North-West to Alaska: Pacific Northwest

After Glacier National Park, we drove for the first time through country that we had never seen before! There were no side trips and very few stops, since we were on a time frame to reach Seattle by a certain time, but we still enjoyed the new sights along the way.

We traveled the length of the panhandle of Idaho, which was a beautiful continuation of the Montana Rockies, skies unfortunately heavy with smoke haze. We bought fresh cherries at a roadside stand, and watched whitewater rafters floating down mountain rivers. In one brief moment of excitement, the side door on our trailer flew open while driving down a freeway, but miraculously not one thing fell out!

Washington State had more high desert and plains than I expected, and the wheat fields were pure gold. In the Columbia River valley, we recorded 101 degrees on our truck thermometer, and saw multiple other vehicles overheat along the freeway. Gratefully, God spared our hardworking truck this calamity. We spotted the iconic form of Mount Rainier, and cooled off with guava popsicles at the top of breathtaking Snoqualmie Pass.

It’s strange to say it, but when we found ourselves descending into the metropolis of Seattle-Tacoma, the realization that the driving segment of our journey was over was bittersweet to me. Sweet, because there would be no more worries about tires and transmissions surviving the summer heat and steep mountain passes; bitter, because I had truly enjoyed the experience. I felt like I had finally gained true empathy for the pioneers, having successfully crossed miles of plains, two mountain ranges, and arrived within sight of the Pacific Ocean with all our earthly possessions still in tow. God had answered many gracious prayers on our behalf and granted us safety. The days of travel had flown by smoothly, and it had never seemed too long.

Now it was time for the final exciting segment of our journey, in which we committed our truck and trailer to the care of a barge company, and left solid ground for the skies and the sea. But that’s a story for another day.

“Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.” (Exodus 23:20)

North-West to Alaska: Glacier National Park

We drove toward the sun for 1600 miles. At about the 800 mile mark, the pale hazy blue forms of the Rocky Mountains first materialized from the horizon and it was an epic moment for all of us. It was the first time our older three children had seen snowcapped mountains, and listening to their gasps of wonder and awe brought me back to my own first time view of the mountains like it was yesterday.

We had decided in advance to take a day of rest from our cross-country journey at Glacier National Park. Not only was it almost exactly the halfway point, but Zach and I have both been here with our parents years ago, and we knew we couldn’t drive so close to a place so beautiful without showing it to our kids. We figured that after two days cooped up in the car, four little people were going to be pretty ready to take a break from travel and stretch their legs.

Turns out, dad and mom were pretty ready for a break, too!

In the one full day we had to enjoy the park, we had lunch at the historic Many Glacier chalet, spent time splashing in the St. Mary River and hiked up beautiful Logan Pass. We got very close to mountain sheep and marmots, walked through glacial snow in July, and chased the setting sun down the breathtaking curves of Going-to-the-Sun Road. And we spent two nights in the coziest little cabin under the stars, a welcome break from hotel life (and cheaper, too!).

That last paragraph sums our visit to Glacier neatly in a nutshell, but doesn’t really capture the aura of the place. I wish I could write something that would make you feel the way I felt there, like the moment when we drove around a sharp curve to see layers upon layers of mountains receding down the valley into the seemingly infinite distance, the jagged teeth of pine-studded slopes perfectly silhouetted one against the other, and there, at the edge of the precipice, a lone mountain sheep running wild and free, all wrapped in the pure golden haze of the setting sun.

It was as pastoral, romantic and full of idealistic glow as a painting straight from the Hudson River School (here’s a link to the sort of painting I’m referring to if you’re not familiar with the style), except it was alive and breathing and we were right at the edge of it looking in. It’s the sort of moment that leaves you without words, and with a little bit of an ache in your soul, and, just maybe when no one’s looking, tears in your eyes.

Your loving devotion, O LORD, reaches to the heavens,

Your faithfulness to the clouds.

Your righteousness is like the highest mountains…” (Psalm 36:5-6)

P.S. I’m sorry it’s taken so long to get pictures up! I’ve had a bit of trouble figuring out my new camera and editing software situation, but I’ve finally worked through all that and I’m back up to speed! I have hundreds of pictures and so much to share, so thanks for your patience and stay tuned for more soon!

North-West to Alaska: The Heartland

This country of ours is one big, beautiful place. The first time we went to Alaska, I got one big fast magnificent overview from the air. This time, with the exception of one hour and a half flight, we went much more slowly, by land and by sea.

I can’t really say I prefer one over the other. Flying is fast, convenient, and a magnificent experience, but there are things you miss, like reading the colorful bulletin boards in dusty Western single pump gas stations and picking a sprig of sage brush to rub between your fingers and breathe in the earthy, spicy fragrance for miles after. You don’t get to watch the rain sweep like a curtain across the plains towards you, leaving air refreshingly clean of smoke in its wake or spot a rainbow in your rearview mirror. You don’t get to see the calico herds of longhorn cattle, or watch the grain dust rising from the combines in the wheat fields.

