Once upon a time, I named my blog Rejoicing Hills. This was not so much because where I live is extremely hilly, but for the picture it painted in my mind of earth itself, with all its contours, curves, valleys and peaks, giving voice to praising its Creator. Psalm 37:12 that I based this title on (which you can read up there at the top of the side bar!) spoke of “little hills”, and that did not feel out of place for the gentle landforms of northern Minnesota.
But today I have some news for you. Many of you already know this, but I thought I’d better make an official blog announcement for those of you don’t! In about two months, Rejoicing Hills is going to graduate from little hills to some very, very big hills. That mountain you see up there? It’s going to soon be a daily view. We are moving to Alaska!
While the familiar beauty of my childhood home state will always hold a uniquely special place in my heart, I am truly looking forward to experiencing the wonders and beauty of this new place—and taking you all along on this next leg of our journey! I don’t know how much time I’ll have for writing and posting in the next few weeks since I’ll be very busy getting ready for the move—but I do plan to post more frequently again once we’re settled!
“The whole earth is full of His glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)
This season we’re currently in is always one of unpredictability. It’s that time in Minnesota when Winter and Spring have a playful little spat over who’s going to be in charge, and my children never know if a day is going to be the sort that requires snow pants or mud boots or tempts them to go barefoot.
One day the trail is muddy, the next day it’s icy. Some days it’s softly carpeted in pine needles and sunlight.
One day, the sunshine is warm and caressing on pale winter skin, and the next the wind is whipping snowflakes at sharp angles along the ground.
At the beginning of the week, the lake is frozen clear across; by the weekend its waves are free and wild again.
But in spite of all the apparent indecision, there is no doubt that this is a time for irreversible change. For every one step back, there are two steps forward. From a distance everything may seem as brown and barren as November, but if you look closely, the buds are swelling and bursting, and there is sweet sap dripping into buckets in the maple groves and being boiled down over late-night fires. If you stop to listen, the grouse are drumming in the forest, and twittering flocks of cedar waxwings and snow buntings are taking rest stops in yards on their way north, and there’s the sound of running water through a culvert that was frozen solid a week ago. Last night, I heard the first loons calling to each other.
spring is coming, sure as the dawn, and I think every stalwart winter soul is ready to welcome it with open arms. This week, the April showers have been gently and generously soaking the thirsty ground—and now we await the imminent first flush of green!
“Drip down, O heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness. Let the earth open up that salvation may sprout and righteousness spring up with it; I, the LORD, have created it.” (Isaiah 45:8)
“He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.”—Albert Einstein
There are some decided advantages to having some firsts in life delayed until you’re well into adulthood. The best part is that for a few fleeting glorious minutes, you can experience a flashback to the sensation of pure childlike wonder. At least that was what it was like for me to fly for the first time at age 35.
If I thought about it too deeply, I would admit that it takes quite a bit of faith and trust to buckle yourself into the narrow seat of a 737, and believe that 130-170,000 pounds of steel, fuel and humans is going lift up into the air and soar to 40,000 feet above the clouds. Before 1903, you would have laughed at me for even suggesting the idea.
Now, as the engines began to roar and we taxied toward the runway, I looked around to see people already calmly reading books, taking naps and playing Scrabble as though what was about to happen was as ordinary an everyday occurrence for them as brushing their teeth and combing their hair. I was not afraid, either, having grown up a hundred years after the Wright brothers, in an era when safe and successful air travel is normalized. But this was still my first time, and what I was experiencing that no one else seemed to be was excitement.
When we rushed forward and the wheels lifted from the pavement, it was every bit as exhilarating as I’d ever imagined. There was a blissfully lightening sensation, as though we’d left our weight down on the ground instead of taking it with us. The sun was just setting, the blue evening clouds lying wispy over the Minneapolis terminal—and suddenly we were rising right through them. One minute we were beneath, for a split second we were passing through them, the next we were above. It was just close enough to dusk that the city lights twinkled just a little and winked at me as they faded out of sight. The sun was setting in a blaze of pink, and then we were chasing it to the west as we rose higher and higher, unwilling to let it go.
For over an hour and a half, I watched that sunset as we throttled through a thinner atmosphere at 500 MPH. It was the longest sunset I have ever watched in my life. Eventually, we started to lose the chase and I saw Venus blink sleepily on just above the final streak of fuchsia, then steadily shine brighter as the night turned from velvet blue to black. The clouds were thick dark cotton below us, but every once in a while, they parted and I caught sight of the miniscule lit grid of a town far, far below.
On ensuing flights over the course of the trip, the wonders only increased. I kept catching my breath, awed by how different and beautiful Earth looked from up so high.
I got to watch the sun rise at 40,000 feet, bathing the tops of the rain clouds a sea of perfect conch shell pink for miles beneath us. The clouds parted and I saw misty fjords, and a sea of snowy peaks. I saw the full moon sinking into the ocean. I saw the fine white line of a road carving the edge of a ridge, and a raft of massive logs that looked like a collection of toothpicks afloat on the sparkling sea. I saw geometric forms of fields, perfect squares and circles.
