Canada/Alaska Adventure | Home Again

Somehow, the three and a half weeks since I got home from Alaska flew by without me realizing it, full to the brim with summertime and normal life. I jumped back in to work the day after I got home, had a week of work and then five days on the road and in Bozeman, MT, at a Biblical counseling training conference. The rest of the time filled in with everyday life, family, housekeeping, unpacking, packing again, unpacking again. My brain has been so fried, my blogging took a back burner.

Alaska, like all of the West that I’ve seen so far, tugs at my heartstrings in mysterious ways. While once-upon-a-time (and not too far in the past) I would have said I never wanted to leave the Black Hills, I find my heart waking to the idea of seeking out the deeper West. There is that quiet place in my soul that hungers after the remote, the distant, the separate, the raw.

It was definitely a shock to the system to come from the cool moistness of the Glacier View climate, to the hot, arid Black Hills. It was strange to leave behind a green, lush landscape and exchange it for a landscape that had been green when I left, but is now very lacking in rain. I miss puttering in the garden for hours at a time in the cool of midday, without scorching or melting or frying. I miss the bright flowers and foliage that thrive in the almost endless daylight. I miss the wildness, the steepness of the peaks right outside the window, I miss the water and the clear, blue mountain streams. But then…this is home. Where the hot summer air smells piney and golden. Where beebalm and chokecherries line the Hole-in-the-Wall Trail, where the stars are diamond bright, and the sun sets behind Harney Peak. Home is where my family is – my blood family and my church family. Home is where Trixie and our log cabin and the Miner’s Cabin wait in our little hollow underneath our red ridge. Where Ember comes running when I call her name, or sits yowling outside the window until I let her in. Home is where I have a bed underneath the eaves and can hear the raindrops pattering on the tin roof a foot away. Home is here.

They say home is where the heart is. For now, my heart is here. But will it always be? Only time will tell.

Heavenward

I walk the woods in the evening – my woods, I tell myself – the familiar trails, dear to me and near to my heart, winding through old creekbeds, beneath towering pines and wizened oaks, along hillsides sparkling with white chokecherry blossoms. Treading the same way again, my heart thrills. Each step is a delight. Each breath of the cool evening air tastes sweet. I want to pour the coolness over my head and drink of the freshness. It is familiar, so familiar, every step is one I’ve experienced before, each tree and flower and perfume of evening – but it is new, always new.
IMG_7227eWith the earth comforting beneath my feet, grasses growing tall to above knee-height, trees leafing out in their array of green, my heart is drawn upwards, Heavenwards. These woods are my sanctuary. I find that my time alone while hiking becomes my time alone with the LORD, since I can’t imagine walking these woods and not being struck to the heart by how good God must be to have created so much beauty for us to enjoy. He didn’t need to create beauty. God could have allowed sin to completely wipe out the beauty on this earth. But He didn’t. And it is wonderful. Even in this fallen state, His beauty is reflected in His Creation.
IMG_7015eMy heart breaks with joy. Have you ever felt that? My heart breaks and soars, and I murmur Oh, my! Again and again. Oh, my. My eye is drawn here and there – to a splash of color from a larkspur violet or a shooting star or a bluebell, to the wild white and lavender of crazyweed, to the little golden blossoms of wild currant or the coral of columbine or the dark blue-eyed grass, or the pale birch trees on a north-facing hillside of emerald moss. A gleam of sunlight through the trees on the next hilltop melts me, but I know my camera couldn’t do it justice, so I don’t even try. My heart breaks with joy – there is too much, too much, too much. How can a human creature take in so much beauty and goodness and majesty, and not be overwhelmed? And if I cannot understand Creation, how can I possibly understand its God?
IMG_7150eThe too-familiar sights, the amber scents of pine resin and the fresh earthy perfume of green life or the sweet evening air, the lullaby of wind in the pines – so many memories and impressions left over, brought back by glimpses or tastes of the familiar, the familiar that never seems to change. I remember my childhood, our visits here, my heart’s longing for this place. I remember past joys, and revel in present joys. Then my heart breaks with grief. Because I know that one day this place won’t be here for me. One day it will be sold and divided into lots and developed, and I weep at that thought, dropping tears on the grassy path. How harsh it feels – to be brought to live in the place I love most in the world, but knowing that it may not be here, a mere few years from this time. This place may only be land, and I know that, but it holds and brings back so many wonderful memories. It is a place that is part of my childhood, part of my dearest memories.
IMG_7156eThen I repent. How could I have the audacity to challenge God’s goodness and His Providence by weeping over what He may someday in His sovereignty take away from me? If that day comes, I don’t believe tears will be wrong, but weeping now and letting even a moment of joy be spoiled by what God may in His love give to me or take from me – that is wrong. I pray for contentment and peace in my knowledge that God is good. I remind myself that God only does that which is for the good of His children and for His glory. I remind myself that He only gives good gifts, and He is a loving Father, not a cruel taskmaster. If a gift is good in the giving, it is also good when He in His sovereignty removes it. If He removes a blessing and strips me of something I sinfully think is necessary for my happiness, I know He does it for my good, not to punish. If He takes something from me that I love, He does it for my good, not out of malice. Whether or not I comprehend it, it is for my good. At the very least, pain allows me to experience the sweetness of God’s comfort. One day, I’ll understand. But for now I need to be content to not understand and to take comfort in the things I do understand – that God is a loving God, a generous God, a compassionate and comforting God – and He always provides. Not necessarily how I in my humanness want Him to provide, certainly, but if God is good, His Providence is as well, and I cannot challenge it.  And so even in my tears, I thank Him. Even in my tears, this place draws me Heavenward. And then my heart lifts and I savor a soul-deep peace, content to enjoy however many days and years I have left to enjoy this. Few or many, they are a gift. How sad to spoil them with misplaced regret.
IMG_7182eThe low rumble of distant thunder tells of a coming storm, and the clouds are bright in the west, shining flame-like through the trees. The crimson and coral turn to slate and blue. The golden sunlight disappears beyond the horizon and banks of heavy clouds. The rain will come.
IMG_7223eHow can I not gaze Heavenward?

