Legion Lake Fire

Pray for safety, folks. And snow. There are a lot of people in harm’s way right now, a lot of displaced individuals, and a lot of firefighters battling this blaze. Wind is something we’re used to out here. But we’ve had some abnormally high winds over the last 2 weeks and, combined with the abnormally dry conditions, the Black Hills area is basically a tinder box. Monday morning, a fire started in Custer State Park when likely a falling tree took out a power line. It originated in the Legion Lake area, but has moved south and east, getting into some rough terrain. The winds died down today, for a much-needed reprieve, but picked up again this evening with a vengeance. This afternoon, the report was that the fire has grown to 4000 acres, but within the last few hours the fire blew up and spread rapidly with the increased wind, jumped the Park boundaries, and is headed towards Hwy. 79. There is about 7% containment. Evacuations are in progress and being monitored for specified areas between Hermosa and Maverick Junction. Pray for safety for the firefighting personnel, those forced to evacuate, and favorable firefighting conditions. We took a couple of drives today to watch the fire, and this evening down towards LH Road we watched in stunned amazement as a hilltop erupted in flames, and another a few minutes later. It sure is something, seeing the reaching, grasping flames, the billowing swirls of smoke. The red glow in our sky, even from down in our hollow, is rather eerie, and knowing that evacuations are happening just a few miles away is a little unnerving. Even 15 miles is too close.

Fire is such a paradox. On the one hand, mankind never could survive without it. We need the many things it provides. It is a vital resource. And yet, on the other hand, when out of hand, it is one of the greatest threats to survival.

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The Theology in a Snowflake

Do you know the spell of a fresh snowfall? That unmistakable something that is in the air and in the blood, the dazzling beauty, intense and subtle and wild and gentle, transforming the world with tiny feathers of frozen water.  I want to stare and stare, and soak in all the delicate magnificence of the silent poetry of a snowfall. It is calming yet exciting, mesmerizing yet energizing. I want to laugh, and run, and dance, and exclaim like a child on Christmas morning. There is a little flame of pure joy in the heart of every snowflake, and millions of them dance through the air at a time, turning our little country hollow into a fairy land. I don’t know what it is about a fresh snowfall, particularly the first couple of the season, but somehow it gets into the blood like a little spark and surge of energy. The cold somehow doesn’t seem as cold. The wind, sweeping up eddies of snow, doesn’t seem as bitter. The blinding white makes me want to open my eyes even wider and take in even more.
IMG_9240e“A million feathers falling down, a million stars that touch the ground. / So many secrets to be found amid the falling snow.” Thus reads a line of one of Enya’s songs, which haunts me every winter. Each of those snowflakes is a tiny heavenly mystery, a tiny theology lesson, each attesting to the creative might of our Creator God and His power over all things great and small. Each is obedient to the laws of nature which He set in place, obedient to the freezing point of water and how water molecules align themselves when cooling, obedient to gravity, obedient to updrafts and downdrafts. Not a single snowflake acts outside the will of the Father. Each is unique. Each is a miracle. Each is a masterpiece. Each by their beauty and uniqueness attests to God’s perfect goodness and graciousness. What a glorious “extra” that God wasn’t at all bound to provide! So much glory poured into one perfect snowflake! And what a transformation is brought about by a whole sky full, loosed upon our Hills! IMG_9246eSo out I ventured this morning into the snowglobe world of whirling, dancing snowflakes, with my camera and the dogs, to wonder and marvel and delight. True to form, the dogs loved it and the cats hated it. The cats sulked while the dogs played. Trixie and Opal snapped and snarled in frisky ferocity, sometimes trotting down the driveway like little first grade girls, then running madcap around the whole yard, out across the dam, tearing around and rolling in the snow.

They clearly enjoyed the snow every bit as much as I did. Although I’m guessing they weren’t struck by the theology lesson.

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The Simplicity of Thanks

Thanksgiving is almost entirely an uncomplicated holiday. I suppose we’ve kind of spoiled that with the Black Friday and Cyber Monday insanity, but Thanksgiving Day itself could hardly be simpler. Compared to the other holidays we observe culturally, such as Easter and Christmas, or even St. Valentine’s and St. Patrick’s Days, all of which have modern traditions and trappings that do something to secularize and obscure the original meaning, Thanksgiving has been relatively unsullied. There is little in the way of complication. Get together, eat together, pray together, laugh together. Its terribly simple. Yesterday, we enjoyed the company of friends and family as we always do, our traditional meal, beautiful pies, homemade bread and jams and jellies, a hike to Hole-in-the-Wall, and a Christmas movie after everyone had left. Sweet and simple. And so typical for us. IMG_1287eIMG_1307eIMG_1306eIn a culture that craves the new experiences, the best foods, the best clothes, the best vacations, where #YOLO and we desire to be the envy of those around us, and to outdo one another in matters that don’t even matter, for one day we seem to set all of that aside in favor of the familiar, the simple, the old-fashioned, the typical, the rustic. What could be less elegant or progressive than turkey and pumpkin pie? Yet that somehow brings us all back to the familiar idea culturally that we have so much to be grateful for. Even those who don’t acknowledge God understand that there is a level of gratitude we owe to someone or somewhere outside of ourselves. I’m just glad I know to whom I give thanks. And it isn’t to me or to some impersonal force of fate.

