Giving Thanks

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Hope you are feeling the same way on this Thanksgiving Day! Craig

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Hitchhiking

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It was May of 2009. Tom, my buddy from college, and I were eating at Buffalo Wild Wings when he tells me that in a few weeks he would be taking a 32 hour train ride from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Glacier National Park in Montana to do some backpacking and camping for a few weeks. That sounded awesome to me so I asked if he would like some company. He originally was going to go by himself, but said it was probably safer to go with someone else. So he said Yes, I could join him.

As June was approaching and school winding down, I only had a few weeks to prepare for the trip. I bought the few supplies I needed. We were carrying everything on our backs so it had to be minimal. Once school ended, off we went. Prior to our departure, I didn’t think much about the details of the trip. I assumed Tom had everything set as he had been planning this for a while now. So once we got on the train and I had some time to think, I started wondering about the trip in more detail. And one thing that came to my mind was how do we get from Point A to B without a car? I asked Tom about it and he laughed and said that we’ll just hitchhike everywhere. “Hmmmm….” I thought, and asked if he’d even done it before.

“Nope,” he said, “But how hard can it be?” I agreed. How hard could it be? It looks easy on television. All I knew is that it was going to be a fun adventure, and hitchhiking would make it even more exciting.

After 32 hours on a train, we were exhausted and ready for some sleep. Our first decision was how to travel the three miles to our campground so we could get the rest we both desired. Do we walk with our fifty pounds of gear, or do we hitch a ride? Time to try out the hitchhiking and see how it goes.  It was much easier than we thought. As the train departed and the arrivals were cleaning out, an employee of the National Park service overhead us talking about how to get to our campground, and immediately asked us if we wanted a ride. We, of course, kindly accepted the offer. Aw, well, that hitched ride was waaaay too easy!

We got our first taste of our hitchhiking experience the next day. Glacier National Park is a not-so-small park, with thousands and thousands of acres and trails. The trail that Tom and I wanted to hike on our first day was about ten miles up the road. And in order to get there, we decided to stick out our thumbs and hitch a ride. We didn’t know how hard it would actually be. So we started walking up the road and every time we heard a vehicle approaching, we would edge out into the road a bit, stick out our thumbs and smile. Not sure if the first few cars even saw us, as they sped by at fifty miles per hour with about twelve inches of space between us. It was early in the morning, and there were not many cars on the road at the time. Every few minutes a car would pass without stopping, so we just continued walking.

Soon a car came by, slowed to a halt, pulled up next to us, and asked where we were headed. We said ten miles up the road to a trailhead, and he said to hop in. I’m not sure where he was from, but he was with his 14 year old son. He said he had taken each of his kids on a trip once they finished Middle School, right before the start of high school. He and his son were spending time in Glacier. He also said that we looked pretty harmless and decided to pick us up. We talked for the next fifteen minutes, arrived at our location, and departed company. Hitchhiking was not too bad and knew we would have no problem getting around the park.

Throughout the next two weeks, we hitchhiked pretty much every day. We got picked up by hippies, park rangers, even families. We rode in the back of trucks, Volkswagen vans, and overcrowded cars. Most people said that even though we had beards and were a little crusty, we looked like safe guys to pick up.

We met some pretty interesting people, heard fascinating stories, and had some wonderful  laughs. But we never felt threatened by anyone. Of course, we never traveled more than 20 miles at a time and it was in a National Park. But I must say that my hitchhiking experience was a good one. I’m not sure if I’d ever hitchhike across the country, but I do know it would be full of extraordinary stories to share in life.

Life is like that. Even if you never hitchhike in life, we do go through life meeting all kinds of people wherever we go. Whether it’s a waiter in a restaurant, an inmate in prison, a co-worker, or someone you talk to in a long line, everyone has a story. Everyone has something in their life that you could learn from or just share in the moment with them. God made a wide assortment of people and situations for us to get involved with. Look the person in the eye, smile at them, say a word or two, and they just may open up to you and you will experience another day that is not as monotonous as you thought it would be. Stories…..we all love to hear a good story. Listen to someone’s story and you’ll have something to share!

The Trust Fall

Imagine you are gathered among a group of strangers. You are the first one to be told to climb a few rungs up the ladder to a platform that is five feet off the ground. You slowly begin the short climb. You will not be high off the ground. An easy leap off the platform and both feet will be firmly planted on the ground again. But, instead, you are asked to do something that no one would possibly think of doing and then only with a group of friends, not strangers. You arrive at the top. You take a few steps to the edge of the platform and are immediately blind folded. You are turned around backwards and told to place both arms across your chest, to lean back and …..fall. Hesitantly, you do it. THUD!

No, not onto the ground injuring your back. But into the arms of the strangers that have so kindly interlocked their arms among each other to gracefully catch you. With a round of applause from all of them and a smile on your face, the instructor says, “Congratulations! You’ve just survived the trust fall.”

The first time I ever participated in a trust fall was the summer before my sixth grade year while a camper at Kanakuk Kamps in Branson, Missouri. I was with nine other 11-yr-olds and totally freaked out. I can still remember the first thought that came to my mind. “Can these nine scrawny 11-yr-old actually catch me?” Granted, I probably only weighed 80 pounds soaking wet. But I was scared out of my mind, with a fear of breaking my back. Each of us thought the same thing when it was our turn to fall. But thankfully, my two counselors talked each of us through it and we all were able to fall into the arms of the other campers without a single person being dropped or injured. And it felt good!

