The Last of Winter, the First of Spring

According to the calendar, spring has arrived, but in western South Dakota, we know better than to put too much store in that! For us, winter lingers sometimes into June, but we’ve begun to taste the springtime and I’m itching for those warmer temperatures, those springtime tasks, mud instead of ice, warm dirt, growing things, and baby animals!

Our relatively mild winter was punctuated with days and weeks of unseasonable warmth, and then punctuated again with unseasonable, bitter cold. And, as always, it starts to feel like it has always been winter, sometime around the middle of February. Those little tastes of springtime that tantalize and taunt us every year, tease us with the warmth that is so close, so close. And we are so ready for springtime, and we’re praying for rain, or a good spring snowstorm to bring some much-needed moisture to the parched landscape.

Of all the seasonal changes, perhaps the most bewildering and wonderful is the change from winter to spring, from the time of slumber and death to a time of waking and birth, from a time of fading to a time of renewal, from surviving to thriving, a time of preparation and planning to a time of action and initiation.

Everything that is easy to accomplish in warm weather is a challenge in the winter, especially when the temperatures plummet and snow and ice freeze us in. A five-minute outdoor task takes fifteen minutes to prepare for inside, and twenty minutes to warm back up after coming inside again. A snowstorm wreaks havoc on travel when you live 30 miles outside of town, or your driveway is a mile long. The ground is frozen solid, everything seems poised to break, the cold creeps into the house until the best way to get some heat going is by turning on the oven and opening the door. An unfortunate calf born in the middle of a frigid cold snap is a struggle to keep alive.

And through the sleepiness and struggle of winter, we dream of spring. We dream of spring, and begin preparing. Gardens are planned, seeds are ordered, harvests are imagined, and a million other projects start forming in the mind, ready to send into action when the cold snap breaks, or when the snow is gone, or when the ground melts. Ranchers watch their cows get heavier and heavier, and pray for a good calving season.

And then at last, spring arrives. We see it on the calendar, and we see a 10 days at time of forecasts for temperatures in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. We see the first shoots of green grass. We feel the first raindrops. We feel the first truly warm breezes and smell the earth warming up. Rock-hard, icy ground turns into a mud slick, and how wonderful the mud smells! The multiple layers of jackets and sweaters diminish to the ease of a shirt and light jacket, stocking caps are replaced with ball caps, and I always cherish the first day I can wear a tank top and sandals!

The garden beds begin to soften under their preparatory layer of plastic. The first load of laundry is hung on the clothesline outside. The first meadowlarks appear. Seeds are started. Those calves that were unlucky enough to be born into the cold snap are now a month old, frisky, and thriving.

What a transformation!

In the winter, we are forced to slow down. It is a sabbath of seasons, in a sense. We are forced to slow down from the seemingly self-sufficient business of the rest of the year and only do those things that are necessary, limited by the cold, the frozen ground, the shorter days. It is an exercise in trusting God for the day-to-day necessities in the day-to-day struggles. And then in the springtime, God turns that trust into joyful action.

Happy springtime, friends! And pray for rain!

2021 | A Year in Review

The last time I did a year in review was at the beginning of 2020, and apparently 2020 was crazy enough I never felt like doing a year in review following it. I was rereading a few posts from that timeframe, the beginning of that year, and had to chuckle to myself. 2020 began with so much optimism, and a few short months later the world was turned upside down. We can plan and dream all we want, but if we aren’t planning and dreaming with the heart conviction that God is the One Who is ultimately ordering and ordaining everything, we are bound to be disappointed. Massively.

But if, on the other hand, we look ahead with eagerness to embrace whatever it might be that God brings about, we will be ready for that time of growing and challenge.

This March 1st marked seven years since we drove up to this little cabin I’m sitting in now, unpacked ourselves, and called this place home. Seven years. In Biblical contexts, the number seven is associated with perfection and completion. How fitting.

As I think about the seven years since moving to South Dakota, it occurs to me that every year has been fraught with challenges. This last year has been, however, the year of the most stark extremes, sometimes the extremes interwoven and indistinguishable.

