Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Joy in Jesus. Jesus Alone.

If I don't find my  joy in Jesus, I will forever fall short of joy in everything else. 

When Jesus prayed for his men (John 17) one of the things he prayed fervently is for them to have the full measure of joy. Have you ever stopped to wonder about this? What does a full measure of joy look like? And why does Jesus want his guys-- and us for that matter-- to have it?

So much of our worldview brings with it the impression that our joy can be found in many things the world has to offer. Even seemingly innocent things, things that can truly be counted as good for us. For example, who hasn't desired to find satisfaction and joy in their career? That we should be so blessed as to find a job that is a joy to work at seems like a gift. Indeed, it is. But if I count on my job or my hobbies, even my family to be my primary source of joy, I will always fall short.

I have been impressed with the knowledge that just as true satisfaction can only come through a life centered in Christ, so it is with joy. Experiencing fullness of joy requires making Christ the center, the focus of all.

That said, what about when life hands you lemons?

The same prayer where Jesus prayed for fullness of joy for his men says even when the world hates them.

 Verse after verse in the Bible encourages-- no-- commands us-- to give thanks, to be thankful, to rejoice even, when trouble comes our way. Is it in the tragedies and struggles of life that we become convinced that joy just isn't in the cards for us? Yet Jesus told the disciples "in this world you will have trouble. But take heart, for I have overcome the world!" (John 16.33)

Walking with Jesus has taught me that joy is mine for the taking whether in good times or bad, because my joy comes from Jesus. If joy eludes me it is because I have not set my eyes on Jesus and looked to Him for complete and utter fulfillment. When my joy comes from Him only then will I find true satisfaction and joy in all the other areas of my life.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Hiking Ptarmigan Ridge

There is something about being outdoors that soothes and energizes like nothing else. Perhaps it's the invigorating aroma of earth and trees, the feel of sun, wind or rain on your face. Perhaps its the sight of towering mountains, swaying trees, rugged crags and tiny wildflowers growing out of tundra. It might be the glimpse of a mountain goat, or the sound of the ptarmigan or a marmot's whistle. 

For me personally, it's the combination of all those things and more. The very idea that God in all His Glory created this world by speaking it into being! And then created man that he might enjoy it with God. 

As the psalmist said:
"When I consider the work of Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him? And the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, and You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet." Psalm 8. 3-6

Sunday afternoon.

Our goal: Ptarmigan Ridge.  

We got a late start and we knew we would not have time to hike the whole trail out and back (10 miles RT) but still, getting out there even for a little ways was worth the effort.
our friend Terry joined us for this hike

Having done the Chain Lakes Trail the month previous for our overnight backpacking adventure, the first mile was like visiting an old friend. An Old Friend indeed watched us as we walked.

Mt. Baker beckons

At the Chain Lakes/Ptarmigan Ridge intersection we took a short break for water and cookies. Then with eagerness we set off down a new to us trail!

Because this year has been incredible dry for our Pacific Northwest, the lack of snow made the trek much easier than traversing ice fields would be! Still, I seem to have developed a fondness for trekking poles.

trekking poles really do make a difference!

The vastness of sky and mountain range is overwhelming in raw beauty and grandeur. How can I not hum "How Great Thou Art" when standing on this overlook?

O Lord My God when I in awesome wonder, consider all the world thy hands have made

Another break here for more water and more snacks. Because, whats a hike if you can't have some trail mix? 

It was here we decided it was time to turn around. Coleman Pinnacle would have to wait for another day. 

From this vantage point we could see the trail we'd hiked in on.  I gain a deeper appreciation with the birds eye view!

How beautiful are the feet... 
on the mountain!

kind of fun to have someone else take a picture of our feet for us!

We took our time hiking. None of us are speedy hikers. I simple must have time to take pictures and also time for truly appreciating the view. It is often in nature that I can lower my barriers and feel more relaxed and open to hearing God speak.

the love-burkes on the trail

The slow sinking sun brought rich golden tones to the rolling mountains.

The Mt. Baker Wilderness Area is indeed a wild, unpredictable, exhilarating expansion of adventures waiting to happen.   

I'm so grateful for every opportunity we have to take advantage of the adventures!

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Just Chillen'

We had a camping trip planned for this weekend but a hiccup occurred when the truck broke down. So, plan B..... We'll stay home and work on projects and throw in a hike and a Barb-B-Que!

