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Category Archives: Lessons from the Trail

Stuff we’ve learned on the journey.

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The Real Reason For Clouds

We stop, we stare, we click, we share. Facebook is filled with sunset pictures. There are even facebook pages that are solely dedicated to facebook sunset photos. The Wonderful World of Sunsets, one of dozens of “sunset only” facebook sites, has over 360,000 followers. Weird, but mildly impressive. So why are people so strangely drawn to an event that happens everywhere in the world at the end of every single day?

Well of course it’s because we love the colors, movement, and surprises–it’s art in real time. No two are alike so each sunset is literally a once in a lifetime event. (No one has ever said, “Oh, I’ve seen that one already.”) And even the act of looking up draws us out of our earthbound experience into something bigger and more beautiful.

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Fernandina water front.

For me, sunsets are a great excuse to sit and rest during a hike. “Oooh! Look Tom, the sun is setting. Let’s stop here and watch for a couple of hours.” And maybe I’m dim witted but this was the first year that I noticed something wonderful about sunsets: No one takes pictures of sunsets on clear sunny days. It takes a relatively cloudy evening to deliver a proper sunset. And a truly menacing sky will produce the most spectacular palette. If there are no clouds, there is nothing to reflect the sun light. As the angle of the sun’s rays lower in the sky, the clouds mirror the light. They are transformed from their gray and gloomy appearance to a brilliant infinitely dynamic likeness of the sun itself.  From the sun’s point of view, there is no such thing as a dark cloud.

Perhaps this is the true reason for clouds and for the inexhaustible number of sunset photos. We expected a storm but the sun changed it into a light show. Our forecast for gloomy gray skies is surprised by the sun’s persistent presence right up until the last bit of daylight yields to the night.

When you snap your next sunset selfie, remember that Jesus’ persistent love is illuminating the gloom in your life. Remember that every day holds a new surprise of joy and mercy. And from His perspective, all that would cloud your life looks like art in motion when exposed to His brilliant presence.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim to work of His hands. Psalm 19:1

Enjoy your weekly hike.

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Same scene, minutes later. See what I mean?

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Looking Down and Looking Up

bittersweetUnless we’re hiking on dry pavement, I almost always have my eyes on the path right in front of me. Rocks, tree roots, steep slippery banks, and poison ivy are constant hazards. And I’m old…I could fracture a hip or something. But thank goodness for small distractions that draw my eyes up and away from the ground! An owl in flight, a purple sunset, bright green leaves against and even brighter blue sky are the sights that literally stop me in my tracks and take my breath away. (And, if I’m honest, sometimes I just need an excuse to take a break!) Looking down keeps me safe on the hike, but looking up makes the hike worthwhile.

I’m learning the balance: when to keep walking and when to look up. The clues are on the ground. Yesterday after almost a mile of looking down at dark brown frozen mud, I spotted some tiny yellow-orange bits, like little misplaced sea shells. Bittersweet. Time to stop and look up. And there it was, a big mess of tangled twisted vines loaded down with the red-orange berries wrapped in the yellowish husks. They’re even prettier with a fresh frosting of snow. What a gift! I would have missed it completely if I hadn’t seen the signs. What we see on the ground tells us about what’s overhead.

I often hike through my day to day routine without stopping to look up. Plodding forward, I just keep looking down at the trials and stresses until some emergency forces me to seek God’s help. But if I were to look more closely, I’d find He has been filling my path with signs of His handiwork that is right over my head. There is joy, comfort, kindness, and peace in the little delights and distractions of this journey. A kind word, a great song, the smell of fresh coffee, comfy slippers…sometimes these are carefully placed gifts to make you stop and breathe it all in. And those moments along the path make it all worthwhile.

Keep hiking, but don’t forget to stop and look up.

