Tuesday will be a day I will never forget. A day filled with adventure, friendship and inspiration. Inspiration provided by my eighty-six year old grandmother, Gammy, who continues to surprise me with her resilience, endurance and her energy.
Gammy has been living with us since the beginning of July and at the beginning of the summer I made a promise to her of a summer she would never forget-The Summer of Adventure. She loves to be “on the go.” Seeing new things, meeting new people and going out to eat are some of her favorite things to do and I have affectionately hashtagged our adventures as #gammyonthego.
We have chanted “Gammy on the Go! Gammy on the Go!” on our way to visit mansions in Newport, RI, chasing sunsets to gorgeous views, and road tripping to NY. Most of all, I think we have enjoyed the good company of family and friends and getting to know each other better by living life under the same roof. My kids and I have been blessed by this time we have had with her. I have heard stories never heard before and we both have been stretched and grown in different ways. I am trying to take it all in as I have become increasingly aware of not knowing how much more time we have with each other here on earth.
We arrived at Skydive Pepperill under gorgeous, clear blue skies. A warm breeze was blowing the various flags decorating the Skydive Center and skydivers with colorful parachutes were gracefully landing with expertise in a large, adjoining field. Three other fun-loving, adventurous souls from our church family were jumping with us and some other church members had come to watch. The whole experience was made even better with them there and I was again reminded how much I love my church. The relationships that have built over the ten years at Centerpoint have become some of the most treasured relationships in my life. When it comes down to life, it really is all about relationships. Relationship with Jesus, with your family, with your friends. Relationships and trust take time to grow, through good times and hard times, but it is so worth the time put in. Life is better with good people around you and we have a whole church filled with good (FUN) people.
I could try to describe our experience. The multiple-page waiver we had to sign, the video that stresses multiple times how you could die, the gear, the plane, the 45 second freefall, and the landing BUT a picture is worth a thousand words. So….here are some pictures and the “most awesome video in the whole world” to take you on our adventure with us.
PS The record for the oldest female jumper at this center was 94. Gammy said we will be back on her 95th birthday (if not sooner.) I hope that am half of what she is when I am 86. So incredibly blessed!
With all the advancements in technology, I find it hard to believe no one has invented a more comfortable and less awkward way of taking dental x-rays. I am not talking about film versus digital or the actual x-ray machine used. I am talking about the “bite-wing-bit-block.” You know, the extremely intrusive and sharp plastic objects strategically placed in your mouth by a stranger who then directs you to “bite down and hold.”
Until today, I had been on a two year hiatus from dental care. I know, I know. I should have been to the dentist every six months but whatever…life happens. The more important thing was I was back in the chair, wishing the x-rays were over, dreading the news of how many cavities needed to be filled, and preparing myself to hear how I should floss more often. My husband (who had been on a longer hiatus than me…just saying) was talking with the dentist. We had decided to schedule our appointments together, one right after the other. He had gone first and now was in the x-ray room saying goodbye to me and bragging reporting that he had no cavities.
The dental hygienist, a pretty woman in her late twenties, came into the x-ray room and led me down the hall. Once seated in the chair, she instructed me to open my mouth and stuck the suction-straw-thingy that hangs out of your mouth. I think my kid’s dentist refers to this tool as “Mr.Thirsty.” As she worked, she began to share with me about her life and ask questions about mine. I mumbled back and shook my head “yes” and “no.” Amazingly, she understood my incomprehensible syllables and sounds.
The cleaning and exam continued and she continued to share. I continued to mumble. This pattern continued for awhile. Some of the details she shared were very personal and private. She had recently been through some dark times in her life. A single mother, trying to make her life better for herself and her son. There was an incredible sense of sadness and exhaustion about her.
As she talked, I wish I could be free to speak without all the “stuff” in my mouth. To touch anything besides the chair and the cup they give you, seemed off-limits. But as she talked, I felt moved and could not be silent any longer. I don’t remember exactly what she said but I knew she needed some encouragement. So when she went to clean my top teeth, I stopped her. I defiantly closed my mouth, yanked Mr. Thirsty out and started to ask her deeper questions about her life. Amazingly, she answered them. She listened to my advice and I tried to encourage her without seeming to like a counselor. She seemed a bit surprised by all of it but at ease and I felt some peace seep into the air. By the end of the exam, we were good friends.