We've been enjoying the summer and the lovely weather. Last weekend we were treated to a cruise around Bellingham Bay by our friends who have a sweet little boat. I love being near and on the water. Throw in a sunset and I'm floating.

Bellingham Bay Marina

a little sunset to enhance the mood.

the love-burkes enjoying the cruise

Life is good.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Roller Coaster and Ferris Wheels

"Just once I'd like my ship to come in and not have it carrying nuclear waste." 

Spoken like a man who's been through the wringer when it comes to failures vs success. When you've been riding the financial roller coaster for so many years and then get on a Ferris Wheel you would think the ride would be much smoother. But the dull throb of the headache and lingering twists in your tummy take awhile to subside. 

For many years my hard working husband has been self employed. The last several years of that were beyond lean and we faced many an uphill battle to keep our home and our sanity. God was faithful to continue to provide for us and while we often felt weary from the stress we also grew stronger in our faith. With many people praying with us for a change in circumstances it was with a huge sigh of relief when my husband accepted a job offer for a local company. For the first time in our near 20 years of married life we had a regular paycheck to rely on and a budget that actually could work. What a tremendous blessing.

Still, we had months of financial wreckage to deal with and each month we squeaked by paying just what we needed to pay with nothing left over. We were paying our bills and that felt good but we knew all it would take was one visit to the dentist or a car breakdown to send us reeling. God stepped in once again and my husband, having proved himself capable received a raise in pay. Now we could breathe just a little easier.

Each time we went through one of those roller coaster dips, we tried hard not to freak out. Our God was always faithful and just in the nick of time He would show us a way through the dark valley. He didn’t rescue us from the dark valley but He did walk beside us holding the flashlight. 

photo by Robyn Burke

We often talked about the lesson we were supposed to be learning in all of this. We’d think we’d figured it out and then another financial crisis would strike and we’d cry, “What are we not getting here Lord? Are we really this slow at getting it that we need to go through this again?”

Then a daily devotional arrived in my email. The writer’s main gist was that our success isn’t measured by how well we perform during one of life’s trials, but by our faith. I can breakdown and cry. I can fret and worry and I can even complain bitterly about my situation. But as long as my faith in my Savior doesn’t waver, I come out a winner.

google images

Oh did I ever need this point brought to my attention. I shared it with my husband and we chewed on it for some time. Maybe the lesson we were supposed to be learning wasn’t about how to be strong in a crisis or being humble enough to ask for help. Maybe the lesson had nothing to do with learning to get by on less or going in a different direction. What was important was did we keep looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith?

With a renewed sense of direction we focus now on remaining faithful. If we occasionally still mutter when we pay the bills and worry about too much month at the end of the money, or grumble when others are going to dinner and the movies and we are eating rice and beans and watching you-tube videos, its okay. I doesn’t mean we’ve failed another test. What matters is we are living the life God called us to and we are living it with faith. We may not do it perfectly but we are intent on doing it better. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Blessed Assurance

I discovered a hidden treasure the other day. While going through boxes of my parent's belongings, I came across a precious piece of paper. In my father's handwriting is a testimony worksheet he had filled out in which he shares how he received Christ and how his life was different because of this. Oh! What a find! And while I have made copies for my siblings, I'm claiming the original for myself. This is why:

Among the things my dad shares in this testimony are several scripture references to verses he was memorizing or found especially comforting to him because of the promises offered. As i jotted these down and began to look them up, something amazing came to light. With the exception of only a few, every single one was something already highlighted in my bible as special to me! With the first two discoveries I just smiled and thought how nice. But as more of them matched my own a little shiver ran up my spine.

 This was not a coincidence. Sure these verses are favorites of many. Verses like "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities... and by his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53.5 KJV) or this one from Romans 8.1: "So now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (KJV) But a few of them were less commonly quoted or familiar. Yet at one time or another, in my bible readings, these same verses my dad loved, were underlined or highlighted as special to me for one reason or another.

As to the verses that were not a match to my underlined ones this one in particular jumped out at me: "I assure you, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me, have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins but they already have passed from death into life." (John 5.24 NLT)

Why did this verse grab my attention?

Well, even though I asked Jesus into my heart when I was 9 years old, I have experienced many times in my life where my salvation felt troubled. Fear and doubt would creep in, making myself question my salvation. I remember as a young girl coming home to find an empty kitchen. A pot was simmering on the stove and while my mother's presence was palpable she was nowhere to be found. My mother was always there when we came home from school. Always. But not this day. Fear struck my heart and I gulped. Terror gripped me as I searched the house calling out her name. I was sure the Rapture had occurred and I'd been left behind! You can imagine my immense comfort when my mother wandered in, fresh from a visit to the neighbors for an impromptu tea visit. And while I nearly collapsed in relief, I was unable to share with her the anxiety and fear I'd just experienced. How could I explain it when I was "supposed to be" a Christian?

