Silence- My Story of Pregnancy Loss

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I scratched the letters B-A-B-Y on a young, green pumpkin and then quickly hid it among the tall grass and tangled, prickly vine. The word would grow as the pumpkin grew. My hands instinctively rubbed my belly as if to warm the life growing in body. I looked towards the bright, blue sky and with a smile mouthed a word of thanks.

A baby, my prayers had been answered. Counting the months, I calculated when I would be “safely” past the first trimester and when it would be “safe” to announce our news. I had it all planned. Our new addition would be adorably announced on social media with a glorious, orange pumpkin full-grown from our own garden. Three pumpkins in a row, one inscribed with the word “baby,” all lined up on the porch step. One pumpkin for each of my children. How perfectly-pinteresty it all would be!

I couldn’t wait to tell my other two children, our family, and our church but I was cautiously optimistic. God had shined his face upon me and had taken away the pain of an early miscarriage. A miscarriage I had experienced only a few short months before. I was relieved nothing was wrong with me but was it really safe to say anything? What if this baby was taken from me too? Doubts and fears flooded my happy heart and I decided to commit to the silence.

The silence seemed to be the correct discipline to follow. Only a short week later, my fears became a reality and I lost my baby in a second miscarriage. Angry, hurt, and confused, I walked to the garden with tears streaming down my face, ripped the young, green pumpkin from its life source and threw it as hard as I could into the neighboring woods. It smashed open where it landed. My actions did not make me feel better, it made me feel worse. I felt abandoned, forgotten, and lonely. My faithful prayers had not been heard. If God was so close, why did he feel so far away? And why couldn’t I hear Him? Was he just silent to everyone or just to me? As hard as I tried, I couldn’t hear a thing. Not a peep, not a whisper, not a word…..


It had been four hundred years. Four hundred years of silence since anyone had heard anything from God. Not a peep, not a whisper, not a word.

Lives were filled with political intrigue, murder, violence, sexual immorality, deceit, and hatred. 1 Times were dangerous and uncertain. Hope was waning in the deafening silence. But God was about to break in. The silence was about to be shattered.

In Luke 1:5, we are introduced to a priest named, Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth.“Both of them righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.” (Luke 1:6)

With a life devoted to faithful service, one might think it would have meant a blessed life. But Elizabeth was barren and having no children in those days would have been humiliating and disgraceful. The Jewish Rabbis said that seven people were excommunicated from God and the list began, “A Jew who has no wife, or a Jew who has a wife and who has no child.”  We can only imagine the whispers behind her back and the longing for a baby in her heart.

Divine interventions come at God’s timing, not ours. When the time came for Zechariah’s division of priests to be on duty, Zechariah was chosen by lot to go into the inner temple of the Lord (Luke 1:10.) This would have been a huge deal and a great honor. There were no less than 20,000 priests altogether and about 1,000 priests per division.3  Zechariah had just won the holy lottery.

On the day of his service, Zechariah stood by the alter, praying his life-long prayer for a child, burning incense, when an angel of the Lord appeared to him (verse 11.) Startled and gripped with fear (who wouldn’t be?) the angel responded, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to name him John.” (verse 13)

Your son will be a joy and delight to many (verse 14,) one who will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah to ready a people prepared for the Lord. (verse 17.)” Zechariah’s response to the angel’s news was one of question and doubt (can you blame him?) and the consequence of his disbelief was silence. He was unable to speak  until the day his son was born.

True to the angel’s words. Elizabeth, became pregnant and remained in seclusion for five months (Luke 1:24.) We are granted insight into her heart with a response of praise. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” (verse 25)

A baby. A miracle baby was coming. A baby who would make way for another miracle baby. Against all odds, this was really happening….

 


 

I stared at the positive sign. It was the fifth test, the fifth positive test. How could this be? The timing did not line up. There must be some mistake but how could five positive signs be wrong?

I had just come back from a four-day conference and retreat. I had been surrounded by Godly women, sat under the teaching of faithful people who had inspired and challenged me and my faith. I knew it was a special place and I had been there by divine intervention. I needed healing and restoration and I wanted not only to feel God but I wanted to hear from Him too.

It started as a peep, then a whisper, and then words. “Lay it down at my feet. Surrender your plans and your desires. In my time, not yours.” I did not fully understand but I faithfully made a decision to obey a voice I felt had long forgotten me. I surrendered it all-the fear, the control, my plans- and I left the conference full of peace and hope. I was not fully healed. I knew there would be more work to do, difficult times ahead but I was on a path of healing and God’s silence had been broken.

