A Suspicious Red-Tailed Hawk

The first golden sunrays had just stretched their fingers over the mountains and begun to play with the leaves of the wild cherry tree above me, when, from the low, delicate branches of that tree, a raucous cry startled me out of my stupor.

It was the aggressive screech of a wild red-tailed hawk, shattering the thoughtfulness of the morning.

I did not look up. I went on weeding the day lilies in Mrs. Henderson’s garden, suddenly very thoughtful.

The screech screamed out again, a powerful blast of sound. Then it melted into a rivulet of chirps and trills. I did not look up.

Continuing to weed the day lilies and looking straight down at the black dirt, I could see in my mind’s eye the cherry tree from which the commanding screeches had cried out. No natural or respectable Pennsylvania red-tailed hawk would choose a fragile weeping cherry frond eight feet of the ground as their vantage point from which to hunt.

Shout as he would, I knew red-tailed hawks for more than their screams. And I knew mockingbirds. 

I was not interested enough in this mockingbird to give him the time of day. So I kept on weeding, and thinking.

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I was thinking that this is just how disinterested true lovers of Jesus are in the screams of their enemy, Satan. As the chief of liars, he is an expert at making sounds he has heard before. He imitates everything he has seen. He has been practicing imitation and deception for thousands of years! But at the end of the day, he is still a songbird, never a bird of prey. He can never do what Jesus does. He cannot correctly imitate Jesus because he does not have enough power. He does not have enough knowledge. He has no access to the Holy Spirit of truth!

He can sound like a red-tailed hawk, but he does not know how to THINK LIKE A RED-TAILED HAWK. He does not have the heart, authority, courage or the power of a red-tailed hawk.

Today, warrior, gather up those billowing skirts of yours, tuck them between your legs and into your belt, and cinch that Belt of Truth just as tight as it will go! This sounds so vigorous, but do you know how it is actually done?

Your belt of truth is put on when you spend time in the Father’s presence! Spend time building relationship with the King of Kings, asking questions, obeying answers. Spend time recieving and then being taught by the Holy Spirit, who was specifically sent to you to teach you and guide you into all truth. Spend time filling your mind with the thousands of words of truth which are already written down and are available to you at any minute of the day!

When your mind is full of truth, you will not even glance up at mockingbirds.

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Want more stories? Consider supporting me on Patreon! By joining a team on this goal-achievement platform, you help me prioritize story-telling and you gain access to exclusive content. Members of the Celebrate the Miracles team get access to mini miracle stories posted every Monday, plus sporadically posted wilderness trip footage, gear reviews and peeks into my sketchbook! If you want to check it out, just visit https://www.patreon.com/hypernike.

Steps

Far below me on the canyon floor–well, more specifically, one of the many levels of the canyon floor–a round, muddy, teal-blue pool caught the five tiny rays that reached down to it, winking and twinkling them back to the sun on its barely-stirred ripples. Ivory walls rose straight up from this pool, circling up and up with tiny ridges as though bored out by a giant drill bit.

If I had dared to look behind me I would have seen a gap in this pale, circular, bored-out wall–a fluid, graceful crack that extended down and down and around until it was a pencil line indicating the canyon’s mouth.

I kept my eyes locked straight ahead.

My knuckles rose white from the brown, wrinkled skin that clothed them, eight bumps all in a row, like tiny snow-covered peaks against a rough brown desert. I clung with both hands to the cable ladder. “Yes, Jesus. I trust you to protect me,” I whispered, then heaved myself and my wobbling pack up another rung.

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The cable trembled. Water dripped from my clothes, making the metal rungs slippery. Now and again a blast of wind shivered down the canyon, making the hairs raise on my arms. I dislodged a small rock and it scudded straight down to the rock ledge forty feet below me, then down farther still to plunk into the deep teal pool.

Inside my mind, a steady voice cheered me on–was it mine, or the Holy Spirit’s, or both?

Big breath. Another step. Keep your heart strong.

Don’t allow yourself to think about falling.

Focus on what is true. Place your foot. Move your hands. Up you go-one step closer to the sky!

See, he has provided firm footing for you.

Yes, he will provide a firm place for your feet again.

Take another step.

It was scary, but again, your feet are firmly planted. Just like he promised!

One step at a time. It’s a little easier now. You can feel the wind growing stronger. You are almost on the next level of the canyon!

