In Hindsight | 2018

Usually I publish my “In Hindsight” series right after the first of the year, as a sort of New Year’s post, a look back over the last year and a cherishing of the memories that were created. For one reason and another, I am just now getting around to finishing this article, but I wanted to publish it in spite of how late it is. It is a time to remind myself of the ways God has been faithful to me, the ways He has blessed me and humbled me and grown me, and a way to share the joy of the last year with people who may be interested or encouraged.

Looking back over 2018 confirms in my mind that it was indeed one of the strangest and most exciting years of my entire life. It was a full year, in the best of ways. Strange twists and turns of life, opportunities that God provided which I never would have seen coming, wonderful and frequent hiking excursions and a summer spent almost entirely outdoors, an opportunity to travel to Illinois to see my sister, Jess, new and old friendships blossoming with the freer schedule I had…It was a blessedly full year.

I’m in no ways living the life I dreamed of as a girl or even as a college student. I’m sure I’m a puzzle or even a disappointment to professors who may have envisioned (reasonably so) my career continuing where I left off with my education. Occasionally I refer to my “dream come true” life, and I just want to clarify that this life was nowhere on my radar even 5 years ago. But I’m seeing how God knows my deepest desires, even the desires I don’t fully understand, and how God has given them purposely and is intentionally satisfying them OR completely and radically changing them. Yes, God can do that. He is sovereign and can change our desires to bring about His will for our lives.

As a  younger individual, I idolized so many things. Success, marriage, recognition, a career in acting or music, a book published by age 25…God hasn’t given me any the success I dreamed of, the young marriage or the husband I’ve prayed for, the musical roles I craved. He hasn’t made me a published author or a celebrated actress or a fabulous singer or any of those things that my girlish heart idolized in highschool and college and which I pursued tirelessly. All of the things I imagined myself doing as a teen and a young twenty-something have not happened. Literally, none of those dreams have come true. And some of the things I swore I’d never do I am doing. I am NOT living the dream life I concocted for myself as a teenager or college student.

And that is all by God’s grace, to humble me, to bring me joy, to make me more like Christ. It is God’s grace to me that He didn’t give me worldly success, and didn’t satisfy my desire to have a book published by the age of 25, or to be competitive in the music industry. What grace. When I think of where I am now and how those dreams I had would never have allowed my life now to be possible, I’m in awe of God’s sovereignty. I could have chosen to stay in Illinois after graduating to pursue my music career. I could have chosen to pour all my effort into finishing a book and finding a publisher. I could have pursued marriage out of desperation and loneliness, and sacrificed the joy that Jesus has given me in my singleness. I could have sough high-pay employment with benefits and vacation time and status, enjoying the kinds of success I see from highschool or college classmates and family members who are working in prestigious jobs doing things for which they will probably one day be well known, maybe even famous, taking vacations and pursuing hobbies I couldn’t afford. I could have. I could be. But I know deep in my heart that I would have become entangled in a fast-paced lifestyle and in desires that wouldn’t have given the joy and contentment that my simple existence gives me now.

I’m not living my dream life. Truth be told, most of my highschool dreams have faded away, which is a bitter-sweet realization. And yet this life is more beautiful than I could ever have imagined, and it is a dream come true. In the place of the thirst for success and recognition I used to have, God has grown my heart in the desire to truly live, to feel real feelings, to be useful, to sweat, to weep, to laugh, to be sore and dead tired, to have a strong community and strong Christian relationships, to feel a deep joy that comes only from Christ.

God’s sense of humor…Once upon a time, I swore I’d never be a music teacher. In all reality, being a music teacher isn’t what I feel a strong desire to do. But I trust in God’s providence and this is what He has provided for the time being. But He also provided an opportunity (and the courage) to join our local fire department last year, a change I am endlessly thankful for, and God also provided a job at a local greenhouse and nursery this past summer, which was exceptionally refreshing after years of college and then working in an office (which also came to a close in April of last year). It clarified in my mind things I value about work – physical activity, physical challenge, fresh air, teamwork, community. And the schedule I had this summer allowed me to hike…and hike…and hike, discovering more how big my love for the outdoors actually is. And there is something blessedly and ridiculously comical as I think about having given a senior voice recital right before we moved to the Black Hills, and now I’m working for the local fire department as a stipend paid firefighter.

