The ocean is a whole new world for our family. It’s beautiful and mysterious, vast and wild, incredibly fascinating and a little terrifying. It actually boggles my mind to think about the depth and breadth of it, and the unknown quantities of hidden creatures it contains. I have taken the kayak out on a couple sheltered bays, but I think it will be a while before we’re brave enough to venture out into the big water on our own. The unpredictability of the wind and the waves and the hazards of fluctuating tides, rocks and shoals are daunting to say the least.
One thing we have wholeheartedly embraced, though, is the adventure of beach combing. It feels like a safe way to experience the ocean. We get to feel the spray, smell the saltwater, even get our feet wet—but without much risk. Because of the tide fluctuation the shoreline is a moody, ever changing, wonderfully unpredictable landscape and you never know what you will find. Every time we go, there is something new to discover.
An abalone shell.
A sea urchin.
Sea anemone waving their arms in shallow tidal pools.
Far out, an orca blowing.
Crabs scuttling along rocky bottoms.
A mink, fishing for his seafood breakfast.
We have seen and learned so many new things in the last few months, and I know we’ve barely scratched the surface of what there is to discover!
“O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great.” (Psalm 104:24-25)
The weather was so beautiful during the last week of October, we decided at the very last minute to take the kids on a little overnight “cabining” adventure. The Tongass National Forest is home to several remote rustic cabins that you can rent, and we’ve been eager to check some of them out. We chose this one on a sea estuary called Twelve Mile Arm because it’s one that you can hike into, versus the many that can only be reached by boat or floatplane, and it was just right for us!
Accomplishment #1: We found the place, which was about an hour and half away drive from Thorne Bay, without getting lost.
Accomplishment #2: No one twisted an ankle packing all our gear down the trail in the dark, with no small thanks to the loan of Joel’s wheelbarrow and Jason’s flashlights.
We roasted the classic hotdogs and s’mores, read bedtime stories by flashlight, and the kids slept like logs on those hard bunks in their sleeping bags (don’t ask about dad and mom!). The little wood stove kept the place cozy and someone had left a nice pile of firewood for us to use. The next morning, we did simple things like sit on the porch while sipping hot coffee and poke around along the shoreline for treasures (including the remains of someone’s hunt, as pictured below!). The inlet was like glass, which made for some fabulous kayaking. I saw a jellyfish, and we all saw a pine marten. South-bound geese were flocking up and calling loudly across the water, and it was incredibly peaceful.
We were so grateful for the chance to slow down and spend some time together while experiencing this place for a short but sweet 24 hours!
“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.” (Psalm 24:1-2)
On a gorgeous day in October, we took an autumn hike as a family around Balls Lake, which is about twenty miles west of us on the island.
“It’s only a mile or so around the lake,” someone had estimated to us.
Lesson learned: don’t trust estimates. It was more like 2.5 miles, a slight discrepancy that didn’t bother the adults as much as the short-legged two-year-old in the family. He was a real trooper though, and walked a good two-thirds of the distance before he had to be carried!
We found lingonberries along the trail, spotted sockeye salmon in a creek, and played with the most beautiful echoes. The sun played hide and seek with us, so the jackets came on and off. We came out muddy and famished after our longer-than-expected hike, ready to inhale a very belated picnic lunch.
It’s interesting to observe the differences and similarities of the changing seasons here on Prince of Wales Island as compared to where we came from in northern Minnesota. Fall is more subtle here with most of the trees being conifers, yet the season is still distinctly evident in the frosty mornings, falling alder leaves, roadside and shoreline grasses turning from green to beautiful pale gold, and the turning of the leaves closer to the forest floor like the bunchberries, devil’s club and ferns you see pictured here. This hike finally gave us the opportunity to get up close and immerse ourselves in the autumnal forest, and I’m happy to report that it was beautiful.
“The earth, O LORD, is full of your steadfast love…” (Psalm 119:64)
There are some people whose impact on your life is immeasurable. When I heard last week that my childhood pastor, Don Stolhammer, had gone home to be with the Lord, there were a flood of memories of a man who had great spiritual influence over some of the most formative years of my life.