At last, I muscled my pack and body over the top of the ladder and stood upright on the solid ground. I gasped, stretched my twitching leg muscles, then laughed! We did it!

From this small ledge of rock, I now gazed down the canyon, far along the fluid, graceful crack that extended down and down and around until it was a pencil line indicating the canyon’s mouth. What a great view!

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“You and I, Jesus. We have climbed all this! Time for a celebration!”

Facing north again, I see my next adventure, a narrow ledge jutting out from the cliff, offering just inches of trail above another long, narrow pool. At the end of the ledge, the blazes stagger straight up the cliff.

Time to kick it, mountain-goat style!

One step at a time. One adventure at a time. Keep following the blazed route.

Off we went.

An important lesson that I have learned while trekking over 200 miles of the Negev Desert, is that you will always be surprised by what is around the next bend. Study the route, the map and the elevation profile as you will, you will still be surprised.

A flat, easy day of road walking may turn into twelve hours of slow mud-slogging, kicking inches of clay off your boots just to gain three more inches of clay the next minute.

A quick downhill jog may become a cautious crab-crawl down a 40% grade, as you brace your trekking poles among rolling pebbles, trying not to start a rock slide.

You may need to swim through water of unknown depths.

I’ve learned, no matter how surprising the trail is, I still prefer to follow the blazes. During over two hundred miles of adventurous travel, we saw only one injured hiker-someone who had chose their own path. “It looked like a better way, but it was treacherous. Very scary,” said the wounded one. Blood oozed from a battered knee, and caked darkly in the creases.

Do not leave the blazed route, even if you cannot see your next step.

Ask for direction, then walk. You’ll hear the same steady voice.

See, there is a foothold here.

You cannot see the metal rungs as you lower yourself straight off the lip of the crater, but, yes, good, your feet have just found them.

Yes, here is the next toehold.

Walking in heaven-destiny is very like walking an adventurous trail. It’s scary and unpredictable. Thrilling. Sometimes there is deep pain. Sometimes there is incredible joy.

Sometimes you can see the way.

Often you see only a drop-off, and an arrow pointing straight down. Will you lower yourself into the unknown, and trust?

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When you know you are where you are supposed to be, you can rest assured that right now, right this moment, there is a firm foothold for you to step on. Right now, you have what you need.

We were promised provision for now. For this step.

Right now, HE WILL PROVIDE.

Stay on the blazed route. It is narrow, and scary, but it is maintained by the Creator himself! The blazed route leads higher, to some great views!

Ask, then move.

Boldly move. One step at a time.

 

BONUS!

Here is actual footage of me tottering, praying and laughing my way along part of the trail. What could you accomplish if your greatest fear was gone? Comment below!


Want more stories? Consider supporting me on Patreon! By joining a team on this goal-achievement platform, you help me prioritize story-telling and you gain access to exclusive content. Members of the Celebrate the Miracles team get access to mini miracle stories posted every Monday, plus sporadically posted wilderness trip footage, gear reviews and peeks into my sketchbook! If you want to check it out, just visit https://www.patreon.com/hypernike.

The Original Plan

“I want to stick with the original plan, you know?”

Melita’s mouth was half open, but I kept talking. “The only problem is, no one told me what the original plan was in the first place.”

She laughed. “I wondered what you were going to say. Yeah. That’s true.”

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We were 9,000 kilometers from home, 10 miles from the nearest town, trudging through lime-green peach orchards on the fringes of the Judean wilderness. We’d traveled the entire length of the Negev Desert and emerged into a world full of contrasts. Placid herds of sheep grazing the rolling, rock-strewn pastures, verdant fields of green waving gently in the breeze, crimson poppies glistening under a golden sun. College students lounging in the grass 10 feet apart from each-other. Scolding voices asking, “Why aren’t you at home? Don’t you know what is going on in the world?” Red alerts on the bus schedule. Sharp cries of parents as children race out of villages to ask us, “Corona? Corona?”

Darkness had fallen long before we drug our dusty bodies onto a porch on the fringes of a small village. “Come in, come in,” Matthew and his wife invited. “What are you going to do? Fly home, or stay? Here, have a shower.” I shuffled through my drybag of clothes. Dirty, dirty, dirty. I was wearing my cleanest clothes, having expected today to be laundry day. A shower felt nice anyway. Over plates of curry and rice, Matthew’s wife was honest with us. “We had to take time and think through hosting you two. Everyone is so fearful, but that’s not the best way. The reality is so different than what people are afraid of. You’ve been in the desert, for crying out loud. That’s got to be the safest place to be.”

