Wednesday, December 31, 2008


After taking my mother-in-law and our children on a 5,000 mile vacation to see where and how my grandparents, parents, and I grew up and lived (and the exact place where my husband proposed to me), and after spending the last few months purposefully changing some of the composition and nearly 100% of the source of our food in a prayerful, scriptural battle to keep all my God-given vital organs and improve our quality of life (just go organic and kosher--it's worth it, and the sooner the better), there are two timeless sayings I'm pondering right now:  1) You're not defined by where you've been; you're defined by where you're going.  2) You are what you eat.

Okay, that brings up a third saying. Have you ever heard, "There's poop in those brownies..."? It's a phrase that still elicits giggles and guffaws at our house, and we use it to alert our children about the unprofitable content of questionable media whose previews entice them. If you happen to be a brownie lover, you can prob'ly relate. If I made you some brownies and added just a teeny-tiny bit of poop to the recipe, would you eat them? Calling out a "Code Poop" is a sure-fire way to turn our kids away from a mess without a challenge. (They'll still ask curious questions, but they have great respect for the boundary.)

We aim at guarding our children and ourselves from "poop," and if you'd like to read a nice rendition of the whole "Poop in the Brownies" devotion you can do so at Dana's Corner, but we also acknowledge a flip side to poop-infested offerings, called potential. I think of a story Alicia Chole once shared about a college girl who "got saved"--she got saved, but her wardrobe...didn't... Waddaya do? Fret about form, or dig in and disciple substance? Besides, there's much we can learn from a mess. When we come into the family of God, we bring our messes with us. God doesn't tell us we have to clean up in order to come to Him; rather, He assures us that as we get to know Him, we'll want to clean up, and He'll help us. Who are we to impose more on humanity?

So while we employ a Code Poop if necessary to identify boundaries as effectively as an electric dog collar, when my husband and I consider what our family will read, watch, or recommend to others, we don't look from the food perspective, evaluating material as though it's a brownie that may or may not contain poop. Our heritage includes gold-mining, and we've learned that a pile of ordinary-looking rubble often holds potential treasure. It may be profitable to sift through. There may be precious gold nuggets in there that just need a little spit, polish, and light. After a few experiments sometimes you can map out sources of ore that will likely be more profitable than others, but often you can't truly judge until you test some samples. And most of the time there's a lot more ore than there is gold...

So guard yourself, but give grace. Judge as you would be judged. If you find poop in the kitchen, don't embrace it, but don't freak out and leave, either. Why not grab some gloves and help clean it up? (In the writing world, our "gloves" are our editing tools. I'm so thankful for my editing tools!)

That said, here are the most valuable cyber treasures friends sent or I found in 2008. All of them are edifying to me. One or two are rated PG-13 for sarcasm or swearing. The rest contain absolutely no poop...
  • on Kitchen Fires (safety video). If you haven't seen this yet, important commentary is included in the email:  "At the Fire Fighting Training School they demonstrated this with a deep fat fryer set on fire in an open field. An instructor, donning fire gear, attached an 8oz cup of water to the end of a 10-foot pole and tossed the water onto the grease fire. Water, being heavier than oil, sinks to the bottom, where it's instantly superheated. The explosive force of the steam blows the burning oil up and out. On the open field, the oil became a 30-foot high fireball resembling a nuclear blast. Inside the confines of a kitchen...well, watch the video... Also, do not throw sugar or flour on a grease fire. One cup of either creates the explosive force of two sticks of dynamite!"
  • Richland Hills Church of Christ, North Richland Hills, TX, on Defining Moments (Cardboard Testimonies video)

May you eat well as you end well in 2008, and may where you're going matter more than where you've been. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

In His Hands

A dear friend called tonight while I was finishing up the Unfettered Heart post and tweaking Christmas Letters. I'm sorry to have to admit that I kept typing, listening with only one ear and half a mind, as she asked if I could be her kids' contact in case they had an emergency while she and her husband attended a fancy-shmancy Christmas party. "Of course!" was my immediate, instinctive answer. Then I flew back from cyber-space with a jolt:

"Wait a minute!--I just remembered!--I'm wondering if we have chicken pox going here..."

She explained that her kids had been exposed, too, and besides she didn't think I'd really be needed. It was just a precaution...  At this point her husband called out that it was time to leave. Hurriedly I agreed to be on stand-by, and we rang off.

About fifteen minutes later she called again. "Um, actually we're headed in the opposite direction than we thought we were going--[the hostess] surprised us and we're headed to Fargo to have supper and drive around to look at lights. We're in a limo... Can you please pick up the kids?"

This time I was paying a little more attention when I committed myself.  "We still don't know about the chicken pox, but if you're okay with it then I guess I am."

The other factor to consider was the snow, but I didn't know that at the time. I knew it had been snowing a bit, but I hadn't been out or even looked outside all day. Why? Because I'd been blogging, and updating laundry, then blogging some more. I prepared a couple meals and quickly cleaned the bathroom so someone could take a shower, then went back to blogging until I was interrupted to check the fiery-red rash that suddenly appeared in my son's armpit. I gave him a Benadryl, and blogged some more. A couple hours later the rash had not changed, and I finally took a picture and emailed it to far-flung family members who are more familiar with chicken pox and other maladies than I am. This produced more questions than answers, as did calling the clinic's triage nurse for her opinion. I helped my son get a soothing bath, and then...put the finishing touches on my blog as the sun went down...

I hope blogging isn't becoming an addiction for me--a new modern-day addiction, like texting, except cheaper. I try to discipline myself, but on some occasions I admit I'll pass up food, friends, teaching, reading, and sleep in order to blog... (Wait until my doctor gets ahold of this! Or my siblings--at the moment I'm delinquent on editing projects for each of them! Ei-yi-yi!)  :~(  On the other hand, I have a Bible scholar sibling who does the same thing sometimes--just feels like whatever God is compelling him to do is more important than meeting his physical needs, etc... Am I finding a new idol, or is God purposing my writing???

I agreed to bring my friend's kids to our house, and prepared to do so. That's when I discovered there were 6-8 inches of new snow outside! It took me 45 minutes to get to the car, start it so it could warm up, clear it and the sidewalk of snow, and get out of the driveway. The great thing about this was that after all that blogging, I really needed the fresh air! As deep as the snow in our driveway was, I envisioned bad roads; but they were already plowed (the DOT workers obviously did not spend their whole day blogging). The kids were ready when I got to their house, and they enjoyed the reunion once we arrived back at ours. 

Now all our kids are staked out in their respective parts of the house having a slumber party and a camp out, and I'm free again! (No, no, no, Lattice! Sleep! That crazy doctor says you need 12 hours of sleep tonight! Wouldn't that be nice?! Now go drink your dirt [a.k.a. Bentonite toxin-binder, a.k.a. kitty litter] and!)

The interesting thing is the tangible feeling I have that I'm resting in God's presence right now. Here I am, blogging along seemingly self-indulgently, at the close of a day (several days, in fact) for which the ultimate agenda--not the one I planned, but the way things turned out--has seemed impractical and unreasonable. I'm not sure if today's blogging is all my own choice or if God's compelling me to do it, but I know I don't have the focus or energy to fulfill the other dutiful plans and good intentions I think would be valuable around here. It seems like almost nothing "important" is getting done, and yet I am certain I've--we've--been in His hands... Is it a Mary vs. Martha kind of thing, where sitting at the Master's feet is more important than chores? Or am I making excuses? Have I been sitting at the Master's feet? Or just gratifying myself while He keeps protective watch over me?

