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Monday, November 30, 2009

Definitely Not Alone

A month or so ago James began publicizing to our church a "Saturday After Thanksgiving Hike" at Ramsey Canyon. He didn't require people to sign up or anything, just kept it low key. So on our way to the trail head Saturday morning I asked him how many people he expected to show up. He really had no idea.

Since the weather was a little gloomy, cool and cloudy, and he hadn't heard a firm "We'll be there!" from anyone, I half expected no one to show up. And, while that certainly wouldn't have been ideal, it would have been ok. We love to hike period. But I was hoping at least a few people would be hiking with us.

But as we drove into the parking area we were met by over a dozen folks from our church and after we got there ten more showed up. We ended up with 27 people hiking the approach path and 23 doing the whole 5 mile loop! What a blast! Hiking with these friends from our church family was one of the neatest hikes I've ever been on.

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Our hiking group was comprised of young couples, families with preschoolers, families with school aged kids, teenagers, college students, and slightly older adults. Most were fairly experienced hikers, but a few hadn't hit the trails in a while. It was an amazing representation of our church family. And that's just what it felt like that day...family.

We set out on a 2.5 mile in and 2.5 mile out hike to the Hamburg mine, deep into Ramsey Canyon of the Huachuca mountains. We set up a few check points where we would all count heads and make sure everyone was ok, and off we went.

The first section of the hike is a very pleasant approach trail. Right off the bat we saw three deer and trees laden with multicolored fall leaves - orange, red, yellow, and green. Yes, we do have a true fall here in southern Arizona. You just have to go hiking in the mountains to see it!

But immediately following the approach trail, we got our full indoctrination into mountain hiking. Switchbacks. I hate that word! Probably only a quarter of a mile, but it seemed like miles. Not only were the inclines steep, but the elevation is well above 4,500 feet here and you have no time to adjust to the thin air as you go up, up, up. But fortunately once you get up this series of switchbacks, the hike becomes a much more enjoyable trail of gradual ups and downs.

The switchbacks lead to a couple of open vistas where you can see for miles, and then you head down into the green crevices of the canyon. This is where a beautiful babbling brook feeds the foliage year round and the wind whistles among the tops of the trees. I bet many people who live right here in southern Arizona have no idea that such a place exists just miles from their homes. It's absolutely magical. You leave behind the sandy dirt, the cacti, and the rock formations and suddenly you're in an enclosed forest carpeted with moist, black dirt and green moss.

Well enough of the scenic descriptions. Let's move on to the adventure of it all. The funny thing about this hike was how indicative it was of our human nature. You see, some set off at a fast pace, but took a few wrong turns and had to be retrieved later on by those who knew the trail a little better. Some were more winded by the climbs than others. A few were taking care of young children as they hiked the trail, even carrying babies in their arms for the duration. Some were more intent upon covering ground quickly, while others paused to look up occasionally, soaking in the views. A few took snapshots along the way. Others posed for the pictures and depended on those with cameras to pass the photos along later. Most all of us missed a turn or two and had to detour back to the right path.

I don't think I've ever hiked with 20-something people before. And if you're a serious hiker who's trying to get some miles under your belt, you might have no desire to ever join such a group. But I thoroughly enjoyed our massive group hike, and besides the laughter, and good conversation, and beautiful scenery, here's why.

Our hike reminded me that while Jesus calls us to get off the beaten path and take the one less traveled (as in Matthew 7:13-14), He never intended for us to hike it alone. He says, "few are those who find it," but He doesn't say you'll be on it all by yourself. The sold-out, committed Christian walk can get lonely at times, but no believer should have to feel like a lone ranger.

Jesus himself gathered a group of men to walk with Him. Isn't that interesting? Have you ever considered how different our take on the Messiah would have been if He had been the lone ranger type? What if the gospel portrayed Jesus as this solitary kind of guy who had slipped into one village after another all alone, mysteriously appearing on the scene and just as mysteriously exiting, like a dark shadow disappearing each night? What if he had been an elusive and evasive loner type?

But He wasn't. Jesus walked in relationship with others. He asked others to walk with Him, even when He knew they might slow Him down a little here, take a wrong turn there, or argue about how to read the map there. He had to deal with some knuckleheads, that's for sure. But while He definitely took the lead, He never gave up on His buddies. He was on a group hike and he took that group of 12+ all the way to His destination.

Let's face it, sometimes we're tempted to just do this thing by ourselves. We think people complicate things, slow us down, get us lost, distract us. Maybe you're the kind of person who likes to cover a lot of territory quickly and those who keep snapping pictures on the way frustrate you. Or, conversely, maybe you're into enjoying the scenery and those speedy guys tend to push your buttons. Whatever your "hiking style," God intends for you to do this path in the company of others - namely His church.

Are you trying to walk the believer's path on your own? No matter where I've lived, I've come across Christians who are stubbornly avoiding the church. Some tell stories of getting burned by the church some time in the past. Others say they're just passing through, won't be here long, so they don't bother to engage in a local church. Still others say they are putting their family first and just don't have time for church. I'm sorry folks, but the truth is that none of those excuses are biblical. They just don't cut it.

The church is not some neat organization that you join if you're the joining type. The church is the bride of Christ, His beloved, His family, His body. Jesus created the church (see Matthew 16:18), called it His, and died for it.

Sure, sometimes I get a little frustrated with the church too. As a pastor's wife I've seen it all - the good, the bad, the glorious, and the ugly. But because Jesus built it, I'm sticking with it. Not only that, I'm determined to love it.

If you're not a part of a local church family right now, I encourage you to pray about that, then ask around and find you a good, friendly, Bible-preaching church to attend this Sunday. But don't stop there. Don't just go to church. Join the church. Be a part of the family.

