I zipped my suitcase tight with everything I needed for the weekend but forgot one thing. I looked at my husband and confessed, “I can’t remember why I signed up for this.” Why was I flying across the country to spend several days at a conference with Christian women? Hadn’t I learned my lesson?
Some of my favorite memories are with women circled around God’s Word — studying, learning, and growing together. Some of my most painful memories, however, also involve circles of women. We’re a funny breed, with great potential in either direction.
Standing at the airport’s curb, I wanted to climb back into our minivan, drive home, and forget this crazy notion of flying thousands of miles to meet women I didn’t even know. But then, while holding my suitcase on the airport curb with taxis whizzing past us, I remembered why I signed up to attend.
I’d withdrawn from the church I’d been serving in. My small group had splintered and left everyone bleeding or nursing a grudge. I preferred the company of bloggers after that. Bloggers are tiny thumbnail pictures with people on the other side of a screen. If anything happens to get crossways, you can turn off your computer and go about your day.
But God’s voice continued to penetrate my heart: Trust Me. Love others.
So with a prayer and a plane ticket, I flew across the country to meet some women in person — to bridge the distance between our computers.
For three days I listened to speakers and observed women doing life and ministry together, both on stage and off. I witnessed women in ministry — not women in misery. They weren’t in competition with each other; rather, they were serving one another. They were for each other.
My heart began to heal that weekend as God restored my deep desire to see women transformed by His Word. Yes, bad experiences between women can, and likely will, happen. When it’s bad, it’s really bad. But when it’s good, it’s really good. And what I want more than anything is for women to come together and experience the beauty that comes from women ministering to women.
I want to build bridges in the kingdom. Bridges between women. And bridges between churches. Because God has already created the greatest Bridge of all through His Son, Jesus, who bridges the gap between God and us.
After that weekend conference, I found myself investing in women, more and more, in an online ministry context, which wasn’t a bad thing at all. But the more time I spent at my computer, the less time I spent in my local community. So I asked God to show me what I should do. Should I log off forever? Or keep going like it’s no big deal?
When I prayed, a picture came to mind of an ash tree on our street that had been completely uprooted during a windstorm. The tree’s anchor hadn’t held.
It’s a good picture of our local and online lives. The leafy, visible portion of the tree is like our online life and the root system our local life.
The height and health of our online reach will mirror how deeply we’re connected to our local community and invested in our local church.
As wonderful as online connections can be, we still need to be intentional about planting our roots deep in our local community and our home church.
The image of that tree has become my analogy for ministry — to be globally minded while also locally grounded. Not everyone will feel called to a “global” kind of ministry. And that’s okay. But every believer is called to be an ambassador for Christ wherever they call home (2 Corinthians 5:20), which is why it’s so important for us as believers to be rooted in the community we live in, serving our families and neighborhoods and local churches.
I recently visited the Descanso Gardens near Pasadena. There’s a section called the Oak Forest because massive oaks stand next to each other, with their foliage so thick the sun can’t reach the earth. While strolling beneath their shade, Isaiah’s words came to mind: “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:3).
I imagined the roots beneath my feet, mingled together deep underground. Unlike the ash tree on my street that had fallen during a storm, these oaks were still standing, and they were standing together.
That’s the picture Isaiah gave — God’s people, standing together and standing strong. Together, we can become oaks of righteousness, serving one another in our neighborhoods and our churches.
This is an excerpt from Deeper Waters by Denise J. Hughes.
The height and health of our online reach will mirror how deeply we’re connected to our local community and invested in our local church. -@DeniseJHughes: Click To Tweet Leave a Comment
I love this Denise. Relationships are hard and I tend to want to remain shallow to prevent pain, disagreement and conflict. The visual of the need for deep roots in your local community and church is impactful.
Michele Morin says
Thank you, Denise, for this very live-able wisdom. One of my deeply felt convictions is that my online ministry must never get in the way of face-to-face ministry to people who know me and do life alongside me in the local church and elsewhere. It’s a challenge because, as you have said, those little rectangular icons with smiling faces are much more manageable than real life at the kitchen table, but I do believe it is our calling to be available in real life and in real time.
Niki Hardy says
Denise this spoke so deeply to me this morning. I just love reaching out to women in person who I’ve never met, either online or in person. That is my happy place. But last night as our church women’s ministry meeting I realized I had been MIA from my own church. Emotionally if not always physically. And I’m the pastor’s wife!!
