Bog Walking

IMG_5937 editThey are one of those last American frontiers of wilderness, these mysterious places that have triumphantly resisted many a pioneer effort to tame them.  We drive north, and great stretches of land spiked with the craggy silhouettes of stunted spruce and feathery tamarack are all that meet the eye for miles.  From the speed of the car window, it would seem that these trees are the only fauna that manage to monotonously thrive amidst the swamp grasses.  And inaccessible as they are, it can be a misconception difficult to prove otherwise.IMG_5590 editIMG_5624 edit.jpg IMG_5611 edit.jpgIf you’re fortunate enough to traverse a bog walk, however, you will find out that beneath the feathery tamarack branches there are wonderful, amazing plants that thrive in the water-logged, acidic soil, plants that you will see nowhere else but here.  There are strangely beautiful carnivorous plants…IMG_5635 editIMG_5943 editand rare exotic orchids named after legendary reptiles and dainty foot wear.IMG_5600 edit.jpg IMG_5370 editIMG_5923 edit.jpgThere are humps of moss so lush and thick it looks like shag carpet, and delicate grasses that are growing cotton balls.IMG_5617 edit.jpgThere are cranberries, bunchberries and labrador tea.IMG_5591 edit.jpgIMG_5368 editIMG_5650 edit.jpgThere are secret lakes of unknown depth, and pine cones in purple casings.IMG_5779 editIMG_5934 edit.jpgIt’s a whole new world of wonders, where even the more familiar flowers and berries manage to feel exotic if only for their tenacity to survive and thrive here.IMG_5946 edit.jpgIMG_5659 editAnd who knows what else might lie beyond?  The view a state park board walk lends is only a glimpse into this mysterious damp world of peat moss and uncertain footing.  I like the intrigue of this, imagining the rare orchids hidden away in the vast reaches of the bogs, never to be discovered.

I like to think of the Word of God as something like a bog walk into the otherwise unfathomable mysteries of who God is.  A walkway that doesn’t end like the ones in the parks do, but keeps going, on and on and on, as far as you’re willing to travel, with new and wonderful discoveries around every bend.  It’s an invitation to explore, to understand, to fully appreciate who He really is…not just what He might appear to look like when you’re speeding past a church building along the freeway.

We can have many impressions of and ideas about God.  Perhaps they’re based on how you were raised, or the way a certain church-goer you once knew acted.  They might even be based on what you hear at church or what a good Christian friend of yours says or thinks about Him.  But imagining that you understand God based purely on these “drive-by” experiences of life is like me imagining that a bog is completely boring because the only thing that grows there is weird looking pine trees, based purely on the view from my car window.  For all you know, your personal experiences may have given you a faulty view of what God is like.  At best, it’s only a partial view, just the tiniest incomplete glimpse into a God “who does great and unsearchable things, wonders without number” (Job 5:9), who causes the apostle Paul to exclaim: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Romans 11:33)

The only way to find out how beautiful He really is?  To get out of the car or off your seat on the sidelines, so to speak, and find out for yourself.  Don’t go slogging through in the hip waders of a self-made path, either, which can leave you lost and sinking fast into the mire of false ideas.  No, take the board walk He built just with you in mind, the one that is solidly built for sure footing, that skillfully curves along to bring you right to the rarest treasures of His wisdom and knowledge.

Read His Word.  Don’t think of it as something you have to do or should do; think of it as a treasure hunt into mysterious and wonderful places, because that’s what it really is.  There is no other way to truly “know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:2-3)

“Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105)

 

 

One Ordinary Summer Night

IMG_5315 edit 2.jpgAs the coral sun sets in a sea of softly apricot sky, I drive down the familiar bumps and curve of our own driveway after a long day in town.  Three small girls, happily sticky with the residue of free Dumdum suckers from the bank, tumble out of the car and I herd them inside to put on pajamas, brush teeth and crawl into bed.  We kill all the mosquitoes in their room, say prayers together, turn out the lights.  And then, I go back out to unload the groceries, a flat of plants from the greenhouse, and a newly repaired  bicycle that’s ready for a six-year-old to learn to pedal.  It’s late and I’m tired, but suddenly I pause in the midst of my trips up and down the porch steps, because—

There’s a milky half slice of moon in one half of the sky, a nearer-than-usual planet blinking like a solitaire diamond in the other.

