Sunday, July 15, 2018

In the Hands of a Craftsman

Every Saturday evening I sit down at the computer to create the weekly bulletin for our church service on Sunday. Part of that process involves glancing over PJ's sermon to find the scriptures that he will be using the next day. We like to put the references in the bulletin so they are handy for people. PJ highlights them in bold when he types up his message so they are easy to find in the text, thus I don't typically read his whole sermon. But this week when I read the title, "God Our Healer," I decided to read the first paragraph... and I ended up reading the whole thing. See, earlier in the week I was starting to put together my thoughts for a new post, and when I started reading PJ's sermon I realized that it went right along with what I was planning to write. I didn't write this earlier in the week because I just couldn't decide how to start it. I think I needed to hear that sermon first.

What's more, last week my blog post about peace went right along with the sermon PJ wrote - so much so that he actually ended up reading it as part of his message. It was a last-minute decision on his part, and I didn't know he was going to do that ahead of time. My point is - we didn't talk about these things and purposefully try to line up our thoughts, but obviously God is working on us both in similar ways right now. And though the message is for us - it's not only for us, which is why we are sharing it. Him from behind the pulpit, and me from behind my keyboard. I think we make a pretty good team (you know... when we aren't trying to decide what restaurant to go to... 😉).

What I would like to talk about is... furniture. Oh, but you thought this post was about healing, right? Well, bear with me for a minute.

I like wood furniture. Real wood furniture, not that pressboard stuff. I like to see the grain of the wood. (Maybe that has something to do with me spending so much time in my Grandpa's wood shop as a kid, I don't know... but I do like the smell of sawdust!) I especially like furniture with a little bit of history to it. I like to buy it used. I like how sometimes certain pieces seem to have a story to tell with their patina, including their nicks, scratches, and marks.

The problem with some of that beautiful and unique old wood furniture is that sometimes time has not been too kind to it. It has been well-loved and well-used over the years. That tabletop has dents and scratches from utensils and plates (and dog paws, sometimes). That chair has wobbly legs and a loose rung. That dresser has some cracks in the corners and the finish is mostly worn off.

Some people like to refinish pieces of furniture like that. They might find that table, chair, or dresser at a thrift store or yard sale for cheap, take it home, and do some work to it. They might use some glue and some wood filler, throw a coat of paint over the whole thing, and call it good. It will look nice for a little while, but with continued use it won't be too long until the paint has some scratches in it, the glue loses its hold, and so forth. Refinishing something means that most of what gets worked on is only surface deep, to improve the look of the piece. Eventually you may find that old chair sitting by the curb, waiting for the next trash pick-up. It now has multiple layers of paint on it, some of which has built up in the corners and dried into hard lumps. The legs are wobbly again, and the loose rung has broken. No one wants to take it home now. Its issues are not going to be solved by another coat of paint.

What that chair needs now is not another DIYer - it needs a true craftsman. A craftsman who can not just refinish it again, but who can actually restore it. It needs someone who will strip off all the old, lumpy layers of paint and expose the wood beneath along with all the underlying issues so that they can be fixed up as well. Broken pieces can be repaired or replaced. Only after all the deeper issues have been addressed and the piece is solid and sturdy once again will the craftsman sand the wood smooth and apply several coats of stain and sealant. The piece has now been restored to its former glory and it is no longer destined for the landfill. It is no longer ugly and falling apart, but it is now beautiful and solid.

The old furniture - maybe it is your life, maybe it is your relationships. All the things you have been dealing with have created some cracks, or some wobbles, or just some general ugliness. Maybe you have tried the DIY route and attempted to cover up the underlying issues. (I really think we have all done that at one time or in one situation or another.) The problem is that because the deeper problems were never really addressed they will always rise back to the surface eventually - often when you are under stress (even if it is unrelated to the original issues). You don't need another "refinishing." This is not a DIY project. You need a restoration performed by the hands of a craftsman - the very craftsman who created you in the first place!