If you're already a part of a church family, think about your role in that family. Thank God for those who help you get back on the path when you take a wrong turn. Appreciate those who remind you to pause and enjoy the scenery. And enjoy every step you take alongside those fellow believers. You may be off the beaten path, but at least you're not alone!

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Change in the Scenery

Today my oldest turned 19. I've been a mother for 19 years. In some ways that is hard to fathom; in others it seems like just yesterday when our music minister Terry and my mom drove me to the hospital. (Interesting story, but for another time.)

For some 18+ years I was able to raise my precious son Daniel. He depended on me for meals, clean clothes, advice, safety, fresh sheets, rides to wherever he needed to go, school supplies, and a good hug. Now, he needs me for none of those things.

Sure, I still get to give him an occasional dose of advice, but he is no longer obligated to take it. And because he has worked so hard at part-time jobs and because he's earned a full scholarship to college, his dad and I rarely foot the bill for anything he needs or wants. He never brings home dirty clothes or sheets for me to wash (I do hope he has washed his sheets at least once this semester!), and he drives wherever he needs to go and even pays for his own gas most of the time. I'm glad to say he still wants hugs from me, but I'm not so naive as to think I'm the only one offering him hugs these days. Of course, I don't think you can ever replace a hug from mom. Don't those kind of stand in a category all by themselves?

I hope so, because it's hard enough transitioning from being a full-time mom to a mom of a college student. I have welcomed every stage of my kids' lives with complete abandon. I've not been one to cry at the door of the kindergarten room or to sulk because I no longer get to go to Chuck E. Cheeze's. But somehow, those shifts in the scenery pale in comparison to this one. It's like I haven't just taken a turn on the trail, but departed from it completely. In fact, come to think of it, I feel very much like I did the day my Aunt Ida, my friend Kim and I stepped off the AT after our four day trek - victorious that I've completed it well, tired from the journey, relieved to move on to the next adventure, a little worst for the wear, thrilled with the outcome, but more than a little sad to be getting off the trail. It was a lovely trail, after all. Hard, but lovely.

I never was one much for babies. I didn't have my babies so I could have babies. Some women do, you know. I had babies because I wanted a family - a family that would one day grow up. I wanted children I could raise to be adults. I looked forward to the day my kids could sit around a table and have intelligent, good-humored, and interesting conversations with James and me, ... like we did yesterday. I constantly kept in mind the adults I wanted my kids to grow up to be, the ones they have become in Daniel's case and are quickly becoming in Abigail's. And I've always enjoyed those moments when my children showed one more sign of maturity, one more clue that they were getting it.

But now that I'm here, with one 19-year-old, very independent, very capable, and delightfully mature young man, I'm a little sad. It's been a lovely trail, and it's hard to depart from it.

Of course, I'm not completely off the parenting trail. I still have one at home and I'm enjoying the trail equally with her. Being the parent of a female, I get to see a few different sights, cross some different bridges, and explore some new territory. I'm thankful for the path Abby and I are on.

But mine and Daniel's trail has definitely changed. We're on a new course now, one where we're walking more side by side. The trail talk differs and we split up more often, checking in with each other only occasionally.

And so, on this 19th birthday, I'm thrilled for the man my son is becoming. I feel victorious for a trail well traveled. But I'm still a little miffed about the change in scenery. I didn't cry when he went to kindergarten, but 19 is whole different thing.

If you've been there, done that, I could definitely use a word of encouragement from you today. If you haven't, don't spend too much time lamenting what is inevitably to come. Instead, just enjoy every load of laundry, every carpool, and every science project for which you are needed. One day they'll drive home to see you, pay for their own gas, and show you the new clothes they bought and keep clean on their own. And if you're lucky, they'll give you a big hug and say they love you. Because mama hugs never get old.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Heart Behind the Gifts

Today I’m cooking! Rarely am I even this far ahead of the game, but I’m determined to get most of our Thanksgiving meal prepared today so I can actually enjoy tomorrow. I realize some of you have had your casseroles and pies prepared and in the freezer for days, but I’m just not that good! (I do have a pie in the freezer, but it’s in a box.)

At any rate, since I’m kind of busy in the kitchen today, I won’t be putting a lot of thought into a blog post with great theological weight. I’m not that good of a multi-tasker! But I do want to wish you a happy Thanksgiving and share a few of the things I am most thankful for this year.

I’m oh so thankful for my Lord, who I love more and more every day. I don’t know if it’s just because I’m getting older or if I’m finally catching on to just how great He is, but I truly feel more in love with Jesus today than ever. He is the lover of my soul, my knight in shining armor, and the keeper of my secrets. I’m crazy about Him and thankful that I know Him like I do.

Beyond that I am simply thankful for all the ways He has blessed me. Like James 1:17 says, I believe every good and perfect gift I have came directly from Him.

He has graciously provided me with loving people, both family and friends, who have been there for me, encouraged me, provided support, and simply made life a blast. He has always taken care of me and my own financially, even when it seemed impossible. And He has blessed us all with such good health that I sometimes feel guilty about how healthy we are.

But not only that, my God has absolutely blessed me with joy and laughter and adventure and growth and purpose. I have witnessed Him at work in my life and I have never doubted that He had good in store for me. He has heard my prayers and answered them. He has spoken to my heart when I desperately needed a Word from Him. And He has never given up on me. He has been so good.

And here’s the thing. I don’t just think God mindlessly gave me all these blessings either. I don't think He just has a shelf marked "Standard Fare" and He's taken a package deal and tossed it at me. Nor do I think I've just been lucky, won some sort of heavenly lottery.

No, I believe God loves me so much that He has handpicked each gift that He has lovingly placed in my life. He has put more thought into what He's given to me than I ever put into the gifts I buy for my husband, children, or friends. He is the king of gift giving.

