Understory

Our property is a sloping wooded lot. The house is built into the hillside, which drops off sharply a few feet from the deck. And boy. Does it ever slope. We added a homemade wooden staircase to help us walk a ways down the hillside. Over the years it has slid further down the hill, so there’s nothing to hold onto as you slowly and carefully make your way down the slope. It’s treacherous, to say the least.

I recently bought a couple of trees for our property. The redbud has been planted near the deck to provide a bit of shade and beauty in the spring. But the other tree has been planted at the edge of the woods. I chose this tree for a couple of reasons. It doesn’t need a lot of sunlight in order to thrive. It won’t get extremely tall. And it will attract swallowtail butterflies. It’s great for the environment. It’s called a hop tree.

The owner of the small nursery where I bought the trees was giving me instructions on how and where to plant this hop tree. She said it would do very well if planted on the slope of the woods. So that’s what I set out to do. Plant this small helpless looking tree on the steep slope. After scoping out the exact location, I gingerly made my way to the spot where the tree would be planted. As I began digging the hole, I realized I could be in trouble if I didn’t have a sure footing underneath. My foot slipped and I reached out to grab hold of a small but firmly planted tree. It swayed, but it could hold my swaying. For a short while, at least.

I began to dig and realized there were many roots and rocks in this dirt. So I worked even harder to dig the hole as deep and twice as wide as the container holding the tree. As I slung the dirt aside with each shovelful, I hoped I would be able to reach it to cover the hole once the tree was securely in place. I was afraid to move from my position, because the terrain was so steep. This was hard work for a physically unfit person. But I kept at it. I had a plan and a purpose for this new tree.

As I was digging the hole, I felt that I needed to stand facing the woods at all times. Just moments before, I had seen a large buck with a full rack of antlers watching me. I know that in mating season deer can attack humans, so I wanted to be careful. So, not only was I digging a hole in a sloping terrain, I was on full alert for any sign of the deer.

This hop tree won’t grow too tall or too big. It’s not the type to do so. And that’s ok. It’s a tree that will grow and thrive under all the canopy trees in the woods. This tree will support the native ecosystem in its surroundings. It has a job to do, and the size of the tree doesn’t really matter. It will still do the work it is meant to do.

This hop tree is called an understory tree. Understory trees or brush grow under the crown of the huge trees in the forest. Some would say these trees don’t reach their full potential. Apparently, they don’t have to in order to survive. But they can still do much good for the forest. They have a job to do whether or not they are stunted in growth. Understory trees can grow and thrive in shady areas. They don’t need full sun in order to survive. Some birds will only nest in understory trees. They aren’t attracted to the taller, canopy trees. Each tree or shrub in the forest will help the forest to thrive. They all have a purpose.


Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Colossians 3:23


Understory trees tell the story of the forest that’s not typically told. They’re wispy. They bend and move easily with the strong winds. They don’t grow to their full potential, but they live a full life regardless. They bounce back when pushed. They go with the flow. Their leaves turn colors in the fall just as the leaves of the canopy trees. They live under the canopy trees but above the forest floor. They’re a productive and essential part of the life of the forest.

The canopy trees are elegant and standoffish. They get everyone’s attention with their height. Their crown of leaves is beautiful. And the width of their trunks make them seem extra sturdy. But there’s no bend to them. They can snap and break under the pressure of heavy winds. They have massive strength, but they can easily topple when a huge gust blows in. They have no flexibility.

Sure. The forest needs the over achievers. The canopy trees show strength and endurance. They’ve lived many years and have reached their full potential. They provide all the shade and spectacle. It wouldn’t be a forest without the trees. But each tree has its own story to tell. 

Later in the evening after the tree was planted, as we sat on the deck we heard a commotion in the woods. I stood to watch two bucks fighting. They were pushing and shoving each other, each trying to win dominance. We could hear their antlers clacking against each other. One buck was standing up for his territory, while the interloper was trying to claim it. It was very interesting to witness this natural act of wildlife. Eventually, they both ran off. Later, only one buck returned. The territory was his.

I’ve never been the brightest. I’ve never been the smartest. Or the fastest. But I’m consistent. I’m resilient. I’m aware of my surroundings. I’m self aware. I’m an introvert. I’m never the life of the party. But I live a good life. Compared to extroverts or geniuses, one might think I’m a failure in life. I don’t seek attention. I’m quiet. I keep to myself. I don’t want to manage people in a workplace. I don’t need to be the shining star. But I want to do my work well. I want to be thought of as a considerate, kind person. So I must act like one.

Have I reached my full potential? How does someone even calculate that?

