Friday, August 29, 2014

I Might...I Might Not

After sitting in my "hole" (as I call my little office space in the bigger office trailer; aka "The Estrogen Corner") for nine hours, I often feel like I'm going to jump out of my skin. 


Yesterday was one of those days. I needed to move! So when I got home, Lucy and I went to our favorite spot (Buttermilk Falls) in Mendham (NJ). I'm probably repeating myself, but I can't always remember what I've written and when I wrote it, and I'm hoping that you can't always remember what you read and when you read it. Anyway...

As much as I love being in the woods, in the quiet, and on the move, there is always this niggling in the back of my head...well, sometimes in the front of it...what if I see a bear? It's actually pretty bad because I can never just relax and enjoy my hike and my surroundings because I'm always scanning for bears.

Lucy in her favorite swimming hole
The fact is, in all the years that I've been hiking, I've only encountered a bear twice: once this year and once last year. The first time he took one look at us and turned right around. The second time he never even saw us. So why do I still obsess about it? Why can I not get it out of my head? Why have I told myself to be afraid to enjoy the woods because I might encounter a bear?

I do that with difficult hikes as well. I see in a magazine, or hear from a friend what looks or sounds like a cool hike and I tell myself, Oh that looks/sounds great, but there's that ledge that's awfully precarious. I might fall. 

I've done it with acting roles that I wanted to audition for. That looks too hard. I might forget my lines.

I can't do that. I might fall.
I can't do that. I might fail.
That sounds like fun, but...I might not be any good at it.

Sound familiar? The power of the Unknown. Fear.

But here's the cool thing I discovered about the word might (some of you know that I'm a word nerd)...

It is an auxillary verb, meaning that it's a "helping" verb---the active verbs are see, fall, fail and be (in the negative). The word might is used to express possibility. I might see, I might fall, I might fail, I might (not) be. Equally, the possibility exists that I might NOT see, fall or fail or not be (okay, that's a double negative which actually makes it a positive, but that gets into math, which befuddles me). 

Instead of dwelling on the negative possibility, what would happen if we replaced those thoughts with the positive possibility (which actually looks like a negative with the word "not")...I might NOT see a bear today in the woods. I might NOT fall if I do that difficult hike. I might NOT fail if I audition for that role. That sounds like fun...I might actually be pretty good at that! There is power in our words. The more we repeat the positive, the more we'll believe it, and we become what we believe.

And here's where it gets oh so exciting! The word might as a noun! Dictionary.com defines might (n) as the power or ability to do or accomplish or superior power or strength; force. So the next time you're thinking a negative might, think of the power of God that gives you strength and might to overcome the negative, conquer your fear and become what you believe! God is that Superior Power, that Force, and He gives us the power and ability to do or accomplish!

I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength (Phil 4:13)

God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline (2 Tim 1:7)

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever, amen (Eph 3:20-21)

So the next time I venture into the woods, I will say, "I might NOT see a bear today!" (and hope that I don't! Hey, I'm learning along with you!) What negative will you turn into a positive today?

Blessings Along the Path,
Mary

Song of the Day:
The Lord is My Strength (Dennis Jernigan)


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Getting a Spiritual Spanking

You may have noticed that the pictures on my posts lately have been ones that I've taken. Some posts don't have any pictures. Well, there's a reason for that. 

When I click on the icon to add a picture, it gives me options, such as upload, from this blog, from your phone, from Picassa, and from a url. If I click on the from a url icon, a little message appears at the bottom of the page that says this: "Remember, using others' images on the web without their permission may be bad manners, or worse, copyright infringement."

I've seen that message over a hundred times, because I've posted over a hundred blogs. Each time I see it, I say to myself, "Well, the pictures are right there on Google images. If I wasn't allowed to use it, wouldn't I be blocked somehow?" Hmmm, obviously not.

Sometimes I try to ignore it. Other days, I might say, "Everyone else does it." And then I hear my friend say what she used to say to her daughter, "If everyone else was lining up for a spanking, would you get in line too?" 

Well, maybe I needed a spanking! I certainly got a spiritual spanking, because little by little, I became uncomfortable with "using others' photos without their permission." I realized that I may not have been breaking copyright laws, but maybe I was. If nothing else, I was finding a picture of a cute kid and posting on my public blog without that person's permission (Your pictures are out there-trust me, I've checked. I've seen my own pictures on Google images). 

I'd wager to say that most of you reading this blog have copied a friend's music cd and given it back to them. Did you know that's copyright infringement? The rights to distribute, display or reproduce that music is solely the copyright holder's-not yours. You probably don't think you're doing anything wrong, or maybe you justify it by saying, "Well, she had the cd and I'm only one person. How is that hurting anyone?" I'll tell you how:

Several years ago, I produced two music cds. I spent a lot of money doing so, and I knew I'd never get that money back. I gave most of my cds away. But if someone bought that cd and then gave it to a friend to copy, who gave it to a friend to copy, etc. how many sales would I be deprived of? Unless I give my permission to copy and distribute freely, it's simply not right. And neither is using photos without permission. 

How many times a day do we do things that we know are wrong? They're probably small, seemingly insignificant things that no one will even notice. Like the photo or cd thing. Some things may not be necessarily "wrong:" rather, they're just not quite right- like not bringing your grocery cart back to where it says, "Return carts here." (my photo, by the way...it's my pet peeve)
Or making a left turn where it says, "No Left Turn," because  I'm in a hurry and there's no one coming anyway and that sign wasn't always there and I always turned there before and nothing ever happened (just a random scenario...not that I've ever done that!) 

