Things Aren’t Always What They Seem

securedownloadThe hike up to Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park is mostly wooded until you reach your destination. Then the forest opens up to a body of water settled below the mountains. Winter’s frozen condensation blankets the peaks until summers’ warmth melts it away; creating dozens of waterfalls that feed this mountain lake you’d never know existed if it weren’t for the signs.

It’s a two mile trek through the trees and a 500 foot climb to reach this stunning sight that looks nothing like the trail that meets it.

Then again, things aren’t always what they seem.

“These waterfalls will be dried up a month from now.” Remarks my husband to an onlooker.

“I don’t think they’ll dry up at all.” I say.

Since I can’t see past the small patches of snow left on the few visible peaks I have nothing to base this comment on other than instinct. My memory’s not so sharp and 19 years have come and gone since I’ve seen a real winter; one that leaves traces of itself throughout the summer as a reminder that it is never far off.

Several hours later, while on a helicopter tour the pilot flies directly over the lake. Cradled by peaks on all sides sits a glacier that can’t be seen from below in the summer; its runoff feeds the lake year round.

securedownload2It creates crevices in the rocks, and provides nutrients for plants and trees. It makes a place for fish to swim, lovers to enjoy a picnic, or a spot to cast a line on a lazy afternoon. If it weren’t for our rare vantage point we’d have never known it was there.

Things aren’t always what they seem.

Had we visited two months earlier it would have been a different scene all together, with avalanche after avalanche roaring down the mountains and covering the earth below.

Sometimes life is like an avalanche. It buries you and you don’t see it coming. Just when you think it’s going to let up, it hits you again. Like a lake in the winter, you feel numb, cold and barley alive; beaten down by an unseen force from above that others tell you only brings love.

But eventually relief starts to come. The warmth of spring slowly begins to melt away the cold inside; giving birth to a new creation. The remnants of winter leave fresh scars. Some are permanent like crevices in a rock. Some fade with time like a creek that dries up. Still others are beautiful like rare wildflowers that only bloom in just the right circumstances. They are delicate yet sturdy. Year after year they re-bloom. Each season more magnificent than the last.

Like creation itself, this new entity will know wisdom and strength. People will come seeking solace, advice and direction.

And you will know how to guide them because you are ready for the winter.

People will wonder how this knowledge could from one such as this. And you will tell them the truth: “things aren’t always what they seem.”

Jodie Stevens

What Determines Happiness?

000_6910RetouchAn article by a hospice worker describes the top regrets most patients have at the end of their lives. One of the most common is:

“I Wish I would have let myself be happier.”

I’ve heard genetics and environmental influences account for roughly half of our overall happiness level; the other half is our thoughts and actions. The good news about past negative environmental influences is they can often be overcome through positive reinforcement as well as counseling and recovery programs when needed. The bad news is it’s easy to let our past determine our present or future potential for happiness by telling ourselves we are powerless over it, when really quite the opposite is true.

Thinking is the precursor to any action or decision. If we were trained to think one way, then it’s certainly possible to retrain our brain to think differently. Sure, it’s more difficult when we’re older because it requires constant repetition but it can be done.

I’ve always had a proclivity towards negativity but over the past 10 years or so I’ve worked hard to think more positively about myself and life in general. The result has been pretty astounding. I’m about 80 percent happier than I was 10 years ago.

So what about the death bed patients? Why did so many of them have this regret? According to our hospice worker there’s a reason:

“Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

Is there something that’s keeping you from letting yourself be happy today? Don’t let it be past circumstances or fear of change. And don’t believe the lie that fate will have its’ way.

Although bad things happen, often times our thoughts and decisions have more of an impact on our lives than things out of our control.

Jodie Stevens

The Three Words God Needs Us To Hear

Oct-Dec 2013 Photos 063We were in Monterey last Thanksgiving. It was a rare day along the majestic coastline with 8 to 12 foot waves smashing against the shores of Asilomar Beach.

Each spray left behind a mist that hung in the air and danced in the sunlight giving off the illusion of fog. There was barely a breeze and hardly a cloud in the sky. Yet the mighty waves hurled themselves headlong into the cliffs, rocks and sand from the pull of gravity on the other side of the world; such majestic beauty created by an unseen force.

