Sunday, June 29, 2014

A surrey and a smile

At the Peninsula in Erie there are a variety of ways to get out and enjoy the beauty of the lake and the unspoiled joys of nature. Running, kayaking, beach-bumming and biking are just a few of the options available to the outdoorsy one who wants a day out enjoying God's green earth. If none of those activities sound like your cup of tea might I suggest another more enticing excursion for your trip to the Peninsula?
A surrey with the fringe on top.
For a security deposit and hourly fee you, my friend, can go cruising down the bike paths of the beautiful Lake Erie Peninsula. Bring your friends because this buggy is made for sharing! The front can hold a few little passengers whose legs are too short to pedal. The bench seats (you can get your surrey with multiple rows!) may be a little on the flat side but you won't mind the lack of cushioning when you're laughing with your friends. Bumps will throw you into fits of laughter and steering is sure to be a comical experience.
But most of all on your surrey adventure your legs are sure to get a workout. Every incline will feel like a mountain even if it is only a 1% incline. Let's just say that a surrey isn't made for off-roading and certainly not mountain climbing. Stick to the well paved path and even then you'll experience a stretching of your endurance and muscular capability.
I was reminded of the challenge the surrey provides while running yesterday along the path. Up in the distance I saw a slow moving surrey. Their speed would have made an inch worm's crawl look like a sprint. They moved so slowly the fringes on the surrey barely even swayed.
As I approached the surrey I expected to see a couple of exasperated parents struggling under the weight of a cumbersome, oversized bike and a couple of ride-along children. But what I found when I surveyed the faces of the pedaling parents was not frustration, angst or even weariness. What I saw was joy. I saw nothing but smiles.
The small incline that surrey had to climb was nothing monumental but it was still producing a challenge, yet the peddlers kept an attitude of pleasure and joy even in the midst of their struggle. Their legs were suffering but their spirits were not. They just kept pedaling, kept laughing and kept enjoying the adventure of a ride down the path of the Peninsula.
At first the scene didn't strike me as anything unusual. After all it was a beautiful day for a ride and a little fringe goes a long was in making even a tiresome trip a fun one. Thinking back on that little scene I now see something in it that I didn't see at first: how I should live as a long-sufferer.
At times in life the inclines we must climb look overwhelmingly steep. Our legs grow tired, the humidity leaves us breathless and the weight feels like far too much to bear. We suffer and we suffer for what feels like an agonizingly long time. This can produce in the peddler, the one doing the suffering, like cruel torture and cause for dissatisfaction and despondency. But by looking on at a few parents peddling their children at the Peninsula I was reminded that long-suffering doesn't have to be and shouldn't be the cause for angst or grief. It should be faced with a smile and accepted with a joyful spirit.
This life of mine, and your's too, is a ride on a path ordained by God. We get the opportunity to jump on the surrey and ride along. But rider beware, there will be inclines, there will be bumps and sometimes the seat will feel terribly uncomfortable.
Let me encourage you to take heart and hold on, because this ride can be fun! Mount your surrey with a smile, embrace the bumps,  and push up every incline with a joyful spirit. You and I may suffer for what feels like forever. I suppose that's why it's called long-suffering. But while we suffer, even though it may be long, you and I can do so wearing a smile because we know that we're on an excursion with our Creator, Father and King who has planned for us a great adventure on His great path called life.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Don't fear, Deer