And truth be told, after the effort we’d put into preparing for this move the few weeks previously, I was very ready to sit in the truck and do nothing but gaze for hours at some long, rolling miles of endless farmland. It was so peaceful, restful—and gloriously air-conditioned!

So welcome to my passenger seat view of western Minnesota, North Dakota and eastern Montana for the first two days, mostly shot from a moving vehicle, with strong themes of yellow canola fields, small town grain elevators and gas station stops. Enjoy!

And, in this last shot, a hazy preview of the next blog post’s theme…coming soon!

“Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!
Sing to the Lord, all the earth…

Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it.” (Psalm 96:1, 12)

See You Later

Every year in the fall, Linda says it to us: “I don’t say good bye, only see you later.” And the thing is? Because we’re sisters in the Lord, it’s true. It’s not some sort of denial of reality, it’s actually stating a truth that we often forget: that the bond we share in Christ is eternal. IN CHRIST, there will sometimes be temporary separations, but there are no good byes. This right here is the most beautiful thing about the family of God.

I’m saying goodbye to plenty of things this month.

I’m saying goodbye to the community we came to on our honeymoon, young, naïve, and freshly in love, a place that over the course of the last ten years has changed from unfamiliar to “home”. I’m saying goodbye to the waitress at the Timber Wolf who never forgot our kids’ names or that Zach preferred diet pop, to the people at the Max Mini who would tell us “just stop by and pay for it later” if we forgot our wallet, because “I know you will”, to a place where we had put in the work to finally know almost everyone who lived in almost every house we saw along the road by name.

I’m saying goodbye to the little farm on the lake that was God’s gift to us for eight beautiful years, to the house where our oldest daughter celebrated her first birthday, one daughter was born in the back bedroom and two other newborns were brought home, to the row of Oriental poppies along the chicken coop that were the one true triumph of my flower gardening efforts, to the length of that long, gravel driveway walked a thousand times and more, to the beloved Stone Axe Lake swans and loons and eagles and otters, and yes, even the invincible ground squirrels and cellar spiders.

I’m saying goodbye to the low brown church building we walked into one January morning with zero pastoral experience, and walked out of on this Fourth of July wiser and richer by 10.5 years, to echoes of potlucks and pizza parties and vacation Bible schools and baby dedications, and the double piano hymns rising to the golden pine ceilings, to the memories of laughter and tears, heartache and triumph, weddings and funerals.

But the people? The people who loved us deeply,

who welcomed us with open arms,

who humbled us with their generosity,

who were the village who helped us shape and mold our children for the better with kindness,

who appreciated and thanked us more than we deserved,

who were patient and gracious as we grew and learned,

who encouraged us and cheered us on,

who stuck by us faithfully through thick and thin?

(And you know who you are if you’re reading this—)

I’m not saying goodbye to you.

We’ll miss you, yes.

But even though the story God is writing for us and for you may be causing our paths to separate for now, it brings me great peace and joy to remember that it’s only temporary. One day, soon, we’ll be together again. Until then—thank you for everything and see you later, my dear, dear friends. May God bless you richly for your kindness. You will always be in our hearts.

“…to the beloved…whom I love in truth…I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul… I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. Peace be to you.” (3 John 1:1-2, 14)

P.S. Alaska pictures and a report of our travels will coming as soon as I can get a few new camera/computer things figured out! But know that we have now arrived safely at our new home and look forward to sharing more soon!

From Little Hills to Big Hills

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)

Between Seasons

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.

It’s coming,

it’s coming,

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)

Flying

“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)

Hoar Frost & Thoughts On Trust

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)

A Child Is Born

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.IMG_5349 editI 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.IMG_5127 editFor 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.IMG_5356 editFor 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.IMG_5118 editAnd all was well, because God was there.

For me,

For Mary,

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.IMG_5325 edit“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)

We Went Driving

Up the rugged Superior shore,

To where two countries meet;

Through the golden Sawtooth hills,

With the waves at their feet.

Along the pebbled, craggy edge,

Where restless waters stretch,

All the way to meet the dawn,

At a line so faintly etched.

Through the forest silent,

To where the roaring water falls,

Beneath the gentle mountain peaks,

Where the soaring eagle calls.

Spires of pine were pointing up,

While fluttering leaves fell down,

To grace the humble forest floor,

In a multi-colored gown.

A journey up the North Shore in October is about as lovely an autumn experience as it gets—and if you can get fresh coffee and cardamom rolls to eat while you drive, even better.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul…who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:1,5)