Lord, thank You.  I don't know what that rash is, or what You're doing, but I'm glad You're here. I commit our son and the other children into Your hands and ask for Your healing touch, and I thank You for helping me carve out time to wrap up loose blogging ends as they came to mind today. My time and this blog are in Your hands, too. Do You think tomorrow we could focus on that stack of dishes out in the kitchen and catch up on the floors and finances? I think we have some bills due...

Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails.  --Proverbs 19:21

The Year of the Unfettered Heart

"All things are permissible for me, but not all things are profitable; all things are permissible for me, but not everything is constructive.  --1 Corinthians 10:23 (NIV)

"...[They] were so busy trying to figure out whether or not they could that they never stopped to consider whether or not they should!"  --Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park

I wish Roman Emperor Constantine (336 AD) could have meditated freely and long on both those quotes before he made some of his decrees, but that's a blog for another day. In the more recent past decade, it's become a familiar occurrence--not a "tradition" mind you, as it's by no will or power of our own, but definitely an occurrence--that we can summarize a year's worth of life-changing lessons with nothing more than a succinct theme.  As I said, this isn't something we do--we've never tried to prophetically discern ahead of time nor look back over the year and come up with our own theme; rather, the Lord has given them to us. Sometimes He's revealed a theme late in the year, mid-Fall or so, as we were about to write our family letter.  Other years it's come in early Spring, and we've been encouraged and blessed as we've watched Him fulfill a "prophecy" outside our ability to conceive. This year He went even further outside of the little box we unknowingly try to keep Him in, in that He didn't give us our theme during 2008 at all! This year it popped out at me in early December 2007, right off the page of a book from Jan Karon's Mitford series. I can't find it now, but I was thinking it was from Book 6, titled A Common Life, in which Father Tim Kavanagh, sixty-two year old Episcopal priest in the hospitable small town of Mitford, finally takes a bride. What I remember of the scene is Father Tim resting reflectively when his attention is suddenly captured by a wild songbird singing with "an unfettered heart."

An unfettered heart...  Someone recently asked me what unfettered means.  It means: "unrestrained, uninhibited, uncontrolled." Or more straightforwardly, "free." So then, what in the world does that have to do with us? We live in the "land of the free"--how much freer can you get? What are we to be unfettered from? ...What holds us in bondage?

In John 8:33, some men asked Christ the same question: "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can you say, 'You will be made free'?"

They sound a bit testy to me.  I think they're reacting to what Christ said just before that: 

"If you abide in my word you are my disciples...and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free."  --NKJV, bolding mine

The ultimate job of our US Constitution is to protect our freedom, and after a lot of research I believe its construction was ordained and ordered by God. It is a replica of the free choice our Heavenly Father gives to all mankind to choose Him (life), or not (death). We need to realize, though, that one of the biggest strengths and weaknesses of free choice is that we are free to believe truth as well as lies, and the God who created and loves us is not the father of lies. Rather, the father of lies is His enemy, who seeks to deceive, lead away, imprison, and destroy us--all for our Father's sake. If believing a lie was just a short stop on our journey toward truth, that would be one thing--each of us is "in process," and there's a good chance we'll never know all truth anyway, since that would make us God! But in addition to our freedom to believe lies, we are also free to operate in and even manufacture and propagate them. And we do. And that sets us apart from God. He can only be, tell, and operate in truth. He IS truth, so if we're not agreeing with Him, then no matter how reasonable we think we're being, and no matter how much sense we think we make, we're opposing truth--completely separate from Him. Separate from the Living Water, the Bread of Life, the Way, the Truth, the Life... Going in a direction our Creator says is not the way we were created to go, a direction that eventually leads to break-downs and destruction...  

And that is bondage. Believing and operating in our own "truths" is bondage. So while our Constitution protects our freedom, it also protects our right to choose bondage and death! While it offers us opportunity and has potential to be used wisely, it does not offer us life. Especially when it is interpreted and used by people who have chosen to separate themselves from God. Therefore, let us not worship our country or its constitution. While our leaders and defenders should be honored (i.e., promoted for their betterment) as the authority and servants they are, they are only a part of the body of humanity. While America is in many respects a nice place to live, the best place to live is wherever God wants us. While the Constitution is a powerful structure from which to build, we must choose safe boundaries for ourselves based on wisdom, sober judgement, and discipline. 

And where do these things come from???

If God is truth, love, justice, and wisdom, and if He offers Himself to us freely, then wouldn't our wisest course of action be to submit our freedom right back to Him?

