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



Mine Explorations

The brightest gems of the Black Hills are the little-known ones, the ones that are tucked back off the beaten trail, that take a little more work to get to. After church on Sunday, I and two friends, Hannah and Jacob, along with three dogs, Angie, Cleo, and Trixie, explored an abandoned mine and its many shafts scattered across the hillside above the towering and rusty old mill.
IMG_0463The hike to the mill itself was one long gentle slope up – About 30 minutes from the trailhead. It was hot out, and the shade around the mill was welcome. The old mill still stands tall and erect against the side of a taller hill. The sheet metal siding has come off in places, or swings loose in the wind. Rickety flights of stairs still span floor to floor.
IMG_0479The hike to the mines was another climb, boasting beautiful views of Harney Peak in the distance, over a rolling sea of pine trees. Such wonderful country – I still have to pinch myself.
IMG_0417We could smell the mines before we could see the tunnels. The musty, earthy damp mixed with the warm, resiny perfume of the pines, and we could feel the seep of cool mine air as we approached the entrances to the mine, which loomed black in the steep, rough walls of rock. The sheer size of some of the digs was astounding, from the towering walls of open cuts and gaping mouths of air shafts, to the vaulting and cavernous ceilings inside the mine, to places where the ceiling had caved in years ago, leaving just enough space to crouch and scramble through.IMG_0517IMG_0409IMG_0425The meager glow of our flashlights and lanterns seemed swallowed up in the dark of the tunnels, glistening on damp walls, sparkling dully in pools and trickles of water, occasionally revealing old pieces of machinery from the bygone mining days. Cart track still spanned some of the tunnels, and rotted support beams tottered in the openings.
IMG_0434IMG_0560Little ferns grew at the mouths of a couple of the mine tunnels, transparent green against the bright sunlight outside. Pigeons nested in the sheltering cliffs above one of the open cuts.IMG_0507Sarah and William and I went back yesterday, and picnicked in the shade of the cliffs. Trixie came along again – She is becoming quite the hiking buddy! When we stopped for lunch, she begged pieces of our lunch and bites of apple, then fell sound asleep while we sat and talked and poked around in the piles of mica.
IMG_0587 The Hills conceal a treasure trove of history, history that is as tangible and real as the damp of stone beneath my fingers, or the rough, rotting wood of an ancient structure. The remnants of bygone days are scattered liberally throughout the Black Hills – If you know where to look.

Laura Elizabeth

Independence Day 2016

The Fourth of July is always one of my favorite festive days! We have so much to be thankful for, and it is good to remember and reflect on the blessings our nation has enjoyed since the first colonies were established 400 years ago.IMG_7749In 1620, the Mayflower Compact was signed by 41 men, Separatists and Strangers,  declaring their resolution to work together in the New World.  The Strangers were adventurers and soldiers, but the Separatists were Protestant men and women and children who were seeking a greater degree of religious freedom, out from under the authority and tyranny of the state-run Anglican church. Their agreement read:

“Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia…”

For the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith! And we are still reaping the rewards of that charter today. Independence Day isn’t just about the day the Declaration of Independence was signed. Independence Day is about our heritage of freedom, particularly our heritage of religious freedom and freedom of conscience, our heritage of heroism and bravery and virtue. Independence Day is about the Pilgrims and their blood, sweat, and tears, shed for “for the Glory of God”. Independence Day is about the glories and tragedies of the American Revolution, which was successful following national submission and repentance and fasting before God.  Independence Day is about “In God We Trust,” and “one Nation under God.” Independence Day is about love for a nation that was founded by men who adhered to the principles that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Independence Day is about Samuel Adams’ words on the day the Declaration was signed: “We have this day restored the Sovereign to Whom all men ought to be obedient. He reigns in Heaven and from the rising to the setting of the sun, let His kingdom come.” Independence Day is about men like George Washington, who believed that “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.” Independence Day is about John 8:36: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Independence Day is about the freedom to teach that to our children, to proclaim the truth of freedom in Christ to our families and friends and to total strangers.
Stockade LakeSo what better way to spend Independence Day than with family and friends, enjoying the freedom to assemble with our brothers and sisters of the faith?
Stockade LakeStockade Lake was bustling activity yesterday afternoon, tourists and locals camping and boating and enjoying the beauty of the Black Hills. The beaches were overrun with festive crowds, but our friends had managed to snag a pavilion earlier in the day, so we had a corner of the lake to ourselves.
Osprey over Stockade LakeWe enjoyed osprey and herons and ducks, and very few bothersome insects since it has been so dry. Trixie came with us, of course, and I think she met her match for energy in our friends’ youngest two. Calvin and Laurel couldn’t get enough of her, and I think she liked the attention. After all, they were just about her size!
Stockade LakeIMG_7578The kids swam in the lake, and Sarah brought her kayaks, much to the delight of the boys, so after dinner they hauled the kayaks down to the lake and were pretty much gone for a couple of hours. We all visited and shared good food and fellowship, and were showered on by a little thunderburst that came our way briefly. The storm didn’t last long, and the cool evening wound down to dusk.
IMG_7770Those of us who didn’t mind getting home late headed over to our pastor’s house to watch the Custer fireworks from his family’s backyard. They have a great view of the show, and it seemed like about half our church converged on their home for the evening! Our church is pretty geographically separated, many of us traveling 45 minutes or more to get to church. So those opportunities we have midweek to see one another, to see our brothers and sisters, are cherished dearly. We were treated not only to the fireworks, but also to beautiful lightning from another storm that slowly closed in. We were close enough to still feel the resonating explosions, the far enough away to be able to keep up our conversations. It was fun to hear the burst of applause from the whole town of Custer after the last flares of the finale. Custer’s fireworks are simple in comparison with what other larger towns can afford, but they are no less enjoyed.
IMG_7786We watched the traffic streaming out of town, and then it slowed to a trickle. The noises of the crowd down in Custer quieted. The lightning was flickering and flashing, closer now. Then the rain started gently. It was a good day. We have so much to be thankful for.

