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Thistledown

thistleWestern Pennsylvania fields are full of them right now—those downy little fluffs of white that float along in the breeze. When we were kids we’d catch them, make a wish, then blow them heavenward in hopes that our wish would come true. What I didn’t know then was that these “wishes” came from the thistle plant.

Thistles start out as prickly little landmines for barefooted children. (Scotland adopted this plant as their national emblem apparently because once, in the dead of night, some clumsy barefooted invading Norseman stepped on it, swore quite loudly, and alerted the entire Scottish army that they were under attack. Norsemen later began wearing shoes whilst attacking Scotland.) Thistles grow a cluster of slender thorny stalks with equally nasty leaves and later produce the iconic regal purple flower out of a pear shaped green base. Almost immediately after it blooms, the plant starts to die. Its leaves and stalk turn a gnarly brown and as the dying plant dries up, birds ravage the flower yanking out the featherlike thistle down to find seeds.

If I’m honest, my life feels like that sometimes. I’m prickly, sour, and resistant with brief moments of beauty. And I have a pear shaped base. Life is hard and there are too many annoyances that peck and pester and try to pull away all that seems precious. But how wonderful to think that every thistle holds a thousand wishes! Your life, your marriage, your job, and your journey may look half dead. You might be a dried up mess of thorns, but you too hold a thousand promises. Only after hardships do we bear real fruit, only in death does the thistle share all that was waiting inside.

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. John 12:24-25thistle 3

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Posted by on August 18, 2014 in The Hikes, The Word

 

How to Get Lucky on a Hike

cloverThere it was. A four leafed clover. I picked it up and put it with the others. Tom and I found five of these little mutants in five minutes. So how do we get so lucky? Simple. We look. Four leafed clovers are everywhere in the Springtime. But because most people don’t expect to see them, they don’t look.
God wants us to get lucky. He wants to be found. And to find God, we should expect to see Him. All we have to do is look. Here’s what David says in Psalm 19:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun. It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth.

Clearly, God’s qualities are on display throughout His creation. He wants us to be reminded of Him as our “bridegroom” in the everyday sunsets, storms, and seasons. We can expect to learn more about His awesome power when we expectantly look for it. We who know Christ don’t worship nature, we worship the one who created it!
If you’ve got even three out of the five senses, you’re pretty lucky today. You’ll see, hear, smell, touch, or taste some of what the God of the universe is revealing about Himself–especially if you are on a hike.
So here are some of the ways Tom and I got lucky during our last few weekly hikes:

  • We tasted peppermint plants, sassafras leaves, and crisp cold water from a pump in the park. (Oh taste and see that the Lord is good!)
  • We felt the wind and rain, the burning of a stinging nettle plant, the cool of green grass on bare feet, and the stiff quill of a turkey feather.
  • We smelled distant campfires, pine forests, lake water, and hiking boots.
  • We heard all kinds of birds (the creepy mourn of a screech owl, the robotic gargle of a pileated woodpecker, the whirling buzz of a veery…) and we heard water bubble over rocks, wind through leaves overhead, the rumble of thunder, and the whine of mosquitoes.
  • And we saw four rattlesnakes, a porcupine, a bald eagle, some cool looking butterflies, and blue skies through green leaves so bright it took our breath away.

So get out there and expect to get lucky this week. Open your senses to what God might reveal about Himself. Enjoy your weekly hike.

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2014 in The Hikes

 

Father in One Word or Less

ImageI took a one-word poll on facebook the other day. I had noticed that others had posted a lot of “dad” pictures and deduced that it was Father’s Day. Luckily, there was still time to post my own tribute to dear old dad before sundown and to kiss the father of my children and make a proper Father’s Day feast of Hebrew National Hot Dogs and baked beans from a can.

Any way, I asked all of my BFFs on my least favorite internet site to describe fathers in one word. The answers were pithy, thoughtful, nutshell descriptions of the “greatest generation” dads. Here you go.

Supportive       Repairer       Determined       Rock       Cornerstone       Strength       Faithful       Teacher       Putzer (in a good way)       Warm       Inspirational       Caring       Steady       Strong       Awesome       Thoughtful       Hardworking       Provider       Wonderful        

But sprinkled in were a few of the not-so-fond descriptors like…

Detached       Unengaged       Drinker       Frustrating       Unloving

The gutsy, honest, and wounded children of these men must, like all of us, come face to face with a God who has asked us to call him “Daddy.”  For many Christians, this relationship with a heavenly Dad does not come easily. And I’ve learned that God had reasons for this intimate descriptor. Jesus didn’t suggest Abba (daddy) as a way to address our Father, but the way. (“This then, is how you should pray, Our Father in heaven…” Matthew 6:9) While God celebrates gender and created male and female in His Image, He is more anxious for us to know Him as Daddy rather than Mum. So look at the lists above. How has God demonstrated His Love to you? If you described your Heavenly dad in one word, what would it be? 

