For When We Suspect Nothing is Happening

Cool mountain air drifted in through our open window, carrying high-pitched beeps and deep rumblings that broke into my slumber. I lay in the dark of our tiny room at the back of the lodge and tried to place it. A tractor? A road grater? I recognized that sound. I knew what it wasn’t but not what it was. And then I remembered.

It was a snow groomer.

I recalled seeing one as twilight settled across the mountain the afternoon before, its headlights flickering between the distant trees as it lumbered across the slope like something straight out of a Star Wars movie. But snow groomers aren’t science fiction. They are tools. Machines meant to move and manipulate snow, they transform crusty, slick, worn sections of ski slopes into something smooth, navigable, and safe.

I’d forgotten about them, about how they spend the overnight hours when the skiers are sleeping and the slopes are quiet doing their restorative work: crushing and grinding away the scurf of the day—the icy slopes, the washboard wear—rearranging the snow to create the best possible surface by morning.

Corduroy

When the sun rose, the groomed surface, aptly named corduroy for its evenly grooved finish, glowed fresh and smooth, inciting us to hurry to get out the door and onto the slopes. By afternoon, however, every groove was worn away and the snow polished to a slick sheen, transforming what had previously been easy and enjoyable into exhausting, sometimes frightening labor.

We spent only one night in that tiny room on the back side of the building. The next morning, I woke early again, this time on the front side of the lodge, lay in the dark, and listened. But there was only silence where the previous morning’s beeps and rumbles had been.

With no fresh snow on the mountain,  the sound of the groomer instilled hope for the best possible conditions. Its absence boded the opposite.

It had been eighteen years since I’d skied this mountain or any other. Memory told me that grooming was an ongoing process. If it was needed, it happened. Maybe, I thought, the weather indicated that is would be a bad idea to groom. Or unnecessary. Maybe snow grooming practices had changed in the last eighteen years. Other things certainly had. Or maybe I just remembered wrong.

As I waited for the sun to rise, I didn’t just wonder about the silence. I worried. A groomed surface made—for me, anyway—the difference between a good day of skiing and a survivable one. I wanted emerge from the lodge in the morning and find smooth, navigable, safe snow where crusty, slick, worn slopes had been. I wanted to see the mountain transformed.

Eventually, the sun rose and rest of the family woke. We ate, donned our gear, and climbed the little hill to the path behind the lodge, where I saw a snow groomer trekking across the face of the mountain, returning from its pre-dawn work. The path and every slope I could see was covered in corduroy.

A freshly groomed path

I’d made the mistake of believing that just because I couldn’t hear the work being done it wasn’t happening.

I stood on the freshly worked, inviting snow and saw that I too often do the same thing with my life. When I’m waiting (and aren’t we almost always waiting for something?) I hold tight to an underlying suspicion that if I can’t  perceive progress there must not be any. And that just isn’t true, because walking by faith more often involves what we can’t see than what we can.

This is true: Sometimes, maybe even often, the transformative work on our hearts that make us navigable and useable and approachable often comes from the unmistakable, crushing weight of the heavy and the hard.

This is also true: Sometimes it happens silently, in the background, without us even noticing, until we look back and see it. The change is evident, but the work is a process played out in quiet moments of walking by faith, one sometimes-faltering step at time.

And this is true, as well: God doesn’t act in the nick of time. He acts in His time.

When we pay attention to the path that brought us from where we were to where we are, we find a series of small steps and long stops. We see progress in what felt like paralysis. And we discover purpose in a pace that was once unfathomable.

The work is being done—whether we perceive it or not.

And you, fellow traveler? Are you waiting and holding onto a suspicion that nothing is happening? What truth can you speak to yourself to encourage your own heart today?

For When We Find Ourselves Waiting

 

Snowshoeing: Observation Point

Bundled against the sub-zero temperatures, we left the cozy warmth of our cabin to brave Yellowstone’s deep winter chill. At twelve below zero, the temperature was up seven degrees already that morning from the previous afternoon’s negative nineteen. After fumbling over my own thick, clumsy fingers to fasten snowshoes to boots, I wondered what kind of people would take their children into the woods in such weather.