I am a little embarrassed to admit that this doubt would continue to haunt me on more than a few occasions. A quiet room when someone had been in it just moments before. A sick feeling coming over me when hearing of terrible things going on in our nation (9-11) and thinking "this is it, the end is near" and being afraid that no matter how many times I'd prayed again to be saved, because I wanted to make sure, I'd still somehow fallen short of being one of those counted righteous in His Sight.

It wasn't a pretty feeling.

Thankfully, in part because of a praying husband, I was able to work through this over time and reach a point where I could say I was sure that I was not going to be left behind. I could rest in God's promise when He said he's adopted me into His family and I will spend eternity in Heaven with Him.

Why I experienced such doubt over my salvation, I can't explain. Perhaps my childhood traumas and later the betrayals by one who professed to love me, played into my psyche and fed that vein of low self esteem: I'm not worthy, I don't deserve salvation. I'm still not good enough for God. Well, here's the deal-- all of that is true! I'm NOT worthy. But because of God's amazing grace and endless love, He accepts me anyway. Funny how I seem to always need reminders of this... but then, we all have an Achilles heel that the enemy loves to poke at. We all have a propensity to something and apparently this was mine. How thankful I was when I realized that particular monkey was off my back.

So, then, coming across this verse the other day was a strong but gentle reminder that I can continue to rest in the promise Jesus gave. The fact that this reminder from my Heavenly Father, came via my other father is a significant factor for me. No matter how many times I struggle in my daily walk with the Lord, no matter the desert-dry days in my spiritual walk, I am still a Child of God. No matter how long I sit in front of a blank page cursing the blinking curser of my computer screen because of writer's block, no matter how apathetic I feel, no matter the brain fog or feelings of lethargy, it does not change Who I Am in Christ.

I am God's girl.
I am forgiven.
I am saved.
I will inherit His riches.
I will be in His Kingdom.
Indeed I already am.

Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine
O what a foretaste of glory divine
Heir of Salvation, Purchase of God
Born of His Spirit, washed in His Blood.

This is my story, this is my song, 
praising my Savior all the day long
This is my story, this is my song, 
praising my Savior all the day long *

*Fanny Crosby

Monday, July 20, 2015

It Won't Keep

As a young mother I came across this sweet poem that reminded me what's really important in raising children. I learned that sparkling clean floors are no comparison to the sparkle in my child's eyes because I spent time with them.

As I am now in my 'mature' years with children grown and grandkids to love on, my focus the past few years has been on a different kind of baby.

It's the story locked with in me that cries to be released. It's the words that I birth as I labor over a blank sheet of paper or watch the curser blink on my computer screen. I've learned that when the ideas are hot, I must act on them. If I ignore it or procrastinate, those little ideas start to slip away.

We discussed this at our last writers group meeting,  brainstorming over the things that often keep us from writing and how to knock down those roadblocks to creativity.  Writing is hard work. But if we want to hone our craft, we must be dedicated. This writing gift deserves attention, just as a baby does.

A few days before the writers meeting, I created a quiet space for myself in our little travel trailer. A place where I can spread out my bible, my journals, my colored pencils and unleash my creativity as I spend time in God's Word.  This was due in part to inspiration I received from a friend who loves to journal and has put a crafter's touch to it. Illustrated Faith is one name for it.

 I've always been an 'underline my bible verse' kind of gal but now I'm taking it to the next level. I take my Sunday Morning sermon notes and ponder them all week long, taking a deeper look at the scriptures, meditating on them and making notes in my journal. I might color or add a sticker or two to make the thoughts I've collected stand out a little more or I might just stick with my ink pen. But the point is, I am spending more time in the Word, more time focused on things of eternal value. (it helps that in the tin-can travel trailer internet reception gets spotty so I can't surf the web very well, and therefore I can truly remain focused on what I went out there for!)

I shared with the writing group about my 'She-Shed' because I realized that one of the roadblocks in my writing is that I have allowed myself to be distracted and often the reason I don't write is because it was easier to just spend time on Facebook rather than putting any effort into writing.  While there's been a writing block in front of me that has had a lock on my creativity the truth is my creative juices tend to run driest when my spiritual life is also dry. When I have a clear close connection with Christ, my creativity flows much better. And my quiet time with the Lord had gotten way too quiet as of late if you catch my meaning...