The barn roof and my bridal wreath spirea in full bloom are glowing pure white in the gathering darkness.

The heady fragrance of lilac is on the breeze, perfuming the night.

I hear the whistle of a woodcock’s wings,

the hoarse voices of frogs along the shore,

one loon calling to another,

then a deep boom from beyond the trees on the other side of the lake.  Somebody, on this ordinary Monday evening in June, is shooting fireworks up into the perfect night sky.  I stay paused, whole watermelon cradled in my arms, to scrutinize the horizon and see if I can catch a glimpse of the sparkling explosions above the treetops.

And then, like a bit of falsetto to offset all the bass, comes the whine of a cloud of mosquitoes who had taken a surprisingly long time to realize there was human flesh waiting to be sampled in the great outdoors.  I hurry inside, grateful that they stayed away just long enough to give me time to savor what I’m too often in a hurry to discover:

that even when you’re tired and to-do list is long, or maybe especially then,

there’s incredible beauty and wonder to be found in an ordinary moment in time,

if you just take the time to pause and notice.

“Cease striving, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

Brown Moss

IMG_4830 edit.jpgHave you ever made a judgement of something or someone, only to find out later that you were entirely wrong?  I’m going tell you one of my own such errors, the tale of me and a bank of moss.

I’ve walked past this side of a hill many times.  It’s the kind of open spot in an otherwise forested area where it’s painfully obvious that it was at one time scraped into by some large piece of power equipment, leaving a gaping scar in the earth.  Over time, as God blessedly made it to do, vegetation had slowly crept back in to attempt to heal the wound.  In this case, that vegetation was moss.

But the poor, dry soil seemed had gotten the better of it, and it was mostly rusty brown, dead moss!  I always rather pitied that ugly mossy hillside and hurried past to prettier things.

And then, one day, I decided to take a shortcut to where I wanted to go and actually walk straight up that hillside.  I expected the wasting moss to crunch and crumble beneath my feet, my feet to slip in exposed clay.  But to my utter surprise, what I found instead was a soft, thriving, cushioned carpet of lush rusty-brown very-much-alive moss!  What from a distance had appeared brown and dead, wasn’t dead at all!  It just happened to be a naturally reddish-brown variety!IMG_4821 edit.jpgAfter that, I forgot what I was going to do on the other side of the hill.  I was down on my knees, then on my stomach (sorry, baby), an explorer in magnificent new miniature world.  I’ve always loved the world of fungi, and it was exhilarating to meet varieties I’d never seen before in person for the very first time.

And I felt rather foolish.  How many countless times had I walked past, loftily thinking I could accurately judge what I saw from a distance, never taking the time to actually get up close and fact-check my judgement?IMG_4826 edit.jpgThere is the judgement between right and wrong, truth and lie, meted out by courts of law, mothers weighing out eye-witness accounts and facts to determine who actually took the cookies, and by God at the end of the world.  This kind of judgement is good, righteous and necessary for order and justice.

Then there is this kind of judgement I made on this mossy hillside.  Not the justice kind, but the writing off kind.  That moss is brown, I thought, therefore it could not possibly be anything but dead.  I based this “fact” off of past experience and (what I thought) was a good understanding of moss.  But it was not a fact, it was an assumption—and even though it was an educated assumption, I was wrong.  This is called “leaning on my own understanding”, which the book of Proverbs warns against and is basically thinking so highly of our own discernment and knowledge that we ultimately end up making fools of ourselves.