But guess what? God notices. My spiritual spanking made me realize that if I want God to bless this little blog of mine, He won't do it if I'm blatantly disobeying the law. If I want to be trusted with bigger things, I need to prove myself trustworthy of the little ones. Same goes for you.

So, I hope you like my pictures because that's all you'll be seeing unless I decide that purchasing a license for photo usage is worth it. One step at a time.

Blessings Along the Path,
Mary



Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Following the Flags

This past weekend, Brian and I were part of a group of volunteers who actually got to lay out and design a new trail at the Ramapo Valley County Reservation. It was around this beautiful reservoir that our group worked. 
Sunbathers and swimmers. Lots of dogs and college students here.
There is currently a "social" trail around the water, which means a few people started it and more have followed. So the trail basically made itself, but it's not blazed or "official." It's also, in some spots, not the best place for the trail.

Our job was to continue where the last group of volunteers left off in establishing a better trail. While the current "social" trail may seem fine to the average person, there are many reasons why it is not. Once the new trail is cut, the old one is filled in with rocks, logs, soil, etc. and naturalized so that you never even know the old trail was there.

As we were walking through the woods placing our yellow flags where we thought the trail should go, it occurred to me that this was a heavily traveled area, and folks may try to follow those flags only to find themselves not exactly following a path. I found that idea somewhat amusing.
Brian and Fred (another volunteer) scoping out the trail
Meanwhile, another group was coming the other way with pink flags and (hopefully) we would meet somewhere in the middle. We were to continue on to the end (the other group's beginning), and if we agreed with where the other group placed their flag, we were to place our flag next to theirs. If not, we should simply place our flag where we thought the trail should go. Later, Peter, our coordinator, would decide which, if either of those paths would make the cut (literally! The next group of volunteers would come in and clear the designated path).

I found this even more amusing because I actually witnessed a young man hiking on his own trying to follow the flags (that he was not supposed to even follow!) and his faced registered his confusion when the pink and yellow flags converged, then split. Which way?
Mr. Froggy went-a-courtin'
While I found it amusing to watch that bewildered young man trying to figure out the purpose and direction of the pink and yellow flags, I also found it a bit disturbing. I pondered how quickly he trusted in those flags which caused him to veer off the established (albeit, unblazed) path; how easily was he led astray by what he assumed was something "official"; how quickly he became confused when the paths converged, then split and took him into a part of the woods that had not yet been cleared.

Look! I kissed the frog and he turned into a prince!
It's easy to be led astray, especially when it looks "official"--whether it's someone we look up to who gives us bad advice, a trusted leader who ends up falling, something another well-meaning traveler recommends. A book. A movie. Something on social media. It only takes one person, and then another follows and before you know it, a whole new "social trail" has been created. And we suddenly find ourselves in a part of the woods that has these flags on it, but no clear path. Is this the way to go or not? It seems like it should be...but why are there now two colors? Is there more than one way? What about the path we just left? Was that right? It wasn't blazed and these are, but they're not really...what's right? Can it all be right? We become confused, bewildered and befuddled.

That's why we need to be grounded in the Word, and to only heed the voice of the One who whispers, This is the way; walk in it. (Isaiah 30:21)

Before we veer off the trail, always ask God, "Is this the way I should go?" The right way may not seem like the right way at all. Or, the right way may be the path that you're already on. Always ask.

Blessings Along the Path,
Mary

If you are interested in free classes at Trail U through the NY/NJ Trail Conference, where you too can be a part of establishing a new or existing trail, visit NYNJTC.org Trail U Workshops

Monday, August 25, 2014

Supporting the Saplings

The Park Commission is trying to grow trees at Natirar. When you walk along the path, you see these saplings with fences around them. I suppose the fence is to protect them from predators, like deer, while they grow.

I was there the other night and noticed that there are several of these saplings at various stages of growth. 

When the trees are first planted as young saplings, they're tethered to sticks or poles. This helps them stay upright. As they grow and become taller in stature and stronger in their base, I suppose the supports are removed (based on what I saw). If you look at the pictures, you'll also notice that the fencing becomes narrower, since it's mostly protecting the trunk. 

Of course, I thought of how God does this with us, his children. 

The Newbie
When we first come to Him as young saplings in our new faith, we're a little shaky. Our foundation, our base, our trunk, if you will, is not strong enough to support us. In the beginning, we're in the greatest danger of being attacked by predators, and the wall of protection needs to be wide. We need the most care then. It's important for us to be tethered to other people who are stronger in their faith, who can support us and keep us on the right path--growing straight and tall; those whose faith is stronger, those who can teach us. it's not so much the leafy branches that are in danger; rather, it's those nibbles out of our tiny trunks that will, over time damage us and cause us to wither, fade and die, if left unprotected.


It's Getting Crowded in Here!
As we grow in our faith, we grow in strength, grace, and maturity. Perhaps at this point, we've discovered some of our spiritual gifts. We're growing in spiritual maturity, but the key word here is growing. We haven't grown up yet; we're still growing. We're like spiritual teenagers.

 It's those middle years that can be dangerous. While we're growing in maturity, we're also growing in security and confidence. Sometimes, we get too confident, thinking that we don't need those walls. We're secure in who we are in Christ. In fact, the walls seem confining. We feel crowded with all those other well-meaning Christians trying to come alongside us now. We don't need their help anymore. Why do they keep giving us advice when we didn't ask for it? We just need to spread our wings and fly. Be free. These are the years that we often feel like if God doesn't move now, then we might just have to do something about it! Hey, I have a calling and I need to use it-now! Those were the years in my life that I discovered the gifts and talents God gave me and I wanted so badly to use them that I ended up knocking doors down that weren't opened to me. And because of my impatience and my unwillingness to wait and heed the voice of God, who ultimately knows what's best for me, I ended up embarrassed, hurt and angry. And then I withdrew. It was too crowded.