Your heavenly Father - He doesn't just perform a surface cover-up of the issues. He goes deep, to the root. Is it painful sometimes? Yes! It's not always easy to deal with our junk. PJ's sermon this morning - it wasn't focused on God's role in our lives as our physical healer, but more on how He provides spiritual and emotional healing for us. That's restoration, and that's an aspect of God as healer that we don't necessarily always think of - but it's very important. "Spiritual and emotional 'junk' hinders our lives and our relationships." I see that all the time in my own life and in the lives of others. Many times we have trouble moving on from our hurts and we pick up offenses... These are the things that start to form the cracks and wobbles in our lives, and we have trouble moving on and living how God has called us to live. In order to receive the healing that God wants for us in those areas "we have to allow ourselves to be broken before the Lord." "In order for God to bring healing, we need to be honest." (See Psalm 6 - David being honest with God.) God wants to help. He wants to heal. But it is also necessary for us to do our part as well. That's where the honesty and the brokenness come in. That's where we need to surrender to the will of God and lay down our own pride and selfishness. We also need to read our Bible and pray. "The word of God should breathe healing in our lives. We need to pray and ask God to make His word alive in us." (All quotes in this section credited to PJ.)

You guys - HE is so FAITHFUL! It is the very nature of God to be faithful. He cannot be unfaithful. Yes, we can walk away. Yes, we can choose to try to live apart from Him. Yes, we can attempt to make our own path and to be our own guide. We can take that old DIY route. But... that always ends in heartache for us, for our relationships. To live a life surrendered to God isn't easy either. Life isn't easy in general. But when we do live that way - trusting in a faithful God - living a surrendered life - following God's will - He will always take care of us. He will always have our hand as we step into the unknown... and that makes all the difference. When you see someone who has risen above and has overcome and yet says, "I had nothing to do with my own success, rather it was God working in me," that's the evidence of things unseen. That's faith in the God who heals us in every area of our lives - not only the physical, but the spiritual and emotional as well.

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
- Hebrews 11: 1 (KJV)

Friday, July 6, 2018

Peace Like a River

Oh my goodness! I cannot believe that my last post was nearly two years ago! I used to love doing this so much, but LIFE… 

You know how sometimes life is just… Well, it gets a little tough. And it’s not always because something catastrophic has happened. Many times it’s just all the little things, and some bigger ones, that keep piling up on top of each other day by day, week by week, month by month, that suddenly out of nowhere seem to come crashing down on top of you. Kind of like when you go into the grocery store for just one or two items and don’t grab a shopping basket. Inevitably you find three or four more things that you “need” which you carefully arrange in your hands and arms as best you can (and you’re thinking, “I have GOT this…”)… And then you walk past the freezer aisle, and see that mango sorbet (which you think surely you can splurge on since you are only buying a few items), and suddenly! Yup. You are the one who slowly feels the half gallon of milk slipping out of the crook of your elbow, and now you’re squeezing the loaf of bread a little too tightly and the can of tomato sauce is digging into your forearm while you reach into the freezer… And in barely enough time for you to realize what even happened – YOU, my dear, are the one for whom the loudspeaker drolly tolls, “Clean up in aisle 2.” At least help is on the way. 

Oh, I am so there right now. 

Life – it goes through seasons like that sometimes. Everything goes through seasons, really. We wish that we could just STAY at the good places and avoid every bit that looks a little complicated or scary, but life’s just not like that. 

This river runs nearby where we live. I took this picture (above) in April. At this time of the year, the temperature is slowly getting warmer and some of the snow up in the high country is melting. As it melts, it runs off the mountainsides in small streams, runs down into larger streams, and eventually joins up with the river. It’s an impressive amount of water.

I took this picture in June at the same spot. At this time of the year, run off is peaking. Water seems to be coming from everywhere. Flooding and mudslides are not uncommon events. All this water is still making its way down to the river which is running much higher, as you can see. It’s a scary amount of water now. Standing alongside it and hearing the roar and watching the rapids feels really intimidating. 

