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creation’s testimony…

As the Christmas holiday passes, and we enter the long winter months ahead, I am reminded of the significance of the winter season in my own life. While many around me dread the snow, I look forward to it. Every time the snow falls it is as if there is a freshness and a newness that comes along with it.

This morning I found myself remembering a December several years ago. The trees were laden with the white of winter and it was as if everything around us had been transformed. It was not at all unusual for my family to be found out on snowmobiles when the snow was like this. The trails were smooth and the scenery was breathtaking. On a cold evening of this perfect winter we set out for a late trip into a backcountry hot springs. We had packed our sleds with the things we would need for dinner and a late night swim. The trip could not have been more perfect.

However it wasn’t the time spent in the more than century old log cabin eating dinner by the fire, nor was it the hours we spent soaking in the pure spring water that made an imprint on my soul. Instead, it was the return trip that would, in a sense, change me. In order to get home we had to cross over the top of two summits. The first was well traveled and known by many. The second was a bit off the beaten path, and that night, there was not another soul to be found on that part of the mountain. As we came to a clearing near the highest point of the trail, we stopped our snowmobiles and sat in the quiet. The sky was completely clear and black. In it there were more stars than the eye could comprehend, and as the full moon shone, the snow reflected the twinkling of the stars as a million tiny diamonds scattered in front of us. Perfection.

I have often tried to dissect that experience. Even though much time has gone by, I am left in awe of the Presence of God I experienced on that late night.

The Bible often talks about God’s creation and how it interacts with its creator. In Psalms the writer talks about the fields being jubilant and the trees of the forest singing for joy (Ch. 96) In Luke Jesus’ disciples are caught up in their praise of God as Jesus enters the city. In fact the Pharisees ask Jesus to rebuke the disciples for their overt display, but Jesus responds, “I tell you if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40) The disciples had seen God move in such miraculous ways that they couldn’t help but give Him the Glory. However, had they chosen to keep quiet… God’s own creation would have cried out proclaiming the greatness of God.

If then all of God’s creation is aware of His greatness, how much more should we, who are created in the very image of God, be ready to sing and dance and praise Him for the great things He is doing in our lives? We can choose to keep quiet, or we can choose to let people know that our lives are what they are because of who God is.

That cold winter night, it was as if God’s own creation was pouring back everything that it was to bring glory to its Creator. And that is what I want. I want those who look at me, and the work that God is doing in my life to be aware of who receives the Glory for the great things they see. I want a testimony of God’s greatness to seep from my very being and back into the heart of my Creator.

reflection…

This week has been a week of reflection for me.  I don’t know if it is because I have celebrated the birthday that marks the last year of my twenties, or if it is because the holidays are approaching.  Whatever the case may be, it seems that ever corner I have turned has caused my past moments to come tumbling back.

If I sit for a moment, close my eyes, and take a deep breath in, I can still smell the hallways of my high school.  A damp mustiness mixed with the aroma of whatever happened to be cooking in the cafeteria.  I can see the library with shelves and shelves of old books that were begging for someone to care enough to turn their pages.  I can hear the sounds of the choir resonate off of the walls of the room behind the gym and next to the shop.  This place was my prison. A place I could only hope to conquer.

This was the time in my life where it seemed that I was struggling to survive my every day.  It was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other and my only focus was that of my future.  I was a teenager mind you, and of course everything is much more dramatic when you are a teenage girl, but there were days that even breathing seemed too large of a task.  I felt suffocated by my surroundings.  I felt stifled by the life I was being forced to live.  I lived in fear that I would never become who I envisioned myself to be. I knew that if I could just be in control of my moments, I could do it better.

A few days ago I had the wonderful opportunity to talk to an old friend I hadn’t spoken to in many years.  In the course of our conversation, he shared with me some of the struggles of his newly found faith.  I couldn’t help but be humbled by the words he spoke. His desire to do God’s will is great, and he is earnestly seeking to hear God’s voice.  What a richness! What a hope!

