Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Unlimited Offer

I am always amazed at various cell phone companies which offer "unlimited minutes, data and text."  When looking more closely at the offer, however, one often finds there is a limit to the "unlimited."  
With our particular carrier, "unlimited data" means we can still have data coverage after we have used up to a certain amount, but it is a much slower data plan.  Slow as in s-l-o-w.
I am so glad that Christ's "unlimited" really is unlimited.  His eternal life really is forever.  His everlasting life really has no end.  He will do exactly what He has promised to do.
"For God so loved the world,
but have everlasting life."
John 3:16

The Time to Pray

The other night I knew we were going to be busy at work, because this time of year patients want to be delivered before the holiday comes and often doctors are only too happy to oblige them.  It was already busy when we left that morning and there were more cases scheduled to come in.   I went to bed dreading the next shift and it was the first thought as I awoke.

My friend Tammye must have felt the same way.  We were in the break-room prior to heading out to the nurses' station and she asked me to pray for us before the start of our shift.  Her simple request humbled  and shamed me at the same time.  

I had spent plenty of time dreading this night, I had even spent time thinking about what we would do to handle the heavy load, but I don't recall praying about it even once.  

How often do I do this?  How often do I let fear or dread take a hold of my heart and never even let the thought of prayer enter in?  Knowing what we do about prayer, knowing how precious our prayers are to the Lord, why is that not my first thought, my first action?

I hope to have learned a great lesson from my dear friend Tammye and seek the Lord's wisdom and guidance before sinking into the temptation to dread and fear.   There is only One source for true comfort, true joy and true peace and His ear is always listening for the sweet sound of the prayers of His children.

"Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto Thee will I pray.
My voice shalt Thou hear in the morning, O LORD; 
in the morning will I direct my prayer unto Thee, and will look up."
Psalm 5: 2, 3

Monday, December 1, 2014


The other day we were sharing a cup of coffee at our favorite coffee shop and the manager passed by.  Glen had heard from one of the other employees that this young gentleman and his wife had recently had a baby, and he inquired as to how mother and baby were doing.

"As well as can be expected," was his surprising response.

It turns out the baby had to be delivered quite early because of a medical condition with the mother.  As he spoke to us about his daughter's time in the neonatal intensive care, I noticed the pink, white and blue band on his wrist.

Being a Labor & Delivery nurse, I knew that this band identified him as the baby's father.  It was -- as I have joked with many a new dad -- his "ticket" into the nursery.  I knew also that he would wear that pink and blue bracelet everywhere he went.  He would not remove it because the only way to do so was to cut it off, thereby removing any chance of being able to get in to visit his daughter.  He was willing to wear a bracelet splattered with pink and blue designs because of his love for and his desire to be with, his daughter.

As I looked at the bracelet on his wrist, I thought of Another who was willing to go through any embarrassment, pain and suffering to be identified with His sons and daughters.

 "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man.For it became Him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings."Hebrews 2: 9, 10

Our Lord has chosen to forever identify Himself with the humanity He came to save.  He returned to heaven, not only a spirit, but a resurrected, glorified man and will forever bear that humanity to show that we are His children.

I love the way one preacher said it, "Christ is as much God as if He were not man and as much man as if He were not God."  Or more simply as another said, "There is a Man, Christ Jesus, on the throne of heaven today."

Our identification with Him has nothing to do with what we have done, just as this manager's daughter did nothing to receive his identification with her.  We are born into the family of God by faith in what His Son has done and by that alone.  He is the Author and Finisher of our faith, our salvation and the eternal and everlasting joy we will know with Him as His sons and daughters.

"Looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith: 
who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, 
and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.   
For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, 
lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds."  
Hebrews 12: 2, 3

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Not Seen

The other morning I left work and was surprised by how cold it was.  The wind whipped around and through me necessitating that I duck into the lobby of the Heart Care Building adjacent to the hospital while I waited for Glen to pick me up.

This building has a foyer with sliding glass doors and glass windows.  I stood right up next to the window, shielded from the wind, but in clear view of all who would pass by.  The drive in front of the foyer is a frequent place for physicians to use because it leads directly to their parking places.  In fact, I saw a couple of our obstetricians drive past while I waited.  None of them, nor anyone else using this drive while I was there, were at all aware of my presence.  To them, I was not only unseen, I was not seen, even though I was mere feet from them.

The Scriptures tell us that the truths of the Lord are clearly manifest in His creation all around us:

"For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and  Godhead; so that they are without excuse," (Romans 1:20.)

How often do we pass by all the things which point to the Lord in His creation and never even begin to see Him in it?  It is my belief that every blade of grass, every petal of every flower, ever leaf in some way point out the power, majesty and wonders of our Lord, yet the truths they display are often not seen by our mortal eyes.  Perhaps when we as Christians enter into His glory, we will look back on the "invisible things from Him" and be astounded at the truths that were all around us, but our eyes never saw.  Every place our eyes rest will manifest "even His eternal power and Godhead."