My husband and I, apparently.

We set off across the expanse of barren parking lots and abandoned roads toward the pines on the other side, snowshoes slapping the ground under our feet. As we approached the Visitor Education Center, we saw Old Faithful’s crowd dispersing and a ranger posting the next predicted eruption.

We had time.

We walked against the crowd and followed the boardwalk as it curved around the geyser. On the back side, a narrow trail slipped into the woods. We followed it, pausing on the Firehole River’s wooden footbridge to search the water for otter and trout. We didn’t stop for long. Our object was to reach Observation Point before Old Faithful’s eruption, to see it within the context of the Upper Geyser Basin and the sloping mountains which cradled it.

Firehole Winter

 

Before long, the trail began to climb. And not long after that, it took a sharp right turn. We’d arrived at the switchbacks.

By this time, our youngest daughter had ditched her hat and her hood and the rest of us had unzipped the top few inches of our coats. It wasn’t the temperature that had changed. It was us, and the heat generated by the energy it took to keep us moving. It came from within.

We plodded on in the silence forged by the thick blanket of snow and the shelter of the trees until we reached a place where the pines fell away, creating an opening which showcased the valley below and the sky above.

A few people stood on Old Faithful’s boardwalk and a thread of steam rose from its cone.

J checked his watch. “Let’s go. We want to get to Observation Point before the eruption.”

Old Faithful Winter

We turned and climbed the last section of the trail, arriving—judging by the filament of vapor and the cluster still waiting on the boardwalk below—before the eruption. We stood alone at Observation Point and watched the steam dissipate into the clouds.

One by one we pulled our zippers back up and began to shift from side to side, our inactivity revealing just how cold it was. J checked the time. We were at the tail end of the predicted eruption window.

Down below, more people advanced toward the geyser. We kept shifting and shivering and trying to keep warm. Old Faithful continued to do nothing but release a little steam. And the crowd on the boardwalk continued to grow.

“Daddy, I’m cold. When are we going back?” our little girl–the one who’d been first to feel too warm–asked.

J looked at her and at me and at the geyser. “Let’s give it a couple more minutes,” he said, knowing that Old Faithful is predicted, not scheduled, and that it sometimes is—according to our way of thinking—late.

A minute passed. And then another. Minutes in which the profound cold worked its way through the slim shield our down and Thinsulate layers provided against it.

“Let’s head back,” J said, reluctance heavy in his voice.

When we turned and descended the trail, the movement warmed us. And more quickly than it brought us up, it returned us to the boardwalk where we found the gathered crowd still waiting.

We joined them for as long as inactivity allowed. Eventually, though, we had to move on, to accept that the adventure that morning was not seeing what we wanted to see; it was the wandering, the watching, and the waiting in the wilderness in a way we’d not done it before.

It isn’t only in Yellowstone that I set off with specific ends and expectations in mind. I charge into my actual, everyday life that way, too, and I would guess I’m not alone. We set off down our life’s road for destinations we occasionally reach without incident, sometimes not at all, and often after a series of detours and delays.Old Faithful Sign

That’s the thing about destinations. We’re always finding our way and, almost as often, waiting for something. There’s an art to knowing when to stop, how long to stay, and when to move on. I’d prefer a map–one to specify the exact way, pinpoint road closures, designate the fastest detours, and predict my exact arrival time.

But that’s not how walking by faith works. Walking by faith includes, among other things, waiting for what we can’t see.

“Have you been asking God what He is going to do?” asks Oswald Chambers. “He will never tell you. God does not tell you what He is going to do–He reveals to you who He is.” These words help me when I’m impatient to find my way. My hope is that they will encourage you, too.

These still-early days of the new year are often accompanied by the hope of new beginnings and fresh starts. It’s a good hope, one not reserved for a particular day.  Morning brings the promise of God’s new mercies, a fresh beginning for every single day, even–or perhaps especially–when we find ourselves waiting.