Many people aren’t looking to be the life of the party. Or the spokesperson of the group. Some are content being the understory who makes sure the work runs smoothly. They see to it that there’s flexibility when things change suddenly. They make sure all the bases are covered. And they know what bases must be covered. Yet, they’re not necessarily the ones on stage receiving the applause or the trophy. But their job is needed, nonetheless. Never discount those who are quiet or dependable. They don’t cause a scene, but the scene would be so undone without them. Everyone has a part to play in this life. Not just those with a swagger or a loud voice.

Life has a way of placing us in unexpected and even unwanted situations. We can still work hard and thrive wherever we’re placed. As believers, our work is always for the Lord regardless of our title or duties. Whether the work seems menial or glorious, it’s necessary work. Someone must do it. And when placed in that situation, then it’s our work. Let’s do it with joy and thanksgiving. Everything lasts for a season.

Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. Ecclesiastes 5:18

Beauty Awaits

It was Memorial Day. I was weeding the flower bed on the south side of the house.  I’ve decided that this is the year I am going to keep my flowerbeds clean and clear of weeds.  I looked over at my neighbor’s flowerbed. It hasn’t been touched yet this spring.  Not because of a busy schedule.  The pandemic has hit and the neighbors haven’t left their house much.

My neighbor and I have an agreement. Our flowerbeds are not in competition with each other. We don’t try to outdo one another. We admire from afar when the beds are well kept.  We keep our thoughts to ourselves when they aren’t. And that is that.

But so far this year, I’m winning. But as I said, this isn’t a competition. Oh. My flowerbed still has weeds. They’re never ending. But at least, there’s space between the plants. It’s clear where the peonies end and the irises begin. And the strawberries are separate from the zinnias that have begun to pop up. But still. There is much work to do in this flowerbed.

I fear that the deer will soon devour all the strawberries that are blooming. It would be nice, for once, to be able to eat those strawberries ourselves. We aren’t growing them to feed the deer. But then. There are also the hostas and day lilies that seem to get devoured by the deer. Those I’m not so worried about.

There are some very shady spots in my backyard that need attention. With all the rain that we’ve had, the weeds just pop up overnight. It’s hard to keep them under control. Perhaps a good layer of mulch would help manage that problem. But who has the time? Work keeps calling my name. 8 hours a day. 5 days a week. By the time the day is over, who wants to pull weeds? But I realize that’s the sacrifice that must be made in order to keep the flowerbeds looking their best.

I have lofty goals for this garden. Oh. It’s not big. It’s not majestic. It will never win awards. But I want to keep it weed free and thriving. I want to plant a variety of flowers and shade loving, deer resistant perennials. My goal is to see a beautiful garden in the midst of my normal life. But it will take work. Back breaking, sweaty work. Am I up for the challenge?


So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Hebrews 6:1


I find the same amount of work must go into my Christian life. If I want to see beauty and growth in my relationship with God, I must take the time to pull the weeds of sin out of my life. Those weeds can choke out the peace that God provides.

Keeping my relationship with God growing is hard work. It takes time. It takes effort. It takes sacrifice and commitment. It isn’t always easy to make reading my Bible a priority, but it is necessary in order to know who God is. I must choose to spend time in prayer. Spending time with my Maker and Provider is a daily must. There is no wiggle room in that.

As I was weeding the flowerbeds this morning, I realized I couldn’t distinguish some annuals I had planted from the weeds. Until the annuals bloom, I won’t know if they are weeds or flowers. It’s because I don’t recognize the leaf patterns without the fruit. I realized this is similar to my spiritual growth. It isn’t always easy to distinguish between right and wrong. Sin and obedience. In those times, I must lean in to feel the prick of my conscience or the nudge of the Holy Spirit to help me in my weakness and uncertainty.

I have lofty goals for my soul. Oh. I doubt that I’ll be in the same group as Moses or David or Paul or Abraham. But I want to want to spend eternity in heaven. I want to spend an eternity with my heavenly Father. My goal is to walk the streets of gold. But it will take work while I’m still on this earth. Back breaking, sweaty work. Am I up for the challenge?

Work in Progress

It started with an unexpected job layoff. Followed by 5 months of unemployment. Then a new job. Starting over is always tough.  This job in particular was tough. 

Through the tough times, and there have been many, God has never left my side. He has walked with me. At times he has carried me when my strength was gone. What I know is that he alone is God. He loves me even when I feel unlovely. Even when I doubt my ability. He is with me.

I have this unguided thought that at this age I should be close to perfect. But sadly, that isn’t so. Daily I’m faced with my faults and failures. I have to ask God daily for strength and wisdom.