I believe God thinks about me, delights in the thought of doing something just for me, chooses carefully what would benefit me most, considers the timing and selects the perfect moment, and then graces me with that well chosen gift with all the love and tenderness of a Father, a Friend, and a Lover all rolled into one.

I know you have as many blessings to be thankful for as I do, and I’m sure you’ll name them one by one sometime during this Thanksgiving season. But I encourage you to go beyond just being grateful. I’m urging you to really think about the love behind each of those gifts. They come from a God who is crazy about you. He chosen carefully and given each gift with more love than you can imagine.

Happy Thanksgiving! I’m very thankful for you, too, by the way!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Like Convertible Pants - Zip, Zip!

This Christmas I’m giving my husband a pair of convertible hiking pants. Up to this point he’s had to decide between his hiking shorts or jeans before setting out on his hike. With these nifty pants he doesn’t have to decide. He can start his hike early in the morning wearing comfortable, breathable long pants and transition to shorts with just a few zip zips when it gets warmer. Then, when the sun begins to sink behind the mountains, he can slip the bottom half of his pants legs back on and voila! He’s warm again. Lucky him!

I like the comfort and versatility of convertible hiking pants because they help you adapt to the climate as you travel the trail. Adaptability is a good thing, huh? We all have to adapt to new technology, different surroundings, new or changed people, cultural shifts, and new challenges almost daily.

Still, I don’t always adapt to changes all that well. I bet some of you don’t either, huh? I like to think that I’m always up for an adventure, something new. But the truth is, change sometimes causes me to tremble in my boots.

I don’t like moving, but I’ve had to move to a different city and/or state six times since my early twenties. Each move has been a mixed bag of blessings and difficulties. I enjoyed the newness, the adventure, the meeting of new people, and the fresh start. But I loathed losing the old and familiar, packing up my home, saying goodbye to dear friends, and the work of beginning again.

With each move God has been good, however, to patiently help me adapt to the new and let go of the old. With the ease of zipping off a pant leg, He has shown me how to walk new and unfamiliar paths with the reassurance that “this too will soon be home.” I may not be very “convertible,” but He certainly is. He’s all about moving on and progressing forward.

Isaiah 43:18-19 says, “Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” I can almost hear the sound of those zippers as I read that. Sounds like He’s telling us to put our convertible pants on and get moving. There are a few changes down the trail, but they’re for our good, and we can handle them with His help. But if we spend all our time focusing on the past it’ll be that much harder to embrace and enjoy the new; we may even miss it altogether. Kind of like getting our zipper stuck.

Are you going through a change of some sort today? Whether you’re one of those folks who easily adapts to the new or are more hesitant like myself, I encourage you to take these scriptures to heart today. Like a pair of convertible pants, they’ve certainly served me well when I needed to adapt to some new surroundings.

I’m still adjusting to this college mom phase of life and every time I have to put my mom on the airplane (like I do today) I have to adapt all over again to living 2,000 miles from my parents. So I’m right there with you—suddenly in a place where the old doesn’t fit anymore, but the new isn’t comfortable yet either.

I know change is tough, sometimes plain out unwelcomed. But we can do this thing. We’ve got more than convertible pants to help us adapt. We have a God who’s up to something new and He’s patient enough to walk us through it one step at a time. Zip, zip.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Those With Packs on Their Backs

Around where I live I see several folks walking around with backpacks strapped to their backs every day. They look tired and frail, like they have been walking for miles and miles. They're more often than not dirty, unshaven, and dressed in soiled clothing. But, while they do indeed walk some trails every day, they are not hikers or recreational backpackers. They are homeless.

I think some of these people live in the woods surrounding the parks that are just down the road from my house. I saw one such woman sitting on the bleachers at one of the baseball fields just this morning. She looked weary and alone and perhaps even a little confused. I didn't go over and speak to her. I'd be too scared to. I'm not a brave person when it comes to such situations.

I don't know why these people have no home besides the parks and trails of Sierra Vista. I don't know their stories. I am sure they are varied and long. I have often wondered if perhaps some of them have addictions that have driven them to the very edges of human existence, to the point where they are living a life more similar to that of an animal than a person. Or maybe some of them suffer from untreated mental illnesses that cause them to run from our fast-paced and demanding culture to a place where there are no demands on them. And yes, some of them could have experienced one rejection or one financial loss or one heartbreak after another until they have had no where to run but to the desert.

This Thursday I will help serve Thanksgiving dinner with the Salvation Army to many in our community who are unable to provide their own meal of thanks this year. But I don't know if these drifting homeless will even be among the ones who sit at the tables. Something tells me they may not be.

In the past the women of our church have assembled bags of toiletries, snacks, and other small personal items to hand out to the homeless in our community. I was part of that effort and I'd do it again, but just how far does that small act of kindness go? I wonder.

I'll confess, I have mixed feelings about these folks. One moment I feel achingly sorry for them, another time I feel quite indignant about their plight. I want to bring them home and bathe them and feed them one minute, and the next I'm scared to death of them - their issues, their long stories of how they got here, their huge needs, and their distant, detached demeanor.

I suppose when you get right down to it, I know I can't rescue these people from their situations anymore than I can rescue my own children from the choices they make and the consequences they sometimes have to pay. But I can care. I can pray for them. I can smile and say "hello" when I see them walking past me outside of McDonald's. And I can follow the Lord's prompting and do the small things that He, in His eternal economy, can add to all the small things that other people do to make a huge difference in a life.

Deuteronomy 15:7-11 (read it! it's good!) reminds us that the poor and needy will always be among us (this was written thousands of years ago and it still rings true). The passage goes on to direct us to do two significant things. The first is obvious: give generously to these folks. But the second command speaks even more directly to me and is actually the heart of the matter.

