What I’ve been thinking about this week: “Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”” (Mark 10:27)
About the photos: I was watching whale spouts and sea otters while I was taking these photographs. None of them came close enough for me to get decent pictures, but it was beautiful to see the ocean alive with marine life while the sun and the rain danced against the backdrop of the mountains.
P.S. If you’re new here and wondering what “Project 52” is all about, you can go here to read more!
Every once in awhile, I enjoy challenging myself with a joint photography and Bible reading project (like the “Savoring Summer” challenge I did while reading through the book of Romans). This year I’m going to try something a little more long-term, because I want to re-read through the Bible in a year, something I haven’t done in a little while! So I’m going to do what is often dubbed a “Project 52”, which is simply committing to take and publish one photo per week for an entire year. With my weekly photo, I will include a verse or two that were the highlight of my week’s reading, and possibly accompanying thoughts if I have time and feel so inspired.
Anyone else want to join me and help keep each other accountable? I’ll personally be using the Old/New Testament plan from Bible Gateway if you need somewhere to start—or they have several other options like reading straight through or chronologically! (And if you have an entirely different goal for your Bible reading this year, I’d still love to have you share in the comments what you’ve been reading and learning!)
Let’s encourage one another to get into the Word and stay in it this year!
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Colossians 3:16)
Growing up in Minnesota, I’ve always known the contrast of short days of winter to the long ones of summer, but here in southeast Alaska the difference is even greater. While we certainly didn’t move up to the Arctic circle where the days dwindle down to almost nothing, we have indeed moved north, and this is the time of year when we realize it most. The arc of the sun across the sky is shallow, a big blazing ball always in your eyes, rolling in a low arc over the mountains across the bay. This week, on winter solstice, the sun rose at 8:17 AM and set at 3:18 PM. An all-day snowstorm obscured the light even further.
Mankind’s yearning for light is especially distinct at this time of the year.
I was thinking about this as we walked out onto the marina on Sunday night, a group of Christmas carolers with clouds of breath hovering about us in the frosty air. My eyes instinctively sought the points of light as we peered down the docks, looking for the houseboat windows that glowed, signaling that their occupants were home. Around the bay, festive lights twinkled, outlining roof edges and trees in windows. Far above us, pinpricks of starlight formed constellations, and a gentle glow in the east signaled the impending rise of the moon. Someone answered our knock, and headlamps shone down on song sheets. We sang about light:
“Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth, Jesus Lord at Thy birth.”
Light posts glowed periodically along the marina as we walked back to shore, guiding us safely down the solid boards of the dock and away from the dark icy ocean at its edges. The church was waiting down the street, the cross a lighted beacon and the windows glowing with the promise of hot drinks and cookies awaiting us inside. The door opened and light flooded warmly across the street, beckoning us in.
We were created to love light, and it is at this time of year that I understand the most clearly why Isaiah, Zechariah and John described the coming of Christ this way:
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. For behold, darkness covers the earth, and thick darkness is over the peoples; but the LORD will rise upon you, and His glory will appear over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (Isaiah 60:1-3)
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” (Isaiah 9:2)
“…because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the Dawn will visit us from on high, to shine on those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)
“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5)
The figurative darkness of our souls was once deeper than the darkest Arctic night, yet Jesus came into this world as LIGHT,
brighter than the floodlights down at the barge docks when they’re unloading at night,
brighter than the three story LED cross down the bay on our neighbor’s house,
yes, brighter even than the noonday sun fully unleashed—
and the darkness fled. There is no more reason to walk fearful in the shadows of sin and impending death, blindly groping, peering, stumbling…
because He came.
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
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)
“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)
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)
Six hours in a truck with no air conditioning on an 80+ degree day (nothing a few rolled down windows couldn’t cure).
Six hours of “I Spy” scavenger hunts with melting M&Ms doled for prizes (a distraction tactic for restless little travelers that worked marvelously).
Six hours of this question from a certain small person in the back seat:
“Is that a mountain?”
“No, not yet,” we’d patiently reply. “After we get there, we’ll take you to see a mountain.”
Six hours of that question, over and over again, of every slight protrusion in the landscape. And we smiled every time, because it was far too endearing to be annoying. By the time the day of the promised outing arrived, I think we were looking forward to it almost as much as she was! The bad news, however, is that when we arrived at the much-anticipated first scenic viewpoint, all we could see was white.
Where were the mountains? Completely obscured by a smothering blanket of heavy fog, that’s where. Anti-climactic would be an understatement.
So, what’s a parent to do to save such a day? Well, you find the shortest trail to the highest point in the area, get out of the vehicle and start climbing. Because sometimes, you just need to go higher and then everything becomes clear.
“In those days, Jesus went up to the mountain to pray, and He spent the night in prayer to God. When daylight came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also designated as apostles.” (Luke 6:11-13)
We 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)The 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.