Into The Woods

My dad took me on a trailride in Eminence, Missouri. One of my best childhood friends, Julie, and my Uncle Bud went, along with, of course, four horses. We drove down a slight hill with dense trees on both sides until we came to a clearing filled with more pickup trucks and horse trailers than I had ever seen. Horses were everywhere. Everyone wore cowboy boots. For some people, that might seem like everyday life. To me, it was strange yet wonderful.

We ate chow. Not dinner or breakfast, but chow. In the mess hall. Every night was a campfire with some banjo music and dancing. Every day was a lot of horseback riding in beautiful woods along stunning bluffs. Dad let me  ride his horse, Lady, who came from Texas with a trailer load of cattle when Dad was a young teen. She was well-trained and gentle, which was the only thing that gave me solace when the trail led downward in the woods, then took a sharp left turn along the rocky ledge of a bluff. I was certain at least one horse and rider would plummet to their deaths.

I loved riding, but I had never ridden in such a beautiful area for so long. I had never been with so many gorgeous, strong horses. I had never been around so many people who loved their horses.

I give my parents much credit for letting me, even gently pushing me, to try new things, to see that there was a world outside of what I knew, to explore the possibilities. And not just the things they enjoyed. When they asked where I’d most like to go the summer after high school graduation, I said New York City. My dad wasn’t a city guy, but he willingly went. In fact, he insisted on driving us into Manhattan. It wasn’t his favorite place in the world, but to me, it was sort of like riding horses into the beautiful woods years earlier. It was an unexplored world, bursting with possibilities and adventures. I took it one step at a time and enjoyed the unfamiliar scenery. And he and Mom let me.

None of us are going to experience the entire world. In fact, some of us won’t physically travel much at all. Even when money was tight, my parents tried to give me opportunities to see new places, meet new people, and consider new viewpoints. And I am grateful. They let me know there are many ways to see the world: traveling, reading, meeting people, inviting conversation.

One of my favorite quotes hangs on a wall in my house: “The world is a book, and those who don’t travel read only one page.” (St. Augustine)

Travel today, even if it’s from the comfort of your own home.



The Scary Bridge

Perhaps you’ve heard my story about crossing the troll bridge when I was young. I’ve shared it many times when speaking, and it’s including in Pure Emotion. But this post is about another scary bridge: the Mackinac Bridge.

You might have heard of it. It’s long, and it’s built to withstand high winds, which means you can feel it moving at times. It sometimes ices over in the winter. But my experience with the Mackinac Bridge was scary for another reason.

My dad and I crossed it on a motorcycle.

We took a trip from central Illinois through a bit of Indiana and through Michigan, where we briefly stopped to visit with relatives. Our next stop was Mackinac Island, accessible only by ferry. No motorized vehicles are allowed. From there, we would travel south through Wisconsin, stopping at the House on the Rock and a few other places. Mainly, we enjoyed the sites and sounds of nature, as well as meeting people along the journey.

But first, we had to cross the Mackinac Bridge, part of which is slatted. There’s probably a more technical term, but I’m not sure what it is, and my brief internet search was less than enlightening. I assume the slat design was best for air flow and helped the bridge sustain high winds. All I know is that I could see through the slats, which were just a tad smaller than the width of our motorcycle tire.

I have no fear of heights, no fear of bridges, and no fear of drowning. However, I wasn’t crazy about being on a long suspension bridge perched above a large body of water and potentially having our front motorcycle tire wheel get stuck in the bridge and stop us dead in our tracks with travel around us. So, my dad did what made sense: he kept moving but not too fast, and he steered the motorcycle a little toward the left, then a little to the right, continually changing our direction so that the wheels wouldn’t be lined up directly with the slats. Dad’s feet were off the foot rests the entire length of the bridge, just in case, he needed to catch us.

We made it without any issues and with a huge sigh of relief. It took a little while to unwind, but the ferry ride and walking around the peaceful Mackinac Island helped tremendously.

It’s amazing to consider what might be on the other side of nervous anxiety and fear.


Have you ever wanted to go to Israel?

What’s stopping you?

More important, why is it stopping you?

How is what you have “not enough”?

Are you certain it’s not enough?

Here’s what happened the last time I led a group to Israel…

We received a list of items need by Bridges for Peace, where we served in Israel.

  • New baby clothes
  • Children’s toys
  • Toothbrushes
  • Backpacks for kids for school
  • School kits (pencils, erasers, crayons, glue stick, scissors, pencil sharpener, etc.)

We gathered as much as we could pack, and we lugged around our extra suitcases for the first several days until we began serving. We combined our bags and packed them on the bus. We rolled them into the building where they would sort, store, and distribute the items, and we started unpacking.