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2014 in Lessons from the Trail, The Hikes

 

Delicious

Delicious

Apparently many people like to hike with their dogs. The evidence is everywhere. We carefully avoid the “poop loop” dog walking area where walkers are encouraged to pickup and carry away their best friend’s doodoo. It’s just not our thing. You see, we have a cat. Cats don’t pretend to be man’s best friend, and they cover their own “evidence” while on the trail. But I must concede that cats are lousy hikers. After hiking about 47 feet and chasing some thistle-down, they sit and wait for humans to carry them back to their food bowls.

We didn’t always have a cat. But one Saturday afternoon three years ago, I felt that a kitten would brighten up our debt filled college tuition paying years. So I left TJMaxx and went over to the pet store and got right to the point.

“Do you have any kittens?”

“Yes, we have one kitten left,” was the eager teenager’s first-job-at-a-pet-store reply.

“I’ll take it.”

“Don’t you want to look at it…I mean to see if you are compatible.”

Who is compatible with a cat? I wondered.  “No thanks. Do you have a box, or a bag or something that I can take it home in?”

“?!!”  “I need to get my manager,” the rookie looked quite upset.

This is when I realized that most people approach kitten shopping much like shoe shopping. One takes one’s time to find just the right kitten, looking for that special furry friend that fits just right. But I was kind of in a hurry and wasn’t really in the mood for shopping.

“The recipe clearly calls for one kitten. Do you have one or not?” But no one at the pet store found that to be very funny and they made me sign a bunch of papers and told me that pets were almost just like people and sold me some kitten food and a nice soft kitten box. They even called me the next day to ask, “How was my kitten?” I told them, “Delicious.”

Banksy (named after an artist/felon) is now a healthy three year old ginger colored tabby. He’s a great cat. He has scarred most of our furniture and all of our carpeting while brightening up our lives. But I’ll admit, he’s not a great hiker. So you won’t see him out on the trail. It’s just better that way. Enjoy your weekly hike and don’t forget your doodoo bag.

Who could eat you?

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2014 in Lessons from the Trail

 

Who Wrote This Map Anyway?

vacation shots 2011 035Going “off trail” hasn’t ever really gone well for us. There was that one time when faded blazes and disappearing paths tempted us to rely on our own sense of direction. After walking for miles blindly following a map, we stopped and agreed, “This can’t be right!” “Who wrote this map anyway?” Trusting our keen “inner hiker” instincts, we set off in a direction that seemed shorter, or smoother, or just better. Yeah. After an hour or so, we saw the sign. Yes, Dolly Sods was a World War II testing site. And going “off trail” there has some interesting consequences.

When lost in life’s most challenging seasons, CS Lewis reminds us to continue following the path: “Was the map wrong? Maps can be wrong, but the other explanation is more often true.”  Just as most computer problems occur between the keyboard and the chair, many of life’s challenges happen when we stop looking at the signs. Maps and trail signs are very useful things.

The great thing about being a Christian is the map. The rules for the journey are all laid out in the Bible. God told us what we needed to know, we just need to trust it. The trail includes some dry miserable stretches that we didn’t expect. The challenges that we thought the map would help us avoid may in fact be the scenic attractions and destination points along the way. If we go off trail, we will never fully know that deep, tired satisfied feeling that “I made it!”

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.  Proverbs 3:5-6

So what are the signs? Start reading the Bible and you’ll find that sometimes the warnings and markers are glaringly obvious. One of God’s most grand and obvious signs to us is marriage.  It is His way of saying, “I love you. I will never stop loving you. I’m your husband, you are my bride.” Whether you are married or not, let this “map” of relationship, commitment, covenant, and joy really sink in. God said “I do” to you! Imagine it! You are eternally His! Have you been faithfully following His trail?

This week’s hike was at McConnell’s Mill’s Hell’s Hollow Trail. Icy and muddy but the “signs” that Spring has come were everywhere: robins, singing cardinals, and green grass peaking through the snow!

