10 p.m. in the Pennsylvania Wilds

The forest is black. Not chilling black like the entrance to a cave, but a certain soft, comfortable black that comes from a hundred shadows widening into one. All is silent except for rushing water, and for a dozen tiny voices piping an invitation from the creek, “Knee deep! Knee deep!”

There is a rabbit-hole in the black, and if you walk towards it, you’ll find yourself tumbling upon a brighter world: a softly illuminated rock beach, above which a determined moon is sprinkling faded moonbeams down the water path.

Fog shrouds the eastward river, then reveals it. “Sit down and learn the mysteries of the night,” whispers the water, very beguiling.

Can you resist this invitation? No. You sit, and turn your face obediently, noticing the wall of hemlocks towering above you. Perfectly silhouetted just like a black ink sketch by Sam Larson, they stand at attention against the grey, much more dependable than the dashing run below them.

Fireflies bounce upwards, one yard at a time, darting between drops of fog-water, doing their best to make up for the hidden stars.

Charcoal whisps chase each other across the slate sky, stacking themselves up for the next downpour.

Together, hemlocks and fireflies and slate sky become a Christmas display in foggy December: a wall of Christmas trees strung with lights.

Fog blankets the forest, lighter than a down comforter, seeping down to fill every crevice, drifting closer, trying to lull the whole valley into rest.

The air smells piney, and earthy, and wet; fresh and alive like 6 a.m. on a mountain in Maine.

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Maybe one day we will have no need for sleep.

 

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Gullible

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They say people who have seen real-life miracles become gullible–believing everything they hear.

I’d say that’s a small price to pay in exchange for heaven vision.

 

Trail Blazers

Trail blazers.

They are the women who hold their daughter’s hand and skip across the Walmart parking lot at mid-day. First to look into a small one’s eyes and say, “I made a mistake. Could you please forgive me?” First to trade old habits for new. First to say, “Yes,” when they’d have rather said, “No.”

Trail blazers.

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They are the mentors whacking understory brambles aside with their trekking poles, blazing a line of travel down a forgotten spur trail in Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains. The first to be slapped in the face by young saplings. First to face the rattlesnakes. First to come up with a game plan. First to squeeze out their last creative juices and mix them together into an entertaining feast for exhausted minds. Real people.

Trail blazers.

They are the men sitting alone in the front row at the seminar. First to be honest. First to cry. First to accept love. Trail blazers.

They are the cashiers who dare to look each customer in the eye, risking enough to see what there is to see in this world.

They are the men and women and children who say, “I don’t know how to do this, but God called me to do it so here I go.”

They are the children and women and men who grip truth relentlessly.

Facing the fire.

Giving up what feels good so they have room in their worlds for what IS good.

Creating safe spaces in an unsafe world.

Making heaven visible on earth.

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Trail blazers, please know you are seen. You are celebrated, and so very loved. All of heaven is at your disposal–all of heaven celebrates your every win and mourns your every loss.

Trail blazers, the wild places look like paradise now that you have trampled a path through the stinging nettle, and marked the place where the ground bees live–now that you’ve pulled out the poison ivy and cut back the saplings that used to leave welt marks on your face.

Each and every  trail blazer after you will continue to widen the path!

Many will walk in your footsteps, and never experience the dangers and the pain you’ve faced. These people will thrive!

Today, release the questions of what is yet to be and celebrate the reality of…

what is.

 

Fullness of Joy

“I should be eating this with a spoon,” Susan laughed, eyeing her gelatinous smoothie with some suspicion. “Jesus told me to bring you one, but I didn’t. Sorry.” I said. She tipped her face towards me, half amused, half curious.

“Seriously,” I insisted, “I walked past my pot and spoon on my way out the door. Jesus said, “Grab those.” But I said, “No, I have no use for them.” So I guess I robbed you of an act of heaven-care. Sorry.”

You know, I’m realizing I’ve always thought of listening to Jesus’ voice only as doing bold things, taking courageous risks or performing self-sacrificing acts of service.

It’s been taking considerable effort to tear down my task-master idea of God and realign my vision to who he truly is. Holy. Humorous. Highly motivated by love. Ten hundred other things.

