thanksgiving – and pie! We won’t talk about my insane love affair with pie right now. though! It really is a sad thing… Seriously… I need help…

Anyway, back on track.  Thanksgiving is that time of year when we like to reflect on what we have to be thankful for.  There are a lot of differing opinions as to how Thanksgiving came to be. Some say religious; some say it has nothing to do with God.  I found the following on Wikipedia, and while I do not always look at that as a reputable site, I think this is a fairly unbiased report of history:

“Thanksgiving proclamations were made mostly by church leaders in New England up until 1682, and then by both state and church leaders until after the American Revolution. During the revolutionary period, political influences affected the issuance of Thanksgiving proclamations. Various proclamations were made by royal governors, John Hancock, General George Washington, and the Continental Congress, each giving thanks to God for events favorable to their causes. As President of the United States, George Washington proclaimed the first nation-wide thanksgiving celebration in America marking November 26, 1789, `as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God’.”

Personally, I love that the Pilgrims took the time after their first winter to thank God and the Native Americans that helped them survive it.  It is a good thing to intentionally set aside time to give thanks for the good things that we have and for the people that support us.  That tradition has carried on, and in two days, many of us will sit around a table with family and friends and take a moment to give thanks for all that has been good in our lives over the last year.

Is that what Thanksgiving is about, though?  Just the good things?  I don’t believe it is.  There are a lot of things that I see in my life that are good, and I am thankful for them.  I have a wonderful wife, two great kids, a great family, some very good friends, a roof over my head, and so much more.  I am thankful for them.  They bring joy to my life, and I can’t imagine life without them, but I have other things that are not as “good.”  If you’re expecting a list, too bad!  Let’s just say that we all have things that we would change if we could.  The question is, are we thankful for those things, too?

Four years ago this past April, I abruptly lost my job.  It was nothing to be thankful for – or was it?  It was during that time of my life, when so many things were falling apart around me, that I was able to finally get a real grip on my relationship with God.  He became real to me.  He was not just that God that we sing about on Sunday.  He became a Father I could cry out to.  A Protector from those out to hurt me. I found a Friend in His Son, Jesus that I could talk to about what I should do next.

By Thanksgiving that year I was in a new job, and things were still rough but sorting themselves out one small step at a time.  I remember feeling so thankful for all that God had done that year.  He allowed me to go so low, to a place where I could do nothing for myself.  I needed to be there so I could give it all to Him.  I am so thankful for that hard time.  It is a part of who I am now, and it is because of His love for me that I am able to say we need to be thankful in all things!  Through relationship with Christ we are given the power to BE thankful in all things!

If you spend much time reading this blog, you will see that I have a fascination with trees.  I love the fact that God does, too!  He uses them all through the Bible to give us lessons for living, and when you study how they live and grow, you can see even more of God at work in your life!  That is why I am drawn to Paul’s words in Colossians 2:6-7.  There is a progression laid out here for the Christian life that we can follow to truly experience Thanksgiving in our lives on a daily basis:

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

– Colossians 2:6-7

the-tree-of-life-hd_1. Receive Christ – If you haven’t done that, then you will find that thanksgiving will probably never extend much past turkey, stuffing, and pie.  Wonderful things, but they will do nothing for your eternity or for your personal growth. (With the exception of your waistline.)

2. Walk in Him – As a believer, we are called to walk as Christ would walk.  We should do the things He did, and live according to the words of God.  It is by walking in Him and with Him that we get to know Him and understand Him for who He is and what He did for us not just in His death, but in His resurrection!  We are made to know Him!

3. Rooted and built up in Him – As we follow and learn, we begin to put our roots down into what we know to be true.  Every time we see God come through for us, we grow a little deeper. Our branches spread a little farther.  We begin to show the life in us as we are growing in our faith in Him.

4. Established in the faith – Here is where we learn to stand firm and strong when we start to see the sun beat down on us making us feel dried out.  The cold winds tear at us, and we feel alone.  It is when those hard times hit us that we look to God.  We are in pain, but we are rooted in Him.  He gives us His living water to keep us alive.  He shows us His love when we feel nothing but hate.  He protects our soul when it is being ravaged by the world around us.  It is hard to be thankful in the middle of pain, but that is when we see the true effects of what we are grounded in.

5. Abounding in thanksgiving – I don’t think we need to wait for the storm to pass to feel thankful.  It is easy to be thankful when we are through the storm, but if we are truly walking in Him, rooted and built up in Him, and established in our faith in God, then we can always look around and see something to be thankful for!  Every day!  No matter what we face!  It is what sets us apart from those who struggle through life with no hope.  Our firm foundation in Christ is our hope!  It is our reason for being thankful, and it is why we can have Thanksgiving every day of the year!