I’d like to say this is the only time I’ve ever made this mistake.  That I’ve never misjudged anything or anyone more significant than a bed of dead-looking moss.  But I’ve made plenty of other such errors.

I’ve assumed I wouldn’t like certain foods because my parents didn’t.

I’ve “judged a book by its cover” without ever cracking it open.

I’ve failed to shop at a store based on it’s exterior, without ever entering.

Though I may have missed out on enriching experiences, these too-quick judgments will likely not affect my life negatively in the grand scheme of things, of course.  There’s one kind of mis-judgement that I truly regret, however.  It’s that I’ve sometimes based how I think of a person off of stereotypes, other people’s prejudices or my own pre-conceived notions instead of finding out what they’re really like for myself.IMG_4831 editI’ll never forget the time my wise father encouraged me as a young person to reach out to another new young lady at church.  Without having ever spoken to her, I had already decided, in all my youthful “wisdom”, that we probably wouldn’t have much in common and had foolishly written off the idea of friendship.  Out of respect for him, however, I agreed to make the effort to introduce myself, though I expected little to come of it.  And what do you suppose happened?  You guessed it: we not only met but became good friends, and a relationship blossomed that would be a tremendous blessing to me in upcoming times of unexpected loneliness.   I often think about how much I would have missed if I had followed my foolish inclination to write her off instead of stepping outside of my comfort zone.  It’s a lesson with a happy ending that I will never forget.

Can you think of something or someone in your life that you might be making this same mistake with?  If so, I hope my stories might make you consider going back to double-check your facts.  You never know: you might discover a new variety of moss or even make a new best friend.

“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)

“…you shall investigate and search out and inquire thoroughly.  If it is true and the matter established, [then]…” (Deuteronomy 13:14)

“…the honour of kings is to search out a matter.” (Proverbs 25:2)

A Psalm for Spring

IMG_4922 editWinter is well suited for contemplation.  Spring, I’m reminded lately, is not.  Spring is, rather, for living in the moment, moving constantly from the enjoyment of one beautiful, wonderful thing to the next, trying not to dwell on the fact that you’re probably still missing something wonderful.  Nothing sits still, lingers or waits for you.  There is a great tension of panic and excitement that wells up inside of me at the recognition of this.  I feel a little like my children, oh so impatient to be done with phonics and math, oh so eager to run outside and not miss a single glorious day of this fleeting season.

And to be honest, that’s kind of what I’ve been doing.  I’ve been so busy in my spare time taking pictures of the world exploding to life lately, I’ve had little time to think of composing words to accompany them and little motivation to sit down and apply myself to the task.  This is what happens to severely cabin-fevered Minnesotans after over half a year of winter, I suppose.  Finally, I’ve realized that soon I’ll have more pictures in my files than can ever properly fit in one blog post and I’d better quit waiting around for writing inspiration and just send them out into the world before they’re completely out of date.

Besides, I suspect the words of this ancient Psalm sum it up far better than I ever could.  Welcome to a little glimpse of the glory of spring that I’ve been reveling in.

IMG_4792 edit“How good it is to sing praises to our God, IMG_4926 edithow pleasant and lovely to praise Him!IMG_4939 edit.jpgGreat is our Lord, and mighty in power;IMG_5051 edit.jpgHis understanding has no limit.IMG_4917 edit.jpgSing to the LORD with thanksgiving; IMG_4947 edit.jpgmake music on the harp to our God, IMG_4995 edit.jpgwho covers the sky with clouds,img_5024-edit.jpgwho prepares rain for the earth,

IMG_5030 edit.jpg IMG_5044 edit.jpgwho makes grass to grow on the hills.IMG_5065 editHe sends forth His command to the earth; His word runs swiftly.IMG_5068 edit.jpgHe provides food for the animals,IMG_4978 edit.jpgand for the young ravens when they call.IMG_4984 edit.jpgHallelujah!”