And so this Year of the Unfettered Heart has been for us a year of shedding deception, of "abiding in His word" and asking the Lord to reveal to us lies we've believed, and replace them with His mind--truth--on those matters. You may be surprised that we would either bother or feel free to share our mistakes/God's corrections here, as it leaves us vulnerable to "I told you so's" and various other unpleasant repercussions. But one thing I love about God is that when He shines a light into an area of darkness in our lives, He does so lovingly, to free us from captivity--never to shame us. We're so grateful for the freedom! We share our lessons for His glory, and also in case you may be able to relate and benefit from our journey. So here is a recap, with a short description and link to each lesson I was privileged to share since I started blogging in July:
  • My first blog post is titled Welcome to My Window. Though I feel "born to write" and for much of my life have harbored the dream to be published, I lack a lot of necessary components for that to become a reality. Most of the time I'm content working "behind-the-scenes" while I wait for God's timing. However, blogging does not seem so "behind-the-scenes" to me, and I felt reluctant and vulnerable about it. I felt like a chick kicked out of the nest the day I became an "accidental blogger." I got "tricked" into it when I felt compelled to leave a comment on a blog posted by a missionary friend. I had to set up my own account first, and couldn't quite grasp all the directions. Once I started blogging, though, I felt great satisfaction. It's a great outlet for me, and also pushes/allows me to keep refining/editing my essays. And they're "out there" for God to do whatever He wants and others to glean from, so I guess I AM published, aren't I?!
  • In my second post, My Favorite Thing, I shared a lighter aspect of my penchant for truth.
  • August began with Peace & Prosperity, a discussion of the truth that our peace is not necessarily found where we expect it (for me, this especially meant the freedom to take long, hot bubble baths every afternoon while our kids were in public school for a year!); rather, it can be in the midst of big unknowns and things we never thought we could or would want to do. This post also includes the answer to our most F.A.Q.: "Why are you home schooling again this year?"
  • Poster Child is a short but humbling post amidst a busy week, about the truth that there's nothing new under the sun--not even my "own" thoughts!
  • The Paris Party is about learning to speak the language of Love to give purpose and bridge gaps as we gather for an extended-family birthday celebration with loved ones who hold different worldviews.
  • During seasons of loss I've often felt abandoned, as though God has left me alone In the Desert. Over the years I've found surprising treasure even in the midst of my husband's occupational traveling (loss of proximity) and other losses.
  • Dressing Hair is about a delightful evening of proximity for our daughter and I, during which we each discovered something we were missing: the joy of spontaneous with-ship.
  • As we prepared to take our children on a vacation through ten western states that have impacted their heritage, the personal item my husband needed most was new hiking shoes. Used Shoes is a fun testimony of how God met both of us exactly where we were, provided my husband's need, and illustrated yet again how available and perfect His love for us is.
  • In 5,017!, we're back from our trip and grateful for we-don't-even-know-what-all yet! Let the processing begin...
  • Evidence is my first post about lessons from our trip. It's about admiring the Creator through His creation, and is transcribed from notes I felt compelled to make while summiting the Rockies in the back seat of a minivan. It is based on Romans 1:18-20, which starts "...That which is known about God is evident..."
  • After crossing the Rockies, the Salt Flats, and the Great Basin in something of a hurry, we were blessed to slow our pace as we met up with my parents and relived some of their fondest memories, enjoyed visiting relatives who made extra effort to come see us by winding their way around routes that were closed due to wildfires, and toured the old stomping grounds and resting gardens of my grandparents in Reunion and Renewal.
  • At the beginning of October my focus switched temporarily from our vacation to repainting our garage. Is it possible to paint masterpieces in the rain? See if you agree with my answer in Painting in the Rain.
  • Thanks to God's appointed time for the Feast of the Fall (Feast of Tabernacles), we finished painting our garage and still had time to rake leaves, mulch shrubs, AND build and enjoy time in our first sukkah! Did you know the word that is commonly translated "stable" in the English account of Christ's birth in Luke 2 means the same thing as the word that is translated as "tent" in the Old Testament?  Christ could have actually been born in a tent during the Feast of Tabernacles, perhaps something like the one you can see in this post (because it's the post in which I finally learned how to post photos!).  ;~)
  • While I was on blogging hiatus to paint our garage, my friend Far Side of Fifty took advantage of my back being turned to "tag" me with a blogging game called a "meme" (another astute young friend--an English teacher--compelled me to look up the definition of "meme," and it means: an element of a culture that may be considered to be passed on by nongenetic means, esp. imitation). For me this "fun game" was a horrible little exercise, but it stirred up a crisis of faith that had beautiful plunder. You can read all about it in Six Quirks & A Talent or Two.
  • I cried my eyes out the day I wrote Excellence in Excess. We took a field trip to watch the Golden Dragon Acrobats, and their performance was overwhelming!
  • If you're so inclined (i.e., not sick of hearing what everybody thinks about it yet), you can read my thoughts on the outcome of the presidential election at Not my will, but Thine...
  • Once all the fall chores, celebrating, and fall-out from the election were sorted out and put away, my focus swung back to our vacation. Common Decency highlights our experiences at the California coast, including a brief introduction to a lesson regarding intricate considerations and consequences of expressing love. I still have more about this cooking on the back burner in my mind--maybe it'll come out next year...
  • Several years ago, just before his marriage, my brother led me on an incredible, defining, 15-minute journey into my favorite waterfall. This past year as we left CA and began to tour the area where I grew up in OR, our children took a different but equally valuable natural object lesson from a similar experience. The Lord sets boundaries and establishes authority over us because He loves us. He has perfect plans to prosper us, not to harm us (Jer 29:11). Yet we sometimes (often?) distort what He sets up, expecting "prosperous" to look a certain way, or chaffing at being subject to an authority (any authority, but especially one we don't like!). We long to be "free and independent," especially if those over us abuse their authority rather than submit it back to God. The Watson Falls and Umbrella posts go together.
  • Magic Ice is a quick, in-the-moment piece about walking...well, and skating, too!--on the perfect ice we have this winter.  You'll prob'ly want to at least take a quick peek to see the photos...
Okay--are you getting tired?  I am, and so's Blogger's "Autosave" feature!  Uh-oh!  But we're up to December now, with only three posts to go:
  • The Walking Stick might be my favorite essay of the year... It's about the day my family accompanied me to fulfill another long-held dream. The summer after my senior year of high school the USFS was just beginning to build a new hiking trail into my favorite lake. That fall I left Oregon to go to college in Montana, wandered off on a tangent or two, and never made it back home at a time of year when I could accomplish the hike. On this day we not only made it to the lake, but found unexpected value in doing it together...
  • A "normal" MN winter finally arrives in Skates to Skis, and we're appreciating and pondering the power of God to direct all things.
  • And lastly, although we're not celebrating Christmas this year, we aren't disconnecting from everyone who is, either. We're so blessed to keep in touch via Christmas Letters.
During this past year we've been set free from many expectations, a few manmade traditions, and some lies. We've grown in freedom and health, and experienced much more than we even have time to share. Yes, I can see why God named it our Year of the Unfettered Heart! Some of our relatives and friends have been shocked at the changes we've gone through, and expressed great compassion and empathy.  (They've pretty much kept to themselves any disappointment they've felt!) And yes, sometimes growth is painful or unpredictable; on the other hand, for much of it there was really nothing we could do but hold on anyway (it's really not wise to jump off a roller coaster in the middle of the ride, right?!), and we found that if we can just hold on past the pain, God always has some great treasure waiting for us on the other side. 

So...onward!  Let's see what God has in store for us in 2009, eh?! 

And BTW, He hasn't given us a single inkling of next year's theme yet!  ;~)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Letters

I received a call this morning from a friend who wanted to double-check her address book before mailing us her second annual family Christmas letter.  We hadn't connected since this time last year, so we chatted for awhile. As we prepared to ring off she quipped lightly, "Well, I've told you everything in our letter now, but yer gettin' it anyway!" (She's an ol' cowgirl...) She hadn't really told me everything--I'd only caught up on half her kids!--but even if she had it wouldn't change the blessing I'll feel when I receive her note.

We're not celebrating Christmas this year, but we're not disconnecting from everyone who is, either. We particularly enjoy receiving family letters, and have fun putting ours together...together. For the first few weeks of December it seemed like perhaps a lot of folks might not be writing them this year, though.  Letter volume was way down, and the few cards that were showing up included drastically short notes from people who said they weren't in the spirit of Christmas and didn't expect to get that way. They sounded overwhelmed with the suddenness and busy-ness of the holiday.

More recently though, as we head into the final stretch leading up to man's traditional celebration of Christ's miraculous birth, I'm rejoicing to find our normal load of letters in the mailbox each afternoon. I'm finding that I have a mental list of each family, and as they "check in" I feel a renewed sense of connection and...relief? It is just so good to have an exchange! I surmise that since I am made in God's image, perhaps what I feel is a shadow of what He feels when we check in with Him. It is good--very good--to connect with our loved ones...

While we don't really have "favorite" letters--we enjoy each family's unique style--today I received the letter we always know will make us laugh so hard we'll cry. Far Side of Fifty's husband, Far Guy, has an incredible knack for turning "normal," "mundane," and even "negative" family circumstances into hilarious, adventurous single-sentence anecdotes. The guy's a hoot, and appreciation and humor just ooze out of him. We've been admiring his talent for years, and this year we take special strength from it as well.

We were blessed as we reflected on the advent of Christ's birth under the stars in our sukkah during the Feast of Tabernacles in October, but we're also blessed to be a part of His expression of love through caring connection with His people. I guess that makes sense. He IS a God of relationship!

Monday, December 15, 2008

From Skates to Skis

Wow! Our Hans Brinker days are already over for this winter! Even the persistent 40 mph winds couldn't sweep our wonderful natural skating rink (the lake) clear during our 9-12 inch dump over the past 30 hours. The only skating we'll be doing for the next few months will be at a small manmade outdoor rink that is plowed occasionally. The ice was perfect this year, but the season was short-lived.  Some people are even pulling their fish houses back off the lakes already, as this load of drifted, hard-packed snow will likely put enough weight on the ice that in some places the water beneath will be forced up around the edges, flooding the ice.

Yesterday afternoon, just for fun and fresh air, we tried to ski to the store while the storm was still running its course. We figured we'd use the outing to pick up a couple slightly necessary groceries. But our heading was right into the wind, visibility was limited, and we didn't get far before we realized the -40F wind chills that were forecast had actually arrived and just weren't worth it. This morning our front door was frozen shut, it took my husband an extra two hours to snowblow our driveway before he could leave for work (3-1/2 altogether), and even medical clinics were closed for the day. One of our cats has the sniffles now and we think her ears have a little frostbite--we didn't know she was outside when we left to do some errands this afternoon.