Muted squalls arose from the next room. “You have a baby?” Melita asked. “Yes, he is 7 months old.” The two-and-a-half-year-old ate pie with us and cried when it was time to go to bed.

10 hours later, two disheveled hikers stood on the porch once more, stuffing drybags into dirty packs at a rapid rate of speed. A little boy offered us cookies sadly, having looked forward to a day of playing with these new tall friends. A brave mother and father waved goodbye as we trotted down the drive to catch the only morning bus.

I sat alone on a garden retaining wall by the Ben Gurion train station later that day, trying to hide the 73 mosquito bites on my battered feet from curious eyes as I munched down my three cucumbers in the least barbaric way possible. As I sat, I thought of this brave mother and father.

Power, love and a sound mind. That is what they had lived out. In front of their tiny children. In front of their fear-filled village. In front of two strangers. In front of God.

Heroes don’t always know the earth-picture of their own original plan. But they always know the heaven-attributes of their own original plan.

Power has no space for fear.

Love has no space for discouragement.

A sound mind has no space for second-guessing.

Stick with the original plan, brave heart!! It’s all written out for you, but not in earth language.

 

Character

Character.

That foundational piece of you.

Yes, YOU.

Untouchable by disease. 

Unhindered by poverty.

Unmistakable when times get hard.

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It’s the man battling cancer and the man battling heart disease who invest hope into each other instead of speaking of their own pain.

It’s the mom with the uncooperative toddler in the grandchildren photoshoot–the mom who holds her child and cares for his heart instead of scolding him for ruining the picture.

It’s the girl setting healthy boundaries for herself by saying, “I am not ready to talk about that right now.”

It’s the teen who leaves a chicken-scratch thank you note for the hotel maid, and never forgets to tip.

It’s the father using words of grace.

It’s the child who chooses not to laugh at someone else’s expense.

It’s every person who chooses silence when they want to self-defend.

It’s every person who chooses to speak up when someone needs a defender.

Character. 

Invited into life by the beautiful gift of choice.

Honed and shaped by so many unpleasant things.

Struggle, pain, conflict and being wrong yet again.

But, character!

Such a treat to behold–such a honor to live out!

So beautiful in the eyes of the Father!

Character!

An unshakeable upgrade!

My son, if your heart is wise, my own heart also will be glad; and my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak what is right.

For as [a man] thinks within himself, so he is.

Proverbs 23

 

 

 

Safe

From the pebble beach of Blue Marsh Lake that yellow September day, I gazed at the sky above the vicious locust trees and asked Jesus what he had to say to me.

“A storm is coming.”

That’s what I thought he said.

Had I just imagined the words? A wisp of mare’s tail cloud hung low in the sky above me. Had the cloud placed thoughts of a storm into my mind?

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I held still, waiting for more words from Jesus. It was a hot day, with skies as blue as blue could be, so why were the birds all darting for cover in the low forest underbrush? “Prepare for a storm.”

I didn’t know what that meant, but I kept those words in my heart. And I prepared.

Two months later in a riverside campsite under the pines, I tucked the first clean pot into the dish hammock and clearly heard these words in my heart, “Leave here and find your teammates.” I glanced at my watch. My co-guide had asked me to find her if she wasn’t back in an hour, but only half that time had passed. “Don’t overthink,” I told myself, “Just finish the dishes and find the group after the hour has passed.”

I heard pounding steps on the trail just as the final plates were being rinsed. I stood up and jogged out of the campsite before the panting messenger could ask me to. I wished I’d have listened to the Holy Spirit when he told me to find the group. I could have saved this messenger a lot of effort.

We waged war for hours, and by the time the war was in recession, our stuffed-crust campfire pizza was stiff and cold. The sun had set, and the moon had rolled out of bed to take his turn in the sky. One by one, the headlamps blinked out in the campsite. This war was not over, but the soldiers all needed rest.

I sat under the pines facing the tents and watched, and prayed. Many animals roam the woods at night. As snores rose up from the solo tents around me, the noises in the forest rose to rival them.

Owls hooted back and forth across the river in their comically quizzical way, and a grouchy ibis squawked at his unwanted neighbor in terse, short sentences. Rustling leaves told me the toads were a’hopping.

A howl broke out on the riverbank, downstream, and then moved closer. Panthers pass through this area, once in awhile. This noise wasn’t made by a panther, but it made me think about a hiker’s story of meeting one nearby.

