Follow the Trailblazer

Maker:S,Date:2017-9-26,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-ve

This past Saturday, I took a little day trip to go hiking in Cold Spring, NY to spend some time in solitude and nature. As I set out for the day, I decided I wasn’t going to listen to any music. 1- partly because I wanted to get “the most” our of my experience and 2- I didn’t want my phone to die in case I needed it for a emergency. Plus, nature and Spotify don’t really “go” together.

When I arrived at the trail head of Blue Hill, I read the directions for the hike several times and even took a picture of the map to bring with me. As I started up the trail, I saw this couple not too far ahead of me that had on their full hiking gear (special boots, backpacks, and sunglasses – I didn’t even know there were special hiking sunglasses!). I felt that because they had the right gear they clearly knew what they were doing. (As a newbie hiker, this is a totally logical explanation. Meanwhile, I’m still in my pearls and I’ve got my matcha to-go in a thermos tucked away in my backpack.)

So we set off on the hike (they didn’t know it was “we,” but I did!) At the beginning, the trail was clearly marked and there was only one way to go. Then, we reached a clearing after the first mile uphill and took a break for some water. I decide to continue on; and started walking the first direction I saw. I had an internal voice saying to me “wait a minute, there were a few forks in the road, how can I be sure this is the right way?” I hadn’t been paying attention, but there was a sign that had pointed me in the opposite direction of which I was walking. I quickly turned around and started proceeding on the right path; and, once again, following my newfound friends.

Maker:S,Date:2017-9-26,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-ve

I followed them all the way to the top until we hit a sign pointing in two different directions that said “short loop” or “long loop.” I wan’t sure on how much time I had before I had to catch the train, so I ended up taking the shorter of the two loops (which still had a great view). I rested on the mountain, taking in the view and enjoyed just being still.

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After the wind started picking up, I decided to head back down the trail. There were many hikers who were on the trail before me; and because it had just rained the previous night, so many of the paths were covered in mud.

I was about halfway down when I saw some hikers coming up a steep rocky path, so I started making my way down there, assuming they had come from the bottom of the trail. This path was awfully muddy and I found myself slipping a little more than usual, moving really slow, and gripping onto tress to get my balance back. After the two hikers past me, one of them shouted “the trail is actually back up this way, we just took a shortcut and went straight up the rock.” Relieved that I didn’t have to continue the steep descent I replied “thank you,” and proceeded back on the trail.

The path on the way down was marked with white tokens nailed to the trees; and I had to keep looking ahead to see which was the right direction to turn. As soon as I had passed a marked tree I immediately looked for the next token. If I kept looking at the ground for footprints where people had gone before, it was near impossible to tell which way was the right way, for so many hikers and made their own paths and gone through shortcuts.

Maker:S,Date:2017-9-26,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-ve

That is how our relationship with God is on our path of life. As an expert guide and trailblazer, God has already gone before us, laid out a path for us to take, and marked where we need to go with trail-markers in order to keep hiking through life. It is my job to keep my eyes open and head up in order to keep checking in to see where the marked path is. Like life, hiking is not exactly based on intuition alone and following other people’s “shortcuts” doesn’t always lead where I need to be going: it could in fact lead to the edge of a cliff. As long as we’re on this path of life, be sure to check in with the One who marked the path for us in the first place.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Psalm 23: 2-3

Looking to God has a guide, I let Him lead me on a path of righteousness & peace. I am called to be vigilant, aware, and constantly in contact with God. When I forge my own path because I think I’ve found a shortcut, the trail can be a lot more difficult than I had anticipated. When I follow other’s footsteps, I can find myself getting lost, or even putting myself into danger. Only God knows the perfect path for me because He has made it just for me and He has gone before me.

 

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Relationship Test

I wrote this post on a flight to Paris connecting through Iceland. While I hadn’t officially started my trip, I had some difficulty getting there and wanted to share my experience.

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People say that the ultimate test of a relationship is to travel with said person. Say I’m thrown into (perhaps) foreign territory. I have endless options to choose how to spend my time: under definite time constraints (and probably money constraints). Bumps in the road are inevitable and sometimes unavoidable. It is how I choose to respond to the events of my travel experience that determine the healthiness of my relationships.

While this is all straightforward when traveling with others, what about the event that I go on a solo trip? (Like the one I’m currently on in Paris? Well, I’m still on the way, I have a layover in Iceland- we’ll get to that part in a bit). I firmly believe that how I respond to the events of my solo travel (be them good or bad) can reflect some underlying characteristics.

