“Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.”Psalms 57:5
Father God, as I go about my day help me to see the world in a new light. A world that was created by you for your glory. A world so intricate and beautiful and diverse that only you, God, could’ve designed. Amen
As my dog Tucker ran along the path unencumbered with the complicated thoughts of us humans I had to stop and laugh at his simple life. Simple, in comparison to mine, but still an integral part of God’s creation.
We were on our usual trek through a local, suburban canyon which features homes on either top of the divide. Through the middle are varieties of plant life too numerous to count hiding all manner of birds, lizards, bunnies, and probably a rattlesnake or two. It even features a tiny spring welling up mysteriously somewhere along the way. And it struck me how no human on earth could create such a diverse and self-sustaining environment. We try, oh we certainly try.
There’ve been numerous attempts to create our own human-based “Eden.” In the 60s and 70s communes could be found throughout the United States, based loosely on China’s Mao Zedong’s plan for communal living. But time after time they have failed.
Although American communards worked to raise food, shared parenting and household tasks, shared financial responsibility and upkeep, the rules and organization were often lax, leading many to fail simply because there was no governing body, not enough discipline or consequence when someone did not do their part. Also, for some, drugs and sex were more important than work.
Russell Flannery, Forbes Magazine
You’ve probably heard the Romans 8 verse many times where Paul reminds us that God works for the good of all those who love Him. I can’t help but notice in so many reviews of man’s attempt to re-create what God has already made perfect that what is basically missing is God Himself.
God has already made the perfect commune for us. It’s a world that, if we were to disappear tomorrow, would continue on growing, dying, rebuilding, burning, pro-creating, flooding, blooming, blizzarding, and shining. But for what purpose? That my friends, is the ultimate pinnacle of God’s plan. In the beginning He made it for you. It’s not something we need to re-make; that would pale in comparison to the original! But it is something to appreciate in its intricately woven creation and sustainability. For that we can give Glory to God all our lives.
You hem me in behind and before, and
you lay your hand upon me.Psalm 139:5
My BSGs were talking the other day about sensing God’s presence. More specifically about the times we felt God was far away from us. So often when we are experiencing difficult trials we think “where is God?” But I’ve come to realize in my faith journey that the real question is the one God asks, “Will you come back to me and rest in my love?”
God surrounds us each and every day. In our verse today it’s expressed as “hemming us in.” For some that might seem restricting. But to me it evokes the concept of wrapping a baby tightly in a swaddling cloth. We do it so the baby feels the warmth and safety once felt while inside the womb. And that’s what God wants for us.
I will not leave you comfortless: I will
come to you.John 14:18
Those are Jesus’ words. He sent us the Holy Spirit to always be in us. We don’t need to go looking for it. We don’t need to beg for it to descend upon us. God indwells. So, what is truly required of us when we experience difficult times is to rest in what is already available to us.
“It may look like I’m surrounded but I’m surrounded by you!”
Upper Room, Surrounded (Fight My Battles)
When I think about the times I felt distanced from God I also think back to when the Israelites were out in the desert. They could actually see God’s spirit hovering over their camp day and night. And yet, they asked, “Where is God?” I don’t have the benefit of seeing a cloud follow me around day and night. And, I don’t have the physical Jesus to sit down with at dinner to share my problems. So, I give myself a bit of grace when I forget He is always with me.
When I rest and tap into the strength and love and goodness of the Holy Spirit I find that promised peace. It most likely won’t change the circumstances of the trial I’m experiencing. But knowing He is with me, with His hand laid upon me, gives me the strength to continue.
My friend Betsy is an avid, extreme hiker. Last year, at 70 years old, she set off to tackle the John Muir Trail solo. She came to a particularly difficult portion and her body starting giving her troubles. She has dreamed of this trip for years – and attempted it a few times. She became distraught that she couldn’t go on. With her, in case of emergency, was her Iphone. She made the decision to use it to listen to some Christian music in the midst of this struggle. As she reached the crest of the difficult portion, filled with the music of the Holy Spirit, her mind was transformed. She had plugged back in to her closeness with God.