Twice in this passage God warns His people not to let their hearts harden against these downtrodden and needy people. In verse 7 He says, "you shall not harden your heart, or close your hand from your poor brother." And He says in verse 9, "Beware, lest there is a base thought in your heart..." regarding them.

When I read between the lines here, I see, "Don't you worry about how they got here. Don't try to analyze whether or not they are worthy of your help. Don't criticize or speculate or judge or huff and puff. Just be kind."

Lord, help me to be kind today, even when I don't understand how someone got to the place where they are so dependent on kindness. And not just to homeless people, but to anyone who finds himself in a place where they need a tender smile, a soft word, an act of generosity, or silent prayer. You have been so kind to me. And I have gotten myself in some fixes where I wouldn't have made it without Your generosity. Please constantly remind me of that and pour Your kindness through me.

Today, when we come across someone who needs a little kindness, whether it be a child, a spouse, a co-worker, a stranger, let's try to remember God's instruction and act on it. Let's keep our hearts soft and give generously. Let me know what you think.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

More Than Just a Good View

Most mornings I don't get to hike in the nearby mountains, but I do take an hour long walk in the parks just down the road from my house. From these parks I can see the Huachucas in clear view. In fact, I can see several mountain ranges surrounding me from all 360 degrees. But the Huachucas, which harbor the army post, Fort Huachuca, are the closest mountains and definitely the most beautiful from this vantage point.

From where I live these mountains look large and stony. While they are definitely more green than say the Mules or the Whetstones, they are nothing like the mountains I grew up with in North Georgia. Still, the longer I live here in Arizona, the more beautiful they are to me.

When I'm hiking in the Huachucas, one trail at a time, I feel small and insignificant. The mountains seem to swallow me up when I am deep inside one of the canyons wandering down a meandering path and looking for the next marker so I can know where I am. I look up and the crests of the mountains seem large and impending, somehow bigger now that I am deep within their shadows. I climb and climb and climb and never seem to get to the top of anything. There's always a higher peak, another hill to scale.

But when I'm on my morning walks and look across the 7 or 8 miles that separate me from the mountains, those same peaks look very different. Yes, they're still quite large. In fact, depending on the time of day, the lighting, and whether there are any clouds blanketing them, the mountains sometimes seem to grow before my very eyes. But from a distance, the Huachucas seem less impending, less intimidating. They are out in the open, out in full view, and while they still seem gloriously majestic, they also seem more friendly, more comforting and reassuring somehow. Instead of appearing to me as a daunting mountain that I must climb they are simply a gigantic marker of God's faithfulness against the backdrop of the bigger picture.

While I'm in the thick of those mountains, I'm consumed with where I'm going, how I'm going to get there, how long this hike will take, how to ration my water supply throughout my journey, and where I get to pause for the next break. That's not to say I'm miserable when I'm on the mountain; I'm not. But being in the mountains is very different from looking at the mountains. In fact, it has occurred to me that if I never got to look at these very mountains from a distance I probably wouldn't enjoy hiking in their midst. It's the fact that I've seen their beauty and their grandeur from afar that makes exploring their secrets all the more fun, all the more enjoyable.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the thick of life that we get a little overwhelmed. Whether we're in the tangle of parenting, in the rat race of our career, in a sticky place with a relationship, or in over our head with financial worries, we can lose perspective quite quickly. And even if we wouldn't trade places for the world (because life really is good, it's just messy too), the worries and frustrations of those places can loom over us like mountain peaks we just can't seem to scale.

Consumed with following the trail, wherever it might lead, we begin to think this little mountain range - this one little part of life - is all there is. Things get blown out of proportion, we lose perspective, and our energy is drained.

Could you use a little perspective today? Maybe you need to step away from the mountain you are trying to climb, whatever it may be, and take another look at it from a different vantage point. I know I've had to step away from a few goals I've had recently and look at them again from another angle. Those goals, worthy as they may be, were beginning to wear me down. They were making me feel like I often do on an uphill hike - like I keep stepping up, up, up, and never getting anywhere.

I laid those dreams down not long ago and stepped away from them. I asked God to help me look at things from His vantage point and give me some much needed clarity. And He did. Then I picked them back up and began the journey again, refreshed and ready for the climb.

Psalm 78:16-17 reminds us that we all need to "just step away" every now and then and take in the larger view. The Message reads:

Still, when I tried to figure it out,
all I got was a splitting headache . . .
Until I entered the sanctuary of God.
Then I saw the whole picture.

Mmm, mm, mm! Nothing takes away a headache like a little time in God's sanctuary!

Something giving you a splitting headache today? I know that feeling. Maybe it's time to take a walk in the park instead of journeying on that same endless trail today. Oh you can come back to the trail; you'll probably have to. But sometimes we just need a different view of our lives so they don't seem quite so insurmountable. And if we spend a little time in God's presence and allow Him to direct our gaze, we'll get a much better view of the situation. In fact, we'll get more than just a good view; we'll get perspective.

Hey, it's Friday! Have a great weekend. Take a hike and I'll see you Monday! (But leave me a comment first!)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Mountain Worth Dying On

For several years after we moved to Arizona, the Harms family enjoyed a "day after Thanksgiving hike" tradition. The first couple of years we journeyed to the Chiricahuas for our hike, where we experienced amazing rock formations and wonderful trails. We packed a picnic lunch and wrapped the day up at a nearby pizza parlor. We have a dozen or so pictures on our entryway wall testifying to the beauty of those hikes and the fun we had as a family. I stop and just stare at those photos quite often. They're beautiful reminders of easier days.

Sometime after the second Thanksgiving hike, our two teens decided they didn't like trekking through the mountains on Black Friday and they didn't want to do it again. I think we managed one or two more hikes with Daniel and Abby in the closer Huachucas (we couldn't entice them to get in the car and travel to the Chiricahuas again), but those hikes produced fewer photo ops due to scowling faces and poor dispositions. The photo below accurately portrays just how fun these more recent hikes were for me.