Today, well today I find myself in a place where I could so easily fall back into the struggle of my youth.  It wouldn’t at all be hard to feel suffocated and stifled by the life I am living.  In many ways I feel that I am at the cusp of something new.  I can feel change in the wind.  But to live only for the new, the different, the not now, could again imprison me and trap me.

I want to live my life desperately listening for the voice of my Heavenly Father. I want God’s love to be enough in my life.  I want everything else to wash away.  He has promised to work out the details by His grace.  I want His love to be enough.  No matter my coming or going, no matter the course of my life; I want  His love to be enough.

Psalm 51:12 “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.”

inside out…

My life to this point has been a strange journey of intersecting paths.  In some ways I have loved every moment.  Learning. Growing.  However,  there have also been moments that I would have rather run over, skipped over, jumped over.

I have been back in my beautiful hometown for the weekend.  I am quite sure that my mountains have missed me. One thing I know is that I have missed the loveliness that I am surrounded by while I am here.  McCall’s crowning glory is its lake around which the town is centered.  If you were to drive into town from the south, you would come up over a little knoll and suddenly the lake would be in your view.  Each time I experience this picturesque panorama my breath catches and I am immediately transfixed by the sight.

This weekend we arrived just as the summer is taking her final bow and the autumn is making its arrival.  Most things are still green and crisp, but every now and then a tree who has already put on its red or yellow colors peeks out.  It many ways it is as if these little trees have been hiding a secret behind their green foliage and they cannot wait another second to share their beauty.

Time is a funny thing.  It can give us fresh perspective on old situations.  I will be the first to admit that high school was not my favorite time in life.  I can remember just wanting to get out.  To run away as fast and as far as I could.  And so I did.  For a long time, I didn’t understand the need I had to run.  However, as the years have passed I now feel like I have a firm grasp on my adolescent feelings.

For the most part, in high school, people generally knew who I was at my core, that my faith was a huge part of who I was, and I even believe that I was well liked because of who I was.  But, I felt much like the green leaves on a fall tree; like I needed to- had to, express the beauty that I held within, and I knew that at that time in my life, my small town of 2000 wasn’t the place I could do that. Thus, my move allowed me to grow and to change and to experience for myself  my insides on the outside.  How liberating and life changing this was for me.  Now, instead of containing who I am within myself, I love to share with others; that I am who I am because I am “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14) I cannot wait to express the things that make my heart beat to those who will listen. I think for this very reason, now when I come “home” I am alive.  Gone is the girl who was suppressed and hidden by the place that she lived.  Instead, there is perspective, vision, and hope for the future revealed by the very place that once held me back.

In 1 Corinthians 4:2, Paul says, “Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”

Paul is encouraging the people in the church at Corinth to not hide the Truth that is God’s Word.  Rather to share it plainly.  He wanted them to be bold in expressing who they were as a people of faith, holding nothing back, letting there be no question.

So, today, I encourage you today to look at your life.  Who are you?  Are you excited to share those things that make you “you” with others, or do you feel the need to hide it?  Do you walk boldly forward in who you are? Are you letting your insides out?

(NOTE: I have recorded a companion video for this blog. You can find it here —> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ChXH5Zmp44 )

harvey the elk…

I grew up with a father who hunted.  In fact, I am sure that some years, we only ate well because he hunted.  The fall season for my family was built around the times that he would be gone with his uncles and friends.  My mom and I (and eventually my sister too) would sit at home and wonder where exactly Daddy was, what he was doing, and if he was safe.

While I am sure the men enjoyed the time they spent on the mountain the most, I waited with great anticipation for the day they would arrive home.  The family would gather, the spoils of the hunt would be hung in the garage, and we would spend hours working together to butcher and package the meat. The smell that collected in the air was an intermingling of odors from hunters and the hunted. As we worked, each of the men would recall their moment of glory from the adventure.  We would hear about time spent around the campfire, long hikes up a ravine, and the eventual story of “the kill.”

The purpose of the hunt was always the same; to gather the food we all needed for the coming year.  The only thing that changed much was that as I got older, I was given more responsibility during the butchering, and even my own knife to help with the trimming.  However, one year, my dad had his eye on a larger prize than just feeding his family.  He had been scouting a majestic elk in the forest for several months.  While Daddy had never been a trophy hunter, this was going to be the year he got “the big one.”

