Trekking poles and the Holy Spirit

DSCN0248.JPGI’m a hiker. Correction: I want to be a hiker. I am an amateur hiker. There are expert hikers out there. I admire them and watch them to see what makes an expert hiker an expert. My “gear” is a dead giveaway that I’m not a professional. I recently bought my first pair of hiking boots, their lack of wear is like a neon sign flashing: NOVICE, NOVICE, NOVICE. I carry a boring backpack. I don’t have a Nalgene water bottle or a Patagonia hiking shirt.

As a pro-hiker watcher, I’ve been utterly befuddled by trekking poles. While I’m generally easily impressed with hiking gear, those darn poles have always looked sort of ridiculous to me. It looks like someone is trying to ski where there’s no snow. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how in the world carrying a couple of sticks through the wilderness would make navigating the trails easier. But the expert hikers use them.

My husband and I planned a weekend of hiking for our 15th anniversary. Yes, we really did that. Some couples celebrate their anniversary in Hawaii or at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico or on a cruise. Not us. We try to kill ourselves. On our way out of town we made a stop at the outlet mall and on a whim I bought a cheap set of trekking poles. Bright yellow ones. After we checked into our cabin and grabbed a quick lunch, I laced up my (brand-spanking) new hiking boots, grabbed my shiny trekking poles and we were off.

As we arrived at the trailhead, I tried to figure out my poles. There are multiple places to adjust the height and convoluted straps for your hands. I felt like a little girl playing dress up, trying to balance in her mom’s heels and keep her purse on her shoulder. “Am I doing it right? Do I look like a moron?” I asked my husband as we hiked along. I would walk with the poles for a while and then fold them up and put them away when I felt like a complete idiot. After a bit I’d get them back out and try them again. The hike took about 2 hours and by the end I was using my poles more than I wasn’t. I passed them to Eli (hubby) for him to try and after just a few seconds I missed them. We were climbing up some rock stairs and I realized that the silly sticks were actually making it easier. When I didn’t have them, I wished I did.

The next day we tackled a 7 mile hike. It was somewhere around 1,600 feet downhill to an impressive waterfall and then something like 10,000,000 feet back up (I don’t even know how that’s possible but I swear that’s what it felt like). On our way down we commented about how difficult it was going to be to get back up. Truthfully, the trip down was no cakewalk…I complained….a lot. Once we reached the destination and admired the waterfall, I decided I was glad we had done it and I determined to NOT COMPLAIN on our way back up. Every time I would feel a gripe brewing I would squash it with a praise. “I’m thankful for my legs. I’m thankful for my feet. I’m thankful I don’t have ingrown toenails. I’m thankful for shade. I’m thankful for the breeze. I’m thankful I don’t have asthma. I’m thankful for my husband. I’m thankful for our kids. I’m thankful we didn’t bring our kids.” And do you know what else? I was thankful for those ridiculous trekking poles.

I still don’t really understand the mechanics of it. I don’t feel like when I’m using trekking poles they are making much of a difference. It doesn’t seem like I’m relying on them or putting much pressure on them. I don’t feel as if they’re pulling me along or lifting me up. Honestly, all I really feel is like I’m not doing it right. But even in my very awkward, incredibly ungraceful way, I was somehow doing something that helped.

As I was hiking, marveling at nature and trying to figure out how the trekking poles were actually helping, I thought about the Holy Spirit. I recently facilitated a 7-week study on the Holy Spirit. God bless the group of women that patiently stuck with me through it. We talked and questioned and discussed and laughed and cried our way through Francis Chan’s ‘Forgotten God’. In the end, I still hadn’t figured it (him) out. How can God be insinde of me? How can He direct my paths but give me free will? How can I know that I am following His will and not my own? I DON’T GET IT. I grew frustrated and then realized that I was missing the whole point.

The Holy Spirit isn’t a puzzle to be solved. It isn’t a hidden treasure to be found. It isn’t a goal to be earned. It is a gift. A GIFT. A gift to be used. It is access to superhuman amounts of love and joy, peace and patience, kindness, goodness and faithfulness, and even self-control. I don’t understand it but I’m trying to live like I own it. I lean on Him when I’m rundown. I think I start each day with 10 pieces of patience and, more often than not, I’ve used them all up by 10:00a.m. But when mine are gone, I dip into the Holy Spirit’s supply. Self-control? I think God shorted me on that when he created me (and gave Eli my share) but when I fail, I can borrow from the Holy Spirit. Joy? Well, even when I’m climbing straight up a 10 million foot slope, I can be thankful for the good stuff.