(Excerpts from Psalm 147)

When Life Begins

IMG_4643.JPGLife didn’t begin when the crocus burst open to the sunshine early this week, purple pinstriped petals unfolding to reveal delicate saffron orange stamen.

Life didn’t begin when the tiny green points of slender pointed leaves pushed up through the earth, slowly widening, curving into maturity.

Life didn’t even begin this spring when the lengthening of days and the moisture of melting snow and the warming of the soil caused the little white bulb to send hopeful little roots downward and slowly swell with the development of a plant at its heart.

No, life began last fall, when I knelt by the edge of a flower bed, when the holes were dug, and the hopeful bulbs were dropped one by one.  Seed and soil met, and life was conceived that chilly October day.IMG_4744 edit.jpgScientists have found that when this occurs in a human womb, a literal spark, imperceptible to the naked eye, occurs.  They also say that to dissect the event down to the exact moment in time when two separate entities become one is virtually impossible.  The fertile seed is dropped, meets fertile earth, and it is done.

It’s hard to imagine anyone feeling anything but awe that when fertile meets fertile in the depths and safety of a womb, in one split second there is life.  That just as that day when the earth went from formless and void to full of light, God speaks and something springs into existence that was not there the instant before. 

It’s even harder to imagine feeling anything but wonder that just as then, each time this happens, God beholds what He has made and pronounces it good.  That, regardless of messy, complicated or even sinful human circumstance, He always, without fail, in the business of redeeming the human race and loving their souls, one individually orchestrated, precious conception at a time.

It’s especially hard for me to imagine, when I listen to the sound of a tiny heartbeat fill the microphone in my midwife’s office, 158 beats per minute strong, and that little one gives a feisty kick back against the pressure of the instrument.  It’s a life beloved by God, spoken into existence sometime in January,  that will blossom forth sometime around the time of the next bulb-planting this coming October.

We can’t wait to meet you, Baby #4!IMG_4743.JPG“For You formed my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Marvelous are Your works, and I know this very well.

My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in secret, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all my days were written in Your book and ordained for me before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:13-16)

Little American Falls

IMG_4710 edit.jpgThe first time I clambered beneath the cedars trees along this steep muddy bank, we were eagerly experiencing the sights of our new neighborhood for the very first time.  On the recommendation of a dear friend, we drove up through the Bigfork State Forest, on a narrow strip of asphalt hedged by endless miles of black swamp water and stunted spruce.  There, tucked away in an obscure little park, we found the Bigfork River rushing it’s way to Canada across a set of Class III-IV rapids.  It was not quite Niagara Falls, but it was an exciting stretch of river that we could hear the thunder of before we saw it.  

Today, almost exactly six years later, I’m on the same narrow trail, and I find that little has changed since then, as far as the river is concerned.  It’s still flowing faithfully.  The rocks cradling it show no visible signs of erosion.  The tumbling water still curls over that one giant boulder out in the middle in exactly the same way.

The changes that have occurred have been in my own life, and I’ve brought them with me.  My firstborn clambers ahead of me on this Sunday afternoon, reaching sweetly back to offer me a hand on the “hard parts”.  She’s not strong enough yet to really help, but I pretend to accept her offer anyway, marveling privately at how quickly life flies by.  Last time on this trail I was six months pregnant with her, not even a year married. Now she’s out there confidently posing on the lichened rocks while I snap pictures and punctuate my sentences anxiously with “be careful” and “that’s close enough”.  My husband is back up the trail, holding the hands of her two little sisters, who we had only dreamed of at that point.  

On the other hand, one thing hasn’t changed about me.  Apparently, being pregnant, even for the fourth time, still has little bearing on my eagerness to bypass the safely situated visitor’s viewing platforms to get up close to rushing water.   