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Today, I hiked alone through the mist and mud, happy that no one in the world knew where I was. “Go to the dogwood trees. I have a surprise for you.” Jesus whispered.

I could see the dogwoods downhill through a rock jumble and across a stream -just a mist of white several hundred feet off the trail. It’s not my usual habit to leave the trail when no one knows where I am, but  remembering the spoon scenario, I obeyed. The dogwood flowers were larger than I’ve seen before in the wild, and within view of their mystical display was a perfect grapevine hammock.

I sat in the vines, looking up at the ever-widening snippets of blue sky, drinking in the lively smells of spring. Harley dozed in the leaves, Jesus spoke rest on the wind and my child heart sang its old song, “You, me and the trees… this is home.” Perfectly content.

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A rock scuffled on the trail, and I craned my neck to spy a happy curl of tail. “Aw, someone else is out with their German Shepherd today.” I thought, then, “Nope, that is not a German Shepherd!” Harley’s head shot up and we both stared as a beautiful coyote trotted past on the trail, cheerfully oblivious.

A wild feeling, to see a secretive animal up close for the first time. Something not everyone would care about. But to me, a photo tattooed in the scrapbook of my mind.

Let’s all grab hold of this truth, and act on it: Jesus has our good in mind!

Tear down those hideous altars we’ve built to offer up performance in hopes of buying joy or finding favor.

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You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing. 
Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more. I will not take up their names on my lips. 
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. 
I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even when I cannot see my heart instructs me. 
I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 
You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
From Psalm 16
Fullness of joy is FOR us–through a constant invitation into relationship with our Creator!

 

 

 

 

Spring

Spring.

Shy.
She peeps her head from underground.
Is stung by ice-cold wind.
She retreats.

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Undecided.
She knows no ‘normal’ day-to-day.
Bubbling with life, then frozen.
Just wait.

Colorful.
Bubbling azure, budding red, cautious golden.
Treasures with a time limit.
Don’t blink.

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Tempestuous.
Clouds of darkest grey, swirling, destruction.
A sudden deluge of rain.
Soon past.

Delicate.
Whisperings of great tomorrows,
Fragile works of art unfold.
Tread gently.

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Spring is a girl-woman, just turned thirteen.

5 Ways You Can Make Life Easier for Peeps with Social Anxiety

I asked the babies, “What should I do if I say something very embarrassing in front of everyone?”

“Run away,” declared the 8-year-old.

“Cry,” from the 6-year-old, with empathy.

“Get very mad and stomp my feet,” stated the 4-year-old, calmly, as if there was no other option.

Hi, my name is Kara, and I have tried all of these response methods during the 15 years I shared my life with social anxiety. None of these have helped me.

What is social anxiety?

“Social anxiety is the fear of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people, leading to feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, self-consciousness, embarrassment, humiliation, and depression. If a person usually becomes (irrationally) anxious in social situations, but seems better when they are alone, then “social anxiety” may be the problem.” Thomas A Richards Ph.D.

I was 23 when I finally diagnosed the stronghold in my heart that birthed social anxiety–this petrifying disease. At age 23, Jesus showed me that anxiety was an attack on my destiny, strategically planted in my 8-year-old heart by my enemy, the father of lies. 

I’ve spent years of fierce fighting to win the prize of freedom. Here is what I learned.

Destroying a lie planted in childhood is like trying to excavate an age-old wisteria vine out of your grandmother’s flowerbed. It’s confusing to know where to start. It’s HARD, sweaty work! Your muscles will complain after each go-round.

Every bit of root left in the dirt sprouts a new vine and makes you wonder if you’ll ever get a chance to put the shovel down.

Until one day, you realize it’s been so long since you had to excavate a sneaky sprout, and there are so many other flowers blooming in your grandmother’s flowerbed, that you’ve forgotten there ever was a wisteria vine ruling this area at all.

Social anxiety CAN be 100% overcome. While the battle is ongoing, here are five ways you can help your socially anxious friends feel known.

