(Almost) Autumn Hikes and Room to Breathe

It’s almost autumn. The mid-afternoon sun is hot, and in the orchard, sleepy cows rest in the shade of an apple tree. Although the tree is old and gnarled, its leaves are still green and plump fruit hangs red. Near the fence, thistles are bursting with wisps of seed waiting to be caught in the breeze. A hawk rests on a fence post then startles when we come close to snap a picture.

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My husband takes my hand and the children run ahead of us, climbing tree stumps and shouting excitedly over berries and chipmunk holes and anything else that catches their fancy. The path splits and we swerve right so we can head through the cool of the forest to the creek.

In the woods, the girls have stopped at a patch of touch-me-nots. Some of the seed pods are fat and ripe, and through semi-translucent skins you can see black seeds inside. The slightest touch will cause the pods to explode and the seeds to fly every which way, eliciting peals of startled laughter from the children. It’s a game, one that results in a handful of tiny seeds to plant in the backyard at home.

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Past signs warning of giant hogweed, the stream splashes between muddy banks. A man is standing in the water. “Over there,” he points. “There’s a big fish. A salmon.” Only the dorsal fin can be seen, and as it cuts the surface, it seems autonomous, slithering back and forth like a speckled snake.

We take off our shoes and socks and wade into the cold water, our feet slipping on algae-covered rocks. I am the first to reach the fish. I forget that last year I lectured the girls at length about the importance of staying out of the water when the salmon are spawning. Heedlessly, I snap a photo then shriek as the salmon lunges towards me with a splash. In a moment, it is past me—upstream and out of sight.

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Out here, in the beauty of creation, I also forget that I’ve been wrestling with hard questions. Sometimes it feels like the closeness of the city closes my heart. It’s a difficult thing to explain, but when I’m outside exploring, the world seems right somehow. All these things—the trees, the thistles, the wildflowers, the salmon—they remind me of just how big God is.

“We need to get back,” my husband says all too soon. I want to stay here forever but he’s right. The way we hike, it will be a while before we get to the car. Sure enough, we stop to watch a green caterpillar munch on a leaf. At the fork in the trail, we spot a wild turkey beside the path. Tiptoeing, the girls and I try unsuccessfully to sneak close. It runs down the path and into the underbrush. We head over to the cows instead, and the girls feed them fistfuls of long grass through the fence.

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When we finally arrive back at the parking lot, I look through the assortment of wild things that have been stuffed inside my camera case: the touch-me-not seeds, three prickly wild cucumbers to dissect later, one round and sticky burr that my daughter wishes to examine under a microscope, and a beautiful striped feather, presumably from a turkey.

These treasures, they make me smile. They are signs of a heart-good day.

Gifts from a big, beautiful God.

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The Golden Hour

Once again, I sit on the dock and soak in the evening sun. Photographers call this “the golden hour”—that hour before sunset when all the world is bathed in gilded light. And this weathered platform at the end of an overgrown boardwalk is my quiet place, my hideaway.

It’s beautiful here.

IMG_20170721_195601_004.jpgDragonflies and damselflies flit among the reeds and marsh flowers. Two dark shapes glide noiselessly through water clear as glass. They’re big, these fish. Healthy. From across the lake, I hear the boys’ camp singing. It’s someone’s birthday and the voices echo in the stillness. There are sounds of laughter and playing too.

Sounds of happiness.

These last few weeks here have taught me much, and it’s hard to put it all into words.

But mostly, this…

I’ve been watching the Body of Christ function in a whole new way. I’ve been learning that no gift is too small, no person too insignificant. I’ve been learning the importance of “the least of these”—that we all can play a role—and I’ve watched people do just that. I’ve seen people in the background treated with just as much honour as those on the front lines.

I’ve been learning what true unity looks like.

I’ve seen people from different denominations and generations and walks of life come together with singularity of purpose. We’ve prayed together, worshipped together, taken communion together—His Body broken, the Church whole.

I’ve watched as people with vastly different talents put their gifts to use for the glory of One.

I’ve heard stories and seen firsthand how lives are changed when we set differences aside and focus on Jesus.