Let us expect to see the truths of our Lord all around us.

"For in Him we live, and move, and have our being;
(Acts 17:28.)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Girl To Girl

On our recent vacation we stayed with our friends Tom and JJ in Tennessee and Bryan and Peggy in Georgia.

Late October is the perfect time to visit Tennessee and northern Georgia and the colors of the trees were outstanding.  But more outstanding was the time we spent with these dear friends.  I found myself learning some great lessons on this vacation.

Tom and William Webb

We have known Tom for over twenty years, and came to know JJ when she and Tom were courting.  She is perhaps one of the sweetest people I have ever known.  I had the great joy, honor and pleasure of taking care of them for the birth of their first child, William.

(You can read the story of that day on the blog Your Labor Room.)

In spite of having two young children, ages 11 and 8, and homeschooling them, JJ was the epitome of hospitality and graciousness.  There was nothing I might have needed -- or wanted -- that she had not already provided, or was jumping up to get before I even thought I wanted it.

Me, JJ and Erin
I remember the morning we left for our section hike on Mt. LeConte and the Appalachian Trail, she had boiled several eggs for me.  I thought kindly of her graciousness as I ate them on the side of the trail that day.  Her humble, servant spirit taught me much of the gift of caring for others.

At only eight, you might think there wasn't much I could learn from Erin, but you would be wrong.  On our first evening there she came up to both me and Glen and asked what our favorite colors were.  This was because she was going to make us each a rubber-band friendship bracelet.  Once she gave us both our bracelets we told her we would pray for her each time we saw them.  We wore them until they broke and now they will become a part of my very unusual Christmas Tree.

When I looked at her collection of colorful rubber bands, I told her it would be something my granddaughter would like and that I would have to buy her some.

"Oh, no!" was the eight-year-old's response, "I have more than enough.  Let me give you some for her." Then she filled a ziplock bag full of colorful rubber bands for Emma.

"Tell her to go on YouTube and see how to do it with her fingers," she continued, making sure Emma would have the instruction she would need to make her bracelets.  I was so impressed, not only by her overflowing generosity, but by the fact she wanted to make sure Emma would know how to make the bracelets as well.

The night before we were to leave, I was packing in our room and Erin came in to chat.  She climbed up on the bed and we talked about this and that.  Suddenly, she raised up and said, "Oh, am I keeping you from anything?"

The maturity of that question coming from an eight-year-old astounded me.  There are many adults who don't have the courtesy or maturity to ask that question.  I could not reply in any other way except, "No, all I have to do is sit and chat with you."

Erin and JJ were great teachers even when they didn't mean to be.  Their sweet hearts and thoughts toward the Lord helped make them wonderful vehicles for His love, grace and tenderness.

After our time with Tom and JJ, we traveled to northern Georgia and stayed with Bryan and Peggy.  Once again, the hospitality and welcome shown to us was incredible.  Since Bryan had to work while we were there, we spent most of our time with Peggy.   We walked around her neighborhood and she graciously came with us while we ran some errands.  We chatted with her as she cooked delicious meals for us, and we then demanded the recipes.

I watched Peggy as she greeted people both in her neighborhood and around the general public.  Her response was always the same, a huge smile and a voice and tone that resonated genuine caring.  She was a model to me of thoughtfulness and caring to those around her.  She didn't just save that beautiful, big smile for her friends and neighbors, she showered it abundantly upon everyone she met.

Me and Peggy
Peggy made me feel welcome from the very first second.  It was as if we were sisters who had been separated from birth.  At one point, I felt so much at home, I just got down on the floor with their dog Sheba and loved on her, since our beagle Sparrow was back at home.  It didn't matter to me that I was sprawled out on the floor of the foyer or that I was becoming covered with tan dog hair. (That reminds me of a sign a saw in a store once, "Dog hair, the perfect fashion accessory.")

There is so much more I could write of how these women (and girl) impressed me, encouraged me and challenged me during our visit. (Tom, William and Bryan were also this way, but this post is all about girls!)

It is truly a blessing to fellowship with other women who love the Lord, strive to serve and please Him in all they do and live an example of that to all those around them.

"I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 
Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, 
For you fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; 
Being confident of this very thing, 
that He which hath begun a good work in you 
will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ."  
Philippians 1: 3-6

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Season of Gifts

We are entering the season of gifts.

My family is already discussing what gifts we want to give to whom.  Our youngest daughter strives to not only pick out the most perfect gift for each person, but she considers the wrapping and presentation to be as important as the gift.  Often, her gifts are so beautifully wrapped, I almost hate to disturb it to get to the gift inside.