1. Keep Social Events Chill

Understand that folks who are anxious become more so at fixed events such as meetings or formal dinners where the entire group does the same thing for a space of time determined by the host. It’s not that the event is unpleasant, it’s just the feeling of being ‘trapped’ and/or conspicuous that raises the anxiety trigger. One of my instructors handled this scenario in a classroom setting by inviting the students to get up and walk around the room during class as needed, step outside for a breath of air, or change it up by sitting elsewhere in the room from time to time. Help your socially anxious friends feel comfortable at fixed events by lightening the mood, inviting guests to move about, dimming the lights a bit, or holding the event in a less formal area.

Events that are dimly lit or where the main focus is not on the guests are usually spaces where shy folks feel more relaxed, such as movie night, concerts or a campfire.

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2. Create/Offer Inconspicuous Spaces

It always helps people feel safer when they can choose how ‘seen’ they want to be. If you are a host and know of a guest who is anxious or shy, place them in a less conspicuous area, beside someone they already know well. When possible, try to have more seats available than the number of guests.

If you attending an event with your socially anxious friend, save them a seat beside you or someone else they feel at ease with.

3. Offer A Way Out

Don’t force your friends to participate in speeches or games–designate a less conspicuous role for them if they want it, such as photographer or point-keeper.

4. Intervene

When you are at an event with your socially anxious friend, pay close attention to their body language. Be ready to quickly change the subject if your friend is being bombarded in an uncomfortable conversation. Suggest ‘safe’ topics that you know they are at ease discussing. Lead your friend to interactions with those who have a calm demeanor and/or share similar interests.

5. Speak Life

Encourage your friends by speaking words of blessing over them. Those who struggle with self-worth value words of hope highly, even if it is hard for them to believe the words. Mention obvious realities to help your blessing take root, such as, “I noticed the way you held the door for my grandmother tonight. You really have class!” No one can argue with a real-life event .

BONUS ROUND!

Hey there, possibly-socially-anxious-fellow-human. No matter where you fall on the social continuum, here are a few ways you can help your friends understand you.

Practice Naming Your Emotions/Stress Responses

For example, if you hate a certain activity, try to figure out why you dislike it. Maybe someone close to you can help with this. When you have named the root sources of your fear, write it down. Naming triggers and responses is a big step towards breaking free!

Be Honest With Your Friends

Educate your close friends about what social anxiety feels like. You can just say something simple to start with, such as, “I can’t relax in large groups.” As you learn to name your feelings, you’ll be able to share more specific things with your friends, such as, “When people look at me, it feels like they are taking something I can’t control and can’t get back.” or “I place a high value on people’s words about me, and find it nearly impossible to risk being laughed at.”

Speak honestly about what activities you truly do enjoy.

Hold on to What is More Deeply True Than Feelings

The world is built on the unchangeable, because our Creator is unchangeable. Study the voice of your Creator. Memorize it. Declare what is true about yourself every time anxiety attacks. 

The truth is that, although of course we lead normal human lives, the battle we are fighting is on the spiritual level. The very weapons we use are not those of human warfare but powerful in God’s warfare for the destruction of the enemy’s strongholds.

2 Corinthians 10, PHILLIPS

We are at war.

Together, we will win.

Inheritance

This was written as Jesus speaking Psalm 23 to his Father. Later, I looked at the words through my heritage as a child of God and had a wow moment: this is MY inheritance too! What an incredible gift!


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Father, I am your choice possession. I know I am valuable to you–full heir and one with you–there is nothing more I could ask for!

I trust you to completely provide for my energy and needs–not just provide, Father, but showcase your glory by crafting miraculous and beautiful provision for me that will make others stare in amazement, and be drawn to you because they long for access to the same feasting grounds!

You know how deeply I care for our people. You back me up by upgrading my heart again and again with energy, vision, determination, selfless love and every other resource I need. You know that my heart is for all these ones I love to follow in your path of righteousness. Won’t it be spectacular for us to celebrate this victory together? I can’t wait for your holy name to be broadcasted in every nation, to every tribe and people!

There is so much victory for us to achieve, together!