I’ve seen my own life change too. It’s hard to find the right words, and perhaps I’ll never find them, but it’s enough for now to simply say that my soul has been marked by this summer.

IMG_20170725_185658IMG_20170722_164640_778IMG_20170727_134323I lean all the way back on the dock, wood rough against my back, face to the sky, and think about all this. The evening sun filters through closed lids, and I sigh content. I know now what I tried hard to know before.

The little I have to offer?

When given to Jesus, it’s enough.

My broken loaves given to Him, and His Body given for me. The Church, not only hands and feet, but everything else that makes a body complete—the Body complete.

IMG_20170727_054800_080The golden light slips away.

But I’ll carry this summer in my heart always

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The Rhythm of Rest

 

We sit cross-legged on weathered wood and look across the lake. Gentle hills, thick with trees, rise and fall on the other side. And in the water, lily pads rise and fall too.

“Dose weaves are walking on da water!” my three-year old exclaims.

Last weekend, thunder crashed and the lake churned. Lightning lit up the sky like a strobe. By morning, although we were without electricity, there was only peace. Looking at the sky and the trees and the lake, you’d never know there had been a storm.

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And those lily pads, they just rolled with it.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the idea of rest. Psalm 4:8 says, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Matthew 11:28-30 promises rest for our souls. Isaiah 26:3 says that He will keep in perfect peace those whose minds steadfastly trust in Him.

Time and time again, the Bible promises rest, often in exchange for trust.

The last six years have been filled with ups and downs—some big, some small. But even in the best of times, the only saving grace is His saving grace. Always. I’ve wrestled with the idea of rest, but those lily pads? They got me thinking.

Maybe a soul at rest still feels the hills and valleys. Maybe it’s not the absence of pain but rather what you do with that pain. Maybe your mind can be steadfast even as your world shifts and changes. Maybe walking on water means learning to roll with the rhythm of the waves.

Maybe it’s simply knowing that you’re held.

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Those lily pads are tethered to something that holds firm both when the water churns and when it rolls gentle.

And for us, through all the changes that life brings, one thing is for sure.

He is holding us through the ups and downs.

And He will never let us go.

 

At Least Consider It

The hallway is lined with suitcases. We’ve never done anything like this before and I’m not exactly sure what to pack for a whole month away.

So I simply packed it all.

Seriously.

Everything.

(Or close to it, anyway.)

When a friend first told me about a potential month-long opportunity to serve at a Christian summer camp, I said no. I wouldn’t apply. I wouldn’t think about applying. There were a million reasons why I thought it wouldn’t work. Mostly though, the idea seemed … large … somehow.

A whole month? With only two weeks to prepare, no less. That’s if I got the job. And what if I did get it? A whole lot of other what ifs would inevitably follow.

“Think about it,” my friend said.

My husband said the same thing: “Why not? You should at least consider it!”

The more I thought and prayed about it, the more I realized what an incredible opportunity it would be. One of our dreams has been to somehow work with kids to share our love of paddling, hiking, nature and Jesus. Even if this isn’t exactly that, isn’t it a start? And haven’t I been praying for months for God to show me ways to serve Him with my own children alongside?

We spend every moment we can up in that part of Ontario anyway. We dream of living there for good so why not move there for a month?

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And my children? They might never otherwise have the chance to go to summer camp in the Muskokas. What a blessing all around!

Over at the camp, with opening day inching closer, they had been praying for the right person to come along and fill the position.

The whole thing came together in just over a week. Every single beautiful detail. I’ll be volunteering as office staff, my girls will participate in summer camp for a month and my husband will come up as often as he can.

It’s the opportunity of a lifetime. For all of us.

Oh, and I won’t have to cook for a whole month, so there’s that too. Miracles happen, you guys.

As of tomorrow, the kids and I are off on one of our biggest adventures to date. A working vacation, a chance to serve, a dream reignited.

The moral of the story? When an outside-of-the-box opportunity comes your way, at least consider it.

On that note…

See you in a month!

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The Day I Left My Fear in the Dust

We stood on the dusty shoulder watching the tow truck driver load up the car. Transport trucks roared past. I turned to the state trooper. “Thank you for your help.” He had spent at least an hour with us that afternoon, trying to identify and solve the problem. My words seemed inadequate.

