2017 | In Hindsight

And just like that the New Year was here, and 2017 became a memory. I can’t believe we are already 2 weeks into January! And it is way too easy for those memories of the previous year to be filed away and not fully appreciated. There are two things that I find helpful and edifying at the start of a new year. One is to look ahead with hope and optimism and make a list of goals for the year. The other is to look back over the last year and count the blessings. It is not our natural inclination, but it is so good for the heart and soul.

2017 was another year of changes or transitions. It seems that ever since I graduated highschool, life has been one transition after another. Just when I think I’ve settled in to a routine, things change dramatically. Highschool to the junior college, junior college to university, university to South Dakota, odd job to odd job, then starting a small business, and starting another small business, this to that, one wild idea to another wild idea. And God has been so good through it all. There has been fear involved, fear about what could happen, fear of failure, fear of looking like a fool – But God is God and I am not, and His plans will not fail. Mine might – So my businesses could tank. We’ll see. But His plans won’t. So if my businesses tank, then for some reason that is what God has planned for my good and His glory. (That said, I do hope they don’t tank.)

2017 was a year of adventures, some smaller, some bigger, and seeing new places. I can safely say I’ve never experienced a year with this many adventures or this much traveling! The biggest adventure, of course, was my Alaska and Yukon trip, and the joyous time spent with my extended family up there in the Last Frontier. On a number of smaller trips, I got to see Boulder, CO ( for a photography workshop), Bozeman, MT (for a Biblical counseling conference), and Douglas, WY (for the total eclipse), all three places I’d never been before, and Montana and Colorado states I’d never visited before. It is about time I visited my neighbors. The eclipse was, of course, a huge highlight – what a divine, majestic, wonderful event! What a testimony to God’s goodness, creativity, and power. And camping in the bed of my truck was just plain fun.

2017 was a year of growth and encouragement. My piano studio grew, which was a joy. Teaching is something I always adamantly said I’d never do, and ironically God is now using teaching piano to transition me out of full time work at the clinic to full time self employment – and He, amazingly, has given me a contentment, an enjoyment of it, and even a love of it. While I can say with some certainty that teaching is not what I want to do full time, or even long term, it is something that is useful, productive, and is allowing me to continue to think outside the box. And then photography – I had my first official clients in 2017, and did a number of portrait sessions for friends as well. Again, what a blessing to have found something I love that is able to provide some income! I am optimistic that this endeavor will continue to grow! I was also delighted to see an article of mine published in Country Magazine, another little boost of encouragement, for those times when I look at what I studied in college (music) and where I want to be or what I want to be doing (not music), and can get a little discouraged wondering what my options are, short of going back to school. I’m learning that I do have options – I just have to think outside the box.

2017 was also a year of admonitions and humbling. I was reminded again and again how much I need my Savior, and how little I often value Him, how often my attention is trapped by other things and my heart tries to put something else on the throne that belongs to Jesus Christ alone. While those are never comfortable facts to be confronted with, on the one hand, I am so thankful that Jesus doesn’t give up on me when my love for Him grows cold. Instead, He puts people and books and sermons and struggles in my way, to remind me, to admonish me, to humble me, and to draw me back towards Him.

I look forward to 2018 and the plans God has in store for this New Year.

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How Much I’d Miss

A lot is sacrificed for the sake of convenience. And certain conveniences, I’m more than happy to enjoy. For instance, a vehicle that runs and actually has heat in the winter (no air conditioning in the summer, I’m afraid) is a convenience I enjoy. And having a piano in my house rather than in the Miner’s Cabin, that’s a convenience I enjoy. Having quick access to hiking trails, that’s a convenience I enjoy. But I’m afraid that living close to town is not a convenience I enjoy. It isn’t a convenience I want to enjoy. And I am so thankful to God for having gifted me this opportunity to live in the place I love the most. This was my drive to Custer yesterday to teach piano. Highway 244 is scenic already, but with clouds and fog drifting in and out of the spires and trees, shrouding and uncovering the landscape, it had a feeling of mystery. It is a 45-minute drive that is never a chore. In moments like these, with views like these, with winding highways and granite spires lost in the fog and soaring views of valleys and further peaks, that I am drawn in thankfulness to the reality of God’s goodness. He created all of this beauty! He didn’t need to, there was no requirement that he do so, and yet he did. And I am so thankful for inconvenience. It would be convenient to live closer to a town, no doubt about it. It would be convenient if I tried to fit myself into a normal 9-5 job routine, rather than doing multiple things on a part-time basis. It would be convenient if I didn’t have to drive a minimum of 35 minutes one way to get to church or work or Bible study or the store. But how much I’d miss. How much I’d terribly miss.