The sermon this past Sunday was about priorities which just seemed to cement further the whole idea of getting back into God's Word and back into writing my words! In fact, our pastor encouraged us to make a list of the top 5 priorities in our lives.

It was pretty much a no-brainer for me to make my list (God, Family, Friends...) but I pushed myself to go deeper with each item on the list, listing specific measurable goals for each one. Not surprisingly, #5 was to make time and effort to work on my creative side.

So... quiet down Facebook,
Internet go to sleep.
I'm writing a story
and the words just won't keep.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Just Another Drop in the Bucket.... List

#24 Do an overnight backpacking trip

O Lord, My God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the world Thy hands have made

I'm married to a former boy scout leader. When I first met Bruce he was the scout master for a troop of boys who were crazy about outdoor adventures. They did some sort of outdoor/camping/hiking venture each month. After we were married and Bruce retired from scouting, he and I began building our camping experiences together: car camping. You know, drive to the campsite, unload your gear, pitch your tent and cook over the camp stove. Take a day hike or laze around by the river. Eventually we upgraded to the little trailer we now have and camping took on a new level of adventure as we hit the road. All good. All fun.

Just about every year, Bruce takes off with a buddy or two and they backpack into some place you can only get to on foot and spend a few days exploring and experiencing nature in a way not possible by car. And I always send him off with a kiss and a wave and enjoy a couple of days of my own version of 'living on the edge" (i.e. sleeping in, not cooking, pampering myself, being lazy) I have no problem with his Wild at Heart escapes; indeed I heartily approve!

privacy in the privy?
 not much!
Still... we have often talked about doing an overnight backpacking trip of our own. And talk was all we did because there were a few issues that always cropped up in our discussions that made me waver on committing to the action.
Things like...
carrying a back pack with my bad neck, shoulders, and back...
walking a long distance...
climbing up & down with my bad feet & knees...
sleeping on the hard ground with my princess & the pea condition and let's not forget the biggie...
where does one p--p in the wilderness???
 (come on, you gotta think about stuff like that! and be prepared.) 

It occurred to me recently that if I did not do this thing I so really wanted to do NOW, I would likely NEVER do it because all those physical challenges were only going to get bigger, not smaller. So, with tenacity and positive thinking I said "This is the year!"

After some discussion of options we finally settled on the Chain Lakes Trail at Mt. Baker. We reasoned the trail wasn't so arduous that I would be defeated, the distance to the first lake was more than achievable, and the adventure I was longing for would be easily obtained by this outing. 

We chose 4th of July weekend for our trip and hoped for good weather. Well, good weather has been more than on our side here of late. In fact, we've had record breaking temperatures for most of June and into July. As the day of our trip neared and the temperatures continued to soar we began to second guess our choice. Should we postpone in favor of cooler weather? Well, since summer is only a few weeks long and there are plenty of other commitments already plugged into our calendars, we decided to stick to the original plan and make the best of it. 

So, Saturday afternoon we packed all our gear-- the majority of it going into Bruce's backpack, leaving me with a fairly light load. (Still, 20# on your back that you are not used to carrying, is something to adjust to) We set out for the mountain around 4 pm, relying on the cool of the evening to carry us into the woods. Even so it was in the 80's as we set forth on the Chain Lakes Trail. But we had a nice breeze rising over the mountains and not only did that serve to keep us feeling refreshed but it deterred the bugs and flies as well.

when through the woods and forest glades I wander and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees...

It's about a 2 mile trek from Artist Point, our starting point, to the first lake, Mazama, where we'd decided we'd camp. (You can do the whole Chain, which is about 7 miles, passing 5 lakes in all, and then there's an additional trek back up the highway if your car is in the parking lot at Artist Point. For our adventure we chose to just hike in to Mazama, spend the night and hike back out the way we came.) With only a couple of stops for pictures and water consumption, we made it to Lake Mazama in about 90 minutes. Not too bad considering. 

when I look down from lofty mountain grandeur and hear the brook and feel the gently breeze...