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Little by little, those working and serving at Bridges for Peace that day came to see what all the commotion was about. They found an explosion of suitcases as we filled bins.

And they had tears in their eyes.

We started with a list, but what we didn’t know was donations were down because of the change in airline baggage fees.

We didn’t know they had been out of baby clothes for three months.

We didn’t know the baby clothes we had brought were enough for six months.

We didn’t know they had been praying for provision and witnessed God’s answer.

They cried for joy, hugged and thanked us.

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We cried, too…partly for joy, and partly because we wish we had known. We wish we had done more.

It was pretty easy to gather items, pack them, and roll them on and off our planes and buses. What we thought was “not much” was an abundance for those in need.

Yes, we could do more, but what we did was…something.

Look around. You are surrounded by needs in your home, church, community, and world. You can’t solve every problem or meet every need, but you can do something. Don’t let “not much” stop you. It might just be more than enough.

And don’t let your “not enough” stop you from exploring the possibilities of journeying and serving in Israel. Space is limited, so we can get to know each other well and serve and travel well. Click here for more information.

No Cameras, Just Pictures

We visited the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital, whose synagogue houses the famed Chagall Windows: 12 abstract stained glass windows representing the 12 Tribes of Israel. No cameras are allowed. The windows are beautiful, arranged with three on each side. We began on one side as a recorded voice explained details of each window. We had time to search for specific motifs and colors. They are beautiful windows, but they became more vibrant with each detail: the opposing animals in Simeon’s window, the white spot caused by a shrapnel hole in Issachar’s window, the large circle of unity in Benjamin’s window.

how-to-take-a-screenshotWe could take no photos, which was, at first, a disappointment. I took hundreds of photos to document our journey throughout Israel. I planned to share them with everyone in our group so that they didn’t have to sacrifice any part of their experience by limiting their view to the camera lens. They would have to miss out on the Chagall windows as they looked through the photos.

Or, would they?

It wouldn’t have taken much time to snap one photo of each window. I still could have stared at each and noticed the details, but savoring each one, knowing I couldn’t take a photo, made me pay even more attention. I searched the colors, animals, and sections of each one to remember them well. I took pictures with my mind.

I’m fairly detail-oriented most of the time. In fact, if I’m not careful, I can let details distract me from the big picture. How about you? With the easy access to phone cameras and quick shares with the world through social media, we have a lot of images to see. We can slip into trusting the documentation of our lives (and others’) by photos instead of doing the tough work of looking at the details on our own. We need to look around and notice the specifics of colors, patterns, and people around us.

We need to set aside our cameras. After all, God gave us a built in camera no one can take away or limit. What photos are you taking and repeatedly searching in your mind?

For more information about the Chagall windows, click here.

Time to Serve

As I sat in the airport, excited to start my journey to Israel, I wondered about all the people around me. Where were they going? What would they be doing? What were their passions, struggles, and needs?

do somethingI anticipated getting to serve people in Israel, but looking around and noticing the people around me in the airport reminded me I need to serve people everywhere. The people around me were diverse in many ways. We weren’t all speaking the same language. We didn’t share the same shade of skin. We didn’t dress the same, look at people the same, or even eat the same. But we weren’t very different from each other in the ways that matter most. We all have issues, concerns, and  anticipations. Instead of separating ourselves, we can find our commonalities, and serve each other through them. We don’t have to let the differences divide us. After all, many of us travel to serve people who are different from us just to find we have much in common. We choose what we focus upon. We choose who we serve. Why do we pay less attention to a neighbor, a stranger on a corner, or a person we don’t get along with? Do we feel they’re “too close” to us? Do their needs make us uncomfortable?

It’s time to serve. Do something. It doesn’t have to change the world. It just has to serve someone. In the process, God will change you.

As I continued my travels, I found an opportunity to connect with many people through a simple gesture. Something people everywhere have in common is…sneezing. I heard people in every airport, restaurant, and restroom sneeze, and it was my invitation to simply say, “Bless you.” Every single time, whether or not I shared a language with the person, he or she knew what I said and responded with a nod, thank you, or smile. I got to look many people in the eyes as I traveled because of those simple words. And each time, I was blessed with someone’s smile and connection.

Be a blessing to others no matter where you are.

You will be blessed.

God’s Travel Policy

rebookIf you travel much, you know about change fees you incur each time you rebook a flight, rental car, or train ticket. The policies of various carriers differ, but there is usually some kind of penalty for changing your plans. (If you’re one of the people who have traveled so extensively you now have an account that allows you to rebook without a cost, keep in mind you had a lot of bookings and rebookings to get to that point, so you’ve likely “paid” for that status!)

