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)
“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)
“Now 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!
“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. Seethis original postfor 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.
“For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:10)
When we talk about God forgiving us, it’s helpful to remember that we’re not talking about him forgiving us for some “minor” offense. It’s not just some condescending little,“Oh, fine, I guess I can let it slide that you didn’t make it to church last week.”
There is no one against whom we have committed greater sin than God. Think about that for a minute. Think about the nastiest, most evil person in all of history, the one who you would personally have the very hardest time forgiving—and that is YOU before God. You were literally God’s ENEMY.
Perhaps you did not deliberately set out to be God’s enemy, but the fact is that you were His enemy by association, just as all soldiers in war fall on one side or another based on which leader they are taking orders from.
And this is precisely why God’s forgiveness is so mind-boggling. Under the circumstances (which He could justly declare unforgivable), really the most we could hope for would be something like: “Because of my great mercy, I’ll let you get by without the death sentence, but you’ve offended me so much I’m still going to exile you to an island for the rest of your life.”
But instead, it’s this magnificent: “You were my enemy; now become my heir!”
He offers reconciliation that is full, complete, without caveat. He wipes our record clean, and calls us up to the place of honor reserved for beloved children.
I think that reconciliation must be one of the most beautiful words in all the English language.
P.S. Seethis original postfor 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!)!
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)
I 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.But 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.And 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.There 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.Normal 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)
Farewell to watching the snow banks mount to the window sills and the thermometer drop out of sight,
to pulling elastic snow pants cuffs down over small boots,
to snow caves, snow men, and snow angels,
to a world that sparkles like a thousand diamonds in the sunshine,
to stepping in unexpected snow water puddles in stocking feet.
Farewell to the sometimes exquisite, always relentless work of the winter wind,
to the battle for an open driveway,
to the endlessly shifting sea of snow dunes,
to snow banners off the shed roof.Farewell to rainbow sun dogs,
to silver moonlight on midnight blankets of snow,
to Orion, that great starry hunter,
and to the way he and all the rest of the host of heaven twinkles most splendidly on the bitterest of winter nights.Farewell to conjuring up baking projects just for the sake of making the kitchen cozy,
to scooping up great bowls of freshly-fallen snow to make snow ice cream,
to in-season citrus in the refrigerator drawer,
to rosy-cold cheeks bent appreciatively over steaming hot drinks.Farewell to the best and longest ski season in years,
to solo breaking trails through the sunset fields,
to swishing beneath the low-hung golden-green cedars while the swans murmur to each other along the banks of a laughing river,
to laughing with friends through the trials of sticky afternoon snow,
to the great frontier of yet-unexplored trails that must now wait until next season.Farewell to the long dark of winter evenings,
to dinners made elegant by candlelight,
to laps made warm by quilting projects,
to chapters read aloud by lamplight,
to games played late with old friends, and new.Farewell to winter.
Welcome to spring.
“You have established all the boundaries of the earth; You have made summer and winter.” (Psalm 74:17)
Farewell to shadows of bluebells on white chicken coop walls…Farewell to pleasant afternoons hanging laundry on the line in the company of friendly toads…Farewell to grasshoppers, and white trumpet vines, and all other such elegant pairings…Farewell to barefoot days at the edge of the lake……Farewell to the haunting serenade of loons… Farewell to daisy bouquets made by small hands, and smoky sunsets, gifts from forests burning far away…Farewell to cumulonimbus, those splendid, tall ships sailing by in the sea of the sky…Farewell to restless, flitting warblers in green, green meadows…Farewell to lush gardens decked in the thousand diamonds of sudden morning showers…Farewell to the brief, warm nights, sparkling with celestial beauty and fireflies, humming with mosquitoes…Farewell to all the sun-ripened berries hiding under the leaves…Farewell to picturesque encounters on whimsical summer evening drives…Farewell to all the babies, now raised and grown…Farewell to dancing swallowtails in ballrooms of flowers…Farewell, sweet summer; welcome, glorious autumn!