Vacation Vignettes: Guardhouse

IMG_3606-1I certainly didn’t expect the guardhouse to be the most inspirational spot during our tour of a circa 1840’s fort, but that’s how it turned out.  As I stood next to the row of prison doors, looking down the narrow hall to this window of light flooding in, a verse of a favorite hymn came overwhelmingly to mind:

“Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.”-–Charles Wesley, 1738

Fort Wilkins, Keweenaw Peninsula, Michigan

Vacation Vignettes: Beach

IMG_3052.JPGCome with us to the beach!  You know, that one that kind of seems like our own little secret, since you have to drive around a giant mud hole to get there, and then try not to get stuck in the sand while parking where the woods end and dunes begin.  The other people sharing it with us are so far away we can almost imagine that the only creatures we have to share it with are the stray seagulls eyeing our cooler in hopes of handouts.  The sand is so hot it scorches our bare feet and the water is cold enough to leave your body tingling deliciously after a single dip.  It’s perfect.

Come run races down the hard-packed sand at the edge of the waves that go for miles, sending splashes sparkling to the sky, as hard and as fast as you can.   Come make snow angels in the sand, face down, so the sun can soak your back.  Come stand still and contemplate the art show where wave and sand meet, ripples and layers in constantly shifting patterns.IMG_2992.JPGIMG_3829Come wander amidst the white bleached driftwood, polished smooth by a thousand relentless waves.  Come find smooth silvery bits to tuck into pockets as souvenirs, leaving behind the charred bits that are lovely memories of sunset beach fires and happy gatherings.IMG_3841IMG_3840Come toil up through ankle-deep sand to smell the wild sweet peas clinging to the dunes, trailing tenacious vines along the heaps of shifting soil beneath the nodding grasses.IMG_3002.JPGCome watch a little blue sailboat slowly unfurl its white wings as it heads out to sea.  Come watch the children with sand for freckles who build endless castles, never tiring rebuilding what the relentless waves erode.  Come beware of children with mischief twinkling in their eyes and that bucket full of fresh cold lake water they’re saving for when you’re back is turned (it will be refreshing).IMG_3039.JPGAnd when the sun and the wind and the splashing and the dunking and the running and the wandering has produced an appetite that seems as boundless as the blue waves reaching to the horizon, come and eat.  There are slices of cold turkey, pickles and Jarlsburg wrapped in pretzel rolls or soggy sandwiches accidentally dropped in the lake, whichever you prefer.  We have rosy-cheeked Ranier cherries and sandy granola bars for dessert, to hold us over until we drive past the ice cream shop that stocks Mackinac Island Fudge on our way home.

And perhaps our humble meal shared on a stretch of sand will remind you, just the tiniest bit, of another picnic on a beach thousands of miles away, a couple thousand years ago.

“The other disciples came ashore in the boat. They dragged in the net full of fish, for they were not far from land, only about a hundred yards.  When they landed, they saw that a charcoal fire had been prepared, with fish on it, and some bread.  Jesus told them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, one hundred fifty-three. And although there were so many, the net was not torn.

“Come, have breakfast,” Jesus said to them… Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and He did the same with the fish.” (John 21:8-13)

And since this a vacation, after all, we’d linger even longer and read the whole chapter.  This day we shared at the beach was pretty wonderful, but that story?  It’s my favorite beach story of all time.

 

Vacation Vignettes

IMG_3724There are two things that cause writer’s block for me: having nothing to say, and having  altogether too much to say.

Coming home from vacation last week has been the latter problem for me.  I saw so much, took so many photos, thought so many thoughts and every time I sit down to try to wrap it all up in some neat little package of an essay, the sheer volume of it all overwhelms me.  After trying for a week, I’ve even considered not sharing any of it and just continuing on with regular local posts as though we never went anywhere.  Many of you would be none the wiser.

But then you would never get to see an endangered species of turtle.  You’d miss what the sunset looks like from the top of Brockway Mountain and the way the spray on your face feels like at Bond Falls.  You’d miss the warm sand between your toes and the feel of smooth polished bits of driftwood in your hand.  That hardly seemed right.