The afternoon sun was hot. It was a pretty place to break down, at least. There was a little pond and some trees in blossom. There were red-winged blackbirds, my favourite. But we were in the middle of the country—a different country, no less.

I was on my way to Cincinnati for a conference with a girl I had only met once before. Midway through Ohio, her car began to clank and the engine cut out. We coasted to a stop at the side of the interstate, smoke billowing from the hood. I tried hard to push down my panic. We were hours from our hometown in Canada and a mile from the nearest highway exit. The only building of note was an empty, white farmhouse across the fence.

Lord, help us!

I had been terrified of this trip from the second I decided to go. The kind of terrified where your heart pounds and your breath comes fast and you lay awake in bed at night silently crying out to God for what to others must seem like no good reason whatsoever. The process is a familiar one. I’ve dealt with my share of fear in my life.

But this is a story of freedom.

Less than a week before we left, back on Good Friday, I was getting ready for church when I felt the Lord speak to me: “I want to heal you of anxiety.” If I wasn’t so sure it was Him, I would have laughed outright. I’ve quietly carried this burden for as long as I can remember.

I’ve begged. I’ve pleaded. I’ve wept.

And I’ve worked hard to hide my crippled heart.

Two nights before my trip, I began to tell my husband about my deepest fear—one that has plagued me for years. One that seemed silly when spoken yet still gripped my soul. One that surfaced every time I had to go away from home. A fear that God alone knew.

As I stood at the side of the interstate less than 48 hours later thanking the state trooper for his help, I was still pushing down my nervousness. The officer smiled at me. Then casually, he called out my fear—my irrational, nonsensical fear.

He called it out right there at the side of the highway as if it was nothing.

My eyes blurred with tears. I knew immediately that this was a divine appointment, a prophetic encounter, a sacred moment.

I knew I’d better listen hard.

“You need to have faith,” the officer continued. “This is a test, and you’re failing big time. You’re failing big time! You need to learn to turn things over to Him.

“Do you know why God put you with her?” He gestured towards my travel companion, now a friend for life. “Because she has faith. She knows how to turn things over to Him. And it’s not an accident that God brought me along today either.

“Someday, your daughter—Do you have a daughter?”

I nodded. I have three.

“Someday, your daughter is going to go on a road trip with her friends, just like this. And what are you going to do?”

“Turn it over to Him?” I laughed weakly. “I’m getting better at it.”

The policeman nodded. “God uses these things to make us strong. He’s making you strong.”

The car was loaded and the tow driver was ready to go. I climbed into the front seat and put my purse in my lap. God had confirmed, once again, that He is with me. That there is nothing to fear.

He brought me more than halfway to Cincinnati just to remind me of that.

Hours later, we were back on the interstate in a rental jeep. It had taken the mechanic only a few minutes to determine that my friend’s car was broken beyond repair. She sold it to the tow company for a pittance. After a bit of a wait, a local car rental company hooked us up with a ride and we were on our way. There was only open road ahead.

I settled into my seat and smiled. Something had broken in me that day.

Somewhere in Ohio, I left my fear in the dust.

Out on a Limb

The breeze is tinged with the perfume of blossoms—white blossoms brushed with the lightest blush of pink. In the thick of the apple branches, there is a flash of flame-orange, and the unmistakable song of an oriole rings through the air. Down below, a profusion of forget-me-nots is on full display in the garden. Spring is here in all its glory.

It’s breathtaking.

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A few months ago, I wondered if spring would ever come. The actual season, yes. Metaphorically as well. But the seasons always change. Spring always comes ‘round again.

Funny how we forget that.

I watch the oriole flit around from branch to branch and finally perch on a limb about halfway up. Sometimes when the Lord asks us to step out on a limb, it can be downright scary—even when that limb is laden with blossoms. There is always nostalgia for the safety of things left behind.

But there is freedom in obedience. And each tentative step prepares us for more.

There is a rustling of leaves and suddenly, with a shower of silken petals, the bird takes to its wing. Those branches, frosted with blooms, were a stopping point. A launching point. I can’t help but feel like that’s where I’m at too.