I figured out why restless people are drawn to the ocean. The commotion of the sea is like a soul mate: unpredictable and wild. And even when it’s calm it’s still moving, making it easy for a wandering soul to be still. And I was for quite some time (to my husband’s disbelief). That day the ocean looked mightier than ever: majestic, powerful, and inspiring.

Sometime later we hiked to the top of a large hill in Garrapata State Park. Peering down from above the waves didn’t seem so enormous – and neither did my problems.

I’ve heard some astronauts have come to believe in God after seeing the earth from a distance. Looking down at the ocean, so vast and yet appearing so much smaller now, I could see why.

At times I can’t see the forest for the trees. But above it all my perspective begins to change and what seems so important diminished in size as what truly matters starts to come into focus.

As I was pondering all these things: God’s greatness, my smallness and its little problems in relation to His vast universe, I heard a quiet voice speak to my spirit:

“Daughter,” He said “I love you.”

Tears began to roll down my face.

“I love you,” He said again and once more: “I love you.”

Soon I was sobbing. Those weren’t the words I wanted to hear. I wanted Him to provide solutions to my difficulties and promise to right all the wrongs done to me. At the very least, I wanted Him to reveal His plans for my future. Yet I knew those were the words I needed to hear.

Job, Chapter 26, talks about how God created the horizon when he separated the waters, and set boundaries for day and night- that the foundations of heaven tremble at his rebuke, and by his power the sea grows calm.

And yet his love for us is more forceful than the most enormous of waves, more powerful than the strongest pull of gravity, and more indomitable than all the forces of nature combined. He sent his one and only son to die for us, proving that his love for us is even stronger than the power of death.

The mighty creator of all chose to dwell in our hearts, and yet his mightiest message of all is so simple: “I love you.”

Jodie Stevens

The Message In God’s Creation

539225_10203588358817426_1161670374_nMy husband and I love hiking together. We’ve visited 43 national parks in the seven years we’ve been married.

While gazing in awe at the Grand Canyon from Cape Final, frightfully looking down at Yosemite Valley from Taft Point, staring in wonderment at the snowcapped mountains from Olympics’ Hurricane ridge, or breathing in the spray from Washington’s Sol Duc Falls, my husband often remarks: “How can anyone look at this and deny there’s a God?”

Romans 1:20 says: For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Steep cliffs, vast oceans, and tall peaks – burst open or tossed about by great storms in places where wild animals roam can make the world a dangerous place. And yet there is such order in creation by the moon and the tides and the rising and the setting of the sun; the consistent chill of fall and the warm breath of spring that brings out various creatures from their hiding places; each species true to its kind (something evolutionists have yet to answer for).

To fathom that all things exploded into ‘being’ is incomprehensible as I have yet to see anything but chaos result after a bomb goes off.

Daily we beg and plead for a sign from God and yet his canvas is the universe and all His creation is screaming out answers.

“Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” (Job 12:7-10)

We are told that in the beginning God created the earth and put man in charge over all of it. It wasn’t for Him-self that God made the earth, nor was it to create confusion. It was made for us to enjoy.

If you dare to look out your front door today you will see his handiwork all around you.

Jodie Stevens

Looking For A Bargain? Try Grace.

000_6910RetouchMatch making sites are full of people searching for true love; the kind we ought to give one another with no strings attached.

Casinos are packed with gamblers hoping to win millions without working for it. Advertisements are constantly promoting ‘free gift with purchase,’ or a ‘no cost consultation.’

Who doesn’t want something for nothing? I’d love to win the lottery even though I didn’t earn it and I don’t deserve it.

Some people spend a good percent of their life in search of a bargain; and still others lie, cheat, and steal to get their desires met.

But rarely is anything free. We are human and although we’d like to give and receive love unconditionally, so often we find ourselves putting demands on it.

And attaining wealth without earning it generally causes emotional problems. In fact, people that win the lottery usually spend it within five years and some studies have shown it can actually shorten your lifespan.

And we all know the possible consequences of lying, cheating and stealing.

There is only one gift that is truly free and so many people miss it because they’re trying to meet their needs with things that are unhealthy or transient at best.