I remember him telling the story to me, just earlier this year, of how he sat on a stump “out back” in Wisconsin and wrestled with God about going into the ministry. He chose to say, “I’m willing,”—and God went on to use him to richly bless my life and that of so many others.
One of the most invaluable gifts he gave was that of a solid foundation in sound Biblical doctrine. I was too busy soaking it all in when I was young to fully appreciate what I was getting, but looking back now I am deeply grateful for the depth, clarity and thoroughness of his teaching. I can literally still hear the way he explained certain verses and passages when I read my Bible, and how the marker would squeak on the white board as he scrawled it full of words, maps and diagrams on Sunday nights.
I remember him teaching us Greek words so we could understand our Bibles better. I was so fascinated by this, I asked him how I could learn more Biblical Greek for myself. He lent me a whole box full of his Greek study cassette tapes, books and notes from seminary, and also taught me how to utilize my Strong’s Concordance to quickly and easily look up the Greek meanings of words in my Bible. While I eventually decided that learning an entire new language was more than I could handle at the time, his lesson on the use of the Hebrew/Greek section of Strong’s stuck with me and is a tool I’ve utilized many, many times since.
I remember him quoting verse after verse of Scripture and encouraging us to do the same.
I remember him quoting A.W. Tozer and other great Christians, and how he liked singing hymns like “Children of the Heavenly Father” and “Redeeming Love” and “He the Pearly Gates Will Open”.
I remember being a little bit in awe of his Bible as a child, with notes scrawled thick in the margins and worn binding patched together with gray duct tape.
I remember how he’d quote S.M. Lockridge at the end of the Good Friday service: “It’s Friday…but Sunday’s a comin’!”.
I remember him telling the story of “My Heart, Christ’s Home”, and I still have the copy of it he gave me when I asked where I could get one.
I remember him publicly apologizing to the entire congregation one Sunday for having a wrong attitude when he delivered the previous week’s sermon, and how much I respected him for his honesty and humility.
I remember that he was not some unreachable daunting figure in my life, but someone who was approachable, kind and always took time to answer questions and take genuine interest in me.
And so many of my favorite childhood memories, things like beautiful candlelight Christmas, Good Friday and Thanksgiving services, singing around the campfire at the parsonage, and weekend-long missions conferences, are associated with his leadership and ministry at Northern Bible Church.
When I decided I wanted to get baptized at age 9, I distinctly remember sitting down with him and my dad in his office with the 70’s shag carpet, every nook and cranny crammed to the ceiling with books, and one of the first questions he asked me was, “Why do you want to do this?” And, kindly but more pointedly, “Are you doing this because you see other people doing it?” That kind of brought me up short in my mind, because it was a little bit true. I had heard that another girl a little bit older than me was getting baptized, and I remember thinking that if she could do it, why couldn’t I? And when he asked me that, I realized that I couldn’t do it just to be cool like someone else. I had to do it because I understood what it meant and believed in it with all my heart. I remember how clearly and kindly he walked through the whole process with me, making sure I understood exactly the seriousness and significance of what I was doing. On a gently overcast Sunday afternoon a few weeks later, he was the one who dunked me under the water of Lake Dellwater while the crowd on the beach sang “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”.
In my adulthood, though retired, he remained a trusted friend and source of much wise counsel.
When we got married, he did our counseling and gave the message at our wedding. Later, as my husband took on and began his very first pastorate, Pastor Don made himself available to Zach as an invaluable listening ear and voice of experience and wise counsel.
