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…

Heart Words

Psalm 27:8 – My heart has heard You say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”

Challenges. Distractions. Life; with choices to make, priorities to set, goals to reach. Is life what makes some days hard to get through? Maybe no calamity befalls me or mine, maybe nothing life or death happens in a given day, but sometimes it does. Some days I feel a little hollow, disappointed, irritable; short changed, overlooked and misunderstood. I find myself spending time, probably too much time, pondering these hollow, worn out feelings, wondering who, what, why, when, how and where they are coming from and how to get rid of them.

So, I endeavor to “set aside” time for Jesus each day and fix this dilemma. I will read my Bible these many minutes or read X number of chapters and pray for this amount of time and then all will be well. I will start with thanksgiving, move on to confession and praying for all the needs of others, then I will pray for God to orchestrate my time and talent and use it for His good and glory.  That is the formula.  Right? There is absolutely nothing wrong with focused Bible study and structured time with God. Isn’t that what “everyone” says is the way to do it? So why is the formula not working? Why is the simmering, brewing frustration still there? Why is the discontent and irritation still bubbling and buffeting my heart and my spirit? It is a vague, foggy sense of something being off; like a miniscule rock stuck in your sock that you can’t quite find, but is so bothersome that it becomes the only thing you focus on, but never quite find.

With French Roast and some creamy foam in my favorite “ I LOVE MOM” mug, I found my spot at the patio table, with my Bible and all the necessary accompaniments at hand…and sat there. Nothing. Huh. As I sat, I noticed birds darting all over my yard, so content going about their business, exactly as God designed them to do and exactly how He created them. They sang. They squabbled. They moved on. They came back at a better time, to grab an open spot on the feeder. They didn’t sit and feel sad that they didn’t get the ideal spot on the feeder. They were creative in how they forced themselves into a space that at first glance, didn’t look possible.

This brought to mind Matthew 6:25 – “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? …But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Seek first the kingdom of God. Seek. How do I do that? My careful formula isn’t easing those feelings and isn’t filling those voids. And the formula isn’t always genuine. Ahhhh, there it is. Genuine. Real. Raw. Unscripted. These words are the exact opposite of formula, yet pierced my heart. I long for these words to be real in my relationship with Jesus. As the light breeze flipped the pages of my open Bible, Psalm 27 shows up. Specifically Psalm 27:8 – My heart has heard You say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” My Father is asking me to come and talk to Him and my heart is leaping at the chance to do that! Nothing needs to be scripted, plotted or planned. There is not a wrong way to come before my Daddy in heaven. He said, “Come and talk with me.” That speaks of intimacy, closeness, trust and desire to be fully known. This is what I really want, deep down inside of my essence, to be known in all the goodness, ick, loveliness, confusion, humor, talent, fear, failures, victories. Wouldn’t it be lovely to just be sometimes and not need to have a constant dialogue pouring from your mouth? When my son was younger, he often told me I use too many words and it exhausts him. It was funny and still is, but wow… that is truth right there! Too many words. How lovely, peaceful and restoring to be in the presence of my Father and not have to say words? Isn’t that what the heart is all about? Not words, big solutions and hour long flowery prayers, but presence, depth and intimacy that doesn’t always need an audible voice? Deep calling to deep; deep restoring, healing and transforming deep. I think I am finding my answers as I write this out. Yes, life is going to happen and I can’t do a thing about it. The balm that I need to soothe and let go of those hollow, disappointed, irritable; short changed, overlooked and misunderstood feelings is not going to be found in a rote formula and in getting the amount of time spent doing x,y,z just perfectly. No. My Father showed me His formula this morning on the patio in my everyday life, with my dogs nosing around the flower beds and birds scolding and singing. He asked my heart to come and hang out with Him for a bit and share what’s up. So, I will and I won’t say a word.

Praise in the Ordinary

What is praise? The dictionary gives it these definitions: the act of expressing approval or admiration; commendation; the offering of grateful homage in words or song, as an act of worship: a hymn of praise to God. What is worship?  Reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power; extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to.

I have had many opportunities to praise and worship the Lord Jesus Christ over the past several years. There are so many circumstances, health issues, family crises that He alone has brought me and my family through; not unscathed, but scarred, healed, grateful and thankful; forever changed in profound ways because of His intervention and miracles, His perfect timing, extravagant love and omnipotence. Those situations and circumstances will forever be etched into my mind, burned there. Those life situations are now an intimate and intricate part of who I am; they make up a deep part of my relationship with Jesus. Not easily forgotten or minimized, these profound supernatural interventions are part of my personal story, that I get the honor of sharing with others, with the hope of introducing them to Jesus, their savior and deep lover of their souls. These kinds of circumstances and situations are so obviously and wondrously worthy of all praise to God our Father, Jesus Christ our Savior, Holy Spirit our comforter, because we know like we know, like we know, that but for Him, there was no hope.

