On This Day of Thanks

How wonderful it is to have a day set aside from work and the normal routine to gather with family and friends to remember our blessings! For Christians in particular, Thanksgiving Day should be poignant and meaningful, in a way that goes beyond the sweet platitude of “an attitude of gratitude.” We must not fail to acknowledge the Person to whom we are giving thanks. We have so many things to thank God for. We thank him for family, for friends, for our church homes. We thank him for freedoms. We thank him for religious liberties that we still are able to enjoy here. We thank him for the blessing of a good job, of financial security, for good weather and good harvest. We give thanks for the sumptuous feast before us on the table, for the familiar faces of family and friends around the table with us. We thank him for health and gifts of prosperity. We thank him for successes. These are all things for which to thank God, by all means.
IMG_8464But there is a problem. We often spend our Thanksgiving cultivating gratitude for the temporal, the ephemeral. There’s nothing wrong with giving thanks for the temporary; after all every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17), so indeed, give thanks. But some, many, don’t enjoy many or any of those things that I listed. “What in the world do they have to be thankful for?” we may think in sorrow.  Or, “What in the world do I have to be thankful for?” This is wrong thinking. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthian church proclaimed this: Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (II Corinthians 4:16-18) If we know Christ and have the hope of Heaven, we have everything to be thankful for. Everything, that is, being God himself. For if we are in Christ, isn’t he our everything? And if he isn’t, shouldn’t he be? Circumstances of life may devastate us. Thanksgiving Day may be a day of heartbreak for many. But with an eternal hope, a hope that is realized beyond the grave, beyond pain and sorrow and hardship and trials, how much we have to be thankful for! All of this life is so temporary and so short. All the sorrow (and all the joy!) we experience in this life will be nothing compared with the resurrection joy, the eternal joy, the Heavenly joy of our future home. IMG_8502Tomorrow we could be stripped of our family by death. But the command and truth remain: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever (1 Chronicles 16:34). This sentiment was sung by Asaph and other ministering musicians appointed by King David to bless the Lord before God’s people, and this sentiment is echoed again and again throughout the Psalms. With this as a model, we should thank God, for he is good. Really, nothing else matters, except that God is God, and he is good. The secure job could be taken away: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. You or your loved one could receive a diagnosis of cancer or another terrifying illness: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Your small business could fail, cattle prices plummet destructively, crops could be destroyed by hail or drought, your home taken away through fire or flood: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Your spouse could die, your children could turn away from their faith, your wife could miscarry: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. My point isn’t to sound a bell of doom and mourning, or to make light of any tragedy. These are events that devastate families on a daily basis. The early church itself faced grief, persecution, loss, death, trials of kinds we in America can only imagine, and many trials we can too easily imagine. And yet they were commanded: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). And only can we do this through the hope of what is to come, the hope of purpose beyond what we can see with our eyes. For we are also told, Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). And in Isaiah: He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces (Isaiah 25:8). 
IMG_8533The James 1 passage continues: Every good and perfect gift is from above….He chose to give us birth through the word of truth…. (James 1:17-18). This is the manifestation of his love toward us, that While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). We are to thank God for his glorious Gift of Salvation through the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God in the Flesh, God Incarnate, the Son of Mary, the Son of God. This is truly the most glorious Gift! God created mankind to glorify himself, and for mankind to enjoy fellowship with God. In Genesis 3, we are told that he walked in the Garden in the cool of the day. He fellowshipped with his creatures Adam and Eve in the lush and plentiful Garden he had created. Sin destroyed this intimate fellowship, but through the life and death of Christ, we are able to again experience fellowship with God on a spiritual level now, and one day we will actually stand before him, and come to live in a world without death or pain! And this gift is a free gift, offered to everyone. IMG_8535Thanksgiving in a Biblical sense implies a proper understanding of our place before God, and God’s place above us. We are to replace the old pattern of our sin lives with a proper understanding of our place before God. Paul writes to the church in Ephesus: But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:3-4). Our lives now are to exhibit this precious fellowship with God through Christ – With the help of the Holy Spirit, we are to weed these things from our lives, not to earn our way to Heaven, but because they are out of place in the lives of those who have been brought into fellowship with God. And that precious fellowship is exhibited in us pouring forth thanksgiving. How simple, yet how difficult. Thanksgiving. IMG_8494On this day of Thanksgiving, give thanks for all of the blessings you enjoy – God truly gives lavish gifts, the greatest being the gift of Salvation. If you are mourning rather than rejoicing, if you are struggling, experiencing loss, remember that God is good, and his love endures forever – Take comfort in the hope we have in Christ. Give thanks for the visible blessings, but don’t forget the eternal blessings.IMG_8550Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Laura Elizabeth

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Places to See | Theodore Roosevelt National Park