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Everything in nature right now is emerging fresh and vivid green. Also in my heart. This is a season of breakthrough. Of healing. Of peace.

Of a soul at rest.

Each step is less tentative and more sure. I know my Saviour is holding me. What once terrified me now fills me with joy. I’m in no hurry to move from this limb.

And yet, I’m waiting breathlessly to find out what comes next.

How do you want to use me, Lord?

The answer is clear. Do what’s in front of you to do right now. Right now. In this moment. It’s being faithful with the little—with each tiny step.

Because, while each step prepares us for the next, it also prepares us for more. I stepped out on a limb. But a limb is a launching point.

Someday, those steps of faith will become a leap of faith.

And I’ll hold tight to Him and fly.

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The Sparrow’s Home

 

The nest is tiny and delicately woven. The materials are simple and humble—field grass. It sits on the nature shelf in our dining room, a perfect little cup that once held the cream-and-speckled promise of life.

Even now, it holds a promise.

“Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God.” (Psalm 84:3)

We squish our way along a muddy track through the woods—the girls and I. We’re looking in the trees for flashes of colour and trills of song. Signs of spring though it’s early yet. We spy some black-capped chickadees and some large, loud crows. Winter birds. Still, they are more interesting than the sparrows that frequent our yard at home.

We barely notice the sparrows anymore. They are common and nondescript.

There are no birds of note to be found anywhere quite yet, I think to myself. I’m not interested in crows and sparrows.

But God is.

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When we return home again, I spy the little grass nest on the dining room shelf, a gift from a friend. And it reminds me just how much He loves the sparrow. Psalm 84:3 is a promise for the year and for my lifetime.

Because even the overlooked and insignificant are seen and welcome in the most holy of places—the place where heaven meets earth.

Because I’m invited to make my home at the altar too, close to the Father’s heart—yes, even me, a common sparrow.

Because His Presence is life and I want our lives to be infused with His. He also wants our lives to be infused with His. My heart and my desire is to raise my little ones in His shadow, and He makes room for me there.

He desires to be with us. It’s a beautiful truth that changes everything. We don’t have to chase Him. He’s not playing hard to get. We don’t have to try to be anything other than who He has created us to be.

We’re invited to simply come and dwell with Him.

When I see this tiny grass nest, I am reminded. The little brown bird trilling its song is seen by the Father. It is heard. It is loved.

I, too, am seen and heard and loved.

I, too, have a place close to His heart.

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There’s something you need to know…

There is an incredible truth that has become so real recently. Something I struggled to grasp for years. Something that I caught hold of at times, but that other times eluded me. Something that has finally made it from my head to my heart for good.

This changed my life, you guys. Are you ready for it?

It’s simply this: God is for us.

I was thinking back on it yesterday and then I saw the words come across my Instagram feed this morning, and I knew I needed to give voice to some thoughts, even if the words aren’t flowing as beautifully as I’d like today.

So here goes…

God is not standing there with His arms crossed, disappointed and waiting to angrily berate us when we can’t “do all the things.”

Did you know that? I mean really know that?

God is not waiting for you to mess up so He can beat you over the head with a Bible.

And grace? Grace is not saying a prayer once in order to secure a place in heaven … and then wearily and hopelessly slogging through a list of things to accomplish for the rest of your days in an effort to maintain that place. If you’re doing that, you’re missing the point.

Grace is not only for salvation; it’s divine enablement each and every day of your life.

The Cross is just as much for today as it was for the day you were saved.

Yes, you will fall. Yes, you will sin. Yes, you will need to repent—over and over (and over and over) again. So do it. Then get up and move on. Stop living in the past. Stop living in condemnation. You are forgiven. You are free.

There is grace for you.

God is not against you.

“If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

“The Lord will fight for you, you need only be still” (Exodus 14:14).

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God” (Isaiah 41:10).

Here’s what especially blows me away…

God loves us so much that He WANTS us to succeed. He tenderly dusts us off when we fall. He cheers us on with each step we take. His incredible Spirit is working in us and through us, enabling us to run the race—and victoriously taking us from glory to glory.