So, after much discussion and pouting (on mine and James' part, this time) we determined last year about this time that we would not force our kids to take the annual after-Thanksgiving-Day-hike with us. We certainly asked them to go, but we didn't insist on it. Instead we opted to invite a few other families/couples to join us and headed into the mountains with happier hikers, those who really wanted to be there.

James and I still would like for our kids to hike with us occasionally and I believe they eventually will, but in the long run we have to choose our battles. Especially with teenagers. And as they say, some mountains just aren't worth dying on. The Huachucas, though they are lovely, certainly are not worth dying on.

On the other hand, James and I have found a few other mountains that are very much worth battling over and even dying on when it comes to our teenagers.

We've always insisted that they go to church every Sunday, even when they've gotten in late from a school dance, a baseball game or a cast party. We don't wake up on Sunday mornings and talk about whether we're going to Sunday school or the worship service. We don't negotiate with "Well, you don't have to go to Sunday school if you'll just at least come to the worship service." We've picked them up from spend-the-night parties to go to church and we've taken sleepover friends with us. We've dragged them to strange churches where they knew no one when we've been on vacation.

And don't think this battle was a "no contest" simply because James is a pastor. Pastors' kids aren't born with some extra spiritual chromosome and neither are the pastor or his wife. We've all had our days when we just didn't want to go to church. In fact, we've had a few extra reasons to not want to go too, if you catch my drift. While church has usually been a good place for our kids, it's also been a fishbowl of sorts. They've certainly begged to stay home a few times, even just for an "emotional health day" (now where did they learn that?). Still, we've chosen to die on this mountain and a few times I thought we might suffer a few wounds, but we've survived and so have Daniel and Abigail. (Disclaimer: I'd be amiss to leave you with the impression that our kids have never missed church. They have. But going to church is certainly the rule while missing is the rare exception.)

As a result of the warfare we've done on this particular mountain, Daniel attends church most Sunday evenings while he is away at college. Our battle is done as far as his church attendance goes. We'll always encourage him to participate regularly in a local church, but the battle now belongs to him. We hope that we've equipped him to fight it and that we've shown him how important a battle it is. Hikes in the Huachucas...no big deal. Church attendance...deal breaker.

We've drawn immovable lines on a few other mountains too. The dating scene has included its own set of parameters and, though they balked at our "ridiculous rules" at first, they both gladly complied when the right gal or guy came along.

We didn't let our kids have cell phones until they were sixteen. And turning sixteen hasn't meant automatic driver's licenses either. No isn't a foreign word to our kids. They've had to pass on certain movies their friends were allowed to see, turn off TV shows they wanted to watch, and change out of outfits that just wouldn't do.

But that's left us plenty of room for yeses too. Because our kids have known their boundaries, they've been very trustworthy and responsible (with a few minor infractions that we've worked through). And, as a result, we actually surprise them with the things we say yes to sometimes. We've surprised ourselves as well.

Please, please, please, don't get me wrong. Our kids have not been perfect and I'm not holding them or our parenting skills up as examples. I'm just advocating that there are still a few mountains worth dying on out there. And I've found that it's better to sweat it out now than shed tears of remorse later on when that kid is no longer even obligated to engage in the battle with you. I've come across way too many parents in our years of ministry who wish they'd fought those battles to the end when they had a chance, rather than wave the flag of surrender just because the casualties were mounding up. A slammed door, some hateful words, a torrent of tears, and a few days of the silent treatment are small prices to pay in the larger scheme of things. If you want to win the war, you'll have to experience a few bloody battles.

If you're in the trenches of parenting today, lace your boots up snug and eat a good breakfast, for pete's sake! You may have a long and difficult journey ahead of you. Some mountains you'll decide to bypass - no big deal. But there are some you just shouldn't go around. Even if you have to drag your kids up one side and down the other, take them on those mountains with you. I'm rooting for you and I'll be glad to give you a personal pep talk if you need it.

I'm not through with this journey either. And I need other parents like you to encourage me and point out to me when I'm wimping out on the job. Let's fortify each other and get this thing done right. Hopefully when we're through we'll have more than a few photos hanging on our walls to show for our hard work.

They're oh so worth it!

Hey! I'd love to hear from you. Why don't you go ahead and leave me a brief comment today. Maybe you could share one or two mountains that you've learned aren't worth dying on and one or two that are worth the battle, no matter how bloody. Soon I'm planning to host a few contests for my readers, but you'll have to comment to be in the running for the prizes. So take the plunge today and see how painless it really is!

Preparing for a New Trail

A few years ago when my friend Kim and I decided to join my Aunt Ida for a 6-day backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail, we knew we had our work cut out for us. You see, Kim and I are expertly proficient at nothing athletic or physical, but we aren't going to make fools of ourselves either. We're going to at least look like we know what we're doing, even if we're shaking in our running shoes, golf shoes, or hiking boots the whole time.

So before setting out on this famous trail with 40+ pounds strapped to our backs, we began to research the AT, the equipment we would need, the exercises that would prepare us, and the obstacles we might encounter along the path. Our research led in us several directions.

First of all, I read and later passed on to Kim a delightful book by Bill Bryson called A Walk in the Woods. Bryson, a self-professed non-athletic writer, decided to set out on the AT with a rather strange hiking buddy a number of years ago and journal about his encounters. By the time we had finished reading his hilarious accounts of the people he'd met, the bears he heard rummaging around outside his tent, and the constant dumping of his too heavy pack, we were more determined than ever to do this thing. But after reading about a group of giddy ladies he ran into on his first day we were also more set than ever on doing it right. Seems these well-outfitted women from California had started out on the trail with intentions of traveling the full 2,000+ miles but had turned back after just one day. We would not be those women!