The Wisdom of Middle Age

Notice the sturdier tree. It's more than a sapling now, but it's still not fully grown. In fact, trees never stop growing, do they? They mature, but they always grow. Their foundation, or trunk grows wider (like my waist) and stronger (unlike my waist) over the years. 

The supports are gone because the Arborist knows that the tree is now able to stand on its own. It's a tree in the Prime of Life now. According to the Arbor Day Foundation's Stages of Tree Life, a tree in this stage of life will "take care of itself with little or no outside help." That is not to say that God does not still take care of us at this stage; rather, we don't need the guidance of other, more mature believers to come alongside us for our growth like we once did. We've walked a long walk and now it's time for us to become the wiser ones, the ones who mentor the younger saplings, the ones in the middle years who are like young colts at the gate...we're the ones who can smile and say, "I understand how you feel, but take your time."

The height of the fence is the same---it's the same fence, most likely. The width may even be the same. Because the danger is still there. While we stand tall, while our branches (perhaps our good works, our life experiences, our prayers) are flowering and with some trees, even bearing fruit, our foundations, our trunks are still in danger of predators nibbling away little by little. Beavers could come along overnight and destroy us. The fence, God's wall of protection is there to keep us safe for many years. We can now look at it as a blessing, not a means of confinement.

Trees, like people, continue to grow and mature, but eventually die. What I think is pretty cool about trees is that when they die, they still serve a purpose. They become a habitat for animals, providing shelter and food. In other words, their legacy lives on. When I'm out walking in the woods, I might see a large felled tree and say, "Wow, what a mighty tree that was in its day!"

What will be said about us?

Blessings Along the Path as You Grow in Faith,
Mary

Haven't you put a protective fence around him, his home and everything he has? You have blessed everything he does (Job 1:10)

Well done good and faithful servant (Matt 25:23)

  



Saturday, August 23, 2014

Things of the Night

It was twilight. Or dusk. Or something similarly darkening. I was taking a twilight...or dusk...or whatever walk at Natirar.  I passed by this area that I've passed a million times before, but for some reason, this night it beckoned me. I saw the sign I'd seen also a million times before---"No Public Access." So, what did I do? I drew closer. Why? Not because I was curious. Because I wanted to take a picture.
Look at this place---it's creepy. It's scary (okay, well, it was much more creepy and scary at the time...in the twilight/dusk/whatever). Sign or no sign, there was no way I would venture into there, and certainly not at this hour...the hour of darkness. My heart was pounding just getting close to the gate! What you can't really see is that the "end" of that road is not really the end...it curves sharply to the left, which added to the creepy factor...what was around the bend?

I could only imagine what lurked among the shadows and around the bend in the gloaming---boogeymen, murderers and rapists crouched in anticipation of stealing my peace, my life and my virginity...okay, the last one's a stretch. Actually, they're all pretty unlikely. I just have a very vivid imagination. It's more likely that I'd encounter a bear, a coyote or a skunk---creatures that I don't mind sharing the woods with during the day when I can see them (but prefer not to), but at night, when they can see me but I can't see them...not so much!

Night time is scary isn't it? Who knows what dangers lurk in the night? God does. But it's still scary venturing out into the unknown, isn't it? 

I had this thought while I was walking away: What if I could go into the woods without any danger? What if there were no maniacal men or any animals of any kind (including insects and spiders)? Would I go? I think I probably would. I think I'd venture out with a flashlight into the woods if I knew with absolute certainty that no harm would come to me, that I would face no dangers; if I knew I'd be completely and utterly safe from any unwanted encounters with scary beings, sure I'd go!

What about you? Would you venture out into the unknown if you knew you'd be safe? Would you take that leap of faith, try out that newly discovered talent, share your gifts or do your dream? If you knew that no one would mock, insult, laugh at, diminish, discourage, devalue, belittle or otherwise judge you, your dream, your talent, your gift...would you do it? If you knew with absolute certainty that no harm, no danger, no otherwise unwanted encounters would come to you, that you'd be completely safe...sure you would.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. Murderers, rapists and boogeymen are drawn to the night. Fear comes out when the sun goes down. Nocturnal animals roam around at night because that's just what they do. Not everyone will share our dream, believe in us, and encourage us to pursue that scary new thing we want to try. Some will try to steal it from us out of jealousy and envy, some will try to kill it out of anger, and some will try to just generally scare us out of fear. We have to do it anyway.

Sometimes we need to stay out of the woods, the scary unknown, at night because that's what's best for us. But it's important to know the difference between real and imagined fear. After all, the boogeyman isn't real. He can't really harm us. 

Let the things of the night stay in the night. But the things that happen because of the darkness--I pray that they will be exposed by the Light and allow you to continue on your journey unhindered and unafraid.

Blessings Along the Spooky Path,
Mary

But everything that is exposed by the light becomes visible-and everything that is illuminated becomes a light (Eph 5:13)

Your word is a lamp for my feet; a light on my path (Ps 119:105)

I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12)

Friday, August 22, 2014

You Can't Have a Little Joy When You're a Little Mad

I woke up mad. I'd gone to bed mad. 

