If my hike had a soundtrack…

The air was the perfect flavor of pine and clean wind as I sauntered along the smooth, shaded path past Lake Hebron that warm-but-not-too-warm day. The loons cried their short-lived daytime conversation and a bandana’d youth sat contemplatively underneath a fir tree, watching the reflection of clouds sweep across the slightly rippled water.

His iPod played a soulful tune and I thought it was a perfect soundtrack for the moment.

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I often thought I should have a soundtrack for this hike.

Not only a soundtrack, but an entire video recording of it that I could look back on if I ever forgot how incredibly, miraculously blessed I’d been to experience this.

In case I forgot the Me I Used To Be.

If I had a soundtrack for this hike, it would have begun low, building slowly in tight-stringed suspense. There would be lots of creepy segments in this first soundtrack, that would make you want to look over your shoulder or stand with your back against a wall. There would be tense notes–lots of them in fast succession. There would be a happy, frolicking piece. And then a mournful, low bar, full of pain.

As the soundtrack for my hike went on, the suspenseful notes would lessen and the smooth notes would gain the upper hand. There would be not so many creepy segments. Not so many tense pieces. But the mournful bars would continue, transfusing pain into the listener.

There would be short bursts of heavy metal. A few screams.

Lots of upbeat parts.

The final segment would start hauntingly beautiful, maybe just a solitary oboe or maybe a windy flute. There would be pattering and low, persistent whining notes and maybe a few screeches of nail on a chalkboard. Then there would be a clash of cymbals and the soundtrack would take on a folk song vibe. Another clash, and then a long piece on the piano, building momentum. Then a loud, long clash, with drums. And then my soundtrack would be one continuous dance party, ending with the Hallelujah chorus.

Well, I don’t have a soundtrack for my hike, but it would be a lot more concise to explain if I did. I could just pop in the CD and everyone would experience the same feelings with me. Instead, I’ll have to use words to share the story, which is what I know.

It will do the same thing, just take longer.

I jumped out of my reverie when my feet hit a paved road. This was Pleasant Street, and it would take me to Shaw’s Lodging in just 1.6 miles.

I hadn’t gone far before Poet, the owner of Shaw’s, zipped towards me in a trendy SUV. There were already three hikers inside, but my pack just fit under the dusty hatch, and I slid my boney self into the back seat.

It was stinky inside that car–sweat, mostly.

Poet had the air conditioning on and didn’t seem to notice. But I took the time to consider that it was us three feminine hikers in the back seat who were making it reek. Somehow that just didn’t seem right.

Poet dropped the two girls off at the post office, then gave me and Turbo, the third hiker, a tour of his hostel. It was colorful and clean inside, with tablecloths on the tables, plenty of towels in the bathrooms and bedspreads on the bunks.

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“This is a really nice hostel, Poet.” I said, and he thanked me.

After hanging my hammock outside in the tree line, rustling through my food box, and making a quick tour of the small, friendly town, the sun had almost fully dropped below the horizon. I carried my box of coconut caramel ice cream into the dining room and ate it while uploading YouTube videos.

AJ and Poet bantered in the kitchen, and the hikers had settled into their typical 8-o’clock calm. A few sat playing scrabble at a table adjacent to mine and drinking Maine craft beer. They congratulated me on my voracious ice cream consumption and after awhile decided to stroll to the quick-stop for pizza. I had the dining room to myself.

I stared out the window at the luminescent glow of headlamps inside the tents scattered across the yard, and thought about how far my heart had come.

I remembered my first hostel visit. It was at Top of Georgia.

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Even though Renaissance greeted us with his famous flair and gave us a highly entertaining tour I had been too shy to really relax and join in the community there–too scared to hang out in the bunkhouse with the other hikers.

I’d sat on the porch in the damp, biting air instead, listening to the upbeat chatter coming from inside and eating spam and ramen. I could still taste the feeling I’d had then–that numbing, unshakeable belief that I was young, weak and clueless, and would never make it to Katahdin. I’d felt like a giraffe in a pet shop that March day.

Now it was August, and I couldn’t begin to list all the miracles I’d experienced in that six month span.