“You know,” she said. “It’s funny to meet you and your husband on the same day. You remind me of that couple on TV…..you know the Fixer Upper couple. You both are so cute. You seem so happy and…well, like you have the perfect life.”
Oh, my sweet girl! Bless you for the compliment! Joanna Gaines is beautiful and I love her style. Yes, we are very happy but we are far from perfect. There are a few things you need to know.
I cannot speak for the Gaines. I can only infer they might agree with me. There are some similarities between us.The Gaines have a reality TV show, sometimes our life feels like a reality TV show. The Gaines are in the business of seeing the potential in “fixer-upper” houses, we are in the business of seeing potential in “fixer-upper” people. We are not perfect couples. We are not perfect people. We both have faith in Jesus Christ and He is the only thing perfect in our lives.
Everyone goes through dark times in their lives. Everyone experiences trials, temptations, consequences of poor decisions and challenges. Each one of us is navigating through life, have hopes and dreams and wants to be loved.
Sweet girl, the difference is we have found peace in Jesus-perfect peace. We walk through the dark times with The Light. We are loved beyond measure and rely on Someone greater than ourselves for strength. Jesus is “fixing-us-up” daily. As he “fixes” us, we hope others can see Him. Light, love, hope, restoration, and peace (all to God’s glory not our own.) Our smiles are wide and bright not because everything is perfect or we have great hygienists, we smile because we have been redeemed by the blood and love of Jesus. And that my friend, is worth more than anything the world could ever give you.
PS One more thing sweet girl, (yes, I can call you that since you are ten years younger than me. Thank you for referring to me as your age and I am sorry I did not correct you right away! That was wrong but I still feel like I am 28 in my head!) I will be praying for you and I will see you in six months. The appointment is booked but I believe it was booked a long time ago before we both knew it. There is a God who loves you and is perusing you. xo
July’s Scripture Writing Plan focused on God’s movement in our lives. The idea was to set aside ten minutes a day, copy the scripture and circle the verbs found within the passage. Using the daily word as a prayer focus, I hoped we would ask God to help us recognize His activity in our lives and journal our reflections.
Each morning, I tried to slip away to a quiet place to open the Word of God. This worked best when the kids seemed occupied or when I turned on the TV to occupy them (just keeping it real…sometimes you got to do what you got to do.) Some days I was more successful at this than others, but on the days when I was able to give my complete attention to God, His Word and His voice, I felt the time spent prepared my heart and mind for the day’s constant barrage of requests and demands thrown at me. I noticed my reactions to other people seemed more gracious. I said “yes” more than “no.” I was less distracted with social media and more aware of relationships. Heavenly, eternal things seemed way more important than the earthly, fleeting things. I was filled with peace and joy. Don’t get me wrong, life was not perfect, easy or without challenges. There were still trials and life to work through but how I approached those challenges was different. I found myself prompted to rely on the LORD’s strength and reflecting on the words I was hiding in my heart and mind.
Growing up, my dad always said, “Garbage in, garbage out.” I have always remembered that phrase (see Dad, I was listening.) I do not think we give enough thought to what we are filling our ears, eyes, heart, mind and even our mouths with. What we allow in our lives will shape and mold us and eventually those things will impact the way we think, speak, act and respond. This month (and every month), I am choosing “Truth in, Good out.”
The August Scripture Reading and Writing Calendar contains scriptures that refer to our reactions to God. For deeper reflection, I have included question for each passage. My hope and prayer is for you to join me as we dig into the scriptures and ask God to align our reactions to His word.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Philippians 4:8
Through the trees, I could hear voices and see glimpses of the camouflaged hut. I couldn’t wait to get to the top of the rocks but it was not to lay my eyes on the hut, to take in the spectacular views or to enjoy a moment of recognition of the day’s accomplishments. My main objective was to get out of my damp clothes and put on EVERY SINGLE layer I had packed. I was cold, chilled to the bone, and I dreamed of holding a mug of steaming, hot coffee in my hands.
