It's just a simple wooden pole. I bought it years ago on a trip to the Smokey Mountains. Handcrafted by an artist in the heart of Appalachia, it caught my eye and I bought it. At home in Iowa, I didn't use it much. On our mostly flat and paved trails, it didn't seem to be needed.
But on the mountains of Virginia, this stick was a steady companion. The majority of the hikers on the Appalachian Trail used modern trekking poles. However, I had one hand occupied with Molly's leash, so this worked very well for me.
My hiking pole was helpful on the uphills, hauling my out-of-shape, slightly rounded body up the steep slopes. I also used it on the downhill, helping me balance and make my way around boulders. In areas of fallen leaves or overgrown weeds, I employed it to make sure there were no snakes lurking. And I even swung it in front of my short-legged hiking companion to remind her that dogs needed to "go behind."
In our walk with Christ, we need a "hiking pole" as well. Prayer is what hauls us up the mountains, helps us maintain balance in our lives, and can even alert us to danger on the trails.
Too often, we are like me walking on the trails in Iowa. Things are not so tough, and we leave prayer in a corner of the garage.
Don't wait for the steep inclines in your life to resort to prayer. No matter what trails life has you on right now, don't step out with your hiking pole of prayer.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 Pray without ceasing.
Beginning September 8th, I hiked the Appalachian Trail through Shenandoah National Forest, a dream that was years in the making. Here are the wrap-up statistics:
3 women - my friend, Leigh, who accompanied me days 1-11, my friend, Angela, who was there for days 10-13 and me
1 dog - Molly
2 shuttle drivers - my husband, Gary, and Leigh's husband, Shaune
13 days of hiking - 1 day of rain, 2 foggy mornings, 10 sunny days
112 miles hiked
22 mountains, 2 rocky knobs, 3 unnamed hills
3 bears - all in the area of the campgrounds
5 snakes, including a dead rattlesnake on the road
Countless deer, chipmunks, squirrels, and birds, and one critter only Molly spotted and jerked the leash from my hand and went for her own romp on the AT.
38 insect bites - for some reason the bugs preferred me over my friends
4 blisters - on my feet. Leigh and Angela each had at least one.
132 bottles of water
12 miles on the longest day, day 13
33,818 steps - most in one day
It was the most difficult thing I have ever done. And I would do it all again in a heartbeat. Or at least after recovering for a week or two.
This one is for the OOFPAs (Ornery Old Folks Peddling Along) - my group of bicycling friends. I took my last training hike on the Great Allegheny Passage, a rails-to-trails bikeway. Molly and I walked about 2 1/2 miles out and then back and I spent most of the time trying to figure out how the OOFPAs could make a summer bike trip to Pennsylvania.
The weather was perfect. And so was the trail.
I overcame my fear of high bridges to take pictures of the river. It was sparkling clear - no mud bottom!
Of course there were wildflowers everywhere.
A glorious walk in the woods!
Gary and I have had a wonderful two days in Confluence, Pennsylvania. This was my first trip to this lovely state, and Gary's first time to meander and explore. We are at the confluence (meeting of two rivers) one of which is a major river in this part of Ohio - the Youghiogheny. It's pronounced Yawkaganey. Don't ask me why.
Our first full day here we packed a lunch and went to Ohiopyle State Park. It is a beautiful natural area - lots of waterfalls, overlooks, deep canyons and forest trails. We looked at the main falls and visitor center, then went to my personal favorite - Cucumber Falls. I did some climbing around there to get the best pictures. Picture large boulders, fast flowing water, and one crazy gray-haired woman.
We also drove to the campgrounds to look around, then to Fern Cliff Peninsula where many unique plants grow. It is sheltered by the river on 3 sides, so it has almost a tropical climate. Gary suggested a hike and Molly and I never turn down an opportunity to hike so off we went.
An hour later we returned to the truck after tromping through mud, climbing over fallen trees, stepping carefully on rock strewn paths, tripping on tree roots, and almost losing the trail entirely a few times. I pulled out the park map and found out that the trail was classified an "easy" hike. What???
