Bearing Fruit – Staci Stallings

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Bearing Fruit

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit. –John 15: 1-2

    Every so often a misinterpretation corrected sends shock waves through my life. Thus it was with this Bible verse.  I had always defined “bear” as meaning to produce.  In other words, “Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit, He takes away…”  Then I began reading about how God doesn’t expect us to do things for Him, no, He wants to do things through us if we allow Christ and the Holy Spirit to take over our lives to such a degree that it is Them doing the doing and not us.

    Okay, but there was still this verse.  Clearly it says if I am in Him, I will produce fruit.  Right?  Well, maybe.

    I give you this new insight to ponder, not so that you can accept it outright, but so that you can try it on in your life and see if it fits.

    There is a second definition of “bear” I had never considered. It is actually the first definition of the word.  Bear means to carry or to hold.

    Does that make any difference in how you read this verse?  “Every branch in Me that does not hold fruit, He takes away…”  To me, holding is much different than producing.  Holding is passive.  Someone else has done all the hard work to produce it, all I have to do is be strong enough in Christ to hold the fruit He’s producing in my life!

    You know, looking back, I wonder how much fruit I didn’t “hold” because I was so busy trying to “produce” fruit on my own.  I wasn’t focused on what God was doing in my life, I was focused on what I was doing for Him.  Trust me on this one, the difference between the two in theory and in practice are huge!

    The funny thing is, since I’ve stopped trying to produce fruit for Him, fruit in abundance of abundance has come into my life.  In my books, in my kids, in my marriage, in our finances.  Things I used to work so hard to accomplish (which never seemed to work out) are suddenly heaped upon me in blessing after blessing. I am convinced it’s because I stopped trying to produce and started being content holding that this change has come about.

    So, as I said before, consider this simple yet profound modification in the way you define “bear.”  It may well change your entire life!

Copyright Staci Stallings 2006

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The Value of Being Humble by Staci Stallings

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The Value of Being Humble

    Recently a writer friend asked me what I thought about him going in a particular direction with a story.  Was it a good idea to pursue one type of publication over another?  It’s an age-old question with us authors.  “I want to be published.  What’s the best way to do that?”  Like most of the population, we want to set some goals and pursue them, but we kind of want to know that the goal we set is the right one.

    I read a piece the other day about the importance of leaning your ladder against the right building.  The author talked about how frustrating and spirit-destructive it is to spend hours and hours climbing a particular ladder—to wealth or in your career or in accumulating possessions, etc.—only to wake up one day and realize the ladder you’ve been climbing is leaning against the wrong wall.

    That’s what my writer friend was trying to avoid, putting lots of hours into an endeavor that might ultimately prove fruitless and a waste of time.  I understand.  I’ve been there, and I visit “there” quite frequently even now.  “What should I do?  Would X bring me where I want to be, or should I do Y?”

    The temptation in living in the world when someone asks you this question is to stand up on your own understanding and give your best advice.  “Well, I think X is a waste of time.  You really need to do Y.”  The problem with this is that there is no way for each of us to judge the buildings either.  In truth, there are pros and cons of each, and although our experience may give us some perspective, there is no guarantee that our perspective holds true for another person.

    So, I did with him what I do with myself.  “I think you should go to God and ask Him.”  But how to do that?  I have known people who’ve twisted themselves into knots trying to discern what God is asking them to do.  They want to do it right, and they are convinced that God does too, but for the life of them, they can’t figure out what God’s will is.  It’s paralyzing and often destructive.

    I’m quite sure when Peter started sinking on the sea after walking on the water, he was probably thinking, “Hello!  I’m such an idiot.  I must’ve misunderstood what Jesus was asking me to do because this ain’t working out too well.”

    Peter’s failure of faith had to do with taking his eyes off Christ and remanding them and his situation to his own control.  That’s deadly as Peter nearly found out.  You don’t know what’s best.  You can’t.

    But God can, and He does.  The trick is to learn how to listen for Him in ways that lead you to what He’s asking you to do.

    That’s why I gave my friend my sure-fire method of finding out what God has in mind.  I call it “Peace or no peace.”  You get really quiet, breathe to settle your spirit, and then ask.  “Doing X, peace or no peace?”  Then listen and feel in your spirit what the answer is.  If there is another option, ask “Doing Y, peace or no peace?” Your spirit will feel at peace with the right answer. Then you have to have the courage to do that answer.

    Doing that will give you spirit-wisdom guidance in which wall you should lean your ladder against.