By the end of the summer the river will be even lower than it was in April.

The river – it goes through seasons too. It can’t stay in one place either. It has to change. It has to adapt. It has to deal with whatever comes its way.

Do you want to know what else I think is interesting about rivers? The Bible says that PEACE can be like a river. Peace. When hear that word I think of quiet things. Things that are gentle. Things that are still. A sleeping baby. A bench seat under the shade of a big tree. Flowers blowing in the breeze. And it’s true, those things are peaceful. God’s peace helps us feel a sense of calm inside ourselves even when the storms are raging outside. But I think there is another aspect to consider. If peace is like a river…

WAIT UP A SECOND. Did I show you the river?


It suddenly occurred to me a few months ago, while sitting in church listening to PJ preach (about something unrelated… I promise I was trying to pay attention…), that PEACE like a RIVER… THAT kind of peace – it’s POWERFUL. It’s REFRESHING. It’s OVERWHELMING. If peace is like a river – it’s NOT passive. It’s ACTIVE!!

What are you facing in your season of life? Is it something huge and painful and scary? Is it something so small that you hardly want to acknowledge to anyone that it is an issue and you want to sweep it under the rug and forget about it? Is it all the little things, and some bigger ones, that are piling up and threatening to overwhelm you?

When we read in our Bibles about peace, I’m just not convinced that we should picture a small stream running through a meadow. I think we should picture this river – powerful, refreshing, overwhelming, and active. If I think of that when I read these words of Jesus, these verses take on even deeper meaning for me:

John 14: 27 (NIV) – “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

John 16: 33 (NIV) – “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Peace that comes from God… it’s not passive. It’s powerful and active. And I don’t know about you, but I need it. It’s what gets me through all those different seasons. Let me not forget that.

"For this is what the Lord says: 'I will extend peace to her like a river...'"
-Isaiah 66: 12a (NIV)

Monday, November 14, 2016

Awesome Antelope

This year PJ and I were blessed to be able to go antelope hunting for the first time. We both harvested an antelope buck, but this post isn't really about the harvest - it's more about the experience and about the animals. It's about getting outside in the high desert of Wyoming and seeing plenty of wildlife. PJ and I enjoy hunting, but even more than that, we hunt mainly to provide meat for our family. Game meat provides a lean, healthy, and fairly economical source of protein for us. We butchered both antelope ourselves and all the meat is in our freezer now. Hunting gets us out into God's creation, enjoying areas we might otherwise just drive right past. So, regardless of your views on hunting, I hope you can enjoy this post!

PJ has hunted archery before, but this was my first time going out in archery season for any animal. (PJ harvested his buck in archery, but I got mine in rifle season.) It won't be the last time for me! Archery season is so much quieter. You can hear so much more. I've seen antelope plenty of times - driving past them in the car. But I never, ever HEARD an antelope before this fall. You'd think these animals are completely quiet, but get close enough and you'll discover that they sure make some really interesting noises! They have a call (that apparently means "something isn't quite right") that sounds like a buzzing honk/wheeze. That's the best I can describe it. You'll just have to come hear it for yourself!

The animal that we call "antelope" is technically not a true antelope. It's proper name is Pronghorn but not too many people out here actually call it that. In fact, if you want to hunt one you will apply for an antelope license, not a pronghorn license. Among many people here they are somewhat affectionately known as "speed goats". Males (bucks) have horns (not antlers). Females (does) can have horns too, but the horns on the doe are typically very small. A buck is identified by his large, pronged horns and black cheek patch. One thing that makes an antelope unique is that it actually sheds its horns each year, where horned animals typically do not shed their headgear. The horn is actually compressed hair. Pretty interesting.

These are a couple of shed horn sheaths.

We took a crash course in field judging antelope from our friend who was hunting with us. From what I can tell, this is a pretty good buck:

Definitely larger than the average bucks that we saw. You can see the "prongs" on the horns which give them their proper name. Each buck can be pretty unique. You can have individuals like that guy where the horns curve towards each other in the center, nearly touching each other. You can have ones where the horns stand more straight up, or ones where they are laid out more towards the sides.

