Camping in the Woods

There is nothing quite like the smell of the woods! Earthy and old, all-knowing and rich. Divine creation.

Deep inhalation floods the senses with all sorts of stimulation and primal memories; life, connection, ancient Earth rhythms.  There is something nourishing here that feeds the soul; rejuvenating, expansive, positive, and elemental. Back to our roots.

The canvas camp chair nestled in just the right spot under a giant Redwood beckons – “Come, sit, be!”

The pace of these old, wise trees slows the heart and busy mind; infuses stillness and awareness and a lovely sense of restful calm.

Leaning back and looking up, the eye sees the forever journey upward of these majestic trees; always yearning and following their source of Life – the Light. But not in a helter-skelter, chaotic way. No. The trees are stately, purposeful and fierce in their growth. Some have grown around, over, under or through whatever obstacles keep them from their Source. They know how to get there and do it unwaveringly, without frantic attempts and harebrained scheming.  There is a lesson here in the trees for me. I feel it in my bones.

Life in the woods, on the surface, can seem frenetic, but a deeper, more careful look reveals the opposite. The birds, squirrels, raccoons and other scurriers, big and small, are actually quite organized and methodical in how they go about their Creator-given tasks. Fascinating. Humbling. Teachable. Complete trust.

My Creator has given me a specific task. Am I frantic in the doing? Can I trust that by ever following my Source of Light, I will accomplish my aim? I will be enough?

If one is truly quiet, even for a moment, one can hear Nature growing, doing its nature thing; cracks and snaps of branches bowing under the weight of a naughty, scolding Jay; the tiny rustle of a fern frond, as an invisible creature winds its way on a well- worn path; the sibilant splash of a hidden stream flowing from its source high above – who knows what adventures it experienced on its way down stream.  The imagination can run wild here! That is healing.

Dusk deepens in the woods and Nature’s life sounds change from the busy afternoon.  There is a shift in the light and the night dwellers begin to venture out with different calls and purposes, as the day timers wind down and begin their settling in. Perfect rhythm. All in alignment.

Time for a campfire!

Sticks, old dried leaves and moss from the forest floor, make a perfect bed for the larger sticks and logs to rest upon. Fire!

Slowly it ignites and consumes the small sticks and random pieces of detritus that were thrown in the fire ring.  The fledgling fire is mesmerizing to watch, as flames lick and snap and dart through the wood, finding the best route and igniting all in its path.

The warmth and the crackling, snapping and popping sounds recall happy memories of camping trips gone by; of long hikes and fishing, stories and laughter by the fire late into the night or of simple, quite evenings of lulled conversation and companionable silence, as each one is captivated by the warmth and mystery of fire. 

The forest is just as active at night as it is by day, but one must listen more carefully and purposefully to know it. Nocturnal hunters, prowlers and the curious are all around, going about their business. I wonder what they imagine, as they watch us, undetected, from the dark woods.

Sleep beckons, so off to bed, soothed to sleep by the living forest.

Morning comes very early in the woods. Creatures up early to welcome the new day and begin again their Creator-given work.

Bird calls sound joyful and insistent as day breaks. “Up, up, up!” They seem to shout. Nothing is wasted, every minute important in its own way, because this is survival. This is life.

So again, begins another day camping in the woods. The adventures are endless and so are the lessons.

What will you come back with? Peace? Purpose? A reset spirit? I believe the forest is one of our Creator-given ways to rebalance and reset from our frenzied attempts to create a path we were never meant to travel…

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Just some truth…

Good morning friends, old and new! As I sit and drink my lovely coffee this morning in my quiet house, listening to snoring dogs and calling birds, some thoughts are hovering on my mind and heart. As I settle them in and begin to absorb and ponder them, I know that these truths are definitely a reminder for me; but I also wonder, if maybe, you need to hear this, too.