Yesterday we drove to the National Memorial site of Flight 93 which crashed in Pennsylvania. It was a beautiful monument and quite emotional. The remainder of the day we spent at a Mountain Craft Fair with 150 vendors. We loved the crafts, entertainment, and of course the food.
Today is a laundry-doing, trailer-cleaning, catch up kind of day. And Sunday we head to Shenandoah National Park. This trip has been two years in the planning. And I can't wait.
See, he's a hiker too!
Taking time to rest and view the river.
We are in Cedar Lake, Indiana. Yes, that is the lake. And that is Molly, longing to swim in the lake. Her left foot is raised so she can run her fastest if I would just take the leash off her. She is prepared to swim.
I am longing to be in Shenandoah, hiking the wooded hills. My friend, Leigh, who is hiking with me posted the question on her FB page. Am I prepared?
We have trained all summer. Leigh goes to the gym. Molly and I walk. And we have hiked the highest hills we could find in central Iowa. But the true test of our preparations will be when we finally arrive and begin the hike.
Sometimes God asks us to do something new, some new adventure with him. And we often react as Moses did when God told him to rescue the Israelites in Egypt. "Who am I that I should go to Pharoah?" Exodus 3:11
We don't feel prepared to do what God asks us to do. And we may even argue with Him as Moses did. God answered every one of Moses's objections with a solution. But still Moses said, "Please send someone else." Exodus 4:13
Is God calling you to something new? Are you wondering if you are prepared?
There isn't a trail we can walk here on earth or beyond that God doesn't walk with us. "I cling to you; your right hand upholds me." Psalm 63:8
Don't argue with God, lift your foot like Molly and race to your new adventure with joy!
The day was cloudy, but enough light prevailed to cast some perfect reflections in the still waters of Easter Lake. I corralled Molly and paused to drink in the beauty and snap a few pictures. The majestic trees and cloudy sky are shown in perfect duplicate on the water's surface.
Proverbs 27:19 cautions us: "As water reflects a face, so a (wo)man's heart reflects the (wo)man.
If the lake had been surrounded by garbage, the water would have reflected the garbage. If turmoil and chaos were on the shore, the water would have reflected turmoil and chaos.
My heart is still water. I deeply desire to reflect peace and joy, but if I surround myself with garbage, I'm in danger of reflecting that. If turmoil and chaos control my life, I will reflect them. But, if I am learning to live a more godly life, I will reflect those positive attributes.
This is the time of year when the question is standard: Did you have a good summer?
Perhaps a more challenging question would be: Did you do something to draw closer to God this summer?
Camps, retreats, even family vacations can be opportunities for time with God, drawing closer to Him, and then reflecting His nature to our world.
What are you reflecting today?
My prayer is that you can say with Paul: "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." 2 Corinthians 3:18
A few days ago, Molly and I were walking on our Easter Lake Trail when we met a dad and his young daughter.
He was walking, but she was pedaling a miniature pink and white bike with training wheels still attached. She worked hard to keep the bike moving and to steer it along the trail.
As she passed us, I said, "You're doing a great job!"
She didn't respond to me, but pedaled harder to catch up to her dad. Then breathlessly, she exclaimed, "Daddy, I'm doing great!"
How often we ignore those Holy Spirit prompts to speak to, call, or make a visit to someone. A few moments of our time, and it can mean the world to another person.
There's someone you know today who needs a word of encouragement. They're pedaling hard and the trail is winding. Take time and be an encourager.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore, encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing.
A few weeks ago, I fell while wading in the creek with four of my grands. I would probably have escaped injury, but I was holding the bucket of tadpoles and crawdads, and I knew I could not let that spill.
My knee had a slight scrape. I could live with that. But it was also swollen, tender to the touch, and hurt when I walked. I iced it that night and babied it for a few days, limiting my walking to household tasks and short jaunts.
Today, I was back on the trail. It hurt when I started but felt better the longer I walked, and Molly and I ended up trekking five miles.
Our Creator gave us marvelous bodies capable of healing themselves. After surgeries, there are reasons the nurses prod your hurting body to walk. As we move, the blood pumps through our bodies and helps the injured areas.
Spending time in God’s Word is sometimes difficult as well. We lack focus, we lack time without interruptions, we even lack desire. But when we do open our Bible and read it, just like our circulation system, it begins to work to heal our wounded spirits and strengthen our faith.
