Preparing for War

“What would you like me to teach you?” 4 sleepy, innocent faces stared at the table. 2 sets of eyes blinked back at me. It was 10 am on a Sunday morning, but the brains in the 4th grade class were functioning at the slowest possible speed. “It’s ok.” I said, “We’ll talk about this again. For now, I’ll just teach what I think you need to know.”

I love teaching people what I think they need to know.

I asked the class what they worry about, and they listed fire, drowning, being at war. Floods. We talked about Master Chef Jr., and Little League, and how kids prepare to be kid-champions. How they train & become strong. When it’s go-time, these kids are ready for action.

How can prayer get us ready for hard times?” I asked. Either the class didn’t know, or they were afraid to speak their ideas. “Let me draw a picture.”

“Here is a girl, because that’s easier to draw.”

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“When we have a fear or worry on our mind, it takes all of our energy. This is how it would look if our worries were visible.”

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“That’s a big backpack!”

“Sure is! Do you think this girl could compete on Master Chef Jr, or be in Little League, with this big load? No? You’re right. So if we want to be champions, we have to learn how to keep our minds strong. We can’t be champions if our minds are weak and worn down. Can you finish the verse that starts, ‘Cast all your…’ ”

“Cast all your worries on Him, because He cares about you.”

“This is how that looks!”

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“God wants to carry our worries for us! We still think about them, but we don’t have to carry them around with us. God carries them because it is His job to be the Protector. Sometimes He invites us to help solve the problem, but it is always something small enough to carry around while still competing.”

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“Does this make sense to you? Isn’t it cool that God sometimes invites us to help Him solve the problems we are worried about?”

I was preaching at myself, really. I found myself repeating, “Jesus, you are the prioritizer. You are the protector. I choose to let those jobs in your hands.”

It’s so simple, but similar to Naaman, who despised the idea of a muddy swim as a cure for leprosy, we despise the idea of doing something in which we have no power to control the outcome. We prefer to run, stress, work and worry. Instead of, in 4th-grade lingo, “Sending our worries up to heaven.”

Cast those worries away, heaven-champion! Buckle up that belt of truth, grasp that sword of faith and wait for battle orders! You will never be in control, no matter how hard you try.

War is here, but more war is coming. Our minds have got to be free so they can be strong. 

 

 

 

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No Looking Back

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“I’m ready for my scolding.” I draped my arm out the SUV window, desperately hoping my half-hearted smile would be enough to melt the ridge-runner’s stiff jaw line.

It wasn’t.

“Was that your trail magic?” He gestured towards the now-vacant trail-head. “I have to tell you, the food you left here was a very poor choice towards preserving our state forest lands. When I arrived there was trash scattered everywhere. An open invitation to bears….” His KTA hat was tilted at a stern angle, nodding its agreement to every parently jerk of his head.

I sighed silently and felt prickles of embarrassment creep up my neck. You deserve this. Just grin and bear it. 

“When I hiked the trail, I loved coming across trail magic. But you’ve got to stay with your coolers. I know it takes a chunk out of your day, but the hikers love meeting you. Then you won’t create a scenario for animals to become accustomed to being fed. I know–” he lifted his hand, “I saw the buckets and your notes about securing trash inside them, but a bucket lid won’t hold up to a raccoon or a bear.”

I started in on my I-Camp-in-Bear-Country-Regularly-and-They’ve-Never-Plundered-My-Food-Buckets speech, and then cut it off. “I know leaving food unattended was a poor life decision, and I am genuinely sorry.” He could tell I felt ashamed. I saw his face soften.

“I never properly introduced myself. I’m Tinker.”

“Nike. Nice to meet you.” I said, and fist-bumped him. “I’d like to see the carnage. Could you send me a picture of it?” I didn’t have to ask if he had taken photographs of the mess. He was a millennial, and that is what millennials do. I tapped my number into his filthy i-phone.

“I’m glad you came along when you did. I was about to post the photos on our page.”

Super! Local dis-fame for my wilderness guide reputation. 

“–But you’ll be happy to know I didn’t remove your coolers immediately. I let the hikers enjoy them. There was a forest fire here. The fire teams wouldn’t let me back in. I had to wait to come again until they had the flames under control….”