It is God’s grace and mercy. You can’t earn it. But, you do have to be willing to accept it.

Grace is getting what we do not deserve. One popular definition reads as an acronym: Gods Riches At Christ’s Expense.

One of the best descriptions of grace comes from Ephesians 2: 8 & 9: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.

This free gift is yours if you ask for it.

You can’t find it on a matchmaker site, but it does include ‘true love.’ You can’t win it in a casino but it’s value outweighs all the money in the world. There is no ‘free handout’ with purchase since you don’t have to buy anything to receive it, but there is a whole lot of added value; eternity with God, and love that never ends.

Jodie Stevens

The Blessing In My Pain

000_6910RetouchMy father once said: “If there is a God, then why is life so hard?”

It was during that time I ‘found religion’ as they say. But the reality is, had it not been for those trials I doubt I’d be a believer today. I don’t think my pain was accidental, so I guess you could say religion found me.

Every night I pray for my Dads salvation, but I also wish he could see how God can use difficulties to strengthen our character and teach us valuable lessons if we let Him.

Often times He allows tragedies to occur in the lives of unbelievers to give them the chance to draw closer to Him. While I’m sure some people find salvation during times of peace, happiness, and prosperity; most of the time dialogue with God begins in periods of emotional turmoil, sickness, and pain.

Had it not been for addiction, I would not know the sweetness of serenity.
Had it not been for rage, I would not have the tools to stay calm while others are upset.
Had it not been for self-pity, I would not know the satisfaction of empowerment.
Had it not been for grief, I would not be able to appreciate happiness.
Had it not been for chaos, I would not know the joy of peace.
Had it not been for confusion, I would not know the wonder of clarity.

Living with addiction, rage, self-pity, grief, chaos, and confusion is what made God relevant to me. Serenity, empowerment, joy, peace, and clarity are some of the benefits of that decision.
It’s in our weakest moments that God usually appears biggest to us.

For some it’s a catastrophic life event like an illness, loss of a loved one, or (as in my case) the downward spiral of addiction.

Unfortunately for others God becomes real on their deathbed; their weakest moment arrives with only days, hours, or sometimes minutes left until they slip into eternity. But the ultimate tragedy is when eternity knocks at an unexpected hour and it’s too late.

I pray for my father and others like him that God would appear ‘big’ to them sooner rather than later.

Jodie Stevens

Blame: The Toxic Fruit

000_6910Retouch“Have you eaten the fruit I commanded you not to eat?”

“Yes,” Adam admitted, “but it was the woman you gave me who brought me the fruit, and I ate it.”

Then the Lord asked the woman, “How could you do such a thing?”

“The serpent tricked me,” she replied. “That’s why I ate it.” (Genesis 3:11-13)

Here we clearly see blaming others for our mistakes is nothing new. There are only two people on the earth and it doesn’t take long for them to start pointing the finger at one another and at God.

Recovery programs teach that resentments are the number one killer because they can trigger a relapse; and that can be deadly. Blame is usually at the root of most resentment.

It’s natural to want to blame our family for our troubles, especially if we’ve been hurt or abused by them. And while they may be the reason for some of our problems and emotional difficulties, it’s detrimental to our well-being to continue using them as an excuse (or anyone else for that matter).

The reason resentment and blame keep us in bondage to sin and addiction is because blame deflects our problems onto others and keeps us from being accountable. Secondly, it blocks us from seeing how our own characters flaws have contributed to our situation.

And finally, it’s futile because we can’t change past injustices. We can’t undo what we’ve done or what’s been done to us.

What we can do is take responsibility for our part in our troubles. It doesn’t mean we should blame ourselves and feel guilty for every mishap. It simply means we “accept responsibility for our past mistakes and take steps to correct them,” as it says in the Life Recovery Bible.

This opens the door to allow correction from ourselves, God and others. An honest evaluation of our character is painful at first but if we are humble enough to take the necessary steps to change our behavior we will be amazed at what will happen.

In this life, everyone is a victim of injustice at some point in time and there will always be plenty of blame to go around. How we react to it will determine if we will live a life marked by anger, blame, and bondage; or forgiveness, peace and freedom.

Jodie Stevens