IMG_4726 edit.jpg IMG_4720 edit.jpgIMG_4687 edit.jpgLast time I was here, I saw the elusive woodcock for the first time in my life, exploding up at my feet from what had appeared to be merely a pile of leaves.  Today the only wildlife is the bed of fluffy foam caught in an out-of-the-way nook beneath the falls, looking strikingly like the back of a very furry animal as it bobs gently in the current.  I smile when my daughter asks worriedly with big eyes: “Mommy, is that a bear?”  “Go poke it and see,” I counter slyly.  She laughs out loud at herself when she discovers that it’s pure fluff.

As we climb back up the river bank, I note the mosses cropping up lush and verdant at my feet, and the first signs of life at the tips of the tree branches arching over my head.  Spring is just waking here, reminding me of a sleepy, groggy two-year-old toddling out to snuggle with me on the couch in the morning, or maybe the four-year-old rolling over in the cocoon of her favorite penguin blanket and blinking sleepily at the morning light coming through her window.  Everything still has that just-got-out-of-bed look, still a little rumpled and squinty-eyed.

The most showy are the pussy willows, who have clearly gone from stage 1, silky and pearly gray, to stage 2, fluffy and lemon-lime yellow.  Also lovely at the tips of the maple branches exploding into bits of red, more showy up close than from a distance. And then on the forest floor, I see the bravely emerging leaves of hepatica.  Leaning down to feel beneath the leaves, I find what I’m looking for at the base of the plant: the downy heads of flower buds just emerging.  A couple more days, and there will be wildflowers in the woods.IMG_4721 edit.jpgIMG_4677 editBack up at the picnic area, we shake what mud we can off our shoes and take a last-minute trip to the nearby outhouse where we convince the girls that it’s safe to seat yourself over a deep, dark, echoing hole receding into the unknown depths of the earth.  Then we head out down the winding dirt road.  Tired little people quickly nod off into belated naps, and the thunder of the falls fades into fiddle music cranked up to keep their parents from following suit on the journey home. 

It’s good to know that as my own life shifts and changes, a wild river running north is still there, doing it’s God-ordained thing and fulfilling it’s purpose pretty much the same as always.

“All the rivers flow into the sea,

Yet the sea is not full.

To the place where the rivers flow,

There they flow again.” (Ecclesiastes 1:7)

Spring Ice

IMG_8231 editEveryone around here seems to have spent the last couple months and weeks waiting eagerly for the ice to break up.  And by “everyone around here”, I mean us and our feathered neighbors.

The swans have been patiently spending their days here for almost two months now, two faithful white lumps out on the ice standing guard over their nesting grounds.  The eagles began checking in next, periodically soaring in to keep tabs on the status of the frozen mass obscuring their fishing grounds.  Then the geese arrived, honking in and out (far less devoted than the swans), and the ducks, squeezing in to paddle around the tiny puddles opening up along the edges. 

And finally, just yesterday, the loons arrived with their wildly haunting calls.  They never show up until there’s a long enough runway open for their lengthy takeoffs, so it this was the surest sign yet that ice out was imminent.  IMG_4490 edit.jpgIMG_8325 editToday, there’s a giant pancake of ice floating out on the lake, and around it’s edges, the waves are moving again for the first time since November.  The wind is shifting it from one side to the other, slowly crushing, consolidating and wearing away at the ragged edges.  I’m watching it recede before my eyes as the day wears on.  In a day or two, or maybe even by morning, it will be gone. 

I can feel the exuberance of the waterfowl in my own soul as I watch the lake come alive after it’s long winter’s sleep.  I, too, have missed the twinkle of sunny waves through the shoreline trees, the soothing movement of the ripples reflecting the colors of the sky, the energy of the waves driving before the wind, and the smooth glimmer of its liquid mirror on still evenings.  I think I am surely just as happy as they to know that the reward of our mutual long and hopeful wait is right around the corner.

But I wasn’t worried that it would come, because the promises of God are always true to those who wait for them.  That goes for the change of seasons, as well as a lot of other things too numerous to list here now.  It’s good to remind ourselves of that, especially right after Easter.  The story isn’t finished yet!

“Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:28)