As the fall arrived, the men packed up for their annual 10 day trek in the wilderness.   At home, things were as they had been every other year.  Mom and I ate poached eggs on toast for dinner, (something we only got to eat when Daddy wasn’t home) and the time passed SO slowly.  Each day I would kneel on the couch and look out the window straining to see if they were coming yet.  Each day I would watch as my warm breath made foggy shapes on the cold windows.  Each day I would wonder if they would ever return.

Finally, the moment arrived, the men pulled into the driveway, this time accompanied by the carcass  and antlers from the largest animal I had ever seen in my 6 short years of life.  This animal was so enormous and so tough that my mom would later tell us that she couldn’t even pressure cook the meat.  Eventually it all had to all be ground and used for burger, but my dad had captured the animal that he set out to find.

Most great hunting trophies meet the same fate.  The hides are tanned and they are made into some form of  wall art.  My dad’s massive elk was no exception.  This animal that was once the king of his forest soon became “Harvey” a beloved member of our family that hung on the wall of our home for many years.  When Harvey first joined us, we happened to have a place for him directly above the fireplace.  However, when we moved to another part of town, not only did Harvey follow us, but this time, the wall above the fireplace was constructed specifically for him.  There was even a reinforcing bracket on the opposite side of the wall to ensure his security in his place of honor.

Harvey looked on as many memorable occasions took place in our living room.  Parties, graduations, weddings, funerals, and each year… CHRISTMAS.  I do believe that Christmas was Harvey’s favorite event in our home.  (If it wasn’t, he never mentioned otherwise.) In fact, some years Harvey even dressed up for the occasion.  Decked out in ornaments, garland, and a red nose, he became a part of the overall effect of the seasonal ambiance.

And there he remained day in and day out.  Year after year. Clinging to his spot. Never changing while the world around him moved on at a frenzied pace.  About a year ago, my parents moved.  Harvey had to give up his place on the wall and be packed into a moving truck.  Now he sits in a corner of the garage collecting dust.  Yet, the lives around him continue to move on.  My sister, only two when Harvey first joined our family, has a two year old of her own.  My parents married 14 years that autumn, today celebrate their 36th wedding anniversary.  And I… well I, continue to seek out the adventure that might be coming down the street.  I wait with my face pressed to the glass of life, wondering what might happen next.

The writer of the Psalms had had gone through some great trials.  He was king, but he had taken the wife of another man, fathered a child with her, and then had the husband killed.  While forgiveness was an option, the writer was often filled with great remorse for what had occurred.  He worried that God would change,  and that He might not continue to work on him and through him  There are many times in Psalms where the writer cries to God for mercy and compassion.  In Psalms 138: 8 we see a statement that mixes faith and hesitation.  “The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your love, O LORD, endures forever- do not abandon the works of your hands.”

While Harvey could have lived a few more years in the forest, the life he gave provided much for many.  Many nights he was the food on our plates.  Many years he brought us great joy.  His purpose continued on beyond what could have even been expected.

I am often challenged to continuously lay down my own purposes for my life.  I want more than anything to surrender my will to the will of my maker.  I want God to do HIS work in me and not my own.  He sees the bigger picture of my life and He knows how the pieces will fit together and where my place of honor is and will be.  I know he will fulfill His purpose for me, and yet I continually pick things up for myself and go along my merry way.  How much more full could my life be if I would just let God do what He needs to do?  And so I say, “Oh Lord, do not abandon me, the works of your hands.”

the right words…

We live in a world that bombards us with words.  Words from the media, words from our jobs, words from our loved ones.  Whether they are written or spoken, words can carry a great power over our lives.  Just think, with one phrase “I now pronounce you man and wife,” people can be married.  With the words “The Oscar goes to…,” an actors professional life can be altered forever. And then there is the infamous Donald Trump phrase, “You’re fired!”