I still don’t understand it. I still don’t feel like I’m engaging the Holy Spirit correctly. I still feel silly sometimes even talking about the Holy Spirit because I’m such an amateur. I still occasionally ask myself, “Am I doing it right?” I still don’t understand the mechanics of Him. I still don’t feel like I’m really relying on Him or putting much pressure on Him. I don’t always recognize that He is pulling me along and lifting me up. But somehow, even in my very awkward, incredibly ungraceful way, God is helping me along.

Shiny yellow trekking poles and the Holy Spirit. Who knew?

 

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Transparency

“Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.” -Mother Teresa

We crave authenticity, don’t we? We want people to be REAL. Being able to walk alongside someone who can say, “This is beautiful, but this is freaking hard” can make things seem less scary. When your heart is hurting or you’re rejoicing a minor victory and there’s someone who really GETS it, well, it just makes it so much easier/better.

If transparency is something we all want, why is it such a rare find? Because it’s hard.  It’s hard to put yourself out there and make your thoughts known. To expose your feelings is scary. When you put your heart out there and you’re met with a raised eyebrow and a look of judgement, it can be crushing. Laying my own tender feels on the table makes me cringe sometimes, but I (try) do it anyway. Because I want your honesty, I offer you mine.

I’ve learned a thing or two about honesty and transparency and authenticity over the years. Some lessons were tough so I’m going to share what I’ve learned so that maybe you can avoid some of my mistakes. You’re welcome.

Lesson #1: not everyone wants to know everything. You can free yourself of the pressure to share ALL of your opinions and ALL of your knowledge and ALL of your thoughts with ALL of the people.  Seems crazy, because you’ve spent a lot of time and effort and energy reaching your conclusions and you want to save others the trouble, right? Here’s what I’ve learned: unless someone asks for your honesty, you don’t HAVE to offer it. Liberating, huh?

Lesson #2: not everyone needs to know everything. Sometimes in the foster care world folks will ask me questions that I legally cannot answer. I’m obligated to protect the littles in my care and their stories. I’m pretty much never offended by questions because I know, more often than not, they come from a kind place. That does not necessitate a revealing response though. Sometimes the most honest answer I can give is, “sorry, I’m really not at liberty to share that information”. I’ve learned that most people understand and are completely fine with that response.

Lesson #3: not everyone can handle knowing everything. When my innocent kids ask me questions, I have to be delicate with my answers. I can explain drug use in generalities but I don’t have to go into detail with the facts or my opinions. It’s ok to just leave it at “sometimes people make bad choices” without divulging all the complex parts of those decisions. I need to be gentle and age appropriate with my answers. Sometimes they push for more information but most of the time a simple answer will satisfy their curiousity.

Lesson #4: be gentle with others who are making an effort to be open and honest. Recognize how scary it is to put one’s self out there, even if you don’t agree with their stance or opinion. Acknowledge their bravery. Try to assume the best in people, especially when they’re opening up, because they are tender and vulnerable and need your love and acceptance.

Then there’s stuff I’m still figuring out (“figuring it out as I go” isn’t just a catchy blog title, it’s my life). Sometimes my authenticity is offensive and I’m not sure what to do with that. For example, in the spirit of transparency I’ll admit, I sometimes have a rather colorful vocabulary. I think a well placed 4-letter word can add a certain depth to a conversation on occasion. If that’s news to you, it’s probably because I assume it would be offensive to you so I reign it in. Also, I enjoy an occasional glass of wine. I feel confident this falls into the “all things in moderation” category (see previous post) but I know that some of my friends feel pretty strongly that any amount of alcohol is too much…so I won’t imbibe when I’m around them. Am I being sensitive or am I compromising my authenticity? I honestly don’t know so I guess I’ll just have to keep kicking that around.

Let’s all strive to be authentic and honest, ok? We are all a bit of a mess, aren’t we? Pretending it’s not the case does us no good. Paul wrote this in Ephesians: “each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor…” Basically, BE REAL. It’s tough and scary but it’s so good. When you find an authentic person, thank them. And try to be that transparent person yourself. No facade, no mask, no front, just BE YOU.  I’m thanking you in advance. It’s a big deal.

