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…

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!

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!

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.

He is speaking. Can you hear Him?

Have you ever heard the comments, “God is closer than your next breath?”  or “God is always speaking to us?” Do you believe that? Have you heard that “still small voice” speaking to you?

As I sat outside on the patio this morning, my mind started wandering. It drifted through past conversations I’ve had with friends about this very thing. How does God speak to me, to you? Is He? How will I know if it’s God? I don’t know that I have the right answer, but I have a lot of thoughts about it and wanted to share what’s on my mind. I hope in the comments, you will share your thoughts and experiences as well, since we all have something to teach and something to learn.

There are those who have audibly heard the voice of God; an actual voice they heard with their physical ears. I’m not one of them. I would love to be, but I’m not; at least not yet. I believe that because our Creator made each of us in such unique and specific ways, we can’t say there is only ONE way to hear our Father’s voice.  We all interpret life and what we see, hear and feel very differently, according to our gifts, abilities, personalities and physical make up. It makes sense that we would sense our Creator’s voice in many varied ways.

Others in my circle of friends, hear His voice through very specific and detailed dreams and visions, where God is clearly showing them something important about life changes that are going to happen, the direction certain relationships are going, how they need to proceed in a certain area of their lives. I hear God this way, too. Not daily or even weekly; not in a consistent, regimented way, but He has spoken to me this way. When I was first dealing with the possibility of breast cancer, God gave me very detailed and specific dreams about it, so that I would know some of what was coming. He knows me so well, that He knew I would need this preparation; an advanced warning, so to speak.  It was a tremendous blessing to me and I am so grateful for the dreams He gave to me. It showed me that He is involved in every single thing that He filters through His hands and allows to touch my life. He knew cancer was going to be part of my story. He gave me some advance notice, because He knows how I operate. This is love.

Nature is one of the things in life that I love the most. I crave it. It is an essential part of my being, of my make –up. I feel the most alive and in touch with my Father when I am outdoors. My senses come alive and I am captivated and touched by all the sounds, scents, sensations. I have had my deepest times of communion with God, while outdoors in nature; whether it is the forest, a meadow, a trail I’m hiking, sitting on the beach or puttering in my own backyard. It isn’t an audible voice I hear, but it’s what I sense; like a spirit deep knowing that He is there and He is speaking. The brush of a gentle, playful breeze that cools my neck and ruffles my hair tells me that He cares, is always and ever-present. I hear Him speaking to me in the pounding surf and lapping waves; fear and wounding are drawn out and away in the swell of the waves as I pour out to Him all that is in my heart. The peace and awe that fall over me in the midst of the Redwoods; that glorious scent of pine, ancient growth and strength remind me of His power and creativity; that He has everything planned out that concerns me and mine; it isn’t necessarily safe and predictable, but it is good and right and promised. Sitting outside under the stars and the moon, I feel His majesty and His Lordship cover me like protective wings. He created what I see above me which is hard to comprehend, but He also created me and loves me. To me that feels so safe; I am protected and fiercely guarded. My Father’s eye is never off of me. His eye is never off of you.

Maybe you don’t believe that you have “heard” Him speak to you, but I challenge that. I really do. He speaks all the time to His creation.  Keep an open heart and open ears.  Slow down and allow yourself to hear Him. Ask Him how He wants to speak to you. I promise you He does. He has words for you and so much wisdom He desires to pour into you. But our Father God is a gentleman. He waits to be invited.  Will you let Him in?

Morning at the duck pond

 

 

The sun hasn’t been up for long, yet the pond is fully awake.

On a large moss covered rock in one corner of the pond, the cormorant is sunning itself; fully spread wings welcome the warm sun.

Turtles occupy a majority of the warming rocks and gnarled old roots, jutting up from the still water; always watching, always aware; stout legs and webbed feet stretched out to soak in the warmth.

As I wander closer to the pond’s edge, sleepy ducks regard me with curiosity, but they aren’t afraid; others doze on, with heads tucked into cozy, feathery wings.