The year began with massive change and ended with massive change. It began in a sense of chaos yet confidence, and ended in a sense of…well, a different kind of chaos and confidence. My world got turned upside down a year ago, and got turned upside down again in December. But the year that began with a knuckling down and facing the future head-on has ended in a peaceful and optimistic outlook on the coming years. Loneliness and contented resignation have been replaced by companionship and peace. A lonely heart warmed. An empty hand clasped tight. Unkissed lips tasting the sweetness of a kiss. The future’s uncertainty no longer looks bleak. Emptiness has been filled up.

I began working fulltime as a firefighter-medic for a city fire department in January of last year, while up to my ears in paramedic school. Talking about one’s world being turned upside down. Although I have it on good authority that others have had it much worse in paramedic school, I’m honestly not sure how I managed to survive those months, other than because “you can do anything short term.”

All too often, a 24 hour shift on the ambulance (probably not sleeping) would be followed by 24 hours to recover and hit my books hard, followed by 12 or 24 hours of clinicals or ambulance ride time, and then back to my regular 24 hour shift. At times I was driving an hour and a half to start a student shift at 6:30 in the morning, dealing with the uncertainties of weather and bad roads. Also, as I was able, I was also responding to calls for the volunteer department I serve on. Incidentally, it was on one such fire in February, a cold, nasty haybale fire, that I learned the important fact that a certain rancher (another volunteer firefighter) I’d always admired was as single as I was. Whaddya know.

I finished up paramedic school in June, and went into the summer with a sense of relief that that was over, and already bracing for the next thing, a three-month long fire academy that would take me out of my routine, away from my colleagues and partners, off the streets where I was becoming very comfortable as an EMT and new paramedic, and put me through the ringer physically and mentally. I braced for that and prepped physically.

As my summer rolled to a close, those sparks from the haybale fire in February finally kindled a flame. God brought into my life in the most timely of ways the kindest and most supportive man I’ve ever met. Never in a thousand years had I expected to find someone so well suited for me, or to whom I was so well suited. We enjoyed roughly a month of almost uninterrupted courtship, with my every-third-day 24-hour shift the only interruption. We made the most of that time. We enjoyed beautiful weather, coffee before my shifts, hiking, working cows, and countless other things, and in three weeks our relationship had deepened beyond what I would have thought possible in months or years. In a matter of a few weeks, I had a best friend, a favorite person, and I knew without the shadow of a doubt that I’d marry him. And I mean without the shadow of a doubt. I’ve never known something with such certainty.

The fire academy started at the end of August and finished up at the end of November. It was three intense months that left me exhausted in more ways than one, and during which I am so thankful I had a kind, compassionate man to lean on. I went back on the streets as a paramedic in late November.

And in December, into all of the work-related craziness, that sweet, simplest love turned into a beautiful ring on my finger and a wedding to take place in June.

As I write this and think back over the last year, my mind is spinning a little. How very much can change in a year’s time! What exactly was I doing a year ago? What were my dreams, my hopes? Did I have any anymore? Or had I effectively sidelined many hopes and dreams for a career that often leaves people rung out and used up? Where did I picture myself, five years down the road? Was I excited? I know I was exhausted, exhausted but resolute, and determined to face the future head-on and conquer it. That’s not really the same as excited, or optimistic. Occasionally in conversation I refer to having made some “survival decisions,” and although that sounds a little dramatic, that was my frame of mind. The hope and optimism and peace that God has blessed me with through our courtship and into our engagement are balm to the soul. I’m no longer looking at the bleak-seeming future and trusting God for survival. I’m looking into the future, thanking God that I’m thriving.

And then I look back seven years and my mind spins a little more. But standing that far back, I can begin to see the bigger picture of God’s unfolding plan, the seeds planted then that have begun to bear fruit, the dreams and desires that have stirred in my soul for decades even, just now poking their little leaves above the soil of the garden of my life. Glancing back through pages of this blog, I see that again and again. I see hopes and desires spelled out or hinted at from 7 years ago, when I first started this blog, just now being answered and brought to life. Everything happens for a reason, and that reason ultimately is that we have a sovereign God who loves us and loves to do that which brings good to His children.

If you had told me a year ago that right now I’d be counting down the days until I marry the love of my life (88 days!), planning a garden, learning how to drive a tractor, eagerly waiting for an order of chicks to get here in April, helping my rancher in this calving season, buzzing around on four-wheelers with him checking cows and doing chores, and caring for little calves needing extra TLC, I’d have called you crazy. And yet.