And you, Fellow Traveler?  What does pressing on look like in the midst of your waiting?

 

 

The Spiritual Discipline of Expecting Delays and Great Scenery

Because of the invisible cord that ties writing to life, it is with some trepidation I acknowledge that my anticipated writing topics for the coming months center around a theme which can be summarized by a road sign, especially a road sign in a construction zone bearing this kind of verbiage: Expect delays and great scenery.Expect Delays and Great Scenery

Oh, I’m all about the scenery.  I’m just not fond of delays. I don’t want to wait. For anything.

That the roads we wander will need repair is a given. That there will be delays, an inconvenient fact. That they will occur at the nearly the worst possible time seems to follow some universal law. To plant an expectation of great scenery takes a leap of greater optimism.

Expectations almost always disappoint.

Except that we tend to find what we look for. Whether we gaze out the window for the view or at the clock to measure wasted time, that’s what we’ll see.

Here in Iowa, our open roads and flat terrain allow travelers through construction zones to slow down more often than stop. When it does require a full stop, it’s usually short, governed by a traffic light rather than a pilot car. Those are more common to the mountains, where the roads are winding, the stops long, and patience is not simply a virtue—it’s a survival skill.

When my husband and I came upon this sign along the road to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, it wasn’t hard for me to believe. We were already in the mountains. The Tetons are known for being photogenic. I already expected great scenery. I just wasn’t interested in a delay.

Whether I’m on the road to Yellowstone and the Tetons or a highway in the heartland, I believe that there’s something to see, that it’s worth paying attention to the landscape of our lives, that there is, as Matthew Henry wrote, “a great deal of good to be learned from what we see every day.” All this I believe, but I forget because I am in too much of a hurry to stop and remember.

Hurry focuses on tasks instead of people. On outcomes over processes. On destinations and not the journey. It leaves little room for the slow unfurling of all the good to be found along the way.

Delay interrupts hurry.

On the same trip that we saw the sign, J and I drove into Yellowstone from the Tetons, arriving later than we had planned. We had only one task to complete that day, but it was an important one: find a campsite, something more easily accomplished early in the day than late. J is more easy-going than I. The need to get to the campground weighed more heavily on me than on him. I was in a hurry.

Within a few miles of the campground, we found ourselves in a long line of stationary vehicles. It didn’t have the look of a typical Yellowstone bear-induced traffic jam, but we couldn’t see the source of the blockage. We had no idea what the holdup was. We didn’t know how long we would be sitting there, waiting. After a while, J suggested we turn around and have dinner at a small picnic area we’d passed a few miles back.

The promised delay had materialized, interfering with my rush to get to the campground and procure our campsite. I was torn. We could sit and wait for the traffic to move while I watched the clock, tormenting myself with each moment that passed, or we could wait by the water in the woods, enjoying the scenery we’d driven across the country to see. The truth was, I wanted to go where I wanted to go and do what I needed to do. And I wanted to do it now, not later.

I wasn’t interested in the scenery.

Tree in the Bluff Yellowstone Lake

In the end, we turned around. After we lugged our Coleman stove and a cooler full of food to a table on a bluff overlooking Yellowstone Lake, I prepared our meal to the soundtrack of waves hitting the shore and J moved on to his natural habitat: the rocks above the water. And an hour later, when the snarled traffic finally loosened, freeing vehicles to whiz by, we lingered in our solitary place among the pines long after our leisurely dinner was done. The delay had dissolved my habitual hurry and created space to see beyond the pressure of the clock, to enter fully into the moment rather than simply passing through.

It seems we are always waiting for something. And while I relish good scenery, I’m more comfortable with hustle, with arriving where I want to be according to my own  itinerary.