Black clouds winged across the sky, sometimes revealing a handful of very bright stars, sometimes dropping bits of rain.

Silent, unseen battles swept through the campsite, passing, then receding.

All alone in this black campsite, palmettos poking my neck and mosquitoes nibbling my ankles, I wrapped a tarp around my shoulders and stared up at the sky. I asked Jesus for things, and gave him other things, and thought about the unusual fact that I wasn’t  scared.

I felt so cozy, all alone there under the pines, in the middle of that active battleground.

Relieved, and comfortable, like showing up at a spring when your body has just traveled 25 miles under a hot sun.

The girl who could never sleep without her head being buried under a pillow– who could not walk outside at night without both a light and a big dog, was sitting cross-legged in a campsite at 2 a.m. with more peace than most people feel at church on a Sunday morning.

It was Jesus, obviously.

I’m not always so good at receiving love from Jesus, or from anyone else, but under those pines, in the short recess of that war he’d told me to prepare for two whole months in advance, I was recieving love from him like there was no tomorrow. It’s hard to explain what it’s like to spend a night sitting cross-legged in the woods with Jesus. But it fills you up inside.

When my watch beeped for the 5:30 making of coffee, I felt alive.

We human beans are pretty good at finding earth-things that make us feel safe. But a gun, or a dog, or a flashlight, or a man, or a can of pepper spray—these can’t know two months in advance that you’d need to prepare for war, and teach you how to prepare in exactly the right way.

A gun can’t answer the questions on your heart. A dog can’t tell you to drop what lies you are believing and what truth will set you free. A flashlight can’t fight the battles going on in unseen places. A man can’t protect the minds of the kiddos from bad dreams while they sleep. A can of pepper spray can’t make you feel so joyful in the middle of a battlefield–so secure that you could fall asleep.

It is a good place to live, with your spirit seated in the presence of Jesus and your body joining the armies of heaven in their battles on earth. I have much to learn about it.

But I’ve learned this so far: When you live in Jesus, life is 100% unpredictable. But it is 100% empowered. And 100% safe.

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.

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.

We Don’t Get To Be Here Long

Bu-BUMP, bu-BUMP, goes the blood in my jugular vein, as if my blood vessels are a track and the blood cells are thoroughbreds, surging towards the finish line. I stomp the accelerator and turn the wheel into the mat of blackberry vines, very aware that my body is being forced back into the seat as we climb. A grumble of mud and stones, a scrape, and we slide gracefully on to the mossy space below the yellow beeches. It is 23° but my cheeks are hot. “Thank you, Jesus!” I squeak, and Harley pants and yawns loudly, as she does every time we live through a moment of terror.

Fear stomps on my lungs every time I think of driving up that lane. Some of you will shake your heads and sigh, and some of you will understand.

The only reason I began driving to the top of my dirt lane at all is because my father showed me how and then said, “It’s your turn.” I hate being wimpy in front of him after he shows me how to do something. It’s like saying, “You are a liar, Dad.”

The only reason I made it to the top of my dirt lane the second time, and the 202nd time, was because once you start going up, you can’t stop. Stopping is actually dangerous. Driving up just feels dangerous.

Once I had to jump start my car in a black parking lot, all alone. Slump-backed in the rain, I shivered and prayed for 32 minutes before finally connecting the clamps. My hand would go towards the battery, and then jerk away.

I’ve learned recently that dream-chasers fall into two categories: Tryers and Doers.

Tryers have options. They can say, “I am trying for my lifeguard certification. I’m training 14 hours a week, but I honestly doubt I will pass the test.” They never sign up for the test, because they don’t think they will pass it. Reasons, reasons, reasons…. all very valid and unable to be explained away.

Doers do not have options. They say, “I will refuse to be comfortable until I have set up a new way of life. By hook or by crook, I will get there, and no delay.”

The thing with trying, is that you are never truly a failure. If you set out to TRY, you can rationalize success either way. You will stand in the parking lot, in the dark rain, wasting time because you are trying to jump the car but you must first evaluate all the dangers.

If you set out to DO, there is only one way to win. You will put your foot to the accelerator, knowing once you begin you will not be ‘safe’ until you reach the goal.

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You do the thing, and no delay, because you refuse to say, “You are a liar, Dad.”

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

I know I am.

 

 

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. 

 

 

 

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.