I saw massive cracks in the ice of great rivers and majestic forests looking like nothing more than a carpet of soft dark moss and billows of snow patterned like waves across the plains. I saw semi trucks moving like ants on freeways that looked like mere threads. I saw the tiniest toy barns that I could only barely identify as red. It was a whole new perspective on this giant spinning ball I call home.
The world in my mind has often tended to look more like the maps in the atlas on our book shelf, with political boundaries neatly surrounding pastel blocks of color. But up there, peering down in wonder out of my tiny window, I was reminded that what I was seeing from my bird’s eye view was a whole lot more accurate to what God sees. He sees the big picture in the actual rich earth toned palette He painted it, how each part fits and flows together seamlessly and meaningfully to create the gorgeous masterpiece ball of Earth.
He sees the pair of swans talking to themselves as they build their nest at the mouth of the unnamed creek that flows into Stone Axe Lake, which flows in Little Sand Lake and out into the Bowstring River, which flows into the Bigfork River, which flows into the Rainy River, which snakes its way all the way up to the Hudson Bay and empties into the Atlantic Ocean, which laps at the edges of Iceland and Florida and South Africa, and makes ice around the shores of Antarctica that melts into the Pacific which crashes its mighty waves against the rocks of Patagonia, kisses the warm shores of Mexico and carries the salmon up the fjords of Prince of Wales Island to spawn in the Thorne River.
He who pinched up the points of the mountain ranges, formed the oceans with the imprint of His thumb, carved the delicate calligraphy of the rivers with His pen, holds this whole spinning magnificent world in His hands. But the best part is that He can see all this in one swift glance, while at the same time, He zooms in and sees the sparrow that falls, and the state of my heart, and yours, and all the hearts of 7.8 billion human beings created in His image and running around like tiny ants on the surface of this globe—and He knows and longs after each one by name.
Up there in that silver plane with the blue stripes on its wings, I felt small in the best way possible, dwarfed by vast magnificence of the world, and in awe that I was of any account at all, let alone beloved by its Creator.
“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:3-9)
If I’ve learned anything about trusting the Lord in my 35 years of life, it’s that I still have a lot to learn about trusting the Lord.
For some reason, whenever I come out on the backside of a trial, I am naïve enough to think that after having learned to trust God in that circumstance, I will surely have no difficulties with trusting Him in the future. But then along comes a different unexpected circumstance, and too often I am surprised by my lack of faith, as I find myself wildly groping about for all my self-made crutches, brainstorming secular solutions and free falling into anxiety.
Up rises the skeptic of my soul to question God yet again: You were big enough for that last problem I had, but are You really big enough for this one? Just in case You hadn’t noticed, it’s a new problem, Lord. This one’s extra hard and scary. Can You really handle it? Are You sure You don’t need help from me on this one?
It’s a question as old as Eden. Hath God really said? Can He really be believed?Does He really know what’s best? And too often I am swayed by these whispers of doubt, and bite hard into the apple of anxiety.
To recognize the echo of Eve in my soul is humbling.
By definition, trust requires one to let go, and by nature, we humans are tight-fisted. Trusting God means admitting that I don’t have it all together. That I’m not as self-sufficient as I liked to imagine. That I have lost control. That I lack wisdom. That behind the strong, capable exterior I may have projected, I am actually weak and needy.
There is a killing of pride and self that must occur when I make the decision to trust God, and no matter how you look at it, killing always hurts. And in the case of trust, it seems like it often has to happen more than once in a given situation. As Paul said, “I die daily” (1 Cor. 15:31), and as Jesus said, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24).
But there’s an encouraging side to this, too. Though letting go to lean into trust is always hard, it also gets easier. The more times I’ve peeled back the fingers of my white knuckled hold on whatever it is that I’m trying to handle on my own and can’t, the more times I have proven the goodness and mercy of God. The longer the list of times I have chosen to lean hard on Him instead of my self, the harder it is to resist doing it again.
When I look back, I remember…
that time He provided for my unspoken needs,
that time He moved a figurative mountain,
that time He gave grace to accept,
that time He gave a miracle,
that time He brought beauty from ashes,
that time when He transformed fear into anticipation,
that time He took away something that I did not recognize as harmful until after the fact,
that time He had far more beautiful things in store for me than I could ever have imagined.
The overriding truth is that, in each circumstance, no matter what the outcome, He was always faithful, and proved yet again that He was worthy of my trust.
Today, looking back on what has been proven and looking forward to what is yet unknown, I rest on the assurance that He is enough.