Last night I made note to reconnect and dive deeper with women in the seats around me.
This is a wonderful confirmation of His nudge.
What a lovely analogy and visual.
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
I love this phrase: ” to be globally minded while also locally grounded. ” When hurricane Florence came through it upended huge trees by the roots and toppled trees that were diseased or rotting. It came to my mind when reading your post. Unless we are rooted deeply in God’s Word and have a firm root system in our church, we lose strength – we may even rot or decay. Then, when storms come along (and they will), they topple us. The enemy loves to isolate and destroy. When we band together we foil his plans. Great reminder this am.!
Beth Williams says
Good made us for community. He wants us to love each other as we love ourselves. We are not to be islands doing life alone. Life down here is hard. We need each other to help get us through our trials & tribulations. There is nothing wrong with on line connections & ministry. It may help build you up. Nothing replaces good old fashioned face to face loving relationships. Small groups are valuable to help really know other people. They propel me to pray more for those individuals & their specific needs. I also like seeing friends & talking with them. Hearing how their week went. God wants us connected-deeply rooted like oak trees. He wants us to pray for each other & help those less fortunate in any way we can. The best way to do that is to find a goo church & get involved. It does’t have to be much. Just pray for everyone & do what you can. Your spiritual life will be enriched by it.
I love the image of the Oak trees you presented. Many trees of likeness need to bond together to thrive, just like we do! I host a very small gathering of women in my home small home, but God always reminds me that nothing is small. Every obedience to Him is big! Yes–being intentional by showing up in our communities, what God presents right in front of us impacts building His kingdom!
Thank you Denise for this reminder that I need to be out there forming relationships with my sisters in Christ as oppossed to sitting back comfortably every Sunday morning.
Please pray that I find the women’s group that the Lord has for me in order to serve.
Pearl Allard says
Denise, thank you for sharing from your own experiences and offering wise counsel. Online friends have been a huge blessing to me, but I sometimes feel the tension between in-person relationships and online. The root visual is powerful.
Thank-you Denise for your reminder that while online connection is good, human connection is something our soul requires. While going through a major change at times I have felt the urge to uproot. But I know that I’m where God wanted me to be, planted firmly in a community that reaches far and wide.
Have a blessed day all,
Cynthia McGarity says
Yesssss!!! Thank you for this Denise!
So so so important. We are the earth and the trees…we are Women! Thank you. Blessings.
Becky Keife says
Denise, I loved reading this story in Deeper Waters and I loved reading it again today. I’m just nodding along. Yes. The past two years I’ve wrestled a bit about whether to continue serving in my local church in the same way I have been for some time, wondering if I have the capacity for it as my online ministry increases. But your words confirm again what has long been the conviction of my heart also — that there is no substitution for face-to-face relationships and doing minsitry shoulder to shoulder, literally, with other women. Thank you again for your timely and wise words of encouragement. We need them. xx
Denise, that verse is one I so love. Oaks of righteousness—such a beautiful word picture. I have a lot of oak trees in my yard, and they’re strong and sturdy, but it’s also hard for other things to grow beneath them. I think their root systems hog all the water or something. But, that’s a sweet analogy to me in the context of Christian life, because when we’re soaking in God’s word, it makes it harder for sin and discontentment to grow around us. ♥
Jenny K says
Thanks for this writing, having just joined resding the (in)courage community around a year ago as the first time reading a devotional blog, I think it’s been helpful for me to hear stories from women with so many different experiences and stages of life and to take that encouragement to share with the people in my everyday life as best I can. I love the stories in the incourage Bible too. And some of my favorite book devotions such as Holly Gerth’s “hope your heart needs.” I think praying for guidance and balance in personal devotions / online devotions / and how to live out your faith in local community day to day is something valuable to always ask for, and God gives us grace to figure it out. Thank you for sharing your heart.
Sarah Goode says
A sweet friend of mine shared this with me. We have been praying about this very thing… God used your online words to minister to me and nudge me in the directions HE has already been speaking and leading. Thank You!!
Becky Miller says
As one who is in much the same situation — recently left our church of fifteen plus years. I am not sure where to go now. This is the first year I have missing singing at Christmas in 40 years, except for a year off for cancer surgery. I feel very lost. Thanks for your encouraging words.
Marinalva Sickler says