One of my sweetest memories, however, is from just this last year. When we were considering a major life change and move, and torn over the multiple options before us, Pastor Don was the one who helped us see our way through a confusing sea of emotions and well-meant but conflicting advice. He was one of our only advisors who literally gave no opinion, but simply shared wisdom from his own years of experience in ministry, and challenged us to earnestly seek and follow God’s will rather than man’s (our own or others). His counsel was pivotal in our ultimate decision. The time he took, the prayers he prayed, and the care he showed for us during this time meant the world to us, and it brings tears to my eyes even as I write. He and Donna were there to give us hugs and assure us of their prayers at our last little goodbye party in Bemidji. “We’ll look forward to seeing you and hearing all about Alaska when you come back for visits,” he assured us. I did not imagine that it would be the last time we would speak face to face with him on this earth.
On September 30th, heaven welcomed a good and faithful servant. He is with his Savior face to face, receiving his reward. Our loss, his incredible gain. I only pray that those of us who he invested in can step up to fill the void he has left behind and carry on his legacy of faithfulness for Christ to the next generation.
“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter the joy of your master.’” (Matthew 25:21)
We’d seen them before, my husband and I. The weird eroded shapes of the badlands. Four massive solemn faces carved into a granite mountainside. A herd of buffalo calmly holding up traffic. Bighorn sheep leaping effortlessly up the faces of seemingly sheer precipices. But oddly, seeing them for the second time seemed more meaningful to me than the first—and it was all because of three little people strapped in the back seats behind us.
We had seen it all before, but there was something wonderful about experiencing it anew through their eyes.The wonder continued when we visited the world’s largest collection of live reptiles. We watched our littlest girl’s eye’s practically pop out of her head at the sight of a massive anaconda. We looked together for loose tiny geckos running around in the conservatory, and gasped with them to find an (uncontained!) snake hanging in a tree over our heads. We felt their excitement as they got to pet baby alligators and giant tortoises. We laughed with them at the parrot who could meow like a kitten.
And I thought to myself: Wow! This place is way more fun than I remember as a teenager. Had it changed that much? No. It was just me that had changed. I was seeing the same blue frogs and cobras, but this time as a mother through the eyes of my children—and that made all the difference.On this trip, I though a lot about what Jesus meant when He said: “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
When you hear the word “golden”, what do you think of?
For my four-year-old right now, it’s anything metallic. Silver, copper, gold, it’s all “golden” to her. And since it makes me smile to hear her calling our humble everyday silverware “golden”, I haven’t gotten around to educating her on the finer points of metallic hue identification.
But for me?
I think of my wedding band, a circle of precious metal around my finger, a valuable gift that symbolizes a solemn covenant made to me by a beloved man.I think of lamplight on aged pine walls, and candle flames dancing above brass candlesticks, and the color of faces gathered companionably around a fire.I think of the warmly lit hour right around sunset that a photographer lives for, that has been universally dubbed “the golden hour” for it’s unparalleled quality of light.I think of honey drizzled on cornbread,
of foot pedals on pianos,
of the gilded edges of a new Bible,
of the rims of the plates I used to serve golden slices of pumpkin pie on Thursday,
of a palomino horse galloping in the sunset,
of the color of my daughter’s favorite hen and the yolks of her pretty brown eggs.And I think of the splendid way that autumn ends up here in the northwoods, all the tamaracks ablaze with glory, making even the murky swamp waters glimmer with unaccustomed splendor. If the sun is shining on it all, then it truly is a tiny glimpse of heaven on earth.This little taste of “heaven on earth” is my favorite of all, then, because it’s one fleeting golden moment reminding me of a golden eternity.
It’s that place I’ve never been where my homesick heart belongs,
where the streets, buildings, furnishings, dishes, and clothing are golden,
where the prayers of the God’s people are so precious that they are presented before His throne in golden bowls,
where all that splendid gold needs no sun to illuminate it because God is there.
I can hardly wait to get there.
“…the city itself was of pure gold, as pure as glass…and the city has no need for sun or moon to shine on it, because the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its lamp.” (Revelation 22:5)
“The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” (Revelation 5:8)
The leaves are changing, they said way too early in August—and they were right. It started with a premature crimson splash here and there. But soon the green of summer was transitioning full speed to yellow, orange, brown and crimson of autumn. Fall was here.