I lost track of what Tinker was saying. I wasn’t interested in fire stories. My coolers were nowhere to be seen. I’d combed the area looking for them. There wasn’t so much as a snippet of Coke bottle wrapper. “Could you tell me where to find my things?”

Tinker’s head jerked to attention, and immediately swiveled towards the road. “I had your chairs and coolers stacked right beside that tree. I thought you loaded them up already!”

If I’d have loaded them up already, I’d be GONE right now, brother!

“Go ahead so this guy can drive through, and I’ll see if he saw anything.”

Tinker talked to the forest service man, and I sat on the dashboard and stared at my shriveled-up self on the damp, dirty SUV seat. It was unusual for me to see myself so humiliated. Awkward, always. But shamed, rarely. I wanted to churn the gravel and disappear into the fog, but the thought of replacing $120 worth of camping gear held me back. Tinker darted towards me through the raindrops.

“He hasn’t seen anything. I have your number, and I’ll let you know what the police say after I report this. There have been other petty thefts in the area.”

Police?  No thank you! “I’m not from here…” I started a desperate attempt to remove myself from the scenario.

Sternly. “I will update you. It was your things that were stolen.”

“Thank you. I appreciate it!” I said mechanically. This time I did let my tires eat the gravel. I pulled slowly onto the mountain road. The neatly-stacked pizza in the take-out dish beside me smelled nauseating.

How could I have been so stupid? I KNOW better than to leave food unattended in the wilderness. I’ve given Leave No Trace speeches to my trainees at least a dozen times.

I scowled at the pizza, as if it was to blame. I’d shivered in an air-conditioned pizza shop 30 minutes for it under the slim chance that I’d cross paths with a rain-soaked hiker while collecting my coolers. The pretty little waitress had understood what I wanted when I said it was for a hiker. She’d separated each stacked piece with a square of waxed paper and wrapped the take-out dish in aluminum foil. Tinker had left my things unattended for only 30 minutes. That’s what he had said.

I scowled at the box again.

You know, it’s amazing how much effort a person can spend to escape the fact they were wrong about something.

I heard a faint voice in my head. It came from Zvek, my adventure buddy, and the words had been spoken several months ago. “Do you really believe that? Or are you just saying that to make yourself feel better?”

Ah, Zvek, you hit the nail on the head even without being here. I like to feel good–yep, I do say things that I don’t really believe in order to make myself feel better.

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I grabbed my mind by its invisible bootstraps and repeated: “I made a mistake, but I am not stupid. The hikers should have properly disposed their trash, but this is not their fault. There might be bears here. I really don’t know. No one is to blame here but me, and it’s ok. I am not irresponsible. I made a mistake, but I still have a good heart.”

Isn’t it crazy how much time and energy I spend to convince myself and others that I AM OK?

Why try to prove that there is such a thing as wind? Realities do not change. 

No self-blame allowed, Jesus-kiddo. No shifting blame either. Just save time and sift out the truth. Throw away the lies and place the truth on the table. Then move on.

The Lord does not need our help to prove what is true. 

And who knows, maybe the purpose of it all is for you to make friends with a wiry ridge-runner from Florida.

Less is more (usually)

I’m preparing myself for a minimalistic future. Something around 90 square feet, if all goes as planned, so needless to say I have some changes to make. Today I took my first step in downsizing. I just chose one clothing item to start with. Dresses. This shouldn’t take long, I thought.

I was wrong. That dark, cobweby corner of my closet housed not 10, not 15, but TWENTY-SEVEN dresses.

Considering that I only wear three of them, this discovery was shocking. I made a rapid discovery that 70% of them did not fit me. I can’t tell you how fantastic that corner of my closet looks now that I’ve pared the twenty-seven down to six. It’s stressful, really, to look at clothing you never wear. I always think “Man, I should buy a shirt to wear with that.” or “I really should iron that so I could wear it.” But I never do, and so it all just piles up and makes me feel guilty.

I’ve been hiking backwoods trails for the past six months, and I’ve worn the same shirt nearly the entire time. I have an entirely new relationship with clothing these days. I mean, I’m not quite ready to wear the same shirt for six months. Not yet.

But, simple is fun. It leaves time for more adventurous undertakings.