The blood test from the doctor came back positive, the first trimester came and went, I broke out of my own seclusion and silence and shared the news we were expecting a third baby. No pumpkins lined up but cute little shirts just as “Pinteresty.” This was really happening….

Nine months went by and when it was time deliver my son, he tore into this world through an unexpected C-section. The silence of our life was shattered by his colicky, incessant cries. His first year was challenging. I lived on a limited, allergy free diet and little, very little sleep. I again struggled to hear any peep, whisper or word from God. Something was different this time though, I knew the silence did not mean avoidance or abandonment. I knew what I felt did not equate to what was true.

Looking back to the times of silence in my story, the Lord used that time and my son as a way to prepare my heart for a deeper, more dependent, and richer life in faith with the Lord. My babies (the ones in heaven and ones on earth) created an atmosphere that has helped me remember the importance of repentance, dependence, and to stay the path of the Lord even when its hard, goes against all odds, and when it seems God is silent and far away.

Some of us may wish a message from God would come to us. We might feel like God has long forgotten us or his silence is sign he no longer cares. I would like to encourage us to hold on to hope. Listen in the silence for a peep, whisper, or word. Take heart in knowing God hears your prayers (even when we don’t feel like he does.) And be ready with a prepared heart for the Lord’s divine intervention and startling interruptions in our life.

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  1.   Swindoll, C. R. (1984). John the Baptizer: Bible study guide. Anaheim, CA: Insight for Living.
  2. Barclay, W. (1975). The Gospel of Luke. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
  3. Barclay, W. (1975). The Gospel of Luke. Philadelphia: Westminster Press

Raising Monarchs

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There is a sticky milkweed patch that grows by the side of our house. All summer long it grows and grows and hosts a variety of pests. Wasps, spiders, flies, aphids, beetles- the so-called ickiest of invertebrates and arthropods. There is only one reason I will not let my husband “deal” with the plants -the monarch butterfly.

Year after year, the monarch butterflies return to our patch to deposit their tiny, cone-shaped eggs on the underside of the leaves. For years, I have assumed the eggs successfully hatch into feasting caterpillars. Healthy caterpillars who eat and eat, grow and grow before enclosing themselves into a beautiful chrysalis, and then finally emerging into butterflies. I hadn’t given much thought to the whole process other than we were doing a good job keeping the milkweed there and the beautiful monarch kept  returning and visiting.

At the end of August, I stumbled across some information about the monarch butterfly population declining and the fact that only 10% of monarchs make it from egg to adult in the wild. I read about people collecting the eggs, raising the caterpillars. and then releasing the butterflies in hopes of helping the monarch population to return and increase.

In previous years, I have raised painted lady butterflies in classrooms and in homeschool lessons. I knew a good amount about process of metamorphosis but only witnessed it with painted lady butterflies. And with painted lady butterflies, the caterpillars are purchased online and then come in little containers with an all you they eat buffet! Raising monarchs from eggs found outside was a different thing.

But, I was curious. Could we too raise monarchs successfully from egg to adult? Could we play a part in helping the monarch population increase? Since introduced with new knowledge, every time I walked by our milkweed patch after that, I looked at the milkweed plants in a different way.  I noticed more and more caterpillar bite marks on the leaves and then a local naturalist pointed out some monarch eggs. He advised us to check the plants at night to see if we could find any caterpillars. The first night we went out caterpillar hunting we were successful. Not only did we find eggs and we also found one tiny caterpillar. We brought it in with the leave it was munching and placed it into our mesh butterfly habitat (the one we used with the painted lady butterflies.) Then we hoped for the best. Unfortunately, our hopes were met with sadness, even with the best researched care, the caterpillar died a few days later.

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It was easier for us to see the butterfly eggs and the caterpillar activity at night.

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First caterpillar found- RIP Little One

We did not want to give up. Over the next couple of days, we went out again, collecting five eggs. In my research, I had learned that caterpillars eat A LOT of milkweed. The experts advised to be intentional not to take any more eggs than caterpillars you could feed. Looking at our milkweed patch, there was only so much fresh and new leaves available.

One of the coolest things about the butterfly egg is how you can tell when the caterpillar will hatch. When you see a black dot at the tip of the clear egg, you know the caterpillar will hatch within 24 hours. Like clockwork, this happened with every caterpillar and out of those tiny eggs came the tiniest little creature who right away began eating. First it ate its egg case and then moved on to the tender underside of the leaves. Then it never stopped eating.

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When the tip of the tiny egg turns black, you know the caterpillar will hatch within twenty-four hours.