 

 
 

Time For A Confession

eastern_bluebird_11“Can’t we take the shortcut?” That was me whining. It was getting colder as the afternoon wore on. The trail was a slippery mix of mud, ice and dirty snow. There wasn’t much to see and my ears were cold. But Tom was ever bright and hopeful. “You can make it!” My mouth smiled but the rest of me didn’t. And so, on we went. The Long Way.

Not even 100 yards of ooze later, I stopped so fast that Tom ran into me. A bluebird was sitting on a frozen branch right in front of my face. It was so incredibly bright blue against the dull gray woods. Then Tom spotted another. It was chirping out a cheery little chuckle of a song not 10 feet away. Two more flew into view, then five or six more. It was so exciting I could hardly breathe. Ok, yes, it’s true. You were going to find out sooner or later: I’m a bird nerd. Be warned. Once you start down this path of identification, bird calls, and migration schedules, you’ll find you just can’t stop. Binoculars, birding books…the whole Avian enchilada. Remember Jane Hathaway from the Beverly Hillbillies? That’s me in five years. Jane Hathaway

Tom too has succumbed and now shares my unnatural affinity for bird culture. But he looks more like Kenny Bostick from The Big Year. rrc_TBY_bostick_mag_clearance

There are four things I’ve noticed about birdwatching which are listed below. Since birding is inherently geeky, I totally understand if you never read my blog again.

1.  Birding is just not that cool. If you think otherwise, you are wrong and suffer from acute denial. 

2.  It’s not just a chick thing (no pun intended). There are an equal number of men out there, and they really look like they want to be, if you know what I mean.

3.  Birdwatchers are predominantly white. We need to seek Justice here and get our Black and Latino friends involved.

4.  The 15-39 year old age group is not well represented in the birding world. Make what ever conclusions seem logical.

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2014 in Lessons from the Trail, The Hikes

 

What’s Your Legacy?

What is the most important legacy you can leave your children?  Most Christians would immediately say that building a strong Christian faith is the highest priority.  But if there were just one more value that you could instill in the hearts of your children, it should be the meaning and vision for marriage.

Remember when kids went to weddings?  No wonder young children, even those raised in the Church, lack a basic understanding of marriage.  By-gone church weddings have been replaced by today’s pricey adult affairs. The popular wedding site The Knot encourages brides to “stand strong” and “limit the guest list” and warns, “Don’t extend ‘ceremony only’ invitations to children.” Martha Stewart’s wedding etiquette agrees that inviting children is “not appropriate” at most weddings. (What? … really!?) When asked “who has been to a wedding?” very few elementary school children’s hands go up. The occasional “yes” will then reveal that it was “my mom’s” or “my dad’s” wedding. While marriage has become irrelevant to the post modern millennial generation, today’s Generation Alpha kids will be left completely adrift with no real understanding of the concept.

As a sexual abstinence educator for over 25 years, I’m convinced that if we are going to ask our kids to wait for marriage to have sex, then we’d darn well better show them that marriage is something worth waiting for.  God’s design, His purpose, and His very heartbeat is revealed in the sacred vows of marriage.  To understand a wedding is to glimpse into God’s love of His Bride, the Church.  The lifetime pledge of a husband to his wife sheds new light on the eternal covenant God makes with His people.  Without a vision for marriage, sex has no context, purity has no meaning, and we leave the next generation without the picture of God’s covenantal love.

ImageOh, yeah…today’s hike was fun.  I love being married to Tom Scheuring.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2014 in Lessons from the Trail, The Hikes

 

I’m In!

Want to know the secret to a joyful marriage?  Two words.  “I’m in.”

Just before walking down the aisle 27 years ago, my mom (who you already know gave only the wisest of counsel) asked me a strange question.  I mean, I was already poured into the white gown.  The worship team music was already playing the latest Sandi Patti tune.  Tom was somewhere in the building sweating through his rented tuxedo.  And she asked me, “Do you know for sure that Tom loves you?”  Geez mom, …duh.  Mom continued, “Well if he really loves you, then I have one piece of advice:  Never say no to him.