God loves you. He made you, He knows everything about you and loves all of it. Every single inch. Your weaknesses and struggles are not driving Him away from you. He is there always, as close as your next breath. Go ahead, inhale. You are seen and known; you have God’s undivided attention. You have tremendous value and purpose. You are here for a reason; you are not a mistake or a random happening. There is a path carefully laid out for you. It for you and no one else. The heart of the Father knew exactly what He was doing when you were created to walk that path and make a difference to those in your sphere. You are needed. Do you know that there are conversations happening, in heaven, about you? You are always on His mind, engraved on His hands and His heart.

Those places in your heart that hurt; the place in your soul that has been so wounded, has not gone unnoticed by God. He saw, He knows and He grieves. If you give it to Him, He will take it and redeem it; He wants to do that for you. Don’t you know that is why He came? For you! He can restore and transform those places that seem too lost, too broken, too ugly. Those places will become places of beauty in His hands. The secret hurt isn’t hidden from Him. He knows all about any anger and hatred; injustice, bitterness and resentments; failures and victories and joyful A-ha moments. He was and is there for every single moment. You are not alone.

He looks on you with eyes of love, compassion, joy and mercy. You are His child. Talk to Him. He loves to hear our voices; like melodies and harmonies in His ears. To our ears, the song may sound dreadfully out of tune, but the sound of your voice, my voice, is like incense to our Father. It is a thing of beauty when we speak to Him and He responds; deep calls to deep; Spirit speaking to spirit. It is a holy communion, because even when we do not have the words to speak, His Spirit is there and He knows. He hears. He understands. No big words, wild gestures, loud voices are needed with your Father. He is there in the silence when there are just no human words. Sometimes just speaking His name is enough.

“The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

Autumn in the Park

I love how the autumn light filters and dances through the red and gold leaves; a light, pixie-like breeze gently rustling them, sending a few floating lazily to the ground.

Standing still for a moment, taking in the smell, the light, the feel of that breeze lightly brushing my skin, I feel my shoulders relax and drop down a bit as I smile and breathe deeply.

The packed dirt and gravel path looks so inviting; it’s already claimed other nature loving souls this morning, who heeded the call to get out and be refreshed; joggers, walkers, meanderers; their faces reflecting the serenity that I’m desperate for today.

Preoccupied squirrels with fluffy brown tails are busy with their autumn tasks; digging, ruffling, burying their treasures. They make me happy. In an odd way, it is calming and peaceful to see them hard at work, yet seeming to revel in the autumn air and changing season as much as I am; their purposeful movements interspersed with dramatic bouts of scampering, scolding and tail waving.

The crunch of small rocks and dried leaves makes a pleasing sound as I walk the park. Haphazardly scattered along the pathway, among the rocks and sticks and other seasonal detritus, I am delighted to find bright red and orange leaves, which at first sight seem random, yet cause me to marvel at Mother Nature and the seemingly perfect placement of her handiwork. Lovely. A bright spot on the path, a reminder to be alert and observe, “there is beauty on your path but you must watch for it.”

What else might I be missing? I still my mind and watch and listen and smell; I observe with eyes that are looking for small joys and beauty; the things so ordinary that they are overlooked, yet are packed with meaning, novelty and beauty.

Laughter. I hear it. Toddlers so delighted with their game of hide and seek that they shriek out their joy and reveal their hiding spaces; feeling confident and protected as they run full speed through the grass, filling their young lungs with air and collapsing in a giggling heap with their gasping parents close behind. This. This is living. Exhausting oneself with pure happiness!

There is the man on the shady bench with his dog; a picture of contentment as he strokes the white head of his poodle and talks gently to it. His face is serene and his posture relaxed; the dog lying still observing us walkers, joggers and meanderers. Easy companionship.

I see the determined jogger, who runs past with heavy breathing and intense focus on her path, yet takes a moment to make eye contact, smile and chuff out a hello! Determined, yet aware.

From one vantage point at the far end of the path, I see the entire park open up in front of me. I feel joyful. I can’t help but smile wide at the deep green of the grassy area, where delighted dogs romp and chase far flung Frisbees, frisking around their guardians; where an older couple strolls hand in hand, taking in the park and all its beauty, totally unhurried; the huge mix of old trees that offer shade and respite for those enjoying the morning – pines, oaks and other varieties – the playground with excited children busy at play, imagining themselves invincible as they climb the slide ladder.