You can even have some like this fellow below!

In this picture (below), you can take a pretty good look at another interesting physical feature of this animal - its mane. The mane on an antelope is a line of darker, longer hair that runs up the back of its neck.

These are very wary animals, and they see danger pretty much everywhere. And they are fast. Sneaking up on one is no easy task! One part of what made the hunt so fun is that we saw so many animals! Probably hundreds of antelope just in the relatively small area in which we were hunting. Get too close too quickly and this is the view you'll get:

This isn't a super good picture, but if you look you can kind of see that they puff out their white, uh, bottoms when they are alarmed. I'm assuming this is an alarm signal to other antelope, much the same as the way a whitetail deer flags its tail when it is running away from a perceived threat.

You'd think, until you actually get out there and start walking it, that the area in which these guys live is fairly flat. It looked mostly flat where we were hunting. But as you start walking across that "flat" landscape you start to find hills and valleys and ravines that you had no idea were there. And there are usually more antelope around every corner too.

The antelope fawns in this picture (above) are already a few months old. Really little antelope fawns are my favorite wildlife babies. They are just really, really cute. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of a really small one, so you'll have to consult the internet if you want to see one. :)

We also came across a den of fox kits. They were awfully cute, and not really afraid. We happened to spot them while we were driving and we sat in the car and watched them for a minute or two before they decided they'd better head for cover. Three of them went down into the den. The fourth got spooked when we started driving and took off the opposite direction from the den. We were driving on the road, but he must have thought we were coming right behind him through the sagebrush because he was ducking and weaving all over in an attempt to get away (from something that wasn't even chasing him). It looked so funny. Their tail is as big as their body and we could just see that big, fluffy tail darting around wildly between the sagebrush and weeds.

I apologize for the quality of the next two pictures, but the yawn and the stretch were so cute (even if they turned out horribly out of focus and the color is all wonky).

Thankfully I did get a couple of better shots, too!

We saw lots of birds too, and heard even more than we saw. One time when we were walking we spooked a great-horned owl out of a tree. They are so amazingly silent when they fly. Unfortunately I wasn't quick enough to get a picture.

Our hunting trips this year were the first times that PJ and I left the kids with someone else overnight in at least five or six years (maybe ever), and it was great. I love being with my kids, but it was definitely nice to have some time alone with my husband again. We spent a lot of time talking, and we realized that it was the first time in a really long time that we had been able to carry on an extended conversation without being interrupted!  It got me remembering a little of what life had been like during the first few years of our marriage... What was that, like, a century ago now? Haha.

We spent one night camping in the back of our truck. It was really uncomfortable and cold, and the moon was so bright that we had a terrible time falling asleep. And I should have thought to use the facilities before I got into the back of the truck, because trying to crawl out of the back window was even worse than crawling in had been. (PJ was laughing at me mercilessly.) But as I stepped out of the truck and into the silence of that place at night and took in a deep breath of that fresh, crisp air... it was as if I was breathing in peace itself. I just stood there and let it soak into my soul. Breathe out, and the tension went with it. There is just nothing like a quiet wild place to restore your soul - a place where you can actually be still, and the pressures of the world and of your daily life can wait until tomorrow while you relax and connect with God in the glorious wonder of His creation. Take in a sunset. Take in a sunrise. Breathe. And know that God is good.

God made the wild animals according to their kinds, 
the livestock according to their kinds, 
and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. 
And God saw that it was good.
-Genesis 1: 25 (NIV)

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A-Hiking We Will Go

As of this Monday, Yellowstone's roads (well, most of them) closed to vehicle travel. Now they'll let the snow pile up and sometime in December the park will open to oversnow travel. Someday I'd love to go to Yellowstone in the winter. It would be a whole different experience than driving it! You can ski, snowshoe, snowmobile, or travel by snow coach. Some friends of ours went in by snow coach recently (within the last year or two) and they said it was amazing. I guess, from what I've read, that you actually can drive into the Park in winter from the North Entrance (Gardiner, MT) and you can go down to Mammoth Hot Springs and drive through the Lamar Valley and go as far as the Northeast Entrance. I'm not sure if that would be worth it, though, for the distance that we would have to drive.