How would she feel if, after handing me a gift, I set it down, went to my purse and pulled out a handful of dollars to pay her for the gift.  I can tell you how she would feel. . .she would be hurt, she would be a bit ticked off and she would not understand why I felt I needed to pay for my gift.

From Merriam-Webster:
Gift:  something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation.

The first step in accepting a gift is acknowledging it is a gift, that there is no compensation needed.  In fact, if we give compensation for a gift, then it has become not a gift, but a wage. . .something we have earned.

We accept by faith that the person is willingly giving us whatever the gift is to be used for our enjoyment, use or benefit and we owe them nothing in return.  How like our God who is infinite in mercy, grace and love to make our salvation not something we must strive to attain, but rather a gift freely given.

"But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.

Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life." Romans 5:15,18

"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Romans 6:23

During this Christmas season, each time we see a gift, let us use that as a trigger to thank the Lord for His glorious gift of salvation, for the most wonderful Gift we could have ever been given - His dear Son, and for the eternal life which has been given to us through His life, death and resurrection.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Power of an Endless Life

Have you ever noticed that the older your cell phone batteries are the shorter they hold their charge?

Keeping our phones charged can be a real challenge. I actually have extra batteries for both mine and Glen's phones because we use them so often during the day for the things we do.

For my last birthday my son gave me an external battery.  It can charge my cell phone two or three times and it can charge my tablet as well.  It has been such a great help to me when I needed some power and my phone is warning me of it's upcoming demise.

There is One, however, who has infinite power.  Greater still, it is said of Him that He has the "power of an endless life."

"And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest, Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life.  For He testifieth, 'Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.' "
Hebrews 7: 15-17

My tiny little brain cannot begin to fathom the depths of that phrase, "the power of an endless life."  To think of an endless anything is difficult, even it it were something pleasant.  But to consider the power of an endless life. . .that truly is amazing.

As Christians, we have been promised everlasting life.  The Scriptures tell us this, in perhaps the most loved and well-known verse in all the Bible:

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."  John 3:16

But our lives will not be "endless" because they have a beginning.  There was a point --for me on September 2, 1957-- when we "began."  Christ has no such beginning.  Before His incarnation as a human, He lived in eternity with His Father and the Holy Spirit in perfect unity.

Christ has no beginning. He has no ending.

An endless life, indeed.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Setting the Record Straight

A website I visited the other day asked me to choose the answer to a preset  the security question, "Who is your favorite fictional character?"

Being an Austen fan, and a lover of Jane Eyre, I had plenty of names to choose from.  I knew, however, that since this character needed to be one I would remember if I returned to this site perhaps even months from now, it had to be someone who stands out above all others.

There were only two who met that criteria:  Snoopy and Scrooge.

Snoopy on parade

Glen and I love Snoopy because we are beagle people.  Over the years we have had four beagles, two of which were the most incredible dogs we have, and could ever, own.  Grunt and Sparrow would make even Snoopy proud.  

The choice of Scrooge, however, may surprise you.  We are not just great beagle fans, we are great Dickens fans, and especially the story, "A Christmas Carol."  We love it in print, we love it in film (we prefer the version with Alastair Sim) and since last year in New York, we love it on the stage.

Alastair Sim in "A Christmas Carol"
Among all the characters in "A Christmas Carol" some may wonder why I would pick a miserly,  curmudgeon of an old man. You see, Scrooge may have started out that way, but he didn't end that way.  During  his visits by the Spirits, he came to see he could not continue in his life of selfish independence and abhorrence of the ministrations of others if he was to escape the consequences when his life ended.  

In his discourse with the last spirit he sought the intercession of the spirit, to no avail. He promised to not be the man he was, but still no freedom from the haunting Spirit of Christmas Future.  It was only when he turned his gaze from himself, and what he thought he could do to change himself, toward Heaven that he was transformed:

"Holding up his hands in a last prayer to have his fate aye reversed, he saw an alteration in the Phantom's hood and dress. It shrunk, collapsed, and dwindled down into a bedpost."

Upon awaking, and finding himself safely back in his own bedroom, he proclaimed, "Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this.  I say it on my knees, old Jacob, on my knees!"

In the end, "it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge."

Scrooge represents us all.  We want to try so much to reclaim ourselves.  We want to do something to make ourselves good enough to please God.  But nothing we can try, not the very best or greatest amount of works, can secure our salvation.

"But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He love us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.  For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast."
In the end, we -- like Scrooge-- must bow our hearts to the only One who can and has secured our salvation.  We must accept by faith His free gift and give ourselves wholly to Him.  It is then He creates in us a "clean heart," He begins the process of transforming us into the image of "His dear Son," and He adopts us into His family to forever be His Sons and daughters.

