North-West to Alaska: The Heartland

This country of ours is one big, beautiful place. The first time we went to Alaska, I got one big fast magnificent overview from the air. This time, with the exception of one hour and a half flight, we went much more slowly, by land and by sea.

I can’t really say I prefer one over the other. Flying is fast, convenient, and a magnificent experience, but there are things you miss, like reading the colorful bulletin boards in dusty Western single pump gas stations and picking a sprig of sage brush to rub between your fingers and breathe in the earthy, spicy fragrance for miles after. You don’t get to watch the rain sweep like a curtain across the plains towards you, leaving air refreshingly clean of smoke in its wake or spot a rainbow in your rearview mirror. You don’t get to see the calico herds of longhorn cattle, or watch the grain dust rising from the combines in the wheat fields.

And truth be told, after the effort we’d put into preparing for this move the few weeks previously, I was very ready to sit in the truck and do nothing but gaze for hours at some long, rolling miles of endless farmland. It was so peaceful, restful—and gloriously air-conditioned!

So welcome to my passenger seat view of western Minnesota, North Dakota and eastern Montana for the first two days, mostly shot from a moving vehicle, with strong themes of yellow canola fields, small town grain elevators and gas station stops. Enjoy!

And, in this last shot, a hazy preview of the next blog post’s theme…coming soon!

“Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!
Sing to the Lord, all the earth…

Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it.” (Psalm 96:1, 12)

Flying

“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)

Once in 86 Lifetimes

IMG_3418 editThere are a lot of things about 2020 I’d be happy to never see again in my lifetime, but this is one of the few things I saw that I can say I wouldn’t mind seeing again sometime soon. 

Except that won’t be happening, because, according to NASA, Comet NEOWISE will not be seen again for 6,800 years.  So this was not just a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity, it was a once-in-86-lifetimes opportunity.  Wow.

Fun fact: the comet was named for NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission, on which it was first sighted.

“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth, who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!” (Psalm 8:1)

Photographed 11:02 PM July 16th, 2020; Chippewa National Forest, Minnesota, USA.

Savoring Summer #42: Last Light

IMG_1136 editNow may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

This benediction sums up my wish for you as much today as it did for Paul towards the Roman church.

It’s been such a good six weeks!  I hope you’ve enjoyed the daily views of summer through my lens, and digging deeper into the rich treasures of the book of Romans.  I’ve been challenged and encouraged by what I’ve read, and I hope you have, too!

If you’re one of the people who has joined me to read through the full study on SheReadsTruth.com: thank you!  It made it extra meaningful to know we were doing this together, especially during a summer when being “together” has been limited!  If you did, will you comment below or on Facebook and tell me your favorite photo and/or verse from the last six weeks?  There might just be a little something special coming your way if you do!

 

Savoring Summer #39: Stone Axe Creek

IMG_1833 edit.jpg“Give my greetings to Prisca and Aquila, my coworkers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life.” (Romans 16:3-4)

I love how in most cases in this passage, Paul specifically mentions why he’s grateful for each of these friends, or how they have been a blessing to him.  In your prayers today, try making a list like this yourself, if you can, of every person from your church!  I found this to be such a joyful exercise.

“Thank you for ________; he cheerfully takes out the garbage every week at church.  Thank you for ________; she is such a faithful prayer warrior.  Thank you for _________; he always encourages me to dig deeper into my Bible.  Thank you for __________; she gives so generously…” and so on!

And if there’s someone who you don’t know well enough to mention, take note; it might be time to change that!

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: Most days we hike to this creek for our daily exercise; most days we pause to skip rocks or watch sticks go in one end of the culvert and come out the other, or, if we’re lucky, spot a sunning turtle.  

 

Savoring Summer #36: Cotton Candy Clouds

IMG_2488 edit.jpg“So then, let us pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another…It is a good thing not to eat meat, or drink wine, or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble.” (Romans 14:19, 21)

There’s a lot that could be said about today’s passage, but I think the best thing to do with it is to set aside the excuses that so quickly rise, and read it prayerfully, asking the Spirit put His finger on how this might mean change or growth in your life.

I know I was convicted!

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: I just have to say that one of my very favorite things about summer is the clouds.  

Savoring Summer #1: A Challenge and A Plan

thunderstorm at sunset“Thunderstorm at Sunset”

One of my favorite books of photography is called Looking for the Summer, by Jim Brandenburg, a renowned photographer of National Geographic fame, who just happens to live in Minnesota, too.  In it, he challenges himself to take one photo a day for an entire single summer, and the results are breathtaking.  If you want to drink up a lot of pure Minnesota-Boundary-Waters-themed summer beauty, it’s a book I highly recommend.

Now, I’m no Jim Brandenburg (all of his artistic work is top-quality, stunning and highly inspiring), but I thought I’d take up a similar but slightly scaled back challenge for myself this summer.  I’m going to attempt a photo-a-day for about six weeks!  This will necessarily be a project with a less writing, but instead I’d like to take you along on my other personal project for the summer: studying the book of Romans.  I’ll be sharing verses that stood out to me, and sometimes, as I have time and inspiration, thoughts to go with them.

If you’d like to join me, I’ll be using the free reading plan located at shereadstruth.com, which is a fabulous resource if you’re looking for ideas for Bible studies and reading plans!