When we reached the clearing near the hut, one of the first things I noticed was the line of muddy, wet boots and sweaty, stinky socks, all different colors and sizes gathered together to dry out in the cool air. Other gear was scattered on the ground, draped over the hut’s porch railings, and hanging from tree branches in hopes that some drying would take place. There seemed to be no separation of whose stuff belonged to whom, no boundaries between strangers. This was communal ground and our muddied, wet gear was the physical evidence of a shared experience. My first taste of hiker camaraderie.
A friendly member of the hut croo (yes, that is spelled correctly) welcomed us at the front desk next to a basket of complimentary ear plugs and hut merchandise. He assigned us to the South Bunk Room. The sleeping accommodations at the Zealand Falls hut are bunk beds stacked three high. Each bunk bed is a cubicle built into the cabin and includes several built-in shelves, lots of hooks to store and hang things on and a small personal reading lamp.
Many of the bottom bunks had already been claimed but we managed to find a cluster of bunks close to each other. Loving Leader, Hot Mama and I took the tippity-top bunks and dragged our gear up the tall ladder.
Now, let’s pause a minute… I was about to be introduced to the very thing that has caused me the most anxiety about this whole trip. It seems a bit silly now but we all have our hang ups and issues. One of mine is germs and cleanliness.
At our first trip planning meeting, Loving Leader explained the AMC huts and sleeping arrangements to us. We had asked her about what gear to bring for sleeping and she shared some suggestions. She also explained how the hut provides each hiker with three wool blankets and a pillow. This may not seem like a big deal BUT having just heard about the huts being minimally equipped, the outdoor facilities, all supplies and trash having to be packed in and out by the croo (on their backs,) and the fact of no running hot water got me thinking. How exactly and how frequently were those wool blankets and pillow cases washed? And how many heads had rested on the pillows? And how many bodies had been wrapped in the blankets? The possible answers to my questions made my skin crawl and itch. I knew, no matter how tired I was, I would not be able to get a good night’s sleep with those blankets and pillow around me. Before I left for the trip I made the decision that I needed my own, reliable sleep system. A system that I could depend on- a sleeping bag that compresses to the size of a football. My sleeping woes and anxiety were defused and I crossed the worry off my list.
(Dear EMS employee, Thank you for your encouragement and the validation of my feelings when I explained to you why I needed a sleeping bag. You listened with grace as I over-explained my issues and phobias. I also thank you for not making me feel like a fool, a wimp or a weirdo, even though you may have been thinking that. I know that you were hoping to make a sale and I am sorry. I went to Dick’s to purchase my sleeping bag because it was on sale.I hope you understand. XO Melon Ball)
Oh, glorious joy filled me the rest of the evening. Warm, DRY clothes, good company, new friends, beautiful views, delicious food, and a warm, attentive croo. All of this made my first hut experience wonderful.
Lights out came sooner than I thought. I wrote in my journal by headlamp, made one more bathroom run in the dark, put in my set of complimentary ear plugs, and then snuggled down in my mummy bag. As I fell asleep to the distant snores of the stranger two bunks below me, I thought again how great it was to be alive and how strange it was that I felt safer than I ever had in a room full of people I did not know. Somehow they did not feel like strangers any more. I did not know all the details of their lives. I didn’t even know all of their names. It didn’t matter though. We had become a “community for a night. ” A community brought together by sharing a hike, a rainstorm, a meal, good conversation and now much needed rest.
As I drifted off to sleep, I thought how wonderfully simple all of it was and how complicated our world has become. If only we would share more, listen more, cheer each other on more, and love people more(even in all their stinkiness), what a better world this would be.
This video will give you a little “taste” of the huts:
This summer I am co-leading Margaret Feinberg’s Bible study called “Verbs of God-How God Moves on Our Behalf.” The study focuses on the active nature of God even when our emotions, moods and circumstances makes it hard for us to see Him, hear Him or feel His presence. God is always active, engaged and fully involved in our lives. He continually redeems, restores and renews us. He draws us closer to Him and desires to have a full, loving relationship with Him. Relationships take two people though. How can we get to know God and His nature better?