So I’m on my way to Paris. I booked this trip a couple of months ago because I found a reasonably priced airfare and have had the itch to go to Paris every single day since I left the city 5 years ago. (Not kidding: every single day). The hype is so real at this point: I had a full itinerary planned down to the hour (including things like picking up vintage postage stamps for my postcards that I preaddressed- YES PREADDRESSED). I was listening to my Parisian-themed playlist, featuring the likes of the Ratatouille & Midnight in Paris soundtracks. AND I was wearing the perfect minimalist athlesure outfit I could pull out of my closet for an “effortless chic” travel look. I did all of the things.

Then, things turned from 100 to 0. Real quick. Real freakin’ quick. Long & tiring story short, our flight was delayed for more than 48 hours total. Luckily by this time I had amazing friends who took me into their home, took me rock climbing, fed me, prayed with me, and acted as my travel agents to help me to book another flight to Paris. (THESE are the kind of people I like to have in my life).

During this whole process I felt so much distress. Why tho? Whyyyy?! Disappointment? Sure, of course. Sad? Absolutely. But by the time I had received that fourth delay text, my body was physically shaking and I felt ill. Part of me was torn and sad and not even wanting to go, after all this time. But the other part of me was picturing myself having an almond croissant at Cafe de Flore. It was that simple image of what was to come that kept me going, that made me wipe off hours of tears and drag my sore body to the airport on the other side of town to make this flight.

When I’m under distress- what am I saying over myself? Am I crumbling under the stress? Or am I saying that despite the circumstances that have come my way I can see the finish line and get through this with God’s patience and strength. How am I treating myself and the people around me? Am I snapping easily? Or am I the example of peace to comfort others who are under distress. Traveling alone is a relationship test for my relationship with myself and with that with strangers.

 

I can tell you right now, these last 24 hours were not hours of peace for me. There were many tears, lightheadedness, confusion. Not to mention several passive aggressive tweets (and active aggressive ones) at the airline I had originally booked.

Yes, I need to be practical. I don’t have unlimited resources to get to Paris. But I do have a will, a way, determination, and a God who is able to provide opportunities & deliver me from the stress that had consumed me. Right now, I am living out that example: I’m at peace knowing that every person I meet on this trip is a new opportunity to overwrite the stress that came earlier.

When I was waiting for the first flight, I wrote in my journal (as one does when needing to relieve some stress): “200 years ago, leisure travel wasn’t a thing. I’m so grateful that I am able to travel the world for fun because back in the day it would have taken over 2 years to get to Paris.” Whatever life throws at me, I have the choice to respond in a proactive and constructive way. I can see obstacles and a stopping point, or I can view them as another way to get a new “skill” under my belt.

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Lost in the Sauce

Everyone says be true to yourself, be who you want to be. While this is great vague advice, it often leaves me wondering what that really means. I find it so easy to jump into trends, and gravitate to what is popular, what everyone else is doing. Nothing wrong with a good third wave coffeeshop, but sometimes I take a step back and I feel like a clone. A couple years ago, I could look in the mirror and see everyone else: everyone else and not myself.

A few years ago, one of my best friends, Isabella, gave me this piece of paper to fill out. She called it an “essence matrix.” You fill in each “box” with three things for each category. (Categories are: Music, Moving Image, Avocations, Colors, Flavors, Textures,  Visuals, Plays, Literature). The end-product looks something like the picture below (or better, if your handwriting is more legible than mine!) Every six months or so, I make a new one and fill it in again. It’s interesting to see how (and if) my answers have changed over time. It is a really nice way to explore the things which impact my decisions that I simply don’t think about every day.

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“Be true to yourself. Be true to yourself,” I whisper and ponder. What did I use to love that I stopped doing becuase I was afraid I was too different, afraid the world would judge me?

More importantly what does God say about me, who I am and who I should be? At the end of the day, God’s judgement of me is the only one that matters. Not my peers, not my friends, not even my family. Do the people speaking into my life have my best interest at heart as it relates to your God-given destiny? Because trust me, my best interest for myself is not always what is best for myself.

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1 Corinthians 3:12-13 says that “now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” How I am picturing this is a house made of wood; and there is a bonfire next to the house. When the foundation of a house is built of wood, of hay, or of stubble- how does it stand against the fire? A quick change of the wind in the wrong direction and it sets the house ablaze. Once that fire finishes burning, the home owner is left with nothing.

The ways of the world are like an unpredictable wind. We do not know what the next trends will be, how the dollar will value against other currencies tomorrow, or what life changing invention will come into play. Instead of being subject to the wind- build a house on truth, what is everlasting, and what makes you grounded. If you are rooted in the ground and in truth, and the strongest winds of the world come your way, you will not be shaken.