One of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia is when Susan, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, asks Mr. and Mrs. Beaver if Aslan is a tame lion. The Beavers laugh and say to the children that of course he isn’t tame! But he is good. And then like Martin Luther’s chastisement of Erasmus, “Your thoughts of God are too human.” Our God is neither tame nor human. But He is good.

And so, what a crazy year it was. What a crazy, wonderful year.

Thoughts from Quarantine

I’m sitting here on my sofa looking out at a world ready for springtime, though covered with a light dusting of very wet snow. Outside is the sound of dripping and trickling, that wonderful music of the waking spring. My feet have been sandal-clad, ready to be done with the cold, and my face is just getting a touch of tan after a snowshoeing sunburn last week. The grass is greening, the sky is by turns overcast, then bluer than blue, the wind is wonderfully sweet, and the perfume of warm pine needles on south facing slopes is intoxicating. I’ve already found my first teeny baby pasque flower, just starting to poke up through the pine needles on one particular hill I always check this time of year.

Spring is coming, the same way it always does when the winter is winding down. The exact same way it always does.

And yet, this year is different.

Because of fear.

Nearly two weeks ago, panic came to rural Western South Dakota, and to our whole nation. Covid-19 is now a household world, as familiar as the common cold. This was definitely not something I ever anticipated, definitely not something I’d “planned” for, definitely not something I’d looked forward to. I never thought I’d be prepping to teach music lessons remotely because of “social distancing” recommendations. I never thought I’d be off work with the fire department for two weeks because of symptoms I wouldn’t normally give two thoughts about. I never thought I would be going on three weeks without meeting with my church family for our weekly service and Bible studies.

This time of year, my students are in the home stretch of their lessons, as we have the last five or so weeks of lessons before the end of the year recital. Very likely, we won’t have a recital this year. Fire department trainings should start gearing up for the wildland fire season, with pack testing and refresher courses. But pack testing has been put on hold, and trainings have been cancelled or modified for distance learning. Easter is right around the corner, with anticipated family get togethers and church family celebrations. But with groups of more than ten people forbidden, that will be very different this year. Everyone is itching to get outside, to enjoy being together. Seasonal restaurants should begin opening for business, tourists should start trickling in. The delight of springtime often involves other people. The delight of life itself so often is the togetherness. And that togetherness has been replaced by fear, mistrust, and isolation.

But national and international panic results in some pretty unimaginable things.

I can’t begin to imagine the number of people without work right now, who already are living paycheck to paycheck, with financial fears and health fears hanging over them. I have nothing to complain about, in the big scheme of things. I’ll feel it, but I’ll be alright. Not everyone is so fortunate.

I will abstain from making any political comments one way or the other about the nature of this crisis or how well it warrants the level of concern we’ve given it. We’ve had enough misinformation from the media and idiotic comments from armchair physicians who suddenly know everything about a pandemic. But please understand that I am concerned, particularly for those who are the most vulnerable. But what has struck me and continues to strike me is the level of fear, blame, panic, anger, selfishness, and fear-mongering I have been witnessing for the last two weeks. The fear is driving people to do irrational things (don’t even get me started on the toilet paper shortage).

People fear because they don’t know another option.

The way the world handles a crisis will be (should be) drastically different from how a Christian handles a crisis. Should there be a sense of urgency? Absolutely. Should there be concern, particularly for those who are most vulnerable? Absolutely. Should there be sorrow over the loss of life? Absolutely.

But if you study your Bible, you understand several things that should drive you away from the cliff edge panic and into the security of the arms of Jesus Christ.

First, we shouldn’t be surprised at sickness and famine and heartache. We live in a world that is wracked by the effects of the sin of mankind. All one needs to do is take a quick, cursory glance at history to see that sickness and famine and heartache are normal. Obviously, a global-scale pandemic causes more concern than other types of sickness, but at the end of the day, a pandemic is sickness. Sickness is a normal part of living in a fallen world. Jesus is recorded having told His disciples in all three of the Synoptic Gospels that famines, earthquakes, pestilence and war would wrack the end times, the time between His Resurrection and His Second Coming (Matt. 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). So in a sense we should be encouraged. We should be encouraged because events like this pandemic speak to the veracity of Scripture. Two thousand years may seem like a long time to wait for Jesus to come again, but these events of worldwide proportion speak to where we are in history: we are right on track, whether that track lasts another two minutes or another ten millennia. God keeps His promises. His Word is true.

