A Whole Forest of Trees

There is a mystery about the oak tree – Something about it captures the imagination. Seeing how it has been woven into cultures worldwide fascinates me. What is it about this tree? Oaks serve as national symbols of many countries, including the United States. Oak trees stand for perseverance and strength, for obvious reasons, and their utility is highly sought. But it isn’t just the strength and the utility. They have been woven into the religious fibers of pagan cultures, Celtic, Greek, Nordic, and others, and are considered to be associated with various gods and religious rites.
IMG_2634Oak trees are plentiful in the Black Hills. These stubborn, wizened trees grow in thick groves in low places, some towering tall, others stunted and blighted but as tenacious as ever. One very special burr oak is just a few miles down the road from us, the Council Oak, a several-hundred-year-old tree that served as a meeting place for the battling Sioux and Crow Indians in the 1700s. To have served as a meeting place more than 200 years ago, it must have been of considerable size even then. And now, it is awe-inspiring.

The pagan cultures can marvel at the oak and adopt it as a symbol of their religious beliefs. And as a Christian, I can’t help but be struck by how close they come, in one sense, yet how far. The wonder of the pagans evidences, I think, the innate knowledge that only a Creator God could have crafted something as marvelous as the oak tree. Consider, for instance, the polytheistic mythology of the Greeks and Romans. They were overwhelmed by the beauty of the world they lived in and, being pagan nations that did not know God, they assigned to the wonders of the world their own created deities, to explain to themselves the marvels they witnessed. Even so, druids performing pagan rites chose “sacred” oak groves as the place of their activities. Oaks were the trees of Thor and of Zeus. These cultures were so close, on one hand, recognizing something glorious and incomprehensible in the world around them, yet were so far off in attributing the glory to Whom it was due.
IMG_1810In Isaiah 61, the Lord proclaims this beautiful mission fulfilled in His coming:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
    he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord‘s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.

May Christ’s Children truly be oaks of righteousness, in this storm of political and social upheaval, in the torrent of temptation that assaults us daily, in this time when all vigilance is required. May we seek righteousness, for the glory of Christ. May we glorify Him in proclaiming the truth. May we be like oaks, unshaken, gracious, courageous, and tenacious, and may our words and actions and witness be like the treasure of the acorn, fruitful. For as wonderful as the oak tree is, how miraculous is the acorn.
IMG_1620Just as Abraham’s seed contained the whole world of Redeemed, both those who are God’s Chosen by birth (the nation of Israel) and those who are God’s Chosen by blood (all Christians), contained within the tiny shell of an acorn is a whole forest of trees. A whole forest of trees.

Laura Elizabeth

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Relics of the West

It is impossible to study the history of the American West without being impressed with two things: barbed wire and the Texas longhorn.
IMG_3631The longhorn is a breed of Spanish origin that was widespread in the American south. During the Civil War, ranches in Texas were shorthanded and consequently the herds of cattle on the open ranges were unmanaged and essentially went wild. The cattle reproduced prolifically for years. After the war, then, these wild, unbranded cattle were free for the taking, and were rounded up by gutsy cowboys and driven north, to the goldfields and boom towns in the West, along well-worn, legendary cattle trails, and were also sold in eastern markets. IMG_3534The invention of barbed wire in the 1860s and the widespread use of it in the 1880s changed the landscape of ranching, putting an end to the days of the open range. Violent feuds and range wars raged throughout the West as a result, and a series of conflicts known as the Fence Cutting Wars were a last-ditch effort to preserve the open range. IMG_3626The barbed wire has stayed and has become a necessary part of ranching, though the longhorns haven’t. There are a number of ranchers out here who keep small herds of these beautiful creatures, and it is always a delight to see them. Such magnificent animals.

Laura Elizabeth

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Too Much Cuteness

Sometimes cuteness is completely overwhelming. I scooped this little buddy up and flipped him over on his back, expecting him to protest. Instead, he fell asleep! This is the little guy who would roll over on his back at two weeks old, so he could have his belly scratched. img_3495smallAdorable.