But what about the ordinary days, when nothing earth shattering happens, no crisis raises its horrible head, no blindsiding tragedy leaves us reeling and completely off balance? What about the days that we can call “good days”? This is something I have been giving a lot of head space to lately. What about those good days? Do I only practice praise when I’ve been delivered from a tragedy? God is worthy of my praise all the time; daily, no matter what that particular day will bring. What do we praise Him for, on a day with no tragedy, no arguments, or close calls? We praise Him for that very thing and everything else.  I want to be so thankful and mindful of Him and all the small, barely discernable ways that He is caring for me, organizing and weaving my life together, that I can’t not praise Him; just for life and another breath; for another day to sit outside on my patio with delicious coffee and the Finches at the birdfeeder, the dogs investigating the yard, the sun or rain, a gentle breeze that stirs my hair or a wild wind that is full of excitement! Praise is never wasted.  Never. I find that when I practice active praise my attitude shifts, I become aware of all He has done for me. It makes me content and happy and at peace.  I praise Him for the ways He directs my path and keeps me from harm that I am completely unaware of. Maybe I am 5 minutes late getting out of the house today, because He timed things perfectly for me to miss a terrible accident.  Absolutely praiseworthy. Maybe I have to run back to the grocery store for a forgotten item, because there is a woman outside the store that needs to feel seen; that I am supposed to smile at, buy her a sandwich and pray for her.  Praise to Him that I could be used by a mighty God to be His hands and feet to a fellow sojourner in need. Praise to God that He created so much natural beauty at the duck pond near my house, that it takes my breath away. Praise to Jesus that if I slow down, I can feel His touch in the sun and breeze on my face. Praise to the Creator who delights in painting beautiful landscapes, sunrises and sunsets, just so He can delight me and bring me joy. Praise to the One who knows me so intimately, who knows that some days I need to just sit by a warm fire, under a blanket, with my purring cat, and just be and He arranges that just for me.  To me, this is praise in the ordinary and I want to be a praising woman. Can you and I look around today with fresh eyes, aware that all around us are wonderful praiseworthy things and amazing praiseworthy people, created just for us by our Father, for our delight and our joy? Can we take a few minutes and praise Him and thank Him for the ordinary blessings He lavishes on us? I think that would delight Him to no end!

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?

Call Upon the Lord

Call Upon the Lord

The song Call upon the Lord by Elevation Worship has been on repeat for a few weeks now (lyrics below).  I cannot get enough of it. I play it over and over again. Its theme will never get old, out dated, or worn out. Call upon the Lord and He WILL rescue and save; He WILL bring peace and healing.

“We need no other hiding place. Our hope is safe within Your name.” This is so beautiful. When we are tired, worn out or weary, Jesus is our hiding place.  His covering blocks out the noise, chaos, fear and uncertainty that the world relentlessly shouts. In His presence, we don’t have to listen to it. Our hope for safety, to be rescued, for healing and restoration, for receiving forgiveness and offering it to others, is all safe with Jesus. He won’t crush our hope; He restores it.  He won’t dash or mock our dreams; He planted them inside us and expands them and opens doors that only He can; He doesn’t withhold and punish; He died in our place, so we could have life with Him forever.   The hope and faith that He hears me, sees me and knows me; every single situation, wound, heart break and victory, which fashioned me into who I am, kept me hanging on through some heavy trauma and pain I have experienced.  Knowing that what He began He WILL sustain; knowing that Jesus has a plan and purpose behind my wounds brings hope. Those wounds are now scars, because of His healing.  I’m not anonymous, forgotten or forsaken.  In fact, I am so deeply known that I am free! Jesus’ name heals.  He alone is strong enough to save. There is power in the name of Jesus.

At His name “every enemy will flee, as we declare Your victory!” Jesus is our victory. He defied death, defeated the enemy of our souls once and for all, and He offers life to all who call His name. He is right there next to you, as you read these words. He is the breath in your lungs, the beat of your heart. There is nothing about you He doesn’t already know. No secrets with Jesus. He sees you; He sees me. He alone breaks down every stronghold we erect to protect and wall ourselves away from pain. He knows why those walls were erected. He was there. He watched us build them. The pain you and I try to hide with our walls, break His heart. Your walls probably look different than mine. A wall could look like pride, arrogance, self-reliance, fear, needing to be right, promiscuity, coldness, being shut off from others, sarcasm, humor, obsession with our looks, weight and appearance, and the list could go on. Jesus knows better than we do, why we felt we needed those walls.  He waits to be invited into our lives. He is a gentleman.  He doesn’t force Himself. Jesus will meet every need we have, even that niggling, ever present pricking, that we don’t fully understand; He does. He is enough.

In my own life, I have experienced healing and restoration from things so broken and devastated, I honestly never thought any of it could be healed or restored. I heard Jesus speak to my spirit and say words so similar to these lyrics, “RISE! Your shackles are no more, for I (Jesus Christ) have broken every chain!” He has, He did and He continues to do it. I found freedom.  Those lyrics mean so much to me. I am not sure I can accurately describe the beauty of it, the freedom, the peace and safety that I feel way down deep. I’m not sure it is describable, honestly, because we have all walked different paths and experienced different wounds,  but let me assure you, once you let go and allow yourself to experience His healing, you will never be the same. Yes, you will come face to face with pain, disappointment and fear, because that is life on this planet. But know that Jesus is right there with you, as close as your next breath and will cover you with peace that passes all understanding, if you allow Him in. If you ask Him, He will give you wisdom and guidance to navigate everything life will throw at you.  He will take your ashes and give you beauty, He will give you joy for your sadness and change out that robe of heaviness for a light and lovely garment of praise. It really is supernatural, and guess what? It’s a gift!

I would be honored to hear your stories of Jesus’ saving, healing, shackle- breaking power in your life, if you would like to share.

“I will call upon the Lord, for He alone is strong enough to save….”

Call Upon the Lord by Elevation Worship

We need no other hiding place                        All of the heavens and the earth

Our hope is safe within your name                Announce the fullness of your worth

This we know, this we know                            This we know, this we know

You promise never to forsake                          And every enemy will flee

What you began you will sustain                    As we declare your victory

This we know, this we know                           This we know, this we know

I will call upon the Lord                                     I will call upon the Lord

For he alone is strong enough to save           For he alone is strong enough to save

Rise your shackles are no more                        Rise your shackles are no more

For Jesus Christ                                                      For Jesus Christ

Has broken every chain                                       Has broken every chain

Jesus’ name will break every stronghold

Freedom is ours when we call his name

Jesus’ name above every other

All hail the power of Jesus’ name

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.