    Now you may wonder what all this has to do with being humble.  Well, the other night our pastor said a line that stopped me in my tracks.  “The more humble we can be; the less judgmental we will be.”  Talk about profound!

    And he’s right.  The more humble I become in subjecting myself to God’s will for my life—taking the steps He’s asking me to take, saying what He’s asking me to say, doing what He’s asking me to do—the more I realize how little I know, how little I control, and how awesome He is.

    As I realize I don’t have all the answers, I can so see that others don’t either.  In the fog of panic and fear, they make bad decisions that lead to more heartache and trouble.  From this perspective, I can see what God means about hating the sin but loving the sinner.  I have become far less judgmental than when I was trying to puff up my own life value by telling everyone what I thought they should do.

    But it goes farther than that, the more humble you become, the more often you remember that you don’t have all the answers.  The best part is, you get so ingrained in going to God in your own life, that you remember to point them to Him for their answers as well.

    I highly recommend seeking humbleness—saying you don’t know when you don’t, going to God when you’re confused, frustrated, afraid, and learning to trust His answers, and helping others to learn to do the same.  It’s a really cool way to live.

Copyright Staci Stallings, 2007

Woman by Staci Stallings

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Woman

    We were supposed to study Adam and Eve in Sunday School.  As the teacher, I had been boning up on Genesis and the whole getting thrown out of the garden thing for weeks.  I knew the story.  I knew about when God came back into the Garden of Eden after the fall, and Adam and Eve hid in the bushes.  I knew about God banishing them from the garden.  I’d also just read the actual wording of the banishment.

    What struck me is that they are not referred to as Adam and Eve in the story.  It is only after they are cast out of the garden that “the man” names “the woman” Eve.

    Therefore, prior to that God referred to her only as “Woman.”  When He asked her “Why did you do such a thing?”  Eve, known only at that point as “Woman” answered, “The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.”

    Let’s see, how do we put this mildly?

    That was a very bad answer.

    She took no responsibility for her actions, nor did she ask for forgiveness.  She did what we’re all guilty of, she looked around and found someone else to blame.  So God said to the woman, “I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing; in pain shall you bring forth children.  Yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall be your master.”

    Duly noted.  Then I went to church, and the Holy Spirit decided to show me just how much I don’t yet know about the finer points of His plan.  The readings were about Jesus at the Wedding at Cana.  It is in this story that one of those, “Huh?” moments happens.  You know, one of those moments that I’m like, “Why did He say it like that?  What does that mean?  It sounds wrong.”

    In the story Jesus and His disciples attend a wedding.  Midway through the ceremonies, His mother comes up.  Now I would rightly assume that Jesus of all sons would have a great deal of respect and love for His mother.  Yet when she comes up and says, “They have run out of wine,” He turns to her and says, “Woman, how does your concern affect Me?  My hour has not yet come.”  I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound very respectful especially to your mother.

    I dare you.  Next time you see your mom, call her “Woman” and see if I’m wrong.

    So the question becomes why.  Why did Jesus call Mary, “Woman”?

    It is only when you put this passage with the Genesis passage that the pieces suddenly make more sense than they do apart.  God’s curse was on the woman.  He referred to her as “Woman.”  And His curse followed her poorly thought-out answer to, “Why did you do such a thing?”

    The Wedding at Cana is a clear answer to this very moment.  Mary doesn’t hem and haw, make excuses or cow-tow. She doesn’t look around and find someone to blame. What she does is say what Eve should’ve said, “Do whatever He says.”

    The answer when we are faced with temptation and doing things our own way, in our own strength, with our own resources is to repeat, “Do whatever He says.”  Not what I say, not what Satan says, not what the world says.  Do whatever He says.

    By answering what Eve should have, Mary set right our relationship with God once again.  She showed the way to lifting the curse from the garden… “Do whatever He says.”

    I taught on this principle that very same day in Sunday School.  Sometimes the Holy Spirit is so smart that way.

Copyright Staci Stallings 2007

The God Hole by Staci Stallings

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The God Hole

I was reading “How People Change” by Timothy S. Lane and Paul Tripp the other day.  In it there is a story about a hole.  They call it the Gospel Gap.  Basically, it’s that hole in everyone’s life that can only be filled by God.

However, they say (correctly) that we try to fill that hole with all kinds of other things that don’t fit and instead get stuck in there.  As I read, I was reminded of another true story that happened in a town not far from where I live.

The reason I remember it is because my husband is a carpenter, and he works on schools.  So when it happened, guess who they called.

Here’s how it went.