There is one downside to minimalistic wardrobe that I really should mention, however. That is this: if you lose an item, things go downhill with surprising rapidity. When your goal is to climb mountains, this is not good. It’s not good at all.

I remember setting out on the Appalachian Trail in the mountains of Virginia one particularly foggy April day.

Fog envelopes the forest on Whitetop Mountain, Virginia

 

Kaio, my long-distance hiking buddy, and I had been waiting for spring weather ever since our journey began, and today it felt like spring had finally arrived–there was just the right combination of damp and wind and subtle humidity in the air.

Our blazes followed the Virginia Creeper Trail for a few miles, and there was a invigorating hint of danger in the dark-tinted clouds that sped across the higher, whiter cloud cover–a stark contrast to the reassuring civility of the Creeper Trails smooth, evenly manicured gravel.

Kaio was hiking ahead of me that day and was already out of sight, her short, quick strides difficult for my long legs to match. I wished she was with me as I entered a dense pine thicket.

I’d always told her that a pine thicket would be the place where some gruesome tragedy would befall me, if anywhere. It was just the sort of lonely place an animal with ill intentions would choose to lurk (at least, that’s always what they show in the movies) and the grey drizzle of rain made the setting even more eerie.

I hadn’t gotten halfway up the first 1,000 foot climb before the heavens opened and poured their bounty upon the earth–and me. The raindrops bounced off my hat and I knew if I tried to quickly don rain gear the pounding drops would soak through the shoulder seams of my rain coat. It’s called a rain coat after all, not a Dryness Preservative. No rain jacket is truly waterproof, I reminded myself sternly, so I just decided to enjoy the storm. I sang and splashed my way up the trail (it was really more similar to a creek) with the greatest enjoyment.

I felt exactly like my former 8-year-old self who used to come up with excuses to go outside any time there was a summer rainstorm. It was grand, let me tell you!

An upbeat song bounced through the rodedendron thicket surrounding Lost Mountain Shelter, and I rounded the last bend to see that it came from the fingers of my friends Canuck and Moonboots, huddled in the shadows of the overhanging roof, both playing their travel-size ukuleles and waiting out the rain. I wrote “Yay for coffee! -Nike” in the logbook, took a healthy swig of the same, and was on my way. Moonboots looked discouraged, and I wished I could stay and cheer him up.

But I was soaked to the bone, and knew if I stopped for more than five minutes my blood temperature would drop dramatically. So I wished him well and scurried on my way.

The wind bit deep near Buzzard Rock, and I began to question my sanity for allowing my clothes to get soaked. My skin was cold to my own touch, and I was not yet at the days highest elevation. “Jesus, please keep me from being stupid.” I breathed over and over again, and kept on hiking, on and on past the rocky, mysteriously cloud-swept summit of Whitetop Mountain and down the wooded northern side. The parking lot for the summit trail was foggy and deserted.

 As I descended the mountain, my blood pressure dropped and I felt the first shiver come on.

I knew it was time to get dry, so I dashed into a rhododendron patch to riskily ditch my wet clothes and change into my rain pants and rain coat. My raingear was a significant buffer against the wind, and I felt confident and warm once again. I refused to worry about Kaio. “She’s experienced.” I told myself. “Her backpack contains everything she needs to stay warm.”

I bounded down the mountain towards Route 600, and was shocked to hear a voice call out my name from the woods near the parking lot. “Nike!” It was Kaio, who had decided to set up camp early, along with most of the other hikers who had passed me earlier in the day.

“Cool Dad said that anyone who climbs up to Thomas Knob Shelter in this weather is crazy!” Kaio said, “And who are we to prove him wrong?”  I laughingly agreed, relieved that my friend was safe. I was more than happy to set up camp and change into my fleece hoodie and down vest.

Kaio had a pile of wood gathered in no time, and we soon had a fire blazing. It was a tall, impressive blaze, and I must admit we looked down our noses at the smoky, floundering fire of our neighbors. We never said it, but of course we were thinking the same thing.

“Front-country people. They have no idea how to thrive in rough conditions.”

I held my rain-soaked shorts beside the blaze, waving them gently to avoid spark holes. Kaio did the same. It took only a little while for the shorts to become nearly dry. The remaining dampness would dissipate inside my sleeping bag tonight, I knew, so I folded the shorts and set them on a warm rock on the opposite side of the fire ring, away from the flames.