As wonderful as this last year was, it was definitely not without its struggles, and I absolutely do not want to fall into the social media trap of portraying myself as having the “perfect life.” Watching your grandmother die is a very sad thing. Loneliness is a very real feeling. Questions about the future lurk in the corners of my thoughts like little ugly goblins, as I begin playing the comparison game, seeing everything I don’t have and failing to see what I do have. And my struggles with depression returned pretty sharply and darkly at the end of the summer. I won’t dwell on any of these things, but those would be the prominent trials of this last year, for which God in His grace gives strength and endurance and healing and wholeness.  And pain is part of the story, which God uses in amazing ways to shape us. I look back on where I was at the end of 2017, or two years ago, or four years ago as I was finishing college, or longer, before college, and I just have to chuckle. God has a sense of humor. Where I am today makes absolutely no sense. And yet I know and feel that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and somehow where I am does make perfect sense to me. I never would have pictured myself where I am now. And yet now that I’m here, I can’t picture myself anywhere else.

2018 was a great year. And I’m excited to see what the rest of 2019 has to hold.

 

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Winter Could Last Forever

Something about winter’s subtle beauty always tugs at my heart. There is a beauty present that is otherworldly, and almost invisible, often somehow entirely other from the object being admired. It doesn’t draw attention to itself, and maybe it is the very fact that it doesn’t that makes it so alluring to me.

Delicately-striped fungus on a decaying log. Sunlight filtering through the paper-thin sepals of a dried seed-pod or flower head. Ripples in dunes of snow. A cat’s warm fur when the thermometer is reading about 15 degrees. Sunlight. The sunlight itself is different.IMG_6258eIMG_6399eIMG_6376eIMG_6344eIMG_6310eIMG_6288eWinter is a wonderful time of year. There is a peace, yet an anticipation. There is a rest and a sleep, a slumbering, and yet the cold brings out a quiet energy that everything seems ready to burst into peals of laughter at any moment. There is the warmth, strange warmth, of sunlight on my face, and yet the chattering of my wet-now-frozen hair rattling against itself. There is the frigid cold of face and too-warm warmth of body that comes from overzealous layering. There are the billows of steam when our front door opens, tiny cat prints in the snow, sleeping cats in the cabin, reluctant to go outside. There’s the sparkle of fresh snow, the hush of falling snow, the crunch of snow underfoot. Flowers of frost on windows, glassy lakes, and white-drifted roads.

On beautiful days like today, winter could last forever.

The Freedom of Inconvenience

There is something wonderfully simple yet gloriously complex about the process of watching the tree bud out in the springtime, watching the flowers shed their petals and be replaced by infant fruit, then watching the fruit mature, and ripen, then picking that fruit at the right time and processing it, canning it as various delectable spreads or syrups or sauces, stacking the jars neatly in the pantry to be used at a future date…the process is immensely satisfying. I love the thought that must go into identifying the fruit, identifying its readiness to be harvested, sorting it, juicing it, and canning it. The thought and learned skill that goes into the entire process, whether it be the observation and waiting, or the careful, gentle work, the meticulousness, the specificity – they all contribute to the satisfaction I get when looking at a row of jars of jewel-bright jelly.
IMG_3912And yet the whole process is terribly inconvenient, to our modern way of thinking. I was in the middle of making a batch of spicy wild plum sauce, and Sarah commented facetiously on “how much money we’d save” on spicy plum sauce, by having canned it ourselves. “Wait…we don’t buy spicy plum sauce.” And she is right. We don’t. I’ve never tasted spicy plum sauce, I’ve never used it, and I didn’t even know it was a thing until I found the recipe and decided to use some of my wild plums to make it. Why bother, honestly?

As I have been canning over the past few weeks, it has occurred to me how much time actually goes into very little of a finished product. The time it takes to pick fruit and properly process it means a lot of time goes into each finished jar. It would be so much faster just to buy it at the store.

But there is no satisfaction when admiring a jar of store-bought jelly, or a factory-sewn skirt, or thawing out a frozen meal. The satisfaction comes from having a task, completing the task, and knowing it was completed well. There is something deeply fulfilling about being capable of taking a task from start to finish, whether in the process of foraging and food preservation, or in the art and science of reading a sewing pattern and ending up with a beautiful handmade garment or other item. There is something joyous about starting with an empty stockpot, and serving up something delicious from scratch. There is something invigorating about taking a cluttered house and turning it into a haven, or taking a pile of laundry and seeing it flutter clean and fresh in the sunlit breeze.