This past year has been one of the toughest I’ve faced. I’ve asked God for three things each day. Empower me. Enable me. Equip me.

And he has.

I’ve never been one to speak up when I disagree with decisions at work. But somehow now I do. I’ve finally realized that my silence is agreement. If I don’t speak up, then others will assume that I will go along with their decision. Other times, I feel free to ask those hard questions. Or bring up topics that need to be discussed. As I have asked God to empower me, he has removed my fear of what others think of me. He has given me boldness to confront situations that I would usually ignore. I find that others respect my boldness in a way that I never imagined.

I find myself to be a mentor to coworkers who are struggling with the job. They come to me for help with uncertainties. They trust me. They know I won’t judge them for being insecure or for asking a multitude of questions. I asked God to enable me to fulfill his will for me in this place, and he is doing it. He gives me the strength to face my responsibilities in a way I never thought possible.

I find I am more dependent on God than I have ever been in my life. Daily I ask him to equip me for the work he has laid out for me. I know I can’t do it alone and I need his help like I never needed it before. God has given me the ability I need to do my job and to do it well. He equips me for the responsibilities for each day.


And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Philippians 1:6


The life of obedience isn’t easy or comfortable. It’s a daily choice to walk in step with the Master Teacher. It doesn’t mean that I’ll quote Scripture to someone every day. It may mean that more often than not, I’m living out Scripture. 

There have been times during the past several months that I’ve wanted to run the other way. But in order for me to follow God’s will, I knew I must continue on the path he placed me. I’ve wanted to run. I’ve wanted to quit. But more than all, I know that I want to be true to God’s calling on my life. So I’ve stayed put. And I’ve learned that with God in control, I am able to do exceedingly more than I thought possible.

Annie Downs says to say yes to the open door. Say yes to the situations that stretch you and scare you and ask you to be a better you than you think you can be. Say yes to the movement that will only come once.

So that’s what I’ve done. That’s what I’m doing. I’m saying yes to the situations that make me uncomfortable. And I’ve found that with God’s help I can do them. I’ve learned that God actually does what he says he will do. He doesn’t lie. I just have to let go and trust him. He is faithful. And I must be faithful.

He started something good
And I’m gonna believe it
He started something good
And He’s gonna complete it
So I’ll celebrate the truth
His work in me ain’t through
I’m just unfinished

–Mandisa

A Year in the Life

I remember the day well. It started out the same as most work days. But before that work day was over, my work was over. I saw the email. It was from HR. Can you come to my office? As I walked past my boss’s desk, I noticed she wasn’t there. Red flags sprang up all around me. I knew what I didn’t want to know. My job was over.

I sat in that office hearing the news. I’m sorry. Your job has been eliminated. You don’t have the skill set that we’re looking for. You’ve done nothing wrong. But we no longer want or need you.

Crushing. Heartbreaking. Humiliating. I packed up my belongings and walked out the front door. Never to return. At my age I wondered. Would I ever work again?


If God is for us, who can ever be against us. Romans 8:31


I’ve learned a lot about myself since that day. I’ve learned a lot more about God. I’ve learned that he never leaves me. I’ve learned that he loves me so much. whether I’m employed or not. I’ve learned that he will take care of me. He’ll provide for all of my needs. I already knew all those things about God. But he proved himself time and again.

The thing is. I did get another job. Five months later. And this job has kept me close to God. This is not the job I would have chosen for myself. But it’s the job God has chosen for me. So I go every day. I do the job. Oh. I pray a lot. I need God to help me do this job he’s chosen for me. And he is. He always shows up to work on time. He strengthens me. He equips me to do the work. He calms my fears.

New ones have come after me. They ask the same haunting questions I once asked. Can I do this? Will I be able to learn all the complicated steps? I assure them that yes. Yes they will.

I’ve struggled with this job. I’ve wanted to run the other way and never look back. But I hold on. For one reason only. God has placed me here and God will release me in his time.

Through this past year, I’ve learned to trust God in all things. He has said he would empower me. And he has. He has said I am equipped for the job. And I’ve found that I am. He has shown his love to me in so many ways I cannot comprehend. He has proven so faithful. His promises are true.

I’ve learned that God is for me. Not against me. I’ve learned that he fights for me. He is my stronghold. He never lets go of me. He is the Almighty God in my little corner of the universe.