I live in the Panhandle of Texas and that year it was dry.  I don’t mean drier than normal.  I mean it was DRY!  And windy.

Well, this school had a drain pipe at one end of the roof of the building.  The roof was sloped slightly toward the pipe so that rainwater would drain down it.  Great idea except they forgot one tiny detail–the wind.

It had been dry so long that the wind had carried all of the trash and tumbleweeds and junk over to that drainpipe where they lodged.  Some went in the drainpipe, some stayed stacked against it.

Do you see where we’re going with this?

One day, over that particular school they got what my mom always called a “gully-washer.”  In short, it rained several inches in one spot over the course of about an hour.

Following me, yet?  Do you see the problem?

Here’s a question for you–what happened to that rainwater?

Clogged drainpipe.  Lots of rain.  Nowhere for the rain to go.  It gets heavier and heavier until…

You got it:

The roof collapsed!

Which sent all that junk and all that water all over that part of the school.  What a mess!

As I read this description of things that clog our God hole, I thought about this school.  That’s what happens to us.  We start filling that hole with things–material things, ministry things, money, social networks, whatever, and pretty soon, the God water can’t even get through it anymore!  In fact, many of us experience a “dryness” in our Christian walk when our God hole is being filled with other things.  We can’t quite figure out why we don’t feel close to God.  When water comes–either blessings or trials–it can’t drain out of us.

So it sits there and stagnates, and sometimes it actually collapses part of our life roof.  Maybe we hit burn-out.  Maybe our marriage hits the rocks.  Maybe we end up with kids we don’t even know.  Maybe we just feel our lives are one, freak thing away from completely collapsing.

The point is to start now to unclog that God hole.  Pull out the tumbleweeds of anger, resentment, and discontent.  Learn to forgive and to let go of control.  Stop putting all of your faith in material things and money.  As you do these things, replace their spot in your life with God.

Prayer.  Church.  Slowing down the craziness.  Good Christian music.  Quality time with your family.  Putting God first.

Whatever you choose, now is the time to get that thing unclogged before you have a REAL problem on your hands!

By:  Staci Stallings

Solve for Y by Staci Stallings

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Solve for Y

My mother never particularly liked math, but I remember one thing she always told me when I was younger about algebra.  When kids would say, “But algebra?  When are we ever going to use this?”  My mom would say, “I use it every day.  Algebra says, ‘Let x stand for the unknown,’ and let me tell you, there’s a lot of unknowns in my life.”

The other day I was reading a book about how to make a quality school or a quality classroom.  As I read, the author kept saying how it is critical to get a student to understand why they need to learn whatever you are teaching. He said the failure to do so is one reason students get burned out and tune out.

The famous question, “When am I ever gonna need this?” comes to mind.  If kids don’t see the correlation between what they are learning and what they are going to need later in life, a few might learn it.  Most will learn it and then promptly forget it.  Others will never bother to learn it at all.

We see this as adults in people we work with.  They show up to work.  They even do some work.  But they do it half-heartedly and can’t wait for five o’clock to show up so they can go do something that really means something to them.

Unfortunately we also see this in our families these days too.  Couples get in a rut of going through the routine of days until the routine has become the relationship instead of the relationship setting the routine.  With our kids we have short fuses and even shorter attention spans.  It’s ever so much easier to set them in front of a Playstation and forget they exist than to make an effort to connect with them and get to know them.

I think the main issue behind all of this “opting out” of life goes back to algebra.  We are not solving for y.

Why am I doing this?  Oh, we ask ourselves that in a fit of frustration, but we never really bother to answer it.

Why am I raising this family?  When we get to the end, what do we want this family to be, and are the moments we have now pointing in that direction or some other entirely?

Why am I at work?  To earn a few dollars that will be gone in a month or a minute?

Why am I alive?  To “get through”?

I don’t think God’s answer to why is about surviving or getting through or just anything… I think God’s answer has to do with abundance of living.

If we are “just getting by,” why are we settling for that?  Of course, we don’t have to make wholesale changes like quitting our job or moving to a new state.  We can simply shift our understanding of why.

Why am I raising my family?  Because God granted me the gift of these children and this spouse.  No, they are not perfect, but even God doesn’t require perfection.  My job is to love them, to guide them, and to support and encourage them the best that I can with God doing most of it through me.  That is my y.

At work, the answer is much the same.  I’m not working to be top dog because if I am, someone is coming up very quickly to knock me off of that spot.  No. I’m at work to share Christ’s love—not necessarily by evangelizing but by loving those who work with me.  I can pray for them.  I can help them.  I can support them.  That can be my new y.

