Little American Falls

IMG_4710 edit.jpgThe first time I clambered beneath the cedars trees along this steep muddy bank, we were eagerly experiencing the sights of our new neighborhood for the very first time.  On the recommendation of a dear friend, we drove up through the Bigfork State Forest, on a narrow strip of asphalt hedged by endless miles of black swamp water and stunted spruce.  There, tucked away in an obscure little park, we found the Bigfork River rushing it’s way to Canada across a set of Class III-IV rapids.  It was not quite Niagara Falls, but it was an exciting stretch of river that we could hear the thunder of before we saw it.  

Today, almost exactly six years later, I’m on the same narrow trail, and I find that little has changed since then, as far as the river is concerned.  It’s still flowing faithfully.  The rocks cradling it show no visible signs of erosion.  The tumbling water still curls over that one giant boulder out in the middle in exactly the same way.

The changes that have occurred have been in my own life, and I’ve brought them with me.  My firstborn clambers ahead of me on this Sunday afternoon, reaching sweetly back to offer me a hand on the “hard parts”.  She’s not strong enough yet to really help, but I pretend to accept her offer anyway, marveling privately at how quickly life flies by.  Last time on this trail I was six months pregnant with her, not even a year married. Now she’s out there confidently posing on the lichened rocks while I snap pictures and punctuate my sentences anxiously with “be careful” and “that’s close enough”.  My husband is back up the trail, holding the hands of her two little sisters, who we had only dreamed of at that point.  

On the other hand, one thing hasn’t changed about me.  Apparently, being pregnant, even for the fourth time, still has little bearing on my eagerness to bypass the safely situated visitor’s viewing platforms to get up close to rushing water.   

IMG_4726 edit.jpg IMG_4720 edit.jpgIMG_4687 edit.jpgLast time I was here, I saw the elusive woodcock for the first time in my life, exploding up at my feet from what had appeared to be merely a pile of leaves.  Today the only wildlife is the bed of fluffy foam caught in an out-of-the-way nook beneath the falls, looking strikingly like the back of a very furry animal as it bobs gently in the current.  I smile when my daughter asks worriedly with big eyes: “Mommy, is that a bear?”  “Go poke it and see,” I counter slyly.  She laughs out loud at herself when she discovers that it’s pure fluff.

As we climb back up the river bank, I note the mosses cropping up lush and verdant at my feet, and the first signs of life at the tips of the tree branches arching over my head.  Spring is just waking here, reminding me of a sleepy, groggy two-year-old toddling out to snuggle with me on the couch in the morning, or maybe the four-year-old rolling over in the cocoon of her favorite penguin blanket and blinking sleepily at the morning light coming through her window.  Everything still has that just-got-out-of-bed look, still a little rumpled and squinty-eyed.

The most showy are the pussy willows, who have clearly gone from stage 1, silky and pearly gray, to stage 2, fluffy and lemon-lime yellow.  Also lovely at the tips of the maple branches exploding into bits of red, more showy up close than from a distance. And then on the forest floor, I see the bravely emerging leaves of hepatica.  Leaning down to feel beneath the leaves, I find what I’m looking for at the base of the plant: the downy heads of flower buds just emerging.  A couple more days, and there will be wildflowers in the woods.IMG_4721 edit.jpgIMG_4677 editBack up at the picnic area, we shake what mud we can off our shoes and take a last-minute trip to the nearby outhouse where we convince the girls that it’s safe to seat yourself over a deep, dark, echoing hole receding into the unknown depths of the earth.  Then we head out down the winding dirt road.  Tired little people quickly nod off into belated naps, and the thunder of the falls fades into fiddle music cranked up to keep their parents from following suit on the journey home. 

It’s good to know that as my own life shifts and changes, a wild river running north is still there, doing it’s God-ordained thing and fulfilling it’s purpose pretty much the same as always.

“All the rivers flow into the sea,

Yet the sea is not full.

To the place where the rivers flow,

There they flow again.” (Ecclesiastes 1:7)

Fall Color Tour 2018

IMG_1890 editThe 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.IMG_1991 edit.jpgIMG_2009 editIMG_1986 edit.jpgI 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.IMG_2544.JPGIMG_2383 editIMG_2004 editElusive 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.IMG_1992 edit.jpg“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

Stand Still and See

IMG_8295.JPGIf you walk out into the middle of the woods and stand very still for a while, a very delightful thing will happen.