"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: 
old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."  
2 Corinthians 5:17

The question is not, how did you begin, but how will you end?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Home Repairs That Never End

Years ago my sister showed me some renovations done to her master bedroom and bathroom.  I remember she said she was glad that they had the work hired to be done instead of doing it themselves.  Her reason for this was that "home repairs are never really finished."

She was correct.  I have noticed every home project I have ever ventured into seems to have some lingering detail which never commands attention enough to get it completed.  They never seem to be, well, finished.

I am so glad the same can't be said for the renovation project the Lord Jesus Christ started with our redemption.  He chose to leave the glories of heaven, to leave the presence of His Father.  He chose to be born as a helpless baby in a humble manger.  He lived a life as a carpenter.

He also lived a sinless life.  Can any of us truly comprehend this. . .a completely sinless life?  Not a wrong deed, not a wrong thought ever in thirty-three years.

He died on a brutal cross, forsaken by man, forsaken by His God.  In the end He cried out, "It is finished!"

And it was.  Finished. . .totally and completely.  Not the slightest, tiniest detail left undone.  It was a perfect sacrifice made by a perfect Man.

"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:  But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:  And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.  Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name:  That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;  And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."     Philippians 2:5-11

Friday, November 14, 2014

Her Side of the Mountain

Friends, many of you know that several weeks ago Glen and I traveled to Tennessee and Georgia to visit with friends and to attempt our first venture into hiking and backpacking.  Glen wrote his thoughts on our first hiking experience, which can be read at The Special of the Day. . .From the Orange Moon Cafe,  He encourage me to do so as well, so here it is... 

Glen & Frances' Excellent Adventure
Her Side of the Mountain

Our hiking trip did not begin with our departure for the Great Smokey Mountains. It began months before with all the reading, researching and planning entailed in a multi-day backpacking trip, especially for those who have never even hiked or camped before.

 I read countless reviews on various pieces of gear, compared backpacks and tents, stoves and sleeping pads. I poured over maps and read forums. I began to -- very slowly -- collect the smaller pieces of gear.  Each piece was measured, not only for weight (because when you carry everything on your backs, weight becomes a critical issue) but also for importance.  Was the item something we absolutely needed, might need or something we just wanted?  Or more importantly, was it something which could be left behind all together?

Since we were not even sure we would be fond of hiking once we finished our adventure, we rented the larger, more expensive pieces, from an excellent company in Arizona, LowerGear. For less than we could have purchased one single piece we were able to rent two backpacks, two sleeping bags and a tent, including shipping both ways.

In the days before we left, I amassed all our gear in the living room to divide it as equally between the two packs as possible.  Then the packs were loaded. How a backpack is loaded can be as important as the weight in the pack, as we were to learn practically on the trail.

Finally, we left for the Tennessee home for our friends, Tom & JJ, where we were to spend the night prior to starting our hike. Getting lost on the way to their house did not bode well for our navigational skills the next day.  

We hardly had time to visit with our friends before it was time for bed, but I slept only fitfully.  All the myriads of details I had studied over the last seven months started flooding my brain.  Did I forget something?  Was I sure I knew the route?  Would it have been better if we had practiced more with the tent?  They were like mosquitoes encircling my head.

Morning came and nervously I dressed.  It was a cold morning and we were layered pretty well for those living in the sub-tropics.  I almost felt out of place with the cold weather clothes on, but I felt out of place for more than just my clothes.

We had never done anything remotely like this.  We had walked literally thousands of miles between us in the last ten months.  We had walked all the hills available to us in town which at it's highest point is 240 feet above sea level. Most of our walking was done between our house (at 42 ft above sea level) and the downtown area (a mere 3 ft above sea level.)  Whether we were as prepared as we should have been or not, the moment was upon us.  Perhaps it was this uncertainty which led me to forgo breakfast.  

JJ drove us to the trail-head through the curving streets first in Maryville and then through the mountains themselves.  The roads revealed a gorgeous display of greens and yellows and golds all offering the promise of an even greater color show to come, but I was too nervous to notice much.  I was also hoping my nervousness didn't show.

When we reached the trail-head it was time to put on our gear.  I was pleased with the final weight of our backpacks, Glen's was 25 pounds and mine 24.  I felt this was the result of all the reading and studying I had done in the prior months. . .or had I forgotten something?  Maybe something really important?

 Backpacks on and trekking poles in our hands, we had to look around to find the path to the trail.  I had noticed another group of hikers heading toward one end of the  parking lot and followed their lead feeling  every bit the novice I was.   Soon we were standing at the marker for the Alum Cave Trail.