Maybe that’s precisely why we need delays: there are unexpected things to see and do and learn that don’t fit into the plan. The expectation of delays and great scenery predisposes us to a willingness to wait, to submit to a timetable not of our own creation, to believe there are purposes and treasures in the long pauses of life. Delays can free us from the crushing weight of tasks and outcomes and arrivals, creating space for us to slow down and lift our eyes to the world around us and the God who gives us life and breath and the ability to move at any speed—whether it’s comfortable or not.

And you, Fellow Traveler? Because we are almost always waiting, almost always in the midst of some delay on life’s road, let me ask this: Do you look for the scenery or do you seek the fastest way through? What would it look like for you to pause and embrace the inevitable delays the coming year will bring?

 

 

Sharing stories with the writers at:

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Beginning Again

Oh, I have something special to share with you today: a guest post from one of my favorite writers on the internet: Tresta Payne. I was encouraged and challenged by what she’s offered here, and I hope you will be, as well.


All creation groans for a new beginning, and here we have January–the clean slate of new calendars and new planners and new expectations. The two-week period after Christmas, when we take down the tree, pack away the Christmas decor, give everything a good cleaning and prepare for a new year, is my favorite.

Often my own groanings are more about regrets and missed opportunities, though, rather than an earnest expectation of glory to come, and a new year can look like the false hope of The Year We Finally Do Things Right.

The trap is in thinking that new equals better, that starting over fresh will create an opportunity to live failure-free. When I wake in the night with the crushing burden of all my shortcomings–some of which are real and true and some of which are just the enemy’s rummaging through my garbage–the way out of the trap is not to develop a new plan or system or list, though I try.

The way out is only ever through Jesus.

If everything had gone perfectly this last year, my eyes would not be refocused on the Jesus Who takes me out of the wilderness where I wander. I would be tempted to think my plans had succeeded, my ideas were brilliant, my life was under my control.

This means that failure is actually a gift to me.

For every time I have asked the Lord to remind me of HIs presence in my life, failure has been readily available to do the work. I am only just beginning to see it that way, and certainly the Lord has given successes and blessings beyond measure; but when I wake in the night under the heavy oppression of failure, I can sometimes manage to turn that sword of accusation back on itself and proclaim the goodness of a God Who even gives a crown to losers.

When all else fails: God is my hope. When everything is a success: God is my hope.

What I always need this time of year is some truthful reflection. Some things worked for me, some things didn’t. In the end, did I learn some lessons and draw closer to Jesus, or did I strive and micro-manage a life that had no margin for error?

Big-picture living keeps me sane in the moments when life wants to boil me down to This Most Important Event or Thing or Success or Feeling. I can pull back from all that and rest, again, in the work that is already finished on my behalf. I can rest, even in my failed attempts to do better and be better and live better, knowing that Jesus is loving me just the same and giving me the strength to begin again.

I am more likely to make a “more/less” list than a particular set of goals for the new year. It will inevitably look something like this:

  • more printed pictures
  • more whole foods
  • more Sunday dinners with the grandparents
  • more nature in the house

 

  • less clutter in the living room
  • less sugar and bread
  • less spending
  • less mindless internet

I do have actual, real, tangible goals to accomplish this year, and I am making plans for them, but these general guidelines of more/less are simple enough to be reviewed monthly without making me feel overwhelmed. Because there are no specific quantifiers, I can adjust expectations according to the need of the moment, rather than trying to live by some lofty ideals I set in January when the whole year was nothing but blank pages and possibility. And when I’ve added the right things and subtracted the wrongs things, I have more space for those goals.

Beginning again is the story of my days: each January, the change of every season, the first of every month, every Sunday, every morning before the sun–and if I’m careful, even every first minute of the hour–I can recalibrate my heart and mind to the work that is already done and the gift I have to spend in this moment.

It is too easy to be tied down with the pursuit of more and better, even in our quest for godly living. But God has sent Jesus into the world that we might live through Him (1 John 4:9), not that we might strive endlessly to do more and be better for Him. All creation groans for the new world of kingdom-come when things will be set right, but we also have the kingdom-now, Christ in us, the hope of glory and new life. Every moment we surrender can be a relief of the burden of our failures.

