(Don’t miss the included video)
So I want to give you this story, and maybe it should rightly start like the best one does: “In the beginning.”
Because it was right in the very beginning of a brand spanking new year that my farming man asked me to go for a ride down to the river.
To make tracks through the fields of snow, to wind down through the woods hushed under its blanket of white, and make our way to where the river winds slow under the willows, laced in this skirt of ice.
But just south of this grove of gnarled apple trees, huddled close in the January winds, the field wasn’t frozen a solid safe,
but was actually this soggy bog under an unsuspecting cloak of snow.
Which meant that? My farming man and I went down like a stone in a winter quicksand. Yeah: mud spinning up,
and ATV sinking down in a muck sea and there we were:
In the beginning of a new year, with all it’s new goals and plans and resolutions, already kinda mired down and —
You know that of which I speak?
But you’ve got to know that the Farmer had a cable winch at the ready, at the front of that all terrain vehicle.
So he slogged up to one of those gnarled apple trees, slung the cable around and he engaged that electric winch, and that all terrain vehicle churned and dug and spun and the Farmer rocked that ATV and gunned it and the winch kept hauling in the cable, which was what kept hauling that ATV, inch by muddy, sloppy, mucky inch, out of the mire till it finally just lurched free.
And then, not to be undone, now that he had gotten unstuck, my farming man turned and grinned and asked me to get back on our all terrain vehicle and ride on down the river bank with him.
Past where the cattle tracked down to the water’s edge to drink, down past the low river crossing, down through the cedars heavy with snow. And when he revved the ATVs engine to run us through a snowy tangle of neck high grasses just where the river curved north, I’d shook my head and, over the revving of the engine, I’d leaned close to his ear, just to pull his leg, and said:
“You just think you can go anywhere now, do anything, just because you’ve got a winch on the front of this thing, don’t you?”
But he was already shaking his head, pointing across the barren clearing filled with this knee high snow.
“Absolutely not. Because look around you: You can only get unstuck if you’re close to a tree.”
And he cut the engine and everything stilled and I could hear the river running and the truth of things running through everything.
There is no getting out of any mire without an anchor.
There is no hauling out of muddy messes without Tree of Christ.
In the beginning of a new year, when our goals, our plans, may not be going as we expected, and when the terrain in a pandemic may be different that what we hoped, we can become more disoriented than what we’ve ever known.
When what did work, now doesn’t work, when what we envisioned, isn’t what now we’re living, we get stuck.
When we are deeply disoriented, deeply disillusioned, deeply stuck, our immediate default is to return to our old ways of doing things, reorient to our worn out ways — the way that got us stuck in the first place.
The way that got you stuck — can’t be the way that will get you unstuck.
The way you came here — is not the way out of here.
Who we will need to be for the unknown future, is different than who we were in the known past.
The terrain under all of our feet has forever changed, because of a global pandemic, that has caused economic tidal waves, that has shaped societal shifts & and if we honestly look at the geography of reality, the truth is: This ain’t Kansas anymore, and we ain’t ever going back to that Kansas, because Kansas as we knew it doesn’t exist anymore.
We get to grieve. We get to, and we need to, pause and and acknowledge and lament and feel and deeply grieve.
After the season we’ve all had, it’s worth noting that there is only one emotion that becomes a title of a book in all the Bible: Lamentations. Lamentation is the emotion that brings motion to our pain, moves the stress of the grief through our own souls and moves us toward God.
We lament the losses of the last year, and we grieve the chaos that a pandemic has wrought, and pause to acknowledge that our goals for this year may be off to a stumbling start, but we are absolutely not getting stuck — because all of our emotions can be our very soul in motion, moving us toward God.
When you are stuck, the way free is proximity to the God-Man who hung on the Tree because if you don’t have something, Someone, to hold on to you, you get mired down and forget your true identity.
When you feel like you’re failing, it’s the Tree of Jesus that says you are safe and found.
When you feel like you’re behind, it’s the Tree of Jesus that says you are held forever in His hand.
When things look impossible, it’s the Tree of Jesus that says nothing is impossible and hope can rise.
And in the deep snow quiet, I can hear the river rippling on with this very real hope, no matter what the messiness or terrain:
Keep calm & just keep coming back to Jesus.
When you are personally trying to change, when the fabric of a country is trying to change, when the whole world is dealing with unparalleled change, when we are all headed off the only maps we’ve ever known, what is key:
In uncharted territory, the one thing you’ve got to chart out is how to daily maintain proximity to Jesus’ Tree.
The primary way to navigate unknown territory is to commit to the knowness of relationships, to choose to intimately know, and to be known. Unless we make time to know, and to be known, in our relationship with God, and with our relationship with each other, there’s no way across unknown terrain.
Because, whatever our terrain right now: Trust is traction. Trusting Jesus with our messes, trusting each other with our vulnerabilities — and trusting Jesus to tell us who we are, and show us the Way to who we are all called to be.
Trust fuels all travel. And where there isn’t the truth of Jesus — to anchor who we really are, to determine our truest identity, to root you in realest reality — there is no trust, and thus, there’s no way through.
There is no way through without truth — so you’ve got to stay close to Jesus who alone is the Truth, the Way, the Life.
There is only one way ever to get unstuck and that is to stick close to the One who hung on the Tree at Calvary.
If we hold on to Jesus and each other, there is always a way through.
And in the beginning of a new year, after we got unstuck, after we meandered down by the water, after we heard the river singing hope through the cold, the Farmer and I followed the road through the snow like a story we trusted held good things up ahead.
And I held on to my farming man all the sure way home under trees.