A few minutes into the trail and we both remarked how much we enjoyed it.  The weather was cold, the air crisp and thin (especially compared to the humid air from which we had come.)  This part of the trail was marked with very interesting geological features and the path relatively easy. Next to the path was a beautiful stream which created lovely little waterfalls here and there and added a soothing sound to the rhythm of our trekking poles striking the ground.  We crossed this stream, and others, over log bridges.  We entered a small arch which made a sort of tunnel in the rock and  climbed on steps hewn out of the rock.

We stopped at one point for a break and a bite to eat.  As we ate, we chatted with others who were also traveling up the trail.  Later we passed them and were passed by them as well.  There was not a soul we encountered who was not polite and friendly.

We made our way up to a part of the trail that gave exceptional views of the mountains in front of us.  Looking off to those peaks it was easy to understand why so many want to consider this part of the country their home.

For part of the trail, cables were attached to the rocky side of the mountain with huge eye-bolts.  While the trail was not really so difficult that the cables were needed here, they would become essential later on.

Eventually we made our way to Alum Cave, which is the turn-around spot for many who hike this trail 
and roughly halfway to the summit.  We met a very interesting man and his niece and she volunteered to take our picture, a picture which is now my favorite of us ever taken.

It seemed too soon that we began the trail to the summit.  This trail is a series of switchbacks, which are designed to make steep hills easier to climb and also helps protect the hill and the trail from excessive erosion.  Even with the switchbacks, the trail was much steeper than that which we had previously hiked.  

At this point, the cables in the mountain rock were essential because the trail was narrow, 
wide enough for one, but not for two side by side. The narrow path was  edged with a precipitous drop down the side of the mountain.  Frequently I noticed water dropping from the mountain side onto the trail, making the rocks on the trail much more difficult to traverse with sure footing.
Our path was also frequently blocked by fallen trees.  Some were small enough to step over.  Some were high enough off the path to step under.  For some, we had to remove our packs, drop them over the side of the trees and slide along the ground under the tree.

The number of other hikers on the trail was diminishing, although we did encounter a few every now and then.  The views from this trail were breath-taking, but I couldn't spare any breath for views, I was using more than my share for hiking.  I couldn't spare my eyes either, since the rocky path made it necessary to fix our gaze in front of us. 
View from Mt. LeConte

At one point I carefully planted my left foot on one rock and, what I thought, carefully planted my right foot on another rock.  But the second rock was wet and slippery and my leg shot out to the right over-stretching the muscles.  It wasn't long after that my right knee began to ache and sting with each step, especially the steps down.

This path was so narrow, and so steep, we had no place to rest or eat.  At one point we did stop at a hairpin turn in the path and rested for a few minutes.  Other hikers came by at that point and it was a challenge to find somewhere to stand so that we could be out of their way, but not too close to the edge of the path.

Before long we reached the Mt. LeConte Lodge and Shelter.  This was where we were originally going
Hilltops, the summit of Mt. LeConte
to stop for the night, but the shelter was closed for bear activity and the wait for Lodge reservations is well over a year.  There we encountered again two brothers we had met down trail.  As we chatted with them, I totally forgot this was the place to refill our water supply.  We trudged on up the trail and soon came to the anti-climatic summit of Mt. LeConte.  There is no view to be seen here, only a huge pile of rocks.   We had little time to congratulate ourselves on our achievement because we still had almost six miles to go before sunset, more than we had already hiked.

Our route to the summit of Mt. LeConte

We headed to the Boulevard  Trail, which shall forever be known in my mind as the Outer Circle of Dante's Inferno. 

Boulevard trail connects Mt. Le Conte and the Appalachian Trail. It is a rolling trail following a narrow ridge with steep forested slopes on both sides.  We saw only one other hiker along the length of this trail.  I'm glad, because I would have hated to have witnesses for the staggering, stumbling and slipping we did on that trail. . . and that was the good part!

Our route along the Boulevard Trail

The Boulevard trail is a series of ups and downs.  We rarely seemed to notice the downs, although I do remember quite a few deep drops.  At one point I decided it was better, with my aching knee, to just sit on the trail and go down on my behind (like a toddler going downstairs) than to try to negotiate the large step.

Somewhere along the Boulevard Trail, we had the conversation that we hated hiking.  In fact, I believe we repeated this mantra emphatically several times as our strength faded and our moods soured.  It reminds me of the verse in Psalms, "complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed."

About halfway along this trail, Glen began to have sudden, severe leg cramps. I watched in helplessness as he fell to the trail, his face twisted in pain.    He would manage to stand up again and another cramp would take him to the ground.  With his cramps and my knee, I wondered if we would just spend the night on this cold, rocky trail.  Then he realized his cramps were probably because he had not taken in enough water.  It is easy not to realize how much moisture one loses when breathing heavily, and I know I had been breathing that way for several miles.  He drank the remainder of one of his water bottles and felt better after a few minutes.  We started along the trail and again he was struck with painful cramps, though not as severe as before.  He drank the rest of his other water bottle. Thinking I could easily refill his bottles from the reservoir in my pack, I drank some water only to realize that mouthful constituted the last of our water.  We had miles to go and no water.