So, rather then lump them all together in one post, I’ve sorted all my photos into virtual piles and I’m going to give them to you one chunk at a time, as themed vignettes that will, altogether, sum up our golden little time away beautifully.  After all it was Jesus Himself who said…

“Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)

If they can serve as a tiny vacation for your soul, too, I will have counted my time well spent.  Stay tuned!

Venturing West: Wildlife

IMG_4168I think what makes the sweeping landscapes of the west the most compelling is that moment when you walk down the winding path from the scenic overlook into the heart of the rugged hills—and find that the valleys are teeming with life.

You find that the lonely plains are not so very lonely after all, but bursting instead with the spring trills of meadowlarks on fence posts and the clucking of brilliant shy pheasants.  IMG_3800A coyote comes out of nowhere, and a prairie dog town bursts into whistles of warning as the sentinels stand motionless, upright and vigilant at the entrances to their burrows.IMG_4037IMG_4052 A pompous tom turkey proudly fans his splendid tail out, dragging wings dramatically along the ground.  A big-eared mule doe lifts her head, whisking her flag tail nervously at the sight of us.  Is there a tiny fawn hiding in that thicket behind her?IMG_4189IMG_3919Wild mares sniff the air cautiously while tiny colts rest peacefully amidst the sage brush.  IMG_4152.JPGIMG_4161Along a bare windswept ridge, a herd of bison move as one together.  One gaunt cow grazes greedily without looking up, as her wee calf wobbles along in front of her, still a little unsteady on his feet.IMG_4121IMG_4158And on and on it went.

Needless to say, we were in awe at the incredible beauty and variety in this world of animals so different from those native to our own neighborhood.  In fact, we saw such an amazing assortment of wildlife in such a short period of time, it kind of felt like some grand orchestral rendition of “All Creatures of Our God and King” should have been playing as the soundtrack of our trip—or at least this Psalm:

“Praise the Lord from the earth, ye…beasts, and all cattle; creeping things and flying fowl…Let them praise the name of the Lord: for his name alone is excellent; his glory is above the earth and heaven.” (Psalm 148:7, 10, 13)

And just imagine—someday we’re actually going to hear these creatures, along with thousands of others, voice their praise to their Creator:

“And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever.” (Revelation 5:13)

IMG_4193The thought of that absolutely gives me goosebumps.

 

Venturing West: The Long View

IMG_4130For all the outdoor beauty we enjoy here in Minnesota, I must admit that there is one thing we’re a little short on, and that’s the long view.  I do love all our trees, but thanks to those thick forests the places where you can stand and see for miles are somewhat few and far between.  Which is why, when I travel to places like North Dakota and Montana as we had the opportunity to do this last month, I can hardly get enough of those endless scenic vistas.  I love to see the beautiful, raw curves and contours of the land, love to see distant hills fading away in shades of blue and purple to the horizon, love the way those vistas kindle my imagination with the possibilities of what may lie even further beyond.

It’s in moments like those that I sometimes find myself wishing that life itself was a little more like standing on the edge of a continual scenic vista and not quite so much like plugging along through the thick forest with no idea what’s around the next bend.  You know, being able to see into the future and knowing the purpose and end result of things instead of always wondering.  Have you ever wished for that, too?

In some ways, that’s just how it is to be human.  We aren’t all-knowing or all-seeing like God is.  That’s why we have to trust in Him and lean not on our own understanding, because He’s the only one who can see the long view.  That necessary dependence is part of the beauty of our relationship with Him.