We enjoy winter, snow, and cold temps... We even enjoy extended periods of below zero highs, with a few -40F days thrown in, because they usually mean limited suffering and the comfort of a warm fire and hot drinks on our part, plus a season of killing back the pine beetles and other insects that have been destroying our trees at an alarming rate. I love being "stuck" indoors for a season of reading, writing, sewing, and reflecting. But right now we're praying and watching with anticipation for the thermometer to rise just enough so we can get back outside and enjoy some of our favorite winter sports without jeopardizing our extremities, too. In the meantime, today I enjoyed Far Side of Fifty's photos of our recent storm and, especially, the triple sun dogs she captured this morning. I also appreciated reviewing Alicia Chole's online devotional for this week, titled "stunning but not safe," about the deadly beauty and other similarities of both physical and spiritual ice.  (If you want to read it, once you enter her site you have to click on the link in the lower right-hand corner to sign up for the free weekly online devotionals. The devotional is then emailed to you.)

God thunders marvelously with His voice; He does great things which we cannot comprehend. For He says to the snow, "Fall on the earth"; likewise to the gentle rain and the heavy rain of His strength. He seals the hand of every man, that all men may know His work. The beasts go into dens, and remain in their lairs. (Except our poor kitty!  Well, she's safe and warm in her bed NOW...) From the chamber of the south comes the whirlwind, and cold from the scattering winds of the north.  By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen. Also with moisture he saturates the thick clouds; He scatters His bright clouds. And they swirl about, being turned by His guidance, that they may do whatever He commands them on the face of the whole earth. He causes it to come, whether for correction, or for His land, or for mercy... Stand still and consider the wondrous works of God.  --Job 37:5-14

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Walking Stick

Climb every mountain / ford every stream / follow every by-way / 'til you find your dream...

(from Climb Every Mountain, as performed in The Sound of Music by Rodgers and Hammerstein.  Okay, we just watched the movie again--part of our study of Europe--and that, plus the fact that I finally get to write about this part of our vacation, has left me a bit giddy...)


Our practice paid off. After six weeks of triathlon workouts (biking/hiking/swimming) for two hours every morning, we took a week off to pack, travel, and play in CA/OR with Grandma and Grandpa. But then we reached their home place, located less than an hour from my favorite mountain lake, and it was time for the test. Could any amount of exercise at our 1,000-foot elevation prepare us for a 14-mile hike at 4,000-7,000 feet???

It was to be a day hike, and we had a deadline since a special supper was planned for our return. Our alarm woke us while it was still dark. I finished loading lunch while my husband quietly rousted kids, and we snuck out before dawn without waking our elders. Our destination? My favorite lake or bust!

Over the years the trails to this lake have...evolved. When I was in my early teens we first hiked in using an arduous trail that was five miles one way, and we were more than grateful to set down our gear and set up camp for two nights before we had to pack back out. By my senior year in high school that first trail was closed, and our Backpacking Club took a new, more moderate, but longer trail in and out for a day hike. The following summer I worked for the USFS on a crew that used hand tools to maintain all the trails in the wilderness areas in that district. Along with kicking rocks and cutting out Douglas fir of great diameter that had fallen across the trails during winter, we spent one day picking rocks out of a fresh dozer trail that would one day become the trailhead from which hikers could get to the lake from the opposite side of the wilderness area. It was planned to be an easier, shorter route, with breathtaking panoramic views along the way.

But alas, I missed those views. I left Oregon that fall--headed east for college, and ended up settling in the Midwest after that. Over the years, during a couple different late spring visits, I attempted the trail, only to be forced to turn back due to snowpack. I had never made it to the lake via this newest trail. Now my family was excited to realize this dream with me.

Upon arriving at the trailhead, we ate a quick breakfast: fruit, yogurt, and breakfast bars; then took a pre-hike potty break and pix, donned our packs, and headed out. The flora in the area is very different from the species around our home, and the kids started noticing and appreciating this right away. Nevertheless, the first mile was breezy, chilly, steep, and, at this time of year, dusty. Reality dampened their excitement quickly, and it took a lot of encouragement, silliness, and photo-op stops to get our tired young trudgers over that initial hump. Once everyone warmed up and got going, though, we chugged along at a pretty good pace. We got our first glimpse of the lake from the ridge that overlooks it, and made it down to shore just in time for lunch. 

Like most of the other bodies of water in the volcanic Cascade range, this lake is crystal clear and icy cold. That means, of course, that it's enticing! Though seconds before we'd felt famished, the lake was captivating and immediately became more important than lunch. Some of us soaked our hot, aching feet... Others went swimming... I'll leave you to imagine who was in each group, but will say that my husband repeatedly commented on how comfortable his "new used" hiking shoes had been, and I got one incredible video of someone who donned her snorkel and mask, jumped right in, and...SCREAMED through her snorkel as she kicked and paddled underwater all the way across the small bay of our resting spot!

It sounded like a mama moose was charging us!

I'm sure all the wildlife in the area were fairly confounded!

It would have been great fun to share, except......I accidentally deleted it...!  :~O

By the time we arrived at the lake we had hiked seven miles and were tired, sore, dusty, hot, hungry, and had consumed about half of our water (we carried 80 ounces per person, plus had a large jug waiting back in our vehicle). Considering the time it had taken us to hike in, plus the surprise steep section of switchbacks we'd encountered on that last leg from the ridge down to the lake (this was not marked on the map--it was a "s-i-m-p-l-i-f-i-e-d" representation...), and the flagging energy of our children, we decided we had better plan some margin into our return. Thus, we figured we could only afford to spend about one hour resting at the lake before we had to start back. 

After a delight-ful/bee-free lunch (including a few handfuls of wild blueberries we found at the lakeshore--the bushes were loaded!) the kids played pleasantly at the edge of the water while I scouted and photographed the lake and scree fields. My husband lounged barefoot beside the trail, in the shade, in a large patch of huckleberry foliage, staining his shirt (and thus dubbing himself "Bear Bait" for the return hike). We all savored the solitude.

Finally I rinsed my feet one last time and sat near my husband to put on my shoes as he roused himself to do the same. Quietly he commented, "I wasn't sure this lake was really going to be worth the hike--that it would really be worth climbing the mountain. But it is--it definitely is. I wish we could stay here and camp for at least a week..."

What a wonderful, affirming, refreshing thing for him to say! I fell in love with him all over again!!!

However, the feeling of refreshment wore off quickly. The beginning of our return was at least as rough as the beginning of our beginning. Our kids must not be "barn-sour."  They were refreshed, but as soon as we left the lake the magnitude of the hike ahead of them overwhelmed them, and the "carrot" we dangled in front of them--the feast Grandma was preparing back home--was not sweet enough to empower them. They were not terribly in touch with the reality of our need to go. In the end, it took parental patience (for me that meant biting my tongue and letting my husband do the coaching...), careful pacing, and, mostly, their own personal shortage of water(!) to motivate them to climb back out and over that ridge.

Once on top, though, they were on a roll. During a quick water break our son looked around and found himself a walking stick, and this reminded him of something. Now, my husband and I are not entrepreneurs; in fact, we despise being analyzed for marketing purposes, almost completely hate shopping, and refuse to play the capitalist game. We enjoyed reading Gary Paulsen's Lawn Boy with our kids, but would not want to be the Lawn Boy...or hire him. For the most part, we like doing our work ourselves and train our children to do the same. So as the following conversation began, "Bear Bait," bringing up the rear, and I (in the lead) were first thoroughly amazed, then entertained, and finally astounded. We wasted no time shutting our mouths, opening our ears, and just revelling as we listened in on this conversation for most of the rest of our hike. It went something like this:

Oldest:  "Hey, remember our business?"