This very moment is new and Christ gave His life so we could live it through Him. this is the best beginning ever, and it’s endless and always available.


Tresta is a lifelong-learner who lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and 4 kids, surrounded by mountains and rivers and the best little community one could ask for. She writes about balance, perspective, and simplicity at trestapayne.comInstagramTwitter and Facebook.

Because Our Moments Matter {Steps Toward Making the Most of Them}

Our Moments Matter {How to Find More of Them)

Cue the music.

It’s that time of year, when the world falls in love. Every song you hear seems to say…

I haven’t noticed the world falling in love, and if we were sitting down together to write that song this morning, the lyrics might play out a little differently.

It’s that time of year when the world …

Celebrates. Decorates. Bakes and eats. Shops and wraps and delivers. And maybe worships—when they can find a moment.

every song you hear seems to say . . . 

Do you know how many shopping days there are until Christmas? Have sent your cards? Have you addressed your cards? Sigh. Have you even bought the cards? What about the gifts? And have you decided what you’ll be serving for Christmas dinner? And maybe when you get a moment you could . . .

A moment. Sometimes that’s all we have. Sometimes that’s all we need.

To connect. To cross a little something off the list. To pursue some sanity-saving soul stillness. To remember just exactly why we celebrate.

Our moments matter. Used well, important and worthwhile things can be accomplished in a moment, or over a series of them, especially this time of year when they seem to be in especially short supply.

Sometimes we carve them out of an already full day. Sometimes they just show up unexpectedly, disguised as a cancellation. Usually, though, they’re already there, buried in our actual, everyday life, camouflaged as something we might lament—something like a long wait at the dental office.

It’s possible to capture the moments that arrive unexpectedly, to redeem the ones that seem so insignificant we’ve grown accustomed to simply giving them away.

Here are a few steps toward making the most of those extra moments this Christmas season:

  1. Decide. Identify what you want to do or need to do with your moments this Christmas season. Is there a project to complete or gift to finish?  A practice you want to pursue? Soul stillness you want to seek? A book you want to read? Knowing what you want to do is a big step toward getting it done.
  2. Prepare. Can some part of that be kept close by or even carried with you, ready for those carved out or unexpected pockets of time? Christmas cards? A book? Yarn and a crochet hook? These things will all fit in a purse or small bag. Five minutes in the pickup line at school is five minutes toward your goal.
  3. Pay attention. Keep your eyes open for small moments. Don’t let them pass without realizing they are there.
  4. Focus: Use your moments. Convert that autopilot scrolling time to invested moments.
  5. Persevere: Accept the fact that you may forget to pay attention. You may not remember to use your moments. Don’t give up. Begin again and use the next ones that come your way.

Path in a Snowy WoodWhat could you do with your extra moments this Christmas season?

Fall Notes

Fall is traditionally my favorite season. Its crisp leaves and cool air combine to make it a time I want to linger on indefinitely. This one is half-gone and I’ve kind of missed it.

At least that’s what I thought before I took a look back.

I haven’t missed anything. There’s been life and learning, grace and every kind of good gift. I just needed to turn around and open my eyes. A regular recounting of the gifts and graces, the lessons and the stuff of life keeps me a little more light-hearted and grateful than when I move through life on autopilot.

A quick look back often clears the way for good forward movement. Care to join me? (I’d love to hear what you see.)