Yet recently I happened upon a passage in His Word that, interestingly, does promise a certain amount of special vision for the righteous.  In this particularly beautiful chapter in Isaiah, “sinners in Zion” and “the godless” are terrified after hearing of God’s promised judgement and ask:

“Who among us can live with the consuming fire?  Who among us can live with continual burning?”  (“burning” being a picture of the judgement that is prophesied to come)IMG_4067And God answers with that beautiful balance of justice and mercy befitting His character: “‘He who walks righteously and speaks with sincerity…IMG_4221.JPG
…he who rejects unjust gain and shakes his hands so that they hold no bribe…IMG_3959.JPG
…he who stops his ears from hearing about bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking upon evil…IMG_3965…he will dwell on the heights, his refuge will be the impregnable rock…IMG_4178IMG_4194.JPG…his bread will be given him, his water will be sure…

IMG_4171…your eyes will see the King in His beauty; they will behold a far-distant land.'”  (Isaiah 33:14-17)

That last little line is my very favorite part.  Isn’t it beautiful?  To those who walk according to His ways, He does give, among many other wonderful gifts, without negating our need to walk in faith, a glimpse of that long view and those distant horizons, or, as another translation puts it “the land that stretches afar”.

He’s not talking about physical scenic vistas here, breathtaking as those are.  I don’t even think He’s necessarily talking about knowing the future.  Instead, He’s promising the righteous spiritual eyes to see above and beyond the figurative forests humankind stumbles through, and to see instead His ways and His will—and ultimately, to see to the farthest horizon where the glory of eternity with Him awaits.  To see things from His perspective.IMG_4125It’s like being given a pair of God-shaped binoculars.  And, really, can you think of anything more breathtaking?

P.S. Yes, this trip out west is the reason you haven’t heard from me here in a while—but my camera was busy while we were away.  Stay tuned for more soon!

 

Along the Winter Shore

IMG_2077 editIf you’ve ever stood on the shore of Lake Superior on a summer day, you know the feeling. Waves crashing on the rocks at your feet, sending spray high into the air, vast expanse of water stretching to meet the sky on the horizon.  It’s big; you’re small.  It’s a magnificent feeling.

The great lake in the winter is no different, I discovered recently.

Colder, yes.

Very differently framed in a muted palette of ice and snow that somehow manages to shift the highlights on the waves from gold to silver.

But certainly no less breathtaking.

While our husbands were skiing the mountains one afternoon, my friend and I took advantage of the grandmas willing to babysit our little people and went down to a lakeside resort to pick up cross-country ski passes and get information on trail conditions.  The moody gray sweep of the lake was just outside the big windows lining the front of the lodge, and when we stepped outside after obtaining what we had come for, we looked at each other and agreed.  The water was calling; we couldn’t leave without getting closer.

IMG_2053The trail was very icy, so we didn’t go far.  Instead we went along cautiously until we found a spot with a good view, and then stood still to take in the magnificence of it all.  I couldn’t help thinking of Psalm 93 as I watched to the blue-gray waves crash on the rocks below us.

“The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and armed with strength;

indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.  

Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity..IMG_2063 edit…The seas have lifted up, LORD, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves…IMG_2058 edit.jpgMightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea– the LORD on high is mighty.  Your statutes, LORD, stand firm; holiness adorns your house for endless days.”  (Psalm 93)

Amen!

Mountain Sunset

IMG_1959 edit.jpgWe just returned from a trip to the Sawtooth Mountains on the north shore of Lake Superior.  For much of our visit there, the peaks around us were veiled in fog or falling snow, but on the eve of our arrival, I was granted this sweeping vista with a clear view of craggy Moose Mountain silhouetted against the setting sun.

Certainly this gentle series of peaks pales in comparison to, say, the Rockies or the Andes, but I still loved looking up at them as we drove up the shore.  Even more, I loved waking up to the view of this particular peak each morning of our stay in their midst.  Had I not been pregnant, I would have loved to strap on some skis and join my husband and friends on a gondola ride to the peak so I could feel the mountain beneath my own two feet during the thrill of descent.

But even though I had to stay behind and only stare up the slopes from the valley, I was content with my view.  I may enjoy the conquest of a good ski slope (and I fully intend to join them next year!), but honestly the thing that inspires me the most about mountains is not whether I’m on top or at the bottom.  It boils down to a simple fact that I can appreciate no matter where I’m viewing them from:

that they’ve been there as long as anyone can remember.

The resorts and roads and trees and homes  and towns around them have come and gone over the years, while these peaks have solidly withstood the test of time. And they’ll be there next year, and the next, and the next.  Perhaps it’s because so many things in the world seem to be constantly teetering on the brink of uncertainty, but there’s something in me that finds comfort in things that stay the same.