Wait. Wha….? There was very little time to argue this point.  My dad had his elbow poised and ready to escort me to the “have and to hold from this day forward” moment I’d looked forward to since age 4.  I remember looking at Tom on the way down the aisle thinking, “Really?  Never?” mr mrs

Of course at the time I thought she was making some reference to the bedroom.  But (and many of you are not going to like this) I have found that in pretty much every situation, saying “no” has never gotten me anywhere.  Marriage works far better when you say yes.

Saying “yes” to Tom is so, well… Biblical. Look at Ephesians 5:21-33. “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church.” If someone loves you that much, you’d be a fool to say no.  If you are truly “one flesh” then saying no to your spouse is like saying no to yourself.  “Wives, respect your husbands.”  Mostly that means letting him take the lead.  Wives, let your husband lead and then respect his opinion enough to follow.  You’ll put a huge silly smile on his face…and isn’t that what you really wanted…to make someone you love happy?

This advice isn’t for everyone.  We don’t say “yes” to abuse, harm, or immorality.  This is why my mom qualified the advice with “Do you know for sure that Tom loves you?”  Without her husband’s love, a wife won’t want to say “yes” to much of anything.

Marriage isn’t a competitive sport.  I think that’s why hiking together is so natural.  No one is trying to win an argument.  No one has to be “right”.  Just follow the trail.  (If you get lost, blame it on the map.)  So next time your husband says “Let’s go look at power tools we can’t afford!” or “I’d like a Whopper for dinner, how about you?” remember to smile and force out the two words that will work like magic: “I’m in!”

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2014 in Lessons from the Trail, The Word

 

The Urban Hike

Perhaps the most practical place to hike (especially in winter!) is right out your front door.  Tom and I frequently take a quick walk around our little neighborhood and find that there is a comfort in the familiar day to day sights and sounds of Gibsonia (or, as our kids prefer, Gibsomnia).  I know we watch too much Sherlock but it’s amazing what you notice if you look.  If there are newspapers in the driveway and the Christmas decorations are still up, they’re probably on a cruise.  Old carpet on the curb means they got new flooring, a strange car means a son or daughter has moved back home, …oh, the drama!  And we love to conjure up nicknames for the people we see.  Stick Man, the Bag People (avid poop scoopers), Mustafa (an older Irish looking man who always walks 10 paces ahead of his wife), and the Hollywood Squares.  I shudder to think…do they have a nickname for us?  Probably Barbie and Ken.

We were out to dinner with some true Urban Hikers the other night.  They eagerly shared their passion for exploring the city on foot.  And Pittsburgh hiking is not for the faint of heart.  Even though OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe downtown area of Pittsburgh is truly a “walking city,” let’s face it, we’ve got a hill problem here.  In the one mile from Panther Hollow to the Peterson Event Center, you’ve got a nosebleed.  Undaunted, this couple shares an intimacy with the city they love.  They choose the road less travelled, walking the back streets and neighborhood routes.  While most of us are crawling along on the parkway, they embrace the people, the Churches, ethnic enclaves, corner markets, ruins of Pittsburgh’s past, cobblestone, trolley tracks, spectacular views, and hundreds of bridges.  We listened in while they hatched a cunning plan for their next 10 miler:  From North Oakland, across the HotMetalBridge, down the River Trail to Homestead, cross the bridge, up Brownshill, through Squirrel Hill to SchenleyPark and home again.  You could see how excited they were about the plan.  I’m exhausted just thinking about it.  “But will you stop to see the eagles?” says Tom.  On the River Trail between Hot Metal and Sandcastle, there is an eagles nest. Last Spring, Mr. and Mrs. Bald Eagle hatched the first chick to be born in Pittsburgh in 200 years.  We’ve visited often on foot and on bikes. It’s a relatively short walk 2-3 miles from the Hot Metal Bridge along the Monongahela River.   Bring your binoculars and plan on the Hofbrauhaus for dinner.