I'd spent over 2 hours creating, writing, editing and perfecting my blog post. It was good too! And somehow, it disappeared. Totally, completely disappeared off the page. I must have hit something that I shouldn't have. There was no way to retrieve it. I was so mad! And my husband was not at all sympathetic to my plight. He was immersed in something on his iPad and grunted, "Oh." when I told him what happened...well, rather when I spouted into the air what happened (and expected him to be listening, putting down the iPad and lovingly saying words of empathy and encouragement).

I thought of re-writing it while it was still fresh in my mind, but it was 11:30 at night and I was too tired to care (much). I still haven't written it because a) I'm supposed to be working b) I'm complaining on this blog about the very blog that disappeared and c) I'm afraid I won't be able to re-create it perfectly, thereby rendering it unsatisfactory.

I was actually surprised that I was able to let it go. To get up and walk away, for the most part without slamming things, throwing the computer across the room or mumbling curse words (well, I may have mumbled one or two while walking down the hallway to bed). I was equally surprised at how quickly I forgot about it and went to sleep. Normally, I  stewed, thought about it, stewed some more and generally lay awake thinking about how mad I was. I was actually able to put it out of my mind and just sleep. Aw...I'm growing up!

I mean...it's a blog! It's not like someone stole my promotion out from under me, or said something mean to me or spoke unkindly about me (excuse me while I warm up for my solo...me,me,me). I couldn't get mad at anyone for something they did or didn't do. I was mad at the blog for heaven's sake! How stupid is that? On some level, I suppose I understood that and it overrode the anger. The blog didn't do anything. The computer didn't even do anything. I did. And it was accidental.

Funny though, I instantly remembered my anger and frustration as soon as I awoke. I slept well, but it was as if I said to myself before I was even coherent, "Self, we need to remember that we're mad today, right? Now, don't forget! And for Pete's sake, look sad, would you?"

Well, let me tell you...I had to really work to put aside those feelings of frustration and anger, both the night before and that morning. If I thought about it, I would dwell on it. If I dwelled on it, I would be inviting all those feelings back in. And as I said...it's a BLOG for heaven's sake! Is it really worth losing my peace over? I think not.

Is anything worth losing your peace over? When you wake up still mad or sad from the night before, how much time are you spending remembering and trying to drum it all up again? Why? Doesn't it get exhausting trying to remember? Isn't it easier to just forgive...and forget it..and move on? Sure, some circumstances are more hurtful than others. Some things that happen the night before are devastating--- loved ones or even ourselves, who receive a cancer diagnosis, are sick, dying, addicted, wounded and otherwise in need of deliverance or healing, death of loved ones, and other catastrophes. Please don't think I'm diminishing that. It's the little things, the "little foxes (S of S 2:15) who steal our joy. And boy, would satan love to keep us just a little mad and just a little sad, because if we're just a little mad or just a little sad we won't want even just a little joy. We'd rather feel sorry for ourselves, thank you very much!

As I was driving to work, the song, Joy, by Phil Wickham came on from my playlist. I had to laugh it was so ironic! 

Don't let the little foxes spoil the vine, for the grapes are tender. Don't let a little mad and a little sad keep you from even a little joy!

And for those of you struggling with something bigger--- it is possible to feel joy when you're otherwise sad...remember that God is in control. No amount of worrying will help. Don't be mad at God-it's a dangerous thing to be mad at the only One who can help you (Joyce Meyer).

Well, I have to go now to attempt to re-create my "perfect" blog from last night. If it doesn't come out just right...oh well. Look for it tomorrow.

Blessings Along the Path,
Mary

(Song of the day is in the link above)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Anything is Possible if You Believe

"If I ever make it big, I'm gonna hire someone to do all...this...for me," I told my husband as a made a circular sweep toward my computer. I really don't understand Twitter, Pinterest and all those other social media things. I'm learning, but I'm doing it kicking and screaming. I get very frustrated and most of the time, I don't really know what I'm doing. But if you want exposure, it's sort of a given that you need to use social media. After all, that's how blogger Julie Powell (Julie and Julia) was "discovered!" I watched the movie. At one point, her mother said, "Honey, I think I'm the only one reading your blog." or something like that. She ended up getting a book deal on cooking other people's recipes! Hey, anything is possible if the "right" people find you!

My husband did not reply to my handswept comment. Maybe he thought I was speaking to the computer. Maybe he wasn't sure what the "right" answer was, given my frustration (a smart man learns that during his wife's session of frustration, no answer will be the "right" one, but some answers can be less "right" than the right "right" ones). But in that moment of awkward silence (when the right answer was...well, I don't know, but should have been one of incredible encouragement!) my immediate thought was, "He doesn't believe in me," which was, of course, a blatant lie from the pit of hell. My husband is probably my biggest cheerleader. He's always peering over my shoulder to see what I'm writing. 

To cover up my insecurity, thinking that my husband thought I was crazy for thinking I'd ever "make it big," I said this: "Yeah, right, as if THAT'LL ever happen!"  Isn't this what we do when we feel like we've put this big thing out there that maybe we might actually believe is possible, but when we don't get validation from those most important to us, we cover it up because we're embarrassed at the very audacity of even thinking that might be possible? 

Well, he was already out of the room by the time I made that comment, or at least, on his way out. And once he turns around, I know he doesn't hear whatever I say. I knew that he most likely didn't hear that comment, but it was further validation for me. "He doesn't believe in me." I felt this incredible sadness come over me for a brief moment, as if I had somehow already failed at something and that I should just give up. 

Then I saw an index card I had placed on my desk with a scripture I'd written on it several years ago. It said this: All things are possible to him who believes (Mark 9:23).

Was I going to continue to dwell in sadness and self-pity or was I going to believe? Believe that through Christ all things are possible because He is where I get my strength, my validation, and even my talents? 