This morning walk in the park helped me shed a feeling of heaviness I did not realize I had been hauling around with me. I feel relaxed, open and so light; aware of just how much the ordinary is designed to bring joy, peace and a sense of centering, but we must have our senses ready to receive it. Our Creator knew just what He was up to, down to every slight detail; so intricate, yet so often overlooked, as we search out something huge and wild and shattering to bring back our peace and our sense of normalcy, when all we need is right in front of us, waiting to be seen with new eyes and fresh appreciation. Nature is calling, can you hear her?

Autumn

We lover’s of Autumn have a sixth sense about us; a knowing when that first revelation of summer’s end has arrived.

It is felt on the skin in that barely discernable nip and twinge of air, charged with the slightest of chills; awareness that the atmosphere has changed just a smidge.

Autumn’s scent is unique and mischievous. Earthy and deep; wise, pungent and bold in the way brown leaf tips, restless trees and fading flowers bend and drop to the Earth, daring the one watching to stop them; to impede the ancient progress of a slow, yet lovely descent into quiet and rest.

That spritely spurt of wind, which tosses and dances fallen leaves and finished flowers round and round, is delightful. What is it about piling up crispy, browned leaves and then dashing them about; flinging them from orderly piles into random and untamed flurries of color? A new beginning; a tossing and mixing up of the old, lazy routine into something new; a plan to disrupt the status quo and wait patiently through the Winter, as that plan takes on form and substance. Somehow the chaos of it is lovely and energizing; part of the ritual. It is one more wild streak before the settling and simmering of Autumn moves on to the mystery and silent brooding of Winter.

The discerning observer will witness Nature’s response to the shift from the indolent, dog days of summer to Autumn’s call to let go; the song of quiet purpose and intention, as Mother Earth whispers it’s time to fold in, cozy up and allow rest to perform its miracles and the deep, sweet slumber of Winter to wait in the wings.

There is something inspiring and invigorating in this call to purposeful letting go; an anticipation. Is it the definitive color changes and that unmatched fall scent in the air that feels like a new beginning? Is it the crisp sensation of fall air as one breathes it in?

Welcome Autumn! Come and show off your colors and dare us to think about the dead or dying places that we need to let fall; not with sadness or fear; but with an anticipation that a season of silent regrouping, where new life starts to bud,  will soon break free with the coming of Spring.  It’s coming and it will be glorious!

Corporate Worship – Glimpse of Heaven

I had the privilege of attending an amazing concert over the weekend with my family, our church’s youth pastors and their wives and many others from my local church. The concert was wonderful; full of excitement, dancing and shouting; a spirit-filled energy that infused my bones and awakened a deeper intimacy with Jesus. Music has always been a strong source of life, energy and spirituality for me. Music awakens and fulfills at the same time, a deep place in my soul; through times that have been so crushing and devastating to times of such victory I can hardly stand it. Music and Jesus are deeply interconnected for me.

As I stood with the thousands of others on Saturday night, listening to praises rising to God, I was filled with awe and brought to tears at the way all of us were united for one purpose – to praise and love Jesus; to receive healing, love, acceptance and joy from our Father.  Our Father.  I love the sound of that. I was struck that at the very moment of praise; turning our focus on Him in communion with the spirit, we were united.  It didn’t matter who we were planning to vote for, the color of our skin, our past, our present or our future, our socio economic status or our dress size; all that mattered was that we love God and He loves us deeply; no shame, sin, guilt, habit or hang-up could separate us from His love. He was right there in our midst and His presence was so potent and powerful that it raised the hairs on my arms and the back of my neck.  The Creator of the universe, and of you and I, joined us Saturday night at the Concord Pavilion and lavished us with so much love. I know healing took place that night; lives were saved, hope restored, relationships healed and grace! Oh so much grace!

At one point during the concert, I turned around to look next to me and behind me and was overwhelmed at the sight of arms, hands, faces raised up to heaven; smiles, laughter, songs, tears; all directed upward to our Father. I thought, “Wow! This must be a tiny glimpse of what heaven will be like; all races, all nations, all backgrounds standing, kneeling, bowing in the presence of the Most High God. I tell you, it was one of the most beautiful sights I have seen.