The forest will slowly come alive around you. You may have thought it was alive before that, but the truth is, you haven’t actually experienced the half of it.

First, you will become more distinctly aware of the sounds of the more extroverted creatures of the woods.  A woodpecker beating sharp staccato, the twittering of newly-returned robins, the distant honking of geese.

But keep waiting, because there is more to come.

After a few minutes, a grouse will drum on a nearby log.  A stick will crack in the woods, then another, as the cautious deer who froze at the sound of your footsteps decides it’s safe to move on.  And then will begin the rustling in the leaves, and you will realize that it is not the breeze at play, but squirrels and mice and tiny birds.

As your ears become more attuned, your eyes will also become more aware of details.

You’ll realize that there’s delicate frost from a chilly spring morning lacing the strawberry leaf by your feet that you very nearly trampled.IMG_8293 You’ll note a tiny clump of British soldier lichen clinging to the edge of a mossy stump that would have only registered “green” in hurried passing.IMG_8300-1.jpgYou’ll tip your head up and see the beginning of the swelling red of the maple buds overhead, fanned against the sky.IMG_8283.JPGYou’ll notice the delicate lacy veins of last year’s leaves, splendidly illuminated in the morning sunlight, and also the way a certain flap of simple birch bark is catching the sun just right to make it glow.IMG_8290IMG_8286.JPGYour eyes will follow the slant of a fallen log down to a hole and, well, look!  The very culprit of the rustling himself appears.IMG_8311There is no shortcut to the gifts that come from being still, but they are always incredibly, beautifully worth it.  And, incidentally?  The same is said for the soul and the best gift one could ever ask for.

“Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD.” (Exodus 14:13)

No doing.  No striving.  Just simple, trusting, expectant stillness.

An Autumn Hike

 

IMG_5179Where do you look when you are hiking through the autumn forest?

Do you look up at the soaring arms of the great pines raised to the sky in praise?  At the sunlight filtering in soft curtains of light down through the crimson and salmon maples?IMG_5190.JPGDo you look straight ahead, at the path winding mysteriously out of sight and beckoning you on?  At the receding layers of craggy barked tree trunks marching along its edges, with the occasional surprise mushroom accessory?  Or at the jaunty straw hat and satisfyingly fall-ish plaid shirt of a walking companion ahead?IMG_5193Or do you look down?  Down at the dainty trailing vines between the tufts of orange pine needles, and the tidily capped wee mushrooms springing whimsically up along the damp mosses of aging stumps?  At the calico of autumn leaves softly layering over the creeping cedar and wintergreen?IMG_5187While I was hiking with relatives recently, we talked about this, and discovered that our answers differed.  Some in our hiking party were more inclined toward one than the other, therefore each bringing their own unique perspective to the commentary that enlivened our exploration of the forest.

As I was thinking about this the next day, I realized that it was actually a pretty accurate picture of the body of Christ, particularly that living, breathing organism that is the local church body.  We walk the same trail as believers, reading the same Bible, loving the same Savior, but our perspectives can be astonishingly different.

Some are more likely to look ahead, seeing with vision and wisdom.

Some watch the edges and condition of the trail, wary of spiritual pitfalls.

Some are more likely to look up, calling attention to heavenly perspectives when other’s eyes waver toward the earthly.

Some look down, noticing the details that others forget or overlook, like the lonely newcomer or the overflowing garbage can.

IMG_5146 IMG_5181The Bible calls these things gifts, and they are.  Sometimes, though, I think we can lose sight of this in the nitty-gritty of real life.  It can be easy, for instance, to get annoyed with that other person who is always worried about mowing the grass (looking at mushrooms) when you’d rather be discussing the accuracy of the latest Bible translation (looking down the path)—or vice versa.  However the fact is that each perspective is valuable and needed, and they’re all meant to weave together in harmonious balance, not at odds with each other.

Or sometimes, even if we do appreciate the unique contributions of each person, we just forget to say so.  So since I’m being reminded, I’d like to say thank you myself.

Thank you for being you.  Thank you for the very special, irreplaceable gift that your gift is to your brothers and sisters as we walk with Jesus and endeavor to make Him known to the world.