As I was preparing for this week’s session, it was put on my heart to create a scripture writing plan and prayer prompt calendar to further focus on God’s movement in our lives. The idea is to take ten minutes a day to copy down the passage and circle the verbs found within the words. Using the daily word as a prayer focus, pray that God will help you recognize His activity in your life. Listen for His voice and journal any reflections or revelations you may have. I hope we will be able to find specific themes by the end of the month. (The word/passages correspond with the ESV and NIV translations of the Bible.)
Prayer is simply a two way conversation between you and God.
One note on prayer….Prayer doesn’t have to be a long-winded “speech” filled with big words and deep theology. Some of my best prayer times have been short prayers filled with unrefined words drenched with emotion. God pays attention to what is in our heart and our posture towards Him. If praying hasn’t been “your thing,” don’t worry, start small and say what is on your heart and mind. Prayer is also about being quiet and listening. There is no right or specific amount of time you should pray for. It is okay to say a few words and be still before God.
If you want some ideas of what to pray for, here is a visual to use. (It is a great resource for teaching kids how to pray too!)
I hope you will consider joining me this month and I pray that you will see, hear and feel God working in your life.
“If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”
The cloudy skies had deceived me. From the lodge’s window, their appearance had led me to believe the outside temperature was cool so I had dressed in layers. But after fifteen minutes of hiking it became clear I had overdressed and the temperature was not what I had expected. It was perfect. Not too warm, not too cool but I was hot, sticky and sweaty in my long-sleeve, layered shirt. The sweaty clothes were an added nuisance to my heightened awareness of the weight on my back. I questioned whether or not I should take off my pack and remove a layer but in the end decided against it. This began a constant struggle and debate I had with myself during the whole hiking trip. To add or remove a layer-that was the big question.
The Avalon Trail was pretty, well maintained and well marked. On the way to the summit we laughed and talked as we marched in a single line, one behind the other. Joyfully we stepped over slippery stones as we crossed over streams and waterways.
I cannot remember at what point the trail turned on us. Some time early in the day, while we were very joyful and happy, the trail went from something like this*:
and turned into this:
(Please note, these pictures not do the trails justice. The depth and the grade are lost in these shots. These are challenging trails to conquer. They are filled with rocks, roots and many hidden places to trip and lose your footing.)
While scrambling up over the rocks and gracefully executing pas de bourrees over the slippery roots, I realized that I had expectations of this trip. Even though I had said over and over again how I did not want to know anything about what to expect or where we were going, I had unknowingly made my own conclusions. Conclusions that included a what a trail should look like, what the weather should be like and how much effort I would exert.
I laughed to myself at my own realizations. What had I expected? A mild, gentle graded trail? A waltz in the woods? We were hiking in the Granite State. The White Mountains! Hello! GRANITE. ROCKS. MOUNTAINS. There’s a specific reason why things are named the way they are. I had figured this would be a challenging hike but did not know just how challenging it would be. Oh, but to have this challenge made me happy and feel blessed to be alive. No guts, no glory. Right?
At the top of a rock pile, we made a steep climb, and final scramble over the boulders to the summit of Mount Avalon (elevation: 3,442 ft.) The view from Mt. Avalon is gorgeous. Some people say it is one of the best views of the Presidential Range from all the mountains at Crawford Notch. We paused for a few moments to take it all in. Our very first peak bagged.
It’s funny how sometimes you can see things more clearly when you look back at them. When I look at this picture now, I can clearly see something I missed then. Dark, streaky rain clouds at the horizon. A turn of weather, earlier than we expected.
Minutes after we left the summit small drops of rain began to fall. Just a few spits of raindrops at first but soon the rain became steady. There would be no chances of drying out now and it was getting cold too. We stopped to put on our rain gear and cover our packs with rain covers and ponchos. I still felt sweaty-cold from the morning and my hands were the starting to feel numb. I put on my winter hat and gloves trying to get as warm as possible. We had about five more hours of hiking ahead of us.
As we hiked, clouds continued to pour buckets and buckets of rain over our heads. The woods offered us no protection from the showers. The rain added an extra challenge to an already challenging trail. Mossy rocks became hazards and roots were sneaky and slick. Small streams started to form in between the rocks of the steep paths we walked. We tried to avoid stepping in puddles and mud but our efforts were in vain. Extra concentration was needed as we contemplated each step and where to hold our footing.