I admit this is not always easy, and it doesn’t always come quickly.  The Christian life is a process of growth.  Just like a tree does not get planted one day and produce apples the next, we will need to go through a time of growth.  Trees might not visibly grow for a few years, but they are busy during those times putting down roots that will make them thrive later.  We might have times where we struggle to be thankful, but if we know Christ, are walking in Him, and are putting our roots down deep in our relationship with Christ and being established in our faith, then the natural outflow of that will be a life of abundant thanksgiving!

Relentless Growth is not something that just happens.  It requires a decision to be made daily to be thankful for a God who loves us and is there for us, even when He feels so far away sometimes.  We were made to know Him and to be close to Him.  We were made to draw on Him and to experience relationship with Him.  We have so much to be thankful for in Christ! As believers, we can’t let it just be one day a year.  Every day we need to make that choice to be thankful!

Thanks for reading, and a special thanks to my friend Joe for inviting me to this Thanksgiving week of blogs.  I hope you are enjoying it as much as I am.  Please read all the blogs of the contributors as they get posted here each day.  Follow their blogs, share, and enjoy them throughout the year!

The Overboard Life – Joe Castaneda

The Musing of a Life – Bev Everett Landgrenen

The Real Life – Terry Porter

Danny Ray – Danny Ray

Be Extraordinary – Traci Castaneda

Making Life Beautiful – Becca Forrest

Relentless Growth – Tom Tanner

I look forward to hearing from any and all of you.  Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

(So, if  every day is Thanksgiving Day, shouldn’t I be seeing more pie?)

Relentless Growth -> Grow Deep -> Grow Strong

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Tom’s Brain Injury

Digging-around-a-tree-trunk-600x337About a week ago, my friend Joe posted a great blog on his first concussion. I’m not sure how many he has had since then, but saying it was the first could explain a few things… Love ya, buddy! . So, after reading his blog I thought I would go ahead and share my story too.

Several years ago we had a large poplar tree in our south yard that had reached the peak of its useful life. Basically we have one really nice spot in our yard and we wanted to spruce it up a bit. We had decided to take the poplar out in order to put in a flowering crab tree and a small rose garden.

I considered having the neighbor dig it out with a backhoe, but that would have made a large mess in the yard. I could cut the tree down and then dig the stump out, but that seemed like it would take longer as a two part operation. I came up with the great idea of digging around the tree and cutting the roots back as much as I could, and then pushing the weakened tree over with my Dad’s tractor. The tree could then be used as leverage against itself, making the stump removal very simple. Brilliant! This was going to be a breeze!

So, on a sunny Saturday morning I began the process of digging. The tree itself was about 12 inches in diameter, so I figured if I dig about 5 feet out all the way around the tree, I would be able to cut all of the significant roots that were holding the tree down and then the fun part could happen. Armed with my shovel and my double-head lumberman axe, I went to work.

After several hours, I had the bulk of the hole dug out. At some point in the morning Tammi had taken the kids to Traverse City or something, and I had elected to stay behind and work. Before she left, I made all of the sincere promises (that felt unnecessary) that I would take great care and caution in my work, acknowledging that I would be home alone with nobody to help me if I cut my foot off. I promised her that I would be careful, would not use a chainsaw, and would definitely not go running to her if I did cut my foot off. (I’ll wait for the laughter to subside after that joke… Okay, moving on.)

I was amazed at how many roots were there! The tree was only about 12 years old, but it had grown very fast. There were roots larger than my calf that I had to cut through in order to gain access to those farther down. I used a hose to wash off roots and dirt as I worked so I would not swing the axe in to a rock that could make the axe deflect off and into a piece of me. I cut sections out and kept stacking the pieces out of the way in order to keep my work area as neat and safe as possible.

Finally I had reached the end. I had one root that needed to be cut. It was deep in the hole, and almost under the trunk of the tree. The root was about the size of my wrist, but I was sure that with one hard swing it would quickly be taken care of. So, in keeping with my practice of safety, I checked my body placement so  nothing would be in the way. I put one leg behind the tree so it was safe. The other leg, and the foot under it, was stable and not in harm’s way. To make sure that I was still in a good and safe position, I took a couple of slow practice swings to check my balance, and then a couple faster practice swings as well. We were good for launch.

I raised the double-headed axe over my head, and with all of the strength I could muster, and I am not a little guy, I swung as hard as I could for that root. I saw the axe come down to about waist height and then I felt a brutal blow to the back of my head and everything went black.