Youngest:  "What business?"  [This was a good question.  They're not like their parents in this respect. They have MANY capitalistic ideas "in process."]

O:  "You know--the one where we carve walking sticks to sell to people."

Y:  "Oh ya--that one.  I didn't know it was our business.  I thought you were just doing it with your friends."

O:  "Ya, I am. But you could be in it, too."

Y:  "Really? What would I do?"

Much brainstorming followed--over an HOUR of brainstorming. Very early on the youngest revealed her incalculable worth and was appointed Vice President, and then they introduced, discussed, and resolved every element of business with sober judgment beyond their years, from research to production to marketing to expansion to...investing?!?. Let's listen in again right there:

O:  "What should we do with the money?'

Y:  "Help the poor people."

O:  "Which ones, though?  I mean, there're all kinds of poor people."

Y:  "First we should help the ones that don't even have a house--the ones that just live in dumps, like Melvin in Honduras."

O:  "Okay.  Then who?"

Y:  "Then we'll help the ones like Gregor [Gregor the Overlander, in Suzanne Collins' fictional series], who have to live in tiny apartments and don't have enough money and only have a closet for a bedroom."

O:  "Um, ya, that's good.  Okay, and then who?"

Y:  "Then we'll help everybody else--rich people who just might need a little food or something."

Hmmm...investing in...people...  

Oh yes!  Truly a mountain worth climbing!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Magic Ice

Yesterday my friend, Far Side of Fifty, posted a reminiscent blog called "Magic Ice." I've only experienced ice like this one other time, when I was a teenager visiting a friend on her ranch in Oregon. And that time I didn't know how to skate. Just looking through the ice at the weeds and life carrying on below was thrilling enough, though. 

This year our ice is even far. It unnerves me a bit to walk level on nothing but water as I watch the ground gradually falling away beneath me. Faith, Lattice, faith... I think I can now relate a lot better to Peter's anxiety as he stepped a few paces away from the boat!  ;~)

Our kids have never experienced perfect ice before. Often the wind blows too hard during this season, making the ice build in uneven ridges; or it snows as the water freezes, forming a huge sheet of jagged crystallized bumps littered with hollow pockets in surprising places, all hidden beneath a blanket of white powder. But our kids love to skate, good ice or bad, and for the past month our son has used at least one of his breaks during the school day to run down and check the depth of ice on our small swamp. A week or so ago it reached four inches, which was enough to walk on safely (the more daring were prob'ly driving ATV's on it by then), and as we've been studying the Scandinavian countries and watching Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates, the kids' excitement was at fever pitch and we nearly had a family incident by the time I dug out the skates this past weekend!

The kids were content on the swamp for two days, but then yesterday afternoon I walked to town to do some errands and detoured by the lake on my way home. There were two men on the lake, 30-50 yards out from the shore, removing small boulders that someone had thrown on the ice to check it's strength. Everywhere else the ice was a perfect smooth sheet. I trotted home as quickly as I could, knowing the swamp was never going to seem "enough" after this. No matter--this was not a gift to be left unopened! 

Everyone at home was up to their eyeballs in home projects, but I called a 30-minute recess, grabbed skates, camera, and kids, and headed back to the lake for some quick fun and fresh air. By the time we got there, the men were gone and the whole lake was ours. Within two minutes the kids were skating the entire length of our summer beach, stretching their wings and trying new tricks.

"Thanks, Mom! That was THE best skating I've ever been able to do! That ice is perfect! Will you take us again tomorrow, and bring your skates, too?"

...Well, yes, I think maybe I will... And I don't know if we might have inspired anyone who happened to be watching through the windows of their lake home, but like the Gospel, this news is too good to keep to ourselves. We invite you to join us...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Watson Falls

Mist filters past us
Driven by playful puffs of wind
Collecting on angel noses,
Dripping off ecstatic chins

From dark to open light
With rainbow rays of praise
Dancing around shadows
Swirling deep with timeless phrase

Forever tumbling, sparkling
Finding paths of least resistance
Heading t'ward full oceans
From some expansive distance

Sheer curtains of endless power
And opaque, dynamic glow
Merge in rhythmic, cyclic cadence
To pound loudly far below

And through the chaos at the bottom
Order is restored
Settling out 'round mossy boulders
Resumes a stream that we can ford

We spent the next several days of our trip in my old stomping grounds--the southern Cascade Mountains in Oregon, around Crater Lake NP. I spent my earliest "hidden years" there, climbing trees, building forts, running up and down game trails, romping around our secluded hydroelectric power camp. There were ten houses in our camp, plus the building where my dad worked, a school for the 40 1st-8th Graders who lived in our camp and the USFS camp a few miles up the road, and housing for our two teachers and the principal/teacher/bus driver/janitor/Phy Ed instructor and his wife, the librarian. There were three classrooms, the library, a gym, a playground and a ball field. Since there weren't very many of us, we had to modify game rules in order to play sports, and we square-danced for Phy Ed every Friday (so that was dress day... By third grade I was a total tomboy and hated to wear dresses, but my mom made me a square dance dress I loved!). We had all music and band classes on the same day of the week--the day the music teacher came to camp. Town was 60 miles away.

For me, it was an idyllic life. I liked to read Pippi Longstocking and Nancy Drew tales (our small library had almost all of Carolyn Keene's series), but I really connected with sweet Heidi of the Swiss Alps, reading her story over and over. I agreed with her that high in the mountains was the place to live, and I was steadfastly resistant (on the inside--had to acquiesce on the outside...) when my parents chose to move us to a large town just before I started 6th Grade.

Watson, Whitehorse, and Clearwater Falls were just a few minutes' drive from camp, and we visited them frequently. Huckleberry season, morel and coral mushroom season, deer and elk hunting, fishing, and wood-cutting season all beckoned us their way. I guess we were hunters-and-gatherers, living simply in the midst of some of God's most spectacular scenery.

But I was completely grown before I ever actually got in Watson Falls. I had long dreamed of daring it, but it's not an easy act. The water plunges 272 feet in a sort of "cathedral amphitheatre" of columnar basalt, landing in a shallow pool strewn with boulders. It's perfectly clear and paralyzingly cold, and the pelting curtain moves--a long, slow swirl, kind of like water swirling down a funnel (except pelting!). In an exhilarating, kind of "last act" together before my brother got married and life changed, he took my hand, pulled me up and past the trail, and led me straight into the torrent at the bottom of the falls. That dousing was defining--one of the most freeing, joyful experiences of my life. It is standing in the presence of Almighty God and being washed clean! I danced... 

And it was on my "must do" list to pass that experience forward to our kids during our recent trip. They were quite eager and intrepid to do this wild, extraordinary thing, and we had a blast. But it illustrated a different concept for them. It gave them a whole new appreciation for the concept of honoring their parents. My husband and I have since enjoyed being viewed as a valuable part of the fabric of the umbrella God provides to protect them from our enemy's fiery darts!


A picture is worth a thousand words, but for the rest of the story, click here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Common Decency

He stirs up the sea with His power, and by His understanding He breaks up the storm... Indeed, these are the mere edges of His ways, and how small a whisper we hear of Him! But the thunder of His power, who can understand?  --Job 26:12, 14

The conclusion of the election process seems like a natural break--a perfect place to refocus and finish journaling our vacation lessons. Now let's see...where were we? Oh yes--we had just arrived at the vast, powerful, massive piece of creation known as The Pacific Ocean! (Which is just the mere edge of His ways??? The small whisper we hear of Him...? Wow!)

