The middle days of October found us driving miles east, winding through the last bits of Washington, across the state of Idaho and finally stopping in the middle of the vastness of Montana.
I didn’t know what to expect of those days away from home while my four traveled west to spend days with aunties and uncles and cousins and a Nana.
What I did know is that I would be out of my comfort zone, out of what felt familiar and known.
It was the height of Autumn as we wound through the foothills and mountains, as the light felt heavy with the gold of Fall and as the sky grew large and blue my eyes kept being drawn to the the rich dark of the pine trees that had grown up the sides of peaked rock.
The atmosphere around all of us has felt heavy…I’m sure you have felt it too? It doesn’t seem to matter whether one lives in the middle of the inner city or in the open expanse of the prairies, the air has felt oppressive, thick with apprehension and anxiety.
They popped their heads around the corner back in September, two boys who are often unruly and difficult to handle and I felt the sigh creep up my throat. The bright and sunny renovated classroom was ready to welcome the new group of kids to be tutored this year and they were the first ones in the door.
How does one love another who doesn’t know how to receive love but instead pushes away kindness and grace?
How does one not give up?
Because I was ready to, if I am to be honest here in this space.
That week, I stood up in front of our motley crew of little ones gathered around tables and small group leaders to lead the new Bible Study we had chosen for the year: the impossible task of teaching a small number of children the large number of Names of our even unfathomably larger God.
This day though, we would start small.
We would learn that our own names had meaning and what those meanings were.
The oldest of these two boys was sitting beside Tony with his paper in front of him, waiting for his turn to find out what his name said about him.
Only, he didn’t want to know the meaning of his name, because his name was the same as his father’s, and to him the result of that name search could only mean bad things for him.
Tony paused in that moment, and then he opened the pages of his Bible because his name was found right there in the Words that hold Life. And this particular name found throughout the Old and New Testaments speaks of God-given bravery, strength and courage.
Those small shoulders so often hunched over in defeat or scrunched up in anger, for the first time seemed relaxed.
He sat up straighter.
After leaving the beauty of Montana, the quiet, almost Canadian-ness of it that made me homesick and nostalgic all at the same time, we gathered together as our family of six and traveled down the coast to the ocean and beaches of Oregon.
It was the same there as it was on the foothills and prairies of the east – the dark pine and spruce that covered the ground we were passing. But it was on this trip that I realized why my eyes were drawn there.
It was the brilliant and wild light of the maple trees, the aspen and birch trees. Each leaf that reflected gold and burnt orange and the deepest crimson was held in stark contrast to the depth of dark around it.
I kept trying to capture it in picture as Tony drove, as the lesson was sinking in.
Yes, so much around us feels uncertain and tense. Fear seems to be everywhere. Nowhere online seems safe from anger and outrage while families and friendships and communities fracture and break apart. How do we lament and grieve together for one another no matter what side of the mess you find yourself on?
Jesus, Light of the World, has placed His Light incredibly within the brokenness of His own children. That means, in the dark of the chaos around us right now, we are to stand and let His light blaze out through us while we stand with, not against, those who stand next to us.
Joshua, before he was to take the land of Jericho, looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a sword drawn. Joshua approached and asked the question that I think we all have,
Are you for us, or for our adversaries?
The armed man spoke words that echo across thousands of years and still ring true today,
No; but I am the Commander of the Army of the Lord. Now I have come.
We are out of line when we think Jesus takes sides. We are out of line when we demand He takes our side. Instead, we are to press into and align ourselves with Him.
When Joshua realized Who it was standing there before him, he fell to the ground and in worship asked what he was to do.
This Commander’s only order?
Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.
The spaces around us, where we have the awesome privilege of speaking with those around us online or face to face…these spaces become holy with the presence of Christ. As a follower of Jesus, this holds weight.
The pastor spoke it from the front of the sanctuary this morning, the words that brought everything together and held me still. He said that it was in the dying of the leaf that the brilliant colors came out.
Until the maple leaf began to die, the deepest red could never bleed out. The gold of the aspen leaf would never be seen unless its life began to fade away.
It is the same for the one who loves Jesus.
Our life becomes His as we die to ourselves, and it is here in this dying that we are transformed and made into His likeness,
and this is how His Light shines through.
And how all the ground around us becomes holy.