As soon as I heard that there were wild horses up at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, I knew I wanted to make a trip up there. It turned out that we could make the trip while our sister Jess was here visiting for a week from Illinois, so we dug out our camping equipment, made hasty plans, and piled everything into the pickup, ready to camp in the South Unit of the Park. IMG_6838Half of the pickup bed was filled with bedding, since it was supposed to be in the 30s the night we were up there. It took about five hours to make the drive, due to high winds, and we arrived after dark at the Cottonwood campsite. We set our tent up by the light of the truck headlights, since we failed to bring a working lantern with us; we splinted a broken tent pole with an extra tent stake and duct tape, since we’d managed to let the tent blow down the night before when we were “airing it out.” Of course, it started to sprinkle, which is par for the course on an Adrian camping trip, and we made a tiny fire in the campsite grill, enough to heat up some soup. We finally piled into the tent, and huddled in our blankets to play cards, listening to the wind and rain picking up and wondering if the tent would blow over again. IMG_6832It didn’t. After a chilly night, we rolled out of our blankets the next morning, ready to tackle the day. Jess and Sarah whipped up some breakfast while Anna and I packed up our tent, and we all headed out to see the sights of the Park.IMG_6880The 70,000 acres of Theodore Roosevelt National Park are home to abundant wildlife, including feral horses, buffalo, antelope, and deer, with the Little Missouri River crisscrossing the badlands. Theodore Roosevelt lived out there in the 1880s, and the breathtaking beauty makes one wonder why he ever left. Unlike the South Dakota badlands, which are bare and treeless, the North Dakota badlands are thickly covered with juniper trees and scrub juniper and other coarse foliage. The November landscape was muted, but still colorful with the hues of the autumn grasslands and the brilliant sky. The views were spectacular! We drove the 36-mile scenic loop, stopping at just about every pullout and walking where we could. We wanted to hike, but we had Jess’s dog with us, and dogs aren’t allowed on trails in the park. So be forewarned. IMG_6936After probably 10 miles of seeing no wildlife, we started to wonder if we’d leave without ever seeing the horses, but we came around a bend in the road and in a sprawling valley, still faintly green, there were five or six beauties grazing quietly. We only saw one other small bunch, but it was worth it.
IMG_6960History lingers on up there. The ranch house for the Peaceful Valley Ranch is stalwart in the sagebrush, and the various structures surrounding the house seem to have been born of the prairie. Fingerprints of the settlers and ranchers still leave their impression on the landscape, in the subtle way of the Old West. Peaceful Valley RanchWe picnicked just south of Medora at Sully Creek State Park, and were able to do some hiking there along the Maah Daah Hey trail with the dog. The trail spans some 100 miles of North Dakota, and we enjoyed a couple of miles of it overlooking the Little Missouri and farms and ranches nestled in the valleys. IMG_7028The soil was loose and sandy, and the rocks were so different from the rocks in the Hills. In the sunlight, trails in the Black Hills are dazzling, sparkling with quartz and mica and other minerals. In North Dakota, the soil was sandy and dull, without a glimmer of quartz or mica. We followed the trail in and out of the wind, from sheltered ravine to exposed hilltop. Again, the views were stunning. IMG_7010The wilderness of North Dakota is otherworldly, with the pale jutting ridges of the Badlands, the strange forests of juniper, the sandy soil, and the quiet of emptiness, but an emptiness so full, it sings.

Laura Elizabeth
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Whiskers on Kittens

“Whiskers on kittens” really are some of my favorite things. And finally Ember’s and Coal’s whiskers are growing back after their over-zealous mama chewed them off. It wasn’t as noticeable on Ember, but coal-black Coal had beautiful, long, white whiskers and when they were gone, chewed down to stubs, it was quite noticeable.
IMG_6792Watching baby creatures grow up is no end to delightful. The clever little wretches have figured out how to manipulate certain people (Anna and myself) into giving them the attention they want when they want it, by climbing trees very capably, then meowing like there’s no tomorrow as soon as they “want down.” Give me a break.IMG_6781IMG_6777Coal in particular has also learned the joys of baiting the dogs. The girls and I were singing on the Miner’s Cabin porch yesterday, and Kashka and Coal joined us. So did Jess’s dog, Baby. Coal came and sat on the wood box with me, but when Baby came up to say hello, he growled and puffed himself up and arched his back and gave an open-mouthed hiss. Quite the little tiger. No one needs to teach a cat how to (pretend to) hate dogs. They just do. And they know how to milk the drama for all its worth. If the dog isn’t close enough for them to reasonably react, they’ll get close enough to the dog to reasonably react, and then react for all they’re worth. No one teaches a cat to do that. They just know.

It makes me think of little human babies – Some people try to claim that all human beings are basically good. Anyone who says that must never have worked with children. I don’t know how anyone can look at a plump, rosy-cheeked, perfectly-taken-care-of baby screaming in outright anger and not be convinced that there’s a sinful little soul inside that innocent baby exterior! No one has to teach a baby to be a sinner. We just are.IMG_6821Anyways, I’m glad Coal’s whiskers grew back. He looked pretty silly without them.

Laura Elizabeth