I don't know my bible inside and out; I've often said on this blog that I'm not a scholar or a theologian. I may not always get it right. But here's what I think I know: I don't think I ever read an account of Jesus Christ saying, "I can't." His message was always, "Believe." But he never said, "Believe in yourself." Rather, His message was always to believe in Him. If it was a circumstance, believe that something would come about through believing in Him. It's called faith.

Without Him, I'm nothing. Without His help, I may as well not bother. If I write for recognition, fame or self-glory, I'm doing it for the wrong reasons, and it really doesn't matter if I have 5 followers or 5000. It's all going to be fluff for the sake of puff...puffing up myself. If I "make it big" by believing in myself, I just may get my Ishmael instead of my Isaac (that's not mine...I "borrowed that from Joyce Meyer) and we know how that worked out for Abraham and Sarah. And if I am counting on people to give me validation, I will always be disappointed. Not everyone will agree with what I do or say. Sometimes those closest to us don't give us what we think we need because they don't know that we need it! Only Jesus Himself can do that for us. AND...the enemy of our souls would like us to believe that "no one cares or understands me." He will attempt to thwart God's plan for our lives where we are most vulnerable.

Anything is possible for him who believes. Not in him or herself, but that God can do it! Sure, we have to do our part, but it takes the pressure off, knowing that whatever happens is out of my control and in the hands of God. 

But seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be given to you as well (Matt 6:33)
Take delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart (Ps 37:4)
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil 4:13)

I still wish someone would do all that social media for me. 

Blessings Along the Way,
Mary

Song of the Day
All Things Are Possible (Hillsongs)
Whose Report Will You Believe Medley (Times Square Church)


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

When the Blaze is Out of Your Line of Vision

Our hike this past weekend took us to Long Pond Ironworks State Park-Stonetown Circular Trail in the Wyanokies in North Jersey. Neither of us had ever ventured out that way, but we sure will be going back! It was beautiful, and some of the leaves were even turning already!
This is the view from the summit, which was quite a challenge to find!  We followed a very detailed trail hike guide (which Brian dubbed, "The Talkabout"--because they talk about the hike) from the NY NJ Trail Conference website---a lot more reliable than my out-of-date book! However, it was a bit tough to find the blazes at first. There weren't a lot and they weren't in obvious places! At one point, we clambered over a plethora of rocks, only to find out the path was nowhere in sight. Apparently, we'd passed it. As we backtracked, we found the blaze up a hill way off of "eye level."


Once we rediscovered the White blazed trail, it was pretty much straight uphill for a short climb, but once we reached the summit? Wow, what a spectacular view. It's always worth the climb!

What I wasn't able to capture was the view of the mighty Monksville Reservoir in Wanaque. This thing is HUGE (it is the source of drinking water for Jersey City), but there was an equally huge power line right in front of us and there was no way around it to take a picture.


It occurred to me while we were clambering and climbing that our spiritual journey is often similar. We clamber and climb only to find out that we've sort of lost our way. We might think we're on the right path; it must be this way. It seems like the right way, even though there is no clear direction, no clear path. But the summit is ahead, so it must be this way. It's GOT to be! And when we get to where we think the summit is, there's no access, no way to get to it. It's not right after all, and we need to backtrack. And sometimes, clambering down over those rocks is more difficult than the uphill climb. 

And when we finally see the trail blaze, we wonder how we could have missed it. Even though it was out of our line of vision, it was still there. If we'd been paying better attention, we would have seen it, and avoided all that time and energy wasted on going in the wrong direction. But instead of beating ourselves up over that, we ought to continue on. After all, we're on the right path now!
After resting a bit and taking a selfie (I'm still trying to get the hang of this thing!) we continued on, following the Talkabout until we merged with a section of the NJ Highlands Trail. Once we were on that, it was a delightful hike. And Lucy even found a few bodies of water to swim in. Now that she's a swimming dog, it's like she's catching up on all that she missed out on. She goes crazy when she sees water! And of course, she waits until she's right next to me to shake. Thank you, Lucy.
What do you do when the path you thought you should be taking turns out not to be the one you're meant to be on? Do you bushwhack through the brambles in anger or impatience to create access anyway, thereby veering completely off the path and pushing open doors that aren't meant for you to open? Do you scramble hastily back down in fear or embarrassment, falling and skinning your knees as you try desperately to find your way back to the safety of the path you were on, even if it means returning to where you began and never finding the right path? Or do you backtrack, searching quietly...slowly...patiently...for the blaze, that voice that will tell you, This is the way, walk in it (Is 30:21)? When the blaze is out of your line of vision, don't beat yourself up for not seeing it. Continue on, knowing that you're headed in the right direction, and the hike ahead will be a glorious and delightful one!

Blessings Along the Blazed Path,
Mary



Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Full Amour of God

No, you did not read that title incorrectly. This was part of a recent e-mailed devotional from a quite famous preacher (who shall remain nameless). 


Put on the whole amour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. Ephesians 6:11)

My first thought was, Oh, he misspelled armor. (He used the British version, armour). 

My next thought was, Oh, but I kind of like that idea...the amour of God.

You don't have to know a lot of French to know that amour means love. While amour often suggests an illicit or sexual love affair, it is also used to describe being madly or wildly in love. It comes from the Latin word, amor, which translates to "love" in many of the Romance (Latin) languages, including Spanish and Italian.

So it actually makes sense to say that if we put on the whole "amor" or love of God, that we will be able to stand against the wiles of the devil, doesn't it? Think about it...

