They Killed the Biggest Bear

I pointed Harley’s face towards the creek at the edge of the woods, speaking into her ear with quiet intensity. She lowered her head, wriggling away from my grasp. Then the lights came on. Her ears shot forward. Her eyes froze. Her hackles stood up. Growling,  she strained against me, but I did not let her chase what she saw. “Good dog,” I said, “Stay here.”

Below the cabin we were renting, down by the creek, sprawled a lumpy black bear, fat and fluffy enough to have come straight out of the Samsung washing machine commercial. He was gathering mouthfuls of corn out of the plastic dispenser and chewing them with rhythmic chomps. He didn’t look around.

When we spoke to him, he simply took up another mouthful of corn as if to say, “Hello human, your presence is annoying, but it will not distract me from getting what I want.”

He was there to feast, and feast he would.

100% unconcerned.

It wasn’t until the next day that I noticed a change above the cabin fireplace.

Blonde-haired Jed, 5 years old and full of wisdom, was glad to explain the changes to me. “That one was ‘tacking,” he announced, poking his small finger towards a wide new bear skin on the cabin wall. Pointing at the other bear skins, he continued, “That one was not ‘tacking, and that one was not, and that biggest bear was ‘tacking and they SHOT IT.”

I remembered meeting this huge bear last summer. He’d arrive each night to feast at the corn dispenser, sprawling on the ground and licking up the kernels with cartoonish apathy. Then he’d waddle away at daybreak, down the drive and up the mountain road. I’d watched him waddle by me at very close proximity–the fattest, fluffiest, tallest black bear I have ever seen.

Now the legend was dead, shot in his tracks even though he’d tried to put up a fight. 

I remembered another black bear I’d met on a grassy mountaintop nearby.

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Baby Mountain Bear, I’d called that one. Small, quick and fluffy. I had only noticed Baby Mountain Bear because of the dew drops raining from the tree he’d been hiding in. That little bear had scurried to safety the moment he heard a human coming. When I looked back after hiking past him, he had clambered down from the tree and disappeared.

Cabin Bear, fat, lazy and unnaturally bold. Willing to let his enemies watch him sprawl in the dirt as he feasted.

Baby Mountain Bear, small, quick and scared. Not willing to let his enemies catch a peek at him.

There is a corn dispenser at the fringe of my forest, too, but it takes the shape of a cartoon tee shirt I used to imagine myself wearing that says, ‘Cactus Recovery Program’. It’s the way I used to explain my cold responses towards people who triggered my fears. I can go back to this tee shirt any time and put it back on. It fits me well, and is comfortable. I can be a cactus any time I want to.

But I’ve learned that as a cactus, you actually grow spikes on the inside, too. While your exterior spikes prick people and keep them at bay, your interior spikes cut down your destiny every time it tries to rise. You’re not living where you’re meant to live. You grow more and more confused.

Abnormal habits feel normal so very soon. Remember that.

Figure out how you were created to live and live that way, no matter what! No matter what appealing gifts your surroundings offer you. No matter what feels good. No matter what feels easier.

You were created to rule the wild mountaintops, not for a placid partnership with your enemies in the valley. Know who you are, and live that way!

Don’t let your enemies feed you.

Don’t let your enemies make you tame.

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Identity

“We all live in agreement with our perceived identity.” 

Think about that for a moment, Heaven-Warrior, if you dare.

Think about that all day long.

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Tomorrow, think about this:

To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12, ESV

Have you found the truth for you in those words? Can you choose to live it out?

When you do, it really will set you free.

Expert

Do you ever have those moments when someone compliments you for an achievement, and you honestly struggle to acknowledge that your achievement is significant? ‘Sure, I hung a door,’ you say, ‘but I really wish I knew how to fix that electrical problem.”

I always have these thoughts about my wilderness skills. I met a new dentist last Monday, and he asked me if that car in the parking lot with the AT sticker was mine. “Yes, it is.” I said, hoping that he had not also noticed the piles of eBay clothing, old radishes and other rubble piled inside said car. “Thru-hiker?” he continued. “Yes.” “What year?” “2016.”

“That is quite an accomplishment,” the hygienist exclaimed.

I said “Thank you”, but you can predict what I was thinking. “Compared to what I want to know and the trails I want to have experienced, that now feels like a very small accomplishment.”

One medal is never enough for an athlete, you know. It’s always, “Woohoo, I did it! Now on to a higher peak!” There are many, many battles to be won before an athlete can rise to the status of an expert.

I once heard a professor say that in order to qualify as an expert at any skill, you need to have spent 100,000 hours practicing the skill. That equals over 11 years–if you never sleep a minute.

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I have many hours to hike before I will call myself an expert hiker.

I know I am not yet an expert heaven-warrior.

Really, becoming an expert heaven-warrior is what I care about the most.

There are people who I admire, who understand the kingdom of God very well. They dwell there, and make their choices there, and find their identity there, and fight their battles there. They find their resources there. They keep their vision there.

It is awesome to watch, let me tell you. These heaven-realm people are unstoppable.