The Second Year

March 1st is an exciting day on my calendar, and marks an epoch in my life. Two years ago today we crossed the Missouri River into western South Dakota, for the first time with no departure date in the future. Two years ago today we saw the Rapid City lights flickering in the winter night, welcoming that sight as those coming home after a long journey. Two years ago today we drove south on Hwy. 79, and finally – finally! – saw the familiar flashing light marking the small town of Hermosa, marking now the nearness of home. I watched for that light every time we came to the Hills, and I still get a sense of nostalgia when I am driving home after dark and see that light blinking in the distance. Two years ago today we pulled down the long, red dirt driveway into what had always been home for us. Two years ago today we came “back home,” although no one but Dad had actually ever lived here. Two years ago today. How fast time flies.
IMG_9878Our second year in the Hills felt like our tenth year in the Hills – Nothing about it doesn’t feel like home. We have truly settled in. Our church has  become family, and the closeness hasn’t diminished, but increased. The days and weeks are marked by time spent with family and friends, spent outside in God’s glorious Creation, exciting hikes to new places, teaching piano, fellowship over meals, experiencing a close-knitness with my church family of welcoming and being welcomed into one another’s lives.
IMG_8490The last year hasn’t been without its struggles. There have been plenty. Grandma’s health issues, personal health issues, trials of various kinds, fears, struggles with the general busyness of life and the snug living arrangements. But in all those things, God shows Himself to be faithful. He always provides. And the trials He gives are actually gifts, just like the things we readily perceive to be blessings.

On to Year Three. We will see what God brings!

Laura Elizabeth

Back at it

The last few days have been long, I have to admit. Being house-bound isn’t exactly what I had in mind for my thirteen days off, especially since the weather cooled down into the 80s and the summer wildflowers are going crazy! But today was a huge improvement from the first two days where I couldn’t walk at all. I was actually able to hobble around the house without crutches today, and do some dishes and cook. I had my foot looked at today by the PA at the clinic where I work – She diagnosed it as a foot sprain, no fracture, and just told me to stay off it for a week or two. That’s a lot better than the six weeks I’d been dreading! Tonight, an ankle brace and hiking boots (the kind with the shank in the sole) actually provided great support for getting around. I know I need to be good, though – The temptation is to do too much too fast.
GimpyBut even being house-bound has had benefits – I was able to spend hours yesterday reading about C.H. Spurgeon, the great English preacher and theologian from the mid- to late-1800s. We are reading a Spurgeon biography for our church book reading club, and it is a delight. What a wonderful life of work he led for the Kingdom of God! He began pastoring a church at the age of 17, and his teaching sparked a revival in the surrounding town. By the age of 26, his work had revived a dying church in London and he was regularly preaching to thousands, regularly helping to plant church and send out new pastors and leading sinners to Christ! The reach of his work is truly astounding, from the circulation of his sermons to the books he published to the orphanage and school he ran and the Pastor’s College he founded, and my list could go on. I hadn’t even started the book before yesterday, and I am now about 120 pages into it. A productive day. I was even able to edit about thirty-five wedding photos from a wedding I shot a few weeks ago.
Cuddling with the CatAnd of course, cuddling with the Kashka-cat is very important. Nothing quite as sweet as her little purring self curled up on my lap, or stretched to her full length, fast asleep and dreaming so hard she’s twitching. She loves her people, that’s for sure.