All I knew was that this place of dreadlocks and backpacks and new faces felt cozy and comfortable. Like home. How big my muscles were, how light my pack was or how much knowledge my brain contained didn’t matter anymore. I was equally comfortable alone on a wind-swept mountaintop or in another strange town in a sea of new faces.

It’s still hard for me to explain it. If I could play you my soul’s soundtrack you’d understand. But that’s impossible.

I guess I’d better get started on my book.

But in the meantime, you might be interested to know that there IS an actual Appalachian Trail soundtrack coming to an orchestra near (or far away from) you!

I met this composer after I collapsed onto a bench in Madison Hut after a 14 hour race across the presidential range one Sunday last month, and he shared his incredible vision with me over a lukewarm pile of homemade dinner leftovers from the hut kitchen. You can find out more about his Appalachian Trail Symphony here: http://keanesouthard.instantencore.com/web/home.aspx

 

 

Courage

Isn’t it crazy that even when everything I know and see is on the downstream side of insanity, just hanging on to hope by a thread, Jesus’ name is STILL ‘Deliverer’?

Even when I feel like a skittering mouse, MY name, because of my divine heritage, is STILL ‘Courageous Victor’?

I’ve thought to myself, “Maybe I’ll find a syringe of courage on the other side of a challenge, kind of like the proverbial gold at the end of a rainbow!”

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Guess what? I haven’t found a crumb.

I guess courage comes from an unseen source, like the very air we breathe.

Always surrounding me.

Always enough.

Always ready to make me STRONGER THAN BEFORE I ASKED FOR HIM TO HELP.

Victory on earth is so different then Jesus’ definition for His victories (which are happening all around you, unseen.)

Close your eyes, and look with His, and you will be encouraged.

Turn your eyes away from darkness, and live out your name!

COURAGEOUS VICTOR!!!

Independence Day, All Day, Errry Day

Do you know what it’s like to be free?

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Does it feel like a triumphant march, bold, brazen and unstoppable?

Does it feel like an entirely new government, a government that actually has your best interest in mind?

Does it feel like a fireworks show, loud, colorful and unpredictable? Maybe just a tad dangerous?

Does it feel like a crackling fire, the comforting presence of friends, and more food than you could ever eat?

Every time July 4th rolls around, it’s  impossible for me to join in the festivities without thinking, “THIS! It’s my inheritance every. Single. Day!”

The brazen “Oh yes I will stick a feather in my cap, and call it macaroni…. no matter what you think” heritage of our American forefathers (look up what those lyrics mean sometime, by the way) reminds me of the freedom I have in Jesus to be outrageous! He allows me to be 100% awkward, awesome  and unique, and calls it “Perfect!” Because He made my spirit perfect, and that’s what He values the most.

A new governing entity reminds me of the freedom I have as a member of a heavenly kingdom. The rules are unchangeable as the tick of time itself. Always in my best interest. Always reliable. Always present, no matter where I am. What could be easier, or more refreshing?

Fireworks remind me of the explosive majesty of my King’s power. First a tiny spark, then a sudden blast into the air, then a full-on display of beauty for all the world to see. Dangerous? Oh yes! No king would earn his title without being dangerous. Unpredictable? Yes again, because He can. And because He is the Creator of all that is. Unforgettable? How could He be anything but? Beautiful? As the Maker of all beauty seen and unseen, experienced and imagined, time past, present, and future… how could He not be? And I am free to bask in that unforgettable, unpredictable, dangerous beauty every single day!

A crackling fire makes me think of the Lord’s spirit inside me. Warm, lively, comforting… yet ready to burst outwards and upwards in a whoosh of unstoppable power the minute it gets the fuel it needs.

Friends snuggled up by my side make me think of the comforting presence of my Jesus. Always there. Always secure. Always the same. Always trustworthy.

Abundance of the best of foods reminds me of the benefits of being a part of the most wealthy family known to the history of all that is! Unstoppable promotion is mine! Unstoppable resources from the unlikeliest of places! Unstoppable flavor and zest!

The dog is in the basement, howling. She doesn’t realize the powerful imagery of the fireworks exploding around us. But I do!