Gifts and Graces:
  • Long evenings. Because candles.
  • Wood heat. Because the ambiance of fire.
  • Daylight savings. Sunlight in the morning—or lack thereof—impacts the whole day.
  • Fleece sheets. They instantly transform the bed from a place I have to warm up to one that warms me.
  • Grace, both from God and from people.
  • Boots. The pretty kind.
  • Boots. The warm kind.
  • Doctors, dentists, emergency rooms and insurance. Between the concussions, weird stomach ailments, and sudden jaw displacement we’ve experienced this fall, I am grateful—again—for the many means God uses to heal us.
  • Farmers and the work they do that produces the food that ends up on my table every day.
Learning:
  • Those things that stress me out? Generally, they resolve themselves within a month. It’s true. I’ve been using Lara Casey’s Power Sheets for the past couple of years to set my goals and fine tune the actions steps. (And, incidentally, making more progress on them than I have in the past.) One step in the process is to make a quick list of all the stressors, worries, and concerns that are taking up brain space. Recently, I realized that the list was completely different every time. All those things that felt like they might be the end of me had come to some kind of resolution over the course of a month. Seeing this on paper has helped me take a better perspective on them and made them sit a little less heavily on my shoulders.
  • The only way to keep a fire going is through regular attention. Like a person, a relationship, a project, or a practice that we want to grow and thrive, it needs to be encouraged and fed.
  • People in the Christian writing community are generous. I attended my first writers’ conference in fifteen years at the end of September. The people I met have been helpful and encouraging in all kinds of ways that I would never have expected.
  • I am not a Charles Dickens fan. When I read David Copperfield, I thought it was just me, that I didn’t have the emotional fortitude for Dickens and the depressing lives of so many of his characters–especially poor David. When I forced my way through A Tale of Two Cities this fall, I acknowledged the truth: I don’t like Dickens. If I hadn’t wanted to read that particular book so badly, I would have quit. I persevered and am glad both to have done it and have it done. (To my Dickens-loving friends, I’m sorry. I feel a bit like a failure, but I’ll be putting my reading time in other places.)
Liking:
  • Living the Season Well: Reclaiming Christmas, by Jody Collins. Jody’s book is an encouragement to bring our Christmas seasons back from the brink of chaos through a shift of mind and heart. An evangelical who’s benefitted from learning about the church year and the liturgy surrounding the Christmas season, Jody provides a little education along with practical advice to take steps to reclaim Christmas, one small step at a time.
  • Tresta Payne. Something about her voice, her perspective, her earnest faith makes me wish we could chat. She’s currently my favorite writer on the internet.
Listening:

Show tunes. Lots of show tunes. My girls have discovered musicals and now the soundtrack of our life is a medley of Newsies!, Hello Dolly, The King and I, Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera and a variety of others. Up next: Christmas music.

Looking:

Scripts, flames, and fairy lights. It’s the season for choosing the spring play, fire in the wood burner, and the companionable glow of white lights in my small, indoor forest.

Again, if you’d like to join me in recounting of the gifts and graces, the lessons and the stuff of life, I’d love to hear from you, either in the comments or via email. (And I’m really a better emailer than commenter, so don’t be shy. Use the contact tab on the navigation bar or the mail icon in the top right corner.)

 

Joining Emily P. Freeman and lots of other writers from around the web to share what we learned last fall. 

 

 

When Christmas Surprises You

Yellowstone Christmas in August

Dad and I crossed the steamy asphalt, melty ice-cream cones in hand. We’d driven cross-country to Yellowstone for a nature-writing seminar and stopped at Mammoth Hot Springs for two reasons: huckleberry ice cream and piano music. The ice cream was a sure thing. The piano music, though? That was a different story. Randy played four or five nights a week and we weren’t sure this was one of them.

It’s a stop I make every time I’m in Yellowstone.

I heard Randy—or his music anyway—before I saw the piano that poured forth something different from his usual blend of catchy, pop music and original, Yellowstone-inspired pieces. It was something I vaguely recognized but couldn’t quite place.

Dad and I walked through the lobby, its familiar surfaces festooned with greenery and bows that we weren’t used to seeing, toward the source of the music. Randy sat just inside the double doors of the historic hotel’s Map Room. He was wearing a tie. I’d never seen Randy in a tie.

It was a Christmas tie.

The song I’d recognized but couldn’t place? It was a Christmas carol.

And the festooned lobby? Christmas finery.

In August. August 25, to be exact. Christmas in Yellowstone.