As wet and cold as were nobody complained. We cheered each other on. The rain did not snuff out our joy or extinguish our movement. We were women on a mission and bagged two more peaks. Two 4,000 footers. Mt. Tom (elevation: 4051 ft) and Mt. Field (elevation: 4340 ft) Here I realized that not all summits have beautiful views as (as I had expected.) Mt. Tom and Mt.Field had trees and cairns. I concluded that the view was not as important as the accomplishment and I was content in knowing we had safely reached each summit.
Some time toward the end of the day, the rain stopped (thank you, Jesus.) A trail sign with the hut’s name was a very happy, welcomed sight. I felt as if I was about to cross the finish line of a marathon. One last push and I would be done. I dreamed of a hot cup of coffee, dry warm clothes and regaining feeling in my fingers. I felt like I had been baptized by water and fire. My strength had been tested and I had persevered. It was a great feeling, a mixture of exhaustion, hard work and accomplishment. One last steep, rocky incline and I was about to find out that a night spent at the huts is the cherry on top of a day’s long hike…
PS-For those wondering about the practical side of things, using outdoor facilities is extra “fun” in the rain. Lots of stuff (rain gear) can get in the way and a bare bottom in the cold is a jolting experience. If you want to feel at one with nature, try going the bathroom on the side of the trail, in the freezing cold rain. I guarantee you will get the full experience Mother Nature has to offer.
*This is not a picture of a trail in the White Mountains but an accurate depiction of what I thought the trails might look like before I left for the trip.
The window was left open all night and a cool mountain breeze flowed across my bed and over my face. I snuggled down into the cozy flannel sheets that lined the cot and allowed my eyes to get accustomed to the light that filled the room. Our room was quiet but busy.
One by one, we popped out of our beds and got dressed. We checked and rechecked our packs, tightened straps and made adjustments. We texted our goodbyes and final instructions to our families, then turned off our phones and rolled up our phone chargers. We wouldn’t need them where we were going. No electricity on the trail and no electrical outlets in the huts.
It was our last chance to add or take away from the weight and supplies we were going to carry on our backs over the next three days. For me, there was nothing to add or take away. I had gone over all my supplies about fifty times and carefully packed clothes in Ziplock bags labeled for specific days. Normally, I am not this organized but for this trip I felt it a necessity. Maybe it was my way of trying to control the unknown.
Most of my pack was filled with clothes because I was very serious about not being cold. I packed layers and layers of items for every situation I could think of. Yes, even if it started snowing, I was prepared to be warm. A few second thoughts and nervous feelings about overpacking ran through my mind but I could not bring myself to remove one single item from my pack. I decided to call it done.
Once everyone was ready, we headed down to the lodge’s kitchen. I stuffed myself full with a hearty, warm breakfast of oatmeal, eggs and fruit. Loving Leader had suggested we have a big breakfast and a big dinner, and eat snacks and bars (things easy to pack) for our lunches on the trail. We had an important task to do before leaving the dining room area, we needed to fill our hydration bladders. My water reservoir was much larger than the one I have used in the past for running. It was awkward to fill but I pretended to look like I knew what I was doing even as the water sloshed in the sink and over my bag. Screwing the cover closed, I felt accomplished and I carried the water upstairs to put into my pack. I was surprised at how much 3 liters of water weighed and somewhat dreading the extra weight to my pack but I knew that this was a non-negotiable item.
After Loving Leader led us in devotions and prayers, I felt full in almost every way. Full of food, full pack, full hydration bladder, full heart, full of energy, full of anticipation. One more comfortable, indoor bathroom facilities use and then we checked with the front desk about the day’s weather forecast. The forecast called for cloudy skies with rain in the afternoon. The expected rain would be the “heaviest” around 1pm-2pm. Not perfect weather but not terrible weather either. (At least, this was my thinking.)
On Wednesday, 9:20 AM, under cloudy skies, we headed out of the lodge’s doors and stepped onto the Avalon Trail ready to “bag” our first peak. Three expectations were about to be tested.