I plan to ask my Sunday School class when we start a new year to solve for y.  Why are you here?  Why do you come on Sundays?  Why is this important?

So now I ask you that question:  Why are you here–on this planet, in this family, in this situation right now?

Solve for y.

It makes a difference.

Copyright Staci Stallings, 2008

Showing Up by Staci Stallings

Showing Up

    Sometime ago a friend called me.  She was freaking out because a friend of hers was having a really rough time.  He was at church cleaning, and he’d called her needing to talk.  Apparently he was in very bad shape emotionally.  She called me.  “What do I say to him?  I’m afraid I’m going to say something wrong. I don’t even want to go.”

    It’s the one fear that stops us, all of us, at one time or another—not having the foggiest idea of what to say to someone who is hurting.  Generally it’s in the major, life-altering, horrific moments of life that we sense we are truly not up to the challenge.  What do you say to your friend who just had a miscarriage, or that kid who just lost his brother?  What do you say to the person who just lost their job or their spouse or their child?  What do you say?  What can we say that will make any difference whatsoever?

    We don’t know, and so we say nothing.  We don’t want to get too close because it’s overwhelming and impossible to find the right words.  Nothing will bring them back, nothing will fix the situation, and cowed by the Goliath of There’s Nothing You Can Do, we do nothing.  We slink away, praying for them maybe but saying nothing.

    Don’t think you’re alone if you’ve ever experienced this.  I’m right there with you.  I can’t count the number of times when it was too easy to walk away, too easy to hope somebody else said something, too easy to hide in my fear rather than step out in faith.

    So I told my friend the honest truth.  “Show up.  It’s the hardest thing you will ever do, but it is the one and only thing that the person really needs.  Show up.  Go.  Take Christ with you, let Him lead and talk.  But you have to go.”

    The other night I got an abject lesson in showing up.  It’s one I’ve been learning for awhile although I didn’t really realize it.  There was once again in our small town a tragic wreck.  Six kids, going too fast on a country road, lost control, slammed into a pole.  The driver died.  Barely out of high school, this young man is now gone forever.

    Although they have lived in our little town for many years, the family is a transplant.  They don’t go to our church.  They pretty much stick to themselves, not many friends, few really know them all that well at all.

    Ironically, the boy played baseball last year, his senior year.  He played center field on my dad’s team.  Only five months out of our family tragedy in the loss of my older brother to suicide and five years out of the tragedy of losing his second baseman to another wreck, my dad happened to be up town.  He drove by the family’s house and noted only their car in the driveway.  No one else.  No one bringing food.  No one to offer a shoulder to cry on.

    I don’t know how the next moments went.  I don’t know if he drove by, thought about it, rethought about it, argued with himself, and had to turn around and go back.  (I surmise that because that’s how it would’ve happened if it had been me.)  Or maybe he saw, understood, and stopped immediately.

    In any case, the crystallizing of this lesson for me appeared in that moment because my dad made the decision so many of us don’t.  He stopped.   I can only imagine the thoughts streaming through his head as he went up and knocked. I can only imagine how fear tried to tell him this was out of his league, that he shouldn’t bother them, that they didn’t want to see anyone, that he had no idea what he would say to this couple who was hurting so badly.  Yet he stood there and knocked until someone opened the door.

    Upon hearing this story, my thoughts immediately traveled back over the last few years, and suddenly I understood what my dad has been teaching me—not through words but through consistent action, even when it’s been hard.  You see, this wasn’t the first time he stopped.  There was the last wreck when he went to see the parents of the teen who died and the parents of the teen who was driving.

    It wasn’t easy, I’m sure.  But he showed up.

    Then there was the time a young family in our parish was hurt by a priest who was immediately removed.  Many in the parish blamed the family member hurt by the priest.  Dad, being a good friend of the father, went to their home, and they talked.  I still wonder how much that single act had an influence in the entire family still being an active and vital part of our church.

    Looking back, there are times he showed up for me too.  Times honestly it would’ve been easier to figure it would blow over, and I would get over it.  But he wasn’t willing to take the chance.  He showed up.  We talked.  And for me, it made a big difference.

    I so remember when my brother died.  There were two guys from my hometown who made the hour and a half trip to where my brother’s family lived even though they didn’t have to—they could’ve just come to the funeral a couple days later.  So why did they come?  Because Dad had been there for them.  And then there were the two kids from the family who had been hurt who came to our house over Easter just a week after my brother’s death just to talk with us and see how we were doing.  That had to be terribly hard.  I’m not sure I could’ve done it at 20 and 17, but they did.  Why?  Because Dad had been there for them, and they, too, had learned the value of showing up—from him, and now they wanted to be there for him.