Second, the Believer has no need to fear death. Paul expresses the exquisite tension that the Believer in Christ should feel, when it comes to facing death or the possibility of death: For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain….I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. (Philippians 1: 21, 23) For the Christian, not only should we not fear death or the possibility of death, but we should recognize that death is the final door that ushers us into eternity with Jesus. Obviously I am not advocating for a mindset that obsesses over death or flirts with death or is reckless, but we absolutely should not live in fear of death. For the Christian, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain by going to be with Jesus. If we are to fear, we should fear for those who may die without ever coming to Christ in repentance and faith. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus said, “and do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” There is something much worse than dying, much worse than financial hardship, much worse than world upheaval and economic collapse. That is not being right with God when we die.

Third, God is ultimately in control of all of this. Matthew 10:29 reads, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” If the God of the universe sees and values even the life of a sparrow, how much more does He see us and value us, the pinnacle of His Creation! Romans 8:28-29 tells us, And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” The difficulties a Believer experiences aren’t just unfortunate events that God will somehow figure out how to recycle. They are intended, brought about, to accomplish a greater purpose. That purpose may be as simple as causing us to trust Him more. Think of the story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis, sold in to slavery by his own brothers, who could later tell his brothers in Genesis 50:15-21 that the evil that they did to him was brought about by God to accomplish a greater purpose. Throughout the Bible, we see the pattern very clearly that God doesn’t just work with events and somehow figure out a way to make them work out for good. God isn’t taking lemons and making cosmic lemonade. We actually see that God is, in a way we can’t fully understand, the author even of calamity. Isaiah 45:7 reads: I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.” God says this of Himself. If this gives you heartburn, consider this: either God is all powerful, or He isn’t. If He isn’t, He isn’t worth serving. If He is, there are two options. Either He evil and malicious and diabolically brings about evil things (not the God of the Bible), or He is so wonderfully good and perfect, He can state this truthfully:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

We may not understand why God allows or ordains horrific events. We can get down into the weeds of First Causes and Second Causes, and debates about how sovereign God actually is. But the way I understand it, either God is sovereign or He isn’t. I believe He is. Sovereign is sovereign. Not partially sovereign. Not selectively sovereign. Either of those would mean He isn’t truly sovereign. Either God is good or He isn’t. I believe He is. Not mostly good. Not usually good. Either of those would mean He isn’t truly good. And I can trust a good, sovereign God. And I can submit myself to Him, knowing that His ways and thoughts are much higher than my ways and thoughts.

Fourth, the world WILL END when God commands it to end; not a moment sooner, not a moment later. By that token, the world WILL CONTINUE for as long as God ordains it to continue. We can neither hasten the day, nor delay it. In Genesis 8, God made a promise to Noah that He would never again destroy the earth by a flood, and this beautiful verse is nestled in the midst of that promise: While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:22) God will sustain the earth until the time that He sees fit to bring it to an end. And in a time like this, when the whole world is panicking, that should be immensely encouraging. God is in the Heavens. He is in control.

So if you are afraid, whether for yourself or your loved ones, weather the fears are financial, or health, or general fears related to a world gone crazy, whether you fear the shortages and what desperate people do when things truly get desperate…Please be encouraged. Be encouraged that there IS a God in the Heavens, and that He cares for this creation. Don’t fear Covid-19. Fear God. Seek Him. There are promises in Scripture of common grace extended to all mankind (every breath we take is evidence of common grace), but there are so many wonderful promises and encouragements that aren’t yours if you don’t know and love Jesus as your Savior.

I’m so excited that spring is here. God’s work is beautifully visible in something so taken for granted as the change of seasons. We don’t give the seasons much thought, unless we get tired of one and are eager for the next. But God Himself sustains those seasons. We don’t worry that winter will never end, because we know that winter will end. That’s how it works. That is how God made it to work. That is how God sustains it to work. There is comfort in that. If God can sustain the seasons, the planets, the solar systems and galaxies, the tides and the orbit of the moon, the tiny workings of our body’s cells…then He can sustain the world through a pandemic, however severe. And even the resulting financial hardship that many of us will feel with loss of work is yet another wonderful opportunity to trust in God’s goodness and mercy and providence. Any opportunity to trust God is a good thing.