Meth, love and other exceptions

 You’ve heard it said, and likely quoted it yourself: “all things in moderation”. It’s true. Sunshine is great but too much and you’ll get a sunburn (says the fair skinned lass over here). Coffee is incredible but drink too much and you’ll get the jitters (trust me). Bacon is amazing but overdo it and you’ll clog your arteries (mmmm…bacon). All things in moderation. Yes, but.

I added an addendum years ago. My version has been “all things in moderation, except meth”. I guess I’m always looking for an exception to the rule. I said it as a lame joke but, duh, it’s true. Kids, meth is bad. If you don’t believe me, I know some folks that can convince you. Addiction is a force that can overpower a person and rob them of their happiness, their family, their life. Don’t dabble in it, don’t test it, and don’t think you’re the exception to the rule. Meth is bad. All things in moderation, except meth.

Today I’m amending my addendum. I’m not even sure if that’s legal or allowed but I’m doing it. I now proclaim “all things in moderation, except meth and loving people.” Meth and love. Opposite ends of the spectrum. Meth=not even once. Loving people=all the time. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? You simply cannot overuse love. It won’t get old or tired or used up or tattered or boring. You cannot overdose on love. You don’t have to be moderate with love.

The bible has much to say on the topic. Love with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Love your enemies. Love your neighbor. Love fulfills the law. Love never fails. Love each other deeply. Love comes from God. Love is made complete in us. There is no fear in love. Love those who are foreigners. Love the Lord your God. By your love you will be known.

You can’t really mess up loving people. It’s never too late to love people. It’s never too early either. You can love people quietly and subtly. You can love people in big, obvious ways. You can love people from a distance. You can love people right in their face. I think the only way you can really screw it up is to not do it.

Other exceptions fall under the love umbrella. Mercy, grace, compassion, forgiveness. We can give them away freely because we have our own unending supply provided by God. No need to be stingy like you’re giving Halloween candy to greedy teenage trick or treaters. No moderation necessary. You can be as generous as you are with the leftovers at the end of a 2 day garage sale in hot, sticky July. You want some grace? Please, take it. Compassion for you? Here, it’s yours. Oh, you’re looking for some mercy, you say? I’ve got some right over here, all yours, no charge. We don’t need to take names or keep count or determine who is worthy (we aren’t really qualified to determine worthiness anyway, are we?) because it’s love and there’s no need to moderate love.

Here’s the other cool thing about love. God doesn’t hold back either. He calls us to love our enemies. The assumption there is that we will have enemies and we need to figure out how to love them anyway. That’s not how he loves us. He loves us like His children. He loves EVERYONE. Even that one guy/gal. You know the one. And even me. Weird, talkative, opinionated, frazzled, nail biting, stubborn, sarcastic, sinful Abbie. And even you, with all your own quirks and strange habits. We can leak love all over the place because God is constantly refilling us.

All things in moderation can apply to so many things. Sun and bacon and coffee and cleaning and shoes and cars and travel and exercise and spouses (one is all my husband can handle). But not loving people. Get out there and love the heck out of people!!!

And stay away from meth. Seriously.

Marveling

We went marveling this weekend. I hadn’t heard of this activity until a few months ago when it was referenced in a sermon at church. Our preacher told a story about a man who had sweet childhood memories of going marveling with his family on Sunday afternoons. It sounded very idyllic and when my 8 year old leaned over and whispered, “Can we do that someday?” I knew it was a must. So, on Saturday, we went marveling.

If you are unfamiliar with marveling, the concept is simple. Marveling: to marvel. You can do it pretty much anywhere. It really just takes intentionality, a purposeful plan to observe and appreciate what you see. To slow down and engage and notice things that you might otherwise miss.

The weather this weekend was too perfect NOT to appreciate. It was the sort of day that begged to be explored and adventured in. We live an hour and a half from one of the coolest exploring places ever: Ha Ha Tonka State Park. It really is as fun as it sounds! There are ruins from an old castle that burned down and many geological oddities unique to this particular area.

We loaded up with snacks, bottled water and a sense of adventure. Parking was a bit of a nightmare (we weren’t the only ones hoping to soak up some unusually nice February weather) but once we found a spot, we were off! 