It is all of God’s people, as they should be, united in celebration of one victory… and the power of their unity is lighting up the night sky for all the world to see.

Tell me, what does freedom look like to you?

It’s Gonna Be OK

Ever have those days when you just want to sock yourself in the face?

You’ve tried so hard to do the right thing, to be that person you want yourself to be, but in the end you crashed miserably and burned a whole pile of people in the process. All the time and effort you’ve put into building trust… into maintaining a safe relationship… is a cloud of ash.

Gone.

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Forever gone, in just one moment of failure.

Or, is it?

It may feel that way, but is it really gone?

The other week, I confessed to my sister how, when we were little, I was the one who stirred her goldfish up in it’s little goldfish bowl with a plastic spoon until it had a heart attack, and floated. I just wanted to see how fast it could swim. I didn’t try to make it die. But it did.

She, kind-hearted lamb, suddenly remembered dozens of offenses she had committed to me.

Thing is, I didn’t remember a single one of them. All I remember about our childhood was a fun, spry little playmate who came up with many schemes, was always up for a bike ride or fishing trip, and always left surprises on my pillow on the holidays.

Our interaction got me thinking.

Could it be that trust isn’t about the visible, but the foundation?That the unseen foundation…. the entire picture all put together…. is more relevant than the tiny puzzle piece of what’s said and done in a moment of conflict?

I had a boss once, who everyone was afraid of. He brought the house down when he was upset. Seriously. Not the roof, thank goodness,  but pots, pans and anything else in his wake.

Thing is, everyone who spent long enough around him soon considered him one of their best friends. No matter how much he ranted and swore, he was, at the foundation, a friend worth having. At the foundation, he truly cared about his staff, and protected them at all costs.

Six years later, I hardly remember the rants. I just remember a safe environment, and being empowered every day. I’m not saying he never hurt me, I’m just saying I don’t remember it.

Mistakes happen to everyone.

Don’t fall into the condemnation trap. Stop looking behind you.

I know you’re quick to ask for forgiveness when you mess up, but I’m guessing the biggest question is…. can you forgive yourself?

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Just ask! Accept. It’s already been done, by the only One who can be fully perfect on this earth.

Just ACCEPT His forgiveness! It’s for real, I promise.

No looking back now! You are gonna be just fine, and so are they.

But He Always Offers Rest

2 weeks ago, I was part of an amazing scouting adventure in the Florida Everglades. A recon. Research, networking, exploration and a harvesting of as many Glades skills as we could scavenge.

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My co-guides and I all knew it would be, to borrow the favorite expression of my friend Kathy, a very “interesting situation”. New adventures just are. But we weren’t prepared for just how interesting our situation would be.

We set out under the dire predictions of being de-limbed and then eaten by an alligator, or suffocated and then eaten by a snake, or swept out to sea, or dehydrated.

(What can we say, we have great friends!)

And then we set out, and reality began.

Everything we tried to do in the front country was a fail.

I’ll just graze the tip of the iceberg by saying that the journey which should have taken 22 hours took 32, and by that time, our SUV was toast. If you ever need to buy tranny fluid on a southern trip, just ask us. We know all the good places between North Carolina and Florida.

Somewhere along the line, we met many locals of various character, called 20+ hotels which had no vacancy, made fruit salad and packed gear in the parking lot of a shady auto body shop, and slept overnight outside of Wal-Mart in the canoe trailer.

Not necessarily our customary wilderness trip practices.

We were all thrilled to finally set into the wilderness on Sunday afternoon,

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and lay our weary heads down on our squeaking therma-rest mattresses that night at South Joe Chickee. From there on, our journey was a breeze. And I mean literally. The wind was at our backs 80% of the time.

Coincidence?

Never.

I know Jesus too well for that.

The tides were in our favor, we met dolphins every day, we didn’t get eaten by alligators or pythons, and we didn’t get blown out to sea. Every day brought a gorgeous sunrise and sunset,

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every corner brought another spectacular view,

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it only sprinkled rain once, and we never lost our way.

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Our struggles during our road trip to the Glades gave us a head start in trusting each other…. in being real. No day went by that there wasn’t conflict, struggle, Jesus-words, restoration, and freedom, and celebration among us.