This week I ventured down to Pittsburgh on my own for two back-to-back days of oxygen therapy. This weekly trip has become my normal routine. Usually my Mom accompanies me. We spend the night in a hotel, infuse my body with copious amounts of God's good oxygen and even include some girlie T. J. Maxx and Marshall's shopping. Our new routine suits us quite well and I enjoy our trips together.
But this week I came by myself. Mom is in the throes of a backyard overhaul, painting the deck and ripping out bushes. The task is lofty and complete dedication to the effort is needed to get the house summer ready. So, in lieu of our weekly trip to Pittsburgh, Mom opted to stay home and make more progress on her work. 
I don't mind traveling by myself. Actually it makes me feel grown up. Although I do believe that feeling as though you are grown up is a surefire sign that you are not at all grown up. Oh well, solo travel gives me that sense of independence that leads one to believe they are very much adult. 
Even though I may feel "grown up", I still have hesitancies about being by myself. Namely, my physical security. I'm not one to be overly scared or see the danger lurking around every corner. I'm not convinced that every bush is a burglar and every loud sound is an invasion. But still I know that there are serious security concerns to be aware of, especially for young women. Abductions and assaults really do happen. Women must be mindful of keeping their wits about them, not putting themselves in precarious situations. I try to be reasonably cautious about where I go and where I should not go when I'm by myself, and especially when it comes to where and when I run outdoors. 
I've run a few times on wooded trails by myself but after hearing a few horror stories I've decided that more populated areas are safer for the solo runner. This morning while staying in Pittsburgh I wanted to go out and take a run. While staying in this particular hotel, my home away from home, I always venture just a mile down the road to run along a particular trail. It isn't exactly in the woods but it is relatively serene and definitely wooded. On a quiet morning a runner could go a mile or two without seeing another soul. When my Mom is along for the trip she waits at a picnic pavilion for me while I run but today she couldn't be my security guard and I vacillated over whether or not to venture out alone. After some internal dialogue I decided to lace up my sneakers and hit the trail.
I saw a few other people in the parking lot getting into their cars but other than that the path ahead looked deserted. I set out west with my ear buds in place and my Pandora put on play. Within minutes I was surrounded by nothing but trees. All of a sudden a thought struck me: bears. Bears are everywhere and especially in woods. What if a bear came out of the woods and confronted me on the trail? What would I do? There was no one in sight. No one to help me, call 911 or scare off my grizzly attacker. My heart started pounding faster and faster. And it wasn't because of the pace of my run. Fear sent my heart sprinting. 
Then I looked up and there she stood. No, not a bear…. A deer. Out of the thick brush to my left came a stately, regal deer. She was alone, just like all of my other deer encounters. She stopped, stood stalk still and then turned her head and gazed at me. 
I stopped, too. I didn't want to scare her. I didn't want her to charge me (do deer charge humans?). And most importantly I didn't want her to wake up any bears in the vicinity! 
We both stood there for a few moments. Neither of us moved a muscle. It seemed as though we were barely breathing. The deer didn't appear to be going anywhere anytime soon, so I turned to run back toward my car. Usually deer don't scare me but with my bear fears already very much alive even the sight of a deer spooked me.
As I ran back in the direction I had come I decided to turn my head back to see if the deer was still there. There she was, slowly making her way across the path into the brush on the other side. She didn't appear startled or phased by my presence or the sound of my pounding feet against the gravel. She peacefully, gracefully climbed into the wood and disappeared from view. 
At that moment I was struck by the overwhelming presence of God. Once again I was stopped dead in my tracks…. Don't run in fear. Don't let anxiety rule and define your actions. Continue forward in peace and assurance that God will number your steps and protect you on the journey. 
With a renewed energy and peace I turned back around and started running again, away from my car and the parking lot, and deeper into the woods. God had sent that deer to me as a reminder that He would protect me and guide my steps. I just needed to trust Him and run in the confidence of His protection.

The decision to keep running certainly didn't appear monumental. After all I was only running a few miles, not finishing a marathon or running for some grand cause. But what that run meant for my soul was immensely important to me. By continuing to run I chose to continue to surrender my life to Christ, casting off fear and trepidation so that I could run with faith planted securely in Almighty God. To keep running I had to relinquish my grip on my own physical security and entrust the preservation of my life into the  care and concern of God.
For me the simple decision to keep running along the path was a surrender of my fear and my worries. The deer sent to me by God was my reminder that to follow Him I must yield all of myself to Him, even my inner hesitations and fears so I can run with wholehearted devotion and dedication to bring glory to the King of Kings. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

A magic carpet ride

Remember Aladdin? Who could forget him! He was the animated dream boat of the early 90's. He was tall (I assume), dark and oh so handsome. He jumped around with ease, barely wore a shirt and even had a pet monkey. Come on ladies let's be honest, who wouldn't be head over heels? Even at the tender age of two I think I knew that Aladdin was a catch. The movie hit the big screens in 1992, too soon for me to be aware of its appeal to the feminine gender, but as I aged I grew to understand that the true appeal of Aladdin wasn't in the palace that Jasmine lived in or the fancy jewelry that she wore. The real appeal of Aladdin was in the title character and his desire to show one special girl the whole world.
Since 1992 animation has far surpassed the grainy images of Aladdin. Technology has progressed, colors have been enhanced and the art of the animation process has catapulted into the 21st century. Still, the appeal of Aladdin hasn't faded. Girls still buy the Jasmine doll and I've even seen a few boys dressed up as Aladdin on Halloween. Disney on Ice still has a magic carpet, Princess Jasmine and dreamy Aladdin. Needless to say, this cartoon classic has staying power.
The question is, why? What about the Aladdin movie makes it so memorable? Why do I still find myself humming the songs of a movie produced and released over twenty years ago? What has kept Aladdin alive long after it has left the box office?
The answer is simple: the love of a boy for a girl. It is so basic, so fundamental and yet Disney used the most natural union and used it to score big. They took a character who was from the wrong side of town with no credentials and a grim job future. Not necessarily the man Dad would approve of. And as cute as that monkey might have been, I don't even think Mom would give her blessing to a union with such a character. Yet this boy loves a girl who is from the right side of town with a royal pedigree. She could have had any man she wanted - a prince, the big shot in town. Yet some scruffy guy swinging around with a monkey caught her eye and wanted to show her the world. And the rest is history. The two rode off into the distance, carried away to a whole new world on the winds of romantic notions and a magic carpet.