While winter in Yellowstone is on my wish list, for now I will just have to settle for seeing the Park during the warmer months of the year. The last time we were there for the year was while my family was out to visit in September. I know I already shared a bunch of pictures from the time while they were here, but I've still got more! (That shouldn't surprise you at all...) If you're not into another post chock-full of pictures then you might want to skip over to another blog. :) Not all these pictures are from Yellowstone, so I captioned them for you.

These first two pictures are some of my favorites! These two (plus the three after them) are from a short hike we took with the kids and my parents. We didn't have to go far from home, and we had a ton of fun exploring.

 A few days later we headed off for Yellowstone and the Tetons (see more about that here and here). We didn't even make it into the Park before we saw this fellow:
(Remember? I promised you more bear pictures! Here you go...)

 She (or he) was running around right by the side of the road, and was clearly agitated (though the pictures don't really show it). I was glad to be IN the car and farther away from the bear than these zoomed in pictures would lead you to believe. I think this was a young grizzly, as it seemed to be on the small side. I'm guessing one of last year's cubs, but that is a totally uneducated guess.

This bear seemed to want to cross the road, as she started across a couple of times, but there was a lot of traffic and she kept turning back around. You could tell by her body language that she was getting really worked up. Eventually (after a few minutes) she took off running in the opposite direction and disappeared into the forest. Neat to see, but soooo glad I was in my car and not on foot or horseback for the encounter!

These two pictures are from Lake Butte Overlook in Yellowstone. Thus this body of water would be Yellowstone Lake. So much blue!

I love this picture, too! This is from the Tetons of course. Sometimes you feel so small...

We also went on a hike in the Tetons! This sign was at the trailhead... making sure everyone that goes hiking there is prepared for surprise encounters. We had multiple cans of bear spray with us. We definitely weren't hiking alone. And with six kids along we totally had the "make noise" point well covered. (Trust me.)

While in Yellowstone we also went to see Old Faithful. This is Old Faithful! Zoomed way in from where we were sitting at the viewing area, this is the geyser cone. The eruption prediction was a little off this time, so I was playing with my camera while we waited. Look how you can see the heat vapors in the upper right corner! 

Here is the cone again, just zoomed out a little farther this time. As we were waiting, the sun kept getting lower and lower in the sky. We thought maybe we'd get to see a sunset-lit geyser, which would have been cool, but then the sun sank below the edge of the hill and it started getting dark fast.

So this is what we ended up with! The last remaining sunlight just caught the top of the steam plume. Still pretty cool. :) Old Faithful is always a favorite with the kids.

We went out of the Park and returned a couple days later, this time via the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway and the Northeast Entrance. When you go that way you can stop and check out the Clark's Fork Canyon! (It's much more impressive in person. The picture just does not do it justice.)

 Something to keep in mind if you're out driving in Wyoming... some areas are still open range. Which means that it's not just wildlife and sightseers that you have to watch out for on the road, but livestock as well. Drive carefully!

We stopped at a picnic area just inside the Park entrance for lunch. Not only was the scenery pretty awesome...

...but the neighbors weren't bad either! Right across from the picnic area was this rocky mountainside. It's a little hard to see, but there are four mountain goats up there (three close together and one by itself)! We also saw eight other mountain goats in the area, but those were all much farther away and I got even worse pictures of them.

After lunch we drove down to the Canyon area, to Artist's Point. Isn't this a great picture? It really makes you feel like you're all alone with nature. Ahhh...
(Not pictured: the crowd behind me that you could barely walk through, brought there in part by a dozen or more tour buses. It seemed like a crazy amount of people for the off season! It was nearly October, for goodness sakes!)