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Paddling across the Gulf of Mexico towards the end of our trip, I thought it over. We had come, each of us, from a battle. We had come on assignment, not knowing what lay ahead, or how hard it would be. We didn’t know there would be rest…. but there was.

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All I could think of was these words from the Maker.

“The people who were spared from the sword found grace in the wilderness, where I led them to find rest. I have loved you with an everlasting love, that is why I have called you to myself with loving kindness. I will build you up again–you will once again be strong! You will once again be joyful, and join in the dances of those who are carefree. What you plant will bear fruit. Those who realize what is happening will cry, “Let’s spend more time with Jesus–let’s worship the Lord!” (Jeremiah 31:1-7, paraphrased)

And that’s what I love about wilderness. No matter why you come, no matter who you are, Jesus is there. It’s His place to do what He wants, and amaze everyone.

We came, essentially, to work.

But He’s always offering rest.

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He’s always offering relationship, restoration, and peace.

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And He’s always offering joy.

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Who wouldn’t want to receive such a gift?

 

That Bum On My Couch

I was in the second-to-front pew at church the other week, and I was feeling the morning blues.

Do you know what I mean? That sandy-eyed, groggy-voiced, brain-not-quite-awake feeling of sluggishness that isn’t really ready for 120 decibels of worship music being emanated directly in front of oneself.

Don’t get me wrong, the band was great. I liked them, really. I’m usually the type to get into the celebration spirit right away…. but that day, I just…. wasn’t.

I tried desperately to focus on the positive side of life, like the two adorable little girls dancing in front of me, carefree as could be. It helped a little.

Then the pastor took the stage, and he told a story.

“Imagine going home from church today,” he said, “And finding a bum fast asleep on your couch. He is stoned, snoring, and you have no idea who he is. What would you do?

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Hmm. Let me guess. You’d try to make him leave. Maybe pat him on the shoulder, say “Excuse me, sir. You’re in the wrong house.” But what if that didn’t work?

You’d get a little more violent, maybe go so far as to poke him, maybe even raise your voice. “HEY, SIR. THIS IS NOT YOUR HOME! YOU NEED TO LEAVE!”

But what if he just went right on snoring? What if he rolled over, looked you in the eyes, said, “Excuse YOU, but this IS my house!” and went back to sleep?

Would you shrug, assume he was right, and just live your life around him? What if he invited his friends over, and they all claimed that this house belonged to them as well? Would you accept that?

You see, friends… your level of persistence shows what you truly believe.

If you truly believe the bum does not belong in your house, you will fight back harder, call your buddies to help you drag him out of your house, maybe get the police involved. You would take as much time as necessary to evict him.

What about your spiritual life?

When temptation, fear, sickness, depression, shame, and the 1,000 other tools of the enemy sneak their way into your ‘house’…. do you accept them?

Do you politely try to evict them, and if they do not obey the first time… or the 12th time…. just assume they are meant to stay? Or do you hold FAST to your knowledge of what is yours, and fight for it until everything is set right?

Do you BELIEVE that God can if He wants to?

Do you believe that He might not be able?

Your level of persistence shows what you truly believe in. “

And that is what I learned on a half-awake Sunday morning, from the second-to-front pew.

Innumerable Gifts

 

Recently, most people have been asking me the “What next?” question. You know the one. The one where it’s incredibly awkward to say, “Well, I plan to study, write, do some renovations and work out. That’s it.”

Why me? Why is my path so full of “What if?” and “What next?”s? Why do I love doing everything, and find it impossible to just stick to one vocation until I’m a pro, like some nice, normal person?

I hate not knowing what is ahead, and I hate having not having a predictable income. I hate those looming words TAXES, CAR INSPECTION & MED BILLS that seem to float through the air at year’s end, without a care in the world.

Really, I mostly just hate being out of control.

I went into a field today, and laid on my back looking at the blue of the skies behind wispy clouds, silently sad.

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And then it hit me. “Right now, I am doing my favorite thing. I am outside, alone, breathing fresh air, without a single deadline to worry about. WHY should I be sad unless I’d allowed that sneaky little seed of mistrust to grow in my heart?”

