Settled in with my aunt and uncle near Sutton, Alaska – We got in after 2am, and I managed to catch up on my sleep this morning, at least a little bit. It has been 12 years since my first (and only) trip to Alaska, and it is wonderful to be back. This picture is from my trip back in 2005, and it would be the view out the livingroom window right now, if Amulet Peak wasn’t shrouded in cloud. The elevation of this mountain is 8200 feet, but it is obvious looking at it that the elevation gain from the foot of the mountain to the summit would be significant – most of that elevation. Compare this to Harney Peak in the Black Hills, the highest summit east of the Rockies, which is elevation 7200 feet, with a relative elevation gain of only about 2000 feet when climbing it, since the whole Black Hills sits at probably an average of 3000 feet above sea level (my number, not sure what the actual average would be). Below the mountain can be seen, just barely, the Matanuska River, upstream of which is the Matanuska Glacier. The snow-capped peaks, mountaintops buried in cloud, the massive, soaring mountainsides, sweeping valleys, gleaming rivers, and glorious vistas – this is an amazing part of the country. And I’ve got nearly a month to enjoy it.
Right before our long fall ended and winter began, we had one glorious day of 60 degree weather and sunshine, clear blue skies and only the slightest breeze. The Johnson family and I went out to Falling Rock along Hwy. 44 west of Rapid City to get family pictures. What a beautiful spot! Junipers and pine, expansive views, rock outcroppings, and golden sunlight.The Johnsons are a special family to me, for a number of reasons. We all go to the same church and share sweet fellowship with our fellow brothers and sisters there on a weekly basis. Dave is my boss, and what a joy it has been to work for a brother in Christ. His wife Teresa is a dear friend of mine and I look up to her very much as my sister in Christ. They have raised a wonderful family, and all six of them have such a love for their Savior.I love taking portraits of couples who have been married for more than 20 years. What a testimony a strong marriage is to our good God! I have shot a few weddings and young couples, but I really think I enjoy the longer-married couples the best, even if it is just a handful of pictures in the middle of a family photoshoot. There is a unity and belonging there, a beautiful blending of two souls, a true sense of companionship born of time and hardship and joy. Siblings. Another one of God’s greatest gifts. They are the first friends we ever have and hopefully are always the friends we hold the closest and keep the longest! Homeschoolers really do have it the best, in this regard. Day in and day out, we share life with our siblings. It isn’t optional, when your siblings are your classmates, your roommates, your playdates, your partners in crime….etc. God has gifted the Johnson family in so many ways, individually as well as familially. Not only are they good natured and personable and pleasant, but they have been gifted with skills and talents which they share generously with others. They enjoy and share their musical abilities, their creative talents, their hospitality, their medical skills and training, and literally share their home and and their lives. They’re also quite the handsome family. And wow, the Johnson women have gorgeous eyes. But all of that – their talents, their skills, their hospitality and personalities and giving – really would be nothing, except for the beauty of Christ in them, individually as well as as a family.
Mom and Dad have been asking me to do portraits for them for awhile now, and today was the perfect afternoon! What fun to spend some time making portraits of them as a couple. Dad and Mom seem pretty level headed and laid back in public, but they really can be hilarious and…kind of like newlyweds. I mean, they sort of bust the traditional monochromatic stereotype of the homeschool mom and the pastor dad. Pretty sure I deleted 2/3 of the pictures I got because they were in the throes of laughter. I have no idea what they were laughing about.
Particularly in this present culture, their marriage does one’s heart good! Their marriage is characterized by a love and delight in one another, mutual respect, Biblical headship, mutual submission to God’s wonderful plans and intentions for marriage. They truly have a beautiful, dynamic relationship, centered on the only Rock and Truth, Jesus Christ. They’ve done their share of failing, as has anyone who has ever worked hard to succeed at something, and they would be the first to acknowledge that their successes haven’t been through their own strength, but through the strength of their Savior. That is a success that lasts! They are building a beautiful legacy.
I’m so glad to have their example in my lives!
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! Sarah 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. If 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.
And 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.
I’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.
After church yesterday afternoon, with thunder rumbling overhead, we took the Jeep to Rockerville Road to explore the backroads of the Black Hills. We had the dog and a picnic dinner, so essentially nothing was lacking!
Had it been dry, we would have gotten out and done a little hiking, or at least picnicked outside, but we drove in a steady drizzle and the dirt road was muddy and puddled. Not to mention, wet and muddy dog doesn’t smell very pleasant, and the backseat of the Jeep would have been pretty uncomfortable with a muddy Trixie sitting on our laps. The higher the road climbed, the louder the thunder got. We nearly bottomed out the Jeep once or twice, in places where the road was slick and deeply rutted, but Dad’s an experienced driver – Those places were the most fun, of course!We followed a side road for a little ways, right as the sun burst through the clouds. Dad stopped so I could get some pictures, and the aspen trees along the road caught my eye, sparkling in the rain, with the sunlight behind them and shining through the raindrops, making the leaves like glass. I was with a coworker recently on a walk over our lunch hour, and I had my camera along. I showed her a picture I took while on our walk, and her response was, “How do you see that?” Well, you have to look for it. You have to determine to see beauty – If you look, it is there. “The heavens declare the glory of God!” There is so much beauty to revel in – Sometimes it is almost overwhelming, like the beauty of the aspen trees, and other times it is subtler, and becomes apparent only with a change in perspective. The knee-high, rain-wet grasses along that muddy forest service road seemed pretty mundane, until I crouched down in the mud to see the sun is glistening behind the golden stems. Then a whole new world of beauty opened up!It was a sun-spangled, rain-washed world.
Our cousin William from Ohio was staying with us for the last 10 days, and one of the projects he tackled, with Sarah’s help, was building a stone wall around our garden. We have a tall fence that keeps the deer out, but there is a 10-inch gap along the bottom that lets rabbits in. Of course, we could have just closed the gap with chicken wire, but a stone wall is so much lovelier! More pictures to come! He and Sarah got the rocks from rock slides along our driveway and from one of the several pit mines on our property. He also fixed the garden gate so it now closes properly, and put in flagstones at the garden entry. He and Sarah did beautiful work!
So we have the Black Hills Gothic.