Our caterpillars grew quickly. And they only stopped eating to molt. It was hard to figure out if and when they were molting into a new instar (they molt five times- called instars.) The information and picture cards from the Nebraska Game & Parks were extremely helpful during this process, as well as these other resources :

Monarch Raising Guide

and this awesome field guide the Commission for Environmental Cooperation

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We were constantly referring to these Butterfly Life Cycle cards from Nebraska Game & Parks: https://outdoornebraska.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Lesson-Plan-Monarch-Life-Cycle-Sort.pdf

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Having available milkweed was NO JOKE! And the caterpillars ate a tremendous amount as they grew. We quickly went through all the young plants in our patch and then I needed to scout out (and take) milkweed from the side of the road and in abandoned parking lots. To keep the milkweed fresh, I took the the plant by the root (or the part I needed if the plant was too large) and then placed the stem through a styrofoam cup (for stability) over the top of a cut water bottle (water for plant.)  Another thing to note, the tremendous amount of eating produced a tremendous amount of caterpillar waste- or frass. The butterfly habitat needed to be changed daily.  Raising monarchs is a time commitment.

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Hungry, hungry caterpillars!!

Two weeks from hatching, the now two-inch long caterpillar was ready to pupate. The clear sign of this change is when a caterpillar spins a silk “button” on the top of the habitat and hangs in a J-shape. I have to admit feeling a bit sad at this stage- all the care, all the milkweed hunting trips, all the cleaning, I knew I would not see the caterpillar in this form again. The feelings lasted only a few moments as nothing stays the same, everything changes, and when the thought of the beautiful butterfly that would emerge and we could set free, things were quickly better.

As the caterpillar pupates, it turns greenish, and basically splits, spilling its guts, and hardening into a chrysalis. There is a time lapse video at the end of the post where you can see this process from start to finish.

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J-shape! Getting ready to turn into a chrysalis.

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The chrysalis is a minty green color, with what looks like pure gold spots. Absolutely beautiful!

The caterpillar stays in its chrysalis for 10-14 days before miraculously emerging into beautiful butterfly.  At then end of the four week process, all five of our eggs made it to adult butterflies!!

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A few of our butterflies lingered on our fingers, hands, and jackets, testing our their wings before they flew away giving us the most amazing up close view of their gorgeous wings before taking flight!

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Out of the five caterpillars, four were females and one was a male.  Here’e a quick identification to tell the difference.

This entire experience was amazing and I am so glad to have shared it with my kids. We nature journaled each stage, sketching and creating watercolors. I had the older girls write about their experience and my Kindergartner created a book. We entered their completed work into the fair and they won Honorable Mentions. It was definitely a big time commitment but I think well worth it. And I believe we will consider doing it again next year. 🙂

 

BUTTERFLY BOOKSHELF:

I participate in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. As an Amazon Associate, I make a small commission for purchases made through the following links.

     

     

BUTTERFLY BENEDICTION:

May the morning sun caress you,
The rains of change refresh you,
And the gentle breeze of His Spirit
Lift the wings of your transformation.

By: Richard D. Breen

 

 

 


Part 3: Hiking Tactics-Mt. Moriah & Imp Campsite- HTW 2018

 

Mount Moriah

“Carter-Moriah trail follows a logging road up a steep bank, then winds moderately upward through second-growth woods past several brushy logged areas. The trail climbs steeply, enters the White Mountain National Forest, and continues up through hardwoods. At 2.0 mi., a ledge down affords good views, and the trail soon passes to the right of the insignificant summit of Mt. Surprise and its small flume.  From here, the trail descends slightly, and then ascends gradually at first, but soon becomes steeper as it climbs over a series of ledges that have excellent views west and north; the ledges are slippery when wet. The trail stays near the ridge top but winds from side to side through the woods, crossing one wet, muddy stretch with deteriorating bog bridges. The trail traverses several ups and downs over ledgy humps. At 4.5, after a steep climb, a spur path leads right 50 yd. to the ledgy summit of Mt. Moriah, which affords excellent views.” White Mountain Guide, AMC’s Comprehensive Guide to Hiking Trails in the White Mountain National Forest¹  (emphasis mine) 

It’s kind of obvious if you are going to climb a mountain and summit its peak, you need to go up. Yet, there are varying degrees of “upness” that should be noted. There’s a gentle pitch, moderate incline, or a steep climb. Often times, the logical side of my brain tries to persuade me that a gentle pitch is a much better, safer, way go up in altitude, but the adventurous side of my brain, disagrees arguing “Where’s the fun and challenge in that?” So a fight breaks out between the two sides of my brain whether or not to stay in my comfort zone or be pushed out of it. To bring an end to the disagreement and restore peace, I often use a tactic called avoidance. Avoidance in hiking looks a lot like choosing not to read the trail descriptions before I hike the trail. This way, the unknown serves as equal ground and those highlighted words (noted above in trail description) do not even get a chance to spark a battle in my mind.