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2014 in The Hikes

 

Marriage and Michelangelo

When Michelangelo’s David celebrated its 500th birthday, the world renowned sculpture was still unquestionably considered a Imagemasterpiece of art and design. Standing over 17 feet high, this depiction of the nude Biblical shepherd boy captures in every detail the heart of a young hero and has been a symbol of liberty and defense for centuries. Having suffered 500 years of dirt, grime and dust, it was determined by some that David needed a bit of restoration. After two years of research and careful thought, a committee was formed to determine just how to care for one of the world’s greatest treasures. Of highest importance was the preservation of the integrity of the work so that the future generations would not see the work of the “restorationists” but instead see the hand of Michelangelo himself.

Marriage celebrates its 5,000th anniversary this year, give or take a thousand years. Some say that, like David, it too needs a bit of restoration. Years of dirt and grime have obscured its natural beauty and integrity. Before launching into the job of “fixing marriage,” we should do some research. What do we know about this societal work of art? Whose hand sculpted this masterpiece? And how do we preserve and restore the beauty and purpose of this world renowned institution of marriage?

A judge in Pennsylvania simply decided to redefine the matter by allowing same sex marriage. That’s his fix to the old dusty relic. With a single pen stroke, he believes that marriage will now be less sexist, more inclusive, and more dignified. Perhaps he would also prefer plastering female body parts on David, to make the “restored” sculpture more “equal.”

Let’s step back from the debate for a moment and look at the history of the masterpiece of marriage. What was God trying to tell us about ourselves, about His character, and about our purpose? Here are just a few things that come to mind.

1.  God celebrates Gender differences.  He is best seen in two genders. “Let us create them in our image and after our likeness…in the image of God He created them, male and female He created them.”  Genesis 1:26-27. We need to see both male and female in a covenant relationship to get the whole picture of God. Natural marriage celebrates gender. Male and female are equal, but not the same. Same sex marriage segregates and diminishes gender differences.

2.  God loves Creativity. The first command in the Bible is to “Be fruitful and multiply!” After creating everything on earth, God gives us a chance to share in the creative process, “Fill the earth!” Natural marriage is creative, bringing new life. Same sex marriage limits the creative process because it can’t ever create life.

3.  God communicates with Covenants. He tells us about himself by giving visual aids, symbols, parables, and physical road marks that clearly communicate His values and character. The great promises of God are made with signs that cannot be missed: Blood of animals, circumcision, the rainbow after the flood, sex and virginity. Marriage is a covenant between two people that together reveal the image of God and the fullness of the trinity–one flesh. The blood shed by a virgin bride is the seal of that promise just as Christ’s blood was the seal of his promise. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. God is trying to tell you something every time you go to a wedding. I love you, my Bride, my Church. I am your husband, you are my love.

Image“…For this reason, a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife…” For this reason indeed. Marriage is a symbol of God’s eternal love and covenant that is fully communicated when male and female are joined as one. Let’s make sure that future generations see the hand of the Master when they look at marriage. To redefine it is to mar a masterpiece and mock it’s designer.

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2014 in 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!

 

 
 

Urban Eagles and Curling

It’s in all the local papers. Mr. and Mrs. Bald Eagle from Hays in Pittsburgh have just laid a third egg in their big-ass nest. This is the second year in a row that the eagle couple has chosen to raise a family within the city limits of Pittsburgh. Last year, one egg hatched and fledged. The last time this happened was over 150 years ago according to the “eggsperts”.

eagle nest

Like most of the traffic on Route 19, their Hays area nest is now under 24 hour surveillance by remote cameras. If anything suspicious happens, it will be on film. I am enthralled with the return of the eagles and love to see them flying overhead but watching the live feed is much like watching Olympic Curling. You know it’s supposed to be interesting but you are not sure why. Click the picture for the link to the big event where egg number 1 is seen for the very first time. Find the frame for “first egg laid, 2-19-2014.” The first 2 minutes are cool. After that, it’s like the 6th End for the Great Britain Curling Team…just not really going anywhere. (http://www.pixcontroller.com/eagles/)

Tom and I will be heading over to congratulate the lucky new parents this weekend. Sadly, they have declined our invitation to join us for dinner afterward at the Hofbrauhaus. (If you visit along the trail, you’ll notice a sign insisting that you keep your voice to a whisper so as not to disturb the love birds whilst nesting. Apparently human voices might drown out the sounds of trains, traffic, construction vehicles, and barge horns that eagles love so much.)

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2014 in The Hikes