Betsy wasn’t able to complete her goal. But she gained so much more. A confirmation that God never leaves us. We just need to rest in that “hemmed in” space He provides.
Here’s a prayer from Sparkling Gems from the Greek to pray when we feel separated from God:
Lord, I thank you that I am not a spiritual orphan in this world. You did not abandon me or leave me to figure out everything on my own. You sent the Holy Spirit to me to be my Teacher and Guide. So right now, I open my heart wide to the Holy Spirit, so He can be the Helper You sent Him to be in my life. I give You thanks for sending this divine Helper and I ask You to teach me how to lean upon Him more and more in the course of my life. I pray this in Jesus’ name!
My friend Betsy is incredible. I first met her when I started working out at the gym where my daughter was a physical therapist. I instantly was drawn to her positivity and strength. On her 70th birthday, Betsy and another friend did 70 burpees without stopping, If you have ever done a burpee you are probably saying, “wow!!” She can hand-over-hand climb a rope to the top of the building. She pushes herself with heavier weights, all the while encouraging others much younger.
One day I was challenged by another friend to start a Bible Study. I had overheard Betsy mention her faith a few times. I stepped out of my comfort zone and asked her and another gym buddy to join my study. She instantly said, “yes!” When my Boldness Challenge commenced her list was impressive. At the top was her desire to walk a portion of the famed Pacific Crest Trail in California – alone. Now mind you, Betsy has been hiking her whole life. And, she has scaled Mt. Whitney multiple times (her husband, Jack, will hit his 200th Whitney climb this summer). I trust her judgement when it comes to being out in the wilderness. But she wanted to trust God, not herself. So, she prayed and asked for prayers from our Bold Warrior group. She felt God’s answer – “go.” She planned her trip between two others. Another Whitney climb and the trip she had planned with two other friends –the long-term dream of hiking the John Muir Trail. As I write this, she is on her way up to the Sierras for her three-week hike on the JMT. Did I mention Betsy has had two knee replacements? I call her my Bionic friend.
Boldness Trip Report July 22-24, 2020
I have been wanting to do this hike for around five years now. First because it is the “official” start of the Sierras, which is my first love when it comes to mountain ranges. And secondly, because this trail is part of the Pacific Crest Trail, which I have dreamed about hiking for several decades. I grew up hiking in the Sierras every summer. My father brought my siblings and I there for backpacking trips. So being in these mountains is revisiting favorite childhood memories. But Kennedy Meadows is the southern end of the Sierras and lower in elevation, which makes this area hotter and drier. This is why I have not tackled this hike before now! According to the PCT Half Mile App, it is actually a 40-mile trip, with fewer sources of water than I am used to and these water sources dry out as the summer heats up.
My husband drove me to the trail head on July 22 and I started hiking at 5:50 a.m. to get miles covered before the sun heated up the trail. I was carrying 5 liters of water and planned to camp 12 miles up the trail at the south fork of the Kern River. I sang hymns and talked with God as I walked down the trail. I looked for flowers along the way and marveled at the beauty all around me. Because the elevation is lower here, there were many flowers that I do not normally see. My father taught us to try to identify flowers on the trail. I consider this one of the gifts I received from him! This helps pass the time and I was happy as I walked.
Having studied the trail descriptions, I noticed the changing scenery which marked my progress up the trail. And the sun stayed behind a ridge to the east for a very long time, so the hike was not as hot as I expected. From time to time there was a cool breeze, to which I said, “Thank you Jesus!” I passed a woman at the 5-mile point. She had come from Kennedy Meadows the day before for a one-night trip and was headed back to her car. She confirmed for me a water source 2 miles up the trail. I could hear a small musical creek when I got there. I stopped and filled up my water bottles. About a mile later, I topped out of the small canyon. There was a gentle descent through pine trees and when the trees ended the vista opened onto a gorgeous miles long meadow. It was stunning! The trail followed the edge of the meadow and it was a joy to walk along it! This is cow country, and I could hear the cows in the meadows mooing.