But as productive as the last few days have been, I’m eager to get back at it! Enough of this lazing around.

Laura Elizabeth

Refreshing the Soul

IMG_5096.1lowrezSome weeks are hard – hard to keep smiling, hard to see the beauty of life, and for no good reason. This has been one of those weeks, and the last few days in particular have been a struggle emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. What can happen from one week to the next that can make my life, which I know very well is so much better than I deserve, suddenly seem bleak, or frustrating, or exhausting?

That change is usually something in my heart, something in my inner self, that has become disconnected and out of joint. Knowing myself to be a very dedicated introvert, I recognize that part of my struggle has been the sheer level of activity that takes me outside of my sphere, outside of my cozy home life, without sufficient time to recharge myself. But I realized something else – Not only has there been no time for solitude this past week and a half or so, but I haven’t spent time in God’s wonderful Creation, which is one place that never fails to refresh my awareness of beauty, blessings, and life’s bounty. Time spent in God’s Creation always seems to renew my sense of perspective. Being an introvert, I spend a lot of time lost inside my own thoughts. When my thoughts are tuned to God’s goodness and to beauty and joy, my thoughts are a wonderful place to be. But when my thoughts are in a turmoil, perspective is almost impossible to have. What better way to get out of my own tumultuous thoughts, than to lose myself in discovering the joys of God’s Creation?

IMG_5053.1lowrezAfter church today, the girls and I went on a hike. We left later than we intended to, since we got sidetracked cleaning the loft, so we thought our hike would end up being truncated. Our goal had been to get to Hole-in-the-Wall, which we decided against because of the time, so instead we decided to explore the ravines and draws spiderwebbing off our well-worn jeep trail.

IMG_5101.1lowrezClambering over deadfall and under deadfall, scrambling through steep ravines, down ledges as tall as we are, slipping and sliding over week-old snow still clinging to the shadowed places, carefully parting barbed wire fences to fit through between the strands of wire, laying prone in the stiff, brown grass to marvel at a pinecone, or at the funny little spiked heads of what were in the summer Wild Bergamot – What a delight!

IMG_5128.1lowrezFlickers of white gave away the silently fleeing deer, and Dixie’s black pony could be glimpsed in our east pasture when we came out on top into a meadow. As beautiful as was the view while in the meadow, with Grandma’s driveway in the distance and Harney Peak away on the horizon, I like the ravines the best. The cool shadows, the piles of deadfall blocking the way, the snow and ice in pools at the bottom, the sense of the unknown – What is around the next bend? Where will this ravine take us?

IMG_5115.lowrezIn all the time we’ve been out here, there are still places I haven’t explored. The unknown, unfollowed, un-searched-out ravines. The distant hilltop. The dry creekbed. If I climb that hill, what will be on the other side? What is this stand of trees hiding? What is at the end of this draw? Should I go left or right?

It is impossible to stay lost in my tumultuous thoughts when God is drawing my thoughts out of myself, into something so much more beautiful than I have a capacity to understand or contain or express.

IMG_5149.lowrezThe afternoon gave way to evening. The clouds shone, and the red earth seemed to soak up every ray of light and cast it off again, luminous in the strange golden light of sunset. Then sunset gave way to dusk, and the red-gold gave way to the colors of nighttime. Lavender shadows settled into the ravines, and the clouds became the soft grey of slumber.

Almost as swiftly as the last glow faded from the sky, the warmth settled out of the air. A delicious chill sifted between the trees. The breeze picked up ever so slightly.

December is a beautiful time of year. But any time spent out in the open, breathing deep of the freshness of the earth, anytime spent marveling at God’s wonders is sure to be medicine to the weary soul.

It was.

Laura Elizabeth