dazzling tree.

[dazzle]: transitive verb: to overpower with light; to inspire inspiration & wonder. noun: a herd of zebra.

[tree]: noun: a woody plant that is tall, has main stem or trunk & typically lives for a long time.

This sweaty, spirit-infused summer brought me a new name.

Dazzling tree.

While it sounds like a name straight from the 70’s, it runs a bit deeper than that. It has real roots.

God spoke it to me just last week, on the tail end of The Experience, the 2-month discipleship program with Forge, a ministry based here in Aurora. Our team had a day in one of my favorite corners of the mountains. I was exploring around a still lake, grey clouds gathering in clusters, a peaceful breeze guiding the trail. It was quiet, and still God whispered who I was to Him.

Dazzling captures the word I had longed looked for to describe the sparkling sunshine above the trunks and leaves and branches of trees. Gorgeous, right?IMG_9159

Before one of my teammates used the word in a devotional time one morning in Mexico, I had hardly heard of it at all. It refers to an overpowering light, yet it also can be defined as a unified and unshakable group of zebras.

As for tree, well, I have always loved trees. There were moments – multiple of them – this summer where I would pray and ask God, “Who are you to me?” In multiple circumstances, late-nights, and through Scripture, I was consistently pointed back to John 15: 1-4,

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”

Just so you know, I’m not kidding about “God as a Gardener” or John 15 coming up many, many times. For one, the first time I heard God’s voice was on a log. Later in our summer, in my sleeping bag one late night in a remote Mexican village, I was reading a small book called, The Deity Formerly Known as God, with the author explaining different conceptions that 21st century believers have had in Him. One chapter, nearly verbatim, recounted a conversation I had with farmers earlier in the day about growth, faith, and God’s patience represented through trees. In July, on a hike in Winter Park, I found more logs and trees that God used to explain Himself and though it sounds crazy, I believe that all this time trees have been God’s way of reaching, protecting, and showing me just how He knows and cares for us.

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The Experience is intense. The team and staff joke that we eat, pray, and cry. We chuckle about that, but it’s kind of true.

I looked closely at those words, however, eat, pray, cry on my porch as the morning sky was a reaching early afternoon. I was quickly reminded that this was a lot of what Jesus’ ministry was all about: submission, fellowship, & truth.

Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself [submission] and take up his cross and follow me [fellowship]. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it [truth].” (Mark 8:34-35)

Forge is committed to building up laborers to share truth about Jesus so others can know the freedom of following Him. If you have read my blog before, or perhaps spoken with me a time or two, you might be like,

…what? This girl…what is she talking about? She already was a Christian.”

Well, maybe. But I can assure, I wasn’t following Jesus solely, purely, and with everything that I had.

I used to believe that God was a God of action and good works: live a moral life and you get a solid “A” in your spiritual walk. Holla. I thought that being nice to people equated a relationship with Jesus. I also felt that people just needed to be happy all the time and that we would all be just fine. I had basically boiled my faith down to a simple truth:

Obedience – Identity – God.

We find God from everything we do for Him.

It’s not really like that. Try it this way,

God – Identity – Obedience.

We desire to follow God and be obedient because of the identity we are given by Him. He’s far bigger, greater, more glorious, and incredible than we could even begin to imagine.

One of the many speakers at Forge taught us this simple diagram and I found it life-changing.

Christian life goes much, much deeper. It’s a changing of your heart – only done by Him – and an act of submission for His will, not yours. It’s not legalistic doctrine; it’s about passionately loving Jesus. Because really, here’s the thing – when you start loving Him, He will change you.

During The Experience, much of what happens is between God and the individual, though often using our teammates and teams to learn and grow too. In May, I walked through a process of healing from past guilt, relationships, and brokenness. I confessed openly. I learned and embraced forgiveness. I felt the gospel. We learned, and if you know anything about me, rest assured that I love learning.

By June, I continued to know God and the Holy Spirit very intimately. He showed up in Mexico (we traveled to several states for a mission’s trip), at a family camp in the Colorado mountains, in a missionary training simulation, on the inner-city streets of Denver, and as I processed my own purpose and vision in life. It was a special time. Painful, difficult, but oh so sweet. I genuinely am a new person; I feel healthy, whole, and beautiful. Not because of anything I reaIMG_8455lly did. But because of Jesus.

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The best part is that our walks in faith aren’t only for ourselves; they are for us to share. So, I’m excited to be back, digging deeper, and processing much of what I have just dived into.

God’s always been adventurous to me, and so it was still Him when I ate a snake heart a couple of months ago in the wilderness (true story) and when we sang ‘This Little Light of Mine’ with a genuine woman of God, Betty, on Denver’s public transit system. When we realize that God is always along for the ride, life begins to be experienced in very different, radical, and surprising ways. Towards the end, I was even able to discern a life purpose (what God has created me for) that I have previously spent years trying to articulate:

I exist to share love by encouraging reconciliation and connecting cultures with written stories, testimonies, laughter, and intentional relationships.

It’s good to be back, typing and writing and sharing with a whole, new, imperfect but healed heart.

*

Psalm 34:5: Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.

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