South Dakota Adventure: Seeing It Through Their Eyes

IMG_7164 editWe’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.IMG_6733 editIMG_7518 editIMG_7806 edit

IMG_7533 editNow, don’t get me wrong.  Traveling with small children can indeed sometimes feel like one endless string of potty and snack breaks.  Some of the finer details of travel are inevitably lost on them.  Their favorite restaurant of the trip was the one that offered a package of goldfish crackers as a side on the kids’ menu instead of the one where they got to sample real rattlesnake sausage.  At the rock shop they were more interested in the cheap mood ring display than the gorgeous native rose quartz.  Sometimes dad and mom’s idea of a “fun” hike turned out more like a rather painful lesson in perseverance.  Or there was that time when we were driving through a magnificent canyon for the first time, and all they could comment on was, “Look!  There’s a blue truck!”

But the real reason we chose to travel with children was summed up in that moment when we first rounded a curve to see Mount Rushmore in the distance.  The collective childish gasp of amazement from the back seat made every tedious hour across the endless plains worthwhile.  The three-year-old was as enthralled as the seven-year-old, and spent the rest of our vacation scaling every rock in sight to pose and claim that she was now “George Lincoln”.IMG_7016 editIMG_6995 editIt was for them that we drove the wildlife loop at Custer State Park three times, just to hear them ooh and aah at the sight of several hundred bison moving down a valley en masse and squeal when the wild burros came lipping at our windows in hopes of handouts.  It was to laugh aloud every time the three-year-old shouted, “I see a cantaloupe!  I see a cantaloupe!” (any guesses what she was referring to?  Clue: it wasn’t fruit.).  It was to share their thrill each time a prairie dog popped up out of his hole and listen to them laugh with delight to see the young bighorn sheep leaping as confidently along the mountain crags as their parents.

We had seen it all before, but there was something wonderful about experiencing it anew through their eyes.IMG_7584 edit.jpgIMG_7578 edit.jpgIMG_6951 editIMG_6968 edit.jpgIMG_7838 editIMG_7452 edit.jpgIMG_7471 edit.jpgIMG_7854 editThe 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.IMG_7180 editIMG_6894 editIMG_6930 editIMG_7091 editOn 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)

There’s more than one aspect to “becoming like children”, but I think most of it can be summed up with the word simplicity.   And I don’t mean simple as in “dumb”; I mean simplicity in the sense of pure and uncomplicated. 

Simplicity in faith. 

Simplicity in love. 

Simplicity in obedience.

Simplicity in wonder.

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Vacation Vignettes: Guardhouse

IMG_3606-1I certainly didn’t expect the guardhouse to be the most inspirational spot during our tour of a circa 1840’s fort, but that’s how it turned out.  As I stood next to the row of prison doors, looking down the narrow hall to this window of light flooding in, a verse of a favorite hymn came overwhelmingly to mind:

“Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.”-–Charles Wesley, 1738

Fort Wilkins, Keweenaw Peninsula, Michigan

Vacation Vignettes: Beach

IMG_3052.JPGCome with us to the beach!  You know, that one that kind of seems like our own little secret, since you have to drive around a giant mud hole to get there, and then try not to get stuck in the sand while parking where the woods end and dunes begin.  The other people sharing it with us are so far away we can almost imagine that the only creatures we have to share it with are the stray seagulls eyeing our cooler in hopes of handouts.  The sand is so hot it scorches our bare feet and the water is cold enough to leave your body tingling deliciously after a single dip.  It’s perfect.

Come run races down the hard-packed sand at the edge of the waves that go for miles, sending splashes sparkling to the sky, as hard and as fast as you can.   Come make snow angels in the sand, face down, so the sun can soak your back.  Come stand still and contemplate the art show where wave and sand meet, ripples and layers in constantly shifting patterns.IMG_2992.JPGIMG_3829Come wander amidst the white bleached driftwood, polished smooth by a thousand relentless waves.  Come find smooth silvery bits to tuck into pockets as souvenirs, leaving behind the charred bits that are lovely memories of sunset beach fires and happy gatherings.IMG_3841IMG_3840Come toil up through ankle-deep sand to smell the wild sweet peas clinging to the dunes, trailing tenacious vines along the heaps of shifting soil beneath the nodding grasses.IMG_3002.JPGCome watch a little blue sailboat slowly unfurl its white wings as it heads out to sea.  Come watch the children with sand for freckles who build endless castles, never tiring rebuilding what the relentless waves erode.  Come beware of children with mischief twinkling in their eyes and that bucket full of fresh cold lake water they’re saving for when you’re back is turned (it will be refreshing).IMG_3039.JPGAnd when the sun and the wind and the splashing and the dunking and the running and the wandering has produced an appetite that seems as boundless as the blue waves reaching to the horizon, come and eat.  There are slices of cold turkey, pickles and Jarlsburg wrapped in pretzel rolls or soggy sandwiches accidentally dropped in the lake, whichever you prefer.  We have rosy-cheeked Ranier cherries and sandy granola bars for dessert, to hold us over until we drive past the ice cream shop that stocks Mackinac Island Fudge on our way home.