Well, for this view I guess it's worth fighting the crowds (at least once in a while).

We left all the crowds back at Canyon and headed towards the East Entrance. What a way to top off the day! We found this big griz down by the shore of Yellowstone Lake. We stopped to watch him, and were able to stay for a while because there weren't too many people stopped there, or too much traffic.

He crossed the road and went walking right out into the lake.

Just taking a bath? There was a big shallow area there, and he just ambled along through the water for a long time with no apparent purpose in mind.

 The geese didn't seem concerned by his presence at all. We enjoyed watching him for a long time, but eventually we had to leave him where he was (still in the lake) and head for home. Until next time...

"How many are your works, Lord!
    In wisdom you made them all;
    the earth is full of your creatures."
-Psalm 104: 24

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Of Mud and Birds

Last week was a long one. The kind of week that seems like someone snuck extra hours, or maybe even days, in there and is watching while you try to figure out what happened. It was sometime on Tuesday when I realized that Wednesday hadn't happened yet. As much as "time flies when you're having fun", it also drags along when you're NOT having fun. In this case, we had three kids down with the stomach flu. Thankfully it was very short-lived and everyone was feeling back to normal fairly quickly.

Yes, the first half of that week was made up of the type of days that you slog through as if you were walking through a farmyard after a heavy rain. You just keep putting one foot in front of the other because you know if you stop moving for too long you're bound to lose a boot in the mire and stick your sock-clad foot in a pile of ... "special" mud.

I know we've all had times like that. It was certainly not the first time for me, and I'm positive it won't be the last. It's just a part of life. Sometimes the "mud" we're walking through is something relatively uncomplicated - like a house full of sick kids, or second grade math (homeschool parents, I know you relate!). At other times we are faced with much more difficult and/or longer-lasting situations. Chronic illness, family conflicts, financial troubles, the death of a loved one... There's no way to get around the fact that sometimes life is just not easy. Sometimes it's just HARD.

Thankfully we have a Creator who has equipped us to deal with the hard times! Sometimes that means that we can deal with the situation with the wisdom and skills that He has given us. Sometimes it means that we deal with it through personal prayer. And sometimes we need to get other people involved - people who can pray for us and with us, people who can help out with their God-given wisdom and skills, people who can stand with us and hold us up when we feel like we can't go forward on our own. This is a big part of the importance of the Body of Christ, and why we are instructed to: "...consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another..." (Hebrews 10: 24-25a, NIV) This is important as we deal with our personal issues, but also as we deal with issues that we face corporately as believers. 

Right now we are now just days away from another presidential election, the results of which will affect us far into the future, and I believe that all of us who are followers of God should be spending quite a bit of time in prayer over the next several days. Even though things may seem hopeless when we read through the headlines, we can rest assured that God is watching out for us. He never promised that things would be easy, but He did promise to be there with us through it all.

"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." (Matthew 10: 29-31, NIV, emphasis mine)

I'm so glad I have a heavenly Father like that! He loves us and cares for us. What He promises He is able to do and He will do it! Sometimes knowing that is all that gets me through the rough stuff. It's what enables me to keep putting one foot in front of the other. It's what is giving me hope as we look forward to the future, even though we have no idea what the future is going to hold.

I'll leave you with this: "Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!" (Luke 12: 24, NIV) Think about it. Enjoy the pictures. And remember to pray for this election and for our country's future leaders!

Common Raven.

Grey Jay.

 Find the bird! He's hiding pretty well, with his eye looking like just another cedar berry and his feathers and beak the same grey as the branches.

Here's a better look at the hiding bird. I think the fluffy one is a juvenile. He's SO FLUFFY!!!

The same bird again. Tentatively identified as the 
Townsend's Solitaire.
(But if you know better, please tell me!)

Unidentified Hawk.

 Clark's Nutcracker.

Another shot of the Clark's Nutcracker.

Unidentified Duck.

 A flock of birds in motion.