Laura Elizabeth





Photoshoot | Family is a wonderful thing

Friendship and fellowship are two of God’s greatest blessings, and they go hand in hand with the command to love. Over and over throughout the New Testament, the church is commanded to love. Christians are called to love everyone – Friends and enemies, widows and orphans, rich and poor, old and young. But special attention is given to command Christians to love their brethren, those with whom they share the bond of faith. The bond of faith is a blood relationship of a different sort – We weren’t all born to the same parents, but we were washed in the blood of Christ, cleansed by His sacrifice, and the bond of Christian faith is a bond that is eternal. If we aren’t able to love our Christian brethren with genuine love, then whom will we be able to love?
IMG_7239 - BoardwalkWhat a delight it was, then, to spend the evening with my pastor’s family, fellowshipping over a meal and then heading over to Stockade Lake as the sun was setting. They had graciously agreed to let me practice family portraits on them, muddling through posing and lighting and everything else that comes with a photo shoot. And it was a joy!
IMG_7397 - SageIMG_7378 - BoardwalkIMG_7412 -- ClydeIMG_7442 - ClydeThis family is truly characterized by their love of their Savior, which manifests itself in their love for each other and their love for others. J.O. and Dana have a beautiful, Christ-centered marriage, and they love and honor one another so wholly. And their children are a testament to that, thriving and growing as children in their parents’ Gospel-driven home. IMG_7387 - Focus/Blur with ArizonaAfter finishing up by Stockade Lake and enjoying the pleasure of God’s Creation, we went back to their place for hot chocolate and tea and more good conversation.

Family is a wonderful thing.

Laura Elizabeth


Saturday Adventures

The Pringle PlaceThe winds sound different in the pines. They hum and murmur and sing in the needles and in the sun-warmed grass, sweeping clouds from horizon to horizon, drying the earth and warming the earth and waking up all the little messengers of springtime. The earth feels different in the springtime, ready to burst with life, like a person holding back mirth, or like someone with a delightful secret. Tiny plants push through the red soil, little barrel cacti and the elusive pasque flower and star lilies not yet bloomed.

IMG_8921Any excuse to get down to the Pringle place is a good one for me, and today’s excuse was that my cousin Ben was down in Pringle with my aunt and uncle, and I was already going to be in Custer this morning, which is more than halfway there. So after cleaning the church, Roy and I drove down to Pringle – I, armed with my camera, Roy armed with various muskets and pistols – and picked up Ben for a hike.  We couldn’t have picked a better day than the one our Heavenly Father had picked for us.

IMG_8909Our hiking took us along Box Canyon, and down west of the old stage stop, through red gullies and golden meadows, in and out of deep-cut ravines, over and under barbed wire fencing, looking at the favorite places and searching out new. We stumbled across the remains of an ancient log cabin from the homesteading days, found a piece of a rusty old license plate from 1922 and an old stove lid, and picked up a rusted steel trap that must have washed down the gully, or been dragged there.