And perhaps our humble meal shared on a stretch of sand will remind you, just the tiniest bit, of another picnic on a beach thousands of miles away, a couple thousand years ago.

“The other disciples came ashore in the boat. They dragged in the net full of fish, for they were not far from land, only about a hundred yards.  When they landed, they saw that a charcoal fire had been prepared, with fish on it, and some bread.  Jesus told them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, one hundred fifty-three. And although there were so many, the net was not torn.

“Come, have breakfast,” Jesus said to them… Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and He did the same with the fish.” (John 21:8-13)

And since this a vacation, after all, we’d linger even longer and read the whole chapter.  This day we shared at the beach was pretty wonderful, but that story?  It’s my favorite beach story of all time.

 

Vacation Vignettes

IMG_3724There are two things that cause writer’s block for me: having nothing to say, and having  altogether too much to say.

Coming home from vacation last week has been the latter problem for me.  I saw so much, took so many photos, thought so many thoughts and every time I sit down to try to wrap it all up in some neat little package of an essay, the sheer volume of it all overwhelms me.  After trying for a week, I’ve even considered not sharing any of it and just continuing on with regular local posts as though we never went anywhere.  Many of you would be none the wiser.

But then you would never get to see an endangered species of turtle.  You’d miss what the sunset looks like from the top of Brockway Mountain and the way the spray on your face feels like at Bond Falls.  You’d miss the warm sand between your toes and the feel of smooth polished bits of driftwood in your hand.  That hardly seemed right.

So, rather then lump them all together in one post, I’ve sorted all my photos into virtual piles and I’m going to give them to you one chunk at a time, as themed vignettes that will, altogether, sum up our golden little time away beautifully.  After all it was Jesus Himself who said…

“Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)

If they can serve as a tiny vacation for your soul, too, I will have counted my time well spent.  Stay tuned!

Venturing West: The Long View

IMG_4130For all the outdoor beauty we enjoy here in Minnesota, I must admit that there is one thing we’re a little short on, and that’s the long view.  I do love all our trees, but thanks to those thick forests the places where you can stand and see for miles are somewhat few and far between.  Which is why, when I travel to places like North Dakota and Montana as we had the opportunity to do this last month, I can hardly get enough of those endless scenic vistas.  I love to see the beautiful, raw curves and contours of the land, love to see distant hills fading away in shades of blue and purple to the horizon, love the way those vistas kindle my imagination with the possibilities of what may lie even further beyond.

It’s in moments like those that I sometimes find myself wishing that life itself was a little more like standing on the edge of a continual scenic vista and not quite so much like plugging along through the thick forest with no idea what’s around the next bend.  You know, being able to see into the future and knowing the purpose and end result of things instead of always wondering.  Have you ever wished for that, too?

In some ways, that’s just how it is to be human.  We aren’t all-knowing or all-seeing like God is.  That’s why we have to trust in Him and lean not on our own understanding, because He’s the only one who can see the long view.  That necessary dependence is part of the beauty of our relationship with Him.

Yet recently I happened upon a passage in His Word that, interestingly, does promise a certain amount of special vision for the righteous.  In this particularly beautiful chapter in Isaiah, “sinners in Zion” and “the godless” are terrified after hearing of God’s promised judgement and ask:

“Who among us can live with the consuming fire?  Who among us can live with continual burning?”  (“burning” being a picture of the judgement that is prophesied to come)IMG_4067And God answers with that beautiful balance of justice and mercy befitting His character: “‘He who walks righteously and speaks with sincerity…IMG_4221.JPG
…he who rejects unjust gain and shakes his hands so that they hold no bribe…IMG_3959.JPG
…he who stops his ears from hearing about bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking upon evil…IMG_3965…he will dwell on the heights, his refuge will be the impregnable rock…IMG_4178IMG_4194.JPG…his bread will be given him, his water will be sure…

IMG_4171…your eyes will see the King in His beauty; they will behold a far-distant land.'”  (Isaiah 33:14-17)

That last little line is my very favorite part.  Isn’t it beautiful?  To those who walk according to His ways, He does give, among many other wonderful gifts, without negating our need to walk in faith, a glimpse of that long view and those distant horizons, or, as another translation puts it “the land that stretches afar”.