“…the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.” (1 Peter 2:6)
“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.” (Isaiah 26:3-4)
On Christmas Day 2019, with doting aunties and grandmas hovering round, my firstborn son turned two months old. I’d spent the previous weeks nursing him beneath the lights of the Christmas tree, often twinkling over us in the wee hours when the rest of the household was slumbering. And on those nights, as his little head nodded downy and drowsy down onto my shoulder, I thought a lot about the first Christmas. I feel like I understand how it might have been for Mary so much better now because of him.
I had it all planned out, you know. Our fourth child would be born peacefully at home, surrounded by the birthing professionals I had carefully chosen and built a relationship with over the last nine months. The birthing pool was sitting in the living room, ready for the moment I told Zach, “It’s time!” to be filled, tiny cord clamps and other medical supplies waiting in a box nearby for the midwife’s arrival. A pretty robe was hanging up, waiting for me to slip into after labor for first pictures with my new little one. Our bedroom was clean and ready, tiny baby newborn-sized clothes laid out on the changing table, one small pile of pink and one small pile of blue, and a pile of neutral in between awaiting the big gender reveal. My mom was ready to drop everything when the phone rang to come whisk our other children away until after the birth.I imagine that Mary had plans, too, those 2000 years ago. She, too, probably envisioned her child being born in the comfort of her own home, perhaps assisted by the wise old midwife who had helped every baby in Nazareth enter the world for the last 40 years, her mother nearby to hold her hand and offer encouragement during the frightening pangs of her first labor. The swaddling clothes were laid out next to the beautiful cradle her carpenter husband had crafted, and certainly, she had dreamed that the event would be at least nine months after her wedding day to her betrothed.
But things didn’t go according to plan, mine or hers.For me, what was supposed to be a trip into town for a routine prenatal turned into a trip to the hospital for induction after an unexpected diagnosis of preeclampsia. We arrived weary, after midnight and a long evening of testing and being shuffled between towns and hospitals. A doctor I had never seen before agreed to make room for me in her schedule because the situation was considered urgent. The unexpected circumstances were such that I arrived with nothing but the clothes on my back and my purse. No camera, no toiletries or changes of clothing, none of the small comforts and baby things I had so carefully arranged back home. I gave birth in a borrowed gown, surrounded by more strangers than not, an awkward but necessary blood pressure cuff attached to my arm and the foreign sound of monitors beeping. My firstborn son was wrapped in a hospital-issued swaddle instead of the little clothes sitting back at home. He was laid in a rolling baby cart of stainless steel and plastic labeled “Baby Ender” instead of the wooden-spindled cradle under the window in my bedroom.For Mary, the honor and wonder of being with child by the Holy Ghost looked unfortunately too much like a shameful out-of-wedlock birth to her neighbors. She received snubs and nasty gossip instead of congratulations. The wedding—after the fact—was very nearly called off. Caesar Augustas in Rome did not take due dates into account when he ordered an empire-wide census. A long, arduous trip kicked off labor. They arrived weary in an unfamiliar town where they knew nobody, too late for a premium room at the inn. They were stuck sleeping with animals on a night when she labored as a first-time mother, undoubtedly longing for comfort and familiarity more than any other night in her life. If anyone assisted her in birth besides Joseph, it was certainly a stranger, pulled in at the last minute for the emergency. A manger stood in for the hand-crafted cradle back home.
And yet in both of our cases, in spite of all the upset plans, the most important thing did go as planned:
A baby boy was pushed safely out into the world, opened his mouth with a healthy squall, and blinked his sleepy eyes to look up into his mother’s face for the very first time. The pain was forgotten. It didn’t matter who was there, or where we were, if there were monitors beeping or animals lowing. All that mattered was that our child was born.And all was well, because God was there.
For you in whatever unplanned circumstances you didn’t ask for this year, like celebrating the holiday in isolation, sick in the hospital, or mourning the loss of a loved one. God is with you.
Never forget that this is the true meaning of Christmas.“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)
There are a lot of things about 2020 I’d be happy to never see again in my lifetime, but this is one of the few things I saw that I can say I wouldn’t mind seeing again sometime soon.
Except that won’t be happening, because, according to NASA, Comet NEOWISE will not be seen again for 6,800 years. So this was not just a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity, it was a once-in-86-lifetimes opportunity. Wow.
Fun fact: the comet was named forNASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission, on which it was first sighted.
“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth, who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!” (Psalm 8:1)
Photographed 11:02 PM July 16th, 2020; Chippewa National Forest, Minnesota, USA.
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)
This benediction sums up my wish for you as much today as it did for Paul towards the Roman church.
It’s been such a good six weeks! I hope you’ve enjoyed the daily views of summer through my lens, and digging deeper into the rich treasures of the book of Romans. I’ve been challenged and encouraged by what I’ve read, and I hope you have, too!
If you’re one of the people who has joined me to read through the full study on SheReadsTruth.com: thank you! It made it extra meaningful to know we were doing this together, especially during a summer when being “together” has been limited! If you did, will you comment below or on Facebook and tell me your favorite photo and/or verse from the last six weeks? There might just be a little something special coming your way if you do!