I want to live this way, too. But how to go about it?

Just as I had to learn every physical skill I know, I am learning spiritual skills. Bit by bit. Practice, and practice again.

I’m finding that it is actually very simple.

Know what is true.

Yes, God is more than ready to overwhelm you with every form of grace, so that you will have more than enough of everything—every moment and in every way. He will make you overflow with abundance in every good thing you do.
This generous God who supplies abundant seed for the farmer, which becomes bread for our meals, is even more extravagant toward you. First he supplies every need, plus more. Then he multiplies the seed as you sow it, so that the harvest of your generosity will grow! 2 Corinthians 9, TPT

Agree with the truth. “I have every resource I need for now.”

Align your life with what is true. “I will walk in joy and praise, celebrating the abundance Jesus has shared with me! I refuse to disagree with his provision by worrying about tomorrow.”

There is a resource for every battle, and it is available to you right now, child of God! It is not so hard to walk in heaven vision.

Claim God’s promises. Obey God’s commandments. Believe the truths in God’s word.

Then, by constantly using your faith, the life of Christ will be released deep inside you, the resting place of his love will become the very source and root of your life! Then you will be empowered to discover what every holy one experiences—the great magnitude of the astonishing love of Christ in all its dimensions. How deeply intimate and far-reaching is his love! How enduring and inclusive it is! Endless love beyond measurement that transcends our understanding—this extravagant love pours into you until you are filled to overflowing with the fullness of God!
Never doubt God’s mighty power to work in you and accomplish all this. He will achieve infinitely more than your greatest request, your most unbelievable dream, and exceed your wildest imagination! He will outdo them all, for his miraculous power constantly energizes you.

Ephesians 3:17-20, TPT

But the evil men and sorcerers will progress from bad to worse, deceived and deceiving, as they lead people further from the truth. Yet you must continue to advance in strength with the truth wrapped around your heart, being assured by God that he’s the One who has truly taught you all these things.
Remember what you were taught from your childhood from the Holy Scrolls which can impart to you wisdom to experience everlasting life through the faith of Jesus, the Anointed One! Every Scripture has been written by the Holy Spirit, the breath of God. It will empower you by its instruction and correction, giving you the strength to take the right direction and lead you deeper into the path of godliness.

Then you will be God’s servant, fully mature and perfectly prepared to fulfill any assignment God gives you.

2 Timothy 3:13-17 TPT

Line upon line, precept upon precept.

Building.

Soon you will be an expert.

 

 

 

More & More

I kicked my feet up on the iron railing, leaning back and back in the plastic chair until I could see the largest patch of sky possible. It was 8:43 p.m. in a bustling tourist town. Dena and I had found the creek that ran behind our hotel and had dragged our chairs near its calm, craning our heads to see past the dumpsters and towering rows of hotel balconies, towards the best art show town had to offer.

Thunderheads always set the stage for the best sunsets, and tonight painted them pale yellow, then orange, then pink and then a silent deepening into purple and indigo. A scraggly walnut silhouetted itself blackly against the sky-painting, and canada geese waddled upstream in the creek, hardly lifting their heads to get a breath, eating under-water vegetation as if there was no tomorrow.

The creek water rushing over stones was almost enough to drown out the sounds of traffic. The air temperature was comfortable and perfect. There was just enough wind to disable any mosquito’s ability to fly. A snapshot of beauty and peace.

“This is a snapshot I will keep inside my heart.” I thought.

Do you know what I mean by snapshot–those pictures your mind takes of beautiful or meaningful moments and keeps for you to review at the end of the day?

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This was a beautiful moment, worth keeping to re-taste sometime later.

But deep inside me, I knew I wasn’t satisfied. My eyes kept straying to the outline of the Great Smoky Mountains–close enough to reach in an hour’s drive. Those towering ranges were everything the valley was not–wild, rugged, mysterious. I knew that if you dare to enter them–if you push on, past the danger and the gloom, past the days of cold fog and along the wind-blown ledges, through the bear threats and hypothermia, you will come to a day when the Creator opens the fog curtains to display a sunset like you have never seen.

You find yourself standing on top of the world, with coyotes howling below you, and a sheepish sun contouring a world of ranges around you with more brilliance and vibrant color than you will ever learn in a YouTube makeup tutorial.

Nothing blocks your view of the sunset at this altitude. Every direction you turn reveals a new masterpiece.

Mountaintops. I always crave them. 

Driving down the road at dusk, eyes towards the sun, celebrating along with the painter, my mind always asks, “Is there a way I can see this beauty more fully? Is there a mountain near me? Can I drive to a high place before the display is over?”

I think it’s true, fellow warrior, that we were meant to be on top of the world. It’s abnormal to be satisfied with sunset views that are cut small by towering buildings and scraggly trees. 

100% vision. 100% joy. That is what your inheritance is.

If you have a deep desire in you to be on a mountaintop–a place with an unblemished view, just ask. He came to open the eyes of the blind. He offers more, always.

Not just crumbs, although that is often all we ask for.

He offers more. More and more and more!

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.

 

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.