I know it is your plan to bring about complete restoration of all our enemy has stolen. I accept my part in this plan fearlessly! I walk confidently ahead, knowing you travel with me, timing all events perfectly, dealing justice to my attackers and restoration to the fallen and the lost. Your justice and your wise counsel are my constant companions, because you are always with me!

Yes! We will feast on all the joy that the enemy thought was his! What a day! Because I am your child, your appointed messenger and the spotless Lamb, I dance in celebration when I think about how nothing can steal this victory away from us! We will love and be loved, and have fellowship, just the way things were always meant to be. I can hardly contain this joy overload!

My place by your side? It is beyond question! I know that my place, authority and purpose does not change no matter where I go. All of your resources are mine, Father; I am 100% confident in this. I know that no matter where you send me, I will always be safe and secure inside your house–right where I belong.

 

6 Books that Impacted My Life in 2018

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe 

Tom’s humility, selflessness and faith is a picture of the glory of God if there ever was one! This story gives me faith that trampled hearts can finish strong.

Waking the Dead by John Eldredge

A child of God is grafted into God. The fact that a child of God’s heart is good is a key topic throughout scripture. This book helped me understand how to live this belief out in the visible world.

Do Over by John Acuff

Acuff explains how to invest in a ‘career savings account’ made up of equal parts relationships, character, new skills and hustle, and offers a refreshing way to evaluate your career or a career change without money being the main factor.

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing To Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

Basically, all is lost, just as I suspected.

Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

A great lesson in characterisation, similar to Charles Dickens. I will never forget Joseph Poorgrass’ awkwardness, or the way Oaks combed his hair “like mace ’round a nutmeg, or seaweed on a rock after the eb.”

The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey

Stress-inducing, but the part I was boosted by was the idea that it is not normal to live in debt.

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What were your favorite reads of the year?

 

Canoe Lake, and War

It was 1 p.m. on a reckless fall day, and a thunderstorm was brewing in the west. Charcoal clouds piled ever darker and higher above the forest, and the wind pushed my canoe away from the cloud, vigorously, as did the waves. “Get away! Go back into the wilderness, back to where you came from. You are not a part of this lake. You don’t belong here,” scolded the smack of the waves.

The sun agreed, boring down on our bare arms and faces, cracking our lips.

Jenny didn’t look up. She was kneeling in the bow of the canoe, curls flying, shoulders bent, face set south-west. Rythmically, she pulled, never stopping, never changing position. I could see her arm and shoulder muscles rippling and knew they were shouting just as loudly as mine, “Rest! We have nothing left! Do you mean to kill is all, human?”

We’d been paddling Canoe Lake for over three hours now–just this same two-mile lake.

There were docks along the way, little stillnesses in the churning wet, that belonged to swanky vacation cottages on the mainland. I stared at one of these as we struggled to pass it. Our progress was so faint, it seemed we were sitting still.

I wrestled with my paddle at the stern, straining to keep the canoe pointed into the waves instead of sideways between them.

I couldn’t always do it.

“Switch!” I called, and Jenny’s momentum instantly joined mine. “You’re rocking this,” she shouted back. “You too!”

You know, in the middle of a pitching lake, life choices are pretty simple. It’s, ‘Keep the canoe from capsizing and make it across the lake.’ or ‘Stop trying and wash up at the shore you started from.’ That’s it. No other options.

We had no anchor, no pause button.

We believed that the showers, food, and ride back to the USA, all waiting for us at the south end of Canoe Lake, were worth fighting for, so we didn’t stop until we got there.

And by hook or by crook, we made it.

Our enemy in the war for man’s soul is like this lake, in some ways.

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War cannot be paused part way thru. A pause sweeps you right back to where you started.

What are you fighting for?

Do you actually believe it will be worth all the pain and struggle you’ve invested? Do you believe in the goal, enough that you refuse to quit until you touch it?

Would it help us win if we believed and acted in agreement with God’s promises before they feel true, and just simply because they ARE?

In Which I Say a Bad Word

“!?&#! Hold my hand, baby!” My niece stretched her hand towards me agreeably and I boosted her up the rock slab, farther away from the precipice. She was tilting her face, totally oblivious to my racing heart or my visions of her receiving (not her first) broken bone. “Holy craft? What holy craft?”