My 40-minute commute to work could be seen as an inconvenience or as an opportunity to pray, listen to music, or just to ponder life. Our 45-minute drive to church is time to visit with family. The time it takes to do dishes by hand is time my sisters and I like to spend listening to podcasts or laughing with one another. When I have a task like canning that requires hours of my time, it is freeing and invigorating to be forced to slow down for the time it takes to accomplish that task and focus on one single thing, rather than the million “important things” that crowd into my mind. It is freeing to have to stand outside in the sun and fresh air while hanging a load of clean, wet laundry on the clothesline. It is freeing to be carefully chopping vegetables for a fresh soup. It is freeing to kneel over a length of fabric, pins in hand, or feed the fabric carefully through a sewing machine.

The inconvenience is freedom to me.

 

 

The Living Vine

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” ~John 15:4-5IMG_5956eOver the last few weeks, I watched the plum and apple trees for blossoms. We have had some heavy frosts, and I was concerned the buds may have gotten frozen off or even that parts of the tree could have been killed by the winter’s cold. But today, I saw a white mist clinging around the plum tree – bountiful pale flower clusters. The tree is alive. The flowers are the precursors to harvest. They evidence life and health.

“Abide in me,” Christ said. “I am the vine; you are the branches.” He encouraged and admonished his disciples to rest in him, to bear fruit. Healthy fruit comes from a thriving branch. A thriving branch only comes from a living Vine. Bear much fruit. He told this to his disciples, men who had sacrificed everything for him to follow him and participate in his ministry.  And then he was executed like a common criminal.

Resurrection Sunday comes and goes every year, and we hear the same message every year: He is risen!  “He is risen indeed!” we respond. We can go through the motions of celebrating Resurrection Sunday as if the Resurrection were old hat. Perhaps we even feel a little sheepish, maybe a little too counter-cultural with all of the empty tomb and back-from-the-dead talk. Not to mention, Easter has been so commercialized, all the plastic eggs and chocolate bunnies and pastel colored paper shreds. We lose our wonder in the colorful array of secular trappings, the childish nature of the eggs and bunnies and cute chocolates. Maybe we wearily approach the bustle and expectations surrounding Easter, and question the significance of setting aside a day like this. Maybe in the whirlwind of “celebration,” we forget Who and Why.

Because Christ is alive, and perhaps that more than any other truth in Scripture is what must be dear and real to us. Christ is alive, and he is sitting at the right hand of the Throne of God (Hebrews 12:2). Through his life, death, and resurrection he has given us the right to become Children of God (John 1:11-13), to be reconciled to our Heavenly Father (Romans 5:10). It isn’t through his life and death, but through his life, death, AND resurrection. Because if Christ hadn’t risen, then he is no better of a sacrifice than the Passover lambs or the sin offerings, then he is no better of a king than King David or King Josiah, then he is no better of a prophet than Moses, no better of a father than Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob, no better of a priest than Aaron. They each in their own way foreshadowed the coming of and our need for a Savior – the Lamb, the Sacrifice, the Prophet, the Priest, the King, the Father of Many Nations. But they had no power over death. They each died. But Christ did not. And that is of utmost importance.

For the Christian, everything hinges on the Resurrection, everything we say we believe, everything we say we hope for. If the Resurrection did not happen, then we have hoped entirely in vain, and all Christ’s commandments about abiding in him are null. In fact, if Christ didn’t rise again on the third day, then the entire Bible is a pack of lies. That is how important the Resurrection is. It isn’t just an interesting anecdote. It is Biblical record that is absolutely vital to faith. Because our hope hinges on Christ’s power over death. If he, the “resurrection and the life,” has no power over his own life, how can he promise life to us? (John 11:25-26 and John 10:17-18)

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied,” Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15.  The Bible has no merit if the Resurrection didn’t happen, because the entire Bible depends upon the Resurrection for its completeness. Without the Resurrection, then everything from Genesis onward is pointless and fraudulent. Without the Resurrection, there is no hope, there is no life. Without the Resurrection, then our Vine, the Vine from which we are supposed to draw sustenance, is dead.  If he is the Vine and he is dead, we are unable to bear the fruit we were commanded by him to cultivate. If he is the Vine, and if he is dead, then our faith is a dead faith, sealed in the tomb along with the man who claimed to be God Himself.