My husband and I have each lived a small part of our lives on the ocean, and wanted to help our kids take in and savor their "very last first time" there. We coached them in safety concerns before we left the hotel, then borrowed a bit from an idea set forth in James Michener's novel, Space. He says to first look at the stars with the naked eye, then binoculars, and then, finally, a telescope, pacing oneself to enjoy each layer of revelation...  

Our kids started first with just a glimpse of the ocean (easy to accomplish since it was foggy). Once we parked, they stood for a moment just outside our vehicle to take in the panoramic view, first scents, and sounds. It was nearly high tide, so the small dunes with strange new vegetation were more impressive than the slim offerings of the beach (just a few broken shells and no tide pools). After a bit of dune exploration, we approached the frothy outskirts of the tumbling, churning waves. First we snuck up just close enough to run away from them. Finally, we clasped hands tightly and tackled them head on!

What ecstatic fun! What energy!  What freezing temperatures!  After racing and jumping waves at Samoa Beach for most of a very gray morning, we were nearly hypothermic. We changed clothes (no Far, we did NOT need scissors!--we held up damp beach towels to change behind), crowded into our vehicle and turned the heat on full blast, and relished the warmth as we meandered a few miles north of Eureka, CA, to have fresh seafood for lunch at a merchant's marina cafe'. After ordering hot drinks all around, I went to wash. In the women's restroom there is a sign that reads:

"California state law and COMMON DECENCY dictate that all employees wash their hands before returning to work."

The sign is probably common to the people who work there, but I found it refreshing!  ;~) Common decency... Isn't that really just another term for love? Makes me think of God's second greatest commandment: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."  Even washing our hands is a loving thing to do, for others as well as ourselves!

After lunch we played at two warmer, sunny beaches before meandering through the gentle giants in Redwood National Forest on our way north to Crescent City. We arrived at suppertime, still shivering but also glowing.  As we checked into the motel where we had reservations, my father noticed a little sign on the counter:

"You must report any pets traveling with you. There is an extra charge for small dogs.  Note: California state law prohibits leaving pets in vehicles."

Another "sign of love?" When I called to make our reservations I was asked if we'd be bringing any pets, but it never dawned on me, a month ahead of time from here in MN, that my parents out west might bring their two Australian Shepherds with them.  Even if it had, it wouldn't have dawned on me that I needed to notify the motel. For my whole life my parents have either found caretakers or traveled with their dogs as circumstances dictated, but they've never lodged them in a motel. They provide padded mats for the dogs to lie on during driving or sleeping at night; bring along their leashes, dishes, food, and a supply of clean water for them; make frequent stops to meet their needs; and always leave the topper's windows open for adequate ventilation. My parents care for their pets as responsibly as they care for me, but they do not lodge them in motel rooms...

We reported our pets to the desk clerk, and then we were ALL in a real pickle. The dogs were too big to be allowed into the motel room, the law prohibits lodging them in the vehicle, and it was too late to cancel our reservation without having to pay full price for the rooms. Besides, there was no place else to go. The clerk resolved the issue by charging us the extra pet cleaning deposit even though the pets wouldn't be in the room, and telling my father to park in an out-of-the-way space in the parking lot, make the dogs wait for their evening constitutional until after dark, and hope the dogs didn't bark and attract anyone's attention. After getting our wet, sandy clothes washing in the Guest Laundry and taking a quick hot shower to warm up, I found my father in the parking lot taking care of his dogs. It broke my heart when his face crinkled in frustration and his voice cracked when he spoke, "I feel like such a criminal, sneaking around out here!"

Later we learned that such laws are not limited to California. It is illegal to leave pets in vehicles overnight in our state, too. In my world, animals have never needed the government to protect their rights--they've had caretakers with common decency, and that was enough. But I guess activists somewhere have found people who need Big Brother to tell them how to be responsible owners. Whether lawmakers are fanatical or just trying their best to enact reasonable laws, animal rights seems to be an issue where balance is hard to find. My parents were unfairly charged, and forced to break the law, because they brought their "over-sized" dogs with them. And yet they brought them because of...common decency.

Besides that we were spending time in environments those dogs LOVE, playing with people those dogs LOVE, and that they both enjoy traveling, one of the dogs had recently contracted a horrible eye infection. Her vet prescribed medication that had to be administered to her eye several times a day, and the elderly neighbor who usually cares for the dogs when my parents have to leave them could not manage the job. Bringing the dogs along was the most reasonable, decent choice my parents had.

We left Crescent City the next morning, mentally battered but thankful that at least in the previous election the proposed CA state law that would have limited pet travel to only 1-1/2 hours per day did not pass!

What a simple yet complicated concept is "common decency." How hard it is for us to account for all eventualities and set boundaries that truly define love. There are as many choices to make about loving as there are ways to blog. Perhaps that's why God didn't get overly specific in His commandments, and admonishes us to avoid legalism.  His plan is for us to be free to love.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Not my will, but Thine...

"...there's no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God."  
Romans 13:1

It's late, and we already know who won the next presidency.

It's seemed like natural foreshadowing the past couple days to substitute the name "America" for "Assyria" as I've read through the short book of Nahum... (If you try this exercise, don't give up in the middle!)

The peoples' choice is not my choice, but okay, Lord, You are God and I am not. You've put me in this position of surrender before, and You were faithfully full of surprises then...  Your ways are higher--much higher!--than mine...  Thank You for staying in control and implementing YOUR perfect plan.

(Note: If you viewed this blog in its original form you will notice it's now changed. This morning the Lord convicted me that while it was a little catchier with my tongue-in-cheek thoughts, my attitude was out of line.  It reflected resignation but not true surrender to Him. I apologize.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Excellence in Excess

Today we took a field trip to the Reif Theater in Grand Rapids, MN, to watch a mini-performance of the Golden Dragon Acrobats. Wow!--Fabulous! What an incredible troupe from China! What talent, training, balance, and discipline! Each act was beautiful and emotionally climactic, performed with excess! Our applause were wild, and it was an honor to bestow them. By the end of the hour I was so over-stimulated that I couldn't keep from crying as I watched!

I know God had His eyes on these young people today, too. They're in the niche He created them for, and He loves watching them. They, like us, live their lives for a very special audience of One, and He applauds us based not on our performance but on the fact that we are His. The Golden Dragon Acrobats don't have to perform perfectly to impress Him! But I'm not sure if they know it. I hope there is an age limit--that at some point their tenure on the team is up--just so they can do something besides train and perform for human applause.

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.  --Colossians 3:17

Monday, October 27, 2008

Six Quirks & A Talent Or Two

While I was on "blogging break" I was tagged by Far Side of Fifty to do a "meme list" of six personal quirks. Ahem! I know it's supposed to just be a fun way to get to know people, but wow!--this actually turned out to be quite a struggle for me! To whoever thought up this game, I don't like it very much!!!

It's not that I mind confessing.  James 5:16 exhorts us "Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed." Quirks might not be faults exactly, but some of mine probably are. And I could use some healing! (More on that later...) So how about if I take a chance on the semantics, step out in faith, and see what God wants to do???

Except...well, check out these rules:

1. Link to the person who tagged you
   Check.  You can link to Far's blog by clicking above, or on the link in "My Blog List" in the sidebar...

2. Post these rules on your blog
   Check.  Here they are...!

3. Tell about your six quirks
   Check.  Actually, I could only think of three off the top of my head. Then I got out my secret weapon (aka, my kids and husband) and they had no problem coming up with the others! (And theirs are the best!)