I tried to keep my mouth very, very straight.

Pride: decapitated.

Using low-class language around children is something I cannot stand, so I was feeling about as important as an inchworm at that moment. A brown inchworm, at that, not even a cool lime-green one.

Time to apologise.

But then I lost my cool again, when the three exhausted little mountain climbers didn’t know how to manage their melting Italian ice. I waged a war with shame and sorrow for days, because of the impatient moments I had with those precious babies.

 

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I’m a messed-up person.

Are you messed up too? Do you ever think, “Self, how could you do that? How? You are a monster, and that’s a fact.”

Impatient moments are like indicators on a dashboard. A gift from God actually, like a dashboard warning light is a gift to those of us who don’t take time for routine car maintenance.

Low oil level! Time to visit the mechanic shop!

Low river-of-life levels! Time to stop flying solo! Time to go to Jesus and repent, learn, rest and receive.

“Ugh, bad timing. I have no time for a shop visit, Jesus.” I whined.

“If you want to have time for one, you do.”

So I didn’t do laundry, didn’t deposit my checks, didn’t go shopping, didn’t make dinner for my neighbor (I found out later her refrigerator was already packed. Thanks, Jesus!), didn’t clean, didn’t weed, didn’t trim the yard, didn’t shave my legs… Basically, didn’t do all the good things nice, responsible women Must Always Do.

Scandalous!

But…

I had time to feast. And I was starving.

Listen to these words the Lord gave his kiddos after miraculously making them a free nation:

I have removed your backbreaking burdens
   and have freed your hands from the hard labor and toil.
You called out to me in your time of trouble and I rescued you.
   I came down from the realm of the secret place of thunder,
   where mysteries hide.
   I came down to save you.
   I tested your hearts at the place where there was no water to drink,
   the place of your bitter argument with me.


Listen to me, my dear people.
   For I’m warning you, and you’d better listen well!
   For I hold something against you.

Don’t ever be guilty of worshiping any other god but me.
I am your only God, the living God.
   Wasn’t I the one who broke the strongholds over you
   and raised you up out of bondage?
   Open your mouth with a mighty decree;
   I will fulfill it now, you’ll see!
   The words that you speak, so shall it be!

 

But my people still wouldn’t listen;
   my princely people would not yield to me.
So I lifted my grace from off of their lives and I surrendered them
   to the stubbornness of their hearts.
   For they were living according to their own selfish fantasies.
O that my people would once and for all listen to me
   and walk faithfully in my footsteps, following my ways.
Then and only then will I conquer your every foe
   and tell every one of them, ‘You must go!’
Those who hate my ways will cringe before me
   and their punishment will be eternal.
But I will feed you with my spiritual bread.
   You will feast and be satisfied with me,
   feeding on my revelation-truth like honey
   dripping from the cliffs of the high place.”

You are not meant to single-handedly save the day, friend! You are designed to be a partner. A helper. You might not like the sound of this one, but you are meant to be a follower.

You know Esther, that 10/10 who married an unrighteous king and risked her head for her people? She followed her uncle’s advice. She was backed up by an entire nation’s prayers. She walked after God, in faith.

Deborah, that warrior-prophetess? She spoke God’s words. “The Eternal God of Israel commands you…” “The Eternal has decreed…”

Don’t be guilty of worshipping the gods of I Was Made For Hard Work So Grrr, Let’s Do This

or of I Have Got To Hustle My Act Together Before All Is Lost, heaven-warrior. Approval traps have 100 names, but they’re all bent on robbing your joy and sanity. You’ll find your heart saying far worse things than ‘holy craft’.

Truth is, Jesus has got what it takes to save the day without your help. Right now, he just wants to be with you. “Come to me!”- that’s what he is always saying.

You’ve got to be with Jesus if you want him to feed you. After you eat your fill, you’ll have the courage to follow his unpredictable ways. He’s not from this kingdom, so his reasoning takes some getting used to. But if you are his follower… then follow!

If he leads you away from your Good & Proper Things and towards his heart, just go with it.

The world will remember your words of life far longer than your 24-hour stubble.