I was feeling pretty tough, to be honest. Kaio and I had gone from near-hypothermic to dry in toasty in just two hours, and had cooked dinner and dried our clothes to boot. Not too bad for a pair of beginners!

I bent down to pick up my folded shorts… but–what was this? My shorts were in my hand but a small ashy pile remained on the rock. Confused, I flipped the shorts around and gasped in dismay. Two brown-rimmed spheres smiled back at me.

“They melted!” I gasped.

Sure enough, the rock had been hot instead of just warm, and the polyester fabric at the back of my shorts had shriveled away. Kaio laughed and held her own shorts towards me in response.

I yelped again. “What!!?” She had scorched her shorts too, in a sudden burst of flame. We dissolved in laughter. Great, just great. We were about to enter one of Virginias most popular state parks, the Grayson Highlands…. and now we’d be sporting large burned spots on the back of our shorts. I could just imagine a faint trail of dusty ashes floating in our wake as the scorched polyester continued to crumble and fall.

As if people didn’t already have enough reason to feel sorry for us.

There are places where duct tape patches look snazzy, but we were pretty sure smack-dab on the glute muscles of two hikers was not included on this list. Yet, through-hikers do not carry a back-up set of hiking clothing. A ride to Walmart would cost the same as 9 pairs of shorts.

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but creativity surely never has.

Kaio cleverly concealed the faltering remains of her shorts under her trail skirt. I mournfully parted with mine at the privy waste can, and resorted to my rain pants. It was an incredibly humid experience inside those rain pants, let me assure you. Consequently, I was forced to wear them on the longest day of our entire hike–25 miles.

Maybe the forever-lingering hint of sweat on my expensive rain pants will remind me not to snoot my nose at other campers who don’t know how to start a wet-wood fire.

At least, it has so far.

 

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

 

 

Victors

Tonight, the headlines irrevocably declare: “120 Dead in Paris Attacks, Worst Since WWII”.

Terror is spreading across our planet, and the people of this planet, like ancient wooden ships adrift in a storm, scatter. Some cry, some shout “Revenge!”, some huddle in the paralysis of fear. Some hold up signs that say ‘NOT AFRAID’–a distinctive message to their enemies, but the sign-holders are powerless to make the message true within their hearts.

We the people– the meant-for-another country people. We the foreign exchange students, so to speak. What are we doing?

If we’ve been trained to fight, why are we afraid?

If we are truly selfless, why not choose to feel pain with the hurting instead of jumping into our closets of self-protection?

If we really believe God’s power makes us unstoppable, why not walk towards the danger instead of running away from it?

We are never victims.

We are always promised joy.

We are always promised rest.

We are always promised protection–the definition of which only Jesus knows.

We are never victims.

We are victors.

We the people pray for Paris tonight.

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We also pray for peace within ourselves.

 

Never, never, let us accept the title of “victim”, Jesus. Never let us stop receiving peace from you, and fearlessly giving that peace away.

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!!!

just call me Moe

You know what’s so weird?

I’m spending this entire year of my life in the wilderness field… well, the rest of my life, hopefully. And it’s the thing I’m the least cut out for.

Seriously though. I’m introverted, preposterous and afraid of heights and drowning. Just the other day, a mother called me to talk about her concerns about adventure programing. It was very uncanny to assure her, “Don’t worry, Ma’am. We practice challenge by choice. I’ve never cliff jumped in my life.”

People look at the pictures when I return from a trip, and hear the stories, and think, “Wow! What an adventure! You must be very brave!”

They picture me as this, sometimes.

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But in reality, I’m more like this.

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Just call me Moe.

You know, short for Moses.

I can relate to him a little, in a small way. I often beg Jesus to give someone else the task of prophesying. Embarrassingly, I pretty much don’t give Him an option when it comes to cliff jumping.

I look ahead at my summer that is quickly filling up with mentoring opportunities and think, “Why me?”

FAITH.

That’s why. His spirit, making me unstoppable. Saying what I didn’t think of on my own. Doing what I couldn’t do.

Being sure of what I hope for, and certain of what I cannot see. The heritage of being God’s kiddo.

Isn’t it amazing to be able to do things way beyond yourself?

The things you love, even though you’re not good at them?