But that is not what we believe. That is not the end of our faith.  Because Christ’s story didn’t end at the  tomb. “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead,” Paul continued in Corinthians. Because the next morning, the tomb was empty. Gloriously empty.

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”  So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb.  Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.  Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there,  and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.  Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;  for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.  Then the disciples went back to their homes.

 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb.  And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.  They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”  Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”  Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).  Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”  Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. ~John 20: 1-18

So, abide in me. Christ is alive, and only because of the Resurrection are we able to truly abide in him. We are not part of a dead Vine. We are part of a Living Vine, a Vine which is bearing bountiful, beautiful fruit and has been bearing fruit for thousands of years. The ax of false doctrine and the winds of persecution and the fire of the culture have no power against our Vine. It is in perpetual flower, perpetual fruit-bearing. We have something to be excited about on this wonderful day! We have a faith that springs from and abides in Christ, and he is alive today. Reflect on that truth and revel in that hope.

 


 

 

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

2016 | In Hindsight

Once again, a new year rolls in, the old year suddenly gone and a memory before it seems to even have begun. The new year is always a good time to reflect on God’s faithfulness, which really is the only faithfulness worth reflecting on. I reviewed my New Year’s goals for 2016, and it was a good reminder both of God’s faithfulness in loving me in spite of my failures, as well as of how God grows and refines his children in subtle ways.Pasque flowerUnlike the year 2015, which was a year of huge changes and (consequently) very visible growth and maturing, this year has been a slower year. But if I am to be faithful, I need to remind myself that God doesn’t always work in huge, unmistakable ways, but oftentimes (perhaps, most of the time?) works in the subtle shaping of the heart and the inner person. God’s work in big ways is his grace and mercy and lavishness in allowing us to get a glimpse of how he works – God is not obligated to allow us to see his process, but sometimes he does. Much of the time, though, the work is smaller and quieter, harder to see, but that does not mean it is any less real or valuable. Last year around this time, I did my review of 2015 and stated that making lists of the events of a year can be an encouraging reminder of God’s faithfulness. I would say “yes and amen” to that! Re-reading that article from a year ago was an encouraging reminder of God’s goodness, even after what has been something of a dry year this past year.
IMG_6960This was a year of quiet joys and celebrations – The Biblical Counseling Conference in Lafayette, IN, in February, a sister married in April (that was exciting!), family visiting on and off throughout the summer and fall, including my cousin William from Ohio and my Sacramento uncle in the summer, my sister and her husband in early November, and my Alaska cousins just a few weeks ago.  There was the rip-roaring fun of summer rodeos and the blessing of church get-togethers.IMG_6777There was the constant reminder of the presence of God in the beauty of his creation, which we enjoyed on numerous hikes and adventures, including our little road trip up to Medora, ND, a couple of afternoon drives through the Badlands, and a day trip to Devil’s Tower. We explored some new trails, including Hell Canyon, the Ingersoll Mine, and the back way in to Big Falls. There was the sweet delight of finding my first pasque flowers. There was the fun of getting Trixie, a little litter of kittens, and then another puppy two weeks ago. God’s creatures are such a gift! There was the work and fun of canning and processing, particularly of the harvesting fruit and processing jellies in the late summer.IMG_1679There was the beginning of expanding my photography business, shooting a wedding in June, doing a number of family portrait sessions, buying my first professional lens, winning best of show at the Custer County Fair again, and seeing my work in a local gallery. I was blessed with six piano students from my church, and am looking forward to taking on another in the next week or so.
IMG_3534The joy of reading continued to be a blessing, as always, with a wonderful biography on Spurgeon, the British theologian and pastor from the 19th century, as well as using his devotionals Morning by Morning and Evening by Evening. I read and re-read a short western novel, Man from Yuma, and have come to the conclusion that it is one of the best westerns I have ever read. I highly recommend it. Recently, I also enjoyed the first volume of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Small pleasures. But the joy of life is largely composed of small pleasures.IMG_0743eEven as I write this little list and muse over the last year, I feel sheepish. God is so good! How dare I look back on any year and feel that it was “dry” or “uneventful!” It contained no more or less than God had sovereignly ordained. Once again, I look forward with eagerness and hope (and some trepidation) to this next year. It is going to be busy, with some exciting projects and prospects, and I trust that God will be growing me and changing me, to his glory. So I usher in the New Year, glad of God’s goodness, eager to see what unfolds in 2017.

Laura Elizabeth