Powerful Weakling

I started a new job recently.  And honestly.  I am struggling.  Some days I think I can do the job.  Other days, I’m filled with doubt.  The days and weeks have been filled with training.  So much training.  Then slowly I’m getting work assignments with lots of hand holding.  At some point, I will be on my own.  I’ll be juggling many tasks and clients and deadlines.  I don’t know how others do it.  But they seem to.  And I think if they can do it, surely I can.  Can’t I?

Then I remember.  God provided this job.  He wouldn’t give me a gift that I can’t do.  Right?  And then I remember.  No.  I can’t do it on my own.  In my weakness, I need to trust Him.  I need to lean on Him.  I need to call on His name every day and trust that He will equip me for that day.  Oh.  I try not to look ahead.  That’s when I become fearful.  How can I do all that I’ll be assigned to do in the days ahead.  It’s then I remember that He gives mercy just for today.  I need to focus on today and the tasks for this day only.

I must remember that He said I am equipped for the job.  He will help me.  Oh.  Trust is easier said than done.  When in a tight spot, trust is just a word.  Not an act.  But when I act on that word.  When I trust God, I know all things are possible.  I know that in my weakness, God’s power will calm me.  And guide me through the anxious moments.

There is no match for the power of Christ.


My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.  2 Corinthians 12:9


Oh.  It sounds like an oxymoron.  Strength in weakness.  How can I be strong when I feel so weak?  How can I be powerful when I feel powerless?  How can I succeed when I feel like a failure?  How can I act confident when I feel insecure?

Why do I want something other than what I’ve been given?  When I know who the Giver is.  And I know the gift is for this time in my life.  Why do I struggle with this gift?  It wasn’t quite what I expected, but it’s what I’ve been handed.  So I must go forward and make each day count.

Oh.  The struggle is real.

He says.  You must trust me, but I will let you fight.  I say.  Show me your power, lest I get lost in my weakness.

There is One.  One who has conquered that fear.  One who has overcome failure.  One who has choked insecurity.  One who has all power.  He even conquered death.  I want Him on my team.  Always.  If I’m choosing teams, I choose His.  Why?  Who doesn’t want a miracle maker on their team?  Who doesn’t want an encourager?  A helper.  I choose the army of God.

Father, thank you for going before me to open doors.  Thank you for staying with me to hold me steady.  Thank you for going behind me to protect me. You surround me with your love and goodness.  Your faithfulness is ever present.  Your mercy reaches down and calms my fears.  Yours is the power and glory forever.  Amen.

The Good Worker

I started a new job.  There are weeks and weeks of training.  My head is full of information and knowledge.  I wonder how I will ever remember everything once I start doing the work.  It is a scary thought.  What if I fail?  What if I can’t do the job after all the training that was put into me?  What if I can’t cut it?

There are so many instructions.  So many steps.  So many complicated steps.  To everything.  Nothing is simple.  Nothing is quick.  Copy this.  Encrypt that.  Make notes of this.  Learn three new systems.  Track your time.  There is so much to learn.  Oh.  The work isn’t really difficult.  It’s just a very manual process that needs to be automated.

I shared my concerns with a friend.  I asked her to pray.  She hears from God.  His message was loud and clear.

It will settle.  You are well equipped.  He assists you and never leaves your side.  Deep enjoyment is forthcoming.

That was the promise.  How could I doubt?  I realize I don’t doubt God.  I doubt myself.  But in doubting myself, am I doubting God?  So many times I have gone back to read that promise.  To steady my nerves.  To gain confidence.  To face the fear.  I pray for God’s mercies each day as I walk into work.  I know God is with me.  With each task I struggle with or accomplish, God is there.  He has not left my side.


What if the Lord had not been on our side?  Psalm 124:1


I have to remember my time of unemployment.  When I prayed for a job.  When I prayed that God would provide the right job for me.  I felt such peace about this one.  This place.  I knew it was where I should be.  I am so thankful to be there.  The company is great.  The people are great.  Now I need to feel great about it.

The blessings of God are not trouble free. The answers to prayer are part of our path to eternity. The work of God in our lives is a work in progress. The ups and downs of daily life are blessings and obstacles that put us on a path to God.  Success is as much a curse as it is a blessing.  Success brings challenges that failure never thought of.

I know God can run my life much better than I can.  His plans are perfect.  I need to trust Him more than I trust myself.  Because right now.  Right now I wonder if I can do the job that he has provided.  I need God’s strength and help right now just as much as I needed His provision when I was looking for a job.  The truth is.  I always need God’s help.  There’s nothing I can do on my own that is done better without God’s help.

I need to keep my focus on my God.  And His strength.  My work has just begun there.  His work continues in my life.  As long as I have breath.  For everything I need, He will provide.