Project 52 #16: Finding Spring

One of the main things I’ve noticed about spring in southeastern Alaska, is that it is slow in comparison to what I’m familiar with. In Minnesota, we have a long, cold, drawn out winter, generally followed by a fast and furious spring, barely a month or two between the season of snow-on-the-ground to the heat of summer. It always felt like the world was exploding when spring came, and if you blinked, you’d miss it. Here, it feels different.

Spring is a full season here, not just a brief commercial between winter and summer. It’s much more contemplative and thoughtful. The daffodils poke up gently, then slowly rise. The pussy willows blossom gray, then linger for weeks before turning green. The temperatures rise very gradually, almost imperceptibly. You have TIME to take pictures of things here. I appreciate that feature.

Another thing to get used to is the effect of the ocean and mountains on the season. I drive a few miles across the mountains to the western side of the island to find that the flowers and foliage there are a good week ahead of ours on the east side. The violets along a mountain trail are barely poking up, while the violets along Gravelly Creek are wide open and blooming, and it’s all a matter of elevation!

While some signs of spring are the same here, like pussy willows or the return of the robins, there are some delightful new ones to enjoy, too. We walked a trail on the western side of the island this week, and got to see a few of them up close.

Salmonberries blossom early, and they are a delightful shade of pink!

Herring eggs wash up on shore, tiny jewels amidst bits of seaweed. Zach dared me to eat one, and so I popped a clump in my mouth and then he said, “No, stop, don’t do it!” Haha! Guess he didn’t think I would actually go for it. Harvesting herring eggs is a tradition started long ago by the natives here, and they are considered a wonderful seasonal delicacy. He just didn’t know if it was okay to eat ones washed up on the shore or not.

The skunk cabbage blossoms are a startlingly showy yellow flower, that remind of me of giant calla lilies. They are the bright splashes of spring yellow to the boggy ditches here that the marsh marigolds are in Minnesota. They do, indeed, have a fragrance reminiscent of skunks, but thankfully fainter. My two-year-old son was mostly fascinated by the fact that there are little bugs inside the flowers.

And finally, we have the devil’s club just beginning to bud. This is one of those crazy fascinating plants like stinging nettle that you can handle only with gloves (check out those thorns, which they say are nearly impossible to pull out of your skin and must be left to work their way out on their own), but apparently boasts amazing healing properties. I bought some locally-made devil’s club salve to try, so we shall see if the claims are true!

What I’ve been reading this week: The book of Judges, which is one endless cycle of the children of Israel falling away from the Lord, receiving the consequences for their sin, then repenting, followed by God mercifully sending someone to rescue them from their affliction. There are some great, inspiring stories, and also some really sobering ones—all great commentary on the sinful predictability of humankind, and a God who is both just and merciful.

“…may all Your enemies perish, O LORD! But may those who love You shine like the sun at its brightest.” (Judges 5:31)

P.S. If you’re new here and wondering what “Project 52” is all about, you can go here to read more!

Project 52 #12: Huckleberry Blossoms

The last time we took a walk along Gravelly Creek, it was a winter wonderland.

But in the golden hour of this glorious clear spring day, when the last rays of the sunshine were slanting low along the singing water and through the stately cedars, I saw the huckleberry bushes in all their fairytale spring glory for the first time.

Even this tiny spider (normally not one of my favorite creatures!) on her web seemed ethereal and lovely, like gossamer lace amidst a thousand shimmering translucent bells dancing along the shadowed forest floor. Perhaps the fact that the sun pierces here so infrequently was what made it all so magical.

This week I’ve been reading through the book of Deuteronomy, and I had a couple thoughts about it.

First, the long lists of laws and sacrifices can seem burdensome (and praise God, those sacrifices are no longer necessary now that we are covered by the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus!), however if you were to sit down and read through the current laws of your state or country, you’d likely feel the same way or worse. Like: wow, that’s a lot. How am I supposed to remember all that?! Even the laws strictly concerning driving are overwhelming when you’re trying to take a driver’s test!

But some of those lists of detailed rules were really only there for clarification, and for the benefit of those who would keep the order and judge between cases, the “law enforcement”, if you will. Ultimately, all those laws pointed directly back to the basic principles of the ten commandments, which in turn, as Jesus pointed out, are summed up in two, of which one is ultimately the greatest. So it was really quite simple: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind (and your neighbor as yourself).

Second, the call to holiness is not a burden, it’s an honor. Just read these two parallel passages and think about the language of privilege used in them:

“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 14:2)

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

P.S. If you’re new here and wondering what “Project 52” is all about, you can go here to read more!

Twelve-Mile Arm

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)

Autumn Hike at Balls Lake

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.

Haha.

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)

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)

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)

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)

Savoring Summer #40: Indian Pipe

IMG_2011 edit.jpg“The report of your obedience has reached everyone.  Therefore I rejoice over you…” (Romans 16:19)

Oh, that this would be the reputation of every church that represents Jesus Christ!

P.S. See this original post for info about this photo challenge and more about this reading plan I’m using this summer for the book of Romans (and I’d love to have you join in!)

About the photo:  This might get the prize for weirdest plant find of the summer.  Read more about it here!

Savoring Summer #34: Sunny Leaves

IMG_1471 edit.jpg“The commandments, Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not covet; and any other commandment, are summed up by this commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself.  Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:9-10)

Looking back over what I’ve read in Romans this last week, there was SO many wonderful passages.  But this is one that stood out to me, because it spoke to specific situations I was watching unfold, in which good-hearted, well-intentioned people were using their feelings to justify the condoning of sin.

There’s a lot of confusion out there about the meaning of the word “love”.  There’s confusion about what “love your neighbor as yourself” means.  Many people, riding on the wave of their own personal subjective emotions, conclude that loving one another means that feelings  (“love”) trump “the law” (by which we mean what God clearly states in His Word as right or wrong).  But here, it’s clearly stated: love does not cancel out the law, nor does the law negate the command to love.  Instead, they walk hand in hand to FULFILL each other.

If you’re reading along with me, were there any verses that specifically spoke to you this last week?

P.S. See this original post for info about this photo challenge and more about this reading plan I’m using this summer for the book of Romans (and I’d love to have you join in!)!