He’s not talking about physical scenic vistas here, breathtaking as those are.  I don’t even think He’s necessarily talking about knowing the future.  Instead, He’s promising the righteous spiritual eyes to see above and beyond the figurative forests humankind stumbles through, and to see instead His ways and His will—and ultimately, to see to the farthest horizon where the glory of eternity with Him awaits.  To see things from His perspective.IMG_4125It’s like being given a pair of God-shaped binoculars.  And, really, can you think of anything more breathtaking?

P.S. Yes, this trip out west is the reason you haven’t heard from me here in a while—but my camera was busy while we were away.  Stay tuned for more soon!

 

Foreign Soil

rocky point / rejoicing hillsred rock / rejoicing hillsRecently we took a short weekend trip to our neighboring country to the north, and it got me thinking about being a foreigner.  

Granted, driving across the border into Canada doesn’t involve a lot of culture shock.  They dress the same way as we do.  They drive cars and have ordinary looking houses. They speak English.  In some ways it feels very much like home.

But then you’re driving down the road and you start getting a headache from repeatedly having to convert kilometers to miles.  You keep gasping at how much things cost, and having to remind yourself that it won’t be nearly so bad once you apply the exchange rate.  There are maple leaves on the flags fluttering in people’s yards instead of stars and stripes.  You hear about people eating their french fries with gravy and cheese curds, and calling diapers napkins.  My husband even claims the walleye taste different up there.  And they won’t let you take eggs across the border, no sir.  Even if they’re beautiful big brown and green eggs from the farm down the road.  (I learned that lesson the hard way.)

And so, in the midst of many similarities, the feel of the foreign seeps unmistakably through.walleye art / rejoicing hillswater lily / rejoicing hillsisland / rejoicing hillslichen / rejoicing hillscrown vetch / rejoicing hillsWe really had a great time while we were there, even if we did have to eat Canadian eggs.  It was the kind of weekend where your favorite memories are things like waking up to the fragrance of coffee perking and grandma pulling fresh orange rolls out of the oven, sitting with your feet up reading good books in the fishing boat between bites, and the feel of sun-baked lichened rocks on bare feet.  We spent mornings drinking coffee on the deck, hot and humid afternoons soaking in the lake, and cooler evenings around a roaring fire.  We fed the seagulls, made barbecued ribs and ate fresh bread from the resort bakery next door.  It was wonderful!

fishing with grandpa / rejoicing hillsorange rolls / rejoicing hillsrock jumping / rejoicing hillsfeeding seagulls / rejoicing hillsYet for all the wonderful memories we made, we still got excited when we drove back to the border at the end of our visit and spotted a familiar red, white and blue flag fluttering proudly above the brick buildings at the crossing.  The line was long, and we slowly inched our way across the river, suspended between two countries on a bridge of steel.  A sort of happy, content feeling prevailed.  That was home over there and there were no doubts about whether they’d let us through or not, because we were citizens!

We still had to prove it, of course.  We had to hand over our US passports and birth certificates, and they had to examine them with care, comparing the photos on each one to the corresponding face in our vehicle.  They looked in our coolers, too, and took all of our leftover red and yellow peppers in case they were carrying some kind of bug that might infest American pepper crops.  (Or something like that.)

But after all that, we drove on through the gate, and suddenly we went from being foreigners to being citizens with rights and privileges.  The speed limit signs made sense again.  Things cost exactly what they said they did.  They served us ketchup with our fries when we stopped for supper.  Everything felt somehow right and familiar again.evening light / rejoicing hillsI like to think that’s how heaven is going to feel someday.  We’ll cross that great divide between this life and the next, and suddenly everything will feel right and familiar in a way it never did here on earth.  We will be home, and it will be a lot more than just a happy, content sort of feeling—it will be glorious.  I don’t know about you, but no amount of enjoyment I feel in this life can take away from the excitement I feel when I anticipate that border crossing!

“For our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  (Philippians 3:20)

Are you a citizen, too?  I hope I see you there!