When we get up in the morning, instead of complaining that we're tired, or overworked, or rushed or late...what if we instead talked to God? "God, I'm trusting in You to get me through this difficult day today. God, help me to be an encouragement to someone today. God, fill me with your grace to overlook my boss' snide remarks. God, I want to be like Jesus today and forgive those who persecute me, those who mock me and those who generally dislike me. I love you Jesus."

At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow (Phil 2:10)

Matthew 8:28-34 gives an account of two demon-possessed men who were so violent that they lived in cave and no one could come near. They came out when Jesus came near and cried out, "Have you come here to torment us before the time?" The demons begged Jesus, "If you are going to cast us out, send us into the herd of swine."

Most of us have heard this passage and have been taught on the part that follows-the part where Jesus commands the demons to enter the herd of swine (with one word-'Go!') and the stupid pigs all ran into the water and drowned. The men were completely delivered.

But notice this: The men didn't ask to be delivered and Jesus didn't come specifically to deliver them. The demons recognized Jesus. They bowed. His Presence is that powerful, and so is His name. But He came in love. He didn't come prepared to do battle.

Of course, we ought to follow the instructions in Ephesians 6 about putting on the whole armor of God. There is a very real spiritual battle going on in the unseen heavenlies, and there are times when we need to do battle. But I think that there is something to be said for putting on the whole "amor" of God as well. I think a lot of battles can be fought with love. No need to cast out or press in...sometimes all that is required is love. Above all, love each other deeply, for love covers over a multitude of sins (1Peter 4:8).


Blessings Along the Path as you clothe yourselves with Love,
Mary

Song of the Day
All You Need is Love (The Beatles)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Deceptive Advertising

I think I'm going to start making wine. And I'm going to call my wine Deception. I'll put a little nymph on the label with a sly smile.


I recently saw these signs (here I go with the signs again!) in the deli. Really? Mommy's Time Out? There's a picture of a chair in the corner, and next to it a table with a wine bottle and glass on it. It almost makes Time Out seem appealing. I'm sure it appeals to mothers of young children. They probably look forward to their "time out" with their bottles and their "sippy cup."

I get it. It's actually pretty clever. But what's the message? When you can't handle your kids, go in the corner and drink?

How about Lady Lola? No corkscrew! How convenient! And a beautifully attractive bottle! Who could resist? I almost bought it! I still might. The bottle looks like it should hold perfume, not wine. And besides, the ad says, "I'm irresistible!"

I don't advocate drinking, but I don't condone it either. I do enjoy a glass or two of wine every now and then. And I do prefer twist off caps. But these advertisements, signs and bottle labels can be so appealing that you forget you're drinking alcohol. 

Lest you think I'm on my soapbox about drinking, that's not the case. Rather, it's about deception. Advertising is all about making something attractive, right? The companies are only doing their jobs, and some are doing them quite well. I'll bet Mommy's Time Out sells a lot of bottles.

The thing about deception (or deceit) is that it's a deliberate attempt to fool or trick you; to make you believe that something that is not truth is truth.

When we think of a biblical deception, we most often think of Adam, Eve, the garden, the apple, and the serpent. The Fall. Here's how the serpent tried to trick Eve: Did God really say that you must not eat from any tree in the garden (Gen 3:1--emphasis mine)? Deception often starts with a little, insidious seed of doubt. Hmmm, Eve thought, He's got a point. "Weeelll, He actually said we could eat from any tree in the garden except that one...and that one we can't even touch or we'll die! (v3, paraphrased)"

"Nonsense! You won't die! In fact, your eyes will be opened and you'll be just like God, knowing good and evil! (v4 paraphrased)

Well, we know what happened next, right? She partook and shared some with her husband, and guess what? Then the eyes of both of them were opened...(v7). 

This is deception: It's not quite a lie. It's more like an untruth, but there's always some truth in it. Satan told Eve that their eyes would be opened and they were! That they would know good and evil, and they did! But they could never be like God. The tree was not the "tree of good and evil," but the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil." They didn't know good and evil before. They just knew God. Deception clouds our judgment.

I'll bet my blog that the women (and I believe that probably 99% of the buyers are women; the other 1% is a stressed-out dad buying it for his wife in hopes that she'll relax) buying Mommy's Time Out subconsciously believe that if they drink that wine, they'll be better equipped to take care of their children because they'll have had their "time out." Who cares what the wine tastes like? I need my time out! Deception. 

If I buy that lovely Lady Lola, it will be because I might (subconsciously) believe that I'll feel more beautiful because of the beautiful bottle and the beautiful ad. Who cares what the wine tastes like? If I drink the whole bottle, I'll be deceived into thinking I am irresistible, like the ad implies but in reality...I'll just be drunk!

I'm not saying that these companies and their advertising are evil; they're just trying to sell their products and that's how you sell-you attempt to make people believe what they see and hear. There's a lot of deceptive advertising going on in the world today. Not quite a lie, but not quite a truth...an untruth. A deliberate attempt to fool us!

So, how can we combat deception? Know the truth and don't allow yourself to be led astray. Be alert and of a sober (clear-headed, self-controlled, vigilant) mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8)...Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows through it (Prov 4:23). I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).

A truthful witness saves lives, but a false witness is deceitful

Blessings as you stay on the Path,
Mary


Video of the Day-a little levity with a classic I Love Lucy:
Lucy Stomping Grapes



Saturday, August 16, 2014

Are You Entitled to Your Space?

We have a crow problem where I work. They  perch on the cliffs of the quarry and "talk" to each other. They can get quite noisy. They fly back and forth and switch places, then talk some more. If you watch them, it doesn't seem to make much sense, and I often wonder, "What on earth are they squawking about?" And it does sound more like squawk than talk.