At this point, any time I stood still, which I had to do to look at the map, the muscles in my thighs would quiver and shake.  I realized we had three desperate needs and no way of meeting those needs ourselves.  We needed water, and the spring was miles away at the shelter.  We needed strength to even make it to the shelter as we were physically exhausted.  And we needed light to find the shelter.  I know Glen was fervently praying for these needs just as I was.

We continued on what seemed an eternity of inclines and ascents, twists and turns in the trail.  We just knew at the next turn the trail would level out and we would be at the Appalachian Trail.  Looking at the map though, it seemed we had as far to go as we had come.  At one point I remember making a desperate promise to the Lord, "Lord it you get me off this mountain, I promise I will NEVER set a foot on it again!"

It was several minutes later I heard it. . . easily distinguished among the soft sounds of the mountain was the sound of running water.  I could tell a stream was running down the side of the mountain, but it was so steep I also knew if we somehow managed to bushwhack our way down to it, we would never have the strength to climb the ascent back up.  So we trudged on, we continued to slip, to fall, and to falter.  At one point Glen, now several feet in front of me, informed me that the trail ahead was "just another incline."  

I responded with a despondent, "I don't think I can take another step uphill."  But he shouted encouraging words. . . something to the effect that I had no choice. 

We continued on.

After a while, I not only heard the water, but I could barely make out the sparkling of it ahead.  I felt like Dorothy outside the Emerald City, "Oh, let's run!"  My exhausted legs would not let me come near a run or even a trot, but my pace did pick up heading toward that water.

Several feet later, we came upon a beautiful stream cascading down from the rocks in the mountain.  It pooled along the area of the path and then continued cascading downward.  I knelt down in the stream, not caring that my trail runners were being soaked, and easily filled the water bag reserved solely for water which needed to be purified.  We collected almost five liters of water.  It only took a few minutes to filter it, refill our water bottles and the reservoir in my pack.  The cold, fresh water tasted better than any other drink I could imagine. . .except for maybe a hot cup of coffee.

Refreshed with the mountain water, we continued on.  At each turn in the path I looked for a good place for us to camp but our path was on a ridge with no flat, rock-free place to pitch our tent.  The only flat place we had encountered was the stream.

Even with the water, I was quickly running out of strength.  Looking at the map, it seemed we had so much more trail to traverse before reaching our shelter.  I thought that at some time I would just drop on the ground and not be able to get back up.  At this point I was ahead of Glen on the trail.  It was then the simple chorus came into my mind.  I began to first sing it in my head:

"Lord, you are more precious than silver,
Lord, you are much finer than gold,
Lord, you are more beautiful than diamonds,
And nothing I desire compares with You."

Then I began to sing it aloud.  As I started each phrase, I planted both of my trekking poles in the ground and literally pulled myself forward with my arms. (Which explains why my upper abdominal muscles were so sore the next day.)  As I sang, I began to feel stronger.  As I felt stronger, I sang louder.  I could tell the Lord was answering another prayer. . .just as He had provided the mountain stream in an unexpected place, He was quickening our mortal bodies.  Now all we needed was enough light.

We made a hairpin turn in the path that was easy to recognize on the map.  The amount we had to go seemed significantly shorter now.  Then, almost before I expected it to be there, we came to point where the Boulevard trail meets the Appalachian Trail.  I have never wanted to kiss a sign more in my life.  Not just because it was the Appalachian Trail (which I have dreamed of hiking for years) but because it also said "Ice Water Spring Shelter  .2 miles."  

Only .2 miles to our rest.

Once we started on the Appalachian Trail, it was like night and day.  This path is well maintained, thanks to the  Appalachian Trail Conservatory and local groups and volunteers along its 2181 miles.  If our whole hike had been like this, I am sure we would have had a better experience our first day.

Ice Water Spring Shelter
Quickly we came to the shelter and as we walked up to the three-sided building a young lady informed us, "We are full here."  This shelter only sleeps 12 and there were quite a few people mingling around.  We had reservations for two spots in the shelter (actually only a wooden platform with a roof and three walls) but it had been my prayer all along that the shelter would be full and we could tent instead.

Two other tents were already set up in front of the shelter, so we picked the space between them.  I made the mistake of not looking the area over carefully and was to spend the night regretting my haste.

We pitched our tent without any problems, even better than we had done in our living room, in fact.  I told Glen that I would be glad to cook us some dinner (we had our own portable stove and fuel) but he knew I was exhausted.  We both agreed to eat our non-cook foods, so we had a dinner of granola bars, peanut-butter crackers and nuts.  We cleaned up, changed clothes and snuggled into our sleeping bags with plenty of light left.