I don’t remember falling into the hole. One moment I was swinging and the next I am face down in a muddy hole wondering who just came up and hit me in the head with a ball bat. I was about to open my eyes and look around when I heard my shovel handle sliding into the hole with me. That was when I realized what had happened.

In my effort to create a safe environment for my labor I had placed my shovel in the ground behind me. Well, it was out of the way, but when I swung the axe around behind me, I was not aware that the axe head had hooked the shovel handle. When I made my Paul Bunyan super swing, I pulled that shovel handle down and cracked myself across the back of the skull. Yep. I hit myself in the back of the head with a shovel handle – hard.

So, I am still lying in the hole, face down in the mud. I can’t move because I had hit myself right above the spine, and all communications with my extremities were temporarily out of order. I couldn’t feel anything lower than my chin. I probably should have been concerned at that moment, but all I could do was laugh at how nearly impossible this type of an injury could be, and how unfortunate that it was not on film!

After laying there for about two minutes I began to regain feeling in my limbs and was able to get up. The axe had fallen in a place that I had luckily not landed on it, and even better, I could see that where my face had planted into the mud was about 6 inches from a pool of water in the hole that I could have landed in. God was looking out for me.

So, not to be outwitted by a dirt-moving hand tool, I put the shovel in a safe place (in front of me this time so I could keep an eye on it) and got back into position to deliver that mighty swing. It took a minute because where there had been one root I was now seeing 5, but I went for the one in the middle, and with a swing that was probably not quite as confident as the first, I was able to cut the root.

After that it was time for the fun part. I got the tractor (why not use heavy equipment after a head injury) and pushed the tree over and then pulled it out of the hole. Since I was still under my vow of safety and would not use a chainsaw to start cutting up the tree, I picked up that traitorous shovel and filled in the hole.

When Tammi got home she came out to check on the progress.  Being the detail-oriented person that she is, it did not take her long to notice the turkey-egg sized lump on the back of my gourd.  She asked what had happened and I shared my story of hand tools run amok with her hoping she would agree that it was at least slightly humorous.

I was glad that she did not fall on the ground laughing at me, but I was not prepared for the anger (Which I later realized was fear of what could have happened) that came out of her.  She reminded me that I had promised to be safe, and wanted to know if I realized what could have happened.  I explained that I was doing everything I could to be safe.  the hole was kept free of debris, proper placement of feet and legs to insure that there would not be a bloodletting, the refusal to use a chainsaw while alone, but I had never counted on being jumped from behind by an unmanned shovel!

As that day wore on, the effects of the concussion started to settle in.  My head got real fuzzy, speech was slow, thoughts were bypassed into the mental equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle, and I developed a terrible headache.  All of those symptoms lasted for a little less than a month before they lifted.  During that time, I could see the concern Tammi had for my gray matter, and I knew I never wanted to do anything like that again.

When I went out to work that day, I had a plan, and I had a plan on how to be careful.  That shovel was completely harmless to me – right up until the moment that it wasn’t.  Something that had the potential to do good, had suddenly done something bad to me, and it was my hand that had put it in the position to do so.

We have things in our lives that are the same way.  They might be little things that seem harmless, but where we put them can turn them into something dangerous.  Friendships, emotions, priorities, activities, leisure pursuits, and the list can go on and on… All things that are good to have, but if we put them where they don’t belong, even for a moment, they could have a disastrous effect on our lives.

A life of Relentless Growth must admit that things can go wrong.  I need to be constantly looking at where I am in relationship to the things that are a part of my life.  I can’t afford to get comfortable, or to minimize potential threats.  I have responsibilities to God, and to my family that hang in the balance.

Also, a life of Relentless Growth allows others to look into your life to see the things that you cannot.  Perspective is very important, and since we all see things a little differently, another person might see a potential threat that you are just blind to.  That is why God made us to be in relationships with others. Relationships not only are fun and help us grow, they are also for protection.  If Tammi had been there, I would not have been beaten down by a yard tool!

This summer I have a couple more trees that I am looking to take down, and while I did have a “memorable” experience with the method I used before, I will probably employ it again.  You can be sure that I will have a good idea of where that shovel is the entire time!  I’m also pretty sure that I will have some people there this time to help me keep an eye on things.  None of them will be hoping to see a re-enactment of the concussion… Right?

Hey! No video recording is allowed without the expressed written permission of the person in the hole!

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Happy Birthday to You…

Birthday Cupcake With Lit CandleWell, the day is here.  Relentless Growth is one year old today.  I know that it probably has not shown up on many calendars as any type of national spectacle, but it has happened just the same.  So, what does this mean?

For most of the world, not a whole lot!  For a few, it means that they have had an opportunity to wade through some of the stuff that falls out of my head.  (A lot of which seemed to be about trees) For me, it means something else entirely.