If you want a psalm to read that will brighten your heart, read Psalm 104. I’ll post it in its entirety in another post, but it is a beautiful psalm praising God for His power over and visible in Creation, how He is the one who brings about the seasons, the growth of plant life, sustaining the animal life, and on and on. Read it, and be encouraged.

And one last verse…Romans 8:35, 37-39:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In Hindsight | 2019

2019. What a year. For those of you new to this blog, I love to do a post sometime around the New Year (give or take a couple of months) as a recap of and reflection on the blessings of the previous year. And it’s fun to look back through pictures and remember why I took them, and the circumstances around them. As I scroll through picture after picture, I feel so blessed with the memories I have of this past year, and God’s gracious generosity in giving me so many wonderful times with family and friends.

This past year was not a year of ease – There were trials, temptations, struggles, grief, uncertainty, pain, fear, death, goodbyes…But through all of it, God is so faithful, providing work to do, friends to encourage, family to love and to be loved by, and so much else.
Sunday GulchThe highlight of last winter (and really, the whole year) was the sheer amount of time spent hiking. As I look back through pictures, I see hike after hike after hike, from Sunday Gulch to Harney Peak to the Hidden Waterfall hike to Hell Canyon. Temps ranged from balmy winter weather to frigid, blue skies to snow. I discovered a few simple gear items that wonderfully changed my enjoyment of winter hiking! In past winters, I’ve struggled with a sort of seasonal depression, but not this past winter. There was too much beauty, too much muscle soreness, too much glorious exhaustion, too much freezing hands and feet and nose, to be bothered by depression.
IMG_20190124_075451_419IMG_20190427_221643_921
IMG_20190430_183859_422Another noteworthy memory was my first experience with search and rescue, when the fire department was called out to help with ground searches in the winter and spring. As sad as the circumstances were, I loved the teamwork and camaraderie of the few days I spent on line searches, and the physical challenge of the terrain we were in.
IMG_20190327_095508495_HDRI also had my first ever structure fire, another vivid and exciting memory from the fire world. The call came in around 11pm, and we finally got back to the station around 4am or even later. I think I got about one or two hours of sleep that night!
In March, I was thrilled to be able to spend nine days in Spearfish for the NOLS Wilderness First Responder course, thanks in large part to the generosity of friends from church who opened their home to me for those nine days. WFR was a great experience, and it peaked my interest in wilderness medicine, as well as boosting my confidence in my ability to survive in the event of an accident, or to offer help to someone else.
April came, bittersweet, as we said goodbye to Grandma for the last time. It is hard to lose a loved one, but it was also a time of rejoicing, knowing that my faithful Grandma had been ushered into the presence of her LORD. She had patiently endured so much pain over the last few years, and all that was now gone. I also got to feel the joy of our church family coming around us and supporting us, loving us. If you belong to the household of God, there truly is sweetness in sorrow.

A visit from a college friend in May was a great beginning to the summer, and we spent a fun several days exploring the Hills and hiking!IMG_20190603_215510_448My Uncle Scott was here on and off for a lot of the year, since he recently retired from his job and is in a time of transition in life. He is a great uncle and a dear friend, and his company is always a highlight. And yes, we hiked. And hiked. And talked. And hiked.
IMG_20190829_094654058Once again I spent the summer working at the greenhouse with my sister, Sarah, and hiking whenever I could. My poor brain needs a break from teaching in the summer, and the outside beckons, beckons, beckons. We had some great hiking adventures, including our fondly-remembered Fourth of July hike up Harney Peak, into the middle of a thunderstorm.
IMG_20190806_114512_899IMG_20190727_002357_929Another trip to Bozeman for the Biblical Counseling Conference was a great almost-end to the summer, with camping and hiking bookending the trip. My friend Katie and I drove up ahead of time, camped and hiked for two nights and two days, went to the conference, and then camped and hiked again, with the addition of a few more friends. We were able to explore Hyalite Canyon with three solid days of hiking. So much beauty. The bigness of God’s creation is astounding.
received_934942393564610Katie also talked me in to going climbing with her, and after the first day, I was hooked. I was able to go a few times this last summer, and I’m already looking forward to getting back out there when the weather warms up.
IMG_20190913_221138_179IMG_20190921_215009_814Towards the end of the summer, Sarah and I began training for our Rim-to-Rim, and I loved the time spent hiking long miles with Sarah and how our relationship grew. We hiked Harney Peak a grand total of something like 20 times this year, most of those hikes in preparation for our Rim-to-Rim. It was great prep, as all our training occurred between 6000-7200 feet, getting our bodies accustomed to less oxygen and having to work harder at higher elevations. It was excellent. I would have thought that hiking Harney that many times would get boring. It didn’t. We saw so many different faces of our little mountain, from the early morning light streaming through the dew-wet trees, to the afterglow of the sunset, to thunderstorms and hailstorms, got soaking wet in a downpour, tromped through puddles, sweated through afternoon heat, and in short never got tired of hiking our mountain.