Every need we had asked the Lord for, He had abundantly supplied.  We had collected enough water so that we didn't need to refill once we reached the shelter.  We made it to the shelter with plenty of strength to pitch our tent and prepare for bed.  And we had light even after we crawled into our sleeping bags.

That night there were many people sleeping well at the shelter.  I know this because I could hear them snoring.  I was not one of them.  It was not sleeping outside, or in a tent, nor even the chorus of snorers which kept me awake.  In fact, I quite liked the soft, rustling sounds of the mountain.  There were three other things keeping me from sleep.

One was the continual pain in my knee.  My mummy-style sleeping bag made it difficult for me to position my leg in any way that was comfortable.  Every turn was incredibly painful.  But I had to change positions often because the other two things keeping me awake were two rocks under our tent positioned right under my hips.  I know I could have just turned around in the tent, but at that time I was in too much pain and too exhausted to even consider that an option.

We woke early to a cloudy start to the next day.  The view from our tent reinforced that we were in the
View from our tent
"Smokey" mountains.  We changed clothes and I made coffee for us.  It was the most delicious thing I had put in my mouth in 24 hours.  Then, being the good southern girl that I am, I made grits.

After we had eaten, we packed up our gear.  Glen mentioned that his pack had been really putting pressure on his shoulders the day before which told me the contents of his pack needed to be adjusted.  I had meant to do that before we started, but just forgot about it in the excitement of getting on the trail.  I rearranged the contents of his pack, which he said made it feel much better.  It was a amazing to me, that I never had any perception of the my 24 pound pack being heavy.  I don't even think I thought about my pack much at all.  I think that speaks well of the construction and quality of backpacks today.

I could not say the same for my own body.  When I stood to walk, I couldn't bend my knee.  I had to have Glen walk beside me because I was afraid if I tripped on a root or rock, I would fall.  When we returned to the tent, we had to kneel down to remove the poles and dismantle the tent.  In doing so, the muscles in my injured leg started to stretch out.  When I stood, I could not only bend my knee, but I could walk much more easily.

By the time we had packed up all our gear, all the younger people who had stayed at the shelter had left.  All that was left were us "older folks."  Among these were a set of three brothers who were hiking together.  When we told them what we had done the day before, they told us that was a difficult hike for even experienced hikers.  That made me feel much better. . .if it was difficult for people who knew what they were doing, no wonder it was so brutal for us!

We had already decided to change our hiking plans.  Originally, we were going to go northbound on the Appalachian Trail for three more days and JJ would pick us up at Davenport Gap.  But we didn't know what my knee was going to do, and we didn't know the difficulty or steepness of the trail ahead.  This was our one opportunity for making changes.  If we continued northbound we would be bound to continue for the whole three days.

If we headed southbound, however, we would have about three miles until we reached road access where JJ could come and pick us up at Newfound Gap.  One obvious benefit of this plan, besides sparing my knee, was that we would have two more days to visit with our friends.

We decided on the southbound route towards Newfound Gap.  This was like night and day from the
Appalachian Trail
day before.  Again, I felt like Dorothy, "Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."  In fact, not only were we not in Kansas, we were in two states, actually walking the ridge with one foot in North Carolina and one foot in Tennessee.

Although not necessarily easy, this part of the trail was nothing like the Boulevard Trail.  It was so pleasant that we both commented we actually liked this type of hiking. Just as we had repeated the negative mantra the day before, we repeated the positive one now.   The changing leaves provided a golden canopy above us and the fallen ones a soft cushion beneath our feet.  If I had to sum it up in one word it would be "delightful."   

Stopping for a bite to eat

Since we weren't pushed to make so many miles, we were able to stop and eat (which we did very little of the day before) and enjoy the beautiful views.

This part of the trail is also a frequent trek for day-hikers looking for the many scenic overlooks along the way.  With our loaded packs, we looked the hiker part.  One group of people we passed along the trail said, "You look like professional hikers."  I chuckled at the hilarity of that statement and replied, "It's just a facade!"

Later we met some experienced hikers who wanted to know where we had started.  We told them our trek of the day before and they reinforced what we had heard earlier in the morning, that we had covered a very difficult hike.  When Glen told them it was our first experience hiking, one of them looked at us and said, "You are my heroes!"  They will never know the encouragement those four words gave me.

They went a long way to making, me at least, feel much better about the day before. While we had
clearly bitten off more than we could chew, we had attempted something very difficult and we had succeeded.  I told my friends at work (labor & delivery nurses) that it was the hardest, most strenuous physical thing I had ever done --including childbirth.  If anyone understood the implications of that statement, it was them.