Time passed quickly and by 1:00 p.m. I was at the south fork of the Kern River and my camping spot for the night. I filtered water into all my bottles. I set up camp. I explored the trial on the other side of the river where I was to hike come morning. All chores were done by 4:00, and this is when I started to struggle mentally. I had 4 hours to go before sunset. I really missed my husband! I am used to having him as my exploring companion. Because I was carrying all that water, I did not bring anything to read or any other forms of distraction. I had to rely on a favorite mantra: “Rejoice always! Pray without ceasing! Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you!” One of my weaknesses is being still and listening for God. I am not particularly good at being quiet and listening for his words. So, I sat down on a nice rock and asked God to help me listen. My bible ladies will tell you that for months now, when asked what God is calling me to do, I have been unsure of the answer. I felt I was being led to call on shut-ins but was not sure I was hearing correctly. As I sat on that rock, names were coming to me of people to visit and as the list grew, I felt certain this is what God is asking me to do! It was wonderful to feel his direction! This day was also the one-year anniversary of my mother’s passing. So, I had a conversation with her, and I sang the hymns that she had picked to have at her funeral. It was a holy time. I was in my tent and dozing at 8:15 p.m. when I heard a voice saying “Hello.” It was a man and two women who had come from Kennedy Meadows. They had started hiking at 7:00 a.m. and were just now getting to camp. When I left camp the following morning, one of the women was just getting up. We waved as I headed out across the bridge over the river. I saw no one else for the rest of the hike.
The trail on the far side of the river was a little confusing. There were intersecting trails, poorly marked and an old jeep road that was mentioned in the guidebook. As I approached the river the day before I could see a portion of a trail going up the hillside, heading north and slightly east. And as I was almost to camp, I saw a person rounding a corner and heading in the direction of that trail. The trail description talked about being on the old jeep road for a short time before you were back on old trail. My sense was to follow where I had seen the other hiker. My back up plan was to turn on my phone and check the PCT Half Mile App that was on my phone. So, I turned right at the intersection, following the old jeep road and turned on my phone. But to my dismay, it immediately said, low battery, closing and it promptly shut down. My reaction, after the shock, was to say, “Okay God! It’s just you and me!” I continued down the old jeep road and about 30 seconds later out of my mouth came “Why aren’t there any footprints here?” But did I listen? No! I just kept walking around the corner where I had seen the other hiker, for about 10 minutes where the trail/old jeep road became a mass of cow hoof prints. I stopped and pulled out my portable phone charger, hooking it up to my phone. I reread the trail description, knowing I was not where I should be. I went back to the trail intersection and saw immediately which path I should have followed. The one that went north and slightly west. It made me stop and think about what other times in my life when I have had a preconceived idea about what I was supposed to be doing and was so focused on that idea that I totally missed God telling me that I was going in the wrong direction!! By now my phone was powered up enough to confirm I was on the PCT.
The rest of the morning passed as the steps became miles and the trail landmarks followed in sequence the trail descriptions in the guidebook. Beauty was everywhere! I stopped and sat on a fallen tree amidst many wildflowers to eat my breakfast — gorgeous!! I was filled with peace. The trail continued to climb and eventually rounded a corner to a hillside meadow. I have never been to Switzerland, but I believe it would look like this meadow. I could hear a trickle of water, so I dropped my pack and wandered until I found a place where I could collect enough water to pump into my many water bottles. I could have stayed there for hours! But old lady muscles get stiff when I sit too long, so back to the trail I went.
More climbing and the sun was heating up. Some portions of the trail became sandy. It was time to focus on other things, so I started at the top of my prayer list, being very intentional and specific with the requests for each person on my list. Next thing I knew, it was an hour later, and I was two miles up the trail, having not thought once about tired muscles, or sandy trails, or when was I going to stop and sit down! My last prayer for the last person on my prayer list was said just as I topped out over the ridgeline. It was utterly amazing! The body is an incredible machine. If you have done your prep work, as in going to exercise class regularly, working out and stretching, then all you have to do is get your head out of the mix and let the body take over. Your mind can defeat you every time if you let it. “This is like walking on the beach!” “That sun is making me hot!” “More uphill! Really?” “Shouldn’t I take a break now?” I will say it again, your mind can defeat your heart and your spirit if you let it. So, do not let it! Rejoice always! Pray without ceasing! Give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. I Thessalonians 5:16-18. This is one of my favorites. It snaps me out of the negative every time!