Consider God’s rebooking policy. When you choose to travel using God’s plans, there is no rebooking necessary. He’s the best trip advisor. He knows the best itinerary, time schedules, layovers, delays, costs and benefits. When you continually check with his plan and stay on track, you’ll be where you need to be. That doesn’t mean everything will go smoothly. You’ll encounter many challenges along the way, because that’s how this life on earth is. We don’t live in the perfection of heaven yet, so we can’t expect it on earth.

If you choose to deter from God’s plans, no matter how off track you get, you can always run to him and ask him to rebook you on the next rerouting back to his plan for you. It might not look exactly like it would have had you followed the original itinerary, because he must weave your changes and choices. But, after all, he already knew how you would detour from his plan, so he had the best plan in mind anyway. Rebooking God’s plan is a bit costly, no matter where along the process you choose it, because it requires you give him something very valuable: yourself. It’s okay. He’s the best travel companion, and he never deserts you.

Dig into God’s Word…

Jesus answered, “The things I teach are not my own, but they come from him who sent me. If people choose to do what God wants, they will know that my teaching comes from God and not from me. Those who teach their own ideas are trying to get honor for themselves. But those who try to bring honor to the one who sent them speak the truth, and there is nothing false in them.” (John 7:16-18)

But we are hoping for something we do not have yet, and we are waiting for it patiently. Also, the Spirit helps us with our weakness. We do not know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit himself speaks to God for us, even begs God for us with deep feelings that words cannot explain. God can see what is in people’s hearts. And he knows what is in the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit speaks to God for his people in the way God wants. We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love him. They are the people he called, because that was his plan. (Romans 8:25-28)

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If you love the world, the love of the Father is not in you. These are the ways of the world: wanting to please our sinful selves, wanting the sinful things we see, and being too proud of what we have. None of these come from the Father, but all of them come from the world. The world and everything that people want in it are passing away, but the person who does what God wants lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

Live It Out Loud…

Look at your calendar for the upcoming several days. What needs to change to match God’s agenda? Consider how much you’ve planned based on your own preferences and responsibilities and before asking God for his preferences and responsibilities. The two often match up, but don’t assume what you want—just because it’s consistent with who God is—is what God wants. The content of what’s going on might be God-guided without the timing being God-guided. Don’t proceed and ask him to cover the steps you’ve already taken. Ask him to guide the steps you need to take next. Change at least one thing in your schedule for the next several days; choose something you’re not positive you chose because of God’s guidance.

Too Much Stuff In My Hands

Every hand was full.

I’m not talking about my own hands. I looked around the airport and starting searching for hands that had nothing in them. There were entire families with not a single hand free. The kids toted miniature suitcases on rollers and sippy cups. Or they wore small backpacks but clung to a favorite stuffed animal with both hands. They’d made it through security and no one was going to tear their well-loved buddies from them again for a long time.

Moms had the overflow of the kids’ stuff: everything they’d pulled out of their bags while trying to entertain themselves or those items the kids needed to keep in sight for comfort but couldn’t carry. Of course, moms also had their own purses and carry-on luggage. Those who could juggle also firmly grasped a favorite Starbucks drink.

And then there were the dads. In some cases, they were nearly imperceptibly human. A variety of bags hung from every available limb. Often times, hands clung to two bags at once, pulling fingers in contorted directions. One dad had looped his arms through the luggage handles, so he could carry the entire family’s lunch, including a full drink tray.

The Styx song, Too Much Time on My Hands, played in my head as I watched people loaded down with stuff. I  slightly adjusted the lyrics. People getting off planes were juggling stuff. People getting onto planes were juggling stuff. There were those, who likely travel often, who didn’t have much luggage but still had a coffee cup in one hand and a phone, e-reader or other device in the other. I felt crowded, and I realized it wasn’t because of the people swarming around me. It was the vast amount of stuff!

I have too much stuff. I’ll admit it. I’m no hoarder. I don’t have everything I could ever want, but I have too much. How do I know?

Because I have plenty. My guess is you have plenty, too.

Plenty is more than enough. So today, I’m challenging you (and myself) to share. It will be a double blessing. Sharing will bless someone else in need (or perhaps want). Sharing will bless you, because it will lift a burden. You can’t possibly hold everything you have in your hands anyway. Why juggle and potentially drop it? Just go ahead and share it now. Be intentional. You don’t have to wait until something is outdated, half-broken, or forgotten. Hand it off to someone.

Share your plenty.

You had plenty of everything, but you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and a pure heart. (Deuteronomy 28:47)