I thought of Jesus’ care for me over the past month, and how He surrounded me with wonderful friends, gave me a plane ticket to the Caribbean, and overwhelmed me with His promises at all the right moments.

“Jesus, I’m sorry. I DO trust you. Thank you for giving me freedom!

Because that really is my favorite. .

I came into the house and the first thing I heard was, “Don’t forget to put your registration sticker on before the new year.” What?? My registration?? But…. I already paid for that!”

All along I’d been preparing myself for a $200.00 inspection bill…. but… that’s not what was about to expire!  My registration had been paid for weeks ago, leaving me bill-free.

Then I realized how my Father had provided for me long before I noticed Him….. once again.

Do you think, one day, I will fully learn to trust Him?

That’s my goal.

 

 

What I learned about Jesus from the Ironman Triathlon

Think about what it means to be strong in the Lord, and tell me what you see.

I always knew better in my mind, but when push came to shove I used to believe that God wanted macho, 6-pack body-builders of the faith. The ones who overcame all odds by pure determination.

Somehow, I switched out the word faith for the word strong, and lived my life that way. My hope relied on “My strength is made perfect in weakness”—but in a moment of trial, I added on to the promise with, “But since I don’t believe God is strong enough to be my strength, I’ll just help him out by being stronger.”

Ouch.

You know Samson, that 7-braided, rock-solid Jew of the Old Testament? Samson was strong. Crazily enough, he was also filled with the Holy Spirit, and didn’t even know it. Somewhere along the way, he threw away the fact that his physical strength was a gift from God meant to accomplish a specific work in the Heavenly Kingdom. He’d always had it, right? So why not rationalize that it was a part…. of him? He could do anything he set his mind to.

“Go ahead, woman! Cut off my hair… I’ll be fine.”

But he wasn’t. He spent the next age of his life building physical muscles in the mill. Now he knew what purely physical strength felt like, but it was too late.

There was once a young man whose body was trapped by cerebral palsy… but not his heart. His heart, he discovered, loved to race. Racing made him feel alive.

His heart also had the capacity to trust his father’s love for him. He spoke his desire to compete to his father…. and despite everything the world tried to tell him about who he was and what he could do, ended up competing in the Ironman Triathlon… the toughest one there is.

What if being a child of God made no earthly sense at all?

What if Jesus wants to literally BE our strength?

What if all we need to do is tell him our greatest desires, and he would accomplish them for us… but we got to go along for the ride?

What if we didn’t need to be strong…. we just needed to learn how to RECIEVE THE FATHER’S LOVE?

Pain is Holy

“I was on tour, and a friend who was on tour with me went through a really rough valley.

She experienced a miscarriage.

I was with her the day after, and I asked her how she was…. what was going on for her inside. She said, “You know, the only words that keep rising up in my mind are, “I’m sorry… I’m so, so sorry.”

Pain does that to us, ya know?

When we’re stripped low, down to that level, what’s deep within us comes out.

For my friend, it was taking blame. Shame. A deep-rooted part of herself… not created by her pain, but brought to the surface because of it.

We all know the story of Job, right? He thought his life was pretty rough… and then his friends came and made it even worse.

The last thing he wanted to hear was a list of condemnations…. a list of things he had done to deserve to be in this place…. a list of ways he could get out of his painful place and be “back to being a ‘good’, ‘normal’ person”.

The reality is, pain isn’t a wrong place to be. It is a holy place, because

it is a place God uses to bring the hidden places of our hearts into the light.

I remember another time when I was on tour, and wading through a really dark valley. A friend was with me in the back of the van one afternoon, and asked what was going on for me. I told him, but as I did so, I was constantly bracing myself, waiting for him to offer advice that would prove to me why, if I was a good person, I really shouldn’t still be in this place.

He didn’t say a word.

When I was done talking, he stood up, and made me stand up too. He told me to take off my watch. I did. He said, “I’m going to hug you. I’m gonna hug you now for two minutes, and I’m gonna time it, ‘cuz you’re not going anywhere.”