Now, just as that great book of the Bible begins:

To all of you “loved by God, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:7)

See you back here tomorrow!

 

 

Babies Don’t Keep

IMG_9991 edit.jpgI didn’t get out to walk as much as I normally like to this winter.  And for the first time in years, I didn’t even touch my skis, because by the time I got through postpartum recovery and felt up to getting on them again, the snow drifts were being measured in feet, not inches.  Even you avid skiers know how daunting breaking a trail through that is!

This is all the fault, of course, of a certain cute snuggly little guy who likes to hang out with (onto) me a lot lately.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I don’t have hard feelings about it.  If you’ve ever had the privilege of being graced by one of his ready smiles, or gotten to rest your cheek on his downy head, well, then you know what I’m talking about.  He was worth it, and hey, running up and down the stairs to wash extra loads of baby laundry is exercise, too, right?  But it did mean that I didn’t take as many nature pictures.

Winter photography isn’t easy.  The days are shorter, the light dimmer and fleeting.  With so many of the living, moving things in hibernation, hidden beneath the snow, finding interesting subjects requires extra effort.  That being said, I truly enjoy the way winter photography challenges and stretches my creativity, and this year, I missed the way it always renews my appreciation for the quiet beauty of the season.IMG_9711 edit.jpgBut circumstances are never an excuse for failing to find joy.

So when I was looking wistfully at my untouched ski boots, or watching the light fall across the fields in a photogenic way that I wouldn’t be running out to capture as I have in the past, instead of giving into impatience or frustration, I learned to intentionally shift my mindset in two ways.

The first was to gain a deeper appreciation for what I was restricted from doing, realizing how often I have taken freedoms, hobbies and privileges for granted.  When you’re missing something, it’s not okay to complain and give in to discontentment, but it IS okay to remember it with pleasure, acknowledge it’s value, and be grateful for it in a way you probably haven’t been before.  

And the second?  To be fully appreciative of and present in the fleeting circumstances that created this restriction, because babies don’t keep.  To relish the snuggles instead of wishing away the nighttime feedings.  Winter will come again, but my son will never be this little again.  The dimpled fists clinging to my shirt are going to stretch out into the strong lean hands of a man, the chubby round cheeks I love to kiss are going to turn to manly stubble, the coos are going to turn into sentences, the giggles to guffaws.  The days of him squealing when I peek over the edge of his cradle in the morning, or his downy little head nodding to sleep on my shoulder are numbered.IMG_9771 edit.jpgAnd I learned to really savor few opportunities I did have to snap a photo.  These were taken while…

Hauling the camera along to the chicken coop to get a shot of the beautifully frosted windows while collecting eggs.

Rolling down the car window on the way to town to grab a shot of frosted pine branches.

Pausing for a quick photograph of the icicles above my head while airing my tires at the gas station.

On a rare walk, spotting the tracks of the multiple coyotes who had yapped in the field the night before.IMG_9743 edit.jpgIMG_9988 edit.jpgThere are a lot of parallels here to the strange times we’re living in right now.  A pandemic is weird, strange and scary, and we’re all feeling the effects of it one way or another.  We’re chafing because we can’t go places when we want to.  We’re missing people and faces and fellowship.  We’re disappointed at cancellations and postponements.  We miss the days when you didn’t feel like you were hazarding your life and everyone else’s every time you walk into the grocery store.  We’d really like to have a normal conversation again that didn’t contain the words mask, CDC or quarantine.

But circumstances are never an excuse for failing to find joy.

I hope that, instead of giving way to impatience and frustration at the unusual out-of-our-control limitations put on us this year, we can look for the good when it all seems bad.  That we can be more grateful for the freedom we had before, and not take it for granted when it returns.  That we can be intentional about using all that extra time at home.  That we can more creative, less apathetic.  That we can appreciate the opportunity to build stronger relationships with immediate family members, and the blessed simplicity of being forced to slow down.  That we can learn to value the right things, and put less value on the things that don’t really matter.IMG_9972 edit.jpgNormal life will return eventually, but while you’re waiting, don’t miss the unique gifts and blessings that God may have for you during this pandemic.  When we look back on 2020 in years to come, let’s be grateful that we learned new good lessons and lived this strange and memorable year well, instead of regretful that we spent it chafing for it to end.

“For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)

 

Super Blood Wolf Moon

IMG_3766 edit 1.jpg10:20 PM CST, nearly fully eclipsed, after which my camera decided it didn’t care to focus at -30 F.

The name may seem dramatic, but it was really just a full lunar eclipse (“blood” for the reddish-brown color it turns), in January (“wolf” by the Native American calendar), on a night when the moon was closer to the earth than usual (“super”).

Which, perhaps, is amazing enough to deserve such a dramatic title.

“God is my King from of old, working salvation on the earth…The day is His, and His also the night; He established the sun and moon.” (Psalm 74:12,16)

 

A Psalm for Spring

IMG_8807.JPGBlessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, IMG_8502-1.jpgnor stands in the way of sinners,IMG_8506.JPGnor sits in the seat of scoffers;IMG_8650.JPGbut his delight is in the law of the Lord,and on his law he meditates day and night.IMG_8554.JPGHe is like a tree planted by streams of waterIMG_8520
that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.IMG_8830In all that he does, he prospers.IMG_8497-1
The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.IMG_8352Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
IMG_8236.JPGfor the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”

(Psalm 1)