Our day started early at 6:30AM. We were gifted with perfect sunny weather-warm but not hot, breezy but not windy. The AMC hiker shuttle dropped us off right at the trailhead. This was another gift because we thought we would have to walk roadside a couple of miles before we reached to the actual trail.

True to the above trail description, the start of the hike (and most of the day) was strenuous with steep climbing, rock scrambling, and ledge walking. There were several times when I felt my confidence falter and thought I should have trained more, the rocks were too steep, my pack was too heavy, and I didn’t think I could do it. Those thoughts and moments were fleeting as I felt a renewed strength from God and I used another tactic-positive encouragement- while I cheered myself on with phrases like “slow and steady,”” one step in front of the other,” “you can do it.”

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Along with the challenge of this trail comes great reward. The Carter-Moriah trail is absolutely beautiful and offers a good diversity of natural things to admire in the form of boulder sculptures, moss covered trees, scratchy treeline ledges, mushy bogs with bridges, and cute little, colorful mushrooms dotting the sides of the trail.

We hiked most of the morning, stopping here and there to catch our breath, continued up and over the “insignificant” summit of  Mt. Surprise (Δ 2194 ft), and then onto Mt. Moriah (Δ 4049 ft) for lunch. It was our first 4,000-footer “bagged” on this trip. At the summit, we were blessed with excellent views and new people to talk with.

We chatted with other hikers, met an AT-thru hiker named Silver, and was introduced to a captain of the White Mountain Search and Rescue Team. We asked her to share her best tips and she told us a few things she wished every hiker knew in terms of safety. Here are two of them:

1.) Have a map! Do not rely on technology- like cell phone or fancy GPS devices. She had seen many people getting lost even with the GPS devices because they did not know how to use them correctly. Again, always have a physical map!! (CHECK √ )

2.) Make sure you always have enough supplies that you could spend one night outside if you had to. This includes water, food, matches, warm layers, and a sleep sheet. I had everything she mentioned and more… 😉 (CHECK √) 

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To be on a mountain top humbles me. To witness the breathtaking, dramatic landscape from such a height makes me feel small, childlike, full of wonder. From the summit of Mt. Moriah, we could see the Mount Washington and the Presidential Range-where we hiked last year- and The Carter Range- where we were heading next. From our vantage point, those next mountains seemed so far away. Yet we would be close to North Carter by 5:00 PM. When we were near North Carter, we would start looking for a place to camp.

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This is a view from the summit of Mt. Moriah looking across to where we were heading. It seems so far away. Depth perception in the mountains is an interesting thing.

 

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Mt. Washington and the Presidential Range, where we hiked last year. Thanks Paul and Anne at Rock-Village.com for a great picture.

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Getting closer to North Carter

The trail to North Carter descends very steeply down the ledges of Mt. Moriah and then follows a ridge crest as it winds its way through the woods. Occasional ledge lookouts, with additional views, spur you on along the trail. Several more signs along the trail would be helpful so you could determine your location along the trail. At times, it was difficult to know how far we had come or how much further we had to go. We pressed on and made our way to Imp Campsite.

We were not planning to stay at Imp Campsite, but we wanted to check it out. I had never been to AMC Campsite before and I was pleasantly surprised. Imp has a beautiful shelter, tent platforms, composting toilet, and even a “living room” chair. Our thru-hiker friend, Silver, was there and staying the night.

 

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AMC’s Imp Campsite- and what I am calling “the living room chair”

After taking a good look around Imp, we got back on the trail. By this point, I was really starting to feel tired and was more and more ready to find a spot to rest and set up our site for the night. This was to be the first time either of us had camped trailside. Our good friends, Gazelle, Hero and Silver, had given us a few tips and we knew we needed to be below the tree line, 200 ft. from the trail, and should pitch our tent on a flat area (not on moss or leaves to avoid bugs and mites.) Onward we went, on the lookout for a perfect spot, up and over one more mountain, Imp Mountain (Δ 3720 ft), before we found the place. It was really to be a perfect spot, and we were excited about trying this new experience.

Using Imp Campsite as a model, we quickly designated a cooking spot, a bathroom spot, a bear bag area, and a sleeping area. We were about to realize the result of a not so perfect shakedown….