I know their stories, and I know why they came.  They came because they had learned how important it is to show up—especially when it’s hard.

    For me, as I thought about this lesson, I had a moment of true clarity.  Someday when I pass from this life, one of the biggest compliments that could ever be said of me and my life is simply this.  “She showed up.”

    I know it doesn’t sound like much, but the more I learn, the more I’m beginning to think it’s everything.

Copyright Staci Stallings, 2007

Saying Good-bye to Guido by Staci Stallings

Saying Good-bye to Guido

Three things to set the groundwork for this piece:  First, the majority of the info you are about to read came from a six-year-old drama king.  Second, said drama king started kindergarten last fall.  In their classroom they had a bearded dragon, which is pretty much a forearm length iguana (I know, reptile lovers will quibble, but I just want the non-reptile lovers to get a picture of this thing).  Third, I do NOT like reptiles of ANY kind–snakes, lizards, etc. all give me the shivers.

This particular kindergarten “pet” definitely qualified as a reptile, so when I visited the classroom, I stayed well away from the tank it was in.  As a long-time friend of the teacher, we had several conversations about Guido the Bearded Dragon throughout the year.  Then last Sunday she told me that Guido was not doing well (you can imagine my reaction).  He was so weak that she was having to (brace yourself!) feed him baby food with a syringe because he was no longer eating on his own.  Guido had been a gift from a young lady who had had him a long time.  He was very old, and the teacher was worried that the end was near.

Sure enough, on Friday six-year-old drama king got into my van after school.  “Mom, it was the worst day of my whole life!”

“Why?  What happened?”

“Well, Mrs. Scott had to take Guido to the vet (at which I’m thinking Why would she do THAT? What could a vet do anyway?), but this morning we found Guido in the tank, and he wasn’t breathing anymore.”

Like a good mom, I was sympathetic.  “Oh, I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, it was bad.  I had to get a box.”

“Really?”

“And Alyssa had to get a cloth.”

I’m now picturing this kindergarten class of 23 springing into action over the funeral preparations for a dead lizard.

“We got everything,” he continued solemnly, “and Mrs. Scott put him in the box.  Then Will carried him out in the box, and there was this BIG hole, and Will dropped the box and Guido into it.”

I don’t know why but something about this picture struck me as quite touchingly funny.  I know it shouldn’t, but, have you ever been so into picturing the story a six-year-old is telling that you just kind of get amazed at how perceptive and SERIOUS they are about life?

“So did the whole class go out for the funeral?”

“Uh-huh.  Everyone.”  (In their cute little school uniforms, 23 kindergartners standing around a hole in the ground, I’m sure that was quite a sight.)

“Did you say any prayers?”

“Mrs. Scott did.  She cried.”

“Did you sing any songs?”

“Well, the only song we all knew was ‘God Bless America,’ so we just sang that.”

(Go ahead, try not to laugh!  I was about to lose it.)

“Really?  Well, what about Father Waldow, did he come to the funeral?”

To which my precious little six-year-old drama king replied, “Mom, he dug the hole!”

Come to find out, I’m not sure all of that was exactly accurate, but that’s how it’s in my mind now, so I’ll leave it at that, and add just two more little pieces of this story.

First, upon talking with the teacher later, I found out that they had a little wake service prior to the burial.  She took Guido out of the tank, put him on the cloth in the box, and set the box on a small table.  Then each child was allowed to go by the box.  She said, “Some chose to touch him, others didn’t, but they all got to say good-bye.  Then we took him out and buried him.”  She said, “I swore I wasn’t going to cry.  Father Waldow had given me a little prayer book to God bless the cats and dogs, and I added bearded dragon.  Then when I got to those words, I just cried and cried.”

My son, stood next to me as the teacher told the story, and he very solemnly nodded at each word.

“When it was all over,” she continued, “we came in and had a birthday party for one of the little girls, and we talked about celebrating life and how we celebrate it in different ways–sometimes with birthday parties and sometimes by saying good-bye to really good friends.”

I think those are very wise words to live by.  I just wish we did a bit more celebrating of life every day, in every way, with every person we meet.

Maybe then we would all feel as loved as Guido the Bearded Dragon was by a bunch of kindergarteners who learned a little about death and a lot about life that day.

Copyright Staci Stallings, 2008