Now you have to know my friend. He’s a big, masculine, hairy-chested football dude. Not the kind you’d expect to go around hugging people.

I laughed at first, because it was awkward. But a half-minute into it…. I started to cry. Then I started to messy cry, blubbering all over my friends sleeve and just hanging limply, totally helpless.

The two minutes were up, and he hadn’t said a word.

But I knew exactly what he was saying, because his actions screamed, “You are not an outcast because you are in this place. This is a HOLY place, you are worth it, and I care.”

Pain is a holy place, and in the presence of holiness it’s best to just keep quiet.”

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As he told this story, the emotions on Jason’s face clearly showed that this was a lesson he had learned the hard way. And after a moment’s hush, he began to sing the song his own journey through pain had inspired,

“You could see the smoke from a mile away. Trouble always draws a crowd. They wanna tell me that it’ll be ok… but that’s not what I need right now….”

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Listen to the rest of the song HERE, and don’t forget to buy Jason Gray’s new album!

Love Ambush

I’ve been a crab for twenty-four hours.

It all started when someone asked me a question, and I responded defensively and then the father of lies jumped in with all of his hogwash and made a mess of everything.

“You’re not worth fighting for.” he said, “You are selfish at the core, and think of no one but yourself. Your dreams are not reality. You have tricked yourself into following them as an easy escape from life’s problems.”

Because I was tired, weak in heart and still feeling defensive, I believed all of it.

My joy was robbed.

It’s messy enough trying to make big decisions for your future, but when you start believing lies… things get ugly pretty fast. Each lie is joined by it’s own disease until your heart is trampled.

Shame.

Defeat.

Anger.

People (and most animals) caught on pretty soon, and gave me a wide berth.

I sat at my desk the next day, trying to write encouraging words to a friend and finally decided that I needed some music for inspiration. The first song that played went like this:

“Whatever you’re doing inside of me… it feels like chaos but somehow there’s peace. It’s hard to surrender to what I can’t see, but I’m giving in to something heavenly. Time for a milestone… time to begin again. Revaluate who I really am.

So show me what it is you want from me.

I give everything….

I surrender….

Time to face up. Clean this old house. Time to breathe in and let everything out that I’ve wanted to say for so many years. Time to release all my held back tears. Whatever you’re doing, inside of me…. it feels like chaos, but…. I believe. You’re up to something bigger than me.

LARGER THAN LIFE.

Something HEAVENLY.”

While the “You’re up to something heavenly… bigger than me.” promise was still reverberating in my mind, the next words came through my speakers.

“Lord I come. I confess. Bowing here, I find my rest. Without you I fall apart… you’re the One that guides my heart. Lord I need you, oh, I need You. Every hour I need you.

My ONE DEFENSE.

My RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Oh God, how I need you. Where sin runs deep, your grace is more. Where grace is found is where you are. And where you are, Lord, I AM FREE!!

HOLINESS IS CHRIST IN ME.

Teach my song to rise to you, when temptations come my way. When I cannot stand I’ll fall on you. Jesus, you’re my hope and stay!!!!”

“Jesus… MY righteousness??” “Holiness is Christ in me?” I was overwhelmed.

“For real, Jesus? But…. my sins. They are HUGE! ”

“I AM your righteousness. It’s not about you at all. Where sin runs deep, My grace is MORE. Come to me, and you will be free.”

“Ok. I will!!!”

He smiled, and I could have swore He wrapped His arms around me.

My heart jumped into the sky. And of course, the next song that played was,

“I’m trading my sorrow! I’m trading my shame! I’m laying them down…. for the JOY OF THE LORD.”

THIS. This was what my Loving Father was holding out to me.

I received it, and cried.

Forgiveness overwhelmed me.

Yes, Lord. Yes. I AM blessed beyond the curse. Get behind me, satan. JESUS HIMSELF is fighting for me, and He will never stop.

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My Jesus is up to something LARGER THAN LIFE. Something HEAVENLY.

He does not despise me, but instead holds out HOLINESS, FREEDOM & GRACE.

His promise will endure, and His joy’s gonna be my strength.

He told me so Himself, in one big love ambush in my old-fashioned straight-backed chair.

And I accept His words.