It was a pleasant change, everyone agreed. While there’s some debate about summer and winter, almost everyone I know likes fall. No more sweltering heat. No more weeding the garden. No more mosquitoes. There’s apple cider, favorite sweaters, the way the air smells, fires that feel cozy again. We take slow drives down country roads to enjoy the daily-evolving color show. The piles we rake up in yards are better, in my kids’ opinion, than a MacDonald’s ball pit. We press the most gorgeous leaf specimens between book pages to treasure. What’s not to love?
Things are not quite so spectacular from the leaves’ point of view, though. They turn gorgeous colors, sure, and receive more admiration at this time of year than during any other season—but the reality is that their doom is imminent. As the crimson leaches down to their tips, their connection to their mother tree deteriorates and loosens.I drive down the road in a windstorm, and a rainbow of leaves swirls down from the sky like confetti. This is their fate. Magical to me, the end of life for them.
For them the change means letting go, falling, fading, shriveling, crumbling, crushing, eventually composting away into anonymity on the forest floor. It is perhaps not quite so pleasant described thus, because none of us like those kind of changes either. We all prefer the celebrating kinds, the weddings, new babies and job promotions. Anything to do with rotting? Not so much.
There are changes we seek, and changes we don’t. Sometimes we get to pick the form of change, sometimes we have absolutely no choice in the matter. Sometimes it comes sooner than we want, or much later than we’d longed for. Sometimes we embrace it, run to it in gladness or relief. Sometimes we fight it long and hard in vain. Sometimes changes are slow, over time, barely perceptible. Sometimes they are sudden and earth-shaking. Sometimes change is short-term. Sometimes it’s permanent.Elusive as change is to nail down, however, there’s one sure thing about it, and it’s that change is as inevitable to life as autumn is to the circle of seasons. It will come. And sometimes that’s a fearful thing to us humans who like to map out our yearly planners months in advance and make our tidy little five, ten and twenty-year plans for success. Even joyful changes can create stress by throwing off schedules.
That’s why serving a God who is unchanging is so incredibly wonderful and comforting. I can’t guarantee you whether the next change in your path is going to be hard or happy, but I’d like to remind you today that though all may change around you, you have a Friend who NEVER will—and that’s a promise.“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
I’ve been a bit missing in action for the last month or two, and for those of you who haven’t guessed, it’s all due to a bit of a recent career shift. From here on out, if my posts start to sounding to you like those of a kindergarten teacher, you will be correct. It’s an exciting new chapter for us, but a busy one, with lots of adjustments to new schedules and more time spent researching literature and art projects for unit studies than composing blog posts. I hope to get back to posting more often eventually, but we’ll see!
Of course, I’ve always been my child’s teacher; that comes with the territory of parenting, as it does for every mother. Who else will teach her how tie her shoes or to look both ways before crossing the road? But choosing to be the one who also teaches her I-before-E-except-after-C (except for in a few odd cases, as I’ve been reminded!) and why mushrooms grow on trees, to take the full weight of responsibility for what the world calls her formal education, is another realm altogether.It makes sense: who else in the whole world cares more about her success than I do?
It’s exciting: learning is an adventure I’ve always loved, and I can hardly wait to take her along to all manner of new and thrilling places.
It’s serious business: it will be my fault if some vital branch of learning isn’t covered.
That’s why my husband and I agreed that a few days retreat was in order for the teacher before this all officially commenced. A working retreat, in which to lay out lesson plans and familiarize myself with workbooks, yes, but also to recharge myself for the important task ahead.
And the first thing I did along that order? Take a hike.I sensed, going into the retreat, that my ideas were good but jumbled. If you know anything about the world of home education, you know that the amount of resources available are both incredible and rather overwhelming. I needed some vision to narrow my focus down from all those fabulous options to what would work best for us—and I always think most clearly while walking. And if the walk winds through sun-dappled woodlands around the edge of a sparkling blue lake? If there’s not a sound to be heard but the crunching of leaves beneath your feet and the wind in the oak tree tops? All the better.