Bike ride full of sensations and truth

I went on a bike ride yesterday morning. The first longer one I’ve been able to do in months, due to knee and elbow injuries. It was lovely and refreshing; full of an almost overwhelming amount of much missed sensations.

I am very much a sensation person. You know, someone acutely aware of the nuances of the wind, scents, sights, sounds or the absence of sounds. Sensations fascinate me and stir something up inside. Originally, I was going to make this a ride of new beginnings in the most physical of ways; starting off with a pre-determined number of miles as my goal, so as not to overtax my knee and elbow, which are still healing and tender in spots. That was the focus and I was going to get ‘er done. No fooling around, fanciful riding! I also decided to add in to the mix, a prayer for safety and that God would use this new beginnings ride as He saw fit; whatever that means. He did. I’m pretty sure I knew deep down that He would; when I invite Him into what I am doing, He always shows up. Always.

The morning was chock full of sensations; I mean full. There was a light to moderate, persistently cooling breeze with notes of a gently sweet flower – jasmine I think, with undertones of dew damp grass and that calming scent of the sea floating along, teasing and soothing. The light was lovely. It was fairly early, so it was a new light, just waking up from its sleep; all soft, gentle and tumbly;  pleasantly warm when it hit my bare skin. The birds were in rare form, especially some blue jays with the raucous calls they are famous for, along with the pretty little birds, finches maybe, who dart and dip all over my neighborhood, singing their hearts out to the new sun. Wind chimes played in the distance and I may have imagined the earthy smell of coffee, floating by, making me wonder who was up and what they were doing. I’m also intensely curious! Some leaves danced and twirled past on a side street, as the playful breeze flew in to stir them up and left again just as quickly. Naughty and playful!

By this time, I am on the bike path parallel to the canal, trying to take in all the blue and yellow wildflowers that dip and twist in the breeze as I fly past. I realize that I have not been paying close attention to how far I’ve gone, what my knee is feeling, who else is out and about. It has just been me, my six senses and such a feeling of joy and excitement over what sight, smell, sound,  or creature I might encounter next. As I pedal along, I am struck by how much beauty and joy I rob myself of on a daily basis when all I am focused on is the next accomplishment, the next item marked off my list (I really, really like lists!!), the next thing I think I need to do because someone else is doing it, someone else thinks it would be a good idea . I am comparing my desires, my dreams and my genetic make-up, that calls and beckons me to get outside and bask in sensations’, to someone else’s make up that does not or sends them in a different direction. I felt like I had a mini epiphany that allowed me, through sensations, to see that this is good, right, ok and to not feel guilty or less than, because I choose to do life a little differently than the next guy and to embrace that and love it and deeply nurture it, because it is the essence of me. It is the spirit of me that my God put inside me when He created me. He knew I was going to crave and need nature and sensations in a big, big way along with words, dreams , music, visions and the scent of the air more than other things, and that He delighted in making me this way. I don’t have to decide to do something a different way because someone else is doing it; I don’t have to stress because I like to exercise and nourish my body, my way. I think it was such a revelation to me, because as I was riding my blue bike, feeling sweat running down my back just to be immediately cooled off by the chilly breeze, I simply thought, “why hello, Melissa. This is me.” I could see all those parts of me and loved them. So many thoughts started pouring through my brain. I won’t go into all of them, because a lot of them make sense only to me and I think God wants some of those revelations and thoughts to be just between Him and me. But thoughts regarding weight, gifting, inclinations, my ministries, friendships, past decisions, my food choices and my thoughts around those were highlighted in a gentle, yet firm way, pointing out that they stem from what God thought of and got excited over when He decided He was ready to set me loose on this earth. Yes, I do have a lot to learn from other people, things to re-think and maybe go about in a different way, but the essence of me, my spirit, is me and it’s mine and I desire to intimately know, cherish and fiercely protect every part of it; not feel like I have to explain myself, convince others to see the essence of me or to defend it.