Which makes these passages even more awe-inspiring:

“Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”  (Psalm 90:2)

“The ancient mountains crumbled and the age-old hills collapsed– but he marches on forever.”  (Habakkuk 3:6)

“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.”  (Isaiah 54:10)IMG_1955 editThe amazing thing is that we serve a God whose eternal unchanging-ness supersedes the mountains.  Even if these seemingly immovable peaks were to unexpectedly blow up and slide into the depths of Lake Superior, He would still be God.  He is the only thing that we can truly count on to never change.

Now that is a fact to take comfort in!

 

 

Foreign Soil

rocky point / rejoicing hillsred rock / rejoicing hillsRecently we took a short weekend trip to our neighboring country to the north, and it got me thinking about being a foreigner.

Granted, driving across the border into Canada doesn’t involve a lot of culture shock.  They dress the same way as we do.  They drive cars and have ordinary looking houses. They speak English.  In some ways it feels very much like home.

But then you’re driving down the road and you start getting a headache from repeatedly having to convert kilometers to miles.  You keep gasping at how much things cost, and having to remind yourself that it won’t be nearly so bad once you apply the exchange rate.  There are maple leaves on the flags fluttering in people’s yards instead of stars and stripes.  You hear about people eating their french fries with gravy and cheese curds, and calling diapers napkins.  My husband even claims the walleye taste different up there.  And they won’t let you take eggs across the border, no sir.  Even if they’re beautiful big brown and green eggs from the farm down the road.  (I learned that lesson the hard way.)

And so, in the midst of many similarities, the feel of the foreign seeps unmistakably through.walleye art / rejoicing hillswater lily / rejoicing hillsisland / rejoicing hillslichen / rejoicing hillscrown vetch / rejoicing hillsWe really had a great time while we were there, even if we did have to eat Canadian eggs.  It was the kind of weekend where your favorite memories are things like waking up to the fragrance of coffee perking and grandma pulling fresh orange rolls out of the oven, sitting with your feet up reading good books in the fishing boat between bites, and the feel of sun-baked lichened rocks on bare feet.  We spent mornings drinking coffee on the deck, hot and humid afternoons soaking in the lake, and cooler evenings around a roaring fire.  We fed the seagulls, made barbecued ribs and ate fresh bread from the resort bakery next door.  It was wonderful!

fishing with grandpa / rejoicing hillsorange rolls / rejoicing hillsrock jumping / rejoicing hillsfeeding seagulls / rejoicing hillsYet for all the wonderful memories we made, we still got excited when we drove back to the border at the end of our visit and spotted a familiar red, white and blue flag fluttering proudly above the brick buildings at the crossing.  The line was long, and we slowly inched our way across the river, suspended between two countries on a bridge of steel.  A sort of happy, content feeling prevailed.  That was home over there and there were no doubts about whether they’d let us through or not, because we were citizens!

We still had to prove it, of course.  We had to hand over our US passports and birth certificates, and they had to examine them with care, comparing the photos on each one to the corresponding face in our vehicle.  They looked in our coolers, too, and took all of our leftover red and yellow peppers in case they were carrying some kind of bug that might infest American pepper crops.  (Or something like that.)

But after all that, we drove on through the gate, and suddenly we went from being foreigners to being citizens with rights and privileges.  The speed limit signs made sense again.  Things cost exactly what they said they did.  They served us ketchup with our fries when we stopped for supper.  Everything felt somehow right and familiar again.evening light / rejoicing hillsI like to think that’s how heaven is going to feel someday.  We’ll cross that great divide between this life and the next, and suddenly everything will feel right and familiar in a way it never did here on earth.  We will be home, and it will be a lot more than just a happy, content sort of feeling—it will be glorious.  I don’t know about you, but no amount of enjoyment I feel in this life can take away from the excitement I feel when I anticipate that border crossing!

“For our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  (Philippians 3:20)

Are you a citizen, too?  I hope I see you there!