Read: Part 1: Unprepared (and a little thing called jet lag) HTW-2018

Part 2: Part 2: A Hero, a Gazelle and a Shake Down- HTW 2018

 

¹AMC Guide to Hiking the Trails in the White National Forest


Rain Clouds and Rainbows

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I had the most beautiful, most vivid experience this week. Every month, my church joins with other churches in our area to pray for families, churches, and our community in strategic and relevant ways. Each church takes one day to pray for twenty-four hours in what we call One Church-One Day. ¹

On Wednesday morning, at 6:00 AM, my church’s prayer chain ended. Morning time is my favorite time with its quiet, peaceful sounds and the songs the birds and insects make. I walked out onto my deck to sit down to enjoy the morning with my coffee and my thoughts. About fifty people from my church family had been praying, one hour each, over the twenty-four hour period, and I love to think about all those people united in prayer.

The morning was dark gray with threatening storm clouds hung overhead. The air was still and there was no sound. No birds tweeting, no crickets chirping, no crows cawing. Just stillness and silence. I thought it strangely wonderful to have such silence after  twenty-hours of offering up words and petitions to God.

At almost exactly 6:30 AM, the silent morning was abruptly transformed into a rushing, loud crescendo as the heavens let loose and rain poured from the sky. It was almost as if all of our prayers, every single word uttered, had saturated the atmosphere, collecting in a great cloud, and God replied in the music of the rain- as if saying I hear you, every word I heard, and now I will hold your prayers safe in my hands and will respond in my timing for my perfect plan.

What a comforting thought! God the Provider- Yahweh Yireh- sending the rain to refresh the earth, support new growth, and wash things clean. I enjoyed the rhythmic raindrops on the roof and side of my house. And peace washed over me.

Fast forward through a busy day of homeschool preparations, housecleaning, kid-caring, errands, and cooking. The rain had stopped sometime during the day and the kids had been outside playing, enjoying the sun. I was in the middle of making dinner when I stopped to glance out the window. Misty, quiet rain was coming down but only one side of our yard. It was an odd sight, and I wondered how a rain cloud could be so precise.

My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of my name, “Mom, Mom, come quick!!!” It’s a rainbow!!! Mom, Mom!!” I ran out of the house to join them and looked up…across the sky, right over our house was a bright, beautiful, complete rainbow!! If it wasn’t for my daughter, I would have completely missed it. Its sight was an extravagant gift, one more reminder of God’s promises and His faithfulness. God sees, God hears, He responds, and He is faithful.

I wanted to share this story as an encouragement. The Bible tells us:

1.) God hears our prayers. He listens to our concerns, our petitions for loved ones and He wants us to tell Him our desires. God cares.  

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” 1 John 5:14

“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:12-13

2.) God responds… sometimes not in the way we want, sometimes not in the way we think, but He always answers. And when it seems silent, keep praying, because He is still listening. In His timing, He will break through the silence.

“He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.” Psalm 91:15;

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Luke 11:9–10

3.) God uses others to remind us of His faithfulness and promises…and we all need reminders now and then. If you are reading this and do not have anyone who can remind you of such things or do not even know where to begin looking for God, find a local church. There are beautiful communities of Jesus-loving people who would love to tell you their stories of God’s faithfulness, pray with you and help you find Him right in your own neighborhood.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:23-25

“They all joined together constantly in prayer,” Acts 1:14

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¹ Here is a helpful information and an amazing model of One-Church, One Day that we used. http://onehopenetwork.org/about/


Part 2: A Hero, a Gazelle and a Shake Down- HTW 2018

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In one minute…

-2.4 million searches are made on Google¹

-your blood makes a roundtrip tour of your body, cleaning and nourishing cells, and returns to your heart²

-251 babies are born worldwide³

That’s a lot of curiosity, care, and new beginnings happening all at once. So imagine what can happen in 158 minutes- the time it takes to drive up north to Joe Dodge Lodge in Pinkham Notch, NH. Fortified by a commencing prayer, each minute of our drive & discussion helped cleanse my mind and nourish my heart with truth and grace. Curiosity weaved its way in and out of our conversation as we shared stories from our summer vacation and pointed out pretty landmarks and quaint New England farms as we drove past. I finally felt as if my mind and my heart were in a good place. I finally felt prepared for a new beginning, ready for a new adventure.

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We pulled into the parking lot of the Pinkham Notch Vistor’s Center right around dinner time. Pinkham Notch Vistor’s Center is a main hub of hiking and outdoor activities. Hikers can find a place to rest, get clean, nourish hungry bodies, and purchase gifts and gear. Many trails start and return to the visitor’s center making it a great place for new beginnings and celebrating adventurous ends.