The closer we got to the road access at Newfound Gap, the more people we encountered on the trail.  Many wanted to know how far we had hiked, or what the trail was like ahead of them.  Now we were responding like experienced hikers, even though the experience was very little.

The end of our hike at Newfound Gap
When we came to the parking lot, we were surprised at how many people were there.  And we were the only ones with 20+ pound backpacks.  Several wanted to stop us and talk to us and we happily chatted.  Well, if you know us you know Glen did the chatting, and I just smiled a lot.

Then like true hikers who carry everything on their backs, we found a piece of ground, planted ourselves down, fired up the stove and made some hot chocolate to sip on while we waited for JJ to arrive.  

Our hiking was over for the day, but our adventure had only begun.

The Life of the Dough

Each Sunday Glen begins the day making the dough for our afternoon pizza.  He carefully measures and then blends the ingredients.  Once the dough has reached the perfect consistently it must be set aside, in a warm place, to rise.

When we return home, Glen removes the dough from the bowl and begins to pull and stretch it.  Once it is stretched to the proper dimensions on the pan, he pierces it all over with a fork.

Once the pizza ingredients are applied, the dough is put into a 500° oven to bake until the ingredients are cooked and the crust a golden brown.

Then we eat it!

All these steps are necessary in the life of the dough.  Without the time of stillness, the dough would not rise and the texture would not result in the crunchy but tender pizza crust.

Without the strethcing, the dough would be thick, perhaps even gummy.

Without the piercing, the dough would cook differently as a result of the steam under the dough.

Without the hot oven, well that would just be a yucky pizza.

Glen, through much practice, knows exactly how long the dough needs to rise.  He knows exactly how much to stretch the dough.  He knows exactly how much it needs to be pierced and how long it needs to bake.  He is a master at pizza.

We have a Master as well, who knows exactly what we need in our lives to turn us into the "perfect pizza."

Sometimes He needs to set us aside so that He can do a work in us that is inward, that results in us "growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ."  He knows that sometimes we need to be stretched -- admonished and challenged.  Sometimes only a piercing will do.  Finally, there are times we must be put into the hot oven.  It makes me think of this verse from the hymn, "How Firm a Foundation:"

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
The Lord knows exactly what, and how much, we need to be conformed to the image of His dear Son, so that we can be a blessing, an encouragement and a comfort to those around us.  Like the dough, we would not be perfect without any of the steps.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Broken Sidewalk

In our walks around town, Glen and I frequently encounter areas where the roots of the large oak trees have caused the sidewalks to raise and subsequently, break into pieces.

Sometimes the breaks are small and fairly easy to navigate.  Sometimes the pieces are so unlevel it is difficult to walk across them safely.  It is often easy to see the large roots which have tunneled under the sidewalk.

The destructive roots were not always large, however.  In fact, when the roots began to make their way under the sidewalk they were tiny tendrils.  They could easily slip into the smallest hole under the sidewalk.  If not removed, these roots were allowed to grow and grow until their size allowed them to pick up and move the heavy pieces of concrete above them.  This destruction wreck havoc with those who attempt to traverse the path.

When I see these limbs, I think of the destructive effect of bitterness in our lives.  It is easy to let a tiny thought of bitterness creep into the empty places of our minds.  Sometimes we may even feel justified, in some fleshly sense, at feeling bitter.  Perhaps we consider ourselves ill-used, taken for granted or not appreciated enough.

Allowing that little wisp of bitterness to remain only allows it to grow, and it will grow quickly.  Unchecked it will develop into full-blown resentment.  This bitterness and resentment can begin to destroy and destruct even the most concrete areas of our lives.  Perhaps it will displace the relationships between parent and child, or husband and wife.  It can disrupt the communication between employer and employee.  There is no human relationship immune to the destructive work of bitterness.

It is no wonder the Apostle Paul gave this admonition to the Ephesians:

"Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:  And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you, " (Ephesians 4: 30,31.)

Notice Paul says "let all bitterness. . .be put away from you."  He knew that even the tiniest amount of bitterness allowed to linger would cause damage.  He also gives the key to avoiding bitterness when he admonishes us to "be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another." 

Sometimes the forgiving part may seem to be the hardest.  Often we don't really want to forgive.  Some even pride themselves on their not forgiving.  But the last part of that verse is the answer.  "Even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you."

We weren't forgiven by God on any merit or goodness of our own, but totally for Christ's sake.  This one thought should resound in our hearts anytime we feel ourselves ill-used or taken for granted.  We forgive not based on merit, but based on God's forgiveness of us.  He forgives us for Christ's sake, and we forgive others because we have been forgiven for us much.

"Forbearing one another, and forgibing one another,
 if any man have a quarrel against any: 
even as Christ fogave you, so also do ye." 
 Colossians 3:13.