All the little early wildflowers are beginning to bloom, giving me fresh subjects to capture and identify, from little phlox-like flowers growing low to the red earth, to scrubby yellow complex flowers with foliage that smelled like celery, to a yellow succulent-like flower growing all by itself on a little hillside.
IMG_8897And yes, we found the pasque flowers today! A week ago down on the Pringle place, the little wind flowers were waking up, though were not yet awake, but today they were in beautiful bloom, tucked beneath scrubby pines, nestled down deep in last summer’s grasses.  Whimsical nodding blossoms of palest purple, covered with their coats of silver fur, blending in and almost invisible, but unmistakable. Pasque flowerGrasshoppers chirruped. Mountain bluebirds flickered like blue flames as they lighted on fence posts and fence wire and darted here and there. The junipers and pines were spicy in the warm air, the sky was brilliant and dappled with clouds, the wind was sweet and restless, and the rocks were cool to the touch. Lichens crusted the red stone, quartz sparkled dazzlingly, and the day was perfect.

IMG_8931We picnicked on the tailgate of Roy’s pickup, and when we were done hiking, we did some target shooting. “Shooting makes a bad day good and a good day better,” Roy said. Though, it hardly needed improving – Friends and family, God’s good and glorious creation, a sturdy camera, a picnic in the open air, and the sight of a small herd of antelope hightailing it across the prairie – And, yes, firing a few rounds at some makeshift targets.

A good day. A very good day.

Laura Elizabeth



First Things of Spring

IMG_8733The drive to church on Sunday mornings is a joy, particularly on mornings like this morning, when the ponderosa pines are heavy with recent snow, the hillsides silver with it, and the birches and aspens grey in comparison with it. But this morning was even better, because it is Resurrection Day! What a glorious day to celebrate – We as Christians may have some pretty “radical” social ideas, as we are daily reminded. But, as our pastor reminded us this morning, the most radical belief of all is that Christ, God incarnate, perfect and sinless, came to this earth to die a horrendous death for the sins of the world so that sinful humanity would have a way to enjoy a right relationship with God Almighty. He was buried, and was raised from the dead three days later. And, if that wasn’t enough, He, in the sight of His disciples, was caught up into the sky and then disappeared from sight. And, if that isn’t enough to believe, we believe that He is reigning now, interceding for those who love and follow Him. Amazing? Yes. Beyond our comprehension? Yes. Wonderful? Yes! To be free from the enslaving nature of sin, to be made right before a just and holy God? What a reason to celebrate! IMG_8716And what more beautiful day could we have asked for? After a joy-filled Sunday message, spirited singing, and a feast of a potluck, the family and I, along with Roy and Isaak, headed down to the Pringle property for an afternoon of hiking and exploring. This whole last week was rather hit-and-miss as far as springtime weather was concerned. Snow on Wednesday, slush and snow on Friday, but today was a little piece of Heaven. We stomped along in the mud and the snow and the grassy stubble, but jackets quickly came off, shirt sleeves were rolled up, and the snow sank away. The juniper was fragrant in the warmth of the sun, the grasshoppers chirruped in the grass and flew about wildly, and the earliest prairie wildflowers peered up from the red dirt, low-growing and unobtrusive, almost invisible in the scrubby grasses.IMG_8775A few elusive pasque flowers we found tucked away on warm hillsides, growing lustily in the rocky soil – In a few days, they’ll be open and lovely. There is a story of hundreds of pasque flowers having been found down on the Pringle place, but we didn’t come across more than half a dozen today. Maybe another trip. The earliest messengers of springtime. Such a delicate little flower.

IMG_8728The sun was warm on our backs, warm on our faces, as we wandered this way and that. Deer in the distance fled, but a loner antelope watched curiously as we passed him by. The hundred-year-old rose hedge was beginning to leaf out near the old stage stop dugout. We have plans to bring back a clump of the yellow roses sometime this spring, to plant near the Miner’s Cabin.

IMG_8755There were no rattlesnakes in the dugout this time, like there were when we hiked around in August, so we poked around the area a little more thoroughly. Our rambling took us down into the Box Canyon – Moss grew greenly in the wet and cool of the canyon, and remains of cliff swallow nests clung tenaciously to the walls – The original cliff dwellings. No swallows nesting there yet, but I’ll bet they’ll be back.  We clambered up out the box end of the canyon. A great little scramble that was, with ice and mud underfoot and very little tread on some of our shoes, always in the process of nearly taking out whoever was unwise enough to be behind us, getting covered in sand burrs, and thoroughly enjoying every minute of it.
IMG_8747It is a season of new life. Resurrection Day is a day to celebrate new spiritual life in Christ and His glorious resurrection. And what better way to spend a Resurrection Day than to be among family and friends and immersed in one of God’s greatest witnesses, His glorious Creation! The first days of springtime mark the beginning of the end of winter, the coming of that new life we all wait expectantly for, as soon as that first fleeting 50 degree day happens.  These first things of springtime, in the first days of springtime, are shy and aloof and evasive. But that won’t last forever – Before too long, the prairies will be covered with wildflowers, bursting at the seams with things alive and green and new. Springtime is here!

Laura Elizabeth