New York City is a constant space of inspiration, influence, and change. It is all to easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing with their lives. Comparing my life to others not only hardens my heart, but it takes the focus off of myself. I no longer am focusing on the truth that God is speaking into my life, nor am I living out my unique calling, the things I feel uncomfortable doing because I am under the influence of what the world wants me to be. If I am not too careful, New York can be a place of “sinspiration,” a place distracting from truth. The only reason I am tempted at times is because my heart hasn’t changed. Those who are truly filled with the spirit of Christ cannot be tempted, just as Christ cannot be tempted. Rather, they can stare temptation and the things that are not of truth – things that do not speak to who the truly are – and say “be gone.”

While we all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God, sin is not in the nature of those who have devoted their lives to Christ. So while I can be true to myself, I am also subject to the nature of what I have chosen to devote my life to, what I have built my house on, and who I tell myself that I am. So what brings me joy? What brings me closer to Him? What draws others to see that Christ-like nature in me? That is what is most true to myself. Don’t get lost in the sauce: build your house on solid rock.

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Season for Everything

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Madison Square Park Fall

“Seasons” is such an overused word, especially in Christianity. Don’t get me wrong, I use the word often, but I try to use it in proper context.

What do I mean by that? Cultural context gives a season a fixed period of time. Winter, for example. Winter happens once a year, 3 months out of the year, every year. It’s often cold, unless you live in Southern California. But the season is expected and everyone knows it will eventually end; and then Spring will come and it will get warmer outside.

This is just me, but I use the word “seasons” too often in the context of that fixed period of time. When Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 starts off by saying “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven,” it is a great reminder that after war comes peace, after weeping comes laughter.

And while I know “this too shall pass” is a great way to encourage in those times of weeping, I can’t help but wonder when it will pass. Those “seasons” of weeping, feeling lost, being frustrated after waiting so long, working relentlessly but getting nowhere can seem to never end. But these seasons aren’t fixed. We don’t know when they are going to end. And that’s a really really hard pill to swallow. There are two archaic (aka Bible times) definition for seasons (neither of which are “comforting”). First is “a proper or suitable time.” The second is “an indefinite or unspecified period of time; a while.” A while. A WHILE?! How long is a while? 5 minutes? 5 weeks? 5 years? I’m gonna need a little more context than that Jesus.

So let’s look at context. A little beyond the popular opening of Ecclesiastes is the following: “What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 3:9-13).

He has made everything beautiful in its time. So in any one given “season” (aka endless and undefined time period in my life) while there might be war, there will also be laughter. The laughter has nothing to do with the war happening in my life but can alleviate the pain of the war. Right now, well actually for the past three years, I have felt extreme frustration and worthlessness in one area of my life. I couldn’t even imagine if I let the last three years of my life be labeled as “worthless” or “unfruitful.” There are so many other areas of my life where I can see God moving and blessings pouring out daily. When this “season” of my life is over (whenever that may be), I can look back and label it the very opposite of how I feel about that one frustrating situation of my life. I can call this season “fruitful” in my relationships. I can call this seasons”growth” with my walk in my faith. I can call this season “joyous” when I rediscovered my love to draw. While every “season” in our life presents challenges, it can produce joy at the same time. As Ecclesiastes 3:13 says we CAN “find satisfaction in the toil.” Thank God for multifaceted seasons. Thank GOD!

Right now, I’m looking out my window at work. It’s the same view I’ve had for over a year. When I first started, I noticed this plastic takeout bag caught in one of the trees out my window (littering is a conversation I’ll save for another day). Over time, through the winds of Autumn and snowfalls of Winter, the bag slowly wore out over time. All that remains there now are tiny pieces of plastic wrapped about the same branch, blowing in the direction of the wind like a dreamcatcher. A couple weeks ago, another plastic bag made it’s way into the same tree. Not that trash in a tree represents anything positive, but it just made me think of how things will often find their way back. That groove Stella thought she lost? It came back! When I was full of sorrow and I couldn’t seem to find any source of happiness? My joy came back! That rut I never thought I was going to get out of? I got out of it!

So while I wait for the despair to pass, for the weeping to stop, for the pain to go away, I can turn and choose to focus on the area in my current season that I am blessed. But it is hard. It is hard to not become disappointed while I am trying to be patient waiting for the good to come. I love how the early Drake puts it in his song Over: “I really can’t see the end getting any closer. But I’ll probably still be the man when everything is over…If you thinking I’mma quit before I die, dream on.” Have peace in your mind that no one truly knows when their tough season is going to end, not even Drake. But know that through all of that, when we choose to not quit and we choose to stay faithful, God will place blessings in our lives that will give us joy in the midst of heardship. (Also that was far-fetched illustration but that song has been stuck in my head and I wanted to make it work soooooo…)

When I actively choose to praise God for the multifaceted season, I am praising him for everything: the good, the bad, the ugly. AND I am acknowledging that even in the midst of the bad, He is good. He is above all things and above all circumstances.

And speaking of seasons, here are some Fall pictures from Central Park last year. Just waiting for the leaves to turn again soon!

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