Laura Elizabeth

Joyful Girl

One of the things I love most about Sarah is her joy. She is blessed by physical beauty, yes, but Sarah’s joy is a bright and infectious energy that just bubbles and sparkles. She has her down days, like the rest of us, but more than most she has a native delight and sense of optimism. Sometimes we tease her for her endless optimism (think Jane from Pride and Prejudice), but it really shouldn’t be made fun of – As a Christian, optimism should be a given. As redeemed children of God, saved by the blood of Christ, we have absolutely no excuse for anything but optimism! IMG_3363Sarah is blessed with a delightful sense of humor – What a gift. Life is often difficult and frustrating, but the gift of humor is a beautiful thing. Often does our time spent together involve reveling in the joy of laughter and humor, laughing at ourselves and at one another, laughing at humorous or awkward experiences we’ve had, laughing until we cry and are breathless with giggling. IMG_3325If you’ve never been blessed by the sound of her laugh, I’m sorry for you. Some people attempt to exercise self-control when they laugh, which really is kind of a bummer. Laughter isn’t supposed to be something that is constrained or put through a filter. That strips all the fun out of it! And there is nothing more fun or infectious than Sarah’s laugh when she’s not thinking about it – It really comes from the heart, or straight from her funny bone.
IMG_3240And behind her joyful and often publicly quiet exterior, there is a heart of gold. I receive so much encouragement from our conversations, as we delve into life’s issues and struggles. She is endlessly encouraging. Her spiritual maturity is beyond her years. She has the wisdom to be able to take struggles in stride, the creativity to think outside the box, the faith to be unconventional, and the humility to think nothing of it.
IMG_3222I’m so blessed by my sisters. Every once in awhile, when Sarah is performing her rendition of the “Hallelujah Chorus,” I wonder what it would be like to be an only child, but overall, having sisters is a wonderful thing. A gift from God.

Laura Elizabeth

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Meet Coal

This little darling is Coal, Ember’s big brother. He is as rambunctious as she is, but he has a cuddly side, which is awfully endearing.
IMG_3143He isn’t a particularly vocal cat, and at the age of about 2 weeks old, he would roll over on his back to have his fat little belly rubbed. He is still just as roly-poly as can be, his little tummy taut as a drum, and his little round face as perfectly kitten as I’ve ever seen. His crazy uncle, Luna, is what we consider to be “the perfect specimen of a cat.” I would wager you’ve never seen as handsome a cat as Luna. But Coal is going to take after his uncle, we think.

Laura Elizabeth

Metamorphosis

There is a wonderful transformation that takes place this time of year, changing what is common into what is precious, from emerald and black to crimson and gold. It was the rumor of gold that first brought the white man into the Black Hills in the 1870s, late in the era of the gold rush. But whatever precious metals they found while digging in the ground and panning in the streams, these riches outstrip them all, though they fade in a mere handful of days. It is the metamorphosis of autumn.IMG_2386The miracle of autumn is one which I am firmly convinced is entirely for our joy and God’s glory. God didn’t have to create the bounties of autumn color – The trees could simply turn brown and lose their leaves. But God in His sovereign goodness gave us the tapestry of the seasons, including the fleeting glories of autumn.
IMG_2686The Hole-in-the-Wall trail is festive in gold and green and crimson, the entire trail lined with hardwood trees in a mighty array of autumn colors. The higher hillsides are pine and so never change, but in the ravines the aspens and burr oaks and other hardwood trees and shrubs flourish, and are now painted their various hues of gold and crimson and yellow.
IMG_2763When the evening sun shines from over the mountains, the aspens are lit up like torches, glowing and burning. Rocky hillsides are illuminated with the flaming color of the trees. Driving along our already beautiful highways, my breath is swept away, when around a corner is suddenly revealed a golden hillside, or glowing ravine, or a roadside lined with brilliant color.IMG_2545I took a drive  down Rockerville Road, and explored a couple of side roads. The sights were glorious, and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud in delight! Springtime is wonderful, summer is rambunctious, but to catch the leaves in the prime of their autumn color is pure bliss. IMG_2862 Roadside wildflowers are a riot of reds and golds, with a touch of purple here and there. Those, too, will soon fade, and all that will be left is the memory of the color, and the simple elegance of the dried stems and flower heads.IMG_2340Now, I understand that the color we revel in here isn’t the spectacular display of color we used to enjoy in Illinois, or the color that is legendary further east. But the subtlety of the transformation of the Hills is part of the allure. The mystery of autumn is heightened by its very temporariness. We aren’t two days into autumn and the colors are already fading from their peak three days ago. What a gift, to be able to enjoy such beauty, even for so short a time. IMG_2548For soon, and even now, the color will fade, the gold will glimmer away, and the life of summer will become the chill rest of winter.
IMG_3103Medieval alchemists were fascinated by the mythological concept of the transformation of common metals into gold. But what a delight, the alchemy of the seasons, the metamorphosis of the world around us, God’s created order that simply shouts His glory, and the Gospel story itself! What more wonderful metamorphosis, than the transformation of wretched sinners into redeemed Believers in Christ! Not only the tiny parable in the gold of autumn, taking that which is common and making it precious, but the larger parable of death and renewal, of decay and new life, pictured in the metamorphosis of the seasons.

Laura Elizabeth

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