I lugged my pack (and the jumbled mess of three shopping bags full of extra stuff) into our room, dropped it on my bed, and we headed over to the dining hall. Tonight’s dinner was a delicious spicy peanut tofu dish with rice, bok choy, salad, and freshly baked bread. I felt content, comfortable and a little bit tired. Jet lag was still haunting me and beckoning me to bed. A few things needed to get done before I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep for the night- one of the most important things, reorganizing my pack.

Pinkham Notch Vistor's Center

We made a quick stop at the shop before going back to our room. Several other people were there quietly looking through racks of items and contemplating the latest weather report. The peaceful library-like atmosphere was suddenly interrupted when rambunctious laughter broke through the comfortable hush.

A couple of Appalachian Trail (AT) Thru-Hikers were standing by the information desk, oblivious to the disruption their loud giggles and boisterous joy made. With a tiny bit of snooping and a little bit of overhearing, I learned they had just come down off the trail (the AT) after hiking and sleeping in the rain for three days. Their plans for the night included eating pizza and staying at an AT hostel/campground in a neighboring town. But they needed to get there first. They bounced off towards the candy section and I went to the front desk to purchase a map. No one was at the desk when I arrived, so I waited patiently, enjoying the fact that nothing was on weighing on my mind and I had no other place to go. Within a few minutes, the absent cashier returned with the two happy hikers.

She had been trying to find them a ride into Gorham (about 15 minutes away) and now was apologizing for not being able to find anyone to help. The two thru-hikers told her it was no problem, not to worry, they could and would just walk. It was getting dark and I was intrigued and interested to hear their story.  I looked over at Jennie, Jennie looked at me. We read each other’s mind, “Why not? Why not start our new adventure with some new friends?” And I blurted out, “We can take you.”

They were happy! We were happy! Everyone was happy! All the happiness felt like an energy boost of contagious joy! Off we went to Gorham, the two thru-hikers, Jennie and I and their gear. Introductions were made, their trail names are Hero and Gazelle. Gazelle has been on the trail since February and she’s planning to finish the 2,181 mile hike by August 29th. I can’t remember how long Hero has been on the trail but he will finish shortly after Gazelle. They are both NO-BO Hikers- that’s AT Hiker terminology for North Bound, starting in Georgia and finishing at Mt. Katahdin in Maine.

Our two very joyful, very grateful thru-hikers had a wealth of hiking knowledge they were very willing to share with us. We fired away with all the questions we could think of. They gave us information about camping on the trail. They told us they go off-trail and stay in a hotel once a week. How nice a shower and clean sheets feel after a week on the trail!

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Me, Gazelle, Jennie, Hero at Mr. Pizza

We talked about what to pack and learned a new hiking term- a shakedown. A “pack shakedown” is a final sorting and getting rid of unneeded items. Gazelle told us that if any of her friends want to go hiking with her, she shakedowns their packs. Many of things she listed off as unneeded, I had one (or two) already packed in mine. I had some major work to do when we got back to the lodge. One note, Hero and Gazelle were not completely unreasonable. They both agreed you should have something in your pack that might not be necessary, but makes you happy- for Hero it was Starbursts and Fritos for Gazelle. Both food items…. hmmm… I had food items, toiletries, a lot of extra clothing, AND several items that just made me happy…

Before went our separate ways, Jennie and I to shakedown our packs and Hero and Gazelle to devour their pizza, Hero left me with his mom’s email address to use as a hiking-hotline for questions (more about later.) Gazelle left me with one last piece of advice- not everyone’s advice is good for everybody. You have to find and do what’s best for you!

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My pack and the jumbled mess of stuff. Picture taken during the shakedown.

Jennie and I drove back to the lodge in high spirits. We were motivated and inspired to lighten our packs and remove all unnecessary items. It took some time, packing, repacking, sorting, and discarding. While I didn’t remove any toiletries items (I really couldn’t think of doing without them then), I did take out a lot of my snacks (I always have way more than I think I need) and I cut down the amount of clothing I was taking. I went with Gazelle’s advice to wear a pair of clothes and have another pair dry in your pack. I like clean clothes but I do not like to have to the carry extra weight so I thought for three days, just three days, I would have to be okay with stinky, sweaty, dirty, unclean clothes- #firstworldproblems

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With our packs ready for the morning, we headed back to our room for what we hoped would be a good night’s sleep. Jennie and I set our alarms for 6:30 AM to ensure we would have enough time to eat breakfast and catch the hiker shuttle to the Carter- Moriah Trailhead by 7:30AM. What a day it had been! We said goodnight, turned off our lights, and I finally gave in to jet lag as it drifted me off to my last night of CLEAN sleep.