It means that I have stuck with this for a year.  

When I started this blog I was not really sure what I wanted to do with it.  Part of me wanted to be able to reach out to people and connect with them through writing.  I wanted to find new ways to relate and I had hoped that through comments I would get to know some new people and share some thoughts.  That didn’t really happen.  I have gotten to know a few people, but the numbers have been lower than I had thought they would be.

I thought that I had a great plan for how I wanted the blog to look.  I had a name, a palette, what I thought was a nifty tag line, and a killer theme!  I thought that would be a fantastic draw to bring people in so I could get to know them better.  Well, that didn’t really last.  There were lots of changes through the year until I settled (at least for now) on how things look today.

I thought that I was a good writer.  Well, one thing I have learned as the year has worn on is that there are a lot of people out there who are a LOT better at this than I am.  If I am subscribing to one of your blogs you may be one of them!  I have realized that I am a babe in the woods, and I’m really digging into the things you do and how you express yourselves in your writing.  I hope I am learning well…

I thought I could use this blog as a soapbox from time to time.  We all need a place to crow and let our voice be heard, right?  Well, I recently read a great blog about that.  It put a little egg on my face, and I am really going to be thinking about that for awhile.  I see now that if I am going to do this, I need to ask myself why I am writing what I am writing.  What is the goal?

I thought a lot about the promotion of my blog.  I would check in constantly to look at my stats. Seeing that country map fill in with color was the highlight of my day.  Look I got another reader!  Look, I just hit a new record for daily hits!  Look, I got another award or a notification! Wow.

One thing I never thought about is how writing a blog could make me feel narcissistic. 

I never gave it a second thought that the results of my “readership” would make that much of a difference in my day.  I realized about a month and a half ago that it really did make a difference in my day.  Rarely a good one.

Right about that time I gave the blog one more overhaul for theme, colors, banner background, title, and tag line.  I love it.  Not because I finally have the right combination for reaching across the web to the teeming masses.  I probably don’t have that combination locked in yet.  I found MY theme.

Relentless Growth.  It is more than a title.  It is a life plan.  The unstoppable desire to grow and never give up positive change in order to just maintain the status quo.  Get up. Dust off. Regrip. Hit it again.  This blog is no longer about those other things.  It is now a place where I can share my highs and lows as I continue to attack life.

As I continue to study through the book of Ephesians over the next “who knows how long”, I am going to share the things that God is revealing to me for my growth.  Knowing now that the book is primarily about finding our identity in Christ is opening my eyes to new ways to apply it in my heart, mind, and life.

I’m not sure if more people are going to read this blog.  I have finally come to terms with the fact that readership numbers are not the goal.  The purpose in taking the time to write is to improve my skills in sharing the changing power of God in my life.  This is just a small way to reach out to others, but it still does it.

My prayer is that God will use it.  I may never know if it really touches anyone.  I may never know if there has been a change in a life because someone identified with a struggle I shared.  I might never gain a follower again or even pick up a reader or a view, but I will continue to share the story.  It’s not my story.

It’s the story of Christ in me, and me in Him.

I hope this has encouraged you to take minute and think about who you are in God.  Who do you think you are?  Would you want to know if you were wrong?

Happy B-Day, Relentless Growth.  May you have many more.

In HIS Grip,

Tom

Look! He’s Talking About Trees Again!

247-Bench-by-River-Fowey-at-ResprynOh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night.  They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.

– Psalm 1:1-3

I know that I have posted things about trees a couple of times on this blog, and I would like to tell you it won’t happen again… That would be a lie.  Why you might ask?  Well, because as I look at God’s Word and at my own life, I see all of these amazing word pictures about trees.  They really are amazing things, and like the poet said,

“I think that I shall never see a poem (or story, example, or picture) as lovely as a tree.”

So, Where do I begin with this one?  Let’s start with the passage.  As I read these verses, I see the first two verses as a warning and an instruction. The third verse gives me the word picture that pulls me in and makes me think.

I like how the Bible is full of such great and practical information, and that God presents things in such a way that even the most dense minds among us can figure this stuff out.  (Lucky for me!) God gives us truth that we should be able to grasp, and when we read it, it makes sense, but our practical application gets a bit messy.  So,  the obvious first verse truth is this:

We are happier if we don’t follow the advice of wicked people, live our lives in sin, or hang out with negative people.

Makes perfect sense.  Not so easy to do.  We are called to be a light in a dark world, and that to reach people we must go to them, but we forget that we need to be on guard at the same time. Negativity pulls us down.  When we get around really negative people, we are with people that are putting their own thoughts, opinions,, and usually feelings ahead of everything else – including God.  That’s wrong!