Across the street is a building where a certain crow (or maybe it's more than one and they take turns...like on the cliffs of the quarry) likes to perch on the roof peak. This particular crow is a bit more than just annoying. I heard all this squawking one day and watched what unfolded. There were a few small birds, maybe barn swallows which were attempting to land on the roof, and Nasty Nancy Crow (it must be a woman) squawked and actually snapped at them each time one came close, in an effort to keep them away. This went on for about a half hour! She never seemed to tire. She was protecting what she deemed her "space."

I recently attended a conference at which there were close to 10,000 people in attendance. That's a lot of people! For the most part, everyone was courteous and considerate. There were, of course, those few who felt that they were entitled...to a spot before you in line or a seat in a reserved, closed-off section simply because it was a better seat than the one they had.

The woman next to me put her water bottle in front of my feet. I moved it.  Another woman sat down next to my friend and practically pushed my friend off her chair she was so close. So my friend moved closer to me, but my neighbor was already on top of me. But the worst was when we stood up to worship and started bumping into each other. 

I was annoyed. After all, my space in front of me is the same width as my chair. Do I need to draw a line? And then I heard the Holy Spirit's whisper in my spirit. "Mary," He said, "When you're in heaven worshiping Me, singing 'Holy! Holy! Holy!' and there are millions of others gathered there with you, will you still complain about your space if someone bumps into you?"

Was I entitled to my "space" or was I acting like a crow? 

If someone "gets in my space" do I snap at them, like Nasty Nancy Crow? Maybe they are like the barn swallows, just wanting to share a good spot. Maybe their space is smaller than mine. I once did an exercise in a class I was taking in which the instructor told us to tell her when she was "in our space." My "space" starts at about 3 feet from me. Not everyone else's does. 

I think that's why drivers get so angry with other drivers...because they're invading their space. It's why people get offended when someone cuts in front of them in line at the store. We act like Nasty Nancy Crow, ready to snap at every barn swallow who comes within two feet of our space. After all, it's my space. I'm entitled to it. It's the principle! They ought to remember what they learned in Kindergarten...it really is all about that! Sound familiar? Oh, sorry, those are my recent words.

You know what I noticed about the birds? My focus was drawn to Nasty Nancy Crow, not the poor little barn swallows. It was all about her. All I heard was her squawking. It drew me out from my office it was so loud and obnoxious. That's what squawking does, and that's what we sound like when we insist on getting our way. Try it. The next time you hear someone complaining (it might even be you!) just see if it doesn't sound like squawking and look like snapping! And watch all the barn swallows around take cover.

Blessings Along the Path,
Mary

Song of the Day
Hey, You, Get Off of My Cloud (Rolling Stones) --- kind of funny because it's live with lots of people invading one another's spaces!


Friday, August 15, 2014

Hidden Signs

Have you ever noticed that most signs (at least the ones that grab our attention) tell us what not to do? No this and no that. No trespassing. No swimming. No fishing. No dumping. No stopping or standing. No smoking.  No entry.You never see a sign that says, After you enjoy your cigarette, feel free to roam about, dump, swim and fish on my private property.

If you've a regular reader of my posts, you may know that I have a fascination with signs. I love to look at signs with a spiritual "eye." 

You also may know that Chinook, my son's dog, comes to work several times a week. We've gotten into a routine with his walks; he waits by the door if I forget. 

The other day while we were on a "business" trip, we walked over to the area where he generally does his business and I noticed a sign. Funny, I thought, I don't know if I've ever seen this sign before. Weeds have grown so high that it's hard to see. I'm sure when the sign was first posted, the weeds weren't as high as they are now (I'm sure you can see the "NO" quite clearly, but the rest of the sign says fishing, trespassing, dumping and swimming).

A little farther down the road, I happened to notice another sign that I'd never noticed before because of it being hidden. This one announced the speed limit being 15 mph. That one may as well stay hidden. No one drives that slow. Again, I'm sure it was posted in a clear spot when it first went up, but weeds and branches have overtaken it (notice the NO sign again). 

Later, when I was going home, I noticed that a sign by the railroad tracks was hidden from view. This one is more important than the others in my opinion. It says, No stopping on tracks. Well, most of us have enough common sense not to do that, but for those of us who don't, the sign might save your life. But it's hidden.

It made me think about how we have signs in our own lives that we keep hidden. Signs that perhaps have been there for a long time and are now being ignored. Signs that, when they first went up, we..and everyone else in our lives...paid attention to, but the weeds of our lives have overtaken the signs and we no longer care. Or maybe we do care, but those around us don't respect us enough to heed our signs. 

What kind of signs do you keep hidden? No Trespassing might be a good one to uncover, so that people know not to violate your boundaries.  How about the simple one everyone knows? STOP! How often do you let people walk all over you without speaking up? I did that for years. And then I'd be angry at the other person for taking advantage of me when I was the one who didn't say anything!

Trim back the branches that are hiding those signs! Pruning revitalizes life. Revitalize your signs. But don't forget the one that says, Welcome!