However, we must also consider the words that go unspoken.  Sometimes the implied, the assumed, the subtext, can carry even more weight than the words we actually dare to utter.  I think of a time (many years ago now) when I sat drinking coffee with a friend. We had spent most of that Sunday afternoon together, and I knew that there was something she wanted to say but was for some reason holding back.  Finally I asked, “how are you REALLY doing?”  She looked at me and there was only silence, but in that silence I knew she was hurting. No words NEEDED to be spoken in that moment. Nothing HAD to be said.  The very silence made evident that my friend just needed my presence at that moment and that was all.

As you can imagine, I take great stock in words.  I measure the things I write carefully, and I store the things that are said to me even more carefully.  For me, the things I see leave an impression in my heart, but the things that I hear (good or bad) will last with me forever.

Mark Twain once said, “A powerful agent is the right word. Whenever we come upon one of those intensely right words… the resulting effect is physical as well as spiritual, and electrically prompt.”

So, how do we find the “right” words?  How can we be sure that the words that we speak are the words that need to be spoken?

Each summer I have the opportunity to teach swimming lessons to many children.  As you can imagine, as with all situations involving children, there are often some memorable quotes that I take away with me.  In one of my more recent preschool classes I had a sweet little girl named Natalie.  She is one of those children that smiles at you the moment that they see you, and you can’t help but smile back.  An infectious happiness.  Natalie had never taken swimming lessons before, but she immediately took to the water.  Each skill I taught she attacked with great enthusiasm.  She would blow bubbles in the water, kick her legs, and even jump to me, in the deeper water, from the side of the pool.  On the fourth day of lessons, however, Natalie froze when we went to the far end of the pool.  She was not going to jump in no matter how much I encouraged her.  I hopped up on to the side of the pool, put my arm around her, and tried to comfort her as she trembled.  Finally, after much coaxing she admitted, “If I jump in the water, I die.”  Caught completely off guard, I didn’t immediately know what to say to her, but her fear was obviously very real.  I allowed her to just slide into the water that day, and we finished our lesson.

Natalie’s mother and father approached me after class, obviously concerned with the fact that their daughter had a new found fear of the water.  I quickly relayed the story to them, and as I did, I saw understanding flash across the father’s face.  Just the day prior, he had purchased a new video game for the family.  In a portion of this game, if the main character falls into the water he dies, and then the player must start over.  He explained to me that Natalie had been watching and had asked why they had to keep starting over.  Her older sister had said, “well if you fall into the water you die.”  Something so harmless at the time, spoken in explanation to a child, had stuck deep in the heart of little Natalie, and taken a great toll on her.

Matthew 12:35-37 says, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.  But I tell you that men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

While the anecdotes I have relayed are meant for illustration, I can’t help but to begin to ponder the things that I say on a daily basis.  Am I saying things that will be ultimately harmful or helpful to those around me?  Do I speak the words that I speak with flippancy or sincerity?  Am I willing to accept the ultimate and eternal repercussions for the words that come out of my own heart and into the hearts of others?

through a lens…

My perspective on life has been shaped by so many things.  Experiences, people, places.  Every moment along my life path has added to my little bundle I carry with me.  And, that little bundle works as a filter for how I experience new things.

Last week I was visiting a friend of mine in Oregon.  We always have great moments together.  I knew before I even left on my trip that I would come home with things to write about.

This particular weekend was unusually cool in the Portland area.  Every  morning I would sip my tea and watch the sun rise in between Mount Saint Helens and Mount Hood. And, every morning I would watch as the low clouds would slowly moved in covering the sun.  Every day there was the threat of rain and every day the sky cleared without follow through.  Finally, on Sunday, the sky opened up we were in the midst of a classic pacific northwest rainstorm.  If you have not experienced a storm like this, you should put it on your list of things to accomplish.  The rain drops in the northwest seem bigger.  The puddles seem wetter.  The storms seem longer.  It is one of the things I love.  To sit and watch the rain fall.  However, there is one small thing I would rather avoid when the rain comes, and that is driving.  Driving in the rain scares me to death.  I would rather do just about anything else.  In fact, my friend and I have a running joke that I would rather drive in a blizzard, and she would rather drive in a down poor.  While we laugh about this, there is a reason these things ring true in our lives.