Isn’t is amazing to be a part of the impossible?

And if He has His way, He’ll get me off that cliff yet.

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.

He Gave Me a New Name

I stood on top of Fort Fredrick two days ago, and while ants bit my legs and the sea breeze whipped my hair, Jesus and I had a conversation about love.

You gotta understand, I’m not so good at loving. Really though. I know you don’t believe me, but it’s true. I’m just learning now how to do it properly.

You see, I had a tower built in my heart. The cornerstones of this tower were Pain, Inferiority, Fear and Performance. Not a great family to build a tower on, to be sure, but I did. The small stones had many names… betrayal, mistrust, anger…. on and on to the sky.

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What did this tower surround? My ability to give and receive love.

Weird, isn’t it, that I would hide something that I wanted so badly to give away? I mean, how could I share something that was locked deep inside a fortress?

Well, I’ll tell you how it all started. I wasn’t always this way! One day, long ago, I started believing a lie. What lie? The lie that to love someone meant an instant assignment to protect them.

That is, after all what people do if they care about someone, right? It’s even, to the proper degree, scriptural. I was very good at it. Protecting those I loved came naturally for me.

But I took it too far.

I started crashing. I realized that I couldn’t be strong for everyone, so I started shutting people out. If it seemed like they were asking too much of me… too much strength when I was weak, too much emotional energy when I had none, I cut them off. Not from myself, mind you! From unlimited love. I just went only so far, and then stopped. They could visit my tower, but only stay as long as I allowed.

Why? Because if they stayed, I’d have to protect them…. fight their battles as well as… or even instead of… my own, and I already knew I couldn’t do that for everyone. I’d tried.

“There’s GOT to be a better way”, I thought one day. I was desperate for change. No, not change as in money. Change as in, a different way of living. A better way. I packed my bags and went on a long journey.

Up mountains, along crags, and through valleys I hiked, and along the way, I learned a new skill called “receiving love”. It meant valuing myself enough to accept words Jesus says about me that did not feel true. It meant valuing others enough to bless them by being a gracious receiver. It meant taking their love for what it is–a direct outpouring of love from Jesus Himself.

In return, Jesus pulled out the cornerstone named ‘Inferiority’ and my tower began to sag, just a bit.

With the love of Jesus now boiling inside of me, I powered onward, and found I had new courage to learn a second skill, called “saying no”. I learned, through Jesus the gentle Teacher, that sometimes it really was ok to say no… to a favor I was asked to perform, or to a task, or to a responsibility, or to a role. Sometimes it was better for everyone if I just said no.

No. That was a hard word for me, but I finally learned it.

In return, Jesus gave me a gift. Space! Space to let Him set my priorities. Space to love Him first. He grabbed the cornerstone named Performance and tossed it far from me in one mighty heave.

What did I do with all this new-found space? I used it to deal with the last cornerstone, Pain, and it’s ugly partner, Fear. Funny how the two go hand-in-hand.

Or claw-in-claw. It’s not funny at all, really.

Jesus said to me, “I brought you this far. Will you trust me? Will you trust me to know how much pain you, and the people you love can handle? Because if–no–when! When you trust me that much, you can love without limit knowing that when the people you love suffer, it will be for My glory, and that fact will make their pain worthwhile in your eyes!

You can live without fear because you’ll know that suffering will not last forever! That I always, always and always have something rich and spectacular in the making!

I, and I alone, hold the role of ‘Protector’. You can have so much more freedom to disappoint,–even hurt people, and still you’ll know, as long as you are pleasing Me, that they will be ok.

Will you let Me have My rightful place?”

Standing on the top of Fort Frederick, 25-knot winds threatening to blow me over the side, I said, “Yes! I will let you have that place!” I picked up a small rock, part of the fort’s wall, and threw it into the jungle with all my might. It crashed through the brush and disappeared.

In my mind’s eye, that rock was me, escaping the tower of self-produced love forever. The remaining parts of the tower–its last two cornerstones (Pain and Fear) smashed to smithereens–collapsed in a mighty crumbling, and blew away on the wind.

All that was left by the sea was me, Jesus, and our perfect love, alone in a real world where ants were still biting.

I’m so glad the last bit of that tower is gone.

The only walls that trap us are the ones we build ourselves.

 

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?

bum

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.