4. Tag six bloggers to do the same
   Okay, so here's the problem: I enjoy sharing, and receiving comments on my blogs(!), and just a tiny bit of browsing, but I'm kind of an "introverted blogger" (an oxymoron, I know...). I lack the quota of blogger connections, especially six whose sites seem particularly suited to memes. I've enjoyed a visit from one person I've never met outside of cyberspace, but her site doesn't seem suited to it, either. For fun I would love to tag a few friends and family members, but they don't blog and now that I've said that they prob'ly never will!  ;~)

5. Leave them a comment to let them know you've tagged them
   If I ever get past #4, this one will be a piece of cake. But...!

I procrastinated on this through our holiday celebration, then last night finally decided to dig in, "be an overcomer," and play this game with Far (thanks for your patience!). I stayed up late constructing and wrestling over a list of bloggers I could potentially tag (my highest tally was only five), and in the wee hours of the morning fell into a fitful sleep; then arose early with a full day's agenda, and...cold feet! (Funny how getting just a few hours of shut-eye can have the opposite effect of getting enough sleep...)

For awhile I didn't have to care, though. The morning was busy and I was nowhere near my computer. But then, as I was standing at the stove preparing a late lunch, I received inspiration. Suddenly I was reminded of the Parable of Talents (Matthew 25:14-28), in which a master entrusts different amounts of talents (a form of currency in the Middle East) to his servants, each according to their ability. Then he leaves on a long journey. When he returns, he finds that the servant he entrusted with five talents has invested and doubled the money. Likewise, the servant entrusted with two has doubled his. However the third servant, who was entrusted with only one talent, was afraid, and simply buried his talent until his master's return. 

The first two servants risked what was entrusted to them, and received praise--"Well done, good and faithful servant." The third guarded what was entrusted to him, and was condemned--"You wicked and lazy servant."

Seems like a curious and rather serious lesson to associate with a just-for-fun little old meme game, doesn't it?!

People blog a variety of ways for a variety of reasons. Some journal, some discuss, some inform, some just connect. For most of the people I'm linked with, blogging is a tool for making spiritual food gracefully available to all who visit--fresh manna served in a timely fashion and usually in small bites, so no one overeats. The burden of my heart is that this site would serve that same purpose, although having descended from a hearty bunch of gold miners, I often view my offerings less as food and more as nuggets of pure gold--treasure dredged out of rubble and entrusted to me by my Master.

I believe He would have me invest the treasure I'm entrusted with, too. Though the skillful presentation of just one nugget at a time still eludes me, and I'm not as talented at panning out all the rubble as I'd like to be, blogging is already one of my "investment tools." I'm uncertain what else I'm supposed to risk here, though--how I'm supposed to apply the Parable of Talents to this game. Later today I happened upon a blog site in which this author who'd been tagged posted her answers but chose not to tag anyone else, and I thought, "Hey!--I could just do that!" But I have a nagging sense that I'm supposed to go ahead and tag the five people on my list...

Whew!--seems like it has taken an inordinate amount of time, energy, and agonizing to get to firm ground on this, but now that I'm finally settled, here are my top six quirks:

1. I scratch and clean my right ear--and only my right ear--with the skinny barb of pen caps. (And please DO pray, as Father God leads you, for healing in this ear! It has a fungus that is incurable according to modern medical standards, and sometimes it really drives me crazy.)

2. I serve lots of awesome renditions (and occasionally a flop) of lots of awesome recipes, but never the same rendition twice. Especially when my kids aren't helping in the kitchen, I never follow a recipe to a "T" (modification is the name of the game), and I estimate rather than waste time measuring.

3. When loading the car for errands or whatever, I never remember everything in the first load. (I sometimes imagine this is a God-thing, to help me get more exercise!)

4. Despite evidence in #3 to the contrary, I'm a planner and a scheduler. I value spontaneity and love that my life and times are truly in God's hands, but spend a lot of energy planning and imposing ordered structure. My husband says many people prob'ly think this should be thought of as a "gift" rather than a quirk, but that if so, it's only because they haven't walked a mile in his shoes!  ;~)

5. Left over from my days working in salmon cold storages in Alaska, I love the smell of ice, freshly shaved in ice-making rooms or just quietly building up in warehouses and walk-in freezers when they're "On." When Christian women talk about "the fragrance of Christ," this clean, refreshing odor is what comes to mind for me. So far no refrigeration guru has been able to tell me what makes the odor, though.

6. I like to compare people to beverages. For instance, my friend Far--you remember her--she's the one who tagged me with this whole insane quirks exercise--is like a warm caramel apple cider: mellow sweet comfort that disguises a surprising tang! (But my husband thinks she's more like peppermint schnapps--sneaks right up and steals your breath away! I don't know--check out her blog and see what you think...  [That is an encouragement to meet Far--not to drink schnapps!])

Okay, that was the easy part. Now for the tagging. Please don't feel obligated to play, but I hope you'll be blessed if you do. So then...(drum roll, please!)'re it: Czech This Out, East Side Professor, Jen & Jan, Forever His, and Truthportraits!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Feast of the Fall

Okay--the garage is painted! Also, the leaves are raked and tucked around the shrubs like warm blankets, our first snow is falling in gentle fat flakes, and just outside my window our first sukkah stands bare and empty but not forgotten. It is yet a reminder of recent reminiscing, family fun, and God's graceful provision. In case you are wondering what a sukkah is, this is my "very last first time" at placing an image in a blog:

Oh good!--it worked!  Still hard to tell what a sukkah is, though?! A sukkah is a tent--a temporary dwelling, like the Israelites lived in during the years they wandered in the wilderness. As God directs it to be constructed, it is a basic, four-sided frame covered with fabric walls and a roof made of four different kinds of tree branches--something like evergreen, deciduous, flowered/fruiting, and flexible (like willow). Our walls--long swaths of purple and blue fabrics I've used for many purposes over the years--are not pictured because we only hung them when we were actually in the sukkah. Our sukkah happens to be "furnished" with benches we made several years ago when a beaver took down one of the largest remaining popple (aspen) trees next to our swamp (he only wanted the leafy branches); but furnishings are not a significant element of a sukkah.

And why do we have such a dwelling in our yard? We are not Israelites; and we are not in need of temporary shelter. We have several tents in much better shape, and have besides, also in our yard, a much more stable, protective, permanent dwelling! Well, throughout this year our family is studying and celebrating biblical holidays, and from sundown on Tuesday, 10/14, until sundown on Wednesday, 10/22, we celebrated the Feast of Booths (aka Feast of Tabernacles). The Feast of Booths is, in part, a Thanksgiving celebration. In Israel it is closely tied to agricultural harvest, and is a time of acknowledging and thanking the Lord for all His provision. There is even supposition that when the pilgrims celebrated the first American Thanksgiving holiday, they were actually celebrating the Feast of Booths. (This is a festival which is to be celebrated still and in the future, as evidenced in Zechariah 14, and the pilgrims were very religious people, committed to following God's ways.) God appointed this feast as a time for people to remember that we dwell here only temporarily, and it is He (not we, "pulling ourselves up by our own boot straps") who faithfully sustains and prospers us just as He sustained the Israelites in the wilderness and then prospered them after He led them into the Promised Land to dwell permanently.