My growing up years were spent high in the mountains of Idaho.  I don’t think I ever fully appreciated that beautiful community until I was an adult, but now I look back on that place with more than a fondness.  I think it is the place my heart will forever call home.  The summers are filled with fishing and camping and wildflowers.  And the winters, the winters are filled with everything “snow.” It is not uncommon for my hometown to have 6ft of snow on the ground and another snow storm on the horizon.  The days are short and the months are long, but the snow brings a sense of loveliness and quiet.  I never once considered that some people may not relish the thought of driving in these conditions.  After all, I spent more of my first year of driving, sliding on frozen roads than I did cruising on dry pavement.  (There are great stories to be told about that first winter of me driving… maybe at another time.)  However, this same friend in Portland cannot understand how I care to venture out in a snowstorm.  When she comes to Idaho to visit me in the winter, I do all of the driving.  Our differing life experiences have molded our perspectives on what is “normal” or “easy” or “better.” Two different lives, two different experiences, two different perspectives.

I feel that often in life when we encounter those with opinions that are different than our own, it is our immediate reaction to prove them wrong, to show that we are the ones who are right.  We forget that people have had life experiences that have shaped who they have become.  And while some of that perspective may alter their vantage point, there is great reason as to why they are where they are and why they think the way they think.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know ho to answer everyone.”  Colossians 4:6

My faith is deeply rooted.  It IS so much of who I am.  I see life through the lens of my relationship with my Heavenly Father.  I tackle problems and seek direction through the Word of God.  I know where I find Truth.  However, if my conversations with others (who have different life experiences) lack grace and true richness, there is nothing to be gained.  If I cannot listen as well as I can speak then I have accomplished nothing.

So, for today I challenge you to consider what it is that shapes your perspective?  Are these lenses healthy or unhealthy?  Are there new lenses you could assimilate into your life, or are there lenses you need to shatter and dispose of?  Finally, do you have an awareness of the things in life that shape OTHERS so that you can truly have grace and a sense of richness in your conversations?

passionate sacrifice…

Have you ever just stopped?  Stopped in the middle of a crowded space, and simply observed? As you suspend your own moment, you can melt in to the background and watch the world as it scurries by.  People rushing from one place to the next.

As a self-proclaimed  “people watcher,”  I often do this very thing.  I see a tired young mother with several small, smiling children, and I wonder; “What is her story?”  I see a sweet old couple walking hand in hand, occasionally pausing to gaze lovingly at each other, and I wonder; “What have their lives been like?”  I see a man dressed in Armani and walking with purpose, and I wonder; “What is it that drives him?”  So many lives, so many people, so many stories.

My grandmother’s gardens are a labor of love.  For nearly 25 years she has worked the soil in the various flower beds.  Making sure that everything is just right for growing the many plants and flowers and trees. Last spring, a huge wind storm swept through the valley where we live, and one of her dear old friends, the tree on the corner, was completely uprooted.  It caused us all to feel a sense of loss.  Something that she had poured so many hours into now was laying helplessly across the front yard.  Nothing could change that moment.  All that was left to do was to have someone come in and remove the giant from its final resting place.

For quite some time after that day I pondered why it was that it grieved us so to lose that tree. After all was that not part of the cycle of life? Why is it  that still, when I look at that corner, it seems so empty?  Wasn’t that to be expected at some point?  And yet, I believe that the things that we are passionate about, the things that we love, the things that we pour our hearts into come with great attachment. To truly be passionate about something becomes a sacrificial pouring of ones self into an idea, a person, a project, a cause.  For my grandma, her gardens are a personal act of worship to her Heavenly Father.  It is something that allows her to feel a closeness with her Creator.  So, for her this act is MORE than worth the personal sacrifice that is sure to come along the way.

Thus, we must learn to count the cost of the things that we invest our heart and soul into.  What are the things in our lives that our worth our passion? What are the things that we are willing to feel a sense of loss over?

“But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:20 &21)

I challenge you to stop.  Really stop, and not look at those whose lives are passing in front of you, but at your own life. This time, suspend the world around you and examine yourself.  What does the story of your life say about you?  How does the product of your passionate sacrifice matter in the end?