Since that first experience, I’ve participated in many other trust falls through my lifetime, even as an adult. I’ve also led a few groups into the fall as well. And not once do I remember anyone getting hurt of being dropped. Sometimes it took a while for the faller to gain the confidence and trust of the catchers, with a sense of fear going through their heads. But in the end, when the faller was caught safely, a good feeling came through with the desire of doing it again in the near future.

Proverbs 3:5 is one of my favorite verses, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” Just as the faller trusts the catcher to catch them during the trust fall, we need to trust God with every step in our life. Each of us will stumble and fall many times in our lives for any given reason, sometimes intentionally and sometimes nonintentionally. But God is always with us, to catch us, to put us back on solid ground again and again. He has done that for me in the past few years, especially while in solitary confinement, the most horrific time of my life. He was with me and I felt Him there.  God will never leave you or abandon you no matter what you’ve done or how rough life is. He is there for you. Reach out to Him, take hold of Him and trust Him every second of the day. And next time you are falling, let God gracefully catch you in His loving arms. Just Let Go….and Let God!

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Mom’s Angle: Looking Up

This is the fourth post written by my mom, with my permission. First article “Looking Back” was posted on November 2, 2014; second article “Looking Around” was posted on January 15, 2015; third article “Looking Ahead” was posted on May 25, 2015.

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I lift up my eyes to the mountains, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.  Psalm 121:1,2

This verse has been my signature verse for as long as I can remember. I don’t know when or why I chose it. But I do know it fits my life. My life – the good and the bad – is what makes it special. It belongs only to me, so I persevere in the day-to-day grind and wait to see how God is connecting all the dots. It is going to be beautiful in the end.

The last four years of my life have been the worst years of my life. But nobody can tell that. See, I’ve become good at covering up the hurt I still feel. The sadness of my son hurting our family never goes away. I’ve just learned to put a mask on and no one can tell I’m hurting. They say time heals. It’s true in a way but it doesn’t heal completely. When you’ve had a great loss in your life, you are constantly aware of the loss. Satan would like us to believe that our lives will never get better….that nothing good can come from our sorrow or pain. But that’s just not true. What Satan means for evil, God turns into good. God sees my story….and Craig’s story…. and recognizes the beauty in it. He can and will bring joy into the future. I know this.

But the Enemy likes to taunt us. I hear him say,

  • “You have been completely devoted to God your entire life and have never turned away from Him, but He still allowed this horrible thing to happen in your family. He must not love you.”
  • “You are a complete failure as a Christian woman, a wife, and a mother. Look at your friends. Their children are turning out just fine, but your child is a felon.”
  • “You raised your son to know God, but what good did that do? You are a total failure!”

When you are going through stuff, there is a mighty battle going on for control of your mind. Perhaps you’ve been in a situation where your world was shattered and there were layers of disappointment, pain, hurt, anger, or even depression. This can happen through health issues, an accident, a job loss, financial crisis, a struggle with infertility, a child’s wrong choices. When this happens, the world pulls down on our thoughts. We must stay in continual communication with God. We must refuse to worry, because this form of worldliness will weigh you down and block awareness of God’s Presence. We must stay alert, recognizing the battle being waged against our minds.

Choosing to trust God is the most important decision we can make, especially when we are living in a pit….the pit of self-pity. Life in the pit stinks. But when we are in the bottom of the pit it forces us to look upward.  Troubled times will tempt us to forget God, but don’t. God hasn’t forgotten us.  God is at work in each of us whether we know it or not, whether we want it or not.   Sometimes we forget that. The hardest part is trusting Him through the waiting season. As I look up, I can see Him…and I know and believe that He can bring good, He will bring good, and He is bringing good.

I’ve learned a few things while waiting on God. I’ve learned that God answers prayers but sometimes differently than we expect. My prayers for Craig have not been answered in the way I hope…..freedom outside prison….but I have seen an extraordinary change in his life, a faith that is unwavering, and a more personal relationship with God. He is following God’s lead right where he is. I’ve learned that God does not always protect us from pain. I’ve learned that just because we go through an intense trial in our lives does not mean that we will be free from more storms in the future. There is always something right around the corner that can bring us down again and again….because we live in a sinful world. I’ve learned that just because we are faithful to God does not mean that our life will be pain free. Satan is out there and is constantly on the prowl to bring us and our families down. I’ve learned that prisoners long for mail and visitors, that nothing thrills them more than a note in the mail or someone taking the time to visit them. I’ve learned that the longer they are in prison, the less and less mail and visitors they receive and that it hurts them. I’ve learned that people disappoint. People mean well when the tragedy first happens but then get busy with their own lives and forget we are still living in the middle of it all, years later.

Most of all I’ve learned that when life is looking down, that I just need to look up and find God’s deliverance. Instead of looking inward in times of trouble, we should look up to Him. By looking up you must raise your eyes which raises our perspective on things. What should we look at? We can look at the mountain. Now there are no mountains where I am, but I look up to the clouds. I look upward to heaven because that’s where my Lord is and that’s where my help comes from!!! When I look up, I get peace, grace, mercy, love, direction, clarity, strength, hope, encouragement, goodness, support, and blessings. In other words, I get help! Why would I look anywhere else?

 I lift up my eyes to the mountains, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. Psalm 121:1,2