If you haven’t already heard of Epitome, it’s time to become familiar with them. I recently had the opportunity to freewrite during their “Appreciation” Album Release party. As the band played, Felicia Stevens of The Drunken Palette painted a beautiful rendition of what she saw in her mind and I wrote a story of what I was seeing in mine as we heard the music. Below the unedited story, you will see the painting. Enjoy!
He’d been walking throughout the day, wandering really. This church, that bar, stopped by a friend’s house, even ventured through the local State forest. So many opinions and thoughts. So many gestures of, “I love you” and “So nice to see you”. Yet he still felt as though he were alone. As he ventured toward the riverbank, he reflected upon his years. There were moments of joy, pain, happiness, sadness. Moments he thought of fondly and moments he’d wanted to do over. As he stood on the shore, he looked up, “Can’t anyone hear me?” As he awaited an answer, he sank to his knees. Arms outstretched, head toward the sky, “I just want someone to truly hear my heart.” He stayed for what seemed like hours waiting for a response, but all he heard was silence. He got up and ventured home, hoping his answer would soon come.
The next days blended together as he went to work, completed parenting duties, and played sports in local leagues. Each evening he ventured back down to the riverbank. “What must I do for you to speak to me?” he asked the Lord. Silence each day. He sank to his knees, listening to the waves crashing on the shore, feeling the water against his toes, and listening to the beautiful sounds of nature surrounding him.
He reflected upon all the things he’d been told throughout his life. He thought about what he’d said to others, each evening clearing his mind as he forgave others, asking for forgiveness for things he’d done to others, and acting on behaviors he needed to change. As he sat there, Friday evening a butterfly flew in front of him and he thought about a Nathaniel Hawthorne quote he’d once heard, “Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” He wondered if he’d been spending too much of his life chasing answers and instead needed to start living.
As he woke the next morning, he purposed to change some destructive patterns. Instead of eating a large breakfast and running out the door in a hurry, he went down to the riverbank and sat quietly listening to the breeze. As he listened, he admired the sunrise and thought of the things for which he was thankful:
- His children
- His work
- His friends
- His health
- His family
- His faith
He stopped… “My faith.” He looked up to the sky and reflected upon that one for a bit. “My faith is what brought me to this place of loneliness, wondering what life is all about. Wondering why I am here. My faith brought me to the river, but why have I still not heard any answers to my questions?” As he sat there, a strong wind blew, and he saw a single leaf blow in front of him. He looked around and noticed a tree at the edge of the riverbank. His eyes widened, “That’s it!”
The words from Psalm 1 began to flood into his mind.
“Blessed is the man who does not walk with the ungodly or stand in the path of sinners or sit with the scornful.”
He thought of that first verse. Why did this Psalm come to mind? Why do those words hurt so deeply? He prayed for revelation on his friendships, who he had been taking guidance from, who he’d been listening to in the car and at night on television. He began to reflect more on his actions and his thoughts.
He thought about his divorce and the counsel that led up to him walking away. He thought of the way he parented and how he handled his career. He considered who he was spending time with and what they brought into his life or drained from it. As he did, the sun filled the sky with a beautiful view. “I’m onto something”, he thought.
The next morning, he went back to the riverbank, this time bringing a pend and notebook with him to record his thoughts. Instead of sitting in the open, he leaned against the single tree that stood along the riverbank. I’ve asked for You to hear my heart. I’m here and You haven’t sent anyone to me, so I suppose I’m to talk with You. So here we go…and he poured his heart out to the Lord.
As the days progressed, he cleaned through his heart and mind. Purging memories, pain, hard times, and anything that belong with him any longer. As he did, he found his social circle also changing. Friends he’d long enjoyed hanging out with became folks he found less comfort with. Friends he never knew he was capable of meeting and knowing became his new circle. Psalm One was coming alive to him through that first verse. It was time to move on to the second verse.
“But his delight in in the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.”
For the next weeks, he began and ended each day by the riverbank, watching the sun rise and set. He reflected upon the verse and let it sink into his spirit as he continued to clean through his mind and heart and sit with the Lord.
As he leaned against the tree a little more than a month later, he cited aloud verse three:
“He will be like a tree planted by rivers of water, that brings forth fruit in due season. Whose leaf does not wither, and whatever he does shall prosper.”
As he shared the verse with the breeze, he chuckled. You bring me to the riverbank to demonstrate the truth of scripture. Like this tree under which I take shade, I shall be fruitful and complete all you have for me if I only delight in your ways, in your Word. As he left that day, he walked with almost a skip to his step. He headed into the office and was like a new man. His coworkers commented on his changes and how he was much calmer in meetings, approached troubles in a new way, and interacted with others differently. His mind was truly clearer and his heart felt purer as he spoke with customers and vendors. He was truly becoming a new man.
A few weeks later, he was ready to move onto the next verse.
“The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind blows away.”
He thought of his life and how he’d always shifted from one activity to the next, never really committing to anything. He moved from place to place, trying new things and always looking for something different. He thought of how his ideologies and views about the world changes along with his desires, sometimes from moment to moment. He’d gone through so many phases, changing hobbies, activities, and beliefs. But now he wanted to become rooted. To become firm in his ideas and beliefs. To stand for something. He wanted to stop blowing like the leaf that floated by him that day at the water and instead wanted to be like the tree, which its roots dug deep, ready to wither any storm.
“Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”
Lord, I don’t want to be among those who perish. Let’s continue this heart surgery. Reveal to me all else that must change. Show me the way to walk. He continued to take inventory of his life, ensuring all duties were taken care of with excellence and strong commitment. He began to notice that things that were once frustrating and tough became easier. He was calmer, more patient, and less worried about the future. He carried himself taller and walked with a light “pep” in his step. He found himself caring more about others and less about himself.
One afternoon he ventured into a local business he’d not entered previously. The atmosphere was one he had not felt in a while. There was a heaviness upon it. The workers were sad, heavy-hearted, disinterested in their work. He noticed heads hanging low and hearts begging for a word of encouragement. He purchased a couple things after making light discussion with the cashier and took the rest of the day off to think about what he’d just experienced.
As he thought of his own transformation, he realized anyone could change if they really wanted to. They just had to be open to new decisions and thoughts. Each morning from that point, he’d go to the riverbank, reflect upon what he had to do for the day, think about what changes he wanted to make within the next 24 hours, and purpose in his heart to have the best day yet. He’d then pack up some fruits, write out a few notecards, and stop by the store to hand them out to the workers.
One day the boss came out to inquire about his activity. “Why do you stop by with fruits and cards each morning for my employees?” he asked. “You’ve been doing it for some time and I’ve noticed such a difference in the way they treat one another, our customers, and even me. What is it that you say in those notes? They won’t share them with me and instead shake their heads and chuckle as they walk away smiling.”
The man explained to the owner how he felt and what he noticed the first time he visited. He shared how it reminded him of only months ago when his own employees had such countenances and how he’d come to a place of apathy and routines. He shared that has he changed his ways and interacted with them more, they began to work differently, and the atmosphere of his own business began to change. This made him want to try it out at the store to see if it would work for others too. So each morning he started bringing the fruit and note cards to see if it’d help within the shop.
The owner couldn’t understand why the man was so invested in his staff. But he was also appreciative of the help and confided, “I’ve been so burnt out lately. I’ve been trying to make ends meet without firing anyone so I’ve held two jobs, working third shift each night before coming in here all day. I haven’t taken a salary from here in a long time and have been feeding my family on the income from the second job. I am not sleeping well, my marriage is falling apart, and I am not doing well at all. But in the last two weeks, this business has changed. Customer traffic has increased, sales are higher, and I have been able to see changes in my own patterns as the employees have been so much more positive. I have been treating my family better and I feel like you are responsible for some of this. For how you’ve helped my employees.”
The man smiled and told the older gentleman that he owed him nothing. He shared that he didn’t do it for repayment rather he did it because he wanted to do it. He felt led to pay forward the gift he’d found by the river months back when his heart began to lift and his own heart began to change. The owner thanked the man and invited him to a meeting of city business owners that was happening that next weekend. He’d be the speaker and would be sharing about the change in his business and wanted the man to attend as his guest. But he had one small favor: that the man would share what he wrote inside the cards.
The man agreed to attend and said instead of telling them about the contents, he would create a basket for each of the attendees so they would be able to experience the cards and fruit for themselves. The older gentleman chuckled and agreed if that was what he wanted to do, then that would be a wonderful way to share the experience.
As the weekend approached, the man reflected upon how he mended family relationships, ended toxic relationships, started life-giving relationships, and found new joy in his careers over the last months. He was astonished at how starting and ending his day by the river had changed his entire demeanor. His life had changed as he internally changed. As he spent time with the Lord before the meeting with the city business owners, he thanked the Lord for meeting him at the riverbank. Suddenly, deep within his heart he heard the answer he’d been praying for all this time:
Child, I’ve always been with you, but you feared intimacy so I needed to strip you of opportunities to hear everyone else and create moments to move you closer to me. You answered the challenge and dove into scripture and my presence. This allowed me to refresh you, refuel you, and restore you. As you surrendered to me, I could change your heart and restore your love and faith. You’ve become a new man, a new father, a new boss. Now it’s time to fulfill your purpose and train others how to do the same. I’ve opened the doors for the conversations to occur and I’ve created space for you to fully step into your purpose. It’s time for your fruit to come forth and for your territory to enlarge. Go today with boldness and share your story with the business owners. Help them with their situations as they open up about the struggles they are having. You’ve been created for such a time as this.
The man stayed a while longer listening to the breeze and wildlife. He laughed to himself as he realized that this whole time as he sat beneath the tree he’d been standing upon his answer. The Lord had been speaking to him through the sunrises and sunsets, breezes and waves, birds and insects. All this time that he’d felt unheard, the Lord needed to stop him and get him to hear others. As he did, he’d been able to feel heard because as he changed others changed. It wasn’t a big secret or a complicated process. It was all about gratitude and realizing what he had and what he needed to change.
At the city meeting, the man shared his story, heard others’ stories, and then gifted the men with the experience the older business owner had asked him to share. As the men opened their fruit baskets and read their cards, each was surprised to see they contained the simplest of messages:
I appreciate you.