So we continued to research for our trip. We read Backpacking: A Woman's Guide by Adrienne Hall. This book, unlike Bryson's, was short on humor and high on reality and gravity. While it was perhaps the most helpful book we read, it was also the one that made us the most nervous. From it we learned, for instance, that bears could pick up the scent of a woman on her menstrual cycle and just what to do with that dilemma. As you can imagine, we began to pray about the most interesting things after reading the advice from Adrienne.

Of course, being the techno-savvy chicks we are, we also inquired about the AT on the Internet. Here we found the scariest stories of all, as is often the case with computer generated research, don't you think? We learned about boy scouts killed by bears, women killed by still-at-large crazy people, and snakes, ticks, and other creatures we could encounter. Yes, we also found a large community of other AT hikers on the web and gained advice and momentum from them. But somehow the roar of a bear overshadows the sweet encouragement of lean, muscular, experienced 20-somethings who are trying to encourage 40-something-year-old women.

By the time we got on the trail that April, our heads were spinning with information. Some of it we probably could have done without. But I'm glad to say that our research resulted in us taking the right equipment and leaving unnecessary weight at home. It also helped us get our bodies ready for the burden of going up and down mountains with not-so-small children on our backs, or that's what it felt like we were carrying anyhow. And our studies helped us hike the trails with a measure of confidence and awareness that we would not have had otherwise. And most importantly, of course, we had great looking hiking clothes, because even if we weren't the most proficient hikers on the mountains we were going to be the cutest. (And believe me, we were!)

But here's the thing. The most important piece of research we did was to secure the maps and guide books for the actual trail we were traveling. Those guides showed us the trail intersections, the shelter sites, places to find water, privies, and elevations. We ditched everything else before we got to the AT, but we had our guide book (or copied pages of the section we were doing actually) on the trail for easy referral.

Proverbs 20:18 says, "Prepare plans by consultation, and make war by wise guidance" and in Proverbs 11:14 we read, "Where there is no guidance, the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory."

We're wise when we seek good counsel before starting a new trail, whether that trail be a new ministry, a change in career, a new phase in parenting, a new relationship, a financial investment or simply a new adventure. Others who have been down the path before us can give us tips for the journey, but they can also lend us much needed perspective and a generous helping of courage.

But, as we found out with our AT trip, the greatest resource for gaining knowledge about the path that lies ahead of you is the most foundational guide book there is, the map. God's Word is just such a map. While other Christians can lend us their insight and share from their own experiences, only the Bible can give 100% reliable information for your own journey.

By the end of our backpacking trip, which was cut short a couple of days early due to an unfortunate injury (another post, another day), our copied pages of our AT trail guide were well-worn and dirty. We had consulted those maps over and over in just a few days of hiking. And they had served us well.

How worn and used is your Trail Guide? Do you consult it with every turn and rise in elevation? Do you go to it to find much needed water and shelter? Do you use it to assure you that your goal is within reach and to encourage you to persevere?

Let's get those Bibles out today and make use of them. Not just because we want to look like we know what we're doing, but so that we really will!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

On the Highway Today

No trails for me today, but plenty of paved roads in wide open spaces. I'm hitting the road in both directions.

First I have to drive to a quaint old mining town about 40 minutes away called Bisbee, where I get my hair cut (much to my husband's chagrin). Then I whip back by the house to put the final touches on my hair before heading to the airport in Tucson to pick up my mother for a weeklong visit. Yippee! We'll be spending the afternoon in Tucson because I have a dentist appointment and then taking the college son to dinner before heading home.

So I'll have plenty of time on the road today. Not thrilled with the journey, but ecstatic about the end results - the beginning of a visit with mom and dinner with Daniel. So I'll endure the journey to get to the destination.

Some days, I must admit, it feels like I'm just enduring my journey here on earth to get to my Final Destination, so I can have that eternal visit with the King and enjoy the complete removal of all that is bad and painful. Sometimes the journey just seems long and difficult and and painful. And sometimes, like today on my trip to Tucson, it feels like I'm traveling this long road of life all by myself. The journey's just hard, some days, and no fun at all. It seems more like an endurance race than a sprint or even a hike, and I'm not much of an endurance runner.

But, just like my journey to Bisbee and Tucson today, the trip is what we make it. Today, in order to endure the long drive, I'll play some good music on the radio (hey, I'll take my IPod!), I'll spend some time praying, and I'll try to really notice the beautiful scenery I have here in Arizona. Basically, I'll have me a good private worship session.

But the thing that will really make the trip bearable and even enjoyable is the reward awaiting me at the end of my destination. In fact multiple rewards: cute hair, my mom, and dinner with Daniel. Ok, cute hair doesn't really rank with mom and Daniel!

Really, the degree to which I enjoy the journey is up to me. If I spend my time delighting in my God and keep my eyes on my destination, joy will pervade and the trip will be a breeze.

The author of Hebrews wrote:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.

Isn't that just like our God to be concerned that we don't "lose heart?" He's thought of everything! He knows this life can be a testing of our endurance and He knows that many of us are not really cut out to travel long distances without a dose of encouragement. And so He provides it here.

If Jesus could endure the path to the cross where He would die for our sins, surely I can endure the journey God has put me on. In fact, my journey has been a piece of cake compared to Jesus' trail of tears. And with the same hope, that one day I will enter into God's very presence and hear the words "well done sweetheart! welcome home!" I'll keep trekking on.

I still have to endure a lot of traveling today and we all still have some mountains to climb in our lives here on earth, but oh the difference a little perspective from the scriptures makes!

