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)

Borrowed

IMG_0495.JPGMeet my borrowed kayak!

I can’t even tell you how excited I was the day it got dropped off in my yard.  I’ve been dreaming for a long time of being able to experiment with the versatility of a kayak, both for personal recreation (a vessel I could handle all on my own!) and the new world of photographic opportunity it would open up for me (high stealth waterfowl photography, coming right up).

But, of course, the catch is that it’s borrowed, so it comes with a time limit.  To make things even more interesting, I don’t actually know what the time limit is.  I have a few educated guesses as to when it’s owners are going to decide that they want it back, but I really don’t know.  It could be in my yard for as little as a couple weeks.  It could be in my yard for the rest of the summer.

One morning though, a week or so after it arrived, I woke up to the fact that it was still just sitting in my yard.  Wait a minute!  Time was ticking, but I hadn’t even used it!  How silly would it be, after all the excited intentions I’d voiced, to sheepishly admit to the owners when they came to get it that the only water that had touched it while it was in my possession was raindrops from a summer storm?  They would be quite justified in questioning the worthwhile-ness of the effort it took for them to transport it to me.

So, on a quiet Sunday as a hazy afternoon was fading into evening, I hauled it to the water and gave it a go.IMG_0519.JPGIMG_0565.JPGI slipped along past the water lilies, and brushed gently through the wild rice.  The water was like glass except for the artful zigzags of water bugs.  The mosquitoes stayed away, and I could hear a blue heron croaking in the distance.  Water dripped down to my elbows as I dipped the paddle up and down, and for a few minutes, the looming to-do list for the upcoming weeks faded away to the back of my mind.

It was every bit as peaceful and relaxing as I’d imagined; how glad I was that I hadn’t missed the opportunity!IMG_0542IMG_0549The quiet of the water was a peaceful place for thinking, and as I floated airily along in my orange pod, it occurred to me that the gift of life is a lot like a borrowed kayak.

I’ve heard people who were healed from cancer or survived a terrible accident call their life thereafter “borrowed time”.  They realize that they could/should have died, and whatever time they get after that feels like a precious gift.  They go on to live with much greater intention and with much deeper gratefulness for every breath they take.

Here’s the truth, though: Those survivors have had the advantage of a wake-up call to bring them to their senses, but you and I should be living with the exact same amount of appreciation and urgency as they are.  We’re really all living on “borrowed time”.  God gave us life, but none of us came into this world with an automatic 100% guaranteed Will-Live-To-Ripe-Old-Age warranty built in.

That truth can be a little unsettling, but living in denial of it never helped anybody.  Better to embrace the exciting part, that we’re all given the exact same chance to make what we can of our limited time of unknown duration—and we get to choose!  We can “leave it sitting idly in the yard”, or “take it to water and go somewhere with it”.  We can fill our hours with good intentions or we can buckle on a life jacket and start paddling those intentions into reality.  We can waste opportunities, or we can embrace them for their full potential.IMG_0571 My encouragement for the day?  If there’s a kayak sitting neglected in your yard, go use it.  It’s good for the soul.  And if your life feels a bit like a neglected kayak, go use that, too.  Spend it well–and when time is up and it’s time to give an account, you’ll have no regrets.

And that’s really good for the soul.

“For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.  It is written:

“As surely as I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow before Me; every tongue will confess to God.”

So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10-12)

 

Here, 1475 Feet Above the Ocean

IMG_6865.JPGTo the many photos that have been snapped by countless tourists, I will add yet two more.  But you know—it’s hard not to agree with them that it’s inspiring to view the humble beginnings of something great.

“Here 1475 feet above the ocean the mighty Mississippi begins to flow on its winding way 2552 miles to the gulf of Mexico…”img_6888“All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.” (Ecclesiastes 1:7)

Rushing River

IMG_3039  IMG_3020We were standing at the edge of a steep bank.  Late afternoon sunlight slanted gold through pine branches over our heads, highlighting the moist hummocks of brilliant green moss creeping along the slanting forest floor.  Below us, a river, satiated with a deluge of rapidly melting snow, rushed it’s wild, joyful way down to bigger waters.IMG_3026IMG_3021  IMG_3033The music of its abundant fullness reminded me of this verse:

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'”  (John 7:37-38)

A little river like this, wildly overflowing with springtime run-off, is exactly what I picture a life looking like as the fulfillment this verse.  A life so brimful of Christ that it can’t even hold the goodness back—it pours out in utter abandon, literally gushing with the joy of it.