Resilience

An early morning drive to enjoy the dawn and to photograph the sunrise in the Park didn’t turn out exactly as planned, but no drive with a camera in hand and eyes to see God’s goodness is ever really wasted. Towards Hermosa, I drove into a large fog bank, completely obscuring the sunrise, and the fog slowly moved west, coming to a stop against the rim of the Hills. The Wildlife Loop was bright and clear, though banks of fog could be seen hanging in the trees towards the east. The beautiful Wolf Moon, waning now, hung in the western sky like a pearl. IMG_0272IMG_0407eThere was an element of sadness driving through the Park and seeing the destruction left in the wake of the Legion Lake Fire. The snow whitewashed over much of the evidence of the fire, but the blackened hillsides, the charred or browned trees, and the smell of ash gave it away. I have to admit, it was worse than I thought it would be. Parts of the Park will look very different, with the standing dead, charred and blackened, scarring the landscape. Once the needles fall off the dead trees, it will be even more striking. The torched trees, blackened from root to crown and completely denuded, were grotesque against the snow, with yellowed trees on this side and that, somehow having escaped being torched. In places, the fire had eaten through fence rails like acid, though other stretches of fenceline were untouched. Lots of manpower will go into repairing those fences.IMG_0288eIMG_0398eIMG_0381eIMG_0354eeHow amazing: fire, while destructive on the one hand, is one of the means of renewal that God has put in place for the maintaining and flourishing of this world. Change is just a part of life. While everyone is fond of Custer State Park and we’re used to it looking a certain way, that just isn’t how nature works. It isn’t meant to stay the same. Change is one of the ways in which equilibrium is maintained. There is a natural ebb and flow, a cycle of life and death and life again, a cycle of destruction and renewal, which occurs on the micro scale, as well as with large-scale natural disasters. I know that the forest will renew itself or will change, and life will go on. I also know that come springtime the Park is going to be greener and more vibrant than it has been in years, with all the old grass and underbrush burned away. It will be a sight to behold!IMG_0415eAnd even now, in the meantime, life goes on. The buffalo were mostly in the corrals, feeding on hay, since their food supply was drastically affected and they will require hay for the rest of the season. A handful of youngsters frisked and played, chasing one another, though the solemn buffalo look never left their faces. Buffalo are such serious-looking critters. A few prairie dogs popped out of their little holes in the ground, and a sassy squirrel raced up and down a dead tree. The tiniest of creatures, happily going about their little lives in the wake of a deadly fire. IMG_0469eDon’t under estimate the sheer resilience of God’s Creation. He has equipped it well.

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The Real Middle of Nowhere

Although we’re a good ways outside of town and are, by a lot of people’s standards, “in the middle of nowhere,” you haven’t seen the middle of nowhere until you’ve driven to Lusk, Wyoming. That is truly the middle of nowhere. For miles and miles, there is nothing except for Mule Creek Junction, and on either side of the highway there are miles and miles of beautiful, open, desolate rangeland, low buttes and rock spires, miles and miles of fenceline and windbreaks, dry washes, miles of road with the occasional mailbox and ranch signpost.IMG_0173eIMG_0188eIMG_0165eWith not a mountain in sight, Lusk sits at just above 5000 feet above sea level. The beauty of the high plains. And that region is glorious. I’m a forest and mountains person, so I wouldn’t choose to live in the Lusk area over, say, the Buffalo area, but that area is beautiful, breathtaking country. Literally breathtaking, today, with the famous Wyoming wind whipping the snow into a flurry, streaming it across the highway, billowing from drifts and hilltops, working its magic upon the landscape.IMG_0209eEven a day drive to Lusk and back to pick up a friend is a wonderful opportunity to marvel at God’s creative powers. I find that they are best viewed in the middle of nowhere.

 

Wolf Moon

A gorgeous supermoon has graced our first night of the New Year. And God blessed us with clear skies to be able to marvel at it, hauntingly beautiful, as it rose up like an angel over the snow covered hills, casting long, blue shadows, lighting the landscape silver. The sky, velvety dark, sparkled with the light of what few stars could be seen through the veil of moonlight. Orion leaned into the moon’s glow, and the Great Bear climbed the steep-tilted northern sky. The moon was blinding. The snow-covered trees, the snowpacked road, the rolling white hills, the mysterious shadows – they somehow softened the sub-zero chill. The half-mile walk down from Grandma’s in the moonlight was enchanting.And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so.  And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.  And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:14-18)

All that God created was good. So good. And on the night of this beautiful Wolf Moon, the nearest supermoon of 2018, marking the beginning of this fresh New Year, I catch a glimpse of what that original goodness must have been like.

 

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Warmth

What a miracle fire is. I know there is a scientific explanation for the how and why of fire, but my mind can’t see it as anything other than a miracle brought about by the mind and will of a creative God. This miracle, which is intangible and without substance yet injures terribly if touched, provides so many of our most basic needs. This deadly, destructive miracle of energy is necessary to our survival. We’ve figured out other ways to harness heat, but fire is still the most basic form, and not too long ago was alone what provided light and warmth, a way to cook food, a way to power trains and to test the air deep in mine shafts. Imagine a life without it and what it provides.

And how beautiful it is. The dance of fire, the glow, the heat – they’re spell-binding. The tiniest flame of a candle, or a crackling fire in a wood stove – what beauty. The tinselly rustle as a log slides into the embers, the golden lights dancing on the ragged edges of the bark, the deep, mesmerizing glow in the hot spot beneath the logs…I could watch the flames for hours.

With the cold weather we’ve had lately, our cove heating has really been struggling. When daytime temperatures are around 25 degrees, the cove heating does fine, but when we’ve got temps of zero and below, that’s another story. Even with the temp set at 70 degrees during the day, it hardly would get above 62 degrees inside. But with Dad’s help we checked the stove for safety issues (since it hasn’t been used in probably a decade), got a load of firewood and pine cones brought down, and as I type I’m feeling the delightful warmth radiate from the stove. For the first time in awhile, it is actually too warm in the cabin, and I’m comfortable without layers and layers of clothing and blankets! IMG_9918eHow wonderful to be warm indoors with winter running wild just beyond the walls.

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