The story goes that once upon a time, Yellowstone had received one of its fairly common summer snows. But it didn’t fall on just any day. It fell on the twenty-fifth. Never mind that it was August; there was snow. People—maybe wide-eyed tourists, maybe homesick park employees—got a little festive, celebrating and decorating and sparking a tradition that continues today. (And lest our modern cynicism convince us that it’s a tradition centered on commerce, today’s celebrations are more about a little extra fun for park visitors than sale prices in the gift shops.)

I’d worked in the park. I knew the story. Still, it caught me by surprise.

How could Christmas in the high summer in the middle of a national park do anything but?

 

Click here to read the rest at Just a Simple Home.

Tracks and Transitions

Out west, our family sometimes stays in a cabin on a parcel of land plunked down in the middle of a national forest. There—with no cell service, no cable, and no wifi– we watch the weather unfold in the sky rather than on radar.

A couple of years back, a sunny September afternoon was overshadowed by clouds that rolled in over the Absaroka mountains, dropping rain and then snow as the temperatures plummeted. A splashy snow, it clung to everything it touched—the meadow’s tall grass, the aspen’s still-green leaves, and us. It fell through the afternoon and into the evening. As darkness descended, a movement in the distance prompted us to pick up our binoculars and search. A bull moose was plodding across the meadow, a dark shadow making his way between the hillside and the stream.

Until that moment, the only wildlife we’d spotted at the cabin had been trout and the occasional deer. We knew animals lived in the surrounding woods, of course. The cans of bear spray lined up on top of the refrigerator and three spotting scopes stationed by the windows silently testified to that. We’d just never seen them.

We went to bed, content with the falling snow and the company of the moose.

Morning brought a cloudless sky and a balmy breeze and we left the house to explore. Fresh tracks in the snow revealed that the moose had not been the only wildlife to pass by in the night. A rabbit had wandered around on the deck. A pair of deer had meandered across the dance floor in the meadow. A coyote had preceded us down the driveway between the cabin and the road.

The snow revealed their presence. Click to read the full essay at Kindred Mom.

 

 

 

 

Sparkling in an Unfamiliar Life

My great-grandma was a woman of summer. She kept a garden. She grew the flowers and vegetables that graced her table. She picked the berries that topped our ice cream. Once in a while I helped her in the garden or the berry patch and it always shocked me when she showed up wearing slacks. The garden was the only place I ever saw her dressed that way and even there she wore a dress over them, with a long-sleeved shirt and a wide-brimmed hat. She was dressed to work.

Right there are four important lessons she taught with her life: Wear appropriate attire. Protect your skin. Shade your eyes. And, of course, keep a garden.

I should have paid more attention.

She was teaching all the time. She just wasn’t obvious about it. Maybe she wasn’t even aware.

Grandma knew how to respond to her circumstances. In the garden, she wore slacks. In the face of a deer standing in the yard looking like dinner, she became a hunter. After an unexpected move, she looked to Jesus.

She’d moved before, first with my great-grandpa from the river valley to a rural acreage and then alone to a tidy mobile home on her daughter’s farm. When her health failed she moved again, this time to a nursing home.

Her sorrow hung in the room as we stood with awkward smiles, trying to make conversation while she arranged her few belongings on top of a dresser. She’d been there just a day or two and it was through a set jaw that she mumbled something about trying to make the best of it. I knew she wanted to. She wanted to even in the midst of her mourning.

It wasn’t long before she noticed that there were other people there with her, people who might not know Jesus. That was all it took. She got up, left her room, and went out to where the people were.

Life in the nursing home gave Grandma something she’d never had, something none of us expected: freedom. She’d never driven. She relied on her husband, and later her daughter, to take her where she wanted to go. In the nursing home she needed neither car nor chauffeur. She had shoes and a Bible, and that’s all she needed to carry out her purpose in that place and season.

Her favorite hymn was “Trust and Obey” and that is how she learned to live an unfamiliar life. She trusted. She obeyed. And it was enough. She was free to be happy, not in her circumstances but in Jesus.