 We started at the castle ruins and looked all around what was once a majestic home. You can’t help but imagine what it was like in its glory days. The parties hosted there, the memories made, the stories swapped, the devastation when it all went up in smoke. We tried to “see” where the rooms had been. We imagined the horses pulling carriages up the hill. We admired the view from the front porch.

 We strolled along the sidewalk and admired the old water tower. An incredible structure even by today’s standards. It’s amazing that it was created 100 years ago and is still standing in all its majesty. We talked a little about the science involved in getting the water in there (very little because this momma likes words, not mechanics) and how cool it is that it has windows.

  
We continued on until the boardwalk ended and we were walking on gravel. The trail led us to the top of the natural bridge, and incredible rock formation that is exactly what its name implies. We then backtracked a few steps and took another trail that led us under the same bridge that we were just standing on top of. It was damp and cool.

  After we’d passed under the bridge the big kids trekked up a steep hill by pulling on an exposed root. A beautiful plan until the root came loose and literally left Evan hanging. Their trip down the hill was less than graceful but they all survived. Muddy, but alive.
 We continued along to a huge rock wall. There was water dripping down it, from a source we never found. The kids rinsed their muddy hands and studied the layers of the rock. They peered in the holes of the rock….not too closely though, because who knows what’s living in there!

 As we journeyed along we heard a commotion from behind us, back under the natural bridge. Emma couldn’t control her curiosity and ventured back to see what the ruckus was about. Someone found a snake! And let it go! This was a problem for all of us because we would have to go back under the bridge to get to our car. When the time came the kids bolted through there at lightning speed. No snake was going to get them!

It was a great day, but not as idyllic as the story that was our inspiration. Sprinkled between photo ops was a fair amount of whining. A little bickering. I’m pretty sure someone punched someone else. Maybe twice. We had a poop emergency (two if you count the dog poo Evan stepped in) and at least 2 kids fell. The kids took turns wanting to quit and go home (at least they didn’t all revolt at the same time). It was deemed both “the best day” and “the dumbest hike” at different times. They marveled at nature and I did too. But I also marveled at THEM. These little people that step in poop and fight and argue…..they’re just so cool. The way they process things and see the world, their uniqueness, their similarities, their quirks, their tendencies…….they are simply marvelous.

Marveling was a success for us. I definitely recommend it and can’t wait for our next adventure. There’s a big, beautiful world out there. Get out and marvel in it. You’ll be so glad you did. 

Have you marveled before? What marveling memories have you made? 

 

 

What’s Wrong?

Sometimes kids just need to be sad. It stinks and it goes against every fiber of my mom being. I want to be the fixer, the hero. I want to offer treats and trips and fun just to force a smile. I want to joke and tickle and “turn that frown upside down”. But I don’t.

Sometimes kids are legitimately pissed off. Like, legit. Not one of those “he’s looking at me” or “she’s breathing on me” but an actual injustice. Sometimes bad things happen and kids get mad. That’s ok too. Sure, I wanna go into momma-bear mode and right their wrongs for them. Sometimes I should (and do), sometimes I shouldn’t (so I try not to).

Occasionally they’re going to crawl into the crap and revel in the misery of it. Other times it’ll get dumped on them and they’ll have no choice. They can’t live in it forever but IT’S OKAY TO FEEL BAD SOMETIMES! In fact, I think it’s healthy. If they can learn to feel their feelings now and not push them away or ignore them or think there’s something “wrong” with them, I suspect they’ll be healthier adults than if I were to run to the rescue every time they hurt.

I’ll rub his back or brush her hair. I’ll pray with them. I’ll pray for them. I’ll sit in awkward silence or listen while they rant. I’ll (try really hard to) keep my advice and lectures to a minimum. I’ll reassure them of my love for them. I’ll try not to press too hard for a “why” because I know they don’t always know what it is. I’ll allow a safe space for them to feel what they need to feel. I’ll crawl into the crap with them if I need to so they don’t have to sit there alone.

Sometimes kids just need to be sad. And it’s ok. Sometimes I just need to be sad too.
 Sometimes (like the mighty hippo) you just need to wallow in the crap for a minute.

To my kid with perfectionist tendencies:

I get you. I’ve spent much of my life leaning toward the type A column. It has served me well for the most part, but I have a few words of wisdom for you. Lessons I’ve learned.