And the good news is: in our case, the source never diminishes like the banks of melting snow eventually will for this little river.  The invitation is always open, the supply is endless.  The only way we can possibly dry up is if we quit coming and drinking.

And how do you come and drink?  It’s simple.  Spend as much time as you can with Him.  Read His Word.  Talk to Him.

“Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.”  (Matthew 5:6)

May the river of living water that flows from you as a result be one hundred times more wildly beautiful and joyful than this one. IMG_3022.JPG

White Water

white water / rejoicing hillsWe stood on the dam, peering over the edge.  The roar was deafening.

“Dat water is white, Daddy!” our little girl observed.

“Yes, honey.  That’s how you know the water is going very fast.”

I was thankful for the tightly secured chain link fencing on both sides of the walkway as she stood at the very edge, surprisingly unafraid, watching in fascination as the water spewed tight through the spillways and churned free into the river below.  It was all very exciting, her three-year-old mind oblivious to the warning signs and hazard lights blinking danger all around us.  Daddy and mommy were there with her.  What did she have to fear?

She didn’t know that white water also meant trouble.river's edge / rejoicing hillsI thought about a conversation my husband and I had had earlier in the day, about the trouble in the world and all around us.

Sometimes it can be terribly discouraging, especially when it seems to heap up and come at you from all sides.  You can feel like you’re being tossed around as relentlessly as the tight angry waters in one of those spillways, battered hard against the concrete walls, and all you want is the relief of finally being spewed out the other side so you can find some quiet pool downstream where you can rest and breathe again.

It made me tense and weary just to think of it, and I was relieved when we moved off the dam, and onto a tiny winding trail that followed the river’s edge.  I liked this better.  Here, there were delicate ferns clinging to mossy rock walls, birch trees leaning gracefully over the calmer ripples at the water’s edge and a soft autumn carpet of warm lacy brown oak leaves underfoot.  The roar of the dam faded away in the distance, replaced by the gentle sound of water lapping against rocks along the shore and the whispering breeze in the trees.  Ah—these were the restful places I had in mind.brown oak leaves / rejoicing hillsrocks in the water / rejoicing hillsIMG_1392 editOr were they?

I stumbled as I clambered down a rocky side path to get a closer look at the pretty little ferns.  The thick carpet of oak leaves had been deceptive—what I had thought was solid ground was not.

Was there no escaping trouble?  No, I realized, shaking my head over the irony of it as I regained my footing and continued on more cautiously—there really wasn’t.  If it wasn’t glaring in your face, it always seemed to be hiding where you least expected it.

This was no secret to Jesus, which is why He once stated to his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble.”  He knew it was not just a possibility or a maybe.  It was a certainty.  If it wasn’t clear cut persecution, it would be the enemy inside you, that wearying war between the flesh and the spirit.  If wasn’t trouble of your own making, it would be trouble of someone else’s making, purposeful or unintentional.  If it wasn’t any of these, it would just be the stark reality that we live in a fallen world where there is sickness, and death, and the struggle to survive, and where the sheets we got as a wedding present wear out and rip clean through.  (Yep, just this morning.)  And then there would be fear, the thing that can get you even when nothing is actually wrong.

fern on rock face / rejoicing hillsIMG_1388 editSo what did He mean when He followed up that statement with this one?

“But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Obviously He didn’t mean that we’d escape all trouble by following Him.  If anything, He warned elsewhere that there would be more if we did.  But then I thought back to the beginning of the verse, before He even comments on the certainty of trouble:

“I have told you these things so that in Me you might have peace.”

That phrase “IN ME” jumped out at me, and then it clicked.  So the picture of the peace He was talking about was really right back up on that dam. The two of them were back on it now, making their way slowly across the walkway.  The small girl in the gray jacket walked calmly next to her daddy between the chain link barriers, the late afternoon sunlight highlighting all the little hairs escaping from her braids.  She stopped periodically to look over the edge and ask questions.  In the midst of the noise and turbulence, the calm voice of his explanations and the reassurance of his presence were all the security she needed.ferns / rejoicing hillsThis was peace.

Not in finding our comfort in our circumstances but finding it in the One who walks beside us.  The reality of trouble will never be any greater than the certainty of His presence.  It’s as astonishing and simple as that—and my little girl knew it better than I did.

I stepped up onto the walkway myself, and my steps quickened as I hurried to catch up to my family, hardly noticing the white water churning below as my heart flooded with renewed peace and the determination to learn from her example.

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:20)