The proud Canadian geese continue nibbling grassy tidbits and bugs as I stroll on by; a few venture a hiss or two, just to make sure we are on the same page.

The pond is still and quiet; yet it’s not.

Human noises are blessedly absent, but morning greetings and conversations are vivid and noisy; the rhythm of the pond is in full swing!

Cheerful, grounding, natural.  Life lessons can be learned here; the Divine is all around.

Along the grassy edge of the pond, small fish and tadpoles congregate in the warm shallows, as a ray of sun brings heat and light. Life.

My shadow causes a frantic, mass exodus, as they dart in a mass of tiny tails and fins to safer waters; ripples and bubbles marking their escape.

A large, silent turtle, with only the tip of its snout visible, is waiting; slowly submerging in an effortless swim to its breakfast. The ebb and flow of life on the pond.

Along the edge of the pond there is evidence of nests and bedded down reeds; a few delicate egg shell pieces and tufts of feathers and down. Home for a family of ducks; their safe place; warm and tucked away.

Moving along, the insistent chirping of a red-winged blackbird, signals that I am bit too close for comfort to his family home in the tall, fully leafed tree in front of me.

I move gingerly around this part of the pond, as he begins to dive and swoop at me; making it clear that I’m a visitor here. Respect.

Rounding one side of the pond, a mama and her ducklings dart and swim through the glass smooth water; nibbling up tidbits as they happily cluck and chatter to each other. She steers them toward the middle of the pond. Cautious.

The ripples they leave behind swirl and eddy, then disappear as the still water swallows them up. Calm restored.

Random splishes and splashes can be heard, as turtles slip into the water like small submarines; tiny, pointy heads can be seen as they break the surface to keep a sharp eye on the pond bank; scouts that watch and wait.

The green Heron, master fisherman, is tucked up and underneath the mass of reeds, on a thin root poking up through the water. He patiently waits in stillness and silence. He knows food is just below the surface and silently waits for his opportunity.  Patience.

A ripply movement catches my eye and I carefully make my way to the edge of the pond, curiosity brimming. Is it the river otter come back again; fishing and dining on crawdads and little fish?

No, it is a large, orangey, iridescent fish; the tail poking up and rippling the water like a miniature shark’s fin, as it roots in the murky, muddy water under the gnarled old tree, with the beautiful leafy branches.

I am captivated.

I sink to my feet watching it go about its business; gracefully moving and swishing as it searches for a treasure hidden in the murky pond.  Trust.

A sudden cacophony of honking and quacking, breaks apart the loudly peaceful pond, as a goose announces its displeasure; wings and webbed feet flapping and dashing into the pond, causing a few moments of panic and unrest as others follow suit.

Quickly, all is calm and everyone goes about their business, as if nothing has happened. Ritual, rhythm, order restored. Life at the pond.

The bench that is tucked in under the beautiful tree, with weepy branches skimming the water, beckons to me.

Resting here in the shade, I try to blend in quietly, allowing nature to return to its busy activities, and the turtles to relax their ever vigilant and rigid watch.

There is always one who stalks, silently tracking my movements.

As my eyes roam over this place I love, I notice that the trees and flowering plants are always reaching up to the sky, their source of life; branches and tender shoots going up, up.

Even in seasons of autumn and winter, when skies are grey and the sun seems scarce, always their branches seek light and reach upward. They know Who sustains them.

Some of these trees are gnarled and funky, with twists and crimps, bends and burned out, broken up places, yet up; they always point up.

There is a lot to learn out here at the duck pond.

The simplicity of creation looking to the Creator to protect, provide and sustain, as the seasons and cycles of life move ever onward.

My life resembles these tenacious trees, with their broken branches and crooked spots and their seasons of beauty and abundance, fully leafed and lovely.

Seasons come and go, ebb and flow as the divine tapestry of our lives are woven by a Master weaver; intersecting pain and beauty; abundance and lack. Always with arms and face lifted up to the Source of Life.