The trail is fairly easy going. Well marked, smooth in most places, only a few areas of rocky terrain. Uphill for the first leg, then a gradual descent as you near Mazama. I was surprised at how well I did, considering my tennis shoes were not the best for hiking. The backpack was a good fit (thank you to our friend T-man. who lent us some great gear) so I was pleased with how well that went also. Bruce couldn't see it since he was trailing behind me but I had a mile-wide grin on my face most of the time, just feeling so much pleasure at actually doing what I'd long talked about doing. Such is the reward for knocking off a bucket list item! 

then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee, How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

We met several hikers as we traversed and wondered if we'd find a campsite once we reached the lake. If we didn't find a spot we'd have to either push on another mile or more to the next lake with campsites, or improvise. Mazama has 4 designated campsites and we quickly discovered they were all occupied. We were bummed but not defeated. We circled the lake and decided to appropriate a nice lush level area on the opposite side of the lake, which just happened to be adjacent to a pleasant little waterfall and gurgling creek that fed into Mazama. 
Can you say perfect?

Shout to the Lord, all the earth, let us sing, power and majesty praise to the King...

After our supper we hung the bear bag and explored a little. Then, with night falling and bugs rising, we dived into the tent for protection and rest. I wondered if we'd be able to spot the "Star of Bethlehem" that we'd been enjoying from our back deck at home but it was just a little lower than the tree line for us to see. However, around 1 am we were awakened by the brightness of the moon over the lake. We climbed out of our tent to watch in awe as it glistened on the rippling lake and then, breathlessly, we gazed at a million stars that were dotting the night sky.

Mountains bow down and the seas will roar at the sound of your name...

Sleeping in Sunday morning wasn't really an option as 1) the princess was definitely feeling the pea and 2) the temperature was quickly rising making the tent uncomfortable. We retrieved the bear bag and rooted around for our breakfast. We climbed up above the waterfall and found a luscious grassy paradise in which to consume our granola. 

I sing for joy at the work of your hands, forever I'll love you, for ever I'll stand

Nothing compares to the promise I have in you.

We did a little hike later to the second lake, Iceberg, so named because in a usual year of snow, there are really icebergs sticking up out of the lake. This year has been usually dry and with an early summer, the lake, while icily cold, had no icebergs. 

Lord of all creation, of water, earth and sky, the heavens are your tabernacle, glory to the Lord on high

And speaking of icy cold, what about Lake Mazama? It was surprisingly tolerable in temperature, made more so by the fact that by noon it was quite hot out. With our campsite broken down and packed up, we decided a dip in the lake before departure was required. 

God of Wonders, beyond our galaxy ~ you are holy!

from the highest of heights to the depths of the sea...

The hike back out was much more challenging than coming in. I admit, I loaded up on Ibuprofen before we left the parking lot on Saturday and took some more when we reached camp. I took some more before we began the return trek. But, add in a night of somewhat restless sleep, a sun that was beating down hotter than ever, and that slow descent to the lake that seemed now ridiculously steep as we climbed back out, and you'll have a picture of the challenges I was facing.

But I refused to be defeated! I am Tenacious Woman! This is my Super Power!! 

Creation's revealing Your majesty

Not to mention that every time I stopped I was attacked by biting flies!! I had no choice but to just press on! 

from the colors of fall to the fragrance of spring, every creature unique in the song that it sings...

We stopped for a nice break once we reached the intersection on the trail for Chain Lakes and Ptarmigan Ridge. From there we could actually see the parking lot and that spurred us on for the final leg. With not much of a breeze, a 3-O-Clock sun beating down on us, and the backpack seeming twice as heavy as the day before (I don't know-- do dirty clothes weigh more?) the last mile felt monotonous. 

awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim...
Yes... I was grateful to reach the end of the trail when we did. My shoulders were complaining, my feet were hurting and I had finished all my water about 20 minutes before we got to the car and was feeling quite parched. The first thing I did when we popped the trunk was grab 2 bottles of water from there. One went directly over my head and other went down my throat. 

You are amazing God!

Bruce was proud of me for doing what I set out to do, thrilled that we were finally able to experience this together. I was proud of my accomplishment as well. (And not ashamed to admit that there was more Ibuprofen consumed along with the water.)

the pulse of life within my wrist, a fallen snow, a rising mist, there is no higher praise than this

We stopped in Glacier for ice cream as a reward and celebration of our adventure. As we licked the fast melting treat off our fingers and hands, we looked at each other and grinned. How beautiful are the feet on the mountain!

oh my soul wells up, yes my soul wells up with Hallelujahs

* song excerpts from How Great Thou Art, Shout to the Lord, God of Wonders, Indescribable, and Hallelujahs,