Next time you are procrastinating reading God’s Word, remind yourself of the benefits and get back on the trail.
I don’t like the words “bucket list.” But I do have dreams.
I can’t remember a time when I haven’t loved going for a walk in the woods. Our old farmhouse had an ancient furnace that burned wood and/or coal and our eighty acres of timber provided an ample supply for its hungry iron mouth. My sister and I never turned down an invitation when Dad hitched the wagon to the tractor and went down the road to the woods. We would swing on the grapevines, pick wildflowers, and wander under the cool green canopy for hours.
From the time I first read about the Appalachian Trail, I wanted to hike it. The trail that winds 2,190 miles from Georgia to Maine intrigued me. I could imagine the days, weeks and months in the beautiful eastern mountains walking and soaking in the beauty. I could even imagine the solitude, and to an introvert, that sounded lovely, too.
I first walked a small portion of the trail when my husband, Gary, and I camped in Smokey Mountain National Park. That only whetted my appetite.
As I rounded the curve to Old Age, approaching my seventies, I wanted to do something Big. I knew hiking the whole trail was out of the question. I enjoy solitude but only in small portions. Gary doesn’t share my passion for hiking and being gone from him for several months didn’t appeal to me.
So, I conceived the idea. We could pull our camper, I would hike every day, and he would be my shuttle service to and from the trail. Being the amazing husband he is, he agreed. I settled on the portion of the trail in the Shenandoah National Park. There are three campgrounds and the trail crosses the road through the park multiple times.
We began to make serious plans. I bought maps, studied them, and charted my course. Gary looked up the campgrounds and planned when to move our 5th wheel from one campground to another. We even took a trial run to Virginia just to scout things out, but that trip was cut short by Hurricane Isaac. We like to say we were kicked out of the park, but it closed.
I do like solitude, but I also know it is best to hike with a human companion. (I always hike with my short-legged Lab, Molly.) I asked several friends and found a few adventuresome souls willing to accompany me.
On September 9th, 2019, Leigh, Molly, and I will start at Front Royal, the town at the northern edge of the park. After approximately fourteen days, we will have hiked the 106 miles through the park.
And I will have made a dream come to life.
What dreams keep nudging you? We are created in God’s image, and I believe dreams are placed in our souls by our Creator. Don’t push them aside, but take your first step today to make your dream a reality.
Do you remember going to family reunions? This picture is a reunion at Ledges State Park in Iowa in 1952 or 1953. I am the little girl in the chair, deep in conversation with my cousin. In those golden oldie days, family reunions were important. You might attend several over the summer, for all the branches of the family tree.
Food took center stage. Always homemade and always in vast quantities. My mother would bring fried chicken, homemade cookies, orange-pineapple Jell-O salad, and cold lemonade. The food would be spread potluck style on a table, but I always sought out my Mom’s dishes. I preferred safe to experimental.
But the conversations were the main event. Reconnecting, sharing family stories, talking politics with a little arguing, and generous amounts of laughter. While the grownups sat and talked, the children would become reacquainted with cousins we rarely saw and have great adventures. I remember when I was a teenager meeting one cousin from California who tried to teach me to smoke. That was an adventure my parents may never have heard about.
When you are a Christian, you look forward to the best reunion of all. Reconnecting at last with family members who have gone before us, conversation, laughter, food, and, best of all, seeing Jesus face-to-face.
After a lengthy hiatus concentrating on several other things, including finishing three novels, I am back to blogging. My blog, The Storyteller, will be a little bit like a family reunion—a place to connect, a place to share stories, and a place to laugh. I hope you, my readers, will all feel as warm and welcomed as this little curly-headed girl did so many years ago at her family reunion. I can’t promise you a potluck meal, but I will nourish your heart with a story.
And remind you of the hope that includes a family reunion in Heaven for each of us.
Susan Lawrence taught elementary school for 33 years before hanging up her chalkboard to write and speak. She writes novels for both adults and middle grade children. Susan lives in Iowa with her husband and short-legged Lab, Molly. She has 3 children and 7 grandchildren who love to hear her stories.