If you are just joining the journey, you can go back and find part 1 of the trip here: Part 1: Unprepared (and a little thing called jet lag)

¹ https://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/1037361/statistics-about-babies-born-in-the-us

²https://health.howstuffworks.com/human-body/systems/circulatory/heart-pump-blood.htm

³ http://www.internetlivestats.com/google-search-statistics/

 

 


But…Three Ways Little Words Affect our Relationships

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There’s a tiny three-letter word used in many conversations that’s been an instigator of doubt, helper of defensive attitudes, and distinguisher of joy in relationships. A casual little conjunction, called BUT

BUT in itself is not a bad word. It’s the context in which we use it and the statements we choose to combine it with that’s the issue. In homes, workplaces, and in churches, I hear BUT being used in three different ways. Three ways that cause discord between people and promotes negative thinking. With some thought before we speak and a simple replacement word, I believe we can bring about change.

When we replace BUT with AND, we shift our phrases to the positive. We create encouraging and constructive conversations that open dialogue and build up relationships. AND takes nothing away, it only adds.

BUT and Doubt…

Combine BUT with an “I’m sorry” or an “I love you,” and we’ve completely taken away the sincerity of the apology and have established conditions around love. When we say “I’m sorry, but you’re not perfect either” or “I love you, but next time_____,” we are instilling doubt and confusion into our relationships, often leaving the other person to question where they stand, where we stand, and over time, where the relationship stands. It is better to keep the “I’m sorry” and “I love you!” as self-contained, assured statements.

BUT shows up in other ways too. We give, receive and process words through a wide spectrum of emotions and levels of confidence. What we may think is a casual observation or a small statement of opinion can be so much more to the receiver. The BUT can inject doubt into their work, their passions, and their callings.

Some examples… “I like it, BUT it would be better if _____.” “You did a nice job, BUT next time_______.” Instead try saying: “I like it, AND I can see you worked hard on this.” “You did a nice job, AND I would love to hear more about your process.”

BUT and Defensiveness…

We give (and give) so much of our time and talents to people, to our work and the church. Sometimes, we find ourselves in a state of exhaustion. We start getting protective of our time and energies, sometimes thinking we already did our part, gave enough and have nothing more to give. OR God has reluctantly moved us to a new place or a new season and we are processing through those all the thoughts and emotions of letting go and moving forward. When someone approaches us for help or our opinions on something, there’s a threat to answer out of our exhaustion and emotions rather from of a place peace and the inner strength that comes with knowing God has a purpose and a plan.

Instead of saying…”I would love to help BUT I’m already working too much.” Try saying, “I would love to help, AND even though my schedule does not allow it right now, I can help you by thinking of people who might be able to ask.”

Instead of saying…”We did it that way for ages, BUT now_______.” Try, “We did that for ages, AND now we get to do ____________. ”

“Another change! BUT why? ” Try, “Another change! AND maybe there’s good reason for it. I’m going to find out…”

BUT and Distinguishing Joy…

Every day BUTS can distinguish innocent joy. They can overshadow the simplest praise. BUT feeds discontent and rapidly multiplies in conversations. It shows up in our attitudes and the way relate to each other.

Instead of saying… “That’s good, BUT this person/this program/this church does it better like this __________.” Try, “That’s good, AND praise the Lord for what he has done it here.”

Instead of saying…”Only five people showed up, BUT more people should have come.” Try, “Five people showed up AND they were the rights ones. Our small group enjoyed a lot of good conversations.”

There is absolutely a time and place to state opinions, evaluate and reevaluate. It must be done in an edifying, safe and trusting environment, if not the “buts” will continue to destroy relationships, breed distrust and all sincerity will be lost.

I sadly admit I have been both a speaker and receiver of many BUT phrases. I don’t beat myself up about what I might have said, instead I look toward changing what I will say. I think it’s important to remember that in our humanity we are not going to have perfect conversations all the time. It’s an awareness of our choice of words, and working toward using those words in a positive way. This awareness and practice will be beneficial not only to our family, our workplaces and our church bodies but also to us. Let’s start catching ourselves in mid-thought and in conversations, and challenging ourselves to be the change and positivity-promoter that our relationships need.