Over the ridge and down we go, into a forest of pines. Beautiful! Heading for the next night’s water source and campsite. That was to be twelve miles from the Kern River. The guidebook said, “Reliable, year-round, spring fed creek.” Except it was a mud hole!! My first thought was “Betsy, you are toast!” But a little voice in my head said, “Betsy, just keep walking.” So, walk I did, past the mud hole, and past Gomez Meadow, where I thought I was spending the night. Three miles up the trail was a “step across creek.” That voice was saying every mile I do today is one less mile for tomorrow. I was mentally reviewing the water I had left. Three- and one-half liters. But tomorrow was to be a fifteen-mile day and I did not like that ratio. I knew I was well hydrated based on how frequently I was having to stop to pee. And I knew it was better to keep going while I was hydrated. Fortunately, there was water to “step across” when I came to creek! I filled my bottles then reviewed the map and the trail description. The next section covered 26 switchbacks over 4 miles. I decided to listen to that voice that was still telling me to just keep walking. I knew this was a climb, but I could see from the map that there would be places flat enough to camp along the way if I became too tired to do all 26. I was still feeling strong, so, walk I did. I ended up doing 18 miles that day which just left 10 miles to Mulkey Pass, my end point for the trail, plus one-mile cross country to Horseshoe Meadow to get to the car. I camped at the top of the 26 switchbacks and had a lovely view!
I was on the trail early the next morning. With eight miles left to hike, I decided to give myself a treat. I pulled out my I-pod and turned on a Lauren Daigle CD. I was sitting on a fallen tree eating a snack when Love Like This came on. I am very familiar with this CD and love her music. But on this day, the words spoke to me in a very personal way. “What have I done to deserve love like this?” The tears started running down my face. And when her powerful voice sang out the Hallelujahs, I could almost feel the notes and words reverberating off the surrounding mountain spires! It was definitely a God moment!
Back on the trail, and a few songs later, her song, Remember, spoke to me as well. I have always known that God is with me wherever I am. And he is how I survived that hardest moments of my life. But on this day, these words and her voice had me sobbing as I went down the trail. “I remember, I remember. You have always been faithful to me.’ “You were there, always there, with me.” Is there any gift that can be greater than that?! Not for me.
The last thing I want to say is regarding fear. I put off doing this hike for 5 years out of fear of the unknown. Where is the water? What will the trail be like? Where will I camp? How long will it take me? Will it be too hot? Will I get dehydrated? Will I be afraid out there by myself? The answers are simple. This is an incredibly beautiful section of the Sierras and I loved hiking through it! I was never afraid, even when my reliable water was not so reliable! I have learned this lesson before and will probably have to learn it again in the future. What we imagine is often much worse than real life! We have nothing to fear but fear itself! God was with me and I was blessed!
In the darkest hour, when I cannot breathe Fear is on my chest, the weight of the world on me Everything is crashing down, everything I had known When I wonder if I’m all alone
I remember, I remember You have always been faithful to me I remember, I remember Even when my own eyes could not see You were there, always there
I will lift my eyes even in the pain Above all the lies, I know You can make a way I have seen giants fall, I have seen mountains move I have seen waters part because of You
I remember (I remember) I remember (I remember) You have always been faithful to me I remember (I remember) I remember (I remember) Even when my own eyes could not see You were there, always there
I can’t stop thinking about I can’t stop thinking about I can’t stop thinking about Your goodness, goodness I can’t stop thinking about I can’t stop thinking about I can’t stop thinking about Your goodness, goodness I can’t stop thinking about I can’t stop thinking about I can’t stop thinking about Your goodness, goodness I can’t stop thinking about I can’t stop thinking about I can’t stop thinking about Your goodness, goodness
I remember, I remember You have always been faithful to me I remember (I remember) I remember (I remember) Even when my own eyes could not see You were there, always there, with me