Have a good day dear friend, and wave if you see me on I-10. I'll be the one singing with my IPod. Don't forget to enjoy the scenery!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sticking to the Ancient Paths

One of my favorite scriptures is Jeremiah 6:16 - This is what the LORD says: "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls." NIV

I just found this scripture about a year ago and I was absolutely amazed. In a world where we're always trying to find the "new path," the newest gadget, the newest technology, the newest psychology, the newest medical breakthrough, is it even possible for us to give the "ancient path" a second glance? I could tell from this scripture that God would have us look for it and get on it, but are we willing? Am I willing?

I wake up every morning determined to live for the Lord, but throughout the day I am pulled in by our very busy, modern world. I am encouraged to look my best at any cost, develop my skills so I can succeed, strive for the top (because there's no glory in the middle ground), and achieve the most (because that's what it's all about). I'm challenged to do whatever it takes to keep my body from aging and to keep my mind sharp and current. I'm pulled this way and that by the ideologies and concepts I hear touted on talk shows, in magazines, in books, and on the radio.

It's hard to know exactly which path to take at any given moment, but, let's face it, for most of us the old paths are the least desirable. After all, could the ancient paths possibly include drive-thru conveniences, internet capabilities, headphones for great stereo sound, or microwave speed? Old is out and new is growing older by the moment. We've got to keep our eyes on the future or we'll get left behind, right?

Wrong. Jeremiah warned the people back in the old days to stick to the ancient paths. That, he claimed, was the way to find rest for their souls, something that remains quite elusive for most folks today. I don't know how old ancient paths would have been for them, but ancient for us is something you buy at an antique store and display on a curio cabinet. We rarely actually use the ancient. So choosing an ancient path is quite a paradigm shift.

Is the ancient wisdom of the Word of God outdated and irrelevant? Is it antiquated to the point that we should just display it on our coffee table, but turn to other more modern sources for instruction on daily living? No. If you've explored the ancient paths of God's Word at all, you know that it's the way to life, abundance, freedom, joy, and peace. James says we come to Jesus by the Word of God. And Jesus said we come to God through Him and only Him. The Word of God is necessary for salvation.

Not only that, but the Bible is alive. It supernaturally breathes life into the lives of those who approach it with willing hearts and open minds. It transforms lives, gives hope, defines truth, and lights the way.

Sure, in comparison to the supersonic highways traveled by celebrities, the enlightened gurus, and the powerful people of our world, the ancient path of God's Word may seem a little rustic and outdated. It certainly seems filled with faulty directions like "pray for your enemies" and "the last shall be first" and "turn the other cheek" and "serve one another." But strangely enough these directions have proven to be trustworthy in one redeemed life after another for centuries.

Does staying on the ancient path mean I have to give up all the new conveniences of our modern world? Absolutely not. But it does mean that I stay with the wisdom of the ancient texts. I let God's Word rule in my every decision, every goal, every pursuit, every circumstance, and even my every emotion. It means that at times, in fact many times, I'm going to feel like I'm on a very different path from most of the world, and I'll have to come to terms with that and let it be.

I didn't quite give you the whole verse of Jeremiah 6:16. You see the verse actually ends with, "But you said, 'We will not walk in it.'" Sad, isn't it. Jeremiah's audience chose not to walk in the ancient paths of God's commands and directives. They chose a different way, one that was not good or healthy. Ultimately, they paid the price.

I hope you'll join me today on the ancient path. I'll be the one making lots of stops to get my bearings and take a drink of water. Maybe we could help each other find our way. Oh, and I'll be glad to share my water with you too!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Choosing a Different Path

We all choose which paths we take, and that choice determines our destiny. But it also determines the journey we experience to get there.

Tuesday night there was a wonderful special on the National Geographic channel about the Appalachian Trail in the eastern United States. I'm delighted to say that I backpacked a small section of this magical trail a couple of years ago and had the time of my life.

The TV special featured a young woman from Germany who was visiting the United States for a few months. Interestingly she had chosen to spend her time in the US on the AT. She wasn't, as far as I could tell, doing the normal tourist things of going to the Grand Canyon, New York City, Washington D.C., or Niagara Falls. Instead she purposefully chose to see a different part of our country via the AT.

Now you and I know that while she may have come across a few small towns on her hike, she didn't see nearly all of the country that she could have seen had she chosen to travel by any other means than foot! I mean, you do the math: walking for four months vs. riding, flying or even biking for four months!

But this young German woman didn't just want to see the same America that most tourists see. She wanted to take a distinctively different journey. She was determined to see the parts of our country that even few Americans see, and so she did. Her taste of America was counter to that which many tourists and nationals experience, but I happen to think she chose a good path. From the TV special I would gather that she thinks so too.

Young women who are just determining the paths they will take in their adult lives have a similar choice to make. While the cultural norm may pull them down one path, the principles of God's Word point in a very counter cultural direction.

I remember, though it was years ago, just how I felt as a young college woman with my whole life ahead of me. I remember literally trying to figure out how to be a woman, what I wanted my life to look like, who I wanted to model my life after, and where I could get my questions answered. I was hungry for some direction and input. (Granted, my mother had been a wonderful role model, but you know how that goes. I wouldn't recognize that until a little later.)

I didn't necessarily verbalize this hunger to anyone, but I sure did latch onto a few women at my college church. Ranging in age from early 30s to 50s, these women appealed to me because they were attractive, they seemed to be enjoying their lives, their careers seem balanced, their marriages were intact and their children looked happy. Obviously, I also saw that these women were somehow managing womanhood with a sweet spirit too. They weren't stressed out (or didn't appear to be), angry, bitter, overly ambitious and disgruntled, or discontented. Instead, they had joy and they just seemed to be on the journey that I wanted.

I hung with these ladies. I went to their homes (they invited me), I went to lunch with them, I participated in their Bible studies, I went shopping with them. I did things with just them and I spent time with them and their kids while they just did life.