So, God did show up on my bike ride. Like I said, I knew He would, I just didn’t know what He would bring to the party. For me, it was something deep and shifting inside. I’m not sure I did a great job explaining and sharing it, but I’m ok with that, too, because a lot of it was just for me. Maybe you will get a little nugget or tidbit for yourself. That is my hope. That through this convoluted and a bit random blog post, a little treasure will hop off the page that God put here just for you.

Beauty

Middle school. What is the first  word that pops into your mind when you hear the words middle school? Awkward , the fear of being different, of not having a “place”. Much of my thought life in middle school was taken up with concern over where I belonged. Who would talk to me today? Would my friends still be my friends? Was I pretty enough for a certain crowd to speak to me and acknowledge me? Maybe it all boiled down to wondering if I was enough?

As I lead my group of 8th grade girls once a week, I see this painful struggle. The desire to be loved and enough, just as they are; to be liked, sought out, pretty, hip and cool.  This struggle is just as real for young men, as they struggle to find their place in the world. It is  real for all of us.

At our middle school group last week, we talked about beauty; specifically inner beauty. So much is hurled at us about our outward appearance; our size, shape, eye color, hair color, skin tone, you name it; someone, somewhere has decided what is and isn’t ok. W ewant to measure up to what culture has defined as beauty and I think it is terribly flawed and destructive.

Think for a moment about something that is uniquely you. Something that is a different, that might stand out. Is it your laugh, smile, eye or hair color? Do you have a unique sense of style or quirky sense of humor? Do you realize this unique part of you is a gift from God that sets you apart as special? You are His creation. Can you look at your uniqueness and begin to love it?

Read Psalm 139:13-18 and allow it into your mind and receive it in your heart.

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me.”

God took such time and attention to detail to personally create you. Your shape, size, sound of your voice, color of your hair and skin were all planned out as He carefully invested time and poured His breath and love into the person that you are. He is crazy about His design! Ephesians 2:10 says “for we are all God’s masterpiece. He created us anew in Christ Jesus so that we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”

More important to God, I think, is our inner beauty. I define inner beauty as the characteristics of Jesus; such as, gentleness, kindness, inclusivity, confidence, compassion, mercy, humility, forgiving, full of love and kindness.  These traits have the power to draw people to you, because they see Jesus shining through the vessel of your physical body. We all have a God sized space in our souls that longs to be known, loved and accepted. Only God can fill that void in our lives. The more we look like Jesus on the inside, the more beautiful we become on the outside.

Take a few minutes to think about the traits of inner beauty that you have been gifted. Are you patient and laid back or are you a confident, type A go-getter? Are you kind and merciful? Are you a dreamer or a realist? Are you a leader with a dynamic personality? Are you humble and gentle? Do you have compassion for those less fortunate? Are you an encourager? All these qualities are gifts given to you by a loving God who knows all of your strengths and  weaknesses. He doesn’t look on you with eyes of disappointment, frustration or annoyance. He created all of you and intimately knows your thoughts, struggles, fears; your areas of strength and weakness. In your weakness He is strong and He uses those areas to draw you closer to Him.

If you struggle to see yourself as a lovely, precious, beautiful creation on the inside and outside, I challenge you (this is for me too!) to ask God to be your mirror. Ask Him to reflect back to you, all the beauty and loveliness He sees when He looks at you. When He sees you, His unique and valuable creation, He sees all the potential He placed in you. He sees the time and effort He personally put in to creating you for very specific purposes. There is only one you and you are definitely enough. You are a gift, from our Creator, to the world and I pray you see yourself that way.

What would happen when you look in the mirror this week, if you refused to allow negative thoughts and words any space in your mind? What if you refuted every negative word, thought, or description of yourself that you harbor in your soul, with positive words and thoughts; you could only call out encouragement and goodness, as you protected your heart from caustic and castigating words?  Imagine what God is seeing in you and receive in your heart and soul, that what He sees, He is so incredibly proud of and so in deeply in love with. You are enough.

Zephaniah 3:17 “The Lord your God is with you, His power gives you victory. The Lord will take delight in you, and in His love He will give you new life. He will sing and be joyful over you.”