Gratitude is simple, like turkey and pumpkin pie, and it is the same now as it was in yesteryears. Biblically, we are commanded to give thanks in all circumstances. Period. There are no qualifiers, no ceremonies to perform, no special prayer to pray, no specifications, instructions, or complicated user manual. Just the command to give thanks. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18) Not just to give thanks when the table is laden with food and my needs have been met. Not just when I am comfortable and making as much money as I think I need. Not just when I’m certain of where I’m going and what I’m doing and I’ve got everything under control. Not just when my vehicle is reliable and my relationships are enjoyable. Not just when life is good and I feel admired and needed. My gratitude can’t be put on hold until I’m married and living the life I thought I’d be living by the time I turned 27. I can’t put my gratitude on hold until medical bills are paid, my savings reaches a certain amount, and I feel like things are going the way they should be. My gratitude cannot be conditional. If it is…then it isn’t gratitude. It is simply a reasonable response to a good thing. But my gratitude has to be forthcoming when I am hungry, tired, and grouchy after a long day of work, and still have to fill up my fuel tank on the way home and it is 20 degrees, dark, and the wind is whipping. My gratitude has to be forthcoming when I am uncomfortable and feel sheepish because I’m not doing what most 27-year-olds do with their life and I kind of wonder if I missed something. My gratitude has to be forthcoming when I feel like I’ve failed and when I know that I’ve failed. When I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing and life feels out of control. When I feel belittled and unnecessary, depressed and anxious. When my vehicle is unreliable, my relationships are discordant, when life feels like a drag. When I’m still single at 27, and those little dreams I thought for sure would be reality by this time just aren’t coming true. When I’ve got medical bills, taxes to pay, and a bank account that isn’t as full as it seems like it should be. We each have those little things that pile up like grime on a window, obscuring and complicating our sight, those things that eat into our joy and nag our hearts, turning our thoughts away from Christ. We have to intentionally turn our thoughts to Him, trust Him, and then give thanks.

Luke 16:10 says, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much.” I think we can also say that one who gives thanks in very little also gives thanks in much. We cultivate a heart attitude of thankfulness by thanking God even for the mundane, normal, boring, simple things. Those are no less gifts from Him than are the big things – the marriage, the new baby, the new house, the life-saving operation. God is the giver of all good gifts, even the things we think no one wants to hear about when you’re sharing the thing you’re thankful for. I’m thankful for the air we breathe, the ground we walk on, the sky above our heads. I’m thankful for my family. For my church. For my cat sleeping on the arm of the chair. For flannel pajama pants. For hot tea. For my mattress on the floor of the loft bedroom I share with my sister. All of these extras that God didn’t need to create or facilitate, much less to gift to me for my edification and delight. The attitude of gratitude isn’t cultivated by waiting until those obvious moments when it is culturally appropriate to give thanks. Thank God for the glass of water you just drank, the bed you’re looking forward to, the cold cereal you eat for breakfast. Thank God for His sustaining power even in the things we are too callous to think about more than every once in awhile, but by which His power is displayed in ways we can’t even come close to comprehending: the balancing and continuous sustaining of our solar system, the water cycle, our supply of oxygen, gravity. Start with things we, to our shame, too often take for granted. I’m thankful for the gift of salvation. I’m thankful that this life isn’t all that there is. I’m thankful that I know there is a purpose behind all the trials, the major ones, the tragedies, as well as the little niggling trials like sales tax and singleness. I’m thankful that I know and serve and am loved by a sovereign God who loves those who are His, and does all things for their good and His glory. I’m thankful.

If your heart loves the LORD and your desire is to honor Him, there is so much to give thanks for, even when life doesn’t seem like it has much to offer. Over and over in the Bible, God’s people are commanded to give thanks, sometimes “because He is good,” and other times, simply because He is. And we, too, can give thanks, simply because HE IS. For no other reason. He is. He is. He is. Give thanks.

It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

Meet Saber

We have another little member of our cat family to introduce to the world. Meet Saber. He looks harmless and innocent, but he is not. IMG_1227eThis is another one of Kashka’s kittens, from her summer litter. She had four beautiful children, and three of them were adopted away. But not Saber. Which is a good thing. Because as irritating and obnoxious as Saber is, we had all fallen in love with him. IMG_1223ecHe has a motorboat purr, dreamy amber eyes, and a cuddlebug personality. He loves affection. Until today, which was his first solo day outside, we would have to shut him up in the office when we were away from home or at night, since he has a proclivity towards destruction. If any cat was capable of arson, Saber would be. He let us all know that he hated being by himself by howling and yowling as I’ve never heard a cat howl or yowl. And not just any howl or yowl. “Yow-OW-OW-owwwwww!” Seriously. And, unfortunately, because he is so much fun to torment, we occasionally shut him up just to listen to him yowl. And then we let him out again and cuddle him to death. He climbs the beams in our cabin, terrorizes his half-siblings, terrorizes us, then comes and begs for loving, bumping his pink little nose against our faces with his motorboat purr reverberating peacefully.

Cats are such paradoxical creatures. Loving and sweet and terrifying all at once. One moment, the most destructive, active creatures. The next moment, the quietest pictures of peace and tranquility.

Frosted Morning

November in the Black Hills begins what becomes my favorite season: winter. We still have a month to go until the calendar says it is winter, but we’ve already had mornings where the thermometer reads 10 chilly degrees Fahrenheit, we’ve had snow, frosted sunrises, and cold-chapped hands. We’ve had a couple of “cold spells” and some persistent snow cover. The last few days of fall will run their course in winter-like chill and spring-like warmth. I love this time of year.