Last week I watched a man roam my neighborhood marking trees with fluorescent pink tape. Soon two other guys showed up, wearing helmets and wielding chainsaws. They selected and removed the lowest-hanging branches, and cut down one entire tree that bowed over a storm drain. Then the men ran all the scraps through a screaming chipper machine and swept the street free of leaves and sawdust.

Overgrown trees can be dangerous in violent winter storms. Brittle limbs tear down power lines, break windows, and damage property. Fallen leaves and twigs block drains and flood the frozen streets.

Overburdened trees cause damage and injury to themselves. The high winds of winter snap dry branches and split aged trunks. Trimming away heavy dead wood encourages the tree to expand and blossom in the spring.

Sometimes we have to remove the dead and heavy branches from our own lives. Over-cluttered spaces and schedules prevent us from reaching our full potential. Sometimes we need to reduce the burdens that hold us back and inhibit new growth.

This week I spent time clearing away the clutter that had accumulated in my office. I gave away books I will never read again. I sorted through overstuffed notebooks, tossed pages I no longer needed, and organized the rest into easily managed and findable files. I ran old receipts and documents through a screaming shredder machine. The space in my office is clearer, more open and organized, more conducive to thought, planning, and looking forward to the future.

Cutting back what we no longer need allows room for new expansion and life. When we periodically assess and eliminate the possessions or roles that that no longer encourage us, we make room for flourishing growth. When we are unencumbered by unneeded excess, we feel more ready to experience, explore, and learn something new.

What branches of your life could use pruning today? What could be eliminated to give you room to grow?

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Father, thank you for all the goodness of your creation that surrounds us. Please help us see all the beauty in our world.

Thank you for all you do to protect and provide for us, your children. Please be always our leader and King, our advisor and friend.

Help us follow the guidance of your Spirit as we learn to live and grow in peace. Help us help others by giving generously with care and compassion.

Be with us always to show us your ways, and teach us to show others your love. Thank you for the love of your Son who promises eternal life in your presence.

We love you, and we ask you to help us remember how blessed we are to share life in this country.

Amen.

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My friend brought her son, Evan, to my house for a visit when he was two years old.

While his mom and I talked, Evan walked to my refrigerator, opened the door, helped himself to a pear, and started munching.

Evan’s mom seemed embarrassed and scolded him for invading my refrigerator, but I laughed.

“He can have a pear if he wants one,” I said. “I buy them for people to eat. They only go to waste if no one opens the door and enjoys them.”

If a two-year-old helps himself to food in my kitchen, I know he feels safe, comfortable, and welcomed in my home.

“Refrigerator privilege” is the trust we feel when we spend a lot of time with someone and know them well. Like a two-year-old who is unafraid to raid the refrigerator, we feel confident to help ourselves. We trust that we are welcomed, and we are free to accept whatever goodies our host has to offer.

My daughter is married and now has a home of her own, but she is always my child. She will always hold a key to my house and refrigerator privilege to help herself to anything in my kitchen. I want every child to feel he or she is invited to share what I provide.

“Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it” (Mark 10:15).

“Refrigerator privilege” in God’s house is the confidence to ask him for anything we need, the trust that God wants to give us all good things, and the freedom to accept the blessings he makes available to us.

No matter how old we become or how mature in our faith, each of us is always God’s child. We will always hold the keys to God’s heart and the privilege to receive all the gifts he has to offer. God wants us to open the door and sample the flavors of the good life he invites us to share.

God has gifts in store for us, just chilling on the shelf, waiting for us to investigate and help ourselves. All the blessings he offers will only go to waste if we never open the door and see what’s inside.

Who has refrigerator privileges in your home? Do you feel you have free access to the blessings God provides?

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At the edge of the parking lot, the women pitched rocks. The rocks arched up and over the fence, then dropped into the high grass of the empty lot on the other side.

The women threw the rocks to symbolize discarding the concerns that burdened them. I duplicated the activity at home to help get some clarity of my own.

Find two rocks and a permanent marker.

Check driveways, parks and flower beds for rocks. I found two rocks beside the sidewalk outside my front door. I found the marker in my desk drawer.

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On the first rock:

Write a word describing a trait you like about yourself. I wrote "compassion" because I care about sharing the life stories of the single moms I know.

On the second rock:

Write a word describing a trait you want to let go. I wrote "anger" because for years I have carried resentment and anger about experiences in my past.

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Keep the first rock as a reminder of the quality you want to encourage and preserve.

Take the second rock outside and throw it away. Pitch it into a field, a pond, a lake, a sewer grate.

Be careful not to hit people, windows, or passing cars.

Pray and ask God to help you release the burden you threw away with the second rock. Express your gratitude for the blessing you named on the first rock.

Walk away feeling lighter because some of the weight that was holding you back has now been left behind.

Everyone has a burden they want to throw away. Everyone has positive characteristics to be admired. Sometimes remembering the positive helps us forget the negative entirely.

Post a comment about your rock-throwing experience. What did you write on your rocks? How did you feel after throwing one away? How will you honor the quality you want to keep?

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