For the lonely the simple tune of "A Whole New World" can bring on a whole new wave of despair. The melody produces a desire for a love interest to share in the thrill of a carpet ride. The words ring out with promises of wonders and splendor and the lonely heart sings along, pinning for someone to share in the duet. But when no one appears to join in the song, a sadness sets in - reality hits. The lonely still stands alone, still sings alone, with no magic carpet in sight. 

Dear Reader, today you might find yourself in that place of lonely longing. You don't have a companion to share on a romantic ride of love or a voice to harmonize with on the chorus of your favorite song. But Beloved, your ride is not joyless and it is not without magic. 
God is offering you a ride on His very own carpet. He won't come to you like a Genie in a bottle and He probably won't have a pet monkey in toe, but God will orchestrate a ride for you that reveals wonders and splendor far greater than any other mystery man could ever deliver. God has promised plans for you and a path specifically plotted with your name on it and He never breaks His promises.  He has a special journey and it is especially for you. God longs to take you on the thrill ride of your life, beyond any magic carpet in movie animation or on the silver screen. What could be more romantic than that? 
Aladdin has become a classic, but God is truly the author of the greatest love story ever written. And He wrote it with you and I in mind. In His beautiful love story He sent His son to save us and show us the way to eternal life. In the story He has authored there in a special place for each of us and a carpet with each of our names written upon it. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Smile on

We all filed into the boarding area like a bunch of cattle. Sky Priority members, passengers in zone 1, then zone 2 and so on. Like zombies, frequent fliers lined up behind elastic rope barriers lugging rolling bags and cumbersome carry-alls. Few people seemed to make eye contact with one another. Almost no one spoke a word. And a friendly smile? Forget about it!
Just another day at another major airport. Another round of wheels up and wheels back down. This routine has become so commonplace that fliers don't even seem to recognize that there are other people around. Or maybe they realize but they are just simply over being friendly to the faces of passengers they are likely to never see again. So paths cross with barely even a sideways glance at the person seated not even an inch away on a two hour flight.
What kind of world are we living in where this human disconnect is common practice? How did this ever become "the norm?" Am I the only one who sees a serious break in the basic tenants of common courtesy and human dignity?
As I stood with the rest of the human cattle awaiting my opportunity to get my coded boarding pass scanned, approving my right to board the Delta flight, I longed for human interaction with someone, anyone sharing this quick one hour flight. I looked around at the faces in line and tried to make eye contact but it seemed that no one was looking up long enough to even notice I existed or that I was glancing around, just smiling, begging for a friendly face in the crowd. Everyone had their heads in their phones, newspaper or just in the clouds as they starred ahead, eyes glazed over. It seemed to me that no one was looking for, giving out, or willing to receive a smiling face.
But I smiled anyway. I stood in that line and smiled like a fool because I wasn't about to let the frowns and comatose stares of my fellow passengers dampen my spirits. I decided to be the smile I longed to have shine in my direction. I decided to be that smile for someone else.
And do you want to know what? I felt better. I felt fulfilled and content not because someone smiled at me like I so desperately wanted but because I had decided to be my own smile.
I don't know if anyone else on that flight or in that boarding line saw my smile. I doubt they did. But the facial expressions of the other travelers didn't dampen spirit or diminish my own expression. I had made my decision to be a smiler. I was going to smile whether anyone else did or anyone else noticed. I was going to smile even if  I looked a little goofy and giddy - which I'm sure I did. After all, what was there to smile about while waiting alone in a line that was moving at the pace of a snail?
On the surface there was not much to be excited about. But the flight, the line and the crowd weren't my cause for wearing a smile. I wanted to smile because I felt blessed. Blessed to have the freedom to travel. Blessed to have health that made this trip possible. Blessed to be up and about at six in the morning, embarking on a little journey. Simply blessed because God gave me the ability to smile! Blessed because God has filled my heart with an overwhelming joy that begs to be spread through the sharing of a smile.
It was for all these reasons and a million more that I couldn't help but smile this morning. Everyone else might have been stone faced, exuding a cold, hard exterior but God still put a smile in my heart, one that I couldn't keep from my lips.
Dear friend, in a world full of frowns, be the smile you wish to see. Don't let the discouraging faces of the strangers and fellow travelers in this world dampen the joy in your heart or the smile on your face. No matter what everyone else may be wearing, make sure you wear your smile. If for no other reason, wear your smile because God loves to see it. That's why He blessed you with the ability to wear joy so visibly, right on the face. Because He loves to see us smile, spreading His joy. And He wants the weary world to see it, too. So smile on, my fellow traveler, smile on!