Here are the things I want for you:

DO HARD THINGS. You won’t want to. You like for things to be neat and tidy. You like to succeed when you try something. When you do hard things it’ll get messy. You’ll screw up. You’ll embarrass yourself. You’ll get mad. Do it anyway. It’s good for you. It’s humbling. It’s faith building.

KEEP YOUR HEART TENDER. This will be especially challenging when you do hard things, because hard things usually require you to be strong. You’ll be tempted to put on a tough exterior so people won’t know you’re struggling or hurting. Fight that urge. Let your heart be broken sometimes. That has to happen occasionally to keep it soft.

DON’T PUT YOUR VALUE IN YOUR SUCCESSES. You work hard and push yourself. That is fantastic! But sometimes you’re going to fail. You just will. That doesn’t mean that YOU are a failure. Your worth isn’t measured by your grades, your GPA, your weight, or your bank account. Deep in your very soul, know what really matters.

GIVE OTHERS A BREAK. You expect a lot of yourself and as a byproduct you will likely expect a lot of others. Don’t. They have their own stuff and their own strengths. Cut them some slack. One time I was trying to explain why I expected so much of others. I blamed it on my “type a-ness”. In print it’s pretty obvious what I mean but in the spoken word it sounded like “type anus”. A funny reminder that our tendencies can make us act like butts sometimes. Don’t be a butt.

AVOID COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS. It’s an exhausting game. I can (almost) promise that there will always be someone who is better or more spiritual or more patient or faster or richer than you. Learn to celebrate the accomplishments of others. Be inspired by them but never jealous. Jealousy is ugly.

BE YOU. You are weird sometimes. So am I. It’s ok. Be different because “same” is boring. You don’t have to parade your quirks but you don’t have to cover them up. YOU are such an amazingly magnificent person. Why on earth would you try to be anything else?

With all my love, Mom

How It Began

I’ve kept a journal since the beginning of our foster care journey. It’s fun to look back on. Sometimes I can’t help but think, “Oh Abbie, how sweet and naive you once were.” 🙂

I often go back to my very first entry. When I was very first figuring it out. I was learning how to foster. I was learning about Caleb. Most of all, though, I was learning about how God works.

August 26, 2012. Six weeks after meeting the sweet boy that was to become my son. I had no idea. Here’s a glimpse into the mind of me:

“Today during church I was admiring the blue corduroy Gap loafers of the sweet boy sitting in my lap. I was thinking about how those exact shoes have been worn by two not so different boys who have lived 2 very different lives…or have they?

Both boys have loving grandparents who have entertained them, fed them, clothed them, and taught them. Both boys have loved Spiderman, Batman, Iron Man, and Hot Wheels. Both boys have learned to ride a bike (although only one has mastered the art of riding without training wheels). Both love McDonald’s Happy Meals.

I know jut about all there is to know about the first owner of those blue shoes. I know his birth weight (6lb, 10oz). I know how he got that scar above his right eye (New Years Eve, 2 years ago, he met the corner of my parents’ entertainment center). I know this difference in his ‘whiney’ cry and his ‘hurt’ cry. I know that he likes to hide the last puzzle piece and the be the hero when he ‘finds’ it. I know that he loves me and I love him.

I know considerably less about the current owner of those very same navy blue shoes. I don’t know where he was born. I don’t know if he has ever seen a movie in a movie theater. I don’t know who taught him to ride a bike or if he’s ever been to the zoo or had a pet. But I’m learning. I’m learning that ‘rimmatoop’ means swimming suit. I’m learning that he loves our dog, Maggie. I’m learning that he wakes up early but is okay to play alone for awhile.

I’m learning to love him as he’s learning to love me.”

Sweet memories!

Apparently I didn’t feel like mentioning the part about how the little cutie had a habit of running (in those cute navy loafers, or any shoes he could put on, or BAREFOOT) out of any door that wasn’t locked. We live on 5 acres and he is/was FAST! It is/was an incredible journey but it also is/was hard.

I’ve learned so much since that journal entry 3 1/2 years ago. I’ve gotten answers to many of my questions about Caleb’s past. I still have so much to figure out about fostering. On the job training, so to speak. I’m so grateful for the opportunity.


The owners of those cute shoes. Bros.