Mid-August, I began my EMT class through the Custer Ambulance, which was a fantastic class! I had a blast. Testing all went well, and I can’t describe the excitement of having Ruth shake my hand after the psychomotor examination. “Congratulations,” she said. “You’re an EMT.” Definitely not where I thought I’d be 5 years ago. I’ve since started with the Keystone Ambulance Service, and am looking forward to getting some experience, particularly over the summer.
IMG_20191007_155429565_HDRThe fall was mostly a chaos of teaching and EMT, except for a crazy trip with Sarah and our cousin down to Bryce Canyon, Grand Escalante, and Grand Canyon for our Rim-to-Rim in October. What an amazing trip. I haven’t done a lot of traveling, and definitely not road tripping, so this was a wonderful adventure and challenge.
IMG_20191105_132953452_HDRI also had the opportunity to join Custer County Search and Rescue, and getting plugged in there has been a really neat experience, opening doors to a very different branch of emergency services, but one that more specifically taps into my interests and abilities.

And my list could go on. Beautiful summer days, fall snowstorms, wildflower hunts, snowmobile training for SAR, delighting in a power outage with Vienna sausages and a fire in the fireplace, picking apples with Mom, fire department trainings and events, and so many other delightful memories. And the year was topped off with a beautiful family Christmas, bittersweet without Grandma, but festive and joyful.IMG_20191225_114750320So if I were to summarize the joys of this past year, it would be the new avenues of learning and work, the physical challenge of so much hiking, and most importantly, the growing friendships and relationships God is blessing me with, not least of which being those relationships with my family. I also cannot stress how important it is for single women to have other single women friends, or at least other women friends. But there is something extra special about those friendships (one in particular) where there is common faith, similar struggles, and so much empathy and love.

As I look back over this year, I see God’s hand of graciousness, His providence, and how He sustains through trials and struggles, and how He uses (ordains) those difficulties to increase our dependence on Him, and highlight our own sinful attitudes and idols, to make us more like Christ. I’ve seen how He takes away one good to provide in another good way, and I’ve seen how He uses struggles to loosen our hold on things we feel dependent on here. My own failings have highlighted my need for Christ, and increased my confidence in God’s gracious provision.

2019 was another year of change, change, and more change. I’m excited to see the story God has written for 2020!

Greeting 2020

We (Mom, Sarah, and I) welcomed the new year and the new decade from Harney Peak, the highest point east of the Rockies! It was a beautiful, crisp morning, the stars were glorious at 6am, the snow crunched pleasantly underfoot, and the wind was gentle enough for us to actually de-layer shortly into the hike.

Harney Peak on New Year's Day

There wasn’t even a hint of dawn when we started up, and we trudged along in the dark, our headlamps casting pleasant shadows in the snowy woods. There were a few other cars at the trailhead, and evidence along the way of other first-day hikers, including this snowy tribute to the new year:

Harney Peak on New Year's Day

And then the first day of the year dawned: gloriously, slowly, from diamond-studded black, to silver and blue skies, then lavender, then pink and orange and scarlet, with the tips of granite spires just kissed with the first light. We reached the tower in the glow of the first sunrise, and watched the light spread over the Hills.

Harney Peak on New Year's Day

Harney Peak on New Year's Day

Harney Peak on New Year's Day

Harney Peak on New Year's Day

Harney Peak on New Year's Day

The wind was fierce at the Tower (it always is), and with a bitter edge, so we took shelter in the basement, warming ourselves with hot, black coffee and a snack before heading back into the wind.