I took a book along, and on a short break, sitting in the warm grass with my back against a sturdy oak, I read these inspiring lines:
“Little by little,” an acorn said, As it slowly sank in its mossy bed, “I am improving every day, Hidden deep in the earth away.”Little by little, each day it grew; Little by little, it sipped the dew; Downward it sent out a thread-like root; Up in the air sprung a tiny shoot.
Day after day, and year after year, Little by little the leaves appear; And the slender branches spread far and wide, Till the mighty oak is the forest’s pride.
“Little by little,” said a thoughtful boy, “Moment by moment, I’ll well employ, Learning a little every day, And not spending all my time in play. And still this rule in my mind shall dwell, Whatever I do, I will do it well.“Little by little, I’ll learn to know The treasured wisdom of long ago; And one of these days, perhaps, we’ll see That the world will be the better for me”; And do you not think that this simple plan Made him a wise and useful man?”—Author Unknown
The acorns rolled under my feet as I hiked on, and the seed of vision had been planted that I was looking for. Jumbled ideas melded into a plan in my head, and far-sighted goals broke down into the steps A, B and C that would get us there.
It was in honor of the role this poem played in my lesson planning process, that “A is for Acorn” was chosen as the topic of study for our very first week of school. For my students, it would look like nature hikes to identify oak trees, and making leaf rubbings, and listening to delightful stories about squirrels who love acorns. We would find out what acorns tasted like and learn about famous oaks of long ago.
But for I, the teacher, it would be an inspiring reminder that the great task I was beginning would be accomplished just like that of a humble acorn becoming a mighty tree: little by little. Letter by letter, number by number, line by line, book by book, concept building on concept, my young students would put down foundational roots, reach for the sky, and grow strong and mighty into a wealth of skill, wisdom and knowledge. And for what? The goal of the poem seems quite adequate to me, that the world will be a better place for having them in it.“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
Did you know?
…that multiple people groups consider acorns a delicacy (Korean, Greek, Native American)?
…that acorns have frequently been used as a substitute for coffee?
…that the name of the nut is derived from the Gothic word akran, which means “fruit of the unenclosed land”?
…that one of the greatest visionary statements of the Old Testament was made beneath an oak tree? Read about it in Joshua 24.
“Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD!” (Joshua 24:15)
It was a long, happy weekend of giving thanks. During family dinner as the silverware clinked on fine china, then again later as wedges of pie were passed, between friends, during joyful church services and into microphones, I heard people express gratefulness for so many beautiful things.
Some were humorously indicative of current life situations, such as…
“Getting 24-hour flu instead of a prolonged cold.”
“All the snow melting so I don’t have to plow.”
“Baby sleeping through the night.”
Others were sweetly tearful, deeply emotional, such as…
Long lists of volunteer services.
“A phone call from a long lost family member.”
After all the feasting and gathering was over, I took an evening walk under leaden skies, picking my way along the the icy ruts of our driveway as I mentally added a few more things to the list, like:
“Cartons of freshly laid brown eggs in my fridge.”
“Homemade brown sugar hazelnut lattes.”
“The sound of little feet pitter-pattering down the hall.”
It was a wonderfully cheering thing to do on an otherwise drab evening. But then this happened: The dim, dreary skies lit unexpectedly up with all this splendor that kept going and going and going and wouldn’t stop. I paused to notice the first flush of pink, and then stopped to watch in awe as it spread and rippled and flamed across the entire canopy of the heavens curving over my world. Then the coyotes started to yap far off in the forest, and I thought about the fact that there’s more than one way to make your voice heard.
People say it with words, the animals with their own unique sounds, the sky with color, each one declaring thanks and glory. Yes, glory!
For the small things, for the large things, in all things.
To God, our Creator, Giver, Sustainer.
Because giving thanks really is just another way of giving glory.
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)
“All Your works shall give thanks to You, O LORD, And Your godly ones shall bless You.” (Psalm 145:10)