As the Trees Thin

I feel this advent season is going to be marked by the word “gifts.” The Lord is sewing powerful meaning behind this word into my spirit right now.

For now, I’m reveling in the gift of presence. God’s presence, of course. But also the gift of being present with others. Oh, how being physically present with one another can breathe hope and life into our very bones.

He chose to make Himself physically present with us: Immanuel. That’s what we celebrate this season. The greatest gift ever given to mankind. God’s presence leans more intimately into the lives of men and women with each chapter.

He created humans and His spirit walked alongside them in the garden – then He sent His Son to be physically with man– and then He sent his Holy Spirit to live within man. The Book is laden with lessons on intimacy and presence and how such gifts can change the course of history.

I’m reminded of a particular cross-country race I ran in high school. At the starting line I focused intently on the path ahead. The trail was laid out around an open field, and ultimately ducked into the trees and wound deep into the woods. Every quarter mile or so the trees thinned and the trail moved just close enough to the field to where one could catch a muffled cheer from the crowd. At one point the trail danced out into the field and quickly bent back into the forest.

At the starting line, my blood pulsed awaiting the gunshot that would commence our competition. I could feel my heart beating in my thumbs. My eyes darted into the crowd where I eagerly searched for my dad. My father rarely missed a race, and assured me he would be at this one.

The gunshot fired, interrupting my search, and my feet began to chase the trail. My mind continued to wander in search of my dad. I found myself deep in the woods. I was #2 on the women’s team with a girl from Havelock on my heels. “They train on the beach. We all know they can run for miles without stopping,” I told myself. “Ouch what is going on with my ankle? And my knee?”

I tried to pick up speed, but found myself distracted by the thoughts crowding my mind. Deep in the woods, I could not hear the cheers. I could not see my teammates. I felt alone and tired. And my knee pain was beginning to echo into all of my body.

She passed me and I felt discouragement sink into my stomach. I was losing. Just as disillusionment began to take over, I happened upon a break into the field where I quickly searched the crowd. I still did not see my dad, but my coach was there. He cheered for me, gave me my pace and the pace of the girl ahead of me, spoke a Scripture over me (all within 5 seconds) and off I went, back into the woods with a bit of a push.

I leaned forward and tried to drive the thoughts away while chasing the girl ahead. Then the woods thinned and I could hear him. “Go, Ashley, Go! You’ve got this! You’re doing great! Don’t slow down” – I looked over and there was my dad. Running beside me on the other side of the trees.

He was there.

Suddenly, I believed I could win. I ran alongside of my dad and pushed myself harder than ever. As the trail bent back into the thick woods, I passed Havelock girl. I passed another girl. The trees eventually cleared and I saw the finish line. I leaned into the end with every ounce of energy I had.

I achieved my personal record that day. I don’t know that I have ever run as hard since.

The image of my dad running beside me on the other side of the thin trees is forever imprinted in my mind.

What an amazing picture of Father God.

As the trees of life thicken and battles become imminent, we may forget we are hungering for His presence.

There will be times when we are thick in the woods and cannot see Him – though He is there.

There are friends and community members, pastors, parents, doctors, neighbors, teachers, counselors and co-workers along the way saying, “yay! You can do it!” and reading us our metrics, likely even speaking Truth…and that can be a gift from God.

But what our soul desperately longs for is a glimpse of our Father running the race alongside of us.

This Advent I’m slowing down. The trees are thinning and I’m having eyes to see His presence. Because that is the greatest gift He could ever give me – and the only gift that will push me to my personal best.

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