Harney Peak on New Year's Day

The hike down was even more beautiful than the hike up, now that we could see the sculpted snowdrifts, the sun sparkling through the trees, and the sky and its blueness overhead.Harney Peak on New Year's Day

Harney Peak on New Year's Day

Harney Peak on New Year's Day

What a wonderful way to bring in this new year and new decade, with two of my favorite people, doing one of my favorite things, on one of my favorite trails, in my (current) favorite place in the world, on the tip top of our highest peak, reveling in and wandering around and gazing at God’s beautiful handiwork.

I love experiencing the firsts of the new year.

The first morning.
The first drive.
The first hike.
The first time up Harney Peak.
The first picture taken.
The first cup of coffee.
The first sweet family time.
The first prayer.

The new year comes, fresh, unstained, and (from our perspective) unwritten. We do a pretty good job of staining it as soon as we open our eyes or our mouth on New Year’s morning, but the freshness and excitement and sense of newness remain, the gladness of a fresh start. There are things I’m anticipating, things I’m excited about, things I’m not looking forward to. But I’m glad to know I serve a sovereign LORD who isn’t just writing my story, as if He is still in the process of figuring it out. He has written it, already.

Harney Peak on New Year's Day

I wonder what He will choose to bring to this new year? I wonder what growing, what joy, what delight, what blessings and struggles and trials and pain? What adventures? What changes are coming that I haven’t even thought of yet? What triumphs? What failures? What of Christ will I see or learn that I haven’t yet known? How will He refine me?

2020 is open like a brand new book. I’m excited to read the story.

Happy New Year!

The Last Harvest

The year is winding down to a close. How did that happen? Where does the time go? Another year, rapidly wrapping itself up. Parts of this post would have been better a month ago, but they are sentiments I wanted to share after my hiatus this fall. It has been a year of change, struggle, blessings, joy, and so much else.

Christmas is tomorrow, and it will be the first Christmas without Grandma. Leading up to Grandma passing away in April, and ever since, there has been the anticipation of impending change. As long as Grandma was with us, we had a home here, but as often happens in situations of family property, the property will need to sell, and our home here will be gone. That’s a fact I try not to dwell on, and the LORD has graciously given me a peace about that, which years ago I never expected. But whether we have another 8 months or 2 years here, the feeling of settledness isn’t there. I know change is on its way.

Through much of this year, there has been the faintly bitter, wistful knowledge of the inevitable “last time.” The sense that the wanderings on the property this summer or fall may indeed have been “the last time” I’d comb for wildflowers or ramble among our trees or scramble our hills. Putting up a Christmas tree in our cabin may have been “the last time” we’d enjoy that tradition here. I anticipate a sweet sorrow tomorrow on Christmas as we celebrate, quite possibly, “our last Christmas here.”

That knowledge is heavy with sadness, though also light with anticipation. God will provide. He always does. And it is always better than I could imagine.

But this heaviness has driven me to remember and to do and to be. There have been things I’ve deliberately done in order to not miss doing them one last time. For instance, when the apple trees down the hill from Mom and Dad’s were heavy with fruit this fall, I knew we needed to harvest them. It doesn’t take overly long to pick two trees worth of fruit, and we shook those apples down, filling a couple of good sized buckets. The apples were delicious, and became apple butter and apple crisp.

Picking apples from Grandpa’s trees likely was our last harvest from those trees. And it was the best harvest of all the years we’ve been here. God is so good.

As 2019 wraps up and comes to a close, I anticipate that this time next year I will have moved on, either elsewhere in the Black Hills or elsewhere altogether. My life here on the family property has been like an apple tree ripe, laden with fruit. The fruit setting on the tree are those memories and experiences that are shaping who I am, those blessings that God has set beautifully among the spreading branches, that have made up the beauty and color and flavor of my life here.There has been fruit that has grown and ripened that is specifically the result of living here, fruit ranging from the sweetness of deepened family relationships to the zesty excitement of a new direction vocationally. Had I been living elsewhere, without the backdrop of the Hills (particularly my little corner of it) to awaken my imagination to new possibilities, to spark ideas and creative pursuits, to challenge me physically, to grow me spiritually, or had I beem living in a place that drained me financially, I might be in a very different place from where I am now.

Life is like an orchard, each tree a different chapter in our lives. It is sad to think that this year here may be the last year to be harvesting from this beautiful little tree I’ve been enjoying for the last five years.But it has been a good harvest. A sweet harvest.