Go read 2 Peter 1:3, Hebrews 13:20-21 and 2 Corinthians 3:18 for a minute. I’ll wait.

Okay, are you back? Now let me reiterate that last part: The Holy Spirit is working in us and through us, enabling us to run the race—and victoriously taking us from glory to glory.

Typically, I’m a wallower. When I mess up, I feel so awful that I stay there. But y’all, we don’t have to live in defeat. This fills me with such gratitude, such awe, such confidence, and such HOPE!

No matter what battles we face, no matter what weaknesses we struggle with, no matter how far we’ve fallen, God is FOR us. Let that sink in for a moment. The God who created the entire universe is for YOU!

When we grab hold of this truth, our lives will turn upside-down.

Walk confidently in His love today!

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P.S. Here’s a song. Because it’s on repeat around here at the moment and because it’s good:

Stepping Out

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Her eyes are closed but she’s still awake. I’m cradling her in my arms, although she’s far too big to fit comfortably anymore. She’ll be three in May, this little one. Wide awake, yet she doesn’t slit her eyes even the slightest to see where we’re going.

My feet creak heavy on the stairs and she’s heavy in my arms. But she keeps her eyes tightly shut, content simply to know that I’m carrying her.

That she’s safe.

A friend posted this verse a couple of weeks ago: “The steps of the godly are directed by the Lord. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will not fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand” (Psalm 37:23-25, NLT).

I’ve been thinking about Abraham lately—how he had faith to obey the Lord, to pick up and leave everything he knew, even though he didn’t know where he was going. Sometimes, God calls us out of what we know and into the unfamiliar.

And when He does? We can rest confident that He is holding us by the hand. We might make mistakes. We might stumble. We might miss a step or five. But God never misses a single step. He is steady, faithful and unchanging.

In seasons of transitions, that steadies my heart.

I can close my eyes and breathe deep, content simply to know that He’s holding me.

Carrying me safe.

When the Best Laid Plans Go Awry

The air was filled with sunshine and gunshots.

A white pick-up pulled up beside us and a ranger rolled down the window. “The park is closed for the annual deer hunt,” he informed us. “You can drive up Decew Road and hike over on the left-hand side, but this whole side of the park is closed.”

I was disappointed. My friend and I had been planning our hike at Short Hills Provincial Park for weeks. It was a kid-free outing. An escape and a chance to catch up after a busy few weeks. But now, the park was closed.

Following the ranger’s directions, we made our way to Decew Street. There were no trails that we could see. Not anywhere. But there was an old grist mill. Morningstar Mill, the sign read. I pulled into the parking lot.

“Can we stop and look around for a minute?” I asked my friend. The place intrigued me.

“Sure,” she agreed.

I grabbed my camera and jumped out of the car. The grounds were beautiful. There was a fully restored 1872 grist mill, a blacksmith shop, an old house, and a few other buildings.

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And in the back corner, there was a wooden gate.

We creaked open the gate and found ourselves on the Bruce Trail. This was what we had been looking for. The narrow path wound past Decew Falls and followed the creek to the edge of the escarpment. The views were breath-taking.  We could see farm and city, and in the distance, Lake Ontario.

As we hiked, I couldn’t help but think of all the times in my life when plans changed. Often, I have things laid out to perfection in my mind. But life’s greatest blessings have come from plans gone awry. New careers. A sweet baby girl. Precious friendships. A renewed sense of purpose.

Deeper faith.

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart,” the Bible says. “But the purposes of the Lord will prevail.” In Jeremiah 29:11, the Lord assures us that His plans are to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us a hope and a future.

Sometimes, God puts us on a different path—a better path—because He has different, better things in store for us.

The trail climbed a steep hill beside a hydro dam. At the top, a beautiful, man-made lake spread out before us. Canada geese flapped low overhead, honking loudly as they settled in the water. A long-tailed duck dove deep, then re-appeared. Swans swam in tandem, stark white against the water.

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We followed the edge of the lake, stopping to examine purple wildflowers and fresh-cut beaver trees. There was so much beauty here—beauty that we had almost missed.

I breathed in autumn and exhaled contentment. Like so much of life, this wasn’t the plan.

But it was perfect anyway.