It was during this time that I began to realize that the path I had originally chosen for myself - a career as a public relations executive in a New York City, unmarried, independent, and very successful - wasn't the path I wanted to take after all. Instead I determined to venture off the beaten path to join these women on a very lesser chosen trail.

While I don't believe my life necessarily looks all that different on the outside from many other women's lives, I can tell you that I am very intentionally on a path that often veers far away from the wide road chosen by many American women. It's been a difficult path at times because I've made some choices that go very much against our culture, but I know it, like the AT, is a path worth staying on.

I won't elaborate today too much about the path I've taken. You may assume I'm talking about being a homemaker as opposed to a career woman. Or you might think I'm talking about a life of ministry instead of a life of worldly success. Those classifications, though they fit, don't really define the choices I've made.

Our world has made the discussion about working or not working. They miss the point. The real talk we need to be having as women is the conversation about being worldly women or biblical women. May sound old fashioned, but it doesn't have to be. The bottom line is simply "Is your life going to be all about you, your drive for power, your climb up the ladder, your equality, your choices, and your definition of success, or is your life going to be sold out to following Jesus, on whatever path He may lead you?" Is it about you or about Him?

My point is simply that young women today do not have to hop onto the wide highway just because that seems to be the flow of the cultural traffic. There are choices to be made and there is a trustworthy manual for helping young women to make those decisions - the Bible.

Ephesians 5:15 says, "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise." (English Standard Version) If you're at a crossroads in life, I encourage you today to think before you take your next steps. Don't assume you have no choice and simply must follow the crowd. Consult the Manual and then chart your course accordingly.

If you would like to talk about this fairly weighty topic with me, I'm game. I'd love to share from my experience and from God's Word what I've found biblical womanhood to be. More importantly I'd like to talk with you about the freeing satisfaction found in that definition.

By the way, Mary Kassian, a very insightful and trustworthy author, has a great book coming out in March on this very topic. Her book, Girls Gone Wise in a World Gone Wild, is available for pre-orders right now at her website. I would have loved to have had a resource like this when I was in college. Maybe then I wouldn't have bugged Judy and Linda D. and Diane and Linda N. so much! Na, I still would have tagged along with these precious ladies. They were my trail blazes on my grand adventure.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

It's About Letting Go

I often hike in the mountains that I wake up to every morning. They're just a few miles from my house and I have a perfect view of the Huachucas from most of the windows in my house and my back porch.

They're beautiful mountains, turning different colors throughout the day and even seemingly growing larger when surrounded by a blanket of clouds. If you're just into looking at the mountains, the Huachucas are about as pretty as they get. They bring to mind God's majesty, His power, His steadfastness and His sovereignty. They make me feel small, but very protected and secure.

But if you're into hiking, the Huachucas do more than just please the eye. They present a challenge.

Some days I'm really up for a challenge. Others, not so much. Even though I love to hike and explore nature, I must admit, I'm still a bit of a sissy in some respects. I like to smell nice, have good looking hair, and eat off a plate. I'm also quite afraid of snakes, javelinas (wild hogs we have in our mountains - I know, yuck!), bears (yes, we have those too), and lizards (LOTS of those!).

So what's a sissy hiker to do? Well, I could just look at those mountains from the comfort of my back porch. Or I could let go of my fears and my disdain for wild, creepy things, and hit the trail. I'm not going to pretend otherwise; I have to give myself a good talking to every time I get out there, but I do manage somehow to get my hiking clothes on ('cause this sissy is at least going to look snazzy even if I do stink!), lace up my boots, fasten on my pack and hit the trail.

I LOVE hiking, mind you, but I have to overcome a dozen fears and hangups every time I head into those beautiful mountains. Why do I do it? Because it's so worth it! The view of the mountains from my backyard pales in comparison to what you get to see and experience from the trails on those same mountains. It's worth it to take the climb.

Jesus told the multitude in Luke 14:27-34 that if they wanted to experience the adventure of being His disciple they would first need to count the cost. I hope you'll read the passage yourself, but basically He says to them, "You may have to leave behind someone very important to you to follow me. You're going to have to let go of your preferences and comforts and fears if you want to go where I go. And, I'm not going to lie to you, this journey is going to cost you something. It might get a little scary here and there. It's worth it, but only you can decide if you can let go enough to follow Me."

Are you looking at others who are "doing this thing" with Jesus and thinking, "Now that looks exciting!" but still not willing to lace up your own boots and get on the trail? Are you watching the glory of it all from your back porch, but letting fear keep you from the path that leads to those very vistas?

What are you letting your fears keep you from that God is inviting you to join? Or maybe it's not a fear you need to let go of, but a comfort zone. Let's throw caution and comfort to the wind and set out on a new adventure today.

Let go! It's so worth it!

I know when I'm getting ready to walk into the woods (where all those critters live!) I have to get a little pumped up for the adventure. I thought you could use a little pumping up too so I've hooked you up with a great song I heard on the radio last night. Listen up and let go!

Step Off the Beaten Path!

Today I begin a brand new blog! The purpose of this site is to offer encouragement and direction along the trail, the spiritual trail that is. God's Word has so much to say about the paths we choose, what they should and should not look like, how to navigate those paths wisely, and how to experience joy regardless of the difficulty rating.

I love to hike and backpack, so I'll be using hiking metaphors a lot on this blog. I've learned so many spiritual truths while deep in the woods or navigating steep inclines or bedding down in a trail shelter on a rainy night or looking into a vast expanse of mountain ridges.

I've learned it's worth the effort and sweat to stay on the path less chosen in order to see the glories at the top of the summit. I've learned there are secret places and hidden vistas that only the bravehearted and determined get to experience. And I've learned that navigating the trail is much more enjoyable and doable with a friend at your side.

Please join me on the trails. We'll encourage each other as we stay off the beaten paths and stick to the ones less traveled.