Some further thoughts: 

  • Let's not become apathetic or give up by displaying Dead End.
  • Let's not become complacent with No Parking.
  • Conversely, No Parking may be useful to display for others who stay too long on a topic, guests who overstay their welcome or children who watch too much tv.
  • During an argument, try to see things from the other person's point of view. It might be advisable not to to display One Way during that time, but instead pull out the Yield sign.
  • On a bad day, it might be advisable to display Caution! Proceed at your own risk!
Finally...personal signs someone might want to draw my attention to:
  • Detour---I talk so much, I often stray off topic.
  • High Voltage---to warn people of my high energy...this is why I do not consume caffeine.
  • Slow! Speed bumps ahead---I wish I could heed this before ingesting treats.
  • Wet Paint---just to see how many people would actually test it to see if it's really wet.
And finally, the one I'd like to put up at work:
Blessings Along the Path,
Mary














Thursday, August 7, 2014

Come Boldly in Fear and Reverence

The other day I passed a parked police car in Mendham. You need to be very careful in Mendham. The cops there must be bored because they are famous for pulling people over for traffic infractions.

I checked my speed...I was okay. Remember, I'm the rule follower? Well, every now and then, I go over the speed limit...ok, maybe a lot of now and then. I looked in my rearview mirror and there he was, pulling out behind me! I panicked! I drove very carefully, just under the speed limit, but he was fast approaching. My heart was thumping. Oh, I hope he doesn't pull me over, I thought! 

He turned off into a side street. It wasn't about me at all.

I found it interesting that I was so nervous even though I knew I'd done nothing worthy of being pulled over. It was simply being in his "presence"...having him behind me,watching me. It was more of a respect for his authority than fear of him.

That's what the fear of God is like. God doesn't want us to be afraid of Him, but think about it...He created the universe. And in the blink of an eye, He can decimate it. We ought to have a respect for His authority, a reverence for the One who can give and take away. The One who thought creation into existence. The One who breathed life into each of us and formed each one of us with a unique fingerprint. We ought to revere that God. Respect Him. 

I recently heard a song in which the words said basically "I'm not afraid to be in your presence." I thought about that. Maybe the singer didn't mean it the way I took it, but I think if God appeared before me, I'd be just a tad afraid. I think I should be. I don't ever want to reduce God to less than that.

On the other hand, we should not live "in fear" of God; in fear of being caught in bad behavior.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). HOWEVER...we have been told that we can come freely to the "Mercy Seat," the place of forgiveness. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb 4:16). We can do this because the verse before that tells us that we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points, tempted, as we are, yet without sin (v15). Being a follower of Jesus allows us access to the Father. We need not be afraid. We are to come boldly, freely, without reservation; knowing that He will not judge us according to what we deserve, but He will immediately and completely forgive us and remember our sins no more (Heb 10:17). 

It's a healthy fear. A respectful fear. A reverent fear. But that kind of fear can only come because we know we are deeply, wonderfully and unconditionally loved by that same Awesome God.

I doubt that police officer would have offered me that unconditional love if he had pulled me over. 

Blessings Along the Path,
Mary

Songs of the Day
Come Boldly to the Throne of Grace (Jared Jensen)
Mercy Seat (Vicki Yohe)
In the Presence of Jehovah (Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir)



Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Proving Permanance

I know a woman who is permanently handicapped in a wheelchair. In other words, she will always be in a wheelchair. It's not temporary. It won't go away or get better.

Every three years she is required to actually go to the Motor Vehicle Commission and provide a doctor's note which "proves" that she is permanently handicapped in order to keep her permanent handicap vehicle tag. It cannot be done through the mail. I suppose they want to actually see her wheel herself in as further proof?

Okay, I won't talk about the Motor Vehicle Commission and how stupid this seems. I mean, they don't even accept their own driver's license as enough proof for a renewal. You still have to provide a passport, birth certificate or other means of proof. So why should they believe that a permanently disabled (and by the way, I don't really like that term either...someone in a wheelchair is perfectly able...just not physically, but again I digress) person might be telling the truth? 

Okay, I'm sure there's a good reason for this, like people taking advantage of something like the privilege of good parking by forging a doctor's note to pretend that they are really handicapped when they're not. Right. Just like I guess you could get a fake NJ driver's license and try to pass it off as real at the Motor Vehicle agency in order to continue to drive with a real license instead of a fake one. Seems like a lot of trouble to go through. And you have to have a lot of nerve. And you have to be a good liar.

I'm glad that when I get to heaven, I won't have to prove my permanence. I won't have to bring
my license, or a valid passport or a doctor's note. When I'm asked, "Why should we let you in?" I will say, "Well, you probably shouldn't. I'm a sinner who has never done quite enough to earn my way in here. All of my good works cannot add up to enough. The good person that I thought I was on earth is really not good enough to warrant entry." Then, peering through the pearly gates, I might say, "But I see other sinners and good people floating around in there who don't necessarily belong here either." 

When that doesn't get a laugh, I'll realize that this is a very serious issue and I probably should not be making jokes right now. So I will simply say, "It is only through the shed blood of Jesus Christ that I can consider myself worthy of being in the presence of a Holy God. Jesus Christ paid the debt of my sin when He gave Himself as a blood sacrifice on the cross. It is only through His righteousness that I am made righteous." 

And guess what else? There won't be any handicapped tags in heaven! 

Blessings Along the Path,
Mary

*If you're not sure of your salvation, ask yourself these questions:

  1. How good of a person is "good"? What determines "good" and at what point are you good enough to get into heaven?
  2. How many "good deeds" do you have to do until it's enough? Who sets the standard?
  3. By whose moral code are you living? Again, what's the standard?
then read these scriptures, and feel free to contact me.
  • for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23)
  • How then can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. (Is 64:5-6)
  • For it is by grace that you have been saved through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works so no one can boast (Eph 2:8-9)
  • For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord (Rom  6:23)
  • Jesus said to Him, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)
  • "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father, who is in heaven (Mat 7:21)