My husband and I have lived in four different cities, which is exactly three more than I imagined we would. Each move was unexpected. While some have been like coming home, others were a step into an unfamiliar life.

My grandma’s quiet lesson about how to live with trust and obedience is another one I should have paid attention to long ago. It’s one I need every day, especially as I step into the unfamiliar areas of my actual, everyday life.

Not long after her move, Grandma made a small change to her wardrobe: She began to wear bead necklaces. I noticed but never asked why. At the time it seemed simple. They were pretty and she liked pretty things. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to believe they were more than mere adornment. Each was a badge of contentment. When the direction of her life’s road led away from her garden and her home, she found freedom to thrive, not in her circumstances but in Jesus. And that, like the necklaces which graced her neck, made her sparkle.

How about you? What do you hold onto as you step into unfamiliar places in your life? Where do you find freedom to thrive? Do those things give you sparkle?


 

“Sparkling in an Unfamiliar Life” is an edited version of an earlier post.

Christmas In August

 

Yellowstone Christmas in AugustSteamy air radiated from the asphalt as we crossed the road in front of the diner. Dad and I had traveled to Yellowstone for a nature writing seminar and a quick stop at Mammoth Hot Springs for an ice cream cone marked the transition from our leisurely tour of the park and three days of learning at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch. Huckleberry ice cream cones in hand, we wandered over to the hotel to see if Randy Ingersoll  was playing that evening. Inside the lobby, cool air carried the sound of music and slowed the purple flow of ice cream down our sugar cones. I could see Randy, but he wasn’t playing one of his original, Yellowstone-inspired compositions. He was playing something different, something I knew but couldn’t quite place.

We wove through the people milling around the more heavily decorated than usual lobby and into the Map Room where Randy sat at the piano. I waved and at the end of his song he stood and gave me a hug. He was wearing a tie.

I’d never seen Randy in a tie.

It was a Christmas tie. The song I hadn’t been able to place? A Christmas carol. And the overly decorated lobby? Christmas greenery. In August.

It was August 25. Christmas in Yellowstone. I’d forgotten.

Once upon a time, Yellowstone had a summer snowfall. Actually, Yellowstone gets a lot of summer snowfalls. This snow, however, fell on August 25. People—park concessionaire employees, probably—got a little festive. They celebrated and they decorated. Now, every year, Yellowstone’s establishments celebrate Christmas. It’s not about commerce. It’s about tradition.

According to park lore, for a lot of years, park concessionaire employees forded the Firehole River, hauled themselves up onto a boulder to decorate a tree which had managed to carve out space for its roots and its existence on top. The decorating was reportedly then undone by rangers who subsequently crossed the river and climbed the boulder themselves. It makes sense. There’s nothing natural about a Christmas tree in the middle of a river.

Christmas in Yellowstone. I’d forgotten. Actually, some days–the balmy ones and the cloudy ones, the snowy ones and, maybe especially, the scorching ones–I forget about Christmas.

That makes me sad, because Christmas forms the bedrock of my actual, everyday life. It’s as much the foundation in the middle of summer’s hottest months as it is  in December. Christmas is a celebration of a birth and a life, of a death and subsequent resurrection, of rebirth and new life. Christmas is not a one day deal.

It’s a celebration of a baby, God’s son, who came to earth to grow up, as baby boys do, into a man. He lived a fully human yet sinless life. He bore sin on his shoulders and suffered separation from His father. He died an unjust but necessary, sacrificial death to pay the debt for our sin so that we could—once again—be in relationship with God. And after three days, God raised him from the dead.

That’s something that matters every day. I live with the mercy and grace  of Christmas every day, but sometimes I forget to remember Christmas. And Christmas is worth remembering all year long.

If you’d like encouragement to remember Christmas in the coming months, I have something for you: I’ve recorded three short Christmas audios that can be delivered right to your inbox on the first of October, November, and December. If you’d like to receive these, just email me at natalie at alongthisroad dot com (or click the email icon at the top of this page) to let me know.  I’ll get you all set up.

Linking at Lyli’s place today.