As the subject of biblical holidays has come up in conversation this year, a lot of our listeners have equated them with "Jewish" holidays, but this is a misnomer. Biblical holidays are the feasts and special days God told His people to keep long before there were such things as "Jews" and Jewish customs, rabbis, rabbinical law, tabernacles, or temples. The special days and feasts are delineated in Exodus 20, Leviticus 23, and Deuteronomy 16, when the Lord was beginning to form the Hebrew people into a nation. The holidays are also mentioned in various other places in both the Old and New Testaments. They are celebrations pregnant with purpose, reminding all celebrants of God's credibility and capability as evidenced by His faithful hand on His people in the past. Thus, many Jews (a relatively modern term most widely used to mean "people whose traditional religion is Judaism, and who trace their origins through the ancient Hebrew people of Israel to Abraham") do celebrate these holidays according to customs they've established through tradition, but the roots of "biblical holidays" are pre-Judaism; likewise, many "Jewish" customs and holidays are not found in the Bible, and we are not studying those.

God's appointed feasts also foreshadow the arrival and work of the Messiah. Many Jews are still waiting for a messiah (savior) that meets their expectations, but since we accept Christ as the Messiah, who was born Immanuel (God with us) and sacrificed Himself to redeem us from our debts, we've enjoyed learning how He fulfilled the Messianic intents of the biblical holidays. Christ, in fact, gives the holidays even richer significance.

I know we didn't keep the letter of the Law (for instance, we never quite got our "lulavs" together to wave...), but I think we discovered and embraced the spirit of it. For us, God's appointed time for the Feast of Booths was perfect timing. We were thankful not only to set aside some pleasant days for celebration, but also feasted on rich, nourishing lessons for ourselves and our children. We savored the reminder, permission, and time to reflect. We enjoyed the extra time outdoors in the fall weather. We warmed ourselves at the fire, admired the stars, and imagined the arrival of Immanuel in circumstances in which many scholars believe He was actually born. And we dwelt expectantly on the future, studying about the time when Christ will gather us as a groom gathers his bride, to establish us in our permanent home!

Since we also had time to finish preparing for winter, I have a little more time for blogging again!

Thank You, Lord!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Painting in the Rain

I eased into leaf season feeling free--even responsible!--to pause in my work to admire the Fall scenery... Now, however, we're racing the weather to button up several outdoor projects before snow arrives. I will have to take a short break from my indoor hobbies, including recounting/journaling our vacation... (But I'm NOT done yet!)

The project of highest priority at this time is repainting the garage. We had a lot of scraping to do, particularly on the south side, so the painting had to start over from the bottom up--priming. My husband and son finished that Saturday. Yesterday I shivered in my thin old painting shirt and shorts (the only clothes I have to sacrifice) as we tried to get the first coat of paint on over the primer before it began raining. I was nearing the end of "my" side when light sprinkles began to filter down from the darkening clouds. I picked up my pace, and thought of my friend, Alicia.  

Alicia paints, too. She paints portraits with words. Beautiful portraits! Masterpieces! That is her current career, and one of her ministries. Since it's a career, Alicia has commitments and deadlines, which means that sometimes she even has to paint on what we might call "rainy days."

Is it possible to paint Masterpieces in the rain?! Oh, yes! With the Master, all things are possible! But sometimes it can be a bit tricky. Yesterday I painted for just a little too long, and the rain washed the paint right back off of the last two boards... 

I admire the way Alicia remains on track in the midst of struggles and sad times, but yesterday reminded me to pray for her (and others) who seem so strong that they can weather

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Reunion and Renewal

West of the Salt Flats the "scenery" is gray, greenish gray, and dark greenish gray. Upon studying it, I've found the ecology of juniper and all the various species of sagebrush pretty intriguing, and the geologic story of the silver and gold mines might likewise be interesting. But there is nothing that really attracts us to the state of Nevada.  The fragrance of all the shrubs in bloom is heady, but I still prefer the clean tang of sub-alpine forests and alpine meadows. Nevada's homogenous Great Basin view wore on us.  We slept fast and made haste to leave Reno the next morning. Except for the 15 minutes Daddy spent stuck in the parking garage elevator with a wonderful bag lady who encouraged him that the elevator door stuck shut all the time and you just had to keep pushing the button, our leaving was uneventful...

So then, the "new" California was pretty interesting. First we had a joyful reunion with my parents at the cabin in the shady, forested Sierra Nevada mountains, where my father, as a boy, spent his summers. My parents arrived a day ahead of us (after a hiatus of 30 years or so) and by the time we got there my father had scouted the present-day setting and relocated his favorite childhood haunts. He was completely prepared to take us on an engaging tour, and we were completely engaged! The grandkids especially enjoyed seeing the "old-fashioned refrigerator" (a spring in the front yard), the place where Grandpa built his network of roads for his P.I.E. truck and tractor (in the back yard), the live-trapping grounds for squirrels (a lucrative business for boys back in "the old days"), and the "Leaning Rock" where cousins once built and defended makeshift lean-tos. The kids also went kind of crazy collecting sugar pine cones (the cones are huge, and we brought home a whole garbage bag full!), until our daughter tripped and accidentally touched one that was apparently very precious to a gray squirrel living in the mature pine above it. Boy!--it was a very tall, very straight tree, and he was a very quick scurrier! Friendly little bugger, though. It was quite a sight!  ;~)

One of my favorite things about a forest is the ecology, too. Specifically, I love to see the way God has worked out recycling and regenerating, restoring and renewing. Sometimes His processes are incredible because of their simplicity, and sometimes because they're so complicated... Squirrel caches are a simple process; wildfires, insect infestations, and even disease often represent the more complicated.

Speaking of fires, after thoroughly touring the cabin area for a day we continued our trip by detouring around persistent wildfires and resulting road-closures. Amidst some dreadfully graphic but informative discussion with my husband about why many vehicles (mini-vans like ours, in particular) are not built for the style of mountain driving handed down to me by my ancestors, the vivid imagery and his gentle instruction reformed me as I drove us up steep, narrow, intensely banked, winding roads to the gold mining claims where my mom's family spent THEIR summers. (I wonder if renewing our minds makes us younger? I mean, whether it's God or my husband that enacts it, I feel like a whole new person after I'm re-formed!) There we quickly reminisced, hiked the old ditch, observed bear scat and poison oak closely, and took a two-minute wade in the old skinny-dipping pool. After a quiet family prayer time in the garden of my grandparents, it was nearing dusk as we started the last three-hour leg of our journey to the coast.

Did you know there is still at least one section of paved road in the United States that is a 10% grade?  (If you know of others, please leave me a comment.  I'd prefer to be forewarned!) It's five miles long, very winding, and relentless!  The locals--including trucks--travel it at something close to the speed of light, but we were unfamiliar, unprepared, and it was already dark AND foggy.  Even though I started down it in "L"--the lowest gear possible on an automatic transmission--I smoked our brakes about half a mile from the bottom. As spongy as the brakes suddenly became, we overshot the pull-out but managed to stop alongside of the guardrail, and although the engine/transmission groaned at first, it did manage to back us up into the pull-out...

Whew! Okay, so the Lord blessed us twofold: there was no one behind us when we had to stop and back up, and the brake pads didn't crumble into dust; rather, they worked fine again once they cooled off (20 minutes waiting plus another 20 miles later...). We arrived at the coast in time for "breakfast" at an all-night diner, and fell into bed for a pleasant round of regeneration, restoration, and renewal (i.e., r-e-s-t!).

Heavenly Father, YOU are an engaging, intriguing Father, too!!! Thank You for our parents and their heritage, our legacy.  Thank You for putting in place processes of renewal for our bodies, souls, and minds. There are so many truths we don't yet know, so many erroneous conclusions we've jumped to and believed to a fault. Thank You that You are the Truth, our salvation, and our gentle, loving guide.  Please bind us to Your will, Your truth, and the mind of Christ (which has perfect understanding of truth), and renew our minds. Set us free from the deceptions we've believed! In Jesus' name, amen.