Think about the people that you are in contact with.  How many of them do you leave their company feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and positive?  Probably not many. How many do you leave them thinking, “Well, I got through it without making them mad at me.”?  How many times do you leave thinking you just want to go home and take a nap because you are feeling a weariness in your very soul? Yeah.  Not people we want to spend a lot of time with.  Why?  Not a lot of joy there, but it seems like those are the people we end up spending a lot of time with.

So where do we find it?  Where do we find the joy that we are looking for to get through life?  To be able to reach out to the negative with God’s joy?  To find delight in the every day activities that we are involved in?

Our delight, joy, happiness, fulfillment is found in God’s Word as we think about it and apply it in our lives as we go through our day and even as we lay down at night!

This morning I went to work feeling quite sick.  I had no fever or other symptoms that would keep me from working, but I felt like garbage and it was affecting my outlook on the day.  I was sure that since I felt lousy, my day would be lousy, and all early indicators showed that I was right!  I was struggling and was ready to pitch the day.  I took a minute and talked to God about it.

As I prayed I realized it had been a couple of days since I had really read my Bible.  I had been doing my daily devotional, but I had not been in the Word.  I stopped what I was doing and opened my Bible to a place that I knew I would get encouragement – Psalm 1.  As I read and journaled, I felt my spirit strengthen.  I still felt like garbage physically, and that really hasn’t changed all day, but my outlook changed.  I was able to talk to people, and even encourage a couple of people today.  That was the truth of God’s Word in action!

(Wow, he still hasn’t talked about the trees.  Do you think he forgot?)

Avoiding the sin and negativity of the world is one thing we have to do. Meditating on God’s Word – really digging into it and using it to examine our lives and make changes in our attitudes and behaviors  – is the other part. The result?

We will be as strong, healthy, and fruitful as a tree on the banks of a river.  We will have what we need to grow and thrive year after year and we will be have a prosperous life.

(Nope, He didn’t forget.  Here we go…)

Interesting things about tree roots:

  •  They usually grow between 6 and 24 inches under the surface.  There are some that grow deeper, but as a rule only about two feet.
  • One part of the root is designed purely to seek out water, and these pieces tend to live only about a year and then they are replaced by new roots that do the same thing.
  • They like to have moisture, but too much moisture will result in their rot, and that can lead to the death of the tree.
  • Soil that is hard will keep the root from being able to thrive.
  • Roots will generally extend 2-4 times farther out than the branches of the trees.

We could probably make a few different applications to our lives from those facts, but I am going to settle on another one:

The health of the root system determines whether or not the tree will survive the deep cold of winter, the scorching heat of summer, the violent winds that will blow. 

The roots need to be deep enough to keep the tree from falling when the wind blows against it.  In the same way, our faith needs to be deep enough to shrug off the doubts that Satan uses to buffet us when we are feeling low.  We need to know that the truth of God’s Word will hold us when we feel that lack of security.

The roots need to be close enough to the water to give the tree life and to produce fruit!  As I read the Bible and meditate on it I grow and change in order to be what God wants me to be.  As I continue to grow and follow the example of Christ and reach out to others I produce fruit in their lives as well.

The roots are a storehouse for the tree for the hard times.  There are times in my life when things look quite bleak.  I feel like I have nothing left to give, but so many demands are being made of me.  A tree cannot pick up and move when there is a drought, and I can’t just pack it in and walk away when things get too hot or cold.  Those are the times when all I can do is pray those verses of promise that tell me that God is in control and that He will bring things about in His time for a fruitful harvest.

I think God speaks to us through His creation every day, and at least for me, He speaks very clearly through trees.  So many lessons are there, and if you stick around with me, I am sure we will cover some more of them in weeks to come.  (If you get tired of it, let me know.  I will see what I can do about using lichen or fungus if that is what works for you.)

No matter what God uses to speak to me or you, His Word will always be the best source.  That was the whole purpose for this post.  I wanted to tell you about the truth that He showed me.  I need my roots to grow deep in Him.  I want to be fruitful for Him. I want people to see how He has helped me and how He can help them too.

My purpose as a believer is to bring God glory.  If I am going to do that, I am going to have to be intentional about how I do things.  Reading God’s Word, meditating on it, allowing it to work in me and reveal the things that need to change, and then making those changes is the process in which I can bring that glory back to Him.  He makes it all possible.

Grow Deep!

If this has sparked an interest in you to really get into God’s Word, I would love to hear from you.  I hope at the very least that it has offered an encouragement that God is there and that He wants to show you His love and care for you.

In His Grip,

Tom