Part 1: Unprepared (and a little thing called jet lag) HTW-2018

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Seven years in the Girls Scouts gave me two takeaways. Two things that have rung true in my heart and as clear in my mind since the first day I heard them:

1.) Make new friends and keep the old; one is silver and the other gold.

And 2.) ALWAYS BE PREPARED.

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed the sweet tune of friendship with many sliver and gold friends. And I strive to be prepared- as much as possible- for whatever situation I may find myself. My husband often shakes his head when I come out the door, ready for a day trip, with numerous bags filled sweatshirts, raincoats, towels, snacks and water, and a very large first aid kit. My answer to his playful mocking is always the same, “ALWAYS BE PREPARED.”

But “always be prepared” goes beyond physical plans and material items. It’s a combination of a prepared heart, mind and body that makes a person as prepared as they can be. And even then, no person is ever 100% prepared for anything. Because stuff happens. Needs come up. Priorities shift. Unexpected opportunities are offered. Energy levels fluctuate. Uncontrollable events occur and unforeseen situations happen. Little annoyances can turn into hefty distractions. That’s life!

You do your best, and let God take the rest.

This is where my hike begins. Unprepared in many ways.

After a wonderful two-week vacation in California, our family returned home late Tuesday night. I had exactly ONE and 1/2 days to prepare and pack for the hike.

Laid-back, Californian-thinking must have taken over my mind, because I wasn’t one tiny bit worried about the little amount time I had or how unprepared I was to do the laundry (at the laundromat since our washer had conked out the week before), go grocery shopping, run errands, and pack my pack.

And I forgot to account for a little phenomenon called jet lag. We ended up sleeping in Wednesday, taking up 1/2 day of prep time. Still.. I was excited for the trip, not worried about anything, and the kids and I took off to conquer the to-do list. I am sure a little adrenaline and a lot of caffeine helped compensate for the loss of energy I was starting to feel.

Oh, how quickly reality rips through vacation’s rosy veil. And the veil was completely gone by Wednesday night after something occurred that left my heart turned upside down and inside out. Ugly roots of things that I thought had been weeded out of my heart, started to sprout, twist around my joy, and took on an exhausting presence. A cloud of fear settled over me. Lies taunted me. My confidence was questioned. My spirit was in fight mode. I believe it was a spiritual attack and my heart felt less and less prepared to leave the next day. BUT… I knew from experience that the hike was exactly where I needed to be. The mountains give you and God an amazing arena to fight together and work through these types of heart issues.

That night, jet leg destroyed my sleep. I tossed and turned, dwelled and worried. The very little sleep I got was interrupted by bad dreams. No amount of caffeine or bursts of adrenaline was going to make up for severe loss of rest. By Thursday morning, my energy was drained and my pack was still empty.

If you have followed my hiking stories in the past, you know that I usually prepare months in advance, checking off items on a thorough list, and on the morning of the hike I’m thoroughly packed, and often I’ve already packed and unpacked several times. This was different.

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With caffeine-induced energy and a lot of prayer, I started going through the list and throwing things in gallon-sized bags for waterproofing. There would be just two of us this year and we were planning on staying at the Joe Dodge Lodge the first night, camping trailside the next, and spending our final night at Carter Notch Hut. The camping component required a few new items in my pack for cooking and sleeping outside.

Knowing I would have a night in the lodge to reorganize helped as I struggled to decide what to bring. In the end, with an hour to go, my pack was finally packed (as best as I could) and I threw a bunch of other stuff in three shopping bags, just in case I needed or wanted them. Then I put all of it in the truck to deal with later. It was a jumbled mess. I was a jumbled mess of emotions- excited, exhausted, worried, full of anticipation- and I felt extremely unprepared. The good ole’ Girl Scout motto offering me guilt this time instead of comfort.

My husband. My kids. I love them!! They saw my weariness and my increased anxiety. They cheered me on, reminded me how much I loved hiking and how fun this trip was going to be. In our kitchen, they circled me in love and in prayer. Their sweet little hands laid on my knees as they prayed protection over every part of my body. I took in the scene. It was the first beautiful view of my trip. I breathed in the sweet air of the Holy Spirit.

Everything was going to be okay. It was going to be better than okay. It was going to be great because I was heading to the mountains. Three whole days on the trail with one of my best friends, challenging myself, seeing new things, exploring new peaks. And I knew most of all that God was going to bring something new out of this. In my weakness, He’s made strong. I took renewed strength and comfort in this fact. I was going to return from this hike stronger, more confident, and reenergized than how I was leaving. Nothing- no matter how much more I could have prepared, no matter what attacks against my heart and mind, or the crazy shiftiness of jet lag- could ever take that from me.