Thank you for the things you do in private, the mundane and not-so-glorious, often unseen and unacknowledged.  Thank you for the things you do in public, against the odds of criticism, embarrassment, and greater scrutiny.  Thank you for speaking out to say the hard things, the kind things, the wise things.   Thank you for the quietness of your inner prayers, wordless hugs, silent generosity.  Thank you for perseverance when you’re misunderstood, for faithfulness when no else is.

And if you’re one of those hiding shyly in the corner, hesitant to use your gift, perhaps afraid to share it because it’s different or less popular than someone else’s, I hope this will be a gentle encouragement to you to be hold back no longer.  Please, in love, let it flow out for the enrichment of the Body of Christ, because it surely will.

We need you!IMG_5205“Just as each of us has one body with many members, and not all members have the same function, so in Christ we who are many are one body, and each member belongs to one another.

We have different gifts according to the grace given us. If someone’s gift is prophecy, let him use it in proportion to his faith; if it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is giving, let him give generously; if it is leading, let him lead with diligence; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” (Romans 12:4-8)

“And as each individual part does its work, the body grows and builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:16)

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Fall Color Tour 2016

img_7506Ah, peak of fall.  We just finished that splendid time of year in which they mark little roads around here with signs designating them as part of the “Fall Color Tour”, and if you take one, you should be prepared to drive very slowly.  That is, at least if I’m in the car and have my camera along (wink).

Now, alas, the wind has taken most of them to the ground.  If you missed it, however, you’re in luck—because I did all the hard work for you and took pictures of the best spots.  I hereby invite you to sit back, enjoy a mini tour from the comfort of your chair, and join me in praising the Lord for the autumnal beauty of the earth.  (Not included is the sound of wind rustling through leaves already fallen, the wonder of leaves falling all around like glorious confetti, and the mingled fragrance of gentle autumn sunshine and rain showers.  My apologies; try to use your imagination.)img_7544“Shout joyfully to God, all the earth… img_7534Sing the glory of His name; Make His praise glorious…    img_7423Say to God, “How awesome are Your works!…img_7092All the earth will worship You, and will sing praises to You…img_7180
They will sing praises to Your name….img_7404Come and see the works of God, who is awesome in His deeds toward the sons of men…img_7384Bless our God, O peoples, and sound His praise abroad.” (Psalm 66:1-5, 8)

 

For last year’s fall colors, and some fun memories of my grandpa, see here.

 

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Lessons from Grandpa

flaming maple / rejoicing hillsHe taught me that getting old didn’t mean you quit living—and that you could still go swimming every day and play volleyball and travel the world when you were going-on-90.red maple leaf / rejoicing hillsHe taught me not to be afraid to dream and to try new and crazy things.  Start a restaurant!  Convert a roller skating rink into a church building!  Plant potatoes a month earlier than anyone else in the county!  Invent an automatic bed-making machine!

turning leaves / rejoicing hillsmaple leaves / rejoicing hillsHe  taught how to put my own worms on my own hook and know how to tie proper knots so I could change my own lures. It was from him that I learned that lunch in a fishing boat could legitimately consist of a can of pop and a candy bar.  He also taught me the art of telling people how many fish we caught without revealing where we caught them, and how to sweet talk ’em when they weren’t biting.

maple tree / rejoicing hillsHe taught me that ice cream was a vegetable—and should, accordingly, be eaten as often possible, preferably topped with homegrown raspberries.  And chocolate and caramel and nuts and hard cookies.  But he also taught me that vegetables (the real ones) were pretty amazing, too.

fallen leaves / rejoicing hillsHe taught me that one didn’t need an advanced education to write witty and thoughtful letters in your grandchildren’s birthday cards.

He taught me how to judge a good dairy cow, and then how to care for her after I took his advice and bought her.

He taught me that it’s possible for a lame pun to be hilarious, when said with that much mischief twinkling in one’s eyes.

He taught me how to make Spanish omelettes.

He taught me that fashion statements can be made with coveralls just as well as bolo ties, matching belt buckles and fancy cowboy boots.  That having hard candy in your pocket is a great way to win friends and influence people.  And that a hearty splash of gasoline will cure a bad case of poison ivy (much to my mother’s dismay…).

You were only ninety-one young, Grandpa—not old enough to die.  I’m going to miss you!

“For You…O God… have given me the inheritance of those who fear Your name.” (Psalm 61:5)

 

For more memories of my grandfather, see here and here.

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