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2014 in Lessons from the Trail, The Hikes

 

Hike Vs. Golf

“It’s important that you find something you can do together when the kids leave home.” I remember my mom telling me this right after all of her kids left home. Her advice was always right on target.   My mom and dad liked to camp, and garden, and run for public office.  While the bedrooms were emptying one by one, their marriage was filling up with travel, roses, and school board.  I don’t think they even noticed when the last of us kids left the nest.

So when Tom and I got hitched, I often wondered what this “something” would be.  There were things I knew we would NOT do together when our future kids grew up and left our future home.  I would NOT be rebuilding motorcycles.  He would NOT be singing with the Worship Team at Church.  I would NOT be keeping up with him on a mountain bike.  He would NOT be writing a hiking blog.

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The cable car that took us back to our hotel. Phew.

But it was on our honeymoon that I also determined that the “something we can do together for the rest of our lives” would probably NOT be golf either.  It was on the third day of the honeymoon.  It was sort of a grey and drizzly day.  That “new marriage smell” had already worn off.   Tom took me to the golf course where we rented some clubs and I played my first round of golf ever.  Since the hiking had gone so well,  I was very confident in my ability to successfully play a round of golf.  I mean…how hard could it be…?  By my fifth putt on the fourth hole, all of my wedding adrenaline had crashed into a weepy, insecure puddle of feminine deficiency.  Shank. “I hate this stupid game!”  Wiff.  “Who invented this torture?”  Splash.  “Damn these evil sticks!”  Wiping away the blood that was shooting out of my eyes, I looked up to see Tom silently walking to the parking lot, leaving me standing in the drizzling rain on the 5th hole with the evil sticks and no more golf balls.  Is he divorcing me already??  I’m such a failure!!  On the drive back to our little hotel (via cable car), Tom broke the crushing silence.  His question was all I needed to hear:. “How about if tomorrow we take another hike?”

And then I knew that our marriage wasn’t going to end and that we indeed would have “something we could do together when the kids left home”.

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2014 in Lessons from the Trail

 

When You Just Don’t Feel Like It

It’s strange that the same sparkly boughs of holly that decked my halls to fabricate a magical Christmas miracle have now become an annoying assortment of glitter infested clutter.  I had a terrific headache and was completely pooped from a stressful week.   I did not feel like hiking.  I did not feel like doing anything. And we really needed to take down all those Christmas decorations. christmas 2013

Doesn’t it seem like we resist some things just when we need them most?  Tom (aka Mr. Wonderful) has some sort of hormone-detecting superpower.  He knows when I need to get out there.  We took a very short drive to one of our go-to trails near North Park.  Pittsburgh was having one of those global warming periods (they generally last anywhere from 7 to 10 hours) and it was a balmy 49 degrees.  After the sudden snow melt and 3 inches of rain, the trail/river was a royal sloppy mess but it felt good to have my boots in the mud and smell the earth again.  The stream that feeds the lake was too high to cross so we walked around it and took a steeper trail.   I was moving a bit slower than usual (slugs were passing me shaking their heads), but I kept moving.  We heard and then saw a pileated woodpecker.  (They are the big black and white ones with the bright red pointy heads…think Woody the Woodpecker if you are over 40.)  They are much easier to see when all the leaves are down.  A couple of deer stopped in the trail to look at us. (“Look dear, humans!”)  Tom rides his mountain bike here often so he knows which water pumps still work (the water that pumps up out of the ground is freezing cold—so refreshing!) and he knows where the nicer overlooks are.  An hour later, we walked back to the car.  Nothing remarkable…just a nice little break from the worries of the day and all the post Christmas blahs.  Sometimes that is all marriage is…just finding ways to say, “You are more important than my headache or my Christmas clutter, or anything else in this world.”