“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
(Lamentations 3:24)

When our small church was unable to meet corporately last Sunday due to a scheduling conflict in the elementary school where we meet, some of our friends and family decided to move our worship outdoors. Because of the unusual opportunity and the beautiful weather, we met to hike a portion of the Fiery Gizzard Trail in South Cumberland State Park.

The plan was to take a 9-mile loop that included a stop at a scenic overlook about half-way. However, due to a, um… slight disagreement about the direction to take after our  stop, we wound up hiking down a steep gorge and back up again. Meanwhile, my intuition, which has been honed by playing, “Hey, guys, let’s see if we can get lost in the woods” with my cousins when we were children, dogged each step with a cerainty that we were headed the wrong way.

As we took the rough stone steps, I recall thinking that our navigator may be in some slight danger of mutiny if we had, in fact, taken a wrong turning. Not until we had climbed to the bottom of the  ravine and back up the other side did we all stop and look at one another with the absolute certainty that we were not on the 4.5 mile loop back to our cars, but on the 8-mile stretch that headed to the trail’s southern end in another town.

Frustrated with himself (and possibly nervous about the possibility of violent mutiny), our navigator took off back towards the way we had come, as, with a few scattered murmurs, the rest of us collected ourselves and followed him.

It was absolutely glorious.  

There is not much I love more than hiking, and this particular trail is on my personal top Mom01110 list. Each step of the way back, I brought up the rear with my mom (who turns 66 today – happy birthday, Mama!). She had tweaked her knee somewhere in all the elevation change and had to take it a little slower. This was fine by me since it afforded an opportunity to drink in all the splendor of my Father’s handiwork.

All told, we hiked approximately 14.25 miles and by doing so answered the question of about how long we would need to plan to hike the Fiery Gizzard end-to-end (13 miles). It’s easily doable in a day, even leaving time for my beloved Nikon if we start early.

And as is my habit, the whole trek got me thinking about my walk with the Lord.

Some of our number who are not as giddily in love with the forests and hills as I found the last leg of our trek to be sheer misery. A fair amount of complaints were vocalized, as were several wistful wishes for extra water or a nice, juicy steak.

But for me, even the accidental detour was delightful. Even through the discomfort of thirst and the annoyance of arthritic feet, I enjoyed the quiet beauty of the woods, the surprising red-orange of occasional mushrooms, the steady plashing of the streams. In my experience, I have found that focusing on trouble only makes it that much harder to bear.

The difference, however, was not only focus but motive. 

True, I chose to concentrate on the scenery rather than ponder hunger or the pain of sore feet. But the bigger reason for the disconnect in our various experiences is that I love hiking for hiking’s sake. A short jaunt into the woods, particularly after a long drive, leaves me feeling cheated, so an entire day spent reveling in the Master’s artistry was a rare and wonderful pleasure.

Likewise, my walk with the Lord – and for that matter, all my relationships – are affected by motive. If my motivation for following God’s trail is solely what I can get out of it, be it blessings, comfort, peace, provision, or anything else, then I stand to be disappointed when things take a wrong turning.

However, following my Messiah for His own sake – well, that, my friends is where joy in the journey is found; not merely joy because of circumstances but even joy despite them. There – in Him – is true and lasting peace.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.
(Isaiah 26:3-4)

Migraine Chronicles: A Matter of Focus

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Colossians 3:1-3

I remember just a short time ago when my three-year-old responded to my admonition that he behave with an outburst somewhat, ahem, telling of his personality: “I am being have!”

Oh, wait… that only seemed like a short time ago. In actuality, it was thirteen years ago, and that same little boy is now driving, holds a purple belt in Wado Ryu karate, and is navigating his first boy-girl relationship that is not based primarily on who is ‘It’ in a game of hide-and-go-seek.

My how time flies…  And time has also softened the edges of that memory so that the humor stands out clearly, unencumbered by the emotional barrier of dealing with a defiant toddler.

Often these days, I look back with fondness at the years when my children were small. However, I have to admit that at the time I often felt overwhelmed by the sheer mass of needs that ruled my day, particularly since it was when they were all small that I first began to struggle with chronic migraine.

Yet today even the towering needs of three toddlers seem trifling in the face of the more complex emotional needs of teenagers. And I know that someday, I will even look back on these hormone-fueled clashes with some degree of nostalgia – as well as with a better understanding of which battles were truly important and which only seemed critical at the time.

Hindsight can be so illuminating. pict0460

To be honest, this is the very thing I have to remember when I’m in the middle of a bad migraine cycle. I must remember that time marches on and one day the long, dreary days of pain and fatigue will be mere memory, softened by time and no longer full of sharp spikes and energy-depleting edges.

Although now the battle against pain is furious and intense; although now pain may color the days in  browns and grays like a typical overcast Tennessee winter, it will not always be this way.

Here in Tennessee, spring has already made an early incursion, and on its heels color slowly seeps back into the landscape until the days are once more awash in lush greens and deep blues with every imaginable shade and combination of reds and yellows mixed in.

Even so, at least for those of us who are in Christ, the pain-filled days are merely the winter of our time of exile here on earth. But spring is coming.

And for those who do not know our God, the invitation remains open to you as well. Come, cast your cares on the Lord, and He will sustain you.

For there will come a day when, just as we look back on the previous trials of our lives, we will look back on all of this life through eyes of experience, and though it is difficult now, it will be but a little moment in the vastness of Eternity.  Then we will remember the days of weariness and toil and be glad of the lessons we learned in the midst of them. Then, too, we will be fully aware of the glory of God which we once overlooked while keeping our eyes locked on the next step of the tiresome path at our feet.

But we do have another option.

Instead of keeping our eyes downcast now, fixed on these earthly problems of pain, why not set our thoughts on the things above?  Through His power at work within us, we truly can shift our focus from this small, shrinking self and onto the eternal nature of our glorious King with full assurance that all of this – even the most agonizing moments – will be used for good in His perfect and eternal purpose.

As a matter of focus, we can learn even now to see slivers of beauty peeping through the links of affliction, for even in pain, our King has walked before us and knows the way.